27 January 2009

Two Choices: Am I getting soft in my old age?

A few words of preface. This isn't mine, it came to me in an email forward from my mother. I thought about forwarding it on via email, but instead chose to post it here. Who knows if it's even true? Regardless, it is a good story.


What would you do?....you make the choice. Don't look for a punch line, there isn't one. Read it anyway My question is: Would you have made the same choice?
At a fundraising dinner for a school that serves children with learning disabilities, the father of one of the students delivered a speech that would never be forgotten by all who attended. After extolling the school and its dedicated staff, he offered a question:

"When not interfered with by outside influences, everything nature does, is done with perfection.
Yet my son, Shay, cannot learn things as other children do. He cannot understand things as other children do.
Where is the natural order of things in my son?"

The audience was stilled by the query.

The father continued. "I believe that when a child like Shay, who was mentally and physically disabled comes into the world, an opportunity to realize true human nature presents itself, and it comes in the way other people treat that child."

Then he told the following story:

Shay and I had walked past a park where some boys Shay knew were playing baseball. Shay asked, 'Do you think they'll let me play?' I knew that most of the boys would not want someone like Shay on their team, but as a father I also understood that if my son were allowed to play, it would give him a much-needed sense of belonging and some confidence to be accepted by others in spite of his handicaps.
I approached one of the boys on the field and asked (not expecting much) if Shay could play The boy looked around for guidance and said, 'We're losing by six runs and the game is in the eighth inning. I guess he can be on our team and we'll try to put him in to bat in the ninth inning.'
Shay struggled over to the team's bench and, with a broad smile, put on a team shirt. I watched with a small tear in my eye and warmth in my heart. The boys saw my joy at my son being accepted. In the bottom of the eighth inning, Shay's team scored a few runs but was still behind by three. In the top of the ninth inning, Shay put on a glove and played in the right field. Even though no hits came his way, he was obviously ecstatic just to be in the game and on the field, grinning from ear to ear as I waved to him from the stands. In the bottom of the ninth inning, Shay's team scored again. Now, with two outs and the bases loaded, the potential winning run was on base and Shay was scheduled to be next at bat.
At this juncture, do they let Shay bat and give away their chance to win the game?
Surprisingly, Shay was given the bat. Everyone knew that a hit was all but impossible because Shay didn't even know how to hold the bat properly, much less connect with the ball. However, as Shay stepped up to the plate, the pitcher, recognizing that the other team was putting winning aside for this moment in Shay's life, moved in a few steps to lob the ball in softly so Shay could at least make contact. The first pitch came and Shay swung clumsily and missed. The pitcher again took a few steps forward to toss the ball softly towards Shay. As the pitch came in, Shay swung at the ball and hit a slow ground ball right back to the pitcher. The game would now be over. The pitcher picked up the soft grounder and could have easily thrown the ball to the first baseman. Shay would have been out and that would have been the end of the game. Instead, the pitcher threw the ball right over the first baseman's head, out of reach of all team mates.
Everyone from the stands and both teams started yelling, 'Shay, run to first!
Run to first!'
Never in his life had Shay ever run that far, but he made it to first base. He scampered down the baseline, wide-eyed and startled.
Everyone yelled, 'Run to second, run to second!'
Catching his breath, Shay awkwardly ran towards second, gleaming and struggling to make it to the base. By the time Shay rounded towards second base, the right fielder had the ball . the smallest guy on their team who now had his first chance to be the hero for his team. He could have thrown the ball to the second-baseman for the tag, but he understood the pitcher's intentions so he, too, intentionally threw the ball high and far over the third-baseman's head. Shay ran toward third base deliriously as the runners ahead of him circled the bases toward home.
All were screaming, 'Shay, Shay, Shay, all the Way Shay'
Shay reached third base because the opposing shortstop ran to help him by turning him in the direction of third base, and shouted, 'Run to third!
Shay, run to third!'
As Shay rounded third, the boys from both teams, and the spectators, were on their feet screaming, 'Shay, run home! Run home!'
Shay ran to home, stepped on the plate, and was cheered as the hero who hit the grand slam and won the game for his team.
'That day', said the father softly with tears now rolling down his face, 'the boys from both teams helped bring a piece of true love and humanity into this world'.
Shay didn't make it to another summer. He died that winter, having never forgotten being the hero and making me so happy, and coming home and seeing his Mother tearfully embrace her little hero of the day!

21 January 2009

Would he be torn like ...

...bonsai'd ornaments on a dry-wobble landscape? Of course I can only be thinking of Frank Zappa (FZ), the man, the moustache, the legend. He was a man of strong opinions, and in writing my post yesterday I began to wonder how he would view this Inaugural celebration (sometimes, from what I saw on television last night, a quite literal circus). He was also a man who enjoyed control and order - no matter how chaotic you might think his music sounds, there is order to be found if you listen with a critical ear.
Back in the Sixties FZ stated "Hey, you know something people? I'm not black, but there's a whole lots a times I wish I could say I'm not white."("Trouble Every Day") Songs like "Trouble Every Day" and "Uncle Remus" showed him to be a true believer in Civil Rights, and rightly so; the cause is self-evident, and the lack of these rights is to deny the universe its rightful order. So FZ would have been overjoyed at the Inauguration of President Obama - from a philosophical standpoint.
FZ was also acutely aware and disdainful of crass commercialism. "I'm the Slime" and "Poofter's Froth Wyoming Plans Ahead" (an ironically relevant number) are two songs that overtly state this viewpoint, where his opinions appear woven into songs that are, on the surface, nothing to do with commercialism (see also: Strictly Commercial). If, as I remarked (I think, I know I was thinking it) yesterday, there is anything remarkable about President Obama's rise to power after his race and use of technology are considered, it has to be the marketing and branding blitz that were the "2" in his 1-2 punch of Oratory and Marketing/Branding.
FZ desperately wanted equality and he disdained:

"T-shirt racks, rubber snacks,
Poster rolls with matching tacks
Yes, a special beer for sports
(and paper cups that hold two quarts)."
("Poofter's Froth Wyoming Plans Ahead", Bongo Fury)

Would he be torn by what he would have witnessed since 2007? Probably. Would he have been able to philosophically move past his distaste of the latter in his jubilation at the success of the former? Probably.
If FZ's hands weren't permanently cramped from writing songs about the past 12 years (remember the Lewinsky scandal?), he likely would have been hard at work perfecting his first Opera about President Obama - wherein he (FZ) would take many a pointed jab at the Strictly Commercial means that achieved such an end.


If you hadn't noticed, I changed the style of my web-log site. The logo I'd been using was looking really amateurish, and I wanted to step it up a notch, and when I created my new logo the rest of the look of the site didn't hold together so well anymore, so I changed it, too.
Somewhere out there every English teacher I ever had is cringing at that last run-on sentence.
If you want to tell me how awesome my new logo and design are, or how awesome I am, please feel free.
If I've done something that breaks every known rule of good design, please let me know!

20 January 2009

Presidentially Yours

So here we are, and I'm not sure how to feel. Another peaceful transfer of power from one man to another is always cause for celebration, and electing our first non-white guy president (though electing an Irish Catholic 50 years ago must have been a similar feeling for the nation, given what history tells us) is also a moment of note, given that the 43 men before him have all been middle-aged to old white guys (wigs, funny hats, and creative facial hair optional). Even still, as I watch television, listen to the radio (NPR, that is), and work at the newspaper, I find it dangerously easy to be swept up in a tide of majestic glory, as if President Obama has been pre-destined by History and The People to be a great president.
People are quite literally reveling in the streets and around the world - you'd think we'd just fended off an alien invasion (see Independence Day [ID4], 1994) rather than elected another politician to the White House. Sure, his skin is darker than his predecessor(s x 43), and he talks a good game, but he's still a politician. He has spoken of post-partisan politics, but he still ran as the nominee of one of the 2 major political parties.
There's an undercurrent of "F--- You" to President Bush that seems to frame much of the commentary and jubilation surrounding this inauguration, sometimes so evident that it's more of a visible wave. I don't recall any situation where he appeared in public in a black leather leisure suit and demanded anyone Kneel Before Dubya.
If one brackets off the nose-thumbing at our outgoing president, there remains a large surge of people with nothing but smiles on their faces and words of blind optimism on their lips. President Obama is the man they've dreamed of all these long years. I can understand my African-descended fellow citizens feeling a great victory - and one well deserved - but the way some white people are behaving, you'd think they had suffered 500 years of oppression & slavery. Granted, President Obama is a powerful speaker (a skill President Bush seemed to lose moments after taking the Oath of Office) and skilled oratory is something I consider a necessary component of a successful president, but it seems that when people listen to our new President speak, their brains cease to function critically, and they treat him like the second coming of Elvis Presley. If this trend continues, I predict that Senator Babs (Mikulski) will be whipping those grannie panties off and up onto the podium during the State of the Union in 2010. How'd you like to be the Secret Service Officer diving in front of that bullet?
Seriously, though: as much as I'd like to drop my guard and enjoy the ride like this was an episode of Star Trek Voyager (non Star Trek Nerds: a Michael Bay movie), I can't. This is too important. I want President Obama to succeed. I want him to heal the nation, mostly so people will shut up about how the nation needs to be healed. I want President Obama to inspire people to public service with his words, driving masses of people to cast off the chains of government subsidy and support to better themselves (I'm looking at you WV and Iowa as much as I'm looking at Baltimore, DC, or LA) and deliver unto the United States of America a new Golden Age in the 21st Century, inspired by him but built by us using good old American know-how.
I want President Obama to succeed as the majority of Americans seem to think he will, but I won't hang on his every word and action as if he were some American Idol contestant (shut up, I only watched one season), or movie star. Maybe as if he were a rock star, because I want to be a rock star. Actually, I want to be president more than I want to be a Rock Star. The President gets to know things that Bono only dreams about at night.
President Obama, I've just watched you inaugurated; congratulations and good luck. We are here to help you as you are our President, as you are here to serve us via good governance as our President. Your Inauguration Address was indeed wonderful oratory, inspirational and poignant. You called us to service and hard work, calling also for transparency in government. I hope and pray that this will be the case.
Maybe I'll even smile a little.

13 January 2009

When I Am King

I had something of an epiphany recently. A moment where my life's direction - at least for the next few years - made itself clear. As a child I had one over-arching goal: to go to college. I knew I was one of the smart kids (they kept telling me that), and I liked school. I knew I'd end up in a University, and so I did.
The clarity has been a little less on the clear side these past few years, but I now know that my future firmly lies in the realm of IT management. I'll be a damned fine manager, because I've served under some damned fine men (and women) from whom I've learned a lot about how to treat your staff, your customers, and your equipment.
Quick note: present co-workers and supervisors fear not - I am not leaving, and I have no other position lined up. I am looking to my future. As such, as I think of them, I am going to start another series, "When I Am King", about what I am going to do when it's my shot to run an IT Department.

When I am king, I will make sure we have the best virus/trojan/mal-ware protection available. Users will be taught good common sense about attachments, and when they visit a seemingly harmless website to read a bit of news, and find themselves infected with a particularly insidious piece of mal-ware that requires one of my staff, or perhaps even myself, to crawl inside the OS and cut out the infection bit by bit (hah - get it?), they will know that we have policies in place to protect them against any potential data loss.
Good network backups, sensible user policies, and quality (and up to date) virus protection software will all stand ready to get my users back to work with a minimum of interruption.
Ideally I'd convince my superiors that moving to Linux (or even Apple OS X, if they are so inclined) on the desktop is the first and best defense against viruses/trojans/etc. If we have Windows licenses that were purchased and not yet at their end, then we'll employ the virus protection tools I listed above.
No user should fear a virus. No user should waste half a morning (like I just did) in the efforts to eradicate an infected PC. No member of my staff should spend an entire night sanitizing an entire call center of PCs (like I have, only a few years ago) because a worm broke through our defenses, though we will, if called, gladly serve.
When I am king, we will be protected from viruses, because it is the smart thing to do.

Garden Ramble: Special Winter / Farmer Zoe Edition

I haven't read the last ramble; I likely should before proceeding. Nah. If you had a burning question about something I left unresolved you'd have asked it by now.
So it's January. The light at my window at work is far and away superior to anything I have at home, so while my little work plants flourish, my domestic horticultural efforts languish. I don't remember the light being this hard to find last Winter, but I think we had fewer curtains (and higher gas bills) then.
Beyond house plants, I'm mostly kicking myself for not getting out and completing my final round of winterizing like I'd wanted to. There is a new garden I'd begun that Jake has instead seen fit to use for his necessaries. That'll teach me not to put up a fence. I never got the compost laid down in the Fall, but I imagine it'll do no harm if I do that come Spring. I'll be out there putting up the bird net anyway.
But birds weren't a problem? You ask. You're right, they weren't. Zoe, however, has been. I'm thinking bird net is enough to keep her out while making it easy enough for me to move in. Two Summers ago she was eating my tomatoes, this Fall she ate the broccoli. No, not the good stuff. The leaves and stalks of the broccoli that I was hoping would bear fruit before the killing frost. Apparently broccoli stalks are delicious to dogs. Farmer Zoe. Ulcerated Rob. Ugh.
I mostly stare out the back window and dream of what will be come Spring, my actions as dormant as the tulip bulbs I meant to plant in December, but still sit on top of the refrigerator by the back door.

09 January 2009

I can't believe it happened again!

So there I am, minding my own business, and some guy hustles up to me with a package wrapped up in white paper, the slightest tint of blood soaking through one corner.

"Hey buddy," he began. I stopped him before he bled on my sidewalk much longer (the city makes me pay for the upkeep, you know).

"I know, I know. You're only here because one of my web-log post labels is "truckmeat", and I've been dieing to use it again. Go in peace, my narrative device. You have done your job well.
"But try not to get too much blood on the sidewalk; thanks."

You shouldn't either (believe it happened again).

07 January 2009

My Theory Regarding the MacWorld Keynote

I followed the "liveblog" yesterday as the keynote rolled on, curious as I always am as to what new goodies Apple was going to shower us with. As I read the ongoing report it became clear that this was ... boring. I'm excited about iLife '09 (I might even pick up a copy), and I'm tempted to try the iWork online Beta, and the new 17" MacBook Pro looks sexy as hell (I'll never own one: 17" notebooks defeat the purpose for me, and I hope to never drop $2800 on a personal computer), but nothing grabbed my imagination. I was curious about an iPhone Nano, but most interested in the purported Mac Mini refresh. The Mini is the mac nearest and dearest to my heart because it was the first Mac form-factor I owned brand-new out of the box, and I still like the fact that's it's inexpensive enough to be a viable Apple computer for the unwashed masses to cleanse themselves upon. (There's a metaphor for you). These were not forthcoming, even with the usual detective work seemingly iron-clad on the whole thing. iPhone Nano = centrifuge parts?
Before it was even over I began to ponder this boring presentation. Apple doesn't normally waste such an opportunity before an adoring audience, but it's fairly obvious that they did. As one web-log writer put it, most of this material would normally have come out in a press release. This begs the question: why?
I've been reading the other articles and weblog posts that have been written in the hours following the keynote, and they all lament the boredom, note the lack of new gadgets or much sought after features for existing gadgets, and point out the general lame-ness of this year's MacWorld Expo.
I think I've figured it out. The keynote - and by extension MacWorld - was sabotaged on purpose. Apple & Mr. Jobs (I don't presume to call him "Steve", since he han't taken enough of my money ... yet) are planning something on their own, a major announcement where we'll get the new Mac Mini, push for corporate email, and the tablet mac no one will shut up about. Except the last item. I don't see that for a few years, if ever. Others have pointed out that the arbitrary timing of MacWorld meant that Apple was working on someone else's time table, and this goes against Jobs' idiom as I have observed it. Part of his genius is releasing things in his own good time. There are likely products that they waiteds for MacWorld to release that we could have seen in time for Christmas in years past, or the occasional product that should have spent another month in development.
No, the lack of new stuff, the lack of ships today, and the lack of Jobs means that Apple is up to something.
Even though my moth-eaten wallet likely won't support whatever alumino-glassy electro-sex Mr. Jobs will be announcing (let's call it ... February?), I'll still be following the "live-blogging" with my mighty F5 key, dreaming of the day when I'll be the proud and pretentious owner of the latest fun-box from Mr. Jobs' Fantasy Laboratory.

Semi-related update:

A mere day after my ode to online TV, I tried to continue my efforts at watching B5 on video.aol.com, only to find that the episodes were gone! Using my Christmas iTunes gift card ( this is the bit related to the above) I bought the rest of season 3, streaming it from the macbook to the mac mini (wirelessly) that it connected to the TV, watching it in reclining comfort, full screen. I was happy in the knowledge that thewb.com (beta) had season 4 waiting for me on their site, and finished out Season 3. I fired up the browser to thewb.com and pulled up their B5 page, only to find that season 4 had been supplanted by season 5. Buggers!
I've been buying Season 4 from iTunes. Honestly, it's less hassle than the online TV, and I make do without my mental sorbet, but what the hell? I'm likely to just pick up used copies of the DVDs at this point, since I found them for $20 on amazon.com.

Completely Unrelated:
pbfcomics.com is indeed back online, and some of the strips in my RSS feed looked new to me. I was happy.

06 January 2009

Peering into the viewfinder: 2009

Robyn and I successfully shot our first 2 weddings in 2008, the first gratis (our dress-rehearsal, AKA my sister's wedding), and our first paying gig, which I've written of herein previously. So far follow-up gigs have not presented themselves, but my lack of weekend photographic activities is not the thrust of this post, though a few weekends shooting photos for folks would definitely fund further photographic gear efforts.
Friend(s), I feel compelled to share with you my wish list of photographic gear for 2009. By this time in 2010, I'd like to have the following elements in my gear bag, and hopefully drooling over a completely new set of stuff:

The Nikon 18-200mm VR zoom lens
So far I've been dragging around my 18-55mm kit lens and either my 50mm (takes such crisp shots) or my 55-200mm zoom when I'm fully loaded. I want to replace the 55-200 with the 18-200; I might sell the 18-55 as well, and roll with the 18-200 and my 50. Yes, there's better/ more expensive glass out there, but I'm angling for bang-for-my-buck. I'm willing to be convinced to try Sigma/Tamron/etc. if anyone feels like trying.

The Lensbaby
The $150 model, mind you. I'm cheap, but even I recognize the value of glass over plastic in my lenses. This essentially a neat toy to use in place of my 50mm when I'm feeling froggy. Portrait sessions, or maybe an afternoon walkabout in the woods. This isn't my must have gadget for 2009, but if we make enough $$, I'll be seriously be thinking about picking one up. Maybe it'll be the birthday/Christmas gift for '09.

The Orbis
I've been drooling over this since I first read about it a few months back. Sure, I could make my own ring flash out of some plastic bowls and aluminum foil, but I'm aiming to at least look professional, and for another $150, I'm sold. With this and a lensbaby, and my 5-in-1 reflector on hand ... the possibilities are astounding!

A new strobe (Google for flash/speedlight/etc.)
The Orbis fits over your existing strobe (it doesn't contain a strobe itself), and I love my SB-400 but the Orbis needs a more traditionally shaped strobe to work properly, or so the site says. I had an old non-ttl Vivitar that worked well enough, but in the name of fostering photographic growth in others, I passed it along to a friend who seriously needed another light source (he was using in-camera flash). This is my most likely and earliest purchase. My main criteria are: fits in the Orbis, recycles conveniently (a very long recycle time kills my mojo), lets me bounce it, and is inexpensive. If a $50 Vivitar from 1998 fits that bill, sign me up.

I'd also love to pick up an iPhone and a newer Macbook this year, but those are another post altogether, even if tangentially related.

There you have it, as much for my personal needs as your desire to know my every thought and desire, my short list of photo-gear goodies for 2009.

MacBook Wheel (Thanks the Onion)


Apple Introduces Revolutionary New Laptop With No Keyboard

02 January 2009

Perry Bible Fellowship Returns?

If you aren't familiar with the Perry Bible Fellowship, normally I'd tell you to click the name and visit the site, but when you visit the site you get this message:

"Site down for maintenence[sic]. Back up soon."

I realized this when out of the blue 10 new entries hit my RSS Reader last week, all of them seemingly new comic titles, though my attempts to visit the site and figure this out were met with the above.
A cursory Google search prior to writing this only gave me news from July 2008 of his new book.
I ask you, all 3 of you, my readers, what news have you of PBF Comics? Do you know if there are some new works in the pipeline, or was this a mere glitch in the system tempting me with old comics, whose titles I do not recall?
He said he was only going into semi-retirement a year ago, which is why I, in hope, added his RSS feed to my reader. The anticipation is delicious.

01 January 2009

Ode to Online Television

but not in verse.

A few months back (when I likely should have been studying), I watched some episodes of Star Trek: Deep Space 9 via Youtube, since they haven't made it available in any non-DVD format. Well, there's Season 1, but I bought that last Summer and watched it through in a couple of weeks.
So I went to Hulu in search of some old TV to watch, and I fell upon Babylon 5!
B5 is a great series that I've been meaning to watch straight through for some time, and thanks to Hulu I was able to do so. The first pair of seasons, at least. I'm not sure why they don't have all 5, but a bit of looking around (and some fortuitous comments in Hulu) led me to AOLtv. The player isn't as good, but I'm able to view my stories. TheWB.com has season 4 on their site, so I might check it out once I get through 3.
But I ramble. Online TV seems to be the coming thing, if the online rags are to be believed, and I am enjoying it. The programs are interrupted at their natural break points for a 15 to 30 second commercial, and I like this. TV programs are designed for there to be a gap at certain points, for dramatic tension or to let a joke sink in, because of commercials. We've all been raised to expect the commercial break, and you'll agree that when watching TV shows on DVD the gap between breaks feels unnaturally short.
Even though many of us would rather not be bothered by commercials, the reality is that they pay the bills, and they are something of a mental sorbet, giving us a few moments of bland flavor in which to digest and cleanse our brain palates so we're ready for the next course. Act, that is.
Why am I hungry?
I'm happy for online TV. It makes sense to me. I like being able to flip on the old-school delivery system to flip around and see what's on, but the ability to catch shows I missed, or re-watch entire series thatI never saw completely.
I'll gladly watch online TV, ads and all. Now if you'll excuse me, I have B5 on in another tab.

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