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By Lou Washington

I’m devoting a few lines here to the 100th anniversary of the sinking of Titanic. Titanic is a technology story and it also is a story that I’ve been fascinated by for many years.

Sometime during the day of April 14, 2012 a cruise liner full of passengers will arrive on station in the North Atlantic at the last position reported by RMS Titanic prior to her sinking one hundred years ago. That ship will remain on site throughout the night.

The passengers will engage in a number of activities supposedly timed to coincide with actions recorded in the historical records that document this most famous of all ship wrecks.

Food served on the cruise will match the menus used during Titanic’s only voyage. Music will be played by musicians covering the same numbers offered by Wallace Hartley and his small but very brave band of musicians as the liner foundered and sank. Signal rockets will be fired at intervals during the final two hours mimicking the real distress rockets fired at the command of Captain E. J. Smith in an attempt to call attention to his stricken vessel and request the assistance of anyone in visual range.

Hopefully, sometime during that evening someone will utter a prayer on behalf of the souls that perished in that horrible disaster.

I’m a Titanic junkie. My love affair with this ship started many years ago. I can’t even begin to tell you how many books I’ve read on the subject. I was thrilled when the James Cameron movie was released in the mid 1990s. And I enjoyed every minute of it.

For me there is a great unanswered question that looms above this event. The frustrating thing is the question itself is not discernible. Every book I read, every opinion I hear and every theory that is explained seeks to provide “the answer” to the question. But it is all for nought because the question itself is not known.

There are also numerous questions about the specific events of that evening which provide fuel for much speculation and in some cases passionate arguments. Books have been written about many of these “what if” scenarios and for many aficionados, this is what drives their own interest in the subject as a whole. If you want to get a flavor for this diversity of opinion, just google the name Stanley Lord.

There are those that see Titanic as a sort of microcosm or analogue of the post-Victorian world. They see it as an emblem of a class based society with privilege and comfort for a few supported and delivered by the discomfort, brutality and death of many.

Others will explain that Titanic and the fate of the ship and passengers was the result of arrogance. They see it as technology lifted on high like some sort of golden calf for man to worship. They believe that the sinking was the inevitable response of a Mosaic God striking down another false idol.

I think the question is much more basic. I think we look at our technological creations with some pride, and when they fail, I think our first reaction is always why. Why, with all of quality processes, all of the engineering and design specifications, all of the testing and research and careful production techniques do we still turn out products that fail. How can a company like Apple introduce a phone that has antennae issues. How can Toyota build a car that despite test after test has documented cases of a sticking accelerator. The list is endless and the results are anything from mild disappointment to death.

Perhaps the more appropriate reaction should be; Why Not?

We place a huge amount of trust in technology every single day. I wake up in the morning and jump in the shower; I’m not scalded. I take my assorted meds; I’m not poisoned. I trust green lights on my way to work, I drive my car at high speeds depending on brakes to slow me down when needed. I jump on an elevator and it safely takes me to the third floor of the office building where I work.

All sorts of technological creations work properly all day long and we are sustained by that functionality throughout our lives. Each time we place our trust in technology, we are betting it will do what we ask it to do.

But on the evening of April 14, 1912, 1,500+ souls lost the bet.

The ship was moving at flank speed in an area known to have icebergs. The ship was constructed of a type of iron that was susceptible to becoming brittle when exposed to cold temperatures and the rivets that held the ship together where similarly compromised. The life boats on Titanic were insufficient in number to accommodate the passengers and crew. The passengers themselves failed to react with sufficient urgency to the crews request to board those lifeboats and they indeed left the ship only partially full.

Titanic is indeed emblematic of a society that depends on technology. We risk disaster every day and there is no reason to believe we will stop or that we should stop. Progress is expensive.

By Lou Washington

Everyone is speculating on what Apple should or will do with the pile of cash it is currently sitting on. New leadership in Cupertino is already showing some willingness to do things a bit differently with their recent stock buy back and dividend declaration.

Last week Business Week ran a piece by Mathew Ingram that took on the suggestion that Apple might be wise to pick up Twitter in an acquisition move. The article makes a number of good points. The most powerful argument for the acquisition is centered around a perceived missing social media component within the overall Apple market strategy.

I think this is a weak argument for buying Twitter. In fact, I would suggest that buying any social media vehicle would be counter productive for any platform manufacturer. At the end of the day, Apple is a platform manufacturer. They make devices and operating systems. They also produce some very good proprietary software products that exploit the platform environments that they build.

Social media outlets such as Twitter and Facebook are different. They are not at all proprietary. They cross-platform lines, cultural lines, social stratification and segments, political orientations and every other human pigeon-hole you can think of. All are welcome in the very large social media tent.

But, once that tent takes on the aura of being proprietary or in any way oriented toward a specific group, it begins to feel a little bit exclusionary.

Consider this, what would happen to Twitter if one of the major political parties bought it. What would happen if a media company purchased Twitter? Would ownership of Twitter by the Republican Party or the Huffington Post increase or diminish the membership of active users?

Apple does not need to buy its way into this arena. Apple users will do that on their behalf. Apple users are not a shy lot, they are passionate about Apple technology and they won’t hesitate to build out a variety of social media based manifestations of that passion.

Apple needs to continue to facilitate the use of social media within the design and concept of the products they bring to market. They do a good enough job of this, but further commitment in this direction will deliver a far more effective social presence then simply buying one of the components.

A good social media strategy must cover multiple social media outlets. Attaining excellence within one, does not guarantee excellence in another. Certainly, one flavor may lend itself more naturally to the goals and tactical processes of any given company. But, this doesn’t mean the company should avoid the other outlets.

The ability to effectively exploit LinkedIn does not mean you should ignore Facebook. Apple surely understands this. Purchasing Twitter would doubtless make it very difficult to develop and maintain close collaboration with communities operating within the other.

There really is very little to be gained by this move. The further you stray from your core competency, the higher the risk of failure.

By Lou Washington

Okay, I’m not going to talk about guitars, iPads or any of the other things that spring to mind when talking technology. Today, I’m going to share my techno-adventure in the world of yard maintenance.

Like everybody else in North America I’m finding my June chores now being moved up to late March thanks to all the SUVs, Aerosols, Styrofoam and other sins of the 20th century that have conspired to rob us of Winter. I was excited to get started early this year on my own climate destruction project which involves mowing my lawn at high noon.

I had two radically different experiences today with, well, let’s call them lawn machines.

First up is my Homelite brand electric chainsaw. I’ve used this thing twice and I have to say, it’s really kind of joke. It’s all plastic and shiny. It really makes me think of something Mattel would make, like Bobby’s First Chainsaw!It’s just like Dad’s!

I wanted to cut down some tiny stumps left over from clearing out some brush about a year ago. I’m talking one to two inches in diameter here.

So there I am with my 50 foot extension cord climbing around in my back yard. I select my first stump, fire up the mighty Homelite, and start cutting. Everything goes just fine. Stump number two things are different. I get about half way thru the stump and everything just blows up. The chain flies off and the motor shuts down.

I figure I can fix this. So there I am with toy chainsaw parts all around trying to figure out how it all works. It’s amazing when you open a machine up. You instantly can tell if they used engineers to design the thing or if they just kind of winged it. My toy was in the latter category.

The whole thing was held together by a plastic cover that doubled as the guide for lining up the chain drive sprocket, the blade adjustment and tension controller. The vibrations of cutting for more than few seconds was all that was required to cause everything to loosen up, the chain to jump out of the track and shut down the machine.

I rebuilt the saw three-time this afternoon, then I threw it away.

Who are these people kidding? This saw is a piece of junk.

After giving up on the stumps it was time to mow the lawn. My lawn mower is a monument to the concept of durability. This thing sits outside all winter, is not even covered, has never been to a shop for “seasonal preparation” or winterizing. I put oil in it 10 years ago when I bought it. I think the new price for the mower was no more than $150.00.

The only thing I do to this mower that is remotely like maintenance is to pull the spark plug every time I use it. I emery board the spark gap, spray starter fluid on the plug and into the plug socket. I have washed the air filter twice.

The mower deck is rusted through in several places and the starter cord rotted two summers ago. None of the control cables work any more.

But this thing starts on three tries every spring. It may only run on one speed, and when it’s time to turn it off, you have to pluck the spark lead from the plug, but, it runs all summer long and starts first time every time during the mowing season.

It’s a Briggs and Stratton motor, but the mower itself is brand-less. What a joy it is to know that the machines you use for the chores you like the least are going to be dependable and get you done with the chore as quickly as possible.

So, here’s to Briggs and Stratton. You guys are great and your product rocks.

As for the chainsaw guys, you really need to re-think your mission statement or value prop or something. Maybe, just hire an engineer.

By Lou Washington

Today is the big day; the day that has been anticipated for months. Today is the day the iPad 3 finally hits the market. If you believe the various news outlets, people are in one of two camps on this. First is the panting, drooling, tail wagging group who is speechless with excitement. Or, second, you are in the wake me when it’s over group.

In reality, most people are somewhere in between.  I certainly am.

The 3rd iteration of the iPad is exciting. A greatly improved camera and an upgraded display will make for an improved product. But, I’m not ready to turn in my iPad 2. I have not actually seen the new improved display or used the upgraded camera, but, I just don’t see those features driving me to abandon the 2 just yet.

The iPad is revolutionary. It has changed lives. But, why is this true. What is there about this device that causes so much hoopla?  As a dedicated user, I’ll try to answer that.

First off, what makes any device a better alternative than not having the device?

1)      It must deliver a decided advantage to the user

2)      It must be convenient

3)      It must allow the user to do more by doing less

4)      It must be consistent

Okay, so the iPad bats 1000 on these four categories. But, the thing that makes it transcend the merely great and cross over into the territory of world-changing is the fact that it does all four of these things on multiple levels. It touches and benefits so many processes within our daily lives.

Here’s what I mean.

Let’s take the going to a presentation meeting experience.   In the pre iPad world you would go to the meeting with a pad and pen. Throughout the meeting you would jot down little notes and quotes that might be useful in the future. Finally, you go back to your office, lose your notes and that’s the end of things.

With the iPad you sit down at the meeting. You open a notes app and as the speaker talks you enter your notes into a named retrievable document. Perhaps the power-point presentation has some interesting graphics; you shoot a picture of the screen to capture the graphics. Perhaps, the presenter has a special verbal presentation that sums up his message. You can click on your recorder and capture the guy making the key points.

When you are done, you have an illustrated, multimedia presentation of the entire meeting. You can send it to others via email, you can store it, you can let it rest and review it later. That’s very powerful for people who attend trade shows or must sit through multiple meeting over the course of a day.

If someone would have built a little box that did all of that in 1995, and called it the Meeting Pro, that person would have appeared on the cover of Fortune Magazine by the end of the year.

So, how much greater is a device that also stores your music, facilitates access to the always open music store, movie store and book store and gives you access to these things anywhere you go?

How much greater is a device that replaces your telephone and email with VOIP and video phone functionality?

What would the worth be of a device that allowed you to carry around not only pictures of your family, but also all the pictures you’ve ever taken in your lifetime?

How about a device that does all of the above and also helps you tune your guitar and then record the latest song you’ve written playing your guitar?

Not musical, no problem, what about photo-shopping your pictures? Image editing software abounds for the iPad.

May be you want to try out a new route to your Aunt Zelda’s house. Fire up your iPad GPS system and you’re there in no time.

When you buy one of these things you have no idea how much it will impact your life. The more you use it, the more ways you find to use it.

So, pardon me if I’m not all over the iPad 3 just yet.  I’m still just blown away by my iPad 2.

By Lou Washington

Now we have BYOD to worry about. As a writer, BYOD is especially irritating because my spell checker keeps turning it into BOYD. I don’t know BOYD, don’t really care to know BOYD and I promise I won’t write about BOYD.

Bring Your Own Device seems to be a big area of concern. IT departments must now develop and publish BYOD policies and procedures. Companies must decide if they are going to be BYOD friendly. BYOD teams will need to be formed and BYOD vision statements will need to be crafted.

For something that didn’t even merit a Wikipedia page until January of 2012, BYOD seems to be gathering steam as the new goto issue for people who can’t find anything else to write about.

I don’t deny that user owned devices represent a challenge for IT directors everywhere. I don’t quite get the notion that this is suddenly a problem.

People are finding amazingly inventive ways to turn this into an issue. I read a Computer World piece about a week ago that suggested this was a kind of generational issue brought to us by millennials entering the workplace. What rot that is.

I’m not trying to take anything away from my millennial co-workers, but they are not the first generation of people to adopt technology more readily than their older cohorts. Happily our newest workers are tech savvy, are open to improving the status quo and are willing to invest in their own success by putting their own bucks into new technology that bridges home and work.

But the fact is that user owned technology entering the IT domain is nothing new at all. New tech has always been greeted by skepticism and mistrust. I knew a fellow that many years ago made his living selling early versions of electronic calculators. These were meant to replace the enormous mechanical calculators of the early twentieth century.

His biggest challenge was getting people to “trust’ the calculator. They simply could not grasp the concept of arithmetic functions executed at the speed of light. His demo would solve some huge multiplication or division problem and his prospect would want to know how they could be sure the answer was correct.

Being a creative sales type, his solution was to sell them a second machine to check the results of the first.

As prices came down, these devices made their way into homes and ultimately into common use in the workplace.

The Personal Computer went through a similar evolution. The big iron companies knew from the beginning that PCs had the potential of replacing the “mainframe in the basement” IT paradigm. They would demean PCs as being toys for geeky individuals to play with for hours on end in lieu of having a social life.

My first computer was a Commodore SX-64 which I purchased from a big box appliance store. Within a month or two I had picked-up a copy of Microsoft Multiplan (purchased from my local Children’s Palace) and I was doing implementation job estimates for my conversion operation at Tab Products Co.

The IT director at Tab would have never had the time or inclination to build an application for me to handle that kind of work.

Over the next few years PCs slowly made their way into the IT infrastructure of larger corporations. But, I would submit most of them, like mine, came from home first.

The internet itself had a similar history. Initially, anyone could and would build a website for their company or department. There was little coordination, no consistency, no corporate over-site.

But, once again, it was tech savvy end users who first brought it into the corporate world.

While BYOD does represent a challenge for IT directors and CIOs, I think that challenge is more related to budget and resources. I don’t see this issue being tied to some innate lack of technical prowess or willingness to change on the part of IT directors.

By Lou Washington

It hit me yesterday morning; out of the blue, no warning. If you play guitar, you know what I’m talking about. I had this need, this urge, to buy a new guitar. The only thing for this is a trip to the old guitar shop. I spent my lunch hour at Sam Ash and then, Guitar Center.

Where I live, these two competitors actually share a common wall. When I get the new guitar bug, I have to go to these stores and play a bunch of guitars that I can’t afford. This is supposed to make me believe that buying a guitar that I can afford will not make me feel better. It really doesn’t work. Much like giving salt water to a thirsty man, it just makes things worse.

Guitar people are like little old ladies and cats. One is too many, ten is not enough. You start off with something that was kind of practical, not expensive; maybe a nice acoustic model. Perhaps you take home a Yamaha or low-end Martin.

After a few days of practice, you think you sound pretty good. Things are coming along and if you could just get that one chord down, you’d have “Louie, Louie” nailed.

For some strange reason, your family tends to avoid you now. They seem to spend a lot more time away from home or, oddly enough they have started hanging out in the more remote areas of your house like the laundry room or the garage. One thing is certain; if they spend much time that far away they are going to miss out on a lot of great tunes.

That’s when you realize that maybe you should have bought an electric guitar with a nice big amplifier. After all, your art should be shared. You have a gift! It’s only right that everyone near you should experience your development into Guitar Man.

The more you think about it the more you realize that you need an electric model and about 100 watts worth of amplification. No reason to deny the neighbors the pleasure of hearing you wail.

So there you go, right back to the old big box guitar super store. Twenty minutes later, you are the proud owner of a new Stratocaster and an amp with enough wattage to light a used car lot in Las Vegas.

You see how the mind works with this little obsession? Everything makes perfect sense at the time. And, if you stopped at two guitars, it probably does make sense. But, that’s not how it works. Guitar fever is much more subtle than that.

Let’s say it’s early June and time for the family to pile into the Scenic Cruiser and head out across America for a little vacation. You’re excited, nothing beats a glorious vacation with the family. At some point you remember your guitar. You remember last year’s trek and the roof top cargo carrier that was required for all the stuff that goes with you and your family. Where will you put the guitar?

That’s when you find out about travel guitars. Back to the big box, back to the store where all the toys are. Soon your walking out with your brand new Martin Back Packer.

As time goes by more and more cues are established that unleash the urge to acquire more hardware.

I remember reading an article about Keith Richards and his love for his Fender Telecaster. Keith and I go way back. He was there for me in junior high, high school, college and beyond. Keith and Mick were part of my formative years. At least the stereophonic manifestations of  Keith and Mick were there for me.

Scary huh? A world view formed by Keith Richards.

It was certainly understandable that my next acquisition at that time was a beautiful sunburst Tele. It still is truly my favorite. There is just something kind of raw and basic about it. Come to think of it, it’s kind of like Keith.

A new guitar is like a little personal adventure to a place you’ve never been before. Playing an old favorite song on a new instrument is like hearing the song for the first time. All sorts of things you’ve never noticed or heard before are exposed.

Similarly, playing an old guitar that you’ve not picked up in a while is like hooking up with an old friend after a long absence.

So my latest round of guitar fever is pulling me in a direction that is kind of surprising. Even though I’ve always been a Fender guy (BTW, they announced an IPO today), I kind of feel some curiosity about Les Paul. I would probably go with one of the lower priced Epiphone models rather than paying for the Gibson name. I’m thinking the Standard model perhaps?

The nice thing about not being a great guitar player is the fact that you don’t have to pay for top end instruments. Although, somewhere out there in the future is a Martin D28 with my name on it. There is nothing like a Martin.

About two years into my guitar obsession, I heard someone comment that a Martin will make you sound about twice as good as you really are. I believe that.

When Barb heard me play my Martin DX-1 for the first time, she told me I didn’t sound half bad.

So, if you are new to the obsession or an old hand or even an accomplished professional, I wish you well and I hope that you have many happy trips to the music store.

By Lou Washington

Check out this list:

  • Watch a movie
  • Catch up with friends
  • Work from home
  • Post to this blog
  • Get a new recipe for Potatoes
  • Get a new book
  • Get some new tunes
  • Check in with my brother and his wife
  • Read my home town newspaper
  • Follow my beloved Mizzou basketball team

These are all things I can’t do when the #%$&@* internet is down. Actually the list is much longer, but space is limited and I think it gets the point across as is.

It seems like once or twice per year this happens. In the middle of an email or a Facebook session, you get that creepy sensation that you’re suddenly alone. It’s like being on the phone and just sensing that the guy is no longer on the other end of the line.

So,you try a few things like downloading a movie or just opening a website you know you don’t have cached. Then you know, there it is, you are cut off! You are off the grid. You are in the cyber penalty box watching the game and no longer participating.

What’s worse is the process required to get things right. You can’t just change the batteries or reboot. The system is way more complicated than that. There are so many points along the line where failure can kill the whole thing.

Our broadband service is via our phone company so the key issue in their mind is always figuring out why the fault is somewhere inside my house and not outside on their lines.

Even after I’ve “retrained” my modem, re-cycled my router and checked all my line connections I have to do all of that again for my friendly phone company help desk person. So we go through all that and the inevitable service visit is scheduled.

Within a few days and one or two service calls things are back to normal. No one is ever really sure why the thing broke to begin with, but it works now and all is well again.

But, back to the issue of what to do when you’re without service.

I’m still amazed at the level of trust we have in this whole internet thing. Further, I’m even more amazed at how dependent we’ve become on it.

I’m not a young pup, but I’m also not some luddite idiot who sits around yearning for the good old days. From what I remember, the old days pretty much sucked. But, I’ll get into that in my next post. The point I’m making is I can remember a pre-internet world and I can tell you things have changed a lot.

It has to be similar to the time when the world transitioned from horses to cars. People knew horses and they didn’t understand cars. They took it on faith, that the old Model T or whatever would start and get them to their destination. At some point they doubtless realized they were dependent on cars and their horses were now pretty much not an option.

So last week, we were limited to broadcast TV, playing with Chloe and PJ, eating a lot and for me, playing a lot of guitar.

When this happens at work, it’s even worse. People sort of stumble out of their cubicles, looking around at each other like they’ve never seen one other before. Slowly, it dawns on everyone that there is literally nothing to do.

So, my goal is now to put together a list of things I can do when the ‘net goes down. I’ll have a home list and work list. The next time the world goes dark, I’ll have the list handy. No more confused wandering around, no more watching re-runs of Petticoat Junction and Gomer Pyle.

Here’s my challenge to you, make a list for yourself. If you like, send your list to me and I’ll post the best ideas next week. This is your chance to help out your fellow Internauts, your cyber buds.

Let me hear from you, send your ideas via the comments option below.

By Lou Washington

One of things I learned early on in the world of amateur photography is that size does matter. The bigger the camera, the better. The bigger the lens, well Dr. Freud that’s even more important.

So, with those two rules in mind, you’ll have no problem understanding why my camera of choice is the Digital Single Lens Reflex or DSLR. The DSLR offers all the shooting flexibility of a regular film based SLR. That flexibility is made possible by equipping the camera body with a variety of selection dials and toggle switches.

All of those dials and switches mean the camera itself has to be fairly large to start with. There are some camera makers that try to pack all of that functionality into a compact camera body. It just doesn’t work for guys like me who struggle to find their glasses each morning. Small has no advantage for me in this area.

Bigger controls make it easier for other folks to see how great your camera is and also easier for me to make sure that the camera is properly set on Full Auto Mode.

The other great feature of DSLR cameras is the interchangeable lens. Lens are typically sold separately in the world of DSLRs. Most amateur photographers can get by with two lens, one for shooting people shots and snap shot type photography. For shooting at sporting events or out-door scenery type shooting you will want to invest in a telephoto lens. Telephotos are also handy for shooting close-ups of plants and insects.

Keeping all that in mind you may not be surprised to find that I am not particularly interested in the newest generation of cameras that are commonly referred to as compact system cameras. These are smallish body cameras that offer several proprietary interchangeable lens. For me they combine the high price of DSLRs with the inconvenience of micro sized camera bodies.

I’m sure they take fine pictures and for little people with fat wallets and 20/20 vision they may be a good alternative to the bulkier DSLR choices.

The main problem I find with these cameras is that they get no respect in the competitive, tough world of amateur photography. Let me explain what I mean.

Photo by Lou Washington

I live in the Cincinnati area and every year the Krohn Conservatory holds a fantastic butterfly show. It’s a great photo op for anyone who likes to shoot bugs and flowers.

It was during my first butterfly show that I learned just how much camera size matters.

Upon entering the show area, the first thing I noticed was there were just a ton of people clamoring around trying to get that special shot. I think there may have been more people than butterflies.

I was using my little Pentax point and shoot film camera. It was an okay camera with an optical zoom that improved the range for this type of shooting. But, every time I’d get a great shot lined up, some idiot would push in front of me or bump my arm or somehow terrorize the little bug causing it to fly away.

It was the most frustrating photographic day of my life. I didn’t get any shots worth a damn and worst of all, I felt totally disrespected. That’s when I realized it wasn’t me that was disrespected, it was my camera.

As we walked out of the conservatory, I told Barb, I‘m coming back next year and things are going to be different!

By golly, next year things were different.

First, I went out to Dick’s sporting goods and picked up one of those khaki colored fishing vests with all the little pockets and nifty hangers for stowing fishing gadgets. I found that fishing vests were virtually identical to professional photography vests but they cost about a quarter of what you’d pay for the photo vest. Plus, I fish occasionally, so what the heck.

Next, was my camera. Canon had recently introduced the Digital Rebel. This was one of the first DSLRs on the market. It was a great camera and best of all, virtually all of Canon’s huge catalogue of autofocus lenses would fit the Digital Rebel.

For my butterfly safari, I picked a 300mm telephoto lens.

When next year rolled around I was ready to go. We got up extra early that morning. I put on my vest and loaded it up with a wide variety of photo paraphernalia. I put on my favorite ball cap, with the bill pointed to the back like real photographers do and loaded a fresh power cell into my Rebel.

This time, when I entered the butterfly room it was a totally different experience. I slapped my ginormous 300 mm telephoto lens on my camera and powered up. The effect was almost immediate.

People gave me a wide berth, no one bumped me or even tried to get in my shots.

One guy who started to cross in front of me, stopped and apologized. I nodded and told him it was okay this time, but not to do it again.

A child who was threatening to grab one of my subjects was hauled back by his mom who harshly reprimanded the little guy.

It was easy to tell where the butterfly action was. People would gather around three deep trying to shoot over each other’s shoulders and heads. I would only have to walk up, clear my throat and busy myself with the dials on my camera and focus on the lens.

The whole crowd would just kind of stand back to make way for me, the guy with big camera, the fellow with the giant lens, the dude with the special vest.

Yep, just as I suspected, no one messes with a pro photographer packing a giant camera.

By Lou Washington

I try not to be a past oriented kind of guy. I mean I don’t like to obsess about the past at the expense of looking forward to the future. I believe our best days are in the future and not in the past.

But, on occasion there are some things from the past that merit commemoration and recognition among those of us in the present world. For those of us who remember that cold February morning fifty years ago, this is certainly one of those rare events.

Space shots, as we called them in that day, were big events. They were about as close to a national holiday as you could get without decorating a tree, cooking a turkey or blowing up fireworks.

The major TV networks cancelled their scheduled programming and went to extended live broadcast mode with multiple location coverage. The live coverage would begin in the early morning hours, long before anyone would think of getting out of bed. The coverage would typically run nonstop throughout the entire flight all the way through the recovery process.

In school, regular classes were cancelled. The teachers would bring in TVs and the entire class would watch as the events of the space flight unfolded. For me the question was always when would the launch occur? Should I push to get to school as soon as possible or drag my feet getting ready in hopes of catching the launch at home? There could be nothing worse than missing the launch altogether because you were riding in the car.

John Glenn’s flight was unique among the six Mercury program spaceflights. John Glenn would be the first American to actually orbit the earth. This would be the first flight where the guy in the capsule would actually have some things to do. He would be much more of a pilot, in control, then flying as a passenger on a ballistic projectile.

Glenn’s booster was the somewhat iffy Atlas. This rocket was an intercontinental ballistic missile which meant that it was primarily designed to loft nukes, not orbit humans. It did not have a terribly long record of successful launches.

So on that morning, when the engine lit and the liftoff sequence begin, there were many folks holding their breath and crossing their fingers, praying, hoping and ultimately cheering as the big shiny vehicle climbed into the sky. Scott Carpenter, acting as CapCom for this flight, uttered his famous, “God Speed, John Glenn!” as the ship cleared the gantry, started picking up speed, heading for a near perfect orbit.

To this day, when I watch film or tape of that launch, my throat starts to close up and my lower lip trembles. So many hopes and aspirations were riding on that rocket on that morning fifty years ago.

I do not wish to turn this forum into a political discussion. But, I will say this much, There will be future space programs. People will inhabit nearby celestial bodies in the near future. They will learn to exploit those venues and sustain their presence there by doing so.

The only question remaining is, who will do those things? Who among us on this planet will take those bold steps?

There are those that would suggest that this must be left to private enterprise and will only be sustained through a profit-making business model. Over the long run of decades and centuries, I suspect that is true. The fledgling private space exploration industry that has so recently evolved is fantastic.

But, the question still remains who will take the next steps? Are we going to depend on some board of directors to set our space faring priorities? To some degree, the answer to that question must be yes. But, we also need the dreamers of the world, the curious, the purely knowledge motivated people to participate. And, that means tax payer participation.

Before you have applied science, you must have pure science, the science of curiosity. That means funding education, boosting performance requirements and actual performance within our education systems. It also means putting up some bucks for Buck Rodgers, to paraphrase Tom Wolfe.

Regardless of what we do, or choose not to do during these next few years, we can be assured that fifty years from now people will be looking back again, this time at the 100th anniversary of John Glenn’s day in space.

Will they see this flight as a monument to past achievement or as the beginning of a new age of exploration? That is entirely up to us.

By Lou Washington

Ed Hansberry takes smartphone vendors to task in his 26 January 2012 article in InformationWeek for overloading consumers with a bewildering array of options, fees and other variables used to determine the price of a smartphone plan.

He has a point and it is tempting to assume the whole strategy is designed to deceive, misrepresent and somehow maximize the total monthly bill for a given plan. I’ve had my own battles with communications companies but I would have to say, with some patience I was able to set things right with both my mobile carrier and my home landline/data-line vendor.

I always started with the assumption that in the final analysis, these guys are all phone companies at heart. Phone companies have long lived in the blissful world of semi-regulated utility. This gives them a real leg up when it comes to creating inscrutable pricing structures driven by complex billing metrics that offer no real verification methodology to the consumer.

For example, my local phone company bill was setting me back about US$130.00 per month. I would periodically contact the phone company and ask them to review my bill and see why it was so high. They would typically assure me that the bill is accurate, you have land lines and a data plan and this is just what the bill comes to.

One day, I decided that I really had to figure out why the bill was so high. I paid a visit to the phone company retail outlet and brought a copy of my bill with me. I reviewed the bill with a fellow who actually took me seriously. We got rid of the long distance plan all together (who needs it when you have a cell phone), we dropped the special hardware package which was an antiquated answering machine, we 86ed the call waiting, call forwarding, call whatever else.

When we got done, I had the most basic phone plan required in order to maintain my broadband data line. I’m now saving about US$50.00 a month.

On the mobile side of things it is pretty much the same story. I had a Blackberry that featured a lot of calling minutes and their data plan. It was setting me back about the same amount as my land-line/data-line bill. I dumped the Blackberry, bought a couple of mobile devices and a 3G hotspot card and saved about US$40.00 per month on that.

The problem is when we sign up for this stuff, it all makes sense. They explain it and you agree that what you are buying is what you intended to buy. Then you ask, how much will my monthly bill be?

This is the funny part; They Can’t Tell You! The guy will hmm and haw, scratch his head and say something like, oh, ’bout sixty a month. Then you get the bill, it’s eight pages long, loaded with FCC regulatory citations and ICC taxable items along with a bunch of feature codes and descriptions that don’t sound like anything you really need. Finally, on the last page there is a total dollar amount. That is a number no where close to anything quoted, estimated, guessed or printed in your documentation and contract.

That’s your monthly fee.

In the end, you weigh two things. What do you get? How much does it cost?

You have a miraculous device that allows you to call anywhere in the world, from anywhere in the world and talk to anyone who happens to pick up. It also has a nice big touch screen so if you want, you can watch a movie or a football game or play Angry Birds. You can get your email, you can buy and sell anything, you can listen to music from any genre, you can plan your vacation and start your car up without leaving your nice warm house. You can view pictures of your family or your dog or your hot car and you can show them to the guy sitting next to you on your next fight to Des Moines.

All of this you can do and a lot more.

Then you figure, you know, it’s worth it. I’ll sort out the bill next month.

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