Category Archives: General

Encounter in the Wild (Windows 8)

Even long-term readers of my blog may not be familiar with my background in computers.

I got my first “micro-computer” in 1978 – a TRS-80 at the age of 13. Just like my modern day counterparts, I was obsessive about the computer. I taught myself to program it, taught myself the hardware and spent my time trying to make it do increasingly complex and interesting things.

I sold my first program that same year. It was nothing complex, just a simple stock portfolio tracker, but it was the start of my career.

I had three fields of interest when it came time to go to college. (There was never any doubt I would go to college and even to this day, kids who don’t want to go mystify me.) Ultimately for reasons I won’t expound upon here, I chose computer engineering over paleontology or forestry.

In 1983, while attending Arizona State University, I used a sizable chunk of trust fund to purchase an original IBM PC, with 2 floppy disk drives running IBM DOS 2.0.

It is not an exaggeration to say that I’ve worked with PCs every day of my adult life and while I don’t normally get down to the hardware level anymore, I am a long-time professional.

If you’ve not been living under a rock, you probably know that Microsoft Windows 8 came out recently and it hasn’t met with the greatest of reviews. This isn’t uncommon and you have to take these things with a grain of salt. Yes, I admit, my computer nerdy friends and I have looked at the asinine touch-screen laptops running Windows 8 at Best Buy and Costco and laughed at the once-mighty Windows, but the fact is, I’d not had a chance to actually use Windows 8 until yesterday.

All I had to do was setup a wireless network and a couple wireless printers, but I’ll say that Windows 8 seems to be the most illogical, counter-intuitive bag of hurt I’ve encountered in a long, long time.

Yes, I know that unfamiliarity makes things more obscure, but this isn’t entirely that. How many different places does one operating system need to call “devices” when none seem to contain any devices? (You know, like printers or something) Or how many places can you find that say “settings” or “change my PC’s settings” and still not find things like network settings?

While its certainly within Microsoft’s purview to change the names of things and make them less specific and confusing, I would argue it’s not a good idea to do so.

Did I find what I was looking for? Yes. But I had to force the machine into “Classic” Windows 7 mode where it was easily found on the task bar at the bottom of the screen.

And what’s up with the damned trackpad? I’d be using it to navigate and suddenly it was like a poltergeist was in the machine. I might be scroll right to left and suddenly screens would change or it was hop backwards a page. Irrelevant screens just kept popping up on the screen unbidden.

On another occasion, I popped a CD into the drive and a dialog popped up in the upper right-hand corner of the screen. First time it happened, I looked at it, started to read it and it went away. I could not find a way to get it back without ejecting the disk and putting it back in.

The second time I moved the mouse to the dialog, but it disappeared as my mouse crossed into the dialog box. I managed to click the box on the third try but it went away anyway. It’s completely unclear to me if it was just evil or there’s some trick that the trackpad holds and was playing wonky with me. Fourth time was the charm, but why it didn’t do the same on the third, I haven’t a clue.

Windows has, in general, be getting better over the years – with that minor detour for Windows Vista – but this was like a trip to bizarro world. What the hell are they thinking? Any IT manager would be a fool to implement this on their users, the costs in training and lost productivity would just be wasted money.

Roll on Windows 9.

Foolish Promises

It’s only taken 24 hours and I’ve already realized that my promise to write a blog post every day was a foolish, empty promise at best.

I cannot help but self-censor myself a bit. If I have nothing burning to say, why force myself to say it? Too many people have to speak out just to hear themselves speak. Perhaps it drowns out the sound of the rushing of wind between the ears?

Let’s then explore a related topic: What is the urge that makes me want to promise to write something every day? I have, I feel at times, a compulsive urge to create things.

Not things like new Ikea furniture or a tray of shortbread, but the desire to make things wrought entirely from my own mind. It’s a strange compulsion, seldom accompanied by an actual idea, but with a rather helpless sense of longing. It often strikes me while driving on my way home from work.

I used to get that sense of creation from coding computer programs, although nowadays modern programming languages are more about cobbling together blocks than raw creativity – it rather feels like the Ikea of programming. Perhaps I’m just burned out on it. In my teens and 20s, like so many others, I could spend 20 hours a day fueled by Cheetos and Dr Pepper whilst spewing stream of consciousness programming onto the screen.

Now I feel like I should be doing proper writing. Have I got the great American novel in me? I don’t feel that I do. My taste runs towards rather old-school science fiction. Perhaps if this were the classic days of pulp science fiction, I’d be right at home in good company – cranking out straightforward but ridiculous stories of life on Venus and, with a little luck, turning my ability to produce bullshit into a world-wide, tax-avoiding religion.

Ah, but I can dare to dream!

No. The plots, when they do come to mind, get quickly rejected by being scientifically impossible. It seems entertaining science fiction is dead because of the reality check. Damn you physicists and your “speed of light is inviolable” and “the electronic transmission of matter over a beam is impossible”!

You can only write old-style science fiction nonsense if you’re being quirky and ironic.

But wait! I am quirky and ironic!

There might be some hope yet.

Episode 1215 – Excuses

It’s been long enough, I suppose.

The last post on this blog was over a year ago, concerning the death of my father, and it might appear that I stopped blogging in the wake of that. it just isn’t true. My posting prior to that have become infrequent, at best.

Twitter was killing it. My random thoughts, gripes and moments of my life were being siphoned away into little 140 character nuggets. By the time I felt like writing about something, I felt it was “old news” over on Twitter. If nothing else than an exercise for myself, I am going to force myself to blog something every day for a while. I have lost the art of writing “long form” I think.

I’ll start with a brief summary of what happened in the last year.

My dad is still dead – no surprises there. The rest of us are doing fine, although we’re all coming off some seasonal illness that is either 4 different illnesses or a single illness that manifested itself in four different sets of symptoms. I’m hoping for the latter, otherwise each of us has the likelihood of catching the other three illnesses in the household.

Speaking of dad, it took several months, but we finally honored his final request and scattered his ashes where he wanted. I made a video out of it, which might sound a bit ghoulish, but I found it cathartic.

The kids are doing well in school and are still maintaining straight A’s. Michelle has recently taken up violin, which she begged us for. Practice time is a bit of a chore – more for me than her, though.

You can listen here, if you dare: Violin Lessons, early days

In July we vacationed in California. First for a little while around Los Angeles, then up into the nearby mountains and the town of Wrightwood.

Wrightwood itself wasn’t the object of our trip. Michelle went to her first week-long summer camp at Camp Quest West. Chu-Wan also spent a week at camp as a counselor. I might have done the same, but James was one year too young to attend. Instead, he and I went father-son camping. Much like I used to do with my dad.

Michelle and Chu-Wan had a great time at Camp Quest and we’ll be discussing that more on the blog later.

James and my adventure was very different. We were not at all familiar with the area around the camp, so I relied on the Internet to identify potential campgrounds in the area of the camp. There were four forest service campgrounds, only one of which accepted reservations. I loathe making campground reservations, but because we had to camp in the area, I chose to play it safe.

The one campground that accepted reservations had over 100 sites available – only 2 were unreserved several months early. Apparently the proximity to Los Angeles makes this a popular campground. While the summer camp was in the 6,000ft altitude range, the campground was over 8,000ft. Again, with no experience in the area, I could only guess what July temperatures might be.

On the first day, before I dropped off Chu-Wan and Michelle at camp, we all arrived at the campground. As we pulled up to the reserved spot and got out of the car, I knew why this spot was the last puppy in the shop. It was awful! It had no trees. It was slanted at a 25º angle. The ground was tufty grass with abundant rodent holes in it. The metal table sat in the glaring sun and the whole site was 20 feet downwind of one of the smelliest pit toilets I’ve ever had the misfortune to experience. It was going to be a bad week.

My opinion of the suitability of the spot was confirmed when, as we surveyed the disaster that was the site, the campground hosts pulled up in their truck and said, “You’re not liking your spot very well, are you?”

Chu-Wan escaped sleeping in the tent as she had to be dropped off at camp the night before the session began. Michelle, James and I spent the night listening to the sound of unidentified rodents scurrying under the floor of the tent.

Michelle got dropped off the next day, leaving James and I alone in a packed campground… but not for long.

The campground hosts told me that, come Sunday afternoon, the campground would empty out completely and I was free to move my tent wherever I wanted. True to their word, by the time we returned from dropping off Michelle the campground was a ghost town.

I looked around and considered what a hassle it would be to collapse the tent and re-build it. I decided to limit my move to the nearest suitable site that I could pick up the standing tent and move it to. This was across the road and up a hill. It was a beautiful site, heavily wooded and flat, with hard-packed ground that had seen many a tent. At the back site of the site, you could see west into the valley and in the evening it had beautiful sunsets and twinkling lights from the small towns below. It also had intermittent cell phone coverage, which made it better than the other spot, which was a complete dead zone.

I told the campground hosts where I’d moved to. One of them said, “That’s fine. It’s a lovely spot. A bit windy, though.”

The other said, “Oh, well, it’s not as windy as the ones down on the lower loop.”

“That’s true,” said the first, “those get really windy!”

They had put their finger on the problem: That beautiful view down into the hot desert valley below meant that each night a prevailing wind blew up the canyons all night long. On the first night, the tent was at time whipped around like we were in a storm. I was kept awake most of the night by it and James clung to me in terror.

In the morning, while James was still asleep, I trekked down to the nearest restroom. I also had to trek around the campground a bit because the wind during the night had blown most everything in our camp a hundred yards away. Even the camp chairs had been picked up and sent flying.

While I was out of site of the campsite, I pondered how utterly alone we were. How my only family was at the summer camp, and they also had no cell phone signal. How anyone I knew was 7 hours or more away and no one really knew where we were. I realized how often my dad and I had been in such a similar situation. With my mother and grandparents dead, we camped all over Arizona, alone, without anyone knowing where we were. If something had happened to my dad, I would have been in serious trouble, but that had never occurred to me. I was actually scared. What would James do if I got hurt?

And at that moment, a dense, spiky pine cone, weighing a couple pounds at least, about the size of my head fell out of a tree and missed beaning me on the head by about 4 inches. It put my position clearly in perspective and after James woke up, we spent a good deal of time talking about what to do in the case of emergency. It didn’t change things, of course, but at least I felt like he stood a chance if something happened.

The next night was even worse! I was awoken at about midnight by what I could only assume was a bear trying to rip the tent apart. The whole tent was shaking and the flexible tent poles were being halfway to the ground. Then the rain fly ripped loose and blew off, expose the top of the tent to the night sky. Now the wind was blowing straight into the tent and puffing it out from the inside. One side broke away from the ground and started lifting up. I was only the weight of me on the air mattress that held it on the ground.

When it calmed down a bit, I got out, found the rainfly and put it back in place. The ropes had been torn off and I had to improvise a way to secure it. I figured I’d fix it in the morning.

That was not to be. surveying the damage to the tent revealed that it hadn’t caused the ropes to come loose, the canvas of the tent that secured them was ripped off. The tent stakes hadn’t come out of the group. The web stake loops had been ripped free of the tent.

I made an executive decision: The tent was deposited in the garbage at the campsite and James and I found our way back to greater Los Angeles to stay in a hotel. My first and so far only father-son camping trip had ended in defeat.

The rest of the year has been mostly routine save for one thing: Camp Quest Arizona.

In 2011, several of us came together to form Camp Quest Arizona, a summer camp for the children of atheists like us.

Summer camp with the Boy Scouts was the highlight of my year when I was young, but I have become increasingly disgusted with what they’ve become.

While the Boy Scouts have increasingly come under fire for their exclusion of gays, they discriminate against atheists as well. Atheists and even Scouts who speak out against their exclusionary policies are actively kicked out of the Scouts now.

Today as I write this, the Boy Scouts are expected to reverse their ban on gays due to public outrage. There has been no public outrage of their intolerance towards atheists and no repeal of that ban is forthcoming.

Camp Quest was formed years ago to provide an alternative to scout camps and bible camps, the two prevalent types of “camp by the lake” summer camps in the US. It is open to all children and is not intended to foster atheism, but is instead a place for kids to have fun at camp just like everyone else and to have a place to be with others with similar world views. Camp Quest teaches tolerance of different religious views and provides positive atheist role models for kids who live a world surrounded by people who too often claim that without religion there can be no morality. The weight of history proves that to be nonsense, but it doesn’t stop the people shouting it to the sky.

Currently, I have the privilege to serve as chairman of the board Camp Quest Arizona, the local chapter of Camp Quest. We’re in the thick of preparing for the 2013 camp session this June and it is a massively time-consuming, but rewarding task.

I shall save that for another day, though.

Phil Glover 1931-2012

Yesterday, after an accident with a dead pine tree, my father, concerned that his life had deteriorated to the point where he’d be either mentally or physically impaired and a permanent burden to his family, committed suicide.

That we, his family – that I, his only child – would have accepted that burden without complaint is without question. He knew that and so he chose not to involve us in the decision he made about his life.

I cannot change that.

I can say, in my mind and in my principles – those that he instilled in me – that he had every right to do what he did. Everyone does. (No. Everyone should have the right to choose the point where they feel life offers more suffering than it does benefits. I say “should” because our laws, made by well-meaning but misguided busybodies, say we don’t have that right. A discussion for another time.)

In my mind I know those things, but that does not close the hole in my heart. I weep for my loss. I weep more for the loss my children feel and for the things they’ll never share with or know about a man who loved them more than anything else in the world.

That I cannot ever fill that hole is certain, but I have begun chronicling my father’s life as best I can and will be posting parts of it here online.

Here then iS the preface:

When information is no longer refreshed and maintained, it starts to deteriorate. When a primary source is lost, only the secondary traces remain.

Amongst so many other things, I lost a primary source of information yesterday with the death of my father, Phil Glover.

Never again will I hear about the fantastic the pizza from the Bottlecap Inn in Miami, FL in the 1950’s, or about how a misspelling in the local newspaper earned my dad the nickname, “Flip” or how a random automobile license plate and a blizzard lead to my birth.

My father’s story has come to an end, and parts of it has been told, in pieces, over 47 years, to me.

For my entire life, I’ve been keenly aware of the disconnect between first and secondhand recollection of a life’s story. My mother died when I was shy of 3 years old. I have had no memory of her for as long as I can remember, and I know so little of her story as to be nothing more than a paragraph or two on a page, and even that is contradictory.

Virtually, my only source for that info was my father and he either didn’t know, or didn’t care to discuss it much. I admit, I never pressed him on it because I thought it might be painful for him and my mother was really nothing more than a stranger to me. She was a loss to me intellectually rather than emotionally. I knew I should feel it, but I didn’t really feel it.

My father, on the other hand, has been the one fixed-point throughout my entire life. At any point in my lifetime, until yesterday, he was always there for me to reach out to for help, advice or just an ear to bend.

Did I take that for granted? I hope not. I think my dad knew how much I loved and appreciated him, even though neither of us said it very often.

Now I find myself thinking not about my loss, but that of my kids. They lost a man who loved them more than anything in the world and they can never know him as well as I did. No one else alive could.

The kids are older than I was when my mother died, but younger than when my grandparents (who helped raise me after that) died. My memories of them are varied, but I realize how little I knew of them either. My loss.

What memories they’ll hold of their “papa” I can only guess.

This is the start of my attempt to record that which I know about my father.

When information is no longer refreshed and maintained, it starts to deteriorate.

For my kids and for myself, this is the story of my father, Phil Glover, 1931-2012.