The ALS Ice Bucket Challenge

FoxTrot-ALSA flood of Internet videos have shown celebrities pouring buckets of iced water over their heads to raise money and awareness for the ALS Foundation. My favorite videos were writer Stephen King challenging writer John Grisham, actor Patrick Stewart taking ice cubes from a champagne bucket, and actor Vin Diesel’s challenge to plant a tree for Groot from “Guardians of The Galaxy.” Even Jason from the “Foxtrot” web comic made an ice bucket video (sort of). This is a worthy cause. I took care of a roommate, Bruce Schalamon, for five years until he died shortly after his 39th birthday in April 2000 from ALS.

Bruce and I first met at a church workshop in August 1992, where we paired up for a prayer walk around the neighborhood. I was a newly baptized baby Christian in the college ministry; Bruce was a grizzled veteran of the singles ministry. We had very little in common. I didn’t get to know him until I ended up in the singles ministry and moved into his household in 1996, where we both passed kidney stones a month apart from each other and bonded over our shared misery. He told me about being diagnosed with ALS, how he would die within five years, and wanted to die with his spiritual brothers surrounding him.

Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), or Lou Gehrig’s disease, is a neurodegenerative disease that causes the muscles throughout the body to stop working. Bruce lost his ability to walk with his weakened legs and play videos games with his weakened arms. He never lost his ability to speak. Otherwise, he couldn’t angrily curse God for taking away his enjoyment of life. As spiritual brothers taking care of him, this was a difficult time for us. He left God in anger as things got worse, returned to God in repentance as he accepted his fate. On the night before he died, he confessed his sins for four hours straight. You really don’t know someone until you hear their deathbed confession.

The heart is always the last muscle to go. Bruce had a cardiac arrest the following morning. My roommates and I asked him if he wanted us to call 911. He shook his head. We called 911 anyway, feeling helpless that we couldn’t do more. The ambulance crew started working on him for the next 45 minutes. Since we couldn’t produce the Do No Rusticate paperwork, they worked on him for another 45 minutes before declaring him dead. Being on the forefront of the medical marijuana movement, which wasn’t legal in Silicon Valley at that time, I flushed his stash of marijuana down the toilet in the back bathroom while a sheriff deputy waited in the living room for the medical examiner to remove the body.

Bruce had his prayers answered, dying among his spiritual brothers and being right with God.

I’m not planning to take the ice bucket challenge, but I will donate money to the ALS Foundation in the near future. First, I’m not a well-known celebrity. Second, I live in drought-stricken California. Third, the ice-cube maker in my freezer doesn’t work. Hence, writing a check and maybe having a drink on the rocks is easier. The ALS ice bucket challenge has raised $70+ million USD so far this summer.

How Godzilla 2014 Should Have Begin

As much as I love the new “Godzilla” movie, I never liked the official trailer where the story was about a distraught husband who loses his wife and seeks revenge on the monsters. The distraught husband (and father) bites the dust about 30 minutes into the movie, setting up the adult son to save his wife and child from the monsters. When How It Should Have Ended did their video re-take for Godzilla, the conceit from the trailer got dispatched immediately. Tossing in the Jaegar from “Pacific Rim” and Superman from “Man of Steel” was a nice touch.

The S-U-I-C-I-D-E of Robin Williams

Robin WilliamsAs a young child growing up in the 1970’s, I loved watching “Hogan’s Heroes” on TV about a band of misfit POW’s running a resistance operation from inside a German concentration camp during World War II. Bob Crane, who starred as U.S. Air Force Colonel Hogan in the TV series, died in 1978 under mysterious circumstances. My mother proclaimed his death a S-U-I-C-I-D-E by hanging in guarded whispers to my father. (Actually, according to Wikipedia, someone murdered Crane and tied an electrical cord around his neck.) S-U-I-C-I-D-E was a taboo word in my family, as my paternal grandfather committed suicide years before I was born. I didn’t understand how Crane died, but I knew he was gone. That saddened me greatly. When I heard that Robin Williams committed suicide, the same level of sadness overwhelmed me.

A new TV show, “Mork & Mindy,” starring Williams and Pam Dawber, premiered a few months after Crane’s death. I immediately fell in love with the first episode. Mork (Williams) arrives from a different planet in a business suit worn backwards, giving him the appearance of being a minister to innocent human, Mindy (Dawber), who discovers his extraterrestrial origins and takes him in like a lost puppy. This was the first TV series that I ever watched from beginning to end over four years. I was surprised to learn that his recent TV series, “The Crazy Ones,” got cancelled after one season, which I haven’t seen except for the opening scene of Williams and Dawber being reunited for the first time in 30 years.

My mother committed suicide by breast cancer in 2004. She refused to seek treatment despite knowing that the disease would kill her. My father and I drove up to Boise, Idaho, that summer, to bury her ashes with her parents. He gave me a grand tour of the land. We went up to Lucky Peak Dam, where my paternal grandfather, a carpenter, committed suicide after falling off a roof and injuring his back on a wooden stake (back surgery in the 1950’s was remarkably crude), and, surprisingly, my father explained to me how his father died. I was always under the impression that my grandfather drove off the roadway and tumbled down the earthen dam to crash in a fireball, as some relatives claimed that it was an accident. Not so. My grandfather drove his car down the boat landing at full speed to drown in the reservoir. That’s no accident.

I found out about William’s death after I got off work and took my iPhone out of airport mode. An email from the Huffington Post made the announcement. I felt that intense sadness overcoming me as the death of Bob Crane once did, thinking that 63-years-old was too young to die. His picture got plastered on the front page of the Palo Alto Daily the next morning. News that he committed suicide and had early stage Parkinson’s Disease came out over the next several days. The world didn’t lose a talented comedian, but a truly great human being who showed us our humanity.

The Return of Howard The Duck

Howard the Duck rose from the cinematic graveyard of the 1980’s to make a cameo in the post-credit scene for The Guardians of The Galaxy,” appearing as a newly released specimen in the wrecked museum of The Collector (Benicio Del Toro). The foul-mouthed, cigar-smoking duck from Duckworld, featured in one of the worst movies ever made by George Lucas, has returned to the big screen. Be afraid, be very afraid.

Reviving The Windows Gaming PC

The Apple Store revived my vintage Black MacBook (2006) several years ago after the CPU fan started screaming like a banshee, replacing the CPU fan, battery and keyboard. I hoped to get another six years of usage before getting a replacement system. Alas, the CPU fan started acting up several months ago. The system would shut down in 15 minutes after starting up. I could no longer use it to look for a new job, or, after being unemployed for nearly eight months, get it repaired or replaced. I had to switch over to my Windows gaming PC, which spontaneously reboots whenever I needed to do something.

Like most users who switched from Windows to Mac, I only turned on my PC to play video games. The last rebuild was in 2007 to upgrade the motherboard, CPU and memory for Windows Vista. That system was quite stable. A few years ago I replaced the dual-core processor with a quad-core processor and the video card from an ATI Radeon 3870 to an ATI Radeon 6790. That system wasn’t quite as stable. Upgrading to Windows 7 and Windows 8 over the years didn’t help much.

Was the quad-core CPU that came out years after the motherboard got manufactured and enabled with a BIOS update incompatible? Was the video card defective? Was the power supply failing in a mysterious way? Or was it all of the above?

Troubleshooting the PC was never urgent as I rarely played video games after getting serious about writing and suffering bouts of unemployment from my non-writing tech job. With the MacBook out of commission, I needed another computer system to continue my job search. The easiest solution was switching over to an old Dell system. However, I never take the easiest path if a harder—more educational—path is available.

After opening the PC and the Dell to lay side-by-side, I started switching out the video cards. With an old Nvidia Quadro video card in the PC and the 6970 video card in the Dell, both systems ran without problems. I then started checking the power requirements for the video cards and looked up the specs on the power supplies in each system.

The PC still had the power supply from 2007 with 20A on the 12V rail, but the Dell had a newer power supply with 40A on the 12V rail. Most new video cards required at least 25A on the 12V rail. The 6970 needed the extra juice for graphic-intensive applications. The solution became obvious. I switched the power supplies and put the 6970 back into the PC. (I didn’t bother putting the Quadro back into the Dell since the motherboard had a built-in AMD 4200 video chipset.) After wiping the hard drive and re-installing Windows 8.1, the PC was no longer spontaneously rebooting.

It didn’t take long to get the PC up and running with email to resume my job search. A few days later, I landed a new job. The only Mac-specific applications that I’m missing from the PC are Photoshop CS3 and Bento for ebook publishing. I can boot up the MacBook to complete any tasks within 15 minutes before it shuts down. Despite transferring operations over to my PC, I’m going to save up to get a replacement Mac later this year. Like most users who switched from Windows to Mac, the Mac is the better computing device.