Wednesday, September 01, 2004 1:42 PM.     1 Comments

60 Days

Where the hell have I been for the past two months? Was I drafted by a secret government agency to perform counter-terrorist espionage, but then abducted by aliens intent on finding out what makes a biker tick, only to escape when they were too engrosed watching an episode of American Chopper (you know the one, where Paul Jr. is fed up with Sr., and brother Michael is the only one remaining somewhat calm while the inevitable last minute problems threaten the deadline for the build)?

Not particularly.

So, what, then? What kept me away? Well, you know. Eh. Just whatever. Kinda got bored with blogging. Life was plodding along, and bloggable items seemed somewhat scarce. I did advance a rank in my Jiu Jutsu training. But do you really need to know that? Nah.

So why should 60 days go by without anything worth blogging about? How can that be? Am I turning into a couch-sitting version of that root plant made famous in Idaho? Gawd, I hope not.

Actually, we had a nasty leak in the line leading from the house to the sewer, and spent gobs of money figuring out where the leak was and fixing it. In the process, some 3 and 4 foot holes were dug after tearing out some concrete, and we found some very cool old bottles, probably from about 55 years ago when this place was built.

Ok, so this is hardly the biting social commentary I usually write. Gimme a break, will ya? Should I talk about Bush and Kerry? Man, I'm gonna cry for having to vote for either one. I ain't no partisan, so it's up to the candidate, and I'm sure at this point we just have shit for choices.

Overall, Kerry will be a mediocre and unremarkable President who will talk reasonably well. Bush... well, there's more than enough said about him and the current administration. But I am sure that voting for any other candidate is a de facto vote for Bush or Kerry (sorry, ye fans of Green/Libertarian/American Independent/etc. parties).

And it is also around 60 days before we vote one of these schmoes into the office of President of the United States of America. I do think the position is NOT as powerful as the phrase "Leader of the Free World" would make it sound. For one thing, one is not really elected a "leader". One is a leader and does the things of leadership or one is not and can not. No election needed.

I just wish folks would take the few hours of time it needs to study the Constitution of our country just enough, and without party bias, and with a bit of perspective as to what the men who created that document were confronting, so as to understand what those men put in place, and how it should work.

Yeah, there are those who cry the document is outmoded. I think every one such person has a personal, business or political agenda that is impeded by a document that guarantees protection of individual and certain civil rights. In other words, it is outmoded if you can profit by its erosion or destruction.

I think surprisingly few Americans actually know what they should expect from their government and each other. Yet it is only that expectation and insistence on its realization that keeps our country here at all. It isn't guns, Presidents, Supreme Court Justices, police or laws.

How about it -- find a copy of the Constitution without anybody's special-interest annotations or "explanations", and just read it, look up the words in a good dictionary, and decide for yourself what the most basic agreements we live under actually are.

A. Biker

Wednesday, June 30, 2004 6:01 PM.     1 Comments

Wireless Rapists

Every day in America (and probably elsewhere) folks bring their wireless portable computers (let's not call them laptops -- I've yet to see one on somebody's lap) to their favorite hang-out joint and hook up to the big internet world. And in most cases, they are mercilessly raped in the process.

But since they don't seem to care, and in fact signed up for the rapage, I can't really pity them. But that doesn't make it a prettier picture. That the rape is to their pocketbooks perhaps makes it more socially acceptable, as it can then be called "business".

T-Mobile and AT&T; and others offer these subscription plans whereby you can gain access to wireless hot-spots they've set up. The plans generally run one of two ways: (1) you can pay an hourly rate, something typically like $6.00/hr. If you only need 10 minutes, that's $6.00. If you need 61 minutes, that's $12.00. This is for people who don't need regular use of these hot-spots. For folks who want unlimited access (i.e. when the hot-spot is open and the internet connection is working), you can pay something like $30/month flat.

Wow! That's a good rate! Unlimited use for the cost of 5 hours? Well, hold on algebra-breath; let's do the math here. What are you getting, exactly?

Most of these wireless locations just have your basic vanilla-flavored DSL connection. You know -- the same stuff you get from places like Yahoo/SBC for $29/month or thereabouts. If you have that, and spend $50 on a wireless router, you too can now host a hot-spot that can service something like 100 to 250 wireless computers.

Pretty cheap startup, eh? Now, if you're Boingo or T-Mobile or some such, you approach a likely place of business, cut a deal where you put in the equipment, and provide some minor revenue stream to the business. Now you can list this hot-spot on your web-site and brag about the hundreds of hot-spots you have.

So for the price of your very own DSL line, you can use these hot-spots. Probably very part-time. What a deal! And not only that, but these few hundred DSL lines get thousands of subscribers. That's like have 30 or 40 people each paying the full price of a DSL line, but they get to share the line with their extended wireless family. This is not quite the good deal it seemed to be, eh?

You use a fraction of the bandwidth, have to share it with others, and still pay the price of a personal DSL connection. OK, so there are these little computer gaming places, and often they charge something like $1.00/hour.

And then there's the places that just get it right. They eat the miniscule cost of setting up a wireless hot-spot and then give it away. Now let's see -- I can go to Starbucks and use their hot-spot all I want for $30/month, or go to my local coffee joint and pay nothing. All I want. Either way I'm getting a good cup o' joe, can sit outside and watch the humanoids, and write entries for my blog. Not a tough decision. I happen to be sitting at Swork right now writing this. And paying nothing to use their hot-spot.

So what do these guys have going for them? I mean, why do people sign-up and use these T-Mobile or AT&T; services? I think the reason is just that they are visible -- you know they're there. Busineses offering free hot-spot access just don't have the marketing power. The funny thing is, everything the big boys say about their wireless hot-spots is true of the free independent spots -- there is no technical advantage. So all their advertsising could work in favor of the freebies, if people only knew.

There are two beneficiaries of free hot-spots: customers, and the business itself (and even nearby businesses). People will come to the free spot and hang there, and use local businesses for other things because they are THERE. Thus a free hot-spot is a business draw, and this could easily be made obvious to a business.

As the business itself is paying the small overhead for the wireless service, it would make sense for somebody to start a coalition with a very small membership fee collected from the business -- something like $100/year. For this amount, the coalition service could create a web site that makes it easy to find free hot-spots that are members. And could further do some advertising to let people know to come to the site to find the nearby free hot-spots.

Thus all the businesses benefit for very little money. By registering, businesses now get indirect advertising and a kind of visibility they wouldn't otherwise have, which would bring in more customers -- certainly enough to easily offset the cost of the listing service.

Frankly, with the cost of service so low, I think wireless access is kind of like restroom access -- you should just assume it is available because you're a customer of the business. Probably costs the business less than the maintenance of their restrooms!

If you are a wireless user, and you've paid for wireless service at a business hot-spot, would you like to know about local free hot-spots? Would you look for local locations, and try them out?

The only losers are the wireless rapists. And this doesn't bother me.

A. Biker

Monday, June 28, 2004 9:12 PM.     0 Comments

Ferris Biker's Day Off

Yesterday I suddenly got the idea in the mid-afternoon that it was time to get the hell out of the homestead and motor on down to Venice Beach.

My (way) better half, Silver, agreed. She could get outta the house too.

You know, she's pretty cool. She was already riding her own scooter when I met her umpty-ump years ago, so she's no wanna-be. We gets on our respective noise makers and putt on down the 10 freeway -- about 23 miles, and we're there.

We got messed up looking for parking, and crossed each other up a few times (snarling like tigers) before we chanced on the perfect two-bike spot a half-block from the boardwalk (ok, so it ain't really a boardwalk; it's concrete, but you know -- buildings on one side, beach on the other...)

Just like the Ferris Beuller movie, from there on things were just kinda magical. One mini-adventure after another, you might say.

First off, it was just one of those flat-out perfect Southern California beach days. Sunny, but some clouds, very warm, lotsa people, stuff, things happening all over.

It sure made Silver happy:

We just kinda walked around for a bit. But before long, up rolled the world-famous roller-skating guitar guy in the white turban! And here's where the magic started. He just kinda picked us out of the crowd, and followed along beside Silver, singing and playing a song about a "mysterious lady" (if only he knew... but we won't talk about her getting kicked out of Chile just yet).

Ok, so sure, he ended up hoping to sell us a CD (which he made appear from a leather bag he carried), or a T-Shirt (which somehow appeared when we didn't buy the CD). I only had ten bucks, and didn't want to blow it all right then, and I told him... to which he said "no problem -- I can take credit cards". He assured me one of his leather pouches had a machine for this!

In the end, I gave him the ten spot, and he was going to give me a CD, but I told him to keep $4.00 for the show. He saw my wallet was empty, and had no problem handing over the change. He was totally friendly, and I'd be happy to buy the CD (even the T-Shirt). Silver said she first saw him there on the beach 20 years ago, and he hasn't seemed to have changed. Perhaps there's a Dorian Gray-like picture someplace?

A bit later we hear this rhythm thundering from the beach, and see a large crowd of people.

This is like, crazy stuff. We walk out there, and there must be 30 to 40 people on various drum instruments there on the sand, in a large circle. Even more people are dancing every kind of dance you can imagine, but mostly just grooving to the beat.

Everything from full-on drum kits to congas and more. And these guys are just wailing the most intense 4-beat with tons of sub-rhythm.

Surrounding the circle of rhythmists are people -- onlookers like Silver and myself, just enjoying the sound and the dancing.

After that, we walked around a bit, and again we were picked out from among the hundreds around us by a lady who asked me if she could get my opinion.

"Sure... on what?" I asked.

"Well... that's the point. You see, its for a video documentary on something, and we don't want to tell you what it is until we start the interview."

"Ummm...," says I.

"It's something we want to know if people know about. Something people are doing that could be hurting them."

"Well... ok."

"You have to sign this release first."

I sign. Several other people appear -- a cameraman, another lady, and a tall guy who is introduced to me as "the producer". Everybody is quite friendly.

Then they begin by asking me, "What is BDSM?"

For those who don't know, that's "Bondage, Discipline Sado-Masochism". They were hoping to get a funny reaction, or something juicy or whatever. Anyway, I gave them a good interview -- had them laughing several times (like when I told them about spanking small animals). Who knows if it'll air? They got some good footage, and I had a good time.

We walked more, saw interesting and strange people and acts of "art". Had some great nachos, and just had a strange and wonderful Day Off. Nothing to bitch about.

A. Biker

Friday, June 25, 2004 8:19 PM.     0 Comments

Addicted:Bill Gates

Today somebody called me a workaholic. This is bullshit, cuz there ain't no such thing.

First of all, what is it with sticking "-aholic" after anything that somebody might want to do a lot of? The implication is that one is addicted and can't stop. Obviously a bona fide alcoholic has got a problem, not only because he can't stop, but because of the effects of the alcohol on his body, his mind, his family, etc.

So what's really going on when somebody says you're a <non-damaging activity of choice>-aholic? I think you're talking to somebody who is a bit concerned that you just might succeed. And that would be very bad.

You know, there's always somebody around who's only too happy to tell you how you need a vacation, cuz you're stressed out? I don't know about you, but usually I've seen this said to somebody who had only a (valid) upset of the moment, and our weasel-like friend takes the oppourtunity to imply the guy is always on that edge. When you say that to somebody who is currently upset, it can have enough impact to fool the poor sucker.

I'm sure working is bad for you. I mean, Bill Gates is obviously a workaholic, and what did it ever get him? Oh sure, you can point at the 50,000 square-foot mansion, the tens of billions in ready cash, the fact that when he speaks many thousands shut up and listen. But what, really, did all that work get him?

When you put it that way...

A. Biker

Tuesday, June 22, 2004 10:48 AM.     0 Comments

Trailer Trash Tax Break

The other day my girl said to me, "if the government gets income tax for a big gambling win, then how come the cost of gambling isn't deductible?"

Damn good point. Maybe you have to be a professional gambler for this to make sense, but if you stick a few bucks into that car-sized slot machine and win a million bucks, you'll go "pro" about 2 seconds later, right? So those few greenbacks you stuffed into the machine would be your business expense, right?

But what about all those ass-crack-showing guys, ladys with way-up-there hair and flocks of white-haired grandmothers who sit in front of their staked out slot machines or video poker machines 8 hours a day, 7 days a week? Don't these hard-working, infinitely patient salt-of-the-earth folks deserve a little break for their tireless efforts to get the jackpot that will finally allow them to realize the American Dream?

Look, if I keep a log of each time I used a vehicle for business, and where I went, why, mileage, etc., I can get a tax deduction for every mile. So why can't those dedicated souls sipping on well-diluted highballs and risking repetative motion injuries simply keep track of the number of quarters, what casino, even which machine they fed?

Let's see, of course they'd have to note down all the money the machines dribbled back at them, but let's face it - the net odds are with the house, and while those frequent short paybacks keep you going, in the end most of us wind up with an empty little bucket where once shined a promising pile of silver-toned, presidentially-facetted disks. Should we get nothing for our well-intentioned effort? Nay, say I!

Like any business, the vanilla-flavored low-effort gambler is an asset to the local economy. Heck, Nevada has few taxes because of the contributions of these modern-day prospectors.

With a rented Ford instead of a mule, and camera replacing the pick-axe of yore, like their symbolic forebears (those bewhiskered, drunken, brawling, dirt-encrusted desert rats so fondly portrayed in film), these valiant, hardy individuals go forth boldly every day, not to some dusty hole to blast and dig out tons of dirt and rock to find maybe a few ounces of precious metals, but to an uncomfortable stool before noisesome contraptions with painfully blinking lights in a room decorated with Anna Nicole Smith's idea of rococco luxury. And what do they get for their figurative tons of blasted rock? Usually not even so much as those few pebbles of silver or gold the prospector hoped for.

Toiling without pause (except for the $6.95 all-you-can-eat buffet in The Cajun Lounge), these bastions of society put the food on the plates of thousands of casino workers who'd otherwise be wandering the streets or working at sandwich shops.

All I'm saying is give these poor working people some hope! Break up the dull roar of their days, so filled with the false promising plink, plink, plink of the five dollars they "won" after putting in seven. Set a bright spot into the darkness they see every time they look at the ever-shrinking amount in their wallets! Give them just a tiny bit of their due, so long worked for but hardly if ever realized.

I say tax the rich winner, yes; but spare to poor loser, who is so much more in abundance. Don't make them pay for their all-too-typically fruitless efforts! Don't yank away the brass ring they grasp for just as they reach out for it!

From the Indian gambling casinos of California to the glitz-encrusted palaces of Atlantic City, I say to you, LET FREEDOM RING!

Oh, and I'll have more of the all-you-can-eat breaded shrimp, please.

A. Biker

Thursday, June 17, 2004 11:01 AM.     0 Comments

Should I Stay Or Should I Go?

Lately I've been thinking of getting out of California for good. This is no small decision, as I was born and raised here. Even my ma was born in Los Angeles, and a true second-generation Angelean is rare, considering most people who've been here a year or more will tell you they're "from Los Angeles".

But I just think California is too damn hard on its citizens, its businesses, and so forth. I don't belong to any political party (ok, I do have my own -- the Completely Rational No Lies Or Bull Shit Party, of which I am the presidential candidate). So when I say what I'm saying, it isn't motivated by political gain.

The fact is, no place is more "Big Brother"-ized than California, and we have only our own citizenry to thank. Democrat, Republican, Libertarian, Green Party or Silly Party, it doesn't matter. What matters is individual choices, made by representatives, made by executives in companies, made by individual citizens and people in California. And you'll note I don't say "da gubahmint done it", because there ain't no such thing as "da gubahmint". There's you and me, bucko, and I'm so sure about you.

"They" can't do nothin'. But individuals can and do, and sometimes hide behind "government" or "big corporation" or "trade union" or whatever anonymizing label they can. And we, individually -- each one -- have put and kept in places of decision and (so they think) power, people who make policies that are destructive of your and my lives, our families, our security and our individual and collective futures.

Let me be blunt (like I need your permission): no government, nor any system of organization, has ever or will ever improve YOUR life. There are no social programs, hand-outs, freebies, medications, drugs, television shows or low-carb foods that will make your life better. And the operative word there is "make", as in "cause to come into existance; create".

The reason is that the power to create your life is yours alone, and if you abdicate that then it is nowhere. If you're going to be irresponsible about it, then assigning that irresponsibility to a group like government just makes government a set of collective irresponsibilities. There is nobody and no entity external to you that can be responsible for the aspects of your life that need improvement. Sorry folks, but this is the "No Lies Or Bull Shit Party" home.

YOU didn't want to be responsible for it, so now you've assigned that to government, and of course it got your irresponsibility, and is now irresponsible about it for you (and many others). They don't get your responsibility, because that cannot be transferred or assigned. By it's very nature, responsibility is totally and only personal and individual. No group has ever been "responsible" for anything. Any attempt to make it appear so is the intent of the cowardly to mask their actions behind a facade of generality.

And then there's a corollary to this: the fact that no amount of money can be spent by government to improve things. The only thing you can improve is the people who improve things, and the only way government can even touch that subject is through education. But public education has become a complete joke, no matter how much money is pumped into it? Why? Because, again, you don't pump money into an entity or thing -- you give it to people who competently or incompetently use it for things that get results. So are these people competent or incompetent? Well, look at the results.

This is not deep, philosophical maunderings. This is cold, practical, day-to-day life-or-death stuff here. It is what makes your life the way it is, good or bad.

I don't excuse myself just by pointing out these facts. But I still am considering getting out of California, and into a climate where there's more expectation of personal reliance and responsibility, and less common reliance on "authorities" for every decision. On the other hand, there are few places as naturally blessed as Southern California for climate, opportunity (despite everything that's been done to blunt this) and diversity. Within two hours driving I can be in a true desert; at a world class beach; snowboarding at 8,000 feet; playing at Disneyland; hobnobbing with the beautiful people at the most chi chi hotspots of Beverly Hills; hiking through rugged mountains along the John Muir Trail or watersporting in well maintained lakes. I can kayak the sea, mountain bike in the San Gabriels, sky dive, go balooning, or any of hundreds of other activities, many year round. The fact is, it's a great place to hang out despite the extreme level of official control and regulation of every day activities.

Last year I was in the south of France for a while. That's right, the famous Cote d'Azur, and the ultra-cool Riviera. This is one of those places where you look around and say "now here is a place to live!" But after a few days, I realized that the things I liked about it were the same things that we have here in So Cal - great beaches, weather, hillsides studded with homes and picturesque pocket-communities. They even had housing prices similar to the sky-high real estate here. So what is that is so unpleasant as to outweigh all these niceties?

And it is such a pain to move. All that packing and throwing away and breaking things, stowing stuff on a truck, blah blah. And then living out of boxes for weeks cuz it's too much trouble to unpack everything. And more broken stuff.

But I am surrounded here in California by a thronging majority of people who have come to expect much and give little; who cannot protect themselves yet bemoan the inability of police to protect them; who don't want to understand the influence each has on those around them and thus society, yet demand that only good things happen to themselves lest they litigate; who think that progressivism or conservatism or any -ism is going to save them, yet don't know anything about any -isms.

Surely there's some place where I'm expected to be responsible for my actions, and where those expecting it are equally aware of their own responsibility. Where laws are sensible and designed to protect only the honest. Where I can't be hanged for damaging the self-esteem of somebody who has earned no respect, and where my rights are respected and defended equally with my willingness to respect and defend the rights of others.

There must be some place where I am free to keep what I earn, pay a fair share for the public works of which I partake, not be threatened and harrassed because I wear no helmet when riding my motorcyle (as if the Police are now my mother!), build on my own land, and take care of myself and my own as only I see fit?

I'm thinking Nevada, up in the northern parts.

What do you think?

A. Biker

Sunday, June 13, 2004 5:40 PM.     0 Comments

The Evil ATM Empire

And now for some straight-ahead ranting.

I do a lot of banking with a bank who's name shall remain anonymous, but who's initials are "B-A-N-K-O-F-A-M-E-R-I-C-A". I have probably 6 or so accounts with these guys, and have been a customer a very long time. A moderately respectable level of funds is always on deposit.

Now, I generally like ATMs, and as with many people, have gotten very used to just shoving the card in and getting my money out whenever I need to. That is, as long as the machine is working and it isn't out of money. But mostly this goes as expected.

Today, a machine at the local branch (where my accounts are) did something phenomonally stupid, and then the bank's customer service showed that the bank would be able to one-up the ATM machine by being even more stupid.

The machine happily displayed "insert card now", and I did. It ate up the card, never blinked and said "insert card now". I suddenly felt like I was in Monty Python's "argument clinic" sketch:

"I'd like some money, please."

"If you want your money you'll have to give me your card."

"Oh, ok... here it is."

Wait. Wait.

"Um... the money?"

"I told you, if you want your money you'll have to give me your card."

"But I did give you my card!"

"No you didn't..."

And so forth. The card just slipped into a black hole and apparently was whisked to an alternate reality. I even risked taking a random credit card and putting that in as well, which the ATM machine registered, and which it gave back. But my actual ATM/Checking card... down the rabbit hole.

But I didn't step through the looking glass until I called customer service. Not that the lady was rude or anything, but all she could offer was that when the regularly scheduled ATM people visited the site, they'd get the card out and give it to the bank. That might be Tuesday (and this is Sunday).

I am not desparate for the card, but I thought this is odd -- don't they want to do anything to help a long time customer? So I pursued the matter with her. I pointed out that their equipment had malfunctioned, and didn't she think they ought to do something about that specifically? Didn't they think some effort should be put into helping the customer.

Apparently, the answer is "no". Business as usual, in other words. There's regularly scheduled visits, and when one occurs, I can call the bank and then go over there and get my card.

I even pointed out that perhaps other customers were having their cards dropped into a big crevasse someplace by this machine, and didn't they want to at least take the machine out of service? Pretty good there, eh? Thinking of the other fellow, right?

Well, she offered that I could call the bank Monday and tell them about that, too. In other words, I get the privilege of being an unpaid employee of the bank, doing their job of communicating about equipment problems at their sites, and thank you very much.

This was astounding lack of concern. But I figured out how to get somebody out there RIGHT NOW.

When I call customer service to tell them about the machine at that branch that's giving out free twenty-dollar bills to anybody who presses a button on the thing, I'll bet somebody will be there to get that machine fixed or turned off within 20 minutes.

And I'll be there to collect my card when they do...

A. Biker

Why Die? 2

I'm mad at more than one dead guy. My most recent dead friend is/was Ed. I met Ed over 25 years ago. We took a class together, and got to be friends while working together on some educational things.

Ed was the most brilliant electronics guy I've ever met. One day when I visited him he showed me what appeared to be a regular old Bic-type cigarette lighter. He flicked the wheel and it lit up feebly and went out.

"This", he declared, "is a bug. I've got it transmitting over 300 yards." My stupid look prompted him to continue.

"Yeah, you know there's this capacitance problem most engineers have with an antenna this small, but I figured out a way to use that to my advantage to get it to trasmit so far. I even made it work like it's just out of fuel. The idea is the guy throws it in the trash in his office and then we listen in. Battery is good for a few days. I had to shave down a few parts to get them to fit."

You might be thinking by this time, how awful!, but I thought it was pretty cool. I asked Ed why he'd done it, and his reply (so typical of him) was that he just wanted to see if it could be done.

For many years, Ed worked at Rocketdyne, the Aeorspace-era complex in the far north-western part of the San Fernando Valley where rocket engines were developed throughout the 60's, and on into the 80's. I don't know -- maybe they still make rocket engines, but Rocketdyne faded from its prominence over the years, as did the majority of early Aerospace efforts.

When I was a very little kid living in that area, they used to test their new rocket engines, and we'd hear them roaring and rumbling from over the hill where we lived. For minutes at a time, the resonant whooshing would continue while an ominous white cloud billowed from the direction of the sound, causing visitors to look about worriedly (perhaps it was commie jets coming to start The Big One?) But just like most long-time Californians are hoo-hum about earthquakes, we had gotten used to it and hardly noticed.

However, Ed didn't work on rockets. He maintained the enormous electricity provisioning facilities of the complex. He described to me buildings housing capacitors the size of large water-tower tanks. I occasionally heard gruesome tales of electrocution, but Ed remained unscathed.

I eventually came to understand that Ed had an arrangement with electricity and electronics. They'd do exactly as Ed demanded, and they wouldn't bite Ed. In exchange, Ed promised electricity fame, fortune and an opportunity to do extraordinary things. Electricity could not turn him down, and so their paths were subsequently and irrevocably intertwined.

Then along came Boston. Not the city, the rock group. Or I should say, rock project, headed by engineer and electronics maven Tom Scholtz. Those of us into rock at the time know how revolutionary the sound of the band was. Their guitars had a certain something nobody had captured before. Their first record sold about a gazillion copies.

Tom Scholz made it perfectly clear that he had a Secret Process by which he modified the bands equipment to get their signature sound. Everybody wanted it, and to capitalize on the demand, Scholz created the Rockman -- a small device that one plugged a guitar into, and which reproduced the sound of Boston's guitars (or a somewhat reasonably similar sound). It was a huge success, but there was a problem -- the rather complex device had a variety of tiny little switches that selected variations of sound. The box was clearly intended to be operated by hand, using one's fingers to flip the switches, but when on stage you needed to select sounds by pressing buttons with your feet. The Rockman was not a "stomp box", and needed to be one.

We wrote to Scholz, but go no answer. Ed offered to modify my Rockman into a stomp box, if I would part with it for a while. Neither he nor I knew what we were getting into, but hesitantly I parted with the precious bit of electronics. With a show coming up, I told Ed I'd need it by then. He assured me I would not go without.

But the electronics inside the Rockman were a bit odd, and there was a lot of them. Ed got absorbed into the project and vanished for days at a time into his lab. The date of my gig was approaching, when Ed called me and insisted I come over. I went.

On the bench in his lab was my Rockman, splayed open like an autopsy. Hair-thin wires ran hither and yon on the exposed circuit board, and there was a new, crude circuit board added to the mix. From there it went to a box on which was mounted several push-butoton switches. Ed had an old electric guitar I'd lent him for the project, and in the span of the next few minutes, he proudly showed me how his box of switches controlled every combination of sounds the thing could make.

It was fabulous. And it was the day of my gig, with the Rockman clearly in no condition to be used. Ed promised me it would be ready; he'd meet me early at the gig with switch-controlled Rockman ready to go. Doubtful, I thanked him and left.

That night, sure enough Ed showed up before the gig, at the club. He had with him a clunky sort of box with switches. A thick cable connected this to another sheet-metal box which had a power cord. The whole thing looked terrible, but this was it. We set up on stage, and as we started our first song and I pressed the button on the box ... nothing. At least for a moment. And then a loud, grating buzz came out.

I quickly unplugged the box, and looked up to see Ed, a crazed look in his eye and a battery-powered soldering iron in his hand, leap onto the stage and tear off the cover of the switch box. Totally absorbed, ignoring me, the band, the other people in the club and everything else, Ed eyed the maze of wires and circuit boards, stabbed the tip of his soldering iron onto a spot in the box until a thin curl of smoke lifted into the air, and then slammed the cover on the box. He stood, patted me on the shoulder, and jumped off the stage.

I plugged in, clicked the button, and got that sound. If you don't play electric guitar (or some other instrument), you might not know how much the sheer sound of it can provide inspiration. So take my word for it -- this was it.

The rest of the evening went off without incident. Ed decided to make a business of it, and dubbed his invention the Rockbox. People all over the world sent him their original Rockman devices, and Ed modified them, getting the whole thing into an elegant looking switch box. Over the years, the business (never particularly profitable) dwindled as Scholz himself finally came out with foot-switch controlled effects units. I'm happly to say I still have the first production unit ever made, although I haven't played it in a very long time.

Some years later, Ed told me he was sure he had an idea about anti-gravity. From almost anybody else I would have humored them sincerely. But like I said, Ed was the cleverest, smartest electronics guy I knew. And he had that special arrangement with electricity. He had an idea about counter-spinning something-or-others, and was going to work on it. I allowed the possibility that he might just crack the code. I don't know how far he got.

So why am I mad at Ed? He had a beautiful, bright daughter. His wife took care of him, the daughter and the house, and also worked. After his Rocketdyne job finally faded away, Ed started his own electrical and electronics business, doing wiring for homes, offices, and other things. He hired people, ran several crews, and it looked like this was going to take off.

But Ed couldn't just have success. He had to f*** with it. This was true of his business, his marriage, and more. It was too boring for things to just go well. Always a bit on the heavy side, he went on a bicycling kick that got him into the best shape of his life. And then Ed had to mess around, and you know what I mean. His business wasted away as he stopped working it. He destroyed his marriage, and we (all his friends) let it just happen.

When I heard he was dead, I was surprised, but not totally. It was just a dot on the zero-line of the graph showing the trajectory he'd been on for a while. As he'd been heading down, I saw less and less of him -- sometimes not once in a whole year. It just seemed safer. On the day I was told about it, I hadn't seen him except for an accidental meeting in almost two years -- the longest in the entire time I'd known him.

Ed had gotten very, very drunk in his apartment, tripped and fallen. His head had hit a table or something. I was told one eye was a mass of blood and... you get the idea, right? His girlfriend had found him that way, already dead.

I attended his tiny memorial, absent his wife and daughter. I don't blame them. I just remember being so incredibly pissed off I could barely speak.

At a funeral or memorial, there's almost always less of a somber feeling among the attendees than one might think. Usually after the ceremony there's some laughter, and people are just getting along. And so it was at Ed's memorial. But I wanted to get right up into every body who smiled or laughed and yell, "that f***ing BASTARD! IT ISN'T FUNNY!" I couldn't believe they weren't as angry at him as I was.

Ed took himself out, with the tacit consent of his friends, letting him slip away, giving us every clue that he needed... something. And it was the stupidest possible way for a guy like him to die. He should've gotten electrocuted by a Tesla coil he'd built as part of his anti-gravity machine. Except that would never happen.

So yes, analyze away. I was mad because I'd let my friend go down and just "handled" it by drifting away. I was mad because he died stupidly. I was mad because other people were going to just get on with their lives and so what? And I was unspeakably mad at Ed himself, for not taking advantage of his friends when he must've needed them.

But I'm so damned mad at Ed, I don't know what to say. I've got heavy musical gear to move around, so I really need that anti-gravity stuff.

I know Ed would've had it ready just in time for a big gig, but now I won't get to be the guy with the very first one.

A. Biker