Thursday, November 29, 2012

The Microsoft Repairman

I guess I might be called the IT Administrator for our household. This is not a well paying position. In fact, here's the job description.

Household IT Administrator
Starting wage: $0.00

Overview: A voluntary, no pay position is now available for an enthusiastic technology geek over fifty years old. This position is a full time, permanent position with no opportunity for advancement or any sort of pay or benefit increase. Annual reviews will not be conducted, however if you should inadvertently cause someone a  technological inconvenience, (i.e. rebooting, conducting a diagnostic test, or slowing down the internet, since evidently its speed is dictated by you) you will be verbally flogged and harumphed.

Qualifications: Candidate must work full time on computers at work and enjoy coming home to do the same on an as needed basis. The work may include: software installation and removal, software updates, scanning and removal of malware and network troubleshooting which includes cursing at the router, squinting to see the tiny password on the bottom of it and pulling out cords from the power strip until something happens.

IT Administrator must keep a joyful spirit, be willing to work around others' schedules, take the fall for any sort of internet pipleline blips, and be able to explain to users why a windows update sometimes is worse than no update and can cause system instability. Candidate must be patient, kind and think twice before spewing techno-speak on innocents, children, and aging users. Examples of this include calmly explaining that Windows Explorer is not the same thing as Internet Explorer. Other examples include describing that Google Chrome is just like Internet Explorer, only better and that by downloading it and installing it, I am not deleting their pictures, their programs or the whole internet (Though I am capable of the last item).

Administrator must have a broad understanding of a myriad of softwares, operating systems, hardwares, external and wireless devices and the thought patterns of women and teenagers. Experience speed reading the blue screen of death and automatically digesting the 2 million random characters and determining the problem before the reboot is done is required. Said administrator must also be able to decrypt glyphs and octets thrown as errors such as:

"0xE34:^I42KE10 error! Notify your system administrator"

and surmise the quickest solution so that the user can get back to surfing, gaming and facebooking as quickly as possible.

Finally Administrator must be able to contort his/her body in bad yoga postures in order to plug/unplug desktops, hard drives, monitors or printers from overloaded power strips. This includes dealing with large dust bunnies, low or inadequate lighting conditions, spiders, non-grounded outlets, orphan plugs that lead to long dead devices and, not least of all, wire tangles that could not possibly have gotten that way on their own. It is a bonus if the administrator has ever had back problems or is over 6'3". Hair is not necessary for the position as it tends to impede the bandage application when the administrator bumps his noggin on the way up from pulling network cables.

Education: Preferably the candidate will have a BA in Anthropology and Geography and be really good at making maps. Creative writing is not necessary but will consider in the final decision. He must like fishing, camping and canoeing unless any of said interests conflict with his duties as IT Administrator.

Benefits: None, though applicant must show ability to shrug off heavy sighs, scornful looks and stair stomping as part of the job. In the event of a work accident, users insurance from his/her day job will cover bits and pieces of the medical costs. The rest will come directly from the administrators wallet.

Home IT Adminstrator is an Equal Opportunity Employer.

***Note that the author (me) knows that a very similar job description can be written for any stay at home mother in the world as well. It was written in complete jest. I love being a techie around our house. It just occurred to me today as I am installing 24 driver updates on my laptop and 4 on Sarah's that I spend a lot of time just fixing/updating computers. I just wish Windows wouldn't make my job so neverending, so I could spend more time using it and less maintaining it.***

Blogging off...

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Nerve Racking (sic)

There's a reason I'm not a carpenter, or a handy man.

Those people think differently. Try as I might to "enjoy" working with my hands or to love creating something with power tools, or appreciate "working with wood", I just can't. Saturday was testament to that distaste in so many ways, its hard to describe.

It started with the idea of buying a fishing rod rack that I saw in the black Friday sales flyer for Menards. Bear in mind that I NEVER go out on black Friday, but we needed solar salt and a furnace filter anyways, so I figured I'd see if I could save $15 on the rack and get my salt and filter too.

This was my first mistake.

Menards was a madhouse. The pace was frantic and exhausting. I found myself buying right into it when, at one point I had a fleece throw in my cart that cost $1.50. Later on, I was looking at $14 dog beds for no good reason. Luckily, I came to my senses and abandoned the throw on a shelf and skipped the dog bed. I got my rack, salt and filter and headed for home. It was an education in how crazy our culture has become, and how easy it is to get caught up in it. It was traumatizing.

In any case I got home and set about the 15 minute job of putting up my fishing rack. Ready, fire, aim!

Even though the rack was built as a stand-up rack, I thought I would mount it on the ceiling, thereby keeping my rods out of the way. No problem, four screws and I'd be done. Zip, zip, lickety split.

Because the brackets were the type where you put the screws in first, and then slide the rack in and to the left thereby locking it, I started with he first screw. I screwed it in and carefully measured 15 3/4" away to place the second one. Well, the tape was actually upside down, so I measured to roughly where the 15 3/4 mark was. I sunk the second screw, went to slide the rack into it and, low and behold, the screws were misaligned. Argh!

I removed the second screw, resunk it, replaced the rack and it worked. A bit wobbly, but it would do.

Halfway there, I think to myself.

I begin to set the screws for the top half of the rack which is designed with a curly-cue slot where the rods can slide into. When I go to set the rack into the two screws, I realize it's wobbly too. Too wobbly to work with.

(Top of Rack)

I size up the problem and decide to screw right through the rack's body. It would look a bit "custom," but, by God it would not wobble. So, I unsink both the screws and find two longer ones in my can-o-screws. I drill those in tight and think to myself, halfway there now, for sure.

I fill all the slots with rods and stand back to take a look. I realize that the curly-cue holders are not going to work in a ceiling configuration because the rods could fall out as vibrations from upstairs move them into the opening, thereby releasing them to fall and potentially snap.

Gotta fix that, I think to myself.

As I begin to remove the rods from the rack, the lower base falls off of it's two screws and all the rods come crashing to the floor. Argh!

Gotta fix that first, I think to myself.

I'm now 45 minutes in and am beginning to think about hiring a contractor.

As I'm fairly frustrated now I get two longer, thicker screws from my can-o-screws and drill a couple of pilot holes into the lower rack's body. The first screw I try is a bit too long and thick to drive in. I realize this after it is entirely through the rack. When I try and remove it, I proceed to strip it and can no longer unscrew it. I resort to hack-sawing off one end and then using my RoboGrip to unscrew the other end from the rack.

Momentarily, I contemplate scrapping the whole project and just selling the six rods. Problem solved.

I take a breath find two new shorter, more reasonable screws from the can. I drive the longer screws into the rack and then into the floor joist above. The rack continues to take on a custom look. This is not always a desirable thing.

Almost there now, I think.

I then cut 6 short pieces of plastic anchor tape and screw them the top six holes, closing the gap enough to hold the rod tips securely.

The design was pure genius. And quite custom.

I replace the 6 rods again and as I'm putting the sixth one in, one of the others falls out of the shallow base. and dangles by its tip.

I cannot print what I thought to myself at this point.

The fix would require a piece of wood underneath the 6 holes at the base of the rack to keep them from sliding out like the one I just described.

So I rummage through my woodpile and find an old piece of white quarter round molding from another woodworking project. Do I think about how white will not match the natural wood color of the rack? Why certainly. Do I care at this point? Absolutely not.

It'll be even more custom, now...I think to myself.

I find the first two non-matching screws I can find (custom again) and sink them into the quarter round as quickly as I can. I replace the six rods and stand back a third time to take a look.

Now, that is one awesome rack! Man, I am good.

And so, my love for working with my hands continues to escape me. To those of you out there who do it, enjoy it, and are good at it, I commend you. I also tell you to not judge. It's like art, or writing, or math or cooking, it doesn't come easy to everyone, despite valiant attempts.

In the meantime, I'll continue to work at it, but don't be looking for me to be making that homemade hutch real soon.

Blogging off...

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Thinking of Thanks

This day calls for pause to consider the things we are thankful for. Some of mine are below.

  1. My Faith. I credit my good friend Pat for discipling me during our college years. His method was not to beat me on the head with scripture, guilt and judgement. Instead he showed me what compassion and love and true friendship looked like. God took it from there.
  2. My Immediate Family. A wife who I can laugh with and two beautiful, smart kids. I keep wondering how I managed to get this lucky.
  3. My Extended Family. The past couple years has made me realize how much I took them all for granted for so long. They love me and my kids unconditionally and were there for each other in times of hurt.
  4. My Dog. He is the third kid in this family, though intellectually he's stunted at 3 years old. His goofy look and cocked head makes me smile daily. Truly man's best friend.
  5. My City. I was out in downtown Waukesha last night and was amazed at the vibrancy of this small city. Compared to what it was even 10 years ago, it has been an amazing transformation. I love going to the coffee shops, the art galleries, the restaurants and the bars.
  6. My Job. I am still blessed to love what I do for a living. GIS and mapping has been my life and I am lucky to have a fiscally responsible county government that has kept things stable in our department.
  7. My Friends. I've got fishing buddies, football watching buddies and tool borrowing buddies. I've got church friends, and writing friends, and facebook friends.
  8. My Hobbies. Fishing, biking, writing, music, camping, kayaking. I'm happiest when I'm outdoors, and am lucky to have a wife who understands that and supports it.
  9. My House. It's nearly a century old, and it shows, but it will always be home to my kids, and I know what it means to have warm, loving and secure home.
  10. My Country and Its Armed Forces. When I see some of the war torn places in the world, I am humbled by the commitment of our soldiers and military in keeping our country safe. I don't always agree with our foreign policy and hate to see us in places we don't belong, but am thankful that we've had peace on this soil for so long.
What are you thankful for?

Blogging off...

Sunday, November 18, 2012

The Meaningful Things

Last week I got my reel back from Badger Reel Repair. The reel (pictured above) was given to me by my brother Rob the last time I saw him, before he passed away in Aug. 2011. It was the second time I've had it in for repairs. The first time it didn't seem to be working right, so I brought it to BRR and it cost me $25 to clean, oil and repair it. When I tried it again this summer, it still did not seem to be working right.

Now, normally, I probably would not have spent any more money on repairing the reel. The reel only cost Rob $75 at the time, so putting much more into it would seem frivolous. Because the reel means more to me than just an average reel, I thought I'd go ahead and get it fixed. It was $15 to repair, which seemed like a deal to get a functional keepsake.

The whole process got me to thinking about things that mean something. You know the items. Things that you would want to take to the basement with you in the case of a tornado. Things given to you by loved ones, or maybe that mean something to you from your childhood. Most everybody has them. Because of the memories attached to fishing with my brother, this reel, and the rod and lures that he gave me along with it, will always mean something to me when I use them. The items take on an identity of their own of sorts, and you treat them with a degree of respect.

None of this is to say that I'm a materialistic person, because I don't think I am. There are a few things though, that everyone considers special or sacred, and I don't think there's anything wrong with that. I have a friend whose brother gave him his golf clubs before he passed away. Same deal. Every time he uses them, he thinks of his brother.

Another item that means something to me is my step-father's baseball, (pictured below). It was given to me at his funeral by his natural son, Kevin. The ball was signed by many of the old Minnesota Twins, including Harmon Killebrew, Billy Martin, and Tony Oliva. In this case however, the intrinsic value behind the ball is more tied to the fact that Kevin thought enough of me to single me out and get it to me. I remember he said that Dad and I always seemed to be the closest of his step kids, and as a result, Kevin thought I should have it.

Bear in mind that it's not because my step father and I ever watched a baseball game together, because we didn't. (Though we watched many a Viking game.) The thought on Kevin's part was strictly sentimental and I can certainly appreciate that. As I said, it meant a lot.

There are other smaller, significant items as well. My grandfather had a watch that was given to him for his years of service where he worked. It got passed between the boys for a few years, with each of us wearing it for a year before passing it on to the next  brother. The tradition died after the first round and I think my oldest brother has it now.

From my grandmother, I managed to get a book of "Great plays in baseball." She usually took Rob, Paul and I to one Twins game a year, so baseball meant something to me. When I saw the book on her shelf, I asked my mom if I could have it and of course she said I could.

It makes me wonder what of my possessions my kids would look at as precious when I kick the bucket. I would hope each of them would get one of my two Bible(s). And I would think my fishing stuff might mean something to one or both. Perhaps my laptop, as it's the source of one of my favorite past times, namely writing. The rest of it, like so much of everyone's past gets parsed out to the 2 G's; goodwill and garage sales.

So when you're thinking of what you want or need this Christmas, give some thought to the things in your life that have significance for you. What could you do without? What would you grab if a flood was imminent? My guess is it won't be anything on this year's list.

Blogging off...

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Waiting Out The Traffic Jam

I am what you might call in-between writing projects at the moment. I am currently working up to marketing my BWCA book to publishers. The book is "done" although, like any work, I think it could probably be better if I spent a couple more years on it. (That is a joke, but not too far from the truth. Ask any writer.)

At the same time, I am working piecemeal on my second book, an as-yet untitled work about the house I grew up in in Minnesota. Initially the stories came fast and furious, as I recounted the best ones first. I think of this as a sort of creative vomit, for lack of a better description. The stories flow readily because they have been recounted several times at family gatherings, and if not recounted, replayed in my head. Getting them down is relatively simple. Getting them cleaned up is a bit harder.

In addition to those two projects, I am coming off a handful of fictional short stories that I wrote to stretch myself. I think it's important to push the boundaries of your comfort to make you a better, more versatile writer. It's the reason I reached out into trying my hand at poetry a few years ago, and I thought it would be good to try it at fiction as well. I've discovered that it is a nice diversion from the mind-work of memoir, (remembering dates, places, events, and people) but it is still not easy.

With those short stories done, and my bigger projects hanging, the past couple of weeks I've been in a writing funk. I'd dabble here and there, but nothing was coming easy. It is then when I begin to question my own credibility.

Am I totally out of material already?
Why cant I think of anything to write?
I call myself a writer? Ha!

It's that old demon called "the critic within" that rears his head every time something doesn't go my way. I've been pretty good about squashing his voice over the past couple of years, but sometimes it's too loud.

As I'm sitting with my laptop last night, kind of dreading the block within, I started a story about the Greek Church that we lived near. It was a "place of passage" for my brothers and I as kids in the 70's. The story started out with a description of the church and the grounds. Before I knew it, the story had taken a left turn and the next thing I knew I was writing about a friend I had grown up with and the story was no longer about the church, except as a secondary character. I talked about his habits, our growing friendship and eventual falling away. The whole time I'm wondering, where is this coming from?

That is the fascinating thing about writing to me. I never know where it's going to take me. I start down a road and end up driving off a cliff or rolling over in a ditch. Sometimes I even crash into a brick wall. It is a cool ride, but there are lots of instances where I'm driving blindfolded, or steering with my feet.

All I have to remember is to keep getting in the driver's seat. The road will always be waiting.

Blogging off...

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Ten At Fifty

A few observations about life after 50.

1. I can't hear you. I seem to be going deaf. At the same time I will never admit I'm old enough for a hearing aid. The concerts of the 80's are catching up to me.

2. I'll wear what I want. I used to not be keen on wearing anything with a saying or logo on it for fear of what people would think. At 50, I suddenly don't care anymore. My two favorite T-shirts at the moment are my black tee with the Superman logo on it and the other is one that reads "Shut up and fish."  Hopefully these are not predecessors to the "I'm with stupid --->" T-shirt or the sweatshirt with the sunset and howling wolf on them. If you see me in these, try and understand.

3. Stretching is not optional. My morning routine involves 25 minutes of yoga/stretching immediately after waking. If I don't do this, I can still function, but I just feel better if I've done it.

4. I talk to my dog. Around the house, around the block and in the car. Although most of it is correctional or when giving directives, I've caught myself talking to him on a walk when people have seen me from across the street. OMG, I've become that guy. Don't judge.

5. I wear Yak Trax on my shoes in the winter. Um, yeah.

6. People have called my music mellow. I have to flatly deny that it is so. We were painting my sister-in-law's shed a while back and had my iPod in the dock. She and my wife eventually switched it off because it was not upbeat enough. I still like a lot of what I used to, but I will admit, I have taken to songs much more for the lyrical qualities than the beat lately. Hmmmm...

7. I'm blind. Well, not exactly. But I can't read with my glasses on, and if my contacts are in and I'm trying to work on something up close, I'm likely to rip them out of my eyes. This disability leads directly to number 8 below where...

8. I can't find my glasses. Now this is something that only old people do. If my family would quit moving mine around, I wouldn't have this problem.

9. My knees pop. Both of them, go off like gunfire every time I stand up. Is this normal?

10. I sometimes ask my kids to help with my phone.  It's not often, but sometimes, it's just easier. Not because I'm old, but rather because the phones are over engineered. (Sounds good to me.)

So that's what life almost one year into my fifties looks like. It's not bad, in fact it's like going to a movie or reading a good book. You just keep wondering what's going to happen next.

Friday, November 2, 2012

Everyone Has A Story

I went to the Moth Story Slam with my wife last night at the Miramar Theatre in Milwaukee. In case you are not familiar with it, it's basically a story competition. People put their names in a bag if they have a story to tell, then names are drawn out of the bag and people get on stage and tell their story. There's a few guidelines that have to be followed:

1. The story must be true.
2. Keep it to 5 minutes, with penalties for going over.
3. No notes.
4. The story should have a beginning, middle and an end. (Conflict and resolution are always nice too.)

When the person is done, the emcee' then calls on the 3 teams of two judges each to score how they did. They allow 10 people to tell stories and the whole thing takes a couple of hours. Each story is interspersed with the emcee reading audience responses to a question. Last nights question was "Tell about an accident that ended happily." That made for some interesting diversions from the main act of listening to stories.

Every slam has a theme, and last night's theme was "unintended". The stories ran the gamut. Stories of love and love lost, adventure, sadness, dumb mistakes, death and much more. Some were really, really good, and a couple were pretty badly done. I give everyone who went up there credit however. You're opening yourself up wide open when you do that, and it's not for everyone.

My friend Deb gave a story and it was really good. The only problem was hers was first and they tend to be fairly conservative with scores for the first couple of people, so she just got an average score. I think hers was one of the top 3 for sure, but that's just me.

It was a cool, somewhat moving experince. The emcee' put it best when she said that by the end of the night we'd feel closer to everyone around us, mostly because of the shared human experience. I was skeptical when she said that, but by the end of the night, I did feel like I knew some of the people there much better. It drilled home for me that everyone has a story to tell. Some are tragic, some happy, but all common to us as brothers and sisters on this planet. The phenomena is easier to experience than to explain. You'll just have to go and see for yourself. (The next theme is "Aftermath.") Maybe you even have a story to contribute.

Blogging off...