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Happy Mother’s Day Mom

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I have quite a few vivid memories with my Mom that stand out over the rest. There are many memories, but a few stand out as vivid points in time. I count myself as having one of the best Mom’s out there.  Not because we were best friends, or because she let me do anything I wanted, or because she gave me everything I ever asked for.  On the contrary, Mom was Mom first.  She and Dad gave me clear boundaries, and me work for what I got.  That last part had mixed results, but I got a foundation that helped me improve later in life.

I remember when I was very young, perhaps 3 or 4, and I decided I wanted to read.  My Mom read a lot, and we always had books around the house.  The kids books on the bookshelf in my room had nice pictures, but words too.  I walked up to my Mom, who was standing at the sink and told her I wanted to learn to read.  She told me to go get a book, and I chose “Now We Go to Church” from the shelf.  I would point to a word, and she would tell me what it was.  I would repeat it, and move to the next word. It went like this for a few days until I could read through the book unaided. From that day forward, I was a reader.

Mom has always been quite musical.  She played the piano as long as I can remember.  She sang in church often, and led the church choir. She transferred this to me through singing, piano lessons, and violin once I was old enough to join the school orchestra.  I joined her, singing in church.  Often we would sing duets, or she would play the piano while I sang. One of my favorite memories is my Mother and her sisters, gathered around a piano singing “Mockingbird Hill.” These days, Mom’s tickling the keyboard of her PC more than the ivories of the piano, but so aren’t we all.

When I was in the latter half of my school career, Mom was the School Food Supervisor for our school system. This gave me input into the school lunch menus, as Mom would ask my opinions.  I’d ask the other kids at school what they thought about things.  On days where lunch choices were particularly good or bad, people would come to me to comment.  The good would return, and the bad would never be seen again on the lunch menu.  Little did Mom know that her job choice actually slightly elevated her son’s social standing.

One day I was talking to Mom in the kitchen.  I forget the details of the conversation, but I do remember my adolescent mind coming up with a joking smartass comment.  When I said it to Mom, she took the glass of water she was drinking and threw it at me.  There I stood in the kitchen, my wet shirt a sign that I had reached a boundary. Mom wasn’t one for sass, and I wasn’t one for dishing it out. As it turns out, I spent most of my time growing up well within those boundaries.  I made mistakes, but I always came back to my comfortable place, following the lessons that taught me what boundaries should exist.

This is the same Mom that decided she wanted to sell books on the Internet, so she learned how.  I helped her a lot, but she studied, practiced, and improved.  Eventually she decided to go to school, so she proceeded to graduate at the top of her class in Internet Technology.

One thing, though, that Mom has done is endure.  I know my Dad.  Great guy, but he must be a pain in the ass to have as a husband. For sure their kids are all pains in the ass to varying degrees, myself most-definitely included. There was also another sibling, my sister Denice.  She lived for 9 years, severely mentally retarded (the acceptable term of the day) and generally sickly. She died young, but not before exceeding pretty much every grim outlook the doctors gave. Mom endured us all, and still does.

For a while Mom handled the business end of Dad’s shop, later in the day. She would be working in the shop, her hearing-aids turned down low, concentrating on numbers.  Unfortunately, my brother and I were often in the shop together at that time.  There are many stories to tell, but suffice to say she endured that too.

Oh, an the food.  If you know my Mom, you’ve at least heard about the food.  Mom has been cooking all of her life, with fresh ingredients.  She cooks with the simple flavors of good ingredients, allowing the flavor to shine through.  That’s called good, homecooked, Southern cooking in general, but Mom’s was always special.  The table was full of a variety of often one-ingredient choices at dinner, supporting at least one more complex side dish and a meat or two. It resembled a buffet as much as a family dinner, and it was all delicious.  Well, except for that one time that Mom insists was an experiment every time I bring it up. I think of that one major gastronomic failure from the woman in my entire life as endearing.  I don’t think she does.

Mom, you’re awesome.  Thanks.  Here’s a picture of a squirrel levitating a nut.

Happy Birthday to Me: I’m Going Bald

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I want to apologize publicly for the horrible things I said about Sports Clips in Dayton Ohio. It turns out I got a pretty good haircut for someone who didn’t know his hair was falling out. I got the haircut the third week in January, and it wasn’t until about three weeks later that I realized the truth.

This wasn’t without warning. My facial hair started falling out a couple years ago. I’ve had to stop wearing the van dyke since bald spots started to intrude. Once I could have grown a Tom Selleck, though it would have looked horrible on my face. Now, if I don’t shave, I have a sort of thick, crooked Hercule Poirot. My worst fear is that I’ll end up forced into an Adolf. Good thing I work from home.

My wife discovered the actual problem when she looked closer at the obviously poorly-cut spot on the back of my head. Since I couldn’t see it, I had her take a photo with her phone. What followed was an amazing laughing fit I have seen in years. My wife could barely hold the camera still enough to take a photo, she was laughing so hard.

As I’ve said, this didn’t come without warning. It’s actually a form of alopecia, and my sister has already been through it. Hers lasted around 12 years. Since she’s 12 years older than I, I’d say the timing is right. Hers started pretty much like mine, with bald spots forming then thin white hair sparsely filling the gaps. Gradually more of her head was thin white hair and less was the formerly dark brown.

Here is a “before” photo of my sister. It’s a little outdated. It’s her 6th grade school photo.

You might think I’d follow with the “after” photo, but I don’t have any good ones. Instead, I’ll select a photo that I think conveys the right feel.  I try to imagine what it must have been like for her,  because I know it’s coming for me. I took what I imagine my hair will like at its worst, and I found the perfect photo.  Below is, I’m sure, how my sister FELT the “after” looked.

So, Happy Birthday to ME!  I’m going bald, bit by bit, and not in any way in a good way.

I’ll live, but don’t be surprised if you see me with a shaved head in the future.

Live from New York – Lockjaw has MOVED

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Through a sequence of events over the past few years, Lockjaw’s Spouse has advanced in her career and education to the point where she was able to land a job at a great New York City charter school. As a result, we have left North Carolina behind and moved the family to Washington Heights in Upper Manhattan. While North Carolina will always be home, New York City has much to offer even the grumpiest of ogres.

I am now 5 days into my new life in the city. The wife arrived a few days after I did, having spent 5 weeks studying with Father Reginald Foster, the greatest latinist in the world. We are now getting to know the neighborhood, exploring the nearby blocks for interesting places, and planning our apartment.

There are many ways that New York City is different from North Carolina. Some are good, and some are just plain weird. For instance, when you get a beer with your meal in a restaurant in New York the waiter must pour a bit of beer into your glass so that, ostensibly, the beer is not being served from the bottle.

One of my favorite things about New York City is signage. There are billboards. There are multi-colored signs above nearly every store. There are neon signs in the windows. North Carolina’s cities are creating more and more sign ordinances, which have always driven me crazy. My hometown of Sanford is one of the worst, though Cary has the most well-known. Limitations on signs are unusually strong. As a consumer trying to find a store, it can be very troubling to drive back and forth looking for a particular store only to discover that the sign is a small block on a larger, yet still small sign conglomerate with no real differentiation in font, color, or visibility. Small businesses are harmed by government regulation that does not allow them to set themselves apart from the other stores nearby, or make themselves identifiable from the road.

New York is not this way. Signs are part of the flavor of the city. What would Times Square be without the billboards but a plaza amongst tall buildings?

On the other hand, New York places benches all arounds its parks, but does not allow you to sit on one near a children’s playground unless you have children of your own. This is supposed to prevent child predators from being around the children, but I have a hard time believing that this is truly effective. This prior restraint on law-abiding citizens isn’t going to prevent the miniscule minority of perverts (perverts being a minority of the citizenry, and predators being a minority of the perverts) from finding children. Face it, if they can have police to ticket people for sitting on provided benches, why can’t they have them to watch for predators?

One of the greatest things about New York City is food. Food is everywhere. In my two trips to the city, and my short time since moving here, I have had some of the most amazing meals I have ever eaten. The HK Fritata at Hell’s Kitchen’s HK Diner was great. The sushi at two different restaurants was the best I have ever eaten. Junior’s cheesecake truly deserves its “best in the city” reputation. Last night I had “Enchiladas al Vino” at a mexican-influenced restaurant west of Broadway in Washington Heights that amazed me. Imagine my surprise when the lady at the Dunkin Donuts told me the delicious cuban sandwich I had up the street was “no good” before telling me where to find one better.

I look forward to discovering more about the city. I am loving the neighborhood. I am loving the neighbors. I love the subway system, and the grid layout of the streets.

It’s a good day.

Cursive – Who Thought This was a Good Idea?

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I have a vivid memory from a very young age of scribbling a bunch of loops on a piece of paper with a blue ballpoint pen. My young mind was intrigued with how long swirls and peaks could form words. Of course, since I was still too young to read I was writing gibberish.

As I grew older writing became a constant part of my life. Much of my early education involved drawing block letters in large spaces on lined paper. Every year the spaces grew smaller in order to refine my handiwork. I always knew that my artistic skills were not great when it came to drawing lines, and my simple block letters were no exception.

In third grade I finally reached what I thought was the holy grail of writing. In Mrs. Powers’ class I learned to write in cursive. I learned the letters, and how to string them together easily. Of course, my cursive writing was only legible if I wrote slowly and carefully. In addition I had adopted special forms of certain letters such as the capitalized T and F from Mrs. Powers’ own style, rather than her lessons. She taught the “proper” way, but I preferred the letters as she wrote them. To me it was as much a preference in style as it was in legibility.

The next few years I dutifully wrote cursive in class. I pitied my poor teachers who had to read my writing, and I still do. My cursive legibility relied as much on the readers’ expectations as my own skills. This, I learned later, was a common thread between most writers of the cursive script. Honestly, can you say that you’ve never found a beautifully written page that had words that could only be discerned based on the words around them?

After Mrs. Powers, the most important person in my life of the handwritten word was my 8th grade history teacher, Mr. Keith. One day Mr. Keith pulled me out of class and had a very frank discussion with me.

“David,” he said, “your handwriting is terrible. Some letters angle to the left. Some angle to the right. They should all angle to the right because the eye flows better that way.”

His next words changed my life.

“Honestly, if you can’t write any better than that, then print.”

It really was that simple. The rigid requirements of school said that I should use cursive script, because it was a skill I should practice. Another requirement was that my writing be legible enough to read. The two requirements, in my case, were contrary. I had, though, been trying to meet both requirements. Mr. Keith helped me understand that there could be a choice.

From that day forward I turned in my classwork in printed form. I would have turned in my homework the same way, except that I rarely saw homework as a requirement.

Every year most teachers would approach me and inform me that I should be turning in my assignments in cursive. Printing my assignments was not acceptable, because I was expected to use cursive script. Since I had learned a bit about making decisions on my own in the face of conflicting instructions, I knew what to do. I would smile, nod, and agree to use cursive script.

I would then turn in my next assignment in cursive, without the care required to make my assignment reasonably legible. After that one assignment I would return to my printed words without a word, or a complaint from the teacher.

Cursive, I learned, was pretty but useless. As a system of communication, cursive was imprecise. With practice my writing never improved beyond what I learned in third grade. I had gained in speed, but not legibility. Cursive writing was not for me, and I began to think it wasn’t so great for everyone else either.

Several years ago the news came out that schools were no longer pushing cursive writing skills as a necessity. I was thrilled with the news. Not only would the new kids no longer be forced to learn a form of communication that was barely effective across the general population, but also there was hope that one day I could read a prescription form.

Now when I write by hand I prefer an all-caps block lettering. Occasionally I throw in a lower-case vowel such as when I write the word “email.”

I think the biggest lesson I learned through all of this wasn’t really about cursive script at all. It was about rules. To my teachers writing cursive was the rule. I was expected to follow the rule. The rule, as it turns out, wasn’t 100% right. Learning the difference between rule and right is important to us all, and cursive script was a tool that helped me understand.

Why I dislike roadside deer

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My wife and I were on the way home from a delightful anniversary trip to Charlotte. I can’t tell you exactly which anniversary it was, because I’m male. I’m sure my wife could tell you exactly which anniversary it was, because she’s the wife and women seem to have a genetic predisposition to remembering anniversaries. I’m just glad to have a calendar app on my iPhone to tell me when it’s my anniversary so I can say it first.

Here I am telling you about why I didn’t remember which anniversary it was, when you’re asking a completely different question. Charlotte? You took an anniversary trip to Charlotte? Why? The simple reason we chose Charlotte as our anniversary destination was because it allowed us inexpensively spend our anniversary “not here.” Ah, the joys of an easily-entertained couple.

There were two routes we could take to get home from Charlotte. One was to take the interstate at high speed, then turn South on US-1 which provided a nice, wide path. The other option was to take a more direct route down mostly two-lane roads and smaller highways. The actual difference in time to drive the distance was about the same, but we would be driving at night so I chose the route least-likely to be lined with dozens upon dozens of suicidal deer. From stories I had heard from others, hitting a deer with your car can be a less-than-satisfying ordeal.

Most of the trip was uneventful. There was the occasional break at a gas station. It seems that both the wife and I have bladders of small children when on a trip, requiring regular trips lest she whine annoyingly every time the car hits a bump. I mean lest WE whine annoyingly every time the car hits a bump. Of course I do.

We stopped off for a late dinner at the Ryan’s Steak House in Cary, NC. Some of you may know this particular location from the great “Ryan’s Steak House Incident” story posted to USENET a few years back.

After dinner we continued South on US-1, with our bellies full of buffet deliciousness. It being dark already, I was not looking forward to the tendency toward sleepiness that sets in on long nighttime drives. My wife, let’s call her Shannon to protect the innocent, talked to me along the way to keep me alert. Those of you who know Shannon will know how hard this was for her, as she will sometimes go entire minutes without speaking.

Somewhere in the long, straight stretches of divided four-lane that is Chatham County US-1 I heard a noise from my wife that was a little odd, followed by words that I can only suppose were “What the Hell is THAT?” Simultaneously I saw, far in the distance, a grey form that was just entering the range of my high-beams. Since I was in a 65 mph zone, I thought it might be a good idea to slow down from my 75 mph speed for safety’s sake, and hit the brakes HARD.

As the grey form came closer both Shannon and I realized that it was a deer, and a nice-sized one at that. I had hit the brakes hard enough to stop quickly, but not so hard that we would lose traction and turn a potentially bad situation into a horrible one. My brain made some quick calculations while Shannon yelled something about the grey form being a deer and to not hit it. Since the deer was in the left-lane and I was in the right my brain thought it likely that we could avoid impact regardless of the fact that the car was going to stop approximately 10 feet beyond the deer.

The deer performed some calculations in its own brain. Knowing that a stationary car is much less likely to help it in its suicidal urges, the dumb sack of tasty meat took a flying leap at the last moment in front of the car.

When I say “in front of” I actually mean across the front of. We were in a 1991 Saturn, which had a rather low front end. Even standing still the deer would probably have gone over the hood, but jumping helped a bit. Shannon is still traumatized a bit by the sight of deer belly fur before the impact. Even at the relatively low-speed of an almost-stopped car, it wasn’t enjoyable.

The deer, not being all that bright, was unable to properly measure the jump for maximum suicidal efficiency and hit the front end of the car with its hindquarters. It’s body wrapped around the passenger side of the car, cracking a large chunk out of the plastic fender and slamming its head into the passenger-side front door creating a large hole there.

When I think of what was going through Shannon’s mind when a heavy, loud impact slammed into the door mere inches from her I try not to laugh, no matter how hard that is.

Having managed to create a traffic jam of one car, the deer scampered away quickly. Upon inspection of the car we found a large piece of car body plastic and a matching piece of deerskin in the fender-hole. This bothered me somewhat as the skin is what keeps the tasty meat in place on the deer. It also made me consider that the deer may have been less scampering away than running quickly yelling, “Ow! Ow! Ow! Ow!”

After determining that the deer had only caused cosmetic damage, and that the car was still perfectly driveable, we continued our way down the highway, wondering if that cold air coming through Shannon’s door panels would ever stop.

Now, at this point I should explain what it is like to have just run into a deer in a head-on collision. It’s weird. No, that’s not right. Weird isn’t the correct word for the feeling one has in this situation. It’s freaking TERRIFYING! Almost all talk in the car had stopped. I drove along at about 58 mph, still in the 65mph zone, hunched over the steering wheel like a 4 foot tall old lady, clenching the wheel in white-knuckled hands. My eyes darted from side to side, examining every speck of not-dark at the sides of the road. My heart was beating a mile a minute, which is an entirely mismatched play on words. I’m sure you get the idea.

Fifteen minutes later we were in our home county, and I realized the exact nature of my stress. Somehow, having been driving for many years and only hitting my first deer, I was convinced that another was waiting to get me. I was actually afraid that another deer was out there, just waiting for my car to come along so it could jump out and get hit.

“Shannon,” I said, “I’m actually afraid that another deer is out there, just waiting for my car to come along so it can jump out and get hit.”

My wife, brilliant thinker that she is, responded, “Oh no. The chances against that are astronomical.”

Coming into town at around 10pm, still no other car in sight, I finally started to relax a bit and stop worrying about HOLY CRAP A DEER JUST RAN INTO THE CAR!

A deer had run out of the woods on the left side of the road, and in an amazing feat of geometric analysis and execution, slammed into the driver’s side of the car damaging two more body panels and breaking off the rear-view mirror.

I was, as you may expect, a little stressed by this latest occurrence.

The next bit was a bit of a blur, but it involved a stopped car in the middle of the lane on an empty two-lane road near town. The passenger seat contained a shivering, scared figure that had once been my wife. The driver’s door stood open and some strange man that may have been me was running in circles screaming expletives at the top of his lungs, asking every deer within the 20 mile radius that his voice could be heard if they all planned on hitting his car that night.

It was a bit surreal.

That night I told my father the story. His first question was, “Where’s the deer now?”

Tragedy is no excuse for passing up on tasty meat.

Warcraft Economics – Auctions, Profiteering, and Helping Others

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I love to play World of Warcraft.  Questing, killing beasties, gaining achievements, and Player vs Player are just entertaining things to do on a nice relaxing evening. One of the great things about WoW, as it is known, is that there are so many different ways to play the game.  One of my most enjoyable things to do, though, is profiteering.  I farm expensive materials, gather sellable quest items, and pick up items from vendors in my travels for resale.

My favorite way to find things to sell, though, is to scan the auction house for items that are, frankly, being sold too cheaply.  I buy them at the seller’s asking price, and immediately place them back up for sale at a higher price.  The price I sell for more closely matches the price that the market will bear.  Sometimes, I can multiply my investment several times on one item.

More: Read the rest of this entry…

Joining the Dark Side – I Got an iPhone

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Last week, my wife and I finally upgraded our phones.  We knew we needed more from our phones, so I spent some time looking at the options.  I’m crazy like that.  When we first got our cellphones four years ago, I spent 2-3 months talking to everyone who had a cellphone about their plan, their service, and their phone.  I wanted to make the right decision, without hassle.  I gathered the evidence myself, and made the decision.  I did the same with this purchase.

I prepared for a few days beforehand, browsing apps in the iTunes App Store, and grabbing a collection of apps that looked useful, so I could jump right in when I got the phone.  Finally, the day before Thanksgiving, the wife and I drove down to make our purchase.

More: Read the rest of this entry…

I Swear, I WILL Blog Regularly Again

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It has been a long time since I have been blogging regularly, but I fully intend to make this a regular thing again. I’ve been doing lots of other things, but I need to take a little time to write.
Right now, I’m blogging from the Triangle Tweetup 2.0, a meeting of the Raleigh/Durham area users of Twitter. You can follow me, for what it is worth, as @LockjawTheOgre on Twitter.

It’s a whole different work environment

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Well, now that I’m in a different job, I’m finding lots of things are different. For instance, I’m doing more, stressing less, and have better surroundings. I finally have a place to display my Star Wars Action Fleet collection. I’m keeping an AC cord at the desk for my personal laptop. I also was able to buy a $5 chunk of Silly Putty from the big bulk order that some of the development guys made last week.
Silly Putty makes working on the phones much more interesting.

Job Change

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It’s a brand new day in Lockjaw’s Life. I’ve changed jobs. Hopefully, this will mean the chance to spend a little more time thinking on what I want to write. It does mean a little more morning time for me, and a little less evening time, but it also means more benefits in the ways that really matter. I still have a commute to worry about, so the podcast will continue. I should have a new podcast up in the next week, so be on the lookout. For now, I’m in a celebratory mood.

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