21 December 2010

Welcome Winter!

We're celebrating the winter solstice today. If you don't observe one of the many religious holidays that occur this time of year, it can be a little hard to come up with a "How to Celebrate" template. Fortunately for us, a lot of the holiday symbols aren't inherently religious. Evergreens? Check. Holly? Check. Mistletoe? Check. Wreaths? Check. Sparkly lights? Check. Frost? Snow? Icicles? No problem. Presents? Anytime. Over the years we've incorporated these things with other bits from here and there into a holiday observation of which we have become rather fond. 

One of the things we do, and I don't remember whose crazy idea this was, is to experience the shortest day of the year by not using artificial light. We get up when it's light which, here in the Pacific Northwest, means we get to sleep in. We use whatever light is available during the day, and plan to be done with whatever we're doing by the time it gets dark. Since, here in the Pacific Northwest, this comes pretty darn early, the person responsible for the holiday dinner has to do some pretty intricate planning. If nothing else, by midmorning you realize that it's pretty much a reflex to turn on the light when you go in the bathroom.

As it gets dark, we listen to music because there's not much else you can do without turning on the lights. When it's dark, we light the candles, light the fire, put the tin sun ornament on the tree, open the wine, exchange presents, eat dinner, and all that.

It may not be exactly what everybody else celebrates this time of year, or exactly the way anybody else celebrates it, but we're OK with that. For us, it's all about love and family and eating too much and presents the recipient will need to return and the days starting to get longer. Not necessarily in that order.

It's getting dark. I wonder how Scarecrow is doing with dinner?

...rise up, Jock, and sing your song,
For the summer is short and the winter long,
Let's all join hands and form a chain
'Til the leaves of springtime bloom again.

19 December 2010


The other day, before I put up the post about Tuffy's birthday, Scarecrow observed that there wasn't much new material on my blog this month. Since that was true, I sat down (virtually speaking) and wrote something.

Reading it over (yes, I do that, even though it probably doesn't seem like it), I found this:

"This is all sounding rather whiny and petulant, and I don't mean it that way. Whatever point I might have been trying to make, it appears I totally missed it. In fact I should probably scratch this post and start over, but I can't think of anything else I really want to write about and at least one of my four readers is obviously restless so I'm going to post it even if I sound like a whiny jerk...."

Wait wait wait. Wait. Hold on just a minute. I'm thinking I shouldn't post what I've just written, but I'm about to do it anyway? How stupid is that? Am I really afraid "my readers" will be disappointed? Oh please. I really need to get over myself. Besides, writing for readers other than myself starts to feel an awful lot like work. Been there, done that.

So it's been kind of a thin month, content-wise, on this blog. You can thank me later.

Instead of scribbling, I've been kind of preoccupied with holiday shopping.

This time of year isn't really about Stuff. I know that. It's shallow of me to admit how much grief my gift list causes me, when it's the thought that counts, it's about love and family and being together and pretty soon the days will start getting longer. But there it is.

I have never been one of those people who can always think of the perfect gift, the one that the recipient didn't even realize they wanted until they got it, after which they can't imagine ever having lived without it. That kind of gift always involves an element of risk. I'd rather forgo the possibility of giving the recipient a pleasurable surprise if it means reducing the likelihood of witnessing speechless dismay. Give me a wish list every time.

Tuffy's good that way. She's got a wish list online, with links to everything from boxing gloves to cool chopsticks to sparkly hairpins to rubber boots. She updates it regularly. Lots of choices, but there was her birthday, in addition to the whole solstice winter holiday thing.

Scarecrow is more of a challenge. Throughout the year he mentions stuff he would have on his wish list, but come December I'll be darned if I can remember what he might have been lusting after in March or July or October.

I'm still working on it. No rush.

15 December 2010

Birthday Girl

Today is Tuffy's 21st birthday.

I guess there has to be some arbitrary age at which people are considered adult, and twenty-one is as good as any. It's not like she's really much different today than she was yesterday. In some respects she's been amazingly adult since she was five years old. In other ways I wonder if she'll ever grow up. But, officially, today's the day.

I don't know what I expected. It seems like a surprisingly unremarkable day. From my perspective, at least, something of an anti-climax.

Maybe I'm a little slow, but it wasn't until I first went into labor, 21 years ago, that I was struck by the terrifying realization that I was about to do something I could never undo. From that point on, I would always be a parent. That's when it became real. At that point, I couldn't possibly imagine her turning 21. Or 18. Or starting school. Heck, I couldn't imagine her ever being big enough to fit into six month size baby clothes. But if time flies when you're having fun, I must've been having a blast.

She's grown up to be a remarkable person -- beautiful, smart, talented, funny... I guess parents always say that about their kids. But she really is. She's athletic, like her dad. Like me, she believes that anything worth doing, is worth doing fanatically. She doesn't much like dogs, so I guess in some ways she's her own little creature.

Seems like we ought to mark the occasion somehow, although I'm not sure we'll even see her today. She was still in bed when we left for work, and she'll be at the gym by the time we get home. Her friends want to take her out to party, even though she doesn't drink.

I've been trying to think back to what I did when I turned 21, but I really don't remember. I know that by that time I had already made a couple of serious life mistakes, ones that Tuffy has thus far managed to avoid. Maybe that's because we were really good parents... but I doubt it.

Happy birthday, kiddo. Happy birthday.

06 December 2010


Long ago and far away, an eager young tech writer asked a senior software developer what protocol a server used to send configuration settings to a client device.

"PFM," the developer replied.

The tech writer looked blank.

"Pure F#@kin' Magic," he explained.


But now, many years later, I've come to believe he was probably right. Technological advances notwithstanding, I think a lot of things still rely on that protocol.

As we were leaving the UW Medical Center the other week, a woman was watching as I drove my power chair into the elevator and turned around.

"How are you doing that?," she asked.

"PFM," I wanted to reply. But I didn't. I explained about the head array control.

It might not be magic, exactly. I leave gouges in the walls and  dents in the furniture. I go backwards when I  meant to go forward, and vice versa. I whine and complain about how it makes my awkward, clunky power chair even more awkward and clunky. In spite of all that, I'm using it. I'm glad to have it. I'm keeping up with the Red Queen. That's pretty magical.

My latest adventure in assistive technology, and the reason I've been away from this blog for a couple of days, has been a search for a way to control a computer mouse without using my hands. I can get by without a keyboard. For entering text, Dragon NaturallySpeaking does fine. For moving around the desktop, it's beyond awkward. I'm not the first person to run into this problem. There are solutions. It's time to start checking them out.

The most likely-sounding options use head tracking. A webcam tracks the position of your head, and moves the cursor accordingly. They can be pricey, but there's an open-source option. I've spent the last couple of days playing around with it.

Like the head array, you wouldn't use it if you could use a regular mouse or trackball. It's a major drain on system resources. And something keeps crashing Firefox and Thunderbird. But it kinda works. No hands! How cool is that?