Friday, September 5, 2008

The Littlest Hero

I found my wife crying at the end of July. Turns out that Mysti, one of our fellow writers over at AbsoluteWrite, had given birth prematurely -- three months prematurely -- to Simon Gabriel. He was about the size of a TV remote; his diapers, when folded up to fit him, were about the size of a AA battery. I might have gotten a little upset myself -- how could a thing that small, with the odds so great against him, hope to survive.

And yet he does. And grows. And is beginning to thrive. The works of modern medicine are nothing short of miraculous, and this chap came along in time to take advantage of them. When I was born, fifty short years ago, my chances would have been essentially nil. Twenty years ago, when my oldest boy was born, the available stock of hope would have been negligible. And even now, even given the technology and medical know-how we're accustomed to, Simon Gabriel has to be a fighter to survive. He is a fighter. And he will survive.

But here's the current problem: Simon is in Denver's NICU, receiving the best care possible. But his family lives in Wyoming.

Mysti and Rob need about $6000 to be able to temporarily move to Denver to be with their son. To help raise the cash, an series of auctions are being held on eBay, of items donated by friends and family.

Amy and I have offered our advance contributor's copies of The Ultimate Dog Lover (mine) and The Ultimate Cat Lover (Amy's) as a set called "The Pet Lover's Package." The books are not due in stores until November, so this is a real steal.

For more information, or to bid, go to:

Monday, July 14, 2008

Six Quirky Ideas (Part One)

So here I am, trying to deal with getting tagged with the task of exposing myself in full view of God and everybody by telling you, my loyal readers (both of you) about six of my fondest quirks.

As an aside, I'll just mention that the title of this piece, "Six Quirky Ideas", is a tribute to the book Six Great Ideas, by the modern philosopher Mortimer Adler. The six ideas he discusses are the cornerstones of civilization, to wit: Truth, Beauty, Justice, Freedom, and two more I can't remember right now, but that may be because I last read the book about twenty years ago. Thus we see an example of

Quirk the First
My head is full of generally useless information. And it's liable to pop out at random moments. Seems I just kinda think that everybody knows this stuff, and I'm just reminding them. makes for some awkward moments.

Quirk the Second
My family and I have enough allergies and sinus issues to keep several over-the-counter drug companies in business. This is not the quirk.

This diagram represents a card of Sudafed (or some similarly blister packed decongestant). Note that there are four detatchable quarter cards, each of which holds six individually blistered pills.

Being a full-sized man, when I have a stuffy nose, I punch out two pills. When my loving wife has a stuffy nose, she - being a delicate princess - punches out a single pill.
Pay attention, now. Here's the quirk:

When my lady punches out her pill, she punches at some random location.

I hate that. Because I need blister pack symmetry. I need it. Observe the effects on individual quarters:

Best Worst

I confessed this once to my lady wife. After much glee at my discomfiture, she has begun punching out pills in straight rows right across the whole card.

I love her.

Quirk the Third
This is silly. I know this silly. I realize that there is absolutely no rational reason for this. In fact, I know the idea is totally, completely wrong.

But somewhere, deep in my psyche somewhere, I hold the firm belief that if you keep moving, less sunlight gets on you; therefore you're less likely to get sunburned if you're walking.

It doesn't matter that this idea has been disproved in my very own experience. It doesn't matter that a sixth grader would think i'm an blithering idiot. I think I'm a blithering idiot.

But somehow I'm convinced it's true.

Next time: Quirks the Fourth through Sixth!

Saturday, May 17, 2008

It's a Crazy Idea, But It Just Might Work, Sorta

The fact that I long ago decided to respectfully decline to take on political issues in my writing is herewith suspended. We are in an important election season, perhaps the most importantest ever, and it's time for each of us to take the time to put up or shut up. In a policy-wonkish way, of course.

To that end, I will now confront the divisive, emotionally-charged issue of illegal immigration. Specifically, I’d like to address the issue of immigration from Mexico, our sister state to the South. It’s no secret that our southern border is porous, or that federal funds have been allocated to build a 700-mile fence to stem the “invasion” (as some have callously termed it), and that parts of it may have actually been built. Nor it is a secret that the millions of Mexicans within our borders have come here, not for any nefarious purpose, but simply to follow the American dream, to make a better life for themselves and their families. Or that this country is allegedly spending an ungodly sum trying to keep these fine people out. This is a situation that cannot be allowed to continue.

My proposal is simple. They want to be Americans. It’s time to give them what they want.

Let's just go ahead and annex Mexico.

Adding the thirty-one Mexican states with the current population of roughly 107 million souls would be of great benefit to both our countries. It would simplify a great number of issues that currently seem insurmountable.

From a security standpoint alone the benefits are immediate and obvious. Our southern border is now about 1900 miles long. Moving it south to Belize and Guatemala would shorten this border to about 750 miles. A shorter border is much more defensible, especially if we use the 700-mile fence we’re already planning, just in a different place.

Of course, we’d gain about 5800 miles of coastline, but a beefed-up Coast Guard could handle that without serious problem. The expansion of the Coast Guard would be paid for by the tax revenues generated by the booming tourist resorts found on those coasts.

Which brings us to our second point. Annexation would be a boon to the economies of both parties in unification. All the tourist dollars flowing out of the US into Mexico, as well as the money sent home by Mexicans living and working in the US would all stay where it belongs: in the good old US of A. The rising costs of patrolling our border could be virtually eliminated as the focus moved further south, resulting in less spending and a more efficient budget.

And that’s just the US side. The money now being spent by the Mexican government to help its people leave their native country would be unnecessary. Plus, the entire population of Mexico would fall under US labor laws, including the minimum wage, the forty-hour workweek, and health benefits requirements. And with the free flow of goods and investments, the people of present-day Mexico wouldn’t know what hit them. In a good way, of course.

The Mexican military and police forces would have to be retrained, and it would take some little time to weed out corruption to acceptable (say, U.S. Congressional) levels, but we would finally be able to combat the drug trade on our own turf, by our own rules, without having to rely on the willingness of a foreign country to help us.

We would have to adopt Spanish as an official language, of course, but Spanish is already de facto official already. And the Mexican people would have to accept English as well, so it would be fair to everybody.

Adding thirty-one states would only add to the prestige of Old Glory. Eighty-one stars would require a field of nine rows of nine stars, a good omen if there ever was one.

Combining our governments would also be simple. Mexico already has a government similar in form and function to our own, complete with a bi-cameral Congress, a constitutional judicial system, a strong executive, and a disputed election system. There would be a time of growing pains, but I suspect things would settle down pretty quickly. And I think I’d like to see our American presidents wearing a sash on official occasions.

So, in closing, I say it’s time to put our differences behind us and offer to all Mexicans the right to be American citizens, in a very real and legally binding way. It’s right for America. It’s right for Mexico. It’s just the right thing to do.

Sunday, April 27, 2008

A Lesson Learned

I am -- and let me be very clear about this -- an idiot.

Oh, sure, I scored in the 95th percentile on the ACT. And I can offer at least one intelligent contribution to a conversation on just about anything. I can explain the fundamentals of flight, the internal combustion engine, relativity, Grimm's Laws of Phonetic Shift, most household physics, electricity, biology, and astronomy. I can read and navigate by maps. And I can offer insights into the way computers think.

But I'm too stupid to make a simple note. I'll explain.

This morning, as my lady wife and I were lazing around in bed, trying to come to grips with the day, she said something. I said something back. Soon we were laughing uproariously. And I said, There's an essay for you.

And she said, No, I think it's yours.

And I said, Hmmm. Maybe I'll use it for my blog.

And she said, Excellent idea. Write it down so you don't forget it.

Bwoop! Bwoop! Bwoop!

I wrote the first paragraph in my head while showering.

I had the punchline ready before we got to the Chinese Lunch Buffet.

Now it's about 9:30PM and I've been trying for two hours to remember what the original idea was, much less any of the details.

Nothing. I got nothing. A big old blank void in my head, an empty space on the map labeled "Here be dragons."

Actually, that's not entirely true. I happen to have a very nice notepad. It's green and spiral-bound at the top, and it says "Memo" on the front. Amy got it for me and made me promise I'd jot down ideas as they came to me. And I've been pretty good about it. It has all sorts of notes in it, some of which are legible.

But right now I'm a-feared that a brilliantly funny idea has slipped past me, and I'll never recover it. And that's a pity, cause you would have laughed your butt off.

So she said, looking at my piteous moroseness, I want you to sit right down and write a paragraph on how you learned your lesson.

So I said, Better yet, I'll post it.

The moral of this story is: No matter how intelligent you think you are, and no matter how brilliant an idea is, never never never trust yourself to remember it.

Anybody who does that is an idiot.

And now if you'll pardon me, I'm going to write that down somewhere.

Saturday, April 12, 2008

She Gave Me a Tagomite Sandwich

Well, it happened. Amy over at Mind Over Mullis tagged me. At first, I was pleased. Aha! I thought. I finally got a comment! Somebody's actually reading my drivel! Then I actually read the comment. Ah, crud! I thought. More work for me to do!

So here's the deal: I reveal seven little-known factoids about myself, then tag five of my blogging friends. Now, I did little research revealed that all the bloggers I know have already been tagged. So, a request for all my loyal readers (I reckon there's about three of you out there): Leave me a comment with your blog address, and I'll tag you faster than I can say something really difficult....

So here, without further ado, we present

Seven Little-Known Facts about Kindly Old Dr. Bill: the Doggerel King

Fact the first: I polled the teenagers in the room, and discovered the following surprising item: I'm a pain in the butt. Who woulda thunk it?

Fact the second: For several years I had money thrown at me while performing musical parodies at SciFi conventions in the Carolinas, the Virginias, and Washington, SC. The most memorable moment came when a real flesh and blood woman dropped a handful of change down the front of my pants.

Fact the third: I once owned a cat named Maybelline. She was a grey tabby with big green eyes. She had a habit of showing up in unexpected places (the refrigerator, on lamp shades, in the shower). And she was made entirely of cardboard.

Fact the Fourth: I'm Pentecostal by upbringing, Baptist by membership, and Lutheran by disposition. Screwed up? Me? Hahahahaha!

Fact the fifth: My ancestry is German, Scots, and Irish. This means I love to drink, I'm too cheap to buy the stuff, and that fills me with huge amounts of angst.

Fact the sixth: My favorite stress reliever: baking quickbreads. I can't explain it. I just accept it.

Fact the seventh: Because of when my nineteenth fell (after Vietnam but before the re-institution of the Selective Service) I never had to register for the draft.

Fact the eighth: I don't follow instructions very well.

There. I have answered the tag. My work here is done.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

You Know the Drill

I had been at work this morning just long enough to eat my cinnamon bun and get halfway through my first cup of coffee, when the phone rang. It was our network architect with a very important message.

"This is a drill. We're having a major weather emergency in the Data Center."

I knew this was coming. It had been three months or so since our last drill, and as a valued member of the Desktop/Network Support Team, I was sure to be on the call tree. (This had been an oversight during our last pseudo-emergency. More on this in a moment.)

Now obviously the best way to conduct these drills is to pretend that it's real. So I tried to get into the spirit of things. I popped up so I could see over my cubicle wall at the weather. It was cloudy, and the forecast was for scattered showers throughout the day. I could work with this.

"Oh my God! What's the situation?"

There was a pause on the other end, then: "Remember, this is just a drill. We don't know if it's a tornado or a microburst, but a tree just crashed through the windows in the Data Center. The power's out so we can't get in to assess the situation, but we know that SAP's down, and it looks like some of the servers are offline."

"What about phones? Do we have phone service?"

Again that annoying pause at the other end of the phone line.

"I think the phones are OK. Ummm. Why don't you come to the command center?"

I refilled my cup and made my way to the conference room. Somebody had brought donuts, so I snagged one on the way in. A man's gotta keep his energy up somehow in the face of disaster.

Unfortunately, there's very little for a Desktop/Network Support Team member to do in a meeting like this. All the damage was in the Data Center. In the case of an actual emergency, I'd be involved in cleanup, but that's for later. I was assigned to the phones. I was responsible for contacting the other techs and getting the word out to the userbase.

I hate being phone boy. My mood was ruined.

The Disaster Manager confirmed the tree through the window, and added that another set of windows had blown out. "The floor is flooded already, and more rain and debris are lashing through the openings. All the servers on the south side of the Data Center are down and probably heavily damaged. The rest of the servers are still online, but that could change any second. Any suggestions?"

The Network Admin was tasked to bring down the remaining servers as gracefully as possible. Manager, Architect, and a small team would inspect the Data Center for safety and to make a preliminary assessment. I pulled my cell and called the lead tech at our other campus as the team filed out to cross the hall to the center.

Once they were gone somebody raised his own concern: "Reckon we should have had Facilities cut the power before they entered a flooded out room with live high-voltage outlets running across the floor?"

All in all, this drill went a lot smoother for me than the last one.

As I might have mentioned, I wasn't notified of the previous drill. So I didn't have a clue that when I barrelled into the Data Center, to my little work area in the corner, that I was entering an inferno.

The security guard stuck his head in the other door. He looked surprised to see me. "You're dead."

"I am? Why?"

Turns out the huge power supplies against the wall had burst into flame, and the entire roomful of very expensive computer equipment was burning with an intensity that was melting the aluminum trackways conveying cables across the room.

I had to hang out in the hallway for a while. I called my wife and informed her that I was dead. She wasn't nearly as upset as I thought she'd be. I sure didn't expect laughter.

At the drill post-mortem (which I thought was a poor choice of words, given my sorry demise) I was mildly ridiculed for leaving a black mark on the drill results.

"Now wait," I said. "Are we assuming that all the alarm systems worked during the emergency? Then you're also assuming that I ignored an evacuation order, didn't notice the flashing alarm lights, didn't hear the sirens, and forged ahead through intense heat and impenetrable smoke, just so I could get to the workbench long enough to finish setting up Tony's laptop.

"I think anybody that dedicated deserves a raise."

Friday, February 8, 2008

The Cruelest Invitation

I got it in the mail this week, along with the junk and the unwelcome bills, and, of course, the distinct lack of any checks. The plain, innocuously white envelope belied its true nature, but the bright red logo on the return address stopped me cold in my tracks.

"What's wrong?" Lady Wife enquired, eyeing me with concern.

"It's the AARP," I whispered. She gasped. "It's got a card inside."

Yes, a card. With my actual name on it. This was not a generic mailing to Current Resident (Dear Current...). No, this was the real thing, complete with a letter noting that I hadn't registered yet with the organization.

I always figured I'd had my midlife crisis at 25, when my first marriage blew up. I whipped past my thirtieth birthday without a second glance. Forty was a cause for celebration. But next month is the beginning of my fifth decade on the planet, and I find it's looming up like a vast shadow to eat my soul. This surprises me.

Sure, I have more trouble climbing stairs than I used to. My knees lock up unexpectedly. What's left of my hair is starting to go gray, trying to catch up to my beard. It's been years since anybody thought I was younger than I really was.

But none of that really bothered me until I got The Card. They send it out just before your fiftieth birthday, which is, I reckon, about ten years too soon. For me, anyway. I'm not old enough.

So I brace myself and open the envelope, and yes, there's a card inside. I can activate it by sending $12.50 before my birthday. There's a nice letter explaining all the benefits this will afford me. It's signed by the CEO of AARP.

I hate the CEO of AARP.

The Lady Wife tried to comfort me. Secretly she was tickled pink that I'd be bothered by something like this, but still she tried.

"There's no law that says you have to join," she points out. "What if you didn't send it in?"

She has a good point. I don't have to admit to being old. I could join the Hair Club for Men, start playing hip hop on my radio, use modern lingo like groovy and gnarley, wear my khakis around my knees, and in general do everything that would embarrass my teenage sons in front of their little friends.

And yet....

"Naw, Baby," I say. "I just need to accept the inevitable."

"I hate it when you get all noble!" she pouts.

"Are you kidding?" I retort. "Have you seen the discounts you get with these things?"