The Creature From The Tech Lagoon

I first saw the kid in the corner of a “meeting space” about two months before the end of my contract. Tall, skinny, basement pale, awkward bowl haircut, bewildered look. Polyester slacks. Yellow stripe shirt with these absurd white contrast French cuffs and collar. Two-thirds of a prom outfit from the white-trash site of urban Columbus, really.

The purpose of this particular meeting was to hear a mutual pitch from RedHat and Microsoft, trying to get our department to set up its own little kingdom of servers and “container architecture”. This is a constant struggle in pretty much any major corporation, a battle that’s being fought behind the scenes 24/7. Once upon a time, each company had a mainframe and it was under the direct control of the tech department. Then when minicomputers like VAXen came along, you had individual departments setting up their own systems. When small “servers” came along, the problem got a thousand times worse. Then you got Sarbanes-Oxley and HIPAA and FINRA, laying a complex web of compliance regulations on all those small servers. So the Fortune 500 companies swept everything back up into one central department. This made life much tougher for all those individual departments, who now had to go to corporate IT and wait a year for something they used to get done in a month. So they started… cheating, setting up their own stuff on the sly.

My ex-wife had a job for a while where she would sniff out these “shadow servers” and even the “shadow helpdesks” set up to support their users. Hundreds of $20,000 computers and hundreds of full-time jobs, all shuffled off the books and reported to headquarters as something else just to avoid the hassle of dealing with central IT and their deliberately difficult processes. Once she arrived in a city to find that the department she was investigating had built a whole server room, a million-dollar operation listed as something else entirely. She tore the place down to the ground like Samson. A couple years afterwards, she heard rumors that it was being set up again. The heart wants what it wants, you see.

Anyway. The company for which I was contracting had spent a billion-with-a-B dollars on a central tech architecture and container platform. But that didn’t stop my sub-department from wanting to spend a million-with-an-M dollars on its own private little playground. So the RedHat and Microsoft people had arranged a meeting to show us all the benefits we would get from buying their products. And that’s where I saw the kid, whom I would later come to think of as The Creature From The Tech Lagoon.

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The Critics Respond, Part Forty-Eight

Last week, I started a story on a stolen van turned into a homeless shelter by discussing brother Bark and his time as a touring musician. The very first response suggested that I was being a bit “greasy” for even discussing the fact that Bark met a lot of young women on the road. This is the mindset of THE_CURRENT_YEAR in a nutshell, isn’t it? If I announced tomorrow that I was gay you’d all be basically forced to congratulate me on it in about the same fashion as if I announced that I had a season-long ride in Lamborghini Super Trofeo. If I decided tomorrow that I identified as a woman, albeit a six-foot-two, 240-pound woman with dark circles under her eyes and a hairy ass, it would be mandatory for my friends and co-workers to praise my “bravery” and “courage” in doing so. Hell, if I explained to the TTAC staff that I was now a yellow-scaled wingless dragonkin they would have to take that absolutely seriously or face an extremely expensive lawsuit from me for denying my completely normal dragonkin sexuality.

If, on the other hand, I write something about the idea that I might be interested in a 19-year-old woman… HOLD THE PRESSES, YOU FUCKIN’ PERVERT! THAT’S NOT NORMAL! Fifty-year-old men are supposed to be interested in fifty-year-old women! It’s disgusting that they aren’t! Oh well. You have to live in reality, which tells us that older men like younger women and sometimes — shudder — they return the favor. I dated a 19-year-old for a bit right before meeting Danger Girl, who is not 19 but is also not close to my age. I dated more than one 25-year-old when I was in my early forties. The world did not end for anyone involved.

In fact, throughout human history it’s been common for successful, powerful, or persuasive men to throw away their wives in favor of younger women. It was Judeo-Christianity that brought a halt to this unsavory practice along with many others: Rejoice in the wife of your youth, says the Proverb. That was a new idea, this concept that you wouldn’t just roll your woman out with the garbage once she hit thirty or so. Oops. It’s no surprise that the collapse of public Christianity has freed-up men to once again pursue, and catch, young women. Fifty years ago, if you dumped your old-ass wife and got some young hottie people at your church would turn away from you like you didn’t exist. It would hurt your social life. It would hurt your employment or your business prospects. Men were expected to stand by their wives to the bitter end. Oh well. We had to tear down that old morality so we could all be free to pursue sexual pleasure as the sole overarching principle of our lives. Any collateral damage from that is just a too-bad-so-sad, isn’t it?

Anyway, commenter gtem is a little bit concerned about the idea that I won’t respect him just because he is parroting the modern Dove Real Beauty theology-in-a-box, so he takes a moment to assure me that he is not a “nu-male”. What’s that, you ask? You’re gonna be sorry you did.

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Weekly Roundup: Grand-Dad’s Eldorado Edition

This week I wrote briefly about my grandfather and his 1979 Eldorado Biarritz. The photo above is of a car sold by Charles Schmitt a while ago and it differs from the car of my childhood only in being a diesel instead of the fuel-injected 350 Olds fitted to my grandfather’s Eldo.

The last time I saw him alive was in May of 2013. I was in Sebring to prepare for my trip to Malaysia but the young lady I was with agreed to go with me to Clearwater to check up the grandparents. We had a lovely afternoon. I don’t think I appreciated it because I had my mind focused on the trip and the race to come. It didn’t occur to me that I wouldn’t have another chance to see my grandfather.

After the jump we have an old Bill Withers song that he wrote about his grandmother. The brilliance of it is that he focuses on her hands. As a small child you don’t get much overall sense of the adults around you. It’s the small things you notice, the aspects of their bodies and voices that filter down to your vantage place four feet above the ground. I think about my grandfather’s skin: tanned, leathery, drawn loosely over veins and joints. By the time I was in my twenties, I started to recognize that skin on my father. Now there are times when I see it on myself. I’m about a decade younger than Granddad was when he bought his first Eldorado. If I believe that I will live as long as he did then I can truly say that I’m just middle-aged now.

I couldn’t tell you what I had for dinner two nights ago but I can tell you exactly what it was like to ride to Clearwater Beach in that blue Eldorado. There are times that I like to sit and think about those years gone by. It’s an addiction no less dangerous than any other. The obligations of the future won’t forgive you for spending too much time in the past. Townes was right. It don’t pay to think too much / on things you leave behind.

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Cougars And Firebirds – The Ponycars Of My Youth

Note: Please welcome Joel Miller to Riverside Green. Another emigre’ from the old site, Joel’s passion is 1970s Detroit rolling stock, particularly the 1977-81 Firebird and full-size 1973 Pontiacs. -TK

The car that first really hooked me was the Mercury Cougar. I was probably four or five when I first spotted a ’69 or ’70 Cougar though the window of my mother’s Mark III Lincoln. Whoa, what’s that? The sequential turn signals were mesmerizing!

At around age six, I finally figured out what I was looking at. From that point on, everything was about the Cougar. My half-brother drove a white ’69 XR7 for a few years, although I don’t ever remember riding in it. I probably stared rust holes in it though!

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Go Ahead, Take The Banana

My long-departed (from my house, not from this earth) first wife had a lot of suggestions for me during our marriage: Stop skipping work! Don’t leave stuff all over the kitchen! Quit buying things you don’t need! Tucked in among those absolutely ridiculous ideas, however, was a rather brilliant one. She thought I should write a book called Self-Service Nation about the bizarre lengths to which modern corporations will go in order to offload labor from employees to customers. I told her I’d get around to it as soon as I cleaned up the kitchen, which never happened.

Too late now, of course. We now expect as a matter of course that we will be self-servicing much of our interaction with everybody from Wells Fargo to Kroger to Google to the airlines, via Byzantine web forms with unique logins and mandatory 12-character passwords that expire every afternoon at 3:01. We understand that when we call for help that we will be forced to navigate through a deliberately confusing touch-tone questionnaire in which the penalty for making a single mistake is to be disconnected and pressing the “O” key out of frustration results in a snippy-sounding recording of a stoned Valley Girl saying, “Hmmm… I didn’t get that.” Bitch, of course you didn’t get that! You’re not real!

They promised us that service and retail work would replace the factory jobs that were sent to China, but the minute people got uppity about wanting to earn the inflation-adjusted equivalent of 1968’s minimum wage the corporate cash taps get opened and all of a sudden an insane amount of money is being spent on machines to replace those service and retail jobs. The most obvious and obnoxious example: the self-checkout machines at grocery stores and Wal-Marts across the country, which cost about $20,000 per lane and last five years, thus theoretically saving money over the $60,000 per year it would cost to staff a checkout lane sixteen hours per day.

The numbers really work. You could arguably have $250,000 worth of additional theft and shortages over that five-year period and still come up ahead compared to a human cashier. That’s about $150 a day of theft that you can just wink at.

Well, if recent reports are any indication, there’s a lot of winking going on.

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(Last) Weekly Roundup: Sick And Tired Edition

Makes perfect sense, really. I’ve been in perfect health for the final few weeks of my dreary tech job — but the minute I have a chance to fly to NorCal and drive on a track, I get knock-down sick. The same was true of Danger Girl; our press-loaner 430i sounded like a TB ward while we were on the freeway what with the continual coughing and wheezing. To make matters slightly worse, on the way home our plane turned around over Columbus and went all the way back to St. Louis because the runway was covered in ice.

Enough griping. We ended up getting a total of 5 sessions on Thunderhill and napping at lunch. Can’t complain about that. Time for the recap on last week.

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1976 Mercedes-Benz 280C – Teutonic Hardtop

The final piece of the puzzle in Mercedes-Benz’s total revitalization of their lineup design-wise was the W114/W115 series of sedans and coupes. The ‘New Generation’ finalized the form of Mercedes’ new styling direction led by M-B designer Paul Bracq for the Sixties and well into the Seventies. This transformation of M-B’s look from slightly rounded Fifties full-fenderedness to sleek, smooth Sixties modernism began with the finless 220SEb coupe and cabriolet in The Year of Our Lord, 1961.

And it made sense to start with those models. The 220SE coupe and cabriolet were the top of the line. As many manufacturers have proved over the years, it is always better to introduce a new look on your top-of-the-line car. If you do it back-asswards, you will probably hear many a customer remarking loudly how the new Belchfire Eight Super looks suspiciously similar to the half-as-expensive Hiccup Custom Four.

1969 Mercedes-Benz 220

And so it was that the W114 and W115 were the final recipients of the look that started on the 220SEb, sporting 230SL and uber-fancy 600 earlier in the decade. However, despite the presence and popularity of the diesel 220D and 240D models (taxi luxury for Oldsmobile Ninety-Eight money!) you could get a very nice version of this car, if you ponied up for the 250 (later on, the 280), which featured real leather, real wood, and a straight six gasoline engine.

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1971 Chevrolet Monte Carlo – The Chevelle Goes Brougham!

This is the car that brought personal luxury to the masses. The 1970-72 Monte Carlo. Sure, personal-lux coupes had been around for years, but generally they were flossier high-end cars. Cars like the first of its type, the Ford Thunderbird, which had more or less set the mold in 1958 with its low-slung lines, bucket seats and soon-to-be-ubiquitous center console.

1963 Pontiac Grand Prix

Other makes immediately set their sights on the T-Bird, with cars like the Pontiac Grand Prix, Buick Riviera, and Oldsmobile Toronado. A case can be made for the 1967 Mercury Cougar as well, with its luxury touches, but really, it was still Mustang-derived and thus a ponycar, not a personal luxury car. Yes indeed, luxury coupe mania spread like wildfire throughout the Sixties, but there really were no offerings for the “Low Priced Three”, Chevrolet, Ford and Plymouth. Until 1970.

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If You Have Powerful Enemies, Watch Out For The “Head Shot”

I’m in the process of watching The Wire all the way through again, mostly because I’m doing a lot of air travel and I’m too lazy to read all the books I should be reading during that time. One of the more interesting aspects of the show is how often its creator, David Simon, used real people from the Baltimore streets instead of trained actors. The most commonly-cited example was Snoop, who actually killed someone on the streets prior to acting on the show, but there are at least six Baltimore cops, including two former commissioners, who are on the show in one role or another.

During the first season, a fellow named Ed Norris plays a wisecracking cop who keeps saying that someone needs to fix the department. It’s an inside joke; Norris was actually the police commissioner at the time. After his time on “The Wire”, Norris did six months in jail thanks to a prosecutorial technique known as the “headshot”.

I didn’t know what the headshot was until this morning. I kind of wish I still didn’t know. If you’re ever owned a home or a rental property, you’ll want to, as they say, read all about it.

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Guest Post: Granny Get Your Gun

Photo courtesy of Japan Today

Over the last few months, there has been a rash of age-related car accidents in Japan.  Just yesterday, a 9 year old girl was killed and four other children injured when 70 year old driver rear ended another car and sent it spinning into a group of students walking home from school.  Last week, an 85 year old driver who had been warned by his family not to get behind the wheel, veered onto a sidewalk after striking another car and ran down two high school girls on bicycles before flipping his car onto its side.  In November, an elderly woman suddenly accelerated through a lowered parking lot gate and shot across the street where she killed two pedestrians.  A month before that, seven people, including a two year old boy, were injured when an elderly driver hit the wrong pedal while exiting a parking lot and barreled across crowded sidewalk near a major department store and, earlier in the year, a 76 year old killed one person and injured five more when she lost control of her car in a parking lot.

According to the Japanese police, drivers 65 and older were responsible for 965 fatal accidents in 2016.  That’s more than 25% of fatal car accidents nationwide and, because Japan is an aging society, there is a great deal of fear that the number will to grow in the coming years.  To help mitigate that growth, in early 2017 a cognitive assessment was added to the existing mandate that all drivers be retested at 70 years of age and, rather than face the possibility of being found unworthy, more than 106,000 people voluntarily surrendered their licenses in the months prior to the new rules going live.  While it’s certain that many older people were opposed to the new rules, there was little public outcry.

Of course, it will take time for the rules to take effect.  An entire generation of drivers were retested at 70 before the cognitive assessment was added to the regime and they continue to be out on the road.  But overall, the new rules are a genteel solution to a serious problem from a civilized society and it says a lot about the Japanese.  Of course, I do not believe for on minute that we could do anything like it in the United States without a good old knock-down drag-out fight.  We’re just not wired the same way. Continue Reading →