November 2001


I had occasion to run a “packet sniffer” on my workstation the other day to try and figure out where a network problem was occurring. (Those of you who are familiar with such things will note the implication that I have the root password. Oh Yeah!) It shows you every bit and byte flowing on the wires between your computer and the network. It’s quite interesting. The conversations go something like the following:

My PC: “Hello, I’m Greg’s computer.”

PC #1: “OK”

PC #2: “OK”

PC #3: “OK”

PC #1: “Hello, I’m Mike’s computer.”

My PC: “OK”

PC #2: “OK”

PC #3: “OK”

PC #2: “Hello, I’m Jan’s computer.”

My PC: “OK”

PC #1: “OK”

PC #3: “OK”

And so on it goes. After a while of no network activity, this all starts again. The computers chat in this idiotic way more or less continuously.

It’s very similar to what happens when you give a group of kids some walkie talkies.

My sister brought walkie talkies for all the kids at our family get-together over thanksgiving and their conversations went something like the computer conversations:

Kid #1: “Can you hear me?”

Kid #2: (yelling) “YES!”

Kid #3: “Whut?”

Kid #1: “What?”

Kid #2: “What?”

Kid #3: “What?”

And on it goes as they get into an infinite loop of Whats. Finally, one of the little ones would begin pushing the call button continuously making all further conversation impossible.

It got better as time went on but the signal-to-noise ratio remained fairly low. But it gave them something to do.

We were in Branson for the holiday; my sister had taken the remains of Dad’s bank accounts and paid for us all to have a holiday bash in the big town of Branson. My record is 100%: I have been to Branson numerous times and have not yet seen one of the shows. I’ve done just about everything else though including trout fishing (big yawn). This time, I spent as much time as possible resting and talking with everyone. It was great.

Not only that but, on the way, I stopped at the Grizzly Power Tool store in Springfield and bought my Christmas present. (A small wood lathe) Now, that’s a road trip! We didn’t make it to the Bass Pro Shop but we thought about it. When everybody in the car saw the power tool store (about the size of a grocery store), they all screamed. But the Grizzly people thought of everything; they have a snack bar and a TV room complete with ball pit for the little ones. My family prepared to settle in for the long haul but I surprised them. I had shopped from the Internet and knew what I wanted when I got there and spent very little time browsing. So, everybody was happy.

Like I say sometimes: A good time was had by all.

What a weekend. The fact that the garage door won’t open was not very relevant since we were hardly at home. Campout, soccer games, veteran’s day celebrations. I’m not sure if I’m begging for sympathy or bragging that I managed to do it all. Perhaps both.

This month’s campout was the yearly family Thanksgiving feast. Of course, you can’t just go out into the woods with no agenda other than “eat” so we did some skeet shooting. Or “sporting clays” as the boy scouts now call it to avoid saying the words “gun” or “shoot” in these politically correct times. *sigh* Evan did well. He enjoyed himself enough not to mind my occasional shouts of “WOO HOO!” “BOOM BABY!”

This year, families were invited but very few moms and little sisters showed up. Erin was all for it; Mel stayed home and watched rented movies and enjoyed herself immensely. Erin had big fun in the woods with us. So everybody was happy. I guess there’s something about putting up a tent with Dad and playing horseshoes that she liked. She also liked it when we got home and grandma was there.

We had to cut it short though due to the fact that our troop had to participate in a veteran’s day service at our sponsoring church. That church really throws down a service on veteran’s day and the scouts presented the colors. (In other words, brought the flag in.) The big challenge: getting back from the campout and getting the uniforms through the laundry in time. Yay Mom! It wasn’t easy either – we had to be there at 7am to put up a line of 25 flags along the street to greet the congregation when they arrived.

The church had put out the word that any members who had old wartime stuff from veterans in their families should bring it in and so they had an impromptu museum in the lobbies. Very interesting. Too bad that lots of my Dad’s stuff has gotten scattered. I have his photos but little else.

That left a few precious hours at the end of the day to try and repair the garage door opener. At the store, the sign said “Installation $58”. Next time, I’ll opt for that; not there were any problems or anything – it’s just a pretty big job. The box says “no special tools required”. That’s true but it certainly requires a huge number of normal tools and with all that hanging from your tool belt, it becomes a real “pants-puller” if you know what I mean. The question then becomes “How do you take a leak with a tool belt on?” (I know, I know – just take it off and lay it down – I’m just trying to be entertaining.) The two dogs (mine and the still-visiting Roscoe) sat and gazed with fascination at the sight of me on a ladder. One wonders what they found so interesting.

But, victory was mine. It goes up and (more importantly) goes back down. If our neighbors would ever actually look out their windows, they could have seen the rather theatrical image of our garage door opening like a theater curtain with me inside, arms held high, yelling “YES! It works! BWA HA HA HA HA!” Sort of like Frankenstein did when the creature came to life. They always miss those moments. There you have yet another reason why we should all get up off our fat lazy butts, turn off the TVs and get outside more. Who knows what you might see?

This whole series of events was capped off by the first sixth grade band concert. The old gymnasium was filled to overflowing last night at the sixth, seventh, and eighth grade bands showed off their talents. Although it was a little surprising to me, they were all pretty good. After all, when Evan begins practicing his horn is usually when the dog decides to move outside for awhile. But they sound pretty good together. They played a series of patriotic tunes and they politely kept it to less than an hour which was a blessing to those of us who are hot natured. It was sweltering. Apparently the gym is not air conditioned.  But the music was good; they should have concerts more often.

Well, you knew this one was coming. The yearly trick-or-treat report. The short version: many pounds of success.

For the first time, both of my kids had the energy (and the patience) to walk further than once around the block so we scoured the entire neighborhood. Further, they had never had the guts to visit the haunted house that one family puts on every year. They have made a rather spooky affair out of their front yard and you really have to work for your candy there. Both kids braved the cobwebs in search of more chocolate.

The family next door attempted something similar but it appeared to be more of a disco than a haunted house. I guess it was their choice of music. My favorite question from a little kid: (spoken to me)

“What are you supposed to be?”

I replied:

“I’m the dad.”

It must have been the hat I was wearing that made him think I was trying to look like somebody else. He should have recognized me and the hat – he was in my Cub Scout pack for a year. But then, this kid is not one of those who is noted for his impressive memory.

Evan bailed out pretty early on. He was making one smart-alecky comment after another. Something about going with his little sister was getting on his nerves. I was of the opinion that it was his fault for not arranging something with his friends. However, when he met up with a group of his buddies, he stayed with them and we didn’t see him till he got home with his sack. You could tell it was a struggle after he got back – he really wanted to look into Erin’s sack to see if she got more than him or not. I’m not sure if he did or not. They went further than we did but I believe many people will give more candy to a cute little girl than to big smelly boys.

But that was not the end of it; Erin got to wear her costume again at school on Friday. Technically, they were dressing up as their favorite book character but some dramatic license was taken. At any rate, yours truly was required to take the afternoon off and go peel apples. (for the snacks) That was more fun than one might think at first due to the recent purchase of a fancy apple peeler. You’ve probably seen them; you spear the apple on a spit, turn the crank, and the apple is peeled, cored, and sliced into a spiffy spiral in one impressive series of cranks. It was a hoot but naturally, every kid wanted to crank their own apples out. You would think that by third grade, every kid would be able to turn a crank in a simple circle but the number of kids that just pushed back and forth was frightening. What are they teaching these kids these days?

In a sad side-note, the presence of an unknown man (me) at the school was cause for a bit of tension at first, followed by a great deal of gawking – apparently, dads are as rare at the school as the proverbial unicorn. One teacher after another noted my advance towards the classroom and came out to ask me my business; apparently assuming something sinister. I had a visitor’s badge but that wasn’t enough. After that, everybody kept turning around to look at me like I was some sort of side show. I guess I was actually; after all I did have the cool chrome-plated apple peeler.

I went to the school in place of Melissa because she was off to Oklahoma City for a PTA convention (*yawn*) so we all had a few days of single parenting; not a thing I recommend for long periods of time. We all managed to get where we needed to be and to keep the house reasonably clean although Erin’s room still has an odor I can’t seem to locate and eradicate. Of course, this weekend was not representative; we had a garage door opener stop opening, an icemaker stop icemaking, and the school bus drove past Erin without stopping. All hail the stay-at-home mother!

The garage door opener incident was interesting because it illustrates so well something that was written by my hero Dave Barry:

Alien beings from a highly advanced society visit the Earth, and you are the first human they encounter. As a token of intergalactic friendship, they present you with a small but incredibly sophisticated device that is capable of curing all disease, providing an infinite supply of clean energy, wiping out hunger and poverty, and permanently eliminating oppression and violence all over the entire Earth. You decide to:

  1. Present it to the president of the United States.
  2. Present it to the secretary general of the United Nations.
  3. Take it apart.

The proper thing to do would be to go to Lowes and say “how much is a new garage-door opener?” I did not do this; I spent the remains of the day taking it apart and fabricating a new part from raw materials which worked for about 5 up-down cycles before failing again. Now, I have to go to Lowes and ask “how much is a new garage-door opener?” But this problem was more than a simple failure. It appeared to be possessed by demons; going down and then back up again, later to go down and only go partway up followed by partway down and not up at all. This was a problem that just begged to be investigated.

Women can be irritating – even when they’re still little girls; especially where feats of engineering are concerned. When I first announced the garage door problem, it was as we were leaving for a soccer game. (or trying to anyway). I announced that there was a problem. Erin said

“So, you BROKE the garage door?”

It’s hard to explain that some things just wear out. It’s also hard to explain that just because one is the last person to touch something, it doesn’t follow that that last person is responsible for the subsequent failure. But this came after I had just griped the kids out for spilling a gallon of bubble-stuff into the carpet. They had similarly claimed that nobody was really at fault. After my brilliant re-engineering effort, Melissa came home and experienced the failure of my fix and so the hours of impressive hardware hacking went unappreciated.

You’re only as good as your last success it seems. If you hit the winning run during the World Series, that’s good but if you strike out at your first at-bat during next season’s opener, you’re a goat again. Better to retire after your next success, I guess and never get up from the recliner again. Just mute the TV occasionally during commercials and tell the story of your last brilliant play.

But no, life is better than that. Setbacks are not permanent; there are always chances to redeem yourself. After all, there’s still that icemaker waiting to be taken apart.