Sunday, December 31, 2006

Boycott?

Here's a site (and a sight) I never thought I'd see:

http://www.boycottnovell.com

Seems like many of the open source folks aren't happy with the Novell / Microsoft deal.

Superman Returns

I finally got to sit down and see "Superman Returns" over the holiday. I was entirely geeked in the theatres when the preview would play. Just hearing Brando's voice over and the hint of the John Williams score literally brought tears to my eyes. I couldn't wait for the movie, but somehow ended up missing it when it hit the theatres around here. I think I missed it at my theatre of choice, and didn't want to see it in one of the local crackerbox theatres.
So anyway I stayed up far too late with #3 son and watched it on DVD. We had mistakenly picked up the full screen version from the store, but that just gives me a reason to watch it again.
First, casting is spot-on, except for Perry White. Langella is fine in the role, but he's NOT Perry. He's to laid back, too authoritative. Langella commands by respect and position: Perry White barks and shouts. I picture Perry chewing Tums and Exedrin like candy. Langella's Perry White is too smooth.
Superman has been gone for five years, going back to the star system that Krypton was in. We don't get to see any of this. I guess we'll have to wait for the extended edition DVD.
The first Clark moment brought me back to Reeve, as did many moments in the film. I almost think the Routh is playing the Reeve version of Clark, but I think that is only because Reeve did it so well.
There are several moments of homage to the Reeve Superman movies that I found entirely appropriate and fitting. Superman's lines about flying, and Luthor's lines about land show up again, and they work again on many levels.
Spacey as Lex Luthor is brilliant. His dialogue is the best of the movie, and the best of any Superman movie. In Superman Returns we get to see the true evil that exists within as he and his cronies beat Superman nearly to death, and Luthor stabs him brutally with a Kryptonite knife, breaking it off in his back. It's truly painfull and uncomfortable to watch. Kevin Spacey is one of my favorite actors (yes I liked K-PAX), and he is well used here.
But really, at some point, you think Superman would realize that Lex has some Kryptonite on his, somewhere, wouldn't you? Just once.
And now the kid. Lois has a kid, and Luthor brings up the question of who the father might be. That question didn't enter my mind until Luthor said it, and it was a nice moment. But a moment was all it was. I spent the rest of the movie waiting for him to do something else, and nothing.
The main thing this movie did wrong for me was break-up Superman and Lois. Did she she was pregnant before she married? How long has she known the kid is Supe's? Did she know before we did? The movie helps us think not, but can't say for sure. Extended edition again?
Now they have a son between them and are doomed to remain apart, unless husband suddenly kicks off, which would seem far too convienent.
Superman Returns is a good movie, but I can't say it was great. It's missing a sense of fun, a sense of whimsy, a sense of 'yes we know this is just a comic book on the big screen' that inhabited the Reeve movies. The two goods ones, anyway.
This movie is important to me in that it marks the LAST time I'll let a big summer movie get away before I see it on the big screen, in a big dark room with a bunch of other people. I get the feeling I would have like the movie more in that setting, and I'm sorry I missed it there.

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Road Trip


Today I took the 5 1/2 hour drive to Madison, WI with an old friend. I first met David Clark in April of 2004 (I think it was '04... man, does that suddenly seem like a long time ago). His unique blend of song, story, and Americana captured my attention the night I saw him perform.
Although I'm not sure the term is accurate, I thought of him them as a Renaissance American and Americana preacher. His love and deep respect of his roots, his country, and his God was suffused in every note he played, every word he read. That night his guitar playing was transcendent. It was the first time in a long time I'd seen a real honest to goodness performer, someone who was passionate about his work and not sold out to popular culture, who was not afraid to stand alone on a stage with a guitar and a microphone and tell you what he thinks, what he feels, what he believes.
His first trip around the country was in an old green pickup that I would not trust across town. His second and third were in a bus he'd converted himself. While it was a great improvement over the truck, it was no $300,000 motor coach.
But it got the job done. He called it The Blessed Donkey. His fans donated money to help him purchase and convert it.
So David and I struck up a friendship on his next run through town, as some friends and I tried to promote his visit and get him other bookings in the area. His influence helped convince my Dad, I think, to come out of retirement and dust off his guitars and start to play again. I grew up listening to Dad play, and now I have a CD of him playing some of his favorite tunes. I've heard all of them a hundred times or more before, but what a treasure this CD is.
Last night I took most of David's CD's and copied the MP3's out to my player, and I drove the rural highways of Illinois and Wisconsin, listening to David's unique blend of Uncle Remus, original songs, and acoustic guitar. I have seldom had a more pleasant journey. I keep coming back to Mr. Eagle's Message, and the different things it means to me every time I listen to it.
David has recently stopped touring full time to make some real money. Americans are reluctant to get their fat asses off of couches and out of living rooms for entertainment that might make them think, that doesn't feature blood or boobs.
It is our loss.
If you can listen to this , or this, and somehow not want to hear more, then I feel for you. If you DO want to hear more, stop by David's web site and listen to some clips, better yet buy one of his CD's.

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

All of this fuss...


...over a movie with no cast, no script, no budget, no production date.
Peter Jackson posted a letter on a website saying that NewLine had passed on him as director of The Hobbit, siting reasons of timing. To complicate matters, Jackson is suing New Line over profits from The Fellowship of the Rings. Apparently, Mr. Jackson wants to make sure that there were enough zeros at the end of his big paycheck for that movie. Given that the LOTR trilogy grossed in the three billions of dollars, I assume he's not hurting. Not scratching to try and get the kids to the dentist, or pay the past-due hospital bills.
Do you sense a lack of sympathy?
Certainly, Jackson is due whatever his contract calls for, but his demand for NewLine to submit to an audit is just Never. Going. To. Happen. Accounting in the film industry is an enigma wrapped in a mystery wrapped in a conundrum, and they don't want to reveal the charlatan behind that curtain.
Having said all of that, I doubt I would see a Hobbit remake that wasn't directed by Jackson, and didn't include at least Andy Serkis as Gollum and Ian Mckellen as Gandalf. The LOTR movies were more than mere cinema, they were events of the first caliber. My top five movies of all time would include all three. I am to this day astounded at the technological leaps that were taken in those movies, the breathtaking battle scenes. The moment when the Rohirrim swarmed into Sauron's army at Minis Tirith is perhaps my top movie moment, ever. I nearly came up out of my seat with excitement.
The Hobbit is not nearly the story that LOTR is. It's mainly a series of adventures on the way to retrieve some treasure and kill a dragon. Individually, the scenes make good bedtime reading for the kids. When Bilbo first meets Gollum, or first encounters Smaug, or gets caught by the trolls... my kids love to hear them. The book as a whole, however, is lacking in depth.
I've been looking forward to a new attempt at The Hobbit. There has been at least one animated attempt that fell flat. I'll be thrilled again if the time comes to visit Middle Earth with Peter Jackson as our guide.

Friday, November 17, 2006

Living the Dream


One of my dreams is to bike ride a significant distance across the country. I've got my route planned to several destinations, including the next big commute for work. Sometime when the weather gets warm I'd like to ride to Madison, but first I have to find two weeks to spare.
Anyway, here's a link to a blog from a husband and wife that rode a tandem from Bar Harbor, Maine to Key West, Florida. That's about 2300 miles or so, a long way to pull a trailer. A lot of continuous time to spend with your wife, as well. I don't think my marriage would survive it.
I would have liked more pictures, but the blog takes us on a wonderful historical tour along the nation's coastline, without getting bogged down in the mundane. I've often wondered if our narrator is a history teacher by trade.
If you have some time to kill (and you must, otherwise why would you be reading this?), head on over to Olga and Bob's Most Excellent Adventure and read your way from the bottom to the top. You won't be dissapointed, especially if you envy them every crank of the pedals like I did.

Sunday, November 05, 2006

Just a little blast from the past

I'm a movie geek. Some seminal periods in my life are marked by movies that I saw at the time: 2001, Stand by Me, It's Alive, Star Wars, Star Trek II, and on.
And for various reasons, this song and the movie it's from (which is FULL of great songs) will always hold a special place for me.

Thursday, November 02, 2006

Rocky Mountain Redux


I've said this before, but... once again I'm back in Denver. Definantly NOT where I want to be at the moment. But we do what we have to most of the time, and what we want to only some of the time.
So here I am.
I finally had a sunny day and a window seat for the flight, so I got to look down upon the land that I well know, and was able to track our progress across the state.
I first spotted the Wabash, winding it's way south through Indiana. With that as a benchmark I quickly found Terre Haute, and then Paris a few minutes later. I spent five years working in Paris, and it's been the best five years of employment I've spent to date. I learned more at that local computer / internet / wireless/ microwave provider than all the jobs I've held before or since. In many ways, little shops like that are further towards the cutting edge than I'll be again in a long time. Small shops and the small businesses that they serve can turn on a technological dime, but a big organization turns like an aircraft carrier. Deploying an Office patch can take change requests and multiple chains of permission, and testing, and deployment.... days and days.
I could follow Route 16 down through Kansas and Ashmore, and down into Charleston. I was surprised to see Quality Lime from the air, a place where I have blown many inches of rock dust out of many computers and printers. You have to know what you're looking for, but it's there. As is the Charleston Speeday, scene of many great dirt-track races and crashes.
Through Charleston and into Mattoon, I could see the airport and a nice view of Charleston lake.
What I was really looking for the entire time was a little two lane nothing that runs from north of Mattoon to Assumption. From nowhere to nowhere, really. I loved that road every time I drove it. It's always in good repair, and straight as an arrow. It goes over Lake Shelbyville, through Findlay, and then down the big hill to Assumption.
I'm unsure why I'm so enamored of that road. Perhaps it's because I always wanted to ride a bike down it, and never got to. Perhaps because the people in Assumption were always exceedingly nice, and exceedingly appreciative of my work. Whatever, I got a strange gratification in seeing it from the air, since I haven't even driven it in nearly eight years.
I gave up watching after that, having acheived my goal. I glanced up later and saw the Missippi, and right on the other side was Hannibal, MO. I grew up on Tom Sawyer and Huck Finn. I distinctly remember reading Tom Sawyer again and again as I grew up, and longing to see the caves, and the river, and the picket fence. Years later I got to go to Hannibal with #1 son as a chaperone on a school trip, and had a fabulous time exploring the area. I think I got more out of it than the kids did. When the cave guide pointed out the "Number Four, Under the Cross" to the gasps of the kids, I got goosebumps. I can't wait to go back there.
So now here I sit in Denver, and I won't have time to see anything but the hotel, the rental, the office. I'd love to come back here when I have more time, but with tickets at $600 a pop I'm thinking it's not likely.

Monday, October 30, 2006

Hot Wheels



Last night I awoke with a pretty excruciating pain in my back. After tossing and turning to try and make it go away, I felt around and pulled out a Hot Wheels toy car from under the sheets. It wasn't Speed Racer like the one pictured, but it was shaped the same.
My first instinct was to wake and throttle the children until one confessed, and then force the interloper to sleep with the toy car under HIS back for the rest of the night.
That feeling passed. It was 3 a.m., after all, and I'd just have to struggle getting them all back to bed and up again for school.
Then for some reason I thought that, one day, there will be no more Hot Wheels under the sheets. No more Potato Head parts to pick up from the floor. No more Barney / Wiggles / Caillou movies playing endlessly on the TV. No more wiped tears and kissed owies and heads patted. No more major everyday triumphs, like celebrating the first flush, the first step, the first word. (And, if you've never done the pee-pee in the potty dance, can you really say you're a parent?)
Granted, people think we're crazy. When they ask 'How many kids?" I just cringe. No matter how quietly I mumble "Six" the response is always "Six! Six?" like they've never heard the number before, like it's the word in Zimbabwe for the digit between five and seven.
I've always like what Stephen King says about his kids - "They came when they came, and we were glad to have them."
Amen to that.
We had two early, one in the middle, and three late. Not quite cheaper by the dozen. And yes, we know what causes that.
And by the way, I've learned that with three kids aged four and under, you have to play zone. Man - on - man is no longer effective.
Some friends of ours just had twins, which brought them up to six kids. We're going to start getting together and going to the buffet, where they charge kids under twelve so much per year. Between us, that's 9 kids under twelve. It'll be fun to watch the managers run screaming for the exits.
So I told my wife my little story, and I got appropraitely misty in the right places. She said something about grandkids, but I was too busy with my fingers in my ears yelling "La la la la la la la" to hear the rest.

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Vote Predictor


Back in the 2004 election (which did not go my way, in case you haven't figured that out by now), I was addicted to the web site www.electoral-vote.com. This site took data from nearly every poll that ran for that race and put the results in spreadsheets and on maps, trying to predict the outcome of the race.
They got it wrong.
But the story of how they got it wrong is fascinating. Anyone with any political leanings at all should check it out.
The site is still going this year, trying to predict the outcome of many close House and Senate races. Veiwing all of that data over time somehow satisifies my inner geek in a way that little else can.

Monday, October 16, 2006

Rocky Mountain High


I find myself back on a plane, headed for scenic Denver. Not something I thought I would be doing, but here I am.

The best feature about my flight is the video display on the back of the seat in front of me. For free I get to watch a graphic of the plane superimposed over a mapquest map, showing altitude, air speed, and location. Way cool in a geeky sort of fashion. Now I know what city I'm looking at out the window, whether the pilot tells me or not. For $5 I could watch a Direct TV feed of various channels, but who needs it?

I also showed #3 son how to go online and track my flight, which I hope will ease some of the issues he been having lately. Between that and the excellent video conferencing capabilities of Skype, he should be OK.

The Denver airport is gargantuan. It's also about thirty miles from anywhere I need to be. With all of that room and the traffic flow, you think there would be something to DO there when you're stuck there. But unless you want to spend way too much for the usual airport touristy crap, there's not. Especially if you don't drink.

Last time here I spent an afternoon driving up Lookout Mountain, and going to the very touristy Buffalo Bill museum. I wish I'd had more time to get off the tourist track. But the view was spectacular, and I bought the usual useless trinkets for the kids.

The thing I could not get used to was seeing open land with nothing cultivated on it. Back home if there's an acre or two of open field, someone is growing corn or soybeans or wheat on it. Out here, hardly anything grows, even when the land is left to Mother Nature to plant. It really makes me wonder why folks originally settled the area to begin with.

Perhaps I'll have time to find out on this trip, but I'm not holding my breath. There's a train ride I'd like to take, if I get the time. But chances are I'll end up barely having the time to accomplish what I'm really going there to do.

Saturday, October 07, 2006

BookMooch


While updating my catalog of books on LibraryThing the other day, I discovered Bookmooch, a website for cheap book lovers everywhere. (Ok, that was poorly worded. Not inexpensive books, but miserly readers.)
The concept is simple. You get points for listing books that you want to get rid of. Other people list books they want, and if there's a match they can mooch them off of you. You ship them at the amazingly cheap Media Mail rate, and you get more points. You then use those acquired points to mooch books off of others.
The service is fairly new, in internet terms. They are just at 10,000 members. So at the moment there are lots of books on wish lists, but none of the books I put on my list were immediately available for mooching. Besides, I didn't have the points yet.
The hard part for me is going to be continually selecting books I'm willing to give away. Obviously, there are some I'll never get rid of. In fact, I rarely give away a book. Invariably I miss it somewhere down the road. I haven't read The Tommyknockers in years, but I just know that someday I'm going to have time to kill, and the desire to re-enter works from King's 'addicted' stage will come over me. (That's what that book is really about, by the way. It might be full of alien artifacts and strange mind powers, but it's really about all the crap King was shiving into his system (mostly through his nose) at the time.) But I've found five or six in my pile so far that I'm willing to be seperated from.
The fun part for me is going through the local Borders, seeing a book I like, firing up Bookmooch on my PDA and entering the ISBN into my wish list. Somewhere I gave away my copy of Wicked, and there's no way I'm going to by another. But I'll gladly mooch it from someone!

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

John Varley


I recently picked up Red Thunder at the airport, Varley's omage to Heinlien. It was such a great read, and what a pleasure it was to be back in VarleyLand once again. Thunder is about a group of kids and an drunk ex-astronaut who build a rocket ship, fly it to Mars, and rescue a Nasa crew along the way. Pure camp, pure entertainment, pure fun.
The best thing the book did for me was remind me how much I loved Varley's work. I went back and bought Titan, Wizard, and Demon, which make up his Gaean trilogy and just finished those. While the books certainly remind of Ringworld, that quickly goes away as Varley introduces wild ideas, creatures, characters, and situations. These are three books where literally anything can happen (biological creatures that run kerosene ramjets and drop bio-bombs!) and generally does. The characters pull us through the mayhem, in that we genuinly care what happens to them, and where they're going. Even the odd ones.
Let's just say I never expect to be saddened by the death of a blimp again.
Ultimately, one of the best things about the series is Varley's decision to put the women front and center. Yes they are flawed, and sometimes overly needy, and overly vulnerable. But they are in charge and good at it, and manage to maintain their sexuality. Perhaps not thier sanity.
Re-reading made me hope that Mr. Varley still has something up his sleave for Cirroco and Gaby. Gaea is a huge world, and there are millenia yet to fill. How about a repair mission?

Monday, September 25, 2006

Taking the Blue Pill, RTM

So here I sit, 35000 feet above the earth, trying to figure out how to summarize my experience at the TAP Hands-On event.


I've said it before, but it's worth repeating: The Microsoft employees were great. They were genuinely interested in what we had to say and took our criticisms and comments seriously. They certainly went out of their way to make us feel welcome and wanted. The specialist that was assigned to us even showed up at the hotel this morning, to make sure we did not want to go to the Microsoft Store like we had discussed previously.

The last day of the event happened to be the same day as the big Microsoft yearly meeting, so all of the employees involved with the TAP gave that up to get our input and finish out the week. Maybe they'd all seen Bill speak before.

We did manage to see some sunshine yesterday, but the rain was still coming down. It's no wonder the pines and the moss and the rhododendrons thrive out here.

Now the true work is coming down the line, when we have to ramp up and test Beta 1, then 2, then pre – RTM, and finally the RTM. I'm looking forward to click on setup.exe with confidence, and turning the techs loose on the interface.

There were rumors of another get together as part of the TAP, but nothing definite. It would be nice to fly back in and have the same input into a later stage of the product, say after Beta-1. I'm thinking most of us in the states that were there would go back. I'm not too sure about the folks that were from overseas. I thought I had a long flight, but it couldn't even come close to the guy from Germany.

The entire experience has energized my thoughts about the product we're looking at and where it could help take us. I must admit it has also softened me a bit to Mictosoft in general. I'll always bleed red, but I'm no longer baised against the blue just because it's blue.

Friday, September 22, 2006

Taking the Blue Pill, RC3

Last day of the TAP hands-on testing. Customers from all over the world - Germany, Slovinia, etc - came to participate in this program.
Listening to the feedback from the other participants is an intersting window into the IT world of other companies. The off-line sessions have been valuable, gleaning info on how larger companies operate in their IT environment. Processes and utilities differ wildly. The common thread among everyone there, though, is the desire to make things better, to conform to standars, and to improve things like time to resolution and customer satisfaction. We might complain, but in the end we really do want to make things better for the end user.
It's been a long, brain-draining three days, and I'll be glad to get home. I'll also be glad to have my little list of inside contacts at Microsoft that are developing this product.

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Taking the Blue Pill, RC2


Today was filled with more meetings, more debriefing, more hands on. I can't say enough about having the opportunity to sit side by side with Microsoft technical people while we go through the product, giving input and learning about why things were put together the way they were. Just having that input, being able to ask why this button is where it is, why this dialogue box is the way it is, has been the most rewarding part of the whole experience.

There are many issues to discuss, as we are looking at pre-Alpha code. Most of what we see is not fully baked, with entire sections that may get dumped, may get pushed to different products, etc. That really shows when I try to go 'off-lab', and poke around at different things and customize things to the way we might actually utilize them in our environment. Today I managed to find a bug that crashes the UI consistently, so that was kind of cool. And some would say, not atypical for any M$oft product.

One of the things that impresses me about the Microsoft campus is the ethic diversity. I don't know if it's a reflection of the area, of intentional Microsoft hiring practices, or perhaps a bit of everything. Perhaps most of all it's a reflection of my insular Midwest upbringing, where seeing families from other countries is unusual.

Lastly, the stereotypical 'rains every day' in Seattle has held true for us. Every day has been overcast, with drizzle off and on. It's a wet climate, with large trees and lots of moss around.

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Taking the Blue Pill, RC1


So here I am after my first day with the Microsoft TAP program for a new product I'm probably not supposed to talk about. So while I won't talk specifics, I will talk about the experience.

I can't get used to all of the pine trees and buildings on hills. In the land of tall corn, all you see is maple, oak, and the occasional walnut. To see all of the conifers out here, still gloriously green, is somewhat breathtaking. And to look out and up to see not the sky but hills, with houses and buildings, will take some getting used to. Seattle is a beautiful place, but crowded.

The Microsoft campus gives the term gargantuan new meaning. I can't get a handle on all of the buildings involved yet, but it dwarfs everything around my home with the exception of perhaps the local college campus. It was the first cafeteria I've seen that had a food court style arrangement, with different goodies available from different locations.

But most of all I was impressed with the Microsoft staff. They genuinely cared about what we had to say, the needs we had to meet, and what we thought of their product. They took notes with eagerness, whether we said we loved a feature or thought something was stupid, or too complex, or not complex enough. They really took the time to make us feel like we had a say in where the product was going, both from a look and feel standpoint and from a roadmap overview.

The actual hands-on portion was less than thrilling. It was the kind of high level overview I experienced with the SMS / MOM training a while back. It was MUCH more interesting and informative only because we had a product engineer sitting with us, to answer questions and give input. So while we sometimes strayed wildly off topic of the task at hand, we still managed to get them completed and provide the feedback that they were looking for.

At the end of the day they crammed everyone into busses and we went to the Columbia Winery, which would be a great place to go if you're a drinker.

Hopefully tomorrow we'll hit the Microsoft Employee store, where I can get Xbox games for the kids cheap.

Thursday, September 14, 2006

I Will Be Assimilated

Like Captain Picard beaming down to the Borg ship, next week I will be flying to Redmond, home of the main Microsoft Campus.
I'm a long time CNE, so I make the trip with much trepidation. We're involved in the TAP program for a new product, and I'm excited about the possibilities of having actual input into how this thing comes together. It has the potential to fundamentally change the way we do IT here.
I thought about Microsoft, oddly enough, when I was in Colorado last week. (And, BTW, now I know what John Denver was all worked up about. I'll post later on the Cornbelt Kid's first veiw of mountains.) We were looking at merging in another, much smaller company. I was playing the Corporate Cheerleader, listing all the benefits we could bring them from an IT standpoint just by sheer budget and staff numbers. And that brought M$oft to mind. They surpassed Novell because they new how to market, not because thier product was any better. Now they have the power to throw hundreds if not thousands of coders at a project, and millions of dollars. It's finally starting to pay off in terms of usability and stability. I'm even willing to say that thier Directory Services is finally up to the task of handling larger corporations. If they can just get past the Feature Bloat that they think has to come with every new version, I'll be happy.
I'll try to blog at least a couple of times from Redmond to give an outsiders veiw of the inside. Stay tuned.

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Must See TV

Does it get any better the Keith Olbermann? I mean, really?

Rememberance


From my comment on a Brian Noonan's blog:

I remember being at work that day and my wife calling from home again and again, and me not thinking it was that big a deal... until the towers fell. I remember waiting in line at a gas station gone crazy with other folks whose main fear was that gas was going to go through the roof. I remember our Representatives standing together and singing God Bless America. I remember Freedom Fries. I remember being furious at Sadaam for trying to get aluminum tubes to make nukes. I remember being furious at being duped.
I hope the lessons learned from 9/11 are more than patriotism, God and country. I hope for optimism, and caution, and faith that is not blind.

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

Labor Day


I gladly take advantage of any Federal holiday. In fact, I think there should be more of them. Ben Franklin doesn't have a holiday, nor does John Hancock or any number of other founding fathers. They all deserve one. Each.

But on Labor Day I admit to a bit of guilt as I whiled away a beautiful day at our very nice state park.

While the kids were on the slides and I was pitching horseshoes (three ringers, thank you very much), I was thinking about my Dad.

My Dad retired from a local manufacturing company after 35+ years of service. Among other things in his career there, he was mainly a grinder. He'd grab a tray of little metal things to be worked on, sit down at his stool in front of a bench and belt grinder, and start in. He'd grind a bit, feel a bit, grind a bit, take a measurement, grind a bit, put the metal piece into a fixture to measure it, grind a bit, and eventually he'd decide that it was ready to go. He'd set it to the side, grab another metal piece, and repeat.

The parts that he made helped fly thousands of people through the air, helped countless military missions.

For a time I had a job that took me into the local GM plant. It has since gone the way of most Midwest manufacturing plants, to Mexico. There were guys in there who would start out the day with a ten-foot bin of brake calipers piled next to them. They'd spend the day in front of the grinder, caliper after caliper, cleaning them up and setting them in the done pile.

I spent a summer working as “summer help” at the plant where my Dad worked. We did grunt work : washed lights, cleared brush, swept, etc. I watched my Dad work for the first time, saw how he made a living, and wondered how he could have done it for so long. Day after day, year after year. I gained a new respect for the man who had seen me through childhood, paid for useless things like toy cars and bikes and bats and uniforms and marching band and... well, everything through his labor, his sweat and his mangled fingers.

And here I sit, literally, making my living by clicking a mouse and wiggling my ten fingers on a keyboard. Occasionally I have to lift a computer or blow the dust off of my official Compaq (tm) screwdriver and mount something in a rack.

It was that summer of work that made me vow to finish my education. I was thinking of other things, like travel and maybe car repair or a journeyman in a local trade. But my father, saying nothing, convinced me of the path I should travel. And showed me what being a father and a man was really all about.

Monday, August 28, 2006

FIRE!


Fire is a horrible thing. I don't need to tell anyone who's been through one, I know. But everytime one happens around here I'm amazed at how quickly they go, how quickly people lose just about all of their possesions.
There was a fire at a downtown business over the weekend. By the time the firefighters got to the scene, it was too hot and involved to go in the building, and all they could do was dump water on it from the outside. Which they did, for about the next 36 hours.
The folks over at the Fischer Theatre graciously opened their doors and cranked up the air. The firefighters came in, fueled up with Gatorade(tm) and cold water and donated food, and then went back out again.
The mayor was on the scene for two days, doing everything from co-ordinating command and control to picking up garbage.
The amount of donated items was impressive. Over a dozen local business donated everything from ice to chicken to giro's to oatmeal bars. At one point there was more food than I thought could possible be eaten, but it went. We went through cases of pop and buckets of ice and countless bottled waters.
In my travels, people occasionally like to tell me how much better of we'd be if I just moved to a bigger community - say an Indianapolis, or Peoria, or a Chicago suburb. Weekends like the last one reaffirm my belief in and my optimism about my hometown. When times get tough, people band together and get things done.

Thursday, July 27, 2006

Rehab


I've been wanting to write something about my son who is in Residential Rehab. I find it difficult, if not impossible, to put in words the extremes of emotions that we've gone through over the last three months.
No one wants to believe that their kid is addicted. We were certainly aware he was using, and at least suspected further underlying issues. But the degree of use that has come out through his counseling and therapy has just been staggering.
I mean, we're relatively hip, early forties parents who have been there and done that. We have no pre-conceived notions of our children as angels, and have talked to them long and frankly about drug use. We both have friends that have gone from promising young people to worthless adults, in and out of prison and homes because of addiction. We thought we were successful in teaching them to know better.
Turns out, just because they know better doesn't mean they won't turn around and do it anyway. Peer pressure? Addictive personality? Inability to deal with stress? I don't know the answer, and I'm not too sure he does at this point.
Prescription meds were his drugs of choice. If he had a pill he would pop it, regardless of what it was and sometimes how many there were. We found him one night so passed out that he would not awaken. When he did wake up we caught him in the bathroom, so hopped up on pills that he forgot to lock the door, getting ready to take more Xanex and Vicodin. We called the cops, and they came and got him. We later found out he had hidden more Vicodin in his sock, which the police did not search, so he had a little supply to use up in his jail stay. I'm convinced that had we not intervened that afternoon, he would have OD'd that night.
I feel fortunate that the facility is only an hour and a half away, and that he's doing well there. After some initial turmoil (he was still coming down, I'm sure, begging for Tylenol or Aspirin or anything he thought might get him high), he's become a model patient, at least according to his counselours and the staff there. I'm concerned that he's mostly telling them what they want to hear, so he can get out. They tell me that's normal and really doesn't matter, because if they can get him to say it enough eventually it'll sink in and he'll believe it.
We'll see.
What I do know is that we picked him up Saturday for his first out pass. We had six hours to kill, so we went out to eat and played catch with a football and drove around and went to Wal-Mart. There was some initial tension over whether or not we were going to get him some smokes (we were NOT), but once that settled down he later said he didn't even want one.
I marveled at this young man who was with us, this stranger I hadn't really seen in years, this kid who was suddenly articulate, and funny, and a joy to be around.
I pray you stay well, my son. I pray you stay clean and follow the path that leads to you being a productive member of society. I pray that the young man who was with us on Saturday stays around for a long, long time.
I pray.

Friday, July 14, 2006

Project Runway

God help me.
I'm addicted to Project Runway.
What's happening to me? Watching a pack of over-the-top personalities argue the mundane and superficial is entertainment?
It must be, because I can't miss it. Maybe it's the passion of the contestents, their sincere desire and sometimes amazing creativity. I'm amazed by the ability to create beautiful (and sometimes god-awful) garments out of nothing. The level of talent this year, if the first episode is not a fluke, is far more consistent and above previous years.
And, BTW, Daniel should have won last year.
I can do without the drama, the manufactured tension, and most of the atitude.
I'll be tuned in weekly, hating myself every minute of the way.

Monday, June 19, 2006

Save Screech's House!


I ask you, what better cause could there be? Poor Screech is being evicted. What would Mr. Belding and the gang say? You can help by buying a T-Shirt on his website!

Thursday, June 15, 2006

Trumpet Cam


For all of us Drum Corps geeks, what could be cooler than a Cavaliers Trumpet Cam?
Well, maybe a Cadets cam, but you must admit this YouTube video is pretty cool.

Monday, June 12, 2006

Baghdad Burning

If you have not yet found the blog Baghdad Burning, you must check it out. Day to day life in the real Iraq, not the one the news and the government want us to believe exists. Here is what the blogger had to say about the death of Zarkowi:
How do I feel? To hell with Zarqawi (or Zayrkawi as Bush calls him). He was an American creation- he came along with them- they don't need him anymore, apparently. His influence was greatly exaggerated but he was the justification for every single family they killed through military strikes and troops. It was WMD at first, then it was Saddam, then it was Zarqawi. Who will it be now? Who will be the new excuse for killing and detaining Iraqis? Or is it that an excuse is no longer needed- they have freedom to do what they want. The slaughter in Haditha months ago proved that. "They don't need him anymore," our elderly neighbor waved the news away like he was shooing flies, "They have fifty Zarqawis in government."

Truly, the internet and the phenomenon of blogging allows us to be directly informed in ways that were impossible before. The events in past posts on Baghdad Burning range from the mundane to the riveting, but it is always interesting and insightful.

Tuesday, June 06, 2006

Bad Birthday


This week marks the 25th anniversary of the discovery of Aids.
For many of us, Aids has had a profound effect on our lives, on our friends, on our community.
For some, Aids is what Forrest Gump's girlfriend died of.
When I was doing summer theatre in my teens, we had a volunteer in the organization I'll call Bruce. Bruce was the first 'obvious' homosexual I had to deal with. Being from a fairly small Midwestern town, gay wasn't something we saw every day.
At one point one season I made a snide remark about Bruce's sexuality in an offhand way, trying to be funny, not thinking he was in the room. He was. I haven't felt so low, so despicable since. I didn't have the balls to fess up and apologize, to turn around and face him, even. It went unmentioned, and Bruce had the good grace to let it slide after that. It never left my mind, though.
About a year later I heard that Bruce died of Aids. In the intervening time I learned that a longtime friend who I'd always suspected was indeed gay, that a good friend from high school was gay, that many I was meeting through involvement in a performing arts activity were gay.
My three best friends on this planet today are gay.
Whatever your 'beliefs' are about homosexuality, the bottom line is that no one asked to be gay, and no one deserves Aids. And the fact that we sit here, 25 years later, still searching for a cure while our administration debates marriage amendments and flag burning is a fitting juxtaposition.
To Bruce, I know it's too late and too little, but I live with the regret of my remarks every day.
To friends that I've lost due to Aids, I remember and won't forget.

Monday, June 05, 2006

Priorities

It's nice to know that the Republican leadership has their priorities straight. While school finances are a mess, Katrina recovery is a mess, Border Security is an oxymoron, and energy independence isn't even a pipe dream, we get votes on same-sex-marriage and flag burning. The Republicans know that they do not have the votes to pass either. But they'll get their 30 seconds of TV and fire up the conservative base.
Our tax dollars at work.

Friday, June 02, 2006

Users

The Cubes - Bob
The Cubes - Bob,
originally uploaded by thepretenda.
Users.

Just the term, for those of us in IT, conjures up images and emotions. Love 'em or hate 'em, they are the reason I have a job.

In some companies, the IT department is no longer allowed to call users “users”. It's become a derogatory term, a pejorative that management wants to avoid. So they're called “clients”, or something similar.

I can see the thinking behind this. We should think of our users as clients, even though they often don't appreciate our work and are hostile to rules and checks we put in place. We exist solely to facilitate their work, to make them more productive, to help them use the technology that we provide in the best way, to it's fullest potential.

But people do stupid things sometimes, don't they?

When I was consulting to the public, one client required monthly visits to clean spyware, pop-ups, and other miscellanea from his machine due to his admitted porn surfing. Since he owned the company, he did what he wanted. His excuse was he had to have 'something to do' while on the phone. He was willing to pay the bill for it, so who was I to complain?

Now that I'm strictly in house for a large corporation with a pretty stringent Acceptable Use policy, you'd think things would be different.

Or not.

I've had user's complain about screen resolution and colors, only to find out that the only time it really mattered was when they were trying to view the latest naked picture that someone had sent them.

I've had to strongly suggest to senior management types that they should consider “cleaning up” their user folder because of “space concerns”. What I didn't want to say was that I ran a scan for *.mpg, *.avi, *.wvm, and you need to delete blowme.mpg and cumonmyface.avi before someone higher up than me spotted it.

I've had users steaming audio while downloading something else, and then wonder why their wan-based connection to our Citrix farm was slow.

I've seen user's machines crash, and then listened to them whine when I made them delete their 4 gigs of illegally downloaded and ripped from CD music that filled up the hard drive.

And of course they all wonder why we need to lock down their workstations and laptops now. Why we need an agent that runs to prevent them from installing programs. Why we force them to a default company screen saver. Look over the top of your cubicle, I want to say. Blame your neighbor.

Tuesday, May 09, 2006

Training (?)


In the world of Internal Technology, one thing you can count on is change. And with endless change comes endless training.
Over the years I've been to all manner of training classes, seminars, road shows, demonstrations, workshops... you get the idea.
But I have never been to anything as mediocre as the SMS 2003 / MOM workshop I just got back from. Don't get me wrong. For someone who has never seen SMS or MOM and has no means to see it until they purchase it, I imagine the seminar would be worthwhile.
(Right now, as an aside, let me say that no comedian makes me laugh harder than Ron White. I'm just sayin.)
But for someone like me, who has access to the software, the class was little more than an exercize in frustration.
To begin with, the material. It was like a paint by numbers, where you only got to see the current number you were painting and never the big picture. It was literally : Do this. Click this. Go here. Look at this. No examination of what you were doing, why you were doing it, or what was going on behind the scenes while you were doing it. Granted, it is a quick three day overview. But a little more depth at the expense of some of the leaving early that went on would have been great. I mean, some people flew in for this stuff. Where were they going at 3:00pm?
Second, the Virtual Environment. Every lab starts off with a five minute wait while the virtual environment fires up. And sometimes after that wait you get to wait another ten minutes while you watch your application load. One memorable exercize took literally 30 minutes to load MOM. I don't need to practice that. Get it pre-loaded. Sheesh.
Lastly there was the instrctor. And when I say instructor, I really mean PowerPoint slide reader, because he did little more than that. "I'm just going to lecture out these slides and let you do the labs" was his favorite phrase. Then he'd move on to tell us about all the classes he taught, his farmland, his car, his motorcycle. Any question too far outside the parameters of the book brought on a "Well, I played with that at home but didn't really get anywhere".
The only good thing about the training was interacting with the other guys in the class, comparing notes. And, it was free. But even at free, I felt like they owed me some money when it was over.

Friday, April 28, 2006

Termination


The vast majority of the time, working in Info Technology is great. It's what I love to do, I work with great people, and I generally get all the cool toys before anyone else. I get to play with many programs across many systems, troubleshoot elusive software issues, and deal with broken Microsoft patches.
But the one thing I hate is terminations. I work with these people, make friends with them, usually know spouses and children by name. There is nothing worse than getting the phone call "I need you to terminate Joe's account NOW and lock his email NOW and forward me anything he might have sent today".
Not fun.
I've had users want to come over the desk at me to get thier "personal data" off of thier laptop. Somehow, the admonishment to remember firm policy regarding data on laptops doesn't seem to sway them.
Again, not fun.
I've had employees come to me three months later and ask "Can I look at the files on Joe's laptop?", which is usually about two months after I've re-imaged it and given it to someone else.
Yet again, not fun.
So what do I want? Not sure. How about a "magic packet" to send down the wire to the workstation, causing to to completly shut down? Nah, too hackable.
I'd rather just have fellow employees who don't screw up and get fired.
As if.

Tuesday, April 11, 2006

For Leo


I freely admit to being a crier. Sappy movies, sad animal stories, hallmark commercials... all are sufficient triggers to bring on the waterworks. Well, last night I cried for Leo.

All of us who love The West Wing knew exactly what was going to happen. John Spencer died of a real life heart attack on December 16, 2005. Ironically enough, it was a follow up to his on screen attack of last year. The shows producers say that, had they a hint of his real-life condition, the on-air attack would never have happened. Since that day we've known Leo's fate.

But to watch last week as Leo was found unconscious in his hotel room, and watch last night the ensemble's reaction -- I was much reminded of the M*A*S*H episode where Henry Blake died.

If Josh was the brains of the show, then Leo was it's gruff and curmudgeonly heart, Leo with his secret AA meetings and his addictive past and his soft center.

It was Leo that handed then governor Bartlett the napkin with "Bartlett for America" written on it. It was Leo that fired Bartlett's first staff, early in the run during the first campaign, and brought in Josh and Toby and the gang. It was Leo in the situation room, urging the President to make the right choice. It was Leo, coming back from his first heart attack, reminding everyone why they were there in the first place.

Watching the actors react to news of Leo's death, it was pretty clear to me that they were drawing on their emotions over the death of John Spencer. Annabeth looked positively distraught. CJ was in shock. And Josh took it worst of all. We never see Josh's father in the show, that I can recall, or hear much about him. Remember Josh's fierce defense of Leo when the addiction scandal hit? In Leo, Josh lost a father figure writ large on his life.

It was a bittersweet ending, with Mathew Santos taking the podium for his acceptance speech, and Josh back in the war room, staring vacantly at the whiteboard. I know what he's thinking. He's thinking about the one that really got him there, the man that has been his mentor and his rudder, and wondering what's next, without him.

In December of last year, America lost a great actor. Last night, West Wing fans lost a good friend. On screen it was a heart attack. In our minds, it was the final end to a terminal illness.

Last night I cried for Leo.

Monday, April 10, 2006

The Book Fair


The book fair came through my son's grade school last week. Book Fair week was always my favorite week of school. I devoured books like they were my only means of sustenence. And maybe they were. A new book, fresh off the presses, was like a rare jewel I had never seen and couldn't wait to lay my hands on. They were things to be touched and felt and absorbed, my tickets out of my ho-hum existence.
I wanted to be ten again, looking at all of the titles. I wanted to buy and read almost all of them. Today's covers and titles are so intriguing in ways that they weren't when I was in school. Charlie Bone and Lemony Snicket, Harry Potter and Julie Moon.
My son is in second grade, too young for the books I wanted. But I ended up with Peter and the Starcatchers anyway, which was of course "for him" when he gets old enough to read it. Maybe this summer, or next year.
I devoured it over the weekend. This prequel to Peter Pan is a wonderful romp by the unlikely duo of Dave Barry and Ridley Pearson. It is long on action and wild characters, wonderful twists and turns, and funny bits here and there. It is also a nearly perfect bedtime reading novel, with short chapters and cliffhangers throughout.
We get to learn where Peter met Captain Hook, and where captain Hook met the Crocodile, and how TinkerBell came to be, why Peter never grows up and can fly... all wonderfully and plausibly spelled out for us. As Peter and his friends jump from adventure to adventure we are effortlessly sucked in, hooked, if you will.
While I certainly enjoyed it and recommend it, what struck me is that I kept viewing the book from an adult's eye, thinking what the kids would think. They'll like this bit, they'll find that funny, I wonder if they will get this bit. I was never really to hoist up my disbelief and just react to the book.
That could be because Peter and the Starcatchers is exactly the kind of book I wish I'd written. I want to give back to the world what was given to me: good escapist books for kids, particularly boys. I"m trying something in the vein of Three Investigators / Brains Benton / Danny Dunn meets some fantastical thing, but not really having much success. I read the book as a writer.
But at the end I found myself wishing I was ten again, so I could run outside with my wooden sword, playing Peter to some friends Black Stash. I could do that today, but a trip to the psychiatrist would probably be the end result.

Wednesday, April 05, 2006

Lazy Town


Call me crazy, but my kids and I are hooked on Lazy Town.

On what, you ask? Lazy who?

Lazy Town is a Saturday morning live action series. It's an action – adventure – musical – feel good – do good – eat right and exercise kind of Saturday morning show.

A who? Exactly. It's entirely unlike anything you've seen on Saturdays.

I'll try.

Lazy Town centers on the adventures of Stephanie, a quirky eight – year – old (with pink hair and invariable pink clothes) who has come to Lazy Town to stay with her uncle. Everyone in Lazy Town is, well, lazy. Together with Sporticus, the hyperactive superhero, they set about to get the town off of it's colelctive butt and out into the air. Robby Rotten is the evil bad guy who just wants to lay around, and tries to thwart their plans.

To let the folks over at Nick Jr. tell it:

Stephanie, an optimistic 8-year-old with bright pink hair, comes to live in LazyTown and meets a zany mix of townspeople including the world’s laziest super-villain, Robbie Rotten. Fortunately for Stephanie, LazyTown is also under the watchful eye of Sportacus, an athletic, super-fit, slightly-above-average super hero, who runs, jumps, flips and flies in his incredibly futuristic Airship to help the inhabitants of LazyTown battle Robbie’s latest lazy schemes.
LazyTown aims to INSPIRE and MOTIVATE kids to get them to make healthy choices in their lives.

And the show's creator says:

Really, when you get down to it, LazyTown is a state of mind. We've all been to LazyTown. When we decide to go "veg-out" on the couch, you could say you're "in LazyTown." Even me. It's a place we all go.

In a funny way, LazyTown reflects characteristics that you see in yourself or in people around you. These characteristics are universal: It's that dynamic of opposites.

For instance, in the show, Sportacus is a driving force. He's fit, agile, and an amazing athlete who's patient, kind, and understanding. He encourages kids through example. He doesn't take the low road. Conversely, his adversary, Robbie Rotten, is all about easy solutions and pulling the group down to his level. Then there's Stephanie, the lead kid character, a wide-eyed optimist who believes she can make a real difference; while Pixel, a boy character, can conquer every video game, but when the situations are real, he has a harder time.

Just like in real life, nobody's perfect and LazyTowners are constantly trying to find ways to understand and improve themselves. I guess that you could say that LazyTown explores the opposing forces that we encounter in our own daily lives.

With a combination of green screen special effects, puppets, live action and hopped up mid-nineties techno bop, Lazy Town manages to entertain and energize. The best thing about is that my kids cannot sit still and watch it. They're up dancing, doing jumping jacks and sit-ups and stretches and running and trying to do handstands: it's a joy to watch them watch the show.

The acting by the human characters is wonderfully over the top, with Stephanie mugging for the back rows and Robby Rotten absolutely stealing the show with his solid mane of jet black hair and enormous (prosthetic) chin. Robbie's chin and Sportacus's needle spring mustache must be seen to be believed.

It's pretty clear that the main characters have had training, and Stephanie and Robbie especially shine. They've both done stage work in the past. Robbie takes his mugging straight from the Jim Carrey School of Flexible Faces, and then takes it up a couple of notches. Stephanie is constantly cute and adorable, and they both manage to sing well enough.

Lazy Town just announced the filming up eighteen more episodes. If I had Tivo, this is the one the kids would make me record. And I'd probably record it anyway, for myself. Too much fun.

Wednesday, March 29, 2006

Give the Man a Stamp


Normally I don't do this kind of thing, but this subject is near and dear to my heart.
There is a movement going on in the SF community to get an Isaac Asimov commemorative stamp. I grew up reading Asimov, everything from his SF to science to Bible guides to his Guide to Shakespeare.

Those of you who are familiar with Isaac Asimov do not need to be reminded of the quality and the quantity of his works. Those of you who are not, please consider the following facts: Mr. Asimov wrote well over 500 PUBLISHED books. This does not include short novels, novellas, essays, etc. And the subject matter was very eclectic, including (but not limited to): Sci-fi, Religion, Math, science, mystery, fiction and non-fiction. The word prolific was created just to describe Mr. Asimov's output. The "Foundation Trilogy", written very early in his career, is considered by a lot of SF fans as the single greatest piece of science-fiction story telling of all time, spanning over 500 years of galactic history. This does not count the two prequels and two sequels written later in his life.

Reading his Foundation Trilogy and other works quite literally changed me, leading me down the path of reason and logic and many great years of inquiry into everything I could lay may hands on. For a mostly complete list of his books, you can look here.
Here's a list of his short fiction.
Here's a list of published essays (1600+!!).

We currently have issued stamps honoring Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwaanza, Thanksgiving, Chinese New Year,Christopher Columbus spaceflight, man's first steps on the moon, space images taken by the Hubble Telescope, John Steinbeck,Edith Wharton, Nathaniel Hawthorne, T. S. Eliot, and others. Surely Asimov, with his significant contributions across so many fields of study, is deserving of at least this small honor.

I'll never forget the day I heard that Asimov died. It was like losing a close friend. I can't help wondering at the treasure we lost that day. How many words were left unwritten, how much knowledge left untold? I was shocked to find out recently that Asimov actually died of complications from AIDS, contracted during transfusions in a 1983 heart operation. A long and productive life to be sure, but still too short.

If you would like to take the time, and fell it is a worthy cause, please send a letter (yes, an actual piece of paper in an envelope (What? You think the Post Office is going to let you EMAIL a request? Hah!)) with the request for a commemorative stamp for Isaac to:

CITIZENS' STAMP ADVISORY COMMITTEE
C/O Stamp Development
475 L'Enfant Plaza, SW
Room 5670
Washington, D. C.
20260-2437

The Woodpecker on Robinson Street


Today I rode my bike in to the office for the first time this year. It was a little chilly -- 43 degrees according to my GDesklets when I sat down at the office. But only my fingertips and earlobes got cold. I didn't ride for the exercise or some altruistic motive like making the environment better. I rode because I love to ride.
When I woke up the first thing I did was look out the window like a kid on Christmas morning looking for snow. The roads were dry. That was all I needed. I got dressed, took care of the necessities, stuck an orange in my coat pocket, and set forth.
See, you can't really say things like "and set forth" when you're getting behind he wheel of your Dodge Caravan. Well, you can, but only to amuse the kids.
A quick check of the tire pressure on my old Giant and I peddled out of the driveway. I left the pressure at about 80 pounds for this first ride, not the usual rock solid 110 or so. My behind needs the little cushion this early in the season.
I took the scenic route in. When I'm in a hurry I'll hop on the main drag and infuriate traffic by riding along with them. But today I was in it for the experience.
A block down from my house was an older guy, sitting on his front porch and enjoying the morning in his way, just as I was enjoying it in mine. We exchanged a wave, and a knowing glance. The fools were inside, or in their four-wheeled metal isolation traps, the glance said.
On Robinson street I heard a the hollow pounding of a woodpecker searching for his breakfast. I stopped and examined the direction the sound was coming from until I saw him, perched high in a tree just beginning to bud. His head was a blur as he dug away for breakfast. I always wonder how they can stand the noise. Are their skulls somehow immune for it? Growing up we'd search out woodpeckers in the forest after hearing the sound resonate through the trees from thousands of feet away, just to be able to point up and say "There he is!". Woodpeckers, in my stories, are always he's.
I saw of pair of chairs thrown out with the trash. They were worn, and had no finish, but they didn't look like the pre-made particulate garbage you can buy these days. They were real, solid wood chairs. But there they were, on the curb, waiting for the garbage truck and the dump.
Behind Cahills I saw a big outdoor grill. Smoke rose from it as a man stood there, apparently just getting it fired up. I wondered what breakfast they could possibly be cooking on the grill. I caught the scent of campfire further down the block, but no food. They must be getting it ready for lunch.
I watched as a couple and their young children came out of a Habitat house. I noticed the way the last child out shut the screen door with care, instead of just letting it pull back with a jam-rattling bang. It gave me a vague sense of hope.
As if for the first time I saw a little lot with three pine trees, immaculately kept, next to a lovely small house.
I saw the giant roll-off garbage bin next to the house with the boarded up windows that was gutted by fire. The bin was full. There were construction and electrical contractor signs in the front yard, so life may be coming back there. I hope so.
I noticed again the child's Batmobile sitting on a shelf, attached eight feet up the side of a tree. Before I'd always thought it some strange token, an odd marker. Today it looked like punishment, a plaything set out of reach for some childhood crime.
I rode through the Renaissance district, and saw the amazing change that is still taking place there. How many people that complain about the cost have actually taken time to go through the area, and look closely at the houses there, and the change that has taken place?
I sat at a stop light, next to a guy in a maroon four door. I was grateful for the respite from sitting on that narrow racing seat. I've really got to find something more comfortable. He was eating a bagel that clearly had just come from the Java Hut. It was still partially wrapped in aluminum foil. We waited while the south side got to turn left, and thought we'd then get a green. But the light did not turn for us, it turned again for the folks going east-west. I threw my arms in the air, and he did the same. I could have just hopped off the bike and walked it across, as the traffic was clear. But I coasted over to the stop light and hit the 'Cross Main Street' button, and moments later we both went.
I saw one other bicyclist on the way in, a young man on a bmx - style bike who would not meet my eye. What was his problem? Wasn't he aware of the brotherhood? A smile and perhaps a wave, or at least a nod of the head, were required. But he looked like he was coming from somewhere, and not really going anywhere. He rode by in silence, staring at the ground in front of him, missing the morning.

Monday, March 27, 2006

Puke

As a father of three kids under four, it seems we've been awash in a sea of puke this winter.

Why not be blunt about it? Every single day for the last two months, I'm sure at least one kid has been leaking fluids out of either the top or the bottom.

It used to be that the simple thought of someone bringing up their lunch would send me scurrying to the bathroom. Not now. I've been inoculated. I can clean it up with the best of them.

I certainly never thought I'd be almost forty and running around yelling "Where's a puke bucket!" while a small child hurls onto my carpet. Arrgh.

And what gets me increasingly is that the younger kids puke with such ease, such nonchalance. They just open up, and out it comes. No big deal for them. I'm sure they think it's perfectly natural, they've been doing it as long as they can remember. But something happens to the puking mechanisms as you get older. Suddenly puking has to involve every muscle in your body, and not just your stomach. We lean resolutely over the toilet and every muscle tenses, down to the toes. It hurts everywhere. I always feel worse afterwards, and worn out. It's physically exhausting. Even if you try to just go with it and not resist, it doesn't help.

Like everything else that goes on in their life, the kids don't get stressed out about it unless the parents do. If we get upset and make a big deal out of a little puke, they start to do the same thing. OK, sometimes it's not a 'little' puke. What mainly prompted me to write this is that I was sitting at the computer the other day and thought someone dumped a bucket of water on the floor behind me. Turned out to be my daughter, letting go. Sheesh. I didn't know she could hold so much.

And then there's my teenage son, who for some unfathomable reason decided to come into the kitchen at 3:30 am and puke in the sink.
And not clean it up.
Teenagers are really clinically insane, you know that, right?

Not long ago there was a fine book called "Everybody Poops". It's the premier potty book. Perhaps it's time for a sequel.

Linux Desktop

I've been playing with Suse Linux Desktop 10.0 from Novell for a couple of months now. You can color me impressed.
I was generally floored that it picked up both the wired and wireless network cards in my Compaq nc6220 without a hiccup. I was connected on both before I knew it. I have to say that the install and config process was as smooth as any Linux distro I've seen, and certainly the best so far. I haven't had a chance to play with the latest Mandrake distro yet, and they generally have a very good installer.
I was also impressed with the built-in Realplayer 10.0, and Novell's bundled licensing for MP3 audio listening. Both of these have long been missed from Linux distro's. The RealPlayer worked without a hitch with my favorite internet radio station.
The bundled GNOME desktop is well up to the task, with no problems getting it up and runnning on the laptop. I'm still playing with trying to make XGL work, the new graphical standard that lets you have things like transparent windows and much more granular controls.
I'd list the software bundles with Suse 10.0, but don't have the room. You can find it here. The only thing I really miss from the land of Windows is synchronizing my Windows CE phone. Everything else I can do 'out of the box' with this distro. There's probably something out there to accomplish this, I just haven't found it yet.
Now if they could just bundle in the Citrix client, the distro would be a valid substitute for Windows in my environment. Granted, that client is ashort download and easy install. I'd just like to see it specifically under Suse.

Friday, March 24, 2006

National Treasure


I finally got to sit down last night and watch "National Treasure" again. I thouroughly enjoyed this movie with Nicholas Cage when I saw it in the theatres, and was only a bit less enamored by it on the little screen.
Cheesy? Certainly. Implausible? Many times. Convenient? Often. But fun? Definantly.
But there are jarring moments.
When they find the Charlotte buried in snow and ice "above the arctic circle", the point where they clear the first bit of snow convienently confirms that they have found the right ship.
When Ben Gates (Cage) has to walk out of the National archives with the stolen Declaration, they of course sell souvinier copies that look exactly like the real thing.
When they climb to the top of the Liberty Bell tower (which is convienently easy), they just happen to be there on the correct DAY to catch the sun where it should be. Or the writers didn't think about the fact that shadows are in DIFFERENT PLACES at DIFFERENT TIMES OF THE YEAR. You know, that whole 'earth rotates and revolves around the sun' thing.
Well, I could go on. Even though this movie was pretty much panned by all of the critics, it is still a good little roller coaster ride for those willing to hoist up thier disbelief for a bit.
Perhaps what I really like is that this is a movie that loves history, with a main character that is a walking encyclopedia of American History (he solves the arcane riddle on the pipe in about two minutes), and isn't ashamed to revel in it. Here are people that care enough about The Declaration of Independence (the actual document, not just the words) to risk thier lives trying to save it.
And I write this at all because I've just learned there's a sequel in the works. Part of me can't wait... part of me is afraid it may actually be worse. Time will tell.

Monday, March 20, 2006

Critters

If you're a budding or experienced author of Science Fiction, Fantasy, or Horror, the best thing you can do for your craft is get yourself on over to Critters and get signed up. Then get a story into the queue and start reviewing.
The world is full of writers. The self-publishing industry is full of writers. Everyone, it seems, has a novel in them somewhere. What sets Critters apart is that is forces participation. If you want to submit a story for review, you have to critique stories that are sent out weekly. You can control what kind and how many come in your email, or you can peruse them all on the web site. As long as you keep your participation level in the 'acceptable' parameters (roughly one critique per week), then when your story comes up in the queue it will go out for review.
I've been "crittering" for two years now, and just sent out my first story last month. I was pleasantly surprised about the number and quality of critiques I received. Granted, some were short and worthless, but a couple were gems where it was clear the author had taken real time to go over my manuscript in detail and make comments. And none were catty, or cruel.
The beauty of Critters is in it's simplicity. Anyone can join, there is no cost. All you must do is keep you participation current to send out stories for review. Critters even has a program in place for review of entire novels. At over one thousand member, Critters is also the largest online writer's workshop I've ever found.
His list of online resources alone is worth visiting the page.
The stories you'll receive for critique vary wildly. Some are woefully bad. Some have little hope. But what I would consider to be a surprising number are either really close or right there, something you would find in a mainstream magazine today. It's hard to be nice to the bad ones (Critters has some helpful hints on diplomatic critiquing). But sometimes it's harder to find negative things to say about the great ones. Occasionally, a grammar-check and personal nit-pick are all they need.
Does Critters work? Well, when I finally apply their advice to my story (I'm letting things 'percolate' for a bit) I'm confident it will be much better. And since members of Critters were Nebula award finalists in 2002, and a Critter'd story won, I think it does.
Critters is the brilliant brainchild of Andrew Burt. "aburt", as he seems to be commonly referred to online, is a professor at the University of Colorado, a Science Fiction author, and much more. His personal page is here.

Thursday, March 16, 2006

Make:

While rummaging through my least and most favorite bookstore, I found Make:. This quarterly magazine is like crack for geeks.

OK, an aside already. How can B&N be both my least favorite and favorite bookstore? Well, I hate that it spells the end of the small, independent store. It sucks. But I can go there, buy coffee, browse fore hours, sit in a chair and read or at a table and use their hotspot access. I'm so torn. When I go in there I feel like I'm cheating on my wife but having a wonderfull time doing it.

So back to Make:. Want to build an electric car? Or a water bottle rocket? Or a robot out of an old mouse? You get the idea. If you've ever taken something apart just to see what's inside, or tried to make something better, Make: is for you. Complete with parts lists and instructions, each project is laid out there for you to try. And with a decided leaning towards gadgets and computery goodness, Make: appeals to the geek crowd like no other mag since Wired.
Articles included building a backyard zipline, an overview of homemade submersibles, and a pulsejet eningine in a glass jar. Heady stuff. My hands twitch thinking of the sawing / nailing / welding / soldering possibilites.
Coupled with this was the website http://www.instructables.com. This site is more of a 'make anything' community, where you can post instructions and pictures on how to build / make anything. From pesto to water-rockets, from book-binding to ipod hacking, it's in there.
If you're a certified geek, these sites are for you. Now I know how I'll be spending my summer.

Monday, March 13, 2006

LibraryThing

I recently stumbled across LibraryThing. I've been meaning to post about it for several days now, but can't stop playing with it long enough.
I'll call LibraryThing a 'community bookcase'. You can enter in your personal cache of books, tag them according to what they are, etc, review them. You can then see many things: who else has them, what other's they have, how many have it, what they thought of it... the list goes on. I keep finding new things to play with. For a bibliophile, this site is it.
Books are ridculously easy to enter. Take a stab at the title or author, and up comes a list. It pulls catalogs from Amazon, the Library of Congress, and others. I haven't found a book yet that it didn't know about. It will list every known edition and let you pick which one you have from a list, and even show you a picture of the cover if it has one.
For instance, I wanted to add 'The Gunslinger' by Stephen King. That's a book with many editions. I started by just trying 'The Gunslinger". That was close. "The Gunslinger King" narrowed it down nicely. I was down to six choices. I have the Trade Paperback edition, which I picked from the list and added. Now I have it in my library, including ISBN and other info, and it was that easy. Now I can go in and enter acquired dates, started and completed dates, etc.
And it's as close to free as you can get. Enter 200 books for free, or as many as you like for $10 (year) or $25 (life).
The real fun is in seeing what everyone else has. There is a zeitgeist page that lists catalogs by several fascinating metrics : most books in library, most popular books, most popular author, etc. I can browse other's who choose to make thier library public. I can watch what they're reading and be notified if they post something new.
I can export and import data, and even add a blog widget to display a random book from my collection.
The zeitgeist page speaks volumes about who uses the service. Science Fiction and Fantasy are far more popular than anything else. The top six books are all by one author (I'll let you guess, but tell you that author has written only six books. Got it?), and we don't find a non-SF/F book until number nine.
I'm just endlessly fascinated by this thing. It creates an intersting community of readers, one that I can't wait to delve deeper into.

Wednesday, March 08, 2006

Jeff Bridges


Perhaps it's no coincidence that one of my favorite actors, Jeff Bridges, has one of my favorite websites, http://www.jeffbridges.com. Charming and unpretentious, it's like literally reading a scroll of the actor's thoughts, musings, and updates. Hand written and drawn, it somehow breaches the gap between reader and writer, making us feel a bit closer to what is going on.
Like many others I 'discovered' Jeff Bridges in Starman, a 1984 movie about an alien come to Earth. An E.T. for adults, if you will, with better acting. Bridges was nominated for an Oscar for his roll here, and diservedly so.
I next noticed him in Tucker, the story of auto maker Preston Tucker and his fight against the system. Another fine performance. Then onto one of my all time favorite movies, The Fisher King. Anything Terry Gillium touches is gold for me.
What, I've skipped The Fabulous Baker Boys? I know, sue me. I saw it then and I think I was to young to appreciate it . It is on my rowing list of Movies to Rent when I Have Time.
I could go on and on here. (K-Pax, another favorite of mine!) Let's just close by saying that Bridges is one the most consistent actors we have today, and he is certainly underappreciated by the majority of folks out there. He's clearly not afraid to take chances (The Big Lebowski, anyone?), and hopefully someday soon the Academy will recognize his work.

Friday, March 03, 2006

Old Man


You know, just when I think I'm OK at dealing with turning fourty, count on the kids to throw a monkey wrench into my year. Count on my three-year old daughter saying "Hey Old Man!" when trying to get my attention. Yes, she's just parroting my wife and I. While neither of us think we're old, we've been together long enough to qualify. So the kids pick it up, just like they do everything else.
It doesn't really bother me, until I start to do the math. When she's thirteen, I'll be 50. When she's eighteen, I'll be 55! Man!
I need to start hitting the earlier mentioned road bike, so I'll be in shape to keep up with her as we both get older.

Thursday, March 02, 2006

Backup, Backup, Backup

One would think that by now everyone with a computer would know enough and be wary enough to back up thier important data.
Right.
One would think that everyone who backs up actually performs a test restore, to make sure that the backup process is actually working.
Right.
Just last week I had a client need to restore a file. She assured me that she checked the backup log every day, and was getting good backups. On arrival I found that she was indeed getting a backup log every day : an empty one. No backups were being made. File gone forever.
I've seen a business nearly fold over the loss of critical SQL data due to the old SQL worm. Again, a backup was being made, but no one bothered to check and make sure that the SQL databases were actually making it to the tape.
These days there is no excuse for bad backup practices. We've all heard the horror stories. We've had clients backing up faithfully to CD every day, only to find out they were making frisbees. We've had tapes go bad. We've had laptops stolen.
What we need is a miracle: a backup process that is real time, transparent to the end user, and free. For smaller companies and home users, there are a plethora of Online Backup companies sprouting up. I've used Streamload for a while now, and the free version isn't anything to write home about, but it works.
Internally we rely on Novell's iFolder to backup critical laptop data, and it just works, whether the end user is plugged into our network or into the internet somewhere.
We all know what happens when a user loses data: the poor IT schlep gets the blame. We've got to play CYA in terms of backup. That involves off-site rotations, test restores, tape rotation, and daily log checks. Huge pain, I know. But it's one of the things you just DO, because when a backup fails it your rear end hanging in the breeze.