Monday, July 30, 2007

File Manager

#274a File Manager

Nice title, don’t you think? Or would “Vice President and Chief File Officer” be better? There’s always “Deputy Director, Filing.” Maybe “File Commander.” Or even “Secretary of Filing.” Oh, but that would make it a Cabinet-level appointment, so File Manager it is.

That’s also what they used to call the part of your computer where you kept data, or information or both. But this is about real files. Paper, in real folders.

A day ago, there were almost one thousand of those folders in this room. No more. Down to a select few hundred, and pretty much in order and pretty much legible.

Still, there’s something sterile about this reworked system of keeping stuff. It just doesn’t feel right.

It’s too obvious. It’s not artistic. It’s pretty, in a way. It might even be useful. But there’s something wrong about it.

There really wasn’t a good reason to do it, except maybe for avoiding real work around the house on a Sunday afternoon. After all, the file cabinet is made from sturdy wood, and only the fourth drawer was bulging to the point that we might have to call in the duct tape.

That bottom drawer has stuff in it that could head for the shredder, but stays there so the cabinet remains balanced. Heavy stuff. Old stuff. Really, really old stuff. But if too much is removed, the cabinet might fall over. So the bottom drawer has become a tribute to the Old Ways. It’s not as full as it was. But it’s not terribly well organized, either.

One must, after all, take these things slowly.

Now, about that shredder: we’ve already gone through one and have doubts about the current model, too. They call it “heavy duty” but don’t be too sure. There’s a ton of old files sitting on the floor awaiting shredding. A true test of its heavy duty-ness. How much will shred before the thing overheats?

But is that a job for a Chief Filing Officer? Probably. Or maybe there should be a Director of Document Destruction, or DDD.

Of course, calling that rubbish pile “documents” is kind of Orwellian or maybe Huxleyan.

The U.S. Constitution is a document. The deed to your house is a document. Your car insurance. Your 1997 tax return. But old rundowns for TV newscasts? Copies of these Wessays? Credit card offers? Hardly.

Then, there are the file folders themselves. The drawers are too wide for the standard “letter” files, so you have to use hanging files. But that’s not efficient, so you stick several regular files inside the hanging files just so they’ll stay in place.

But that obscures the names on the Letter-size files.

The new box of file folders, which says “multicolor” on the cover is only right if you count the fact that the interior of the folders is a slightly lighter hideous shade of red than the outside.

But Sam’s Club was having a sale. No wonder why, either. No one buys that particular kind of folder more than once. Either that, or Sam is color blind.

As will be anyone who uses them.

I'm Wes Richards, my opinions are my own, but you're welcome to them.

(c) 2007 WJR

Friday, July 27, 2007

More On the Political Monopoly

#273 More On The Political Monopoly

Guy serves in the legislature for a gazillion years and decides that’s tiring so maybe he should become a judge. In Nassau, New York, that would be pretty easy. Here’s what they’d do.

The guy would go to the Republican Party boss and say “boss, I would like to be a judge.” The boss would then say one of three things: (1) Sure. (2) Nah. Or (3) let’s see how contributions are coming in from your district and then we’ll talk.

Meantime, if the answer was (1,) they’d find a judge who was nearing retirement, ask him to step down early – which, of course would help his retirement plans, this being one of the few places and jobs where early retirement is seriously rewarded, and then they’d get the Rep. appointed to fill the unexpired term. Happens all the time. And not just with judges.

In Moote Pointe, PA, things are a little different.

They have actual primaries here. Looks like an exercise in democracy. The bosses say “You want this job? Go out and fight for it.”

So our Guy runs in a Republican Primary, spends a boatload of money and wins. So far, so good. He’s the candidate.

The guy who thought he was going to get the Republican nod runs in the Democratic Party primary and wins. So now we have two Republicans, one running as a Republican (our Guy,) and the other running as a Democrat.

Our Guy, as it turns out, is not a lawyer. But around here, that’s no problem. All you have to do is take a course at Famous Judges’ School of The Judiciary, pass a simple test, and then get back to your real job, electioneering.

One day, a few months before the election, he calls the area’s reporter together (that’s not a typo) and announces he’s not running, after all. Gives no reason.

The reporter reports.

This leads to all kinds of speculation. Is he dirty? (Most questioned don’t think so.) Is he sick? (Most questioned don’t think so.) And we have none of the usual clich├ęs to play with – things like “I want to spend more time with my family,” and “I want to explore other options.”

A bit later, Our Guy thinks he needs to explain what he’s doing. So he adds to the story by saying he’s gotten a better offer and then names the offer, which is one of those non-jobs, those vague things that political types do and are well paid for and you never know quite what it is.

Meantime, the smoke-filled-room speculation is the guy flunked the Famous Judges’ School of the Judiciary final exam.

But, of course, that cannot be.

The school’s run by a bunch of politicians of every stripe. If a guy flunks out, they probably give him the option to drop out retroactively. And the exam, as Nixon would say, gets deep sixed.

Like it never happened.

Now, the Republicans choose someone to run in Our Guy’s place. And you get to choose which Republican you want for judge, the Republican Republican or the Democratic Republican.

Ah, democracy.

I'm Wes Richards, my opinions are my own, but you're welcome to them.

(c) 2007 WJR

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Mass Transit

#272a Mass Transit

The local mass transit system here in Moote Pointe, PA, just got a bucket full of money to spend. Here’s a suggestion: conduct random rump tests.

Then, compare the results with the size of what passes for seats in your buses. And when you spend that bucket full of money on new rolling stock, consider making the measurements closer than they are now.

This small seat thing started in the New York City Subway system when the cars were designed and built in Japan. The average Japanese derriere is considerably smaller than that of the average New Yorker. It’s no fun seeing the big Mamas and Papas get on the #1 Train at 125th street and try to squish themselves into those seats.

When the skinny kids get on the subway, they take up two seats, too – but that’s just claiming personal space.

New York, as usual, started a trend. Small seats. They don’t work there, and they don’t work here.

Another suggestion: try aligning the schedule with the movement of buses. That would be a big help. Although it’s possible they arrive and leave early on purpose because it’s endlessly amusing to watch your rearview mirror as passengers try to catch you, and you roll away, pedal to the metal.

The drivers meet in the Driver’s Lounge each day and swap stories about who they made chase them today. Then, at the end of the month, there’s a prize for the best story. Last month it was a little old lady in a walker, who went tearing after an earlier-than-scheduled bus, tripped, and her upper plate fell and rolled into a storm drain when she fell. That one might get “story of the year.”

This very morning, a young couple was smooching at a bus shelter, and the driver made a wide turn and didn’t stop. Jokes on the distracted couple. At least usually. But this couple was different. They’re track team and they caught the thing at the next stop. Oh well, can’t win ‘em all.

The Bus Authority is going to put global positioning systems on all their vehicles. Then it’s going to put the GPS signals on an internet map of the town so everyone can see exactly where every bus is – and how close it is to your stop.

Great idea. Expensive. But a great idea. Gives riders that Military Science and Tactics course they missed when the peaceniks got the Pentagon to stop ROTC programs.

But those fun-loving drivers will find a way to retaliate. Perhaps they can adjust the GPS transmitters to show false positives. Or, when they roll up to a stop, they can flash on those famed “Out of Service” signs that most of them sport most of the time.

To their great credit, though, the Authority uses a lot of buses that run on natural gas (unnatural gas would be a gas.) Of course, they’re environmentally correct, and doing conspicuous good. (The nouveau goode are the new nouveau riche.) Plus, someone’s brother-in-law probably owns the gas company.

I'm Wes Richards, my opinions are my own, but you're welcome to them.

(c) 2007 WJR

Monday, July 23, 2007

Noah's Time Share

#271 Noah’s Time Share

Finally, an answer. In autumn, we have squirrels for a month or two. In summer, we have Gypsy Moth caterpillars, and then the moths themselves for about two weeks. In winter, the “snow-shoe” rabbits move in for awhile, and sometimes a deer.

The woods in back of the Wessays Secret Mountainside Laboratory are a time share. These animals are subletting their parts of the woods for vacation, or in preparation for the next flood – the one Al Gore says is about to result from the melting of glaciers.

This was only an assumption a few days ago. But careful research shows it’s a valid working theory. First, there are two of most species. Other than the caterpillars and the moths, which all seem to look alike (is that racist?), the animals are in obvious pairs. Two deer. Two snow-shoe rabbits. Two squirrels.

Two humming birds, two robins, two Monarch butterflies.

Then, there are the ads. This from the Weekly Rodent:

Stonewall County PA Timeshare

Enjoy the cool Autumn breezes of Central Pennsylvania while escaping the nose and bustle of New York, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh or Baltimore. Hospitable climate. Clean air. Enjoy treetop or underground accommodations. Write to PO Box 499, Moote Pointe, Pa 16803.

That’s a dead giveaway.

There was a similar ad in the magazine “American Antelope,” though no one seems to be responding. Perhaps in winter.

There was an ad on the HBR, too, the Hummingbird Radio Network. Probably, hummingbirds can’t read. Or, if they can, they flit so fast they don’t have the attention span to take in an entire classified ad. (Hence the term “bird brain.”)

It makes you wonder, is there something to the Al Gore Prediction after all? If the North Pole melts, all the water will come down this way. If the South Pole melts, where will the water go? Maybe to Sao Paulo? What’ll happen to the Amazon Rain Forest? And all those long runways at the airport?

You know dogs and cats act funny before a storm hits. Their radar is better than ours. So maybe the animals in our little woods, here, know something we don’t. On the other hand, maybe they’re just a bunch of hard working rodents and birds and insects and deer and rabbits.

It’s tough to communicate with them. And it’s tough to read their publications and hear their radio stations. But modern science has at least gotten a handle on such things. The translations are rough, but they’re mostly accurate. Or at least that’s what we’re told by human-speaking creatures.

One of them, Alan “Blues Bird” Crow, a year-rounder here in Stonewall, says he’s heard through the grapevine that end times are coming. When pointed out to him that it’s hard to accept that sort of prediction from a guy named Crow who’s really only a blackbird, he says that this season, the time shares are way up over last year. Probably, he knows, in as much as he has spent his entire life in these parts.

When the giraffes and elephants arrive, we’ll get really worried.

I'm Wes Richards, my opinions are my own, but you're welcome to them.

(c) 2007 WJR

Friday, July 20, 2007

The Intoxicated Rat

#270 The Intoxicated Rat

That was a song sung by such as Cisco Houston, and later, the New Lost City Ramblers and still later by Doc Watson. This column, though, maybe should be called the Intoxicated Brat.

In the song, the singer comes home three sheets to the wind, gets tangled up in the door mat, falls over. His bottle of rum falls with him, slips out of his coat. The cap comes off and the rat comes out of the woodwork for a drink.

Along comes the cat who “makes a pass…” sending the rat scurrying back into the woodwork.

Same with the intoxicated brat. He’s maybe 22, 23. Charged with Driving Under the Influence. The Hon. Judge I. Hardley Shutzup is presiding. And in comes the I-B and his girlfriend Salacia Grimm.

She walks. He kind of strolls and limps. Sits down. Wavers. Sits down. Still limping, even seated. This raises some concern among the court officers, the guys who keep order in the court. They notify the probation department, which sends a guy down to look things over.

“Any you guys have a breathalyzer?” says the guy from probation. One materializes. The reading is 0/37. In these parts, you’re considered drunk with an 0.08.

From the bench, Judge Shutzup asks what should be done with the I-B, who is now slumped in the seat, but still seems to stagger. No one answers, the His Honor declares that they can take the I-B to jail, or hold him in the courthouse until he sobers up. The jail rep doesn’t want him, so the guy from probation puts him in cuffs, and frisks him. It takes a long, long time.

Understand that in order to get into the building, the I-B has to go through a metal detector and whatever he’s carrying has to go through an x-ray machine, and he’s in the building, so what could he be carrying?

Maybe a bottle, like the guy in the song who got “tangled” in the doormat. Maybe contraband narcotics. Maybe the key to the mystery of life.

None of this stuff shows up.

In the meantime, the I-B has slipped his left hand out of the cuff, but doesn’t seem to realize it.

One of the court officers does, however, and he’s quickly returned to prisoner status and led off.

The guy was supposed to get released in his own custody… or that of the ever so serious Ms. Grimm. The Assistant District Attorney informs “..all who have business before this court…” that the deal is off the table.

Shocking.

Judge Shutzup takes about ten minutes of uninterrupted verbiage that someone with an instantaneous translation machine says “…that means he’s going to lunch.”

The probation guy is politely berating Ms. Grimm about her pal’s drinking problem. She has one of those allergic-to-reality problems and denies he’s been drinking.

But the I-B is so deep in the bag he couldn’t climb out with the help of a tank full of helium.

In the song, the encounter with the cat makes the rat sober up, pronto. The encounter with the justice system did not have the same effect on the brat.

I'm Wes Richards, my opinions are my own, but you're welcome to them.

(c) 2007 WJR

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Elevators

#269 Elevators

So, who decided that "ding ding" means down and "ding" means up when the elevator gets to your floor. It could have been the other way…. Like "ding" for down and "ding ding" for up. But somehow, somewhere, someone decided that "ding" means up and "ding ding" means down.

Sometimes in newer buildings, they get it wrong. This is very confusing for most of us, because either we're unable to see the little arrows atop the door or we think the sight and the sound conflict and we don't know which way the car is going to go. Unless, of course, we're in the penthouse or the basement.

Once in the elevator, where is the elevator music? Half the reason to get into an elevator in the first place is because it's the last public place on earth you can hear a Living Strings or Percy Faith record (except for the latter's "The Stripper," which is used as production music by many a small-town radio and television broadcaster.)

No more elevator music. If that's the case, why not just take the stairs. It's good exercise and you never have to figure out what the little bell means because there isn't any little bell.

You say you HAVE to take the elevator because it's too many floors from the lobby to the observation deck in the Empire State Building? Then, you may ask, why if they can put a man on the moon, conquer Iraq and make a "Lite" beer that still tastes like beer, why can't they make an elevator that doesn't make your stomach travel after the rest of you stops?

And those little arrows above the buttons – they're almost as confusing as "ding ding" for up and "ding" for down. Why the little arrows? Why not a little sign that says "doors open," and "doors close?"

It's downright frustrating is what it is.

It was a lot easier when there were elevator operators - guys in uniform and wearing white gloves who told you where you were headed, announced what was on the floor at which they stopped, opened and closed the doors by hand and occasionally allowed all of your internal organs to arrive at your destination at the same time.

And you could have a conversation, or listen to The Norman Luboff Choir's latest hit.

Further, when you got to a floor, the operator would say “Going up,” or “Going down.” There never was any confusion.

The elevator operators came in two general varieties, the over-friendly and the over-cranky. Or maybe they were all schizophrenic and the attitude depended on some internal chemistry that's a mystery to the rest of us.

But those days are gone forever. After all, elevator operators get health benefits.


Ding Ding!

I'm Wes Richards, my opinions are my own, but you're welcome to them.

(c) 2007 WJR

Monday, July 16, 2007

Let The Next Guy Worry

#268 Let the Next Guy Worry

It was a 1971 Pontiac and we called it “The Forestall.” That’s because the hood was so long you could land a small plane there – just like the aircraft carrier of the same name.

It was made in Canada. It had a cast iron engine block with cylinders that displaced 455 cubic inches. A monster. All metal except for some of the exterior decoration. Weighed almost three tons.

All the car stuff about it was everything you could expect from something that’s half sedan, half half-track. But then there were the little things.

Like the electric chair. Bench seat, really. Six way power seat. Forward, backward, up, down and angle. Hmmm. What WAS that sixth thing?

Anyway, a mile or two after the warranty expired, the six way seat became a no-way seat. Inspection of the underside of the bench showed that a small electric motor drove the motion, and it was connected to the mechanism with a small rubber tube, estimated value 59 cents, at the time,

The parts guy at Pontiac laughed. He said sure he could sell the rubber tube for a couple of bucks (inflation!) but that installing it meant taking out the seat, which meant undoing eight or ten welds, putting on the tube (no tools required!) and then, re-welding the undone welds. The job would take a week and cost almost as much as the car.

Well, we won’t have this car forever. Let the next guy worry about it.

Same car, 3,000 miles later. The “always on” ventilation fan dies. It is situated in a wheel well. Cost of the motor – ten bucks. But to fix it, you either had to take off the left front fender or cut a hole in its inside wall. Couldn’t they put a little door in that inside wall or do Canadians not know about doors? Or maybe they expect a ten dollar fan that’s always running to last forever.

This repair, unlike the seat, got done. But that fan also would have to be replaced eventually. Let the next guy worry about it.

Many years later, GM started putting in those little doors, so when the cheap fan motors burned out, as the inevitably did, they could replace them easily.

But the lesson didn’t carry over into the general manufacturing culture.

The desk at which this is being written was a drawer that won’t close all the way. No problem, just take out the drawer, fix it and put it back, right? Wrong. The drawers do not come out.

The desk is also Forestallish. Big, heavy, clunky. Solid. No assembly required. Took three guys to get it upstairs.

Drawer problem? Let the next guy worry about it.

But it’s not just cars and furniture. It’s international “relations, too.”

Idiotic, unnecessary war in Iraq?

Let the next guy worry about it.

I'm Wes Richards, my opinions are my own, but you're welcome to them.

(c) 2007 WJR

Friday, July 13, 2007

CBS FM

#267 CBS FM

They should start a band called The Jerx.

And then, they should give ‘em the hook, as they used to say in vaudeville.

Well, actually they did that.

A little radio folklore here. Back in the days when AM radio dominated, WABC dominated the dominators. Then, after years of trying, the suits turned it into a talk station and all the listeners went away.

Around that time, WCBS FM was casting about for something to do. They tried an idiotic format called “The Young Sound,” which was anything but. It flopped. So they hired on a few of the deposed WABC disc jockeys and started playing what we now call “oldies” music.

Harry Harrison, Dan Daniel, Dan Ingram, Ron Lundy, “Cousin” Bruce Morrow and some others were hired for various shifts. The thing became a monster hit. People by the zillions listened. Program Director Joe McCoy ran a good ship. People loved it.

Then, after CBS got sold and re-sold, some imbecile with a tie decided it was time to pack it in and put on a totally stupid format called “Jack FM.” And nobody listened.

The imbecile with the tie got fired, and the Suit who took his place decided Oldies Rule and changed back to something akin to the original “oldies” format.

It’s not exactly the same, now. We won’t hear “Earth Angel” by The Penguins or “At the Hop” with Danny & the Juniors. But at least they’re playing 60s and 70s and 80s music and have live disc jockeys again (as opposed to “Jack” which had nothing live.

Will this be a hit, or a miss?

Probably a hit. The oldies fans were so loyal, they kept pelting CBS management with invective and begged without shame for the return.

The only major difference now is that there are none of those WABC types back at WCBS/FM. That’s too bad. They defined the genre.

Harry Harrison couldn’t do a talkup to save his life. But he still was fun (“mornin’ mom!”)

Cousin Brucie was a parody of himself. (Eeee-yew, cousins!)

Ron Lundy had nothing to say, but he said it with great enthusiasm and style.

Dan Ingram was master of the double entendre.

But the people who now fill the seats aren’t at all bad. In fact, by today’s standards, they’re major talents. Dan Taylor, Bob Shannon, Bill Lee and Bobby Jay.

Still… it’s not the same. Guess it can’t be. Shouldn’t be.

What it is: a good personality radio station in a sea of canned voice tracking.

It’s nice they have stopped the automated “Jack FM.”

Bill Paley no longer is rotating in his grave.

(Disclaimer: The columnist worked at WCBS FM periodically and remains friendly with some of the people mentioned in this item.)

I'm Wes Richards, my opinions are my own, but you're welcome to them.

(c) 2007 WJR

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Road Rage

#266 Road Rage

Driving along, minding my own business, signal for a lane change. There’s a blind spot on the right side, but there seems to be a car in it – you get so you can sort of sense that after a few decades.

So, back into the original lane. And, yes, there was a car there, and she pulls up even. Cookie cutter Stonewall County Blonde. They have an endless number here. Well dressed, made up, and giving the finger.

So let’s pull up to the grandpa mobile ahead of her and in her lane, and pace it so she can’t pass.

She can’t pass. Keeping the same speed as Grandpa, at just above the speed limit. And Cookie can’t pass. So she shifts lanes again, and raises the finger again, and you can sense the steam coming out of her ears. Maybe even see it a little bit.

How long can this keep up before Cookie explodes? But she doesn’t. Instead, she makes a turn and vanishes. With any luck, forever.

Probably ruined her day. She was probably late to work. Or school. Nah. Not school. Eighth graders can’t drive.

Or maybe they can. An eleven year old was recently busted in Alabama for leading police on a 100 mph chase. She also was drunk out of her mind. Her excuse? “I had to pick my brother up at a concert.”

Can they bust you for driving without a license when you’re not old enough to have a license? Speeding? Sure. DUI? Sure. But what about that license thing? It’s Alabama. Where the age of consent is nine. Unless you’re married. Then, it’s older. Maybe 12.

The drinking age also would be nine, except the state doesn’t get federal highway money unless it puts the drinking age at 21. And in Alabama, that federal highway money buys a lot of politicians. (Here in Stonewall County, of course, none of that happens.) But that kickback money’s gotta come from somewhere!

As for Cookie, she’s probably the kind who has pink stuffed animals decorating her room, has a bubble handwriting, dots her “I” with a little heart, goes to church every Sunday, and each day, says her prayers and screams obscenities at her mother. And at the cop who will at some point in the near future, pull her over for speeding, reckless lane changing and failure to signal. (She’ll try batting her eyes and wiggling her hips first, but that won’t work. A ticket quota is a ticket quota. And around here, federal highway bribes don’t go the distance.)

I'm Wes Richards, my opinions are my own, but you're welcome to them.

(c) 2007 WJR

Monday, July 09, 2007

Chaos

#265 Chaos

A recent report said two interesting things about traffic. Thing one: it's
getting worse as cityscapes spread farther and farther into the suburbs.


Thing two: traffic jams in the city of New York have diminished, probably, says
the study, for the same reason.

Well, to those of us who drive in New York City, even infrequently, the
diminution is hard to notice. maybe impossible to notice.


We all know the reason for traffic jamming in general. Too many cars, too few
people in the cars. Bad and/or inconsiderate drivers, mass transit that's less
seductive and less comprehensive than municipalities say it is.

Those explanations are all valid, especially in combination. But there's
another reason -- and this is one that no amount of road improving, driver
improving, subway improving, HOV lanes, rail connections, lecturing and
hectoring from officialdom will cure.

It is called chaos.

When most of us hear that word, we think of our everyday lives... and that's not
entirely wrong. In the course of daily events, chaos is kind of like Murphy’s
Law meets your appointment schedule.

In physics -- it's similar.

The best example involves us describing (oh goodness!) a lit cigarette resting
in an ash tray.

The smoke from the cigarette drifts upward in a column... and then at a certain
point, it begins to diffuse into the air. The part that diffuses into the air
is the chaos part.

Here’s how it works in traffic:

you're buzzing along the highway going a steady 65 on a straightaway. Traffic
is moderate, but moving.

Then, all of a sudden, for no apparent reason, you have to slow to a crawl.

the moving traffic is like the column of cigarette smoke, and all of a sudden,
you get to the part that's like the top of the column where the smoke goes in
every which direction.

What causes this on the highway?

Could be anything.

Here’s an example.

A mile ahead of you, someone's listening to this program on a car
radio and hears something outrageous. Or maybe the driver's nose itches. This
diverts the attention for a fraction of a second during which he or she let's up
a little on the gas... or changes lanes... or scratches the itch or changes the
station.

Drivers behind and to the sides see and react to it... tap their own brakes...
and all of a sudden, the average speed drops from 55 to 20.

You can cut this down by leaving the radio tuned to this program, knowing where
you're going and paying attention.

We can't help you with the itch.

I'm Wes Richards, my opinions are my own, but you're welcome to them.

(c) 2007 WJR

Friday, July 06, 2007

Why Are You Reading This

#264 Why Are You Reading This?

C’mon. No one reads anymore. You’re a throwback to a bygone era.

Newspapers are dead. The internet rules, but you don’t READ that, you scan it.

CNN has found a way to make its website even more user friendly than the others. It puts bullet points, story highlights atop its stories. You don’t even have to read the lead paragraph to grasp what’s going on.

The Huffington Post has “quick read” links to all its articles. You never even have to leave the home page to get a one paragraph version of the story.

USA Today pioneered the use of charts and graphs to tell you the story, true to its mission, producing a TV show in which you can wrap fish, as Fred Friendly would say.

The New York Times, Wall Street Journal and the Weekly Forward have all shrunk their previously full size pages to something less than a “broadsheet,” but more than a tabloid.

Magazines are mostly pictures and captions these days. Also, bullet points, graphs and charts – the USA Today of slick paper.

Books? They seem to proliferate by the zillion. And sometimes, people even buy them. But how many of them are actually read – let alone referred to or read more than once.

It’s OK to see “Casablanca” 50 times. But read a book twice? You must be nuts.

Unless it’s Harry Potter. Or it’s an Oprah recommendation.

Do you get those pathetic appeals from Book of the Month Club, Mystery Book Club, Science Book Club, Nature Lovers’ Book Club, Auto Repair Book Club, Readers’ Digest Condensed Books?

Buy one, get 17 free. No further obligation. Free shipping if you order before midnight.

Do you even KNOW whether you get those pitches?

Between MTV and Madison Avenue, we’ve been conditioned to want everything summarized in ten words or less.

Notice, even the “Hooked on Phonics” and “Photoreading” courses have stopped advertising?

The most reading we do these days is the instruction manual for the iPhone or the iPod. And maybe not even that. (It’s kind of un-macho to read instructions, at least anywhere you can be seen reading them.)

Not to worry. You’re not missing anything. Most of what’s available to read ain’t worth the effort. The Times’ writing is so twisted it’s tough to make head or tale out of anything they print.

The novels are filled with unbelievable characters, ridiculous plots and no themes.

“Self help” books generally have no usable information beyond the titles, and sometimes even that makes no sense.

Newsweek, Time and US News & World Report are a week behind what you’ve viewed on MSNBC.

Does anyone really READ the New Yorker? “The Nation?” “The National Review?” Not if they can get the same stuff from “All Things Considered,” Air America Radio or Rush Limbaugh.

The opening question today “why are you reading this?” can be answered only by “I’m an old-fashioned boy/girl,” or “I keep the paper under the cover and read it by flashlight because I don’t want to be thought of as subversive.”

I'm Wes Richards, my opinions are my own, but you're welcome to them.

(c) 2007 WJR

Wednesday, July 04, 2007

Googleworld & July 4th

#263 Googleworld

What IS Google, anyway? It started life as a really cool search engine, outperforming everything else on the planet, as it still does.

But after the initial public offering, it became a new age space invader, entangled in practically every aspect of American life. It’s a nation unto itself now. And it’s getting its tentacles into every possible aspect of your computer and in every aspect of social engineering.

Wouldn’t be surprising if you wake up one morning and find that it’s sent a regiment of its Kool-Aid-drinking cultists to take over Congress or General Electric.

We like our corporations to wear their predatory instincts on their sleeves. General Motors once occupied 60% of the new car sales terrain. No more. We found alternatives, because we knew what they were up to: an increase to 100%.

Until recently, Microsoft was the same way. And they made no secret of it. They were out to conquer the world. Not just the world of the personal computer, but the world at large. Now, in middle age, co-founder Bill Gates, richest man in the world, at least on paper, has turned to charity work. They had to beat him with a 2x4 before he did it. But he did it.

Andrew Carnegie and John D. Rockefeller were the same way. Kill them, then kill them again with kindness.

Wal-Mart wants to conquer the world just as badly as GM did. And they’re getting closer because there’s no viable competition. They get away with squeezing their stockholders, employees, suppliers and you.

Berkshire Hathaway’s Warren Buffet is a middle ground. He seems a nice enough fellow, and doesn’t make overt killer moves. But neither does he pretend to be in some kind of public service.

Google does. It’s image is that of the smart-but-touchy-feely company that’s going to save your life, your soul and your butt.

Some recent headlines, either direct quotes or paraphrases, but quotation marks omitted:

GOOGLE BUYS WEB PHONE SERVICE

GOOGLE FACES TROUBLE WITH ‘DOUBLE CLICK’ DEAL

GOOGLE APPEALS BELGIAN COPYRIGHT LAW

GOOGLE WANTS ROLE IN MICROSOFT CASE, BURIES HATCHET

GOOGLE PARTNERS WITH LG (Korean electronics company.)

GOOGLE APOLOGIZES FOR MICHAEL MOORE DISS

…SPLAPPED WITH LIBEL SUIT

…ESTABLISHES PANEL OF HEALTH CARE EXPERTS

…TO STAGE CONTEST FOR 100 MPG CAR

Busy guys, the Googlers.

And a stock price to die for – and one that’s unlikely to retreat too far.

Google is its own tech bubble, but with a pretty hard shell.

And its own social action network.

And an advertising monolith.

It’s got its hands on your private parts, your bank account, your credit and your intellectual life.

And touchy-feely-fuzzy as it may seem now, the future is somewhere between George Orwell and Aldus Huxley.

--

Today is July fourth. It’s the birthday of the United States, technically speaking. We are in worse shape now than at any time since 1960. And what with globalization, war, health care, fuel prices, a White House that puts personal loyalty over justice and other values we like to ascribe to ourselves, the viral infection of our institutions by religious zealots of various stripes (but all positive that their way is the only way,) there’s little hope of emerging from the descending dark ages any time soon.

If we are to be saved, it won’t be by some deity or some plastic political candidate, but by our own national character: a can-do spirit, optimism, compromise and generosity to one another – and ourselves.

Happy fourth.

I'm Wes Richards, my opinions are my own, but you're welcome to them.

(c) 2007 WJR

Sunday, July 01, 2007

Chem Lab

#262 Chem Lab

Here’s the recipe for making coffee that’s half decaf and half not. First you put a couple of spoons of instant decaf into a cup. Follow that with a half cup of boiled water. Then add actual coffee to almost fill the cup. And finally, add three squirts of French vanilla flavored non-dairy creamer.

If you count the cleaning of the teapot to boil the water and the boiling of the water itself, this is a mere nine steps. It sounds like Rube Goldberg. But it is the most efficient way to make this brew. We tested several methods here in the Secret Mountain Laboratory in Stonewall County, PA, and had begun experimenting with methods back in the Secret Seaside Laboratory in Moote Pointe, NY.

Our tests were more thorough and complete than anything the FDA has done lately. And, by the way, eat your heart out, Consumer Reports Magazine!

Stroll through one of those vitamin stores and you have to wonder what it is we’re ingesting these days, and to what end. That and the homeopathic nutjob websites.

All the formulae are secret. Some ingredients are not on the label. Some of them are shrouded in mystery even if they ARE on the label. “Proprietary herb blend.” Three little words almost as scary as “easy to assemble” or “cashier in training.”

Are we living longer these days because of these potions, or despite them?

Professor Jon in Ohio has this affliction where you never stop growing. He also has a PhD degree in English. You would think this combination of possessions would lead him to find the best medical care he could, especially since the college he works for pays all kinds of dandy medical and pharmaceutical benefits. Nope. At least, not right away.

Professor Jon in Ohio figured he could take care of this himself and on the cheap. So he started with the homeopathics. After awhile, he couldn’t get into his hats and his pants were all too short. So, finally, he went to the doc and the disease got arrested.

If a guy with a weird disease and a PhD degree can’t figure out what he should be doing, how do the rest of us.

If you ask Starbucks to make that coffee blend, they’ll throw you out. If you ask Dr. Homeo for some help with a possibly fatal disease, you’ll get all nine steps and more.

This is why many of us are hooked on pharmacies. The FDA is kind of ho-hum about its testing, but at least it occasionally comes up with a recall, or at least a caution note.

If this column is giving you a headache, try a couple of Arabica Montana under the tongue. Or an Advil.

Or make a cup of coffee for yourself. Recipe above.

I'm Wes Richards, my opinions are my own, but you're welcome to them.

(c) 2007 WJR