Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Concession

I fought a long and hard campaign, but the people have spoken, and Obama has been re-elected.  While I respect the people's decision to re-elect the President, I believe the primary reason that the two major parties remain in power are a combination of corruption, selfishness and ignorance.

Washington, large business and the mainstream media are the corruption.  It's in their best interest to tailor political messages to their liking, which keeps voters divided and prevents those who voice true alternatives from being heard.  Both candidates proved time and time again that they were willing to spend more time revising history, changing "facts" and slinging mud than discussing real issues and offering real solutions.

We, as Americans, have once again proven during this election cycle that we care more about our own interests than we do about our country.  Republicans wanted their tax breaks, to fatten their own wallets.  To hell with the poor.  The poor wanted to protect their entitlements.  The fact is, that EVERYONE must sacrifice if we are going to prosper over the long run.

We have also demonstrated our collective ignorance by continuing to buy into the false choice of our current political system.  Numerous people have said that they wanted to vote for me, but were afraid that [insert candidate name here] would win, so they were voting for [previous candidate's opponent].  This, my friends, is the false choice.  The only way to break this cycle is for EVERYONE to understand that there are always more than two choices.

As I said at the beginning of this post, I respect the people's decision.  I will support the President.  But as an American, I will freely exercise my right to voice dissent when I believe that the President, or any other politician for that matter, is deviating from what's best for the country.  I will continue to be a centrist, common-sense voice of reason.  Hopefully, one day, I can contribute to the killing of corruption, the cessation of selfishness, and the eradication of ignorance.  Until then, I will keep fighting the good fight.

God Bless America

Saturday, November 3, 2012

... and I Approve this Message

I am writing today, asking that you elect me President of the United States on Tuesday, November 6, 2012.  I would like to be clear that I'm not running because I want the job, I am running because I cannot, in good conscience, support either of the candidates from the two largest political parties.  I am completely disillusioned by Obama's last four years, and I don't believe a word that comes from Romney's mouth.

I'm going to restate my agenda, first by freely admitting that I don't have all of the answers, and acknowledging that I don't have a strong opinion about everything.  I am also confessing that I may be wrong about some things, which means that I might change my mind on minor issues.  With that said, let's talk about my stand on various topics.

Let's start with Federal spending.  Last I read, we borrow about $.30 of every $1.00 we spend at the Federal level.  This is obscene, and it cannot continue!  To illustrate this problem differently... if we were to stop borrowing money today, we would need to instantly cut Federal spending by 30%, raise taxes to cover this 30% spending, or some combination of the two.  In order to pay our debt in any meaningful way, this figure increases to 40%.  There is no painless method of fixing this issue.  The rich are going to have to pay more taxes, and the needy are going to have to accept smaller handouts.  The longer we wait, the more this will suck.  Deal with it.

With that said, the President cannot fix the budget.  My opponents keep talking about what they will do.  Well, there's not much they can do, other than make recommendations and sign or veto the budget.  The line item veto was a wonderful thing, but the Supreme Court struck it down.  It's up to congress to make and pass a budget.  By the way, they've failed to do that for something like three years now!  This is a pox on both parties, and only shows that our current legislators are unwilling to put aside their petty differences for the good of the country.  I can't promise to fix this, because, as I said, writing the budget is Congress's job.  I can, and will, however, call shenanigans when I see it.

I do believe that we should cut some of the chains that tether business.  Since I'm not a businessman though, I don't really know where to start.  I will need a bit of help here, so I'll talk to a few prominent business individuals from several different industries, put together a comprehensive plan, and propose it in 6 months to a year.  This would take another 6 months to a year to pass through congress, assuming they can play like grown-ups, and another year or so for the payoff.  In other words, I will change things, but don't expect instant results.

As for foreign policy, I'm tired of being the world's piggy bank and police department.  I just think it's time to back off a little bit overseas.  This is an oversimplification, but it gives you an idea where I'm coming from.  I like the idea that sparked the UN, but in practice, it's a toothless, petty bureaucracy that only likes us when they can get something from us.  I will honor our previous commitments, but will be disinclined to take on anything else until we get our own house in order.

I'm a fan of personal responsibility and personal choice, with a generous serving of humanitarianism thrown in for good measure.  If you don't support abortion, don't get one.  If you don't like guns, don't buy one.  If you don't like gay marriage, don't marry a homosexual.  If you don't like our laws, change them or leave.  If you don't like drugs, don't take them.  My overall philosophy here is that you can succeed or fail to any extent that you see fit, as long as you don't take down everyone around you.  As for the humanitarianism, I believe that social programs such as unemployment benefits and welfare can be a good safety net.  The problem is that they're being abused.  Maybe a good solution would be to make a basic welfare/unemployment requirement, but leave implementation completely up to the states, up to and including collection and disbursement of the necessary funds.

Federal employees should be subject to the same laws as its citizens... up to and including social security.

Corporations are not people.

Our tax code is crazy.  We need to simplify.  I suggest getting rid of loop holes and having a mildly graduated tax schedules.  This will hurt everyone... no more earned income credit... no more mortgage deduction... capital gains will pay the same tax as income tax... No favorites here!

A balanced budget amendment sounds good on the surface, but there will come a time when this would bite us in the @$$.  Furthermore, it would most likely be a toothless law with no consequences for failure.  Instead of making another law, how about we just elect people with commmon sense and the ability to balance a checkbook?

If you vote for me, I promise that you will disagree with me on at least one issue.  That's okay.  I am willing to listen.  But I am not willing to compromise the needs of everyone else so that one select group can avoid discomfort.  If that costs me your vote, so be it.  As for those of you voting for one of my opponents because I can't win, I will say this... You're buying in to a false choice.  Some say that a person voting for a third party candidate is wasting thier vote.  I say bullshit!  The only ones wasting their vote are those who don't use it, and those who squander it on the lesser of two evils, as opposed to voting for the person they truly support.  Those who don't vote aren't speaking.  Those who vote for the lesser of two evils are not saying what they really believe.  Furthermore, they are buying into and perpetuating the lie that keeps the two major parties in power.  The only way to break the cycle is to select a candidate that you support.  Stop perpetuating the lie, and vote for me.  You know you want to.

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Lifestyle Changes

In a couple of my previous posts, I mentioned going to the doctor for heart palpitations.  For those of you needing a reminder, the palpitations were caused by caffeine, meaning that I had to give up coffee in order to get rid of the extra heartbeats.

Despite what most people seem to believe, it wasn't that difficult to remove caffeine from my diet.  Yeah, I had the withdrawal headaches, and every now and then I wake up a bit more groggy than normal and wish that I could snag a cup of joe on my way to work.  But for the most part, the adjustment has been relatively easy.  My only slip-up was having a Jack and Coke at a birthday earlier this month.  I was halfway through the drink before remembering that Coke has caffeine.  And no, I wasn't drunk when I ordered it.

Giving up caffeine brought about a second lifestyle change.  Those of you who know me realize that I enjoy beer.  I'm not an alcoholic, but I will freely admit that I have historically been a heavy drinker by medical standards.  (The CDC defines heavy drinking as two or more alcoholic beverages per day.)  When I gave up caffeine, I instantly started getting raging headaches from beer.  In fact, I've completely given up on beer. (For now.)  I have started drinking mixed drinks, which don't seem to give me the headaches, but I don't enjoy them as much, so I'm not consuming as much.

This means that, in the past year, I've given up tobacco and caffeine, and significantly reduced my alcohol consumption.  I pondered this all quite a bit, and came to the conclusion that my body is telling me that it's time to start taking care of myself.  With this in mind, I've also started exercising.

In the past, exercise and I have not had any positive, long-term relationships.  It's not inaccurate to say that I had a strong dislike for exercise.  But something seems a bit different this time.  It's not that exercise is any different... it's that I'm different.  I'm starting a bit more slowly, instead of diving into the routine; and I'm switching things up, instead of doing the same regimen every time I visit the gym.  Finally, I'm hitting the gym solo, instead of going with a friend.  This last item seems a bit counter-intuitive, but believe me, it's not.  In the past, when I'd go with a friend, it was easy to skip... if either of us would decide to skip, we'd both skip, and before you know it, we'd both quit.  This time, there's less motivation to skip, because the I'm the only one that I'm accountable to.  Additionally, since I'm by myself, it's easy to just put on some music and tune out the whole world.  with a workout buddy, you've got to focus on the other person as well... especially if you're lifting weights.

Lifting weights... that's an activity that I've never particularly enjoyed... so I'm not doing it.  What I AM doing is a varied routine of running, biking and swimming.  I choose what I'm going to do at the spur of the moment.  I supplement the cardio with push-ups, pull-ups and sit-ups.  I have several goals...

-I want to run three miles in less than 30 minutes.
-I want to swim a mile, with no time limit.
-I want to be able to do at least ten pull-ups.
-I want to be able to do at least 50 sit-ups in two minutes or less
-I want to be able to do 50 push-ups
-I want to do a first-class Marine Corps PFT.

I've been at this for two to three weeks, working out every Monday, Wednesday and Friday.  I've been taking it slow, but keeping these goals in mind.  I've already improved in every category.  I hope to achieve these goals within six months.

Saturday, September 8, 2012

Statement of Faith

At some point, any candidate for President will be required to talk about his personal relationship with God.  With this in mind, I am going to talk about mine today.

I should start out by acknowledging that religion... faith... requires some level of cognitive dissonance.  For example, the Bible says that the Earth is what... 6000-odd years old?  But science says that the world has been around for billions of years.  I will freely concede that, as a believer in God, I suffer from this cognitive dissonance from time to time.

Regarding the separation of Church and State... I should start off by saying that the Constitution says nothing about the Separation of Church and State.  The Constitution says that Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.  Based on my understanding, Thomas Jefferson used the phrase "separation of church and state" to express his interpretation of the spirit of the Constitution's text.  With that said though, I don't specifically believe that the framers desired to abolish any reference to religion from the government.  In fact, the Declaration of Independence refers to God, and my understanding is that many of the Constitution's framers were religious men.  The idea was to make sure that the American government didn't create an official religion, and/or crush non-officially sanctioned religions... like what many Muslim countries are doing today.  Technically speaking, abolishing any reference to religion is promoting Atheism, which is the belief (faith -- because there's no proof) that God doesn't exist.

It should be apparent to you by now that I am a Christian.  I was raised Southern Baptist, and currently attend a Wesleyan Church on a regular basis.  I believe in God, but I am not 100% convinced that the only way to Heaven is through Christ.  In fact, I must concede that I occasionally have doubts of God's existence.  I have felt God's presence, but I am also rational enough to wonder if what i felt was truly God's presence, or if was simply serotonin or some other chemical being released in my brain at a specific moment.  But then again, these doubts most frequently occur when life is good.  When things go wrong, that's when I lean on God most, and, not surprisingly, when He's most likely to reveal His presence.

Part of my struggle with God is His condemnation of homosexuality, which I don't consider a choice, and his absolute silence on slavery, which I find morally reprehensible.  These are two of many questions I have for God... questions that I plan to ask when I finally meet Him.  Since I have questions and doubts, I believe that it would be ridiculous of me to condemn others who believe differently than I do.  Whether my fellow man is Atheist, Muslim, Buddhist, Christian, or whatever, faith is a deeply personal thing.  In fact, I believe that it's so personal that America genuinely has no right to demand a statement of faith from their presidential candidates.  With that said though, I am willing to discuss my faith openly in connection with my candidacy, because I am willing to discuss my faith openly in general.

Friday, September 7, 2012

There are More than Two Options!

A vote for me is a vote for integrity.  A vote for me, is a vote against the two-party status quo.  Choosing between the Democratic or Republican candidate is a false choice.  Vote your conscience.  If you genuinely believe that I'm the best Presidential candidate, then dammit, vote for me!  In fact, if you believe that Mickey Mouse is the best candidate, then vote for him.  Choosing to vote for someone other than Obama or Romney is not "throwing your vote away," it's following your conscience.  Your conscience is far more important than the political Kool-Aid that the machine is trying to convince you to drink.  Now, with that said, if you genuinely support Obama or Romney, then by all means, I urge you to vote for them.  After all, your conscience is far more important than the political Kool-Aid that I'm trying to convince you to drink.

I'm Dave, and I approve this message.  Hell, I wrote it!

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Opening a Savings Account

This a follow-up to an earlier post about my trip to the ER last week.  I visited my primary doc and found out the results of my tests.  Basically, I'm experiencing extra heartbeats.  The doctors don't seem to be incredibly worried about my immediate heart health, but they have asked me to eliminate caffeine and reduce alcohol consumption, and then follow up with them in a month.  These are relatively minor lifestyle changes that I believe I can accomplish relatively easily.  I've also got the green light to start a moderate exercise program in addition to the aforementioned recommendations.  I've also switched from beer to red wine, because I've heard that it's more heart healthy... and, since I don't like it as much as beer, I won't be so inclined to overindulge.

In the meantime, I think that I'm going to store up those extra heartbeats and keep them in a savings account.  I'll withdraw them when my heart starts skipping beats.

For Immediate Release

A potential constituent asked about my campaign stance on burritos.  For the record, I am pro burrito.  In line with this, I should also clarify my stance on sauerkraut.  I am not a personal supporter of sauerkraut, but I do support an individual's right to be pro-sauerkraut.  I believe that the government has no place in a person's kitchen.  I know that people will say I'm opening up a slippery slope... that sauerkraut is a gateway food... that it's a short road to cake addiction.  But I stand by my convictions.  The government has no place in a person's kitchen.  At some point, the government needs to understand that people are smart enough to make their own decisions... that if we tightly regulate the kitchen, then it's only a matter of time before they assign an au pair to each of us, and turn the land of the free into a nanny state.

Friday, August 24, 2012

Aging as Gracefully as I Can

Part of aging is realizing things you need to address immediately vs. things that you can put off... things you want vs. things you need.  I have a kid who thinks that she needs a car, and another who thinks that she needs to get her ears pierced immediately.  When they get the flu, they both think that they need to go to the doctor immediately.

As an adult, I have come to realize that I can usually wait an extra month or two to purchase new glasses, that I can completely skip the doctor when I get the flu, and that minor aches and pains should be addressed if they linger long enough.  Sometimes, all of the necessities happen back to back.

I had planned on getting new glasses in about six months.  Unfortunately, my old frames broke.  And since my prescription had changed anyway, it was more cost effective to get an eye exam and new glasses now.

A few years ago, I also developed a bulging disk in my neck, causing nerve pain and numbness in my right shoulder, and occasionally up and down my arm.  The pain was low-level and tolerable, but it would be stupid to wait, because that could aggravate the situation, potentially requiring surgery.  I eventually got it addressed with an epidural shot.  A month or two ago, the pain reappeared, and last week I got another epidural shot of cortisone in my neck.

And a month or two ago, I started noticing that my heart would occasionally beat very strongly in my chest for a few seconds.  The symptoms are difficult to describe... it's kind of like how your heart pounds after you finish a strenuous workout, but it would come out of nowhere, last a few seconds, and then disappear.  There has been no shortness of breath, no pain, no nausea, or any other symptoms that might make me think I'm having a heart attack.  So I figured that it wasn't urgent, but again, it didn't go away on its own, so I decided to follow up on it.  I called my family doctor's office yesterday, and they said to go to the emergency room... do not pass go, do not collect $200.  I knew that it wasn't an emergency, so I figured that I'd go to urgent care the next day (today).  Like the doctor's office, they lacked heart monitoring devices, so I knew that the ER was the only option.  I hopped on my motorcycle, rode to the ER, walked in the door, and collapsed at the doorstep with a massive coronary.

Okay, there was no massive coronary.  But man, the way they reacted when I said heart palpitations, you would have sworn that I did.  They put me in a wheel chair and had me hooked up to a heart monitor within two minutes.  I felt like a dork.  I told them that I wasn't having a heart attack!  I spent the next three hours on a heart monitor, getting blood drawn, peeing into a bottle, getting x-rays and waiting... and waiting... and waiting.  I'm VERY happy that I took my Nexus 7 tablet with me.  Being able to read and surf the internet made the time pass far more quickly.

In the end, my labs all came back normal, and since I didn't experience any palpitations while I was in the hospital, they sent me home with a heart monitor that I need to keep strapped on for the next 48 hours, while I continue my regular activities.  All of this, by the way, is what I predicted they'd do.  It would have been nice to be able to go to the doctor and get one of these monitors, saving some time and money, but hey, I didn't design the healthcare system, I just play in it.  I expect that I will need to start exercising.  That's okay... it'll be an excuse to use that family membership to the YMCA that the wife keeps up.

Overall, this is my point... In each of my three stories, I realized that things weren't optimal.  At the same time, I understood what I could put off, and what I couldn't.  I'm not a hypochondriac, who equates a sniffle with the plague, but I also don't completely ignore it when my body tries to tell me something.  Hypochondriacs spend too much time worrying.  And those who ignore messages from their body do so at their own peril.  I'd like to think that I've got a healthy balance.

By the way, please don't take this as a sly request for sympathy or anything like that.  I really feel like I'm fine.  I genuinely think that I'm just being prudent.  I'm honestly just trying to relay a story.

Friday, July 27, 2012

Smooth as Sandpaper

I am many things, but today, grace is not one of my strong points.  I rode my motorcycle home from work today, pulled it into the garage, shut it off, jumped off, and quickly realized that I had forgotten to put down the kick stand.

Struggling to maintain balance as the bike and I both fell toward the garage floor, I somehow managed to escape major injury and prevented any damage to the bike.  In the process though, I put my head through the drywall, resulting in small cuts over my left eyebrow and on the bridge of my nose.  I'm still not quite sure how I managed to keep the bike from dropping but rest assured, that hole in the drywall will serve as a daily reminder to put down the kickstand.

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Economics and Humanity

My ramble for the day...

It seems to me that one of the main premises of economics is figuring out how to make the pie as large as possible, thereby giving everyone the largest piece possible.  The fundamental problem with this idea is that people behave in an unpredictable manner.  Specifically, some people are selfish, taking whatever they can and screwing everyone else, and some people are exceedingly altruistic, placing the wants and needs of others first.

These opposite ends of the scale bring disastrous results on an aggregate scale, economically speaking.  Greed, when allowed to flourish unchecked, brings satisfaction to a select few, but despair and suffering to the masses.  We only need to look at the early days of the industrial revolution to illustrate my point.  Altruism, when taken to the same extreme, breeds laziness.  After all, why should someone work for less than they can make on a welfare check?

Somehow, in our unending quest to find a satisfactory balance, we've allowed both specters to flourish.

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Bank and (Mis)Trust

I was listening to the radio a bit ago and heard a commercial for a bank "...blah blah blah Bank and Trust blah blah blah..."

I thought How is it that the phrase Bank and Trust still exists in the English language?  Didn't "Banks" and "Trust" part ways several decades ago??

Thursday, July 5, 2012

Get a Grip

Having owned my little Sportster for six years, it should come as no surprise that my stock handgrips were showing their age.  In fact, a little bit of handgrip remained on my hand after each ride.


With this in mind, I decided that it was time to change out my handgrips.  I went with the Kuryakyn ISO Grips with ISO Throttle Boss, as seen to the left. A throttle boss is the little nub on the throttle side that allows you to accelerate by pushing your palm on the throttle boss, instead of using your grip to twist the throttle.

I let the pros do most of my work, but this was an easy task.  I accomplished it myself in less than 30 minutes.  The new grips are immeasurably more comfortable than the stock grips.  The only thing I would change is to make the throttle boss slightly larger.  Due to the small surface area, it can become a bit uncomfortable on the hand after a while.  Kuryakyn does offer a larger throttle boss, as seen on the right (though I'm not yet 100% sure that it will physically fit my grips); it would be nice if this choice was offered right out of the gate.

One thing that I noticed was that the throttle was a tad sticky immediately after swapping the grips, but this worked itself out after sitting overnight.

The grips were expensive, but the difference in comfort can't be described; it can only be experienced.  If my grips had come with the larger throttle boss, I would give 5 stars.  As it is, I have to give 4.5.

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Happy Birthday, USA

This is an open re-post of something I wrote on Facebook a bit ago...

A few hours ago, I wrote a trite "Happy Birthday, USA" as my Facebook status.  For no reason in particular, I realized that my previous words were insufficient, and as I said before, trite.  With this in mind, I'm going to take a little more time to express what Independence Day means to me, right here, right now.

-Independence Day honors people far braver than I, who chose freedom from a king who arbitrarily set rules from a throne, thousands of miles away.

-Independence Day calls forth the ideal of self-rule, which was worth more to these individuals than their reputation, property and careers.  Freedom was worth more than their very lives.

-Independence Day commemorates people far wiser than me, who worked together to devise a framework to propagate this ideal of freedom throughout the world, and throughout the ages.  This framework was strong enough to withstand the whims of a fickle population, but flexible enough to grow and change with its society.

-Independence Day reminds me that people far better than I have stepped forward, ready to sacrifice their very lives so that future generations could enjoy the freedoms set forth by our founding fathers.

-Independence Day brings the realization that we, as a society at large, take all of this far too lightly... it brings the wish that we can appreciate what we have... and it brings the hope that this appreciation can come without further bloodshed.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Parting Words



This is Part 10 of a ten-part review of Ubuntu Linux.  The series is designed to give you a rough idea what it's like to try Linux.  It's not a how-to, and it's not a blow-by-blow recount of my experience.  For your convenience, links for each part of this series are located at the end of the article.

Now that I've carried this evaluation series as far as I possibly could (… is there anyone still reading this??) let me summarize my experience. I'm going to start by saying that I'm still using Linux. In fact, I've upgraded to Ubuntu 12.04 LTS. (LTS stands for long-term-support.) I guess, to some extent, that makes me a Linux convert. I want to clarify though, that I will not be ditching Windows.

There are a few reasons that I'm not ditching Windows... I need to know it for my job. There will be times when I need the interoperability of MS Office, and the fact is, I just like Windows. With that said though, I also like Ubuntu Linux... that's why I'm still using it, even after I've finished my evaluation. I'm still writing this review from LibreOffice.

I want to also re-iterate that Ubuntu Linux is not crash-proof, and it's not for the feint of heart. Ubuntu Linux 12.04LTS is a very mature, well-designed, user-friendly operating system. But anyone who tells you that it can't crash is smoking crack. Linux is not for the feint of heart. I've learned a lot during these past couple of months, but there's no doubt that I'm still a Linux neophyte. If cost or the desire to learn is your primary reason for choosing an operating system, then Linux is a great possibility. But if you want better support and/or greater interoperability with others, specifically in a workplace environment, then I'd stick with Windows.

Finally, I want to re-iterate that Linux is a fragmented operating system. This means that, while Ubuntu Linux was great for me, there are other possibilities out there. Don't let my narrow review and experience completely determine whether or not you try Linux.

P.S. Oh, Holy shizzle!! I just figured out the printer problem... it boiled down to this... when the printer auto-discovery process happened, it found a printer with a crazy name... BWDXXXXXXXX (whatever). For some reason, I decided to give this another try... okay, not “whatever reason,” the old printer died on me, and I bought a new one. I ran the install process – again – and it choked – again. But I got this wild hair, and substituted BWDXXXXXXX (or whatever it was) with the IP address of the printer. Lo and behold, the shizzle worked!! One less complaint about Linux... or not. I figured the issue out – on my own – but this was because I have a lot of experience with computers, and decided to try to carry some of my Windows knowledge over to Linux. For clarification, I spent a LOT of time trying to find the answer. At NO point in time, on NONE of the plethora of forums I caroused, did I EVER find this recommendation. Funny thing is, it's SO simple. This should be an early troubleshooting recommendation.
Part I, The Grand Experiment

Part II, So Many Flavors

Part III, I'm Kind of Slow to Commit

Part IV,  ASmall, Short-Term Commitment

Part V, Diving Below the Surface

Part VI, A Different Animal

Part VII, Okay, It's Pretty, but What Can it Do?

Part VIII, Okay, I'm Committed, But It's Not all Puppies and Rainbows

Part IX, Unity

Part X, Parting Words

Monday, June 18, 2012

Unity



This is Part 9 of a ten-part review of Ubuntu Linux.  The series is designed to give you a rough idea what it's like to try Linux.  It's not a how-to, and it's not a blow-by-blow recount of my experience.  For your convenience, links for each part of this series are located at the end of the article.

The first version of Linux I installed contained the Unity interface. Veteran users don't seem to like it much; I guess that it's a fairly radical departure from the previous interface. I thought that it was okay, but it was also fairly limited. Adding more icons to the Unity bar on the left was easy enough, but something was missing, and I still can't say exactly what it was. I decided to try a couple of other toolbars, and I settled on the Cairo Dock. It's look and feel is vaguely reminiscent of Windows, but it's definitely not a clone, and I appreciate Cairo Dock for what it is... a launching point for how I work with Linux files, folders and applications. I tried the Unity bar for a couple of weeks before deciding that it wasn't for me. I used Cairo for a week or so to determine that it does meet my needs, and the Unity interface has been hidden ever since.

I should clarify that I've been trying Linux in a relative vacuum. I didn't find out anything about Unity, how new it is, or what veteran Linux users think of it until I made my own decision to try something else. In fact, this has been my Linux experience overall. I've stayed away from Linux forums, except to find answers to specific questions, and I spoke to one person about Linux, which was only to discuss my aforementioned printer issue. But I'm digressing...

Sunday, June 17, 2012

Okay, I'm Committed, But it's Not All Puppies and Rainbows



This is Part 8 of a ten-part review of Ubuntu Linux.  The series is designed to give you a rough idea what it's like to try Linux.  It's not a how-to, and it's not a blow-by-blow recount of my experience.  For your convenience, links for each part of this series are located at the end of the article.


After spending a couple of weeks with Linux on my USB drive, I was satisfied enough with Linux to install it to my hard drive. I backed up my hard drive, Repartitioned it so that Linux would fit without cramping Windows, and dove in. The main reason for this was because I understand that running Linux from a USB drive is significantly slower than running from a hard drive. With the original reason for trying Linux still in my mind (the desire to scan a Windows drive from Linux), I wanted to see if I'd get a noticeable performance increase by actually installing Linux to a hard drive. Sadly, my answer was no; the time difference was negligible. With that said though, things in general seemed to run faster from the hard drive than from the USB thumb drive. I didn't scientifically measure this, but it certainly seemed that way.

Like the original trial, and the installation to the USB drive, installing Linux to my hard drive was straight-forward. It even installed the boot manager.

I will say, though, that Linux is not bulletproof. Despite what the Linux fanboys may say, Linux can and does hang, to the point where I needed to restart the computer. It's been a generally positive experience, and I'm enjoying the learning process... getting to know Linux... but you need to understand that Linux isn't a mainstream application for a reason. Linux isn't Eden. Linux isn't bulletproof. Linux requires a level of independence, trial and error, and experimentation that most day-to-day users can't or won't tolerate.
Part I, The Grand Experiment

Part II, So Many Flavors

Part III, I'm Kind of Slow to Commit

Part IV,  ASmall, Short-Term Commitment

Part V, Diving Below the Surface

Part VI, A Different Animal

Part VII, Okay, It's Pretty, but What Can it Do?

Part VIII, Okay, I'm Committed, But It's Not all Puppies and Rainbows

Part IX, Unity

Part X, Parting Words

Saturday, June 16, 2012

Okay, It's Pretty, but What Can it Do?



This is Part 7 of a ten-part review of Ubuntu Linux.  The series is designed to give you a rough idea what it's like to try Linux.  It's not a how-to, and it's not a blow-by-blow recount of my experience.  For your convenience, links for each part of this series are located at the end of the article.

After I learned how to change the eye candy, it was time to delve a little deeper. Keeping my original goal in mind, I decided to start out with an AntiVirus evaluation. The two top-rated packages were Avast and ClamTK. I decided to try Avast first, since I'd heard of it, and it has a good reputation in the Windows community. I was able to install it without difficulty, but it crashed every time I tried to launch it. So much for a flawless experience. Having no luck with Avast, I went to ClamTK. Like Linux in general, it took me a bit to figure out how this worked. I figured that a good test would be scanning my Windows hard drive. After all, the original intent of this experiment was to find out if I could use Linux on a USB drive to quickly and effectively scan a Windows drive for viruses. I am happy to report that ClamTK did successfully scan my Windows drive. It also found some temporary Internet files that it flagged as potential malware. Unfortunately, the process took several hours... approximately twice as long as if I'd scanned the drive from another Windows machine. Bear in mind though, that I was running this scan from a USB drive. Any OS running from a USB thumb drive will fail to perform as well as the same OS running on a hard drive.

Scanning for viruses is all well and good, but the majority of people trying Linux are more interested in different aspects, such as web browsing, word processing, spreadsheets, audio, picture and video editing, and so forth. One of the first things any user will do is browse the web, so let's talk about that for a moment. If you're thinking about Linux, chances are you've tried web browsers other than Internet Explorer. Firefox is installed with Linux, and it works just as well as Firefox in Windows.

If you want to do word processing and spreadsheets, you're in for a bit of adjustment. Ubuntu comes with LibreOffice pre-installed. LibreOffice is similar to MS Office, but it's not 100% interchangeable. LibreOffice has the same problem that other open-sourced productivity suites experience... LibreOffice can open and edit Excel spreadsheets and Word documents flawlessly, but it's not seamless going the other way, meaning that Word or Excel has problems with documents that are created and/or edited in LibreOffice. I can't prove it, but I have a hunch that this is a result of Microsoft's refusal to play nice with other productivity suites in an attempt to keep people locked into Office. On it's own though, LibreOffice (specifically the writer) has been a positive experience. Most of the shortcuts, hotkeys and so forth are the same as MS Office, making the learning curve much easir. In fact, this entire review has been written in LibreOffice writer, and copying/pasting the contents of a LibreOffice document is superior to doing the same from MS Word. What I've written in LibreOffice has gone to the blog perfectly, but when I write a post from MS Word, I frequently have to re-tweak things after pasting the text.

By far my favorite application has been Remmina Remote Desktop Client. Remember, I'm a System Administrator/Engineer. A large portion of workday is spent remotely monitoring, configuring, maintaining and troubleshooting servers and workstations. In order for me to work with Linux on a day-to-day basis, it MUST have a good remote desktop application. Remmina more than fits the bill. In fact, I think it's superior to Microsoft RDP. Remmina will allow you to connect to a remote computer using RDP or VNC. Furthermore, the client is tabbed, similar to Firefox, allowing you to quickly and easily switch between multiple RDP sessions. This is great for people who frequently run multiple, simultaneous RDP sessions! I was also able to customize the display resolution, so that client, toolbar and so forth were all able to fit into a full screen.

System and network monitoring tools, included with a standard installation, are also handy and straight-forward... another must for us IT-types.

I spent a little bit of time playing with GIMP, the photo editor that is loosely compared to Adobe PhotoShop, but I don't have enough experience with either program to make a fair evaluation. For the most part, my time with the various applications has been good. If you plan to leave the nation of Windows and live on your own little island of Linux, communicating with the outside world only through the web, you'll be fine. But if you plan to spend a lot of time actively collaborating with Windows users (writing and editing Word documents, Excel spreadsheets and so forth), be prepared for some heartache.
Part I, The Grand Experiment

Part II, So Many Flavors

Part III, I'm Kind of Slow to Commit

Part IV,  ASmall, Short-Term Commitment

Part V, Diving Below the Surface

Part VI, A Different Animal

Part VII, Okay, It's Pretty, but What Can it Do?

Part VIII, Okay, I'm Committed, But It's Not all Puppies and Rainbows

Part IX, Unity

Part X, Parting Words

Friday, June 15, 2012

A Different Animal



This is Part 6 of a ten-part review of Ubuntu Linux.  The series is designed to give you a rough idea what it's like to try Linux.  It's not a how-to, and it's not a blow-by-blow recount of my experience.  For your convenience, links for each part of this series are located at the end of the article.

When I first started writing this review, I mentioned that Microsoft and I go way back. My very first computer was a 286. I really started playing with computers in 1994, and I got my first IT job in 1997. Virtually all of my PC/server experience though, is Microsoft-based. With that said, I am not a Microsoft fanboy who believes that Redmond can do no wrong. In fact, I'm more than willing to concede areas where Microsoft could improve. My primary reason for saying all of this is to let everyone know that I know Microsoft, and I'm comfortable with Microsoft, so I will use Windows as a frame of reference. This should also help most of you reading this. After all, Microsoft rules the roost, so statistically speaking, you're reading this from a Windows computer. And if you're reading this with the idea of trying Linux out, then you too are probably familiar with Windows, so it's reasonable to use Windows as a frame of reference. Don't, however, consider this as a head to head comparison between the two platforms. That wouldn't be fair, because...

Windows and Linux are different animals. To give you an idea how different, when I wanted to find out my IP information, I opened a command console (called Terminal in Linux) and typed IPCONFIG... only to learn that the Unix-based Linux command is IFCONFIG, which doesn't tell me the default gateway... for that I had to type ROUTE. Another way that Linux differs significantly from Windows is how the OS thinks of disk drives. Windows thinks of each partition on each disk as a drive letter. Linux refers to them as volumes. This means that you won't have a D drive every time you launch Linux. It also means that you're not stuck using D for the same drive each time you start the computer. An optimist would think of the Windows method as “consistent.” The same optimist would see the additional flexibility that Linux offers.

Realistically speaking, someone trying Linux will at one point or another want (or need) to access files located on a Windows machine, across the network. In order to make this happen on Vista or Windows 7 machines, you will need to enable the Computer Browser service on the Windows machine, or Linux won't be able to mount the share volume.

By now, you should see that that Linux and Windows are different creatures. You need to be prepared to spend significantly longer finding the answer to something you could solve in seconds if you're a proficient Windows user. It can be frustrating at times, but if you like to tinker, it's kind of rewarding too. Don't let the differences stop you.

Part I, The Grand Experiment

Part II, So Many Flavors

Part III, I'm Kind of Slow to Commit

Part IV,  ASmall, Short-Term Commitment

Part V, Diving Below the Surface

Part VI, A Different Animal

Part VII, Okay, It's Pretty, but What Can it Do?

Part VIII, Okay, I'm Committed, But It's Not all Puppies and Rainbows

Part IX, Unity

Part X, Parting Words

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Diving Below the Surface



This is Part 5 of a ten-part review of Ubuntu Linux.  The series is designed to give you a rough idea what it's like to try Linux.  It's not a how-to, and it's not a blow-by-blow recount of my experience.  For your convenience, links for each part of this series are located at the end of the article.
 
I had a couple of reasons for installing a full-blown copy of Linux to a USB drive. Though Linux Live was a great introduction, I wanted to learn more. But there wasn't much point in changing my wallpaper, installing printers, or trying out programs if I lost my changes every time I shut down. After installing a full-blown copy of Linux to USB2, I started playing with minor customizations that your typical user would do... new wallpaper, changing display resolution, downloading OS updates, installing peripherals, and downloading and installing software.

Changing wallpaper and display resolution was a breeze. This was easily changed in the System Settings applet, which is similar to the Control Panel in Windows. Downloading updates was also simple. Update Manager periodically calls home (for lack of a better term) and lets you know that updates are available. You, as the end user, can choose which updates to install, and when to do so. This is similar to Windows Update. I had to do a bit of hunting and pecking in order to customize default fonts (I think that the default Ubuntu font is a bit too blocky), but once I found the location, it was relatively easy to change. By the way, I'm not going to tell you how to make every little tweak that I made. This isn't a how-to, it's a discussion of my overall experience.

I'm also a fan of the Ubuntu Software Center. The Software Center is essentially a central repository and clearing house for Ubuntu applications. If you have an android phone, the Software Center is similar to the Android Play Store. The Software Center can tell you what's installed on your computer, or you can browse the store to find new and interesting software to download. You can search by name, or you can search by category. Each application has a five-star rating, so you can get an idea of its functionality, popularity, strengths and weaknesses, and so forth before you even download the software.

My absolute biggest complaint about the customization process was installing my printer. I have a Brother MFC-J415W, and I just could not get that printer to install properly. I spent WEEKS trying to get the printer to install, and it never worked properly. I searched the Internet for hints and tips, and downloaded countless drivers; I tried connecting over the network, and directly via USB, but it just wouldn't print. I did try two other printers, one was another Brother, and the other was an older HP printer... those printers installed and functioned flawlessly. Eventually, I was able to find a workaround... I shared my Brother printer from my Windows computer, and Linux was able to print to the shared printer. This was my first, and still is my biggest complaint about Ubuntu. If Linux Lovers want their beloved OS to truly go mainstream and eradicate Microsoft, then they will need widespread, virtually flawless support for just about every device out there. By the way, I've never seen a list of supported hardware. Being open-sourced, this kind of makes sense, but it would be good if the OS could give us some basic idea of hardware that can be reasonably expected to work with a given install.
 Part I, The Grand Experiment

Part II, So Many Flavors

Part III, I'm Kind of Slow to Commit

Part IV,  ASmall, Short-Term Commitment

Part V, Diving Below the Surface

Part VI, A Different Animal

Part VII, Okay, It's Pretty, but What Can it Do?

Part VIII, Okay, I'm Committed, But It's Not all Puppies and Rainbows

Part IX, Unity

Part X, Parting Words

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

A Small, Short-Term Commitment



This is Part 4 of a ten-part review of Ubuntu Linux.  The series is designed to give you a rough idea what it's like to try Linux.  It's not a how-to, and it's not a blow-by-blow recount of my experience.  For your convenience, links for each part of this series are located at the end of the article.

As I said in my last post, I'm kind of slow to commit. But Linux Live convinced me that it was worthwhile to delve deeper into Ubuntu. Still not ready to commit to a hard drive installation, however, I figured that I'd compromise and install Linux onto a second USB drive. The fact that I could install and run Linux off of a USB drive (not to mention a CD in the case of Linux Live), by the way, should give you an indication of how lightweight Linux is, especially when compared to Windows 7, which requires a minimum of 16 Gig of drive space. My full install of Ubuntu 11.10, on the other hand, required about 5 Gig.

Before continuing, I need to back up a bit to clarify/reiterate a couple of things. As I said in my last post, I initially downloaded Linux to a USB drive, which I'll call USB1 from now on. When I downloaded Linux to USB1, I configured it so that it was bootable. (I hope you'll forgive me, but I don't remember the specifics of how I did this. I do, however, remember that it was relatively straight-forward.) When I booted to USB1, I had the option of booting to Linux Live, directly from that USB stick, or installing Linux from USB1 to a different device. I ran Linux Live for a while from USB1, and then decided to install Linux onto a second USB device, which I'll call USB2. This allowed me to test a fully functional version of Linux without having to commit to installing the OS to my actual hard drive.

Installing Linux from USB1 to USB2 was another straight-forward task. It asked me a few questions, and I was off and running. The biggest pre-installation factor that you should consider is this... Linux uses a file system that's foreign to Windows. Windows uses NTFS by default. Linux uses EXT3 or EXT4. What this means to you, as someone who may install Linux, is that Windows will not natively read the Linux file format. Linux, however, seems to be a bit smarter in this area, and WILL natively read NTFS. In fact, I believe that Linux will install on an NTFS partition, which would allow Windows to read the contents of the Linux drive. But I wanted to see Linux in its native environment. By the way, I don't know anything about EXT3 or EXT4. I went with EXT4 because I figured that 4 is bigger than 3, so EXT4 must be bigger, better and faster than EXT3. Hey, I'll admit when I'm not scientific in my approach.

But I'm digressing... The real point of today's post is to let you know that installing Linux was just as easy as installing Windows 7. If you're not evaluating Linux because you're afraid that the installation process will be difficult, then let me allay your fears. Linux is easy to install.
 Part I, The Grand Experiment

Part II, So Many Flavors

Part III, I'm Kind of Slow to Commit

Part IV,  ASmall, Short-Term Commitment

Part V, Diving Below the Surface

Part VI, A Different Animal

Part VII, Okay, It's Pretty, but What Can it Do?

Part VIII, Okay, I'm Committed, But It's Not all Puppies and Rainbows

Part IX, Unity

Part X, Parting Words

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

I'm Kind of Slow to Commit





This is Part 3 of a ten-part review of Ubuntu Linux.  The series is designed to give you a rough idea what it's like to try Linux.  It's not a how-to, and it's not a blow-by-blow recount of my experience.  For your convenience, links for each part of this series are located at the end of the article.



When I first downloaded the Linux  installation software, I discovered that I didn't have to immediately install it to a hard drive. In fact, they have what's called a “live” version. Linux Live (which may or may not be available in every flavor of Linux, but I know it's available in Ubuntu) is designed to be run from a CD or USB thumb drive, and is read-only. I should clarify the “read-only” comment. If you boot to Linux Live, the OS will find your monitor, mouse, keyboard, Ethernet devices and so forth, and will install the drivers for you. Linux Live will contain a generous amount of pre-installed software (word processor, spreadsheet, audio software and the like), and you could theoretically write up and print a document, listen to your MP3s, surf the Internet, and so forth from Linux Live. But you could not save the document to your Linux CD or Live USB drive (without some front end work). Linux Live is designed to give you an idea of what Linux is like, and to give you a consistent experience from device to device. Linux Live is a great way to let you try Linux on several different machines, without having to commit to repartitioning hard drives and so forth. I found this to be an excellent way of introducing me to Linux, because I can be kind of slow to commit.

Part I, The Grand Experiment

Part II, So Many Flavors

Part III, I'm Kind of Slow to Commit

Part IV,  ASmall, Short-Term Commitment

Part V, Diving Below the Surface

Part VI, A Different Animal

Part VII, Okay, It's Pretty, but What Can it Do?

Part VIII, Okay, I'm Committed, But It's Not all Puppies and Rainbows

Part IX, Unity

Part X, Parting Words

Monday, June 11, 2012

So Many Flavors...


This is Part 2 of a ten-part review of Ubuntu Linux.  The series is designed to give you a rough idea what it's like to try Linux.  It's not a how-to, and it's not a blow-by-blow recount of my experience.  For your convenience, links for each part of this series are located at the end of the article.

One aspect of Linux that makes it unique when compared to Apple, and Microsoft to some extent, is that it you have more choices to make. This is a double-edged sword. If you buy a Mac, it comes with MacOS, and that's it. If you buy a Windows computer, it comes with the latest release of Windows, and you can choose between the home-oriented release, the business-oriented release, or both. Linux takes things several steps further. Linux is open-sourced, which effectively means that anyone and everyone can make changes to the core operating system. A loose analogy for what results is buying a car. If Linux is Chevy, then the various distributions would be the Impala, the Camaro, and so forth. They're all distinct from one another, with different features and limitations, but there are also many things that are interchangeable from one to another, and they're all Linux.

Making this choice in and of itself could be enough to prevent some from venturing into Linux land, but I am not your run-of-the-mill trepid user. No, I simply went to Google and asked “Which Linux distribution is best for me?” One of the results brought me to a Linux distribution chooser that asked me questions relating to my computer knowledge, peripherals, preference for command line vs. graphical user interface (GUI) and so forth. I had planned on going with Ubuntu, based on preliminary reading. The test confirmed my hunch, so I went with it, and downloaded Ubuntu 11.10.

Sunday, June 10, 2012

A Grand Experiment with Linux


This is Part 1 of a ten-part review of Ubuntu Linux.  The series is designed to give you a rough idea what it's like to try Linux.  It's not a how-to, and it's not a blow-by-blow recount of my experience.  For your convenience, links for each part of this series are located at the end of the article.

I've been in the IT industry for fifteen years. During that time, I've seen a lot of things come and go. Being a generalist by nature, I've dabbled in many different aspects of technology during this time... I've built countless PCs from scratch, designed and published web pages, played with audio and video editing software, and constructed an entire enterprise domain from the ground up. Two areas that I've stayed away from, however, are Linux and Mac. I've avoided Apple products primarily because of the cost. I've procrastinated on Linux mainly because I didn't have a method and/or time to do the testing.

All of that came to an end recently when I decided to give Linux a try. This grand experiment started about a month ago, and it was actually a Microsoft issue that got me to do this. As a computer geek, I am frequently asked to help friends, co-workers and/or clients eradicate virus(es) that have infested their computers. In all honesty, I'm one of the best virus hunter I know. I freely admit that better virus hunters exist; I just haven't yet met any of them. The thing is, it can take quite a bit of time and effort to find and kill viruses, especially if the user has administrative privileges on the computer.

A couple of months ago, I started wondering if it would be quicker and easier for me to install Linux to a USB drive, boot to Linux on the infected machine, and then use Linux to scan the infected computer's hard drive for viruses. I realized that if I were to go down this road, I'd be opening a whole can of worms. After all, there's no way that I'd be able to just install Linux and AntiVirus software and not see what else the Operating System has to offer.

As you've probably guessed by now, I decided to try Linux, and I've been using it almost exclusively for approximately a month. After a couple of weeks of dabbling in Linux, I decided that it would be fun to immerse myself into the Linux experience and write about it. I believe that enough time has passed for me to write a reasonably-educated critique of my Linux experience. Today's post is just a teaser. My next several posts will be dedicated to telling you what I think...

Part I, The Grand Experiment

Part II, So Many Flavors

Part III, I'm Kind of Slow to Commit

Part IV,  ASmall, Short-Term Commitment

Part V, Diving Below the Surface

Part VI, A Different Animal

Part VII, Okay, It's Pretty, but What Can it Do?

Part VIII, Okay, I'm Committed, But It's Not all Puppies and Rainbows

Part IX, Unity

Part X, Parting Words

Saturday, June 9, 2012

Evaluating the Traxxas Velineon Brushless Motor System (VXL)

Early last month, I wrote an article about my new toy, a Traxxas Stampede RC car.  Out of the box, I concluded that everything was great, except for the motor.  Since then I replaced the stock Titan 12T motor with a Velineon Brushless motor system.  The motor system consists of a motor and speed controller.  If you are converting from a standard motor with brushes to a brushless system, you will need to purchase a speed controller as well.

With that  little tidbit out of the way, I'll just cut to the chase and say that the upgrade is absolutely worth it!  I didn't do a scientific before and after comparison, but I noticed a tremendous increase in speed and torque with the brushless system.  It also seems that my run time is slightly longer with the Velineon motor, but again, I wasn't scientific with my approach.  The motor is absolutely able to run through grass, and the VXL motor has better heat tolerance as well.  (The 12T manual said to stop running at about 150 degrees, and the VXL motor said that it could tolerate 200 degrees.)  As for the torque?  With the 12T, I could only pull wheelies for the first few minutes of a run.  With the Velineon motor, I can pull wheelies until shortly before the motor dies.

If you're considering the purchase of an RC car, I suggest that you purchase a model that already comes with a brushless motor.  The initial sticker price is a bit higher, but it's less expensive than converting to a brushless motor later on, and there will be less initial frustration.  But if you're like me, someone who purchased a low-end model and are wondering if it's worth it to go brushless, well, let me put your mind at ease... it's absolutely worth it.  Now, what are you waiting for?  Go order that new brushless motor!

Sunday, June 3, 2012

Meet Gilmour


This is Gilmour, the new addition to our family.  My younger daughter has been asking for a puppy since Athena died in March.  After some patience and time, we found this little guy at the local animal shelter.  He's a six month old lab mix, with blue eyes like a husky.  He's definitely a puppy... bursts of intense energy, followed by the sleep of the dead... exuberance combined with a lack of focus... a desire to learn, and a short attention span.  Duchess, my 12-year-old lab mix, is getting used to the change, but I think that Gilmour will be an awesome addition to our family.  Gilmour, by the way, was named by my younger daughter, after David Gilmour of Pink Floyd.

Thursday, May 3, 2012

Interview With a Mortician

At a funeral I attended recently, I discovered that one of my high school classmates is a mortician.  Our paths have crosses several times over the last couple of years, and it was an unexpected pleasure to see her during the memorial service, where we took the opportunity to chat for a couple of minutes.  After catching up, I realized that she would be a great person to interview for my blog, and she graciously agreed. 

I guess I'll start out at with the easy question... You've had one career -- one employer -- for over 20 years, so your chosen profession must bring a lot of satisfaction. How did you become a mortician?
In 8th grade during my confirmation class there was a tour of the funeral home in [a nearby town]. I don’t remember now what was said or what was done that would have triggered the thought of me being a mortician, but ever since then I have wanted to be a mortician. My classmates can back me up –When I run into some of my class mates now – one of the first things they say is “I remember you saying you wanted to be a mortician.” So through high school and community college, my goal was to take classes that I would need to complete my schooling. I received my Bachelor of Science degree with a Major in Mortuary Science from the University of Minnesota. One month after graduation I moved … and began working with [my current employer]. I have been with the same company for over 20 years now. It is hard explain the satisfaction part of my job. When a family that I have helped after their loved one died tells me “Thank you so much for everything you did…” I provide a service to the family so that the family may honor their loved one. That is the satisfaction that keeps me going everyday. Knowing that I have helped someone during the one of most difficult part of [life] (burying a loved one.) Death is something that every single one of us will experience at some point in our lives, and if I can help to make that experience a little easier, less stressful and meaningful – then that is all the satisfaction that I need.

What's your favorite part of the job? The part you like least?
My favorite part of the job is meeting the families that have chosen us to care for their deceased loved one. The amazing lives and stories that people have lived [are] truly amazing. Everyone has a story, if you listen. Talking with the family and getting to know the deceased through their words and stories. Helping the survivors create a meaningful service to celebrate or remember the life their loved one lived. The worst part… is the sadness/grieving that we all experience when a loved dies. Also if for some reason (cause of death) a family is not able to view/see their loved one to have a chance to say that final goodbye.

Have you, to some extent, become numb to the grief over the years?
You would think so – but the answer is no. I hope that never happens. My heart aches for every family that I work with. There are times when I have shared tears with a family, shared laughs, and given and received lots of hugs. But I know that I need to be there for them – to help them and guide them through the hundreds of decisions and details that need to be taken care of after someone dies. They are looking at me for support and I need to sure everything is handled correctly.

Wow! There must be times when you’re absolutely exhausted!
Oh most definitely – Mentally and physically. My work week varies from a minimum of 40 hours to sometimes around 60 hours a week; we have a four week rotation schedule with every other weekend off. My usual day is 8-5pm. I work a lot and enjoy the time off that I have.

Have you ever had to bury someone you know?
Yes – I have… my great-grandfather and my grandparents. I assisted with the funeral arrangements for my grandparents and attended as a family member. Fortunately I have not had to do the preparation of their bodies (embalming). Local funeral homes in their hometowns were kind enough to do that for me as well as conduct the services. I did dress and get my great-grandfather ready for his service. I wanted to do that for him – since I had been taking care of him before he died. That was one of the last things that I could do for him. It is hard to be on the side of the mourner and hard to let someone else take charge of the funeral, but I usually know the funeral director and have total confidence and trust in them.

To what extent did you take care of your great-grandfather before he died?
My grandfather was 97 when he died, and for about two years prior to his death he needed help cooking, cleaning, taking medications, paying bills, managing the house/yard work – your everyday needs. He was still in his own home and I lived the closest to him and volunteered to be his “assistant” so he could stay in his home. I really enjoyed the time we spent together, talking, laughing, and hearing stories. I was never really close to him and this gave us the opportunity and time to really bond. So many stories now that I can share with my other family members.

How does a mortician handle a funeral? Do you divide and conquer, with different people handling different aspects of each funeral? Does one person handle each client? (Is that even the correct term??)
Maybe a combination of both. I can only answer to what I do where I work. When a death occurs, the funeral home is chosen by the family. Once the funeral home is notified of the death, the mortician sets up an appointment to meet the family of the deceased. (The morticians decided between themselves who is going to talk to which families – it’s all based on who is available.) This appointment is a time where I gather information from the family and start planning for the type of services that the family has chosen to have. If I am available I try to stay with the family from the beginning to the end (burial). If I have a scheduling conflict I introduce one of the other funeral directors to the family and then they can run the services. Our funeral home does have specific people that do certain things, our administrators perform some of the printed materials needed for a service (Guest book and Thank you cards) we have a graphic designer who works on the funeral folders (handouts, programs) that are given to the people attending the services. Our funeral home has four morticians that just work with the deceased (cremation, embalming, dressing, cosmetics, placing in casket, and removal from place of death), and the other seven morticians work directly with the family –planning and preparing for the funeral. I try to do as much as I can for the family so that they can make phone calls and spend time with other family and friends. 

 It sounds to me like you focus on the family. Does this mean that you don’t do embalming, cosmetics, and so forth?
Correct. In Iowa – there is one license “a Mortician” who is licensed to do embalming and funeral directing. The first 7 years that I worked I did both – planning services and preparing the deceased. Then we (my co-workers) decided that we would like to split up the duties. It has worked very well. I get to sleep through the night. – Really there are some morticians that are very good at the Preparation of the deceased and others are better with families. So it works out well for us. I am still technically a mortician and if I went to work somewhere else I could do the preparation of the deceased as well.

When you say “removal from the place of death,” isn’t that usually a medical examiner or something? Can you clarify that?
It depends on where the death occurs. If the death occurs at a hospital, nursing home or a place of residence – a medical examiner is not always involved. So the removal is done by the funeral homes. A medical examiner is only involved in a death under certain circumstances (Suspicious death, murder, suicide, homicide or if the deceased was not under any medical care at the time of death.) 

How do people generally react when you tell them what you do for a living?
Usually they are in shock for a few moments – then it sets in and they are like really?! What is that like? They usually have lots of questions for me (which I don’t mind answering), sometimes it is a ‘momentum killer’ they’re like “Oh, ok.” and not sure what to say next. So I just smile and continue on with the conversation.

How does your job impact your faith?
I have a deep faith and my career as a mortician makes me aware of our mortality every day. My faith brings comfort to know that my loved ones are in Heaven and I will see them again someday. I also believe that if people do have Jesus and their church in their lives that it helps them in their grief – understanding that their loved one is with Jesus and is in perfect health – with no sickness, no sadness and just having the support from your church family helps so much. Knowing people will be there for you if and when you need them.

How does that relate to Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists and Atheists?
I have to be able to serve all who come to our funeral home, doesn’t matter what religion or no religion, I am here to help them take care of their deceased loved one. I don’t push what I believe on anyone and families don’t push what they believe in on me. I just do what I can – without compromising my beliefs. My profession is probably the only one where I can be participating in protestant, Catholic, Jewish and other religion funerals in one day. One day I had three services in one day. (One was Lutheran, one was Catholic and one was a Jewish graveside service) :) It is very interesting to learn how different religions take care of their deceased loved ones.

What would you like to do in life that you haven't yet done?
My husband and I were just talking about this. There are a couple of items that are on my “bucket list.” One is to travel – Australia or Africa would be my top picks. The other is to go on a Disney Cruise. :) Retire (in 20 more years) and spend the rest of my life experiencing all of life’s treasures with my husband and family.

What's your greatest accomplishment in life?
My greatest accomplishment is that I am doing what I have always wanted to do. I have been told that it is “my calling” to be a mortician and I am very proud that I have achieved that goal. I truly love what I do and not everyone can say that. I have an amazing career. It is very challenging (in a good way) and stressful at times - I have only one chance to get “things” correct; there are no do-overs. Every workday is different and I still learn something new almost every day, even after 20 years. There are no two families alike – the concept may be the same but everyone is different and chooses different things i.e. caskets, urns, music, flowers, scriptures, etc.

Tell us about your family.
(Smile) My immediate family has recently been expanded. I have a wonderful husband; we were just married [in September of 2011]. We connected on Facebook in early 2010 and were married a year and a half later! My husband and I and our families strongly believe that God brought us together and the fact that I had never had children and never been married before –now I understand why. I have two awesome step daughters, 19 and 17 years old. Oldest just graduated last year and decided to move to Minnesota last summer – hopefully going to college this fall and the youngest is a junior in High School and lives with us at home. Their mom died in 2007 – she had a heart transplant in 1994 and it extended her life for 14 years, but got ill again and her heart gave out. She raised two beautiful girls and I am so thankful for all that she did. My mom still lives in Northern Iowa, my brother, his wife and two children, live in the [local] area. We are all very close. My parents-in-law are so kind and loving and have just welcomed me into the family. Our wedding party was perfect – my mom was with me every step of the way, my dad walked me down the aisle, my mother-in-law right in the front row, my brother was a groomsman, his wife (sister-in-law) was my matron of honor, my step-daughters were two of my bridesmaids, my niece was a junior bridesmaid and my nephew was the ring bearer, and my father-in-law was one of the ministers. (So everyone that means the world to me was right there next to me.) It was awesome (if I do say so myself). Also, my biological dad – who lives in Hawaii and two sisters –one in Las Vegas and one in Florida, then my other dad (who walked me down the aisle) and his wife and two more sisters and a brother. Then I still have grandparents, awesome aunts, cousins and all of my husband’s family. I know it gets confusing. :) There are a few divorces and remarriages on my side of the family but fortunately everyone gets along and we have so much fun! I feel so blessed to have such an amazing family.

When we were in high school… well, I can only say that the boys appreciated you… How is it that you went all this time without marriage or kids?
Not sure about the boys in high school, but I just chose to focus on my career. I guess my career was more important to me at that time. I have had a couple of long term 7 & 10 years relationships along the way – Having children and/or getting married was not a priority to me and now I know why - God had other plans for me (bringing my husband and me together). It wasn’t until I met [my now-husband] in 2010 that I even seriously considered being married.

You’re 40-ish, a newlywed, and have never had kids. Are you and your new hubby considering kids?
That answer is no, I am totally content with not having any biological children of my own. And there are too many concerts for the hubby and I see to have to worry about raising children. We are looking forward to all the fun things we can do together and are thinking about retirement at this stage of our lives. Of course that won’t be for probably another 20 years.

You say that you and your hubby connected via Facebook. How well did you know each other before connecting on Facebook? Considering that the internet facilitated your marriage, what is your overall opinion of Internet dating in general?
We really didn’t know each other at all. I saw that he was a friend of a friend on Facebook and asked if he was the same guy that worked at the [local record store in our hometown] and he responded yes and we just got to talking (I still had my ASIA guitar pins and other rock band pins that we used to wear on our jean jackets) and I had purchased all my pins from him. Then once we started Facebook chatting figured out that we had mutual friends and he asked me out to lunch – that was April 2010 and he proposed just over a year later and we were married [in] 2011. Attending rock concerts is what we enjoy – we have been to a least one concert a month since January of 2011. Even our wedding had a concert theme. Our invitations were concert tickets (you had to tear off a portion for the RSVP) We made lanyards for all of the wedding party- it had their photo on it and a bar scan code and priority access, and our ushers and greeters wore “Security” polo shirts. You can see some of the photos on our Facebook pages. It was a very cool and fun wedding. I don’t know now much about internet dating – I myself never tried that. But one of the ladies that I work with met her husband through an online dating service – so I guess it does work.

I saw a few photos and videos of the proposal and wedding and so forth. I’ve got to say that the whole thing was one of the most awesome, creative spectacles I’ve ever seen. I’m very happy for the two of you, and I hope you have many happy years together. Maybe one day in the future, your husband would grace me with an interview.
Thank you very much; we are very happy as well. I will certainly let him know. I have enjoyed your questions. Thank you.

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Evaluating the Traxxas Stampede TRA3605

Several months ago, I got an awesome deal on coupons to a hobby shop in my neck of the woods.  I bought something like $300 worth of gift certificates for about twenty cents on the dollar.  At the time, my daughter and I were building models (her idea, by the way), so I figured that it would be a good investment, but she kind of burned out on models.  Since I was still holding over $200 worth of gift certificates, I figured that I could turn her interest to RC airplanes.  This whole endeavor though was about spending time with her, based on what she wanted... and she was more interested in having an RC car, or rather, a truck.  She wanted a truck, like the Dodge Dakota that we actually own.  Based on what she wanted, and my price constraints, we purchased the Traxxas Stampede TRA3605.

The idea with this car was that we could have a reasonably fast, durable, low-maintenance toy... something that my daughter and I could play with for 20 to 30 minutes at a time, where I could charge the batteries, we could run the car through one or two batteries, and that would be that.  I didn't expect to beat on the car, but I expected it to be durable enough to jump a few curbs, run through some grass and tolerate splashing through the occasional shallow puddle.  The result has been a mixed bag.

For those of you who want the short version, let me say this.  The body is tough as nails.  The motor... not so much.  And with that said, let me start off with the negative.  The Traxxas Titan 12T motor absolutely fails to live up to my expectations.  I've had this car for just over a month, and I've already plowed through two motors.  When I bought the car, the hobby shop guy specifically told me to RTFM, so I did.  The manual said something about a break-in period, so I ran through one battery charge, going VERY easy on the motor.  I ran it only on concrete, rarely at top speed, and I was easy on the throttle.  I won't bore you with the details, but that motor burned out within a week... and no, we weren't playing with this every day.

I DID call Traxxas, and they sent out a replacement, no questions asked.  Furthermore, the tech told me, in great detail, that a break-in period was required.  I asked many questions about the break-in period, and when the new motor arrived I broke it in.  Specifically, I ran a full charge with no load, and then ran a second charge on concrete, using his specific recommendation.  I know a bit about electromechanics... if this didn't seat the brushes, then nothing would.

After this, I once again played with the car.  I ran the motor through several charges strictly on concrete.  But I once again made the mistake of running it in grass for about 50% of my latest run, and again the motor has failed.  I'm not going to blame this on Traxxas.  I'm going to blame this on my expectations.

Now, with that out of the way, the chassis of this car is virtually indestructible.  I did manage to break one part, but hey, I hit a pole at 30+ MPH.  It would have been totally unreasonable to expect the piece to hold up, when a REAL car crumbles at that speed.  But the thing is, only ONE piece broke.  I've taken the truck down stairs... even launched it off of my deck, which is about a 4 foot jump, and the chassis totally withstood the abuse.

I've done some research, and am now converting to the brushless motor and electronic speed control system.  From everything I've heard, it's a lot faster, and has far more torque.  But I've got to say, I was happy with the speed and torque of the 12T.  The only thing that disappointed me was that it wasn't durable enough.  Again though, I'm not specifically blaming Traxxas.  The Stampede was more than content to run on pavement, sand and through small puddles.  It just couldn't handle the grass.  But in my area, grass is a big thing.

Monday, April 23, 2012

Mea Culpa

Mea culpa - noun - an acknowledgement of your error or guilt

My older daughter and I were having a conversation today, which devolved into an argument.  Well, not exactly an argument, as much as her telling me that I haven't been giving her the support that she needs... that she thinks I'm disappointed in her.  How we ended up there really isn't important for the purpose of what I'm writing at the moment.  What IS important is that she feels I'm disappointed in her, and that's not the case.  I suspect that when I told her this during our conversation, she felt a little bit better; but that's not good enough, so I'm here, now, writing this to acknowledge my failure to make her feel significantly loved and accepted. 

Bakin, I really don't know where to start, except to say I'm sorry.  This isn't going to be an "I'm sorry, but..." type of apology, either, just me saying that I'm sorry.  You, my wonderful daughter, are one of the greatest things in my life, and based on our conversation earlier, I have failed to sufficiently express how incredibly blessed I am to have you in my life.  This is a shortcoming as a father, and as a man.

I am pleased that you're enjoying cosmetology school, and am tickled that you're at the top of your class.  I'm impressed that you can do this while holding down two jobs.  Though I obviously haven't said it enough, I have noticed how little time this leaves you for leisure, and other optional things, like sleep.  The fact that you manage to do all of this while pregnant makes me all the more impressed with you.

You should understand though, that the pride I've just expressed is a woefully incomplete picture.  Your presence is a treasure...  YOU are a treasure... a treasure that I want to selfishly hoard until my days on this earth have come to an end.  I'm not just proud of what you're accomplishing now, I love the woman you're becoming.  I love the child you were.  And like many parents before me, I realize that in the blink of an eye, you will be starting your own life.  I may occasionally joke about how I'm looking forward to being an empty nester, but believe me, I will miss you terribly.

Bakin, I've been writing this for almost 90 minutes, and this is all I have to show.  The fact is, I can't adequately express how wonderful you are.  I know that I am pretty good with words, but I'm not going to sufficiently express myself today.  So please know that I do love you, and I am proud of you.

Dad

And yes, dear reader, if you were paying close attention earlier, you will have noticed that I will soon be a grandfather.