Strange Things Are In The Works

There is something going on at work, and I think my job is in jeopardy.  Not just my job, but everyone's job.  I think the Brothers LaCroix have sold their business.  If they haven't sold it, they must be in the process of doing so.

They have been working on something in secret for several months now.  The brothers have had several days where they have been "in a meeting" for half the day and not accessible except for emergency.  There have been "auditors" (their words) in and out a few times.  They were shown the facility in much the same way that they give tours to prospective customers.  There has been lots of counting and taking stock of things lately.  They are normally very diligent at record-keeping and bean counting to begin with, but the depth that they have us taking inventory lately is unsurpassed.  There have been meetings here and there with a few supervisors.  Somber meetings.  They are even selling some perfectly good raw materials as scrap "to get them out of our way", and as anyone that knows them knows, they never get rid of anything.

They are telling the people in their little meetings that they are doing all this for the purpose of garnering a larger line of credit for more expansion.  Baloney.  The youngest of two of them just turned 70 years old, and there is no heir waiting in line to take over the company.

What pisses me off is that they are doing all this on the sly.  Not only are they not telling anyone what really is going on, they are telling people that something totally different is going on--Apparently with the intent of throwing us off the trail.

Today they are actually shutting down production at noon and sending part of the work force home.  The rest of us (in their words: The ones that can count reliably) are going to start an in-depth inventory of everything in the building.  It will be a long day today.  Or days.  It's probably going to take several days to get this thing done.
Do they think we're stupid?  Oh wait--Of course they do.  It's been common knowledge (they let it slip from time to time in certain company) that they think their employees are idiots.  To them, only they are smart enough to make anything work right.

Sure, there is the possibility of people losing the will to work hard at a job that is spiraling down a drain, but for crying out loud--We have a right to know.  Many of us have worked there for a lot of years.  We need to make plans.  If I'm right, there are going to be a lot of surprised people one day in the future.

Me?  I'm already job hunting.

The Early Nerd Years: Enumclaw Computer Center

During the period of time between July of 1985 and April of 1986 I worked at the Enumclaw Computer Center.  I was not successful at it but it kept me from starving.  There were two things wrong with this scenario, neither of which helped :
  1. It was in Enumclaw, Washington.
  2. It was 1986, a time when you could knock on 50 doors in a town and would be lucky if you found one that had a computer.
Although I would have much rather hired on as an inside salesperson (being the geek that I am) I was hired on as an outside salesperson, which meant I knocked on the doors of businesses all day.  It was my job to sell computers to businesses.  How many did I sell during my stint there?  Zero.

There were several reasons for this, and among them were:
  1. Computers were expensive.
  2. Computers came in many "flavors".
  3. Nobody needed one.
When I say computers came in lots of different flavors, I mean it.  At that time the computer industry was still shaking itself out.  This was back in the day of MS-DOS version 1 or 2, and Microsoft was "just another company" in the industry.  Most of the different computer companies' products ran different operating systems, each declaring theirs to be the best. IBM was the standard in office environments at that time, but there were a few others running the Microsoft operating system.  Some computer companies back then ran an alternate operating system called C/PM.  Apple was sold primarily to schools back then, and they also had their own OS.  There were many competing computer companies aimed more toward the home user, again each having their own version of an operating system, like Texas Instruments, Commodore, Atari, and others.

For the most part, none of these companies' software would run on anyone else's computers.

Although we had a few different products at the Enumclaw Computer Center, our "specialty" if you will was Kaypro computers.  These were transportable (notice I didn't say portable) computers that were built like tanks.  Click the picture on the left to see what they looked like.  If you really want a laugh, click the brochure on the right and read that--Especially the part describing the monitor!  Sorry it's not a great quality scan, but I found it on the web--What do you expect?  On the lower left is a brochure I found describing the amazing replacement to the Kaypro II--The Kaypro 4.  Can you say wowsa?

Enumclaw Computer Center was almost doomed to failure in my opinion.  The owner treated it as more of a hobby than a business.  He was a "higher up" within the Washington Education Association at the time and really didn't need the money--I think it was more of a hobby than anything else.  I think the majority of their daily income came from the office manager lady.  She spent most of her day making copies for other businesses.  Can you imagine?  That was a time when only the biggest stores or businesses seemed to have copy machines!

While I never sold a computer, I did keep businesses in the surrounding areas taken care of in other areas, like printer ribbons and other supplies, but there was no money in that.  Lucky for me, the boss had me on a minimum wage so I wouldn't starve.  If nothing else, I got the word out that we existed and were there to serve them any way we could.  The business never found their identity.  They never figured out (nor did the industry) what kind of computers they were actually going to sell, and that was another problem.  Add to that: Computers were both expensive and quickly obsolete.  Did a store want to invest a lot of money in a product that was going to sit on display for 6 months?  It would have been obsolete before then.  Things were changing that fast back then.

Working there was also my first brush with a real geek.  I have no idea what his name was (nor does it matter) but we had a kid in high school that did our tech work.  He would show up after school, put on his static-discharge wrist strap, and disappear into the back.  He was even complete with braces.  How can you beat that?  I was sort of in awe of him as I recall... Here was a kid that knew the insides of computers!  He made me feel insignificant without even doing anything.

We had a small room in the place that had the computers (all Kaypros) lined up.  It was the place where people could sit down and test drive the new machines to their hearts content.  Because all the Kaypros there had so many apps on the load disk you really could try out several aspects of what they could do:  Word processing, spreadsheet, etc.  They also hosted beginning computer user classes there once a month for people that wanted to see what this "new computer thing" was all about.  During the Christmas I worked there, I gave my parents each a class for a gift.  I was poor then, and it was about all I could come up with.  They did go, and they seemed to have fun.

Yeah, that was an interesting time.  A "thriving" computer store with an owner that popped in whenever he found time from his real job, one high-school techie, one outside salesman, and one full-time inside employee that made copies all day.

Perfectly Annoying

There are a lot of things about me that annoy my wife.  Some are things I do, and some are things I say.  Sometimes it's not what I say but how I say it.  This is because I tend to use accents a lot when I make smartass comments. I'm pretty good at accents, but I'm not so good at originality when it comes to the dialog I use when I'm talking in one of my accents.  A couple of weeks ago she suggested I expand my repertoire.
"You need some new material." she stated.
"You don't like my stuff?" I asked, incredulous that someone could possibly be tired of my witticisms.
"It's not your accents--You do those well. You just need something different to say.  You always use the same lines." she replied.
"Well, I never! Well, there was that one time..." I replied, blowing it yet again. I could almost hear her eyes roll.

As I said, I've worn out many, many things I say on a regular basis already, such as:

(Rain Man) "I'm a very excellent driver... Excellent driver." or "I'm definitely not wearing my underwear.  Definitely not my underwear."

(Monty Python British) "Pardon me, did you come here for an argument?"

We get a lot of birds in our back yard. I think the birds think we have some affiliation with the Audubon Society. Sometimes Sue looks out the back window and says, "Doves," or, "The doves are back."
My reply: "With one quarter cleansing cream?"  She's very tired of hearing that too.

I annoy her in other ways too.  (I know, I know--I can't believe it either.)  She does a good job of hiding her winces and other involuntary signs of exasperation though--I'll give her that.  I know sometimes she's probably screaming inside.

She gets annoyed when I'm working in the kitchen.  That starts her hovering, then I get annoyed.  She apologizes for "hovering" but I understand--It's her kitchen and it has been for years.  The fact that I'm persnickety annoys her when I am cooking too.  I like things cooked certain ways and spiced certain ways when I'm cooking it.  She just sees it as too much trouble--Food is food.  That's okay.  Like I've said before--Taste is one of the few parts of me that still works and I like to treat my taste buds on occasion.

She also gets annoyed when I wander off away from her in a store.  I don't mean to do it--I just get sidetracked easily.  I guess in this age of cellphones (aka: Spousal Location Devices) I am getting complacent.  Maybe it's a guy thing (Ooo, look... There's a shiny thing over there!) I've always been kind of an independent guy anyway, so I'm kinda used to wandering around with no apparent direction.

Suzie is lucky though.  I don't command the television and watch ball games whenever they're on like the usual stereotypical male. I also never leave the toilet seat up. I don't know why I don't, but to the best of my recollection I never have.  I also let her buy things whenever she wants.  You know why?  Because she has good judgment.  She understands the balance between quality and value, and she understands that sometimes buying used is best just like I do.

Sure, we occasionally get on each others nerves like most couples do, but we're pretty well matched.

I hope she lets me annoy her for the rest of our lives.  I'll do the same for her. It's what people that love each other do.

Roslyn and Ronald

Suzie and I decided to go over the pass to get a bit of picture-taking in.  This time we chose the town of Roslyn and it's nearby cousin, Ronald.  For those of you that don't know it, Roslyn was the town featured in the TV show Northern Exposure.

I can honestly say I have never seen a cemetery as big and sprawling as the one in Roslyn.  It went meandering all over the place, and was actually separated into several areas.  There were areas based on nationality, lodge (like the Masons, etc), and who knows what.  There were old and new, fenced and unfenced, marked and non-marked.  We first arrived to find a grave being dug, by hand, by a pair of able-bodied fellows.  As I raised my camera, the stocky white guy with Slavic features held his hand up and said, "Uh uh."  After a brief exchange, he ducked out of the way and I took a picture of the black gentleman.  When is the last time you saw a person digging a grave without a backhoe?  He was very amiable and seemed to be enjoying himself:

We wandered around for quite a while taking pictures and having a good time.  After all, this was the first day of Spring, and the weather was fantastic!  After spending a good hour or so in the cemetery, we were hungry.  We drove into Cle Elum for lunch.  We did it a little different though (after all, that's our style):  We had lunch at Subway and Quizno's.  Why?  Well, we hit Subway hoping for $5 footlong subs, but they weren't offering them any more at this store.  Instead we shared a foot-long skimpy BLT.  We went up the street to gas up the car, and there next door was Quizno's, so we thought, "Why not?"  They did have $5 foot-longs, and we each tried out something new called a Torpedo (only $4).  We both really enjoyed them.

Heading back toward Roslyn, we continued through town to the little burg called Ronald.  There wasn't as much to see there, but we did get some pretty good shots of old buildings.  We drove the side streets, stopping for the cool shots.  At one point a neighbor got into it, referring us to the next-door building and giving us a quick history lesson on what the buildings were.

Having quickly exhausted Ronald, we continued back to Roslyn, this time parking the car.  We found lots of interesting stuff to take pictures of in the middle of town, not the least of which is this famous building mural:
We got a lot of great pictures and will be putting them on our SmugMug pictures site very soon.  Trouble is, we both have to wade through a couple hundred pictures each to decide which to post.  That is always the problem.  The cool part of the day was the fact that these old mining towns are full of brick and bare, weathered wood.  Both of those make good picture subjects.

Sue is taking part in a "365" site, meaning that the members post a picture a day.  She got so many today that are killer shots that she's having trouble picking out one.  She is trying to keep it at a picture that she actually took the day she posted it, but when we have such a bonanza of good pics like we did today I think it would be best if she lets that rule slide a little so as to not shortchange the people that might otherwise miss some good stuff.

Well, it was a great day.  Great weather and lots of fun.

Now it's hot tub time.

Angry Colors?

Chromatic Discontentment
by Rick Williams

The colors of the rainbow
one day stood in the sky.
They formed a circle as they stood,
and words began to fly.

The color Blue was first to speak,
and looking left and right,
said, "I'm the prettiest color here--
at least within my sight."

Purple scoffed and said, "No way.
I'm much less plain than Blue.
I am mixed of you and Red
So I'm prettier than either of you."

Red flushed her cheeks in anger.
"Are you saying that your hue
is better than my crimson tone
because you're mixed with Blue?"

She said, "If I could leave this line
I don't know where I'd go,
but it would be near someone else.
That, for sure, I know."

"I'm pretty and important."
Orange was heard to say.
"A fruit was even named for me
That helps people start their day."

Yellow piped up in a squeaky voice,
"I am so cheery and bright!
My color makes mustard and lemons
and flowers like daffodils look right!"

Then Green, in a sultry voice, chimed in.
"I'm am the color of life," she said,
"The world of plants is my claim to fame
so I'm most definitely ahead."

They all began to argue
and grumbling ensued
each claiming only they
were perfectly hued.

Then, above, a pleasant voice was heard,
and a light began to shine.
She said, "What is all this bickering
and why do you all whine?"

"To argue of your beauty
like each of you were best--
Don't you see how much
that each of you is blessed?"

"I haven't the color of any of you
for White is the absence of all;
still, I am happy staying just as I am,
seeing smiles when my snow starts to fall."

"Each of you is special
and you're all in great demand.
Without your different hues and shades
This world would be so bland."

The colors were all silent
then a rain began to fall,
and the circle opened to create
the most beautiful rainbow of all.

Displaying Garbage

Okay, this is weird.  It has come to my attention that not everyone can see this blog.  It's not the blog site, but rather, the blog design I chose when I updated it recently.  Therein lies the quandary:

How would you know if you weren't seeing it all if you weren't seeing it all?

Apparently only part of it is showing up.  Instead of an off-white background they see a brown background, and the whole right side containing the menu, the links, etc. is missing completely.  That could create quite a problem.  For all I know, there is no way to post comments or anything else.

Sue told me about it last night.  I guess Rachyl was complaining to her that my blog was "unreadable" from her computer at work.  They use (gasp!) Internet Explorer.  Suzie showed me the same unreadable page when she opened it on her Internet Explorer too.  Weird.  I tested it on my Internet Explorer when I first set it all up and it was fine.  To check, I opened it again in IE and it was fine.  Weird.  Then I checked versions.  The IE on Suzie's computer was version 6, and that is old enough to be basically shunned and unsupported even by people that do use Internet Explorer. We both use Firefox and encourage everyone else to do so as well, but that's another story.

So, how do I pose this scenario to my readers?  Here's what I came up with:  I thought, "Why don't I just made a picture of this blog and people can click on it.  I picture that shows what they should be looking at.  Then I carried it one step further:  Could I get the screen shot to show the picture of the screen shot showing a picture of the screen shot?

Remember those novelty repeating mirrors that have the rows of lights that go to infinity? 

Okay, maybe my mind works in mysterious ways enough as it is.

So here's the deal:  Click the picture below to look at a full size version of it. Does what you see look like this?  Does yours look anything different?

It was kinda fun to do it so it came up looking like a picture of a picture with everything the same, but I thought it was an interesting thing to try.

If you can't see everything the same as the picture, I suggest you upgrade your browser.  I suspect that the only people having this trouble are using an old version of Internet Explorer, but I could be wrong.  That is why I'm asking this question today.  If you are not using the latest version, you should upgrade it.  It's free!  What are you waiting for?

If you can't see it correctly and you can't fix it with a browser upgrade or whatever, leave me a comment.  I'll put my comment link RIGHT HERE so you can see it.

Tell me about it if you have problems with it.

The Three Amigos: Trail Riders

I miss dirt bike riding.  I'm not talking about bicycles either--I'm talking motorcycles.  I used to go dirt bike riding a lot.  A lot.  Why don't I any more? Well, it's not something that you should do alone--Especially the way I used to do it.  I was a very aggressive trail rider, and in addition there would be no telling where I might end up when I left my truck behind and hit the boonies on two wheels.  The further out, the better.

There was a time when I think we went riding every other weekend.  I say "we" because it was almost always the three of us: Myself, Denis, and Dan. Denis is my youngest brother, and Dan was my best friend from high school.  We were a team.  Many times we even looked alike--All wearing identical dark green Air Force field jackets (compliments of me).  Occasionally, we would have guest riders with us, and it was always fun to see if they could keep up when we were playing cat & mouse at high speed on twisty trails through the trees.

Our favorite times were the weekends with rain in the forecast.  Rain = mud.  We didn't like to ride in the rain, but we sure liked riding right after the rain.  The soupier (is that a word?) the better in our eyes.  I remember one Saturday morning I called Dan at his house:
"You ready to go?" I asked.
"You wanna go in this? It's pouring down!" he countered, hoping I would say no.
"Sure--It'll stop by the time we get way out there." I said.
I was right.  It was a great day of riding.

Here's a shot of Dan trying out the track at the Thurston County ORV park near Olympia before we headed for the trails:

Denis always had a knack of having a seemingly endless supply of munchies in his pockets.  One time we were taking a break under a tree on a particularly cold, rainy day.  While we were huddled under the tree we all had our gloves parked atop our exhaust pipes.  Even though they would still be soaking wet when we put them back on, at least they'd be warm.  Anyway, we were sitting there listening to the rain, wishing we were warm and dry.  We were hungry too.
"Candy bar?" Denis asked, holding a fistful of candy bars out.
Talk about perfect timing!  We could have kissed him.

We enjoyed challenging terrain.  Hills were especially fun.  We were trail riders, not track racers/motocross wannabe's.  I remember more than once slamming on the brakes when we passed a trail that had a "TRAIL CLOSED" sign on it.  To us that meant a challenge.  Trees down? No problem.  Trail washed out? Yeah, okay, that could be a problem. It was not unusual for us to have to literally drag our bikes over obstacles like trees or logs.  Yes, we also had to turn around and go back a lot of times too.

I heard it said one time by a guy I used to work with that kinda summed up dirt biking:
"If a ride doesn't cost you a 30-dollar bill every time you go out, it'll cost you a 60 the time after that."
He was not too far off.  All it took was a broken lever on the handlebars to set you back.  A crash via missing a turn was not uncommon (those hurt), but the costly ones where when you were climbing a steep hill and the front end would come up on you.  If you weren't able to hold on, swing it around, and ride it back down you might have to watch helplessly as your baby tumbled end over end down the hill.  Like I said, those were bad on the pocketbook--And worse on the poor bike.  Add to that the fact that you may have some serious trouble getting back to the sanctuary of the transport truck.  We tried to never let go of the bike on those circumstances.

There were lots of close calls.  There always is if you do a lot of dirt bike riding and ride the way we did.  One particular "close call" had nothing to do with our riding style though.  We went out to a semi-famous place among riders one morning--The Crater near Orting, Washington.  Before leaving home, Dan neglected to turn the fuel petcock off on his bike, so by the time we go there the whole cylinder of the engine was swimming in raw fuel.  He pulled the spark plug out and kicked it over a few times to blow the excess fuel out, but wasn't getting good results.  In a moment of rare brilliance (I'm not sure which of us geniuses came up with it) we decided to hook a tie-down strap to him and, with the spark plug still out, I would pull him around with his bike in gear to get all the fuel blown out of the engine.  The problem: We forgot to ground the spark plug wire.  I just got going pulling him and heard a FOOP sound behind me.  I quickly spun around in time to see Dan and his bike in the midst of a small fireball.  We both bailed off and luckily got it put out quickly. He wasn't hurt and just had to repair a few melted wires and a fuel hose before having a good day of riding.  Whew!  Here is a shot of us at The Crater, getting ready in the morning sun (before the fireball I think), and a shot of The Crater (notice I capitalized it out of reverence? R.I.P. Crater... It's all houses now):

Me and Dan knew to never let Denis get far enough in front of us that he was out of our sight.  To do so might find either of us screaming around a corner only to find him sitting right in the middle of a mud hole waiting for us.  Slamming on the brakes never seemed to be "in time".  We'd come sliding up behind him with a tiny voice screaming in our mind, "Oh ----, not again!"  Just as we got within range he hammered the gas wide open and did a mud-filled rooster tail right in front of us.  All we could do is make sure to keep our mouth shut.

Not too many pictures were ever taken of us riding.  It was before the age of digital cameras after all...  Occasionally I did take my trusty Nikon SLR along and managed to snap a few shots, and I'm grateful for those few memories.  Here's another Crater shot, this one of Denis blasting his way up out of it.

Denis was always hard to keep up with.  He's not a big guy at all, and when he was astride a powerful bike he was practically unstoppable.  When he bought the bike in this picture he couldn't quite handle the tall suspension when we were trail riding (and it had a lot of suspension!).  When we would be in a tough spot on a trail and he would try to get off the bike without losing his balance, the suspension would "follow" his butt upward as he tried to dismount.  To gain a little fit, he took his seat apart and, using a hacksaw blade, literally filleted about a 2-inch layer of the seat off and put the cover back on.  We determined after he bought it that the bike was apparently some sort of dealer-prepped race bike because it had a bit of engine work done inside.  It was some kind of "handful" when you twisted the throttle.

One time we went on a poker run down near the little town of Rainier, Washington.  (For those of you that don't know, a poker run consists of a marked course with checkpoints.  At each checkpoint you draw a card.  At the end of the run, prizes are handed out after the hands are verified.) It was a pretty rainy day, and as with most events of this nature, most of the people went as fast as they possibly could.  We were in no hurry, because winning was strictly a game of chance anyway.  Because we were so far back in the pack, the course was extremely bad by the time we got to it and very muddy. At one point we were riding along and I seemed to be losing power.  I had to keep increasing the gas and couldn't figure out what was going on. I happened to glance down at my front wheel at one point and noticed it wasn't turning!  Because of the muddiness of the course, we were riding in grooves much like a slot car. Because my bike at that time had a front fender that was mounted very close to the tire, it had packed up with mud and locked it up tight.  I had to lay the bike down and dig all the mud out of the front fender with a stick so I could resume.

That wasn't all that happened during the event that day.  The previous problem put us even farther back in the pack. We saw fewer and fewer other riders.  We started to wonder why we hadn't seen a checkpoint in a while. Our gas cans were at the mid point of the course and we began to wonder if we were going to even make it before running out of gas.  Then it happened--Dan had the bike with the biggest engine and his ran out. I took my gas tank off (it had a quick-release feature to aid in maintenance) and poured some into his.  A little further, Denis' bike ran out. Again, I took my tank off, surrendering a bit of fuel.  After a while we were all dead in the water and all we could do it wait for one of the course officials to find us and pick us up. They were "sweeping" the course on a regular basis for riders with problems and would radio for a truck to pick them up. It took a while, but we finally got scooped up by the sweep team and were riding back to the starting point in the truck.  It was then I noticed that my wallet was gone.
"Great," I thought, "what else is going to go wrong?"
It turns out that someone during the race had switched a bunch of the trail markers ahead of us. We weren't the only ones foiled by it, but were apparently the worst affected.  When we got back to the starting/finish point everyone else had gone, but because of all the trouble they let us do all the card draws for the checkpoints we missed.  None of us got diddly.  There was a bright spot in the story though: At some time during the day someone had found my wallet and turned it in!  It was complete and only a little muddy.  What a day.

One thing Denis and some of his work cohorts used to do was go on a special ride the day before Christmas every year.  I usually didn't get to partake of it because of my work schedule back then, but one time it worked for me and I was able to go.  The night before the ride, Denis and I partied in my garage as we readied our bikes for the next-day ride.  The preparation:  We each used our cordless drills and carefully screwed a hex-head screw into each knob of our knobby tires.  That was over 100 screws per tire!  Why did we do it?  Because the area we ride in is frozen by December 24th!  You know what?  It's amazing what kind of traction you can get on glare ice when your knobby tires are full of hex-head sheet metal screws. We had a great day out there in the cold.  There was one fool riding with us that was on a Honda Trail 90, which is an underpowered, little-or-no suspension, grandpa-style hunting bikes usually seen on motorhome bumpers (like the picture on the right). As I recall, he came with no gloves, no helmet, and only a thin jacket.  By the end of the day he was a human popsicle. Not smart.  Oh, and he was the only one without studs in his tires too, and I know he fell at least twice.

See?  With times like those, is it any wonder that I miss it so much?

Fingernail Moon

I'm going to try a minor little change in layout here and see how it works.  Since my very first blog post several years ago, I've always included a graphic at the top, and it's always been at the left.  Trouble is, sometimes that sort of layout gets in the way of poems and skews their look, requiring me to put an opening blurb (yes, like this one) to space the starting point of my verse far enough down to look right.  I'm going to try putting them at the upper right for a change and see how that goes.  Pretty bold of me, no?

I was inspired on the way to work yesterday morning after scraping the frost off my windshield in the cold, blue light of the moon.

Fingernail Moon
Rick Williams

A crescent moon shone down upon
the frosty countryside.
It bathed the fields in ghostly white,
throwing shadows far and wide.

The air was still; no breezes blew;
There was no trace of sound.
The only noises that were heard:
My footsteps on the ground.

A fine, light frost on everything
was bathed in a bluish glow.
The lunar light lit everything
and sparkled like new snow.

Somewhere out there creatures lived
but nothing moved or stirred.
The cold night sky held naught but moon;
no insect, bat, or bird.

It looked like a torn off fingernail
but its brightness would belie
the fact that it was not complete
and but a sliver in the sky.

The Early Nerd Years: The Mountain Online

I mentioned in a previous post how I was dabbling at online chat before it was mainstream.  This time I want to go to the next level--The Mountain Online.

One of the radio stations in the Seattle area is KMTT, or, "The Mountain" as they like to be known.  It's a good station and they play great music.  One of their radio personalities, John Fisher, was was apparently a lover of the emerging technologies of the time, and I believe was instrumental in their release of this new chatting phenomenon.

Remember, this was internet infancy. There was nothing close to online chat with the exception of AOL if memory serves me--I think it was around 1991.  If I can't remember the facts, I'll just make something up.

What made this new chat software a hit?  First of all it was free.  Secondly, it was Windows-based.  That meant it was easy, colorful, intuitive, and it ran on most computers at the time (sorry Mac users).  It was a standalone program, installed from a single 3.5" floppy disk.  I don't remember where or how it was given away, but one of the locations that had them was The Incredible Universe, a now-defunct tech-oriented superstore that was located at the Auburn Supermall right near my home.  The software worked really well, but only allowed a limited number of users, or "connections" to log in at any given time.  My memory is telling me the number was 20, but it could have been 12--I can't remember.  If you wanted to log on and it was full you just kept trying until someone bowed out and left you a space.

I think we users considered ourselves to be somewhat elite.  Here we were, using cutting edge software to yuk it up with radio DJ's and others like we were old friends.  There were numerous mentions of The Mountain Online during the course of the radio shows.  Sometimes they would be promoting other listeners to jump on board, and telling them how to pick up their free disks, and other times the DJ would cite an interesting experience or conversation they had online with listeners.

The interesting thing to note was the statistics of the time.  The radio station was big.  It still is big.  The software was free.  The software limited the number of users that could be online at any one time.  Given all those factors, it was still not overcrowded.  What does that mean?  It means that not too many people had computers then--And even if they did, not many had modems in them or knew how to set them up.  And again--The internet was barely moving, with nothing like chat yet.  Hard to fathom--And it wasn't all that long ago.

The Mountain staff hosted a party downtown Seattle at some point during all this.  I can't imagine them actually mentioning it on the air for fear of too many people crashing it, but I know it was all over the chatroom.  It was everybody's chance to put a face with the user names that they had been yakking with all this time.  It was a riot!  We had the best time--If memory serves me, practically every person from the radio station was there except the DJ that was on the air at that particular time.  Station manager, music director--You name it.  John Fisher and his wife were near the door as I recall, asking people as they came in what their online name is.  After exclamations of surprise and so forth, I believe everyone got one of those "Hello My Name Is" labels to wear (my name online was Rick the Driver).  It was one of the most fun parties I have ever been to in a public place.  The DJ's talked it up pretty well on the air afterward.

Here's an interesting tidbit:  Two of the users on The Mountain Online actually got married not long after that!  I wonder if they were the first match ever made via online chat?  He went by St. Alphonzo, and she went by something Luna.  He was a computer business owner and she was a pharmacist at Bartell Drug.  St. Al as we called him still runs a website devoted to Steely Dan fans, called Under The Banyan Trees.

Ah, those were good nerd times.

Hey, Get a Hobby!

Why don't people have hobbies any more?  (old man voice:) "Why, in my day everybody had a hobby." (Suzie loves my old man voice.)

It's true. Not long ago it seems like everyone had some sort of a hobby, and many people had more than one.  They might have had "crafty" hobbies like sewing, woodworking, scrap booking, or model-building.  Maybe they were artistic hobbies like painting, drawing, or photography.  Some people enjoy gardening and maybe that's their favorite hobby. Some enjoy cooking or baking and do that with a passion.

Then there is collecting. You can collect anything.

I've gone way overboard with collections a few times in my life.  For a while I collected record albums (I finally stopped at 600+ and sold them all at once).  For a while I collected Johnny Lightning cars (I still have most of those).  I had a camera collection for a while in the past.  I've had lots of little "almost" collections that never really went anywhere, but they were fun nonetheless. I have a problem with that sort of thing.  When I collect things I tend to overdo it.

But at least I do it.

Collecting is probably the easiest hobby, but still a very fun hobby. It used to be only a nerd thing. The stereotypical nerd of yesteryear was wearing glasses that were too big and staring into a magnifying glass at stamps, coins, or bugs.  Not any more though--Collecting stuff is fun for everyone and knows no boundaries.  Collecting can be an expensive hobby like collecting porcelain dolls or antiques, or a completely free hobby like collecting pop cans or AOL cd's.  Some of the most fun collections are the theme collections, like anything with a smiley face on it, or anything Coca-Cola, etc.

I think the last couple generations of kids and young adults have a definite lack of creativity.  It's like the hobby gene (you heard it first here, folks!) has been eliminated completely.  Maybe it's too much media input?  Too many video games? No adult mentors to spend time with them?  All of the above?  Maybe it has to to with kids nowadays never reading anything.  If they're going to experience a story, it's always on a TV screen or in a theater.  While that's fine, the presentation they're watching is only one person's perspective.  You don't get to work your mind into wondering and visualizing.  Because of the influence of media arts, people complain of boredom. If there's nothing on TV, and nothing new on Facebook, the boredom sets in.  Everyone in the country should have two hobbies:  One for indoors when it's too nasty outside, and one for outdoors when it's too nice to be indoors.

A hobby can nurture creativity and pride.  They can teach people to pay attention to detail.  Someone may be inspired to seek further knowledge and expertise about their hobby, and that knowledge can increase self-confidence. It may be instrumental in shaping their adult lives if they find a hobby that they are really passionate about.

If you have a hobby, plant the seed in someone else.  Be a mentor and get someone you know to expand their interests.  If you don't have a hobby, get one!

The Early Nerd Years: The World of BBS Chat

I have been dabbling in computers for a long time. Before most people in the world had them or even considered having them.

I even had and used a modem before there was internet!  Yes, it's true. Let's back up a few decades.

In the late eighties, computers were starting to come down in price, but they were still an expensive luxury.  I was very "into" them at that time.  I have to give my ex-wife credit back then for putting up with my fancy.  Although I didn't overdo it, computer equipment and components were not cheap.  I wish I had all the money I spent on computer stuff sitting on the desk in front of me right now.  They were also very quickly obsolete.

I don't remember the speed of the modem I first had.  During that time, they were doubling in speed very, very quickly.  Although they were originally even slower, for consumers they started out at the 300-baud range.  For those models to work, you actually would dial up the phone number and place the phone handset across the top of the modem cups.  600, 1200, 2400, 4800, 9600 soon followed.  When they hit the "k-bit" speeds of 14.4 (14,400), they were showing up pretty much everywhere and were affordable to the masses.

But there was no internet--What good were they?

In the 80's there was a free newsprint magazine in our area called the Puget Sound Computer User.  It was free all over the place like the Little Nickel paper is, and every geek worth his pocket protector eagerly awaited the twice-monthly issues when they came out.  Besides the great articles, reviews, and other things that it had, it also had a huge listing of BBS systems in our area.  What is a BBS?  It's short for Bulletin Board System.  In short, a BBS consisted of some geek (or group thereof) that hosted a "place" in cyberspace.  They would publish their phone number in that giant listing and people could "dial in" to their BBS.  Some were centered around certain topics of interest, some had passwords so only select geeks could log in.

Like I said before, I don't remember the speed of the modem I first had, but it was slow.  I'll never forget the first time I logged on to a BBS though.  After the familiar modem "handshake" sound, the screen said, "connected" and the text slowly scrolled across the screen, line after line.  Can you imagine?  I mean it literally flowed across the screen like someone was quickly typing it.  You could read it as it appeared--It was that slow.

But it was exciting!  Here I was actually connected to someone else's computer in some other town that I didn't even know!

Now what?  Well, I don't know what all there was to do on those BBS's outside of chatting with other users on them, but they were cool.  I was reaching out to the rest of the world, eager to experience this new form of communication.

And it was all before the internet even existed.

The Monday Morning Report

It was a pretty good weekend--One filled with meeting new people and photography.

It started with me meeting some of Suzie's friends on Friday.  After work we were sitting here and one of our neighbors stopped by. They live right around the corner, but are living with someone else while their house is being redone after a fire.  They just both happened to be there at the same time.  When they stopped by, Suz invited them for dinner and we all enjoyed a pot of leftover stew (it was a big pot!) that we reheated on the wood stove.  Nice people, good visit.

Saturday continued with me meeting new people, but this one was prearranged.  We spent the first part of Saturday getting things in order in the house.  She cooked a pot of one of our favorite soups and had a gathering over for the evening.  Again, nice folks!  We had four adults and two kids, Dane was also there.  He was specifically invited so everyone could celebrate a recent achievement in his church.  It was a great evening.

Yesterday we did something different.  I was surfing around during my coffee and happened across a site with "ghost towns" on it.  I was reading about an interesting one and found that it was right up the highway from us!  Suzie was very interested so we set out with our cameras.
 The "town" of Franklin, Washington was a coal mining town in the late 1800's, but apparently suffered a catastrophic loss in a fire.  There is a great article on it here.  Like most ghost towns, there was very little left.  We found a few foundations here and there:

There were various items strewn about half buried, like steel cable and stuff like that. some mining car tracks, and other stuff.  This section of track was elevated about 30 feet or so to span the gully:

The real cool part though was the cemetery.  The gravestones were all in various stages of disrepair and the path meandered around them among the blackberry vines.  It was kind of surreal to actually compare names on the website list with the ones on the gravestones.

It was a pretty cool to find something like this so close to home.  It was an excellent way to spend a nice day!