Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Childhood Memories (old and new)

I don't pretend to be a child development expert. I simply observe the goings on in my son's life and try to report them here so others might remember their children and smile or look forward to having their own kids someday. One of the most important things to look forward to in life is seeing your kids excited and happy about some big event.

The type of event isn't all that important but what is important is to remember when you were a child. Remember what it was like to go to a 4th of July parade? What about your first trip to the local lake each year? Remember what it was like, on a hot summer day, to pull a Popsicle out of the freezer and suck on it until you had brain freeze? Luckily when you have children those memories we would otherwise loose come back as we watch our children live through those life events.

At age three, Zack began to understand that Christmas was a big deal and that birthdays were nice. By age four he realized the titanic magnitude of these days. It was incredible seeing Zack look forward to Christmas this year; to see the anticipation of Christmas morning rise to almost unbearable levels.

But as good as Christmas was, Zack's 4th birthday was even better. After Christmas was over Zack asked if we could have Christmas again. I explained that it only came once a year. Although saddened by the fact, Zack accepted it the way one does April 15th. Then he heard the really good news, his birthday would come soon.

At first, this didn't seem to help him with the Christmas blues but as time progressed and his birthday got closer, the excitement began to build all over again. Then something amazing happened; Zack realized this was going to be HIS day. No one else would get presents, no one else would have their name on a cake, and best of all, no one get to blow out candles.

As a quick side note, the daycare in which Zack is enrolled has five children. Two other children there have birthdays within a week of Zack. We went to those parties last year but didn't invite any non-family members to Zack's previous parties. The theory was he was too young to know the difference. I think we might have been wrong.

When his friends arrive he was as excited as any four year old I've ever seen. The thrill of having his friends over, riding his motorized Jeep in the his yard, and playing in his room made for one happy Zachary.

But even that level of happiness was trumped when it came time for cake. Not just any cake, mind you, but Zachary's birthday cake with Zachary's candles. Candles which would be blown out by Zachary after THE SONG.

As everyone began to sing THE SONG, Zack began to tremble with excitement. He was literally shaking. It was finally here! His birthday with his song and, best of all, his candles to blow out. Somehow he avoided the stroke or heart attack that would befall any adult exhibiting such shear joy and excitement.

The present opening was almost anticlimactic. He received lots of cars. He's known as a speed freak and so most of his friends brought things that rolled. He also received a few other toys, some clothes from grandmothers, and a bicycle from Deb and I. But is wasn't the material objects he loved the most. His greatest joy came from having his friends over and having his birthday song sung to him.

The cars and other toys will break, or wear out, or become lost, the clothes will become too small but the memories of this day will linger. Oh, Zack may be too young to remember his fourth birthday party but I'll remember Zack's fourth birthday forever.

For you see, children are God's gift to memories. Seeing Zack live through these important events lets me remember what it was like when I went through them. And if not for Zack, I wouldn't remember them at all.

Monday, February 12, 2007

Barack Obama and the Aggie Chainsaws

I don't normally have odd dreams, at least not ones that I remember but Saturday night brought on doozy of a dream.

It started with Deb, Zack and I returning home from a relative's house. I recognized the land marks up to a point then realized I was lost. There were sign posts everywhere but none of them pointed to Austin (home).

The wife said she thought the road to Houston would get us there so I turned South and found myself in a great valley filled with toy electric trains. I drove carefully to avoid running over the small devices.

The wife said "I'm so tired of this cracked windshield. Would you finally fix it?" I looked up and saw a broken windshield. It wasn't a single crack but looked as though a large rock had hit the windshield causing a spider web of cracks right in front of my wife. Luckily for us, I saw a windshield repair place just ahead.

So we drove into one of the car bays at Doc's Windshield repair and got out. They said they would have it fixed shortly. We walked into the waiting room and discovered Doc also sold denim overalls; the kind with the two straps that go over the shoulder and connect to a bib in front.

The wife and I found this amusing and walked around the store. We discovered a locker room where folks viewed their overalls. There were some extremely odd body shapes that walked in to view their purchase. Deb and I laughed.

Zack wanted to go outside so we walked out to find the other side of Doc's was a Rocky Mountain forest looking over a beautiful lake and Doc's had somehow turned into a log hunting lodge.

I heard a phone ring and several overalled workers answered by activating a speaker phone. The voices coming out of the speaker were two folks I recognized. It was the Earl brothers who run an IT consulting shop. They were telling the workers of a large job of running computer cables across the country and were informing the workers of their tasks.

At the end of the call I said 'Hi' and the two recognized me. While we were talking my wife called my cell phone telling me KASE 101 (an Austin radio station) had a contest and I should go there immediately and try to win a turkey. I asked where she was and she stated she was already there. I had talked to the Earl brothers for so long that the car was ready. While she was test driving it she heard about the contest and drove out to it.

"I've got no way to get there," I said.
"Bum a ride with someone," she said.

So I asked some of the overalled guys with odd body shapes if they would take me. We drove to the contest which was in the middle of a corn field. There was a poor turkey stretched out on a huge tree stump. The contest, it seems, was to chop the turkey's head off. The person overseeing the contest was none other then Barack Obama, presidential candidate.

Many others tried to sever the turkey's head and failed. So as soon as I arrived someone handed me an ax. I said, "this is too small."

Barack just smiled and said, "Don't worry. I have just the thing."

He opened up his campaign van. It was full of axes. He had large and small axes but what he had most of was Aggie chain saws.

FYI: An Aggie chain saw is a normal tree saw which consists of metal tubing bent with a saw blade connected to either end. The Aggie version of this has a length of chain in place of the saw blade. It supposed to be funny. I was just confused as to why Barack had a campaign van full of them.

Barack handed me a huge, headsman's ax like the one used in Braveheart. Everyone was standing around yelling, "Chop! Chop! Chop!" so, I chopped. The task was quickly done but no one was around after the ax fell. Even the poor turkey was gone.

The overalled workers called me back to an old Chevy pickup truck saying they had to get back. We listened to KASE 101 on the way and I chatted with the DJs Bama, Rob, and Julie on my cell phone. Bama said he didn't know how I chopped the turkey's head off since when he tried, he just screamed like a little girl. Rob said that wasn't that unusual for Bama to scream like a little girl. We all laughed.

My wife called again to say how happy she was that I won then the phone went dead. In the distance I saw mushroom clouds, the kind you get from a nuclear explosion, but these were phantom mushroom clouds. Not real but dangerous all the same. I started worrying about Zack and Debbie and how I would keep them safe. Panic set in and I awoke.

Not sure what all that means but it was odd enough to share.

Happy Monday

Thursday, February 8, 2007

Automatix on Ubuntu Linux

one of the forum guys, I loaded in Automatix which, amoung other things, provides links to the various multimedia codex. So far it just looks like a list of popular downloads. Seems like this could have been done with a web site vs. an application but it may download and install things that are in a non-debian install file.

I'll update the blog with the things I install from Automatix but below you'll find the intstructions for loading the software on Ubuntu Edgy.

 echo "deb edgy main" | sudo tee -a /etc/apt/sources.list

Second Step:


Third Step:

 gpg --import key.gpg.asc

Fourth Step:

gpg --export --armor 521A9C7C | sudo apt-key add -

Fifth Step:

 sudo apt-get update

Sixth Step:

 sudo apt-get install automatix2

Friday, February 2, 2007

Uncivil Air Patrol

An alternate title for this argument might be 'Confessions of an egomaniac and future security guard.'

Some confessions are in order here. I was in band: not a band, the band. The band was a marching band and I began this ultimately uncool endeavor while in 7th grade. Oh, its not like they make you geek march at first. Oh no, the plot is much more insidious.

First they introduce you to an instrument. Me, I played the trombone because I thought it looked cool. Hey, I was twelve. Anyway, you start down your road to hell in 6th grade. In Greenville they had one, and only one, music store from which to buy instruments. The fact that the owner of the store was the ex-high school band instructor is, I'm sure, purely coincidental.

Later in life I realized this must be some sort of retirement for old band teachers. Put in your time as a teacher for a bunch of off-key, tone deaf, rhythmless teenagers, then retire and make a fortune on low quality band instruments sold to unwitting parents who will think their children have talent no matter how badly they play. I have to admit its one hell of a deal.

At any rate, the owner of this store would do his best to bring in musicians to play at various churches and functions to ensure parents that playing an instrument in the band is a good thing. No, it can't be something innocuous like piano, which you can disavow any knowledge of later in life. He convinces them that playing a stupid looking instrument IN FRONT OF HUNDREDS OF PEOPLE is a good thing. Thus most children are given a choice of play or die: much like homework.

So, there I was a gawky kid playing a gawky instrument in a gawky band uniform marching around a football field looking…well gawky. Was this bad enough for me? Hell no. Me, I had to make things worse and join the Civil Air Patrol.

The CAP's intended purpose is to act as an auxiliary to the Air Force. When an aircraft goes down, the CAP is called upon to go find it. This involves waking up a bunch of teenagers from a perfectly good sleep, dragging them hundreds of miles to an airport, telling them they are going to look for a plane, then having them hang around said airport while the adults actually search for the plane. Of course this is how it works in theory. In reality, it's much more frustrating.

So I joined this rag tag group of ultra geeks for the usual reason: a friend said it would be cool. The fact I played the trombone and marched around a football field should be an indication as to my ability to judge coolness. So, of course, I joined.

Looking back it wasn't that different from band. We marched a lot, we sat around in a room and learned first aid that could be used while standing around at an airport, and we took tests in order to progress in rank. Rank was very important since it allowed you to tell others what to do based on the fact you'd taken more tests.

It was here that I met a young man of Polish decent. He enjoyed giving orders. He enjoyed pretending the rescue people. He enjoyed the perception of power even if the reality of it was a bit thin.

I'll call this young man Don. Don had the honor of being in band as well. If possible he played an even more inane instrument than I: a barisomething. Baribone, baritone, boonsoon. Hell I don't remember. I've done my best to repress all memories of band.

Don loved the Civil Air Patrol. He loved barking orders. He loved standing at attention (which he somehow did even while sitting) and he loved pretending to bandage the wounds of others with substandard gauze and white tape. I suspect he practiced on his dogs at home. Not that I know for a fact he had dogs but he definitely was more a dog than cat person.

After a year of marching, taking tests, and taking orders I decided the CAP wasn't for me. I think the final straw was going on a 'mission' and sitting around another airport and seeing some drunk old guy with a haphazard uniform dress down a firend of mine for wearing the wrong kind of belt buckle.

Don and I remained friends until graduation, then parted ways. We met a few years later. He'd put on about thirty pounds and was wearing a mall security guard outfit. Oddly enough, he looked at me as if I were some sort of criminal. After a few abortive attempts at conversation, I walked away confused.

I saw the guy every few years. He continued to gain about ten pounds a year. He made it to my twentieth high school reunion but barely made it through the door. He still wears a security guard uniform.

I guess there are a few lessons to be drawn from Don. One is never play the bari-something. I may have a detrimental effect on your future. Another is, if you are a control freak, at least be a control freak that doesn't involve a mall and a uniform. There are good jobs in a mall but I can think of none that involve a semi-cop uniform. And lastly, never, ever, under penalty of jail time, show up to your twentieth high school reunion in a security guard outfit. You'll be talked about for years.

Where every you are Don, good night and good luck.

Love is the True Measure of Success

Note: I wrote this back in my idealist early thirties but I think it still holds true today.

With what is a man born?

What allows him to survive to adulthood?

Food, Clothing, Shelter?

None of these allow a man to grow up secure and safe unless the child is loved. Without love there is no joy and without joy there is no life. This love is freely given by parents, family, friends, and guardians. For Love is something that cannot be found, cannot be gained through deeds, and cannot be stolen. Love must be given by another.

For what does a young man quest?

What drives him forward into the peril of uncertainty?

Honor, Devotion, Ambition?

All these pail in comparison to the man who quests for Love. For Love is something that cannot be found, cannot be gained through deeds, and cannot be stolen. Love must be given by another.

What makes a man great?

When a man arrives at greatness what brought him there?

Hard Work, Luck, Fate?

First we must define greatness. Many of the rich and powerful are broken, lonely souls with no one to love. Therefore, I say a man is as great as the love others bestow upon him and by the love he bestows upon others. For Love is something that cannot be found, cannot be gained through deeds, and cannot be stolen. Love must be given by another.

How do we measure a man's worth?

When he dies, how is his wealth divided?

Money, Possessions, Titles?

His wealth is seen in the people that loved him and mourn his passing. When we love someone, we give up a portion of ourselves. When that person is separated from us, we feel the pain of that part being taken away.

We don't think of love as pain but it is. There is a tribe in South America who's word for love translates literally into "pain of the heart". Only someone we love can truly hurt us through word or deed. The only tears some adults shed is when a loved one dies. The pain of eternal seperation is simply too much. And so we must decide whom to love and whom not to love; knowing that someday we may be separated from them forever..

But Love is also happiness. The joy we feel when loved one surround us is that love being returned. Thus love returned is happiness. And so we go through life, wanting to be happy but afraid of being hurt. The circuit of love given and returned is the true path to joy and happiness.

Thursday, February 1, 2007

Adventures in Graceland

Back in the early 90s I worked for a consulting firm employed by Federal Express. I spent nine months working on the project and spent half that time in Memphis. Here's something I wrote while there. Of all of my adventures in the city of blues, Graceland stands out in my mind as the most bizarre.

It was a Sunday. I had mistakenly brought nothing but suits with me on that trip. I wore suits to work everyday. It was Cutler/Williams corporate policy. The job I had before Cutler/Williams allowed me to wear sweats so the change came as quite a shock. I decided wearing suit pants and a dress shirt all day Sunday wouldn't be any fun so I went to Walmart for a comfort buying spree.

It was around one o'clock when I arrived at Wally World so I encountered the church crowd. It consisted of a lot of over weight men in polyester suits and women with big hair. I really wanted to get in and out quick so as to avoid unnecessary contact with the hicks on parade. I'm a little sensitive about hicks because I almost was one. I purchased tennis shoes, a sweat shirt and pants, all for under 50 bucks. Let's just say they were not top quality products.

I went back to my room and got comfortable. The Dallas Cowboys weren't on. Since I was a fan at the time, that sucked. Note I no longer root for that team since the foreigner took over.

I decided to read a book. Just as I'm dosing off after the first chapter ( technical books always make me sleepy ) my faithful Indiancompanion Parchi ( no really, he's from India ) knocked on my door. "Keith," he says, "I want to go to Graceland." What the heck. I'm in Memphis. The Cowboys aren't on the tube. I have nothing better to do so we go.

My first impression of the King's abode came from the parking lot. Yes, I said parking lot. It turns out that the Elvis Presly Estate, EPE for short, has a major industry surrounding Graceland. The parking lot is on the scale as the Walmart I visted earlier with approximately the same clientèle.

It was a cold Sunday afternoon and the parking lot was still almost 1/2 full. I couldn't believe it. After a brief hike past the Elvis Airplane museum we made it to the main ticket building in the Graceland shopping/museum complex. This place is pretty big. About the size of a small mall. It has no less than 4 shops, 2 restaurants, 3 museums, 1 movie theater and a reception area. I just stood looking around in awe.

I heard Parchi ask me a question but my mind was on Elvis overload.

"Huh?" I said, slowly pulling my jaw back into place.

"I asked if you wanted to get tickets for everything, you know man, all the museums and films and stuff."

"How about we just do Graceland and then see how much time we have left"

"Oh, OK." He was disappointed I could tell.

Even as I asked the question, I knew what the answer would be. "Hey Parchi, is Elvis very big in India?"

"Elvis is big everywhere" he said.

I could tell by the tone of his voice he thought this was a stupid question. The answer should have been obvious to anyone. Just what I need. Ghandi with an Elvis fixation. I realized that I needed to watch what I said or I could offend my co-worker. As it turns out this probably either saved my life or kept me from getting the snot beat out of me by trailer park people. But I'm getting ahead of my self.

Graceland was a short bus ride away. Parchi and I bought our $9 tickets and headed for the bus. As we queued up, I noticed the people around me. The usual tourist group was there; Orientals with cameras, a young couple with a baby, some obvious retirees, and lastly Parchi and me. Two more families joined the line before we loaded. As it turns out both groups were trailer park people with Elvis fixations. This was the first time I thought of the term which described them so perfectly. These people were Elvisians.

It fit. These are the people that read the Globe and the National Inquirer. These are the people abducted by UFOs. These are the people that voted for Fritz Mondale. By the way, if space aliens did abduct people, the Elvisians would be perfect candidates. Not only would no one believe them when and if they returned but I can think of no one else I'd like to see removed from the planet.

As we boarded the bus, each of us were given a tape player with "PROPERTY OF GRACELAND" stamped on it. Apparently this was a self paced tour. We were instructed to turn on our recorders. I place my headphones on and pressed the "ON" button. Nothing happened. Thank God for small favors. Billy Bob of Elvisian group #1 was having difficulty finding the on button. His massive set of chins no doubt hindering his ability to see it. Finally his wife, Marj, pushed it for him. Marj's mother gave a snort of disgust and mummered something about dumb and ox.

Elvisian group #2 seemed content enough. They were watching everything. "I bet he's up stairs right now" I heard one say. Apparently they were of the 'Elvis is Alive' sect of the Elvisians. I couldn't help but smile. This was going to be fun after all.

Parchi clicked his off button. Others did the same so I assumed the first section of the tape was complete. I couldn't help but notice the idiot grin on his face. He was enjoying himself immensely. So was I but for completely different reasons. The situation only got funnier.

Our first tour guide was a little guy with a high pitched southern accent. Smart remarks kept coming to mind but I suppressed every one of them. I noticed the young women with the baby had the same mischievous grin I did. When we locked eyes it was nearly more than we could do to keep from laughing.

The two Elvisian groups seem to have bonded. Between discussions of the greatness of Elvis came talks on the relative merits of manufactured housing. "Now if you would turn your tape players back on we'll enter the main hall," the tour guide finished.

If the impact of the moment was wasted on me, it was not wasted on the Elvisians. As devoted Catholics entering the presence of the Pope, they crossed the threshold to Graceland. Awe-struck they walked through the entrance to the Temple of Gawd. The young lady, I think her name was Beth, and I hung back to watch the others. Her husband Jeff was a semi-Elvisian so she also had to watch what she said.

The place was indeed the house of Gawd. Gawd made it's home here and Gawd was here to stay maintained and preserved by the EPE. I wish you could see the post cards I bought of each room. Words cannot describe it. Experience can barely contain it. My mind works even now to remove the memory of it. Bright yellows, royal blues, tacky glass statuettes, and that ugly green shag carpet so prominent in the 70's were all here in abundance. I remembered some of the styles from my childhood. I'd truly forgotten how ugly the 70's were.

My mom had some of these same decorations when I was a child. My first thought was that if mom had gotten lots of money back around '72, this is what her house would have looked like.

We completed our tour of the Living room, Dining Room, and Kitchen and headed downstairs to the TV and Pool room. The Elvisians had finally shaken themselves of their reverent silence and began talking amongst themselves again. It was a this point that I found out the mother-in-law of Billy Bob was psychic or at least she thought she was.

"The spirit of Elvis is close by. I can feel it"

"Of course he's close by. He's up stairs."

"What kind of idjit thinks the King is still alive."

"If he's not upstairs, why won't they let us up there."

And so the argument went. Beth and I were at the back of the group swapping snide comments. We had to do this in hushed tones in order to avoid a jihad by the Elvisians.

The TV room was a sight to behold. The bright, bright yellow mixed with dark royal blue in conjunction with mirrors on the ceiling lead to an effect that required sun glasses to appreciate. Think of the yellow vinyl material they used to make bean bag chairs. That was the decor of this room.

The baby on Beth's shoulder chose this moment to puke. Don't worry. Not a drop hit the sacred floors of Graceland. My left shoe caught it all. Beth started to apologize but I stopped her. "I know just how the kid feels." The shoe self destructed some 20 hours later.

Next we headed for the pool room. This room has some form of tapestry on each wall and the ceiling also. It reminded me of a giant, square, paisley tent. This is also where the trailer park psychic saw the ghost of Elvis. I guess billiards and the after life sort of go together. I wonder what effect this news would have on theologians and philosophers .

Next up was the Jungle room. We've been informed that this was one of Elvis' favorite rooms. The stairs on the way up from the basement are carpeted in green shag. Not just the floor but the walls and ceilings as well. This trend continues in the Jungle room. Carpet is on the ceiling. I stand in awe. Billy Bob made the comment that Elvis was probably the first person to think of putting carpet on the ceiling.

"No," I mummer, "he's the first person to think of it and not think it was stupid"

Apparently Elvisians have good hearing because I got several scowls. After that I didn't see much of either group.

Next on the tour was the office area. The only really interesting thing about it was the fact that there as a shooting range in the same building. Next came the Graceland museum and finally the racquetball court/Elvis monument. This was actually one of the more tasteful exhibits.

Finally we near the end of the tour at the "really final" resting place of the King. Apparently his last "final" resting place wasn't secure enough so they moved him to Graceland. It was here that we caught up with the Elvisians. Group one was in respectful silence while group two was wondering who was actually buried there. "Maybe it's Jimmy Hoffa" I say in my most innocent voice. I could see the look on all of the Elvisians. They had one thought on their respective pea brains; Kill the Heretic.

A short bus ride and many dirty looks later found us back at the Elvis strip mall where we were forced to buy Elvis souvenirs. I noticed a strange look in my co-worker's eyes. He began to have that same sort of vacant expression on his face characteristic of Elvisians. Parchi drove us forward into shop after shop, museum after museum, all at a pace the would kill Mongols. He had to see it all. He had to do it all. I had to stop him before a UFO abducted him and subjected him to rectal probes.

Elvis mania was upon him! What to do? My friend was becoming an Elvisian before my very eyes. The PA spoke. "Graceland will be closing in 5 minutes"

I looked upward and mouthed a "Thank you" to God. I glanced a Parchi. He had to have more whatever the cost. Then slowly, oh so slowly, sanity returned to my friend's face. "Well, I guess its time to go."

I breathed a sigh of relief. "Hey, we'll be coming back to Memphis again. Maybe we can come back and see the rest," I lied.

"Yeah, maybe."

Parchi was quite on the way back to the hotel. He looked like he'd lost his best friend. I think on some level he knew how close he'd come to an Elvis OD.

Me, I left a little sadder than when I went into Graceland. Not because of what I saw of Elvis but what I saw of the Elvisians. Their lives seem to revolve around the King. They missed the point that Elvis was just a guy. As good or as bad as any of us. Mostly he was just a small town southern boy who made good. I'm not sure he knew the effect he had on people. I'm sure he never guessed that Elvis cults would spring up across the nation after his death.

I can even forgive him his house. If I made a gazillion dollars back then and let my mom decorate, it probably would have turned out much the same way ( although I hope I would have forgone the shag carpet on the ceiling ).

To this day, he fills a niche in some people's lives by giving them something they're missing. He makes them feel a part of something bigger and better. I don't know why he still effects people this way after so many years. I think its genetic. Probable involves the same gene that makes people think living in tornado bait is a good idea.

I did learn a lot about Elvis from going through the museums erected in his honor. He was generous with his money. There were several walls of "thank you" certificates from charity groups. There were even more walls containing all of his gold and platinum albums. His music changed the world and, as much as I hate to admit it, he is still the King of Rock 'n Roll.

In the end, I have to say I had a pretty good time. If you like people watching, or maybe I should say weird people watching, go to Graceland. It's a hoot. If you're ever in Memphis, check it out.