Tuesday, September 30, 2014

A Donation of Blood

“OK, you’ve got a lot more rose in your cheeks.”

It was a routine day … I got up around 7:00; said goodbye to my wife as she left for a physical therapy appointment, did a little work on the computer, took a call from my wife to hear about her appointment, and left for the Memorial Blood Center. To give blood. Whole blood. A pint. I’m a veteran, having done this forty-something times.

I arrived early, signed in, chatted with the receptionist, took a flyer about the Renaissance Festival, read the medication deferral list and Fran ( not a real name ) took me.

We remembered each other; we laughed and chatted our way through the routine. Take blood for hemoglobin; check blood pressure; check pulse and temperature; check my arms for needle marks and we get to the question list. I passed and we proceeded to the room to actually get my blood.

All went well; she found a good vein without any difficulty and poked me to start the flow without incident. In what seemed like only a few minutes she told me I’m done, gave me the flyer to take home, and told me to visit the canteen, “get something to eat and drink.”

“The cookies is why I do this,” I said.

“Yeah, yeah, that’s what they all say.”

I went to the canteen, got and downed a bottle of Cran-Apple juice, ate a couple of cookies. I noticed the receptionist was not at her station. I began wondering if I felt OK. I saw the receptionist come from the back and walk to her desk. I realized I did not feel completely OK. Before she sat down, we met each other’s eyes. She mouthed something, gestured something that I completely missed and I shrugged. She was soon rushing toward me, asking if I felt all right; “Fran, a little help.” Fran, too, was on me in a flash.

“Are you all right?”

“I don’t know; yes, I think so. I don’t know.”

“Did you have a good breakfast this morning?”

A breakfast bar that tasted a lot like a salted nut roll did not qualify; “Not particularly …”

They were on either side of me, guiding me back to a reclining chair in the blood donation area. Although I continued to protest weakly ( “I think I’m fine.” ), they practically laid me in one of the blood donor’s reclining chairs. Fran brought me a bottle of water, “drink this,” and asked what sort of snack I’d like. She also brought a physician’s, “What to do when you leave,” discharge sheet.

Downing the snack she brought and drinking the water, I began to feel better. We were chatting … suddenly, she chirped, “Well, the rosiness is back in your cheeks!”

“I looked pale, then?” I asked.

“Yeah,” through feigned exasperation. “But you’re good now.” Smile.

Throughout, I did not feel faint … never dizzy … just “not right;” a little weak. The weakness was gone. Feeling “right,” I slowly got out of the chair and walked toward the exit. I thanked both Fran and the receptionist as I left.

Amazed at how quickly and certainly the staff came to my aid, I continue to be impressed and want to continue donating my precious blood at this facility.

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Monday, September 29, 2014

... Is Not Secure ...

A friend recently mentioned that Bitlocker is no longer secure, and that he had migrated off of it.  This surprised me.  In my mind, they were the ones doing cryptography right, and making it available to everyone.

So why does my friend think that?  Well, their website just links to a page that says:
WARNING: Using TrueCrypt is not secure as it may contain unfixed security issues

Well, them telling us they're not secure sounds like a very good reason to believe it isn't, but I felt the need to delve deeper.  The good news is, when it comes to IT security, you rarely need to go further than Steve Gibson.  It turns out he has a nice page on it, and is not recommending that people stop using it.

The short exploitation is that the creators wanted out, and said as much in less public ways.  But without updates, who will sound the alarm if it does someday, "contain unfixed security issues"?  The answer was simple.  Sound the alarm now.

So that brings us to the conundrum, do you use it?  It seems clear that they didn't sound the alarm because it is insecure, but because it probably will be someday.  But do you feel safe using a product that the designers have explicitly said is "not secure"?  I guarantee you're not going to sell your boss on it.

Personally, I'm going to keep using it.  I fully admit that one reason that I won't lose any sleep over it, is that I don't have anything encrypted that would be life changing if it got out.

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Biblical Faith

“I am a believer. Let’s get that straight from the get-go.” - Walter

It is God that I believe in … and I admit that’s a loaded word for a lot of people, so maybe it’s not the best word for that about which I am speaking. I am talking about the first cause, about ultimate reality; about the reason you’re there and I’m here; about the being that brought all of this and us into existence.

I believe I am here for a purpose ( I believe that this purpose is more than a little murky to me, even after all these years. ) rather than it's pure randomness that brought me into existence.

I am up front about that because it colors everything about my life. Among its coloring, it has enabled me to be comfortable with mystery, ambiguity, contradiction and dilemma. ( This is a relatively recent development. ) I want to explore how it colors how I look at and read the Bible.

Not only do I believe in God, but I also believe that God has been active in human history from its beginning. I view and understand the Bible as an attempt by its writers to capture primarily their understanding of the meaning of that activity in human history.

I believe the Biblical writings are inspired. ( I also believe many of today’s great spiritual writers are inspired. ) This means they have been gifted with significant insight; it does not mean God dictates to them what to say. It means they write in all their humanness, with all of their human failings and frailties and cultural prejudices. It does not mean their writing is free of errors of fact, omission, and commission. It means that two writers, aware of the same activity of God can write about it in different and even contradictory ways.

( After witnessing and disagreeing about the objectively simple act of four deer crossing the road, my wife and I know first-hand the problem of two people witnessing and attesting to the same mundane event. Imagine the exponentially more difficult task of writing about not a mundane event but about an event as complex as God’s involvement in human history. The old testament Biblical writers dealt with all of that, but also dealt with the events' happening generations before them, being documented in an oral tradition, and then being written about in a sometimes contradictory fashion. )

I have no doubt that God, ultimate reality, the ground of being, nay, being itself, intervened in the history of the Jewish people and Scripture is the attempt of weak, sinful, limited human beings to tell of it … not of the history and chronology of the event(s), but of the meaning of the events for the people and peoples who experienced them and, ultimately, for all of us.

I will pick this up in a future post ... promise.
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Monday, September 22, 2014

93 Days, Get Crack'in

Is it too early to get the jump on your Christmas list?  Is that even possible?  A thoughtful present doesn't happen by accident.  Here are a few ideas for gifts that can be purchased under $40.

Stuff they want, but never buy for themselves.

  • Pepper Grinder / Sea Salt Grinder
  • Do they drink cheap coffee or tea?  Maybe get them the good stuff.
  • You can get a little bit of real perfume or cologne made from real flowers in the $30 range.  Even an ounce will last months.  If you're unsure, consider a pack of samplers off of Ebay.


  • Antique stores have stuff from when you were a kid.  Get over it, and buy that Star Wars lunch box.
  • Ebay and sites like it are great too.  The price went down on a lot of collectibles when the internet showed us how common they really were.

Something they can't afford. (No, I'm not talking about breaking the bank)

  • I'm suggesting things like tickets to a luxury parade of homes.
  • Or how about a nice knock-off of a luxury brand.

Something you do vs. something you have.

  • Studies show that spending money on something you do like a concert usually brings more happiness per dollar than something you have like a Walkman.

  • Have you noticed they own something that they love?  Maybe that thing could use an accessory.
  • Maybe you notice they have nice nails, or feet, or a car.  These things don't happen by accident.  They care about those things, so buy them a manicure, or a deluxe car wash and wax.
More is better; find a good deal.

  • Places like Groupon, or Living Social will stretch your buck.
  • Where I live there's a place that sells packs of discount dining cards. 
  • There are places online to buy unwanted gift cards at a discount.  For example you can get a $50 Buca di Beppo gift card for $40 at Cardpool.

And remember folks, it's the thought that counts...
So put some thought into it!

Thursday, September 18, 2014

The Gramps Tee-Shirt

“Hee, hee, then he asked at what URL he could find it.”

I had been working with my elderly friend, Jane, for several weeks; it had started out as a rescue mission, helping her with Windows 8.x and her email. It segued into a labor of love, helping her with her family genealogy.

Let me summarize this project:
  1. Her great-grandparents start it
  2. Her great-grandparents ten childrens’ families populate it
  3. It goes generations past herself
  4. Her data is summarized in an artist’s sketch book, whose pages are approximately 2.5 feet square
  5. A out-of-state family member installed a program called Gramps on her computer, said “this should help you,” and then, like a thief in the night, vanished
  6. My friend, a game computer person, lacks technical savvy
Jane introduced me to Gramps after an email session. “He left after saying, ‘This should help you.’ But I can’t make heads or tails out of it. Maybe you can.”

I could. Gramps is an application built to document the results of genealogical research. It is loaded with features.

Soon I was visiting weekly. Teammates, she’d read the data from the artist’s sketch book and I’d enter it into Gramps. She compensated me with lunch; it was win-win.

Once, visiting the gramps web site, we saw tee-shirts sporting the Gramps logo for sale.

 Jane  immediately wanted one; “Oh, I like that. I love 
tee-shirts! And I love Gramps.”
 Knowing her birthday was coming, I pretended not to notice but made a mental note.

An accomplished procrastinator, I didn’t look again until it was shortly before the birthday. Oops.

  • I couldn’t find the site.
  • Using Google got me to the site, but I couldn’t find the genealogy shirt.
  • Fighting panic, using another Google search, I got where I needed to be.
  • I couldn’t remember Jane’s color preference. I made an educated guess.
  • I formed a contingency plan regarding delivery delay, held my breath, and placed the order.
  • The shirt arrived in plenty of time.

Having previously celebrated her birthday with my wife and a mutual friend, she was not expecting a celebration on this visit. She was shocked, surprised and delighted with the gift.

Weeks later she told me about a visit with her brother and a couple of men she and her brother had grown up with and had not seen in many years. Wearing her Gramps tee-shirt, she got a great deal of mileage out of talking about Gramps, the 10 family genealogy, and the friend ( me ) she was working with using Gramps to organize the data mountain she had accumulated.

“They were really intrigued by Gramps,” she told me. “They asked lots of questions. Like so,
and she told me.

“Who wrote it?” they asked.

“Walter,” I told them, “
said that it’s open source. I’m not sure I even get what that means.”

“Was it expensive, then?”

I replied, “Unbelievably, the program is free.”

“How did you get it, again?”

“My niece’s husband,” I repeated, “installed it for me. I suppose he downloaded it.”

“Well, so what’s the URL,” they asked.

At this point she grinned, cheshire cat-like, at me. “I suspect they didn’t think I’d know the URL, or maybe even what a URL is,” she giggled, and continued her narrative.

I wordlessly stood up, slowly, increasing the dramatic effect. I mouthed, “The URL?” to them, shrugging my shoulders. Then I put my arms at my side, moved a little closer to all of them, and turned around, revealing the backside of the shirt.

“www dot gramps dash project dot org,” they said, almost  as one.

“It was a triumphant moment and felt just wonderful,” she said. “It was great fun."

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Monday, September 15, 2014

But there are... Giants!

Religion, Mythology, Fairy Tales, and Folklore.  Which are which?  No one ever worshiped the Fairy Folk, but people sure did believe in them.  In fact, I bet they still have a few stragglers.  Thor had a religious following.  Without them he's been downgraded to myth, but got to keep Thursday in the settlement.

I do not believe The Bible is true, but I do find it as interesting as the other stories out there, maybe a little more.  Part of my fascination is that I grew up being told they were true.  Part of it is all the people who still do believe it is.

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Recovering What Seemed like a Lost Pen

"Happy Birthday, honey," she said.

I opened the gift bag; the two nibs I was hoping for were in it. I was elated. "Thank you so much!"

I have some Chinese fountain pens that are quite nice; right weight, right feel, right line width ( medium nib ). There is only one small problem: they tend to write poorly. Unfortunately, this is the entire point, the 'sine qua non' of owning a fountain pen. Being addicted to fountain pens ( as I've previously confessed to ), I could not quite give up on their use and recently looked for help as a techie would ... on the internet. I found several sites that took the skipping and difficult starting of these particular pens for granted. I also found several references to a specific brand of replacement nib, the reviews for which said things like, "no more hard starting"; "hardly any skipping any more"; "works like a dream with the new nib;" and "very pleased."

The nib seemed expensive, costing more than one hundred fifty-percent of the ( admittedly quite inexpensive ) cost of the pen. While I am addicted, I am also fiscally conservative ( some would say 'cheap' ) and I found myself unwilling to spend even that relatively small amount of money to procure a test nib.  My wife doesn't understand my addiction, although she does 'get' that I am addicted. I didn't really want to deal with whatever issue she might have with that kind of expenditure, either. Especially thinking that maybe perhaps there is a possibility that the nib would not pan out. Asking for one or two of these nibs for my Birthday seemed perfect.

In the post admitting my addiction, I said I had recently spent some time with these pens. I was removing and reinserting the nibs on a couple of pens, to be sure I am able to perform that sort of maintenance. Confident I would be able to replace the nib(s) that came with the pen(s), I asked for this Birthday present. 

After celebrating my birthday with a noon Mass and a lunch at a very Russian restaurant, I could no longer contain myself. Taking the nibs to my office, I hurriedly removed the nib from one of my X450 pens. The nib is in two pieces, a plastic feed ( which is not replaced with this type of nib ) and the nib itself. I placed the new nib over the feed and tried to reinsert it; it would not go. Gulp. Warm forehead. I assured myself the nib would fit without the feed, put the nib on the feed again, pushed the assembly together into the pen body. Success! I filled the pen with ink, and tried it.

The results, comparing scanned images of the writing with the old nib
Three writing samples, all showing significant skipping. Unretouched.
 to images of writing with the new,
Two pens, two inks, neither showing any signs of skipping. Unretouched.

speak for themselves.

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Friday, September 5, 2014

How to Feed Myself - #3

I have now been on this diet for fourteen weeks, and have lost sixteen pounds.  I've lost about forty percent of the weight I'd like to, and plan to reach my goal by the end of the year.

I've learned a bit about food, and my own eating habits while on this diet.  The simple calorie counting diet i chose doesn't limit me to any specific foods, but just by limiting the amount, i find myself cutting out foods that are not good enough to waste my calories on.

Bread is a big one.  A classic Arby's roast beef sandwich has 150 calories in the roast beef, and 210 calories in the bun.  The bun is nice, but it's no roast beef.  An easy way for me to cut calories is to combine two, and feed one of the buns to the birds.

Another surprise on the same sandwich is the sauce.  An Arby's sauce packet has 15 calories, while a horsey sauce packet of equal size has 50.  Both are full of flavor, but you could have over three times the Arby's sauce for the same calories.

Mayo is a big one for restaurants.  I never bought it at home, and i never really thought about it before.  Now that i am, the calories per ounce are ridiculous.  It's good, but not that good.  An easy cut.

Even though i'm eating less, i find myself spending just as much, maybe more.  I used to spend a dollar or two on a big bag of candy.  Now i find myself spending twice as much on half the candy so i'll be more satisfied with less.  And in general, more quality ingredients because i will be tasting it, and won't be tasting anything else soon.

I've found that these natural trade offs almost always seem like healthy decisions to me.  Most people agree these days that you shouldn't be getting most of your calories from bred.  I assume jelly beans flavored with real fruit and such are healthier than those artificially flavored.

I haven't noticed a major change in my budget, or how healthy i feel.  As always, time will tell.

Thursday, September 4, 2014

My Family Never Hears Me

"A family never listens."
"You belong to family."
I tried to talk with Mom
I feared I wouldn't be heard

"You belong to family."
She spoke with much conviction
I feared I wouldn't be heard
It was a perfect echo chamber

She spoke with much conviction
She thought that I would hear
It was a perfect echo chamber
She thought she reasoned wisely

She thought that I would hear
"It's not just you that we don't hear"
She thought she reasoned wisely
"We treat everyone the same."

"It's not just you that we don't hear"
Her words pierced my ears
"We treat everyone the same."
Her words then pierced my heart

Her words pierced my ears
"A family never listens."
Her words then pierced my heart
I tried to talk with Mom

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