Archive for Random Thoughts

Simply having a wonderful Christmastime

Yes, those gargoyles are wearing Santa hats.

Today is the twelfth day of Christmas. That means tomorrow we start undecorating.

Yes, those gargoyles are wearing Santa hats.

Yes, those gargoyles are wearing Santa hats.

Despite the sadness and tears, this was a good holiday.

Happy Holidays!

To play, perchance to game!

Perchance To Game

Perchance To GameThe voting went well. I’m playing Bastion now, and if you are friends with me on Steam you’ve probably seen and will continue to see me sharing screenshots. I’ve also begun writing about the game, making sure I jot down my feelings as I go rather than try to do it all at the end. Most importantly, though, I’m playing.

I hadn’t realized how much I missed gaming. Going through these Humble Bundle games is going to be great fun. But in additional to that, I’ve still got a bunch of Xbox games and other non-Bundle games to play. I need to start kicking more TV shows to the curb and playing more games!

Anyway, this post also serves to just say that voting is still open, so you can still help me set my next game, and the game after that, and the game after that, and so on… And there will be more polls in the future, because I would be insane to have installed an plug-in for WordPress to just use once.

There are no secrets on the Internet

The Secret

The SecretI wish this were obvious to more people. Even when a website claims to provide you privacy, it doesn’t. Simply the nature that the data – the text, the photos, etc – are stored somewhere else means that they can be gotten to. There is a nice article on this subject over at TechCrunch.

Long ago, back in 1998, I decided to start a blog. Back then it was called a .plan, but still, same thing. Before posting my first post I had a long conversation with myself. The moment I put something online, it could be copied and stored by others. It would be like have a conversation with a friend, knowing that the conversation was being recorded. The recording would exist and I would never know for certain who listened to it unless I had the only copy and destroyed it. Even then… Ultimately, I decided that I would post online, and nearly fifteen years later here we are.

That said, there are things I don’t explicitly talk about. I try as often as possible only to post about myself and my own feelings. I try to avoid stories that involve other people unless I can find a way to tackle it from my perspective with minimal impact on them. I have a wife, whose name is probably not hard to discover if you wanted to dig, but I don’t mention her by name in my writing, mostly because if I did I would feel the need to have her clear what I wrote before posting whereas if I just call her “the wife” or “my wife”, I feel okay just running with it. The same goes for much of my family and friends, mentioned in generalities but never specifics, unless they want to or unless they are no longer with us.

I’m very careful about posting photos… of other people. Dig here and you’ll find a shirtless photo of me. I’d advise against it. The only reason I posted it was an attempt to motivate myself to exercise (it didn’t work). I’d never post something like that of someone else without their permission, and explaining to them how the Internet works.

See, I’ve got nearly fifteen years of content on this site. I could go back and delete some of the older embarrassing stuff, but it wouldn’t go away. Google has a copy, as does the Internet Archive, and perhaps a stalker or two. Once released into the wild, it’s out of my control.

Even inside a walled garden, like Facebook. If you post a photo, even if you make it private and set the visibility to “Only Me”, that photo still exists on a server in the Facebook farm of servers. It can get hacked. Some people, specifically celebrities, have discovered things like if you put private photos on a service like flikr or elsewhere, people can hack those sites, get your photos and publish them on placed like the Encyclopedia Dramatica, at which point they are public and will exist in Google searches forever being reposted time and time again by people seeking hit/pageview/impressions driven revenue.

Your Facebook, your Flikr, your Twitter, your LiveJournal, etc, etc… no matter how “secure” you think they are, they aren’t. You should assume every time you post anything to the Internet that it is public and permanent – everyone will see it and it will never go away.

Anyway, enough seriousness. Let’s end this with a song…

I resolve.

Resolve

ResolveThe title is to be read with the punctuation.

I wasn’t going to write a kick-off Happy New Year post, but then I thought about the fact that I’ve done one every year since 2002, so I couldn’t just let it go. I was looking back at last year’s post. I don’t think I was terribly far off for predictions of how the political arena would turn out. While I am thrilled at some of the people who got turned out on the street, I also think the people replacing them are still politicians and have no interest in actually making things better for everyone.

I was also completely wrong. There was an Apocalypse in 2012, but it was a personal one, and it happened just after Thanksgiving with my father’s passing. I never imagined I would be 38 and parentless.

That combined with a number of other things is why my resolutions will be so simple this year. There are two.

First, I resolve to write every day. It is so generic and simple. I am giving myself every possible chance to succeed.

Second, I resolve. Like the title of this post, that is meant to be read with the punctuation, “I resolve, period”. I’m going to work on planning things less and doing things more. The problem with planning is that you can feel accomplishment when you plan. You finish the plan, it feels good and then… you never get started. So, less planning, more starting.

And that starts today… see you later… I’ve got stuff to write.

The Pinewood Derby

Pinewood DerbyAs a Cub Scout, every year I looked forward to the Pinewood Derby. If you have no idea what that is, allow me to educate you. You get a box, which contains a block of wood, four plastic wheels and four nails. The wood has two slots cut into one side, in which you would use the nails to attach the wheels. Before you put the wheels on, however, you cut and paint the block of wood into a car.

The main reason why I looked forward to the derby was because I got to use my dad’s tools to make the car. Cutting and sanding, forming the shape I wanted. My father would supervise and maybe nudge me along if I was doing something completely and totally wrong, but for the most part, I made my own car. It was one of the many things my father encouraged that lead to me being unafraid of working with my hands. The post last week about my car was one thing, but around the house I’ve fixed a broken fridge, installed ceiling fans and lights, run wires for new outlets, built furniture, and more.

The second thing I looked forward to was actually racing the car. It a simple race, the cars lined up at the start down a steep drop and a long straightaway to the finish. I never won. Not once. But, my car always finished, which is better than some. The kids who always won, you could just look at the cars and know that most of them probably watched while their fathers made the car. They were too sleek and properly weighted, too aerodynamic. And this was before the Internet made it easy to go look up a design to copy. I mean, what 8-year-old kid would think to counter sink weights into the front of the car at just the right places to properly pull the car down the drop start of the track but not so heavy or poorly placed to slow it down on the straightaway. Most of the winners looked like professionally designed and painted cars.

On the other hand, the losers, like me, had cars with superhero logos and often bizarre shapes, you know, a kid’s idea of aerodynamic born of cartoons and science fiction. I never got a trophy, except when they started giving out those silly participation ribbons – yes, we had those even back in the 80′s, it’s not a new phenomena – but I was always proud of my car.

Looking back, I’m happy that my dad let me make my own mistakes and didn’t protect me from failure. I think most people are defined not by their wins but by how they recover from their losses. I’ve had my share of blows in life, been knocked down a time or two or twenty, but here I am, still standing.

I think I’m going to buy a Pinewood Derby kit and make myself just one more car…

Blue Christmas

LegoChristmasBanner-Blue

As long as I could remember, it had always been “us” on Christmas Day. My mother, my father, my older brother, my younger brother and me. My mother passed in 2003, and since then the four boys continued on. But then my younger brother and his wife had a son, and who could deny a child the joy of Christmas morning at home? Not me, not when those were some of my favorite memories.

I was in search of a new tradition.

My wife and I decided that we would take my father out for breakfast. That would be the new thing. We did that a couple years, and now… my father is gone. From his passing on the 28th of November to now the time just slipped away. We’ve made no plans. Christmas morning will just be us and the dogs.

Just before he died, just after Thanksgiving, the last time I saw him in person, I was getting him to sign checks for Christmas gifts. Every year he sent money to the children from his first marriage, my half-brother and half-sister, and he gave my brothers and I money with which to purchase gifts in his name for our families. In my case, for me to purchase something for my wife, and for my wife to purchase something for me. Christmas morning we will be opening the last Christmas gifts from my father.

As if that were not enough, two years ago, one of my best friends died on Christmas Day. This year, much like last, I can only assume he will be heavy in my thoughts.

This evening we will join with the rest of my family for some gift exchanging and such, and I am certain there will be merriment and cheer, yet a pall will fall across the whole of the day.

I expect, however, that many of you are not weighed down with sorrows so fresh. So, though my heart is heavy this year, I wish to you all, sincerely, a very merry Christmas.

Shhh… it’s a secret!

nomail

nomailThe past few years, I’ve participated in a Secret Santa event from a community I belong to. Two years ago, it was just Quarter to Three, and last year too. This year it’s Quarter to Three and Broken Forum. The first year I participated in it, I was lame. I bought items from my Santee’s Amazon wish list based on a theme – all comic book related – and wrapped/packed them in old Comic Shop News issues. Last year, however, I took it upon myself to again pick a theme but to include something crafted, something unique. It went over extremely well.

Last year, I bought my Santee a couple of book in the Steampunk genre, and then I took a copy of his wedding photo and redid it as Steampunk. It’s the first image below.

This year, I was participating in two exchanges. For one, I went with a space theme – more specifically, Gundam. I got him a model that he wanted and then made up a photo to go along with it. It’s the second image. For the other, my Santee did not provide his wish list and he was fairly difficult to stalk because he actually keeps to himself a lot, but luckily he said he’d be open to anything. Since I’m a big zombie fan and he’s a chemical engineer, I decided to get him a selection of my favorite recent(ish) zombie books and created a photo of him working on zombie formulas in his lab. It’s the final image.

I’ve really enjoyed doing these, and I look forward to doing more of them in the years to come.

Serpentine

SerpentineOnce upon a time, a man could reasonable answer a request to perform a task with “I’m sorry, but I really don’t know anything about that.” In this modern age, however, saying that is equivalent to saying “I’m sorry, but I really am too lazy to Google that.”

When I was a kid, fifteen, and preparing to get my learner’s permit for driving, my father took me out to the car one day and popped the trunk. He showed me where the spare tire was and the jack and the lug nut wrench. He explained that even though many cars are different, there are standards and all the pieces I should need to change a tire were in the car somewhere. My father then showed me how to change a tire. Or rather, he pulled the car manual out of the glove box and showed me where to find the instructions on how to change a tire.

Years and a couple of cars later, I had my first ever flat tire. Pulled over on the side of the road, I didn’t panic or worry, I simply went to the trunk and located the spare, the jack, and the wrench. I got the manual out of the glove compartment and looked up where it told me the jack should be placed to lift the car without damaging it. Then I changed the tire.

That story is a perfect example of the two things by which I live most of my life: general knowledge and knowing where to go for more information. As a computer programmer, my entire philosophy and success is based on knowing the general principles of logic and programming, and then having books and websites I can go to to learn the specifics. If you corner me in an alley and ask me to program in JAVA or .NET I would possibly do okay, but it would be a struggle. Ask me while I’m at my desk, however, and I’ll pull out a book, open a few sites and get to work.

Last week, the serpentine belt came off my car. It didn’t break, it just slipped. I knew this was coming as I knew there was a previously diagnosed problem with the water pump I had been ignoring until I could afford to have it fixed. I’m not much of a car guy. I know the general principles on how engines work and what makes a car go, I know why oil is important and other tidbits, but I’m definitely not the guy you’d rely on to call up specific details on the fly. It’s just not my thing. However, I do have the Internet.

You see, I knew the car needed to get fixed, but I didn’t want to pay a couple hundred bucks for a tow to the shop. I knew that if I could put the belt back on, I could limp the car there on my own. So I Googled it. “1998 Jeep Cherokee serpentine belt”. I found dozens of websites and even instructional YouTube videos on the subject. I read, I watched, I grabbed my tools and headed out to the car. I put the serpentine belt back on and was able to limp the car to the shop.

Whether we know it or not we are learning all the time, and we may only come to realize the things that have become essential to the core of our being much later. Standing with the hood open, wielding knowledge from the Internet, my arms reaching down threading the serpentine belt back onto the pulleys, that’s when I remembered how I learned to change a tire and how the lesson I learned that day formed the person I am today.

Thanks, Dad.

Jerk Turkeys

My father knew how to swear. He’d been in the Naval Air Reserve and they don’t say “swears like a sailor” for no good reason. I occasionally heard my father employ the profane arts – often when he thought we weren’t around or was caught unawares by an errant swinging hammer or broken appliance. Despite all that, in deference to my mother, dad tried not to swear in front of the kids. This lead to his using words that were less harsh in the place of stronger words, or creating new word couplings that expressed his ire while remaining friendly to children’s ears.

The one I remember most of all is “jerk turkey”. The first time I heard it was in the car, after someone had cut him or done something stupid and my father called him a “jerk shit” which earned him a scolding from mom. Later when another road incident angered him, he reached for the same insult. “Jerk” came out strong but then he faltered. There was a pause as he searched for a suitable replacement for “shit” and finally “turkey” burst out of his mouth. Being older now, I can probably guess that the mental connection came from “turkey shit”, another popular phrase I had heard people utter from time to time, and my dad simply removed “shit” from both of them and slammed those two remaining words together.

“Jerk turkey” became a staple of my father’s lexicon. Other drivers on the road were prime examples. Also, umpires who make bad calls in games dad watched on TV. Comcast is a company full of nothing but jerk turkeys, from their technicians to their customer service. The guy who delivered his newspaper, also a jerk turkey. The wait staff as well as the kitchen staff at Chili’s who never got any of his orders right, ever – jerk turkeys, the whole lot of them.

The last people I ever heard my father call jerk turkeys were the staff at the two rehab facilities he was in before his passing. In both places, due to his high blood pressure, they placed him on “no salt” diets. Dad liked salt on everything. Food wasn’t worth eating if it wasn’t salted. And so, the people who refused to give him salt – jerk turkeys.

In my life, I’ve been known to swear. Very, very rarely ever around my father, but among friends when there are no kids around, I can soil the air with foul words just as well as anyone. I think, however, in the future, I’m going to try to do it less, but there are times when you need something to call people, something to yell at the top of your lungs and get the ire out.

Jerk turkey!

Your Business Model Stinks

mechanic

I really wish this were a gaming post, but it isn’t so…

Mechanics. I always hear people talk about how they know a good one, but they never seem to want to give up that name, so most of use have to drive our broken cars to the local auto shop and prepare to be ripped off.

Let me just get this out there. Every single auto mechanic I have ever been to has always been nice and is probably knowledgeable and not a complete thief, but their business model is terrible and shitty and it makes me think of them as crooks.

So, my car is busted. Doesn’t matter how, there is something not working or it is making some sort of sound. I take it to the shop. I tell them the problem I am experiencing and they agree to look at it. They give me a complimentary ride home. Later they call and say, “$800.” I say, “Fix it.” Then they call back, “While we were looking at that thing, we noticed this other thing. $300.” I say, “Fix it.” Again they call, “So we pulled out the thing to fix the thing and found that the noise we couldn’t identify from before is coming from over there. $400.” I think about it, push some numbers around in my head, “Fix it.” They call again, “Turns out that the original issue wasn’t just a little broken, it was totally broken, so it’ll be $200 more.” “Okay, fine.” “Oh, and since we are already charging you $400 in labor to dismantle the whosiwhatsis, we looked at the thingamabob and it’s broken. If you fix it now, $300, but if you fix it later we’d have to charge the $400 labor for dismantling again, so?” “Go ahead and fix it.”

I’m up to $2,000 now, on a car that is only worth about $1,500. But I’m okay with that. It beats having a monthly payment since fixes like this only come along once every couple of years. Then they call again, “We’ve got your car up on the rack and noticed that you have a bunch of other problems, all of which are going to lead to your immediate death should they not be fixed, $2,000.” Now I’m angry.

If I had been told, up front, they would charge me a couple hundred to do a complete systems check and give me a full accounting of problems and come up with a $4,000 price tag, I’d have gladly paid them the couple hundred bucks and bid them a good day, sell the car for scrap and get a new (used) car. But the nickel and dime stuff, slowly climbing from a reasonable cost to a bearable cost to a completely unreasonable cost is for shit. Why in the hell would I spent $4,000 to fix a car that isn’t worth $1,500 in full working order?

So here I am, paying $2,000 to half fix a car when I probably could have taken that $2,000 and bought myself a used car that was in better working order. Mechanics, this is bad and you should feel bad. You might have successfully gotten my money, but you have lost my business, and now I’m going to go around bad-mouthing your store, America’s Service Station in Woodstock Towne Lake. I used to like you guys, you did alright by me for a few years, and now you’ve lost my business forever. Suck it.

And to top it off, when I explained my position to the office staff there, they just shrugged and said it isn’t their place to take the value of the car into consideration when repairing it, and they also don’t do complete systems checks because, and I quote, “they are a waste of everyone’s time.”

Ugh.