A blog all about the horrible misadventures of a town full of marauding tigerzombies!

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Stupid stories...

When I was in middle and high school, me and my best friend Jason H. used to spend lots of time making up really stupid stories which were recorded on a crappy old cassette recorder I'd inherited from my Dad. Here's a few of these "classics":

1: "The tire"

The story of a gigantic tire that grew by running over people, "absorbing" them and magically growing bigger and bigger. The story was influenced by a Boy Scout trip where we found an old truck tire and proceeded to roll it down a huge, steep hill that we later found out led to a road below. It was 11:00 at night so all we heard was the sound of the tire crashing through the woods on its way down. We found it the next day stuck way up in a tree.

2: "Ancient Alien Worms!"

I don't remember much about this one. Something about worms from outer space that had been "awoken" by humans, which of course made them angry. They sought vengence!

3: " Beer Beetles"

A small town in Texas is inundated by beer beetles that are angry because the town's crop of beer flowers- of which they feed- fails to grow becuase of a drought. They seek revenge by flying into resturaunts and stores full of people and spontaneously combusting. The town hires a "beetle detective", aptly named "Mr. Beetleman" to solve the case, which really doesn't get solved. We were recording the story in the car on the way to Florida and passed by some attractive girls in a convertible. The story stops there because I assume we were interested in them.

4: " Playdough dinosaur"

A small boy makes a dinosaur out of playdough. His mother is angry at him ( for some reason) and flushes it down the toilet. The playdough dinasaur grows from all the water and comes back- seeking revenge ( notice a pattern here?) and proceeds to eat the mother, the father, and basically everyone else in the story. It goes on a rampage, breaking into stores collecting more playdough to make itself bigger and bigger!

5: " Snake spaghetti!"

Not much of a story, we just liked to yell "Snake Spaghetti!" a lot. But we made up a story anyway. Basically, people at a fancy resturaunt order spaghetti and it turns into live, poisonous snakes! Oh no!

6:" The Vacuum cleaner"

Inspired by my Grandad's crappy old canister vacuum, one day a vacumm goes bezerk, grinding up a whole family.

7:" Charlie Brown and the alternative people"

Grunge was pretty popular in the early 90's and being the unpopular nerds we were, me and Jason despised these people. So we made up some stupid story about how Charlie Brown ( not sure why he became the character) was the star of a popular computer game ( not sure why that was the case either) but anyway, he "magically" comes out of the computer and goes around insulting all the "alternative people".

8: " The sinister plastic easter egg"

I don't remember much about this one. Something about an evil plastic easter egg of doom that has awful messages stuffed inside it that all come true.

9-?: Various stories involving famous characters. They won't be mentioned for legal reasons. But basically lots of stories about famous fast food and theme park icons that go out and do the same kinds of things that always happened in the rest of our stories: Either a character seeks revenge, grows bigger, or eats people.

10: "Gangster Banana Peels"

Gangsters who are basically just bananas go out at night at offices and throw themselves in the floor, making famous and rich people trip and fall, breaking their necks.

I can't remember all of the stories. We made up A LOT of them.

Monday, April 13, 2009

Live from Grossingers and other forgotten places.

About 10 years ago I bought a record ( yes an actual vinyl record) at a small flea market in TN for 50 cents. Its a live recording of Tito Puente, the famous Cuban jazz bongo drum player. Even now, its one of my favorite records.

The first track starts off with the accouncer with typical 1950's cigarette-altered voice introducing the band. " Ladies and gentlemen, good evening. Grossinger's Hotel is pleased to bring you Tito Puente and hiw world-famous orchestra." Then the music starts. In the background you can hear glasses tinkling, people talking, and so on. Recording music before a live audience was seldom done in the 50's, so the record is rather interesting in that aspect. Its like a slice of the 50's frozen in time.
I never really thought about the mentioning of Grossinger's Hotel nor the pictures on the back of the album showing images of people swimming, skiing, and golfing at the resort. But just a few days ago I pulled out the album for the first time in a few years and listened as I did some work at home. Out of curiosity, I decided to look up the Grossinger Hotel to see what had become of it and whether it was still in business.

What I found was fascinating. The Grossinger Hotel was only one of hundreds of hotels located in the Catskill mountains of Upstate New York. From the turn of the 20th century up until the late 70's, the area was known as the "Borscht Belt". Primarily Jewish immigrants and their children would leave NYC and New Jersey for the catskills and stay at these primarily Jewish owned resorts. Some of these resorts were enormous. The Grossinger Hotel had over 35 buildings alone, but others were even larger, with as many as 1,500 rooms, large indoor and outdoor heated pools, huge banquet and dance halls, and huge dining rooms that served large quantities of Kosher meals.

But reading further, almost all of the resorts closed their doors by the mid eighties. Grossingers but the dust in 1986. Others like the Pines Hotel as recent as 1998. Only a few remain, namely the Kutsher Hotel, which is still family owned. A large majority of the former resorts lay abandoned and in decay. Its sort of a feeling of sadness to see pictures of these resorts now in ruin.

Its strange to me that in the US in particular, once-popular destinations, towns, or even entire cities can have such dramatic swings in fortune. In the case of the Catskill mountains, their demise was met with the advent of cheap airline travel, where those same families who used to drive from NYC to Upstate NY could for the same price travel to Florida, California, or Hawaii. Its only human nature to seek delight in places most different from our own familiar home turf. Indeed thats why I tend to like desserts versus the lush green areas similar to the humid South that I grew up in. But Nevertheless, what gets left behind in the transition are crumbling monuments of a place and idea that was once deemed sufficient and desireable by another generation.

We as a society are on a neverending road to seek something better than where we have come. My Grandfather is a perfect example. He grew up in a large family of 10 children. His parents were not terribly wealthy. He was expected to work dilligently and purposevely. He bought a house outside of Dayton, TN when he and his Wife retired. It was a small house with basic amenities. Out back were several small sheds full of tools and lawn mowers. He drove a plain blue Ford pickup with vinyl seats and a straight 6 engine. Perhaps by today's standards my Grandfather was a working class individual with limited means. But he was an accomplished man by his own definition, owning his own house, a little bit of land behind it, and a good-running truck. He was proud of the small little town he lived in and I can recall riding with him around it, where he would proudly point to all of the new developments ( Wal-Mart and Mcdonalds). I can also recall that pretty much everybody knew who he was. " Hello Mr Card, how are you?" seemed to be what I heard no matter where we went. Nevermind that Grandad was hard of hearing and couldn't understand half of what people were saying to him. People just like him just the same. I can also recall the more practical approach he took to doing things like planting rose bushes and flowers. That meant large poles with copious amounts of brightly colored green wire would be used to prop them up. To him their survival and health were more important than the outward appearance. For him, with a yard full of strangely doctored plants and trees, it was a scene of success. It was a sense of pride of accumulated work.

Perhaps we could all learn a thing or two from people like my Grandfather. We're all so busy looking for something better, as if we're trying to prove to somebody that we are a success. We- just like all those families who abandoned their former vacation resorts in the Catskills- are continually looking for a never-ending horizon, or somewhere "better". We would be wise to seek the good where we are and appreciate what we now have.

Thursday, April 02, 2009

The modern age and the fear of change.

Parked outside the house I rent are two very different cars. One is a 1955 Mercury Monterey. The second is a 2002 Toyota Prius. The Mercury I've owned for around 7 years. The Prius was inherited from my Wife's Father who passed away a year ago. It became our primary commuter car because we have an insane 45 mile each way commute. We carpool together and since the car gets somewhere around 50MPG freeway, it does actually save us a considerable amount of money.

That said, after having driven it for a year, I've become acutely aware of the amount of outright ridicule these cars seem to get bombarded with. That California was the first state to get the prius where it soon became adopted as the car of choice for more liberal, environmentally sensitive consumers meant that it soon garnered the badge of basically becoming yet another hippy car, along with VW Bugs and Microbuses.

Americans have used cars as a further means to express themselves and their idealology. That's a given. But what's rather troubling to me is that the prius seems to also be the poster child of an epidemic sweeping the country, and that would be the fear of change and the demonizing of new technology.

The typical response from those who hate the Prius are in order of frequency:

A: "Well... they'll be fine until the batteries wear out. Then they'll cost a fortune to replace.
B: " The batteries are full of dangerous chemicals and metals that will get put into landfills.
C: " The mining of materials to make these batteries means there will be a runup on battery cost"

There are other responses as well. But the reason for making these claims is seldom to do with their premise. The message from such statements boils down to one simple attitude which is that the cars are different, and hence not approved. But breaking that down one step further, the underlying reason is getting to the point I was making above: New and misunderstood technology.

I work on all three of our cars. The 55' Mercury is the epitome of mechancial simplicity. But more is required to be serviced from the zillions of grease points versus a modern car's sealed bearings. The carburetor has to be constantly cleaned and adjusted. The points have to be set, and so on. None of these tasks are difficult but requires more time in order to ensure the engine performs well. I also have a 96 Toyota Tacoma. With the addition of a computer, a sophisticated emissions system, and various electronically controlled mechanisms, the truck for the most part runs for years at a time with no meaningful service other than oil changes and occasional throttle body cleaning. But it shares a lot in common with the Mercury in that both have the same basic engine design principles . The Prius on the other hand has a 200 pound battery that sits under the back seat, a 500 volt inverter that feeds current to a large electric motor intergrated into a large transaxle which drives the front wheels. A small 4 cylinder engine is bolted the the transaxle. The engine is the same as you'd find in any small car but the major difference between this drivetrain and that of the other two vehicles is a secondary electric drivetrain that more or less "piggybacks" off the engine. When we first got the car, I had to read lots of service information about how to do even the most rudimentary procedures. The car has two cooling systems- one for the inverter and one for the engine. The transaxle is pressurized and has to be changed every 30,000 miles or so. I recently replaced a faulty PCV valve which unlike most cars, was buried deep within the engine bay, requiring the removal of the entire windshield wiper system.

But after a year of driving it, I have learned how to work on the prius just as easily as the other cars. The point being that despite being different and requiring myself to learn how to work on it, the car is just like any other mechanical object and built to be serviced and understood. In addition, I've learned the true answers to these suspicious concerns of those who dislike them.

A: The battery uses efficient charge/discharge cycle: 40-60% both ways. The result is that the battery lasts for a very long time. Even if one were to fail, their replacement is not difficult ( lifting up the back seat) . Their rate of failure is severely less than the engine failure on a typical car. Plus Toyota has a 150,000 mile warranty on the batteries.

B:The batteries have a sticker on them. Toyota has a buyback program for the batteries. Plus they are not full of lead as many have suggested, which itself is ridiculous since all conventional cars have lead acid batteries, which almost always get recycled anyway. So why would Prius batteries be different if they were to say- be made of lead?

C: The metals used in prius batteries ( Nickel metal hydride) are also used in just about every other electronic device. Economies of scale are already in action.

The attitude in the US today seems to be one of growing suspicion and ridicule when it comes to advances in technology and science. Sometimes this attitude comes from the increasing desire amoungst some chunks of the population to see that religious doctrine trumps science. Perfect example: Stem cell research. A generic wand is waved over all stem cell research as being unethical simply because those against it often don't understand that there are many types of stem cells that come from many places- like skin. It is assumed that ALL stem cell research involves embryonic stem cells. Thus all stem cell research must be a great evil.

This goes back to something I touched on earlier. This fear comes from not knowing the full details or simply from misinformation and the lack of knowledge and education. This lack of information is what makes people mistrust what they do not know either because they percieve it as a threat, or they don't fully understand the meaning and potential impact a given breakthrough could provide.

Perhaps this is ironic, coming from a country that still to this day prides itself in claiming to be the leader in innovation and creativity. Using the 55 Mercury as yet another example is its styling. The whole car is meant to suggest the grace and speed of a modern jet plane. With its large rear "fins", its jet engine like trunk emblem, and even the hood ornament molded into the shape of a plane itself all points to a time when science and advances in technology were heralded as modern miracles. Right after WW2, after having endured a depression along with a war to boot, Americans suddenly found themselves in an era that reaped the benefits of modern technology: TV sets, Stereo Hi-Fi's, High speed transatlantic jet planes, modern paved freeways, nuclear energy, and so on. Phrases like: " The home of tommorow", or " By the year 2010, we will be... ( fill in the blank)", and so on were common. There was this celebration of man and his scientific advances.

But if you look at the 1950's compared to today, much has changed in the way that Americans live. The 50's saw the most stable era in US history. With the GI Bill and college fund, Most families could easily afford a modest family home. Most could afford college. Social programs still worked and many workers kept the same jobs for decades, working in unions that kept those jobs secure. America was a humming, manufacturing, inventing machine. 1957 is noted especially because according to the US Census, was the year in which the level of contentment in the country was at its highest. In an environment like that where stability was king, modern technology was only more frosting on the cake.

Enter the world of today where quite the opposite has occured. Most urban areas have become prohibitively expensive places. Buying a house often means financial risk. College has skyrocketed. Social programs are broke, and in fact, the whole economy is in shambles. The middle class in general has shrunk and whatever level of security it once had is long gone as the companies and unions that employed them distentegrates.

For many in this era, perhaps new technology has become a threat. Since at the same time the very term "Social" has become an evil word along the lines of Communism, the idea of developing science and technology for the greater good- like developing fuel efficient cars- is deemed distasteful as it doesn't mesh well with the overall more conservative belief that any and all socially beneficial advances are deemed wasteful since we must all be responsible for ourselves and the idea of communal cooperation for the benefit of all is once again- against idealology.

In the end, science is mankind's greatest achievement for mainly humanitarian reasons. It is up to us to decide whether we support the idea of developing science for our benefit or to continue letting ignorance and misunderstanding get in the way.

Monday, March 16, 2009

Cast Iron cookware.

About 6 months ago I decided to buy my Wife a new pan. We enjoy cooking quite a bit ( However, she's considerably better at it than I am), but for years we had what most Americans have: Old ratty non-stick Teflon pans. Of course Teflon is great in many ways, but over the last few years there has been a number of vague warnings that suggest Teflon isn't great for you and can cause health problems. I'd rather not wait for these warnings to become more refined. Thus I decided to look into alternatives.

The first pan I bought her was a very nice All-Clad pan. These are made ( interestingly enough) in Pottstown,PA. If you watch Food Network or any professional Chef, chances are they have a set of these. They're great, cook food evenly, and if used correctly don't have a problem with food burning or sticking to them. The only issue is that they're EXPENSIVE. The pan I got cost $130. Not exactly chump change, but I figured it will last a lifetime.

But more recently, I re-discovered an old tradition used by both of my Grandmothers: cast iron cookware. When I was growing up, I recall my Grandmother's kitchen having a number of ancient cast iron pans and pots. They had thick layers of "crust" accumulated on their outside edges from decades of use. I was told to NEVER clean them. I found that out after using one to make hot chocolate. On Thanksgiving and other occasions, Grandmother would use one to make cornbread. Thus when my Wife and I took a trip to Wal-Mart a few months back, I noticed in the corner was a selection of cast iron cookware. So we bought a smallish skillet and have since bought a few more.

The great thing about cast iron is that the stuff is cheap. The smallest skillet we bought was $10. The largest- a huge 14" pan was $17. Thus the prices are incredibly reasonable, which in this economy is a good thing. Secondly, unlike the vast bulk of cheap throwaway pans made in China, the most predominant producer is a company in Tennessee called Lodge. They sell to Wal-Mart, Cracker Barrel, and even fancy stores that sell the expensive stuff ( even though they tend to mark them way up). Lodge has been around since 1896 and is still family owned.

Additionally, what's great about cast iron is for one, it heats evenely and over time develops a non-stick surface called "seasoning". I'd always thought seasong was just the accumulation of grease and oil from years of use. But its a bit more scientific then that. What actually happens is that over time and with continual heating, iron produces a black oxide which forms a layer of magnetite. The more magnetite forms, the more slick and non-stick the surface becomes. The only thing is that this layer is fairly fragile and thus in order to prevent it from becoming damaged from rust, a thin layer of oil must be wiped onto the surface after each use. Thus every time I get through using it, I wipe it down with vegetable oil.

To me, cast iron brings an old tradition back to the kitchen with the added bonus that it doesn't cost a small fortune to do so. That and pans such as these can be used forever and be handed down generation after generation.

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Adobe Fireworks CS3 sucks.

I'm usually not one to rant about consumer goods, but as a graphic designer who uses Adobe products every single day for a living, I have to say that the latest version of Fireworks is flawed with numerous problems that while not huge, together cause me to lose untold amounts of time in productivity. I'll list just a few.

First of all, if you draw say a straight line with the line tool, you have the option to choose either a soft or hard line. It automatically draw a soft line. If you then change it to a hard line, more often than not, it will shift the line to a different location, usually one pixel up or down. Secondly, the program seems incapable of rendering rounded corners appropriately. If you use auto shape tool and draw a 3 pixel radius square, 50% of the time it'll butcher one of the corners. Often times I have to go in and manually draw the corners.

Other problem include resizing shapes and lines. If you have an auto shape- or any shape for that matter- and manually change the size using the W and H settings, if you have a square for example, the lines will suddenly become slightly crooked.

One highly annoying issue makes zero sense to me. If you create a symbol, resize the symbol in symbol edit mode and then go back to the main stage, the true size of the edited symbol is totally inaccurate which makes reusing symbols to create new components next to useless. Yet another problem with symbols is that if you edit the size of a symbol that has layers, the layers will suddenly become offset even if you use even increments.

Lastly, on numerous occasions including what happened just now is that if you've created a document then save it, sometimes shapes will shift and need to be re-edited later. This makes zero sense to me.

I've used this product for 6 months now and the level of frustration is appalling for a company that produces such stellar products like Flash and Photoshop. I hope that these bugs will be fixed in the future.

Friday, December 21, 2007

Mcmaster catalog search.

First of all, I've not had time to post anything for awhile. Why? Because after having a year long stint at Oracle, I was hired as the creative director at a small startup in Silicon Valley. So I've been busy!

Anyhow, I am rarely impressed with web sites these days. Occasionally I'll stumble across one that is either really well-designed or perhaps has some 'sexy' aspect to it. Everyone rallies for Google, Apple, and other well-known tech related products. Very rarely do I stumble upon a site that immediately resonates with me as being extremely well done and useful at the same time. One site would be Wikipedia. My most recent find is a site called

I'm always looking for parts. The newest racing mower I'm working on is like building a small car and requires many specialized sprockets, pulleys, brake systems, and hardware. Most web sites that sell the stuff are absolutely horrible. I'm not talking design, of which most are painful to look at, but more about good user interface. The Mcmaster site is about the best catalog search web site I've ever seen.

Here's how it works: type in a part or item you're looking for inn the small search box to the right. As you type, it automatically starts showing hints and guesses as to what you're looking for. So if you type in the word: "Sprocket" but only type "Sproc..." it shows you sprockets. That's nothing new, but what it also does is populate the entire page with incredibly useful information about sprockets. It will show diagrams, useful terminology and various types of sprockets. What I liked about it was that it showed you all applicable specs related to the item. For example, I needed a 20 tooth, 3/8" pitch, #35 chain size drive sprocket made out of hardened steel. The set of options I could choose were laid out logically and easily so that I could drill down until the exact item I needed was in front of me.

In a world where sites that give you little frogs and other icons as gifts are hailed as ingenious because they happen to make billions of dollars, I would argue that sites such as the Mcmaster site are far more advanced and getting closer to what the true advantage of the web is, which is to connect people to information and products quickly and easily.

Friday, August 03, 2007

How community based communications changes business and the world we live in.

I'm reading a rather interesting book these days entitled " Wikinomics" by Don Tapscott and Anthony Williams. So far the book is incredibly fascinating. First of all, Ive been a huge fan of sites like Wikipedia, Flickr, and Youtube for years. In particular-Wikipedia. No topic, no matter how mundane is explained in minute detail and in a manner that is easily comprehensible to the average person. For example, do a search on LEDs( Light emitting Diodes) and you will get several pages of information regarding their history, development, and impacts they provide in the form of lower energy consumption. I'd say I qualify as a somewhat knowledgeable person when it comes to mechanics, various historical events, and favorite corporations like GM, and so far I have found the data posted on Wikipedia is generally accurate.

In my opinion, the formation of easily accessible data for anyone with a PC is incredibly beneficial towards providing free education. While it is true that therein lies the potential for inaccuracy, I believe that most people are passionate and this passion shows in the information on Wikipedia.

Moving on, I can use myself as a broad example of how open discussion, contribution, and interaction from a collection of like-minded people with similar interests can create further comprehension and understanding for the good of the group. 7 Months ago when I joined a Lawn Mower Racing forum, I did not even know how to weld, let alone essentially fabricate a racing chassis that these racing mowers become.The details involve understanding the geometry to create a steering system, gearing ratios and beelt sizes, frame structure, and engine performance improvements. I had very little knowledge of how to construct such a machine. But through 4 months of interacting with other members on the forum whom had various levels of expertise, I was able to eventually construct a racing mower purely from reading information and viewing pictures on the forum. Truly amazing and a real-life example of how shared collaboration works to accelerate knowledge.

This book discusses how mass collaboration and the open sharing of information will eventually transcend all traditional corporate business models. By pooling our knowledge together, we can solve many problems and do better business at the same time.