Be Carefull Where You Fart

“There is nothing informative or educational in this week’s column.”

Yep today’s column is pure whimsy. One of the benefits of having your own column is that you can write about anything that strikes your fancy. This week I’m fondly remembering our old friend Kent Ballard. Kent was a gifted writer and a frequent feature writer for The Paper. Some of his articles like “Last Flight” and “Blind Curve” were classics. There was a lovable quirkiness about Kent. He never met a conspiracy theory he didn’t like, was a leader in the movement to find Bigfoot, was highly distrustful of Governments and protective of his privacy to the point of paranoia. Kent and I often communicated by phone and Email or through “keyboard and stylus,” an internet based writers group. Kent was well known within the “group” for his vivid imagination and outlandish sense of humor.

Early this year we built and shipped, for Kent, two identical Windows7 desktop PC systems. Kent gave one to his wife, Tess, and then proceeded to customize the other for himself. He dumped Windows, loaded a Linux Operating system and joined the Linux user’s cult to begin the process of making himself and his Internet browsing activities untraceable.

Kent died in mid-summer, only a couple of weeks after being diagnosed with stage four cancer A few weeks before his death Kent and I had the following email conversation. I started it with my tongue in cheek post chiding Kent about his efforts to hide from the cyber snoops.

“I’ve bad news for you Kent As it turns out, all the effort and expense spent learning Linux in order to eliminate your cyberspace footprints have been in vain. Julian Asage determined that our government (and presumable all the other important ones) no longer use “the cloud” to spy on citizens. Government’s use of the Internet for spying on individuals has gone the way of the buggy whip, it’s obsolete. For the CIA, ICE, FBI and NSA and the rest of our government’s alphabet soup, the Internet is nothing more than a convenient way to divert public attention from the real tools of espionage. They now ply their trade using a sophisticated network of common everyday household devices to mine your personal data. 

The intelligence community now has an army of snitches that track your every move and it doesn’t cost them a dime.  You pay for their espionage equipment, provide a secure vantage point for it and even pay the electric bill to run it. Is this a great country or what?

Kent, I’ll bet you have at least a dozen Government snitches in your own house. They are your microwave, refrigerator, electric tooth brush, TV, space heater, dishwasher, toilet, motion sensors and light bulbs, whether on or off. All of these devices are constantly watching and listening to you. While you sleep your bedroom CO2 alarm collects the alpha and beta waves that tell them what you are dreaming. All of this data is chemically stored in the sewer (in your case the septic tank) and uploaded to a polar orbiting satellite every ninety minutes.

If I were you, I would think seriously about getting a tin foil roof.”

Kent wrote back.

“I think you may be right about the futility of trying to hide. Imagine one day, when you think you are all alone in your own home, you decide to enjoy a ripping good fart. SIRI or Amazon Echo hears it and orders gas pills to be droned to your door. Your bank card is charged, your doctors records are updated. Local restaurants will be informed in case they wish to cut down on the spices in their food, making meals less pleasant for everyone. Your employer will be alerted to your possible health problems so that he can alter your insurance coverage or terminate you as a “high risk” employee. Your grocer will delete flatulence prone food and condiments from your grocery order and your browser will be bombarded with bland food recipes. Your Face book, Snap chat and Twitter friends will be alerted that you might be sensitive to fart jokes. Your dating site date will be annotated with the warning “this guy farts like a horse.” Advertisers and government agencies will flood your browser and mailbox with helpful information and your family will be encouraged to organize an intervention. Airlines, busses Uber drivers and other public transportation providers will be warned that your patronage might be problematic. And all of this will happen at the speed of light.”  

God we miss you Kent.


The San Diego Curse

Another cheerless Padres season is coming to a merciful conclusion, the Chargers have begun their charmingly erratic annual stutter-step through the NFL schedule and our NCAA Div I universities have startedfootball season as basketball waits in the wings. San Diego stands alone as a beacon of sports futility among America’s ten largest cities. Amazingly, no San Diego’s professional or NCAA Division I college team has ever won a national championship in baseball, basketball or football. Several years ago on a cold rainy night, at a tavern in Julian, we found out why.

It was Halloween. The cold wind blew curtains of rain down Julian’s dark, empty streets. Inside Bailey’s Barbecue and Tavern, the hearth fire crackled warmly and the aroma of wood smoke and roast meat filled the flickering gloom. We sat nursing after dinner drinks idly listening to two men at the bar lamenting the Padre’s dismal season and discussing the Chargers chances to make the play-offs.

A dark, well dressed man who had been sitting alone at the bar got up to leave. As he paid his bar tab he turned to the two men. “A word of friendly advice” he said seriously, “never bet the rent money on the Chargers.”

The two men stared at him. “Why not?” asked the first man.

“Because they will always break your heart,” he said softly.

“The Chargers will break my heart?” scoffed the second man.

“Yes” said the dark man, “the Chargers, the Padres, USD, UCSD and San Diego State, they will all break your heart. It cannot be changed.” He continued toward the door.

The first man yelled after him “what can’t be changed?”

He stopped at the door and smiled “why the curse of course” and he stepped out into the rainy night.

“What’s he talking about,” asked the first man looking at Amanda, the bartender.

“It’s about the curse” she said as she wiped the bar where the stranger had been sitting. “It’s a very sad, tragic story if you want to hear it?”

Both men nodded. Nome and I moved up to the bar and the other couple in the tavern left their table and took seats at the bar. The six of us sat attentively in the flickering firelight as Amanda began.

“In 1929 San Diego State was negotiating to buy land on Montezuma Mesa for their new campus. An Indian clan living on Vulcan Mountain owned the property that SDSU needed for their athletic fields. The Indians agreed to sell the property with the stipulation that SDSU would supply basketball, baseball and football equipment for the clan’s reservation school. SDSU also agreed to provide a four year athletic scholarship each year for a member of the clan as selected by the clan elders. Clan chief Mountain Bear’s son received the first four- year baseball scholarship as a pitcher.

As the years passed the school honored the scholarship agreement but the baseball coach never played the lad. In the boy’s senior year (1933) Mountain Bear complained to the University President who pressured the baseball coach into promising to play Mountain Bear’s son in the final game of the season.”

“The big day arrived and the entire Vulcan Mountain clan came to the playing fields on Montezuma Mesa to see Mountain Bear’s son pitch for the Aztecs. It was a tight game with the conference championship at stake. The tension grew among the clan members as Mountain Bear’s son continued to sit on the bench. In the bottom of the eighth inning of a scoreless duel, Coach sent Mountain Bear’s son to warm up in the bull-pen along with his ace reliever, Wally McComb.”

Amanda paused looking up at the clock over the fireplace, “last call” she said “who needs a refill.” We all did and waited patiently while Amanda refilled our drinks.

We were on the edge of our seats as Amanda cleared her throat and continued. “The excitement amongst the clan members grew as Coach signaled the bullpen for a ninth inning relief pitcher. But it wasn’t Mountain Bear’s son who strode to the mound, it was McComb. McComb was tagged for a two-out home run and the Aztecs failed to score in the bottom of the ninth, the game and conference championship was lost. Mountain Bear’s son was nowhere to be found on the field after the game but when the team returned to the locker room they found him hanging, lifeless, from a shower head, his team jersey wrapped tightly round his neck.

At that moment there was a flash of lightning followed immediately by crashing thunder that shook the building. The lights in the bar dimmed then brightened. The room suddenly seemed to grow cold. Amanda shivered.


“What happened then?” asked the first man nervously.


“The clan took Mountain Bear’s son home to Vulcan Mountain and buried him in sacred ground. At the end of three days of mourning they built a huge fire and burned all the athletic equipment that SDSU had given to the reservation school. As the acrid smoke rolled down the mountain and spread out toward San Diego the tribal shaman stood beside Mountain Bear at the top of Vulcan Mountain and spoke this curse. “San Diego will not see final victory in these sports for one hundred years.”

“And that’s the story of the San Diego curse” said Amanda with a shrug.

The second man broke a long silence, “If that’s true we can’t win a World Series, Super Bowl or NCAA national championship in football, basketball or baseball.”

“Not until the year 2033” Amanda nodded.

.“So who was that guy?” asked the first man

“That’s the great-great grandson of Mountain Bear,” said Amanda

“You don’t really believe that curse stuff do you?” scoffed the first man.

Amanda leaned forward “Well then you explain it. None of our teams have ever won any of those championships and the Padre’s have the worst all time won/lost record of any team in the majors. Besides, it doesn’t matter what I think, he believes it and he puts his money where his mouth is.”

 “He bets against all of our teams?” said the second man incredulously.

“That’s how he makes a living” said Amanda. “Did you happen to notice that red car parked out front when you came in?”

The second man’s jaw dropped. “That was his Ferrari?”    


Good ole “Thirsty” Our favorite client.

Thurston has been our customer since we opened our store in 1995.  To say that “Thirsty” has more money than good sense may be unkind but it is not too far from the truth.

He lives on an old money estate in “The Ranch”. His parents made a fortune in real estate and Thirsty was their only child. When people ask what he does for a living his cheerful answer is “I write checks”. He’s never held a job and he pays others to manage his investments and properties. From all appearances, they do it quite well.

Thirsty spends his days surfing or playing tennis and golf at the country club in “The Ranch”. Evenings find him hanging out with chums at the 19th hole or in the lounge at Mille Fleurs. He is always cheerful and optimistic and never seems to have a negative thought.

Thirsty called us last week. “ I need a new computer,” he announced.

“We just built you a new one in January, is something wrong” I asked?

“Heck no, it runs just fine”, Thirsty replied. “I was thinking that with technology and all moving so fast, I probably ought to get something newer and faster”.

“What do you do with your computer?” I asked.

“Lots of things” Thirsty said,  “I play Free Cell, two different kinds of Solitaire, Jeopardy, Pac-Man, Sim City and I keep track of my golf handicap”. I asked him what kind of Internet connection he used. There was a long pause

“What’s the Internet” Thirsty asked.

“Never mind Thirsty, I know exactly what you need”.

Thirsty’s voice trembled with anticipation “Radical dude, I knew I could count on you guys. What am I getting”?

“We’ll build you a dual core, Athlon FX 62 AM2 with RAID 0 Raptor hard drives, twin Nvidia 7950 PCIE video cards and all the usual bells and whistles. It will cost you two grand but no one will be able to touch you for pure speed and power.”

“Now you’re talking,” squealed Thirsty. “Will I notice the speed difference between it and my old PC”?

“Well,” I said, “it’s 70% faster than your old PC but with what you use it for, probably not. You’ll just have to take my word for it”.

“That’s good enough for me,” chirped Thirsty “ I’ll need a 72 inch screen for watching movies”, he added.

“Don’t you still have your Megaplex home theater with stadium seating?” I asked.

“Yep” replied Thirsty,” but the projectionist has Wednesdays off. When can you bring it out?"

“We can have it ready by Friday, but with the way computer prices are dropping, I can’t guarantee today’s price past Wednesday.” I warned.

“No problem” he said. “take my credit card number, I'll pay now”

The Odd Couple.

Sometimes having more than one user on a computer can cause problems. We have several ways to isolate users from one another. Oscar Madisons “Odd Couple” roommate Felix Unger popped in the other day with one of those two users on one computer problems. It went something like this.

“Neat freak” Felix Unger minced into our store wringing his hands. “We need another computer like the one you built for Oscar and me last month” 

“What’s the problem, can’t you work out a schedule?” I asked.

“That’s not a problem, Oscar and I are hardly ever home at the same time”. Felix threw his arms in the air and rolled his eyes. “It’s Oscar, He’s a computer slob and I can’t take it any longer.”

I asked Felix what Oscar did that upset him so.

“He plays violent games, he’s into dozens of singles chat rooms, he visits websites that would make a hooker blush and he downloads everything that even sounds like sex. He messes with all the settings and snoops around in my personal files”. “I’m a professional photographer, that’s how I make a living” Felix continued, “I need the computer for my business files, recipes, photo editing, and to stay in touch with my two spinster aunts in Connecticut. Lord knows what kind of E-Mail attachments they’ve been getting from me lately”

Felix began to pace.  “My entire professional and personal life is on that computer. Every time I turn it on I’ve got to wade through dozens of error prompts and porn site pop-ups. I have to back up my files every time I use the computer and to top it all off, I can’t get Oscar to pay his share of the Internet.” Felix stopped pacing and spun around.  “How fast can you build me a new one?” he pleaded.

I put my hand on his quivering shoulder. “You don’t need a new computer Felix, all you need is a “lockable hard drive”. “We can simply install a second hard drive in your computer with a key lock. When you finish using the computer you simply lock your hard drive with a key. With your drive locked, the computer will boot to Oscars drive. The computer won’t even be able to see your hard drive.”

“You mean nothing that Oscar does can effect me at all,” asked Felix incredulously.

“That’s right” I replied, “And Oscar can’t look at your personal files? “Not even a peek”, I said. “And, If you wish, you can restrict the Internet access to your hard drive until Oscar pays up”

 “Okay, lets do it,” said Felix excitedly, “Now, what can I do to keep Oscar from using the DVD drive as a drink holder”?

Mandy’s new computer.

Homer and his wife Mandy stop by our store every other month when they come to town to pick up supplies. They homestead in Montezuma Valley near Ranchita. Homer scratches out a living working as a ranch hand and doing odd jobs. Mandy runs their small ranch and supplements their income by making apple dolls and other crafts for the tourist traps in Julian.

It’s a hard life and they both show it. Homer is wiry, rawboned and tough as leather. Mandy’s thin face has the drawn, careworn look of someone who is accustomed to scrimping and doing without. She almost never smiles and usually follows quietly behind her “I’ll do all the talkin” husband.  

Homer shot a stream of tobacco juice in the outdoor planter before he opened our door and walked in ahead of his wife.  He cradled an ancient computer in his arms.

“Well I reckon its time to upgrade Ole Bessie,” said Homer placing the computer on our evaluation bench. “I paid good money for her back in 98 but she just can’t cut the mustard any more”. Homer’s wife looked nervous. “Mandy’s been savin up her egg money and I figured we could upgrade Ole Bessie to Windows XP and put a new CPU in ‘er. How much will it cost?”

We plugged in Homer’s computer, booted it up and filled out an evaluation sheet. There was absolutely nothing that could but used from their ten year old computer to achieve an upgrade to Windows XP. When we added up the parts and labor it would simply be a new computer.

“Can’t you use anything at all from ole Bessie in the new computer,” pleaded Homer? I thought about it for a minute.

“The old power cord would work but it only saves you a dollar” I said.

Homer rubbed his chin and looked at the ceiling. “That makes it cost about $500 plus tax for the upgrade. “How much would it be for a brand new computer just like it?” I told him it would cost exactly the same amount... Homer thought for a moment, and then he spoke. “Dad gummed computer is just like a woman,” he grinned at Mandy and continued, “you’re better off gittin a new one than tryin to keep the old one up”. Mandy shifted nervously. 

Homer thought for a second and then said “Heck just make me a new computer and I’ll hang on to the old one for a spare”. Homer turned to Mandy “Give the man the money sweetheart”, said Homer to his wife.

I looked at Homer and asked “Would you like to have the files copied over from Ole Bessy to your new computer?” Homer started to say something but Mandy stepped in front of him. “That won’t be necessary,” said Mandy as she pulled a stack of neatly folded bills from her handbag. Her smile lit up the room. “I won’t need Homer’s old files in my new computer” she said sweetly.

MacTavish’s video card.

More than anything in this world, Angus MacTavish hates to spend money. He walked into our store lugging an ancient computer monitor. His was red faced and puffing from the exertion. He put the monitor down and whirled round to face Nome. “That computer screen has taken the look of a bloody Campbell tartan,” he sputtered. “I kinna see bugger all on it."

Angus muttered as Nome plugged his monitor into one of our test computers. “I bought it six months ago and I expected it to last a bit longer”. Nome looked at the back of the monitor.

“Well Mr. MacTavish, it’s fifteen years old this month according to the manufacture date.

Angus waved his arms about “That’s exactly my point, no moving parts and its worn out already.” Angus rolled his eyes, “You people in this evil business make a fortune off we working chaps by selling us contraptions that are programmed to fail.”

The monitor came on bright and clear. MacTavish gasped. “I’m not paying a cent for the repair. All you did was bounce it about. I probably fixed it myself by bringing it in”. MacTavish snatched the monitor and bolted for the door. Nome waited until Angus reached the door.

“It won’t work when you get it home.” She said cheerfully.

Angus froze and spun about. Pointing a bony finger at Nome he shrieked “So you’ve put some dark curse on it have ye lass? The devil take ye."

‘No”, replied Nome. “The fact that it works here means that the problem is not in your monitor. It’s most likely a bad video card in your computer.”

MacTavish staggered backward and moaned. He sat the monitor down slowly, his shoulders sagged and he sighed deeply. “How much will it cost to fix it, lass?” he asked. 

Nome said “The video card is $35 and it would be $30 labor to install it.”

MacTavish rubbed his chin slowly. “It seems to me that you place an overly high value on your labor. Sell me the video thing and I’ll put it in myself.”

“Fine” said Nome “What buss does it need?”

MacTavish stared at her indignantly. “Are ye daft lass? Do I appear indigent? I don’t ride the bus. I’ve had my Yugo for 25 years."

Nome handed MacTavish a video card. He paid and left grumbling. I asked Nome how she knew what video card to sell him when he could not tell her what buss the video card in his computer used. “It wouldn’t make any difference what I sold him. He’ll be bringing it in tomorrow anyway.”

As usual she was right.

Old farts forever.

I asked Nome to help me pick a topic for this week’s column.

She said, “Why don’t you do a hit piece on Mother Theresa and the Catholic Church?” I was stunned.

“Why on earth would you suggest such a thing”? I asked.

Nome smiled brightly “I thought since you’ve already trashed everyone in the computer industry, that you might need some fresh meat for the column”.

“I have not trashed everyone,” I said heatedly.

“Really” She continued, “ So far this year you’ve ripped into Comp USA, Fry’s, Best Buy, Bill Gates, Steve Jobs, Microsoft, Apple, AOL, Dell, Compaq, Gateway, H.P., IBM, and Intel. Who’s left?” 

“Well I’m certainly not going trash Mother Theresa”, I said lamely. “Besides, she’s dead”.

Nome sighed, “I’m surprised a little thing like that would stop a real curmudgeon like you.”

“I see where this is going,” I said. "You’re trying to paint me as a grumpy crank that revels in the past and snorts at everything new. Well that dog won’t hunt”

“Oh really, Nome pursued, “Last week a carload of teenagers in a Toyota with tiny tires scraped its bottom while pulling out of our parking lot. Do you remember what you said?” 

“Sure, I said that those stupid undersized tires were a dumb, impractical fad.”

Nome smiled. “Remember your 1951 Mercury. The color was metallic lilac, the top was chopped, it was lowered to within an inch of the ground, it had no door handles and you could hear the mufflers in the next county. That was impractical!”

"Completely different thing”, I said, “The Merc was cool.”

“How do you like Rap music?” She asked.

“It’s not music,” I snorted.

How about tattoos?” she continued.

“They look great on drunk sailors and hillbilly truck drivers,” I answered. 

“So would you say that younger generations are different than your generation?”

I thought about that one for a minute but I couldn’t help falling further into Nome’s trap. “Yep, their worse” I said, “We grew up in small towns and neighborhoods. You couldn’t be a jerk because everybody knew everybody. Today nobody knows anybody; you can spend a whole day out and never see a familiar face. People are rude and intolerant because there’s no accountability, they’re anonymous.”

“OK” said Nome “Let’s summarize. You don’t like new fads, or music and think the younger generation is going to hell, but you are not a curmudgeon, right?”

“That’s right. Age and experience have made me wiser and more discriminating. Been there, done that, got the T-shirt”, I said.

Nome pressed on. “And what would you call a person your age who likes tatoos, rap and the rest of modern pop culture.   

I could feel the tide turning my way. “I would call that person a case of arrested development,” I said triumphantly.

Nome’s eyes narrowed “I see” said she. “And what do you call people like you?”

I knew the answer “We are old farts plain and simple, and we outnumber you cases of arrested development ten to one.”

Angus McTavish needs a computer.

Angus MacTavish and his 25-year-old Yugo rattled to a stop in front of our store. Angus has been coming in for years but he never buys a thing. Angus comes in to compare prices and talk about his latest purchases. Over the years we have come to know that Angus’ ability to find the cheapest price for anything is surpassed only by a total absence of any concept of value. To Angus, price is all. 

“I’m in the market for a new computer lad”; he said in his rich Scottish brogue, “If the price is right, I just might buy it from you” he said with a sly wink.

“Didn’t you tell me that you bought a new computer for half price at the computer show last fall?” I asked innocently. “Aye that I did lad” said Angus, “a great bargain it was too, but in a stroke of stupendous bad fortune the power supply blew and took out the hard drive and motherboard. It nearly burnt down me house. I was lucky to get out alive”.

“I thought you said it came with a lifetime warranty”. Angus looked irritated. “That it did lad, but the chap that sold it to me went belly up.  You kinda fault a man for giving his customers such good pricing that he can’t make a living for himself can you?”

I had to admit there was some logic in Angus’ argument. I told Angus that we try to set our prices just high enough to stay in business. “Well then” said Angus, “can you match this price”?

Angus waved a full-page Fry’s ad featuring a PC for $199. “If you can beat this price I’ll take one today”. The PC in the ad was a motley assemblage of low end, semi-obsolete components with a Linux operating system. “Sorry Angus”, I said, “We just don’t build bottom end computers like that”. Angus bristled. “What are talking about bottom end, the brand name of the computer is Great Quality.” I just shrugged my shoulders but Angus continued. “Your computers have a hard drive, CPU, RAM, DVD, motherboard, case, floppy, operating system and a power cord don’t they? “Of course they do” I said. “Well” crowed Angus, “so does this one lad, so you had better climb down off your high horse and start cutting your prices before the competition drives you into the ground”

I tried to think of a way to make Angus understand how quality can affect the value of things. “You drive an old Yugo, right?” I said. “Aye” said Angus warily; “It gets me from here to there”. “Well” I continued “does your Yugo  have four wheels, an engine, windows, doors, a steering wheel, a gas pedal and brakes. just like a brand new $50,000 BMW” Angus brightened. “I suppose it does at that lad,” he said. Now I proceeded to drive my point home.”Then why isn’t your Yugo worth $50,000”  Angus turned red and  bolted toward the door, “I wouldn’t pay $50,000 for an overpriced BMW nor will I pay your outrageous prices for a computer,” he shouted over his shoulder.

A thick blue cloud followed Angus and his Yugo as he exited our parking lot and turned toward Fry’s.