Stack overflow

Better tighten your shoelaces, everyone, because I am about to combine software, brain trauma, elementary school, piles of junk, and who knows what else — oh yeah, New Jersey — into the next several hundred words.

First of all, stack overflow. For those of you who are mercifully uninitiated, that is, those of you who were never forced to learn what the heck it means, it means that the computer memory got all jammed up, and it didn’t have enough room to put everything. It overflowed. Who knows why they use the word stack? I don’t.

CAUTION! ABSOLUTELY USELESS ETYMOLOGY LESSON AHEAD! And why do they use the word “bug” to describe a problem in computer stuff? Well, it was a moth that gummed up the works way back in the dark ages of room-sized laptops. You can find it taped to the pages of a log book on display at the Smithsonian Institute. The word “bug” was used to describe something out of whack long before computers came along, but this moth brought it to the computer world, and it also inspired the invention of the word “debugging” by computing pioneer Grace Murray Hopper, a word still used today to describe the process of ridding computer software of its flaws.END USELESS ETYMOLOGY LESSON

Now where was I? Oh yeah, stack overflow. Having gone through that stroke thing, that brain trauma incident, the grand explosion, the Brain Twister, I have a new perspective on stack overflow. Some of my stacks overflowed, all right.

I’ve muttered a bit about how I’ve lost the ability to do long division, but that never really mattered to me all that much—that’s what calculators are for. More significantly, my ability to do anything sparkling on a computer just fizzled.

You’ve seen the commercials on TV where those little girls go stamping along the tops of picnic tables flinging the tops of their computers at each other, haven’t you, showing off how great Microsoft Surface is, or completely grown men in completely serious business meetings snap their laptops shut in corporate harmony while some well-paid orchestral group swells in eight-part harmony? Yeah, well, I don’t get it.

We gave NF one of those Surface things for Christmas, and I sat down with it the other night, and it sparkles, all right. Wow, does it sparkle. I mean, I wanted to play with it so much I broke a sweat. (This is the first time he has let it out of his room since paper-tearing day because he loves it so much, so it’s the first chance to play with it that I have had.)

But as I sat there watching it sparkle, I realized that I couldn’t sparkle back. I couldn’t even glimmer back. I could give off a sort of dull glow, like a flashlight about to die.

Yeah, I don’t get it. My stacks have definitely overflowed forever. I have become one of those geezers who can’t figure out new technology.

Much to CF’s dismay, I will always be a stacker. She, on the other hand, is a stuffer. I pile everything into stacks; she stuffs everything into drawers. My piles drive her crazy; her stuffed drawers drive me nuts.

I have a theory that every successful couple has one stacker and one stuffer. I don’t think two stackers or two stuffers could survive in the same house. If you are part of such a couple (stacker & stacker / stuffer & stuffer) and you are successfully sharing living quarters, please let me know, and send photographic evidence.

One of my vows for the new year was to get rid of the stack overflow from my office. That has not yet happened, and the year is nearly one-fourth gone. Therefore, in order to embarrass myself, I am posting evidence of my overflow, hoping that by next week I can post evidence of my underflow, with an affidavit from CF attesting to my honest cleanup effort (i.e., that I didn’t just stack it elsewhere).

Hmmm. I planned to post photographic evidence, really, but I have spent three days trying to do so, really, that’s why this post is so late, but my withered computer skills once again let me down. With any luck I will post before and after pix next time.

I learned to not be a stuffer the hard way in fifth grade (and, oh no, here comes the New Jersey stuff) when our teacher, Miss Coffin, asked us to rearrange our desks. These were the good old-fashioned wooden desks that had a drawer underneath the top without an end cover into which you could stuff all kinds of papers, and a groove on the top for your pencil or pen and even a hole bored in it for your bottle of ink. I know that makes it sound like the 1890s, but I think they used those desks well into the Clinton administration.

It was the first day back after winter break, and our desks were in a circle around a very bedraggled Christmas tree, which in those benighted days we were allowed to have in our classrooms. As I recall, my sister’s doll got to be the baby Jesus in the school play, and she got to play a dreidel, which offended our Catholic mother somewhat, but seemed to make everything balanced in the school’s ledger. Someone did offer an infant brother for the baby J part, but that offer was rejected,we thought because of the diaper problems, but in hindsight other issues now present themselves.

As we pushed our desks back to their normal places, out from my overstuffed desk drawer fell my brand new glasses case, which I had hastily stuffed in there as soon as I got to school that morning before anyone saw it.

“Ooh,” hissed Donna to Carol, “she got glasses.” I snatched the glasses case up as quickly as I could, but the damage was done. Donna and Carol were the trendsetters, the cool kids, the cheerleaders-in-training, soon to sprout pom-poms and rah-rahs from every pore on their body.

For some reason, I poured my fury about my imperfect eyes in the eyes of their perfect ones into stuffing. I unstuffed everything and became a stacker. I was cured of stuffing. No more stuffing for me.

Except for Thanksgiving. I was addicted to Thanksgiving turkey stuffing, especially my grandmother’s turkey stuffing. There was something unique about her stuffing.

We never figured out what made it unique, and she could never tell us what it was. We watched her every year, joked that it was her sweat, or the water in Irvington, N.J., or her well-worn bowls. The secret, whatever it was, she took to her grave.

And now I must go make short work of at least one pile of my precious crap before next week. It pains me, it really does. So much of importance in that stack of paper, so much of significance, so much of….overflow.


Will You Be My Valentine?

All of you, each of you, every one of you who reads this blog any time I manage to post something wins my heart. You are my Valentines.

I don’t know what it is that keeps you reading me, week after week, blog after blog. Maybe you are a friend, a relative, a stranger who stumbled on my blog, or someone I met in passing.

Maybe you read me while waiting for your iTunes to download. Maybe you read me while waiting for the teakettle to boil. Maybe you read me while waiting for the dog to do his business. Maybe you read me on your iPad while on the Green Line in Boston and no one reading over your shoulder can figure out why you’re reading about someone in Washington who keeps talking about New Jersey.

Writing a blog like this one isn’t easy. It’s all very self-centered, since I’m writing about my stroke, my brain damage, my recovery. My, my, my, ain’t I selfish, talking about myself?

Just before I graduated from high school (in New Jersey), I remember I promised one of my teachers (who happens to read this blog) that I would talk more in college. I wasn’t very successful at that, but a few years later, two friends pummeled me good-naturedly enough that I learned to carry on a decent group conversation. I thanked them for teaching me to learn how to talk, but I still prefer to write.

When I first started to recover from the stroke I was having a very hard time putting thoughts together. Since writing was still my preferred method of communication, it was natural for me to at last come up with the idea of a blog, rather than try to talk things out.

But since I was convinced I made no sense, I gave everything to CF to read first. For all I knew, I was spewing forth in dactylic pentameter unconsciously, or nattering about celebrity gossip I had overheard on TV while drooling the day away.

Only after the writing had gotten CF’s seal of approval did I post it online.

Even after she started to assure me week after week that I was making perfect sense I continued too make here read me, word for word. I was convinced i was making an idiot of myself somewhere biy lapzsing n2  co0mpleeete nonnseeeense unknown 2 me  and she had to sAVENE ME FRUm nyslfef.

This is the first blog entry she has not read ahead of time. That is because the rest of this blog entry is about her, and I didn’t want her to have a chance to stop me from writing it. She is my loveliest Valentine.

Many years ago, when CF and I were young and in love, she used to worry that there would come in day when I would take her for granted.

After nearly 31 years that day has not arrived. I don’t think it ever will.

Because I have MS and because I had a stroke and because the stroke gave me diabetes and because all this made me unsteady and I fell and tore my rotator cuff and because I needed surgery from that fall and because I got blood clots from the surgery and because I now have to have my blood thickness tested, I have had an enormous number of doctor appointments in the last 18 months.

CF has driven me to and/or from most of those appointments. She also sat next to me in the doctor’s office, making sure I understand what to do. Which was rarely.

She has also almost single-handedly maintained our household and raised our son.

She has been a fierce protector, a tender caregiver, a tough coach, and a gentle soulmate. Could I ask for more?

It’s not as if her own life has been quiet. Remember, she broke both of her hands in one way or another last summer. One of her sisters moved out of town last year, which placed more responsibility on her for their elderly mother, also. She has accepted more responsibility at work, also, with a nice promotion, meaning more responsibility, of course.

When I think back over our years together, I realize we’ve been through three heart attacks, three strokes, one bout of colon cancer and two deaths together. Everything but my stroke belongs to our parents.

We’ve also invited two of her sisters to live with us for extended periods of time, stood by my sister through a difficult time in her life, helped nurture an infant nephew through his first year, adopted a child, moved cross-country, lost a house to the mortgage crisis, and suffered through an interminable lawsuit. (I don’t use that word “suffered” lightly. It was truly awful, as many of you know. If you don’t know, just Google “Madsen v. Erwin” for 33,400,000 explanations.)

I suppose in some ways I have come to take CF for granted. I’ve come to take for granted that she will be honest, that she will be loyal, that she will be true, in some sort of grand and glorious post-Girl Scout way. And I don’t think that’s a bad thing at all.

CF and I have always agreed to not get “mushy” on Valentine’s Day. I have always gotten her a card with lace and hearts and a red envelope and she has gotten me nothing, at my insistence. I am breaking with tradition by writing this blog. She will not speak to me after she reads this.

Just kidding. I hope. Happy Valentine’s Day.

Crossing birds and dotting eyes

Sometimes, as they say in Massachusetts, light dawns on Marblehead.

The double meaning of the name “Angry Birds” finally dawned on me. It’s a rather silly double-play on “crosswords,” as in, cross meaning angry and words rhyming with birds. It took me only 18 months to realize this.

It also took me only 18 months to be able to solve the Monday crossword puzzle in the New York Times, something I used to be able to do without glancing up from the newspaper. There was a bit of consternation and foot dragging and gnashing of teeth, but I did do it in pen with only one slight over printing, and no cheating by looking things up in the dictionary or on the web, I swear.

Of this I am very proud, even more proud than of my Jumble Triumph a few weeks ago, I blush to say.

Then I got greedy. I tried the Tuesday puzzle. And it didn’t go too bad. Not being a big consumer of Apple products, I got hung up on the iMac clue, and having no idea who Emma Stone is also hung me up, but other than that, I sailed through.

Unfortunately, those two clues were in critical places, which gummed up the works significantly. Then, one thing led to another and I missed doing Wednesday’s puzzle. When I looked at Thursday’s puzzle, it was full of puns and little quiz-like things and references to pop culture, never my strong suit (I have referred to my sister’s gift of an iron buttercup before, when I got the name of the band The Iron Butterfly wrong.)

Thursday’s puzzle was a disaster; Friday’s puzzle was a no-go. I will look at Saturday’s, and despite the promises I made several weeks ago, I have yet to make it through a Sunday newspaper.

But I have, haven’t I, made good on my promise of a weekly blog entry, whether you’ve wanted one or not?

As for my third promise, a tidy office, well, I’d have to say that promise has been half-way fulfilled. And that half has been half-way fulfilled by CF.

Since I am no longer gainfully employed, it seemed a bit selfish of me to continue to occupy an entire room of our house as an office, especially since her desk was perched uncomfortably next to the kitchen counter. So we decided to rearrange the room that was my office so we could share it. This meant that someone had to clean half of it. More precisely, this meant she had to clean half of it.

So right now, our dining table is stacked with piles of my crap. This dining table, I should point out, is handcrafted from 200-year-old pine boards harvested from the floor of the old barn behind our first house in Maine before it collapsed of old age. It is the most gorgeous object in our house. But right now you can’t see an inch of it.

Nor can you see an inch of any other surface in my office, except the surface of my monitor and keyboard, which is all I need to keep working. Oh, and that of my headset, which I need to keep speaking into my handy-dandy Dragon software, which has worked surprisingly well for dictating this blog.

My son snickers at my headset, which has those big, comfortable ear cushions that make you look like a real science geek. He of course has his iPhone earbuds flung casually around his neck 24/7, which is good because if they were actually in his ears I think they’d be pretty painful.

As I admitted earlier, I’m not exactly up-to-date with everything Apple has to offer. I’d never heard of the iMac, for instance. But I do own an iPhone and iPad (a huge admission from a diehard PC programmer), although I do look at that Windows phone with some envy.

I don’t know if it’s because of my brain injury, or because I was a PC programmer, but no matter what I did, I could not figure out how to copy a paragraph from one place to another on my iPhone. In desperation, I asked my son. He glanced up from his Xbox (a Microsoft product), rolled his eyes, grabbed my iPhone, copied the paragraph, handed the phone back to me, and went back to his game.

Was this the day that I was undone by technology? Was this the day that my son knew more about it than I did? Or was this simply a day that my brain injury got in the way?

None of the above, I decided. It was…just a day.

But it was a day when I knew a four-letter word for a mound containing prehistoric remnants (TERP) and a three-letter word for a boggy land (FEN) (sorry, that’s an in-joke, that some of you might happen to be aware of, that is, you might happen to [KNOW]), and some day there will be a crossword puzzle with both of them in it, and I will take that puzzle and shake it under my son’s nose and point out those clues to him, and he will pull his earbuds from his ears, glance up at me, and roll his eyes, confirming, once and for all, that I come close to the craziest of all two-word phrase for an AMC series starring Jon Hamm (MAD MEN).

Poof! The Magic Dragon!

Those among you who are writers or who have ever done any editing or writing know that one tends to rearrange the odd bits and pieces of sentences one puts together as time goes by and inspiration strikes. That’s what I’ve done here, not necessarily to improve this piece of writing, but to demonstrate my frustration with my best efforts to take care of myself.

Ever since I had shoulder surgery in November, it has been impossible to type. It’s been impossible to do anything with my right arm, including drive a car, wash the dishes, put on my $996 sling, or clean the cat litter.

Finally Amazon had pity on me and sent me a $49 coupon for Dragon Naturally Speaking, which was cheap enough for me. I’d nearly bitten at $139 two weeks earlier. When the package from Amazon arrived, I ripped it open, ran through the installation, went through all the required training sessions so the Dragon learned how I talked/croaked, and started to dictate this blog entry.

The first thing I wanted to do was make the display in my word processor a bit larger and easier to read by using its zoom command. So I calmly and clearly dictated the proper Dragon command:


This is where the editing I mentioned earlier comes in. Everything I’ve written so far I wrote after I tried to set the zoom setting to 125%. Now I will show you exactly what Dragon Naturally Speaking typed for me when I told it to set the zoom setting to 125%:

set soon to 125

select resume to 125

set assume two 125

set soon to 125

Those are the exact lines it printed for me, rather than zooming. Then I gave up. The last line above them that I just typed is the first time it has ever printed the word “zoom” when I told it to. Victory! I just had to look up how to make it print an exclamation mark. I finally zoomed myself.

However, DNS has done pretty well with my general typing otherwise in this blog. I’ve been able to keep my right arm in my lap and use my left arm for everything. My physical therapist will be very happy to hear that tomorrow.

Before I purchased DNS, I tried some other dictation software that I found on the Web, some free stuff that had good recommendations. I tried to use it but it was the week I was writing about pretzels, and things didn’t go very well.

In fact, things were worse than with that zoom command. Unfortunately, in my frustration, I did not record the results. It was a ridiculously complicated pun, probably best forgotten, undoubtedly unnecessarily reproduced here. After numerous false starts and stops, deep fat fryers, plump young friers, and plump old friars, I ended up with:

Pretzels were invented by friars who baked them. They just as easily could have been invented by bakers who fried them.

Just to satisfy my curiosity, I tried out those sentences in DNS. Except for unnecessarily capitalizing the word “friars,” it cranked them out perfectly.

Speaking of deep fat frying, I was a bit worried about opening the DNS package. “Ignite, ignite, ignite,” it read, no fewer than eight times, in some sort of marketing ploy to inspire me to the heights of creativity. “Ignite Fun At Your PC.” “Ignite Convenience.” “Ignite Control.” This just sent me scrambling for the fire extinguisher to hose down the package before I opened it. Fortunately, CDs are waterproof.

Perhaps I am straining at gnats and swallowing camels as the Bible says. Hah! That actually came out as “straining at bats.” As you can see, I am having way too much fun with this software.

I have other bats to strain and I hope this Dragon will help me strain them, although dragons are usually associated with slaying rather than straining. Once again, the metaphor gets pushed beyond its natural boundaries.

By other bats I mean I have other things to write rather than this blog, things to get done before my arm is ready for me to do them. For example, I write the obituaries for Bates College, something I enjoy doing, believe it or not, because I write a little profile about every person. I’m also working on a novel. So I need either both arms or a microphone.

And now that DNS understands my conversation, I just have to get it to understand my commands. “Sit.” “Roll over.” “Zoom.” “Good boy.” Hey, we’re getting somewhere.