I’m back! Oh yes…

…I’m back! And I’m very sorry I wasn’t able to continue my Blog over the last few months, however personal and family needs were simply too pressing over the spring and left me with little time to attend not just to my writing here, but to many of my other lifelong projects and needs as well!  Sometimes the requirements of daily living just get in the way of those considerations we might rather spend our time on, and rather then degrade the value of either, it’s best to take some time off and get what is absolutely necessary out of the way first, and before getting back to what you would prefer to be doing!

Having said and done exactly that since my last entry here, I also decided it was a good time to re-evaluate the purpose of “FFOmansWorldBlog”, how it has been received so far, and what I might want to do toward making this effort more interesting to my readers, and better at providing the type of information and value I originally designed it to offer!  And I truly do believe that the “extra” time taken and the introspection I gave myself during this unplanned lapse was well worth the effort, because when I officially “re-start” my Blog on August 15th, 2013, you’ll see a leaner and more subjective entry then I ever managed to write before.  One which I hope will take the reader on a much different kind of ride than they are used to finding in the world of Blogging. And one that will blend the variety of interests I hold to be important, into an entry even those who have never considered such topics in the past will find both informative and entertaining!

I cannot say much more about the changes to come right now, but it is my fervent hope that you will come back next month to see them for yourself.  And as always, please don’t be afraid to comment here and/or by e-mail no matter what you have to say! I’m looking forward to your feedback as much as I do writing here again!

As I’ve mentioned before…

…I haven’t watched a made for TV show other than the news in a very long time. The quality, but mostly the subject matter and the “Reality” trend so common over the last decade, simply leaves me cold. The sitcoms I will admit to enjoying as a child are now being repeated, the same situations and jokes are being rehashed with only the names and faces changed. The dramas, most of which still involve crime and assorted pseudo-political crises have changed even less once you take away the additional violence, and the movies they show are so mangled through editing and five-minute commercial breaks, they aren’t worth anyone’s time…even more so since the proliferation of cheap DVD’s and even cheaper digital streaming outlets! No, TV…at least in the general sense…has become a wasteland designed for those with no artistic sensibilities, no reading abilities, and absolutely no concern for quality, value, or self-education. One of the few prophesies to actually come true in our lifetime. Yes, TV today really is being created for the average somnambulist boob! Yet last week I purchased a new television!

Those of you who have read my past blog entries know that I’m a diehard movie fan. And not having access to what I consider to be a “good” theater since moving back east from my old L.A. digs, I was one of the first to try big, flat screen HD television. Naturally I was quite impressed, and have remained so through each successive and additional breakthrough in visual technology. But I think now, at least for my own needs, I’ve gone about as far as I will until the time comes when they actually get rid of the screen these new super high-definition images need to play upon. After all, my new television, a 60 inch Sharp AQUOS Liquid Crystal HD, besides displaying the very best image quality I have ever seen at a variety of resolutions and with full CC ( color control ), smart apps via built-in WiFi, Internet and Home network support, and even allowing me to use as a monitor for my computer and Kindle, is already more than I could ever hope for! The ONLY way they can make it better at the current level of technology is by providing the new Super High Def pictures that are just now beginning to appear in the marketplace, and in all honesty, I don’t believe I’ll want it!

Maybe it’s just me, but when watching movies made over the last ten years or so on ANY HD screen, I find that despite its inherent sharpness, high-resolution, and color fidelity, something else…something more subjective and elusive to naming…is missing! Have you noticed it? It’s almost like what you also see missing from a 1st generation, HD digital video image of a scene when compared to the same image made on film in lustrous Technicolor. There’s something undeniably wrong with the digital image. Something cold, lifeless, and unnaturally lit about it. Call it what you will, but it is for me the same, though not nearly as acute, as the difference between a film-based movie and a digital copy of that movie! And because digital copying of movie film is the primary technique used to bring movies into our theaters and homes these days…whether by streaming, download, DivX files, or hard media like DVD’s and Blu-Ray…it has become nearly impossible to view any film as it was originally conceived and photographed!

Because of this, and other differences in the way movies are made and viewed today, film is no longer the medium it once was, and that is something we should all be saddened by. The difference we have no choice but to accept may indeed be of little importance to the aforementioned TV watchers, but for those of us who cherish the look and other subjective values of older films as well as those being made today, it has lessened our enjoyment, our subconscious and emotional responses, and our overall appreciation of the medium we have loved our entire lives! I know that I am not the only one who can no longer watch a film like “Casablanca”, “Gone with the Wind”, or even “Star Wars” with the same wonder and enjoyment I once did.

Unfortunately, and like so many things today, there doesn’t seem to be a lot we can do about this except take the extra time none of us has to re-infuse our digitized copies with a more natural and eye-pleasing semblance of reality by a somewhat radical skewing of those values our television sets allow. subduing colors, altering white and black balances, contrast, and sharpness can indeed often help make them more palatable, however doing so must be handled individually for each movie because of the varying types of media they were originally photographed on, how they were processed, and the variable alterations made by the methods of digitization and those who oversee the process! I’m more than picky when I do this myself, and have already spent up to an hour fiddling with the controls to get a film to look just a little like I remember seeing it the first time! But luckily for all of us, the newer TV’s are now coming out, for the most part, with programmable settings so that we can at least provide ourselves with one-button access to four or five pre-set styles or methods of our own individual visual interpretations. They won’t solve all your visual needs, but with careful planning by those like myself who really care, it can get you close enough to make finer alterations a lot easier and a lot quicker!

On the lighter side, there are any number of events and considerations to laugh at this month, starting with Mississippi’s passage of the “anti-Bloomberg Law”, and ending with the worldwide commotion over the color of smoke coming out of a Vatican City chimney! And right in the middle of all this nonsense is a video gone viral in which Conan, one of America’s favorite late-night comics for reasons I’ll never understand, takes a shot at the latest “Lara Croft Tomb Raider” video game, in obvious support of yet another incomprehensible waste of our tax money as the government tries to find a link between video game violence and the recent increase in unreasonable school shootings! Not that any school shootings can be thought of as reasonable, but let’s face the real facts here…! People, the terrible and often horrifying things they do, say, and believe in without cause or enlightened consideration, and our expected revulsion to such events and thoughts, haven’t changed in thousands of years! As a race we haven’t gotten worse than we ever were…we’ve always been this bad! The damages we inflict upon each other cannot, by any statistical enumeration, be said to occur any more often than they did in our long past! It’s simply a matter of there being more people than ever before along with instantaneous communication across the entire world. Just a few decades ago it could take weeks or even months for a tragic story like those, which money-grubbing politicians use to further line their own pockets, to find its way across our own continent, and by that time it was old news and often no longer of any real interest! People just didn’t care who got murdered hundreds of miles away…or why. They were too busy worrying about their own problems!

It should be easy for anyone schooled in the U.S. to appreciate the lunacy of Mississippi’s lawmakers after they passed a useless and incomprehensible bill like the “anti-Bloomberg Law”! What, like they don’t have any real problems to deal with down south? Whether they know it or not, this is still the land of the Free, and we have the right to ingest anything we want. We certainly do not need any more laws to prevent unconstitutional lawmaking like they’ve been trying to do in New York! And if that city is so worried about the health of its citizens, maybe they had better start looking at a few of those real problems that they and every other city doesn’t want to deal with! I don’t believe I need to make a list…I’m sure you can do that by yourselves! But I would start by making it illegal to import antibiotic laden frozen fish from China as a start. I wouldn’t dare to tell someone they can’t serve or eat it, nor would i give them a fine or prison sentence for doing so! But I would make it unlawful to import it or any foodstuffs that have been proven that unhealthy with normal use. And that’s where people like New York’s lawmakers have it all wrong. People have to be responsible for themselves. Making them responsible by taking away their rights leads to fascism. It’s as simple as that!

Finally, if you thought I would make some nasty comments about the Vatican, Catholicism, or religion in general, I’ll have to disappoint you. My opinions on such topics would not go down easy for many of you, and I have no interest in chasing readers away by remarking on the idiocy that supports them. I’m afraid the world won’t be ready for my own thoughts on such considerations for a very long time…possibly never at the rate we’re regressing. You can be sure however, that if I’m still around when we are finally ready to challenge such things in a meaningful way, I’ll have a lot to say about it all!

Just to be a Little Selfish…

…I want to write about my own interests which as many of my friends and readers know, include along with other things I love, my avid enjoyment as a long-time movie buff.  From the earliest examples of silent film to the hight-tech, 3D Imax presentations so common today, I love them all…but have a particular affinity for the B/W masters produced in the 30′s, 40′s, and early 50′s.  And like most of my generation, that endearment came about through a steady diet of late-night television broadcasts common to the 60′s and 70′s.  Once the daily prime time ratings race and final newscasts had ended, all three of the channels my family’s TV was able to access devoted the balance of their air-time to these wonderful classics.  And even though highly edited and filled to the maximum allowed with commercials and local service messages, I almost never willingly closed my tired eyes until a picture of a waving US flag, along with the sounds of our National Anthem lulled me to sleep!

No, our family didn’t have money to spend on real “theater” entertainment…not back then…so for me, TV and the movies showed night after night, were the epitome of a true voyeur’s reality, and thus just as important as my real life experiences.  It took me to places I could never go, and gave me experiences I would never otherwise have.  And for a very long time, and for reasons I won’t elaborate on here, I honestly thought that the places I went and the lives I lived…thanks to all these films…might actually be the only way I would ever have such experiences!  If you can imagine feeling this way yourself, it’s easy to understand how and why I watched the old films over and over, never forgetting the lessons they taught me, and always surprised at something new…something I hadn’t seen or noticed before…something that made it a stronger and more relevant part of my life!

Soon I did grow up and began living a life of my own…one that as it must be no matter its direction…is certainly a lot better than any of the films I watched back in the day.  Yet I truly believe that were it not for the experiences that film provided me as a young boy, my life could not possibly be as wonderful or as meaningful as it turned out!

I feel the same way about all the books I read growing up.  They too have also played an important role in my life, though on quite a different and subtler level than film.  I can’t think of a “classic”…old or modern…that I haven’t read at least once.  Everything from the “Greek tragedies” to “Heinlein”, and from “Huckleberry Finn” to “Shakespeare”!  It’s all here inside my head along with the many films made from these great works…all here inside, helping to define who I am and what I do.

These two mediums do make a great combination. Most good writing is a non-visual representation of a real or imagined reality just as good movies are, and most great films are themselves taken from great books and/or screenplays.  They can be created and enjoyed separately of course, but when both are created as part of a whole, and then enjoyed in the same way, they become something much better than either one could ever hope to be alone!  They become more than entertainment, more than educational, and nearly as enticing and potent as reality itself!  Unfortunately however, when done badly, or when either of a matched pair doesn’t quite prove itself equal to its sibling, the combined result can be as worthless and unsatisfying as anything a miserable life might have to endure.  As such, badly composed and visualized efforts of negative quality cannot even pass as mediocre entertainment for most of us…or at least those of us who have learned to enjoy the many positive things that well written and filmed stories can provide. And it is just such an unusually bad effort that obviously uneducated and inexperianced…but well paid…critics have been pawning off as the best film and book in a long-standing, and much-loved series, that I have chosen to comment on this very month!

First I should tell you that I still am unable to enjoy movies in the well designed theaters they are for the most part created for.  I live at least fifty miles from the nearest theater able to present them with the high quality sound and projection systems they deserve.  So I’ve done the best I can with wide-screen HD systems and home theater sound, and if a movie I wish to see isn’t available in my area on DVD or blue-ray, my broadband cable/internet system is fast and accurate enough to insure my seeing them streamed to my system in all their glory as expected!  I can say without reservation that I haven’t watched an actual TV show or made for TV movie in years, reserving almost all of my entertainment time to movies broadcasted as they should be on TCM, streamed from Netflix and Amazon Prime, and played on DVD’s and Blue-Ray discs.  And when I’m not watching movies, I spend my free time reading old and new books, screenplays, and manuscripts just as I did when a boy…with the only difference being that now days I do all my reading via digital delivery systems like the Amazon electronic library available through my Kindle Fire HD.  No, there’s not a single decent bookstore within fifty miles of my apartment either!

It’s true that technology has changed…for the better I believe…the way we experience almost everything these days, allowing those of us who really want to experiance things on a more empathic level to do so.  But what and why we grok hasn’t changed at all!  And in the case of film, I still and will always expect and demand the highest values this medium can offer!  Just as it was when I was a boy, it matters very little if the movie producers have millions to spend on their work or if they expect their directors to do their very best on a shoe-string budget.  It’s the content, and how well it is transferred to the screen that remains the one and only consideration in the evaluation of its overall success and value, whether billed as entertainment or something else.  So I might as well say it now…I have a real problem with all these new horror movies…the majority of which are little more than rehashed versions of every zombie and vampire movie made before!  Oh sure, they are indeed much more extreme, bloodier than any Sam Peckinpah film festival, and sometimes even sexier than R-rated, late-night porno! But even movie goers with an IQ of 70, ( border-line mentally retarded )…of which there must be many more than we might think or movie producers wouldn’t be catering to them so much…MUST be getting tired of them by now!  For the rest of humanity they hold no value at all…not even as bottom line entertainment! If you love Vampires that much, try reading Bram Stoker’s original “Dracula”, the one and only best story ever written on that kind of subject matter.  And there are at least three movie versions, that although as different from each other as possible, still offer good entertainment, historical integrity, knowledge, and other values of interest.  But if it’s the lives of the undead that really shakes you up, well, you’re on your own.  I’ve yet to find a novel or film on that particular topic worthy of anyone’s interest!

But I’ve gotten a little too far off-line writing about zombies and vampires.  They are not what I ment this Blog post to be about. I really wanted to expound on the sad state of the “James Bond” movie serials!

I don’t believe I’ve ever met a man of any age who doesn’t hold at least some appreciation for this well-loved serialization.  As part of the Spy genre, they represent some of the best stories ever offered, and it would certainly be a less exciting world had this fictional character not been invented.  Even though the more fantastical and comical “Bond” movies made after “On Her Majesty’s Secret Service”, with Roger Moore playing the part of Bond, came close to losing the more subtle qualities of this great hero on more than one occasion, the series survived, introducing its fans to a more plausible Bond not as connected to the “cold war” era that was admittedly getting a bit old. And when Pierce Bronson took on the part later, we were happy to be reintroduced to the kind of Bond movies that Sean Connery starred in, and which first brought this great hero to life.

Taken together, not even one of the Bond movies up to this point could be called bad. They were fun, exciting, sexy, somewhat relevant, and always showed us those places around the world where most of us would never get the chance to see for ourselves.  And the production values of this movie serial were just as good as the writing that spawned them.  Acting, cinematography, sound design, music, special effects…they have always been and still are top of the line.  And to the credit of Barbara Broccollie and Daniel Craig, their first Bond effort as a team gave us an even harder and more realistic Bond than we had ever seen before. Combined with a completely new and well written version of “Casino Royal”, they gave us what I believe to be the very best Bond movie ever made!

That’s the sad part. That it will probably remain the best Bond movie ever made! Because the last two, although starring the same base cast, and being produced with the same loving care and everything else that made Craig’s first outing as Bond such a hit, are arguably the worst two Bond films EVER made!  All I can say about “Quantum Solace” is “BORE-ING”!  And that is quite enough for that piece of trash.  Still though, I forgave them for this one terrible entry.  After all, everyone has the right to a bad day once in a while.  So when “SkyFall” was released, and every movie critic around the world agreed that it was the most exciting, and very best James Bond film ever made, I assumed like everyone else that Bond was back!  Woe betide the religious zealots arming themselves for Armageddon or at least a good war or two against Democracy! Bond IS back, and he’ll put all those old, KGB rejects, back where they belong and can’t hurt anybody!  Oh yes!  I couldn’t wait to see “Skyfall”!

I think it was barely twenty minutes into the movie when I finally realized I could have waited a lot longer and not missed a thing!  It was that bad.  You have the right to disagree with me of course.  For as my own father never gets tired of reminding me, “We all have the god-given right to be wrong!”  But before you get the urge to respond and attempt to counter my error with your own opinion, let me tell you why I consider “Skyfall” to be the very worst Bond movie ever made! Besides, it’s always been a secret fantasy of mine to be a movie critic, and no one has ever been given that honor without first disagreeing with the opinions of the current majority!

I’ve watched literally hundreds of movies, and read an even greater number of novels.  And aside of a few of “Skyfall’s” intrinsic facts surrounding its story, I’ve seen this same plot more than enough times to be absolutly sick of it!  It reminds me of other equally redundant remakes that have often offended me. “Never Say Never Again” for example. An obvious remake of “Thunderball”! The only thing that made it bearable was the fact that it was Sean Connery’s last, late, high dive as the James Bond character.  And the two westerns, “El Dorado” and “Rio Bravo”.  Only the two fine screenplays, great actors, and of course, John Wayne himself, made each film equally good fare!

Tearing “Skyfall” down to its basic parts, what we have here is yet another revision of the same plot they revised quite recently for the second movie in the last “Batman” trilogy!  It’s easy enough for anyone to do!  You make up a nasty, and very weird villanous character, ( in this case a Martin Landau look-a-like with bad teeth, and an even worse back story that includes his being turned into an sub-oriental homosexual that MI-6 never would have made a double O in the first place! ), give him a jaded reason for hating his boss or some authority figure, then allow him to be captured on purpose by those too dumb to suspect such an over-used plot, which allows him to spring his own trap years in the making, so he can finally bring his psychotic wrath to bear!

How many times have we seen this plot in bad TV detective stories and equally bad movies made for the big screen?  They must have realized halfway through the production how overused this badly written screenplay plot was because you can see every convolution they tried to disguise it with at least five minutes before it happened.  And all the little, supposedly comic remarks they tried to add as an after thought, were so bad and again so over used, that try as I might I simply could not break even a quick grin.  Instead I just shook my head in amazement at lines that weren’t even funny when they were first written a long, long time ago!  Like when Bond looked to his pimpled quartermaster with the bad wig and asked if he could break the algorithm that was busting through MI-6′s own computer security.  “I invented it, the prepubescent wiz-kid retorted!”  Someone should have thought to add the equally ancient quip, “That was so funny I forgot to laugh!”

Admittedly there were a few things about this movie I did like.  Daniel Craig’s acting for one, and the fact that they finally retired, ( for good ), that stodgy old “M” and put a real bureaucrat in her place.  That should at least add a little more realism to the next film in this series.  And finally, I had a really good laugh as I watched the chinese version of Mata Hari blow cigarette smoke out between her teeth and nostrils like the dragon lady did in an old silent film.  I didn’t laugh at her or her actions, but at the sad fact that a woman of her young age and from her environment couldn’t possibly have known of this or how it was ment to be a satirical comment on her character.  In fact I’d bet even the actress playing the part didn’t quite understand it herself, otherwise she would have tried a little harder to get it right!

“Skyfall” is a good example of how money can be made by movie producers playing on the gullibility of their audience.  They already have the audience ready to pay before the script is even written based on past acceptance, so they throw a quick and badly written movie together with little or no thought on its own value, pay off the critics to build an even larger audience for them, and release a film that except for being a member of a well honored series, should never have been made!  And don’t feel bad if you now see this film in a different light then when you first saw and actually enjoyed it because of what I say.  They depend on a somnambulist public to buy their bad stock as much as they do our discriminating taste when offering films of real value.  It’s what they do, and what they do very well!

I honestly hope that the next “Bond” film is written and filmed with a lot more concern for their audience’s intelligence and memory, and that they don’t forget how important it is to insure this great character and his stories remain equal to the love and honor so many of us hold for the series.  If not, “Bond” will go the way of other beloved heroes like Sherlock Holmes, and the Saint!  That would be just too much for a movie fan like me to take!

Please excuse my seeming to have brought this subject up so long after the movie’s release, but as “Skyfall” just came out on disc a week ago, I thought my timing was very appropriate!

If We’re Still Here…

…it means that the Mayans didn’t have it quite right!  That’s certainly okay with me as I’m sure it is with most of us.  However it doesn’t mean they were completely wrong either.  In fact, there is a surprising amount of verifiable data that provides more than enough reason for us to believe they knew something about Earth’s life-cycle that we perhaps aren’t aware of ourselves.  And out of all that data and supposition there’s one scientific discovery made just a few years ago that should make at least one of your eyebrows arch in Vulcan-like fascination.

It seems there was at or around the time of this great civilization’s demise, an almost unmanageable weather condition that struck their area of the world so very quickly and without any warning of consequence that it may at the very least be one of the major causes for their fall.  And it also seems just as likely to have been considered by their learned meteorologists to be of a cyclic nature, thus promoting their belief it would return to once again wipe out the current tenants of our world!  I’m talking about a major catastrophic event in which the super-cool air found miles above us would suddenly be enabled by some strange and never before seen geo-weather condition to fall or be sucked down to sea level, almost instantaneously freezing and killing every living thing it touches!  It definitely happened during their lifetime…proven by the finding of still instantly frozen specimens of plant life hiding within and beneath the frozen tundra of the area.  Any other means responsible for doing this would most certainly have been apparent within the cell structure of these same specimens because any other means would have suffered them to freeze at a much slower, more natural rate.  You can be sure that were this same kind and level of event were to take place anywhere in the world of today, it would immediately make the headlines and result in the death of all life it might touch!  Could such an event be cyclic in nature?  Will it happen again?  Should we care?  As I see it, such questions, like so many we have a tendency to ask, are useless unless or until we are faced with such a occurance!  Besides, I’m still trying to figure out not WHAT “Reality” is, but WHY it is!

Last month I mentioned that I was an avid computer game player.  I’ll never need or wish to deny that simple statement, but notice that I qualified my status as such by the type of gaming I do…that being the type that can only be played on a full-size computer…and one I’ll further note that is built to the custom, high-end specifications, the most advanced and graphically intensive games require these days.  This is not the computer your mother stored her recipes on, nor even the one your father might have employed to help fulfill his tax obligations!  Although their relative cost may be about the same, they are definitely not the same at all!  Of course there are indeed other, much cheaper console systems available from a number of companies that have been designed almost specifically for playing many of these same games, and directly on today’s variety of big-screen TV’s which can be a big plus to some.  But as any ‘real’ gamer can tell you, not even one of these many console machines can ever hope to outdo the gaming computer at what it is designed to do.  Frame-rates, graphic abilities, multi-tasking, and their initial cost are all  higher than anything a console can offer, and in response, the game designers themselves almost always go out of their way to make sure the games made for such high-end systems are more than able to provide and exceed in the proper use of this power!

I also own an Xbox 360 console.  One of the best in my opinion, and it also probably supports the greatest number of games for all ages that are and ever will be put out on the market, including a few good quality, adult-based games, that like the very popular Halo series cannot be played on any other system.  But that’s not why I have one!

Believe it or not, the gaming industry is now earning more money around the world than the previous champion of the entertainment industy…movies.  And now with the cheap proliferation of  large-screen TV’s, ( along with microwave popcorn and your favorite beer ), the movie industry is taking even more of a nose-dive than ever expected!  To be sure, those making movies out there needn’t worry about it much as it’s still big business and nets in the billions, but now with WI-FI and good broadband access in our homes, movies and other forms of visual entertainment has become easier and cheaper than ever before.  In fact, the selling of DVD’s and Blue-Ray discs may soon be at risk because of this new trend!  Why spend $15 to $25 for a new DVD when you can now purchase and/or rent a copy that can be streamed in real-time directly to your TV for less money…and if purchased, without even having to store it in your small apartment?  Right now there are at least a dozen companies out there that can be utilized via a network connection to your TV, game console, desktop computer, Kindle, Ipad, or even a cellular phone to purchase, rent, and most important, to watch nearly any TV show or movie ever made!  Newer systems of most types no longer require any special interface equipment at all, allowing you to connect via WI-FI, ( public or private ), or broadband directly anytime you want, and older systems can still connect to these services and more by simply buying an interface module or game console like Xbox and running your network through it and then to your system.  That’s what I use my Xbox for, and it is services like those Microsoft provides through its console I wanted to talk about this month!

I have broadband cable access in my apartment, and that’s how I’ve been accessing the internet and its many services since dial-up became obsolete many years ago.  At the time, and even now, such a connection provides me with a throughput of at least 24 Mb’s a second…more than fast enough for anything I have ever needed to do.  But until recently, it only provided that kind of access on my desktop computer.  I could still stream movies into my TV because that has always been the best way to get TV coverage in my area, but to do so I had to resort to “pay-for-view” subscriptions, and they are still the most expensive means for doing so where I live.  Of course I already had my big-screen TV, and it ran through a home theater system with great sound and HD so I was fairly happy with the way things were hooked up.  But then I got my Xbox 360…an expenditure I was happy to afford just so I could play Halo…an ability I haven’t cared about since I played through the first version of that popular series.  I’m deeply sorry Microsoft, but as great a game it was and still is, it simply doesn’t get me excited the way playing on my computer does.  And I’ve never been able to get used to the Xbox 360 controller either!

What to do with my console I asked myself.  Try and sell it?  Give it away to some kid?  Well I was indeed about to do just that when I happened across an article in a Tech magazine about what Microsoft and other console makers were trying to do now that their machines seemed to be everywhere.  One way or another, they’re all doing it, but it seems to me that Microsoft is doing it better than the rest, and at a reasonable price!

The Xbox 360 that I no longer use to play games on makes the perfect portal into all the many services offered via the internet.  I simply use my Xbox controller as a remote to turn it on/off and provide actions for the services as well.  I then go to my “Apps” page where I have downloaded and can click on any service I want.  There are quite a few free ones, such as a direct hub into Utube, GameSpot, and a TV enabled Internet browser, with even more from which you can purchase or rent TV shows, movies, and music.  And there are also special interest apps you can download for free and use the same way, such as ESPN network which allows you unprecedented access to all sports from football to darts!  It’s all well done and operatively consistent from service to service.  And one of the things I like best is that when you do pay to rent or purchase from any of these services, you are billed by Microsoft on your Microsoft Xbox account using a consistent billing and invoice system that you can look up on the network and receive e-mail copies of within just a couple of hours.

Having access to the tools and their services like this from a single point of sales, is user-friendly technology at its best, and it keeps getting better every day!  There’s just one problem, or perhaps I should call it a conditional situation, in regards to making use of all this great technology, and it’s not the fault of the services themselves or the technology that makes them possible.  It is unfortunately the fault of our own lack of awareness, our own laziness, and maybe our indifference and misuse of services indiscreetly and without realizing the great potential for harm that is possible in their use!

Looking at just one side or consideration we must endeavor to clearly think about before and/or when we make use of services like these, I can tell you that it is applicable to not just the free and open access to potentially harmful web sites, but also entails the same needs in protecting ourselves, and more so our loved ones, from the food we eat, the music we listen to, the movies we watch and the videos we rent.  I’m talking about our miss or non-use of parental controls that we are provided by technology to help us protect our children and even ourselves and others from web sites which in the name of entertainment make it far to easy for anyone to access things not within the allowable limitations of our own individual moral or ethical base!

No one could ever possibly call me a prudish man, and lest you forget, I am an old hippie who grew up under and still follows the moral considerations of my time that include free love, synchronistic awareness, the sharing of heart and soul as a lifestyle, and a great love for passive revolution.  So I’m not about to sit here at my keyboard and unleash on the unexpecting my own sexual morals by making a list of what is or is not an example of indecency.  Nothing a man or woman can do alone or in the company of others can be labeled as indecent, provided it is done with the sincere approval of all involved parties, and causes no harm to anyone! So if you feel the need to sit alone in your crib watching the most bizarre examples of sexual congress possible on that big-screen TV you kept hidden in your bedroom behind an equally sized, but really cheap imitation of a Leroy Neiman original while masturbating into a plastic representation of your neighbor’s cat, who am I to say that you need to get out more?  But if things like this really are your idea of a hot Friday night or you just like to watch X rated movies after the kids have been tucked away, you have a real, and very important responsibility to your children and their friends not to do absolutely nothing to prevent them from accessing the same site and its files when you are not physically there to provide that same protection.

Children are curious, and with sex being at the top of the ‘interest’ list when they are between the ages of 8 and 16, you cannot expect your promise to take away their bike if you ever catch them looking at your recreational videos to actually prevent them from doing exactly that!  It’s bad enough that we have less influence on their attitudes and behaviour than their first grade teacher and part-time prostitute who can’t be fired due to the teacher’s union intervention, but then you make it just as or even easier for them to learn about the seedier side of the sex business by forgetting or not caring to make use of the parental controls right under our index or button finger!  There are both good and bad ways to learn about such things, and we each have our own moral considerations and timeline for talking about or sharing on these kinds of topics and experiences.  At the very least we know the moment we first see our children at birth that we want it to be ourselves that is permitted this honor!  I have never lied to or otherwise hidden anything I ever did in my own lifetime from my children, and as a result I can honestly say that I or my ex have ever had to endure any of the problems associated with their growing years we hear and read so much about.  But neither of us ever just blurted out our own experiences wholesale or without first considering their ages and maturity at the time.  Believe me, there are appropriate answers to the questions and worries that children must deal with for every individual child at every age!  And once they’ve started school, the proper way to deal with such concerns is about the ONLY way left to us in the molding of their hungry, little minds!

Pornography, as the example among so many that I chose to consider here is not all bad.  Nor does it necessarily lead to bad things, moral decay, or negative influences, however it is also not the best example, thus not the best teacher, of true human sexuality.  To take us beyond the beastile nature of the fundamental requirements procreation demands, it must allow for mutual respect, selflessness, and the cooperative sensuality only the sentient seems to have been endowed with.

So never be afraid or embarrassed to talk about such things with your own children.  In most cases you’ll soon realize that they probably know a lot more about the subject than you do…or at least more than you expected!  And please DO take the time to learn how this new technology works, how it is so often abused or at least misused, and the power it provides you with to ensure their emotional and even physical health.  I’ve met far too many parents over the last ten years or so who preach the bible and good behaviour on Sunday, then sit in the same room with their 13-year-old as he or she watches movies and/or web sites promoting everything from bomb making to deviant sexual oddities that even I cannot keep my eyes open for!  They and the rest of the world will thank you for your efforts!

The Horror of it All…

I will not apologize for the obvious lateness of this post, which as originally written was ready for prime time at least a week before its due date.  That post, which I will put aside for now, will appear on some later date.  Right now however, I felt it more than important to acknowledge the horrific tragedy that took the lives of so many this past week in Newtown, Connecticut.

Like everyone else, I watched in horror as news services here, and around the world, descended on this small, luckless, town in their impossible attempt to make sense of yet another act of terrorism taking place on our own home ground and being authored by one of our very own.   But of course the hard work offered by CNN, FOX news, the BBC, and hundreds of other services as they ground every video and sound byte of this tragic event into palatable morsels of income producing, news worthy, information could never hope to offer sense or reason…not for the victims, and certainly not for the viewing public!

In place of answers to the most obvious question surrounding this event…WHY…they merely extend once again the very same opinions and considerations that has since civilization began, looked instead for someone or something upon which to lay blame!  Whether that blame falls upon mental dysfunction, the tools of violence such as guns and/or explosives, fear and paranoia, political hysterics, or even personal frustrations, the news mongers of our world given credence by plenty of highly paid psychiatrists, law makers, and civil authorities, seem always to concentrate on the actions or symptoms of such events of violence.  Ignoring without reason or consideration the cause that gave birth to these events.  Doing so because they really don’t know, but need the affirmation and influence of those who believe they do!

I don’t profess to know the answer to the question…WHY…but I DO believe that there are as many reasons for this kind of violence as there are incidents…at least as concerns such terrorism that takes place on our home ground and by our own citizens!  Such violence cannot be blamed on the proliferation of guns, which in our own past was higher in number per capita than they are now!  Nor can blame be placed on the type of gun.  Experience proves that a single man with a pistol can do as much or more harm than automatic weapons in vogue today.  The extent of such violence really depends upon the shooter’s abilities and his or her’s ultimate purpose, and even our own secret service, burdened with the protection of our president, fears a singular shot made by a single man or women more than any other scenario they can think of!

Those who say that limiting the sale of guns, especially those in the automatic category designed and meant for the battlefield do have a point to make however.  Such limits have succeeded in holding down the number of deaths in other countries, but not by solving the overall problem.  That success comes only because it is much more difficult to get a gun in the first place.  But here in freedom loving America, gun ownership has always been a valued ideal, and in fact, gun ownership has been a rite of passage as boys become men in this country ever since the first of our colonies were started!  Though limiting guns may indeed help lower the incidence of events like those we have had to endure over the last couple of years, doing so will eventually lead to the use of other types of deadly weapons in their stead.  Why?  Because the real problems once again go unaddressed!

Were I a politician looking toward the next election, I would offer a sensible compromise to this problem. Weapons of any type and for any use which are deemed to be military grade would be illegal to own or sell.  They belong in the hands of the military and law enforcement.  But they should be readily available through local armories under local, civil rule in the event they are ever needed!  Weapons built for hunting should remain available to all citizens, and that includes non-automatic hand guns used for protection, provided the potential owner can pass the assigned state-wide testing that ensures competency and a clean police record.  Vehicle ownership is licensed this way because of its potential to cause harm if miss used, and I don’t believe they are as potentially harmful as guns are!  The point of such laws of compromise are that people who want or need such weapons, and who have the right to bear them under our Constitution, can indeed get them…but only if they deserve them…requiring that they have not been found guilty of a felony and that they be mentally sound!

In addition, the laws regarding how and when an owned weapon can be lent, sold, or otherwise put into the hands of another without meeting these same requirements first must be included and enforced.  I’ll never forget the personal fear I had when a person I had arrested by the State police more than seven times due to stalking, breaking and entering my apartment, and making threats, gave a loaded rifle to a mentally retarded sibling and told to threaten me with it.  Every day for two weeks this mentally impaired man was waiting, rifle in hand, outside my apartment and behind a tree when I left for work!  Calling the police had no positive effect because they could never catch this individual in the act, and because they are equally afraid of making arrests of anyone who might be mentally impaired!

But whether a person uses a gun or a bottle opener to exact their vengeance for whatever reason against an unsuspecting public, it’s easy even for a child to see that taking away ones weapons of choice does not in any way, shape, or form, begin to solve the mystery that explains WHY such violence occurs. From my point of view, if you subtract obvious reasons like infidelity, political vision, monetary gain, and all the other easily explained reasons for violence against particular and/or named individuals, we’re left with a whole plethora of personal situations and behaviors that range from old childhood frustrations and mistreatment to uncaught mental aberrations…conditions that require, at least in their own minds, some kind of violent act of retribution.  And because they themselves are unable to lay blame for their own misery at anyone in particular, they naturally choose to take their vengeance out against the first person or group they can find even minimal fault with!  Sometimes it’s not who or what such a person directs his or her violence against that matters.  Sometimes it’s simply the act of causing hurt that drives one to such extremes!

Before we can even hope to figure out how to spot people who might succumb to such violent behavior…before their need to exact violence reaches a critical level…we’re going to need to do a hell of a lot more than simply making it more difficult to get a gun.  But I don’t believe that many Americans are going to accept such needs as willingly as they are to once more allow our basic freedoms to be taken away as easily…making freedom itself the real victim of crimes like these!

Addendum  12/22/12:

After watching the news last night I was prompted to make an addition to my post on the violence in Connecticut last week.

As you may already know, one of the more insufferable special interest groups in our country…namely the NRA…has issued a number of comments regarding the event I wrote about above.  In essence they are again doing little more than adding even more fuel to the fire by officially supporting the need for armed guards at every school and further blaming the violence on video games!  If they were not so dam serious I wouldn’t hesitate to laugh at their ridicules comments, but unfortunately for us they actually believe the nonsense they’re spouting!

It is the foul nature of all special interest groups that prejudice against all others exists so obviously within their mandates and beliefs, and that they are all willing to let each of the others to the scorn and corruption their own ideals may and usually do cause!  And this is true and cannot be ignored in the case of any and all such organizations whether they are motivated by and selling religious beliefs or a political agenda!  But rarely are such anti-american methods or goals made so obvious in the public arena as the NRA has chosen to do!

The NRA has publicly admitted that they would rather see America turned into a police state than consider compromising with the rest of the country!  They’ve made it quite apparent, at least to me, that they have no idea how rare freedom is in this world, or how our constitution was designed to ensure that freedom!  And at the same time they recklessly blame a portion of the entertainment industry out of hand and much the way it was impugned not so long ago by the anti-communist scare!  Again they ignore common sense and truth in order to place the blame somewhere else before any honest blame has even been acknowledged!  It reminds me of how the christian right tries so hard to make their members believe that the Quran teaches its readers and followers to hate and kill all those who believe differently.  What nonsense we as an intelligent race allow ourselves to be buried under!

The truth is…and yes, I do know how difficult it is for some to understand this…that it is not the freedom to own guns or the availability of violent video games that are causing problems like those that killed so many innocents last week.  Guns are like any other tools we make use of, and because they can be easily perverted to cause harm, they must be used correctly and under a set of common rules that if ignored should result in quick and final criminal action!  And video games, are just like any other entertainment medium, and must be categorized for use by age and maturity just as X rated films are, again resulting in swift legal action against those who allow them to be purchased and/or used by those not old or mature enough to be able to understand and put into proper perspective their intent and use!  In actuality such games are already being rated, but as with so much of what we as adults are supposed to be doing to protect our children and even ourselves, these ratings are not being enforced by parents or the law meant to make such enforcement work!

The next time a minor takes an automatic assault rife to school and begins killing everyone in sight, try finding out how, where, and from whom, he got that weapon, the ammo, and that copy of an adult video game called “Kill or be Killed” that he’s been playing all week!  Then and only then can you or anyone else justify blaming anything or anyone for the resulting massacre!

So Much Going On…

Welcome to what I consider to be my first real Blog post! If at least a few things have gone as I intended them to, this post will go live on or just before November 15th, 2012, and each subsequent post will then follow in the same manner each and every month to come…not bi-monthly as I originally planned. Trying to meet such a deadline every two weeks would surely have a detrimental effect on my writing if only because the amount of time I could set aside for needed research and fact validation would be cut in half!

Those of you I have talked to in regards to my Blog may also remember that I had first thought to dive right into my initial post with a few sorely needed comments on the upcoming Presidential election and how our general grasp of politics…when compared to years passed…makes it quite difficult for us to easily and correctly gauge the true worth of our candidates.  I do promise to expound upon this important topic long before the next four years have passed us by, but with so much happening and/or promised to happen this November…and not forgetting what October itself had in store for us this year…I suddenly felt that to ignore so much of what this last quarter of 2012 had bestowed on us would be a shame…and in my case at least, would require me to pass up the opportunity to write on a number of relevant considerations…right now and in the coming months, while they’re fresh and on my mind!

To get things started, let me offer a few comments on a recent purchase I made, and how in doing so I not only improved my daily productivity and increased the amount of time I am now able to spend just keeping track of all things good and bad occurring around our world.  And also, for the first time in a very long, long, time, I actually found a retail sales outlet that meets and surpasses my expectations when it comes to customer service and a real willingness to do the very best for their customers!

As those who know me can attest, I’ve always been somewhat of a tech junkie!  I started quite young, selecting highly detailed car and ship models that took months to finish, moved from there into 1/24th slot cars, rewinding motors and inventing ways of making my cars the fastest possible, and teaching myself drafting and technical drawing which took me toward college as an Architecture and Fine Arts major at USC.  Along the way everything from radio to what was high-def recording at the time held my interest as well, and after leaving school, I spent years perfecting photographic methods in both small and large formats, actually reaching the point where I finally wrote and published on AOL a treatise called, “Zone Defense”, which discovered and shared my findings on a system of Black & White 35mm photography that allowed the same kind of accurate tonal rendering that Ansel Adams provided large format photographers in his own, “Zone System”!  But in the end it was computer science that really grabbed me by the short hairs, and I’ve been working in this area since 1974.

My first introduction to computers came in that year while at the University via a one semester class entitled “Fortran & Wat V”.  And I cannot think of anything else I was ever forced to do that I hated as much!  Being made to sit for hours in a large room where the constant sound of thirty or more keypunch machines were all being used at the same time left me deaf for days afterward, and resulted in little more than a few thousand punch cards that did little more than entice an old dot-matrix printer into typing out my name and address.  What a waste of time!  And I vowed never to go near a computer again!
But as I was a techie even then, and a Star Trek techie to boot, I had no choice but to go back day after day.  Because back then, some very talented people had invented a Star Trek simulation that we were able to play against our cross-town rivals on what was the old, original ARPnet!

Looking back now, especially with what computer gaming offers us today, it really wasn’t much of a game at all.  A hash mark grid would appear on our green, glowing CRT’s, with a variety of standard keyboard symbols representing Academy and Klingon ships, phaser fire, and of course the mighty Photon Torpedoes!  And as we moved our fleets around the grid and tried to take out the others ships, a spreadsheet record involving math algorithms none of us really understood counted hits and provided visual feedback by disappearing destroyed vessels.  It wasn’t much, but at the time it was all we had, and that alone made playing the game worthwhile!

In truth, and mainly due to a lack of access, I didn’t use a computer of any kind again until an Insurance brokerage I was working for in 1979 bought a dual monitor Wang machine that provided network access to one of our company’s mainframes.  And other than having real keyboards instead of keypunches it really wasn’t much different than the systems I had worked with 6 years earlier!  But then it happened!  IBM came out with a cheap, ( $7,000 at the time ), PS2 running DOS 5, and allowing us to program in QBasic and use our own applications along with an ever-increasing number of third-party solutions that actually made computer use a fun and beneficial experience.  I found myself hooked almost immediately, going into the office on nights and weekends just to explore its possibilities!

I purchased my own first computer just a few years later…a Tandy 286, which I immediately traded in for a new 386 model with 48 Mb RAM. It ran DOS 6.1, Win 3.0, and OS1 during its lifetime, astounding my friends and I with a graphic-based Jet sim published by Janes.  What could be better than that I asked! And like so many others at the time, I found out!  Thousands of dollars and hundreds of hours later I am now writing this on a monster, custom made system which makes the computer that took men to the moon look like an Abacus!  A claim even many watches can make today!

Over the years I have taught myself programming via Delphi, C#, and Java, watched the Internet grow into something bigger than even Bill gates himself could have thought possible, and yes, I admit it, I am an avid computer gamer…playing at the moment, BF3, F1 2011, DCS A-10C Warthog, MechWarrior Online, and modded re-releases of The old Wing Commander franchise.  I’ll be expounding on computer games and why Xbox is best used to stream movies onto my big screen TV in later posts, but right now, and as I mentioned above, I’d like to talk about a recent purchase I made, the company that makes and sells it, and how it and others like it are now once again changing the way we look at and use all the new abilities and technologies that affordable computing have brought to the average man and woman.

In general, computers are great for a variety of reasons, and Bill Gate’s promise to put one in every person’s home has been qualified…relatively speaking of course.  But it wasn’t the tool itself that made his promise a reality.  It was the Internet that has made it possible!  Without this kind of free access to information, computer applications, utilities, games, and to even a greater extent the social activities the internet has championed, the majority of us would be using our computers to collect dust like so many other inventions that required more than casual use to be accepted.  Like the telephone before it, and the telegraph before even that, the Internet and the main tool used for accessing it, ( the computer ), has completely and forever changed the way people communicate and interact with each other.  This Blog is itself a perfect example of how these new abilities have enabled us like never before, and as a consequence…a positive one I think…has brought everyone in the entire world a whole lot closer than it could otherwise ever become!  Something we have sorely needed since the first train tracks were laid down, bringing the people in our own countries together in ways unthought of before their appearance.  In my book, this one creation as spawned by the proliferation of computer availability and access…the Internet…is the greatest achievement mankind has ever made!

But technology never stops for anyone or any reason!  And today, the number and value of microprocessors being sold around the world is already much greater than the number of computers being built to use them.  Today, computing abilities in a vast number of processors built for use in almost everything we work with and use for common purposes is considered a standard.  From cell phones to automobiles, engineers have found more and better ways of incorporating computer power within them so as to make them easier and of much higher value than ever before.  Today, even the average cup of coffee cannot be made without the assistance of these binary wonders!  And by tomorrow, they will be showing up in twice as many products and for many times their original use than ever before!  So no matter what your opinions may be on this subject, I don’t know anyone who can even try to say with any authority that as such, computers have caused mankind any real or justified harm except perhaps the Neo-Luddites!  All in all, and with every vote counted, computers and the ways in which they have enabled mankind can only be seen as a positive addition to our lives.  And as technologies like this become a more influential part of our daily lives, we find more and better ways to make use of it…and to make it even easier than before to find even more ways to encourage that usefulness.  In fact we already have!

As has been well proven over the last couple years, the average person doesn’t really need or expects to need all the abilities that computers potentially offer us.  And those who respond to and manufacture goods for our needs saw this right from the beginning.  The result of this understanding has been the downsizing of computers into a number of products which offer only certain subsets and combinations of new abilities into products that besides being better adjusted to our actual needs has made them a hell of a lot cheaper as well!  Smart phones, new generation laptops and hand held panels, Android programming, and WI-FI have all made it possible for those of us who really don’t need to play around with high level mathematics and graphic rendering to throw the now old fashioned desktop computer away and take our newly enabled selves and the tools making this enablement possible out of our homes, apartments, and workplaces!  Today, the majority of processors are being manufactured for use in devices that we can carry out into the world with us…over the shoulder, in purses, and even pockets…and at the same time, providing us with the same or better enabling abilities than our old machines could ever offer the average man or woman!  Today, we are able to do twice as much at half the price, and as far as I can see, this is a trend not soon to change, making it quite possible that by the time you read this you’ll be doing so not on an I-pad or Kindle as is now popular, but on some unit and by some technology we haven’t even heard of yet!  Yes, technologically speaking, the next 20 years promise to be even more exciting than the last two decades were, and I for one can’t wait to see what science has in store for us!

So as you may have already guessed, the new product I recently purchased is indeed one of these new hand held computing masterpieces!  Right now of course, nothing can completely replace my desktop computer, and the old, immense, wooden desk it sits upon is still and will remain to be my favorite place to be.  So I chose a product which at a relatively low price can offer me just those abilities I absolutely need when I am unable to be at my favorite desk.  After a little research and a lot of pricing comparisons, I like so many others who also require a real desktop computer most of the time, bought a Kindle Fire HD from Amazon.com!  And already it has made it possible for me to spend as much as half the time I would otherwise have to stay at my desk and indoors using it instead of my fully functional desktop!

I now do all my reading and much of my research using the Kindle, with the average cost per book only half what I had been paying for paperbacks, and which in conjunction with an Amazon Prime membership allows me to borrow books from their library instead of buying if I wish!  I watch and or schedule the movies I want to see on it.  I listen to my music collection on it and have free cloud storage as well.  I subscribe and read my magazines with it, including all those back issues I could no longer find, and I can also handle my e-mail, Twitting, and comment posting using it…basically making any and all Internet access available to me where ever I am at the time.  Even when I’m working at my desktop and require documentation to be available while writing programs or playing games, I set it right alongside and use it as a second and completely unobtrusive screen!  In addition, it also allows me to send free text messages to anyone, and have full HD video conferences with anyone using Skype for free as well!  I could go on listing the many ways it has already changed my life and freed up more time than I knew I had, but what’s the point?  For a relatively low price of $199 US, it’s an enabler that nearly anyone can afford to try themselves.  And if it doesn’t do for you what it has done for me, just return it within 30 days for a full refund and try to find something better in that price range.  I doubt you’ll be able to!  For me, it is the best investment I have made in the last five years.  I love it!

Lastly, I’d like to say a little something about Amazon.com itself.  Unlike so many tech manufacturers, Amazon has set up a rather unique sales model.  They sell the Kindle, and many other products as well as I understand, at the cost of its manufacture.  By doing so, they save their customers a lot of money upfront, making their product(s) particularly enticing.  Where they hope to make a profit is by providing their point of sales as one of its abilities, making it more certain that we will use them to supply all the collateral items that make their product(s) great and extremely useful!  Books, magazines, programs, utilities, and anything they wish to sell us, including their very cool and affordable Prime Membership are all then easily available and geared specifically for use with their product(s)!  It’s not a particularly new idea, but it is one I believe we’ll be seeing a lot more of over the next couple years!

Also, as I’m sure you are aware, service in the retail industry is practically non-existent these days. I don’t know if it’s apathy, a lousy work ethic, or that companies themselves simply don’t care anymore because they figure they’ve got us all by the throat!  But I’ll say it out loud even if no one else wants to. People just don’t seem to want to do their jobs in a way that provides concern or quality when it comes to dealing with the customers and clients they are responsible to!  I can cite numerous examples of how we as customers and/or clients get the runaround, are lied to, and in so many other ways, are not cared for the way we used to expect.  It may even be partly our own fault too, because I can cite just as many examples of how customers and/or clients simply give up when they are mistreated or ignored as well!  This has become a common truth no matter how we deal with a company or for what reasons.  But for whatever reason, I find it a very bad trend that won’t be stopped until we ourselves get up off our butts and start complaining so much and so loud that retail and service companies start to listen and to fire people who do not take their jobs and our needs seriously!

These days, and for the most part, I normally buy via the Internet. I’m too busy and/or unable to get out to the stores, and in my area they’re practically non-existent anyway!  So the Internet provides a reasonably safe and quick way of finding exactly what you want, and getting it sometimes even quicker than by going out to shop.  But of course when there’s a problem and one has to deal with a customer service person to solve it, nine times out of ten the solution is as hard to find as a cheap, honest lawyer!  It can be particularly nerve-racking when you have to deal with a CSR who’s normal language isn’t the same as yours, and after 30 minutes of waiting, call backs, and digit entering to get to the correct department he or she simply cannot understand what you’re talking about! And that of course leads to more waiting, more call backs, more digital exercise, and then once you finally think the problem is solved, you get the wrong replacement delivered by an angry UPS driver who likes to practice his football passing with little brown packages!  And it’s not just with products such problems exist either.  In fact these kind of problems are even more daunting when service is not correctly handled!

I once worked for Blue Cross and Blue Shield in one of their claim offices where I was the only male amongst 30 or more women aged 18 to 25.  That might seem like heaven to some, but because I was in charge of making sure they got their work done in a timely manner it was a lot more like the other place!  One of the girls there had a habit of throwing files into the back of her desk drawer when she couldn’t solve or didn’t know how to solve the problem before her, but unfortunately we didn’t realize this until a family was actually kicked out of their home because medical bills they were ultimately responsible for weren’t being paid by the insurance company!  We didn’t even know the bills existed until the girl who kept putting them off and hiding the files had left!  Granted, it was a combination of errors that resulted in this problem, but in the end it turned out to be little more than a CSR not caring about doing her job any better than as required to get her paycheck every two weeks!

Amazon.com has gone to great effort to ensure that their customers are treated like members of their own family!  I had heard this from more than a few people over the last few years, and in fact I live near a man who is a CSR for them, working out of his home by networked computer and responsible for solving customer problems world wide.  I do tend to take the Devil’s Advocate position much of the time, so I really didn’t believe what I was hearing until I was faced with a problem as regards the recent purchase I talked about earlier.  In short, what happened was that I was unaware of the fact that a new Kindle was to be released in just two weeks from the date I ordered mine.  The newer model came with twice the on-board memory, the video capabilities, better Android support, a full HD screen, and was even bigger and at the same price!  But I didn’t see the ad for the new model until mine had been delivered along with a custom leather case, and I had already started using it!  Well I really didn’t think I would get anywhere as it wasn’t a problem they had caused, but I wrote a quick e-mail to Amazon.com anyway and told them I felt cheated that the new version hadn’t been advertised where a potential buyer could easily see it.  Less than an hour later I received a note back from them stating how sorry they were, and giving me return instructions including a full refund so that I could then order the new version!  Unbelievable right? Well wait, there’s even more! I returned the first unit but kept the case thinking it would fit just as well on the new model, and received my full refund including even postage and handling which they told me was because they initiated the problem.  I then received the new model but found it wouldn’t fit into the original case, so I wrote again.  And again within the hour another apology with instructions which then gave me the case for the new model, and a much better one at that, and again refunded me twice more.  Once for the postage and handling as they said it was their fault, and another because the case was sent just one day later than I was advised it would be!  I still cannot believe it, but when I figured it all out, not only did I get the new, better model, but I received the case and a pointer for free, as well as two months of free membership to Amazon Prime instead of the one month I really only deserved!  I even wrote them back and told them I was feeling a bit guilty, and do you know what they said in reply? “Our customers are important to us and we will do whatever we need to do to make them happy for dealing with us!”

Nuff said for now! I hope you’ll come back to read my next post, available by or just before December 15th, 2012…if of course, the world hasn’t ended yet as Mayan prophesy has promised!

In the Beginning there was…

…not a whole hell of a lot to interest humanity or provide reason for more abstract considerations except the day to day need for survival!  Yet despite the lack of frivolis downtime and armchair entertainment we did indeed make a lasting mark on this world and each other.  It will be these marks, these creative and very necessary considerations I will be expounding on when FFOman’s World Blog goes live next month.  If in the meantime you have anything to share on this rather broad topic, and/or you would like to be notified the day my next post is made please feel free to e-mail FFOman at:  TanDesign@comcast.net