27 April 2010

Macho Monster Truck Man Time

My son and I stumbled upon the Design Your Own Monster Truck contest while wandering around Hot Wheels' website. We were looking for a replacement Monster Truck for an el cheapo supremo truck that broke a few days ago. He already has one Hot Wheels truck, but since the other one broke simply by merit of being junky, and since he's been pretty good about cleaning up and taking care of his other Hot Wheels cars (he has just under 600,000 at this point), I decided to tell him he could *maybe* have another one.

It turns out that the possibility of creating your own truck and having it made into a real live toy is just way cooler than buying some toy from a store. So we made this:

There was a lot of fist pumping, grunting approval, and going , "Whooooah," while we brainstormed this truck. Father-son time for us isn't what I envisioned growing up, which was something like the boy and his grandfather in the Werther's Original commercials, it's more like we're just buds, and I think I like that better.

26 April 2010

The History of Computing c. 2030

With all the detail some of my computing courses go into about the history of computing, electrical engineering, and motherboard architecture, I find myself feeling badly for the future generations who will try to break into the Information Technology field. It's bad enough that I've got to hear about ENIAC, the 8088, and Pentium 2 SECC slots, but for those students of IT who are just in their toddler-hood now, I can't even imagine. It'll take two full semesters just to bring them up to speed: "Now back when Windows 18 only supported 200 Terabytes of DDR20 SRAM..."

And all that will be simply to make them current. It'll take years more for them to learn the new routers, switches, VPN applications, hardware, etc., that make up personal computing. Although, by that time, PC techs may all need to have some expertise with neurosurgery just to access components. We'll swap trade secrets and horror stories with surgery residents. "Oh, you think your last spinal reconnection surgery went badly, you should have seen the time when I had to upgrade this guy's hard drive and he almost bled to death!"

I'm at the cusp of taking my CompTIA A+ certification test, which I know no one out there is impressed by, but for me this will be the first tangible land mark of my new career direction. A firm anchor point from which I can proceed. With no job on the horizon, my second Associates degree a year away, and any other certifications in the remote near future, this will be something I can use to bolster my confidence for at least a month or two. As it stands, I have more acronyms floating around in my head than the average U.S. Army laptop. I've read two books of nearly 2000 pages on the subject of PC maintenance and repair, and answered hundreds of practice test questions. I'm 95% ready.

I've loved computers all my life, from the first Commodore 64 we got for an obscene amount of money, with her much-beloved 5 1/4 floppies which included such gems as Q*Bert and Boulderdash. To the Intel 486sx running Windows 3.1 shoddily piggybacked on top of DOS, to the PII running at a blazing 233MHz and Windows 95 (Oh the fond memories of playing Mechwarrior on dial-up). Now I have a chance to get into the field professionally. My ideal is to be with a small company or a medium-sized company with small to moderate IT needs as a Network Administrator. I'd like to run a system from inside each desktop all the way out to the firewall between us and the Internet.

It seems a long way off at this point, but the unemployment clock is ticking, so hopefully the job opening for me coincides with the running out of my benefits.

19 April 2010

Go back to the shadow!

I was walking with my son the other day, as we are often wont to do, and we passed a couple of girls a little older than him (he's four) riding bikes in their driveway. I must not have noticed them, being that we were walking in a somewhat narrow alley and I was on the look out for runaway cars and marauding stray dogs, so I heard him say something. "What did you say, bud?" I asked him.

"I wasn't talking to you," he replied only with a tone ever so slightly indicating that I should have known that.

"Oh... who were you talking to you?"

"I was saying 'Hi' to those girls over there."

"Did they say 'Hi' back?" I inquired.

"No. They didn't." He said with a hint of disappointment.

"Well, maybe they didn't hear you," I said. He was a little sick and had probably mumbled.

He looked at me sort of doubtfully, and then asked, "Dad, what does it mean when girls don't say 'Hi' to you?" What a question. The right answer wasn't to laugh at him, so I explained again that maybe they didn't hear him, or maybe they were just shy, without going into the intricacies of what it means when girls don't say 'Hi' to you.

My own wife, when we first met, only said 'Hi' to me out of Christian charity. Any normal girl would have probably have averted her gaze, taken a few hesitant steps backward, and when she thought she was a safe enough distance away, spun on her heel and bolted for the nearest guard shack.

Certainly, very small children don't have this complex interplay in their social exchanges like grown people, but it made me think of the day when the opposite sex would become significant in our house. The fact that I have two daughters escalated that future pondering to acute paranoia. Any boy who has intentions of dating my daughters is going to find in me the veritable walls of Jericho, or Gandalf the Grey shouting, "You shall not pass!!!"

14 April 2010

Crafting for guys with big thumbs

I'm planning to draw my wee daughter a picture for her 3rd birthday. My idea is to use scraps of wallpaper and/or scrap book paper to form the background of the picture, segmenting the elements of the sketch onto different patterns and colors of paper. I doodled the basic composition (once again during a particularly slow-moving lecture) and have only now to shop for paper. I feel slightly less than macho, but it's for the children!!!

She likes balloons, smiley faces, clouds, and attractively sub-divided farm plots, not to mention polka-spot dresses and pretty shoes. The best part really is that she's so small that even if I have her a plastic grocery bag full of shredded newspaper as a gift she'd be beside herself with happiness because, "Daddy made this for me!"

13 April 2010

The Oozing of Time

I've been unemployed for somewhere in the vicinity of 5 months now. Aside from classes three days a week to 'break up the routine', my days and weeks and months have been blending together in a mush like room-temperature patè. Not to say I haven't enjoyed my sabbatical, it's been good to be home with the kids, and losing track of what day of the week it is happens to everyone, but when you start to not know what month it is, that's a bit disconcerting.

In the morning, I sort of poke my head out the door and go, "Hmm. Bit chilly, could be winter. Hang on a minute, there's green on the trees, might be early fallish. No, that's not right, the leaves are just budding. That's it-Spring!" And off I merrily go, secure in the fact that I've nailed down with reasonable certainty which 1/4 of the year it is. Those couple of days where it was in the 80's and there were no leaves on the trees really had me going.

It's strange. For all those years I was working, and begrudged the universe that fact, and grumbled and groaned, I never realized that even in my truly miserable state that I was missing something essential in the identity of every man.

Even still, after not working at anything income-generating for these months, I wrestle with it. At first, it was terrifying not knowing where my next two bits would come from. Then unemployment benefits were approved, the first check was received, and I took a deep breath. I looked around and I saw this: Wake up every fine morning with my wife and children, have a REAL breakfast for a change, no cold cereal or NutriGrain bars- eggs, toast, and most gloriously, coffee that wasn't brewed in an office urn and left to stagnate in a carafe for 6 hours before I got to it, and added enough powdered creamer to dull the taste to just barely drinkable.

I got to sit at the table with everyone while the sun climbed noonward, drinking a leisurely cup, and then another leisurely cup of delicious home brewed java. The first couple of months of this was really pampering, and much of the stress of the past year dissipated along with my motivation. The job market is competitive, sparse, and demanding. Employers can literally wait to hire the exact perfect person for any open position simply because of the sheer number of applicants. I turned out to be not the exact perfect person for anything at the moment.

Then it struck me. What I'd been missing all that time. It wasn't sudden, or staggering. It dawned. It was like a blind cave-lizard that accidentally crawled into a patch of sunlight from a shaft that penetrated to the surface. It sort of gave me a headache and made me want to run away. But an idea once realized cannot be unthought, and so I had it: I needed to work. I was meant to work. In some way, part of what makes me a man (aside from the obvious pendular bits) is the need to work at something productive. The blind cave-lizard part of me went, "Rubbish!" and wondered where it could find some lovely blind cave-crickets to eat. The part of me that resonated with this new thought went and did some yard work.

It was great. I (almost) woke up to an alarm clock, dug holes, ran to the hardware store for materials (three separate trips, proving that I AM in fact a man), planted a tree, felled weeds with an electric trimmer, spread some grass seed, and sweated until my wife would back away from me when I entered a room. I felt something I'd almost forgotten, the job well done feeling. Which I couldn't get from doing school work, or household chores no matter how or how much I did. Vacuuming a whole house and washing the same four plates after every meal just won't do it for me. At this revelation, I called Molly Maids and asked them to tear up my application.

All this being said, I know myself well enough to know that most jobs are fun to me for a range of two weeks to six months (the last one was interesting enough to last about twelve months), before I start to FEEL like a blind cave-lizard. Putting widgets into bigger widgets, or answering phones, or similar tasks are not going to keep me going for very long, and after a while I'm going to be a hunched over, hollow-eyed, ghost-ship of a man grinding my teeth on the bitter bread of a wasted life. On this point, the cave-lizard and I are in complete agreement. Which he appreciates, because whenever we get near a cave cricket, I scream like Shirley Temple in a horror-themed wax works.

08 April 2010

Foray into alt-history.

I pounded this out somewhat during a class that had gotten sidetracked (read: completely derailed) using the little bit I knew about the late 1800's experiments of Allesandro Volta and Voltaic piles. The idea being that the British develop a Volta-like device that allows them to create electrically powered weapons that soundly place them as victors in WWI. That's as far as I got, other than imagining battalions of special forces infantry in thick rubber boots and ceramic armor toting around Arc-throwing rifles and zapping anything that moves at the second battle of the Marne.

   The most excellent event of 1916 happened in a floorless tin shack on the side of a sand dune in an Arabian wadi without a name. It was not reported by the BBC, nor was it even picked up by the papers in Cairo, not even as a curiosity. Two men alone witnessed, and indeed, midwifed the entire occasion. Though the consequence and spectacle of their success was visible in the night sky from as far away as Damascus from 9:03pm to 9:18pm local time, it was mistaken for a celestial event by the more educated locals, and as a portent from Allah by the more superstitious bedu tribesman. Oddly, the bedu were the more correct.
   British Army Captain Arthur Hill Mowbray and Lieutenant Basil Charles Fitzwilliam Henry celebrated their first success with a magnum of contraband champagne, the name of which neither of them could in later years recall. It was cool, almost cold, they remembered, and the air smelled like the beaches at Brighton in winter time. The sun had long gone beyond the horizon, and the desert was submerged in an oceanic darkness with a hint of a northerly wind.
   Mowbray drained his tin cup and winked at Henry, unable to speak due to the warm champagne burning his throat and the enormous grin which stretched his face muscles to the limit of their ability to express pleasure. Henry grinned back just as mightily, too overcome to say anything but, "Cheers, cheers," his eyes blue and shining with tears. Mowbray poured another round into their issue cups, which they quaffed, and another, the last, before they both sat down on the opposite ends of a single wooden bench (that had been carried along with everything else except the water, by camel) and stared at it, their raison d'être for the last eight months, seventeen days, nine hours, and three minutes in the blank wastes of Turkish occupied hinterland.
   "That's our baby, CF, ours." Mowbray leaned his elbows on his knees and rocked giddily, attempting to light a cigarette with his hand dancing the lighter about. On the small work bench it was little more than a jumble or wires, at the center of which a heap of dull metal wafers foundered in a colorless liquid, all of which was centered beneath a trio of electrodes that extended from an antenna that penetrated the sloped roof and was grounded via an iron rod driven twelve feet into the pliable desert floor. Where the antenna poked through the tin roof, a twelve inch border of mud brick kept it from contacting the metal. All of the brick was now gone, having exploded in a spectacular manner two thirds of the way through the massive light show.
   Henry ignited the bowl of his pipe, took a long drag, removed it from his lips and used it to gesture at the bench. "That will be your pass to Field Marshall, Hill," he said. "What shall we call it then? The Fitz-Hill Device? The Mowbray-Henry Lightning Dynamo? By God, if we don't both of us get knighted for this, I'll kiss a bedouin girl!" Blue-grey smoke puffed smoke slipped between his teeth as he spoke.
   "I hadn't thought of a name, CF... I didn't expect it to work- well, not like that...like," Mowbray made a gesture like a mushrooming explosion. "Think of what this could mean for the war. Planes, ships, tanks, trucks..." He put his head in his hands and laughed silently.
   "You know," Henry murmured, tugging the corner of his mustache with his pipe hand. "You know, this could be made portable, couldn't it? Easily." Mowbray got the hang of his cigarette at last and looked at Henry. His friend's sandy blond hair was sun-stiffened and sloppy, and he had the pale, drawn look of a starving saint, and the brilliant eyes and joyous smile to go along with it. "Why, if you think about it, Hill, every infantry man could carry one in his pack!"
The two men looked again at their newborn, the unheard grinding of their minds occupying the interval.
   "We've got to get to the city as soon as we can with this, and on a boat home even faster," Hill said.
   Henry tugged his mustache and said nothing for a moment. "We'll have to get more water for the camels for the ride, you know."
   Mowbray nodded. "Quite, and all of this will have to be packed up, well, our notes and equipment at least. Everything else we'll burn and bury."

30 March 2010

What To Do With My Goblins?

I have a lot of old writing that I could post, but I just don't have the time today to transcribe my feverishly scrawled penmanship to a word processor. Some other day.

In the meantime, I've been kicking around an idea that really isn't a story per-say, it's just me fleshing out details of an interesting subculture for a fantasy-type narration. It's a race of cave-dwelling khobolds (or goblins or what-have-you) the only difference between these and the ten thousand other books with gobs in them being that these khobolds are solitary and relatively peaceful. More like bedouin or better yet like deep-jungle-inhabiting tribes, like the Yanomamo: animistic, agrarian, with rudimentary weapons and tactics, suspicious of outsiders but not necessarily hostile.

Anyhow, their economy such as it is revolves around domesticated mountain goats. The animals live entirely in pens in the caves, and are let out at night to graze on the sparse provision of the slopes. Young goats have their voice-boxes snipped, rendering them completely mute. Creepy right? Mute goats with awesome night vision, bad tempers, and strong teeth.

Of course as a result, their primary gods are a mountain thunder god (like Zeus or Baal) a fertility god (who looks like a goat) and an elemental deity that represents water and fire, a duality incarnate in many pagan idols.

The goats are raised for milk, meat, and skins. Much like the Aztecs, this race has an armor that is made from quilted cloth, adequate padding for say a club made from a goat's femur, but paltry protection from swords and flaming arrows. Other than physical appearance, and a distaste for sunlight, I think I've done alright carving out a niche for a sub-race. The only problem I have now is finding a plot to include them in...

I had a sketch somewhere, but have misplaced it since. Here's a picture of a goat. Yes, he can see you.

29 March 2010

The Pastime of the Bored

Well, this is my first blog in a long time... I don't suppose making introductory remarks or excuses will help at all, so I will dispense with the niceties.

I drew a picture of a boy with a tag on his coat waiting under a street lamp, reminiscent of the British children fleeing London for the English countryside during the German bombing raids of World War II. It looked a bit melancholy and miserable so I added a happy puppy and a mosquito. Oddly, it still looks melancholy and miserable. You'll note that the sketch also has the charm of blue notebook lines and barely-visible ring tear-offs in the background. Yes, I drew this during class one night. Yes, nothing has changed in the ten years since I was in high school.

Have notebook, will doodle.

I used to keep my notebooks from classes, tearing out the pages and pages of topic outlines and assignments, keeping only the blank pages and the cool scribbles. "Hey, that's a pretty good imaginary band logo," or "Wow, I did an amazing job on the musculoskeletal structure of that be-cloaked and sword-wielding warrior." Once the scanner was invented, these idle-time twiddlings became wonderful fodder for desktop backgrounds, story illustrations, and now, happily- blogs.