So what’s the deal with that cat?

Have you ever gone into a Chinese Restaurant or Asian Grocery and wondered why they have a little electronic cat waving at you?

It hasn’t made me sneeze AAA Batteries despite my allergies.  Never mind those allergies, I’ve found them cute and perhaps a quaint thing, but never known why they are there in the first place.

If I have a choice, typically I’ll go to a Chinese restaurant over any other.  Usually as a result I’m not given the choice.  After all, how many times can you have Curried Chicken, Sesame Balls, and Deep Fried Calamari?  Three or four times a week if I had my say, and I’d be as big as a house instead merely as tall as one.

I understand that the reason why the places have a lot of red in them – it’s because it signifies happiness.  But why the cat?

With the advent of the Chinese Buffets I can go and sample every bit of Chinese Food that I want until I’m engorged and can’t fathom another morsel of MSG encrusted rapture.  I mean, Mongolian Beef? Oh yeah, I’m there!  I’ve worn my restaurant welcome out with that one, I’ll go back to the buffet three times just to have more of that spicy treat. 

At the one particular Chinese buffet that I prefer, just up the road a piece, there’s a little pile of odds and ends near the door to beckon you.  Turtles carved from soap stone so that the head moves when a breeze touches it, chopsticks, and other brightly colored gewgaws.  Some day I’ll learn how to use the chopsticks, but for now I’ll look at them and take them in before I pass by them to go to the Koi pond and have a seat.

What is the deal with that damn cat!

Ok, so the story is that it’s beckoning good luck.

A bit too vague?  Here is the long story.

Asian people (broadly) greet one another with their palms up.   At least that is what the Wikipedia article tells me.  It is to say hello and bring them in. 

Left paw waving at you (on your right) brings in customers.
Right paw waving at you (on your left) brings luck and wealth.

As with anything that is “Eastern”, by the time it has made it to the United States it has gotten … Anglicized or is that Americanized?  That is to say confused.  It also means that the left and right paw rule can also mean the opposite depending on who you ask.  Just smile and nod and think happy thoughts, after all it is a cartoon cat waving at you, how much more can you want?

The first thing is that it is attributed to originally be a Japanese cultural aspect, and not to be a Chinese one.  I’m not completely sure why I always see them in a Chinese Restaurant or when I go on a mad search to find my Oolong Tea in a Chinese, excuse me, Asian market.  After all, the Asian Markets I patronize are either Vietnamese or Korean run but in the view of Pan-Asian splendor, there are things there that are Japanese and Chinese, and these stores sell them all.  My favorite Chinese restaurant in Willow Grove PA was run by a Malaysian family, so more of that Melting Pot that creates some of the most interesting aspects of society in today’s United States.

What was a simple ceramic statue has been transmogrified into a coin bank, and then with the expertise of the Japanese, a solar powered statue made mostly of plastic, with a solar panel in the back of its head that powers the little paw that waves you into the shop.

Most likely it beckons you to buy a little solar powered plastic cat that waves to you as you come in to have a meal at the Chinese buffet.

On Federal Highway.   Just ask, I’ll give you directions if you’re down here.  I’ll also try to mooch a lunch time buffet out of you too if you are bold enough to ask directions, so be forewarned.  If they try to serve you up a cat, it will either be ceramic or plastic, your kitty is safe.

Boom, That wasn’t good…

It is a cool winter day in South Florida.  Since everything is relative the windows are open and we’re in shorts in the house. 

The morning semi quiet was disturbed by the normal sounds of a Friday.   The radio was on playing some quiet classical music from an internet radio station.  The drip feed irrigation was watering the pots.  The water for my coffee was just at boil and I was taking it off the burner. 

Getting ready to pour the water over the grounds, the lights suddenly cut off.

The house was in an instant quiet.  There was a “PING!” noise like you hear in a Hollywood post apocalyptic movie.  At the same time, there was a distant BOOM! as if something just got hit. 

I hear from the other side of the house “Uh Oh, That wasn’t good!”. 

Setting the teapot back on the cooling burner I came out into the main house and surveyed the damage.  The TV Computer was restarting.  It hadn’t been enough of a power pop to restart the stereo, but the internet radio had just rebooted itself with a cheery “Logitech” logo streaming across its face in florescent cyan.  Ceiling fan was spinning back up to speed and the washer was burbling in the laundry room for the Friday Laundry-Fest.

Sensing all was normal, I padded back into the kitchen.  Pouring the hot water over the coffee, and stirring it to make the morning half-caff, I notice there are now sirens screaming in the distance.  

Apparently someone had hit a pole on the raceway that is Wilton Drive.  With our creaky power infrastructure here, any time that happens, the side of the city grid that that pole is on goes dark for a second or two then back on.  Not enough to stop you from making breakfast or that coffee pot that I am enjoying now, but just enough to restart sensitive electronic equipment like computers and internet radios.

This side effect of having a raceway in the middle of the city is a minor one.   We have a four lane highway running through the heart of the business district.   It is placed to move people from Downtown Fort Lauderdale to Oakland Park.  It is a bypass of Sunrise Boulevard.  People use it and see it as a good alternative to sitting at the lights next to Holiday Park.

This being South Florida, the speed limit is merely a suggestion at 30 MPH.  People seem to change their tires at speeds higher than that.  They also strike down pedestrians and cause a fatality at speeds higher than that.

A good argument for narrowing the drive is to watch the people fly past all the businesses on their way to somewhere else in rush hour.  An even better argument for doing that is to watch them fly past at 9pm on a Thursday Night.

The power pops we have here are usually only an annoyance. I have lost a significant amount of electronics since moving here.  Not enough of a reason to expect a city to rebuild its central core.  But it is yet another reason.  The accidents, not my electronics.

Hopefully that person who was in a rush to get from one side of our little island to the other didn’t kill anyone or cause too much damage when they caused that accident.  At this time of day, someone’s work day will be messed up.  Luckily few people are out walking their dogs at 7AM.  At 7PM it is a very different story.

This sort of thing happens at least once a week.  It is fairly predictable.  It is completely preventable.  Leave 10 minutes earlier, reduce your speed to legal limits, and chill out South Florida.  My neighborhood will thank you.

Rotary Phones and Tube Radios

I was looking at my page on Facebook today… someone who is a friend of mine on there had joined a group that was called “I am so old that I used a rotary phone”.

Count me in.  In fact, I have a couple functional Rotary Phones here in the house.  I’ve got a bunch of oddball technological toys that I collected over the years that are now so old that they couldn’t be fixed if I wanted to.  On the other hand things that old were made so that they would last from then to today even if they were used daily so they’re still working.

Complex sentence isn’t it?  Maybe a run on or two?

Anyway, I was thinking about the things I have in the house that are remnants of another era technologically and I have been surprised at how long I tend to hold onto things.   I’ve got two Rotary Phones that are older than I am.  One is a candlestick phone that would work well in one of those old Roaring 20s movies where everyone in Chicago was shooting at each other.  The blasted thing could be classified as a weapon since it is made out of iron and solid brass and has a “trumpet” on the front that is made of Bakelite.   A plastic that would shatter if you dropped it Just So, but since you don’t it won’t break.

The other phone was one out of a store in Philadelphia called Strawbridges that was bolted to the side of a desk.  The bell on the phone comes in a box that would break your foot if you dropped it from your knee on it, and the phone itself has a handset that is solid iron… or so I think.   Massively heavy and meant to last. 

Another thing would be Dad’s Radio, a 1956 Blaupunkt AM, FM, Longwave, Shortwave “Hi Fi” tube radio.  I got started listening to shortwave radio as a two and a half year old kid because they did stories on the BBC World Service back then.   It still works.  In fact, that old radio has a sound that is warm and wonderful.   I can still push the button on it and it will warm up and give me sounds from far away if I like, although if the tubes needed to be replaced, there’s just no hope.    Tubes predated Transistors and Integrated Circuits and if you look at them when they were powered on they’d have a red glow that would actually make the circuit work.  Electrons going from the Cathode to the Plate through a semi vacuum. 

I don’t have to go that far back in history though.  Thanks to a good friend in New Jersey, I have a Zaurus handheld computer.   That machine is about the size of your hand and I use it when I go places like Commission meetings to take down notes, and I have used the thing on the dais when I had my Community Affairs Advisory Board meeting to help us work out the budget.  I don’t think it helped the rest on the board, but it certainly helped me keep things right.

Things turn around so fast that now you don’t get to know your tools like we used to.  Maybe that isn’t always a bad thing since things typically get better and more efficient and sell cheaper.   On the other hand, as anyone who knows me, it also implies that whole Planned Obsolescence thing that I dislike so much.

For now, I’ll keep my 1950s phone that is connected up to a “SIP” Box and my network so I can make free phone calls to people anywhere in the US.  It looks great bolted to my desk. 

Oh and the news will be starting on the BBC World Service shortly … so if you will excuse me…

FPL Has Dirty Power Part 2

When I had my board meeting at City Hall, we had a bit of a Bull Session before hand.
It turns out that my experience with FPL’s Dirty Power is common here in Wilton Manors. Out of the seven board members there, and the Board Secretary, every one of us have had a complaint about losing electronics here.   When you have computing equipment plugged into the walls, they can take a Power Hit at any time whether they are turned on or not.   NOAA Weather Radio will tell you to unplug your unused equipment when a storm approaches, but how reasonable is that when some of it is hard wired like your oven, is required to be on all the time like your refrigerator or freezer, or is needed for “normal” life like your Tivo, Cable Box, or electric clocks?
Not that any of my rant will have that much of an effect, but FPL in their great wisdom is agreeing with me.  They have a For Profit group called FPL Fibernet supplying Internet to Downtown Ft Lauderdale at the old ImpSat building at Dixie Highway and NE 20th Drive.  They have agreed with my comment by digging up the lawns on NE 20th Drive and sending the Fibre Optic lines underground.   Wow, underground?   Its For Profit, that would be why, and I’m waiting for the trees that were disturbed on the properties to start dying.  Thankfully the trees on my property are well back from the swales and I am a couple blocks from having my yard torn up.  After all, trees and the neighborhood are not as important as paying customers who aren’t being directly served by better internet access for Downtown?
So when will the power lines go underground?

FPL has Dirty Power

According to the Wikipedia Entry and according to my broken appliances at any rate we do.

Since moving to this house in September 2006, I have lost 2 alarm clock radios, a table radio, a Desktop Computer, 2 Laptop Computers, 3 Wifi Routers, 2 Cable Modems plus one owned by Comcast, 3 Hard Drives (80GB, 120 GB, and 240GB), a cassette tape deck, 2 stereo tuners, a VCR. I’m sure there were other things that were lost in the general background noise of life.

That may sound normal to someone else living here, but in the 13 years I lived in the City of Philadelphia, I lost zero equipment. None, Nada, Zip, Zero. Sure things would wear out but I can repair most of that sort of thing.

We finally got tired of losing equipment. It got to the point where we’d have a twice weekly “Power Pop” where the power would just cut off inexplicably and then back on in rapid succession. Usually around 2 in the afternoon. If there were a storm of any strength, my power would do all sorts of things like dim, brighten, turn off, or strobe. It was like being in a disco or club.

Our final solution to the FPL Dirty Power Problem was to get APC Power Conditioners. APC H10 and APC H15 specifically. They weigh quite a lot, have a lot of heat sinks, capacitors, and blinky lights to entertain the passers by. My house at night has a wonderful eerie blue glow as a result of the things. Those entertaining lights show me just how bad the power is in this city. During a Thunderstorm, the Over Voltage light comes on regularly telling me that instead of a nice 120v, I get 150V Plus. I can be here listening to music and hear a relay SNAP! and the music may or may not get cut off because I will still get a few seconds of power as the capacitors drain into the equipment filtering all the spikes.

I do have to wonder how many pieces of equipment on a daily basis are lost in this area every time the daily thunderstorms fire up and march across the land making mosquitoes and watering the land.

The real solution would be to weather proof the power lines and bury them under the swales of the streets instead of having them strung across the landscape waiting for a flying coconut to hit them in a Tropical Storm. FPL has a reputation of saying they’re trying to keep up with the weather and have a creaky infrastructure as a result of the tropical storms, but if other parts of the country and other utilities made this step, I have to question whether its just a bad decision on the level of their Executive Managers to keep the profits higher and they’ll just muddle through so they don’t have to take the hit on their bonuses.