BORN ON THE BLACKSTONE

America: Born Bankrupt


America was born bankrupt. We won the revolution, but lost everything else. Our economy was dependent on Great Britain. We produced raw material, but Great Britain turned those materials into goods for the world’s markets.

Battle of Lexington and Concord revolution

Not merely did we depend on the British to supply us with finished goods we could not produce ourselves, we depended on British banks, British shipping, and British trade routes.

Everything has a price and we had no money. We had hoped we could reach an agreement with England short of war and had there been a less intransigent monarch on the throne at the time, we might have been able to do so. Despite the Massachusetts “Sam Adams faction” who were hellbent for battle, most colonists felt at least some allegiance to England.

Photo: Garry Armstrong

We had no “American identity” because there was no America with which to identify. Nor was the yearning to breathe free burning in every heart. What the colonists of North America wanted was simple. They wanted the rights of free Englishmen. We wanted seats in British Parliament. We wanted the right to vote on taxes and other policies that affected colonial life. A deal should have been reached, but George III was not a sensible, reasonable or judicious king.

The result was war, the staggering loss to England of their wealthiest colonies and birth of a new nation.

That we won the war was astonishing. We had little in the way of arms and no navy. We were sparsely populated. Existing militias were untrained, undisciplined, little better than rabble. That George Washington was able to turn this into an army was no mean feat. No wonder they wanted him to be the first President.

French military support enabled us to beat the British. It was a loan, not a gift. We agreed to pay it back, so the French revolution was an unexpected and deeply gratifying development. It was like having the bank that holds your mortgage disappear taking your mortgage with it. It vastly improved our debt to income ratio. When Napoleon came to power and suggested we repay our war debt, we said “What debt?”

Our shipping industry was in its infancy. We had few ships or sailors, minimal access to world trade. The British ruled the seas and being soreheads, refused to share it with us. It would take many years before we could challenge their ascendancy on the seas.

What Did We Have?


Slaves and land. Sugar and rum.

If you who think slavery was an entirely southern institution, you’re wrong. Although slaves lived mostly in the southern colonies, they were brought to these shores by New England sea captains, held in New York, Boston, and other northern cities, sold to slavers at markets in the north, then sent south to be sold again to individual owners. The entire economy of the nascent country was based on slaves and their labor. The institution of slavery could not have persisted had it not been supported by business interests in the north.

The new-born United States had, for all practical purposes, no economy. We were pre-industrial when European countries were well into the modern industrial period. We had no factories. We had no national bank, currency, credit, courts, laws or central government. Our only thriving industries were rum and slaves.

Although there was an abolitionist movement, it was tiny, more sentimental than real.

North and south, slaves made their owners rich. North and south, fortunes were made selling human beings, then profiting from their labor. When it came time to write the Constitution and transform a bunch of individual colonies into one country, the Devil’s compromise was needed. Abolishing slavery would doom any attempt to pass the constitution … so slavery became law. The groundwork was laid for the bloodiest war America would ever fight.

It would twist and distort American history, shape our politics, society, culture, and social alignments. Its legacy remains with us today and probably always will.

So How Come We Didn’t Find a Better Way?


Question: If our Founding Fathers were so smart, how come they didn’t see that slavery would come back to bite us in the ass?

Answer: They knew it was wrong and knew that it would result in civil war. In other words, they did knew it would bite us in the ass. They could keep slavery and form a strong nation — or eliminate slavery and end up with two weak countries, one slave, one free. They chose what they thought was the lesser of the two evils.

Was it the lesser evil? Hard to say and it’s a bit late to second guess the past. It was clear from the get-go there was no way we were going to form a nation if slavery was made illegal. From private writings by members of the continental congress, it’s clear they knew the issue of slavery would eventually be resolved by war. Long before 1776, slavery was the polarizing issue in the colonies. So “The Great Compromise” was put into place, the Constitution was approved and a later generation fought the war.

The Right Thing went head-to-head with The Bottom Line. The Right Thing lost. Imagine that!

Eighty years later, 630,000 lives (more or less) would be the butcher’s bill for the compromises made in 1789. An ocean of blood would be the cost of ending America’s traffic in human lives. Many more years would pass before this country’s non-white population would see anything remotely resembling justice, much less equality.

When you dine with the Devil, bring a long spoon.

So About Those Mills …


Slaves, rum, and sugar — the triangle of trade that kept America’s economy alive — was profitable for plantation owners, sea captains, and other slave traders, but it didn’t generate a whole lot of entry-level job opportunities for average working people. A lot of people needed work, even more needed trade goods and dependable sources of income.

Most people didn’t own ships and if they did, were disinclined to take up slaving. It was never a profession for “nice folks” and a fair number of people found it distasteful. Decent people might live off the labor of slaves, but the actual process of buying and selling human beings was more than they could stomach.

So as great political and legal minds gathered in Philadelphia to draft a document to build a nation, other great minds were seeking ways to make money. It’s the American way.

Renovated into elderly and affordable housing, the old Crown and Eagle mill in Uxbridge is beautiful today.

The Crown and Eagle Mill today, renovated into elderly, affordable housing.

In one of the stranger coincidences of history, the Constitution went into effect on March 4, 1789 while simultaneously, the American Industrial Revolution took shape on the banks of the Blackstone River.

Moses Brown had been fighting his own war. He was battling the Blackstone. With a 450 foot drop over a 46-mile course — an average drop of about 10 feet per mile — the Blackstone River is a powerhouse. Not a wide river, its sharp drop combined with its narrowness and meandering path give it much more energy than a river of this size would normally generate.

It invited development. The question was how.

Through 1789, as the Constitution was gaining approval throughout the former British colonies, Brown wrangled the river, trying to build a cotton thread factory in Pawtucket, RI at the falls on the Blackstone River. He was sure he could harness the river to power his mill, but as the end of the 1789 approached, the score stood at Blackstone River – 1, Moses Brown – 0.

America had her welcome mat out in those days. We needed more people and especially people with industrial skills. We weren’t picky. All immigrants were welcomed. This turned out to be a stroke of luck for Moses Brown.

Slaterville Mill -- oldest mill in the Blackstone Valley

Slaterville Mill — oldest mill in the Blackstone Valley

In December 1789, Samuel Slater — a new immigrant from England — began working for Brown. Slater had spent years working at an English textile mill. He recognized that Brown’s machinery was never going to work. Slater had fine engineering skills. In under a year, he’d redesigned and built a working mill on the Blackstone River.

By 1790, Slater’s Mill was up and running, the first successful water-powered cotton-spinning factory in the United States. Slater’s Mill proved you could make money in New England doing something other than whaling, fishing, or running rum and slaves. Entrepreneurs hopped on the idea like fleas on a dog. Mills were an immediate success. New England was inhospitable to agriculture, but fertile for factories.

Mills grew along the Blackstone from Worcester to Providence, then sprouted by the Merrimack in Lowell, and eventually, throughout New England. Wherever the rivers ran, mills and factories followed.

The Blackstone Canal


On the Blackstone, mill owners urgently sought a better way to move their goods.

The features that made the Blackstone a natural for generating power made it useless for shipping. The only other choice — horse-drawn wagons — was slow and expensive. the trip took 2 to 3 days over dirt roads from the northern part of the valley to Providence.

Slow moving water in the canal …

When the weather turned bad, the trip was impossible. All of which led to the building of the Blackstone Canal. Meant as a long-term solution, it actually turned out to be no more than a short-term temporary fix … but it was an impressive undertaking.

What Does This Have To Do With Slavery?


Mills brought employment to the north. It created a real industrial base that would give the north the ability to fight the civil war … and win. It started with a river, continued with a canal, expanded with the railroads. Which is why the Blackstone Valley is a National Historic Corridor and known as the birthplace of the American Industrial Revolution … a revolution that brought the U.S. into the modern world and positioned us to become a top dog on the international scene.

Building the Canal


The Blackstone Canal took 4 years to build, from 1824 to 1828. The main canal runs alongside the Blackstone. In some places, the canal and the river are one. There is an extensive network of small canals, many on tributary rivers like the Mumford. The main canal was designed to handle large barges. It travels in a relatively straight line from Worcester to Providence.

The smaller canals allowed mills to move goods to places not immediately on the Blackstone. Small barges could move cargo between towns and mills.

Photo: Garry Armstrong

Big barges were faster and cheaper than horse-drawn wagons. A single barge could haul as much as 35 tons of cargo and only needed two horses going downstream.

The canal system remains largely intact. Trails along the canals where horses towed barges have become walking paths. The barges are gone, but small boats can enjoy the open stretches of canal and river.

Railroads


Ultimately, railroads were the game-changer. As soon as rails from Worcester to Boston, and Worcester to Providence were built, the canals were abandoned. Business boomed.

The Blackstone River was lined with mills and factories at the end of the 1800s. The Blackstone supplied the hydro power and in return, the river was used to dispose of industrial waste and sewage.

75-Train-NK-014a

Photo: Owen Kraus

By the early 1900s, the Blackstone River in Massachusetts was grossly polluted. Fortunately for the river, though not necessarily for the valley’s residents, this was also the beginning of the end of the textile industry in the northeast.

As of 1923, the majority of nation’s cotton was grown, spun and woven down south. Without its mills and factories, the valley’s population began to shrink.

Pollution


In 1971, the Blackstone River was labeled “one of America’s most polluted rivers” by Audubon magazine. It was a low point for the region. It was time to clean up the mess.

We’re still cleaning up. Although not as polluted as it was, the watershed has a long way to go. The river’s tributaries are less polluted than the Blackstone itself because against all logic and reason, waste-water is still being discharged from a sewage treatment plant in Millbury. It’s hard to fathom what reasoning, if any, those who favor pouring sewage into our river are using. The fight never ends.

72-Heron_145

Good news? The birds and fish are back.

American eagles nest in my woods. Herons and egrets wade in the shallows to catch fish that breed there. The river is alive despite man’s best efforts to kill it.

HACKING YOUR HEARTBEAT

You thought this was a creepy, personal fantasy.
It turns out to be real. I told’ya, didn’t I?


FDA recalls close to half-a-million pacemakers over hacking fears


Turns out former Vice President (and erratic shooter) Dick Cheney was right all along: Your heart can be hacked. At least if you have a pacemaker, that is. On Tuesday, the FDA recalled 465,000 of the medical devices — the ones that help control your heart beat — citing security vulnerabilities. The pacemakers, which come from health company Abbott (formerly St. Jude Medical), require a firmware update. Fortunately, it can be installed by a health care provider in just three minutes. The models affected include the Accent, Anthem, Accent MRI, Accent ST, Assurity, and Allure.


EPISODE: NCIS – NEED TO KNOW (2012)


Tamer Hassan guest starred as Arms Dealer Agah Bayar.

Tamer Hassan guest starred as Arms Dealer Agah Bayar.

Alan Katzenbach, a lawyer, waits for Gibbs with his client, a chief petty officer named Leland Wiley. Wiley was busted for drugs and wants to trade information he has — which he claims involves national security and Agah Bayar, the arms dealer.

Gibbs is interested. Wiley comes over to talk, but grabs his heart and drops to the ground.

Gibbs comes for the update from Ducky. Turns out, Wiley had top security clearance and his workstation is locked down. They haven’t been able to connect him to Bayar yet.

Abby calls Gibbs to the lab. She tells him Wiley’s pacemaker was linked into a computer to monitor it. Someone hacked it and raised his heart rate up to more than 400 beats per minute.

“Somebody murdered Wiley by remote control,” she says.

What does this have to do with me?

Well, I’m glad you asked. This particular episode so intrigued the heart surgery team at Beth Israel Deaconess in Boston where a group of surgeons wanted to see if it COULD be done. Can you “attack” a pacemaker by remote control? One of the people that performed this experiment was my surgeon.

They did it, though my surgeon pointed out you had to be no more than a couple of feet from the pacemaker to do it. But you could do it. So, they contacted the manufacturer who changed the programming to protect it from potential attack. Cool, yes?

 


NOTES:

I had all that heart surgery in March 2014, not 2013 (how soon we forget) — which I now know was 2014 because I have implant cards to tell people what spare parts are in my body. Unfortunately, none of them indicates which part is which — which ones are implanted heart valves and which one is the pacemaker. Just trying to find out if my pacemaker is being recalled. I mean, my car is being recalled, so why not my pacemaker?

I also had one transplant card for each breast, but that one seems to have gone missing. Oh well … I believe that number is imprinted on the silicon baggies, so I’m sure they will find it as needed.


In theory, nobody can hack my pacemaker because the surgeons fixed it back in 2012. I am safe from remote terrorists. Which is good, because worrying about it was keeping me up at night.

I find it oddly comforting. Garry finds it disturbing. I suppose I can see where he’s coming from. He doesn’t like thinking about the mechanical and electronic stuff that keeps me alive. It would creep me out too, but I’m a bit of a geek and can detach from it on a personal level and get into the coolness of the electronics.

It is  kind of creepy. However, it doesn’t matter. No matter how I feel about it, I’ve got this thing in my chest. It keeps my heart beating. If my heart beat on its own, I wouldn’t need the pacemaker.

Every time I go for a pacemaker checkup, they use a little machine and briefly stop the pacemaker to see if my heart will beat without it. My heart stops beating. Talk about creepy. It is an icky feeling. Anyone with a pacemaker knows what I mean.

The blue tooth remote functions work. They are (in theory) more secure than they were before the NCIS episode aired and the guys got curious. Remote functionality is important. After all, I might need a remote tune-up. Blue tooth lets my doctor access my pacemaker from … how far? I don’t actually know. A considerable distance, whatever that is.

Garry — again — doesn’t want to know about it. I pointed out if someone murders me, this is potentially important evidence. He would rather not think about it.

So there we are. Too creepy?

I can feel my pacemaker. It’s in the hollow by my left shoulder. The outline is visible. I can feel the wires, the connections through my skin. It’s impossible to ignore. I might as well find it interesting. It’s part of me, after all.

THE LONGEST RUNNING TV SHOW

For 31 years, there was a series on Channel 7 in Boston. It was my favorite show. I watched it any day I could get home from work in time. It was on several times a day, five days a week. The first performance often aired during the pre-dawn hours, while the final day’s episode might air long after most people had finished dinner and many had gone to bed.

It was “good stuff.” Garry Armstrong was a smart, thorough reporter who cared about Boston and its people. He knew everyone and they knew him. He makes jokes about being trusted … but he was trusted because he had proved he could be. He had sources. He checked with them. He knew when the a story wasn’t “right” and he was cynical about politicians and big money.

Watching Garry kept me informed about events taking place in my neighborhood, the city, and the region. I also got follow-up and background information over dinner — sometimes quite different than what had been aired. There was stuff you could broadcast, and there was stuff that he and other reporters “knew,” but couldn’t prove.

It was sometimes difficult to reconcile the star of the TV show with the tired, crabby guy who came home expecting dinner, a newspaper, and when we were lucky, a baseball game. I always knew how the star’s day had gone. I taped his pieces so he could see them when he got home. Although he covered stories, wrote them, and performed, he didn’t see them as finished pieces unless I taped them.

I watched the news as I also watched him deal with violence and the calamities that are a constant in every reporter’s life. He never got used to it. Garry was, in a regional way — a celebrity. I was the celebrity’s wife — a very different role. My job was often to be there and smile. Television “people” don’t pay much attention to anyone who isn’t part of their habitat. At a good event, I got fed too.  I even got to wear ball gowns occasionally and I met some people I would never have normally encountered in my life.

Garry covered, or was involved with, virtually every major event in New England for his run of 31 years. From the great to the tragic, he was there.

Garry and I at President Clinton's party on Martha's Vineyard

Garry and I at President Clinton’s party on Martha’s Vineyard

We have one of Garry’s three Emmy awards on a shelf behind the TV, but virtually no tape of anything that happened. I don’t remember who found the piece below, but it’s a rare viewing of him doing normal work on a normal day in the news biz. Garry’s segment appears at about 1 minute and 30 seconds into the noon news. You can fast forward and skip the intro or choose to watch from the top of the show.

That was a “live shot.”

Time passes. It’s good to have something tangible to remember. Lucky me, I still have the star himself.

On September 12, 2013, Garry Armstrong was inducted into the Massachusetts Broadcasting Hall of Fame.

We keep the plaque on the mantel. His one remaining Emmy (Channel 7 lost the other two) is on a shelf that Owen built, along with his Kauff award and one other big one, the name of which I have forgotten. Amazing the things you forget even though at some point in your life, you couldn’t imagine ever forgetting something that important. His “Silver Circle” Lifetime Emmy hangs on the wall, too and there are other awards here and there in the house.

What is important changes over time. As time marches along, life and day-to-day events become more important than whatever career you had — except on days when the guys get together to remember.

That more or less wraps it up. I think it’s going to rain today.

SEARCHING FOR STUFF THAT ISN’T THERE

My granddaughter needed a copy of Windows 7 to try and reload the laptop I gave her last year. I found one, finally, after finding at least a dozen version of Windows XP. How old are the XP operating systems?  They are still sealed in their original envelopes. Would they run on newer computers?

I found a sealed version of Windows 7, but I had no idea what computer it was supposed to run on — or even if that computer is alive. I think it may be the one I have in my bedroom. If so, it already had its operating system replaced.

Kaitlin tried to use the DVD, but the computer said it didn’t know what that thing in it was. It didn’t even ask for the serial number. It wasn’t going to get fixed tonight. She finally gave up and called Jeremy, the Guy Who Fixes Computers.

The last DVD in my world

During all this racing around, I realized I had no idea where the stuff that came with my new computer might be. I tore the house apart looking for the set of discs I was sure came with this computer. I did find the ones that came with the computer that Garry is now using. That was when I realized … I don’t have a set of discs for this computer.

It doesn’t have a DVD player or writer. It can’t natively run a disc. I did buy a USB auxiliary for it, in case I want to play music or install something that does come on a disk, but otherwise, I’m searching desperately for something that never existed in the first place. If I don’t back up the system to a hard drive myself, I have no back-up. There’s little point in doing that anyway because they keep changing the system, so whatever you save is useless a few weeks later. I back up data, but as for the system?

How would I use the backup even if I made one?

I sat down. Tired, sweaty, and covered with dust.

The good news? I cleaned out a lot of junk. The bad news? There so much more junk remaining. I have crates of old software and manuals and widgets and connectors for computers I haven’t seen in years. We may not have as much paper as we did, but we’ve got a lot of everything else. DVDs and remote controls and batteries. Truckloads of stuff I have saved for years and have no use for. Never did.

And meanwhile, I am hunting for discs for a computer that came without discs.

Is there a Jeremy who can come and fix my head?

IF TELEVISION WAS REAL – BY TOM CURLEY

I watch a lot of TV. Probably too much. I’m fond of action shows. I’m really fond of all the various comic book shows.


The single thing these shows have in common is they all have at least one computer genius. A girl or guy geek who’s the best hacker in the business. They always have at least a half-dozen computer monitors in front of them. Each one has 10 or more windows open with lines of data scrolling by at about a hundred miles an hour. They can do anything and everything. Instantly.

falcontradingsystems.com

falcontradingsystems.com

BOSS: I know this is illegal, but I need you to hack into the CIA, NSA and FBI servers. They have the most secure and impenetrable firewalls ever designed. Can you do it?

COMPUTER GENIUS: I was into all three 15 seconds ago, sir. The ones that work for the FBI can find anything in 10 seconds or less.

FBI BOSS: Our serial killer is male, early thirties, white, and probably living in a two square mile region south of Albany, Georgia. He’s left handed  and likes string cheese. We need to narrow our search …

FBI COMPUTER GENIUS: Found him! His photo, home address and a copy of his permanent High School record have already been sent to your phone.

Not the real bad guy

Probably not the real bad guy, but this got me to thinking. What would these shows look like if they were happening in the real world?

BOSS OF SUPER SECRET GOVERNMENT ORGANIZATION TASKED WITH SAVING THE WORLD FROM SUPER BAD EVIL DOERS:  OK, listen up. You two are the world’s best black hat and white hat hackers. We’ve brought you here because a Super Bad Evil Doer has stolen software that will allow him to access all the world powers’ nuclear codes. He is demanding 1 trillion dollars in ransom or he will launch all the missiles at once and destroy the Earth. You each have a whole bunch of computer screens in front of you with dozens of boxes open scrolling lines and lines of stuff. You have less than 10 minutes to somehow find our Evil Doer and figure out a way to block him from launching those missiles. Can you do it?

HACKER #1: Yes, but we will need to write some specialized software, at least 10 to 20 thousand lines of code.

BOSS: My God!  Can you do it in time???

HACKER #2: Already done sir. Now all we have to do is upload it to the Evil Doer’s computer. Ready to send in 3, 2 ….

HACKER #1: NO! NO! NO!

HACKER #2: What’s wrong? OH GOD NO! NO! NO!

BOSS: What’s happening?!

HACKER #1: My computer is shutting down!!

HACKER #2: MINE TOO!

BOSS: Are you being hacked? Have your computers been infiltrated by some kind of malicious software? Does the Evil Doer have a genius hacker of his own???

HACKER #1: WORSE! Windows just installed updates! It’s rebooting so the updates can take effect!

windows shut down

BOSS: Can you stop it!??

HACKER #2: It’s too late! Look! It’s already started rebooting and configuring the updates!

windowsupdateinstalling_40853_l

BOSS: There’s nothing you can do???!

HACKER #2: No sir. Look at the screen. It says “Please do not power off or unplug your machine while updates are in progress”!

windows updates 1

BOSS: How long will it take to reboot?

HACKER #1: God only knows! Look! It’s still installing update six of ten! This could take an hour! Even more.

BOSS: We have less than ten minutes before nuclear Armageddon! What are we going to?

HACKER #1: Wait! I’ve got it! I can use my smart phone!

HACKER #2: Yes! We will have to adapt about 15 thousand lines of code but …

HACKER #1: It’s done! OK now all I have to do is input and send the kill command. “NEUTRALIZE ALL NUCLEAR LAUNCH CODES”. And … done!

BOSS: Thank God!

HACKER #2: Oh NO! You entered “NEUTRALIZE ALL NUCLEAR LUNCH CODES”!!

HACKER #1: What?! Damn you AUTOCORRECT!

autocorrect

BOSS: What do we do now!!

HACKER #2: You know what? Pay the ransom. I’ve had it with Windows. I mean look, it’s still on update 6 of 10! We’re going to be here all day!

HACKER #1: I agree. Pay the money. This is just too much trouble. I’m telling you, ever since my phone updated to iOS 9.0.1, nothing works right.

HACKER #2: Tell me about it.

ios-9-overnight-update

As the two hackers walk off into the sunset discussing whether or not upgrading to Windows 10 would make the situation better or worse, small mushroom clouds appear in the distance.

doodleordie.com

doodleordie.com

Yeah, that’s pretty much how it would happen. Here’s the actual TV show.

 

REAL REALITY, VIRTUAL REALITY AND REALITY TV REALITY – BY TOM CURLEY

I’m having a real problem with reality lately. And it’s not from taking too many drugs. I think it’s from not taking enough drugs. The problem is that we have too many realities to choose from. We have reality TV, which everyone knows is not real at all.

We have our real reality, which seems to be a really bad reality TV show and is very surreal.

And very now we have Virtual Reality, which is oddly, very real.

“Cool”

I recently made the leap and got a VR (Virtual Reality) system. In this case the Sony PlayStation’s VR platform. There are currently two others out there, the Occulus Rift and the HTV Vive. Which one is better? It depends. Mostly on which one you own. The Vive is the most expensive, the PlayStation the least. I’ve seen all three. Frankly, they look pretty much the same. By that, I mean AWESOME!!

“Whoa!”

Unfortunately, I can’t describe the experience. You have to experience it. Imagine being inside an HD movie. Everything is to scale. You can walk up to people, walk around them. They are human-sized. Not TV-sized or big screen movie-sized. It’s amazing. The only downside is that the games and movies available right now are sort of skimpy. There’s a Batman game in which you literally become Batman.

“I’m Batman”

It’s incredible, but the whole game only lasts about an hour. This is because of the enormous amount of data the system requires. That will change. Soon. Most of the games involve looking around at things and marveling at how real they are.

“I’m gonna need a bigger cage!”

That all changed when a new game came out called Star Trek, Bridge Crew.

In this game, you are on bridge of either the Federation Starship Aegis or the original Enterprise. The detail is amazing. You can sit at any one of four stations.:  Helm, Tactical, Engineering and, of course, the Captain’s chair.

Each station has its own console and responsibilities. Helm steers the ship, sets courses for both warp drive and impulse drive. Tactical fires phasers, photon torpedoes, scans other ships and objects, transports people on-board the ship and can disrupt enemy ships functions, such as disabling their shields, weapons, engines, etc.

The Engineering station fixes the ship, re-routes power, etc. (I need more time!) The Captain runs the show.

Here’s where it gets cool. The whole program is linked  to IBM’s Watson super-computer. When you play in solo mode you are the Captain. Your crew are AIs (artificial intelligences). You can talk to them in normal language. You can say “Helm prepare for warp.”

Helm AI will respond “Yes sir.”

Engineering AI will say “Charging the warp coils Captain.”

When you are ready you actually can say “Helm, ENGAGE!” And it does!

“Engage!”

The Watson computer is constantly learning. You can just talk to it and it tries to figure out what you want to do. This means that when you are being attacked by five Klingon Cruisers, you can shout “Red Alert! Raise shields, arm photon torpedoes, fire phasers at that goddamn Klingon!  Helm! Prepare impulse. Get us the fuck out of here!” And it does.  Of course, there are glitches, but for the most part, it works.

The solo part is not what the program was built for. You can play the game with three other real people. It doesn’t matter what system they own. They all work together. You have to work together to finish a mission and the missions are not easy. Usually, you blow up the ship.

“I think we’re about to die”

It’s a lot of fun. The first time I tried playing with real folks I was at the Tactical station and our Captain was a 14-year-old. The conversation went like this.

ME: Tactical is ready Captain.

CAPTAIN: Helm, prepare to warp the Devos system.

VOICE OFF IN THE DISTANCE: Honey, it’s time to leave!

CAPTAIN: Ma! I’m busy!

MOM: I don’t care what you’re doing, it’s time to go!

CAPTAIN: But Ma! I’m on a starship!

MOM: I don’t care where you are, get your butt up here.

CAPTAIN: But Ma! I’m the Captain!

The rest of us were laughing our asses off. The engineer recorded the whole episode (you can do that) and posted it on his Facebook page.

One other time we sat at the space dock for a half hour because the engineer seemed to have no idea how to energize the Warp coils.  I was the Captain.

ME: So, engineering, figured out how to energize those Warp coils yet?

ENGINEER: Uh, yeah.

ME: Well, we don’t seem to be moving.

ENGINEER: Uh, yeah.

ME: Let me guess, you need more time?

ENGINEER: Uh, yeah.

Eventually we got so bored that the tactical guy started blowing up our own ships. Yeah, you can do that.

What I find odd is that many of the reviews of the game are sort of negative. They complain that you can’t get up and walk around. You are stuck in the chair in each station. Excuse me? That’s what they do in any Star Trek episode. They sit in their  friggin’ chairs and to their friggin’ jobs! I mean what would happen if Captain Picard ordered Worf to lock phasers on a Romulan ship and fire … and he’s off wandering around the bridge.

PICARD:  Worf! What the hell are you doing?

WORF: Uh, walking around the bridge Captain.

PICARD: Are you kidding me!! For Christ’s sake, get your ass back in that chair and fire those Goddamn phasers!

WORF: Well normally sir, I stand at my station.

PICARD: Oh for Christ’s sake!

Ever since November 8, 2016 I’ve been obsessively watching all the Star Trek series — because Star Trek Reality makes more sense than our real one.  Now, until our surreal reality TV show reality returns to real reality, I’m going to spend as much time as I can in the Star Trek Virtual Reality.


Engage!

ANOTHER DAY WITH CUSTOMER DISSERVICE

As soon as I saw that Microsoft was planning to make “updates” and “downloads” automatic for Windows 10, I knew it was going to be trouble. I had managed to completely evade Windows 8 and 8.5. I had stuck with Windows 7 and been really grateful, but a bunch of newer apps were coming out and they wouldn’t work on Windows 7. These included several new graphics packages and the reader for Audible.

It’s not that the windows Audible reader was good. It stunk, but it stunk less than the alternatives. The only other option I’d been offered was to listen online only and I have strong reservations about that. What happens on an airplane? In the doctor’s office? In the car?

They designed, finally, a new reader … but it would only work on Windows 10. The old “reader” was barely crawling along the virtual ground and several graphics packages just stopped working.

I got a new computer and yes, Windows. Because Apple is great, but I’ve never been  happy with its floating operating system. I like more organization than that. And I have a fairly big investment in Windows applications. So … I got this computer. Which is great. Remarkable. Fast, powerful. Terrific computer. And the first version of Windows 10 with which it arrived was a breeze to use. I should have known it wouldn’t last.

Windows makes operating system decisions based on what their Public Relation Department tells them is good. It has to be that because it isn’t based on conversations with users. As soon as I happily settled down, they decided to massively upgrade the BIOS, which killed a lot of applications. Killed the sound. Made a godawful mess and as I gradually unraveled from the quagmire and made peace with the new system — which included downloading and installing an entirely new version of Windows 10 Pro — I realized that they had no idea what the problems were. I eventually doped out how to fix everything.

This was another one of Those Days. Somewhere along the line, they downloaded something that ruined the fix I made the last time. Which was because my customer service top of the drawer super high-quality experts didn’t know when you have two hard drives, you can only recover the one on which the operating system resides. In this case, my solid state drive.

So I already knew that you can’t recover both drives. I back up the data on the D drive on external drives and I count on “recovery” to manage the operating system, registry, et al. Everything had been going well, so I had no reason to recover anything or roll anything back. This morning, WordPress got wonky. I tried to roll it back and realized Microsoft had completely changed the interface and the restore/recover function was effectively gone. What’s more, all my previous recovery saves were gone and all of the ones they had logged contained both C and D drives. Which meant none of them would work, but I (pointlessly) tried anyway.

Not only that, but they have eliminated the interface that lets you define which drive you want backed up. In fact, they eliminated the entire recovery interface. You could replace Windows (and save your data), but you couldn’t back up to a previous point in time. And the helpers couldn’t help me. They tried to restore me to an earlier version of Windows that had a recovery option, but it failed and finally, I tried deleting everything in the recovery folder and setting it up from scratch. That worked.

This is because I have bookmarked the older interface items which have the selections to make this stuff work.

I never ever call customer service on the telephone. I only confer online by text. Why? Because if I’m on the phone, I’m going to start to foam at the mouth and yell terrible things at the people who would like to help me, but don’t know enough.

Oh, and the updates don’t show up in the notification section anymore. You have to go into settings and look for them. They will never tell you what is coming, why it is coming, what is likely to happen, and how many — any? — of your existing application will still work after the updates.

I’m not that picky. I’ll take an email that warns me of what is coming, why, gives me the right to reject any I feel will damage my system. We should all demand of whoever who builds our operating systems to at least have minimal authority to say “no” until they convince us that “yes” is a better answer.

Use the chat function. Yelling is bad for vocal chords.