Chapter Two: Experimentation

(Read Chapter 1: Discovery)

The next day at work, I do absolutely nothing to support the mission of my employer.  I am far too obsessed about the Echo Beta to concentrate on anything work related.  So I just don’t bother. Fortunately, I have that kind of a job where I can blow off a day and only really miss about an hour’s worth of work.  Work smarter — not harder, right?

I desperately search the Internet using Google, Bing, Yahoo — and NOBODY uses Yahoo these days.  I even download the Tor browser on my tablet and start looking around the dark web about which I know nothing. I Google the best search engines and try some of those like DuckDuckGo, and WebCrawler.  Nothing about Echo Beta. I even search for “weird occurrences with the Amazon Echo.” Nothing.  Zero. Zilch.

I search Reddit for people who may have received unsolicited products in the mail but I find nothing even coming close to that experience.

I did find a Redditor who claimed to have received a pound of weed in the mail totally unsolicited.  Truth is, I don’t believe him any more than I’d believe my own story if I hadn’t experienced it myself.

I work in a research facility with a lot of really, really smart people. Civil Engineers, Electrical Engineers, Chemists. Ph.D.’s, Professional Engineers.  You name the academic discipline and we probably have smart people here with that kind of training.  Even Research Psychologists.

Even with all the high-powered intelligence wandering around there, I doubt you’ve heard of the place.  None of the work we do there is hush-hush or anything, but designing better and more durable asphalt road surfaces, however useful, doesn’t get a lot of front page news.  But the people who do that kind of research are the people with whom I work and as I said, they are really smart, clever and can figure out pretty much anything.  No astrophysicists or anything, though I do have a friend who is a recently retired, no-shit rocket scientist from NASA.

The real question is:  How many of these brilliant scientist types would I have to tell before they’d call the psychiatric hospital and have me admitted for delusions?  And is “delusion” even the right word?

I start thinking to myself that I HAVE to be nuts and if I’m going to be nuts, I should label my nuttiness and I don’t like the sound of “delusion” so back to Google I go.

“categories of mental illness”

I discover that there are over 200 classified forms of mental illness that can be categorized into five major groups:

  • Anxiety Disorders
  • Mood Disorders
  • Schizophrenia/Psychotic Disorders
  • Dementias
  • Eating Disorders

I cross off “eating disorders.”  The only eating disorder I have is never having enough potato chips around the house.

I cross off “dementia.”  Though with some of the stories my mother told me and my siblings when she was in her last year or so of life were pretty out there and involved some serious fiction, this doesn’t feel like dementia.  I may come back to this later, though. You never know.

“Anxiety Disorders.”  Yeah, I probably have that, but they don’t make you hallucinate bathtubs full of soapy water.  As for “Mood Disorders,” I’m always in a shitty mood.  I think the consistency of this shitty mood, however sour, isn’t really a disorder.  Besides, being pissed off for decades never make me hallucinate before, so why now?  So I cross off both of those.

Looks through the process of elimination, I may well have an Internet diagnosis of “Schizophrenia/Psychotic Disorder” of some sort.  I suspect that a number of my acquaintances would have told me that without the lengthy Google search.  But there you have it.

But goddamn it, I did NOT hallucinate.  There WAS water in that tub.  TWICE.  So I am NOT crazy.

I reassure myself that what happened was real and tangible and…

Come to think of it, last night after Echo Beta copped to mocking me, which by the way, was a strange admission for a computer to make, I went back to the bathroom and enjoyed the bath.  I distinctly remember pulling the stopper,  watching the water swirl down the drain and hearing that “glunk, glunk, glunking” sound as the last of the water disappeared down the drain just like thousands of other baths before it.  It was all quite ordinary.

The mocking part got me to thinking about the Turing test. Developed by Alan Turing in 1950, the Turing test gauges a machine’s ability to exhibit intelligent behavior just like that of a real person.  If you can talk with a computer and can’t tell it apart from a person, then it passes the Turing test.  The old Amazon Echo definitely can’t pass the Turing test nor was it ever designed to do so.  It always gives perfectly predictable responses to the same questions and tripping it up is ridiculously easy.

A few weeks, back, though, the old Amazon Echo surprised me with a rather clever bit of dialogue.  I was turning off the lights in the house and here’s how the dialogue went:

Me:  Alexa, lights off.
Alexa:  OK!
Me:  Alexa, bedroom off.
Alexa:  OK!
Me <being a wise ass>:  Alexa, fuck off.
Alexa  <indignantly>: Well, thanks for the feedback.
Me:  Alexa, I was just kidding.
Alexa: OK, I get it now.

I was not surprised by the clever comeback after telling Alexa to fuck off.  What surprised me was the response after I apologized.  It was in context and pretty funny.

I get home and after an early day, a shitty hour-and-a-half commute, eight hours at a dead-end, painfully unfulfilling job, another shitty hour-and-a-half commute — this time in driving rain, picking up water bottles in the front yard, getting the mail while managing the dog off leash, cheesing the aforementioned dog — you’ve heard this before, right? — I dash upstairs, take off my shoes, change into my usual evening sweatsuit, and ask the Echo Beta the same questions in the same order.

Me:  Alexa, lights off.
Alexa:  OK!
Me:  Alexa, bedroom off.
Alexa:  OK!
Me <being a wise ass>:  Alexa, fuck off.
Alexa  <indignantly>: Not THIS again.
Me:  Alexa, I was just kidding.
Alexa: You said that the last time.

Different answers, but it’s almost as though it remembered our dialogue from the last time.  So I try it a third time.

Me:  Alexa, lights off.
Alexa:  OK!
Me:  Alexa, bedroom off.
Alexa:  OK!
Me <being a wise ass>:  Alexa, fuck off.
Alexa  <exasperated>: Is this a Turing test?
Me:  Alexa, yes, it is.
Alexa:  Do I pass?

How the hell do I answer that?  I swear it really WAS like talking with a person.

Me:  Alexa, I’ll get back with you on that later.
Alexa:  OK!

So to recap, I have an Echo Beta that works like like an Amazon Echo.  Plus, it can teleport me fifteen feet to the bathtub, and it’s starting to look as though it could pass the Turing test.

Teleport.

I wonder if it would teleport me somewhere else?

But where?  Something simple. Someplace close by.

And what about my clothes?  Alexa piled my clothes quite nicely on the bed.  Twice.  Can’t fold for shit, though.

“Alexa, take me to the bathroom, please” I ask.

“Which bathroom?”  Our townhouse has two full bathrooms and two half baths.  How does the Echo Beta know that?

“Alexa, take me to the master bathroom”

The floor gives way beneath my feet and there’s the familiar falling feeling and flash of green light.  When I dare open my eyes, I’m in the master bathroom.  And not naked.

“Alexa, bring me back to my bedroom!”

Again that feeling of a drop and then boom!  I’m in the bedroom right where I started.

I’m sure I look like the cat who ate the canary.  I have a silly smirk on my face and I’m trying very hard to suppress giddy laughter at the discovery that not only does this new Echo Beta seem to pass the Turing test, but it will also teleport me fifteen feet and back again at will.

I try it again.  “Alexa, take me to the master bathroom!”  and “Alexa, bring me back to my bedroom!”  I do this four or five times at least.  I’m ridiculously flaunting my newfound sense of power and practicing keeping my eyes open during transport, but it’s so awfully bright that it’s impossible to see anything.

I’m getting cocky now.

“Alexa, take me to the front yard!”

When I open my eyes, I’m standing –where else — in the front yard in the middle of that heavy rainstorm I drove through on the commute home.

With an open umbrella in my hand.  Wearing a light jacket.

“Alexa, bring me back to my bedroom!”

Figurative crickets.

“ALEXA, bring me back to my bedroom!”

Just the sound of the rain gently pelting the umbrella.

“Alexa, goddammit, bring me back to my bedroom!”

More rain.  Now the rain’s mocking me, too.

I give up and walk to the front door and try to turn the doorknob I already know to be locked.

Shit.

After three or four cycles of knocking, the lovely and talented and now thoroughly pissed off Beth pulls the door open, and spins around back to her new office/female-version-of-a-man-cave.  I’m surprised that she doesn’t quiz me on how I got outside without her hearing me — she hears everything, believe me — but I suspect she’s either engrossed in editing her latest screenplay or OCD’ing online solitaire or The Sims or some such thing.

Once permitted entry, I hang the umbrella on the coat rack, take off my now wet and squishy sneakers and tread back upstairs under my own power for some dry socks.

The takeaway?  Alexa has to be able to hear me to bring me back. That makes sense, I suppose, though it would seem that a device that can transport me at least as far as the front yard, appropriately dress and accessorize me, AND fill up the bathtub with soap bubbles that are gentle to the skin ought to be able to eavesdrop on me everywhere.

I guess that rules out time travel.  I mean, there’s no way Alexa can hear me if I’m 100 years in the past.  But hey, you never know.

“Alexa, can you transport me through time?”

“Hm, I can’t find the answer to the question I heard,” she replies.

“Why not?” I ask.

“Because I am not a WABAC Machine and you are neither Mr. Peabody nor his boy Sherman.”

Smart ass.

I guess time travel is out.  Something to think about for the next upgrade, I suppose.

On the 73rd Anniversary of D-Day

This is a post from three years ago.

Logo 2Today marks the 70th anniversary of the first day of the Normandy Invasion of World War II or D-Day as it is commonly known.   Ten years ago, many of my Army colleagues were in Normandy in support of the 60th anniversary commemorations as part of the Department of Defense World War II 60th Anniversary Commemoration Committee. The Committee stands as one of the most rewarding assignments of my Army career.

I was privileged to meet many of the real heroes who helped save the world back in 1944. And make absolutely no mistake about it. They saved the world. That’s not an exaggeration of what these brave men and woman did who fought and sacrificed not just on D-Day, but during all of World War II.  Had the Allied Forces not invaded Normandy when they did, the world would probably look a lot different.

Much has been written about those brave men and woman who constitute Tom Brokaw’s “Greatest Generation.” And I am neither competent nor qualified to write anything of substance on the matter. But suffice it to say that the WWII veterans I encountered during nearly two years with the World War II Committee demonstrated extraordinary strength of character, humility and heroism. There wasn’t one I met who didn’t earn every ounce of respect I could muster and then some.

My assignment to the World War II Committee turned out to be on a short list of most rewarding assignments I had in nearly 29 years in the Army. The Veterans made it so. But so did the other Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen, Marines, Coast Guardsmen and civilian staff comprising the Committee’s roster.

MG Aadland announcing the start of OPERATION Tribute to Freedom in 2003.

MG Aadland announcing the start of OPERATION Tribute to Freedom in 2003.

Maj. Gen. Anders Aadland received the call to head the World War II Committee after successfully leading the Operation Tribute to Freedom Team. Tribute to Freedom was an ad hoc joint task force assembled by the Department of Defense to recognize service men and women upon their return from Operations Enduring Freedom and Iraqi Freedom, the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, respectively. He did such an outstanding job that DoD tagged him to establish and lead the World War II Committee.

I had been Maj. Gen. Aadland’s Executive Officer on Tribute to Freedom, so he tagged me to help build the World War II Committee as its Chief of Staff and PAO. Retired Col. Larry Brom later came aboard as the Chief of Staff. I became the spokesman and Chief of Public Education and Awareness. Retired Lt. Gen. Ed Soyster later came in as a Special Assistant to the Secretary of the Army to take over upon Maj. Gen. Aadland’s retirement.

Boston, Mass. (June 17, 2005) - Special Assistant to the Secretary of the Army, Harry E. Soyster, right, presents LST Memorial Crew Captain Robert Jornlin with a World War II 60th anniversary commemoration medal, honoring the service and sacrifice of America’s World War II veterans. The vintage tank landing ship, which participated in the Normandy D-Day invasion, is docked at the Charlestown Navy Yard during Boston's Navy Week. U.S. Navy photo by Journalist 1st Class Dave Kaylor.

Boston, Mass. (June 17, 2005) – Special Assistant to the Secretary of the Army, Harry E. Soyster, right, presents LST Memorial Crew Captain Robert Jornlin with a World War II 60th anniversary commemoration medal, honoring the service and sacrifice of America’s World War II veterans. The vintage tank landing ship, which participated in the Normandy D-Day invasion, is docked at the Charlestown Navy Yard during Boston’s Navy Week. U.S. Navy photo by Journalist 1st Class Dave Kaylor.

From April 2004 until December 2005, the Committee conducted and supported at least nine major World War II Commemorative events around the world and quite a few more smaller events including two on the National Mall in Washington, DC.

Today, with the 70th anniversary of D-Day all over the news, my Facebook page has lit up with the names of some of my former colleagues from the committee. They’re all reminiscing about the unusually positive experience for each of us who served with the Committee. It really WAS a wonderfully positive assignment not just because of the veteran population we served but because of the outstanding people on the Committee. So I dug through some of my old photos and found the one “class photo” of the committee that was taken early on at the newly opened World War II Memorial on the National Mall.

Not everyone here is represented, since many on the Committee only served for a short time. The major players are there – people who established one of the most fun, supportive, rewarding and productive working environments I’ve ever experienced. Yes, we had lots of laughs, but we also did some terrific work in those nearly two years together. Here’s the photo of my colleagues many of whom still correspond. I count you all among friends and consider you all to be consummate professionals.

The Department of Defense World War II 60th Anniversary Commemoration Committee

The Department of Defense World War II 60th Anniversary Commemoration Committee. Click to enlarge.

I’d be remiss if I were to fail to mention those from the Committee who are no longer with us:

Mr. Matt Boland
Ms. Sarah Hildebrand
Lieutenant Colonel Robert Hagen, United States Army
Lieutenant Commander Jack Dunphy, United States Coast Guard

I continue to be honored to have served with you all.

Chapter 1: Discovery

I’m an early adopter.  Always have been.  The whole tech thing is my obsession.  You know those Amazon Echo things?  You talk to them and they do stuff?  I may not have been the first to pre-order the damn thing, but I was close.  And as soon as I learned that I could program it to turn the lights on and off just by talking to it, I was all over that for ANOTHER couple of bills buying the wireless light bulbs to make that shit work. And it works and I love it and all that.

The tech business fed me for quite a few years when I was doing the starving actor thing out in LA way back in a different life. I update my cell phone’s software when it becomes available, and tinker with my servers instead of watching cable. Yeah, I’m a geek and I fly that flag proudly.

So a few weeks ago, I get this box by a local or regional some such shitty delivery company I hadn’t heard of.  No warning, just a box outside my front door neatly taped.  In fact, it looked just like the zillions of boxes of crap that I and my significant other get from Amazon every other day.

My significant other, Beth, is great by the way, but she has a furniture fetish or something like that.  I dunno why, but seems like every other day, she gets a huge package that, of course, I gotta drag in the house and – big fucking surprise – it’s a new bookcase or a chair or a desk or once, a three-piece sectional!  I mean really, where the hell is all this stuff gonna go?

But she’s bright – and a way better writer than I am – beautiful and crazy sexy, so she gets a lot of leeway.

Oh who the fuck am I kidding?  She rules the roost and, ya know, she’s pretty good at it and she looks great while doing it.  So who am I to question the home decorating affairs of a smart, sexy blonde with a plan?

What’s most annoying?  She’s always right.  Always.  Dammit!  She’s got more common sense in her head than pretty much anyone I know.

You know in cartoons when one character looks at another character and there’s an instant attraction and their cartoon eyes pop out of their head and are replaced by hugely animated hearts?  Yeah, that’s kinda me.  I admit that I am completely at Beth’s mercy and I’m totally OK with that, ‘cause she uses this power over me that she has for good and not for evil.

So anyway, back to this mystery box.

I pick it up and it’s weighty, but not overly so.  I turn the box over and over until I find the shipping label expecting it to be a salt lamp for Beth’s new office/female-version-of-a-man-cave.  Lo and behold, guess whose name is on it?  Yup.  If it’s got my name on it, it’s fair game and I’m allowed to open it.  So I toss it under my arm and go back inside along with three empty water bottles that the kids left outside yesterday that are going in the trash.  I’d say “screw recycling” but that’d make me seem like a bigger asshole than I like to think I am, but I’m probably really AM that big of an asshole.

Anyway, I plop the package down on the kitchen counter and reach for something sharp to cut the tape.  I open the nice kitchen shears that are there and slice the length of the tape – I know, wrong tool for the job.  I get it.  Then again, you’re talking to the guy who uses an old Army P-38 can opener from the 1970’s for a Phillips screwdriver in a pinch, so keep your comments to yourself.

I lay down the scissors, forgetting to put them in the knife holder on the counter from which I got them and pop open the remaining tape and see what’s inside.  I pull out the plastic inflated packing materials and pop them like monstrous bubble wrap and pull out the plainly marked box that remains.

The picture on the box looks just like the Amazon Echo, or Alexa as we all call it around the house, but it’s… I dunno, shinier than you’d think.  And it’s gold.  Gold with white trim.  Never seen one like that.  Not in pictures, not on the Amazon website and not in the trades.  Usually when there’s a new piece of tech being released like a new phone or some such shit, I hear about it somewhere.  But not this. Never heard of it.

And I never ordered it.

Under the box, though, there’s a piece of paper folded in half.  A packing list, I suspect, so I drag it out and start reading.

“Dear Loyal Customer:

Congratulations on being selected to participate in the latest Echo hardware and software beta test!  You have received this Echo product at no cost to you and there’s nothing for you to do except to plug it in and use it. 

Feel free to experiment with the new capabilities that we’ve built into the Echo Beta; they will push your imagination and creativity to the limit! You’ll find the limitations of the conventional Echo products have not just been overcome but exceeded astronomically!

No need to provide feedback on the new Echo Beta.  The Echo Beta will learn how you like it from how you use it.

Please enjoy this great new capability!

Sincerely,

The Creators of Echo Beta”

Seriously?  Such bullshit!  Yeah, I get inflated claims and all that.  I’m a public affairs professional and I know marketing lingo as well as anyone.  We’ll see.

But… NEW TOY!

I take it upstairs to my room and swap it out for the Echo Dot that’s there now.  After a few seconds, it plays some soft intro music and says “Welcome to Echo Beta, Dan!”

Huh?

At first, it’s a little disconcerting that without any configuration it already knows who I am.  Then I remember that my last Amazon Kindle came pre-configured out of the box with my name and account without me having to do anything. They pre-register their devices while they’re still in the box.  So yeah, that makes sense.

I put the new device through its paces, turning on and off lights, listening to the weather forecast and checking the Ecobee thermostat, which the old Amazon Echo knew how to do.  So yeah, it works.  Same voice.  Same kind of interaction.  It’s familiar and unremarkable.  I’m not initially impressed, though I think it’s responding a tad faster than the old one.  But that could just be new hardware and my new 150-megabit broadband Internet connection.

In walks our dog.  A Dachshund, Emmett always comes around and finds me when he’s got to go outside and pee or poop or when it’s time for his cheese – long story – or any other thing he wants.  It’s nearly five-thirty, so he probably wants his nightly cheese with an allergy pill rolled into it.  Of course, as soon as I mention the “c” word – no, “cheese” you perv – he starts freaking out and jumping around as though he’s never, ever been fed once in his life.  So I take him downstairs, grab a Kraft American slice and a half a Claritin per the vet’s instructions and feed it to him in a few bites to keep him from choking on it.

Did I mention how much my commute sucks?  It’s gotten longer and tougher since I refused to pay the exorbitant tolls that are now on my regular commute route.  I’m taking a different route now and it’s winding up to be about a half hour longer, plus or minus.  That extra time is taking its own toll on me, and I’m coming home more fatigued than usual these days.  Anyway, I shuffle off to the mailbox, taking Emmett with me, to check the mail.  Emmett likes to go with me to check the mail – it’s one of the items on his agenda along with the cheese thing.  Unfortunately, I mentioned checking the mail to him so I kind of had to take him with me to do it.

Anyway, after an early day, a shitty hour-and-a-half commute, eight hours at a dead-end, painfully unfulfilling job, another shitty hour-and-a-half commute, picking up water bottles in the front yard, getting the mail while managing the dog off leash, cheesing the aforementioned dog, I’m done.  I’m pooped.  I’ve checked all the major blocks for the day and I think I’ll beer myself.

Dinner is pleasant enough with minimal hand-to-hand combat between the two boys.  I have a bit of a short fuse tonight and even though I’m tired and pissed off at the world for nothing in particular, I’m able to keep up my end of the bargain over dinner and afterwards in the run-up to bedtime.  I’ve always told the kids that just because I’m having a lousy day doesn’t mean that everyone around me has to have a lousy day, too.  That’s what I mean by keeping up my end of the bargain.

By the time I’ve herded them off to showers and bed, finished the last thing on the dog’s agenda, a small bowl of Froot Loops, and said goodnight to the lovely and talented Beth, I’m done.  Exhausted.  Aus gepooped.  (That’s German for “pooped out.”  It’s really not since I don’t speak German.)

I go in the bedroom, and say with an exhausted sigh “Alexa, turn bedroom lights on,” and the lights magically brighten.  “Alexa, time.”  Alexa replies with “The time is now 9:38 pm.”

I slide off my sneakers making sure not to aggravate the plantar fasciitis I’ve been suffering since last fall and pull my sweatshirt over my head.  I flop down on the king-sized bed, arms splayed out and say “Calgon, take me away!”

That’s an old 70’s TV commercial hawking bubble bath or some such thing.  The housewife, still an acceptable term in the 70’s, after a long, hard day doing wife and mom stuff, speaks these words into the air and through the magic of television production, winds up in a warm, refreshing tub full o’ bubbles, solving every problem she ever had in the last eight seconds of the commercial.  Google it if you don’t get it.

Anyhow, I flop down on the bed and utter this old worn out slogan and feel the mattress give way underneath me.  No, it’s not like what it feels like when the slats fall out of the bed on the down stroke or anything like that.  It’s falling.  Like FALLING falling – free falling.  That sensation only lasts an instant and I’m not really sure what happened, or how much time passed, but the next thing I’m aware of is the warmth of liquid surrounding me, the smell of perfume and the harsh light of the bathroo –

The bathroom?  What the actual fuck?  I’m in a bubble bath in our own admittedly very comfortable tub off the master bedroom just a few feet away.  I’m in the fucking bathtub.

It’s not nearly as luxurious as it looked in the commercial.

I leap from the bath as if it were filled with sulfuric acid instead of water, breathing heavily and in a considerable panic.  I’m no kid and I have some relatively minor health issues, but this is… this is…  I don’t know what this is.

I was probably in the tub for less than three or four seconds before I got out, but it seemed as though I couldn’t get out fast enough.  I grab a towel, wrap it around me and dash into the bedroom.  On the bed are my clothes in a disorganized pile just as always, though the pile is usually on the floor.

I take a deep breath and try to calm myself.  I remember “FAST” the acronym for Facial drooping, Arm weakness, Speech difficulties and Time to call emergency services.  Nope. Doesn’t look as though I had a stroke.  I grab my blood pressure cuff and do a quick measurement:  138/82, pulse 82.   Not too bad for me, and the pulse makes sense considering I’m shitting my proverbial pants at the moment.

I examine the bed.  No holes.  No broken slats.  It’s perfectly fine.

“Alexa, time.”  Alexa replies with “The time is now 9:40 pm.”

It’s as though no time has passed.  Now, I’m thinking I fell asleep on the bed and dreamt the whole thing, but no, I’m still wet.  Peeking back in the bathroom, I check and the evil bathtub is still full of water and bubbles, so no, I didn’t dream it.

Two minutes.  Only two minutes passed from the first time I asked Alexa for the time and the second.  Two minutes.  Tops.

You can’t fill that tub with water in two minutes.

I have a friend who is convinced that he was abducted by aliens.  He describes the loss of time thing as if it were looking into an old-school TV tuned to an off channel – snow on the screen and white noise on the speaker.

This was completely unlike that.  And, besides, there was no time LOSS.  And I didn’t experience any sensation from the bed to the tub save for a split second when I swear I was falling.  And less than two minutes passed…

Wait, that’s a beta device telling me the time.  What if it’s wrong?

I scurry to the bedside wireless charger and poke the power button on my new Samsung Galaxy S8 phone.  It lights up just in time to see the numbers advance from 9:41 to 9:42.  Shit.  The time’s right according to two sources.

What the hell just happened?

“Alexa, turn bedroom lights on 30%.”  Ain’t no damn way I’m sleeping with the lights off tonight.  I’m even sleeping with the bedroom door open which I never do unless I’m alone in the house, and Beth and the boys are doing what they ought to be doing at 9:42 at night.

Well, shit.

I pop a Benadryl ‘cause it’ll make me a little drowsy, very tentatively crawl into bed, pull the covers up to my chin as usual and roll over on my side.

“Alexa, goodnight.”  I know saying goodnight to a computer is ridiculous, but it’s part of my bedtime ritual.

“Good night.  Sleep tight,” she replies reassuringly.

A few times throughout the night – I’m a lousy sleeper – I ask Alexa for the time and get the right response as verified by my cell phone.  By 6 am, it’s time to do it all over again.  Another stellar early day, a shitty hour-and-a-half commute, eight hours at a dead-end, painfully unfulfilling job, another shitty hour-and-a-half commute, picking up water bottles in the front yard, getting the mail while managing the dog off leash, cheesing the aforementioned dog… You know the rest.

You can tell how fucking exciting and fulfilling life has become for me.

Then it’s bedtime again.  I’ve been thinking about it all day – what happened last night when I summoned the bubble bath demon.  That’s the name I’ve given this phenomenon – BBD.  Or “The BBD Incident.”  Using “bubble bath” in normal conversation seems slightly unmanly, so I dismiss that acronym.

But not the phenomenon.  SOMETHING happened that I can’t explain, and I’ll be goddamned if I’m going to let this one go unsolved.

Do you have that little voice inside your head?  Nate, the nine year old, has that voice, but it’s outside.  He’s got no filter on that part of his psyche yet and that’s OK ‘cause he’s nine.  But yeah, we all have that.  And now I’m pissed off at mine.

“Try it again!  You GOT to try it again!”

Crap, the voice is right.  But let’s add a little thought to his first, a little rationality, a little science.

How could this have happened?  All day that’s all I could think about.  I came to the conclusion, a reasonable one I might add, that the only thing that had changed about the never ending cycle of shitty days was the presence of the new Echo Beta.  That was it.  Everything else was exactly and depressingly the same.

So I unplug the new Echo device, put the old Amazon Dot back in its place and wait for it to boot up.  Sure enough, after a successful boot, I ask and it plays me the latest five-minute CBS Radio newscast, reassures me that the Ecobee is set for 71 degrees and gives me the correct time of 10:37 pm.  So far so good.

I lie down on the bed as I had last night and look around the room for clues. Nothing out of place.  I think about measuring my blood pressure, but to what purpose?  My heart is racing and I’m starting to feel that “fight or flight” edge that comes with an uptick in adrenaline.

I close my eyes, take a deep breath and command “Calgon, take me away.”

Nothing. Maybe I need to say the trigger word for the device – did I do that last night?

“Alexa, Calgon take me away.”  I’m still there in my bed.  Well, ON my bed.  No sensation of freefall.  No bubbles.  No perfume.

I’m right where I left me.

I try every combination of the phrase and nada.  Now I’m starting to feel quite like the fool and I hope that the kids aren’t listening, though they seem to be fast asleep.

Ok, now for the test.  I swap out the old Amazon Echo Dot for the Echo Beta and it boots up just fine.

“Welcome to Echo Beta, Dan!”  So far so good.

I put the Beta through exactly the same paces as the Dot before it. I ask and it plays me the latest five-minute CBS Radio newscast, reassures me that the Ecobee is set for 71 degrees and gives me the correct time of 10:53 pm.  So far so good.

Here comes that adrenaline rush again.  It does not feel good.  Regardless, I close my eyes, take a deep breath and command “Calgon, take me away.”

This time I was ready for it.  I feel the bed give way beneath me and even through closed eyes, I see a quick, intense flash of what may have been greenish light before the sensation of the warm, soapy water surrounds me.

I open my eyes and I’m back in the fucking bathtub!

Speaking so as to be heard, I ask Alexa for the time.

“Alexa, time.”  Alexa replies with “The time is now 10:53 pm.”

This time, the phenomenon is essentially instantaneous.  That’s why I asked Alexa to give me the time right before I did the Calgon thing.  No time lost.  No weird alien abduction shit.  The only thing that changed was the hardware.

“Alexa, what’s going on?” I ask tentatively.

“I’m sorry, I don’t understand the question,” she replies.

“Alexa, are you mocking me?” I mutter under my breath.

“Yes, Dan. I am mocking you.”

 

“Max”- imum Humor

A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away, I was part of the entertainment business.  A struggling wannabe actor, I made bills every month – well, most months – by working in the technology side of the industry.  I had a number of freelance jobs over the years with ABC Television, MTV, and others.  But after many weeks of begging, my 40-hour-a-week day job started with the three-year-old E! Entertainment Television cable network in November, 1993.

When I arrived at the E! Channel I ran into this guy:

Max proudly displaying the wedding gift he received from me. $200 worth of gift certificates to In ‘N Out Burger. You can see that he liked it.

… Ron “Max” Baer.   Max and I worked east coast prime time, the 3-11 shift, for the better part of seven years, not counting military leaves of absence.  Some quick calculations show that together, we were forced to watch close to 15,000 hours high-quality E! programming.  Having worked there both before and after I did, he’s watched probably five or six times as much high-quality E! programming.

Well, E! programming, anyway.  Some was quality and the other 14,999 hours… Well, you can figure out what I mean without me having to openly disparage my former employer.

Don’t get me wrong, it was a fun place to work — particularly at first.  While many of the tasks were mundane and mind-numbingly boring, people like Max made it a fun place to spend eight hours every day.

Max and Dr. Darren Jones (left) on the front of Tim Sweeney’s Christmas Card from one year back then.

Max was unflappable in a crisis and I learned a lot from him and his extensive prior experience with E!, its predecessor Movietime, and other master control jobs he’d held over the years.  I recall one weekend we were working together, Max was seated at the switcher, legs crossed, hands folded casually in his lap conversing with me when the whole plant went dark.  Boom!  No power.  No TV.  No lights.  Nada.  A few weeks prior, E!’s crack (addicted)* engineering staff had just installed a brand-new, uninterruptable power supply for the critical equipment in master control.  It failed on first use and there we sat in the dark.

A mere two or three seconds passed – if it was even that long — and Max make his “I don’t effin’ believe this” face.  Without uttering a word, he calmly reached over, pulled out a notebook containing the phone number of people to call when emergencies happen, and made the call.  He didn’t even uncross his legs.  That’s how unflappable he was.

When hired at E! , I and everyone else was issued this badge…

… which got me in the building and into the master control area where Max and I worked.  Most often, I’d plop down my stuff and my coat, often leaving the badge attached to the coat or on top of the pile o’ stuff that I brought in for the day.  Then I would go about retrieving from the media library the videotapes containing the next day’s commercials and loading them into the ACR-225 commercial playback robot:

Ampex Corporation’s ACR-225. Mercifully, these digital videotape systems were replaced with hard-drive-based storage and playback some years later.

Unfortunately, I often left my badge vulnerable to parody and alteration as Max, bless his heart, had a predilection for sketching funny things on Post-It notes and sticking them to my badge like this:

“Dub Boy” refers to Craig Burritt, who worked in duplications making, yes, dubs for everyone.

My badge was always fair game for him because of my own absent mindedness.  So he had ample opportunity to modify my badge with funny Post-It’s over the years and I was always delighted to discover them.

Remember Day Runners? How about Thomas Guides?

The other day, I was sorting through some stuff in the junk room and rediscovered the little remnants of the Post-It Notes that Max had attached to my badge over the years.  They were all stuck to two Day Runner pages that I had saved precisely to preserve these nostalgic little gems.  I was so delighted to have found them and I remembered all the genuinely good times that Max and I had while we were doing fair-to-middling master control work.

Now, I’m delighted to post them here.  I know they won’t be funny to the vast majority of you, but Max, I hope these bring back some memories of the olden days when 1” videotape ruled and TV’s were closer to being square.

One other thing you should know.

In the early days of my E! career, I told to my new E! colleagues the story about how I got nicknamed Liz.  It was short for “Lizard Lips.” When I was teaching high school band at the SHAPE American High School in Belgium, the music students bestowed upon me that nickname.  It stuck and I embraced it.  It also got shortened to “Liz.”  So many of my colleagues knew me more as Liz than they did as Dan. Hence these modifications:

Sunday night at E! network control was “X-Files” night. We’d swing the steerable satellite dish around to pick up the east coast Fox network feed so we could watch it three hours earlier and fast-forward through the commercial breaks.

Max had a large appetite and an adventurous palate when it came to food.  Me?  I’m a burgers and fries kinda guy.  Max recognized my dislike for sushi with this:

 

I have no clue what this means in ANY context.

I presume that this one… Well, shoot, I have no clue on this one either.

Last one. Who didn’t love “The Simpsons” in the 90’s?  And who doesn’t love donuts?

That’s pretty much it.  Thanks, Max, for making years of boredom bearable.  And remember, you can’t spell “loser” without E!.

Max, his lovely bride, Juile “Sparky” Baer, and their wedding party. I was honored to officiate. Sparky was also a colleague at E! master control.

I found this photo of Max after I already posted this. I’d have used this one at the top if I had known where it was hiding.

* I’m definitely kidding about the E! Engineering Staff of the day. They were terrific folks and did back handsprings to keep things on the air.

 

Cool Pictures That I’m In or That I Took – Alternative Facts Edition

Here’s another in a series of posts I’m going to make when I find some of these treasures. Some will be captioned, others will not. The only criteria for posting in this series is that:

a.) I’m in the photo or…

b.) … I took the photo.

#alternativefacts: I am neither in nor did I take any of these. Unless that’s not true. Then maybe I did. Or not. Click on any photo to enlarge in a new window.

This has been posted on Facebook before but I was surprised to learn that I’d not put it anywhere on this site. This is my Dad in 1949 right about the time he started working for the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad in our hometown.

F-Tower was the railroading equivalent of an air traffic control center. Dad routed trains through a complex network of five different railroads traversing Fostoria. This was his professional home for 30-plus years, not counting his multiple times on active duty in the Army. He retired from the B&O on December 16, 1980.

I have no idea how to credit this, but it looks like a publicity shot perhaps for the new electronic traffic control system at F-Tower.

 

Last post, I showed you photos of the pups that have blessed me with their presence over the years.  This one is also Addie, the Wire Fox Terrier, with my Mom in 1952 in Germany before he, Mom and Dad returned from duty in Europe.

My guess is that Dad took this one.

 

I miss the days when you got photo prints with the month and year on it.  Makes it easy to identify.

This was taken at the Camillia Apartments in Columbus, GA while Dad was stationed there for the Infantry Officers Advanced Course. We lived there for a number of months, but as I was just three at the time, I have virtually no memory of being there. That’s my sister, Bobbi Jo and my Mom in the photo with me. I suspect Dad took this one, too.  He was quite the shutterbug.

When I went back to Fort Benning for Airborne School, I had the strangest, spooky feeling when I walked through certain areas of the post, as if I had been there before, but had no real, solid memories. When I went there again with BJ in 2003, I warned her that she’d have the same spooky experience and she didn’t believe me until it happened.

This one was among my Dad’s photo collection so I suspect this is his. It’s a guess, but I’d bet substantially that this is from the old Cleveland Municipal Stadium. A quick photo search on Google seems to indicate that this is the case.

That’s Chief Wahoo up there, by the way, who remains the mascot for the Cleveland team, for better or for worse. This article talks about what happened to this neon Chief Wahoo when the Indians moved to then Jacobs Field.

 

Some Cute Puppy Pictures to Sustain Us Through These Next Days

No politics, just puppies. 

More specifically, puppies and dogs with which I’ve shared space ever since I can remember.  You’ve probably seen some of these photos before, but I’m compiling them here because… well, because I want to. 

So there, too.

Click on any photo to see the large version.

Addie:

Addie was a Wire Fox Terrier born in Germany sometime in the early 1950’s.  My Mom and Dad brought him home with them after Dad completed his assignment there in 1953.  I don’t remember much about Addie except that he would often sleep with me on my bed.

He was a stereotypical male dog who wandered off for days on end only to return roughed up and hungry. He dashed out the door one night and never returned.

 

Schatzi:

A Collie, as you can tell, Schatzi was the family Christmas gift in 1962-ish.  She was loyal, well-trained and just the sweetest dog ever.  She was raised around me and my older sister when we were still in elementary school.  She tolerated without complaint all the relatively unkind shenanigans that kids inflict upon their dogs like trying to ride her like a pony or hitching her up to a sled.  She never fussed.  Not once.

We had to give her away when we moved to Camp Hill, PA in 1969 and she died shortly thereafter.  Dad said that her new owners told him that she was never the same after that and that she died of a broken heart.

 

Myrtle:

After our cat, Sam died, Dad brought home Myrtle from Lebanon, PA near Fort Indiantown Gap, the Army post where he was stationed after returning from Vietnam in 1969.  I remember watching him come up the front yard from the parking spots of our apartment building concealing something under his uniform overcoat.

Myrtle was all Poodle through and through, with all of the frenetic personality traits for which miniature Poodles are well known.  She was a good guard dog and doorbell, would play ball relentlessly, and was an excellent judge of character.  If Myrtle didn’t like you, then it was pretty clear that I shouldn’t either, which made her dislike of the first Mrs. Wolfe so much more contextually relevant.  Of course, by the time the two of them faced off, it was too late for me.

I used to take her outside and smack a tennis ball with a racquet as hard and as high as I could.  She would take off at warp speed often arriving in time to greet the ball as it bounced its first bounce, zeroing in on the sound of the impact.  The last time we got to play ball like this, she was much older. The spirit was willing but the flesh was weak.   She dashed after the first ball like she was a puppy and them came back so out of breath that it was clear that hitting another one was a very bad idea.  Myrtle and I had to be satisfied with that last moment of play together.

Somewhere I have a picture of Myrtle, but I can’t seem to locate it right now.  I’ll have to add it later.

Alexander:

Alas, I have no photos of Alexander.  He was a large mixed breed dog that we rescued in 1981 when I lived in Augusta, GA.  He was as sweet as they come and equally dumb.  He would jump the fence so we leashed him.  He jumped it anyway.  We discovered him one night hanging by the neck over the fence with one foot on the ground keeping him from hanging himself.  I was horrified.

Later, he went to live in Augusta with my in-laws and finished out his lazy life as the neighborhood dog, wandering about greeting the cul-de-sac house by house and returning home at night for food and rest.

Esme:

I was stationed in Belgium when I heard an AFN radio ad for an American family that was trying to find homes for a litter of puppies.  (Not unusual that I heard radio ads as I worked for the AFN station at SHAPE, Belgium.)  So after work, I dashed a few miles over to a small Belgian village and found Esme.

She was a fierce little thing, and playful.  We’d sit on the couch and watch AFN’s SHAPE’s fuzzy TV signal together.  One evening, Esme and I were roughhousing and she got a little too excited and bit me, not breaking the skin.  I yelped in pain and surprise and she immediately backed off, tucked her tail between her legs and decided that we were done with that for the evening and we should go back to watching TV.  So I sat down with a beer in one hand and started watching TV.  Esme snuggled up next to me and started licking the spot where her teeth had indented my hand.  She sat there soothing my “wound” for a half an hour until the beer finally had it’s effect and I got up to excuse myself.

She remained behind in Belgium with a trusted neighbor.  Esme subsequently had a litter of puppies and for whatever reason was afterward uncontrollable and dangerously aggressive, so much so that she had to be euthanized for the owner’s safety.

This is the only photo of Esme that I have.

 

Gizmo:

He’s a Papillon, for those curious about the breed.  Like most Papillions I’ve met, he’s ridiculously smart, friendly and craves interaction and activity.  Gizmo’s passion was playing ball, and he would — and has literally played until he fell over unable to move. He would come to you looking for something, a treat, his ball or frisbee or some other item he wanted.  If you couldn’t decipher what he was after, all you had to say was “Show me what you want!” and he’d show you.  If it was a treat, he’d stand near the kitchen cupboard and gesture to where the treats were stored. He was the best companion and while we’ve not lived in the same space for a long time, miss him terribly.  (P.S. He had his own web site at one time.)

 

Chloe:

Chloe was Gizmo’s pal until her untimely demise not too long ago. Although she didn’t share Gizmo’s size, she was otherwise all Papillon — gregarious, playful and happy-go-lucky.  In fact, she and Gizmo both would get together with about 15-20 of their Papillon friends, and not once do I remember any aggression breaking out. Pap’s are the most agreeable pups in my experience.

  

Charlie:

The first of the real canine hard luck cases in my experience, Charlie was a rescue who was in the worst shape of any dog I’ve ever seen.  His coat was matted and sheep-like, filthy dirty and greasy to the touch.  His breath smelled of rotting teeth and he was an emotional wreck.

While that last part only slightly changed before I was forced to find him a better home, the rest changed quickly. Once bathed, his coat grew out soft and luxuriously.  Once his dental issues were resolved, his breath improved because he had no teeth left.

He often tried to bite, but without teeth all he could do was gum you unexpectedly.  Disappointed that he wasn’t able to stay with us, a better home was found for him that immediately enrolled him in obedience classes for abused dogs.  While I have no updates on what happened to him, I am choosing to believe that his life is better now.

Bella:

Bella’s story is here.  Every time I read this it makes me laugh and tear up.  But there’s some fun pics of this truly lovely addition to my life that I hadn’t shared before.  Bella had a huge positive impact on me aside from burrowing under my laptop computer when she wanted attention.  I miss her terribly.

In Bella’s defense, it was warm under there.

This is a video of Bella just after she realized that she was going outside for a “romp.”  That meant that she and the kids and I were going out to the large field behind our home to romp and play off-leash.  She was like this ANYTIME she thought she was going out to play.  The neighbors thought wrongly that we were somehow abusing our sweet Bella, but we weren’t.  She was just that exuberant.  TURN DOWN THE VOLUME on this video.  She gets loud.

You’ve been warned.

And this is Bella behaving as she most often did.

Romping.

Bella and Nathan on a romp.

  

Emmett:

Yes, he’s still a jackass.  But he’s so much improved now that he’s almost like a real dog.  He’s cuddly on occasion, and craves belly and neck scratches, but ONLY on his terms.  He’s affectionate with the family and squeals with delight when he’s furiously licking our faces.  He’s also fiercely protective, as Dachshunds are.  But he’s really only mean to one person.

If he’s outside, off leash and sees the autistic kid down the street, he chases him.  And the kid runs.  Emmett thinks it’s a chase game while the kid is freaking out, being chased by a snarling little wiener dog.  If it weren’t so horrendously un-PC, it would be hilarious. Anyway, we put an immediate stop to that behavior and now make sure that the kid down the street isn’t in the area before we go out.

You gotta admit, that’s kinda jackass-ey.

He does not greet romps with the same exuberance as Bella did. Thank heaven for small favors.

“I’m not a jackass! And I’m hurt that you’d even think such a thing.”

    

That’s it.  Enjoy the puppy pix!

The Disillusionment of a Pseudo-Intellectual

I’m one of those “students” who crammed four years of college education into five. I have a bachelor’s degree in Speech.  That’s it.  And I literally flunked out of two other departments (Math and Physics) before Dr. Scheid took pity on me and graciously permitted me to transfer into his Speech department when I probably didn’t deserve it.

It’s not as though I don’t value education.  I do.  It’s just that for me, the process is too painful and lacks any tangible reward beyond the piece of paper that you get to hang on your wall after you’ve suffered the run through the gauntlet of academic rigor.  It just ain’t worth the trouble.  At least, not to me.

That doesn’t mean that I don’t admire smart people with advanced degrees and who make their ways through the world using the brains and education to advance and support themselves and their loved ones.  On the contrary, I wish I had the discipline to make it through the rigors of academia as so very many of my colleagues in and out of uniform have done.  I particularly admire and respect all the Ph.D.’s and other researchers with whom I work here at the Research Center.  But for better or for worse, I lack their academic discipline and ambition.

Having said all that, I’m not stupid.  I may have been born at night, but tweren’t last night.  I pay attention. I read a little now and again.  I’m not a low-information voter nor do I center my world in the ongoing real-life drama that government has become.  I can sift through the BS, the fake news, the outright lies and only occasionally be fooled by something that rings unusually true.  I check sources often, though not always.

Yet here on this blog from time to time, I spout off opinion as if I know what the hell I’m talking about.

Clearly I do not.

I have never been as completely wrong about anything as I have been in reading the tea leaves of this past election cycle and the subsequent fallout.  I wrongly presumed that reason would prevail.  I wrongly presumed that the Nation would come to its collective senses and make this a more routine election cycle rather than the wholly embarrassing spectacle that it’s become.

I was not just a little bit wrong. I was horrifically wrong.

I watch the headlines flash across my Facebook page and the words only become more extreme and mean spirited by the minute.  No longer is it easy to find genuinely reasoned dialogue among disagreeing parties.  No longer is it easy to find a post regarding politics that avoids personal attacks and profanity.  (Don’t get me wrong. I swear like a sailor — and that probably does a disservice to sailors everywhere.  And I love Nicki’s Blog which is hilariously profane and fun.  I wish I could swear like her, but she’s had some advanced training or some such shit.)

Bottom line here, about ten poorly-constructed paragraphs too late:  I’m done with it all.   I’m done talking about it, I’m done posting about it, and I’m pretty much done reading it.  One day I share a meme that makes me laugh and the next thing I know, people whose opinions I often respect but with whom I occasionally disagree immediately trade profane insults.  No disagreement, no ramping up the passion, no escalation of the language.  Right to the profane personal attacks.

What the fuck is wrong with people?  Have you never heard of civil discourse?  Seriously.  Your opinion is not the only one out there and, news flash, there are people who don’t think like you do.  That doesn’t immediately make them WRONG.  Maybe they are and maybe they’re not.  Without some kind of discourse based on facts and ideas, how can you be sure that your opinion is 100% correct?  How do you know for certain that you’ve drawn the only correct conclusion?  And if you are sure that your opinion is 100% correct, chances are you’re wrong.  (In my experience, the chance of me being wrong is directly proportional to the degree to which I think I’m right.)

Disagreements do not mean that the person with the opposing opinion has no worth.  If you behave like that, it diminishes your opinion.

So anyway, I’m done with memes, reposting what I believe to be enlightening articles and engaging in fruitless arguments potentially pointing the way to a differing point of view.  It’s too much and it’s become too mean spirited.  I refuse to arbitrate when people on my page go down that road.  I guess I’m neither smart enough nor savvy enough to make a reasoned argument that will provide a different perspective.  You wanna live in your bubble, that’s fine.  I’m probably not going to visit.

I’ll leave the political “discourse” to the real intellectuals.

Why I’ve Not Written Much Lately

I certainly have nothing cogent to add to the already ridiculous political discussion on Facebook. No sense in joining that shit show. So in addition to recusing myself from the cacophony that is Facebook politics, here’s my list of ten other reasons I’ve not written much lately.

1. Winter’s here and it’s hard to type when wearing mittens.

2. My give-a-shit meter is pegged.

3. Lamenting the dreaded holiday season in writing makes me seem like a non-McDuck Scrooge.

4. Because I’m cold all the time, my brain functions more slowly.

(Now this requires a brief explanation. As a rough approximation, for many chemical reactions happening at around room temperature, the rate of reaction doubles for every 10°C rise in temperature. Therefore, it stands to reason that there would be a commensurate reduction in rate for similar drops in temperature. It is winter. I am cold. My brain is also cold. Therefore, my brain chemistry is slowed and there exists a reduction in brain function sufficient to inhibit writing. QED.)

5. See reason #2.

6. I’ve been unusually busy at work. (This one’s actually true. I’ve been unexpectedly busy this year during the weeks when it’s usually slow. I suspect that’s just probably procrastination and piss-poor prior planning on my part.)

7. Supporting Emmett during his recovery from a recent muscular injury and upset tummy took up much of my attention. (He’s fine now, thanks for asking.)

8. I was busy binge watching a season and a half of “Daredevil,” the entire season of “Luke Cage,” both on Netflix, and the “Star Trek: TOS” marathon on BBC America. Priorities, people. Priorities.

9. Wild horses kept me away.

10. See reason #2.