Seriously Irreverent Musings

Category: OpEd

Disconnected. Sort Of.

I am sitting in front of a fire. Not a gas fire. Not an artificial fire. Not a wildfire. But a fire in our cabin at the Alisal Guest Ranch.

We are sitting in our room on a cold, blustery day in this little, yet well-known, guest ranch, helping our friends celebrate their daughter’s wedding. It is a magnificent place, nestled in the coastal hills of California about 30 miles north of Santa Barbara.

It is Saturday afternoon. It is freezing outside. We are killing time before we have to get ready for the wedding to begin. The Alisal is a rustic, yet real world, place. Our room does not have a TV nor does it have a phone. Having said that, it does have wireless.

Pam and I are TV freaks, or at least Pam is. I go to sleep every night with the TV and light on, as Pam watches whatever show du jour has captured her attention until she falls asleep. I like to use the TV as background noise while I read or work.

We got here yesterday, and last night after enjoying ourselves at a great rehearsal dinner, we went to sleep without the TV flickering behind our eyelids. I found it refreshing. Pam played about an hour of solitaire on her iPad.

This morning, we had a nice breakfast and chatted with friends. We went back to our cabin, and made a fire. We know very little about making fires. We sort of understand the concept of kindling and draft, but the reality is that without gas, we were somewhat uncertain as how to start,

My, how the times have changed. A generation ago, everyone knew how to make a roaring fire. Most homes had wood burning fireplaces that could be used on a daily basis. Today, burning wood in a fireplace is deemed worse than burning gas in an automobile. The country is replete with Spare The Air regulations, which limit when wood can be burned and prohibit wood burning fireplaces in new construction. It will not be long before the gasoline powered motors are prohibited in new automobiles.

I love the sound of my naturally aspirated, air-cooled flat six engine in my 1989 Carrera and the sound of my naturally aspirated, flat six water cooled engine in my 2015 Cayman. Both cars feature symphonic exhaust notes that tremendously enhance the driving experience, making it much more visceral. The same cannot be said for battery powered cars, despite their surreal acceleration, as their lack of sound detracts dramatically from the experience for me.

I feel the same way about gas fireplaces. Everybody has them now. Our daughter, Shelby, and her husband, Bryan, just installed one in their house. Pam is lobbying to put one into our fireplace, too. I sat in front of Shelby’s and Bryan’s fireplace on Christmas Day. It was pretty. It threw off heat. But something was missing. Sound.

Pam and I are sitting side by side in comfortable chairs in front of the fire in our room. A real fire in a wood burning fireplace. A fire we successfully started without gas. Pam has broken down and is watching Netflix on her iPad, while I peck at the keys on my keyboard. The fire is beautiful. The heat is palpable. The smell is amazing, though we may be wearing it to the wedding. Most important is the sound. The cracking and popping of the wood, the whoosh of the air as it goes up the chimney make the experience real, not sterile.

This is an unbelievable guilty pleasure. The weather has limited our activities, but I am thoroughly relaxed and comfortable. I could have gone to the Library at the Ranch to watch NFL Wildcard Weekend. Yet, I am so much happier here. I keep looking at the clock, wishing time would pass more slowly, enabling me to spend more time this way. This is something I never do. Something I wish I could do more of at home.

I am totally in the moment. Yes, it is not politically correct. Yes, it is indulgent. But it is so satisfying. I have not just parked myself in front of a fire for years. I feel the same sense of relaxation as when I am driving my Porsches over the backroads and twisties. There is no noise from the TV in the background. I am disconnected. Sort of. And, I like it.

When I’m Sixty-Four

I have been thinking about this song for 51 years, ever since the Beatles released it in 1967. It stamped sixty-four into my consciousness at a time when thirty was considered over the hill. Initially, it only lurked in the recesses of my mind and took a back seat to forty-five, which was my age in the year 2000. In my teens, twenties, thirties, and early forties I would focus on how old I would be when the new millennium arrived. Somehow that event held much more significance to me. Not anymore.

The millennium came and went. It was pretty much a big ado, like every other new year, about nothing. Even the computer systems took it in stride. Now it is just a distant, and mostly faded, memory. Not surprisingly, 2019, the year in which I turn sixty-four, took the place of the millennium in my mind.

Not for much longer, though. 2019 is upon us, making me just a couple of months shy of sixty-four. It also makes the song, or at least its chorus, way more important to me. Sixty-four is a pretty insignificant age, as far as ages go. Being sixty-four means I have been able to buy movie tickets at the senior citizen price for four years. It means I have been eligible to join AARP for 14 years. That’s about it.

Thanks to Messrs. Lennon and McCartney, though, sixty-four has always been a very significant age to me, at least psychologically. It is a veritable yardstick in my mind, one I need to measure myself against. It is a symbolic gate, a gate through which only old people pass. It marks the point at which QTR no longer refers to Qualified Tuition Reduction for me or my kids, but instead refers to Quality Time Remaining. It is the age in which I may have to start taking New Year’s resolutions seriously, at least the important ones. It is the age that is forcing me to ask myself if I am still needed and relevant.

Or not.

I am a happy, boring guy. I do not want to make any significant changes in my life, though change has a way of creeping up on all of us. I am content with where I am. With all due respect to Messrs. Wiseman and Nichols, I have no interest in going Rocky Mountain climbing, skydiving, or 2.7 seconds on a bull named Fu Manchu, though a few track days in my Porsche would not be a bad idea. Most of my body parts still function. My wife, Pam, is a saint, and despite my more curmudgeon like tendencies, continues to keep me current and relevant. I have two great kids, who actually still seek my advice. I have great friends. I enjoy my work. I have hobbies. Heck, I even have a great dog.

So instead of letting the specter of sixty-four weigh on my mind any longer, I am planning to embrace it for what it is – much ado about nothing, hoping it will become as faded and distant a memory as the millennium. In essence, I plan to live like I am still sixty-three.

There is just one problem with that, though. Shelby, my older daughter, is pregnant. She is due in April. Sixty-four will now be marked indelibly in my mind as the age in which I became a grandfather, making it truly significant for me.

Happy New Year!

Sound of Silence

The internet of things (IoT) is not ready for the real world.  Or at least it is not ready for my world.  Or I am not ready for its world.  For the past 24 hours, I experienced a frustrating, yet telling, example about just how tough it is to get everyday devices to maintain communication with each other.

It started innocently enough.  Pam turned our newest TV, the 55 inch 4K device from Sony, off Friday night.  It was working perfectly when she turned it off.  Neither of us used it until Saturday afternoon, when I turned it on to watch the Belmont Stakes.  I had just returned from a great day with my PCA Los Angeles friends, having driven about 220 miles in my 89 Carrera to Arrowhead and back to celebrate Porsche’s 70th Birthday.  I had had an awesome time, but I was a little tired and just wanted to chill.  Then I turned on the TV, and I immediately noticed the sound of sound.  At first I thought one of us had accidentally muted the sound, but that was not the case.  Then I thought that maybe one of the buttons on the TV remote, versus the cable box remote, had been accidentally pressed before the TV was turned off.  As it was hanging out behind our pillows, this was not an unreasonable assumption.  Independently, Pam made the same one, many hours later.  It was, however, not correct.  By then the world had another Triple Crown winner to talk about.  I had missed the call, which given the tightness of the race and the rarity of accomplishing the feat, was too bad.  So much for my ability to chill for a bit.

Starting to get frustrated, I began pushing all the set up buttons I could find on both remotes.  All to no avail.  Still no sound.  At that point, I started to think like the technical guru I am supposed to be, and I rebooted the cable box.  No effect.  Still no sound.  I got even more technical.  I unplugged the TV, waited the de rigueur minute or so, plugged it back in.  Voila, still no sound.  I then got even more technical.  I unplugged and re-plugged all the cables.  Still no sound.  Worse, still no chill, and more than a tad more frustration.

Then I got creative.  I tried to use Netflix on the internet, bypassing the cable box.  Interestingly, and somewhat surprisingly, I had to reset my wireless connection to get to Netflix.  No problem.  No sound either.  At that point Pam had come home and I was grousing and grumbling.  Given my state of agitation, she wisely chose to ignore me.  I played with the remotes some more, and all I got was an earful of silence.  Lots of picture, but no sound whatsoever.

By then I had spent about 90 minutes on this issue and decided to contact Best Buy, as that was where we had purchased the TV.  After about five tries to get a human in the Geek Squad to speak with me at 5:30 on a Saturday night, I was connected to a nice young man who simply said, “You have done all the triage we would have walked you through.  We have no idea what else to tell you to do.  You need to speak with Sony technical support directly.”  He gave me the number and then transferred me, but not before I had rummaged through my desk, found the invoice for the TV and was relieved to know that it was still under warranty.  Of course, the Sony support line was closed.  I figured I would call back on Sunday, which I did.  It was still closed, but I listened to the message long enough to jot down their technical support web site.

I went to the web site, and the first thing I noted was a support issue relating to a recent Android TV upgrade.  I sort of knew the TV an Android TV, but as we are an Apple house, I never had given it much thought.  I decided to read the symptoms that might exist if the upgrade went awry.  The last symptom partially related to the absence of sound.  Intrigued, I checked out what to do about it.  It turned out I had already taken the first couple of steps, but the third step, relating to a menu driven factory reset, was new to me.  I followed the directions and did the reset.  Again to no avail, as the sound was still silent.  There was a fourth step, forcing a factory reset, but the text seemed to indicate that the preferred method was the one I had already done.

Feeling disappointed and still grousing, I decided to try to have an online chat with Sony tech support.  I initiated the communication, got connected to a support person, typed in my issues and waited for a response.  None was forthcoming, as a minute or so later, I was informed that our connection was lost.  As far as I was concerned, that was par for the course.  I started over, re-typing all my data and issues and started a chat session again.  Shockingly, I got the same tech person.  He remembered me, and just asked one question in the chat dialog,  “Have you done the forced restart yet.”  I replied, “No.”

He sent me a link to a document describing how to do the forced reset, and as I was following it, I inadvertently disconnected myself from the chat session, which reminded me once again why I hate communicating via keyboard.  “I am a boomer, not a millennial,” I muttered to myself, as I generated the enthusiasm for going thru the reset and resulting setup process yet again.  I had to enlist Pam to do the forced reset.  It was not hard to do, it just needed more than two hands at once.  We began the process, and I sat and waited while it went thru its steps.  It took about 30 minutes, the bulk of which were spent while it checked for updates, which I found ironic, as I still thought that that was how I got into this mess in the first place.  The reset ended, I dutifully navigated via the remote buttons to enter all passwords and waited for sound.  No luck.   Still silence.

I went back to the document describing the steps on how to fix the Android upgrade, and noted that it said that if the forced reset did not work at first, try it again.  So we did.  Same result.  No sound.  By now I was resigned to the fact that I needed a new TV.  Pam was in favor of just dropping it into the alley to be recycled by one of the myriad of people trolling our alley for castoffs.

I had spent between five and six hours on this, and I was really frustrated.  Thinking I would give the chat one more try and then set an appointment to have a service tech come out, I started the chat process yet again.  I re-typed all the information, adding the fact that I had done two forced resets, thereby eliminating that from consideration.  I was sort of surprised, and a little disappointed, that my new chat partner was different from before.  Thankfully, it didn’t matter.  She reviewed my comments.  She thanked me for all work I had done already.  Then she asked me if I had tried to use an App since I had done the forced reset.  I said, “No.  The last time I tried was the previous day before the forced reset.”  She suggested I try again.  I figured why not.  So I tried it.  I put on Netflix, and, to my amazement and utter delight, I got sound.  It was glorious.  Feeling somewhat better, I tried to use the cable box again.  No sound.  Damn.

I went back to the chat dialog, reported the results and waited.  While I was waiting, inspiration struck.  Maybe I needed to reboot the cable box again, now that I had reset the TV.  I informed my chat companion I would do so, and she agreed.  Unbelievably, and to my utter amazement, when the cable box rebooted, sound came out of the TV.  Problem solved—at least for now.  I am sure I will need to go about this choreography again after another unilateral upgrade of an independent device occurs.

So almost 24 hours after I began trying to get my TV to work, it worked.  TVs and cable boxes have been co-existing for quite some time.  I would think that they should be pretty easy to keep synced, but I guess not.  I can hardly wait for the issues that will crop up when we try to keep really complicated devices, like cars, synced.  I guess we’ll hear the sounds of crashes when we don’t, and I will yearn for the sound of silence.

Donut Hole Party

Politically, I am lost in the donut hole.  Not the infamous Medicare coverage gap referred to as the donut hole, but the political party one.  I am one of the most under represented people in American politics.  I am adrift.  And I am not alone.

I never felt this way so strongly before.  Maybe I should have.  Maybe I was too naive to realize that I was never represented.  Maybe most people are never truly represented.  Or maybe, just maybe, the parties I have been aligned with over the years have changed, and the gap between my beliefs and the party platforms has widened.

I started my voting life, some 40 odd years ago, as a Republican, mainly because my mother was an irrational liberal and was always railing on the Republicans.  My sister and father followed her lead, leaving me with Alex P. Keaton as my sole political role model.  I was the only one in my peer group who voted for Ford, not because I like cars but because I liked Ford.  For decades I voted Libertarian, mainly because they were the most aligned with my apparently misguided belief in personal responsibility.  But I could not ascribe completely to their minimalist government platform.  Over the past decade or so I have had to swallow my rational economic roots and my aforementioned misguided belief in personal responsibility and vote Democratic, mainly because I strongly believe in human rights.  Having said that, every time I hear a Democrat speak I want to throw things at them.

Feeling frustrated I went in search of other parties and platforms that represented me.  Despite scouring the web and reading many, many party platforms, I remained frustrated because all of the platforms I read were flawed in one way or another.  A couple of parties, namely the world not so famous Unity Party of America and the Objectivist Party, came close but not close enough, and besides they are so obscure that there would be no value in aligning with them.  As my frustration mounted, I actually read the Peace and Freedom Party platform, which shockingly I felt really good about until I got to the part about the socialist run economy, which is a non-starter for me.

My problem is that I am not easy to categorize.  I am neither fish nor fowl.  Most would label me a centrist, as on average I do not lean too far left or too far right.  But am I a centrist?  No way.  That is way too simple of an explanation.  In general using an average to analyze a population is fraught with risk.  Simply put, “On average every one in the world has one boob and one ball.”  Obviously, not many of us are built that way.  Depending on the issue, my leanings can be liberal or conservative.  So much so, that I have been labeled everything from bleeding heart to heartless.

So where does that leave me?  Somewhere down the donut hole.  Maybe you are there with me.  If so, let’s have a party.

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