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Tuesday, August 13, 2019

Chromebooks

I've been a professional computer guy since the late '60s. Obviously, I have seen a ton of changes. What used to cost millions of dollars and take up thousands of square feet of air-conditioned space now fits in your pocket. I've worked or played with most iterations of these technical advances. Even though I'm now retired from the IT industry, I still play around with technology. I have a couple of laptops, a couple of tablets, numerous smartphones and smart home stuff. 

This post is about my latest technology purchase, a Chromebook. For the average home user who wants a real keyboard and a decent size screen, this is the way to go. A Chromebook looks like a standard laptop. For the most part, Chromebooks are cheaper, often faster, and simpler than a Windows or Mac PC. Software and security updates are automatic, seamless, and current. They typically have better battery life. The one I bought (on sale) was $199, has a 10-hour battery and weighs about 212 lbs. Yes, a Chromebook is a niche device but all technology fits a niche. There are no devices that fit every need or everyone. The Chromebook's niche is pretty big. 
The simple explanation of a Chromebook is a laptop that only runs the Chrome browser. That was never completely accurate and it becomes less accurate as time goes by.  Chromebooks run ChromeOS instead of Windows or macOS or Linux. Because ChromeOS is a lightweight operating system, a Chromebook can provide good performance on less powerful, cheaper hardware than Microsoft or Apple. Because most of the computing happens on the web or cloud, there is also no need for a big local disk or SSD on the devices. 

Here is the bottom line question. If you fire up your PC or Mac then immediately open a browser like Chrome, Firefox, Safari, or some other, then stay in that browser almost all day or session, a Chromebook may be for you. Even if you leave your internet browser on occasion to run a native Windows or Mac program, a Chromebook may still be for you. Many of those native PC or Mac programs have a web or Android app versions or equivalents. If not that, maybe a Linux program. ChromeOS can run all of those. The Linux stuff is slightly more complicated but not too daunting especially if you have a techie friend or family member to set it up. 

There are some industry-specific or niche software products that only run on Windows, macOS, or Linux but most home users don't need them.  

While I've only been using my Chromebook for a couple of weeks, I have found zero times I needed to fire up my Windows laptop to perform a task. Like most of you, I stay in the Chrome browser most of the day. I'm typing this in the Blogger web application. I have installed a couple of Android apps which ChromeOS uses by default in place of the web version. I have also turned on Linux and downloaded one app so far. That app is GIMP, mostly to test Linux and also because I have used GIMP to edit photos in the past. I suspect 95% of ChromeOS home users will never need to mess with the Linux option. 

While I can do most of my daily tasks on a phone or tablet, I also need a real keyboard. Partly because I do a fair amount of writing, like this blog, and partly because I grew up with real keyboards. First with typewriters (kids, ask your grandparents what a typewriter is), then on keypunch machines and computer consoles, then on computer terminals, later on, PCs and laptops, and finally on my new Chromebook. There are also times when a bigger screen is preferable. 

If you are in the market for a new PC, you owe it to yourself to check out Chromebooks. You may be able to get a cheaper, faster, lighter device that meets your needs. Do a little research, check with friends, run by a Best Buy and test drive one. 

wjh

Music

I have been a music fan since before I hit double digits in age. I remember my Mom playing Ella Fitzgerald and Frank Sinatra records on the giant console record player. It was the biggest piece of furniture in our living room. Of course, that is completely understandable since the console also played 78, 33 & 45 rpm vinyl plus had a built-in radio. I'll confess, I don't remember if it had FM radio, I would guess not. But not to worry, it did have built-in storage for maybe 10 or 15 LP albums. I also don't remember if it had stereo capabilities. I again guess not. 

That old hunk of furniture, AM radio, a 45rpm record player, and jukeboxes were my instruments of music in my youth. I did get a transistor radio, AM only, in my early teens. It had a one ear earphone which was fine in the pre-stereo days. A battery-powered, small, portable radio was quite a breakthrough in the early '60s. That transistor radio lasted well over 10 years. My dad used it for years after I left home for college and work. 

OK, those real early years of music were probably the Elvis years. I was never a big fan. He was OK but I liked many of the early rock no-white artists more. Of course, I was also exposed to the Sinatra, Como, Crosby stuff my folks listened to. In the early '60s, it was all Beach Boys and surf music. That was mixed with the folk revival somewhat. A shoutout to the Kingston Trio and the local Coachmen. Again I was not a huge Beatles fan although I did enjoy much of the British invasion. The Zombies, Stones, Animals, Dave Clark 5, etc. more than the Beatles. There were also some American bands besides the Beach Boys at that time. A couple that stick out are Jan & Dean, The Sir Douglas Quintet, and a great Mississippi garage band, the Gants.  Motown had a few stars too. 

I didn't listen to a lot of music during my college days at USF. I don't think I even had a radio plus I was busy with other activities. We did have campus concerts and frat parties so some music seeped in. Pet Sounds during the first year or so sticks in my feeble brain. 

When I left college and moved to Atlanta, my only music came via radio. Atlanta had a couple of great new FM stations. This was at the infancy of FM and there were few if any commercials. The DJs were laid back and low keyed and would play whole albums, deep cuts, and very long songs. In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida was played every night when the DJ needed a break. Those were the mellow psychedelic music years.

After that, I was caught up in work, marriage, and parenthood. That pattern pretty much continued for 10 or 15 years. Hardly any proactive music consumption, just what I heard passively on the car radio, TV, or a few live events. 

In the mid-'80s, I found myself single and living alone. I also discovered CDs. I bought a good CD player and then spent a couple of thousand dollars on music. There were reissue CDs of much of the music of the past. I bought the music of my youth, the surf stuff, the British Invasion, the folk revival stuff, plus some old classics like Nat King Cole, Dave Brubeck, and others. Whenever I was home, the music was playing. I listened to enough music outside my home to find other stuff I liked and would add those CDs. 

Somewhere in the early '90s, I found a partner who was also a music fan. We combined our music libraries, homes, and a few other things. We wound up with hundreds of CDs which were almost always playing. We took CDs and a player when we traveled. Our tastes were not identical but we could mostly at least tolerate the other's music. 

After that, I went through another fallow music period when I took care of my elderly parents. I spent a lot of time at their place and they had no music equipment. They did have a TV and faithfully watched The Lawrence Welk Show. 

After Mom died and dad moved in with me, I still didn't have much free time. When dad passed, I began to rebuild my music library and listening habits. 

I have ripped all my old CDs plus those of my Ex to MP3s It was a pile of Cds consisting of hundreds of songs, I loaded them to Google Play Music and/or USB drives for the interested parties. I just checked I have over 13,000 songs uploaded to Google. I also have A YouTube Music subscription plus Pandora, Spotify, and Amazon Prime Music accounts. I can listen to almost anything. 

For the last several years, I have my music playing almost constantly. I watch sports with the sound muted and music playing. I listen to music on my phone when I walk and sometimes when I bike ride. Tom Petty is playing right now as I write this. 

So, what kind of music do I like? The answer is probably yes. Mostly '60s stuff is at the top. You can't beat the Beach Boys, Motown, and British Invasion. But, I also like the early '60s folk stuff, some of the big hair/glam rock of the '70s and '80s. Think Journey, Heart, and Fleetwood Mac. The Eagles were pretty good too. Being raised in the South .and living in Texas, I have to like at least some country. I'm a big fan of Dwight Yokum. 

Bottom line is I like good music. Good songs and good singers come in all genres, Good musicians too. I can appreciate good stuff from the big band era through today. I'll admit, I do have somewhat of a disconnect with Hip Hop and Rap. Some are OK, much is not. I also have a problem with the overuse of  Auto-Tune. It was originally intended to smooth out a few rough spots. Now singers completely depend on it and purposely use it to change their sound. Think horrible singers like Taylor Swift. 

What is your music preference?

That is how I got to my current eclectic music taste. Glad I did, because it sure is enjoyable. 

wjh

Thursday, August 1, 2019

Very Random Thoughts - July 2019

  • A bug flew into my beverage the other day. It died immediately. Hopefully, it died happily.
  • Gillette is recalling razors because they are too sharp. 
  • How much great talent have we lost to drugs and alcohol? The answer is too many.
  • Musicians who really play jazz are artists. Some who play classical music are technicians. The greats are both. 
  • You can be almost 100% sure that any event, behavior, activity or speech will offend somebody. 
  • If Steve Perry isn't in your band, maybe you should skip Don't Stop Believing
  • People will eat almost anything if it is battered and deep-fried. Add bacon and it's a sure thing.
  • Miller Lite has an ad that touts "No Sugar" as a selling point. No beer has sugar, the yeast converts it all to alcohol. More marketing BS.
  • If Jesus rose from the dead, did he really die for our sins? A little confusing and ambiguous. 
  • Is there a good reason to have short-sleeved hoodies?
  • If Scotland is the home of golf, shouldn't the Scottish Open be the premiere golf tournament? 
  • I wonder how rich I would be now if I hadn't smoked for about 45 years and never started drinking? 
  • I'm a straight white old Europen descendant male. I can't help that but often I feel that I should apologize for my demographic. 
  • Hardly any racists actually think they are racist. 
  • What's with all these ads by TV networks and cable providers scaring viewers that programs will disappear unless their dispute is settled? Do your damn business negotiations in private.
  • When a Texas weatherperson says a cold front is coming in July or August, take it with a block of salt. It really means that instead of 99° it will be only 96°. 
  • Why do food companies make the Best By or Use By date so hard to find and read? Tiny print, black ink on a dark surface, smeared characters, etc. 
  • How did the phrases "no, yeah" or "yeah, no" become a thing? It is often used as in introduction to a statement in a conversation. 
  • I'm starting to figure out some of this old-age stuff. The instant something pops into my mind I need to take action. Otherwise, that thought is probably gone forever.
  • Commas (,) can be very confusing. Do I need one or don't I? Even grammarians differ. The Oxford comma or not?
  • You can be pretty sure that the guy playing the acoustic guitar in a rock or country band is the worst guitarist in the group.  
  • It doesn't matter what you believe or don't believe; it only matters how you behave.
  • I apparently have nothing near a normal 24 hour circadian internal clock. I bounce from early morning to a very late night creature. Neither is bad and both have their advantages. If I'm up at five AM, it could be either just up or still up. 
  • Do you have a problem with some consumable in the fridge or pantry that you can't finish? Seems there is always just a smidgen too much to completely empty the container. 
wjh

Tuesday, July 30, 2019

Prejudice Is Real


If you are a middle-aged or older white person and don't think there is racial and ethnic prejudice then you have either lived in a very sheltered environment or are not paying attention.
  • When I went to school in the '50s and '60s in the South, there were no Blacks in any white schools until the mid to late 60's when the federal government and courts mandated it.
  • There were no integrated neighborhoods or apartment complexes.
  • There were "Colored" water fountains, restrooms, waiting rooms, schools, neighborhoods, hotels, restaurants, hospitals and many other segregated facilities.
  • If there was only one fountain or restroom it was labeled "whites only".
  • Blacks sat at the back of the bus and in the balcony at the movie theaters if allowed in at all.
  • These were not just policies or individual decisions, they were the law.
Some of those barriers were smashed by the Civil Rights movement of Martin Luther King and other activists plus the efforts of Lyndon Johnson and other politicians.

The laws changed, but the attitudes of many did not. I worked at a major bank in Atlanta in the late '60s and through the '70s. At one juncture in around 1970, I was the supervisor of a department that had a few unskilled, entry-level positions. My bosses and the personnel department approached me when there were a couple of openings. They wanted me to hire some African-Americans (they were still Coloreds or Negroes at the time). They made it clear that if I had any objections, I could refuse with no repercussions. Still, they wanted to show some effort in complying with the new racial paradigm that was in the air. It was OK with me, but they made sure to tell me that the new Black employees would be on probation and I could fire them for the slightest reason. I got the impression that they wanted me to fire them to prove they were unfit for work in an upstanding, old and venerable white Atlanta institution. I hired two young Black women. They did an OK job. Not outstanding, but not terrible either. One of them quit after a couple of months. She told me that she was upset by all the negative comments she got from co-workers and others at the bank. These young women had to deliver computer reports to many departments throughout the bank. If they were late or everything wasn't perfect, it was their fault and the whites in those departments would yell at them or make snide, often racist, remarks. Actually, it was hardly ever their fault. Those two young women were almost the only Black people working in IT (called Data Processing at the time) except for a Black woman or two in the Keypunch department on the night shifts.

After Atlanta, I was transferred to Valdosta in far south Georgia. That was a culture shock. Blacks still had to go to the back door of the restaurants to get some takeout food. There were no Blacks working in any of the south Georgia banks I worked with unless you count the janitorial crew. It wasn't just the lack of Black employees, but it was also the conversations. The N-word was in full bloom as were the slightly less offensive "Colored" or "Negro". The term "Negro" was usually pronounced as "Nigra" or "Negra". Not exactly the N-word, but pretty close. The whites resented the courts' rulings that the schools had to be integrated. Integration was not smooth. The racist white teachers did not want Black students or Black teachers in their schools. The Black students had very little chance to succeed, further enforcing the premise that they were inferior. The only thing the Valdosta schools liked about integration was that the sports teams got significantly better.  

I moved back to Atlanta and now there were many Black employees, but hardly any in the IT departments. They were still in the lower positions and often part-time employees working the night shifts. Atlanta had progressed. By then the city had previously elected a Jewish mayor and a Black mayor was in office. There were still many signs of racial discord but less so. 

I then moved to my old hometown of Jacksonville. Again it was a culture shock. There were few if any Blacks at my new employer. Certainly none in IT. The whole place was a "good ole boy" club and all the boys were rednecks at heart. There were racist overtones too. Since I wasn't a redneck or a racist, I was not very comfortable. It took a couple of years, but the first good job offer I got, I bolted.

My next job took me initially to the Chicago area. Although I had visited the north many times over the years, mostly the metropolitan New York area, and had traveled on business all over the country, I had never spent more than a few days or maybe a week there since my youth. The great open-minded north, where all the races and ethnicities lived in harmony. Not at all like the bigotted and racial south. Well, not so fast, maybe not. I again found a rather white company with some of the most upfront racists I had encountered in a decade or more. In the south, we had been under federal judicial rulings that forced us to integrate and change our ways. There were no such imposed changes in the north. Maybe because the northern cities were more cosmopolitan, the establishment had more minorities to discriminate against. The South had been so focused on the Blacks, that some other groups slipped under the radar.

Many ethnic groups that have already been assimilated into the US mainstream will say that they too were initially discriminated against but overcame it. That is true, the Germans, Polish, Irish, Scots, Italians, Jews, Catholics, and others were treated poorly during parts of our history. The big difference is that they were not easily identifiable by their skin color. They were not predominantly brought to this country as slaves. There were no laws limiting their existence as a human being or participant in society, only traditions. A Catholic Irish lad could lose his accent, upgrade his wardrobe and sneak into accepted society. A Jew could change his name and pretend to be a gentile. Regardless of his clothes and manner of speaking, a Black man could not hide his race. In America, we like our minorities to be easily identifiable. Blacks are obvious but so are many Asians. During WWII we interned over 100,000 Japanese in this country the majority of who were citizens, native-born and maybe multi-generational Americans. We did not intern very many people of German or Italian ancestry and almost none who were citizens. Why not? Could it be racism?

Why am I writing this now? It's because I see a reversal of our racial and ethnic progress of the last 50 years. Many Republicans and all alt-right folks are in favor of returning to the pre-1960 rules. Local, state and federal voting districts are shamelessly gerrymandered to ensure that incumbents and right-leaning politicians are elected and re-elected. The districts are drawn so a minimal number of minority representatives have a chance. Voting laws are written so that minorities have fewer places and days to vote and that they require more identification. Trump's recent election has emboldened many to publicly endorse discrimination against Muslims, Mexicans, LGBTs, Blacks, the poor, immigrants, and others. I feel that we have taken two (at least) giant steps backward in the fight for equality. That comes at a time I felt we were making real progress. 

Now we have the President of the United States telling four women of color to go back to where they came from. "Go back to your country" is a tried and true racist slogan. Did I mention that these four women are duly elected Congresswomen? Three of the four were born in this country. The other legally came at a young age and became a naturalized citizen at age 18. That same president calls out a senior Black Congressman and denigrates his district as uninhabitable. There is a pattern here. 

I have had a front-row seat to the prejudices of our country. I found it uncomfortable to be on the upper end of that situation, the front of the bus so to speak. I thank my Mother for that attitude. 

We have now seen the full impact on equal rights and attitudes since January 20, 2017, when Trump took the office with a Republican majority in both Houses of Congress. Although the Democrats took back the House in 2018, the Senate remains in Republican control and the Courts are being moved far to the right. 

Since Trump's inauguration, we have taken another few steps backward in our fight for racial, gender, sexual orientation, religious equality. His is an administration of division, insults, lies, and discriminatory policy. I hope I'm around long enough to see a few forward steps in the equality quest.

wjh

Sunday, July 21, 2019

We All Like Some Socialism

The GOP and Trump are hellbent on branding all Democrats as socialists at the minimum and probably communists. We can add this latest scare tactic to all the other fear-mongering spouted by our president. First of all, they don't know the meaning of either socialism or communism. Here is how Merriam-Webster defines the terms.

Definition of socialism -
  1. : any of various economic and political theories advocating collective or governmental ownership and administration of the means of production and distribution of goods
  2. : a system of society or group living in which there is no private property
  3. : a system or condition of society in which the means of production are owned and controlled by the state
Definition of communism -

  1. : a system in which goods are owned in common and are available to all as needed
  2. : a theory advocating elimination of private property
None of the Democrats are advocating the elimination of private property, no one is advocating the elimination of private enterprises. No one is advocating the elimination of capitalism. 

That being said, almost every government jurisdiction, be it a country, state, county, city, or town has elements of socialism. More properly termed government control. These are goods and services that are paid for by taxpayers and distributed to the users of these goods and services for the common good. Let's enumerate some of those. 
  • Social Security 
  • Medicare and Medicaid
  • Police and fire departments including EMTs
  • Courts
  • County hospitals
  • Public schools from pre-K through college
  • Roads
  • The military
  • Water and sewers
  • Some public electric companies and co-ops
  • FEMA
  • VA
  • Food stamps
  • CHIP
There are many others. The point is, we are not a completely capitalistic or private enterprise society. We all depend on government to supply many of the goods and services we use in our daily lives. We definitely depend on government during and after catastrophic events. 

You may say, "but I pay taxes or I paid into Social Security". That is true, but you are just as likely to get more benefits than you paid for. If you have or had several kids, your family probably got more educational benefits than those who had one or no kids. If your house catches on fire, you get a fire department response regardless of your tax payments. Maybe you drive a long way to work and drive on several town maintained roads where you pay no taxes. Do you think those people who live in FEMA trailers or housing for months actually paid enough taxes to cover those expenses? If you live to be 90, you will collect way more in Social Security than you ever paid in. Thank your children and their generation for funding those payments. 

Yes, the Democrats tend to support more of these government services than Republicans. This a matter of degree, not an abandonment of capitalism or private enterprise. The latest big dustup has to do with healthcare. If you believe that healthcare is a right and not a privilege, then government involvement is required. Some people will not be able to afford their healthcare costs, be it private insurance premiums or the actual doctor, hospital, and drug fees. One proposal is Medicare for all. Progressive taxes on all would pay for the system. Some, the poor, old, and unhealthy, would get more benefits than they paid for. Other, the young, healthy, and rich may not get their full monies worth. 

Medicare for all or some other single-payer plan does not eliminate private hospitals, independent physicians, or other entities that provide health services. It is designed to provide the payments for those services, not to provide the services. As with all the current and proposed healthcare plans, the devil is in the details. Medicare for all may not be the best solution but it certainly is a better option than anything the GOP has ever proposed. 

Regardless of what healthcare legislation is passed in the future, it will not turn the US into a socialist country any more than public roads have. 

Extremism in either direction won't work. 100% capitalism is just as bad and dangerous as 100% socialism. Fortunately, if you get past the hyperbole and lies, no one is really advocating either. The debate is about the degree of each. How much laissez-faire capitalism vs how many social programs? That is the battleground we find ourselves in now just as we have been for the entire history of our country. The needle will always fluctuate. 

It would be helpful if both sides stopped portraying the other as the devil and actually worked out some compromises that can work for most if not for all. 

wjh

Friday, July 12, 2019

Weekends

Weekends are always different than weekdays. It doesn't matter when your weekend is. Most people have a weekend that starts Friday evening and ends Sunday night. Others have different days off. It could be Sunday, Monday or Wednesday, Thursday. Working a swing or night shift alters your weekends Some unlucky folks only get a single day off. Work six, off one. 

I have worked all kind of shifts during my career. Nights, days, weekends whatever. You learn to adjust. When working a night shift, some choose to stay on the same routine for weekends but most try to live a normal daytime nighttime couple of days with their family. That usually means you will be off-kilter for the first part of the next workweek. Regardless of your particular workweek/weekend schedule, you will still be influenced by the normal Saturday/Sunday weekend. 

One thing that doesn't change is weekends are still weekends even when you retire. It's not as drastic as during the working years. Friday afternoons are not as joyful or anticipated and Monday mornings are not as painful or dreaded. It becomes even more blurred during the summer when the kids are out of school. 

That doesn't mean weekends are the same as the other five days. Retired folks still have to live in a generally five and two world. Things change on the weekends. Sunday is particularly different. On early Sunday mornings, traffic is almost nonexistent. I have come to love very early Sunday mornings. That is the best time for a long and leisurely bike ride or walk. A time to explore new places even if they are on normally busy roads. Many places are closed completely or they open late and close early. You can't get a drink or buy beer before noon in Texas. This is a remnant of the old religious blue laws and is completely stupid. Why should a bunch of conservative Baptist ministers decide what merchants and consumers do on Sundays? Seems to me it was OK for the Catholic priests and the congregations to drink wine on Sunday mornings. 

Saturdays are a mixed bag. Some places are closed, others reduce hours and are not as busy. Others increase hours and are very busy. Traffic is usually less during the mornings but may actually be worse some places later in the day and night. Friday and Saturday nights always seem more dangerous on the roads. More kids and more drunks behind the wheel. Restaurants are more crowded Friday and Saturday night. Some places that may be relatively quiet during the week are filled with kids and families on the weekends. I'm not complaining, I know the drill and sometimes it's more fun when a place is hopping with kids.


I sometimes forget exactly what day it is, but I can usually tell the difference between weekdays and weekends. Is that from years of conditioning by work or is it because society ebbs and flows differently some days?

It doesn't really matter, this was just some musing by an old guy who has time to muse. 

Do you know what day it is?

wjh

Monday, July 1, 2019

Very Random Thoughts - June 2019

  • Does anybody still use real Tupperware or is it now all cheaper semi-disposable plastic storage containers? That one piece you inherited from your mother doesn't count.
  • I love these 64 team NCAA postseason sports tournaments. You get to see some big dogs knocked off by a small directional college. You also hear about schools you never knew existed. Basketball, baseball, and softball get it right. Do you know where Quinnipiac University is?
  • How did Christian Scientists get their name? They disavow medical science. Should be called the Christian Non-Scientists. 
  • How long should a product be able to put NEW on the label? 
  • Wouldn't it be great if DVRs could tell when the program you want to record starts late, runs long or gets preempted? Like times when a sports event runs long or a breaking news update interrupts. Seems AI should be able to handle this now.
  • Are weighted blankets really a worthwhile product?
  • Bad singers like Taylor Swift and other stars should not appear on music competition shows like The Voice. All the contestants are much better singers. 
  • Other people's bad behavior is no excuse for you to behave the same. 
  • How badly do the Uber cars smell after making a few Uber Eats deliveries?
  • Having .com as part of a company's official name doesn't have the same cache as it did 10 or 15 years ago. 
  • How can the name StePHen be pronounced SteVan? Further drift from the PH as F mess. 
  • Because of that bastardization, the usual nickname for Stephen is Steve. 
  • Being discerning and critical of our government is not unpatriotic or treasonous. It is our duty.
  • About 99% of Constitutional strict constructionists are Republicans. You know, people who want to return to the 18th century. 
  • How come stuff never works as well in real life as it does in the promotional videos?
  • Collusion and conspiracy are two different things. 
  • I have never understood hunger strikes as an effective protest. You get weaker physically and mentally. Those you are protesting are doing fine.
  • When a politician says "there are a number of ways to do that", what they really mean is they have no plan.
  • "Only in America" used to be a positive phrase. Trump uses it as a negative especially when railing against laws and policies he disagrees with.
  • I've never understood why the moderators don't control the microphones during political debates. Cut off those who talk out of turn.
  • Are styptic pencils still a thing? 
wjh