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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!

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.

Howard-the-Duck[1]

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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.

A couple of years ago, I fully intended to shut down Review-O-Matic.com. I went as far as to export all 500 reviews from over there, and import them over here in an attempt to “consolidate web stuff.” In retrospect, I never should have done it. It’s two completely different types of content and styles of writing. More isn’t always better, if it’s not a good fit. Also, many of those reviews were written hastily, and do not reflect the quality or style of my current writing.

I just finished making sure all of my reviews that were posted here (at RobOHara.com were over there, and then deleted them from here. I left the master “Review” category in WordPress with about 10 reviews in it. Everything else is back online over at Review-O-Matic. Someday when I have time (ha ha) I may go through and clean up all the grammatical errors in those reviews. But not tonight.

If you follow me on Facebook or Twitter, you’ll still see notifications when I post new reviews (which isn’t too often these days). There’s an RSS Feed over there too, in case you’re in to that sort of thing.

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Occasionally I’ll go off on a tangent and start collecting some random sub-collection of Star Wars “things.” Such was the case in the late 1990s, when I began collecting Star Wars masks and helmets.

Like most kids, my early Star Wars Halloween costumes consisted of cheap or homemade (or both) costumes combined with plastic masks from the store. I think the year I went as Chewbacca was the only time I ever went as a “good guy” — most of them time, I preferred the Empire. I remember loving this Stormtrooper costume my mom put together for me to death.

Rob Stormtrooper Halloween, Kids

Around the time I was in third grade, an uncle of mine gifted me a plastic Darth Vader helmet. It was the kind that came apart in two pieces — one that covered the front half of your face and the helmet part that covered the top and back of your head. The top was held on by a strip of Velcro. Other than the fact that someone had poked out the eye lenses before I got it, the mask was in pretty good shape. I wore it around the house from time to time with sunglasses on under the helmet to hide my eyes. I had a stand for it and eventually I found a couple of rubber eyeballs that I stuffed into its eye sockets. They bulged out and made Vader look like he had been eternally kicked in the nads.

In the late 90s I began purchasing Don Post masks, the cheap ones. Over the span of a few months I had a Biker Scout, Boba Fett, and this Stormtrooper helmet. When The Phantom Menace was released in 1999, I began buying latex masks to go with the helmets. I filled empty three-liter bottles up with water and hung the masks and helmets on top of them. By 2002, this is what my collection looked like:

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These masks and helmets looked good out of the box, but weren’t designed to last long (or for rough play). The kids dropped and broke the Biker Scout and Pod Racing helmets. I stored all of the latex masks in my closet on summer and every one of them melted together, looking like the last scene from The Fly. Of all the masks in that picture, the only ones I have left are my Boba Fett helmet, the C-3P0 one (which, despite it’s claims of “one size fits all,” doesn’t), and two Stormtrooper masks, both of which have pretty large cracks in them.

And for some reason, one of them has the eye lenses poked out. Full circle.

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I was so upset with myself for destroying my last computer that I forgot one of my own cardinal rules — I like it when hardware dies. When old hardware dies, we replace it with newer, faster hardware!

In keeping with tradition, Vader’s replacement was also given a Star Wars name. All my workstations are named after characters, all my servers are named after planets, and all my laptops are named after ships (because they fly around). Traditionally I would have given this machine a new name, but I’m so used to referring to this machine as Vader (and have a lot of scripts referencing it by name as well) that I decided to name this one Vader as well. After all, Vader was “more machine than man” and was ostensibly rebuilt many times throughout his lifetime — so too is Vader, and now Vader 2.0.

For all you techies, Vader 2.0 is a Lenovo TS140 ThinkServer. I got the i7 3.9 GHz quad-core processor, 32 gigs of RAM, a 128gb SSD C: drive and a 3TB D: drive. It came with a DVD-ROM drive, which I swapped out with the DVD-RW drive from Vader 1.0. I’ve got a few kinks to work out (my old monitors support HDMI/DVI/VGA while Vader 2.0 came with dual DisplayPorts), but for the most part, we’re up and running.

99% of my data is stored either on my server or in the cloud, so I didn’t lose any data. I spent several hours last night and a couple more this morning reinstalling software. For almost everything I was able to install software on the new machine and copy over any latent settings from the old hard drive (which is connected up via a SATA toaster), but one program in particular was giving me fits. CoreFTP stores all of your FTP sites, accounts and settings in the registry, so copying over the configuration files from the old hard drive to the new one doesn’t get any of my old settings. Worse, I don’t think I have all of those settings written down anywhere!

[WARNING: We’re about to get “techy”]

I spent some time searching Google for a way to read the old machines registry and it took me a while to stumble upon the right phrasing. Technically what I was trying to do was read an offline registry hive, and once I figured out that phrasing, finding a solution was relatively simple. There are a few programs out there that will read registry files from a USB-connected hard drive that is not booted. The first one I found, “Registry Tool,” costs $34.95. I was desperate, but not that desperate. The next one I found, MiTeC’s Windows Registry Recovery, was free. As my dad would say, “free is better.”

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Again, it took me some guesswork to figure out just how to do what it was I wanted to do, which was export my previous CoreFTP settings and get them into my new machine. (For the record, if you Google “transfer CoreFTP settings from one machine to another,” every single hit tells you to use CoreFTP’s export/import feature, something I couldn’t do since the old machine is dead.) Once I found the registry key containing the CoreFTP settings (in NTUser.dat under your old account’s profile, in case you’re looking…) I was able to export that key, manually edit the exported .reg file with the new SID account on Vader 2.0, and get my old sites and accounts imported.

(I told you this was a techy one.)

Everything else for the most part has been a breeze. By the end of today I expect to have everything I need reinstalled, just in time to edit a new episode of Sprite Castle tonight and get back to working on my novel tomorrow morning.

Long live Vader 2.0!