Archive for the ‘rave’ Category

Hey Tim, Innovate This!

December 26, 2013

This is an open letter to Tim Cook at Apple.

Dear Tim,

Is the BOD challenging you to innovate more and put more distance between Apple and your competitors? Here is the top item of my “Wish List”:

Integrate every aspect of user context into operating system services.

For example, innovate this (please) for my iPhone:

Don’t bug me when I am busy in an important meeting!

Scenario – I am in a meeting, and that meeting appears on my iCal calendar. I don’t want my iPhone to ring unless a) the caller is on my VIP list, or b) the caller is on the meeting invitation list. I think that would be simple to do. … or c) don’t bug me unless the caller is a higher priority than my meeting (a little more difficult).  Do the same for Messenger notifications and perhaps e-mail notifications, too.

This third consideration requires me to prioritize meetings and also prioritize people with more granularity than “VIP” or “Not VIP”.

And another nuance to consider – don’t silence my calls when I am traveling at the airport or at some other location where I don’t mind the call. I put travel and personal business on my calendar – perhaps every event needs an election to manage notifications contextually or don’t… Perhaps we need a sense of a) public place context and b) private place context.

Another example from my wish list:

Direct the user interface to the best device at hand! And follow me as I move about…

Scenario – I am watching a YouTube video on my iPhone. When I step into my media room, the YouTube video is automatically directed to my AppleTV. When I leave the media room, the YouTube video is directed back to my iPhone. When I step into my office, the YouTube video is automatically directed to my iPad Air.

This is a toughie – tougher still, what if I don’t start watching that YouTube video on my iPhone and start the video on my desktop Mac? This requires a whole new generation of display devices that are bonjour-equipped, and/or wi-fi equipped and/or blue-tooth equipped so that display devices advertise their capabilities and location to my various computing devices.

Perhaps there is a new device concept lurking, here. I had a dream that I carried a futuristic iPhone in my pocket. It was mostly battery – very small and dense, and it did not have a display. Whenever I moved to a different environment, my iPhone would always utilize the best nearby display device and always have access to my many TB of local storage on my desktop, and to my iCloud storage, too. My futuristic iPhone would automatically use the best devices for audio I/O, video I/O, gesture interaction and text entry that were in my immediate environment. Wherever I was, my future iPhone was working in the background to optimize my user experience by making use of the variety of devices that fill my environment at work, at home, in the car, and at friends’ offices and homes, too. In this sense, my future iPhone’s phone function had faded way into the background, and it really became an intelligent user interface gateway.

I want my Apple devices to incorporate user context into their services, Tim. I know that’s a tall order. I really understand how difficult this is. I think that only Apple can pull it off!

By the way, I am really pleased with my new iPad Air! Tim, this is a terrific Apple product that meets every expectation of mine and even exceeds a few!

Odds and Ends Monday

November 21, 2013

A Few Days Late…

Since September, it seems that I have been spending more hours a week in the air than I have spent on the ground working. This is a real drag on my lifestyle and relationships. I’m not a party animal type, but I do enjoy putting a movie on my 10 ft. screen, cranking up the volume just a bit, and sipping on a glass of decent Cabernet now and then – or spending a long lunch with a good friend and catching up on their going-ons. Instead, I pull up a cheap armchair in a hotel room somewhere more often than not for the news on an HD TV before turning off the lights. It’s not really so bad, I suppose. Heck, I don’t have HD TV at home – I need one for Christmas!

So, to the tid-bits:

My research on wireless security initiatives is progressing – I have a solid use-case set for airport communications along with a comparison of the various technologies that are applied on the airport surface. The AeroMACS WiMAX profile proves a winner compared to any other wireless technology being considered by the civil aviation industry today. The only significant shortcoming for WiMAX is the susceptibility to interference in the assigned frequency spectrum. A jamming signal in the same spectrum looks a lot like a very effective denial of service attack. I think this particular threat makes a good topic to focus on.

I am reading a fascinating book by Scott Anderson, Lawrence in Arabia. This is an historical account of T.E. Lawrence’s time in the Middle East during the First World War. Lawrence’s battlefield is familiar to me after my years in Saudi Arabia. Aqaba, Wadj (Wejh), Yenbu, Rabegh, Jeddah, Tabuk, Medina, and so many more. These cities on and near the Red Sea were all familiar to me in the 1980’s. There was something wonderful about the expanse of the desert and the variety of the landscape that I really found beautiful and absorbing. The people were hospitable, and some were anxious to meet me and talk over tea in the suqs (the markets). Most people I came to know on the Red Sea coast had no significant knowledge of their history. In Tabuk, there was a very old locomotive from the Hejaz railway from the World War that was sitting in a few pieces on its side rusting away in the sand. I convinced the Mayor and the local cleric at the principle Mosque to right and reassemble the locomotive and erect a plaque to tell the story. I was happy to have paid for the plaque. I wonder if the locomotive and my plaque are still in that Tabuk city park today.

Lawrence in Arabia is captivating, and it tells the story of Lawrence’s exploits so superbly that I can almost imagine my way back in time. Anderson is a sharp scholar with a keen wit who presents the historical context masterfully. Read this book!

My quarterly excursion to Rice University in Houston over the weekend allowed me some quality time with old friends. David and I recounted a few “sordid” stories of our college days. Marta and I automatically engaged in a very European kiss cheek to cheek three times for luck. Greg and Lissa filled the empty seats at our table for brunch, Davy swooped in at the last moment, and we all thoroughly enjoyed a few casual hours walking the campus after so many years away. The campus is still a comfortable place for me to stroll about in.  Ten hours driving and one night In Houston was quality decompression time after so many trips to Europe – and to DC, Montreal, DC, Cleveland, DC, Phoenix, DC, DC, DC, DC…

Speaking of Cleveland, that City is turning around a bit. There are nice renovations in the entertainment district on the lake, and there are new affluent developments and a wonderful nature park near the airport. The city is “abuzz” about it’s music scene, and the people of Cleveland are optimistic about their future.

A rant – air travel is horrible and getting progressively worse. The airlines cast new equipment and changes in procedures as improvements. Well, new and different don’t often translate into better as far as I am concerned. I have flown in new American Airlines Airbus 319’s several times in the past few weeks. These planes are a bit noisier than Boeing equipment, and the seats are more compact. Width aside, every other seat dimension is 3-4 cm (about 1-½ inches) too small. The armrest is particularly uncomfortable for me as it is too short for my elbow to find a resting place anywhere except for directly on the seat marker that has sharp edges sticking up above the surface at the end of the armrest, and it is too low causing me to lean sharply to one side or the other. Lumbar support as far as it goes is in the wrong place, the headrest is at my shoulders, and the upright incline is set too vertical at about 8 degrees instead of a more comfortable 12 or 15. These seats are designed for children! The power and entertainment system hardware is on the floor to one side of the seat bracket, and it is a huge assembly that takes away precious room under the seat with sharp edges that really aggravate my ankles. There is no storage place at the seat for a magazine or newspaper or tablet or laptop making a drink or food incompatible with anything work or entertainment-related – worse than before, if you can imagine… The entertainment system has an awkward user interface that requires a terrific number of selections to find – to fine what? There is no content available without making a purchase. What was airbus thinking? What was American Airlines thinking? The surface looks good, but it is simply bad design when you peel back the vernier… If you spend 40 hours a week in the air, you will quickly notice these elements, and you will grimace.

Last night’s Rice Alumni event was quite interesting. What lead up to the Cuban Missile Crisis? Well, we heard all about it in the Texas Theatre where Oswald was apprehended. What a neat venue for this event! The missile crisis was bluster and bluff by Niki, and plugging the military-industrial complex by Jack. When backed into a corner, Niki pushed missiles into Cuba to retaliate for US missile installations in Turkey that the president may not even have known about, and we had a real stand-off. “Want a war?” Khrushchev  asked, and Kennedy said, “No, but there are a few terms and conditions in that contract…” Cooler heads prevailed, and it was a good thing they did.

I am finally home for awhile. Good!

The AppleTV is Pretty Good! But…

May 23, 2013

I purchased an AppleTV. I did it on a whim. I was impressed, and I was disappointed. I think I see the next step for the product, though. You’ll like it!

The Good:

– The GUI (graphical user interface) is simple and efficient.
– Configuration is easy!
– Image quality is superb!
– iTunes integration is great; it  just works! Great!
– Airplay works – it just Works!
– Photoflow integration is great – it, too, just works!
– The remote commands the Apple TV through obstacles!
– My bluetooth keyboard works, too!
– It’s compact!  And no wallwort!

The Awkward:

– The top level interface is configurable by Parental Controls – huh…
– Not many free media choices. YouTube, iTunes podcasts and Trailers.
– Hulu Plus works fine, but not the free Hulu service – WHY NOT?
– Search text entry is arduous with the remote – get a keyboard.

The Bad:

– Image aspect ratio is fixed.
– Some media sources use HDCP (copy protection) – grrr.
– No way to browse the web.
– No way to install an iOS app.

At home, where we are not quite in the “modern World”, I need a gadget. At home, our TVs do not have HDMI interfaces (we also do not have a BluRay disc player). A burglar would just pass us by – our TV set weighs more than 100 KG and barely fits through the door. So, I have a simple gadget to satisfy the HDCP feature and convert the AppleTV’s HDMI output into an S-video output or an RF output depending which archaic device I want to plug into and watch. All is well with this gadget. It is a Sabrent DA-HDRC Converter for $50 from Amazon.

The remote is amazing. I swear that it commands the AppleTV around corners and through obstacles. JC says it must be UV, and not (or not just) IR. It bounces off of walls and furniture.

The AppleTV is great in a hotel. I take my Airport Express (another great product) and  AppleTV with me when I travel, and I plug the AppleTV into the TV in the room. It works anywhere in the world. If bandwidth is good enough, which it sadly may not be, I have entertainment! Not so bad…

But, I want more – I want to participate in WebEx video conferences (I don’t need a camera). I want my bluetooth headset to be supported by the AppleTV. I want my on-line ATT Uverse service. I want news channels like CNN, MSNBC, FOX, C-Span. I want access to more free media sources!

I want to be able to adjust the image aspect ratio – to stretch the image a little – a little more – a LOT more! The variety of media sources and display devices needs some accommodation in the AppleTV.

I want to be able to bring other video sources into the AppleTV. If  only it had a USB interface. I want to be able to watch a DVD – if only I could plug Apple’s nifty, slim DVD drive into the Apple TV. How about plugging an ElGato EyeTV USB TV tuner into the Apple TV. There are great possibilities, here!

I believe that the AppleTV will be transformed in the near future – give it two years… You just wait! Just as the Mac mini is an iMac without a display, the AppleTV will be an iPod without a display. Just you wait…

In the mean time, the Apple TV is pretty good! But…

Mark Hepworth for Mayor

May 3, 2013

My City Councilman is running for mayor of my fine city. I Like Mark!  Mark Hepworth is a fine person who is determined to stomp out cronyism and the “good ole boy network” in the City politics that stymies citizen voices and involvement. I have known Mark for about four or five years. He says what he thinks, does what he says, and he asks what you think, by the way. He listens. He speaks with clarity. His base motivation is to do good, and not for personal gain. He shirks notoriety. He’s a refreshing personality in the City.

Mark stands for term limits.

Mark stands for transparency in government.

Mark wants to stop the “entitled attitude” of city leaders.

Mark wants new leaders to infuse new ideas.

Mark wants anyone living in our city to be able to talk directly to him – in his office – in Council chambers – on the street.  He genuinely cares to know what people have to say.

Got a few minutes – here is his message in one minute chunks:

Mark Hepworth for Mayor – a Minute with Mark

This is refreshing. When was the last time you heard these ideas from a sincere politician?

If you live in Grand Prairie, Texas, get out and VOTE! “Mark the ballot for Mark!”

“Like” my Robocaller Blocker on Facebook

January 26, 2013

Hi folks – please “like” my proposal for a method to block 95% of those illegal robocallers that call sometimes several times a day – what a NUISANCE they are.  I know how to stop them. “Like” my proposal and get us all one step closer to stomping out these scammers!

RoboBlaster

Odds and Ends Monday

January 21, 2013

I have been busy lately:

The WiMAX Forum – you think Wi-Fi for your laptop and cellphone is great, just wait for WiMax. My oldest client has asked me to be a leader in the WiMax Forum, so I am getting up to speed on the politics of this tech forum. Lot’s of fun and a few great challenges for me, here!

My Nikon 1 J1 camera – it is lots of fun – a minimalist camera with a disappointing megapixel count but a great user interface for me. I took this camera with me to Taiwan, and it took great pictures – a good compromise between a point-and-shoot camera and a semi-pro camera. I like the interchangeable lens, and that was the differentiator for me that pushed me into the line at the CostCo register!

My good friend Mark Hepworth – our City Councilman – is running for Mayor. I think Mark will make a superb Mayor. He is principled, ethical, and credible in the City politics scene. Mark asked me to work for his campaign a few months ago, and I am glad to work for him.  I can’t wait to call Mark “Mr. Mayor”!

We have a crime wave in our neighborhood. My neighbors are up-in-arms -they are worried and anxious – three homes burgled in two weeks. I have arranged a meeting with the Chief of Police, here, this week. As the HOA “guy” (the President), I have a Crime Watch team organized with street captains, an efficient e-mail pyramid, and cameras and signs and lots of stuff to fight crime. Regardless of all of this, we have a crime wave, here. We have the crooks on camera in the commission of more than one burglary, so we’ll catch these rats!

January reporting deadlines for my companies are due in a week (groan) – working on this – well, I should be working on this right now, but I am procrastinating…  Blogging, instead!

My alma mater Rice University has drafted me to work on their local College of Engineering Alumni Committee – we need to raise some money for this department, and I think I can help!

My good friend JC and I had dinner recently with past Senator Kay Hutchison

IMG_0456and Nobel Prize winner Dr. Robert Curl (the carbon “buckyball”). I had dinner at the Curl house a number of times while I was at Rice – their son Mike and I were dorm roommates… It was good to spend some time with Bob and his wife that evening and catch up. We somehow meet about once a year and enjoy dinner in a “highfalutin” venue somewhere – every year, somehow…

IMG_0457The other night was the Texas Academy of Mathematics, Engineering, Science and Technology – the annual TAMEST awards banquet. This is a terrific venue to rub shoulders with brilliant and impacting people in Texas!

“Home Maintenance Week” – well, two weeks was last week and will be this week – some sheetrock repairs, fence repairs, irrigation system repairs, window repairs – all either done last week or to be done this week. I do some of this, and hire out some of this – the annual January maintenance homeowner activity for our household… I have everything “under control”!

A Christmas present was the 1988 and 1989 “Mission Impossible” series on DVD – watching the 1988 series now. This is a classic serial that I have not ever seen on contemporary TV – sad – a great TV serial!

So, time to get back to filing my W2’s and W3!

Brian – Out for now!

A Good Engineer can Simplify the World in Time

November 30, 2012

Engineering is the challenge of making something complicated actually work the way you expect it to every time for everyone. This might sound simple – maybe even trivial – it’s not at all. Most people take it for granted that pushing a button has the result you expect every time you do it – on your phone, microwave oven, television, automobile, etc. But, it is a complicated world, and between you, me and the fencepost, well, maybe you shouldn’t take those things for granted…

Two events prompted this post:

American Airlines records for personal information were updated today again and again (and again) until successful.

Apple iTunes 11 was released – more than a facelift – a redesign…

These two events today were meaningful for me as an engineer.  I’ll tell you why:

——————–

American Airlines – they need a good engineer to tweak their website. Type a number from a card into a blank – push SUBMIT – should be done and over with…  Nope.

Type in a three field number separated by dashes literally from the official card in hand. Press SUBMIT. Get a “success” confirmation. Log out, log in again, and no change was actually made.

Type the number in again. Press SUMBIT. Get an “error – not a valid number” message, and I am scratching my head… The number on my Government card looks precisely like the number I typed.

Type the number again – without dashes. Press SUBMIT. Get a “success” confirmation. Log out, log in again, and the change was made this time successfully. Were the dashes the problem? Or will I be plagued with issues because the dashes are necessary, and they aren’t there even though the entry was submitted successfully?

This should have been such a simple thing to do. But a false success status, then an error without any hints. And finally a true success status on the third try… BAD American Airlines needs a good engineer to make the website work the way you expect it to every time for everyone. I’ll volunteer – for a fee! It would be a simple matter to say, “Do Not Include Dashes” next to the field – if, in fact that was the problem. Frankly, I am not confident that the dashes were the problem, but they probably were…

The American Airlines website issues are deeper than this one issue. Make changes in your profile, and they do not “ripple through” to your reservations, and vice versa. There will be occasions when your profile information and reservation information differ, and the engineering challenge is to accommodate that. There will be occasions when the “ripple through” will require you to revisit some kind of resubmission or confirmation of something you did previously, and those steps must be presented to the user reliably and only when necessary – yup, challenging to do correctly. When a credential expires – a passport, for example, the website does not prompt you to update the stale record, and it should. Instead, every customer stumbles on these details in the website, and we all fume about it.

A good engineer could simplify AA.com greatly. It just takes time an money…

——————–

iTunes – it was starting to look clunky in version 10 with all the sidebar stuff and then the cloud stuff. I was a little frustrated with this application. It worked quite differently on my Mac and iPhone. The iCloud features were sometime a little mysterious. It was becoming a complicated media application. And it was really two applications – one for the Mac and one for the iPhone. Yesterday, I was accustomed to its idiosyncrasies. Today, well, frankly, I am not sure what I think. Most people do not like change – change requires relearning, and many people don’t do that very well. Apple tasked a bunch of engineers to make this complicated clunker a much simpler application.

I’m relearning right this minute! The new iTunes tries to be more “contextual” – it tries to do what you want it to do in the most convenient manner possible for the task you are performing. It may display the same information to you several different ways depending on what you are actually doing. Browsing? Browsing to see “what’s around the next corner”? Or browsing to find something that is right on the tip of your tongue. Or browsing to find something specific. Browsing music? Movies? Podcasts? The new iTunes tries to present your library to you in the best way possible depending on just exactly what you are doing.

My take right now is that the new iTunes only halfway succeeds in using context to present your library. You can’t “train” it very well. You can set some preferences – many on the fly to sharpen its behavior, but there are not enough cues to the user, and there are not enough injection points for preferences. I can see what Apple is trying to do, and they will do better over time.

For now, I can’t find any way to turn on the old iTunes cover flow display of album covers, and I liked that feature…  Maybe it is gone. Maybe I haven’t discovered how to turn it on. Instead, there is a nifty array of covers like what you might see in the iTunes Store, and any cover can be “exploded” to show the songs. Nifty, but I liked the cover flow and the comprehensive songs list right below. Well, maybe I can “relearn”! But, maybe I don’t have to – maybe there is a way to do what I want, and I don’t know how, yet… iTunes gets a “thumbs up” – it is simpler (it IS simpler where it can be), and it seems to work just fine. Done by good engineers!

——————–

Here is what we will see new in iTunes in the future, and I think that Apple will establish some challenging expectations for PC and phone application and website behavior in the near term:

Contextual features – subtle, intuitive differences in behavior for the same functionality depending on what you are actually trying to do at the moment:

Make it simpler when it can probably be simpler.

Say less when you probably just want to know the summary.

Say more when you want to know all the dirty details.

Know to do that all without the application asking or you telling.

Adaptive features – learn what you want to do and how you want to do it from what you just did. If you change a preference or setting, method or workflow, the computer will do one of four things depending on context and obtrusiveness and usage patterns:

Ask if this is “how you want to do it the next time, too?”

Or, ask the next time you do it if you “want to do it the same way you did it the last time?”

Or, just let the change “stick” or persist without a confirmation.

Or, revert back to the previous behavior without a confirmation.

You can imagine that contextual and adaptive features are rather “fuzzy”. Some shaaarp programmers and revolutionary new programming tools are required before software tries to do more than the new iTunes. It will take a couple of good engineers and some time for the next “spin” of iTunes.

My point here is that it takes a good engineer – maybe an exceptional engineer to truly simplify something complicated. As I work in this world day to day, I am convinced that money-making objectives tend to cast the exceptional engineer aside and opt for the mediocre instead of the refined from someone less talented and passionate. I have been told directly on more than one occasion, “Brian, we don’t need it to be as good as you want to make it.”

Well, a good engineer with enough time can be certain to simplify the world in some meaningful way and do something tremendous – and virtually unnoticed – because it just works the way it should every time for everybody.

So, “Stay tuned!”  Um, ah, “Stay iTuned!”

AT&T U-verse Video – Doing Better!

November 18, 2012

About two years ago, I started to badger AT&T about their lacking elements for U-verse Video service… I wanted “everything everywhere.” Anything that came to me through the set top box should come to my cellphone and my desktop computer.

Did you notice the welcome online changes on November 1? I did…

After months (years) of e-mail with use cases and user interface design submissions and critiques back and forth, I saw my ideas put into practice. Almost everything I asked for was delivered – everything except a simple channel list to click on to watch what is playing on a channel right now. They did a nice navigation window to see what is scheduled, didn’t they? Some channels stream live to my desktop computer – most channels show the latest episode of most every program. Added to that is the Hulu-Plus library on demand that has been in place for quite some time, now. This is not bad. At some point, every channel will stream current programming to the desktop – just you wait.

So, I’m tickled pink!  They listened!  And they are following through! For now, though, you still need that darn set top box…

Dha-guhr – That I Am!

September 28, 2012

I am “with cold” with a sore throat and a bit of a fever, and my head is fuzzy – just not quite working at 100% – just a little off… So, I spent part of the afternoon watching cooking shows on the TV. Just two: Anthony Bourdain’s “No Reservations” and Andrew Zimmern’s “Bizarre Foods”. These shows are usually interesting to me. I have been in more than 80 countries, and every country I have visited has a gastronomy boast.

Bourdain’s fun – he tells you what he likes and what he doesn’t and why. Anthony was in Italy this afternoon – he loves Italy, and so do I.  I would gladly live there just for the marvelous food. As long as you don’t cross the local Mafia boss (just kidding), life would be great. I have a cousin in Rome who knows the local people and great authentic places to eat quite well after thirty or more years there.

My first time in Italy, I spent significant time in Venezia, and carbonara for breakfast was the local treat. Long, soft noodles, gooey egg and cheese sauce, and crunchy, salty pancetta – just a great way to start the day, and I have never found such tasty carbonara anywhere here in the States – never. Mr. Bourdain had a meal with carbonara on his show this afternoon, and it brought back great memories of Italy – nothing beats carbonara for breakfast!

Andrew’s fun, too – he tells what you should appreciate about what he doesn’t like, and he eats it anyway (unless it has walnut in it).  Mr. Zimmer was in Chengdu, Sichuan, China – I have never been to Chengdu, and I want to go. This is the world’s capital for chiles – I love hot, spicy food, and I can stuff chiles down my throat until the cook quits cooking! One of Mr. Zimmern’s tour guides came with a tag-along named Dha-guhr, and that brings me to the title of my post – actually, this is the second thing that brings me to the title of my post, so read on!. I need to go to Chengdu!

The first time I was in China in Shanghai, and last time I was in China in Beijing, I heard the word “dha-guhr” mentioned behind me throughout my trips. I know a little Mandarin – just a little – I can be polite, ask simple questions, count, but I stop right about there. One word I do know is “dha-guhr”.

I learned the word “dha-guhr” in Ulan Bator, Mongolia in the ’80’s. My hotel was a local place with local furnishings including the most peculiar bed I have ever slept on. It was about 1-1/2 M square – about 4 or maybe 5 feet square – you were supposed to sleep rolled up in a ball with a heavy blanket to keep warm. The old Chinese man who would come into the room during the night to put wood in the big. blackened pot-belly stove always grunted when he saw my feet hanging over the edge. “Dha-guhr,” he’d say every time on his way out. I learned about that word “dha-guhr”…

Like many words in Chinese, there are two sharply different meanings depending on context. Dha-guhr literally means “big piece of meat” in Mandarin Chinese. Dha-guhr is 1) the big clumsy oaf, or maybe the country bumpkin, or 2) the big boss, or the “big cheese” (maybe the local mafia boss in Italy, Mr. Bourdain) depending on context.

In Shanghai, I had to bend my head to fit in the elevator (dha-guhr, I heard behind me). In Beijing in a alleyway restaurant, we needed to move the tables around a bit so that I would fit (dha-guhr). In Beijing in a restaurant bathroom, I just could not close the door (dha-guhr). In Shanghai, the subway cars were, well, smallish, and I was heads and shoulders taller than anyone around me – I could see to either end of the entire train, and everyone in the train could see me (dha-guhr). Zimmern’s tag-along was 2.2M or about 7-ft tall athlete Dha-guhr – an apt nickname.

In Italy, I was the big boss (dha-guhr). In China, more the clumsy oaf (dha-guhr). That’s OK. Great food in either place! I’m big – 3 ft shirt sleeves, 3 ft waist, 3 ft from crotch to the floor. I can look imposing (dha-guhr), and I can be clumsy (dha-guhr).

I have a trip to Taiwan coming up (dha-guhr).

A Mystery Birthday Card

August 28, 2012

I love a puzzle.  One came to me in the mail yesterday – a birthday card with a thoughtful gift enclosed. But WHO sent it? There are clues, but dog gone it, not sufficient clues for me to figure this out. I love a puzzle, though.

I received a belated birthday card in a bright, yellow envelop – here are the stamps and postmark:

Being the stamp collector that I am, I noticed two things here right away:

1) these two 10¢ stamps were last sold in the post office in 2003; they are dated 2003 at the bottom left; they were reissued in 2006 if memory serves me, but these stamps were last sold in the post office in 2003;

2) the cancellation is manual – what does it say on the bottom – USPS? Austin? Boston? Houston? I think the standard cancellation says USPS on the bottom. I scanned the cancellation at 1200 dpi, but it is just too smudged to make out…

I can look deeeeep into things. This is fun!

2003, 2003 – we moved and bought our house in 2003. What else happened in 2003? I’ll have to pour over old letters and e-mail and find out. Or is 2003 just a misleading detail?

Someone knows I am a stamp collector.  That, or they are a stamp collector. Or it is possible they just happened to have these particular decade-old stamps in a drawer… I don’t have these particular stamps in my album, by the way.

Someone knows I am particular about time pieces – I designed my wristwatch and had it built for me. That, or the sender is also a fanatic about time pieces. Or it is possible that they just happened to have these stamps in a drawer…

The enclosed card says, “TWILIGHT ZONE” in big letters across the front – my favorite TV show! Coincidence – maybe, but maybe not. Dah-dah-dah-dah. Maybe Twilight Zone was intended to simply support the sense of mystery! Maybe.

Inside the card is a friendly and personal birthday message – “A belated birthday remembrance. With love….” Handwritten in precise, slightly left-leaning script. I’ll check some old Christmas cards I have kept over the years! “Remembrance” is seldom used in the English language today – someone is highly educated.

“With love….” Four dots, and not three. Did you notice the Love forever stamp on the envelop? Coincidence – I don’t think so. Four dots – I will have to look at some old letters and cards. A romance from my past? You can never know what could have been, but I have known a large number of genuinely good people over the years, and some rather fondly, and some I have not seen for a long time who I miss. I truly wish everyone I have known good health and great happiness!

And enclosed with the card is a humble copper chain passing through a Canadian penny minted in the year of my birth – I was born a Canadian. Coincidence – no way, I tell you! Someone knows me well.

No return address. No signature. Smudged postal cancellation. No invisible ink (checked under UV light). Someone is enjoying this as much as I am. What a great birthday card and gift enclosed.

THANK YOU

UPDATE: My close friend SR pointed out that the year of the postmark was 2011 and not 2012 – I didn’t notice – Good Catch! The Love forever stamp was printed in 2012 (lower right of the stamp). Mysteriouser and mysteriouser… I would wager that the dates on the hand stamps can get jiggled over time with handling, and I have actually seen a postal customer convince the clerk to adjust the date on the stamp for a birthday card to avoid the embarrassment of mailing a late card (wasn’t me). If intentional, kudos go to my good friend the sender for enriching the mystery of my card even further!

ANOTHER UPDATE: SR also pointed out upon even closer scrutiny that the time on those clocks is about 8:23 – coincidently the date of the mailing… Rather Spooky! And great fun!