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.

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.

30 things I want to be before I die

The last of the three lists of 30 things my counselor wanted me to write was things I wanted to be before I died, so, in no particular order:

  1. Healthy
  2. Wise
  3. Respected
  4. Financially secure
  5. Loved
  6. Mostly happy
  7. Righteous
  8. A husband
  9. A father
  10. A teacher
  11. A mentor
  12. Creative
  13. Kind
  14. Faithful
  15. Cheerful
  16. Grateful
  17. Industrious
  18. Obedient to God
  19. Peaceful
  20. Thoughtful
  21. Friendly
  22. Calm
  23. Inspiring
  24. A role model
  25. Active
  26. Confident
  27. Balanced
  28. Loving
  29. Encouraging
  30. Constructive

Wow! That was the hardest of the three to finish!

30 things I want to do before I die

Continuing on to the next list my counselor suggested I should make, here are 30 things I’d like to do before I die:

  1. Spend a week or two in and around Rockingham, North Carolina, learning as much as I can about my 4th-great grandfather, John Stricklin, born abut 1785, died October 1849. Particularly who his father and mother were.
  2. Spend a week or two in and around Lutts, Tennessee, learning as much as I can about my 3rd-great grandfather, Thomas Stricklin (20 Aug 1805 – 9 Jun 1889), and other members of my family who lived in that area.
  3. Spend some time traveling around Kendal, Cumbria, England, where my family surname almost certainly originated.
  4. Spend some time vacationing in the District of Columbia, seeing as many museums and monuments as humanly possible.
  5. Go on a cruise with a private stateroom, preferably the Caribbean or Hawaii.
  6. Travel first class (air).
  7. Become a published author.
  8. Be CEO of a company with a real office and real employees.
  9. Teach a Bible study.
  10. Teach a high school or college-level course, probably History or Government.
  11. Build a home that I, with the help of an architect, of course, designed.
  12. Move to a larger city, most likely either the Dallas/Fort Worth area or the Austin/San Antonio level.
  13. Learn Spanish.
  14. Learn to cook. I mean, really cook.
  15. Learn to play guitar.
  16. Learn to play bass.
  17. Learn to read music.
  18. Become a certified genealogist.
  19. Play in a band.
  20. Weigh under 200 lbs. once again.
  21. Have Lasik surgery.
  22. Get cosmetic dentistry.
  23. Have the excess skin under my eyes removed.
  24. Be someone’s mentor.
  25. Be a delegate to a GOP convention. (I was going to say, “Attend the inauguration of a Republican president,” but have you ever stood outside for an entire day in Washington, D.C. during January?!? It’s cold!)
  26. Eat a pizza from from Lombardi’s.
  27. Eat a Chicago-style, deep-dish pizza from Pizzeria Uno, 29 East Ohio, Chicago, IL, 60611.
  28. Eat a deep-dish pizza from Giordano’s.
  29. Eat a chili-dog from Pink’s in Hollywood.
  30. Watch my nephew graduate college and/or get married.

Notice I said I’d like to do these things, not that I expect to do these things. Some of them, maybe. All of them, probably not.

30 things I want to have before I die

Thursday, my counselor gave me a challenge to complete three lists detailing 30 things I’d have, 30 things I’d do and 30 things I want to be, all before I pass away.
Okay, here goes with the first list (in no particular order):

  1. A Mac Pro with Two 2.93GHz 6-Core Intel Xeon “Westmere” (12 cores) 32GB (8x4GB) processors, a Mac Pro RAID Card, four 512GB solid-state drives, two ATI Radeon HD 5770 1GB video cards, two 18x SuperDrives, two Apple (27″ flat panel)LED Cinema Displays, an Apple Magic Mouse + Magic Trackpad, an Apple Keyboard with Numeric Keypad (English), a Quad-channel 4Gb Fibre Channel PCI Express card and iWork Family Pack & Microsoft Office Mac 2011 – Home and Business Edition preinstalled. ($19,584.95, but it ships for free!)
  2. A Macbook Pro with a 2.8GHz Intel Core i7 processor, 8GB 1066MHz DDR3 SDRAM – 2X4GB memory, a 512GB Solid State Drive, a SuperDrive 8x (DVD±R DL/DVD±RW/CD-RW), a 17-inch Hi-Resolution Antiglare Widescreen Display and a Backlit Keyboard (English). ($4,449.00, and again, it ships for free!)
  3. A Mercedes-Benz C30 Luxury Sedan, black with an almond/mocha interior and burl walnut wood trim; Premium 1, lighting and multimedia packages, illuminated door sills, keyless entry, rear-view camera, rear-seat entertainment center and sports grill. ($49,923)

Okay, let’s be serious:

  1. A wife that, for some crazy reason, still thinks I’m handsome.
  2. A daughter who is in college and dating a man who adores her the way I do.
  3. A son who makes me proud to be his Dad.
  4. Work that I find challenging but not frustratingly so, and I can’t believe people actually pay me good money to do.
  5. A house that I’d had a hand in designing.
  6. A cat that doesn’t poop or barf all over the carpet.
  7. An office with lots of nice things, like computers and a nice desk, etc.
  8. Good friends, some that I see on a regular basis and some that I call up and spend an hour or two talking about the good ol’ days.
  9. A church where I enjoy serving and worshipping.
  10. Good health, enough to be able to travel and get around by myself.
  11. Musical instruments like guitars, basses and drums, and the ability to actually play them.
  12. The ability to travel outside of the country to countries I’ve always wanted to visit, and some that I’ve missed and wish to visit again.
  13. The ability to give generously to my church and worthy charities.
  14. Elected officials that adequately represent my interests and don’t run up debt on needless social programs.
  15. Most all of my current teeth, or at least some good false ones.
  16. My hearing.
  17. My eyesight.
  18. All of my limbs and digits.
  19. My memory.
  20. My sanity.
  21. A comfortable chair in the living room.
  22. FiOS Internet access.
  23. A large, high definition, flat-screen television.
  24. A comfortable bed.
  25. Nice clothes.
  26. Season tickets to all the MSU men’s football games.
  27. Somewhere quiet, where I can read and work.
  28. Mac Pro with Two 2.93GHz 6-Core Intel Xeon “Westmere” (12 cores) 32GB (8x4GB) processors, a Mac Pro RAID Card, four 512GB solid-state drives, two ATI Radeon HD 5770 1GB video cards, two 18x SuperDrives, two Apple (27″ flat panel)LED Cinema Displays, an Apple Magic Mouse + Magic Trackpad, an Apple Keyboard with Numeric Keypad (English), a Quad-channel 4Gb Fibre Channel PCI Express card and iWork Family Pack & Microsoft Office Mac 2011 – Home and Business Edition preinstalled. ($19,584.95, but it ships for free!)
  29. Macbook Pro with a 2.8GHz Intel Core i7 processor, 8GB 1066MHz DDR3 SDRAM – 2X4GB memory, a 512GB Solid State Drive, a SuperDrive 8x (DVD±R DL/DVD±RW/CD-RW), a 17-inch Hi-Resolution Antiglare Widescreen Display and a Backlit Keyboard (English). ($4,449.00, and again, it ships for free!)
  30. Mercedes-Benz C30 Luxury Sedan, black with an almond/mocha interior and burl walnut wood trim; Premium 1, lighting and multimedia packages, illuminated door sills, keyless entry, rear-view camera, rear-seat entertainment center and sports grill. ($49,923)

Yeah, I just had to slip those last 3 in there. Sue me.
Keep in mind that some of these things may not exist or will have been updated by the time I die, which I plan on doing May 6th, 2060. Also, feel free to purchase anything you see here for me as a gift.

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.

The Stricklin Mindset List

Every Fall, Beloit College produces what they’ve come to call the Beloit College Mindset List, a list of popular culture and historical references that demonstrate the incoming freshmen class’ mindset, having grown up when they did. For example, those born in 1987 and entering college this year have never known a day when the federal budget was less than a trillion dollars, Andy Warhol, Liberace, Jackie Gleason, and Lee Marvin have always been dead, and Iran and Iraq have never been at war with each other.

You get the idea.
So, today, in honor of my 46th birthday, I thought I’d give you a glimpse into what has happened since I was born.

  • I remember when homes only had one television, and it was huge!
  • I remember when televisions only came in black and white.
  • I remember watching the Ed Sullivan and the Red Skelton shows.
  • I remember seeing the Vietnam War every night on the evening news.
  • I remember seeing Neil Armstrong land on the moon.
  • I remember watching the (war) draft on television.
  • I remember the years between the end of the draft and the beginning of the Selective Service.
  • I remember when cable and satellite television for the home was unheard of.
  • I remember when HBO first became available.
  • I remember exactly where I was when President Nixon resigned.
  • I remember the Challenger exploding.
  • I remember voting for Reagan. Twice. Fondly.
  • I remember the fall of Siagon.
  • I remember the Iranian hostage crisis.
  • I remember disco. Not fondly.
  • I remember when John Lennon was shot.
  • I remember when the Beatles were still together.
  • I remember the Banana Splits.
  • I remember Tang.
  • I remember when white men in Shreveport used the slur “n****r” in open conversation. (To be clear, I’m not saying that’s a good thing, I’m saying I remember it happening, and it’s something I hated then and I hate now.)
  • I remember when there were no black children in my class.
  • I remember hearing something about what happened at Chappaquiddick, but being 9 at the time, didn’t care much.
  • Sadly, pretty much the same thing for Martin Luther King, Jr. and Robert Kennedy.
  • I remember being stunned with news of the People’s Temple suicides.
  • I remember begging to watch Batman at the dinner table.
  • For that matter, I remember when everyone in the family ate dinner together, and no television was allowed.
  • I remember when calling someone “gay” meant he was a particularly happy individual.
  • I remember when every guy I knew had a copy of Farrah Fawcett’s poster on his wall. I remember why, too.
  • I remember when porn was shown only in theatres downtown, in the seedy parts of downtown.
  • I remember when Superman, Star Trek and Star Wars all opened.
  • I remember actually being impressed with their special effects.
  • I remember not even knowing who Bill Clinton was, when he was the governor of a state that’s less than 30 minutes North of where I grew up.
  • I remember hearing about how bad our neighbor’s daughter was because she smoked pot!
  • I remember when we could get two gallons of gasoline for under $1.
  • I remember when my first car cost $5,000. New!
  • I remember the lines around the service stations and rationing because gasoline cost $0.94 a gallon (About $3.08 in 2016 dollars.)
  • I remember Jimmy Carter’s pep-talk to the nation.
  • I remember when the Macintosh was first introduced.
  • I remember playing Zork on an Apple IIc.
  • I remember when my hair reached the middle of my shoulder blades.

So you see, I’ve been around for an old man. Here’s hoping I stay around for a few more interesting things.

The Privileged Planet

This weekend I watched a fascinating DVD titled The Privileged Planet which refutes the Copernican principle (sometimes called the principle of mediocrity) by arguing that the Earth’s seemingly insignificance compared to the universe as a whole in actuality is a compelling argument that our planet’s existence is exceedingly rare and suggests the universe was expressly created with us in mind; that instead of demoting Earth, it actually promoted Earth.
Authors Guillermo Gonzalez and Jay W. Richards outline several different variables that must be exactly right in order for life to exist, including:

  1. It must be located within the Galactic habitable zone
    …close enough to its Galaxy’s center that a sufficiently high level of heavy elements (iron, magnesium, silicon) exist to favor the formation of rocky planets, but is far enough from the center to avoid hazards such as impacts from comets and asteroids, close encounters with passing stars, and outbursts of radiation from supernovae and from the black hole at the center of the galaxy.
  2. It must be located within the Circumstellar habitable zone
    …positioned properly to its star where liquid water could form and be maintained. For example, if the Earth were positioned 5% closer to the sun, the temperatures would soar to over 900° F and water would be burned out of our atmosphere, similar to Venus; if it were positioned 25% further away from the sun, carbon monoxide clouds would form and we’d freeze similar to Mars.
  3. It’d have to orbit a main sequence G2 dwarf star having the correct mass
    …of which only 10% of the known universe is thought to be comprised of.
  4. It would need to be protected by one or more gas giant planets
    …such as Jupiter and Saturn, in our case.
  5. It would need to be orbited by a large moon.
    Our moon stabilizes the rotation of the Earth and restricts it to a perfect 23.5 degree tilt, giving us the seasons.
  6. It would need a moderate rate of rotation.
  7. It would need a nearly circular rotation.
    …to maintain relatively constant temperatures.
  8. It would be to be the correct mass.
  9. It would need to be terrestrial.
  10. It would need an oxygen-rich atmosphere
    …in order to support carbon-based life forms.
  11. It would have similar plate tectonics to our own
    If the Earth’s crust were any thicker, it wouldn’t be able to recycle carbon or regulate temperature.
  12. It would generate a magnetic field like ours.
    Without the magnetic fields of flux emanating from the Earth’s poles, the solar wind would strip off our atmosphere and leave us looking like Mars.
  13. It would have a similar ratio of water to continents.

Add to these factors that our location within the Galactic habitable zone happens to be in between the Sagittarius and Perseus arms of our galaxy where habitability is optimized and threats are minimized. Even within the Galactic habitable zone there are patches where the arms spiral inward where things are too dense: too many supernovas, too many black holes and too much deadly radiation for planets to inhabit life.
Then, add to those factors that our position within the galaxy, as well as the factors that make up Earth’s habitability, particularly its clear atmosphere, provide us with the best overall setting for making scientific discoveries. For example, the best place to view a solar eclipse was calculated against 60 planets and moons, but the best place to view one was here on Earth. Being able to view a solar eclipse this perfectly allows astronomers to see other stars, to see other galaxies and to calculate their position and movement.
When you take all of the factors the authors suggest:

N x fsg x fghz x fcr x fsp x fchz x np x fj x fc x fo x fm x fcp x fmn x fn x ft x fl x fi x fr x flc x flt

…and assign them conservative values of 10 x 1:

(1011 x 1) x (10 x 1) x (10 x 1) x (10 x 1) x (10 x 1) x (10 x 1) x (10 x 1) x (10 x 1) x (10 x 1) x (10 x 1) x (10 x 1) x (10 x 1) x (10 x 1) x (10 x 1) x (10 x 1) x (10 x 1) x (10 x 1) x (10 x 1) x (10 x 1) / 10 = 1/1,000,000,000,000,000 (one thousandth of one trillion)

In layman’s terms, that means that the likelihood of a planet like Earth occurring is roughly once in every trillion planets. While this suggests that the Earth is very rare, that statistic might even get lost in the types of big numbers we’re talking about in the universe. It’s kind of like the old saying where you call someone “one in a million.” With roughly 6,450,000,000 people on the Earth at the moment, that would mean at “one in a million” there might be as many as 6,449 more of you out there. So, even at one thousandth of a trillion, with Sagans of stars out there, it stands to reason that. statistically at least, the likelihood of Earth being singularly unique are small.
However, the mere fact that the universe is orderly seems to suggest that it was designed and created by an intelligent being, or… let’s just say it to be clear: God.
Consider the Kalam Cosmological Argument:

  1. Whatever comes to exist has a cause.
  2. The universe began to exist.
  3. Therefore, the universe has a cause.

Now, I know that “pure” scientists reject anything outside of materialism, but in a way, even scientists accept as a matter of faith an underlying assumption that the universe is orderly (otherwise, nothing could be studied because nothing could be measured, predicted or duplicated) and intelligent (otherwise, we ourselves couldn’t understand anything.)
If you accept that the universe is both orderly and intelligent, then it stands to reason that it either just happened to occur in that exact way as a cosmic fluke, or that is happened that way on purpose; that it was caused.
I choose to believe the latter.
Luckily, I’m in good company. Copernicus, himself the “instigator” of all this talk of “demoting” the Earth, believed that God created the universe propter nos (“for us”)

Paul Taylor (1960-2006)

I mourn the loss of childhood friend, Paul Taylor.
Paul was only a few months older than I, and he lived just over my backyard fence when I was in junior high and high school. He was the proverbial archetype of the “tough guy with a heart made of gold.” Even at 14, he shaved, and smoked, and drank and rode a motorcycle.
We became friends when David, my best friend even today, moved away to Houston. We would spend afternoons in his smoke-filled house, listening to records and playing our own music. Often we’d drive around the neighborhood in his old Fold Fairlane looking for something to do, and nearly without exception he drive in arcs across the local park’s parking lot so fast it’d nearly tip the car over, on my side!
During those years, I progressed from smoking Swisher Sweets to nearly 2 packs of Marlboro a day when he realized the reason I’d taken up smoking was to emulate him. Suddenly, one day when he and I walked around our neighborhood he suddenly stopped, grabbed the pack of cigarettes from my shirt pocket, tore them in half, stood inches away from my face and swore to me that if he found me smoking again, he’d beat the snot out of me. And no, he didn’t use the word ‘snot’, I did.
In the decades since, I’ve lit up a cigarette only twice.
At school, he and I spent a great deal of time and thought concerning the young women in our classes. In high school, he began dating Pam, a girl who’d run afoul of my girlfriend at the time. They married, and started their family right away. Paul dropped out of school to support them. Some time later, because of our mutual love for Paul, Pam and I settled our differences, which it turned out wasn’t that hard because neither of us could remember the root cause in the first place.
When I returned home after serving in the Gulf War in 1991, I visited with Paul and his family, giving t-shirts and trinkets to his children, Rachel and James. They were very young and small then… both of them are fully-grown now.
Paul and I met a few years ago at Murrell’s for a cup of coffee and conversation. I found out that the pinging sound on my home’s rotating exhaust fans that had driven my Dad crazy had been caused by Paul sitting on his back porch, pellet rifle in hand, shooting away and trying not to give away his position with laughter. I also found out that his marriage to Pam seemed to be ending. Shortly, his prediction came true.
Some time later, I received an announcement in the mail that Paul was marrying again, to a woman named Roxanna, and subsequent phone conversations proved to me that he was very, very happy.
I’ve been intending to call and visit, but as with many relationships, if you don’t make the time, the time slips away from you. Tuesday morning, Pam called me, got my answering machine, and because she wasn’t sure of my voice, ended the call. She called again later and told me the news: Paul had laid down along side his van at work and passed away. The speculation was that it was a heart attack.
I’m thankful that Paul didn’t suffer long. I’m thankful he was a friend when I needed one. I’m thankful he stopped me from becoming addicted to cigarettes. I’m thankful he taught me how to play the drums. More that those things, I’m thankful for all the times he made me laugh. He was a good man, and a good friend, and he will be sorely missed.

Meet Sammie & Alex

I suppose it’s time to introduce my readers to my two cats, Sammie (short for Samantha) on the right below and Alex (short for Alexander) on the left.

Sammie is about 4 or 5 years old, and a tortie (having a tortoise-shell appearance.) She belonged to my former fiancé, and her youngest daughter was concerned that I might be lonely after the breakup, so Sammie came to live with me.
Alex was left on a co-worker’s front doorstep when he was just a day or two old. He has a gray coat with a splash of white fur on his breast. I adopted him after my co-worker asked me to.
Some interesting notes about these two:

  • Alex was originally named “Ally” — a play on “Alley” as in “Alley Cat”, since she thought Alex was really a girl cat.
  • Sammie has a foot fetish, rubbing against and lightly biting my bare feet anytime they’re exposed, especially when I first get out of the shower.
  • Alex is a climber, always has been. When he was just a kitten, he used to jump and climb up the side of my slacks and shirts until he was perched on my shoulders. He would frequently climb up dressers, the refrigerator and shelves.
  • Sammie frequently stretches or cleans herself, then seems to forget to bring her tongue totally inside.
  • Alex likes to smell things with his mouth partially open, then leaves it that way for several moments.
  • Both Alex and Sammie “chatter” when they see birds outside.
  • Both are afraid of the vacuum cleaner and plastic bags.
  • Sammie picks up her toys with her claws and flings them against the walls.
  • Alex can sometimes be found sleeping on the floor underneath the bedspread, or on the bed itself under the comforter.
  • Alex used to climb up inside the back of the couch and go to sleep.
  • Sammie frequently lays across my legs and wrists, as if she’s trying to tell me to stop blogging.
  • Alex goes to sleep against the pillow beside me or curled up against my side. Sammie goes to sleep at my feet or between the legs.
  • Alex cannot be let into the bathroom because he’ll destroy the toilet paper and drag the bath mat all over the apartment.
  • Alex frequently runs ahead of me, lies down and stretches out, fully expecting me to rub his tummy.
  • Alex can sometimes be found lying on the carpet, on his back.
  • Alex will stick his arms and paws underneath the bathroom door and try to claw anything that moves.
  • Sammie actually kisses me, putting her lips against mine when she wants to show affection.

They’re my buddies, and I love taking care of them.