Diary of a Network Geek

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

9/11/2020

The Poison of the Side Hustle

Filed under: About The Author,Deep Thoughts,Photography — Posted by the Network Geek during the Hour of the Hare which is terribly early in the morning or 6:30 am for you boring, normal people.
The moon is Waning Crescent

There’s something broken in our culture when we try to make a virtue out of a lack of financial resources. We glamorize it by calling it “hustle”. We talk about everyone needing a “side hustle” that they might one day grow into a full business. In reality, though, that almost never happens. That so-called side hustle is just a second job. Maybe, if we’re lucky, it’s a second job that we can do at night or on the weekends on our own schedule. But, more often than not, it involves buying into someone else’s program, or training or pyramid scheme, to shill cheaply made drop-shipped junk we don’t want to people who don’t need it either. There are classes on selling, on drop-shipping, on building a website to attract the marks, and every other related activity. But, what’s worse is the guilt on social media. The “influencers” who try to tell you that if you don’t have a side hustle, you’re a loser. The Instagram gurus who make a lack of sleep sound like a virtue and workaholism sound like something to be admired. “Rise and grind”, they call it. Get up early, while your competition is still sleeping, and develop that product and make that sale. They tell you to take your hobby and make money from it. “Knit your way to second income!” “How to pay your second mortgage selling stock photography!” But, it’s all a hustle, all a scam. It’s a scam we do to ourselves. I’m guilty of it. I’ve got FindMyPhotographer.com, but I’ve never been able to build it to what I’d like. There’s too much competition already. And, who’s hiring photographers in the middle of a pandemic right now anyway?

I’m guilty, too, of buying into the idea that I need to make money from my hobbies. I used to like to write and take pictures. Now, all I think about is how can I self-publish a novel I haven’t written. Or, what kind of processing do I need to do to my digital photography to get it accepted to one of the microstock agencies. Maybe, that’s why I haven’t written fiction in years. I’m always feeling the pressure of market forces. I did pick up my camera recently, but when I pulled photos off it, the last time I’d taken any pictures was when the dogs had gotten their Christmas-themed rawhide bones. In other words, it’s been almost ten months since I used my camera. Ten months since I engaged with a hobby I loved.

But, what if we didn’t feel like we needed that other income? I’m not advocating any radical wage changes or universal basic income or anything like that. The answer, for most of us targeted by the marketing machine of the side-hustle social media gurus, is simpler than that. What if we just wanted less? What if I didn’t need the designer labels? Or the big screen TV and cable with all the channels and a new car every five years? What if I didn’t need to buy things that I think will make me happy? Because, in my own experience, any joy I get from buying things is usually very short-lived. And, man, I’d pay anything to talk to my Dad again. No side hustle can buy me that time back. So, why do we do it?
Maybe it would be better to just have a hobby. I don’t need much to write. I do it on-line or on my computer, but, really, all I need is a cheap pen or pencil and a notebook, or even some loose paper. When I first started out writing, and we used typewriters to do all this, stories of writers using cheap paper to do their first draft are legendary. And, as for needing a better camera or more lenses or more flashes, well, I know that’s not true. As I said in a photography class once, much to the excitement of the teacher, “The artist paints the painting, not the brush.” If I’m really a photographer, I can make good images, interesting images, with a cheap, disposable camera. Sometimes, with art, the challenge of producing art with limited resources is what produces the best art. The restrictions somehow enhance creativity, instead of squelch it.

So, hey, I’m not going to try to make money off my photographs. I’ve got some ideas, but, instead of trying to make something I can sell, I’m just going to make some photographs that I enjoy. I’m going to play and experiment, not because it will generate income, but because it’s fun. It’s okay to just have fun. That’s the point of hobbies, I think; to have fun and relax, so that I can be more than a job, or a paycheck or the sum of my investments.

How about you? How about your plans for the weekend? Do you have a hobby that you’ve been neglecting? Or maybe something you’d like to start? Now is the time. Do it now, before you don’t have any time left. And, then, spend some time with friends and family talking about that, instead of how stressful work is or how bad our finances are. We know. But do something you enjoy and then share it with people you love. Let that be your side hustle.

This post originally appeared on Use Your Words!

8/28/2020

A Few Thoughts on Grief and Stress

Filed under: About The Author,Personal Care — Posted by the Network Geek during the Hour of the Hare which is terribly early in the morning or 6:30 am for you boring, normal people.
The moon is Waxing Gibbous

This year has been pretty rough for everyone.

I don’t know who I’m writing this for, but I’m sure there’s someone out there that’s got the same pain going on as I do.
We started the year with whatever personal and financial challenges we have every year. There are always more bills than there is money to pay them. We all would like to get paid more and have more leisure time to enjoy our families. That’s a constant struggle under the best of circumstances. Then, we had a pandemic. COVID-19 swept the world, bringing with it fear, stress and, ultimately, grief. Here in the USA, we didn’t get a lot of leadership on how to handle the raging infection rates, so things got worse. Then, we had conflicting information thrown at us until no one knew what to do or not do to best stay safe. That’s still the case. On top of that, many of us lost jobs or had businesses that were in financial difficulty. In some cases, entire industries had economic problems, like the oil and gas industry. That alone would be enough to cause pretty severe emotional distress.

Then, a month ago, my father died. Now, I know not everyone has a great relationship with their parents, but my Dad and I had a great relationship. I talked to him every week on the phone for twenty-two years. Basically, every week since I moved to Texas in June of 1998, I talked to my parents on the phone. I would regularly call Dad for advice, simply because I could. I mean, I mostly knew what he was going to tell me, but, sometimes it was nice to hear him say it. Since he died, I haven’t slept well. Not that I was sleeping great to begin with, but it was definitely worse after he passed. I have strange body aches. Yes, those might be the result of being almost fifty-two and never considering the punishment my body was taking when I did stupid things, like drop out of second-story windows and other assorted bad ideas. But, my wife tells me that those are almost certainly symptoms of grief. She’s lost several people close to her, so she’s in a position to know. I feel strange. It’s almost a kind of mild body dysmorphia or depersonalization, which I tend to read as having eaten something bad or not hydrated well enough during the day. I just don’t feel like my physical body is quite right sometimes. Again, she assures me that it’s the physical symptoms of grief.
And, there’s the anger. I have such a limited capacity for other people being slow in any way right now. If I find myself at a loss for a particular word, I want to just push past it and move on with the conversation, but if anyone else delays or gets “stuck” on something, I get very quickly frustrated. I’m aware of it, so I think I’m keeping it mostly in check, but I am so very aware that it’s there, just beneath the surface.

I’ve read books on grief, but, as I told my Dad in our last conversation, we’re at the point of seeing just how applicable all that theoretical knowledge really is. Because let me tell you, there’s a huge difference between having read about death and grief and actually experiencing it. It does help, though, to know that I am, in fact, going through the grief process and that it is a lot more unclear and a lot less simple than any book explains it. It’s not a straight line through the five stages, that’s for sure. But, I’m learning to have some compassion for myself, which is its own challenge, and I’m learning to apply some of the practices I say I believe in. The struggle to apply the theory is there, but at least I’m aware and able to see what’s happening in my own interior life. One step at a time, one day at a time. That’s what I tell myself and how I try to take it. The next time I know someone who loses a loved one, I think I’ll be better equipped to help them based on what I’m learning here, about both the world and myself.

This post originally appeared at Use Your Words. I don’t normally post this kind of thing on my professional site, but it just seemed to be relevant right now.  No matter how hard I try, I can’t separate the personal from the professional these days.

8/21/2020

Eulogy Delivered on August 2nd

Filed under: About The Author,Deep Thoughts — Posted by the Network Geek during the Hour of the Hare which is terribly early in the morning or 6:30 am for you boring, normal people.
The moon is Waxing Crescent

This is the eulogy I wrote for my father and delivered at his memorial service on August 2, 2020.

Let me start by saying that every one of us will have a different view of Dad, as unique as our relationships all were with him. I experienced my father differently than my siblings did and differently than his grandchildren did. And, of course, no one knew Dad the same way that Mom did. We all had a relationship with him that was as different as we all are. And, I know he’d hate to be remembered as some kind of saint with no flaws or foibles, so we shouldn’t remember just the best things, but the whole humanness of who he was. We may all see that a little differently, but, there are some things that shine through all of those different relationships.

For one thing, as we wrote in his obituary, Dad loved a good story about himself or some other family member. And, he had a lot of them. Most of his stories were meant to surprise you a little and, hopefully, make you laugh. One of his favorites, which I think must have been one of his earliest memories, involved his own Grandpa Hoffman. Grandpa Hoffman was a tinsmith who worked his way West with the railroad and then hoboed home to Chicago. Along the way, as Dad tells it, he met a couple of fellas that would become notorious in Chicago politics in the early 1900s; Michael “Hinky Dink” Kenna and “Bathhouse” John Coughlin. They were two of the most corrupt Chicago aldermen who ever held office according to Dad. One day, when Dad was about five or six, he was out with his Grandpa who took him to meet his old friend Uncle John at his business “Uncle John’s Bathhouse, Pool Hall and House of Leisure”. Yes, that’s right, Grandpa Hoffman took his grandson to a house of gambling and prostitution. Dad loved to tell people how he sat at the bar while his grandfather played cards with his old friend and how the “nice ladies” doted on him and brought him a glass of milk while he waited. You can imagine how upset his mother was at her father-in-law for bringing her little angel to such a place. Dad would tell that story, making sure to include his very proper and upright mother’s reaction when she found out, with a twinkle in his eye and punctuated with his deep, booming laugh that could fill a whole house.

Dad liked to stir things up and make a little mischief, but that’s not to say that Dad was all laughs and funny stories. He had strong opinions about, well, practically everything, and he wasn’t shy about sharing them. In fact, one of the most frustrating things about Dad was the by the time he’d made up his mind about something, his logic was so tight that it was pretty much unassailable. When he’d made up his mind, he was all but impossible to convince otherwise. He could be the living embodiment of stubborn, a trait I’m afraid he may have passed on to at least one of his children. The worst thing he could possibly say about someone was that they weren’t very quick. As someone who worked hard to be as smart as he could, he had little patience for anyone who was mentally lazy or wasn’t working their hardest. I know he was proud of how smart all his children and grandchildren are no matter what they do or their particular area of specialty. Right up to the very end, Dad’s mind was razor-sharp and he was absolutely up to date on the latest news. In fact, if not for the COVID-19 lock down, Dad would have been renewing his driver’s license a couple of weeks ago and, until relatively recently, split the driving duties with Mom. Two years ago, going to Bill and Kara’s wedding, it took no small amount of convincing to get him to let me drive and navigate using my iPhone. More than once he said, “Well, I wouldn’t have gone THIS way, but, oh, I guess it is getting us there a little faster than my way.” He was so convinced that he knew Chicago better than any technology could, but, it turned out, except for a couple of turns, Google Maps took us the same way he would have.

Dad loved the outdoors, too. He loved going with the Boy Scout troop to Camp Makajawan for the week in Wisconsin. But, he enjoyed having a few more of the creature comforts than most of the other leaders, camping with a full footlocker of gear and gadgets. Another leader once jokingly told him that he camped like a Prussian officer on campaign, which I think appealed to Dad’s sense of history and style. He used to say that he wanted his ashes scattered in Sioux Village at Camp Makajawan so that he might become a ghost story told at one of the big campfires that happened at the start and end of camp. But, we’re pretty sure he was just joking and was amused at the idea of finally becoming a tall tale, besides none of us want to try and sneak into Makajawan with Dad’s ashes and scatter him in the bushes. Though, I’m sure Dad is looking down on us and laughing at the dilemma his little joke made for us.

Dad also had a life-long love of music. He was a classically trained singer and had a gorgeous voice that was in demand even well after he felt it was past its prime. His favorite time of year was Christmas, not just because he could put out his extensive collection of strange Santa Claus figures, but for the Christmas music. He absolutely loved performing Christmas music and singing the old, classic hymns. One of my favorite childhood memories is of Dad singing O Come, O Come, Emmanuel unaccompanied, from the back of the sanctuary in Glenview United Methodist Church. He was often asked to sing solos at church and, ironically, at funerals. Dad loved performing, especially with a good group of fellow musicians with a piece of music that challenged him. In fact, Dad almost was a professional singer when he got out of the Army. He said that the only reason he didn’t take that opportunity was because he didn’t like the opera the touring company had chosen.

Instead, Dad channeled his showmanship into sales. One of Dad’s favorite sayings was “Everything is sales. If nothing else, you’re always selling yourself and your ideas.” And, I think I learned more from Dad about being a good salesman and a good manager than any class I took in business school. To this day, I find myself asking what would Dad do when faced with a situation at work that I’m not sure how to handle. And usually, some bit of advice that Dad gave over the years comes to mind and turns out to be just the right thing to say or do.

Dad may not have always said it out loud, but he worried about his family. Just a few years ago, Dad admitted out loud that he was a natural-born worrier. I think he tried to hide that from his kids so that we didn’t pick up that trait from him. Dad was also fond of giving us all advice, though the kind of advice changed over the years. One of the first things he told me when I was looking to him for advice about some choice I had to make was, “Well, whatever choice you make, be sure it’s a choice you can live with because you’re the only one who can know what that is.” Looking back, it’s great advice that I remember forty years or more later, but, as a twelve-year-old, I was looking for something a little easier to deal with. Some of his other advice that sticks with me didn’t quite make sense at the time. One time, when I was wrestling with the idea that something I’d done or said had made someone not like me, he said, “If you make it through life without SOMEONE not liking you or being irritated by you, you’ve done it wrong.” What he meant was, that if no one finds that they have some conflict with you, then you never had anything you believed in very strongly or took a stand and held firm, because that will always bring a person into conflict with someone, sooner or later. It was his way of saying, hold true to your convictions, no matter how many people disagree with you.

And, that was something Dad said he and Mom had always hoped to do; raise four, strong, unique individuals, who made their own way in the world. I know that he was more than satisfied that he’d done that. He may have been a little shy about telling his children directly, sometimes, but he was immensely proud of all of us. I don’t think he wanted anyone to get a swelled head so he was careful not to brag in front of us, but more than once I caught him telling someone how great one or all of his kids were, each in their own very different ways. I think the fact that we were all so different from each other, while still having so much in common, was one of the things that made him so proud.

Most of the time, talking about feelings too long made Dad a little uncomfortable. But, the last time I talked to him when I expressed some regret that I wasn’t an easier child to raise or that I hadn’t visited as regularly as I’d like, he said, “None of you kids have anything to worry about.” From the context, I’m sure he meant all of us; children and grandchildren alike. It was his way of telling me that we were all doing our best and he knew that and was proud of us all. And, as uncomfortable as it may have made him, the last words we exchanged were a heartfelt, “I love you”, which is how I’ll always remember Dad. A strong, ferociously smart man, who loved big and with everything he had.

I’m sure everyone remembers him in their own way and we all have stories about Dad or that he told us, or maybe even a joke that’s a little too off-color for church, even if it’s Dad’s memorial service. I know that he’d love it if we can share those with each other as we remember them, especially the jokes.

But, I also know Dad would have wanted us to keep things moving along. Most of his life was spent living to a calendar and a schedule. This is the man who was well known for looking at his watch and saying things like, “Oh! Look at the time! I must be hungry for lunch!” So, let’s not disappoint him and keep moving things along. He wouldn’t have wanted us to dawdle or say a long goodbye.

So, we’ll see you on the other side, Dad. Keep everyone busy until we get there.

 

This post originally appeared on Use Your Words.

8/14/2020

William F. Hoffman, Jr, 1929 – 2020

Filed under: About The Author,Deep Thoughts,Life, the Universe, and Everything — Posted by the Network Geek during the Hour of the Hare which is terribly early in the morning or 6:30 am for you boring, normal people.
The moon is Waning Crescent

William F, Hoffman, Jr., “Bill”, beloved husband, father and grandfather, 91, died Tuesday, July 28, 2020 in Huntley, Illinois. He is survived by his wife of 67 years, Dorothy, his children; Bill and Karen Hoffman, Cheryl Price, Karin and Jerry Edwards and Jim and Sharon Hoffman, his grandchildren; Bill and Kara Hoffman, Rachel and Jacob Vaughn, Michael Hoffman, and John and LeeAnn Price, and a great-grandchild, John Price.

Bill was born at home in 1929 in Morgan Park, Illinois, on the South Side of Chicago. Growing up on the South Side, he was educated at the Harvard School for Boys, a college preparatory school, and helped run the family hardware store.

He attended the Chicago Conservatory of Music and went on to serve in the Army during the Korean War. He met his wife, Dorothy, when both were on staff at the Chicago Baptist Association Summer Camp. Devoted to his faith, he served on the admissions board of Garret-Evangelical Theological Seminary in Evanston, Illinois. He worked for the American Medical Association in the Chaplaincy program, where he helped facilitate Elisabeth Kübler-Ross’ work on the psychological process of grief. He also served as a representative to a Vatican conference on spirituality and medicine.

Bill was active in the Boy Scouts of America for many years at troop and council levels and served on staff at the Woodbadge Adult Leadership Program. He was as an Eagle Award adviser, helping boys (including his two sons and his three grandsons) achieve their highest rank in scouting, His love of scouting and the outdoors was also expressed in his interest in Native American history and culture. He was proud to be one of the initial donors to the Smithsonian National Museum of the American Indian. He was a member of the Sons of Union Veterans of the Civil War. A Freemason for over 50 years, he became Worshipful Master of Glenview United Lodge #1058 in 1994.

Bill never met a stranger, a trait that served him well in a long career in sales and marketing. He loved to hear and tell stories, especially family stories, and loved to talk about his children and grandchildren.

This post originally appeared on Use Your Words.

7/10/2020

COVID-19 and Mental Health

Filed under: About The Author,Deep Thoughts,Personal Care — Posted by the Network Geek during the Hour of the Hare which is terribly early in the morning or 6:30 am for you boring, normal people.
The moon is Waning Gibbous

Make no mistake, mental health has always been an important issue for me.

But, with the pandemic lockdown, as loose and unrestrictive as it has really been, I feel all kinds of anxiety and depression that I normally only have to deal with when I’m starting a new job or when I’ve been single during the holidays. I can get the blues like everyone else. Usually, it’s just short-lived and very transient, but that’s only because the circumstances that cause the issue are short-lived and transient, too. With COVID-19, no one knows how long things are going to be like this. It could literally be several years that we’re dealing with some of these issues, if not all of them. While I have faith that we’ll either come up with a vaccine or a treatment that greatly reduces symptoms and consequences, that may be months if not years away. We don’t know what kind of long-term effects contracting COVID-19 will have on people. And, to top it all off, there’s been another swine flu found in China that has the potential to sweep the world the same way this one has. I, for one, hope they can contain it until we at least have the chance to elect some different government officials. Maybe this time we’ll get some people in office who understand science and public health. (If you haven’t registered to vote yet, now is a great time. Just hit this link to Vote.gov and they’ll give you instructions. The country you save may be your own!) But, until then, we’re stuck. We don’t know how long this will go on. And, I have to admit, it’s been wearing on my mental health. I can only imagine what it’s been like for someone who’s already got clinical depression.

To be fair, I definitely feel better this morning than I have in a couple of days. And, you may have noticed that this will be the third week running that I’ve shared links about mental health and getting help. I’m doing that because I think it’s that important.
For me, I’ve been praying and doing formal, sitting meditation for years and that’s helping. My wife and I took beginning meditation classes at the Houston Zen Center a number of years ago, and I’ve sat for at least 20 minutes at least 5 days a week since then. It’s been helpful in ways that I have a hard time explaining to people. But, if you’ve ever been curious about what meditation practice is the Houston Zen center is a great resource. And, you can join in even if you’re not in Houston, since everything is pretty much remote only right now, via the Houston Zen Center Cloud Zendo.
I also find that trying to keep engaged in things that interest me has helped some. I’ve been writing Morning Pages for about two months now. That’s been helpful. It hasn’t kickstarted my fiction writing yet, but I hope it will help get me over that hump soon. And, I’ve decided to work on search engine optimization as well. I used to do that, for fun, with my older sites. In fact, for a while, Diary of a Network Geek was the number one hit on Google for the search term “network geek”. It’s not now, mainly because I stopped creating a steady stream of original content, but, also my success with those search terms made me a bit of a target. And, that’s okay. Honestly, it was a great indicator of how successful I was! I’m hoping I can recreate that success here. I’ll let you guess the search terms I’ll want to optimize for, though. And, I’ve added a tool to help me make pretty book reviews, too. I’ve always enjoyed reading, though I don’t seem to have the time and focus to read the way I used to when I was younger. Actually, ever since I had cancer back in 2007, I’ve felt like I wasn’t as sharp with reading as I used to be. In any case, I still enjoy it and enjoyed reviewing books, so I’ll start that again. I’ll mostly be reviewing fantasy and science fiction books, but there will be others, especially non-fiction on topics that interest me. I make no promises at how often those reviews will arrive, though.

So, in short, y’all watch out for your brains! Make your mental health a priority, especially now with all the crazy stressors of the dumpster fire that 2020 has become. If you have a spiritual practice, follow that and don’t give up on it. I truly believe that pursuing a more spiritual path is the only thing that’s kept me alive and kicking some times in the past 18 years or so. And, I think it will be what gets me through this COVID-19 craziness, too.

But, if you know someone who needs a little extra help with their mental health right now, don’t forget these resources:
MentalHealth.gov – Get Immediate Help

The National Alliance on Mental Health Helpline – 1-800-950-NAMI (6264)

The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration National Helpline – 1-800-622-HELP (4357)

National Suicide Prevention Lifeline – 1-800-273-8255

And, as I continually write here and elsewhere, please, remember, there’s no shame in getting help. In fact, getting help is what strong people do.
If you or a loved one needs help with depression or any other mental health issue, please, don’t wait until it’s too late.

This post originally appeared on Use Your Words, my newest blog and labor of love.

5/29/2020

Embracing My Inner Geek

Filed under: About The Author,music,The Day Job — Posted by the Network Geek during the Hour of the Hare which is terribly early in the morning or 6:30 am for you boring, normal people.
The moon is a First Quarter Moon

Because, that’s who I really am.

So, this week I was going to write about the error message I’ve seen filling up my logs which is due to some issue in the AuthorWrite theme I use here. But, thanks to some prodigious sleep procrastination, I was able to find the error and the fix it last night, with the help of Professor Google. Apparently, there are some security and encryption salts that are technically optional, but really should be added into the config on WordPress that I hadn’t done. Frankly, I blame that on being so far out of date on WordPress development that it’s ridiculous. The joy of it is that I don’t need to be up to date. Back in the old days, when I was running MoveableType, I had to know how it all worked because there was no one who was going to help me figure it out. But, now, with how popular WordPress has gotten and how many great programmers are working on it, I hardly have any issues. And, when I do have an issue, it’s almost always related to a theme or plugin that needs to be updated. In a couple of cases, plugins have been abandoned, and don’t work because the underlying architecture has changed and there’s no one updating the plugin code. That’s sad because there are some great plugins that I’ve had to stop using due to them not being supported and causing issues on my sites. Yes, I can almost always find a replacement for them, but, sometimes, the old plugins have nice features or an easy-to-use interface that I miss. Oh, well, life is change. Either way, the issue is resolved.

But, all that nerdy goodness got me thinking a bit. Being a computer geek is absolutely built into who I am now. It’s funny because back in high school, I was a little obnoxiously well known for hating computers because I already saw so many of my peers relying on them instead of thinking for themselves. That’s pretty remarkable when you consider that I graduated high school in 1986. Of course, some of those people I went to school with are now big shots in the technology industry, but, hey, I still prefer to think for myself. Not that I mind making a living off malfunctioning computers. It provides me and my family a pretty damn good living. But, I do find myself gravitating toward the, well, shall we say, darker side of computers and networks? When I attended DEF CON 20 in 2012, it was pretty life-changing. It truly opened my eyes to a whole new world of computer security. But, it also showed me that I already knew more than I was giving myself credit for! Beyond the security aspects of things, the idea that computer geeks might also be gun geeks or music nerds was sort of a new idea. My buddy, famous artist Mark Flood, knew about the hacker rappers that performed at DEF CON, but it was news to me. And, apparently, there’s a whole slew of nerdcore music and musicians that I’ve not heard of before. It’s an event he and I still talk about on a regular basis. Things we saw there are still trickling out into the mainstream, like smart car hacking. It makes me a little sad that DEF CON is Cancelled this year, at least in person. I still hope to get back one day to experience it all live and in person, but, if you have the time, this year’s virtual event August 7-9 is a great opportunity for you to safely check it out. Just make sure you’ve got all your antivirus and security patches up to date! (Just kidding! I’m sure it will be 100% safe! Trust me!) And, I’ve already ordered two DEF CON is Cancelled t-shirts, which will get here in a couple weeks. They’ll pair well with my Guy Fawkes COVID-19 mask that I should have by the end of the day!

And, if you just want to relax a little, not think about big issues like computer security and nerdcore music and COVID-19, then try unlocking some browser games with help from Lifehacker. Yes, all three major browsers have them, though some are easier to get to than others, not to mention more fun.

Try to enjoy your weekend and week and do something you love.

This post originally appeared on Use Your Words.

5/22/2020

Finally, Some Changes

Filed under: About The Author,On Creativity — Posted by the Network Geek during the Hour of the Hare which is terribly early in the morning or 6:30 am for you boring, normal people.
The moon is a New Moon

You know how I keep threatening to write differently here?

You may have noticed that things were starting to change a bit over the past several weeks. Yes, I’ve still been bringing you “fun” links on Friday, but that’s been mostly swallowed up by all the other writing. I’m still mostly too busy to write as often as I did ten or fifteen years ago, so I haven’t managed to get in more than a single blog post per week yet. I’d like to write more regularly here, but I’ve got creditors who demand to be paid and that means my “day job” comes first. So, after a minimum of forty hours of work for them, and my paycheck, I don’t always have a lot of energy or focus to write anything else.
You may remember that I started writing morning pages about two weeks ago now. That was inspired by the keynote for a virtual fantasy convention given by Brandon Sanderson. He talked about how frustrated he was when he started out writing because he wasn’t producing work that he liked. Well, that sure sounded like how I’ve felt for the past ten years or more. But, he offered a cure; fall in love with the writing process again. And, to at least some degree, that was what was behind me starting those morning pages. It was about relearning to simply enjoy the act of writing. And, so far, that’s really started to happen again. Now, I despair of being able to convert those random thoughts and stream of consciousness worries into coherent fiction at some point, but that, ultimately, is the goal here. So, in that spirit, and because I imagine my fictional readers being interested in the same things I am, I have a link to share. Brandon Sanderson is also a teacher, as well as a writer. He’s shared an entire course of lectures on writing fantasy fiction, which you can stream for free. I plan to watch them all, though, since they’re an hour long a piece, I’m not sure when I’ll find the time to watch all of them. Either way, if you’ve got it in your head to write fantasy fiction, you could do worse than watch his lectures. His work is incredibly popular and I found his talks so far to be helpful and inspiring.

You know, I had other links that I was going to share, but, I think that one is enough this week after all. It’s been a hell of a week. For one, a friend of mine lost her father. For another, my own father, who’s about two months away from being 91, and who’s going through chemotherapy for liver cancer, was admitted to the hospital with heart issues this week. Thankfully, it seemed to be caused by some fluid on his lung, which was causing some cardiac stress. He’s been given a diuretic and sent home and it sounds like he’ll be able to continue his chemotherapy. Chemotherapy which is working pretty well, by the way. So, good news for my father, but still, a lot of stress and worry, especially since I couldn’t just jump on a plane to go see him if things had gotten worse thanks to COVID-19, which he tested negative for, too, thankfully.
So, while I try to relearn what exactly makes a plot work and apply that to some of the ideas that have been bouncing around in my head for the past couple of decades, I’ll keep up the morning pages. And, in some form or fashion, I’ll keep writing here, too.

This post originally appeared on Use Your Words, the blog most likely to be updated with new writing.

4/17/2020

Poetry in the Time of the Pandemic

Filed under: About The Author,Art,Fun,On Creativity,Stimulus and Production — Posted by the Network Geek during the Hour of the Hare which is terribly early in the morning or 6:30 am for you boring, normal people.
The moon is Waning Crescent

I used to write, and read, poetry, before I stopped fearing death.

That sounds a bit contradictory, but, yes, I’m actually not afraid of death. I am afraid of the pain and discomfort that generally precede death, but not the actual eventuality of my death. Somehow, that seems connected to my ability to write, poetry or other things, but whatever the reason, I haven’t written more than a blog post or a single haiku, since I was diagnosed with and survived cancer. Sure, it must be related. By the way, that single haiku is:
Cars; a river of
steel and light, flowing to school.
Spring Break is over!

In 2003, when I was just getting into a year’s worth of unemployment, I shared this haiku on my other blog:
Snow blinks on my screen,
red lights on the router say,
“The end is here… Now.”

I’d written that when I was working a bankruptcy and had a little too much time on my hands to think about the end of that job. It was inspired by a book titled 101 Corporate Haiku. I loved that book, and the discipline of writing haiku, even under difficult circumstances, so, it’s strange to me that now, of all times, I find myself having trouble writing. I’m pleased to share, though, that others are making hay while the Sun shines, so I’m sharing with you, by way of Boing Boing, Someone made Found Poetry out of all the emails they’ve received about COVID-19. It’s not quite corporate haiku, but, well, it’s pretty good. And, since it’s also National Poetry Month, and I have a dark and twisted mind, I’ll also share with you H.P. Lovecraft’s Poetry, and, in particular, his dark, strange poem Nemesis. It’s about the strangest choice I could find to celebrate the month.
If you’d like to try writing your own poetry to celebrate, I’d definitely suggest trying haiku. A haiku is a poem of 17 syllables in three lines, usually divided into a line of 5 syllables, then a line of 7 syllables and finally a line of 5 syllables, with a seasonal word to ground the poem to nature and a “conceptual break” at the 5th or 12th syllable. A more modern variation of that is called the “lune” and is just 13 syllables, divided 5/3/5. Or if you want something with a little more elbow room to be creative, you can try the “tanka”, which is 31 syllables divided into 5 lines of 5 syllables then a line of 7 syllables then a line of 5 syllables then a line of 7 syllables with a final line of 7 syllables. Personally, I find a haiku in English challenge enough!

And, of course, I have your weekly COVID-19 related content, too.
I’m not sure about anyone else, but I’ve been feeling the long-term stress of an event unlike any we’ve had in living memory. Among other things, my sleep patterns, which haven’t been great the past couple years, have gotten worse. According to Slate, I’m not the only one with Coronavirus Anxiety Insomnia. If you get to the bottom of the article, there are some tips to help with it. Honestly, I think about the time I get a new schedule working and all that ironed out, we’ll be back to work as normal, whatever that means any more.
Finally, if you’re struggling with cooking, and are tired of the same old peanut butter and jelly sandwich, let me suggest you try some alternatives. Much to my wife’s horror, one of my favorite sandwiches is peanut butter and sweet relish. Something about the sweetly sour tang of relish just really compliments the savory sweet flavor of the peanut butter. Honest. Also, peanut butter and bacon or turkey, traditionally left over from Thanksgiving, but, hey, strange times and all, have been pretty good sandwiches, too. Don’t judge until you try it!

Until next week, hang in there and know that we’ll get through all this together.

This post originally appeared on Use Your Words, my other blog that generally has more original content which only gets reposted here.

12/12/2019

Yet Another Lap

Filed under: About The Author,Advice from your Uncle Jim — Posted by the Network Geek during the Hour of the Rat which is in the wee hours or 12:30 am for you boring, normal people.
The moon is a Full Moon

So, it seems I’ve survived another year.

Considering that I wasn’t entirely sure I’d live past forty, it’s a pleasant surprise to find that I’ve turned fifty-one. It seems a bit less pressure than turning fifty. I thought things would start speeding up, but it feels like everything has slowed down a bit. I don’t feel like a lot has changed in the past year, really.
Really, I’ve had another pretty good year. In some ways, maybe a bit too good. I was disappointed to see that all the weight I lost at the beginning of this year has somehow returned. I think, as was true last year, this is mostly due to easy living and a wonderfully Southern wife who shows me how much she loves me with food. She really, really loves me, so I’ve eaten very well. After having to finally let Hilda go to the Great Big Yard On The Other Side this year, we got two new rescues. For a bit, that was helping because I was walking Penny, the sixty-pound Pittbull/Dalmatian mix every morning. Sadly, she seems to have torn her ACL and is going to need a surgery, so I haven’t been walking her. I should take her sister, Lily, the fifty-pound Black Lab mix for walks, but I just haven’t quite been able to get my sorry tuckus out of bed in time to make that happen yet. I’ll get on it soon, though. Honest.
Of course, being married to Sharon does make my time here easier and a lot more pleasant. That sounds a little luke-warm, but, honestly, I think we’re both pretty happy about having a quiet, pleasant life together. As we were reminiscing not too long ago, we’ve both led a life of far too much adventure and chaos to think we’re missing out on much. Maybe, one day soon, when the statute of limitations runs out of some of those things, I’ll share them with you. Or, maybe they’ll get saved for a memoir. Sharon keeps telling me that we’ve living very interesting lives, though, of course, I find myself to be a bit dull and boring. Thankfully, she does not. It’s one of her many, many charming and attractive features. Her business, The Organizing Decorator, is poised to do quite well this coming year, and I’m incredibly proud of her and her work. I’ve known people who constantly complain about never having been given a chance, but Sharon really goes out and seems to create opportunities out of thin air. She’s a miracle and I’m truly blessed to be married to her.
It is a bit strange to find myself being so fiscally responsible these days. Again, I suppose age and commitment have their unexpected upsides. I want to make sure that she’s taken care of, at least, even if we don’t expect to leave much after we’re gone.
Otherwise, I wish I’d spent less time complaining this year and more time working for change in all aspects of my life. I still have dreams of writing more and taking more photographs. I’m sure if I really am committed to that this year, I’ll find a way to make the time. Maybe that’s one secret of making it to middle age; I don’t buy as many excuses, not even my own. So, watch this space! Hold me to account, dear readers, if anyone out there is still reading this blog.

In the past, I’ve listed the same group of celebrities who share my birthday. But, this year, I’ll only mention two, because they’re the only ones I currently care about. I’m shocked to realize that I’m a mere two years older than Jennifer Connelly, who was born on this day. She’s lovely and I’d watch her read the phone book. The other celebrity who shares my birthday is Frank “Chairman of the Board” Sinatra. And, just like me, he did it his way.

Also, I think it’s interesting to note that on this day in 1896 Marconi first demoed radio and, again on this day, in 1901 made his first Trans-Atlantic transmission. (Though, of course, all right-thinking people know that Tesla was really responsible for those first advances in radio.)

So, that’s the state of me, as it were, this year. Some things I’m happier about than others, but, all in all, it’s been a pretty good year. I’ve just about given up trying to figure out what the coming year will bring, though I do try to make plans about being more creative and productive, as I do every year. In the end, though, what I choose to do or not do doesn’t matter, so long as Sharon and I do it together. I’m happy that she’s really become the only thing that matters in my life. God knows, I could have worse

All in all, life is going along okay and I’m sure it’ll be good coming year.

This post originally appeared at Use Your Words, my other blog and guilty habit/pleasure.


Advice from your Uncle Jim:
"The man who makes no mistakes does not usually make anything."
   --William Conner Magee

3/13/2019

Hilda Hoffman

Filed under: About The Author,News and Current Events,Truth and Consequences — Posted by the Network Geek during the Hour of the Rooster which is in the early evening or 6:30 pm for you boring, normal people.
The moon is a First Quarter Moon

Born December 8th, 2002. Departed March 13th, 2019.

At 11:25am this morning, the vet told Sharon and I what we already knew; Hilda had passed on from this world into the next. I got her when she was just barely four months old and able to be spayed, because I wanted to come home to someone who loved me. And, I never doubted that she loved me. She was always Daddy’s girl, even though she spent more time with Sharon the last several years of her life, and surely loved Sharon at least as much as she loved me. She was born to a rescue already, or as I liked to remind her when she occasionally got sassy, she was the foundling of an unwed mother. I told her she should be grateful, but it turns out I was the one who was grateful for her.
I named her, against the strong objections of my ex-wife and step-daughter, Hildegard, though we always called her Hilda for short. She was named after Hildegard von Bingen, the 12th Century German saint, who was famous for being a writer, composer, philosopher, Christian mystic and polymath. I thought my own Hilda deserved no less a significant name.
Although she looked like a very small Golden Retriever, her paperwork says that her mother was a Tibetan Terrier mix. We don’t know for sure what breed mix her father was, but based on the purple spots on her tongue, I always suspected he was a Chow mix. When anyone asked what kind of dog she was, I always told them, “Brown”. And, mostly that was true. She was just a good, brown dog. The kind of dog every boy hopes to have when he asks his parents for a dog.
She was always sweet-tempered, and neither Sharon nor I can ever recall her snapping at us, no matter what we had to do to her for health or grooming reasons. Though, I do understand in her later life, she was less patient with strangers at the vet’s office. I sympathized with her; I don’t care to be pawed at by doctors either, if I can help it.
I had her for sixteen good years. She saw me through my divorce. Even when my ex-wife conned me into letting her take Hilda to Phoenix, Arizona when we split, through strange circumstances, I managed to get her back. She came back to me via animal freight on a United Airlines flight and the inestimable kindness of strangers. She’d been crate trained until then, but after that adventure, she was a free-range pup. She spent most nights on the couch next to me and then in bed next to me. I think she was afraid she’d be kidnapped again if she didn’t.
She saw me through a very rough year of cancer treatment, too. Always patient with my lack of energy and just happy to be near me. While I was single after the divorce for many years, we had a regular ritual of driving to a pet store of an evening, then stopping at Jack-In-The-Box for 99 cent tacos. Years later, when Sharon brought her Jack-In-The-Box tacos, it was clear that she remembered them fondly.
And, then, when Sharon moved in and was having some difficult times, Hilda was always there, by her side, happy to give kisses and eat treats and french fries and chicken until Sharon felt better.
She also got very protective of our house and yard once Sharon moved in, as if she sensed that Sharon was important to me and needed to be kept safe, even if it just meant keeping her safe from deliveries and marauding kitty cats. It was also Sharon who came up with the idea of taking Hilda on rides in the car when she got too old to go for long walks the way she used to love to do. Hilda would lean her face into the wind, her nostrils getting a big as she could stretch them trying to gather in all the smells flying by. I truly think that those car rides brought her joy. I know for sure that having Sharon around to dote on her improved the quality of her life in her later years.
About two years ago, Hilda had a little scare with cancer, too. She had a very successful surgery which seemed to completely correct the cancer issue. And, it was at that point we decided that I would stop trying to get Sharon not to spoil Hilda so much and stop pretending that I didn’t spoil her just as much. At the time, we thought we’d only have another six months with her. We got more than two more years. Two bonus years of unconditional love and joy on four feet.
In short, Hilda was everything that a dog person could hope for in a companion, even, I think, converting Sharon from a cat person into a dog person. She was, not to put too fine a point on it, a very good dog.
And, now she’s gone and I’ll miss her. I know we’ll have other dogs, but we will never have one like Hilda again. She was one of a kind, and a true blessing for everyone who had the pleasure to know her.

You can see our collected photos of her here.

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