NeologisticsWriting → Frags



What Are Frags? Unripe Thoughts
Unbecoming the Suspect
Music for Running
My First Bicycle
On Hearing Music
Becoming the Borg
I Believed in Magic
Radio Days
A Matter of Perspective

What Are Frags? Unripe Thoughts

A frag is a recursive neologism meaning fragment, in this case referring to a short, often spontaneous, and largely undeveloped piece of writing.

The Internet has made practical the concept of dynamic writing. It is now acceptable to expose sketchlike work to an audience, work that is still in progress, subject to future change, whimsical, only partially completed, and without need of absolute finalization to meet the needs of the traditional printed media, a.k.a. "dead tree technology."

The likes of Oscar Wilde, who would fuss endlessly over the insertion and deletion of a single comma, might have rejoiced at the prospect of putting his work on the Internet, where he could insert and delete the same comma on alternate hours if he wished, without ever having to commit to one expression for the sake of all future posterity.

Allowing written artifacts to change frequently transforms writing as an art form into something more like music, dance, or drama, where the same work will change from rendering to rendering. Story telling has already reached this level of fluid change. A good story teller, such as Garrison Keillor, like a jazz musician, might have all the details, and even most of the words of his presentation well in mind, yet in the spontaneity of the moment might inflect or embellish it in ways that transform it to something it was not originally.

In the spirit of such writing, the purpose of this first and any future volumes of Frags will be to give air to fragments from my notebooks, to ideas that are not adequately formed or of sufficient substance to expand into a full column, article, essay, or book, chips from my workbench that will likely never grow much further.

Even these introductory paragraphs are likely to be different if you encounter them again, because what I am now writing is what I would consider a first draft, and I don't have all I would like to say on this topic fully thought out as yet.

I could have taken the previous two paragraphs out, but chose to leave them in for illustrative purposes. When I first wrote this introduction several years ago, it was with the intent of creating many entries. Thus this page was at first titled Frags, Volume I. Today I am working on transforming this file for use on my new web site. Meanwhile, the place of Frags in my life has now come to be replaced by my Neologistics Blog, so that it's unlikely that I will ever add any more pieces to this file. Therefore I've deleted the Volume I from the page's title.

Note: The word also has this meaning, taken from a definition found on

frag n.,v. [from Vietnam-era U.S. military slang via the games Doom and Quake] 1. To kill another player's avatar in a multiuser game. "I hold the office Quake record with 40 frags." 2. To completely ruin something. "Forget that power supply, the lightning strike fragged it."

Whether I ever exploit the implications of that delicious secondary meaning in these columns remains to be seen, but it's safe to assume that I will certainly try.

Except for this introductory section, entries will be added in chronological order, usually from when I added them not necessarily when I first wrote them, with the most recent at the top.

Unbecoming the Suspect
December 23, 2003

The music engraving office I worked at in New York City had a small entry vestibule with the owner's private locked office to the left of the front door, and a small room on the opposite side in which about fifteen people worked during the day. I had keys to the front door and the main office room, though I rarely worked when others were not there.

One anomalous working Saturday morning I arrived to a locked office. As I passed through the vestibule I noticed an attache case on the paper cabinet. It was unusual to find such an item there rather than in the inner office, so even though it was none of my business, I was sufficiently curious to know who had left it that I opened it and looked for a sign of identification.

The case was empty except for a small notebook, which I opened to see if anything was written in it. It contained only one or two pages of what appeared to be hand-scribbled song lyrics. Then I noticed there was a small, nearly hidden pocket in a divider. In it was a twenty dollar bill, which I never touched.

The briefcase obviously belonged to a fellow worker, so I closed it exactly as I found it, went into the office and began work for the day.

An hour or so later a young Asian co-worker named Hong came in, not to work, but to retrieve the attache case. Now I knew to whom it belonged.

Upon exchanging greetings, Hong sat at a table, opened the case, and looked at the contents. Immediately he became disturbed and started mumbling. He shuffled around and started searching in his pockets.

Soon he began questioning me: Was the attache case sitting outside when I came in? Yes. Had anyone else been in that morning? No. He was quite sure that he had left a twenty dollar bill in that attache case and now it was missing. What could have happened to it?

You are probably thinking that the easiest thing I could have done was to speak right up: "Yes, when I came in I saw the brief case and wondered whose it was, so I opened it up. If you look carefully, you'll find your twenty dollar bill tucked in that little hidden pocket."

That's certainly what should have happened, but I was too embarrassed by my own nosiness that led me to open the brief case in the first place. Instead, I played dumb, knowing it couldn't possibly take him more than another cursory glance to find the missing money. Was this a case of lying, in that I was withholding information from someone who was entitled to know it? I didn't view it that way at the time.

Somehow scales blinded Hong's eyes from locating the missing money in that otherwise barren case. He even took out the notebook, shook it, and leafed through the pages. No twenty.

Then Hong telephoned his wife. He had her search obvious places in their apartment and then sent her out to look on the floor of their car for the missing twenty dollar bill. Of course, she was unable to find it.

As this fiasco progressed, I must have begun to come under suspicion of being a thief, even though Hong never said so. I knew full well the stupid twenty dollar bill was perfectly safe, sitting barely eighteen inches from the poor fool's nose, and that he would eventually find it, so I could have remained privately amused by the whole situation.

There was one possibility that distressed me. What if Hong walked out of the room, perhaps to the bathroom across the hall, then found his money upon returning? That would not do at all, because then he might think that feeling guilty or cornered, I snuck the money back in the bag while his back was turned, and my reputation would be ruined. What a dilemma!

Hong became increasingly animated. This twenty dollar bill was apparently more than he could bear to write off as a mysterious loss, so he continued to sit there vocalizing his feelings of dismay, and that he was so sure he had left the money in the bag, and now it was gone. What explanation could there be?

Bewildered at how inept Hong had proven to be at locating only one of two items in a small, wide-open attache case, I remembered that I once had a similar case with a "secret compartment." (That's what the blurb on the tags called it.) Nonchalantly I suggested to Hong: "Say, you know — I once had a bag that had a little special pocket buried at the back of one of the dividers where I could put money or keys. If your brief case is full of stuff, perhaps in all that clutter you overlooked some small corner or false bottom." He gave me a surprised look, and dove back into his attache case, whereupon he instantly retrieved the missing money and began rejoicing and thanking me, after which he phoned his wife to tell her the good tidings.

Sigh. This whole sequence lasted for at least twenty minutes, an eternity at the time.

What Hong might have concluded afterward mattered as little to me then as it does now. The big win from my own standpoint was that he found his seemingly purloined twenty himself, without having ever left the room, and thereby would be obliged to admit that it had been there all along. Therefore, I was not a thief, if the thought ever crossed his mind. An ironic side-point is that if I had not looked in the bag in the first place, I never would have known that the money was there, and may not have thought to suggest that he look more closely.

I've thought about this episode many times in the 28 years since it happened. Surely there is a moral to be learned from it, but I can't say what it is, which is probably why its telling has taken the form of a Frag.

Music for Running
December 21, 2003

On the running lists I subscribe to, people frequently ask for suggestions as to what music to listen to while running. The requests are always from persons who are unable to decide such matters for themselves. I have to wonder if they are capable of deciding which hand to unzip their fly with?

Whenever this thread floats by I'm dismayed by the pablum offered as listening fare. The list always consists mainly of mainstream pop, usually mindless thump-thump-thump-thump music. (I won't name specific artists that make me wanna hurl in recognition that even an informed opinion is still nonetheless just an opinion.)

A prevailing notion is that for music to be worth running to it must compare to running as Sousa's does to marching. I don't buy into that philosophy, particularly in ultrarunning, where we spend hours out on the roads or trails. Think about it — when you're out on a trail at 3am, what do you really believe is appropriate — some high-energy monophonic hard-rock guitar riff backed by a moron beating holes in his drumheads, and screamed by a "singer" who sounds like he's being emasculated without benefit of anesthesia?

The classical music of India is built on a system of ragas — a large family of themes, scales, rhythmic progressions and accompanying sentiments that are considered appropriate for certain occasions or times of day. No competent Indian musician would play a morning raga in the evening any more than followers of the default Western religion would put up a Christmas tree in July.

Are we obliged to live on a steady diet of the musical drivel foisted upon us by the gangsters and marketeers who drive the record business, and who dictate that this or that contentless fad is what we will now spend our money on? The answer: Just say no!

There is a time and a place for lighter offerings. I even heard world renowned conductor and avant garde composer Pierre Boulez confess in an interview that he sometimes listens to top-40 radio when he's shaving and brushing his teeth.

I'd like to suggest that there are times in life when music that transports the mind and spirit to a higher form of experience might be appropriately motivational. Might perhaps such an occasion be when we're out on the road, getting close to our Creator and to the earth, testing and stretching our personal limits? What music, if any, is going to move a runner's spirit to persevere when he's on the verge of dropping ninety miles into a race he's trained eight months for: Who Let the Dogs Out?

My personal choice would likely be silence, the favorite sound of most musicians. But if I wanted to listen to something other than the sounds of the night, human conversation, or the music in my head that never stops, I would choose music that has been a constant part of my life for decades. It might be the Elliott Carter first String Quartet, or maybe Abbey Road by the Beatles, or a solo Keith Jarrett concert, or maybe a Bill Evans trio album, or a Bach Partita for unaccompanied violin played by Rachel Podger, or a late Beethoven Piano Sonata played by Alfred Brendel, or maybe even Music from Big Pink by The Band, or Joni Mitchell's album Don Juan's Reckless Daughter, or even Are You Experienced by Jimi Hendrix, or Kind of Blue by Miles Davis, or something by Bela Fleck and the Flecktones, or a motet by the great fifteenth century master Josquin des Prez. Or as long as we are talking ultras: how about one or more of the seven books of the Catalogue d'oiseux (Birdsong Catalog) for solo piano by Olivier Messiaen? (Highly rhythmic music!) It could be any one of a thousand things, but almost none of them are in common with what I see suggested in these threads.

Don't get me wrong — I dropped out of graduate music school to found and directed a rock band myself that struggled for about four years during the late sixties and early seventies before finally DNFing. The Beatles were then and still are my favorite twentieth century musicians.

But I was also born and raised with music and was a composer and professional musician for twenty years, so what do I know? My taste has been skewed.

My First Bicycle
December 5, 2003

A running friend recently told a story about his cobalt blue, Phillips, English, three speed bike that reminded me of the story of my first bike, a tale worth telling. And of course I will ultimately make this parable running-related. (But bear with me.)

A friend of my father told him one day: "If you live in Chicago, buy your kid anything except a bicycle. Buy him a real gun with real bullets! But don't buy him a bike."

We did live in Chicago, so my father took those words to heart, and would not buy me a bike until I was way past the age of being embarrassed about being the only kid my age who still could not ride one. What made it worse was that if there was one desire I had in the world, it was to learn to ride a bike. (That and learning to throw a curve ball, which I never did do.)

Then we moved to the Chicago suburb of Wilmette, a docile village, where all children had bikes. A year later, the summer I turned ten, my father acquiesced to my pleading and finally bought me a bike — a brand new red J. C. Higgins with coaster brakes. (J. C. Higgins was the Sears brand.) Three speed bikes and hand brakes had not yet been invented, at least not for use on kid bikes.[1][2]

[1] This is what it looked like.
[2] This is why it was humiliating to own a J. C. Higgins rather than a Schwinn, but I didn't know that at the time.

It took only minutes for me to become obsessed with that bicycle, as I attempted to make up for lost time. It was early summer, so I had nothing to do but play. (We were the only family I knew that didn't own a TV yet either, so that was not a distraction.)

My father gave me my first riding lesson, and naturally I fell off a few times, but would not be intimidated. By the end of day one I could stay up most of the time.

Stopping was another matter. Moral: Children should be taught to start and stop their bicycles as soon as possible in their riding lessons. In my case, a tendency that would not manifest itself fully until many years later began to be nurtured.

                     Washington   -->
              |                         |
              |                         |
              |                         |
         7th  |                         | |
       Street |                         | v
              |                         |
              - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
                        alley           X <-crash
              - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
              |                         |
              |^                        |
              ||                        |  6th
              |                   our   | Street
              |                  house  |
              |                    X  X |
               <--  Central Avenue

We lived on Central Avenue, a quiet through street. Riding in the street was not yet an option for a rank beginner like me, so I rode on the sidewalk. I would go clockwise to the corner and make a right turn up Seventh Street. There was an alley that ran in back of our house, dividing us from the neighbors on the north side of the block, who lived on Washington. I soon learned to negotiate the bumpety-bump from the sidewalk to the alley, and the bumpety-bump from the alley to the sidewalk on the other side, then around the next corner, down the sidewalk, and around the corner again, until I got to the alley on the Sixth Street end of the block, and then it was bumpety-bump down into the alley and bumpety-bump back up to the sidewalk, and around the corner again. We were the second house from the corner on the south side of the block, where the cycle started.

The first week I rode the bike almost all day long, around and around the block, over and over, until I started to hear the neighbors commenting: "There he is again! Doesn't he ever get tired of going around in circles like that?" (Can you anticipate what's coming?) I must have done sidewalk laps eight hours a day for the first week, and by the third day I was not crashing at all. But my butt was plenty sore by the end of the day.

Remarkably, it never occurred to me to try circumnavigating the block in a counterclockwise direction. After the first week I was getting good at right-hand turns, but still could not negotiate a left turn without fear and trembling. I barely even tried it, because I just wanted to keep riding, not fall down.

More importantly, I could not stop quickly, or steer out of an emergency.

One day, about the eighth day I owned the bike, I was headed south on Sixth Street, and as I approached the alley, a car came out of it. We knew all the neighbors all the way around the block. This was a car I had never seen, full of people I did not know and never saw again. It would have been a simple matter for most riders to just hit the brakes and stop. But for me, at that point in my riding development, to stop usually meant to crash and get hurt, and I wanted to avoid that. Instead, I opted to make a sharp right into the alley, in order to steer around the back of the car.

I didn't make it. Instead, I collided with the car, hitting it somewhere around its rear left fender. Down I went. The driver, a stranger, not a friendly understanding neighbor, reprimanded me with words about being a dumb so-and-so kid for not watching where I was going, and was more concerned that I didn't scratch his car than he was about whether I was hurt. (Today he might be sued.)

I wasn't hurt. But my bike was. I'd hit fairly hard, and it bent the front fork. It buckled so badly that the fender of the front wheel struck the crossbar of the frame, and I could not straighten it. Of course I could no longer ride it.

My precious new bike was trashed. I probably cried at the time, as I had to drag and carry my bike home. (I was only a few feet from our back yard.)

My father was the most patient and even-tempered man I have ever known, but he was not pleased when I walked in and announced what had happened. He was not inclined to rush off to the repair shop. It was at least a week before he would deign to put my maimed bicycle in the trunk of his car and drive it to the local bike shop, not far away. They tried to fix it, but the sad reality was: it was beyond repair. It had taken me barely one week to utterly destroy the greatest gift my parents had ever given me, short of life itself.

I remained bicycleless for another year. The next summer, when I came home from Boy Scout camp, there was a present awaiting me: a black Raleigh three-speed bike that my parents had bought used from a classified ad for $35. Although it had the sleeker look of what is now a standard bicycle, I think the frame was made of cast iron, and it took more leg power than I had yet developed just to keep it in motion. My father would never again buy a brand new bicycle for me or for any of my three younger brothers, because he was sure they would not last a week.

I eventually totaled the Raleigh as well, but it took me until I was age sixteen, when I plowed, half-asleep, into the rear end of a Studebaker, in Kenosha, Wisconsin, on the return trip of a 100-mile ride from my uncle's home in Menominee Falls, northwest of Milwaukee. But that's another story, and as something that happened in 1959, most of a lifetime ago.

In retrospect I recognize that I've always had a penchant for endurance projects. That summer, when I was ten years old and rode for hours on end around the block, it never occurred to me to be bored or that there might be something better I could be doing with my time. I was doing exactly what I wanted to, being in motion, enjoying life to the hilt. It seems the inclination has never waned.

As I write this it's 24 days until the start of my third Across the Years 72-hour race, where this time I hope to run 180 miles (580 laps) on a 500-meter track. Some things never change. At least we will change direction every two hours. And there are no alleys to negotiate.

On Hearing Music
November 26, 2003

National Public Radio did a piece on those PDAs they rent to naive music listeners at concerts. The musically challenged pay to have notes to read while the music progresses. "Here come those playful piccolos again!" "Notice how mournful the cellos sound here." That sort of thing. Dumb.

They said the PDAs aren't for everybody. No kidding. They are targeted at people who are new to classical music and would be attending concerts, but for whatever reason aren't coming. The expression that annoyed me was that the PDAs are targeted at "those who find classical music less intimidating than technology." (Or was it the other way around?)

Admittedly, with my background I may not be the best one to comment, but I have never agreed with those who talk about having to "understand" music. I find it difficult to fathom what is "intimidating" about classical music.

One time I was discussing some music with a friend, a well-known trumpet player and fellow Witness who lived in Maine when I did. We had flown in together for a recording session and were on our way to Brooklyn, but stopped first at a famous brass shop on 46th Street for something he needed. We were talking about George Russell, whose music I like very much. We were discussing the album Living Time, which features Bill Evans. My friend said he didn't "understand" it.

This was the first time I recall having heard an accomplished, conservatory-trained musician say that he didn't care for a piece of music on the basis of not "understanding" it. My reply was: "I don't get it. It's just music. What's to understand?" He thought that was very funny. I was being serious.

It's true, I suppose, that technical knowledge about an art form can assist a person in relating to it. Call it "understanding" if you like. To me it just means that with music I can identify the intervals in a melody, name the chord changes, maybe even write them down if I have to, can say things like "There's the trombone section playing smooth chords underneath a clarinet solo", and remember "They played that before, except last time it was the violins but now it's the woodwinds and in a different key." Big deal. Come to think of it, the music I "understand" best in that sense of the word, is generally the music I like the least, because it is so ordinary and lacking in challenge or mystery. Understanding does not necessarily equate to enjoyment.

Two people who are not deaf hear the same things. I'll admit that in some ways it could be compared to literal language. Two people can hear someone speaking Chinese, one who doesn't know a word of Chinese so hears only intoned vocalizations, another who knows only Chinese and hears the expression of human thought; in that sense they hear different things. But music is not literal language, and is capable of working its magic on listeners who know relatively little about where it's coming from. How else are some westerners able to respond immediately at a gut level to something like a Japanese gagaku orchestra when hearing it for the first time?

One might compare a musical performance to a sunset over the Grand Canyon. One does not need to understand the astronomy that explains the rotation of the earth and its route around the sun, the physics of color refraction, the science of weather so as to identify cloud patterns, or the geology of rock formations to "understand" or "appreciate" the sunset, even if it is true that knowledge of such things is interesting and valuable. The sunset is what it is — a fantastic and soul-stirring light show, something available for all to enjoy for free.

Similarly, supplying people with PDAs to "explain" classical music only reinforces the notion that there is something deeply mystical about it that only those with a priestly knowledge are able to comprehend. So you purchase a key to that knowledge in order to absorb it; then then you, too will become one of the enlightened cognoscenti. Baloney.

Becoming the Borg
August 1, 2001

Borg — In Star Trek: The Next Generation the Borg is a species of cyborg that ruthlessly seeks to incorporate all sentient life into itself. Their slogan is "Resistance is futile. You will be assimilated."

Yesterday I was laid off from Motorola Computer Group after a stay of what was noted on the exit interview documentation as 17.67 years.

Although trialsome for both me and my boss, the parting was not bitter, because by the time it happened I was almost expecting it, though I had not prepared for it in any way. I bear my former manager no malice for executing the decisions he was obligated to make. Put in the same position I would have done the same.

The scene at work yesterday reminded me of a mafia execution scene from a Hollywood movie: "Don't feel bad about dis. It ain't nuttin' POIsonal. It's just BIZness!" Rat-a-tat-a-tat-a-tat-a-tat-a-tat-a-tat!!!

Ideally, corporations should serve the people they represent. The reality is that corporations are designed to serve themselves.

Corporations are legal abstractions intended to represent a composite personage by means of a legal structural entity. Corporations only act in some ways like real people, in a sense parallel to the way computers only mimic the brain in some ways. Corporations are borgs: not-actually-living entities that grow and suck up everything in site, deliberately attempting to bring all other things under their subjection, destroying what they cannot conquer.

When manager-type people, guided by compassion and other human traits, make decisions such as who to let go and who to keep when times are hard, they might be guided by thoughts such as these:

Based on that angle the manager's choice might be to keep Jim, and turn Bob loose to fend for himself, knowing he will do well. In the long run both will be happy. Isn't that the kinder choice, the one that reflects a consciousness of higher moral values?

However, that's not how the system works. To make such a decision is often not in the best interests of the corporation. Managers lose their personal sense of humanity. They have no choice. It comes with the job. Accepting it is like selling one's soul to the Devil. A candidate makes an agreement: "If you hire me as a manager, I will sacrifice my personal values for the sake of the company's, and will make decisions that benefit the corporation rather than the people who work for it. In turn, you will pay me more money than other workers, and also keep me here long after I've outlived my usefulness, unlike those who will work under my realm." When he signs on the dotted line, he becomes assimilated, a part of the borg.

I Believed in Magic
August 1, 2001

When I was six my mother bought me three Snickers bars, which I did not eat because I didn't like candy with lumps in it. I sent the wrappers and 25 cents in to the Mars candy company and waited for several weeks for them to send me a Howdy Doody magic kit they had demonstrated often on Howdy's TV show. I was amazed by what I'd seen, and wanted to be able to do those things, too.

When the kit finally arrived, the first disappointment was to find that the thing was rather flimsy to begin with. I guess I had expected a full Houdini outfit for my 25 cents.

But the biggest shock of all was to learn that all the feats I had been shown on TV were not magic at all, but were all tricks to deceive the viewer. I felt I'd been cheated. I had believed I was buying the ability to perform magic, not deception.

I also believed that people really died in movies. In my heart I knew it couldn't really be so. But once when my mother took me to see a crime movie, they showed me a bad woman getting pushed off the edge of a crosswalk and falling to her death underneath the wheels of an oncoming train. It occurred to me that they must have had a difficult time finding such a brave actress who was willing to die just to play a scene in a movie. I thought it was real.

Are children any different today? When the very young see fantasy portrayed on TV, what tools do they have to distinguish what is real from what is not? Should we feel surprised when they commit violence against one another, as though it won't really hurt anything?

Radio Days
December 21, 2000

Originally posted to the Dead Runners Society email list, 20 May 2000

I've enjoyed discussions that mention radio, libraries, and also things we now have that we didn't when we were young, even if they don't have anything to do with running.

When I was a little kid I was a precocious reader, mainly because my mother had been a teacher and taught me how when I was four years old. So I showed up for my first day of kindergarten already able to read the daily newspaper. This is no longer unusual. With the advent of television shows like Sesame Street it was learned that many children reach the age of readiness for reading earlier than previously understood. What other children lacked that I had in those days was merely an opportunity to learn.

As a result, I became an earnest reader of everything I could get my hands on. I do wish in retrospect that I had selected more high-quality materials — classic literature and the like. Instead, I got hooked on sports stories and comic books, though I occasionally also read biographies and science books.

I also remember well the Bobsey Twins children's series. It may have been aimed more at girls than at boys, but I read a bunch of them, unashamed to admit I liked them.

I still remember the excitement of being taken to the library for the first time, where it was explained to me that there was any number of books available for me to read on loan. All I had to do was read whatever I checked out in a timely manner, soon enough that I could return them in two weeks. So I would load up every two weeks with a new supply.

We had a summer reading program for children at our little public library in Wilmette, Illinois. They had a display laid out with horses on a race track representing kids. The more books you read, the further ahead they moved your horse. Naturally, wherever you have competition, you also have cheating and lying, so the kids in the lead were reporting reading 200 books in the summer. Yeah, right. I didn't do that, so I was a mid-packer, but I did indeed read a lot of books, one after another.

When we moved from the south side of Chicago to the north shore suburb of Wilmette, there had been only two families in our old neighborhood who had TVs. We were not one of them. We lived in a cozy block on a dead end street where all the kids played together and would walk in and out of each other's houses freely. Our baby sitter lived across the street. Her father was a policeman who was often home during the days. He would sit and watch the Chicago Cubs and White Sox games broadcast by WGN on his eleven-inch gray on gray TV while consuming numerous bottles of beer. I'd wander in, hoping to watch Kukla, Fran and Ollie, or Howdy Doody, or Hopalong Cassidy, but he'd be watching the ball game, and it was his TV, so that was the final decision. That's where I learned to understand and love the game of baseball.

When we moved to Wilmette, my father was still reluctant to buy a TV. I had to depend mostly on my best friend Tommy three doors down the street for vital information about what was going on in TV-land. I would call him up each week and ask him if he would call me later and tell me what happened on Superman that night, and of course, he would invite me over to watch it.

We were the last family in our area to get a TV. Our family was considered anomalous. I didn't realize until later years what a blessing that was. I spent my time as a kid doing mostly four things:

My baseball aspirations were dashed when I tried out for Little League, and was not chosen to play on any team, even in the beginners league. They sent my parents a post card assuring them that I showed "great promise," and invited me to participate in a summer baseball camp that would surely unlock my potential. I went once but didn't like it. It was just like going to school and showing up for PE class, where I was always chosen last. I never tried out for Little League again because I didn't want to endure the humiliation of not making it again.

One side benefit of being TV-less was that I became one of the last of the radio generation. I was addicted to the radio. I'm one of the youngest persons to still remember all the great radio shows. I remember well The Lone Ranger, Wild Bill Hickock, Father Knows Best, Amos and Andy, Jack Benny (my favorite), and many of the other shows that made the transition to TV, and also many that didn't. I knew the nightly radio schedule from memory, and exactly where on the analog dial each one was. Unlike people today, who have the radio on in the background, generally for music, I sat at the table with the radio on it, and listened intently by the hour, usually munching on cookies to keep occupied. I probably would have been better off doing homework or doing more reading, or playing more piano, or maybe even working on developing a curve ball.

My love of radio never left. When I was fifteen I became a general class amateur radio operator. Later, when I discovered National Public Radio, I became a fan and am a regular listener and contributor to this day. Just two weeks ago I passed up the opportunity to run Whiskey Row Marathon to go see Garrison Keillor give a live presentation in town of his superlative show A Prairie Home Companion, which I've listened to since I first discovered it.

Regrettably, I no longer spend as much time at libraries, which I still love. The library is three miles to the north and out of the path from my usual travels. Instead, I buy books I have no room for in my house, usually off the Internet. I have crates of books in a storage shed, good ones, that I can't bring myself to part with. Anything new I get just sits on a table or the floor until I somehow find a place to squeeze it in. Every spare foot of wall space in my house is covered with book shelves. There is no room for more. There are also large allotments of space to CDs and records. I have nearly 700 CDs and about the same number of vinyl records, some of which I've had since I was fourteen.

This digression has been more about things I no longer have that I had when I was I was younger than the opposite, as the original thread started out.

Well, like many people on this list, I now run. Later today it will be 20 miles. A piece o' cake.

December 21, 2000

Speaking of TV (was I speaking doing that?), which I don't watch much of these days: Cox, our cable company, called recently with an interesting new version of a hard sell. It went something like this.

Cox: Hello, Mr. Newton? Cox will be in your neighborhood next Thursday installing a new piece of equipment in all customer homes. What time will you be home that day, so we can deliver yours?
Me: Ahem. Oh, really? And just what might this new piece of equipment be?
Cox: Oh, it's a new cable box. We're putting it in the homes of all customers, so we'd like to be able to stop by and show you how it works. You're gonna love it!
Me: Mmm, hmm, I'm sure. What's the deal?
Cox: You get hundreds of channels, including digital radio, and a bunch of things that were previously subscribable options, like HBO, and this, and that, and the other thing, and yada yada yada, and more TV stuff than Duncan has donuts.
Me: So I'm to understand this is a new upgraded mode of operation, and all your customers are getting this box and lots of new services?
Cox: Oh sure, everyone's getting it. You'll get free service from it for thirty days. Of course, if you don't like it, and want to go back to the old way of doing things after the thirty days, we'll be happy to pick it up and restore your previous service.
Me: I see. But if I do like it?
Cox: You don't have to do a thing. The increased charge will just be added on to your regular bill.
I didn't really say that. What I really said was more like:
Me: Sure, which way would you like me to bend over?

So out they trotted. My wife and daughter were home for the installation. I was not. There is now a large ugly cable box sitting on top of my TV, which at least displays the time better than the ones that flash 12:00 24 hours a day. And there's yet another remote control added to the array of seven or eight we already have. We were told: "This one is all you need!"

Liar, liar, pants on fire.

My daughter is 18, and therefore needed no instruction. She quickly found yet another inane situation comedy marathon (note the subtle running reference there?) to watch for three hours while doing the family ironing.

I'm the one in the family who's the software engineer for the high-tech computer manufacturing company, so I was a little slower to figure it out, but hey, software is software, so within minutes I found myself sailing through menus and options.

For many years I've made my living as a system tester, making new hardware and software combinations break. "Give it to Lynn! He'll break it!" is a common saying around work.

(Actually, I haven't tested anything in nearly a year, since I've inadvertently turned into a Web tools developer instead, which as it turns out is a lot more fun than breaking new computer products anyhow.)

It didn't take but an instant for me to determine that the joker who connected this box got it going by disconnecting the surround sound. Our TV is (or was) connected to our stereo system, so we can play videotapes through it. (And Laserdisks in former days — there's another piece of technology that worked out really well.)

After two evenings of endless scrolling through channels with numbers that go up to 999, and finding that half are redundant pay-per-view channels, I have not yet found a program I wanted to watch, except for one, which I left when it got to a commercial in about two minutes, and was unable to find again in the remaining half hour I searched for it.

In light of recent news about Hoover's boys wanting to be able to sniff every single piece of email that comes across the Internet, my wife is still afraid that now the FBI might be able to tell that we've been watching The Lehrer Report.

This is progress.

A Matter of Perspective
December 18, 2000

Adults and children view things from radically different perspectives. As children one thing may seem overwhelmingly important, but when we become adults something else may seem even more important.

One day, when Aaron was about seven years old, the two of us were jogging together through our neighborhood. We came across a group of young children. The youngest was a boy, no older than four. He was standing on the curb, stark naked, and was smoking a cigarette. The three other children standing around him, two boys and a girl, ranging in age from about seven to ten, had obviously put him up to it, and were getting a great yuk at the little guy's expense. I smirked myself as we went by.

When we were barely out of earshot, Aaron exclaimed: "Dad! Did you see that kid? He was smoking!!"

We had taught Aaron that smoking cigarettes is a Very Bad Thing, something we admonished him never to do. But our boy of seven had not yet learned that being seen on the street totally naked is perceived as even more unnatural by adults than filling one's lungs with smoke. Aaron's sense of values was conveyed by what he chose to address when expressing his shock and dismay.