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.

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.


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!







Monday, May 19, 2014

All I'm Saying Is I'm Not Ready

I have spent over four weeks working on this entry. My last iteration was almost 3000 words; overall I think that I have written 7000+ words trying to create the entry with no success.  This started out as a very simple piece in which I was trying to express gratitude and deep feeling for someone whose talents effected a seriously confused period in my life. However, as I was conducting active research, which I often do while writing, I started to uncover facts that I was unaware of and as I did the entry started to fall apart while I was writing.  This was not because my opinions or facts were wrong but I simply knew only one side of the person I was writing about. The discovery of additional information so drastically changed my opinion about the person that I found myself questioning the rationale and purpose for what I was writing.  In the end, I was so conflicted that I just kept writing but could never draw any conclusion that stood up against the information that I was finding.  I will also say that I have serious qualms about taking some of what I found to be truly attributable to the subject matter because in many respects there is a deep dichotomy between what was being reported and a lifetime of actions that simply did not mesh.  

After reading my last attempt at writing this, I know exactly what the kid felt like who looked up at Shoeless Joe Jackson after the Black Sox scandal broke and told him “Say it ain’t so Joe.”  So with that thought in mind, I am making a final attempt at this and instead of trying to figure out my feelings about the person and surrounding events, I will just stick to the facts I know and leave out what will never be clarified anyway.

The first song of Linda Ronstadt’s that I can remember hearing was Different Drum; the record was released by the Stone Poneys with her singing lead vocals. Here is a bit of musical trivia for you: Michael Nesmith of the Monkees wrote the song with the intention that it be performed as an acoustic ballad. Linda’s version flips the gender and instead of an acoustic ballad it was turned into something more complex by the producer.  To me it is a perfect showcase for the emotion filled voice and the passionate singing style of Ronstadt -- Nesmith acknowledged that her version "infused it with a new level of passion and sensuality".  But I digress.  

Even though the song was originally released in 1967 it did not touch my life until 1974; proof that a good ballad can always stir the heart.  It was one of the first times that the lyrics of a song collided with my own life and even though the song is written for a much older couple, it seemed to perfectly describe a situation between myself and a 9th grade girlfriend – I wonder where Renee is now.  Looking back, it is hard for me to fathom how I made those parallels in my preadolescent mind but somehow they were drawn.

A few years later, when I was taking a guitar class in high school I was greeted by Linda as she peered down at me from a poster on the wall. Even though I am no fan of shorthair, the image of her on roller-skates stirred my heart every week day in third period.  By then it was the 70s, and she had moved far beyond the Stone Poneys and was lending her voice to many groups singing distinctive harmonies, and coming into her own right as a songwriter and solo performer. At the time, Heart Like A Wheel was still getting airplay on the radio, even though it had been released a year or so earlier, and songs like When Will I Be Loved and others became part of my first attempts at constructing cassette tape playlists.  

It was somewhere around this point in my life that music changed for me. It was no longer something that I listened to with friends just for the fun of it or something to dance to.  Lyrics changed from words that might contain pre-adolescent dirty words (think My Ding A Ling) or situations that were not to be spoken about (think Timothy or D.O.A.) -- there was a distinct transition into something new. Music came to be (and remains) something that I could use to express feelings I had but lacked appropriate words to adequately describe.  From my first recollection of hearing Different Drum through my High School years and on into college Ronstadt was my heart’s spokesperson and her voice was what soothed those early life heartbreaks and times of loneliness.

As the albums kept coming, my admiration and appreciation for Linda grew.  She was a beautiful woman, with a wonderfully expressive and passionate voice, who wrote heart touching lyrics, and stared at me my Junior and Senior years in high school from a poster across the room.  Unlike many songs, I still feel the same about every note of music I heard that Ronstadt wrote and sang, she is still the basis for many of the attractions that I have in life, and I will always admire the creative talent she possesses. She will always be special to me.

Now that I have listened to everything she ever recorded (at least what is still publically available) I can say that I have no single favorite song – I have 18 – and I enjoy a majority of the songs on every album except Dedicated to the One I Love, which are all lullabies.

The Aladdin incident:  I have no problem being friends or having discussions with people of differing opinions. It leads to healthy debate and helps a person to have well rounded opinions.  However, it is hypocritical for an individual to whine about suppression of their own Free Speech while demanding that anyone else who feels differently be stifled because the other person could not possibly be correct.  Celebrities who read one book or watch one movie and assume they are an expert and that the source they chose is the only viewpoint that should be considered are being narrow-minded.  Being an actor or a singer does not make anyone an expert or someone who should be a quotable authority on anything except maybe acting or singing.  Just because Linda may choose to dedicate a performance of Desperado to propagandist Michael Moore, does not mean that it has to be accepted or thought of that way – besides she and I both know that song was about me and Linda sang it to make me feel better during that turbulent phase of my Senior year. 

During the Spring Concert of my Senior year, I accompanied a vocalist on guitar as she sang Long, Long Time.  Beth had a great voice, but she was not Linda.  Later that night, I dreamed I played the song again – on a moonlit beach with Linda Ronstadt supplying vocals.  She was in denim cutoffs with her long hair pulled back on one side, held in place by a red flower.  I reminisce on that dream from time to time.  There was no conversation – no difficult discussions, we both knew our relationship was deserving of a more worthwhile soundtrack.

Different Drum
Michael Nesmith

You and I travel to the beat of a different drum
Oh can't you tell by the way I run
Every time you make eyes at me

You cry and moan and say it will work out
But honey child I've got my doubts
You can't see the forest for the trees

Oh don't get me wrong
It's not that I knock it
It's just that I am not in the market
For a girl who wants to love only me

Yes, and I ain't saying you ain't pretty
All I'm saying is I'm not ready
For any person place or thing
To try and pull the reins in on me

So good-bye I'll be leaving
I see no sense in this crying and grieving
We'll both live a lot longer
If you live without me

Oh don't get me wrong
It's not that I knock it
It's just that I am not in the market
For a girl who wants to love only me

Yes, and I ain't saying you ain't pretty
All I'm saying is I'm not ready
For any person place or thing
To try and pull the reins in on me

So good-bye I'll be leaving
I see no sense in this crying and grieving
We'll both live a lot longer
If you live without me


Saturday, January 18, 2014

Tut Tut Looks Like Rain...and Then The Wind Changed Directions

The theatre in Monterey, now used for concerts and such.
It was long, long ago -- sometime in the 1960s – when I went to my very first movie in a real movie theatre.  My Dad was in Korea at the time and I seem to recall going with some family friends who had kids my age.   The theatre was located in downtown Monterey, California.  Looking back I remember downtown as being large, but at the time I was small so it may have been relative.  We stood in line at least two days -- well I had the time perception of a 6 year old – waiting to get a ticket.  The line of mostly kids and some adults wrapped around the block.  Someone had told me the name of the movie, but I had no idea what the name meant – Merry Popping?  What the heck did that mean?

All theatres of that time looked like this.  Classy, huh?
A few realities that may need to be explained:  TV was still black and white so if you wanted to see something in color you had to go to a large dark room and watch it displayed on a screen.  Also, if you really liked the movie, there was no rewind and start again – or restart button.  You either had to pay to see it again or wait a few years for it to come to TV – AND – if you missed it showing on TV you were out of luck there were no recording devices that allowed time shifting.  So, going to a theatre for a movie was a big deal.

After the time in the outside line, and with tickets bought we stood in line again for popcorn.  Up to this point in my life popcorn was either Jiffy Pop or the stuff my Dad made in a little aluminum corn popper on the counter.  The corn popper, when taken apart for cleaning, revealed metal springs on the bottom which somehow magically turned the kernels into puffs.  But today was the day when I found out what popcorn was truly meant to taste like  -- movie popcorn – made with hydrogenated coconut oil and salted with special salt (never been a big fan of buttered corn).  It was and is as unhealthy as you can possibly make corn (unless you also deep fried it) – but it is also the best tasting snack in the world.

Each of us had a small bag of popcorn in hand as we proceeded into the auditorium and found seats together near the front.  Every seat was taken – the only other movie I experienced that with was a 1 AM showing of Jaws at Ft. Eustis, Virginia.   We sat there for a bit and then the lights went down. 

I always say the first movie I ever saw in a theatre was Mary Poppins, but that is not exactly correct. The first feature I saw was actually Winnie the Pooh and the Honey Tree.  Sterling Holloway’s unique voice was familiar, as he was in a lot of movies I had seen on TV, but this was a very different experience.  The images were huge on the full sized movie screen that was only 20 feet or so from my seat.  The sound was full and clear -- the colors bright and vivid.  It was my first experience with that thing called Movie Magic and I jumped in with both feet and swam around in for the 20 or so minutes of the feature.  So memorable that to this day I still recall that you have to be careful because “You never can tell with bees”.

Then came 140 minutes of magic that was more real than animated.  It all came at me in a rush that I devoured and immersed myself in greedily….dancing chimney sweeps, penguins, a wooden leg named Smith, kids with kites, a canon on a rooftop, flying nannies, evil bankers, a talking dog, and my favorite side character Uncle Albert. The story told with dancing and humor and catchy Sherman brother’s songs – the way I play with words when writing is still influenced by their way of twisting words for lyrics.  I was stunned and amazed.

The movie is known the world over as a classic and it made Julie Andrews and Dick Van Dyke stars. Even today, I would argue that Dick Van Dyke ruled that movie.  He bound it all together and gave it a connected flow that it would have lacked otherwise.

Decades passed and when I had kids Mary again invaded my life.  This time on a small screen via VHS tape.  Technology had changed so when my daughter wanted to “watch it again” all I needed to do was to rewind the tape and hit Play.   Even though years had passed the movie still contained strong magic.  The things I noticed had changed somewhat – anyone not understand what Bert was really talking about when he was on his Jolly Holiday with Mary?   Then consider how much of a dog Bert was to mention all those other women.  Because of repeated viewings, the hidden meanings in the dialog and the lyrics are hard to ignore. 

More years pass and we arrive at today and someone had decided to take on telling the tale of the complicated relationship between P.L. Travers and Walt Disney and how it played into getting the movie made. I wanted to see it after viewing the first trailer for Saving Mr. Banks, but then I like it when the behind the scenes drama is exposed and all of the trivia that plays into getting something massive off the ground is revealed.  Tom Hanks – great as Walt Disney,  I feel he captured the Walt I knew and grew up with.  Emma Thomson – also great but I had no idea who P.L. Travers was prior to the movie.  I loved the snippets of the Sherman brothers working on songs and dialog for Mary Poppins, I can imagine it being just that way.  The movie is well worth seeing if you have not.
After watching that movie, I watched Mary Poppins again for the first time in years.  Considering the fact that the movie is almost 50 years old, it is amazing how well it holds up and is still relevant with family complexities and issues that have changed little in the intervening years. 

As for any haters who can’t find or understand the magic of Mary Poppins, Saving Mr. Banks or even Winnie the Pooh and the Honey Tree, I can only say supercalafragalisticexpialadoshus.  But then they wouldn’t understand that either.


Monday, December 30, 2013

An Epilogue & Reflection

When you complete any task in life, it is impossible for any contemplative person not to look back and see what was really accomplished and what difference the task ultimately means in the bigger scheme of things.  So, having finished my time in Kuwait, I paused for a moment to figure out what it really means if anything.

It would be easy to trivialize my time there by saying anyone of similar skills could do the same, but I find a small bit of ego comfort in the fact that “anyone” did not volunteer to travel to and live in that part of the world to take on the challenge – I did.  Even though I know I was replaceable, no replacement had volunteered to take it on. 

Ultimately, the people I did my job for were those I never met or saw -- that soldier at the far end of the supply line who was waiting or needing something that my organization was transporting to them.  What I did made the cogs of bigger machine run smooth so that the huge logistics operation that was designed to support those guys at the front could get what they needed in time.  I find a great deal of satisfaction in the fact that I kept the cogs working flawlessly.  Various projects I created will exist long after my departure and I did my best to insure they made sense and were sustainable.  Some of the work I accomplished while there will have an impact for years into the future.  

There is also the personal impact that I will carry with me.  I lived and worked in a different culture and learned to appreciate the people there as well as their lifestyle.  It was not always smooth, easy or understandable – but I survived it and learned from it.  I guess my ability to learn lessons like that makes it possible for me to live the nomadic life I have lived – or maybe my own wanderlust makes me adaptable.   Either way it works.

Finally, I had may have had direct impact to the folks who I worked with who may have learned something from me (good or bad) as well as the local folks I came into contact with who, I hope, had a more positive impression of Americans in my wake. Then there was the life altering impact I had on a small dog who found himself trying to survive on the streets of Kuwait City.  He now has a forever home and does not have to worry about how he will survive each day while he brings joy to those he lives with.

All in all, I feel good about my time in the desert and it is something I will never forget.  Now, on to what comes next.