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Thanks, I Hate It.

Source: Trading Card Database

After putting it off for as long as I could I had to break down and get a new iPhone. The last one was the iPhone 6 which annoyed me because they moved the headphone jack to the bottom of the phone which annoyed me because it was the sort of completely unnecessary change the designers must have come up with when they were desperate to do something exciting and different and also probably high.

Now I have an iPhone 12 which doesn’t have a headphone jack at all which annoys me even more because, again, it’s a completely unnecessary change. Along with changing the chargers so I can’t plug my phone into my computer because that makes perfect sense.

There’s a probably apocryphal story about Steve Jobs that he’d say, “If Henry Ford had asked people what they wanted they would have said, ‘A faster horse.’” Point taken. Sometimes advances in technology require incredible imaginative leaps that most people aren’t going to make, but if, in going from the Model T to the Model A, Henry Ford had asked people, “What if I reverse the brake and accelerator and make the steering wheel face backwards?” people would have said, “No! That’s a stupid and terrible idea!” and they would have been right.

I’m trying to keep an open mind about this so I considered the pros and cons of wireless earphones:

Pros:

  1. No more wires.

Cons:

  1. One more thing to charge that will require a cord that will probably be obsolete in six months.
  2. Lower quality sound.
  3. Wireless earphones sometimes picking up other people’s signals so I’ll hear what they’re listening to rather than what I want to hear.
  4. All my current earphones are now obsolete garbage.
  5. There was no good reason for this.

Source: Giphy.

And I know that on a scale of one to Jurassic Park this is a problem this ranks a Just Deal but still little changes add up. A software company I used to work with had a forum for customers to submit ideas and suggestions for improvement. I once got the chance to ask the designers what their process was for reviewing and integrating customer ideas and their response was, “We only provide the forum as a courtesy and aren’t interested in customer input.” I get that time and resources are limited so designers couldn’t listen to every customer suggestion, but shutting out all customer feedback explained why they made some really terrible decisions, and also why my employer quit working with that company, and it may be unrelated but about a year later that company went bankrupt. There must be a happy medium somewhere between trying to make all the people happy all the time and “The customer is always wrong.”

I got my new iPhone over the weekend and it seemed like the transition went fairly smoothly, but, because I’m working from home, I have to use a security app on my phone to get into most of what my work computer does, and on Monday morning it wouldn’t work. I called the IT department and when I told the really nice, really helpful guy there I’d just gotten an iPhone 12, he sighed and said, “Oh, that’s the problem.”

Yeah, I thought, that’s what happens when you redesign a car and think it’s a good idea to make the steering wheel face backwards.

Don’t Put It Pasta.

Source: Saveur

Carbs may be persona non grata for some personae but if I have to do a little extra exercise, or accept that my spare tire will be a little more inflated, I’m okay with that because there are many things I won’t do without and pasta is one of them. Or rather the many varieties of pasta, and thanks to 3-D printing there are even more varieties of pasta. I’m pretty sure the question of why there are already hundreds of varieties of pasta, mostly regional could be the subject of a whole book. Heck, last year a journalist did a deep dive into why there was a shortage of bucatini, which, in spite of my love for pasta, I never even noticed, maybe because there are so many varieties, and finally got an answer this year

And then there’s Barilla’s annual 3-D pasta printing contest that invites people to enter designs that couldn’t be made by hand or even conventional pasta machines, like this pasta galaxy:

Source: Saveur

It represents the possible future of food that doesn’t just look good but could be better for us, which seemed like a good excuse for me to bring out this palate-cleansing pop quiz:

Musical term or pasta?

  1. Fusilli
  2. Abbellimenti
  3. Pappardelle
  4. Pizzoccheri
  5. Villotta
  6. Lamento
  7. Mafaldine
  8. Rigatoni
  9. Bamboula
  10. Tutti
  11. Obbligato
  12. Zimbalon
  13. Farfalloni
  14. Jongleur
  15. Passacaglia
  16. Lumaconi
  17. Mandala
  18. Orecchiette
  19. Quadrefiore
  20. Funiculì
  21. Ricciutelle
  22. Quadrettini
  23. Sacchettini
  24. Tortelloni
  25. Epithalamium
  26. Gnocchi
  27. Spatzle
  28. Malagueña
  29. Bucatini
  30. Logorrhea

Each answer is worth 1 point.

1-10 points: Great job guessing!

11-20 points: Your music appreciation/cooking instructor is somewhere saying, “Thank goodness something got through.”

21-30 points: We’re coming to your place for dinner and/or a concert.

Answer key below the video.

 

https://freethinkersanonymous.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/08/answerkey.jpg

 

A Place To Walk.

Source: Age Fotostock

It’s strange to me to think that it’s now been eighteen months and one week, give or take, since I’ve been working from home. There have definitely been some advantages, but there are also things I miss. I don’t walk as much as I used to for so many reasons. I’m not parking the car somewhere before I make the trek to my office, I’m not taking the bus home in the afternoons, and my neighborhood doesn’t have sidewalks so it’s not the best place to go out walking. This was more of a problem when I was taking the bus and would walk a quarter of a mile, give or take, home, treading carefully on the very edges of people’s yards, wishing there were sidewalks and thinking about things like the fact that in Britain a sidewalk is called “the pavement”, which is just calling it what it’s made of. How does that make any sense? No one says, “Hey, can I get anybody anything? I’m going down to the bricks. How am I going to get there? I’ll drive my metal and plastic.” But that’s another story.

Since the lockdowns started, then ended, then picked up again, then turned into whatever we’re in now, I’ve noticed that a lot of areas around my neighborhood have lowered the speed limit from 30 miles an hour to 25, and there’s been a rise in those little figures that ask people to slow down, and, in spite of the lack of sidewalks, it seems like I do see a lot more people out walking.

The city has even blocked off some roads at certain times to encourage people to get out and walk, and the Nashville Scene has a regular Walk A Mile feature, and I think that’s great. It makes me think I should also get out and walk more. And when I do drive I always drive slowly through residential areas anyway. In my own neighborhood I drive like our kids live there because, hey, our four-legged kids do live there, and they’re not the only ones, and I don’t just worry about the four-legged ones. Or not even just about kids.

The other night as I was driving home from the store I passed a guy who was walking his dog and even though I was already driving pretty slowly I slowed down even more and moved over. But there was another car coming from the other direction and we all had to maneuver carefully to avoid any accident. The guy had to pull his dog into a bush next to the road, which must have been uncomfortable, and I felt bad and thought how there’d have been space for all of us if the neighborhood had sidewalks.

Unreal.

Source: Wikipedia

It’s been a long time since I wore a watch regularly but back when I did I’d have to take it in and get the battery replaced every six months or so. And while there are some chain places that are closer to me that offer watch battery replacement I’d always go the extra distance to go to a small independent jeweler. I’d do this for two reasons: one, the people who work at those chain places aren’t always that well trained at replacing watch batteries and I’ve seen them damage watches, and, two, the independent jeweler was actually cheaper.

Well, there was also a third reason. I really dig gemstones. I mean I like them. I’ve dabbled in rock collecting, including earning my geology merit badge as a Boy Scout, but there’s something really fascinating about cut stones. The skill of lapidary is just amazing to me, and while there are more valuable stones there aren’t any that I find more extraordinary than star sapphires. I’m kind of running out of superlatives here because I just can’t put into words how amazing it is that the “star” at the heart of a star sapphire, known as an asterism, moves as you move back and forth while looking at it. It’s not an illusion but it does seem unreal.

I thought about that when I read about some workmen in Sri Lanka who turned up a massive cluster of star sapphires, estimated to be worth up to one-hundred million dollars, in the backyard of a guy who was able to identify it on the spot because he just happened to be a gem trader.

Source: BBC

What are the odds of something like that happening? Well, pretty good, it turns out. Sri Lanka is known for being a major exporter of sapphires and other gems, and Ratnapura, where the sapphire cluster was found, is one of the island’s most gem-rich areas. The world’s largest star sapphire, known as “The Star Of Adam”, which weighs a whopping 1404.49 carats–that’s almost ten ounces– was found there in 2016.

Source: BBC

It’s still an amazing find, and I bet the guy whose yard it was found in really digs it.

One More Thing…

Source: New York Times

There’s been a major revival of interest in the detective series Columbo, and since I’ve been a fan ever since I was a kid and discovered late night reruns watching my black and white TV in my bedroom, and since September 16, 2021 would be Peter Falk’s 94th birthday let’s talk about it and why the possibility of a reboot needs to die. Right now. Even if I have to kill it myself.

What hooked me from the very beginning, and why I still love Columbo, is really Peter Falk’s charm. He was rarely angry and had a quiet, unassuming demeanor that set him apart from other detectives of the era, which is also why I think he’s still popular today. Other ‘70’s detectives—Kojack, Rockford, McCloud!—were darker and grittier and, well, there’s a lot of that around, which may be why they don’t get as much attention. It’s telling that one of the other exceptions, Murder, She Wrote, is also getting a new surge in popularity, with its stories of a mystery writer who lives in the quaint New England town of Cabot Cove where the leading cause of death is living in Cabot Cove, maybe because Angela Lansbury is also the woman who murdered Sweeney Todd put Sweeney Todd’s customers in pies, but that’s another story.

There’s also Columbo’s appearance. He spends most of his time in a shabby raincoat and smoking cigars, although at least once he switched to cigarettes and coffee when he was up all night doing research. Some people point to the show’s fashions as being very ‘70’s, but some of the same looks are still around today. I think it’s more a sign of when it was made that Columbo could smoke indoors and there was an ashtray every three feet. He’s also different in that he pretends to be absent-minded, wandering around, frequently talking about his wife, whom we never see, and, as an aside, I’m going to say Kate Mulgrew deserved better. And got it, first in space, then behind bars.

The fact that we never see Mrs. Columbo has spawned a fan theory that she doesn’t exist, which is funny, but the evidence doesn’t back it up. Other people in the series also talk about her and, once, she tries to replace Columbo’s trademark gray raincoat with a bright yellow slicker that he “forgets” and leaves behind several times.

And while Peter Falk became a producer, working hard on the show behind the scenes, Columbo deliberately makes himself small, staying out of the way, often hunched over. Even the show itself frequently makes use of long shots in big rooms or outdoors, making Columbo appear even smaller. When asked what his first name is he only says, “Lieutenant,” although sharp-eyed fans know his first name is Frank, from one of the few times he flashes his badge.

The show also has a not so subtle anti-establishment streak, which I think is a product of its time but also part of the show’s ongoing appeal. Most of his suspects are wealthy, powerful people, and though there’s always a deeper motive—a fear of losing their wealth or their position, mainly—they still feel they can get away with murder, and it’s satisfying to see them get taken down. In spite of that Columbo does seem to like, or at least respect, some of the suspects he trailed. In “Any Old Port In A Storm”, when the murderer is a high-class winemaker played by Donald Pleasance,  Columbo seems to enjoy showing off his newfound knowledge of wine. Drinking while on duty—and, let’s face it, Columbo is always on duty, even when he’s on vacation—may be a violation, but in every other respect Columbo stays well above the law. And, okay, he goes out drinking again in “The Conspirators”, when he joins the Irish poet (and IRA sympathizer) Joe Devlin, and tries to impress him by reciting some limericks, including “The Pelican”:

A rare old bird is the pelican.
His bill holds more than his belly can.
He can take in his beak
enough food for a week.
I’m damned if I know how the hell he can!

And then there’s “Swan Song” in which the murderer is played by Johnny Cash, who starts with a good performance of “I Saw The Light” and ends with him being arrested for sending his wife down in a plane crash. But what also makes the episode memorable is how Cash and Falk have such natural onscreen chemistry, complimenting and complementing each other, that it’s not hard to believe actor and singer hung out together after the filming.

Even in “Murder Under Glass”, which is notable for being one of the few times Columbo comes out and says he dislikes his suspect, a professional food critic, but still wants to impress him with veal scallopini a la Columbo.

I’ve been using all this to lead up to why I want to kill a proposed reboot. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with reboots in general—I even think some have been great—but, while Sherlock Holmes, Miss Marple, and even Sam Spade, among other famous detectives, have been played by other people, and while Peter Falk didn’t originate the role, he made it his own. It’s hard to imagine the producers originally wanted Bing Crosby, and I just can’t picture Columbo as a blue-eyed sophisticate standing over a corpse crooning, “Bet she was a beautiful baby, buh buh buh…”

It’s because of Peter Falk that Columbo makes such effective use of the inverted detective story in which we know from the beginning who the murderer is and how they did it. How the detective unravels the mystery is supposed to be what draws us in, although, really, it’s just the pleasure of hanging out with Columbo for an hour or two.

What would a reboot look like? Even the innumerable Law & Order clones that have firmly planted the idea that most crimes are committed by the special guest star look ridiculous when we have darker, more complicated dramas like Broadchurch and The Sinner that explore how crimes don’t happen in a vacuum and are never really resolved, especially after just an hour.

Source: Atlas Obscura

And let’s not forget that part of the appeal of Columbo is that it’s always funny, or at least tongue-in-cheek. The murders may be serious but Columbo isn’t. He drives a broken down Peugeot, and occasionally brings along his Basset hound named “Dog”—I’m pretty sure Mrs. Columbo has given their pet a more elegant name. Columbo and Dog both are immortalized in a funny statue in, of all places, Budapest. Columbo even has his own amusing theme song, “This Old Man”, which he occasionally whistles to himself. Outside of Columbo Peter Falk is best known for comedic roles–the grandfather in The Princess Bride, opposite Alan Arkin in The In-Laws, and an aging performer in a made-for-TV remake of Neil Simon’s The Sunshine Boys.

The show also sometimes really strains credibility with Columbo picking up on farfetched clues like a pair of not sweaty socks, or an episode like “Troubled Waters”. While it’s a great story with a great cast that includes Robert Vaughn and Dean Stockwell, what are the odds someone would commit a murder on the same cruise ship where a great detective just happened to be taking a vacation?

A reboot would almost certainly heighten the comedy, but then it would be too much like the MAD Magazine parody “Clodumbo”, where the punchline is that twenty-seven innocent people have turned themselves in just to get away from the detective pestering them.

Source: Columbo Site

Columbo himself says it best at the end of the best episode, “The Bye-Bye Sky High IQ Murder Case”, when he’s asked if he’d ever consider another line of work. ““Me, sir? No. Never. I couldn’t do that.”

Let that be one last thing.

Here Comes The Sun.

A friend of mine lives in an old farm house with a single hallway that goes from the front to the back, and once a year the rising sun is perfectly framed by the back door so that it shines all the way through the house. He calls it “House Henge” and, being a farmhouse, you’d think the builders might have planned for this and placed the house so it would fall on one of the equinoxes or one of the solstices—a time with some significance, perhaps, especially with regard to planting or harvesting. But, no, it just happens sometime in August. It’s still a pretty cool thing, though, and always reminds me how strange it was when I was a kid and realized the sun doesn’t just rise and set. It moves from north to south. I’d always heard “the sun rises in the east and sets in the west” but that’s not really true. Watching sunsets from my more or less west-facing bedroom window I’d see the sun set over some distant hills in the summer and behind a stand of trees in the winter, and when I saw a picture of an analemma I wasn’t surprised that people had documented the motion of the sun.

This motion can sometimes be annoying too. When I rode the bus home from work regularly I traveled more or less west, and there was always a time of year when, in the afternoon, the setting sun would be directly in front of the bus, pretty much blinding the driver. I’m sure it still happens; I see buses along my old route all the time. Bus drivers have a little bit of a shade they can pull down but there’d be at least a day or two when the sun is low enough that pretty much all they can do is put on some sunglasses and keep their eyes low.

A few months ago it looked like I’d be going back to work in my office, and I was even making plans to resume riding the bus, probably going both ways since my wife and I let our parking passes for work expire. Then all that fell through and for now I plan to keep working from home. And we’re getting to a time of year when the afternoon sun shines right in through the window where I work. It would be annoying but, hey, I can pull the shade all the way down. It’s not like I’m going anywhere.

TV Or Not TV?

Late fall always meant going back to school for me, and going back to school always meant the end of my summer tradition of watching too much TV even when the weather was nice enough to be outside, at least until
I got home in the afternoons. So that prompted this question: do you recognize the lyrics from the themes to these classic TV sitcoms?

(Note that some of these shows used instrumental versions but originally had lyrics written for them while others had extended versions that never made it to the air.)

  1. A smile is just a frown that’s turned upside down

So smile, and that frown will defrost.

 

  1. Memories help me hide my lonesome feelin’

Far away from you and feelin’ low

It’s gettin’ late my friend, I miss you so

Take good care of you, I’ve gotta go

 

  1. My heart was under lock and key,

But somehow it got unhitched.

I never thought that I could be had

But now I’m caught and I’m kinda glad

 

  1. Roll out of bed, Mr. Coffee’s dead

The morning’s looking bright

And your shrink ran off to Europe

And didn’t even write

 

  1. Fish don’t fry in the kitchen

Beans don’t burn on the grill

Took a whole lotta trying

Just to get up that hill

 

  1. We’ll have no need to call the roll when we get to The Fishin’ Hole,

There’ll be you, me, and Old Dog Trey, to doodle time away.

 

  1. Take me in your arms and hold me tight,

Tell me that your love is mine tonight,

Say that everything will turn up right,

It hurts to say goodbye.

 

  1. Everybody knows in a second life

We all come back sooner or later

As anything from a pussycat

To a man eating alligator

 

  1. Skin yourself alive, learn to speak Arapahoe,

Climb inside a dog, and behead an Eskimo.

Now you’ve heard it once, your brain will spring a leak, 

And though you hate this song, you’ll be humming it for weeks!

 

  1. And when we both get older

With walking canes and hair of gray

Have no fear, even though it’s hard to hear

I will stand real close and say

 

  1. This is the music that you hear as you watch the credits.

We’re almost to the part of where I start to whistle.

Then we’ll watch…

 

  1. I spend my nights just howling at the moon

Or hanging out in a creepy black lagoon…

 

  1. That game of life is hard to play

I’m gonna lose it anyway

The losing card, I’ll some day lay

So this is all I have to say

 

  1. Just like the light of a new day

It hit me from out of the blue

Breaking me out of the spell I was in

Making all of my wishes come true

 

  1. You’re all invited back again to this locality

To have a heapin’ helpin’ of their hospitality

Scoring:

12-15: Your mother told you more than once that if you didn’t stop sitting so close to the TV you were going to grow square eyes.

10-11: Every once in a while you stop on one of the nostalgia channels before you go look for something better to watch.

7-9: You found an old TV in your parents’ attic once, plugged it in, and assumed all the color seeped out years ago.

5-8: If you rolled your eyes at this list and said, “Okay, Gen-Xer” give yourself ten bonus points.

2-4: You have never lived in a time when DVR didn’t exist.

0-1: Congratulations on having done something useful with your summer vacations.

The Answer Key is below the video.

Answer Key:

1-The Dick Van Dyke Show

2-WKRP In Cincinnati

3-Bewitched

4-Cheers

5-The Jeffersons

6-The Andy Griffith Show

7-Alfred Hitchcock Presents (not a sitcom and the lyrics are of questionable provenance since the original was an instrumental piece by Charles Gounod but are taken from The TV Theme Song Sing-Along Songbook by John Javna)

8-If you said “My Mother The Car” you guessed WRONG. This was never a classic sitcom.

9-Not a theme song but the infamous Chicken Song from Spitting Image.

10-The Golden Girls

11-It’s Garry Shandling’s Show

12-The Munsters

13-M*A*S*H

14-The Greatest American Hero

15-The Beverly Hillbillies

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

End Of The Season.

Three things mark the end of summer for me: school starting, which hasn’t really been an issue for me for a few decades, Labor Day, and county and state fairs. In the late ‘80’s and early ‘90’s Nashville also used to have a festival called City Lights, designed to draw people downtown, and huge crowds would go to see free concerts and visit booths for local restaurants and businesses and then downtown would be deserted again because there was nothing to stick around for.

This year I haven’t gone to any county fairs, for the same reason I didn’t go last year, or even to the state fair which used to be in Nashville but has since moved to a neighboring county. The Nashville Fairgrounds have been used for several things over the years, most recently a homeless shelter, which some people have complained about because some people have no compassion. Giving someone who’s lost so much a place to sleep seems more important than a sheep-shearing exhibit–at least that’s what I think.

One of the last years the fair was held here my wife and I went, leaving work early because she wanted to see the mule pull, and I did too but lost interest when I found out it was the mules doing the pulling, but that’s another story.

So I wandered off to the midway. We’d gotten there so early that even though the mules were already pulling and some of the animal events were happening the rides were all still closed and empty. It was as though some terrible cold had descended and frozen even time itself as I walked through a place where there should have been noise and lights and crowds, and where, in a few hours there would be.

The only predictable thing about time is its unpredictability. What next year will be like is still unknown. Even the changing of the seasons is itself changing. Walking through the empty midway I could imagine the crowds to come, but not precisely, and there would be joy and sadness and wins and losses I’d never know about. Time moves on without repeating, sometimes without rhyming, but what does it leave behind?

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