28 February, 2013

Poe Meets DOS

Once upon a midnight dreary,
               fingers cramped and vision bleary,
System manuals piled up high and
               wasted paper on the floor,
Longing for the warmth of bed sheets,
Still I sat there, doing spreadsheets:
Having reached the bottom line,
I took a floppy from the drawer.
Typing with a steady hand, I then invoked the SAVE command
But got instead a reprimand: it read "Abort, Retry, Ignore."

Was this some occult illusion? Some maniacal intrusion?
These were choices Solomon himself had never faced before.
Carefully, I weighed my options.
These three seemed to be the top ones.
Clearly, I must now adopt one:
Choose Abort, Retry, Ignore.

With my fingers pale and trembling, slowly toward the keyboard bending,
Longing for a happy ending, hoping all would be restored,
Praying for some guarantee
Finally I pressed a key --
But on the screen what did I see?
Again: "Abort, Retry, Ignore."

I tried to catch the chips off guard. I pressed again, but twice as hard.
Luck was just not in the cards. I saw what I had seen before.
Now I typed in desperation
Trying random combinations
Still there came the incantation:
Choose: Abort, Retry, Ignore.

There I sat, distraught, exhausted, by my own machine accosted
Getting up I turned away and paced across the office floor.
And then I saw an awful sight:
A bold and blinding flash of light --
A lightning bolt had cut the night and shook me to my very core.
I saw the screen collapse and die
"Oh no -- my database", I cried
I thought I heard a voice reply,
"You'll see your data Nevermore."

To this day I do not know the place to which lost data goes,
But I bet it goes to heaven where the angels have it stored.
But as for productivity, well
I fear that it goes straight to hell
And that's the tale I have to tell
Your choice: Abort, Retry, Ignore.

Author Unknown   
(with apologies to the bird)

27 February, 2013

Counting Sheep

I need to sleep better. At 4:00 am, I found myself awake and marveling at my use of a number system that didn't really have any numbers in it. Eschewing specificity, I guess. I remember in high school I once calculated all the conversions for a fortnight-stone-furlong system; I mention it only to indicate that this is an old obsession for me. I like to count, but I can't hold a candle to Monk or the Rainman.

a tad - fewer than one.

a - one, but not necessarily the only one. Just the one you're talking about.

the - one, and the only one.

pair - two, always, even when it's quite a pair. Could be a brace if you wanted to show off.

couple - usually two, but not as specific as a pair.

few - three to six or so.

several - seven to thirteen (as in "these several states").

about a dozen - eleven to fifteen.

a few dozen- twenty to forty.

bunches - more than forty.

a ton - a whole lot of bunches.

oceans - mega-tons.

bazillion - untold numbers defying imagination.

26 February, 2013

What Is Your Purpose Here, Forrest

Once again the first exam of the semester has come and gone. Once again the results were disheartening. 5 As, 5Bs, 4 Cs, 10 Ds, 8 Fs. This is not a difficult course, folks. Sophomore level.

I draw my test questions from a pool of about 30 or so that I have been using for what seems like forever - 77 semesters. Sure I occasionally throw out a question or add a new one, but my point is that I have seen just about every correct and incorrect way to answer the ten brief essays which I present them. I have, unfortunately, watched a long slow slide in the quality of their responses.

Can there really have been such a significant shift in the great American intellectual gene pool over just a few decades?! Evolution is supposed to be sloooooow.

I returned the tests on Monday and spent about 25 minutes going over it - indicating what a correct answer might look like and noting the most common errors. I then offered to regrade any question they thought I might have graded too strictly. I had very few takers - three students, six questions - leading me to conclude the grades were accurate. I was surprised.

Should I have been? Or is this simply more of the same attitude that led to the low scores in the first place? My word, I had one student who managed three points out of the 56 on the test. How do you do that?

Tuition is over $30,000 (sticker price w/o aid figured in). Room and board another $12,000 or so. How can you spend that kind of money and not value what you are learning?! How can you allow yourself not to work hard?!

As a group, they are paying roughly $70,000 (sticker price) to take my course. I do all that I can to make it worthwhile? How can they not?

Big sigh.

25 February, 2013

{picture perfect} Popovers

Civita's Homemade Popovers
New Hartford, New York
Copyright © 2012 Amy E. Brown

24 February, 2013

God Will Provide

A young woman brought her fiancé home to meet her parents. After dinner her father asked the young man into his study for chat. "So, what are your plans?" he began.

"I'm a theology scholar," the young man replied.

"Admirable," the father said, "but what will you do to provide a
nice home for my daughter?"

"I will study, and God will provide," he explained.

"And how will you afford to raise children?"

"God will provide."

The man left the study, and the mother asked her husband, "How'd it

"He had no money or employment plans," the father said, "but on the
other hand, he thinks I'm God."
Author Unknown   

23 February, 2013


Almost every day I photograph this tree near my office window - always from the same angle and about the same time of day. This is my favorite image from the past week.

Copyright © 2013 Thomas G. Brown

To view a video set to music that contains 135 images taken over 12 months, click here.

For the 2010 collection of images, click here.
For the 2011 collection of images, click here.
For the 2012 collection of images, click here.
For the 2013 collection of images, click here.

22 February, 2013

21 February, 2013

{this memory} 74

This is the story behind last Monday's {this moment}.

In vino, veritas.
In wine, you will find truth.

That's where I found it. That's where I found mine. On Sunday, September 13, 1992, I had a very large heart attack and spent the next few months at home on disability leave. Hmmm - what to do with all that spare time?

Wine. I began learning about wine, in particular the reds. I created a special space that might hold 156 bottles. I say might because I don't think I ever had that many - although I might have been up to a hundred at one point. It's like a lab course - first you learn the basic theory and principles and then you try it out.

As I wrote in an earlier post: "My favorite wines are beefy but elegant reds - big, bold, and chewy with good wood, slow falling legs, and a long strong finish. Um ... at least I think we're still talking about wine."

The decanter shown was purchased by my wife and I on an excursion to Toronto. The glass was a gift from a relative. Amazingly - which I had to prove to disbelievers - it would hold a whole bottle of wine. I never used it that way though.

I drink less today than I once did. Necessarily. One glass is usually my limit. Maybe two if the occasion is right. I wish it weren't so, but 'tis.

Nevertheless, I am filled with such wonderful memories and am a most fortunate man.

20 February, 2013

Finn-ally, The Hug

Rewarded this time.
It was such a small thing.
In fact, it lasted only a few seconds.

I have written about my grandson and my inability to pick him up when he indicates he wants that. (See: I Want To, Finn) I've often wondered if he were puzzled by that when everyone else picks him up so readily or if he were even wary of me for that.

I've also noted elsewhere that I can easily hold him if he's placed on my right arm by another. When he was much smaller, he would sit nestled in my arm as he slept. As he got older, he seemed a little resistant to sitting with me on the couch, but slowly and steadily he has adjusted. The amount of time he would spend with me gradually lengthened. When others held him, he began to indicate he wanted me, and the durations of those carrying episodes gradually lengthened as well. Although he continued to seem a little tentative, I am a patient man.

A few days ago he did something he never has before - at least with me. I was on the couch, and his mom, with him, sat down there too. He came over to me, leaned on my chest with his chest and his head, and placed an arm/hand on each of my shoulders (each side of my head).

Although it was his birthday, I got the gift.
He had hugged me for the first time.

I am such a happy man - in spite of the tears.

19 February, 2013

Mighty Finn - Update #11

Well ... it happened. I made it to the big 1, and what a party they threw for me. They called it a brunch. Lots of food. Check this out ...

Wow. I'm one, and now I get to drink cow's milk.
My first time. Who knew something this good
could come from such a weird animal.

They bought me these really cool things called balloons.
They kind of scared me at first,
but I really liked batting them around.

Mommy made me this great cake - with a ring of cupcakes
around it that said "HAPPY BIRTHDAY, FINN."

All the older folks were drinking their orange juice
with something bubbly in it. None for me though.

All I got were the corks.

They even let me sit on the table to look at my cake.
My great Aunt Liz (in blue) told me I was still a chick magnet.
Good to know. I wouldn't want to lose it already. 

Close-up of the cake now that everyone has had some.
So cool!

Here's my piece - just kind of getting the feel of it.

I even ate some.

And I offered some to anyone who wanted some.
It's good to be generous.

Then the presents came. Here I am with a new stuffy.

And a new book that came with these big "tickle me" hands.
For mommy to use, I guess.

Afterward we tried out some of the toys in my grandfather's
study. I was showing off and working my magnetism on
Morgan here - my cousin's cousin. She's cute but a little tall for me.

I thought I would show her some yoga too.
It's how I keep the weight off.

See you next month.

18 February, 2013

{this moment} 74

A Monday ritual. A single image - no words - capturing a moment from the past - sometimes a place with many moments - but somewhere along my life's Journey over which I wish to linger a bit and savor each memory it evokes. On Thursday in a companion ritual called {this memory}, I'll share the story of this moment.

{this moment}
Copyright © 2013 Thomas G. Brown

{this moment} is a ritual copied and adapted from cath's wonderful blog ~just my thoughts. She, in turn, borrowed it from Pamanner's Blog. Check out their blogs, and if you're inspired to do the same, leave a link to your {this moment} in the comments for each of us to find and see.

17 February, 2013

The Pilot And The Priest

A priest had died and was waiting in line at the Pearly Gates. Ahead of him was a guy who was dressed in sunglasses, a loud shirt, leather jacket, and jeans.

Saint Peter addressed the cool guy, "Who are you, so that I may know whether or not to admit you to the Kingdom of Heaven?"

The guy replied, "I'm Jack, retired airline pilot from Houston."

Saint Peter consulted his list. He smiled and said to the pilot, "Take this silken robe and golden staff and enter the Kingdom." The pilot went on into Heaven with his robe and staff.

Next it was the priest's turn. He stood erect and boomed out, "I am Father Bob, pastor of Saint Mary's for the last 43 years."

Saint Peter consulted his list. He said to the priest, "Take this cotton robe and wooden staff and enter the Kingdom."

"Just a minute," said the good father. "That man was a pilot. He gets a silken robe and golden staff, and I get only cotton and wood. How can this be?"

"Up here, we go by results," said Saint Peter. "When you preached, people slept. When he flew, people prayed."
Author Unknown  
Contributed by Claire   

16 February, 2013


Almost every day I photograph this tree near my office window - always from the same angle and about the same time of day. This is my favorite image from the past week.

Copyright © 2013 Thomas G. Brown

To view a video set to music that contains 135 images taken over 12 months, click here.

For the 2010 collection of images, click here.
For the 2011 collection of images, click here.
For the 2012 collection of images, click here.
For the 2013 collection of images, click here.

15 February, 2013

There Will Be Bread

Two weeks ago, I baked bread. I didn't make what you see in this image, but certainly I did bake bread.

"Big deal," you say. Well, it is.

In the decade of the 70s, I was really into bread making - in a big way. Hand-crafted from scratch. There was something very fundamental about it. The chemistry. The connection with earth and with fire. The artistry. The continuation of something almost primal. I think what I valued most was the use of my hands to knead the dough. It was at once meditative and restorative, but that kneading is why I hadn't made any bread in a long time - until two years ago when I made about ten loaves over a week or so.

As some of my readers know, I no longer have use of my left arm and hand, and unfortunately I let fall fallow certain aspects of my life as those activities became increasingly difficult. That wasn't necessary, however, for everything that I gave up. In retrospect, it's clear that I gave up too much. My life has been very full though, and with much to compete for my energies, it was easy to stop anything that required extra effort.

That was a mistake, and I've learned that I gave up on some things that worked well to ground me, things that were important in their simplicity. Without dwelling on it, I regret this, but with the encouragement of others, I am reclaiming some of those elemental occupations.

So I baked bread, again. I didn't use my daughter's bread making machine even though it works really well, and I don't have the kitchen skills of my wife who is an excellent and versatile chef. It wasn't easy, and there were frustrations. Nevertheless, because I baked that bread, again, I am today a better person.

14 February, 2013

13 February, 2013

I Want To, Finn

If you are looking for an uplifting anecdote, this isn't it. Fear not, though. I have it all in perspective and remain a happy and fortunate man.

A few years ago I lent my body to the students of a colleague's occupational therapy course that dealt with extremities. Since I have one good arm and one that does less than little, it was a chance for them to "see and do" that they would normally not get at this level. Plus they could ask me pretty much anything. You can read about it in It's Touching.

I was asked about my medical history, of course, but also what I think I might have missed out on. I indicated my quality of life was just fine although I miss my guitars and golf. The most poignant thing I mentioned was that when my daughters were little, I was reluctant to toss or hold them in air. I still had plenty of strength at that time and could pick them up easily, but I was aware of what was unfolding and worried that at just the wrong moment my strength would fail. Bittersweet memory. I wish I still had the strength and sensation I had then.

Then something similar happened a couple of days ago. My only grandchild, who will turn one in a few days, has been visiting, and as one might expect, I've been busy playing with him. Lots of peekaboo in the past few days. (See: Update) My wife had risen early and took Finn downstairs. I followed a few minutes later having not seen him since the night before.

As I rounded the corner and came into view, Finn, in his best non-verbal way, raised both arms up in the air to say, "Pick me up, Grandpa." As expected, my spirits soared as my heart melted, but no matter how much I wanted to pick him up, I could not.

12 February, 2013

Mighty Finn - Update #10

Hey, folks, it's been a while. This is a brief update because with my birthday coming up, I'm sure I'll have lots to say.

This is the area my grandparents set up for me.
I guess it was neater when I first arrived.

Here I am in the middle of it.
Whenever I ring this bell, grandpa gives me something to eat.
Now I get hungry just ringing it.

I like to sneak back here when no one is looking.

Then everyone yells, "Where's Finn?"

Then I laugh and say to myself, "Here I am."

"Where's Finn?"

"Here I am."
I could do this all day long.

I like to hide behind this chair too,
but it doesn't seem to fool them as well.

11 February, 2013

{picture perfect} Oslo

Hotel Munch
Oslo, Norway
Copyright © 2013 Thomas G. Brown

10 February, 2013

Chicken In Lent

Each Friday night after work, Jim would fire up his outdoor grill and cook chicken.

All of Jim's neighbors were Catholic, and since it was Lent, they refrained from eating meat on Friday. The delicious aroma from the grilled chicken wafted throughout the neighborhood causing so much frustration for the Catholic faithful that they finally talked to their priest.

The Priest came to visit Jim and persuaded him to become a Catholic. After several classes and much study, Jim was baptized. As the priest sprinkled holy water over him, he said, "You were born a Protestant and raised a Protestant, but now you're a Catholic."

Jim's neighbors were relieved - until Friday night arrived, and the wonderful aroma of grilled chicken again filled the neighborhood. The Priest was called immediately by the neighbors.

He rushed over to Jim's place clutching a rosary and prepared to scold him. When he arrived he stopped dead in his tracks and watched in amazement. There stood Jim, clutching a small bottle of holy water which he carefully sprinkled over the grill, saying "You were born a chicken and raised a chicken, but now you're a salmon."
Author Unknown   

09 February, 2013


Almost every day I photograph this tree near my office window - always from the same angle and about the same time of day. This is my favorite image from the past week.

Copyright © 2013 Thomas G. Brown

To view a video set to music that contains 135 images taken over 12 months, click here.

For the 2010 collection of images, click here.
For the 2011 collection of images, click here.
For the 2012 collection of images, click here.
For the 2013 collection of images, click here.

08 February, 2013

Thank God It's ...

What a week! Not particularly stressful. No unusual amounts of work. The problem was I just couldn't get my internal calendar synchronized with reality.

Monday started out just fine. I taught my classes - the right ones at the right times. That night, however, as my wife and I planned the next day's transportation (since we have only one car in the winter), I said I would be on campus until late because of a Faculty Senate meeting.

As I sat at my desk the next day - Tuesday - it dawned on me that it was Tuesday. Faculty Senate always meets on a Wednesday. I had jumped ahead a day on my internal calendar. The remainder of Tuesday unfolded as expected. I taught my classes - the right ones at the right times.

Wednesday morning found me ready to teach my classes. I was working at my desk when a student came in to ask if I were coming to class. It was 9:55, but class began at 9:30. Arrgghh!! Tuesday classes begin at 10:00. I'm not sure if that's what I was thinking, but it sure looked like I was still a day ahead on my internal calendar. I was ready with the right lecture, just at the wrong time. I did manage to get to my Senate meeting Wednesday afternoon.

Then ... as I was leaving campus, I asked a colleague who isn't here every day if she were "coming in tomorrow." "No." Now for her that meant she wasn't coming in on Thursday. For me? Well, I said "see you next week" thinking the Thursday of tomorrow was a Friday. Good golly, Molly - what do I have to do to get my calendar re-synchronized?

I hope these aren't senior moments because I could be in real trouble. On Thursday I said it several times to myself - "Tomorrow is Friday." "Tomorrow is Friday." "Tomorrow is Friday." Unfortunately the weather service is predicting that there may be no Friday. It's expected to be eaten by the apocalyptic Winter Storm Nemo. "Potential Historic Blizzard Looms," screams the headline.

In the words of the immortal Bill the Cat: "Ack!" "Thbbft!"

07 February, 2013

{poetically plagiarized} 17: Guernsey

I love the quirky sense of humor in this piece. At least I think that's what it is. Maybe it isn't, but that's why I like it.

Back Road
           Winter mornings
           driving past
           I’d see these kids
           huddled like grouse
           in the plowed ruts
           in front of their shack
           waiting for the bus,
           three small children
           bunched against the drifts
           rising behind them.

           This morning
           I slowed to wave
           and the smallest,
           a stick of a kid
           draped in a coat,
           grinned and raised
           his red, raw hand,
           the snowball
           packed with rock
           aimed at my face.

by Bruce Guernsey, 2012   

06 February, 2013

Of Course

The human body never ceases to amaze me with the memories it holds - not in my mind but in my body. I should trust it and listen to what my body is saying, but sometimes I forget.

Last week as I was leaving campus for the day, I encountered a truly good friend of whom I had not seen very much recently. This person knows well my medical history, so when I was asked "How are you doing?" it was not the cursory "how are you" and "okay" that we all so often trade as we pass in the hallways. This needed a real response. See: Talisman, Talisman.

I said that I needed cheering up and that although it didn't quite describe accurately it, I was feeling defeated. I thought my comment was a reference to still being on oxygen 24/7. Wearing the tube all the time is simply a pain in the you-know-what, and I find myself wondering if I shall ever get off it. That's an unusual response for me. Normally I'm Dr. Optimistic, always beating every illness into submission. So what was going on?

Last night it dawned on me. The day I was asked how I was doing was the exact anniversary of my last serious illness - coding in the ED (respiratory arrest). Smack. I spent the next 18 days on a respirator and living in drug-induced la la land. Smack. My body knew it, and I suppose at some subconscious level my mind knew it too. They were trying to get my attention to remind me to put my health first, and they did.

It took a few days, though, for me to get the message. I'm not sure if that represents progress or an unfortunate development. Generally I try to listen carefully to my body although I haven't always been so careful. There are so many ways our bodies try to warn us, and my worst medical adventures have usually resulted from ignoring my body's messages.

This message was to remember what I'd been through and to continue to be proactive about my health. I must have been slipping a bit. In that sense I welcome such reminders although I know others would rather forget such unpleasantness. Need I say the gloom that was about me has dissipated? I didn't think so.

05 February, 2013

{essential truths} Lollipop

Sometimes it's best to enjoy the lollipop
without thinking about
how it got into your mouth.

04 February, 2013

{picture perfect} وليلي

Volubilis or وليلي
Partly excavated Roman city
Near Meknes, Morocco
Copyright © 2013 Amy E.C. Brown

03 February, 2013

You Can Come In

A group who had all worked in the health care system walked up to the Pearly Gates. Saint Peter asked of the first of them, "Why should I let you into Heaven?"

The nurse said, "because I've dedicated my life to providing the best care possible to my patients. I've really made a contribution to society."

"Okay, you can come in," said Saint Peter.

Next was the quality assurance person. Again Saint Peter asked, "Why should I let you into Heaven?" His response was "because I've spent my life ensuring that the patients in my hospital have gotten the highest quality care available."

"Okay, you can come in," said Saint Peter.

Then the president of an HMO came to Saint Peter, and she also was asked, "Why should I let you into Heaven?"

The HMO President boasted, "I've dedicated my life to providing healthcare at the lowest cost possible, I've improved my company's profits every single year, and I've always helped the bottom line.

Saint Peter replied, "Okay, you can come in, but you can only stay three days."
Author Unknown   

02 February, 2013


Almost every day I photograph this tree near my office window - always from the same angle and about the same time of day. This is my favorite image from the past week.

Copyright © 2013 Thomas G. Brown

To view a video set to music that contains 135 images taken over 12 months, click here.

For the 2010 collection of images, click here.
For the 2011 collection of images, click here.
For the 2012 collection of images, click here.
For the 2013 collection of images, click here.

01 February, 2013


My journey with disability has probably not been typical, but at the same time, it's probably just like everyone else's. "It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, ... it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, ... ." It's whatever you want it to be.

I'm musing again, of course, about my Missing Extremities. Twenty-five years ago I could still hold a nail with my left hand as I hit it with the hammer in my right. That is how most of the home in which I am presently sitting came to be. Even then, though, there was motor and sensory weakness, but the atrophy was not yet significant. It wasn't really noticeable to those who were not already aware of it.

The vicious circle was whirling though. Because my left was weaker, I used it less and less, and because I used it less and less, it further weakened. As the atrophy advanced, it became increasingly obvious to others, and I was becoming increasingly different. Special. A close colleague who is legally blind knows me from afar by the way my left arm is different.

My disability developed so gradually that I don't think I was ever really aware that I was losing something. That's not to say I wasn't disappointed that there were things I could no longer do that I once enjoyed, but I was already successful in life. If this were to become a stigma of some kind, it wasn't going to be an obstacle in my life. I was unlikely to experience the discrimination or challenges that so many others have confronted.

Then a couple of months ago, a colleague told a joke that had a one arm aspect to it. It didn't bother me a bit, but he was worried that he had insulted me. In fact, the one arm aspect of the joke had not even registered with me. Subsequent to that, I began to wonder how I would, in fact, feel if I learned that someone, students for example, were making fun of me and my Neglected Left.

Although I hope individuals with disabilities are always treated with respect, I have concluded that this wouldn't bother me. I know who I am. I know what I have achieved. I know what I else I shall have accomplished before I retire in a few years. What these ignoramuses think or say or do is irrelevant to my quality of life. All that will result is that they will have embarrassed themselves, and I shall think less of them.

Yet ... there is something in me wanting to know that I am still all that I once was. A close friend wondered if the more important question is why I might think that I am not, and I have no answer for that. I suppose I am not even certain that I do think that way, but if I do, I'm not sure I want to know. It would suggest that I have somehow let "them" get to me.

Most of those with whom I interact did not know me before I became different - a period to which I sometimes refer as the BeforeTime. They know me only as I am today. Whatever the case may be, if those who are close tell me I am whole (and they do), I shall know it is so, and other than my own, theirs is the only opinion that really matters to me.

Although still a work-in-progress, I'm almost there. I like me. I'm quite content with being different. It's certainly much more interesting than not being different, and I feel for those folks who aren't. How sad it is to be just like everyone else.

In fact, it seems to me that individuals without difference are the ones who are missing something. They're difference challenged. They're so ... well ... undifferent. Nevertheless, I'll try not to patronize them, nor do I want to be indifferent to their undifference. Count on me to do all that I can to be supportive.