Category Archives: Personal

Thanksgiving Day 2007

Today the International House of Johnson was filled with the smells of the feast and the sounds of family celebrating together. Instead of a Thanksgiving dinner, we had a Thanksgiving lunch that filled me to the point where ten hours later I’m not even the slightest bit hungry.

The feast aside, I have plenty to be thankful for this year:

  • Laura. We’ve been married for eleven years. Sometimes it feels like eleven days, sometimes it feels like forever, but I’m thankful for everything we have.
  • Kyle, my young apprentice. Nothing in the world compares to opening the door after eight or ten hours at work and hearing him exclaim “Dada!”
  • My family. Whether we’re connected by blood or marriage, I’m glad we’re family.
  • My friends. I’m not going to single anyone out here, but I’ve got some very good friends who enrich my life. If that sounds like you, then I say, “Thank you.” If it doesn’t sound like you, don’t sell yourself short.
  • My job. I’ve been with the same company for ten and a half years and things have been a little rocky recently, but I’m thankful that I’m still able to provide for my family.
  • My health. Yeah, I could be in better shape, but that’s my own damn fault. I’m thankful that my body hasn’t just decided to up and quit on me. I should take better care of it.

How Not To Grow a Beard: Week Three, Day Three

Today’s HoNoToGroABeMo photo is a little late. I usually try to take the picture between about 5 and 7 o’clock so it still kinda-sorta fits with Evo Terra‘s “5 o’clock shadow” meme. However, Laura and I were at a party this evening and I took precisely zero photos while I was there.

This shot was taken by the light of the end table lamp at about 11:15pm, shortly after we retrieved Kyle from Laura’s mother’s house. Kyle was originally supposed to stay at grandma’s tonight, but we stopped there on the way home to check on him; he was sleeping, but apparently heard me because he woke up just as we were leaving and we had to go back and get him. He’s sleeping upstairs, Laura’s watching CSI and I’m fulfilling my blogging/beard growing responsibilities for the day.

The party? Yeah, we had a good time. There was pie.

The Sword of Damocles

The Sword of Damocles fell at work today. I was not beneath it, but an unfortunate number of people I know (and an even more unfortunate number I don’t know) were.

To say that productivity was low in the aftermath would, I think, be a gross understatement. We were all stunned beyond belief, and spent much of the day wondering if maybe, just maybe, our names were on “The List”, too, and any minute now someone would notice the oversight and take steps to correct it. Every time a manager walked by, the first instinct was to hide; the second, to run, and though I’m sure their intention was to be helpful and reassuring and to answer any questions, the hovering did little to ease anyone’s discomfort.

As I left the building late this evening, I almost…almost turned around to make sure my badge would still open the door.

And Now For Something Completely Different…

I think I’m going to take a page from Chris Miller‘s book come December and just unplug. I’m going to follow all the NaNonsense with 30 days of radio silence: no blogging, no Twitter, no forums or Skype or instant messaging, no Facebook or MySpace or Jaiku or any of the other Internet time sucks that eat away my life a few minutes here and a few minutes there. One post on December first to report on my successes and failures of the past thirty days and then nothing until January of 2008.

Before I go to bed on December first, I’m going to turn off commenting on the blog, put the forum in maintenance mode and disappear for a while. I’m pretty sure the Internet will be here when I get back.

In the meantime, I invite you to enjoy all of the blog posts, beard photos and novel updates that are on the way in the latter half of November.

Geekstuff: The Birthday Rundown

Well, I’ve been thirty-four years old for a week now and I’ve gotta say I’m liking it so far. There are times when being an adult is all about socks and shirts and ties, oil changes and mortgage payments, but I’m happy to say that my family and friends know that I’m still all about the books, comics, toys and games. Apart from a very nice polo shirt from my mother-in-law, most of my birthday bounty would have been eagerly received by seventeen-year-old me.

  • LEGO Star Wars II: The Original Trilogy for the Xbox, from my young apprentice. Everything is proceeding as I have foreseen.
  • The Making of Star Wars by J.W. Rinzler, from Laura.
  • A Boba Fett t-shirt, also from Laura.
  • The Ultimate Fantastic Four trade paperbacks volumes 1-5, from Miscellaneous G™.
  • Three Hellboy comics signed by Mike Mignola, from Chris.
  • A green FlyTech Dragonfly, from my sister-in-law and her family. A remote-controlled ornithopter! How cool is that?
  • A musical Batman card from my elder, bigger little sister.
  • Filthy lucre from my parents, mother-in-law and grandparents-in-law, which I used to buy:
    • 18 by Moby (CD)
    • Play by Moby (CD)
    • Hellboy: Sword of Storms (DVD)
    • Dune: Extended Edition (DVD)
    • Blade Runner: Director’s Cut (DVD)
    • Pan’s Labyrinth (DVD)
  • Last but not least, pumpkin pie from my grandparents-in-law. Yes, it’s more of a fall pie. I don’t care. I will eat it now and then, I will eat it anywhen!

[EDIT: I forgot a couple of things!]

  • Police Squad! The Complete Series on DVD, from the Wiitalas. Police Squad! didn’t succeed as a television series (a shame, because it’s hilarious), but it eventually evolved into three Naked Gun movies.
  • Spamalot Original Cast Recording, also from the Wiitalas. Laura and I saw Spamalot last year, and it was fantastic. My favorite song is probably “The Song That Goes Like This”, but they’re all good.
  • The first season of Arrested Development on DVD, from my sister and her boyfriend. Despite several people telling me I should have been watching this show when it was originally on the air, I’ve never seen it. I’m probably directly responsible for its cancellation.
  • The Omnivore’s Dilemma, also from my sister and her boyfriend. I’m not sure, but I think this book has something to do with that “fourth meal” I’ve been hearing about at Taco Bell.

Are my friends and family not awesome? Yes. Yes they are. They made me a very happy birthday boy.

5 O’ Clock Shadow: Bonefish Grill

Bonefish Grill
Yesterday’s 5 o’ clock shadow picture was taken a little after 9:00 at the Bonefish Grill in Willow Grove, PA. As you can probably tell, I was in a lousy mood after a second less-than-spectacular day at the office. I’ll skip the boring details; it should be sufficient to say that our upgrade did not go as planned.

In my college Creative Writing class, I learned that ascribing human feelings and/or thoughts to inanimate natural objects is called a pathetic fallacy. This was true when the rain stopped (“its work finished” or something along those lines was what I wrote) after washing Jimmy’s blood off the roof and I suppose it’s true now. The weather in Huntingdon Valley is overcast and rainy, reflecting the general mood here.

We’ll be wrapping up here shortly and then hopping on a plane back to sunny northeast Ohio. Surely it’s sunny in northeast Ohio.

Computerstuff: What’s in a name?

As I mentioned recently I name my computers after characters played by George Peppard; my Windows XP box is Hannibal, after Hannibal Smith in The A-Team and my Ubuntu Linux box is Banacek, after the title character in the television show of the same name. Gerall Kahla calls this The George Peppard Paradigm and correctly observes that “hardware jocks” often give their rigs names that follow a certain theme.

In the past, I’ve used a Star Wars naming theme; before Hannibal was Hannibal it was Vader and another Linux box was Fett. ((The same Linux box was also YTBN at one point: Yet To Be Named.)) My HP 48SX calculator—arguably the first “computer” I owned—is named Torquemada, but I’ve never established an actual Spanish Inquisition theme.

Laura’s desktop, which she’s had about five years, is named Eeyore, after the donkey in A.A. Milne’s Winnie the Pooh stories. When we bought her laptop in January I expected that she would name it Piglet or perhaps even Pooh (but certainly not Tigger). Instead, she named it Emily, after poet Emily Dickinson. The theme is a little more abstract than those I choose; Gerall might call it The Stuff Laura Likes Paradigm.

Do you name your computer(s)? If so, what inspires you to choose the names you do?

Computerstuff: Hannibal Sinking

Ultra Mid-Tower CaseBack in early March, I bought an Ultra Wizard Mid-Tower case from Fry’s, not because I needed a new case, but because the case was $2.50 after a $40 mail-in rebate.This assumes the rebate actually arrives in the mail, which it has yet to do. The case sat in the box until late last weekend when I decided it was time to rip out Hannibal’s ((Smith, not Lecter. My PCs are named after George Peppard characters. It’s a good thing I don’t have more than two, because after “Banacek” I’m pretty much out of names.)) guts and transfer them to the new case.

It was only after I had installed the motherboard and all five drives in the new case that I realized my existing 92mm case fan wouldn’t fit. The Wizard has space for two fans: one 120mm fan in the back of the case and an 80mm fan in the front. Not wanting to risk overheating any of the components, I put the project aside until last night when—two new fans in hand—I dove back into Hannibal’s innards.

It wasn’t pretty. After I connected all of the cables and fired up the machine I found that Windows XP wasn’t seeing my main applications drive. Plenty of cable reseating and system rebooting later I determined that the problem was most likely a bad IDE cable. After replacing the cable, the drive was once again where it should be, but Norton Internet Security 2007 was reporting an error that—according to Symantec’s support page—required reinstallation of the product. Hoorah.

Once I had the Norton reinstall straightened out, I decided to run some of the diagnostic tools on the Ultimate Boot CD to make sure everything was working properly. Everything checked out fine until I ran PowerMax, Maxtor’s hard drive diagnostic utility on my data drive; the tool immediately indicated that the drive was failing and suggested I visit Maxtor’s website to determine the nature of the failure based on a hex code generated by PowerMax. Oh, goody.In hindsight, I probably should have seen this coming. A few weeks ago, I noticed that iTunes had misplaced a number of MP3s from my library; this was probably an early warning sign that something was amiss with the drive.

Unfortunately, Maxtor has been acquired by Seagate, and for reasons I cannot begin to fathom the the page detailing the PowerMax diagnostic codes is inaccessible. The drive is failing but Seagate doesn’t seem to want to tell me what’s wrong with it.

I had already planned to steal Eeyore’s external backup drive, ((Laura’s desktop is named after a mopey donkey; her laptop is named after Emily Dickinson. I offer no commentary on this, merely simple fact.)) but Hannibal’s failing hard drive made it an imperative, so I scavenged the USB 2.0 card from Eeyore and stole the 17″ LCD monitor while I was at it. Score!

Now that I’ve back up the roughly 60 GB of data from the failing drive to the Maxtor OneTouch external drive and moved the bulk of my documents onto my 80 GB applications drive, I’m faced with the fact that I’ve got a 160 GB hard drive that could turn into a brick at any time; clearly, it will need to be replaced.

The problem with replacing the hard drive the investment starts moving into the territory of real money. The case and two fans set me back less than thirty bucks (again, assuming the rebate arrives), which is fine, but the idea of spending a hundred dollars or more on a computer that is in the neighborhood of seven years old doesn’t sit well with me. A hundred bucks represents a fifth of the cost of a new, low-end desktop system and today’s low-end systems make Hannibal look like Matlock.

Geekstuff: Orc Warrior

Orc WarriorWhen I began taking pictures of myself every(ish) weekday at five o’ clock I had no idea of the potential consequences. Case in point, the orc warrior drawn by Natalie (The Fuzzy Slug) and inspired by the picture from 28 March.

The orc is as yet unnamed, but Natalie has suggested Kronk the Jubilant and Sam Chupp has suggested that he is clearly “Warrior Ootj’k, of the G’nprah Clan, which is part of the Yekn’m Tribe. Either way, kudos to Natalie for taking a goofy picture and turning it into excellent (if still goofy) art!

Webstuff: Twitter and Jaiku

I signed up for a Twitter account in late February after hearing about the service on the technology podcast This Week in Tech (coincidentally known as TWiT). A couple of days ago, Leo Laporte — the head TWiT and probably the most friended person on Twitter — announced on his blog that he was switching from Twitter to Jaiku in an effort to create distance and distinction between the TWiT podcast and the Twitter service, which are unrelated. The announcement resulted in “The Leo Effect“, a wave of new account signups at Jaiku.

So what are Twitter and Jaiku? Why — apart from the name — would a discerning Internet user choose one over the other?

Central to both services is the ability to post short, 140-character updates, either from an SMS-enabled cell phone or from a web interfaceTwitter also allows posting of tweets via some instant messaging protocols; Jaiku does not presently offer this functionality. Both Twitter and Jaiku have made their API public, which allows developers to create applications like Twitter Tools, which allows users to display their latest tweets in the WordPress sidebar as well as post tweets from within their WordPress blog. I suspect that “The Leo Effect” will result in a host of new plugins and widgets for Jaiku.. On Twitter, these updates are referred to as “tweets”, while on Jaiku they are known simply as “jaikus”. The 140-character limit is anything but arbitrary; the services are both designed to be used by on-the-go types from their cell phones. SMS, the text-messaging service available on most cell phones today, has a built-in 140 byte limit on individual messages. This translates to one hundred and forty 8-bit characters or — for languages like Chinese, Russian and Arabic whose characters are more complex — seventy 16-bit characters.

The ability to [post a short message on a web page] is insignificant compared to the power of The Force.
— Darth Vader

So you can send a message to a website with your cell phone. What’s the point? The real key is building a list of contacts whose updates you want to see and (presumably) who want to see your updates as well. On Twitter, updates from your contacts can be delivered directly to your cell phone or to an instant messaging client (I use Jabber via Gaim Pidgin IM). Thus, you can keep in constant contact with your contacts (or “friends”, if you must). It’s up to you to decide whether or not this is a good thing.

Jaiku takes the basic functionality of Twitter and expands upon it, adding a sprinkle of Tumblr, giving users the ability to add pretty much any RSS or Atom feed — be they photos from Flickr, posts from a blog or even a feed from Twitter — to their “stream of presence”. Anything in this stream can be commented upon via the Jaiku website, whether it is an SMS message, a blog entry, or a photo from Flickr. My own Jaiku includes the following:

  • The RSS feed for blog entries from This post will appear on my Jaiku stream shortly after I publish it.
  • The photostream from my Flickr account. As I add new photos to Flickr, they will appear in my Jaiku stream.
  • My Twitter RSS feed. My “tweets” already appear on thanks to the Twitter Tools plugin. They will also appear in my Jaiku stream. This allows me to keep using Twitter and still take advantage of Jaiku’s expanded feature set. The main drawback to this is the delay between the time I tweet and when that tweet appears in my Jaiku stream.
  • My Squirl feed. When I add new items to my Squirl collections, they’ll appear in my Jaiku stream.

Of course, everything in my Jaiku stream is already available at, so why would I want to collect it all at Jaiku, too? It’s a fair question, and one to which I don’t have a good answer. One of the benefits of creating a single stream of presence at Jaiku is also something of a drawback. Every item in a Jaiku stream — whether it’s an SMS message, a photo retrieved from a Flickr photostream or a blog post from an RSS feed — can be commented upon at the Jaiku site. This is nice in that it allows for a lot of interaction, but not so nice because (as far as I can tell) those comments won’t automatically be transferred to the original source of the jaiku.

For example, if someone comments on this blog post from the Jaiku website, it will be seen by anyone who reads my Jaiku page or has added me as a contact there; unfortunately, the same comment will not be seen on This allows for increased interaction, but also segregates that interaction based on where a reader sees the content.

Unlike Jaiku, Twitter seems to have no aspirations to become (as Evo Terra has called it) “a portal for all things me”; there are no options to import RSS feeds from other sources, there’s no secondary commenting system, and there isn’t a library of icons to associate with individual tweets. Instead, Twitter focuses on their bread and butter: the aforementioned tweets.

That’s why I’m keeping my Twitter account and will continue to use it. Jaiku will doubtless introduce a post-via-IM feature in the near future, but Twitter already has it and I’m interested to see what their development team will do next. I also want to see what other developers do with the Twitter API. Already there is the ridiculously addictive Twitter/Google Maps mashup, Twittervision (which seems to be somewhat broken at the moment) and a host of tools for integrating Twitter into blogs; I have no idea what people more technically-minded than I will create.

My final reason for sticking with Twitter is simple: it’s where my friends are. There’s a small but active group of authors, bloggers and podcasters in my circle of friends who use Twitter, and the only reason I would drop the service completely is if they all decided to switch.