Exploring amateur radio

This coming Thursday, I’ve made an appointment to take at least one (if not two) amateur radio (ham) license exams. I’ve wanted to be a ham since I was a kid, but there was always a reason or excuse why I couldn’t do it. With Treanna looking forward to college and a career in astrophysics, I finally decided that this was the reason to go for it. I’d once heard from a physicist friend that having ham experience helped him quite a bit in his graduate years; the practical experience and theory in radio and electronics gave him a boost in being able to scrounge, cobble together, and maintain equipment for labs and research. I mentioned that to Treanna, and we agreed to study through our Technician licenses together!

After doing a little research, it looked like the most recommended study guide is the The ARRL Ham Radio License Manual (Third Edition), put out by the American Radio Relay League (ARRL), the national association for ham radio in the United States. We picked up a couple of copies via Amazon and have been working our way through the chapters and exam questions. Previous editions of the book included a CD with software such as practice exams; however, the ARRL now offers a web-based practice exam site for all three current license levels: Technician, General, and Amateur Extra.

One note to those of my readers who have done certification exams (like Microsoft’s) but aren’t familiar with ham licenses. Every four years, a special committee in the amateur radio community comes up with a new pool of exam questions (each license is rotated in a different year) based on the syllabus, which looks a somewhat like the list of objectives for a Microsoft certification. There are ten overall sections and a number of sub-elements (usually  around 3-4), with each sub-element having approximately 10-15 questions. These questions are multiple choice and make up the entire exam pool. The FCC publishes the entire exam pool for each level – so at any time, you will see exactly what questions you will face.Tests are administered by Volunteer Examiners (VEs) who are themselves hams with a higher license (or Advanced Extra if they’re administering the AE exam); they are affiliated with one of the many Volunteer Exam Coordinators (VECs) such as the ARRL. From end to end, the entire exam process is pretty much self-administered by hams!

For your test, your VE will pull one question from each sub-element, and that’s your test. For Technician and General, you get 35 sub-elements, so 35 questions. For Amateur Extra, you get 50 sub-elements and 50 questions. You have to score 70% or better to pass, and the tests are cumulative – you can’t earn a higher license without having passed both that test and any previous tests. You can do one level at a time and upgrade, or you can do them all at one sitting if you’re ambitious. It’s a very different and laid-back process. Sure, some people will just memorize the questions and answers and not read through the full study material – but the pressure to pass is, I have found, almost gone, so I’ve personally found it much more rewarding to actually study the material as I go.

Having made my way through the Technician guide and moved on to the General guide, I have to say I’m impressed. The ARRL guides are made with very extensive cross-references between questions and related material. The study chapters are laid out in a somewhat different order than the test elements, but they move in a very logical fashion. About the only complaint I have is that some re-organization of the ARRL web site has happened and it’s not as easy to find the supplemental materials as I had hoped. Luckily, there are some options:

  • There are classes you can take – many ham clubs offer them, so you can usually find a local group.  This is nice, because you also get to meet people who are members of the local clubs and can start making community connections. I haven’t done this yet, but it’s recommended.
  • There are online classes. I opted not to do these because I am fairly good at self-study. I might use one of these for Amateur Extra, though.
  • There are online supplements, usually in video format. I chose to use those from Extra-class ham Dave Casler (KE0OG), and have found them to be very useful. He doesn’t spend a lot of time covering ground the book covers, but usually manages to find a way to either highlight the important concepts or to fill in some of the gaps (such as what it looks and sounds like to use the various radio modes).

My plan at the moment, based on my projected study schedule, is to sit for both the Technician and General class exams. I’ll keep you all posted on the results. Once I pass and get my callsign, then I get to figure out which radios to get!

Farewell, Mr. Nimoy.

I didn’t get to watch Star Trek much as a kid (mostly when we’d go over to my pastor’s house, because they would sit me down in the living room and turn the TV on while they chatted with my parents), but what I saw fascinated me and probably helped seal my life-long love of speculative fiction in science trappings. My two favorite characters were Scotty and Spock. Scott’s draw for me was obvious — he got to build and maintain those wonderful devices! but it would take me years to understand why I also identified with Spock.

Not too long after Treanna was born we started a process that ended up with her getting a diagnosis on the autism spectrum. I was suddenly forced to confront the implications. I already knew autism had its foothold in my family, and with my mom busily researching autism on behalf of my nephew and now my daughter, it wasn’t too long before I got to a place where I had to either deny that my struggles growing up grew out of something larger than just being “odd” or admit the truth, hard as it was to face being “broken”, and go back to re-examine my past through the lens of new understanding so that I could make life for my child better than it was for me.

That’s when I really started to understand my identification with Spock — not just as he was in TOS, but how his character grew and transformed over the course of the movies. He was the product of two worlds and never comfortable in either. Yet he finally came to peace with himself and how he stood out from everyone around him. In his choice to stop fighting the world around him, he found his unshakeable place in that world. He even helped mentor others who were between worlds, who did not have the comfortable illusions of normalcy to guide them.

Leonard Nimoy, from all I know, was nothing like the Spock he portrayed. Warm, caring, empathic and sensitive, he was one of those people who move through life with a grace that he put to good use in helping ease the way of those around him. My interactions with him are very few and limited, but even through those, I was always struck by the notion that he genuinely care about his legions of fans as well his many co-workers throughout the years. Despite not being Spock, he found a way to take that core of compassion and infuse it into his character.

Thank you, Mr. Nimoy. You did not know me, but you provided an inspiration and a signpost that has helped me walk a better path in life. I have been, and shall always be, proud to count you as a friend.


I just finished doing something that I have a hard time doing, for various reasons that wind tightly down into the psyche of my Asperger’s Syndrome: cleaning books from our bookshelves. We added six books and removed twenty-one, which really represents two new books, four books replacing twelve books, and nine removals. This gives us the room we need to add another dozen or so books that have been patiently waiting.

bookshelvesAs a child, I had to get rid of books for simple reasons: we were moving, or I’d long since passed the stage of needing picture books but I did need the shelf space. As adults, Stephanie and I have more complicated reasons for getting rid of books:

  • They are falling apart. These books are disintegrating, whether through lots of use or simply because they were never well put-together (I salute you in memory, my first run of The Belgariad, bought in high school as the first fruits of my labors at McDonalds). These are the easiest to deal with, because we simply place them on our wish list, purchase replacements, and swap them out.
  • They take up too much space. In our new house, we have a fixed amount of wall space (stupid modern construction techniques using larger windows) for book shelves. As a result, we’re now in a mode of “one comes in, one comes out.” I really dislike this, so one technique we’ve been using to get more bang for the buck is buying omnibus editions to gain back shelf space.
  • They are not getting read. Even though I have read every book in my library, there are some I don’t end up re-reading that often – or when I do, I discover that my skills and needs as a reader have advanced and the book no longer is a compelling part of my library. Removing these books from the collection requires a great deal of effort to overcome the inertia of nostalgia.
  • We purchased them second-hand, but want the author to get paid. The more I learn about the publishing industry and the more contacts I make in the author community, the more personal it becomes for me to make sure that these people are able to make a living by writing. Book sales are the best way to do that – new books, back list books, whatever.

Sometimes, we combine some of these reasons. We have recently begun to replace many of our favorite books (Eddings, Brust, Bujold, Cooper, Engdahl, Weeks, and more) with as many omnibus editions as we could. This way we replaced tattered books, gained back shelf space, and made sure the author keeps seeing royalty statements. Honestly, I wish omnibus editions were more of a thing. As we can, we’ll replace hardbacks with paperbacks (or likewise) to ensure a given series is consistent and takes the least amount of shelf space.

Tonight, I’m removing books from my collection for a much different and more painful reason: I no longer wish to support the author. I’m not going to name specific authors – the reasons for doing so are between me and Stephanie and no one else – but there are some people who are so toxic in some area of their lives that we no longer wish to support them. Although the money we spent for their books is long gone, removing those books from our shelves is a tangible way to detach our lives and fates from theirs. It helps us close the open loops in our minds that would otherwise urge us to buy their books. However, getting rid of these books sucks; it takes a lot of energy and there is/will be a mourning period. For so many years, books were my greatest friends. Getting rid of books that you have accepted into your life and given a home to feels like turning out the family pet, or possibly one of your kids.

If you think that’s a juvenile or overblown sentiment for a grown man to express, all I can say is that the concept of books and writing got wired into my soul at a very early age, and yes, sometimes books mean more to me than people. If you can’t or won’t understand that, I cordially extend to you the benison of I don’t give a shit.

Local Date Night, @SoundersFC edition

This last year Stephanie helped me become something I never thought I could be: a soccer fan.

Wait, let me rephrase. She got me interested in football. Although soccer is the original and correct name, most of the rest of the world just knows it as football (or futbol if you are from a country whose primary language is a Romance language). It’s only here in North America where we refer to gridiron football as just football.

At any rate, Steph used to play as a goalie when she was growing up and has retained a love of the sport. She used to follow the Seattle Sounders FC matches via Twitter until we moved last fall and got hooked back up to Comcast as our Internet provider. While our package doesn’t include access to ESPN and ESPN2 (where MLS broadcasts national games), it does include JoeTV and Q13 Fox, the local Seattle channels that carry Sounders games when they aren’t being nationally televised. (As an aside, remind me to rant about the stupidity that the FCC permits some other time.) So this year, I got things set up so Steph can watch the Sounders games, and inevitably started sitting next to her with my Surface on my lap while she watched. Then I started asking questions. Then I started recognizing players. Then I started figuring out what the hell was going on. Really, in about three games, I understood 95% of the rules – more than I understand to this day of American football.

At that point, Sounders games became time to spend together. I’d already gotten Steph a Sounder shirt; she got me one, and got us both scarves. And then the World Cup happened. HOLY CRAP people, with all the games being televised over ESPN3/Watch ESPN, and viewable within the ESPN app on our Xbox 360, it was easy to keep games on all through the month of world soccer awesomeness. With two of the familiar Sounders faces on the US Men’s National team, it was natural to watch and cheer them on. Even when they were eliminated by Belgium in the Round of 16, I was invested in the final results. In between the World Cup games, the Sounders had moved into the US Open Cup season, so I streamed those from my Surface to our TV (thanks to the HDMI plug and the Sounder website streaming video). I had become a football fan.

Today, we watched the final struggle of Germany vs. Argentina, then tried to figure out what our options were for watching the Seattle vs. Portland game (broadcast on ESPN2). Steph finally remembered that a local pizza joint, Sahara Pizza, had advertised that they were showing all of the World Cup games. They have gluten-free and dairy-free options on their menu, so Steph called them up to see if they would be showing the Sounders game tonight. They said yes…so we had ourselves a date night.

Here we are, dressed up in our Sounders shirts, practicing for our big day next weekend when we go see the Sounders live in their exhibition game vs. Tottenham.


My name is Devin L. Ganger, and I am a football fan.

Is All About That Bass Skinny-shaming?

For the past several days, Stephanie and I have been severely afflicted with one of the catchiest earworms we’ve ever caught: Meghan Trainor’s debut song “All About That Bass”, which is a playful yet serious romp through doo-wop, Motown, and modern pop. Music aside, though, it’s gaining attention because of the uncompromising body-positive message the song delivers:

Every inch of you is perfect from the bottom to the top!

The video for the song is beautifully directed by Fatima Robinson and features a diverse array of dancers and artists, including guest star Sione Maraschino (who is famous in Vine circles). In short, on the surface it seems like a great song: catchy music that skillfully blends old and new, uplifting lyrics, diverse cast and crew. What’s not to like?

The song has gotten some pushback as it has gained in popularity (what viral song hasn’t?), but from a somewhat unexpected quarter: detractors say the song is skinny-shaming. That is, its body-positive message is only for people with plus-size bodies and everyone who is slender and attractive according to currently popular standards need not apply. And I confess: when Stephanie and I first heard the song, this was our concern as well, because of these words in the second verse:

I’m bringing booty back
Go ahead and tell them skinny bitches that
Naw, I’m just playing
I know you think you’re fat
But I’m here to tell you
Every inch of you is perfect from the bottom to the top!

At first blush, this sounds like the “skinny bitches” are cast into the outer darkness and Meghan’s message is only for the girls like here. But if you watch the video, you’ll see this isn’t so. That diverse group of dancers (including the skinny brunette) are all equally lauded as beautiful throughout the course of the video. If Meghan and her director meant to exclude people, they did a poor job.

I’m pretty sure that the disconnect here is that Meghan’s trying to say multiple things at once, which is hard enough in prose, harder in rhyme, and damned difficult when set to music (if you don’t think so, you are cordially invited to try). With a lot of today’s music, the writers don’t try for nuance or complexity…so perhaps we’ve gotten out of the habit of listening for it, substituting binary polarities for critical thought. Here’s what I pull out of that verse:

  • Judging people based on their size creates an environment rife with misperceptions about body image and self-worth
  • People that you and I perceive as skinny are in fact often extremely worried about their (mis-perceived) body image
  • Words matter. Saying you’re “playing” when using a criticism or insult doesn’t take the sting away, so pick your words carefully.

Did Meghan actually accomplish packing all that nuance in? I’m not sure, but kudos to her for trying – something not enough artists are doing these days, it seems. This large person, however, feels that Meghan’s song is all-inclusive and inviting (not skinny-shaming), so give it a listen and tell me what you think.

Meet the New Corporate Overlords @CohesiveLogic

Just a brief announcement (you’ll be hearing more about it later) to let everyone know that I’ve found new employment with Cohesive Logic as a Principal Consultant. Jeremy and the rest are good people and I’m happy to be hanging my hat under their shingle. We’ve got some exciting stuff coming down the pipe, and while I’ll still be focusing on Exchange, I’ll have the opportunity to broaden my skill set.

Let’s Test It!

I’ve been studying karate for nearly five years now, and I don’t think I’ve shared this story before. When we’re sparring, students are required to wear the appropriate protective gear. No head shots, for example, if you’re not wearing head protection. For males, a sports cup is mandatory, for reasons that probably don’t require elaboration.

When I was buying a cup, I had no clue what to get. The only sports I’d done as a kid were one season of track in high school and some Pee-Wee/Little League baseball. I’d never had to deal with a cup before. I’d heard lots of horror stories about them: they were uncomfortable, didn’t fit, and didn’t really keep blows from hurting as much as they reduced the pain to manageable levels.

No, thanks. This geek did some research and came up with the Nutty Buddy. This was a cup whose inventor stood by his product by taking 90mph fast balls from a pitching machine to his crotch. After reading around, I was sold. It was more expensive, but hey, not feeling soul-crushing pain is worth it, right?

Here’s what happened next, as I sent it to Nutty Buddy:

My order arrived on the day of a sparring class. That night, I prepped for class a little early so I could figure out how to get my Nutty Buddy put in place. Having bought the “Build Your Own Package” option, I had everything I needed, and soon I was all dressed in my gi, ready to go. I walked out from my bedroom to the living room to pick up my gear bag and was met by my son, then 11 years old. “Do you have it on?” he asked eagerly and I nodded. “Great, let’s test it!” he said as he executed a perfect front snap-kick to the boys. It was a great kick, too – one of those kind you can’t be thinking about, you just have to let it rip. He immediately realized what he’d done and started apologizing, but was shocked when I laughed. The only thing I’d felt was the shock. The Nutty Buddy lived up to the hype, and I knew it was worth every penny.

No matter how prepared you are for life, sometimes you only know whether something’s going to work by just doing it.

Blues Brother

Right at the end of December, I decided that January 2013 would be my year of just saying “Do it.” The first thing I said “do it” to was getting my hair dyed blue, like I’ve been wanting to for over a decade. That Saturday, I walked into my hairstylist for my normal haircut, and came out with a little more.

My blue-green hair in December

I loved the cut and the color (a blue-green-silver mix), and after two weeks it had faded to a soft cotton-candy color of blue. However, it just kept on fading. Time for a refresh, so back in to my fantastic hairstylist, Liz!

My partner in crime

This time, we dropped the green and mixed the blue and silver in nearly equal proportions. The result is vivid now, but we think it’s going to be fantastic after some fading!

Move over, IBM

The best part of this experiment is that if I ever get tired of looking like a dry-erase marker, I can simply shave it off. It’s not like that’s a new look for me. The plan, though, is to keep experimenting with fun colors and settle down on a few favorites.

Alaric’s Fundraising Progress

Just wanted to drop a quick note to you all to keep you updated on Alaric’s progress in raising funds for his 2013 Summer of Awesome. I’ve created a static page that you can go to and will keep it updated until our goal of $5,000 is met. That’s not to say that I won’t be reminding you all about it here and on Twitter and Facebook on a regular basis, but I wanted to condense all the major details down to one place.

Update: We’re around $1,365 or so, give or take some pending funds from current fundraising efforts and some pledges we’ve not yet receiving but are expecting. Thank you to everyone who has helped us out so far!

Alaric’s Summer of Awesome

Some of you might get some cognitive whiplash from the following post, given my recent vocal stance on Intel’s corporate fundraising for Boy Scouts of America. If your own views on Scouting are such that you are not able to entertain helping out or sponsoring a Scout, we understand — this post isn’t for you.

Many of you know that my son Alaric has been involved in Scouting for many years. Despite my own issues with the Scouting organization’s policies[1], we’ve seen a lot of benefits from Alaric’s involvement. There are some really great boys and adults we’ve met through Scouting and my boy has learned and grown a lot. He’s currently a Star Scout and an Ordeal member of the Order of the Arrow, and has been serving as a patrol leader for a year. Alaric is well on his way to Life Scout by the end of the year and has given himself a goal of becoming an Eagle Scout by the end of summer 2013.

Alaric receiving four merit badges

Alaric receiving four merit badges

Next summer, Alaric has the opportunity to have the kind of summer adventure that every Boy Scout can only dream of:

  • It’s time for the National Scout Jamboree. This event typically takes place once every 4 years. This year is particularly cool because it will be the first jamboree held on the new Summit grounds in West Virginia’s Bechtel Reserve wilderness area, Scouting’s new permanent jamboree home and high adventure base.
  • Alaric’s troop will be heading to Philmont Scout Ranch in New Mexico, Scouting’s oldest and most famous high adventure backpacking camp. It can take years for troops to get a slot to come to Philmont for a mountain adventure.

Both of these events are usually once-in-a-lifetime events for most Boy Scouts. The fact that Alaric has the chance to go to both is amazing and requires an immense amount of commitment and dedication from him (and us).

Unfortunately, my getting laid off in July threw a huge wrench into the fund-raising portion of this adventure. The total cost to participate in both events, including airline tickets and required gear upgrades, is going to be around $5,000 for our family. If I had a steady job, this wouldn’t have been a problem — we’d have covered half and Alaric could have motored through fund raisers with his troops to get the rest covered. He’s already raised over $600 just through mowing lawns, odd jobs, and even a garage sale.

Even if you don’t want to donate to Scouting — are you willing to invest in my son? The typical Scouting fundraiser is through the sales of Trail’s End popcorn products. Trail’s End is an amazing outfit that makes online sales very easy, they produce fantastic popcorn, and they offer the choice for making donations to help send popcorn to active-duty military units.

Alaric’s popcorn pitch letter can be seen below:

Dear Dad’s Reader,

Did you know you can help send me to the National Jamboree? Just click here and place an order on my behalf. There are all kinds of products to choose from, and every product has better flavor and is better for you.

Plus, you won’t just be helping me go to Jamboree. 70% of your purchase will benefit Scouting in my area and help more kids experience all the things that make Scouting great. It’s a situation where everyone wins.

Thanks for your support,


P.S. If you cannot click on the link above, copy and paste this full URL:

If you would rather donate to Alaric directly, contact me using the form below.

If you’re still with me this far, thanks for reading and for your support.

[1] I have two main issues. The first is that they discriminate against gay boys, girls (several programs for older youth are co-ed), and leaders. The second is that their religious requirements discriminate against boys who are atheists or agnostic yet are willing to investigate a religion in the spirit of understanding and tolerance. Look at Girl Scouts to see how these issues can be dealt with sensibly.

MEC Day 3

Unfortunately, this is the day that Murphy caught up with me, in the form of a migraine. When these hit, the only thing I can do is try to sleep it off.

I ended up not hitting the conference center until a bit after noon, just in time to brave lunch. What would a Microsoft conference be without the dreaded salmon meal? At that point, my stomach rebelled and my head agreed, so I wandered back to the MVP area and chatted until it was time to head upstairs to my room for my last session at 1pm.

Big thanks to everyone who showed up for the session. I took some of the feedback from Day 2, and combined with my increased mellowness from the migraine, I made some changes to the structure of the session and clarifications to the message I wanted the attendees to walk away with. We had what I thought was a brilliant session. Apparently, I do my best work while in pain.

After that, it was down to the expo floor for a quick round of good-byes, then off to catch my shuttle to Orlando International Airport. I was able to get checked in with more than enough time for a leisurely meal, then on to gate 10 where I met up with various other MEC attendees on their way back home to Seattle.

WHAT AN AMAZING CONFERENCE. I had SO much fun, even with missing essentially all of Day 3 and the wonderful sessions that I’d planned to sit into. My apologies for the missed Twitter stream that day.

We’ll have to do this again next year. I hope you’ll be there!

MEC Day 2

Today was another fun-filled and informative day at MEC:

  • The day started off with a keynote by Microsoft Distinguished Engineer Perry Clarke, head of Exchange Software Development. Perry does a blog called Ask Perry which regularly includes a video feature, Geek Out With Perry. The keynote was done in this format. The latter half was quite good, but the first half was a little slow and (I thought) lightweight for a deeply technical conference such as MEC. However, that could just have been a gradual wake-up for the people still recovering from last night’s attendee party of Universal’s Islands of Adventure theme park.
  • After a short break, we were off to the interactive sessions! I got caught up in a conversation and made it to my first session a few minutes late – and wasn’t able to enter, as the room was at capacity. So, I missed Jeff Mealiffe’s session on virtualizing Exchange 2013, much to my annoyance. Instead I headed down to the exhibit floor and hung out in the MVP area, talking with a bunch of folks (including one my homies from MCM R1).
  • At lunch I caught up with some old friends – one of the best reasons for coming.
  • After lunch, I squeezed (and by squeezed I am being literal; we were crammed into the room like sardines) into Bill Thompson’s session on the Exchange 2013 transport architecture. WOW. Some bold changes made, but I think they’re going to be good changes.
  • At 3:00, my time at the front of the room had come and I gave my first session of my Exchange 2010 virtualization lessons learned. Mostly full room and there were some good questions. I received some interesting feedback later, so will be wrapping that into tomorrow’s repeat presentation.
  • My last session of the day was Greg Taylor’s session on Exchange 2013 load balancing. Again, lots of good surprises and changes, and as always watching Greg in action was entertaining and informative. This is, after all, the man who talks about Exchange client access using elephant’s asses.
  • Afterwards, I caught up with former co-workers and enjoyed a couple of beers at MAPI Hour in the lovely central atrium of the Gaylord Palms Hotel, then went out to dinner (fantastic burger at the Wrecker’s Sports Bar). Capped the night off with a sundae.

Two down, one more to go. What a fantastic time I’ve been having!

MEC Day 1

After 10 years of absence, the Microsoft Exchange Conference is back. Yes, that’s right, the last time MEC happened was in 2002. How do I know this? I’ve seen a couple of people today who still had their MEC 2002 badges. HOLY CRAP, DUDES. I’m a serious packrat and not even *I* keep my old conference badges.

I decided to live tweet my sessions. I did a good job too – my Twitter statistics are telling me that I’ve sent 258 tweets! If any of my Facebook friends are still bothering to read my automatic Twitter-to-Facebook updates..shit, sorry. Two more days to go and you know I can’t be nearly as prolific today or Wednesday because I’m presenting a session each day:

  • E14.310 Three Years In: Looking Back At Virtualizing Exchange 2010
    Tuesday, September 25 2012 3:00 PM – 4:15 PM in Tallahassee 1
  • E14.310R1 Three Years In: Looking Back At Virtualizing Exchange 2010
    Wednesday, September 26 2012 1:00 PM – 2:15 PM in Tallahassee 1

Monday was the “all Microsoft, all Exchange 2013” day with typical keynotes and breakouts. Today, we start the “un-conference” – smaller, more interactive sessions, led by members of the community like myself. Today and tomorrow will be a lot more peer-to-peer…which will be fun.

See you out there! Drop me a note or track me down to let me know if you read my blog or have a question you’d like me to answer!

The BSA Funding Hornet’s Nest

Earlier today I posted a Scouting-related tweet that provoked drew a strong reaction from several people. Here’s the tweet:

Intel Corporation: Pull your financial support until the Boy Scouts pull their anti-gay policy http://www.change.org/petitions/intel-corporation-pull-your-financial-support-until-the-boy-scouts-pull-their-anti-gay-policy … via @change

I was asked if I thought that it was better for Scouting to lose funds. I was asked how doing this would help the boys in Scouting. I was told that it was abusive and manipulative to use funding to try to effect change in Scouting’s policies over what is a relatively minor matter.

I am a former Boy Scout, my son is a Boy Scout, I have just been registered as an adult Scouter, and my daughter is looking at joining a Venture crew sometime in the next year. I think that Scouting is a fantastic youth program. So how can I support Scouts while calling for Intel to defund them?

I have two main reasons to support the petition to Intel.

Reason 1: Choices have consequences

The value of Scouting isn’t just the outdoor skills and learning how to handle yourself in the wilderness; it’s in the character formation that goes along with the outdoor program. Scouting teaches principles and duty. Scouting youth often drop out when they hit a certain age because of the peer pressure they’re getting by being different, by standing up for their beliefs and values. The kids who stay in Scouting learn that making a stand comes with consequences. It is precisely this kind of character formation that many former Scouts go on to say is the most valuable lesson they learn from Scouting.

The national Scouting organization has now said multiple times that they see having gay Scouts and Scouters as somehow being incompatible with Scouting ideals. Intel and the other companies identified in this article by Andy Birkey on The American Independent (linked to from the petition, BTW) have made their policies on charitable donations crystal clear. These policies are not new. These companies need to make sure their house is in order by verifying that their giving is in line with their policies (as the ones in orange have done). However, Scouting has a responsibility here too. By continuing to accept money from organizations such as Intel in violation of their stated donation guidelines, I believe that Scouting is sending the message that money is more important than principles. I’ve heard a lot of justification for accepting the money, but when it comes right down to it, taking donations from these companies when you don’t comply with their guidelines is hypocrisy, plain and simple. I think Scouting is better than that.

Whether I agree with the national organization’s stance on gay Scouts/Scouters or not, I think the unwritten message is doing more harm in the long run that the immediate defunding would do. I’m confident that should Scouting actually have the courage to turn down this money, alternate funding sources would quickly emerge in today’s polarized climate. Look at the Chik-Fil-A protests and responses if you doubt me. So no, I’m not worried that there would be long-term financial damage to Scouting.

It’s not like this is a theoretical situation for my family. Our local troop enjoys a high level of funding thanks to Microsoft matching contributions to the men and women who volunteer as our Scouters and committee members, many of whom are full-time Microsoft employees. I suspect that Microsoft’s policies are actually the same as Intel’s, based on their publicly stated policies for software donations to charities. If Microsoft were to stop funding Scouting (or Scouting were to stop taking Microsoft dollars because of this policy) our troop would be directly and severely affected.

I personally know at least two gay Scouters, and I suspect I know more. Scouting would somehow find the money to replace the lost donations. I don’t know how they’d replace the people I’m thinking of.

I’ve talked this over with my son on multiple occasions. When we discussed this particular petition and the fact that I was going to publicly support it, we talked about the implications. I asked him if he had any concerns. His response: “Do it, Dad. Scouting needs a kick in the ass.” (Yes, he’s my kid.)

And if you think I’m somehow being abusive or manipulative for supporting the use of defunding as a tool for policy change, go back to that Birkey article:

In a brief filed in the landmark case of Boy Scouts of America v. Dale, a lawyer for the LDS Church warned that the church would leave the scouts if gays were allowed to be scout leaders.

“If the appointment of scout leaders cannot be limited to those who live and affirm the sexual standards of BSA and its religious sponsors, the Scouting Movement as now constituted will cease to exist,” wrote Von G. Keetch on behalf of the LDS Church and several other religious organizations in 2000. “The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints — the largest single sponsor of Scouting units in the United States — would withdraw from Scouting if it were compelled to accept openly homosexual Scout leaders.”

According to the Chartered Organizations and the Boy Scouts of America fact sheet, as of December 31, 2011 there are over 100,000 chartered Scouting units, with nearly 7/10 of them chartered by religious organizations. In the tables in that fact sheet, we see data on the top 25 religious charterers, top 20 civic charterers, and the educational charterers – giving us data on 55,100 units (just over half) and 1,031,240 youth. According to this data, the LDS Church sponsors almost 35% of the Scouting units in the BSA. Yet, according to this same data, they have only 16% of the actual youth in Scouting. The youth-to-unit average for the LDS Church is a mere 11.1, which is the lowest of any organization (or group of organizations) listed in the fact sheet data.

Several of the organizations on that list, including the next largest religious sponsor (the United Methodist Church – 11,078 units, 371,491 youth, 33.5 youth per unit, 10% of the total units, and 14% of the total youth) would support and welcome gay Scouts and Scouters. The LDS Church gets to be vocal about it because of that 1/3 number of units – that translates into money for Scouting. This kind of ultimatum is in fact what manipulative behavior (using the threat of defunding) looks like.

Reason 2: People who see a problem need to be part of the solution

I’m continuing to get more involved with Scouting for one simple reason: I believe that if I see something I think is wrong, I need to be part of the solution. I don’t think it’s right that Scouting be in a position where it can have its cake and eat it too. However, I’m not going to throw the baby out with the bathwater; I see the incredible value the Scouting program gives to young men (and the young women who participate in the Venturer program).

My own religious beliefs and principles move me to be more involved precisely because I think Scouting needs more Scouts and Scouters who are open about their support for changing these policies. I know people who gave up on Scouting; I refuse to be one of them.

I want Scouting to change its policies, but I’m willing to keep being a part of it during those changes. I’m not trying to take my bat and ball and go home if the game doesn’t go my way. I want Scouts to continue producing young people of character for future generations.

Want to see the data I’m looking at? I got the fact sheet from the link stated above, brought the data in Excel, and added formulas for unit/youth ratios and percentages. I’ve put this spreadsheet online publicly via SkyDrive.

Autism Is Not The New Cool

Pardon, y’all. It’s been a while since I’ve been here <peers at the dust>. I’ve had the best of intentions, but sadly, my bogging client of choice (Windows Live Writer) doesn’t auto-translate those into actual written blog posts yet. Maybe in the next version. <sigh>

I can hear some of you (both of you still reading, thank you loyal fans) asking what finally brought me back, and I have to say it’s a rant. A rant about autism (and Asperger’s, and the rest of the spectrum), how it is perceived, and how trendy equals insensitive. You have been warned.

Hip To Be Square

After karate class tonight on the drive home, Steph was reading through Facebook (something I do but occasionally these days, having overdosed myself on social media some time ago) and came across the following comment on a mutual friend’s post:


Yes, that really does say that stupid thing

For some reason, this really punched my buttons. I don’t know much about the person who posted it. I don’t know if they’re a fellow spectrum traveller or not. I don’t know how many close friends or family members they have who have autism. To a certain extent, it really doesn’t matter, because this comment is a textbook illustration of a fallacy that I’m seeing more and more:

If geeks are cool, and a lot of geeks are autistic, they must be cool because they are autistic.

This is a fallacy because it is the living embodiment of failure to grasp proper logic and set theory. This growing "Autism Is The New Cool" meme (AITNC for those of us who adore our acronyms), for lack of a better word, is reaching stupid proportions.

Venn We Dance

Now listen up, because if you’d paid attention in Algebra the first time, I wouldn’t have to be telling you this shit now.

What we are talking about here are properties that people have: the property of being cool, the property of being a geek, and the property of being on the autism spectrum. These are not variables that we can just slam together in a transitive[1] orgy of equation signs, as much as someone might like to be able to write on a whiteboard that A=B=C.


You get to stay after class and wipe down the whiteboard

Instead, we need to head over to set theory, which is where we look at groupings (or "sets") of objects, where said sets are organized by a shared trait. Such as being a geek, or being cool, or being on the autism spectrum. We represent these sets by drawing circles. Then we can make useful and interesting (and sometimes even more occasionally related to real life) observations by seeing where these sets overlap and what that tells us. This is a Venn diagram, and it helps us immediately destroy AITNC, because it reminds us that people (the members of the sets) are not single-value variables like A and B and C and the rest of their letter trash, but complex people who are not in any way entirely equal. This is my AITNC mega-buster Venn diagram, whipped up on this evening when I had lots of better stuff to do, just for your edification:


Filling in the missing names is left as an exercise for the reader[2]

Note that there are plenty of places where there is no overlap. Note that there are four separate regions where there are overlap. I can think of people who are examples of each of those areas, but I’m not enough of a dick to tell you who they are.

The Big Boy/Girl Panties Are Right Over There

I have, I shit you not, had parents ask me how to get their kid diagnosed with Asperger’s so they can "give him an extra educational advantage" (or some such nonsense). Yeah, I know. Fucked up, right?

I’m no child psychology professional, but I know spoiled, overly sugared kids when I see them. You want your kid to get an extra educational advantage? Don’t let the little bastards play video games and watch TV when they get home from school. Make them do homework and chores. Stop buying them everything they want and make them earn a meager amount of money and prioritize they things they really want from passing whims. Spend time with them and find out what they’re learning. Teach them about things you’re doing, which means you might want to put down the remote and pick up some more books or spend time outdoors or in your shop. Take the time to buy and prepare healthy food instead of boxed-up pre-digested pap. Teach them how to cook and clean, while you’re at it. Get involved with what they’re doing at school and be ruthlessly nosy about their grades and progress. Limit their after-school activities so they have time to study. Make and enforce a reasonable bedtime. In short, be a fucking parent. Stick with that for a year, and I guarantee your kids will have an educational advantage that you can’t believe.


Unless you want it in kebabs for dinner

Once you’ve done that for a few years and your kids have adjusted to having the meanest parents on the block like mine have, then you can worry about whether your precious little shit belongs on the autism spectrum, or has ADHD, or whatever other crutch diagnosis you think you need to compensate for being a mere gamete donor instead of a real parent.

People Are Strange (When You’re A Stranger)

I’m not going to sing a litany of woes about how tough it is being Asperger’s. I have fought most of my adult life to keep this thing from defining who I am. Devin != autism, not by a long shot. It’s one of a large number of properties about me, and it’s a mere footnote at that. I refuse to self-identify as an "Aspie" because I see that many of them (not all, but a significant fraction of them) use it as a Get Out Of Life Free card. "Oh, boohoo, I can’t make friends. Boohoo, I can’t have a relationship. Boohoo, my boss doesn’t understand me." I’ll grant it makes things difficult at times, but you know what? I look at so-called "neurotypical" people and they seem to have rough patches too. Life isn’t perfect for anyone. I don’t know how much harder my life is because of Asperger’s, and you don’t either. Anyone who claims to know is full of shit. At best, they’re making wild-ass guesses.

I choose not to play "what-if" games, because there is always something you think of after the fact. This wiring malfunction in my brain does not define or control me unless I choose to let it. The only reason its effects dominated my life through my early adulthood is that I didn’t know. Once I knew…well, I went all G. I. Joe[3] on its ass.

You know what really sucks? That my wife and kids have to be hyper-vigilant about what food they eat because their bodies are attacking their own auto-immune systems. I can tell you exactly how much of a crimp that’s put into their enjoyment of life. One thoughtless dweeb in a restaurant kitchen who doesn’t properly wash bread crumbs off a counter, or clean off that dollop of butter on the knife, can make them miserable for a week. That’s a pretty raw deal, friends. Asperger’s has nothing on that. Try traveling or going out to a restaurant with friends. The number of things you can eat with one of the 8 major food allergies quickly limits your options. Enjoy two of them (like my family) and you can start counting your dining options on one hand.

So if you’re one of those assholes who thinks autism is cool or glamorous, get a life. Seriously. Be thankful for what you have. And recognize that people are cool not because of their afflictions but because they are cool people.


[1] You’ll probably have forgotten in five minutes, but transitive means if one thing is equal to a second thing, and a third thing is also equal to the second thing, then the first and third things are equal too. This only usually works in math and quantum mechanics, because how often are two things actually equal in the real world?

[2] Extra credit if you noticed that I really did match the color coding between the two diagrams.Without thinking.

[3] "Knowing is half the battle."


We’ve lived in Monroe for over 13 years. In that time, we’ve not taken advantage of many of the opportunities available in this area to get out and see the amazing beauty of the Puget Sound region. Late last summer, we finally started correcting that with hikes and drives to various attractions. Stephanie and I are also closing in on our 15th anniversary, and it’s been a while since we’ve had a getaway for just the two of us that didn’t also serve some other purpose (such as her heading to Las Vegas with me for Exchange Connections); it was time to correct this. This weekend, I combined those two imperatives and planned a Friday night overnight to Whidbey Island, as a slightly-belated celebration of Steph’s birthday.

Whidbey Island

The first thing I did was do a little research to locate a candidate list of reasonable bed and breakfasts for us to stay at. Steph had never before been to one and, frankly, hotels are boring. Ideally, I wanted one that was based out of a Victorian house, since Steph loves them. Potential bed & breakfasts of course would have to be able to handle the no-dairy/no-gluten restrictions. I really wanted to find one on Whidbey Island, which is close off-shore in the Sound, separated from Fidalgo Island by Deception Pass.

Why did I want to go to Whidbey Island for our overnight?

  • Islands are picturesque as hell. On the right island, you’re always close to the water, which I love.
  • We’d only been there once previously, during a quick drive-around last September when we got our new car.
  • Whidbey is one of the bigger islands in the Sound. It hosts several towns and has a high enough population to still offer some great experiences even during the depths of the off-season.
  • You can drive to it (by the bridge to Fidalgo Island, then by the bridge over Deception Pass to the north end of the island) or take the Mukilteo-Clinton ferry at the south end of the island. Transportation flexibility in winter months is a good thing.
  • Our most direct route to Whidbey Island is the ferry route, which runs every half-hour and is a short 20 minute ride. This helps achieve Steph’s goal of riding every ferry route in the Sound at least once. It also indulges my love of being out on the water.

Once I had a couple of candidates and knew what their check-in times were, I could work backwards for travel times and ferry crossings and determine the window of time in which we’d need to leave. This gave me the all-important time: my cut-off for the work day. Armed with this time, I set up an out-of-office calendar appointment and clearly communicated with my co-workers and clients that I had a hard stop at 3pm. As I set up each part of the weekend reservations, I sent Steph appropriate meeting requests in our shared Outlook/Exchange calendar. This let her know what my plans were and gave her the links and information she’d need to poke around and do her own reading. It seemed to work, because I quickly got acceptance notices and by Wednesday, Steph was practically bouncing off the walls in anticipation!


Whidbey Island (from the Whidbey Island Visitors Guide website)

Once Friday came, Steph was obviously eager to be off on our adventure. I think she was packed to go by 10am. At any rate, I was promptly done with work by 3pm, took a few minutes to pack, and we were out the door by 3:45pm as I’d planned. We took a quick detour to run a necessary errand, then headed for the Mukilteo ferry terminal. We arrived in time to queue up and watch (but not participate in) the loading of the 5pm ferry crossing as the sun set; it would be our turn in 30 minutes. The ride across the Sound was quick and cold in the gloaming, and we made our way north up the island until arriving at Coupeville.

The Blue Goose Inn

After doing some homework and reading reviews, it became clear that my #1 choice was going to be The Blue Goose Inn in Coupeville, overlooking Penn Cove in central Whidbey Island. Proprietors Sue and Marty McDaniel offer a fantastic getaway experience out of two lovely restored Victorian historical homes, and during a good portion of the year also operate a pub on-premises (sadly, it was closed during our visit). When I called to inquire, Sue assured me that the dietary restrictions would be no problem. A few minutes later, I had chosen the Captain’s Suite because of the king-size bed, the soaking tub, and the view of Penn Cove; we had our reservation!


Stephanie in front of The Blue Goose Inn in Coupeville, WA

Even though we arrived after sunset, Stephanie could see enough details that she was delighted by the choice. As we walked in the front door and were greeted by Sue and Marty, we immediately felt welcome. As I’d taken care of payment over the phone when I made the reservations, there was no paperwork to take care of; we chatted for a few minutes, they approved of my choice of venue for dinner, gave us our room key to the Captain’s Suite in the Coupe House, explained the accommodations that were available besides our room, and sent us on our way. We were not disappointed; the room was lovely and tastefully appointed with beautiful and functional furniture. In many older homes, drafts can be a problem, especially on a cold, windy night; this was not a problem here! The room was comfortable without being stuffy or unpleasant. We quickly unpacked, rested for a bit, and prepared for dinner.

Once we’d returned from a fabulous dinner, we again relaxed and settled in for the evening. Other than our Windows phones, we didn’t crack open any computers, so I don’t know how the complimentary Wi-Fi access was. We can both report, however, that the soaking tub was every bit as luxurious as it was claimed. The king bed (which towered off the ground) was one of the most comfortable beds I’ve ever slept in away from home.

Viva Whidbey Island

Looking NNW over Penn Cove from the Captain’s Suite

In the morning, we woke up, brewed tea (for her) and coffee (for me, which is not my normal morning habit), got ready, and packed. As promised, the view of Penn Cove was beautiful and not marred at all by the brief but vigorous attack of hail and rain we enjoyed. Just before 9am, we placed our bags in our car and headed back into the main house for breakfast, where Marty greeted us by name and showed us to our place in the dining room with the rest of the guests. What a treat!

  • Tea and coffee were on offer and Marty was quick to refill any cups that looked like they were thinking about becoming empty.
  • The first course was a green mango fool. Now, I’m not a mango person…or at least, I didn’t think I was. I had a tiny bite of this and it was quite simply divine. I would have promptly devoured my whole serving, but I wasn’t quite awake yet and the morning’s cup of coffee kept me from being hungry yet. Stephanie also got to enjoy this, minus the cream.
  • Our next course was buttermilk scones with currants. Again, these were very tasty, and again, my stomach wasn’t quite open for business yet. Sue made sure that Steph was supplied with gluten/dairy-free banana muffins, which Steph devoured.
  • The final course was a three-cheese omelet and a serving of oven-roasted seasoned Yukon Gold potatoes; Steph got scrambled eggs. Now, Steph’s not a scrambled egg person, but you’d never have known that — just as you’d never have known that I never eat breakfast potatoes unless they’re hash browns. The eggs came in separate porcelain oval bowls that kept them hot and tasty.

We lingered over our breakfast until the other guests left. At that point, we chatted a few minutes more with Marty (and said goodbye to Sue when she stuck her head out of the kitchen). After purchasing a Blue Goose Inn mug for me, we promised we’d be back during pub season, then hit the road back to the ferry terminal and points east. We had to head home, unpack, relax, and get the family ready for the afternoon’s plans: a visit to the Seattle Art Museum.

Christopher’s at Whidbey

Since Friday evening dinner wasn’t provided by The Blue Goose, this was the other major logistical challenge I faced in my planning. Dining is now much more exciting than it was back when I was the pickiest eater in the family, and it can be a significant source of stress for Steph. This was supposed to be a relaxing night away and I didn’t want her to have to worry about anything. Was I up to the task? As I said before, one of the reasons I chose Whidbey Island is that there are several towns on the island. Even if I couldn’t find anything near our lodgings, I was confident I’d be able to find a nice place for an intimate evening meal that could offer Steph not just one dinner option, but a choice of meals. They would also need to have food I’d eat — I still don’t like too much food with my food, if you know what I mean.

Coupeville turned out to be perfect because it’s also home to Christopher’s on Whidbey, a small and unassuming restaurant that boasts exquisite food and wine at amazingly affordable prices. During my planning, I’d called them up, explained our requirements, and in a few moments had an 8pm dinner reservation set up. They assured me that not only would Stephanie’s needs be taken care of, but that she would have a number of items to choose from. They asked me all the right questions to give me confidence that they actually did understand how to properly cook her meals without overlooking anything or putting her in danger of cross-contamination.

It was just a short drive from the Blue Goose to Christopher’s; if the weather had been better and we had still had light, we’d have walked the few blocks. When we arrived, the interior of the restaurant was well-lit, warm, and comfortably elegant without being pretentious or snobby. They greeted us by name, reassured me that they had Steph’s dietary restrictions on file, and showed us to a quiet table in the corner.

Pinot Blanc

Albrecht 2008 Pinot Blanc from Alsace, France

They had an interesting and eclectic wine selection, with offerings from a number of sources. Unlike many wine lists, they seemed to focus on offering affordable, enjoyable wines, mainly from local and regional wineries. Stephanie and I both favor white wines, and I noticed they offered a pinot blanc from Alsace. I’ve heard good things about Alsace wine but have never had it, so I enquired about it; apparently, this was a good thing, because this wine turned out to be a favorite of their wine expert. We ordered a bottle and found it to be delicate and satisfying both chilled and warm; it boasted a fantastic balance of dry vs. sweet with an unassuming and crisp fruity taste. A lot of whites taste like alcohol mixed with simple syrup; this one barely tasted like alcohol at all, and went well with both our dishes. While we waited for our entrees, Steph enjoyed a salad and I attacked a basket of bread with butter.

Stephanie chose the king salmon with raspberry barbeque sauce with greens and mixed vegetables. I went with something a little less adventuresome: linguine alfredo with chicken; in my defense, I don’t get cream-based sauces at home any more thanks to our Glorious New Dietary Regime. Our food was served rather quickly and was presented with a simple elegance that could easily have double the price tag in another establishment. I’ll let Stephanie speak for her meal if she chooses, but I will note that she told me at least once that she could eat it every day and be happy. My linguine was simply fantastic; the pasta was perfectly al dente, the sauce was light and creamy and in perfect proportion to enhance the pasta without smothering it, and the chicken was tender and full of flavor. It was easily the best pasta I’ve had in my life, and the entire meal rates up in my top three dining experiences. The service, of course, was quick, cheerful, and unassuming. We will happily come back and acquaint ourselves with the rest of the menu.

Picasso at the Seattle Art Museum

Upon arriving back at home around 12:30pm on Saturday, we unpacked, grabbed an informal lunch with the family, and planned out the rest of the day. For Christmas, the kids had purchased Stephanie a family membership in the Seattle Art Museum, in part so we could all head to the Picasso exhibit they have running through January 17. We had our tickets to get into the Picasso exhibit for 5pm, and with the Seahawks kicking off in Seattle at 1:30pm, we decided to wait for traffic to die down and head into town later in the afternoon. That gave us time to locate several alternatives for dinner after we’d been to the museum.

Once we got into Seattle and were parked at the garage underneath the SAM — a much trickier proposition now that we have a Ford Freestyle — we went up to Member Services and got our temporary membership cards. At that point, we had about 75 minutes to fill before we could enter the Picasso exhibit. We therefore broke up into groups and wandered around the museum’s various levels. Much of what I saw made little impression on me; a few of the pieces provoked a strong response (usually strong incredulity). I very much enjoyed the European and Italian galleries; in particular, they had a recreation of an Italian room, full of dark carved wood, that I found particularly intriguing.

Soon enough, 5pm approached and we queued up to enter the Picasso exhibit. I’m afraid I’m the wrong person to comment on it — I find most of Picasso’s work to be unapproachable. I tended to concentrate, instead, on the other people viewing the exhibit. There were a lot of very serious people there who apparently found all sorts of serious things to ponder. They were no fun. I liked watching the people who were totally blown away by what they were seeing; even if I didn’t share their reaction, I couldn’t help but be happy they were having a great time. These people invariably talked about how the art made them feel; the former types tended to pontificate on how it should make others feel and think. That’s an interesting lesson, don’t you think?

Once we had our fill of Picasso — or at least of walking around on the hard floors and dueling our way through the maddening crowds — we headed down to the waterfront to the Old Spaghetti Factory. I hadn’t dined here in many years — back when Stephanie and I were first married and I was working down on Pier 70. I’d really enjoyed it then and was looking forward to introducing my kids, especially because they offered gluten-free/dairy-free options. Instead, Stephanie and I found it to be one of the most disappointing dining experiences we’ve ever had. Maybe we were spoiled by still being on a high from the previous evening’s dining, but the restaurant felt crowded and dark, our table was noisy and drafty, and our server, while personable enough, couldn’t hit the right balance between competence and comedy. I can make better pasta than the half-hearted attempt I received. The best thing we can say is that Mom enjoyed it, as did the kids, although even the kids say that Steph would have made a better meal.

Wrapping Up

So, now it’s time for me to get off the computer and go spend the rest of the day with my family. I think we’ve got a board game or two on deck, maybe a family movie. Or, I could always pull out the copy of Enchanter’s Endgame that we’ve slowly been working through and read another chapter out loud. At any rate, we’ll have a good evening and get prepared to throw ourselves back into school, work, and life come Monday morning.

Solving The Problems You See

Somewhere along the way, I picked up an unusual philosophy: problems are meant to be solved by those who see them. Time after time, I have watched various friends and acquaintances become aware of a cause or injustice, get involved, and find that they had the right combination of talents and drive to becoming actively engaged in the solution in ways they never could have previously imagined. It’s the same phenomenon that can make churches and charitable organizations far more effective at solving particular problems than government programs could ever be. There’s something transformative about passion, moreso when you’re directly involved in changing lives instead of working through some faceless proxy organization.

Right now, I’d like to introduce you to a friend of mine by the name of Chris. Chris and I became acquainted lo these many moons ago when I got involved in the community for the online PC game Starsiege: Tribes back at the end of the 90s. A week after we met, Chris was in a horrible motorcycle accident that changed his life forever. It’s a miracle he’s still alive. Stephanie and I have kept touch with him and over the years, have had the privilege of having him fly out from Vermont for three extended visits with our family, including two memorable Christmas holidays. He’s been placed in our lives for a reason, and we’ve drawn him into our family-of-choice.

Chris at the Gangers for Christmas 2007

Chris at the Gangers for Christmas 2007

Chris’s medical condition is deteriorating; his doctor now estimates that he has approximately five years at the outside until he will need to live in assisted care. We were able to help him out a couple of years ago by putting him up on the awesome Select Comfort air bed that Steph had scrounged up for our guest room. The difference it made during his four-week visit that year was amazing — by the end of the visit, he was regularly going without an entire pain medication dose and was still more active and healthy than he’d been since the accident. His doctor worked all year to get the State of Vermont health services to purchase a Select Comfort bed for him — wrote the prescription, jumped through hoops to show how the cost of the bed would easily repay itself in the reduced medication costs, etc. — and some bureaucratic organization killed the whole idea. Why? Good question — we still don’t know. After a year of struggling, we sent the bed home with him after the next Christmas visit. (Screw you, nameless Vermont functionaries!)

We’ve been working on getting him moved from Vermont to Washington — specifically out to be near us — but it’s been an uphill battle. It has been extremely frustrating hearing him tell us over and over how he gets a good phone interview for a perfect part-time job but then once they meet him in person, game over. Now Chris has a plan. It may not be the best plan, but it’s better than what we’ve been able to come up with and we’re going to help.


Chris working on my Lego Star Destroyer

Those of you who read my blog, whether directly, through some feed, through Twitter, or through Facebook: I’m hoping that you might be able and willing to give some help as well. Please go read his site and background — we’re going to scrounge up the pictures we have of him and send them so he can include them in updates and allow folks to get to know him. If you can, donate. If you can, spread this further. We’d love to get Chris relocated this spring and summer once the weather turns good and get him out here where we can provide in-person assistance. It won’t take much — $1, $2, $maybe even $5 and then pass the word on.

Review: Cooking for Geeks (O’Reilly)

Edit 1/1/2013: (Belatedly) updated the author’s website per his request.

Writing books is a ton of work. Making them appealing is even more so, especially when your audience is geeks. You have to know your stuff, you have to present it well, and it doesn’t hurt if you can make it entertaining. In the technical field, I think O’Reilly is the one publisher that hits this bar more consistently than any other publisher. Getting to co-write my first book for them was a great experience; if they ever came asking me to work on another book for them, I would seriously think about it (more importantly, my wife wouldn’t automatically say no).

Back at the end 0f August, I had the opportunity, thanks to the @OReillyMedia twitter feed, to get my hands on a review copy of Cooking for Geeks (CfG) in e-book format. As part of the review agreement, I was supposed to:

  • Select a recipe from the book,
  • Prepare it,
  • Photograph it,
  • Write a review and post it,
  • Post the photograph on the O’Reilly Facebook page,
  • and all by September 6th.

Oops. Obviously, I’ve missed the precise timing here, but a bit belated, here’s the review I owe.

Why this cooking book?

There’s a lot of information on cooking out there. Stephanie has a metric ton of cookbooks and collected recipes in our house, and there are large chunks of old-growth forest bound up in the various cookbooks you can find in various stores. Thanks to the celebrity chef craze on TV, cooking (never an unpopular subject) has grown leaps and bounds beyond the good old Betty Crocker Cookbook that many of us grew up with[1]. Popular TV chefs now write and sell cookbooks on just about any specialty and niche you can imagine. I’ve even indulged in the recipe fetish myself once or twice, most noticeably to snag and perfect my favorite dish, the Cheesecake Factory’s Spicy Cashew Chicken dish.

What caught my attention (other than this being an O’Reilly book) about CfG was that my household has been slowly and steadily moving into the exciting world of food allergens. We recently flung ourselves off the cliffs of insanity this summer when blood tests revealed that Steph and Treanna tested positive for gluten antibodies. Add that to the existing dairy-free regime, and it was clear that menu planning at Chez Ganger had just started a new, exciting, but potentially very limited and boring chapter.

We’ve got a lot of friend who are gluten-free, dairy-free, vegetarian, vegan, some other regime, or even combinations of the above, so Steph’s no stranger to the issues involved. What is doable as an occasional thing, though, can become overwhelming when it’s a sudden lifestyle change that comes hard on the heels of a long, exhausting summer – just in time for the new school year. Understandably, Steph was struggling to cope – and we weren’t exactly the most helpful crew she could hope for.

After a few weeks of the same basic dishes being served over and over again, I was ready for any lifesaver that I could find. That’s when the fateful tweet caught my eye. After a few rounds of back and forth e-mail, I discovered that CfG included a chapter on cooking to accommodate allergens. The rest, as they say, is fate.

Torturing Chickens For Fun and Noms

Although I could go into great detail about the recipe my family ended up selecting – butterflied roasted chicken – my wife has already done so. Like a good writer, I will steal her efforts link to her blog post instead. She even took pictures! Go, read and salivate!

Back already?

Under the Cover

CfG is written by Jeff Potter, whose geek credentials appear to be genuine. The book has a fantastic companion site, which is essentially a link fest to the related blog and Twitter stream (as well as to the various places you can go on the Internet to purchase a copy of the book).

My lovely wife handled the “cooking” and “presentation” parts well, so I’m going to move on to our thoughts about the book itself:

  • Content. If you want a book that explores the science and the art behind cooking, this is your book. It’s not a college textbook; it’s a great middle school or high school-level overview of the science of cooking that seems more interested in sharing Jeff’s love of cooking with you rather than creating cooking’s equivalent of the CCIE. Jeff writes with a very informal personable voice and isn’t afraid to show off his mastery of the physics behind good and bad dishes, sharing them in a way that’s part Bill Nye the Science Guy and part Ferris Bueller. I have never before laughed while reading a book on cooking. However, if you’re expecting a cookbook, check your expectations at the door. If this book has a weakness, it’s that talking about all this food will make you want a lot of recipes to try out, and I was surprised by how relatively few recipes there actually are. What is there provides an interesting cross-section across different types of dishes and ingredients, but it’s not a comprehensive reference guide. This is not “Cooking in a Nutshell” or cooking’s Camel Book; it is instead a not-to-scale map of the CfG theme park. If you find something that entrances you, you should be able to walk away with enough exposure to be able to knowledgeably pick out some other more detailed work for given area. CfG is the culinary equivalent of Jerome K. Jerome’s immortal Three Men in a Boat (To Say Nothing of the Dog); you’re going to get a fantastic lazy summer day punt trip down the river of Jeff’s epicurean experiences.
  • Format. We used the PDF format (like all of O’Reilly’s e-books, unencumbered by DRM). Steph already made a comment about how useful she found the e-book format. With a sturdy tablet, I think an e-book cookbook would be great in the kitchen, especially if there were some great application that could handle browsing and organizing recipes from multiple sources. As I already said, though, this book is not a cookbook and I’d probably just make a quick copy of (or retype) the recipes I was interested in so that I didn’t have to use the physical book in the kitchen. Having said that, though, we’re going to purchase a physical copy of the book to facilitate quick browsing. If you’ve already made the switch to casual e-reading (we have not yet), you probably won’t have this same issue.
  • Organization. Whether you like the book’s organization will depend on what you wanted out of it. If you wanted cooking’s Camel Book, you will find the book to be dismayingly unorganized. The structure of the book (and the recipes within) are based around the physics of cooking. Here, Jeff reveals himself to be a Lego Master of building blocks – you will find yourself introduced to one scientific concept after another, and each chapter will build on that knowledge by concentrating on a particular theme or technique rather than on a specific type of food or course. It really will help you to think of it as a novel (a romance, actually, between Jeff and food) and read the book from cover to cover rather than jump around in typical O’Reilly reference format. This is passion, not profession; calling, not career.
  • Utility. I’m pretty much a dunce when it comes to cooking, so I found this book to be extremely useful. I hate following the typical magical thinking approach to cooking: put ingredient A into slot B and pull on tab C for 30 minutes until you screw it all up because you didn’t know that your masterpiece was afraid of loud noises. I want to know why I’m putting nasty old cream of tartar into my mixing bowl; what purpose does it serve? How can I usefully strike out into the scary wilderness of trying to adapt existing favorite recipes to a gluten-free, dairy-free existence? CfG doesn’t answer all my questions, but it answers a hell of a lot more of them than any other cooking book I’ve picked up. It didn’t talk down to me, but it didn’t assume I was already a lifelong member of the Secret and Worshipful Order of Basters, Bakers, and Broilers. What it didn’t do, though, is give me a large number of variations on a theme to go and try. At times the recipe selection – while ecletic and representative – felt somewhat sparse and even unrelated to what was being talked about in the main text. It seemed like someone on the team had written a badly behaved random recipe widget[2] to insert a recipe every so often. I would love, in the second edition, to see a little bit more connection between the theory and the practice, even though I recognize this isn’t a textbook.

We found our payoff in the chapter on cooking around allergens. Of all the chapters, this is the one that most felt like a reference work — a concise but thorough reference work. Jeff explains why (for example) taking gluten out of a recipe and merely substituting some non-gluten flour is probably not going to produce edible results, and then explains some of the common approaches for dealing with the problem. He’s trusting us, the readers, to be able and willing to do some experimentation and find our own way without having a GPS to lead us by the nose. While it’s initially tempting to have the comfort of specific substitution steps, in the end, CfG will help you know how to make substitutions on your own and quickly dial in to an acceptable solution rather than sit around waiting for someone to write the HOWTO.

In the end, Jeff’s approach is empowerment. We liked it a lot; thank you, Jeff and O’Reilly!

[1] Not only did I grow up with one and spend a lot of time browsing it, Steph has one. I’ll have you know, however, that I’ve only flipped through it once for auld lang syne.

[2] Probably written in Ruby or PHP.

On Patriotism

Patriotism is being committed to making things better for those around me no matter how good I personally have it. No government, political system, or economic theory is perfect; there will always be people who fall through the cracks. As a patriot, I have a responsibility to identify those cracks and work to mitigate them. Dedication to capitalism or socialism should not deaden me to the suffering of those who are not as fortunate as I am. In helping my fellow Americans, I am strengthening my country.

Patriotism is holding my elected officials, their political appointees, and the news media accountable for the choices and actions they take in my name. As a patriot, I have a responsibility to ensure that my representatives are conducting the business of government according to the values and principles they represented during election time. I need accurate and timely information on their performance and actions. I need to understand the difference between news and entertainment and know when each is appropriate.

Patriotism is acknowledging my country’s flaws with integrity and honesty instead of trying to cover them up or excuse them. When my government and policies fail – and being human institutions, they will fail – I will be tempted to downplay or minimize the impact of these failures. Instead, I must face these failures and their consequences forthrightly, make every reasonable effort to keep them from occurring again, and encourage my fellow Americans to do the same.

Patriotism is respecting the offices and institutions of my government even when expressing my disagreement with its policies and actions. Whether I am Democrat, Independent, Libertarian, Republican, some other party, or a member of none, I choose to discuss government and politics with civility and grace. I do not have to vilify political opponents in order to successfully engage their ideas and point out the failures of their actions. I can condemn bad choices and actions without hatred or unnecessary anger towards those who make them.

Patriotism is placing untainted personal ethics and morality ahead of my politics. I will not spread racism, classism, sexism, or other institutionalized forms of hatred. I have a responsibility to ensure that the voice of every American can be heard and that America provides as level of a playing field as possible. I have a personal stake in making America an ideal of compassionate, reasoned behavior to Americans and to the people of the world. I understand that my country will not be truly great if her citizens are not also great.

Patriotism is patient and compassionate. It is not jealous or blind. It does not covet or boast. Patriotism builds up and exhorts. It does not destroy or belittle. It does not promote lies or avoid the truth. Patriotism does not demand perfection, but asks you to always give your best.

May we all strive to be better patriots.

How To Develop Patience

“Lord, give me patience, and give it to me now!” I’m willing to bet most of of us have heard that joke (or some variant) at some point in our lives, but it underscores a serious question: how does one go about learning to exercise patience?

I’m no guru or saint, so I can’t answer the question for you, but for me it turns out the answer comes from a combination of two life experiences: my six and a half years at 3Sharp, and the nearly two years I’ve been studying karate. At 3Sharp, I learned how to do a lot of things that were beyond my initial comfort zone, developing deep technical presentations (and delivering them to large audiences), scoping and producing large technical projects such as books and whitepapers, and doing a large variety of work from hands-on consulting to research projects.

I’ve talked in previous posts about the physical benefits I’ve seen from karate. However, two weeks ago I tested for my 5th kyu belt (the second of my three green belts) and that experience made me aware of some deep changes in my personality and character. The step from 6th kyu to 5th kyu was particularly hard for me, and it took some time to sort out the two reasons why.

The obvious cause was schedule. I took two months off of karate at the beginning of the year, due to a combination of factors. That’s a hard gap to come back from; I had problems after the three week hiatus I took because of the MCM class. After two months, I just didn’t feel that my presence in class was doing any good until I had the privilege of watching two of my friends from the Mukilteo dojo earn their black belts one Saturday morning in February. I walked away from that experience feeling a new level of commitment to karate. After all, I told myself at that point, if I study hard, I’ll get to 5th kyu sooner or later, and that’s half-way to black belt!

The other cause was technical. The test kata for 5th kyu (Pinan Shodan) is the karateka’s first introduction[1] to a well-known and complicated set of katas, and while most of it seems to be straightforward, there’s a lot boiling up from underneath the surface. Carlos Sensei began introducing us to a series of drills based around Pinan Shodan that unpack a lot of useful theory and practice from the first eight moves of the kata. There’s this very difficult pivot/kick/double punch move right in there (I dub it UberHardMove) that is a key element of the kata, and I was having a hard time getting the pivot, kick, and punches all coordinated together and working the right way without falling on my ass. In fact, I had such a difficult time with it that I can remember sometime around the end of December thinking that maybe I’d found the wall beyond which my lack of coordination was not going to let me pass. In addition, there’s some pretty gnarly tuite that goes along with all of this and I found that I felt horribly weak on my tuite all around, let alone with the techniques I was supposed to able to demonstrate some proficiency at.

What ended up happening, though, was that the two-month time-out did me unexpected good. I didn’t go to class during that period, but I kept practicing karate around the house. (Just ask Steph and the kids; they’ll tell you that it can be difficult to get me to knock it off and stop interfering with whatever they’re trying to do.) And what I did during that time was to take UberHardMove and break it down into components, the way I had previously been shown as a blue belt[2]. I combined that with specific suggestions given to me by both Carlos Sensei and Liam Sensei and picked UberHardMove down to bare bones.

When I finally came back to class, I came back finally believing that the whole concept of me one day earning my black belt wasn’t the world’s best joke. I came back believing that I’d already invested nearly two years and I was willing to invest even more. I didn’t have to be perfect; I gave myself permission to suck. I knew that I was going to make stupid mistakes that I wouldn’t make (like mixing up techniques in lower level katas) if I’d been in class the whole time. I knew that my endurance was going to be awful. I knew that there was a lot of rust to scrub off and deal with and that it wasn’t going to happen immediately. I knew that I needed to let my instructors know that I desperately needed help with my tuite techniques. I knew that I was going to have to have them explain the same things about UberHardMove multiple times until I finally grokked it. In short, I accepted failure without accepting being a failure.

That was March. I tested near the end of May. Somewhere in there, I became proficient with my tuite. I learned a measure of peace with UberHardMove; I’m still not great at it, but I mastered it enough to move on to the next lessons[3]. Perfection is in fact is a bad word in our household. We think the concept of perfection is one of the worst lies that the Adversary ever got humans to accept.

When you stop trying to be perfect – when you give yourself permission to have flaws and failings and determine to be honest about them and learn from them rather than try to cover them up – something amazing tends to happen. You accept “doing your best” instead of “doing it better than everyone else.” You accept “that’s enough for now” instead of “that’s not good enough yet.” You develop a sense of faith that over time, your progress will trend upwards. With that faith, you can draw valuable lessons from your mistakes and missteps. You stop fighting the basic physical and neurological limits of how your body and mind acquire new proficiencies and start working within your limits to expand them instead of struggling against them to tear them down with brute force. You acquire patience – new and fledgling, but the seed of something that starts to affect how you deal with all of your life.

I’m no paragon of patience, but I can see clear changes. For example, I’ve been spending far less time playing Call of Duty on the Xbox in the last month or so. I have a better understanding of how that experience has been frustrating instead of fun and relaxing and I’m less willing to give in to that anymore.

I don’t know where this will go ultimately or at what pace. I can honestly say, though, that I’m okay with that. Will I get my black belt? I don’t know; there are many circumstances that could prevent or delay that. However, I certainly want to, and I finally know I’m capable of doing it, so I wouldn’t bet against me. But I also know that’s just another waypoint on the journey. It’s not an end. It’s a marker where I can say, “See what I’ve done so far? That’s pretty cool. Now I’ve learned enough that I can get serious about learning this stuff and helping pass it on to others.”

Two months ago, I’d have said I couldn’t wait for that day. You know what? That’s not true. I can wait. I will wait. And I will do so profitably.

[1] In our style, at least. There are other styles that place another Pinan kata before Pinan Shodan.

[2] In a nice twist of synchronicity, the person who showed me was at the time was a helpful brown belt from Mukilteo who ended up being one of the two black belts I got to watch test. He has continued to be an amazing source of inspiration for me through what is now a large number of discouraging situations. Hi, Max!

[3] It’s not going away; I still practice it, and I know that it will get better as I learn more. In fact, those final four moves in Pinan Nidan where I’m in a cat stance might be helpful here, hmmm…

North Pole data leakage woes

Not even old Saint Nick is immune from the need for a good data management and protection regime.

First, we have confirmation that his naughty and nice database has been hacked.

Now, there are credible rumors that the North Pole CIO has been covering up a years-long, systemic problem with Santa losing mobile devices. According to unidentified sources, the list of allegations includes:

  • Lack of priority for safeguarding key data, especially through mobile systems. Recent refits for the sled have focused on tracking transponders for “greater publicity”, but no corresponding upgrades to mobile IT systems. These systems are specifically characterized as “obsolete 286 systems running DOS and home-brew Paradox applications written by some dentist in his spare time.”
  • Habitual problems with smartphones. In order to ensure inexpensive world-wide access, Santa’s system includes the use of multiple handsets from strategically selected regional carriers. “In the last several years, Santa has yet to come back from his Christmas Eve run without having lost at least three of his devices,” one insider claims, “and of course we don’t have remote wipe capabilities. That would require him spending money.”
  • Lax information and network practices, including no formal security policies or processes. Remote accesses aren’t even protected via SSL, according to sources, since “anyone who’s so cheap they haven’t updated stock PR footage of elves making wooden toys isn’t likely to shell out for a respected SSL certificate or PKI infrastructure.”

It will take time to gather confirmation of these claims, but if they are true, it shows a shocking disregard for basic security best practices at the North Pole.

Support Our Scout

Edit 11/11/09 to remove the embedded video and replace it with a link. It was messing up the layout and I need to do more research to figure out how to embed videos inline.

I love living in the future. First, though, watch this video that Alaric and I made.

I was a Boy Scout for close to three years. I started as a Boy Scout; I missed Cub Scouts, including Webelos Scout. When I was in Scouting, we had to go door-to-door to do our fundraisers, or spend a lot of time with our relatives over the phone. I hated doing it, for reasons that didn’t become clear until much later in life when I began grappling with autism and Asperger’s. However, I have a lot of good memories of Scouting; it did a lot for me and it was a valuable part of my childhood.

Steph and I wanted Alaric to experience Scouting. Even though the modern BSA has some characteristics that I don’t agree with, I’ve come to the decision that first and foremost, Scouting is about the boys. Scouting needs intelligent, reasonable adults of all persuasions to help drive the program. By being part of Scouting, Alaric will learn and do things Steph and I can’t give him on our own; by having us there with him, Alaric will learn how to deal with people from differing backgrounds in a diplomatic and productive manner.

Over the summer, Alaric has really seen what a good thing Scouting is. He even got me to go to Scout Camp with him for four days in July, and I must admit I even had fun. It was a great experience for both of us, including facing down and conquering some challenges.

Unlike many Scout packs and troops, Alaric’s pack works on the schedule of the school year. As a result, they do their major fundraising push at the beginning of the school year with a number of activities. Alaric’s already helped out pulling Hire-A-Scout wagons at the local auto swap meet and had a great time. However, the major source of operating funds is the traditional Trail’s End popcorn fundraiser. Trail’s End, if you don’t know, has been the go-to-source for Scout fundraising for a long time, and they offer some of the best popcorn on the planet.

Over the past few weeks, we’ve been rather hectic and busy and haven’t really had time to coach Alaric on his first door-to-door sales campaign. (Poor guy seems to have the same issues I did when I was his age, so it was pretty painful.) This last week, I came up with what is I hope a brainstorm: harness the power of the Internet to get Alaric’s sales pitch out there. So, you get to enjoy the results: the following video where Alaric and I pitch popcorn to YOU, the faithful reader. And because this is the future, Trail’s End even got with the program: they now allow you to purchase online, supporting a specific Scout, and have the product shipped directly to your door!

Go to Trail’s End to support Alaric’s fundraising for his pack

Thank you for your support!

The Great Exchange Blog Migration

Over the next few days, I’ll be adding a large number of posts (just over 250!!!) to the archives of this blog. For a number of congruent reasons, 3Sharp is closing down the Platform Services Group (which focused on Exchange, OCS, Windows Server, Windows Mobile, and DPM) and my last day will be this Friday, October 16 after over six and half years with them. With 3Sharp’s gracious permission and blessing, I’ll be duplicating all of the content I’ve posted on the 3Sharp blog server over to here. If you have a link or bookmark for my work blog or are following it via RSS, please take a moment to update your settings. Yes, that means there’s going to be more geeky technical Exchange stuff going forward, but hey, with a single blog to focus on, maybe I’ll be more prolific overall!

To head off some of the obvious questions:

  • This is not a horrible thing. 3Sharp and I are parting ways peacefully because it’s the right decision for all of us; they need to focus on SharePoint, and I’m so not a SharePoint person. They’ve done fantastic things for my career and I cherish my time with them, but part of being an adult is knowing when to move on. We’re all agreed that time has come.
  • I’m not quite sure where I’m going to end up yet. I’ve got a couple of irons in the fire and I have high hopes for them, but it’s not time to talk about them. I am going to have at least a week or two of time off, which is good; there are several projects at home in dire need of sustained attention (unburying my home office, for one; fixing a balky Exchange account for another).
  • I’m not going to be a complete shut-in. I’ve got a couple of appointments for the following week, including a Microsoft focus group and a presentation on PowerPoint for Treanna’s English class. I’m open to doing some short-term independent consulting or contracting work as well, so contact me if you know someone who needs some Exchange help.

Thank you to 3Sharp and the best damn co-workers I could ever hope to work with over the years – and a huge thank you to all of my readers, regardless of which blog you’ve been following. The last several years have been a wild ride, and I look forward to continuing the journey with many of you, even if I’m not sure yet where it will take me.

Two karate blessings

These past 14 months that I’ve been a karate student have given me a number of deeply satisfying moments, including the joy of sharing an activity with my daughter. Last Tuesday, however, proved to be an especially fruitful class for both of us.

Starting in September, the YMCA agreed to try out dropping class fees for YMCA members, and as you might imagine, we immediately saw a small but steady wave of new sign-ups for class. As a result, for the first time in a while, we have a good number of new students – white belts. As a result, we spend a large chunk of class time going back over many of the basic techniques in more detail than we’ve gotten used to. Those of us who are higher belts get to work with the white belts one-on-one during many of these exercises. This proves beneficial to everyone – they get a personal workout, and we get a mirror to more clearly see how well we’ve mastered the basics (or not, as it usually happens).

The first blessing was working with a gentleman who has been in class somewhere around a month. He and I were working through one-step exercises: one person performs a basic punch attack while the other defends, then we switch roles. We do this with seven defenses. As you work through the ranks, the defense techniques get more complicated, but for white belt one-steps, it’s pretty simple. Or so it seems now after a year; they were quite challenging when I first started and I got to re-experience that working with this gentleman. During our practice, he had one of those epiphany moments and what had been a struggle suddenly turned into AHA! with a clarity we both felt. It was an honor to be working with him in that moment.

The second blessing came about indirectly because of some misbehavior. You see, our protocol and customs direct us to pay attention and not engage in side conversations or monkey business when sensei is teaching. (Turns out there are no exceptions for “if you think you already know this” or “if you’re bored.” I checked. Who knew?) Well, several of us – including me and Treanna – weren’t quite paying attention to that one, and the senior student got called on it. I later told Treanna that he’d taken one for the team; we all were equally guilty of inattention. As class was drawing to an end, though, Treanna engaged in another breach of protocol that earned her some gentle ribbing. (She might read this, so I won’t tell you what she did. This time.)

Being a vigilant father and role model, I immediately realized we had what the experts call “a teachable moment” here. So we cracked open our karate notebooks and made a date to come back tonight after dinner, both having read the protocols, and discuss what we’d found:

  • There are three basic sets of protocol in our notebook: white belt (people who’ve just joined), blue belt (9th kyu, or your first belt), and orange belt (7th kyu, or your third belt). After reading them, we decided that they all have the common themes of respect, safety, and responsibility.
  • We think that white belt protocol focuses mainly on the what habits I need to become a student (discipline). That is, all of the guidance seems to be directed more at helping the newcomer gain the structures he will need to effectively learn karate.
  • We think that blue belt protocol focuses mainly on how I become a member of the community (identity). This comes after the first belt (typically earned after several months) and the guidance is more focused on becoming aware of and fitting into the dojo structure.
  • Finally, we think that orange belt protocol focuses mainly on how I give back to the community (service). This comes after three belts and around a year of study – a good foundation from which to be able to start learning to progress by helping others.
  • As a final note, we saw that there was no specific protocol for further belts. We speculate that’s because the student in green and brown belts is expected to do the same things she is already doing, just to a greater degree. And once she gets to black belt – that’s a watershed mark, and sensei will teach us what is expected of us on that day at the proper time.

If you’re not in a martial art, that’s probably boring and generic. To Treanna and I, though, it seemed pretty profound, and I think we’ll walk back into class tomorrow with a new-found sense of focus and commitment.

Windows 7 RC: The Switch

This weekend, I finally finished getting our desktop computers replaced. They’re older system that have been running Windows XP for a long time. I’d gotten newer hardware and had started building new systems, intending to put Vista Ultimate SP1 on them (so we could take advantage of domain memberships and Windows Media Center goodness with our Xboxes), but one thing led to another and they’ve been sitting forlornly on a shelf.

I must confess – I’m not a Vista fan. I grudgingly used it as the main OS on my work MacBook Pro for a while, but I never really warmed up to it. SP1, in my opinion, made it barely useable. There were some features about it I grew to like, but those were offset by a continued annoyance at how many clicks useful features had gotten buried behind.

So when I finally got busy getting these systems ready – thanks to Steph’s system suddenly forgetting how to talk to USB devices – I decided to use Windows 7 RC instead. What I’d seen of Windows 7 already made me believe that we’d have a much happier time with it. So far, I’d have to say that’s correct. Steph’s new machine was slightly tricky to install – the built-in network interface on the motherboard wasn’t recognized so I had to bootstrap with XP drivers – but otherwise, the whole experience has been flawless.

Want to try Windows 7 for yourself? Get it here.

One of my favorite experiences was migrating our files and settings from the old machines. Windows 7, like Vista and Server 2008 before it, includes the Easy Transfer Wizard. This wizard is the offspring of XP’s Files and Settings Transfer Wizard but has a lot more smarts built in. As a result, I was able to quickly and easily get all our files and settings moved over without a hitch. With the exception of a laptop, we’re now XP free in my house.

Today, I ran across this blog post detailing Seven Windows 7 Tips. There were a couple of them I had already figured out (2, 4, and partial 3), but I’ll be trying out the rest this evening!

And now, after the long break

Okay, okay…so updating my blog server took longer than I’d anticipated. Getting the old material out of Community Server into BlogML format turned out to be a lot easier than I’d thought and finding the time to get it all imported into WordPress wasn’t much harder. What tripped me up was getting all of the redirection for the old, legacy URLs working.

Community Server and WordPress store their content in very different ways, and so they generate the URLs for blog posts using different algorithms. I know there are a fairish number of links out there in blog land to various posts I’ve done, and for vanity sake, I’d rather not orphan those links to the dreaded 404 not found error. The solution was to find the time to buy the lastest edition of O’Reilly’s Apache Cookbook and bone up on the Apache web server directives.

So, I think all the relevant old URLs should now automatically redirect to their proper new places — there’s not much point in keeping all the old posts if you don’t do this. The nice thing, for those of you who are web geeks, is that I’m issuing permanent redirections so Google and other search engines will update their links as they re-trawl my web site, thus pointing to the new URLs. For those of you who are humans, you might want to take a minute to check your bookmarks and make sure they’re updated to the new links.

One note: some commenter data didn’t make the import successfully. I could probably dig into it and find out why, but frankly, at this point, it’s more important to get the site (and Steph’s blog) back up and running. So, sorry — if you were one of those commenters, I apologize. Future comments should be preserved properly, and I really don’t see moving away from WordPress anytime soon.

If you’re reading this, then the necessary DNS updates have finished rolling out and we’re back live to the world. Thanks for your patience!

A Path of Nines

Nine months ago I stepped outside of my comfort zone and started a month of karate at the local YMCA. I didn’t expect to renew for a second month. It turns out that I love it. I’ve gotten to the point that I start dreaming about the things I’m doing, which is scary on one level and very cool on others. At any rate, I’ve had a lot of thoughts that need more time to flesh out and probably will only interest my fellow students, but I do want to share a few correspondences I’ve noticed lately between karate and the number nine.

  • There are nine belts, or kyus, between rank beginner and black belt in my school of karate (which is part of the All-Okinawan Shorin-Ryu Matsumura Karate and Kobudo Federation, or OSMKKF). As of tonight, I have passed three of them. That makes me 7th kyu — what you might call orange belt, except that we don’t actually use the orange belt (or even stripes on the belts); we just have three blue belt kyus, three green, and three brown. I like this because it helps minimize rivalry between students.
  • The blue belt kyus use the same basic kata, with what look to be minor differences for each kyu — mostly in the blocking techniques you demonstrate. The footwork, though, is the same, and it requires you to face the nine cardinal points of the compass (the normal eight plus the center position for the beginning and end of the kata). All too often we learn the specific steps of the kata and don’t stop to think about how the overall pattern looks or rhythm flows. That’s the kind of stuff I’ve started dreaming about, and man, it is cool!
  • I have learned to examine the first kata at a whole new level with each additional kyu, and I have been told that this will continue. So the very first kata they teach us unpacks to at least nine separate layers! No wonder it takes years to really master this stuff! Some students make the mistake of thinking they’ve learned everything they need to know from the earlier levels; I’ve already had at least case of figuring out how a current technique I was mastering applied to an earlier technique, making both of them stronger as a result.
  • In a typical Tuesday evening workout, I will practice various katas an average of nine times. This typically includes polishing the kata I will next be testing for and learning the basics of the next kata. There are days this does not feel like it is enough — and that would be right. So we practice at home too; in fact, there are certain parts that I find myself practicing at work as I walk back and forth from my office to the kitchen or to co-workers’ offices. (Apparently I look really funny walking through the lobby practicing punches.)
  • For my next kyu, I start to fold in weapons work (which is the kobudo part; karate is technically only bare-hand work). I will first work with the bo staff, which is six feet or 72 inches tall — nine times eight. I’m tremendously excited to be working with the bo; somewhere in my head, the iconic definition or avatar of martial arts got associated with being a bad-ass with the staff, so now I feel like I’m finally stepping into the heart of what it means to be a martial artist. Intellectually, I realize this is silly, but it still feels true.

Don’t worry; I’m not trying to seriously assert that the number nine somehow has some sort of mystic foothold in karate (that would be number ten, which in Japanese is ju, and controls our workouts). I just noticed these and was amused. What’s been more awe-inspiring has been noticing the changes in the last nine months:

  • I’ve continued to lose weight. Granted, I’ve not experienced the same dramatic pace as I did in the first month, but it’s still a slow and steady drop. This is really cool given some of the interruptions and stressors I’ve had during these nine months that have wreaked havoc with my karate attendance.
  • My overall muscle tone has improved. You probably wouldn’t notice the difference, but I certainly do. Certain actions are a lot less effort than they used to be, and there is visible muscle definition amongst the remaining layers of pudge.
  • My endurance has increased. Right now I’m at that point where if I miss a week and a half of karate, I definitely feel it, but if I attend regularly I can make it through the workouts and not feel completely beat up. More importantly, I’m better able to keep up as the speed of some of the workouts increases; if I slow down it’s to perfect technique, not because I can’t do it.
  • My reflexes have improved. This has been the startling one for me, because as long as I can remember my reflexes have sucked. I’m still no Chuck Norris or Bruce Lee, but the other day I knocked a glass tumbler off the counter and caught it without looking directly at it. Whoa!

By some counts, these last nine months have gotten me a third of the way to black belt. I don’t feel that way; I feel that they’ve set my feet on a path that I’ll still be walking for years to come. I’m not worried about belts or kyus; that’s sensei’s job to track, not mine. I just have to get through each workout, each kata, each set of one-steps, each class having given my best and learned everything I can. The rest will take care of itself. I’d never have caught that glass if I’d been trying to learn it as a trick, but by focusing on each step while I’m at it, I’ve gotten my body — as out of shape as it still is — to a point where I can do things I’ve never been able to do before. And that, friends, is magic.

Live from Facebook: 25 Random Things about Devin

Over on my Facebook profile, I got tagged by about five people with this whole “25 Things About Me” meme. I finally decided to respond. Am I glad I did — I’ve been having a great amount of fun with the ensuing comment thread. In fact, it’s so much fun, I figured I’d repost it here. (If you read this and my Facebook profile, you’ve already seen this; feel free to skip it.)

  1. When I was a child, I once typed out over 3/4 of my favorite book so I could have my own copy to read. I couldn’t afford to buy one at the time.
  2. I learned to read when I was four; we moved to a new house and couldn’t get TV reception, so my parents got rid of our TV. The next year, I figured out people got paid to write books. I’ve wanted to be a published writer ever since.
  3. I enjoy karate, now that I’m taking it. I know that martial arts the world over teach a variety of armed and unarmed techniques, but I’ve always secretly thought of the bo staff when I think of martial arts. Now that I get to work with the staff, I *feel* like a martial artist.
  4. I love peppermint ice cream, caramel, and Girl Scout thin mint cookies. However, my favorite dessert is chocolate chip cookies. My wife makes a killer variant: orange chocolate chip cookies. YUM!
  5. I’m a sucker for all things feline, except for some pure-bred Persians and Siamese that are too stupid to breathe. When I was a kid, I got to play with a white tiger cub; white tigers are my favorite cat. I like some breeds of dogs, but not the small yappy ones.
  6. I think that forgiveness isn’t a “get out of jail free card.” It’s a process designed to help victims divest themselves of the continuing karmic damage they inflict upon themselves and let go of any claims of vengeance or retaliation. True forgiveness does not absolve the offender of consequences, but it does open the door to mercy and breaks the cycle of anger and revenge.
  7. I hated high school. I’d home schooled for five years, then moved to a new town and started public high school. So much wasted time and energy, especially on social hierarchy games! I wonder if I would feel the same if I’d been one of the popular kids…but we’ll never know.
  8. After my son was born and my daughter was a toddler, we found out that my family has a history of autism. If you ever wondered why I was so weird, you can thank Asperger’s Syndrome. However, that only gets 65% of the blame; the rest is all me.
  9. My first trip outside North America was a speaking gig at a roadshow in Lisbon, Portugal. I’ve always wanted to visit Portugal; they were the home of some of history’s greatest navigators and explorers.
  10. I have discovered that I enjoy speaking in public; the bigger audience, the better. However, I typically dread question and answer sessions, even though I’ve been told I do them well.
  11. The first time I saw Steph I knew I would marry her, even before we were introduced. The universe gave an audible and tactile “click” that was impossible for me to miss! This is why I was able to not get all nervous around her.
  12. As I have gotten older, I have become more concerned with uncovering the structures and principles that events work on, and less concerned with arguing the particular details of a given situation. Getting axle-wrapped about details is a great way to keep anything from being resolved. Boring!
  13. My favorite food? The Cheescake Factory’s Spicy Cashew Chicken. Screw dessert — I gorge myself on the chicken. Yum! If we’re talking homemade, then it’s the pizza that my wife makes, based on a modification of my mother’s recipe.
  14. When format allows, I always leave blank lines between paragraphs. I also insist on serial commas in lists unless the style guide says otherwise. (Real writers can do whatever the style guide says, or rewrite to avoid the points they disagree with.) The sentence “I’d like to thank my parents, God and Ayn Rand” gives me all the justification I need.
  15. My daily work involves Microsoft Windows and Exchange, and I’ve just been recognized for my third year as a Microsoft Exchange MVP. If you’d told me ten years ago I’d not still be working with Unix, Sendmail, and Postfix, I’d have laughed at you.
  16. I don’t like kids, mainly because I hated being one. Adults always talked down to me and condescended in other ways. As a result, I try to never talk down to kids myself. I find they are better listeners than most adults and respond well to more advanced instructions that most adults would believe.
  17. Before the Internet got popular, I used to run an electronic BBS. I had no games and the only files I had for download were basic utilities; I specialized in message forums no one else in my area would touch. My BBS was always busy, and over 80% of my callers came from out of state.
  18. To me, the difference between a “friend” and an “acquaintance” is how much work is put into the relationship. You can’t really be a friend if both sides don’t work to make it happen.
  19. I’ve been sporting a shaved head since college, when my best friend’s dad talked me into it. Although I occasionally grow my hair out, I’m resigned to shaving my head for the rest of my life. Nothing else really works well.
  20. I have a simple philosophy about shopping: do your research and buy an well-made item that will last (even if it’s expensive) instead of buying for price and having to replace it multiple times. Your time is worth more than your money.
  21. I can’t stand thrift stores, second-hand shopping, or even most garage sales. There’s a psychic residue to most of the items there that is very unpalatable. I’ve had to learn to let Steph do her bargain-hunting thing, but she knows how to find the good items.
  22. I was never a Cub Scout, but once I got into Boy Scouts, I was a den chief to both a Cub Scout den and a Webelos Scout den. My favorite part of Boy Scouts, though, was being on the ceremonial Native American dance team for our Order of the Arrow lodge.
  23. I’ve really enjoyed the Halo universe, both video games and novels. In fact, I’d like to build a set of Mjolnir armor, and one of my friends and I are planning to build a working Warthog. Geek!
  24. I often have insomnia. Part of it is that I resent the time I lose to sleep. It feels like dying a little bit, especially because it can be a struggle to wake up again in the morning.
  25. I want my wife to be a ninja. I mean, who wouldn’t

If you’re reading this for the first time, consider yourself tagged. Your turn! Post a link to your blog (or wherever you post your “25 Things” list) in the comments so I can go read it too.

The Facebook Experiment

Warning: the following post may not make much sense. If it does, it may sound bitter and arrogant. I apologize in advance; that’s not my goal here.

I finally got a critical mass of people dragging me into Facebook, so I’ve ben doing it over the last couple of months. I entered into it with a simple rule: as long as I knew someone or could figure out what context we shared, I’d accept friend requests. I only send friend requests to people I want to be in contact with, but if someone wants to keep up with me, I’ll happily approve the request. (Remember, Asperger’s Syndrome; I may be able to fake looking like I’m socially adjusted, but underneath, I’m not.)

This resolve has been sorely tested by a number of requests I’ve gotten from people from my high school days. I am not one of those people who thinks that high school was the best time of my life. Far from it, actually. Now that I understand about Asperger’s, I have been able to go back and identify what I was doing to contribute to my misery during those years — and boy was I — but I also know that there were a bunch of people who were happy to help. I was happy to leave that town, happy to never go back, and happy — for the most part — to not try to get back into some mythical BFF state with these people that I never shared in the first place. There are some exceptions; you should know who you are. If you aren’t sure and want to know, send me a private message and ask. Don’t ask, though, unless you’re ready to be told that you’re not.

Does this mean I want people to stop requesting? No. We’re adults. (At least, we should be.) Life moves on. I’m not that same person, and I’m willing to bet you’re not either. Let’s try to get to know one another as we are now, without presuming some deeper level of friendship than really exists. It’ll be a lot easier for everyone that way, and probably a lot more fun.

Three observations, two confessions, and an apology

Observation The First: only paying a touch over $2/gallon for gas feels positively sinful.

Observation The Second: one way to survive Seattle winters is to occasionally say “screw it”, roll the window down in the car, and let the cold wet air in while pretending it’s an 80-degree summer day with blue skies.

Observation The Third: If you’re cutting back on caffeine intake and you’re down to approximately two bottles/cans of Coke a day, one should really not have one’s morning bottle of Coke during the morning commute and the thoughtlessly purchase and drink a 20oz. mocha latte (one of the approximately two a year I have) during the latter portion of that same commute. Hot damn, I can levitate right now.

Confession The First: I really like Katy Perry’s Hot N Cold. Sure, the song is pop glitter, but it’s fun pop glitter, and it makes me squee like a little girl every time I turn it on.

Confession The Second: When I say that I don’t dance, what I really mean is that I don’t dance standing up. I’ll dance at my car or desk, but I’ll do it in a way that’s deliberately bad and frightening, because I like to mess with people. You’d be amazed how well a properly timed desk dance can clear out your office of annoying project managers and co-workers.

Apology*: For the residents and fellow commuters along Avondale road between 8:20 and 8:23am who heard and saw a red Ford Focus (with a Decepticon icon on the hood) blasting Hot N Cold out the driver’s window at high volumes, I plead guilty. That was me in my overcaffeinated, car-dancing bliss. Same to the folks along 124th, especially at the 124th/Woodinville-Redmond Road intersection, who were treated to the same, only with Cyndi Lauper’s Into the Nightlife, from 8:31 to 8:34am.

* I don’t know if this is a real apology, because I can’t guarantee I won’t do it again. At least I’m honest.

This is what I do for fun???

For the last three weeks, I’ve been on vacation.

Much of that vacation has consisted of quality Xbox 360 time, both by myself (Call of Duty: World at War for Christmas) and with Steph and Chris. (Alaric had a friend over today and we had a nice six-way Halo 3 match; the adults totally dominated the kids in team deathmatch, I might add.) However, I’d also slated doing some much-needed rebuilds on my network infrastructure here at home: migrating off of Exchange to a hosted email solution (still Exchange, just not a server *I* have to maintain), decommissioning old servers, renumbering my network, building a new firewall that can gracefully handle multiple Xbox 360s, building some new servers, and sorting through the tons of computer crap I have. All of this activity was aimed at reducing my footprint in the back room so we can unbury my desk and move Alaric’s turtle into the back room where she should have a quieter and warmer existence.

Yeah, well. Best laid plans. I’ve gotten a surprising amount of stuff done, even if I have taken over the dining room table for the week. (Gotta have room to sort out all that computer gear, y’know. Who knew I had that much cool stuff?) My progress, however, has slowed quite a bit the last couple of days as I ran into some unexpected network issues I had to work my butt off to resolve.

Except that now I think I just figured out the two causes. Combined, they made my “new” network totally unusable and masked each other in all sorts of weird and wonderful ways. It was rather reminiscent, actually, of the MCM hands-on lab. I guess I’ve been practicing for my retest.

Ah, well. I still have one day of freedom left before I head back to work. I might actually be ready to go.

This is just the start

Despite the fact that I’m now counting the hours until the election is officially over — election season has been *so long* and so incredibly divisive from all angles — I’m aware of the fact (and even somewhat excited by the fact) that no matter how it turns out, it’ll be one for the history books. The hope, of course, is that it’s one for the history books for the right reasons.

However, there’s a very disturbing trend I’ve seen here and there, both online and in interactions with various people, and that trend is this: if we can just make it to election day and choose The Right Candidates, we’ll be fine. All the wrong-thinking people will be shown the error of their ways during the next four years, the economy will be fixed, energy problems will be solved, and the world will be saved.

This, my friends, is magical thinking, and it’s precisely the sort of thinking that has led us to this point in history. It is the manifestation of the human wish for easy, single-solution problems and for immediate fixes. It is the failure of courage to realize that we’re in this for the long haul; if we really want to make a difference, we can’t just get riled up for a couple of months, go vote, and then go home and wait for everything to just suddenly get better. It is the ability to ignore or excusing the problems and deficiencies in Your Guys while fixating on those of the Other Guys. It is a failure of accountability and responsibility, the unwillingness to take meaningful action when confronted by broken promises and campaign lies.

Let me be clear, even though many will say that I’m being a defeatist: no single election will save the world, let alone America. There are too many people out there focused clearly on their goals (good or bad) who are willing to expend the type of energy and effort every day that some people have lately discovered in this election process. If you’re one of those people and you’re ready to step back down to a comfortable life after election day — you’re ready to end the last few months of reading and research and activism and just get back to “normal” — then here is my advice to you:

Don’t vote.

No, seriously.

If you aren’t willing to sustain that level of energy and drive forward with it for at least the next four years — to check up on your elected officials and make sure that they’re doing the things they said they would, that they’re being the responsible leaders they claimed to be, that they’re working towards the ends that you put them in office to work for — then don’t vote to put them in office. In order to do the job you want them to do, they need your support not just to get into office, but to actually do the work. If you’re not going to be there to support them, that’s like pledging to a charity and never writing the check; it makes you feel good, but there’s no real impact to you.

America’s problems will not get fixed overnight. They will not get fixed during a single Presidential term. They will not magically go away. Now that you’re up off the sidelines, if you really want things to get better, you have to stay up and active. Your elected officials cannot and will not make the changes themselves; experience has shown us this time and time again, regardless of party or affiliation.

If you haven’t already, go vote. But when you vote, realize that this is just the start. You’re in this for the long haul. If you’re not prepared to make that commitment, you’re got some thinking to do.

Empty hand

In my previous post, I talked about taking a class at the local YMCA. You may have noticed that I didn’t mention which class I was taking; that wasn’t by accident. I didn’t feel like talking about it until I knew it wasn’t going to be another fad.
Well, last Tuesday, sensei awarded me my 9th Kyu blue belt, so now I feel comfortable announcing that I’ve been taking Okinawan Shorin-Ryu Matsumura Karate for the past couple of months. I started it in the beginning of July, the same week of personal vacation that the kids started their summer introduction class. Since that time, I’ve lost 20 pounds — desperately needed — and have started to gain some measure of confidence that I can do this. I’m no prodigy, but I can plod step by step really well, and I’m already seeing huge benefits to my physical coordination.
More importantly, I’ve discovered three very important things about myself:

  1. I am no longer afraid of pain. I walk into every class knowing that the workout is going to wipe me out and that it’s going to, on some level, suck eggs. I am always right — I’m badly winded, have sore muscles, and more than once have been so dizzy I almost passed out. Yet I keep coming back for more, and I’ve finally gotten to the point that my brain isn’t desperately trying to find excuses for skipping class.
  2. Somewhere along the way, I’ve started to internalize the philosophy of “one step at a time.” I haven’t really dwelt on the whole “Devin with a black belt” thing, because that’s a heck of a lot of work and is way beyond my capabilities now. Heck, being asked to test for my blue belt was a surprise (albit a pleasant one). Our dojo teaches that it’s discourteous to ask sensei if you’re ready to test; he knows when you’re ready and will tell you. For the first time in my life, I have absolutely no difficulty in following that advice. I really do not look beyond what sensei tells me to do in a given class; I’m content to work on that and trust sensei to keep track of the big picture. (For my autistic self, this is a HUGE step.)
  3. Probably the biggest one: I enjoy this. It’s probably one of the most physically demanding things I’ve ever done. I’ve spent hours of time at home slowly walking through each phase of the simplest technqiues. A simple step-double punch technique is really hard for me, because it involves coordinating so many things — hand positions, feet placement, breathing, wrist rotation, proper fist alignment, and more. I don’t find this stuff at all easy, and now I have lots of things to keep track of. My response is to treat it like choreography for theater — break it down into small components and practice each of those. Unlike dancing, though, when I put the pieces back together, the results aren’t laughable — and I’m totally enjoying the process.

Since the classes are at the YMCA and not a dedicated dojo, things are relatively informal. We’re tied in with several other dojos in the area (most of them also in YMCA facilities nearby) and are part of a bigger federation. The teachers and students are all great; very supportive and not at all competitive or dismissive. I don’t feel ashamed for letting my health slide for so long; I just feel like I have help in going where I want to go. I’ve gotten to the point where I look forward to each class.

The beatings shall continue until the anatomy improves

One of the reasons I’ve been a lot quieter on the blog front for the past month is Call of Duty 4 (actually, let’s be honest; that’s one of the ways I’ve chosen to spend a lot of my free time since Christmas). However, at the beginning of July, I added a new reason: I started taking a class two days a week at the local new YMCA.

This class has been kicking my butt, but it’s been good for me. Our main teacher — we’ll call him PT — is a doctor and can’t always be there. If that happens, we have a backup teacher (named ST). Over the past couple of weeks, I’ve seen a lot of ST, and his warmups usually have me breaking a good sweat. Well, PT was back tonight…and oh my GOODNESS, he is a LOT more grueling. I actually got dizzy and had to step out for a minute. My shoulders hurt, my legs hurt, my arms hurt, all in that “OMGWTF you did WHAT to us???” way that really lazy muscles get.

I do not like this. I do not like barely having enough energy to drive home, eat, and make it through a shower. I do not like being this out of shape. It seems that PT doesn’t like it either, and he’s determined to help me fix all these things. It’s a good thing I’m tired of being slothful and rotund; I know that, left to my own devices, I would never drive myself this hard. The class is small and I like the other students, enough so that my poor body image is outweighed by my desire to not look like a complete wuss in front of these people. And they have been very helpful and supportive.

I guess I get to continue this course of action. The only way out: make there be less of me, so that it doesn’t hurt so bad when PT gets his hands on me. I’ve even started noticing that I’m cutting down on the snacks and treats at work and at home — I look at them and find myself thinking about how they’re going to make PT’s next workout that much harder.

Yay for progress?

Vanity Fair, Miley Cyrus, and Disney

Man. Just shoot me now, because not only am I about to blog about Miley Cyrus, I’m about to defend her.

Yup, that’s right. I, as a parent of a girl about to be a teenager, am willing to go on record and defend the already infamous photo shoot which has been characterized as the result of villainous Vanity Fair exploiting a minor to sell magazines.

What in the world can I be thinking?

Well, for starters, her parents and other advisors were on the set with her. There’s another picture from the same shoot that’s also drawing a lot of ire — one person I read described it as a “disturbingly erotic photo…like one of those old Calvin Klein ads, except with incest” — showing Miley reclining on the lap of her father, Billy Ray. I’ve seen the picture; I think it’s disturbing, but not because it’s somehow evoking incestuous thoughts. No, I just don’t like Vanity Fair’s visual style; they have this uncanny way of taking normal people and making them look alien. They reduce people to cold, otherwordly icons, rather than capture whatever it is about them that makes them human. All the kerfuffle about this picture is, in my mind, predicated on the growing bias and backlash towards males, the same socially acceptable prejudice that allows airlines to reseat male passengers who are sitting next to unaccompanied minors.

He’s her father, y’know? By all accounts, he’s a damned good one. He’s involved with her career; he’s got a good reputation for not just being a co-star on her Disney show, but for being a parent. I’ve never even heard a whiff of accusation against him before now, so why is it all the sudden acceptable to characterize a picture of a father and daughter as “incestuous”?

Oh, that’s right. Because this particular teenage girl is owned by Disney. Shame on Miley for being a growing young woman who is just 3 years away from being a legal adult. Shame on Billy Ray and his wife for actually being strong parents who feel entitled to make decisions on Miley’s behalf even if they don’t always correspond with Disney’s interests. Don’t they know that they should have just ceded control of her career and future over to Disney? Disney would have preserved her in amber to make sure she never displayed even a hint of sexuality (with one or two exceptions noted below) until the day she turned 18. That strategy has worked so well for so many other Disney youth — Britney Spears, Lindsay Lohan, and Hayden Panettiere come to mind. They’re all healthy young ladies who have a responsible outlook on what it means to be an adult in an industry that promotes people based on their inner qualities.

And let’s be honest — Disney doesn’t appear want its stars to have any healthy sense of sexuality at all, even when they’re older than 18. Look at the recent kerfuffle with Vanessa Hudgens, who was 19 when she had pictures taken that Disney disapproved of. This smacks of outright hypocrisy on Disney’s part; they’re aiming squarely at the tween and teen crowd, and you can bet that “I want to be just like ______” is a large part of their planned market appeal. Ever taken a close look at the Lolita-ish designs of the Hannah Montana clothing lines? Ever heard a group of tween girls giggling about how some Disney boy is so “hot”? (I have.) Heck, ever watched Miley’s stage show? The choreography is blatantly sexual. This does not match the “clean-cut” appearance that Disney seems to want its actors to portray so they can play the “family friendly” card, but somehow, nobody at Disney publicly protests these displays.

I’m betting that the genesis of Miley’s apology was just after Disney’s PR people saw the Vanity Fair photos and freaked. By all reports, Disney lawyers earn their pay; they write tight contracts. I don’t even pretend to have inside knowledge, but I’m guessing that Miley and parents weren’t “embarrassed” by the photos until Disney informed them that they were displeased and that Things Must Be Fixed. Is Disney really outraged on behalf of Miley, or are they worried about her earning potential somehow being diminished?

Now, having said all that, would I allow my daughter to take those pictures? At 11, not just no — hell, no! At 15, probably not. But then again, I wouldn’t let my daughter get up on stage and dance some of the routines that Miley Cyrus dances, either. Is the Cyrus family wrong to let Miley do it? Tough question, but the answer is ultimately theirs, not mine. I’m not Miley’s parent, I’m Treanna’s parent. My job as a father — and from all reports, Billy Ray seems to have this one figured out pretty well — is to teach my kids how to be healthy, responsible adults. As humans, we learn best from a combination of positive and negative reinforcement; some of our best-remembered lessons come from our failures. As my kids grow older, if I can’t extend them increasing amounts of freedom and larger opportunities to earn and display responsibility, I’m doing something wrong. I can’t protect them from consequences, but I must do my best to teach them about consequences before they learn them the hard way — and then if they make the wrong choices, I have to let them take those consequences and meet them appropriately. I suspect Miley’s learning all sorts of unintended consequences from this photo shoot, one of which is, “Don’t cross Disney.”

Too tightly wound to know how to react

This has not been one of the best weeks I’ve had. That’s not to say it’s been all fire and brimstone — it hasn’t been an Old Testament kind of week — but the victories and good things have been few and far between. One of them happened last night; I passed a needed certification test on my first try.

I just got word that my grandmother died. This is a call I’ve been expecting and would suck, except for the fact that she’s been on the decline for a long time, including pretty severe memory loss. My immediate reaction was, “Thank goodness, it’s finally over.” A year or two ago, I was planning on driving down to see her (even though I knew that she wouldn’t recognize me or remember who I was) and was pretty much told flat-out by my family not to bother. This was after several years of not making time to get down to see her before everything had slipped away, or writing letters on a regular basis.

So, yeah, I’m glad that her decline (and, at the end, physical suffering) has come to an end, and I’m glad that the family members who’ve invested such dedication into her these past several years may finally have a chance to get some semblance of normalcy back in their life, but I also feel more than a little guilty for being so short-sighted. I have awesome memories of spending time with this woman back when I was a kid — she was fun, full of fire and life, and the only one I know who played multi-hand Solitaire (or Uno) to draw blood. Yet I don’t grieve for her now…because that woman already died many years ago. What left us today was her shell.

I don’t know how I should be reacting right now.

Gary Gygax, requiescat in pace

E. Gary Gygax died yesterday at the age of 69.

They say that anything you do more than once is tradition. I guess that mine is to offer the words written by Annie Lennox, Howard Shore and Fran Walsh, as sung by Annie Lennox, at the end of The Return of the King:

Lay down your sweet and weary head
Night is falling; you’ve come to journey’s end
Sleep now and dream of the ones who came before
They are calling from across the distant shore
Why do you weep? What are these tears upon your face?
Soon you will see all of your fears will pass away
Safe in my arms, you’re only sleeping

What can you see on the horizon?
Why do the white gulls call?
Across the sea a pale moon rises
The ships have come to carry you home.

And all will turn to silver glass
A light on the water; all souls pass

Hope fades into the world of night
Through shadows falling out of memory and time
Don’t say “We have come now to the end”
White shores are calling; you and I will meet again
And you’ll be here in my arms, just sleeping

What can you see on the horizon?
Why do the white gulls call?
Across the sea a pale moon rises
The ships have come to carry you home.

And all will turn to silver glass
A light on the water; Grey ships pass into the West

As I have no words of my own, perhaps this image will do:

[A tribute to Gary Gygax: dice and candles, PNG, 640x480]
in 160×120
in 320×240
in 640×480
in 800×600
in 1024×768
in 1280×1024

Feel free to download and use it; just please don’t remove the copyright notice. Also, please feel free to share with others; please, though, just link them here instead of simply passing the files on. If you download it, I’d very much appreciate it if you’d leave me a quick comment.

Thoughts from the break part 1

So, I’m in Sydney for a training conference that I’m talking about in my work blog if you’re interested. There’s a lot of interesting small differences that have more of a mental impact to me than the big ones:

  • The exit signs inside buildings are green with white letters. I’m used to the opposite.

  • Didn’t find a single country radio station. Of course, this could be because the alarm clock/radio in my hotel room is cheap.

  • Speaking of hotel rooms, holy crap are they small! I’m having flashbacks to the really crappy hotel room in London from a couple of years back.

  • Did I mention that the hotel rooms have a distinct lack of ornamentation? Very small, very functional, but it feels like living in a cupboard.

  • Apartment buildings are painted interesting colors.

  • Window dimensions are subtly off.

  • They’ve got Taylor Swift’s Teardrops on My Guitar on the muzak system here at the conference center. I noticed an interesting lyrics change: the line “it’s just so funny” is “it’s so damn funny” here. Apparently, in the United Nanny States of America, the terrorist will win if a 17-yo girl says “damn” in a country song.

  • The magazine in my hotel room had Nicole Kidman on the cover, but I’ve not yet seen a single mention of Kylie Minogue.

  • Speaking of Nicole Kidman, she’s done two movies with Daniel Craig — The Golden Compass and Invasion, which I watched on the plane. Basically another cover of Invasion of the Body Snatchers, only they wimped out on the ending.
Whoops! Time to go, more later!

Heading for the underside of the world

In just a few more hours, I’ll be on my way to do something I’ve never done before — cross the equator. I’m just going to kayak down to the big black line floating on top of the ocean, nip across, spin around counter-clockwise, then nip back home.

No, seriously — I’m heading to Sydney, Australia with my cow-orker Kevin to a week-long training conference. I think I might be able to survive the flight. I leave Seattle on the evening of February 2 and land in Sydney on the morning of February 4. By my calculations, that’s nearly 40 hours of time — but due to the vagaries of the International Date Line, I’ll experience far less of that (Sydney’s 16 hours ahead of us). In effect, I will not exist for February 3. That’s right, folks, I’ll be completely non-existent for my 12th wedding anniversary. Don’t worry, though; I’ve been aware of this for long enough to have made (and executed) plans and all the proper observances have been made; Steph will not be shortchanged.

Other than survive my time in time-zone limbo and the grueling plane flight, I’m hoping to meet up with a longtime net.friend and fellow SJGames freelancer and maybe even get to do the Harbour bridge climb. So, if you don’t hear from me for a week, it’s all good — I’m having fun down in the land of the Southern Cross.

Whoa. I just realized, that if I see any stars, they’re going to be totally different.

A thought to think

I’ve been knocked off my sleep schedule this week — I had to test some sleeping medication I need for an upcoming business trip and verify that I wouldn’t have any unanticipated side effects before I was in Australia and unable to do anything about it. However, in the midst of all this, I had an interesting thought, spurred a discussion with my new office mate. We were talking about history and the traditional adage that “history is written by the winners.” I disagree; I think it’s something more like this:

History is interpreted by the winner’s descendants.

Things that make me happy

  1. That I’ve managed to successfully get myself back on an “into work by 6am” schedule for nearly three weeks now. Even though I am not a morning person, I find that this schedule has a number of benefits, the most important being that I feel like I get more work done (of better quality) and that I correspondingly have an easier time keeping work from taking over my life.
  2. Seeing that my sleep schedule is finally starting to show signs of settling down against the previous point.
  3. Call of Duty 4.
  4. Writing while listening to Def Leppard Pyromania and the Halo 3 soundtrack.
  5. Having finally had the uninterrupted hour to clipper and shave my head again. True, it was at 3:30am this morning, but it just made a nice start to the day.

My ambitions

  1. To finally learn (and never forget) how not to take my wife and kids for granted.
  2. To write a sung SATB Eucharist liturgy and get it recorded with Alison Krauss, Sara Evans, Sting, and Josh Turner.
  3. To always have a story to write that I’m passionate about.
  4. To have the resources I need to help my family, friends, and the people around me.
  5. To be content with my life without ever crossing the line into settling.

Coolest musician on the planet

The more Steph and I listen to Brad Paisley, the more impressed we are. (Those of you who don’t know who he is, he’s a country singer. If you don’t like country, that’s fine, you can stop reading, although I suggest you go to the video section of his website and at the very least watch Whiskey Lullaby, the duet he does with the incomparable Alison Krauss.) Tonight, though, I came in the middle of a new song on our local radio station: Letter to Me. The basic premise is simple: the song is a list of the things the singer would tell his 17 year-old self.

The best line of the song comes in the bridge:

And I’d end up saying have no fear
These are nowhere near the best years of your life

I don’t think I can tell you just how nice it is to hear one of these types of songs that doesn’t wallow in that sugar-coated all-American myth that “your high school years are the best years of your life.” Those years aren’t your best years — they shouldn’t be, at any rate — and if they are, you either need to pull your head out of your ass and look around to see how good your life is or you need to get in line for a serious kick in the ass.

Thanks, Brad. You continue to confirm that you are one of the coolest people in the music business.

Back to the Light

Yesterday evening, I found out that author James Oliver Rigney died yesterday after a long struggle with amyloidosis (a disease where your body deposits insoluble proteins in its own tissues and organs). Mr. Rigney was better known under a variety of pennames; the one that touched my life the most was Robert Jordan, author of the best-selling Wheel of Time fantasy series.

At one point in my life, I was extremely active in the rec.arts.sf.written.robert-jordan Usenet newsgroup. We’re talking ancient history here — at least a year and a half before I was married according to Google (and I think they’re missing a lot of the older stuff). My participation in that group filled a huge gap in my social life at a really shitty time in my life. I don’t even remember how I got introduced to The Wheel of Time, but I do remember that I was just in time to read the first three and start waiting for the fourth book along with everyone else. My days of Usenet participation are long past, but I still have a handful of active friendships from that group.

More importantly, that group –and thus Robert Jordan — is directly responsible for me deciding to move to Tacoma and thus be in the right place at the right time to meet the woman who would become my wife. I stopped reading the books many years ago (maybe I’ll get into my reasons some other day when it won’t just sound like bashing the departed, and if people actually care) but they brought me from the worst place in my life to the best place in my life. It took a while for the news to hit me, but hit me it finally did last night. Robert Jordan introduced me to many neat people, including the person who is my best friend, my lover, and my partner in all ways.

Thank you, Mr. Rigney. You have been loved, you will be missed, you have touched my life, and I send you back to the Light with sadness and gratitude.