Thursday, August 08, 2013

The Matrix: Revelations

My entire life I have been curious about how things work. I used to take things apart (if I could figure out how without breaking them) just to see what was inside - even if I didn't know what all those whozamajiggers did. At the time, I was just curious to see what the whozamajiggers looked like. Once, when I was 5 or so, my curiosity even figured out how to erase part of a pre-recorded cassette tape with the tabs broken out. I am the guy who will pay attention to - or at least look for - the man behind the curtain.

Today, I still have that same curiosity. I want to know how it works. I need to know how some small piece fits into a larger picture. When I send an email and it doesn't get to its destination, I want to know where it's been and why it came back or where it got stuck. That's why I learned to read message headers (hint: you read them from bottom to top). In networking your computer sends a signal down a wire, it goes to a box, some magic happens, then it ends up where it's supposed to be. I want to know what magic goes on inside the box.

But my curiosity goes beyond signal flow and systemic thinking. For instance, I have had cameras at my disposal since I was a child. I have taken many thousands of pictures in my life. Yet, many of my pictures are simply snapshots, not photographs. I understand a lot of the technical aspects of photography - aperture, shutter speed, ISO, depth-of-field, etc. - but somehow I haven't quite gotten the hang of composition. My eye sees a beautiful scene but somehow, when I click the shutter, I don't ever quite capture the emotion and excitement that comes with good composition.

It's like I'm seeing the Matrix code and it's just a bunch of random characters streaming down my screen. I recognize bits and pieces of code but I know it all means something. I want to see the matrix. I want to have a deep understanding.

Now, I know I can't know everything so there will always be parts of it streaming by that I don't understand - like quantum mechanics - but I want to be able to see the blonde, the brunette, the redhead, etc. (it's a movie reference for those who don't know) I feel like if I concentrate on one or two lines I'll begin to see it but there are so many many lines falling down the screen I keep losing track of the one I'm watching and getting distracted by others. Going back the my photography I want to see, in my mind, what the photograph will look like before I snap the shutter so that, when I see the captured scene, even if it's a little off it's not a surprise that it didn't come out or holds no interest.

Until then, I keep staring at the screen watching the pretty shapes falling down.

Sunday, May 12, 2013

The First Day Of The Rest Of Our Life

Twenty-three years ago I woke up feeling a little anxious. I met with my best friends Bill, Steve, and Kyle and my brother, John. We gathered at The Kettle restaurant for a hearty breakfast. I ate well, if I remember correctly, despite my stomach starting to do flip-flops. The levity of my friends and family, along with some juvenile behavior like spoon hanging (I wish I knew where that picture was), helped with the nerves.

After breakfast we went back to the hotel and got all fancied up. We gathered in the parking lot and as we waited Steve showed us a trick to keep our shirts straight - reach into your pockets and tug down on the bottom of your shirt from the inside. We then tested how it looked with a group photograph.

As you can see, my good friends were keeping my anxiety in check.

Once my parents joined us we headed to the event. The drive was short but the butterflies were getting more restless. At the venue we had our pictures taken - me alone, me with brother, me with Bill, Steve and John, me with parents, me with parents and brother, etc. The sheer tedium of this settled the butterflies.

Once we were done with pictures we waited. Well, all except for Kyle who was helping to seat friends and family. The waiting was the worst part. That's when the nerves took hold. It didn't help that my "friends" were having a jolly time watching the nerves build and were encouraging them by telling me that the person I was there to meet was wearing an inappropriately-colored dress. Despite the dress having been described to me previously by other parties, they said it so much I started to worry that something had changed.

Eventually, it was time to take our places. Bill, Steve, John and I stood at the front of the room. As the music played a beautiful woman entered from the back. Everyone stood to greet and honor her. Thankfully, she was wearing a flowing white dress with a slightly pink hue to it (and not the blazing red dress my friends had teased about). Her father walked her to the front of the church where he passed responsibility and entrusted me with her care.

For twenty-three years I have loved and cared for my beautiful wife, Shelly. We've overcome obstacles and tested our vows but together we are strong. I love her more and more every day. Happy anniversary, sweetie. I love you.

Thursday, May 09, 2013

Computers I Can Fix. Cars, Not So Much

My car has somewhere around 160,000 miles. I knew I was due for a major malfunction, I just didn't know where the other shoe would drop. I was out running some errands when the car started to lurch forward then coast then lurch forward. It actually wouldn't move at all at one point.

I talked to a mechanic and got the bad news that I likely needed a transmission rebuild and that would run me about $2,300.00... Ouch. I checked some other sources and learned that my problem could be as simple as, perhaps, low fluid.

I checked the level, added more fluid, and took her out. She ran pretty well until I'd been out for a while and was traversing some hills when she again ceased engagement of forward momentum. A few more checks with a few more people in the know and it was decided that the fluid was dirty as hell, the crud was being stirred up, clogging the filter and impeding the flow. Once she sat for a bit, the sediment would settle out and she'd move again so that seemed reasonable.

I called the local repair shop and asked about a flush and fill. After describing the symptoms they told me they wouldn't touch it because they'd had too many cases of the cars no longer moving after the procedure. Basically, the particles causing the problem were the only thing keeping the transmission together.

So now, I turned to the Internet. I found a YouTube video entitled, "10 Min Automatic Transmission Fluid Flush + Replacement." It looked so easy. I said it LOOKED easy. He was even working on the same kind of car I drive. I consulted my Hanes manual, which provided even less detail, and decided to take the chance. I figured I couldn't make it much worse and might even get some more mileage out of it.

I went out to my car and looked under the hood. I couldn't make heads or tails of it much less figure out where the feeder line was so I thought I would just drain and fill.

And so I proceeded. I drove my car around the neighborhood a few laps to warm everything up then brought her home to start the procedure. I jacked up the car and put it on stands (NEVER work under a car supported only by a jack). I looked at the picture in the book then at the front of the transmission casing. Why are there two bolts? Let's see, liquid flows to the lowest point so I'll take out the bottom one.

Funny, it looked like a regular bolt. The one in the video was larger and had a magnet on the end of it. And the fluid doesn't seem to be flowing, exactly. Maybe if I remove the other bolt, too, it will allow for some sort of air displacement... no, now I just have fluid dribbling out of two holes and slowly dripping off the bottom of the transmission.

I wonder what would happen if I started the car? Would that cause the flow to increase? I'll start it then turn it off immediately and see what the result is... The result is I gotta go find the kitty litter.

Okay, what if I stuck a tube in that hole then started the car? Let's see... the tube I have doesn't fit. I got it, I'll cut it at an extreme angle then jam it in there. Oh, hey, that kinda worked! ... but the drain pan wasn't quite under the spout... more kitty litter.

I did that a couple more times with my wife starting the car so I could observe and catch the flow and decided that was good enough for now. It had been WAY longer than 10 minutes and I was tired. I put the plugs back in and topped off the fluid. Good news, she was still moving. Bad news, I hadn't drawn out nearly enough fluid to have drained it completely.

The next night, round two. This one started pretty much the same but I let the car run much longer to be sure the fluid was nice and warm with a very low viscosity. Still, I got a miserable drip. This simply can't be right. Hmm, my tube doesn't seem to want to fit anymore. Ah, a box knife. Let me trim it a bit. There, that seems to be shoved in there pretty well. Let me go start the car... the tube didn't hold. More kitty litter, please.

As it continues to dribble, I go back inside to again consult the internet on flushing the transmission fluid but this time I tell it exactly what kind of car I have.

I came across, "2003-2007 Honda Accord Transmission drain and refill." I start watching... "take out the dipstick so you get better air displacement." Hadn't done that. Pause... out to garage, remove dipstick and set aside, no change in flow, return to video. "Now we're at the drain plug. It's right here next to the oil pan. It faces sideways so..." Excuse me? It faces which way? Did you say sideways? SIDEWAYS? Pause... out to garage, look under car... I had been approaching the job pretty much from the passenger side. Guess which side the drain plug is on... yep - the driver's side. I put the bolt I had removed back and broke free the correct drain plug and the fluid came gushing out as expected.

I went inside to finish watching the video. I wrapped up in another 15 minutes. I cleaned up ... well, I poured the old oil out of the drain pan into an old milk jug and shoved everything else aside ... and the wife and I went for a drive. Everything seems to have gone well. No hard shifting, no lurching, no... not... moving. I'll drive it around a few days, letting the remaining crud recirculate through the fluid, then do it all over again... minus the kitty litter, I hope.

Sunday, April 28, 2013

Losing My Religion

I think it was Christmas about 8 or 10 years ago. I sat in a midnight mass at a Catholic church in Kansas City with my parents, my brother and sister and my wife. The priest stood at the altar and straightforward pointed out contradictions in The Bible. I don't recall what those contradictions were, exactly, just that they existed. I'm pretty sure that his point was to explain why those contradictions existed and what they meant but my mind locked on the existence of these contradictions. It was then, ironically on Christmas day, that my distaste for the church took firm root and began to grow.

I want you to note that I did not say I had a distaste for God or Jesus or The Bible or religion itself. I have come to think of myself as a Christian agnostic. I believe in God or a supreme being by whatever name you wish to attach. There are too many mysteries and everyday miracles in life and evolution for me to believe otherwise. I believe in Jesus Christ and that he is of God and that he performed miracles and was tortured and died so that we might live.

For some reason I find it hard to write that he is our savior - my savior - and only through him can we be accepted into heaven. In my core I think I believe that but maybe I've spent too many years distant from God. Maybe I am trying not to offend. Maybe the Catholic in me (I was raised in the Catholic church) doesn't want my dad to hear me talking like that. Catholics aren't big on witnessing.

I began to think about The Bible. The books of The Bible were written so long ago in a language so forgotten that in order to read them we had to find a tablet translating them into a language we knew. As anyone who has studied a foreign language knows, there's always something lost. It can be as overt as a misinterpreted word or as hidden as a lack of requisite word in the destination language that captures the nuanced connotation of the original word. Then I started thinking about the different versions, or translations, of The Bible. One source I found said there are 233 in the English language alone. A few of the major versions are the New International Version, The King James Version, and The New American Standard Bible. Then there are paraphrased versions. I once looked at one of those and Psalm 23 read, "even though I walk through the valley of the shadow, I am not afraid." Wouldn't you agree that saying it that way waters it down quite a bit?

My biggest problem, however, is the variations in organized religions. Catholic, Baptist, Protestant, Lutheran, Methodist, Episcopalian, Mormon, 7th Day Adventists, Jehovah's Witness... These are really what I turned my back on. Some of them say they are the one true religion and that people from certain other religions are going to hell because of their beliefs. I can't abide that.

When we moved to Boise, Idaho in April of 2007 our apartment was just down the street from a Catholic church. I went a couple of times while we were there - and I won't go into my thought processes during the 6 months we were in Idaho, it would take too long - but haven't stepped foot in a church of any type since we returned almost six years ago. And that includes Christmas and Easter.

But today I went to church.

In the years leading up to and since our temporary relocation to Idaho we have had one financial (and emotional) crisis after another. Our savings has been depleted and we live moment to moment some days. A paycheck just means we get to come back to zero for a little while. Don't get me wrong, we're not destitute but, for the most part, we merely exist. Even the simplest of excursions - say, to see my parents 300 miles away - requires careful planning and saving and sacrifice. As a temporary measure this wouldn't be so bad but it's been going on for more than six years. It wears you down.

I used to pray to God for "enough" and he has treated us well in providing that. But lately "enough" just doesn't bring the inner peace that I know God can provide. So I have prayed. I have asked God to lift us up and to help my wife to find a job (she's experienced, educated, and good at what she does but nearly 3 years of intense effort has yielded almost nothing), and to bring us enough wealth and good fortune to bring that inner peace and allow us to visit family and friends without worry or major sacrifice, and to share our good fortune with those in need.

And God answered. He said to me that in order for him to help me all I needed to do was to devote some time to Him. To learn about Him and keep His message flowing to me and through me. And I asked God where I should do that. I asked him about the conflict He knew I already had in my heart. I resisted him with my confusion and he finally said to me what I needed to hear. God told me that it doesn't matter where I go or what teacher I listen to. It just matters that I devote my time and my heart to Him. Listen to His message, in whatever form it takes, and allow Him to shape it in my ears and my mind and in my heart into the truth and understanding.

For the first time in twenty years or more I am planning to go to church again next Sunday. The church I went to today was not the church for me and I may visit several congregations before I find that one where I feel I belong. But I was there. I gave time to God and I need to continue to give God his time so that I may know Him and he may know me in order to allow him to fulfill my needs according to his plan.

Saturday, November 03, 2012

The Mo Will Grow

Well, here it is, the third day in my Movember journey. I have such dark hair (where it's still dark) and a heavy beard that there hasn't been a lot of change visible yet but there has been change. And yes, I shaved around the Mo before I took the picture.

Movember - Day 3
I haven't yet done the check I promised to do. I was not quite awake when I showered yesterday and forgot  ball about it :).

If you look back a couple of days you'll see my before and after picture. I've had a beard for the last 25 years so it's quite a commitment for me to start with a clean shaven face. That's how important this is to me. I hope you will show a commitment, too, and support me and the Movember cause by making a donation - large or small, it all helps.
  • You can donate online at:
  • If you'd prefer to write a check and mail it in, make your check payable to 'Movember', referencing my Registration ID: 4260065 and mail it to: Movember, PO Box 2726, Venice CA 90294-2726
For more details, take a look at the Programs We Fund section on the Movember website:

Movember is a registered 501 (c)(3) charity, donations are tax deductible to the extent permitted by law.

Thursday, November 01, 2012

For The Boys!

Donate to Movember:
Note: Movember is a registered 501c3 non-profit, and donations are tax deductible.

Movember isn't just about prostate cancer it's about all men's health issues - including testicular cancer. Yep, ball cancer is a real thing. Just ask Lance Armstrong.

Testicular cancer is not common; a man's lifetime chance of developing testicular cancer is about 1 in 270. Because treatment is so successful, the risk of dying from this cancer is very low: about 1 in 5,000. Just because the chances of developing testicular cancer are low and the survival rate is high that doesn't mean you shouldn't keep track of your boys. You should do periodic self exams - just like the ladies do with their breasts.

To be truthful, I've never done a testicular self exam so I turned to the America Cancer Society to educate me.

Testicular self-exam

The best time for you to examine your testicles is during or after a bath or shower, when the skin of the scrotum is relaxed.
  • Hold the penis out of the way and examine each testicle separately.
  • Hold the testicle between your thumbs and fingers with both hands and roll it gently between the fingers.
  • Look and feel for any hard lumps or nodules (smooth rounded masses) or any change in the size, shape, or consistency of the testes.
You should be aware that each normal testis has an epididymis, which can feel like a small bump on the upper or middle outer side of the testis. Normal testicles also contain blood vessels, supporting tissues, and tubes that conduct sperm. Some men may confuse these with cancer at first. If you have any concerns, ask your doctor.
A testicle can get larger for many reasons other than cancer. Fluid can collect around the testicle to form a benign condition called a hydrocele. Other times, the veins in the testicle can dilate and cause enlargement and lumpiness around the testicle. This is called a varicocele. To be sure you have one of these conditions and not a tumor; you need to have a doctor examine you. The doctor may order an ultrasound exam (see the section, "How is testicular cancer diagnosed?"). This is an easy and painless way of finding a tumor.
If you choose to examine your testicles, you will become familiar with what is normal and what is different. Always report any changes to your doctor without delay.
Well, there you have it. It's easy. I'll be taking care of this simple task at some point in the near future.
Movember - Day 1

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Happy Movember!

Somewhere around 20 years ago my father was diagnosed with prostate cancer. At the time I didn't even know what a prostate was. Turns out, it's something pretty important to get checked because about 1 man in 6 will be diagnosed with prostate cancer during his lifetime. The American Cancer Society estimates about 241,740 new cases of prostate cancer will be diagnosed in 2012 and about 28,170 men will die of prostate cancer in 20121. Thankfully, my father is a cancer survivor and is still with us today at the age of 74 years. Due to early detection and treatment cancer will likely not be a factor in his passing, which I hope is not for many more years yet.

In the years since my father was diagnosed two things have happened. First, my parents have made sure that, since my mid-30s or so, I get regular screenings. Second, men's health awareness, especially in regards to prostate and testicular cancer, has increased significantly. That's what Movember is all about.

Movember is the global men's health charity engaging men to grow and women to support the Mo (moustache) for the 30 days of November.  Through the power of the moustache, awareness and funds are raised for men’s health, specifically prostate and testicular cancer initiatives.

One of the biggest obstacles men tackle in regards to general well-being, is a reluctance to discuss health issues they face either with their partner, family or doctor. Movember was born from recognition that a fun and engaging initiative could help encourage men to become more actively involved in their own health. Movember aims to increase awareness and support for men's health by getting conversations started at a grassroots level, educating men about the health risks they face and raising vital funds for support programs.2

This year my employer, Dell computers, decided to support Movember and encourage participation. Because of how prostate cancer has touched my family I decided to participate. Here's the kicker: Rule #1 is participants must start clean-shaven on November 1st. I haven't seen my upper lip in almost thirty years and I haven't seen my chin in about twenty-five! Hey, it's for a good cause. No, it's for an excellent cause.

So, what can you do to help?

First and foremost: Gentlemen, get yourself checked. Starting at age 50, men should talk to a doctor about the pros and cons of testing so they can decide if testing is the right choice for them. If they are African American or have a father or brother who had prostate cancer before age 65, men should have this talk with a doctor starting at age 45. If men decide to be tested, they should have the PSA blood test with or without a rectal exam. How often they are tested will depend on their PSA level.3

You can also donate straight from my Mo Space at In each country, Movember partners with world class men’s health partners who share Movember’s vision of having an everlasting impact on the face of men’s health. In the United States the partners are the Prostate Cancer Foundation and  the LiveSTRONG Foundation. For full details, see this page.

So, without further ado... here are my before and after pictures for the start of this journey:

Note: Movember is a registered 501c3 non-profit, and donations are tax deductible.
1 American Cancer Society -
2 Movember and Sons -
3 American Cancer Society -