Sunday, March 1, 2015

Thrill Me, Chill Me, Fulfill Me

It was Christmas vacation in 1978, when I came home from college to visit my parents who had retired to a small town in northern Georgia. My parents had relocated after my high school graduation so the place I was going to visit with them was not somewhere that I had ever lived at any point during my life. As a result, I was going to be suffering through what was popularly known as the "weekend fix-up with your parent's friend's kids". In most instances, the minute you got beyond ear shot of the parents, both you and the person you were being fixed up with agreed that you would make the most of your time together but there was little that was really going to come of it.
I was told late one afternoon that it had been decided that I was going to go to a late-night scary movie with the high school senior daughter of a friend of my mother. My mother did not know the name of the movie, just that it was some kind of horror movie that started at 11 o'clock at night at the theater in downtown Augusta. Since I had no other plans, it was easy to be agreeable to this one. However, I had no idea what I was agreeing to at the time.

I can't recall her name anymore, but she and another couple we were double dating with came to pick me up for the movie that evening, and we headed into town. During the drive into town, I asked for the title of the movie and realized I had never heard of it but at that point it was too late to get out of going.  When pulled into the theater, I noticed that both of the girls were carrying large purses, but really didn't think anything of it. No one looked unusual in the lobby or in the theater itself once we got in and sat down. After getting seated, the girls started to hand out various props. When I asked what was going on, they told me that I would understand once the movie started. I was given toast, a newspaper, a squirt gun, rice, and a party horn. As soon as I got my allotment of goodies, I started to look around to see if everyone else was doing the same but it was too late because the light started to go down and the voices went up.

"Lips! Lips! Lips! ..."  In unison it seemed like the entire theater had started the chant, while clapping their hands in time -- and I joined them. I watched as the curtains opened and then upon the screen appeared a huge set of red lips. The shouting quickly died down, so you could hear the lyrics of the first song of The Rocky Horror Picture Show. For those of you who have been before, I made no mention of anyone in costume because the CosPlay ritual had not started in Georgia yet but that did not prevent the audience participation portion of the movie.

So as a virgin to the show, I learned when the say "Slut", "Asshole", "Where's your neck?" and many other phrases that added to the adventure that is the movie.  I held a newspaper over my head while I dutifully squirted water at everyone seated in front of me and was totally caught off guard when an old-fashioned cage elevator delivered the star of the show -- Dr. Frank-N-Furter from Transsexual Transylvania. I am proud to say that I quickly caught on to dancing The Time Warp after the first chorus and quite simply had a blast. The movie was heavily campy, but the songs were a lot
of fun with lyrics that had at the same time deep meaning and double entendre buried within them.

The evening ended with the ride home that was a lot more loose and fun than the ride to the theater. I put the experience in the filing cabinet in my mind thinking that that was the last time I would run into Frank, Riff-Raff, and Meatloaf.... Ah but I was so wrong.

It was less than two years later when the college I was attending showed the movie as a Halloween social event on campus.  Looking back, I'm surprised that they chose to show the movie given the fact that I went to school in the Deep South.    I, along with a group of friends, put together prop bags to take with us and even though all of us dressed up in Halloween costumes, no one was bold enough yet to show up dressed as any of the lead characters from the movie.   A good time was had by all and this time, after the movie, I bought a copy of the soundtrack so that I could enjoy the music  -- I admit it -- I used to sing along with  the chorus of "Touch-A Touch-A Touch Me".  Also, even though it reveals how long ago this was, I will say that I would've bought a video tape or DVD if either had been commonplace at that time. They weren't.

In the mid-80s, I flew into Okinawa because of a typhoon evacuation from Guam, and while strolling
through the market section of the city I ran into a merchant with a table of videotapes for sale. Amazingly, one of them was The Rocky Horror Picture Show, but with Japanese subtitles. I bought it, and watched the movie again – – I will say it is not as much fun is seeing it in the theater with a group of friends and if you watch it at home you have to clean up the mess after.

I did not see The Rocky Horror Picture Show in a theater again until October 2014, when my Son and I it at a local theater just before Halloween. The theater was showing what was being billed as the sing-along version of the movie, and the cost of admission included a bag of goodies for audience participation.
 
I will confess that I did not know my Son had never seen the movie, I had always figured that at some point in college he had gone -- it was not your usual Father/Son experience, but that's OK.  He participated in the virgin deflowering ceremony and then we kicked back and watch the movie. I had never seen it shown with sing-along lyrics across the bottom of the screen, so for the first time I actually saw what some of the words were for the crowd responses. I had been saying some of them wrong for a lot of years. That's okay, learning the words from the people you went with was more fun.  Not sure when I will have another opportunity to see the movie, but I hope it isn't too long.

So what does it all mean?  I have seen the film with both male and female gay, bi-sexual, and straight friends.  Each of them probably found something different to take home at the end of the movie, from hedonistic to spiritual. The one message I have always taken away from the movie is a simple one ... Don't dream it, be it.

At the late-night, double feature, picture show – – I want to go – – Oh oh oh oh --- to the late-night, double feature – – picture show.



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Sunday, February 22, 2015

Holy Pondered Answer, Batman!


I was at a leadership meeting recently, and one of the warm up, getting to know you exercises was "Which superhero would you want to be?"  I was the first to answer this question and without hesitation I said "Batman".  Then I got the unexpected follow-up question:  Why?    I was thrown for a second then said that I liked the fact Batman used his mind versus some special power to defeat the bad guys.  That was partially true, but the question it else led me into taking a moment to consider if that was the real reason.  Was it the cape?  Was it the Batmobile? Was it the scowl? The Nelson Riddle theme song?

I grew up in what was consider the golden age of the TV superhero. Superheroes flooded the TV just as I got home from school and all morning every Saturday.  In addition to cartoons we had The Green Hornet with Bruce Lee as Kato; old Adventures of Superman reruns with George Reeves and of course the campy Batman with Adam West.   These shows were repetitive and did not delve into the back stories of the characters; and they were not serialized so each was a 20 minute episode was a stand-alone tale.  The other 10 minutes of the half hour was filled with commercials for cereal and things like Sixfinger -- "...how did you ever get by with just five?

The shows were very basic:  you had a superhero kicking villain’s butts, with known powers, and known personality traits.  The rest of the depth of the characters and story lay on the cutting room floor, to get the whole story you had to read the actual comic books.  

Batman was my favorite not due to the acting chops of Adam West or Burt Ward, but because of all of the Batgadgets.  I liked and wanted a Bat-a-rang, BatJetPack, Batcomputer, Batcycle, Bat and Batmobile.  The day after the show was on was spent reenacting the episode on the playground with imaginary words like Biff! and Zow! flying out of our choreographed light contact fights. I was young and no character build-up was necessary.  I liked it just the way it was and later when I started reaching "that age"  I was happy to watch Julie Newmar slink around as Catwoman, though I did like Eartha Kitt's purr better.  

Side note:  I do recall an epic battle that took place on the St Mary's School playground when two kids got into it over Thor being the son of God.  A Catholic school playground is not a good place to have comic book theological arguments.  In the end Father Schwartz intervened and settled it by explaining Norse Mythology and the comic book adaptation of Thor, Loki (who was never in the  cartoon) and Oden.  

As I grew I got a bit more sophisticated, I moved on to Secret Agent Man, I Spy,  and Mission: Impossible.  All those heroes had gadgets.  Really cool gadgets and in MI you even occasionally got to see a guy pull off his face during the final reveal.  I didn't stop liking Batman, I would love to have seen more Batman, but as it was I grew up and Batman didn't and he wasn't enough to hold my attention about then.  I could have moved to comic books for the narrative, but by the time I got access to money and a comic book store, I had moved on to Mad Magazine.

Along came the Michael Keaton - Batman, then the Val Kilmer - Batman, and finally the George Clooney - Batman.  Cool gadgets, cool villains, cool cars; but a little on the campy side.  None of them looked into the dark soul of Bruce Wayne that led to the creation of Batman; at that point in my life I needed the complexities of that story line to keep me a fan -- or at least a fan of the movies.   I read more in depth discussion of nipples on the suit than of the storyline.  Sad, but it did lead me to the Dark Knight.
 
I finally read the graphic novels (grown men don't read comic books) and I liked them.  Here were the gadgets plus a complex back story that led a smart guy down a dark path that continually left him standing on the razors edge between doing the right thing the right way and administering justice himself.  Which side should I root for?  The villains were likewise deeply bent and psychopathic.  They were capable of anything at any time.  Catwoman and other female villains were sexy but used that sensuality to achieve evil or just plain cause chaos.  Awesome.  Plus there were rules for continuity (or canon) attached to the characters and things they could and would do and things that did not match history so they could not.  Also awesome.   

I had matured and now I had a mature Batman to enjoy and admire.  He was a superhero with zero super powers.  He was smart and rich enough to use the intelligence to invent the means he needed to fight the badness.  He threw on a cape and went out to do battle -- and he didn't always win.  Totally cool.  Then came the Dark Knight movies with Christian Bale.  Mostly canon, darker and very good.  I enjoyed all of them.    

So why is Batman my favorite?  Maybe because I could be him.  No radioactive spiders, dying planet, Arc reactor powered suit, or gills required.

Ben Affleck?  Meh.  Not a fan.  In real life and on the screen he has always seemed arrogant, condescending, and plastic.  A poor choice, but let's see what happens when he puts on the suit.

For now, I will slip into my cape a few nights a week and keep the local streets safe.  Since I have been here, neither the Joker nor Riddler has ever shown up.  Catwoman?  One can only hope.



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Sunday, February 15, 2015

I'm Not Dead Yet...Or Am I?


As you go up in years, death becomes part of your life.  With each passing year, people you know, people you have heard of, and people you are related to start to pass on.  That is just the way life goes.  Of course, if you are the one who dies, you tend not to hear or worry about it anymore.  There have been a lot of articles and stories in the past few weeks about what happens to your on line presence when you die.  Some companies are considering letting you name a successor who can take over your accounts in the event of your death – the thought of that reminds me of something Teller (of Penn & Teller) once said:  “When I die, blow up my laptop”.  There is some wisdom in that, but what about all the stuff you have posted on line?  Do you want it destroyed or should it live on in a digital form of immortality?

When my Mom passed, my Dad left her voice on the answering machine for a long time.  At first it was a little unnerving to have her voice talking to me when I called, but then I got used to it.  Eventually, I found some comfort in hearing her voice now and then.  I am not sure why my Dad eventually changed it,  but when it did it felt a little like I had lost her again in some way.   I realize this is low tech compared to where we are now,  but why not let people go on living digitally?   Wouldn’t it be nice to be able to reach out to a friend who has passed and see something they wrote or recorded from time to time?

I am not suggesting that this apply to all on line accounts.  It would be creepy and heartbreaking would it be to finally be matched with the perfect soul-mate on Match.com or Farmersonly.com, only to find out they have been dead for a few years.  But for things like My Space, Facebook and this blog – digital eternity has a certain utility and warm feeling about it.  For example, you may have read something on this blog today or yesterday that made you laugh or think, but while you were doing so  -- did it ever occur to you that I might no longer be around?  Does it matter?  Would you have enjoyed it less?  Even better, if something I wrote made you angry -- too bad – it is hard to argue with the dead.  Haters matter less to the dearly departed,  it is the ultimate “Nah! Nah! Your words don’t hurt me!” or even better "Dude.  Are you really arguing with a dead guy?"

I am not sure what all the online companies might do with all the content that exists once people pass on, but should it be any different than what book publishers have done for years?  Hard print publishers keep printing an author’s books as long as they sell.   But think about it this way, you no longer have to be a member of a select, judged and approved class to have your voice heard – maybe forever.  On any given day thousands of humans write down or record what they feel and turn it loose into the digital stream.  How wonderful is that?  In the past you might have only gotten the viewpoint of only one or two people about an event, now you get hundreds,  and not all of them agree – that to me is the best part.  Who knows,  it may have been some guy on the grassy knoll.

Maybe a litmus test for keeping things around could be once no one has accessed the site for 500 years, it dissolves (literally) into the ether.   Thinking about it under that set of rules might lead people to be more careful and the same time more thoroughly think about what they say.

There are many great things that John Lennon did during his life, among them was recording and filming a lot of the most common events in his life as they happened.  Now 50 years later we can still see those things and appreciate how the genius he was handled day to day living.  We can feel connected and appreciate the simple wisdom and beauty of his life as we do his music.  Because he was well known and famous these things he left behind will exist forever.  For me, I would love to have access to similar information and personal remembrances of my great grandfather. 
 
The problem is he lived most of his life before such capabilities existed.  But what would my great grand-daughter think?  She might want to read a blog entry I wrote way back on 15 February 2015.  I hope Blogger keeps it available for her.



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Sunday, January 18, 2015

Pander to Pondering

 
I have heard that the default setting of the human mind is active day dreaming rather than some kind of blank static. After giving it a little thought, I have to agree. If you allow your mind to go completely blank it starts to entertain itself with various thoughts. However, it is very difficult to get your mind to go completely blank conscientiously – – if I tell you not to think about elephants you can't help but start thinking about elephants.
 
So, if we agree that the default setting is daydreaming, when is the last time you can remember just sitting and daydreaming? I was recently setting in a doctors office waiting to be called in, so I broke out my phone and started playing a game in order to relieve boredom. After a few moments of this, I wondered what I was losing by not allowing myself to just sit there bored. Even if I did not start daydreaming, I might start pondering other things that were going on that could use some thought. For example, is there a better way to rearrange my basement so that it is more organized. Or, what do I plan on doing this spring to prevent that fungus from growing on the backside of the house where it is shaded by the tree and doesn't get much sunlight. Valid needs that might benefit from a little pondering.
 
When we lived in Germany, I used the time when I and my son were traveling places on the bus or while we were walking into the park to play chess to make him exercise his creativity. I would point out a person who was walking in the distance and ask him what their background was or if two people were sitting talking, what they might be talking about. There were no limits to the content of the answers; several times I found that we were surrounded by aliens, foreign agents from other lands, and a very alive Elvis hiding amongst us all dressed as a little old lady with a cane. It might sound silly, but it helped him to exercise his mind and his ability to see beyond what was visible.
 
I have always considered having a smart phone available, during time that might otherwise have been wasted, to be beneficial. You can do email, check on your flight status, or just learn something new. What that phone does not do is allow your mind to be creative – – I'm not talking about simple creation like using letter tiles to create a word for a game but deep creative thinking that requires you to let go of something in your hand and instead grab hold of something that is not concrete but is infinite. We need time to let the mind return to default mode.
 
Much has been written about people taking days off from technology or escaping from being plugged in. A very valid consideration, in fact I used to take Wednesday nights off from both TV and all other electronics, except a radio, when I was in Kuwait. But I'm not talking about something so drastic. Just once a day, rather than pulling your phone out to check it or to play a game while you have a few idle moments consider staring out the window for the same period of time. Allow your mind to take over in default mode and enjoy a daydream; failing that just take a few moments to think about something going on in your life that needs a few extra moments of thought. Not something emotional, but something concrete that you might be able to solve by giving it consideration. I think you might be surprised to the result.  Be Ralph Phillips.
 
 
Who knows, the mind that might've cured cancer instead was playing Candy Crush during the 30 minute train ride to work instead of letting their mind returned to its default setting.
 
 
 
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Wednesday, January 7, 2015

Je Suis Charlie





















Freedom of expression is too vital to a civilized society to ever allow it to be censored and stifled; it must always be defended.


Sunday, January 4, 2015

The FineZt

The other day, when I opened my Internet browser, I was greeted by my usual homepage. For some reason, I didn't click straight through but actually took a second to read it --- that is when it occurred to me that a full decade it passed since I closed the business that the webpage was for, in December 2004 I closed Unicorn Software Limited. So many years have passed since I hung up my computer keyboard and stopped being a software marketer. Unicorn was not run the business as a full-time venture, although it is high point it did have very impressive sales,  It was something I did because I enjoyed the challenge of programming and I like the idea that people were using and enjoying something I had created.
 
This is the company biography I sent out to publishers and potential marketing partners (forgive the grammar):
 
 
In 1985, Unicorn Software Limited was founded in Guam.   The founder was an avid computer enthusiast and was majoring in Management Information Systems with the University of Maryland at the time.  In addition, he was serving with the U.S. Air Force and was continually being called upon to write custom applications and solve problems with computer systems.  Additionally,  many businesses on the island made use of his services as a  technical expert .
 
It was by chance that he received several disks of Shareware along with a order of bulk floppy disks.  That changed the direction of his focus, from custom applications for the Air Force and local businesses, to more generalized programs for the public.  In January 1986, Unicorn released its first two programs into the Shareware market:  Forward2 and PrePrint.
 
Both of the programs solved problems he had experienced and needed computer help to solve.  The first registration check came 6 months later, and by that time Unicorn had released four more programs as Shareware:  VideoMaster, CassetteMaster, DayMaster and AlbumMaster.  They now have over 20 programs being distributed by the Shareware method.
 
After graduating from the University of Maryland, with honours, he went on to teach Computer Science for Central Texas College, Guam Campus, and then later at IVY Tech in Indiana.  At least one class of every course was devoted to what Shareware was and the advantages of it.  He left the Air Force after completion of his enlistment in 1988, but continues to serve in the Air Force Reserve
From the very beginning Unicorn Software Limited's philosophy  has been simple:  Build a program that is useful, make it easy for any level of computer user to use , and make the fineZt of its kind.  For over 7 years they have done that and more! 
 
In addition to creating the best programs available, they have provided the best customer service in the  software industry.  Unicorn constantly listens to user's suggestions and, most importantly,  implements them.  According to the Founder, "We consider the user vital to the outcome of every project and the reason that we exist".  Unicorn Software Limited is also a member of the Association of Shareware Professionals (ASP).
 
All of  Unicorn's programs are being upgraded continually, taking into account inputs from users and the status of computer hardware.  Within the past two years most of Unicorn’s programs have been reintroduced in Windows versions. 
 
In addition to the above listed programs, Unicorn has home applications like OMNIMeal, SoundZ and CDMaster; business applications that include PostCardMaster and CompUser; utilities like DiZk4D and OMNIDiZk; two creativity products for writing, OMNIDay and WordZ; multimedia programs ; and educational  systems like Zpeller and LessonPlanZ. The variety has a lot to do with users suggestions for future programs, and the needs the author sees.  "If a program does not exist for a need I  have, or the ones that exist can not handle what I need done, it is created".
 
Unicorn Software programs have enjoyed critical, as well as, commercial success with glowing reviews being published in  The Little Laptop Book,; Shareware Update, PCM, CompuServe, and  Shareware magazines; the national  column Shareware.; and many on-line publications. In 1995 Unicorn’s SoundZ  program was selected for the coveted Best Home and Hobby Program by the Shareware Industry Awards Foundation.   Users who have no limits on their resources have also chosen to use Unicorn's programs among those:  EMI Music, Walt Disney World, Mike Callahan (AKA Dr. File Finder),  Robert Fulgham, Tom Clancy, radio and TV stations in 5 countries,  clubs like the Lions and  Masons , and  hundreds of small businesses. from all over the world.    In addition to that 1000's of  home users on all 5 continents have chosen a Unicorn Software program as their solution.
 
With that kind of vision, dedication and philosophy, it is easy to see why Unicorn Software will be around for a long time to come.
 
 
So, for 18 years Unicorn Software Limited existed and when I shuttered it in Germany, some 11,769 kilometers from its origin,   I still take great pride in knowing that it had produced the fineZt software of its kind.  It was sad to close it, but the market had changed and less time was available to work on those types of projects and keep them current. I do wonder what happened to my contemporaries from that period who along with me developed the software to the personal computer into the home computer.


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Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Distractions & Derisions

So far in 2014, I have made 2 blog entries.  Quite a change from the two years prior, when I was writing at least one entry a week.  Granted, things are different -- the biggest difference is that I am no longer living in the Middle East, which means I am no longer traveling to strange new places, meeting interesting people, or falling off of walls I should not have been climbing in the first place.  So the uniqueness of material to write about has declined, but there are still many interesting things going on in my life and mind.  I did take time to write about two of them:  Mary Poppins and Linda Ronstadt (there is probably a graduate level psychology paper about how those two women figured in), but the reason why is a little deeper.  In the end I have determined it is Mark Zuckerberg’s fault.
 
All of my entries are based on something that happened to me and how I felt about it.  In many cases, the bizarre titles of my entries are the actual starting string of thought that led to the blog entry.  When I was in Kuwait, I did not play on Facebook at all, but upon arriving back I started to read it more often to keep up with family and friends.  As a result of that, I starting making Facebook entries out of those starting strings of thought, rather than letting the ideas mull around in my mind for a few days and developing them into a short essay that would end up posted on my blog.  Facebook ate my initial ideas before they could develop into a full-fledged examination of situations.
 
To curb this in the coming year, I will Facebook a lot less and save to savor those ideas that pop into my mind until I have time to develop them into something more.  I will also go back to writing for a few hours every Sunday to give myself time to capture those savored thoughts and their resolution.
 
Happy New Year!