I Got Them Dancing

Back in my high school days in the 1980s, despite my mullet I listened to a variety of music. My hairstyle just happened to fit one of those types–cranked out by what many call “black t-shirt” bands. A friend of my brother once called it “that long-haired shit.”

A friend who was into the modern rock, or alternative, music scene invited me to co-deejay a junior high dance. He played mostly club-inspired tunes by Depeche Mode, The Cure, and similar bands, while I threw in the occasional popular Prince song from my collection.

He lamented that so many boys were in wallflower mode, watching the girls do all the dancing. I knew that was my chance to pull my ace card from my heavy metal hand. It got more boys out on the dancefloor than anything else, even though they had never heard it before. I’m sure everyone can guess why.

It was an instrumental ballad by a heavy metal guitar virtuoso. A self-aggrandizing solo at its heart, it featured classical acoustic and electric guitars on blazing arpeggios and enough bent strings to give it real feeling. A simple bass line anchored it while cheesy, gothic keyboard chords wandered over the top.

The couples did that one dance all the boys knew, the sway to the left on one, right on two, and so on. If feeling particularly amorous, they might go left on one, hold it there a beat, and then go right on three.

When the song ended, Robert Smith started meowing “Love Cats,” and the couples split to return to their unofficially appointed places.

A boy broke his stride and approached the deejay table. He leaned in as if to speak. I leaned in to listen.

“Hey, what song was that?” he shouted.

I smiled and gave my co-deejay a knowing look. “‘Crying,’ by Yngwie Malmsteen,” I yelled back.

“Who?”

“Yngwie.” I shouted more clearly. “Y-n-g-w-i-e. Malmsteen.”

“Loved that song. Thanks!” he said and returned to his spot near the wall.

That night, I had done my job, and enjoyed that rare moment when someone else shows a similar level of enthusiasm for a song I typically enjoyed alone in my room or my car.

I hoped that the boy’s parents wouldn’t mind the album cover, which featured Yngwie using his Stratocaster to ward off flames from a fire-breathing, three-headed dragon. It doesn’t get much more ’80s metal than that.

Do You Read As Much As You Used To?

I haven’t finished reading a book in at least a year, and I blame most of that on the drastic change in my lunch hour.

I never was a fast reader, instead poring over the words at pretty much the same pace one might speak them aloud. I always had a book going, and finished three or four a year by various authors, but not usually the latest bestsellers. Although I read mostly fiction, I occasionally threw in a collection of essays by a reporter or columnist here and there.

My time to read came mostly at the office, where I almost always ate lunch alone. I preferred not to spend money eating out, and relatively few of my co-workers brought food from home. A book was my refuge. For that one hour, while chomping on my sandwich or slurping my soup, I escaped into a world created by another person’s words.

When I wasn’t reading words, I was writing them. Sometimes I wrote blog posts. I spent several months co-writing a screenplay that, three years later, finally is seeing the start of its much-deserved revision process.

Then, in 2014, we moved and I switched positions in my company. I worked in the home office, which features a cheap and high-quality cafeteria. For very little over what I was paying to buy the ingredients, I could buy lunch, pre-tax out of my paycheck.

At first I maintained my solo lunch status and read on my Kindle. I could sit outside when the weather allowed, and did that even on hot days because I was chilled by the office’s thermostat setting. Without actual pages to turn, I enjoyed the breeze.

Then, as I got to know my co-workers within our cubicles’ confines, I started feeling the pull of socialization. Buying lunch and walking past familiar faces to go eat alone was quite different from passing through a room full of strangers.

I enjoyed my social lunches, but my reading time went to almost nothing. I was limited to brief bursts of five to 10 pages at a time at home. When my son’s daily reading time fell during my off hours, I sat and read for a half hour. If I sat still at night to read any longer or later than that, I invariably fell asleep.

Okay, I’ll come completely clean. For years I had been a sucker for the DVR, and then Netflix added compelling original series. Those two things combined with my newfound love of mountain biking to almost completely supplant my reading time. Largely because of mountain biking, my time using Facebook also has increased since our move. You know, Facebook, that entity that I blame for the death of my best personal writing outlet.

Ever since I have been working from home, I use my lunch hours to hang out with my wife or to ride a nearby local trail. As much as I love reading, those two things beat it every time.

I started reading Ysabel by favorite Guy Gavriel Kay, but its plot leaned too much on a supernatural theme that didn’t interest me, and its protagonists were teenagers. After a couple hundred pages I just wasn’t into it, so I stopped. While disappointing, that was not surprising considering Kay’s fantasy origins.

For months now I have been nursing a good and lengthy book called Carrion Comfort, by favorite Dan Simmons. He’s always top-notch at developing characters and weaving a yarn, but the chapters told from the antagonist’s point of view do not interest me. He killed off one of the most compelling characters barely half way into the book (if that far).

Despite those excuses, the decline in my reading is all my fault.

Do you read as much as you did in the past?

Failing to Impress Me

Every few years, I try Linux again. I like the idea of a free OS, and the last time I installed it I ran it on my laptop for two years. It served me well until I used the recovery disks to put Windows Vista back on it and sell it cheap to a friend who was desperate for a computer.

I replaced that laptop with a used Samsung loaded with Windows 7 Home Premium, and as a fan of Windows 7 based on work experience, I was happy with it.

Fast forward two years or so later. I sit here typing this on the same laptop, freshly-installed just tonight with Linux Mint 17.2.

This time around, the move to Linux wasn’t motivated by my geeky curiosity. In fact, in Windows 7 I had recently set up a few PowerShell scripts and right-click context menu shortcuts that helped streamline my digital photography workflow and file management.

This time, I switched because of a failure.

At first the source of the problem wasn’t obvious because it seemed to coincide with my update to Windows 10. I searched online forums for an answer, but the possible solutions never resolved my trouble. I got angry and blamed it on Windows 10, but according to Microsoft I had been running it too long to perform the clean rollback to Windows 7.

Because my data already was backed up, I rushed into wiping the hard drive and installing Linux. Upon the first boot, Linux informed me that I had bad sectors on my hard drive. I admit to a bit of a facepalm for not making the time to run diagnostics before wiping Windows.

The laptop booted fine from a bootable USB stick, but it was hit-or-miss while booting from the hard drive. Linux was pickier, apparently, and if it knew it couldn’t run reliably, it wouldn’t even boot.

It shouldn’t have surprised me that the hard drive had started failing, considering it had belonged young man who had used it for gaming, and at some point had smacked it around enough to make a permanent bright spot in the LCD panel.

I put in an old, much smaller hard drive and re-installed Linux. With some work I could re-create much of the convenience I had put in place in Windows, but I wasn’t very familiar with scripting in Linux nor the equivalents to registry tricks that made the right-click menus do exactly what I wanted. Also, I had a few proprietary software packages that didn’t run in Linux.

My problem was that the kid who had sold me the laptop hadn’t included the Windows recovery disks, and they were not saved on the hard drive. I wanted to get Windows 7 so that I could go back to the workhorse machine I had so carefully created.

Wishing against reasonable hope, I called Samsung and explained my situation. I knew it wasn’t still under warranty, and that she had no reason to believe me, but I wanted the company to send me what I needed to get the laptop back to manufacturer’s specs–including Windows 7.

“Where did you purchase the laptop?” the representative asked.

“From a kid in a McDonald’s parking lot,” I said.

She chuckled while saying, “Okay.”

From there she went on to say that they will send me a recovery disk, free of charge, and gave me a confirmation number. “It might be a while, she said,” because it is not still readily available.

Now that the holiday madness is over, it’s time for me to call them back and ask about the progress.

Meanwhile, today I replaced the hard drive with a solid state drive, and doubled the RAM. Because of the delay in getting the Windows disk, and because in the meantime I had grown to like this turn with Linux, I again installed it. It’s free, so why not?

I’m typing this in NoteTab Light, my favorite Windows text editor. Yes, I’m running a Windows program in Linux, using Wine. I also have my favorite Windows image viewing and batch processing program, Irfanview. I realize that means I’m not running a true Linux desktop, but until I find applications to replace those, I’ll keep it as impure as I want.

I can tell already that the Crucial solid state drive has made my laptop boot much faster and run much cooler. I haven’t done much yet to see the effect of the extra RAM, but it certainly can’t hurt.

Will I install Windows 7 if Samsung comes through with the recovery media? Maybe.

I won’t say I’m glad I had this particular excuse to install Linux again, but the OS still is maturing and might just win me over permanently.

Feeling Dumb with SmartMusic

The school my son attends touted SmartMusic as a great way for children to learn their instruments. I can see it helping him in some ways, but I do have some reservations about it. That is for another time.

Right now, I’m here to help anyone else seeing this error:

UnknownNetworkError (99) loading https://account.makemusic.com/OpenId/Provider: Connection timed out

The laptop we use for SmartMusic is on the internet just fine. But, on launching, the progress bar in the bottom right corner of SmartMusic was getting hung up at 10%. My son never was prompted to login.

According to Brian, the support tech at SmartMusic, “The application tries to contact our servers every time it launches.”

An IT worker myself, and formerly at the HelpDesk level, I wanted to know why it sometimes does that. I explained that I had poked around the program’s menus and emptied its internet cache. Brian seemed duly impressed that I had found that, but then he asked a question that I am now ashamed he even had to ask.

“When was the last time you rebooted the computer?”

Ah, there it was. The answer to so many problems when you’re working HelpDesk and the user’s computer isn’t withing reach. “Reboot it.” So, I did.

SmartMusic worked fine after that. So, after more than 20 years in IT, I got to feel like the average end user again, and my son was able to use the application. I still want to know what was causing the problem, but at least now anybody in our home can resolve it if that particular problem happens again.

A Belated Birthday Dedication Letter

Chris,

Ever since we were–what, 7?–I have known that your birthday was either September 9 or 11. Then that thing happened, and the date was forever solidified in my brain. It isn’t 9 or 11, it’s 9-11.

Numbers aside, I’m glad we’re still friends, and lately I’m realizing how much our friendship shaped who I am.

When my own son asks to watch Star Wars or “Star Trek,” I recall childhood memories of watching the original series in your 100-year old farmhouse living room. I remember that you had cool Star Wars toys. Or were those your brother’s?

I remember your TRS-80 computer and your Micronauts, your tiny electronic motors that we wired to “D” cell batteries just to watch them spin. Later, while at your house I read Omni and Popular Science. They were quite different from the reading found at my own house, and sparked an interest in science that still burns to this day. I remember bending in closer to study the huge, yellow garden spider (Argiope aurantia) that spun its impressive web next to your barn.

When I see my son thrilled by the prospect of Robotics Club, I imagine that you and I would have joined had it been available to us. I don’t doubt it for a moment.

It dawns on me while writing this that I’m passing down to my son the same passions I developed with you.

My older brother was not interested in any of those things. While I owe him for any athletic inclinations and skills I have, and countless social skills, growing up with you just a bike’s ride down the road drew out my geeky passions.

I’m glad you were drawing spaceships that day in 2nd grade. It started something bigger than I could have imagined.