Saturday, March 27, 2010

Spring Cleaning


Spring indeed has sprung.

And this year, spring has inspired a little change in me.

Perhaps when you popped on this morning, you thought to yourself "hey … I'm in the wrong place? This doesn't look like head stuffing?"

It is indeed.

Welcome to the new look of head stuffing.

The old look was just getting … well … old.

Call it spring cleaning.

Call it not being satisfied with a layout that worked.

Call it the result of a masterful three years of procrastinating exalted to a new high.

Call it whatever you think appropriate.

But this new layout gives me the opportunity to do more with head stuffing as time goes on.

Like show off the friends of head stuffing a little better. You can get your facebook picture in there too if you like. Just become of a friend or fan of head stuffing on facebook by clicking the link at the top of the fan box.

Like show off my tweets on twitter a little clearer further down the right side.

Like spread things out a little neater.

Like making things a little bigger, and easier to read.

I am getting older you know.

But the tools are the same. They still work the same.

The archive tree on the left still unfolds by clicking the little arrows beside the month and year.

The links on the right still get you to Pat Caputo's best Detroit Sports Blog – and Open Book, and Ian Aspin's ReallyGoodThinking.

And all the old stories are still here.

But now it's just easier to see.

And hopefully easier to read.

But I did change the logo. Believe it or not, I have had this new version of the logo that you see above sitting in my clip art for the last two years.

It just never fit the old layout of head stuffing.

So what's next?

Well, as you can see across the top and bottom of the page, there are now links to let you jump quickly to my other two writing venues – Detroit Tiger Outsider and ProjecTalk. Currently these are completely separate blog venues – but I hope one day to make them tabs within head stuffing.

As well, there is a book I am working on. And for the last while, I have been very tempted to post excerpts of it here on head stuffing – just to get some feedback.

But that idea is a little more risky.

I might get my feelings hurt.

Who knows – as the internet is changing as fast as the movies in the theatre – head stuffing just might go 3D – Real 3D.

The hard part will be getting you the glasses before you get to the web page.

Who in their right mind wouldn't want to sit on my back veranda by the pool with me and my faithful black lab Suzy and read the latest head stuffing post with a warm cup of coffee and watch Suzy chase down Fluffy the rogue squirrel.

Okay, that one might be a ways off.

But odder things have come to fruition.

Spring is indeed a time for change.

And head stuffing really needed some change.

So we opened up the windows and the doors – and we left the stagnant old layout blow out with the rest of the dust and stale air.

And as a result, we have a squeaky clean new place to hang out.

I really hope you like it.

And thanks again so much for coming by.

Since you're here, could you grab me another cup of coffee … and maybe a dog-treat for Suzy?

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Shifting Back To A New Center


My mornings always start with a cup of coffee.

Two creams and two sugars.

And my computers web browser.

I like to wake up by reading in my favorite website haunts – like Ian Aspin's ReallyGoodThinking and Pat Caputo's Open Book Sports Blog. Both are very talented content providers – sharing their expertise with me freely.

I get my updates on my friends on facebook. I see what the people I find interesting on twitter have to say.

And then I jump to the local papers headlines to see what's happening around town.

Funny, because the local paper is usually sitting on my front porch as I log into the online version.

Then I jump into Pat Caputo's blog to see what he is talking about.

I check my emails and see if I have any comments on my head stuffing blogs.

Then I grab another coffee and I get ready for my day.

This morning ritual of checking my computer for what's new in the world hasn't really changed much over the last decade – except perhaps for what I'm reading.

It used to be that I checked my emails, and any news I subscribed to.

It used to take about tem minutes. Then I'd go get the paper and another cup of coffee.

Now it takes about three quarters of an hour. My coffee far from warm when I'm done.

Now before I get to work, I have a fair idea of how my friends are. What the trend of the day is – and perhaps even gain a little inspiration to start the day with.

Times are changing.

Over the last week, I have noticed that I actually just grab my iPhone to do all this. But it's just not as comfortable reading from that tiny screen yet. Convenient yes, but comfortable? No.

If you're reading this, most likely your way of getting up to speed with your own version of the daily planet happenings is very similar to mine. Perhaps the when and where is the only difference.

The shift has begun. For some this ritual is brand new.

The decade before this one found me sitting on the living room couch with my cup of coffee, getting my news from the television morning news, the paper open on the couch beside me.

The morning news is still on the television – available for me to check. And the paper still comes to the house – mostly for the ad flyers my wife needs to plan our weekly budgeted purchases.

My television now has some thousand channels available to be watched – news stations designed by program directors to feed me what I need to know by my interest in business, finance, or political perspective. But I don't use that. I get the news I am interested in online – and in the order I want to absorb it.

In fact now, before I even hit the shower, before I even lay the cereal bowls out for the girls to get their morning started – I know that an old buddy in Atlanta is participating in a fishing derby on Lake Lanier, and that another friend in Miami is off to do a photo-shoot in some beautiful location in Miami, and yet another friend just took off in a plane to another destination for work, or vacation.

That's worthy news – to me.

They may include photos –or a video – to let me share the experience.

I can't get that from the television's morning news show.

The television wants to tell me about what's happening with people I don't know. Paris Hilton's dog, or Brittany Spears boyfriend, or who from American Idol is favored to win. Somebody must be interested in that stuff – but that somebody isn't me.

I do still find great value in Sports Center on the sport network. I'm interested in that. But I can get more information in the time of my morning coffee consumption by checking for specific Detroit Tigers bloggers and stats sites.

I guess the shift I am talking about – as I see it anyway – is in how I can streamline my approach to getting up to speed.

But the downside is that sometimes I miss out on interesting items that occur outside peripheral vision of my little pinholes of interest.

You can't find out about things you don't know about by simply typing "What's interesting to me?" into a Google search box.

There are some out there that complain that we are passing by the services of the truly talented in the world by approaching this new media in the way that I am describing. That we are not reading the best news content – or not reading the best authors – or not being entertained by the best entertainers.

Their argument is that this new media allows mediocre content to take away the audience away from the truly talented content producers.

As I see it, if your truly talented – people will find you – on whatever media you are deploying your service – and they will show their appreciation to you by loyally returning for more of whatever it is that you are dishing out. Until what you dish out no longer is interesting.

Then they are off to the next interesting person.

Just like the holder of the television's remote control.

There are no more the medias controlled only by the big three networks – giving you only what they feel will get the biggest viewing audience – fitting their programming to best match the median interests of their audience.

However

That being said, one could look at facebook and twitter as the biggest of the two new media networks – and you are trapped only seeing information on these sites in the means they have determined the common median of their audience wants to see it.

Perhaps the shift is simply that the pendulum is swinging back to the middle – with Facebook and Twitter taking the place of the major television networks?

You only get a person's recent status – on twitter limited to one hundred and forty characters or less. On facebook you have to filter out the constant updates as to how your friends are doing playing the facebook games like Mafia Wars or whatever.

Whatever?

Maybe the big shift is just back to whatever best pleases the median interests of the public?

But in a much more specific way? Only from who you want to hear from.

Sometimes change seems to occur to make things more like they used to be.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Remembering Yer Man’s on St. Patrick’s Day


I think it is true that on St. Patrick's Day, everyone is a little Irish.

To some it's a day to wear green and to adorn yourself with shamrocks.

To others it's a day of parades and saying things like "Top o' the morning".

But to most of us, it's a day to enjoy a pint of beer or a sip of whiskey with good friends – gathering in a place to laugh and have a good crack – perhaps singing the old Irish songs.

To me it's all of these things – but more so a time to remember fantastic friendships from the past – and miss some fantastic friends of the present.

It wasn't until living in London, Ontario that I truly partook in St. Patrick's Day festivities.

At the time – in the late 1980's and early '90's – I found my circle of friends to be of various descents from the British Isles. From London and Wales, Glasgow, Dublin, and Belfast.

All great friends. Never an ugly word between them.

One of this circle opened an Irish Pub in town. It was called "Yer Man's" – and as Irish a pub in Canada you would find. It was there I learned to drink – and even pour – a proper pint Guinness. A meticulous endeavor requiring patience and a steady hand. Complete with a shamrock drawn in the frothy head.

And it was there that I learned that I actually preferred Harp – a lighter lager – to Guinness. I still have a pint whenever I come across a place that serves it – regardless of the reason.

My fantasy is to one day to always have a keg of Harp in stock and on tap behind my own little bar. Perhaps if my book is successful … some day.

The pub was a grand place indeed – run by Jimmy King. All of our friends gathered there. And the nights were full of telling jokes (or having a crack) – playing darts and playing pool.

We would gather there every night after work – and every weekend after a round of golf. Jimmy and his staff made us feel like the place was ours. It was the place where as you walked in the door, a pint of your favorite was already drawn for you and sitting on the bar – waiting for you. And the whole room would say "Hey Fred!" as you walked in.

I don't even get that at home.

Some of the best nights of my life were spent at Yer Man's – sipping a pint and cracking jokes with my mates. Yes, I said "mates" – because at Yer Man's – you felt Irish.

There was Kevin Powers – a Welshman who owned Power Printing – about the nicest guy you could ever meet – and funnier than anything one you will see on television.

And Hughie Edwards – a pipefitter from London, England - nearing retirement at the time – who took me aside when my Father passed away and told me "If you ever need a Da to talk to boy, come see me …".

The kindest words ever said to me through that trying time.

And Bobby Hill – another English Londoner who owned a tool and die shop in town – as good a guy as you'll meet – with a stutter that we all impersonated to give him a hard time.

We would golf most weekend mornings, riding to the course in Bob's van – and once the round was over – off to Yer Man's we would go – to spend the afternoon – which often turned into evenings.

On St. Patrick's Day each year – Yer Man's would pack to the brim. An Irish band would come in and play the standards – and each of us always had a space reserved for us at the bar. The whole place would be signing – the pints would be sloshing, and the jokes would be cracking wise.

I really loved that place. And Annie King was like an Aunt to me. Jimmy like a cousin.

One day a very pretty girl came in to apply for a job behind the bar. Patsy was probably the most beautiful girl I ever saw. In the end, Patsy and Jimmy married – but in the path leading up to that event, I did not know this, and I did my feeble best to win her affection.

When I did find out about the two of them, I felt like a real idiot.

I was really embarrassed.

I stopped going to Yer Man's – which was a mistake on my part. No one there thought any the less of me.

But when I feel embarrassed – my rationale goes out the window.

As the days turned into years – I stopped going to Yer Man's. But years later, I heard they had moved to a new location.

I stopped by one night – after work – thinking it would be just like the old days.

But the new location was much darker.

And the new crowd was full of unfamiliar faces.

There was no Kevin or Bobby or Hewy. I didn't know anybody.

But Patsy was there – running the place by herself that night. And when I came in – only one voice this time said "Hey Fred!" – and it was Patsy.

She introduced me to the new bunch of regulars as a "very important patron of the past". And she made me feel special on that visit.

She drew me a pint of Harp without my even asking. And she gave it to me on the house. And I sat on the end of the bar while Patsy filled me in on all that had happened with she and Jimmy since I last saw them.

I tried to talk to some of the new regulars – but I couldn't seem to spark much interest in conversation. I got up and played a game of pool by myself – expecting someone to drop a quarter on the table to challenge me – but no takers presented themselves.

So I sat and drank another pint of Harp, and thought to myself about how true it is that while time may heal many wounds – time also stands still for no one.

Or no place.

Not even Yer Man's.

I miss Yer Man's and the days of old with all my mates. And I wonder how they are. Are they even still alive.

Ashamed in myself for not even keeping touch after nearly twenty years have elapsed since seeing them last.

And fifteen years since my last visit to Yer Man's that one night.

It hits me hardest every St. Patrick's Day, how much I loved that old place – and that old gang of friends.

It's hard to explain sometimes.

But Yer Man's was one of the most important places in my journey through life.

I hope this St. Patrick's Day – that you are enjoying the people in your life.

Sláinte!

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Spring Is About To Be Sprung


Last night we rolled the clocks ahead one hour.

Daylight savings time now begins – at least in North America.

So last night I had one less hour of sleep.

And this morning I am one hour sleepier.

But it's one more sign that winter is on its way out.

That spring is almost ready to be sprung.

On the calendar – spring in the Northern Hemisphere of this great blue marble arrives on March 21.

A week from today.

My assumption is that the Southern Hemisphere is about to step out of summer and into fall.

My most sincerest condolences to those of you in the Southern Hemisphere.

Some people really like fall. The changing of the leaves and all. The cooler weather. The act of pulling those great sweaters out and cooler weather attire.

And some people really like winter. Some people travel thousands of miles to see snow.

Not me. I am not a winter person.

In fact I am a bit stir crazy right now. I am suffering from SAD – Seasonal Affective Disorder.

Last week here in Windsor we had a couple of beautiful days – Temperatures of fifteen degrees Celsius (or sixty degrees Fahrenheit for the metrically challenged). The sun was out and full and warm and the skies were blue and clear. And the birds were chirping.

Even the worms came out of the ground Friday morning and laid on the sidewalks to absorb some sunshine.

If you think I am depressed, imagine what a worm must feel like.

It would be wonderful to be able to hibernate the winter away – nestled nice and cozy in bed – shortly after a huge Thanksgiving feast to build the fat up for sustenance through the long winter sleep … then to wake up and find that it's spring.

I would probably hit the snooze alarm. I would set my snooze alarm to go off every five days – and then finally get up once we were into the first week of April.

But spring is so close now I can taste it.

They're playing baseball now down south. And in three more weeks the teams all return north to begin the season in the northern ball parks.

I can smell spring coming.

And so can the landscapers and yard maintenance professionals. They have been calling the house and stopping by to drop off flyers for all their spring services.

And I have been quite obliging in taking all their calls – and stepping out on the front porch when they drop by the house – looking around the lawn and gardens – and talking about what should go here and there and what will make my grass look as nice as the guy across the street.

That guy has the perfect lawn you know.

The bastard.

I still have a couple of bags of the good fertilizer lying around – the kind they banned last year in Ontario. The good stuff.

The weekend is coming shortly where the garage door will reopen – and the clutter and mess collected over the last six months will get chucked out for trash. The power washer will get pulled out and the whole house and driveway will get a good squeaky clean scrubbing.

And the windows will get opened up – and the freshness of outside will blow out the stale stagnant air inside our home.

And my faithful black lab Suzy will once again go into heat. That's not so fun.

More studley looking black, golden, and chocolate Labrador Retrievers will come by the house – invited of course – to try to woo the affections of my wonderful little girl with the shiny black coat.

But most importantly, I will be able to reopen my back deck. Set up the big patio table with the big brown umbrella - set the six chairs around the table and the little summer knick knacks and plants that adorn our deck in the summer time.

The deck is our outdoor living room in the summer time.

Or the back yard bar, as my lovely wife Darlene likes to call it.

And our friends will again visit – as sit in the back beside the still covered pool – and we will tell stories of past springs and summers – clinking glasses and toasting the arrival of the nice weather edition for 2010.

And baseball games will again be broadcast out of the little speakers of the back yard radio – the dulcet tones of Dan Dickerson and Jim Price calling the early season games of my beloved Detroit Tigers – wafting across the yard as I busy myself with the numerous preparations for summer that must be performed every spring.

Ahh … sitting on the deck with a beer, and listening to Dan Dickerson paint the beautiful scenes of baseball in my mind for me as my little girls play on the swing sets, slides, and teeter-totters in the yard.
I can almost taste it.

I can certainly picture it.

It's so nearby I can almost reach out and touch it.

Today we rolled forward the clocks for daylight savings time. And next week we start to the preparations for what will be another great spring and summer season.

But my oh my, there is so much to do to get ready again.

Saturday, March 06, 2010

An Apple Kind Of Guy


One of the really great things about being me is that only a couple of people ever call me on my cell phone.

My lovely wife Darlene calls me. Usually when I am out and about tackling tasks on my weekend honey-do list – adding another stop here and there for the items at various stores that she "accidentally" forgot to put on the list before I left the house.

Or telling about all the places I need to stop as I am coming home from work.

Or just to tell me her latest frustration or victory as her day passes.

The great thing about cell phones is that you can put download and set up a ringtone to identify the caller.

When I get a call from my lovely wife's cell phone – my phone plays The Guess Who's "American Woman" – because it used to be that she was calling me from work in Detroit.

When my lovely wife calls me from home - my phone plays Johnny Cash's "Folsum Prison Blues" – starting at the line "but I'm stuck in Folsom Prison …"

The "married guys anthem" - how apropos.

Last week, after months of consideration, Darlene went out and upgraded her cell phone to an Apple
IPhone. A 16 gigabyte hand held device that runs on the 3GS network.

She is in love with it.

Now I know there is a great divide when it comes to opinions of 3GS network cell phones.

Some of my friends have Apple's IPhone – and they love it.

Other friends – mostly people I work with in the IT industry – despise Apple's IPhone – and rave about the Android – running what is best described as a look-a-like user interface – the same swipe moves – pinches – pulls and push moves to navigate around the phone.

There are some significant differences between the IPhone and the Andorid phones.

The biggie is that when an IPhone battery dies – they tell me you pretty much have to buy a new phone. But the Android on the other hand can be opened up and the battery replaced.

That's a big deal.

As well, the IPhone only lets you do one thing at a time. You can only have one application open – like a calendar application – and if you need to reference something else – you have to shut down that application – and open the other – like a maps application – to look up directions to the place you are making the calendar entry for – and then close it down to move back into the calendar.

It would be like only being able to open one program in one window on your PC at time.

But the Android – so they tell me – allows you to open multiple applications at a time and jump around between them – just like on your PC, copying and pasting stuff from one to the other.

So they tell me anyway. I cannot speak from experience … yet.

You see, this afternoon, my lovely wife Darlene is hell-bent on taking me to the store to get my IPhone.

As Paul Simon would say – "who am I to blow against the wind".

Now – before I go on further – let me explain my experience with Apple.

Me, the big IT guy – huge supporter of the OpenSource movement sparked by the invention of Linux in the mid-1990's – a fundamental principle in the positioning of the Android phones – a certified Java developer –

… yada, yada, yada …

I love Apple.

Here is why.

Even though I work in a very technical field – I do fancy myself to be more of an artsy type rather than a techie kind of guy.

In 1988 - my very first job when I got out of school – included being an "Apple Support Coordinator" for an Apple outlet in London, Ontario. I was instrumental to moving the London newspaper – the Free Press – to creating their graphics and page layout into the next century by introducing the Apple Macintosh into their networks.

I set them up. I hooked them up. And then I taught their graphics people and the page layout people how to draw and do page layout.

And in the process – I got very good at making computer graphics on the Mac.

I was teaching bona-fide artists how to be artists on the Macintosh. And that was so much fun.

At one point the Free Press downloaded some graphics and they caught a virus. I went in with my little tool-kit and cleaned up the whole network – on their Macs and their PCs.

It just so happened that our little store was having an open house that day – and all our big customers – including the London Free Press – were invited. The regional representatives from Apple were also there.

So in I walked – a couple hours into the event – with a big wig from the Free Press's graphics department. A very happy lady indeed. As I shook hands with the Apple reps – the lady from the Free Press took them aside – and told them about "their experience". The learning, the fun, the success – and then all about how I fixed their problems.

That night – as the evening had ended – the Apple district manager walked into my little office – handed me a beer, and proceeded to offer me a good job with Apple – in Toronto.

I had no intention of leaving London and moving to Toronto.

So I stupidly said "thank you very much – but no thank you".

As the 1990's came and went – Apple went through a very hard time. And I established myself as a strong programmer – then an analyst – then an architect. And in that process – I also turned down a position with IBM – in either Toronto, or in Rochester, Minnesota. Again I again said no.

I never regretted saying no to IBM.

But I still wonder if I missed the boat with Apple.

In my little home office – hanging on the wall behind our family PC – a dual core Pentium HP with the ulitimate multi-media components as well as a TV tuner – I have my prized possession.

In the original frame as it hung in our store in London – is the very first promotional poster of the Macintosh when it was introduced to the world.

Many hate Apple. Techies seem to hate Apple. Non-techies seem to love Apple.

I'm a weird duck this way – because I too love Apple products.

I love their design.

I love their user interfaces.

I love the look, the feel, and the ease of use of Apple products.

So if you were to ask me which phone I will choose today … I will get the IPhone.

And I can't wait.

It doesn't mean more people will call me on my new IPhone.

At least I hope it doesn't.

And it doesn't mean I'm going to change my ringtones – no way.

But as this 3GS network continues to evolve and the world moves more towards this new style of computing and people start changing the means by which they use these services ..

I am going to experience it in the Apple way.


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