Thursday, December 31, 2009

Goodbye, 2009...

...And Good Riddance!

We ring out the old year tonight with a heaving sigh of relief that this year is over. 2009 was not a good year, for the Gnu Herd or many of our friends and loved ones. The year took a terrible toll, economically, emotionally, physically and personally. Most everyone we know agree, 2009 will go down as "The Year That Sucked."

It truly did. Starting off with a trip to the Emergency Room, continuing with the death of a beloved uncle, and climaxing in the sort of professional betrayal that no one should have to endure from a colleague I trusted implicitly but who proved himself unworthy of any esteem. You may have noticed I don't write about work too often here, and for good reason. I discovered too late that the career advancement I thought was a good idea turned out to be hell in disguise, a dysfunctional, maladjusted daycare for overgrown babies who need a hard spanking and time out in the corner until they learn to act like professional adults.

Two notable exceptions, however, to The Year That Sucked, but I had to wade through a year's worth of crap raining down on my head to get to them:

I finally graduated from The Graduate School with a Master of Science in Information Technology. Hallelujah! Two long, hard years of learning and slogging through long hours of studying, writing, reading, and at times, weeping. But I finally did it, realizing a decade-old goal - and I did it with a perfect 4.0 GPA! On top of that, I was honored to be inducted into the Honor Society and was also awarded the Outstanding Graduate Student of the Year. The Skating Gnu took notice and has been keeping pace with me in her own studies. It's good to know that being a positive role model can have a payoff every now and then.

The second good point from this past year took all damn year to get here, all the way till the last day. Today marks 15 years of our marriage. Ask Mrs. Gnu and she'll agree, what a long, strange trip it's been. I remind her that behind every successful man stands an amazed mother in-law. She reminds me that no one else would put up with my crap for so long, so I'd better not take her for granted. As always, she's right. A saint walks among us, folks!

I'm glad to see 2010 come and take its place, but I hope the next year is better than this last one. I don't think the country - or our circle of family and friends - can take another bad year.

So to all our friends we wish the very best for 2010. We pray for health, happiness and prosperity for everyone! We pray for our country and for those who defend her. We pray for those who are less fortunate that us, for in spite of the trials and tribulations we suffered through this year, there are those with even less to be thankful for. We pray for those people and give thanks for our blessings.

Happy New Year!

Saturday, December 26, 2009

Recipe for a Happy Christmas

Now the birth of Jesus Christ was on this wise: When as his mother Mary was espoused to Joseph, before they came together, she was found with child of the Holy Ghost.

Then Joseph her husband, being a just man, and not willing to make her a public example, was minded to put her away privily.

But while he thought on these things, behold, the angel of the LORD appeared unto him in a dream, saying, Joseph, thou son of David, fear not to take unto thee Mary thy wife: for that which is conceived in her is of the Holy Ghost.

And she shall bring forth a son, and thou shalt call his name JESUS: for he shall save his people from their sins.

Matthew 1:18-21

Over the years, I've learned that all this overhyped commercial nonsense is so distracting that it is real easy to forget the real reason why the holidays exist. We spend too much time in overcrowded malls, wasting too much money on useless junk for people we can't stand to be with the rest of the year, and we wonder why the jingle bells always seem to ring so hollow. Maybe it's time we shunned the malls, banished Santa Clause, stomped out that annoying Jingle Bells song they play on a loop track everywhere, and get back to basics: the Real Reason for the Season, unadulterated, unfiltered, unchanged.

So, I've come up with a holiday recipe that I'm sure will help rekindle the True Spirit, in every sense of the phrase. I meant to post this yesterday, but better late than never. At least this way, you'll have all year to gather up the ingredients...

A Happy Christmas Recipe

Serving size: one heart
Calories: Who the hell cares
Allergy notices: Grinches, drunkards, jerks, drama queens, busybodies and crybabies should not partake unless they are ready to grow up and become real adults for a change.

1 Warm home, ready to receive friends, family and God's blessings
3-4 Roomfuls of people you love, mixed well to induce good conversation
Several handfuls of hugs, liberally sprinkled all over
1 Table full of good eats, all homemade with love
1 Rooftop, overflowing with thanks to God, cheer for fellow men and women
1-2 Warm fireplaces for gatherings
Drinks on the house

Place all ingredients in house, pause to give thanks to God to the wonderful food, great company and all the blessings of life. Plan without fear, welcome without hesitation, mix well and share with each other. Serve and enjoy.

Serve and enjoy. It's the last step in most recipes that were written down by hand and passed from one generation to the next. But isn't that really the sum total of God's wishes for us? Serve... and enjoy. Think about it...

Hope you had a Merry Christmas yesterday, a Rollicking Boxing Day today and a Happy New Year coming up!

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Happy Thanksgiving

Well, we're now in high gear for the holiday insanity season. My expectations for human intelligence wanes to a seasonal low again as hordes of idiots from all corners of the globe crawl out of the woodwork to make fools of our entire species. I'm staying as far away from centers of commerce as I can, including grocery stores until the late, late hours just to keep from getting trampled. Forget the malls, I've been doing my holiday shopping online for the last 11 years. What little holiday shopping I do, that is.

Meanwhile, before the holiday hysteria drowns out reason again, I just wanted to take a moment to wish all of our friends a Happy Thanksgiving from the entire Gnu Herd. We are all thankful for your friendship and support through good times and bad.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Messin' Around

My wife is into the Destination Truth series on the SciFi channel. Yes, that's right: SciFi. I spelled it FUCKING CORRECTLY!! I refuse to use the "new and improved" name. It's a bullshit move and I hate it - what are you positioning the channel's viewership for, Twilight fans or something? Come on!

Anyways, she Tivo'd an episode where the team travels to the Himalayas to track down the Yeti. She's all into it and excited, and instead of sharing her excitement that maybe they'll find some concrete evidence confirming the existence of this mythical creature, all I can think of is...

This was a missed advertising opportunity for these guys:

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

In Flanders Field

In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row

That mark our place; and in the sky

The larks, still bravely singing, fly

Scarce heard amid the guns below.

We are the Dead. Short days ago

We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved and were loved, and now we lie

In Flanders fields.

Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw

The torch; be yours to hold it high.

If ye break faith with us who die

We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields.

Lieutenant Colonel John McCrae, MD (1872-1918)

A big thank you to all veterans - past, present and future - for all you do to protect freedom around the world! Every generation must repay the debt that is owed for the freedoms we enjoy. The generation that absolves itself of this, damns its future to miserable servitude.

Thank a veteran today. Do it again tomorrow.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Remember, Remember

Remember, remember the Fifth of November,
The Gunpowder Treason and Plot,
I know of no reason
Why the Gunpowder Treason
Should ever be forgot.

Guy Fawkes, Guy Fawkes, t'was his intent
To blow up the King and Parli'ment.

Three-score barrels of powder below
To prove old England's overthrow;
By God's providence he was catch'd
With a dark lantern and burning match.

Holloa boys, holloa boys, let the bells ring.
Holloa boys, holloa boys, God save the King!

While Guy Fawkes Day is more of a British event than here, the thought that a holiday can or should be dedicated to the remembrance of an act of treason is fascinating to me. We have no real equivalent here in the United States, no Benedict Arnold Day or such. So why is it so important for Britons to remember an attempted terrorist act that happened 404 years ago today?

Perhaps it's an important social reminder to succeeding generations of the importance of respect for the bounds of civil society, beyond which we should not let our passions take us. Originally there was an anti-catholic bent to the celebrations, but this was replaced over the years with the rhyme above, fireworks, and "a Penny for the Guy." The reminder that one's act of treason will not be forgotten is a powerful meme, one with strong social ties to the community to remind people that while it may be permissible in the pursuit of social discourse to take up opposing sides of important issues of the day, there are boundaries that are not to be crossed.

Indeed, this reminder might be a valuable token to offer our own so-called leadership in this country as to their obligations to respect the bounds of ethics, morality and the timeless values that bind human society together in ways that strengthen without enslaving, and without which society is reduced to anarchy and chaos. Leaders in business, government, religion, education and culture seem to have forgotten that to lead is to serve, that those who follow are not vassals to be toyed about or trifled with. Leaders who have fallen from the path of truth, who accept expediency over deliberation, the quick answer over the right answer, form over function, "right now" instead of just plain right.

The message needs to go further, to those who take their ill-considered beliefs to such extremes as to destroy the fabric they claim to be saving from others, those instigators who drive the masses towards decisions their grandchildren will regret for them. We should take notice of a month in history that should remind all future generations of the persistence of consequences that arise from ill-begotten actions: Red October, culminating in the 25th, 1917. In more recent history, we see how faith is twisted to serve evil purposes, to massacre innocent women and children for no other purpose than to amass power and reduce humanity to mere playthings of pretend gods, living - but mostly dying - at their idle whim. There are no greater evils in our world today than Fascist Islam, Socialism and Communism, who together have murdered and enslaved nearly half the planet.

These bankrupt philosophies are being repudiated around the world as people in many countries emerge from the darkness of misery, yet here in our own country, a cadre of "useful idiots" plow forth down the same paths to ruin, while the drunken and passionate cry of ignorant citizens along for the ride drives them on.

Remember, indeed. Treason to moral principles and values that are ageless, even God-given, is just as bad as betraying your country, and the consequences will be visited to the seventh generation.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Jockey's Ridge

In spite of the weather reports that spelled out gloom and doom all week, the weather in the norther Outer Banks wasn't all that bad last week. So we went for a trip out to Jockey's Ridge State Park.

This is the largest natural sand dune on the East Coast and is visible for miles around the area. I've never taken the opportunity to visit until now, and I can tell you, I'm really glad I didn't come here in the summer. The sand goes on for miles and I can only imagine how hot that would be in August. Sand temperatures tend to be much hotter than the surrounding air, so if it's 100 degrees outside, expect the sand you're walking on to be at least 120. Ouch!

Coming in October was good idea for cold-weather folks like us. Made for a much more enjoyable visit. Maybe next time, I can convince The Missus to let me go hang gliding!

Enjoy some more pictures from our hike around the park:

Above and below: Satellite dunes on the western side of Jockey's Ridge facing the Roanoke Sound. These smaller dunes move around a lot, and around the park in many spots you can see where some of the larger ones have swallowed up trees and shrubs. The more stable dunes provide shelters for tree groves and shrub thickets that become home to a wide variety of birds, mammals and reptiles. Walking along the nature trail, we were able to identify tracks from Raccoons, Possums, Egrets, a Hog Nose Snake, and field mice. In the air we saw Egrets, Cormorants, Geese, Ospreys, and Cranes. Thankfully, we had a steady 10mph wind that day so there were no mosquitoes buzzing around our heads.

Below: Roanoke Sound front at the western edge of the park. We found Brine Shrimp in little isolated pockets of still water along the edge and a fish or two jumping out of the water to greet us. Dragonflies were buzzing all over, darting in and out in search of prey.

Above and below: My attempts at photographing interesting sand formations along the dune face. For the most part, these are "raw" photos with no intense digital enhancements, only minor color adjustments to even out the saturation. My only accessory is a circular polarizing filter on my lens to clean up the sky and bring the clouds out.

Below: There is a semi-permanent brackish-water marsh in the Wadi at the base of Jockey's Ridge that is a favourite landing point for many species of migratory birds and also is home to a wide variety of other animals and plants.

all photos copyright
2009, The Smoking Gnu
All rights reserved.

Monday, November 2, 2009

Don't Look Down!

Scottie: It's because of this fear of heights I have, this acrophobia. I wake up at night seeing that man fall from the roof and I try to reach out to him, it's just...

Midge: It wasn't your fault.

: I know. That's what everybody tells me.

: Johnny, the doctors explained to you.

Scottie: I know. I know. I have acrophobia which gives me vertigo and I get dizzy. Boy, what a moment to find out I had it!

: Well, you've got it and there's no losing it. And there's no one to blame, so why quit?

: You mean and sit behind a desk, chair-bound...

: ...where you belong.

: What about my acrophobia? What about... Now, suppose, suppose I'm sitting in this chair behind a desk, here's the desk, and a pencil falls from the desk down to the floor, and I reach down to pick up the pencil - BINGO - my acrophobia's back.

: [Laughing.] Oh, Johnny-O.

-Vertigo (1958)
Alfred Hitchcock

Well, the Gnu Herd had a great time at the beach. When we got tired of looking at scenery right off the back porch like this...

...we went out to explore the island. Some friends came down to join us for the weekend, so we went up to Currituck Village to climb to the top of the lighthouse. Here's another video postcard from the top of the lighthouse:

Great view, huh? Don't look down if you're afraid of heights!!

Again, from the west side, looking over at the Keeper's house:

Yes, I know, my thumb makes another cameo appearance. Still, that's a lot better than filming my iPhone's untimely demise!

Looking up the spiral staircase on our way to the top...

Hello, hello (Hola!)
I'm at a place called Vertigo (¿Donde esta?)
It's everything I wish I didn't know

Except you give me something

I can feel, feel.

-U2, Vertigo
How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb (2004)

Here's some slightly more sane pictures of the grounds...

The Keeper's Quarters, at ground level:

Nice digs, huh?

The lighthouse from the sound:

The nature trail along the Currituck Sound:

The Currituck Sound:

Dunno why they call it a sound... I didn't hear a damn thing.

all photos and videos copyright
2009, The Smoking Gnu

Saturday, October 31, 2009

Say Hello To My Little Friend

Walking back from the ocean the other day, I nearly did something that would have caused me to break out in tears of anguish... I almost stepped on this gorgeous fellow:

photo copyright
2009, The Smoking Gnu

Yep. That's a King Snake. A four-foot beauty too! Just sitting there on the boardwalk sunning himself when I came along and nearly walked right into him. These snakes are worth their weight in gold to a farm boy like me. Why? Easy... these buggers are so tough, they will kill a Copperhead! King snakes are great mousers too, better than any damn cat.

For a non-venomous snake, they are very excitable and aggressive in defending themselves. Then again, I did almost step on him, so I'm sure he was a bit upset at my clumsiness. I managed to catch him and after a bit of handling, I tamed him so me and the Skating Gnu could spend the afternoon playing with him while Mrs. Gnu cowered inside. She still doesn't quite understand my affection for these creatures, but bless her heart she puts up with it in her own way.

We keep finding ways of meeting up with all sorts of interesting fauna out here on the island. Two years ago, we ran into a Cottonmouth, this year a King snake - definitely an improvement!

After playing with him for a bit, we turned him loose on the dunes next to the ocean so he could continue doing his part in keeping the Town of Duck mouse-free.

Hopefully Copperhead-free too...

Life's a Beach

Back to the Outer Banks again this week. It's an annual pilgrimage that I look forward to every year. I don't care how much crap the universe throws on me, I'm gonna make it here and just relax for a week. This year especially, I need a damn break!

In case you were wondering what is it about Duck that draws us here, and at this time of the year, here are a couple of video postcards for you:

Did you see that? Exactly. Not a damn thing. No one around to pester me, and the weather has been in the mid-60s all week.

Here's another one for you, and this time I make a cameo appearance.

Well, my thumb does, anyways. Sorry about that. Some day's I'm just all thumbs!

all videos copyright
2009, The Smoking Gnu

Friday, October 2, 2009

Success by Degrees

My diploma arrived in the mail the other day. Got my name on it and everything.

Now it really hits home what I've accomplished and how hard I had to work for it. It's been a month since I finished my last class. I have since tried to replace the time with other projects and spend time with my family, but the intensity of these activities does not match what was required to finish those classes. I've been mostly hanging around the house not knowing what to do with myself, getting under foot and driving my wife nuts.

Conversations of the Damned, Part XXIV

After a week of getting in my wife's way, she'd finally had enough...

Mrs. Gnu: "Get outta my way, will ya? Don't you have homework to do?"

Me: "Umm.... NO!"


Mrs. Gnu: "Wasn't there a PhD program you were interested in...?"

God help this poor woman the day after I retire!

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Do They Have to Grow Up So Fast?

Get thee to a nunnery, go: farewell. Or, if thou wilt needs marry, marry a fool; for wise men know well enough what monsters you make of them.

-Hamlet, Act 3, Scene 1

Saturday, The Skating Gnu had her first date. Let me repeat that in case you missed it:

Her. First. Date.

When the hell did she get old enough to go out on dates?!?!? So, we agreed to meet her beau somewhere for sodas and hamburgers. His parents and me at one table, the two of them at another table, trying their best to wish us away or at least make us invisible.

All in all, it went off pretty well. Good, wholesome fun was had by all, hands remained on top of the table, daylight between everyone, etc. Nice kid, I should add, and just to answer the question written all over your faces, no, I did not bring semi-automatic weaponry. I left them all at home, well cleaned and polished. And loaded.

Dammit, she's growing up way too fast. There is talk of a second date sometime in the near future. Mrs. Gnu can chaperon the next one: my poor heart can't take anymore of this.

I feel old...

It's the end of the world as we know it.
It's the end of the world as we know it.
It's the end of the world as we know it,
And I feel fine.


Thursday, September 3, 2009

Victory Dance

I've paid my dues, time after time,
I've done my sentence, but committed no crime.
And bad mistakes, I've made a few,
I've had my share of sand kicked in my face,
But I've come through.

We are the champions, my friends!
And we'll keep on fighting till the end!
We are the champions,
We are the champions,
No time for losers,
'Cause we are the champions of the world!

I've taken my bows, and my curtain calls.
You brought me fame and fortune, and everything that goes with it,
I thank you all.

But it's been no bed of roses, no pleasure cruise.
I consider it a challenge before the whole human race,
And I ain't gonna lose!

We are the champions, my friends!
And we'll keep on fighting till the end!
We are the champions,
We are the champions,
No time for losers,
'Cause we are the champions of the world!

We are the Champions

Grades were posted last night. I got my A. That gives me a perfect 4.0 GPA for my Master's Degree.

Holy Cow. A perfect score. It belies the fact that this was two long, hard years of intensive study like on other I've attempted. It may look easy, but I put a lot of hard work and long hours into it. And I definitely believe that I got a lot out of this effort. I'm a lot better prepared to tackle my career path, especially now that I've moved up into management. There's a lot I still have to learn, but I've learned a lot already that I can use every day.

Test anxiety has now been packed away and sent off to cold storage.

Now all that's left to do is order my graduation robes an mortarboard. My wife and daughter got a big laugh from the order form: it asks for my height. Smartasses.

Will I wear anything underneath?

Stay tuned...

Wednesday, September 2, 2009


COTD Part XVIII: For Science!!

The Skating Gnu: Daddy, I need your help with a science experiment.

Me: Okay, what's the experiment?

TSG: (Reads assignment) Prove that you are matter.

Me: *poke*

TSG: Ow!

Me: *poke* *poke* *poke* *poke* *poke* *poke* (you get the point)

TSG: Ow! Ow! Ow! Ow! STOP IT!!!!

Me: Quod Erat Demonstratum! I've proved you are matter, and as a bonus you are madder!

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

The End of the Line

Well it's all right, even when push comes to shove,
Well it's all right, if you got someone to love,
Well it's all right, everything'll work out fine,
Well it's all right, we're going to the end of the line.

-End of the Line
The Traveling Wilburys

I posted my final, final exam this morning. I did it entirely by accident, however. Pushed the wrong button, but maybe it was a good thing. I was still reviewing my answers, tweaking my responses to the questions, and just all around agonizing over the damn thing. Time to be done with it. Worst I can do is flunk the test and if I've done my math right, I'll still pass the course with a C. Good enough to graduate, but I'd really like to get that last A.

What a long two years it's been. When I first started this, I had no idea how hard it would be to see it all the way through. I put a lot into this, and I feel like I've gotten every bit as much out, plus interest. Education is always a good investment, but more especially if you dive into it like there's no tomorrow.

So now, no more homework. no more reading thick textbooks or scrambling to organize research for papers. Test anxiety has been packed into a box and put in cold storage. I'm now in decompression mode, numb from the knowledge that I have lots of free time on my hands. It just feels weird not having so much stuff to do all night. I've accomplished something big for myself. It feels good, yet at the same time, a journey has ended. I've reached my goal.

This truly is the end of the line.

Time to start a new one.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Two Weeks Notice

Yep, that's right. Two weeks.

No, I'm not quitting anything. Tomorrow starts week 7 of 8 for my last class at the Graduate School. Wow. After two long years, it's finally coming to a close. The finish line is in sight. One last surge, the final push, dig deep and run like hell, eyes on the prize...

Just. Don't. Fucking. TRIP!

I'm holding on to an A in the last class, I. T. Project Management. With a death grip. Not letting go. I've maintained a perfect 4.0 average all the way through. All A's. Whoodathunkit?!?!

I kid you not, this has been a tough degree curriculum. This school is no easy ride. I put a lot of long hours into this, and I took every assignment seriously. That's just what you have to do to be successful. That's the advice I give every prospective student from grade school to grad school: you get out of it what you put into it. So dive in like there's no tomorrow.

Two more weeks, one more final exam, then I can start planning the party to end all parties. This one's gonna make the evening news.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

The Way It Was: Walter Cronkite Remembered

An American icon passed away Friday. Walter Cronkite, once called "the most trusted man in America" has passed away at age 92. He is remembered as the pinnacle of journalistic professionalism and integrity, due to his even-handed reporting of the facts as they are, without spin or hidden agendas ready to leap out and pound the viewer over the head. He knew people expected the truth, warts and all, and that's what he endeavored to achieve.

“Objective journalism and an opinion column are about as similar as the Bible and Playboy magazine.” - Walter Cronkite

This is why viewers trusted him. He stuck to the facts. He left the opinions and spin control to pundits who were clearly identified as opinion providers, not newsmen. There is no doubt that he had opinions, but he recognized the absolute necessity of separating those from his obligation to stick to the facts and report the news as objectively as he could, not only for the sake of his viewers, but to preserve the integrity of the news itself. He defined the role of Anchorman like no other before or since. The term itself was created for him, and no one else wore the title like he did.

This is in sharp contrast to the yellow journalism and petty guttersnipes that have infested the news organizations of today. It is absolutely inexcusable how the press has allowed itself to degenerate to such depths of mediocrity, saddling itself with carrying water for political hacks whose ideals are half-baked at best or worse, place the future of our American civilization in grave danger of collapse and ruin.

Journalism and Mass Communication, as a profession, has sunk to levels of distrust usually reserved for used car or insurance salesmen. Even politicians, the new slave masters for so many "reporters" in the field today, rate higher in the public eye, which isn't saying much at all. How can you report the news and be credible if you're in bed with the very subjects you are reporting on? The line between reporter and commentator has been blurred so much that the two can no longer operate separately. And this has killed the primary objective of journalism: to report the truth.

“Our job is only to hold up the mirror - to tell and show the public what has happened.” -Walter Cronkite

There will never again be another man in whom the American people can trust to tell the truth. What a sad reality we must learn to live with.

And that's the way it is.

Walter Leland Cronkite, Jr.
November 4, 1916 – July 17, 2009

Saturday, July 4, 2009

An Independence Day Message

The Gnu Herd is having a muted celebration of America's Independence this year.

Not only because of the loss of our freedoms thanks to a runaway Congress hell-bent on instituting Soviet-style Communism whether the American people want it or not; an activist Judiciary who can no longer comprehend the concept of Equal Protection under the Rule of Law; a rank-amateur of a President who cannot form a single cogent thought on his own without the hidden hand of a teleprompter behind the throne; a fawning - nay, fellating - press frittering away its trusted obligation to report the whole truth as it is, in favour of carefully scripted, over-choreographed press conferences that avoid the truth altogether; and a plebeian voting population that is completely incapable of rational thought, their hearts set upon, just as in Roman times, bread and circuses. These things happen throughout the course of human history, and it is the fate of our generation to relearn these lessons all over again, so our progeny can pick up the pieces of our ruined civilization and start afresh.

No, our sadness goes deeper and more personal: we lost a favourite uncle this week. Mrs. Gnu's uncle passed away at the end of June after a quick decline in health. We mourn his passing and the loss of his presence in our lives. He was almost 80 and had lived a good, happy life, loved by all who knew him.

He was also a veteran of the Korean War and this brings me to the heart of my message. Veterans stood up to be counted to perform a sacred duty to their country, and whether they were drafted or volunteered, they did not run away. These men and women fought hard in all corners of the globe to defend our freedoms, our country, our way of life from enemies of all kinds: Communism, Fascism, National Socialism (look that one up, little children, and never forget), Islam, and in many cases just stepping in to do the right thing while the world stood by and talked about the weather (Grenada, Liberia, Somalia, Serbia, Lebanon, Kuwait, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Panama, yeah the list goes on and on to the continuing shame of the rest of the world). Veterans performed their duty with honour and they deserve our enduring thanks.

The veterans of Korea have largely been forgotten, stuck as it were between the Greatest Generation and the Baby Boomers. Their contribution to our heritage is no less important however. They deserve our heartfelt thanks just as much as any other group that stood to defend our country. My wife's uncle had lots of stories to tell about his times on the peninsula at the 38th Parallel. We heard about triumph, tragedy, comedy, boredom, sadness and danger. We learned a lot about what it means to answer the call of duty, even in the face of rising voices of complacency, cowardice and political abandonment, which would become even more shrill and irrational in the coming decade for another war.

Most people do not know anything about the Korean War except for the TV comedy, M*A*S*H (a great show in its own right, but hardly a record of the true story). Try finding someone who can tell you what MiG Alley was, or where Pork Chop Hill is located on a map - not because they read about it, but because they were there and remember what it was really like. If you're lucky enough to know a veteran, take the time to sit a spell and listen. Their story is part of our folklore, a personal deposit into the archives of American history, and a fast-disappearing one at that. Don't let their voices go unheard, their experiences lost with the dimming of years and fading of memories. Don't just hug a veteran, listen to them tell their tale. They have an important contribution to the history of our nation, and if we disregard their lessons, we may find ourselves repeating the tragedies they suffered through.

For all true Americans, serving abroad in uniform, holding down the home-front, and standing up for the shining ideal that is the Spirit of America, we extend our wishes for a Safe and Happy Independence Day.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Happy Canada Day

A holiday postcard to all of our friends North of the Border...

O Canada!
Our home and native land!
True patriot love in all thy sons command.
With glowing hearts we see thee rise,
The True North strong and free!
From far and wide, O Canada,
We stand on guard for thee.
God keep our land glorious and free!
O Canada, we stand on guard for thee.
O Canada, we stand on guard for thee.

Monday, June 1, 2009

Call of Duty

Mrs. Gnu is not feeling well this morning. So, being the loyal, loving husband I am, I decide to work from home. The office is 20 feet down the hall from the bedroom, same floor, no minefields, fences or Indiana Jones type of traps across the way.

So, here I am, just hacking away at the morning's to-do list, when my cell phone rings.

Me: "Hello?"

The Missus: "Hi Sweetie!"

Me: "Why are you calling me on my cell?"

TM: "I've been calling you for 5 minutes and you haven't responded!"

Me: (pure instinct) "That's odd, there's nothing in my voicemail..." (Checks both phones for missed calls and messages)

TM (growling): "That's not what I meant!"

Once a geek, always a geek!

Gotta run, duty calls.

Sunday, May 31, 2009

When It Rains, It Pours

What is it with my life, where everything happens all at one time? Let's recap the past three days, shall we?

Friday: Total outage of the entire building housing our company's headquarters resulted in a hard crash of every single computer. We spent all day scrambling to restore systems to a reasonably stable condition. Needless to say, we are holding an ass-kicking contest at the power company next week.

Saturday: A major software deployment and hardware reconfiguring project rolled out to the data center. We started at 5am and didn't finish until.. well, truth be told, we're still doing parts of it. We lost a day in preparation for this (see above) so we came in Saturday morning with a sense of fear and trepidation we haven't had in releases past.

Sunday: I have a mid-term exam due by midnight. I just finished the damn thing and I need a stiff drink! Another one of those "tell me everything you know about ______." Nine of those questions and 4 hours to answer them, one shot, no repeats. I'd be hard pressed to give good answers if I had four days!

And now, for the monthly news...

A quick update on school: I got an A for IT Security, even if the professor did have a typo in my grade. All I have left is the capstone course, already in progress, and IT Project Management. After that, one HELL of a long nap to make up for all the late nights studying and scrambling to complete assignments on time, then on to graduation. Followed by a party that will probably make international headlines.

A quick update on my transition into management: some days, it sucks being the boss. You try to find ways to make things work, help people out, and you get kicked in the nuts for your efforts. There are days where all I hear is bitching and whining; I'm getting good at tuning out the noise and perking up only at the parts where I can do something about it. Still, it's therapeutic for them to vent, so I let it ride, even if it does get me down at times.

A quick update on family: The Skating Gnu had a great hockey season. They made it all the way to the semi-finals. She's made honor roll again, a perfect record for the entire school year. Mrs. Gnu is doing well, still putting up with my crap. God only knows why, some days I can't stand myself.

A quick update on me: I'm still kicking. For now. Who else did you think was writing this!?!?

Monday, May 25, 2009

In Remembrance

Today, we take pause from our busy lives to remember those whose lives are no more. Who gave their lives that we may live free. What is the price of freedom? For some, it is a mere birthright, something that they go though their entire, happy-go-lucky lives taking for granted. For others, it is a hard-fought victory, paid for in blood, tears, sweat and the sacrifice of everything near and dear. For still others, it is a far-off dream, unattainable, impossible, even dangerous to reach for.

For the few, it is a gift, handed off with their last breath, from the dying to the unborn; a gift of life, love and hope, paid for in full. Life and freedom are inseparable: without one, the other does not matter. They are priceless. Yet, the price is paid each generation, that the next may enjoy these jewels of God's grace.

Remember the few, who gave their all to protect the many, that they may live on in freedom. Remember the One, from whom all these blessings of life, love and liberty flow.

God Bless America.

Picture (c) 2005 The Smoking Gnu

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Hat Trick!

We just returned from today's hockey game in the Capital City's satellite community, known as the Containment Area for Relocated Yankees. Well, the Skating Gnu showed them who's boss: she finally made good on a goal she'd set for herself at the beginning of the season...

She finally got a hat trick!

On top of that, she was awarded the game puck, too. Moreover, I have to pay out the $50 hat trick bonus I've been hanging out there all season.

She'll be walking on several layers of clouds for a few days.

After that, probably going shopping. That's my girl!

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

April Update

Wow, where did the month of March go? It was just here a moment ago. Maybe I left it in my other jeans pocket and it got run through the washer. Oh, great, now I've got it all over my clothes. I'll never get that stain out!

Two birthdays down since my last posting. One for me, one for The Missus. I don't mind getting older - it sure as hell beats the alternative! I just wish it didn't hurt so much. The aches and pains of age are starting to pile on now. I had a follow-up with my doctor about a sharp pain in my side that's been bothering me for quite a while. After much poking and prodding - "Doc, it hurts right here," "Right there?" *POKE* "Ouch! Yes, dammit! There!" - we finally have a diagnosis. Somehow, I have managed to poke myself in the ribs... with my own floating rib! How the flying hell I managed to do that is anyone's guess!

Oh well. Another month gone, and anther class gone too. This last one was a real bear. (Run, Taco! The polar bears are going to college now!!) They have finally put a disclaimer on the Global IT Management course description that you will spend 30-plus hours per week on homework and research assignments. NOW they tell me! I worked my ass off in this class. Thirty hours is a low estimate, I figure with the weekends and late nights I spent close to 40 hours a week. Thankfully, I got an A to show for all my effort.

I've also gotten something else in the mail that left me totally floored. I have been invited to join an academic honor society at the Graduate School. Only the top 10% are invited. Wow. Just... wow. I never had the chance to do anything like this in my undergrad years. Then again, I never really applied myself like I should have back in those days. The induction ceremony is in May, so I've booked a flight, room and rental car, and I'll be heading down to the school for a couple of days of ego massaging.

I could use the break from work, too. Let's see, where were we in the continuing saga of transitioning to management...

Oh yeah. Delivering bad news. I've never been an expert at this. It reminds me of the episode of Scrubs where they have one doctor that is so good at delivering the "you're going to die" news that the patient and family are left cheering. I can't do that. It's not the avoidance of confrontation or lack of courage, it's the knowledge that I'm doing something that will impact someone's life and career. I want to ensure I have my facts straight before making a decision from which there's no turning back.

I spend a lot of time on the job sticking up for my team against other groups who don't appreciate all that we do, so having to break a boot off in their asses is difficult, even if they do deserve it. I remind myself that it's not personal, and I also try to say that after I have to jerk a knot in someone's head. I'm not sure if they believe me, though. The real problem is if you keep on having to get all over someone who's not doing their job, they're certainly going to convince themselves that everyone's out to get them.

The team has been through a lot this past year: upper management upheavals, a new boss to learn to deal with, pay cuts, layoffs, and the work keeps piling up. It's no surprise they're worn out from all this. Coming in from the outside, it's been a real challenge for me to learn all the nuances of how things work at the company, who's a straight shooter, who's a bullshitter, who's the real superstar, who's the slacker, and who isn't getting the attention they need or deserve. It would be a lie to say that I've got a handle on it, because the moment I think I got things under control, something will happen to bust it all loose again.

You never truly understand these challenges until you cross over to the other side of the desk. That was the biggest surprise of all to me. I've got a lot left to learn...

Meanwhile, I only have three courses left. This one I'm halfway through now is Intro to IT Security. After that, I'm kinda putting the cart before the horse in taking the capstone course (Advanced Information Systems Management) next, then IT Project Management. The capstone is supposed to be the last one but I don't want to wait an extra semester to take it when it's offered next after this coming semester. If all goes well, I'll be done by the end of August. Graduation is in December, exactly 20 years after I graduated with my Bachelors. Expect the party to end all parties.

What a long, strange trip it's been. Hey, wasn't that a song...?

Monday, March 16, 2009

Time Stand Still

Those who know me understand the significance of these songs today. Shouldn't be too hard to figure out.

Saturday, February 7, 2009

Five-Alarm Breakfast

Life is never dull around here. This morning is a good example, not only of how a simple morning activity can turn into an international incident, but also how it never fails that I'll be the one to prove the truth behind a popular saying.

I got up this morning craving a country breakfast. So, I got the biscuits in the oven, the grits in the pot, eggs all scrambled and the ham cooking away in the pan. Country ham... yum! It's salty and tough to some but heaven on a plate to me on a cool mid-winter's morning. Frying away, I hear this annoying beeping. I investigate:

Alarm clock: nope.
Doorbell: nope.
Washer/Dryer: nope/nope.
Cell phones: nope. nope. nope. nope. (Yeah, we got a few.)

About this time, I hear the phone ring. I'm multitasking, so I put it on speaker.

Me: Hello?

Caller: Yes, hello, this is the home security monitoring service. We have an alarm reporting from your location. Is everything okay?

Me: As far as I know, yes, we are fine. [I walk over and check the alarm keypad] Yep, there's a code appearing [I read off the number] what is that?

Caller: It's the fire alarm.

Entire family, all at once: ROTFLMAO

Caller: Sir? Sir? Is everything okay? Did you find out what set off the fire alarm?

Me: We are fine. Shall I cook up more ham and eggs for the Fire Chief?


Thus, I have gone down in family lore and legend as living proof of Jeff Foxworthy's axiom, "You know you're a redneck if the fire alarm doubles as an oven timer."

Monday, January 19, 2009

Executive Orders

When they turn the pages of history,
When these days have passed long ago,
Will they read of us with sadness,
For the seeds that we let grow?

We turned our gaze from the castles in the distance.
Eyes cast down on the path of least resistance.

Cities full of hatred fear and lies,
Withered hearts and cruel, tormented eyes.
Scheming demons dressed in kingly guise,
Beating down the multitude and scoffing at the wise.

The hypocrites are slandering
The sacred halls of truth,
Ancient nobles showering
Their bitterness on youth.

Can't we find the minds that made us strong?
Cant we learn to feel what's right and wrong?

"A Farewell to Kings"

Tomorrow marks an historic transition in America. Some will celebrate with unbridled, wild abandon, while others will mourn far too bitterly the change from one President to the next. I have to admit that I have a lot of apprehension about the incoming Chief Executive. He has no experience, he's too far to the left, ignorant in too many vital areas, too closely associated with dangerous socialist ideals, too naive and has too many puppeteers pulling his strings.

On the other hand, he's replacing a fucking retarded chimpanzee, who squandered one historic opportunity after another for greatness. Who in turn replaced a philandering idiot married to walking evil, who together did more damage to this country than any enemy could hope to accomplish. Who in turn replaced the chimpanzee's dad, who fell asleep at the helm and set us adrift. Two Democrats, two Republicans. None worth a shit.

You have to go back four Presidents, spanning two decades - a generation! - to find a man worthy enough to be President. Of course, it was the late Ronald Wilson Reagan, 40th President of the Republic, who set the country back on course after the dark days of Vietnam, Watergate, stagflation and the impotent malaise of Jimmy Carter. It took real vision, real courage, and a firm belief that America was better that it had allowed itself to believe it was. He was the first great President in a long time. We have not had a good one since.

Reagan understood certain truths about America:
  • We are eternal optimists.
  • We are hard working, creative and energetic.
  • We believe in truth, justice and Liberty.
  • We are a great nation because of our spirit, not government.
  • We are a great people because we are self-reliant.
  • We have a great future because we have placed our faith and trust in God.
  • America, and the promise she keeps for freedom, remains the last, best hope for mankind.
A few words of advice for our incoming incumbent: Read history. Seriously, get out some history books and study the past, for that explains how we got where we are and where we could be going, for better or worse depending on the choices we make today. Those who forget the past are doomed to repeat it. Go back, and study the great men who founded this Republic, understand why America has succeeded where others have failed, learn how other men who have sat in the office you will occupy tomorrow have faced challenges far darker that these we face today and prevailed.

I really don't care what political party he represents. I don't care what colour he is. I do care what choices he makes and how the consequences of those choices will affect my children's children. I'm willing to give the man a fair shake. He's got a monumental task ahead of him for the next four years. But history will be unspeakably cruel if he screws up.

So make the right choices, Mr. President. Don't screw this up. History is watching.

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Going Global

Well, it's a holiday weekend, and what do you suppose I'm doing to celebrate it?

Yep, you guessed it. Another class has started and I have three assignments due by tomorrow. Finished one last night, two more to go.

This one is Global Information Technology Management. Should be fun. The books are actually really good reads, consisting of Michael Porter's seminal tomes on competitive strategy (only one was required, but Amazon had a great deal on the 3-volume set so I picked it up for less than half what the University bookstore wanted for it) and good study of how to apply Sun Tzu's Art of War to modern business.

It's not often that you run across textbooks that are actually enjoyable to read. In all fairness, however, these books weren't written as textbooks, but rather as books. For some reason, that seems to help. The closest approximation I've run across to a readable textbook was Thomas Sowell's Basic Economics, and the follow-up volume, Applied Economics.

Update from the last posting: There is no update. Still pursuing leads to explain what happened. Apologies to friends and family for the scare, but this is how life goes. One day you're running around the house with a red towel wrapped around your neck and your Underoos on the outside of your pants. Next day, you keel over. Life happens in between. Don't forget to live it.

Okay, enough morbid thoughts. Off to write papers!

Sunday, January 4, 2009

Who Finished Who?

Well, the garage is clean. So is the office closet. I wanted to tackle the other closets and the filing cabinets but I have filled up the dumpster to capacity. So the rest will have to wait until another time. Still, I can look back and see the progress I have made and tell a real difference in the way these two parts of the house look. In a total of two intensive working days, I have thrown out enough stuff to fill up a big roll-off container.

Unfortunately, there were some brief side effects to all this.

About 2am this morning, I woke up with chest pains, shortness of breath, cold sweat, dizziness and nausea. The Missus roused the Gnu Herd in an air raid scramble and broke her personal best landspeed record rushing me to the emergency room. A bunch of checks later and we have ruled out heart attack. I'm home resting. That's the good news.

Bad news is, no one is sure what hit me or whether it was a one-timer or something that's coming back. We'll find out soon as I pursue answers. Wish me luck.

Thursday, January 1, 2009

Gnu Year's Day

All is quiet on New Years Day,
A world in white gets underway,
And I want to be with you,
Be with you, night and day.
Nothing changes on New Years Day.

-U2, New Years Day

Happy New Year everyone! We've now left 2008 behind, even if it did take one extra second to close the books. That's right, 2008 was a leap-second year. Who'dathunkit?

Now that the holidays are over and done with, I hope we can all get back to work without any further insanity. Just to be sure, here is my annual holiday postcard:

Okay, enough merriment. Back to work!

Speaking of work, the garage is now pristine and in perfect order. In other words, I threw out everything but the car. And I'm not too keen on keeping it, either. The dumpster is chock full of crap and I had to get in and jump up and down on the piles of detritus to make room for the office and closets. The construction company said the first ton of haul-away is free and he's only known two customers who ever went over that. I think I will make it into that rarefied category, given how much I still have to do inside the house.

Up next: the closets. Cover me, I'm going in!