Monday, December 15, 2008

Christmas cards. I have grown to hate them! But not because of the season, or what they represent, but because of the shear amount of time I put in to the blasted things this year!

If you're one of the lucky few that received a Christmas card from me this season, you may have noticed that the message was printed on the card instead of written. Now I must admit, I find the note typed on paper and placed in the card rather impersonal, so I figured I'd actually print the message in the card itself. For multiple reasons actually. One, it is now a legible note. Two, I can type way faster than I can write. Three, I can say actually what I want to say and then make sure I didn't spell anything wrong or screw up the grammar. And four, I just thought it would be a neat thing to try with my new OpenOffice 3.0 Suite on my Linux OS. However you're wondering why I didn't sign the thing, well read on my friend.

A few weeks I went out the local Hallmark at the Logan Valley Mall to buy my Christmas cards. Later the next week I measured the cards for width and height and built a nice little template in Writer (comparable to Word for you Microsoft junkies) and started typing away. I had ten letters typed out in about 1.5 hours, which by writing would have taken probably about 2.0 hours, but they would have had way more errors in them. So my next job was to print them all out. I stuck the card in the printer, clicked the print button and watched the card get sucked into the printer like a wet noodle in the mouth of a child. Suddenly I got the message on my printer that read, "PAPER TOO SMALL." I tried it again. Same message. Now I had printed out items much smaller than this before. So I stuck in a full letter size paper and clicked print again. It worked flawlessly. Like the stupid stubborn-head I can be, I stuffed the card back in the printer and hit print again. Again, to my surprise (why I was surprised is still a mystery) the printer told me, "PAPER TOO SMALL." Now keep in mind, when I'm in Linux and printing, typically my printer locks up every print attempt and I have to reboot it and wait two minutes for the darn thing to load up.

So my next step was to make my Writer template a little smaller. I took off half an inch from the template, stuck my card back in, and got the same result. I stuck the letter size paper in, and it printed. So I took off another half inch, and clicked print. Suddenly ink started to flow! Oh the excitement I felt! For I only wasted another hour getting to this point. But wouldn't you know it, when the card was ejected, the printer had inserted an extra inch of margin forcing my note into the crease of the card. The words, "why I outta" came to mind along with a mental image of my fist shaking feverishly at the laughing printer. I stuck in another letter sized paper. It printed, but with the extra inch of margin. Now at this point I should have just accepted my losses, printed the notes on regular paper, cut them out, and stuck them in the card. But no, I was determined! I decided the night was spent and was determined to print the blasted cards the next evening.

Now it's the next night. I decided I'd attack this thing form a different side. I logged into my Google Docs account and attempted to print a card from there. I spent about an hour just trying to figure out how to design something 4.5" x 10.25" in size. Ultimately I gave up on that angle. My faith in Linux was gone. I booted into my Microsoft Windows Vista environment where my printer never locks up! And since my original files were in OpenOffice format I had to download and install OpenOffice 3.0 for my Windows environment or else, well there was no else, I am too cheap to pay for Microsoft Office. So I installed the app, opened my file, clicked print, and guess what the printer told me. "PAPER TOO SMALL."Oooh I was hot! But still, I was determined.

I opened my print settings and and suddenly realized how absent minded I was. Of course the paper was too small! The printer was set for a paper letter size! So I set out to change the paper size to the proper setting. Wouldn't you know it, I could not for the life of me figure out how to set up a custom paper size. I'm a frickin ' Computer Engineer for crying out loud! I could build a computer from integrated circuits (a pretty slow and basic one at that, but still) if I so chose to! So I searched thru what seemed like 100+ paper sizes and found one that was closest to my card. With mental fingers crossed, I opened the document, inserted the card in the printer, clicked print, selected the close-matching paper size and clicked print once again. The printer started. And finally, 5+ hours (accumulated time) after I started my Christmas card writing, I was printing text on the cards! The text still wasn't where I wanted it position-wise, but I was willing to accept that.

Now as if things couldn't get worse, they do. Usually I print addresses on sticky labels and then stick those on the envelopes. Can you tell? I REALLY despise writing things by hand. It is so inefficient.Anywho , I spent some time updating addresses and whatnot and got my template prepared for printing. Now my label template in done in Word on my laptop which I know will not fail me thanks to years of doing this. However, I had to get this right on the first print because I only had one sheet of labels left. If I screwed up, I was hand writing addresses or going to the store to buy new labels (even less efficient). So I set my my addresses up in an order of most efficiency and saved label space and clicked print. I watched the labels get sucked into the printer when suddenly I realized, I needed to print JUST page 4, not all of the pages! Suddenly the words, "Son of a . . . " came to mind with a mental image of me shooting myself in the head. I watched shamefully as the label page was tossed out of the printed filled with the incorrect addresses as expected. Then, glass-eyed I watched as the remaining 3 pages (that were not label paper) were tossed out with the final page having my addresses on them. Again I was defeated.

So once again I shamefully took my cards out when I got home that evening and started handwriting all the addresses on the envelopes. I joylessly stuffed the cards in their envelopes, licked the disgusting glue and piled them in the center of the table. It was my stack of shame. I failed my Christmas card efficiency process. But if only this was the end of my story.

Earlier today I was recapping this story in it's entirety to a colleague at work when suddenly, mid-story, I realized that in my frustration and disappointment when addressing my envelopes I completely and utterly forgot to sign the cards. But it was too late. The cards were in the mailbox with the flag up, over 40 miles away. Truly, shamefully, opprobriously a failed life moment. I could barely finish my story to my colleague I was so distraught and disgraced at this realization.

So to those of you who received a typed, unsigned Christmas card from me, I apologize. If you'd like, you can write "return to sender," on the envelope, place it back in the mail and I will sign it, put new postage on it and resend it. Or, if you'd prefer you can just sign it in my place. Again I truly apologize for this Christmas card catastrophe and hope that you won't hold it against me. For those of you that read this and didn't get a Christmas card from me, well consider yourself fortunate and have a merry Christmas anyway.

Saturday, December 06, 2008

It’s been made obvious to us that Christmas is just around the corner thanks to Christmas at Rockefeller on NBC, Christmas TV specials, tons of holiday shopping sales, cold weather and the Victoria’s Secret Fashion Show special. Also noteworthy is all the Christmas music on the radio (both FM and satellite alike) right now. Some stations are already playing all Christmas music, all the time, which is just a little extreme if you ask me. I did find a great FM station the other day when I was in Pittsburgh that was playing a 50/50 mix; one song from today, one Christmas song; repeat until Dec 26th. I thought that was a great idea. Not overdoing it, yet still being able to appreciate the season.

But I’m rambling here. We all know the best Christmas music EVER is from our own homemade, custom Christmas Mix CDs. Some people prefer the good old traditional stuff (i.e. Perry Como, Mormon Tabernacle Choir, etc) while others like more contemporary tunes and artists. Myself being a more contemporary Christmas listener, I decided to put together a Christmas mix list that I thought was so extraordinary it deserved to be posted for all the world to see. Of course all the world doesn’t read this blog, so it will most likely only be known to you select few that have no life and read the crap that I type. You know this is the most awesome mix ever! Don't be a hata (pronounced h8-ah). Feel free to copy my mix to your own CD, but make sure to give credit where credit is due . . .

Captain Jimmy’s Christmas Mix CD 2008

Track 1 - Bryan Adams - Christmas Time
Track 2 - Carrie Underwood - Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas
Track 3 - Celine Dion - The Christmas Song
Track 4 - Dave Matthews Band - A Christmas Song
Track 5 - Faith Hill - Where Are You Christmas
Track 6 - Jars Of Clay - Little Drummer Boy
Track 7 - Jimmy Eat World - Last Christmas
Track 8 - Jose Feliciano - Feliz Navidad
Track 9 - Josh Groban - O Holy Night
Track 10 - Kelly Clarkson - My Grown Up Christmas List
Track 11 - KT Tunstall - Christmas (Baby Please Come Home)
Track 12 - Mariah Carey - All I Want For Christmas Is You
Track 13 - MercyMe - Silent Night
Track 14 - Neil Diamond - You Make It Feel Like Christmas
Track 15 - NewSong - Christmas Shoes
Track 16 - Sarah McLachlan - Happy Xmas (War Is Over)
Track 17 - Third Day - O' Come All Ye Faithful
Track 18 - Trans Siberian Orchestra - Christmas Eve/Sarajevo 12/24
Track 19 - Whitney Houston - Do You Hear What I Hear

Thursday, December 04, 2008

If you’re not a modern computer programmer or would prefer not to be totally confused, then you may want to skip this post. But recently I’ve had a wild thought about what we as physical, and spiritual beings actually are, and in order to explain it, I need to use a little programming knowledge (and a diagram might come in handy too, but I doubt I'll have time for that).

Not too many people would disagree with the statement that we as beings have physical (bodies) and metaphysical (minds and/or souls) entities. To simplify the example I’ll assume the mind and soul are one and the same, but by no means should you limit the thought process to that.

First, let’s talk a little about Object Orientation or OO as it is abbreviated. This of course is a programming term where we model our programming code after real world objects. Our objects have properties, methods, constructors, etc, that define what the object actually is, and how it will act within itself and with other objects. Now when we create an instance of an object, we assign that instance a variable and create some room in memory for the object to be housed. Of course the memory can be allocated well before the creation of the variable if so chosen. When we access the object we access it thru the variable assigned to it. Where things get a little confusing is in understanding that the variable itself is not the object, but just a “pointer”, or reference to the object. The actual object resides in memory and cannot be accessed (safely anyway) without the reference variable. Now when things get even more complicated is when we want to make a copy of the object. We can’t just make a new variable and assign it to the same object. If we did that we would just be making a new reference to the exact same object, not a new object. The object would now have two variables accessing it. To make a second object that is the same as the first, we would have to first create a new instance of the object with a new reference, and then assign it all the same properties as the first.

Let's put this is 5th grader talk. I have a ball (the object) that I clear out room for and place on the floor (in memory). The ball has numerous properties, such as temperature, density, color, material, etc. The ball also has actions (methods) it can do such as deflate, bounce, etc. Now since I am a 5th grader and in a pen so I don't damage the rest of the house, I can only play with the ball (that is outside my pen) using a stick (the reference variable). I can't interact with the ball in any other way but with the stick. If I want a second ball just like the first, I can't just make a copy of the stick. If I do, all I get is two sticks that interact with the exact same ball. However, if I want a copy of the ball, I need to create a brand new ball, and then copy the properties of the first ball to the second. I then need to make the second stick to interact with the second ball.

So what the flip does this have to do with our physical and metaphysical selves? Well, let’s pretend for a minute that all minds since the dawn of time reside in a single repository out in some unseeable dimension. Think of it as a godly hash table if you will. These minds have properties such as personalities, thoughts, and feelings (which in themselves would be their own objects), but also constructors that are used to create the mind, as well as methods that let them interact with other minds. When the minds are created, they are assigned a body, or reference if you will. And we can interact with other minds safely thru our bodies.

Now comes the fun part; understanding how this can work. Let’s look at identical twins. Indeed they look like the same person, but truly their minds are different. They are copies of each other. However, we’ve all heard stories about twins liking the same things, thinking the same thoughts, even sensing each other's pain! What if their bodies weren’t pointing to different minds, but to the same one? One mind, two bodies. One object, two references. Now of course we know this isn’t the case because the twin’s bodies can act independently of each other, but if the properties of the mind were made up of other objects, such as thoughts, feelings, pain, experiences, why couldn’t there be references to those properties, and not new ones? Think of it in our ball analogy. A property of the ball is mass. Mass is indeed it's own object made up of all kinds of fun still like the base unit for mass. Let call that a kilogram. If for whatever reason wesuddenly define a kilogram to be something other than what it is today, we would want the ball's mass to follow suit. The ball's mass wouldn't still be the old mass, but would be the newly defined mass automatically. Hence, the ball's mass is a reference to mass, and not a copy of it.

If the world does indeed exist in this fashion, it makes perfect sense. Let’s take a look at love. People say than when we love another, we take that person with us wherever we go (not in the physical sense of course). They become a part of us in a sense. What if love creates references to the other minds or parts of minds? This would explain why we can know what the other person is thinking, or feeling without having to ask. It truly is a direct connection. Psychics may be gaining access to this mind repository in an unsafe manner, or hacking into it. This is how they would know what they know (assuming they aren’t just darn good observers) without actually interacting with anyone.

I could probably write a book on this whole matter, but I’ll leave you with one more thought. In programming when we are done with our variables, or references that access the objects, we destroy them. However, the object itself doesn’t get destroyed until the Garbage Collector comes around and re-allocates the memory, at which time the object is completely disposed of. When programming, we typically don’t control the Garbage Collector; it does what it does, when it needs to do it.