Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Escaping Tunnel Vision

I was feeling sorry for myself, for no good reason today. Just kind of down while walking the dog. Then I saw a blind girl about 8 years old that lives near me. She was playing with her sister, who was trying to master a pogo stick that was too big for her. I watched through sunglasses as the girl counted her steps and found her way to her side door, obviously bored by her sisters unsuccessful attempts to master the pogo.

It was a bit of a head slap from God, I think. It was like He was screaming, "What is your problem? Do you see this girl? Well, she doesn't see you, so suck it up!" It was humbling to say the least.

Earlier in the day I was feeling badly for having lost my brother about six months ago. Then I thought of a friend who'd lost both her parents by age 15 and her brother in his early forties. Head-slapped again. My mom's still around and I have most of my brothers and sisters still living. It's okay to be sad, but we need to keep it in perspective.

Tough day at the office? How about your friend that's jobless?
Kids got you down? How about those who are unable to have kids, or, worse yet, lost them?
Friend troubles? Think of the shut-ins and the lonely.

I've been thinking about my brother a lot lately. His parting advice to all of us is "move on." I plan to do that, but every once in a while I need a head slap to remind me to do it with a better perspective.

Do you?

Blogging off...

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Shot Full of Holes

Well, everything I said about the ease of writing fiction vs. writing non-fiction fell right into the dumpster this week. I took my story to group last week and the folks liked it, but found some fairly major holes and inconsistencies in it. I told them last night that I couldn't even look at it last week. I thought and thought and couldn't come up with a resolution for some of its shortcomings. I opened it several times and just sat there and stared at the pages. I stared hoping something would magically patch the holes, resolve the issue and tie it all up with a bow.

Needless to say I'm still waiting.

In the meantime, I went back to what I know, namely, non-fiction. I wrote about the house I grew up in; a couple of funny stories. What I've concluded is that NO writing is particularly easy. Some days it comes easy, most days not. Fiction, non fiction, poetry, technical writing, blogs, whatever. All hard work. Mind you, I'm not griping, just saying that anyone who thinks it's "easy" and "anyone can do it" obviously hasn't done a lot of it.

If you look at any good writer, they've all got horror stories about the cruddy first-drafts, battles with block, motivational lapses, creative dementia, and the occasional hatred of everything they're currently working on. There are days I wonder what the hell I'm trying to do. Those are the bad days. They're not often and I recognize them as unfair self-criticism, but I do have them. I would argue that most writers probably have some days like that, as well. (At least new writers). For all I know it happens in the other arts as well. Artists tend to be their own worst critics. I know I am.

The important thing is to recognize these inner voices and thoughts and quell them. Grind through the tough days and look toward the better, or, if you have to, back toward the good ones. Whatever it takes to keep honing your craft, do it.

I had an incident with my son Ben this week. He was working on a drawing in his room for most of the night one evening. He had challenged a friend of his to a drawing contest and was out to beat him. I heard him slamming things and groaning upstairs and wondered what was up. I went up to see that he had drawn a picture of a guy that was really quite good. The problem was that he "messed up" the mouth. His erasures of it had ground right through the paper and now the guy had a hole where his mouth was supposed to be. Ben was so pissed that he lost it. He threw his pencil and broke down crying.

I went in to try and console him and when he showed it to me I felt his pain. The picture was amazing, but the first thing I noticed was the hole/mouth thing. The only thing I could think to tell him was how my story I was working on had been found to have holes in it too, just like his picture. Holes that I made - inadvertently - but holes nonetheless. Like his picture, the holes were all I could see, and as a result, the whole story sucked. Like him, I was questioning my talents and wondering how I could mess up so badly in one area and do so well in others.

While I'm not sure it was a great comfort to him, it was the best I could muster at the time. The interesting thing was, that it was a comfort to me. For me to see someone else (albeit a young person) struggle with his expression to the point of getting angry at himself, was a bit of a relief. While I don't recommend it or like it when I do it, it's apparent that I'm not alone in my struggles.

I told Ben to start with the mouth next time so he doesn't invest 4 hours in it only to frustrate himself when he's most tired. It sounds like good advice for me as well.

Blogging off...

Saturday, March 17, 2012

Friends Near and Far


The map above and the map to the right of this column shw the locations of many of the people who have read this blog in the past month. It is a cool little gadget called ClustrMaps that does an on-the-fly GeoCode of the IP addresses of people who click on my blog. I find this interesting because I'm a map geek by trade. While you can read the names of the places people have visited from using another gadget called StatCounter, it's another thing to actually see the locations on a map. That is what makes ClusterMaps so cool. For that matter, that is what makes GIS so cool. It is putting a map to the data.

If you think about it, somewhere in the neighborhood of 75% of all data has a mapping component to it. Does the data have an address or location? It probably does. Where does crime happen? Where are the areas of poverty? Who voted for who? Where is a good place to eat? Where are the places to avoid eating? Where does my cell phone go dead? The list goes on and on.

My blog results tells me a lot of things. The clearest trend I see is that most of my viewers are from either, Wisconsin, Minnesota, New York and California. That's where most of my family and friends are, so it makes perfect sense. It's when we get beyond the obvious that the data gets more interesting.

Perhaps the most interesting statistic of all is the international hits I've had. ClustrMaps shows (and tells) that I've had hits from China and Korea. My question then is are those rogue hits that came up by accident, or do I actually have a fan in each of those countries? (If you are from there and are reading this, please leave a comment, as I'd love to hear from you.) My guess is the blog came up in a google search for some reason and the user clicked, took a peek and left, never to return. That's a guess, anyway.

Some of the North American visits are interesting too. Sioux Falls, SD is one of them. Who do I know in Sioux Falls? I'm not sure, but I'm glad to see them. Same goes for Council Bluffs, Iowa. I think I was there once, but I'm not sure, it might have been Des Moines. While I think the Washington, DC hit is probably my friends Pete and Amy, I'm not sure who the Chantilly, VA person is. Again, welcome!

It's especially cool to know that I've had a few hits from Washington State as well. One of them is from Issaqua, which, frankly I've never heard of, but what a cool name for a city! "I live in Issaquah," sure does have a good ring to it, eh? Donna and I have been especially intrigued with the Pacific Northwest, so its nice to know that someone out that way has visited.

Along the statistic lines things are interesting as well.

1. On Wednesday of last week, I had 75 page loads (75 visits)
2. About 60% of my originating referrals come from Facebook
3. Many of my referrals came from Keyword Searches on jim landwehr blog,  but some came from marcus amphiteatre inside. Not sure of the connection, but somewhere in one of my posts must be buried a reference to the marcus. A few of them came looking for "A Home for Wayward Clocks," which references my review of Kathie Giorgio's book release.
4. While almost 50% of my visits stay for less than 5 seconds, (likely people checking to see if I've posted), 40% stay for an hour or longer.
5.  35% use Internet Explorer, 20% use Chrome and 15% use Firefox. I'm a big Chrome fan. Fast, but a wee bit buggy.

All of this is cool stuff to data and map geeks like me. Most I suspect will find it hum-drum, but I beg to differ. Knowing where people are coming from helps me understand what they're looking for. And besides, it makes a great map.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Canoecopia Lowdown 2012


I spent most of Saturday at Canoecopia in Madison. It is pitched as the world's largest paddle sports expo, and after attending it, I don't know that I would argue. It was an amazing conference. They had speakers presenting all day over the 3 day weekend. There were vendors, demos and giveaways too.

I had originally planned on just going window shopping for Kayaks (if that makes sense). I've been thinking about getting one for about 3 years now, so thought that would be a good place to get some ideas. I managed to hook up with Bill Schultz of Wilderness Systems who was incredibly helpful to me, someone just getting started in the sport of Kayak fishing. He explained all the pros and cons of the SOT (Sit on Top) versus the sit-in, versus the Hybrid (like a one man canoe). He could speak to most of the models, in part because he had one of most every type.

There were two I was interested in, namely the Tarpon and the Commander 120. Bill seemed to favor the Tarpon, but when I sat in it I felt a bit cramped. I couldn't really stretch my legs out as far as I would like. When I sat in the Commander, it just felt better; felt right. I liked the fact that it was like a small, more nimble canoe. There is a fair amount of cargo space in the back as well as up toward the front. I opted not to get the angler package. I plan on doing a milk crate in back with PVC rod holders. I also plan to retrofit it with flush mount rod holders when the time comes. The whole boat weighs in at 72 lbs, but you can take the seat out and it's 6 lbs lighter.

Again, I hadn't planned on buying a kayak, but having people there to answer questions as well as a really good sale price helped me pull the trigger. There's something to be said for good customer service.

I also picked up a basic paddle from Bending Branches. I was shocked and awed to see that you could spend upwards of $400 for a paddle. At one point I had a carbon-fiber paddle in my hands that felt like a dream. When he told me it was a $180 paddle I suddenly woke up from said dream. I asked him for the next model down and he handed me a $120 paddle. Needless to say I came away with a "starter paddle" for much, much less. After all, you've got to be able to upgrade sometime. You can't always start with the Cadillac. Sometimes a Chevy works just as good.

Finally, I found a Malone Car Rack system, again recommended by Bill Schultz, that was a fantastic deal. It mounts to any existing SUV roof rack, so you don't need to go out and buy a $700 rack system from Thule or Yakima. That was a serious concern of mine when I was originally researching kayaks and racks. It should work out great and didn't break the bank.

I also attended a couple of decent seminars including a kindred spirit author of a BWCA memoir named Jerry Apps. This guy has taken trips with his son to the BWCA for 28 straight years. He had some funny stories and great pictures.

All in all it was a GREAT day! Fun to be around a bunch of silent sport geeks like myself. I'm definitely going back up next year.

In the short term though, I can't wait to get out on the water and catch some fish.

Blogging off...

Commander 120 (Below)

Friday, March 9, 2012

This Was Not My Chat Tech Experience


I have been having occasional wireless "drop outs" on my laptop here and there. It got to be kind of annoying, so I thought I'd take control contact Dell Support and see if they could fix it.

I used the Chat Support as I've had decent luck with it in the past. This experience had a bit less joy.

It took 6 minutes for the tech to look up my information. I thought they'd be able to download it from my connection somehow, but hey, I was patient.

Next I needed to confirm my problem 3 times. Yep, wireless connectivity issue. Yep. Wireless connectivity. Yes, my wireless.

Then he took control of my computer using web sharing software. He worked his way around, starting with the Dell Diagnostic tool that I could have run. He had me plug the Ethernet cable from our router into the laptop so he could download the driver. Then he decided to uninstall my wireless adapter and downloaded a copy of the latest driver and "installed" it. It was at this point that he said I should be good to go and that he'd check back tomorrow. I said Monday would be better, as I wouldn't be on it much tomorrow. He said how about Tuesday? Fine.

Then we got disconnected.

Forever.

No problem I thought, he said it was fixed. I unplugged the Ethernet cable and...ta da! No wireless. All indications I could find was that the network adapter was "disabled." I tried plugging in the Ethernet cord again and getting back to dell support, but was having issues with that.

Now, if I had more time and wasn't at the end of my rope, I would have looked harder into enabling the adapter or re-installing it myself. Instead I chose to run a Windows "System Restore." I'd heard good and bad about this utility, and so was a bit hesitant to try it. I restored to Wednesday of this week and after a 5 minute wait and a reboot, my computer was working like it used to.

Hallelujah! Something worked for a change.

The whole saga ends this Tuesday when I intend to tell the Technician from a far away place what he did and what I had to do to undo his "did". Because I'm done.

Blogging off...

Sunday, March 4, 2012

Sisters


I've been thinking a lot about my sisters lately, for some reason. I think part of it is that in my writings of the past couple years, my focus has been so much on my brothers and male relationships that I've maybe slighted the impact my sisters have had on my life. The other reason, I think, is because the death of my brother has changed our family dynamic, in good ways, and one of the most noticeable is my relationship with my sisters.

Because we're far apart (300 miles from one, and 2000 from another) we've never had a "call ya every week" kind of relationship. I can tell you on one hand how many times I've talked to them on the phone in the last ten years, we're not that kind of siblings. We all have families of our own, all with kids, jobs, mortgages and all the stress that comes with all of those things. None of us are big phone people anyway (at least I'm not) and so it would be odd to talk to them more than once a year on the phone anyway.

While the phone thing is not part of our relationship, things like email, facebook and, now texting, are. Facebook in particular has brought the three of us (and our kids and mom) closer together. I've had some great message chats with Jane and Pat on a weekend night where we've just goofed around, kidded each other and had a laugh. Emails too are our way of keeping in touch with big events like holidays, birthdays and such. They usually start out innocently enough with dates, times and places and end up with long ramblings from Pat about something unrelated. It's her style, it's funny and we all know it's just the way she thinks.

These sisters were the ones that, in-essence, raised me, Rob and Paul. Tom taught us how to be a man and how to work a power tool, while Pat and Jane taught us how to clean a house, have self-respect, and how to love one another through what we do and say. I am thankful for both sides of the equation because it makes me a more complete person.

Along those lines, I know I'm a better husband and a better father because of what I saw in my sisters when they were raising their families and I was still a wild twenty something prolonging my "free years" before I finally settled down and raised my own kids. I recall visiting Pat one time and seeing her cooking dinner for her kids and it struck me as so odd. She had all the obligations my own mother did and for me, someone who was still single, it just seemed so far away for me. Yet at the same time, she was going about the duties of being a mother as best she knew, because that was what had been done for her. Her kids are grown and independent now, a testament to how well she did it.

Jane too has grown kids now, and there is no one alive who loved parenting and loves her kids as much as my sister. She ate up parenthood, everything about it. Birthdays, first days of school, sports, graduations, college, jobs and soon enough weddings. To further prove how much she loves kids, she has been there for my kids, just the same. She loves them as her own and the same goes for the rest of my sibs' kids too. She is truly happy because we're happy. That's her prayer for us. Happy families. It's so important to her.

Then there was the sister I never knew, Linda. I often wonder what her personality would be like. Would she have been the adventurous outdoors type? The athlete? The brainiac? Furthermore, how would her place in the order of the family have changed each of our personalities? You have to know it would have changed the whole family dynamic in some ways. All I've seen is pictures, but I wonder what I'll say to her when I meet her face to face someday? It is a day that I firmly believe will happen and when it does and we're all finally reunited in heaven, it's going to be very loud in that room.

I love my sisters!

Blogging off...

Thursday, March 1, 2012

Goodnight Daydream Believer


Davy Jones passed away yesterday and as usual it threw me for a loop. I don't know why I get so shocked when a celebrity from my youth dies, especially rock stars (or faux rock stars as the case may be). I think part of it is that I want to remember them as they were at their peak. When I saw a recent picture of Davy Jones, he looked very much his age (66), but still had some of that youthful dash to him as well.

Another part of it is the realization that if it's happening the them it can surely happen to me. They were the invincible, inspirational stars of my youth and to have them dropping off it unsettling to say the least. One of my favorite bands of the 80s, the Cars, had their bassist die a few years back from cancer. Not right. Michael Jackson, never a big fan, but not right. Michael Hutchence of INXS, not right. Whitney Houston and all the rest, not right. Too young, too soon.

It's good to see my preoccupation with my mortality is alive and well. As unhealthy as it is, it is serves to inspire me to enjoy the moment and the day a bit more. I think of the Monkees riding unicycles and in their cool car and it seems like yesterday, but that was over forty years ago. Life flies by if you let it. I spent the first fifty years not realizing how precious each day was. I plan to change that for the next 30 or so.

Blogging off...