Friday, March 31, 2006

Cyber Dave To The Rescue

Despite the fact that I stare at a terminal screen all day, I'm not the expert on computers. I mess 'em up, in fact. That's why we have in-house desktop support at work places like mine. For people like me.

Nevertheless, when I travel to see my parents in Bay City, my father will sometimes seek my advice on his latest computer conundrum. Once he showed me a strange e-mail with an attachment sent to him by an acquaintance from Poland. He was reluctant to open the attachment, fearing it was a virus.

So I opened it for him. It WAS a virus. And within a week it merrily mailed itself to any address it found in my father's computer, addresses my father didn't even know he possessed. A college friend of mine from New York received an e-mail from my dad.

"Why is your dad sending me a virus?" my friend asked me in what-did-I-ever-do-to-him fashion.

My father was embarrassed, feeling that he had become the Typhoid Mary of cyberspace. He powered down his computer until a REAL computer expert came to repair things.

So this past weekend, my father asked me to fix a mailing roster he had tried to update to Microft Works on his Excel program. It appeared to me that his Excel and Microsoft Works documents had become transmogrified. Kind of like what happened after that guy and the fly went through the matter transporter together in the movie The Fly. Only my dad's document wasn't calling out, "Help me. Help me." But I'm sure it would have if it could.

I did extract enough information to compile a roster of some kind. But that was after I went into DOS mode in an attempt to copy and re-name the document, thinking that might help. But I mis-typed the command and hit return without thinking. The computer whirred to life, doing what I never found out. So I turned it off. Luckily, my father wasn't there to see that, so he doesn't know. (Well, I guess he does now).

Later, we both went to check out the new library that opened in town. Of course, it is well stocked with new computers. While I checked out the menus on one computer, my dad went to the one next door. Within a minute, he had it partially shut down. Stuck again.

I came over to try to revive it, but only managed to shut it down completely. And nothing I could do would turn the computer back on. A lady nearby asked if we needed help. When we said we weren't all that knowledgeable on the computers here, she said, "We all have just a little knowledge. It seems the more knowledge we have, the more problems we can cause."

Yep, I'm living proof of that.

Monday, March 27, 2006

I Miss Gene Siskel

When Wendy and I were first married, I remember watching Sneak Previews on PBS. This was before we had cable TV, back in the early 80s. Gene Siskel and Roger Ebert, movie critics of the Chicago Tribune and Chicago Sun Times respectively, bantered back and forth about the latest releases in the theatres.

These discussions could become quite animated with the younger but also more urbane and witty Siskel needling the older Ebert when the two were at odds over whether to give a film their ultimate recommendation--two thumbs up. Ebert was not going to play Costello to Siskel's Abbott, despite the physical parallels there. So the two would often trade barbs back and forth in a manner similar to how a conservative Republican might discuss politics with a liberal Democrat.

I lost track of their program once it moved off of PBS. The show seemed to change names and move around more than a shady traveling salesman. Then Siskel died prematurely a few years back (I have to say prematurely because he died at the age I will become this year). Ebert carried on, but the show just was not the same without Siskel.

And I feel the same about movies lately too. I can't remember the last time I saw a good movie, let alone a great one. We need critics who are passionate enough about movies to keep Hollywood movie executives from pushing bad movies on us. Upon a recommendation in my AARP magazine last week, we rented The 40-year-old Virgin. To be fair, it had some funny moments. To be truthful, those moments were overshadowed by the gratuitous use of vulgar language and obscenities.

Do people really talk like that in real life? I could see a constant stream of "f" words maybe in a movie like, say, Gangsta Rappers Join The Navy, but why in a movie that purports to be a romantic comedy?

Last night I made my annual pilgrimage to The Ann Arbor Film Festival (AAFF) in my quest to the support the arts in my local community. For an $8 ticket, you see a collection of short films, usually including some social documentaries, experimental videos, animated features, etc.

Again, there were some films that were cleverly done, but not enough to give me hope for the next generation of filmmakers. I remember looking forward to one short that was to feature a cyclist's ride through Copenhagen, Denmark. I like travel features.

This was, however, a confusing kaleidoscopic collection of images that flickered from one subject to the next so quickly that all I could gather is that Copenhagen seems to be near water of some kind and there appears to be a lot of flowers there too. (Or something that looks like flowers.)

Actually, the way this film and some other AAFF film clips were presented reminded me of a neurological test I endured about ten years ago when a technician tried to induce a seizure in me by flashing very bright and indiscernible images at varying speeds. I never experienced a seizure but found the experience to be very intense. It's not the kind of intense movie-going experience I want, though. I'll settle for some good old-fashioned mood-building celluloid story-telling.

Thursday, March 23, 2006

Bracket Mania

Zag means "any sharp turn from a straight course" according to my Webster's dictionary. That does not bode well for the Zags of Gonzaga who want to continue a straight course to ultimate victory in the NCAA basketball tournament which continues today.

Doesn't matter to me since I do not have the Zags making my final four. I have Duke winning it all. The four members of Big Dave T's immediate family each have an on-line bracket. Our group on includes my brother, his two boys, and another cousin.

So far number one son Greg is in first place, while my "Bloggetman Blue" entry is fourth. My other son Scott, a Michigan State student, fittingly used the on-line alias "Teargas Tolerant," a reference to MSU's riotous celebration after making last year's Final Four.

Maybe it's a good thing that MSU bowed out in the first round this year. That hurt wife Wendy, alias "Lefty Lou", who had the Spartans going all the way to the championship game. Obviously, she had not been watching the prognosticators of ESPN.

Knowing RPI ratings, free throw shooting percentages or coaching records is not necessarily going to supercharge your crystal ball, however. Greg says that a co-ed entering last year's hoops bracket challenge at Central Michigan based her picks on which mascots and team colors she liked best. She won.

Meanwhile, my nephew Vic is the true basketball nut, having played in numerous tournaments and leagues. He knows basketball from all angles. He's also dead last in our on-line group. And has been from the start.

Greg entered another on-line bracket in a contest sponsored by a local radio station. First prize is a vending machine full of beer. He's currently in fifth place. He's a veteran of these annual bracket challenges. So is Scott.

Even when high school students, I remember one or both of the boys bringing home an elaborate spreadsheet print-out of 50 or so bracket entries in a winner-take-all contest organized by a fellow student and budding bookie.

What better way to get our youth excited about sports. Gambling and booze. It's the American way.

Monday, March 20, 2006

A Time To Dance

Unless you're fond of smoky saloons or clubs whose floors reverberate with the pounding of bass, it's difficult to find a decent place to cut a rug anymore. So Wendy and I have in the past taken advantage of our annual workplace party that offers dinner, cocktails and dancing.

This past weekend we joined my sister-in-law and her husband, as well as my older son Greg and his girlfriend, and headed out with our dancing shoes on.

But the dance floor is the perfect place to find out how much time has passed you by. I remember weddings from when I was a kid. And I played my accordion at a few more. Where was the chicken dance? Don't they do a conga line anymore? Does ANYONE even know how to do the Herr Schmidt?

Everything was techno hip hop played to an incessant, artifical beat. And, yes, people were dancing to it. More surprising, they were enjoying it! Something called the Cha Cha Slide has apparently replaced The Hokey Pokey.

Take it back now y'all.
One Hop This Time
One Hop This time

Wonder whether this new crowd favorite will stand the test of time, or just be another passing fad like the Macarena. I give wife Wendy credit for trying it out there. She gyrated alongside Greg and Lindsay who, having spent time at the dance clubs, could execute the choreography.

Then the missus could take no more. "Rock 'n Roll!" she yelled out finally.

"Okay," the DJ said smoothly, eager to please.

But even the old time rock 'n roll numbers played to something that resembled a disco beat. I asked another couple at our table if they were going to dance. The gentleman, who had just celebrated his 60th birthday, said he was waiting for a waltz.

Then I tracked down a work colleague to meet her fiance from Texas. They too were holding out, he said for "Cotton-Eyed Joe," so he could try out his two-step.

The night ended without Cotton-Eyed Joe. Or a waltz. Not even a polka. No line dance either, unless you count The Hustle. And we were among the last dozen hold-outs remaining as the DJ played on.

Among the last numbers we heard was something extraordinary, a piano interlude with string accompaniment that I might have heard once while watching a black-and-white film on Turner Classic Movies.

A lone couple glided across the empty dance floor, gracefully twirling and swaying in time. It seemed out of synch to watch that couple dance ballroom style through the laser-style lights and artificial fog.

Maybe it was kind of appropriate too.

Thursday, March 16, 2006

Happy St. Patrick's Day

I like the Irish because we share a heritage. My ancestry is Polish. The Poles and the Irish both have a fondness for the potato, the Catholic church, music and drink. And fun too. In my hometown of Bay City, where there is a large Polish enclave, the biggest yearly celebration is the St. Patrick's Day parade.

Before the parade, there is a long distance run through the streets. I "ran" the 8K race once. My sons have both run too. In my scrapbook, I have my shamrock medal, won for finishing the race. Never mind that most of the other runners had already showered and begun training for the next run by the time I had crossed the finish line. It was still daylight. That's all that counted.

We have celebrated St. Patrick's Day in other ways too. A couple years ago my wife and I saw the Irish Rovers in concert. Last year, we saw the Riverdancers. This year we're going to a Sunday brunch at The Common Grill in nearby Chelsea, which features musicians playing Irish tunes.

Many years ago we vacationed near Washington DC, making a side trip to an Irish pub in Alexandria, Virginia. A couple musicians went up on stage while we were eating our dinner, so we stayed a bit for the music. A guitar player opened with a sentimental ballad about an Irish emigre recalling his grandfather back home. But soon the band started in with the Irish drinking songs

The crowd became somewhat raucous, no one more so than my ten-year-old son Scott who was banging his soda mug on the table in time with the music. That was our cue to leave.

There's a seductive way about the Irish.

Take one of my favorite movies, Waking Ned Devine, a deliciously subversive tale of wretchedness and depravity masquerading as Irish fun. An elderly Irishman hatches a plot to defraud the government out of a lottery prize. The townsfolk are all willing co-conspirators. The deal is sealed with shots of whiskey, then the locals all gather at the tavern to celebrate their ill-gotten gains.

In the movie, a young boy--nobody is quite sure who the father is--smokes and drinks whiskey. When a visiting priest has his doubts as to the plot, the boy re-assures him that if the lottery winnings will fill the collection plate, the pastor will be "over the moon" when he returns from vacation.

The first St. Patrick's Day celebration happened on March 17, 1737, in a small Boston pub. A group of 26 Irishmen gathered for a pint or two, toasted the king and established the Charitable Irish Society.

Today, at 7 a.m., number one son Greg says he is going to continue the tradition, showing up at a local pub to make his own toast, the first of many, he says. That's a little too much tradition for me. I think I'll just have some corned beef on my omelet.

Sunday, March 12, 2006

Nerd Versus Geek

What's the difference between a nerd and a geek? My e-mail buddy Bob from Virginia says that a nerd is a geek wannabe. A geek usually is something of a gadget freak or has another type of techie skill, he explained. Something that nerds envy.

When I lamented to Bob that my son's girlfriend called me a nerd because I had my own blog, Bob teased, "Embrace your nerdness, big fella. It's time at 50-something we get in touch with our inner selves. You were a nerd in 1970, did you think you had outgrown it?"

Well, yeah, I guess I did.

Bob proclaimed himself a geek, probably even more so now than in his youth. Later in the week, in an e-mail of his own, my father asked if he were a nerd because he reads books. Taking my cue from Bob, I replied it was more likely he had geek tendencies, because my father can take apart and put back together many types of gadgets.

So dad looked up "geek" in his dictionary and reported his findings. "Geek: a carnival performer who performs sensational, morbid or disgusting acts like biting a chicken's head off."

Of course, I had to pass this along to Bob whose retort was that dad needed a newer, better dictionary. My father replied (through me) that his dictionary is not that old and is four inches thick. At this point, I tried to beg off, thinking myself just an innocent bystander. To which Bob responded, "Innocent? You called your old man a geek and somehow you're blaming it on me??"

Meanwhile, I'd described my dad as a lurker in "On Comments", a blog a written a week or so ago. That description didn't set well either. "I never really thought of myself as a lurker. I picture a lurker being like Dracula with a cape over his face with just the eyeballs sticking out,." he wrote.

Man, do I need to be careful what I say.

Thursday, March 09, 2006

Sidewalk Fauna

It's not time to dust off my bicycle seat. The smell of spring is not yet in the air. But Michigan cabin fever combined with 40 degree temperatures took me out of the house on Sunday. Time for a neighborhood walk.

Of course, the dog walkers are always out regardless of the season. Large bubbly labradors that appear to laugh as they bounce around. Snooty ankle-high terriers who must give you the sniff test before letting you pass.

Most owners will pull their dogs off the sidewalk, giving dogless walkers like myself a wide berth. One lady pulled her muscular mutt a good ten yards off the concrete. I soon learned why. Her king-sized pooch pulled so hard at the leash that she toppled over. Then he dragged her across the ground, straining to get closer to me.

Pet buying advice: Never buy a dog that will in his lifetime be able to drag you face down through the dirt.

Then there was the gentleman walking a young, innocent-looking setter breed. When I approached on the walk, he pulled his dog off to the side, set him down, and literally held the dog's face in both hands so he couldn't see me pass. All the while, the man spoke softly and re-assuringly to his pet.

Was that for the dog's benefit or mine, I wondered? I had this terrible impish urge to leap off the ground, land both feet hard next to his dog and go, "Boo!!!" Don't know why.

The funniest dog I passed was this miniature bulldog who pulled on his leash so that he walked at a 45 degree slant, as if fighting a fierce sideways gale. All this so he could face me dead-on in the walk. When he approached, his breath sounds almost made it sound like he was talking smack.

"Let me have a piece of this guy. He better get out of my way. C'mon, turn me loose. He ain't so tough."

Ironically, at least to me, the owner gave his bulldog just enough latitude on the leash so he could nuzzle my leg as I passed. And as the pair disappeared behind me, I could hear the bulldog still talking smack, his legs scurrying on the cement to try to tackle me from behind.

Speaking of pint-sized upstarts, I passed a squirrel chattering in a nearby tree. "Snuk, snuk, snuk, snuk." Taunting me, I thought. Squirrels seem to know they can get away with this once the packing snow has melted. Otherwise, I could have belted him one.

I can see the lure of exotic pets now. Maybe a mountain lion. I'd walk him around the neighborhood. That bulldog? SWAT! Sailing between the uprights. Three points. That squirrel? "There's lunch girl. Go up that tree and get 'em."

Monday, March 06, 2006

On Comments

My father suggested I write a blog about the comments I get. Dad is a dedicated reader, albeit a lurker, so I guess I owe him one. He says that he enjoys reading the comments as much as he does my blog.

Dad says he is waiting for one of my blogs to draw at least 15 comments.
Whereupon I replied, “If you go back, I think you’ll see some of my blogs have 15 comments or better. Sometimes people comment on the older . . . “

“No, no, no. I don’t count it when you comment on your own blog. Or when people comment twice.”

Okay, so he’s going technical on me. He didn’t say that spam comments don’t count. But I imagine they can’t. My “Why I Need Viagra Blog” drew 25 comments, my record. Most of those comments, however, were spam with links to various products and services. Of course, I wrote that blog deliberately as an experiment to see if I could attract spammers. I did. Successful test.

In fact, I was so successful at attracting spam that I eventually had to use “word verification” to stop the spam. That worked, but word verification makes it more difficult to comment, so when Bornfool suggested that spammers had cooled it for now, I de-activated word verification last week.

So what happened? Some stupid spammer went right to my “Why I Need Viagra Blog” this past weekend and added his own comment with a link to a champions-on-ice ticket site. Now, never mind that this Viagra blog is buried in my archives, almost five months old. Why would anyone think that someone interested in Viagra might also be interested in figure skating? You have to have a pretty dirty mind to conjure up a link between the two.

Hmmmm, I don’t know if this is the kind of blog my dad envisioned me writing here. I know he’s pondered things like whether Bonnie has a dual personality since she sometimes comments as Bonnie, sometimes as Bernadette. I don’t know. Maybe something to do with her being a Michigan State alumnus.

We’ve both wondered about the anonymous comments I sometimes get. We think they come from family members, maybe even disgruntled ones, perhaps irked over a humorous birthday card I sent (it was funny, though).

I do appreciate the comments. To all who have lended their time to write--anonymously or not--something funny, informative or supportive . . . thanks! Maybe that's all my father wanted me to say afterall.

Saturday, March 04, 2006

Blogging For Big Bucks

{While channel-surfing this week I happened across an infomercial that featured a young man selling his secrets on how to make mega-bucks selling and buying on E-Bay. So I thought, why not do a similar infomercial myself on blogging for bucks. Following is partial script draft . . . }

JAN CARLISLE (hostess): How many of you out there have heard of blogs? Pretty much everybody, right? And there are hundreds more created each day. Yet, I'll bet you didn't know that you can make millions of dollars by spending just a few minutes each day blogging. And this is because of an exciting new program called Big Dave's Blogging for Big Bucks. Right Big Dave?.

BIG DAVE: That's right, Jan. In my months of blogging on-line, I've picked up tips here and there which I'm offering to viewers in two CDs at the reduced price of $800.

JAN: Sounds like a great deal, Big Dave. But how do I know if this is right for me? I've never blogged before.

BIG DAVE: That's the beauty of my system, Jan. I start you from scratch. In the first day, we'll work on setting up an on-line template, one which fits your personal lifestyle and attitude. Within the first week, you'll be writing your first blog.

JAN: But when do I start making money? And how?

BIG DAVE: Jan, right now the best selling book in America is called Marley and Me, about a man and his dog. Everyone loves dogs. And most people own one, or a cat or something. All you have to do is write stories about your pets, kids, spouse, anything, even yourself! There are literally millions of people on-line across the world waiting to read the stories you put on your blog.

JAN: Wow! And people pay money to read your blog?

BIG DAVE: No. But with the right marketing tools, explained in my two CDs, you'll be earning money from ads, products and services that you can pitch along with your blog. The key is getting those computer surfers to your blog. I'll give you key phrases that when included in your blog make them sure to be picked up by all the major search engines. In fact, I can give you one key phrase right now that will increase the number of visitors to your site one thousandfold the day you put it in your blog.

(cut to testimonial) FLORENCE: I had my doubts about Big Dave's Blogging for Big Bucks. I've had a blog for a year with nearly no visitors. After reading Big Dave's ten-point system for success, I started my own on-line casino on my blog. The money just poured in. Last week, my husband and I closed a deal for one of the Florida Keys. We're going to build our retirement home there.

(cut to testimonial) JOHNNIE: I purchased Big Dave's Blogging for Big Bucks with money I earned on my paper route. Using Big Dave's secret tips, I started a blog about trading baseball cards. From that, I developed a site where kids could trade favorite baseball cards with eachother. I got a commission on each trade. Now I have my own Maserati and I'm building my own theme park. I couldn't have done it without Big Dave.

(cut to testimonial) LINZEE: There was a time I thought blogging was for nerds. But I saw all the money people were making with Big Dave's Blogging for Big Bucks. What did I have to lose? I started my own on-line business selling "Mudpuppies", galoshes for dogs. And now I have enough money to run for Congress. And win!

JAN: Wow, those stories are incredible, Big Dave.

DAVE: They sure are. There's no limit to the money you can make with my blogging methods.

JAN: And what if people aren't satisfied with your program?

DAVE: Jan, I'm so sure that viewers will make their pile with Blogging for Big Bucks that I'm not offering any guarantee whatsoever. That's how confident I am in my system.

JAN: Well, you've convinced me Big Dave. Let's put those telephone numbers up again for all our viewers.