The Golden Grandchild Returns From South Florida

Stef and I have discussed the reality show potential of my folk’s condo. The show writes itself!

Stef just came back from visiting my folks. Where they live having your 22 year old granddaughter visit and visibly spend time gets you rock star status! She and they had a fabulous time. Harold and Betty, my parents, are not kids but they’re sharp and active and have lots of friends.

Stef and I have discussed the reality show potential of my folk’s condo. The show writes itself!

“She doesn’t have a mirror?” That’s my mother asking Stef is she noticed a neighbor walking by.

It’s just like Real World or The Hills, except everyone’s a lot older–but it’s really the same.

They all have money without working, spend lots of time in social situations and… well let’s just say sexual freedom and Viagra have hit South Florida and it’s singles! And there are lots of yentas to supply the narrative.

This is an exciting and scary time for my dad. He totally lost the use of one eye while here in Connecticut. Now the good eye is awful courtesy of cataracts. I know it’s awful because he’ll have surgery in a few weeks to correct it. When you only have one eye you don’t go into eye surgery lightly.

One of the good stories Stef told me was of her time with my friend John who recently moved to Florida. I’ve probably known John for 15 years–maybe more.

John came as a team the day I met my friend Kevin. Like Kevin he’s a ‘shirt off his back’ kinds guy.

Stef has seen John but never really spent time with him or Alyce, his wife. That changed this week. There are good stories from the dinner the five of them had.

It was John who drove my parents to pick up Stef at the airport and drove them back earlier today. I’m not sure how I could ever repay that kind of dedicated friendship.

It’s no surprise John dd this, because it’s simply what he does. In South Florida a person like John is called a mensch.

Mensch (Yiddish: מענטש mentsh, German: Mensch, for human being) means “a person of integrity and honor”.

So, Stef is back. My folks can recuperate as we begin the process of getting Stef ready to ship out.

The Snowy Prize

The subject turned to snow and then a little friendly pool the guys were were having. Each threw in $5, with the winner getting the bundle for predicting the January snowfall at Madison’s Dane County Regional-Truax Field Airport.

I am lucky enough to be friendly with a bunch of the service techs at the company we buy our weather equipment from. They are squirreled away in Madison, WI, figuring out ways to make weather a more compelling story on TV.

Last month I was speaking with Bruce, one of those techs, and the subject turned to snow and then a little friendly pool the guys were were having. Each threw in $5, with the winner getting the bundle for predicting the January snowfall at Madison’s Dane County Regional-Truax Field Airport.

I asked in. I know nothing about winter weather in Wisconsin, except it’s cold, windy and snow filled.

My guess was 16″, which led Bruce to post this.

Thought I would give everyone a quick update on the KMSN January snow pool. Geoff Fox jumped in at the last second with a prediction of 16″. So the revised winning snowfall ranges are as follows…

Pat 4.2″, Brian 7.7″, Chris 8.2″ and John and Bruce both picked 8.7″ and Geoff at 16″

So the breakdown is as follows:

5.9″ or less Pat wins

6.0″ – 7.9″ Brian wins

8.0″ – 8.4″ Chris wins

8.5″ – 12.3″ John & Bruce win

12.4″ and higher Geoff wins

After 13 days, KMSN currently stands at 4.5″

My guess was way too high. It was obvious these other (mostly) meteorologists were more attuned to their local climatology than I was.

I sent Bruce $5 via PayPal and forgot about the whole thing until last night. Curious, I fired off an email with just two words: “How bad?”

Smarty pants…you smoked us…everyone else picked less than 10 inches. We are smarting from that.

We got 23.2 inches…which is was the eighth snowiest January on record. December-January of this year was the second snowiest 2-month period in Madison records…which go back to the 1880s. Since we got hit so hard in December, the thinking was that the odds were against back-2-back snowy months. However, La Ninas—if they have any trend at all–tend to make winters over the upper Midwest a bit more potent…whether that be cold or snow…or both.

In forecasting, as in life, it is much more profitable to be lucky than skilful.

Geoff The Spy

Like so many of us, as he upgraded his PC, my friend John&#185 didn’t know what to do with the old one. He had a relative, a grown man, with no computer, and John asked if I’d set him up with this old one.

This is something I’ve done dozens of times, and I almost always reinstall Windows. This time, I thought I’d try something a little different.

The end user wasn’t going to play games or work in multimedia. He was going to use the computer for web surfing and email. Instead of Windows, I installed Ubuntu Linux.

My thought is, this guy doesn’t know anything technical. Why saddle him with an operating system that’s got a bullseye on it, attractive to anyone writing spyware or viruses?

The install went flawlessly. I inserted the Ubuntu disk, answered a few questions (actually, John did all of this) and let the PC do its thing. The only bumps in the road had to do with installing Flash (I wish Ubuntu came with this already installed) and attempting to upgrade the video driver.

I rebooted after updating the driver and ended up with a blank screen! Damn you penguin. As has happened so often in the past, I had fixed the computer to the point of breaking it!

The bad video driver was quickly removed. John watched as I typed some cryptic commands into a text based terminal screen. One bad part of Ubuntu (and all Linux distributions) is, most people would be lost at this point with a dead PC! There are fewer ‘Geoff’s’ to call for technical assistance with this esoteric operating system.

John was pretty pleased (and hopefully his relative will be pleased too). The old computer is quite agile and more than beefy enough for its new assignment.

Refurbishing this computer was the purpose of his trip, but John brought more goodies with him. His wife’s company had thrown out some older laptops… which she then rescued from the trash. I could have one, but there was a problem. It was unusable!

The laptop, a very sweet Fujitsu Lifebook Series B subnotebook (a tiny laptop, perfect for traveling) had Windows 2000 installed and was password protected. The password kept me from getting to the programs and the lack of a CD drive kept me from installing a new operating system (like Linux) as a replacement.

In situations like this, I become obsessed.

The Fujitsu has only a USB external floppy drive. It was a comedy of errors as I realized none of my current home machines had floppies, plus I had no floppy disks. There was lots of ad libbing and part swapping to be done.

I scrounged the hardware, then headed to the net, trying to find a solution. Amazingly enough, there are simple single floppy programs which will read and then allow you to overwrite a password. I didn’t have to crack the code. I just inserted my password where the original had been.

I felt like a spy as the computer was now programmed to consider me the administrator.

This was great for me, but you have to worry about the level of protection built into today’s modern computers. In essence, Microsoft led the original owners to believe these laptops were under electronic lock and key. A guy in his pajamas sitting on the floor shouldn’t be able to crack open this laptop… but I did.

Before I went to bed, the laptop downloaded a few years worth of patches from the Microsoft site and was fitted with a wireless card.

This morning, I brought the machine downstairs and played with it a little while eating my breakfast. I was proud of my accomplishment.

“Why do you need another computer,” Helaine asked?

It’s an obsession I suppose. Some folks go nuts over shoes or jewelry or cars. For me, it’s wire and computers. Neither should ever be thrown out – ever.

&#185 – John’s friends call him “Big John.” He is a massive man, well over six feet tall. John’s heart is proportional to his height.

My Friend Kevin Is Very Sick

I am writing this in early July. When I’m finished composing my thoughts, I will hit the save button, but instead of publishing, this will be a saved draft. If you’re reading this, something tragic has happened in Kevin’s life.

Kevin’s a ham radio buddy, though neither of us are active ham radio operators anymore. I met him around 15 years ago, probably over-the-air first. He and another friend, John, offered to come over and help me erect a wire antenna over my house.

I didn’t know Kevin or John at the time. They offered to slingshot this wire between trees because… well, because they did nice things for people. I grew to better understand that as time went by.

Kevin is in his late 40s. He has four daughters, one still at home and in school, and a granddaughter. He and his wife are the kindest, sweetest people you would ever know.

This isn’t BS. I’m telling the truth – they’re so nice, I can’t think of anyone else even in the ballpark.

Kevin and Melanie are the most religious of my friends. They are observant Mormons. Kevin is an elder at his church&#185. Their religious beliefs are reflected in how their daughters were brought up.

Kevin is my friend who can do everything. Whether it’s physical labor, electronics or computer related, Kevin always has the answer. He doesn’t look like a jock, and I’ve never heard him express any interest in sports (a continuing trend with my friends), but he kayaks and camps and is generally at home in the outdoors.

He would give you the shirt off his back. He would. End of story.

A few months ago Kevin had some back trouble. Who knows why these things happen. He had surgery. Back problems don’t go away all at once, as Kevin found. We really hadn’t discussed the surgery in a while and I assumed he was healing.

Last Thursday I spoke to Kevin, first on Instant Messenger and then on the phone. He was in the hospital.

His symptoms were back pain and nausea. When he went for medical treatment, he was told he needed to be in the hospital right then – they literally walked him over.

Doctors had discovered a blood clot in his pancreas. Blood clots are serious stuff, so he went to have it ‘fixed’.

After we got off the phone, I did what most people do in 2006, I went to the Internet to research his trouble.

Enter “pancreas blood clot” in Google and the first citation’s headline is: “ACS :: How Is Cancer of the Pancreas Diagnosed?”

It had never entered my mind. It had probably never entered Kevin’s either. He’s not even 50. He doesn’t smoke or drink. He’s easy going and non-stressful. He has lived the observant life and, religion aside, he’s still a wonderful person.

I went to visit Kevin on Thursday. He was in a pleasantly bright room with the door open and a curtain giving him a modicum of privacy. He had his laptop and cellphone at the ready. He was lying in bed, over the covers. There was a currently unused ‘port’ for intravenous fluid on his wrist.

If Kevin was sick, I couldn’t see it.

We talked about my Internet project. Kevin was my go-to guy when I ran into problems and he was designing the backend interface to the database.

I told him to forget it. But he said it would be a good way to pass the time.

We spoke again Friday. He was originally supposed to be leaving, but some tests had come back and he had pancreatic cancer. He said it like you might say you had peeling paint at home. He was relaxed… unphased.

From Wikipedia: Patients diagnosed with pancreatic cancer typically have a poor prognosis because the cancer usually causes no symptoms early on, leading to metastatic disease at time of diagnosis. Median survival from diagnosis is around 3 to 6 months; 5-year survival is 5%

Kevin came home Saturday evening.

&#185 – I apologize, because I don’t think it’s actually called a church and elder might be an inaccurate term. He is the lay person who runs the services.

Addendum – It is January 24, 2008. While installing new software I found this entry. I treaded lightly when I wrote this. Unfortunately, our worst fears were realized and Kevin died from the cancer on June 1, 2007.

He was everything I said he was and more. He really should still be alive. That would be the fair outcome.

Vacation Madness Begins

I’m not quite sure why, but I am looking forward to our vacation next week more than I usually do. I have literally been counting the days (as has my daughter – or so I’ve been told by those who see her IM away message).

I mentioned this fond anticipation to someone at work. It’s unusual. I always enjoy vacations but seldom look forward to them quite this much. I really enjoy my job and never mind going to work, so it’s not that. It’s not like I’m lifting boxes in a warehouse for a living.

Certainly, I enjoy Vegas (we’re on a first name basis). We go every summer. This trip will be a little different. Not only will Helaine and I be going, so will Steffie. Our friends John and Cheryl and their daughter Ali will be flying out with us too.

There’s more! My folks, sister and brother-in-law, two cousins and their young son are also coming along.

With my diet a success (down 26 pounds and holding), I intend on indulging myself… partaking of Las Vegas’ particular form of excess in cuisine. Hey, it’s only a week. I can go back on the diet when we return.

No, I will go back on the diet when we return.

Helaine has started getting organized. Some people pack light for trips – not us. I will not complain or argue. If I did, Helaine would ask (and has asked) if I wanted to get us ready? No, I do not. She can pack as much as she pleases – it’s fine with me. I will carry each and every ounce and smile as I do it.

I have a few little things I’m doing. We needed an audio splitter for a portable DVD player to keep Ali and Steffie entertained on the flight. Got it. A car needs some service. Arranged that today. I also took an old pair of glasses had them updated with my current prescription, so I have a spare.

Batteries have been charged and organized. That’s a real pain. Every piece of electronic equipment from camera to camcorder to computer to DVD player uses a different battery! I might have to pack an extension cord to give me enough outlets to plug everything in!

And then, there’s the Sony laptop.

It’s still in the hospital. It seems like we might know what is wrong – a burned out bulb. This very special tube arrived today, FedEx’ed overnight from California. By the time it hit our front step, it was too late for me to bring it to the hospital, so Helaine drove it to Orange. She said the place was jammed.

If this doesn’t solve the problem, every other possible solution is too expensive to think about. Helaine reminded the ‘doctors’ that I must have the computer by Saturday – but who knows? Meanwhile, I have configured an older backup machine to make the trip, just in case.

Both Helaine and I have become totally dependent on having a PC at the ready. It hasn’t taken that many years for this to go from an interesting lug-a-long to a near necessity. Ditto for cell phones. Except for my folks and young cousin, everyone will be packing a phone.

We arrive in Las Vegas a week too early to try out the new monorail. We are, however, going in time to see the new light show downtown on Fremont Street.

I am looking forward, very much, to playing poker. On-line poker has been good training. I’ve played a lifetime of hands over the last year. How will I do in real brick and mortar casinos with regulars who used to wait all year to pocket my money? I don’t know. I want to win. More importantly, I want to play well.

Even before I had a blog, I filed trip reports while on vacation. This year will be no exception. Hopefully, it will all be good news with neat photos.

Blogger’s note: A neat part of having a blog is the ability to look back at what I wrote earlier. Last year’s Vegas vacation is just a click away.