Monday, October 31, 2011


I have a junk drawer where I keep-- well, junk. I was prowling through it yesterday and picked up a watch I discarded more than ten years ago. It was a cheap sports watch and I discarded it when the face became scratched and the band stretched and broken. When I looked at the display I was astonished to see the watch was still working, and was only a few minutes off the correct time.

It would be amazing to know how many batteries of different types are manufactured each year. I can remember when the battery-powered devices in the average home consisted of no more than a flashlight and perhaps a small radio. Now there are countless devices we use every day that require batteries. Increased efficiency is making batteries more practical for power hungry devices such as power tools and automobiles. All of this makes me wonder what would happen if the population of the earth suddenly disappeared. How long would those watches, toys, and other battery powered devices continue to tick along just waiting for an invasion of some intelligent species to flip the switch and gaze in wonder at the results?

Friday, October 21, 2011

Lady Gaga: A Decade of Difference Performance

Any writer wanting to create an earth-shattering piece of literature would do well to examine the real world and what leaves the average person breathless.

Consider this: When you enter a crowded room, who do you notice first? Is it the wimps; the girl with the lank hair, or is your eye drawn to the person who radiates attitude and confidence? If she happens to be standing next to the most macho guy in the room, you aren’t likely to look away.

I ran across a discussion on a forum recently where a group of writers were trying to define the elements a story. Plot was the main definition tossed about. By the time I finished reading the various opinions, I decided that I didn’t want to read any stories created by this group. A story is characters; who they really are, and how the plot affects them.

A recent event that caught the attention of the world was the television special, ‘A Decade of Difference: A Concert Celebrating 10 Years of the William J. Clinton Foundation.’

The featured entertainer was Lady Gaga and she gave a spine tingling performance before a world audience. Whether you like Clinton’s politics or approve of him as a person, you have to realize that he continues to be one of the most powerful men in the world. His association with any charitable cause is a guarantee of success. The same can be said for Lady Gaga. I would really like to get hold of the lyrics of her songs with a red pencil and do a little revision, but I don’t need to approve of every word she sings to enjoy her performances. Like her or not, she has caught the imagination of the world with her music and her involvement with the anti-bullying school program’s effort to educate and protect our kids.

Lady Gaga performed her naughty song, ‘Bad Romance,’ which brought to mind Clinton’s indiscretions while in office. His slightly embarrassed expression during the performance-- while continuing to have a good time-- is a character study in itself. Lady Gaga’s bold performance is something that will probably continue to attract our attention in the same way as Marylyn Monroe’s birthday song to President Kennedy.

If you missed the performance, click on the title to this article and watch the video. The women among us will probably find themselves combing a hand through their hair and thinking, ‘I could do that,’ and the men will probably play the video twice.


Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Steve Jobs

There have been some interesting and informative articles written about Steve Jobs since his untimely death. Jobs was a genius who contributed to the advancement of electronics in countless ways. In all of these recent articles, I have noticed that no one mentions something that so many of us enjoyed during the early ‘80s. Most of us who bought our first computers during that era longed for software that would transform an expensive chunk of plastic and circuit boards into something useful. It is hard for anyone who did not experience this era firsthand, to visualize a time when computers came without software, and computer shops had few programs to offer to the customer.

Steve Jobs and Steven Woziniak were dedicated computer hobbyists who visited flea markets and computer clubs whenever they set up their booths. Some rather advanced computers were being produced by hobbyists, and the operating systems (DOS) evolved over a period of months as many would-be programmers contributed their ideas and code. Without getting boringly detailed, DOS is the bedrock of code that most computers still use today to make them operational. Basic is a simple program, and if I remember correctly, composed of about 64 lines of programming code. Jobs and Woziniak launched their business in a modest way by assembling their first Apple computers by hand and marketing them at computer meets. Their great accomplishment was not that they invented anything, but instead brought order out of the chaos of an evolving system.

In those early days, there were dozens of computer magazines that had three to four programs in each issue. Apple computers came with a Basic Compiler, which allowed the owner to create his own programs. The computer owner could type them in and create a simple word processor, spell checker, or a primitive spreadsheet that actually worked. Many of them were assembled from bits and pieces of code borrowed from magazines. Basic was such a simple language that you could grasp how it worked in a matter of a week or two and produce some rather complex programs. Much of the fun of programming was typing in lines of code, then hitting run and watching for some minor miracle to occur on the screen. If it didn’t work, you looked for errors, retyped, and tried again. The first program I created on my own was a simple program that alphabetized a long list of names I had collected for a history project. My second effort was to write a word processor program I hoped would be better than the one I purchased on a floppy disk for a ridiculous price. The program actually worked and it was a heady experience to hit ‘run’ and see it appear for the first time in all of its clunky glory.

That particular era of ‘do your own software’ did not last long. Sensing a lucrative market, software developers soon hit the market with their own products and made Basic programming redundant. I quickly moved up through the jungle of programming languages, from Basic, to QBasic, to ‘C’, C++ and to UNIX. I still remember, with a great deal of nostalgia, the days when I sat in front of my monitor and programmed with a ‘seat of the pants’ kind of logic. It was a heady experience and something that I enjoyed immensely.