Thursday, October 06, 2011

R.I.P. Steve Jobs - The End of an Era

I know everyone is probably writing about the death of Steve Jobs, and I didn't expect to be one of them. I have never been an Apple or Macintosh person, and have resisted the siren call of the iPhone. When my wireless carrier, Verizon, finally got the iPhone after its exclusive run with AT&T ended, I deliberately chose the Droid instead. I didn't want to be part of what I felt was kind of a cult.

When my husband and I decided to buy a personal computer back in 1989, we did consider the Mac and weighed our choice between that and a PC. We chose the PC (an IBM clone of some sort), mainly because of the large price differential, and we never looked back. Since neither of us were involved in graphics or design, we never reconsidered our original choice and stuck with the PC forever after.

So I was surprised at how affected I was by hearing of the death of Steve Jobs. It's not that it was a shock; the man had had pancreatic cancer and had miraculously survived since 2004. But his recent health problems and his decision to step down from running the company he originally founded made it obvious that things were not going well for him, healthwise. Nevertheless I didn't expect to see the headline on the New York Times page last night on my computer saying that he was dead at 56. 56. Two years younger than I am now; and yet look at what he had accomplished.

Listening to the radio today, I heard so many tributes to Jobs and what his vision had meant for the world, it made me realize how much of what we take for granted was inspired by Steve Jobs and his innovation and imagination. Sure, we use a Dell PC, but the Windows operating system that runs it was copied from the Mac, with its desktop and folders and other innovations that the old IBM PCs never had. Yes, I have a Droid, but the sleek design and touch screen and other features were all pioneered by the iPhone.

Alec Baldwin, in a tweet this morning, compared Jobs to Henry Ford, Carnegie and Edison. The comparison is apt; like these other visionaries, he thought of things that people wanted before they knew they wanted them, and then made them real.

Many people have been referring to Steve Jobs' commencement address at Stanford in 2005, so I had to find it and listen to it. It is definitely worth hearing, and if you haven't already watched it, here it is:

The most poignant part of the speech, to me, was his discussion at the end about death. He had already faced the possibility of death the year before, when he was first diagnosed with cancer, and had at that time apparently been cured. But the reference to death he talked about was something he had read when he was young that affected him deeply:

"When I was 17 I read a quote that went something like 'If you live each day as if it was your last, someday you'll most certainly be right.' It made an impression on me, and since then, for the past 33 years, I have looked in the mirror every morning and asked myself, 'If today were the last day of my life, would I want to do what I am about to do today?' And whenever the answer has been 'no' for too many days in a row, I know I need to change something. Remembering that I'll be dead soon is the most important thing I've ever encountered to help me make the big choices in life, because almost everything--all external expectations, all pride, all fear of embarrassment or failure--these things just fall away in the face of death, leaving only what is truly important. Remembering that you are going to die is the best way I know to avoid the trap of thinking you have something to lose. You are already naked. There is no reason not to follow your heart."

I wish I'd heard those words about 35 years ago when I was graduating. I might have lived my life with a bit more purpose than I have so far. It's certainly something to keep in mind for the rest of whatever time I have left.

Steve Jobs changed the world through the elegant, fluid, usable technology that he envisioned and brought to life. People can change the world in different ways. While Bill Gates has left his company and is now working to save lives in Africa, Jobs basically died "in the saddle," so to speak, continuing to do the work he loved. While he didn't necessarily put his efforts toward saving lives, the technology he invented acts as the conduit for others' efforts to help people or change the world. No doubt many of the young people who led uprisings in Egypt and other parts of the world during the "Arab Spring" communicated and organized their uprisings using Steve Jobs' inventions.

Every day we live, whether we are using an Apple product or one of its imitators, we are benefiting from what Steve Jobs accomplished. I don't know whether his type of vision will be seen again in our lifetimes.

Thursday, September 08, 2011

What I Did On My Summer Vacation

Well, here it is September, and I didn't post all last month. This was partly due to an "upgrade" in technology that resulted in lack of internet access up at our cabin in the Adirondacks, where I ordinarily have lots of time to blog.

What happened is, we had been using Verizon's "MiFi" device to get internet access, which it accomplished fairly well, albeit somewhat slowly. Lo and behold, when July rolled around, I found I was due for an upgrade on the device, so I ordered a new MiFi that worked for not just 3G, but 4G, which we have in our area of New Jersey. I carefully asked the Verizon representative whether it would still work in non-3G areas, e.g., our cabin, and he assured me it would. So I ordered it and we took it up to the cabin and guess what? The old one worked MUCH better. The new one has only enough energy to pull in the New York Times on my Kindle, which is, of course, black-and-white, mostly text. When it comes to Blogger or Facebook, with all the graphics, forget about it. It just times out.

So we ordered a little antenna for it and an adaptor cord that connects to the MiFi. It improved access slightly, but still not enough. So we ordered a BIG antenna, which is supposed to work particularly on the 800 mhz wavelength that we have at the cabin. Guess what? It needed an adaptor to attach to the other adaptor that attaches to the MiFi. So we ordered that and it has arrived. I'm hoping that on our next trip we will be back to getting internet at the cabin and all will be well. We did manage to get down to the laundromat to do some laundry a couple of times and used their wifi, but that is not a long-term solution!

For anyone who wondered how we made out during Hurricane Irene (or I should say Tropical Storm Irene by the time it hit New Jersey), we were remarkably lucky. At home we just had a few downed branches and local flooding. Our basement remained blessedly dry and our power did not go out. Our friends in the next town did have water in their basement and lost power for 3 days. So we just got lucky. We were equally lucky up at our cabin, where the devastation that hit Vermont and farther up in the Adirondacks apparently skipped our area nearly entirely.

Anyway, now that I'm back here and it is the first week of school, I thought I would write the kind of essay teachers always used to make us write during the first week of school: "What I Did On My Summer Vacation." Since I am not trying to get into college, I don't have anything really impressive to tell you about, such as working in Guatemala or Somalia building homes or designing clean water systems for a village; or some kind of great internship at a prestigious company that would give me a leg up on the competition to get into an Ivy League school, as kids nowadays have to do. In fact, my summer was much more like what my summers were like in my youth when I used to read a lot, play Monopoly with my friends and hang out at the town pool. (None of which would have helped me get into college, but thankfully standards were lower then).

So. During August we basically relaxed a lot at the cabin on the weekends, went to Lake George for a dip, read a lot, and walked the dogs. The biggest summer events were attending the Washington County, NY Fair, and car shows. We actually went to two: the first was a general antique/custom car show held in Ticonderoga, NY, in their attractive town park by the waterfall where the waters of Lake George tumble into the LaChute River on their way to Lake Champlain. The other was held here in New Jersey at the Parsippany Hilton and was a Saab Owners Convention. We had never been to one, since they've usually been held in Minnesota or some other faraway place, but since it was right in New Jersey, how could we resist?

Here are some scenes from the Ticonderoga show:

A '57 Chevy I believe...not the classic with the "rocket launchers" in front; it's a lesser model but quite nice.
I liked this Jaguar...
Nice Mercury.
Great Corvette.
Chevy Nova. I think a friend of mine had this same model.
An Oldsmobile that is an ode to chrome.
Another Nova.
A hot rod.
Two vintage Saabs at the Saab convention. The one on the right is similar to our '85 but is a few years older.
Another view....
Another Saab arriving at the show (we attended on its first day so not everyone was there yet).
Some oldies that are still goodies.

An old Saab station wagon!
Another vintage Saab. I don't know my years very well, it is probably early '70s.
A snazzy Saab Sonnet from the late '60s or so. They were the sporty Saab style.
That's me in the passenger seat, getting a ride in a '73 Sonnet. You can't tell but I'm wearing a Saab visor that I bought as a souvenir.
I also had a ride in this one. They were offering free rides in vintage Saabs as well as in some new ones. I still like the old ones best so didn't bother riding in the new ones.
This one and the next are both nice Sonnets, different years.

One last vintage beauty...
As for the County Fair, we went on a perfectly beautiful late August day and saw nearly all the sights. There were horses...
Dog agility contests...
Prizes for canned goods...
and arts and crafts...
We saw goats...
And sheep...

Roosters and chickens...
Some ducks...
and pigs...
and lots of cows. This one doesn't want to go where this little girl is trying to make it go!

And of course, lots of food and carnival rides!

Last, but certainly not least, we enjoyed the scenic beauty around us, and did some relaxing on our deck at the cabin!

I'll be back soon with, hopefully, a post that actually talks about issues...politics...the President...the Economy...or some other weighty combination of all of these. I am still in summer brain mode and have to confess I did not even watch the debate among the eight Republicans who want to be president. All but two make me want to run screaming or slit my wrists at the idea of them possibly winning. Romney and Huntsman are equally Republican but not quite as crazy. However, I have not really studied their beliefs or ideas, and that opinion may change radically once I do!

Hope you enjoyed your summer. I am already starting my Seasonal Affective Disorder a little early - must be all this rain. I can't believe it's September already. Where did this year go?

Thursday, July 21, 2011

A Cat's Eye View

Baxter here. I bet you didn't realize it, but I can actually Type with my Back to the computer. Aren't I Talented?

It's been Awhile since I Graced this Blog with my Presence. It's certainly not My fault, though. My Humans keep going Away and Leaving Me here alone, and it puts Me in a Bad Mood and I don't feel like Blogging. But I thought it was About Time I put My Two Cents' worth in. So here I am.

First of All, this whole Debt Ceiling Debacle is just Ridiculous, in This Cat's Opinion. I have never seen such Folderol in my Life. Here President Obama is willing to give the GOP practically Everything they want, including Cuts to Medicare and Medicaid - much to the Dismay of his Supporters - with the small catch that they have to Agree to - horrors - some Revenue raising! And we're not talking about a Huge Tax Increase here. We're talking about getting rid of Loopholes, and Oil subsidies, and taxing things like Corporate Jets.

But no. The Republicans have all Signed some kind of Pledge not to raise Taxes NO MATTER WHAT, and they are Cutting Off their Noses to Spite their Face. I have never seen such Stubborn Humans in My life. They're Stubborner than a Cat being stuffed into a Cat Carrier to go to the Vet. (And believe Me, that's Stubborn. Getting Me into my Carrier is a two-human job!).

However, the guy who got them to sign the Pledge did leave some wiggle room for the GOP to let the Bush Tax Cuts expire and not have it "Count" as a Tax Increase. Perhaps that is the Way this can still be Solved and the GOP could Save Face. Time will Tell. (Seems to Me I remember another President who said "No new taxes! Read my lips!" and he raised Taxes, because he had to. And he didn't get Re-elected. So this might work out for Good in the End if the GOP loses some Seats in the House or Senate as a result of any Agreement!)

So, I am crossing my Paws and hoping for Some Kind of Resolution before the Debt Ceiling goes up and turns the Country into a Pawn Shop of some kind. I'm not quite Sure what would Happen but it isn't Good. They say a deal may be Imminent, but I'll Believe it when I see it.

Seems as if there isn't much else New to talk about these days. It's Hot. Very Hot. My Humans aren't even Outside on the Deck today, as they usually like to be in the Summer. I'm just as Glad, because that means they are Indoors with Me, which of course is a Better Place anyway. I'm hanging out in the Air Conditioning upstairs, and am Quite Comfortable. I think I heard my Humans talking about going to see the new Harry Potter movie later on. That may Cool them Down nicely.

So, with that, I will Sign Off, and wish you a Cool Weekend. Hang out in the A/C or in a pool, and keep your Catnip dry!

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Summer Haiku Tuesday

After a whole week up at the cabin in cool springlike weather, coming back to New Jersey was a shock. It's mid-July. It's hot. It's humid. The only good thing is, there is a nice breeze. In fact, it was such a nice breeze yesterday, apparently, that two branches broke off and fell in my neighborhood - one on the sidewalk around the corner and one on our front porch steps!

The brinksmanship between President Obama and John Boehner slogs along. I think the President is playing it right for a change - actually holding out and saying that he won't accept any budget that doesn't include revenue, i.e., tax, increases. I just hope he doesn't fold at the last minute. At some point the Republicans will have to either give in and accept some tax increases, even if only in the form of closing loopholes, or else they will take the blame for the economic mess that would follow if the debt ceiling isn't raised.

But in the summer heat it's hard to get worked up about anything in politics. In the back of my heat-drugged mind I have questions: "If the government defaults on its debts, does that mean investments in treasury bills will tank?" "Do I have any investments that would be stable if this happened?" but I can't bring myself to think any further than that or bother to Google something to find out. Maybe I don't want to know. After all, what can I do about it anyway?

So, I decided today would be a good day for some haiku. As part of my resolution to get back to blogging, haiku is always a good way to get over any writer's block I may have! So....

Summer has arrived.
Cicadas are chattering
High in the treetops.

The dogs are panting
Diva's too hot to walk far
We sit on the deck.

The news is dismal
Haven't read the New York Times
Or the Star Ledger.

Budget talks drag on
Boehner meets with Obama
No progress is made.

My computer's on
My MiFi is blinking green
Where shall I go next?

Facebook is sluggish
The blog world is beckoning
Time to go explore.

I often wonder what we ever did without the internet? Can anyone remember? And don't say we read, because I still read. But I find the world has opened up and become so much more accessible since the advent of the internet. It would be very hard to go back to the past.

Sunday, July 03, 2011

It's About Time...UPDATED with pictures!

Well, another month has sped by…and “the 4th of July crept up on little cat feet,” as Jean Shepherd paraphrased in his wonderful tale, The Legend of Ludlow Kissel.

I have to admit, I have become a Bad Blogger. Who would have thought that retiring would mean LESS writing of blogs instead of more? It’s just as the old adage says, “If you want something done, give it to a busy person.” Or in this case, a working person. I’ve even been lazy about checking e-mail these days.

It hasn’t been all sloth and lethargy, though. I’ve been doing some writing for a local blog, covering events in my town, and perhaps I have been expending my writing energy that way, leaving none left for my own blog.

Plus, DH, his dad, my aunt and I all went to Cape Cod during the second week in June – followed by my coming down with a dreadful, energy-sapping, soul-sucking cold that actually took two weeks to go away. It included a consumptive cough, a head cold, and a temporary loss of the ability to taste things, which was certainly not a pleasant way to spend the middle of June. (Luckily that sense has returned, along with my appetite, something that is rarely out of commission under ordinary circumstances).

I can’t say nothing happened in the past month worth talking about – far from it. Of course, the most important event of all was the recent passage of the gay marriage bill by the New York State Legislature, and immediate signing thereof by Governor Andrew Cuomo, who had pushed so hard for the law to pass. The news of the law’s passage came late Friday night last weekend, when we were up at our cabin in the Adirondacks.

I was thrilled that this finally happened – especially in New York, which is so tied in with the gay rights movement, starting back in 1969 with the Stonewall Riots. It’s about time, New York! Now if only my home state of New Jersey would follow suit. Of course, our governor, Chris Christie, in his usual pleasant way, has said he’d veto any effort by the legislature to pass a gay marriage bill in his state. Remind me again how we ended up electing this guy? It certainly wasn’t a choice I made. I think I’ll start thinking of New York as my home state. It feels better.

It was inspirational to see Governor Cuomo go about his efforts to push through the bill. According to columnist Maureen Dowd, who recently interviewed the governor,

"The governor says he sold the marriage-equality bill as a matter of conscience and didn’t try to buy off any recalcitrant lawmakers with promises about roads or bridges.

He said Senator Roy McDonald, a Republican who grew up in public housing and represents a somewhat conservative district in the Albany area, told him that he wanted to vote for the bill because 'it’s the right thing. I believe my God is a God of love and acceptance.'"

The four Republicans who voted "yes" deserve a great deal of credit for bucking their party's line and doing the right thing.

New York Mayor Mike Bloomberg gets some credit as well, as he expended a lot of political clout on its behalf.

It’s too bad President Obama can’t get any further in his “evolving” viewpoint on the subject and come out strongly in favor of it. He still says it’s an issue best left to the states, and while there may be some political reasoning behind this, that wouldn’t stop him from at least saying honestly what he believes in. (Note to the President: “states’ rights” was the excuse given for ongoing segregation as well.) And now that 53% of Americans approve of gay marriage, the tide of popular opinion is starting to turn - not that people’s intrinsic rights as human beings should be decided by popular opinion in the first place.

It’s possible that leaving it to the states for awhile would still be a wise policy, until enough states passed gay marriage or civil union laws to reach a tipping point where the Supreme Court would be more likely to rule in favor of gay marriage.

But in the meantime, federal laws do not recognize those state-endorsed marriages, depriving spouses of federal pensions and social security benefits from their partners, and marital law in general will be a mess once people start moving around the country and try to get their marriages (or divorces) recognized in other states, as John Schwartz in the NY Times discussed in today’s paper.

And if the Administration is ostensibly no longer defending the Defense of Marriage Act, why doesn’t President Obama use his bully pulpit, as Cuomo did his, to try to get Congress to repeal it? I can only hope he is waiting till after the next election, when he no longer has to worry about being re-elected, before pushing for this. But if he wants to win that election, he’d do better by supporting his base, which includes many gay rights advocates, than kowtowing to a conservative populace that won’t vote for him anyway. Just once I'd like him to do something bold about this issue, which should be a matter of conscience for everyone, not a political calculation.

In other June news, Republican candidates continued to come out of the woodwork, but I am not paying much attention to them at this point. Wake me up next year when we have some idea of which way the wind is blowing. Right now the group includes rightwing ideologues like Michelle Bachman, perpetual candidates like Ron Paul and now Newt Gingrich; and a range of more mainstream candidates like Mitt Romney and Tim Pawlenty, who are stepping all over themselves trying to be more rightwing so the primary voters will vote for them.

Then there's the botched rape case against the former IMF director, Dominique Strauss-Kahn. At first it all seemed so simple: Aging lecherous Frenchman rapes innocent immigrant just trying to make a life for herself in the United States. Turns out she wasn't so innocent, had some unsettling ties to drug dealers, and had a history of lying to the government when seeking asylum a few years earlier. Her stories were inconsistent and her credibility damaged. So now Strauss-Kahn is leaving his house arrest and the case is in disarray. But the question remains: Just because she's a liar, do we know for sure he's not a rapist?

So, enough of all that...I will just concentrate on what we’ve been up to the past month. Our annual spring trip to the Cape was a big success. My aunt came with us this time and stayed in the cottage my mother always stayed in. She hadn’t been up to the Cape in about 15 years, so was happy to finally get back there. Her 18-year-old cat had just had to be put to sleep, and the trip helped get her mind off that. And, in fact, if she still had the cat, she might not have felt comfortable going away for a week, so it all worked out for the best in some ways. Amazingly, we had wonderful, warm, sunny, clear weather for 5 of the 7 days we were there, and even the other two days were just partly cloudy.

We did all the usual Cape things: went out for lobster, sat on the bay beach not far from our cottages, took a ride to Provincetown. We also spent a lot of time just relaxing on the serene grounds of the cottages, looking out at the pond.

I had a few gratifying chats with the lovely woman who is the owner of the cottages we stay at, a staunch Democrat who was a supporter of Barack Obama before I had even decided who to support in the primaries. Now she asked me, somewhat wistfully, "Do you think he can survive the haters? The Tea Partiers?" (We were there not long after the most recent kerfluffle about his birthplace.) I assured her I thought that wasn't going to be his problem, but that he should do more to support his own base. She agreed, saying she wasn't always happy with everything he's done, but continues to support him nevertheless. I think a lot of Democrats would agree with that sentiment. But I'm not sure about the indpendents, and there will his problem in 2012 if things don't improve.

Diva and Angel had a great time at the Cape also. Diva, as usual, loved her swimming sessions in the pond. We tried to get Angel to go in, but she apparently is not really a swimming-style of dog. She did go in up to her shoulders and at one point took off swimming toward a school of ducks (do ducks travel in schools? Herds? Bevies?). Her prey drive is stronger than her dislike of swimming, apparently.

Here are pictures of Diva and Angel, close up. In the second one you can see Diva is getting impatient with picture-taking and revving up her "demand bark." This picture definitely shows the difference in their personalities!

And a nice portrait of Angel lying in the grass near the deck of the cottage.

My aunt reading with Diva sprawled in front of her.

The ducks in the pond were very bold; one mama duck kept trying to come up to our cottage when we were sitting outside, followed by her babies. She kept coming even as both dogs went nuts barking at her. We kept having to get up and shoo her away. Someone who was previously in that cottage must have been feeding her!

DH’s dad had a good time too – he always does. We went twice to his favorite restaurant, and he ate lobster in all forms at every meal, including baked stuffed, steamed, in the form of a lobster salad roll, and more.

We had a low-key Father’s Day; just had Dad up for a pancake breakfast out on the deck. By that time my cold had improved enough that I was functional and able to be a hostess! Here's a portrait of DH and his dad and Dad's "grandchildren."

Now comes the real “cabin season.” We are finally getting warmer weather, after a long, cool, rainy spring. Even as recently as last weekend the weather was so cool at night up at the cabin that a fire in the woodstove was needed at least once a day to take the chill off.

Now it’s finally warmer, so we’re using the outdoor firepit out on the deck for our fires in the evening. But even still, the weather is unpredictable - yesterday, clear blue skies and sunny; today, thunderstorms, clouds and rain. But even then it is peaceful and beautiful at the cabin, and better than being in the hustle and bustle of suburban New Jersey. The dogs both love it here and like to lounge around on the deck and relax, looking out at the woods and occasional wildlife. Angel, who is so over-reactive to every human-generated noise at home, is calm here. Nature doesn’t trigger her alarm.

We’ve planted a miniature raised garden here at the cabin, using bricks that were left lying around by the previous owner. Our crops include basil, rosemary, and oregano. We just extended this little garden and will now plant some beans to see if we can get a small crop of string beans. Plus we bought two patio tomato plants that we’re hoping will survive our absences long enough to yield some home grown tomatoes. Surprisingly, nothing seems to be eating our herb garden. It will be interesting to see if string beans are another matter.

Tomorrow is the 4th of July, and I don’t know whether we will participate in any local festivities or not. Before we came up to the cabin we went with friends to the annual county display of fireworks in our local park, so we had our fix already. Up here, a couple of years ago before we had our own cabin, we stayed over in Schroon Lake and sat outside and watched their annual 4th of July parade go by, and later sat on the beach at the lake being eaten by mosquitoes and watched the fireworks there. But that’s kind of far away. So tomorrow may be another quiet day here…but that’s fine with me!

Angel by the pond - she is enjoying the country life.

Hope everyone has a happy, safe and fun Fourth! I'm posting this without pictures but will update tomorrow - when the sluggish internet connection here might be better - with pictures of the dogs and more!