Things that just occurred to me, in no particular order

Archive for the ‘Altogether something else’ Category

Fuzzy edges

Crappy photo or just vintage?

My folks had a Polaroid Land camera. My grandparents did, too. It was this glorious bit of plastic and chemistry. You clicked the button, pulled the paper tab and waited and you were rewarded with an image.

True, it wasn’t a great image. The colors were off, tending towards yellow-brown. The edges were indistinct, lost in the fade and fog due to the cheap plastic lens that focused the picture.

But it was as close to instant as you could get. You didn’t have to wait weeks for the developer to see that look on Grandma’s face. A few plastic clicks and you had those memories captured in place, ready to be passed around the family reunion with the bucket of chicken and potato salad.

You can probably find one of those old cameras at a yard sale for a buck or two, but I’m not sure you can get old Polaroid film anymore. Not easily, I’d guess. And not inexpensively, either.

But I notice the images themselves are back in vogue. There’s an app for that nowadays. There are a handful  of those Smart Phone filters, for iPhone or Android, that will happily turn those crisp eight-megapixel images into something faded, crappy, yellow and blurred.

It’s a weird thing for me. I just traded up my phone, and it came with a better camera in the back.  I installed one of those filters last night and started snapping old-timey Polaroid shots.

But then, I was looking back at some of the pictures I took with my old phone and the 1.2 megapixel camera it came with. I  realized those pictures were  virtually indistinguishable from the new hi-def pictures from my new phone , once they’d been run through the filter.

Why do I even need the filter? It doesn’t make logical sense to spend more money to get a better product, then install an app to cripple it somehow. What’s next, a Rotary Dial attachment for when I want to make old-timey phone calls?

What is it about this crystal-clear, crisp edged point-in-time that makes us long for foggy lenses and faded color? Is it a misplaced sense of nostalgia, that faded things are somehow cooler? Or is it simply that our tools have gotten fast and powerful enough to easily duplicate that vintage feel?

I don’t know. I’ll keep the filter on my phone because I do like the effect, but I plan to use it sparingly.  I’ll opt for crystal clear more often than not.

Maybe  the best thing about nostalgia is that you can turn it off.  You can visit the past but you don’t have to stay there.


Faulty disk

The very earliest memory I have is one of youthful vandalism.

I’m young, old enough to grip a rock in my wee fist. I can see a car driving past and I do what instinct tells me.  I remember rearing back and throwing the stone at the car.

I also remember my Mom’s reaction.  She jumped up, grabbed me, yelled and swatted my behind.

I asked her about it years later, and she doesn’t remember it at all. I gather it was just one example of my, shall we say, exuberance, at that young age. It was small potatoes for her.

But it was a big deal for me.  She recalls other things, like me trying to jump into some falls at Yellowstone National Park. I have no recollection of that whatsoever.

The rock incident occurred  a year or so later in life than my failed Yellowstone expedition and I figured that was because my brain, such as it is, had developed enough to start saving memories.

I asked my son his earliest memory a couple of years ago and he told me it was something impossible, from the first two months of his life. But he recalled it perfectly.

Here’s why:  He saw the tape. We bought a video camera soon after he was born and started running tape, recording burps and coos and assorted hijinks.

Here’s the thing: He recalls other bits of his life, when his own memories should override everything, more strongly than others because they were reinforced by video evidence. He recalls things from my perspective, from behind the camera, better than he does from his own.

So it’s no surprise: media shapes what we remember. And now, according to an article in this month’s  Science Magazine, the Internet not only shapes what we remember, but the actual mental  mechanism we use to remember. Folks taught  information kept on a computer that is due to be erased recall things better than those told the computer file will be preserved,  forever at their fingertips.

It’s a scary thing, especially in this age of Photoshop and partisan, Wiki-fiable and rewritable media. If our media-formed memories prove stronger than those formed by natural experience, we need to be pretty careful guardians of how those memories get written.


My roommate was aghast.

Her boyfriend was standing over the kitchen sink, a lighter in one hand and a fistful of non-dairy creamer in the other. He sprinkled the one on top of the open flame from the other and was rewarded with a flash of flame.

She gasped.

“I had no idea that stuff, those chemicals, were in my non-dairy creamer.” She swore off the stuff then and there.  If it burned that easily, imagine what it did to your stomach lining?

Of course, I knew that the increased surface area from the powder made it flammable. It would have worked if he’d used flour or talcum powder or sawdust. It’s the reason why grain silos have been known to explode.

But she didn’t know that. Her boyfriend didn’t either. He just knew a cool trick that would impress people.

It’s kind of the way it is right now with science, news, politics, philosophy and economics. Everybody knows a few good tricks, enough to do the social equivalent of lighting a small fire over the kitchen sink.

But few of us know the underlying facts, theories and science behind those tricks — and therefore what those tricks really mean.

I doubt most people could really explain the science behind allergies or the economic principles that drive the stock market. It’s the age of specialization and everybody knows a lot about our specific areas of expertise, but there is no way we’d be able to know all that there is to know today.

So we rely on experts, or people who claim expertise. The problem is, they are often just regular people who know the cool tricks, and not what’s behind them.

The downside is that it’s easy for people to push concepts or ideas that are not supported by facts. They may not even know the facts themselves, but who’s going to challenge them? Their opponents are mostly just as factually ignorant.

So they spin their versions, myths based on what they fear is happening instead of what is supported by fact, and make a knee-jerk reactions every few years at the ballot box, or daily in the grocery aisle or doctor’s office.

He owes somebody a pickled egg

I’m not perfect. Never made any claims at such, and it never surprises me when I’m reminded by a reader that I’ve gotten it wrong.

But it’s nice when I get it right.

So, the voice on my phone cackled at me like an old TV western prospector.

“Ye Got it wrong, last three times you’ve run the story, ye’ve gotten it wrong, hee hee.”

He said his name so fast I couldn’t quite make it out.  But damn, he was happy.

“Ye said that that bridge to the park the city is working on goes from Oxford Street to the park. It don’t! It goes from Birch Street to the park.”

And then he cackled some more, gleefully.

Now, I’m right in the middle of two other stories, so I had to think about it. And it’s always possible that I did get it wrong in the story today.

“Umm,” I said, thoughtfully.

“Hee! I’m right! I’m right! Hee hee! I knew it! Ye got it wrong, didn’t ye!”

I told him I’d have to check, but he was gone at that point, chortling, giggling and choking just a little bit. He must have won a bet.

Thing is, I wasn’t wrong. The little bridge goes from Oxford Street to Simard Payne Park. It’s right there, signs on the road, maps on the computer. Birch Street is  blocks away. I don’t even know what the heck he was talking about.

Somewhere a gleeful, chuckling leprechaun of a man lost a bet.

Whistle pigs and Media Play

There was a this patch of open space in Westminster, between where we lived 10 years ago and Stanley Lake. I have no idea if it’s still there, but it’s one of the reasons we left the Denver area and moved to Maine.

I used to ride my bike along a path through there.  I never really stopped because there was not much to it. It was a dirt patch, all owned by the city and kept as open space. Just some scrubby trees, creek beds and lots of Prairie Dogs. They’d whistle to each other as I pedaled past, popping out of their dens briefly. That’s why my Dad always called them Whistle Pigs.

I saw hawks and the occasional coyote there, too.

That little patch was bordered on either side by homes,  city streets and retail developments. Not exactly virgin wilderness.

But it was, I was told, prime develop-able space and that was to be its fate. The City Council was in talks to sell that patch to a developer for a corner shoppette.

But right around the corner, there was a ghost shoppette just a few years old. It was home to a vacant Media Play (remember Media Play?) and a bunch of smaller shops, all equally empty. They’d all gone out of business about the same time and no other retail outlets were interested in moving in.

It was too much for me. You could stand on the asphalt corner of the vacant Media Play lot and throw a pop bottle into the open space patch, if you had a good arm.

I could not figure why someone would sacrifice the last bit of wild in that neighborhood for another sterile, utilitarian retail destination. It was enough to overcome my last bit of resistance and bail on Colorado for good. I don’t even know how it turned out, if they paved over the prairie dogs or ever found someone to rent Media Play’s old home.

I thought of that patch the other day, driving past a Turner Street retail development. When we moved here, it was vacant land, full of whatever passes for Whistle Pigs in Maine. Now  it’s developed, but it’s never been fully occupied.

There’s a gym nearby, a restaurant and some offices. But much of it is empty, just like that old Media Play on Wadsworth Boulevard.

The neighbors say they have to open the door every once in a while to let out any wildlife that slipped under the plywood front door and got trapped.

So, at least there’s still a way to see urban wildlife.

Revolution over there

I suppose it’s easy to confuse the grassroots efforts going on the Middle East right now with what’s happening here at home, with Tea Party activists and Wisconsin teachers.

Here’s why it doesn’t work. Over there, people  are tossing out governments that have not represented them for at least 30 years – maybe really hundreds  of years.

For whatever reason, these countries let their leaders do everything they wanted for decades. Maybe the people didn’t know any better, kept in a fog of lies, disinformation and propaganda. Maybe they were afraid for their lives, or their family’s lives. They feared retribution for speaking out.

But now, it’s changed. They are in the process of reclaiming their countries. How long that lasts remains to be seen. If they can establish ongoing, stable democracies or if the old dictatorships has yet to be played out.

We will all wait, and see. At the very least, things will be different than they were.

Here at home, the battle is between two groups have been overly represented since the 1970s. And their struggle, then has now, has been to take the government back from each other, like kids pulling on a toy.

Despite what either side wants us to believe, our current state of affairs socially, economically and  politically cannot be blamed solely on one side or the other. It’s not just the fault of liberal spending or just fat-cat Republican donors looting the country to line their own pockets.

Both are true. Yet, depending on where you stand, you are expected to ignore one and decry the other. The result is a depressing nanny state, with restrictions tightening first on the left, then on the right – but never loosened, on either side.

Every few years, someone comes along promising us a revolution, a contract with America, an effort to restore hope or a tea party that is going to set things right.  It never does. It’s the same old thing, dressed up year after year with better slogans.

And so, we keep fighting the same battles, over and over and over. The arguments are the same as they were in 1989, 1992, 1994, 1998 and 2003. The battle lines have not moved much in either direction.

After 30 years, don’t you think we’d get sick of it? Don’t you think we’d get tired of efforts to bring common sense to government sidetracked into punishments for political enemies?

Maybe that’s the next Facebook revolution.

We will all wait, and see. At the very least, things could  be different than they are.

The leprechaun theory

I have a pet theory that I’ve shared with everyone that’s willing to listen. To me, it explains a lot about Mainer’s attitudes about business, taxes and life in general. Maybe the attitude is similar elsewhere, but I can’t be sure of that.

See, it’s a tough economy. Unemployment in Maine is not as bad right now as it is in other parts of the nation, but times are difficult. Groceries, gas, heating oil: they’re all getting more expensive. Raises are less frequent. People want the economy to perk up, especially here at home. They want people to bring money to Maine that’s going to be spread around, raising the standard of living.

At the same time, folks don’t want to be bothered with the stuff that comes with economic development. They don’t want increased traffic on the streets, new bodies at the local schools and lines at the grocery store. They’re pretty wary of newcomers and their annoying ideas about how things should done and frankly want to be left alone.

It manifests like this: Someone comes to town, saying they’re going to bring their business with them. It’s going to mean X many millions of dollars of investment and Y more jobs to the community that pay a living wage. They’re going to pay taxes and they want to be part of the community.

Most folks, I figure, yawn at the news. Sure, they say, that’s a fine idea. More power to them.

But a good-sized minority get all up in arms: it’s going to generate traffic, it’s going to bring the wrong sort of person to town, it’s going to have impacts we can’t imagine and it basically going to change our cozy little community.

I’ve seen several plans march  through Maine communities, and half of them get chased away by these folks. They wind up locating their plant, or store or whatever some place else.

It’s a cousin to the “Not In My Backyard” syndrome and it’s confusing for the community, and especially the economic development folks. Mainers are picky folks: they want economic development, but not that economic development.

It’s a rather tough code to break, but I think I’ve figured it out. We want a leprechaun to wander in to the town, drop his little pot of gold and leave. We’ll divvy it up as we see fit and he can move his little green ass right out of town.

Unfortunately, there has been dearth of leprechauns sighted in these parts lately and even fewer pots of gold.

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