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!

And @marypcbuk Nails IT

Amid all the bustle of MEC, I’ve not taken a bunch of time to read my normal email, blogs, etc. However, this article from ZDNet caught my eye:

Windows 8: Why IT admins don’t know best by Mary Branscombe

The gist of it is that IT departments spend a lot of time and effort trying to stop users from doing things with technology when they would often be better served enabling users. Users these days are not shy about embracing new technology, and Mary argues that users find creative ways around IT admins who are impediments:

The reality is that users are pushing technology in the workplace — and out of it. The Olympics has done more to advance flexible and remote working than a decade of IT pilot projects.

What got her going is the tale of an IT admin who found a way to disable, via Group Policy, the short tutorial that users are given on navigating Windows 8 the first time they log on.

I see this behavior all the time from admins and users – admins say “No” and users say “Bet me.” Users usually win this fight, too, because they are finding ways to get their work done. A good admin doesn’t say “No” – they say, “Let me help you find the best way to get that done.”

Mary finishes with this timely reminder:

See something new in Windows 8? If your first impulse is to look for a way to turn it off, be aware that you’re training your users to work around you.

What a refreshing dose of common sense.

Getaway

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-Map

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!

steph_and_the_blue_goose

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.

PICT0499

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.

A Virtualization Metaphor

This is a rare kind of blog post for me, because I’m basically copying a discussion that rose from one of my Twitter/Facebook status updates earlier today:

I wish I could change the RAM, CPU configuration on running VMs in #VMWare and have the changes apply on next reboot.

This prompted one of my nieces, a lovely and intelligent young lady in high school, to ask me to say that in English.

I pondered just hand waving it, but I was loathe to do so. Like I said, she’s intelligent. I firmly believe that kids live up to your expectations; if you talk down to them and treat them like they’re dumb because that’s what you expect, they’re happy to be that way. On the other hand, if you expect them to be able to understand concepts with the proper explanations, even if they may not immediately grasp the fine points, I’ve found that kids are actually quite able to do so – better than many adults, truth be told.

So, this is my answer:

The physical machinery of computers is called hardware. The programs that run on them (Windows, games, etc.) is software.
VMware is software that allows you to create virtual machines. That is, instead of buying (for example) 10 computers to do different tasks and have most of them have unused memory and processor power, you buy one or two really beefy computers and run VMWare. That allows you to create a virtual machine in software, so those two computers become 10. I don’t have to buy quite as much hardware because each virtual machine only uses the resources it needs, leaving the rest for the other virtual machines.

However, one of the problems with VMWare currently is that if you find you’ve given a virtual machine too much memory or processor (or not enough), you have to shut it down, make the change, then start it back up. I want the software to be smart enough to take the change *now* and automatically apply it when it can, such as when the virtual machine is rebooting. For a physical computer, it makes sense — I have to power it down, crack the case open, put memory in, etc. — but for a virtual computer, it should be able to be done in software.

Think of it this way: hardware is like a closet. You can build a big closet or a small closet or a medium closet, but each closet holds a finite amount of stuff. Software is the stuff you put in the closet — clothes, shoes, linens, etc. You can dump a bunch of stuff into a big closet, but doing so makes it cluttered and hard to use. So if you use multiple smaller closets, you’re wasting space because you probably won’t fill every one exactly.

In this metaphor, virtualization is like a closet organizer system. You can add a clothing rod here to hang dresses and blouses on, and underneath that add a shelf or two for shoes, while to the side you have more shelves for pants and towels and other stuff. You waste a little bit of your closet space for the organizer, but you keep everything organized and clutter-free, which means you’re better off and take less time to keep everything up.

Of course, this metaphor fails on my original point, because it totally makes sense you have to take all the stuff off shelves before moving those shelves around. In the world of software, though, it doesn’t necessarily make sense — it’s just the right people didn’t think of it at the right time.

Clear?

I came close to busting out Visio and starting to diagram some of this. I decided not to.

Edit: I don’t have to diagram it! Thank you, Ikea, and your lovely KOMPLEMENT wardrobe organizer line!

Ikea KOMPLEMENT organizer as virtualization software

A Modest Thought on “Don’t Ask/Don’t Tell”

With the recent activity surrounding the hearing for Army Lieutenant Dan Choi, an Iraq War veteran and Arab linguist who is also openly gay, I had a thought occur to me and I wanted to share it with y’all.

In my (limited) experience with the military, there’s still quite a bit of public resistance to the idea of allowing gays to openly serve. There are many reasons that one may take this stance, ranging from deeply principled to deeply homophobic and covering all points in between. If the objection comes from deeply held religious or moral convictions, I choose to respectfully disagree with you, but I understand and value the fact that you do have your beliefs on this issue.

From my anecdotal experience, though, the people who are usually the loudest about this issue (“I ain’t lettin’ no queer next to me with a gun; I’ll shoot his ass first!” is a representative sample I’ve heard recently) tend to be strongly grounded in the “mindlessly homophobic” rationale. This isn’t just confined to the military, though. I have plenty of memories of the charming functional illiterates at my rural high school indignantly asking me if I was gay, harrassing me for my presumed homosexuality, and making not-so-subtle meant-to-be-overheard comments about my lack of “real manliness”. These were the people who would always get in your face and confront you on your disgusting life choices — as long (of course) as you weren’t big enough or mean enough to be perceived as capable of handling the violence they always threatened to dish out.

Let’s take a representative example of this kind of person — we’ll call him Bubba. (Don’t assume that it’s only guys who do this; I’ve heard plenty of women who do too. ) Down at the bottom of it all, though, these guys and gals have one common flawed assumption, deeply rooted in raging sense of entitlement:

If that person is gay, they want to have sex with me.

I think the appropriate response here is a quote from Megan Fox’s character of Mikaela:

Oh God, I can’t even tell you how much I’m not your “little bunny.”

In other words, Bubba has committed the logical fallacy of assuming that just because a gay man is sexually attracted to some men, they must like all men — including, necessarily, Bubba. In other words, the defining characteristic of a gay man’s sexuality, according to Bubba, is the orientation; once a man is gay, they automatically must like all men even if those men are otherwise unattractive. Bubba, sad to say, thinks that being gay overrides any sense of taste or choice or other form of preference.

Bubba is a dumbshit. Bubba is, however, all too common — I’ve heard plenty of people independently reproduce this exact line of reasoning.

My thought and theory is: that for the Bubbas of the world, the objection to knowingly associating with someone who is gay comes down to projection of their own inner characteristics: Bubba wants to nail pretty much every female, or in the event that he has some self-restraint, is deluded enough to think that every woman wants to have sex with him. Being a paragon of self-control and discernment, Bubba is naturally are unable to conceive of someone who could in theory be attracted to them but isn’t.

What Bubba objects to, I believe, is not the gay person’s lack of taste and self control, but his own. It’s the same as the liar who in turn is convinced that everyone lies to him and is unable to see a truthful response without looking for the “real” answer, or the person who continually cheats others in big and small ways and in turn expects everyone to cheat her.

Do I think that everyone who objects to military service for gays and lesbians falls into this trap? Not at all. I just tend to think that the more vocal someone is about it, the more likely they are to have this motivation simmering at the bottom of it all. People who suffer from this attitude tend to have the crudest, most violent responses to homosexuality; they tend to be the loudest slanderers, the meanest and most illogical protesters. They argue from a well-deserved fear, because if everyone was just like them, all the sick, dark scenarios they fantasize would of course happen.

God knows that my gay and lesbian friends and acquaintances are no saints. Some of them are people I don’t willingly spend time around — but then, there are plenty of straight people I don’t want to spend a lot of time around either. Frankly, I’ve found that brushing off determined advances from a guy who likes me is no better and no worse than those from a gal who likes me — orientation having less to do with it than does their fundamental ability to hear and accept, “Thanks, but I’m not interested.”

Mind you, typically the Bubbas of the world are at heart hypocrites, because almost all of them have absolutely no problems with lesbians. Oh, no. They’re in favor of lesbians. Mainly because, along with all their other stinking thinking, they are under the delusion that those lesbians still secretly want them — so they’ll be able to score with the lesbian and her girlfirend at the same time.  Because of this, it’s easy to spot a Bubba and identify his objection for what it really is.

Defend THIS

Iowa’s Supreme Court handed out a fairly shocking unanimous decision this morning striking down the definition of marriage as “one man, one woman”, upholding a 2007 Polk Country ruling

If you follow along my blog, you probably already know that I think this is a good thing, so I won’t comment extensively on it here. However, there’s one section in the article I linked to above that just reeks of so much stupidity that I have to respond:

Maggie Gallagher, president of the National Organization for Marriage, a New Jersey group, said “once again, the most undemocratic branch of government is being used to advance an agenda the majority of Americans reject.”

“Marriage means a husband and wife. That’s not discrimination, that’s common sense,” she said in a press release. “Even in states like Vermont, where they are pushing this issue through legislatures, gay marriage advocates are totally unwilling to let the people decide these issues directly.”

Really? Ms. Gallagher, did you really just stoop to the “30 billion flies eat shit” argument to justify your position? You lose.

Okay, to unpack that for anyone who didn’t follow that train of thought:

Ms. Gallagher is relying on the tactic of telling people “the government is ignoring your opinion.” By telling people this, she’s playing on a fundamental ignorance of the design and intent of the American government system, which is the tired old myth that America = democracy = the will of the people = only tolerating Christian values. Let’s see what our founding fathers had to say about that:

It is, that in a democracy, the people meet and exercise the government in person; in a republic, they assemble and administer it by their representatives and agents. A democracy, consequently, will be confined to a small spot. A republic may be extended over a large region.
Federalist No. 14

Democracy is two wolves and a lamb voting on what to have for lunch. Liberty is a well-armed lamb contesting the vote!
Benjamin Franklin

Remember, democracy never lasts long. It soon wastes, exhausts, and murders itself.
John Adams

It cannot be emphasized too strongly or too often that this great nation was founded, not by religionists, but by Christians; not on religions, but on the Gospel of Jesus Christ. For this very reason peoples of other faiths have been afforded asylum, prosperity, and freedom of worship here.
Patrick Henry

I know no safe depository of the ultimate powers of the society but the people themselves, (A)nd if we think them not enlightened enough to exercise their control with a wholesome discretion, the remedy is not to take it from them, but to inform their discretion by education. This is the true corrective of abuses of constitutional power.
Thomas Jefferson

I have always thought that all men should be free; but if any should be slaves, it should first be those who desire it for themselves, and secondly those who desire it for others. Whenever I hear anyone arguing for slavery, I feel a strong impulse to see it tried on them personally.
Abraham Lincoln

I could go on all day and find tons of quotes, but the key threads that I’m weaving here are these:

America is not and was never intended to be a pure democracy. Remember the phrase “the tyranny of the majority”? Basically, it’s great to be in a democracy if you’re part of the 51%. Not so much to be in the 49% Our democratic functions are not set up to allow citizens to directly decide upon laws and legislation and the handling of day-to-day governance; they are set up to elect responsible leaders who do that for us, and to give us mechanisms to take those leaders out of the picture when they fail to discharge their responsibilities. That’s the “democratic republic.” Remember the Pledge of Allegiance? “I pledge allegiance to the flag of the United States of America and to the Republic for which it stands…”

By electing responsible leaders (including legislators and judges), we are in fact giving those leaders the mandate to act in the fashion they see as best. If we don’t like what they do with that mandate, then we’d better pay attention and give them feedback. You can’t leave the people out of the equation, but you can’t directly hand them the keys to the kingdom, either. That’s why we have checks and balances, including the judicial branch of government. It is their job to say, “No, these laws are causing harm and cannot be used, even though they are popularly supported.”  The exercise of democracy should never come at the expense of depriving others of their liberties. How long did popular opinion support and uphold slavery, and how much damage did that do to our country (and continue to do today)? How long was racism enshrined in our laws? Sexism? If you’re counting upon the will of the people to make the correct choice every time, you’ve got a pretty grim track record of results.

America was designed to be a refuge for all religious belief systems, not just a narrow stripe of fundamentalist Christianity. This includes religious systems that directly challenge basic beliefs of Christianity. It was never designed to be a system that promoted Christianity over all others, even though the majority of founders were Christians, espoused Christian ideals, and wanted to see this country continue to be based on a set of morals not completely incompatible with Christianity. When push came to shove, most of the founders espoused liberty and freedom *over* Christian principles as a guiding principle for the government. They reasoned, correctly, that Christianity could flourish in an environment where liberty was pursued, but the reverse was not true (as had been graphically demonstrated). That is, the proper place for Christian values is on the individual level and in our relationships with others, not hard-wiring our specific interpretations into our functions of government. Religion + bureaucracy + power = corruption of values and lessening of liberty.

Let me leave you with this final challenge if you’re still thinking that it’s your religious duty to enshrine your notion of marriage into the laws of our nation:

Show me a comprehensive case in Scripture for collective Christian political activism. Remember the specific accusations the Pharisees made against Jesus to Pontius Pilate and his answers to Pilate in return. Remember his response to the commercialism in the Temple, how his fiercest criticisms were reserved for those who used religion to gain and maintain power. And then take a look at the agenda and funding of groups like National Organization for Marriage and Focus on the Family who are leading this fight to preserve marriage (whatever that really means) and tell me how they’re not gaining power and money from their collective activism.

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.

Oh, Alaric Ganger, no!

For the most part, we have good kids. We get compliments on their public behavior all the time. Usually, this is because we’ve taught the kids to hold it together until they get back home, where we give them a bit more leeway. However, what it also means is that when they mess up in public, they tend to do it large and with style. Witness Alaric’s current example: getting caught taking his new pocketknife to school. In Washington, this is a bad thing, although not as bad as it could have been in another school district that has a “zero tolerance” policy. At least our district gives the principal leeway on how they handle things. Alaric’s a very lucky boy; he avoided suspension and has instead been spending the weekend writing two reports.

I’ve copied the first of the reports below, because I’m really proud of how it came out. He turned this out after three drafts and a day of research and notecard activities. All of the wording is his own.

The Importance of Responsibility
This is a report on the importance of responsibility and making responsible choices.

I found the definition of “responsibility” in the Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary. One definition of responsibility is, “the quality or state of being responsible.” I think the definition that fits responsible is, “able to choose for oneself between right and wrong.”
This is what responsibility means to me: the habit of making the right choice. When I’m responsible, I make the right choices most of the time. I don’t make bad choices so bad stuff doesn’t happen.

Responsibility is important because it will result in affecting the people around you in a good way. Responsible behavior helps keep bad effects away; for example, if I eat too much junk food and not enough healthy food, I’ll get fat. One of the results of being responsible is making people pleased.
When you make choices, consequences come along. The type of consequence usually depends on whether the choice is good or bad. For example: I take my sister’s doll; I get grounded for the rest of the day. Some consequences will affect other people around you.

A responsible choice is a choice that is good. An example of a responsible choice is: I want to bring a toy to school, and it’s not toys from home day, so I don’t. When you make a bad choice, you get a bad consequence; when you make a good choice, you get a good consequence.
Making good choices is not always easy, so we need guidelines from other people. There are many ways to tell if a choice is responsible. Here are some of them: parents, teachers and principals, or the student hand book.

Now you know the importance of responsibility and making responsible choices.

He still is working on the one about the law on weapons at school.

No, just the Doctor

After looking at a lot of options, Alaric has decided that he wants to be the ninth Doctor for Halloween. This is good for us — it’s a simple costume, in theory, especially since I’ve already got a sonic screwdriver prop I can lend him. The Ninth Doctor has very simple clothing, especially compared to some of the earlier versions, and beats trying to put together a “Vader’s Apprentice” or “Master Chief John 117” costume. However, finding a suitable jacket for an affordable (I’m thinking $15-20 here) price is going to be the challenge.

Anyone out there got good ideas of how to get a suitably sized jacket (boy size 10; men’s small is too large) for the boy in time, in an affordable range? It doesn’t have to be an exact match.

Feel free to forward this plea for help on.

LJ random quote meme

One of my friends on LiveJournal posted a meme. Now, I’m normally not the kind to participate in various memes, but I like this one: go here and pick out five random quotes that somehow resonate with you (keep going until you find the right five), then post them. Here are mine:

  • If you want to catch something, running after it isn’t always the best way.
       Lois McMaster Bujold, “Borders of Infinity”, 1989
  • Avoid the crowd. Do your own thinking independently. Be the chess player, not the chess piece.
       Ralph Charell
  • Forgiveness does not always lead to a healed relationship. Some people are not capable of love, and it might be wise to let them go along with your anger. Wish them well, and let them go their way.
       Real Live Preacher, RealLivePreacher.com Weblog, July 7, 2003
  • Women and men have to fight together to change society – and both will benefit… Partnership, not dependence, is the real romance in marriage.
       Muriel Fox
  • Never tell evil of a man, if you do not know it for certainty, and if you know it for a certainty, then ask yourself, ‘Why should I tell it?’
       Johann K. Lavater

Your turn! I’m pondering whether I should tag anyone specifically; it only seems appropriate to do so as an appropriate evolution off of LJ. If I were to tag anyone, I’d tag Stephanie, Paul, and someone who claims to be not so clever (but lies).

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.”

Am I hot or not?

Stupid website, but it gives me a chance to taunt my co-worker Kevin. This morning I got a puzzled e-mail from him, asking me why this picture of me in Sydney from February (yes, that’s Sydney, Australia; we were there for training for work) was the most-viewed picture in his online galleries (warning, probably not a worksafe gallery). I have no clue, but I think it’s damned funny.


Kevin’s a hard-core picture nerd; he’s got a wireless card for his digital cameras that will automatically use any nearby open WiFi connection to upload pictures to his Web gallery. This means that on a trip he’s usually got pictures uploaded before he gets back to his hotel, let alone before he gets home. That’s pretty cool, even if (like me) you aren’t inclined to take gigabytes of pictures everywhere you go.

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.

Expanding Alaric’s world…and getting mine expanded in return

Recently, we decided to do something about a problem we’ve been noticing with our kids. While they’re both avid readers, they both tend to re-read the same books — tens of times serially if we’d let them. Alaric was not happy when we temporarily banned him from yet another end-to-end re-read of the Harry Potter series (by this point, he’s easily read them three times more than I have), and for a week or so has been ignoring the assigned reading we gave him off of our bookshelves. He was probably hoping we’d forget.


Well, he finally picked up the book we told him to read — Ender’s Game by Orson Scott Card. Pretty soon, he was hooked (just like we told him he’d be). He even told me we were right, so let’s hear it for expanding horizons! If you haven’t read it, the book is about a future Earth that has been united only by the existence of aliens, insect-like beings colloquially called the Buggers. We’ve had two wars with them, both won only at great odds and narrow margins, and a third is inevitable. Earth’s military complex is so desperate for talented fleet commanders that they’ve set in place a process to detect, requisition, and train young children; an exceptional 8 year old will be taken into space to Battle School where he (or the occasional she) begins years of training. Ender, the main character, is younger than normal, but also more talented.


We knew that once he got started, he’d love it; the process of getting him to expand his horizons is sometimes a struggle, but usually worth the effort. However, in this case he returned the favor. If you’ve read the book, you know that one of the neat bits is the little quotes Card opens every chapter with. Many books do this, but in Ender’s Game the quotes are snippets of conversation between minor adult characters in the book. With one exception, all of the major characters in the book are children, so these snippets give Card a way to fill the reader in on the full political situation of which the children are ignorant. They are designed to be tantalizing at first, only fully coming into focus after the major plot points begin to be revealed, and it usually takes a re-read or two to be fully conversant with who is speaking in these conversations. Alaric, at first, thought that the Buggers were holding these conversations! He pretty quickly realized his error, but that really got me thinking about how cool it would have been if Card had pulled something like that off…


…and now I’m wondering if I can work that idea into any of my stories. Hmm.

Christmas 2007 Newsletter

INTRODUCTION


Merry Christmas to you all from the cold and wet northern Puget Sound region, the jewel of lovely Western Washington and the place we like to call home. If you’ve seen our fair state on the news lately because of all of the flooding, you can rest assured that we came through just fine. We are grateful for that; many roads up in our area took water damage and there are portions (such as Lewis County, where Stephanie was born) in which recovery will be a very long time in coming.


Speaking of recovery, we’re pretty sure that most of you who know us are either shocked or awed at several aspects of this newsletter. Allow us to assure you of the following items:



  • Yes, we actually managed to get a Christmas card in the mail before Christmas, not sometime between Epiphany and Spring Break like we normally do.

  • Yes, we actually had family pictures taken. They’re relatively good pictures, taken by a paid professional rather than some sad quick last-minute snap from whatever cell phone camera is handy.

  • Yes, we are all smiling in them (and yes, for Devin, that’s as goof of a smile as you can hope to see when there’s a camera around). We even did the whole sappy arms-around-everybody pose.

  • Yes, we actually used this group-hug family portrait and had the studio make up a bunch of pre-printed Christmas postcards so we can send them out to all of you.

  • Finally, we are hoping it isn’t a fluke; we constantly receive requests for pictures, pictures, and more pictures. Devin even had professional headshots taken earlier this year for his editors.

We aren’t huge fans of creating the stereotypical end-of-year family newsletter (although we love getting them from our friends!). We feel like our efforts usually either turn out being some sort of twisted cross between a travelogue, a résumé, and a rap sheet. However, it beats writing a quick note for each of you – when we have somewhere in the neighborhood of 100 pictures going out, there’s no way we’re going to be able to do a hand-written personalized note. This is our compromise – we’re crafting up this article, giving y’all a much more comprehensive peek into our lives than we’d have time for with the traditional approach; in return, you agree to not get mad at us for losing the personal touch. Everybody gives something up, but everybody gets something (which is the sure sign of a good compromise) – and we’re even trying to be ecologically friendly by keeping this online.


Without further ado, let us launch into the meat of the tale. Rather than follow the typical laundry list of who did what (and to whom), we’re going to skip around by theme.


PROFESSIONAL


This has been a big year for everyone in our family. Steph, as the heart and soul of our family, continues to apply her organizational and hospitality skills to ever-better use around the home, giving the rest of us the foundation we need to get out in the world and do what we have to do when we’d rather just sit at home playing Xbox all day. She’s motivated several waves of de-cluttering and furniture rearrangement, which has resulted in a cleaner and more comfortable home than ever before. We’ve even managed to get the front room cleaned out so that we have a real guest room now, with a super-comfy Select Comfort bed that she snagged from the Internet for a song.


Unfortunately, the rest of us constantly challenge Steph’s quest for ever-increasing efficiency. Devin, currently in the home stretch of his fifth year with 3Sharp, is putting the finishing touches on a new technical book he’s authoring with fellow 3Sharpie Ryan Femling; this book has eaten up way too much of his evenings and weekends for most of the year. Combine that with a busy travel year (speaking engagements in Anaheim, Chicago, Dallas, Denver, Las Vegas, Minneapolis, Orlando, and Phoenix) and being awarded as a Microsoft Exchange Most Valuable Professional (MVP) for 2007, and we’re really glad he’s had a great year at work, because he’s been this close to useless around the house. (Okay, he did finally get an entire carload of obsolete computer gear turned in to the recyclers, but that was just a couple of hours one afternoon.)


Speaking of useless around the house, our cunning plan to continue introducing the kids to increasing levels of fiscal responsibility has met with mixed results. Rather than do a typical extortion allowance scheme, we’ve settled on feeding their collectable card habits (Transformers for Alaric, Bella Sara for Treanna) in return for their timely and adequate execution of a list of duties. We’ve got two lists – “Mom’s Kitchen Helper” and “Everything Else Including Covering For Dad’s Lazy Self” – and they switch them off each week.


Treanna is flying through her 5th grade year, her last before entering the mean streets of Girl World in middle school, and Alaric is enjoying his 3rd grade year. Both kids are excellent readers, far beyond the typical grade-level expectations, and continue to make significant progress in mastering compensatory behaviors and strategies for their Asperger’s Syndrome. This gives them several steps up on their father; we regularly receive compliments on their behavior, and Devin rarely ever gets compliments on his.


RECREATIONAL


In the Ganger household, 2007 is the Year of the Xbox. Devin has plotted all year long to use revenue from freelance writing activities to fund the Christmas purchase of an Xbox 360 system, accessories, games as the family Christmas present – and this plan, we must admit, has actually worked pretty much the way he intended. He did, however, also step into the world of console games for his birthday in September, thanks to a sweetheart deal on an original Xbox console (with two controllers and nine games, including one on his “Your Wife Wants These Games, So Buying One Might Convince Her To Say Yes To Yours” list) that Stephanie found on the local craigslist. The blame for even wanting a game console can be properly assigned to three events:



  • One of our family friends for let us borrow his Playstation 2 for several months, thus exposing Devin to Need For Speed: Most Wanted and allowing him play it all the way through.

  • Alaric bought himself a copy of Lego Star Wars I for the PC. Alaric, Devin, and Stephanie all finished it; Treanna was diverted by Bella Sara part way through.

  • The kids bought Devin a copy of Lego Star Wars II for the PC for Father’s Day. Again, everyone but Treanna finished it up. To this day, Treanna claims that she has better ways to waste her spare time.

The kids were making significant progress with last year’s major Christmas presents, their mountain bikes, and had participated in several supervised cross-town trips to the library and friends’ houses. Unfortunately, this enjoyable and pleasant pastime was cut short when persons of unknown identity decided that our entire household was no longer in need of our bikes. We’ve held off replacing them until we have a better security solution in place.


2007 is also the Year of Swimming; both kids were able to get three hours of private instruction at our new YMCA facility, thanks to an inspired birthday gift by their godmother Mickie. They both had earned their basic swimming bracelet, signifying that they could swim 25 meters in proper YMCA-approved fashion (face down in the water) and were thus allowed to use the waterslide. This newly acquired comfort in the water immediately turned useful when the whole family accompanied Devin to his conference in Las Vegas; our hotel had excellent swimming and beach facilities that we all enjoyed.


Steph had no fun this year, unless you count the hours of enjoyment she derived from bossing the rest of us around and rearranging the furniture.


MEDICAL


Much to our surprise, neither child occasioned any middle-of-the-night visits to the emergency room this year. While we enjoyed Alaric’s 2005 “Swallowing of the Key” or the always-classic “Alleged Hobo Spider Bite Incident”, not having anything new to add to these cherished family tales was a new and, we must admit, enjoyable twist to the year.


This is not to say that we were able to avoid doctors (and their ilk) this year, oh no! Far from it:



  • As we write this very missive, Devin is recovering from the extraction of all four wisdom teeth. We hope and trust that while the teeth are gone, the wisdom – such as it is – may remain.

  • Alaric received reading glasses approximately a year ago, but has recently graduated to needing them full-time. This is a relief to all of us, because it reduces the number of times he can lose them.

  • Steph has dealt with the identification of a new food allergy that has made meal planning even more of a challenge than it already was, with three picky eaters in the house.

  • Treanna is now over 5″2′ tall, clearly on track for her stated goal of being as taller as her Grandfather Ganger. Other than the usual colds and preventative maintenance, she’s as healthy as a horse.

Both kids are sprouting like weeds. It has been an expensive year for clothes, and only Steph’s mastery of the Art of the Bargain has kept the children from wandering Monroe in a naked condition.


SPIRITUAL


Editorial note: this section falls under the jurisdiction of the Clinton-Murdoch Blog Fairness act of 2009 for discussing “emotionally charged topics” and has applied the suggested redactions of the central Blog Opinion Committee. For a full copy of this section, please send a SASE and $5 to cover the legal filing costs to the author of this article.


This has been a —– year for us in the spiritual arena. While we —– —– all of our friends and —– —– at —– —– —– —– —– —– —–, we don’t feel that —– —– —– —– —– —– —–. Devin has been conducting some reading, based on —– from —–, and is currently exploring the —– —– phenomenon. —– —– —– —– —– —–?


CONCLUSION


While there is certainly more that we could say, both our time constraints and our interest in retaining your friendship would suggest it is time to bring this to an end.


Let us instead close with these words from Devin:



Our thanks for reading this far,
Our gratefulness in having you to help bring and share in the joy of our lives,
Our best wishes for you and your loved ones in this upcoming year.



Not bad for someone who’s on pain medication, no?

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.

GENIUS!

Earlier tonight while reading my LiveJournal friends’ posts, I saw this video:

The Mean Kitty Song

This video has been cracking me up for hours now. I’ve watched it, like, a gazillion times, and I still am laughing my ass off. I’m also madly wanting a cat, but that’s partly Ryan’s fault, since he just got a new cat and we went over to his place to get his help with Steph’s car.

Can I have a cat? Me, Mr. Cat Person? Nooooooo. Landlord says “No can has cat.” Meh.

(Thanks to Elizabeth Bear for the link.) 

Jesus in my arm

Summer is here and school is out, so the kids are looking for more to do. One thing they won’t be doing for the next couple of weeks, however, is riding their bikes.


You see, some bastard(s) stole their bikes at some point in the last couple of days (we were out most of Friday, so it could have been any time from Friday afternoon until Saturday afternoon. We assume that the parties who felt the need to liberate the bikes from our carport are the same parties who helped themselves to Nick and Steph’s bikes last Sunday. (Nick stored his bike here since he doesn’t have room at his apartment.)


Needless to say, the kids were pretty upset yesterday when they’d put on their helmets and went out to ride. These bikes were their major Christmas presents and were the first brand-new bikes either child has owned. They’ve taken pretty good care of them, all things considered, and really enjoyed having mountain bikes with multiple gears.


I’m not sure how we’re going to replace them at this point. Nick offered to pick up a couple of new bikes for them in a couple of weeks, and we’ll probably let him help us out, but he’s not going to shoulder it on his own. We need to find some way to scrounge up the money from what is a tight time of the year for various reasons (mainly because we’ve been aggressively paying off debts). Steph, of course, immediately started looking on Craigslist and Freecycle, but Nick suggested — and I agree with him completely — that we may want to spend the extra money for new bikes, since the kids’ bikes were new and were lost through no fault of their own.


I’m trying to maintain a good attitude about this. After all, like I told the kids, their mother and I believe that God gives us financial resources for many reasons, including ministering to others, and if someone is in a bad enough place in their lives to steal someone else’s bike then a) they probably need it worse than we do and b) they have to answer to God about it. The kids are pondering that one thoughtfully; they don’t entirely accept it, and I honestly don’t expect them to, especially since I flat-out admitted that that’s a hard one for me to keep my head wrapped around all the time. It did, however, get them thinking about the general wisdom of getting really attached to material things (and carefully picking which things, if any, you get attached to), which is a huge step forward.


I, however, just want to find the people who made my kids cry and introduce their face to my aluminum baseball bat. With all the love of Jesus in my arm, of course.

Smart kid

Alaric has a few close female friends at school. In fact, he’s got so many we were slightly teasing him tonight about his harem. Then we had to explain to him what a harem was and assure him that we were not in fact accusing him of having multiple (or even one) sex slaves.


Then I told him that of course he wasn’t like that, because he was a serial monogamist. He agreed, then asked me what that was. I pointed out that there was monogamy and then there was polygamy, and asked him if knew what either of them were.


At that point, Treanna piped up and told us she thought she knew what they were:


“Monogamy is when you’re smart, and polygamy is when you’re dumb!”


Without any offense intended to those who might be reading and practicing some form of polyamory..that’s brilliant. I’m still wiping the tears from my eyes.

Father’s Day

Edit: Started NFSMW last November, not April.

It’s been a long time since I posted on any of my blogs. Between lots of travel in April into May, a lot of work, and starting a new technical book for Sybex — not to mention still trying to make time (and more often than not failing) to be a good supportive husband and loving, patient father — I’ve had very little spare time, and what time I *did* have goes straight to vegging out by reading, playing Nick’s PlayStation 2 (I started Need For Speed: Most Wanted last November, and finally finished it near the end of May), or playing the PC (I finished Alaric’s Lego Star Wars and helped him get it finished too).

However, it’s Father’s Day, so happy Father’s Day to all you dads out there. Mine has been relatively quiet and while it started off with a migraine, it’s been relatively decent. I got a lovely brunch, a Tenth Doctor sonic screwdriver (which will look fantastic! with the rest of my SF toy collection at work), and the family is off hunting down a copy of Lego Star Wars II for the PC for me. I also had time to read a couple of chapters out of Castle of Wizardry to the kids, book four of David Eddings’ classic high fantasy series The Belgariad.

Before I head back to finishing up the whitepaper (we had some medical issues on Thursday and Friday that interfered took time away from my work schedule without adjusting the deadlines correspondingly) I’ve been working on, and then on to editing more chapters for my book (more about that in a separate post), I wanted to share with you a thought-provoking little YouTube clip I found thanks to my daily blog reading. The remarkable thing about this piece is that it was put together by a 15-year old.

Thanks to InstaPundit for the pointer.

Drive-by memeing

First, I would like it to be known that I am only doing this under protest. I don’t usually participate in blog memes, because most of them are damned silly. However, I got tagged on this one by Paul in what looks like a fairly typical spree of spreading the love, so I’ll go ahead and do it.


So here’s the meme, in Paul’s words:



The latest craze sweeping the series of tubes is “5 Things”, a sort of chain letter in which victims participants are supposed to list 5 things that others may not know about them, then pass the baton on to some other people.



And here are my responses:



  1. Those folks who read my professional blog (e)Mail Insecurity have already figured it out, but those of you here have probably not heard about it yet. This week, I got the official notice that I had been awarded the the 2007 Microsoft® Most Valuable Professional (MVP) Award in the technical community of Microsoft Exchange. Basically, this means that Microsoft has noticed and appreciated the work I’ve done out in the real world (blogging, speaking, writing, spending time on mailing lists) helping people learn about and use Microsoft Exchange Server. It’s has some neat perqs that come with it, including a great network of other MVPs (many of whom I’ve already been blessed to work with over the years) and more direct access to the Exchange product group at Microsoft. Of all the things I’d envisioned for my five-year goals, this wasn’t one of them, and I’m truly blown away that I’ve been selected.

  2. Most of you know that my ambition is to be a full-time sf author and have many novels and story ideas in progress. Many of you know that I also enjoy singing and writing music, going so far as to dabble with guitar and keyboard. What almost none of you know (hush, Steph) is that I have the ambition to write and produce my own professional fully-sung Eucharist liturgy (a Christian Communion service, for those of you not up on high church terminology). I’d write it so that the congregation would definitely have parts that they’d join in, but there’d be four main celebrants (SATB, of course) with much harder parts to perform. In my perfect world, I’d be able to entice Jason Michael Carroll, Sting, Alison Krauss, and Sarah McLachlan into performing at the inaugural celebration of the liturgy.

  3. Taking a cue from Paul, I had my first paid computer job when I was 12. The secretary at the resort Dad was working at needed someone to do some data entry for her, as they’d just switched her IBM PC from one accounting package to another and she needed to get the accounts receivable data into the new software. IIRC, I was offered the princely (for the time) sum of $8 an hour. We estimated that it would take around 24 hours or so, so I was standing to make quite a decent chunk of change. The first morning, I went into the office, acquainted myself with PC-DOS for the first time, and spent the first four hours doing data entry. When lunch came around, I grabbed the manuals and read them while I ate. I noticed that the new package talked about being able to import data from a variety of programs (none of which was the old package) and formats, so I checked the manual for the old program. Sure enough, it could export to one of those same formats. I backed up the work I’d done so far and tried the export/import. Perfect! You’d think she would be happy, but no — she was quite upset that a 12-year-old had figured this out and somehow made her look bad. She paid me for one single hour of my time — since the actual export/import work had taken one hour and was in a separate data file from the one I’d spent the morning on, she claimed that it was the only work that counted — and that was that.

  4. While I grew up in Oregon and have spent the majority of my post-college years in Washington, I am not in fact a native Pacific Northwesterner. My family actually comes from back ’round Wisconsin and Michigan, and we moved out to Corvallis, OR when I was just 11 months old. The Pacific Northwest Native Advisory Board did, in fact, take this into consideration, decided that it wasn’t my fault I couldn’t get my parents to move out here before I was born (and in fact one member of the panel commended me for “extraordinary action in relocating his family while still shy of his first birthday”), and granted me PNW native status anyway. This is good, because if I didn’t have that status, I wouldn’t be able to gripe about the Californians as is the right of all native PNWers.

  5. During high school, I participated in an academic competition at our local community college. To fill out an empty time slot so I could take the entire day off, I picked the radio broadcasting competition, since when I was a young lad I used to spend hours in my room with cassette recorders pretending to be a DJ. The next year after the competition, I spoke to the college radio faculty director about doing a 15-minute radio show focused on events at the high school. Suddenly, I found myself gathering information for, recording, and producing a weekly radio show. The poor college DJ who had to run my piece before his own show quickly grew to hate me, as I pushed the envelope of what I could do by including clips of favorite pop songs and completely harshed the mellow of his own show (which was heavy metal, IIRC). I had the complete backing of the faculty director, though, so there wasn’t much he could do. My first year of college, I took radio as a pass/fail credit and continued harshing the mellows of the broadcasting program students; my format, right in the middle of a highly-desired timeslot, was an eclectic combination of news commentary, music selection and experimentation from all genres (there was literally nothing I wouldn’t play), and pure naked listener gratification. I must have been making someone happy, though it wasn’t the “serious” broadcasting students; I enjoyed a constant high level of feedback from the surrounding community. Again, that kept The Powers That Be from stepping in and messing with my groove.

I’ll just note here, for the record, that I’m only doing this because I already have a couple of things I wanted to blog about and I can twist this meme to my service. The fact that I’ve been needing to update here is just extra gravy. The fact that one of my other co-victims needs to actually fix his blog server before he can respond just makes me feel better about the whole thing.


And now on to my victims, which is the hard part. I’ve been seeing this meme running around the tubes for a while, so anyone who hasn’t already done it is either less connected than I am or just as likely as I am to say “Poppycock!” at the whole concept and just not participate. With that caveat in mind….


….I choose you, Alistair, AndrewBrian, Nick, and Steph (in alphabetical order so no ranking is implied).

A Father and Daughter date

Hello, readers! Devin and Treanna here. We’re trying an experiment in which we attempt to co-write a blog post. So you can follow along at home, Devin will be posting in normal type, while Treanna posts in italics.


I’ll start. Or do you want to go first, T?


Yeah.


…okay, go for it.


I said, “You!”


Oh. My bad. iTunes is turned up a notch too loudly, I guess. Quit snickering, it’s unbecoming. So where do we start?


We start out with before we went to the theater.


Sounds good. Why don’t you continue?


We went to McDonald’s for lunch. We had chicken nuggets and water.


No fries?


Okay, we had fries. We ate them in the parking lot by the movie theater. We chatted while eating. We had two different kinds of sauces: BBQ and Sweet & Sour.


Tell them about the word games you were playing with “Sweet & Sour.”


Oh yeah! Okay. I called Sweet & Sour “Sweet & Four.”


I have a question. Why’d we go out to lunch and then to the theater?


Because, um…hmmm. Because we went on a father-and-daughter date!


A father-and-daughter date? What are those?


It’s a date where a daughter and her father go out and do something. It gives her more time to get used to the boys, so she can date them.


More specifically, it’s to give her a baseline of expected behavior for a date. Once she heads out on her own with her date, I want her to have high expectations on how she deserves to be treated. We don’t go nuts — this first one, for example, we didn’t bother to dress up in special clothes, and the cuisine was the lowest of the low — but I did little things for her, like ask her opinions on things, hold doors open for her, and give her a chance to practice her one-on-one social skills in a safe setting. I remember going on my first date — I was terrified, because I didn’t know what to expect. I only had all those bad ’80s movies to go by.


Really? Did you really have those ’80s movies? Tell me about them.


Well, as your mother would point out, they really suck. The boy and the girl get all dressed up and go out to a fancy restaurant . Since (usually) neither one of them were used to that kind of food or restaurant, they were uncomfortable with the menu, with the expectations of the setting. Add all the sexual tension into the mix, and it was a recipe for, well, extreme awkwardness.


Strange. Let’s get on with the story.


<chuckle> Okay. I’ll be sure to add a couple of the relevant movies to the Netflix queue in a couple of years, though, so you can see what I’m talking about. In the meantime, think about the date scene from the book of “A Walk to Remember.”


Ohhhh! Okay, where was I?


In the parking lot of the theater, in our car, scarfing down chicken nuggets and playing word games with your sauce.


Well, we finished. We went inside and bought our tickets.


What were we going to see?


Flicka. <woohoo!> Finding the movie was easy. It was right there just as we walked in; it was right in front. I got the seats and saved one for Daddy.


…I told you, it’s “Dad.” Not “Daddy,” not “Pops” or “Poppy.” Got it, kid?


Sorry! Okay. He went off to go get popcorn and pop. Then he came back and I went to the bathroom before the movie started.


My idea. I didn’t want her to have to miss part of the movie half-way through.


I came in just as the movie was about to start. The movie was AWESOME. Dad was really amazed by who played the father.


Tim McGraw. Actually, I’d been somewhat interested in seeing the movie, because I’ve never read the original book. Then I found out Tim McGraw was playing the dad, and suddenly I had attitude failure. It’s not that I dislike Tim McGraw, but he’s one of those country stars who currently can do no wrong and is constantly in the news. I’ve been Tim McGraw’d out…or thought I had.


The person who played the daughter…


Alison  Lohman


…was a really great actress. My favorite part in the movie was all the horse parts.


Raise your hands, everyone who is surprised by that.


Didn’t think so.


Dad! Mean Dad!


<smile>


We saw all the pictures at the end.


Yeah, that was pretty cool. As Tim’s song “My Little Girl” is playing over the end credits, they show a montage of photographs of young girls with horses. All sorts of girls — really young to young ladies in college, from all walks of life.


Even a baby.


Yup. They’re dressed in every getup imaginable, decades back through modern times. English, Western, high money, dirt-poor working ranch. And every single one of them are intent on their horses, even when they’re aware of the camera. They’re focused on the horse.


So we were about to go out when I saw the Dance Dance Revolution game, which I really like to play. And we played it.


Not that I wanted to. Can’t dance. Two left feet. Complete lack of coordination. Alas, I had precisely enough change left to feed the machine, and I couldn’t very well say “No” after being exposed to two hours of heart-melting father-daughter bonding, now could I?


You kicked my butt!


<smile> Can’t let you get completely spoiled, dear.


I told you I was going to win.


Shouldn’t brag.


Shucks.


So after a valuable life lesson was learned, and I was sure I wasn’t going to drop dead from my unwonted exertion, we piled in the car and came on home. It was a great afternoon, one that should inaugurate a new tradition.


You forgot that I got to sit in the front of the car.


So I did. I wasn’t about to have you thinking I was your hired driver.


Bye-bye, guys.


So that’s it?


Yes.


Right, then. Thanks for reading! 

Under (peer) pressure

Okay, not me. For once, I’m the one giving the peer pressure.

A few posts back, I noted in passing that Nick’s blog was displaying a error message. Nothing too hideous, but it was the web equivalent of a pimple on the face. I am happy to report that he’s now fixed it. ePimple gone.

You’re still Snakes on a Plane cool, Nick.

Spam, sin, and IM

From today’s IM conversation:

coolsteph says:

I have been trying to figure out how to explain what exactly SPAM is and how it works to some of the ladies on my Victoria list. One gal posted this:
>> Is it a sin to put a curse on whoever of my email buddies or groups gave
>> my name to a list that sends out porn sites and viagra ads?
>
> And if it is a sin, is it a forgiveable one, or an unforgiveable one?

Devin L. Ganger [It’s Office but it’s XML!] says:

“It is a moral imperative”

Devin L. Ganger [It’s Office but it’s XML!] says:

Neither mortal nor venal sin, but your duty in the eyes of God and man.

coolsteph says:

LOL I know that but I am trying to figure out how to explain to her that it doesn’t matter as your address will get out there.

Devin L. Ganger [It’s Office but it’s XML!] says:

In fact, cursing spammers (and those who pimp for them) helps *get rid* of other sins you may have committed.

Devin L. Ganger [It’s Office but it’s XML!] says:

So say we all.

coolsteph says:

So say we all!!!

One more thought on Firefly

You may have noticed that I posted a disclaimer in the comment thread on my previous Firefly review stating that I would delete comments that were personal attacks. Unfortunately, that wasn’t a theoretical warning. I’d been given good advice — which I full intended to heed — that my comment was sufficient and that I should leave it alone. Unfortunately, here we are and it’s still upsetting me, so one last post to get it off my chest — and then I’ll do my best to avoid ever bringing up the entire sordid episode, or even mentioning Joss Whedon and his properties, ever again.

The biggest reason why I dislike Firefly and Serenity: because they have created a class of passionate fandom who are unwilling to accept “I don’t think I’ll like it” as a acceptable reason for not watching it, and who are willing to drop a friendship (to all appearances) when one finally does watch it and still not like it enough to proclaim that it’s the Greatest Show Evar(tm). It’s not like I couldn’t come up with a list of things I liked; they’re listed right there in black and white. It’s that the list of things that I didn’t like outweighed the things I did like.

A large part of that has to do with the writer. As I’ve been working on creating my own stories and novels, I’ve realized that almost all writers have their specific set of viewpoints and tools that they tend to use on every project they do. I’m not talking things like genre, point of view, and person; I’m talking more intangible qualities like how they approach storytelling, how they balance in-story reasons for why things happen with meta-reasons, and so on. There are damned few writers who can write two different projects so differently that they can’t be identified with a little bit of effort, even when they’re consciously trying to hide these clues. As it so happens, Joss Whedon — while a hella talented guy — is one of those writers whose intangible approaches to storytelling don’t mesh with mine very well. As a result, it’s damned near impossible for me to set aside my own headview, and I argue that it’s completely unrealistic to expect me to. I can’t be objective about these things; no one can.

It’s like trying to argue that two people should be compatible and fall in love madly when they haven’t. No matter how well they match on paper, there’s that intangible something we call “chemistry” that trumps all. After several dates, I’m not ashamed to admit that Firefly and I just don’t have that chemistry. The sin isn’t that I didn’t fall for the show; the sin would be in beating this dead horse any further.

Am I glad I watched it? Yup. It had some neat ideas that I wish had been developed more fully, and I really wish some other talent had been involved in developing those ideas. I had some ideas I didn’t think were so neat, but other people apparently did.

I feel like I got pushed into a corner with no way out except to lie. I gave the show an honest chance; it wasn’t my cuppa tea. Hey, I didn’t watch the pilot and then bag it — I watched all the episodes, I watched some of the extra footage, I watched some of the commentary. If it failed to enage me by that point, that’s life, move on.

I can’t imagine getting so wrapped up in a show — any show! (not even Battlestar Galactica) — that I’d buy hundreds of dollars worth of tickets out of my own pocket and stand in the lobby of the theater accosting random people begging them to see the movie. I can’t imagine getting so wrapped up in a show that if I was having a casual conversation with a stranger in a public space (like a bookstore) and end up yelling at them because they aren’t fans of my show. I’ve seen plenty of reports on the Web of the former; I’ve had the latter happen to me. I’ve read about plenty of other people getting strong-armed by self-identified Browncoats who use tactics that, if they were members of a church, would get that church slapped with harrassment suits faster than Danica Patrick’s driving. That accounts for the tone of my review; I’m still not sure that it was a good idea to spend so much time trying to find reasons to like a show that spawns wide-spread fan behavior that I find that personally repulsive.

I do know that no matter how genius the show might have been (if the chemistry had been there), it wouldn’t have been worth personally attacking someone I call a friend.

Yeah, that would do it

When I did my last round of server and desktop deployments here at the house[1], I tried to set up each of my servers (Windows Server 2003) with at least 256MB of RAM and each of the desktops (Windows XP Pro) with 512MB. That may sound backwards, but I was working with what I could scrounge and frankly, the desktops in this house do a lot more work than the servers.

Ever since Steph’s computer died, she’s been using the kids’ computers. Now, I’ve known for a while that it is noticeably slower than our machines, but it does have the slower processor, the motherboard has a slower front-side bus[2], the hard drive is smaller and older (which means slower), and it had the least powerful video card, so I didn’t think it terribly strange. Steph has been complaining about it, and since she’s been using it regularly while we wait for the parts to rebuild her machine, I finally decided to take a look and see what I could do to speed it up — maybe defrag the hard drive, run a spyware scan, that sort of thing.

Turns out the damn thing only had 128MB of RAM.[3] Obviously, I didn’t get 512MB in that system. I can only speculate that I thought I was putting a single 256MB stick of RAM in there after a late night of troubleshooting, and promptly forgot to a) check the machine while it was booting up and b) scrounge the rest of the RAM.

It’s amazing how much faster it runs now.

[1] Dear Lord. I don’t set up computers for my wife and kids, I deploy desktops. I’ve been doing this too long.

[2] The front-side bus (FSB) is a techy term for how fast the CPU can access other portions of the computer; in this day and age, a FSB is usually somewhere around an order of magnitude (10x) lower than the CPU’s rated speed. A 1GHz CPU might be running in a system with a 100MHz FSB, which means the system is configured with a 10x clock multiplier. The same CPU on a system with a 133MHz FSB would be running on a x7.5 multiplier. Clear?

[3] Although this is not the absolute minimum amount of RAM you need to get Windows XP to boot, it is considered the bare minimum in order to do anything useful[4].

[4] As long as you define “useful” as “Able to open Notepad by itself, within 30 seconds.”

Thanks, Scott!

Thanks to the timely comment from Scott Watermasysk, the developer of .Text (which became the blog engine for Community Server), we’ve got our technical glitches sorted out and everything should be working normally.


How often have you had a software problem and gotten the answer from the person who wrote the software, directly on your website? Doctors don’t do housecalls — it’s nice to see that developers do. Thank you, Scott — your fantastic level of service is part of what keeps me so happy with this product.

Having The Talk

If you’re like most parents, The Talk fills you
with a strong sense of discomfort. It might completely scare the living
daylights out of you; you might find yourself breaking into a cold
sweat whenever you think about it. You remember when your own parents
gave you The Talk and how desperately uncomfortable
everyone was. You may have been completely shocked at what they told
you, amazed (and possibly disgusted) that grown adults would carry in
such a messy fashion; more likely, you already had received some
playground instruction from your friends and so had at least an idea of
what you’d be learning. If you were lucky, you got all of your
questions answered; if you were typical, you later had to connect the
missing dots by comparing The Talk your parents gave you with the versions your friends received.

Yup, if you’re a parent, talking to your kids about sex is
intimidating. There’s so much room for mistakes, and getting your kids
off on the wrong foot can screw them up for the rest of their lives.
Too permissive and your kid is the one whose name and phone number will
be joining the “For a good time call” section of local diner bathrooms;
too strict and they’ll have hang-ups it’ll take years to clear. The
temptation to take a dive and pick an extreme (“There’s nothing wrong
with sex, have fun!”/”Sex is evil, you can only have it to procreate,
and even then you’d better not be having any fun!”) is strong, because
at least those positions are clear, easy to articulate, and consistent.

When Steph and I first got married, we sat down and had a long
series of talks about parenting. We both knew that kids were in our
future (even though we had planned to wait a few years before having
them), and we wanted to have plenty of time to figure out how we’d
handle several topics — The Talk being one of them. What we ended up deciding is that instead of trying to figure out the “right” time to have The Talk,
we’d instead keep an open conversation going with the kids, making sure
to deal with concepts and details they were ready for and (we hoped)
helping them feel more comfortable about coming to us when they heard
things from their friends or had questions. It also means keeping an
eye on what they’re reading or watching and being prepared to discuss
it with them. This is our core approach to parenting, and so
far it seems to be working.

I had an opportunity to revisit The Talk with
Alaric today. He knows that ladies in lingerie (such as one might see
in catalogs and advertisements) are “being sexy” and, like most kids
his age, thinks that sex is a bad thing. We had a very good
conversation; he was at first a bit uncomfortable, as I think he
thought he was in trouble, but he soon opened up and started asking
questions and trying to make connections on what I was telling him. He
was clearly able to understand that whether or not sex is bad depends
on the context (although he of course wouldn’t use that category),
including the concept that certain things are okay for his parents to
say and do in private but aren’t okay for us to do around him or his
sister. He also made a breakthrough when he realized that some of the
restrictions we’ve put on him are designed to keep him from being
inappropriately exposed to subjects he’s not yet ready for.

The highlight of the conversation came when he told me that he was
“uncomfortable” thinking about sex and that he worried about having to
learn about it. He looked relieved when I laughed. “Alaric, I am very
glad to hear you say that,” I replied. “You’re a seven year-old boy. Do
you think you’re ready to learn all about sex?” He shook his head very
solemnly. “Of course you’re not, and that discomfort you feel is the
warning system God built into your body and brain to tell you that!
Although you’ll be ready to learn more about sex when you’re older, you
don’t have to worry about it now. So that discomfort is a very good
thing, because it tells me you’re listening to your sense of
discernment. You can trust your mother and me to tell you what you need
to know when you need to know it; you don’t have to worry about this
one right now.” He cocked his little head to the side and digested that
one for a bit, and then a smile slowly spread across his face.

I’ve got some wonderful scary smart kids. I shouldn’t brag, but
damn, my kids are awesome; I have been blessed. I worry a lot about being a good parent,
and it’s a lot easier to do it when you’ve got kids of this caliber.
I’m a lot less worried about The Talk than I used to be.

For those of you who are parents, how have you handled The Talk (or plan to handle it)?

Guilty pleasures

It’s all Steph’s fault.


No, really. She’s the one who introduced me to Il Divo, a new male chorale group put together by American Idol’s venom-tongued emcee Simon Cowell. These guys have some serious opera and theater cred, and I shamefully confess that I fell in love with their cover of Toni Braxton’s “Unbreak My Heart.” Of course, Il Divo sings most of their songs in Italian, which automatically makes everything more sexy (at least to us Americans) because we can’t hear how inane the lyrics really are. Still, you haven’t lived until you’ve heard four high-octane professional male singers belt out Italian versions of “Unchained Melody (Seza Catene)” or “My Way (A Mi Manera)” — so head to their website and check them out.


I like them enough we picked up their first CD, Il Divo, the second one (Ancora) is on order at our local CD shop, and we’ll be picking up The Christmas Collection before next Christmas.


My kids got introduced to vinyl the other day when Steph and I set up the new stero/CD/tape/turntable unit a co-worker gave me a few months back. I pulled out my stash of late ’80s contemporary Christian albums (Greg X. Volz’s first solo album, some of Steve Taylor, Michael W. Smith). Man, some of that music was bad…but I love it.


Okay, that’s enough public shame for one day. Enjoy the new blog theme — this one has earned the approval of both my wife and my mother, so it’s probably sticking around.

Mileposts

Today was a day of mileposts.


It was my first working day of 2006. Because Paul and I got our various projects wrapped up before vacation, I went into the 3Sharp offices and spent a good part of my day doing something I’ve never done before — pack up my office. No, we’re not moving locations, and yes, I’m still with 3Sharp. However, we’re getting tight on office space and since my average in-office time over the last year has probably been close to one day a week, I realized it was going to be a lot less disruption if I offered to give up my nice one-person office and officially move everything to my home office. It made all sorts of sense, but I found myself feeling very uncomfortable getting the first couple of boxes packed up until I realized that my only previous experiences with packing up my office were at the end of a job, not switching locations while staying employed. Once I realized that, the rest of the packing went a lot more smoothly.


Today was also the day I won my first Texas Hold’em tournament. One of the local bars hosts a couple of freelocalpoker.com tournaments every Tuesday and a friend and I checked them out last November. Now that the anti-smoking law has kicked in here in Washington, I can go play without coming home reeking, so I showed up tonight for the 9:30 game. We had ten players — a smaller turnout than normal, even though the later game is usually a bit smaller than the 6:30 game — so we all crowded around a single table. Two hours later, I was the proud possessor of a $15 gift certificate for the bar. Not only that, I’d earned the bounty (extra points received for being the player to knock the previous winner out of the game). Unlike previous games (where I can remember all the hands I lost all too clearly) I don’t remember much; the only hand that really sticks out is the hand where another player and I both got a straight and split the pot. There are bits and pieces of the rest of the game, but I have no idea how I won. I do remember (if my math is correct) that I knocked out five people — I had a couple of hands near the end where two players had gone all-in, so when I won those hands, I knocked out two players at once.


Finally, today was Steph’s birthday. And now that she’s gotten her nose out of the new Honor Harrington book I got for Christmas, she gets the rest of my attention before sleep time.

Back

The title of this post is appropriate in at least three different ways:

  1. Sometime this afternoon, my servers got knocked offline thanks to a transient power glitch. Normally, this is fixed just by rebooting the servers in the correct order, but this time it was made much more difficult by the fact that I’m currently in Arizona. Mad props to Stephen and Sharon for letting me walk you through the necessary steps over the phone. The planned downtime in January to install the UPSs just got bumped to a higher priority; it might happen over New Year’s. Those of you whose websites are hosted on my servers may have noticed the outage. By now, however, you should notice no such outage — your sites are back. (As are our blogs. Man, I am such a junkie.)
  2. Like I said, I’m in Arizona. Today before my servers died, my dad took us out to see Faraway Ranch, located amidst the Chiricahua National Monument. I’ll do some more detailed writeups later — and we’ve got some nice pictures of some pretty stunning views. However, we made it back all safe and sound without any dehydration; thanks to Stephanie and Katherine for the awesome tour of the Faraway Ranch house.
  3. I switched the skin of my blog back to the faithful Iroha (Gunjoh) skin I’d been using for months. Mom decided the Black Sun skin was too grim and boring and threatened to stop reading my blog if I didn’t change it back. I don’t know about you, but I’d feel pretty darn pathetic if my mom stopped reading my blog now that she’s discovered it.

It is nice to be having weather in the 70s over Christmas, I have to say, even if the Arizona sun is even stronger and more painful to my eyes than Washington sun.

A father’s nightmare

Actual conversation at the dinner table this evening:

Treanna: I have three boyfriends on my list.
Devin: No, you don’t.
Stephanie: You don’t have any boyfriends. You’re not mature enough.
Treanna: What does that mean?
Devin: It means that you need a lot more practice in being friends with people before you’re anywhere near ready to have a boyfriend.
Treanna: That’s what I’m trying to do, but T. keeps running away!

Treanna: T. thinks I want to marry him, but I don’t want that just yet.

Oy, vey. Santa might have a shotgun for me this Christmas.

The past comes knocking

Right on the heels of me whining about whether or not my blogging is reaching anyone, I got an email from someone who I was friends with back when I was kid. He lived, for a time, in the town I grew up in, and we had a few shared interests. He moved on, I moved on with my life, and by the time I got to where I am today I only dimly remembered him (since I don’t normally spend a lot of time thinking about my childhood any more than I have to).

And then I get this email out of the blue; my name came up out of the depths of his memory, he plugged it into Google, and then he found my blogs. So we’ve been talking back and forth the past couple of days, and with each exchange, I’m remembering more and more good times that I had all but forgotten. (Like the fact he had Shockwave, which was too cool for words. Or clandestinely listening to Petra’s “Beat the System” album over at his house.)

It sounds like he’s doing well; he has a job he loves, working at a country radio station. This doesn’t match up well with my memories of him, but then, I don’t match my impressions of what I’d be over 20 years later. (According to my master plan as a kid, I was already supposed to have a doctorate in Computer Science and be outselling Tom Clancy, Stephen King, John Grisham, and Robert Jordan. Damn, I’m behind.) I’m grateful that he wrote me, though; I have a lot more happy memories of growing up than I remembered I did, and he’s helped me bring some of them back out into the light of day.

So thank you, Brad. And, um, if you ever have a pair of tickets for Big & Rich or Alison Krauss that need a good home…you know where to find me.

Live blogging from Treanna’s birthday party

What do you get when you mix four third-grade girls, a green felt puzzle mat, a large dining room table, various blocks of scrap wood and posterboard, small dowels, and some of the components from Microtactix Dirt Cheep Dungeons?

That’s right — a “Design your own horse jump course” activity at Treanna’s birthday party. We’ve made it through the first round of designs and the girls are getting pretty darn fiendish with their second set of creations.

We’ll have more details — including pictures of the various gates Steph and I stayed up until 3am last night constructing — after the party’s over. Only 1.5 more hours to go!

Spelling the Bard way

Alaric and Treanna are by no means perfect kids, but they’re pretty darn special. Steph and I happen to think they’re pretty great, and judging by the compliments we get from other people, we’re not just biased. One of the special joys of parenting these two has been watching their minds unfold over the past couple of years. Once Treanna took off on her reading, she started having some amazing things to say, and now that she’s comfortably wading her way through fiction novels for fun, we’ve been able to have some great conversations with her.

And then there’s Alaric. He’s poised right on the edge of that no-return swoop into reading for joy. He already knows far more words than he thinks he does, but he’s still suffering from a slight lack of confidence in his ability to puzzle out a word. He’s really close, though, and watching the connections form is rewarding. He’s really starting to amaze us with the things he retains.

Yesterday, he was working on his spelling homework and one of the words is “you.” Now, Alaric initially spelled it as U-O-Y — which if you stop and think about it from the point of view of a first grader who is still struggling to master this whole “English rules get broken more often than campaign promises” thing after having letter-sound combinations drilled into his skull, is pretty reasonable. After all, “you” *sounds* just like the letter U, and he remembered the other two letters, so I’m with him on this one. Nevertheless, I explained that “you” is one of those words that one just has to remember; the initial Y makes the right sound, but the OU combo doesn’t follow any of the rules he’s been taught yet. We talked about it for a couple of minutes and I was proud of how well he sucked up “That’s just how our crazy language works” speech.

And then he nodded wisely and capped it up nicely:

“Yeah, because that’s how Shakespeare invented it.

How do you explain convincingly that you’re laughing out of sheer joy and delight, not to make fun? It took us a while and I’m still not sure he believes us.

We have the best kids in the world, I swear.

Oops

It is probably not a good idea to watch the video for Alan Jackson’s “Monday Morning Church” when you’ve recently lost a friend, especially not when you are wondering how his wife is holding up.

I’d imagine that Brad Paisley and Allison Krauss’s “Whiskey Lullaby” would be a bad one too, but since that one brings tears to my eyes on a good day I’ve been avoiding it.

In the memory of Stephen Smith

I got some very difficult news tonight about a friend. I have no words of my own, so I offer these that were crafted by Annie Lennox, Howard Shore and Fran Walsh , to be sung so powerfully by Annie Lennox for the end of The Lord of the Rings:


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


Goodbye, Stephen. We look to the day that we will all stand together again in that far green country.


Our condolences, prayers, and thoughts go out to his family.

Harnessing the power of the blogosphere for Good

I have found that one of the greatest joys of parenting is when you finally get to introduce your kids to something you loved as a child and find that they love it just as much as you did. We had some of that earlier this year with Alaric when I finally rented the Transformers movie (which I had never before seen). Alaric was an instant fan. We’re going through it now with Treanna, only this time, we’re introducing her to some of the books I loved when I was her age.


We started with some of the fantastic novels by Robin McKinley: The Blue Sword and The Hero and the Crown. I’ve read those out loud to the kids, so I knew she’d groove on them, but she devoured TH&tC in a day, prompting some wonderful discussions. I think it’s safe to say, no matter how much of a cliche it might be, that I am getting more out of the books now that I have someone to explain them to for the first time.


Next, I introduced her to one of my favorite series: the Harper Hall trilogy by Anne McCaffrey, part of her Dragonriders of Pern series. The Harper Hall trilogy is specifically written as YA (young adult) and it’s got firelizards — plus, it’s a more accessible introduction to the world of Pern than the full series, which can be quite scary for young readers. So while Dragonsong and Dragonsinger introduce Thread (and we see fire lizard hatchlings get caught in Thread, giving a demonstration of just how horrible this phenomenon is), touch peripherally on the events that bring catatonic Brekke to the Hatching Sands of Benden Weyr to face up to the loss of her dragon, and give a glimpse into the fantastic peril that F’nor and Canth find waiting for them at the Red Star, the books do so from a stepped-back perspective. History is being made and the viewpoint characters witness it, but not directly. These provide familiar events when the reader later returns in Dragonquest, yet the fact that they are somewhat known territory helps soften the emotional blow. Treanna has been devouring these books and is quite interested in the backstory of Pern and the physiology of the fire lizards, which gives us a convenient platform to launch future discussions on such diverse topics as animal mating behavior and human sexuality, economics, education, personal integrity, and more.


So, I’ve been assembling the next few sets of books to recommend to her. Along the way, I’ve been populating my Amazon wishlist with a few books that I remember reading when I was a kid, with the intention of filling in a few gaps in our collection. (I’ve already got Lloyd Alexander, Susan Cooper, Sylvia Louise Engdahl, the one or two Roald Dahl books I actually like, and more.) However, there are two books that I cannot find any sign of, and I turn to you, members of the blogosphere, to help me track them down.


Please feel free to post this following section on your blogs, complete with a link back to this post. Any help you can give me will be much appreciated. The books I’m looking for — I remember only two of them, although there could be three — are young adult science fiction published sometime in the late 70s to mid 80s (no later than 1986 and most likely in the 1981-1985 timeframe although don’t quote me on that). They told the story of a young boy in a compound who one day discovers that there is another boy who looks just like him. They manage to find ways to talk and discover they are clones. One is being trained as a scientist, the other (I believe) as an artist or musician (possibly athlete?). At the end of the first book, they escape the compound and are on the run. In the second book, they are re-captured, largely through the help of a third clone, who has been trained in military/security work. The names are Russian or Eastern European in feel — Stephen, perhaps, and Nicholas/Nicholai — and there’s a definite Soviet/Cold War flavor. I have gone nuts trying to find any hint of information on these books; they may not be great literature, but they were fun reads. I’ve tried Google and the Internet SF Database with no luck so far. Thank you in advance.

A camper’s concoction by any other name

Can you still call it a s’more when:



  • You’re using Nutella instead of chocolate squares

  • You’re using pre-sized graham cracker squares

  • You’re using a propane grill to toast the marshmellows
While we may not know the ultimate answer, we Washington Gangers are firmly committed to further research in as many upcoming evenings as possible. We will uncover the truth behind this mystery, for science!

In other news, life has been busy lately (as is probably obvious from my decreased blogging frequency).



  • Work is taking up most of my time. Between research and writing, I’m working for longer periods of the day than I’d like to be (I’m sitting in front of the TV with the laptop while the family watches a movie). What few spare hours of time I’ve had have gone to paying freelance jobs. This means there are still a few IT-related tasks (like getting email straightened out and some websites set up) around the house that I haven’t gotten to. Things should ease up a bit this week.

  • We’re struggling to maintain a consistent schedule for the family. Summer blew everything out of the water and Steph’s medical problems haven’t helped (and neither have my hours). Happily, we seem to have finally gotten some key pieces of the puzzle in place over the last couple of months and Steph’s health is slowly but steadily improving.

  • I finally seem to be getting over my health issues. My allergies haven’t been nearly as bad lately and the viral infection in my ear is finally gone. I still have lingering problems with pressure, but they’re pretty easy to fix now, and I’m not spending most of my time dizzy. This is a nice change.

  • This last weekend, I absolutely had to take a break from computers. We were able to purchase several shelves from a local independent bookstores that closed their doors. They were about 2″ too tall to get into our house, so we got to modify them. Due to a couple of recalcitrant power tools and their rechargeable batteries, it took both Saturday and Sunday. The results, however, are stupendous. We have a lot more storage and the rooms feel a lot lighter, and we’ve replaced all of our Sauder units for real solid wood.

Okay, now I’ve seen an entire anime title: Spirited Away. No thanks. The visual style wasn’t nearly as painful as I find most anime and manga to be — the backgrounds in particular were usually stunning, even if the people and monsters were just odd — but the culture shock more than made up for it. Japanese mythology is weird and not in a way that my brain finds engaging. I realize that anime isn’t a genre, but whatever it is, the closest I want to get to it is Titan A.E. — and if that makes me gaijin, so be it.