Monday, January 29, 2007

My Wife and I ... We are Siamese, If You Please ...

We are Siamese, if you please.
We are Siamese, if you DON'T please.

So it was in Disney's immortal animated classic that the Siamese twin cats inform the audience of their decent and their pleasure in it. I never gave two thoughts about that line from a silly song in an animated movie until just this morning.

Don't ask me why it crossed my mind today, but it did. And I realized, as it echoed through the empty caverns of my memory, that throughout our lives, my wife and I have been trying to sing that song to everyone that bothered to ask.

Most of them didn't. Most of them were trying to change us from what we were, and are, into what they wanted us to be. Tabby; Calico; Persian; Manx; it didn't matter. As long as we weren't what we are, it would suffice.

The two cats in the cartoon are simply saying, in their one line, that they are what they are, whether popular or not. They are, in fact, Siamese cats, and their genetics, appearance, and best of all their NATURE, could not be altered.

As long as I can remember, I was being "molded." Trying to be made more this, or less that; not so much to groom me for any one particular thing -- there was nothing so ambitious as a goal for my life -- but to make me something I was not in the moment.

That's the tragedy of it all. There wasn't a point. Had there been a goal, had there been a destination for the steering, it may have actually been beneficial to some degree. Because it was rudderless and was done just to suit the mood of the moment, or the hang-over, or to make me conform to whatever the image in the mind was at the time, it was just a constant beating down of what I was and trying to railroad me into being something I'm not. ANYthing I'm not.

I can't be too smart -- too smart exposes stupidity pretty quickly, and that would unmask them too soon. I'm programmed to believe that I am stupid.

I can't be too strong -- too strong causes loss of physical intimidation, and that eliminates the last line of defense for stupidity. I am therefore kept intimidated and punished for any physical demonstrations. I am admonished physically early and often in increasing degrees of brutality. First with the hand, then the belt, then the closed fist ... make sure that I am not aware of my physical superiority at all costs.

I cannot be more clever. More clever means being outwitted. Again, be told that I am inferior in every way. I will never be a peer. I will never be an equal. I cannot be, or control will be surrendered.

I cannot be better educated. Better education will mean better choices, and better choices will ultimately lead to growth. Growth separates reality from mental imagery. Growth must be halted at all costs.

I must not achieve more success. More success means there is no possibility for lording and denigration in that area. I was therefore told I would never amount to anything, that I would be a loser all of my life, a failure in all endeavors. This is primarily one-sided input; from the other genetic donor, silence and passive observation of the mental abuse, physical abuse, and occasional input of superiority messages, complete with demonstrations to enhance the feeling of inferiority within me.

I can only imagine that my wife feels similarly. In her case, however, the genetic donor input was minimal. They were absentee parents, abusive in another form.

Always, always the answer is "we did the best we could."

The idea that better educated means better choices which is bad is a subtle and insidious ploy, because it came coupled to being sent to an educational institution that was considered one of the best in the area. On the other hand, I think there was the perception that there would be more indoctrination into the religion of "choice" in the familial unit. The paternal genetic donor had already abandoned his own theological background for the sake of the woman. Things would be exactly as she imagined it or it would not be at all. This has been an underlying theme my entire life. Therefore, I must graduate from a prestigious religious institution, but I must be made aware of how superior they are at the same time. I must learn, but not learn to think. A balancing act that I think was far too complex for someone untrained in programming and manipulation to attempt. It failed.

Through it all, there I am, being what I am at least internally. I am what I am and can never be anything else. A leopard, as the saying goes, cannot change its spots. Neither can amateurish attempts at brain-washing make you what you are not, and even professional attempts at programming must be assisted by either drug-induced confusion and susceptibility, with isolation and threats that cannot be proven or borne out (such as with religious cults that threaten members with eternal damnation), or with physical torture. It must also be ongoing and constant. And the subject must be broken.

Amateurs don't do all that is necessary.

We have been, and still are, ourselves. That is a road of discovery in a time when we should be solidly set in our ways. We are still trying to figure out who we are, where we want to go, and how we want to get there. The delays are not directly the fault of those that tried to program us for failure, but they are likely indirect results of those attempts. We push forward; we have not conceded ourselves to what we were "imagined" to be, what we were "supposed" to be, what anyone "wanted" us to be. And now, we are dangerous for those that tried to poison us.

We are Siamese, if you please.
We are Siamese, if you DON'T please.


Thursday, January 25, 2007

Some Thoughts about Superheroes

So, I was wondering … what if the Hulk has to take a dump? Can he fit that enormous caboose on a potty? Will the porcelain bear his weight? How can he flush if he manages? Isn’t that going to back the plumbing up?

Maybe he’s like the proverbial bear in the woods. If so, who’s job is it to clean that up?

What if Spider-man – or is it Spiderman? – needs to whiz while he’s chasing Doc Ock around New Yawk? Is that outfit equipped with a zipper? I don’t see one … and if he has to poop, does he quickly change back to Peter Parker? He can’t wash his hands afterward with those gloves on. Does the same stuff that causes him to stick to walls become a problem when working with toilet paper?

Why do Batman and Superman wear trunks over their costumes? I’d think their boys would get really, really pressed, cramped and sweaty. Yuck. That can’t be fun. No wonder Batman’s always brooding.

And what about diarrhea? It's a fact of life; all of us get it sometime. Doesn't it become inconvenient and a bit precarious to dress like superheroes do if you have the runs?

Does Wonder Woman shave her legs? Get the occasional bikini wax? Does she ever use the lasso of truth to tie up boyfriends? Do they tell her they’re afraid of her when she does? Do they inadvertently spit out that she’s not that great in bed under that lasso’s influence? What consequences would that device have in a romantic setting? Yeesh.

Does Aquaman produce bubbles when he farts? I guess he’d have to, but when do we get to see it? Also, what if he’s allergic to shellfish? Is that a problem for him?

What if the Flash decided to go speed dating?

If Daredevil is blind, how does he know he has his costume on the right way? How does he know it’s the right color? How can he tell if the logo on the chest is straight?

I noticed in the movie Superman Returns that Superman and Lois Lane had a baby. How was that possible? In the movie that preceded this one, a simple kiss made her forget who he was and a lot of things that happened while they were together. Wouldn’t sex have left her either comatose or dead? In a vegetative state? And wouldn’t Superman’s ejaculation have blown her head off? Seems like sex with Superman would be a bad idea, frankly. How did Superman manage to lift up an entire island made of Kryptonite? Isn’t he allergic to that? And how come a tiny sliver of it left in his body didn’t render him completely useless? Is he not as vulnerable to it as he used to be?

Men get an erection at night on average every 90 minutes or so; what if Superman does? Does he just sleep nude to avoid destroying his boxers/briefs/boxer-briefs? If Superman masturbates, does the friction produce heat and sparks? Can he cause a fire that way? Does he have to disable the smoke alarms in his house to keep from setting them off while pleasuring himself? Maybe he just refrains to avoid the whole thing. And what happens if he gets turned on while wearing his Superman outfit? That can’t be comfortable. If the suit is tough enough to withstand his antics, does it also ... contain him in those circumstances? And isn’t his condition going to be a little obvious in those blue tights and tiny little briefs? How embarrassing!

Who pays for all the property damage caused by superheroes fighting villains? Does that come out of the government funds, or do the taxes in the city go up to help recover the costs? Has anyone ever brought a civil suit against a superhero for destruction of private property? Does the superhero have to show up for court in his costume, or can s/he dress normally?

How do superheroes dress for weddings? If Wonder Woman and Superman get married, for instance, do they show up in their costumes or in wedding attire? Hmm.

When Wonder Woman is near her period, does PMS become a matter of public safety?

When does Aquaman bathe? Does he use soap? If so, does Greenpeace get in his face about polluting the oceans? What about his urine and defecation? Is that okay for him, since he lives in the sea? I bet someone would have a problem with one of US if WE did our business in the ocean.

If Iron Man has a weak heart, doesn’t he risk having a heart attack just getting that suit on and off? It can’t be lightweight. Does he have a catheter built in? There’s no way that bad boy’s coming off to take a leak. That could be a very long process indeed.

How come the bad guys don’t wait until the superheroes are in the bathroom to attack? Aren’t they pretty vulnerable when they’re doing their business? I know I’m not in any position to defend myself while I’m sitting on the pot.

Does the Rhino’s horn provide aphrodisiac effects like a regular rhinoceros’ horn is supposed to? Why haven’t poachers tried to bag him yet?

Does the Lizard have to bask in the sun to get his body temperature up in the morning?

Has Storm ever cost a meteorologist his/her job? Does she ever change the weather just to muck things up for other people? If she’s on the rag, would she cause it to rain on a sunny Saturday just to be a pain?

Can people that live where superheroes are get special clauses on their auto and home owner’s insurance policies to protect against superhero-related damage?

Why don’t superheroes ever go in for professional sports? They’d have distinct advantages, and it’s much safer. You can always battle super villains in the off-season. Imagine the money they could make. They might even be able to afford to pay for some of the damage they cause while doing superhero stuff. Wouldn’t that be a relief to the public sector and the civil authorities? They could finally stop raising taxes. Who can afford to live in those places?

Just some thoughts on superheroes.


Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Never Commit to Writing ...

I learned a lesson today.

I posted to my blog earlier, and had little success in being okay with what I wrote. Self-censorship is an interesting thing. It happens out of guilt. I've never had to remove a posting before, and have never had one removed by a moderator or a forum administrator. Certainly, I think a blog entry is what it is and there really isn't anything that Blogger can do about it. But, I wasn't able to just let my post sit there and be read by the Internet dwellers of the world.

I said some nasty things about someone that I don't know at all, except for what I see displayed in public. That person's not always at their best in those circumstances. And I said some other, rather harsh things about someone else that I didn't know, and the same things I said about both of those individuals could have been applied to ... well, me.

A very, VERY wise man once told me, "Never commit to writing anything you aren't willing to die for." The reason is, once it's committed to writing, it's indelible. It's in writing, and no matter how things change, no matter how your mood may lift or shift from the time of the writing, the words you scribe will NEVER change. They are permanently etched into the ether of history, and will always be there to splash in your face like acid when you least expect them to. Or want them to. No matter what the situation is, there is never a good reason to write something -- at least something that someone else may read -- in anger. You will, without variance, regret it at some point.

Your perspective changes with time -- hopefully. You grow. The heat of the anger wears off and that moment passes. You may or may not feel differently about what you wrote than you did when you wrote it, but the fact is, your perspective will change. If you've written down something that can't be retrieved, you will likely have to face ongoing or much more dramatic consequences than you anticipated because the words you used will be available for posterity. It's seldom worth the ramifications.

On the other hand, things can be written down. Journaling is a therapeutic form of expunging information, feelings, thoughts and works as a substitute for action in many cases. You can write for catharsis, and to try and clarify your thoughts and sort things through. In those instances, you are writing for yourself, however, and others are not intended to read them. When purging feelings, writing is a useful tool to many, but it should always be remembered that this is for your benefit, and should not be shared with anyone else. Doing so can be destructive. I know; I wrote something once that was the camel that broke the straw back of a weak and failing marriage.

Sometimes, writing is a way to say things to someone that allows for uninterrupted, non-argumentative communication in which the two parties do not have to face one another. When one person is not as effective a verbal communicator as another, writing can be a method for saying what's on the heart and so-called mind, without having to bear the immediate response ("reaction", actually) of the other party. However, again, be very careful in those instances. Retraction of what is in writing is difficult if not impossible. It's there, ready to be picked up and read again and again, to remind the reader of the feelings and anger that went into it. Communication in this way may be more effective than ever intended.

As for me, I've written things I regret, and things I don't regret. I've said some really great things in writing that I don't think I could have said verbally, at least to the same level of effectiveness. And, I've pulled some boners too. They fly like boomerangs and hit me in the back of the head. It's not possible to deny or lay context to the statement they way it is with verbal communication, because -- as I've said -- there it is, staring the reader in the face, and the context that is remembered will be the context of everything else written, not the events surrounding them. That's the rub. Only what was written will later matter, not any reasons -- however justifiable -- that may have existed.

So, realizing that I'd said things that I couldn't possibly mean, couldn't possibly know, and shouldn't have said, I removed the post. After all, what if the person(s) I'd written about actually saw my writing? It's not likely, but it's possible, I suppose. This is the Internet, after all, and there is nothing about my blog that keeps it from public view. I thought better of it later, and deleted it so that I would not have to feel guilty later, would not have to face the ramifications of what I said, and would not later have to eat those words that I so bitterly seasoned.

Well … I guess I've written enough about what I haven't written, haven't I?


Monday, January 22, 2007

There is No Joy in Mudville ...

... for the Mighty Brady has struck out.

I'll say no more about that.

A moment of silence, please.


Aside from the heartbreak of the weekend, I've noticed some things about myself that really need changing.

I know the children have cabin fever. My wife is a sedentary lump, as am I. We do not allow the kids to play outside, and while it's really cold now and not practical for them to play outside, it's also not always been that way. Because we are sedentary, we don't go outside and let them burn off their excess energy. Because we have no health insurance, we have to take precautions that other families probably don't think about -- since the kids don't have their shots, having them exposed to a lot of other kids probably isn't a good idea. Kids that carry normal childhood diseases and can expose ours to them aren't a welcome prospect; at least, not right now. So, the children suffer. That's not right, and it's not fair. That needs to change.

I'm also not normal in a several other areas; in fact, I'm alarmingly like my genetic donors in more ways than I want to admit. I'm "too tired" to play with the kids in the way they want to be played with most of the time. I don't know if I'm actually too tired or if I just lack the energy to break inertia. In either case, the children -- who didn't have the option of requesting younger, more active parents -- again get the worst of it. I'm too engrossed in my "activities" to set aside time for them, to be dedicated and commited to spending quality time with them. There is always something else that needs to be done, or something else I would rather do. That scenario ends in tragedy in not very many years.

I don't mean to imply that we just ignore them; we don't. We are doting, caring parents who love our children very much. But there are many circumstances surrouding us that we are trying desperately to address, that just don't seem to bear themselves out and go away. In the wheels of those circumstances the children often get caught, and I feel that it's time for me to address those things, at least in some measure. I just don't have an answer as to how to rectify the situations; at least, not at this time.

The unfortunate thing is, I can't do it by myself. What I can do, I'm not doing, and that's squarely on my shoulders. But I'm gone for work 5 days a week, no less than 10-1/2 to 12 hours a day, depending on traffic, and during those hours the burden of caring for the children, the house and all the other things that I don't "get around to" fall directly into the lap of my wife. While I would rather see her letting the kids play outside -- or her playing WITH them -- than cleaning the kitchen, I don't have the full understanding of what it takes to run the household, and I can't impress (or rather, impose) any priority on her. She knows what to do, and she does it well, but it usually means the kids have been inside all day and are rambunctious and loud. They didn't play outside much, if at all, in the summer (because it was too hot for me and my wife to be out there with them), neither in the spring (because it was too muddy outside for them to play), nor in the autumn (because of a myriad of reasons that included us packing to move). Now, in the winter, it's too cold for them to play outside much, and it's much too cold for us to just sit out there and watch them.

Not having a safe place to play makes it hard, too. We live facing into a parking lot. People don't regard parking lots as anything but a place for them to gather speed and get out of their living quarters on their way to somewhere else, and so having an 18-month old baby running about where it's possible (and likely) that she'll run into the parking lot isn't a great idea. The fact that they can't just run around out there is my fault; I once had a house but was not able to keep the house. So now, my children can't go play in the yard, they have to play in the small, grassy area just outside our apartment, which is abutted by the parking lot and affords them no space to legitimately play.

There's more to it than that, but that's part of it. Another part of it is that my wife spends her days divided among activities that require her to be in the house all day while I'm at work all day. She cleans, does laundry, changes diapers, makes chocolate milk, and alternates the other household chores with reading the newspaper (online), playing video games and checking her email. When she's not doing one of those things she's responding to my text messages or answering my phone calls. In addition to that, she does what she can to get the kids fed (easier said than done), attempt to address her personal hygiene and grooming, and make the family evening meal. She makes the beds, gathers the garbage (and sometimes carries it out too), vacuums the house ... whatever the demand seems to be at the moment. She's also the one that takes care of the little things that have to be done during the day, which I can't do when I'm at work -- you know, get mail sent off, packages returned, drop the rent check off at the office, pay the bills, balance the checkbook, order the groceries, schedule deliveries -- you name it, she's doing it. She has an obnoxious and unachievable "to do" list, which she never gets completely through, and somehow, someway, in all of that, she's also trying to become a small business owner. To say her plate is full would be an understatement, and all of the things she does are indoor activities. Oh, except going to the office; those are times when she has to dress herself, dress the baby, nag my son into getting ready with clothing warm enough for the weather conditions, gather up whatever she needs to take with her, and clamber across the street with the entire crew to go to the office, some 200 feet away. It takes her longer to PREPARE to do that than it does to deliver the errand. It's a nightmare. I don't know if it's possible for one person.

Meanwhile, I sit at work; and while I don't do NOTHING while I'm at work, I'm not ABLE to do anything to contribute to the household. On the weekends, we set aside the time as "our" time, meaning that we let the chores and the errands -- as much as possible -- go unattended. But then, there's the lack of energy factor again, and once more the children simply sit inside, playing with their toys and being told to quiet down and be calm.

Yeah, right.

Well, maybe the B-vitamin supplements my wife got over the weekend will help. Maybe we can generate a bit of energy and have enough stamina to leave the TV off (hey, the Patriots are through for the year, and the Super Bowl is a big "who cares?" for me at this point anyway), take the kids outside, and just let them play. We don't have to run around with them; we just have to let them play. And maybe the "us" time we claim to have over the weekend will really happen. Maybe instead of her glued to the Sims, and me glued to the boob tube, we'll actually be together. Maybe we can salvage this thing after all. Maybe we can manage to be a family unit, and have the wherewithall to spend loving, quality time together. It's never too late until it's too late; but if we're not careful, it will be too late soon.

Oh, and did I mention that I've invested in some training recently, so that I can try and get my career to move ahead and get beyond the salary barrier I've been at for about 4 years? No? Well I have; and I need to make time to work through that training or I would have been better off donating the money to a charity. At least they would use it. So that's another thing that has to "get done."

I promised my wife some classes for her business too. I haven't delivered, and she's been very patient about this; she won't be much longer. This is something she wants to do for her, and I don't think she's going to be willing to put herself aside much longer. I also don't feel she should have to put herself aside any longer. She's been doing that for decades; it's her turn. I need to find a way to make that happen soon. Very soon.

I need to lose weight, too. A LOT of weight. And I need to quit smoking so that I can live long enough to take care of these things. Yeah, right.

Just some thoughts. Nothing cataclysmic, or earth-shaking, but things that I've been noodling about for a few hours now. And for me, that's a very, very long time.

Pray for us, and we'll pray for you. If you don't pray, then we'll pray for you anyway. :)


Saturday, January 13, 2007

The Weekend in Review Preview

When I got home from work last night, I had great ambitions.

There were three things that I really wanted to do. Two were creative; one was just plain fun. But I’m not going to get into that last one, so you don’t have to hear about that. And if you could see me, you’d be nauseated by the idea of having to hear about it; be grateful.

The first thing I wanted to do was create a Windows theme. Man, I was all fired up to do it. I was going to go into Photoshop an draw some cool backgrounds, experiment with filters, colors, effects … all that crap. I was pumped. Then I was going to draw some buttons to replace the Windows standard uglies, and make a few new icons too. All I’d have to do then is apply the theme and bang! -- a new desktop look. I was jacked!

The second thing I was going to do was draw. Just draw. In Photoshop, probably, or maybe I’d get off my lazy ass and install Illustrator to have the vector art capability. I’d post to my DeviantArt page. I’d post on my blog. I’d do all kinds of great things with it. It was going to be great.

The weekend was all set, It would really be my last chance to do any of this stuff, because I’ve got some training material that I have to get going on, and study. I have a future to try and get on track. I have a family to provide for, and that means I’ve got to try and get my income up somehow. Training is the only way I know how to do that. Therefore, a-training I will go. For now, though, I was giving myself permission to have one last really lazy weekend doing just what I wanted to do before I commit myself to hard work and studying all the free time I have.
The problem is, my road to hell has been paved with good intentions. I really wanted to get all those things done. The odds of that happening, however, are very slim indeed.

For one, I have done more research and found that there are two things about building a Windows desktop theme that make it kind of problematic. One, it’s time-consuming. Two, it’s expensive. You need special software and access to various utilities, none of which are free. While some of them have free trials, none of them are free. With the learning curve involved with learning the ropes, the trial would likely expire before I could manage to finish one. So I was looking down the barrel of spending hundreds of dollars to accumulate the necessary software. Even if I took the cheap-n-easy route it would have been something like $50 or $100. I just don’t want to do that. I’ve spent plenty of money recently, thank you, and for something I’m not even sure I’ll like? No thanks; pass.

I also figured out pretty quickly that Photoshop isn’t as intuitive and easy to figure out as I hoped. I’ve been playing with it for a while -- more than a year, I think, very on and off -- but haven’t really dug deep. I can’t seem to find a decent tutorial that covers it from a painting/drawing perspective very well. And since I can’t keep up with the times and fork over $600 every time Adobe feels like releasing a new version, I’m likely to stay with this version for some time. On the other hand, since it’s old software, it’s harder to find instructional materials on it. I don’t know if I want to spend money on that, either, so on I go with version 7, and I’ll like it.

As it approaches noon on Saturday, it dawned on me that I hadn’t done either of the two things I was really looking ahead to doing when I left work on Friday. One I’ve lost interest in one altogether, and the other? Well …

When I decided I wanted to draw something this weekend, I really meant it. I meant it from the bottom of my heart. It was a burning desire that’s been growing in me for a while now, but I haven’t picked up a pencil in a serious way in nearly 14 months (!). I need to do that; that’s something connected to me and my happiness, and I know that just doodling has helped, but I need to spend some quality time flushing my system of the hunger to put graphite to paper. I intended this weekend to be that time, and I even had an idea in mind for a drawing to do.

The issue is, all of my art materials are still packed. I haven’t unpacked them because I haven’t had time or space to draw for more than a year. Sure, I can do it anywhere, and even can do it on my computer, but I’m never happy with my work on the PC (even with my half-assed tablet to assist) and I just flat don’t have room on my desk anymore (I used to have a laptop that I could fold up and put aside; not so now). So, I can pull out a sketchbook and any ol’ pencil will work, but I spent a ton of money on my supplies and feel I should use them when I can. And, as I get older, drawing on the floor with my tummy on the carpet just doesn’t hold the same appeal -- or level of comfort -- that it did when I was 17, 25, or even 30. No, the years, the obesity and the kids have seen to it that I need a space to work in, a dedicated art board, or at least an open flat surface. I have none of the above, so it’s either work digitally and just deal with it or break down and figure out another way. By the time I do that, my weekend’s over.

So guess what? I probably won’t get ANY of the things done that I wanted to when I left work on Friday. And it’s getting late; in a couple of hours, the football games will be on, and I’m not one to miss the play-offs. (Although I may not watch the Patriots game just to give my heart a break; I don’t need more stress. If I find out they won, I can always watch the DVR to see how they did it. If they lose, though, I’d rather not be cursing and swearing and angry. Growing up and acting like an adult about it is out of the question, of course, so these are my only two options.)

Ah, me. I did get to do one thing I really wanted to do. I would post that here, since only my loving spouse reads my blog anyway, but it’s kind of personal. The Internet community will have to wonder what that event was; I’m not talkin’.

See ya.


Thursday, January 11, 2007

Seeing the World in a New Way

The more I think about it – which isn’t much, by the way – the more I want a multiple monitor set-up for my computer.

I don’t do a lot of work at home. In fact, I do as little work from home as I possibly can. I have a supremely uncomfortable computer chair, and that’s a lot of the problem. I have a lame computer desk – it’s basically a flat table with 4 legs, and that’s it – and that doesn’t help matters. But I like the computer – so far, it’s been (mostly) trouble-free and does the things I want it to do when I want it to do them.

How do you define “work,” though? For me, work is what I do for a living; the things that I do to earn my wages. Long ago, I was a computer technician. I made my living, earned my wages and paid my bills, by fixing computer hardware- and software-related issues. I don’t do that anymore, and I haven’t for a couple of years, and that’s fine with me. When I came home from work, the last thing I wanted to do was computer repair work (just ask my poor wife, who couldn’t get me to do anything for her computer without a fight). Now that I don’t do that anymore, I still hate doing computer repair work, but I’m a bit more willing to roll up my sleeves and make it happen than I was a couple of years ago.

Right now, I’m not sure exactly what I’m doing for my living, but I’m certain I can’t do it at home, so that’s really a non-issue. So, what’s “doing work at home” mean to me now?

Again, I’m not sure, but based on the things I like to do with my computer at home, I suppose that it means doing the things I like to do with my computer. That’s doing “work” at home in this context. With that definition cleared up, here are some of the reasons that I have for wanting a multiple-monitor set-up for my workstation. These are as much justification tests for myself as they are reasons to convince my loving and not especially resistant spouse for the need; she may see some things here that apply to her too, and since she spends a lot more time on the computer at home than I do, she’s probably more deserving of the set-up than I am. So, before I digress even more from the topic, here are some of the things I do with my computer at home:

  1. Programming. I spend as much time programming and learning programming at home as I can, which means not very much at all. One of the great things about a multiple-monitor set-up is that it enables coding and debugging to take place side-by-side with the execution of the program. Very handy, and a huge increase in productivity (this has been confirmed in multiple studies wherein people not only increased their productivity with multiple monitors, but they preferred two smaller monitors over one huge one every time, with no exceptions). Since I’m a novice programmer and make a lot of mistakes, not having to toggle between the coding window and program execution for testing and debugging would be a boon.

  2. Gaming. Okay, I do less gaming than programming, so you have an idea of what that’s like there. But it would be nice not to have the game I’m playing commandeer the resolution setting of my computer so that the CPU fights to get back to the original settings when I switch back to my normal desktop. This way, the game can have one controller all to itself, and the PC can run the normal desktop on another, and that will fix the problem of toggling in and out of the game along with the delay in restoration of the desktop. For my beloved, she loves to play The Sims; it’s a graphic-intensive game, if you’ve been under a rock for the last decade and haven’t seen it yet. It’s her favorite pass-time and she’s constantly having to save, pause and ALT-TAB her way out of it do use the computer for anything else, so she only wants to launch the game when it’s going to be uninterrupted time for her to play. With two kids and a demanding husband (who is working on being less so), that’s really unlikely. Since she’s everything from my accountant to my research assistant, she’s switching in and out of the game a lot while playing. Multiple monitors would enable her not to have to do that, and with multiple video controllers, again, the game gets a dedicated controller so the machine won’t have to fight with resolution adjustments.

  3. Email. Yes, I check email, and I’d like to have my email open along with having my search engine of choice open and maybe my favorite team’s homepage too. I’d like to have eBay and Amazon both up simultaneously. While I can do that to some degree now, particularly with tabbed browsing-enabled browsers like Mozilla Firefox or IE 7, it’s more convenient still to have separate windows open under certain circumstances, and not have to toggle amongst them to view. With only 19” worth of real estate on our monitors, cascading or tiling windows only goes so far. The solution? Multiple monitors, of course! Again, my beloved would put me to shame on this one; she can have Outlook express checking all her email accounts open while also having her web-based email accounts which won’t download to OE open too, and never have to toggle. Toggling is annoying.

  4. Writing. I like to have the option of opening many different documents to peruse them, copy and paste from them, and have an Internet page or two open at the same time. This is a lot, and I mean a LOT, easier in a multiple-monitor situation. I can also have a spreadsheet or two open, along with the coding window behind that spreadsheet showing my VBA macros code. That’s kind of like programming, though, so I won’t beat that dead horse. I like to journal, too, and this way, I can have the journal open all the time with other applications running and never have issues with the two of them crashing into each other. In this, I have my sweetie beat. I journal, I blog (duh), and sometimes I even write fiction.

  5. Drawing/graphics. It would be nice to have a web tutorial on Photoshop drawing available without it hiding behind Photoshop so that I can walk through the tutorial and actually DO the steps I’m reading about without having to switch back and forth between the two programs. Again, tiling the windows or cascading them only goes so far with limited visual real estate, and I feel that for making artwork on the computer, a multiple-monitor situation solves all the problems that come with it … and the ones that come from learning it. I’m the only one in the house that draws on the computer, so my lovely has nothing to relate to here.

  6. Instant Messaging. It would be nice to communicate with friends and acquaintances without having to shut down this or get out of that to do so. Multiple monitors would enable having IM programs out of the way without being invisible, or being left closed because they annoy me while I’m trying to work.

I can probably think of more, if I spend enough time doing so, but that’s really the bulk of it for me. My wife can add her own reasons to the list, but before she does, she’ll have to rethink her computer desk. She bought one that isn’t really conducive to multiple monitors and until recently didn’t understand why I don’t want one that’s anything like hers. For me, I’d probably have to design and build my own. I can’t think of another way to get all the features I want in a practical design. Out-of-the-box or off-the-shelf desks just don’t seem to work for what I want.

Anyway, so what do I need to accomplish what I want?

As far as I can find, there are at least two different ways I can do what I want to do. For me, the best situation is probably going to be a mid-level graphics card, say in the 256MB or 512MB range, which will support two more monitors. The first, my on-board graphics chipset, may work with the triple-monitor situation, but if not, at least dual monitors will be possible. One additional controller will enable me to add another VGA monitor, which means I’ll likely have the option of deciding which controller I want to be my primary controller. This way, if games are an issue when they launch (and they choose their own monitor upon which to launch), I can set the higher-performance card to be the primary and the on-board to be the secondary. Once I’ve established where the applications open, they will always open there. Since I don’t need wicked-speed graphics for doing spreadsheet or database programming, it’s no big deal for me to have them open on the lower-end integrated controller. And, the two screens can have different resolutions then (I think), so that the game’s alteration of the screen resolution on one controller won’t mess up the graphics on the other one.

The second situation involves getting a lower-end PCI card along with the higher-end PCIe card. Since my computer doesn’t support AGP interfaces, I have only PCI and PCIe to work with, and there’s only ONE PCIe slot available. So, that’s where the higher-end card will go. The lower-end, PCI card, will occupy one of the open PCI slots and permit me to run standard, non-graphics intensive items on it … and on the integrated controller. Are you counting? That’s up to 4 monitors being supported now. Since Windows XP Pro and Home both support up to 10 monitors on a single computer, why the heck not?? I’m only limited, at this point, by money.

Now, there is another way. The second way is to buy a device called “TripleHead2Go” from Matrox. It’s a hand-sized device that allows you to plug in up to four monitors, and will enable you to have a single desktop that spans over the entire array. I think, if I recall correctly, the device will also allow you to have individual programs, like games, running on only one of the monitors, too. That way, you don’t have a game character working on the border between 2 monitors, which would be really distracting. I’d have to re-read their webpage to be sure, though. At any rate, this bugger is only about $180USD, or less, and is portable, since it’s so small. The only difference I see in the two methodologies is price. As far as I can tell, they may be equally versatile.

If you’re going to have multiple monitors, however, you want them to be as intuitive and easy to use as possible. With multiple controllers, you’re going to need a program to make moving among them as simple and easy as possible, so that dragging everything around doesn’t become as tedious as toggling back and forth in a single-monitor set-up. For that, it would be nice to have a task bar at the bottom of EACH screen, rather than just one. And to accomplish that, you can use “Ultramon.” It’s a nifty little program for about $40USD that does just what I’ve described, and a whole lot more, including enabling a different screen saver on each monitor, and if I understood correctly, a different background/wallpaper on each one, too. I’d have to check that, though. Or you can; just Google for “Ultramon.” It’s a very, very cool program.

As for the things I want in the graphics controller(s) of choice, well, there’s a lot to consider. One of the first things I’ll have to do is beef up the RAM in my computer from 1GB to 2GB (the maximum), just to make sure I’ve got plenty available. 4GB would be better, but I think the maximum allowed on this model is 2GB. (My wife, when she reads this, will look it up and correct me if I'm wrong, so I'm not going to bother doing that now.) Anyway, that’s probably all I can afford right now … remember, what I do to my computer I must, out of guilt, also do to my wife’s computer.

The card itself should be no less than 256MB, and preferably 512MB or greater. The on-board controller is 256MB, and I want something superior to that; I also do NOT want the card sharing memory (RAM) to assist it. I want that bad boy to be a fully-stand-alone GPU, and I want all the memory my computer has available to the computer, and not being leeched for video support. There’s no point in stepping up the graphics capability if I’m going to degrade the PC’s performance at the same time. That just doesn’t make sense.

I should also consider carefully the manufacturer. Since there could be a problem with compatibility between my on-board controller and anything else I stick in it, I should look into needing to stay with the same manufacturer, and how that might interfere with the features I want from the card. I’ll cross that minefield when I get to it, though.

The card should also have dual-monitor support. There’s no point in not having multiple-monitor support on each and every card I put in; you never know. Maybe I’ll end up like one of those computer geeks on TV, sitting in a darkened room illuminated only by the soft glow of my LCDs, drawn and reclusive. Okay, more drawn and reclusive. On the surface, this doesn’t sound so hard, but I have to be very careful how I do this in selecting the card. For one, some of them come with a TV tuner, and I can’t use that in my system for some reason. Rather than risk the card not working at all because of that, I’d rather have one that doesn’t include a tuner. I don’t drive my entertainment system with the PC either, so I don’t need an S-Video connector. And since my on-board controller might have a problem with playing nice with other VGA controllers, maybe going with just DVI outputs would be best. After all, I don’t think I’m ever going back to CRTs again, so DVI connections to additional LCDs work just fine.

As for cost, I think I can keep the cost down on this gig by using 19” LCDs. For one, the price on those has come down dramatically from what they were even a year or two ago. I’ve seen some really great prices on monitors that have fairly good specs. Only the most hard-core gamers might have an issue with the “ghosting” and after-image matters; for me, that typically doesn’t present a problem on email and spreadsheets. I’ve never seen Word burn a hole in a monitor’s performance either. So I’m good. Since they’re so much cheaper than they used to be, I can afford to stock up and have a few lying around.

Okay, not really, but I can probably swing a couple of them. Remember, what I do to my computer I must, out of guilt, also do to my wife’s computer.

For her, I think two monitors will suffice, but I bet if I can talk her into three, she’d never go back. For me, the goal is three for now, and I’ll be bucking hard for four of them before too long. By then, though, I’ll already have the bulk of the setup ready for additional screens. All I’ll need to do is add screens.

I’ll keep you all posted.


Monday, January 08, 2007

More Movie Woes ... I Can't Win

So, there I sat, trying to be a kid again and doing my best to suspend disbelief. I mean, come ON – you HAVE to do that to SOME degree, right? Just to accept the movie at its premise?

I didn’t feel well, and of course, that never helps. It’s not my favorite character, either, although movies of this nature really help me because you don’t have any expectation of adherence to any semblance of reality. And, of course, the role was already defined and has been set in concrete by another actor in another movie, and against his performance and appearance as that character all others will forever be measured. At least by me.

The movie was Superman Returns, starring Brandon Routh as Kal-El of Krypton. I wanted to see it, but as is my nature over the last several years, I refuse to pay theater prices for a movie that I’m not going to get to sit through pleasantly. (I’ve already groused about that in another entry.) So, I wait patiently for these things to come to cable where I can watch them against my ordinary cable bill and not enjoy them more inexpensively. As I recollect, the last movie I saw in a theater was Spiderman, back in 2002 (thanks to my loving, if pesky, wife for the updated timeline on the release of that "blockbuster" movie). And, I must say, I should have waited.

Anyway, I was really anxious to see this one, so I went Pay-Per-View rather than wait another few months for it to come to the premium channels.

And, I must say, I should have waited.

Okay, it was an all right movie, but goodness – what have you brought Superman to of late? I figured Lex Luthor would exploit his weaknesses – doesn’t he always? – and I figured there’d be tension and conflict and the “Oh no!” moments of any movie. But please, people, at LEAST be CONSISTENT with the garbage!

The ending? I’ll suffice it to say that the movie, at 2:35, was about 35 minutes too long. I thought that time could have been better spent revealing more about Luthor’s world conquest plot or depicting the heroic return of Earth’s greatest defender after a five-year absence than it was dragging the characters through forced clich├ęs.

I won’t belabor the point too much, but let’s be honest with the characters, at least. Let’s stay consistent within the confines of the “reality” established for the characters. And someone PLEASE give Lois Lane a safe sex pamphlet and caution her about multiple partners and birth control, please! Ugh.

Superman’s allergy to kryptonite isn’t as strong as it was prior to his trip to Krypton’s former location, evidently. Or is it? The movie couldn’t seem to decide. And it’s a darn good thing the Fortress of Solitude is so convenient and easy to access, or the whole movie would have had no monumental cataclysm. And aren’t we fortunate that Lois Lane has become such a sleazy slut? There’d be no touching closing scene without it, not to mention a rescue scene that wouldn’t have been possible. Why, she’d have died 45 minutes too soon without her promiscuity to save her.

Of course, there’s always the possibility of a sequel, and Superman did a pretty poor job of protecting himself from future kryptonite attacks at the end, spilling metric tons (tonnes) of it into the Atlantic Ocean. He also was careless about handling his magical crystals, considering that he must have known how dangerous they could be in the “wrong hands.” Don’t Lex Luthor’s hands count? And since good ol’ Lex is credited with having nearly killed Supes before, doesn’t it behoove the Last Son of Krypton to be a little more careful – or even more FINAL – when dealing with Lex? (Let’s face it, any of us would have killed him to avoid future problems. You know it, and I know it too. Moral standards not withstanding, the world is a better and safer place when terrorists are eliminated and prevented from resurfacing, isn't it, President Clinton?)

In his absence, I’m not sure what the world did to get by without Superman, but I’m sure with terrorism at an all-time high and the ever-increasing tension in the middle east, he’ll be kept fairly occupied now.

I was a bit disappointed with the choice of Brandon Routh as Superman when it was initially announced last year. The first pictures of the actor in the “new” suit showed that, physically, he wasn’t nearly as perfect for the part as the former Superman, the incomparable Christopher Reeve. And the portrayal of the Man of Steel wasn’t as strong, either. I can’t tell if that’s because of the way the movie was written, or because of the actor’s lack of skill, or if he’s just too much a pretty boy to carry the role off. Whatever the case, Routh’s Superman wasn’t at all like I’d hoped it’d be, and it left me feeling nostalgic and not very happy with the movie. And when did Lois Lane find the fountain of youth? Wasn't she a grown-up in the last outing? Now she's barely in her twenties, a child. I guess she's aging "gracefully."

So what else is new? When am I ever happy with a movie?

I liked the X-Men: Last Stand movie better. It’s also ridiculous, so I’m less cynical right out of the gate. But, they got carried away too. The old deus ex machina device so common in plays of antiquity was not left out of that effects-fest either. Heck, they went one better and never put her in the machine to begin with; she started out ex machina and that’s how they resolved everything at the end. Weak; downright pathetic. And yet, still a bit stronger than Superman Returns. That could be due to my lack of familiarity with the X-Men in general, though. Not knowing anything about them (or at least not much), I was at a disadvantage when presented with the fantastic laws-of-physics-altering mutants. All I could do was shrug and roll my eyes. For all I know, though, they were at least being consistent with their characters and “universe.”

Nope, Superman Returns can’t say that. In retrospect, though, the original Superman movie had to resort to a time-travel scene for Superman to save the day, so I suppose this wasn’t any worse than that. It just felt worse, somehow. Maybe it wasn’t. The only comic hero movie I've seen and really enjoyed in the last several years was Batman Begins. And it had problems, too, but not so many as this one.

All I know is, next time, I’m waiting for HBO.


Monday, January 01, 2007

Happy New Year ... really!

Normally, I don’t put much into New Year’s day. Or New Year’s eve, for that matter.

As a matter of fact, it’s usually just another day for me. Maybe there'll be football. Nothing big; just a day off of work and another excuse for people to go out, get drunk, be obnoxious and say it’s all in the spirit of the “holiday.” I don’t usually buy into it; I don’t believe that most folks are going to change their ways in resolution, I don’t believe the new year brings new hope, and I don’t mark days or seasons. It’s just another day. Just another year gone by where I didn’t do the things I hoped, the things I wanted and in a lot of cases the things I needed to do. I haven’t generally accomplished anything of import, I haven’t done any good for humanity, and I haven’t done right by my family. My wages are, if I’m lucky, the same as they were last year. I’m still working steadily if I’m really blessed, and don’t have to worry about the coming year and finding employment during the first quarter, and will be okay for the most part. Like I said, it’s generally just another day for me.

Over the last couple of years, I haven’t really been able to capture the holidays. That’s really important to me. It’s my favorite time of year, it’s my favorite season, I love Christmas, and for much of my life, the holidays have been a mish-mash of raging alcoholics, family feuds and frantically searching for a new job. There haven’t been many years where I could sit back, enjoy the time, and just feel the joy of the season. This year, I nearly missed it again. It was work, and worry, and concern over what I’m going to do next year for a paycheck. I was depressed over losing a job opportunity that would have meant a huge leap forward for me and my family in both income and opportunity. I’ve had my career on my mind a lot over the last few months, and Thanksgiving got away from me without much notice except for a four-day weekend. Christmas almost snuck up and got through unnoticed too, but for my wife’s herculean effort to bring me back around. Some last minute shopping for the kids and a bit of eggnog and Christmas music helped rescue it for me. Then came this weekend, and I felt that this would certainly come and go without so much as a yawn from me. The only catch would be remembering to put the new date on any references and checks I write. Not the big.

But, this year turned out differently.

For some reason, my wife was able to catch and hold me this year. She was able to pull me down and make me realize that, maybe, just this once, there IS something worth hoping for at year’s start. She made me realize that, maybe, just this once, there was not just hope, but a reason for optimism and a chance to really do something differently than I’ve done before.

So today, for the first January 1 in a long, long line of them, I have hope. I have optimism. I have a plan.

And it wasn’t just my plan; it was our plan. My beloved and precious spouse helped me come up with it. She backed it, believes in it, and is hopeful in it. She reaffirmed that she believes in me, believes in us, and still holds that Pollyanna hope that the Lord has bigger, better things for us – not just in a spiritual way, though that would be cool enough on it’s own, but in a whole-life kind of way. She made me hope, and each year that it didn’t come to pass I felt that hope fading.

Until this year.

Today, I have resolutions of my own to make. I have a plan for my career, and if God is willing, it will work out for us. I have a plan to be a better, happier person and to grow as an artist. And, while I don’t know whether all or any of these things will come to fruition, I know that I have a real, unbridled sense of hope that I didn’t have last week. I have the sensation that, for the first time in a long, long time, the holidays were meaningful and good, and I didn’t miss them. But best of all, I have a reason to believe that things will be better this year than last.

May God help us.