The Electric Slide

Fig’s been doing the electric slide lately. Fig takes after her/his daddy.

Clearly when the electric slide line dance was introduced I thought it was totally lame. Apparently that’s just because I never saw anyone do it right. As my former ASP staff coworker Wyatt (Y-it) showed me in the summer of 1999, you have to exaggerate the motions.

Wyatt teaches Rob the electric slide

Wyatt (center-right) teaches Rob (center-left) how to get into the electric slide

Wyatt and Rob do the electric slide

Kick that leg

Wyatt and Rob do the electric slide

It’s electric!

The PowerBook 5300cs

For many years I acquired (either inexpensively or freely) a lot of computer parts and other miscellaneous electronic equipment. I’ve been hanging on to these things just in case I ever needed to use them.

I never needed to use them.

A lot of this stuff was sitting around for years at our old house. Then it was put into storage when we moved to Nicaragua. Then it was moved into our new house. Close to two years later it still hasn’t been used. So it’s time we parted ways.

Today was the annual free electronics recycling event in Champaign-Urbana. Over the past few weeks I’ve been cleaning out my office so I could take this stuff to be recycled.

Box of electronics for recycling

The large box of items I took for recycling included:

  • 1 desktop computer (a Mac IIci)
  • 2 laptop computers (a PowerBook 5300cs and a PowerBook Duo 250)
  • 3 PDAs (including 1 smartphone)
  • 2 keyboards
  • 2 ISA-slot modem cards
  • numerous hard drives (all erased, one with a hammer)
  • more obsolete cables and connecters than you can imagine

You get the idea.

Of note, the box contained my first PDA (a Palm iii) and my first smartphone (a Samsung SPH-I300).

Samsung SPH-I300

The most sentimentally valuable obsolete item in the box was my old PowerBook 5300cs. This was my second computer and my first laptop. I got it in the fall of 1996 and used it regularly until the fall of 2000, when its duties were usurped by my work-issued PowerBook G3.

PowerBook 5300cs

Everyone has a laptop now, but in 1996 it was somewhat rare. I took it to most of my college classes to take notes (I can type way faster than I can write). Being the only person with a laptop in a lecture hall with hundreds of students meant that I stood out like a sore thumb, but I didn’t particularly care.

PowerBook 5300cs

One funny story about this laptop occurred in the summer of 1998. I was finishing up coursework for my Math 285 class (differential equations) while I was working for ASP in southeastern Kentucky. I must have tripped over the power cord or something, because the power connector inside the laptop broke off from the motherboard. I had course work that had to be completed (using Mathematica, on my laptop) by a certain date… and I had about two hours of battery left and no way to recharge the battery.

I used what precious little battery power I had left to connect my external modem to the internet via a long distance phone call. I shopped online for 20-30 minutes until I found a replacement part that would solve my dilemma (an expansion bay power supply). I ordered it and received it a few days later via FedEx. I completed my work and received an A in the class.

This computer and I have been through a lot together.

The Easy Hooker

We noticed a small wet spot in our ceiling a couple weeks ago when it was raining frequently. I assumed the gutters were clogged with leaves, as something similar happened last year. A few days later we noticed the spot again, except this time the spot was worse and this time it wasn’t raining.

After a quick resurvey of our house I realized I miscalculated earlier and the wet spot in the ceiling was not far away from our upstairs toilet. Crap. Literally. Fortunately, there was nothing wrong with toilet itself. The supply line was leaking very slowly, so I closed the valve. I went to the store and bought a new supply line, and, after several days of putting it off, I finally installed it today. The toilet is back up and running.

In the process of fixing the toilet I went to the garage to grab some teflon tape. There I noticed I actually already had a toilet supply line. I suppose I wasted a trip to the store. But, as I had a difficult time explaining to Melissa earlier, this supply line wasn’t to be used. It was a souvenir. Yes, a souvenir.

I believe it was my third summer working at ASP in southwest Virginia. I purchased many toilet supply lines that summer at the local hardware store. These supply lines were particularly hilarious due to the product name and packaging. Behold, the “Easy Hooker”

Easy Hooker front
Easy Hooker back

I bought one at the end of the summer so I’d always have a funny memory to laugh about. This supply line has stayed with me through numerous moves to new apartments and houses. It’s never been used, but it came awfully close today…

The Macintosh

Today the Macintosh computer is 25 years old. The Macintosh 128K was released on January 24, 1984. This machine had no hard drive and only 128 kilobytes of RAM (currently available computers typically have 2 gigabytes of RAM, or roughly 16,000 times as much as the original Macintosh 128K). It was the first computer available to consumers that had a mouse and a graphical user interface. While much has changed in the Mac’s user interface of the past 25 years, most of the original concepts (mouse pointer, icons, windows, menus, buttons) are still used.

I actually owned a Macintosh 128K, though not when it was released in 1984, but rather when I found one in a pawn shop in rural Virginia in 1999. I had a day off my job at ASP when I was exploring the area. I browsed around this pawn shop when I was shocked to find four “classic” style (the original all-in-one design) Macintosh computers. I had to have them. Even if they didn’t work, I always wanted to have a fish tank. The price tags said $20 each. I examined the machines and found that two of them had been completely gutted and had no hope of ever working, but the cases were still intact. The other two seemed to have all the parts, but they were so old the chances of them working were pretty slim. I explained to the shop worker that they probably didn’t work, but I would still pay $20 for all four of them. We had a deal.

The two that didn’t work were a Macintosh SE and a Macintosh SE/30. I was delighted to learn the two that had all the parts were a Macintosh 128K (the first ever Macintosh) and a Macintosh 512K (the second ever Macintosh). Unfortunately, the 128K didn’t work. However, the 512K did work. These machines don’t run without a system floppy disk, which didn’t come with the pawn shop computers and which I clearly didn’t have. So I found one for sale on the internet for a few bucks and once it arrived I had a working 1984 era machine.

Happy 25th birthday Macintosh

Now, this machine isn’t terribly useful for anything other than nostalgia, but it still works to this day. It still surprises me how fast these old machines boot up. Here’s a video where the machine can go from off to fully booted in 16 seconds.

I have owned dozens of computers over the years, all but two (I think) have been Macs:

Image Model Introduced Acquired Status
Performa 6200 1995 1995 recycled
PowerBook 5300 CS 1995 1996 in my closet
iMac 1998 1998 sold to relatives
Macintosh 128K 1984 1999 recycled
Macintosh 512K 1984 1999 in my office
Macintosh SE 1987 1999 recycled
Macintosh SE/30 1989 1999 recycled
9 x Macintosh IIcx 1989 1999 9 x recycled
Macintosh IIci 1989 1999 in my storage room
PowerBook G3 (work) 2000 2000 returned to work
iBook SE (Melissa) 2000 2001 gave to relatives
PowerMac G4 2000 2001 in my office
PowerBook G4 (work) 2002 2003 returned to work
PowerBook 12″ (Melissa) 2003 2003 in my office
PowerMac G5 2004 2004 gave to parents
Mac mini 2005 2005 gave to in-laws
MacBook Pro (work) 2006 2006 returned to work
MacBook (Melissa) 2007 2007 Melissa’s primary computer, in Melissa’s office
MacBook Pro (work) 2007 2007 my primary laptop, in my office
Mac Pro 2008 2008 my primary desktop, in my office
PowerBook Duo 250 1993 2008 in my office

The Camel Clutch

Watching TV a bit ago, my story ended and professional wrestling came on next. I haven’t watched pro wrestling in 20 years, but 20 years ago I watched it a lot… mostly with my brothers. There was a lot of un-professional wrestling that took place in my house growing up. Being the youngest, I usually got pounded. I did have a few chances for revenge, though. I recall giving my brother Travis an unusually harsh camel clutch hold one time that he didn’t like too much. The camel clutch involves laying your opponent on their stomach, sitting on their back, and pulling their head back by the chin. If it were real, it might actually hurt.

Camel clutch

While working for ASP 10 years ago I made friends with a boy named Tim, who liked pro wrestling. Here is a photo of the sexy hermit demonstrating the camel clutch on Tim in the summer of 1998. Don’t worry, it was fake. It’s all fake.

The College for Kids

During the summers when I was growing up in Danville, the local community college put on courses covering a variety of topics for, well, kids. It was aptly named College for Kids. The courses counted for no credit, just pure educational enrichment. As you can imagine, they weren’t wildly popular, but there were a few highly motivated youngsters who showed up ready to learn.

One summer I took an arts & crafts class. The summer between 5th & 6th grade I took a photography class. I don’t really remember why I thought I was interested in photography. Perhaps it had something to do with the camera shop down the street from my grandparents’ house. I would walk down there and look at all the neat equipment for hours. The course was taught by a photographer at the local newspaper.

The first day of class I showed up with my mom’s fixed-focus point-and-shoot 35mm Vivitar camera. The instructor gave each of the students a roll of film and assigned homework to take a bunch of photographs, enough to fill the roll, before the next class. He would develop them all (for free), then we would start learning what we could do to take better photos. Each class we picked up a new roll of film and turned in our previous role. In these days, long before the advent of the digital camera, film and development were somewhat tedious and expensive, so this was the first time I really had the opportunity to waste film by taking whatever types of pictures I wanted.

The class was amazing. We learned about framing & lighting. We learned how to operate really nice cameras. We even learned how to develop black & white film (color film being more difficult to develop). I was hooked. A few weeks after the class ended I took $120 I earned from my job as official scorekeeper at the little league park all summer, walked to the camera store down the street from my grandparents’ house, and purchased a used Vivitar SLR camera body and a 50mm prime lens. A couple months later I saved up some more money and purchased the matching 135mm telephoto lens. Nothing on this camera was automatic. It required manual focusing, aperture, shudder speed. It even required manually winding the film between photos. It was actually somewhat difficult to operate, but it was worth it.

I loved that camera. I used it to take photographs for school yearbooks and newspapers. I photographed family gatherings and sporting events. I took the camera with me to my job at ASP the summer after my freshman year in college. I used it all summer long to preserve many wonderful memories. Unfortunately, that’s where the story ends. At the end of the summer I packed up the camera (and all my other stuff) in one of our vans. We stopped at a few work sites in a different county to help out for a few days. I never saw the camera again. I still don’t know what happened to it. My best guess is that somebody stole it, though I can’t rule out the possibility I simply misplaced it somewhere.

I replaced my beloved Vivitar with a cheap point-and-shoot camera. The photographs weren’t as good, but it was much cheaper and easier to operate than a SLR. In 2001 I replaced it with my first digital point-and-shoot camera, which was amazing (I took 240 photos while hiking on the first day of our honeymoon). It wasn’t until 2003 that I finally got another SLR camera, the Digital Rebel.

The Kiss

I was just going through a box of old photos when I came across my all time favorite, the kiss. Melissa lived in Paris her junior year of college and I went to visit her over the semester break.

This photo was taken January 1, 2000. The previous night we celebrated l’an 2000 at the Arc de Triomphe, before walking 12 miles across town back to her dorm. On January 1st we watched a parade (I seem to recall a number of French police officers on rollerblades). Following the parade we walked to the Eiffel Tower and took this photograph. I framed the photo with Melissa in front of the tower. I then rested the camera precariously on a fence post, set the timer, and ran over to her. As I heard the shutter click I knew we had a keeper. We developed the film at a French camera shop so the prints have thin white borders all the way around (as is the style there).

A few months later two straight male friends of mine from ASP saw this photo and decided to imitate it when they backpacked through Europe together. Unfortunately, I don’t have a copy of it, but it was pretty funny.

The Reunion

Last weekend in Washington D.C. there was a reunion of former ASP summer staff members. I worked for the Appalachia Service Project during the summers of 1997-2000 while I was in college. Around 75 former staffers descended upon the nation’s capital (well, a number of them already live there) for festivities.

ASP Summer Staff 1998 (I’m the one in the bright yellow shirt)

After a 12 hour drive (and a one hour bike ride) I arrived at the Potter’s House bookstore and cafe for some live bluegrass music. As soon as I walked in I recognized four or five familiar friendly faces… and about 30 very unfamiliar ones. Has it been that long?

I scanned the store and noticed my former staffer Jill on the other side of the room. The way ASP works is there is a separate center in each of 20 or 25 counties throughout central Appalachia. Each center is run by four staffers. Jill & I worked together at the same center in the summer of 1999. Great, I thought, I’ll go say hello.

Jill & Rob in 1999

As I walked about half way across the room I took another look, then I stopped in my tracks. Wait a minute… that’s not Jill… is it? She looks like she hasn’t aged at all. My confusion was further compounded when she made eye contact with me and showed absolutely no sign of recognition. This was a person I worked with very closely for several months, what’s going on???

While I was standing there, not knowing what to do, Phoebe walked by and I asked her if that was Jill. No. It was Jill’s younger sister, who looks exactly like Jill, and who apparently also worked for ASP. Well, that solves that mystery. The real Jill was present at the banquet on Saturday night. We had a good chance to catch up a little. She is finishing up with medical school and getting married soon. ¬°Felicitaciones!

After the long drive and a few hours in the coffee house I was really ready for bed. Will works in D.C. for CEDC, a nonprofit that has dormitories, and he arranged for me (and a few others) to stay there fairly inexpensively. It was nice, and the price couldn’t be beat. I slept in a little Saturday morning before heading downtown to see the monuments.

In the afternoon, the event organizers planned a service project at the Capital Area Food Bank. Around 20 or so of us from ASP helped unbox bulk canned foods and reorganize and repackage them for distribution to individuals and food kitchens. It was a good time. I used the opportunity to get to know some of the younger people who were on staff in the years following me. Interestingly, a few of them already knew who I was. You get bonus points if you can guess how — The Rob Song.

After finishing up at the food bank I got ready and headed over to the banquet on the other side of town. During my cross town trip I encountered four roundabouts (traffic circles). Fantastic. Anyone who knows me knows that I love roundabouts. I believe they are the greatest traffic control device in existence. The problem is that D.C. has the worst roundabouts I’ve ever seen (in the U.S., Nicaragua, France, or Belgium). Typically, traffic entering the roundabout has to yield to traffic already in the roundabout, but traffic in the roundabout should keep moving. Not only did these D.C. roundabouts have stop lights (rather than yield signs) upon entering the circle, they also had stoplights inside the circle itself. ¬°Que terrible! So instead of none of the traffic stopping ever, all of the traffic stopped multiple times. This is how the first three roundabouts were. When I reached the fourth roundabout, it was normal (no stop lights, no stopping). Traffic moved so much more smoothly and safely through the fourth roundabout. I cannot possibly fathom why the first three were so messed up.

Once I got to the reunion banquet I saw many more familiar faces. There were a couple dozen people whose employment with ASP overlapped mine. One of the first people I saw was Ben, who immediately asked me “were you ever on stage during a Steve Jobs keynote?” That came out of nowhere. Yes, I was on stage during Steve Jobs’ 2005 WWDC keynote presentation. My boss (Theo) & I demonstrated Mathematica running on the just announced Intel based Mac computers. Ben watched the video of the keynote (here’s the relevant clip), recognized me, and remembered to ask me about it the next time he saw me (three years later). Funny.

Besides Jill, my only other former staffer (with whom I worked closely) at the reunion was Meryl (a.k.a. Marl, who was recently married). We too had a good chance to catch up with each other (though we didn’t get the chance to reenact our infamous, no holds barred wrestling matches).

Rob stuffs Meryl into a trash can in 2000

Meryl gets her revenge

Some poor, innocent bystander gets caught in the middle

The banquet was a really good time.

  • We ate Appalachian food (whatever that is).
  • We viewed a wonderful slideshow of old ASP photos.
  • A preselected representative of each decade (70’s, 80’s, 90’s, 00’s) shared some of their fondest ASP memories. Michelle K. (from my decade, the 90’s) did an exceptional job.
  • We sang a few of the songs we used to sing on a daily basis while working for ASP. It was a little emotional.
  • There was an auction of memorabilia to benefit ASP. I ended up with a really neat framed photograph of a curvy mountain road. I like mountains.
  • There was a contest to guess the number of skittles in a jar. Michelle R. & I both guessed 1200, which was the closest to the actual count of 1106. For this we won the skittles, which she yielded to me. Fortunately, the rest of the group helped pare that number down a little before we left.

After the official reunion ended, the unofficial reunion moved to some bar in an extremely busy area of D.C. I should have planned a little better, but I didn’t, and I ended up driving there. I searched for 25 minutes to find a parking place and I ended up in the tightest spot in which I’ve ever parked (and remember Iris is a very small car).

We all got a little carried away chatting it up with old friends. I ended up getting back to my quarters at 3:30 am. I haven’t stayed up that late in many a year. Juech was planning to run the Cherry Blossom 10 mile race at 7:30 am on Sunday. I since found out that he did indeed finish… barely. It was still probably before I even woke up.

The Rob Song

I was 19 years old in the summer of 1998. I spent the previous summer working as a staff member for the Appalachia Service Project (ASP), a non-profit organization which provides free emergency home repair to low income families and individuals living in central Appalachia. I was beginning my second summer working for the project.

It begins with staff training. Roughly 80 college aged strangers gather to spend a couple weeks learning to run a (hopefully) successful 8 week summer program. We learned virtually all aspects of home construction and repair. We learned to operate and care for very large, very old, donated trucks and vans (the daily vehicle maintenance checklist was referred to as “garanimals“, due to the color coded dip sticks and caps painted by our mechanic). We learned how to work with high school aged volunteers (Vs) and their adult group leaders (GLs). We learned how to buy and manage massive amounts of construction supplies and food.

And we got to know each other. These 80 or so people would soon be separated into groups of 4 by the ASP summer program leaders (Admin). After training each group of 4 staffers would head out to a separate county in either Virginia, West Virginia, Kentucky, or Tennessee.

In those days it was customary for each person to do some sort of creative introduction to help the others summer staffers get to know them better. I was rather partial to music, so I wrote a song about myself. And the legend was born.

The verses were just descriptive statements I made up on the spot:

F        C
I'm 19 years old
    F         C
and I'm from Illinois
F       C
I go to school at the
Dm                G
University of Illinois


Clever how I rhymed Illinois with Illinois, huh. The chorus on the other hand was simple, catchy, memorable.

F          G
My name is Rob
C          Am
My name is Rob
F              G
For crying out loud
My name is Rob

When I performed my introduction song, I was very surprised that by the end, when I had already sang the chorus a few times, other people started joining in. “My name is Rob, my name is Rob, for crying out loud my name is Rob…” It’s better with music. Trust me.

At the end of the summer, when the program had ended and we all gathered together again, people were still singing The Rob Song. The next summer I went back to work for ASP, and by popular request I sang The Rob Song for my introduction. During the school year and in the years since I graduated from college and got a job I still occasionally meet with my ASP friends, and they still talk about the song. People who have worked for ASP since then, whom I’ve never met, know me from hearing other people sing The Rob Song.

For crying out loud.