July 2015

Windows 10 Warning

First, the good news:  As best i can tell from my introductory experience, Windows 10 is vastly superior to Windows 8.

What??? you wonder.  Why in the world would a man who’s been around computers as long as i have be downloading and installing an operating system only a day old?  No no no, we learned decades ago to let others be the early adapters and fight off all the initial bugs.

Well, see, i’m leaving on my Portland adventure in a few days and will need to take my little laptop with me, and the damn thing was running Windows 8, the operating system from hell that i could not bear the idea of using on another trip.

So i thought, well, Windows 10 cannot possibly be worse, so let’s get it installed.  And after a fair amount of hacking and cursing yesterday i got it working and discovered that it’s much superior to Windows 8.

And then foolishly i thought i’d try out their new replacement for Windows Explorer, a browser they’re calling Edge.  So i opened it and POW, got a popup window announcing that a possible virus had been detected and that to keep me safe, Edge had been brought to a halt.  A dead halt, so dead that i couldn’t even close the window it was in and had to go to the Task Manager and kill the process.  The good news was that Chrome worked just fine, so i should have just ignored Edge.

But no, this morning i tried it again, got the same popup announcement, and decided i’d go ahead and call the listed number on the popup for tech support.

How refreshing, got a charming Indian woman who was very sympathetic and chatty and listened patiently to my explanation of being stopped dead and unable to even close the Edge window normally.  She dug around a bit and told me that they could straighten out the problem but that the warranty on my laptop had expired and needed to be renewed.

She was so charming that i agreed to do this, and she handed me off to another technician to take care of the warranty issue.

After i’d paid for that, then they commenced to hack around for three hours on my computer while i watched them trying to get rid of that popup that had brought Edge to a standstill.

They finally succeeded, whereupon i discovered, once i could run Edge, that i didn’t really like it that much.

I also had time to realize, wait.  The people who i’d paid to help me get rid of that hideous popup were the same people whose phone number was on the popup and that i was not, in fact, talking to Microsoft employees but rather a company called Audney that specializes in providing Microsoft support.

But i have to say, the Audney folks sure are charming and slick.

Been quite a while since i’d been scammed, or at least sold something i didn’t need, and hey, it was only a few lunches worth.

However, for you i recommend that if Edge won’t work and gives you a popup with a phone number, don’t call.  It’s not Microsoft.  Just use a different browser.

Oh, and while i’m warning you, when you doing the initial setup for Windows 10, do not accept the privacy defaults but do the custom installation that lets you turn off some of the most egregious spying stuff.

Meanwhile, truth is where you find it (in this case, on the outskirts of Geyserville):

Truth

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Epiphyllum Bonus

“Wherefore by their fruits ye shall know them”.

 

That’s Matthew 7:20 in the King James Version.  The KJV?  Of course.  I lost my faith in Christianity over sixty years ago, but my faith in the KJV is ineradicable.

Close readers will recall that my previous post ended with a photo of an Epiphyllym that had somehow bloomed for me with the traditional one-night-only display although this one had a much smaller,  less showy, and nowhere near as odiferous blossom than that on a previous Epiphyllum that perfumed the whole house when it opened some years ago.

When my current Epiphyllum bloomed for the first time last year, i noticed that afterwards a couple of green lumps the size of large olives had appeared on the stems.  How strange, i wondered, are these rock-hard lumps a burgeoning of the stem that will herald new growth?

They couldn’t possibly be fruit since we all know that the Epiphyllums are pollinated in the night by a species of moth equipped with the required especially long tongue or whatever you call the damn thing on a moth that they stick into flowers, and there’s no way that one of those moths could have fasted its way thousands of miles north to San Francisco just to feed on my Epiphyllum.

So i just watched those lumps for ten months, and nothing happened.  Same size, same shape, same color, same hardness. Nothing to see here, folks.

And then, when the plant bloomed this year i was hovering over it and those lumps again came to my attention.

While ago i reached out and grasped one, and noticed a change. Still the same green color, size, and shape, but now it was soft.  What in the world? i wondered.  Being a guy and thus more curious than cautious, i pulled it off and bit into it.  Wow!

Yep. It’s a fruit. Quite good tasting, too.  So i ate it.  And immediately wolfed the other one.  Because it was there.  And then got to thinking about questions of nutrition.  And the opposite.  After all, everyone who thrashes around dying horribly from eating Amanita mushrooms groans that they were delicious.

So i went online and discovered that while i can’t figure out which of the 19 species of the Epiphyllum genus i have, some are described as having edible fruit.  But nowhere was it mentioned that they take a whole year to ripen, nor could i find any species that were called toxic, so i’m probably off the hook.

I’ll just do this post while i wait for symptoms.

In the interest of forensics, here are photos of the fruit of this species, whatever it is.  Oh, and obviously this particular species does not require a special moth to pollinate it.

Epiphyllum fruit in situ

Epiphyllum fruit

Epiphyllum fruit

Yes, but it doesn’t taste like a kiwifruit.

 

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Portland or Bust

The battery in my DMC-FZ50 camera failed, and i decided that instead of going to all that hassle and spending all that money on a new battery, i’d just get one of the new DMC-FZ1000’s since they’re obviously 200 times better.

 

I’m all excited about my impending expedition to Portland’s annual Bridge Pedal during which i’ll create another photo essay on their bridges, and my friend CKM wrote this morning prudently suggesting that i start making a list of things i need to take.

List?  I’ve already started packing the suitcase, which now contains:

Passport, in case i get a wild hair and want to drive up to Vancouver and bag a brace of Canadian bridges.

Printouts of my registration form for the Bridge Pedal, the route map and turn instructions, and the receipt that i can use to claim my official Bridge Pedal® tee shirt.

Oregon, Washington, and Portland paper maps since i’m not entirely trusting my Garmin and the on-line maps.

Printout of List of Crossings of the Willamette River. the exhaustive compendium on which i’ll rely for the bridges outside Multnomah County.

Battery charger for my fine new camera and the instruction manual in case i want to get fancy and use a setting other than iA – Point and Click for Beginners.

Laptop and charger so i can download all the pics i’m taking, write a few blog posts, and respond to email encouragements from my adoring fans.

Toothbrush.

Naw, just kidding about the toothbrush.  Not yet.

And i’m thinking that what with Oregon’s recent legalization of marijuana, when i get to my room at the University Place Hotel, on the pillow instead of the traditional chocolate will be a doobie.

Meanwhile, changing the subject entirely, in a recent horticultural happenstance, this mystery Epiphyllum of mine has bloomed:

Epiphyllum whateverii

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Incalculable Damage

“Those who can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety, deserve neither liberty nor safety.” – Benjamin Franklin

 

The shrill spokescreatures of our police state continue to squeal that Snowden wrought “Incalculable damage”.  Of course he’s done “incalculable damage”.  How else can you describe the evil traitor’s release of incontrovertible evidence that the NSA, with cooperation from our tech industry that ranged from full to eager, was collecting everything loyal Americans said or wrote, all the while stoutly denying that they were doing so?  I mean, won’t demonstrating that our government is a pack of lying knaves undermine our confidence and make us less willing sheep?  And is that not tantamount to treason?

Where will this lead?  Our local police forces are now being outfitted with a range of military gear from Apache helicopters to tanks, the better to increase security to protect us.  At what point, i ask, did the American people become The Enemy?

IMHO, we ought to erect monuments to Snowden.  Oh, but wait, we already have….and our security apparatus sprang into action immediately to protect us.

Even after Snowden’s revelations proved our leaders had been lying to us, nobody expects them to stop lying and giving us “least untruthful” answers to our questions.  Lying is their default mode…when they’re not distracting us with red herrings, as when a White House spokesman said, with his thumb on the scales, “government and the [computer] industry can cooperate in a way that finds a balance between civil liberties and security”.  Ummm, yes, you will permit us to encrypt our communications so long as you have the key.  We give you our civil liberties and you give us security, and what greater security can one have than in a maximum security isolation cell?

The Orwellian name of the secret court that rubberstamps the secret surveillance of all American domestic phone calls and Internet use is the Foreign (italics mine) Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISA).  It is located in the Ministry of Love.

Meanwhile, here’s a pic i took at a little demonstration i attended back in May, the operant word there being, alas, “little”, as there were precious few of us.

Sunset the Patriot Act

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Grief

I have forgiven everyone who ever harmed me although that’s been made much easier by having outlived all of ’em.

 

What is it about grief?

Well, it’s a human universal.  When someone close to us dies, we routinely experience grief.  No surprise there, but what fascinates me is the variability in the grief i’ve experienced over the deaths of people i’ve known.

Take my father.  He had pancreatic cancer that had metastasized to the point that by the time it was discovered, nothing could be done.  When he became so ill that he could no longer stay at home, the day before he was going to have to return to the hospital for good, he killed himself.

And he did so in a way so perfectly calculated that i could feel nothing but admiration.  He tricked my mother out of the house by telling her he wanted some Jack Jordan’s barbecue, for which my mother would need to drive across town to the restaurant, go through the serving line to get the barbecue, and then drive back across town to return home.  So he had lots of time.

He had also checked to make sure that the next door neighbor was home because this guy had been on the Bataan Death March and in a Japanese POW camp for three years, so he’d seen it all.

Once my mother was out of the house, my father, not wanting to make a mess inside, went out in the back yard and shot himself.  The neighbor heard the shot and, knowing what he was going to see, looked over the fence to our back yard and called an ambulance, which was already gone by the time my mother returned, so she was spared the sight of his body.

The perfect suicide.  And one that saved both himself and his family the horror and agony of a slow death in the hospital.  The Christians, of course, would have preferred that he die by inches in great pain, and they sponsor legislation to make suicide as difficult as possible.

I had already experienced my grief in the period after his diagnosis, so his suicide served as relief that he was finally out of his misery.

My mother finally died in a nursing home, so completely devoured by Alzheimer’s that she didn’t know who i was, so in her case i had also already experienced my grief.

And Allen had suffered so much during his final six months, and i was so exhausted from caring for him, that his death was also a relief although i did sit there crying as his monitor flatlined, romantically holding his foot.

But there were two occasions in which i was so utterly overcome by grief that i went into protracted uncontrollable sobbing.

My first encounter with overwhelming grief was when my friend Dick called me with the news that our mutual friend Harry, profoundly depressed over his declining health, had deliberately stopped taking his meds and sat at home until he died a week later.  I was so stunned that i managed to croak that i couldn’t talk anymore and hung up.  Then i walked down the street sobbing to the nearest grocery store to get some chocolate milk, the best treatment i could think of for my grief and probably a unique experience for the clerk since relatively few customers went in crying for a carton of chocolate milk.

The other overwhelming grief encounter was with Wess, my barber of many years whom i’d always liked very much but had not realized how much he meant to me until i went in for a haircut and was told that he’d died in his sleep the day before.  I burst into crying and left.

And then, when i composed myself, i went back to the shop to arrange for a memorial and burst into tears the moment i walked in the door and had to leave because i couldn’t talk.  The next day, i got a full grip on myself and went back, only to encounter the owner on the sidewalk outside and again burst into tears and left.  Only on the third try was i able to keep my composure well enough to talk about a memorial.

So i guess for me the only occasion for uncontrollable grief is when someone dear to me dies suddenly and the death comes as a complete surprise.

Meanwhile, some San Francisco street art put up in anticipation of Pope Francis’ recent pronouncements on capitalism.

P1000479

 

 

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The Nest

I read of recent maritime disasters and remember the good old days when, if the captain did not go down with his vessel, he was at least the last man off it.

 My move to my current apartment in the Venn building on Market was a spur of the moment thing prompted by learning that my landlord was having trouble walking and was looking forward to using the front end of the flat i was in because it was only seven steps up from the street, discovering that the low-income senior housing for which i’m on the waiting list would not be available as soon as expected, and being charmed by the managers of the Venn complex when i stopped in to inquire about that For Rent sign.

So i moved without doing my homework and ended up in a place with which i am increasingly dissatisfied.  Yes, it has some excellent aspects:  it’s very very quiet, it’s perfectly located, it’s by far the most luxurious place i’ve ever lived, and all the workers in the building – from the manager to the maintenance man to the guy who handles the trash system – are both nice and very competent.

So what’s wrong?  Well, other than being unsustainably expensive, i can sum it up in one word:  attitude.

While everyone who works in the building is great, Greystone, the company that owns the building, is a corporate monster with a business model that focuses on finding ways to slip in additional charges.  And somehow, what i find particularly grating about this is that none of these charges is substantial.  Oh no, they’re small, the smallest being the $3.50/month charge for the luxury of having them draw up my monthly bill, which at one-thousanth of the rent is so damn small it’s nothing but a pure insult.  Particularly since they wouldn’t need to draw up a monthly bill for me except for my pro-rata share of the building’s gas bill that’s used to keep hot water circulating constantly through the building so that you have instant hot water in all your taps.  Either this is a grotesquely inefficient system or i’m being way overbilled since my gas bill now is higher than it was in a Victorian flat with a gas stove, gas furnace, and gas clothes dryer.  Point of use electric water heating could not be more expensive, especially for someone as frugal as i am.

So that’s annoying enough.

The other attitude problem is my fellow tenants.  Good grief.  Overwhelmingly young, overwhelmingly entitled, and utterly oblivious to social niceties and common courtesy.

Like folks sticking all their refuse, including the recyclables, into a plastic bag too large to fit down the trash chute and then stuffing the bag into the maw of the chute so that the chute is blocked for not only this floor but for all higher floors.

Like getting the elevator key from the management so that during your move in, your movers will not be inconvenienced by waiting for the elevator.  And then, when you’ve hogged the elevator for a couple of hours and the van has departed, walking off and leaving the elevator turned off with the key sticking in the lock instead of turning the elevator back on and returning the key to the management.

Like going off and leaving your dog sitting in front of your open window yapping for hours into the courtyard to entertain eight floors of apartments on both sides of the courtyard.

But the capper came a couple of days ago when i’d gone down to the foyer to go outside and pick up my morning paper.  As i came into the foyer, i bid a cheery goodmorning to a young woman who had just come in from “walking” her dog.  And as i spoke, i noticed that she was dropping a small plastic bag into the foyer bin provided for junk mail.

I was stunned speechless, but my face registered such shock and horror that she did a doubletake.  What she did not do was filch out the bag of hot dog shit she’d left there for the delectation of her fellow tenants rather than walk 25 feet to the left of the door where there is a dog shit bin.

The Treppenwitz was “I wish your father could have seen that.” but as is the nature of the Treppenwitz, it occurred to me way too late.

As soon as i get back from my Portland bridge expedition, i’ll be actively looking for a new place so i can get out of this nest of sociopaths.  The sooner the better.

Meanwhile, the northeast atrium in the Rincon Complex, facing Steuart Street.

Steuart Street entrance, Rincon Complex

 

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Köln Moment

“It’s not total identity theft – they spit out your bones.” Hilary B. Price

 

Somehow i never got around to visiting Köln while i was in the Army in Germany 1964-66, but did so during my 1988 return to Germany when my German was at its peak and i had no difficulty understanding people who were speaking directly to me. I fell in love with Köln almost from the beginning.  I say “almost” because my traveling companion and i had flown there from Berlin and picked up a rental car at the airport.

Since i had driven for a couple of years in Germany and since he was unfamiliar with German road signs and traffic conventions, i was the designated driver, which left him to be the navigator.  Back in those days before Garmin, when you were in an unfamiliar city trying to find your hotel and were a bit confused by the spaghetti maze of a typical German city, the standard practice was for the driver to call out the names of the cross streets so the navigator could figure out where you were on the map and then start telling the driver where to turn to get to the destination.

This worked fine if the navigator was not so totally lacking in trust of the driver that he couldn’t take his eyes off the road long enough to look at the map.  So i had to keep stopping so he could relax enough to determine our location.  Grrrrr.  But eventually we found the hotel and then everything started working beautifully.

The manager was a charming woman with whom i hit it off instantly, but she was no exception.  I got along great with Germans all over the country, but for some reason, i found the Kölner particularly delightful.  And the feeling was mutual.  So much so that it became embarrassing since they pretty much ignored my companion when we were together and focused entirely on me.  This was only partly a matter of personality, of course, since his German was rudimentary and they could actually carry on a conversation with me.  But still, our focuses were completely different.  He was there to go to museums and attend performance arts events, especially opera, while i was there to hang out with people, eat German food, improve my command of the language, and have fun.

Incidentally, it was in Köln that i got the finest compliment i ever received on my German.  I was chatting up a gay bartender, telling him how i’d started learning the language when i was stationed there in the Army, and he interrupted me with one word:  “Frankfurt”.  Yes!  Discernible through my American accent was a Frankfurt accent!  I’ll never forget him.

It was also in Köln that i had the most entertaining medical encounter of my life.  See, in those days i’d been rotting out my gums with smoking, so my periodontal health was iffy, and in Berlin i’d come down with what i diagnosed as an infection that i’d treated with only marginal success by mouthwashing with hydrogen peroxide.  By the time i got to Köln it was clear i needed to see a periodontist, so i asked the hotel manager whether she knew of one and how to go about making an appointment with a German doctor.

She didn’t know of a periodontist and looked in the phone book only to discover that there was no Zahnfleischarzt listed in the city.  Hmmm.  So she called her dentist and discovered that this specialty was virtually unknown in Germany and that you just saw a regular dentist.  And then, bless her, she got him to give me an appointment the very next day!

So that evening i pored over my dictionary learning the German for every word i could think of relating to mouth care and gum infections.  Brushed my teeth especially well the next morning and walked over to the dentist’s office a few minutes before my appointment.

The young receptionists were as delightful as everyone else i’d met in Köln, and then, at the stroke of the hour, absolutely pünktlich, they ushered me into the adjacent examination area and introduced me to the dentist.

I explained the problem, and he said, well, let’s see.  I sat in the chair while he examined my mouth, muttering an occasional “ach!”.  He diagnosed me with a severe inflammation rather than an infection, told me i needed to go immediately to a dentist upon my return to the states, and started treatment right there by squirting some vile stuff in for me to rinse around well and hold for a minute before spitting out.  We repeated this several times, and i have to say, my mouth started feeling better immediately.

So what’s so strange and entertaining about that, you ask.  Umm, nothing, actually.  What was utterly bizarre, though, was that while he was examining my mouth both of the young women somehow needed to pass by the chair and, since they were in the neighborhood, make sidelong discreet glances into my mouth.  As if somehow they were wondering whether, down inside, American mouths were anything at all like German mouths in spite of their superficial external similarity.

And then after the dentist had given me a bottle of the vile stuff to use for the next few days and i returned to the front desk to pay for the treatment and asked them to give me a receipt against the remote possibility that i could get my insurance company to pay for part of the charge, i got another clue.  They could give me right then a cash receipt, but they could also mail me a detailed report on the treatment and how the charges were broken down, so they needed my American address.

I wrote it down for them, and it threw them for a loop.  All the numbers were in the wrong places, they protested, so how could a letter possibly reach me with such a bizarre address?

And as i was explaining that Americans used an utterly irrational form for addresses and that somehow it seemed reasonable to us to put the house number in front of the street name, stick the postal code way out in the bottom right corner where nobody would expect to find it, and add a separate letter code after the city name for the state name as if the postal code were insufficient, suddenly i understood.

History lesson:  After Germany surrendered to the allies in May, 1945, the country (with its 1937 borders) was divided into occupation zones.  The French got by far the smallest area, basically a strip along the southwestern border.  The remainder of Germany was divided into thirds, with the British having the north, the Russians the east, and the Americans the south.  The American zone extended little north of Frankfurt, whereas Köln was near the bottom of the British zone.  Furthermore, the British occupation force was never anywhere near as large as that of the Americans, so the average Kölner had encountered relatively few British soldiers.  In fact, the only English speakers they had much familiarity with were tourists, and Köln was not a major American tourist attraction.

So of course i was an exotic.  The vast majority of Kölner had never had the slightest interaction with an American, so that’s why an American-style address would look strange and an American would be inherently interesting.

But i promise you, nowhere else have i found people sneaking looks into my mouth.  They must have been terribly disappointed to find it so ordinary.

Meanwhile, happiness is where you find it.  In this case, on Howard Street near the waterfront.

Happiness on Howard Street

 

 

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Religious Freedom

What would our Founding Fathers have said if they’d learned that George III was employing secret technology to eavesdrop on all the colonists’ conversations?

 

In the wake of the Supreme Court’s recent outrageous attack on religious liberty when it allowed gays to marry each other, a groundswell of support for religion has drawn advocates from the right-thinking portions of America to call for legislation permitting free practice of religion throughout the land.

Yes, we should all be free to worship God as we see fit, which includes placing sensible restrictions on those errant citizens who would act in violation of God’s will as laid down in the holy scriptures.

We can start with laws criminalizing homosexual acts.   Well, male homosexual acts since the Bible does not mention female homosexuality.

And then of course abortion, contraception, and masturbation.  Ummm, male masturbation since the ladies can do it as much as they want without limiting procreation.

Then alcohol, shrimp, dancing, card-playing, bingo, mowing your lawn on Sunday, etc.

But wait, you squeal that your religion doesn’t forbid bingo and your neighbor gets to eat his fill of shrimp without offending his church.  That’s no excuse because my religion forbids these activities, and to have full religious freedom i have to be able to prevent everyone from violating my religious laws.

Well, that’s the way most religious people think.  For me, if you don’t like abortion, don’t get one, but don’t try to stop me.  When i think about being forced to obey the dictates of your religion, i begin to understand the mindset of those Islamic suicide bombers.  Obviously they’re crazy, and certainly it’s the ultimate evil to blow up a bunch of innocent people, but at the same time i’m sure the bombers sincerely believe they’re striking a blow for religious freedom and that the end justifies the means.

The difference between their acts and Archbishop Cordileone’s fight against the Employment Nondiscrimination Act is only one of degree, as both are motivated by hatred of the Other and a desire to control his behavior.

And that, folks, is why our Founding Fathers wrote so eloquently about the separation of church and state, they having written our Constitution at the end of hundreds of years of religious wars in which millions died.

Meanwhile, yet another religious issue.

Gay pot

 

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