Friday, January 30, 2009

I Need a Name Change

This is not The Greatest Song in the World, no
This is just a tribute
Couldn't remember The Greatest Song in the World, no, no
This is a tribute

Tenacious D
Tenacious D (2002)

Perhaps it would be more accurate to say that my blog needs a new name. Despite the fact that a curiousity of my parents' naming decision left me as Larry William Swank, often confused with my father and as his junior, without the dignity and sophistication of being Larry Adrian Swank, Junior, I've always found my name to suit me quite well. I appreciate being Larry, ala Larry Joe Bird, rather than being a Lawrence, as everyone automatically assumes, and for the most part, I like my name. It's me.

The blog here, however, needs a new name. For those of you who may have been wondering, I Lead Seven Tiny Bats isn't just a non-sequitur I pulled out of nowhere to be my blog's name, despite how Larryesque an act that might have been. Had I been pulling non-sequiturs, Toast Leavings Diorama would have been the clear winner.

No, I Lead Seven Tiny Bats is a name with history, at least with me. The story is long, and it is in surround sound, so I'll try to keep it as brief as possible for the purposes of this post. In a first-year composition class at Indiana State University, I ended up writing a paper - and for the life of me, I can't remember the purpose of the assignment - that served as a treatise against the holiday Valentine's Day, and was titled in the same fashion as this blog. "I lead seven tiny bats" is an anagram for "Valentine's Day bites."

This paper was, unequivocally, the greatest thing I will ever write. It was funny, it was the penultimate example of my dry, snarky brand of written humor, and it got my reasonably-attractive teacher's assistant who was in charge of our class to hit on me. I will never surpass this writing achievement, which I believe in large part is why I've stopped writing as a regular practice, despite my love for the activity. I'm done; there's nothing left for me to accomplish, because my skill level won't let me do anything better than that paper.

There are two problems with leaving that as the name of my blog, though. First off, the paper no longer exists. I don't save things, you see, and the people who love me who do save things either never saw the paper, didn't know me when I wrote it, or have - uncharacteristically - also lost track of it. This leaves me with no proof to the greatness of this paper.

As a brief aside, I think this adds to its mystique, too, because there's no frame of reference for it except how people remember it. As people remember it fondly, it gets better and better in every telling. It's the written equivalent of William Wallace at this point, shooting bolts of lightning from its margins and balls of fire from its frayed, worn edges. I digress ...

Secondly, I wrote that when I was a lonely, sullen kind of kid. Today I'm a happily married family man that just so happened to have his first date with his eventual wife on Valentine's Day. Needless to say, my opinion of the holiday has changed somewhat since the writing of that composition in 1995. Sweetest's Day is another issue entirely, of course, but that's outside of the scope of this writing.

So, I am left to ponder a name change. I'd like something meaningful and significant, but I can go with a non-sequitur if necessary. Yak Malarkey Theater is sounding awfully tempting right about now. Suggestions are welcome via comments!

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

I Needed That

Every time I get another glimpse of Your heart
I realize it's true
That You are so marvelous, God
And I am so in love with You

Big Daddy Weave
"Every Time I Breathe"
Every Time I Breathe (2006)

I have not had a good day. I'm trying to captain the S.S. Pocketbook here leading into tax season, and it's proving to be challenging. Our new cat keeps pooping on the floor, with today making it a third straight day. My work time tonight has been less than enjoyable and highly frustrating. Today has just seemed to be stress after stress after stress, and it was weighing me down.

Big Daddy Weave came to the rescue. I started listening, and they got to that line above, and something just clicked in me. I stopped what I was doing, threw my head back, breathed in deeply, and enjoyed the Father's love.

As I've been growing in my faith, I find more and more that I can take my joy from Him, no matter what the circumstance. He's always there, and realizing that fact and allowing Him to be a part of whatever is going on is going to make it better. The trick to that, though, is in getting our puny, human pea-brains to remember that He's there. I'm getting better at doing that on a day-to-day basis, but sometimes, like tonight, I need a kickstart from somewhere.

Monday, January 26, 2009

Know Your Role, Jabroni

Larry thinks his meeting isn't going to happen.

Larry's Facebook status as of the time of this writing

Why is it that Facebook wants Larry to write about himself in the third person? Don't they know what kind of a burden this is to Larry? Larry would like to be able to write actual updates, maybe in a little section labelled Status, where he can write normal sentences. Something like this:

I'm going to be working on an internal project today.

Or something like this:

I'm going on a date with my wife tonight - hooray!

That's not okay with Facebook, though. Facebook gives Larry two choices: Larry can write about himself in the third person, or Larry can be grammatically incorrect. Now, any of you who know Larry know that there is absolutely no choice for Larry here; he's going to have to speak in the third person, because consciously choosing to be grammatically incorrect - except when used for effect in creative writing - is anathema to him. Since Larry has to do it so often anyway because of his job, and Larry's looking at you, improper paragraph breaks because people don't like to read, of course he's going to choose to write in the third person.

Larry just wishes that Facebook would give him some choices, that's all. Real choices, mind you, rather than the choice between his words making him seem like an enormous doofus or just a regular-type doofus that Larry has now. Larry wants those of you who are snickering out there to shut up and leave how much of a doofus he actually is out of this, please.

Larry is done writing now. Larry will sit and listen to the hold music on his conference call some more until he's certain that nobody else is showing up. When he hangs up, he's going to go find his Facebook login, shine it up real nice, turn it sideways ...

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Unintended Side Effects III: Night of the Unintended

Darkness there, and nothing more

Edgar Allan Poe
"The Raven" (1845)

Late last year, my workday was extremely frustrating. I just wasn't getting anything done during my eight-hour workday between the noise here at home with everyone around for homeschooling, clients calling in with emergencies, and the demands made of a work-at-home dad. None of my actual project work ever ended up moving at the speed that I wanted it to, and it just wore at my nerves with every day that passed and nothing got done.

After a lot of thought, prayer, and discussion with my wife and those whose opinions I respect, I decided to change my work schedule. My good friend Shannon is a Nightwalker, working an overnight shift at a local factory because he prefers it, not because he has to, and I got to thinking about whether or not it could work for me. The end result sees me now working a schedule like this:

  • 1 PM to 5 PM: I teach the kids and have office hours, taking care of the everyday tasks of business, taking client calls, and responding to emergencies when they pop up.
  • 5 PM to 11 PM: Time with the kids and Holli, plus church and children's activities several nights of the week.
  • 11 PM to 3 PM: I do my project work, with no kids to bother me, nothing that Holli needs from me, and no clients calling in, because they're asleep and their businesses are closed.
This has largely worked for me. I get more done in four solid, uninterrupted hours of work than I ever could in eight hours when everybody's awake. My productivity has gone through the proverbial roof since I started this schedule.

Plus, I end up with a lot more family time out of the deal, too. Since I'm just doing basic business tasks and not anything that requires my total focus, like programming or design, I'm available to teach the kids much more effectively. I'm also available for field trips and the like without missing any of my productivity time.

All in all, I think it was a great decision and I'll never go back if I can avoid it. However, it wasn't without some unintended (and wholly unexpected) side effects, hence the posts title. I present them now to let this post serve as a grim warning to anyone contemplating a similar lifestyle shift.

It is crushingly lonely in the house at night. Nobody is awake. The lights are all off so they can sleep. There's very little noise. I'm without no human company, which I forgot was something that I don't handle very well anymore. It's not without its good points, mind you. It makes for fantastic prayer time, and it's teaching me to rely more on God than on other people. Couple that with my increased focus and ability to do my job, and it's a great decision, but the transition through the crushing despair and loneliness of being alone in a dark, quiet house for four or five hours every night hasn't been an easy one.

What do I eat when? I have no clue at this point. Life was simple when it was breakfast, snack, lunch, snack, dinner, snack. Now it's whatever-I-eat-at-noon, snack, dinner, snack, shouldn't-I-have-a-real-meal-now?, and should-I-really-be-eating-this-late? I've not quite sorted everything out here yet.

Reading is difficult. Not a big deal typically, because I'm not normally reading for pleasure or education during my productivity time. I'm staring at a big stack of website changes I've got to make for a client in the next few days as I write this, though, and I'm going to have to do it with the help of a little snakelight I bought at Office Max last week. It's going to be challenging.

Working at the end of the day stinks. Work is not fun. That's why it's called work. Yes, I have a very satisfying job that I love, but I'd rather be spending my time in prayer, with my family and friends, reading a good book, or playing a game. All of you out there with normal jobs, think about how much fun five o'clock is for you when you get to go home and enjoy the rest of your day. I don't get that. It's even worse when it's been a bad day, because then it's "Oh, yay. I get to work now."

I can't go to sleep right away. I get through an awesome productivity period, I've gotten a lot of stuff done, and I've knocked out some great code. Now my brain is going full speed, and it's 3 AM and time to sleep. That does not work. So I've got to wind down and try to relax from the busiest part of my workday to be able to get to bed as quickly as possible. It's quite difficult.

My kids don't care that daddy's trying to sleep at 9 AM. This one is self-explanatory.

Remember, though, this is just a warning to other people who might be considering this. I got blindsided by some of these realities when I made the switch, and hopefully my experiences will be helpful. I'm not complaining by a longshot, though, because any problems my schedule causes will get solved by the following two things: I'll get tons done yet tonight, and then I'll sleep until noon.

UPDATE: I also cannot see where I put my stupid drink on the desk, thereby knocking it over and spilling water everywhere. That's no good, either. Stupid water. What was it doing there right after I wrote this post, anyway?

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

I Heart LeVar Burton

For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.

John 3:16 (NIV)

Holli and I have an audio presentation of the Bible called The Bible Experience. It's a sharp production, with good voice acting, sound effects, and music. I've got the book of John loaded onto my PSP, and I listened to it on Thursday night last week. John is voiced throughout the Bible Experience by LeVar Burton, which means that the narration of the book of John falls on his lap, as well. I grew up watching Reading Rainbow, and I'm an enormous Star Trek dork, so naturally the guy who read me so many stories growing up and was Geordi La Forge has a special place in my heart.

Despite my obvious biases, I'm going to make the following statement: LeVar Burton doing the voice of John is some of the best voice work I've ever heard on any project. He's gregarious and enthusiastic at the beginning of the gospel, and as the gospel progresses, LeVar's tone changes right alongside it. He starts to make the shift to a more subdued, sad tone after the resurrection of Lazarus, until he's speaking in almost a hushed whisper, seemingly near tears, during the crucifixion. It's emotional, powerful, and just incredible.

I just smiled as I wrote this - I'm sitting having to stifle joyful laughter to keep from waking Holli up, in fact. I realized that here I sit, 31 years old, and LeVar Burton is still reading to me from my favorite book. That pleases me.

Monday, January 19, 2009

Maraschino Cherries Are the Swiss Army Knife of Deliciousness

They were, at first, produced for and consumed as a delicacy by royalty and the wealthy.

Wikipedia: Maraschino cherry

There is a jar of maraschino cherries in my refrigerator. Today , I used it for the following purposes:

  • I poured the syrup into my Slim-Fast to make it chocolate-cherry flavored instead of just chocolate.
  • At ten calories each, I had a couple of them to quell my desire for sweets when it popped up.
  • For my midnight snack (because I'm up until 4 AM), I had a bowl of applesauce with the syrup added to it for flavor and a few cherries floated in it as surprises.
They're delicious. They go with everything. They're not a main course, but rather an enhancer. I want to fry up some bacon - the other universal overfood - and see how the two go together.

The best part about them? A jar of cherries costs exactly 95 cents at Aldi and lasts me almost two weeks. Oh, maraschino cherries, is there nothing you cannot do?

You Have to Be Freaking Kidding Me

You have failed me for the last time, Admiral.

James Earl Jones as Darth Vader
Star Wars, Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back (1980)

I've been waiting more than a month - actual time, mind you, not HEST (Hyperbolic Exaggerated Standard Time) - for a server change so I could implement some script for a client. Today, the change, which apparently consisted of little more than adding a .DLL library to the Windows server I'm working on, was finally implemented. Predictably, it broke the server, which now is incapable of processing PHP pages, which prevents me from working on this project tonight.

Now, I'm a fairly easygoing kind of guy about these kind of things usually. It's just that in this case, I've been waiting for a month for action on this issue that probably took them about 30 minutes of research and implementation, the "fix" broke the server I should be working on, and this is the third time server guys have broken something I needed to work on this week. I am at the end of my wits, ready to break the camel's back with the final straw, which is probably woven out of my last good nerve.

I'm not working on client stuff tonight. Unless my biggest client - who I think is battling grizzly bears with his bear hands in the Rocky Mountains this week and therefore is unlikely to contact me - needs something, I'm working on my own projects. I think, at this point, it's necessary to maintain my sanity.

An Open Letter to Hardware Administrators


A client's server


Thank you. That is all.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

My Wife Is Awesome

I wouldn't know what to write.

Holli Swank

My wife loves to write. She doesn't write anymore, though, for a myriad of reasons. Last night around the time she usually goes to bed, she said she wanted to write something, but she had no idea what. So, I pressed her to write something for God, and after she fought me for a while, I eventually saw her laying on the bed with a legal pad, scribbling away.

Click here to see the results.

Media Fast Post-Mortem

Television has proved that people will look at anything rather than each other.

Ann Landers

Last week, the congregation of HealingPointe Community Church collectively decided to go on a media fast. What's a media fast, you ask? Well, it's a fast much like you'd expect someone to fast from food, except we were fasting from secular media. The particulars of it were left up to each of us as individuals.

As for the Swank family, we did the following:

  • No DVDs at all (we don't have cable or over-the-air television to begin with)
  • No video games at all
  • No internet, except for work, e-mail, blogging, and 15 minutes a day on social networking sites to keep up with friends
  • No secular music
First off, if you're not a member of my church, let me stress that yes, I largely did all of this all week - nine full days, actually, because I started early - and I am still very much alive. I wasn't perfect about this, mind you. I could have told you in the middle of the week that the Cubs wasn't sold, a sign of my weakness. I listened to Johnny Cash's cover of "Hurt" on my PSP one night before I realized I wasn't supposed to. But for the most part, I behaved myself - there were absolutely no movies or video games for me all week.

If you know me, you're probably shocked. How did I survive, you ask? I listened to a lot of Christian music, which was awesome. I'm not going to sit here and tell everyone that you should listen to nothing but Christian music, because that just doesn't work for everyone; that doesn't even work for my wife. But I've discovered that it does work for me. The music is just as good as any other contemporary music, but it comes with the added benefit of bringing me closer to the Lord, and I'll take that. I think I'll still listen to the classical music I'm trying to get myself acclimated to and some of the instrumentals I enjoy (I'm looking at you, Voices of the Lifestream), but that's probably about it for secular music for me.

I prayed a lot more than I normally do, which was awesome. I also got myself wrapped up into some actual, full-on Bible study on a Sunday afternoon that I would have otherwise probably wasted playing video games of some variety. I made time every day for the Daily Audio Bible, which I'd been meaning to do anyway but had been a little lax about so far this year.

I read. I read a lot. I didn't restrict myself from secular books, because honestly I hardly read anything at all at this point, and I really felt like one of the things I was supposed to learn out of this was that I was letting the brain I was gifted with rot, so I just took the opportunity to stimulate it. I read a lot of the Bible; like I said, I actually got into some full-on, scholarly-style study, which I've not done in ages. I pulled out some of my old Battletech novels and I'm warming up on them; when I'm done, I'm going to start on another reading of Lord of the Rings. I've even got a little booklight sitting on my desk now. I used to read all the time, but as responsibilities have built up upon me, that passion has been pushed to the side. I'm glad to have it back.

I worked, even a little more than normal. Without the temptation of my time wasters lying around, I was drawn towards actually getting things done. I got more of my chores done than normal last work and I was extremely productive at work. The word "productive" is this shiny, candy-like button for me now, and it's an appellation that I strive to have applied to myself. I've really been working on it since the new year turned over, but last week I felt like I finally got it.

Did I miss video games? Honestly, no. If anything, I lost my appetite for them. I would still enjoy getting on specifically to play with my friends or with the family here at the house, but I can't see myself spending much time playing alone anymore. Having been - for lack of any better descriptor - out of its clutches for more than a week, I'm kind of shocked to have stepped back and seen just how much time I wasted in front of the PS3. The one thing that might still get time from me as a single-player endeavor from me is the PSP, and that just because I can do it anywhere: on the toilet, in the bathtub, in the car, etc.

Did I miss the internet? Yes and no. Again, much like with video games, I got to step back and get a good look at just how much time I squandered looking at websites that were largely filling me up on useless junk. There were some things that I would have liked to have been checking out here and there, but nothing I couldn't have covered in a 15 to 20 minute roundup every day. The beauty of the internet is that information is available at blazing-fast speeds from just the merest command of your fingers, but the ability for that to suck you in can also be its curse. So, I did miss following up on the Cubs and some industry news, but I do not at all miss wasting hours following an endless stream of links and not coming out better for it on the other end.

What did I miss the most? Do you really want to ask that question? Fine. It was Homestar Runner. Sometimes I just want a good laugh.

I guess you could say that I'm glad it's over, but I wouldn't trade the experience for anything. I'm not going to run back to doing things the old way I did them. I'm not working tonight, so I've got time to myself, but it's not like I'm going to run right back out to the recliner and waste three hours playing PlayStation. I'm going to pray and seek the Lord to start to see what He wants me doing. It's really on my heart to start seeking him first and foremost, much more than I do now, and letting everything else fall into place around that.

The first commandment instructs us that we shall have no other gods before Him. I think that this media fast showed me that I had more than I ever could have imagined. It's time to put things right now.

I mentioned earlier that the whole family was subjected to the media fast, and yes, that does include the kids. How did everyone else fare? Holli got a little tired of our library of Christian music by the end of the week - she prefers a little bit more variety than we have in our library right now. As I write this, we're listening to her playlist that's basically her whole library, but at this point it's about 2-to-1 in favor of Christian music, and she's happy with that kind of balance. It's not like she's ran headlong into secular music or anything. She's also on the bed writing, something she loves to do and hardly ever does anymore (largely because of the other distractions), so I'd say she's doing alright.

As for the kids, they're just fine. They spent the week - wait for it - playing. Shocking, I know. We told them no movies and no games, so they just made their own fun and had an absolute blast. They also spent more time with their parents than usual, because we all huddled in together looking for fun, and they seemed to love that to pieces. We played Monopoly twice during the week, which is twice more than I've played Monopoly in the previous five years put together. They also read a lot and - shock of shocks - loved it. My oldest daughter, who it's normally like pulling teeth to get to read, finished a book and was bellowing about how much fun she had reading. I'd go so far as to say the kids had more fun - real, unmanufactured fun - than they have in a long, long time last week.

I don't expect things to just go back to normal next week. Hopefully, we've all learned something from this and grown from this. Especially for the kids, I hope that this maintains for them. I want them to read, to play with each other, and to play with their mommy and daddy instead of vegging out in front of the TV and ignoring the rest of the family again just because they can.

Friday, January 16, 2009

I Wrote This Last Night

Win if you can, lose if you must, but always cheat and never get caught.

Jesse "The Body" Ventura

I'm cheating and post-dating this blog post for tomorrow. Sue me. I've got a ten-minute upload going and the urge to write more.

I mentioned Phil Wickham in my last post, and I'm going to mention him again because he's great. We were introduced to him by our wonderful and talented worship pastors at church (hooray for Frank and Beth!) during one of our services. Holli and I liked his music, and we investigated him a little bit. Turns out he has an album, Singalong, available on his site. The cost: cheap as free.

It's an awesome album, too. He did it as a live set, and it's just him with a guitar. He's got a mic for the crowd so you can hear them singing along - oddly enough, considering the album's title - which really adds to its power in my opinion. He mixes in old hymns like "I Have Decided to Follow Jesus" and "How Great Thou Art" with his own original music, and it's just a great, great listen. It gets more time on my PSP right now during my nightly music listening than any other album right now. Plus it's free, as in it costs no money and yet is still totally legal. Go download Singalong now.

If you're at this line, you're still reading and didn't listen to me. You must not be convinced that something that's both awesome and cheap as free is worth downloading. Fine, here's a YouTube video.

Unintended Side Effects II: Unintended's Revenge

It's fricking freezing in here, Mr. Bigglesworth.

Mike Myers as Dr. Evil
Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery (1997)

Ah, the good old days before I realized that Mike Myers only had five jokes and really wasn't all that funny. Heh.

We have been blessed with a truly lovely apartment. God's taken care of me and my business, and I'm able to provide what I think is a pretty nice life for my family. Yes, we probably should be in a house somewhere in the strictest of economic terms, but at this point, I'm not ready to buy anything yet. That subject's for another post entirely, though, so we'll just leave it at that.

Anyway, back to the point. Our apartment is lovely. We've got these awesome cathedral ceilings in the great room which we absolutely love; thanks to those ceilings, the room has the physics-defying quality of getting bigger the more junk you pile into it, which is perfect for the swank family. Another thing I love about the apartment is that we have no downstairs neighbors, because we're situated above the garages rather than another apartment. A third great perk is that we face west, and we get a great view of the sunset almost every night. We are well and truly blessed to be in this place.

As you may have noticed, however, this post is titled unintended side effects. Why, do you ask? Because as I write this, it's a full negative-freaking-five degrees in Terre Haute, Indiana. That's not the wind chill, mind you - that's pushing negative twenty at this point - that's the actual temperature. With the cathedral ceilings, we've got a whole lot of apartment to heat; with the unheated garages beneath us, we've got really cold floors; and with the wind howling in from the west like it normally does, the worst of the weather is pounding on our apartment. With these factors working against us and it being as cold as it is outside, our heater cannot keep up with whatever we have the thermostat set at. It just keeps falling.

We don't want the heat running 24/7 for obvious reasons, so we try to keep the house warm in the day and then crank the thermostat down at night. The family can pile under a bunch of blankets, the furnace can get a little break, and everybody wins. Except, of course, for daddy, who works until 3 AM every day. So as I sit here working tonight, I'm wearing the following things:

  • Undapants
  • Socks
  • Sweatpants
  • A t-shirt
  • A hoodie, with the hood pulled up and drawn tight
  • My '69 Cubs hat
  • My fuzzy Dr. Seuss slippers
  • Monstrous headphones, to keep my ears warm and allow me to listen to Phil Wickham without waking anyone up
I'm still cold. My hands aren't, of course, because my laptop houses a small nuclear furnace and heats up everything that it touches to uncomfortable levels (an unintended side effect of yesterday's unintended side effect is that my hands remain warm enough to type effectively thanks to my overheating lappy). The rest of my body is quite chilly, though.

Here's the part where I get all serious for a second, so if you're not interested in such things, turn back now: despite these minor little inconveniences of tonight, I'm still blessed with more than what 99.9% of the people on this planet have. The mere thought that there are people struggling to huddle together for warmth all across this country tonight - perhaps even here in Terre Haute - and I can sit here and complain about it being 64 in my apartment really kind of puts things into perspective for me. I've been given this colossal blessing here, and I'm still trying to figure out why I'm so lucky to have things like a bed, covers and heat when so much of the world can only dream of such things. Thanks be to God for the blessings He has given me and the promise of the greater blessings to come in His Kingdom.

In other news (because I've still got 3:30 left on my audio upload):

We were blessed with spending some time at the Clarks' tonight. We ate Little Caesar's pizza, which totally busted my diet. It remains among my favorite foods, though, despite having spent time as a Little Caesar's employee in my youth. We also played Cubs Monopoly - which is Monopoly where you buy Billy Williams instead of Boardwalk - which was likely awesome. I've had it since Holli got it for me as a Christmas gift in ought-seven, but until tonight I'd never played it, because she hates Monopoly. All in all, that makes for a good night.

Audio's done uploading, now I just have to wait for it to transcode. Hooray for getting paid to let a computer do something!

We ordered some books from Amazon last week. There were three books in the bundle, and it was enough that we got their Super Saver Shipping; it takes a little longer to get your stuff, but it's free and seemingly a good deal if you're in no hurry. One of the books was on back order, so they shipped the first two on Monday with the promise that they'd ship the other book when they got it in. The first two books are set to arrive on the 20th, which means it more likely will get here on the 21st or so.

This is all fine, because the shipping was free. I wouldn't be telling this story if something nonsensical wasn't being done, though. The third book, which was on back order, came in and was shipped out on Wednesday. Amazon shipped it UPS instead of USPS media mail to make up for it shipping after everything else. It's on a truck bound for Terre Haute from Indianapolis right now, and will be here sometime Friday afternoon - five days before the first part of the shipment will get here. We will never use Super Saver Shipping again, which I think might be the whole point of them offering it in the first place.

I think my audio's done, so it's back to work for me now.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Unintended Side Effects


Pat Welsh as E.T.
E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial (1982)

My touchpad on my laptop is no good. It's not nearly as sensitive as I'd like it to be - which means it's not as sensitive as my old touchpad - which I hate. Even worse, though, is the fact that I get random lockups in its field of movement; for instance, it randomly decides that it won't move vertically anymore from time to time. This is, as I'm sure you can imagine, a most unfortunate circumstance for a web developer. The fact that the only reliable method I've found for fixing this malady is to - brace yourself for the jargon - bang the snot out of my laptop on the desk is a tad distressing.

As bad as those things might sound, they're not the worst part of it though. The worst part is that my touchpad is warm to the touch. Not warm enough to call it hot, but warm enough that I could use it as a good heating pad if it was considerably larger. So as I sit here every night working, shifting my mouse here and there to fulfill my responsibilities, I'm slowly burning the fingertip of my right index finger. Read that sentence again and let it sink in for a minute.

Yeah, it's no good.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Shut Up

We are setting the default behavior for magic_quotes_gpc to off in our php.ini's in order to make way for our upcoming SiteBuilder upgrades.

My server
January 13th, 2009

Shut up. Just shut up and stop messing with my magic quotes. I don't want your SiteBuilder, I don't want your apologies for any problems you might have caused, no, no no. I just want you to stop messing with my server. Or, as an alternative, send me an e-mail notice that you've messed with my server. Or, even better, send me the e-mail notice several days in advance of a major configuration change. Whatever you do, though, server people, please try to not make your client have to WASTE HOURS TRYING TO DEBUG CODE THAT SHOULD WORK BECAUSE YOU CHANGED A STUPID 1 TO A 0 IN A CONFIGURATION FILE!

Okay, I think I feel a little better now. Time to go remind myself that I need to make enough new money this year to up my IT budget by about $200 a month so I never have to deal with this kind of nonsense again. Grumble, grumble ...

Saturday, January 10, 2009


Give me a revelation
Show me what to do
'Cause I've been trying to find my way
I haven't got a clue
Tell me should I stay here
Or do I need to move?
Give me a revelation
I've got nothing without You

Third Day
Revelation (2008)

Holli and I finally got a lot of clarity on something that we've struggled with for a long, long time - me especially. In fact, I think in large part it's been my particular struggles that have given her a problem with it, because she feeds very heavily off of me and my emotions in a lot of situtations. We've finally gotten our clarity, though - a word I use instead of revelation thanks to its prominence in the lexicon of a dear friend of mine - and for the first time ever, really, I've got peace about it. This makes me a very, very happy man as I get ready to sleep tonight.

Or possibly work. I remain undecided at the moment.

Friday, January 9, 2009

Doing Some Housekeeping

Cleanliness and order are not matters of instinct; they are matters of education, and like most great things, you must cultivate a taste for them.

Benjamin Disraeli

Not my actual residence, although it could particularly use it at almost any given moment. Holli and I aren't the best housekeepers, you see. We're aware of our failings, and we do our best to overcome them, but we've still got a ways to go. As long as we know you're coming over, the house will be clean when you get here, but if you catch us unawares, all bets are off. Having all three of the kids at home for homeschooling every day now doesn't make matters much easier in that department, either, so we've got to come up with a system that works.

The actual housekeeping I'm doing at the moment uses the phrase somewhat loosely. I'm getting things organized on the "corporate" website,, for the impending reopening of business following my Christmas vacation. Now, it's not like I haven't been working as normal for the past week anyway - I'm not sure my brain is wired for three weeks of vacation anymore - but I've still been closed to the public until Monday. This is giving me a chance to clean up some of the nitpicky things I've wanted to do on that site but hadn't found the time for lately, which is a good feeling.

I've also got some internal housekeeping that needs done. I'm trying very hard to let the Lord take care of that instead of doing it myself, though, because as with the real housekeeping, I find myself lacking in that department. Our church is being led into a season of corporate fasting and prayer, and I'm going to try to do everything I can to really throw myself into that. God willing, I'll have the strength to seek Him out and get things straightened up.

We're talking about possibly kicking things off with a "media fast" next week - no access to the junk that gets filtered in through the media - and I couldn't be more excited about that. We don't have cable or an antenna or anything here, so TV is scarce to begin with; we borrow the occasional special or season of something from the library here and there, but for the most part, our TV consumption is limited. Perhaps more importantly in that, though, our consumption of TV commercials is almost non-existent, leaving me blissfully ignorant of what's cool or what I have to have. I like that.

I'm rambling now, but it's somewhat related, so I'll yap about it anyway. We're planning a Family Blackout sometime in the spring when it warms up. We're going to throw the breakers and use nothing that involves electricity for a day, just to let the kids get an idea of what it's like. Please don't be surprised if I enjoy it and none of you ever see me again without a map to my cabin.

If any of you think I'm serious, please stop and think for a minute. Larry couldn't build a cabin. He's also afraid of the woods and likes running water. C'mon, people.

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Thinking Inside the Box

I'd make a reference to thinking outside of the box here, but then I'd have to punch myself in the face and take a few showers to rub the stench of buzzwords off of me.

Larry Swank

Despite appearances, my disdain for buzzwords and phrases is not the true subject of this post. I'm actually here to talk about my new toy on my desktop: VirtualBox, from the fine people at Sun Microsystems. What is VirtualBox, you ask? It lets me create virtual machines inside my Linux desktop environment.

What's a virtual machine, you ask? Without getting too terribly technical, it lets me install other operating systems on my desktop and open them on my desktop. It basically lets me have an entire second computer operating within a window.

The practical application of this is that through this technology I have made Microsoft subjugant to the awesome might of open-source technology. There are still a few things that I have to have Windows for: a couple of apps for client conerns, and software for my PDA and PlayStation Portable, to be specific. It's not enough that I want to set up a dual boot or anything like that, because that feels like I'm admitting that Linux doesn't work for everything I need. The VirtualBox ends up being the perfect solution, though; it gives me enough functionality to do everything I need, but it doesn't feel like I'm cheating on Linux or anything.

My Windows background in my VirtualBox is of Tux, the traditional penguin mascot of Linux, rampant on a red field waving a red flag behind him. Linux is spelled out in yellow with a hammer and sickle for an "x," and there's text beneath saying that Microsoft is for capitalists and mentioning the GPL, or Glorious People's License. This gives me untold glee every time I look at. I'm sure that fact says something about me, but I honestly couldn't tell you what that might be.


I've been walking these streets at night
Just trying to get it right
It's hard to see with so many around
You know I don't like being stuck in a crowd
And the streets don't change but maybe the name
I ain't got time for the game

Guns N' Roses
G N' R Lies (1989)

In doing the necessary research, I discovered two interesting things. First off, Patience is almost twenty years old, which makes me feel ancient. I have friends who aren't as old as this song, yet I remember its release vividly. Secondly, it's reported that Carrie Underwood covers this song live at her concerts; I think I might actually enjoy that. She's got a good voice, and apparently it's just her and three acoustic guitars when she does it, which is right up my alley.

God's trying to teach me to be more patient. To wait on His plan for my life and follow it, rather than trying to rush blindly forward with whatever it is that I'm trying to do. Take, for example, the project I'm working on right now; it's an affiliate marketing piece that I've been working on all day that I really wanted to launch tonight. I can't do that, though, because the DNS changes I needed to make to get the site live haven't fully propagated yet. So, I have to sit here and wait, which is something that my flesh absolutely despises.

I'm a ready, fire, aim kind of guy. I know that I shouldn't be that way, and I'm thankful for the work that God's doing in me to change that. It's so hard sometimes to just slow down and wait for him to lead me instead of rushing blindly forward. The times in my life where I'm actually able to muster up the strength to pause, say a quick prayer, and seek His guidance, it's always right there and things always go better for me. Despite this truth, though, I still want to rush ahead and get clobbered by life.

So here I sit, unable to do what I want to do because it's just not time for it yet, and with no choice but to go ahead with my plan unfulfilled for the night. Honestly, I can't think of anything that would be better for me right now. I'm going to wrap things up here at FortySixTen Studios for the night, go seek my Lord in prayer, then hit the sack. Perhaps the babies won't wake me up playing rugby or pretending to be elephants or whatever it was they were doing this morning.

UPDATE: Alright, it's not half bad ...

Have I ever mentioned my deep and abiding love for YouTube?

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

My Little Virtuoso

This heart is Your instrument
And this life is Your song

David Phelps
Revelation (2004)

My son is playing Burnout Paradise in the living room. Upon firing the game up, his first demand was to listen to Virtuoso by David Phelps; this is because my son has awesome taste in music. He then proceeded to go to a Road Rage in the game and kick the computer's butt.

Connor is seriously good at this game. I mean, scary good. He's a veritable artist, with the car as his paint and the asphalt as his canvas. I can't decide whether or not his skill at a game primarily about speeding and crashing pleases me or worries me, so for now I'm just going to be proud of my little boy's skill and hand-eye coordination.

Now, for those of you who have never heard of the song or of David Phelps, I present Virtuoso. Please press play and treat your ears to the best male voice on the planet. And in true Fat Albert style, if you're not careful, you might learn something, too!

Making Copy

Alright! The Rand Old Opry, makin' copies!

Rob Schneider as Richmeister
Saturday Night Live

I'm writing web copy tonight. As my Twitter feed clearly shows, this is something at which my skill is subjective. There are some things I'm really good at; logic problems, cleaning up children's vomit, and Wheel of Fortune, just to name a few. My skill in those areas is considerable and irrefutable. Other things, however, such as writing web copy, fall into a more grey kind of area.

You see, I've only got one gear that I can write in: snarky. It really doesn't matter what I'm trying to write or how I'm trying to write it, it just ends up with this generally kind of snotty, almost funny sort of tone. It's been likened to Dave Barry's writing, only without the skill and with a serious attitude problem. Not that I have an attitude problem, of course, but it's just how things come out when my brain starts sending signals to my fingers. I've been told that I'm a very good writer by a great many people - almost enough that I'm inclined to believe it - but I also know that I'm limited in my scope.

So, whether or not I'm a good copywriter is largely subject to your opinion of what makes for good copy. My copy is unique, it grabs attention, and it is largely unlike the vast majority of web copy that you'll find out there. The last part is most likely where someone would find fault with my work as a copywriter. If you want the status quo, same old boring long form letter that's been written a thousand times already, I'm not your guy. If you want something that people will remember, though, and perhaps even - horror! - enjoy reading, I can give you that.

I'd make a reference to thinking outside of the box here, but then I'd have to punch myself in the face and take a few showers to rub the stench of buzzwords off of me.

Saturday, January 3, 2009

This Is My New Favorite Verse

For God did not give us a spirit of timidity, but a spirit of power, of love and of self-discipline.

2 Timothy 1:7 (NIV)

I'm in Bible study today at the table as part of what I hope becomes my new routine for Saturdays. It's not like the idea is new or anything, but again, with me, it's the matter of taking a new idea and making a practice out of it. I know what to do here - as with a lot of other areas in my life - it's just that doing what needs to be done is difficult at times.

Anyway, I wrote Holli a Bible verse archiving script a while back. It lets her tag verses with various descriptors and look them back up later, and it seems to help her in her study. Well, a couple of months ago, one of our pastors at HealingPointe spoke about verses that helped to give us meaning and self esteem. Along with her message, she passed out a sheet with a big list of verses on it broken into three categories: I am accepted, I am secure, and I am significant. I took those verses today and added them into the archiving script, both for Holli's use and for my own, and now I'm reading through them.

In reading through, I came across that verse from 2 Timothy, and it speaks volumes to me. I'm a guy, and having elevated levels of testosterone as opposed to half of the world probably makes me look at my Lord and King as a warrior and a leader in addition to all the wonderful things He is. That outlook also makes me look for those qualities in myself, and they're sometimes hard for me to find. Having this verse as affirmation is huge for me; God didn't make me weak - he made me to to be able to accomplish the work He has planned for me here and to be able to lead my family. He wouldn't have made me with those tasks and not made me capable of accomplishing them.

As I said, that affirmation is important to me. Sometimes you just want someone to hug you and tell you something positive. Well, this verse does that for me.

If any of you are interested, you can find the Bible verse script and browse through the categories I mentioned (or any of the other verses that have been logged) at Having delivered that shameless promotion, I now leave you, dear readers. Have a blessed day!

Friday, January 2, 2009

This Quote Is an Enormous Spoiler

This is good ... isn't it?

Richard Doyle as Big Boss
Metal Gear Solid 4: Guns of the Patriots

It's been a pretty good day today. I've still got my focus, which means day three of my odyssey to try to live up to the potential that God gave me is going well. I'm still working on the budget in my head, but I think I've done about as much as I can do with it at this point. Right now, I'm just ready to eat some dinner, then kick back and enjoy my day of rest once the sun goes down.

Yes, that implies that I'm tired, but it's the best possible type of tired I can imagine. I feel like I've actually gotten an enormous amount of stuff done the past few days, and that's a really good feeling. It's one I'd like to keep around for a while.


Oh, holy craps. I can actually read your blog now?

Holli Swank

Yes, Holli, you can read my blog now.

Anyway, I'm going to start documenting some of the stuff that I do here in this space. It'll be kind of like I'm making my work progress accountable to the world. It's like in Ye Olden Dayes (tm) when you got to Finger someone to find out what they were doing, but without the unintentionally funny sexual overtones.

Anyway, I worked last night, despite being on vacation. Vacation's pretty much over at this point, as far as I'm concerned. Since all of my clients think I'm still on vacation, though, I mostly worked on things for me. What did I work on, you ask? Well, I wrote a piece of software to allow me to create online bookmarks. I like to reformat my computer - quite frequently, in all truth - and I always lose my bookmarks. Well, lost bookmarks no more.

It was really just something to get my coding muscles working again after a long period of dormancy. I might tweak it to turn it into a product some day, but there are already tons of services like it out there that are free. I didn't write mine because it's better, necessarily, but because it's mine and it's going to work the way I want it to. In cases where the code is simple, I'd rather rewrite an already extant system to make it serve my purposes than rework my thinking to make my needs fit what's available with the system.

I'm pretty sure I've lost you all at this point. I'll stop typing now.

A Fresh Start

This was unexpected
What do I do now?
Could we start again, please?

Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice
"Could We Start Again, Please?"
Jesus Christ Superstar (1970)

It's been an interesting start to ought-nine for me. I'm in the middle of my vacation at the moment, and I've had a lot of time to reflect. It's not that I don't do this frequently or anything, but this time, something feels different to me. I've talked big words about getting my finances straight, losing weight, controlling my temper, and so on and so forth before, but I actually believe that things are going to stick this time.

I spent most of the day today mired in the deepest pits of the Swank family budget, cleaning house, and reading Dave Ramsey's book. The amount of time I wasted today was inconsiderable. For those of you who know me well, this probably sounds like I'm talking about someone else. Honestly, though, there's no way to describe things other than to say that I feel like someone else.

It's like God's pulled me along gently, inch by inch, letting me fix a little thing here or a little thing there. He always seemed to be moving me along at a pace that seemed manageable. This time, however, He's just kind of flung me headlong into the Pit of Things Larry Needs to Fix (tm) with a promise that He'd meet me on the other end of it. For the first time in my life, though, I actully feel like I'm going to make it.