Monday, February 28, 2011

Your Personal Information Isn't So Private Anymore

The other night my wife and I went to a local store that is of a party nature. They sell balloons, plates, cups, cheap little goodies to give away, basically things like that. We were there to look at stuff for our sons 4th birthday which is 2 months away and we ended up buying a couple of small items. As I went to pay the cashier asked me for my phone number and without thinking I supplied it. Next she asked me for my email address and that's where I balked. With a confused voice I said "Excuse me?" and she repeated her request. I then responded that I don't give that out and she completed our purchase without any comment being made.

That got me thinking about how these companies have gotten the general public used to the idea of giving out information that is absolutely none of their business at all. At first it was just a simple question about what your zip code was and they had to put something in in order to finish your transaction. Then it was for a phone number so that they could identify their customers and make sure they are providing the type of products that they are wanting. At least that's what they told us. Those two examples are ways that customers have gotten used to the idea of providing personal information by dressing it up to appear like the stores are trying to provide better service when the truth of the matter is much different.

This latest request shows that they no longer are attempting to hide the real reasons that they ask for this information. It's now just a mad grab for your personal information with no pretense of bettering service or identifying returning customers. No, this is all about spam. When you give out your email address with a promise that they will do nothing untoward with it you'll notice that suddenly not only do you start receiving emails from that company but many others as well. If you start receiving emails from other companies it's either because they are "partners" or simply because your information has been sold to the highest bidder.

What's even worse is when you start receiving general spam emails about sex, coffee, free Walmart gift cards, free pizza and so forth. Something that leaves even that in the dust are the emails that come from bankers or relatives of a president of a country that has died and shares your last name. All they need is for you to pretend to be a relative and they will split a large fortune with you. Merely supply them with your bank account number so that they can transfer the funds to you. Then you find that all of your own money has conveniently disappeared. This all comes from your personal information being sold.

It's sad but that's the way the world is going. Everybody is trying to make as much money as they can no matter what they have to do to get it. For me the person or company selling your personal information is the same as the person trying to scam you out of your money. There's no real difference. At least that's the way I see it.

Sunday, February 27, 2011

Frat Life 101: Continued

There we were, a bunch of young guys fresh out of high school, trying to take advantage of what we perceived as our new found freedom, no matter how immature we really were. We were just attempting to have fun now that we didn't have to listen to anyone telling us what time to go to bed or what music we could listen to or anything as banal as that. So we went to that fraternity party at Sigma Tau Gamma and met another group of new people. Some of them turned out to also be future pledges although at that time I thought that they were already members.

It didn't take long for us to decide that we would all pledge but I for one did briefly entertain the idea that I would wait a semester so that I could concentrate on my grades. One look at my transcript and you would be able to see that I should have done that however, it was mentioned to me that I probably wouldn't want to pledge under my new found friends when they were members and basically they were right. That could have been hell. Sig Tau was different from any other fraternity on campus. There was one that was business majors, one that was for preppy rich kids and even one for redneck jocks (at least they were when they were still in high school). Then there was Sig Tau. They didn't care what kind of clothes you wore, what kind of money your family had, what your major was and they certainly didn't care what color your skin was.

The only thing that Sig Tau cared about was brotherhood. If you were out at the river at 3am and your car wouldn't start you knew that someone would come and get you. They might give you an untold amount of grief over it but they would come and get you. They wanted people who wanted to hang out together and be friends because life could suck pretty badly at times and is was better to be surrounded by like minded people who wanted to enjoy life in their own way. I'm not going to pretend that everything was always perfect and there were never any problems because there were, but the bottom line was that we took care of each other.

As pledges we were expected to learn about each others lives, your hometown, your major (if you had one which I did off and on), how many siblings you had and so forth. You also were required to learn about the members. Each pledge was assigned a member to be their big brother. This was the guy you would go to when you had problems, the one who would take care of you and make sure you were doing everything you were supposed to. At least that was the working theory.

One thing that was different about Sig Tau was that we had what no other fraternity or sorority at NSU could offer, we had a house. It was a rundown, beat up shack of a house but it was ours and we reveled in it. Parties were frequent occurrences and we did them well. The house sat on a rounded curve (instead of a regular corner) just off of the main thoroughfare and was a choice spot for us. It wasn't technically on campus but was just off of it and there was a convenience store about a block away which was, well, in a word extremely convenient. Okay that was two words. Plus the football stadium was very close and as pledges we were required to go early when there were home football games so that we could save seats for the members and any alumni who was coming to the game.

We were also required to learn about the history of the fraternity and once we did we were in for a surprise. Zeta chapter was significant in that history because we were the fifth chapter and it takes five chapters to become a national fraternity. This was great except that somewhere along the way Zeta had become the red headed, bastard, step child of the national fraternity. We were known for doing things our way no matter what nationals told us and we didn't care what the consequences were. During my second semester Zeta was chosen as the host chapter for the annual national meeting that most every chapter sent representatives to. Normally the host chapter is very involved in what goes on during the conference. Notice I said normally. A few members went out to the conference on the first day to touch base with the national leadership and to see what was going to be required of us. They came back and informed us basically that they were snubbed and our participation was not something that was being looked favorably on.

We did the only mature, well thought out thing that this slap in the face deserved. We said to hell with them and went on with business as usual ignoring the fact that the conference was even close by. Was it productive or smart to be this way? No, not even close but honestly we didn't care. That's just the way we were. We even pronounced the name of the fraternity different that any other chapter. Go figure. Despite all of this we soldiered on and wore this status (or lack of) like a badge of honor.

Towards the end of the semester a few pledges had quit and then another quit halfway through Hell Week (the final week of pledgeship) and yet another was blackballed. This is a process where the membership votes and if they don't want you in you are considered blackballed or dismissed. It's extremely rare to go into Hell Week with a pledge that gets blackballed as they are normally gotten rid of before then and the only pledges that go into the final week are the ones that you unequivocally want. There was some grumbling when this happened and some talk of demanding that this dishonored pledge be brought back or else all of us would quit but that nonsense was quickly squashed and soon the remaining pledges who had suffered through so much blood, sweat, tears and a lot of sleepless nights got our just reward. We became neophyte members.

Next time I will talk about the time honored tradition of throwing members into the river which we did as pledges and I also had done to me by later pledges.

Friday, February 25, 2011

Family Can Be A Strange Thing

Growing up my family was never particularly close. We just weren't an affectionate family. We never hugged or kissed each other nor did we say "I love you." Now that we're older we do hug and say "I love you" however I only talk to my mother and older sister about once a week or so. I couldn't even tell you when the last time I spoke with my younger sister was but that's for different reasons. In this case it's her choice to keep away from the family no matter how much it hurts the rest of us. I can't really explain it, only she can. She's never even met my wife and son but that's for her to deal with, I only think of it occasionally now.

My wife talks to her mother who lives in Pennsylvania just about every day and then to her brother Gary every so often. Since he's in Peru it makes it a bit harder but hopefully soon we can make it easier once we switch our phone service to a different provider and she can get a plan to call to Peru as much as she wants. I don't get to talk to her brother much but we've got a lot in common, the least of which is our admiration for most things Star Wars. Plus our son adored him when we were able to go for a visit two years ago. He also writes a blog and if you want to check it out just go here. It will behoove you to speak Spanish although it's not necessarily required. After all, I don't hablo very much (which is a shame) but all I have to do is copy his text and go to a translation program like the one Google has. Sure, it loses a little something in the translation but I can get his point pretty easily.

We're both doing our writing thing although in different ways. I'm finally starting to work on my script ideas and he's working on a novel. In fact, I can't wait for him to finish it so that I can read it. Perhaps that will be a good reason for me to finally get serious about learning Spanish. I know that if we were ever to move to Peru I would have a good friend and confidant in him, someone that I could discuss ideas with and get sound advice from. I guess the best thing I can say is that I respect him as a writer and a person. That's about the highest praise I can give anyone.

I must add that the idea of moving to Peru does appeal to me but I'd have to find a way to do it financially. It doesn't cost as much to have a nice living there as it does here but I'd have to be able to come back to the U.S. at least two to three times a year to visit friends and family. There are many beautiful and wonderful things to see and do in Peru however one must also keep in mind the dangers that are there as well. Still, as long as you understand that Peru is it's own country with it's own traditions and ways of doing things and not attempt to judge it by the standards of where you live then you really can experience it completely. The U.S. is the U.S. Peru is Peru. Learn to understand that and life can be pretty sweet.

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Stress Break!!!!!!

We've had a week of unseasonably warm weather for this time of year and although it appears it might be over at least it was a nice respite from the snow and ice. Yesterday after helping at the Bishops Storehouse for church which involved a lot of heavy bags of food to lift and carry I had thought that I'd go into work and get some overtime. However after eating lunch I ended up falling asleep on the couch and then moved into the bedroom and slept some more. Once I awoke I was still entertaining thoughts of going in and working for a few hours because frankly, we need the money. However I quickly realized that I'm not fully recovered from my previous illness and that I needed a break.

My best friend called to let me know that his band was going to be practicing and that they had a guy coming out to help set up the mixing board so that they could record their practices and at some point in the future record their songs so that they can be released. Now I have a bit more than a small interest in their songs as I've helped write the lyrics to quite a few of them. Once I called my wife and found out that she was at a friends and wouldn't be back for awhile I knew my mind was made up. The thing that pushed me over the edge was that they had already ordered some pizzas and I never turn down free pizza.

After a quick shower I jumped in my truck, rolled the windows down and plugged in my Ipod. As I roared out onto the road I cranked some tunes and was immediately taken back to a time when I was younger and had much less stress in my life. I selected two new songs that I recently added and blasted them out. "Blue Tip" is a song that will be on The Cars first album in twenty three years and following that I played "78" by Michael Monroe which will be on his new album due out next month. I like both songs very much and it was nice to fly down the highway with the volume up and the windows down just like I used to do when I was young.

Once I was at my friends house I greeted everyone and started wolfing down the pizza that was left, although not necessarily in that order. The band had been on hiatus for quite a while due to Shane (guitars and vocals) being in Afghanistan for a year and Tommy (drums and lyrics) dealing with ulceritive colitis which ended up with him having his colon removed. Now they're trying to get back into the groove of things and of course come up with a new name for the band. By the way Alex (bass) rounds out the group. Shane's friend John was there and he was working on the mixing boards to get the sound cleaned up which did take up a chunk of time. Once the sound was decently in order we recorded several songs and then John picked up the guitar and Shane the bass and they jammed. Later Shane moved back to guitar and Tommy's son Chris played the bass for another extended jam.

It made me wish that we had been recording that as well since it all sounded pretty good to my neophyte ears. Then it was time for me to pile back into my truck and get home but first I burned all of the recordings onto a disk so that I could listen to them at home and get some ideas for some future stuff. On the way home my wife called and requested that I pick up a few things at the store which I complied with as fast as possible. Even with that it was a nice stress break for me to relax and enjoy something creative and to start learning something new and fun. Unfortunately in life I've found that I don't do this nearly enough and it's a situation that I need to rectify. For me it's important to do various creative things because it keeps my mind alert and keeps me growing as a person. As my son gets older I think it becomes more and more important for me to do things like this.

So the blog is a way for me to be creative with my writing and I intend to be more serious with it. Also, I've finally decided to start writing my script ideas that I've mulled over for years and am presently about one third of the way through my first one, a zombie flick. Actually I already have a lot of the sequel already thought out too. Whether anything comes of this or not doesn't matter right now. What's important is to sit down every day and write something because nothing else can happen until that part is done. Once the writing is taken care of then I can think about the rest. All in good time everything in it's place. Right now I'm having fun flexing my mind. Once I reach a milestone I'll announce it on here so keep checking back or better yet follow the blog so that you can be informed every time I post new stuff.

Until then keep learning, use your mind occasionally and make sure you take enough stress breaks and I'll see you somewhere.

Frat Life 101: The Beginning or Were You One Of Those Frat Dudes?

Whenever I tell people that I was in a fraternity while I attended college off and on back in the 80s they normally get a mental picture of a bunch of rich, smarmy jerks wearing Izod shirts and plaid shorts sitting around being pretentious, anal douche bags. Then I have to take the time to explain to them that no, we weren't like that and in actuality if you had to compare us to anybody we were much closer to Delta house from the film Animal House. Okay when I say "closer to" I really mean almost identical. Probably as close in real life to what came across the screen as you can get.

Here's how my personal story goes. I had met Henry during the summer through my best friend Tommy. We found out that we would be staying in the same dorm at Northeastern State University (NSU) in quaint, bucolic Tahlequah, Ok and made loose plans to look each other up once we got there. It can never hurt to have someone you know to hang out with even of you're not lifelong friends or anything. When I found Henry he had already made friends with a pretty large group of guys in the dorm and I joined in with them. What was significant for me was that my early life was marred by a severe inferiority complex and a total lack of self confidence so the fact that suddenly I had a group of 10 or so immediate friends was incredible for me.

Basically I think we all had decided that now that we were out of our parents homes and away at college that whatever we were in our previous lives didn't matter. Now we could remake those things about ourselves that we didn't like and try to become cooler versions of what we thought we wanted to be. Or maybe it was just me who thought that way. Some of us were tall and some short, some skinny and some fat. Some were good looking and some were not, some of us knew somebody else in the group previously but most did not. I myself fit into several of those categories. What we all shared was a sudden realization that we were now free (or so we thought) in society's eyes and we could be as wild, crazy and as stupid as we wanted to be. And believe me, we did just that.

At some point or another one of the guys mentioned to the rest that he knew about a fraternity party on Friday night and since we were all young and free we should go. So we did. After all, isn't that what you were supposed to do in college? Attend as many parties as you could, drink as much free beer as was available and if possible convince some poor besotted lass to take pity on you and perhaps throw some loving your way? Well, that's not always the way it works out. In this case we attended the party, drank the free beer and had zero luck with the ladies in attendance, mostly due to the fact that they were almost all girlfriends of fraternity members or alumni. At least that's the story we stuck with.

Every single one of us ended up pledging and we ended up becoming part of an unusually large group of new recruits for the fraternity, although not all of us made it for varying reasons. Still, it was a banner semester for Sigma Tau Gamma and as it turned out a perfect fit for those of us who stuck with it and made it all the way through. You see we weren't looking to be the most popular nor the most athletic or even the smartest. No, what we and countless others before and after us were interested in was true brotherhood and friendship. We found that and much more in Zeta Chapter at little old NSU.

To Be Continued....................

Thursday, February 17, 2011

The Cars - Blue Tip Video

The Cars have now released the full video for their song "Blue Tip" off of their forthcoming album now entitled Move Like This. The album is expected to be released on May 10th and is their first album released in 24 years. The band is playing it coy so far with any news about a tour accompanying the albums release but at least I can dream. I never got to see them back in the day and they occupy the top spot on my concert wish list so maybe with a bit of luck (and a lot of money) I'll be able to check them off the list. Stranger things have happened.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

It's Too Late For This Stuff

I've been sick for the past several weeks and just can't seem to shake whatever it is that's gotten a hold of me. It got really bad on Thursday, so bad I had to go home from work since I had a fever and then I stayed home on Friday as well. Saturday showed me a bit of a turnaround and improvement physically but then came the mental setback.

My wife has been out of work since September due to an injury. She had a cyst in her calf that was removed and also had an arthroscopy done on her knee. It's been a long hard road back for her and on Thursday she finally found a new job, one that won't be physically or mentally challenging but one that will pay enough for us to start getting out from under the mound of debt we are currently covered with.

So today after she gets off of work somehow now she's angry with me but of course won't say why or what I presumably did. I think it's because we've been feeling some distance between us what with all of the stress we've been encountering. No matter what I do I end up on the wrong side. I've tried to be as good a person as I can, loyal to a fault but sometimes that's not enough. I may not always say the right things, I may not gauge her feelings or mood accurately and I may let my shortcomings get the best of me at times but my heart is good. I've never cheated on her, never gambled away our money nor spent it on drugs or booze. I am far from perfect but I've never claimed to be perfect either. All I can do is try and weather the storm and see what tomorrow brings me. You can't always please people when you're trying to be yourself.

Times like this wear on me mentally and when that is coupled with my physical problems it just seems like everything is piling on me all at once and that gets somewhat overwhelming. I've had time to step back and reflect and write this and that by itself is good therapy. Will it matter at all? Only time will tell, this isn't just in my hands after all, I don't have much control over these things so I can only keep putting one foot in front of the other. Little by little, day by day.

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Red State Kevin Smith

I'd intended to write something about this movie some time ago but like with a lot of things, time got away from me. Kevin Smith is best known for his series of movies featuring the View Askew universe but on this new (and it appears his second to last movie) he has gone in a darker direction. Basically it's the story of three youths who go looking for sex in the wrong place and are set up by an extremely right wing church who believe it's okay to lure people in and presumably torture and/or kill them because they are sinners. To him this is a horror film although it's not a slasher type of film but more about what the people are doing is horrifying.

Just a few days after wrapping the film Smith already had finished editing it and showed it at the cast and crew party and then readied it for Sundance. While there he created a furor when he announced that instead of doing a tour of his normal Q&A he would instead tour the film and then do a Q&A after the viewing. Later he will release the film domestically under his own banner. The fact is that Kevin Smith is attempted to do something new instead of following the Hollywood formula of selling the film and then having the studio that buys it throw millions of dollars into an ad campaign that Smith does not believe will bring any new eyes to the screens. Instead he would rather preach to his audience and base his success or failure on that. I commend him for this attempt and can't wait to see the film. He has been an inspiration to me as I try to get my old butt off the couch and finally start writing some of my ideas down. It doesn't matter if nothing happens with them right now, getting them on paper is the first and most important step. After that, it's all gravy.

Demolition 23 - The Scum Lives On

Demolition 23 was a band formed by former Hanoi Rocks vocalist Michael Monroe in 1993. At one time there were three former members of Hanoi Rocks in the lineup but when Nasty Suicide left the band Monroe decided to break it up and move on to other projects. When they started they were a cover band but by the time they put out a cd in 1994 that had original tunes as well as covers in the mix. This tune stands out to me and with a little updating on lyrical content it would sound as fresh and potent as the day it was released. I can think of a few names to add to the song and I'm sure there are others out there who could do so as well.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

More Star Wars

This one goes out to my brother-in-law Gary who is in Lima, Peru and may not have seen this one yet, it was played during the recent Super Bowl. Yes, it's a commercial but it's well done and I think it's funny.

And then I found this clip and it's also quite funny as well so here it is:

When I Was A Child So Long Ago

When I was young I loved to go outside and play in the snow with my friends. We would stay out for hours building forts, having snowball fights and sledding. It didn't matter to us how long we were outside or how cold we got. All that mattered was how much fun we were having. We would come inside and get something to eat, more fuel for our body, so that we could go back outside as fast as possible and spend even more time having our fun.

Now I no longer have the shaded vision of youth. I am older and it seems more susceptible to colds and the flu. Where i once saw fun and games I now see work. It's not easy shoveling a long, double driveway while having the wind whip the snow that you just threw from your shovel back in your face. Busting your back to clear everything off and then going to work for over eight hours. It's not fun at all.

Sometime I lament that I have lost my childhood innocence, my joy at seeing things through those eyes. Everything always seemed so new and exciting, it seemed like you would never grow up and always would have fun. There were no thoughts of growing up, the stress of work or school doesn't register, the pressure of making a monthly mortgage payment does not exist nor does the idea that the person you love doesn't always love you back or forever. It's all about enjoying life.

Then you get a little older and life starts to show you what the future is like. You see families fall apart and all the pressures that you were so completely unaware of slowly creep their way into your existence. Little by little until suddenly you've forgotten what it was like to be young and innocent. If you're lucky you can have a child or perhaps have a sibling who does and you can see that child experiencing all the joy of discovering life and then maybe, you get to re-live a little bit of what it was like when you were that age.

The thought that I keep with me is that I am thankful that I did have that time when I was young because not every child in the world is that blessed. Some of them have to grow up very quickly and find out all too soon what life has prepared for them and it's usually not pleasant. At the time we may not realize how good we have it but there is always somebody else who has it worse than you do. Always. All I want to do now is delay just a little how long it takes for my son to lose his innocence so that he can just be a kid. Not too long, but definitely not too short either.

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Star Wars Jedi Gym

I followed a link on Facebook and found this video and, well I'm a Star Wars nut so I found it funny.

and here's another one...............even nicer

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Winter Wonderland my butt..............

Say what you will about how wonderful it is to play in the snow like when we were kids but then think about this. Who is the lucky one that gets to shovel it out of the way to get the car out on the road just to see if maybe you can go somewhere, anywhere? That's right, I do. It wouldn't be so bad except for the almost 3 foot drifts by my truck which were extremely difficult to move and I still didn't even come close to getting it dug out all of the way. More work ahead tomorrow and then I can try to get to my job. With the way weather works in Oklahoma it will probably be 70 degrees in a few days followed by rainstorms, tornado's and sleet.