My list of preferred Austin restaurants

A friend has family visiting Austin next month, and has asked me to provide a list of area restaurants that I prefer, so here goes!

I’ll try to include primarily locally owned restaurants, although a few are national or regional chains, albeit with local roots. I’ll also try to include only those restaurants where I’ve actually eaten, although there may be a couple that are still on my to-do list.

  1. Franklin Barbeque – Without question my number one choice. And it’s “Franklin Barbeque”, not “Franklin’s Barbeque”. Listed by Bon Appétit Magazine as one of the world’s most important restaurants, it opens each day, except Mondays, at 11:00am, and by noon they’re sold out. Lines begin forming at about 8:30am, and can sometimes go around the block. Don’t worry, though, about an hour before they open, an employee begins walking back through the line and learns what you plan to order, (Hint: Say, “A little of everything”), and they can also bring out a cold beer or two to help bide the time. It’s not a bad idea to bring lawn chairs, though. Trust me, any standing around and waiting is well worth it!
  2. Frank – Again, just “Frank”, not “Frank’s”. (What is it with Austin and possessive nouns?!) Purveyors of artisan hot dogs and cold beer, with the occasional live music thrown in. Parking downtown is horrendous, though.
  3. Annie’s Café and Bar – I don’t know how trendy or historic this nice little restaurant downtown is, I only know I stumbled upon it one night waiting to enjoy jazz at the nearby Elephant Room. Very nice atmosphere and food.
  4. Threadgill’s – 24 hour Southern comfort food. Go to the original on Lamar Street… That’s the one where Janus Joplin used to perform, before she’d go on be famous.
  5. Matt’s El Rancho – Family owned for over 50 years in South Austin, Matt’s El Rancho is a must stop if you’re in Austin.
  6. Manuel’s – Definitely not TexMex! High cuisine Mexican food.
  7. Torchy’s Tacos – Austin has this thing about tacos, I’m not sure what it is, but this former food truck chef has gone on to open up at several locations, all of them damn good!
  8. French Quarter Grill – One of my personal favorites, a nice, little family owned restaurant specializing in étouffée, gumbo, and many more dishes you’d find in New Orleans’ French Quarter.
  9. Kerbey Lane Café – a 24-hour diner that started by catering mainly to UT students, you guessed it… on Kerbey Lane. I’m excited that they’re about to start construction on a new location a few blocks from my apartment, but for now, the one on Guadalupe Street is probably my favorite. Or, go to the original one on Kerbey Lane. For breakfast, have the migas and/or the pancakes… they’re awesome!
  10. P. Terry’s – P. Terry’s is a no-frills burger place, with high quality, mostly local ingredients. Think of it as an Austin In-n-Out, but arguably better, and with no lines around the block.
  11. Cajun Pizza Place – Offers pizzas with a distinctive Cajun flair, also fried shrimp po-boys, muffulettas, and authentic Cajun boudin. The owners are related to the owners of Pizza Village in Lafayette, Louisiana, the only pizza place I’ve been to where they frequently have waiting lists to be seated most nights. Ask for The Joe, which is pepperoni, Canadian bacon, sausage, hamburger, and shrimp at the Pizza Village. At the Cajun Pizza Place, that’s the same as The Crusher, except you substitute shrimp for the jalapenos.
  12. Chuy’s – Chuy’s is a national TexMex chain with headquarters in Austin. There are more tradition TexMex restaurants out there, but Chuy’s is a place I prefer, possibly because of the kitschy atmosphere.
  13. Freebirds – Started in California, Freebirds is a nice place to get a burrito, and in my opinion, better than Chipotle. Better tasting, better atmosphere, and slightly better politics.
  14. Chi’Lantro – Korean Mexican BBQ… let that sink in for a minute. Lines start forming when the truck rolls up.
  15. Café Java – This is a little bistro about a block away from where I live that I like to go to for the occasional breakfast, and I love their Cajun Grilled Chicken Sandwich.
  16. The Salt Lick – Before eating at Franklin, Salt Lick was my favorite BBQ.

Honorable mentions: Rudy’s, County Line, Bill Miller, Pok-e-Jo’s, and El Mercado. I understand Stiles Switch BBQ & Brew is also supposed to be very good, although I have not been there… yet!

I’m sure there are many more deserving to be on this list, some I’ve been to, some I haven’t, but consider this one man’s partial list of good places to eat while in Austin, Texas.

14 Things About Austin I’ve Learned from Living Here

In March, I will have lived in North Austin for two years. If you’ve ever lived or visited Austin, Texas, then you’ll know what I mean when I tell you it’s decidedly different from other large cities, even within Texas itself.

Here are 12 things I’ve learned while living here:

  1. Austin isn’t as nearly politically liberal or progressive as you’d might think – If I’ve heard that “Austin is the Berkeley of the South” once, I’ve heard it a thousand times. And while the Austin City Council is extremely liberal, and the area around the University of Texas and South of the river tend to be a little… “out there”, the further North you move, the more libertarian and conservative you find people. So far, the most “progressive” lunacy I’ve been forced to endure are the Austin paper and plastic bag ban, and the frequent trolling for money downtown and in Barton Creek by President Obama (and the subsequent traffic jams from shutting down traffic).
  2. Traffic and parking is terrible, nearly anywhere you go – I’m fortunate to live less than 2 miles from where I work, and a little over 5 miles from where I worship. Fortunate because, when I have to travel anywhere else, I’m guaranteed to find heavy traffic and frequent gridlock. I avoid downtown like the plague. If you visit here, either allow a lot of time to get where you’re going and/or avoid the major highways.
  3. There are some serious foodies here! – Particularly BBQ. The Austin-area is home to Franklin BBQ, The Salt Lick, County Line, Pok-e-Jo’s, Bill Miller and Rudy’s. As well, the nearby town of Lockhart is known as the “BBQ Capital of Texas”, with four BBQ pit restaurants, each with their own fierce proponents: Black’s, Chisholm Trail, Kreuz Market (pronounced ‘Krites’), and Smittys Market. And that’s just BBQ! Austin has lots of excellent restaurants (and food trucks) that prepare every conceivable type of food imaginable. Other notable restaurants/local chains include Chuy’s, Freebirds, Frank (Not Frank’s… Frank!), Kerbey Road Cafe, just to name a few.
  4. This is a fantastic place for small business and entrepreneurs, particularly tech – I think it may have started when Michael Dell began making computer systems out of room 2713 of the Dobie Center residential building when he was a student at the University of Texas.
  5. Austinites pride themselves on being different – The catch phrase de rigueur in Austin has been “Keep Austin Weird” for years, and although every passing day it becomes more and more like other large cities like Dallas, San Antonio and Houston, most residents still like to think and behave in, let’s just say, novel ways.
  6. Californians are moving here in droves, and that is not necessarily a good thing – Austin is expected to double in size in the next decade, and although people are moving to Texas from every other state in the union, Californians fleeing the overly taxed, overly regulated, imploding economy that is California (and that their politics brought about) prefer Austin because it is to Texas what Berkeley is to California. So, Californians bring three things to Texas: Traffic, increased housing prices and liberal politics.
  7. It’s pronounced “Man-chack” – There is a small town Southwest of Austin named Manchaca, and there is a road leading there named, appropriately, Manchaca Road. One would naturally be inclined to pronounce it “Man-chock-a”, but they’d be wrong. It’s pronounced “Man-chack”. Say it the wrong way and you’ll quickly be revealed as a newcomer.
  8. Lots of celebrities call Austin home – Or at least one of their homes.Nicolas Cage, Billy Bob Thornton, Willie Nelson, Sandra Bullock, Ryan Gosling, Robert Plant, Owen Wilson, Luke Wilson, Matthew McConaughey, Lance Armstrong, Dan Rather, Mike Judge, Kyle Chandler, and Connie Britton are just some of the celebrities that call Austin home. And if you ever see one say, in Whole Foods or somewhere, do not make a big deal out of it!
  9. There are 1.5+ million bats here – I haven’t seen them at dusk, when they wake up and go hunting for flies, mosquitoes and other insects, but I know they live underneath the Congress Avenue Bridge and elsewhere. Each night, they devour 10,000 to 20,000 pounds of insects, making it safe to go outside nearly anytime and not be eaten up by those pesky mosquitoes. Austin is home to the largest urban bat colony in North America and one of the most unusual tourist attractions in the world.
  10. There are fans of the University of Texas Longhorns everywhere – Everywhere you’ll see burnt orange cloths and the longhorn symbol. Whatever you do, do not go to Plucker’s or any sport bar when there’s a UT football game on unless you’re joining the masses to cheer the team on.
  11. Everything is on an incline – Well, almost everything, but being near the edge of the Texas Hill Country, there are a lot of hills and valleys nearly everywhere you go.
  12. Everywhere you’ll look you’ll see stone and concrete walls surrounding fields of grass – Those are called “retention ponds” and they’re there to catch runoff rain water to prevent flooding. They could’ve built a sewer system, but noooo! I think it’s something to do with the soil, preventing them from building lower-level parking garages and such.
  13. Get ready to deal with panhandlers – They’re everywhere! Many of them, when you give them anything other than cash (a sandwich, socks, etc.) will scowl at you, proving that they feel they’re feeling entitled to your continuing to subsidize their addiction to alcohol and drugs. Never… nevernever give panhandlers money!
  14. Everyone eats breakfast tacos – What I would call a breakfast burrito, Austinites call breakfast tacos, and you can find them everywhere.

Austin is different from any other place I’ve ever lived, and it has a distinctive character that I really love. These are really just a few of the ones I’ve been able to identify and articulate.

John Stricklin’s Will

 

John Stricklin's WIll

I John Stricklin of the County of Hardin and State of Tennessee, planter, do make and publish this my last will and testament, hereby revoking and making void all former wills by me at any time heretofore made. And first I direct my body to be decently entered in a manner suitable to my condition in life, and as to such worldly estate as it hath pleased God to entrust me with I dispose of the same as follows. First I direct that all my debts and all my funeral expenses be paid as soon after my decease as possible out of any money I may die possessed of as may first come in the hands of my executors from any portion of my estate real or personal. Secondly I give and bequeath to my beloved wife Martha during her life the following property to wit my land containing fifty acres be the same more or less lying on the big branch a fork of Horse Creek with its buts and bounds together with all the household and kitchen furniture and all the farming utensils belonging to said plantation also one wagon and yoke of steers seventeen head of hogs one rifle gun one scythe [sic] and cradle and one set of blacksmith tools to have and to hold for her use and benefit during her natural life and at her death what is left to be equally divided between my two sons William C. Stricklin and Jesse Stricklin after paying one dollar to each of the other heirs to wit Thomas Stricklin, Jack?, John Stricklin, William B. Stricklin, Elizabeth Lance?, Dicia Dulea?, Martha Akins, Sally McCarn, Nancy Mills, Mary Stricklin, and Agatha Stricklin. I do hereby make ordain and appoint my beloved son William C. Stricklin Executor of my last will and testament. In witness whereof I John Stricklin the said testator have to this my will written on one sheet of paper set my hand and seal this 17th day of July in the year of our lord one thousand eight hundred and forty eight.

Zombies 101

One of my favorite television shows these days is definitely AMC’s The Walking Dead, and I haven’t generally been a fan of the whole “zombie” genre, although I really liked Shaun of the Dead, 28 Days Later… and I am Legend. With The Walking Dead, though, I’m not really sure the writers adhere to a certain set of rules regarding how zombies behave. So, I thought I’d write a set of guidelines on the subject. Enjoy!

Things zombies can do:

  1. Zombies can hear
  2. Zombies can smell
  3. Zombies can move… slowly
  4. Zombies can grab things using their hands (if they have hands)
  5. Zombies can bite (if Michonne hasn’t already removed their jaws)
  6. Zombies can growl
  7. Zombies can move their head and limbs normally

Things zombies cannot or do not do:

  1. Zombies don’t circulate blood
  2. Zombies don’t sleep
  3. Zombies don’t run
  4. Zombies don’t jump
  5. Zombies don’t swim
  6. Zombies don’t reason
  7. Zombies don’t get tired or rest
  8. Zombies don’t lay down or sit down
  9. Zombies can’t climb (stairs, slight inclines are okay)
  10. Zombies bodies don’t regenerate on a cellular level
  11. Zombies don’t communicate with each other
  12. Zombies don’t “play dead” or in any way misrepresent anything

Things I’m not sure if they can do or not:

  1. Can zombies see?
  2. Can zombies feel? (touch, not emotions)
  3. Do zombies salivate, chew and/or swallow?

All these observations lead me to these conclusions and questions:

  • There has to be some sort of low-level brain function, otherwise they could not move, smell, hear or know when to grab or bite.
  • If zombies can chew and swallow what they bite, then they must salivate and be able to digest their “food”. And if they’re able to digest food, then they would need to defecate and urinate. And since you don’t see stains on the fronts and backs or their clothes, I’d assume that they cannot salivate, chew, swallow or digest their food.
  • If they cannot do the most basic function of eating, they must simply be biting their victims and tearing their flesh and muscles, and then letting them fall away.
  • If they are able to swallow, but do not digest food, then their stomachs are becoming full. If that’s the case, would they still feed? What would happen if they did?
  • I maintain that the walker that bit Hershel violated rules 14, 15 and 19, so this is a case where the writers screwed up.
  • If their bodies don’t heal (rule 17), then eventually the flesh and muscles will decay, the ligaments holding the bones together will wear down and the body will fall apart. If that’s the case, their numbers will begin to dwindle after a few months (years?)
  • Rule 8 is critical. If zombies don’t circulate blood, how do they infect their victims? Also, when the body falls apart and the skull is simply laying there on the ground, will the brain continue to function, or will it shrivel up and die?
  • If everyone has the virus within them, does that mean that if Rick, say, simply died of non zombie-related causes, would he become a walker anyway? If that’s the case, why did it suddenly start happening now?

Other questions cross my mind when I’m watching The Walking Dead, like:

  • Even though it’s rural Georgia (presumably North of Atlanta), why doesn’t anyone think to go find a Walmart or a Sears somewhere? They’d have guns, ammo, clothes, medicine, tires and other car-repair equipment, building supplies and some non-perishable food.
  • If the group has been living in these conditions for months, wouldn’t the beards be longer? Wouldn’t the arm-pits and leg hair be longer? Wouldn’t they all be stinking? Presumably people’s teeth will be rotting out soon, because no one’s brushing their teeth.
  • What about women’s menstrual cycles? I know women survived for thousands of years without tampons and pads, but how would Maggie and the others deal with the problem?
  • If couples like Glenn and Maggie are having sex, are they considering what they’ll do if the woman becomes pregnant, or are they using condoms?
  • If the zombie apocalypse comes, and public utility workers either flee or turn, will the plumbing still work? I assume the electricity will not, but I’m not so sure about the water.
  • How did the group get inside the prison? Presumably the guards had the building locked down, wouldn’t you think?
  • Why don’t you hear more people praying or talking about God? This is Georgia, after all. Some people would be praying, others would be questioning why God would allow this to happen.
  • Where do people urinate and defecate? Especially inside the cell block? When the prisoners were in the kitchen they did their “business” in the refrigerator, but that may have been because there was no bathroom in the kitchen area. If the plumbing still works, then a bathroom would be preferable, but if it does, wouldn’t it have working sinks at least, allowing everyone to wash themselves?
  • I assume that, given the makeup of the groups, that no obese people, blind people, deaf people, mentally or physically-handicapped people or people with medical conditions that require medications (Type I Diabetes, asthmatics, people needing dialysis, etc.) haven’t survived. Neither have most children and teenagers.
  • Why doesn’t anyone listen to a radio? Surely there’s someone, somewhere, who’s trying to find out if there’s life elsewhere.
  • If you snapped a zombie’s neck, it wouldn’t “die”, but would it be able to walk?
  • Wouldn’t the second floor and above, or an island be the best places to be safe?

Yes, I know The Walking Dead is fictional and I’m supposed to suspend my disbelief, but stories should be cohesive and logical, to the best of their ability. That said, there aren’t a huge number of flaws in the show thus far.

My Myers-Briggs Type Indicator

The Myers-BriggsType Indicator® assessment is a psychometric questionnaire designed to measure psychological preferences in how people perceive the world and make decisions. These preferences were extrapolated from the typological theories proposed by Carl Gustav Jung.

The original developers of the personality inventory were Katharine Cook Briggs and her daughter, Isabel Briggs Myers. They began creating the indicator during World War II, believing that a knowledge of personality preferences would help women who were entering the industrial workforce for the first time to identify the sort of war-time jobs where they would be “most comfortable and effective”. The initial questionnaire grew into the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator, which was first published in 1962. The MBTI focuses on normal populations and emphasizes the value of naturally occurring differences.

I took the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator assessment again in October, 2010, and the results, shown below, indicate that my MBTI type is ESTJ, which stands for Extroverted, Thinking, Sensing and Judging.

Where I focus my attention: Extroversion

People who prefer Extroversion tend to focus their attention on the outer world of people and things.

The way I take in information: Sensing

People who prefer Sensing tend to take in information through the five sense and focus on the here and now.

The way I make decisions: Thinking

People who prefer Thinking tend to make decisions based primarily on logic and on objective analysis of cause and effect.

How I deal with the outer world: Judging

People who prefer Judging tend to like a planned and organized approach to life and prefer to have things settled.

ESTJ  Description

  • Decisive, clear and assertive
  • Logical, analytical and objectively critical
  • Adept at organizing projects, procedures and people
  • Likely to value competence, efficiency and results
  • Likely to prefer proven systems and procedures
  • Focused on the present, applying relevant past experience to deal with problems
  • Usually seen by others as conscientious, dependable, decisive, outspoken and self-confident

 

I’d say that pretty well describes me, would you agree?

Alexander Stricklin July, 2002 – December, 2011

Shortly after the breakup of my engagement in July of 2002, someone left a box in the alley beside or behind a co-worker’s home in Benton, Louisiana. Inside that box was a small, grey kitten who was probably only a few days old. My co-worker, Susan, knew that I was a “cat person” and began to urge me to adopt this sweet, little ball of fur, whom she’d named “Allie”, since, at the time, she’d thought the kitten was a girl-cat.

Susan brought “Allie” up to work with her, contained in a large cardboard box with a towel over the top, along with some food and water, and placed it alongside her desk, to take care of it while she worked. This was when Alexander and I first met.

A few days later, we had to change the name from “Allie” to “Alexander” when it became clear the kitten was a boy-cat. A few days after that, and I was taking Alexander home to meet Samantha, and I was wary of how, or even if, they would hit it off.

It turns out I needn’t have worried. Although the veterinarian suggested it might take a few days of smelling each other underneath the door, by the next morning Alexander was cuddling up to his new surrogate mother.

20111215-011431.jpg

Alex was always a climber. When he was still a small kitten, he would lunge and latch his claws into my jeans (or underwear), scurry up the back of my t-shirt and stand, triumphantly, on my shoulders or sometimes, on the very top of my head. Soon, he was climbing up kitchen counters, dressers, the top shelves of closets, on top of the refrigerator… When I bought a carpet-covered climbing tree that braced itself against the eight foot-tall ceiling, he would scurry up and down it like you and I open doors.

Alex also liked to hide in dark places. One day, again while still a kitten, I came home and was unable to find him. Imagine my shock when I realized he’d climbed up into the very back of my recliner! He continued to hide in that small space until he became too big to fit through the small flap at the bottom of the recliner that gave him access to the stuffing. Another time, I woke up to find he’d not only gotten under the covers with me, but he’d crawled down to the very bottom of the bed and curled up next to my feet. And just a few days ago, he’d wrapped himself in my quilts and blankets on the floor at the bottom of the bed.

Alex and I have always been cuddle-buddies. He would curl up next to my face, or underneath my arm, or between my legs, when we slept. As I’m a flip-flopper when I’m asleep, he would frequently grumble as I switched positions for yet another time.

But we loved each other… Once, I woke up to feel his raspy, tongue against my scalp, and I realized he was giving me a bath, as a sign of affection.

To those who didn’t know him, all this sounds like a sweet, pleasant cat, but Alex was often what I called a “little stinker!” When he was about 9 months old, I took him to the vet to be neutered, and they called me to come pick him up the next day, telling me, “We’re scared of him!”

Alex (and Sammie) have their full claws, and Alex could charge and hiss and spit like no other, even at the very last. Once, when my sister and a friend helped me move from one apartment to another, we’d moved all of the furniture and things out of the bedroom where the cats were, and when it was time to move the cats, Alex had to be covered in a blanket and hurled into the carrier, but not before severely scratching my sister. That night, he was given the nickname, “Psycho Cat”, and no one but myself was ever allowed in his territory.

He could also shed that beautiful, grey hair like no other cat I’ve seen. When I washed my clothes or sheets I’d frequently pull enough fur out of the lint filter to knit a new cat. Despite medicine and diet changes, he continued to periodically throw up hairballs that were as big as he was. So, when he started to throw up in the middle of the night a few nights ago, I wasn’t worried. When I’d come home from work and find him curled up in his bed in the back of the closet, I wasn’t worried. When I picked him up and cuddled with him one afternoon and he complained a little when I lifted him by his abdomen, I wasn’t really worried.

I should have been.

Feline Hepatic Lipidosis is a disease that affects previously overweight cats, (at his prime, Alex was a muscular 20+ pounds), where fats begin to build up in the cat’s liver, and the cat stops eating. Once they stop eating, their body begins to metabolize fat, just as we humans do. Our livers (and theirs) are not very efficient at processing fats, so eventually the liver fails. This is what happened to Alex. Had I noticed the signs and gotten him to the veterinarian sooner, he might have been saved, but it would have been costly, and knowing Alex the way I did, he wouldn’t have tolerated the treatment.

Alex would often let me pick him up and hold him against my chest for about 30 second to a minute before he’d strain to be let down. The last few days, he’d allowed me to hold him for several minutes without any push back, and I’d be the one to eventually want to end the hug. Today, he quietly stepped into the carrier that he’d normally hiss and spit and fight against with all of his might, and I carried him the short distance to see the doctor. He was visibly anxious, but he allowed me to stroke his face as we waited for Dr. Coker to enter the room. After discussing his condition, and watching Alex begin to fight to the bitter end, she asked me to step outside while they sedated and examined him.

Within minutes, Dr. Coker stepped outside and told me the prognosis. We stepped back inside the examination room and saw Alexander, eyes wide open, lain on his left side, laboring to breath and still wanting to fight these humans who he thought were hurting him, even though they wanted so much to help him. The doctor explained that it was time to put Alex to sleep, and we discussed how it’d be done, what we’d do with the body, etc.

When I’d left to go to the doctor, I was living with three senior cats, so I knew they’d all be passing in the next couple of years, and I’d attempted to prepare myself. Now, I have two.

When my father passed away, I was by his side, and I’d shed no tears then because he’d lingered on in pain for over five years. When my mother passed away two years ago, I was also by her side and shed no tears then because, again, we’d recognized that she’d come home to die and if anyone I’ve ever met was prepared to meet her Maker, it was my mom. Of course, I sobbed like a baby when I was at their funerals, but during the actual death I was able to contain myself.

But with Alex, when what the doctor was telling me began to really sink in, I used up what was left of the tissue papers were available in the exam room.

The doctor and her assistant left the room for a few minutes to allow Alex and I to say goodbye to one another. I draped him with my arms with his back to my chest, just like we did sometimes when we cuddled in sleep together, and I told him how much I loved him, how I knew he wouldn’t be in pain anymore, and I kissed him repeatedly behind his ears, just like he liked.

The doctor came back in, and had to sedate Alex once more, since the first shot was wearing off and he’d begun to struggle again. After it took affect, she shaved first his hind leg, then his front leg, looking for a vein. Poor Alex’s blood pressure was so weak, it took several tries before she was able to administer the drug.

And with that, he was gone.

I’ve been “owner” to four cats in my life thus far: Smokey was a Burmese cat that was brought home one afternoon by my mother after I’d been told by my father that I could not have a dog. As much as I’d loved Smokey, I’d not been given a choice as to his joining our family, and everyone knew he was really my mother’s cat, anyway.

Samantha was given to me by my former fiance’s youngest daughter because, after the breakup, she was concerned that I would be lonely. As much as I still love Sammie and as sweet of a gesture as that was, once again I had not been given a choice.

When I moved back into my childhood home to save on expenses and care for my mother as she began chemotherapy, I bonded with her cat P.C. (“Prince Charming”) and that simple fact gave my mother great pleasure to know that my kitty-cat “brother” and I had bonded so well. When Mom passed away, it was a given that I would continue to take good care of P.C., which I do to this day. But once again, he is not “my” cat and I had no choice in the matter.

Alex was my cat. I’ve known him practically his entire life. He was the cat that only I understood, and that only I knew. I chose to adopt him, and as much of a troublemaker that he was, I’m still absolutely heart-broken that he’s gone and that I won’t be able to love on him every day when I come home or wake up.

Alex was placed in a small, cardboard coffin and brought home. As the sun set, I dug a grave at the back of my property and buried him next to Smokey.

I know he is no longer in pain. I know my remaining cats can sense my loss. I know there is little else I could’ve done. I know that we all die eventually. I know that tonight is going to be one of the hardest nights I’ve experienced in a long time. And I know that I’ll always miss my sweet boy.

My top 5 StrengthsFinder 2.0 themes

So many “personality” exams focus on fixing our shortcomings instead of identifying and developing our strengths. Going against that trend, I recently took the StrengthsFinder 2.0 assessment, and it identified the following five strengths or themes as my top five: Input, Intellection, Communication, Responsibility and Learner.
It also created an action plan for me to follow for each of my top five strengths:

Input

People who are especially talented in the Input theme have a craving to know more. Often they like to collect and archive all kinds of information.

By nature, you may be well-read in certain fields. Sometimes you gather information that benefits you personally and/or professionally. Perhaps you comprehend what you read, catalog it in your mind, and somehow document it. This might prevent specific individuals from saying you are ordinary, average, or plain. To some degree, you care about what particular people think of you. You might want them to regard you as knowledgeable, believable, and accomplished. Because of your strengths, you sometimes feast on the written word. Perhaps others find you poring over — that is, studiously reading — a book to acquire a few simple facts or to deepen your understanding of a favorite topic. Because you are well read, you might be able to provide people with certain kinds of information they need. Driven by your talents, you have acquired a sophisticated vocabulary, comprised of technical, subject-specific, or complicated words. Whenever you describe the intricate steps of procedures, you are likely to rely on this terminology. Your attention to detail works to your advantage when you are addressing experts. Because you comprehend the meanings of their words, you can talk about how things function in a language they understand. Instinctively, you periodically are comfortable having time to yourself. Perhaps these interludes provide you with an opportunity to read. Whether you are sitting on a quiet beach or in a crowded airport terminal, you might be able to create your own space with a book, magazine, newspaper, document, or correspondence. Gleaning certain kinds of information, inspiration, or insights from these sources might make your relaxation a bit more pleasurable or your delays a bit more tolerable. It’s very likely that you tend to express your doubts about various ideas, theories, or concepts. Using your brainpower, you put aside your emotions while calmly absorbing as much information as you can. Even though you may have never experienced a particular situation, event, opportunity, or dilemma, you exhibit the mental capacity to project yourself into it. Lively conversations with intelligent individuals stimulate your thinking about abstract or complex topics.

  • Look for jobs in which you are charged with acquiring new information each day, such as teaching, research, or journalism.
  • Devise a system to store and easily locate information. This can be as simple as a file for all the articles you have clipped or as sophisticated as a computer database.
  • Partner with someone with dominant Focus or Discipline talents. This person will help you stay on track when your inquisitiveness leads you down intriguing but distracting avenues.
  • Your mind is open and absorbent. You naturally soak up information in the same way that a sponge soaks up water. But just as the primary purpose of the sponge is not to permanently contain what it absorbs, neither should your mind simply store information. Input without output can lead to stagnation. As you gather and absorb information, be aware of the individuals and groups that can most benefit from your knowledge, and be intentional about sharing with them.
  • You might naturally be an exceptional repository of facts, data, and ideas. If that’s the case, don’t be afraid to position yourself as an expert. By simply following your Input talents, you could become known as the authority in your field.
  • Remember that you must be more than just a collector of information. At some point, you’ll need to leverage this knowledge and turn it into action. Make a point of identifying the facts and data that would be most valuable to others, and use this information to their advantage.
  • Identify your areas of specialization, and actively seek more information about them.
  • Schedule time to read books and articles that stimulate you.
  • Deliberately increase your vocabulary. Collect new words, and learn the meaning of each of them.
  • Identify situations in which you can share the information you have collected with other people.
  • Also make sure to let your friends and colleagues know that you enjoy answering their questions.

Intellection

People who are especially talented in the Intellection theme are characterized by their intellectual activity. They are introspective and appreciate intellectual discussions.

It’s very likely that you have new ideas whirling around in your head much of the time. You are very interested in solving problems, conceiving new concepts, designing plans, or understanding everyday matters. Driven by your talents, you sometimes sit down with a book simply because you are eager to discover new ideas. Through the printed word, you have made the acquaintance of some very interesting fictional characters and real people. Because of your strengths, you are sometimes a critical reader. That is, you occasionally take apart writers’ ideas and examine them bit by bit. Afterward, you might be able to judge whether specific thoughts have merit. To some extent, your scrutiny of the printed word, rather than your emotions, guides your decision-making process. Instinctively, you may be fascinated by the printed word. Particular books, magazines, newspapers, correspondence, or Internet sites intrigue you. Whether you choose fiction or nonfiction, you might feast on facts and insights into human behavior. Ordinary and extraordinary experiences, philosophies of life, or research findings might captivate you. Guided by your interests, perhaps you can add a few ideas to your storehouse of knowledge when you take time to read. By nature, you might be well-read in particular subjects. Some people whom you have befriended may turn to you for guidance. By referring to something you have read, occasionally you can help a person see a specific situation or a particular problem from a different perspective. For you, reading might be a key that opens the door to a world of fresh ideas. Maybe you collect them; never knowing whether something you read will benefit someone else.

  • Consider beginning or continuing your studies in philosophy, literature, or psychology. You will always enjoy subjects that stimulate your thinking.
  • List your ideas in a log or diary. These ideas will serve as grist for your mental mill, and they might yield valuable insights.
  • Deliberately build relationships with people you consider to be “big thinkers.” Their example will inspire you to focus your own thinking.
  • People may think you are aloof or disengaged when you close your door or spend time alone.
  • Help them understand that this is simply a reflection of your thinking style, and that it results not from a disregard for relationships, but from a desire to bring the most you can to those relationships.
  • You are at your best when you have the time to follow an intellectual trail and see where it leads. Get involved on the front end of projects and initiatives, rather than jumping in at the execution stage. If you join in the latter stages, you may derail what has already been decided, and your insights may come too late.
  • Engaging people in intellectual and philosophical debate is one way that you make sense of things. This is not the case for everyone. Be sure to channel your provocative questions to those who similarly enjoy the give and take of debate.
  • Schedule time for thinking; it can be energizing for you. Use these occasions to muse and reflect.
  • Take time to write. Writing might be the best way for you to crystallize and integrate your thoughts.
  • Find people who like to talk about the same issues you do. Organize a discussion group that addresses your subjects of interest.
  • Encourage people around you to use their full intellectual capital by reframing questions for them and by engaging them in dialogue. At the same time, realize that there will be some who find this intimidating and who need time to reflect before being put on the spot.

Communication

People who are especially talented in the Communication theme generally find it easy to put their thoughts into words. They are good conversationalists and presenters.

Because of your strengths, you sometimes enjoy being the person who gets people talking. When outsiders or newcomers have little or nothing to say, you might find a way to involve some of them in the dialogue. Instinctively, you select the right combination of words to convey your ideas or feelings. In the middle of discussions, your vocabulary provides you with precise phrases and terminology. You probably express yourself with ease and grace. By nature, you may feel comfortable speaking to a variety of individuals or audiences. Chances are good that you may gravitate to groups whose members love to exchange information, ideas, opinions, stories, or jokes. Perhaps you have an easy time sharing your thoughts and feelings with people. Driven by your talents, you are comfortable telling others stories about your personal habits, qualities, experiences, or background. Your forthcoming nature probably enables others to share their thoughts and feelings with you.

  • You will always do well in roles that require you to capture people’s attention. Think about a career in teaching, sales, marketing, ministry, or the media. Your Communication talents are likely to flourish in these areas.
  • Start a collection of stories or phrases that resonate with you. For example, cut out magazine articles that move you, or write down powerful word combinations. Practice telling these stories or saying these words out loud, by yourself. Listen to yourself actually saying the words. Refine.
  • When you are presenting, pay close attention to your audience. Watch their reactions to each part of your presentation. You will notice that some parts are especially engaging. Afterwards, take time to identify the moments that particularly caught the audience’s attention. Draft your next presentation around these highlights.
  • Practice. Improvisation has a certain appeal, but in general, an audience will respond best to a presenter who knows where he or she is headed. Counter intuitively, the more prepared you are, the more natural your improvisations will appear.
  • Identify your most beneficial sounding boards and audiences — the listeners who seem to bring out your best communication. Examine these individuals or groups to learn why you are so good when you speak with them or to them, and look for the same qualities in potential partners and audiences.
  • Keep getting smarter about the words you use. They are a critical currency. Spend them wisely, and monitor their impact.
  • Your Communication talents can be highly effective when your message has substance. Don’t rely on your talents alone; take your communication to the level of strength by developing your knowledge and expertise in specific areas.
  • You are gifted in fostering dialogue among peers and colleagues. Use your Communication talents to summarize the various points in a meeting and to build consensus by helping others see what they have in common.
  • If you enjoy writing (I do), consider publishing your work. If you enjoy public speaking, make a presentation at a professional meeting or convention. In either case, your Communication talents will serve to assist you in finding just the right way to frame your ideas and state your purpose. You delight in sharing your thoughts with others, so find the medium that best fits your voice and message.
  • Volunteer for opportunities to present. You can become known as someone who helps people express their thoughts and ambitions in a captivating way.

Responsibility

People who are especially talented in the Responsibility theme take psychological ownership of what they say they will do. They are committed to stable values such as honesty and loyalty.

Instinctively, you are occasionally willing to be vulnerable. Perhaps you claim your talents or admit your weaknesses. Your openness may help some people know you better as a person. Your straightforward style may convince others you are honest, dependable, and reliable. By nature, you sometimes do what you said you would do even when it means being inconvenienced. Although your pace may remain measured and easy, you might be determined to honor your promises to certain individuals. The quality of the relationship you have with someone might determine which commitments receive your full and prompt attention. It’s very likely that you sometimes ponder what you could do better. You may find some new ways to deliver on the commitments you have made to certain individuals. Perhaps keeping promises is one way you might enhance the quality of your work. Driven by your talents, you sometimes are honest with yourself about yourself. You might be candid about your limitations when you are talking with certain individuals. Perhaps you are comfortable admitting you need to do some things better, more completely, or more perfectly. Chances are good that you try to finish the tasks you agreed to do. Perhaps you even overcome some unexpected problems. Occasionally you work longer hours when it is necessary. Maybe you do whatever you can to avoid breaking the promises you made to people.

  • Emphasize your sense of responsibility when job hunting. During interviews, describe your desire to be held fully accountable for the success or failure of projects, your intense dislike of unfinished work, and your need to “make it right” if a commitment is not met.
  • Keep volunteering for more responsibility than your experience seems to warrant. You thrive on responsibility, and you can deal with it very effectively.
  • Align yourself with others who share your sense of responsibility. You will flourish when working with people who share your determination to get things done.
  • Tell your manager that you work best when given the freedom to follow through on your commitments — that you don’t need to check in during a project, just at the end. You can be trusted to get it done.
  • Push yourself to say no. Because you are instinctively responsible, it might sometimes be difficult to refuse opportunities. For this reason, you must be selective. Ask for more responsibility in only the areas that matter most to you.
  • You naturally take ownership of every project you are involved in. Make sure that your capacity to own does not keep you from sharing responsibility. Allow others the opportunity to experience the challenges of ownership. In doing so, you will contribute to their growth and development.
  • Learn to manage your Responsibility talents by considering whether you really are the person who should be handling a particular issue. Defer to your existing responsibilities and goals before undertaking additional burdens, as you may end up skimping on quality if you have too many tasks or competing demands.
  • Partner with someone especially talented in Discipline or Focus. This person can help you stay on track and prevent you from becoming overloaded.
  • Working with a like-minded, responsible colleague is satisfying for you. Be sure to clarify expectations and boundaries so that each person can feel ownership for his or her particular tasks — without stepping on each other’s toes.
  • Responsible individuals like to know they have “delivered” on their commitments, so create metrics and goals to gauge how effectively you meet your obligations. Also, make sure you have explicit and concrete expectations so that there is no question regarding quality outcomes and so that you can hit the mark as promised.

Learner

People who are especially talented in the Learner theme have a great desire to learn and want to continuously improve. In particular, the process of learning, rather than the outcome, excites them.

Because of your strengths, you ponder your decisions rather than react without thinking through things. You weigh the possible ramifications, consequences, outcomes, and effects. You aim to understand the basic “whys” and “hows” of a situation, problem, or opportunity. People trust you to be cautious. They expect you to raise important issues that require further consideration. It’s very likely that you occasionally sign up for rigorous courses of study rather than enroll in easy classes. This might satisfy your need to master things that do not come naturally. Perhaps you trust you can handle unpleasant or difficult assignments. Maybe the struggle to expand your knowledge, broaden your skills, conquer your limitations, or fix problems motivates you to welcome academic challenges. By nature, you frequently examine the factors leading up to an event. Therein you discover the reasons why things happened the way they did. A number of individuals and/or groups probably appreciate your logical thinking style. Driven by your talents, you sometimes enroll in difficult or demanding classes.

You might aim to expand your knowledge or challenge your thinking about certain things. Instinctively, you probably identify the traits or experiences that distinguish one person from the next. Once you familiarize yourself with someone, you can often predict with accuracy how the person will react in different situations.

  • Refine how you learn. For example, you might learn best by teaching; if so, seek out opportunities to present to others. You might learn best through quiet reflection; if so, find this quiet time.
  • Develop ways to track the progress of your learning. If there are distinct levels or stages of learning within a discipline or skill, take a moment to celebrate your progression from one level
  • to the next. If no such levels exist, create them for yourself (e.g., reading five books on the subject or making three presentations on the subject).
  • Be a catalyst for change. Others might be intimidated by new rules, new skills, or new circumstances. Your willingness to soak up this newness can calm their fears and spur them to action. Take this responsibility seriously.
  • Seek roles that require some form of technical competence. You will enjoy the process of acquiring and maintaining this expertise.
  • As far as possible, shift your career toward a field with constantly changing technologies or regulations. You will be energized by the challenge of keeping up.
  • Because you are not threatened by unfamiliar information, you might excel in a consulting role (either internal or external) in which you are paid to go into new situations and pick up new competencies or languages quickly.
  • Research supports the link between learning and performance. When people have the opportunity to learn and grow, they are more productive and loyal. Look for ways to measure the degree to which you and others feel that your learning needs are being met, to create individualized learning milestones, and to reward achievements in learning.
  • At work, take advantage of programs that subsidize your learning. Your organization may be willing to pay for part or all of your instructional coursework or for certifications. Ask your manager for information about scholarships and other educational opportunities.
  • Honor your desire to learn. Take advantage of adult educational opportunities in your community. Discipline yourself to sign up for at least one new academic or adult learning course each year.
  • Time disappears and your attention intensifies when you are immersed in studying or learning.
  • Allow yourself to “follow the trail” by scheduling learning sessions during periods of time that will not be interrupted by pressing engagements.

Codifying oneself

In college, I’d learned about blogging and the Geek Code, and dabbled with both. Because Robert Hayden, the Geek Code’s author, hadn’t updated the code since 1996 and had allowed blogging, PHP, AJAX, Podcasts and a myriad of other geek advancements go by without updating the code to reflect them, I began about a year or so ago, with the help of Blackb|rd in the #wordpress IRC, to formulate what we then called the GUID, an acronym for the Geek Uniform Identification.

Well, the GUID fell on the back burner, and Blackb|rd asked me today if I had any plans to release it or resume work on it. Sadly, all of my files related to the project have been inadvertently deleted. Then, as we began to discuss restarting the project, someone informed us it had already been done. Several times, really.

The Hacker Key attempted to expand on the Geek Key’s good points while eliminating the bad points and condensing the whole thing down onto one line. Of course, those value judgments are purely subjective to Chris Allegretta, the Hacker Key’s author, and I have no problem with that. However, the key moved from measuring and displaying geekiness toward hacker prowess. Since I’m a geek, not a hacker, the key really doesn’t apply to me.

That didn’t stop me from taking the test, though.

My hacker key:

v3sw3CHhw5ln4pr7?ck2ma6u6Lw6TXm5l5Oi!e6t5NMAb8HOen4g5AOPa4Xs6MSr5p3 hackerkey.com

Then there’s the OmniCode, purported to be “a direct replacement for the Geek Code and includes almost everything, and I mean almost everything you’d possibly want to display in your code.” Almost.

There’s fewer references to pop culture geekiness, television shows, politics, etc. like the original code, and there’s very little whimsy apparent. It’s all very cut-and-dried.

My OmniCode:

———————- OmniCode 0.1.7 ———————–
sxy cm183 kg126 skf1eae4 ha0d0d0d.receding_with_flecks_of_dbd4cc ey88ab90 esO&#&o.bifocals sp= Ag1960.May.05 anE hdd Lo32,290N-93,416W.United_States.Louisiana.Shreveport ZoR.metal rlC LAEN Crc(4).System Analyst Edc(6) HbSleeping&.Eating Pll MvD Rl!.lonely Kd! PeC.tortoise-shell_called_Samantha&C.gray_longhair_named_Alexander MBINTJ.once_tested_as_ENTP FH!.stubble_on_weekends UFSid&AJ IN4.8_on_weekends AdC&O.chocolate&O.pizza&O.blogging PrBASIC(7)^(7)&C(5)^(5)&COBOL(6)^(6)&PHP(2)^(9)
———– Omnicode http://www.gadgeteer.net/omnicode/ ———–

Still, it seems to be a work in progress so I’ll cut it some slack. At least it’s not stuck in 1992.