Sunday, April 29, 2007

Essential Tools

235 Essential Tools

We use the term “toolbox” fairly loosely these days. Most of the time, we’re talking about a collection of computer functions marked “tool box” to change image sizes or check spelling or share documents.

Some people have actual (rather than virtual) tool boxes. Such things as hammers, saws, screwdrivers, wrenches and such are thus carried.

In between these are what have come to be called “kitchen tools.” Eggbeaters, spoons, carving knives and the like.

Real tool boxes make fashion statements. The guy with the canvas belt with a pouch full of nails is telling us something. So is the guy with the sleek day-glow yellow plastic box or the mechanic (oops, automotive technician. Sorry) with the big, red multi-drawer chest on wheels.

But even though people who use tools carry many varieties, there generally are one or two that they believe they cannot live without.

The two most popular candidates for this honor are the hammer and the screwdriver, in that order. A good fixer-upper can do wonders with either of these bare essentials. Those of us with minimal mechanical skills are often awed. And we should be.

But what about in the kitchen. What are the hammer and screwdriver of the kitchen? The Main Knife? Spatula? Stirring spoon? Frying pan?

None of the above. The world’s great chefs will never tell you this. This is not in any cookbook. Not even at the high-falutin’ cooking schools will they let you in on this little secret. It cannot usually be obtained in a kitchenware store or in the kitchenware department of a department store.

What is it?

A tweezer.

That’s right. A tweezer. Something you use to pluck your eyebrows or pull splinters out.

Not a big “tong-sized” tweezer. Just something you pick up at the makeup counter for a dollar or two.

Now, why is this so important? Lotta reasons.

Let’s start with the knife and awl functions. Modern packaging is so tamper-proof that you need something that’ll puncture the box or bag of whatever you’re using, whether it’s dish soap, vitamins or vacuum packed meat, poultry or vegetables.

What’s better than the sharp edge of a tweezer to do this safely? (You could use a knife, but that can be dangerous. These days, packaging is tougher than any fork made in the last 100 years, no matter what the material.)

Let’s say you’re making a delecate egg dish and (horrors!) you get shells into the pan. You can’t use tongs. You can’t use a fork. (Looks like forks are becoming outmoded.) Again, tweezers to the rescue.

When you’re cleaning up after cooking, what do you use to get those tiny bits of stuff out of the corners of the oven or the burners? What do you use to get those semi-microscopic pieces of cuttings out of the sink drain?

Right, tweezers.

If your hands are coated with olive oil and you have to sort around in the flatware drawer to extract something and don’t want to have to wash oil off every item in the drawer? Tweezers.

And if you buy one and put it in the kitchen, you’ll soon wonder how you ever lived without it.

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

(c) 2007 WJR

(The “signoff” of this blog is Macro One in the MS Word “Toolbox.”)

Thursday, April 26, 2007

How to do a Right Wing Radio Talk Show

234 How To Do A Right Wing Talk Show

It’s a lot easier than doing a left-leaning one or one that’s in the middle.

Start thus: there are certain basic premises you need, and they are the foundations of the whole shebang:

1. I know stuff that you don’t, but will if you listen.

2. I am more mature, more worldly, more knowledgeable than you or anyone else. Also, smarter, funnier, more passionate and more sensible.

3. Everyone but us is the enemy.

4. The enemy can be blamed for anything, and once done, you can blame the enemy for anything that goes wrong (i.e. not “your” way,) and that the net result will be destroying America, which, as we all know is what the enemy wants.

5. In sum, I’m great. If you follow me, YOU’RE great. “They” are out to get us, but we can fight back by following me me me.

Cut out those five points and tape them to your mirror.

Now, some show biz style hints for success:

1. Call names.

2. Simplify.

3. Repeat everything over and over and over (thank you, Adolf.)

4. Cut off people who call and disagree and humiliate them.

5. Lie, if necessary. (It almost always will be.)


1. Forget the errors and misdeeds of your political friends.

2. Ascribe anything that goes wrong to the Democratic Party’s control of Congress.

3. When you do, call them the “Democrat Party.”

4. Deny any scientific facts that don’t fit in with your views, and deny they are actual science.

5. Make sure you mention God at least three shows out of five, and make damn sure it’s a favorable mention.

6. Invent a premise and go with it to its logical conclusion. If you can’t muster logic, see point five, above.

Now, for some examples:

It’s hot out? Blame “The Libs.” It’s cold out? Point out how “The Libs” are wrong about global warming.

Shooter at a college? Obviously a liberal. If he were a REAL man, he wouldn’t be firing those guns, he’d be teaching the rest of us how to use them.

Casualties in battle? It’s because “The Libs” won’t send enough troops. (They “own” defeat, after all.)

Market goes down? Liberal propaganda drove it.

New planet discovered? God’s work.

Pillory Hillary. Just another Lib Liar.

Obama? Not black enough for the blacks.

Imus? Just kidding. Liberal, political correct squad got him into trouble.

Rene Portland? Gays won.

Any subject is game. Anything that’s wrong is game.

Newspaper circulation and evening news viewership slipping? It’s the LIBS. They are steering us to their propaganda websites (like CNN or PMSNBC for example,) where they have free reign with their evil agendas.

Tornado? God’s punishment for the godless LIBS.

Corzine in a 91 mph auto crash, and no seatbelt? See? The Libs can’t even follow their own safety rules!

Camel sits on, kills owner in Florida? Part of the Islamo-fascist conspiracy.

Rudy? Not really a conservative.

Edwards? Using political contributions from the poor liberals to get $400 haircuts.

Garbage in the streets? Libs diverted all the pickup money into recycling. Blame them.

No smoking in the saloon? Liberals just like the anti-tobacco Nazis of WWII Germany.

Lost your job to a woman or minority? Thank “The Libs,” not your lack of qualifications.

Klan rallies in your town?

Just rebelling against the feminazis.

Plus, they teach poor illiterate kids to read. (Starting with McGuffy and ending with Protocols of the Elders of Zion.)

Black has “your” seat on the bus?

We all know how THAT happened.

See? It’s easy. Any fool can do it.

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

(c) 2007 WJR

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Where's Chicago?

233 Where’s Chicago?

No, this is not one of those geography quizzes, where you ask a high school kid to find Austria on a map and he comes up with Australia, or even worse, starts looking at the Asia side of the globe.

Chicago is still where it always was, around 41 degrees latitude, around 87 degrees longitude. (We’ve left off the “minutes” so there would be space and time to say “we’ve left off the minutes.”)

It’s still what passes for the world’s hog butcher. It’s still “stormy, husky, brawling.” And it’s still the City of the Big Shoulders. All those things Sandburg called it.

It still has the Loop, it still has the Tribune (sort of,) and it still has (sort of) the Palmer House.

But there are changes that make people wonder, where’s Chicago?

This started a long time ago. But it’s picked up its pace.

It’s biggest hotel, the Stevens, became the Hilton. It’s still the Hilton. But now, it has about 1500 rooms instead of its original 2,000. Once it was the world’s largest hotel.

The Palmer House is now the Palmer House Hilton.

Creeping homogenization has been creeping a little faster these days.

We all expect the sprouting of McDonald’s and Starbuck’s. That’s hardly an example, because that’s happening everywhere.

But the Tribune makes more money and sells more papers in Los Angeles than it does at home, and it has more television viewers nationwide than it has readers. It’s also been sold, although the buyer is local.

Marshall Field’s flagship store is a Macy’s. That drew protesters, even though you can now buy those “famous” Marshall Field mints in EVERY Macy’s in America. About 800 of them.

The latest: The LaSalle Bank is now Bank of America. And BOA says it “never gave any thought” to keeping the LaSalle name, even though it’s been around forever and is the city’s second largest financial institution.

BOA doesn’t have much loyalty to tradition. After all, it’s not even really BOA. That was a San Francisco bank that was bought by a North Carolina bank which changed its name so that it would have some history and tradition that it otherwise lacked. Plus, “Bank of America” sounds so much statelier. Unless, of course, you’re a LaSalle loyalist.

Out on New York’s Long Island, the stuffy old Second National Bank of Hempstead was gobbled up by the then-voracious Security National Bank which more or less got gobbled up by one of the majors. They kept the stuffy old office and the stuffy old officers for awhile, but it just wasn’t the same.

But, back to Chicago, no more Capone, no more Sandburg, no more Marshall Field. (Oh, the original Marshall Field was born in Massachusetts. But so long ago, it doesn’t count.) No more major railroad passenger traffic. No more Stevens or Palmer House, no more Original Tribune, no more LaSalle bank.

But one thing hasn’t changed. One thing that’s almost exclusively Chicago that no body advocating “shareholder value” or “we need to make a national chain out of your dinky local department store or hotel” can change.

You can still walk on Lake Michigan. Even when it’s NOT frozen.

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

(c) 2007 WJR

Sunday, April 22, 2007


232 Sauce

You can tell a supermarket by its coffee and pasta aisles. All you need to know is there.

The more different kinds of each, the fresher (and more expensive) the meats and vegetables. The higher the ice cream prices. The higher the laundry and other cleaning product prices.

Tea counts, too. But not as much. Tea’s a fad right now. Everyone thinks it’s healthier than coffee (is it?) and these days, being British or Asian is cool, and what’s more Asian or British than tea?

(Dining Out Hint of the Century: Never order coffee at either an English or Asian restaurant. They just don’t get it. Or enough don’t so that it’s not worth the risk.)

Fifty kinds of ground coffee means it’s a first rate place. Anything less is less. Even if you don’t drink coffee, the aisle is a leading indicator of what the rest of the place is like.

Flavored coffee counts, though it shouldn’t. It’s a fad, like tea. People who drink flavored coffee will soon stop and either return to the real thing or find some other way to get their caffeine fix (maybe tea. But bet it’ll be plain old Lipton’s, nothing fancy or herbal.)

The pasta aisle should be at least as crowded as the coffee aisle. There should be at least seven or eight different brands, because each brand is slightly different from the others. Once you get into shapes and sizes within one manufacturer, it doesn’t much matter, because the fettuccini is made out of the same stuff as the linguini and spaghetti.

But there IS a difference from brand to brand.

Like everything else (including and maybe especially pharmaceuticals,) the house brand is usually the cheapest and the worst. Often, it comes in the prettiest box, though. That says something. Not sure what. Probably “we aren’t very good, but we’re loud!!”

Semolina is semolina, right? Wrong.

The brands made in Italy tend to be a little fancier (and pricier – though not by much) as the USA brands.

The Jewish brands (mostly Goodman’s) tend to be thicker and heavier.

The sauces are another story. Grandmother’s Sunday Marinara was only better in your memory than Prego. And the various Patsy’ses are overrated. Chop up a tomato and some garlic and throw it in to Aunt Millie’s and it’s just as good or better as what you remember Mama making for hours on a Sunday.

The cold cereal aisle is another pretty good indicator. Do they have every brand, every variety, every size? The more they DO have, the higher should be your level of confidence.

Of course, if you’re addicted to Post’s Yogurt Burst Honey-nut-extra-fiber chocolate whole wheat flakes, you may be in trouble. No one seems to carry THAT.

Maybe you should have unfilled raviolis for breakfast instead.

So, here are some barometers of the general state of your supermarket. Coffee, macaroni, sauce. It’s always the first couple of places to visit.

THEN, do your shopping. You’ll know what to expect.

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

(c) 2007 WJR

Friday, April 20, 2007


231 Cronies

You know why you can’t get anything done? Why nothing seems to work the way it should in your life? Why things just come to a grinding halt when you absolutely, positively need to go full speed ahead?

It’s because you don’t have any cronies. You need cronies in today’s world. Just take a look around you.

Attorney General Gonzales’ job is on the line as of this writing. And none of his cronies showed up at the hearings held to see whether he stays or goes. They were there earlier. Like when he was a young Texas lawyer and his draft-dodging, hard-drinking Texan hired him, and kept hiring and promoting him.

Ex-crony Bush is sitting on his hands, this time. Sitting this one out.

You know what’s going to happen.

The guys who run your town or city or county all are each others’ cronies. That’s how come they get to do things you NEVER would be able to do. Like give themselves raises, install traffic lights in front of their house or keep user-friendly quantities of semi-legal commodities in their basements.

The U.S. Supreme Court is a crony collection. So is the board of directors of any corporation you can name.

So, if you need anything, you have to have cronies.

If you did, then your phone would get fixed in two hours instead of “sometime in the next 48 hours.”

If you did, that speeding ticket would go away pronto.

If you did, the girl at the convenience store would charge you for a small coffee when you buy an extra large.

The G-men wouldn’t throw your G-cans all over the street on pickup day.

And think of the fun you’d have being a Friday night poker or pinochle player. (Canasta doesn’t count.)

Golf cronies. Chamber of commerce cronies. Medical cronies. Your whole world would improve in an instant if you weren’t just a normal every day, average Joe.

Yeah. You gotta get some cronies. And that means you have to BE a crony, too. After all, the first rule of cronyism is one hand washes the other.

So think about what valuable contribution you can make to a crony collection, and go out and get collected.

Who knows, you might be the next hole-in-one champ at Deepdale Links. You might even be a Justice of the Supreme Court (being a lawyer is not in the job description. Really.)

You might be the next President of the United States (which apparently has no job description at all.)

Or, at the very least, you can get your phone fixed.

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

Adapted from a sermonette first delivered on WBLF Radio 4/07

(c) 2007 WJR

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Medicare Part Duh

230 Medicare Part Duh!

So here comes this letter from Medicare. Welcome, it says. We hope you enjoy your coverage and to make things even dandier for you we’ve got this really nice website with all kinds of nifty helpful information specially for you.

Here’s the site:

Here’s the password: *******

That’s what they sent. Seven asterisks.

You can root around the website and find an actual phone number.

When you call that, a chirpy, cheery “customer service specialist” gets on the phone with little or no wait. There mustn’t be too many calls from senior citizens about website technical issues.

Is this a website technical issue? It doesn’t seem so, but it is. See, Medicare sent out half a gazillion letters and all of them had the same password: *******.

So, they’re sending new letters to everyone who became eligible on April 1, 2007. And when will it arrive? Chirpy says “as soon as possible.”

A natural question, then, would be, “when, approximately, might that be?”

But why take up her valuable time. While waiting for a call from a semi-savvy senior who sort of knows his way around the computer (there ARE a few dozen of us,) she probably had better things to do. Like practicing using the word “issue” when she meant “problem.” Or finding a new painkiller for her face, which has to hurt after eight hours of smiling on purpose.

But let’s hope she’s not in that famous new kid on the block “Medicare Part D.” If she is, she’ll have to check with herself to see if there’s a generic version and if it’s covered and at what level it’s covered if its covered.

Bayer Aspirin is not. Mightymart aspirin substitute is. And tests have shown that Mightymart aspirin is every bit as good as the real thing. In a double double blind study, it was shown that people who took Mightymart aspirin got over their headaches (and their face aches) 23 percent faster than those who took sugar pills or no pills at all.

The co-pay for Mightymart Aspirin is $2.00. However, without Medicare Part Duh, anyone can pick up the same bottle from the shelf for $1.79. So for the privilege of going through the Medicare part Duh system, you also get the privilege of paying 21 cents more for a bottle of generic aspirin. And if you’re on part D and walking down the painkiller aisle of your neighborhood Mightymart, and armed 6-foot-5, 280 pound Pinkerton will suddenly materialize and bar you from buying a name-brand aspirin, even at list price.

You are a generic, semi-warehoused Medicare Part D participant, and you will buy what we tell you, and ONLY what we tell you.

That’s a tiny exaggeration. The Pinkerton is not armed. The armed one only materializes if you try to buy something really name brand – like Geritol. Or Vicks Formula 44. Then, you’ve got trouble.

And if you want something like Lipitor or Zoloft, an entire Pinkerton Platoon shows up to make sure you get the generic.

Sometimes, they’ll let you off easy – like you can pay a fine. (They call it a co-payment. But fifty bucks for a tube of skin cancer goo is NOT a co-payment. It’s a punishment.)

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

(c) 2007 WJR

Sunday, April 15, 2007

Why Jersey Can't Read

229 Why Jersey Can’t Read

(New York) – While Governor Jon Corzine is in the Ariel Sharon ward in a Camden hospital, let us examine the drivers of his state, New Jersey.

Here’s a nor’easter. High winds. Flooding. Just the kind of weather you’d expect not to want to drive in. But here we are, entering the Garden State in a blinding rainstorm. There’s this big sign on the highway, route 80, one of the world’s worst roads, and it says “fasten your seatbelts and turn on your lights.”

We know Jon-Boy didn’t do the former. He’s there in the front of his SUV, runs into a guard rail, gets thrown to the back seat. He’s semi-comatose. Sorta like Sharon, but Sharon had a stroke, which you can’t control.

Big Jon’s about 300 pounds, maybe 6”1 or 2. And he’s the governor. Who’s going to tell him to put on the belt. He never does, anyway.

So Jon gets knocked to the back seat of the SUV, and he’s now in the hospital with all these wires and intravenous tubes going into his arms, and he’s dazed and doesn’t know who the hell he is, let alone WHERE he is and why he’s there.

And everyone in New Jersey and the rest of the world knows he’s in the hospital and is blotto, except maybe big Jon.

Now, comes a nor’easter. A monster storm. And here we all are heading into New Jersey, and the sign says “turn on your lights!” And no one does. You can’t see ten feet in front of you and they guys with the Jersey license plates speed around you and don’t have their lights one.

And you can’t see twenty feet in front of you. Yikes!

The New York guys all have their lights on. So do the Pennsylvanians. So does everyone else. Not the Jersey guys. They apparently can’t read. Either that, or they’re just not paying attention. Maybe they can’t tell it’s raining. REALLY raining. Or maybe they just don’t think the law applies to them,

After all, if the seatbelt law doesn’t apply to Jon Babes, why should the lights-on-in-a storm law apply to THEM?!

Perish the thought!

Once inside New York City, things only got worse. The lights were on. But that didn’t matter. The West Side Highway was so flooded, no one could go more than two miles an hour. Except that fella in the Mercedes SUV. He kept blinking his lights. Finally, getting out of his way, the guy passed at a fairly high rate of speed. This was at 125th St.

But when we creped into 56th, there was the guy in the middle of the road, stranded. Apparently, German engineering doesn’t work in Hudson River overspill.

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

(c) 2007 WJR

Thursday, April 12, 2007

Dear Mr. Imus

228 Dear Imus,

Don, you had this coming. You broke a lot of ground for us in the radio business. You made it okay to do funny bits that didn’t conform to the norm. You made it okay for the rest of us to do idiotic pranks. You made it the norm for us to say what was on our minds.

And your imbecile comments about the Rutgers Women’s Basketball team, though out of line, weren’t THAT out of line.

You were fired from your multi-million dollar jobs not because you called a few women “nappy headed hos," but because you have a long history of racist, sexiest remarks, and the people who put you on the air and kept you on the air had enough of the whole thing.

Fifty million is a lot of revenue to jeopardize. That’s what you brought in to MSNBC, which needs the money, to Westwood One, which desperately needs the money and CBS Radio which is as prudish as prudish can be, especially following Janet Jackson’s “Wardrobe Malfunction.”

Yours was a lexicographic malfunction. If this were the first time you used the phrase “nappy-headed hos,” people would have been shocked, but they’d have accepted your apologies. But this is NOT the first time.

You’ve been using racist and sexist metaphors and analogies for 30 years, maybe more.

So this is not about the comment. It’s about your history, a history of racial slurs and put downs. A history of comments so far off the wall that even the right wing talking heads couldn't bear it.

We all learned from you, Don. We all envied you, and the autonomy and freedom you had on the air. But you squandered it. And for that, we cannot forgive you.

We, your fans and your co-workers would like to remember the funny Imus, not the nasty, racist. We, your fans and co-workers, would like to remember the pioneering Imus, a guy who along with Ed Murrow and Martin Block and Arthur Godfrey made radio safe for opinion and humor.

That’s hard to do in the face of the Nappy Headed Ho comment, repeated endlessly.

We’d like to remember you as the guy who gave work to beginners, to the washed up. We’d like to remember all that charity work. We’d like to remember you as a funny, grumpy anorexic looking guy who helped save radio from the bland and had a hand on the tiller strong enough to prevent the truly obnoxious.

But little by little, you reneged on your contract, the one that said “be funny, be cute, be irreverent, be only slightly in bad taste.”

John Donald: Viacom’s Redstone is a blue nose. He probably never liked you – but he sure liked that 50 million dollar bottom line. Steve Capus’ heart has always been in the right place, and the money surely didn’t hurt MSNBC’s ailing bottom line.

But enough’s enough. Go find yourself one of those right wing short wave stations, where “nappy headed ho” is conventional speech – or find one of the satellite providers whose signal is for some unknown reason exempt from federal decency guidelines.

It’s a sad end. But somehow, fitting.

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

(c) 2007 WJR

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

The Felon

227 The Felon

Under cover of darkness…. After we were all tucked safely in bed…. Along comes a shadowy figure… a young man… equipped with weapons of mass destruction.

He stops… he looks carefully around… bends down, unzips his duffel bag and slips out….

… can it be?

… yes it is…

Spray paint.

Working quickly, he paints the side of a store…

But not quickly enough, for here come the cops.

One car… then another and another.

The guy makes a run for it.

But, too late.

He heads for an all night Wal-Mart and is trapped.

Once again, the Moote Pointe Police triumph over the forces of evil.

This poor schlep is 17 which means he'll be tried as an adult. The parents will come into court, weeping. They'll tell the judge he's "always been a good boy and we don't know what got into him."

The judge will slap him with a fine sufficient to undo the damage and he'll get one of those "contemplations of dismissal" which means if he keeps his paint in his bag for six months or a year and isn't caught in this hideous crime again the charge will be expunged from the record.

Except those expunges aren't always really expunged. If this felon so much as spits on the sidewalk in the next 20 years, the cops'll dig it out and use it against him.

Justice. It's a wonderful thing.

This guy should be prosecuted for bad art. His “graffitum” is worthless. Less than worthless. This guy needs a trip to New York City, where graffiti is a REAL art. Where letters and numbers and gang symbols MEAN something.


It’s so bad, not even the Museum of Modern Art would show it. Some initials, blue on a white wall.

Penny ante garbago!

Nothing to it.


This “artist” needs to go back to graffiti school. These wall decorations need to say something. Anything. This says nada.

And it speaks poorly of the art culture here at The Pointe.

Gang symbols, say the cops. Gang symbols?


Gang Symbols? WHAT gang? “Our” Gang of Our Gang Comedies fame?

While the cops and prosecutors are boiling, the Genovese people, the Crips and the Bloods are laughing.

This guy’s neither a gangster nor a gangsta.

He’s just a schmeckle with a spray can.

In powder blue.

A guy who doesn’t know the alphabet. A guy with a bad handwriting.

Come to think of it, fry him. He must be more dangerous than his appearance would suggest. After all, it took three – count ‘em – three prowl cars to surround and bag him.

Or maybe it was just an off night for real crime.

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

(c) 2007 WJR


Monday, April 09, 2007

Young Einstein & the Telephone

226 Young Einstein and the Telephone

Young Eintein’s cleaning behind his night table and decides all the wires from the cell phone charger and the alarm clock and the house phone and the light have to be neatened, which requires cutting a clump of them apart and rearranging them so they aren’t so messy.

Let’s see, now, where’s the little plastic tie strip that holds them all together? Ah, here. Out come the scissors and the plastic tie strip is cut. Well… no, it isn’t the plastic tie strip, it’s the wire that leads from the house phone to the power strip.

Now, let’s see. We have a phone system, a power cord and a little transformer that plugs into the power strip. And they have come apart. No problem. We’ll just hustle down to Best Buy and buy a replacement, probably ten bucks.

Best Buy doesn’t have the part. The part is useless in pieces. The phone system is useless without this accessory. Uh oh.

“Try Radio Shack” says the helpful guy behind the counter.

“You sell the phone, why don’t you sell the power supply?” asks Young Einstein.

“I dunno.”

Radio Shack doesn’t have the part, either. Cortland Street, where we used to go for spare parts, is (a) 300 miles away and (b) doesn’t have those kinds of shops anymore.

So, the answer is: buy a new phone system.

Oh, goodie. Let’s spend $100 instead of ten. Good for the economy. Plus the “old” phone system is already almost a year old.

New phone system purchased.

At home, we assemble the electronic parts of it easily. Plugging the batteries into the handsets is another story. Young Einstein takes his time trying to get the teeny-tiny plug into the teeny tiny socket. It doesn’t want to fit. It STILL doesn’t want to fit. It REALLY doesn’t want to fit. Finally, it fits.

The second handset has a completely different kind of battery arrangement. It takes equally long to put together.

They can make a fancy electronic telephone that works flawlessly once you figure out how to perform the low tech task of putting in a battery.

Genius! Young Einstein is envious. And once done (you can work up a sweat with this stuff!) he no longer is interested in making the rats nest of wires neat.

All is well until bedtime, when Einey realizes that the fancy blue light from the phone charger makes the room almost as bright as sunrise. No one can fall asleep in a room with what seems like enough light to replace the sun.

You can’t cover it up. You can’t turn it down. You can’t turn it off.

But they don’t call him Young Einstein for nothing. He plucks the phone from the cradle and the light goes out.

Now, if he can only remember to put it back together in the morning. And every morning thereafter.

And he throws away the scissor so there can be no repeat performance.

They put a man on the moon. But only after they figured out how to get him from the ground to door of the spaceship. Which project was harder? The one where they had to figure out that a ladder would do the trick.

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

(c) 2007 WJR

Friday, April 06, 2007

Al Gebra

225 Algebra

Have you ever met a quadratic equation? Well, no one else has either. How about factoring (33x + 22y + the square root of minus 23?) Never happened. Never will.

So why are they still teaching this stuff.

The pocket calculator, worth all of maybe two bucks these days, eliminated the need for elementary algebra for anyone not heading for the lab. Some research on why it’s still taught and why you should learn it.

The best reason for learning it – or at least the best published reason is “because it’s there.” No argument with the idea of learning for learning’s sake. Another reason? It stretches the mind. Not for a lot of people, though. What it does is send them into spasms of fear and loathing normally reserved for Satan.

Actually, it’s a system of contractions. Variables, powers, roots, and all that stuff is shorthand – shorthand you can do arithmetically with a simple and inexpensive piece of electronics.

And no one seems to find a connection between real life and abstract elementary math.

People who are offended by reliance on a calculator are from the same school that is offended by the need to take some medicine regularly for a lifetime. They don’t want to rely on calculators, they don’t want to rely on Zoloft or Lunesta.

That’s like saying “if I can’t walk, I’m not going to rely on a wheel chair.” Okay. Sit there. No one will miss you. But you will be true to yourself. You won’t rely on a wheelchair.

People fear math. It’s like fearing Albanian. Do you know anyone who speaks Albanian? Probably not. Do you fear having to deal with it? Again, probably not. So why do you fear math?

Do you fear street signs with little pictures instead of words? You may not like them, you may not always understand them. But you more or less know that you’re being told something – and you don’t fear them.

Maybe if you pulled over to a safe spot on the road and studied the sign you don’t understand, you’d eventually get the gist.

So what of the abstractions in elementary algebra? If you have an ordinary serving of grey matter, chances are you can figure that out, too. Once you get over that clutching feeling in your chest or that knot in your stomach, that is.

Another of the reasons we don’t like this stuff is because of the way it’s taught. Instructors, professors, middle school teachers all race at breakneck speed through a pile of processes that seem disconnected from one another – except that you need to master chapter one before you master chapter two.

And when you come to the end of the book and the end of the course, you’re left with a pile of parts and no diagram about how to put it all together.

Well, there days you don’t need to put it together – unless you’re planning a career in chemistry or physics.

So the answer is this: become a closet calculator. Keep the thing under wraps. Let no one know that you’re electronics-dependent. If you’re sneaky enough, you can live your whole life without anyone discovering your dirty little secret.

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

(c) 2007 WJR

Tuesday, April 03, 2007

How To Solve the Oil "Crisis"

224 Mission Accomplished

Want to solve the oil “crisis?” Then let ExxonMobil and its co-religionists do the r&d.

If they can figure out a way to make a profit, they’ll be all over it.

Forget these cutsie university based studies, development by government agencies, farmers cooking hemp fuels. Put the potential for money in it, and you’d better believe we’ll have synthetics or some other substitute for gasoline pouring out of the ground or the sky or the ocean inside five years.

The oil people aren’t interested in oil, they’re interested in money. Figure out a way to help their bottom lines, and they’ll roll over like basset hounds getting their bellies scratched.

Figure it this way. Joe and Mary Chemistry graduate from Pompous U and they’re ready to teach, to work for the EPA or the municipal hospital center for – oh say – 60 or 70 grand a year.

Maybe they’re working for the Save the Planet Society for, 40 or 50 a year. Along comes BP or Royal Dutch Shell and waves a quarter million in their faces, tells them they’re still saving the planet, don’t have to worry about grant writing or academic or non-profit politics which make the presidential race look like a Sunday morning croquet match for fourth graders.

The best lab, the best computers, no real watching, plenty of pay…. Presto, there’s your oil substitute.

Some with the marketing. John and Melissa Pyramid-Scheme graduate with advanced degrees in marketing. They want to do the world some good. (Don’t all marketing majors want to show other people what’s good for them?) So, should they join some big ad agency as junior account executives, or should they get behind the big push to show you how to save the planet (with or without the Save the Planet Society,) and earn big bucks while they do it?

The only way you’re going to stop reliance on foreign oil is to make sure the oil companies can turn a better buck with something else. Like, maybe they can sell whatever they come up with for, oh, say a buck thirty or a buck fifty a gallon, but it only costs them 39 cents to make and ship and advertise?

The hybrids are good but they’re not going to do it. Hydrogen is good, but there’s so much developing left to be done, many of us won’t see it in our lifetimes. Ethanol is not going to do it.

But somewhere on this earth there has to be something…. Or some combination of somethings that you can stick in the tank and make the motor run without wrecking it.

This would change the face of the transportation manufacturing industry as well. Everyone would eventually need to replace their vehicles with ones that work with the new fuel.

That means jobs jobs jobs in Detroit, Tokyo, Seoul, and maybe even here.

That means technicians will have to be hired and trained. That means big investment by the retailers – both for cars and fuel. That means big business for lenders.

And it means the planet gets to stay the planet for awhile longer.

Make it profitable, and you’ve made it.

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

(c) 2007 WJR

Monday, April 02, 2007

Designing Men & Women

223 Designing Men & Women

Who dreams this stuff up? Vacuum cleaners that weigh more than the people who use them, minivan liftgates that open so high no one can reach them, gas pumps whose computerized displays are washed out by sunlight, and rooms that a huge – but have almost no useable space.

Designers of vacuums must all be former football players or sumo wrestlers. Designers of liftgates must first have done service in the NBA. Designers of gasoline pumps must be non-drivers. And the architects must surely be people who live in attic garrotes.

Either that, or they’re all champion dunces.

Mostly, it’s women who do the vacuuming. “The Little Lady,” chances are, is about 5-2 or 5-3 and weighs about 100 pounds. And chances are she’s taking some pill or other that helps prevent her aging bones from cracking. This is not someone who can easily use a 110 pound Hoover.

This is the same person who drives the minivan and needs to carry a stool around in the back so she can close the door once it’s opened.

Yes, there are lightweight vacuum cleaners. Good ones. Also, not cheap.

And you can probably attach a fishing line or a laundry line or some other string to the back door of the van and pull it down. But you’d think that after 30 years of van building and 100 years of vacuum cleaning, someone would have figured out that either they have to make a lighter machine or at least give you a weightlifting video with the present ones.

But all this pales when you find something with three of the most terroristic words in the English language on it. Three words that strike fear and horror into men and women alike. Three words that when taken separately are perfectly innocent, harmless and maybe even vacuous. They are:

“Easy to Assemble.”

There are variations, of course, like “assembles in minutes,” or “ E-Z instructions included” or “no tools required.”

But the basic three, taken as a sentence, are the template and the formula. “Easy to Assemble.”

Again, the people who write the instructions never have tried to follow them. Like the guy who designed the living room here at the Wessays Lab. Four doors on one wall, two archways on another, a staircase on a third. Where do you put the couch? Against the fourth wall. Where do you put a chair? WHAT chair.

You walk out of one of those four doors to the garage and there, awaiting you, is a tool cabinet. Well, not a tool cabinet, but the pieces of one. A frame, two shelves, two doors, two drawers and a fistful of hardware. Screws, washers, nuts, little wheels. Except nothing fits into anything else.

And there it is on the box: “Easy to Assemble.”

NOTHING is easy to assemble.

What’s worse, when you have it half finished and can’t continue, you can’t seem to figure out how to un-do what you’ve done so you can bring the thing back.

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

(c) 2007 WJR

4744 The Running of the Bull

  Newsday Photo   A bull escaped from a farm in Moriches on New York’s Long Island and has been playing hide and seek ever since.  It’s not ...