Saturday, December 8, 2012

It's Even Worse Than It Looks

I started writing this post almost two months ago, but for some reason, I never got around to posting it until today.  The title of this post is part of the title of a book I was then reading. The rest of the title is, How the American Constitutional System Collided with the New Politics of Extremism. The authors, Thomas E. Mann and Norman J. Ornstein provide a detailed account of where this uber-polarization got started and why we are where we are today. They squarely put the blame on the Republicans. What makes the book so powerful is that Ornstein and Mann are two of the top congressional scholars and have made their name by being scrupulously nonpartisan.

Much of what I read, I already knew in general terms, but it's the specifics and the behind the scenes maneuvers that are on one hand interesting and ingenious, but on the other hand depressing, disgusting, and down right alarming. According the book, it basically started with Newt Gingrich and the Gang of Seven. Newt came up with the idea that the only way Republicans were going to get back into control was to get the general public so disgusted with Congress that they threw out the party in power.

The idea of throwing the American under the bus by ignoring what is best for the country and blocking every move the Democrats made was his brain child. I hadn't realized it started back in the early 90's, but that maneuver was hardly enough. The book goes on to detail Newts exploits, some of which backfired, the actions of those who followed, and what the Democrats did to make things worse. I urge you to read the book for yourself, but I'll offer you one example of interesting and and alarming action.

Not too many people watch CSPAN. If you do watch as the camera pans around the room, you'll notice that just about all of the evening speeches are delivered to an empty room. That's because they are usually mundane and unimportant, given solely for the purpose of getting entered in to the congressional record. However, the camera work wasn't always thus, and it was this fact that allowed Newt to come up with an ingenious strategy.

When CSPAN first started, in order to prevent political advantages, the rules stated that the camera had to be fixed on the speaker and not pan through the audience. It occurred to Newt that this safeguard could be turned on its ear. He realized that the American public had no idea the speakers were addressing an empty room and he, along with his colleagues, began giving speeches that attacked the Democrats on all fronts.

Of course CSPAN was not watched by millions of viewers, but those who turned in saw Republicans accusing Democrats of all kinds of improper behavior and callous actions. They waited for some sort of reaction from the Democrats in the room, but had no idea that the room was empty. Not hearing any reaction or rebuttal, people came to their own conclusions about the charges being made. This went on for months until a good deal of damage was done. By the time the rule was changed to pan the camera around the room, so that viewers could see they were speaking to empty chairs, a great deal of damage was done by the unfounded and unanswered attacks.

This is indicative of many of the actions taken by the Republicans to thwart and forward progress by the administration.  Remember, these authors built their reputation as being non-partisan.  Read the book and make up your own mind.

Online Communications and Asbestos Suits

I began my online life in 1980, long before the Internet. Chat rooms and discussion forums were available on computer bulletin boards that were accessed via dial-up modems. Over the years, I've administered dozens of Internet mailing list, web forums, online classes and just about any type on interaction that takes place online.

While there is a great range in the way the technology delivers the communications, there is one constant, namely the human one. When people first get online, they don't understand that online communication is different from face to face. The impact of the written word doesn't always convey the sentiment or intent of the words. Thus, the internet has its own set of standards know as  Netiquette .  Each mailing list, discussion forum, or online community has its own special set of rules that fall under the Netiquette umbrella. 

The lack of understanding of newbies can lead to all kinds of problems. My view of netiquette is a little like my view of etiquette. I really don't care if you use your salad fork for the main course of if you sit with your elbows on the table. I overlook the little things. On the other hand, I don't want to see you lick soup out of the bowl or pick your nose at the dinner table.

 I wager that everyone reading this has, at one time or another seen or been involved in a Flame War. Flame wars can destroy a group or make them stronger, depending on how they are resolved. As I said, I was online in 1980. Getting online then meant you had to be a geek. When you came online you were known as a newbie. It was, and still is wise for a newbie to lurk before posting.

Unfortunately, some people just don't get it. Flame wars broke out shortly after the first modem went online. Sometimes is was because some people don't care, sometimes it was the result of a newbie mistake mistake such as breaching a serious point of netiquette or posting a private message to a public forum. Then again, some people are natural born trolls and love the flames. They are like Internet pyromaniacs.

As an online administrator, I've witnessed 100's flame wars and mediated more than my share. In the early 90's CompuServe and AOL, both closed communities, opened the Internet flood gates by giving thousands of netiquette ignorant newbies access to the Internet. It was the electronic version of Smokey the Bear's worst nightmare. Everywhere you turned another conversation thread would burst into flames.

That same year, I began doing volunteer work for WiredSafety.org and began actively trying to educate others about netiquette and online safety. I was also the leader of a group of folks who created the first Internet online tutorial specifically aimed at teachers and students.  While it is considerably, because technology has changed so dramatically, except for one broken link that can be replaced by this one, the section on netiquette remains viable, because it deals with the way people should conduct themselves online.

1) Once you post something, you lose control of it. Whether it is a comment or a picture, anyone receiving it can grab it and do with it as they please
2) Think before you click. If you send a rant about the boss to a co-worker, make sure it is going to your co-worker, not the company mailing list.
3) Never post ANYTHING online that you don't want to read in the New York Times on Monday morning.

That doesn't mean you can't express your opinions about your boss strongly. You can still do so effectively.  You might tell you friend your boss is inconsiderate and ill informed rather than calling him a %$%&# idiot. That way, if your private email does make it's way to the boss, instead of getting fired on the spot it might lead to a rational conversation between you and your boss.  Or not...

What Percentage of Our Citizens are Subject to British Law


Before, during and since the election, I made a concerted effort to watch videos and read articles from the extreme left all the way to the extreme right.  To be clear, my general views are a little left of center. I've heard some very well thought out arguments from the right, but I've also heard some of the most vitriol hate and just plain lunacy coming from that same general direction.

I will listen and discuss issues with ANYONE who takes a rational, reasoned approach to an issue, but there are times when I just have to shake my head in disbelief.  I found myself doing that repeatedly in the last few days.

Thirty-eight Republican Congressmen voted to NOT ratify a UN treaty that suggests, without any enforcement provisions, that other countries treat their handicapped the way they are already treated here.  Among the cockamamie reason they give is because they are worried they think it will give the UN the power to dictate what is best for our handicapped children.

At first I couldn't believe that they could walk past Bob Dole and ignore the members of their own party who support it, but then I began to understand.  What led me to this understanding?  Well, first Mitch McConnell filibusters his own rule. In making senate history, by being the first person to ever filibuster his own bill, he used the lamest excuse I have ever seen and I won't even dignify it with details or discussion.

My second reason is a video made by Gabe Zolna of the Western Center for Journalism, one of the right wing publications to which I subscribe to get a better understanding of how people with differing opinions think. As distasteful as it is for me to drive traffic to his video and make money for him, I'll do it for the greater good.


Call me crazy, but I thought we fought the revolutionary war, at least in part, because England considered us their subjects. I think we corrected that misconception.  Now you are saying that children born of a father who was born in a country whose population are English subjects, is also an English subject simply because England said so?. So you are saying Obama is an English subject and subject to English law.  Wow, I guess we can get rid of an entire generation of people who were born in America, but by your definition, are subject to the laws of another country.

Now I understand how 38 Congressmen felt that a UN Handicap Rights Treaty, that has no enforcement provision, and only suggests the world's handicapped be treated as the are in the US, are worried.  Heck with that kind of reasoning, a significant part of the population is subject to the laws of the country of their father's birth. 

Now I understand why Mitch McConnell filibusters his own bill.  It has nothing to do with the oath of office and EVERYTHING to do with re-election.  Are NOT serving their country.  They are serving themselves and their party, the public be damned! 

True, Congress is not doing their job.  They need to start serving their country and doing what is best for the country, not what is best for their re-election or their party. It's "Of the people, by the people, and for the people", not "Of the party, by the party, and for the party"!

Monday, September 24, 2012

Watch Me Get Wired

Fifteen years ago, I had a sleep study done to determine if I had apnea. At that time is was borderline and no action was taken. Over the years, things have not gotten better.  I wake each morning feeling more tired than when I went to bed the night before.  As a result, my doctor sent me to the Eliot Sleep Evaluation Center, but it wasn't at Elliot hospital. In an effort to make things more comfortable, the sleep center occupies an entire wing of the Hilton Homewood Suites in Manchester.

I arrived about 7:30 and checked out my room. It wasn't five stars, but it was infinitely better than the hospital sleep lab where I had my original test. After settling in, my tech came in, introduced herself, and gave me the run down for the night. She was very thorough and friendly. She asked what time I went to sleep, and since I usually go to sleep about 11:30, I would be the last one to get wired for the night.

At about 9:30 she came back in and told me I would be getting wired at about 10:30. Shortly after that, I got into my pajamas, hopped into bed, and turned on the Patriots game. At about 10:45, the techs arrived to wire me up. The process took about 15 minutes, which are condensed in the video below. 


After getting wired, they connected me to the equipment, and I settled in to watch the rest of the game. The  Pats blew it and it was lights out. Normally, I sleep on my side. Sleeping on my back without wires, presents a problem to me, but with a few dozen wires attached, it raises the challenge to a whole new level. I think it took about an hour for me to finally fall asleep.

At 6:30 AM, I was awaken and unwired (if that's a word).  I asked the tech what she could tell me.  Of course there won't be any official results until I meet with the doctor next week, but she did tell me that I woke up quite a few times, which depending on how you look at it is good news or bad news. The bad news would be that I do have apnea, but that's also the good news, because it is treatable and I can look forward to more restful nights and some relief.

I showered, went down to the lobby for a very nice breakfast, and headed home.  I'll have more news in about a week.

Saturday, September 15, 2012

Sometimes You Have to Pay the Piper

In January of 2007, I bought a Dell Dimension E520.  Over the years it I have installed and uninstalled literally hundreds of programs.  Right now, I have almost 200 programs installed.  

I'm constantly upgrading programs and drivers. I've run into conflicts and a wide range of problems.  I've used Windows system restore many times, bought system organizes, and spent many hours online with tech support from Dell and other software companies.

In most cases we were able to resolve the issues, but time and my abuse took its toll.  As time passed, despite the use of a start-up manage, boot time increased, and about a year ago, little things  that I was not able to fix started going wrong.  For example, when I went to shut down the computer, I would have to do it twice.  Some programs would not launch the first time I double-clicked, or the Firefox process would remain running after closing the browser.

None of these were critical, because I was able to work around each of them.  However, I knew it was just a matter of time before I would have a problem that had to be resolved by someone with more expertise than I.

Then last week, it happened.  A friend asked me to help him with a video file conversion.  I downloaded a product that nailed me with the Babylon Toolbar malware.  After researching it, I tried removing it manually, but with the dozens of registry entries I deleted, I may have done some serious damage.

After the repair, I seemed to be back to where I was before the infection with one exception. None of my Adobe Production Suite programs would run.  With Dreamweaver being my must used program after Firefox and email, I was in trouble.

The last system organizer I purchased was Advanced System Organizer. It was one of the top rated products and it had more tools than I had expertise.  However, I dug into it a bit more, did some registry restoration and optimization, and then started a deep scan for malware.

As the scan progressed, it found 8 infections in the registry and was cranking through the system and program files.  It was a long scan.  By the time it had scanned about 350,000 files, it has picked up 5 more infections, but when it was approaching 400,000 files, I got the blue screen of death!

At the top of the scan screen there was a number for the Premium tech support number.  It was time to bite the bullet and put the computer where it could be handled with a skill set I did not possess.

As it turned out, Advanced System Optimizer uses SmartSupport.com as their next level of tech support.  After speaking with them for a while, they gave me two options.  The first was a one-time tuneup for $99.95 and the second was $249 annual subscription that provided unlimited tech support and unlimited remote tuneups.

I figured if they could get it up and running again, I could keep it going without much trouble, so I opted for the one-time tuneup.  The tech used LogMeIn to conduct the remote session that was expected to take about 2 hours, but I knew the system was really stressed and I expected it to go a bit longer.

I sat in front of the computer and watched the process. I watched as he began cleaning up, checking start-up files, installed file and encountering problems. It was interesting to see how he reacted to some of the problems for which I had invented workarounds.  In each case, he came up with his own temporary solution, some more elegant than mine, but others not as slick. 

I was impressed with the arsenal of specialized programs he installed and uninstalled to get deep into the bowels of the system. One by one, the problems began to peel away and at about the 2 hour mark, he typed that he was going to restart the system to see if all was well.  It wasn't. 

As he tested some programs, he got a message that the system could not load the resource DLL.  At first we thought it was one program, but as he worked the problem spread to many. As it turned out, resolving this problem took the was a sticky one.  Two more system restrore points and and hour and a half passed before he got a clean reboot and test.

He asked if I was satisfied with the work.  I told him that I was satisfied the he was competent and that he had worked hard, but I couldn't comment on the quality of the work until I had runs programs and tested things myself.  I said I would be happy to provide feedback then. He thanked me, I thanked him, and we ended the session.

I have completed the testing, and in case you hadn't noticed, I'm in the process of providing feedback.  Here's what happened when I test the system.

The first thing I noticed is that the system, which had previously taken about five minutes to boot, now took just slightly over three minutes, a significant improvement.

During the boot, the new hardware wizard popped up.  If I had been an uneducated user, that would have been a problem, but I figured I could handle that one on my own.  For now, I just canceled out and continued.  The boot completed successfully and now came the big test, the running of Adobe Production Suite.  Sweet! Everything ran fine. 

Next, I tried some uploads and downloads.  One of the small problems that existed previously was the download process.  After downloading, the download window should remain open and allow you to double-click the download to launch it.  The problem was that the window cleared immediately after downloading.

The problem was still there, but to be honest, it was the easiest work around and I didn't really expect the tuneup to fix it.  Had it done that, I would have been surprised.

Next I tried to upload a file to one of my websites, but when I tried to start WS_FTP Pro, I got the DLL message.  Again, had I been an uneducated user, it would have been reason to call back to SmartSupport.com.  However, I just uninstalled the program and reinstalled it.  That solved the problem.

After more testing, I tried a shut down to see if the problem of having to do it twice had been solved. It had been, but there was a message that important updates would be installed on shutdown.  This didn't site right to with me, so I started the system again.

On start-up, I got the new hardware wizard and on shutdown, I got the important update installation message again.  For me, both fixes were simple.  I just went to the device manager and uninstalled the non-existent hardware, and went to Windows update and downloaded an optional program.  Both problems were solved.

So, how satisfied am I?  We on a scale of 1 to 10, I would say I'm about an 8, going on 9.  I would take off one point for leaving the shut down message, the one DLL issue, and the hardware wizard. (No points off for the download window problem.) And I will reserve one point until I work with the system for a few more days.

The $100 was well spent.  I had already put in more hours than they did without having any luck.  Truth be told, if I had called them sooner, their job might have been easier.

But what if I had been an uneducated user? Well, that's where companies sometimes get a bad rap.  It's hard to say what might have happened.  The chances are that if they encountered all three problems right away and called back, SmartSupport.com would have fixed it easily.  However, if they had to call back three times, it might have pissed them off. 

The bottom line is that an uneducated user would not have gotten their computer into the mess I got mine.  To do that took a real pro and to fix it took a real pro. 

Sunday, September 9, 2012

Facebook Doesn't Love Me Any More!

I worked for the last two days to transform my 1962 yearbook from the print version to an online version, However when I posted the link, Facebook did this!
There is nothing abusive on the site and I suspect I have been the victim of Facebook software that didn't like the fact that I have a blog about the animals on our pond.  Facebook might think the Sherwood Beavers are something other than what they are.  

At any rate, I'm looking into it further with contacts I have with Facebook.  The good news is that the problem is strictly a Facebook problem.  For for my VHS friends, you can get to the yearbook by clicking on this link.

I'll be posting more about the abuse notice when I learn more. 

Sunday, August 26, 2012

A Teacher's Influence

I grew up in Vineland, NJ and just joined a Facebook group of the same name.  While I'm waiting to get added to the group, I want to write about one of the first posts I read.

Suzanne Piccone wrote that she had recently seen Gene Agrons a retired biology teacher from VHS. I was surprised and delighted to hear that he was still around, because our 50th reunion is coming up in October.  I guess he must have good genes. 

Bad pun aside, it does make an appropriate segue to this blog enty.  He was my biology teacher, but more than that, he was a role model. I went on to be a biology major in college.  I taught science, math, and computers and consulted with schools for for 35+ years.  My two years with Mr. A., freshman biology and senior advanced biology, helped set the foundation to my career.

Things that happened in that advanced class and as a result of that class, are as clear today as they were back in the 60's.  I want to tell you about three incidents that stand out in my memory.

Let's start with the fact that people say he was a tough teacher.  Well he was, but after 35 years of teaching, I can tell you that ALL good teachers are tough.  Sure he was tough, but he was good, he taught well, and demanded nothing less than your best.

It was during my freshman year in college that I realized just how tough and how good he was. I attended Temple U. and had biology as my freshman year science.  During the first half of the semester, I hardly ever opened a book, something that I have been known to do in the past.  It wasn't because I was lazy, even though I've never been accused of being a book hound. I was always a hands on kinda guy.  I didn't have to open the book because, everything was already familiar to me from my senior year in high school.

When the midterm exam came around, I aced it while almost 2/3 of the class failed it.  That's  how good Gene Agrons was. Oh, I forgot to mention, that I never even finished Advanced Biology.  I dropped it near the end of the second marking period, but two marking period with Mr. A. was all that was needed to get me through college biology and make a lasting impression on me. I didn't drop it because of anything that Mr. A. did.  You can chalk it up to the fact that it was and elective and studying during a grueling senior wrestling season was going to be too much.

Now let me tell you of two other incidents that speak to his character and teaching style. It was just before Xmas break and we were setting up term projects for advanced biology.  My project involved studying the genetics of fruit flies. Of course to do that, you need fruit flies.

After everyone had long since departed for places unknown, Mr. A., my lab partner and I stayed late to brew up the medium of Kero syrup and ripe bananas that would be the food on which the fruit flies would grow over the winter break.

We finished up as dark was approaching, putting the last fruit files into the dozens of bottles of medium, and carefully plugging each one with a cotton wad.  We turned out the lights and heading home.

When we returned to the lab, apparently I wasn't as careful with one of the cotton wads, because there were literally thousands of fruit flies all over the lab.  Unlike some teachers who might have gone ballistic, Mr. A. took it all in stride.  I had a LOT of fly catching duty, but it was a wonderful life lesson.

I wasn't a model student, but I wasn't a trouble maker. I can only remember being sent out of class twice.  Once was in 9th grade for shooting a rubber band, and the other was in Advanced Biology, because of the text book Mr. A. had chosen for the class.  Unlike other text books, I actually read this one, because the author had a sense of humor.  For example, once while reading a genetics chart that dealt with the color of feathers in chickens, I noticed that the percentages didn't add up to 100%, but then I noticed the asterisk, with the notation that said, "Numbers have been rounded off to avoid the absurdity of counting fractions of chickens."

It was shortly after reading that item that I got in trouble.  I started browsing the book and came across an interesting chart in one of the appendices. As I read it, I began to chuckle and then almost fell out of my seat, laughing uncontrollably. Mr. A. tried to settle me down a few time, but I just couldn't stop. He finally asked me to leave the room and not come back until I collected myself. 

About 10 minutes later, I walked back in and with as much control as I could muster, I showed him what had set me off.  The appendix was titled Maximum Speed of Land Mammals.  Of course it listed animals such as the horse and cheetah, two standards, but it was three other entries that set me off. 

Massai warrior in full war garb 20 mph
Rhinoceros   25 mph
Massai warrior in full war garb, being chased by a rhinoceros 26 mph

While not exactly politically correct in today's world, the entry none-th-less reflects something I learned in that class.  Just when we think we have reached our limit, along comes a rhino, or teachers like Mr. A., who pushes us to go a little farther.

Thanks, Mr. Agrons!

Thursday, July 26, 2012

I went to Jared, but never again!

Who do you know that would charge someone $35 for less than one minute's work?  Now I'm not talking doing brain surgery, lifting heavy objects, or doing anything that requires any special skills.  I'm talking about doing something simple and easy, something that I would be embarrassed to even ask someone for a cup of coffee in return. 

In the past two years, I've purchased three pieced of jewelry from Jared in Manchester, NH.  I really have no idea of whether I over paid and I don't really care that much.  Jill loves the pieces and that's what counts.  I'm not dissatisfied with the jewelry, it's the after sale experience that has left a bad taste in my mouth.

A bracelet I bought about 6 or 7 months ago had lost a link that holds the clasp to the bracelet.  We went back to Jared to see about getting it fixed.  Jill also had a silver necklace that had broken.  In this case, it wasn't a clasp link.  It was a break in the middle of the chain, and it was a very find chain.

When we spoke with the sale woman, she said that the repair of the chain would cost nearly as much as buying a new chain and asked if we would rather do that, which we did.

Then we got around to the bracelet.  I'm not a jeweler, but I knew the repair was no big deal.  All they had to do was take a standard clasp link, slip it on, and clamp it down with some needle nosed pliers.  I was guessing that they would just do it while we waited and send us on our merry way, but I was wrong.

She wrote up the repair ticket which included a $35 charge. Since we hadn't paid for the lifetime repair insurance, that's what it was going to cost us. At that point, I told her we would not be getting it repaired.

Maybe if I had made an issue of it, things would have been different, but there is no reason on earth I should have had to do that.  During our conversation, it was clear that we had purchased more than one item from them and that this particular item was less than a year old.

I came home, took a necklace that Jill doesn't use, grabbed some needle nose pliers, and magnifying glass, and headed to my workbench in the basement.  Less than a minute later, the bracelet was as good as new.

We could do silly math like calculating that $35 per minute equals $2100 per hour.  It's nice work if you can get it, but that's not the point.  The fact is we bought items in the past and we just purchased a necklace.  The repair was so trivial as to be laughable. The idea of charging anything is a sign that I'm not a valued customer.  The only thing of value Jared sees in me is my wallet.

The right thing to do was to repair the bracelet, charge us nothing, and have us leave the store as two happy customers who would be back to make another purchase on another day.

Sorry, Jared.  I will visit no more!

UPDATE 1:00 PM - July 7 - If nothing else, Jared customer care is quick.  I posted this link to their web site earlier today and received a reply.  I will continue to update until this exchange is done.  Here's their reply and my response.

On 7/27/2012 12:38 PM, jaredccs@jewels.com wrote:
Dear Arthur Wolinsky, 

Thank you for your email to our Jared website. I appreciate the opportunity to respond to your concerns regarding our repair prices. 

I apologize for your dissatisfaction with our repair prices for items not covered under the Extended Service Plan, our lifetime repair warranty. Once past the 30-day exchange period, the warranties, if any, cover the jewelry. Our obligation under this warranty is to repair the jewelry to a wearable condition. Unfortunately if you did not purchase the Extended Service Plan for your wife's bracelet and necklace, there is a charge to have them repaired. I am sorry if you feel the repair charge is excessive. 

Mr. Wolinsky, we value you as a customer and appreciate the opportunity to respond to your concerns. In order to ensure fairness to all of our customers, we must be consistent in applying our policies. Unfortunately we would not be able to repair your wife's bracelet at no cost, since you did not purchase the Extended Service Plan. 

If you have any other questions or concerns, please feel free to contact us via email or by phone, at 1-800-527-8229.

Sincerely, 
Lori K.
Customer Care
 Dear Lori,

Thank you for your prompt reply.  However, it contained nothing that I did not already know and did nothing to address my feeling that Jared is interested only in my wallet.  Any company that is so inflexible as to not look at individual cases that may warrant a departure from policy needs to rethink it's policy.

Can you honestly look me in the eye (virtually) and tell me that you think spending 30 seconds to replace a simple link that connects a clasp to a bracelet justifies a $35 charge?

Art Wolinsky

UPDATE 6:30 PM - July 7  - Well the exchange is getting interesting.  I received another response, which went over the same things I already knew, and avoided answering the question I posed.  Below is that response along with my reply and an attempt to have them deal with my specific question.

Dear Arthur Wolinsky, 

Thank you for your response and I apologize if you are dissatisfied with my reply. 

Again, I am sorry that you are dissatisfied with the repair charge to repair your wife's bracelet. The bracelet was purchased in November of 2010 and you did not purchase the Extended Service Plan. If there is no warranty on the merchandise and our jewelers are performing a repair, there is a charge for this service, materials and the workmanship.

If you have any other questions or concerns, please feel free to contact us. 

Sincerely, 
Lori K.
Customer Care

Dear Lori,

There seems to be misunderstanding as to the question I am posing. 

Here are some facts:
1) I am aware that I did not purchase an Extended Service Plan.
2) I am aware that there is a charge to repair the bracelet.   
3) The price of the single link is pennies
4) The nature of the repair is such that anyone with ANY mechanical ability could do it.
5) I put it on myself in under a minute.

Here's my opinion:
In light of these facts, I feel that your company needs to reexamine it's policy and give your employees some credit for having brains. Allow them to make a decisions that result in a happy customer AND a fair profit for Jared.  I would have been happy to pay $5, and probably wouldn't have balked at $10, but NOT $35.  I feel that as it stands, your policy is so inflexible as to result in gross over charges to customers in cases such as mine.

So I'll repeat my question:  Do you think the facts above warrant a $35 charge?

OK, let's be honest.  I can't imagine that ANYONE would think $35 to put a link on a bracelet is a fair charge.  That being the case, I know if you agree with me in writing, there will be hell to pay, and it's not my goal to get you in trouble.  So here is what I would like you to do.  If you feel I have a valid point, please pass this thread on to someone who might be able to do something to prevent this kind of over charge in the future. 

I look forward to your response.

Art Wolinsky
http://tlrr.blogspot.com

Grandma's Hungarian Stuffed Cabbaage

This is the family recipe for Hungarian stuffed cabbage.  I watched my grandmother teach it to Mom.  There were no quantities, just a little of this and some of that. It was never just the way grandma made it  Mom taught it to me, but it lacked a little something.  Over the past few batches, I've made adjustments to the quantities and have restored it to its former glory.  This was the best batch since grandma last made it over thirty years ago.

Saturday, June 16, 2012

The Father's Day Gift That Changed My Life


Let me begin by saying happy Father’s Day to my wife and children. If that seems a bit backwards to you, let me explain.

Call them coincidences, accidents, serendipity, fate, or whatever you like, but it seems as if my life has been filled with events that have taken me down paths that I could never have imagined, let alone planned.

In the winter of 1980, I was teaching in Long Beach Island. One day I went to the mailbox and saw a Technology for Children flier meant the shop teacher who had the mailbox above mine. It was offering him a two-week loan of a TRS-80 to see what computers were all about.

I asked him if he was interested in it. When he said no, I filled out the form. A few weeks later the computer was delivered. I set it up in the dining room, opened the manual and began to read. In no time at all, I had typed in my first program, which printed my name on the screen. It was nothing short of magic!

Here was a machine that would do MY bidding. It was love at first byte. I kept it home for that first week, spending every waking minute writing all the code I could. By the second week, I had it in class and was using it with my 5th graders.

When I had to send it back, I didn't want to let it go. It was like losing my best friend. I said to Jill, "I'm 35 years old, and I finally figured out what I want to be when I grow up." However, we had recently moved into a new house and with two kids and a mortgage, a computer was not in the budget, and I had no idea how I could do it.

Even though I couldn't afford a computer, I began reading anything I could get my hands on, particularly magazines and periodicals. I began saving and scheming how to get my hands on a computer. It looked like the only way that was going to happen would be if I could save enough to get a Sinclair ZX-81 kit and build it from the ground up. At that time, they were about $150. That was like $500 in today. That’s an expensive "toy."
The months past and as the school year ended and Father's Day came along. I received a gift that was not only a surprise; it was life changing. Jill and the kids chipped in order to buy me the kit!

It became my passion. I subscribed to Sync Magazine, which was devoted to the computer and had an amazing following of hobbyists and engineers who were trying to push the limits of the computer. You have to realize that this computer had no disk drive or internal storage of any kind and only 1K of RAM, but that didn't matter. It was enough to get me started, and you would be amazed at how much you could do with 1K.
Soon thereafter, they came out with a 16K memory pack. I bought it and was walking on air. Back then, 16K of RAM was more than I could have hoped for. I began writing programs for the classroom. One of my first major undertakings was a math drill program for addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division. Built into the program was a crude arcade game that sent a flying saucer across the screen and gave the user a chance to shoot it down.

In 1982, Timex bought the rights to the computer and began selling them in stores. As soon as they came out I went to the store to see what Timex was doing as far as software was concerned. They had a program called SuperMath, which like my program, was a math drill. They were selling it for $19.95. Adjusting for inflation, today that would be about $50.

It killed me to lay out that much money, but I had to see how it compared to what I did. I wanted to see how much work I would have to do to compete with what they were selling. After loading it, I was flabbergasted! My program was significantly better than the one Timex was marketing.

Later that week, I was telling my best friend, Howard, about it. At that time, he was the VP of Qualco Automotive, a company that sold a large line of aftermarket products for cars. I said I wished there was a way I could get my programs out there. He told me there was. All I would have to do is come up with the art work for the packaging. He would have his printer run it off and let me use two of his blister packaging machines at no cost and give me anything else I needed at his cost. How could I NOT take the chance?

A few days later, on a road trip with the family, we began brainstormed a name for my company. We settled on Memory Master Software. I knew that I had about three or four programs that I could sell, but if I was going to do anything, I would need more.
There were literally hundreds of programs you could buy from guys like me who advertised in Sync, Computer Shopper, and other magazines. When they arrived, they were usually in a zip-lock bag with a typed or hand written set of instructions. No one had anything suitable for sale in stores.

I took out a half-page ad in Sync magazine, which basically said that Memory Master was accepting programs suitable for mass market. Royalties would be paid based on sales. I never expected what happened next.

Over the next few weeks, I received somewhere in the neighborhood of 100 programs. Some were little more than a collection of bugs and poor code, but others were surprisingly complex, but it boggled the mind to see what people thought would appeal to the mass market.

An engineer from Czechoslovakia sent a program on bridge stress analysis. A farmer in Iowa, sent me a program that tracked hog feeding and breeding. These were not the things you would typically see in K-Mart.

I signed contracts for about a half dozen programs and set up my "factory," which was a pool table in my garage. I bought a few hundred cassette tapes and labels. I purchased ten cassette recorders from Crazy Eddie's and daisy chained them together so that I could make nine programs in each run.

My family became my assembly-line workers, and by the time the truck rolled up to my house with the boxes, I had things ready to go. All I had to do was sell them, which was not going to be an easy task.

Whenever I could I made calls and visited buyers, would hear basically the same story. Timex made them commit to three months of purchases. Then they failed to deliver during the first two months. I was visiting buyers during the second month, and they told me that they were receiving three months’ worth of merchandise the following month and there was no way they could purchase from me.

Others who were attempting the same thing I was doing, were losing their shirts. I was luck. I told them that they could afford it, because my price was so low, all they would have to do is sell a few, and they would make a profit.

They couldn’t believe it when I told them I could supply them with a line of a dozen programs at $1.50 each. Realizing that they could turn around and sell them for $19.95 each, I could make sales where others were failing. Even at $1.50 each, I was making 100% profit, because it was costing me 75 cents a program.

It became obvious that Timex had botched the marketing of the computer, and it would not be around long. Seeing the handwriting on the wall, I decided to try to make my money back and get out of the software business.

I was lucky to have a family and friends support me allow me to keep my cost low and spirits high. I made my money back with a few buck to boot, but the experience of doing it was worth a million dollars.

I now knew for sure that I wanted to be involved in computers and technology for the rest of my life. However, I was a realist. I knew I couldn't give up teaching, but I could become a technology teacher. That became my focus from that point on, and the rest is history.

On this Father's Day, I want to thank the secretary who accidentally put the TRS-80 flier in my mailbox. I want to thank Howard from making it possible for me be one of the very few Timex-Sinclair software companies that didn't go belly up, but most of all I want to thank my family for their support, for their love and for giving me the Father's Day gift that truly changed my life.

Jill told me early on in our marriage that when it came to working, I could do whatever I wanted, and that she would support me. She has stayed true to that promise every day since we were married, 16,647 days ago! There is no way I would be where I am today without you! For that I will be eternally grateful.

I love you, Jill and it seems completely appropriate for me to say. Happy Father’s Day to you.

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Why I Became a Teacher

Vicki Davis, one of my Facebook and Google+ education friends posted a question asking folks to tell why they became a teacher. Because my story is neither typical nor short, I decided to blog about it and just provide a link from Google+ to here.

Forgive me if there are more typos and run-ons than my usual posts. I'm writing this pretty much as a stream of consciousness, or stream of semi-consciousness as I often call my ramblings.

As a student, I slid by on my ability, often asking teachers, "When will I ever use this?" Even in junior high school I questioned the value of much of what we were being taught. However, I wasn't a rebel nor a trouble maker. So I just cruised along with a C average right through college.

Because I received a 4 year grant at the end of my freshman year of college, not because of my academic ability, but because of my performance on the wrestling team, I stretched my college career into 5 years and took classes that I would not normally have been able to fit in my schedule.

In my senior year, I only had classes three days a week. An injury prevented me from wrestling and I took a part time job on the other two days. I was a substitute teacher in the projects in Philadelphia. My experiences there were makings of a small book. It was an entirely different world than I had experienced up to that point and it gave me a hearty respect for the dedicated souls who tried to provide these students with an education.

I graduated from college with a liberal arts degree, but didn't go into teaching. I took a job as a management trainee for Rickel Lumber, the Home Depot of the 1960's. I didn't really care for the politics or the organization in general, and so I went to work for the newly formed Pathmark Supermarket Corporation as a warehouse management trainee.

After about six months with them, I got drafted (into the Marines), and I have a story that would rival Arlo Guthrie's tale of White Hall Street and the Group W bench, but that's for another blog. To make a long story short, I got out at the last minute, because of my wrestling injury.

That night, at the end of August 1969, my friends and I were celebrating the fact that I would not be going to Viet Nam. I mentioned that I wasn't really crazy about warehouse life. As far as they knew, I was in the army and I could take a week and look for another job. One of my friends said, "Hey, there's new middle school opening down the road. Why don't you try there?"

That Monday I walked into the Sayerville Middle School and ran into a man in jeans who was pushing a large cart of books. I asked if he needed a hand and he answered that he could use one. I helped him move the books and put them away. Then I asked him for directions to the Principal's office. He asked why I wanted the principal, and after telling him, he informed me that he was the principal.

We went down to the office and chatted. He told me that they were fully staffed, but with a large young staff, he expected to lose people to draft. He said he would go to the board to see if they would hire me as a permanent substitute in the building.

The board agreed and thus began my teaching career. The two years I spent in Sayerville were absolutely amazing. The first year I as a permanent sub, I made it my mission to teach things the way "I" thought they should be taught. Whenever I encountered a sub plan that would have had me asking, how will this every help me in life, I tried to change it so that it had some relevance.

At the end of that first year, the Assistant Superintendent asked me if I was interested in a special class. I asked what he meant and he told me I would have the 14 worst discipline cases in the 9th grade in a self-contained classroom. I would have full control and answer to no one by him. Other than that, they would be mine. I could send them to regular classes if I felt they could handle it and I would deal with discipline and parents. The only time he wanted me to come to him would be if they did something that was a police matter.

I was interested, but still had a few questions. What about curriculum? Would I be constrained? What would I do about teaching material. To the first question, he answered, that aren't learning anything now, so anything I could teach them would be a bonus. As to the second question, he reached into his pocket, handed me the master key to all the classrooms and told me to take anything I needed.

That sealed the deal and thus began what was unquestionably the toughest, most challenging, and most rewarding years of my life. I don't know how much the kids learned from me, but I know that by the end of that year, I had learned more about teaching and about life than I had learned in the previous 20+ years. It set me on a path that I followed for the next 30 years and will follow until the day I die.

Toward the end of those 30 years, I was conducting a WebQuest workshop with Tom March. At the end of the workshop a participant came up to me and asked how I made the change. I asked her to explain what she meant by "the change". She said, "You know, from the sage on the stage to the guide on the side."

My answer was simple. I told her that I never made the change. I've been doing the same thing for 30 years. The only thing that changed was the labels, which prompted her to ask me what I meant by the labels. I told her that 30 years ago, I was labeled a radical nut and the other day someone called me a visionary.

Thanks for asking the question, Vicki. I brought back a wonderful flood of memories.

Friday, January 27, 2012

Solid Gold Stupidity

It's amazing how greed equates with stupidity. I'm sure you have seen the ads to purchase a proof solid gold clad coin originally designed to sell for $50, for the amazing low price of $9.95. It is clad in 14 mg of 99.9999% pure gold! If you haven't, take a minute to visit this site and then come back here to do a little math with me.

It sounds impressive and the fact that they run numerous TV ads is testimony to the fact that they are selling like hotcakes, but let's take a look at a few obvious red flags and a few not-so-obvious ones.

Yesterday I went out in the rain "clad" in my rain coat. And this coin is CLAD in 14 mg of gold. That is 14 thousandTHS of a gram. It would take 71 of these coins to make just one gram of gold, and it takes 31 grams to equal a single ounce. (Gold is measured in troy ounces.)

Gold is currently about $1720 an ounce. When you do all the math, you find that the $50 coin you just got at a bargain price of $9.95 (plus shipping) contains a whopping 77 cents worth of gold.

It would appear that you have been overcharged by just a bit, but never fear. If gold ever makes it to $22,360 an ounce you can sell your coin to someone for $9.95 and make your money back (as long as you also charge shipping).

That, my friend is the mathematics of greed and stupidity.

NOTE: I'm no math wizard. I rounded some fractions and may have even made a mistake along the way, which I would be happy to correct, but the bottom line is that if you are buying these coins as an investment, don't do it. I have some beach front property that I can sell you that is a better deal. Just plan on seeing it at low tide.

Monday, January 9, 2012

DirecTV

In August we went to live with my parents in NJ to help my father recover from a stroke. They have DirecTV, but no DVR. Knowing that we would be there for a while, I called them up to add a DVR to their account for the month or two we expected to be there. They were more than happy to do it, but it required a two year agreement. I explained about the stroke, that my parents were both 90, and that there was no way I wanted to tie them to a two year contract.

Nothing I could say or do could make them waive the two year contract. Finally, after the rep mentioned that there were conditions under which they would waive the fee when the contract was closed, I relented and figured I would fight that battle later on down the line.

One month ran into two, which ran into three, which ran into four. We were in NJ until December. My parents were now in assisted living, the house was sold and the closing was the 14th. It was time to close the account and I prepared myself for the upcoming battle.

I called to have the service stopped and explained the reason. The first thing they asked was whether they have DTV at the assisted living facility. I explained that they did not and could not subscribe from there. At that point, I was pleasantly surprised when the rep went through the process and near the end said, (without me asking), "Under the circumstances we will waive the early cancellation fee."

The account was closed and I was relieved and thankful that I didn't have to do battle. DirectTV had scored some points with me, but alas, it didn't last that long. Just yesterday, I was checking my father's credit card statement and saw a $10 change from DirectTV. It was a charge that had never appeared on the card before. I called to find out about it and told it was a charge for canceling the equipment protection plan.

Now I'm not going to look a gift horse in the mouth. Now it may be that if I complained and explained, I could get the $10 fee removed, but they did waive the early cancellation fee and it wasn't worth raising my blood pressure over $10. I just asked for confirmation that the account was closed properly and that this would be the last charge I would receive from DTV. The rep confirmed it and I bid him a good day.

Overall, I have no major complaint, but it galls me that they have been a customer for year and apparently paid for the protection plan on a monthly bases and then are hit with a fee to cancel the protection. I just left a bad taste in my mouth.

Up here in NH, we have Comcast. I'm not at all happy with their pricing. My wife and I were thinking of looking into DTV up here, but after the $10 charge, that's less likely.