Friday, September 04, 2015

1534 Pre School, Post School

1534 Pre School, Post School

We hear a lot about “pre-school.”  It supposedly gets little kids ready for “official school.” And every state has limits on the age for dropping out.

Good way to help reduce the unemployment rate among free range toddlers and teens.  Keeps the eductocracy in business. May actually force today’s anti-education generation to stay in school long enough to learn how to accurately add a column of ten numbers in less than ten minutes.  Or maybe to write a coherent English sentence.

School ends early for many kids.  But it also lasts longer for others.  There are record numbers of college students who can’t or won’t earn a degree in the four years it used to take.

But maybe there should be an age requirement on the other end of the spectrum.

Post school.

We tend to lose our marbles gradually in old age. If we were forced back into a classroom, we might avoid some of the ravages of the adage “you can’t teach an old dog new tricks.”  Actually, you can.  But the dog has to want to learn.  Many don’t.  So force them!

A friend who is of late middle age returned to the classroom as a teacher.  That can work equally well to returning as a student.  Another, an insurance broker, took early retirement and went on to teach at Riker’s.

Most of us don’t have the time to return as full time students at, say, age of 65.  But part time studies and distance learning is as common today as part time employment and telecommuting.

Self education can work, too.  With supervision.  For example learning to navigate Windows 10 will keep one’s mind active and the synapses firing.

Lessons, though, don’t have to be in rocket science.  

Remember all those “easy-a’s” you thought about a million years ago?  The ones in which you drew B’s and C’s? The ones you cut all semester.

Well, post-school education doesn’t have to be any harder.  Art history, theology, filmmaking, gender fluidity studies, even “physics for poets” would fill the bill.  

Plus, if you want to feel young again, you can always take out student loans.  That’s the fastest way to experience what young people go through nowadays.

But if you do, be sure to take out new life insurance to cover the debt.  You don’t want to burden those you love when you die deeply in hock.


--If Microsoft wants its “Word” program to remain the world standard for writers, it’s going to have to make a significant change.  Since the very beginning, it has not allowed punctuation marks in the “subject” or title box. So no contractions, no question marks, no anything other than letters and numbers and that has to go.

--Trump has signed the Republican National Committee’s loyalty oath promising to back the party’s eventual nominee and make no third party run. You have to wonder what he got in return.  Maybe if he’s the nominee, the other candidates will have to mow his golf courses.

I’m Wes Richards. My opinions are my own but you’re welcome to them. ®
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© WJR 2015

Wednesday, September 02, 2015

1533 Apps We'd Like to See

1533 Apps We’d Like to See

There seems to be a mobile or computer app for everything.  But really, we’ve only scratched the surface.

Yes, it’s easy to find the nearest pizza joint, the best route from Squirmish, Ohio to Bucyrus, the weather forecast for Cairo or Newark or Springfield depending on which one of each of these you mean.

You can do your taxes, watch a movie, read the news, find a recipe for stuffed cabbage.  You can take a course in topology or topography or typography or the making of explosives.  You can chat with your friends and your imaginary friends, find the symptoms of non-hodgkin's ear wax deposit, and learn the history of unicycling in Rome.

But there are things you can’t do.  And here are some apps we’d like to see:

The blood sugar ray gun: People with diabetes could check things without having to draw blood or stabbing themselves, thus avoiding pain and keeping all their blood.

The STD test: Use it ahead of time to make sure.  Use it afterwards to decide whether to go home or to the anonymous free clinic.

The food borne contaminant detector: Know what you’re buying for dinner. Know what the restaurant is serving.  And the related…

Antibacterial effectiveness meter:  Learn what percentage of germs (up to 99.99) the stuff really kills. The free version will give you all you need to know. But AEM-Pro will tell you the strain or strains of the bacteria remain live and what symptoms to look for.

The OTB speed governor: Select from the list of horse races, pick the longest long shot, activate the governor and the rest of the horses won’t be able to fairly compete, leaving you with a long-odds winner.

The Subway Spread Eliminator: when the guy on the train has his legs far apart and is taking three seats, a quick blast from the SSE will hit him where he’s exposed with a (relatively) low voltage, low amperage electrical charge forcing his legs together and freeing two of the spaces.
The cop cooper:  When you’ve had too much to drink and have to drive anyway, the cop cooper will use the alpha waves generated by computer screens to put any police in range gently to sleep.

The Shadow Invisibilitator: No longer will you have to have to be a wealthy man about town who learned as a boy in the Orient the strange and mysterious secret: how to cloud men’s so they could not see you.  Just a few clicks and poof, you’re invisible for as long as necessary.

And finally…
The time release death ray: it operates through your phone cam. You pretend to take a picture of your arch enemy and walk away.  An hour or two later, the guy croaks of apparent natural causes.  You’re nowhere near the scene of the crime and you can prove it with a credit card receipt or register tape from 7-11 or Duane Reade.

I’m Wes Richards. My opinions are my own but you’re welcome to them. ®
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© WJR 2015

Monday, August 31, 2015

1532 Why Not Tattoos or Arm Bands, Gov. Christie?

1532 Why Not Tattoos or Arm Bands, Gov. Christie?

The governor of New Jersey, Chris Christie had a brilliant idea the other day.  He came up with a way to “track immigrants.”  Bar codes.

Christie wants FedEx to design a system similar to the one it uses to track packages, which, by all accounts, works pretty well, barring bad storms, birds in the engines or the presence of suspicious packages.

Bar codes would be more humane than Trump’s plan to throw the bums out.  It’s just scary and insulting and cheap instead of brutal and impossible… oh, and scary and insulting, but not cheap.

But let’s not limit ourselves.  How about a bar code system for, say, the elephantine, although they’re pretty much self defining or identifying.

Then how about politicians?  You think immigrants are wrecking America?  You’re wrong. It’s the political class.  

We know what most of them look like because they’re always on camera somewhere. But there are a few we might not recognize.  So how about arm-banding, tattooing or bar coding politicos.  

Then there’s always the Hester Prynne system.  Put a big red “P” on the forehead or clothing of every office holder or seeker.  Politicking is right up there with adultery when it comes to public acceptance, and with good reason.

It’s not as graceful as the Nazi or Republic of South Africa methods.  But it’s an easier way to identify those undesirables.  And while it’s humiliating, it’s less unsettling than deportation.

Any “anchor babies” in your family, Chris?

Chrissie says a lot of people enter the US legally and then overstay their work or student visas.  Maybe so.  This is not a new problem.  And it’s not really a problem at all except for that sliver of the pie that turns criminal.

All this intrusiveness from a big man who thinks the government is too big.  Too intrusive. Too … um … fat.

As of this writing, FedEx has not responded to Christie’s request. They probably want to wait until they stop laughing before they answer.

So, once again, why not tattoos and arm bands, governor?  Worked pretty well in the Thousand Year Reich, no?


--The plague that missed Boston will vent its rage on Los Angeles.  The city has “won” the right to become America’s bidder for the 2024 Olympics, pending city council approval.  Here’s hoping they just say no.

--A stunningly beautiful lake in the Ural Mountains has won an equally stunning but much less beautiful prize. Scientists say Lake Karachay is the single most polluted place on earth. It’s right next to Russia’s once-secret nuke lab and factory. And when they tell you “go jump in (this) lake,” it’s a death sentence.

--There really is no resource we haven’t squandered, no advantage we haven’t abandoned and no riptide we haven’t confused with a placid pool. We really are dragging this country to hell in a handbasket, aren’t we? Good thing the road to hell is downhill, else we’d have to put wheels on the handbasket.

I’m Wes Richards. My opinions are my own but you’re welcome to them. ®
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Friday, August 28, 2015

1531 The Early Line on 2016

1531 The Early Line on 2016

The duties of president are clearly defined in the constitution.  All except the most important one, setting the tone of the country.

The present occupant isn’t doing too well at that. Neither did his predecessor or his predecessor’s predecessor.  Who did? FDR. Truman. Eisenhower. JFK. Reagan.

You may disagree with the tone set but at least there was one you could identify.

People say they vote on issues and policies.  Many do. But many don’t.

You don’t have to be Mister (or Ms) Personality to get elected. A lot depends on the opposition, the circumstances and one’s use of the Magic Political Mystery Formula: the right combination of stroking and striking fear into the hearts of your friends, colleagues and enemies.

The most recent true master of that was LBJ. And he, too was a tone setter.  But the tone he set was not the one people were looking for at the time.  Just ask the gazillions of anti-war protesters.

So, who are the leading tone setters in the sorry bunch of current presidential wannabes?  Bernie Sanders for the Democrats and (shudder) Donald Trump for the Republicans.

Which tone do we want badly enough to elect a candidate? Bernie is channeling FDR.  Trump, in his own distorted self braggadocio way is trying to channel Reagan’s “morning in America.”

Not only does Obama set a vague and directionless national tone, he has no mastery of the Magic Political Mystery Formula.  His stroking and threatening skills are just fine… until he leaves the room or you do.

Reagan had an advantage.  He was old and seemed not to care what people thought of him. But he was charming in a Hollywood actor sort of way. Bernie has some of that: he's old and doesn't have to care. His charm is in his relative bluntness and the clarity of his thinking and therefore his speaking and writing.

Additionally, Bernie seems capable of building a coalition. And he has an advantage that Reagan didn't: today’s republican party is straight out of Bellevue and the people -- or at least many of us -- know it and don't want to be part of it.

So the question is "can Bernie reform Wall Street, income inequality, environmental damage, useless and costly wars, racism and institute a single payer health care plan that circumvents the insurance industry?" Of course not. But he probably can use sufficient stroking and induce sufficient fear to take good steps.

Then, there’s Biden. Who can be sure of what Obama's relationship with him really is. They put on a brotherly picture.  And the president was right when he said picking Joe was the smartest decision he ever made.

JFK and LBJ didn't like each other.  But at the time, Johnson was a good choice for vice president because of his many years in the senate.  He was a leader there, knew where the bodies were buried, knew where to bury the bodies he added to that and knew both how to kiss and to inspire fear as needed.

Biden never fought in that division, but he's the closest thing we have now.  So practically speaking if he can harness Obama's email list and ground troops, he could win.

When you back the favorite and the favorite wins, the payoff is lower than when you bet a winning long shot.  But a win is a win.

As for Clinton, we don't really know what she stands for. And we certainly don't know what she'd do or try to do as President. It’s not sure she knows either.  

At the moment, Trump is the only republican who counts. Want a reason? His traveling medicine show touches on the fears and desires of plenty of dems who oppose immigration and are tired of the do-nothing, gerbil wheel the presidency has become.

I’m Wes Richards. My opinions are my own but you’re welcome to them. ®
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© WJR 2015

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

1530 Johnny Pipes

1530 Johnny Pipes

So you think plumbers make a lot of money? Listen to this! Gianni P. of The Bronx, New York. Lives in Westchester now. Has a big house with a big lawn and no shrubbery. Says he likes his view without anything in the way. His view is the street. Not much of a view. Paid a million, two for the place, spent another half a mil fixing it up.

Good money in plumbing.

They call him Johnny Pipes. He says that is a slur against ordinary citizens of Italian lineage, which he calls “Italian abstraction.” They call him Johnny Pipes because he is the Michelangelo of plumbers. You need a bathroom, a kitchen, maybe a basement sink? You need something that leads from the house to the sewer? Johnny’s the guy to call. He’ll make it work beautifully and better yet, what you look at when you look at it is a work of art.
His shop’s still in the old neighborhood. Doesn’t get a lot of calls from the new one. But those who DO call are always happy. Johnny wouldn’t have it any other way. Art. Not just plumbing, but ART.

Last year, Johnny took in maybe as much as his house cost. And most of the time he works alone.
The apartments in the Bronx need a lot of work. They don’t need art. But they get it anyway.

And he keeps unusual hours.

He’s in at maybe five or 5:30 in the morning. And sometimes he works well into the night. Work is play when you love your job.

So how does this guy pull down a million bucks in a year, buy a house in Westchester and take the wife and kids on a cruise to the islands at least once in awhile.

Art. Industrial art.
Johnny Pipes has a sideline and it’s a pretty good one. He’s in there early, working at the lathe, firing up the blowtorch, that kind of thing. Makes small pipes out of big ones. Threads the ends. Fills the insides with little pieces of aluminum and fiberglass and sometimes when he can get it, asbestos.

These are not for the kitchen, bathroom, basement or sewer.
These screw onto the fronts of handguns. Makes them more efficient, in a way.

All that stuff in the pipe does slow the bullet down a tad if the gun is fired. That’s not the efficient part. The efficient part is when you fire the thing, it doesn’t usually make enough noise to disturb the neighbors.

Not only is he an artist, he’s a considerate artist.
These efficiency gizmos, he calls “sculpture.” His customers call them “silencers” which Johnny doesn’t much care for. Why? Because you still hear something of a “pop” when the thing’s used. It isn’t right to call it “silent” when it’s just “quiet.”

An artist, and an honest one at that. No false advertising here.

Art like this is expensive. It’s hard to find. And the market is excellent. Booming, in fact.

I'm Wes Richards, my opinions are my own, but you're welcome to them. ®
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Note: this post originally ran in August, 2006.
© WJR 2006, 2015

Monday, August 24, 2015

1529 A Perfect Ten

1529 A Perfect Ten
No, not the 1979 film in which Dudley Moore finds Bo Derek and which also co-starred a telescope.

This is about the new - new - newer-than-new Microsoft Operating system, which is designed to work on your computer, your tablet and the 283 Windows- based smartphones that have been sold since 1995.

It’s hard to believe that Microsoft is struggling.  After all, they were the company that started the home computer business.  At one point in the early days, when trying to wreck a competitor, co-founder Bill Gates directed his troops to “cut off their air supply.”

They could do that back then and did.  Today, they make the dominant operating system, but it’s no longer a “must have.”  

Windows 10 is an apology to customers and a hope to keep them.  Apology?  Yes, for Windows 8.0/ 8.1, a freak show of complexity, instability and ineptness wrapped in ugliness.

In “10,” they’ve prettied things up. They’ve reverted to easier use.  They’re replaced their clunky “Internet Explorer” browser with “Edge” to enhance “your web experience.”  And they’ve built in all kinds of goodies to make you more vulnerable to data mining and less able to keep your data out of their bases.

With 10, you share control of your computer with the Geeks of Redmond.  Not that you were all that well protected in earlier times.  But now MSFT decides when you update, how and how much you update. The upside is you’re harder to hack.  Except by the aforementioned Geeks of Redmond.  

They try to corner you into using their search engine, “Bing” instead of Google, something most users wouldn’t do on their own. Okay, it’s commerce. Google does the same but with less fanfare and unnecessary bells and whistles. Apple does the same but with more grace and pretty pictures.

In a further show of flop sweat, Microsoft is giving the software away to those who have versions 7, 8 and 8.1.  Microsoft giving something it could sell? What does that tell you.

And if you don’t want to make the change, get used to the little blue pop up blocker-proof pop up asking you to do so, because it appears every time you open your browser.  (You can get rid of it.  Doing so is fairly easy.  All you need is a lot of time and a degree in computer science.)

Windows 10 is circling the wagons.  Except many of the wagons have left.


--Norton AntiVirus is right on top of the little blue Windows window.  Theirs is green and promises their program will work with the new MSFT system. (MSFT is the stock’s symbol.)  And because Norton is more nimble than Micro, it gets to the screen faster.

Disclaimer: Windows 10 is not for everyone. Tell your reseller about all your computers and whether you’ve recently visited countries in which certain viral infections are common. If side effects develop, stop using “10” and notify your customer service rep immediately. Side effects may include dizziness, confusion, eyestrain, nausea, brain freeze and the Blue Screen of Death.  Ask your reseller if “10” is right for you.

I’m Wes Richards. My opinions are my own but you’re welcome to them. ®
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© WJR 2015

Friday, August 21, 2015

1528 Times Square: Nature Will Out

1528  Times Square: Nature Will Out

(New York) -- You’ve heard it here time and time again: nature gets the last word.  The grass will grow in the cracks in the sidewalk.  The Avian Flu will mutate ahead of efforts to stop it.  Eventually, cancer wins.

Now we have yet another example:  Times Square is in the process of un-morphing from the Disneyesque fantasy that started in the first Giuliani administration and continues today.

Times Square had long been a high-crime, deteriorating collection first of ne’er do wells, then of prostitutes and pimps, drug dealers and their customers, homeless, vagrants, runaways and dirt. There were porn shops, restaurants that remained open in the face of years of warnings from the board of health.  Litter, sometimes ordinary, sometimes human.

Rudy swooped in to urban renewalize.  And Mike continued.  Two consecutive decades of trying to prevent the grass from growing in the spaces between the concrete slabs of sidewalk.

But the ultimate reversal began with creation of the pedestrian mall, a breeding ground for the good old days. The mall is pushing Times Square back to its roots.

Of course, no one had the courage to tell Mayor Bloomberg that he was naked. Now, he isn’t.

But there are a bunch of painted city women wearing nothing (except paint) panhandling for tips and charging money to pose in selfies with the visiting dignitaries from places like Iowa and Pennsylvania and Tokyo.

The Naked Cowboy somehow managed to remain a presence all during the attempted turning of Times Square into a theme park.  But now, he’s joined by the bare naked ladies, the jugglers and whistlers not good enough to pass auditions for America’s Got Talent or even the singing-in-the-subway program.

You’ve got the New York Times building, a frighteningly ugly and frighteningly expensive headquarters built on the belief that print ads would forever take care of the finances.  The print business is tanking, but the Times’ debt is not.

Cheap, dark bars probably won’t be back right away. The rent remains high.  And there are dozens of laws about where and how you can sell porn or present peep shows. So it’ll be awhile before they return.  But return they will.

So will the dollar-a-minute hotels, the drunks, the pot and gun dealers.

Now it’s not fair to blame the creation of a pedestrian mall for the probable resurgence of the real Times Square.  Its construction was just a tipping point.  Or maybe a tipping pointless.

It was created as similar projects were failing all over the country.  Bad timing? Bad thinking? Bad for business?  A traffic disaster in a place that has among the highest pain thresholds for defining traffic disasters.

The present mayor, Bill de-Zaster, hasn’t yet said he’s going to open the streets to vehicular traffic.  But it sure looks like he’s leaning in that direction.

Hurry, Bill.  Winter will be here sooner than you think. And after that, spring.  And there’s a lot of grass getting ready to grow between cracks in the sidewalk.

I’m Wes Richards. My opinions are my own but you’re welcome to them. ®
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© WJR 2015