Absolute Piffle

General commentary and new links from Richard Gillmann. Sometimes it's funny, sometimes it's serious, and sometimes it's just there.

Thursday, February 04, 2010

Blogger has announced the end of FTP support coming up soon. So it gives me an excuse to shut this blog down, as I haven't done much with it for some time. Thanks to all for reading it. I'll archive it somehow and there will be link at nwfolk.com/piffle.html

Monday, March 16, 2009

Ron Blassnig R.I.P.

We last talked to our old friend Ron Blassnig last September. We just found out that he died the next month. Ron was head engineer for a number of LA radio stations, and an expert on tape recorders, esp. the big pro models. He got Shelly into the old BBS systems and thus I met her at one of their gatherings, back in the 80s, at North Hollywood Park.

Ron was a wonderful upbeat fellow. He was always optimistic and in a good mood, even in his last days (we had no idea). Since we moved to Seattle we saw him only rarely but usually talked on the phone at least once a year. He was something of a character. He didn't like to cook; he kept old LPs in his oven. He loved bargains; a sale on batteries was big for him. Sometimes he took a late night on-the-air shift on the radio and styled himself "Dr. B." He would do things like the reverse-lunch-giveaway. The winner would take Ron out to lunch at their own expense. Some station finally made him drop the moniker because he did not actually have a doctorate and didn't fancy getting a DD from the Universal Life Church.

He will be missed.

Friday, October 31, 2008

Sure Be Glad When It's Over

Two years for an election campaign, sure does seem like a looooong time. I support Sen. Obama and I hope he can clean up the mess made by the Bush administration.

Monday, September 29, 2008


I'm sitting here feeding edamame to my chihuahua and thinking about... pro sports! There are a couple of interesting stories that I like.

Jamie Moyer was a Seattle Mariner pitcher for many years. A couple of years ago he was traded to Philadelphia (his hometown). Now you have to know that Moyer is the oldest active player in the Major Leagues at age 45. Moyer has been the exception of seemingly getting better as he gets older. He had his first 20-game winning season after 40, and he just won his 16th game this year, clinching the division championship for the Phillies (he did the same last year as well). He got where he is by dint of hard work and a careful study of the game.

Jim Zorn was the quarterback of the Seattle Seahawks, and when his playing days were over, he became the Seahawks' quarterbacks' coach, a position he held for many years. Zorn is 55 years old, and surely must have felt he'd risen as high as he was going to. But in the off-season, Washington Redskins owner Dan Snyder hired him away to be the Redskins offensive coordinator. And then a few weeks later, decided to make Zorn head coach of the Redskins.

The decision was widely derided. Zorn seemed to have neither the personality nor the resume to be an NFL head coach. But surprise! he's doing a marvelous job. The Redskins lost their season opener to the defending Superbowl champion Giants at their home field, but they won the 3 games after that, including beating the favored Cowboys yesterday. Meanwhile the Seahawks aren't doing so well. The owners must be kicking themselves, don'tcha think?

So a couple of old boys doing well, great to see.


Thursday, September 11, 2008

Motorola: another company I'm not too keen on

I have a Motorola RAZR phone and bought the software to connect it to my PC. This was a few years ago. A while ago I started up the Motorola program and it told me I could update to version 5 for free. So I said yes, it downloaded the new version and rebooted. Then I ran the new software and it said "Your phone is not supported." Gee thanks a lot Motorola. Fortunately I was able to restore version 4 and all was well again.


Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Certificates, not College

Another thing I find interesting is the idea of using certification in place of college degrees. To get a college degree, you have to pay up and attend the place for four years and then get good enough grades to graduate. But your grades often depend on how obedient you are, and not on your knowledge.

When I worked at Microsoft, I spent much of my time interviewing and hiring software developers, as the company was growing rapidly. I soon found out that a degree doesn't mean much, even from a highly ranked college. We used to put the candidates on the spot and make them solve programming problems on the white board in front of us. I learned from bitter experience to start with a really easy question, the computer equivalent of "Who is buried in Grant's tomb?". One candidate, a freshly minted PhD from a well-known university, was totally stumped. I had several easy ones to offer up, and he could not do one of them. Say, how about those Mariners?

I've noticed sometimes young people aim for Microsoft network certifications instead of college. I don't know if it's right for them, but I get the idea. The real question is whether testing for certification is possible for various disciplines, in a way that can't be gamed.

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Tuesday, September 09, 2008

Parmesan Cheese

Parmesan cheese
I have never understood why people like Parmesan cheese - it smells like vomit! I mean seriously, it smells like vomit, so how can that be tasty?

The chemical basis for this is butyric acid. Wikipedia on butyric acid: "It is found in rancid butter, parmesan cheese, vomit, and body odor." See, I told you so. And no, I didn't edit the article.

Back in 1968, I had a summer job as a, ahem, Cobol programmer at Standard Oil in downtown Chicago. The Democratic National Convention was just a few blocks away up Michigan Avenue. At lunch hour, we would walk around checking the scene out. All the public indoor places reeked as if from vomit. No one ever commented on this in the news reports, but much later there was an article that said two girls went around every day dropping tissues laced with butyric acid in trash bins and ashtrays. Nowadays, of course, neither trash bins (for fear of bombs) nor ash trays (for fear of ciggies) would be allowed.

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Thursday, September 04, 2008

Convention Madness

Bush and McCain

I think a key thing has been overlooked in all the hoopla about Vice Presidential picks, which have little impact on the election (although they may be a godsend to late night comedians). And that key thing is that neither President Bush nor Vice President Cheney attended the RNC (Bush did do a video thing).

A lot of people voted for GWB in 2004. And nobody likes to be told they're wrong. Democrats have denounced the current administration, but that can be attributed to partisanship. The news media's negative coverage can be written off to liberal bias. But when the Republican convention and national candidates distance themselves from the sitting President, who are you going to blame that on?

It's the same mistake Gore made in 2000 distancing himself from Bill Clinton. A lot of people do not make decisions based on an objective facts; rather they see how other people act and react. And this distancing is very damning.


Friday, August 15, 2008

HP - not so good anymore

Back when I was a student at Caltech in the 1960s, Hewlett-Packard was a respected maker of scientific instruments. Their instruments were first rate and of course, everyone liked their story of starting the company in a garage in Palo Alto. Later, their minicomputers were well-respected, too. The company I had in the '80s, Inner Loop Software, made software that simulated their graphical terminals.

I've bought many HP products over the years. Right now, we have two HP laptops and two HP printers. I have not been happy with the latest three of these. The laptops are both semi-broken and I've never been able to fully free them of the crapware that came installed on them - PC Decrapifier was only able to zap some of it. The latest HP printer I bought is OK but I don't like its software and I've never been able to use all the features. We had a heck of a time trying to use it with Photoshop Elements.

In short, while the current HP equipment is cheap, it's no better than it has to be. The days of HP as a quality brand are over, at least for me. I've had good luck with local PC builder Puget Custom Computers and I think I'll try Canon for my next all-in-one printer.


Thursday, August 14, 2008

Kat Kinkade, R.I.P.

I never met Kat Kinkade but I loved her two books about the Twin Oaks commune in Virginia. Communal living has always interested me, though I've never joined a commune. Ms. Kinkade was an excellent writer who brought alive the issues and conflicts that arose at Twin Oaks. Her first book came out in the '70s and was mostly taken from the Leaves of Twin Oaks, their newsletter. Her second book was more of a piece, her take on Twin Oaks in the '90s.

She made Twin Oaks sound like a wonderful community, but it suffered from many of the same problems as other communal entities: very low income and people slacking. Still, the commune continues to this day and that's something.


Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Ted McNamara, R.I.P.

A comment from his nephew alerted me to the passing of Ted McNamara. I knew him back in the 1970s, when we both used to hang out at Barney's Beanery in West Hollywood. (I've written about him earlier here.) He was quite a guy, though rather down and out at the time, living on income from telemarketing jobs and sporadic royalty payments from songs like "Sooner or Later" which he co-wrote.

He had studied to be a Catholic priest, but dropped out for a life of merrymaking. He was one of those guys who makes everyone feel good, always greeted folks like a long lost cousin. He went by the moniker "Trashy Teddy" because I suppose of his eclectic taste in paramours. The day his blocked Rhodesian royalties came through was a great party. But I go on.

I played my Sho-Bud pedal steel a few times in his pickup band at Barney's, until the cops stopped it, because Irwin didn't have a cabaret license. Doug Westin let Teddy's band play the Troubadour on Ted's birthday. I still have a tape or two from those days -- somewhere. Steve Dodge was a co-leader of the band (not really co-leader but a separate band with overlapping membership). Teddy introduced me to a number of famous musicians, but I am more grateful for the good times.

With Ted's passing, all my friend's from the '70s at Barney's are gone - Ted, Steve Dodge, Gracie Mueller. There were others I remember: Lucky (anything but), Cindy Grande (so-called because of her height) who had sore hands in the evening from giving massages all day, Stewart the bartender, and the rest (as they say on Gilligan's Island).

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Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Table Mountain Star Party, 2008

Table Mountain Star Party jam, WA state, 2008

We worked up our nerve and ventured out to the Table Mountain Star Party, held every summer on a mountain top near Ellensburg, WA. The idea of a star party is to go a remote and dark area where you can see the stars and the Milky Way. When I was a kid, seeing the Milky Way was commonplace, but no more because of light pollution.

We are not campers by any means, so it was a little rocky. We rented an RV for the week and drove up there. The packing up the RV took longer than I thought - it's almost like moving. The drive up the single-lane mountain road (gravel for the last two miles) had me worried, but it proved to be a piece of cake, even in the large and unwieldy RV.

There were even some music jams (see above), and thankfully I took Shelly's advice to bring my uke. Fellow KBCS DJ John Sincock was there, as it turned out, and very helpful with astronomy info.

The kids had a great time, as the kids activities were really well planned and executed. We gave each of the them a walkie-talkie and let them run around as much as they wanted. Then we just called them when they were needed. Very convenient.

The weather, which we'd been told was highly variable, was cold. It turned out that our RV heater would only run for about half an hour on battery power. The heat is generated by propane, but it needs the electric fan to work, and the power for that comes from the RV battery. When the juice runs out, the heat stops and the carbon monoxide monitor starts beeping like mad. I thought we were being gassed, but we were only out of power on the RV. With the RV battery dead, we couldn't start the generator. But we could start the truck (it has its own battery) and that recharges both batteries. All this had to be figured out in the middle of the night while freezing our patooties off.

I've read about small propane heaters with disposable cylinders for camp heating, but I worry about asphyxiation in an enclosed area.

But it was all an adventure, as they say, and it was a good family trip roughing it. They did have an espresso stand, which was a nice touch. They also had a shower trailer. The showers had hot water, but were exposed to the elements, one side for men and one for women. I took two but Shelly and the kids passed.

I had bought a Celestron 5" NexStar telescope for the occasion, but I can see now that it wasn't the best choice. Better would have been astronomical binoculars, or a larger simpler scope with a Dobsonian mount. We did see the moons of Jupiter and the Milky Way and Stacia especially was excited by that.

The food service was convenient but too meaty for us. Shelly's a vegetarian and the kids don't like most kinds of meat, not to mention picky in general. If we go again, we'll make or bring all our food.

The star party was well run -- many kudos to the hard-working volunteers.

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