Monday, August 30, 2010

64 Bits Bytes

Sad day for an idea and a couple of days of intense work.

I realized that the computer system I built about a year and a half ago had some capability that was not being used.  That is, that the processor in the system was capable of running a 64-bit operating system, but I was running a 32-bit version of Gentoo Linux on it.  There really are two main reasons why one would want to run a 64-bit OS:  First is that the amount of memory that can be addressed can be more than 4GB (the address registers are larger).  Second, there are registers and operations within the processor that can handle 64-bit-wide numbers, and this can potentially speed-up certain software.  While the additional memory support would not have immediately helped me, I figured that having 64-bit operations would.  I also considered the idea of turning the entire system into a host for virtual machines, so I could run several systems simultaneously, and figured that the 64-bit support in the OS would help with that.

Those who have installed a 64-bit version of the Windows operating system probably understand that going back and forth is not as easy as flicking a switch or checking a box.  Because the operating system (OS) itself and all the associated programs need to be aware of the increased address space and the additional processor registers, the entire OS needs to be replaced...which means, essentially, rebuilding the OS.  In the case of Gentoo Linux where everything is compiled from scratch, this is an involved operation.  I was also doing this on my main computer system that is my server, Internet gateway, and orchestrates much of the home automation and network support I use.

So in the space of a couple of days, I had to analyze how my system was configured and what software needed to be recompiled, recompile all the software, copy all the configuration settings to the new configuration, and test it out.  I knew this would take a few days, and I would likely run into some problems, so I also purchased a new hard disk to build everything onto (that would become the new system disk).  Needless to say, this turned out to be a lot of work.

The proverbial fine print that you read over and over in your mind is that while 64-bit operating systems have great potential, there is also the potential for software that was not designed to work in a 64-bit environment to fail miserably.  Windows users are familiar with this as well.  Everything seemed to work fine for me until the very last application that I went to test:  wine.  Wine is a piece of software that allows Windows applications to run natively under Linux.  I have one such application that is very important to me, and that is Quicken...an old 32-bit version of Quicken.  So not only did I need to run a Windows application under Linux, and that application was 32-bit, but also wine needed to be compiled as a 32-bit application using special software libraries designed to handle the translation.  This is where everything fell apart -- wine didn't even compile.  Unfortunately the people who coordinate the Gentoo Linux project simply have not sufficiently tested 32-bit wine compiled on a 64-bit OS.  If I compile wine to support 64-bit Windows applications, then my old 32-bit Quicken doesn't run.  So after all that work, things have come to a complete standstill thanks to Quicken.

Yes, 64-bit operating systems can be a bitch.  With apologies to those at hak5, I don't "trust my technolust" right now.

That all said, it is likely that I will move forward with this project, but not entirely as planned.  Since almost everything works, I can essentially transition to the new operating system in a few days, if nothing else starts having problems.  In the meantime, I need to figure out how to get VirtualBox (virtual machine software) running.  If that works in 64-bit mode OK, and I can run a 32-bit virtual machine, then I could have a virtual machine running the old 32-bit Gentoo Linux thats sole purpose is to handle applications that won't work properly on the new operating system.  Will that actually work?  I don't know yet.  I also could move the 32-bit applications to an older computer system until I can come-up with a new plan.

On a more positive note, I did see a performance improvement with the new OS.  It was clear just from compiling the applications that the software was taking better advantage of the Intel Core2 processor's capabilities.  I also found several serious configuration errors, including a bug in one of Gentoo's system initialization scripts, that I was able to correct.  Unfortunately, the mad rush to get everything working has taken a mental toll and I could use a break from looking at this.  So a few steps back before hopefully moving forward again.

A more detailed explanation of what a 64-bit architecture means can be obtained from this article in Wikipedia:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/64-bit

Likewise this article in Wikipedia explains virtual machine technology in detail:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Virtual_machine

Friday, August 20, 2010

West Texas Drive

Click on map for a the full-size version
A few days ago, I took a 900 mile drive through West Texas to see some things I haven't seen before.  I left Austin around noon on Monday the 16th, and got back home around 3am on Tuesday the 17th.

Of the people I've spoken to about this, I've gotten responses such as...
  • Why didn't you stop overnight?
  • Why did you drive out that far?
  • Why didn't you stop somewhere for a tour?
I'm not sure I can answer any of these without including the word "nuts" in it...

I've thought a lot about the reasons I take these drives.  For me, it is like I used to do on my bicycle many years ago when I was a kid:  I want to go somewhere and see some place I haven't seen before, or that I want to see again.  It's a quiet journey with few annoyances or distractions that allow me to detach myself from the stresses and hustle of living in city life.  I'm sure in some ways I feel I get to live in the middle of the beauty I see, if just for the moment I'm driving there.  I don't really have any interest in doing lots of touristy things or interacting with people.  This is an escape for me.  I don't stop overnight because that takes a lot more preparation than I usually do with this...  I may try that sometime in the future.

Davis Mountains in West Texas
I would love to have created an entire album of what I saw during the trip, but that seems to be beyond the scope of what this blog is all about.  This photo of the Davis Mountains I took during the last part of my trip (with a new digital camera I got this past Sunday, I may add...) before turning around and heading back.  Can you see how one could get lost in the scenery here?  Absolutely amazing, and this is only a small fraction of what I saw on the way.  The map (above) shows the path I took, the red pathway was going out and the blue path is coming back (the purplish was where I back-tracked).  The blue points and green picnic tables were places I took various pictures (again, my apologies, but I can't include them all here...).

I already wrote about KOPE-FM in a previous entry.  That was an interesting bit of exploration in and of itself.

I've been thinking a lot about where my life is and its value, given the fact that I no longer have a cat to care for.  For most of you, this thought process is generally a pleasant one, reflecting on achievements and optimism about where your life is headed.  For me, that process is a somewhat painful one, in part because I don't see my own achievements as being very significant, or because I don't get the feeling that anyone else finds the things I do significant, or because I look at the way many things are and become very frustrated and discouraged.  It isn't the world I was hoping it would be.  I started trying to take a friend's advice and consider a different online avenue by which to meet my female partner-in-crime, so to speak.  There were questions like, "What are your particular interests in science?"  "What other interests and pastimes are do you engage in?"  "What are your favorite books, writers, or films?"  'What are your greatest sources of enjoyment?"  So many difficult questions...  Then tonight I saw the ABC Nightline mini-series, "Secrets of Your Mind:  Unlocking the mysteries of why we love and how we love."  That left me with more mysteries than answers, although it was an interesting program...  I also watched the Hak5 program about DEFCON-18 (an intense hacker conference that happens once a year).  At one time I could look at the kinds of stuff going on at one of these conferences and be able to see myself there in some ways.  This time, well, not so much.  They talked to a group that was hacking the microcontroller-based conference badges, and another group that was making a self-guided UAV (unmanned aerial vehicle...a model airplane on steroids in other words) that could monitor and hack into networks, and while I was fascinated by and understood what they were doing (really cool stuff), I realized that I would never have thought about these things on my own...not anymore, at least.

What has happened to the mad computer scientist in me?  What are my "other interests and pastimes?"  Where do I find my "greatest sources of enjoyment?"  Is there really anyone out there who would share those with me, if I could figure it all out, or at least explain it?  Would I be putting way too much pressure on that person, and do I want to possibly ruin someone's life in the process?

My interests in science are more or less computer technology and how that technology can help improve our lives.  I am interested in how the brain works, and why people do what they do (psychology?  sociology?  both?).  My other interests and pastimes are driving out to the middle of nowhere and admiring the landscape, before some money-grubbing developer destroys it all.  I like listening to music (just listening).  I like watching (apparently strange) TV programs and movies that make people make weird faces at and ask me to explain what it's about, but I can't really vocalize it.  I like eating out at places.  I like spending time with the cats.  My greatest source of enjoyment?  Argh.  I don't know.  I don't have a favorite book or writer...and I'm not sure I have a favorite film, but I guess my favorite genre are comedies.  I'm not embarrassed to say that I watch TV, although it seems that most intellectual types see TV in the same way I see Flash (gak, that's a horrible thought).

Final question, "What characteristics do you consider important in a prospective mate or friend?"  I used to think I knew the answer to this question. I'm not sure I do anymore...

I find driving 900 miles in a day allows me some time to get away from this madness, and the sights that I can see are pleasant and happy (they'd even be more happy if I didn't see them in 100+ degree weather, but that's another story entirely...).  Even though this kind of trip is somewhat exhausting, in other ways it is very relaxing.  This is what I was aiming for when I thought about driving to NY.

Oh well...  Another day...

Thursday, August 19, 2010

If I Were A Bull...

I was just watching our local news that covered a story out of Northern Spain (not really local)...aptly titled, "Bull Jumps From Arena To Stands Injuring 30 People."

According to the story (and included video) during a bullfight in Northern Spain, the bull apparently got a bit...annoyed...and decided to jump the wall into the stands goring several people in its path.  "At least 30 people were injured.  A 10-year-old is in serious condition.  One man was gored in the back."

The announcer goes on to say, "It is unclear why the bull left the bull ring..." (then, obviously recovering from reading the printed copy and understanding what she just said) "Maybe he wanted to get away!"  Well, duh!

So let's think about this rationally for a second.  It is the year 2010.  I guess in Spain, people still gather in a stadium watching (for entertainment) while a person violently taunts a bull.  Bull = 1,100-2,200 lb. animal.  Same people are surprised and somewhat outraged when the taunted and abused animal fights back.

I don't think I will ever understand people.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

KOPE-FM

It seems the invisible forces that control the universe got wind of my blog entry titled My Musical Journey and decided to screw around with my head a little...

During my drive out to West Texas (there will be an upcoming entry about that) yesterday I decided to scan through the radio stations about when I reached Eldorado, Texas.  On the dial at 88.9 MHz appeared KOPE-FM.  Format:  Country music, but the older stuff mixed in with a bit of newer stuff.  You know, like the station that got me into country music to begin with.  Better still, no commercials.  Not really any talking to speak of, for that matter!  They announced the time, temperature, and call sign occasionally, but that was about it.  There was a small station promo I heard once.  No commercials...no blabbering DJ...and pretty good music.  Amazing.

I did some research hoping to find a web site where I could stream the station, or at the very least send a warm e-mail of thanks to the people who made this possible...but alas, there is no web site.  In fact...

This station is kind of wrapped in a bit of broadcast mystery.  According to radio-locator (http://www.radio-locator.com/) KOPE is owned by The Center For Education Nonprofit Corp..  I'm sure you, like me, are scratching your head trying to figure out just what in heck that company is.  Apparently it's a DBA for the legal firm Ashley & Laird in Irving, Texas.  So back to the information from radio-locator (which is really just the FCC info) the station was originally licensed as a Class A non-commercial FM station at 140 watts on December 3, 2009.  They were later granted a construction permit to take the station to a Class C3 station (still non-commercial) at 17 KW on May 19, 2010.  This update obviously happened because the station's coverage matches the 17 KW coverage map (according to how I received them in my car).  The mystery is why The Center For Education Nonprofit Corp. would decide to go through the very expensive process of acquiring a FM radio station to play uninterrupted good country music...a format typically reserved for commercial stations?  Did someone have a good deal of extra money laying around and decide to set-up a commercial-free country radio station that actually plays good music?  While I wish that were the case, I remember the old saying, "If it seems too good to be true, then it probably is."

To add to the mystery, I am impressed by their library of music.  A lot of what they played is hard to get nowadays, so they either got their library from some other defunct station or are somehow rebroadcasting programming from someone who does have that kind of library.  It isn't just Music Choice, that's for sure...

Now I need to figure out how I'm going to receive a 17 KW FM station that's about 170 miles away as the crow flies...and that is assuming that the station is not clobbered by some other local one on the same frequency.  Sigh...

What else is weird is why I am so excited about this, and it is probably another example of me showing my age.  Seriously, a radio station that only plays music is kind of like having a pile of MP3s in a portable player stuck on randomize.  Because I like the oldies, it isn't like I'm surprised by some new artist (although, I admit there is a lot of old stuff I haven't yet heard or forgot about that's like discovering a new song).  I guess the way I see it, it's like having an anonymous friend who wants to share their music collection with you.  You both bring something different to the table, some you both like, some is liked more by one than the other, and some falls into the "can we listen to something else?" category.  KOPE-FM mostly fell into the first two categories, making it a pleasure to just tune-in and leave it alone.

Thank you, whoever you are, for making a few hours of my drive yesterday more interesting.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Steven Slater

I'm afraid I've kind of been living in a cave for the past couple of days, and finally heard the story of flight attendant Steven Slater and his job-related meltdown on a recent Jet Blue flight after being verbally and physically assaulted by a troublesome passenger.

Reckless endangerment?  Criminal mischief?  Trespassing?  You have to be kidding me...

Now I have to say that in the eyes of his employer, he's probably toast as far as his career, and I'm not sure I'll be able to blame Jet Blue for firing him if that's what they do.  As a criminal, though, I don't think so.

There are lots of stories abound, but basically the latest one from a fairly reliable source was that there was a female passenger who had been arguing earlier with Slater and another passenger regarding getting her bags into the overhead compartment.  At the end of the flight as the plane was taxiing to the terminal, the same female passenger got up (against the direction of the flight attendants) and started going for the overhead compartment.  When Steven Slater asked her to sit back down and wait until the plane had stopped at the terminal, she apparently flung open the overhead bin, striking Slater in the head.  When Slater demanded an apology, the woman cussed-out Slater.  Slater then went up to the front of the plane, got on the intercom and gave the woman a piece of his mind, complete with his own array of cuss-words, declared he had enough, then grabbed two beers from the beverage cart, popped open the escape slide, slid off the plane, and went home...where he was later arrested.

So many people on the 'net have expressed comments on this, and so I will try to keep mine brief.

First, there was no endangerment caused by Slater except maybe to himself and definitely to his career.  The criminal mischief charge is debatable ... he did deploy an emergency escape device on an active tarmac.  Trespass?  Give me a break...  The man had a really bad day ... he just got assaulted by a passenger, lost his temper at a clearly unruly passenger, and destroyed his career in the process.  Nothing will be solved by adding criminal charges to the mix.

Second, if there are any witnesses who saw the actions of the unruly woman on the plane...no, wait, not if, there were a whole plane full of witnesses...  So one of you kind people please come forward and bring the unruly woman to justice.  She actually did endanger the safety of those on the plane, and Slater was doing his job.  The reckless endangerment charge belongs to her.

Third, I would not call Slater a hero.  He isn't.  He's a man who got tired of taking crap from stupid, self-righteous people with entitlement complexes.  I don't blame him for losing his temper, but at the same time his actions are not those of a hero (just as Joseph Stack wasn't a hero, I must remain consistent here).  The big difference between Slater and Stack is that Slater's actions only affected him and probably offended a couple of people (and probably wrecked an escape slide), while Stack's actions were violent, outwardly aggressive, caused the death of one man and himself, and the needless destruction of an office building, for a problem that was really of his own making.  The only thing that died in Slater's case was his career, and given the public outcry I'm not sure that is even dead yet (hey, he'd probably do great working for Southwest Airlines!!).  That all said, what Slater did do was bring to the world's attention just how nasty people can be toward people who are doing their job and providing customer support.  I've had some really lousy flights and some lousy flight attendants, and I'll admit I grumbled a bit here and there.  The majority of my bad experiences on airlines have been from other passengers, and the majority of my experiences with flight attendants is that they try their best to make things as pleasant as possible even when things are not going well...and Slater seemed like that kind of guy.

If anything, this incident probably made a lot of people think about flying Jet Blue.

Finally, about airlines and the passengers that fly them in general:  The totally unnecessary airport security dance already puts people in a defensive posture from the start.  Airlines have furthered that by nickel-and-diming passengers with ridiculous fees for luggage and so on.  Never mind the late flights and outrageous charges.  These things don't exactly set the mood for a pleasant and uneventful flight.  Add to the mix the kind of passengers I see so often on airplanes who are inconsiderate, thoughtless, and feel they are entitled to special treatment because they bought an airline ticket.  This is the reason I hate traveling anywhere by plane anymore.  Take the same people I've written about here and cram them into a big tin-can with a jet engine on it and what do you think is going to happen?  I'm surprised that flight attendants and passengers who are considerate and can follow instructions haven't seriously flipped out before now.

This is yet another case of an incident that is a symptom of bigger problems in this world.  Maybe instead of elevating Slater to hero status or treating him like a criminal we should look around at what causes stuff like this to happen.  People, look at yourselves.  Slater was trying to tell y'all something.  Maybe you should listen.  Think about that the next time you take that airline flight.

BTW, I would really love to have heard what JC of Mental Shrapnel has to say about all this...  Too bad it has been over a year since she's been around...

Smoking Rant

Warning:  I put the word rant in the title as full disclosure!

What in hell makes perfectly intelligent people do something as stupid as smoke cigarettes, cigars, or anything else that involves putting something burning in their mouths and sucking on it?

Case in point:  I work at a university research laboratory, where a majority of the people working there are younger than I am.  These people have gone through the same extensive education process as I have (if not more), and have not been living in a cave somewhere that the negative aspects of smoking have been lost upon them.  Yet, I find an increasing number of young people addicted to the crap.  Older people who grew-up in the 50s, well maybe I can understand that a bit...  But not the younger people.  Not the people who claim to be so more intelligent than everyone before them.

The reason for this rant, and the reason why I'm damn angry right now is that, like the gazillion of you who are allergic to pollens and shit, I am allergic to smoke.  I end up with headaches and sinus infections.  The odor itself is irritating.  Some people in this damn laboratory complex where I work have decided to smoke in the courtyard between wings of the building, right below the "fresh air" intake on the roof for the air conditioning system.  So as I sit in my office throughout the day, I feel increasingly more ill.

Oh, yes, I have complained about this in a rational and sane way, and that has not achieved anything.  And it won't.  I promise.  I'm not a director or a research scientist who is supposed to be so much more intelligent (and allegedly making money for the organization, when they're not shooting-the-shit with the other nicotine addicts in the courtyard).

So people -- listen-up.  Smoking is dangerous.  It harms you and the people around you, who sometimes have no choice but to breathe the exhaust from your habit.  You're here to work, not smoke.  If you're that addicted to a chemical, then perhaps you can go through rehab like the rest of the drug addicts out there.  Either way, find some way of satisfying your addiction without making me ill.  I have 10 more years working here before I retire.  Don't make me put that cancer stick up your god damn ass in the meantime (actually, that visual gives me some amount of guilty pleasure...cigasuppositories).

If you can't kick your smoking addiction, then don't preach to me or anyone else about how harmful drugs are or how intelligent you are.  You're an asshole and a nicotine addict and I don't care if you can do FFTs in your sleep, you haven't mastered a simple thing like consideration of other people and realizing how harmful this addiction is to you and everyone around you.  Go straight to hell.  Do not pass GO, do not collect $200.

I wish that saying this made me feel better.

Edited Aug. 17, 2010:
I actually spoke with my mother about this topic today, and she brought up another stupid thing about smoking:  It's expensive.  I can't really say I have much sympathy for people who complain about money while they have a cigarette hanging out of their mouth...

Monday, August 9, 2010

Eight Nine Ten

An old friend of mine that managed to find me via Facebook a while back reminded us all that it was 8/9/10 today.  The fact that I missed that indicates the level of my burned-outedness right now.  I am desperately in need of a vacation, something that I will be getting next week.  If I forget October 10, please come and check to see if I'm still alive...

I guess Facebook is good for something.

A few days ago I watched the movie Mary and Max.  It's an animated adult movie (not porn, adult as in those who have reached a certain level of maturity) about an eight year old Australian girl who becomes pen-pals with a middle-aged New Yorker with Asperger's syndrome.  More to the point, it is the story of two people who are both outcasts in their own existence coming together to help each other make it through life.  It is supposed to be based on a true story, but I'm always suspect of what that means (especially after seeing Assume The Position with Mr. Wuhl...you'll know what I mean if you've seen it).  Anyway, while kind of sad, it is also kind of uplifting, and I found it to be a great movie.  The only negative comment I have is that the end seemed very abrupt, leaving you wondering how things really worked out.  I felt the same way about Ghost World as well, and for both movies the remainder of the story is so well done that I accepted the ending for what it was.

This movie was supposed to be a comedy, and I believe that it really was, with funny parts throughout.  However, for me it was kind of serious as well.  While I don't believe I actually have Asperger's, my own personality and situation has some distinct similarities to the Max Horovitz character in the movie.  When I receive e-mails from people lately that inadvertently cause me to recognize my own social awkwardness, I tend to have a small form of panic attack that, like Max, puts my mind into an infinite loop trying to figure out how to respond, and how to cope with the feelings that have just been brought up to the surface.  I like things to be in order.  I feel rules are there to be followed, not to be broken...most of the time, anyway.  I have extreme sensitivities to noise and odors, which only seem to become worse with age.  These situations seemed to become somewhat crippling to Max, while at the same time he saw the world as broken and not him (I also am this way).

I doubt that most of you will see Mary and Max quite the way I did, and will probably find it more entertaining than something to identify with.  The animation was very well-done (fans of Wallace and Grommit will definitely enjoy this).  Most certainly, not for kids.  Unless you want to explain to your kids why babies come from the bottom of glasses of beer in Australia.

Finally, since my Netflix DVD queue is kind of lacking right now, I've been watching old episodes of Freaks and Geeks lately.  First, one of the "extra features" on the DVD was a promo for the release-on-DVD of SCTV.  Those who know what I'm talking about will be jumping for joy right now.  Some people found some of the DVDs to be disappointing, thinking they weren't the SCTV they remember.  I will let you know what I discover.  Also from Freaks and Geeks tonight is the following quotable quote about marijuana between two of the characters on the show:
(about pot)
"It's from the Earth.  It's natural.  Why would it be there if you weren't supposed to smoke it?"

"Dog crap is here, and we don't smoke that."
And on that note, I will conclude my time today in 8/9/10 and get some sleep.

My Musical Journey

I was checking-out Mary's changes to her ICMDb blog and just finished reading her three-part posting about her journey into country music.  I realized that while I have known Mary for a few years, we never really discussed exactly how she ended up getting into country music, and why Lionel Cartwright was such a major factor.  So, now I know.

In the name of full disclosure, in a previous blog entry (Uncertain Times) I mentioned (paraphrasing) that I got into country in the 1980s to avoid the garbage that was pretending it was music during that period of time.  That is actually only part of the story.  With Mary's detail in mind, here is my journey...and a quite different one...

WTF is on AM Radio?!

My journey starts around 1984.  I was in college (a commuter student) and my second stupid car had died an untimely death - the frame cracked coming around the cloverleaf onto a highway.  Alas, I was now borrowing my parents' second car to get to school and work and all they had in it was an AM radio.  Most of AM radio was top-40 pop music and sports talk, which at the time I was finding to be less than satisfying (to be nice) for my tastes.  The only radio station in the NY area at the time that was an alternative to all this was the country station WHN.  WHN was also unique in that they not only played the newer country songs, but also older country music from the 1960s and 1970s.

As I listened to WHN I realized how many of the '50s/'60s songs that I liked were either country or had strong country influences.  For example, The Everly Brothers, The Dixiebells, Johnny Rivers ... all these artists were country.  Country wasn't just twangy songs about losing your truck, your girlfriend, your horse, and so on.  Country music also included a cross between rock 'n' roll and the traditional country that still included losing your girlfriend, which seemed to strike a chord with me (even then).  I also found that there were many crossover artists in the 1970s and 1980s including Olivia Newton-John, Juice Newton, Anne Murray, and Pure Prairie League who had very strong country influences in their work, and some could arguably be called country in their own right.

If it weren't for that blasted AM radio in my parents' car, I would have missed out on a whole genre of music.

My Reasons To Go Country

What I noticed about most country music (the stuff I enjoyed) was that it tended to be less synthetic.  By that, I mean that many of the lead instruments were those of the early 1960s rock 'n' roll music that I liked rather than the electronic stuff of the disco era and beyond, which I generally didn't like.  The vocals sounded pure, and were understandable.  So throughout the 80s and well into the 90s, most of what I listened to was either top-40 country or "oldies" ('50s/'60s) stuff, with some '70s mixed-in for good measure.

I can say without much hesitation that I can't tell you much about the top-40 pop charts from the 1990s.  To me, it just didn't exist.

Music...To Me

For me music is a soundtrack to events and periods of my life.  When I hear a particular song, I am transported back to the time and place where I first heard it or when it had some kind of profound meaning to me.  While I think people have a few instances like this, most music to others is more or less background or something to dance to.  I have an (admittedly irrational) absolute dread of being a participant in anything dancing, and having something as "just background" is almost impossible for me.

I used to share the music I liked with others, but I found as I went further into college and into adulthood that, like much of the other things that I enjoyed, nobody else could quite understand it or appreciate it as I did.  "Does it have a good beat and can you dance to it?"  Well, that really wasn't my criteria for music appreciation.

Cool Country, Rock, and Blues

My first exposure to radio-by-Internet was a station called KICK-AM in Sydney, Australia with a format they called "cool country, rock, and blues"  that I heard in the mid 1990s.  No station I have ever encountered since then has been able to capture this format quite like KICK-AM.  I never knew that country music was popular in other countries outside those in North America.  Doing a Google search for KICK-AM turns up the last pieces of this rare gem in a few old web sites with broken links to a now defunct web site.  Apparently I was one of the few who liked this station and format as described in the Wikipedia article about the station, which is now 2SM (see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/2SM).

What Now?

I'm not exactly sure how to describe how I encounter "new" music these days...and by "new" I generally mean, "it's new to me."  I tend to stumble upon different songs more or less by accident.  I heard "Bourgeois Shangri-La" by Miss Li on an Apple commercial.  When I was listening to the Solid Gold Oldies channel on Music Choice on cable TV (when I had it) I heard a lot of songs from the '60s that I forgot about, so they seemed new to me.  There have been some amateur artists on YouTube that I accidentally found and have since turned their videos to MP3s so I can listen to them other than on my computer.  I found a couple of live performances on cable TV that I liked and made them into MP3s as well...although in most cases none of these were very good when I heard the studio recording, and thus were not worth looking at further.  The quasi-legal MP3 site from Russia presented some opportunities to explore artists and styles of music that I would not usually have tried.

At one point I was gaining some subliminal knowledge of new country music by waking up to the country station on my clock radio.  But, alas, it seems popular country music has gone the way of the music of the 1980s, and as I stated in my previous blog posting, that source of new music has quickly disappeared.  Funny how things have come full-circle.

So how do I classify my musical tastes?  That's hard.  Eclectic, perhaps?  If you look at my record collection it looks like a weird combination of 50s/60s/70s/80s pop and some country.  If you look at my CD collection, it looks mostly like country, but then there's Union Underground's "An Education In Rebellion" or The Partridge Family.  Where in hell did that come from?  In my MP3 collection artists like The Shirelles, The Grass Roots, The Flirtations, and The Four Seasons share the same space as Quarterflash, Ferrante & Teicher, The Spice Girls, Lisa Loeb, Gordon Lightfoot, Cheyenne Kimball, Culture Club, Split Christie, and Hole.

"What's your favorite artist," you ask?  The funny thing is that it's hard to give an answer to that question.  I like certain songs by certain artists, and sometimes only one (for instance I find anything that Kim Wilde does to be revolting except for "Four Letter Word").  I would say that it's The Partridge Family simply by number of times I've listened to their songs by themselves for as long as I have, but that would be unfair to the Go-Gos that I listened to repeatedly for over a year while I was looking for a house.  I just can't say I have a favorite.

So that's kind of my version of Mary's "My Country Music Journey."  Oh, that's right, I do have one or two songs by Journey in my collection as well...

Sunday, August 8, 2010

Chicken Something

The other night I was trying to figure out what to eat for dinner.  I had some frozen chicken breasts and some various other foodstuff, but it was all the same thing I had been eating for a while.  I was thinking about my friend Mary's "Poor Person's Dirty Rice" recipe that really wasn't much more than rice in an Italian meat sauce, but it was tasty.

Looking at the stuff I had around, I took a now defrosted chicken breast and chopped it up into chunks (about half-inch) and marinaded them in a mix of soy sauce and rice vinegar (that I happened to have around for when I make tangerine chicken).  I then cooked some rice using the microwave method and when that was almost done, I drained most of the marinade and fried the chicken chunks using a non-stick pan with a bit of olive oil.  I then took the (now cooked) rice and put it into the frying pan and fried (stir-fried?) the rice with the chicken chunks, adding a little bit of soy sauce to the mix.

I don't know what I made, but it was actually pretty good.  Chicken fried rice?  Not-really-teriyaki-chicken?  Let's just call it "Chicken Something...with fried rice"

I realized afterward that some green peas probably would have made this a more complete meal and added some additional flavor/texture to the mix.  I will need to do that next time (I always keep some frozen peas around).

It seems that I always have a supply on hand of chicken breasts and rice, as these two things are a versatile tool of the lone bachelor who wants to eat something more interesting than a frozen dinner or a value meal from McDonald's.  What I usually cook is chicken, cooked in Campbell's Cream of Chicken Soup (half can of water rather than a full can), and served over rice.  Chicken Something will now be a part of my menu and yet another thing I can make easily with chicken and rice.

Update:  August 9:

Well, here it is with peas...  Not bad...

Friday, August 6, 2010

Uncertain Times

I'm not really sure what I want to write about today.

I want to have some positive things to say but I can't think of any.  I'm not certain anyone is reading this stuff anymore.  If they do, does it really help?

The U.S. Economy

While I am not a big fan of government involvement in fiscal matters, since they tend to screw it up, I think I have figured out what will bring the economy back.  The problem is jobs.  Think of the economy as a closed system of sorts.  In an extreme oversimplification:  People work to make products, the products are sold to people (who buy the products), those purchases pay the people who make the products, and other products are then purchased by those people.  When this cycle is broken in some way the entire system breaks down.  In times when the economy is depressed, as it is now, people tend to conserve rather than spend (particularly on discretionary items) - especially if they don't have a job.  This causes more unemployment and so on.  So what can we do to break the downward spiral?  The answer is to get more people employed again.  To do that, we need more jobs.

First and foremost - people (that means us) need to realize the err of our ways.  Live within your means.  Don't have bunches of kids (be reasonable).  By "bunches" I mean more than two.  Stop being greedy and expecting to get paid more than what your job should pay based on your experience level.  If you want more money, then conserve or work to move into a job that pays better (which means you'll be working harder).  Stop being greedy (it required repeating).  Consider the impact you make on the world in your every action.  You're not the only one here.  All of these contribute to a stable community, which is a foundation for a stable economy.

Second, get jobs back into the United States.  It's time for the government to create a dis-incentive to outsource jobs to other countries.  NO, DO NOT create an INCENTIVE program to keep jobs within the U.S. -- business should be doing this anyway as good stewards to the communities they serve.  It's time to make outsourcing and the imbalance of imports financially painful.  If business feels the need to use cheaper foreign labor and materials (that will ultimately cost domestic workers their jobs), then this is when the government needs to create the equalizer, and then use the money to fund some (hopefully temporary) domestic public-sector projects that will keep people employed.  Normally these projects could wait until the economy is in better shape and there was sufficient tax revenue.  When people don't work, there isn't sufficient tax revenue, and more and more people end up sucking the system dry.  Businesses that outsource to foreign labor contribute to that problem.  So make them pay the price.  Otherwise, leave business alone and let them thrive doing what they do best.  They don't need a government hand-out.

Finally, a good economic system is not based on rabid consumption.  There are lots of things people use (consumables) in their everyday lives.  We don't need to create more of them.  There will always be good times and not-so-good times in any economy, but an economy built on normal consumption patterns and reasonable purchasing habits will become elastic.  When times are tight or times are better an elastic economy will weather the storm.  Every day isn't Christmas.  A happy balance between product-producing business and service-based business is what helps make this elasticity possible.

If people live their lives and actually do something instead of worshiping the almighty dollar and measuring their own worth based on what they have or how much they spend, it is amazing how well the economy can adjust when a single bad event happens.

I just got done watching Michael Moore's movie Capitalism:  A Love Story, and part of what I am writing is in response to this.  Michael Moore isn't much better than all the other conspiracy theorists out there.  Capitalism isn't evil - greed is evil.  Greed and stabbing thy neighbor in the back happens both in capitalism and socialism.  So don't tell me how a socialist utopia will be any better than what we have now.  Socialism has been tried and has failed, just as absolute capitalism has.  The answer lies not in absolutes, but in looking at the good attributes of both.  What we need now is for people - that is, people running corporations, people running banks, people buying homes, people doing what people do - to be responsible for their actions.  A corporation is a group of people.  Ruthless, greedy people need to be held accountable for their actions.  Greedy people include people who act as though they're always victims.  We're all victims of something.  Spending your life becoming a professional victim or vowing to make the victimizer pay their due is not a productive or happy life.

There, that was positive.  I just fixed the economy.

Relationships

I'm done with this topic.  Okay, almost done.  I'm really just tired of playing these games.

We all want to be wanted, to be admired, and to be cared for by someone.  Hopefully we all want to give that back in return.  For whatever reason that doesn't seem to be enough anymore.  While I fully admit to being a bit slow in showing how I feel, and I'm not very good expressing those feelings verbally or saying what needs to be said or doing what needs to be done at the right time, I feel I have given those feelings in some way to a number of people.  I haven't seen much come in my direction.  Okay, I understand that part of this is chemistry, and part of it is some feelings probably none of us can explain, but for goodness sake it feels like I'm some kind of alien from some other planet and nobody down here can figure me out.  I didn't think I was that complicated.  Yes, I am a bit of a curmudgeon ... alright, maybe not that extreme, maybe just a little eccentric ... but really, I'm not that hard to figure out.  Surely there has to be someone out there who has a heart and soul that is marching to the same drummer.

So while I'd still be happy to entertain a happy relationship with some woman, I'm tired of playing the stupid games that seem to be part of this.  Hopefully if I just be my grumpy old self, someone will see past the facade and see there's a real, feeling, human being in here.

Auto Tune

Okay, enough of the auto-tune crap.  I mean it.  Back in the 80s I discovered country music because I was tired of the electronic crap that made-up pop music.  There are some things that don't need a computer and myriad special effects, and one of those things is music.

At first, I started hearing blatant use of auto tune in the vocals of recent country music.  I thought my hearing was going bad.  Seriously, it sounds like someone put their voice into a sampler and started messing with the pitch wheel.  They think they're adjusting their voice so it's in tune to the music, but to my ears it's just distortion.

Then in the past month or so there comes along some of the most vile country crap I have ever put my ears on.  I'm not even sure who it was or what the title of the song is, but it has finally put the stake into the heart of any interest I have in country music from here on out.  Even some hardcore rap sounds better than this utter garbage.  (Sugarland, among others, I think you know who you are)  My clock radio has just been changed to the talk radio station.  Even Rush Limbaugh is more pleasant to wake-up to than something that has been auto tuned.

So I don't care if you're trying to be funny, or if you're trying to sound like you have talent, I'm putting my foot down.  Enough already.  Find some talent and a set of traditional instruments and learn how to play them, and learn how to sing on-key.  Otherwise go away.  Please.

Anyway, I guess I did have something to say today...