Posted in Me, Military Community Interests

2 Years Is Long Enough Away, I’n It?

I’n’ it? That’s the shortened version of “isn’t it,” which is the shortened version of “is not it,” which makes zero sense.

OK – so I’ve been away from this for 2 years now. In all honesty, this was never intended to be a regular post; I have neither the talent, patience, or desire to maintain a running monologue.

Much has changed these past years, although much has also not. Still working where I was working before, watching the Wiesbaden community expand well beyond its intended capacity. A 1000 car garage has been built, with a 500 car extension being added to it. There’s also a 2nd garage being built, and, I believe, even a 3rd. So now, with all these new spots, parking here is worse now than what I reported in 2012.  The original spots are either designated for specifically registered vehicles, or 1 to 2 hour parking only.  The remainder of the “unlimited use” places that still exist are usually filled well before I get to work.

Sometimes, it can be amusing watching cars go through a Musical Chairs routine as they – as slowly as possible – circle our one hour customer only parking lot (or vultures circling roadkill, if you prefer).  As I mentioned in a previous blog, many park where they shouldn’t.  MP presence hasn’t noticeably increased with the larger population, and we don’t have “meter maids” here, so parking tickets are rare, and apparently with no real punishment (no fines, although the Community Commander has threatened a “3 strikes – no driving privileges” policy).

Moving on – we have fewer places to eat now on base than we did 2 years ago.  The mobile imbiss is gone, but the Shoppette promises a Starbucks(!) very soon now.  GREAT!  We can never have enough coffee service.  Caffeine is a great alternative to food.  I’n’ it?

Thank You, Dave Kellet
http://sheldonstore.com

 

 

Also, Cinnabon has been replaced by a German bakery, which provides crappy coffee, crappy espresso, and crappy cappuccino, along with some pastries, and a few crappy samiches.

 

 

 

 

 

 


Moving on – I’m going to relate a story that could be taken out of the Al Bundy/Tim “The Tool Man” Taylor diaries…

About 6 months ago I went to a local, German hardware superstore, for a replacement shower wand – most German homes don’t have fixed shower heads – they use wands, connected by hose to the faucet.

Traditional Brass Hand Shower Wand & HoseI don’t ‘member why I went – the old one may have been clogged with kalk, leaking, or  whatever.  Do’n’t matter (different tense than i’n’ it – stay with me here).  While perusing the aisle for the €15 or €20 replacement I came upon a rather retro fixed “Rain” shower head.  Of course, it’s a system – I can’t just screw it on to the end of a hose. I picked one – and since it actually came with a wand as well – I can say that I even accomplished my original goal – for €180.

So, I loaded it into my car and took it home.  An hour and a half later, with no working shower, I assembled it, cut a couple of fingers from the rough edges, drilled a few new holes into my bathroom tile, and another hour before it’s fixed to the wall.  Now, my shower is actually an extension of my bathtub, and the faucet is in the center of the long part of the tub – there’s probably a proper term for that, but hell with it.  After all the hoses are connected, the shower head’s in place – it’s all finished, I can now try it.  First I noticed that the head reaches just a little bit too far across the bathtub (this is why I had to explain where the faucet was because that’s where I installed this thing). If the shower curtain’s not in place my floor will get soaked.  It worked fine until I decided…

Let’s movc forward to this last week.  I had decided to buy a new showerhead – smaller – about 20cm (8″) wide instead of the 25cm (10″) that came with the system.  Back to the hardware store I went (Do Not get ahead of me here), found a suitable, €20 showerhead.  Went home, unscrewed the old, larger one, and screwed the new one in place.  As I was tightening it down (by hand) I felt something give, and suddenly the showerhead’s no longer tightening – just spinning.  Being mechanical, I figured that something broke.

I took a gander at the armature that connected the showerhead, popped off a cap that was not only poorly glued, but the amount of glue that was inside this channeling made it obvious that it was placed as a form of “loc-tite” (http://amzn.to/1j8DNcW) formed around the nut to keep the showerhead from spinning just like it was doing.  Not just that, but the stuff that was glued was an incredibly cheap plastic flange, which itself was broken.  I cut my fingers (again – I keep an adequate supply of band-aids) and managed to remove the flange so I could “work” with it (i.e., glue).  I realized in the morning that even if my gorilla glue worked that it would fail when the shower was all put back together and water started running through it.  So, I grabbed it, cleaned up most of the glue and blood from the flange, and the next day grabbed a German-speaking colleague for a trip back to the hardware store.

Of course, this particular flange was not a common hardware flange – it was special, and the German specialist who knows about these things referred me to the Flange Specialist Shop down the road.  Since I was on a relatively limited schedule (aka lunch), I didn’t have time to go chasing down maybes.  Let’s see how much time/patience  I’d have after work.

Wednesdays, after work, is laundry day.  There’s not enough room in my apartment for a washer (and the landlady’s afraid I’ll break hers).  I have to set aside time and quarters, and go to the laundromat at Hainerberg.  THAT takes priority over flanges.  When my laundry was done the interest that I had in taking this €1 piece of plastic crap to the Flange Specialist Store was just about at the same level as wanting to drop a bowling ball on my right big toe (i.e., not high on my list), so on my 10 minute drive home, I drove by the store (only about 1/2 hour out of the way from the house), and found it dark.

It’s funny, sometimes, when you just just do something without a particular goal in mind, and it seems to exactly fit in with something that wasn’t intended (is that kismet?).  Earlier, when we got back from lunch (my colleague-translator and I), I decided to buy some Euros, a couple of hundred – I don’t like being without cash.

It just so happens that right down the road from the closed Flange Specialist Store were 2 super hardware stores, and here I was without a working shower at the house, and Euros handily in my pocket.  I walked in and came upon a rather retro fixed “Rain” shower head. Of course, it’s a system – I can’t just screw it on to the end of a hose. I picked one – and since it actually came with a wand as well – no….   This one I thoroughly looked at – knew from experience what to avoid – found one that appeared suitable, and bought it.  €100 cheaper than the first one.

After opening the box , I noticed quickly that I was not looking at an Ikea installation.  The kit contained a top and bottom fixture, 2 hoses, the showerhead, a wand, and a small box of parts. Inside the box contained 2 screws and wall anchors, and a couple of round mounting brackets to fasten the fixture to the wall.  That’s it. I almost didn’t need the manual (which was in every language except english).  I took the old assembly down, drained it, removed the old anchors, filled those holes in and took a break until this morning.

I had also measured where I wanted to drill the holes last night for the 2 anchors that I would install, and since I woke up coincidently an hour early I decided to go ahead and mount the new system.  Absolute simplicity, except that right out of bed, I reached in to the parts box and out jumped a little tiny threaded plug (size is listed as m5 if you’re interested).

Threaded plug 1/16 - 3/4

Did it land on the ground, maybe get caught in the bathroom carpet?  Oh, hell no – it made a bee-line for the bathroom sink – right down the drain.  I watched it in my stupor – I know exactly where it went.  So, I went to my toolbox, got out my telescopic magnet that I have for just these kind of situations (and since it was still in its packaging I think I can say that I’ve never actually had one of these situations), and poked it down the drain – twice – thrise – frice.  The magnet stuck to every damn thing in the drain except the thing that I was fishing for.  Then I started wondering if I really needed it at all – all it did was lock the top part of the fixture to the bottom.  Then I started to wake up – I found a screw the same size and thread pattern and from that derived the “M5” size.  I knew the hardware store would have those but I didn’t want to buy just one – neither did I have any use for more than just one.  What to do?  I knew – from experience – that plug was in the sink trap, but mine didn’t have a drain plug, and I wasn’t looking forward to removing the pipe – with my luck I’d wreck a gasket and swamp the bathroom (what we call Pipering things up).  Running out of options – and needing a shower – I risked it.  Unscrew this, unscrew that, that curvy part of the drain almost fell off into my hands.  I dumped the contents into a can, and there that little bugger was – that little, threaded, COPPER, piece of, um, metal.  Surprising that nothing else was in the trap – other than sludge.  Plus it all went back together as easy as I took it apart.  No leaks. Good seal.  Wow!  10 minutes later the entire shower assembly was mounted to the wall.  Tested it – flawless – lined up perfectly on the wall – barely see the marks from the old holes.

Then the alarm went off – it was all a dream.  No – a little cleanup and I’m still ahead of schedule (that was only the first alarm).

I should have a zinger here for the end but …

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Posted in Military Community Interests

Shotgun Blast Across The Wiesbaden Bow

Wow, Boy, that’s some range that thar shotgun gots…  Dumba## – that was just a mixed metaphor.

Like I mentioned, back in November 2010 (https://acpiper.wordpress.com/2010/11/18/hello-world/)  I would also be ranting about my local community.  I think today’s the day.

The Wiesbaden Military Community is growing.  There is all kinds of construction happening around both the Airfield and Hainerberg Housing Areas.  Some time ago the 1st Armored Division moved out and now the V Corps is moving in (http://www.vcorps.army.mil/).  I don’t think I’m giving away any state secrets when I mention that a massive housing complex and parking garage is being added alongside the airfield, or that massive renovation and construction is happening at Hainerberg (http://www.herald-union.com/article.php?i=16600).

Our community is getting more and more crowded.  We’ll continue to have an influx of folks being moved here from Heidelberg, and we’ll become ever more cramped.   There are delays getting on post due to additional traffic and/or bottlenecks at the security checkpoints.  Once on post, parking has already become largely non-existent.  People park where they shouldn’t because there’s no room to park where they should.  They park on the shoulders of roads, or all day in one hour or less parking slots.

I’ve got three methods of fixing our parking problems, and one of these goes back to my days in the Army…

1.  Don’t the Company Commanders and First Sergeants have control over who gets to drive a car (Privately Owned Vehicle in military jargon)?  In my day you were not authorized to get your driver’s license until you were a Command sponsored Specialist (E4) or higher.  Command sponsorship required an extension of the soldier’s tour of duty.  Usually, you got command-sponsored when you got married, assuming that you wanted your spouse to come over.  I don’t think I ever saw a PFC or lower with a car in my day.  Another thing – we marchedin formation.  Sometimes it was as a complete company, and other times it was squad-sized.  If there were more than 3 people going somewhere one would lead and the rest would be marching in formation.  Cadence was sometimes used, sometimes not.  Whatever happened to that?  Now, as I look around, I see soldiers driving 2 blocks to their destinations.  They drive to the Dining Facility, and to the Gym.  My answer number 1:  if you live in the barracks (which is still an accurate term, in spite of the move toward more private “dorm” style accommodations), are not command-sponsored, and below the rank of Sergeant (E-5), you should not be authorized to have a POV.  If you need to go off-post there’s a shuttle that’s usually almost empty that will take you to Mainz Kastel and the PX, taxis and civilian buses that will take you anywhere else.

2.  Install pay parking gates in all parking lots.  Just like downtown garages, make exemptions for those authorized to park there (i.e. for work), and charge the rest by hour, week, month, whatever.  Give the profits to MWR.

3.  Enforce parking regulations.  Ticket violators, and make the tickets mean something.  It does no MP any benefit to write up a ticket that a violator knows HAS NO TEETH in it.  Conduct tow-aways for abandoned and untagged vehicles.  Units can provide all sorts of dis-incentives to keep soldiers in line, including punishment to the soldier for something that their spouses may have done.  If a soldier, or spouse of a soldier, performs an illegal activity then their command should take appropriate action, and that should include minor infractions like this.  Civilian employers should also be able to provide corrective action to their employees.  The bottom line is that parking violations are illegal, like burglary, and violators should be caught and prosecuted. And, while we’re on the topic of MP enforcement, there’s entirely too many drivers performing illegal maneuvers.  I watch any number of cars daily make turns against our one direction only parking lot, and in fact, nearly got run over by a moron who not only disregarded the “Do Not Enter” signs but also wasn’t paying attention to pedestrians.  Too busy chatting on the phone.  Another favorite is drivers using the restricted roads (http://www.howtogermany.com/images/roadsigns1.jpg – look at images 250 & 251) as their personal thoroughfare.  There’s one right along the airfield that’s a classic – probably used 100 times a day.  One MP parked on the road with ticket book in hand could bring that to a (literal) screeching halt.

So, those are my 3 solutions: restrict POV operation for those in the barracks, charge people to park, and enforce the already established laws and regulations.  All of these methods can be put into place – it’s unnecessary to choose which to enforce.  The only one that actually costs anything would be the establishment of paid parking, and that would pay for itself in very short order.

Now, just so you don’t think that I’m only on the soapbox for parking, here’s another thing:  Cigarettes now cost about $45  a carton at the PX (22.5¢ a cigarette, and these are TAX-FREE for sale outside of the US).  I quit smoking in 1998, when Marlboros “only” cost $18 a carton (9¢ a cigarette).  I was smoking between a 1-1/2 to 2 packs a day, depending on how much time I sat in front of the computer, so let’s call it 35 cigarettes a day (35 x 9¢ = $3.15).  In a month the cost rose to (30 x $3.15 =  $94.50).  In a year it would cost (365 x $3.15 =$1149.75).  Using the same calculations for today, at 22.5¢ a cigarette (35 cigs x 22.5¢ = $7.88 per day), (30 x $7.875 = $236.25 per month), and (365 x $7.875 = $2874.38 per year).   Now, I’m only comparing the habit that I had in 1998 to the habit I might otherwise have in 2012, but I can’t – who knows – I may have died by now.  You may argue that everybody smokes less today because it’s more difficult to smoke.  There are fewer places, and more people like me who actually get up in your face and tell you to obey the rules about where you’re allowed to smoke. Also, since it is more expensive, a few may be more conscious of the INVESTMENT needed to “grab a smoke.”

So, what does this financial rant have to do with Wiesbaden? Well, in spite of an EXECUTIVE ORDER signed by President Bill Clinton (http://clinton6.nara.gov/1997/08/1997-08-09-executive-order-13058-on-smoking-in-federal-workplaces.html), there’s an outfit in Wiesbaden that has NEVER been in compliance. In fact, I would wager that there’s one at just about every military region.  In Wiesbaden the place is called “The Cappuccino Casino,” and it’s in the Hainerberg Shopping Center.  Essentially, it’s a common bar with an adjoining room full of smelly, smoke-coated slot machines.  There’s also a separate room a couple of doors away for non-smokers.  Please note that should the non-smokers desire something to drink that they have to go outside and down a couple of doors to get to the bar.

After the Executive Order was released the Army updated its Regulation on Health Promotion, and in turn, all local commands updated their policies on smoking.  Cessation courses and anti-smoking campaigns became prevalent, and smoking, which was common in my day, slowly began to be looked at, at least publicly,  with disdain.  In private, though, the The Cappuccino Casino held out, and continues to hold out to this day.  AR600-63 (http://www.apd.army.mil/pdffiles/r600_63.pdf) specifies where non-smoking facilities may be employed, and cites DODI 1010.15 (usmilitary.about.com/library/milinfo/dodreg/bldodreg1010-15i.htm) as a source of HOW non-smoking facilities are to operate.  To break it all down, authorized smoking areas cannot be in area where people may be affected by second hand smoke that don’t wish it.  Even with the current exhaust system, since the room in question is also filled with slot machines, non-smokers should also be able to freely enter to use the machines.  They are discouraged because of the excessive amount of smoke constantly in the room, and the lingering smell that pervades even after the smokers are gone.

Cappuccino Casino has previously argued that smoking and gambling are connected to each other – nothing more than an opinion that does not bear scrutiny.  It might be argued that if people stopped paying $3,000 a year for tobacco that they could have more gambling money.  My fix is simple.  Clean up the “Smoking Room,” bring it into compliance with the Exec Order & the Army Regs by making the entire building smoke-free, and produce a smoking area somewhere outside, 50 feet away from the entrance/exit.  Could even put picnic tables there and send an employee outside to sell drinks.  The slots in both rooms could become available to everyone, and I can just about guarantee that the Cappuccino Casino wouldn’t lose a dime. This would require MWR, ARMP, and the local command to “grow a pair” and force the compliance issue, but that doesn’t seem unreasonable. Certainly better than closing it down for non-compliance or compliance renovation for a habit that’s just a dead-end anyway.

And, the last thing I have to say about this, is, if the Army is so all-fired concerned about the health of the soldiers, then why are cigarettes and other tobacco products still sold by AAFES/DECA, and at very nearly the same price that their stateside counterparts sell, in spite of the fact that 30% or more of the cost of those products are in the form of taxes, and those sold by AAFES/DECA are TAX-FREE?  Can you say “Follow The Money?  I knew you could.

Lastly, and I may have already covered this in another post, eating establishments on the Airfield suck.  What do we have?  Here’s a list – and if you locals know of a place that I didn’t list let me know…

1.  Lil’ Italy – a tiny, overpriced mostly Italian restaurant in the Catering Center.

2.  Subway – Food Court

3.  American Eatery – Food Court (til 10:00),  4.  Sahin’s Doener – Food Court (after 10:30)

5.  Anthony’s Pizza – Food Court (people only visit Anthony’s out of desperation)

6.  Dining Facility – recently VERY sub-standard, but probably still the busiest facility for meals on-post.

7.  German Cantina

8.  AAFES Shopette

9.  Mobile Imbiss in front of the Shopette

10.  Cinnabon – Food Court – certainly nothing there for lunch

There are literally hundreds of soldiers and hundreds of civilians on this post.  Granted, many choose to bring their lunches or go off-post, but for those left, the pickings are pretty slim.  And, it’s going to get worse – the lines will lengthen as the population grows.  Besides the Dining Facility (DFAC), Subway is the busiest.  People would rather wait 10-thick in line there rather than go to Anthony’s, which, generally, doesn’t have any lines.  Both AAFES and the Military Community’s leadership really need to take a look at the problem and come up with a solution.  There’s a building right next to the cantina – used to be a bratwurst stand for the German workers to use while they were building our bazillion dollar gym.  Been closed since the gym opened.  Hey guys!  Use it!  Make it a “Frank’s Franks” or lease it out.  Replace Anthony’s with, I don’t know, something edible, and give us a burger joint, and I’m not talking about Burger King or McDonalds – I mean like a cafeteria, like what AAFES used to have.

I’ve been here for a long time.  I’ve watched the Army become more and more technologically superior that we can now just about conduct wars by remote control.  It won’t be long before DARPA contracts George Lucas to provide the know-how to construct a “Droid Army,” completely eliminating the need of losing any more soldiers in battle.  So, with all this techo-talent, why can’t the DoD develop a decent eating establishment?  Why do we depend on fast-food at a time when we acknowledge that 99% of all fast food is unhealthy?  Yes, some is less bad than others, but even Subway sells more fat than lean.  Salad?  Healthy, right?  Add cheese, croutons, and dressing, and you might as well be eating a Big Mac.  The difference between your typical fast food franchise and a cafeteria is that a fast food joint is made for quick turnaround.  Cafeterias, like restaurants, aren’t in a hurry to get rid of you.  Since we all prefer fat and salt, despite what our guilty consciences tell us, then open some places that we can ENJOY, instead of just eat and go.  Give us a restaurant or a cafeteria.

Please?

Since this blast is on home turf I think it’s necessary to say that these issues are strictly my opinion.  I am not here to stir up dissension, or step on the toes of any figures in the community.  I could have addressed this in a more regional forum, but since I do have a blog, and I use it to share my thoughts, then this is as good as any.  I can’t say how many people might agree with me, and it doesn’t matter anyway.   It would be nice to see a few of these changes but I don’t expect to see anything as a result of this blog.

On the other hand, if someone ELSE was thinking along the same lines that COULD be in a position to do something, READ this blog, and realized that He/She wasn’t alone, THEN this article was completely worthwhile.

Cheers to all of you who serve, and to those who serve those who serve.

Posted in Technology, United States

2012 – The Sequel to 1984

Every weekday morning I wake up to the radio.  There’s a minute long spot from “America’s Godess, Kim Komando,” (http://www.komando.com) and, though I don’t normally listen carefully to what she says – I’m usually not awake enough for that – a couple of days ago one comment in particular caused me to wake up rather suddenly.  It was a spot about Google.  And, I think I knew this, at least subconsciously, but she spelled it out.  Google is right now in the process of collating every piece of data about you that they can (http://www.guardian.co.uk/technology/2012/jan/25/google-merge-user-data-privacy?newsfeed=true).  Every search, every contact, every time you use any of Google’s apps, they’ll be collecting your information.  When all is said and done, they can know more about you than you yourself know.  Have you received a Youtube link recently from a friend?  Did you click on the link?  Was it dumb, funny, tasteless?  Google now has it associated with you.  Did another (computer challenged) friend ask you to do a search for information pertaining to 9/11?  You’re now associated with 9/11.  See how easy that is?  Do you have a blog?  Every word in it is now added to the database.  Facebook, Twitter, Linked In, World of Warcraft, Star Trek Online.  Ever use Google Maps/Earth?  Shop online?  You can’t escape.

I have friends that claim that if you have nothing to hide then why be concerned about it?  First off, there has never been anybody that innocent.  Even Jesus was considered a criminal by the Hebrew authorities.  Everything that you do in the course of the day can be construed as right or wrong in someone else’s eyes.

The newer browsers have “privacy modes,” where, in theory, your digital footprints aren’t recorded.  Have you tried it – do you know for certain that no data is being shared?  It may not be leaving cookies on your PC, but that doesn’t mean that your surfing data isn’t being retained by the servers that you’re accessing.  Essentially, every time you go online you’re leaving a little bit of information behind.

What can Google do with all this information?  Right now they want to use it to target ads to you, but it seems to me that they can be targeted by our own Government, because Google’s information will be consolidated, collated, and coordinated.  Most of the stuff that Google has was voluntarily added by you and me, and is readily available for anyone to see online.  Would our own government even need “due process” (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fourteenth_Amendment_to_the_United_States_Constitution) to request it?  Depends on how foolishly we’ve been at guarding our privacy. The more details about your private life that you share, the less private it becomes.  It seems that this generation has a problem grasping that simple concept.

Today, our society seems to think that it’s NATURAL to share every moment of our lives with friends, family, and, oddly enough, the World At Large.  We Tweet what we had for dinner, or broke up with-what’s-his-name who we wouldn’t remember in a year anyway.  We get drunk and add unwise videos on Youtube, or complain about our jobs on Facebook.  You are your own worst enemy. When you put something – anything on the web, not only will it be there forever and ever, the likelihood that it will be seen by someone that you didn’t wish to share it with, grows daily.  So, that party that you attended where everyone got so drunk, that you wanted to share with those friends that didn’t go?  Yeah – well, Uncle Billy saw it on your Facebook page, and forwarded it to Grandma.

There are enough stories out there about people not being hired because the prospective employer performed a simple Google search to see if anything derogatory popped up.  So, if you are disgruntled about your current job you might want to reconsider airing your grievances on the social site of your choice.  Most employers also won’t hire you if they see a video of you dancing nude to “American Pie,” or showing off the latest tattoo/piercing/shaving of your genitalia, unless they’re in that business, and like what they see.

Whatever happened to Myspace?  Sorry – just a random thought…

Setting aside the employment issues, keep in mind that computers were built for a single purpose:  to store and manipulate data.  What is data?  That’s anything that you enter into a computer, and it doesn’t matter what type of data it is anymore.  And, since the internet is essentially gazillions of personal computers and servers, including yours and mine, all manipulating data, whether playing a game, using Skype, or checking your email.  In a sense, all of those computers are acting as one massive computer – storing and manipulating data.  All the data is collected in one place (which we’ll call “The Internet”), and anybody can gain access to it.  If you think that any data that you put online is “private,” think again.  No matter how password-protected or encrypted something is, somebody who really wants the data can get it.  The only way to keep private information “private” is to keep it off the ‘web.

I’m a bit surprised that Google came out with this announcement, because I’m sure that others have been collecting data on you and me for years.  When you signed up with Amazon you gave certain pieces of information to them: your name, shipping address, credit card details, etc.  When you signed up for Facebook or Classmates, you gave more information: schools you attended, career information, current home, place of birth, all kinds of personal data that Amazon wouldn’t have.  By the time you’re done filling out forms at AOL, Sears, ebay, or any of a million other websites, there’s so much information out there that anybody can find out anything they want about you.  You don’t need to say a word on Facebook.  Here’s a test – “google” your own username.  You may not just find yourself scattered all over the web, you may also find that some of the data that you thought was private is available to anybody else who also decided to “google” your username.

Now, for those of you you haven’t read “1984,” by George Orwell, and all of you really should, or re-read it if the last time was in High School, 1984 was a book about a guy living a miserably drab life, completely controlled by “Big Brother.”  Everybody was under constant surveillance, and everybody was programmed to be like everyone else.  Since Big Brother had control over the media, even wars could change, and BB would rewrite history to reflect the changes, and mankind would remain clueless.  Everything that you did, everything that you saw, everything that you felt, was being recorded as evidence against you.  If you did not pour out your love for Big Brother, then you would probably be tortured and brain-washed, until you did pour out your love for Big Brother…  And, only THEN would you be shot.

So, how does Orwell’s book compare to today?  Well, we don’t yet have two way TV’s that stay on all day, so Homeland Security can keep an eye on us.  We don’t really need to.  Homeland Security has all it needs based on what we VOLUNTARILY submit online.  Plus, almost every street corner and stop light now have cameras mounted, as do almost every store and bank.  We are ALWAYS under surveillance, and the only thing that keeps us safe is the fact that there are 300,000,000 of us, and singling out a chosen few is enough of a task.  We are stalks of hay in a field of haystacks, and as long as we don’t stick out then we should all be safe.  Just like Big Brother wants.

Posted in Nostalgia (aka Get Off My Lawn)

ECO Mode – Nothing New

I own a Mercedes GLK350 which was due its 2nd service.  When I took it down to the MB dealership I picked up an “E” class  loaner.  Now, it took me 5 minutes just to figure out how to shift it – the “shifter” was on the column, just like the ’53 Buick that I remember in my youth (and crashed into a neighbor’s ’63 Buick – more about that later).  Anyway, I figgered out how to drive it, and took it with me to work.  Nice car, obsidian black, diesel. When I stopped at the red light though, it stalled.  Panic mode started to set in – it was full of fuel – could some idjit have filled it with gasoline by accident? Maybe it was just really quiet – no, the tach shows 0 RPM. I then tapped the accelerator and the engine fired right back up.  Whoah. Why did it do that – the transmission’s still in drive, there’s no manual clutch; by my thinking (and I have a mechanical background) the car should not have started back up again while it was in drive.  There were safety features installed over the past 40 – 50 years that were intended to keep that from happening.  But it did, and I moved down the road since the light had turned green.  I had just discovered ECO mode.

This “new” feature isn’t really.  I had it in my 1964 Chevy Corvair (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chevrolet_Corvair).  Every time I made a stop, whether it was at a stop sign, red light, or toll booth ECO mode would kick in.  I had a different name for it then. I called it a POS (piece of s**t). It didn’t idle, and nothing I could do would fix it.  My dad & I rebuilt the carburetor, even swapped it out, but there was something that was just keeping it from idling.  If I let off the gas too quickly it would die, and I would either have to “pop the clutch” to restart it, or take it out of gear, hit the brake, and then key start it after I stopped it.  This was a car that always required my right foot to be active on the gas pedal, while the left foot was dancing between clutch and brake.  Occasionally, I had to do a “3 step,” where my right heel was still on the gas, right toe was on the brake, and the left foot had the clutch down.  Those were usually “shop” times, as opposed to “driving” times, and that car probably spent 50% of its time in the shop.

It was convenient that my Dad owned an auto repair shop in Berkeley, and, also, that the Corvair was a great opportunity for me to learn the trade. I’d been working for him for a couple of years, mostly pumping gas (obviously before self-serve days), changing tires, “lube” jobs (get your head out of the gutter – http://autorepair.about.com/library/glossary/bldef-447.htm), and other minor automotive functions.  I was also taking Auto Shop in high school, that is, when I went to high school, and it was looking like I’d found my trade.

The Corvair was the first car that I’d ever bought.  Cost me $125 (hunert an’ twenny five bucks), was beige in color, and it’s left front tire was flat.  On the very first day, after I replaced the tire and got a temp registration for it in El Cerrito, Todd & I decided to take the thing up Moeser Lane.  Now, Moeser Lane is one of the steeper roads that we had in the area, connected the El Cerrito area (sea level) to Arlington Blvd (in the hills 600 feet or so higher).  We probably should not have done that.  The car made it to the very top, but at that point, was barely moving in 1st gear, and never quite worked after that.

Todd, my best friend throughout jr high and high school, had also bought (inherited?) a corvair, a 1960 model, and, if I recall, it caught fire. Anyway, he never could get his to work right.  Every time he’d shift gears it seemed like they were going backwards, i.e., shifting from 1st to 2nd would cause the car to seriously buck, so he was ready to get rid of it anyway – convenient that it caught fire.  And, since I’d apparently blown the engine up on mine with the Moeser Lane stunt (told you that it never quite worked right after that), I think we bought Todd’s for a case of soda or something. My dad thought that we could take parts from both cars and make one decent ride from the scrap.  So, we had 2 corvairs in his shop, and discovered along the way, that from the outside the cars looked very similar, but were different once you peered inside.  For one thing, Todd’s transmission was a 3 speed on the floor, and the gear pattern wasn’t what he thought it was: upper left for reverse, bottom left for 1st, upper right for 2nd, and bottom right for 3rd.  No wonder the thing bucked at him when he shifted.  HE WAS SHIFTING from 2nd into 1st, then back to 2nd, then into 3rd, all the time assuming he had a 4 speed transmission (as my corvair).  We’d never even heard of a “3 on the floor.” Also, my car had a little bigger engine in it, so there wasn’t much that we could use from his to fix mine.

Time for me to learn how to rebuild an engine.  Todd’s car was scrapped.  We pulled the engine and transmission out of my car, tore everything apart, and I then spent months cleaning valves, refurbishing the cylinder head, and honing the cylinder walls. I remember lots of time spent removing old gasket material.  That stuff bonded so well to the cylinder head that it became difficult to determine whether I was trying to remove gasket or steel. My hands had turned white from solvent – I mean white – not “Caucasian.”  Finally, all the gasket material was replaced, new rings put on the pistons, and everything put back together.  My dad had done some maintenance on the transmission, and we’d both replaced the clutch/pressure plate/throw-out bearing.  Tested the engine before actually mounting it to the car – it worked!  I think we ran it for a few days off & on as a break-in period, and verified that it was leak-free as well.  Then, the time came to mount it back into the chassis, which took a lot longer to put in than take out.  Bolted everything back in place, connected all the wires, had to modify this or that, replace this or that because it was worn, little things that you only notice when you’re doing major work.

When all was said & done, it was time to take it out for a test drive.  The clutch didn’t seem to work right.  If I put it in 1st and let the clutch all the way out the car would sloooooowly start to move, and the clutch pedal felt loose.  The engine was fine.  Had plenty of get up and go – too bad the clutch had a different notion.  My dad & I had to remove the entire assembly again to see if we could figure out the problem, and I don’t recall that we ever did.  There were also other issues that crept up – the carburetor (and ECO mode) were one.  Also, I used to keep spare drive belts in the glove compartment ’cause mine ate ’em for breakfast (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=G4w5TLUWbLI).

I drove the car for a very short time in the condition that it was in, and then joined the Army a few months later.  My dad kept the corvair at the shop, but it kept getting pushed farther and farther into the back area until he finally had it hauled away.  Maybe it even wound up next to Todd’s old corvair, scrapped years earlier.  Nah – doubt it.

The corvair wasn’t the 1st car I owned – that was a hand-me-down ’59 Plymouth Savoy, which I tinkered with until it broke, but it was the first car that I ever bought, with my hard-earned gas station & paper route money. I’d like to say that I really miss that little car, how wonderful life was like when I owned it, and all of the wonderful nostalgic feelings that it brought back, but the fact is that it was a piece of junk that spent more time in the shop than on the road, cost me a hell of a lot more money than it was worth, and made me realize that I really wasn’t cut out to be a mechanic.

So, I guess there was a benefit to owning it.  I’d say that it “drove” me into the Army, but it couldn’t even get out of the shop for that.

Posted in Entertainment, Technology

Star Wars in 3D – Back to Lucas’ Cash Cow

George Lucas has announced his retirement – from the mainstream, at any rate (http://articles.nydailynews.com/2012-01-10/news/30609473_1_red-tails-george-lucas-sequels).  It’s looking like the reception of his newest big budget adventure – about the Tuskegee airmen in WWII – is less than enthralling, and GL seems to be blaming it on Hollywood.  Um, Mr. Lucas, I would recommend that you take a look at the REVIEWS of this film – it seems that many outside of Hollywood don’t like it either (http://www.rottentomatoes.com/m/red-tails/).

So, now he wants to focus on smaller budget films – stuff that would entertain him.  Funny, that’s what I thought American Graffiti did (http://www.rottentomatoes.com/m/american_graffiti/), along with the Star Wars and Indiana Jones sagas.  We can’t help it if, over the years, they got old, while our expectations did not.  We want to go to movies that are feel good, and exciting, and adventuresome. In order for that to happen there has to be a chemistry between the screenplay, the production, and the cast.  Much of his stuff has felt forced or wooden (e.g. the prequels), as if they were done because of a need, instead of a desire. Maybe there’s just no heart left.

Now, George has gone back to his “cash cow,” – Star Wars.  Having not yet exhausted every media outlet that there is to exhaust, he is now releasing “The Phantom Menace” back to the theaters, in 3D.  He has indicated that he’ll release one a year (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Star_Wars).

So, there are now new trailers, new posters, and new hype all surrounding this 3d event.  Of course, you don’t just release a 3d movie to a 2d theater – the theaters have to be converted with new equipment.  I imagine that they also have to be backward-compatible.  That all costs money; puts a demand on new equipment, and renovations, and new buildings.  Lucas, and filmmakers like him, can actually stimulate the economy with this effort – assuming that 3d isn’t another flash in the pan.  If 3d hangs around, which it hasn’t previously (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/3D_film), then we’d be looking at a revolution in film making. Actually, “film” is no longer accurate, since just about everything is recorded directly to a digital form.

3d is nothing new. Film makers have been trying to bring a 3d effect to movies and theaters almost as long as the motion picture’s been around.  Every few years someone produces a new wrinkle or technology that makes it tempting to “test the waters.”  I think this time the release of Avatar in 3d was the catalyst (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Avatar_(2009_film).  It takes a few years to run its course, since the market has to see if the 3d movie is financially successful, and then filmmakers start throwing ideas at the studios.  The studios, caught up in the new wave, green light almost anything remotely feasible, and hope it pays off.  Many that just want to cash in on Avatar’s shirttails will release some cheap knock-off, probably direct-to-dvd.  Others will take a couple of years to develop, but if they take too much time the novelty may wear off before the movie’s released.

Here’s a clue with the success or failure of 3d…  If you are issued glasses when you arrive at the theater then 3d is nothing more than a novelty.

Maybe a theater will be able to provide a dual screen system, one behind the other, perhaps with just the slightest angle of difference, similar to what we would see from each eye, and our brains combine those images into a 3d projection. No glasses required, except for those who wear them now for corrective purposes. Of course, the seating angle (i.e., where you’re sitting in the theater) would alter the images seen on the screen, so that there would have to be something to correct that.  That’s for the industry to figure out.

In the meantime, even if you’ve purchased the entire series on Blu-ray just a couple of months ago, along with the video tapes, laserdiscs, lunchboxes, dvds, and other materiel sold over the years, you’ll still line up to watch TPM, AOTC, ROTS, ANH, TESB, and ROTJ at the theaters.

You know what, I probably will too.  

Posted in Technology

Show Me Some Apps, Tech Trash, Geek Garbage

I watched Steve Jobs (RIP) unveil the first iPad, and found myself thinking “Meh – it’s just an overgrown iPhone.”  I wasn’t terribly impressed with the iPhone either.  I waited to see what the market was going to do.  Being from geekdom I knew that it was just a matter of time before SOME iteration of an iPad-like tablet device was going to be in my possession.

When Toshiba released the Thrive (http://us.toshiba.com/tablets/thrive/10-inch/) they touted it as a tablet that was designed by laptop specialists, whereas all the others seemed to be cell phones on steroids.  I bought the top of the line model from Newegg.com, and was really looking forward to putting it to use.  A couple of weeks later I received it, opened the box, turned it on, admired it, then plugged it in to my PC to charge and registered it with Toshiba.  Downloaded the software and updates needed, and then started looking at the apps loaded into the tablet:  games, e-reader, gps, a number of other generic, nothing special, Honeycomb apps.  What I wanted was something that I could take on the road, and since I work in Customer Support, I wanted to be able to VPN into my office network, and using a Remote Desktop Client, provide support without lugging around a laptop.

Yeah – No…

While I pictured myself using a PADD, ala Star Trek (http://en.memory-alpha.org/wiki/PADD), in reality, it was not going to get used AT ALL for it’s intended purpose.  In fact, it is so useless that I’ve consigned it to the geek garbage bin that I have accumulated over the years – all that stuff that was so cool until I bought it.  What was wrong with it, and could it ever be put to its intended use?  First part of the question:  although it has VPN, it is not compatible with the Cisco VPN client that we use.  As I understand it, Cisco does provide a “VPN Anywhere” client that may be compatible, if they so chose to support this tablet.  Also, since it is a wi-fi device – no 3G/4G cell connection, I thought I’d use my “Web’N’Walk” UMTS stick provided by T-Mobile, for those times when I’m on the road, and which the Thrive patently ignored.  Then there was a lack of reasonable RDP software.  Whether the LogMeIn app would or wouldn’t work depended on the successful operation of the vpn connection at the minimum.*  Could it be used for its intended purpose?  I think so, but that’s dependent on what people expect AND DEMAND of the companies that provide App support.  Right now it’s mostly eye candy & entertainment.  I had it at work the other day, still trying to figure out a use for it.  I had acquired the recent Giants vs 49ers NFC Championship game.  A colleague came into the office, saw the Thrive and started asking questions about it.  I demo’d some of the features including the video, and he was particularly struck by the clarity and colors of the football game. He may buy it off me. So, now, instead of it being in geek garbage, maybe it’s worth a few bucks to someone.

So, here’s this tablet – can’t use it for much more than a reader (which is not only too heavy to hold, but the battery life sucks for a reader).  I have readers already: 4 of them, to be exact, with a 5th on the way ** (I like readers, and I find them very useful, except for my one color reader, which is really a disguised tablet with the same issues that the Thrive has).  The Thrive has 2 cameras, including video, for social networking, but there’s no video-conferencing app.  Googletalk is voice only.  The video recorder has some cool features, but holding a 10″ tablet to capture video is silly.  Email?  C’mon on – almost every cell phone now has that capability.  So, what good is it?  Geek garbage.

And, just like an idiot, last week while at the PX, I bought a Samsung Galaxy Tab, hoping against hope that it was better.  No – it’s smaller, more portable at 7″, but no improvement.  I generally don’t believe in returning something that works; only if it’s misrepresented somehow, or defective in some fashion.  If I’m stupid enough to buy it, then I don’t believe the retailer should be responsible for my stupidity.  I may sell it, but I’ll likely just hold on to it, hoping that someone will provide that killer app, or a desire to take it off my hands.  I don’t know – maybe I’ll open a museum some day;  Call it “Piper’s Museum of Tech Trash”.

Of the amount of geek garbage that I’ve accumulated over the years:  let’s see, I remember buying an Atari Portfolio, which was a DOS subnotebook from 1989 (what??? – http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Atari_Portfolio), the Rio Karma (which actually did see some use, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rio_Karma), Creative Zen W (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/ZEN_Vision_W), an iMac (used as a Windows machine instead, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Imac), and the Kobo reader.  I also have 2 Sony Readers (to be fair the first one broke), a Next2 (http://www.nextbookusa.com/productdetail.php?product_id=2).  I’ve laptops at the house, ranging from 8″ netbooks to a 19″ monster that won’t go anywhere near my lap.  PCs that I’ve built – both cutting/bleeding edge power machines with SSD hard drives, and extra small form factor jobs that could overload by playing Free Cell (ok – so that’s a bit of an exaggeration).  I’ve got cases laying around, some complete, some empty, some in-between.  Hard drives, graphics cards, monitors, RAM, soundcards, mice, keyboards, motherboards, CPUs – I could probably build 5 PCs without buying another thing.

Have you ever tried to SELL a PC that you built at home?  Advertise in the newspaper, Craigslist, ebay…  Invariably, a potential buyer will ask, “who made it,”  or “”What is the brand?” You tell them, “I built it,”  and I guarantee that you’ll never hear from them again.  On the other hand, I HAVE built systems for people that asked for them, custom-made, based on what they intended to do with them.  Outside of a short learning process/adjustment period, I’ve never needed to fix a machine because it broke or failed to do what it was designed to do, even budget PCs that I’ve built for others from spare parts.  I have been called in because someone let their AV protection lapse, or performed some bonehead procedure that wiped all their *.exe files, or filled the harddrive up and then wondered why the computer I built for them was running so slowly.

Got sidetracked there – I had to go back up to look at the title because I forgot why I started this post.  Apps!  Oh yeah.  Basically, they’re mostly crap.  So, I ordered a new tablet, but this one’s Intel i5 based and it uses Windows 7, probably even Windows 8 when it gets released.  Since it is a Windows tablet there should be no issues with the software that I install or the UMTS stick. It’s pen-based instead of touchscreen.  I was never crazy about the touchscreen anyway – too many oily fingerprints to clean.  If you’re wondering what the model is…  I built it.   No, not really, It’s a Samsung Slate (http://www.samsung.com/us/computer/tablet-pcs/XE700T1A-A06US?).  I actually found it for $300 – $500 cheaper, depending on how you view these things, by buying it through the Microsoft Store (http://www.microsoftstore.com/store/msstore/list/parentCategoryID.44066900/categoryID.54536100 – I’ve included the link for all similar tablets with Windows, so you don’t have to feel “beholden’ to Samsung).  Now, Ive never bought ANYTHING from the MS store – I didn’t even know they had a store, but it was a couple of hundred bucks cheaper than Amazon or Newegg, AND they provided a $200 coupon which I can certainly put to use.  I’ll let you all know whether this tablet’s as useful as I hope, or gets added to my geek garbage.

“That’s all I have to say about that”  — Forrest Gump

* A footnote about Logmein – it was a 90 day wonder, a trial version, which I don’t remember seeing advertised, and I don’t know if the clock started on that when I first ran it, or when I registered the Thrive.  It doesn’t work now without a payment, and I won’t pay for it if I can’t sample it first.  Catch-22.

**My newest reader is now here, and I’m hard-pressed to set it down.  This particular one is a Barnes & Noble Nook Simple Touch (http://www.barnesandnoble.com/p/nook-simple-touch-barnes-noble/1102344735).  One word of warning though; after updating the firmware on it, at times, it suffers with response issues where the touchscreen won’t work when turning pages, but the (almost invisible) vertical buttons on the side work just fine, otherwise, it’s snappier than the Kobo (my previous reader), better contrast, and more features.

Posted in Entertainment

George Lucas Screwed Up His Own Star Wars Franchise. Here’s How…

In 1977, when I was 21, fresh out of the Army, my brother invited me to tag along with him and a friend to go to San Francisco to see a movie called “Star Wars.”  I’d seen the trailers and was less than impressed.  Big hairy monsters in space ships seemed rather dumb & pointless.  Having nothing better to do I decided to go ahead – I hadn’t been across the bay in awhile.  About a mile from our destination I started noticing lines of people and figured that there must have been some local promotion or event just around the block.  Little did I know then that that line, and another in the opposite direction, were actually originating at the same theater that we were heading to.  AND, in those days, we didn’t have “multiplexes.”  There was only one movie, and it was on the only screen.  Of course, it helped that it was a very large theater, seating 1350 (http://cinematreasures.org/theaters/1612).  As I recall, we got in one line to get the ticket, and the other line to actually enter the theater. After getting said tickets we drove back to the end of the entry line and waited while my brother’s friend parked the car.  By now, I’m both annoyed and intrigued; annoyed that I’m standing in line waiting to see a movie that I have no interest in seeing, and intrigued by the sheer amount of people in front of me (and growing behind me) that ARE interested in seeing this movie.  PLUS, based on mumblings of some of those in line (and we are literally city blocks away from the theater), some of those in line JUST CAME FROM THE PREVIOUS SHOWING (!), and they were all giggly and excited.  WTF (why the face).

The line moved surprisingly quickly, and we found ourselves seated in the theater for the very next showing, which was also surprising.  Not surprising was the activity of the crowd, bound to happen at any SRO event.  There’s a charge that you can feel.  When the curtain parted I don’t recall any trailers of upcoming films, advertisements, or any other sort of “warm up” (probably didn’t need it anyway – we were already ready).  The 20th Century Fox fanfare started, the curtains opened, and …

followed by the crescendo of the Star Wars theme by John Williams & The London Symphony Orchestra. My attitude changed. I went from annoyed to thrilled.  It was an epiphany.  Wasn’t a stretch to understand why groups that had just seen the movie would be willing to go back to the end of the line and see it again.  Over the period of the next few months I would see it again and again, and again and again.  Probably 10 times at the theaters as Star Wars gained in circulation.

In the first movie (then called “Star Wars,” later “A New Hope”) we learned of a desperate battle against an evil Empire, and of a beautiful princess, trying to get a message to Jedi Knight/General Obi-Wan Kenobi on the nearby planet.  On the same planet we also learn of our young hero, Luke Skywalker, brought up by an aunt and uncle. On the surface of the planet the two “droid” messengers for the princess meet up with young Luke while looking for Kenobi.  Meanwhile, back in space, the General of the Evil Empire, Darth Vader, appropriately decked out in black, and properly accessorized with flowing cape, discovered the escape of the droids, and chased after them (run-on sentence now complete).  Leaving a trail of destruction behind them the Empire’s stormtroopers followed the droids’ trail, killing Luke’s aunt & uncle.  Fortunately, Luke was away with Ben, and were able to escape along with the droids.  They teamed up with a rogue named Han Solo, who got them off-planet and away from the immediate threat. So, now this team is chasing after the princess who has been captured by the Empire and held prisoner on the Death Star.  Of course they rescue her and chase off with the station’s blueprints to a rebel base where they’re able to determine a weakness in the Death Star and destroy it.  For now, jubilation ensues as the rebellion has struck a significant blow against the Empire.

Many of us stayed until the very last note of the London Symphony Orchestra, in Surround Sound, watching every credit roll by – that’s how fascinated we were with this movie. We became Star Wars crazy – anything related was scarfed up by the consumers.  John Williams and the London Symphony Orchestra’s soundtrack had tremendous sales – there was even a knockoff “disco” version of the Star Wars soundtrack with Star Warsish sound effects (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dWRWYYt47RI).

Without going through a synopsis of “The Empire Strikes Back,”  I’ll just cover some points.  Vader’s looking for Luke because he sensed the Force within him while blowing up the Death Star in the earlier film.  Kenobi, who was killed by Vader in the 1st film, returned as a celestial travel agent, and sent Luke to track down Yoda on the swamp planet Dagobah to continue the Jedi training that Kenobi had started.  That initial meeting between Luke and Yoda didn’t go off well because Luke wasn’t expecting Yoda to be an 800 year old muppet.  But, Yoda trained him anyway, while Luke’s friends had all got themselves captured by Vader, knowing that Luke would chase after them.  Smart guy, that Vader.  Luke chased after them, got into a battle with Vader, lost his hand, and discovered that Vader was actually Luke’s long lost father.

In the 3rd movie we discovered that not only was Vader Luke’s father, but that Luke had a twin sister (and if you actually count the number of women that are in all 3 movies to this point you can pretty well narrow down who it is).  Yeah, the same princess who was rescued in the first 2 movies, and the same sister who passionately kissed Luke to make Han Solo jealous.  Setting aside the potential incest, neither Luke or Leia were aware of their sibling relationship at the time.  Also, we discovered that the Empirical Stormtroopers can get their butts waxed by furry munchkins using sticks and stones.  At the end of the film a great Skywalker family union ensued, and they all governed the Empire happily ever after.  Not really, the Emperor decides to kill Luke when Luke won’t join the Empire, and Vader intervenes, killing the Emperor while sacrificing his own life.  This redeems Vader and in his death he rejoined the lighter side of the Force, and there was a happy spiritual reunion between the deceased Kenobi, Yoda, and Vader, along with the living Luke.

So, the premise of this blog was how Lucas screwed up this franchise.

The “prequels” came along and the entire premise of the franchise – all 6 movies – shifted from the life of Luke Skywalker to the life, fall, and resurrection of Anakin Skywalker (aka Darth Vader).

Episode 1 – The Phantom Menace, the 4th film, introduces us to a 9 year old Anakin Skywalker, who can create droids and race machines out of spare parts, and would single-handedly defeat the Trade Federation’s droid army in the Battle of Naboo.  Falls in love with the 14 year old queen of Naboo.  Also in this episode a Senator of Naboo takes over as Supreme Chancellor of the Republic through a no-confidence vote,  and also befriends a young, impressionable Anakin.

Episode 2 – Attack of the Clones – 10 years later – a cloning station had been discovered creating a massive army, ordered by a rogue jedi some 10 years earlier.  With an impending attack of a group of Separatists (a loose organization against Senate policies) the Chancellor is granted authority by the Senate to use the army against them.  Padme Amidala, Anakin’s love interest from TPM is now a 24 year old senator on the planet Coruscant, and is being attacked by an unseen enemy.  The jedi are called in to protect her, and a young Obi-Wan, along with his apprentice, Anakin (now 19), are assigned the job.  Anakin escorts Padme back to Naboo, while Obi-Wan starts tracking down suspects.  At Naboo, Anakin & Padme fall deeply in love and get married, unbeknownst to the Jedi Council.  It turns out that the Separatists are being manipulated by a Sith Lord named Darth Sidious, who crafted all of the events leading up to the battle, and even ordered the assassination of Padme Amidala.  the jedi, with the assistance of the clone army, start what would become known as “The Clone War” against the Separatists.

Episode 3 – Revenge of the Sith – During the Clone War the Supreme Chancellor is kidnapped and Obi-Wan Kenobi and Anakin Skywalker are sent to rescue him.  During the rescue Anakin, goaded by the distressed Chancellor, beheads one of the unarmed leaders of the Separatists, securing the path to the Dark Side that he’d had already started down in Attack of the Clones. The Chancellor is revealed to be none other than Darth Sidious, and Anakin decides to join him because he felt that the jedi training he was receiving was inadequate.  Darth Sidious accepts Anakin and renames him Darth Vader.  To test his loyalty, Vader is then sent to the Jedi Council to kill everyone there, including children.  Afterwards he is sent to kill the Separatists council on the volcanic planet Mustafar.  And, while Vader is going around killing all these people, Sidious (still acting as Chancellor), orders the Clones to turn against the jedi, using a pre-arranged “Order 66.”  He then announces the restructure of the government into a Galactic Empire, claiming that the jedi had attempted the Chancellor’s overthrow.  Then, Kenobi swings by Naboo and picks up a very pregnant Padme Amidala (Skywalker) and takes her to Mustafar to try to reason with hubby.  Hubby is unreasonable and assaults his wife, and then starts the epic battle between Obi-Wan and Darth Vader.  Vader loses most of his limbs in the battle and is left for dead on the beach of a lava lake.  Kenobi then takes Vader’s lightsabre and returns to Amidala who’s now in labor.  Darth Sidious rescues what’s left of Vader and has him encased in a full body life support system, complete with breathing assistance, and cybernetic limbs.  Luke & Leia are born, and Amidala dies as a result of Vader’s earlier assault.  When Vader is revived fully encased in the suit, Darth Sidious gleefully rubs it in that Vader killed his own wife, making Vader despair.  The infants are then spirited away so that Vader would not be aware that Amidala had given birth, much less to twins. Thus ends the “prequels,” and is intended to explain a number of things that we questioned at the end of the original trilogy.

Keep in mind that many of us saw the original films over and over and over again, and being the fans that we were we couldn’t just take the movies at face value.  We had to ask questions…

Ben’s Lies:

a.  If the Light Side of the Force represents “good,” and the Dark Side represents evil, why, then, did Ben lie to Luke about his father?  Luke asked how his father died, and Ben explained that an apprentice of his, named Darth Vader, had betrayed and murdered Luke’s father.  “Murder” is a very specific term – there isn’t a lot of wiggle room in trying to rationalize the use of that word.

b.  The lightsabre. “Your father wanted you to have this when you were old enough, but your uncle wouldn’t allow it.”  When the hell did Vader say that?  When he was laying there missing his limbs, 3rd degree burns from head to, um, torso, lungs & throat completely destroyed?  Did Obi-Wan come up to him and say, “Oh, by the way, you just had a son (which hadn’t occurred by then anyway).  Can I give him your lightsabre as a gift from you?”  Or, maybe there was one of those that he lost which Obi-Wan found, and in a moment of whimsy, told Obi-Wan to “Keep it.  Give it my son, if I ever have one.”  That’s possible.  In “Attack of the Clones” it was implied that he had a tendency of losing his lightsabre, or wrecking it.  Would have liked to see that in the movie.

c.  R2D2 – Ben implied that he didn’t know R2 by saying that he’d never owned a droid.  He didn’t actually say that he didn’t know R2.  It may well be that Ben knew this particular droid and smelled a trap.  He was probably aware that both R2 and 3PO were with the Organa family (Leia’s adopted parents), and that they were still involved in the rebellion against the Empire.  R2D2 had crossed paths with Obi-Wan even before meeting Anakin, and C3PO shortly afterwards.  Plus, it seemed that they were the only actual duo – all the rest of the droids were either individual, or part of an army.  Plus plus, these particular two were not simply automatons – they seemed to have artificial minds of their own.  In short, those guys were different, and it certainly wasn’t lost on Obi-Wan.  Part of the confusion was the meeting that R2 & Obi-Wan (Ben) had in Episode 4/A New Hope:  Luke, R2, & 3PO had just been attacked by the Sand People.  R2 escapes & hides among the rocks.  Ben shows up and scares off the attackers, then as he assists Luke R2 makes his presence known.  Could it have been that after 19 years, living by himself, Ben’s memory and common sense got a wee bit hazy?  Do you expect that he encountered droids in the middle of the desert on a regular basis?  As soon as he noticed R2 he should have been curious, if not suspicious.  It wasn’t until Luke explained why HE was in the middle of the desert that the light began to dawn on Obi-Wan.  Of course, Luke said that that R2 unit was looking for his former master, Obi-Wan Kenobi.  Now, here’s a theory that I just now came up with.  Ben is right – he never did own a droid – until Leia transferred R2’s ownership to Ben at the same time that she gave the droid the Death Star plans and orders to find Ben.  Something similar happened in Return of the Jedi when Luke gave away both droids to Jabba.  That’s my theory, anyway.

There is another inconsistency that George failed to explain, but this isn’t a Ben thing.  This has to do with the birth of Luke & Leia.  Momma Padme died at childbirth.  The children were born, and Padme named them with her dying breath.  In Return of the Jedi, Luke, who is aware of his sibling relationship with Leia, asked her what her memories were of her birth mother.  Leia said that she remembered her mother as beautiful, but sad, while Luke said he never knew his real mom.  Of course, Luke then explained that his mom and her mom were the same mom.

The Star Wars movies meant different things to different groups.  Back in the 70’s and 80’s, when they were first out, Luke Skywalker was the focus.  He started out as a typical teen, a little naive, wanting to be away from the farm, craving adventure.  Suddenly, everything begins to happen around him – the droids show up, followed closely by the Empire.  Luke meets up with Obi-Wan Kenobi and Han Solo, rescues a princess, participates in a space battle, and blows up the Empire’s super weapon.  We all watched – we saw it as it happened to him.  He gained experience and confidence, learned how to use the tools provided him for maximum effect.  Battled, and lost against his nemesis, had secrets revealed to him that made him question his own loyalties, only to overcome all of these, and even turn his foe into his ally.  We all watched.  There was never one time where we couldn’t identify with him.

Then came the prequels…  Again, this is from my generation’s perspective (and I don’t presume to speak for my entire generation). We meet a 9 year old precocious whelp, a slave boy, who tinkers in the junkyard, making more pieces of junk, like a droid for his mother, or a podracer.  I mean, the kid was a complete product of the Force.  Mom just pops him out – apparently doesn’t even question the oddity that she had an immaculate birth.  Maybe that happens all the time in galaxies far far away…  He’s a brat, and he meets up with a renegade jedi (Qui-Gon Jinn), a 14 year old queen that he decides he’ll marry, and blows up the Trade Federation ship BY ACCIDENT.  Ho hum – what’s for lunch.  10 years later, assigned to watch over the same girl that he fell for as a 9 year old (now a senator), Anakin’s got a chip on his shoulder because he feels that he’s superior to everyone, slaughters an entire village of Sand People because a few of them kidnapped his mom, and begins to fall in with “The Wrong Crowd” (i.e., The Emperor of the Galaxy).  By the time Revenge of the Sith came around I was really getting to despise this creep.  He was angry all the time, and things just kept going south.  Anakin becomes a tool of the Emperor, completely sliding into the “Dark Side.”  Whereas the Emperor used subtlety like a surgeon uses a scalpel, he used Anakin like a bludgeon.  Anakin – go to the Jedi Council and kill everyone there – even the children.  Anakin – go to Mustafar and kill everyone there.  It was all about Anakin – even the howl that he made when the Emperor explained that Anakin killed his own wife.  All Anakin – allatime.

Now – for the younger generation who didn’t live the life of Luke vicariously, and saw the prequels first, they knew that Darth Vader was Luke’s poppa, completely wasting the purpose of Episode IV and even V.  Luke meets Kenobi – check.  Kenobi & Vader duel again – check.  Death Star plans are stolen – check. Luke blows up the Death Star – big deal; Anakin built a droid & podracer when he was 9, then destroyed the Droid Army at Naboo. Luke meets Yoda – check.  Vader is redeemed – check.

Most critics say that “The Empire Strikes Back” was the best of the 6 movies, followed by “A New Hope,” “Revenge of the Sith,” “Return of the Jedi,” “Attack of the Clones,” and “The Phantom Menace.”  I agree with the idea that “Empire” was a stronger, more dramatic movie, but I disagree that it was the best.  Episode IV was full of adventure, excitement, and wonder.  It was artistry.  Everything that came after it was a variation on that theme.  If there had never been a sequel – or prequel –  Star Wars would have become just like the Wizard of Oz, treasured by millions, generation after generation.

What would I have done if I were so inclined after the success of the original trilogy?  I probably would have waited a few years, then started a new trilogy with the original cast, albeit in reduced roles, and a next generation scenario.  Only after the 2nd trilogy was complete would I have gone back to a prequel.  I remember talk about 3 trilogies (i.e., 9 movies) after the success of the very first one, but that’s denied by Lucas  (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Star_Wars_sequel_trilogy).  I suspect that he desired to do that but couldn’t invest almost 30 years of his life – since each movie was taking 3 years to make.  Who knows – maybe there is still a 3rd trilogy in him.  I only hope he lets a real writer and real director take the helm for the films instead of doing it himself.  There was no heart in the last 3 movies.  Sorry George.