The phrase “television worth watching” is almost an oxymoron nowadays, but this week PBS is airing “The War,” a documentary about World War II co-produced by the team of Ken Burns and Lynn Novick. Last night, I saw the first of the seven installments and that was enough to convince me that it is worth my time to watch this documentary. If you’ll visit this link you can click on “PBS Previews: The War” to see a 26:49 minute overview of the series, giving a glimpse of its goals and some insights about the making of the documentary, and if you bother to watch that 26+ minutes worth of introduction, I’m confident you too will be inspired to watch the series. The next installment is presented here in the Eastern Daylight Saving Time Zone tonight at 8 PM on the local Public Broadcasting Station. For more information about the series, you can check this PBS web site.
I’ve already given this idea to the on-duty manager of the grocery store where I shop but she probably filed it under looney ideas gleaned from talkative old men in the checkout line and did little or nothing else with it, so I’m offering it to any of my programmer friends who might want to make a name for themselves and in the process create a useful tool for crazies like me who look for innovative ways to use our Internet connection. I, like most everybody else and maybe even you, dutifully hand the cashier my “value card” as he or she is about to ring up my purchases so that I can get the discounts that accrue from having given them my name and address and having allowed them to tag me with a unique Customer ID. They use it, among other things, to print out a listing of the items I have purchased that day, neatly categorized into sections like Produce, Package Meat, Grocery, Frozen Food, Dairy, Candy/Gum, etc., and at the conclusion of that listing they announce that Your Savings Today was $7.48 on my most recent (9/16/07) expenditure of $56.66. I walk away, informed and satisfied that it could have been at least $7.48 worse.
Now I’m reasonably sure that’s not all they do with the information gathered from scanning the bar codes of my purchases and pairing them with my unique Customer ID. Quite likely, they use the information to update their records that I made off with one bottle of Tide laundry detergent, thus depleting their supply, and conclude they should replenish that item at that particular store. And throughout their supply chain they use my data to inform their business partners of my shopping behavior. But as far as I am concerned, my data is lost forever in the supply chain. It’s not available for me to use any more.
So here’s my idea. Let me see the accumulated information the store collects on me. Many of my purchases are cyclical. For instance, I buy deodorant, shampoo, shaving cream, milk, and laundry detergent on some regular interval. How often? I don’t know, but I’ll bet the store knows, if they wanted to look. They have a web site, and I’m pleased to report they do offer a way for me to look up weekly specials on that web site and create a shopping list from them. But if I were able to log into their web site with my unique Customer ID (and a password I chose), I could discover it was about time for me to buy more shampoo or deodorant, and creating a shopping list on their web site would be enhanced by becoming a simple matter of checking off items and specific brands that I normally buy.
To me, it seems there must be a database that contains all that information and it can’t be all that difficult to make access to the data available on the web to the customer who helped to create it. Or said in another way in the hypothetical words of Moses Schwartz, my local mythical grocer, “Let my data go.” Make it easier for me to spend my money with you! And if you build it on the web, I promise you I will come.
Back on July the 8th, a Saturday morning, I decided it was time for me to stop committing suicide by sitting (TM) and set aside a regular hour during which I would commit to getting some exercise. I chose walking. Believing that scheduling a time for the activity might make it more likely I’d notice that I should be doing some form of exercise at that time, I set the hour between 8 AM and 9 AM as my designated hour for exercise. Since then, I’ve been quite pleased that during the ensuing two months I’ve kept up the walking through my neighborhood with good regularity. (I’ve missed walking on only two days in the last 62.)
Sometime during the month of August, I decided to purchase a pedometer and wear it to make sure I was covering at least the recommended 10,000 steps required each day to maintain good health. I wore that pedometer for a number of days before finally deciding that the hoops through which I had to jump to keep it level around my waist throughout my walk, something that is required for an accurate reading, just weren’t worth it. However, the pedometer did provide me with one bit of interesting, if indirect, information as a result of having worn it for the few days that I did. I used the number of steps taken during one of my walks times the length of my stride to compute the approximate distance I traveled each day. It turns out that my route around my neighborhood is approximately 3.9 miles, which I cover in somewhere between 60 and 75 minutes. When I first began walking, it was closer to 75 minutes each day, and as I’ve gained stamina, the time required has moved closer to 60 minutes, though it still takes more than an hour each day. I usually plan on 75 minutes for my walk, frequently leaving the house at 7:45 AM and getting back before 9:00 AM. As a result of this exercise, I can tell a significant difference already, not so much in my weight or my girth, but in terms of my heart rate, my respiration and the lack of pain I feel upon climbing the hills.
On one of those recent days in August during which the heat index rose to well above 100 in the afternoons, I decided that it was just too hot to go out for my walk, even early in the morning. So I decided to do like the other senior citizen exercisers and go to West Town Mall and walk in the air conditioning for an hour or so. I have never been so bored in my life! The flat terrain and the sameness of the route (I had to walk around the outer perimeter of the Mall 5 times to achieve my 75 minute walk) were like driving across Nebraska or Kansas longing to see a hill. Oh, there were people to watch and merchandise in the store windows, but by the second lap, my mind was aching with boredom from the sameness of the scenery and the lack of challenge from the flat terrain. I decided then and there that sweating up and down the hills in my neighborhood, no matter how hot it was, was much better than walking at the Mall. I’ll reserve the Mall option to be used only for the absolutely coldest days of winter when walking outdoors is unbearably brutal.
Another unanticipated benefit I’ve discovered from my daily walks is that it helps me interact with my neighbors. Not since my two dogs, Rocky and Bruno, died back in 2003 have I spoken to or been spoken to by my neighbors so much. The dogs gave me a reason to be out of doors in the neighborhood, of course, as I gave them their daily walks for exercise and potty breaks, and hence they caused me to be seen by my neighbors and gave me the chance to interact with them periodically. Now, walking through the neighborhood for exercise serves that same function.
Jerry Pounds has tagged me to participate in the meme that he wrote about yesterday that he called “A Favorites List.” I received a phone call from him, in which he urged me to answer the same set of questions about myself that he answered, and I agreed. I don’t go looking for these meme-type blog entries as do some of my blogging acquaintances, like Tish who says she enjoys them, but since I don’t get many requests for specific posts here at my blog, I thought I’d comply with Jerry’s request. So hang onto your hat or hold your nose, whichever seems appropriate, because here are my answers.
Four jobs I’ve had in my life
- My first job out of High School was as a soda jerk in 1959 at Gene Duggar’s Dunair Pharmacy near the intersection of Memorial Drive and Indian Creek Drive in Dekalb County, Georgia. The pharmacy had a grill in addition to the soda fountain, so I cooked hamburgers as well as constructing such delights as banana splits and ice cream sodas and, most strenuous of all, hand-packing pints and quarts of ice cream. With the accumulated proceeds of my earnings from that summer, I purchased a desk from the Ivan Allen company in Atlanta that I have to this day, almost 50 years later.
- During my first year in college at Georgia Tech, I decided to enter the Baptist ministry, so I transferred to Mercer University where I encountered my second job. In 1962, I was called to serve a small rural church near Eatonton, GA, called the New Daniels Baptist Church, and a result I was ordained as a Baptist minister at that time. Carole and I married in August of 1962 while I was serving that church.
- After a time in the U. S. Navy and upon leaving the ministry, in 1966 I became a Vocational Rehabilitation Counselor for the State of Georgia which first gave me the chance to work at the Disability Determination Unit for Social Security and ultimately led me to work at the same Mental Health Facility (Georgia Regional Hospital at Atlanta) where I met Jerry and from which I got into consulting, because of my acquaintance with Dr. Aubrey Daniels.
- After the experience of being in on the birth of one consulting firm (Behavioral Systems, Inc.) and the demise of another (Vernine and Associates, Inc.) over the period of about 30 years of consulting, in 2000 I went to work for ClientLogic, a company that contracted with BellSouth to do technical support for their FastAccess Internet Service. This last occupation was one that finally allowed me to use my long-standing passion for computing technology (acquired my first PC in 1982) to help others with their computing issues and in the process to learn more about such technical things.
Four places I’ve lived
- My early life was spent in Stone Mountain and Clarkston, Georgia. These two towns are about 5 miles apart. I began school in Stone Mountain and finished school there, but between the 6th and 10th grades, I attended Clarkston’s schools.
- When I entered Mercer University, Carole and I moved to Macon, GA, and lived in a rickety garage apartment (it swayed when the wind blew) at 1361 Duncan Avenue for the last years of my college career and while I was serving the New Daniels Baptist Church as their pastor.
- While I was in the Navy, Carole and I lived on James Island in the Charleston, SC, area. We lived in a duplex at 451 Riverside Drive when our first son, Jeff, was born there on December 25, 1964.
- While with Behavioral Systems, Inc., and doing a contract with Cannon Mills, Carole and the family and I lived in Kannapolis, NC, just outside Charlotte.
- I’ve lived here in Knoxville, TN, since June of 1979, when I moved here to take a job with Vernine and Associates, Inc.
Four favorite foods
- As a small child I was given the nickname of “pie” by our neighbors the Lawson Jolly family because of my love of chocolate pie and I have been known in my own family for my love affair with Oreo cookies, so I suppose I’d have to confess that chocolate is one of my favorite foods. I’ve enjoyed it in all of its many manifestations at some point in my life. You could probably even say I’ve even built a monument to it along my 40 inch waistline.
- There are very few foods that I won’t eat and don’t enjoy, so almost any answer I give to this question would be truthful. For instance, I love a crisp, cold and juicy apple, and I often eat one of those (a Gala) for breakfast.
- My son Mike and I have lunch together each Friday and we’ve both found that we are very partial to a Japanese restaurant here called Shono’s where I have Fried Rice and Chicken with the zucchini and other steamed vegetables that accompany it.
- And while I like Italian food, old-time Southern cooking (Fried Chicken and a variety of fresh vegetables), Steaks and Seafood, too, I could very easily be happy as a vegetarian, which I have heard derives from a native American word meaning “lousy hunter.” I suspect we’d all be better off if we would be satisfied with mostly vegetables, fruits and nuts and very few meats.
Four places I’d rather be
- I can honestly say this is the hardest question on the list for me to answer because I can’t think of any place I’d rather be than where I am now. I can easily think of times in my life I’d rather be because of the innocence of them and the friends and relatives who were there then. And I can think of some positions I’d rather be in, for instance substantially wealthier, or ages I might like to be, but I am very satisfied with where I am, and I can recall very few times in my life when this was not the case.
- But to try, even if just allowing myself to fantasize about it, to answer this question, I think I would enjoy being on a white sand beach in the Caribbean with the warm breezes blowing and the waves lapping the beach with no one else in sight.
- I made a visit to Berlin to see Paul in 2003, and I had a taste of what was there to see. As is probably true whenever you visit some place far away, I had just enough time there to realize what to try to see on my “next” visit, so I suppose I could say accurately that I’d enjoy being in Berlin again while Paul is still living.
- And although I wouldn’t want to live there, I’ve always loved visiting San Francisco because the city is beautiful and I love the atmosphere of tolerance and acceptance that exists there.
Four movies I can watch over and over
- At the head of this list is “My Fair Lady.” This is perhaps my favorite movie of all time. I love the music, the performances, the story, the humor, and the lesson that it teaches.
- Another favorite of mine is “The Music Man.” Another musical (which is a genre of movie that I enjoy), but this one is a favorite because of the presence of The Buffalo Bills, and the performances of Robert Preston, Shirley Jones, Paul Ford, and Ron Howard.
- A non-musical favorite of mine that doesn’t get very good reviews from the critics is “Memories of Me” and another of Billy Crystal’s movies, “When Harry Met Sally.” Whether either of those are critical favorites, I enjoy them so the critics can just stuff it!
- To round out the four, I’d have to list “The Princess Bride” and “Raising Arizona.” Both of these comedies are a delight every time I watch them.
Four TV shows I like to watch
- Good Eats on the Food Network.
- Criminal Minds on CBS.
- 24 on Fox.
- Almost anything on PBS, but in particular Frontline, Nova, and America’s Test Kitchen.
Four web sites I view Daily
- For me this question is not very relevant, and here’s why. Every time I open my browser (Firefox) it opens two web sites. One is “It’s News to Me” which is of course my own blog and the other is Google Reader where I am subscribed to 70 different web sites’ RSS feeds. So I view the content from at least 70 web sites every day, though I may not visit those web sites each day. One beauty of reading an RSS feed is that you don’t have to go to the web site to see new content. When there is new content at a site, the content will “come to you” in your RSS reader.
- There are three web sites that I find particularly productive for my areas of interest though, so I’ll list them in response to this question. One is Web Worker Daily which on Labor Day celebrated it’s first anniversary. This site is a constant source of information about useful new tools or techniques on the web. Again, because I’m subscribed to the RSS feed for this site, I see any new posts made there when they occur.
- Another of those three that I find particularly well suited to my interests is a site called Windows Tips and Tricks which is a blog run by Vic Laurie that I discovered when I searched the web for the answer to a simple question I had about how to alphabetize the listing of All Programs in Windows XP. Vic describes himself as a retired Chemistry professor who has been using computers since 1956 and as someone who is active on Seniornet. I personally value finding someone nearer my age who is knowledgeable and attentive to what’s happening with computers.
- The final one of the three that I want to focus on is called MakeUseOf.com. This blog is a collaboration between two main authors, Aibek and Kaly, and a couple of other people who contribute articles from time to time. On the About page on the blog, Aibek summarizes the philosophy and approach of the site by saying, “On makeuseof we don?t write about any new web applications that comes around but only about ones that are COOL, FREE and USEFUL.” No matter what your level of technical sophistication, this site will point you to may sites and tools that you’ll find interesting and perhaps useful if you choose to explore them. Subscribing to this RSS feed and checking it out whenever there is new content, which is quite often, is an excellent use of my time.
So at long last we come to the end of my response to the meme that Jerry threw at me. He has one other section where he tags four other people, but since I treat incoming memes the same way I do incoming email chain letters, I’m not going to tag anyone else with this meme. If you are a blogger and feel inclined to join in, be my guest.
Now, Jerry, does that satisfy your curiosity?
Just to update those of you who pay occasional attention to this web site, I’m now back after taking a month off from blogging. Also today marks 90 smoke-free days. With each passing day not smoking my pipe becomes easier, but lest I be complacent, I know that the only thing that matters is not smoking today. So I continue in my resolve to remain smoke-free today.
A lot has happened in the month that I spent not blogging so I’ll try to catch you up on some of those things and some of my discoveries during that time in subsequent, perhaps short posts, as time permits.