Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Gone Away World

I like Kurt Vonnegut Jr. (If I say I like a writer, that doesn't mean I like the person. It might, if I know the writer, but unless I specify, I mean that I like his/her writing and what he/she writes. Also, I use the masculine form of the third person pronoun as the generic.) I liked his work when I first read it in High School, and learned to love the way he handles language when I was at CMU and my roommate N would sit in the hall and read Vonnegut.
I also learned to like mushrooms on pizza while I was there, so some good things do come out of college.
I've not found a writer that I like so much in a lot of decades, so Vonnegut's death in April, 2007 was a sad time. (I thought the same thing as when David Gemmell died - we will never see such stories from them again.)
So I captured the entire text of Harrison Bergeron and put it into the Notes of my Outlook so I could read it occasionally. The formatting isn't good, but the story is still one of my favorites and it's a quick read.
Every once in a while I get lucky, and a book review catches my eye. Quite often this will be from Wired's GEEKDAD section. A few weeks ago Jonathan H. Liu reviewed The Gone-Away World by Nick Harkaway and it seemed like it might be worth a shot.
I loved it.
Now I'm not saying that Harkaway is Vonnegut. I am saying that I haven't had such a fun time, a genuinely fun time reading a book since the last time I read Vonnegut. As a matter of fact, I probably liked reading Harkaway more, but I'm older and I truly think the plot was, as Mr. Liu said in his review, "surprising and awful and irresistible."
I sent an email to my buddy N and told him to read this book. I can pirate a part of that message and apply it to what I think of Nick Harkaway's ability with words.
Reading The Gone-Away World brought me great pleasure and a lot of joy but not the kind of joy you get from cotton candy, where you are liking to eat it, but sort of annoyed that it sticks to your fingers and makes your tongue a funny color, but it's sweet and you keep picking at it and then it's gone and you miss it, but the color won't wash off and you wonder if maybe you should have had ice cream. But some smooth ice cream, like chocolate, or maybe strawberry, but not the ones with artificial flavors because they are really bad for you. Not that ice cream is good for you, and the kind with nuts actually has some nutritional merit, although that isn't why I don't like the nuts in ice cream. It's because I just can't get past the thought of the texture of smooth ice cream versus the ones with nuts and chunks of stuff in them. When I have a bowl of a chunky ice cream, I do find that I enjoy it. More than cotton candy, anyway. Almost as much as reading Nick Harkaway's book.

Monday, July 23, 2012

Stranger Truth

Mark Twain is often attributed the quote "It's no wonder that truth is stranger than fiction. Fiction has to make sense."
I thought of this last night as we watched one of the final episodes of Kyle XY and Kyle did something that was shockingly out of character. We've come to know his personality and this action immediately caused both of us to sit up and say (at the same time) "Kyle wouldn't do that."
{Aside: Darling and I pick completed series and watch them all at once on Netflix. We are almost finished with Kyle XY. It's a fun show with superheroes. No, really. What would you call Kyle and Jessi? They have super-hearing, super-vision, super-strength, telekinetic mental abilities and they are super smart. And though they can't fly, they can levitate themselves. So - superheroes!}
Fiction has to make sense if it is going to work. The minute you put something into your story that doesn't fit, that violates the world you created, you've lost the reader.
Unless you have a good reason and can reconcile the problem. Superman was evil because of polluted Kryptonite (in the movie). Kyle did have a good reason, so they didn't lose us. We felt momentarily betrayed by the change in his behavior, but it was intentional on the part of the writer(s). 
We're almost finished with Kyle XY and then we will move on to another cancelled series. We watch them until we finish them or grow tired of them. For instance, we watched only the first two of the three seasons of the 1999 series Roswell; Season 3 just didn't capture our imaginations. I also only watched the first two seasons of the 2006 series Robin Hood, but couldn't get into the third season after they /spoiler/ killed Marian.
We've seen all of Firefly, of course, as well as all the episodes of The Adventures of Briscoe County Jr. but that's not the same since I own those two series on DVD.
So when I am reading my cousin's newspaper from a small town in Mississippi I have to smile at one of the paragraphs in the section of Police Reports.
"A man reported his ex-girlfriend came to his residence and knocked out both passenger side windows on his car. He said she is mad, because she has seen him at his wife's house."
That paragraph is funny to me (and sad). A good fiction writer wouldn't be able to get away with that in a story because it isn't very believable.
A great fiction writer might, but maybe not. Truth is often stranger than fiction. Sometimes it just doesn't make sense.

Friday, July 20, 2012

Craigslist - Bonus Post

We're working on the remaining items in the old house. Darling decided to have the long-postponed garage sale.
Garage (still with carpet)

I posted the sale on Craigslist.
Darling's best friend D put the freezer on Craigslist and it sold in a couple days.
Encouraged by how well that worked I put the used carpet rolls on the list as well, for free, hoping someone would come haul them away.
All ready in the Living Room
Nobody called. I was disappointed. Guess this stuff didn't work as well as I thought.
Well, it does, but I suffered from that common error on the computer, the one between the chair and the keyboard. I only thought I posted it. Once I figured out my error Darling got more calls for the carpet than she could handle. The guy she told to come get it never showed up, though.
Anyway, I posted the moving/garage sale and it got her quite a few customers. I didn't take any pictures of the house after the first day, but Darling was exhausted last night. After a few calls to the house (in the evening!) asking about lawn mowers I decided to change the posting a little. It now reads:

HUGE GARAGE/MOVING SALE (PEARLAND, TX)
--------------------------------------------------------------------------------
Date: 2012-07-18, 2:07PM CDT
Reply to: your anonymous craigslist address will appear here
--------------------------------------------------------------------------------
HUGE Moving/GARAGE sale. Literally hundreds of items and it all must go, so you'll get rock bottom prices. Selection ranges from vintage collectibles to lots and lots of milk glass, tools, craft items like doll pieces and jewelry-crafting parts. Games, books, toys, clothes, vintage purses and shoes and clothing.
NO LAWN MOWERS! good grief, what is it with everyone and wanting a stupid lawn mower? We don't have one! Most of you have teeny-tiny little yards that only take a pair of shears or a little weed-eater anyway, so go buy a goat. That's the natural way to keep your grass short. And, NO, we don't have a goat either.
TIME: 7AM - 2PM THURSDAY, 7/19 - SATURDAY 7/21
PLACE: {}
DIRECTIONS: {}
PHONE NUMBER: {}

Darling made a few hundred dollars her first day (just about enough to pay to fix the car; it's always something, isn't it?). I guess she was right. It's a good thing to do. We'll see how things look after Saturday and her sale ends.
The kitchen
The formal dining room (with our pool table) was also full of stuff, but the picture was really bad. You get the idea.

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Chamomile Tea


Years ago a link to a funny story on the internet crossed my desk. I captured it, since it was funny and I'm a humorist. (Really. Go look at my Linked-In profile. It says so.)
I had my kids read it and hopefully they understand some of the underlying concepts. Even if they don't, it's become a family chuckle during some situations to roll our eyes and simply mutter the word "Chamomile." We all know what it means. Occasionally I even work it into one of my stories.
Without more introduction, here is the story as I got it years ago.


ACTUAL COLLEGE THEME PAPER - HEY I COULDN'T MAKE THIS UP
Remember the book "Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus"? Well, here's a prime example offered by an English professor at an American University.
"Today we will experiment with a new form called the tandem story. The process is simple. Each person will pair off with the person sitting to his or her immediate right. One of you will then write the first paragraph of a short story. The partner will read the first paragraph and then add another paragraph to the story. The first person will then add a third paragraph, and so on back and forth. Remember to reread what has been written each time in order to keep the story coherent. There is to be absolutely NO talking and anything you wish to say must be written on the paper. The story is over when both agree a conclusion has been reached."
The following was actually turned in by two of my English students: Rebecca and Jim.
STORY:
(First paragraph by Rebecca)
At first, Laurie couldn't decide which kind of tea she wanted. The chamomile, which used to be her favorite for lazy evenings at home, now reminded her too much of Carl, who once said, in happier times, that he liked chamomile. But she felt she must now, at all costs, keep her mind off Carl. His possessiveness was suffocating, and if she thought about him too much her asthma started acting up again. So chamomile was out of the question.
(Second paragraph by Jim)
Meanwhile, Advance Sergeant Carl Harris, leader of the attack squadron now in orbit over Skylon 4, had more important things to think about than the neuroses of an air-headed asthmatic bimbo named Laurie with whom he had spent one sweaty night over a year ago.
"A.S. Harris to Geostation 17, he said into his trans- galactic communicator. "Polar orbit established. No sign of resistance so far..." But before he could sign off, a bluish particle beam flashed out of nowhere and blasted a hole through his ship's cargo bay. The jolt from the direct hit sent him flying out of his seat and across the cockpit.
(Rebecca) He bumped his head and died almost immediately but not before he felt one last pang of regret for psychically brutalizing the one woman who had ever had feelings for him. Soon afterwards, Earth stopped its pointless hostilities towards the peaceful farmers of Skylon 4. "Congress Passes Law Permanently Abolishing War and Space Travel," Laurie read in her newspaper one morning. The news simultaneously excited her and bored her. She stared out the window, dreaming of her youth, when the days had passed hurriedly and carefree, with no newspapers to read, no television to distract her from her sense of innocent wonder at all the beautiful things around her. "Why must one lose one's innocence to become a woman?"she pondered wistfully.
(Jim) Little did she know, but she had less than 10 seconds to live. Thousands of miles above the city, the Anu'udrian mothership launched the first of its lithium fusion missiles. The dim-witted wimpy peaceniks who pushed the Unilateral Aerospace Disarmament Treaty through the congress had left Earth a defenseless target for the hostile alien empires who were determined to destroy the human race. Within two hours after the passage of the treaty the Anu'udrian ships were on course for Earth, carrying enough firepower to pulverize the entire planet. With no one to stop them, they swiftly initiated their diabolical plan. The lithium fusion missile entered the atmosphere unimpeded. The President, in his top-secret Mobile submarine headquarters on the ocean floor off the coast of Guam, felt the inconceivably massive explosion, which vaporized poor, stupid Laurie and 85 million other Americans. The President slammed his fist on the conference table. "We can't allow this! I'm going to veto that treaty! Let's blow 'em out of the sky!"
(Rebecca) This is absurd. I refuse to continue this mockery of literature. My writing partner is a violent, chauvinistic semi-literate adolescent.
(Jim) Yeah? Well, you're a self-centered tedious neurotic whose attempts at writing are the literary equivalent of Valium. "Oh shall I have chamomile tea? Or shall I have some other sort of !@$%ING TEA??? Oh no, I'm such an air headed bimbo who reads too many Danielle Steele novels."
(Rebecca) Asshole.
(Jim) Bitch.
(Rebecca) Wanker.
(Jim) Slut.
(Rebecca) !@$% YOU - YOU NEANDERTHAL!!!
(Jim) Go drink some tea - whore.
(Teacher) A+ I really liked this one.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Résumé Review

My eye caught the headline of a Forbes article about résumés ("sometimes spelled resumé or resume" according to Wikipedia, so I'll just stick with resume, since that way I don't need to manage that odd little accent mark).
I massaged my resume, beat it up, stuffed it into differing formats, and pummeled it to fit specific job niches, all in an effort to perfect it so my reader was impressed. I'm better at writing short stories.
I'm good at what I do, but I'm not good at advertising how good I am. I am famous (infamous?) among my peers for some of my strengths. Excel is one of my major strengths, and I am often asked to help with data problems. (Here at work I am part of a group of people considered SMEs, Subject Matter Experts, for both Excel and Access.) People think I will whip up a brilliant Excel macro to handle their data manipulation (and I can and have) but quite often I can resolve the problem using well-handled functions directly in the spreadsheet. I consider these to be training opportunities for the people who ask and we both go away happier. I get to do something fun (briefly) and they learn something new (hopefully).
How do I advertise something like that on a resume? I have no idea. The article doesn't help me on that. This one might, but I've not studied it yet.
The article makes the point that every word needs to highlight your abilities. That's what I always say about a good story. Each word should enhance the sentence, not detract from it. Each sentence should advance the story, not stall it. Of course, a resume is a story, isn't it? For some people it is their most brilliant work of fiction.
Get rid of the word "experienced" since it is meaningless. You have experience if you do something once. If you analyzed over six million data entries twice a year for the past ten years, that's experience too. Quite the difference though. Remove "seasoned" and "well-versed" too. My resume is already looking bad - and it is based on a pattern from a professional resume company.
For the same reason, don't specify in your resume that you are a "team player," a "people person," or "customer-focused." Give the specific examples that display these abilities. Back to the drawing board on those parts of my resume!
Even I knew it was bad form to say I was "dynamic" on my resume, but only because it sounds so … self-serving. Well, isn't that what a resume is for? I think so, but "energetic" and "enthusiastic" also need to be exorcised from the text. These are value judgments and don't belong in the resume. Hopefully the hiring manager will put these words in their evaluation of your first interview. Work on those qualities during the talk with them.
The Forbes article finishes up by warning you not to put in "References available upon request." Of course references are available, so don't waste the valuable space. Put something in that helps you.
The article doesn't address it, but probably because it is obvious to everyone: you need to tailor each resume for the specific job you are applying for. In the old days (when I first hunted for work here in the humid heat of Houston) you had to stick with a single format. You printed a short stack of them, and that cost money. Ideally we would have tailored each resume then also, but if you had that kind of money then you really didn't need the job. With word processors and laser printers there is no excuse not to tailor the resume for each job.
No if you'll excuse me, I have to edit my resume. Again.
And no, it isn't fiction. That would be much easier to write!

Monday, July 16, 2012

Dogs Rock - Bonus Post

I ran across this a few years ago, and I kept it. This is a follow-up to the previous post. There are two take-away messages from this:
1) We're just human and we don't know everything. We haven't even been told everything.
2) While we're here we should try to keep our sense of humor. Laughing at ourselves is the best way to stay humble.


These two churches are across the street from each other, and each has a church billboard in the front. This is the exchange on the billboards during one week a few summers ago.

Our Lady of Martyrs Catholic Church (OLOM): ALL DOGS GO TO HEAVEN

Beulah Cumberland Presbyterian Church (BCPC): ONLY HUMANS GO TO HEAVEN READ THE BIBLE

OLOM: GOD LOVES ALL HIS CREATIONS DOGS INCLUDED

BCPC: DOGS DONT HAVE SOULS THIS IS NOT OPEN FOR DEBATE

OLOM: CATHOLIC DOGS GO TO HEAVEN PRESBYTERIAN DOGS CAN TALK TO THEIR PASTOR

BCPC: CONVERTING TO CATHOLOCISM DOES NOT MAGICALLY GRANT YOUR DOG A SOUL

OLOM: FREE DOGS SOULS WITH CONVERSION

BCPC: DOGS ARE ANIMALS THERE AREN'T ANY ROCKS IN HEAVEN EITHER

OLOM: ALL ROCKS GO TO HEAVEN


In other news, League of Legends, the on-line team combat game, just surpassed all other games in overall play time in the last year in North America. They had twice as many hours played as the second place game, World of Warcraft. League of Legends was played for over 1.2 billion hours...

Friday, July 13, 2012

Pastor Ron Hindt: Go Fish

Forewarned: A Message about God (the Pastor part should have warned you, but I'm trying to be clear here).
Pastor Ron finished up his series at church last Sunday. Called Back to Basics, it covered the following four areas:
Daily Bread - The Word of God (the Bible)
Knee Mail - Prayer
The Importance of Fellowship
Go Fish - Witnessing
I've liked them all, but I can't think of any instance when I didn't like what Ron preached. He opens the book and preaches the Word and points out where it applies to us, with kindness and humor, but never condescending or patronizing. He also doesn't pull any punches.
He said in the beginning of the message that there are usually four types of people in the church: the uninvolved, the condemners and the helpers. Point at the one you think we should all be…
For this message he also covered what is known to Christians across the globe as "The Roman Road" or the steps you point out to the curious that explain what Christians believe.
Confession time: Nobody ever went over the passages for the Roman Road with me. I've known about it for decades and never bothered to look it up. So here it is (all using NIV).
Rom 3:10 - As it is written: “There is no one righteous, not even one;
Rom 3:23 - for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God,
Rom 5:21 - so that, just as sin reigned in death, so also grace might reign through righteousness to bring eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.
Rom 6:23 - For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.
Rom 10:9 - If you declare with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.
There you have it. And so do I.

The Romans built about 50,000 miles of roads

To sum it all up: None are righteous (we can't save ourselves), all are sinners (regardless of the sin), all deserve death, the wages of sin is death, BUT if you confess your sin and accept Jesus, the debt is paid by His blood and you have eternal life.
Call it after-life insurance.
Let me finish this by making an observation. Many people in my past told me that they didn't believe in religion, and I even have a post on this. I agree. Religion has often been the excuse for massive destruction and pain in this world. Religion is sometimes used by men (generically speaking) to justify their own evil desires. But I need to add a word of caution to this.
Hammers are sometimes used by men to kill and destroy. Hammers were not designed for death and destruction; they were designed for building. Misuse of a tool does not negate the purpose of the tool.
Religion is a tool. It is the mechanism that people use to describe their relationship to their deity. When that deity is a PERSON (even if the deity reflects the desires of the person but goes by the name of another deity, such as Jesus), trouble follows.
We all seek truth. For Christians that Truth is a relationship with the Jesus, the Christ and His Lordship over our lives (hopefully).
The Roman Road is about the relationship. I hope you see that.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Books in 2012


There really is no good way to download a listing of all the books you buy from Amazon. You can capture a file with copy/paste, but it isn't in the best viewing format. What I did was paste it into Excel, then parse the data so I had a Title, Author and Date Purchased. This allows me to look at the data in a number of ways.
For instance, when I first purchased my Kindle I downloaded a lot of free books, most of which I haven't yet read, or were books I read as a child but were free. I did, in fact, read some of the latter. For instance, I read Freckles again, which was most enjoyable. I also read all the Sherlock Holmes books. Elementary, my Dear Watson, which he never really says in any of the stories.
Quite a few free books looked interesting, but I couldn't bring myself to run off and read them right away. Some are historical, such as Bill Cody's autobiography or a few of Teddy Roosevelt's books. I haven't read them yet.
At some point I downloaded one of Jim Hines's books, Goblin Quest and then captured his next three books in rapid succession. They were just too fun not to do so.
The best thing I did with my Kindle, though, was to download The Hunger Games trilogy. I didn't do this because it was popular, but I read a review and trusted the reviewer. I needed something to read to Darling as she went through her surgeries and recoveries in November and December and I chose those three books (in one volume!).
So while Darling awaited her first surgery I started reading the first book to her, The Hunger Games. In the first few pages I realized I made an error in judgment. My poor Darling hadn't eaten since midnight, it was approaching noon of the next day and the first hundred pages were all about food, with wonderful descriptions of texture, taste and variety. She just smiled at me. I did finish reading that series to her and, as the list at the end shows, I downloaded and read the Gregor the Overlander series to her as well. We're working on A Princess of Mars at the moment.
I've decided that electronic books might save me from the situation I find myself in. I own too many books. I own hundreds less than I used to, so I've pared them down, but I am now down to a mere five bookshelves and must reduce the number left drastically. I think that if I am able to obtain a book electronically I should eliminate the hard copy, unless I have a signed edition, it was a gift (or has other sentimental value) or it is one of my Gemmell books.
I think I once thought I'd be able to someday own a library of my own - a real library like in My Fair Lady but that isn't going to happen. Fortunately, AMAZON will keep the list for me.
Although I have to work to make it usable...

Before I go, I want to heartily recommend Nick Harkaway's books, or at least The Gone-Away World. I find that Harkaway makes me miss Vonnegut, and that's a good thing.
I'll give more details of these books in future postings, but there are not any in this list that I wouldn't recommend.

Books I've downloaded in 2012.
Edie Investigates by Harkaway, Nick
The Gone-Away World by Harkaway, Nick
The Prophet & The Wanderer by Gibran, Kahlil
Aladdin and His Wonderfully Infernal Device by Morris, Tee
Hollowland (The Hollows, #1) by Hocking, Amanda
All New Square Foot Gardening by Bartholomew, Mel
Her Own Devices, a steampunk adventure novel (Magnificent Devices) by Adina, Shelley
The Case for the Resurrection by Strobel, Lee
Hearts of Smoke and Steam (The Society of Steam, Book Two) by Mayer, Andrew P.
Falling Machine, The (The Society of Steam, Book One) by Mayer, Andrew P.
Vertical Vegetables & Fruit: Creative Gardening Techniques for Growing Up in Small Spaces by Hart, Rhonda Massingham
City of the Falling Sky (The Seckry Sequence Book 1) by Evans, Joseph
Pellucidar by Burroughs, Edgar Rice
The Galactic Mage (The Galactic Mage Series) by Daulton, John
Adventure by London, Jack
The Steampunk Detective by Pitt, Darrell
Goblintown Justice (Shotguns & Sorcery) by Forbeck, Matt
John Carter: Adventures on Mars Collection (Illustrated) (Five "John Carter of Mars" novels in one volume!) by Burroughs, Edgar Rice
Ingenious (Synchronicity Trilogy, Book 3) by McCloskey, Michael
Industrious (Synchronicity Trilogy, Book 2) by McCloskey, Michael
Gregor the Overlander Collection (Books 1-5) by Collins, Suzanne
Insidious (Synchronicity Trilogy, Book 1) by McCloskey, Michael
The Trilisk Ruins (Parker Interstellar Travels) by McCloskey, Michael
Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell by Clarke, Susanna
Extraction Point! by Taylor, Travis S., Osborn, Stephanie
Six Against The Stars: Book 1 (The Six Against The Stars duology) by Hunt, Stephen

Accomplishments

My darling daughter asked me last night what I have accomplished in life. Not meaning to be flippant, I replied that I have not accomplished much and as I said that my heart sank.
Yet, accomplishments should be measured by the person, not by outside influences. I heard something like that on the radio on the way to work. The two DJ's on KSBJ talked about people comparing themselves to other people using Facebook or, worse yet, comparing yourself to the Christmas Letter. (In the infamous Christmas Letter, of course, you can never compare. The Christmas family accomplished so much during the year and drives most of us deep into our eggnog to drown our sorrowful and empty lives. As one of the DJs said, if you've never received a Christmas Letter, just be thankful.)
So I thought about what I'm most proud of in my life, studiously ignoring the nagging caveats for each accomplishment that impinge on my consciousness and work to negate it.
It actually looked a little like this, with more trees
I learned to ride a bike. That was hard for me, and I had a few accidents that hurt me a lot.
I made my Dad a tie rack when I was in Cub Scouts in Rhode Island. I also made my Mom a pencil holder from a tin can and some shiny things. I also made Mom a bracelet from little wooden blocks and small tiles. (She still had the bracelet in her jewelry box when she died, missing a few tiles.)


I helped Dad build a chicken coop in Washington State.
I worked in a car wash and used the money to buy my own clothes, including an Aussie hat. I also learned to clean a grease-encrusted engine.
I wrote an epic poem in seventh grade (thank you, Mr. Croom). It was two pages typed (on a typewriter) and had ten or twelve stanzas. In fact, an English teacher in high school thought it was a famous poet when she read it. A girl I knew borrowed the only copy and lost it when I was a high school senior.
I wrote an "article" that was published on the first page of the hometown newspaper (below the fold, but I'll take it).
I kept a good job while in high school, working in Atwood's gas station in Rockford. I learned a lot there. Thank you, Mrs. Atwood for sharing your knowledge and your love with me.
I accepted Jesus Christ as my Savior. It would be years until He became Lord.
I bought a car with my own money. I buffed it until it shined, and worked on it to make it run better. I sold it for college money.
I was Mr. Lundee in Brigadoon (thank you, Mitch Rice for encouraging me and being my friend, even when I wasn't). Then I was in the Rockford Community Theater for Hello, Dolly and Our Town
I worked at a restaurant and then at a truss-making plant. I drove an ice-cream truck for a while (Thanks Peg and Pat for teaching me to drive a stick). I also worked at an ice-cream parlor and as a maintenance guy in an townhome complex. I painted a lot of empty townhomes and cleaned a lot of really, really horrific refrigerators. And let's not talk about the basement full of dog poop.
I won a number of tennis matches in an intra-mural college tennis club at CMU (thank you, Rick, for being impressed).
I got an A- in Organic Chemistry I and a B+ in Organic Chemistry II and, yes, those are accomplishments. I got the second highest grade in the country on the standardized final exam for Organic Chemistry II. (Maybe I didn't, but that's what I recall the professor telling me, and he was loathe to do so, since he didn't like me much at all.)
I parachuted my last year in college. I worked on-campus and saved a lot of months to afford that.
I earned a college degree, the first in my family to do so. I worked my way through college, getting a few government student loans to supplement the scholarships I had. I didn't have a clue how college worked back then. Nobody in my family did.
I took a Greyhound bus to Texas at the tender age of twenty-two, knowing only one person here. (Thank you, Nick, for your kindness and patience.)
I got a job (and bought two cars, but that might be failure, so I'll ignore that). I worked there for seventeen years. Then I got another job working on the ISS.
I learned to throw knives and learned to carve and learned to juggle, a little bit. I carved a few things that still exist.
I bought a house. I built a number of really good, raised garden beds and grew corn, beans, cauliflower, broccoli, tomatoes, cucumbers and lettuce. I made pickles.
I rebuilt a carburetor. I did all the mechanical work on our Mustang for a lot of years, including oil changes, tune-ups and replacing engine parts. I actually owned a Chilton's Manual for that car and used it.
I traveled to Mexico.
My friend Raymond and I wrote a computer program for the Blend Area that they used for a decade. Computers were pretty new then. We wrote it in BASICA. We invented our own variable file structures to do it. Thank you, Raymond.
I bench-pressed two-ninety-five with my buddy Kennie spotting me. I ran some short races. At age thirty I had sixteen inch arms and a thirty-two inch waist, and weighed one-ninety-five. Just that extended period of staying in shape is an accomplishment. Thank you Kennie.
I taught college classes at San Jacinto College.
I built and sold about six computers. The user support killed that business.
I helped build wooden boxes (thank you, Bernie, for your guidance and patience). I got really good at doing the finish for them. I made some wooden apples on a lathe, from glued-together wooden scraps. Some of those were really nice.
I actually made a cross-stitch and framed it (thank you Kathy for the inspiration and training).
I fixed a fence. That seems trivial, but I was proud to do so, since it was the fence of people I loved and I did it while they were gone. A stampeding cow broke the fence, by the way.
I made a lot of drawings for my youngest son. Some are posted here. Thank you, my lad, for the inspiration.
I earned a Master's degree (in Studies of the Future), not the first in my family to do so, but it took a decade to achieve after a few false starts. Thank you Dr. Peter Bishop.
I met Tim and Tammie, and Brett Shine. I miss Tim, and still thank God for Tammie and Brett. Thank you all.
I stood stage left, upper stage
I visited Israel twice, with Darling. Both times were with our church group. The first time we stopped off in Germany on the way back and visited Darling's relatives. The second time I had my international singing debut on the stage of Bet Shean, my darling daughter next to me for moral support. Thank you, dear heart, for that.
I was Eeyore in the first production by Kid's Backporch Productions. I was in others, but that was the best, since my darling daughter was Winnie-the-Pooh.
I went on a two-week mission trip to Africa with Darling. How God convinced me to do that is its own story. Thank you Pastor Don. 
Darling and I started a company - Undefined Logic, LLC. She's the President.
My friend Rex and I wrote an app for the iPhone, Techno-Jargon. I wrote a number of apps after that for both iTunes and Android. Thank you, Rex.
I survived numerous heartbreaks, two divorces, a number of disagreeable incidents in differing workplaces, and my own dark nature.
I cannot take credit for any of my children, though they are often a source of joy and wonder to me, and they will accomplish so much more than I can even imagine.

These are the accomplishments. Were I to list the failures the list would be much longer. Were I to list the things I did not even attempt the list would overwhelm me. God help me to be a better man, a better husband, a better father, a better brother and uncle and friend. I cannot do it on my own.

Saturday, July 7, 2012

Songs not Heard

As I sit and work I listen to music, when I can. (Thank you, Pandora.) Celtic Thunder is one of my favorite Pandora Channels. I just heard a song I've not heard before. From their Heritage Album the song is called Gold & Silver Days. They sing of the songs their mother sang to them as children, and how the days were sweet though they were poor.
We were poor. We children didn't know it. I wasn't even aware of it as a teenager. I knew some people had things we didn't but I paid no attention to that. I had a ball glove, a tennis racket. I had friends who had pools and boats, and that made me happy. After all, they were my friends, and I could ride in their boats and swim in their pools. Once in a while I did.
Tom Streeter was one of my closest friends in North Carolina. He owned a boat (well, his Dad did, but at the age of fifteen we didn't make a distinction). He and I used to go out on the Inter-Coastal waterway all the time in that boat and we had a lot of fun.
I don't remember the things we didn't have. Oh, I can remember that I didn't have a bow and arrow or a rifle like Daniel Boone, but only in retrospect. When my Dad said we couldn't have something, we just moved on, physically and mentally, and didn't dwell on what we lacked.
We rode on boats with friends. We used old tennis rackets on beat up concrete tennis courts that had fencing for the net. We shot baskets on the same courts, into hoops that might have chain-link nets, but most likely had only a hoop. It was good enough for the Aztecs, right? (Look it up.)
I remember many of the times Mom made us dinner or Dad whistled for us to come home. We could hear Dad's whistle a mile away. In North Carolina a mockingbird took up residence in the tree by the front door and we could hear him whistle a mile away too. That was confusing.
I remember both of them tossing us out of the house - "go outside and blow the stink off you" was the way they put it.
I can go further back into my memories and recall times in Florida before my brother B was born and I was still an only child. I can still see the small room where my Mom put me down for a nap. I can still see the screen in the window that I figured out how to loosen so I could go back outside.
I do not, however, recall any songs that my mother sang to me. I wish I did. I wish I had a dozen memories of songs my mother sang to me or sang to my brothers, but I don't. I remember hearing her walk around the house humming, but I don't know the tunes. When Mom hummed, life was good.
Frau did that. Once in a great while, for the first few years in the two-story, Frau would go out and get in the pool and she'd sing. I have no idea what the songs were, and it didn't matter. When Frau sang, life was good. The singing meant she was happy. Frau happy meant that Darling was happy. Darling happy always means life is good.
Once in a while I hear my youngest son sing or hum as he does something around the house. Darling and I look at each other and smile, but the smiles are bittersweet.
We'll miss his songs when he moves away to college and starts his adult life. We both miss the songs our Mothers don't sing

Thursday, July 5, 2012

Web Comics

I like comics, and used to scrounge for blocks seeking discarded bottles that I could turn in for a penny apiece (perhaps a nickel - it was long ago). When I could afford them, I'd buy Spiderman or Superman or Avengers, depending on which I was following at the time. Spiderman was my favorite for years. Who didn't want to be Peter Parker with his secret identity and Gwen Stacy as a girlfriend? Then they killed Gwen and I quit following Spiderman.
I still like comics and occasionally buy a trade paperback. I just got one with a rebooted Spiderman, where he gets a job with JJJ to fix his paper's web page. Nice touch. But Spiderman is a different story.
I also love a good story. If the story can catch my attention, I don't really need pictures. But that's the beauty of a good comic - a good story AND pictures.
I follow a number of comics on-line. There are hundreds, probably thousands, of on-line comics on the internet. Not all are equal. Some are simply strips. Some are on-line stories. If they are good, I might follow them on a regular basis.
The ones I like the best right now are the following, and I explain why.
xkcd
Randall Munroe doesn't tell a story. He just punches you in the eye with something funny. One of the reasons I love a good comic is because the author is funny. Randall is no exception. Someday maybe I'll get to meet him, but I'll probably be overwhelmed and go shy-locked. It happens to me more than I'd like to admit. One of my best friends in the entire world started out thinking I was a stuck-up engineer. Eventually he realized I was paralyzed by shyness.
Girl Genius
If I have a favorite (and I do) then it's this comic. As the tag-line says, Girl Genius is written by Professors Phil & Kaja Foglio of TPU, with drawings by Prof. P. Foglio. I've not bought any of their merchandise, but this is a good story, great drawings, fascinating characters with personal twists that keep me on my toes. These guys win all kinds of awards for their comic, and rightly so.
The Dreamland Chronicles
Scott Christian Sava is a good story-teller, and this is a good story. There are enough twists to keep it interesting. The art is good and you end up loving the characters. I dare you not to. Scott puts his books on sale and I buy them. So I have the hard copy of these comics, too. Scott also seems to be a great guy from the little communication I've shared with him.
Day By Day
Chris Muir does this comic. It isn't as good as Doonesbury, but it is from a conservative viewpoint, although at this point we're all sick to death of every politician out there. I'm almost to the point where I would support anarchism, but anarchism doesn't need support, by definition. Anyway, I sometimes support Chris and buy his stuff to keep him in business doing this strip, since it is now his full-time job (at least I think it is). Once a year he runs a fund-raiser to keep it going. That's creative business at its best.
Wayward Sons Legends
Benny Powell does a good job with this one. I don't always get captivated by the story, but I like to keep up to date on it. It has a lot of the gods and goddesses and mythical beings in it, or some form of them. Recently he's moved into something resembling the present day, so that might turn interesting.
SUPERNOVAS
Benny does this one, too. I'm not as sold on the plot for this as on Wayward Sons. I'll give it a little time. A plot with teenage heroes is hard to pull off. A number of story arcs with them will certainly not be easy.
Wayfarer's Moon
Okay, I'll admit, I'm not a big fan of the comic. I've yet to see a plot that reaches out and grabs me. I follow it because Jason Janicki's blog cracks me up and anyone that funny deserves a little of my attention.
Supermassive Black Hole A*
Ben Chamberlain's comic is interesting, but his written material about space is what keeps me coming back for each page. Ben's artwork is amazing. I follow him on Google+ as well, just to see what new art he's created. His discussion of art, technique and methods baffles me, but I love to read it anyway.
Quantum Vibe
Scott Bieser writes this one and it is published by Big Head Press. I don't know what else to say about it. It's a good story and the art is pretty good. I'm waiting to see what happens next; that's a good thing.
Merceneiress
Steve Cheng is a good story-teller and the artwork is state-of-the-art with modeling software. He has an extensive page explaining how he does the art. Sometimes the pages are NSFW, and he displays the characters in order to advance the plot. Not that the graphics are gratuitous, but you're warned. The story seems worth it. I'm wondering what happens next on this one too.
Grrl Power
I'll admit this is the newest of the comics I'm following, and I'm almost not following it. The premise has me fascinated, so I'll keep coming back until DaveB, the author, convinces me I shouldn’t bother. I don't like Sydney's language at all - and the author warns you about it. I'm warning you too.
Quitting My Job And Living In Costa Rica
This one isn't a comic, but they all have something in common. What would I do in my life if I could do something fun.
So there it is. You may not care about any of these, but that's okay. At least I archived them for myself!

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Hooked Up


This is a complaining post, and I plan to name names, so if you don't want to hear me whine, just stop now. Move along.
We had to move our services to our new home, most especially television and internet. Both of these fine companies were more than willing to set us up at our new home, but both have substantial charges for moving.
Oh, it's just a few hundred dollars but I was a poor boy and that's still a lot of money to me, especially for accepting the continuation of a service I pay monthly for.
DirecTV arranged to connect us at our new house on the Friday after we moved everything. That was their earliest appointment. Aside from charging us for the move, this was fine with us. The guy showed up when they said he would and he went to work.
It was a hot day. The skies threatened rain, but never materialized. Just before the guy showed up we lost power to the house. Well, to be fair, everyone around us lost power too (over four hundred people according to the power company - I called to check). The guy was polite and continued despite 1) impending rain, probably followed by lightning strikes and instant death to installation guys putting metal objects on roofs and 2) no way to complete the job since he needed electricity to finish it all up.
As I said, it didn't rain (there was no lightening) and the electricity came back on long before he was finished with the installation on the roof. Which took hours. No, really. This guy admitted he was pretty new and he was up there for hours, drilling holes in our roof. For hours. When I gather the courage I plan to go into the attic and look for the holes, since I'm sure there are some to spare. As the evening wore on he got to the more complicated bits, and he called in a buddy of his to help him.
Don't get me wrong. Both of these guys were top-notch and very polite. The first guy was new, but he was meticulous and that's what counts to me. I'm joking about holes in the roof (but not that he was up there for hours). Between the two of them, they figured out where all the coaxial cables went and what they needed to do to connect our living room and bedroom.
One small thing. They needed the internet connected to finish. That was a problem.
Back a few days. The internet people were very nice on the phone, but the procedure required them to send us a new box for the connection. That would be an extra hundred bucks, but there's some mumbling about a gift card in three months. And they had to bundle our real phone into a VOIP phone and we lose the number that Darling has had forever. Okay.
Oh, and I get to set it up. They mailed me a box with instructions. Cool.
The TV guys were still there when I was finally allowed to connect the internet. Oh, they said, they needed a coax near the internet connection. We searched all the rooms for that, and it was that criteria that made us choose my study (office? We still don't know what to call that room yet) as the internet room. Except the phone line in there had the wall plate removed.
Amazingly, I didn't see that as a problem. I actually have some experience running phone wires (not for the phone company - just in case you were confused). So I checked one of the other boxes in the house and noted that the connection pair was the blue and white-blue wires. I removed the phone jack from the Master and put it in the study. Easy-peasy.
Except it was dead. One of the TV guys had this little device to check it and it should have had power to it, but it was dead, dead, dead. (Why don't I have one of those checkers, I ask myself?) So I went outside and checked, and there are two connections outside, one for blue and white-blue for voice and one for orange and white-orange for data. That was new to me. So I figured I might switch them around, but that's not in my experience set, so I left it alone.
I did all the steps required to set up the internet and it failed. No surprise. I would have been surprised if it worked. After all, the line is dead, as in no power.
So I called the help number. This is where the whining starts in a major way.
The first guy was polite and we walked through all the steps. Of course we did. That's his process. He concluded he had to elevate the problem. "Excuse me, but could I say something here?" "Of course, sir." "The phone line is dead. There is no power." "Thank you sir. I will elevate the problem and we'll call you back."
They did. The next lady was just as polite, though she kept repeating that my connection was bad. At one point I mentioned that I was on an AT&T cell phone, which is who she works for, but though she spoke well and politely, I am fairly certain she couldn't hear.
Again, we walked through all the steps. Reboot. Press this button. Watch these lights. "Excuse me, but could I say something here?"
"Of course, sir. I am listening."
"I mentioned this before but the phone line is dead. There is no power."
"Thank you sir. We will need to send a technician to install your service. There will be a $55 fee and there might be more charges depending on what he finds and needs to correct. Do you understand and agree with these charges."
I told her I didn't have much choice, but she didn't hear me. "Would you please write something down in my file?"
"Yes sir. I am listening intently."
"The. Phone. Line. Is. Dead. I mention this because this is a new house and we expected some power to the line, but it is totally non-functional. I don't expect to be charged for fixing something that should already work."
"Yes sir. I will record that you are in a new house and don't wish to be charged. Do you understand the charges so that I can schedule a technician for you?"
Yes, I did, and the guy showed up the next day. He was very polite. He checked the box outside. Then he went into the attic. Then he came and we went through all the steps to set up the internet and got a green light. I was pleased.
"Was there something wrong with your old modem?"
"No. They said they had to replace it with this one. But it looks the same. I did ask, though, and they said this one was 802.11n so that's okay if it's an upgrade."
He looked at me. "No, these are all 802.11g." The older, slower protocol.
"Really? So this box is not anything different. And I paid $100 for it." He didn't say anything but noticed it was doing a ROM update.
He waited and the modem went into update mode again. "I have a different modem in the truck."
He brought the new modem in and it's a smaller footprint so that's nice. "802.11n?" I asked. He just shook his head.
We have internet and television now, so I'm sure I'll get over it.
Eventually.

Monday, July 2, 2012

New Residence

One of Darling's crews finished the floors. Another contractor put blinds on the windows. Another crew finished the painting. Darling's wonderful brother fixed the plumbing (he is just an all-around handy-man). Fruit trees were planted in the back yard, two grapefruit trees, two tangerine trees, two flowering peach trees and one avocado tree. A new oak tree was planted in the front to replace the erased one, though the new one went on the other side of the driveway. We now comply with the HOA.
Darling hired two guys, Juan and JD, to move boxes on Wednesday, June 27. Darling's fantastic brother showed up to help. Juan had a flat bed for his landscaping business, and he is a strong man. Yes, this is the same guy who planted the half-dozen trees in the back yard for Darling. JD didn't say much to me, just kept moving boxes. Sadly, the new house got pretty full with all the boxes, and the old house didn't look much emptier.
That changed Thursday. Of our three movers, Ryan was the team lead, backed by Jeremy, both with over ten years of experience apiece. The youngest member was Jordan, age twenty-two, with two years of experience. Ryan was taller, lean and strong. Jeremy was stout, with massive calf muscles and tree-like arms. Jordan was young and wiry. We gave them the overview and they went to work. At one point I apologized and said I forgot we needed to move the stuff from the attic. There was a lot more in there than I remembered.
As they neared completion I mentioned to Jeremy that we had a couple safes that needed to move. Again, I apologized for not recalling the existence of the safes. He went a little pale until I showed him the safes. He laughed, said he thought I meant a real safe, like a gun safe. Then he hoisted the first to his shoulder and carried it out to the moving van. Jordan told us how the guys on Warehouse Wars just use a chisel and ice pick to knock the hinges off safes like these. As Jeremy carted the second one to the van I mentioned that I didn't feel too secure with those safes any more. We could bolt them to the floor, they said. They'll just chisel off the hinges I replied. Obviously they weren't filled with gold. That might be a solution.
By noon they were done loading. By about four-thirty they were done unloading, and our new house had furniture.
Thursday, June 28th we were officially in residence at the new house, although only because that's where the bed was. This new house, our new domicile, is still filled with boxes.
So is the old house.