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Monday, May 29, 2006 3 comments

Of Tires, Jobs, and Cameras

We picked up The Boy yesterday, planning to help him put a tire on his car (parked near some apartments close to the retail district). The tire part went by the wayside rather quickly: the rim he had was a six-holer, and his car is a five-holer. He (and a friend) came home with us anyway. I tried grilling some burgers & frying some bacon, got distracted by the guest(s), and ended up burning everything. Fortunately, Mrs. Fetched had some chicken in the oven.

So after borrowing the Barge, and a failed attempt at an unauthorized side trip, he came on home and spent the night with us. He agreed to help with the chicken houses in the morning, but it took me an hour & a half to get him moving after Mrs. Fetched left.... I ended up getting him there with the job about halfway done. I rigged a mulch bag onto the chipper and had barely started chopping some pine limbs when they returned.

With The Boy back, the next order of business was to get a tire for his car. He said his jack was no good, so I grabbed one we had laying around and off we went... only to find two tires flat. The one he knew about was ripped open pretty good, and the other (both of them were on the front) was showing metal at the corner. Fortunately, his “no good” jack turned out to be serviceable, and we hoisted both sides of the car and got the tires. We put the fake spare (which is flat) on one side and left the other jacked up, then went to get the tires.

Two hours and $150 later, we were back at the scene. The left side tire was giving us trouble, primarily because the jack wasn’t lifting high enough, but The Boy hit on the idea of putting the second jack under the axle and we got all the lift we needed pretty quickly. We told him he needed to either repay or work this off — he’s still sticking to his story of instant riches in August, but he said he’d work it off.

As I was getting ready to head home, Mrs. Fetched called — turned out she was just across the highway from us. Upon joining them, I wound up with M.A.E. as a passenger; Mrs. Fetched was going to get some groceries and she didn’t want to hang around. We got a mile down the road when she gasped, “Crap! I’m supposed to talk to the Fire Mountain people today about that job!”

“It’s 3:00,” I said, “and you’re supposed to be there some time between 2 and 4. Looks like a good time to do it.” I turned around at the builder supply place and took her back. Good thing... she got the job. They wanted to see if she cared enough to show up, she did, they needed to fill a position, everybody’s happy!

With a few minutes at home to wash my face and arms, we then went to see the guy Mrs. Fetched has worked with on video projects in the past. He’s retiring, selling his house, and leaving for smaller pastures. Mrs. Fetched has lusted after his XL-1 camcorder for a while, and he was ready to sell everything for fire-sale prices. She wound up with two pro-level camcorders, a seriously high-end tripod, and a VHS duplication rig, for $2700. Then he said, “I’m also going to sell my portrait camera.” He named a price for the entire kit that was ridiculously low. “You can turn around and sell it, or keep it, whatever you want to do... I don’t care.” This isn’t low-end stuff... a Mamiya RB-67 with several lenses, extensions, backs. Pretty much an entire portrait studio (minus lighting) in a hard-shell case. My first thought was a co-worker who’s single and a camera buff... he might want a medium-format camera. My second thought was that I’ve been taking a lot of product portraits lately, maybe I should keep it and stop wrestling with my digital camera. I could probably get a digital back for this thing, but it would be a) overkill b) hideously expensive.

I’ve floated by Mrs. Fetched the idea of starting our own documentation service — she does video, I can do text and still photography. We could pretty much cover everything between us. Maybe with some good equipment in our hands, this is the time.

Saturday, May 27, 2006 4 comments

The Third World: closer than you think

Mrs. Fetched’s mom bought a trailer from a relative; I think the motive is to fix it up and rent it out. The kitchen was in pretty bad shape, and some people we know from the private school where the kids used to go had some cabinets. So most of the morning was destroyed in the chicken houses, and the afternoon was filled up with this trip.

The cabinets were stored in a double-wide that I thought was dedicated completely to storage, with a mini-junkyard spilling outside. However, it happened to be occupied by a family. When I stepped inside, I marvelled that any one person, let alone a family, could consider living in this place. No carpet (or even linoleum) on the floors, construction material strewn everywhere, the ceiling water-stained and sagging everywhere. I’m sure there are worse places to live, but this looked like a little piece of Ramallah transplanted to Planet Georgia. The two goats tethered outside completed the scene.

It would be interesting to hear their story. The guy seems to be fairly well-educated (he knows what ex post facto means, for example) and has HVAC experience. I also noticed several PCs in various states of repair in the house, although I think it’s easier to get HVAC work than computer work these days. They were given the place by the people we know, and were glad to see us get the cabinets out — that half-opened what was once a master bedroom, and they might be able to clear the rest of the junk out and use that room now. It would be nice to see them get some flooring in there, though.

I heard that the term “dirt poor” was originally used to describe people who couldn’t afford to put in tile or wood floor in their house, so the floor was dirt — or perhaps it meant an earthen (or sod) house was all they could manage. Frankly, I think an honest earth house with a dirt floor would have been a more dignified home than this double-wide. Or maybe they’re just in the middle of gutting and rebuilding the interior... somehow, I doubt it. At least it’s a roof over their heads, even if it leaks here and there, but it’s only a step above being homeless.

There are places like this everywhere, tucked into little side lanes that you barely notice. If you look for them, you’ll probably find them. Then you’ll wonder what to do about it.

Don’t force it, get a bigger hammer

I have to confess that many years of using Macs, combined with a monkey curiousity that led to deep familiarity with the platform, has spoiled me: when my computer should be able to do something, I expect it to Just Work because it almost always does. And I get annoyed if it doesn’t.

The latest example began last weekend. Exploring the 43folders site, I found a clever little kit called the Hipster PDA. Like most geeks, I like low-tech when it works, and this is as low-tech as it gets: a build-your-own personal data assistant consisting of a stack of index cards and a binder clip. Sitting in the living room with the iBook, I thought to myself, “I’d like to try that. I wonder if I could find some index cards around here.” Then I glanced over at the lamp table, and lo! a stack of index cards, left there by someone and never put away, awaited. Figuring this was a Sign From Above, I put down the laptop and located a binder clip.

With a place to keep ideas, project tasks, and miscellaneous to-dos, my brain started suddenly remembering things I wanted to do around FAR Manor (and work) at odd moments. I could just whip out a pen and my stack, jot it down, and move on. I wound up with a rather intimidating shipping list for Home Depot, and a longer list of stuff to do around the house than I really wanted to recognize. I soon needed expansion memory (i.e. more index cards), and found the supply cabinet at work has both color and regular cards. Having found a useful way to capture and remember all those little things that could be done later, I started looking at it a little deeper, thinking about accessories (this is how male geeks keep in touch with our inner female: we accessorize our gadgets, not our wardrobe). Oh cool, how about some templates to print on the index cards?

So I downloaded the PDF, grabbed a handful of blank index cards, fired up Preview, and tried printing a few pages. The laser printer dutifully sucked in the cards, and spit them out — still blank. Suddenly realizing I needed to create a 3x5 page size, I did so and tried again... with the same results as before.

I went into full-blown troubleshooting mode at this point, trying all sorts of different things including installing new printer drivers and trying a different printer. Nothing worked, although at one point I managed to get the first two inches of a page to print at the bottom two inches of the card. It got late, and I gave up for a night that turned into a week.

Some time during the week, a thought hit me: if I could get the image to print at the top-center of the page, it should print on the card. I knew of two ways to make that happen — import each image into a page layout program by hand, one at a time, or use good old groff to do it all for me at once.
For those of you who aren’t familiar with *roff or other batch-style formatters, that’s the way most of us produced complex documents before 1990 or so. For books, or collections of books, not even the best GUI programs can yet match the capabilities of groff, and don’t even come close to matching their speed or efficiency. I’ve actually turned back to using groff at work because even FrameMaker is too slow and clunky to do what I need nowadays.

Once I hit on that idea, I had my printed cards in a few minutes. I opened a Terminal window and began the incantations:

$ pdf2ps diyp3h_core_1up.pdf diyp3h_core_1up.ps
$ for (( i=1; i<=84; ++i )); do
> psselect -p${i} diyp3h_core_1up.ps pg${i}.ps
> eps2eps pg${i}.ps pg${i}.eps
> rm pg${i}.ps
> done

Now I had 84 EPS files, one for each page in the PDF file. To do anything with them, I had to create a file of groff commands to put each index card at the top of an otherwise blank page:

$ ls *.eps | awk '{print ".bp"; print ".PSPIC $0";}' >cards.t

I opened the PDF, identified cards I didn’t want to print (and those I wanted multiple copies of), and edited cards.t accordingly. Finally, I stuck the cards in the printer and typed:

$ groff cards.t | lpr

The first couple of cards came out crooked, until I squeezed the paper guides together a little more tightly. My Hipster upgrade was quickly ready; now I just need some time to copy the data over....

Thursday, May 25, 2006 1 comment

Happy Birthday, Mrs. Fetched!

I still think I should have gotten you the Victoria’s Secret gift card, but I’m glad you liked the live flowers....

Justice, maybe

Lay and Skilling are guilty.

Unfortunately, I doubt that it will translate to real jail time. The two of them are already appealing their convictions, made bail, and all they have to do is stall and delay until January 19, 2007. On that date, Bush-league will write them pardons in a quid pro quo for all the campaign contributions.

Wednesday, May 24, 2006 2 comments

Running on Empty

The Boy came by the in-laws’s place for Sunday dinner, a sort of post-Mother’s Day thing. He came walking in with his lip ring (gag) in place, but quickly sucked in his lip, said hello, then excused himself for a trip to the john. When he came back, he’d wisely taken it out.

So we ate, exchanged small talk, and then he asked me to come outside to talk after lunch.

“Where’s the oil filter on this thing?” he said, raising the hood of his car. It took a few minutes to find, probably because the filter was painted black. It’s on the front of the engine, about halfway down.

With that out of the way, the next question was, “Could you give me five bucks for gas?” I didn’t even have my wallet on me, and (as it turned out) there wasn’t anything in it anyway, but I told him I’d give him five bucks to mow the back yard (I’d done the front on Saturday). He was all over that.

From what he told me, he runs out of gas a lot. I think he’s wound up stranded more in the last few weeks than I’ve been in a lifetime. Being generally lucky, he usually gets a friend or friendly stranger to bail him out. It was kind of exasperating, and I suggested he just suck up his act, play by the rules, and move back home until he can get a better situation. This elicted a flight of fancy that was stunning for both its incredibility and deadpan delivery. I really think he convinces himself he’s telling the truth. Anyway...

(according to The Boy) Their band has signed up with some metal label and is going to be playing weekly at the Masquerade in Atlanta through the summer. Then in August, they go on tour and the $500,000 he has in escrow will clear. Uh-huh. Nice fantasy there, kid. Unfortunately, fantasy doesn’t pay the bills unless your name is J.R.R. Tolkien or Anne McCaffrey (OK, there are several other examples, but you get my drift). If it turns out he’s telling the truth, I’ll eat crow like a good sport in August. I’d offer to post a video of myself eating a real crow (cooked of course) but I’d have to shoot it, pluck it, clean it, and cook it. But worse, I’d have to explain to the in-laws why I’m doing that.

Baby wren on the loose

The baby wren decided to give his wings a try today, and ended up in the corner of the garage, with frantic parents dive-bombing Mrs. Fetched (who didn’t know what was happening) and tick-ticking away. For whatever reason, the parents abandoned garage when I came in — it may have been something to do with my bringing a car with me. I happened to catch sight of the little booger clinging to a fishing pole and ran to get my camera. The batteries were about shot, but I closed the display and managed to get one recognizable picture of the young bird, who had by this time migrated to a lawn chair. I’m sure the flash didn’t make him happy, but there wasn’t anything I could do about it.

Seems to be a theme at FAR Manor: the kids leave the nest before they’re quite ready.

Monday, May 22, 2006 2 comments

Lobster walkin’

Lobster’s been gone... six weeks as of tomorrow. No, he hasn’t tried coming back, and he pretty well burned his bridges anyway, but you hear stuff. A brief summary of his life on his own might be in order... a cautionary tale for any of you who are teenagers and are thinking you’d be better off dropping out and running off.

One thing Lobster seemed to have picked up on that The Boy hasn’t, despite repeated advice: don’t jump until you know where you’re going to land. He may have already had it planned to move to Big V’s (Mrs. Fetched’s younger sister, not exactly the most stable isotope on the periodic table herself) before we booted him, because he was there by nightfall. The private school he was going to is run by a strange Pentecostal (but I repeat myself) church, and has some odd but sometimes flexible rules. The relevant one here is that students are required to live with their parents while they’re in school. They flexed the rules to allow Lobster to stay in school while he was living with us, perhaps because we also (at the time) had our kids in the same school. However, they didn’t know Big V — so given the choice between going back to his parents’ place or dropping out, Lobster chose the latter. Hey, he had a roof over his head (although he told Mrs. Fetched even that wasn’t important), a job, and a truck. What more could he ask for?

I suppose he could have asked for some financial savvy. After wrecking his truck to the tune of $1100 for body work (and that after the mechanic cut him a break), he made a deal with a devil, aka Big V. He gave her the title to the truck and agreed to pay both rent and payments on the truck; she paid for the repairs and he got his (now hers, actually) truck back. Big V and her husband run a lawn-care business, so there was plenty of work available for Lobster on days he wasn’t working at KFC.

Sounds all well and good, except that Lobster seems to think:

a) the universe was created to wait on him hand and foot;
b) getting up early is for other people;
c) paying bills is for other people.

After about a week, he told them he didn’t have to get out of bed and work with them. They got him up, ungently, and he decided right then and there he wanted to leave. They helped him load up his truck and off he went. It wasn’t too long before he was staying in town with a co-worker. This was a useful arrangement for both of them; he needed a place to stay and she needed transportation.

Somewhere along the line, he got a girlfriend... and knocked her up. Oh thrill oh joy. He hasn’t even begun to scratch the surface of what that means.

When the universe revolves around you, keeping up payments on a truck is a minor annoyance. If you want to splash out for a hot date, or controlled substances (when you’re under 21, alcohol is a controlled substance too), or yet another traffic ticket, or nice clothes... well, why not? Paying people what you owe them is optional, right? It can wait.

Maybe it can, but Big V doesn’t. One might think she would be a little more sympathetic, having been on the other side of vehicle repos at least twice, but when it comes to what is due her, or what she thinks is due her (i.e. not the whole world, but a large portion of it), she can get as evil and heartless as any banker. After a couple of attempts, she blocked Lobster in good and had his truck towed away. (Yes, he deserved it. No, I don’t feel much/any sympathy for him. I’m just saying Big V doesn’t have a lot of room to talk in this arena.)

So Lobster now has: a job at KFC, no way to get to it, a pregnant girlfriend, and a few bags of clothes. Having repo’ed his truck, Big V is legally obligated to give him the difference between the value of the truck and what he owes her for it (I would say about $1000, maybe a tad more), but selective memory may need to be refreshed. I’m not sure I’m going to be the one to do it. But in any case, Lobster is really close to hitting Rock Bottom. I wonder how long it will take him to come to his senses; probably not any time this year.

It would be hilarious, if there wasn’t a baby involved.

A whole year gone by

I realized late last night (a week too late, and a couple hours too late to mention) that I’d let Tales from FAR Manor’s first anniversary slide by without comment. That’s us guys; always forgetting anniversaries, right?

Originally, I’d meant this as a private place to complain about life in general — and in particular, a big house I’d been pushed into buying, would have to maintain, and really didn’t want to live in. I made the name (and handle) up on the spur of the moment — for those of you who don’t know, FAR means “Forget About Retirement.” On May 16, 2005, I had no intention of giving out the URL to anyone. If a stranger found me by clicking Next Blog, fine, but in my original plans they would have found only a written version of Primal Whine Therapy. Or maybe I just let things slide through June, and picked up again in July with a new focus and intent.

Looking back, this last year has been both better and worse than I could have imagined. The Summer of Discontent saw The Boy grow more and more hostile until he up and left — then came back with a dysfunctional girlfriend in tow. School just kind of went by the wayside for him and Lobster, who also fell into the same egotistical black hole — both of them could have graduated last Friday with just a little effort, but it was effort they weren’t willing to make and they didn’t care about the consequences. The Boy left again, but M.A.E. is still here and slowly beginning to mature (but still has fatal lapses of judgement). I wound up with both high blood pressure and high cholesterol, brought on partly by the chaos and partly by a rather inactive lifestyle.

And yet... somewhere along the line, I’d made my peace with FAR Manor. That doesn’t mean I wouldn’t sell the place in a heartbeat were I offered a really good price, but I no longer hate living here. I’ve even begun to take some interest in the environs, which has been more work than it should have since I’d let the woods and weeds run riot in the previous two years. Maybe the Primal Whine Therapy worked after all — it has been said that you cannot observe something without affecting it. I’ve given up on ever having a satisfying sex life, but at least the finances are starting to clear up. I’ve lately started tackling projects that I’ve been meaning to do and somehow never got around to doing — writing them down over the last week may have helped there. The blog itself has also helped to mark when certain events happened; I’ve had my iBook in my lap on a couple occasions where I was able to pinpoint dates.

Lordy, I hope the next year coming up is a bit more peaceful than the last one. But whatever happens, I’ll write about some of it here, and include pictures when I can. This is FAR from a closing post... closing a crazy-arse year maybe, but I’ll be writing when I can.

Sunday, May 21, 2006 1 comment

Sunday humor

A new pastor was visiting his parishioners. At one house it seemed obvious that someone was at home, but no answer came to his repeated knocks at the door. Therefore, he took out one of his cards and wrote: “Revelation 3:20” on the back of it and stuck it in the door. (“Behold, I stand at the door and knock.”)

When the offering was processed the following Sunday, he found that his card had been returned. Added to it was this cryptic message: “Genesis 3:10.” He opened his Bible to check out the citation and found: “I heard your voice in the garden and I was afraid, for I was naked.”

Quotable quotes about Word

Another gem dug up in my email clean-out

As technical writers go, I’m relatively lucky. In my 20-odd (and I do mean odd) year career, I’ve only in the last couple of months ran into overload situations that had me working weekends as well as overtime (it’s not uncommon from what I’ve heard from other people). But I’m even more lucky because I haven’t had to use Microsoft Word as a serious writing tool for almost 10 years now. Before that, Word (up to Word 7.0/95) was a decent word processor, not terribly solid (especially for documents longer than 50 pages) but easy to customize, very scriptable and mostly predictable. Being a button-pusher by nature, I was able to find and then avoid the sharp corners and rough edges and get work done.

For people who live in their word processors, Word97 marked a major turn — downward. Corrupted files, always a possibility, became more frequent. Auto-numbering went straight to #3|| and skipped the handbasket. Preference changes would spontaneously change themselves back. Fortunately, about the time Word97 (and Word98 for Macs) landed on the world with a wet plop, I changed jobs and went to work at a FrameMaker shop. Frame isn’t the most feature-laden product in the world, but it is extremely predictable and very stable. The only way to lose significant work to a FrameMaker crash is to start typing in a new document without saving it before it crashes. Anyway, all the things I started hearing from Word users at that point made me less than motivated to go back.

Nothing I’ve heard has suggested the problems are being fixed. In fact, I’ve repeatedly asked a Microsoft program manager who works on Office file formats whether the next version of Word will fix the autonumbering problems that have been around since '98. No response. (Funny how the search function at Microsoft’s blogs.msdn.com couldn’t turn up its own blog address but Google could, by the way.)

So here’s a few quotable quotes about Word that I’ve collected from the Techcomm list....

“First thing I realized about trying to do documentation in Word is that I had to lower my expectations.” — B.A.

“Only entirely random actions, bizarre incantations and forceful oaths can make Word do what you want it to (especially when it comes to numbering).” — M.B.

“Nothing will work in Word if you're wearing the wrong kind of shoes or whatever.” — B.A.

“It's a known Word bug.” — a cast of millions

This profanity-laden rant is also notable, not only for expressing the frustration so many of us have with Word, but for being the only piece of writing I’ve ever seen that manages to use that much profanity and stay coherent.

And finally:

When I first started using Microsoft Word professionally, about 10 years ago, someone told me that the only thing to do to get it to work as you thought it should was to sacrifice a small goat during the correct phase of the moon.

I ran a Google search today on ‘+"Microsoft Word" +"sacrifice" +"goat"’ and got 650 hits, so clearly this belief is now widespread. (OK, so some of the hits were about obscure religions rather than tech writing, but my point is still valid.)
— D.F.

Word does (mostly) well for most people, who don’t need more than 10%–20% of the functionality it offers. It’s those of us who live and die by our word-processing skills who run into trouble with it, because we need to push it to the limit just to stay caught up. And pushing Word makes it tip over, quickly.

Saturday, May 20, 2006 No comments

Message from God

Saw this in an email a while back.

One day God was looking down at Earth and saw all of the evil that was going on. He decided to send an angel down to Earth to check it out.

So He called on a female angel and sent her to Earth for a time. When she returned she told God, “Yes it is bad on Earth. 95% of the people are bad and 5% are good.”

He thought for a moment and said “Maybe I had better send down a male angel to get both points of view.” So God called a male angel and sent him to Earth for a time. When the male angel returned he went to God and told Him “Yes, the Earth is in decline. 95% of the people are bad and 5% are good.”

God decided to E-mail the 5% that were good and encourage them a little, something to help them keep going.

Do you know what that E-mail said?
Oh! You didn't get one either huh?

Friday, May 19, 2006 2 comments

Minute by minute

I should have known that this would bite us in the @$$ some day.

When we got our smellphones, we wound up on a rather generous plan, minute-wise. We signed up for more than we needed at the moment, plus what we don't use rolls over for up to a year. So we had a pretty big pile of minutes. Had.

Turns out that M.A.E. and her totally screwed-up friend (call her Miss T, or Misty), with a little help from the rest of us (but only a little, mind you) managed to run through all our rollover minutes, plus all our monthly allocation, plus some more. The upshot was a $320 smellphone bill. And both of these goofballs managed to lose their jobs at Wendy’s in the last couple of weeks. I was more than a little cheesed to find the two-hour conference call I was stuck on week before last cost me $11 for that one call (to an 800 number no less). I don’t know why I didn’t think of using the home phone for that; probably because it hasn’t been an issue up to now.

I was ready to throw all the phones, mine included, in a drawer and leave them alone for a month or so. Naturally, Mrs. Fetched balked at that — anything that inconveniences her is a non-starter, especially if I suggest it. For reasons totally unfathomable by male logic, she also didn’t collect the phone from M.A.E.

It’s probably a good thing that both M.A.E. and Misty haven’t been around for the last couple of days. Maybe they’ll grow up, get jobs, and find their own place(s) to live. Maybe pigs will come flying out my butt in the next 10 minutes. They’re both about as likely.

Friday Night Cinema

If your cellphone bill looks like ours this month, you probably don’t have the wherewithal to go see a movie either (more about that above). And tonight’s selection might just put you off using the phone, mobile or otherwise, for a while.

Seriously, this is pretty scary. If you care about more than what’s on TV tonight, anyway.

Wednesday, May 17, 2006 No comments

Caught in the (first) draft

In an example of synchronicity, articles about first drafts hit both 43 Folders and MacDevCenter today. 43 Folders suggests Just Doing It, while MacDevCenter explores tools (some of which don’t exist yet) to help eliminate distractions so you can focus on writing (instead of editing).

If you read the comments in the MacDevCenter article, you’ll see where I suggest the hoary Unix line editor, ed, for first drafts. It has been part of Unix systems since the first version in 1970 and is still lurking at the bottom of the most modern version of Unix (aka MacOS X). There’s also a neat trick for disabling the GUI at login time, leaving your entire screen dedicated to a white on black console screen: type >console instead of your user name and hit Return.

Now there’s an environment for first drafts: no email, no web browser, no instant messenger; just you, your thoughts, and your keyboard. Going back and editing a previous line is more trouble than it’s worth, using ed (you can backspace though), so you mostly just keep typing until you’re done. Plenty of time to edit later.

The Phone Tree Hell escape hatch!

If you ever wondered what this Internet thing is good for, check out GetHuman.com. This is something you would never have seen in the pre-Net days — someone might have known the key to getting a real human at one or two companies, but the Net lets all those people who know a little bit find each other... and everyone can end up knowing a lot!

The database lists companies by industry (retail, automotive, etc.) and includes instructions for making Phone Tree Hell just... freeze over... for each company. Personally, I would consider shifting business to those companies that are labelled "Direct to human."

Monday, May 15, 2006 1 comment

Peace & quiet

Current music: DI.fm Goa-Psy Trance
I came in from work, ran out to check over a presentation about a power line running past the church (and quite a few other places), and came back to Nobody Home. No jabbering TV, nobody Going To Die if I didn’t drop everything and fix her problem right away... sweeeet. I spent some time weeding down my inbox (now less than 100 messages from over 500 on Saturday) and catching up on some other folks’s blogs.

Digression, or maybe not: On the way home from work, I picked up a copy of Getting Things Done — it comes highly recommended in certain Mac geek circles — and made a short start of it. From the summary I saw at 43folders.com, it looks like a Master Plan for actually making Lotus Notes useful... which is a miracle that I’ve got to see for myself. I did manage, over the last couple of days, to whittle the couple-hundred messages out of my Notes inbox at work down to five (on Friday) and then to three (today). Next step is to wade through my project folders, clear out obsolete stuff, and move anything important into the Todo list.

An essential ingredient of Peace and Quiet is the lack of annoyance. Fortunately, there are few things harder to notice than something that is not annoying you. If that itch under my left shoulder blade isn’t itching, I don’t think about it. Upon finding the Monday morning meeting was cancelled (hooray!), I promptly forgot about it and did useful things all morning. I’m the kind of person who usually isn’t annoyed by low-level clutter, so I usually don’t notice it. (This is the source of some friction at FAR Manor, as Mrs. Fetched is annoyed by clutter... but often not enough to actually do something about it herself.) On the other hand, the TV is annoying, or at least distracting, so I tend to hike the iBook away from the living room and play music through a pair of earbuds.

There’s a drawback to forgetting about annoyances, though: when they come back, even when you know they’re coming back, their presence makes them twice as annoying... at least at first. I’m thinking about school buses — after the first week of summer vacation, I stop rejoicing in their absence and forget about them for the next two months (Two months? What happened to three months? This slow erosion of summer is ridiculous!).

Slumber calleth, so off to bed I go. Tuesdays and Thursdays are my work at home days, so I won’t be thinking about commuting tomorrow either.

Sunday, May 14, 2006 3 comments

Happy Mother’s Day!

Whether you’re a mother or another, I hope it was a pleasant one for you! If you didn’t get any flowers, please accept these Mother’s Day Roses (so called because that’s when they bloom) as a substitute.

Although it’s a 10-hour drive (when it’s not a holiday or spring break) to Mom’s place from FAR Manor, I’m still just a phone call away — I caught her before she headed over to Solar’s place; he was going to cook lobster if he could get it and steak if he couldn’t. She also got the flowers I sent; she told me she would send a picture so I could see what they look like. I gave Mrs. Fetched a hand getting the chicken houses ready this weekend — I was tired of doing work-related stuff every evening and weekend, and figured doing something filthy and mindless would be the change of pace I needed.

Mrs. Fetched wanted to show me these — she planted them last year and wasn’t sure they would make it. But as you can see, they’re doing just fine. If you know what they’re called, besides “Purple Bells,” please add a comment.

How did Mother’s Day weekend go at your place?

Friday, May 12, 2006 No comments

Oh, almost forgot...

M.A.E.’s back, and brought a cold with her. Fortunately, the other female type (whom her acquaintances call “Psycho”) is not. The Boy considered coming back, but it hasn’t happened. I guess we all got our priorities. He and M.A.E. aren’t exactly buddies now that they’ve broken up, although they finally agreed to be civil to each other.

Sigh For a little while, I was able to traipse through the house in my underwear as was once my habit. I’ll probably have to wait until Daughter Dearest is in college for more opportunities.

Give Ya the Bird

I had a peek at the nest, evening before last, and found a new occupant. The picture sucks, but that was the best angle I could get & I didn’t want to disturb things to the point where the parents would abandon it. At least you can see the top of its head.

I'll post better shots if/when I get them.

Wednesday, May 10, 2006 4 comments

Deep techie secrets revealed!

I got several phone calls at work late last week, mostly having to do with formatting and printing the term papers the boys finished up (after pulling an all-nighter). Most of the issues were solved by my telling them to click something or another. The only problem that wasn’t in that category (transferring a file from Mrs. Fetched’s computer to Daughter Dearest’s) could have been avoided by typing the file on DD’s computer in the first place.

Twenty years ago (I tell ya, things were different in my day! Men were men and sheep were nervous! Um...) the company I worked for bought Macs for our department. I admit to being less than impressed with them after the initial enthusiasm wore off — it took several years of improvements for the Mac to first win my respect and a couple more years before I came to love 'em. But I digress. I spent the first couple of days just exploring the menus in various programs, clicking buttons, and generally seeing what I could make the thing do. I ran into things, clicked around until the problems went away, and got confident with its limited scope.

It wasn’t too long before my co-workers ran into the same problems I’d already hit and solved. People would mention off-hand a problem they were having, I’d say, “oh, try this and such,” and it would work for them too. After a few of those, I was suddenly the “Mac Guru” and everyone in the company — including IT — would ask me for help. Since my extension was 4573 and the IT helpline was 4357 (HELP), I’d get wrong-number calls (at first) asking for assistance and then people would start calling me before they would call IT. All because I fiddled around with things.

And that, dear readers, is the Techie Secret. In fact, it’s so much a part of our psyche that we have an acronym for it: PBUSH (Push Buttons Until Something Happens). It’s so simple, and it explains a lot of our frustration with non-techies. We’re not really any smarter (well, not much smarter) than the rest of you, we’re just more curious. Any hairy hoary knowledge we’ve obtained, we’ve obtained the same way any animal does: faced with a constraint, we poke and prod at the door, especially that little latch thingie, until it pops open and we’re free! Over time, we figure out what works and what doesn’t, and we use that knowledge and confidence to attack the next gate. Beyond curiosity, there’s no innate talent — it’s all the kind of skills that anyone can acquire. Why are you calling us when you could just click around and figure out how to fix it on your own, probably more quickly than you can describe the problem?

One of the first questions you’ll hear from a support person, formal or not, is “what have you tried to fix it so far?” If you’ve tried anything that didn’t work, both of you save time because the support person can skip those suggestions. It also gives the techie both an idea of how complex the problem might be, and how involved you’re willing to be in the solution. Every platform typically has a handful of first responses — like fix permissions and run drive checks on MacOSX, rebuild the desktop on older MacOS systems, or reboot and run spyware checkers on Windows — that clear up 80% of the issues. By running these simple maintenance routines, either on a regular basis or when problems crop up, you give yourself a great deal of power over your balky toy/tool, and save time for everyone.

Careful, though — that sense of empowerment might lead you to look into those other problems, the 20% that routine maintenance doesn’t fix. You may find yourself typing error messages into Google to see if there’s any information out there (and often there is). You might start looking at those mysterious programs that came with your operating system and running them just to see what they do, perhaps finding a nice tool in the process. Eventually, when another non-technical friend has a problem, you might be the one to suggest a fix. Before too long, they’ll be calling you.

PBUSH usually isn’t dangerous to your computer, but it can turn you into a techie. Beware.

Pop goes the fake spare, and other minor emergencies

Monday, I mentioned that The Boy was having tire problems, and put the (mostly bald) fake spare on. I said at the time, “pray it holds up until he has enough money to fix the regular tire.”

Late yesterday morning, he called me: “You working at home today? That spare tire blew up and my jack broke, so my axle’s sitting on the pavement.” Unfortunately for him, I had an off-site after-hours department meeting to attend at the CTO’s place (pssssht!)... meaning I was at the office. Nobody else was around, so I suggested he call Mrs. Fetched’s parents and ask them to bring a jack. It wasn’t until afterwards that I wondered what he was going to put on in place of the fake spare. His (flat) regular tire?

On the way to the department meeting, the phone started ringing. (Have I ever mentioned I’m not a real big fan of smellphones?) First it was a friend of M.A.E.’s, who has been here off & on over the last couple of weeks, wanting to know if I can put battery cables and belts on her car. A mechanic was supposed to do it for her, but they’re balking. She’s the kind of person that other people get tired of very quickly... in my book, she’s gone from “ehhh” to “repulsive” in a couple of weeks. I told her I’d try doing it after work (today) if it wasn’t raining (it did). Mere minutes after that, Daughter Dearest wants to know if I can email a picture. Um, not on the road I can’t. Then it was The Boy, who somehow managed to get back on the road but was now out of gas. I managed to get to my destination somehow, then M.A.E. rang up with the sob story du jour.

Oh, I forgot to mention: Mrs. Fetched invited her to leave early yesterday. She and Ms. Repulsive have been hanging out with some friends the last couple of nights, and M.A.E. decided she was too sick (i.e. having too much fun) to work. And here we thought she was getting some responsibility. Mrs. Fetched was disappointed, and doesn’t handle disappointment well. At all.

After that one, I just turned the dang phone off and headed for the cooler. Funny... I was planning to decline the invitation, since there was a board meeting at church, but Mrs. Fetched pressured me to go. Turned out to be the good choice — everyone had to deal with their own problems for a change, and I got to taste some high-quality tequila (oh, what a difference). Sometimes, she’s prescient.

On the way home, I called The Boy back. He’d gotten a little gas and was OK. Until this evening, when he called again. Mrs. Fetched went, and I’m sure he paid for the fuel by listening to a lecture.

Monday, May 08, 2006 4 comments

A visit from The Boy

I was doing work-related stuff on&off all weekend, so I don’t feel guilty about writing this at work during this boring Monday team meeting. Now that it’s evening, I’ll be doing more work stuff shortly.

The Boy came by yesterday for a brief band practice. Along with his other issues, he’s been suffering from a leaky tire, which turned out to be leaking around the rim. Too bad he can’t use his inflated ego to fill it (sfx: snare roll, symbol). I’m not sure if the bead is bad or there’s a problem with the rim itself, but it looks like there might be some junk caught up in the rim. After suggesting he get a can of fix-a-flat, that he has no money for, I found one in the garage. Lucky him... to an extent. There turned out to be three leaks, and the goop sealed up two of them. So close.... We put his slick fake spare on. Pray it holds up until he has enough money to fix the regular tire. Perhaps to keep up with the tire, he put another hole in himself, piercing his lower lip and putting a ring in it. Now look: I have a ring in my nose, but at least it’s metaphorical.

He quit the job at the mountaintop lodge (idiot) and now he’s doing landscaping with Big V’s husband, or so he says... I’ll have to check into that. (The pay is one thing, but I can’t wait until he finds out how much he has to pay for his meds without the co-pay.) He was living with his old friend J-zoid for a while, until he had a dispute with J’s mom late last week and he moved out. At the moment, he’s bouncing around from one friend to another, and claims to be looking into buying a house and partially funding the payments with rent from friends. I didn’t even bother telling him he would get laughed out of every bank he goes to, but suggested he keep at least a month’s worth of mortgage payment handy so he’ll be able to manage when his pals come up short. Which they would.

He’s mentioned (on several occasions) bringing some chow over for a cookout some time, but he’s already done a no-show on us twice. He didn’t ask about coming back to stay, probably knowing the answer would be: Sure. If you scrape off your druggie pals, get serious about getting your GED, and be home at a reasonable hour through the week. ... plus anything I’ve left out that Mrs. Fetched would want. Too onerous, I suppose.

After talking about this & that for a while, he snapped, “I don’t know where you got the idea my girlfriend is giving me drugs.” Um... we got the idea listening to you tell your friend she was getting them, ding-dong. “There’s more than one Ashley in the world, you know,” he managed to respond. “Her family’s redneck.” Which can mean lots of things, including growing their own weed. Color me thoroughly unconvinced. His girlfriend is 17 and is taking night classes instead of school. I suggested he do the same... he claims to be doing a self-study for the GED. Pull the other one, boy, it’s got bells on it.

Turns out that one of his band members used to be in a trance outfit; we had a great time chatting about different artists and the trance scene on this planet (or total lack thereof). Both of us turned out to be Aura fans. He also told me, quietly, that BJ wanted us to call him... which suggests he wants to tell me something about The Boy. I got wrapped up on work stuff after that, so I never got around to making the call. I’ll do that after hitting send.

Friday, May 05, 2006 No comments

Friday Night Cinema

Outta money, outta time, short movies here don’t cost a dime!

This week’s selection is a little gory, and a lot weird! The producer says it’s “Based on that silly Rumor saying mario had subliminal communist propaganda.” If you ever spent more than a few evenings playing Super Mario Bros. back when, you’ll find this both amusing and disturbing.

OK, enough blabber. Raise the iron curtains and watch The People's Mario (Flash)

Note: If the direct link doesn’t work, try the front page and look for the “WATCH THIS MOVIE!” link in the upper right.

A good introduction to malware

Current music: #Musik Club

What the heck is malware? Why is it an issue? What other silliness is going on out there? Bruce Schneier writes up a pretty good overview in Wired, Everyone Wants to 'Own' Your PC.

Keith Richards, Indestructo Man!

I hope I’m this active when I’m 62. Sheesh. You got to wonder: what the hey was he doing up in a tree?

A comedian once said that after a nuclear war, the only thing left would be bugs and Keith — if all the drugs he’s taken didn’t kill him, nothing else could.

Study hall

Two guys from the old private school where our kids used to go have been camping out here most of the week to get their senior term papers finished up (or started—they’re Cutting It Mighty Fine since it’s due tomorrow). We have amenities like lots of computers and a DSL line, plus a guy who writes for a living and several other high-speed keyboarders... what’s not to like? Yes, they’re writing the content. I gave them a few pointers about structure and so on, stuff they probably would have learned about in school if they had been paying attention.

I can’t believe there’s only two weeks until school is out. Daughter Dearest is about worn out (90 math problems for homework? Come on!) though, and is starting to get “icepick headaches” that hurt like #3!! for about 3 seconds then go away. Not good. A little R&R will do her some good, but she needs to start getting some exercise. So do I, I’ve been slacking lately although it’s not all my fault.

Been up wayyyyy too late the last few days for various reasons—one night I just couldn’t get to sleep. Maybe I’ll get to sleep late on Saturday morning.


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