Ponderings and Musings

Pictures.

“How do you get your laundry so clean, Mr. Lee”?

“Ancient Chinese Secret”.

“My husband, some hot shot, here’s his Ancient Chinese Secret, Calgon”.

The reason I can remember this commercial is easy. I run the commercial in my head, focusing on the images. The young woman stands in front of a General Electric washing machine with the top removed, the lint filter missing, the recycling pump turned off, and pours a healthy chunk of powdered Calgon into the running washing machine. Why a commercial venture run by an Asian couple is using the washing machine typically found in the back of a mobile home with half its part missing is beyond me. It was the 1970s.

“How do you remember things like this”? I’ve been asked this more than once in my 53 years and it’s because I remember things visually. I think in pictures. I see the colors and the frame of the memory and the layout of the content and I tune in on small details that just imprint themselves into my memory. That’s the only explanation I have. I don’t remember words. I don’t remember stories. I remember things visually. If I can associate written content to the visuals, I’m good. Otherwise, I’m lost. It’s one of the reasons I’ve never tested well.

Back when I was 11 years old we were driving through the village and I said to my mom, “why are all the street corner signs gone”? It was 1979 and I was riding in the front seat next to my mom in our 1978 Chevy Impala. The sun was out. The car still smelled a little new. She hadn’t noticed the missing signs, but I instantly noticed the cast iron signs denoting the corner of Broad Street and Park Street or North Jefferson Street and Hubble Street were all missing. The change in scenery had struck me hard as soon as we had entered the area and I found it very disconcerting. A disturbance in the force, if you will. All the traffic lights and stop signs and guide signs to Interstate 81 were in place, just the signs denoting the street names were gone. My mother hadn’t noticed, asked why I noticed it and I couldn’t really tell her. I just noticed it. A few weeks later they were back, all repainted, by hand, in glorious black and white.

I think in pictures and I think in patterns. I think (that’s three ‘thinks’ in less than a dozen words) I’m really good at my job as a programmer and troubleshooter because I can instantly identify breaks in patterns. When an application or a server or something at work goes off the rails, I can see the pattern, or lack there of, as bright as day in front of me. The solution may still be off in another direction, but the break in the pattern usually leads me somewhere towards the solution. It’s an asset.

When we were in elementary school we learned about autonomous actions of the body. For example, we didn’t have to concentrate to lift our arm, we just knew to lift our arm and we did. I remember Miss Kania (my first grade teacher) saying, “now tell yourself to lift your arm”. When I did that I pictured my arm moving up. I didn’t think, “lift my arm”. I remember asking a classmate named Martin, “did you think the words”? He thought I was crazy as he said “yes”. I didn’t think the words. I saw my arm lifting. This made me think I was doing it wrong.

Thinking and remembering visually, or in pictures, probably lends to what others say is my uncanny memory. I don’t know what it’s like to not remember what I had for lunch on a Friday in second grade in elementary school (square cheese pizza, green beans, a small dixie cup of unsalted peanuts, and apple crisp, arranged on my tray with the pizza in the middle, green beans on the upper left, apple crisp on the upper right, a half pint of Byrne Dairy white milk in a red and white carton under the green beans, and the unsalted peanuts under the apple crisp, all on a light brown tray because I thumbed through the older dark trays to get one of the newer lighter ones). The cashier, Mrs. Stevens, wore a white sweater like a shawl over her shoulders that day. I can’t tell you the date, but I can tell you what it looked like as easily as I can describe what our cat Truman looks like right now. (He’s cranky that he hasn’t had a treat in two hours).

I know I’m a little off the beam. I know my bubble isn’t in the center and there’s probably test scores floating around in too many places that proves this out. I know my numbers. I learned long ago how to fade into the background a little bit and not draw too much attention to myself by barking out “hey you shaved off your mustache!”1 when I ran into my high school art teacher out in public during summer break.

I wouldn’t change a thing about how I think or how or what I remember from my days past. It’s just part of me being me.

1 He responded, “you are the only person that noticed!”. I’ve heard that a lot in 53 1/2 years.

Monetization.

In 1998 or so I was working for a radio station that was owned by an advertising agency. They were actually two separate businesses owned by the same husband and wife (who could fight like no couple I’ve ever met in my life) but I ended up working on both sides of that fence and it was interesting. I’ve never had an interest in advertising. I find advertising annoying. But for a small chunk of my adult life I made a living by, among many other things in the jack-of-all-trades position that involved maintaining computer networks, being on the Top 40 radio station, and working on FM transmitters, writing ad copy for a smattering of businesses across Upstate New York. Hell, I voiced more than one commercial that played on all the radio stations in the five boroughs of New York City.

As a solidly Gen X individual I know life both in the analog world and the digital world. I can easily remember before everything was computerized. I know the joy of receiving cards in the mail, I revel in the memories of dialing into to retrieve email long before the days of America Online, and I can remember what the very early stages of the World Wide Web was like. I was “raised” in a certain tech culture; before my days at the radio station/advertising agency I worked for the second largest computer company in the world. All 120K employees of Digital Equipment Corporation had a terminal on their desk at the time, and in glorious (you pick green/white/amber) text we could email, “surf” our internal pre-web text pages, and chat with one another through forums called VAXnotes and chat programs called VAXchat.

At no time did the “monetization” of the Internet cross my mind. Like many others, I thought of “the web” as a wonderfully mammoth collaborative living encyclopedia, where we would exchange ideas, talk with one another, and make each other think, communicate, and debate on various topics.

At no time did I throw advertising into that equation.

Back to the advertising agency. One of the clients of the agency was the NYS Department of Transportation, and they were looking to improve their image by running commercials about the wonders of roundabouts, the importance of expressways in our small city, and the safety of following stop signs and speed limits. Somehow the subject of my very first web site, a cacophony of information about the roads of Upstate New York, came to the forefront and I ended up showing my website to the owners of the business.

“You should charge people for this information. At the very least, you should show ads and collect some money”.

This had never crossed my mind. What eventually became UpstateNYroads.com was never a source of revenue for me; my focus on the site was to contribute to that big, living encyclopedia I envisioned and I was doing my part to contribute to the greater good. There was no money involved.

Can you imagine an Internet experience today where money is not involved? It’s so incredibly sad.

The monetization of the Internet has destroyed the original purpose of the vehicle. We now have “influencers” that try to make a legitimate living by sharing the beauty of products and places, all the while being paid for it.

Gross.

I’ve never had ads on any of my sites. I’ve never charged for content. I’ve never tried to monetize the videos I’ve shared and I throw out any resume that mentions an applicant has tried to live their life as an influencer.

I still believe the Internet can make us better, but only if approached the right way. Unfortunately, with the lies, and the deception, and the anger, and the rabidness, and the screaming, and the yelling, and the charging, and the flashy ads, and the data mining, I don’t think the Internet is going to make us better. I want to believe we’ll come around, but we’ll probably destroy ourselves before that happens.

I’m so happy I stepped away from a life of writing and voicing ads.

Resolutions.

The lighting at 7:30 AM.

I started the workday by shaving off my mustache this morning. It’s a signifier of the New Year to me and the exercise complimented my mood. I’ll probably grow another mustache someday.

I have a few resolutions on my docket for 2022. I don’t start my resolutions on the first of the year, as typically I’m going to start trying to eat healthier again but that never happens on the first of January. Why set yourself up for failure? By starting any health resolutions on the 3rd, I have a chance of making it until at least the 5th. Goals are important.

I’ve been reading old posts from the beginning of various years and I really haven’t changed much in the 20+ years I have been churning away at this blog. I hope I’m a little wiser and a little calmer about things. I don’t feel the need to drop f-bombs as much as I did yesterday. I now even try to stop swearing at people when I drive. That’s an accomplishment. I probably need a fidget spinner to keep in my right hand when I’m driving. Are fidget spinners still a thing? It’s better than playing with a smartphone, which many seem to do while traveling at 75 MPH on the 10 outside of Tucson.

My husband has started taking down the holiday decorations; it’s something to be done after the first of the year is part of history. When I was a youngster I used to find taking down the Christmas tree to be very depressing, especially when the (formerly) live tree would be leaned up against the side of the house or something. We don’t have live trees here in the desert as we figure they’d dry out and go up in flames within a day or two. I really liked our new artificial trees and they brought me joy.

My biggest resolution of the year is to reduce that which does not spark joy in my life, or at the very least, reduce that which does not lead to sparking joy in my life. I mean, I enjoy my job and there are elements that spark joy, but I don’t consider the workday an entirely joyful experience. But the results of my work leads to things that can spark joy, so there’s that. I quipped to my mom not too long ago, ”I probably don’t need to figure out what I’ll be when I grow up”.

Maintain Momentum.

I shared an idea on social media yesterday. Since Betty White was such an animal lover, let’s start 2022 on a positive note and keep her love of animals alive by making a donation or volunteering with a local animal shelter. When this thought occurred to me, I did some quick searching on the Internet and discovered Pima Animal Care Center, here in Pima County. There are organizations like this all over and I’m sure there’s one in your neighborhood.

Too many of our furry friends need our help or need a home. Make a contribution in memory of Betty White, and let’s keep her love for animals alive.

Cozy.

I think I startled the family a little bit when I mentioned that while I love our home, I don’t find it super cozy yet. I meant no discontent or disrespect by sharing this with the others as I enjoy our home very much. There’s just a coziness or cuddliness of it that I have found yet.

I think this feeling might be a result of living in the desert. Up until the past couple of days I was still wearing shorts on a regular basis. There are no chestnuts roasting on an open fire or mugs of hot cocoa or vats of chili cooking on the counter. It’d be quite warm if we had a fire in the fireplace (though that appears to be changing later this week).

As a northern boy I’m missing key markers in the year to let me know when it’s time to feel warm and snuggly and cuddly. I’m not complaining mind you, I’m just commenting on the change of atmosphere and how I haven’t quite adapted to it yet.

The forecast for the upcoming weekend mentions snow in the mountains and possibly freezing temperatures here. Perhaps that will make the “cuddly” more recognizable.

km.

The majority of road signs featuring distances along Interstate 19 are in metric units. Interstate 19 runs from the U.S.-Mexican border at Nogales, Arizona and Nogales, Sonora to just southeast of Tucson at Interstate 10.

Contrary to folklore, the signs are not metric because the road goes to Mexico. Actually, Interstate 19 was built when the United States was to convert to metric during the Carter Administration. That plan was abandoned when Reaganomics swooped in, but the metric signs, including interchange numbers related to their kilometer-post, stayed in place. The signs were last replaced in 1999, again with metric units. In 2010 ADOT started replacing the signs at the northern end of the freeway with customary units, but local opposition to the conversion stalled that project. Businesses in particular didn’t want to see the interchanges renumbered because that would mean changing directions to their business. So, the metric signs still stand and the exit numbers are based on the number of kilometers from the southern end of the freeway.

Because of their age, some signs have been replaced in the last year or two and they use the same exit number and “km” instead of “miles” for distance. When you jump onto I-19 from I-10 in Tucson you’ll see “Interstate 19 uses metric signs”. Speed limits are still in English units (55/65/75).

I love the metric signs on Interstate 19 and I love the old button-copy legend (the letters with the reflectors in them). Arizona and Ohio were the last two states to use this type of lettering on their signs and I’ve always found them to be more professional and sturdier looking.

I remember the optimism surrounding the plans to switch to metric when I was in elementary school. In fact, when we learned units of measure as part of our elementary school education, it was all metric based. New York State was progressive and all that. To this day I have no idea how many quarts are in a pound or how many pints are in a hectare. Don’t even get me started on chains and rods, when I went to college for Civil Engineering, roads were still being designed to metric units. NYSDOT switched back to English units right after I was in college in the late 2000s.

It’s a shame the United States can’t embrace the metric system because of Yankee Doodle Yacky and God Bless America and all that. The metric system makes much more logical sense.

But logical sense has never been a strong point of American society.

Discipline.

From January, 2018, the last time I grew a beard

Why don’t you have a beard anymore? You used to always have a beard.

This is something I hear once in a while. My dad and I had a conversation about pilots and beards back shortly after my 16th birthday when we were in Oshkosh, Wis. at the great aviation event with my grandfather. “A clean shaven man shows the world the man is disciplined. And it takes discipline to be a pilot.” I know plenty of private pilots with beards and they’re perfectly fine pilots. They’re on their way of becoming old pilots and it’s always good to become an old pilot. I don’t know many female pilots with beards.

My dad was very structured and disciplined with his approach to life. He didn’t talk about these traits very often, but when he did I listened.

But let’s face it, my beard grows in weird patterns, is very gray these days, and quite frankly, it’s much easier just to shave my face everyday. I don’t know if my shaving routine makes me a disciplined pilot, but it makes me feel better about myself and that’s important. Confidence is a key factor in becoming a very old pilot.

Slow Down.

I mentioned the Sears Wish Book earlier this week. Sure, back in the day, the Sears Wish Book encouraged men to buy their wives a dishwasher for Christmas so she would have more time to spend with him, but that was just a sign of the times.

Sears didn’t do well with keeping up with the times, did they. The chain was purchased by Kmart just when they should have become the next Amazon. Yes, Kmart Holdings bought Sears and then renamed the whole thing Sears Holding, it was Kmart that did the buying. Kmart got too big for their britches the moment they dropped the big red “K” with the lowercase turquoise “mart” for a logo.

So many malls all over the country have shuttered Sears stores at one end of a prominent wing and it’s a reminder to all that what was in the world of retail is no more. We spent time at the mall tonight and despite it being the last shopping weekend of the season, the mall wasn’t particularly busy. People point, click, and wait for a delivery. The JCPenney was sparsely stocked and Macy’s was a mess but at had a decent selection of merchandise. Only Dillard’s looked like a department store of the before times.

Remember the before times? They were lovely but they’re never coming back. Despite all efforts to “return to normal” during these pandemic times, there’s uncertainty as to what that normal is or what that normal should be.

I wish the new normal included going to Sears.

Sears was the very first store where I witnessed the use of an electronic cash register. It piqued my interest and eventually led me to a very good career as a software engineer.

I wouldn’t mind seeing one of those old Sears cash registers from the 1970s again. In person.

At Sears.

Smalltown Boy.

Steve Bronski of Bronski Beat passed away this week. He was 61 years old.

I wasn’t aware of Bronski Beat when their debut single, “Smalltown Boy”, was released in 1984. It wasn’t until I was in college in later 1986 that I discovered the band and started enjoying their albums and single releases. I instantly fell in love with their synths, and Hi-NRG music, and then started listening to their lyrics and realized this group was something special for the gay community.

A few elements of “Smalltown Boy” has always held some truth for me. As a Gen-X gay man I consider myself quite lucky; my parents were mostly fine with my homosexuality and I’ve always felt love and acceptance at home. Both of my parents were awesome in many ways, including dealing with their only son being gay. I’ve been blessed, many of my age and to this day are not nearly as lucky.

The video for “Smalltown Boy” has a couple of scenes that I can relate to, mostly around where Jimmy Somerville is encouraged by his gay friends to approach another young man and profess his interest in him and the results of the interaction turning less than positive. Even though it’s been over 35 years I still have a hard time with that similar moment in my past. A couple of gay friends encouraged me to approach someone that I knew was gay and muster up the courage to show an interest in him and it didn’t turn out well. I wasn’t hurt physically too much and there was thankfully no gang or police or anything involved as shown in the music video situation, but it was still a lot for me to handle that I handled alone and got through it. The biggest hurt I felt was the betrayal from what I believed to be friends that understood me because they were like me. They really weren’t like me, they just shared the attraction to the same sex. It was good to leave them behind.

The messages in the music by Bronski Beat was important during the 1980s, in addition to just being good music. RIP Steve Bronski. Thank you for doing your part to help life for LGBTQ+ folks a little bit easier and more importantly, thank you for your music.

2000.

The last gasps of the 20th century were an interesting time. Political turmoil was ramping up, though nothing close to the likes of the idiocy we have today. 9/11 hadn’t happened yet. Television was still in standard definition, if you wanted email you most likely were using a dial-up modem or a very slow data line, our cell phones were analog and not smart. Web 1.0 had done its thing and we were getting ready for Web 2.0, whatever that was going to be. We still had to know things, content on the Internet was a bit more honest, and things weren’t quite as “in your face”. We had hope for the 21st century.

Once in a while I take a listen to this live performance of Joni Mitchell’s “Help Me”, covered by k.d. lang in a slightly slower but more sultry way. The clothes, the vibe, the honesty … all seems to be part of that last gasp of the 20th century. I have always looked forward to the future, but lately I’ve been wondering about the past.