Monday, June 24, 2013

A Quarter of Nothing

In 1905, Einstein wrote five articles and had them published in the prestigious Annalen der Physik (Annals of Physics). In one of these papers, “Zur Elektrodynamik bewegter Koerper” (“On the Electrodynamics of Moving Bodies”), Einstein detailed his Special Theory of Relativity. He was 26 years old and working six days a week in the Swiss Patent Office in Bern. In between work and his family life (he had a wife and son), Einstein worked diligently on his scientific theories. Even with what seems like very little time, Einstein had his most productive and momentous year of revolutionary scientific theories that year.

By 1916, just ten or so years later, he published the General Theory of Relativity, the current description of gravitation in modern physics. General relativity generalizes special relativity and Newton's law of universal gravitation, providing a unified description of gravity as a geometric property of space and time, or spacetime. In particular, the curvature of spacetime is directly related to the energy and momentum of whatever matter and radiation are present. The relation is specified by the Einstein field equations, a system of partial differential equations.

He spent the rest of his life working to match those youthful accomplishments. Why does genius so often bloom in the young, and why is it so hard to be creative later in life? Of course, there are a lot of counterexamples of senior citizens making groundbreaking discoveries or creating new ideas, I just can’t think of any. The best I can do is Colonel Sanders who invented KFC when he was in his seventies.

I’ve often written about my life of science, and a few times about my life of art. In this short essay I’ll describe what I think is the best musical composition and production I ever produced, and I was only 19 or 20 years old.

This is a song I wrote (well at least several parts) and played both the piano (backwards) and the twelve-string guitar on the first two sections. These parts were then wedded to a fairly standard blues riff and recorded on quarter inch tape. I concluded the composition with more of the ethereal backward music and twelve-string and even some churchy organ.

I’ll tell you a little about the name. I called it “One quarter of Nothing” and in my notes on some old yellow paper I would often show it as “Zero over Four” or "0/4," a mathematical description.

(Don’t worry, I didn’t divide by zero, which is not allowed in mathematics. You can divide nothing as much as you want … that’s valid. But you end up with less than nothing!)

(It also looks a little like a time signature such as "4/4" or "2/4.")

The name came originally from the use of quarter-inch magnetic recording tape. I had the final recording wound on a small reel, not the normal seven-inch diameter reel, but a smaller two and one-half inch reel since it was only a few minutes of tape. I remember telling my buddy Robin Sterret that is was a quarter-inch of nothing. We then started talking about that and how much money we could make as best-selling musicians. Somehow the discussion became that we would split the money evenly among we four, and I said or someone said, “a quarter of nothing.”

Well, to tell the truth, it was so long ago that I’m not really sure exactly how the name came about. This was back when we were playing at a bar in Butte, Montana, called the U & I Club. “You” and “I,” get it? I was going to college at the School of Mines there, as were the others in the band. Anyway, the drummer, a guy named Donnatelli, we called him “The Don,” and we didn’t even know about the Mafia. Anyway, he said he was going to use his money to buy a bar. I said, “The trouble with bars is the customers,” as we were very experienced with noisy and rude bar people as we tried our best to entertain them. His answer was, “Customers! There won’t be any customers.” I should have expected that response since he told everyone that his office was at the bar.

Anyway, I used a full-track tape recorder to record some piano sounds, including reaching inside the piano and strumming the strings directly with a guitar pick. (I think we also used a quarter. There’s that concept again.) The point of using a full-track recorder is that you can flip the tape over and play it backwards. Remember, this is before the Beatles showed off their fancy studio tricks. I think they may owe me for this little idea even if I didn't patent it, although I stole … errrr … borrowed the idea from a Wonderful World of Diseny episode where they showed how they created the duet for an animated movie that had two siamese cats singing. The song went something like: “We are Siamese if you pleeease. We are Siamese if you don’t please.”

To record the voices they had a female singer make a tape recording. Disney engineers then played the recording faster to raise the pitch and they made two copies and recorded those with one of the copies slightly out of sync … or something like that. The goal was to get some sort of oriental effect, since the cats were Siamese.

Reminds me now of the special musical effect called “flanging.” Flanging is an audio effect produced by mixing two identical signals together, with one signal delayed by a small and gradually changing period, usually smaller than 20 milliseconds. This produces a swept comb filter effect: peaks and notches are produced in the resultant frequency spectrum, related to each other in a linear harmonic series. Varying the time delay causes these to sweep up and down the frequency spectrum. Originally, one of the tapes was slowed down by putting a finger on the edge of the reel or "flange." Hence the name. A modern day flanger is an effects unit dedicated to creating this sound effect. Back in those days, all you had to make sound effects was the tape recorder and a few tricks. But I digress.

So, using a professional recorder at the local radio station, I was able to record, not only the various piano sounds, but to play them back “backward” and at a very slow rate which lowered the pitch. That is the introduction and start of the song. You’ll also hear some bells or gongs in the sound. The Don had just purchased a set of gongs and other metal percussions, and we used some of those when we mixed the other stuff played backwards. I had a recording and live music being mixed onto a new track. Very high tech.

Bryan Wilson would have been very proud of me working all this magic in the studio. I had two tape decks and really produced a unique sound for that time since this was 1967. That is part of the creative part of the part I was talking about previously … part of it anyway.

My Twelve String Guitar

I’ve written before about my Guild twelve-string guitar I had at that time. Wish I still had that instrument. I was impressed with the twelve string sound, especially songs by the Byrds, so I had purchased this red beauty and I came up with a simple little finger-picking part that makes up the musical interlude after the backward piano and before we break into a regular twelve-bar-blues riff.

I wish I still had the original tapes because I’m not happy with some of the transitions in the song and the intro goes a bit long before breaking into the blues section. I think the twelve string part should fade out as the blues bit starts instead of stopping abruptly. That’s actually something I can do now in my studio using the digital domain, but back then I did this by recording parts from one tape onto a second recorder. I didn’t know how to splice tape back then. So, much of the music is actually a third-generation recording, a recording of a recording of a recording. Since this was all analog, that means 3 db of noise was added with each copy.

Since it “only rock and roll,” the hiss probably doesn’t matter that much anyway, and it was my first attempt.

It ends with a repeat of the effects from the beginning and I added a little organ music. So, in total, I played four instruments on this recording, the piano, twelve string, rhythm guitar on the blues part and some organ at the end. Not bad for an untalented musical hacker. Eh what?

That’s the amazing part. Since that time, I’ve done little creative with music. Since then I wrote a melody for a Robert Frost poem about a "Fire of Driftwood," and I wrote and performed some finger picking style stuff on a open tuned guitar. (And I was still in my twenties when I did that.) I've written a little poetry and a lot of prose. Recently I’ve done considerable studio and live recording, but never repeated any of the tricks I’ve just described. I used modern digital tools to recover a video interview that I video taped at Denver Seminary where an equipment malfunction made the audio very noisy. In this case the fine filters in ProTools was able to remove most of the noise and we were able to use the audio in a DVD I produced.

Another time my granddaughter was trying to record a song as a tribute to her great grandmother for the grandmother’s memorial service. The music track we were using was several steps too high pitched for Alyssa. I was able to rescue that recording using digital pitch shifting technology in Adobe Audition. You’ll find that song on the Sutros web site I link to at the end of this article.

However, in both of these cases, it was the creativity of the digital tool designers, not my creativity, that saved the audio day. No, much like Einstein, I’ve never repeated the genius I showed at such an early age. (Well, maybe not “genius.” Maybe just “smarty pants.”) I’m no George Martin or Phil Spector or Alan Parsons or even Al Kooper. Perhaps I could have been if I’d been at FAME studio (another tale you can read in my blog), but I switched my emphasis from music back to science in the late sixties.

(Those familiar with my life story so painstakingly told on this very blog that I was the Outstanding Science Student of the Year in Junior High, but left science behind to pursue wine, women, and song (and not particularly in that order) through High School and a failed year of college. Upon joining the Navy and enrolling in their Advanced Electronics Program, I rekindled the interest in science, and music took a back-seat as a nice way to spend time with friends. Since then it has been science and engineering … and math and technology.)

From a creative standpoint, I’ve always thought the problem of paradigms would make it difficult for creative types to continue their groundbreaking work later in life. It may be something about breaking rules you haven’t learned yet, or not getting stuck in mental ruts that are not there in a youthful brain. Of course, there are plenty of examples of people who maintain their creative output well past middle age. I just can’t think of any.

So, without any further adou, let me present my greatest creative accomplishment, at least in my little world. Ladies and gentlemen, I present a “Quarter of Nothing.” It is less than nothing. Not much at all. It really isn’t anything important … except to me.

Zero Over Four — A Quarter of Nothing

Saturday, June 22, 2013

Going Back After Forty Years

I jotted down some lines in preparation for a blog article while traveling out to Virginia. It was 40 years to the month since I had taken the same route, only traveling west, not east. I was so excited about what was popping into my head that I actually entered several paragraphs into Evernote from my iPhone keyboard while resting at a "rest stop," and you know how tedious that can be. I do most my writing on a real keyboard and use the iPhone just for short entries.

So, going back forty years, I was in my new, 1973 Dodge Van that I bought to haul home my motorcycle upon discharge from the Navy. But then I sold the motorcycle to pay for the van. Sort of an O'Henry Story. (A free Oh-Henry bar to the first person who can name the story ... No, it's not the Ransom of Red Chief, but thanks for trying.) (Gift of the Magi — Chuck Lincoln got it.)

I had all my worldly possessions in that van. At least what I had left after an orgie of sales in preparation for travel. I didn’t have a yard sale and that was before Craig’s list, so I just advertised in the local paper’s classifieds. I sold my Magnavox Organ to a shipmate and my Vox organ to someone who answered my ad. I sold my Gibson Firebird to a cool black guy that was going to play some jazz and the Fender Deluxe Reverb followed it out the door.

I did haul home a giant Fender Dual Showman speaker cabinet with two-fifteens, an Ampeg amp, a really beat-up old acoustic guitar, a drum machine, a few microphones, a couple of cords and cables, and a Sony TC-200 tape machine — plus a couple of suit cases of clothes. That’s all I remember.

For the last time, I drove down Willoughby Spit headed for the Hampton Roads Tunnel and I-64. You just stay on 64 for a thousand miles until you get to St. Louis and then jump onto 70 for the rest of the way to Denver. I was stopping there to visit some friends and then headed up I-25 for Billings, Montana.

Visited with my brother a couple of days and we spent the weekend up in Lewistown checking out who had stayed. I took him back to Billings, and then headed west on I-90 for Spokane, Washington, my parents' home at that time. Pretty easy navigation and no need for a GPS, especially since they hadn’t been invented yet. The only problem was in St. Louis where the Interstate ended abruptly somewhere near the Arch and I had to navigate surface streets to find the bridge over the Mississippi River. It was a tough neighborhood and I was a little shook up by the sudden loss of four-lane highway, but the Lord watches out for fools, so I made it OK.

I don’t recall how long it took me to complete the drive. I know I had an ice chest on the floor between the seats filled with sodas and a bucket of KFC. When I got tired, I would pull into a rest area and nap for 40 winks and then hit the road again. The van had the first cruise control I’d ever had and it worked wonders on that trip. I don’t think I stayed in a motel the whole way, but maybe I just don’t recall.

I got home to Spokane where I spent nine months with my folks working on the van and running in the nearby hills. I was in really great shape back then. I ran five miles a day. Oh how the proud have fallen. After that I packed up the yellow van again, and headed for Colorado.

I had an invitation from a shipmate, Tom Aerts, to visit him in Longmont, so I ended up spending my first few weeks in CO living with Tom and his wife Linda. I then got an apartment in Longmont.

Later many old navy buddies showed up including Woody who lived with me for about six months, Glen Hord who visited one summer, and — after I had moved to Denver — Mike Desnoyer showed up for Thanksgiving.

After a year in Longmont working at A.R.F. Products in Boulder, I started teaching at E.T.I. in Denver. Since I still worked at A.R.F. part time, I moved to an apartment in northern Denver, about half-way between the two jobs. A year later I rented a house in Denver by Sloan's Lake and close to Mile High Stadium. By that time Tom and Linda had divorced. I needed a date for a party I was invited to by a student, so I ask Linda more as a friend than a romantic date.

We sort of got drawn to each other at that party and started dating seriously. We had our ups and downs during the courtship and there were several other guys competing for her attention as she was a most lovely young lady. We finally broke up one summer, partly because I was working two jobs and had no time for her.

I tried to survive that summer without her, throwing myself and my passions into motorcycle racing and taking a long road trip on a little Honda 550 four … not exactly a road warrior. But, by fall, I was missing her terribly. I was friends with her brother Chuck, and when visiting him at his parents' new house in the country, Linda was there doing her laundry since her apartment didn’t have a washer. I asked her if she would like to take a drive and we had a fun time cruising up the Big Thompson Canyon from Loveland.

We started dating again and I soon asked for her hand. She was reluctant at first … who could blame her? So it took several days for me to get her answer, which was a quiet “yes.”

My parents still lived in Spokane, so we decided to get married there. We were both off work at Christmas time, so we set the date for late December. We drove up to my sister’s house in Bozeman, Montana, and Linda met Barbie for the first time. They hit it off splendidly and have been great friends ever since. No surprise as I had always wanted to marry someone as sweet as my sister, although I doubted such a person existed as Barbie was a doll. But I found another doll, and my sister approved.

We took the train from Bozeman to Spokane. Mike, from Linda’s first marriage, was three years old and he loved the train ride, as did we three. We got to Spokane around Christmas and planned a wedding in nearby Coeur d'Alene since Washington state had a residency requirement for marriage, but Idaho was like Las Vegas, you could get married on a whim.

Coeur d'Alene further resembled Vegas with the existence of marriage stores that sold the license, did the blood test, even had boutonnieres in a rack on the desk and a preacher on call. We availed ourselves of the license and test and even got a great little flower with a bumble bee in it for Mike to wear, but we went to the court house for the ceremony. It was a small wedding with my parents and my sister as witnesses and Michael stood up there with us as we had told him all three of us were to be married. (I later adopted Michael, and raised him from then on. So if you ask Mike who his dad is, I think he'll say me. We maintained a good relationship with Linda's ex, but Mike was always with us.)

The J.P. asked, “Will you take this women … ?” There had not been a rehearsal and with the prettiest women I knew at my side, about to marry me, I was very nervous. All I could say is what I’d seen in all those movies: “I do.” The correct response was “I will.” After the ceremony I was chatting with the official and he asked me what I did for a living. I said I’m a teacher. He asked what I teach. I said, “Electronics.” He said he knew it wasn’t English.

So, after a short honeymoon, we returned to Longmont, Colorado where we’ve made our home ever since. It has been a wonderful marriage, blessed with a second son and great in-laws and family, we’ve enjoyed every moment of the ride. We're in our 37th year of bliss, and it just keeps getting better.

Many things have changed. Now the Interstate is a continuous band across the country, although there are still stretches of construction and a couple of toll roads. I know from past experience flying into Virginia via Newport News and taking the tunnel that I-64 no longer goes down the middle of Willoughby Spit, but rides on stilts across the bay to the south of the Spit. Plus the houses on the Spit are a lot more upscale than back then and the amusement park is gone. Now there’s a branch, I-564, that goes right to the Navy Base. Plenty else has changed, but still my old home for over four years, some forty years ago, retains familiarity. On our last trip, just two weeks previous, we visited the old haunts of McCloy Road and the Giant Open Air Market at Wards Corner.

Although I have been back to Norfolk and Virginia Beach over half a dozen times in the ensuing years to visit old friends and we were just there a few weeks ago, this is the first time I’ve driven. That completes the scene. Forty years, another “van,” the hero returns home. Can you ever go back? I’d love to relive those exciting early years of Navy friends and my courtship of my beloved and starting out with nothing but love and a couple of kids, but I’m now 66, retired, rich, and returning to the scene of the crime.

Now I was retracing that original trip in the Blue Bus. Leaving behind the hills of western Kentucky, down by the Green River where paradise lay, we soon crossed the Sandy River just south of the Ohio and traded the rolling hills of Kentucky for deeper valleys of West Virginia. 

Here amongst the bones of a once great  mountain range worn down by wind and water, we climb the passes and parallel the great rivers flowing by great cities and towns, great refineries and industrial works, as we make our was East. 

Charleston with its gleaming gold capital dome passes on the right as we cross and re-cross the Kanawha River. 

Our destination nearly reached, the road weary travelers have almost arrived after thirty-six hours of journey. 

There is no road work on this holiday weekend and the construction speed limit signs are not flashing and slowing our progress. Traffic was light until the Sunday rubber-neckers hit the road after church. It's a beautiful sunny day as we continue our journey. 

The official start of summer has arrived. Summer starts with Memorial Day, regardless of that solstice date. What adventures await us as we near our destination?  Of that I can't say, but only fantasize. In the rush I've taken few pictures except with my mind. If quiet time occurs during the next few weeks, I'll try to develop the images for my reading audience. 

Now, after a break for bread and chips, it's back on the road into Virginia and the beach. As they would say in Paris, "Bon Voyage," "good journey." There are things in life that are the important part. They are the people you meet and the people you love. Some of that affection rubs off on the location and memories include not just the “who,” but also the “where.” Now I’m going back. This is really a reunion. Norfolk and Virginia Beach, meet the Blue Bus. I know I left in a yellow van, but things do change … now let’s see what is still the same.

Friday, June 21, 2013

The Blue Bus

Back in the nineteenth century (and the start of the twentieth) a gentleman of means would have a stable of horses. Each horse was for a specific purpose. Draft horses were large and used to pull plows and very large, heavy wagons. A quarter horse was used to round up the cattle or whatever was kept in the back forty. A thoroughbred was ridden on Saturday and you hoped your neighbor would be out on his fast horse so you could race to the nearby pub. And finally, on Sunday, you had the mare to pull the surrey to church.

Well, I’m a gentleman of means, and I, too, have a stable from which to choose just the right stallion for a given task.

First there’s the luxury sedan. It’s got imitation wood grain on the dash and plush leather seats that can warm your buns when it’s cold outside. It’s got a fancy navigation screen and purrs like a kitten. This one belongs to the lady of the house.

I’ve got a little jet-black two-seater that I use for Sunday pleasure drives in the mountains with the top down. Otherwise it is only driven in parades and shown at car shows. It is a recent model of the best sports car that has ever come out of Japan. It’s not particularly fast, but it can take a tight corner like it was on rails. That’s why I drive it on those twisty mountain roads … what fun. Although it is a 2003, making it ten years old, it only has 14,000 miles. That means I drive it an average of 1,400 miles a year. There aren’t that many parades around here.

Of course you have to have a work horse. There’s furniture to pick up at the store, and fertilizer and mulch to haul, and lumber and plywood at Lowe's, or a 60” TV for the family room. For that purpose, I’ve got a nice Toyota pickup truck. It has a large six cylinder, an eight-foot bed, and a camper shell. It’s a golden oldie, came off the line in ’93. But with only 80,000 miles its a cream puff and a looker. It used to belong to Linda’s dad, but he didn’t need it anymore and I picked it up for a premium price since the low mileage and good condition rated it high in Kelly’s Blue Book. Some lady ran into the back end of it when we were enjoying barbecue at “The Rib Shop,” but her insurance fixed it up as good as new, and now it has a brand new back bumper … remember when cars had bumpers? She’s the property of Louie since it is the only vehicle we’ll let her ride in … she sheds … you know.

But when it comes to road trips, there’s only one choice. This is the one I bought specifically for the long and winding road of retirement, and I call her the Blue Bus. She’s a Ford Flex. You may not of heard of the Flex. It’s a new model from Ford. (Remember, they were the only domestic car manufacturer that didn’t need a bail out from the Feds, so they must be doing something right.)

One of the first essays I ever wrote in my blog was about my previous transportation that was my commuting car. It was a Honda Civic Si Hatchback, a sporty little job that I bought in 1989 and got over twenty years of service. It was a good gas mileage car and fun to drive and, even after twenty plus years on the road, it was spotless inside and out. You can read about it in my post Little White Honda. It had five on the floor and I’d upgraded the sound system. It was a hatchback, so it could handle transporting sound equipment to my gigs, but it did lack a few amenities including cruise control, power steering, and cup holders.

Ode to My Little White Honda

As I approached retirement three years ago, I began to consider a replacement for the Honda. I checked out Honda’s latest Si and was very impressed. It no longer came as a hatchback, but the coupe version looked sweet and the high tech engine and accompaniments had me choosing a color. However, I wasn’t certain that was what I wanted upon retirement.

Linda had recently mentioned problems getting all the kids to the rec center. Our grandkids have a lot of cousins, and Linda liked to take them to the pool for a swim on the hot summer days, but there were more than five to drive and our Camry could only seat belt in four kids. I was also considering a small SUV and when I saw that the Toyota RAV had a third set of seats in the way-back, I became a perspective customer. However, after a trip to the dealer for a test ride, Linda and I both realized the far back seat was only adequate for pre-schoolers or small midgets. Not adult seating by any means. The larger SUVs didn’t interest me, they just didn’t fit what I had in mind.

Plus, since I already owned two Toyotas, I wasn’t sure I wanted to add a third of that brand to my fleet. Something about all your eggs and a single basket. Then I stumbled upon the Ford Flex. I saw one in the street. It was a new design and I was attracted immediately to the styling. It’s a look you will either love or hate. I think it started out with the new Scion, a brand of vehicles produced by Toyota Motor Corporation. Founded in 2002, Scion's long-term goal is to appeal to Generation Y consumers. That original model was like a shoe box on wheels. Now if you want to maximize internal volume, any geometer will tell you to chose a sphere. However, it wouldn’t look good with four wheels and the resemblance to a lemon would make it a hard sell. So the second choice is a rectangular box. And that is what the original Scion most resembled.

Now part of then look of an automobile is its scale or size, and the Scion is a very small automobile. There had been previous attempts to make a pleasing-to-the-eye small cars. Perhaps the most successful is the Chrysler PT Cruiser. Copying a look from the thirties or forties, this popular car introduced in 2002 fit the scale well. Chevy sort of followed with the HHR that looked a bit like an old panel truck. But the boxy style of the Scion seemed to catch on and was seen in the look of the Nissan Cube (as if the name didn’t make it clear the design goal) and the Kia Soul. It does appear that the younger customers like this look as both my nephew and my daughter-in-law drive Souls.

Well the Flex followed with that boxy look, but it appeared quite different in a full sized automobile. It reminded me most of the old station wagons of the sixties and seventies, although the style also owed to the new, large SUVs. The Flex is officially called a crossover although I don’t really know just what that means. Is it a hybrid of some kind? (Not to be confused with hybrid engines that run on both gas and electricity.) It was half an SUV, but what was the other half? Internally it owes some to the Taurus, another ground breaking design from Ford which did come in a wagon, but the Flex also has plenty of Ford Expedition (or Chevy Suburban) with a little Cadillac Escalade thrown in (or is it Lincoln Navigator).

My “engineer / designer” take on “Crossover” is it is half SUV and half mini-van. You get regular doors instead of sliding doors, but it isn’t quite an SUV, still more of a car … quite a luxury car … sort of a cross between a limousine and an SUV.

Like an SUV, most models are “all-wheel” drive, although some SUVs are real “four-wheel” drive — there is a difference. “All-wheel” drive is more like a Subaru or an Audi. You run power to all four wheels on the hard pavement, not just off-road.

The particular Flex I chose is only front-wheel drive. That was a conscious choice as I didn’t want to double the mechanical trouble for the small gain of extra traction. Truth be told it doesn’t snow that much here in Boulder County and front wheel drive traction is adequate for the difficult drive to the coffee shop on a rare snowy day.

The style of the Flex is a much larger scale than the miniature predecessors and the corners are more rounded. The nineteen inch — that’s big — wheels and the solid black windows and posts down the side combined with the high doors and long body give a different look to the boxy style, and Ford even added some grooves on the side to suggest the woody look from the forties and fifties. I found the style very pleasing, but I’ve met people that are not as taken by the look.

The insides, on the other hand, catch the eye of all onlookers. Car and Driver rated the back seat the most comfortable in any model and you can even get an electric refrigerator / freezer in the middle of the back seat. In the way-back are two seats that comfortably fit six-foot tall adults and all those back seats lay down to provide plenty of storage room, although I wouldn’t load lumber into such a plush interior. Those extra two seats are even a little higher than those in front, so everyone has a view down the road if you can see around the large headrests (or my large head).

The model I purchased substitutes a middle seat for the refrigerator, and will haul seven adults comfortably to a baseball game or the opera. The leather seats in front sport internal heaters and even air conditioning through tiny holes to heat or cool your buns. This big, wide, and relatively powerful car/truck is at home on the freeway and fits in the driveway, even if it’s a bit tight between those tiny white lines they paint in the parking lots these days.

As I pondered between the different vehicle purchase options, I developed a set of criteria for my next car. Heavy on my mind was the large amount of household goods we had saved after Linda’s mom died and her dad sold the house. We had kept many items intended for different family members and Linda’s two brothers live in Fairbanks, Alaska, so the problem of getting things to them was on my mind. Largest and most delicate was a four-foot tall statue of President Lincoln and his advisors called “Council of War.” This plaster of paris piece was valuable as well as fragile and there was also the antique stand upon which it sat as well as an old copper bath tub. The tub wasn’t as big as a modern tub, but a person could spend Saturday night in its sudsy embrace. Chuck wanted it to store firewood. There were box upon box of dishes and what-nots and several large framed pictures.

I had checked into shipping them to Alaska, but the estimate with crating and un-crating (the only way the shipment could be insured is if they uncrated it too) was over $3,000. Plus there were all those cousins who wanted to go swimming. So the seven passenger, lots of room for hauling features of the Flex easily tipped the balance in its direction. So I went shopping for a Flex. I found a bonanza of the vehicles down at the local Ford store and soon found the perfect, front-wheel drive only, baby blue, black interior Flex that I wanted. After a short test drive and Linda’s complete approval, I knew this was the car for us.

(Understand that Linda’s approval is rarely offered when we discuss purchases that cost tens of thousands of dollars and involve four wheels. She is my reluctant companion and only agrees to my wild-eyed ideas if I promise not to offer the salesman our first-born child. I explain what a careful negotiator I can be and she rolls her eyes. It’s an act we’ve perfected since we bought our first car together back in 1977.)

The next step was negotiation. Now I didn’t invent the idea that you never pay the sticker price when purchasing an automobile. I don’t know whose idea it was to overprice the car and require the purchaser to wrangle a better deal. Perhaps it was because of the trade-in. But I never trade in. It is always better to sell your old car independently and don’t add another factor of confusion into the already difficult discussion of just how much you must pay for your ride. It’s like a pro-am golf tournament. No matter what handicap you give to the duffer, the pro is going to out-swing and out-put you every time. After all, they do this for a living.

Still I do my best. A little research on the Internet to determine what is a fair price. Having good credit, ready cash, and no trade-in usually puts a little on my side of the table, but still most the chips are in the dealers hands.

I’ve been playing the game for over fifty years. The dance is carefully choreographed. You are to believe that the salesman (or woman) is on your side and its just that mean old sales manager you’ve got to double team. You need to write your offer on the paper and sign it, that shows you’re serious and not just a looky-lou. Then your sales agent runs to the boss to see if he’ll accept it. They never accept the first offer. It’s like an episode of Pawn Stars, and the guy behind the counter will get you every time.

This dealership has a web site with prices and the salesman kept telling me that the price on the web was the lowest price they would accept. No wheeling and dealing here at “Ford City.” Nope, just honest prices and sales staff to match. I kept saying, “I don’t have a trade-in and I’ll write you a check this very moment,” but the sales manager wouldn’t budge no matter how much the salesman seemed to be on my side.

I was not able to strike a bargain with them. We were within a five hundred dollars, but I wouldn’t give and they were all "take." Finally, I used my ultimate car buying strategy and headed for the door, where I was intercepted, as expected, by the sales manager. They don’t want to see a breathing customer get away with wallet intact. Now we’ll get down to business, I thought, but he only wanted to know if everything had gone well. I repeated my offer. He repeated his refusal. And we drove home.

Then the phone rang. It was the Ford store. I was sure they’d thought better of my offer and want me to come back with that check book I promised. However, instead of explaining that they had come to their senses and were accepting my offer, they simply wanted to assure themselves that I had had a good quality experience at their establishment. This Japanese led, Six Sigma quality stuff can go too far!

But I really wanted that car. By the time the next day dawned, I had decided to give them what they asked. However, before going back, I checked their website as the salesman had said that was the best price they would take.

To my astonishment, the information had changed, and the web showed the car at $500 less than I’d offered. I immediately called the salesman and reported my discovery to him. He said to make a copy of the web page and hurry down. I heard the sales manager yelling that it was a mistake when the salesman took the ad into him, and I fully expected they would compromise and take my last offer. But, no, they actually sold the car to me for the price lower than either side had offered on the previous day.

Someday my luck is going to wear out and I’ll have to live like regular mortals, but so far the four-leaf clover has held.

(You do have to agree that I’m the luckiest guy you know, and luck is the only explanation for the fact that my negotiations with my prospective bride some 36 years ago ended with her agreeing to bind herself to my ugly self must demonstrate a lucky nature on my part which should have gotten me some wicked lottery winnings by this time. Maybe I’ll have to buy a lotto ticket and test that hypothesis.)

So the lucky me and that beautiful bride were soon driving home in a brand new Ford Flex and planning the trips we would soon be taking.

The model I had chosen did not have the built in refrigerator/freezer, but that gave it one more seat for a complete seven passenger capability. Since the flex has a 110 volt output and a number of cigarette lighter-12 volt plug-ins that are only exceeded by the amount of cup holders, I soon had purchased a 12 volt refrigerator that looks a lot like an ice chest and that is now used to keep the cool stuff cool on long voyages of the bus. Placed next to the convenient plug-in at the back door we've got cold soda pop and lunch meat for use at the next rest stop on the voyage.

The Flex is a fascinating design from more than just the esthetic viewpoint. It has an excellent sound system designed by Sony and coupled with a computerized voice recognition gadget created by Microsoft called “Sync.” I added a classic iPod with 16 GB of storage to the built in interface, and I’m now able to enjoy my over 7,000 songs via commands such as “play artist the beatles” or “play genre rock and roll” or “play all.” The sound system does include Sirius satellite radio, but I’ve never subscribed having a pretty good playlist of my own.

Borrowing a few words from Wikipedia, here’s a complete description of the Flex in case you are in the market.

The Ford Flex is a full-size crossover utility vehicle(CUV) manufactured by the Ford Motor Company. Its styling is based on the Ford Fairlane concept unveiled at the 2005 North American International Auto Show in Detroit, MI. The production vehicle made its debut at the 2007 New York International Auto Show. Sales of the Flex began in summer of 2008 as a 2009 model. The Flex is produced on the same assembly line as the Ford Edge and Lincoln MKX mid-size CUVs at the Oakville Assembly plant in Oakville, Ontario, where the first Flex was driven off the line at the beginning of June 2008. The Flex replaced the Ford Freestar minivan and was the first CUV to feature both minivan and SUV properties, though it isn't a proper minivan. In addition, the Flex also replaced the similar Ford Taurus X, the station wagon variant of the Ford Taurus that was discontinued. The Flex is sold only in the United States, in Canada and in the Middle East. The Ford Flex shares a platform with the 2011–present Ford Explorer and the Lincoln MKT. The Flex, Explorer, and MKT all have a seating capacity for seven persons.

At the same time that the Flex was released, Ford also added a new yet more traditional designed SUV called the Edge to their product line.

The 2009 Ford Flex has seven-passenger seating, including adjustable and removable footrests for second-row passengers. The second and third row seats fold flat into the floor. A voice-activated communications and entertainment system, called Ford Sync, integrates the functions of cell phones, Sirius Satellite Radio, compact disc, DVD and other media players, navigation systems, and was developed in collaboration with Microsoft. The interior is lit with programmable "mood lighting" available in seven colors, along with a multi-panel Vista Roof, similar to that on the Ford Edge, for skylighting. The Navigation system has a built in hard drive for music and picture storage.

The Flex features a chrome, horizontal, three-bar grille design. The windows and pillars appear blacked out, and the roof is available as white, silver, or the same color as the rest of the body. The 2009MY SEL (optional) and Limited (standard) models offer LED tail lamps and BiXenon headlamps, and a "capless" fueling system without the traditional fuel door and cap, which provides better sealing to reduce evaporative emissions from the fuel tank. Imagine never having to remove the gas cap. Just open the door and fill the tank. I love that. The standard wheels are 17-inch diameter, with 18-inch, 19-inch and even 20-inch diameter versions available on the Limited or SEL.

The Flex features a series of horizontal grooves on its side and rear panels, intended to evoke a Woodie look without using simulated wood. Car Design News said the styling references "a previous era without resorting to obvious retro styling cues."

A backup camera, mounted just above the bumper, allows the driver to see obstructions behind the vehicle, displayed on the 8-inch navigation display screen, whenever reverse gear is engaged in addition to the common parking assistant sonar system in the back bumper. The Flex comes with Ford's AdvanceTrac traction control system with roll stability control which helps the driver maintain control on low traction surfaces and during emergency maneuvers.

The Ford Flex is powered by two different V6 engines.

The Flex's 3.5 L (213 cu in) Duratec V6 engine produces 262 hp and 248 lb·ft, and is paired with the 6-speed 6F automatic transmission. I get good, but not great gas mileage. On eastern interstates with speed limits of 65 or 70, I get 25 mpg. The trip back from Virginia this week averaged 24.8 mpg. At the full 75 mph of western highways it drops and around town hovers near 20 miles per gallon.

A direct-injected twin-turbocharged EcoBoost version is available, but the Blue Bus just breathes regular, non-turbo air. Towing capacity is 4,500 lb and a built-in hitch receiver and trailer wiring is included. Without a powerful V-8, however, I wouldn’t tow anything larger than a small U-Haul, especially on the mountain roads of Colorado. We did add a streamlined U-Haul trailer for our trip to Texas, since, with seven on board, all that remained for luggage was a small, one-foot wide space behind the third row seats. So the little U-Haul brought up the rear of the caravan with all our luggage in tow. There is a built in roof rack rails, but I didn’t go with a car top luggage carrier. They are expensive, inconvenient to load and unload, cost gas mileage, and just don’t look good to me.

Besides that trip to Texas with a full compliment of family on board, the bus has ridden the waves by ferry up the inland passage to Alaska, de-shipped in Haines and driven up to Alaska and back down the Alaska Highway through Canada to Montana and the magnificent Glacier National Park. She’s been to the Pacific Ocean and the Atlantic Ocean and even to the Gulf of Mexico twice at Galveston and Panama City, Florida. She’s been to the Gulf of Alaska at Seward. She’s taken us to Las Vegas and to Alabama, to Virginia and to Oregon. She’s been to a dozen national parks and one drive-in theater. She’s driven through 31 of the 49 drivable states at last count, and there are more in my sights. The wheels on the bus go round and round.

I particularly love the cruise control. When you’re rolling under its control, if you press the “+” button once, it speeds up one mph. Similar for the “-” button. So, when I come to town and have to slow down, I punch “-” ten or twenty times and use the “+” key similarly to speed up in a nice controlled manner. You experienced pilots can compare this to using your autopilot to initiate a careful turn. Why drive when the car has 19 computers and they know what they’re doing. The cruise control also handles long downhills and will shift the bus down to keep within the speed limit and you don’t have to ride the breaks to keep under the radar. It is also responsive on steep climbs up and I curse those drivers who can’t maintain a steady speed. Beep beep, get out of my “constant velocity” way.

So that’s the Blue Bus. We now have 86,000 miles on it having purchased it in August of 2010. So that’s plenty of miles in a short time and I’ve had no complaints so far. I did have to put on a new set of tires after about 60,000 and that cost me $2 grand as these original equipment Goodyears are not bargain tires, but they do keep the road rolling underneath. I’ve had a lot of oil changes and the accompanying maintenance and tire rotations, but the only mechanical failure so far was a problem with the disk brakes in back. A bad brake actuator wore out the rotor and so I replaced it along with both rear rotors and new brake pads for around $650 in expense. Soon I’ll need new spark plugs. The originals are rated for 90,000 miles. In order to replace them, you have to remove the intake manifold that covers the entire rear half of the transverse mounted engine and the quote from Ford is almost $400.

All modern automobiles are very well designed and built and are very reliable. However, the crowded space under the hood makes for implementations that are not as maintainable as the old sixties iron that you could climb into the engine compartment to change the plugs or the points or the jets. Of course, these days, we don’t have the latter two, but still have spark plugs.

I have more voyages planned for the Blue Bus. Some with all the seats up, many with five passenger configuration, and maybe even a trip with all the seats folded down to maximize cargo space. She’s a beauty on the streets, highways, and interstates and it is always a comfortable ride up high while the world unfolds through the windshield time. That reminds me, the windshield has a few dings from outraged misfortune and the Alaska Highway, so it may be time to replace the glass and get a new view. Otherwise all she needs is some fresh oil and a full gas tank and our next adventure will unfold. She doesn’t have a dent or a ding as I drive carefully — or, as my wife refers to it — like an old man. I love the Blue Bus.

Of course, I’ve also got some other fillies that I’m eyeing for my barn. On top of the list is a Toyota FJ Cruiser. That real-off-the-road “jeep” would be just the thing to take on the unimproved gravel roads high in the Colorado Rockies as I attempt to get the four-wheel-drive stuck in really hard to get out of places.

I’m also thinking about some vintage iron such as a 60’s muscle car or even add another sports car to my stable. I’m also eyeing a new, retro-styled Triumph motorcycle and a Harley is really the two-wheeled nirvana for the Interstate. Maybe a Corvette, new or classic, I’m not particular. And, of course, that Honda Civic Si is still a sweet ride.

The only difference between men and boys is the cost of their toys.

Zooooooom, Zooooooom!

Monday, June 10, 2013

Where Do You Start?

There’s a really hokie ad on the TV where people don’t know where to start buying a car. Suddenly, a white line labeled “START” appears and they go chasing after it. They finally arrive at some car dealership, which is the point of the commercial.

That’s always a good question: where to start? I was thinking about that in the shower. That’s where I start with shampoo, two lathers, followed by conditioner and a brushing. Then on with the body cleansing, finally rinsing out the hair. (It is a lot of effort to maintain my curly locks, but I’m sure my fans appreciate it.)

If the question was physics, then the answer is simple. You start with Newton’s second law, F=mA. From there you would progress to gravity. I still remember my high school physics class. It started with vectors and vector addition. But that wasn’t physics. That was more like special math required for physics. Then came Newton’s laws.

If it is the history of physics, then I’ve already given the answer: the Greeks. You start math with numbers, and then counting, and then addition.

A more general topic of history would be a tougher problem. I suppose you can almost start history anywhere. There’s US history which would start with Columbus or there’s world history which might also start with the Greeks, or even sooner. There’s Bible history which starts with Genesis, the “real start.” There’s European history … I suppose I’d start that with the Romans. See what I mean? The answer of where to start “depends.”

A cotton shirt begins with a plant and a wool coat with a sheep. A coat of paint begins with a primer and school starts with a primmer. Flowers start with seeds and guitars start with strings. Physicists think that matter begins with strings, but nucleons begin with quarks.

What about a home project? Well, all projects start with plans and it is good to gather your tools and supplies. Then start at the bottom and build up … I suppose.

You start school with Kindergarten, although it really starts sooner, especially if you wish to get a head start; and college starts in Junior High, again, if you want to get a head start.

A journey starts with a step and a trip starts with a tank of gas … and a map.

A paint job starts with preparation and a meal starts with the grocery store while a dance party starts with music and a party–party starts with booze.

A story starts with an idea and a song with an inspiration. A life starts with a birth and a death starts with a life.

The alphabet starts with “A” (and ends with “Z”).

Electronics starts with ohms law: voltage and resistance yield current. You begin with DC and move on to AC. Chemistry starts with atoms and biology starts with cells.

Psychology starts with the mind and philosophy starts with thought. Geometry starts with lines and calculus starts with limits. Police start with the academy but they stop with a red light.

Geology starts with rocks and cooking starts with cups and spoons. Airplanes start with wings and rockets start with a blast off.

Clocks start with hands and time starts with seconds. Water starts with rain and ends with the ocean. Beaches start with sand and surfers start with waves. Radio also starts with waves, but you need Morse Code too.

Letters start a word, words start a sentance, and a sentance starts a paragraph. Books start with chapters and lives start with births. Hospitals start with patients and parenting starts with patience too. Children start with giggles and teenagers start with texting. Phones start with dialing and computers start with booting.

Shoes start with leather and sandals start with soles. People start with souls too and religion starts with the Bible … and Christ.

Calculators start with the abacus and slide-rules, and computers too. Computers start with binary numbers and punch cards and programming starts with machine language.

A life starts with a belief and a career starts with an education. A habit starts with a resolution and repetition. Plumbing starts with pipes and an electrician starts with wires. A picture starts with a scene and a song starts with an introduction; a meal with an appetizer, and an idea with a thought.

Grammar starts with punctuation and reading starts with the ABCs. Music starts with scales and football starts with a whistle, although a ball is a good thing to have too.

Astronomy starts with stars and agronomy with dirt. The stars start with hydrogen and dirt starts with rock. Rock starts in the 50’s, but it was the 60’s that were the best.

Charity starts with love and love starts with a kiss. KISS starts with makeup, and I think makeup starts with Charis. A son starts with a father and a daughter starts with a mother. They all start with grandparents. Dogs start with puppies and cats start with kittens. Gold fish start at the pet store and lumber starts with trees, but you get it at the lumber yard.

Morning starts with a cup of coffee and dinner ends with ice cream. A beer starts with a can or a draught, but wine starts with a corkscrew. Soup starts with a bowl and a spoon, but some saltines are good to add. Cheese goes on a cracker and peanut butter on bread. Salmon start in the river, go to the sea, and end up braised with some green herbs.

Ice starts with water and winter starts with fall. A broken leg starts with a fall and ice is good for swelling. A haircut starts with scissors and an oil change starts with a wrench. Ice is good for a wrench, too. Baseball starts with a field and hockey starts with ice … and a puck. A bat and a glove start baseball, and golf starts with a swing. A dance can start with a swing, or it can be something slow like a waltz. A waltz starts with 1-2-3, and so does disciplining your kids. Kids start with a twinkle in the eye and end up with tuition payments. Old folks start with a cane and a slight wobble, but it took many years to get there. Sugar starts with cane too, although there are other sources. Newspaper articles have sources too, but the World Wide Web started with CERN.

Apple started with an idea that HP rejected. Xerox started with an idea that IBM rejected. IBM started with a punch card and a census and the United States started with a declaration and a constitution. Jack LaLanne had a constitution, and he didn’t need a cane.

Orange juice starts with an orange and apple juice with an apple, but Gatorade started with a football team … which started with a pig skin.

A wedding starts with an invitation and a divorce with a lawyer. Lawyers start with law school and laws start with congress. Congress starts with an election.

Lawn mowers start with a rope and a lawn starts with grass. A poem starts with rhymes and song with a melody. Fishing starts with a worm and hunting with a gun. Steel starts with iron and ironing starts with a board. A board starts with an appointment and a chairman with a gavel. Minutes start with a secretary and "ours" starts with "not theirs." Weather starts with air and rain starts with clouds. Sunshine starts with morning and the moon comes out at night.

A joke starts with a twist and a laugh with a tickle. A sneeze starts with a tickle too, and that other thing is often the result of eating Mexican food with lots of beans. Beans start in a bush, although mine are in a can. A can starts with “yes I …” and "can’t" starts a failure. Failures start learning and learning starts progress. Progress starts reminiscing and reminiscing starts the “good old days.” “Back then” starts with now and now is always replenishing. Passing Go starts with $200 and bankruptcy starts with landing on Park Place … with two hotels.

Motorcycle start with kick starters, at least before they got wussy-fied and old Harley riders never die, they just can’t start anything. A motorcycle ride begins with a helmet and a car ride with a seat belt. (It’s a law we can live with.) Slogans began with Burma-Shave and Wall Drug began with a lot of roadside signs. Signs start with a sell and a jingle begins with a product. Products begin with a need and need begins with a want.

Windows starts with a start, unless it is Windows 8. The Rolling Stones start with a "Start Me Up" and I don’t think they’ll ever stop. A light starts with a switch and a switch starts with a bush. Bush starts with a presidential father and Texas starts with six flags. Flags start with the Romans and Rome started with seven hills. All roads lead to Rome, and you start to do what the Romans do when there. Catholics also start with Rome and the Pope starts with the Vatican.

Movies start with a plot and hairstyles start with a brush. Painting starts with a brush too, but first you have to tape up the borders and stir up the cans. Fuller started with a brush and going door-to-door. Sliding doors started as windows and the Doors started in California. The Beatles started in Liverpool, and Shakespeare started in Stratford on Avon. Avon started door-to-door and Doors started with Aldous Huxley, although William Blake began the thought.

Dreams start with thoughts and thoughts start with thinking and meditating with relaxing and a nap starts with your eyes closed but Eureka will open them.

This essay started with a TV commercial and a thought in the shower. The blog started five years ago with a computer and some ideas. How did you get started?

Friday, June 7, 2013

Oh Baby You Know What I Like

You gotta know what you like. Otherwise, when people say, “What would you like?” you won’t have an answer.

I like cars with V-8’s and four (five, six)-on-the-floor, although, these days, I just like to listen to the sound of the “twice pipes.” My speeding days are over. I like music: folk and blues and rock ‘n’ roll. I like to play it loud. Some say that I must be partially deaf, but I just respond, “What did you say?”

I like motorcycles, Harleys and Hondas, and especially Triumphs. I like the Sporster and the old Honda 750-four, but give me a Bonny or a TR any day …

I like mountains and oceans and trees and grass. I like Montana and Colorado and Oregon too … (see reference to “oceans.”) I like Yellowstone Park and Rocky Mountain Park and City Park.

I like family. I like two parent families because I think that works best, but I love single parents for what they do. It isn’t just twice as hard to be a single parent, it’s more like an exponential thing making it four times as hard. Parenting is like tag-team wrestling. When the Gorgeous Destroyer has you in a head-lock, you gotta like tagging your partner to jump in the ring and give you a break.

I like people who are black or white, yellow or brown, purple or green. It never seemed to me that the color of someone’s skin mattered a bit. I judge on what people know, or say, or — what I like best — what they do.

I like education and knowledge. I like math and physics. I like engineering and poetry and history. I like classical music and symphonies and operas, and I like good manners and good grammar. I like colleges and universities yet a good public school is more important than either of those. I like professors and scientists and doctors and lawyers … alright, maybe not lawyers so much. I do like the law … in the law is justice. We need more justice.

I like moms and dads and grandmas and grandpas too. I like kids and grandkids and cousins and nephews and nieces and children in general, including my own. I like brothers and sisters … I have one of each.

My dad used to say he had three kids, one of each kind.

I like family, but my definition includes anyone with a close relationship, and I’ve got quite a few brothers and sisters from another mother, not to mention supplemental grandkids. (Want to be one of my grandkids? There's an application you have to fill out.) I liked my grandma (she’s gone now). Her place was always safe when a young boy needed to escape the tyranny of his parents and just get some loving hugs no matter what he’d done wrong. (And, trust me, I did plenty wrong.) Linda liked her grandma too. We're so much alike. I like that.

I like high technology and the toys that use it from iPods to iPhones to iPads to Macs of all kinds. I like Windows … just not as much as Macs. I like IBM. I think they invented about 80% of what we call computers, and they’re still at it. I don’t like HP as much as I used to and Dell is a sometimes yeah, sometimes meh relationship with me.

I like Sony, at least I used to, but I will never buy one of their computers again. (Steve Jobs liked Sony too.) I like ASUS and Lenovo, they seem to be the new innovators. I like Apple, but not their prices. I like their quality, but there are some things I don't like. I liked Steve Jobs, but not all his decisions. Still, I like him a lot more than Steve Balmer. I like some things about Bill Gates, but he really is a nerd. I like Steve Wozniak, and I used to think he was the genius and Jobs a hanger on. Now I appreciate much more what Jobs did. I miss him. We are all going to miss him. Like I said, I like Apple, and Steve is (was) Apple. More so than any other industry leader I can think of.

I don’t like 3D movies and really prefer a good old black and white drama with noir lighting and a real plot and acting. Don’t like musicals, although I like a good stage show with songs. I like keyboards and guitars and drums, but horns and flutes and bagpipes are good too.

I liked to work at IBM and I liked all the different things I got to do. Thirty-three special years that I often roll over in my mind just because I like to remember those good times. Especially, I like the people I worked with. They were very, very special. I liked that.

I like Toyotas and Chevys, but I drive a Ford and a Miata (plus a couple of Toyotas). I haven’t had a Chevy in a long, long time. I like hamburgers and hot dogs and some vegetables, but not spinach. I like the Beatles and the Who, but the Beach Boys are rad too. I like 60’s music, but not much on the TV. I prefer radio and books and I like libraries. I like highways and I like to travel and eating out is always fun.

I like the US of A. I think we're the original beacon of freedom and what's not to like about freedom. We've done a pretty good job of that for nearly 250 years — not a perfect job, but a good job. Some decades we've done better than others. We've made mistakes, but I like that we've corrected a lot of them … not all of them, but we are a work in progress. I like progress.

I like many other countries, especially those that are our friends. I’ll name some I like, but some will be left out. These are the countries that really like us … so naturally I like them back. That includes Canada and Great Britain as well as Australia and France. I also like South Korea and Israel. Although they were our greatest enemies less than a century ago, Japan and Germany are now great friends. I like all the Scandinavian countries and a few more in Europe and Asia.

I like physics and philosophy as well as engineering and — especially — electronics and computers. I like speaking and lecturing and teaching and writing and programming. I like sharing what I know and even some things I don’t know.

I like a job well done and natural wood … especially maple and cherry … they don’t need to be stained … I like their natural color. I like handy-men and -women and tradesmen who are craftsmen. I like work well done and projects that are started … and finished.

I like art and video and photography and recording: both music and video — and I like to know how and why, but really appreciate those that don’t have to be taught, they just know. I like poetry and prose and long stories don’t bother me … I don’t have “short attention span disease.” I like good plots and interesting characters and love science fiction as much as science.

I like programming and software testing and like Pascal more than C++ and AIX more than Linux. I like structured programming and functional programming rather than OO, but that’s just a show of my age and generation. I liked PC Magazine at one time, but now I don’t. I also like Byte and Dr. Dobb’s Journal, but … again … that was a time long, long ago.

I love fine architecture and comfortable furniture. I like Frank Lloyd Wright, but I also like Leoh Ming Pei and Buckminster Fuller. I like flowery Hawaiian shirts and blue jeans with “sneakers.” I don’t like to wear a tie or a hat, but I think men and women should know how to dress classy if the situation merits.

I like fine food and junk food and good food and fried food. I like coke and lemonade and green tea … hot. I like chicken and liver and even chicken livers, but not that fond of steak. I love barbecue and Mexican food and Italian food and Chinese food, but not so much Indian food or sushi.

I like sub sandwiches and chips or fish and chips, only then they’re really fries. I like Richard Feynman and Leonard Susskind and Albert Einstein and Robert Oppenheimer. I like history and science and the history of science. Biology … not so much.

I love dogs and cats, but mostly big dogs … not TOO big … Labradors and Dalmatians and the like. Cats are OK, but I don’t think they think much of me. Fish and birds are not my choice as pets and the strange exotic animals should not be in a house. Squirrels are OK, except the ones that chew my soaker hoses, and I like deer and antelope and moose and elk. I never hunted and I don’t like to fish, but I like to be outdoors and see things.

I like to walk, and — when I was younger — I liked to run. I also like to sit and drive and just sit. My favorite furniture is a chair, although a table is a close second. Bed is a necessity, but I like to be up early to greet the sunrise. I used to like to stay up late, but these days I prefer an early-to-bed regime. I like three squares a day and maybe a little snack to end the day. I like apples more than oranges and don’t like grapefruits at all. I like green grapes and green olives. Black olives are OK, but no purple grapes please. I like white wines and pilsner beers. I’ve been known to participate in hard drink, but these days cocoa is about my speed. (Still a good whiskey does clear one’s throat.)

I like friends: good friends, best friends, friends in need, and friends indeed. I like old friends and new friends and friends I’ve never met, but we share something in common. I don’t like to write letters, but post a lot on Facebook. I’m on Twitter, but I find it quite lame — same for most of the other social media. I like to blog and post pictures and music, but I don’t have the time to maintain some kind of social presence and self-promotion beyond that. I’m entrepreneurial, but not a salesman. I’m an engineer and a teacher, so I speak the truth, at least as I understand it.

I like the military and those that served. Remember, soldiers don’t start wars, they just finish them. There are some bad apples everywhere, but don’t blame soldiers and sailors for war … blame the politicians and business people that profit from war. I don’t mind if you’re a peacenik or anti-war of anti-imperialism or even anti-military. You have the right to think and say all those things … a freedom earned for you by the blood of your countrymen and women who did serve and many who lost much including their lives. I like the army and air force and the marines, but especially the navy. I like enlisted men and women and a few officers.

I like business because that is jobs and homes and food on the table. I like schools and teachers and teacher's assistants and even a few principles because they are filling minds and feeding the spirit. I don’t like the high cost of education or the way colleges graduate students deep in debt. I like doctors and nurses and all those in health care, but that’s another source of indebtedness. I like credit cards, but not credit. I like employees that produce some real product or service, but don’t like those getting rich just betting on the system.

I like small businesses because they work so hard, and I like giant corporations because they can do things on a scale that would otherwise be impossible. I don't like chain stores that much, but I do like good ideas, and these days all good ideas are franchised. I don't like that, but it may be the only thing that works. At least I doubt I'm going to change it so I might as well get used to it … sort of a numb version of "like." I like to buy local and recycle and reuse. I like to volunteer and I like those that volunteer. I like to give a hand up instead of a hand out, but sometimes people just need a hand.

I love Christ and the Bible, but don’t think much of religion. I like democracy, but don’t think much of politicians. I like those that serve in the domestic army of police, fire, and meter readers, but I don’t like government jobs that are not deserved, over-paid, and only political rewards. I like government of the people, by the people, and for the people; but I don't like government that takes away freedom, or privacy, or farms out prisons to the private sector. I like the constitution and the declaration of independence, but I don't like bills in congress too long for anyone to read or laws that include stuff I don't like along with stuff everyone likes just to get the bad stuff in. I really don't like that.

I like those that speak out against injustice, but prefer those that do something about it because talk is actually very cheap … except to the men and women who paid for that freedom of speech. I don’t like guns, but I'm not trying to take them away from anybody, and I think the gun debate is silly, pointless, and just a red herring. The problem with gun violence is the "violence" part. I hate drugs that destroy lives, but think the war on drugs may have cost more lives than the consumption. I don't really care who other people marry, I like the person I married. I like people that commit. I like 50th wedding anniversaries and 90th birthdays. I like Christmas and Fourth of July. Thanksgiving is pretty good … too.

I don't like celebrities that seem famous only for being famous, but I like the great movie stars that actually can act. Most seem to have come from a by-gone era, but there are a few around today that can act when the special effects fail. I like people with opinions, but I don't like if the opinions just came from the television. I don't like fox news or msnbc because neither seems like news but more like something George Orwell warned us about. I don't like people who don't know history or people that can't tell a rumor from a fact or repeat things they heard because they like the sound when it comes out. I don't like people who don't like people and I prefer an honest disagreement over glittering generalities and people that just say what they think we want to hear.

I don't like government snooping, but I like foiling terrorists plots. I don't like airport security but I like secure air travel. I don't like cops having guns, but the bad guys have got them, so it seems necessary. I especially don't want teachers to have guns, but I suppose hunters would have a tough time without them. Owning guns is the not the problem. Our society and culture is the problem. I don't like simple answers because they are rarely true. I don't like unintended consequences or laws that congress exempts themselves from. I like single-payer health care, but the most important part is that people get care. I don't want nanny government telling me what size soda I can drink, but I don't like a nation of fat people who are killing themselves with diabetes and high blood pressure. I like city life more than rural life, yet I like to spend time in a cabin in the woods. I like wireless networks, but don't like everyone looking at their smartphone when they should be talking, or walking, or driving.

I like adoption. I especially don't like abortions, but I don't like political slogans like "pro-life" or "pro-choice" or "anti-choice" either. Life is never as simple as the slogan. It's about more than phrases and words. (See earlier reference to George Orwell.) But then I don't like to get into arguments that are not changing any minds. I don't want government in the bedroom and I like regulations based on science and not on political donations and lobbyists perks. I like food labeling and food inspections and health codes and balanced budgets. You get what you pay for, and — most times — I don't like that we're not willing to pay. I don't like that we have the best congress that money can buy. I like taxes — they pay for government services. I don't like our overcomplicated and skewed tax system.

I like birth control and I don't like over population and — although I might not like it — I support abortions under certain circumstances. I don't like to be lumped with the right-wing or the left-wing, the republicans or the democrats, or any other group that I might agree with on certain issues. My identity is not with the group just because I agree with them on one point. I don't like labels and I like to think for myself, although I like thoughtful input and argument and discussion. I don't like it when people call each other names or assume a particular label is a complete explanation of a persons beliefs and opinions.

We don't all have R's or D's or L's or C's next to our names, and most people have nuanced opinions rather than bumper sticker slogans. I like being what Colorado calls a "registered independent." I like the sound of that. I like people to try a little harder to understand the other side. I like the saying, "Walk a mile in their moccasins." I also like what my dad used to say, "All Indians walk in single file. At least the only one I ever saw did." Think about it for a while … it works on so many levels. My dad was pretty smart. (I like that I got that from him. That and humility.)

I love this information age and Wikipedia and YouTube, but find all the 30 second videos on Keek to be worse than the vacation slideshows of the past. At least I can ignore them. I don’t like hip-hop music and the culture of gangsterism or the use of performance enhancing drugs by athletes. I like football, but not so much basketball and hockey (too fast) or baseball (too slow). I like Mile High Stadium and Coors Field and I like Red Rocks and Fiddler’s Green. I like Fillmore Auditorium and the Boulder Theater (and Bluebird and Ogden Theaters).

I like grace and forgiveness, and faith, hope, and charity while we’re at it. I like humility and don’t like pride and arrogance … although I have plenty of the latter. I also like “mdashes” and “ellipsis,” but that is obvious to any of my readers. (I don't like people who put too many dots in an ellipsis, but then I already said I like good grammar … and good taste.)

I really, really, really like my Linda. She is a gift to me that I don’t deserve, but I like it!

I like to write and I like to have readers.

So, what do you like?

What's that baby

But, but, but, oh honey

But, oh baby you know what I like

The “Big Bopper,” Jiles Perry "J. P." Richardson, Jr. , was an American disc jockey, singer, and songwriter whose big voice and exuberant personality made him an early rock and roll star. He is best known for his recording of "Chantilly Lace."

On February 3, 1959, a day that has become known as The Day the Music Died (from Don McLean's song "American Pie"), Richardson was killed in a plane crash in Iowa, along with Buddy Holly and Ritchie Valens.