The Undecided Philosopher

The ideas and rants of a former philosopher and a present-day geek....Enjoy!

Thursday, August 31, 2006

Quick Updates from All Around...

Please forgive the haste of this entry, but with all the fun surrounding our newest member of the family combined with my self-imposed stress from a potential house swap, things are a bit hectic in the land of the Undecided Philosopher. First, I draw your attention to the handsome picture of my son staring down at Austin Blake. Michael truly adores his new cousin and has become very protective and supportive of all of Austin's needs. In fact, he insisted that he read to Austin several books and short stories his first night at the hospital.

Aunt Wilma was more than willing to hold the baby while Michael read and turned the pages. This picture also brings to mind the mixing of the generations and the quickness in which life seems to grow and change before your eyes. Here is Michael, once the baby of the family, reading to the newest little one in the fold, and Aunt Wilma holding little Austin, just as she held both Michael and Yours Truly when I came into this world. I love my Aunt and she has always been great to me and to Michael, but now she is truly a "Great Aunt" twice over.

Not to be left out, Uncle Charlie was right there ready to enjoy all the fun and excitement that comes along with a new baby boy. He has always been a loving and nurturing Uncle to both me and Michael, and I am sure he is gearing up to extend his nurturing ways to encompass Austin Blake as well.

One more quick note before I head off for my next round of meetings - Congratulations to Rob, the VolCon, and his lovely wife Angela on their 4th wedding anniversary. I was there that swelteringly hot summer day, and I can bear witness to their unwavering love and devotion. Here's to many, many more wonderful years.

Tuesday, August 29, 2006

The Undecided Philosopher on the Road - Baby Watch 2006 Continued...

We have a baby! I repeat - we have a baby! At exactly 10:28pm on August 28th, 2006, Sarah gave birth to Austin Blake. My new nephew is happy and healthy, with all his toes and fingers and such. Austin weighed in at a Lawson-appropriate 8lbs. 14oz. and was 20" long. He is not quite as big as his uncle was at his age, but he is definitely cuter. To follow are a few photos from yesterday including the new family superstar. Happy Birthday Austin from Uncle Ben.

A nice head shot from Papaw who, in his scrubs, managed to sneak in with a camera for Uncle Ben:

Another shot of the big man:

Monday, August 28, 2006

The Undecided Philosopher on the Road – Baby Watch 2006…

Entry #1:

This blog entry comes to you live (well, typed live, posted once I can find some Internet access to borrow) from the Birthing Center at the Bristol Regional Medical Center. I am here monitoring and awaiting the arrival of my first nephew, Austin Blake. My sister, Sarah, has been here at the hospital since 8:00 pm last night, going through the motions for an attempted inducement of labor. If all else fails, she will be receiving a C-section some time later this afternoon.

The time is 9:50 am on Monday, August 28, 2006. Sarah received her epidural at approximately 8:00 am, at which point the doctors informed her that labor may not occur until the early to mid-afternoon hours. All seems well to this point, with a steady stream of family and friends coming by to visit and keep my sister properly distracted and in good spirits. Though appropriately nervous and anxious, Mom appears to be holding up well. She is a little sleep deprived and somewhat on edge, but she is handling everything to this point with an eloquence and grace that only my mother can pull off.

Other than a passing interest in the new gadgetry associated with the birthing process (my sister is surrounded by more monitors, CPU’s, printers, and appliances than I could ever imagine in my lab at the office), I have nothing more specific to report. Basically, we are playing a waiting game, praying and joking and chatting to keep our minds active and our spirits high until the moment of truth arrives. I will return to type more as events unfold. Until then…

Entry #2:

Well, we have reached 2:30 pm, the bewitching hour when the doctor predicted everything would be in full swing and my first nephew would be mere minutes away. Alas, Sarah is still as completely pregnant as when the day started with no obvious end in sight. According to the doctors, she is quickly reaching the limitations of the medicine used to induce the pregnancy, leaving few options aside from a C-Section later in the day. Sarah is sleeping for the moment, so hopefully she will be completely rested and ready for what the early evening may bring.

On a complete aside, I must admit after a small breakfast and a hearty lunch, I can fully endorse the cafeteria food here at the Bristol Regional Medical Center. The food is, in most cases, tasty and cost effective, with an excellent array of options, from salad and sandwiches to hot entrees and desserts. Now, I realize that the state of food affairs in the hospital is not terribly relevant to the present situation, but I have to have something to write about to quash my present anxious mood.

Back on the pregnancy front, I hope to have an update for everyone reading within the next few hours.

Sunday, August 27, 2006

The Undecided Philosopher and the VolCon Hit the High Banks of Bristol...

An afternoon filled with great food, good friends, fun games, and fast cars, this is the recap of my trip to the night race at Bristol with the VolCon. Rob and I arrived at the speedway around 3:30pm yesterday afternoon on a mission. We had three basic goals. Goal #1: Eat as much good food as possible, while still being able to physically make it to our seats at the track. Goal #2: Win as many free Sharpies (got to keep the Huddleston Law Firm stocked with as many cool colors as possible) and other prizes in the games area outside of the track. Goal #3: Watch a fantastic race on the high banks of Bristol and make it home safely to blog about it.

Goal #1 - Accomplished - We managed to finish off several plates each of barbecue, ribs, meatballs, salad, and other assorted good foods. This task was actually divided into two separate waves of attack - first, our initial meal and, then a secondary dessert phase to recover from our goal #2 attempts.

Goal #2 - Accomplished (sort of) - Let us just say that it is a good thing for the VolCon most of the game venues gave out prizes for simply trying. I am not saying I was keeping score or anything, but the Undecided Philosopher did walk away with a slightly heavier backpack than the VolCon.

Goal #3 - Accomplished - The race was excellent from start to finish. We were blessed with excellent seats, perfect weather, and a good race with very few cautions. For those who did not watch, Matt Kenneth held off Kyle Busch and Dale Earnhardt, Jr. for his second win in a row at the Bristol night race. Jr. was his own story in the race, starting from 40th position and working his way up to a strong 3rd place finish.

Yes, Saturday was a good day at the race track. My thanks to my best friend Rob, the VolCon, for coming along. Watch your calendars - the next race blog should come along in March for the Food City 500. Until then, enjoy these pics from last night's event.

Fantasy Football: Phase 2...

Time for a little update from Saturday's Confederate Football League Fantasy Draft, the one and only opportunity for the world to experience head-to-head competition on the gridiron between the Undecided Philosopher and the VolCon. All in all, I must say that the draft went particularly well for me and my powerhouse "Blind Ignorance" team. Fulled by leftover Mountain Dew and Oatmeal Creme pies from the night before, I was focused and determined in my drafting choices. I was fortunate to draft from the #3 spot in this 10 team league, leaving me in an excellent position to pick up a strong set of running backs and my quarterback of choice. My initial starting lineup is as follows:

Matt Hasselbeck, QB - Sea.
Derrick Mason, WR - Bal.
Ronnie Brown, WR - Phi.
Matt Jones, WR - Jac.
Shaun Alexander, RB - Sea.
Cadillac Williams, RB - TB.
Randy McMichael, TE - Mia.
Jay Feely, K - NYG.
Chicago, DEF - Chi.

This is a rebuilding year for "Blind Ignorance" in the Confederate Football League, after missing the playoffs in 2005. I dug deep in the draft, searching for "good fit" talent and excellent bye week distribution. Good luck to all. Weekly updates will follow.

Father - Son Day Outing...

Friday was an excellent day out for Michael and I. He was out of school for the day due to a little event going on in the greater Tri-Cities area, and I was able to leave work early so he and I could spend the afternoon together. We started the afternoon with an early dinner at a fantastic little picnic spot by a creek. Our food choices were plentiful including hot dogs, barbecue, smoked ribs, meatballs, cole slaw, potato salad, chips, pie, and ice cream. Michael attacked what can only be described as one of the largest hot dogs I have ever seen while I focused on a plate full of meatballs and ribs. We finished off our meal with ice cream sandwiches and frozen fruit bars, then headed out for our next adventure.

Our next stop was a street market and carnival-like event with a decidedly NASCAR theme. We walked from booth to booth looking at the products and wares on display, squeezing in a game or two as we went. We raced through mazes, played Whack-a-Mole, and even battled ping pong balls with leaf blowers. Michael got to get his "craft" groove on at a Lowe's-sponsored tent where he built a wooden race car from scratch, with a little help from Dad of course.

All and all it was a wonderful day for father and son. We played, we ate, and we even just relaxed and did some people watching. It was an excellent afternoon and evening. Oh yeah, and we did get a chance to watch some cars turn left and drive really fast.

Thursday, August 24, 2006

You know your old when you outlive a planet...

I am not entirely sure why this news article disturbs me so much, but, as covered by CNN, the planet Pluto has been demoted. I have lived my entire life surrounded by the lie of nine planets. I have already started making plans to head home and destroy all the mobiles and posters of the solar system I can find. I will have rip all those "Pluto" pages out of the encyclopedia. And I haven't even begun to calculate the years of therapy this change will cost me. All kidding aside, today is one of those cool milestones in life that we can look back on when we are ninety sitting on the porch. I will be able to look over at the other old folks in matching rocking chairs and reminisce "You remember back when Pluto was a planet?"

I other local news, tonight is Food City Family Race Night in downtown Bristol, Tennessee/Virginia. If you even remotely like NASCAR racing, or you are simply a big fan of people watching, then I highly recommend joining the festivities. There will be food and games and lots of fun entertainment, not to mention dozens of race car drivers with inflated egos and metallic Sharpies. Bristol during the races - like a really nice zoo without all the fences.

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

Fantasy Football: Phase 1...

Tonight was the 3rd Annual KFFL Draft, held at the prestigious Mid-Mountain IS Small Conference Room. We are able to move to the "small" conference room after ESPN and OLN cancelled their onsite coverage at the last minute. The Annual KFFL (KVAT Fantasy Football League) Draft is not only the beginning of what will be several months of trash talk and wasted internet hours for the KVAT IS staff. It is also considered by many the highlight of the fantasy football experience. Tonight's event was a rousing success, though the proceedings were nearly derailed by a needless mistake by the network manager, who will remain nameless. For some reason, an online draft requires that all its participants have functioning Internet access. Who knew?? But as they say, never send a network manager to do a network administrator's job...well that is what the net admins at KVAT say all the time anyway.

After a couple of failed attempts at the online effort, the commissioner made the selfless and valiant decision to proceed offline, allowing for the proceedings to move forward as scheduled. After eight pizzas, five two-liters, and two and a half hours, the KFFL league is set for play. I feel fairly good about my team at the this juncture, though many things can change over the next few months. My initial starting line-up is as follows:

Carson Palmer, QB - Cin.
Nate Burleson, WR - Sea.
Laveranues Coles, WR - NYJ.
Reggie Bush, RB - NO.
Dominic Rhodes, RB - Ind.
Jason Whitten, TE - Dal.
John Kasay, K - Car.
Chicago, DEF - Chi.

Here is to all the fantasy football players in all the leagues around the country. Best of luck, and check your Internet connections well in advance. Phase 2 of my fantasy football experience comes this Saturday. Until then...

Monday, August 21, 2006

The Truth from Unwanted Lips...

Throughout my life, I can never say that I have been an open fan of Patrick J. Buchanan. Buchanan, a key member and political asset of three different Republican presidencies, often errs on the far side of the political right, but as of late, his passion for reforming not only his party, but his country, has drawn my attention. In his latest book, State of Emergency: The Third World Invasion and Conquest of America, Buchanan hit the proverbial nail on the head in regards to the pending doom that is our Nation's policy on border security. The following is the book's description from

Pat Buchanan is sounding the alarm. Since 9/11, more than four million illegal immigrants have crossed our borders, and there are more coming every day. Our leaders in Washington lack the political will to uphold the rule of law. The Melting Pot is broken beyond repair, and the future of our nation is at stake.

In this important book, Pat Buchanan reveals that, slowly but surely, the great American Southwest is being reconquered by Mexico. These lands---which many Mexicans believe are their birthright---are being detached ethnically, linguistically, and culturally from the United States by a deliberate policy of the Mexican regime. This is the "Aztlan Plot" for "La Reconquista," the recapture of the lands lost by Mexico in the Texas War of Independence and Mexican-American War.

Comparing the immigrant invasion of America from across the Mexican border---and of Europe from across the Mediterranean---to the barbarian invasions that ended the Roman Empire, the author writes with passion and conviction that we have begun the final chapter of the Death of the West. Unless the invasion is halted now, Buchanan argues, by midcentury America will be a country unrecognizable to our parents, the Third World dystopia that Theodore Roosevelt warned against when he said we must never let America become a "polyglot boardinghouse" for the world.

President Bush's failure to halt the invasion and secure America's border, Buchanan writes, is a dereliction of constitutional duty that, in other times, would have called forth articles of impeachment. In the final chapter, "Last Chance," he lays out a sweeping immigration reform and border security plan, which, he contends, if not pursued, means George W. Bush's legacy will be to have lost for America a Southwest that was the legacy of Sam Houston, Andrew Jackson, and James K. Polk. With an estimated ten to fifteen million "illegals" already here and tens of millions more poised to pour across our borders, few books could be as timely---or important---as State of Emergency. It is essential reading for all Americans.

What I find most compelling about Buchanan's approach is his clear and concise analysis of both parties and their failures in this arena. He details the racial and ethnic motiviations of the Democratic leadership and their desire to exploit an ever-growing voting populous. And he also gives equal time to Republican ties to big business and the Right's desire to protect its campaign benefactors. For the first time in a long while, Buchanan's motivations appear true and just, and his message is clear. We are not long from a period in this country when we will look to our southwestern borders and realize they have moved slowly and surely north of Texas and New Mexico and Arizona. The lands that Sam Houston and Davy Crockett and Sam Bowie fought so hard to protect and secure will have been given away under the guises of cheap produce and humanitarian equality.

Sunday, August 20, 2006

Tiger and a game for life...

I have been playing, or should I say attempting to play, the game of golf for around 15 years. I remember watching golf in passing as a child, vaguely remembering Jack and Arnold, Seve and the Walrus. I became a fan of the game watching Payne Stewart in his nickers win the US Open and seeing a brash left-handed amateur named Phil Mickelson win in the desert. But no one has influenced my love of the game like Tiger Woods. I know it has become cliche to say we as fans are watching the greatest player ever to play the game in his prime. I respect the history and I still love to watch Tiger sweep up majors like they were Saturday afternoon Pro-Ams. But to me, Tiger Woods means significantly more to the game of golf. He is a tie between my generation and the next.

My son knows who Tiger Woods is. To Michael he is a mythical figure - the guy in the video game and the character that can do anything with a golf club. Seeing Tiger on the golf course and watching his character in the XBox led Michael to ask to go to the driving range. Now, once on the range, golf did its job and Michael loves to hit balls because of the game. But I have to think that Tiger has brought the same curiosity to thousands of kids around the world and I have to believe that he will be the player that Michael's generation watches break records while my generation sits back and tells stories about seeing Tiger join the tour and master Augusta in 1997.

Yesterday, Michael and I went to the driving range to hit some balls in the early afternoon sun. Michael pounded through his bucket, then came over to watch me finish up, picking targets and telling me which flags to swing for. Then, he did one of those things that tugs at every dad's heart strings. He looked up and asked if he could have a golf glove like mine because he wanted to be able to hit golf balls like his dad. Every father wants his son to want to be just like him, at least like the good characteristics. I smiled and gave him a little hug and said "Sure you can."

So here I sit in my recliner watching Tiger once again rewrite history at the 2006 PGA Championship, making impossible birdies from the rough and giving me the desire to get up and go hit some balls so I can be a little more like Tiger. And when Michael gets home from his friend's house this afternoon, I will be waiting at the door of his room with a junior golf glove I picked up this afternoon, a present I happily purchased so Michael can be a little more like his dad.

The New Top 10 List...

In an attempt to personalize and consolidate, I have decided to collaspe much of my web presence to this blog in the form of a small portal. The first step in this process is the new Top 10 Links section in the right-hand column. These links make up a collection of personal pages I have developed, pages of friends, and places on the Internet that I find valuable. These links will change and re-sort and move from time to time, and their order and very existence are up for debate. If you have a site that you feel deserves to be on the list, let me know. If you see a site you hate and want removed, let me know. I am not saying I will act on your opinions, but it makes for a fun debate.

I also want to take suggestions from my readers on blog topics and ideas. Post comments if you have something you want me to tackle or something you just find interesting. I want this to become a good interactive experience.

I hope to post some more information and a few rants this evening if time permits. However, my recliner is calling and the PGA Championship awakes my undivided attention.

Friday, August 18, 2006

Every Now and Then Spam is True...

As a computer guy and general Internet user, I get my fair share of spam and chain letters via email. Today was no exception. However, I did get an email from my dear friend Olivia that I did take the time to read. It was an obivous, forwarded chain letter, but Olivia prefaced the body by saying that the message was, this time, worth reading. I am posting the core message of the email here for review, with an explanation to follow:

"This Pastor has guts!! Thought you might enjoy this interesting Prayer given in Kansas at the opening session of their Senate. It seems Prayer still upsets some people. When Minister Joe Wright was asked to open the new session of the Kansas Senate, everyone was expecting the usual generalities, but this is what they heard:

"Heavenly Father, we come before you today to ask your forgiveness and to seek your direction and guidance. We know Your word says, 'Woe to Those who call evil
good,' but that is exactly what we have done. We have lost our spiritual equilibrium and reversed our values.
We have exploited the poor and called it the lottery.
We have rewarded laziness and called it welfare.
We have killed our unborn and called it choice.
We have shot abortionists and called it justifiable.
We have neglected to discipline our children and called it building self esteem.
We have abused power and called it politics.
We have coveted our neighbor's possessions and called it ambition.
We have polluted the air with profanity and Pornography and called it freedom of expression.
We have ridiculed the time-honored values of our forefathers and called it enlightenment.
Search us Oh God, and know our hearts today; cleanse us from every sin and set us free. Amen!"

The response was immediate. A number of legislators walked out during the prayer in protest. In 6 short weeks, Central Christian Church, where Rev. Wright is pastor, logged more than 5,000 phone calls with only 47 of those calls responding negatively. The church is now receiving international requests for copies of this prayer from India, Africa and Korea.

Commentator Paul Harvey aired this prayer on his radio program, "The Rest of the Story," and received a larger response to this program than any other he has ever aired."

Before I comment, let me first state that I have investigated this message under the assumption it was an "urban myth" and verified that much of the information is accurate. Minister Joe Wright did deliver a prayer very similar to the one quoted here before a session of the Kansas House of Representatives in 1996. The Kansas City Star did report at least one member of the House did walk out, and Paul Harvey did repeat this speech on his national broadcast.

True or not, the core of this message is very powerful. We should all take to heart the potential direction our emotivistic and selfish society is dragging its members. And we should also note that occasionally, though they be rare, there is value in the spam we receive in our Inboxes each day.

Thursday, August 17, 2006

Back to School and Dad's Confused??

Remember the good ol' days when summer would start to wind down, the days would begin to shorten slightly, and discussions of Labor Day cookouts would filter throughout the neighborhood. Labor Day has always traditionally been viewed as the symbolic end of summer, and, for students, the beginning of the academic season. So it was for this author. I remember that first day of school each year hovering around the end of August or the beginning of September, depending on the aggressiveness of the county or that phantom fear of necessary snow days. My how times have changed.

As the father of a loving 7 year old son, I have the opportunity to relive those early school days through his bright and precocious eyes. Imagine our mutual surprise as we reviewed the newly minted school calendar, only to realize that the first day of school for 2006 falls bright and early on August 8th. Yes, the 8th - that is not a misprint. Allow me to provide this precursor - school is very important. Education in general is very important. My son's education is very important. All that being said - Michael got robbed!! The school system managed to steal away an entire month of summer for their own greedy purposes. Instead of playing in the creek and sleeping until 10am, Michael will be suffering through math problems and looking for his library books.

OK, is just a school day, right? In by 8am and out by 3pm, so that leaves the whole of the evening to enjoy the summer weather and catch bugs and ride bikes and do all those other relaxing kid-type things...or so you would think. How quickly we forget about homework. Or in my case, how quickly I do not remember homework to begin with. My son is a second-grader. I remember second grade. What I do not remember is homework in second grade, or in elementary school for that matter. Yet, Michael comes home every night with at least an hour of work to filter through, books to read, and study guides for us to review together. There goes some more quality outdoor summer playtime.

Now for the truth...I don't really mind school starting a little early. This schedule simply frees up time at the end of the school year. Nor do I mind homework and the opportunity to work with my son each evening. Homework time is great father-son time and a great opportunity to stay involved. But Dad is still confused. It doesn't seem that long ago since I was in elementary school. It doesn't seem that long ago since I was sweating over spelling tests and multiplication tables. It just doesn't seem that long ago since I was a kid.....did I mention how old I feel right now.

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

The Enemy of my Enemy is...?

"Walmart is evil." "Walmart is possibly aligned with the Anti-Christ." "Walmart=BAD." These are all things many of you have heard me utter, either under my breath or loudly to the public depending on my mood. As most of you know, I work for a competitor of the evil empire and, therefore, feel justified to attack without a moment's hesitation. Even before my employment with the "rebellion", I wrote extensively about the corruption of small town America and the demise of the individual through the systematic endeavors of the corporate power that is Bentonville, Arkansas. All this being said, I found an article on this afternoon very intriguing.

According to our friends at the liberal-leaning Atlanta-based news conglomerate, Walmart is firing a preemptive shot across the bow of the 2008 Democratic platform. Seems that Walmart doesn't like being attacked for its less than stellar track record as the nation's largest retail employer. I will let all of you read the article and come to your own conclusions, but I leave you, Republican and Democrat alike, to decide with whom to align.

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

A Witness to the Dell Disaster...

As a professional computer scientist, I am always looking for good stories to pass along to colleagues about users who just don't understand the technology surrounding them. I realize this process is cruel and mean and all those other detrimental terms you as a reader are thinking, but geeks will be geeks. I am even known to embellish the language of the user a bit to massage a better punchline out of the story. In light of today's announcement by Dell to recall 4.2 million laptop batteries, I thought I might share one such recent story:

A female cousin-in-law, who will remain nameless, called me at work one afternoon, just a few weeks ago. After polite hello's and how are you's, she quickly came to the computer question to which I have grown all too accustomed from family members when they call unexpectedly in the middle of the day. She quietly asked, "Benjamin (she calls me Benjamin for some unknown reason) I plugged up my laptop just a second ago and smoke started pouring out of it - is that bad?" This is where my fellow geeks start laughing and cussing and begin to tell similar stories about unsuspecting users and their problems - yes, evil I know, but great fun for us in the otherwise mundane and tedious world of cables and servers. However, in light of Dell's painful disclosure today, I thought this story a bit more appropriate and interesting.

After talking to her husband, my cousin, I realized that she was standing up as she plugged in the cable to begin recharging her Dell Inspiron Laptop. He was present and actually saw the sparks flying from the charging port and the battery, and he saw the smoke begin to billow from the vents. If she had still been seated with the laptop resting on her legs, a fire easily could have occurred and this story would have resulted in a much less humorous conclusion. Needless to say, I am grateful that everyone is safe and no property has been destroyed. Dell quickly replaced her entire laptop free of charge and everyone went about their business as normal. Yet, today's announcement is anything but normal.

Dell is the leading manufacturer of corporately assigned laptops in the world. Easily, two of three vendors who enter my office are carrying a Dell laptop. And every one of those vendors has sat next to someone on a plane and typed away for hours on a report or some emails or an innocuous spreadsheet, all the while without fear of bursting into flames. Yet, today's announcement that these batteries, manufactured by Sony, can do just that - burst into flames - is a sobering reminder of the technological unknowns that surround us.

Now, I am not trying to preach some type of apocalyptic doom and gloom about the evils of technology in the world - far from it. Technology pays for my house and car. I don't leave home without a backpack full of gadgets and batteries and cables. What I am preaching is common sense. Batteries are volatile. They get hot and they become unstable. Pay attention. If you have a Dell laptop, check your serial number and have the battery replaced. If you don't have a Dell, still pay attention to your battery and use common sense. Don't leave a laptop running for long periods of time around flammable materials. If your laptop gets too hot to rest on your lap, chances are it will not react well to sitting on the pillow next to you. I want everyone to come away from using their computers and smartphones and PDA's without any bodily harm. Otherwise, how are you going to pay me to answer your questions.

Oh yeah, if you do do something stupid and even mildly funny with your gadgets, make sure to let me know. I always need some new ammo for those talks around the water cooler.