Diary of a Network Geek

The trials and tribulations of a Certified Novell Engineer who's been stranded in Houston, Texas.


Ramen Info

Filed under: Art,By Bread Alone,Fun,Red Herrings — Posted by the Network Geek during the Hour of the Tiger which is terribly early in the morning or 5:59 am for you boring, normal people.
The moon is Waxing Gibbous

Readers from my other blog will know that I love both ramen noodles and infographics.

It’s almost a kind of sickness, I’ll admit, but I really love ramen.  I don’t care that they aren’t necessarily the healthiest thing for me to eat, because I know there are worse things, and I love them.  The past two weeks I’ve linked to things that will help you eat healthier and help you eat less.  This week, I figure you’ve about given up on…
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Flying Palace

Filed under: Art,Fun,Life Goals,Red Herrings — Posted by the Network Geek during the Hour of the Tiger which is terribly early in the morning or 5:27 am for you boring, normal people.
The moon is Waxing Crescent

Remember those fancy custom campers from last week?  Small time.  What I really need is an airplane fit for a James Bond villian.

Over at the Guardian, they’re running an article about the “flying palace” that a Saudi prince bought for a cool £300 million.  That’d be something like $500 to $600 million dollars.  The only thing its missing is a shark tank!
Of course, I would need a pretty impressive crew for this.  And an endless supply of oil money.  Hmm, maybe those high-end RVs aren’t such a bad deal after all…


Review: The Taking of Pelham 1-2-3

Filed under: Fun,Movies,Review — Posted by the Network Geek during the Hour of the Tiger which is terribly early in the morning or 5:17 am for you boring, normal people.
The moon is a New Moon


Originally uploaded by Network Geek

I saw The Taking of Pelham 1-2-3 on Friday.

I’ll be honest, I was hoping to talk some folks into going to see The Hangover again, but also, I wanted to get out with some folks I don’t normally get to hang out with. But, those folks were more interested in Pelham 1-2-3, so that was what we saw.

The premise of the movie is simple, a criminal, played by John Travolta, takes over a New York City subway train and holds it for ransom. Ten million dollars worth of ransom, in fact. He leads a team of three other guys, two gunmen and a former MTA motorman to drive the kidnapped train.
The MTA controller at the main headquarters who deals with the kidnappers or terrorists is played by Denzell Washington. He’s got a little secret in his recent past. Travolta’s character takes a perverse liking to him and insists that he be the one who brings the money down into the subway system when the time finally comes. Honestly, sitting here trying to describe the movie, it sounds a little boring, but it was surprisingly good. Travolta plays an apparently unstable and randomly dangerous violent criminal who seems to be out for a little revenge against the city that he feels “done him wrong”. Naturally, there is more to him than meets the eye.

So, in spite of the Scientology connection, with Travolta, it was a pretty good movie. Except for one thing where my suspension of disbelief got totally blown. So, they hook up some kind of wifi relay in the subway tunnel, right? No mention of what or how they tapped into some other line or other outside access, it just magically worked. Then, a computer on the train finds and attaches itself to the network without any intervention. You know, that would be nice and all, but, uh, that’s kind of what I do all day. Connect networks and computers and stuff. And, uh, they pay me pretty good money because, you know, it just doesn’t work that way.

Also, there was a kind of weak sub-plot that was all about manipulating the markets with a terrorist scare. And, of course, Travolta was guilty of a little over acting, but, then, that’s normal for him. Other than that, though, it was a pretty good movie.

Honestly, I still would have rather seen The Hangover a second time, but The Taking of Pelham 1-2-3 was a pretty good movie and definitely worth seeing if you like simple action films.


Is that Ubuntu in your pocket?

Filed under: Fun,Linux,Things to Read — Posted by the Network Geek during the Hour of the Tiger which is terribly early in the morning or 5:24 am for you boring, normal people.
The moon is Waning Crescent

Or are you just happy to be using opensource software?

I never know if I should capitalize “opensource”. Should it be OpenSource? Gah, I hate stuff like that!
But, I love Linux. I may not be incredibly well versed in the ways of Ubuntu, but, that’s okay because now I can download a free pocket guide to Ubuntu in PDF format. Of course, you could buy the $10 print version, but why?

So, c’mon you Linux geeks and wannabe Linux geeks! Go get it!


Upgrading My Laptop Hard Drive

Filed under: Fun,Fun Work,Geek Work,GUI Center,The Network Geek at Home — Posted by the Network Geek during the Hour of the Tiger which is terribly early in the morning or 5:18 am for you boring, normal people.
The moon is Waning Crescent

Right, so this weekend I upgraded my laptop’s internal hard drive.


My trusty Toshiba Satellite, which I used all through my chemotherapy treatments almost two years ago, came with an 80 GB hard drive and was starting to fill up. All the pictures I take add up, I guess, especially when I shoot in RAW format. So, I decided that with drives being as cheap as they were, it was time for an upgrade. As I wrote Monday, I scooted over to MicroCenter and picked up a 500 GB Seagate 2.5inch, mobile, SATA drive on Saturday. They were on sale for $115, which is, I think, a pretty damn good price. I got a couple other things, too, since the drive upgrade and a previous memory upgrade makes my laptop the most capable machine in my house, outside of the servers upstairs. (Why are so many non-tech people surprised when I mention that I ran cable and have a server room, with servers?) Oh, and before I get too far, let me mention that you can click on any of the pictures here for larger versions if you want a closer look than the thumbnail. Just click back when you’re done admiring my work.


The other essential piece of hardware to start out with is an external USB drive adapter of some kind. I bought the Kingwin EZ-Connect, pictured here. I got that at an earlier trip to MicroCenter, with whom I do NOT have an endorsement deal, by the way. I just love their store. In any case, I got this particular one for two reasons. First, it was under $30. Second, it could handle the three major types of drives that I’m likely to encounter on a regular basis.


What you get in the box, as you can see, is a USB cable, a drive adapter, a power adapter and a power supply. Oh, you also get a small CD that has some drivers, which you don’t actually need if you’re using Windows XP, and some simple backup software. I didn’t actually use this software, but, rather, I went to Seagate’s website and downloaded their free utility called DiskWizard. There were a number of reasons why this made sense for this situation. For one thing, I didn’t want to just back up the drive, but I wanted to make a bit-for-bit mirror copy of the drive so that I can replace the old one and still have a bootable, working computer. For another, I’m familiar with Seagate’s utility and have successfully used it before.

So, after installing DiskWizard following the default prompts, I hooked up my new drive via the USB adapter.


I did install the included software and the drive was immediately recognized. Then, again, I simply followed the DiskWizard prompts with a single false step when I had to go back and change an option in the cloning configuration to make sure the new drive was set to be bootable. I cannot stress that enough! When doing this, you absolutely must make sure that the new drive is being configured to be bootable, system drive. If you don’t do that, your machine will not boot when you change out the drive. If you use DiskWizard, it will require a reboot. In fact, after setting your configuration, the software will prompt you to reboot and, after the software reboots your machine, it will automatically launch and start the cloning process. The actual drive cloning took about an hour or two. I was running around doing other things, so I didn’t get a good time on it. Best just to allow several hours and, like I did, do other things to amuse yourself while you wait.


Now, it’s important to remember to both unplug your laptop and disconnect the battery. Just unplugging won’t be enough to make your laptop safe to work on. As long as that battery is in there, you could suddenly have a jolt of electricity jump through the circuits and make any planned upgrades pretty much useless. Also? A little jolt of juice can bite you pretty hard, especially when you’re not expecting it!

The next step, obviously, is to remove the old drive.


In my case, it was pretty easy. In the past, on some laptops, getting the drive out required taking the whole machine almost totally apart. I’ll never forget having to take a laptop’s entire keyboard off the top of the case to get to drive bay! I had to take the screen off at the hinge and everything! It was a dangerous, delicate mess! But, on today’s laptops, you mostly just have to take off a single panel, as you can see in the picture. The drive was in there really snugly, thanks, in part, to the rubber, anti-vibration sleeves meant to keep the drive quieter in a laptop. What I found interesting, however, is that there were no screws holding the drive itself in. No cages or straps or anything outside of the SATA connections and the tightness of the fit. Because, the drive bay door fit very snugly and I had to apply pressure to get it in place correctly and screwed shut again.


On the right, you can see the drive bay still open with the new, freshly cloned drive in it and the old, small drive laying next to it.

This was actually a pretty simple upgrade to make. It was what I generally refer to as a “one screwdriver job”. By that I mean that I could mainly have done it with the tiny pocket tool I carry with me in my pocket. Though, in this case, I used the old, cheap red-handled screwdriver in the picture. It’s a freebie that is often used as a giveaway by tool companies. I’ve had that one since my first IT job, back when I worked for Hyatt Hotels. It’s a little beat up now, but it can still handle a nice, easy job like this.


As you can see, the formatted drive is a little smaller than advertised. Also, they tend to round up a little and bytes and megabytes and gigabytes aren’t round numbers, so the math gets a little funky. Oh, and there was a special 251Meg partition that couldn’t be clearly identified by DiskWizard, even though it cloned the partition just fine. So, when you factor in all those things, you can see the nice, big partition, which is mostly empty and waiting for me to fill it up with great pictures!
Well, that’s the plan at least.

In any case, now you have some idea how to change out a laptop hard drive if you should ever want to upgrade for yourself. I really left out a lot of the nitty-gritty detail that I felt was either self-explanatory or that you should really know how to do before attempting this in the first place. Perhaps not the best tutorial, but at least a good step-by-step overview of how to get it done!


Juiceman Junior

Filed under: Advice from your Uncle Jim,By Bread Alone,Criticism, Marginalia, and Notes,Deep Thoughts,Life, the Universe, and Everything,Personal,The Network Geek at Home — Posted by the Network Geek during the Hour of the Tiger which is terribly early in the morning or 5:07 am for you boring, normal people.
The moon is Waning Crescent


Originally uploaded by Network Geek

I bought a juicer this weekend.

Specifically, I bought a Juiceman, Jr. It’s probably not the best one there is, but it was cheap, so I figured I didn’t have much to lose.
I’ve been meaning to buy a juicer for a long time. Back when I was just about done with my chemotherapy, I ran into a lot of cancer survivors and they all seemed to have juicers. I lost count of how many times I was asked if I had gotten a juicer yet. I’d meant to, but just never got around to it. Well, after this past week, I decided it was finally time to stop obsessing over getting the “right” one and just get the cheapest one for now. I figured once I had some clue what I was doing and how much I was going to actually use it, then I could decide on a better machine. In the mean time, though, I figured that something was better than nothing.

So, off I went this weekend to Target and I got myself the cheapest juicer they had. At $59.99, it was the Juiceman, Jr. Turns out, this was the machine endorsed by the “Juiceman” himself. That crazy, white-haired guy on the infomercials that started a lot of the most recent juicing craze. Turns out, he was a cancer survivor, too, and credits much of his health and recovery to juicing. Of course, I didn’t know all that when I first read about juicing or juicers. But, I know that I’ll ingest fewer calories with a higher nutritional content via fresh juice. And, since I’m sure I’m not getting my daily recommended servings of fruits and vegetables, I figured this might help with that, too.  All I need to do now is figure out how to “juice” bacon!

Seriously, the bottom line is that I need to improve my overall health and diet. I know dropping a few pounds will help in a lot of ways, but I need to be careful not to let my nutrition levels drop while I try to shed those pounds. Juicing seems like a good way to help make that happen.
We’ll see, I guess, but either way, it’s time I started making more positive changes in my life.

Advice from your Uncle Jim:
"The only difference between saints and sinners is that every saint has a past and every sinner has a future."
   --Oscar Wilde


New, Improved Kindle

Filed under: Criticism, Marginalia, and Notes,Fun,News and Current Events,Ooo, shiny...,Review — Posted by the Network Geek during the Hour of the Tiger which is terribly early in the morning or 5:57 am for you boring, normal people.
The moon is Waning Gibbous

Right, so I’m sure a couple of my readers are waiting for me to weigh in on the new Kindle.

Yeah, yesterday, Amazon released the new, very much improved Kindle eBook reader. Lot’s of folks were talking about it; Lifehacker, the Houston Chronicle’s TechBlog and, of course, Gizmodo. The most coverage is at Gizmodo, though, as they did a liveblog through the release.
In a nutshell, what they’ve improved is the design itself, the battery life (by 25%), the memory (now two gigabytes, or about 1,500 books), the screen and graphics. So, you know, just about everything on the physical device is better. Also, there’s an experimental feature that reads the books to you, which actually sounds sort of cool. And, now, apparently, you can move books from reader to reader, though they did seem to be only in one place at a time. You know, I’m actually okay with that, if I can transfer the book to someone else’s Kindle, because then it’s no different than a physical book that can only be in one place at a time. If, and that’s a big if at this point, if that’s how it works, I may just have to get me one of these.

The one “downside” to this is that the price is staying the same. Now, I think it may just be worth paying that $359 for this device. I mean, it really seems more worth it to me. Oh, and the cover which came with the older version is now an extra $25, or so. So, that bumps the price up a bit, but, still, I’d probably be looking at a better cover anyway.

The one thing that I haven’t seen any coverage on is adding my own documents to the Kindle. I have a lot of personal documentation of one kind or another that would be really nice to have on a reader like this. PDF files and text files filled with all sorts of custom and personal manuals and instructions and the like. If they made it easier to get that onto the Kindle, then, I may just be sold.


Hey, buddy, wanna’ buy some jewelry?

Filed under: Advice from your Uncle Jim,Criticism, Marginalia, and Notes,Deep Thoughts,Life, the Universe, and Everything,News and Current Events,Personal — Posted by the Network Geek during the Hour of the Tiger which is terribly early in the morning or 5:08 am for you boring, normal people.
The moon is Waxing Gibbous


Originally uploaded by Network Geek

No, for real. I’ve got some jewelry I’m selling.

So, this weekend, I got a real education in the economics of despair. I’ve never been to a pawn shop to sell, only to buy. It’s an entirely different experience.
As I mentioned in an earlier entry, thanks to Ike, I’ve had some unexpected expenses come up around some damaged fences. Because of my darling Hilda, I really need to have a fenced yard. Or, I suppose, a better trained dog. But, since the fence is easier, that’s the choice I’m going with. For the sake of ease, and block politics, I decided to use the same guy who did the fabulous job on the neighbor’s fence. Incidentally, I’ll be paying some small fraction of that, too, since it’s shared, which is only fair. So, after I asked him, the fence guy came back with a quote of $1475, which isn’t as bad as it sounds when you consider the size of the fence, the height, and how quickly he seems to work. Also, I’m figuring it’ll buy me a little “good neighbor” currency with my oldest neighbor, the lawyer. Yeah, you can see why I like to stay on his good side.

Naturally, this guy doesn’t really do fence work as his main gig, which means this is a strictly cash business, otherwise, I’d pop it onto American Express and work out the details later. And, he’s going to want to be paid on completion, which is going to be, probably, Thursday. The time crunch really puts the squeeze on my poor, tiny, cold-slowed brain and, well, I started to get a little panicky. I’m not proud of that, but money being tight for as long as it has, a little blip on that front really throws me off. This has been no different.
Naturally, trying to handle it all on my own with as little help as possible, I hit on the idea that I can sell some of my ex-wife’s abandoned jewelry. Sounds great, right? I mean, my lawyer’s office pretty well confirmed that, based on the documentation we have of her demanding certain items be sent and leaving the rest, and the amount of time that has passed, that, in essence, salvage rights apply. In other words, this stuff is all mine to do with as I see fit. Great, right? Not so quick.

I saw fit to sell it to a jewelry store. The only problem is, I couldn’t find a jewelry store that would buy it. That meant checking out pawn shops. Naturally, that brought up all kinds of fears for me. Fears of getting cheated, scammed, you name it. But, screwing up my courage, I start asking around to see if anyone knows a good, relatively honest pawn shop. It came as no surprise that someone I know from church has a relative who owns a pawn shop. Her grandmother, in fact. There is, however, one small, um, “catch”. She’s a beautiful, young, athletic woman who is, intrinsically, attractive and I’m, well, not, and, frankly, still, even at my advanced age, get a little nervous and tongue-tied around that kind of woman. It’s sad, really, but, well, there it is. Thankfully, I have e-mail to save me.

So, I e-mailed her and she told me the name of the place and that her cousin runs it, usually, and if not him then her uncle will be. Then, she also told me about their other businesses that for various reasons, including at least one or two legal ones, I’m not going to mention. I think it was at about this point that I started to wonder just how good an idea this really was. I mean, if the most reputable pawn shop I can find with a recommendation from a church-going woman, no less, still has that faint, musty odor of potential illegality, well… Of course, none of this has ever stopped me before, and it doesn’t this time, either, but it makes me a bit more nervous and cautious.
In any case, I do trust this woman from church, and I’m starting to feel a bit of pressure to come up with the cash, so, setting aside my reservations, I get a shower Saturday morning and head over to check things out.
The closer I got to the shop, the more I recognized the neighborhood I was driving into as being, um, less than the best. I wasn’t worried, per se, but I suspected that I should be careful with stuff to sell in my hand, just in case someone got the idea to mug me. It was a longshot, but, still, I grew up outside of Chicago, so I’m not entirely naive. By the time I actually roll up on the place, I’ve gotten a bit nervous that these guys are going to see a desperate sucker coming and take me for all I’ve got. So, as I park, I resolve not to just jump at the first offer and see where the whole thing goes. And, it does occur to me that telling these guys no could end up reflecting poorly on me with this woman from church or get her into an uncomfortable spot with her cousin or uncle or something. None of which would be good, if for no other reason than I genuinely like this lady. I mean, besides being very attractive, she’s a pretty straight-forward sort of gal, and after dealing with the Queen of the Damned, that’s pretty nice.  Though, please, understand that, no matter how much I would like to be, I’m fairly certain I could never, ever be her “type” and that’s okay because I dig her anyhow, even if it’s just as friends.

As I hopped out of the car, I saw two guys loading or unloading something from a trailer, like a generator or pump or something pretty big. One was a younger guy, at least younger than me, and the other looked a little older than me. I kind of wonder if the older guy wasn’t her uncle, but I never did find out or even think to ask. The younger guy sort of squinted in my direction and then walked over toward me and where I parked as I headed into the pawn shop. Before I got too far in and could head toward any counter, the young guy kind of scooted in behind me. He seemed tense or nervous, which didn’t help me, but he was also pretty eager to find out what I wanted. I can’t blame him, since I looked and felt a little out of place. I introduced myself as a friend of the lady from church and tell him she said to ask for her cousin or uncle. He got even more nervous and admitted to me that he was her cousin. Now, keep in mind, this young woman has a couple of tattoos, but they’re tasteful and pretty easily hidden and, when they are, she’s the picture of respectability. The guy I was talking to was… Well, to use her words, dressed a little “thug”. I mean, he fit the role he was filling. Or, at least dressed the part, right down to his shaved head. Oh, also, he work a loose shirt, untucked from his baggy shorts, so I pretty well assumed that he was carrying a gun. Turns out, I was probably right.
Well, the poor guy seemed even more shocked that I knew his cousin or that she’d sent me, but we got down to business pretty quick. He didn’t want to even touch the pearls or the tennis bracelet, and I can’t blame him. They’re a little iffy without an appraisal. The ruby ring was only worth the gold in it, to him and the platinum rings were only had value based on weight. After looking at the rings and weighing them, he ducked into the back for a couple minutes. At first, I thought he might have been calling his cousin to check on me and my story, and then it occurred to me that he was probably checking on the price of platinum. Later, when I talked to his cousin, she confirmed that was probably just precisely what he was doing.
So, then he made me his offer.
Earlier in the week, I’d priced this stuff on eBay, just to get an idea of how much it might sell for. I figured I might get half of that price from these guys, which would have been enough.
They offered me less than a quarter of what I thought I could sell this stuff for on eBay.

In just a few seconds, I went from initial shock to trying to figure out how to tactfully say “no thanks” to a guy who may, or may not, be involved in criminal activity and who may, or may not, actually be strapped as I was talking to him and not insult him or cause trouble for this cute, sweet, and all around nice, woman from church. In that gap, filled with a small breath sucked in through tight lips and my clenched teeth, he gave me my out.
“Hey, if you think you can get a better price somewhere else, go for it. We’ll still be here.”

And with that, I scooped up the jewelry, dropped it into the Ziploc freezer bag and walked out, thanking him out loud and God silently.
When I got into my car, I noticed something was different, but I was a good three blocks away before I realized that what had made the guy nervous when I drove up was the fact that I was driving what looked like an unmarked police car, just like what the Feds drive. Combine that with being, um, ethnically incorrect for the neighborhood and I’m fairly certain he thought I was a cop, of some kind, coming to bust him for something.
You see, what I’d noticed was that the spot-light on the outside of my car had been moved so that someone could check the registration. After thinking about it for a minute, I was sure that what he’d done was check to see if I had a city or federal parking tag or registration on the windshield. I’d probably made him more uncomfortable than he’d made me!
And, when I got home, I called my parents, who were more than happy to lend me the money to pay the fence guy until I can sell the jewelry on eBay, or whatever. But, I sure did get a taste of how desperate you have to be to actually sell something at a pawn shop. I understood just how bad things had to have gotten for someone to be there and really not have the choice to walk away. Just take their offer or do without, somehow. Today, I’m very, very thankful that wasn’t my only choice.

On the upside, while I was waiting, I saw some very reasonably priced power tools. So, you know, when I do get a little working capital and want some tools, they’re probably going to be my first stop!

Advice from your Uncle Jim:
"Love is that condition where someone else’s happiness is necessary to your own."
   --Robert Heinlein



Filed under: Deep Thoughts,Life, the Universe, and Everything,News and Current Events,Personal,Red Herrings — Posted by the Network Geek during the Hour of the Dragon which is in the early morning or 8:39 am for you boring, normal people.
The moon is Waxing Gibbous

So, in a few minutes, I’m going to head down to M. D. Anderson Cancer Center to get the results of my scan from last week.

I wanted to post a picture of the outside of M. D. Anderson, but when I was taking them last week, a security guard came and hassled me. Normally, I’d have hassled back, especially since there were no signs or other posted warnings against photography. Also, I was outside taking pictures and avoiding shots of people. I mean, I was a cancer patient, after all, and I know how sensitive I was about pictures, so I wouldn’t want to stress anyone else out about it. In any case, I owe them some money and didn’t have the time to be arrested or anything like that, so I complied with the “nice officer’s requests”. I actually did try to get the “proper permission”, but no one with the right “authority” would reply to me. So, the long and short of it is, no pictures. Oh, well!

In any case, I’ll spend most of my morning waiting around to see my doctor, which is fine. I’m sure the results will be clear because, other than a little head cold and congestion, I feel fine. I’m not sure if I have a fever any more or not because as I was going to check my temperature last night after work, I dropped the thermometer. I wonder if the mercury will show up on blood work? So, I’ll probably stop on the way home and get a new, cheap digital thermometer. And, maybe, if I talk to my oncologist real sweet, she’ll write me a prescription for something that will help clear out this congestion and whatever else is holding on in my head and lungs. I suspect she will, not only because they’re good like that in the Lymphoma clinic, but also because I think it would look bad if I died from pneumonia after they saved me from cancer!

Oh, yeah, if anyone knows a good place in Houston to sell jewelry, let me know in the comments. I’ve got to come up with a little over $1500 fast to pay for a replacement fence. I’m sure I could borrow the money from several people, but I’d rather get rid of my old platinum wedding bands and some of the jewelry I bought for my ex-wife that she left behind and pay for it that way. I hate the idea of taking it to a pawn shop, because I’m sure they’ll screw me royally on the price. I may borrow the money and try eBay for the jewelry, too. Might be easier all the way around.

Anyway, I’ve got to run to the clinic now. I’ll definitely post an update later with results from the scan, good, bad or indifferent!

UPDATE: Didn’t feel like writing a whole new entry just to say I’m still cancer free.  *yawn*  And, the doctor did write a prescription for antibiotics, just in case.  And, I got chewed out a little bit for not getting to see an eye doctor like I was supposed to do.  But, all that aside, I’m still cancer free. (Yea!)


Less is More – Hurricane Ike Followup

Filed under: Apple,Criticism, Marginalia, and Notes,Deep Thoughts,Life Goals,Life, the Universe, and Everything,Personal,The Network Geek at Home — Posted by the Network Geek during the Hour of the Tiger which is terribly early in the morning or 5:57 am for you boring, normal people.
The moon is a Third Quarter Moon

Hurricane Ike may not be over for a lot of people, but I’m thinking about how I should change my life in response to what happened.

I don’t mean that I’m scarred for life or that I have post-traumatic stress syndrome as a result or anything so melodramatic as that, but this slap on the butt from Mother Nature has made me think.  It’s made me think about what I need, what I want and how I spend my time.  As I’m sure many have found this week, we need far, far less than we think we do.  In many ways, I got along just fine without power.  Oh, maybe I cooked a bit more meat and ate a bit more in general than usual, but I got to read more and sleep more than I usually do.  And, at this point, I’ve gone without cable long enough that I’m starting to wonder why I still keep it.  I mean, I say that I have it for the History Channel and Discovery and IFC and the Sci-Fi Channel, but I’m not sure that’s really true anymore.  For one thing, I haven’t watched a whole program on either the History Channel or Discovery without some kind of interruption in so long I can’t remember.  And, honestly, most of the movies I watch on IFC are available through Netflix anyway.  And, really, I’ve gotten so tired of what the Science-Fiction Channel has become – the Ghost Buster Channel or the Cryptozoology Channel or something worse.  So, why do I hold onto this video pacifier?  Have I gotten so afraid of peace and quiet and, possibly, even my own thoughts that I have to keep background noise going all the time?

For the longest time, I’ve worried that I suckle at the glass teat so long that I would starve without it.  And, yet, it’s a love/hate relationship we have.  I feel somewhat compelled to watch it, but, at the same time, I feel like it sucks so much of my productive time away from me that I’d be better off without it.  If I spent half the time I wasted watching television cleaning my house, or re-working my home network, or writing, well, I’d probably be famous by now.  You know what I did most of last weekend?  I read.  Yeah, I ended up reading two entire books last weekend and almost half that time was spent reading by flashlight!  So, without any of the “conveniences” of modern, high-tech life, I was more productive and more rested than I am when I’m totally plugged-in and choking on information over-load.  But, of course, that’s not a new theme, is it?  I mean, people have been telling us that for a long time now, right?  How we should un-plug and tap into our full attention and focus.  I have to admit, though, that, while I heard that and thought I understood the principle, I’ve never tried to put it into practice or had an opportunity like this forced on me.  Now, I have.

So, here’s what I’m thinking.  I’m thinking that what I need to do is cancel cable.  I need to take that roughly $100 a month and save it.  When I have enough, I’m going to buy all the bits and pieces for a Linux-based multimedia computer.  Something that can rip and burn DVDs, that has a Dolby-capable sound card worthy of a home theater system, that has a high-quality video card with HDMI output I can hook up to my HDTV, that has a remote and a wireless keyboard and mouse, and, maybe, that has a television decoder on it.  Obviously, it’ll need a truckload of hard drive storage and the maximum amount of RAM.  Oh, and a nice, high-speed connection to the network so I can grab stuff from YouTube and other video sites, not to mention weather data in hurricane season and, possibly, to get to Netflix for “instant” movies, too.  It actually won’t be all that expensive, and probably not as time-consuming to create as has seemed to me in the past.  Besides, I know people have done similar things before so there’s got to be a HowTo on it out there somewhere.  And, I’m equally sure that someone has given this enough thought that I won’t have to figure out which distro is best, either!  Ha!  Sometimes not being on the cutting edge can, in fact, work to one’s advantage!

But, beyond all that, I hope that having fewer distractions, or at least taking a tighter rein on my regular distractions, will help me focus more on writing, too.  Ironically, saving money by canceling cable may also enable me to earn more money by writing fiction, like I’ve always said I wanted to do!  How funny would that be!
That shift is something I’ve been thinking about a lot lately.  I guess more so since doing Habitat for Humanity a couple weekends ago, or maybe even as far back as when I was told my lymphoma was in remission.  I want to be less of a consumer and more of a producer.  I want to make more than I use, to contribute more than I take.  Right now, today, I don’t think that’s true, but I think I can change that.  More importantly, I know, deep in my bones, down in that place that even Death himself can’t touch, that I want to make that change.  I need to make that change, to give more than I get.
I’ve dodged so many theoretical bullets and gotten so many second chances that, were I superstitious, I’d say it was some force, some being, some power in the Universe, trying to tell me something.  As if God Himself were nudging me in a direction, toward the light, toward the positive.  Some of you reading this may not believe in that, and that’s okay with me, but I know something has been working for my personal good, even amidst the danger, sorrow and tragedy, to keep me safe and to keep me coming out okay.  And, no matter what you believe, I know that whatever that force or power is, call it God if you wish, that energy wants me to work toward the good of others with whatever meager skill and talent I may feel I possess.

So, what does it all mean?
Hell if I know.  All I know is that right now, the way I live my life, while not damaging to anyone else, it’s not worth much to me, either.  I’m just coasting.  Gliding through life on the energy of others or just circumstances.  I want to live a life worth living, a life worth the efforts M. D. Anderson spent trying to keep going.  To do that, I need to change.  Not much, really, just a little.  The difference between giving more than I take is just a hair’s breadth.
But, that small margin makes all the difference in the world.

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