A Lack of Spirit

It’s not that I’m a grinch; I just don’t have that “holiday spirit” this year. I suppose it was inevitable. My daughter typically spends Christmas with her mother and I’m not all that much of a Christian (that’s a whole other story much too long for this post). So I usually find myself alone and occasionally visiting one of my parents for a few hours. It isn’t exactly an ideal situation to nurture joyous effervescence.

Add to this my ever-growing disgust at the blatant over commercialization of the holiday season and sooner or later you end up with a total lack of enthusiasm for the season. Nobody seems to remember the purpose of Christmas (or Winter Solstice or Yule or whatever else you happen to observe). I can tell you it has nothing to do with Black Friday or the receiving of things from others. It’s not even about the giving of things.

Every year stores push the “Christmas Season” on us earlier and earlier. I remember when I was younger that we didn’t see stores put out the Christmas stuff until after Thanksgiving. Now we see it out before Halloween has past. It’s become nothing more than a money grab for stores and a financial obligation to each other. This is not what it’s about and I’m really just tired of it all.

This holiday is a celebration. Depending on your particular beliefs, it can represent the birth of Christ or the continuation of life or a myriad of other joyful things that have nothing to do with buying things to give to people. Sure, gifts being exchanged are a part of many…perhaps even most of these traditions. But it was never meant to be the centerpiece of the holiday. At least, until the corporations got involved.

I won’t get into a big rant. It’s late and I have a family gathering I want to attend in a few hours. But I will say that regardless of your religious views and affiliation, please take some time to remember the real meaning of the season. Spend some time with your loved ones and just enjoy their company. Remind yourself that simple fellowship can be one of the most wonderful gifts you can give…or receive.

Happy Holidays to all of you and yours.

My Uncle Paul

…passed away last night. He was only 69, which is not that old these days. I really wish I had words to explain how I feel, but I just don’t. I am upset but at the same time I am not. He was a good man and always enjoyed the times we spent visiting or chatting on the phone. I guess, really, nothing more needs to be said.

Veracity and Articulation

Why is it that society thrives on lies? What is it about our interactions with one another that predisposes us to choose deception over honesty? Has being an honorable and honest person fallen so far from grace that it is now looked down upon as inferior qualities? I just cannot understand how we got on such a path.

The amount of dishonesty from the media all the way down to interactions with immediate family is really very unnerving. What is it about truth that makes us feel uneasy and afraid? The consequences of lies are far worse than those of the truth. While there may be repercussions for telling someone the truth, the breach of trust that comes as a result of lying is, in my opinion, far worse. Trust is a very precious commodity in very short supply. Why squander it over something as ridiculous as a lie?

Perhaps my views are strange and unorthodox. I feel that the breach of trust between people caused by lying is one of the worst offenses one can give a friendship. A friend, in my view, is someone that you trust and have a strong connection with. How can one have those things with untruths lingering between them? This is not to say that full disclosure of every little thing is necessary for friendship…there will always be things that are private. Rather, of the things that are spoken, there should be honesty. If the conversation goes somewhere unwanted, it really is not hard to just say that one does not wish to talk about that any longer.

Unfortunately, far too often this is not what happens. Instead, one or the other continues on and starts fabricating falsehoods to avoid just moving the subject elsewhere. If there was real trust and companionship, would it really be so hard to simply say that there is no desire to speak of certain things? I have a number of friends that we occasionally dip into areas like that and we do not have a problem saying “I don’t really want to talk about that” and then just move on to something else. Part of the bond between friends should include the respect to honor that desire without harboring any ill feelings. If that seems strange and unnatural, the perhaps those friendships need to be looked at again.

Feelings and Admissions

I actually wrote this 3 years ago and somehow managed to never post it. Since I believe these thoughts are true regardless of time, I figured I’d go ahead and post it. Enjoy.


How do you tell someone the depth of you feelings? How do you tell someone they are not so deep? Human emotion is a very tricky thing to deal with. It takes logic and rationality and throws them out the window. The Human heart is probably the most complex thing any of us will ever encounter and if it is our own, well that just makes the adventure all the more interesting.

Neither telling someone you love them nor telling someone you just don’t feel that way are easy. In the former you are opening yourself…leaving yourself vulnerable to anything between great joy or nigh unbearable sorrow. Of course, these are extremes but they are possible. In the latter you run the risk of being on the other side of those extremes…of being the one causing said feelings. How does anyone ever admit their true feelings?

The Human Race is amazing in many, many ways. Despite the potential of failure or embarrassment or even just coming off as crazy, we still find it within ourselves to come clean and admit how we feel about one another. Now this certainly is not always the case as there are many unrequited loves out there and many that lament in silence as they pine away for someone too afraid to take the plunge and speak of their true feelings. There are even those who make it known without ever actually saying it, waiting for some sign of approval that it will be okay to come forth and say those things that are in one’s heart. The situations are myriad and, without a doubt, range in complexity. How do we handle these?

I wish I had an answer to give. If I did, I would not be in one of those situations. And yet here I am. I do not have all of the answers and have no idea what will happen in mine. Life would definitely be easier if it had a script we could review. And don’t look to Hollywood’s version of things. They spin yarns of things that just don’t work in the real world…well at least 99% of the time. So what do we do? It all depends.

One thing is certain: Communication is necessary. The better your communication the better things will work out. This does not necessarily mean that the recipient of your affections will reciprocate; but with good communication, you will not be walking into a confession of feelings blind. I don’t know about anyone else, but I would like to have a pretty good idea of how my admission will be received before I vocalize it.

Because of the sheer diversity possible in these situations, I can offer no more than some very generic advice. First, believe nothing you’ve seen come out of Hollywood. It’s great to watch but life isn’t like that. Second, be sure to communicate. That means really paying attention to things that are said…and things that aren’t. Body language is a very effective form of communication and if you do not pay attention to that, you are missing at least half of the conversation. Third, do not get impatient. Many things take time and the amount they take can be painfully long. Remember, you aren’t only dealing with your own heart.

That last one is probably the most important thing I have said in this piece of advice I can offer. One of the worst mistakes anyone can make is to get so blinded by their own desires and feelings that they overlook those of anyone else. This is especially true when dealing with relationships whether friendships or romantic. The potential to cause inadvertent hurt is greatly increased in these situations…and yet it remains a very common affliction in relationships. All we can do is listen and pay attention and be cognizant of those with which we interact.


Oh, and if you are wondering how things turned out for me in this…I made my admission and it was considered but ultimately we went separate ways. We remain friends, though, because our friendship was always our most important aspect of our relationship throughout all of its weird turns.

Thank you, Steve Jobs

My mom got an Apple ][e when I was 9 years old. During these formative years she taught me BASIC programming on Apple DOS 3. I used that computer for games and learning and even as a presentation tool for my elementary school project that year. Over the years I played around with a huge number of personal computers in the fledgling home computer market. I used Windows because I had to and Linux because I wanted to.

Five years ago I finally got fed up with constantly having to fix my OS and reinstall all my software after a format to get things working again. I was tired of compiling packages and living in dependency hell. I could no longer stand the 11 fan beast I had built in the corner of my bedroom. So determined to change things, I looked around for an all-in-one and did my usual pricing comparison. The iMac came in hundreds of dollars cheaper than everything else I was looking at. So I ordered it with the intention of replacing OSX with either Linux or Windows. But when it came in, being a tinkerer and not having played with an Apple OS since the ][e days, I toyed with Leopard. Five years later I type this in memory of a visionary on my 2008 Macbook Unibody running Lion to be sent to you through my Airport Express that extends my wireless network from my Airport Extreme. My iPhone 4 is in my pocket letting me know that people are liking my remembrance post on Facebook. My iPad 2 will wake me in the morning so I can proudly wear my Apple shirt to work. In the mean time I will continue to watch streaming video covering the reactions of the world on my Mac Mini on my HDTV.

I am not the typical fanboy. I love what Microsoft has done with Windows7. I love my old Dell laptop running openSuSE. But when I just want to get something done, I will always turn back to one of my Macs.

To take a concept from the X-Men movie: Every now and then a visionary appears that takes the world in a huge leap forward. For our lifetime that visionary was and is Steve Jobs. A person like this only comes along once every generation or two and today we have lost ours.

My heart goes out to his family and close friends because as much as he had an impact on our lives as a technology visionary, he was a man. He was a father and a husband and a friend. He will be mourned by millions and missed most dearly by those that knew him when he wasn't on stage.

---
Michael Conguista

Dracula Is A Sparkly Vampire Compared To AT&T

So here’s the deal…Tuesday, June 15 I woke up early to pre-order my new iPhone 4. I had an iPhone 3g and being 2 1/2 years old, it was getting a bit long in the tooth. While the AT&T servers were committing seppuku for being unprepared for the onslaught of orders, I somehow managed to slip in my pre-order. This was followed a couple of days later by a reminder to be sure to show up the following Thursday, June 24 to pick up my shiny new toy from the local Apple store.

Thursday rolled around and I woke at 5am to get a shower and get to the line by 6am. I figured that they would have a separate line for those of us with pre-orders and an hour early should be good enough. The original single line wrapped around the corner and to the far side of the parking lot…with me right at the curb. A little free Chik-Fil-A and Krispy Kreme later (Apple stores know how to handle big launches) and they finally split us into the have and have-not lines. Fortunately the pre-order line was very short. Finally the doors open at 7am and people begin getting filed in. It only took 46 minutes from doors open until I was walking out with my fully activated iPhone4. I even made it to work on time. As I said, Apple knows how to handle things.

THEN…

My daughter had a piece of junk prepaid mobile phone. I didn’t even know that Sanyo made phones…if that’s what you want to call it. In light of the stupid amount of expense for the incredible lack of service…I decided she needed to have my old iPhone 3g. We could switch to a family plan with more total minutes and data and unlimited messaging for a grand total of $5 more a month than I have already been spending. And all she really had was unlimited texting. It’s a winner of a plan. This should be pretty simple: I call them and change my plan, tell them I need to re-activate the old iPhone as the secondary line with a new number…and pick up a new SIM from the local store (since you cannot re-use a SIM that’s been cancelled).

But I failed to realize I was dealing with AT&T.

So the nice lady on the phone supposedly takes care of all this and hands me over to sales to finalize the whole deal of changes she’s made on my account. The nice lady in sales kindly informs me that there is no way to do what I want over the phone and I will just have to spend the hours in the store it will require to get service because the old iPhones require a special SIM card that can only be obtained by rescuing the princess going to an actual AT&T store. I kindly inform her that she must be mistaken since the SIM in my iPhone actually came from my AT&T Tilt. She argued. I hung up on her. I cannot abide idiocy and that was the kindest thing I could do at that moment. This was, of course after she checked my account at my request and told me unequivocally that there were absolutely no changes to my account despite what the first nice lady told me.

Later that night…texting becomes disabled on my phone. WTF have they done to my phone? Well, I can’t find out because the almighty AT&T doesn’t have a 24/7 call center. They’ve closed for the evening and now I’m stuck without my main medium of communication. Beauty. Anyone else notice that the AT&T emblem looks like the Death Star?

SO THE NEXT MORNING…

…on the way to work I ring them up yet again. The nice lady that took my call apologized profusely for the inconvenience that my outage had caused me. She then found the problem and fixed it. I haz txts againz!!!!!! And apparently my account is mysteriously on the Family Plan that I was unequivocally assured was not added. Curiouser and curiouser this becomes, no? All of this prompted me to launch into my tales of woe and betrayal on my previous call. The nice lady apologized again and helped make the necessary fixes to my account so I could go to the local store to get my new number and SIM card. She even gave me a $16 credit for my troubles. This call ends on a happy note.

BUT THAT’S NOT ALL…

I head out on my one hour lunch break to the closes AT&T store to finish up this whole ordeal. I show up and have about a three minute wait until someone helps me. This should worry everyone. No AT&T store I’ve ever been in has ever had less than a 45 minute wait to get help. The nice man whips out a SIM card and begins getting my new number set up for the old phone. After a bit of typing and clicking he gets a perplexed look on his face and announces that it appears his terminal locked while finalizing the new number. He starts over. The perplexed look returns and he picks up the phone to call someone at AT&T’s fully armed and operational battlestation. He spends some time on the phone explaining things and asks the stormtrooper rep to see if they can finish it for him since his station is on the fritz. Another minute or two passes and he gets an apologetic look. We are now 32 minutes into my lunch hour.

He asks if I recently closed another account on my name. I confirm that I did…back in April. He tells me that there is a balance on that account which is preventing the completion of the line addition. –Backstory to this: My ex-girlfriend’s phone was on that account. She missed a payment and the phone was suspended. I called and had them permanently suspend it as it was out of contract so she could pay it off and I could cancel it. All of that happened…in person…at an AT&T store. I was personally guaranteed by the nice people at the store at that time that there were no pending charges and there would never be another balance on that account as long as I live.– NOW, there is a balance. I get a phone number to call and retire to the exterior of the store because I didn’t want the people that have been so nice to me to hear what was about to escape my lips.

The nice lady that answered my call checked and confirmed that there was no balance on the day I cancelled. She also confirmed that despite my assurances otherwise, there was a bill cycle 3 DAYS LATER that put a $104 balance on said account…part of which was a RECONNECT FEE. I tried to reason with her and she was very understanding. She was also willing to work with me in any way possible as long as that way involved me giving them the $104 dollars I was assured I would never be charged. We are now 54 minutes into my lunch hour. I go ahead and pay it because it isn’t worth the rest of my workday to fight it.

I get my confirmation number for the payment and return inside to the nice man that has been helping me. He tries again and fails to add the line. He again calls his cohort on the small moon. He then proceeds to argue with the disembodied voice on the phone that I did in fact pay that bill just now and it was completely fine to finish adding my line. The arguing continues for several minutes. We are now 1 hour and 7 minutes into my lunch hour. Eventually the soulless wretch on the phone gives in and pushes my new line through. HURRAH! Then the nice man looks at me and mentions in an off-hand manner that there will be a $25 fee for adding this new line.

So to recap, we are 1 hour and 15 minutes into my lunch hour. I have now spent $129 more than I was told I would have to spend. AT&T has now sucked my meager savings over the past few months dry. THEY CHARGED ME TO ADD A LINE THAT THEY WILL CHARGE ME FOR. Everyone was kind. Everyone was understanding. Everyone was apologetic. Only one made any effort to compensate me for being financially raped. AT&T is a death star vampire. They will suck your money and your soul and your will to live. I’ve been a customer of theirs for over 10 years with wireless and even longer with various land lines and internet connections.

I would gladly fire a pair of photon torpedoes up their thermal exhaust port.

Passings

Roads converge and separate
Paths can cross and undulate
The sun will rise and darkness falls
Doves and ravens let out their calls

Alone I watch and scrutinize
Alone I wait to see the signs
Alone I sit in patience still
Alone I ponder greater will

Seasons come and seasons go
Round again, to and fro
Yet I sit and yet I wait
Will it ever be my fate?

True Friends

This is not a true “rant”…as you will see by the style in which I wrote it. However it is something that needs saying and so…

What makes a true friend? I suppose that depends on who you ask. It also depends on what the term “true friend” means to the one you are asking. From my point of view there are friends and then there are true friends. This is not based so much on how they treat me but rather in how I have come to trust them. While those two aren’t mutually exclusive, they are not totally intertwined either.

I have a fairly small group of friends…say about 30 people. These are the ones that I sometimes hang out with or go to the movies or play some games. I do have trust in them or they wouldn’t be my friends at all. But I am also not completely open with them about anything and everything. I do not feel I could call them at 3am if I am in need of help or just a sympathetic ear to hear my sorrows or worries or frustrations. I have limits on how far I will go to help them.

Beyond that group is a very select few that I call true friends. I do not have secrets from them. I do not have a feeling that I need to hold anything back from them. I know I can call on them at any time for any thing and they will be there for me. I will also move mountains to do anything for them. These are the people I love. These are the few that I know I can count on. Such true friends are hard to come by in today’s world. These are the few that accept everything about me, faults and all.

Why do I bring this up? I had a recent long conversation with one of these true friends about our friendship. I don’t think it was clear before to this person exactly what our friendship really meant. I hope I have conveyed it better than I have in the past. But it also got me to thinking, how many people go through life never really knowing what a true friend can be? How many have never had someone they could confide in completely…someone they could call upon at any time and share any thought with? I think there are far too many that fit in that category.

Life is not an easy thing to live and every now and then everybody needs someone to lean on. Many will just “make do” with whatever person happens to be handy at the moment. Unfortunately such an interaction will probably not be comforting or fulfilling. Oh I am sure many will convince themselves that it doesn’t matter who you talk to when you need to talk. I disagree. The choice of whom you talk to is almost as important as what you say…sometimes more so. The true friend is the one who will really listen and make an effort to understand what you are saying and how you are feeling. It won’t be mindless head-nodding that one normally uses in random conversation that holds no real interest. It will be a focusing of understanding and compassion.

When hurt or insecure or in need of a shoulder, nothing less than a true friend will do. The act of listening and understanding is rarely an easy thing and is absolutely essential at these moments. A “warm body” will, at best, provide superficial comfort but will do little to help the true nature of whatever really brought on these feelings. In some cases, that can actually make the problem worse.

I believe I’ve brought this up before but if you look at couples that have been together for a very long time and ask them who their best, most true friend in the world is…you’ll mostly likely hear them say it is their partner. Now this certainly isn’t going to always be the answer and of course not all true friendships end up in closer relationships. But it is worth mentioning because it further demonstrates how important these types of bonds are. People need other people that can understand…that can be trusted with intimate secrets and desires and worries…that can ease and calm us. We all need someone we can count on.

Big Tobacco – Little Minds (an e-cig story)

Last year the FDA put out a report about how e-cigarettes (personal vaporizers) are toxic and dangerous. Their unbiased tests and fair results reflect a huge cross-section of – oh who am I kidding. They tested two brands that are generally regarded as crap and found faint traces of a couple of potentially harmful substances in some of the tested units. They failed to mention that these substances are found in much higher concentrations in real cigarettes and that the detected amounts on the tested units are well under the accepted “safe” levels. I have no proof and I’m not really a conspiracy theorist but the spin they put on it reeks like last week’s cigarette butts. Without proof, however, I will not speculate on whether or not Big Tobacco had fingers in this cookie jar.

Let’s go over a few things about e-cigs to clear the air and set a few things straight. These personal vaporizer devices typically come in either a two or three piece unit. Both styles have a battery which makes up the majority of the length or bulk of the device. You attach to that either a two piece atomizer/cartridge combo or a one piece cartomizer (which contains both of those in a single unit). The cartridge holds the liquid that fuels the atomizer which creates a vapor that resembles traditional cigarette (or ‘analog’) smoke. Thus this device mimics traditional smoking but without the poison cocktail of chemicals and carcinogens found in traditional smoking.

Well what is this liquid? It’s a base consisting of either vegetable glycerin (VG) or propylene glycol (PG). Now don’t let that scare you. Yes, PG is used in antifreeze…and many other things including food. It is a thickening agent and approved for human consumption by the FDA. I mention this because there was spin on some news reports about how the e-liquid is evil and punches kittens in the face when nobody is looking all because it contains an ingredient found in antifreeze. You know what else is in antifreeze? Water. That’s safe to consume, isn’t it? I wouldn’t suggest drinking antifreeze. But it does contain (besides toxic chemicals) ingredients deemed safe for humans to ingest. Please don’t let FUD fool you. Don’t let Mother Culture steer you to stupidity by believing everything that she and the tobacco companies say. Do a little research as I have done.

Now where was I? Oh yes, the e-liquid ingredients. So you have VG or PG or maybe even a mix of the two. That’s about 80% of the liquid right there if not more. You may have some distilled water for adjusting the consistency as well. Oh, I think that’s in antifreeze…hrm. Anyway, there’s that and a food grade flavoring or mixture of flavorings. That’s it. If you get a liquid containing nicotine then the PG or VG was probably pre-mixed with the nicotine and then blended with some non-nicotine PG or VG for lowering the overall percentage of concentration. Then a few drops of a flavor and there you have it. Let’s compare that with the chemical compounds found in cigarettes. I believe at last test they discovered over 4000 chemical in an analog, many of which are poisonous or carcinogens (cancer-causing). Kind of makes you think, doesn’t it?

So where does that put us? We have a battery, the atomizer, then this liquid filled cartridge. Put them together and get the look and feel of smoking without all of the nasty side effects. You don’t smell like a mule’s ass and you can actually smell and taste foods. There’s no second-hand smoke because there is no smoke. There’s nothing burning so you won’t have ashes or butts or burn marks anywhere. It’s only about 20% of the cost of analogs after you get past the initial investment for your PV equipment. I wonder why big tobacco is campaigning so hard to get the FDA to ban them? It just doesn’t make sense, does it? You’d think they would decide their market is declining and they would look to expand into this new realm. Do you have any idea how easy it would be to convince a life-long Camel smoker that if he wants to get away from all that he should get the Camel e-cigarette? And since you have to replace batteries and atomizers and buy new cartridges and/or e-liquid to refill…you would have a constant revenue stream from it.
But no, they want the FDA to crush the fledgling market.

Now I do concede that there hasn’t been enough independent testing done on the devices and having them completely unregulated means the quality of the products we can currently get may be nightmarish. So yes, there should be oversight. But there should not be banning nor should it be required to get a prescription to have one. That’s just dumb. They’re proposing more strict standards for the e-cigarette which can be used completely without nicotine than the standards set forth for nicotine patches and gum. Really? Are all politicians really that bought and paid for by Corporate America? Of course they are and I’d be surprised if there was an honest fiber in any one of those smug self-serving asses on Capital Hill. But I’m a cynic…too bad my views are more right than wrong.

Getting back to the point, people that get into “vaping”, the term used for people that enjoy PV’s, often find that they want an analog less and less. Usually this moves very quickly to “I think they taste nasty so I put them down altogether” realm. So while they haven’t been clinically tested as a smoking cessation device, they more often than not end up being the tool with which people quit. I mean, if you can get your “nic fix” without all that other crap that comes with burning leaves, why wouldn’t you?

And I would be doing a disservice if I failed to mention all of the medical professionals that express great concern over these devices being marketed to kids “as a gateway to smoking real cigarettes”. Get your heads out of Big Tobacco’s ass. Yes, I concede that the oversight and regulation of PV sales should include the same age restrictions as analogs. I don’t want my daughter on these things. But how do you justify that these would be a gateway to moving into the realm of doing something that tastes like crap, smells worse, and gives you all sorts of health problems? I even heard one say that because the juices come in fruit and candy-like flavors that there was no way such a thing could be marketed at adults. Sir, I respectfully call bullshit. I have a hookah. I am 35 years old. I enjoy my blueberry and cappuccino flavored hookah tobacco (shisha). I also enjoy my flavored juices for my e-cigarette. I’m not addicted to the awful flavor of Camel Lights, I’m addicted to the physical act of smoking and to the nicotine. I get to satisfy my addiction with something far more pleasurable to ingest with far less harm to my body and health. So get off my lawn.

To the FDA I say go forth and come up with fair legislation to regulate the manufacture and sale of PV products. Make sure there is a level of consistent quality in what we purchase. Make sure that our children cannot get their hands on these things easily (for nobody can stop someone determined enough). Do your health studies and effects studies. But do this without lining your pockets from Big Tobacco. If you let them get a word in, then you are likely going to be condemning Americans to a choice between proven failures like nicotine gum and inhalers or going back to the single most deadly legal substance in our country…cigarettes. Stop the spin. We know it’s not healthy because nicotine itself is a poison. But stop demonizing it as being worse that real cigarettes because it just ain’t so.

Speaking on all things.