Category Archives: Flashback
[NOTE: My last full post for 2014. Happy Holidays and see you in 2015!]
Phew! Finals, amirite? Semester out of the way, kids stay home instead of stinking up your classroom, vacay in full effect! Aaahh…
Now that you’re ensconced in your house coat, fuzzy slippers and baggy sweats (or muu muu, depending on your climate), put Robocop on! “Why, Von?” you are clearly asking.
Let me serve for you in this post (maybe in life?) as your personal techno-philosopher. You guys know how much of a technophile I am, and you know I extol the virtues and sins of technological determinism whenever I’m up for it. Robocop is a very graceful interlace of two Digital Age explorations, technological innovation at the expense of human interaction and a free-willed spirit coming to self-actualization technologically. I’ll explain.
Alex Murphy is another Detroit cop doing his business, but crime prevailed, costing him his physical state. We experience a conversation between minds, Michael Keaton representing Innovation and Gary Oldman representing Reason. (As an aside, you know when Gary Oldman’s in a movie, you really can’t go wrong!)
Beautifully, these two argue the merits of utilizing Alex in this ‘Robocop’ capacity. Reason starts with the surface: Alex is a father and a husband and, with modern technology, can still fulfill these roles which are near and dear to him. Under the surface, Reason argues that Will, particularly, the will to exist, is much stronger than the high-tech body frame Alex inherits. You can literally strip a human being down to his cortex and shooting arm, yet the Spirit remains.
Innovation argues, quite rightly, that less human lives are lost when technologies are engaged to combat crime. Without letting hubris get in the way of his decision making, Innovation asserts that the human component cannot be manipulated or imitated; there has to be a human factor in combating crime. This position tells me this guy wouldn’t be a proponent of drone technology used in the battlefield.
Innovation upholds the caveat that, if we are engaging in human activity, technologies are purposeful only when they enhance, not replace, the human experience. Giving a hug, slapping a face, these are forms of communicating that are more efficacious than receiving a carbon-fiber hug or robot arm slap to the face.
Obviously, this is an action film, so they can’t spend too much time waxing over the merits of hybrid human-robot technology, but damn, in those carved out moments, they sure got the message out right. Watch for the combat simulation scene after Alex’s dopamine levels are lowered to non-existent. What Michael Keaton’s character says to the woman as they discuss the human component of this new tool is gonna give you goose bumps!
While this reboot retains the authenticity of the original, it’s more relevant to the world we live in now. Whereas the first Robocop was a futuristic look at things-to-come, here we’re examining things-that-totally-are-happening.
Of course, yes, Robocop is not an actual thing, but we do currently have military service men and women working with cyberkinetic teams to enhance their serviceability. It’s crazy to think someone would get their leg blown off, replace it with a robotic one, and still want to engage in combat after such trauma, but, yeah, that’s technological sophistication merging with free will in full affect!
And finally, Joel Kinnaman is not hard to admire. I fell off on “The Killing” but that’s where I first remember meeting that Scandinavian devil, and man, for a Swede, he sure pulls off Detroit well! The accent, the mannerisms, is pure D, and guys from the D, well…they hold a special place in my heart. :)
While you earn your respite, please check out this hilarious interview Joel Kinnaman did to promo the movie when it first came out. You’ll never unknow his Uncle Scotty story after you watch it! Daily Show with Jon Stewart Interview with Joel Kinnaman
Happy vegging out!
What happens to the machine when the human abandons it?
Behold, the personal computer. A Packard Bell desktop, to be precise, with all the whiz-bangs the end of the 20th century allotted: 100 megahertz Intel processor, 1 gigabyte SCSI drive, a floppy and a CD drive, and, the creme-de-la-creme, a 28.8 bits per second dial up modem!
The programmer who owned this box passed away in 2011, and it, like many of his material things, just sat where he last left it. Now the CPU, keyboard, and start-up flops are in my house, and I’m attaching my 50″ flat screen to serve as its monitor.
Quite the whimsical juxtaposition of What Once Was with What Now Is.
Back in the IT days, we referred to an abandoned system as a ‘dead man’s locker.’ The typical service call was someone not information technology inclined asking me to figure out what Billy Bob did to make the pooter run before he croaked. The task at the user level was difficult; every system administrator has peculiar habits – a certain naming convention that doesn’t make literal sense, the redirect of master files from the default directory to a special access directory (and the guys who do this still: STOP IT YOU’RE BEING A DOUCHEBAG) and the lovely discriminate limitations to certain users to start business-specific applications.
Every ‘box’, including the one you’re using to read this, has its required components but all are completely customizeable to the whim of the box’s owner/operator. We all have a certain signature applied to every program we run, and, for us of the IT world, we go so far as to change the way the machine thinks, encouraging dominion.
So how did this fellow exact dominion over machine? He was a COBOL programmer, so was I. If his operating system was DOS-based, then he ran MicroFocus COBOL, which means, he likely signed all his subroutines a certain way.
Yes, all programmers sign their subroutines. :)
The task was made simple: see if you can boot it up and if so, see if there’s any files worth saving.
Geez. I gotta make that call? It’s good I’m the neutral party in this arrangement!
The box came up and went through its basic start sequence. I listened for the tell-tale spin of the hard disk and the immediate hunt of the arms. I didn’t hear the distinct song.
The Jumbotron displayed ‘i/o error remove disk then hit <Enter> to continue’. With nothing in the other drives, the i/o error had to be anything along the SCSI controller.
Tool bag out, cover is off.
Everything looked…OLD. Even when I was supporting systems eons ago, this was considered an old box! Checked the bands, the relays, the connection…looks like he never touched it. I did attempt to open the case fully, but alas, the final screws were smaller than the heads I have in my toolkit.
This is the point of system analysis when you gotta ask: is it worth pursuing further?
I thought back to the original request. This was HIS computer; no one else even knows how to code. The only auxiliary access was via fax machine, which they didn’t own anymore. They already have a current-century box working fine in the household. Even if I was to get the arms moving and the drive spun up, the only person who would understand his codes was gonna be me, the neutral party, and nobody in the world is looking for home-spun programs written in MicroFocus COBOL.
Then I think to myself, this would be a fun short story to write. :)
I go about trying to find anything that could fit these screws, but I’m just shearing the heads at this point. While I wanted to resolve this and discover he was indeed a talented programmer in his heydey, my curiosity was quelled by limited access to the technology.
In plain words…the needle-nose screwdriver I require costs more than this entire box, code included.
Turn on any information communication device, and you will know, for a fact, undeniably, you are dying from Ebola TODAY.
Helluva job these media folks are doing scaring the bejeezus out of the simple minded. I did help myself to a chuckle, as the first U.S. case was in jolly Dallas, Texas! I spoke to a former work colleague the same week the Ebola case was unfolding, someone who still resides in Texas, and I told her, “You can have it! If any state is better qualified to re-enact Contagion, Texas is it!” followed closely with a, “Glad I left when I did!” Then I asked my former co-worker, “Do you remember anthrax…?” To which she offered a begrudged, “Ohhh…”
Allow me to elucidate.
After the World Trade Center attacks in 2001, every single industry set out to fortify its defenses; physically, numerically, and gigabyte-ly. IBM was flooded with anxious IT administrators and company executives seeking whatever adaptation necessary to keep their servers online. During that time, I worked for the team which specialized in disaster recovery – we created customized fail-over servers, we employed network migration to re-build fried servers, we developed off site data storage solutions, along with many many other skillful tactics to preserve data integrity – and the September 11 attacks had us on overtime, literally. There were no such moments as a call-free pager duty. Everyone on my team was working minute by minute to deliver.
Then the envelope thing happened.
IBM’s focus shifted from fortifying its clients to protecting its own. As these emergency situations go, objectives were laid out by the Big Bluers, trickled down to the middle range, and then (mis)interpreted by the floor managers. Our team manager, bless her heart, was already a skiddish woman for a WWF Raw fan. The added responsibility of training us snarky bastards on identifying and reporting anthrax gave her hives.
I recall us sitting in the conference room, at that ubiquitous parabola surrounded by squeaky chairs, wondering why they put the assorted breakfast danishes way on the opposite side of the table and not in front of me, as would be convenient. The manager had us listen to a recording, and from that recording, determine if we were experiencing a possible threat to the office. A round of comical roasts and burns of each other in an emergency situation derailed the manager’s attempt to bring us back to line. We could not take this serious even if she paid us to!
From same recording, we needed to identify key noises in the background that would help us, if in danger, to identify the person on the other line making the threat. I may have heard a passing train, but the growls from my stomach overshadowed her attempt to engage me. I dunno, after more than two bomb threat evacuations in my life, I’m just not a good scare tactic reactor.
The division I worked involved four camps: Research Triangle Park, NC; Atlanta, GA; Dallas, TX; Austin, TX. I was in Austin at the time. We snarky ones had found out over the grapevine that someone at RTP called in sick, claiming anthrax exposure. IBM, I imagine to protect the staff, made it mandatory for the person to stay home more than two days.
We snarky ones liked the sound of that.
Slowly, like a large-faced daisy losing its petals, the most rebellious of our team employed the anthrax cough and subsequent call-ins to get out of work. Yes, I know, it’s terrible to monopolize on a serious infection, especially when so many people were harmed or died, but frankly, we didn’t give a damn. We just wanted a few days off, and if saying the A word was going to get middle management to sign off on sick leave, why the hell not? You would’ve done it too, don’t even try to be pious right now!!
I played the A card. But I only took one day off. ;)
[Fun day with Writer’s Block last Sunday! This was an ekphrastic exercise, my favorite timed prompt. Here’s what I produced in the 15 minute time frame.]
Concept: Observe one of the featured paintings on the Community Cafe wall, and write in response.
He bought me this bunny. He bought me this bunny because when we first met at the fountain, he overheard me talking to my best friend Jordie about the movie “Con Air.” Jordie and I thought we were the only Americans at the fountain in Hannover until that afternoon. The three of us kept talking about bunnies in movies. “Best film rabbit ever?” “Donny Darko!” He and I hugged at whim, a random affection imparted to a random man in a not so random city, or as Jordie pointed out, in a very romantic city. “Come on,” Jordie begged like a whiny kid, “give love a try, one more time, for me.”
“For you, or because we’re in Europe?”
“Just fall in love, kiddo.”
He brought the velveteen, blue-gray bunny to the bistro that evening. I’m so glad you called, he said. Where’s Jordie? He asked. When I didn’t answer, he blushed. “I brought you something.” I already saw its black leathery nose peeking out of the top of his bulky cargo pants. I watched as he fished around, knowing what he was going to do before he did it, but psyching myself to not laugh until he did it.
And then he did. And I laughed so hard, so hard… I don’t remember ever laughing that hard before. Or ever since.
That bunny rode on his dashboard during the six months he was away; I, back home in Florida, pretending not hearing from him every second of every minute of every damn day didn’t cause me any heartache. One scary phone call at 4am; he thought he was in trouble. I trembled for him, I cried for him, all the while repeating, “You stay alive, baby. That’s your job, stay alive,” in the steadiest voice I could.
I never knew the beauty of a sunny day until the day he landed at the airfield. Safe, all in one piece, handsome in his tailored suit. It looked like the one we saw across the street from our table, on a headless mannequin behind a shop window. I squinted as sun rays coaxed him down the stairs and into my arms…yes, it is the exact same suit.
In a separate bag, he carefully removed the bunny and placed it in my hands. Coated in motor oil and sand, he kept apologizing for its sorry state. I hugged the dirty, sandy bunny, the talisman that brought my heart home in one piece.
And that’s why, my sweet little girl, this bunny is so old and dirty. It was busy keeping your father’s love for me alive.
[NOTE: HAPPY FREDDIE MERCURY DAY! En homage to my demigod, here’s an updated draft of a poem I wrote in self-loathing three years ago. :) Remember, if you share, CITE!]
Freddie Mercury, if you’re listening
I speak to you shrouded under palm and cypress
sticky-skinned from tropical torrential rain
In repose, reflecting on recent regrets
wondering…do I want to live forever?
Hard rain sounds a snap snap snap against the window
metering my manic thoughts,
my Moet and Chandon, not in its pretty cabinet, but rather, bottle empty in my weakened clutch,
whilst wailing under tears, “Can anybody find me somebody to love?!”
Am I home Freddie?
Does the fat bottomed girl deserve another turn in the buccaneer bay?
I just want to ride my bicycle
but my soul wants to burn up the sky
like she’s Mr. Fahrenheit
Oh Freddie Mercury…
how do I make a supersonic woman outta me?
Original Composition 9.3.11
Property of VS Enterprises
[My friends and I believe I met an angel in Tulsa, Oklahoma. Here’s the story..]
Riding the wave of musical enlightenment, I break off from my Center of the Universe clan as I proclaim in Spanish, “Necesito mear.” I need to go pee. They round the bend to find a wall to lean against while I experience the rare joy of no line for the port-o-potties!
I exit my pee terminal and find the wash stand. This is cool; a foot pump to deliver the water, a soap distributor to remain sanitized. Ahh technology! Afterwards, I open my backpack and dig for my hand lotion, the complication of darkness mixed with intoxication makes me fiend with desperation! I’m searching for this elusive bottle of lotion as I spy a group of festivalgoers carrying on in laughter and play. One of them separates from the happy herd and wanders my way. “You’re just digging away in that bag!” he notices. I give him an apprehensive look, for his hands are behind his back. The strange yet jovial man lowers his head so we’re face to face, then pronounces what he’s destined to do, “I want to give you something.” The blue eyeglasses sans lenses he’s wearing come off his face and he waves them towards me.
I smile politely and refuse, yet he’s sweetly adamant. I shake my head as I take him in: wide smile, wearing a fitted blue ball cap matching his dark blue eyes, endowed with a Bruce Campbell chin. He’s broad and tall; his body, immaculately sculpted. Holy shit, how did I not notice this dude is hot?? I smile internally at the revelation; I noticed his playful energy before I let the superficial influence me.
“Sweetie, I don’t want your glasses,” I insist.
He gestures towards me, “Take them!”
“But I already have glasses.”
“You’ll look great in them.”
“But I need glasses to see,” I explain, “there’s no lenses; how am I gonna see?”
I make a smug face. Logic trumps all.
He’s wearing the saddest look of dejection! Aww dammit, I kick myself internally, I did that thing again where I say something that makes sense to me, but comes off dickish to them. Puppy eyed, tail tucked, he starts backstepping towards his friends.
Now I realize I’m an asshole. “Come here,” I sigh, widening my arms, waving my hands to encourage him back so I can deliver an apologetic hug. “Come, come.” He smiles then wraps big arms around me, and I feel quite possibly the most purest of authentic happiness pierce my cynical skin and invade my corroded heart. We rock in this embrace. I tighten my hold as if we’ve known each other for decades.
As we pull apart, I find his face once again restored to that playful cherub. He reaches out his hand.
I extend my hand to flatten against his.
“Now stick out your thumb,” he instructs.
I flare my five so that my thumb sticks out. He does the same. “Now bring it in,” he instructs. I wrap my thumb around his hand and he does the same. He brings his face close to mine. “Hand hug.”
I smile. He smiles.
“Pay it forward.”
Tears fill my eyes as I nod, “I will.”
Even though I was standing and he was sitting, Billy towered over me by another foot. Billy’s huge, like, HUGE, with a thick neck, broad shoulders, and tree trunks as thighs. At one point in our boisterous conversation, Billy reached out for a pound, and as I served it back, my four knuckles rested against his first two. Big boy, that Billy.
We’re jawin’ on about whatnot and whatever when suddenly, Billy’s right leg swings up swiftly, his knee level to my chest, and I, out of instinct, hop back into a fight stance and lift my arms to block what seems to be a right knee to my face.
Billy doesn’t break a beat in his story as the battering ram is returned to a relaxed pose. I’m now in fight mode, but not sure why.
“Billy! What the fuck was that??”
“Oh my leg? Oh it does that.”
“Yeah, it’s like a nervous twitch or something.”
“Nervous twitch?? Billy, I thought you were gonna knee me in the face!”
“Really? No, I wouldn’t do that.”
I relax my balled fists and loosen my stance. I exhale deeply, hoping I didn’t leak out too much adrenaline. “Billy, I was gonna hit you.”
Billy slumps his shoulders and closes his eyes. “It’s okay. You can hit me.” He straightens his spine, rests his hands on his thighs, and just waits, in a knowing fashion, in a this-happens-all-the-time fashion. I’m bewildered. He doesn’t move. “Go ahead, hit me.”
Flummoxed, I look to his brethren at his right, who says, “That’s just Billy.”
Billy awaits his bludgeoning, a willing receptor for my left hook. And I thought I was insane!
“Billy,” I place a soft hand on his left shoulder, encouraging his eyes to open and look at me, “I don’t want to strike you, Billy.”
“It’s okay if you want to.”
“Thank you for the invitation, but no, I don’t want to hit you.”
Billy shifts in his seat, back into his relaxed pose, and offers sweetly, “But just so you know, if you wanna hit me, you can hit me.”
I am simultaneously touched and freaked out by his gentlemanly invitation for assault. I sit back down, where the girls are talking, and continue eating sushi.
This morning’s dream I was revisiting one of the locations where I was sourcing data for my Penn State University graduate research. What played back was the moment I visited with an informant, an octogenarian, a lifetime resident of the town, and his face when I entered his living room. He was standing, but you could tell it was difficult for him to remain standing, so I insisted we sit after he clasped my hand in greeting. You could tell his wife at this stage in their marriage had succumbed to full-time care-taking, as she shook her head at him and told him to stop staring. But his face, dear reader, it was the most awesome face I’ve ever observed! His blue eyes were wide and brilliant, the lines around them were lifted, his smile was half mooned and fixed in awe. Although his skin was liver splotched and Northern Tier pale, there was a glow. I’ve never experienced such genuine appreciation for my presence, and I doubt I ever will again. The glow, his glow, was what woke me up this morning, necessary after quite a tumultuous week.
So I was motivated to look up Ye Olde Thesis, the first work I published as an adult. Mom has a hardback copy, the other, for whatever reason, my ex insisted on keeping. But it is a public work, and accessible on the Webby Web, and if you are in need of a Dostoevsky-esque work to help you get to sleep, feel free to download: https://etda.libraries.psu.edu/paper/8320/
Appendix C has all the phenomenological aspects of my research experience, but my fave part is the thesis conclusion. I’ve cut and pasted it for you here, and bear in mind, this was my mindset seven years ago as of this post. My writing style is much sharper and I’m less idealistic, but the question, Can communication technology bring communities together? is still very much fresh in my mind:
I don’t consider this research as “work”. It is and ultimately this is merely
data collection. But for me, this thesis is insight to the rural way of life, the
culture of PA and an overall validation that I’m doing my part to positively
contribute to a rural dweller’s well-being.
I kept a thesis journal the entire time at Penn State University. When it
came time to prepare this reflection, I sat and read all my entries. It was
humorous and insightful and depressing all at the same time. I found the entry
that described this idea about communication technology and its impact on
society. To read it now after the research experience is humbling. Where my
mind was at then and where my mind is now is the same, except now I can run
my mouth and use science to back it up!
I close this thesis with the actual journal
May 20, 2007: Discovery. I haven’t really accomplished a damn
thing in the realm of this MS other than realizing how frightened I
am of people that are genuinely smarter than me. As much as I
avoid competition I find that it’s essential in order to get things
done around here.
I’ve whined and moped enough. Feigned interest and appreciation
enough. There’s plenty of people leaving this institution that truly
deserve the degrees they are awarded. I, on the other hand, am
sitting here waiting for the other shoe to drop.
Let’s face it: the two things you are good at is 1) telling people what
to do and 2) running your mouth as if you know what you’re talking
about. How transparent do you want to continue to be?
What do I like? I like the way I was raised; amongst different
groups of people within a very isolated community. I like to
interface with people, and I seek out those that have something
strikingly different about them. I like to fix things and situations
because I tend to be the one in the room least likely to panic. I want
to help. I always want to help, to the point where I sacrifice my
efforts for the greater good.
I’m a fan of technology related to communication. The Internet,
cell phones, GPS, GIS; it’s all useful. I don’t care to know how it
works; not anymore anyways. But I have this notion that of all
technological advancements afforded to us, communication
technology has helped a good majority of us to connect with one
So can communication technology bring communities together? I
think of how I grew up on base and had to correspond via letters
and anxiously wait for a response. I listened to local radio stations
and we watched European and AFN channels on TV. Now, with the
advancements in technology, the means of communicating have
garnered a quicker response time and have brought separated lives
much more closer [sic], even if in all dimensions except physical.
I figure that I’ve learned more about rural communities to respect
them and to certify that these areas are enriched by many aspects.
I think by investing in rural communities, by making communication
technology more assessable, community and economic growth can
But of course, what is most cherished about these neighborhoods is
that there is low reliance on mechanisms that speed processes
along. Even in that one reading where the guy had to invest in
another phone line since his ordering system was upgraded by his
distributor, people are really ambivalent of investing in anything
that changes their way of life. So how do you “sell” communication
technology in a tradition-heavy, low maintenance community? Will
the investments benefit a few? How will local government and
businesses assist in this investment? What would it do to a
I feel that collaboration has proved in many dimensions the
capability of people to change for the greater good. I think people
that dwell in rural areas are afraid of what they do not know, and
naturally shy away from strange technology. We also are
experiencing a population aging and thus contributing to the local
economy by lesser and lesser means.
Communities that have similar issues but are only limited by
distance can develop a grass-roots e-organization with the ability to
talk to each other on how to manage similar problems. I think
about the distances that female Australian farmers travel just so
they can carry dialogue and not feel so alone in the world given
their regional isolation. We need to know that we aren’t alone in
this big world. We can shatter barriers by promoting dialogue
across shoulders without the stigmas of physical features. And I
think when people are given an opportunity to learn from one
another without working thru a middle man (like extension offices
or government agencies) we feel a sense of empowerment and
capability. And from there, anything seems possible. And
communication tools like the Internet can help.
That sounds about right. –IMES