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More on the NFL, Because I Was There September 16, 2014

Posted by Peter Varhol in Uncategorized.
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Mr. Goodell, I had the opportunity to hear you speak several years ago, as the keynote at a large university graduation.  You spoke passionately about your father, representing New York in Congress.  He spoke out against the Vietnam War, an unpopular position at the time, and sacrificed his political career for his stand.

Contrast that against your lack of speaking out today.  You shame  your father’s memory.  You are apparently doing so to protect your $40 million a year paycheck.  You are clearly bought and paid for, and don’t care about the ethics of what you are doing.  What does your father think of you today?

Off the Rails on Social Commentary With the NFL September 14, 2014

Posted by Peter Varhol in Uncategorized.
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On this beautiful fall Sunday afternoon, I simply can’t watch or otherwise follow US professional football any more. The reason, of course, is domestic violence, and the billionaire team owners’ response to it.

I am no more than a casual fan, and am certain that I am not in the league’s target demographic. I don’t buy grossly overpriced apparel, and it’s been a long time since I’ve actually attended an overpriced game. So I’m sure that no one who matters cares at all what I think here. Still, unlike the owners, I feel compelled to take a stand.

I am especially appalled by commentators on TV and on various fan websites. As near as I can tell, these fall into one of three broad categories.

First, I want my team to win, and I don’t care if they employ the Mean Machine to do so. Grow up, it’s a game, dammit. You don’t live or die over who wins and loses.

Second, he made a mistake, and he should be entitled to due process or a second chance. Um, no. There is no entitlement here. Where did that idea even come from?  Second chances are not automatic get-out-of-jail free cards. You earn your second chances, through knowledge that you did wrong, honest and heartfelt contrition, a determination to set things right, and a track record of enlightened understanding and a better life.  I don’t see much of that going on.

Third, the perpetrators are Bad Men, and should be treated accordingly. Perhaps, but there are a lot of highly paid and presumably competent people involved in evaluating their behavior and effects. I fear they are driven mostly by the profit motive, but I hope there is some semblance of a conscience in most of them.

But my special disgust is reserved for the National Football League bureaucracy. Simply put, those highly paid denizens are either lying or incompetent.  There is certainly no conscience here.

But the bottom line is that our multimillion dollar athletes, those that own their contracts, and those that manage them have let this get completely out of control over an unconscionable need to win above all else. If sports are a microcosm of society, this is society at its very worst.

No matter what happens, I don’t think I can go back and be a fan of any sort again. Goodbye, NFL.

On This Eve of 9/11 September 11, 2014

Posted by Peter Varhol in Uncategorized.
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On this eve of 9/11, I once again remember Graham Berkeley and Myra Aronson, fellow Compuware employees on the planes that hit the Towers.  Please join me.  Thank you.

Reuters, Get Your Act Together Now September 6, 2014

Posted by Peter Varhol in Uncategorized.
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I like the Reuters website as an alternative new source. But for the last several weeks, my visits to Reuters have been redirected to various phishing sites, to install Java or Flash. Wrong. I am up to date on all. They are simply getting hijacked. I would imagine this is happening to others, too.

I’ve sent multiple emails to the site, asking that they address this. They have not. I don’t understand why not, but I can’t continue visiting this site under these circumstances.

Goodbye, Reuters. I imagine many others will react the same.

Train Travel Is Not All it’s Cracked Up to Be September 4, 2014

Posted by Peter Varhol in Technology and Culture.
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I cannot tell you how much I enjoy visiting Europe. I have had the opportunity to visit around 15 times in the last five years, and every single trip has been great. I’ve been to Zurich (five times) Brussels, Prague (twice), Bruges, London, Bilbao, Vienna, Sofia, Berlin (twice) and Tallinn, and have always had a really good experience. I hope to continue going back as long as I can function.

I am currently assisting my sister and her daughter in visiting Europe for their first and perhaps only time. They have chosen to go to Vienna, with day trips to Prague, Bratislava, and Budapest. The guided tour day trip routine isn’t my cup of tea, but as this may be their only visit, I applaud their initiative.

I will be in the Berlin area at the same time, speaking at Mobile App Europe, and was seeking to perhaps visit them in Vienna on their excursion. I ultimately concluded that it was both too expensive and logistically problematic, and declined to do so.

By the same token, I cannot tell you how many people have told me that I should just pop down on the train from Berlin to Vienna for the day. When I explain that the distance is in excess of 500 miles, and that excluding getting to and from train stations, the trip was still twelve hours one way, they disbelieve me, rather than alter their own uninformed beliefs.

Yes, train travel in most of the US is pretty poor. But Americans have been brainwashed (I think by our own rail advocates) to believe that train travel in Europe is easy, fast, and seamless. Well, one out of three ain’t bad. It is pretty easy. It’s not particularly seamless, and it’s not especially fast. For some reason Americans believe that distances are shorter than they are, and that bullet trains are everywhere. We think that every city in Europe is two hours by train, and four hours by plane.

Wrong on both counts. I flew into Brussels early this year, for a conference in Bruges. I shared a cab from the airport with two others (90 Euros plus tip), which took just over an hour. Those who took the train had to haul their bags onto the train (granted, the station was conveniently located in the basement of the airport), but change in Brussels Nord, and make several stops, for a journey of about two and a half hours. And it was about 45 Euros a person. Who did better here?

Many Americans suffer from the delusion that just about anything is better anywhere else in the world than where we are. Much of that is driven by constituencies with private agendas, and the rest is driven by our own belief that our systems are inadequate and underfunded. If more Americans had the opportunity to understand how things worked in other parts of the world, we would better appreciate what we had.

On or About Labor Day September 1, 2014

Posted by Peter Varhol in Uncategorized.
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I was born and raised in a company town. I suspect that most don’t know what that means. In this case, it means that the town was surveyed, laid out, built, and run by the company, in this case, a steel mill. The steel mill extended several miles along the Ohio River, until it was torn down in the 1990s. I lived outside of the town, where my parents built their own home (and I mean largely with their own hands).

The town still exists, after a fashion, but is a shell of its former gritty but vibrant self.

The town was built in the early 1900s, and by the time I was born, 50 or so years later, most of the houses and businesses had reverted to private ownership. Still, my family shopped in the company store into my preteen years, which at six stories remained the tallest building in town. Neighborhoods were laid out as “plans” – Plan 6, Plan 7, Plan 12. I never knew what that meant until I understood the meaning of the company town. They were company-planned and built neighborhoods, with no character other than that designation.

I grew up in a union household. Pete was a steelworker, and Ann was a housewife. My mother learned to drive the same time I did. There was always food to eat, and I was never wanting for basics, but there were never extras. As I grew older, the balance of power shifted to the workers, and my father’s pay increased enough for my parents to send me to college, with the help of grants and the occasional loan.

But that ultimately meant that the jobs were uncompetitive, and more economical steel mills were built elsewhere. And I don’t necessarily mean lower cost areas; today, the US produces more steel than it did in the 1970s, with fewer than half as many workers. Technology changes everything.

In high school, the average career track was fairly simple. Men graduated (or not) and sought middle-class jobs in the mill. Women looked for husbands who worked in the mill. It sounded sexist even then, but ultimately didn’t work out for any of them.

Dad, incidentally, died when it was no longer feasible not to see a doctor. He went to a doctor for the first time in 40 years, when he could no longer stand the pain of the cancer. Today, I have a colonoscopy once every few years. I will die someday, but it will not be of that form of, well, stupidity.

This is nothing other than noting where I came from. I like to think that I’m not political. But I do accept that things change. Labor has changed, and we need to recognize and adapt too.

I Learned to Type on a Manual Underwood August 28, 2014

Posted by Peter Varhol in Publishing, Technology and Culture.
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I realize I’m seriously dating myself, but there is a point to this story. At a time when typing was a part of the high school “business track” pursued largely by aspiring secretaries, I was convinced by a friend to use my only open period in my second semester senior year (when I should have been coasting to graduation) to take a course in personal typing. It turned out that I did reasonably well (around 40 words per minute, touch-typing).

I had a typewriter through college, that one an inexpensive electric. In my offices in the 1980s, I had ready access to the ubiquitous IBM Selectric models that made typing easy (as long as you had Wite-Out). I got my first computer (yes, an original Apple Macintosh, which I still own and still boots) in the mid-1980s, and didn’t need Wite-Out any more.

Of course, fast forward ten years or so, and personal computers are emerging as a force in business, and traditional secretaries have largely disappeared. And if you didn’t know how to touch type, or at least use all fingers (except the left thumb, as my high school typing teacher told us), you were largely left behind in this emerging world. Some learned in mid-career, but most never became that proficient. Today, if you don’t type reasonably fast, there are far fewer paths to becoming a professional.

The main point is that you never know what skills you need to move through life. I have certainly written millions of words for work and for pleasure, and the vast majority of those have been written on typewriter or computer. Without the fundamental skills I acquired in an otherwise nondescript existence at Hopewell High School in the mid-1970s, this thing I joking refer to as my career would have stymied long ago.

What is the skill needed by upcoming generations? In general, I don’t think it’s the ability to navigate social networks. But if I can draw upon my own past (which may not be a good vision of the future), typing is a very exacting skill; you either get it right or you don’t. I suspect that it will be more of the same concept in the future. Getting the right answer, or getting the process exactly right, will predominate the skills needed as young workers attempt to enter and advance in the workforce.

The other point is a minor but telling one. When typing using a fixed-space font (such as the IBM Elite), the rule was that every sentence ended with a <period-space-space>. Today, I am given to understand that with proportional fonts such as Times New Roman, the separation between sentences is only a single space.

Yet I can’t bring myself to do that. I tell myself that I need the double space in order to gather my thoughts before beginning the next sentence, but the fact of the matter is that it seems to be ingrained into my psyche. For those I have inflicted with my <period-space-space> mentality, I’m sorry, but it will not change.

Next time, let me tell you about Xywrite.

A Milestone of Physical, Well, Something August 17, 2014

Posted by Peter Varhol in Uncategorized.
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I am a certain kind of physical specimen, but not one that anyone would necessarily want to copy. I am a good example of a bad example. It’s not so much negative as nothing that can be readily be identified as positive. Mumble-mumble years ago, I was a casual and largely clueless runner, but gave it up in my thirties out of a fear that high-impact aerobics that would lead to injuries later in life.

Nevertheless, I am reasonably healthy in my latter middle age. I remain active, in a passive sort of way. But after acquiring a Fitbit, I rediscovered the self-competitive part of my nature. Almost every day for the past three weeks, I’ve gone out to walk, and increasingly run, longer distances. The one day that I missed consisted of monsoon rains.

So this past weekend I ran in my first-ever organized race, the Narragansett Bay 5K in East Providence, Rhode Island. I finished, and I was not last. This is me in the photo.

I’m not sure where this is taking me. But it’s an exploration that I am very willing to engage in at this point in my life. It’s an experience that I would not have had a short time ago. And according to my doctor, it is one that is doing positive things for my life.

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