Anachostic

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Category Archives: Wondering

This One Time At Summer Camp…

I made a trip to my hometown, the wasteland, this last weekend.  It wasn’t exactly business or pleasure.  I guess it would be considered more business than anything else, though.  My mom now resides in a nursing home.  I don’t think they call them nursing homes anymore.  They’re probably called long-term care facilities.  Cue George Carlin and his anger over the softening of the English language.  But anyway…

I got to see my mom a couple of times.  She doesn’t have a lot of stamina for visits and dismisses visitors with a “I want to take a nap.”  No problem.  I don’t really have much to talk about anyway.  But one thing we talked about got me thinking.

In her new living quarters, they have a pretty set schedule with meals, activities, therapy, etc.  Some things are optional or semi-optional, but a lot isn’t.  When she was complaining about it, I was reminded of my years at summer camp.  I thought, my mom’s at summer camp, for the rest of her life.

My first summer camp was an unpleasant experience.  It was a military camp far from home that ate up six weeks of my summer vacation from school.  I didn’t know anyone there and I was not exactly military material.  Your day was regimented into sessions, of which you were allowed to choose things like Arts and Crafts, Model Rocketry, Basket Weaving, etc.  Then there were others you couldn’t, like Softball and Soccer.  Then there were parades and practice parades, and inspections, and of course, meals.  You always went to meals in formation with your entire division.  What a show.

And in many ways, my mom’s new life is like that.  Some things are optional, or a choice and some you can’t get out of.  You go to meals with the same group and sit at the same table with everyone.  You are going to do therapy.  (They don’t talk about it, but the facility has to perform therapy or they are considered neglectful of their patients and would get fined or shut down.)  There is a gift shop/concession place where you can buy things with money from your account (I had that too in camp).  Other people can put money in your account for you to spend (just like my parents did for me).

So if my mom is unhappy at summer camp, it’s no different than how I felt in the same situation.  Both involved being around strangers you have to become friends with, away from a lot of things that are familiar to you, and made to do things you may not feel like doing.  If you’re an independent spirit like my mom (or me for that matter), it’s a nightmare.

While my mom and I discussed the summer camp concept, I finally admitted to her that I almost got kicked out of that military camp in my last year (the last of four) there.  I had gone “cabin-trashing” with another camper and it isn’t really a surprise we got caught.  We had to spend the time repairing all the damage we caused while all the other campers were at a picnic.  I think we were still fed lunch, I can’t remember.  And it caused me a lot of ill will with my cabin-mates. 

But, the year following that incident, my parents sent me to a different summer camp.  A computer camp that was only two weeks long.  It was a totally different environment than military camp and I would have gladly spent six weeks there.  But it was only a couple of years that I got to go and then I was on my own again.

Unfortunately for my mom, it doesn’t sound like there are other camp opportunities.

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Double Disappointment Day

Coming back from lunch, I got behind a vehicle that had me shaking my head.  Later on, I thought I should probably write about it.  Not that I had anything poignant to say, but I think I felt challenged to talk about it without being overtly offensive.

So, I’m talking about trucks.  The big full-size trucks that are the truest expression of American life.  You know… I’m not a fan.  I understand their purpose and I know some people need a truck to manifest that purpose.  I don’t think everyone needs one.  I think many people love the image of being a truck owner, which to me is a shame, because I hold truck owners in very low regard.  Why do I?  Well, part of it is what I just mentioned – you don’t need the capabilities of a truck, but you want to portray that you need it and do “truck stuff” all the time.  And part of it is a bully posture – you want to be the biggest thing on the road.  And with that personality, I immediately equate it with low intelligence and lower social… um… capabilities?

I can’t paint everyone with this paintbrush, but we all know people who have a few coats of this on already.  And I’m not below making assumptions based on outward appearances.  There’s little harm in doing so, because people are projecting the image that they want to be seen.  Right?

Back to the story.  So I saw a truck at lunch, and when I wanted to use a picture of it from my dashcam in this post, I was bummed to find out my dashcam only saves about half an hour of video.  By the time I got home, the video was long overwritten. (Mental note, buy a bigger SD card).  So that was the first disappointment.  The second was when I searched the internet for something similar and discovered it is “a thing”.

So, to anti-climatically get to the point, this is what was hanging out in front of me at a long stop light:  a dead deer mural.

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Mine wasn’t that exact one.  But I shouldn’t be surprised, there’s plenty of variations.

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So… I said something earlier about social something.  I grew up in a hunting city in a hunting county in a hunting state.  I get it.  Some people like hunting.  But, coupled with the “look at me” you naturally have with the truck, do you really need to advertise that you want to kill things 365 days a year?  Do you need to foist that desire on some (or many) people who may not share the love of your bloody hobbies? 

And you may really be a hunter.  It’s quite possible.  But let’s be truly honest here.  That mural on the back of your vehicle is a fantasy.  You wish you could bag a buck that big.  It’s a dream.  You may have done it in the past.  Maybe, just maybe.  Not everyone can get a trophy kill.

But that’s not what all truck people fantasize about.  My search for dead deers included other tailgate murals.

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And don’t worry.  There’s plenty of variations on that, too.  Just in case you wanted to be different.

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So maybe this has become a triple disappointment day.

Now I don’t mean to be really sloppy with the paintbrush here, but the paint only seems to be sticking on one type of vehicle.  There’s a certain subset of people out there that have a predilection or even a desire to offend other people.  And the go-to vehicle for those types of people is… the American full-size truck.

Let It Be

In the early programming days, back when the language was called BASIC, there was a instruction that has since become deprecated.  That command is called LET.  Because language parsers were simpler back then, there needed to be a way to identify assignment of a value to a variable.  Nowadays, you just say x=1 and assignment is understood.  However, saying x=1 could imply comparison, resulting in a true or false value.  To avoid that ambiguity, in the past, you had to say LET x=1.

I started off with that little history lesson to say that I was listening to a recently purchased CD and a song title was “LET X=X”.  Since I was driving while the song was playing, I couldn’t really make out any of the lyrics, but the title gave me plenty to think about.

A programming statement like that is pretty useless.  It changes nothing.  And that thought is somewhat powerful.  Telling someone “LET X=X” could be saying “Leave things alone.” or “Don’t change a thing.”  Or you could be a bit more philosophical about it, applying a Que Sera Sera viewpoint to it – whatever happens, will happen.

So I looked up the lyrics and to me, they don’t make any sense.  But whatever, that artist rarely makes any sense to me.  But I got my own meaning out of the title, and I think that makes up for any confusion.

Farewell Half.com / Dream On

Yesterday, I learned half.com is closing.  I had one day of notice, essentially.  I had just purchased two things the previous day.  How did I not know this beforehand?

Today, I’m searching for news stories about the closure.  There aren’t any stories of significance.  Maybe 2 or 3 in second-tier tech news sites.  Then there’s a few stories about 6 months ago when the announcement was first made.  Included in those stories is a posting about someone who only found news of the closing in the help section of half.com, and no contacts at half or eBay would confirm the closing.  How weird.  Supposedly, the sellers were notified of the closing, but for whatever reason, the users and buyers were not.

So, the expected plan is for everyone to move their listings to eBay.  But as far as I can tell, eBay is not designed for the sale of media.  The whole design of half.com was that you searched for media, then you see who is selling it.  On Ebay, you would search for media and you get a bunch of listings selling that media.  Every listing would be created by each person, so there would be little to no consistency between them.  Amazon is better suited for sales of that nature, since they have a product, then they have sellers of that product.  It’s the same way that Amazon is not well suited to sell things that eBay excels at, like collectables and one-off unique items.

At some point in the future (not near or far future, somewhere in-between), I was planning on opening an online presence to sell my excess CDs.  Half.com was the frontrunner.  Now I have to choose between eBay and Amazon.  Or maybe Discogs, but I think the buyers would be more discerning there, which would require more effort.

Well, in the meantime, I have plenty enough going on to not worry so much about it, but it is sad to see one of the few physical media marketplaces close down.  You know what would be cool?  What if… Barnes and Noble, who isn’t doing all that well themselves, resurrected the Borders brand (which they bought in bankruptcy court) and re-launched it as a used media outlet. (I hate the word outlet in this instance, but juggernaut is a word that has to be earned).  I’m going to call this idea “Boarders” to prevent any confusion or lawsuits.

So here’s how I would see it operating.  We have to recognize that used media, whether it be books, CDs, DVDs, VHS, or cassette, has a low value – except to collectors.  So, understanding this, margins will be low across the board, no one is going to make a real killing at this.

So you’d start with an online store, structured mostly like half.com.  That’s the cheapest way to get things started.  People make their listings, sell their products and life goes on.  Admittedly, getting the momentum started so it looks like you have lots of items will be difficult.  To help in this, the tools to create listings will have to be top-notch.  Something like having a pre-populated database of UPC codes with product descriptions and stock photos.  Maybe have automated imports of structured files to batch add items.

That’s all well and good, but it’s just another vanilla ecommerce platform.  How’s that going to be an Amazon?  So let’s go to phase two.  Amazon is already at phase two, so nothing earth-shattering here.  Phase two is having Boarders warehouse the inventory.  The sellers use the site’s control panel to create a shipment of product to the Boarders warehouse.  This submision includes the item and the price at which they want to sell the product.  Then they box everything up with a printed submission sheet and send it.

When the shipment arrives, the warehouse worker scans the code on the submission sheet, then begins scanning barcodes on the incoming products.  The items get added to the sellers listings immediately.  I’m no logistics expert, but I’d assume the warehouse manages the inventory in the most efficient way.  The warehouse also gets notified when items sell and would ship them out efficiently as well.

I’m not going to downplay the expense of shipping and processing hundreds of books or CDs or DVDs for both the seller and Boarders.  That’s something that would need to be overcome by the beancounters.

Since we’re still having fun with this, let’s move on to phase three.  Phase three is physical storefront.  These could be built into existing B&N stores or could be standalone.  Stuff that was sent to the warehouses is bundled up and sent to various locations.  Why would the seller care where the product actually is?  All brick and mortar stores become warehouses.

Since these are low-margin sales, you need low-margin maintenance.  You also need to know your potential customers.  So for CDs and DVDs, what is needed is a clamshell container that holds the CD/DVD case and the disc separate, so they can both be inspected for condition without needing an associate to assist.  I would have to think about how books would be handled because buyers would want to see inside the book.  But anyway, back to disc-based media.  You also don’t want to have cashiers deal with opening clamshells and ringing customers up, so you would have a self-checkout machine that accepts the clamshell in a slot, scans the barcode, completes the sale, then releases the unlocked clamshells for the customer to remove and bag up their purchases.  The money goes off to the original seller and life goes on.

It’s just kind of a pipe dream.  Realistically, there isn’t enough potential profit to engineer a checkout machine like that, plus manufacture tens of thousands of cases to hold media that is selling for $1.00 or so.  Not to mention the cost of processing other people’s inventory and shipping it to storefronts.

Or maybe there is, somewhere.  Or maybe, there can exists a company that makes enough money to survive, and doesn’t have to make its owner a multi-billionaire.

A World Without Stereotypes

The concept of stereotypes has been around for a very long time.  It’s only fairly recently that “Social Warriors” have taken up the fight to eliminate the use of stereotypes using the universal weapon of shame.  I’m not saying that I’m in favor of keeping or eliminating the use of stereotypes.  I’m saying that the point is moot.  There are no stereotypes anymore.

Stereotypes have historically been a “bad thing”, because they encourage prejudice.  They allow you to assume the behavior or personality of someone based on external factors.  I certainly don’t need to bring up racial stereotypes, we all have plenty of examples for that.

Stereotypes provide a slightly less offensive use, also.  They are coping mechanisms, where one can sort of explain away behavior that they find objectionable.  Like I say, that’s only slightly more offensive, since all you’re doing is reinforcing the stereotype in your mind for future prejudice.

Anyway, like I said, there’s no reason for any of that anymore.  I’ll provide an example and you can build it out from there.  Long ago, you could make an educated guess (which is just a polite term for prejudice) as to how a driver would behave on the road based on the vehicle they drove.  BMW drivers?  Women in minivans?  Old, beat-up, rusty Toyotas?  Little foreign cars with fart cans for mufflers, lowered to the ground?  Are you developing mental images for each of these?  Well, those images are all outdated.

You used to be able to see a car swerve on the road and say, “Typical (stereotype).  No surprises there.” Or pull up behind a vehicle covered with bumper stickers and think, “Yup, pretty much what I thought” when you analyze the stickers’ content.  But no more.  Any car can surprise you.  An “old-person Buick” goes weaving through the lanes; you get honked at by a fleet of micro-sized cars; middle fingers from corporate vehicles.

The reality is, everyone is an asshole.  It doesn’t matter what car they drive, they are going to be an asshole on the road.  Taking that a little further, it doesn’t matter what their gender is, what their race is, or what their religion is.  They are going to drive like shit and put everyone at risk for their own selfishness.

Now, can this logic be applied outside of the highways and interstates?  Maybe, but probably not yet.  Over time, maybe we can eliminate our differences in the non-driving world and we can all be a common humanity of assholes.  I can see progress being made on that front every day.

But more seriously, there are so many goddamned people now, it is not possible to be prejudiced.  You simply cannot predict what any one people will say or do.  You will consistently be surprised, for better or worse, and usually for the worse.  If you try to create stereotypes, you will have so many distinctions that it becomes useless to try and refine them any further.  It’s part of the individualization fashion, started when Windows 3.1 came out.  Yes, I blame Windows.

They Robbed Me Blind

Saturday morning, I went to get in my car and noticed the door wasn’t latched.  Weird.  I got in the car and my glove box was hanging open and my center console door was open.  Really weird.  Then it dawned on me.  My car had been broken into.  I use the term “broken into” loosely because I rarely lock my car doors.  I figure there’s nothing really of value for anyone to steal, and if they do steal something, it’s just an excuse to upgrade.

I looked around and nothing was missing.  This puzzled me.  My CDs were still there, my GPS/dashcam was still there, my MP3 player was still there.  A card wallet with probably $150 in gift cards in it was still there.  Yeah, I don’t expect anyone to steal my CDs, and yeah, they could have grabbed the MP3 player and said, “Oh, it’s a Zune”, but hey, doesn’t everything have some value to a pawn shop?  Are these smart thieves that only steal things of real value?

So whatever, I closed everything up and went about my day, puzzling over the experience.  I didn’t feel violated or anything, just confused.  Like I had such shitty stuff it wasn’t even worth stealing.  As I think about it now, maybe someone just wanted to know what it was like to sit in a car like mine?  But why wouldn’t they close up the storage areas before they left?  By Sunday evening, it didn’t even really mean anything to me.  As I was driving home, I needed to put on my glasses.  I wear glasses only for distance viewing and I need them especially at night to reduce the halo effect of lights.

Where’s my glasses?  They’re not in their usual place.  Seriously?  That’s what they stole, my prescription glasses?  What good will my glasses do them?  What a stupid criminal.

So now, I have to get another eye exam (which is overdue anyway) and get a new pair of prescription glasses.  Like most “disasters” in life, it’s just an inconvenience.

He Who Controls The Spice

This weekend, I picked up a couple of other CDs from my prime musical era: the 80’s.  It would probably be interesting to poll people and find out what they consider the best music of their life.  Based on anecdotal evidence I’ve seen, it would be the era in which a person became an adult, about when they were 18-21.  But that’s not really the point of this post. 

The thing I have discovered is that although we have all these eras of music: 50’s/oldies, 60’s/hippy, 70’s/classic rock, 80’s/glam/pop, 90’s/depression, and onward, each era has so much more than those generalizations I just assigned to them.  And even when you explore those other genres, they are still consistent with other genres of that era and also different than the same genre in other eras.  For example, Jazz in the 70’s sounds different than Jazz in the 80’s.  But Jazz in the 80’s still has that production sound of pop music the 80’s.  So the point I’m trying to make is that you can explore many genres within your prime musical era.  The amount of music just within your preferred era is staggering.  Believe me, I’ve been getting more and more daring and buying artists I only had a faint memory of.  The best way to describe the result of that effort is like filling in a puzzle of the entire musical landscape of the 80’s.  You see (hear) each album all in context and relation to the others and the era as a whole becomes more defined.  But that’s not really the point of this post, either.

I had to put those thoughts out first because I am curious abut the future (and a little about the past).  The 80’s could be the premier music moment in recorded music history, all due to the creation of the CD.  Because of the mad rush to upgrade past recordings to CD, then because of the eventual low cost of CD production, there is an overwhelming amount of music physically available on CD, both past and present (present meaning 80’s).

However, as we know, streaming is becoming the new standard.  Proponents of this format claim that it will encompass everything, where any music ever made will be available at a moment’s notice.  But will it?  It’s been shown many times over that an artist can simply refuse their catalog to be offered on a streaming service.  Not only an artist, but maybe an entire label.  If a label goes bankrupt, where do the rights go?  The music is only available when everything is working perfectly – and I wasn’t even meaning the technical bits working perfectly.

With our massively analytical society and our ROI-driven corporate environment, what are the odds that a streaming service would look at some particular music and see it isn’t being accessed enough or isn’t generating enough revenue, so it is just removed from the service.  It’s no longer available.  It’s not lost, just unavailable, which is pretty much the same thing to an end user.  I have seen news that some albums are no longer being released on a physical medium, therefore there is no way to own a copy of the music.  If this pattern accelerates, then there will come a time in the future where music can be lost.

Of course, none of this matters to me, because I’m still filling in the gaps of my era, but future generations will end up having a very spotty image of what music was like in their prime.  That would be a shame.

What’s Good For Us Is Good For You

It was a while ago that I had gone to Pollo Tropical and ordered my usual, with a large drink.  The cashier replied, “We only have one size of drink now.” Ok.  But that is a medium cup.  Right.  That change, which I considered kind of significant, made me think about the whys of such an unannounced change.

For the company, the change would mean reducing the number of items they had to stock and order, which has benefit.  Also, it’s less drink walking out the door, because who wouldn’t refill before leaving? So, there’s that savings. And finally, I assume it’s a preemptive move when the pressure comes on for the death of soft drinks.  Kind of, “Hey, we’re not even allowing people to buy more than 20 ounces here.”

Although I was pretty displeased with the change, I accepted it and moved on.  Then, yesterday, I went to Firehouse Subs and got a meal combo.  I was given a 20 oz cup.  Wait, didn’t this used to include a 32oz drink?  I looked around and saw 32oz cups on other tables, so I don’t know what I did wrong.  Oh well, I don’t eat here that often anymore, so I sucked it up and got on with my day.

Today, I go to Sweet Tomatoes.  I get to the cashier and ask for a large drink.  She hands me a 20oz cup.  No, I want the large size.  “We only have these now.”  WTF.  Just like Pollo.  But, Sweet Tomatoes only ever had 32oz to-go cups, not the 20oz.  So something’s afoot here.  It’s not simplifying stock items, it’s shrinking things.

Fountain drinks are the biggest profit makers for a restaurant.  It’s under a quarter for a cup, lid, straw and the drink itself.  Considering many places I go charge $3 for a drink, you better believe I get refills and to-go cups whenever I can.  And now, they’re shrinking the available cup sizes so you can’t leave with an extra 10 cents of drink?

For future reference, Boston Market still only has one drink cup – a 32oz cup.  They’ve recently changed from a plastic cup to a paper cup.  Let’s see if they shrink it down to a 20oz.

Get Off My Lawn, And My Beach, And My City, And My Country, And My Planet

Over the weekend, I got to spend some time at the beach and it was pleasant.  The key to that pleasantry was going early in the morning, before the large families arrived.  As I was basking in the silence, actually able to hear the waves, I thought about how nice it was right then and how it wouldn’t be so nice in a few hours.

I thought about these groups of people with screaming children and boom boxes and thought it would be really nice to not have to be around them.  But obviously, they have just as much right to any public space as I do.  It’s just that my quiet presence wouldn’t intrude on them, but their boisterous presence would intrude on mine.  Somehow, that doesn’t seem fair. 

I thought up a label for these people.  They are “environment modifiers.”  Wherever they go, they modify their environment to suit themselves.  Natural beauty?  The sound of nature?  Unnecessary. We have children and portable stereos.  It’s just like being in our house or our back yard, only the visuals are different.

I mulled over different ways to handle this.  One idea was segmenting the beach into noisy and quiet zones.  Of course you don’t say it like that.  The beach is divided into “those who love the sound of children playing” and “those who love the sound of the sea”.  And those are truly mutually exclusive.

And sadly, this little microcosm is applicable to our society as a whole, when the loud and obnoxious drive out the polite and quiet.  When decisions are made based not on merit, but on amplitude.  Where resources are acquired sorely through aggression.  When acquired resources are resold to others at a profit, when the justification of that profit is solely getting there first.

“And the meek shall inherit the earth.”  What a wonderful, ruinous place it will be to inherit.

Collecting, For The Eyes And Ears

A co-worker of mine has recently fallen into the rabbit hole of sci-fi novels.  Every day, it’s read, read, read.  And because of that, it’s also become buy, buy, buy.  He does his research.  He knows all the prominent authors, their styles and topics and their bibliographies.

Recently, he’s been talking about “collections” and first editions with increasing interest.  As we discussed the viability of being a sci-fi novel collector, the parallels between his book collecting and my CD collecting became ever more obvious.  Here’s some of the connections I made:

  • Novels will move around between publishers.  Albums will also move around between publishers.  In both cases, the publisher determines the quality of the end product.  The artwork may be different between different publishers.
  • First editions of popular novels are just like first pressings of albums.  They are desirable by those that care and can command higher prices.
  • Both books and albums are reprinted in special collector’s editions, which collectors of each can have a great interest in.  Because the content is usually the same, the improvements are usually better packaging and bonus material (extra songs for albums, drafts or letters or forwards by the author’s peers for books).
  • Both can be turned into compilations and churned out for quick bucks by publishers.  Although I don’t know for sure, I suspect the royalties to the writers suck in all cases.
  • You can “remaster” a book with the same expected results as remastering an album.  You’ll have purists that hate the changes and progressive modern types that embrace the changes.  In the book world, they call it “revised and expanded”.
  • The collecting of this “old technology” is a mystery to the majority of the public.  The details of the versions and editions are lost on them.  “It’s all about the music”/”It’s all about the story”
  • You can find used copies of either at specialty used stores and save a lot of money.
  • You can also find digital copies of either for free (legality aside), but for a collector, this is insufficient.  The physical product is paramount.
  • When a collector starts “talking shop”, it sounds exactly the same; only the authors/bands and titles/albums are different.  They all have exclusive details and timelines and history, but they are completely interchangeable.

On the topic of money, he and I have both been doling it out.  Him maybe a bit more because he’s been buying new, where I buy used almost exclusively.  Yesterday, I gave him the opportunity to validate himself.  I asked if he wanted to visit my usual CD haunt during lunch.  I warned him it could be dangerous for me because the last time I was there, they had some very hard-to-find albums I wanted.  Being hard-to-find also means hard-to-justify-the-price.  I’ll spend up to $10 for a used CD I want, with gold CDs being the rare exception.

We get to the store and all the CDs are still available.  Six of them, priced between $18 and $25 each.  I ask him if I really want to do this, because it’s not gonna be cheap.  He replies that he is the wrong person to ask for support.  For both of our entertainment, I ended up buying them.  As the cashier rung up my $144 purchase of CDs, my co-worker, red-faced and grinning, beamed with delight that someone was behaving just as irrationally as he does with his books.