The second in-flight post!!!

It’s an hour or so into the flight, and time for a little airline commentary.

“Spirit airlines: we stack ’em and rack ’em.”

It’s the first airline I’ve been on where the seat backs don’t recline due to physical impossibility (assuming someone is behind you). As it is, in order for my legs to fit I have to spread ’em wider than Sharon Stone in Basic Instinct.

Thank God I’m not wearing my skirt!

1 Comment

High altitude

This is my first in-flight post in a long time (as measured in senior Kauffman years).

Pretty exciting stuff, eh? In fact, it’s the most exciting thing in my life since the Lost finale. Heavy stuff, I know.

It’s my first venture outside the state of Florida in the post cancer era. But wait. I gets better. It’s my first real vacation since those hairy celled invaders started clogging the marrow. When I say “real” vacation, I mean multiple, consecutive work days. None of those long weekend pretenders. We’re off for a week to a beachfront rental house on the Jersey Shore with my sister and my brother-in-law’s family.

It promises to be a week of relaxing in the cooler temperatures of the northeast, water’s edge hikes on the beach, and walks on the boardwalk.

The forecast highs are nearly twenty degrees cooler than home – thirty if you count the heat index. It’ll be WAY to frigging cold to actually go in the water. A west-coast Floridian rarely sees beach water cooler than 80F. Walking the shore is what my soul craves.

I might even throw in a bike rental to satisfy my two wheeled jones.

I’m hoping to have plenty of time to meditate, JK style – camera in hand, thinking about the perfect picture.

I rarely find it, but it’s the process I find relaxing not the results. That’s just icing.

I hope all of you out there have great week. I may still be around – time and thumbs permitting.

A phone’s life In my hands

– verb
To strip a smartphone of all its useful features. To make it as useful as –

I performed my first open case surgery on the iPhone to replace its failing battery last weekend.

Pop quiz:

Do you spend $15 to do it yourself or give $80+ to Apple, plus suffer through a week without your phone while it ships back and forth to God knows where?

What do you do?


I’m not trying to sound arrogant. In fact, think I have a pretty solid track record of modesty.

But in this case I do have skills.

See that? That’s me being optimistic. Damn, you never have a camera when you need it. Skills or not though, I do have the right tools.

I had my grounding strap to avoid frying the whole thing with a small static charge, a suction cup to pull off the glass touch screen, a magnifying glass to help see/disconnect really small ribbon cables, and my trusty small tools kit to get at a few small screws to pull the motherboard. I got that stuff out of the way and suddenly the battery was right there, waiting to be plucked from the bottom of the case like a sleeping baby in a basket.

It only took two hours – and the removal of almost every component in the phone.

It was touch and go for a while. There was a “Do Not Remove” sticker I had to peel back to get at one of the screws holding down the motherboard. It didn’t want to peel back. Considering the unambiguous language, I figured it was best not to shred it. It took a good ten minutes by itself, but I’m happy to report the sticker survived.

If you thought my favorite part of this exercise was putting the last piece back in place, you’re way off the mark. The closer I got to finishing, the more nervous I got. You see, that’s when you find out if you screwed something up – if you broke it.

I was anticipating three possible outcomes when I turned it on.

One: I’d have an iPhone with a new battery.

Two: I’d have an iPod touch with a new battery.

Three: I’d have a light, pleasing to the eye, plastic and glass desk ornament – with a new battery.

Despite what you might think, with the iPhone 4 just around the corner (and being eligible for upgrade pricing), I was not rooting for two or three. No matter the cost, replacement money won’t be seen in the Kauffman coffers for a while.

Which really begs the question: why the hell did I go off and pull apart my iPhone by myself, instead of putting up the extra money for a trained technician to do it? With money tight, I must be a crazy person, right?

I’ve never taken one apart.

Which really begs the question: do you really know me at all?

Oh, yeah. The phone works. Was there ever really any doubt?

Go ahead, answer that. I dare yah.

Or not. No pressure.


Love, your health insurance company

I like getting love letters from my health insurance company. They catch me off guard, but it’s nice to know someone is looking out for me.

A few weeks ago I got a letter asking about all of my other insurance carriers after I made a rather large claim. They said they wanted to make sure I could “maximize my coverage.” As they said, “We’re constantly looking for ways to deliver high quality, affordable care to our valued customers.”

Now isn’t that sweet? I could just reach out and give ’em a great big hug. I just can’t figure out how you give a corporation a hug, but if I figure it out I’ll be sure to let you know. I’m sure it’s eating you up inside too.

Then it dawned on me. They paid one hundred percent of the cost for this particular procedure. I’m not sure how you could maximize it any more from my perspective without sending me a check. Not that I’m against the whole check idea, I just don’t think it’s very likely – about as likely as you sending me a check.

You weren’t planning to send me a check, were you?

So I got to thinking. Now, I know what you’re thinking. That sounds unlikely, but it’s true I swear.

Does this mean it wasn’t a love letter?Was something more sinister was going on? Was this really a “cover our financial ass” letter, dressed up as “we’re looking out for you?”

Would a wrong answer turn the sweet nothings whispered in my ear into the grand piss-off?

“Tough shit kid, you’re on your own. Go talk to your x insurance. They’re the ones who really ought to be paying.”

Does this mean they don’t really love me, that they never really loved me?


Guilt, meet thy maker

A while back I wrote about a call I received in court on a really bad day. It invovled mistaken identities, my mother, and the possibility of cancer. If you recall, there was an instant when I was relieved it was my mother – because it meant it wasn’t my wife. I’d made a choice, consciously or not, and it made me feel terrible. We all make them. I don’t think we can help ourselves. I think my guilt came not just from realizing I’d made it, but from letting it be known.

So what did I do then? I recounted my mistake online for the masses dozens handfull reading my blog.

Ah, but you’re my therapy, and the price is right.

The last post I briefly discussed root causes. Today’s (wild ass guess at a) root cause* is lithium toxicity. My mother took lithium to treat bi-polar disorder for 20+ years. A little more than three years ago, right before I was diagnosed with leukemia and my dad had a little trouble with his heart again, doctors detected partial renal failure/deficiency in my mother. This was (partially) a product of the damage the lithium did to my mother’s kidneys over the years.

In hindsight, I wonder if the anxiety of this news led her mind, on top of everything else, to its rapid decline that summer/fall. From what I know of renal failure, it’s not something your kidneys ever recover – it’s a downward slope. The only question is: how steep?

Well, that was three years ago, and while her mind has improved (relative to a year ago) her kindeys have not. She seemed to be getting along, though none of us (her kids) knew exactly what her kidney function was. It’s not something we ever though to bring up, and I honestly don’t think she’d have known anyway. That’s what the drugs and a two year break from reality do to you.

Well, I’ve led you to the dot. Have you connected it to it’s friends yet?

That call about the suspected tumor? I found out two weeks ago it’s in one of her kidneys. What’s worse, it’s in the better functioning of the two.

Better is a relative term. The ultrasound report suggests both are seriously atrophied. The nephrologist in the family was a little shocked.

I don’t have a lot if hard facts to go on, but my sister is the aforementioned nephrologist, and I have a poor man’s background in pyschology. Pooling those resources with the facts we do know makes me worry the prognosis is not good.

Mom’s mind has shown some signs of regression, though it’s still a long way from where it was a year or two ago. I just hope it stays that way if they confirm a cancer diagnosis. Or if they have to remove too much of her “good” kidney. Or if she has to start dialysis. Or if she has to be hospitalized at all.

I fear fragile doesn’t begin to explain what she is, physically or mentally.

I know. One thing at a time, John. One thing at a time.

– – –

*I don’t mean to imply lithium caused the cancer – or even directly caused her poor mental health. I only wonder if its known toxic effects led to a domino effect starting with her kidney failure three years ago… to mental breakdown… to institutionalization.

1 Comment

Trial, tribulation, and error

A few weeks ago, heresy showed it’s ugly face in the Kauffman household. Evil found a foothold in one of my vulnerable children. By now you know that when I speak of heresy I’m speaking of one thing: computers. Beth asked for a cheap Windows laptop.

In the name of Jobs, The Woz, and The Lost Partner, I beseech you: where have I gone wrong?

Because my parents were over at the time, my dad in particular, the collective shudder was almost enough to bring down the roof, bringing this insanity to a tragic end.

This has nothing to do with Windows, evil, or my family… but I find it amusing so I had to find a way to work it into the post. There’s a buzz word at my office – one of several steadying the rungs of the mythical ladder to Tally (if you have to ask, you ain’t getting there). The one that comes to mind is: root cause. Say it again: root cause. Don’t you feel smarter just saying it? All right, it’s really two words, so maybe you just feel silly, not to mention you’re talking to your computer again. You should probably see someone about that. But back to root cause: it is one concept. Applying the problem solving skills taught in offices around the world (and yet come naturally to our species as early as the pre-pubescent years), I sought to get to the bottom of this Windows virus before it got started. It turned out it was worse than I thought.

Beth infected my son too.

Both of them were obsessed with the idea of playing an online game created by Sony Entertainment called: Free Realms. This game only runs on PCs running Windows.

And before you ask, the answer is yes – the name itself is a sick, twisted joke. Entrance is free, but there are opportunities to spend once you’re inside.

Back to Windows, and computers in general.

Kids don’t always understand elegance, and when they do, sometimes they don’t particularly care. They don’t understand how little time daddy spends maintaining our relatively large family network of computers (none, not counting the voluntary tinkering – with more PCs than people), compared to other daddies. They don’t truly understand what the word “crash” can mean. They don’t know what a virus, worm, or malware is. They don’t know what Internet security software is.

Well, if you recall, a few posts back I contemplated a world where me and Beth shared an iPad an my MacBook. This presented an interesting test run. My MB runs Windows Vista in the latest version of Parallels (v5).

Vista may have been the dumbest software descision of my life (I shoulda had an XP!), but I needed something do the occasional bit of work at home and Vista gets it done (if painfully).

With a devious grin, I unleashed my kids on Vista – or was that the other way around? Right off the bat: “dad, what is Kaspersky, and what are virus definitions?” Then of course: “dad, Windows says it wants to restart to finish installing important updates. I hardly had time to get started yet.”

I’ll bet there are a few Windows appologists out there convinced I haven’t booted their ‘ole pal Vista since the install – thus the delays. They’d be wrong. I’d had it up the day before – with the software and definitions up to date.

Next, of course, we had to install Flash. Always Flash. Then there was a Sony browser plugin. Then there was an executable file from Sony.

It took us half an hour to get Windows set up to play a web based game. I think THAT should be in the Windows 7 ads.

I was setting up my laptop for my kids to play a simple web based game and it took me a freaking half an hour. So I sent the old Bald Ballmer an email telling him they oughta fix that. So yeah, Windows 7 was my idea.

Of course, for all I know Windows 7 could be an abomination worse than Windows 3.x – I’ve never seen it. So maybe it’s not my idea after all.

Here’s the best part. Although I’ve muddled through Vista relatively unscathed, it’s crashed – hard – beyond the three finger salute hard (control-alt-delete), every time the kids played their game. It’s never crashed right away, so they get a chance to play for a while – enough so they want to play again – and live through another crash.

Cheryl keeps saying they’re not going to be allowed to play on dad’s MacBook anymore, but I disagree.

Oh, how I disagree!

I think this is a great opportunity to learn a lesson in life, to learn how the harsh, real world works. It’s a time when very little is at stake, and there’s little to loose. Is it probably the game? Of course it’s probably the game. But what happened to Microsoft being so far ahead of Apple when it came to single apps crashing and not bringing down the whole system?

So my simple response to Cheryl is no. I’m going to give them Vista every time they ask for it, and let them see it for the ugly piece of software it is. Then they’ll know.

Windows bad. Mac good.

Get a Mac.

– – –

UPDATE: since I started writing this post a few days ago, the kids have stopped asking about Free Realms and Windows. They haven’t moved on to new games either. They went back to the old web games that worked – on the Mac. As for myself, I’m actually considering throwing good money after bad – buying 7. Lord help me, for I am about to sin.

Reduce, reuse, recycle

I’m going out on a limb here, talking about work. I figure this is a strong limb though.

I’ll be discussing my latest blogging hiatus shortly. A partial post is in the hopper. Something to look forward to, eh?

My office chair was fifteen years old and saw better days. It’s upholstery was clean and intact, but almost every mechanism was either failing or broken.

“Go new, comrade. Go new!” The cry rose from the huddled masses in the halls of state government.

The chance to get new equipment comes along once in a lifetime, so my peers looked on my situation with envy. I had a chair that was just bad enough to shame even the tightest penny pinchers in procurement.

My choice rocked the system to it’s core, threatening to disrupt momentum forty-one years in the making. I asked our local supplies person if my chair could be repaired. A lot of our furniture (like my chair) is made by prison guests – many of whom are staying for years – so I figured labor costs would be marginal at best.

A few calls were made, a few dollars were discussed, and my chair disappeared for a week.

I got it back today, as good as new. I feel great. Chairs are a funny thing to fit, and I had a relationship with this one – a good one. When you find a chair that treats you right you don’t give up on it – not on my watch you don’t.

With any luck we’ll be together for years to come. The alternative makes me shudder. I don’t find the idea of a new chair appealing. I see it as a crap shoot. I figure the odds of a good, comfortable match are fifty percent at best. That poses a real problem, considering I spend more time with my chair than my wife.

I’ll take my (like new) old comfy chair, thank you very much.

1 Comment


No, I should really know better.

When Cheryl and I moved here from Orlando we lived with her parents until we could find a place for ourselves. For almost as long as we’ve had a place of our own, Cheryl has been keeping an eye out for a place we could share with her parents.

Every time she’s proposed a place my answer was very simple.


I’ve never wavered. Every time I’ve lived with someone besides my immediate family, I’ve never quite felt comfortable. Even when I’ve paid a share of the rent, part of me felt like an intruder. Roommates in college was one thing. I knew it would end some day. It was temporary housing.

Multigenerational housing – with the in-laws – is an entirely different proposition. There’s no end. I could feel like a guest in my own home for the foreseeable future. Just the thought depresses me, and there are no immediate plans to do so.

Well, there are now. Nothing’s set in stone, but it’s more than a one way conversation now.

Financial circumstances have slowly deteriorated. (And yet we still talk about buying computers.) There have been no pay raises in five or more years. This year we’re looking at furloughs, a 3 percent pay cut, or both. My department is talking about the possibility of layoffs for the first time in forty years. In the past they’ve been good at reading the tea leaves, holding back on hiring so position cuts could be absorbed by vacancies. Not this year. Ever since JEB! was first elected ten years ago (more or less), we’ve been asked to find 10 percent of our budget to cut every year. This year they’ve asked us to find 15. We haven’t always seen the full extent of those cuts, once the dust has settled after legislative sessions, but it hasn’t been pleasant. It seems they’ve finally caught up. Mind you, even when I have seen a raise (I can’t remember when), it’s been the 1.5 percent variety. There were a couple exceptions: promotions, and that one year I was lucky enough to get one of a handful of performance raises (they’ve offered them twice in my almost fifteen years – to about 2 percent of our agency).

Don’t get me wrong. I know I shouldn’t complain about my job, especially not in this economy, but for other reasons as well. As it happens, I love my job. I knew exactly what I was getting when I took a government job. It has it’s benefits, both financial (health insurance), and social (relatively liberal leave policies). Plus, I work with great people… my second family.

It’s just that in the mean time expenses have exploded – especially the medical variety.

To top it off, Cheryl worries there will be a day I won’t be able to work anymore. I don’t share her worry, but I sympathize with it. We’re better off than many, with money in savings, the beginnings of a retirement account, and money put away for at least one of the kids to go to college (thanks to the Florida Pre-Paid Program). Yet it feels like we’re living life without a net, like we’re one setback from financial catastrophe.

In other words, we’re living the new American dream: stagnant or decreasing wages, ballooning expenses, and the constant threat of job loss always hanging over our heads.

You know what they say about never. This is why I’m starting to think multi-generational housing isn’t such a bad idea, consolidating and reducing our expenses to give my family more financial security – both for my immediate family and my in-laws. But it’s not any less depressing.

I’ve lived in our house, this house, as long as I’ve lived anywhere. It’s been a true home, in every sense of the word. It’s the only home my kids have known. It’s where I learned I could be handy if I really needed to be. It’s where I’ve spent days like today: a cool, quiet, cloudless day on the front porch listening to breezes blow through our giant oak, sipping at a cup of green tea as I write.

Now I wonder if we should give it up… if we have to give it up.

Then there are my dark thoughts, when I wonder if we would be here if I was more ambitious.

When Cheryl and I first started dating in college, there was often wonder in her eyes. There were times I’d help her with homework, even though I’d never taken the class, or a class like it, and she’d look at me as if I’d just made her textbook disappear. Though it was nothing more than an ability to read (her books), she thought I could do anything. It’s hard to describe what it meant to me at the time. It was a lifeline for the kid who thought he was capable of nothing. And yet, it still made me feel a bit uncomfortable, the weight of expectations feeling heavy on my shoulders.

My aim in life has always been simple: to be happy. I eschew the spotlight. I set a course for a relatively simple life a long time ago – a life not without hard work, just one not consumed by it. Now I wonder if this place we find ourselves in, thinking of leaving our home, the tears in my daughter’s eyes when the subject comes up, the image in my head of that last day when the house is empty and we look around as we close the door on a chapter in our lives… if it’s my fault.


The cash stampede

I didn’t even know it had a name. I’d never seen it before my Beth’s PowerBook started having problems last month.

Apparently there is a screen of death on a Mac, the dread blue-screen equivalent: the GSOD, or grayed-out screen of death. I can’t blame you if you’ve never heard of it. It’s rarely seen in the wild, confined mostly to secret labs, under highly controlled circumstances, with experts trained in the clandestine arts of infiltration and subversion.

But sometimes it does find it’s way out. Even the experts don’t know how.

Anyway, I’ve run hardware tests and software tests. I’ve run multiple diagnostic programs. I’ve even gone where few Mac users have gone before: I did a clean reinstall of the OS.

“No you DIDN’T go there!”

Yes. Yes I did.

You know what happened the minute the install completed and it rebooted? Yep, the damn GSOD.

I think I finally know the pain, regret, anguish, and envy that come as a standard options with every copy of Windows.

I think this is a sign my beloved old 12″ PowerBook is starting to die. This presents a few problems, besides the obvious, emotional ones. One of my favorite computers of all time is slowly dying. (sniff) It means there will be one less computer in a house that’s come to depend on many. It means Beth will start asking to squeeze in on my time with the MacBook. It means I may have to learn how to share again.

Cheryl, bless her heart, saw this for what it was: disaster on the horizon. You’ll take my Mac from my cold, dead hands.

She immediately sought out options. She looked at iMacs, MacBooks, MacBook Pros… and looking over her shoulder my heart started to heal… to hop and skip with a little excitement even (with a pinch of survivor’s guilt though). Then reality set in: the financial ruin we’ve come to call our checking account. We thought about an iPad, but we decided it probably wouldn’t fill Beth’s needs for a computer to do school work. Plus, until many of the sites she visits stop using Flash (I’m not holding my breath), an iPad would likely find little use… by Beth.


by… Beth…?

That’s when inspiration struck. Neither of us could rely on an iPad alone for our computing needs. However, I find there are evenings when I don’t pick up my MacBook – sometimes not even to write (my thumbs got skillz).

When I got my first laptop, desktop computers felt bulky and constraining. Who wants to sit at a desk when you can work on the couch, or better: under your cozy blanket in bed? Not surprisingly, the same thing happened when I got my iPhone. I found I never had to go further than my pocket for a computer… and it is a computer… a computer that also happens to be a phone. The miracle I discovered with the iPhone is this: I can do 80% of what most people use a computer for (the internets, in various ways), plus a few things most people don’t (read a good book).

And here’s the kicker.

Wait for it…

I can do it all comfortably with one thumb. (Caveat: I use the remaining four fingers on the hand to cradle the phone, and my left hand lends an assist if I decide to write something). In fact, there are some things I prefer to do on my iPhone, like checking my news and blog feeds on google (with a slick app that syncs with google reader), or wandering through twitter and Facebook.

Since the iPad will talk to a bluetooth keyboard – and I just happen to have one of Apple’s shiny aluminum beauties – some of my longer writing moods could conceivably be satisfied by an iPad. The software I use to keep a journal is about to release a companion app for the iPhone, there are already apps for my WordPress blog, and iPhone apps will supposedly work on the iPad (until dedicated apps are written). So, between my iPhone and an iPad, I could go days without feeling the need to pick up my laptop.

This sharing thing could actually work.

Bless you Cheryl.