Monday, December 20, 2004


flickr graphic from Salon

Salon ran a piece today about Flickr, the web site that is serving graphics to this blog. For you visual types there seems to be more to this site than just graphics hosting.

Christmas Card '04

Yesterday I sent iCards to many friends and family who have an electronic mailbox. This has been a difficult year for us, a year of transition in both pleasant and unpleasant ways. My wife found the year too difficult to recount in a usual Christmas letter. However the lack of a letter and the use of this new electronic medium with its bulk-mail aspects does not take away from the desire of both of us to share our best wishes during this season of reflection and promise.

Even though we both made some wonderful friends while in Wisconsin, 2004 will be best remembered by us as the year were both were home together again, closer to family and our long-standing (or is that suffering?) friends.

The card illustration was scanned from a drawing I made in 1974 and used for handmade Winter Solstice cards. Thus began and ended my watercolorist career.

Season's Greetings.

Sunday, December 19, 2004


Yesterday my daughter and I met in Charlotte for some last minute Christmas shopping. Afterwards we had dinner with her college roommate. The weather was great, the shops were full of friendly merchants and customers, and a good time was had by all. Really. And once again I was reminded why my computer platform and the company behind it are simply the best at what they do.

My daughter's iPod had developed a mechanical malfunction making it inoperable. She has had a lifetime being somewhat hard on electrical devices. For example, by her own admission she has been Lady Death on TV remote controls. But even though it was thoroughly scratched, what was ailing this iPod did not seem to be her fault, this time. She took it to the local Apple Store to see if there was anything that could be done short of buying a new one.

She went to the Genius Bar, handed the iPod to the young man, and told him her story. After a quick examination he asked when it had been purchased. They then determined the warranty had long since expired. She said she really missed listening to it, especially in the car on her way to work. She told him if it was a goner she was prepared to buy a new one. Volunteering this information I thought was not a smooth move. We were, after all, in a mall - a Temple of Commerce. But the man smiled and said he thought he could help her. He asked if replacing was OK.

I have always enjoyed that expression on my daughter's face. This she was so not expecting. She started smiling and asked him if he was kidding. He replied that he needed to do some paperwork, get her signature, and he would bring her a replacement in a few minutes. No longer sad at the fate of her iPod she walked about the store - spending a while at the iPod protective case display - while I chatted up the "genius."

While he was entering data and generating hardcopies he mentioned that an iPod he owned had the same problem, loyal Mac users should be supported - not ripped off, and that he was happy he could make things right.

A few minutes later we left the store, the day off to a great start. Any doubts as to the continued brand loyalty of my daughter or me? I wonder how many people she will tell.

No, Apple is not perfect. But yesterday they were close enough.

FireFox, Part Two

New York Times/FireFoxFor those of you who are interested in FireFox here is another press article (NYTimes). This is certainly the PC software story of 2004.

Wednesday, December 15, 2004

December the 7th

A few years ago I worked in a manufacturing facility owned by a large Japanese company, the name you would recognize. It was staffed primarily by North Carolinians with an ever-changing handful of Japanese executives, engineers, and technicians. During the six years I was there we worked hard, made a world-class product, and were successful in the marketplace. I enjoyed the experience, especially the opportunity to work with, learn from, and get to know my Japanese coworkers.

For a time our company president was a Japanese manufacturing engineer. Let's call him Sam. He was about my age, very smart, and came to the job with a reputation on both sides of the Pacific as a hard-ass. He did not suffer fools gladly and was respected more out of fear than love by Japanese and American staff alike. As I occupied a white-collar position about as low on the org chart as I could get, Sam and I had very few opportunities to work together. It took a while before I came to know and admire him. So I was surprised the day he called me into his office and then asked me to shut the door.

Modern Japanese offices are open. In our facility only the company president had a door and it was seldom closed. So when I was asked to pull the door to I did not think it a good sign.

After he asked me a couple of rather insignificant questions about the work I had been doing he asked if I knew what day it was.

"Yes," I replied, "December 7th." I did not repeat Roosevelt's words that so often follow, "a date that will live in infamy." He now had my complete attention.

He then asked if the date was still important to Americans.

I replied that it was, especially to older Americans who were alive then.

He said we were both much too young to remember it personally. We both smiled. Now I knew why he had invited me into his office; he wanted to talk about Pearl Harbor.

It then occurred to me that the Japanese must remember December 7th very differently. For them it was not the beginning of the war, but the beginning of the end. It was a tactical military victory but also a strategic blunder that led to Hiroshima and Nagasaki, total surrender, and the complete reordering of Japanese society. For us it was the sneak attack we paid back with interest. Where was this conversation headed?

"We are not sneaky," he said. He had a pained look on his face. "We are honorable people," he continued earnestly.

I could tell he was struggling. Like many Japanese his ability to speak English was far less developed than his other English language skills. I started nodding my head up and down to let him know that I understood. I was also thinking that the less said by me the better.

He further said that the U.S. government should have anticipated the attack, that our nations were at war in all-but-fact. He then said that Japanese citizens were surprised too and that the decision to attack Pearl Harbor was made by a small group of men in secret. He repeated that the Japanese were honorable people, not sneaky. Then he said - almost as an aside - that maybe it is impossible to be honorable in wartime.

I began to gather that - rationalizations aside - December 7th and Pearl Harbor were as painful for him as for most Americans, except in a very different way. To him it was a stain on the honorable character of his people. I could tell he personally hated the stereotype of the sneaky Japanese. He then asked if I knew anything about the war between Japan and China.

I must have stopped breathing. Of course. I grew up with the stories and photographs of the Japanese invasion of China and the brutal aftermath of atrocities on civilians. The German SS troops were Boy Scouts by comparison. These images were part what Americans used to justify their post WW2 moral superiority over just about everybody. I just nodded a bit more deeply.

He continued that what the Japanese soldiers did in China was not honorable and that even today the Japanese history books did not tell the truth to young people. He was beginning to look grief stricken. Suddenly this was not my boss, the Japanese hard-ass I thought I knew, but a guy my age taking very personally the shortcomings of his people's history.

Then it hit me. Sam spend many years in Malaysia at our sister factory. Malaysia also felt the brutal hand of Japanese occupiers. He had married a Malaysian woman of Chinese descent. This was very personal indeed.

He paused. It was my turn. He clearly expected my reaction.

I told Sam that dishonorable behavior was in all of our hearts. I reminded him of concentration camps and gulags, apartheid, slavery in the United States, the recent African tribal wars, Muslim/Hindu atrocities in India, and the destruction of Native Americans and their culture. I told him dishonor to our ideals is a human trait, not reserved for any one country or people.

With that he seemed to relax. He returned the conversation to work, and then escorted me to the door. Before he was posted back to Japan every December 7th thereafter he found a reason to call me into his office. Gradually we talked less of WW2 and more of current events. He thought the Clinton/Whitewater "scandal" very amusing. He told me if you want to see a real scandal, go to Japan. Now when December 7th comes around I always think of Sam.

Since our recent invasion of Iraq this memory has returned even more frequently.

I Think I Should Go Back To Bed

I noticed this morning on a blog I frequent that I am older than the U.S. Department of Defense, the National Security Council and the CIA. For that matter, the United Nations and I were conceived about the same time.

In my early morning fog I am still trying to wrap my head around this revelation without resorting to short strings of bad words; children may be reading this.

Sunday, December 12, 2004

Enter Fang

I spent most of last week with my mother and stepfather in Virginia. As they are having increasing difficulty managing their household, my wife and I decided to adopt the new kitten – by now almost a young male cat – that had adopted them several months ago. Their two resident cats had not taken kindly to this young, hungry, wanderling and taking responsibility for one more cat seemed a bit much. Since we lost Katrina to old age a couple of months ago it seemed a win-win for all concerned.

The new kitten, white with caramel markings around the ears and tail and large blue eyes, seemed to have spent his childhood more or less on his own. Getting little love from people or the older cats, he was very skiddish. He seemed to prefer his own company, preferably in protected darkened locations. One might call him wild.

Since just getting close to the kitten was difficult I started tossing small bits of ham in his direction on the back porch. After a few days he would tolerate my presence, sometimes taking food from my hand. But even a small unexpected movement on my part could send him running. Sensing trouble getting him into the cat carrier, I bought some leather work gloves.

The morning I was to leave with the new kitten we did not put out the usual cat food. That way he might be very interested in my ham offerings and less interested in my new gloves and the cat carrier with the open door. According to plan the kitten was soon eating before me as I knelt on the porch. However the leather gloves made handling the ham difficult, so I removed the glove from my left hand. This seemed a one-hand operation anyway. That was the first mistake.

The second was not accounting for one of the other cats also being very hungry. I soon had a large cat between me and the kitten, smacking the little one and eating his food. Torn between hunger and cat abuse, the kitten looked like he wanted to bolt. On my knees I twisted and started feeding the large cat behind me, then turning and trying to reassure the kitten all was well. But all was not well and the kitten seemed spooked. The large cat proved not that easily satisfied and returned to eat ham out the bowl at my knees. I would soon be out of ham.

Seeing the kitten momentarily distracted by a large piece of ham I brushed aside the cat and grabbed the kitten. But before I could get him into he carrier he slipped out of my grasp and started to run. He was quick, but I was quicker. I grabbed him again and leaned towards the carrier. This was one seriously unhappy kitten. Again the kitten seemed to spin around within its skin and slipped away. This time I only was able to grab hind legs as he jumped from the porch. I did not know I could move so fast. As I swung it around towards the carrier the kitten twisted towards the back of my exposed left hand – which was now getting into the act – and buried his two upper front teeth. After I managed to get him into the carrier and secured the door I noticed blood all over my left hand.

After cold running water, hydrogen peroxide, and a compression bandage we left aside kitchen talk of blood poisoning and tetanus shots and had an uneventful four-hour drive to our kitten’s new home. I had the carrier in the front passenger floorboard. The entire time I was unable to catch the kitten not staring at me unblinking through the air holes. If looks could kill we would not have arrived.

My wife had prepared the bathroom as the kitten’s Ellis Island. I handed the carrier to her and they disappeared behind the door. As I started back to the car for my luggage sounds of all manner of commotion came from the bathroom. But when I shortly returned all was quiet, too quiet. After hearing nothing for a few minutes while I unpacked I called out, “You OK?”

Speaking softly my wife told me that everything was fine. Unconvinced, I opened the door. “Where is he?” I asked.

“In the trash can,” was the reply. My first fleeting thought was of a terrible fight, the body of the loser now in the trash. But then she pointed to the corner behind the toilet, the trash can on its side, and a white fur ball inside.

As recounted, the kitten immediately began running about, knocking over the trashcan. He jumped on the toilet, to the toilet tank, and then began climbing the window blinds almost to the top before becoming entangled and rescued. Freed from the blinds he climbed the shower curtain and walked along the curtain rod until he fell – on his feet – into the tub. Recovering, he ran into the corner and, finding the trashcan, climbed inside.

For the past couple of days the trashcan has been his home. He has developed a fondness for tuna fish, has started purring, and will allow my wife to pick him up for short periods of time. I have not tried to pick him up, and may not for a while.

Because of his gender and eye color we had started calling him “Blue Eyes” or “Frank” after Mr. Sinatra. But I started calling him White Fang on the trip here. Fang might stick.

Sunday, December 05, 2004

Sitting on My Front Porch

Not many houses have a real front porch these days. Fewer are located facing a park.

See what they are missing?

Saturday, December 04, 2004

R.I.P. the IBM PC

After my post about Firefox this caught my eye yesterday.
IBM said to be eyeing a sale of its PC business
Published: December 3, 2004, 8:03 AM PST
By John G. Spooner and Martin LaMonica
Staff Writer, CNET

IBM, which gave legitimacy to the personal computer business in the 1980s, is said to be negotiating the sale of its PC unit in a move that could reshape the industry.

The company is negotiating with Chinese manufacturer Lenovo Group, formerly known as Legend, and at least one other buyer to sell its PC business unit, according to a report in Friday's New York Times. The unit could fetch as much as $2 billion, the report said.

IBM spokesman Clint Roswell on Friday said the company's policy is not to comment on rumor or speculation. Representatives at Lenovo were unavailable for comment.

In morning trading, IBM's stock was up 1.28 percent to almost $97.

IBM selling its PC business to Lenovo, which would most likely result in a joint venture of some sort, would make sense for both companies, analysts said. Such a deal would free IBM--which has been moving away from commodity products--from managing a difficult and often money-losing venture, while still giving it access to desktops and notebooks to provide to its customers.

"The PC business is a sort of also-ran, me-too sort of business (for IBM). There are a lot better businesses, including global services and some of the larger computers, that IBM participates in," said Roger Kay, an analyst with IDC. An agreement would "get IBM out of what they think of as a nonstrategic, non-yielding business."

As one of the first IBM PC users in 1982 I can attest that first PC's were also "also-ran" and "me-too." It was only the power of IBM's reputation and the corporate world's toddy behavior that made the PC Time Magazine's "Man of the Year." One could also argue that by giving up - until it was too late - control over their PC's operating system IBM both sowed the seeds of their own PC's demise and let the wolf into the hen house.

The PC did, however, set off an interesting war of sorts between IT departments and PC users that has been fun to watch, although not much fun to be a part of. As one IT Manager told me a few years ago, "Bibb, it is all about control. We almost let it get away with those damn PC's. But now that we are networking, things are getting back to normal."

The desktop IBM PC had become irrelevant years ago, although there are those who have loved their laptops.

R.I.P the IBM PC.

Thursday, December 02, 2004


Today Microsoft announced MSN Spaces, a blog service. If the past is any guide in a couple of weeks they will probably claim to have invented blogging. And some - bless their hearts - will believe them.

This may be as good a time as any to direct your attention to the Firefox button at the bottom of the sidebar. Clicking on it will take you where you can learn about and perhaps download and use Firefox, a new, free, open source browser. It is superior to MS Internet Explorer in many ways and seems to have caused the Redmond boys to finally pay some attention to their product.

I have been using Firefox for about a month now and the results have been excellent. It is also very Blogger friendly. So unless you are at the mercy of some IT department, you have the chance to support innovation, not the MS slogan but the real thing.

Reminds me of the early personal computer days, a couple of decades back, when a good idea and hard work was not immediately stolen by the “suits” or their lackeys.

Go Mozilla, Blake, Ben, and the rest of the team.

Tuesday, November 30, 2004

A Special Place in Hell, Part 2

If there is retail in Hell I predict it will look a lot like a Wal-Mart.

I have never been a Wal-Mart basher. While the world’s largest retailer has committed their share of blunders and accumulated a long list of adversaries I concluded they simply had become a lightening rod attracting the wrath of those appalled at the dark underside of modern commerce. They have been very successful at what they have set out to do, whether we - or they - fully appreciate the consequences. And I took a measure of satisfaction that a small outfit from middle-of-nowhere Arkansas could take over the retail world, one small town at a time.

Attracting detractors is also just a cost of doing business these days. Wal-Mart is, for all the attention it is getting, simply the logical result of a commercial endeavor successfully carried out with the age-old internal logic of commerce. Sam Walton’s business model would have been well understood by merchants 200 or 2,000 years ago.

My view began to be challenged after moving back to North Carolina. There is a Super Wal-Mart at the edge of town. (Does anyone hear Springsteen besides me?) Because it is convenient, well stocked and cheap I started shopping there. That was when I started noticing the little things, not quite sulphur burning, but close.

First, I have always found it annoying when sales persons choose to chat among themselves rather than interact with customers. My all-time favorite is when your conversation with an “associate” is interrupted by another “associate” wanting to discuss the break schedule. It is the closest to becoming instantly invisible I have ever managed. While I had experienced this at other stores, my new Wal-Mart quickly established itself as world class. I also would often observe clumps of “associates” in the aisles chatting among themselves with great enthusiasm about topics unrelated to where they were and what they are getting paid to do. Maybe they were on “break” making “associates” out of themselves.

Then I began to notice that while the store had a couple of dozen checkout lanes only two or three ever seemed to be operating at any one time. With dozens of “associates” within view, only a few were interested in taking my money. Many visits found me spending more time waiting in line than it took me to shop. I began to have the urge to page a “Member of Management” myself.

Last April I was moved to send the following email to Wal-Mart’s corporate headquarters.
Today, along with my “Low Prices" I was treated to the national anthem playing in the background as I shopped in one of your stores. While our national anthem was playing an announcer was providing me with shopping information.

For our nation’s anthem to be reduced to a shopping soundtrack is, in my mind, poor taste. One might also easily find it disrespectful to our county, although I doubt that is what was intended. I suggest that this is someone's bad idea that should be discontinued.

I found it ironic that while checking out I could not help but be confronted with the headlines in one of the "newspapers" you offer for sale that our US troops had shot down an angel by mistake in Iraq. With that revelation and the sounds of our national anthem again playing in the background I left the store and headed for your web site.

Is it possible for your company to offer low prices, convenient shopping, employment opportunities AND a moderate amount of good taste and respect for our country at the same time?

Regards, Bibb

I did not hear the anthem again when I returned. But the “newspapers” still provide entertainment during those long, long waits in the checkout line.

Finally, a couple weeks back while I was carrying a 40-pound bag of dog food from the store on my shoulder I saw a young “associate” walking towards the parking lot to collect shopping carts. I had the bag on my shoulder, not in a cart, because returning a cart to a corral from where I usually parked had become inconvenient. It was inconvenient because there were no cart corrals near by. All were near the front of the store, the closest usually 30 to 40 yards from my vehicle.

Seizing the moment I approached the young man and asked if I could make a suggestion. When he said “Sure” I mentioned the need for additional cart corrals further from the store. He paused while we both looked at the numerous abandoned carts scattered at the edge of the parking lot. He readily agreed and then said that there used to be corrals out there but the first shift crew had moved them closer to the store so they would not have to walk so far to return carts to the store.

I lost it. “Tell those lazy first shift sons-of-bitches to get up off their arses and put them back,” I said as I walked off. I suppose he wondered why that nice older gentleman carrying that bag of dog food said such a thing in the parking lot. I know I did. Maybe I should have just thanked him for his honesty.

I was back at the Wal-Mart at the Edge of Town yesterday. The cart corrals were as far from my vehicle as ever, carts scattered about as usual. Maybe I’ll send another email to Bentonville.

I feel better now.

Sunday, November 21, 2004


Yesterday I finally cleaned out the mini-storage unit we had been renting since my move here last Christmas. I remember laughing the first time I saw one of those commercial blights on the landscape. “People shouldn’t buy more than they know what to do with,” I probably thought. I was not into possessions then. I also used to say, “You don’t own stuff; it owns you.” I sounded a bit like Otto Mann, bus driver on the Simpsons. Well consider my arse well-owned.

Since my wife moved here first most of what was stored was mine. And we moved into a much smaller house. To further subtract space, we neither have the full basement nor attic of our previous residence. The garage is smaller too. It also leaked. Renting extra space seemed a good idea at the time.

This naturally prompted a discussion about the difference between valuable keepsakes, precious mementos, useful items, and junk. Most of my stuff seemed to fall into that latter category, at least according to her. She further reminded me that I had moved much of that “junk” many times already. I was not sure where she was going with that line of reasoning so I stopped listening.

OK. Sure. I have moved - multiple times - books I bought in the 70’s that I still have not read. They are books for God’s sake. I bought them for a reason. And why throw away perfectly good pants that are only 4 inches too small in the waist? I might get back to 32. The old sailboat mast, sail and rigging are still good. All we need is a boat. All that old hi-fi equipment might be useful again, one day. My LP’s are still good, at least if we can find my turntable and had a place to hook it up. Those three old Mac computers still work; they might be valuable someday. I am sure there is some good paint in those old cans. And my collection of nuts and bolts that goes back to 1970? Don’t even think about it. Why the other day I used one of those bolts to repair...something. I don’t remember. My videotapes? Too valuable. Have you seen what they are asking these days for the complete Upstairs, Downstairs or I, Claudius? That’s PBS we’re talking about here.

Maybe if I just consolidate some of these boxes we won’t need so much space. There must be some extra space in one of these boxes, somewhere.

eBay! That’s right. I’ll sell the stuff I really don’t need on eBay. I am sure there are plenty of people out there who would just jump at the chance to………….

Why are you laughing?

OK, maybe I need to throw away some stuff. Maybe if I think like an accountant and adopt an amortization schedule I can throw things away and not feel so bad.

Would anyone like some old National Geographic’s?

Friday, November 19, 2004

What I Learned @ the VHS

Last week I finally got a chance to spend a day at the Virginia Historical Society. My sister and I are doing research on our family and associated Virginia history for a project we have been working on for years. She joined me there. We looked through many books, documents and rolls of microfilm, uncovered some interesting stuff.

But that was not what made the day so memorable. By chance Rhys Isaac was speaking at the VHS at noon that day. I had read his Pulitzer Prize winning book, The Transformation of Virginia, 1740 –1790, years ago. Although a native South African currently living in Australia, Professor Isaac is considered one of the most eminent historians of early Virginia. So I slipped downstairs to listen.

After I had taken a seat a woman walked by and asked if the seat next to me was taken. As it was not, I invited her to join me. We chatted a bit and then Prof. Isaac was introduced. His topic was “Colonial Dissenters and the Evolution of Freedom of Religion.” He also plugged his new Landon Carter book. He was very thoughtful, entertaining, and the subject matter most topical because of our recent election. The lady beside me and I traded whispered comments about what he was saying from time to time. After he retired to the museum shop to sign books the lady and I chatted further.

I commented that he managed not to mention any women in his entire talk. She thought a bit, agreed, but looked at me somewhat puzzled. I further stated that having grown up in small town Virginia I had learned early on that not much happened in our churches not approved in advance by the churchwomen. They were the power behind the pulpit. This would have been especially likely in early “dissenter” churches, I opined. I further expounded that this was just another example of the written record historians work from often under representing the role of women. I very self-consciously mentioned this because of the influence of Linda Sturtz, my friend and history professor at Beloit College, where my wife recently worked. Linda’s book, Within Her Power: Propertied Women in Colonial Virginia, actually takes Professor Isaac somewhat to task in this regard.

I thought it appropriate to mention my southern roots and go into some detail about southern churches because I noticed she had a British accent and probably did not have the good fortune to be born a Virginian. But she nonetheless did seem to have more than a passing knowledge of Virginia history. Since I had mentioned I was doing research upstairs and that Prof. Isaac speaking this day was a happy coincidence she asked about the nature of my research. I then told her a bit about Pamunkey Neck, what became King William County, and my family.

As we walked together toward the museum shop I gestured toward the shortening line of patrons getting their books signed and said that I probably should hurry to buy the Landon Carter book before Prof. Isaac left. She said that she was sure he would like that. Getting an odd feeling - about an hour too late - I asked if she had read the book. She said yes, and it was quite good. In closing I introduced myself and she did the same. Of course I had been talking with Mrs. Isaac.

Recovering a bit I told her that "Transformation" was one of the first books I had read when I started research of my family's history and that her husband was one of my heroes. I also mentioned that I had visited South Africa once and hoped to see Australia one day. We parted. I bought the book and joined the line. Prof. Isaac and I chatted pleasantly and very briefly as he signed my copy; I had no intention of getting in any further over my head.

So what I learned last Thursday had less to do with family or history than common sense. Introductions should be managed at the beginning of a conversation, not at the end.

Thursday, November 18, 2004

Thoughts While Nursing a Bruised Finger

The other day while doing some carpentry work on the garage I hit my index finger on my left hand with the hammer. It puffed up a bit and turned red. The self-imposed injury was completely unnecessary, just a lack of clear thinking on my part. I got what I deserved.

Sort of reminded me of the election...

The Internet Archive

While listening one afternoon last spring in my car to my local NPR station I heard of a website named The Internet Archive. As explained very briefly on their home page,

"The Internet Archive is building a digital library of Internet sites and other cultural artifacts in digital form. Like a paper library, we provide free access to researchers, historians, scholars, and the general public."

The person interviewed said that the site collected books, films, music and web pages. While all this sounded interesting what really caught my ear was the offhand statement that the site held hundreds of Grateful Dead concerts.

Being one of the original Dead Heads I wasted no time when I got back home going to the site. And yes, there were almost two thousand GD shows in various formats, including mp3. I quickly started downloading shows I had attended over the years. Over the next few months hundreds of recordings were added; currently there are 2,594. Anyway, I now can now listen again to every show I ever attended, including my first at the Fillmore East, NYC, January 2, 1971. Life is Good.

But wait, as they say on the TV ads, there is more. The archive also has plenty of current music by "trade friendly" bands. For example just a few days after attending Floyd Fest - see my November 4th post - I downloaded two performances I heard there by Donna The Buffalo and Railroad Earth. Both were excellent quality and quite legal.

No, you won't find downloads for most of your "major" performers. And the recordings are of live performances, with all the difficulties you might expect. But you might be amazed at the wonderful music being made today by people not backed by big record company money, MTV or Clear Channel, bands that sell their CD's after the concert in the back of the room, musicians who don't travel by private jet. And with the today's digital recording equipment in the hands of a motivated music geek, the sound quality usually rivals commercial releases. Life, as I said before, is Good.

And, as you will see when you travel to their website, music is far from the only thing they do. I recommend the Internet Archive.

Wednesday, November 17, 2004

A Special Place in Hell, Part 1

Blogs seem incomplete without a rant or two. Many are nothing but. While ranting is not Virginian, we are occasionally mildly annoyed. Thus begins, in the interest of completeness, what will undoubtedly become a series of posts that will explore particularly annoying behavior in other people. I will call these “A Special Place in Hell, Part #.” Here goes.

There should be a “Special Place in Hell” for those who insist on adding layers upon layers of paint inside door jams or on the inside edges of doors. Sooner than later these doors will stick and finally not close at all. Then someone - like me - must choose between acceptance or taking the doors down, removing the multiple layers of paint, adding one new layer of paint, and rehanging the door. In a house where many doors have been so defiled, that can be a hell of a lot of work - much more than mindlessly slathering paint where it does not belong.

So, for all of you out there with that paint brush in your hand and the notion in your little head of doing a “little touch up" before putting your house on the market, slowly step away from that door!

It should be noted that adjacent to these residents will be housed - for all eternity - those who paint windows shut. They have a lot to talk about.

I feel better now.

Monday, November 15, 2004

The Old Folks @ Home

I am back from a road trip to my family home. Mother’s birthday was last Friday and I wanted to spend it with her. She turned 86. My stepfather is a year younger. Neither is fully independent anymore. They have wonderful helpers - preparing meals, cleaning house, running errands, and making sure meds are taken on time. But even when they are having “good” days visits back home are increasingly stressful for me.

It is hard to accept what is now passing for normal around the house. I so wish mother’s hearing would improve, her balance was steady and that she would feel comfortable again in any room with an air temperature less than 80 degrees. My stepfather has memory problems, takes two hours to eat a simple meal, and is long past being able to dress himself. Both have become uncharacteristically short tempered. Even the home where I grew up has changed. Instead of being familiar and benign it now seems cluttered with things to trip over, fire hazards, and dangerous stairs coming and going. It is hard to look forward to visiting, even knowing how much it means to them. They have lived long and well. But it is not hard to see the direction things are drifting.

I did not grow up in a household with old folks. Seeing my grandparents and great aunts and uncles always took a road trip and was a pleasant event, soon over. Then they disappeared, one by one. I know they must have gone through similar processes I am seeing now. But I was not there to watch it. Maybe previous generations had an advantage by growing up in households with both the very young and very old. But what they may have learned about life and how to deal with and accept the natural course of things is not normal for me. I don’t want the folks back home fading away. I want things back to how they were. I want to fix stuff, make things better, and turn back that damn calendar. I want to save the day just like when I was eight playing in the backyard.

Then I return to my senses. Plans must be drawn, accommodations agreed upon, and decisions made. It may be a long bumpy ride. I need to get some pillows.

Sunday, November 07, 2004


I chose Blogger because it was free, owned by Google, and easy to use. Blogger templates also seemed to encourage clean and readable pages, unlike many blogs I have seen. And I was reasonably happy with my canned page layout until early this morning when I decided it needed a Links section. So I did a bit of research using the Blogger Help section, looked at the HTML on pages with Links, and proceeded to add some code to my template. That was easy, and it worked! Except...

The more I looked at what I had done the more I wanted a divider line between the Links and the Blogger button. An hour later I was still trying to made a divider appear in the right place. Several times I asked myself whether I should just be happy with what I had done and go do something else. But, for those of you who have worked with me, that's not Bibb. So I dug in. I had almost decided that I might have to actually learn basic HTML when, zap, I figured it out and a divider appeared exactly where I wanted it.

I am not writing this to illustrate my coding skills or persistence in the face of reality. Both are problematic. No. I want to share with you that at the instant I saw that divider appear I had a reaction, a blissful physical sensation that would probably be banned in our Red states. I did not have that reaction when the Links first appeared. That had been too easy. It was only after I decided to go for perfection, felt the frustration that usually accompanies that choice, and entertained doubts that I had made a good choice was that moment physically rewarded from somewhere deep inside me.

I wonder if there is a lesson in all that. Or was it the coffee...

Thursday, November 04, 2004

Railroad Earth

Last August with some friends and family I attended the 3rd annual Floyd Fest, an outdoor musical weekend just off the Blue Ridge Parkway in southern Floyd County Virginia. It is a gathering of the tribe. Having driven some distance and expended some energy setting up camp I was already a bit tired when the music started Friday night. And it had turned cold enough so I quickly wished I had brought long pants and heavier shirts. Anita and I called it a night about ten, returned to the tent, and I quickly fell asleep. Sometime after midnight I awoke. As I tried to fall back asleep I could hear music coming from one of the stages. While it was at least a quarter mile away, behind a grove of trees, I could hear a band just cookin’. Even though the high frequencies and vocals were very faint I could hear some interesting chord changes, drum rhythms, and bass lines. I wondered just who were those guys, listened for a while, and drifted back asleep.

The next morning, even before my constitutional or coffee, I looked in the program for who has been playing. Railroad Earth; never heard of them. Sitting around the breakfast table I mentioned that I had heard an interesting band from my tent in the early morning hours. My niece-in-law Virginia volunteered that she had been at the stage and, yes, they were good, very good. She had not heard of them before either. Looking again at the program I found that they would be playing again that evening in the Dance tent. Plans were made.

That evening as the band set up I noticed that these guys looked like veterans, grownups who had come to play. And play they did! After about the fourth song I ducked out of the tent and bought two RRE CD’s. I didn’t want to chance not taking any of this music home with me. I returned to the dance tent and smiled, swayed, and bounced around until the end of the set.

After returning home Sunday night, tired but very pleased with the weekend, I googled the band, found their web site and learned more. A couple of the band member’s names sounded vaguely familiar. I then remembered a band my wife has never stopped talking about for twenty years. Blue Sparks From Hell played in Blacksburg frequently in the 80’s and Anita must have attached herself to the band in a big way. A few more web searches and I found references to the now disbanded Sparks. Sure enough two members were the same, Tim and Andy. So I walked into the next room and told her that she should have told me she knew two members of RRE. She looked at me like I was crazy. “Blue Sparks, Tim and Andy” I said. After a short pause Anita came as close to levitation as I care to see. “No!” she said. A trip to the computer screen and she was convinced. We had been standing to the side and slightly behind the band. She did not get a good look at them. And it had been almost twenty years.

We saw them again a few weeks later in Charlotte in a small theatre. Anita had a chance to talk briefly with Tim and the show was even better than before. We are now RRE fans and will see them again whenever we can. The Blue Sparks reunite from time-to-time in New Jersey. I expect we will catch them before too long.

So, you ask, what kind of music do they play? Well, the best sort of music, where labels fail. My guess is that they could play just about anything you would like to hear. They are often called a bluegrass jam band. Maybe that is because they feature a mandolin, violin, upright bass, acoustic guitar and frequently a banjo or dobro. But that is not what I hear. I hear an American band. I hear the best of all our musical traditions. And you can dance all you want. I have been listening to music seriously for fifty years now. Believe me, these guys are good enough to transcend labels. They are Railroad Earth.

Wednesday, November 03, 2004

Red State Blues

I do not pretend to be at my best today. Lack of sleep and the realization that we are probably worse off as a nation today than 24 hours ago will do that to a person.

This morning brought back memories of 1972 and what seemed at the time as missing that last exit on the highway to hell. But G. W. Bush is no R. M. Nixon. Tricky Dick seems like Lincoln to me now. There have always been those like our once and future President. Except the electorate had the good sense not to intrust the most important job on the planet to them.

I would love to find a silver lining in the events of yesterday. Maybe the only significant one is that we have nowhere to go from here but up. It just may take longer than I had hoped. But I have survived Nixon, Reagan, and Bush One. I will survive Bush Two.

The next elections are only two years away...

Tuesday, November 02, 2004

Election 2004

Today the world turns its attention towards our country and ponders the implications of our election results. I hope we give them reason to be proud of us, for a change.

I have already voted. North Carolina has started providing for early voting, no absentee excuses needed. This has proved very popular and may make today’s polling results less prone to question. I also used electronic touch-screen machines for the first time. It was fast and easy. If the security concerns can be addressed this method may see quick adoption.

I have been interested in politics ever since my father explained to me why he was an anti-Byrd Machine Democrat. My interest, and undergraduate degree in Political Science, coincided with the Viet-Nam War. I remember well the slow-to-dissipate bitterness, anger, and divisiveness of those days. Flag decals v. peace signs. But I also remember the idealism, hope and faith in our nation that ran through my generation. The civil rights, women’s rights, gay rights and environmental movements were proof to us that our system was open, that the benefits of living in a free society could be available to all. Wise decisions could be made if we just engaged in civil dialogue. After a pause and a counterattack from the Right, the bitterness, anger and divisiveness are back. But we seem to have lost that hope that our political system can provide the mechanism to curb our society's most unpleasant tendencies. Instead of civil dialogue we have “Crossfire.”

There is something almost medieval in the air, something pre-enlightenment. We seem not to have put to rest old demons. We are not living in the future many of us worked for, thought inevitable. This is my generation’s watch, and I am appalled. Maybe the children must lead us, again.

Monday, November 01, 2004

Three-Legged Dragon

Harry Yeatts and Catherine Wingfield-Yeatts are two of my oldest friends. They were undergraduates with me at Virginia Tech in the late 60's. They then had the good sense to stick around Blacksburg. Both worked at Tech, Harry in Publications, Cathy at Newman Library. Together they raised Tabatha who provided my benchmark for what the offspring of my generation should be. Now retired these good friends are now my good friends, The Artists. Harry expresses himself through photography while Catherine is a painter. She also works in mixed-media. I really like what they do. You can view - and if you like purchase - some of their recent work at

They are having a collaberative exhibition running through December 31st at the Fine Arts Center of the New River Valley, 21 West Main Street, Pulaski, Virginia. Here are two of their featured works:

Red Sky
Red Sky

Tatto Love
Tatoo Love

Sunday, October 31, 2004


I played golf today, my first 18 holes in about a year and a half. Considering I opened with two 7's and then later managed an 8, my 90 was not all that bad. It was the first time I used my eBay clubs. The vintage Bullseye mallet is a keeper. The irons, rare Hagen 770's, felt very good. The Orlimar #3 "wood" provided most of the entertainment. The course was Deercroft, near Southern Pines and my companions collegues of my wife's at UNC-Pembroke.

It felt more like an early summer day than Halloween. There is something very Halloween about golf.

Friday, October 29, 2004


I am trying not to think too much about why I have started this weblog. I suppose it simply another attempt of mine to both reach out and open myself to others. While that impulse is not much different from sending or opening a letter, the medium is different, at least at this point to me. Unlike many, if not most, bloggers I grew up in an analog world. While I have been enthusiastically using computers for over 20 years now my sensibilities were developed in a different time. To the degree that spanning that divide might provide an interesting perspective, this little exercise in electronic communication may prove useful.

I will try to keep things short, to the point. None of us seem to have enough time these days. Or have we ever ?