My Christmas List

A few people have been asking me what I want for Christmas this year.  My wife already got me a HUGE Christmas/Anniversary present, and I just got a new job after being laid off from my last one so my list is pretty empty.  However, there are a few small things I’d like if you really want to get me something :)

I’m learning slack key guitar, and although I have a few books it’s tough to find ones that are at my skill level (which is a hair above “I suck”).  I have Keola Beamer and Ozzie Kotani books but the Keola Beamer one is a bit above me right now.  The Ozzie one seems to be just perfect.  So, in the spirit of getting more beginner books and you not having to listen to me playing Manuela Boy over and over and over and over because I only know two songs, these might be nice:

I already have Ozzie’s book, but not the DVD.

Musings About Faith

My faith is an important thing to me. I don’t consider myself all “holy holy”, and I’m sure as heck not a bible thumper by any stretch of the imagination, but I do think that having a spiritual outlet in my life is important. I generally suspect people who aren’t capable of believing in something bigger than themselves.

I’ve been feeling a bit out of touch with my faith for a little while now. I’m a practicing catholic and am used to being at church every sunday, as well as on holy days of obligation. One of the benefits to being a regular attendee is that you find yourself caught up in the rhythm of the church, you find yourself falling into the cycles and seasons of the church that are wrapped up around Lent, Advent, Ordinary Time, etc. and you just naturally go with the flow. The cycle of the church and of the “spiritual” seasons impose an order on the otherwise chaotic year and is, at least for me, something that is very welcome. I am, after all, very much a creature of habit and ritual.

Lately I’ve been out of cycle quite a bit. I’ve been moving, preparing for a wedding, finding a new church, etc and haven’t settled in to my new church yet. I don’t know anyone there, and I’m not involved in the daily or weekly life in the church. This is weird for me, since I used to know hundreds of the people in my old parish and I also volunteered and taught RCIA bible study classes for the catechumenate during the year. I’d march them out of the church after the Liturgy of the Word and we’d go off and discuss the day’s readings. I’d do what I could to gently instruct them and help them understand the faith they were moving towards and every Easter I’d go to the vigil and watch them be baptized. I always felt a small amount of personal pride and joy in watching them and welcoming them into the church and I miss that.

Once things have calmed down a bit I plan on doing what I can to fix this. I’ve made a serious commitment to myself to learn to pray the Rosary properly. I understand the basics but the whole joyful/sorrowful/luminous/glorious mysteries thing has me a bit bamboozled. I recently heard it explained in a way that made sense to me though, and I think with a little bit of applied diligence I can incorporate this into my faith life. I’ve also decided that I am not just a “sitter” when it comes to my parish, I want to get to know the other people in my parish and be involved in the rhythm of life either as a lector, by getting involved with the RCIA program, or some other program they offer. It’s important to me to be a do’er, not a sitter.

I’m not really sure where this all leads me, or where I will end up. I don’t picture myself taking holy orders anytime soon (heh), and I surely don’t intend on ever becoming super-churchy but I do believe that my own faith and my own spirituality is something that I need to pay attention to and nurture… every bit as carefully as I nurture my family, my relationships or myself. Life is, after all, a delicate balancing act and this, at least to me, is important for me to keep balanced.

— WF

Woefully Absent

I know, I know, I haven’t been writing anything for a very long time and believe me, I feel the pain of not doing it.  It seems that unless I write regularly, I get all backed up and eventually start to get cranky.  I don’t really have a good excuse, mainly I’ve just been busy and letting some important things (like writing regularly) fall by the wayside.

Rox and I have also been experimenting with podcasting.  Well, mainly I’ve been pushing her and she’ll do it once I drag her to the mic kicking and screaming (at which point she does a tremendous job) but I don’t really think she has the “bug” so to speak.  I’ll probably start working on putting my own podcast together since I really don’t want to do our podcast without her there.  It just wouldn’t be right, and besides it’s my opinion that she sounds better than I do anyway so it’d be self-defeating to do it without her heh.

I did do a really nice birthday podcast for her, though.  If you are reading this and get a chance, go check it out. It has some really good podsafe music in it (in my opinion it’s really good, your mileage may vary).  It’s kinda sappy, but hey… come for the music, stay for the cheese :)

— WF

Where am I going and why am I in this handbasket?

I’ve been listening to a lot of podcasts lately, again.  I listen to quite a bit of independant music and the whole “pod-o-sphere” (God I hate that word, so why did I use it?) is a great place to keep up to date on some of the new happening artists who are putting high quality good music out there to share.  I will spare you all my rants and tirades on the RIAA today and I’ll just leave it at the fact that not only do I get to hear fresh music instead of all that tired crap on the radio, but I also get to support the artists directly when I buy their CD’s or single mp3’s.  It makes me feel a lot better supporting an artist instead of a label.

I just picked up two new CD’s today, as a matter of fact.  I picked up Matthew Ebel’s Beer and Coffee and Berman’s 3-cd set.  Sum total of my purchase?  About $25 for 4 CD’s of music that hasn’t been played over and over and jammed down my throat by some smarmy radio DJ… tunes that I can rock out to.  Matthew Ebel’s stuff is some really good piano-driven folk rock and Berman is, well, let’s just say it’s almost impossible not to turn it all the way up to 11 when this high energy rock comes up in my playlist and leave it at that.

I really didn’t mean to make either of those sound like an advertisement, by the way.  I’m just sharing what I’m up to now, so please forgive me if I sound like some cheesy marketing guy or something.  I’m just happy to stumble across good Indie artists like The Black Keys and share them with friends, family, acquaintances or total strangers.

I definitely encourage everyone to break out of the box a bit and explore.  There’s SO much out there that we don’t know about and if we allow ourselves to be pressed and molded into the media and marketing machines of corporate America we have no one to blame but ourselves.

— WF

Twiddly Bits

[Yes, this is a repost from my original writerferret site. I will be reposting many of these here in order to capture them]

I have a confession to make. I am a twiddler. A twiddler lies somewhere in between a tweaker and a fiddler, and I’m a stereotypical case. It’s a condition moderately treatable, usually by ingesting large amounts of some brain-numbing chemical such as beer. Since I don’t drink a lot of alcohol in general I’m usually left to just suffer.

You probably know a twiddler, or you are one yourself. You might be married to one, or have one in your family. We’re everywhere, and it’s impossible to escape us, and it’s nearly impossible to treat us unless you plan on creating other types of problems.

What’s a twiddler, you ask? Well, a twiddler is someone who just absolutely cannot resist twiddling. No, not twiddling their thumbs (although this habit is a generally accepted precursor and warning sign in young children) but twiddling all the little bits on the things around them. We twiddlers, when faced when something chock full of twiddly bits, simply cannot resist diving in and twiddling them all until we’ve driven ourselves and everyone around us completely crazy.

I come by my twiddler genes honestly, at least. My mother is a horrible twiddler herself. She’s the type of twiddler that, when faced with a tiny scrap of lifted wallpaper buried in a corner of the room that nobody will possibly ever see ends up scraping and repapering the entire house, retiling the bathroom and then resurfacing the driveway just for good measure. She’ll stay up for 300 hours straight to accomplish it, if necessary. Her twiddling generally manifests itself in the arts and crafts, home improvement, gardening and all-purpose dog-twiddling categories.

My own twiddlish behavior leans more towards technology. When faced with a new toy, a new bit of knowledge or even just a new idea I will end up twiddling it until I fall over in an exhausted heap, I’ll then dream about it and then when I wake up I end up twiddling it again until I suddenly realize it’s been 3 days since the last time I ate anything more substantial than a cup of yogurt, the dog is alternating between biting my feet and whining at me with his legs crossed and my cat has packed her bags and left to move in with a saner family.

Since I used to be an engineer, this behavior generally worked out to my benefit professionally, at the expense of any social life. My CTO would drop some new cool toy or some nifty idea off in my office and leave me alone to play with it. When I surfaced for air 3 weeks later I’d pretty much be an expert on it, coming up with all sorts of esoteric uses for it that would make the original inventors cringe and flee the room, and in general becoming a thorough and complete menace. I’d then pocket my nice fat bonus check and walk away happy.

Well, I’m not an engineer anymore. I’m a writer now, and as a writer I twiddle words. Word-twiddling is generally a bit more esoteric than twiddling technology, so sometimes I go find some new project to sink my teeth into, building a lego robot to scratch the dog’s itchy bits or figuring out how to build an automatic nose picker or, as in my latest case, building a digital jukebox.

A twiddler with spare parts is a dangerous thing. When faced with a mound of spare parts I’ll generally go into hyperdrive figuring out some nifty thing that I can build with them. In this case, I was faced with a completely superfluous spare computer, an older one that my wife used to use before she fled my twiddling ways.

I have a very large collection of digital music, in both MP3 and more recently OGG format. I have a large CD collection, and have ripped all of them and encoded them for my car stereo. My car stereo is an empeg, basically a computer with 60 gigs of hard drive space running Linux and masquerading as a head unit. I’ve had this beauty for many years now, and it’s also a twiddler’s dream.

Well, I’ve gotten tired of toting my empeg in and out of my car and plugging it into my stereo. I thought this was rather silly to do, since I already had all the music encoded, had an extra computer, and the general desire to twiddle up something new. First thing I did was to completely strip the old computer, ripping all the parts out into a nice big pile so I could twiddle all of them individually (whee, jumpers and toggles and other assorted nifties).

After putting the computer back together, freshly cleaned, dusted and pressed I then slapped a new version of Linux on it, and then spent a good portion of the last two days transferring all my digital music files to it as well as playing with all the free jukebox players out there. Most of them are way too sophisticated for a twiddler like me, I prefer lean and mean interfaces. I knew what I wanted, things like being able to put it on my network and browse it from any of my computers, fast access, a clean uncluttered interface to it, building playlists on the fly, etc. I wanted it simple and fast to use, and most of all it had to pass the “can you use this while throwing a party and looking at it through a beer haze” test. This is generally a step forward, since most twiddling involves communing directly with the primal forces of nature and being open to whatever you discover instead of having a set idea of what you are looking for.

I finally found one that sort of fit the bill and installed it. I spent the better portion of the wee hours of the morning getting it twiddled correctly, and actually decided I really liked it. I was quite convinced I was going to have to write my own, since that’s the ultimate step of twiddling. I can’t ever really be content with software unless I write it myself, but I was struggling manfully trying to resist the siren call. Since the author of the software I eventually settled on had more than an average amount of cluefullness I really decided I could live with it, for now.

So far, so good, right? Had my jukebox built, working flawlessly, a handy and useful addition to my technology toybox. Complete with a Harmon Kardon speaker set and a wireless network card I could set it up anywhere I wanted, even out on the patio, with just a few mins worth of plugging and unplugging. You think I’d be happy, wouldn’t you? Of course you would, but all my fellow twiddlers can see what’s coming next.

I just had to improve on it, you see. So, after sleeping for about 2 hours last night, I get up and rip it all apart and redo it, making it better (or at least that was what I was pretending to do). Finally, after spending all day doing all sorts of bizarre twiddler dances over it, it’s broken. Not broken badly, mind you, and not irreparable, but broken to the point where I probably need to wipe it out and start from scratch. I’ll probably end up going back to the original shape it was in before I started in on it this morning. If I’m smart, I’ll revert it back to the state where I really liked it, then break all my own fingers to keep me from “improving” it. Of course, twiddlers like me are never really that smart and I’m quite sure I’ll end up fixing it, only to twiddle it into submission three or four more times.

Maybe I should just go buy some beer and medicate myself instead.