Where Ya Been?

So I took off most of June to concentrate on the final revisions of my novel "Selfie" which is slated to be published . . . well . . . I honestly have no idea.

I posted sporadically throughout July and August and sort of hinted all along the way that change was going to rear it's ugly head soon enough.

This week I've been silent because I'm now narrating and producing an audio book, and like any new project, takes a little time to figure out what the hell I'm doing.

I've also got a new daily column with a brand new very very very super left wing online magazine where I take current news headlines and view them through the prism of history.

I got that particular idea from my Throw Back Thursdays, where I've done something similar, but not quite as aggressively lily livered liberal. I actually think I'm funnier when I'm hitting some middle ground, but clicks are clicks are clicks.

I still write for the satire magazine too, which, ahem, is grotesquely fun, but I haven't linked the stuff anywhere because the virility of the content frightened me a bit . . . and to be honest . . . I would much prefer to make people laugh than make people angry.

Yet . .  along with the other daily column I'm starting to see some real live $ coming into my Adsense account.

Not enough to live off of . . . but maybe enough to pay a bill or two, which sort of brings me back to this particular blog and what I should do with it.

I'm not actually sure . . . to say the least. It's been a massive boon for both my technique and for clearing my head, but it was originally intended to help sell albums, and in that, it was sort of a soft whimper in a crowed stadium. You only get to hear it if you're close by.

Anyway, I'm gonna post a little bit here, a little bit there, and by January  I'll have a clearer view (hopefully) of where this is all going.

In the mean time . . . read some books . . . catch up on some old TV . . . stear clear of election coverage  til March, and cross your fingers that I land some place fun, but not too exciting.

TBT: The Party of Tea

So on this day, 1597, the first ship of what would later become the Dutch East India Company arrived with a bulkhead leaden with spices.

Doesn't seem like a big deal now, though I'm still shocked by how much saffron costs at Trader Joes, but back then, in the time of Shakespeare, it was super good stuff.

Frank Herbert said it best in his book Dune . . . "He who controls the spice, controls the universe."

If you haven't read Dune, you should. It's basically a science fiction take on the entire Middle East, from the spice trade to WWI.

You probably have certain feelings about it based on the 80's movie. Which is fine . . . I'm not gonna judge. But read the book anyway.

What made the Dutch East India Company so special was that it ran at an annual 18% profit for more than two hundred years. Think Google for two centuries instead of a few decades. That's a lot of profit for a really long time (if you needed that for scale).

Now when we think Dutch East India Company . . . we usually think Tea.

As in the Boston Tea Party which leads to Rand Paul and not a lot in between.

Assuming we're all Americans.

We like to skip a few steps along the way.

But going back anyway, just for the hell of it, it marked one of the biggest steps leading to the Brittish  Empire. The love of tea and spices that could only be gotten from the east indies, and of course, the serendipitous annihilation of the Spanish Armada.

Queen Elizabeth was having a good century.

Shakespeare was too.

Christopher Marlowe however got stabbed in the neck during a bar fight and never lived long enough to be awed by the price of saffron.

All went splendidly (as the Brittish might say) until there seemed to be a trade deficit with good old China in the early 1700's.

Sound familiar?

A trade deficit basically means that we are buying all their stuff and they aren't buying any of ours.

Now sound familiar?

Modern America (beginning with Nixon) has begun whittling away at the trade deficit by introducing sneaky bits of capitalism into their communist economy . . . and selling them smart phones.

Sure they build the smart phones, but then we sell them back to 'em.

Sounds sinister, but not as sinister as the Brittish in the early 1700's.

See, they didn't have smart phones back then, but they did have Opium. Which . . . from what I've been told . . . is almost as addictive as Candy Crush.

Buy the Chinese tea . . . sell them the drugs made in India . . . no more trade deficit.

But that level of corruption along with the fact that those pesky colonists got cranky about being taxed without representation and decided to go all independent, sort of collapsed the Dutch East India Company who are still quite pissed about the whole Boston thing.

Way to hold a grudge.

So looking to boost profits, with North America out of the picture, comes the dashing adventurer Robert Fortune.

I kid you not.

Robert Fortune.

A botanist by trade, a scoundrel by night, Robert sneaks into the interior of China with not a single Chinese word in his vocabulary, and walks off with over 20,000 seedlings of various exotic plants . . . the most important of which: Camellia Sinensis.

The Tea Plant.

And when I say he didn't speak Chinese, I mean it. He seriously pretended to be a Chinaman from a different province and was still able to walk off with the goods.

He is definitely one of the top ten picks for my Zombie Apocalypse Fantasy Team.

So he plants the tea in India and away we go. It's not until the end of WWII that the British are kicked out of that part of the world, which opens to the door to communism from the north, Islam from the west, and a McDonalds with a vegetarian menu from good old U. S. of A.

I love being an American.

We're so awesome.

Though we're not tea drinkers, which is kind of sad. Tea is an amazing beverage full of nurture and surprise. I could easily write an essay off the top of my head about coffee (our main caffeine injector of choice), but that would lead us from Africa to Central and South America, around Cape Horn and all the way back to the Indian Ocean.

Skipping steps in that particular story won't do.

And even for a Throw Back Thursday . . . who's got that kind of time?


Getting Caught

Photo by Katka Kincelova
So a group of hackers stole the personal information of the 3 million users of the Ashley Madison website.

If you don't know what that is . . . we'll get to it in due time.

Anyway . . . they stole 3 million profiles and proceeded to blackmail the company. The good people of Ashley Madison didn't blink and so earlier this morning user information including names, dates, profiles, partial credit card numbers, and even some home addresses went up on the dark net.

If you don't know what that is . . . we'll get to that too.

What's interesting about this story . . . is that there are no good guys. Not a single protagonist with which one should root for.

Lemme explain:

Ashley Madison is a social website designed to promote and facilitate infidelity.

It's designed specifically for the people, who want to cheat on their spouses . . . to go out and do so.

Here's the thing though . . . I'm a capitalist and I don't see anything wrong with that. It's a niche market for sure, maybe a little cynical, maybe a little gross, certainly not the kind of thing I would want my name associated with, and most definitely not the kind of business model I would feel comfortable explaining to my wife . . . but it addresses the needs/curiosities a certain section of the population . . . and infidelity sure doesn't have the death rate of say guns, booze, cars, cheese-burgers, or old timey refrigerators with latches instead of magnets.

It's a cruel thing to do to another person . . . but only if you get caught.

So the moral of the story is: Don't get caught.

I tell my wife that all the time. Don't get caught. If you do it . . . feel the guilt . . . live the guilt . . . let it eat you up inside for all eternity . . . I don't wanna know about it.

Anyway, no matter how distasteful the business model, it's still more amoral than pure evil (Looking at you Halliburton)

But the thing is . . . they charge people to remove personal information off the server.

So you create a profile (Smooth Jazz, long walks at the mall, owns van, etc.) you troll around looking for someone who fills all your fantasies . . . then get tired and just look for anyone close . . . have your little trist . . . get charged a finder's fee with an option to upgrade to AshleyPro to remove your profile.

Go pro dude.

Go pro.

But the company didn't remove your info. Oops. They just kept it there. Sitting on the server. Oops. And then they got hacked. Oops. And then they got blackmailed. Double Oops.

Okay . . . so . . . they were on thin ice to begin with . . . and now they've committed fraud.

Not rooting for them at all.

How about their customers? Kinda hard to feel bad for them isn't it? And of course it was mostly guys . . . in fact of the 3 million users . . . I'll bet about half a million were men, a quarter of a million were women, and the other 2.25 million were internet trolls.

That's how the internet works.

I'll even bet that only a wee percentage of the supposed hook-ups ever even occurred.

Stuff like this is designed specifically, not to facilitate poor choices, but to dupe men out of their money for the opportunity to dip their toe in the fantasy pool.

Not to actually dive right in.

I have no judgement as to why a woman would want a service like this.

I would like go to my grave satisfied knowing that they are smarter than that.

So you can't root for the guys . . . what about the hackers?

Well . . . I have a very specific feeling about that particular speciality.

What exactly are you fighting for? Is it moral justice? Take down a terrible dating site? Might as well try to take down The Golf Channel for whatever social good it will do.

Actually . . . please don't take down the Golf Channel.

And what is it with the Guy Fawkes masks? You do know he was just a crazy person who tried to blow up the entire House of Lords which . . . dumb-ass . . . costs money but doesn't have any real political power (you'd want Parliament for that). It's like trying to send a message to politicians by blowing up a DAR meeting.

(DAR btw is the Daughters of the American Revolution)

And yeah I get that the mask was use as a symbol for the comic V is for Vendetta but it was a stupid movie with a stupid plot that was a ham handed attempt at imitating Orwell's 1984, which . . . although a lovely book . . . I still don't buy the ending.

The guy gets tortured until he recognizes he is more important than his true love.

Yuck.

Anyway.

Do you want money? Then you're an extortionist. You have a marketable skill, a global economy with which to market that skill, and if you're just into being a sneaky ass jerk, there's an entire dark net to explore.

The Dark Net . . . btw . . . is kind of like all the underground, back alley, anonymous stuff, that used to happen when the sun goes down, but now sits as kind of like a slightly distorted mirror image of the internet that we all know and love.

I've never ventured there myself because I've got all the fun stuff I need right here, but I can see the allure.

What I'm saying is taking down a company because it and it's users are sorta slimy is such a total waste.

I mean . . . if you're a Social Justice Warrior go after Walmart.

If you're into the economy, ecology, politics . . . knock on the servers of the Koch Brothers, or better yet, any email ever sent by anyone who ever worked at Halliburton. That shit's dripping with blood.

Actually . . . wanna change the whole world? Wanna?

Then sneak inside Sallie Mae's servers and delete all student loan information.

Imagine 20 million well educated families with the sudden ability to pursue . . . whatever.

You can't do it . . . because it's too hard . . . and they back all that stuff up on air-gapped storage discs . . . and probably . . . despite all your skills . . . and all the times you watched Robin Hood Movies on laser disc . . . the thought never occurred to you, and even now that it does . . . it sounds like work.

Nancy.

So getting back to the whole Ashley Madison thing, it's hard to know who the good guys are when everyone is a bad guy.

Frauds . . . fools . . . and nancies.

But there might be a little ray of niceness in the festering pile of blech. Imagine that a woman discovers her husband's information, maybe even a bit of his secret profile on online and sits him down for a long talk:

He confesses.

He was playing around on the computer . . . thought the idea was comical . . . got curious and dipped his toe with absolutely no intention of going all they way . . . but maybe created a full profile just to see what his current market value is . . . not unlike the way she goes house hunting for decorating ideas.

Feelings are hurt, but harm hasn't really been done, and maybe the whole episode opens up a dialogue.

Maybe it offers a particular moment where the two of them could talk like adults are supposed to talk but never really ever do.

There is nothing more important to the safety and security of this world than maximizing the opportunities for two people to sit down and talk like adults are supposed to talk.

I admit that's a stretch. But a little ray of sunshine in an otherwise shaded room, is worth stretching for.

HTT: How To Round-A-Bout

Photo by Jeroen Komen
The first time I was ever introduced to a Round-A-Bout, was, and I'm not kidding about this, in a music theory class in college.

The teacher, and I'm not kidding about this either, was named Mr. Delbert Bump, and he had a thing for tangents.

I think, but I'm not sure, that we were learning about key changes and passing tones.

Passing tones are the notes between chords that help signal change of some sort.

In simple theory, chords are hit on the One and Three beats, while the passing tones are hit on the Two and Four.

Which . . . if you stop to think about it . . . might lend itself really easily to a monologue about why white people can't dance (they're always pulsing on the One and Three and no where near the Two and Four they should be pulsing at) . . . but with a background in diversity . . . Mr. Delbert Bump went from passing tones to round-a-bouts.

He told us about intersections in England where you can only make right hand turns (actually . . . left hand turns . . . since that's the direction they drive.)

He marveled at how smart that was.

I marveled at it too.

I hate making left hand turns.

I hate making left hand turns so much sometimes I'd rather make three right hand turns first.

Always add twenty minutes of travel time if you're riding with me in San Francisco.

It may have been a decade later when I got introduced to my first round-a-bout. My dad and I were traveling to Aspen for a Rugby tournament and after a long drive through the windy mountains, we came across a round-a-bout.

Let's just say . . . I was not prepared.

This was a big one too . . . like three lanes wide . . . 100 yards in diameter . . . haunted.

Now . . . however . . . thanks to some calm directions from my dad . . . who had clearly seen one before . . . we were able to make our way through it with zero fuss and didn't miss a single turn.

Whew.

It could've gone much much much much worse.

It was my impression that round-a-bouts were not a good thing.

And if someone was so stupid as to build one they should put up a big billboard sized sign that says: 

Round-A-Bout Coming . . . Things Are Gonna Get Weird . . . Slow Down.

And then I forgot all about them.

For a year or two.

I listen to talk radio a lot . . . for whatever reason . . . and I heard an interview with a guy who designs  roads and highways and byways and parking lots.

I'm sure that that sounds like the least cool guest ever . . . but how many times in your life have you spent hating the person who designed a particular intersection? How many times have you sworn that you were going to find the guy who built a particular parking lot and kick him right in the nuts?

Or if he turned out to be a girl . . . punch her right in the boob?

So yeah . . . I was captivated . . . I think it was one of those interviews where I get home and sit in my car in my driveway for twenty minutes so I can hear the rest of it.

Anyway, the guy was talking about intersection safety.

It turns out that when two single lane roads cross, in a standard american intersection, there are something like 18 particular points of potential impact.

In a round-a-bout . . . there are 4.

That makes a round-a-bout much much much much safer than your average intersection.

Though that might be hard to believe if you are as familiar with them as I was in Aspen.

Anyway, it seemed like twenty minutes after I finished the interview, the construction guys down the street were putting in a round-a-bout on the main road to my house. Things happen for a reason.

That particular street was the only way in or out of my particular neighborhood . . . so my wife and I round-a-bouted a lot.

Here's what you need to know about round-a-bouts:

The car IN the circle has the right of way. As you approach, slow down. You only have to look in one direction because there are no cars coming the other way. Wait your turn. Merge in. Circle around until you have clear shot at your exit.

It's not intuitive, but once you get the hang of it . . . it's pretty neat.

A few years later they installed a second road with no round-a-bouts.

We called it our escape route.

The first road happened to go through an outdoor mall, while our escape route passed by a rock factory.

Needless to say, not much traffic at the rock factory . . . hence the term Escape Route.

My wife will avoid the main road at all costs.

It's not that she's afraid of the round-a-bouts . . . she's an exceptional driver . . . but she is full blooded Italian and grew up in Long Island and is afraid that if a stupid person catches her on a bad hair day she's likely to take them out.

She's been in California for over twenty years and is still frustrated by the "Right of Way" laws.

On the flip side . . . I actually love the round-a-bouts.

Even when I'm in a shitty mood.

I like watching it work when everyone knows what they're doing, and I like to see what happens when someone clearly doesn't know the rules, and I like to yell foul things at people for being obvious jerks.

Watching a round-a-bout is like watching humanity in action.

It's a metaphor the human experience.

And yes . . . I do think there should be a sign before life begins that says:

Life Coming . . . Things Are Gonna Get Weird . . . Slow Down.



Who's Gonna Trump Trump?

Photo by Gage Skidmore

So I had this weird thought.

What if Donald Trump became President of the United States?

Like right now we're all laugh laugh haha, but it's not like we haven't elected a few paranoid narcissistic egomaniacs on both side of the aisle.

(Looking at you Nixon . . . Looking at you Teddy.)

Granted . . . I'd take Teddy Roosevelt over Nixon, Trump, and just about anyone elected in my lifetime, but for absolute sheer unadulterated unabashed gravitas, you gotta admit Teddy was on fire.

And if you're like "But Teddy wasn't xenophobic like Trump . . . he wasn't racist."

Um . . . yeah . . . sorry to push your button . . . but go ahead and look up the term Rough Rider. And after that go ahead and Google Roosevelt and the Philippines.

The guy who gave us national parks and dismantled the robber barons wasn't the affable Robin Williams from "Night at the Museum"

The dude once got shot in the chest during a campaign rally . . . and finished his speech before going to the hospital.

My kinda crazy . . . but still . . . crazy.

Anyway, you absolutely want to roll your eyes at the insanity that is the group of Republican Candidates . . . of which there are currently seventeen . . . and none of them even moderately coherent.

"Coherent" might not be the word.

"A realistic model for executive power." might be cleaner.

Not yet . . . anyway . . . who knows?

But I haven't wrapped my head around Hillary Clinton yet either.

Which sort of lead me to the first thought.

What if a clear front runner never materializes? What if by default Trump gets nominated just through the sheer force of his will?

And then . . . what if, because of near complete apathy, liberals like myself don't bother showing up to the polls on the first Tuesday in November and President Donald Trump takes the oath of office a few months later?

Insaner things have happened.

Much much much insaner things.

And what would we get?

Well . . . first we'd get a guy who doesn't owe the Koch Brothers any favors.

If you don't know who they are or what that means, look them up.

They're some scary shit right there.

We'd also get a guy who doesn't owe the Christians any favors.

If you don't know who they are, or what that means, stop reading right now.

We'd get a pig headed misogynist for sure . . . but get this . . . he's the only candidate who hasn't promised to dismantle Planned Parenthood . . . unlike Mike Huckabee who just came out in favor forcing an 11 year old girl who was raped by her step-dad to conceive the child.

Yeah . . . that just happened.

He's also the only candidate that said he wouldn't comment on the Iran Treaty until he'd read it.

16 other candidates would tear up the treaty that has taken six years of negotiation. A treaty they haven't even read yet. They were just following the party line . . . obviously . . . but still . . . that's no executive model.

Okay . . . so we'd build a twenty foot wall all along the Mexican border.

But just think of the boon that would be for the Mexican economy. Our workers certainly wouldn't be building it.

It's like a win win.

The point is . . . he's not Caligula . . . because if he was that . . . we'd never hear from him again.

He's not Nero or Commodus or the Medici's or a Lannister.

He's not Hitler, Pol Pot, Stalin, or Idi Amin, and he may be Big Brother . . . but the television version not the Orwell version.

He's leading in the poles right now because he is exceptionally good TV.  Eventually one of the other candidates is going to step up and look strong and that's all it will take to shift the tide and then it's off to the races.

But what if?



TBT: Anomaly

Photo Attribution: Schyler-Wiki England

Today in 1908,  the Dodgers & Pirates played to a 8-8 tie.

Both had 38 at bats, 13 hits, 12 assists, 2 errors, 5 strikeouts, 3 walks, 1 pass ball & 1 hit by pitch.

Weird.

Though I'm not so certain such a thing is exceptional.

Like . . . if playing a game where each team had identical statistics was something to be coveted, like a perfect score on Donkey Kong or whatever, I can see this as pretty cool.

I don't wanna do the math, but I'm sure it's like flipping a coin and having it land on heads a thousand times in a row.

Which would be cool for like thirty seconds and then you'd move on to other things.

I also didn't know that baseball games ended in ties.

I had some foolish impression that they just kept on going and going and going until some one was declared a winner . . . like I sort of remember reading a record book that had the longest baseball game in history . . . thinking "wow . . . that's a lot of baseball."

Baseball games don't end in ties very often. Usually, if the game needs to be stopped for whatever reason . . . it will be continued at a later date.

That's a bit from Bull Durham "Sometimes you win . . . sometimes you lose . . . sometimes . . . it rains."

Good movie.

Back when the Dodgers played their statistically identical game against the Pirates in 1908, they probably called the game because it got dark.

Not a lot of night games back then.

They didn't have lights.

And when they brought in the lights, there was a lot of complaint, but I bet secretly the players were a bit relieved. It gets hot in the afternoon. Like real hot.

They did have hot dogs thankfully. No one has been able to nail down the exact date for the invention of the hot-dog, but it's very likely that spectators at the Dodgers Pirates game were noshing them down.

And now I'm hungry.

Anyway, the reason this particular anomaly caught my eye is because earlier this week I was listening to some sports radio (yeah . . . pretty sure it's just a guy thing) and seeing as how there is no basketball going on, nobody wants to listen to soccer, and there's only so much wind one can spend on Tom Brady's ball deflating suspension . . . most of the talk was about baseball.

The baseball talk was interesting to me . . . partly because I actually kinda like knowing what's going on in places where I am not . . . and the fact that I had no idea what they were talking about.

They were discussing an anomaly where all the home teams in a particular division won their games on the same day.

A thing which hasn't happened since . . . jeez . . . who knows.

And even the two sports casters were arguing over whether or not it had any significance.

One was like "It's just a thing that happened . . . it's not like a no hitter!"

The other was like "Yeah . . . but it's still kinda cool."

I found myself agreeing with both of them and wishing for the conversation to continue, but they had to switch over to basketball and talk about the upcoming schedule for the Sacramento Kings.

This year will be the last year the Kings play at the Sleep Train Arena, which used to be the Arco Arena, which used to be something else before that.

Does it seem weird that a mattress company outbid an oil company for arena naming rights?

Is the profit margin of mattresses really as high as oil money?

And if it is . . . I'm in the wrong business . . . and the last time you bought a mattress . . . you got jacked.

Those things are expensive, but I thought they were expensive because they were . . . you know . . . expensive.

Maybe I should go work for Sleep Train. Maybe it will be my ticket to a better night's sleep.

Anyway . . . I don't have much of a connection to baseball. I played one year of it. My son played one year of it. I accidentally bumped into Mark Maguire at a restaurant in Walnut Creek, which was a lot like accidentally bumping into a school bus.

Dude was big.

All I'm saying.

I love to go to the ballpark and watch games. I prefer night games, because, the sun is hot.

But I've never really followed the game, which seems odd to me because I love the kind of statistical anomalies that pop up from time to time. I love hearing about them . . . and I especially love listening to people talk about them and that moment when they try to remember when the last time such a thing happened.

Like someone will point out the this one team stole five bases in a single inning and the other guy will point out that that hasn't happened since the play-offs in 1989.

1989 was the year where the Oakland A's played the San Francisco Giants in the World Series.

It was called the Battle of the Bay.

One of the games was cancelled because the Loma Prieta Earthquake had cracked sections of the concrete in the Colosseum.

Which . . . as far as the first page of Google is concerned . . . is the last time a game was cancelled because of an earthquake.

There is a minor team in Rancho Cucamonga called the Quakes, but I doubt any games have been canceled due to them just showing up.

The initial point I was trying to make was that anomalies for the most part are meaningless. They are scientific outliers that people of real learning sort of detest, because the information can't be used in any meaningful way.

Unless you're a sports casters.

My other point was that they may be meaningless, but they're certainly fun, and can lead to other things.

Hot dogs, mattresses, and earthquakes, just to name a few.

And now I'm hungry again.


HTT: How to Poof into Nothingness

I spent an hour or two this morning writing a very nifty little piece on avocado hacks.

That doesn't quite make sense.

I spent an hour or so writing about an article I read called "10 Avocado Hacks You Need to Know Now!"

Or something like that.

I wrote about it because I was really excited to learn something new about the avocado, especially, since I have one major handicap when it comes to the delicious fruit . . . I can't ever seem to select the right one.

My wife has a solve for this particular problem:

Never buy just one avocado.

It's simple . . . it's elegant . . . it's truth . . . it's beauty . . . it's not one of the top ten avocado hacks however.

As much as it should be.

Neither was a good method of avocado selection. Which . . . it seems to me . . . to be the only avocado hack worth mentioning.

The article did say that if you run out of plates . . . get this . . . you can use an avocado as a bowl.

Word to anyone out there . . . if you can't find a plate and decide to scour your kitchen for edible bowl shaped fruit . . . it's really important that you take a minute and reevaluate you entire life.

Anyway, I've already spent an hour or two making cute little jokes about this less than cute little article and just as I went to publish the thing, the program I was typing on blooped out of thin air and the whole post was gone.

Like gone gone.

Poof.

I stared looking at it for a long time wondering if it would bloop back . . . it didn't.

Then I logged out and logged back in again . . . still gone.

Then I paced for a minute or two . . . yelled at my son for some reason or another . . . got a glass of water . . . blew my nose . . . drank the water . . . apologized to my son for yelling at him . . . explained the whole poofing situation . . . and tried to think of what to do next.

I couldn't just rewrite the whole thing. I've got things to do today. I couldn't just leave it alone . . . the avocado bowl hack was priceless. So you're getting an abreviated version of today's How to Tuesday.

You can hasten the ripeing of your avocado by putting it in a paper bag.

You can hasten even that by adding a banana.

Who knew?

There are other things too, but right now I've got to get moving.

So remember this . . . when a day's work poofs in front of your eyes it's not that tragic, just go with it  . . . and two . . . never buy just one avocado.