George Carlin’s Final Gift

Saturday Night Live aired a repeat, as scheduled. What changed was which repeat. This week was the first Saturday Night, episode one before they added the word “Live.” George Carlin was host.

snl-title.jpgIf I hadn’t read a story about George Carlin’s memorial, I wouldn’t have known what Lorne Michaels did this past Saturday. Saturday Night Live aired a repeat, as scheduled. What changed was which repeat. This week was the first Saturday Night, episode one before they added the word “Live.” George Carlin was host.

not-ready.jpgIt was 1975. Don Pardo mistakenly called them, “The Not For Ready Prime Time Players.” On they went. There they were–Chevy, Belushi, Dan Akroyd, Garrett Morris, Jane, Laraine, Gilda and George Coe. George Coe? Trust me, you’d recognize him in a second. He’s been in everything, especially commercials.

chevy.jpgBilly Preston and Janis Ian performed. So did Valri Bromfield and Andy Kaufman. Michael O’Donaghue, among the strangest people ever, was there too. Franken and Davis, Alan Zweibel and Herb Sargent were writers. Davey Wilson, later with Letterman, directed.

Maybe there’s something to be learned. The bits were shorter. That worked. On the other hand, there was less comedy and more music. The mix is better now.

The audio was awful and very hollow. From what I can hear on my speakers, it’s obvious the house PA was also terrible.

I love Albert Brooks. He had a film. Albert Brooks was a fixture of the early Saturday Night (Live). This was a takeoff of old newsreels. Very funny.

Valri Bromfield. Really? Terrible.

During “Weekend Update” Chevy said, “I’m Chevy Chase,” but not “and you’re not.” He also did a very old one-liner. To paraphrase, “The Post Office has a new stamp commemorating prostitution. It’s 15&#162. A quarter if you lick it.”

Jim Henson’s Muppets appeared. They were regulars on the first few shows. The bit was not a success. They were victims of the bad audio. The studio audience was silent as the bit played out.

This was by no means a perfect show. It was uncharted territory–a show unlike any other. The seeds were planted that night, October 11, 1975. Back then, it was amazing to watch.

Blogger’s note – Not that it matters, but I was at the next SNL, the following Saturday. My friend Paul, through his friend Jim, got me the tickets. Art Garfunkel was there and it was pretty terrible. At least I can say I was there.

My 13-Ounce Dilemma

If there’s logic in the Postal Service’s madness, it evades me.

This is a story about Mother’s Day… sort of.

My wife Helaine, herself a mother, bought a nice gift for my mom, wrapped it and took the package (really a padded envelope) to our local Post Office where one of the clerks weighed it and affixed the postage. She didn’t mail it.

Helaine planned on mailing the gift when my folks returned from a vacation. That turned out to be Tuesday of last week, when she drove the envelope to the Post Office and dropped it in the box in the parking lot.

It was delivered the next day… back to us, with the sticker you see. Packages over 13 ounces, when mailed using stamps, must be physically presented to a clerk at the Post Office. Period. End of story.

It’s for security, the sticker said. In this post 9/11 world we’re not supposed to question security – but I will.

Here in Connecticut, more than most places, we understand what postal security means. This is where Ottilie Lundgren died. She was poisoned by anthrax that probably passed through the huge Wallingford mail distribution center where three million anthrax spores were later found and removed.

But if the Postal Service is worried about security, why in heaven’s name would they have my carrier bring it back to my house? If it was dangerous, it’s doubtful it would have the proper return address anyway. As I remember, the 2001 anthrax letters all had phony return addresses. The same was true when the Unabomber’s package exploded at Yale, less than a mile from where I’m writing this.

The whole process makes no sense to me. In fact, I’m so confused why the Postal Service is doing this, I asked them to comment.

The rule actually predates 9/11, going back to the mid-90s. The weight limit, recently lowered to 13-ounces, complies with the weight limits for Priority Mail.

In an email response response, Doug Bem from the US Postal Inspection Service included this all purpose line:

“Unfortunately I won’t be able to get into the specifics of those security issues because someone who could misuse that information might be a reader of your blog; all I can say is that the issues still exist today.”

I am not denying that.

All I’m asking is, why send it back to me? It’s either worrisome, and should be treated that way, or it’s not and can go to my mom’s house.

To a certain extent the Postal Service has their hands tied. They can’t open my mail to check what’s inside.

“(E)ven though we are the law enforcement and security officers of the Postal Service, we don’t have the right to open any First Class letter, Priority Mail or Express Mail package without explaining why to a federal judge, who would then give us a federal search warrant. It’s not practical to screen the 320 million or so pieces of those types of mail the Postal Service handles every day.”

So instead, they declare a one size fits all rule which treats all 13 ounce stamped packages as suspicious… and then they just wash their hands of them and drop them off at your house.

If 13-ounce packages pose a threat, dispose of them. If not, deliver them.

If there’s logic in the Postal Service’s madness, it evades me.

Closer To What?

There’s a story about a man who’s out-of-shape. He goes to his doctor, who recommends running.

“Run three miles a day, and call me back in a week,” the doctor says.

So, the man does and at the end of the week, he picks up the phone and calls the doctor.

“How are you doing,” asks the doc?

“Great – but I’m 21 miles from home!”

It is that sense of futility that I take into my new found desire to be a little more fit. My diet is now close to a month old. The easy pounds came off first and my clothes fit a lot better. The loss has slowed down.

I’m still a middle aged guy and everything that implies. I look like someone who leads a well catered, sedentary life.

A few days ago my co-worker Gil (the Marine) came by. We took a nice brisk walk. This was charity on Gil’s part (Unless… maybe he’s trying to kill me? Hmmmm) because he could surely do what we did walking on his hands. As I’ve been told – you never stop being a Marine.

There was a sense of accomplishment in that walk, so today I set out to pick up the pace. It’s been a long time since I ran. It was something I never did well.

Those who’ve seen me walk know I do it with an odd gait, my toes hitting the ground long before my heels.

I immediately felt the additional weight my body has put on over the years. It was totally obvious as my feet hit the pavement. All these years and that memory was strong.

I made it to the end of my street and turned up a small incline (I’d never noticed it was an incline before). I was huffing and puffing.

Our neighborhood is quiet in the early afternoon. I slowed down. I didn’t want to collapse and then wait hours for the corpse to be found.

Sweat was beading on my forehead. My shirt had a dark spot where it clung to my perspiring chest. I slowed to a walk, my hands on my hips in that ‘futile runner’ position you see elite athletes assume right after they finish the marathon.

Damn you elite runners!

I continued along my route, alternating between running and walking. I didn’t stop. I pressed forward.

At one point I got behind our mailman’s truck. Every time I’d approach, Rudy would flick the ignition, shift into gear and rumble ahead. I was now living the life of a spaniel.

It wasn’t until Rudy delivered a package (positioning his wheel chock behind the read tire, on a flat piece of pavement&#185) that I passed him. Would he notice me as I moved silently along the left side of his van, or would he just pull out and – thwack?

A good mailman wouldn’t do that. Too much paperwork!

Meanwhile, I was feeling closer-and-closer to death. Luckily, I made it home where a fresh bottle of very cold water (and two aspirin) waited.

By writing about this very simple first step, I’m hoping to guilt myself into continuing. Exercise is good I guess… well, except for Jim Fixx. It’s just so damned inconvenient. Everything else is more fun. Everything!

&#185 – The Post Office mandates this ‘wheel chock behind the tire – 100%’ policy so we can continue to make them the world’s easiest target for inefficiency.

A Trip Through Vegas

Helaine and I took a trip through Las Vegas yesterday. I can’t give you all the details, because there’s a small gift for Steffie involved and it’s still mostly a surprise.

From lv friday

In order to get it to Stef, we needed to find a Post Office. It’s not on The Strip, though it is the Strip Branch. The closest Post Office is on a seedy little road called “Industrial.”

Going there reminded me of the one Las Vegas truth that’s usually swept under the rug – Las Vegas is built on vice. Sex on The Strip is mainly sanitized and under control (though I’ll try and get a shot of the one incongruity that’s most obvious later today or tomorrow). Drive a few blocks and you’re in the Wild West.

From lv friday
From lv friday
From lv friday

Oh… in addition to sex, Vegas is built on Elvis. I don’t want to forget that!

From lv friday

The New Era Of Communications

I got this email today:

We are in panama we just went thru the locks. all is well we are having a great time mom and dad

What do we have here? Well, certainly, for his next birthday I’m buying my dad punctuation marks and capital letters! More than that, a check of the originating IP address shows he sent this from on-board ship.

My mom and dad are cruising, but the Internet is there with them.

I remember when Helaine and I took a cruise many years ago. We stopped in Puerto Rico and rushed to a pay phone to check in with everyone back home. Same thing in St. Thomas (in fact, I can still picture the pay phones to the left of the main door of the St. Thomas Post Office).

It wasn’t that there weren’t phones on the ship, but it was ridiculously expensive.

Yesterday, my friend Peter left for three weeks on Maui. I spoke to him as he went to the airport. I spoke to him in San Francisco, waiting for a delayed flight. I spoke to him once he got to his Maui hotel. Each time I dialed the same South Jersey cellphone number.

Each of my calls were included in my cell plan with no additional charge… in fact, with no meter even clicking off the minutes.

Calling Hawaii, like making a call from a cruise ship, used to be expensive. No more.

I also played around a little, calling my friend Bob in Austin, TX using Skype. The quality was great, using my laptop on the sofa in the family room and a cheap headset. Of course the call was totally free.

This ability to communicate, whether by computer or phone or a combination of the two is amazing – something we in the 21st century share with no other moment in history. It is, unfortunately, limited to the wealthy.

A little clarification. In this case wealthy applies to the vast majority of people in the United States and many more around the world, who are included in a global middle class. They are only wealthy in contrast to those who are dirt poor – and there are many who fit that category.

Now, maybe there is hope for them to benefit from this communications and knowledge explosion, fueled by computing.

I saw Nicholas Negroponte with Charlie Rose on PBS. Negroponte heads MIT’s Media Lab, a communication and information think tank

In its first decade, much of the Laboratory’s activity centered around abstracting electronic content from its traditional physical representations, helping to create now-familiar areas such as digital video and multimedia. The success of this agenda is now leading to a growing focus on how electronic information overlaps with the everyday physical world. The Laboratory pioneered collaboration between academia and industry, and provides a unique environment to explore basic research and applications, without regard to traditional divisions among disciplines.

That’s some of the least explanatory prose ever written by otherwise educated people.

Negroponte was on to talk about a project I’ve been following for a while – a $100 laptop, to be produced in bulk and distributed for free to students around the world.

If this is the first you’re hearing about this project, please go to their site and read more. It’s really an amazing undertaking.

The Book That Nearly Didn’t Make It

That photo on the left is a book I ordered a week ago and received yesterday. That’s the way it came from the Post Office (I’m guessing it was that way before Rich, our postman, got it). It was one or two bounces away from being undeliverable.

As it turns out, the book (Special Edition: Using Microsoft Office 2000) was physically OK and now goes into the ever expanding collection of computer reference material I’ve accumulated over the years.

The fact that I bought this book in the first place upsets me to my geeky core. When I was taking my Statistical Climatology course, I found using a spreadsheet was very helpful. I used OpenOffice, the free “office suite.”

Here’s the problem – OpenOffice is not the mature product that Microsoft Office is. I wanted to be able to export graphs as images, and it can’t be done in OO. More importantly, OpenOffice is poorly documented in printed literature (which is much better than on screen help while you’re using a program).

If there was a good OpenOffice book available, I would have bought it. But, I couldn’t find anything and so I settled for Microsoft – which I know is bloatware and helps promulgate Microsoft’s monopoly position. It upsets me on so many levels.

Speaking of buying computer books – here’s how I do it:

I go to Amazon, find the book I want, and then head to the “Used and New” section off on the right side. In most cases these books are new but are overstocks or for some other reason out of the normal retail market.

In the case of the book I bought, “Special Edition: Using Microsoft Office 2000,” the list price was $39.99, Amazon’s price was $27.99 and the “Used and New” prices start at $9.00.

The comment on the $9.00 book says it has a little wear and sounds used, but for $9.24 you get:

Comments: New! Cover crease, minor cover wear. CD sealed! Ships next business day!

That’s a pretty good deal, saving $18.75 from Amazon’s price.

Usually, I ship the least expensive way. That means a Postal Service employee crawls on his belly all the way from the warehouse to my house. Actually, it’s library rate which is v-e-r-y slow. So, when there’s a choice, I look for a dealer here in Connecticut or an adjacent state.

I have never been dissatisfied with the physical condition of a book I’ve gotten this way, and I’ve saved a mint.