Wednesday, June 29, 2011

9/11 - 10 years later ... what did we learn?

My eye was caught this morning by this article in the New York Times.
photo ©2001, Laurance Fendrick
For nearly 10 years, The New York Times has reported on the events of Sept. 11, 2001, and the subsequent local and global effects of the worst terrorist attacks ever to occur on American soil. Now, with the 10th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks a few months away, we want to hear from you.
During several days this summer, journalists on our multimedia team will be stationed at locations around New York and the region with video cameras, ready to record your thoughts about Sept. 11. Our purpose is to answer the question: What did you learn from 9/11?
It made me start thinking about it. You have all seen my personal account of that day, but what was learned is something I have never thought about before.

I think that we have had to learn that as large a country as we are, we are still vulnerable to terrorism. No foreign attacks on US soil had occurred since the War of 1812 (Pearl Harbor, Hawaii was a US territory at the time it was bombed by the Japanese), and I think that none of us thought it could happen here. There was the Oklahoma City bombing, but that was carried out by one of our own. The first clue we had was the bombing in the World Trade Center parking garage a few years earlier.

However, we have become the country that others have come to hate, so had we been thinking logically, the attacks of 9/11 were inevitable.

It certainly makes us think about the fragility of life. How many left their homes that morning and never returned to their families? These were not soldiers in the Middle East who knew their lives were in danger, but were victims of that war nonetheless.

So I ask you ... what do you think was learned by the events of 9/11 and the days following? What did you learn personally? If you live in the US - what should we have learned? If you live outside of the US, how was your country affected, if at all? (I am particularly interested in the non-US point of view so please share your thoughts.)

I look forward to reading your comments (below) on this ...

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Back in the day ...

Just recently, in the most unlikely of places (a newsgroup dedicated to Disney theme parks), a discussion developed about the early days of home computing. (Yes, I am that old!) The home computing scene was much different in many ways back in the day.

The day I am talking about would have begun in the early to mid 1980's. At first, if you wanted a computer at home you needed to plunk down tens of thousands of dollars to have one. That changed in the early 1980's with a computer company in the UK, Sinclair. I was reading a current issue of Games magazine when I came across an advertisement for a computer for $99! Of course you needed to be handy with a soldering iron to put it together and get it to work, or you could buy it preassembled for about 50% more. I opted to put mine together, and soon after entered the age of  the personal computer.

Soon, other affordable computers started coming to market from Apple, Commodore, Radio Shack and others. Some computers which had been sold as game consoles also started selling kits which could be added to make them usable as "real" computers. Things started getting interesting.

Back then, I was writing a monthly column for Computer Shopper which, although basically a collection of computer advertising back then, started printing articles about these new computers coming into the market. And there were many. You could read about the new computers and what you could do with them. New hardware, new software and many technical articles were the order of the day. You were learning the down and dirty aspects of using a home computer.

If you owned a computer back in those days, most likely it was for the fun of seeing what could be done with it. Computers weren't yet the "appliances" that they are today where you simply use it as a tool to be productive, but were things that you played with. And I don't just mean game software. Many people learned the BASIC programming language that came with many of these early home computers. We would sit for hours trying to get something to happen - sometimes as simple as getting a pixel (or group of pixels) to appear on the screen. If you were really willing to give up sleeping, you might write a program which actually had some usefulness. I did! A few to be exact.

In those days, there was no internet and when you played with your computer it was to see what it could do. We scanned the magazines - paper magazines that is - pouring through each issue to see what new piece of software was in development or released for our computer which would give it new and previously unimagined capabilities. Each issue brought new ways we could modify our hardware, which was not made to be modified. At one time I added a second ROM chip to a computer so it could not only run the software written for it, but for that of another computer as well. This was hacking in its truest and most positive form.

There were numerous computers, with various operating systems and we wanted to see just what they could do. In those days it was all about local hardware and software.

Then the industry grew up. The dozens of computer operating systems shrunk to 2 (Apple and PC) and then 3 (Mac, PC and Linux). Playing on your computer is more about using the computer as a terminal for access to the internet now. Facebook and Twitter have replaced programming and local software as the most common computer activities (By the way - feel free to follow me on Twitter @marklf). Hacking has taken on a negative association. Using your computer with local software is now almost strictly for work or a utilitarian purpose - not for fun. Yes, there are still games on home computers, but they are very different, and often are played online with others as well.

The home computer revolution has matured and I miss the old days on the frontier.

Monday, June 20, 2011

A Spring Day in NYC - Through the lens (part IV)

Another lovely spring day here in New York City - we have strung together a few of them this past week - so my wife and I decided to head out to a bit of nature here and enjoy it. Allow me share some of it with you.

The first thing you see when you arrive is the Carousel for All Children, as it is known. Yes, the grandtwins have ridden it - but not yet this season.

 Next, we headed over to the lake.

To see all of the pictures click here or to see the video click here.

Friday, June 17, 2011

Owners Manual

What if people came with an owner's manual? Perhaps this would be mine:

Mark 58 - (1953 model year)

As you know, this model went into production very unexpectedly and caused quite a stir at its delivery, but owners took to it immediately. It did receive a lot of press coverage at its introduction. (Additional press coverage would happen again 24 years later.)

When it was new, it attracted quite a few ooohs and aaaahs at it's blonde roof and attractive front end, but as with all new models, there were soon others to replace it as the newest on the block.

In its heyday it spun off two models of its own which are currently the workhorses of the model line.

Today you might consider the Mark 58 to be a classic, and like all classics it has its own quirks and needs a little extra attention here and there. No longer the muscle unit it once was (or wished it was), today it is enjoying its reputation while cruising along at a much slower pace than at the height of its powers.

As in all classics, the wheels and the joints need a bit of extra looking after, and what is under the hood requires a little more care and additives than it used to, but still has most of its original parts. The grillwork has lost a little of its sheen, and a few pieces, but almost all is still on display and is the original equipment. These days, not needing to haul around parts for the newer models anymore, the trunk appears much more ample than it once did.

The fuel which it now requires must have less additives than it used to be able to handle - especially those which come from sugar cane or corn - but works just fine with the currently specified additives.

The headlights are a bit dimmer overall, but still work fine with the new boosters you can put on before taking it out for the day. Do not forget these or you will find your 1953 model Mark 58 might have a tendency to bump into things.

Additionally, do not forget to plug it in to its special machine at night so it doesn't make those horrible noises any more.

You will find that since it was repaired after its mechanical failure five and a half years ago, it has been taken care of much better and should provide reliable service for quite a few years to come.

And one final thing - it does best if stored around anthropomorphic mice, ducks, dogs, etc.

(Service papers available on request.)

So ... how might your owners manual read?

Saturday, June 11, 2011

Allow me to introduce ...

... a few people who might interest you. These are people I have gotten to know online, either through friends, their blogs, or common interests. All of them have interesting stories to tell, and I have invited a few of them to tell some of their stories here. The first group I have invited either have a topic they are passionate about, have an interesting life situation, or I just simply like. For their first contributions to this blog I have given them free range to write about absolutely anything that they want to write about. Hope you enjoy reading their work as much as I have so far.

The first guest blogger is Jack McClane, who blogs at A Blog About Nothing...Much. The topic that Jack writes about here is something I can relate to, since if you ask me what the greatest moments in my life were, I would tell you - without any hesitation - that it was the day that each of my two children were born. 

I’m in labour!

The title of this story was what my wife told me during an early morning phone call while I was away for work in Perth, Western Australia. At the time of this story, my wife and I and our eldest daughter were living in Adelaide, South Australia.  My wife, Lisa was heavily pregnant but wasn’t due for over 3 weeks. I had been away for 4 days and I was due to fly home that afternoon.  With a little over 3 weeks left to go I thought no problems with the schedule.  How wrong was I!

Here is the story of my mad dash home the day my youngest daughter, Lara was born.

12.45am Perth time, February 8, 2005. 

I had just jumped into bed after a long day working.  My usual pre-bed routine was to put my phone on vibrate as the usual east coast phone calls would start coming in at about 7am local time.  My head office was in Brisbane which is 2 hours in front of Perth time.  As I wouldn’t be rising until after head office started clicking into gear, I always kept my phone on vibrate during my Perth trips to avoid any early morning wake up calls, especially tonight, having gone to bed so late.   I was lying there and I had an urge to actually put my phone on ringer.  Not sure why I had the urge, I took it off of vibrate, just in case.

At 1am, I am still awake. My phone rings.  I have a different ring tone for my wife so instantly I knew it was her calling.  Glancing at the clock I also knew it was 3.30am in Adelaide.  It doesn’t take a scientist to know what this call is about.  I answer the phone expectantly.  Lisa informs me that she is in labour.  I don’t recall the exact specifics of the conversation but I am sure we discuss whether it is real or not as with her first pregnancy, Lisa had a few falsies.  I think they are called Braxton Hicks (someone can correct me if I am wrong).  It doesn’t take long for Lisa to convince me that this is the real deal.

Shit! I gotta get out of here and get to Adelaide, pronto!  By car it is 2,703km or a 4 day drive.  Too far to start driving.  The baby will be celebrating her first birthday by the time I get there. By plane and as the crow flies the distance from Perth to Adelaide is approx 1,750km flying over the Great Australian Bight, Spencer Gulf and Gulf St Vincent.  Quicker option but I know flights don’t leave Perth in the middle of the night.  I hang up the phone from Lisa after telling her I am coming home and secretly wishing she keeps her legs crossed.  I call QANTAS and explain the situation.  There is a flight leaving Perth at 6.25am which will have me back in Adelaide at 11.45am.  Now I hope there are spare seats available.  There are!  I am then informed that I have to purchase a new ticket as because I was within 24 hours of my flight I couldn’t make any changes.  Not in the mood for arguing, I do so.

I do the maths quickly in my head.  Ok, she’s in labour at approx 3.30am Adelaide time.  I arrive in Adelaide at 11.45am and then add on 30 mins for cab to the hospital.  Ok, I can get there at 12.15pm.  That’s less than 9 hours after going into labour.  She can hold on.  Our first daughter, Michaela was in labour for well over 22 hours.

I’m a chance to make it.

I call Lisa and tell her the news.  She is on her way to the hospital with her mum and Michaela.  I talk to Michaela and tell her everything is going to be ok.  She sounds excited, even after getting woken in the middle of the night.  She said she’ll look after mummy.  What a good girl.

Now what do I do?  By now it is 1.30am and I have the flight in 5 hours.  I decide sleep is a must as it is going to be a very long day.  Remember I still hadn’t slept since the night before.  I quickly pack my things so I am ready to fly out the door when I wake.

Did I sleep?  Of course not. I am excited.  Nervous. Scared. On edge.  Disappointed I’m not there.

I get up and send a few emails to work and to people I am meant to be meeting in Perth that day.  Don’t try contacting me. I’m rushing back to Adelaide and explained why.  So that took all of 5 minutes.  I remember flicking on the TV and watching some infomercials.  That’s some quality TV.  I quickly switch it off.

I then recall a time in 1994 when I was in Darwin, eager to leave asap.  I arrived at the Darwin airport at midnight, 12 hours early for a flight to Brisbane in the hope I might get an earlier one.  As it turned out, I did.  I was put onto an international flight which was stopping over in Darwin.  I landed in Brisbane 4 hours before I was due to depart Darwin.  I was also upgraded to first class which was amazing but I digress.  So I get my gear together, check out and go to the airport.  I dropped off my hire car and proceeded inside to a ghost town.  There was no one there so that was a bad idea. Then I remembered that the international airport was separate to the domestic.  I decided against trying as I had dropped off my keys and knew that it was a hopeless cause anyway.

So I waited.  Slowly the airport buzzed into life.  I still hadn’t slept.  I checked in and got my boarding pass.  Mid deck!  Damn.  Being mid deck means an extra few minutes waiting to deboard the plane.  It could be costly.

While waiting to board the plane I call Lisa for an update.  She is big time in labour and this is the real deal.  I hope I hid my panic!  I didn’t panic.  I don’t think I did.  Maybe I did.  Who knows?  Passengers who overhear my phone call wish me well and are all hoping I make it on time.  Lisa also explained that Michaela would be taken home by our friend, Belinda.  This is good as the poor thing is probably really worried and a bit of a fish out of water.

We board.  So slowly.

We get the safety instructions.  So slowly.

We taxi. So slowly.

We finally are in the air and for the first time, I am out of contact.  I have no way of knowing what is happening at the hospital.  It is the most anxious, slowest 3 hours of my life.  I fight the urge to go to the cockpit and explain my situation to the pilots in the hope they might put their foot on the gas and break the sound barrier for me.  They probably wouldn’t believe me anyway, mistaking me for an impatient businessman eager to make a meeting on time.

I think I drifted off to sleep. If I did, it would have been for seconds at a time.  I refuse the early morning flight breakfast. I’m too anxious to eat.  I keep checking my watch.  The minutes are going so slowly.  Different scenarios are being played through my mind.  When we land do I push my way to the front of the passengers waiting to deboard?  Do I run like a mad man to the taxis?  I imagine that I make it to the hospital on time, arriving seconds before the baby is born.

Finally we land.  We are on time. Yes!

The taxiing to the terminal goes slowly.  I could run faster than this.  Actually anyone who knows me back then knows this is not true but adrenaline does amazing things when you call on it.

The passengers in front of me deboard so slowly.  I want to punch each one of them in the back of the head for being so slow.

I finally make it into the terminal and I turn on my phone – in those days the Adelaide airport is a shed and you have to disembark and walk across the tarmac so no mobile phones are allowed.  My phone springs to life and I receive a text message from Belinda.  I debate whether to read it or not.  Curiosity gets the better of me and I do.  I can’t recall exactly what it said but it went along the lines of:

Lara - Just a few hours old
“Congratulations. You have a daughter.  Born at 9.01am weighing 7lb 5oz.  Lisa and baby are well”

My heart sinks.  I am so disappointed that I wasn’t there for not only the baby, but also for Lisa.  Every mother wants her husband with her during this amazing time.  I hold my emotions and get in a taxi and I head to the hospital.

Suitcase in hand, I rush into the maternity section.  To my surprise, Michaela is still there, waiting in the waiting room with Lisa’s mum.  I drop my bags and fall to my knees and hug Michaela and then burst into tears.  The emotion of it all has finally caught up with me.  I wasn’t expecting Michaela to be there. I am glad she is.  I apologised for not being there with her.  She hugs me back and is excited that she is there for the birth of her little sister.  She had been so excited that at the age of 7, she was finally getting a real life playmate.

We go in and see Lisa who is recovering from a C Section.  I start crying again and tell her how sorry I am that I wasn’t there.  Lisa is a fragile thing and I know she needed me there at the time that she needed me most. I had let her down.  She looks beautiful and is happy.  The baby is not there with her in recovery so it is time to go and see my new daughter.

The day after - I still look tired
Michaela and I go to the nursery and that is where I meet Lara for the very first time.  I look down at the most precious little girl. So beautiful.  So perfect.  I pick her up and cradle her in my arms.  She’s tightly wrapped in a patchwork blanket and is wearing a little white jumpsuit with a pink collar.  I also notice she has more hair than me already!  She is sleeping soundly.  I am so happy and I cry again.  This time it is tears of joy.  I tell her something which she wouldn’t understand.  It is a promise.  I promise her that I will always be there for her and I will never miss an important moment in her life.  I feel like I let her down by not being there when she came into this earth.  The least I can do is make sure I am there for her whenever she needs me in the future.

So far so good.

I missed the birth of my second daughter, Lara by 3 hours.  This was the story of my journey home and what happened that morning. Hopefully she will read this one day and know how sorry I am that I wasn’t there for her during her first few hours.

Monday, June 6, 2011

Through the lens (part III)

(See part I here)
(See part II here)

From there I headed to the southernmost tip of Staten Island, New York City and New York State. Here, on the grounds of The Conference House on September 11, 1776, the Staten Island Peace Conference was held. On that date, Benjamin Franklin, John Adams and Edward Rutledge rowed over from Perth Amboy in New Jersey and met with Lord Howe, the commander of the British forces in America, to end the currently ongoing conflict of the American Revolution. The meeting lasted for three hours and ended with the Americans politely declining Howe's offer, leading to another seven years of conflict.

And finally - for no good reason whatsoever except that they were there ...
(This would be a good time to remind you to click on the image to see them at full size.)

And here are all of the pictures from today's excursion in an easy to digest form - with music! And as always, your comments are accepted, appreciated, and highly sought after. (In other words - please talk to me!)

Through the lens (part II)

(See part I here)

Staten Island isn't the first place you think of when it comes to places to take pictures. Nor does taking pictures come to mind when you think of Staten Island, so here was my challenge. The following pictures are how I met it this time. (Next time out there will be a different approach.)

(Click on a picture to see it full size.)

First, I took a few pictures in front and behind my house. The first is from behind my house

And the next one is across the street, where a neighbor's Christmas decorations patiently wait for next winter when they will once again be installed.

Next I went a few blocks from my house where, unknown to most people, sits hidden from sight, an old 18th and 19th century burial ground. Many of the headstones - the ones which can still be read that is - contain names familiar to all who live on Staten Island, as they are the names of streets here. These are some of the original families buried here. The earliest date on a stone that I can make out is 1717, and the latest 1851. The oldest person seems to have been 89 years old, while I found a stone for a young 8 year old girl. There are quite a few children here.

Speaking, as I was of WDW, these stones could easily be sitting outside of the Haunted Mansion!

But behind this graveyard sits another one - slightly different. On the Arthur Kill (Kill being the Dutch word for river, and we were a Dutch colony before the British came and stole it away from them) we find the remnants of a ship repair yard where many ships, including the Staten Island Ferry came for repair.

(continue to part III)

Through the lens (part I)

Ever since the  time I was a youngster, I have loved taking pictures. My first camera was an Ansco Cadet Reflex which took 127 size film. I got it prior to 1964, but in April of that year, I bought my first roll of color film and exposed it at the NY World's Fair. You very rarely saw me without my camera. I soon set up a darkroom, and a contact printer. It wasn't until I was married that I would actually have an enlarger.

By that time, my camera was a 35mm Contax RTS. It would remain my camera until the age of digital photography was upon us. I took the camera everywhere and spent hours in the darkroom. Many of my prints got submitted into contests and publications and every so often I would hit the jackpot. In fact, at the very moment I was talking with President Jimmy Carter, an editor was placing one of my pictures into a magazine to go along with one of my articles.

After my daughter was born, however, the darkroom reverted back to our kitchen, and while I still took a lot of pictures, they were more of the snapshot variety that dads tend to take of their kids.Today they are the type that a grandpa takes of the grandtwins.

But one place I never stopped taking lots of pictures was Walt Disney World (WDW) and Disneyland when I was there. As many times as I was in WDW though, it became harder and harder to take a picture that I had never taken before, so the challenge became - and remains - to find a new way of photographing something that I many have taken hundreds of pictures of over the years. Here are a few examples:

But recently I have seen a number of my friends posting their pictures and the old urge to go take pictures for the sake of taking them hit me hard.

I no longer am using an SLR (single lens reflex camera) and haven't yet purchased a D-SLR (digital single lens reflex camera), but am using a few year old "snapshot" camera. While I can't use it as manually as my old SLR, I do have some control over things such as aperture and shutter speed. I would really like more focusing control, but for now I rely on skill and luck to get me where I want to go. Using it is as much in manual mode as possible I set out for the first time on a photo excursion.

(Continue to part II and the start of my NYC photo journey)