Archive for January, 2007

Jasper “J.B.” Bowman

On Wednesday, Bill C and I traveled to Richmond to attend the funeral of Jasper, “J.B.” Bowman.    Some thoughts from our trip:

J.B. Fosters a Friendship
Although I only met him in person once, it’s possible I owe my entire friendship to Larry to this man.  (This musing is sort of a “lite” version of Clint’s I Should Not Be Alive thoughts).  You see, Jasper Bowman was a pathfinder during WWII, including the D-Day invasion.  Pathfinders would typically drop before the rest of the paratroopers to set up lights and markers for the landing areas.  So Larry’s father actually landed in St. Mere Eglise (which Larry, Sean, Stacy and I visited in 2004) the night before D-Day, preparing the way for the paratroopers the next night. 


Larry’s Dad is two heads to the left of the black X. 

When Larry first started working at QualTrax, I didn’t really converse with him that much.  He was just this weird man who Mike Miller and I suspected had a crush on another co-worker of ours (turned out Larry didn’t).  Then one day I found about Larry’s father.  This was of great interest to me.  I was reading D-Day: June 6, 1944: The Climatic Battle of WWII by Stephen Ambrose and I was full into my Saving Private Ryan craze.  Saving Private Ryan is the movie I’ve seen by far the most in the theatre (I believe I went 4-6 times).  It turns out Larry had not seen it.  I described that movie passionately and made a decision right then and there that Larry had to see it.  It was still playing at the dollar theatre, so he and I picked a date and went to see the film. 

If it weren’t for Larry’s father, I am not sure if Larry and I would have befriended each other.  It would be a shame, because we were destined to be great friends.  It would have taken a toll on my professional life as well.  It was listening to Larry on the phone that taught me how to converse with customers.  It was Larry’s encouragement that sent me to Michigan, Kentucky and Europe in 2001 to perform my first speaking engagements (QualTrax trainings).  Without Larry, I may not have developed the communication skills that differentiate me a bit from other programmers. 

J.B.’s Broad Influence
At the funeral, J.B.’s “grandson” (his step-daughter’s step-son) told a story that showed you didn’t have to meet J.B. to be influenced by him.  The grandson was a history teacher and one year he videotaped J.B. recounting his WWII experiences and he’d show it each year to his students.  The grandson just recently ran into a past student at a conference.  In high school, the student was a troublemaker and far from focused.  After high school the student’s life changed dramatically.  He joined the army, fought in Afghanistan, was honorably discharged and now…. now he’s a history teacher.  Although he never met him, the student cited J.B. as his inspiration for how he lives his life.  He also requested a copy of the video tape of J.B.’s account to start to show his students.  Perhaps those students will also find influence in a man they’ve never met.

I was also struck by the admiration for J.B. in St. Mere Eglise during our visit in 2004.  When eating lunch, Larry, Sean, Stacy and I ran into some contemporary paratroopers.  They were in town for the 60th anniversary of the D-Day invasion and they were going to do a drop of their own to commemorate the event.  When they found out Larry’s father was a pathfinder, word spread fast.  Soon every soldier in the building was lined up single file….for the honor of shaking Larry’s hand!  They all wanted to thank Larry for what his father had done.

Blood Does Not Make a Family
J.B.’s “grandson” pointed out that he was J.B’s step-daughter’s step-son but “to J.B. you do not have to be blood to be family.  I was honored for him to call me ‘grandson’ and I was honored to call him my ‘grandfather'”  That sentiment struck home to me. 

I subscribe to Kurt Vonnegut’s claim that our society lacks in the support of a large extended family. In this day in age with distances between us, we often don’t have the same connection with our relatives as we would have in the days where generation after generation would remain in the same town.  As much as we love them, our extended family is typically not on the front lines and not our immediate support system.  But…. I look around and I do have the role of an extended family filled here in Blacksburg– a surrogate extended family (like the Daffodil-10’s in Vonnegut’s Slapstick).  These people are not related by blood, but through their caring and understanding, they are every bit of family to me.  And the Bowman/Jones clan are the backbone of my surrogate extended family.  It was neat to hear their patriarch believed that you did not have to be blood to be family, that the closeness that I feel towards his blood would have been approved of.

How Great Thou Art
During the service an older gentleman performed a solo of “How Great Thou Art”.  This guy rocked the house (well as much as one could with a hymn).   He was extremely talented and for a man whose body appeared to be feeble, he had such a strong and unwavering voice.  I was very moved by his rendition and the quality of his voice. 

I think that is one thing I am fond about with church– the ability for the local community to showcase their talents.  With a majority of our entertainment coming from national networks or world-renowed recording artists, the everyday performers have much to compete against to get an audience.  We miss out on knowing that Bob across the street can sing and Delores from down the road is a delightful dancer because we are too busy being tuned into American Idol. 

I think church provides a great forum for local performers.  These people may not have world-class talent, but they still have gifts to share with others.  The members of the choir can sing; budding actors and actresses and wanna be directors can participate in Christmas pageants; the man with a solid, but not quite radio-worthy, speaking voice can read passages of the Old Testament; the painters can work on scenery for plays or murals in the hallways; the athletes may never play professionally or get an athletic scholarship, but they can be crucial to the church’s team in the intramural league; the cooks can knock our socks off at pot-lucks; and finally the seamstresses can work on seasonal sashes or like my grandmother does, Raggedy Ann and Raggedy Andy dolls to sell at the church bazaar. 

That man at the funeral and his solid delivery of “How Great Thou Art” served as a reminder that there is talent in this world which does not involve best-selling novels, dominating ratings during sweeps week, Grammys, Oscars or even a People’s Choice Award.  It’s a good reminder to get every once and a while.

Importance of Kids at the Funeral
Penn and Gwyn came along to attend their great-grandfather’s funeral.  At one point when I saw a frazzled Ann rush her two year old daughter with a soiled diaper to a Burger King bathroom, I wondered if it was “worth it” for Ann to have the children with her.   I certainly knew the children’s presence was worth it for me– afterall, I got to see my buddy Penn with no strings attached.  But for Ann, she had to juggle her own grief and her own emotion of the day with keeping tabs on the kids and the constant threat of a bored child acting up at an inopportune time.  Would it had been easier for her to grieve if the children were home??

Well, later that day, my own question was answered.  Absolutely the children needed to attend the funeral.  Their presence was important.  After all the services were done, the family gathered outside and the finality of it all it continued to sink in.  But then you see the children– Penn, Gwyn and Baby Jack playing and running and laughing and singing and just looking so joyous.  And you see the adults looking on with amusement and a flicker of joy returns to their weary, red eyes.  Life will indeed continue on.  These children are the proof.

Ann’s aunt said it the best.  She was chasing after Baby Jack (her grandson) amoung the pews and playing games.

“It’s hard to be sad,” she said, “When he is so happy.”

I do hope when I have children, I’ll remember this lesson.  That despite the inconveniences of travel and the promise of added stress, I realize– kids add value to funerals.

Additional Links
Full J.B. Bowman Obituary in Richmond Times-Dispatch

January 21, 2007 at 6:29 pm 3 comments

January 19th

Happy Birthday to my husband!  Actually, he has never read this blog, so this post is of little point.

But… since we are on the subject of him, here’s an X-ray of his broken foot.  Enjoy!

January 19, 2007 at 12:50 am 6 comments

User Interfaces – Web Applications and Buying Gas

This evening I got a new Facebook friend request.  That’s a welcomed event.  Previously I only had five friends and three of them were relatives– I looked like a loser!  At least now I’m only half relatives.  Today’s sucker was my colleague, Mark Duncan.  And I suspect I know why he joined.

This afternoon when discussing the new Qualtrax User Interface, we talked about Facebook.  Facebook has a marvelous means of data entry in a web interface.  As you are typing in little factoids about yourself (say your school or employer), some very responsive dropdown lists appear with similiar items people have already entered.    It’s quite slick and something similiar would prove to be very beneficial in our web application. 

Because our application is tied so closely to organizations’ quality systems, it is important for us to keep the user experience as easy as possible.  You don’t want someone to not take action on a nonconforming product because they couldn’t figure out how to use the online form.  You don’t want to add any obstacles– you want the process to be simple and smooth.

Last night, I was on the user side of things and got to see first-hand just how important “simple and smooth” is in a user interface.  I had to purchase gasoline.  It took me three tries. 

The first station I stopped at amazingly enough did not have credit card readers at the pumps.  I didn’t even get out of my car for that one.

The second station was more modern.  However when I swiped my card, the console prompted me,

“Credit or Debit?”

Well, I knew the answer immediately.  I wanted “Credit”.  Unfortunately, there was no “Credit” button to be found on the keypad.  There was a nice green key for “Debit”, but no “Credit”.  I was perplexed, but not for long.  When I didn’t answer the console instructed me to “Please See Attendent.”

I figured I must had done something wrong (user error) or there was some kind of malfunction (bug), so I gave it another go.  I swiped my card and once again I ended up with a dead end question.

“Well, if it is going to be like that,” I thought and got out my debit card.  I swiped it and when it asked me what kind of card it was, I smugly made use of the provided “Debit” button.  My success was short lived.  It promptly asked me for my pin number.  I typed that in watched as it was falsely accused of being wrong.  I gave it another shot, but all paths led to the instruction, “Please See Attendent.”

“Fuck that,” I thought and left.

I went to a third gas station.  This time everything worked without incident.  It took my credit card, it let me pump my gas and all was well.

Yesterday was an extremely long day– I woke up at 5 AM, traveled to Richmond, attended a funeral, ate lunch, attended a burial service at the cemetary, traveled back to Blacksburg, met some girlfriends for sushi and then finally, sought out fuel.  At the second gas station, all I had to do was suck it up and walk in to see the attendant.  Yet, even with my fatiquing day, I chose to get in the car and drive out of my way to another gas station.  Why?  I shouldn’t have to rely on a person to complete a simple task.

Our customers would share a similiar sentiment about software support.  Sure, the support team is friendly and helpful and quite a wonderful bunch to work with.  But still, you really don’t want to have to stop what you are doing and rely on a support team to help you complete a routine task.

So I guess this makes the moral from last night: 

If a product interface isn’t simple, people just aren’t going to do it.  And worse– they could be like me.  They could go out of their way to seek out another vendor.

January 19, 2007 at 12:43 am 15 comments

Thank Goodness I’m with the Puparazzi

Earlier this week, injured Sean was eating lunch.  Food alone is enough to attract the dogs, but I wonder if they could also sense Sean’s vunerability.  Both dogs were extremely attentive and watched Sean’s every move.

“All eyes are on you,” I told Sean, “It’s like the paparazzi.”

“The puparazzi,” Sean corrected.

I was uploading pictures to Flickr today and I realized it is good that I am subject to the puparazzi and not the paparazzi.  One of the perks of visting my parents’ house is getting to catch up on back issues of The Enquirer and Us (my parents have subscriptions to both).  It’s a guilty pleasure– not the most productive use of my time and it’s probably not the best influence on my self-esteem. 

I’m not worried about comparing myself to pictures of scrawny Kate Bosworth or Nicole Richie.  I am, however, concerned about Britney Spears.  Over Christmas, I saw a picture in The Enquirer of a hefty, slobby looking Spears.  The caption under the picture read (paraphrased), “The 5’5″ singer has reached 140 pounds.”

Suddenly my care-free entertainment stopped me dead in my tracks.  You see, I’m 5’5″ and I’m pretty darn close to 140… and the way I think I look has very little resemblence to the picture I was gawking at!

If I were to fall under the scruntiny of the paparazzi, though, I would have bigger problems to ponder.  Every now and then a magazine will share two pictures of an actress commiting the cardinal sin of, *gasp*, wearing the same outfit more than once.  Catherine Zeta Jones and Liz Hurley were two that were cited.


Redundancy is good for hardware, web servers and databases, but not so good for Hollywood fashion.

Which brings me back to Flickr.  Today I uploaded some new pictures from a hike at Bottom Creek Gorge.  I was looking at this picture of myself:


See not a thing like Britney Spears

The shirt stuck out.  It reads “Rocky Mountain National Park” and is a souvenir from my Colorado trip last July.  It turns out that shirt has made a number of cameos in my pictures.  Here are some just in the past month:


Hiking with Brian Nenninger


Decorating Cookies with Penn

Now the paparazzi may have taken issue with my redundant warddrobe.  But the puparazzi don’t care one bit… especially if I happen to have food on hand.  🙂  

January 15, 2007 at 12:04 am 1 comment

Hitchcock and Stem Cell Research

Part of Alfred Hitchcock’s brilliance was his ability to work around, and even work with, the censors of his day.  The Production Code which guided the U.S. film industry was particularly strict — it kept toilets off-screen for nearly three decades!  Using his creativity, Hitchcock was able to find ways to work with the restrictions and continue to tell the stories he wanted to tell.   Leonard J. Leff provides numerous antedotes and examples in his article “Hitchcock and the Censors” for the August 1999 issue of World and I.  I’m just sharing a few.

The Production Code prohibited prolonged kisses.  A kiss could not extend for more than three seconds.  In Notorious, Hitchcock got around that by having Cary Grant and Ingrid Bergman do a series of short kisses.  In between, the characters spoke softly, they caressed, they embraced.  To the audience, the scene was intimate.  The scene was moving.  At three minutes long, they were watching what was “the longest kiss in the history of the movies.”  But in actuality, no single kiss extended past the three second limitation.  The scene complied with the set rules.

In Rear Window, the censors would not allow the ballet dancer, Miss Torso, to appear topless.  So Hitchcock showed her doing the opposite of undressing.  He showed her trying to clasp her bra on.  The clasp fails, the brassiere falls to the ground and the character quickly bends to retrieve it.  All the audience sees is her bare back, but the nudity is assumed.

In Rebecca, the censors barred Hitchcock from showing an unnatural attachment (aka lesbian attachment) of the housekeeper to her mistress.  Hitchcock complied.  Instead he had the housekeeper show an unnatural attachment to her mistress’s undergarments.   From that gesture, the housekeeper’s affection for her employer was successfully communicated to the audience.

Finally, the famous shower scene in Psycho.  To the viewers, this was a brutal and horrifying scene.  My own mother struggled with showers after seeing the film.  But the scene wasn’t graphic at all.  In fact, there is not a single shot of the knife puncturing the skin.  There are three quick shots of the knife touching the stomach, but that’s it.  The vicious violence of the scene comes from Hitchcock’s editing and his anticipation of what he could get by the censors.

This week, news on stem cell research has reminded me of Alfred Hitchcock.  Like the Production Code did for Hitchcock, the Bush Administration’s restrictions on new federally-funded embryo stem cell lines provide a limitation, an obstacle, to the researchers.  Just or unjust, that was the hand dealt to Hitchcock and the hand dealt to the researchers.  Just or unjust, both Hitchcock and the stem cell researchers used creativity to work around the restrictions they faced.

 

Discover Magazine’s #15 on their Top 100 Science Stories in 2006 was aptly titled “Stem Cell Setbacks Inspire New Methods“.  It summarized a number of the recent “workarounds” in the field:

In the face of these setbacks, many scientists have focused on new methods of creating stem cell lines without destroying embryos. Traditionally, the process involves plucking the inner cell mass […] which destroys the embryo. In March however, German researchers—working in a political landscape even more restrictive than our own—reported turning sperm-producing cells from adult mouse testes into something very much like embryonic stem cells. A week later, U.S. scientists claimed to have done the same with human cells. In June Italian scientists announced the first human embryonic stem cells derived from parthenotes—embryo-like structures formed when an egg starts to divide on its own, with no sperm involved.  […] In August Japanese scientists reported yet another method for making “personalized” cells without cloning: They treated mouse skin cells with four gene products active in embryonic stem cells and got the skin cells to revert to something much like the stem cells. In September a European team reported coaxing human embryonic stem cells from an “arrested” IVF embryo—one that had stopped dividing before it reached the blastocyst stage and thus died a natural death.

Then this week, an additional announcement revealed Wake Forest researchers had found stem cells in amniotic fluid:

[Researchers at Wake Forest University and Harvard University] reported they were able to extract the stem cells from the fluid, which cushions babies in the womb, without harm to mother or fetus and turn their discovery into several different tissue cell types, including brain, liver and bone.

There are those who cite the censors as unknowing collaborators to Hitchcock’s films, encouraging the director to exercise the subtly he mastered so well, encouraging him to add more mystery and suspense to his tales.  There are those who believe film making lost something once filmmakers could show more.  Hitchcock himself once asked, “Are we missing some other stimulus that went with those earlier [, more restrictive] days?

I suppose, as expertise grows, we’ll be able to tell if the “Less is More” concept applies to stem cell research.  Could the restrictions one day actually be cited as an inadvertent collaborator to the science?!? Time will tell.  And time will tell if these new approaches will be considered brilliant “classics” that are studied and mimicked for generations to come…. or just a costly detour.

Spite would have me root for detour.  But hope, hope has me pulling for Hitchcock.

January 14, 2007 at 4:15 am 9 comments

Hospitals, Aquariums and Pollination

This morning, Sean had surgery for his foot.  I looked back in my journals and it was a year ago to the day that he had back surgery at the same hospital. 

“I went 29 years without surgery,” Sean said, “And now I’ve had two in a year!”

He jokes he should go ahead and take next January 10th off now… in case the trend keeps up. 🙂

This year’s surgery was smoother than last year’s.  Last year, he had to wait 6 hours in a hospital gown before they wheeled him back.  That surgery was scheduled for 10:30 AM and they didn’t take him to anesthesiology until 4:20 PM.  This year, we were already home and settled by that time.  Last year, it took them four tries to get the IV in.  This year, the nurse got it in on the very first try.  Last year, Sean spent the evening suffering from nausea.  This year, he ate our supper of rosemary pork roast, steamed asparagus and mashed potatos with no issue. 

Both years, I was accompanied by my journals and while my husband was under the knife, I got to reflect on the likes of fish and pollination.

Journal Excerpt: 1/10/2006 (Back Surgery)

I was looking at some weird reflections in a fish tank.  The angle of the reflections was such that only half of the nearest fish was reflected — but it was reflected twice.  So you’d see a fish with two heads or two tails.

[Journal includes drawing of a fish with just two heads and a fish with just two tails]

4:20 PM

Right now, it is me and a family of four (3 generations waiting for a 15 year old — how sweet).  That family has spent quite a bit of time discussing the fish.

“Is that one younger?”

“It looks deformed!”

“I think that one is comatose?”

“I’m glad I’m not a fish.”

There is a TV on in the room — but the family is finding much more amusement in the fish tank.

You know what– I like that.  How cool is it that a TV goes ignored?

Journal Excerpt: 1/10/2007 (Foot Surgery)

We’ve waiting in stages – first at patient sign-in, then at the outpatient surgery waiting room, then in Sean’s assigned room, then in the holding room and now I’m back in the outpatient surgery waiting room.

I’ve been reading a lot of the complimentary magazines and as I migrate to the next step of the waiting lifecycle, I carry the most recent issue with me.  When I’m done with the magazine I leave it behind.

Because of me, a recipe magazine migrated from the main lobby to the outpatient waiting area.  Later I brought a gossip magazine from Sean’s private room to another waiting area.

Perhaps I’m just a small part of a bigger system.  All over the hospital, there are other visitors and other patients doing the same thing.  Together we are circulating magazines throughout the building. 

We are like insects and birds.  Those little critters hop from plant to plant, pollinating and spreading seeds across the land.

Here is the hospital, we have a mock ecosystem.  We mimick with glossy pages about life, parenthood, food and celebrities.

January 11, 2007 at 12:29 am 3 comments

Henry: Not as Popular as Butt Sex

As you may know, I’ve been uploading my pictures to Flickr.  The opening page provides stats on your pictures.  How often they’ve been viewed, how many comments and notes and so forth.  Normally my pictures get a very meager response between 6 – 17 views.  If I’m lucky, maybe I’ll get in the 20s.

Well, two recent pictures (the one of Henry with injured Sean and the one of the Butt Sex Rock) are breaking that mold.  Henry providing support to Sean’s leg has pulled in 60 views.

BUT, the “I Love Butt Sex” rock has pulled in 82.

Maybe Henry can gain some ground over the next couple of days.  But for now…. it appears poor Henry is out of his league when it comes to butt sex.

January 8, 2007 at 4:17 pm 1 comment

Beagle Munchausen

Beagles, I’m told, are natural pack animals.  As such they like to be next to things– they like to be in a pack.  With Henry we see this behavior demonstrated mostly on the couch.  If someone is sitting or laying on the couch, Henry is going to be leaning against them.  He likes to be touching someone at all times.

About a year ago, Sean had surgery.  As part of the recovery process, Sean had to lay down for about 8 days straight.  Henry was in absolute heaven.  He had someone to lay on the couch with 24 hours a day.  When I had strep throat for a week, Henry found a similiar profit from my misery.   And now that Sean’s injured his foot, Henry is once again in his optimal environment.

Yesterday, I heard Sean in the living room, “Oh come on now, you can’t possibly think this is a good idea!”

He was speaking to Henry who was weasling his way into a cuddling spot.  I went into the living room to find Henry already established in his staked claim.  Henry had made himself at home underneath Sean’s injured leg. 

It struck me.  If Henry had the brawn or the ability to scheme, he could develop a variation of Munchausen Syndrome.  But instead of inflicting illness or injury on himself or his children, he’d target me and Sean…. or possibly Kevin Ledman.  And instead of seeking attention from doctors and nurses, Henry’s sickness would be fueled by a different craving– couch company.

Luckily, Sean and I can rest easy.  Henry’s just not that smart.  Heck, he isn’t even smarter than an honor student!

January 7, 2007 at 12:35 pm 5 comments

Elvis —Two Points!— Has Left the Building

Sometimes the best Christmas gifts come in small packages.  A number of years ago, my brother-in-law, Clint, got me a collection of South Park Christmas songs.  It’s a gift that keeps on giving, I listen to it every holiday season. 

This year Carolyn and Clint got me another gem.  A copy of Steven Bank’s Home Entertainment Center.  It is a special that aired on Showtime back in 1989.   It was a one-man stage show which took place entirely in a guy’s messy apartment.  He’s under a very tight deadline to finish a speech, but instead of working on it he manages to keep distracting himself.  He’s a wanna-be rock star, so his distractions often involve a variety of musical instruments.  Throughout the show he played a banjo, ukelele, harmonica, multiple guitars, drums and he even played a recorder with his nose.  It was HILARIOUS.   We recorded it on VHS and Carolyn, Jay and I watched it all the time.  

Apparently, we were not alone.  I was reading the IMDB user comments and a number of the comments mimicked our experience:

I think we wore the VHS out that we had copied of it.
-jdgratz

Digging through a box of old videotapes, I was lucky enough to run across this gem that aired on HBO back in 1989. It was a little worn because it was one of those shows that once you see it, you want to show it to everyone you know.
-marobertson

I just about wore out my VHS tape on this show. I’ve lent it out so many times, that I lost track of it over time.
-figgins1

My children were raised on this show, they have it memorized since they were eight or younger(now in their thirties).
-sdbkrop

I saw this show when it aired back in 1989 and was able to tape some of it — which I have watched over and over. 
-A2Jbmns

Somehow my sister found a DVD copy on eBay and gave me a copy for Christmas!  Sean and I watched it last night.  I don’t think I laughed as much as I did when I was a kid, but I do believe I watched the entire show with a smile on my face.  And…I still know the words to most of the songs.  🙂

Anyway, good gift Carolyn and Clint.  And to those of you not lucky enough to have a sister get you a DVD copy, I did notice someone uploaded the performance in seven parts to YouTube. 

P.S.  If there are any other Steven Banks fans out there, he published a novel in 2006 called King of the Creeps.  It looks like it has the same type of rock music theme the Home Entertainment Center show had.

January 6, 2007 at 8:16 pm 3 comments

Fun Times

Last night, there was an hardware issue at Sean’s work.  At midnight, he and I drove to his office and spent the next three hours removing machines from racks, troubleshooting harddrives (well that was entirely Sean’s role), reading The Enquirer’s report on who’s gay in Hollywood (that’s what I did while he worked on harddrives) and getting the machines back on the network.

Another day and another 3 AM adventure.  Tonight, at midnight Sean failed to land a poorly calculated jump.  What he did land was a broken foot.  We just got back from ER and a trip to Walgreen’s 24 hour pharmacy.

I’ve been earning my keep as a wife this week.

Henry hates crutches.

I’m tired.

‘Night.

January 5, 2007 at 3:20 am 3 comments

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