Friday, December 29, 2017

More Thoughts on "Star Trek: Discovery"

There are spoilers in this post, so if you haven't watched the show yet but intend to do so at some time, you might want to stop right here.

I've given up on this show. After nine episodes, I just don't find it worth the time it takes to watch, the hit it puts on my data usage, or the $5.99 a month that I pay for the CBS All Access service. If it's released on DVD at some point, I might give it a second chance.

Here are some of the things I really dislike about the series.

Michael Burnham is supposed to be the very first Starfleet officer to commit mutiny. Not totally unbelievable, but a bit of a stretch, to be sure. I can accept that losing her commission is part of her punishment when she pleads guilty, but being imprisoned for the rest of her life just feels wrong. Also, in the scene where the proceedings are taking place, the officers who are trying her case are seen to be hidden in darkness.  It's not stated, but the implication is clear; Burnham has no idea of who she's dealing with.

This simply does not fit in with anything remotely resembling the way things were shown to be in the original series. When Jim Kirk is being court-martialed, he is offered the chance to request that different officers be assigned to the proceedings if he feels that any of those present are biased against him.

As regards the character of Sarek, this version of him feels so wrong. This Sarek is dishonest. This Sarek has none of the gravitas that the late Mark Lenard brought to the character.  This Sarek is one I don't care for.

The war between the Federation and the Klingon Empire is something we're told has cost thousands of lives. Yet, we've seen nothing of the war but a few brief battles. We've not seen any of the pain, or the sacrifice, or the just plain horror of war. If you want to see Star Trek do this the right way, watch the episodes of Deep Space Nine that feature the Dominion War story arc. 

The captain has a large room in which he has among other things, the skeleton of a Gorn. Yet, if we accept that this is taking place when it's said to be, first encounter with that species is a good ten to twelve years in the future. It's possible that the captain, whose name I can barely remember, doesn't know what species the skeleton is from.

The only way that any of this makes sense at all is if events are set in the mirror universe. If one accepts the events of "In A Mirror, Darkly" to be canon, then the level of technology seen makes sense. The Terran Empire has had a lot of time in which to advance their technology.

Even then, though, it still doesn't all fit. The Empire is most definitely not the Federation. It might, I repeat, might, all work if we see that this is the Mirror universe with an altered time line. But that would, of course, contradict the oft-repeated statements that we are dealing with the Prime time line.

And don't get me started on the spore drive. Setting aside the questionable science involved, it takes all the tension out of things. A means of interstellar travel that can take you anywhere in the universe in just a few seconds? I'd love to have a talk with the person who came up with that idea.

And could they possibly make the Klingons any less interesting? Past depictions haven't always been the greatest, but this really is scraping the bottom of the barrel, as the saying goes. Of course, I've been spoiled when it comes to this, because the novel "The Final Reflection" by John M. Ford is still the gold standard when it comes to depicting the Klingons, thirty-three years after its release.

The sad part is, there are bits and pieces of the show that do work and work well.  But the bad far outweighs the good, so far.  For the most part, the whole thing is a rather generic action-adventure show with a bit of Star Trek thrown in.

When you compare this to some of the better fan films, it just isn't very good at all. Of course, fan films are now severely restricted in what they can and can't do. I've covered that before and won't go over it again here.

As always, I thank you for taking the time to read this

Sunday, December 24, 2017

Merry Christmas To You

To you, dear reader, I offer my wishes for a very merry Christmas. May you receive at least one good gift, and may the gifts you give be just right for the recipients.

Thursday, December 21, 2017

Things That Have Been On My Mind

Settle in, dear reader. This is going to be a long post. I'm going to cover a lot of ground, as the expression goes.

The tax reform bill is now the law of the land. As is repeal of net neutrality regulations. These won't actually go into effect for a little while, but the deals are done, the votes have been cast. The CHIP program that provides health insurance for 9 million children is out of money, more or less. There are no more funds to be dispersed to the individual states at this time. Each state has its own date at which its current funds will run out. The program has been in existence for twenty years and funding it has never been an issue in the halls of Congress.

But, as I and so many others predicted would happen, the Trump presidency is taking almost everything we've long taken for granted and putting it all back on the table. Even as they happily blow a trillion and a half dollar hole in the budget, the Republicans are already talking about what they call "entitlement reform". Because, they say, we need to be fiscally responsible.

I believe that no later than late January or early February, they'll be attacking Social Security, Medicare, SNAP (the program formerly known as food stamps), H.E.A.P.,  and anything else they can set their sights on. They might, just might, leave regular Social Security untouched, but they will, I believe, brutally attack Social Security Disability.

Which, though it's par for the course, is still morally sickening. I have a lot to lose if this goes badly because S.S.D. is my only source of income. My monthly check of $834 (don't spend it all at once!) puts me at 80% of the poverty level. My SNAP benefits bring me all the way to a dead even 100%.

Think that over, for a minute. That monthly payment, which I can spend on food and nothing else, lifts me out of poverty. 

Changing the subject, have you read, or at least, heard about the report issued by the United Nations Special Rapporteur on Human Rights? He recently completed a two week tour of the United States and finds our conditions to be "appalling". He details conditions in parts of Alabama, where raw sewage backs up in people's yards because the systems to handle it are in such bad shape. He talks about children who are suffering from hookworm and ringworm, diseases not seen in this country since the mid-to-late 1960s. Those diseases result from lack of clean drinking water, the right to which should be formally codified as a fundamental right. He talks about seeing police officers in San Francisco harassing the homeless, telling them to move along. 

Think all that over, if you can force yourself to do it.

Back to politics, for a bit. If you need a quick break, take it, please. Get up and stretch for a few minutes. Get yourself something to drink.

I've said it before and I'll say it again. The extreme right wingers in this country are morally disgusting people. They're sick, twisted individuals whose beliefs, words and actions have long bordered on and now fully qualify as pathological. They really do believe every word they say, which is kind of scary.

Their rise to power began in the late 1960s, with the election of Richard Nixon. They've spent close to half a century piecing together their agenda. Every time that the rest of us could have and should have risen up to stop them, to say "No" to them, we failed for one reason or another.

When Ronald Reagan illegally fired thousands of air traffic controllers who were striking, did we stop it? We did not. Yes, the strike itself was not legal, but Reagan's actions was the first shot across the bow against organized labor. That was, many believe, the defining moment, the moment when the right wing said to itself, "What else can we get away with?".

They can get away with a whole hell of a lot, as we've seen. They can ship millions of jobs to third world nations. They can eliminate millions more by making us check ourselves out at the supermarket, and by turning ATM machines into automated bank tellers, and by using robotics to manufacture automobiles and by...well, you get the idea, I'm sure.

They can close hundreds of post offices. They can reduce the number of hours that Social Security offices are open. They can impose draconian restrictions on voting. They can turn our society into a hellish nightmare where privacy is no longer protected as it should be. Indeed, they can even make privacy damn near obsolete. You are being watched, in just about every public place you can think of.

All in the name of security. Safety. Order. You may know these words as the words that the Nazis used in Germany in the 1930s.

Because we don't want another 9-11 on our hands. Of course, we're losing people, our people, to an opioid crisis that's killing as many people as we lost on 9-11, every three weeks.

Every three weeks! And what price has been demanded of those who deal in death?

Okay. I'm almost done, honest. This post hasn't come out quite the way I first intended it to. It's quite a bit shorter. It's a bit more restrained. Yeah, I held back, a little. But I'm satisfied with it.

Of course, I just might be back at it again in an hour or two. Or not. I have other things to discuss, but I want, as always, to treat each and every subject with the care and respect it deserves.

Thank you for reading this.

Friday, December 15, 2017

Just Checking In

I'm sorry I haven't posted anything recently. I've been busy with a few things. I was ill for a few days, and the weather has been very unpleasant recently. I hate being stuck indoors for long periods of time, but one must, as they say, bow to the realities of the situation.

I have, at least, been able to do some more reading and to catch up a bit on the films in my Netflix queue.

Wishing you well, dear reader.

Saturday, December 2, 2017

The Progressive Kevin Speaks

I'll warn you right now, dear reader, this is going to be very political in nature. If you want to continue reading, please do. If not, that's fine but I would ask you to reconsider your decision.

At 2 a.m. today, the Senate passed its tax bill by a vote of 51-49. The only Republican to vote against it was Senator Bob Corker. The final draft of the bill was finished just a few hours before the vote was taken; no one had time to read all 479 pages of it.

The bill literally has dozens of hand-written notes on it, some of which are almost impossible to make sense of. The Democrats proposed a delay on the vote, asking for it to take place on Monday, so they could have time to read it. All fifty-two Republicans voted "Nay" on that proposal.

This bill is a dream come true for conservatives. It allows churches to engage in political activism while maintaining their tax-exempt status. It eliminates the deduction for state and local taxes. It's loaded up with so many gifts to the right wing I can't even begin to list them all.

Of course, the tax bill is just one piece of the right wing agenda, an agenda which is being carried out at a sickening pace.

This year of 2017 has seen, I believe, an unprecedented attack on the very core of our democracy. It's an attack that is being carried out quickly and efficiently in fear of the day that the tide turns and we, the people, take our country back. 

The question is, will the tide ever turn? Will we one day finally see a day in which the progressive agenda starts to be put in place, and we start to repair the damage? Or have we reached a point where so much of what makes our democracy work  has been abandoned, perverted or just plain ignored, that we can't ever make things right again?

I hope for the former but deeply fear the latter may be true.

We need to make it so damn uncomfortable for those who abuse power that they find themselves
with a very simple choice. Start a very painful process of undoing the worst of the damage they've so willingly inflicted, or resign their positions and give someone else a chance at making things better.

The passage of the tax bill is yet another reminder that on-line activism has very real limits as to what it can accomplish. It also reminds us, yet again, that we can send as many letters as we like and make so many phone calls that it ties up the entire system, only to find that our will, the will of the people, has been blatantly ignored.

We need to go old-school, people. We need to stage general strikes anywhere and anytime we can. We need to shut the system down and force those in power to do as we demand. We need to march in the streets, on a scale never seen before in America.

Until those who rule over us as dictators are thrown out of office, imprisoned where justified and shamed whenever possible, things will only get worse.

Wednesday, November 22, 2017

Dinner #2

Tomorrow is Thanksgiving Day and here at the Y.M.C.A. there are a lot of guys who have nowhere to go. That includes myself, as there is no B.C. Transit service tomorrow. I have enough money to eat out, but the weather forecast doesn't look good and I dislike walking in bad weather.

I've asked for and received permission to put on a small dinner tomorrow. The turkey is being provided for me, but I'm paying for everything else. I can feed about fifteen to twenty people, and the total bill for all of it is somewhere around $50. For someone on a fixed income, such as myself, that's a fairly large amount of money.

I consider it money well spent, for a few reasons. One being that the housing program here has done a lot for me, and I want to give something back. Another being that it's another thing I can list as an event I've catered when dealing with potential clients as I have started a catering business. And most importantly of all, I'll be feeding some guys for whom it will be their only meal of the day. The program here does have donated food, which any of us can get once a week on Fridays, but that's not a long term solution for anyone.

What I'm doing is not a long term solution either, but it's something that will help a little, at least.

To you dear reader, I offer my best wishes for a good day tomorrow.

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

I Can Do This!

Well, quite the development today, a good one, I'm glad to report. Here at the Y.M.C.A. the director of Residential Housing oversees a Thanksgiving meal for the residents. Last Monday, Ashley asked if I wanted to help with the preparation of the meal. I said that yes, I did.

Fast forward to today. Five minutes before the start time and only two of seven people showed up. Namely, myself and a guy named Jeff. Jeff did two batches of instant mashed potatoes and then took off, never to return. So, forty-five minutes into it, I was responsible for feeding something like 70 to 80 people.

Ashley had already put a turkey in the oven, and it came out really well. But from 1:45 until
6:30, I was pretty much on my own. I had to do my second batch of stuffing. I had to open twelve cans of corn and heat it all up. I did dishes. I cleaned as I went along. I followed best practices for sanitation and safety. I heated sweet potatoes that had already been cooked.

I opened and heated eight cans of gravy. I kept an eye on two batches of cooked turkey that needed to be reheated in the oven. I buttered the dinner rolls and heated them. I made sure that gluten free foods had no contact with other foods that do have gluten in them.

When we realized we had one less can of Sterno than we needed to keep the food at serving temperature, I dealt with that by putting the corn and the gravy in two smaller pans. Problem solved.

I am proud to be able to say that dinner was served on time. I did all the dishes. I checked and rechecked what needed to be replenished on the serving line. I checked and rechecked to make sure food was hot enough. I wiped down serving tables. We never had any one have to wait for food.

The only thing we ran out of was stuffing, but only after the very last two people were served.

For eighteen months I have had person after person tell me that this is the sort of thing I'm not capable of pulling off. I'm too old, they say. My skill set isn't good enough. they say. I fold under pressure (which is so not true), they say. My leadership skills are weak, they say.

Wrong on all counts, people.  Today I got the job done, in style. I took charge of the situation but never hesitated once to ask for help when I needed it. I asked for a second opinion several times, just to make sure things went right.  Every time someone did make a recommendation, it was a good one and I went along with it.

From 1 o'clock until 4:45, I took one break that lasted five minutes. From 4:45 to 4:55, I ate. From 4:55 to 5:15, I worked. I then had a full half hour to rest, and starting at 5:45, I spent the last forty-five minutes working. We had a lot of food left over, which was put in the large refrigerator in the lounge. We were still putting food away even as some guys who hadn't had any yet were making up plates for themselves.

I did a good enough job that Alicia (whom I respect a great deal and like a lot) and Ashley (same on both counts) asked me to supervise the Christmas dinner on the 21st of December.

I agreed to do so, of course.

Today's event was a challenge, one I met. I had a great time and had more people than I could keep track of thank me.

I can do this, as a career. That's not an empty claim, people. Today, as I have before, I proved it.

Saturday, November 11, 2017

1977 In Review

I'm sorry it took so long to get this new post up, but I've been sick the last few days. I'm feeling better today, and so, as promised, here is the new post.

"My 1977"

1977 was the year in which I:

1. Learned how to play the French horn.

2. Saw the movie "Star Wars" at the V Drive-In with my mom, dad, and brother. I liked it, but it didn't do anything special for me. My mom, on the other hand, loved it and has seen every film in the series.

3. Was able to see the late Gene Roddenberry on tour with what he called "The World Of Star Trek". This was amazing, as Roddenberry screened the blooper reels from all three seasons of the show along with the rejected first pilot "The Cage".

4. Heard the song "The Things We Do For Love" when it was released as a single. I was in the office of the gas station that was across the road from the trailer park we lived in. The guys that ran the place were always nice enough to let me come into the office to buy a candy bar or to use the pay telephone. This record came on over the radio while I was getting a candy bar from the vending machine.

5. Was admitted to the hospital for the first, and so far, only time in my life. I was eleven years old and absolutely terrified, because at first, no one could determine just what was making me so ill.

6. Was allowed to have a television set in my room. My mom gave me the 12-inch black and white set that she had been using in our kitchen up to that point in time.

7. Kissed a girl for the first time. She was the younger sister of a kid I met whose family was part of a traveling carnival. He was my age and she was nine. We actually kept in touch by mail for several months, but one day, a letter to them came back to me as not able to be delivered.

8. Won $40 by having my dad place bets on horse races for me one night. My mom has no objections to gambling, but was upset, because, after all, I was only eleven years old.

9.  Went roller skating with some friends on my birthday.

10. Got a super ball from a vending machine that was made of clear plastic that had a miniature baseball card in it. The card was one for Nolan Ryan, who was one of my favorite players.

All that was forty years ago, now. Most of it I remember accurately on my own, but my Mom did verify a few things for me.

In other news, my Mom is out of the hospital but her condition is such that she now needs to use a breathing machine at all times. She is trying to quit smoking and any good thoughts or prayers you can generously offer would be nice.

Thursday, November 2, 2017

The Reason Why I Didn't Post Anything Yesterday

Hello, dear reader. I apologize for the lack of a post yesterday after I had said there would be one. My mother was admitted to the hospital yesterday afternoon, so dealing with that was a priority. I do have a nice post in draft status that I hope to have up later today.

Until then, wishing you well.

Tuesday, October 31, 2017

I Have Had IT With These People

I'll warn you straight up, folks. This is going to get down and dirty, and if you aren't up for that, come back tomorrow when I'm in a better mood, please.

Earlier today, on the Pajiba website, I posted something that is factual. Namely, that Donald Trump's chief pollster was quoted very recently as saying there's "no question" that Trump would have lost in last year's election had he been running against Bernie Sanders. I also stated that some of us have known that all along, which I believe to be true.

By the end of this afternoon, there were several responses to my post. Every single one of them were rude to me, dismissive of me, or both. If you want to see for yourself, check the article about White House Chief of Staff John Kelly with the words "Morning Briefing" in the title. There are now over 300 comments so, getting to mine requires quite a bit of scrolling down. For the record, no one disputed the fact of what Trump's pollster had said. Instead, some folks chose to just be not very polite.

Now, let's get down to the nitty gritty, as it were.

In supporting Bernie Sanders, I chose to believe in a man who, I feel, cares about us. Cares about the future of our country. Hilary Clinton, while she was highly qualified, is a centrist who comes across as cold and calculating. There are a whole lot of us who believed in Bernie and still do, and we are not going anywhere. We believe in a living wage, we believe in health care being a fundamental human right, and we believe in the future.

Every single person I know who supported Hilary Clinton felt they had good reasons to do so. Some wanted a centrist in the White House. Some wanted to make history by electing a woman. I get it, and I respect them. However, there was all along a notable lack of respect on their part for myself and my fellow Sanders supporters.

They called us "unrealistic". They called us "spoiled children who want everything." And worse, in some cases.

So, let me say a few things.

In my life, I have had times when I went as long as four days with no food. My late wife and I survived an attempt on our lives made by rogue police officers who were protecting a drug dealer in our apartment building. I've been dirt poor at times, and homeless, for a few brief but terrifying hours.

In other words, I've never had it easy.

Now, these are words on a screen and I have no proof to back up what I've said. Nonetheless, every word of it is true.

I know that some people believe things will never change, no matter who we elect or what we do. I disagree with them but I always try to do so politely. I'm just that kind of person.

Sadly, the level of politeness and respect I once considered to be normal in our society is now far too rare a thing.

Friday, October 27, 2017

Thoughts On Fan Films

Hello, again. I've been busy with a few things but I hope to resume posting on a more regular basis soon.

In the meanwhile, I'd like to say a few things about fan films. Most of the ones I've watched are based on some version of Star Trek. Some of these feature original characters while others portray established ones. Perhaps the two best known series are both continuations of the original series.

These are "New Voyages / Phase II" and "Star Trek Continues". Both had good episodes and not so good ones. "New Voyages" disappeared literally overnight as its creator James Cawley closed the web site and pulled all of the episodes. Some may still be available on Youtube, and I highly recommend my favorite "World Enough And Time" to anyone who likes the original series. "Star Trek Continues" put its next to last episode up for viewing earlier this month. I liked it a lot.

Of the other series I've watched the one I like the best is "Hidden Frontier' which is set in the same time frame as "Next Generation" and "Deep Space Nine". The first few episodes are a bit rough around the edges but by the end of the series, the people involved in making it were creating some really good material.

Many of the same people have done spin offs that are audio dramas. The show does have an active website but there seems to be none of the episodes of the show available. There was an effort underway to remaster them but it appears that has been put on hold, pending clearance from CBS in accordance with the new official guidelines.

Again, Youtube may be your friend here, or some of the torrents may still be active, though that seems unlikely.

Most of what else I've seen have been shows that produced only a few episodes. Of these, I recommend "Starship Farragut" and "Starship Exeter". Beyond that, the quality of other series is very much hit and miss. 

Now, let me tell you about the single best one I've ever seen. One I watched earlier today. It's on Youtube and if you enjoy the original series, you might really find it worth your time to watch it.

It's titled "The Paradise Makers". This is a 2-part episode with a total running time of 2 hours and twenty-five minutes. I do not wish to give away any of the plot, but I do want to share some general thoughts on it.

First off, the episode is set just a few months into the five year mission. The way the characters behave reflects this quite nicely. There's a short but very nice scene with a character we've seen only seen once before. I don't want to ruin the surprise. I'll just say that it's a nice thing.

The animation is a blend of traditional style and what looks more like computer generated imagery that's pretty realistic looking. I've seen feature films that didn't look this good. As someone with a background in video production, I know that a lot of effort had to be put into this. I also have worked in the field of audio and except for one sequence of about half a minute, the sound mix is quite good to my ears. 

I found the film to be well written for the most part. A few lines could have been rewritten to work better, but, you know,  no script is perfect. The voice acting is good for the most part, though the voice for McCoy took a little getting used to. I got the feeling that the actor in question needed a little time to get it right, and I can live with the minor imperfection. Both Kirk and Spock are pitch perfect to my ears.

If you are a fan of the original series, you might very well really like this. To me, it truly felt like a very good first season episode of the original series. There was a reference in the comments section about it having been deleted and then uploaded again, so if you have the time to spare, you might want to watch this while you can.

Final thoughts: On a scale of 1 to 10, as a film I rate this an 8. As a Star Trek story, also an 8. There are a boatload of bits and pieces of Trek lore, most of which haven't been seen or referred to since their original appearances. The sound effects are classic. The writer got the star dates right. The animators even recreated both the opening and ending credits perfectly. 

I have no idea if the people behind this are unaware of the guidelines CBS has issued for fan films or if they chose to ignore those guidelines. I'm just glad they put such an amazing effort into making it. 

To find this just search for the title on Youtube. I did so and found it with no problem. 

As always, wishing you well, dear reader.

Monday, October 16, 2017

"We Built This City" And Other 45 Singles

Okay, so here we go.

I am officially fed up with music snobs who will tell you that certain records are so bad that no one should ever listen to them again. In my experience, most of these people came of age in the 1960s and they tend to worship the music of that decade. I freely and without any shame state that I am a child of the 1970s.

Some of the records that get this treatment include:

#1- "We Built This City" by Starship. This of course, was recorded by the band that had once been known as Jefferson Airplane and then as Jefferson Starship. Almost every person I've seen criticize this record fails to state exactly just what makes it so bad in their opinion. If anyone out there can actually analyze the record and tell me why they don't like it, fine. I'm willing to listen to what you have to say.

All I know is that thirty-two years after its release, I still like it. I bought the original single on vinyl when it came out and I also had a compact disc with the rare promo version on it. That's the version with no DJ chatter, that allowed local radio stations to record and mix in their own voice-overs. I wish like crazy I still had that CD because it also had some other very rare singles on it.

#2- "The Night Chicago Died" by Paper Lace. Come on, people, just give in and enjoy it. It's like a really good short story that just happens to be in musical form.

#3-  "Copacabana (At The Copa)" by Barry Manilow. How can you not like this record? Do yourself a favor and buy the original A-side version, which is hard to find, but I'll tell you how to get it legally.

It's on the soundtrack to a film titled "Foul Play" and it's available from Amazon as an MP3 file. Spend $1.29 to get it.

Do not waste your time with the B-side version that has an extended instrumental and please, whatever you do, don't listen to any of the remixes that are out there. None of them can match the experience of hearing the original.

Some closing thoughts...

I've noticed that many of the people who show disdain for these records are often into very obscure bands who, quite frankly, aren't very good, in my opinion. Also, there's a real tendency among oldies fans to rant and rave about how Record A by group B is a lost classic and should have been a hit.

I've listened to literally hundreds of these records and yes, some of them are quite good. I'd put a ball park figure at about 10% when it comes to saying that yes, such and such a record should have been successful. Of the other 90%, for me at least, it breaks down as follows:

About one-third of them are good enough to play on air every now and then. About one-third I have no issues with listening to them at home but I'd never play them on air. The rest of them are records that I don't like at all but I can at least understand why some people do.

Sunday, October 15, 2017

Recent Events

I have gone almost two weeks without posting anything new here. The reason for that is simple. I'm increasingly fearful for this country. I try to keep politics out of this space but I just can't resist the need to say some things here and now. If you stop reading right here, that's fine with me, but I'm asking you to read all of this post.

Donald Trump is a fascist dictator who, being unable to get any significant legislation passed, relies on executive orders. Mike Pence is a theocratic disaster waiting to happen. We're dangerously close to losing our republic to either a theocratic regime or a military takeover.  I'm a survivor, and I can probably get through whatever happens. But far too many of us are simply not going to make it through to the other side, if things go bad.

Far too many of us are wrapped up in our own selves, to the point of ignorance, indifference or both.  We need to get our f***king heads out of the sand. We need to put down our smart phones. We're in for a full four years of Trump, I believe. Eight, if he somehow manages to get reelected. God only knows what shape we'll be in by then. The powers-that-be are hell-bent on waging war. The right-wing government of Israel would love to see us eliminate Iran for them. North Korea is a bear we keep poking.

Is this a real downer of a post or what?

Yeah, it is. But whatever reach I have, however limited, has to be used as I see fit.

I'll cover some of what is going right and ways to resist in a day or two.

Monday, October 2, 2017

The Seasons Change

We're now into the second week of autumn and I'm glad to see its arrival. The summer we just finished had far too many days of temperatures in the high eighties and low nineties. I've written before about how I don't handle heat very well. I do however, have few problems with cold temperatures. I once went up the street I lived on at that time to get a few things from the bodega on Washington Avenue when the temperature was ten degrees below zero.

The first week of autumn in this area was just a continuation of summer; every day saw temperatures in the eighties for the highs and low-to-mid sixties for the low. But over the weekend, things really changed. Last night we got down into the thirties and this morning when I went to take out the trash, there was a dense, cold fog hanging over the ground.

The heating system here at the Y.M.C.A. is one that works well. Last night, with the heat running (something that either happens or doesn't, residents have no control), the temperature in my room when I went to bed was sixty-eight degrees. For me, that's just about right.

Wishing you well, dear reader.

Friday, September 22, 2017

This Blog Is One Year Old Today

Well, it's been quite a year since I began all this on September 22, 2016. On a personal level, I've been up, been down, and am on another upward swing. On another level, we've seen a lot happen here in the United States Of America.

I'd like to thank everyone who reads what I write. I know that some posts are less interesting to a large audience than others. Some posts have as many as forty views and some as few as a half dozen.

I'm okay with that. If you see a title for a post, or start to read it, and then think that reading the post isn't worth the time it takes, that's fine.

Let me catch you up on a few things.

1- It's been ninety-three days since the last time I had a case management meeting here at the Binghamton Y.M.C.A. and I've filed a formal complaint with the state agency in Albany that handles these kinds of things. The annual review of their paperwork is scheduled for two weeks from today, so it will be interesting to see just what the investigator finds.

2- I made it through the summer without having air conditioning in my room. There were several days that the heat became too much to handle in the room. My method of dealing with that was to either hang out in the resident lounge where there is A/C or to buy a day pass for the B.C Transit buses and ride around in comfort all day on the buses. I usually paired this with multiple stops to eat, to shop for groceries and to do anything else that needed doing. Careful planning of which bus to take at what time meant I usually spent no more than ten minutes in the hot weather outside.

#3- Still no luck finding a job. I even tried several temp agencies, with no success. The staff at one agency told me to my face that I had wasted their time by coming in and filling out an application. They had a very unprofessional attitude.

Wishing you a safe and fun weekend.

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Some Personal Sports Memories

Do you know, or have ever known, someone who when watching a sporting event, has a "I could do that better" kind of attitude? Maybe this person just comes across as feeling that way, or maybe goes so far as to say it out loud.

The truth of it is, of course, that most of us who aren't professional athletes aren't anywhere close to being good enough to play our chosen sport as a career. I've known a few who were good enough but didn't quite make it. One was a quarterback who went to training camp with two different teams. He was one of the first players cut with the first team, but was having a really good camp with the second one when he blew his knee out.

He had a degree in sports management and wound up being the substitute gym teacher for the male students my senior year in high school. One day, we were warming up for class and he just stood there watching me.

He watched me throw the ball several times and then shook his head in disappointment. He said that it was just too bad that I was so short at 5'9". He said I had all the tools a QB needs. To this day, I can still drop back, roll out to either side, and throw a deep ball with accuracy. My mechanics, he said, were nearly perfect. and still are; my throwing motion results in a perfect spiral almost every time.

There's just no way I could ever play in college, let alone the N.F.L., at my height. But it's nice to know that that's the only thing that stopped me from being able to.  I did play two years of football as a young man; studying game film and learning game plans were both things I was quite good at.

I had some other good things happen in that senior year of high school in gym class. I hustled all the way from my place at short stop to make a play on a runner at first base. He was called safe but to this day, I really do believe I got the tag on him before his hand touched the plate. Even with his being called safe, I felt good for having shown the hustle that I had.

I also got to play a game at catcher in gym class that year. My team won by a final score of 3-2 and the way I called the pitches was a big part of that. Again, just so nice to do such a good job, even at a high school level of play.

On the basketball court, I made a sweet pass to my friend Mark, who caught the ball and drilled the winning shot. That too, came in my senior year.

Much more recently, I was on the court here at the Y.M.C.A. on a winter afternoon. This was three years ago, when I was forty-eight. A young man who exhibited a rather unpleasant style of behavior walked up to me and said "Get off the court, old man.".

This, I took as a challenge. I had, at that time, a cool looking red-white-and-blue ball. I calmly dribbled it out to the perimeter, stopped and turned around. I checked twice to make sure I was outside of the three-point line. I measured the shot once, and then a second time.

As I let the ball go, one thought went through my mind. Which was "If you're ever going to make a three point shot, which you never have, now is the time.".

I'm proud to say that the shot was nothing but net; a perfect shot that sent the young man off the court in silence.

Sunday, September 10, 2017

Remembered Things

One of the things about being my age, which is fifty-one, is that I've seen a lot of things come and go. Some had such a brief appearance on the stage of pop culture that they're almost totally forgotten. Others were around for years or even decades.

One of these that I would like to talk about are Kiddierama booths. These were small booths that had cartoons kids could watch while sitting in the booth. If I recall correctly, the cost was 25 cents. The cartoons would rotate so you never saw the same one twice in a row. These were an assortment of various cartoons. They included Mighty Mouse, Woody Woodpecker and several other characters.

The booths were usually located in department stores, but you would sometimes see them in other places. According to some sources, the owners of the company that built and serviced them tried to convert them to using VHS tapes in the mid to late 1980s. They had been using Super 8 film prints, it seems. The last time I saw one of these was in the bus station in Syracuse, New York, in 1987.

This, of course, was the old bus station, which was in a bad neighborhood and was run down. It's since been replaced by a very nice and new one in a much better location. I had a long layover between getting off one bus and transferring to my next one, so I watched cartoons to pass the time.

Another thing I remember, and these were around for a long time, were the small television sets located in bus stations. These sets were black-and-white. You got something like ten or fifteen minutes for 25 cents. These had no cable connection, so all you could watch were over the air stations.

Again, it was a nice way to pass the time. I always liked watching local newscasts in various cities to get something of a feel for what each city was like.

These became obsolete when the switch from analog to digital broadcasting was made. Retrofitting them with converter boxes would have been much too expensive to do.

I'll finish this post by talking about something that did not last very long. Does anyone else out there remember cable radio? This was radio delivered over a cable television system. Now, to be honest, I am aware that there are a few such systems still going strong, but for the most part, the whole idea came and went fairly quickly.

The neat thing about this was that usually, the fidelity of whatever you were listening to was quite good. The local company we had in this area, which was named New Channels, offered this at a very reasonable rate as an add-on to basic service.

If enough people read this post and like it to warrant a follow-up, I'll post one.

And as always, thank you for reading.

Friday, September 1, 2017

Labor Day Weekend

We're close to, or at, Labor Day weekend, depending on how you define it. If you have Friday through Monday off from work or school, then to you, it's a four day weekend. Personally, I've always thought of it as a three day weekend. Either way, it marks the unofficial end of summer.

Today, it felt like autumn all day long. When I went out to run errands this morning, I had to wear a jacket. There was a crispness in the air that you only get in autumn or the days leading up to it. I went out again a little after eight tonight to get a sub for dinner, and it was cooler still. I spent a few minutes looking at the moon before I came inside because the clouds that were drifting along made for an amazing sight with the moon as a backdrop.

I have experienced fifty Labor Days, with number fifty-one coming up, Some have been memorable and some have been completely mundane. With the recent passing of Jerry Lewis, I'm remembering all the M.D.A. telethons I watched over the years. I remember the year when several of us kids who lived on Kellum Road went from door to door collecting money to donate. We piled as many of us as could fit in my dad's station wagon (the second one he owned, which was green).

Off to the television station we went, and we got to appear on air during the cut-away to that hour's local portion of the telethon. We got thank you letters from the M.D.A. a few weeks later.

I remember one Labor Day when my mom sent me to our garden, which was on a neighbor's property, to pick carrots we ate at dinner.

 I remember another one when my dad and I went to the New York State Fair. One of the neat things about the fair is that there are so many things to see and to do that cost very little or nothing at all.

The fair has always been affordable, with admission usually about the same price as a movie ticket. We saw a demonstration of equestrians on their horses, which was neat. We played a round of miniature golf on a temporary course set up by a church as a fund raiser. We ate some good food at a food tent set up by another church. And we stopped on Interstate 81 to help some people whose car had suffered a flat tire. My dad and I changed the tire for them, and they were grateful.

I remember the first time we went to the fair, when we spent a whole week attending it. My family went with several other people that belonged to a club that my parents were members of. My brother and I slept in our own tent while Mom and Dad used a larger one they had borrowed. That year was the year that Rob Salamida became the youngest person ever to obtain a food permit for the fair.

I ate lunch at his food stand every day that week. I had a chance to tell him that two years ago when he taught my Marketing class at SUNY - Broome Community College. He got a kick out of that. Rob is a person who worked his you-know-what off to become very successful. He's very down to earth and an all around great guy. And he makes some amazing food products.

Whatever your plans for the weekend are, I wish you a safe and fun weekend.

Also, my thoughts and prayers go out to all those affected by Hurricane Harvey.

Monday, August 21, 2017

This Week Is Off To A Good Start

To say that I had a bad weekend is putting it mildly. I'm having some serious issues with the person who oversees the Residential Housing program here at the Y.M.C.A. and the longer things go unresolved, the more upset I become.

For me, getting over a bad couple of days is not easy but it is important. So, today, I got up at 7:30 in the morning and got busy from the get-go. I cleaned the room, took out the trash, showered and shaved, and then put together everything I needed to cook a good meal.

I've had a craving for really good pasta sauce for a few days. I love to make it from scratch. Part of that is because I learned how to do it from my grandmother. She was of Pennsylvania Dutch ancestry but spent several years living in the part of Endicott that was settled primarily by Italian immigrants in the 1920s and 1930s. She learned the way to make truly authentic Italian food and taught me, in turn.

Everything she needed for her sauce came from her own garden, with one exception. She had a former neighbor who for several years had an olive grove in his back yard. She would trade some of what she had for the olive oil he made.

So, into the kitchen I went this morning. I made the base for the sauce, then added a three cheese blend (Romano, Parmesan and Asiago). I've done this so many times I never measure the amount of cheese. I just add what looks right and cross my fingers. Today, as happens most times, it was just the right amount for my taste. I do measure my spices because over-seasoned sauce is not a good thing.

I turned on the burner and set it at medium heat. I let the sauce come to a simmer and then moved it to the back burner with very low heat. I got the water ready to cook the pasta, adding just a little olive oil and a very small amount of spices. I do not care for large amounts of sodium so I never add any salt to the water. The only salt in the sauce was a small amount added to the tomato paste that I used.

The package said it would take thirteen minutes for the pasta to be "al dente", which is how I like it.

It took just that exact amount of time. I drained the pasta, poured the sauce into a clean storage container, and put the pasta in two more containers when cooled sufficiently.

I did my dishes and cleaned up not only after myself but also cleaned a minor mess someone else had left behind.

The sauce was delicious. It was robust, not overly sweet (I do not add sugar unless it's needed to cut the acidity of the tomatoes, which was not an issue today), and just tasted so good over the nicely seasoned pasta.

I still have things I need to deal with, some of which are routine, some of which are not. But today it was nice to get off to such a good start.

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

We Miss You, Elvis

Forty years ago today, the world lost a living legend. A man who had grown up dirt poor wound up making a fortune by being one of the very best singers ever. Elvis Presley burst onto the music scene with "That's All Right" in 1954. Over the next twenty-three years he put together one of the deepest and best catalogs of any artist ever. For most artists, a double-sided hit such as "(Marie's The Name) His Latest Flame" backed with "Little Sister" would be the crowning achievement of their career.

For the King, it was just two more slices of rock and roll that have stood the test of time.

When he was drafted, he was offered the chance to have his duties consist of performing for his fellow service men and women. He politely refused, and was assigned as a mechanic and driver.

Yes, he made several bad movies, movies he wanted desperately to get away from with their bad writing and almost worthless songs. But he also did make some good films, like "Jailhouse Rock". If you want to see him really nail a dramatic role, watch the film "Flaming Star" from 1960.

I've been saying for years and I do believe it to be true, that no other major artist of the 20th Century had the range Elvis did. I speak not just of his singing voice, but of the kinds of material he recorded. Some people call them pop records and some call them sell outs but records like "Are You Lonesome To-Night?" and "It's Now Or Never" thrill me every single time I listen to them.

Even near the end, when RCA had to set up a mobile recording studio at his mansion, he rallied and came up with some good records. I've been a fan of "Moody Blue" ever since my Mom put the 45 single of it on our turntable one afternoon.

He had his own personal demons, ones that challenged him and changed him. We all know about the prescription pills. But less well known, or at least less recognized, is that he had multiple health problems.

In the end, he simply couldn't overcome the odds against him. There is a school of thought that says he might have lived a better life, a longer life, if he had been in a more stable relationship. His marriage was a failure. Personally, I see a man who never stood a chance of making it all that much further than he actually did. He died at the age of forty-two on August 16, 1977.

And we still miss him.

Wednesday, August 9, 2017

Kevin The Caterer, Part 2

Hello, again. I've not posted recently because I've been very busy. Today, however, the only errand I need to run will take just fifteen minutes or so. I'm enjoying the chance to rest.

I've been working on starting my catering business. I've priced out some of the things I'll need, and purchased a few of them. I found a great bargain from QVC on something I really want, but things got so screwed up I may never do business with them again.

First, their website gave me a "this page is unavailable" message when confirming the order online. So I called customer service, who said the order had indeed not been placed. I was transferred to a sales representative who placed the order for me.

It turned out that the first order had been placed. I found this out when I got two e-mails for two orders. I called back and cancelled the second order. Now, at this point, I wasn't the least bit upset. People make mistakes, right?

I was told that the first monthly payments for the two orders ($35 ) had been pre-processed. That means that a hold on my checking account in that amount had been placed. I was also told that the payment for the second order would have the hold released within three to five business days.

Now, at this point, I was still pretty mellow about the whole situation. But on Monday, two days ago, when both holds were released, I began to wonder just what was going on. That afternoon I got a call on my cell phone from an out of state number I didn't recognize.

My standard procedure for such calls is to let the call go to voice mail. I did just that.

Yesterday, I checked my e-mail (regular and spam folders) to see if any messages about my order had been sent. There was nothing there.

So, today, I tried to log into my account on their site only to keep getting kicked back to the page to create a new account. After three tries, I gave up and called customer service.

For the record, this is where I got upset. I was told that my debit card had failed to be authorized. The order has been cancelled. My account has been cancelled. The person to whom I spoke said that the e-mail address I gave her didn't match the one on file. When I asked her to explain how two messages had reached me already, she hemmed and hawed but couldn't explain.

She also said that they tried to call me on Monday. Now I know who the out of state call was from. No voice mail message was left.

Then she said that the address I gave doesn't match what my credit union has on file. Of course, it does. I called and checked just to be certain. So, someone at QVC really screwed up on that.

What really got to me was how this person acted as though everything was my fault. I told her, not in an entirely polite tone of voice that-

#1- This was my first time ordering with QVC in over a decade. I had an account several years ago,  but all of the information associated with it is long out of date.

#2- That I may, or may not, try to create another account.

#3- That I may very well purchase the item from someone else, even if it means paying more money. I do not have a lot of time to waste, and this whole situation had indeed been a waste of my time.

 What really bothers me is that I want the item. The price QVC is selling it for is by far the lowest to be found. And I can split the payment up over six months. If I do buy it, total with shipping is $105. The next lowest price I've found from a reputable source would come to $135 and be due all at once, as well.

So, I have a decision to make. I'll let you know what happens.

Sunday, July 30, 2017

Adventures In Getting On-Line

It's been almost twenty years since the first time I purchased a device to go on-line. I bought what was then called a Web-TV unit. This was a unit that connected to a television, when you first powered it up, you received instructions on how to subscribe for monthly service. The unit was originally a joint venture between the Diba Corporation and Zenith; Microsoft bought the rights to it in 1997 when it was about a year old.

It was a very basic web browser that was reliable. Units originally came with just a hand-held remote. I used mine for literally one day before giving up and going back to Wal-Mart to buy a wireless keyboard.

Microsoft, it must be said, really did a lot to improve things as the years went by.  They paid for their users to have access to the chat rooms at Talk City. I'm eternally grateful for that, because I met my late wife in one of those chat rooms.

They upgraded the design of the unit. They developed a second design, Web-TV Plus, that had picture-in-picture technology. You could read your e-mail (Hotmail was the default provider) or look at a web page and watch television at the same time.

My mom's first attempts at getting on-line came with the unit she bought on my recommendation and she was still using it when Microsoft ended the service in 2013.

The way we connect has changed a lot, of course, through the years. Dial-up service over land lines was once the only way to do things. America On Line was once a thriving company, but today they're a shell of what they once were.

The most rock solid connections I've ever had were with Time Warner Cable, using the cable line, and Verizon with their FIOS service. Both were reasonably priced and aside from a few glitches with the FIOS early on, I never had a single loss of service in a combined seven years of using the two services.

Here at the Binghamton Y.M.C.A. the agency has contracted with Spectrum for television, Internet and home phone services.  The only problem is, the building was constructed in the early 1970s and the fourth floor is not suitable to be wired up for those services.

When I was here before, that contract did not as yet exist. Had I been able to get back into the room I had before, I might have been able to use the existing set up that I had installed in 2012.

But I'm down the hall from that room now. I did ask for a waiver but was denied one.

So, for about the first week, I used the free wi-fi offered in the downtown area.  This is something that the city offers as they paid a local company to set things up and pay them to maintain the network.

Unfortunately, the network has not been well maintained. Both connection speeds and reliability range from a little above average to really bad, depending on time of day. Obviously, there are more of us using the network at say, ten in the morning, as opposed to midnight.

To recap:

1- No ability to sign up for and use the cable company's services.

2- No ability to sign up for Verizon's FIOS service.

3- Free, but very hit or miss, service provided by the city.

So, after that first week, I had had enough. I bought a modem and signed up for service through Freedom Pop. This is wi-fi that uses the Sprint 3G and 4G networks.

The service is good, when it works. I once had a three day service outage, for which my account was credited. When I say the service is good, I'm talking about the connection's reliability along with download and upload speeds as well.

However, their customer service is very, very bad. When I first placed my order, I was asked if I wanted a second modem. No cost for this, other than shipping charges. I declined the offer. Sure enough, a few days later, two packages arrive, each with a modem. I wound up having to threaten to dispute the shipping charge with my credit union before that amount was credited back to my account.

As it turns out, getting two modems was a good thing because the first time I dropped modem #1, it stopped working. Modem #2 was pressed into service and was fine, until yesterday (more on that, in a little while).

Using modem #2 with the account for modem #1 was no problem. I called and explained what I was doing and was told that everything was just fine and dandy. Two weeks later, they billed me for a second account. They said I had authorized that second account and that the first modem was shown as being in use at a second location. They had the nerve to tell me that they knew I had given the first modem to someone else to use.

I had done no such thing. Again, I had to use the threat of getting my credit union involved before the agent I was dealing with decided to credit back my money.

Also, I should mention before I forget, is the fact that initially, they were suspending my service when I reached 90% of my data usage. They said this was to prevent me from incurring charges for data used once I got to 100%. I read them the proverbial riot act and got the level  for suspension changed to 99%.

Still with me? Good, because we're almost finished.

Two days ago, I was reading an article in which I learned of the existence of a similar service that Verizon offers. I decided that I would call and inquire about it on Monday. Yesterday, however, the modem stopped working twice. Both times I had to pull up the diagnostics page, and restore the modem to factory settings.

After the first time, I went to the Freedom Pop website, to let them know the modem is going bad after just three months. I decided, "as long as I'm here, let me check my data usage".

I'm glad I did. Because I also checked my billing. When I did, I discovered that they had billed me $5 for goodness knows what, on my debit card. Then I saw they had billed me for my monthly service when I already paid for it this month.

And just to make things interesting, they billed it to my credit card. Which is the card I had used to order the modem. I made the change to using my debit card for monthly service billing and never changed it back.

So, as they say, long story, short, I signed up with Verizon for their service yesterday. The modem will ship on Monday and arrive on Wednesday. I have been paying Freedom Pop $79.99 a month for 10 giga-bytes of data (I listen to a lot of on-line radio).

The three customer service agents (Sales-transferred to tech support-transferred back to sales) I dealt with at Verizon were all great to deal with. The one who actually handled my order took the time to see if she could bundle the new service with my existing cell phone service.

Because I had no outstanding balance from before, and because I had never missed a payment, she was able to convert my pre-paid plan to a regular one. Nothing about my cell phone plan will change. Same coverage, same features. That and the wi-fi with no data caps will run me an even $100 per month.  Savings total $12.39 a month. Not a lot, but enough for a nice dinner out.

As always, dear reader, I thank you for taking the time to read this.

Monday, July 24, 2017

Goodbye Napster

I have long been a subscriber to the service whose current name is Napster. This is a company that came into existence when Rhapsody and the second version of Napster, merged. They changed the name not that long ago.

The service has changed quite a bit over the years. They used to offer the ability to buy songs. I was disappointed when they eliminated that feature. At one time, you could still use older versions of the software, but now, you have to install whatever version is current.

This is a problem for me, because the current version is extremely unstable on my system. I get the distinct feeling that the entire thing is coded to run just fine on newer operating systems. I'm still running Windows 7, for a variety of reasons.

When I say "unstable", I mean just that. It will skip songs randomly that are in a play list. It will play the first few seconds of a song then go to the next one. It will freeze up and then I wind up having to terminate the entire process in Task Manager.

Napster no longer has telephone based customer support, which is just so wrong. I have chatted on-line with a few different customer service agents, all of whom make the same suggestions.

Log out, then log back in. That makes no difference.

Try running it in compatibility mode. Again, this doesn't help at all.

Uninstall the program and do a clean re-installation. Again, this is just a waste of time.

Now, please don't get me wrong. I love the service. There's a vast library of music, much of which I had never been aware of prior to finding it on the service.  It's a real bargain at $9.99 a month...when it works.

My long time work around for the software issues has been to download songs for off-line play. This has worked just fine for as long as I can remember. Granted, the quality isn't the best, as the files are WMA-encoded at just 156 kps. but I use a good audio enhancer that brings everything up to what I consider to be acceptable.

Now, this is where things get tricky. Also, where they get upsetting for me.

For well over a decade, the standard coding for digital rights management was software created by Microsoft. In the case of files from Napster, use of DRM coding is how they make sure that the files will play only for as long as a membership is active. The licenses are set to renew automatically every thirty days.

Until now, everything worked fine. But, on July 14th, Microsoft ended its remaining support for DRM licenses. They had shut down most of the servers exactly two years earlier on July 14, 2015.

No servers means no support for the coding. In turn, Napster shut down its own DRM servers, because there's no point in maintaining something  you can't actually use anymore.

I understand that. I really do. But what this means is that downloading music from the service, which has long been a part of the service, is gone. Files that I have downloaded prior to July 14th of this year no longer play, because their licenses can't be renewed. Files downloaded after July 14th are useless as well, because there is no license to activate.

Now, when I say that what I've long been able to do is something I can't do anymore, there is one thing I do need to point out, in all fairness.

Downloading files to a smart phone or tablet using the Napster app still works just fine. At least, I think it does. I'm basing that statement on what a customer service agent told me yesterday.

But, damn it, I don't own a smart phone. I once borrowed one from a friend for a few hours, just to see if getting one of my own was a good idea.

It wasn't, not at all. I do not have the technical knowledge nor the aptitude to learn such knowledge, that is required.

So, to recap:

1 - I would buy songs individually if I still could. I can't do that.

2- I would still use an older version of the software if that were an option. It's not.

3- The current software is fine when it works properly. Unfortunately, it's very unstable, at least on my operating system.

4- Napster had two years in which to re-encode their files using the new software Microsoft developed to replace DRM coding. Two years, people.

5- For whatever reasons they had, they decided to just leave things as they were. They did this with the full knowledge that some of their loyal customers would be, to put it bluntly, royally screwed.

6- Like some other streaming services, Napster seems to have taken an attitude that boils down to "if they don't have a smart device, tough luck."

I'm upset with all this, as you can see. I am looking for an alternative service but so far, I've yet to find one that offers the option for download and off line use of music files.

If you're still reading this, thank you. I really just needed to vent about this, as it were.

Thursday, July 13, 2017

Ads And Trackers On Web Sites

The issue of ads and trackers on web sites is becoming one I really hate having to deal with. I'm well aware that most sites exist to turn a profit, and even non-profit ones need to pay the bills. I'm fine with small ads that are placed in a corner or at the bottom of a page.

But good grief, people. More and more sites, including one of my long time favorites, Pajiba, are increasingly loaded with so much garbage as to be almost unusable. Pajiba, for instance, has just recently added what can only be termed "click bait" ads that are powered by something called Zergnet.

If you're fortunate enough to not yet be familiar with this sort of thing, great. Let me fill you in on a few details.

These ads have embedded links in them. Click on a photo and be taken to another site. Among the current ones on Pajiba are gems like this:

"What The Game Of Thrones Cast Should Really Look Like"

"Movie Bloopers That Were Way Too Good To Cut"

"Actor Replacements That Totally Ruined The Movie"

Oh, and just to make things even more fun, every first letter in each word is in bold. Like this:

"This Is Driving Me Nuts"

On the main page of the site, there are usually six to eight of these on the right hand side of the page.

Open a new page to read an article and you get those plus another eight to twelve at the bottom of the page.

You know, I really hate to be picking on Pajiba. I've been reading it on a regular basis ever since it first came on line. Its coverage of pop culture and current events is really good. But right now, it's the worst offender I'm personally familiar with when it comes to these horrible advertisements.

And don't get me started on the trackers that attempt to track every single move you make on line. I use a great, free service called "Ghostery" that blocks these little suckers and also will show you the names of them if you want to see them.

For the record, Ghostery blocked forty-one trackers when I was on Pajiba just before starting this post. Also, for the record, when I viewed this blog, just one was listed.

Very few things in life are truly free. Most of what is "free" on line will cost you big time in the end in terms of lost privacy. The software used to analyze what we do when we're on line is very advanced. Visit enough sites enough times and someone, somewhere, can and will be able to paint a very detailed picture of who you are.

I know. I'm here, telling you to be careful what sites you visit. But in the end, we all make our own decisions. Personally, there are several sites I no longer visit because of the issues I've discussed today. I hate to think that Pajiba might be the next to go, but it's going to be a close call, either way.

Wednesday, July 5, 2017

Today I Had One Hour That Felt Exactly Like The 1970s

I got my hair cut today. If you've read previous posts, you may already know that I go to a very traditional barber shop. This place looks almost exactly the same as it did thirty years ago. The barber chairs are the same. The magazine rack and stereo system haven't changed or been moved. There are comfortable chairs and a sofa to sit on that have been there for as long as I remember.

When I walked in, the barber had just started working on someone. He smiled and told me I was next. I sat down and just started to relax almost immediately. For the whole hour I was there, everything felt like I had gone back in time.

The barber's son, who looks to be about 15 or 16, never looked at a cell phone. Instead, he carried on a conversation with his uncle. I just sat in one of the chairs and relaxed. There are some nice paintings of famous places on the wall, and I just kept admiring them. While I was getting my hair cut, someone else walked in, inquired as to the price of a hair cut, and then sat down to wait his turn.

He read a magazine while he waited.

It was amazing. So very nice to have just to have one whole hour with no television blaring. No cell phones being used. People carrying on conversations or waiting quietly and patiently for their turn.

It was hot outside, with the temperature closing in on ninety. The air conditioner was working just right. It was blessedly cool inside. It brought back memories of a time when businesses actually used the presence of air conditioning in their establishments as a selling point.

As I said, it was amazing. It was the kind of thing that deepens my commitment to living a retro lifestyle. 

Sunday, July 2, 2017

Kevin The Caterer?

I'm sorry for the long time between this post and the previous one. I had this post ready to go on Friday, but that afternoon I came down with a mild case of food poisoning that made me just want to sleep. I had purchased and used what turned out to be a bad batch of pasta sauce. I've contacted the company who made it by e-mail to let them know what happened.

Friday night, in the middle of the night, I woke up from a dream in which I was catering a wedding reception. As you may or may not know, going into business for myself as a caterer is something I want to do that I am well trained for.

There are some very good catering companies in this area, and some that aren't so good. I've worked events where the food was very good, and I've worked events where the food was terrible.

I know I can turn out very good food in large amounts. I've done it enough times to be certain of that. The key, I believe, to doing this and being successful involves two main ideas.

Idea number one is that I must offer something unique. Something that people will want more of once they've had it the first time.  I have a concept in mind that I'm working on.

Idea number two is that I will need to hire people who are well trained. This shouldn't be an issue, because the program I graduated from always has people who can be counted on. I know that if I ask the head of the program for recommendations, he will give me the information on some very good guys and gals to get in touch with.

I know that there are people in my life who will support me in this, and that there are people who will second guess me. That's nothing new.

Wish me good luck.

Thursday, June 22, 2017

Thirty-Three Years - Where Did The Time Go?

It was thirty-three years ago that my high school class had its graduation ceremonies. Every year, the debate went on as to where the ceremonies would be held. Outdoors, or indoors?

My class voted for indoors, which was good because June 22nd, 1984 was a very hot day for us.

I remember so much from that day, from the morning all through to when I went to bed. I remember having no idea how I would get to school for rehearsal and being relieved when my friend Anita offered me a ride there and back. I remember my father, may he rest in peace, being upset at how long the ceremonies took. I remember three of my tickets disappearing from my dresser drawer. That was explained when I saw my mother (from whom I was estranged at the time), my grandfather, and my Aunt Jane in the audience.

It remains, to the best of my knowledge, the only time my brother ever went into my bedroom without asking for permission first.

I remember my friend Sherri coming to see me graduate, even though that meant having to stand the whole time at the back of the gymnasium. That meant a lot to me.

I remember asking my guidance counselor, Mr. Defeo, to go into the teacher's lounge and get me a Coke from the machine in the lounge.

Some of my classmates are people I'm still in touch with. Some of them I haven't seen since that night thirty-three years ago. Some are no longer with us, including a friend who was killed by a drunk driver six months after we graduated.

Some of us, like myself, have had several different jobs and kinds of careers. Some, like my friend Jim, knew exactly what they wanted to do and are still at it. Jim always wanted to serve on an aircraft carrier,  He's been doing just that all these years.

That summer night so many years ago, I had no idea of the things that would happen to me. Everything was fresh and new and filled with possibilities.

Friday, June 16, 2017

Summer Time And The Heat Is On

Okay, so it's still spring for a few more days. But here in the Binghamton, New York area, we've had several days in a row of temperatures getting anywhere from eighty to ninety two degrees in the afternoon. Today was a nice break, as we only reached the mid-seventies. It rained on and off, as well. That cooled things nicely and freshened the air a bit.

Tomorrow and Sunday look to be quite warm, and I'm not looking forward to that.

For, dear reader, I have never been able to handle hot weather very well. Even as a child growing up, I had problems. Most other kids would want to be outside enjoying summer, but I would stay indoors as much as I could.

When I say I don't handle it well, I mean that. I've twice had to go to an emergency room to be treated for heat exhaustion. In hot weather, I don't have much of an appetite, and what I do eat has to be very light fare. Think salads and sandwiches, and you're on the right track. I've had a grand total of two hot meals all this week. Both of those were eaten in restaurants that have good air conditioning.

It's worse yet when I don't have air conditioning, which I currently don't. Security regulations in this building prohibit their use, on the grounds that it poses a safety risk. I did look into getting a portable unit, which is allowed. I just can't afford it right now.

I do have a small desk fan, which helps some. And I have a window that lets in a nice breeze when there's one to be had.

But I know what I might be in for this summer, having lived in this building before.  I am looking at a few apartments that are in my price range. So, let's all cross our fingers, please.

Friday, June 9, 2017

Can One LP Change A Life?

I was born in 1966. I received a transistor radio as a Christmas gift from my Aunt Yvonne in 1972. So, I was able to hear the top hits from 1973 going forward. But anything pre-1973 was pretty much unknown to me at that time.

Oh, sure, there would be the occasional oldie here and there, as part of a movie soundtrack, or something might get air play years after its release. But for the most part, those records just weren't a part of my life.

I did get to hear several hours of the 1978 version of the radio documentary "The History Of Rock And Roll" when it aired one weekend across the United States and Canada, but by the time I tuned in, the show was up to where it covered the late 1960s. So, anything from say,  before 1967 or so, was still not known to me.

And then, one day after work, I walked across the street to the Endicott Plaza. The plaza is long gone, these days. None of the buildings still stand, save for the K-Mart that closed in 2011 due to severe flooding.

But in 1986, everything was still there. K-Mart, Grand Union, Endicott-Johnson Shoes, and several other businesses called the plaza home.

I went into K-Mart that one afternoon and headed right for the music department. Now, these days, it's very easy to get music, cheaply and quickly. I can buy an MP3 file from a site like Amazon and have it downloaded in less than a minute.

That's nice. But the way we used to do things had its own unique feel to it. There was no way to preview a song. You bought a single or an album and hoped for the best if it was something you were unfamiliar with.

I bought one album that day, a double length cassette.  I walked home and had dinner. It was nice outside, so I decided to listen to the cassette while sitting in a comfortable chair on the front porch of the rooming house I was living in at the time.

I can not remember the exact title of that cassette, but I do remember it was one of the series released using the name of WCBS-FM. These, of course, licensed the name, and were compiled and released by Collectables Records. That label is still in business, and still puts out good product.  It's one of the few labels still offering oldies on 45 R.P.M. singles.

That cassette changed my life, literally.  There were no tracks by Elvis Presley on it, due to licensing issues, I would presume.  But there were tracks by almost every other major singer, band or vocal group of the late 1950s and early 1960s.

No British artists, of course, but then again, the Brits didn't play much of a role in rock and roll until 1962-1963 or thereabouts.

Every record was a revelation. The pounding piano of Jerry Lee Lewis. The sweet harmony created by Dion and The Belmonts. The New Orleans "sound", as created by artists such as Fats Domino and Ernie K-Doe.

From that day forward, oldies music was, is and shall always be the soundtrack to my life.

Wishing you a good weekend, dear reader.

Saturday, June 3, 2017

The Last Day With Michelle

I will state, for the record, that this post is going to cover some very personal material. Read on, if you wish to do so.

Today is the 12th anniversary of the very last day I spent with my wife; she died the next day on June 4th, 2005. When we first met, she was honest about her health issues. She had five, perhaps six years left to live, at the best. I married her, telling her that whatever time we might have would be enough.

In the almost six years we had together, her health went downhill steadily.

Her weight went from 180 pounds to almost 400. She had a heart attack. She lost part of the hearing in her left ear due to an ear infection. She became diabetic. She injured an ankle and had to have it surgically repaired. She injured it a second time, and it was twelve years ago today that she had a second surgery on that ankle.

She died while I was still at home. I got a phone call from the hospital at 9:30 in the morning telling me I should come to the hospital as soon as possible. Michelle died at 9:45, after a team of doctors and nurses spent forty-five minutes trying to save her life.

In the days and weeks after she died, two sets of thought took hold among those who knew her. Some of us truly believed she had no idea that she might die. Her parents and her oldest friend were in that group. Other people, including myself, were and still are convinced she knew she was going to die.

I can't say enough good things about the staff at Wilson Hospital in Johnson City, New York. They were all so helpful to me and the others who were there. 

The very last words we exchanged were over the phone Friday night, twelve years ago today. I ended the call with these words:

"I love you.".

Friday, May 26, 2017

I'm Hanging In There

The last week and a half have been up and down for me. One day I had a very good day going until I injured my right leg. Best guess is that the pulled muscle will heal just fine and that there's no nerve damage, but that has yet to be confirmed. I'm resting the leg as much as I can.

I had an issue with some things that were said to me in a voicemail message. I had to take a few minutes to compose myself before writing and sending a very long, very detailed e-mail message explaining just what is going on with me. I also did say that if I had truly done something wrong in that person's eyes, that I hoped we could get past it. The situation has been resolved.

It's been almost four weeks since the last time I met with my case manager here at the Y.M.C.A. and I'm upset because she is just not even taking me seriously when I ask for an appointment. I'm supposed to be on a schedule of every two weeks, and every four weeks is mandatory. I'm going to notify the director of housing that as far as I'm concerned, this is not my responsibility. I've asked twice for an appointment and been blown off both times.

On the plus side, I had a good time hanging out with a friend I hadn't seen in quite some time. We met for dinner yesterday. As usual, he was kind enough to do me a small favor.  He took me to the store and back home so I could get groceries without having to deal with the hassle of carrying them home on the bus. Alex, you rock.

Wishing you a good weekend, dear reader.

Friday, May 19, 2017

Star Trek: Discovery - First Thoughts

The teaser trailers for the new Star Trek series are now online. One is CBS-based and region locked for the U.S.A. while the other is Netflix-based and can't be viewed here in America.

I have watched the first version and I like what I've seen.

What amazes me, although by now maybe I should be used it to it, are the kinds of comments I'm seeing on a few different sites (TrekMovie especially). Many people are saying nasty things about the show.

People, really? You're going to state that a series that has filmed exactly one episode is doomed to fail? And you're basing that on a series of clips that total about two minutes?

Can we get a reality check on aisle two?

Nothing I saw contradicts the statements that have been made referring to the series as a "re-imagining".  A lot of people seem to feel that its setting ten years prior to the original series means that the ship, the sets and the costumes must be identical or very similar to those from the original show.

If you want to disagree with what I'm about to say, fine.

It's 2017, people. The look we associate with "The Cage" and "Where No Man Has Gone Before" is a classic 1960s look. I love it. I miss it. But I also accept that with limited exceptions, it just isn't suitable for network television anymore.

There are fan films and fan drawn comic books that nail that look perfectly and I love them for it. Most of these efforts have writing that ranges from average to excellent. There are some things I've seen that, with a little reworking, would make for good viewing on television.

Please note, I said "good" viewing, not highly rated.  I don't think for one second that there's enough of an audience to keep a retro styled "Star Trek" on the air for even half a season.

The new show, from what little can be seen so far, looks as it if uses a lot of the same design elements as the recent films. I'm fine with that. Will the writing or the acting be first rate from the very start?

Maybe, maybe not.  If we go back thirty years to "Encounter At Farpoint", I believe that had The Next Generation aired on CBS, NBC or ABC, it would have been cancelled after thirteen weeks.
Fox might have been willing to take a chance on a full season as they would not have had much to lose by doing so.

On the other hand, I've long held the view that "Where No Man Has Gone Before" set a standard that many of the episodes filmed from 1966 to 1969 never quite managed to live up to. I really feel that if they had expanded the final cut to ninety minutes or so, it would hold up nicely as a feature film.

But part of filming a weekly show is that it's expected to air every week. The sheer number of scripts that were required to film the original series pretty much guaranteed that some weak material would make it to air.

As always, these are just my opinions. 

Friday, May 12, 2017

Many Thoughts To Share

It's rare for me to hold back on how I feel about politics and current events. But right now, there are many other people on many other sites who are saying what needs to be said and saying it better than I ever can. So, I've decided to just talk about a few things that have been on my mind a lot lately.
The first time I traveled across America was in 2007, the second time was in 2009, and last month I did it twice in the span of two weeks. From 2009 to 2017 a lot of things have changed. Many of them have changed for the better. We have, at least as of right now, marriage equality as the law of the land.

 I have a cousin who is married to another man. The husband is a person who has never been anything but rude to me, but, I keep quiet and try my best to be nice to him whenever I see them in public. He makes my cousin happy, and that's what matters most to me.

We also have, for the time being at least, have net neutrality as established regulation. If I were to let my manners slip a little, I could say some not so nice things about those who oppose it.  Let's just say I'm all in favor of the current F.C.C. regulations and hope to see them not be weakened or eliminated.

I was admitted to the hospital for the first and so far, only time in my life in May of 1977.  I had a stomach virus that was really bad. I mean, I could have died from this thing. Several doctors who had patients in my age range with similar symptoms literally compared notes and determined we had all attended the same concert. Once they figured out what one of us had and how to treat it, they were able to treat all of us.

I've been mentally compiling a list of the nicest people I've ever met, and the weird thing is, the list keeps changing based on a few things. To say that someone is a nice person can cover a lot of territory. How polite someone is, how pleasant a person they are, and how they behave under pressure are just a few of the things that go into the overall mix. I've known people who in normal situations are a joy to be around but when things get bad, you can almost see them turning into someone you just don't want to be involved with at all.

I'm thinking of someone who I like a lot. I trust this person a great deal. I have often asked her advice regarding matters both personal and professional. But one time, about a year and a half ago, she went on a rampage. She ripped into us so badly that she literally left many of her students, of which I was one at that time, in tears.

The man to whom she answers, to put it quite bluntly, read her the riot act about an hour before a regularly scheduled meeting of our club. I wasn't in the room, and to the best of my knowledge,  neither of them has ever repeated even a single word of what was said. I and several others were setting up for our weekly on campus fundraiser when word came down to shut things down.

What happened next still upsets me.  She called all of us into an emergency meeting.

Don't get me wrong, please. Much of what we were on the hook for, as it were, included
legitimate concerns. But a lot of it also included things that were beyond our control. Things we knew needed to be fixed that we neither had the means nor the authority to fix.

That was bad enough. But when the personal attacks started, that was crossing a line that never should have been crossed. That's when I actually started to stand up to leave the room, fully aware that doing so would end my involvement in the club for good. Looking back, I realize now that I should have walked out, and walked away.

Not because of how I had been attacked personally, which I was dealing with fairly well until someone else blindsided me with something I never saw coming. I should have walked out because it was the right thing to do. I was told by several other people after the meeting that if I had done so, they would have joined me. We were the ones who were always there when called upon, and without us, the club almost certainly would have died that day.

I write all this knowing there's a small but very real chance that the person of whom I speak may read this. Ms. M, I'm so sorry, but that's just the way I see things.

So,  is she on my list for all the good things, or is she not on it for the one really bad mistake she made?

I don't know, right now.

Wishing you a good weekend, dear reader.

Friday, May 5, 2017

Thoughts For A Friday Evening

Hello, dear reader. I would like to apologize for the recent lack of posts. I've been busy with several different things. I do have a rather detailed post that I want to revise and edit before putting it here for everyone to see.

In the meanwhile, here are some odds and ends that really don't fit anywhere else.

1. I had a good workout earlier today. I walked a mile without stopping to rest in thirteen and a half minutes. To put that in perspective, that's just a minute and a half longer than it took me in the spring of 1984, when I was timed in gym class.

2. It was sixteen years ago that I cooked an authentic Mexican meal for the very first time. I did it for myself, my late wife, my cousin, her daughter and her daughter's best friend. The food came out really well, and after we ate, we all went bowling. It was just an all around fun time.

3. The weather in this area has been bad for several days. We've had a lot of rain, with daytime temperatures ranging anywhere from five to twenty degrees below normal. The forecast for early next week calls for light snow on Monday or Tuesday. The latest I can remember ever seeing snow in spring is the third week of April. The rain and gray skies are something I can handle short term, but once we pass a full week, which we will tomorrow, it's just so depressing.

4. I bought a pair of Levis blue jeans six weeks ago and I would like to find at least two other pairs of the same exact design. These jeans are both the most stylish pair I've ever owned and the most comfortable.

5. I was in the Oakdale Mall in Johnson City yesterday at a little after 1 in the afternoon. The mall was so empty it shocked me. That mall has lost a lot over the years. It no longer has a movie theater. It no longer has a McDonalds or a Burger King. The CVS closed last year (or the year before, my memory is unsure) and Macy's closed earlier this year.

 I went there to try to find a good kitchen knife from the house wares section in the Burlington Coat Factory outlet, because I'd been able to do so before. Again, shocked is the only word that fits for how I reacted. Literally half of the store has been walled off and is sitting empty. Their selection of merchandise is not anywhere as extensive or as nice as what I'm used to seeing.

I walked out of the store without buying anything. I walked to where CVS used to be, wanting to buy a copy of our local newspaper. I had forgotten the store was closed.

So, in a half hour at the mall, all I bought was a milkshake from the Carvel stand. It was reasonably priced and tasted really good. But wow, except for that, what a waste of time the whole excursion turned out to be.

They say that the retail industry in America is fading, and I believe it. I'm sad to see that happen, because once upon a time, I made a decent living working in retail.

6.  My wishes go out to you for a good weekend.

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

There Has To Be A Market For What I Can Offer

Hello again, dear reader. I've been busy the last week and a half with several different things, but I do plan on resuming regular posting here.

What's on my mind today is something that's related to something else I've discussed here before, which is the way that so much of what we eat and drink has been reduced in quality. The changes are so subtle, and done so carefully, that it's easy to not ever really notice them.

What brings this up in my mind again is the fact that a few days ago, I decided to spend a little bit more money than I normally would, so that I could try a brand of ginger ale I'd never heard of before.

The brand is called "Fever Tree" and is imported from the United Kingdom.

All I can say is "wow". It is the best tasting ginger ale I've ever had, by a large margin. I am looking forward to buying more of it, and to trying the company's other products, as well.

As you may already know, my second and more recent degree is in hotel and restaurant management. You may also know I've had a very hard time finding a job in the Binghamton area. What you don't know, but I'm telling you now, is that I'm becoming increasingly aware that the only way I may get a job is to go into business for myself.

I trained under a very amazing person who is a master chef. But something I've never quite understood is how he accepts the changes in some things and how many of my fellow students follow his lead on that.

For instance, when I was kitchen manager for the mock wedding, several of my class mates questioned my insistence that we use sugar-sweetened ketchup in making the cocktail sauce for shrimp. Ketchup is ketchup, they said.

But when they tasted the final product, each and every one of them acknowledged that the sauce does taste better that way than when made with ketchup sweetened with high fructose corn syrup.

My point is this. I have always had an inclination towards making the best food and drink that I can.

That simply has to include quality product and quality ingredients. Now that I have some very good training, the food I cook and the drinks I mix taste the way such things did forty or fifty years ago.

People love that, and they say so repeatedly.  So, the question is this. Does this area have enough of a market for the best of the best? Can I make a go of things as a private chef and bartender?

I think it's time for me to try to find the answer to that.

Saturday, April 15, 2017

Traveling By Bus-The Good, The Bad and The In-Between

I will post part two of my thoughts about returning to the Binghamton area tomorrow. But in the meanwhile, I wanted to share some of my thoughts about what it can be like to travel across America on buses.

The Good :

1. There are people on the bus and in the station who will be kind to you and look out for your safety. In Kansas City, I lost my re-boarding pass and the new driver had a real attitude about it. Several of the other passengers who I had ridden with all the way from Las Vegas vouched for me, and that was enough to convince the driver I was supposed to get back on the bus.

2. Some bus stations are well staffed and in excellent condition. The station in Kansas City is well maintained, well staffed and has reasonably priced, decent tasting food.

3. The buses themselves have been considerably upgraded over what they were like just a few years ago. Most of them have wi-fi access that's fairly reliable. Most of them have electrical outlets to charge devices. Some of them even have actual toilets that flush as opposed to what are essentially portable toilets in a permanent installation.

The Bad:

1. There is a serious issue with communication (or lack thereof) between drivers and stations.  You are best off if you handle as much of the communications as you can on your own. I really mean that. Call the station you're scheduled to make a transfer at to see if you are on schedule or not.  If you have a serious problem, call the station that is your next stop. If nothing else, you at least can honestly say you reported the situation.
2. Some bus stations are dangerous places, or in very poor condition, or located in not so nice areas. May whatever God or Gods you believe in show mercy and not land you in a station that has all three issues going on. Indianapolis, I'm looking at you. Your station is in a location where I didn't even feel it safe enough to cross the street to get a hamburger. I had plenty of time to do so, and I hate to pass up any chance at getting food from White Castle, but one look at the neighborhood convinced me to stay in the actual terminal.

This was especially shocking as the station is just a few minutes away from Lucas Oil Stadium.

3. Those buses that haven't been replaced or refitted are in very bad condition.

The In-Between:

1. Some drivers are very good, some are very bad and some are just average.

2. Fares can vary quite a bit depending on the day of the week. Also, fares go up a lot over holiday weekends. You can find some really good bargains but sometimes you will overpay by a large amount.

Look, I get it. Inter-city bus travel is the last choice anyone wants to make. There's probably not much of a profit to be made, although the fact that Greyhound is still in business attests to the fact that enough of a profit to remain operational is there. The entire system is still designed, in many ways, to operate the way it did thirty years ago. That's not good, but there doesn't seem to be much of an incentive to change things.

It is what it is.