Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Mental Vacation

Lately I’ve been experiencing a profound sense of nostalgia. I’ve been seeking songs, movies, images from a time two decades before I was even born. Past-life regression practitioners would claim that my longing for the past represents an attempt by my former self to contact me. Well, I’ve heard what people admit to under hypnosis, and I’m not about to hand over control of my faculties to a spiritualist. Still, there must be a trigger for my neurosis-de-jure – and this time I’m pretty sure it’s not something I ate.

Take this picture for instance. Try to look past the plaid skirts and bobby socks for a moment and ask yourself who would pass up a chance to travel in time and spend a carefree afternoon in a malt shop? I’m equally intrigued by photos like these two, and find myself staring at them – wondering what life would have been like to live in a war-time steel town. Then there’s my renewed fascination with art deco locomotives – please, no Freudian comments here folks, it’s nothing like that - really. Big band music, film noir movies, and Time Life photo journals have become like comfort food for me, and I’m eagerly consuming all that I can.

If I dig a little I might be able to come up with an on-the-fly diagnosis as I write this entry. Here’s one possible explanation: The past 18 months have been very traumatic for my family. We’ve battled cancer and are still in the midst of a long recovery. But, scans are clear, Ema’s pain is easing, and as things fold back into whatever our new ‘normal’ lives will be – living with the immutable threat of the disease, perhaps my mind is taking a little vacation. For over a year, I was forced to live every moment as it was dealt – with no room for anything but the immediate present and worrying about the future. There was no time to reminisce, think about the past in any context, and certainly no time to daydream about what life would have been like some six decades ago chatting with friends over a cherry Coke.

If I’m correct, and my mental holiday is just that – a well-deserved respite from the mayhem, then it won’t last too long. For the moment at least, my preoccupation with another era provides sanctuary from any pending turmoil and allows me time to rally my wits for the next battle. Don’t worry baby - I’ll be ready.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Day 7 - Countdown to Christmas

Annabelle’s mother sat at a drop-leaf table which was flush with the far wall of the small room. A ceiling fan moaned and buzzed as the motor, which had been in its death throes for the better part of a year, labored for one more revolution of its dusty, yellowed blades. Everything in the parlor, in the whole house for that matter, looked much older than it should. Even Annabelle's mother, Charlotte who at 36 should be in the prime of life, wore the weathered countenance and chalky pallor of a much older woman.

Charlotte smiled as Annabelle approached, and she placed her cigarette in the ashtray. “Come here.” Charlotte said, patting her skirt above her knee. Annabelle scooted onto her mother’s lap and wrapped her arms around her, resting her head on her shoulder. She closed her eyes as she squeezed her mother and as she opened them her gaze fell onto a wall calendar which hung in the laundry room. The picture for December depicted Santa clutching a bag Chesterfield cartons. His ripened cheeks glowed red and healthy and his teeth sparkled. Annabelle pulled back and looked at her mother’s face. Charlotte smiled, pulled a few strands of hair away from her daughters face. “You are so pretty,” Charlotte said. Annabelle just looked into her mother’s eyes. They were bloodshot, but not too bad. There were hundreds of tiny wrinkles around her lips that Annabelle hadn’t noticed before. She stared at them, wondering if she would have wrinkles like that when she gets old. “Mommy?” Annabelle said, “Does Santa Clause drink?” Charlotte took a breath that triggered a cough which turned into a deeper, throaty bellow. Annabelle slid off her lap and put her hand on her mom’s back as the coughing continued. When it finally stopped, Charlotte reached for her cigarette and took a long drag, blew the smoke toward the fan, then snuffed out the remainder in the ashtray. When she turned back to her daughter, Annabelle saw that her eyes were very red. “That’s a funny question. I don’t think he does.” Charlotte said, reaching for her wine glass on the table. “I saw him on the back of one of dad’s magazines and he was drinking a bottle like daddy drinks.” Charlotte was quiet for a moment. She sat back in her chair and took a sip of wine. Annabelle used that moment to walk into the laundry room and pluck the calendar off its nail. She walked it back to her mom and showed her the picture. “Does he smoke too?” Annabelle said, placing the calendar on the table. “Santa Clause doesn’t do either of those things honey, and neither should you.” And as she spoke, Charlotte looked down at the table, eyeing the evidence of her hypocrisy.

[to be continued. . .]

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Day 8 - Countdown to Christmas

There’s a problem here, and it’s not an easy one to solve. Santa Clause is recognized as a fictional character, or, more precisely, is not recognized as a real person, by the United States Copyright Office. Therefore, unless you duplicate the copyrighted version of Santa that CocaCola designed some 75 years ago, he can work for you to sell anything you want! Through the decades, advertisers invented often disturbing, certainly insulting ways of exploiting Saint Nick as their seasonal go-to guy for shilling just about every product and service imaginable. Such irresponsible advertising surely had consequences on children whose innocent visions of Santa were continually challenged.

Seven-year-old Annabelle walked through the living room and glanced at the back cover of her father’s “Field and Stream” that sat on the edge of the coffee table. She stopped, looked closer, and was shocked at the sight of Santa drinking the same funny-smelling juice that makes her daddy boil with rage, throw his shoes at the news reporter on the TV, and curse in his sleep. Annabelle was lost as she tried to decide whether her discovery made daddy’s actions acceptable, or Santa’s actions objectionable. Certainly these two worlds could not exist within such a small universe. She picked up the magazine and thought about asking daddy about the ad, but remembered that by this point of the evening he’s halfway through another bottle and she could already hear Walter Cronkite’s voice escaping from the den. Her mom would have an answer, and luckily she was easy to find. Annabelle followed the pungent scent of Chesterfields to the small parlor off the kitchen. She could hear the “chink” of her mom’s cigarette lighter from the hallway, and as she approached the parlor, the air grew thick and grey.

[continued tomorrow]

Monday, December 15, 2008

Day 10 - Countdown to Christmas

Most of you over the tender age of 35 can recall images of Santa with his pipe. Although currently out of vogue, I suspect pipes will have a resurgence of popularity someday – possibly to the extent that cigars had a decade ago. Pipe smoking was always regarded as a genteel pastime, a dignified pleasure enjoyed by men of worth who earned their lot in life and deserved the peaceful swirling bliss that only a well-packed pipe could deliver. People like your favorite grandpa, the tenacious sea captain, the entire English department faculty, or indeed – Santa Claus.

Over the next few days I’ll post photos showing the image of Santa savagely, perversely manipulated by Madison Avenue to promote very un-Santa-like products. Stay tuned.

Friday, December 12, 2008

The Easiest Way to Help Find a Cure

Hi Folks! Feel the urge to somehow ‘give back’ to humanity, but simply don’t have the time? Got a computer that’s powered on most of the day, but not always in use? Then let your computer(s) donate their time instead! Step on up and join The Unreal OC team on World Community Grid.

If you're already a member of WCG and want to join The Unreal OC team, then click HERE.

If you'd like to join WCG and become a team member of The Unreal OC, click HERE.

World Community Grid's mission is to create the largest public computing grid benefiting humanity. Donate the time your computer is turned on, but is idle, to projects that benefit humanity! The WCG (World Community Grid) provides the secure software that does it all for free, and you become part of a community that is helping to change the world. Once you install the software, you will be participating in World Community Grid. No other action must be taken; it's that simple!

As of this posting, there are over 417,000 members of WCG with over 1,130,000 devices (computers) donating time on the network, worldwide.

Ema and I are donating CPU cycles during the times our three home computers are on, but not in use, to Help Conquer Cancer, which is just one of the programs offered through the WCG. But, as you’ll see from the WCG Web site, there are other humanitarian and scientific projects that you can choose from as well.

Choose your cause, download the free software, and you’ll automatically become a member of The Unreal OC team!

I’ll post periodic status reports on this blog, but you can also visit the WCG site anytime to see how our team is doing and to check your individual contribution.

And by the way – tell a friend! Anyone can join WCG, and The Unreal OC team. Once we get about a dozen members we can join in on team challenges, but more on that later.

Ema and I will be talking more about this during our next podcast, but you can also send us an email with any questions and we’ll be happy to help.



How Grid Technology Works
Making a difference has never been easier! Grid technology is simple and safe to use. To start, you register, then download and install a small program or "agent" onto your computer.

When idle, your computer will request data on a specific project from World Community Grid's server. It will then perform computations on this data, send the results back to the server, and ask the server for a new piece of work. Each computation that your computer performs provides scientists with critical information that accelerates the pace of research!

World Community Grid runs on software called BOINC (Berkeley Open Infrastructure for Network Computing,) developed at University of California, Berkeley, USA with funding from NSF (National Science Foundation).

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Pei Wei Asian Diner - Seal Beach / Los Alamitos Review

Pei Wei Asian Diner in Seal Beach opened just about one year ago and serves up tasty Asian fusion cuisine for a decent price. The chain is owned by the folks at PF Changs, and that influence is apparent in the quality of food, the service, and even the attention to the decor with dark, angular Asian forms and plenty of wood, stone, and water environmentals. There’s seating available inside, but my daughter and I opted for take-out and ordered from the menu attached to the front counter. We were taking home food for the whole family, and as always, finding something other than corn dogs or grilled cheese that my four- and six-year olds will eat is a challenge. Happily, I saw that Pei Wei offered very reasonably-priced kids choices including the Lo Mein which is chicken with egg noodles. For the rest of us I ordered the shrimp fried rice, the honey seared chicken, and sweet and sour chicken on fried rice. Brown or steamed rice is included, or you can opt for fried rice with any entrée for only one dollar more. All three of these large-portioned main dishes were packed in easily-resealable clear lid containers which made both food identification and carting the left-overs to work a breeze.

All of the food was excellent, in par with what I remember about PF Changs typical fare. I would have liked to see more egg in the fried rice, but that’s a matter of preference, and for my wife, who doesn’t like egg all that much, she’d probably like to see less. Unlike the majority of food we get from our other local Asian take-out, Pick Up Stix, the food at Pei Wei was distinctively flavorful and fresh. It’s common that carton carry-out food can taste rather homogenized as if all the food came from the same pot. This is especially the case of Asian foods where several flavors are held captive in a single box and the time from pan to plate allows all the flavors to congeal. Somehow the food we brought home from Pei Wei avoided that problem, or perhaps it was just so good that our taste buds were giddily preoccupied and we ignored it. Within a few bites we knew that Pei Wei was going to replace Pick Up Stix as our Asian food choice. With competitive prices, kid-friendly foods, and potentially addicting vittles, we’ll be back soon for sure.