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To provide the music for my niece’s wedding, I used a program called DJ Mix Pro. It’s not a well known program, but it’s really good at what it does (and really affordable), so I thought I would mention it.

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Talented disc jockeys are able to take two songs, match their speed (measured in Beats Per Minute, or BPM), and seamlessly fade from one song to the next. It is an art that requires skill, talent, and a good ear.

DJ Mix Pro simulates this skill and performs it automatically by using its own patented “Beatlocking Technology.” After adding your mp3 collection to DJ Mix Pro’s library, the software automatically determines each song’s BPM. Based on that information, you can group songs with similar BPM together, and the software does the rest.

By default, DJ Mix Pro loads the next track when the current track has 20 seconds left. When the current track has 15 seconds left, the second track will begin to play and the software will automatically adjust the speed of the second track to match the first one. It will then cross fade the two songs, lowering the volume of the ending song while raising the volume of the second one. The end result is a continual stream of music with no dead air between tracks — perfect for a wedding reception!

Once you add your songs to your playlist, you can sort them by dragging them up and down in the playlist. For my niece’s wedding, I spent 10 minutes getting the songs into the order I wanted, and then saved the playlist. When it was time for the party I simply double-clicked on the playlist, and it started playing. I didn’t have to touch a thing.

One thing I like is you can mess with options, song orders, and beatlock settings for hours, or you can literally drop and drag a bunch of mp3s into the program, click “shuffle,” press “play” and walk away. You can literally be up and running with crossfading songs and beatlocking in 30 seconds.

The free/demo version of the software has a few limitations. It only performs beatlocking on twenty songs, and you cannot export your final mixes to .WAV. Fortunately, the registered version is only $20, and your license key will be emailed to you immediately upon PayPal purchase.

The DJ Mix Pro website looks like it was designed in 1995 using Notepad. The website suggests you save your license key file “to floppy” and suggests that users have at least 32 Mb of RAM. Despite apparently being frozen in time, the software does a good job at what it does. Playing mp3s on your computer is never a substitute for a real life DJ, but if you’re wanting to play some music for a party and “set it and forget it,” DJ Mix Pro will do the job.

Link: http://djmixpro.com

Twelve hours before my niece’s wedding was scheduled to begin, decorations still needed hanging, my laptop (the sole source of the evening’s music) started acting up, and the wedding cake had just fallen off the table, onto the floor.

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Jessica, my oldest niece, was born in 1989. She was four when Susan and I moved in together, and had just turned six when she served as a flower girl (along with her sister) at our wedding in 1995.

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Twenty-one years later, it was Jessica’s turn to stand at the altar, with my daughter Morgan as one of the bridesmaids and Jessica’s nieces throwing out the flower pedals behind her.

Time indeed flies.

Weddings in movies and on television are a glorious thing. My wife loves the television show Say Yes to the Dress, where brides-to-be try on multiple dresses and are forced to choose between the $10,000 one and the $15,000 ones. (On some episodes, they buy both.) My tree’s not on that side of the tracks — I ain’t no fortunate one, no. My wedding, and most of the family weddings I’ve attended, consisted of people paying for what they had to, and relying on family members to pitch in where they could and help out with the rest. That’s how our wedding was, and that’s how Jessica’s wedding was. People brought food. People made centerpieces. People hung decorations. People arranged and rearranged tables and chairs. People helped clean up afterwards. People celebrated.

Twenty-one years later, Susan can still tell you everything that didn’t go quite right at our wedding. I don’t remember anything going wrong, and nobody else who was there does either. Nobody on the dance floor last night saw me scrambling on my laptop and filling song requests and changes by pulling them down off the internet while the live music was playing. Nobody noticed any of the little details. All they noticed was that two kids (“kids”) got married and had a great wedding and a great reception.

So, about that cake.

A few tears were shed and a few words were said and after that, my sister-in-law got to work making another one. An entirely new cake was made and decorated in just a few hours. People who saw the second cake had no idea that it was the second cake. The cake was wonderful.

So was the wedding. Congratulations to Kyle and Jessica. I know you don’t feel old yet, but wait until you’re helping move tables at Morgan’s wedding. ;)

The family and I spent the night as close to camping as I like to get — inside a two bedroom, 1,000 square foot cabin.

The outside of the cabin is chocolate brown and looks like logs. Everything inside — the floors, walls, ceiling, shelves, cupboards, and kitchen table — are made of pine. The roof, front door, and trim are all forest green.

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From inside the cabin you can’t see any other cabins. There are trees to the south, and a huge deck out the backdoor that overlooks a fire pit and a murky swamp pond out past that. Once you venture out onto the deck, the illusion is ruined. From there, you can see another cabin to the south, and two more to the north. The trees block some of the view, but the sound of car doors and dogs barking and the occasional child screaming are unmistakable. We’re all out here in the woods, avoiding other people. Together.

The thing I like the most about the cabin is how fake it is. It’s almost like Hollywood’s idea of a cabin. It doesn’t take long to spot the vents in the ceiling that connect to the central heat and air, the smoke detectors, and the modern ceiling fans, painted to look older than they really are. A sheet of fake rock has been attached to the front of the bar; the same stuff has been attached to the front of the fireplace as well. Next to the fireplace is a flat screen television that is connected to a DVD player and a Direct TV box, both mostly hidden from view.

Don’t get me wrong — were we staying in a cabin without air conditioning and modern beds, the tone of this entry would be very different.

My favorite parts of the cabin are its decorations. There are built in shelves in every room, and each one displays something that means nothing. The shelves in the living room display a collection of wicker baskets. The ones in the dining room are home to a bowl, another basket, and a porcelain duck. The room’s main focal point, a large, prominent shelf located right behind a chandelier made from deer antlers, holds two metal candle holders with stars cut out of them and a large metal pig. Susan tells me everything on display in the cabin came from garage sales.

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Susan and I spent the morning in the outdoor hot tub. Like a movie set, the trees closest to the cabin look pretty detailed, but the ones off in the distance look less authentic. Save for one lone wasp on a search for water there are no bugs. A few cobwebs stretch from the gutter to the handrail, and I wonder if they are even real.

As we climb out of the hot tub and prepare to begin our day, a squirrel scampers by. I swear I saw a string pulling it…

The day Mason was born, the doctor heard a slight “clicking” sound while listening to his heart with a stethoscope. The clicking sound turned out to be a mild heart murmur. Later, a specialist officially diagnosed Mason with a mild case of pulmonary valve stenosis, combined with a dilated pulmonary artery. I was scared when I heard those words. Terrified, actually. The doctor reassured us that it was “very mild,” but hearing that your child may have something wrong with his or her heart is never pleasant.

When Mason was young, the doctor told us that Mason would need to see a pediatric cardiologist every year so that they could keep an eye (or ear) on his condition. For the first few years, we went every year. Then it became every other year. The last time he went, he was seven. That time, they said they didn’t need to see him again until he was fourteen. That day was yesterday.

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Mason’s heart doctor told us that through the natural course of things, Mason’s condition could have got better, stayed the same, or got worse. His opinion today was that things have stayed the same. We also got a lot of good information today. Because the defect is on the pulmonary (“low pressure”) side, his prediction was that it will never be an issue. He also said we should schedule one more appointment before Mason turns 18, but chances are, after that they won’t schedule any more appointments after that. The doctor performed both an EKG and an ultrasound and saw nothing that concerned him.

Today was a great day.

“Your butt stinks, and you have wooden teeth.” -Aaron Burr to George Washington, during a 1792 presidential debate.

This past week, after being repeatedly called “short” and “tiny,” republican presidential candidate Marco Rubio insinuated that because fellow GOP candidate Donald Trump has small hands, he probably also has a small penis. In last night’s presidential debate, which aired live on FOX News, Donald Trump declared to the country in his opening statement that his penis was of at least average size, and that there are “no problems at all down there.”

While voters, viewers, and reporters continue to be shocked and appalled at this election’s personal and immature attacks, those who act like this is the first time presidential hopefuls have sunk to such lows may not be familiar with some of these other personal attacks that occurred throughout history.

01. “Your butt stinks, and you have wooden teeth.” -Aaron Burr to George Washington.

During George Washington’s run for re-election in 1792, he was constantly attacked by rival Aaron Burr, who frequently complained about President Washington’s stinky butt and wooden teeth. “How can we trust a man to take care of our country when he cannot even take care of his own teeth?” During one debate, Burr actually referred to Washington as “ol’ splinter mouth.” Despite these attacks, Burr lost the election, and Washington was re-elected. There are few historical accounts documenting whether or not our first president’s butt was actually stinky.

02. “I’d rather be a moron-e than a Doofus King!” -James Monroe to Rufus King

In the 1816 election, federalist candidate Rufus King pointed out in a live debate that the letters in Monroe’s last name could be rearranged to spell Moron-e. After a smattering of boos, Monroe pointed out that his opponent’s name (Rufus King) sounded like “Doofus King.” The name stuck, and because nobody wanted to elect a Doofus King, Monroe ultimately ran away with the election.

03. “Nice hat.” George McClellan to Abraham Lincoln.

Presidential hopeful George McClellan and his vice-president George Hunt had a one-two plan when it came to debating with Abraham Lincoln. Each time Lincoln said anything, George (McClellan) would respond with “nice hat,” while George Hunt would say, “nice mole.” They even went as far as to get the crowd to join in during the debates. Their ploy did not work. Abraham Lincoln with Andrew Johnson as his vice-president won the election by a landslide. The two Georges were found murdered two days later. Each one was stabbed in the back with a dagger. One said “nice hat” on the blade while the other said “nice mole.” The crime was never solved.

04. “The last thing we need is more Cox in the White House.” -Warren G. Harding

When democratic hopeful James M. Cox stated during a debate that “the last thing we need is another republican in the White House,” Warren G. Harding responded with his famous comeback, “the last thing we need is more Cox in the White House.” At the next debate, people gathered with signs that read “Stop electing Cox” and “Don’t put your Cox in my Oval Office.” The election was over before it ever began.

05. “But dewey know how to be president?” -Harry S. Truman

Harry S. Truman had a field day with opponent Thomas Dewey’s last name. Each time Thomas Dewey mentioned something he planned on doing during his presidency, Truman would respond with “Oh, but dewey even know how to do that?” Truman also referred to Dewey’s vice-president interchangeably as Huey and Louie, and once told him during a debate that his hopes of becoming the president were so fictional that a book about it wouldn’t even appear in the Dewey Decimal System, which is, in all honesty, a pretty obscure insult to toss out during a debate.

These are just a few of the personal attacks that have appeared in debates throughout history. Maybe you recall some others? If so, add them in the comments section below!

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What better way to publicly pledge your allegiance to the Empire as a kid in the 1980s than by carrying a Star Wars brand lunchbox to and from school every day? Sure, other kids might have Star Wars toys at home, but with a Star Wars lunchbox, you could represent Star Wars all day!

The lunchbox you see above is the one I carried to school for a couple of years in the early 1980s. The picture shows our four heroes (Chewbacca, Han Solo, Princess Leia and Luke Skywalker) standing on Hoth with their guns drawn and pointed toward the camera. This isn’t a scene from the film — in fact, I’m 90% sure it’s multiple pictures spliced together.

The first lunchbox designed for children was the Hopalong Cassidy lunchbox, released by Aladdin in 1950. The trend caught on, and for many decades, an important part of back to school shopping was picking out exactly which lunchbox you wanted to carry and to and from school all year long. This was no light decision; make the wrong choice and you could be a cafeteria pariah!

Like most kids (and collectors) I prefer the metal lunchboxes of the 50s-80s to the plastic ones (like this one from The Empire Strikes Back) that began to replace them in the early 1980s. A popular theory is that the lunchbox industry switched from metal to plastic because kids were using metal lunchboxes as weapons, but the reality is the plastic ones were cheaper and quicker to develop and manufacture. That’s a shame, because the metal ones, with their embossed graphics and artwork that wrapped around all six sides, were truly awesome. The plastic ones were essentially all the same, save for a single sticker affixed to one side.

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Here are a couple more Star Wars lunchboxes I’ve picked up over the years. Neither of these were ones I carried my lunches in, but I remember seeing other kids with them. There are two or three other vintage Star Wars lunchboxes I would like to add to my collection, but the ones I consider to be affordable (~$30) are all dented and rusted, and I can’t bring myself to pay the $75-$100 price for average looking ones. I’ll keep searching.

Interestingly (or perhaps not), these all reside with my “lunchbox” collection, rather than my Star Wars collection. The force is strong, but the smell of old milk in a Thermos is stronger!

The older I get the more it seems like every cold I catch is the worst cold I’ve ever had.

I started feeling like crap last Thursday, just run down and irritable. By Friday evening, I felt like I had “medicine head” (Susan’s term), except I wasn’t taking any. On Saturday, my dad came over to visit from 9am-11am, and that was the longest I was awake all day. I slept off and on throughout the day, falling asleep while watching television and even writing at my desk. Susan swears she didn’t give me nighttime cough medicine, but that’s what it felt like. I would be on the computer and suddenly realize my eyes were closed and five minutes had gone by. Sunday was about the same. My chest tickles, my teeth feel funny, and my sides are sore from coughing.

Today was the first day I actually felt like getting dressed and moving around. I’m hoping whatever that was is gone, but it doesn’t feel like it, not yet.

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One of my dreams as a kid was to grow up and become a spy. In my 20s, I began purchasing and acquiring spy-related devices. (Years later, I went as far as to enroll in a Private Investigator course at my local vo-tech.) Before long I hand a held radio scanner to listen to police chatter and cordless phone conversations, a small FM transmitter (a “bug”), a set of auto lock pick tools, a regular set of lock picks, some binoculars, a small telescope, night vision goggles, and this thing — the Super Ear.

This exact same device is marketed two different ways. In mainstream circles, the Super Ear is sold as a hearing aid. It’s a directional mic that boosts audio; simply point the small microphone toward someone speaking and the small box amplifies any sounds the microphone picks up. In “spy” circles, this same device is marketed as an eavesdropping device, useful for listening to conversations just out of earshot.

I never had a real use for the Super Ear. Once, I stood in my driveway and watched my neighbor come home with a car full of groceries. I stood, leaning against the hood of my car, with the Super Ear turned on and pointed in her direction. Moments later her husband came out, and the woman said something to him. I turned the volume up, and captured this nugget:

“There’s more in the back.”

Moments later the two of them looked at me to try and figure out what in the world I was doing. I pretended like I was changing the wiper blade on my car.

I used the Super Ear a few more times. I listened to those same neighbors discuss their tulips. I listened to a couple of kids debate whether they should go fishing or not. From halfway across the house, I listened to Susan cook spaghetti.

It didn’t take long for the Super Ear to go back in its box, where it has lived for the past decade (maybe two). Each time I run across the box I consider tossing it, but in the back of my mind there’s always that possibility that I might become a spy, which helps Super Ear survive another round of spring cleaning.

I my mind’s eye I can see his face, but for the life of me, I can’t remember his name.

It was tenth grade, back when it was still cool to have sleepovers. I didn’t know at the time that most of my life-long friendships had already been formed, but that didn’t stop me from occasionally meeting new people and trying out new relationships.

I met the guy in science class after buying two tapes from him, one cassette (Kiss’s Smashes, Thrashes & Hits) and one VHS (Metallica’s Cliff ‘Em All). A mutual friend of ours told me later the tapes had been stolen from him, along with some comic books.

The guy came over and we spent some time playing computer games before watching movies. I had a VCP (video cassette player) in my room and had a tape with two movies on it, Weird Science and Howard the Duck. We watched both films. My strongest memory of the guy was how physically dirty he was. He had dirt on his jeans and shoes, and he smelled. We didn’t have a terrible time, but we didn’t exactly hit it off either. That was the only time we saw each other outside of school.

When my kids have friends come over to visit, I often wonder if these are kids they will be friends with for the rest of their lives, or if they’ll be like this guy, people that they’ll see once or twice and never see again.

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I ran across this poster yesterday at school. Based on the picture and the ceramic-tiled wall it was taped you, you can probably guess where I saw it. Specifically I was in the Gaylord building at OU, home to the school’s journalism, mass communications, and professional writing students.

I cheated on a writing assignment for school once. I was in third grade. Our teacher gave us a week to write and illustrate a limerick. I struggled for several days to come up with a good one, but came up blank every night. The night before our homework was due, I wrote down a limerick that I had heard before on a record:

A furry blue monster named Herry
When asked “Are you strong?” replied “Very!”
Then just for a laugh
He tore 3 cars in half
Now I ask “Is that necessary?”

I modified the first line slightly to read “There once was a big man named Harry,” but that was the only change I made. Lest you think this experience didn’t make an impression on me, the original song was called “The Limerick Song (Come On and Sing Along With Me),” and it appeared on the Bert and Ernie Sing Along Sesame Street Album. It starts at the 40 second mark, if you want to listen to it.

My teacher thought the limerick was great, and hung my paper along with a few others in the hallway outside our classroom. I was terrified that someone would recognize the limerick and tell on me. I felt so bad about it that I got a pit in my stomach every time I walked past the picture. Worst of all, I felt bad about deceiving my teacher. I swore I’d never do it again.

I was eight years old.

A recall a few times in high school where friends of mine and I would share answers on “busy work” assignments like word searches and crossword puzzles, but I never again cheated on any “creative writing” assignments. Why would I? I love writing!

Sometimes it’s easy for me to forget that I am a 42-year-old college student and not a 22-year-old one. I’m paying for graduate school out of my pocket, and it ain’t cheap. I’m in school because I want to be there. My goals are to learn, to get feedback, and ultimately, to improve as a writer. None of those goals involve cheating.