Black Lightning Strikes

I enjoyed the first episode of Black Lighting more than any other comic book-related show so far this season, and I hope it holds up as well the rest of the season.

The best part of the show?  You probably missed it: about fifteen seconds of Isaac Hayes getting read to sing Walk On By (it’s from his best selling album, Hot Buttered Soul).  

Here’s the complete song in case you didn’t catch it on the show:


And the single version if you’re pressed for time:



All Your Secrets Are Belong To Me

When Bevie was diagnosed with type II Diabetes she began to get a lot more serious about exercise and her weight.  Somewhere along that journey she not only started going to Weight Watchers meetings, but she also got hired by Weight Watchers to help run their meetings in Anderson.  No, she still isn’t getting up and speaking in public, but helping people sign up and keeping the paperwork filled out and up to date is firmly in her wheelhouse.

I don’t pay too much attention to the program – I simply cut down to drink only half of a can of soda and have only two double stuff Oreos instead of four when my weight starts to creep up again.  That seems to work for maintaining a reasonable weight.  Bevie apparently needs to be a lot more organized.  She uses her smartphone to count points and record everything she eats and weighs herself quite often and I do my best to never mention weight at all except to congratulate her when she seems happy with an outcome.

The Weight Watcher system appears to be a more detailed approach to half of the “eat less and move more” dieting system that strikes me as the system most likely to succeed.  Each serving of each type of food is given a point value in a huge database and people trying to control their weight can eat whatever they want to as long as they don’t exceed their point value for the day.  Foods that Bevie still turns her nose up at are zero points (mostly good vegetables and fruits). I try to eat my deserts only at the store where she doesn’t have to see them since just a soda and my four cookies add up to 22 points.  To put that in perspective, Bevie is currently trying to stay within 30 points a day.

Even worse?  A movie theater popcorn with butter (yum!) is 40 points.  Even sharing that with a friend doesn’t help very much.

Since she works for Weight Watchers, Bevie has had to go to special regional employee meetings where they explain any upcoming changes in the points system.  The presenters always stress that the material they are being shown is preliminary and should be kept a secret until the official launch date for the changes.  Bevie came home from the most recent info dump very excited, but couldn’t tell me much about the changes.  She indicated that changes were coming that would let her eat more food, and anybody on any diet always welcomes that kind of change.  Because everything was a secret, she couldn’t tell me much more than that since the rollout for the new system was scheduled for December 03.

About two weeks before the rollout she called Wendy (our oldest daughter) to make plans to go out and get breakfast somewhere.  Bevie was a little surprised by Wendy’s reaction: Wendy welcomed breakfast because Weight Watchers was making eggs zero points.

Huh?  How would Wendy know that?

It turns out that the new system was released in November in the UK.  While the system may have different names in the two countries, it is likely the program is essentially the same (if not identical).  Videos starting showing up on YouTube by October 31 that detailed some of the changes.  The number of points allowed each day went down, but a larger number of items were changed to zero points.  The exciting changes in our family seem to revolve around lean proteins now costing zero points, including eggs, chicken (and probably turkey), and beans.

Bevie still can’t discuss the program, but the Internet has no problem talking about it.  Even the official release video from the UK is floating around on the web.  Wendy had simply read up on all the changes about the same time Bevie learned about them and was told to keep them secret.

Weight Watchers has provided an educational moment for corporations everywhere: there are no secrets once you tell any portion of the public anything.  While articles and videos may be listed as “rumors” to avoid potential legal problems, any information put out there is probably available online in a matter of minutes.

The Timex Social Club only had one big hit record, but their release of Rumors was successful enough to get them on Soul Train.

My New Book Is On Sale Now!

The series Resisting the Challenges of the 21st Century continues with the release of my second book, Nobody Wants Your Stuff.

This week the book is only 99 cents, so grab a copy before the price goes up!

Continuing the rants and memoirs from How Much Extra Does No Cheese Cost? the second book in the series, Nobody Wants Your Stuff once again takes a (mostly humorous) look at overcoming some of Modern Life’s miseries:

In this book, you’ll discover:

  • How to save money on medical tests
  • why calculus is crippling computer programming
  • How an eclipse led to a published D&D adventure
  • How Ray Bradbury got kicked out of the dealer’s room at WorldCon
  • Ten ways to screw up a mortgage, and much, much more!

With a wide-ranging mix of rants on pop culture, politics, and coping with the present, my personal stories show you how to conquer problems with poise. Using my toolbox of humor, irony, and common sense, you too can take on any challenge.

Resisting the Challenges of the 21st Century is a must-read collection of hilarious essays.

If you like observational humor, expanding your point-of-view, and an in-depth look at the past, present, and future, then you’ll love these side-splitting stories.

Click the picture of the cover to download a copy and start reading about the collision of the past and the future.


The Music Is Enough To Give You The Christmas Blues

One of the local radio stations is already threatening, er, promising to switch to an all-Christmas music format starting Thanksgiving. That’s still more welcome than the way retailers and the mall jumped into Christmas with both feet beginning November 01. Playing Christmas music for a sixth of the entire year might be okay as long as other stations play something else, but there is a problem with the Christmas stations: doesn’t it seem like they only play the same 12 records over and over?

And over.  And over.

Within just a few days you are Jingle Belled out, wishing Frosty would melt, ready to sentence Rudolph to a lifetime of not playing Reindeer Games, ready to smash the little drummer boy’s drum with a mallet, and convinced that Grandma may have deserved deer tracks on her back.

Part of the problem is the loss of anything even remotely like a true Christmas carol – none of those songs seem to exist on the airwaves anymore.  This reduces the potential playlist a great deal (although Little Drummer Boy somehow continues to show up).

In the past, when an artist had a hit record for the first time they were likely to record a Christmas album.  While a lot of the songs on the album were probably remakes of the same old standards, the artist would also record a song that seemed a lot like their hit record.  Those records have sadly been lost to us.

Or so I thought.

I have the Sirius-XM radio on my computer at the store.  The app allows you to listen to maybe a hundred different channels, and one of them is Holiday Traditions. If you simply listen to that channel it is only marginally better than listening to the repeat-peat-peat songs on local radio, but there’s a way around that!  In your car, you’re probably stuck, but on the computer, you can customize many of the channels.

If you were listening to the sixties channel you could customize the channel to more or less soul, top hits or wide music choices, more or fewer instrumentals, etc.  For the Holiday Traditions channel, you still get three slide bars to customize the channel, and the important one was set up by somebody with a sense of humor.  The five levels of choice run from wide selection to a smaller list of songs, but the names they used for the extremes are cute:

Familiarity:  Stocking Stuffers….x…..x…..x….Evergreens

If you select Stocking Stuffers, the list of songs that comes pouring out of your speakers appears to be an endless list of non-repeating records.  This afternoon I thought to keep a list of the songs that channel played, and I’m really happy with the channel.  The records range from the early 1940s to the last ten years or so, and the range of artists is incomparable.  I’m sure the channel works best if I just listen for an hour a day, but so far it’s been almost good enough to make Christmas seem like a good idea again.

Here’s the list of songs we got in the past hour or two.  I’m not sure even I ever heard any of them before!

Frank’s sad Christmas song links to a video; you’re on your own to find the rest.

Frank Sinatra – Whatever Happened To Christmas
Glenn Miller Singers – And the Bells Rang
Bing Crosby – I’ve Got Plenty To Be Thankful For
Lex DeAzevedo – What Child Is This
Dean Martin – A Winter Romance
Philadelphia Orchestra – Pat-A-Pan
Rosemary Clooney – Christmas Mem’ries
Patti Page – I Wanna Go Skating With Willie
Bronn Journey – The Holly and the Ivy
McGuire Sisters with Dick Jacobs – Christmas Alphabet
David Arkenstone – I Saw Three Ships
June Christy – Winter’s Got Spring Up Its Sleeve
Ferrante & Teicher – Toyland, Toyland
Mills Brothers – On This Christmas Eve
Diplomats/USAF – The White World of Winter
Brook Benton – This Time of the Year
Paul Mauriat – Gloria, In Excelsis Deo
Vaughn Monroe – Snowy White Sone and Jingle Bells
Andre Rieu – Christmas Rose
Howdy Doody & The Fontane Sisters – Howdy Doody Christmas
Craig Raymond – Jingle Ballads
Louis Armstrong – Christmas Night In Harlem
Alain Morisod – Angels We Have Heard On High
Mel Blanc – I Just Tan’t Wait Till Quithmuth
Theater of Voices – Paul Hillier – Here We Come A-Wassailing
Lou Rawls – Merry Christmas, Baby
Billy Eckstine – Christmas Eve
The Echelons – A Christmas Long Ago (Jingle, Jingle)
Benny Goodman – Santa Claus Came In The Spring
Gatemouth Moore – Christmas Blues
Louis Jordan – May Every Day Be Christmas
Francis Goya – Petit Papa Noel
Judy Garland – The Star Of the East
Sammy Davis Jr. – Christmas Time All Over the World
Songcastle Orchestra – It Must Have Been the Mistletoe
Pearl Bailey – Five Pound Box Of Money
Dick Haymes – Santa Claus is Ridin’ The Trail

Are Self-Driving Cars Ready For This Challenge?

Lots of changes to the way we get around in cars are on the horizon.  Self-driving cars and services like Uber and Lift are already changing car use in cities, but some changes are a result of the landscape the cars drive on: roundabouts and flashing yellow arrows.

Traditional intersections have had green arrows to indicate when it is safe to make a left-hand turn.  When the green arrow comes at the start of a cycle, drivers typically had a turn lane that allowed them to queue up and go before ongoing traffic could go straight.  Traffic going straight might have a red light during this part of the cycle to allow oncoming traffic to turn left as well.

Alternately, the green arrow could come at the end of a cycle, cutting off oncoming traffic to give drivers a chance to turn left.

The problems occur when drivers making a left-hand turn have a green light but no arrow: they have to decide if it is clear enough to turn.  I’ve been involved in one accident where somebody turned in front of me when they didn’t have an arrow and didn’t get through the intersection quickly enough.

A new type of light has arrived in town: flashing yellow arrows.  At some intersections, we no longer get a green arrow at all – instead, we get a red light that sometimes turns into a yellow arrow for a very short amount of time.  There is NO green arrow, so drivers always have to judge when it’s safe to go through the light and never have a time when it is supposed to be safe to do so.  Other intersections have green arrows that turn to flashing yellow arrows when oncoming traffic is allowed to proceed.

So far these intersection has seen much confusion and no increase in safety. While green arrow to yellow arrow to red is easy to follow, the intersections that get only a flashing yellow arrow are counter-intuitive to drivers and can lead to mistakes.  Self-driving cars will probably be better programmed than current drivers as long as the self-driving cars can recognize when an arrow will never be green.

The idea of using a traffic circle instead of an intersection was tried numerous times in the past, usually with bad results.  Traffic in the circle sometimes had to stop for traffic merging in, and the rate of accidents was dismal.  In the 1990s the idea of a roundabout updated the concept of a traffic circle and was found to be much safer.

In a roundabout, there is a one-way circular lane that never yields to merging traffic – cars wishing to get into the circle must slow down or completely stop and yield to traffic in the circle.  Accidents were reduced as much as 80% compared to a traffic circle.  Where drivers are used to using roundabouts they allow better traffic flow than intersections with stop signs or traffic lights.

Unfortunately, where drivers encounter roundabouts for the first time they are confused and unsure of how to proceed.  I first ran into a roundabout in 2002 in upstate New York when traveling near Kingston (the same roads that lead to Camp Townsend!)  This was one of the earliest roundabouts in the country.  No surprise, I was baffled, but since there was almost no traffic at the time I was able to slowly limp around the roundabout.

A little experience with the roundabouts helps.  But even with past experience, I was lost when I traveled to Carmel, a suburb of Indianapolis: after driving through one roundabout, a few miles later I reached a point where I had to navigate three consecutive roundabouts!  Bevie was ready to climb out of her seat and run for cover, but I managed to get us through the maze of circles.  It turns out that Carmel has been installing roundabouts at a record pace, and now has over 100 of them in their small town!

Our small town of Anderson now has a roundabout near the mall, and the locals are less than thrilled with it.  At least the roundabout is near a shopping plaza and drivers can avoid it by using one of the other entrances or exits.  If you want to get the Waffle House that’s off one of the roundabout exits you have no choice but to navigate the circle.  Unless you park in the shopping plaza and walk.

No word yet on how well self-driving cars will deal with roundabouts – we can only hope somebody has thought to test them properly.  I nominate Carmel as the ideal place to test the artificial intelligence that will be steering the self-driving cars.

Progressive Rock started sneaking into our ears in the late sixties.  The Beatles and the Beach Boys each contributed to the breaking down of the traditional structure of popular records and by the end of the decade, the changes were unmistakable.  The movement grew primarily in England, and one of the groups that most successfully mixed pop and classical was Yes.  Their first two albums didn’t get much recognition, but the next album got a lot of airplay from three extended songs (Yours Is No Disgrace, Starship Trooper, and I’ve Seen All Good People).

The fourth and fifth albums spawned a series of hit singles that established them as a major force in music.  Perhaps liberated by their success, the band’s music became more classical than pop and its lyrics became thick as a brick.  At the same time, the album covers grew to be more and more impressive artwork.

Their breakthrough single was on their fourth album, Fragile. Perhaps the record company learned from the problems with the long songs on their third album – the next single was cut down from over eight minutes to about three and a half minutes. Album-oriented rock stations played the long version, while top forty stations jumped on the shorter version and made it a hit: Roundabout.