Sunday, November 29, 2009

The Fabric of Society

If society were a bolt of linen, I wonder what its thread count would be. I wonder what its cost per yard and color would be. I wonder how long society would sit on the shelves before anyone would buy it, and what would they use it for once they did. And if it would fade.

Yep, I'm in that kind of mood. Its fabric of society time.

9 times out of 10, when I start one of these blog posts, I have no idea where its going to go. I'm sure that comes as no big surprise to anyone who's read even one of these. So I'm curious about where I'm heading with this and I'm writing the stupid thing.

I've made several incredibly obvious observations about the fabric of the society we live in. Nothing about atoms and dark matter - that's not obvious. But just about things. Starting with humans.

A normal healthy person has two arms & two legs (four limbs), two eyes, two ears, a nose with two nostrils. A dog has four legs (humans have four limbs), two eyes, two ears, a nose with two nostrils. So does a cat, and most other mammals. That cannot be an accident.

(For an exception to the nose rule, I suggest you read "Tobacco Road" by Erskine Caldwell).

Almost all people, in almost all cultures, wear clothes of some sort. I've seen pictures of very famous, intelligent, powerful people, and they were all sitting in a chair, wearing clothes. Just like I do.

People are generally sociable, sociable to the point they they use complicated bureaucracies called governments to arrange and regulate their societies, to create & enforce laws for the good of the whole, to allow the group to accomplish much more than a single individual, while at the same time allowing an individual to accomplish a lot within that framework. Lions have their own societal arrangements, as do dogs, cats, wolves, apes and on and on. Why is this? Human society is a lot more complex perhaps, but that's because we're more complex. We think abstractly, speak in languages, have the ability to grasp higher mathematics. But at a basic level, its down to the two ears, two eyes, one nose with two nostrils observation - at a basic level we arrange our society into groups, just like wolves, lions and gorillas.

I think about stuff like this off and on. Back when I was a systems engineer, I wondered how society ever got to the point that things were so abstract.

I'd wonder about things completely stupid, like why did society develop in such a way that I had to go to work everyday, fighting heavy traffic. How did money become little more than numbers on a computer screen.

How did money become, period.

I think this is about as much as I care to think about it for tonight - so this post went right here.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

I remember Ft. Hood.

Ft. Hood, Texas, was my first "permanent" duty assignment when I was in the Army. It took me 18 months to get there. Along the way I had been at Ft. Leonard Wood, MO., (loads of fun - basic training in Missouri in the middle of summer), advanced training at The Presidio of Monterey, California (beautiful place), more training at Goodfellow AFB, Texas (the only time I was ever stationed at an Air Force Base), still more training at Ft. Devens, Mass. (I detested the post & the environment, but the training I received there was quite interesting), then finally, Ft. Hood.

I started my duty at Ft Hood on a January day that had to be the coldest in recent memory. Actually, I was a day late reporting - I ran into snow and ice on my way, and finally had to give up any hope of getting there when I was supposed to. So I, a lowly SP4, had to make that dreaded call to the First Sgt. of the unit I was headed to, an exalted SGM, and explain my predicament. He was remarkably human about it and even explained to me that even tho I had direct orders to their unit, I had to report the reception area on the Main Post first. He even gave me directions from the main gate. He seemed ok, but now I realized that I was now on his radar. My first attempted at going about my job unnoticed had failed miserably.

My unit was actually on West Fort Hood, just a few miles from the main post, close to an air field, where huge military planes regularly took off and landed. I was assigned a job within the platoon which was directly related to part of the training I had received at Ft. Devens. We were a corp asset (III Corp, specifically), which I guess meant that we were used wherever III Corp said we were needed. In large scale field exercises we were attached to 2nd Armor units, which I think gave a good indication of my fate should an actual combat scenario arise. For me, it never did.

I was at Ft. Hood for 15 months, then received orders to Augsburg, Germany. It was not part of a unit deployment, just individual orders. I remember going over to the Main Post and taking part in some processing - that was probably the building where the recent shooting took place, but I'm not sure. I can't even picture it in my mind.

Anyway, I remember lots of things and lots people at Ft. Hood, and this terrible event brought it all back to me. I wonder if any of them remember me.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Valdese Noir

It was a gloomy day in Valdese, colder than it should have been. The mist and the moisture clung to your bones, the way packing peanuts cling to peanut butter.

It had been a quiet day in our office - too quiet. The kind of quiet that puts a person on edge, the kind of quiet that makes a person wonder. The kind of quiet that makes a dog curl up an inch from the heat of a space heater, sound asleep, then wake up and look out a window, desperately trying to find a reason to bark. The kind of quiet that creates a tension of its own, making a person wonder when the quietness will end, and worse, how, for quietness always, always, ends.

Patti tapped idly on her keyboard. Leo packaged up some the days sales. The dog decided it wasnt worth it and went back to sleep.

Suddenly the phone rang.

The phone. Of all the nefarious things to break the silence. The phone.

"I'm not home", Leo said, a Pavlovian reflex, as automatic as an M-16 or Moe poking Curly's eyes.

The phone rang again. Phones were bad news, bad luck, no good, not wanted. Nothing good ever came from a phone. Curse you, Alexander Graham Bell!

Leo shot Patti a glance, a hard glance, a tough glance, a glance with an edge, a glance that said "Please please please don't give me the phone, I don't like talking to disembodied voices, you never know what they're going to say, I beg of you, have mercy."

Patti picked up the phone, and held the receiver to her ear. Silence. No words. Just quiet. A quietness that made the edginess of the previous quietness seem a blessing. A quietness that extended much longer than it should have. A quietness that wouldn't end.

Patti hung up the phone, and began idly tapping her keyboard.

Leo gave Patti a look, a look which said, "Have you been a secret agent all these years and you just got a message from your handler? Is Le Carre for real? Are you going all Tom Clancy on me? Did you just enter a secret code on a website which will set in motion momentous events in Valdese?"

Patti, who knew the look well, said, "Just playing phone chicken. I don't say anything, then see how long it takes for them to hang up".

Leo cocked his head a little. The dog stretched and yawned, and fell back asleep. The quietness decended - slowly, surely, until the room was enveloped in it, overflowing with it, as surely as leaves fill up a gutter in autumn.

Things were normal again. Or were they?

Saturday, November 14, 2009

R. Ames Montgomery

I had never heard of R. Ames Montgomery, and in the annals of famous people, he's probably pretty far down on the list. But here he is, in a late 19th century photograph, made in Oxford, Ohio.

There is some interesting information written on the back, apparently by his own hand. He has written "Compliments of your friend R. Ames Montgomery, Miami University '93, Oxford, Ohio, home town Belle, Ohio." He also wrote Greek letters for Beta Thea Pi or Beta as it apparently is better known, so I assume he was a member of that fraternity.

I found this interesting. I googled his name and found out some more information. He was born in Indiana in 1870. He graduated from Miami University in 1893 - back in 1893 there was no need to distinguish Miami of Ohio from the now much larger & better known Miami in Florida. He also graduated from McCormick Theological Seminary in 1896 - so this was a well educated and presumably religious person. He served as a pastor for awhile, and then became president of Parsons College in Iowa in 1917. In 1922, he took over as president of Centre College in Danville, Ky, and things did not work out well. Apparently Dr. Montgomery was interested in advancing the already high education standards of the college. But it just so happened that in the 1920s, Centre College of Danville, Ky, was a national college football powerhouse. They had defeated Harvard in 1921 - today a good high school team might be able to beat Harvard, but back then that was quite a feat. In 1924, the team was considered one of the 3 best in the nation. Apparently the school's accreditation was being challenged, because more emphasis was being placed on football than education. Dr. Montgomery apparently wanted to shift the emphasis back to eduction, but the alumni and student body disagreed. They circulated a petition asking him to resign, and he did, in 1926.

After that, I don't know what happened to him. I saw a picture of him online in the 1920s - he looked pretty stern. That's how they were back then.

Looking back it's easy to see how Centre College had no chance of maintaining its status as a national football power for any length of time. As the popularity of the sport grew, the larger colleges, with access to tons more money, would dominate. Apparently in the world of the 1920s, that was not obvious.

Anyway, this picture is a small fraction of some one's life. Someone who did pretty well, all in all.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Something odd in the eBay world.

Nothing odd in the application. Its working as well as normal. We've adjusted to all the changes they've made in the past few months and life goes on.

I've just been noticing a lot more interesting interactions with customers and potential customers recently. Of course this kind of stuff goes in cycles it seems, so it remains to be seen if it is a permanent state of affairs or not.

We got a message recently from someone informing us that we had described something incorrectly. It's not the first time - I learned very quickly a while back that collectors frequently know more about what they collect than the sellers they buy the stuff from. This gives them an advantage, and as a seller, we struggle to come up to speed on stuff. I don't mind someone telling us we're mistaken about something - frequently I'll attach the message to the item for the world to see. We're not alone in making mistakes - I see them all over eBay, from misspellings to incorrect pictures posted in the item description. In our most recent case, we misidentified something, and the person who informed us was a little rude about it. There's no need to be rude.

We got another message from a person questioning our price on a certain item. Not making an offer to purchase it at a lower price, but wondering why we had it priced so high. (So high being a whopping $2.99). So I responded, and for some reason explained my reasoning, but in reality why we give an item a certain price is nobody's business. It's an art/science/false hope/broken dreams type thing, with a bit of research thrown in for good measure. If someone wants to negotiate a price, that's cool. I always reserve the right not to change it, but I'm open for discussion. But this person came across as a little rude, and there is no need for that. Life's too short.

Another person questioned why shipping was so high for an item. I live in North Carolina, this person lives in Australia, and basically the reason why shipping was high is because I live in North Carolina and they live in Australia. We agreed to knock $2.00 off the shipping charge, and they proceeded to buy a bunch of stuff, so it worked out well. But guess what. We had the shipping exactly right before we took $2.00 off the price. This person did exactly what they should have tho, they expressed their concern before they made a purchase, they were very nice and everything was very pleasant. The person I was talking about in the paragraph before this one might want to make a note.

I dont mind people asking about shipping charges at all. I'll explain my reasoning for a certain shipping & handling charge until I'm blue in the face. My biggest priority is to not lose money on shipping. On low price items, messing up shipping charges is the quickest way on earth to lose money. On the other hand, I'm not out to gouge people on shipping either. I've been known to give partial refunds if I feel I've charged too much. And I'm a great fan of flat rate combined shipping, I do that whenever I can. Occasionally I'll offer free shipping on an item. After 3 years of doing this, I know what a fair shipping rate is and I don't buy from people who have excessive shipping costs. It boils down to this - if your shipping costs are out of line with reality, either too low or too high, you will not succeed.

This is just the tip of the iceberg.

There just seems to be a lot more messages from people lately, and a lot of them are unusual, at least to me. I think this started with the guy from China who just wanted to buy some feedback.

It keeps things interesting. Our sales are picking up quite a bit, so maybe that's all it is.

I'm tired. I'll write more to you all later.

Monday, November 9, 2009

The Robin Hoods

Ok, I have 30 minutes, so I have to make this quick. Please, forgive any spelling or errors of logic which may occur because of this time constraint.

There are tons of "Robin Hood" books out there, written over a course of several centuries. I've read two of them, and I've noticed quite a difference.

The two I've read are by Howard Pyle, and Henry Gilbert. The Howard Pyle book dates from 1884, but the version I have comes from the 1950s. I believe this is the classic - the one most of the movies and such are based on. The Henry Gilbert book dates from 1912, I think, and I believe my copy is from the 1950s or 1960s. It has the same characters and I suppose the same basic plot outline as the Pyle book, but it tells the story in a very different way.

The first chapter in each book is titled "How Robin Became An Outlaw" or words to that effect. That's about the only thing the chapters have in common. In the Pyle book, Robin is a teenager (I think) , and he is basically goaded and embarrassed by some of the king's foresters, and kills one of the King's deer right in front of them, just to prove he was a good shot. Thus he became an outlaw, and this happens right at the beginning of the story. In the Gilbert book, Robin is a few years older (say 24 or so) and would never be so rash. He has "outlaw" tendencies with a strong social conscious, but he doesn't become one until he kills a knight who was bothering the maid Marian. (I think). This doesnt occur until pretty deep into the chapter, and before the chapter is over, Robin is leading what amounts to a slave revolt.

So, in the Gilbert book, people get killed, sometimes in quite personal and gruesome ways. An arrow to the throat, a knife plunged into a chest, people burned alive, that kind of stuff. The characters seem to have a lot more depth to them, and the language is harder to understand (even though its over 20 years newer than the Pyle book).

They both are historical fiction of a sort - starting out near the end of Henry II's reign. He dies and Richard the Lion Heart becomes king and immediately takes off on a Crusade to the Holy Land, leaving the the kingdom to his brother John, who was not a nice person, apparently. (Personally I doubt that Richard was a nice guy too, but that's just me) . In Gilbert's book there is still an "institutional" memory so to speak, of the good old days before the Normans, the days of Edward the Confessor, when many of the present day serfs may have had land holding ancestors, land confiscated by William the Conqueror & his son, Willaim Rufus. It gives a pretty brutal picture of what a Feudal society was like. I eat this stuff up. I love it. I love the history and the language.

The Pyle book ends with Richard's return and Robin swears fealty to him. The Gilbert book ends with Robin's death - by the hands of one of the Sheriff of Nottingham's daughters - long after the sheriff was "removed" from office. Robin & Marian were married, but she had died earlier from a plague of some sort.

They're both good. I prefer the Gilbert version.

Made it with a minute to spare, including an impromtu interruption to take to dog out for a short constitutional.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Abraham Lincoln vs. A Valdese Blogger

Abraham Lincoln said: For those who like this kind of book, this is the kind of book they will like.

A Valdese Blogger said: An item isn't sold until it sells.

I don't think I need to draw a map here.

Saturday, November 7, 2009

The Cemetery in Kentucky

This is part of the cemetery near Hindman, Kentucky where my mother is buried. Her grave is a little behind where I took the picture.

The cemetery has been around awhile, but it is still fairly new as far as I'm concerned. I can remember when there was a house here, and corn and stuff like that. This is place is prime bottom land. Mom probably passed this place 10,000 times in her life, and I'm sure I've driven by it hundreds of times. Most of that time it was a farm, or at the very least it had very large gardens. But now it's a cemetery and my mother is buried there. Who knew.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Strange Things.

I've noticed odd things, especially on the side-bar of this blog. My weather widget went away. I provided it as a convenience to all the multitudes who sit around and wonder what the weather in Valdese, NC is, and suddenly it is nowhere to be found. Now, I have a clock underneath the title for the weather display, which has to be confusing. The script for it is still there, it just isn't displaying. It's been that way for some time, I was just using the systems engineer's tried and true method of dealing with problems - ignoring it and seeing if it corrects itself. Apparently, not this time.

Also, I stuck a counter on the blog, and that too has ceased to function.

Also, for the longest time I could not see the icons (avatars?) of whoever was following this blog. Now I can. So in this instance ignoring the problem seems to have worked.

I mainly use firefox and/or opera and sometimes they have different issues.

So I don't know what's going on. Eventually I'll take some sort of action and see if I can't get things working again. No need to rush.

In the mean time - a beautiful fall day here in the mid south. Sunny, hardly a cloud in the sky. Warm enough most of the day to walk around without a jacket, but it's cooling off quite nicely (sarcasm here, I don't like cold) this evening.