Sunday, September 30, 2012

The Color Grey

Fall has definitely become my favorite season. Well, maybe I'll qualify that by saying "early fall." The months of August through October, to be precise. The older I get, the more I appreciate the color of the trees. I've always thought that this is such an "old person" thing to appreciate. It's weird how it happens, but at about the age of thirty, I suddenly started to notice them with a greater appreciation. It was probably on one of my many road trips back to Minnesota that I first took note. I can also remember vividly my brother Rob saying how he started noticing the colors too. It's funny how in your teens and early twenties you just don't notice that kind of thing, or at least Rob and I didn't. Then one day, a switch flips and...boom...trees are cool!

My latest fascination is with trying to capture some of their beauty on camera when presented with the chance. There are a few examples shown here, but unfortunately none of these does near justice to the actual trees themselves.

In addition to the trees, fall sunsets seem to be more vibrant as well. I saw this one at the Waukesha South football game last Friday night and it stopped me in my tracks. It's when I see things like these, I wonder how anyone cannot believe there is a God who made it all? To say it is all a big coincidence or an accident falls a little flat IMHO.

Now that we've determined that I'm truly showing my age, I should say that I was forced to reconcile with my own kids growing up in little ways this weekend. As I mentioned, on Friday we all went to the South football game. Only a few years ago, we would have all sat together and watched as a family. Now Sarah wanted to sit with her friend Mitch and their friends and Ben sat with his football team. Everyone is growing up, and being with the family is not always the first choice anymore. I'm mostly OK with that. Mostly.

Then on Saturday we watched Ben's football team play Waukesha North. Again, Ben plays primarily on the kickoff team and generally gets mop-up duty in the final few minutes, if the score allows. This week he made what I would call a solo textbook tackle on the sideline. In the grand scheme of things, it was probably nothing. But let me say that it made me so proud I almost stormed the field. He's been focused on improving his tackling at practice these past few weeks, and it showed. It took me right back to my own 8th grade experience, and I'm glad the play came his way, and he made it. The coaches and a few of his teammates even gave him a shout out. The chemistry and support on this team is second to none.

Later Saturday evening, we took pictures of my daughter and her friend Mitch before they went out to the homecoming dance. Understand that I don't know how I came to have a daughter who is a Junior in High School. Just last week she was 7 years old and in 2nd grade. No way she could be driving, working and taking the ACT. It doesn't seem possible. It seems like only 10 years ago I was picking up my date for the homecoming dance. I guess it's all part of the process, but that doesn't mean I have to like it.

Blogging off...

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Fishing For An Upgrade

I was out fishing on Friday on "Secret Lake," and if you're a fisherman, you get the joke, and was catching fish at a rate of about one every six minutes. 30 fish in 3 hours, it was a blast. I was the only boat on the lake and was just having a great time. At one point I heard a clunk like something falling. I figured it was my travel mug of coffee shifting or something like that, so I didn't pay much attention. Ten minutes later, I look down and there is my cell phone sitting in a half inch of water on the bottom of the kayak. Now, it was an old crappy cellphone, but needless to say, I felt pretty dumb. It was fried of course; stuck in an endless cycle of reboot and then, eventually, a white screen of death. RIP crappy cellphone. I loved that phone.

My wife jokingly accused me of doing it intentionally in the name of getting a new smart phone. Of course that's not true, but we had been talking about me getting one eventually anyway, so it was meant to be.

We went to the ATT store on Saturday and purchased my "upgrade" which is an understatement, to say the least. I got an HTC One X. It was a $99 upgrade and will do everything but start my car. There was a fairly steep learning curve the first couple of days, but every day I use it I get more comfortable with it. I do have to say though that if the touch screen keyboard does not send me to the the psych ward, nothing will. I try and type something like "with" and it comes out "qyrb" or something like that. The salesman said auto correct will fix all of your errors at the end of your text.

Yeah right.

It doesn't work that way, at least when I need it most. I'm determined to make it work though because I like so many other features of the phone. It has a camera that allows me to take pictures while I'm videoing. It does panoramic photos, which are amazingly clear. It does multi-shot that shoots multiple picture until you let  go of the button and so much more.

The only other gripe I have with it is also it's biggest virtue, and that is it's size. It's got a beautiful display screen and nice, big icons, but it's a pain to carry around. It's like putting a butter dish in your pocket. My buddy said he uses a belt carrier for his phone, but frankly, I don't want to be that guy, so butter dish it is.

There's other small, first-world issues I have with it; no SD card slot, the volume button is too sensitive and forever turning off my vibrate when I click it by accident, no single app killer function, etc., but for the most part I am very happy with this phone. I promise I won't become one of those sad soles staring into the tiny screen on every street corner of the world, but I'll need your help, because I don't want to become that guy either.

So, if I tell you I want to show you a great new app on my phone, just say, "Jim, I'm so sorry..."

Blogging off...

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Closing Thoughts On Past Posts

I'll take a post to wrap-up a couple of recent posts, namely No Brother of Mine and A Home For Willie. As you recall, I had some issues with my wife's laptop not being able to print to our brand new Brother printer. I tried a half dozen software uninstalls/reinstalls to no avail. Desperate, I notified support by email. They were prompt in getting back to me, but their response was kind of a joke. It consisted of a web link to a list of an 8 "part" series of solutions, with each "part" having multiple steps. This list would seem daunting to a technically adept person, of whom I consider myself. I cannot imagine how someone technophobic or techno-illiterate would feel. I'm sure most would take the printer back immediately upon opening the email.

I worked my way through all of the steps to no avail. Then, what occurred to me was how can someone put a product out that is so tough to setup that it requires 8 steps of troubleshooting after the consumer has already complete 6 steps of his/her own trying to figure out what's not working? That would almost seem difficult to do. You'd almost have to intentionally design it that bad.

Frustrated, I contacted "Chat Support" and after a friendly greeting I was told that my problem lay with my firewall software and that Brother Support could be of no help. Really? My purchase hasn't hit my credit card yet and I get nothing? If it wasn't all set up and out of the box, I would have taken it back.

Now I understand that with all that makes up a computer network and all of the peripherals like printers, routers, firewalls etc., that things get dicey very quickly. My point is that as consumers, we shouldn't be left to find the answer to the problem by googling some obscure forum (as I did) only because we were driven to desperation by inept technical writing/support. We deserve better, Brother.

The other thing I wanted to touch on again was my uncle's book Willie. I am almost done reading it now. It has some extremely close tie-ins to events in my dad's family with both the characters and the stories. While it is no Steinbeck or Hemingway (neither am I) it does have moments of tenderness and innocence. If you want to know more about the book, ask me in person.

I do have to say that I have a great respect for what my uncle was trying to do. It is almost memoir-like in the way it is written, though I know much of it is fiction. I picture him at his desk writing it, editing it, and mulling it over in his head. I wonder at times if he had a writing group like I do where he passed ideas over for feedback? Or was it all his own?

The fact that he was my dad's brother, but had characteristics more like me, perhaps than my own father, is intriguing. I wonder if he was a people person or more of an introvert? Did he love the great outdoors? (It would appear from the book that he did.) Did he aspire to make the book just for his family, or  was the intent all along to make it something bigger? (A question I struggle with.) It would be so interesting to sit down with him and talk writing and family for a while. I wished I knew him better when he was here. I guess I should be happy to have had the chance to read his work and get to know him just a bit more.

Blogging off...

Sunday, September 16, 2012

No Brother Of Mine

I'm writing this as I muddle my way through the 5th install/uninstall of the printing software for my wife's laptop. Our printer took a dump the other day, so we got a nice, shiny Brother MFC-J825DW All in One Wireless printer. Thus began my long saga.

The printer installed perfectly on my Dell laptop and within 10 minutes I was printing fine. This was easy I thought. Repeat the same process 3 times for all the other laptops and I would be done in no time. Next up was Donna's because she needed it the most. I run through the wizard the same way I did on her very similar Windows 7 64 bit laptop and again it appeared to be easy. I go to print and, wait for it, wait for it, nothing!

This is where my beef with all things Windows comes in. Why if you have two very similar laptops, neither with very much software on it, do you get two different results when installing the same program? Grrr.

Being real scientific about it I thought I'd try it on a 3rd laptop to see what happened. I tried it on Sarah's Windows 7 32 bit machine, a bit different than Donna's and mine in that it was 32 bit...but still Windows nonetheless. Needless to say it worked on the first try. Thinking Murphy's law, I'm guessing that it's not working because Donna needs it the most. If she didn't need it it would have been a 10 minute deal.

I then figure I'd uninstall and reinstall the software, as this is usually the first thing support has you do. (Don't ask me why, but I've been at this long enough to know that's what they ask for.) I uninstall and reinstall joy! I struggle with doing this same uninstall at least twice more and then give up. (This was last night.)

Today during the football games I decide to get it fixed for good. I try the troubleshooters. I say shooters because there are two, one for the software and one that is a Windows troubleshooter. Here's my conclusion:

The software troubleshooter is worthless. It take you to the support website where you're left to scream into a virtual black hole. From there I decide to "Contact Support By Email." I go into that link and the first thing they want is the serial number.

Well, that's on the box in the basement. Grrr.

Being too lazy to run and get it, I launch the Windows Troubleshooter. It tells me there's no Homesharing going on between the printer and the rest of the laptops in the house. Well, frankly two of them are sharing quite nicely without the stupid Homeshare so I'm not sure what the troubleshooter is telling me.

I exit those two and try a couple more uninstalls. Still no joy.

I contemplate a buying a Mac, momentarily. I have this thought regularly.

Coming back to reality I decide to do a system restore to Donna's laptop to get it back to where it was on Friday before I started installing the printing software. That way I'd have a "clean slate" and could reinstall the software as if doing it for the first time. I was almost certain this would do it.

Who was I kidding?

Same scenario after I installed the printer software for the sixth time. The printer says "ready" according to the software and it says "offline" according to windows.

I can ping the printer from the laptop. I can scan a document from the laptop. All I want to do is print.

It will be the end of me. You would think after 25 years of personal computing that they would have this plug and play printing thing figured out.

I'm now fried. It's Sunday night and the computer wins again. I will prevail, oh yes I will. But it will have to wait for another day.

Blogging off...

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

A Home For Willie

A couple of years ago after finding out that I've been working on a book, my older brother told me that my deceased uncle John (Jack) was a fledgling writer who had actually finished a book. Evidently he never had any luck getting it published, but details are sketchy as to how hard he tried, what channels he used, etc. I told Tom that I would love to see the book sometime and he finally remembered to get it to me when we all met up in Mercer, WI a couple of weeks ago. As a writer, I can fully appreciate the effort that must have gone into this manuscript. The countless hours of research and composition, all followed up by hundreds of edits. None of us knows what to do with it, so we are left to reading it and passing it on to the next family member.

The book is titled Willie. (Cover page above.) I am less than 1/3 of the way through it - it's over 300 pages long - but find it interesting for unconventional reasons.

The story takes place in St. Cloud, Minnesota in the early 1940's. It starts out with the main character working his way up through the family car sales/repair business. Early on in the book things go awry and he ends up taking a job out of state. The story is a bit on the slow side, but as I said, I find it engaging for other reasons.

My father and his siblings grew up in St. Cloud. He was one of 8 children by my grandfather Adolph John. The father in the book goes by the name is A.J. Because I did not know my grandfather very well, I'm left guessing as to how much of the character in the book is reflective of my grandpa. It's easy to see some of the tie-ins to other people and events that I've heard about, but I'd rather not make mistaken assumptions about the characters if certain elements were fiction. That is not fair to the people or the author in this case.

The name of the book is intriguing as well. I have an uncle Willie who, again, I don't know too much about. My dad's side of the family all lived up in St. Cloud for most of my younger years. Once dad died, (1967) we didn't get up there much and so I really can't say I knew any of my Cousins/Aunts/Uncles very well. I couldn't tell you what my uncle did for a living, or if his personality is rolled into the main character or not. Its interesting to speculate, but that is all it is, speculation.

At one point in the story he mentions one of the characters who married a travelling drug salesman. I know my father held down a job as a pharmaceutical salesman for a bit, and again, I am left wondering if this reference was made by my uncle to either pull my dad's essence into the book in some way or if it was strictly coincidental. I tend to think the former, but I likely will never know.

There are several other references that kind of raise an eyebrow for me, but not knowing much in the way of history on my dad's side of the family, I'm left to try and figure it out for myself.

This is part of why I am reading the whole book, as slow as it can be at some points. I don't have much to go on in regards to my dad or his siblings. I feel like I hardly knew Jack at all. He moved to North Dakota when I was in High School, so I rarely saw him after that move. At the same time, I have the nagging feeling that of all my uncles, he's the one I was probably the most like. By reading his work, I might get a better feel for what made him tick. I feel that, by reading it, I might get a glimpse into the heart of uncle Jack. In doing that, I may luck out and get a glimpse into the heart of my dad as a bonus.

Time will tell, but for now, back to reading Willie.

Blogging off...

Sunday, September 9, 2012

Cabin Fever

As I mentioned, our time at Pine Forest Lodge last weekend was phenomenal. Good family together time, great cousin time, a blue moon party in Rob's honor, and a really big fish to boot. I couldn't have asked for more. Because it was such a great time at a place that is near and dear to us all, I thought I'd recount some of the memorable moments of years past "at the cabin". I do this not to the exclusion of those who have never been to PFL, but rather to the inclusion of anyone out there that has been to "the cabin." Most everyone has a favorite summer place they have been to as a kid or an adult and likely will be able to relate to some of the moments I describe.

First Fish: While not everyone's first fish was at PFL, most people in our family caught their first fish at a cabin. Sarah used to sit in what we call her African squat on the dock in Hackensack MN for hours and catch bluegills. It is where she caught her first fish as well as her first northern pike.

Hanging at the beach: Ya'll come Time: One of the things I enjoy most about the cabin is the ability to go down to the Adirondack chairs on the beach front and hang out. People come and people go. Some talk, some read, some nap, some bring food, some eat the food. It is a chance to get below the surface with each other on what's really going on in our lives, if we choose, or just keep it light.

Boating: Some of the more memorable boating ventures I  recall include: Borrowing Tom's 12' "washtub" boat with Rob once and going fishing in it. I remember he said "I feel like a fricken giant in this boat, man!" (He was not alone. It was barely big enough for one giant, let alone two.) The resort owner John took us to the Turtle Flambeau Flowage once to "swimmers island." That involved 6 or 8 of us piling into canoes and paddling to a nice sandy beach. There were several years where we rented boats from John and Cheri to fish the "dead sea" as we called it. And finally, the kayaks and stand-up boards are a favorite among the kids. You do not have to be an expert to paddle them, so the kids take to them and have a blast.

Birthday celebrations: Because we usually go to the cabin in August, it always seems to bump up against a birthday or two. Cupcakes and presents with cousins shared in a cabin too small for the crowd was kind of an annual thing up north. We also celebrated my sister Pat's 50th up there, one filled with gag gifts of various medications and age insulting cards. They were always special times because after all, there's nothing that goes better with a chocolate cupcake than a beer.

Porch Coffee Time: Early mornings are spent wandering and usually everyone passes through Nanny's porch at some point. It is a favorite meeting place for many of us. We usually started and ended our day there talking to Mom and anyone else who wandered in.

First Musky: Paul started the whole quest for a musky in 2004 or 2005, and had success on his first cast as I recall. The musky is a special fish, one that holds a certain mystique about it. After Paul caught his, Rob was quick to go to downtown Mercer and buy a Musky Rod and reel. He didn't have luck that year, but did the following year. Since then, Hunter, Tom, and most recently Sarah have all landed a musky at the cabin. It is now my goal to get one for some of the other cousins.

These are just some of the reasons the cabin is such a special place. When we arrive I feel my blood pressure drop almost immediately. Time slows down. Worries fade away. People relax. It is camping without all the work. The best part about it though is that, almost always, the entire family is there. It has dwindled to a long weekend for some of us, but is one of the best weekends of the year. And I am thankful for that.

Blogging off...

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

One For The Ages

We spent the weekend in Mercer, Wisconsin again this Labor Day, much like we did last year. The mood was certainly less somber, though distinctly muted by the absence no one could ignore. Rob was the guy who would just show up at your cabin with coffee in hand in the morning, or a Budweiser in hand after noon, and talk. He loved being around family and talking about anything and everything. At the same time, the dynamic of the family is as healthy as it ever was. Everyone seems to appreciate everyone else a little more than they used to. Rob's absence has definitely pulled us closer together and the change is for the better. It was part of his legacy that he hoped he would leave and it seems to be happening that way.

It was a "blue moon" on Friday and it was a gorgeous night by the fire with family and friends. Everybody was in high spirits and glad to be with each other. The moon was beautiful and we even had a few people around the fire that knew the words to the song. (I wasn't one of them, though the song has some great lyrics.) It was an electric night and one I won't soon forget.

The highlight of the weekend however, happened the next morning. The plan was for my friend Steve and I to go out musky fishing on a nearby lake first thing in the morning. My daughter kind of hinted that she wanted to go musky fishing sometime. I asked Steve if he would mind, and he said he would be glad to take her if she was willing to get up at 7:00 AM and go. My hesitation on asking him is that musky fishing is typically long days in a boat with, at best, one minute of chaos, if someone gets a fish. Sarah has great patience and staying power, so I said she could go.

We got on the water about 8:20. Temps were in the mid 60's and the sky was clear. The anticipation was high, despite the fact that musky tend to be pretty finicky in warm weather. I thought our odds of success were about as good as we could hope. Our plan was to have Sarah fish for bass while we row-trolled two  suckers and Steve and I took turns casting for musky. 

Well, one cast into it and Sarah caught a fish. I thought it was a bass so told her to bring it to the side of the boat so I could pull it in. The fish put up a great fight with a couple of nice runs toward the motor. Sarah held tight and didn't horse on the line. When it came up next to the boat Steve said "That's a musky! I can't believe this!" He wasn't even finished getting the suckers in the water yet, nor was he prepared with the net. He quickly got the net pulled out (a nice big net that allows the musky to stay in the water while being unhooked, mind you) and on the second attempt got the fish into the net. 

It was a 34" twelve pound Tiger Musky, caught on the first cast on a 4" Kalin's Grub using 8 lb test line and a standard spinning rod/reel. It was nothing short of amazing. Sarah was glowing and texted to Donna, "Pardon my language mom, but Holy Sh*t I just caught a musky!!!" She was so happy and said she would be fine with not fishing the rest of the weekend. I can't say how proud I was of her and how glad I was to have the sense to include her on the trip. What a great, memorable Father/Daughter moment!

 I don't know who to thank, God, Rob or just dumb luck. I just know it was a day I'll never forget as part of a weekend I'll never forget.

Blogging off...