Mac Humor Break

Back last year, I got my first Mac. I’ve been using it for the better part of a year now and am pretty happy with it overall. I’m using Microsoft Entourage for my email/calendar software instead Apple’s mail and calendar software, since I need to interact with not one, not two, but three separate Exchange accounts and Entourage (unlike Outlook) lets you do this easily. It even helps you synchronize items between them, which is nice for creating a unified calendar and contact book that then neatly downloads to my Windows Mobile cellphone/PDA.

That’s not to say my Mac experience has been carefree. Oh, no; I’ve had my share of glitches and WTF? moments. Which is why I think this Switch-style video is absolutely hysterical. Unfortunately, you’ll pretty much need to view it from a Windows PC, unless someone out there can find the same video in a more platform-friendly fashion. It’s worth the time, though.

Mac Humor Break

Back last year, I got my first Mac. I’ve been using it for the better part of a year now and am pretty happy with it overall. I’m using Microsoft Entourage for my email/calendar software instead Apple’s mail and calendar software, since I need to interact with not one, not two, but three separate Exchange accounts and Entourage (unlike Outlook) lets you do this easily. It even helps you synchronize items between them, which is nice for creating a unified calendar and contact book that then neatly downloads to my Windows Mobile cellphone/PDA.

That’s not to say my Mac experience has been carefree. Oh, no; I’ve had my share of glitches and WTF? moments. Which is why I think this Switch-style video is absolutely hysterical. Unfortunately, you’ll pretty much need to view it from a Windows PC, unless someone out there can find the same video in a more platform-friendly fashion. It’s worth the time, though.

Upon this Rock (or how I learned that sometimes, first impressions are correct)

[Editor’s warning: the following is tale of suspense and horror…of mid-80s Christian rock music and youthful prejudice. You have been warned.]

Once upon a time, when I was a young and impressionable lad, my sister discovered a really good contemporary Christian rock band by the name of Petra. This was back in the day when Petra had just released their More Power To Ya album, back in the heydey of the whole backmasking controversy, and I still remember my astonishment at hearing a few seconds of in-the-clear backmasking just before the wailing guitar kicked in for “Judas’ Kiss” — a song that my sister and I had to listen to at extremely low volume so that my parents wouldn’t make us turn it off (or, worse, confiscate the tape). As alarming as the music was to my sheltered ears, though, the lyrics were the most amazing part. Here was a band that talked about all sorts of real issues; they weren’t just moving around words in hymns, or quoting Bible verses ad infinitum. They had a gritty, rubber-meets-the-road way of getting their point across without preaching. They weren’t afraid to state things how they saw them, but they didn’t feel the need to hammer it in, either — they were more than willing to be subtle and let you think about what they were saying for a bit.

A few years later, Petra released Beat the System, which was wildly unlike their previous albums. Up until that point, they had a very classic rock sound — distortion guitar, layered vocal harmonies, the works. Beat the System was an excursion into the mid-’80s technorock, chock-full of glitzy synth riffs. Underneath, though, they still had the good old rock and roll, and some of my favorite Petra songs come from that album (“It Is Finished”, “Clean”, and “Adonai”). Bob Hartman’s songwriting and guitar virtuoso, combined with the sheer vocal awesomeness that was Greg X. Volz, made for some seriously adult music. Not too long after, they came out with the Captured in Time and Space “best of” album, which was a collection of live performances. Alas, Greg X. Volz was leaving Petra and striking out on his own to work on a solo project.

I still remember the day I finally walked into the Christian bookstore we frequented and saw the new Petra album Back to the Street — the first one with lead singer John Schlitt. I put the cassette in the player, popped on the headphones, and pushed the play button, waiting for my first taste of Petra after Volz….and when it came on, I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. The heavily synthesized sound of Beat the System was one thing; yeah, there was a lot of electronic sound to it, but it was exquisitely produced and layered and there was plenty of bass. This…this crap was high, and tinny, and sounded faintly frantic. And then I heard John Schlitt’s voice and wanted to burst into tears. Greg X. Volz would never be mistaken for a bass or baritone in choir, but he knew how to sing. Schlitt’s voice was high and raspy. Oh, yeah, he could hit the notes, but it was so workmanlike. I was worried that he was going to give himself a hernia, and perhaps give me one for good measure. And the lyrics — wow, taking a step back from the meat and going to the milk! Trite, obvious phrases; strained and stretched imagery — this couldn’t have been written by master songwriter Bob Hartman! I still couldn’t beleive it even after I checked the liner notes and confirmed, to my teenage disbelief, that Hartman (the soul of Petra) was credited as the author of this junk.

I never bought another Petra album — at least, not one produced after Captured in Time and Space. As far as I was concerned, from that day on there was no Petra. They’d disbanded and some group of imposters was trying to take over their good name. And it wasn’t like I was taking any comfort from Greg X. Volz’s solo album The River is Rising; I was spectacularly unimpressed (although not nursing an actively negative impression of it like I was with the ersatz Petra the Christian music industry was trying to push on me). And so I left it for lo! these many years, until a confluence of fate put them into my path again.

A couple of years ago, I was given a selection of ’80s-era Christian music LPs (yes, Virginia, there is such a thing as vinyl!). Although I didn’t have a turntable at the time, I knew I would eventually get one again, so I was carefully hoarding away a selection of albums. Then, a couple months back, a co-worker bequeathed her old stereo to me; it included a turntable. So when I cleaned out my office, I brought the stereo home and re-acquainted myself with a bunch of the vinyl.

Upon mature reflection and the space of a decade or so, I was surprised to find that I actually enjoyed the heck out of The River is Rising; while it was simpler fare than he’d performed with Petra, Greg brought his usual grace to it. I held off on the two Schlitt-era Petra albums, though (Back to the Street and the followup This Means War), until the right time. This afternoon, I finally put Back to the Street on the turntable and brought the needle to vinyl.

I have to say, the only thing that has changed for me is that now I have the words to describe why I dislike it so much. As that teenager, I only knew I hated it; I couldn’t tell you why. Now I know that it’s trite, insipid fare, and although Schlitt’s Petra is just as sincere and professional as the original group (a distinction I was incapable of making all those years ago), they are fundamentally a different group. It’s no wonder the group turned into a praise band over the years. Oh, they had all the elements there even in the More Power To Ya and Beat the System days — “Let Everything That Hath Breath” is a rock anthem and hymn all rolled up in one tasty power-chord package, and “Adonai” belts it to the heavens with the best of any of Hartman’s offerings — but they still knew how to kick more than a little ass while doing it. And slowly, over the years after Greg left, they turned into, well, sissies. The God I worship has an amp that goes all the way to 11. The God I worship likes power chords in His praise songs. This is the God who proclaimed, “Upon this rock I will build my church” (emphasis mine).

Farewell, Petra. You’ve been grand.

Not dead!

Wow. Has it really been a whole month since I’ve blogged here?

I’m not dead, although I’ve just gotten over a brush with this nasty flu that’s going around. Between holiday vacation, moving permanently into my home office, and getting ramped up on some new projects (including cramming for my Windows Server 2003 MCSE), I’ve been busy. I should have some new material up in the next few days, though — I’ve got a review of the Qtek 9100 PocketPC, a couple of book reviews, and some of the preliminary SenderID material to talk about as I get my sessions ready for Exchange Connections in April. So stay tuned!

Suckiest weekend ever

Last week, we’d been making a big push to finish getting the house cleaned up (my server area and office — two separate areas at opposite ends of the house, for those who haven’t been here) before Friday evening because Treanna was supposed to have an after-school playdate with her best friend. We’d take best friend’s little brother, and later their family would come our way for games after the girls were done. Well, that got cancelled because her friend stayed home sick with fever and vomiting, so poor Treanna was pretty upset. We compensated by having hot chocolate, Pringles, and watching The Prince and Me. Needless to say, the house was mostly clean but there were a couple of islands of clutter left.

So, I faced the weekend with cleaning left to do — never my favorite way to start the weekend, especially after spending at least a couple of hours cleaning and sorting every evening during the week. My body kicked into high insomnia mode, and I didn’t get to bed until 5:30am. Slept too late on Saturday, and when I finally got up it took me a while to get into gear. Just as we finally got moving and I was making progress, we got a phone call from one of our church leaders and found out that Moe, our priest’s husband, had suffered a heart attack that morning and died. Since his daughter is the head Sunday School teacher, they really needed to make sure Steph and I would be there for the kids — Moe regularly played guitar for the Godly Play class.

Sunday morning service was, understandably, subdued and tearful. Someone at the diocese showed an unusual level of tact and diplomacy and arranged to have Father Bob, our previous priest, come supply for us since Esther wasn’t going to be up to handling things. Even though the typical policy is for a priest to be hands-off regarding a church once he leaves, in this case it was a nice move because he’s been gone long enough — and enough changes have been made — that it clearly wasn’t “his” Church of Our Saviour (CoS) anymore. Yet enough of us there remember him that we had family sharing our grief with us, instead of some interloper. Nevertheless, bombshell number two came at the end of service, as the Bishop’s Committee (we’re a mission church, not a self-sustaining parish, so we have a vicar and a Bishop’s Committee instead of a rector and a vestry) announced that Esther had been called to (and accepted) a position at a new church and would be leaving CoS at the end of February. She had been planning on making an announcement that morning. So we are now a parish once again in transition. I was on the BC the last time we were in transition (we ended up hiring Esther), and I was asked by a couple of people to please take over an empty slot on the BC this time around (in addition to several open seats that must be filled during elections next week at our annual meeting, we had some folks step down). So, I’ll be joining the BC again — at least for the next year.

Didn’t feel the greatest Sunday afternoon, but between the dust from cleaning and all the crying, I didn’t think anything of it. Until I woke up Monday morning, sick as a dog. I’ve been down the last couple of days. I still don’t feel completely on top of my game, but I’m clearly on the mend and I’m digging back into work now that I have the attention to spare.

So there is the saga of my Suckiest Weekend Ever. There were some high spots — my shiny new Windows Mobile PDA/cell phone showed up last Thursday, and it is tres sweet — but in all, I’d rather not do that again any time soon.

It’s funny because it’s true; it hurts because it’s true

Thanks to net.friend [info]larabeaton (from back in my rec.arts.sf.written.robert-jordan days, back when I still read Robert Jordan) I ran across this tender musical moment from Australian comedy group Tripod.

This one was funny because it was a bulls-eye; even though I don’t own a gaming console, I all too often find plenty of things to occupy my attention in the evenings. Steph is incredibly patient with me at those times. Of course, I don’t feel too bad, because she returns the favor plenty of times (if not as often as I do). If for no other reason, I’d feel less than charitably inclined towards Neopets and Puzzle Pirates, because of all the evenings they’ve tempted her into staying up late. At least I am doing serious stuff! real valuable work! like blogging, and reading blogs, and looking for new blogs to read.

What? Why are you looking at me like that?

Having The Talk

If you’re like most parents, The Talk fills you
with a strong sense of discomfort. It might completely scare the living
daylights out of you; you might find yourself breaking into a cold
sweat whenever you think about it. You remember when your own parents
gave you The Talk and how desperately uncomfortable
everyone was. You may have been completely shocked at what they told
you, amazed (and possibly disgusted) that grown adults would carry in
such a messy fashion; more likely, you already had received some
playground instruction from your friends and so had at least an idea of
what you’d be learning. If you were lucky, you got all of your
questions answered; if you were typical, you later had to connect the
missing dots by comparing The Talk your parents gave you with the versions your friends received.

Yup, if you’re a parent, talking to your kids about sex is
intimidating. There’s so much room for mistakes, and getting your kids
off on the wrong foot can screw them up for the rest of their lives.
Too permissive and your kid is the one whose name and phone number will
be joining the “For a good time call” section of local diner bathrooms;
too strict and they’ll have hang-ups it’ll take years to clear. The
temptation to take a dive and pick an extreme (“There’s nothing wrong
with sex, have fun!”/”Sex is evil, you can only have it to procreate,
and even then you’d better not be having any fun!”) is strong, because
at least those positions are clear, easy to articulate, and consistent.

When Steph and I first got married, we sat down and had a long
series of talks about parenting. We both knew that kids were in our
future (even though we had planned to wait a few years before having
them), and we wanted to have plenty of time to figure out how we’d
handle several topics — The Talk being one of them. What we ended up deciding is that instead of trying to figure out the “right” time to have The Talk,
we’d instead keep an open conversation going with the kids, making sure
to deal with concepts and details they were ready for and (we hoped)
helping them feel more comfortable about coming to us when they heard
things from their friends or had questions. It also means keeping an
eye on what they’re reading or watching and being prepared to discuss
it with them. This is our core approach to parenting, and so
far it seems to be working.

I had an opportunity to revisit The Talk with
Alaric today. He knows that ladies in lingerie (such as one might see
in catalogs and advertisements) are “being sexy” and, like most kids
his age, thinks that sex is a bad thing. We had a very good
conversation; he was at first a bit uncomfortable, as I think he
thought he was in trouble, but he soon opened up and started asking
questions and trying to make connections on what I was telling him. He
was clearly able to understand that whether or not sex is bad depends
on the context (although he of course wouldn’t use that category),
including the concept that certain things are okay for his parents to
say and do in private but aren’t okay for us to do around him or his
sister. He also made a breakthrough when he realized that some of the
restrictions we’ve put on him are designed to keep him from being
inappropriately exposed to subjects he’s not yet ready for.

The highlight of the conversation came when he told me that he was
“uncomfortable” thinking about sex and that he worried about having to
learn about it. He looked relieved when I laughed. “Alaric, I am very
glad to hear you say that,” I replied. “You’re a seven year-old boy. Do
you think you’re ready to learn all about sex?” He shook his head very
solemnly. “Of course you’re not, and that discomfort you feel is the
warning system God built into your body and brain to tell you that!
Although you’ll be ready to learn more about sex when you’re older, you
don’t have to worry about it now. So that discomfort is a very good
thing, because it tells me you’re listening to your sense of
discernment. You can trust your mother and me to tell you what you need
to know when you need to know it; you don’t have to worry about this
one right now.” He cocked his little head to the side and digested that
one for a bit, and then a smile slowly spread across his face.

I’ve got some wonderful scary smart kids. I shouldn’t brag, but
damn, my kids are awesome; I have been blessed. I worry a lot about being a good parent,
and it’s a lot easier to do it when you’ve got kids of this caliber.
I’m a lot less worried about The Talk than I used to be.

For those of you who are parents, how have you handled The Talk (or plan to handle it)?

Study monkey, but with good beer

I have to acquire some Microsoft certifications in a short amount of
time. Not a full MCSE, although that’s always been in the gameplan, but
at least one passed exam (and thus Microsoft Certified Professional
status) from a specific list of exams, Real Soon Now. And hey, if I’m
going to go into MCSE Study Monkey Mode (MSMM), I might as well do it
right and get my MCSE out of it, yes? Then I can worry about getting
some of the hard, security related certs.

So I’ve been cracking the books and taking practice exams. For the
most part, I know the material — if I didn’t have to worry about
finishing ebook chapters and developing talks for Exchange Connections,
I could easily have my MCSE within the next couple of months — I just
have to learn Microsoft-think. Most of my errors on my practice exams
so far have been because I haven’t acquired the particular mental
shorthand the tests expect you to have. Example: one of the Exchange
questions I hit asked you to select, from a list of tasks, the three
tasks you needed to complete to install Exchange in a certain scenario with the least amount of administrative effort.
It turns out the three tasks were all concerned with making sure the
account you were installing from had the proper permissions. I missed
one of those permissions because I selected the task where you ran two
particular pre-installation routines (Exchange admins know them as ForestPrep and DomainPrep).
I’ve been dealing with convoluted Exchange organizations for so long
now that manually running those steps has become second nature and I
just plain forgot that if you have the correct permissions on your
account, the Exchange installer will automatically perform those steps
for you when you install the first Exchange server. I missed two
questions because of that particular thinko. Le sigh.

It’s all good, though; I’m confident I’ll be able to get a decent
set of successful exams under my belt in the next couple of weeks and
be well on my way to my MCSE cert (seven exams required, with two more
if I want the messaging competency, which I do). And since we had to
run into Redmond today (I needed to swing by the office and grab some
software I need for a couple of current projects), we swung by the
British Pantry, a neat little shop that sells all sorts of great
British items including food and beverages. The Strongbow cider is hawesome (don’t know about hawesome yet? This blog entry from Nickerblog
should help), and even the Newcastle Brown Ale (which I bought on the
advice of a British gent who admitted it’s crap beer but spun a funny
enough story about it that I agreed with his conclusion that it was
worth trying at least once) was far tastier than American beer. (When
he said it was less than stellar beer, I replied that I was used to
that, being an American.) Clearly, I must tour the UK and sample their
beers when even their crap beers taste better than the horsepiss we’ve
got here.

Oh, for those who know, my homebrew experiment failed utterly, so
there will be no tasting parties in the near future. I’m not sure if
I’m going to sink another $65 into getting supplies for a second
attempt, so we’ll have to see what happens. There might be some
alternatives — or I could just drop the whole project altogether. I
need another vice at this point like I need another hole in my forehead.

Guilty pleasures

It’s all Steph’s fault.

No, really. She’s the one who introduced me to Il Divo, a new male chorale group put together by American Idol’s venom-tongued emcee Simon Cowell. These guys have some serious opera and theater cred, and I shamefully confess that I fell in love with their cover of Toni Braxton’s “Unbreak My Heart.” Of course, Il Divo sings most of their songs in Italian, which automatically makes everything more sexy (at least to us Americans) because we can’t hear how inane the lyrics really are. Still, you haven’t lived until you’ve heard four high-octane professional male singers belt out Italian versions of “Unchained Melody (Seza Catene)” or “My Way (A Mi Manera)” — so head to their website and check them out.

I like them enough we picked up their first CD, Il Divo, the second one (Ancora) is on order at our local CD shop, and we’ll be picking up The Christmas Collection before next Christmas.

My kids got introduced to vinyl the other day when Steph and I set up the new stero/CD/tape/turntable unit a co-worker gave me a few months back. I pulled out my stash of late ’80s contemporary Christian albums (Greg X. Volz’s first solo album, some of Steve Taylor, Michael W. Smith). Man, some of that music was bad…but I love it.

Okay, that’s enough public shame for one day. Enjoy the new blog theme — this one has earned the approval of both my wife and my mother, so it’s probably sticking around.


Today was a day of mileposts.

It was my first working day of 2006. Because Paul and I got our various projects wrapped up before vacation, I went into the 3Sharp offices and spent a good part of my day doing something I’ve never done before — pack up my office. No, we’re not moving locations, and yes, I’m still with 3Sharp. However, we’re getting tight on office space and since my average in-office time over the last year has probably been close to one day a week, I realized it was going to be a lot less disruption if I offered to give up my nice one-person office and officially move everything to my home office. It made all sorts of sense, but I found myself feeling very uncomfortable getting the first couple of boxes packed up until I realized that my only previous experiences with packing up my office were at the end of a job, not switching locations while staying employed. Once I realized that, the rest of the packing went a lot more smoothly.

Today was also the day I won my first Texas Hold’em tournament. One of the local bars hosts a couple of tournaments every Tuesday and a friend and I checked them out last November. Now that the anti-smoking law has kicked in here in Washington, I can go play without coming home reeking, so I showed up tonight for the 9:30 game. We had ten players — a smaller turnout than normal, even though the later game is usually a bit smaller than the 6:30 game — so we all crowded around a single table. Two hours later, I was the proud possessor of a $15 gift certificate for the bar. Not only that, I’d earned the bounty (extra points received for being the player to knock the previous winner out of the game). Unlike previous games (where I can remember all the hands I lost all too clearly) I don’t remember much; the only hand that really sticks out is the hand where another player and I both got a straight and split the pot. There are bits and pieces of the rest of the game, but I have no idea how I won. I do remember (if my math is correct) that I knocked out five people — I had a couple of hands near the end where two players had gone all-in, so when I won those hands, I knocked out two players at once.

Finally, today was Steph’s birthday. And now that she’s gotten her nose out of the new Honor Harrington book I got for Christmas, she gets the rest of my attention before sleep time.