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Monday, March 03, 2008

Bright-Eyed and Feverish

Illin'

I'm on day three of a Ny-Quil haze. Whatever this is, don't catch it. I'm finally approaching coherence. I'm at least close enough to rational thought to poke at it with a long stick, anyway...


Don't Worry, There ARE No Consequences

Have you guys noticed that there are a TON of commercials on TV these days offering to let you pay your credit card debt "for pennies on the dollar," or telling you that you don't really need to pay that $20,000 in back taxes you owe? Doesn't that strike you as being, well, wrong?

I understand credit card debt. I've been fighting it my entire adult life. I can't get out from under it. I think credit cards are evil incarnate. In fact, if we could only get out from under our credit card debt, I'm sure life would be peachy indeed! But as soon as we get within spittin' distance of getting them paid off, the car breaks, someone has to go to the hospital, the water heater blows up... something happens. We've paid hundreds and hundreds of dollars a month to the credit card companies for years, and are no closer to getting them paid off than we were seven years ago.

Boy, I'd sure love it if someone made it a law that they can't charge more than eight percent interest. That would truly turn my life around! But that ain't gonna happen.

Push comes to shove, I used the credit cards knowing what I was getting into. I needed the funds, and was desperate enough to use credit. Am I happy to pay them? No, I'm not -- I think the amount of interest they charge is criminal. But, like I said, I went into this with my eyes open. I signed on the dotted line. It would be immoral of me to break the contract now.

This is the point where my natural Libertarianism comes into conflict with my innate sense that "someone should oughta do something."

On the one hand, if people overborrow, they should be held responsible to pay their debts (as I'm attempting to do). On the other hand, shouldn't there be a mechanism in place to limit corporate greed -- someone to tell the credit card companies, "you've bled Joe Schmoe dry, he can't pay what he owes -- quit offering him more credit"?

It's a quandry, see?

Normally I'd be in favor of saying, "Well, if Joe Schmoe borrowed too much money, that's his own problem. He knew the consequences borrowing, now he must pay those consequences." But it's starting to affect ME, and that changes things.

Sidebar -- a few years back a guy I know bragged to me that he never paid property taxes. He was pretty smug about it, and was awfully surprised when I started hollering at him. "So you think I should pay YOUR way?" I yelled. "My taxes have gone up yearly, and I pay them because I like driving on paved roads and having my poop piped away, but I don't want to have to pay for YOUR sorry situation! If you don't pay your taxes, it's like you're stealing from ME. Either pay your taxes or quit using the roads, the sewers, the emergency services and the schools."

It's like that with debt now. It used to be that I was paying a zillion percent interest simply to keep the bankers and credit card people in caviar. The problem is that now there are so many people taking advantage of the "Oh, don't worry about your debt, we'll help you get out of it" commercials that the bankers and credit card people have to charge the honest borrowers even more interest to maintain their rich and fabulous lifestyle, and that really bothers me.

Why do I have to pay my taxes and credit card bills while the other guy doesn't? That's the factor that throws the law of consequences into the rubbish bin -- the fact that some people pay no consequences whilst the rest of us have to shoulder our burden AND theirs.

The guy who defaults on his credit card debt, who skirts taxes, who files frivolous lawsuits, who cheats his insurance company, who shoplifts... That guy is stealing from YOU -- you're paying for his actions.

Are there legitimate reasons for ducking debt? Well sure there are. There are legitimate tax breaks, legitimate lawsuits, legitimate insurance claims... I'm not talking about that. I'm talking about the people who defraud the system. As a society, we need to tell these people to PAY UP. I can't afford to carry them any more.


The Decentralization of Computers

Where do you think this is going? What is the general trend? Where should you invest your money?

When I first started mucking about with computers in the mid-80's, there were two distinct kinds of machines: mainframes and PC's. The PC's (or Microcomputers, to be more exact), however, were different than what we think of today -- they had no memory.

No memory at all.

They had two big floppy drives, you see. You carried the entire operating system with you on one floppy disk, and you kept your data on another floppy. In order to turn the computer on, you had to insert the OS disk and boot it up that way. (Keep in mind that the 5.25" floppy disks held a whopping 720k. Yes, the entire operating system took less than 500k at the time.) Needless to say, the Microcomputers were rather limited. So we mostly used the mainframe.

The difference between a PC or a Microcomputer and a mainframe is simple -- PC's and Micros were self-contained, while a mainframe was one big computer in a central location with numerous "terminals" that people use to input data. In other words, twenty people could be sitting in twenty different locations using twenty different terminals (which were nothing more than keyboards and screens hooked to a modem) using the same computer at the same time.

This worked well. The college I attended had students who worked at the Computer Center, maintaining the mainframe and doing all the "dirty work" -- debugging, coding, keeping the computer running, etc. But after a few years, PC's started to be affordable. Real PC's with hard drives and memory, just like we have today. People flocked to the PC's because you could actually BUY one, and never have to wait in line to use a mainframe terminal again.

So, from about 1988 or 1990 to the recent past, PC's have ruled the computing landscape. Instead of companies buying one big powerful mainframe, they'd buy 100 cheap PC's and network them together. This has worked relatively well, but...

The trend I'm seeing now is a slow migration back towards the mainframe way of working.

It's easy enough to buy a PC today; they're cheaper than ever. The problem is that in the last 20 years the complexity of the software has gone through the roof. The applications and programs we use now are so incredibly complicated that no one really understands them any more. (If you don't believe me, try reinstalling your printer sometime. Sometimes it works, sometimes it don't, and no one can ever tell you why.) And, of course, the price of the software has gone up exponentially. Adobe's Creative Suite is $1,799.00. If you should happen to want their "Master" edition, that's $2,499.00. MicroSoft Office can run you up to nearly $700.

Is there an alternative? Sure! Use online software. Now that the Internet has reached a certain level of maturation we can reliably connect to software at a remote source without having to buy or download anything ourselves.

Google is a prime example. Instead of buying MicroSoft Word, PowerPoint or Excel, you can use Google's online software for free. It's a bit slower, as one might expect, but the benefits are myriad. Not only do I not have to pay for the software, but they maintain the upgrades and security, and they even keep copies of my documents on their servers -- I can access my documents from any computer that has Internet access. It's a thing of beauty!

Personally, I think this is the wave of the future -- or at least a significant ripple. I can imagine a certain segment of the population who would be happy to have a relatively cheap PC or laptop with minimal capabilities and hardly any localized software, but has a fast Internet connection. Instead of keeping (say) your photos on your own hard drive, you'd use your computer as a throughput device -- bring your photos in from your camera to your computer, then upload the "keepers" directly to Picasa or Fliker without keeping a copy on your machine at all. Let the pros handle the backup problems. If you need to type a letter, log into your Google account (much like we used to log into the mainframe), and access your library of documents as well as have the capability to create a new file. Same with speadsheets. Heck, I'm using an online word processor to write this blog.

Will this extend into the professional-level user? Maybe. I already use some online tools at work as a graphic designer, and I've used online design tools to create a few web sites. I doubt that anything will come along in the next month or two that will replace PhotoShop or Gimp, but I'm sure that someone, somewhere is thinking about it... It wouldn't surprise me if there are online graphic manipulation and layout applications available on the web in the next five years.

If I had any money to invest, I'd probably look at this sector.

Them's just my Ny-Quil-induced thoughts.



Beards

When I was a kid growing up in the last century, the only person I knew with a goatee was Bluto -- the guy who made a career out of tormenting Olive Oyl and Popeye. If anyone had a beard, it was a full, untrimmed bushy beard. Goatees were for evil people like Bluto. (If I remember right, there was a brief resurgence of the goatee right about the time the original Star Trek hit syndication with the goateed Klingons, but that lasted for about six weeks and was over as most people who try to look evil just look rather more like a guy with a goatee than a Klingon.)

I didn't see another goatee until the 1990's.

"Bell bottoms," I thought when I first saw one. "Goatees are popular this summer. In two years they'll be gone. Who wants to look like Bluto, for gosh sakes?" I promptly grew my beard out "Riker" style. This isn't because I wanted to emulate Commander Riker (to be honest, I thought his character on Star Trek was a pompous ass, though the actor, Jonathan Frakes, seems to have a good sense of humor), but rather because that's just the way my beard grows. I mean, why fight nature? If that's the way my beard wants to be, who am I to argue? I had a goatee for twelve minutes, and it looked kinda silly.

So, from the time I got out of the Army National Guard in 1993 until, well, now, I've had my beard pretty much the same.

The problem? Well, much to my consternation, my beard is telling my age. I'm going gray. *sigh*

This in itself doesn't overly bother me; I'm at the age where it's gonna happen. I'm just disappointed in the manner of the graying. Instead of my beard going academic salt-and-pepper, or simply gradually turning gray, it's going gray in two streaks down my chin.

I look like I have an inverted skunk clinging to my chin.

Near as I can tell, I have several options. The first is the inverted goatee -- let everything else grow, but shave my chin. The world famous professional chicken-wing eater Steakbellie pulled this look off successfully... But I don't think I can.

Another option is to shave. I did this once a year or two ago, and my wife made me grow it back. Turns out I have a good face for beards.

The two options I'm leaning towards are -- growing it out in ye olden shaggy biker beard, or grimacing and bearing it. I like the idea of having a shaggy biker beard, actually. Maybe I can grow it out enough so I can braid it. That'd be cool.

I've toyed around with the thought of dying it. "Just for Men," you know. But I don't really like that thought much... I earned the lines and the gray honestly.

Most likely, I'll just leave it the way it is... A baby skunk dangling from my chin. It is mine, after all. Why not?

11 Comments:

Blogger Father Andersen said...

The only problem with the Internet based mainframe is that it's out of control. Businesses won't go that route because too much depends on things they don't control - other people's servers, the Internet, etc. The home users, like you and me, are gonna reap the benefits, if we can tolerate the advertising, but as far as a business venture, it won't go far, at least not until they make a crash proof Internet.

Freeware, on the other hand, could go far. Even Microsoft Office has a freeware alternative (check out Openoffice.org). Gimp is already on the way to being a good Photoshop alternative. Linux is gaining as a Windows replacement (though still probably a few years before being compatible with software that actually does stuff.)

The problem with freeware is no one makes any money off it.

8:23 PM  
Blogger Father Andersen said...

a

8:26 PM  
Blogger katrocket said...

Wow! You're a busy writer! I was thinking "Hey, I haven't heard from Chris, hope he's okay.", and now I see you were just writing a novel.

I'm not a fan of facial hair in general, but you're right, the Steakbellie beard ROCKS! Birdy's Lenin beard was pretty cool, too. And there's nothing wrong with using Just For Men.

Get well soon!

7:52 AM  
Blogger Father Andersen said...

Beards are for cool people, like country-western singers, pirates, and hippies that are lost in a time-warp and don't realize it's not the '60s.

I personally go for the "too lazy to shave even though my facial hair grown in weird patches" look. It makes people think I'm crazy and they don't mess with me.

Or maybe I really am too lazy.... you'll never know!!

8:37 AM  
Blogger steakbellie said...

beards are great because they give you such a contrast of self when you finally shave them.

It's important to grow a big ass beard every other year or so. Just one of those things that you prove to the world your manhood, and then a few months later everybody says how young you look when you shave it off!

8:55 AM  
Blogger Virginia said...

Hmmmm....my comment on beards seems to have disappeared...maybe in my own hazy, in-need-of Nyquil or some other soothing beverage to make me forget my pain feeling...maybe I just hallucinated posting it...

I should be home in bed...sigh...

Aunt V
www.pulverpages.com

2:48 PM  
Blogger Chris said...

Dad Andersen: You've got a point about businesses wanting to control their intranet. I still think, though, that we may see some segment of the population buying "dumb" boxes that do little more than connect to the Internet, people who do online gaming, or use Google's suite of online tools. But I thought goatees would be just a two-week fad, too...

Dad Andersen: B

Kat: Both Dagmar and I are still home with colds. Sucks. To paraphrase Churchill, I'm a headache wrapped in snot in a bucket of tissues. I don't mean to write novels, it's just that I type very fast. I never have much to say, I just say it in a lot of words.

Father Andersen: I have tufts in places and blank patches in other places. Maybe we can start a new trend. The Tufty-Patch Beard.

Steakbellie: The last time I shaved my beard Dagmar hated it. "You look like a little boy!" she said. "A little boy mit ein moustache. Und three chins." She made me grow it back.

Aunt V: Ain't nuttin' like a shot of Ny-Quil with an Alka-Seltzer chaser. The only thing worse than a Ny-Quil buzz is NEEDING Ny-Quil. I wonder what you said... Hope you feel better soon!

4:38 PM  
Blogger Dale said...

I've got a good beard face too but now that it grows in so grey and ages me beyond reason, I go clean. Give me credit. Oops, did I say credit?

6:24 PM  
Blogger Leonesse said...

I like LK with the soul patch best. He says he won't do that again in this town because they stare at him with it. He has the beard/chin tuft now, but was challenged by our teens' beard growing friend to outgrow him. It looks like it's on. I can see the outline of a mustache now.

8:44 PM  
Blogger Capt. Fogg said...

Old people tell me I look younger without the beard, but at my age trying to look young is the mark of the loser, I think. I don't know what young people think, but then I don't care.

Besides, I keep thinking that if I look like Hemingway, I can write like Hemingway.

11:09 AM  
Blogger pistols at dawn said...

I grew huge Martin Van Buren sideburns once, and they were a crowd pleaser. I couldn't look at myself in the mirror without laughing, and that's even with pants on for a change.

Here's hoping you're on the mend - Nyquil may be the only thing that lets me sleep, but that's all it lets me do.

10:19 AM  

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