Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Hi, my name is Dan and ...

Time once again for Mama Kat's Writer's Challenge. This week the prompts are:
1.) What will you be doing now that the kids are back in school?
(inspired by Michelle from Honest And Truly)

2.) Things I have learned from my toddler.
(Inspired by Big Mama Cass from The World Through My Eyes).

3.) What would you put in your favorite things giveaway?
(inspired by Jill from Scary Mommy who is having a favorite things giveaway right NOW! Check it out!!)

4.) Hi, my name is ______ and I am a _______.
(inspired by Emmy from Emmy Mom One Day At A Time.)

5.) If these walls could talk...
(inspired by JennyMac from Let's Have A Cocktail)

So without further ado, here we go!

#1 - Given that the Son has been out of the house for a few years, I'll be doing the same things i was doing before school started! So I'll just have to look forward to the stories of escape from all the bloggers with young ones still at home.

#2 - One thing I learned (from a friend of the Son, not the Son) is that tykes can be both talented and obsessive. One day when the friend was over and the two of them were playing, I heard the ominous sounds of silence coming down the hall. When I went to investigate, I discovered the friend with a screw-driver of unknown origin taking the plates off the electrical plugs. I would have sworn they were too young to do that. We had the plug caps installed and the little guy didn't even bother with the caps and went straight for removing the plate. Turned out he had gotten in trouble for that particular act at home before trying it here. So there were several lessons there: 1) Never let 'em out of your sight, 2) Pay attention to the sudden appearance of silence, and 3) Check with the parents of playmates as to what they have been doing wrong at home *before* they come to spend the afternoon.

#3 - Being the nerd that I am, it would have to include computer arcana. I have a still operational TRS-80 calculator from 1980, a precursor of the notebook computer in that it is a cross between a scientific calculator and low capability computer. Mass storage via a cassette tape interface to a cheap handheld tape unit. Capable of running 100 line programs in Basic. Runs only on 4 mercury watch batteries, no AC power interface. Heck, I might even throw in one of my handcrafted multi-player space opera games I wrote for the beast back in 1981. That was a step up from the calculator games I wrote in the late 70's to sell to my fellow grad students since we all had similar calculators. {*grin*} Keep in mind that this is from a time before the IBM PC was even a gleam in anyone's eye. Here is the beast in all it's glory:
Up until a few years ago, I could also have included one of the first 100 HP LaserJet II's ever made. But I already gave that away, so ..

In other areas, I'd have to include some works from my library. Maybe the collected works of Robert Heinlein or Harlan Ellison. Maybe even some of the rare short stories from the 50's that are so hard to find now.

And food, I have to give away some food. Maybe a few zucchini. It is that time of year in the garden belt where anyone not guarding their door finds random bags of zucchini on their door step. (Someday I'll have to write up my zucchini spaghetti sauce - it is so good that we freeze zucchini to put in it all winter.)

#4 - Hi, my name is Dan and I am a Computer Whisperer! My deep, dark, and dirty secret that drives people crazy is that I am the Computer Whisperer. I can walk up to any computer, think a few good thoughts, say the appropriate words, and viola - everything starts working just fine.

If the computer has been freezing up on you for days, all I have to do is walk into the room and it behaves perfectly.

If you haven't been able to get that web site to accept your input and have resorted to sitting on hold for hours in the hope of getting through to customer support - just let me sit down at the keyboard and all will suddenly work and your order will be complete in seconds.

If you've been trying to get your printer to power on and/or unjam - let me caress it and it will work like a charm.

You keep getting the BSOD (Blue Screen Of Death) - let me just touch the keyboard and the machine will run perfectly for hours.

In and of itself, being a Computer Whisperer is not calculated to drive people crazy. It is more calculated to make you really popular late at night around deadlines. The real issue is that people have been getting strange and irreproducible results for hours and have drug in other people to verify that it isn't working and I walk in and it starts working. You can see how that might rankle a bit. I have had my wife insist on other people coming over to see that her computer isn't working right because she knows when I walk in it will start working perfectly. And perhaps more annoying, all those vexed people know that as soon as I walk out of the room, their troubles will resume until I return. A good computer only responds to a Computer Whisperer it can hear and see.

The worst part is that I don't even have to know anything about the computer in question. I have been at sites with main frames down and waiting for the system engineers to arrive, walked into the computer room, and suddenly all is working again. Back in the early days of programmable calculators, my fellow graduate students used to come to my office so that their "broken" calculators would work long enough to finish the assignment. When I was at a national lab, I had a colleague that would drag me over to his area at lunch time just so his computer powered detector would work. (I got a lot of free lunches that way.) It's probably good I never became a system engineer - it's hard to repair that which works while you are there and then quits when you leave!

#5 - If these walls could talk, they'd talk of many things from the past. The house was built in 1961; we are only the second owners. And of course like any small town, we know the first owners. Not only know, but went to school with some of their kids and the male half of the couple is my ophthalmologist.

I have already heard the garage whisper about the time their son (also named Dan) came home a little uncertain behind the wheel and perhaps a bit under the influence and forgot the brakes. That is why the wall between the garage and the back porch looks a little bit newer than its other cousins.

I have also heard the wiring talk a bit about the winter power paranoia of the original owners. There is a hulking switch on the back porch that with a single flick could disconnect from the grid and connect to the diesel generator in the garage. When we converted the house from all electric (it was a Medallion All-Electric showplace when built), the connections to the switch and the generator itself went the way of the dodo bird. In its loneliness, the switch whispers sad stories of outages past.

The family room is big enough to host a small basketball tourney, but that is nothing compared to the 40+ tons of rocks under it. The now removed early solar heating system used them as a heat reservoir. The theory was to gather heat in the rocks all summer by collecting on the roof and then blowing the superheated air through the rocks to store the energy. One was then to blow air from the house through the rocks in winter to extract heat. Unfortunately, the company that made the system never got them to work properly before they faded from existence. So hot air was indeed blown into the rocks in the summer. But, it then leaked into the family room, making it too hot to sit in even with the air conditioning running. Then in the winter, the rock quickly cooled and spent the winter effectively cooling the room. Needless to say, that was one of the systems we first pulled out when we bought the house. Now all we hear are whispers of the long gone solar panels on the roof and the ever running fans in the rocks. The rocks themselves just sit and hunker in silence beneath the family room floor, hoping against hope that someday they will be useful once more.

Finally, there is my bathroom. We remodeled it a few years ago. Out went the pastel green tub and sinks and all the stories they could tell. In came the nice white. Out went the standard size cabinetry and in came the custom stuff that is 6 inches taller that standard. I can finally wash my face and shave without feeling like my head is between my knees. I can comb my hair without stooping. And the tile is laid in a pleasing mathematical pattern of my own devising. But the tile has whispered to me that some family members think the tile and pattern is more suitable to a Tijuana house of ill repute than to a sedate bathroom. Too bad - the tile and I have attained oneness. We have no desire to separated.


  1. Can I borrow you to whisper to my computers? I have a lot of issues with them. Wow screwdrivers are scary when in the hands of kids...

  2. Oooh, thanks for that tidbit on the face plates! My son has already taken an interest to unplugging things and then plugging them back in. Must make a mental note to watch him in the future!

    Also, I may have you come to Louisiana and whisper to my computers some time.

  3. You could make a fortune as the Computer Whisperer - and put The Geek Squad out of business!

    Love the talking walls - must be neat to already know some of the history of the house.

  4. I would LOVE some of your zuchini, but I don't know about that old calculator : ). Fascinating stuff.

    So envious of your computer skills. Mine are severely lacking. I am glad there is someone like you who can take on the blue screen of death!

  5. That whispering thing sounds like a marketable skill. YOu should look into that.

  6. I always feel so much smarter after reading you...

    Thank you Dan!

  7. The house my mom moved into was custom built for the tall people who owned it before her. I think all countertops and door handles should be that high. Who sets the standard on that stuff?? The munchkins?

  8. I really wish that I had the computer whisperer talent. Instead I am the opposite. I break them without knowing how or why and am never able to explain what happened to the IT guy. It is embarrassing.

  9. "ominous sounds of silence" I don't have children... but yeah, that little bit of "quiet" would scare the daylights out of me - it smells of trouble!

    And OMG - my brother has an operational TRS-80!! Too funny. His wife wanted him to throw it out and he said, "NO! It's a collectable!"

    I believe in Computer Whisperers, but I'm not one of them. I just want the computer to work. Greg does pretty well with handling computers, but I consider my brother to be a guru.

    Enjoyed your challenge answers!

  10. Wow... I think I had a never-used TRS-80 in one of the boxes from our move... It has your name on it, if I haven't already given it away.

    "The tile and I have attained oneness." Haha. Good one. One shouldn't get between a man and his mosaic.

  11. I didn't realize that new stuff was higher than old stuff as far as countertops, etc.

    I am so completely jealous of your computer whispering. I mean it, I am.

  12. oh, thanks for that tidbit on the face plates! I think I had a never-used TRS-80 in one of the boxes from our move..

    Work From Home


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