Friday, June 27, 2014

For Darling, Forever

Thursday, June 26, 2014

Legacy and Six Good Men

I’m big on seminars. I listen to the tapes of people like Zig Ziglar and I get inspired. I really do like to be inspired. It makes me want to become the better me. It doesn’t last long enough, though, so I listen to more seminars.
Years ago, I heard a guy ask a question on one of the tapes I was listening to that struck me to my heart. He asked “If you died today, would you know enough good men to carry your casket?”
I had to think about it. My three brothers. Not quite enough. One friend here in Texas, perhaps two. Five people wouldn’t be able to do carry my casket. My sons were too young.
I decided I should be cremated. Then I’d only need one person to carry my ash around.
Seriously, though, it struck me sadly. The seminar was about legacy, what kind of legacy you leave your children, a legacy you leave behind in the world. A legacy isn’t money; it is a set of beliefs, a set of ground rules to live by that they can remember and that will serve them when times are good or bad.
 (Good times ruin a lot of people. Think about that.)
So in the back of my work notebook I tried to come up with something concise and insightful as a legacy for my children. I don’t think I ever shared it with them, though, so that part kind of went by the wayside. Like I said, the better me doesn’t really last long enough. I have always liked the West Point cadet honor code, something I think our Dad raised us all to follow: "A cadet will not lie, cheat, steal, or tolerate those who do."  Yet this code is a minimum fundamental set of rules. I need to leave a legacy broader than that. What I came up with was “Be Brave. Be Bold. Believe.” But after many more years of life I realize I’d add to it. So here is my Legacy List.
Be Kind
Kindness is underrated these days. I hear someone on television disagree with what someone else and they call them all sorts of names. It's an election year, so it's even worse.
I had a conversation with a fellow engineer back in my younger days. He was a few years older than I was, had a crippled arm due to some injury in the military, was an ex-Navy Seal and we were talking about people.
“Take a prostitute,” he says. “We just see a prostitute. But what was she before that?”
“I don’t know,” I answered. “Just a woman.”
He nods. “So maybe she was just a woman. What was she before that?”
“A little girl, I guess.”
“Right. She was a little girl, with a mother and father, and they probably both loved her. She was just like our friend’s little girl, or the neighbor girl. Laughing, loving life, skipping rope.” He was quiet for a second. “When it comes right down to it, we’re all just little kids. We all deserve to be loved for what we might have been.”
True or not, I don’t know. He made me think about people differently. He died a few years later, and the police discovered he was a meth chemist and supplier for the local area. Still, at one point he was a little boy, and he deserves some love just for that.
One thing I did try to teach my children about kindness, and I think they will always remember: If the person you're with isn't nice to the waiter, he just isn't a nice person.
Be honest
Honesty is a hard trait to live up to. There’s the standard joke about honesty. “Honey, do these pants make me look fat?” “It’s not the pants.” That breaks the first rule.
People might stop speaking to you, but put kindness before honesty and the absence of the people who don’t speak to you becomes a blessing. (Read that one a few times.)
Honesty doesn't give you a license to insult someone or be mean in the "spirit" of honesty. An old woman I knew would often say something hurtful to someone and then say she was just "being honest." Honesty without kindness is rude. Don't be rude.
Here’s the really hard part. Be honest with yourself first. As Shakespeare said in Hamlet "To thine ownself be true." Or as stated in Romans 12: “Do not think more highly of yourself than you ought to think, but think so as to have sound judgment.”
Aside from being truthful to others and yourself, honesty is doing right even when nobody else is looking. Honesty is being someone others can trust.
One more thing – don’t think less of yourself than you should. That isn’t honest either.
Be Brave
This might actually be bold...
Life is hard. It is hard to make the right choice every time. Sometimes we fail. But you have to be brave about life. You can’t hide from it. You can’t avoid it.
James Altucher has a basic rule for living life: learn to deal with people. He says there are only four kinds of people: Happy, Hurting, Good and Crappy.
Hang around with happy people as much as you can and understand how they do it. Bad things happen to them, but (without being Pollyanna) they expect the best from themselves and look for the good in people. Funny thing is that they usually find it. They choose to be happy in spite of what life throws at them.
Hurting people are unhappy people. Help them if you can, but if you can’t help, then get out of the way and let someone else help. Introduce them to others who can help them. Be a force for peace and goodness. Be careful, though, since hurting people can become crappy people in your life.
Good people are more rare than perfect gems. Truly altruistic people should be admired and emulated. In my personal experience, they also tend to be happy people, but that isn't always true.
Now the final group: Crappy People. Avoid them. Not all people start as Crappy People. And they aren’t necessarily crappy to everyone. The might just be crappy for you, at this time in your life. You must set boundaries in your life and when people make a habit of crossing those boundaries, they have to go. Remove them from your life. Quit having lunch with them. Don’t think about them. Don’t write to them. Don’t try to point out where they are wrong and you are right. Just part ways, move on, don’t speak ill of them and purge them from your life.
That’s a hard thing to do. It’s a brave thing to do.
For me it was breaking up with my first girlfriend in college. We’d stuck it out for years, and I even changed schools to be in the same university. Ultimately, though, I knew we were not right for each other and I broke up with her.
That was hard, one of the hardest things I ever did, and it was brave. Sadly, I didn’t do good and right things in my life after that, but those are different stories.
Do the brave thing.
Be Bold
Boldness isn’t the same as bravery. Bravery is facing what life hands you and dealing with it in a way that conforms to your code of honor and doesn’t violate your boundaries or the boundaries of others. Boldness is seeing something that would make your life better, make you better, help you and those around you, and making the plan to make that something happen.
Boldness is hard. And it takes one more step after the planning! You have to execute the plan. Do it!
I was bold to go to college. That wasn't an easy choice for me, and I had no family member to pave the way for me.
Of course, bold doesn't mean STUPID
Sadly, there have been many chances in my life for me to be bold and I wasn't. And sometimes I'm not. My life is less rich for my fear.
I tell my children that they have to Believe. Believe in themselves, of course, but also believe in God. I don’t know how people without God can make it through the hard times in life. Even with God I have a tough time on a regular basis.
I know many intelligent, caring, kind and good people who think I am foolish for believing in God. Some wonder why.
That answer is simple. When I needed God most, He was there for me. He saved me from myself, from my life, from my misery. I owe Him everything for that alone. The relationship is extremely personal, not religious.
So I say to God the same thing Jacopo said to Edmond Dantes “I swear on my dead relatives - and even on the ones who are not feeling too good - I am your man forever!"
So believe. If you cannot believe in God (and that makes me sad) then at least believe there is something (Someone) bigger than you are, bigger than anything that exists. It really isn't about you.
Control is an illusion
As a corollary to the one above, you must understand that control of life is an illusion. When you think your hand is closed tightly enough to control the reins of life, the reins will slip, you will fall, and life will trample you. So be flexible and learn to love in spite of life's hardships.
So now I can leave the legacy for my children. For others, take from this what you want, what helps you in your life. I am content.
Oh, and there are enough good men in my life to carry my casket now.

Friday, June 20, 2014

Five Leadership Requirements

At the end of 2012 I wrote a post on Leadership qualities. For various reasons, that's a timely topic for me.

The first leader on my list was Jesus. You have the right to debate his divinity, but if you read the Bible you see he has five good leadership skills that we can emulate.

1) Know who you report to,
2) Know what they expect of you,
3) Keep the channels of communication open and communicate often,
4) Know your goal, and
5) Celebrate your accomplishments.

Someone sent those to me, and I agree with them, but I also notice something else. Those are pretty good skills for anyone, whether you are leading or not.

You might as well act like a leader; you never know who is following you!

Monday, June 16, 2014

Back from Mac

Back from Mac

I've been a Mac guy for over six years. I still own an older iMac and a 2008 17-inch Macbook Pro (upgraded with 6GB RAM and a 256 GB Flash Drive). I use my iPad most days for surfing the web.
Let's face it though - a Mac is not a gamer's machine. I need a PC.
Wait, though! A Mac can boot as a PC. My idea was that I'd get a new Mac, one that was powerful and had good graphics. I need a quiet machine, something I can play in the living room, and the iMac is certainly powerful and quiet. In my experience, most desktop PCs have loud cooling systems. Perhaps I could look at a liquid-cooled machine.

My background with computers…
I was a die-hard PC user. I used computers at the plant from the first day we got one, an IBM PC with dual 5¼ inch drives. When we upgraded to a 10 MB hard drive I was ecstatic.
I taught Lotus 123 at the local community college for three years. Then I taught DOS and Advanced DOS. When Windows 3.1 came out, I taught that. For another five years I also taught the Microsoft Suite of tools.
The config.sys and autoexec.bat files were my playground. When 640K of RAM was the best we could do, we configured our machines at the plant to handle a whopping 1M.
I'm also a gamer, but back then the best games were on the Commodore 64. I bought one of those for home. When the C-128 debuted it ended up in my study. My eldest son was raised on the cheesy tunes from Bard's Tale (the original) and the two sequels. (Bard's Tale 4 was awful.)
I thought the Coleco Adam would revolutionize the consumer computer industry. Never heard of it? Yeah, I know.
I even built PCs for a while and sold them. That didn't last long; clone parts were expensive unless you bought them in bulk and I didn't have the cash to do so. Financially I probably broke even.
In the days of home networks I had at least two and sometimes three PCs networked together - with cables. That's critical. Most of them I built myself. I upgraded all of them.
When Wi-Fi came out I struggled, truly struggled. I finally met a technical challenge that was too hard for me to master.
I bought books. I configured my Wi-Fi network and things would work well for a while, but then we'd drop a connection or we'd get lag. As gamers, lag just wouldn't work. I even checked into wiring the house for internet cable to get around the Wi-Fi problem, but the cost was too much.
My brother told me about a Mac he used at school. For years I scoffed at Macs. After all, they didn't run Word or Excel, so they weren't viable business machines. They didn't have many games, so they weren't viable gaming machines. At this point, though, Darling and I were mostly playing WoW, which is available on a PC or a Mac. My brother told me he walked into a house and his Mac beeped at him. It found networks and did he want to connect to them?
Darling and I bought an iMac.
We brought the iMac home and plugged it in. We were treated to pretty colors, nice graphics, and cheerful music. The Mac asked a few questions about where I lived. Then it told me it found a few networks and did I want to connect to them. One was mine. I'm guessing the others belonged to neighbors. I connected and my Wi-Fi problems were solved. Eventually we added more Macs to the network.
I was a convert. That was over five years ago. Well made and easy to configure, my Mac machines never gave me a bit of trouble. The ones I still have are still working well.

Now, a decision - which machine to upgrade to?
Well, except I couldn’t run PC games on my Mac machines, of course. As long as I was only playing WoW, I was okay. We got bored with WoW. I backed some games on Kickstarter (like Wasteland 2).
In February, my brother and I played a little bit of World of Tanks. That was fun. Maybe I can run that on my Mac, I thought. After all, it is a versatile machine and has a good graphics card.
At this point my iMac is pushing five years old. The hard drive is small and I only have 3GB of RAM. Still I installed Bootcamp and partitioned the hard drive so I could try some gaming on the machine. There was a lot of lag, a killer for gamers. It really looked like a hardware problem;  I needed to update my Mac to play games.
I struggled with that decision. I saved money to buy a new computer last year. I didn't spend it. I saved a little longer. If I got a powerful enough Mac then I should be able to do a Bootcamp partition and reap the benefits of both platforms.
(As an aside, I am an app developer, so I need the Mac for the iPhone apps.)
Then I waited for Apple™.
Remember, one of the major criteria is quiet. The iMac is a quiet machine, the fan barely whispering while the machine runs. That’s what I wanted.
Since I got rid of one iMac (the older one) I was using the Macbook Pro. Though it runs quietly, it also gets pretty hot when it does any graphic-intense work. Even upgraded the MBP still can't run something intensive like World of Tanks. With such a small flash drive I didn't want to install Bootcamp, and I also wanted dual access to files so I could use Word for my writing. I experimented with both VMWare and Parallels (both on sale). Neither worked well enough for my purposes.
So I decided I needed a dedicated machine. Still, I looked at the iMac machines, which are beautiful and last forever, as well as easy to use. For some reason even the Bootcamp partitions don't seem to have networking issues.
Right now the high end iMac machines both have the same basic specifications: quad core Intel Core i5, 8GB RAM and 1TB drive. The 3.2 GHz version can be configured with the NVIDIA GeForce GT 755M with 1GB video memory for $1799. That's a lot of money, and it isn't a bargain for that graphics card. The 3.4 GHz machine comes with the NVIDIA GeForce GTX 775M with 2GB video memory for $1999 or you can upgrade the video to the NVIDIA GeForce GTX 780M 4GB GDDR5 by adding $150.00. Now I'm up to $2149 and I haven't taken care of tax, title and license (what I call the miscellaneous purchase costs).  Ouch. On top of that cost I'd still need to purchase Windows for a Bootcamp partition.
I dithered. I studied.
Then MSI came out with a machine that caught my eye.

The MSI GE70 2OE-071US Gaming Laptop
These are the specs:
Intel® Core™ i7-4700MQ 2.4GHz Processor (speed a bit less, but it is an i7. According to MSI it will "turbo boost" as needed up to 3.4GHz.)
NVIDIA GeForce GTX 765M 2GB GPU (better than the lower end, a bit less than the high end)
12GB of DDR3 memory (more memory is always good)
1TB 7200 RPM Hard Disk Drive (the same)
17.3 in. full HD non-reflection display (smaller, but it is a portable)
Backlit keyboard (almost a must-have and certainly nice)
Windows 7 Home Premium (I prefer this over Windows 8 right now, especially since the machine does not have a touch screen)
Blu-ray player (not expected, but nice to have, and the iMac no longer comes with a drive at all)
Of course the usual 802.11 b/g/n and Bluetooth 4.0 are part of the machine. It also has an HDMI port, as well as 2 USB 2.0 and 2 USB 3.0 port and headphone and microphone jacks.

I won't say how much it cost me, but I got quite a good deal, spending almost half of what my high-end iMac would cost me. It has to be quiet and the few reviews on the machine said it was.
It weighs a bit over six and a half pounds, with a height of 1.54", a width of 16.46" and a depth of 10.61".
The machine arrived yesterday afternoon.
After six hours of jacking with it I finally have DirectX 9 installed and World of Tanks runs. I was too tired to play it, and my brother wasn't on line that late anyway.
I remember one of the main reasons to avoid a PC - bloatware. I tried to download the correct DirectX version for WoT and every site I tried installed malware. Some succeeded at installing malware, and I know what I'm doing.
I hate malware.
By the end of the setup session last night my IE was non-functional, Google Chrome was filled with bloatware and only Firefox saved me.

I'm going to keep a journal of my trip back from Mac and how I rebuild this machine the way it needs to be built. Watch for it. Maybe I'm relearning why I went to the Mac…

UPDATE: I wrote this more than six months ago, but neglected to post it. The MSI is a sweet machine, and my only regret is that it weighs so much - a noticeable problem when we made a few trips. Aside from that, the gaming has been good and it runs applications without a hiccup.

I don't need the Mac...

I did buy Darling a new iMac after I wrote this and I configured it as a dual-boot using Bootcamp. The Windows partition on her machine runs everything flawlessly too, on a beautiful large screen. Just sayin'... I guess I did  have more than one option!

Still, I'm back in the PC world. Hello World!

Thursday, June 12, 2014

Is our Nation Just or Legalistic?

The government is intimidating and harassing my youngest brother. The justice system that he served for over twenty years (as a corrections officer) turned on him and ruined his finances, his future and his life. Gone is the cheerful smile that I remember as we grew up, gone the man who sought ways to help his community and others. "Guilty until proven innocent" now makes him a recluse, even from his own family.

I used to have faith in our government and our justice system. I'll grant that my faith in the American way slowly eroded over my almost sixty years, but it entirely collapsed when unknown people drove my brother to despair in the name of the law, but certainly not in the name of justice.

Citing justice, they practice oppression. Where are the freedoms our forefathers fought for? My youngest brother served in the military, as did my other two brothers. My father retired as a Navy chief. My mother served in the Navy when she was young. The  men and women who shed blood for our freedoms are now being hounded by the very government they served.

My brother isn't the first, but he won't be the last.


Communication is hard to do well. Speaking is a poor imitation of thinking, so I'd rather be silent.

Sometimes we have to communicate. There are certain basic principles for ensuring that we understand and are understood.

Listen Actively
For some reason people think this means to interrupt and complete other people's sentences. It doesn't mean that at all. It means keep your mouth shut and your ears, eyes and mind open. Show the other person you understand that they have strong feelings by listening to what they feel strongly about and why they feel that way.
Yes, they might be saying something you disagree with, perhaps to a large degree. But you have to listen to understand and you must try to hear what they mean.
One of the smartest things I ever heard anyone say about communicating was to start with the sentence "I agree with you" and then listen carefully for where you have common points.

Be Heard
Now you have the chance to be heard. Start with acknowledging that they have a right to believe what they do. Look for the common points between you and focus your discussion on those. Where you have a different viewpoint, acknowledge that it is your viewpoint, and they don't have to share it (although we want them to, don't we?).
Explain your feelings and make your dissenting points firmly, but remain friendly.

Find a Joint Solution
One of my favorite verses in the Bible is "Whatsoever you do, so far as it depends on you, be at peace with all men." It doesn't say men of like mind - it states "all men" (and, of course, women).
Gather their thoughts on your ideas. Build on those to something common between you. Offer your own ideas. The concept is to build something that will work between you that is acceptable. Don't seek for the "global thermonuclear war" option - where you want to be the last man standing. Seek to understand, be understood and work for common goals.

Don't compromise your principles
Some will think I mean you should compromise, and you can compromise on feelings and desires, but never compromise your core principles. By now you should know what they are and they comprise who you are.
Thomas Jefferson said it well: "On matters of style, swim with the current, on matters of principle, stand like a rock."

I reference the cadet honor code in another post where I talk about principles"A cadet will not lie, cheat, steal, or tolerate those who do."

Sometimes, no matter how much you might want a compromise with a person, it just won't work out. That's okay. It's a big world, and everyone has the right to their own beliefs - even if they are wrong (according to you). Sometimes you must simply let go of the relationship or agree to disagree and focus on other common issues.

You have a right to your beliefs, too, without persecution by others.

Friday, June 6, 2014

Three FREE Short Stories on Smashwords! (and more)

You might be wondering where I have disappeared to. Aside from not having much to say (and my kids just roll their eyes at that statement), I am currently working on one of my novels.

I won't tell you much about it, though if you're a regular reader, you've seen the first draft of the first chapter. It is much different now, but the working title remains as Zombie Apocalypse: Vampire Raiders of Las Vegas. Yes, everyone rolls their eyes at that, but it will be a good story - or at least a fun one. It is still a few months away from being published. (Hey, I have a day job, too.)

However, I decided that I needed to publish some of my short stories (which are mostly short, short stories). I dropped the first one out on Smashwords tonight. Long time readers might recognize it, too.

Why Smashwords and not Amazon? Well, Amazon doesn't really let me put my stories out there for free, and I don't feel right about charging for my short stories. I also hear Amazon is negotiating with some of the major publishers and rumors say it will result in lower percentages for authors. They are the three-hundred pound gorilla out there, after all.

So Smashwords it is! Smashwords lets you download just about any e-reader format, so you shouldn't have any problems. If you like my stories, please leave a review. 

If you don't like my stories... why wouldn't you like my stories? Send me email! Click the pictures to go download my new books!

I call the first one The Duel, which is my first von Crapp Brothers Tale.
The Von Crapp Brothers, Adventurers, become embroiled in an unwanted duel in renaissance Italy. Will BA von Crapp finally kill everyone?
A short, short story.

The next von Crapp Brothers Tale is Safari in the Mist. It's a little longer. If you're a fan of H. Rider Haggard, you're going to like these guys and this adventure. The von Crapp Brothers, Adventurers, embark on a Safari into the heart of the Congo, searching for the People of the Mist. Once they find them, will they be able to leave?

The final short story published is really short, but I thought it was a lot of fun. Darling wants me to make it into a novel, and I might... I call it Psychic Toll CallThe call woke Frank in the early morning hours. The sultry voice offered him a better life, but at what cost?

Also on Smashwords for free is the book I wrote with my wife and it's still relevant (sadly): The Fiscal Cliff.  What is the Fiscal Cliff? What can you do, as an individual, to protect yourself from some of the effects of the Fiscal Cliff? We review what it is, and what you can do.
Available on Amazon in paperback, too.
We might make a sequel (which I'll call The Fiscal Chasm) but that's a lot of work - and I have a novel to finish.

On Smashwords and Amazon, I still have My Mother-in-law Misadventures, the collection of stories of living with my mother-in-law for ten years. If you're a regular reader you know all about this one. I didn't make it free, though. Still, it IS worth a read if you want a few laughs. This one is also available in paperback on the Amazon site.

Finally, for you technical folks out there I did put together a book on how to Organize Your Kindle Book Titles in Excel, but it is only on Amazon and I didn't make it free. It has a lot of Excel tricks in it, though, and it's worth the price. This one is a precursor to the book I'm writing on Managing Big Data Using Excel (working title), even though some MIT profs think you can't do that. Well, you can, but only for small sets of Big Data! Ponder that. Even so - Excel Tricks to Organize Kindle Book Titles might have been a better title for this one.

So - Enjoy! And post nice reviews. Thanks!