hankrules2011

Just trying to make it, a day at a time…

A Review of Dealers of Lightning

Posted by Scott Holstad on March 3, 2015

Dealers of Lightning: Xerox PARC and the Dawn of the Computer AgeDealers of Lightning: Xerox PARC and the Dawn of the Computer Age by Michael A. Hiltzik

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I’ve heard of Xerox PARC (Palo Alto Research Center) for years now and of its importance, but this book really drove home just what a critical place PARC was for the development of the personal computer. It was an excellent, excellent book. I thoroughly enjoyed it.

Back in the mid-60s, Xerox decided they wanted to compete with IBM and AT&T by developing their own research labs in the hopes of winning prestige and a possible Nobel or two, just like Bell Labs did. They set PARC up with a virtually unlimited budget and told the director he could hire whomever he wanted. Pake, the director, had heard of one Bob Taylor, formerly of ARPA, the precursor of the Internet, and hired him to head his computer lab. Taylor instilled a fierce commitment in his employees, but had a very adversarial management style and made a lot of enemies around the company. Another key hire was Alan Kay, a programmer with a dream of creating laptops and one day tablets (30 years before they ever came out) which would be so easy to program, kids could do it. Soon PARC had the best and the brightest from Stanford, MIT, Carnegie Mellon, Harvard, UC Berkeley, Utah, etc. They came from all over, from the best computer science programs. And there were no deadlines and nothing to produce – it was like a giant think tank where you could just follow your dreams to see where they’d lead with unlimited funding. For the most part.

By the late 60s, one of the programmers had produced a mouse, ancient by our current standards, but radical by theirs. Also, they were producing GUI operating systems for point and click possibilities. By the mid to late 70s, the inventers had invented a graphical user interface, an operating system, overlapping windows, a text editor (word processor), a programming language, software, Ethernet for networking, a mouse, display, keyboard, audio, and a laser printer, which would be the only thing Xerox would go on to make money with. And that’s the crux of the situation. Xerox didn’t know what it had. Xerox did nothing with PARC. PARC embarrassed Xerox. The wizards at corporate were so far behind the times that change of that enormity just unnerved them too much to act, so they didn’t. In fact, they got rid of the R&D people who had created PARC, brought in new managers to run PARC, got rid of Bob Taylor (who had gotten too big for his britches), prompting a ton of resignations from his team members, and lost a lot of people who went on to form companies like 3Com, Adobe, SGI, and others. Xerox could have OWNED computing and they blew it! They literally could have been Microsoft, IBM, and Apple rolled into one and they blew it. The author tries to shield them from this criticism. He tries to say that as a copier company, they weren’t equipped to sell computers. Well, why invest in researching them, then? He tried to say you’d have to retrain 100,000 salesmen. Well, do it. Piss poor excuses, in my opinion. Xerox has no excuse for blowing things the way they did.

One last thing. I really enjoyed the chapter on the visit by Steve Jobs. Of course, it’s a famous story about how Jobs visited PARC, saw what they had, ripped them off, put everything in the Mac, and made a killing. Part of which is true. However, with his first visit, he was given just a main demo given anyone who would visit. Apparently he wasn’t impressed and he had the ear of the Xerox CEO, who was investing in Apple, so PARC got a call telling them to show Apple everything. Jobs and his crew went back again and this time got more, but not everything. Somehow Jobs knew this, and before Jobs was out of the building, the Xerox CEO was on the phone to PARC telling them to show them everything. This elicited a great deal of stress and agony in some Xerox employees, who thought they were giving away the store. (They were.) So Jobs went back and apparently went nuts when he saw the GUI interface, and his engineers also appreciated the mouse and networking, etc, et al. And so the Mac was born.

This book isn’t perfect. There are a ton of people to keep up with. It gets hard. Sometimes the book gets a little boring. But all in all, if you’re into computers and into the development of the personal computer, the story of how the first one was built before Steve Wozniak came along and claimed to do it is pretty awesome and the story of Xerox PARC is pretty awe inspiring. Definitely recommended.

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A Review of Dogfight

Posted by Scott Holstad on March 3, 2015

Dogfight: How Apple and Google Went to War and Started a RevolutionDogfight: How Apple and Google Went to War and Started a Revolution by Fred Vogelstein

My rating: 1 of 5 stars

Rarely has a book incensed me the way this one has. First of all, let me announce that I am an iPhone lover and Android hater. No need to take pot shots at me. Just the facts. If you don’t like it, read something else. Anyway, I thought this book was going to be a reasonably objective look into the war between Apple and Google on smart phones and tablets. Boy, was I wrong. The author lets us know right away where he stands. He starts by mocking Apple and Steve Jobs as they get set to introduce the iPhone to the public, making them look like total dunces and then pulling one over on the public’s eyes with a brilliant demo. Then, poor Google. They loved the iPhone. They loved Apple. So imagine how hurt they were when Jobs and Apple got wind of their development of the Android and didn’t appreciate it, of how badly their feelings were hurt. They even went for walks with Jobs assuring him that they weren’t going to go ahead with Android — only to do it. And this was somehow justified by the author. The author also went out of his way to explain that Apple has never sued Google, just the phone and tablet manufacturers. Okay. Nonetheless, Apple has the patents and it’s winning. This is a hatchet job disguised as journalism and it pisses me off. It also pisses me off that I spent good money on this damn book thinking I was getting one thing when in fact I was getting something else. If I wanted to read something by a Google cheerleader, I would have bought something else. So too, if I had wanted to read of a Jobs smear job on Google, I would have bought that — but I didn’t. I wanted something balanced. This was not. So I didn’t finish it. I made it to the seventh chapter before giving up. I’m trying to get my blood pressure down now. I can’t believe what a crock this book is. What a Google lover this author is. How open software trumps closed systems every time, which isn’t necessarily the case — look at the facts. Of all of the books I’ve not recommended, this comes in at the top of my list. Most definitely not recommended!

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Med Cocktail Mess

Posted by Scott Holstad on March 2, 2015

So I’ve been doing a lot of research on various websites lately on several different meds I take and the outlook is pretty grim. This all started because about a month ago, I was put on a new med with what drugs.com said had 109 side effects, including extreme rage, anxiety, hostility, suicidal tendencies, depression, and more. That’s a little worrisome. So we monitored how I did and to our relief, I didn’t experience any of those. What I did experience were extreme drowsiness, bloody noses, chest pains, dry mouth, and extreme tiredness, to the point of making it difficult for me to function throughout the day. But the payoff was good because the med — for pain — was actually working! However, as I started researching, I noticed the med was mentioned with another med that I was on, another fairly new one, that also had extreme tiredness as a side effect. Double whammy, I guess. Then, as I continued to research, I found a site that listed countless posts with people discussing three meds that I’m on — one I’ve been on for a long time — and a cocktail they believe is responsible for both short and long term memory loss. Big time memory loss. Very sobering. I guess the good thing is I’m on average doses for two of them and a smallish dose for the third, so I guess that’s good, but I’m really fatigued all of the time, just worn out. And my memory’s been going for awhile now. But perhaps more importantly, I can’t function during the day anymore. In the morning, I’m dropping off early and it doesn’t help that I’m a severe insomniac, often up at 1 or 2 AM. I’m usually good late in the morning or during the mid afternoon, but by late afternoon, I’m nodding off in a chair and by evening, I’m falling asleep in a chair and I’m ready for bed by 8. I don’t usually make it to bed that early, but I’m ready. It’s gotten so bad that it’s rough for me to drive during the day. I’ve fallen asleep at red lights. And yet I have a hard time taking naps. Go figure. It makes no sense. I get three hours of sleep a night, typically, and can’t sleep during the day, often, except now I’m always tired and nodding off. And it’s the meds. I’ve read about a few people who said their side effects cleared up when their doses were doubled. I’m a little concerned about asking for that, but I’m willing to give it a try. I’m going to try and call one of my doctors today about this. Four different doctors are monitoring these three meds I’m on. Surely one of them will have something decent to say about it! And the thing is, my pain level has substantially decreased, so I don’t want to decrease my med dose. It’s working. But something’s got to be done about the fatigue. I’m already taking Nuvigil and Adderral. I don’t know what else they could do about that. Maybe doubling the dose would do it. I’m willing to try it. Gah! These meds are going to be the death of me!

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Insomnia

Posted by Scott Holstad on February 22, 2015

I’ve been up since 12:15 AM and I want to write something about my severe insomnia, but I don’t know what to write. Yesterday, I had the luxury of sleeping in until 4:15, but that’s very rare. Normally, I’m up by 2:15. I typically go to bed around 10 or 10:30, so I average maybe three or perhaps four hours of sleep a night. I try to take a one hour nap after lunch every day, which helps to a certain degree, but I’m always exhausted. It’s very wearing. I take two sleeping pills and many other pills with sedative side effects, but while they put me to sleep, they don’t keep me asleep. It’s very frustrating. It’s been this way for at least 12+ years. For as long as I can remember. I can’t remember when it wasn’t this way. I don’t know what caused it or what causes it. I’ve tried every prescription and non-prescription sleep aid known and nothing helps. Right now, I’m taking Estazolam and Sonota, neither of which help that much, as I mentioned. I’m writing this at 4:25 AM and I feel like I’ve been up all morning. By the time my wife gets up, I’ll be ready to go back to bed. But I almost can never do that. I just can’t go back to sleep again. It’s very frustrating. Insomnia blows.

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A Review of What The Dormouse Said

Posted by Scott Holstad on February 21, 2015

What the Dormouse Said: How the Sixties Counterculture Shaped the Personal Computer IndustryWhat the Dormouse Said: How the Sixties Counterculture Shaped the Personal Computer Industry by John Markoff

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This book was a fascinating history of personal computing in America, most specifically in Northern California, most especially in the Stanford region. I swear, I had no idea that Stanford played such a strategic role in the development of the personal computer.

The book attempts to tie together nerdie engineers with counterculture LSD druggies with free love types with antiwar activists with students with hackers and the mix is considerably hard to pull off, even for a writer as accomplished as Markoff. In fact, I would say that he fails at it. Still, he tries, yes, he does. He tries a chronological approach to things and soon we have computer science engineers dropping acid in what will become Silicon Valley, leading to who knows what kinds of creativity. But Markoff really concentrates this book on two or three people: Doug Engelbart and his Augmented Human Intelligence Research Center at SRI (Stanford Research Institute) and John McCarthy’s SAIL (Stanford Artificial Intelligence Laboratory). Another important figure is Stewart Brand, author of the Whole Earth Catalog. Finally, there was programmer extraordinaire, Alan Kay.

Engelbart had a vision and he pulled in people to create his vision. He envisioned a computer — this was the 1960s — that would augment how people thought and what they did. McCarthy also envisioned a computerized world, albeit a slightly different one. Brand envisioned a computer for every person, while Kay envisioned small computers — laptops of today — that were so easy to use, that small children could be taught to use them. And these men all pulled it off!

Engelbart plays such a large role in the book, that it’s nearly all about him, and I think that does the book a bit of a disservice. Nonetheless, it’s he who creates the mouse to use with a display and keyboard in the late ’60s. He was funded largely by ARPA and was critical in the development of the ARPAnet, the precursor to the Internet.

At some point, the book shifts to Xerox PARC (Palo Alto Reserch Center), the infamous Xerox research facility that had the most brilliant geniuses of the twentieth century under one roof and who literally did invent the personal computer as we know it to be. This was before Steve Wozniak and his famous claim that he invented the personal computer. Under Bob Taylor At PARC, Kay and the others who had shifted over there invented a graphical user interface, an operating system, a text editor (word processor), programming language, software, Ethernet for networking, a mouse, display, keyboard, audio, and a laser printer, which would be the only thing Xerox would go on to make money with. Xerox was so stupid, they never realized what they had in hand and they could have owned the world, but they didn’t. Stupid, stupid, stupid.

Markoff weaves various stories of people like Fred Moore throughout the book, attempting to capture the counterculture spirit, but it seemed a little lost on me. Most of the techies weren’t overly political. Most avoided Vietnam by working in a research facility that did weapons research (SRI). Most dropped acid at some point, but very few seemed to make that a lifestyle choice. I thought it was an interesting book, as the topic is personally interesting to me, but it wasn’t the most cohesively written book and I would have expected a little more from a writer of Markoff’s stature. Still, four solid stars and recommended.

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Toby

Posted by Scott Holstad on February 18, 2015

Before I launch into today’s post, I want to acknowledge my last post and what happened with that. In my last post, I whined pretty pathetically about not getting comments or likes from my 406 followers. So I was stunned to get tons of comments AND likes on this post, most all of them from people who didn’t follow me! Including my own responses to various comments, there were 73 comments and dozens of likes on this post. And not too many took me to task. Most made the point that I needed to be more interactive in order to gain comments, as in I needed to make the rounds of other blogs and make more comments myself in order to get people to my site. And that’s probably true. So point taken. I shall try to do that. It was also nice to hear from some other ex-Xangans. And instead of offending followers and losing bunches of them, I actually gained some new ones. Bizarre! I wondered how people found my post. Apparently several people found it, somehow, and re-blogged it and people found it that way. I’m not sure why they felt compelled to re-blog it, but there you have it. So that’s the story. Thanks.

OK, so today is our beloved late cat Toby’s one year anniversary of his death. We still sometimes can’t believe he’s gone. We still miss him so much. We still feel like he was cheated out of a good life. You may remember that he was only six. That he died of kidney failure. That we had to have him “put to sleep,” which is a nice way of saying we had him killed. He had been getting sick and we were getting concerned. We took him to the vet as early as the preceding October. She put him on a special diet, but it was too little, too late. He really went downhill his last two weeks. It was really sad to see. During his last 24 hours, I thought he could be saved, as he had perked up a bit, so I took him home from the animal hospital and he seemed better, but that didn’t last long and he was obviously ill again within hours. So the next morning, I took him to the vet and my wife later told me she thought that would be the last time she’d ever see him. I can still remember him looking at me as they took him in his kennel into the back room. When they called me later to recommend euthanasia, I was devastated, but not horribly surprised. We had him cremated. We keep his jar of ashes next to my old cat, Rocky’s, ashes.

Toby used to like water. A lot. He liked to take showers with us. He’d drink out of the bath water with my wife every night. He’d get in the sink and drink out of the faucet every morning. He also used to like to get us up in the morning. It didn’t seem to matter that I have insomnia. He’d hang out with me in the office from 1 or 2 til 4 or 5 and then start wailing at the bedroom door, trying to get my wife up. I’d have to chase him up the hallway to try and quiet him down. He could also sleep with the best of them. Never met a cat that could relax so much. He really loved Gretchen’s Ravens blankie. He made it his own. He also loved shoes and loved sleeping with his face in them. I know — gross. Still, it was cute. He was a big cat — 22 pounds. He was tubby. He loved to eat. We’d put him on diets, but they never worked. Our other cat, Henry, is 15 pounds. Henry always let Toby eat first. Heh.

Toby died the week we were supposed to move. It was very stressful. We were moving from a crime-ridden neighborhood, to a nice peaceful neighborhood where we’d all be happier. We felt cheated that Toby never got to see the new house, never got to run around it, see the new neighborhood. Time went on. Meanwhile, Gretchen wanted a new pet, one to call her own since Henry is sort of my cat. He’s been with me since he was a tiny little kitten and often seems to favor me over others. It’s always been that way. Gretchen wavered between a dog and a cat and we went to adopt a dog one day, only to find it had already been adopted. We took that as a sign, so the day after Thanksgiving, we went to the local shelter and adopted a four month old tabby Gretchen named “Ace,” who’s a real cutie, albeit a crazed little monster who beats up on poor Henry constantly. Gretchen really seems to love him and I’ve even grown somewhat attached to him, although he’ll never take Toby’s place in my heart.

So I guess I’ve said enough. I just wanted to commemorate Toby today. It’s been a year since he died. That was an awful day. A lot has happened since then. We’re in a new house now, Toby. You would like it here. You’re sorely missed. RIP.

Toby and me

Toby and me

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Toby on a scale

Toby on a scale

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Toby in a scarf

Toby in a scarf

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Why Bother?

Posted by Scott Holstad on February 15, 2015

You know, I’m becoming pretty discouraged blogging here on WordPress. I used to blog on Xanga all the time for years. In fact, it is where I met my wife many years ago. And there was a real sense of community there. You looked forward to getting on Xanga to see what everyone was up to that day, what had been going on. That doesn’t happen on WordPress. At all. It’s a totally different format. And so I’ve adapted my blogging practices in an effort to change. But I’m afraid it’s been for no good cause.

As of right now, I have 406 followers here on WordPress. Not the most, by far, but still, a decent number. And you know how many hits my posts get? 20 or 30. How many likes? Three or four. My excellent blog post I wrote on our new floors complete with pictures got one the other day. WTF??? What the fuck is wrong with you people??? Two years ago, when I had half the followers, I was getting 10 or 11 likes, so what am I doing differently now to get no likes? And comments? My wife has commented on about a quarter of my 472 posts. Another blogger has commented on 50 posts. The next highest is 13. In four years. In four years of writing blogs, the third best I can do is 13 comments? WTF? I happen upon all of these blogs by all of these teeny bopper girlies who are self published and self important “authors” dispensing writing advice with hundreds of comments and I just shake my head in amazement. Now I’ll admit, I’m not a very good commenter on other people’s blogs, so I’m willing to cut some people some slack, but I almost never get comments.

So my question is, what the hell are you people doing? Why are you even following me if you’re not remotely interested in reading my posts, or liking them, or commenting about them? Why not do me a big favor and stop following me? In fact, after reading this post, I expect to see about half of you flee and I expect to lose followers in droves, or then again, maybe not. Since most of you don’t even see what I write, perhaps you won’t even see this post. I don’t know. And I’m not sure I care. However, just because I’m somewhat curious, I’m going to post a little poll and I challenge you to answer it just to give me some feedback so I know what’s going on. If you do, a big thanks to you.

  1. I read your posts somewhat regularly, but never feel inspired to like or comment on them.
  2. I read your posts somewhat irregularly, but never feel inspired to like or comment on them.
  3. I like your book reviews, but don’t feel compelled to comment on them.
  4. I don’t like your attitude.
  5. I don’t like or comment on anyone’s posts. Don’t feel so special.
  6. You don’t write enough non-book review posts.
  7. Other.

I don’t know what else to include. As I’ve thought about it, I’ve come to realize that I write about a lot of things. It seems to me that something would appeal to most everyone. Among the topics I’ve written about include book reviews, Christianity, creative writing, depression, family, health, hockey, life, music, NHL, Philip K. Dick, Pittsburgh Penguins, poetry, politics, publishing, religion, reviews, science fiction, sports, and writing. Surely there’s something there to interest most people, right? I guess not. Not if you go by my stats. Well, here’s to no one reading this post.

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A Review of A Spy at Twilight

Posted by Scott Holstad on February 15, 2015

A Spy at TwilightA Spy at Twilight by Bryan Forbes

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

There is little doubt that with the thriller, A Spy at Twilight, Bryan Forbes is trying to become a contemporary of Forsyth. Sadly, he fails. See, the secret to Forsyth’s success is his enormous dedication to research, details, and planning, as well as intricate story telling. Forbes shares none of these traits. He spins a decent yarn, yes, but not nearly as well as Forsyth.

In this book, a booby trapped corpse explodes when investigated by a couple of British cops, killing both, and setting off a massive investigation. England is “ruled” by a socialist prime minister who it’s hard to pin down and I attribute that to the author — the prime minister is clearly influenced by the head of the secret service — MI6 — who in this novel is called “Control,” which just seems so wrong. What seems even more wrong is the hero of all of the James Bond novels and countless Forsyth novels, “Control” is a Russian plant working to overthrow Britain for Russian rule. That’s literally unthinkable to me. And he seems, at times, to have the prime minister working alongside him, and at other times, the prime minister doesn’t seem to have a clue about what’s going on. It’s very confusing.

Another part of the plot involves a former British spy, Hillsden, who has defected to the Russians, who was forced to by the prime minister and Control and who now, just to survive, works for the GRU. And he’s bitter. He writes his memoirs and attempts to get them back to a colleague in Britain, but it only leads to various deaths.

Meanwhile, the protagonist, Waddington, is a former MI6 spy, now working for a security company who has been seduced by a mysterious rich hottie who is working for Control, although he of course doesn’t know it. And to my total shock, the author kills him off about 80% of the way through the book. So now what? Well, there are secondary characters who now take over, but it’s very confusing. You expect to make it through the whole book with the protagonist, don’t you? Generally? Perhaps it’s post-modern…. I didn’t like it though.

Another thing I didn’t like was small details like the following: the author several times referred to revolver “magazines.” Um, revolvers don’t have magazines. I know. I have one. I also have semiautomatic handguns. Those do have magazines. Get it right. The author is also extremely obsessed with AIDS. Now I know this book was published in the middle of the AIDS epidemic in 1989, so I can empathize, but come on. We get it. We are So.Very.Happy.You.Did.Not.Get.AIDS. God, go on and on about it, dude! Additionally, the terrorist known as “The Fat Boy” is not fat. He forces some type of cyanide pill down the throat of the woman who has seduced Waddington by kissing her, which seems a little unlikely. And Keating seems to good to be true, as spy turned movie producer turned good guy.

This isn’t really a bad book. It’s just not really a good one either. It could have done with some polishing, a little rewriting, some editing, some adjustments. That would have upped my rating to four stars. As it is, it’s three stars and uneasily recommended if you can’t find any other thrillers to read.

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New Floors!

Posted by Scott Holstad on February 13, 2015

So after much aggravation, we finally have some new floors!

In early January, we started researching this and settled on a place that seemed fairly reliable and had a good selection. We wanted a new kitchen floor for the first thing (well, my wife did) and we (I) wanted hardwood floors to replace our carpet throughout much of the rest of the house. The question was just how much. That question was answered two ways. One, we found out we would be put out for several days — we and our cats — with the contractors having to move all of the furniture, including the beds, etc., and that didn’t jibe with us. So we eliminated the three upstairs bedrooms. That left the dining room, living room, foyer, and hallway. So the question remained, what about the downstairs? We have a smallish den, a laundry room, which we didn’t want touched, and our office, as well as the stairs. Well, the more I thought about it, the more I realized what a massive hassle it would be to pack up the permanently messy office. It would even be a minor hassle to pack up the den. But we were still open. Until we got the prices. We decided on a pretty LVT kitchen floor that was pretty reasonable. They said they could get it done in one day. And we took some wood samples home to look at, including cherry, but they were too dark for me, so I begged Gretchen to consider something lighter. We had really light wood in our old house and I thought that might be too light for this house, but our living room is pretty dark here and I thought the cherry might make for a pretty depressing room, so I asked for something in between. And we found a nice one, oak I think, with a nice texture at a somewhat reasonable cost. We asked for estimates on the upstairs and the downstairs too, including the stairs. Well, we found out we could afford the upstairs, but the downstairs was a little too rich for our blood and they wanted to charge $2,000 to do the stairs alone!!! That’s crazy! So we decided on the upstairs. They said we’d have to paint our own trim, but I said no way, they’d have to do it or no deal, so they agreed. And they were supposed to start on that this past Tuesday. It was supposed to take two days. The project manager had recommended a floating wood solution, as opposed to a glued down wood, for various reasons, so that’s what we went with. And things went downhill from there.

On the day the contractors were to show up to do the kitchen, they didn’t show up. At all. After awhile, I called the folksy saleswoman who had pre-charged us thousands of dollars and told us we had paid for “everything” then and she looked into it and said there had been a misunderstanding and they wouldn’t be coming that day, they’d be coming the next. I wasn’t happy. I told her. The next day they showed up and after several hours of work, it became apparent that they didn’t have enough materials with them to finish the job. And the warehouse they came from didn’t have more. They’d have to order more from the actual plant. I called the saleswoman and let her have it. She said she’d call the plant and would have the materials overnighted to her and they’d be there mid-morning the next day. So these guys showed up the next day and finished up and even though we were ticked, we were pleased with the finished product and thought the floor looked good. Still, we were apprehensive about the hardwood floor installation.

That was last month. On Tuesday, these same contractors showed up to install the hardwood. It was really difficult for me because that meant I’d be trapped downstairs with two ticked off cats for a couple of days with a lot of noise overhead. I have severe insomnia and depend on naps to survive and I wouldn’t be getting any, so that was frustrating too. Well, they moved furniture around and took up carpet and started laying wood in the living room and then called the project manager in to talk to me. Turns out they said the floor had dips in it. Major dips. They said many houses had dips, but they were usually a quarter inch — ours were an inch. They said they often put a cardboard box in the dip and that works. They said they’d tried three with ours and that didn’t work, so they didn’t feel comfortable laying our floor and said we’d have to do something different. We’d have to get a leveler and get it laid overnight. Then the contractors would have to glue the wood to the floor. This, of course, would cost a whole lot more. I wasn’t happy and when I contacted my wife, she was livid. She felt like it was a bait and switch and I felt similarly. So we had to wait until the saleswoman called me with the figures and I laid into her and she said we didn’t have to do this at all, but it was obvious we did, so I ok’d it at an additional cost, part of which I had to prepay. Then the contractors went to get the leveler, came back, started spreading it around the floor, and left it to dry overnight, which meant we had to leave the cats downstairs all night and which also meant this two day operation was now going to be a three day operation.

On Wednesday, they returned anxious to lay wood. And boy, they did. The cats and I were downstairs and could hear them going to town. At the end of the day, they had done the living room and dining room. We still couldn’t let the cats up though, because all of the furniture was scattered everywhere and we knew we’d never be able to catch them to put them downstairs the next day when the contractors returned. So they stayed downstairs another night.

Remember when I said the saleswoman said we had paid for everything? Not true. When I was talking with her on the phone, she said I’d have to pay the project manager for installation. I asked her what she was talking about. She asked if I’d gotten his quote. I said I thought I had, yes. But I reminded her I had paid for everything up front and she had told us so. “Oh no sir, you did not,” she told me. She said I’d just paid for materials and I still owed many thousands of dollars in installation charges. This was devastating news. Devastating. We have a limited budget. Damn, I mean come on! When you told us we paid for everything, we thought you meant everything, not just part of everything. My wife was livid and I wasn’t far behind her. I said so this is going to be a “X” amount deal, is that right? She added things up and said, no, it’d be less than that, but it’d still be thousands more than I’d allocated for it. Shit!

Well, the contractors showed up yesterday to finish up. They had the painting to do, the foyer and hallway, the quarter rounds (whatever those are), and then cleaning up and moving the furniture back. They finished up late in the afternoon and the project manager came back to give me his bill. He was nice enough, I guess, not to charge me for the painting, which was a decent savings. I still had to pay thousands though. Still, after they left, I just walked around and admired. It looked like they did a really good job. It looked really nice. The living room actually looked bigger. I took my shoes off and wandered around barefoot. I opened up the door to the downstairs and let the cats up. They were elated to be upstairs again, but tread cautiously. They weren’t sure what to think, especially Ace, who’d never seen a wood floor before. When Gretchen got home, she seemed to like it too. So we’re done with that chapter. Now we’re thinking of getting a large carpet for the living room. Why? I’m not sure. It just seems to be the thing to do. Anyway, I’m going to post some pictures for you to see. Cheers!

Kitchen floor

Kitchen floor

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Hallway floor

Hallway floor

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Foyer

Foyer

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Living Room

Living Room

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Dining room floor

Dining room floor

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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A Review of Praying To The Aliens

Posted by Scott Holstad on January 27, 2015

Praying To The AliensPraying To The Aliens by Gary Numan

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Ever since I heard “Cars” on the radio in 1979 at the age of 14, I’ve been a Gary Numan fan. He was different. He was strange. He made good music. I enjoyed his first few albums and then lost track of him. Well, recently, I’ve renewed my interest in Numan and have purchased quite a few of his albums, including some older ones I didn’t have and some newer ones that are quite different from his old sound. And I’ve really enjoyed listening to his music again. For a long time, I wondered what this unusual person was like. He obviously had been influenced by glam and Bowie. But how much? And the fascination with the synth? It’s like they were made for him.

I found out about this book last year and immediately wanted to get it. It’s Numan’s autobiography, but it’s from a British publisher and is apparently out of print because you can’t get new copies. It was also published in 1998, so it’s not brand new. Still, it sounded promising. A couple of months ago, I found a bookstore in England that had a good used copy they would sell me for an obscene price, but I bit the bullet and paid and it was for some reason shipped through Switzerland and arrived at my house last week. I was elated.

I dove into the book and couldn’t stop reading. It was everything I had hoped for and more. It’s an excellent autobiography, very personal, very telling, very detailed, very good.

Numan was born Gary Webb to doting parents who pretty much spoiled him. He was initially a good student, but as he approached his high school years, became rebellious and was kicked out of school. From an early age, he showed an appreciation of music and of airplanes.

He learned to play the guitar at a young age and played at being in a band with some friends. This was news to me, because I’d always thought of him as a keyboardist. I didn’t even know he played the guitar. He eventually formed a band as a late teen called Tubeway Army and they were signed to a small label, where they put out their first album sometime around 1977 or so. However, as Gary was the driving force in the band, they changed the name to Gary Numan and Tubeway Army and later just to his name. (He had come up with a more “interesting” surname than just Webb.)

His album Replicas came out in 1979 and was an immediate hit, much to everyone’s surprise. “Down in the Park” was a great song, and there were other good ones on it too. He then felt pressure from the music label to come up with something else, so later in the same year, he released the classic, The Pleasure Principle, which featured “Cars” and soon both the song and the album were number one on the charts. He was a star at the age of 20.

Now bear in mind, he was very much an introvert — except when he was on the stage. He was a loner, he felt uncomfortable with other people, he was socially awkward, and he liked technology more than he did people. When he discovered synthesizers in a studio, it not only changed his music forever, it changed his life. Now he was the front man, no longer playing guitars, and his band was synth heavy. In 1980, he released Telekon, which I believe also hit number one with great songs, such as “This Wreckage” and “We Are Glass.” His devoted parents were now part of his crew. His dad was his manager, his mother, his wardrobe designer and in charge of the new fan club. All of a sudden, he was rich and bought houses and cars and eventually even an airplane that he learned to fly. He went on tours of both Europe and America and even though he never played to big audiences, he usually connected with his fans in a big way. Except his tours lost money. A lot.

In 1981, Dance was released with the single, “She’s Got Claws,” and it too was a hit. His music company was putting pressure on him to become more dance-oriented, though, and his stuff, while it sometimes had a beat, was more tech-based. His lyrics were also strange, drawing on his love of Philip K. Dick and Williams Burroughs.

It was at this point he started to slip. In 1982, he released I, Assassin, but it didn’t do as well as his previous records and the press was absolutely just slaughtering him publicly, something he never understood and something that would never change in his career. The press hated him. As he continued to release albums, other New Wave, synth-heavy bands started competing with him and he couldn’t get any more radio airplay, which just killed his career. Soon, he split from his label, and finding little interest elsewhere, formed his own. However, instead of concentrating on his career, he stupidly signed insignificant indie acts and plowed money into them, which he subsequently lost. By the mid to late ’80s, he was no longer musically significant, even though he continued to produce records. And he went broke. In debt, even. He had to sell the houses, cars, airplane, etc.

Let me interject. He met other musicians along the way. At one point, he was elated to get to meet his hero, Bowie, to do a television concert. Well, Bowie blew him off and got him tossed off the show. That really hurt him. However, he also got to meet Queen, and writes that they were tremendously nice to him and he had a great time hanging out with them. That was cool, as I’m also a Queen fan.

During Numan’s down time, he decided to embark on a crazy journey — he flew around the world. It’s a really interesting tale in the book and it was a harrowing journey, including getting arrested in India on suspicion of being a spy! He got so good at flying, he eventually became an instructor and did air shows.

Back to the music. A couple of things happened in the mid ’90s to turn things around for Numan. First, popular bands started doing Numan covers in concerts and on their albums — groups like Nine Inch Nails, Marilyn Manson, The Smashing Pumpkins, Fear Factory, Hole, and many more. Many musicians cited him as being a major influence on their own career. And he came back out of the shadows and became sort of in fashion again. Also, he found a new sound. He moved to a heavier goth/industrial sound with more sobering lyrics and, as a result, gained a new audience. Since then, his albums have sounded this way and I have several and I just love them. They’re brilliant. Nothing like his early stuff, but that’s okay. Musicians have to grow and change or they’ll become stagnant.

It was around this time that he met his wife, Gemma, and they’re still together — I follow both on Twitter — and they have three daughters. He’s made back some of his money, although I don’t know how much, but things seems pretty good for him. And that makes me happy.

This book looks deep inside Gary Numan and it’s a real treat to read about his happiness, his insecurities, his victories and his defeats. It’s a very personal autobiography and I can’t endorse it strongly enough. Heavily recommended.

View all my reviews

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