Monday, January 24, 2011

Digital Memories

This year for Christmas, I got one of those storage drives for our home network.

An external hard drive that all the computers in the house can access.

A whole terabyte full.

One terabyte of space to put all of our family's home movies on.

One terabyte of space to put all of our family's ten years of pictures on.

One terabyte of space to put all of our family’s favorite music on.

It wasn’t long ago that a terabyte was a science fiction term – used to describe the memory capacity of an artificially inteligent robot or computer that would service the entire world.

Now we can get this much storage space to simply park our pictures and home movies on.

I do not have a terabyte worth of home movies.

Just in time to, as our home multimedia PC was stuffed to the brim with our digital memories.

After I moved all of this memorabilia off of our little family multimedia PC downstairs, it was like getting a new personal computer for Christmas . It was like the computer gave out a great belch after a big holiday meal, and was now going to undo it’s belt and relax on the couch for a while.

I noticed as I was going through this collection of ten years of archived digital family memorabilia that sorting movies and pictures out on a computer is no different than going through old shoeboxes of pictures and stacks of old VHS tapes.

You just have to stop and reminisce as you weed your way through your collection.

And I remembered how incredibly cute my two little girls were in their preschool toddler days.

And I remembered how incredibly young and fit both my lovely wife Darlene and I were in those not so ancient days.

Now we do still have shoeboxes of photographs – another life time of memories – to go through. Memories I really should take the time one day to scan into the computer and save as high quality images.

As well I have a stack of probably ten VHS tapes – each containing some three hours of video dating back to January of 2001 – just before Alannah was born. I really should hook up our one remaining working VHS tape player to the multimedia PC so I can turn that analog video into more digital memories.

All in all I figure there is about three solid dedicated months of effort sitting there waiting for me to do all this.

I don’t have three months to waste on all this.

But would it be waste?

Someplace on those old VHS tapes are Alannah’s very first steps. I remember that video like a memory in my mind. I have to find that tape.

When I was a boy, my family was not so concerned with pictures. And we didn’t have a home movie camera.

I wish we did though.

I have a small handful of pictures from my youth. And no video at all of my family – sailing or camping on holidays or baseball games or my brother Paul’s tennis tournaments.

Seems like a crime.

It’s too bad we can’t hook a device up to our brain and download memories to the PC – they way we remembered things.

But then how good would the quality be? They’d be pretty grainy and foggy in my own case.

And how reliable would those memories be? I would probably not remember them exactly as they played out in real life.

But I wish I had something.

I do have a couple of old snapshots of me and my Dad in his final days playing scrabble together.

And there are a few old pics of us all standing together someplace in a group smiling at a camera.

The only proof I really have that I existed before the turn of the Millennium.

Right now at our house we have three digital cameras floating around – including the one Alannah got for Christmas this year.

But it always seems like an afterthought to grab one when an event is happening. And the video on those camera’s looks like the event is very far away. The video setting on the camera is only able to capture clips of five minutes or less.

Shame on me.

I take everything that is right now for granted. Like it will always be this way.

Maybe I should get one of those home security camera setups. The kind where you have a camera in the main rooms –then I can catch on stored video just who is eating in the living room, who hit who first, and who is stealing my pocket change I use for my pool league games on Monday nights.

But aside from the snooping – just think of the uses of such a complete collection of video surveillances.

We could start a new family game called “where were you the night of August 13th?” or some such date at random. The winner is the player that can actually remember what they were doing?

And years from now, as I look back on these pre-teen daughter years with nostalgic tears in my eyes, I can pick any day I want to look back on and watch them – say an afternoon after school – both daughters lounged on the couch with their shoes on and eating a snack bar on the couch – hiding the wrapper under the cushions and wiping the crumbs under the carpet.

Ahh memories”, I will muse to myself.

And should I miss the girls when they go off to university, or leave the country to get married, I will just go for a walk down my digital memory lane on my terabyte data storage device and recall the petty name calling, fist swinging, tattletale moments that somehow will have dropped from my own personal memory library in my feeble mind.

I wonder how many years of digital surveillance I can keep handy on a terabyte server? I could always add a second one if need be.

It’s a lot cheaper than those checks we will probably write to my daughters when they move out – because these digital memories might just offset that emotional response of missing them.

Of course, I might be able to get a surveillance camera for inside their suitcases too …

Sunday, January 09, 2011

I'm a Loser ... Baby ...

It’s amazing really .., how hearing an old song takes you back in time.

Yesterday I found myself flipping through the radio stations available to us here in Windsor – a cornucopia of different formats between Windsor in Canada and Detroit in the U.S. when I heard an old lyric of an old song that brought back on such memory … oddly enough.

Soyyyyyy … un perdedorrrrrrrr ………. I’m a loser baby, so why don’t you kill me?

Odd lyrics to bring back a happy memory, I will confess.

It was 1993. It was winter time, and I was in the passenger seat of a rented car as Ross Atkinson and I drove through the streets of Fargo North Dakota. And we were on our way to what I think was a pivotal point in my professional career in IT.

Ross was my boss in a software shop for a company in London, Ontario. And I had been given the luxury – a luxury only a programmer could appreciate – to be locked in a room for six months isolated from the rest of the world to write code.

The little desk stereo that blared music in my little white stone block room while my fingers pounded out the code in my head is still sitting in my garage right now – blaring Pat Caputo sports radio talk as I pound out the words to this story.

In 1993, our little company was indeed small – a team of maybe seven programmers – each locked away in their own little isolation booths – pounding out code for projects that we thought were groundbreaking in the day.

My project was a suite of programs to be used by the people who manufacture and sell the Bobcat skid steer loaders -back then the company was actually called the Melroe Company after the inventor of the Bobcat – and the piece of that suite of programs at the time was to allow Bobcat mechanics across North America to submit manufacturer warranty claims.

It sent the warranty claims over the Internet.

Windows wasn’t yet an operating system.

Netscape was the new browser – the only browser – and no web sites were yet doing business – they were just electronic billboards back then.

But we were submitting business transactions over the internet. In 1993.

And on this day that we heard these lyrics by Beck – for the first time – Ross and I were finishing a week in Fargo where we sat in their lobby and we wrote the frame work and prototype on a laptop sitting on each of our knees – I would code a piece – copy it to a diskette, and hand it to Ross who would insert the diskette in his laptop and test it – find a bug and I would fix it on the fly.

We did that for a week. When we had a question – we would go find the person at Bobcat’s head office that could answer it, go back to the lobby – and sit down and pound out more code.

The night before was spent in Ross’s hotel room – doing the same thing – writing code and testing it – passing diskette’s back and forth – and the time flew by until it was one o’clock in the morning – and we came to the conclusion that our work was finally done.

The next morning – Friday morning – we would go back to the Bobcat head offices – and demonstrate our final product – prototype that it was – to a bunch of Midwestern conservatives in suites and cowboy boots.

I can’t speak for Ross, but I was nervous. I could feel the hotel continental breakfast of a stale sweet roll and bad coffee churning in my gut as we climbed into the little rented four door Ford sedan and Ross turned on the radio to break the tension. After a couple of minutes of ads played as all morning stations play, on came the lyrics …

Soyyyyyy … un perdedorrrrrrrr ………. I’m a loser baby, so why don’t you kill me?

I looked at Ross. Ross looked at me.

This is inspirational”, I quipped.

I hope it’s not an omen”, replied Ross.

Then we started singing along when it came to the point in the song “…I’m a loser baby so why don’t you kill me”.

And then we started laughing. And making more bad jokes that made us laugh even harder.

I don’t think this is the response that Beck was looking for when he wrote this song.

I don’t know what the hell kind of response a guy who writes such lyrics is looking for, but our falling down laughing while the car swerves on the streets is probably not that response.

When we pulled into the parking lot of Bobcat headquarters – Ross and I had to sit there for a minute to compose ourselves – trying to stop laughing – trying desperately to compose ourselves before going inside – but failing as we continued to break out and break up as we made the walk around to the front door.

You guys look happy today?”, said the Bobcat executive clad in a suit with a flannel shirt and one of the string neckties and cowboy boots.

We’re ready!”, we smiled and we set up for the demo.

As the group assembled in the executive board room … presidents and VPs and service and manufacturing departments managers … politcally conservativess who's music tastes leaned stronly towards country and western ... the usual small talk took place as it always does before a meeting … and after a week of working with these people … we had a good enough rapport with them that we could explain why were still laughing. They were as shocked by the lyrics as we were – and joined in on our fun.

The demonstration went very well – flawless actually – as showed how the service person would fill in the claim - save it – send it over the internet to Bobcat’s single mainframe computer – and receive a “receipt” message back to confirm the transaction worked.

And throughout the demonstration … somebody … sometimes me … sometimes Ross … and sometimes one of the executives at the table … would spit out the poorly sung lyrics …

I’m a loser baby, so why don’t you kill me

We got the deal. With big handshakes all around we got the deal to refine the proto-type to a finished product and distribute to all their North American dealerships. And everyone was laughing and joking the whole time.

We held that agreement through 1999. And we made a pretty good buck off that product as well as others that naturally followed. We extended it to work as a Windows program and then to include web page services as well.

And we spent many more weeks in Fargo while doing so.

It was a great experience – as I learned that day that no matter who you are doing business with … the business goes much smoother if you are having fun … and having fun with all involved.

I miss those days. The days in my career before structured development environments with multiple levels of IT people standing between the programmer and the business user … the days when a programmer could be cut loose to write code out of their head.

I listened to those lyrics in my car yesterday and I smiled. And I sang along …

Soyyyyyy … un perdedorrrrrrrr ………. I’m a loser baby, so why don’t you kill me?

I still don’t understand the song … and I certainly don’t condone such a mindset as he paints in this song.

But because of this memory, it is one of my favorite.

Saturday, January 01, 2011

Wishing for Attainable Rainbows

Some people think that January 1st is just another day on the calendar.

No big deal, just another day – albeit the first day.

There has to be a first day, right?

Not me. I don’t buy it.

I make a big deal about opportunities for change for the better.

I embrace the change in hopes for new positive opportunities to appear.

So we here at our house do the New Years Eve thing.

This year – like many of our recent past New Year’s Eve celebrations – was to be spent at our great friends Darlene and John’s – at the lake house – enjoying the great company as we bring in the New Year.

But this year our plan had to change as the stomach flu ran through our family on the 30th.

It ran through us like only the stomach flu can.

A fine way to end a year that was not so enjoyable in our little homestead.

But by the Noon of New Year’s Eve, all were well again – eating hard foods and feeling fine.

But we didn’t want to spread the flu to our friends – and we did not all feel up to dressing up and staying up until three in the morning – and we certainly did not feel like drinking and carrying on.

The stomach flu wears you out you know.

So we four stayed home.

The girls were disappointed because we had a stack of their favorite movies ready to take to the lake for them to watch and eat popcorn to while the grownups acted like children.

Instead we all stood together – embracing our new-found health – and watched the ball drop in Times Square as we popped crackers with toys inside and broke wishbones and held onto our 50 million dollar lottery tickets.

And we all made our wishes.

We didn’t win the lottery though. Most likely a blessing in disguise.

The girls each made their wishes – for ponies and to be pop-stars – the next step in being princesses I guess.

My lovely wife Darlene wished for any way possible to resume her medical treatments in Detroit that we can no longer afford – a worthy wish we both share for sure.

As I looked around our cozy little Christmas home, all nicely decorated and warm and safe and still full of Christmas goodies and leftovers that hopefully weren’t the cause of our holiday illness – and I thought “who could want anything more than this?”

So my wish for 2011 is that I feel the exact same way a year from now when we are about to ring in 2012.

Oh sure – we need more money – like everybody else – to pay down some of our debt and be able to afford Darlene’s treatments.

And I would certainly wish to be able to come up with a way to better meet the ever increasingly elevated expectations of our department at work without killing ourselves.

But who doesn’t wish for that.

And I most certainly want to become an author and not a blogger – that has been my dream for most of my life – before blogging was even a concept.

But there are logical ways to achieve these desires.

I can tackle my work issues by learning how to better explain my plans to do so to those powers that can allow us to realize them, and to come up with more creative ideas to streamline our work process.

That might lead to a rise in my professional status.

And I can continue to write my novels on the side – the two that are halfway finished – the one that has the best chance of being of interest to the public – and then figure out how to use the internet to create interest in my work so that it may one day be a formally published and maybe even a profitable venture.

That might lead to an increase in revenue, and maybe even afford me a freedom in life I so desperately want – to not be so dependent on the decisions of others to determine my family’s future direction.

There are those who have gone before me and done this.

And then just maybe – we can stop holding lottery tickets and pulling on wishbones on New Year’s Eve, hoping that the next year will be the year of the big break we have all been waiting for.

Is New Year’s the time to be optimistic about the future?


I don’t think life is about being satisfied with what you have – when those you love need more. Education. Medical treatments.

As long as your wishes have at least some measure of attainable reality to them – then I suggest you dream about the next step closer to the big dream at the end of your rainbow.

But remember – it takes at least a shower if not a thunder storm before the rainbow appears.

A little risk. A little uncertainty. A whole lot of nervousness.

So have an umbrella handy.

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