29 January 2008

You Want Me to Do What?? It's Due When????

I may live in temperate Southeastern North Carolina, where winters are mild and fleeting, but I've literally been SNOWED under lately with work, stories and the itinerant deadlines.

The topics have been fascinating and nothing if not diverse. The stories are complete and publication starts next month and quite frankly, I'm rather proud of them given the fact that they are far outside the bounds of my comfort zone and niche.

First up: Bridge sensor technology. My super cool editor at PC Magazine has kept me busy and I'm completely grateful for it. He invited me to interview the creator of a new technology that is looming on the horizon and almost ready for its close-up. I had the pleasure of chatting several times with a brilliant and kind professor from Clarkson University, who is the force behind a new brand of technology that not only monitors the structural health of our nations bridges and overpasses, but uses the vibrations (i.e., energy) created by cars crossing the spans and harnesses those waves to create the energy to fuel the sensor itself. This story should be published in the February issue of PC Magazine in the "Front Side" section of the magazine.

In mid-December, Erik gave me something even more complex than bridge sensors to figure out and, at the time, I didn't think there could really be anything MORE complex than bridge sensors. Of course, I was famously wrong. Currently there's a bill winding it's way through Congress and it's "powered" by well-funded lobbyists working for the MPAA and RIAA. In effect, should this bill pass, our nation's 2200 colleges and universities would be forced to assume responsibility for any student within wireless "tapping" distance who might purposefully or unwittingly download a movie or audio file. In other words, it would force institutions of higher learning to take on the role of "police" rather than education and could possibly jeopardize financial aid and grants, because more money will have to be expended to install IT monitoring applications that are not only are ineffective and ridiculously expensive, but some bright student will figure out how to hack into the program the nanosecond it's installed. For this story, I had the privilege of interviewing a top official with Indiana University, as well as the VP for EDUCAUSE, which represents most of the colleges and universities in the US. It was a fascinating story and in the middle of my discussions, my editor was so pleased with my due diligence that he doubled the word count of the story, affording me more room to report the "other side" of the story. It was easily one of the most challenging assignments I've been handed to date, but I learned a great deal and I was honored to write this piece. It's scheduled for publication in late February/early March and I'm eager to see it in print.

Always one to keep me on my toes, Erik tossed me yet another interesting assignment. He must have been paying attention over lunch one day when I mentioned that I loved the water and boats. Last night I completed a piece on a fascinating prototype powerboat, aptly named "Earthrace", which will set off on 1 March 2008 in a quest to circumnavigate the globe and fueled by a "bio diesel" fuel. Pete Bethune, the New Zealand Skipper in charge of this boat not only mortgaged his home and most of his assets to pay for the venture, but in keeping with the theme of using renewable energy sources for fuel, he and two of his crew mates DONATED some of their human body fat via liposuction. When I mentioned this story to a few of my friends, they were most eager to inform me that they would be happy to donate some fat to the cause. This story will appear in PC Magazine's "Green Issue" which is set for publication in April. If you want to learn more about the boat, the captain and plot the course of the voyage of "Earthrace", you can visit www.earthrace.net and learn more about this fascinating adventure. Special thanks to Beverley in the UK for the high resolution photos, technical information and specifics which allowed me to write my story.

In between all of this, I have been working 37 - 42 hours a week at a Drug and Alcohol Assessment Company, processing clients who have received DWI's and are required, by North Carolina law, to complete an assessment following any DWI arrest. I've enjoyed this immensely and have learned a great deal. Not only has working with my new friend Sherry been educational, but she's been a peach in teaching me the ropes, the forms, the process of pulling driving records, Department of Corrections Offender histories and participating in both the ADETS (Alcohol Drug Education Traffic School), short-term and long-term therapy classes. I have gleaned so much in these days at the office and it's almost like being paid to learn even more about the disease of substance abuse and alcoholism and, if the number of times our phone rings is any indication, the problem is wide-spread and growing at an obscene rate.

I've met every age group, socio-economic and educational background, race, gender and varying levels of understanding and I've been exposed to the formidable power of denial. It's astonishing and some days, it's nothing short of heart-breaking. I'm so grateful to be given this opportunity to grow and learn and share and every evening, I become more grateful for my recovery and realize that in terms of "hitting bottom" a little over four years ago, I had a very soft landing.

Tomorrow night, I've been asked to speak at one of the treatment groups we conduct. Sherry has asked me to share a little of my own experiences - in other words, explain what it was like when I was drinking, what happened that inspired me to stop and what life is like now. Keep in mind, I'll be speaking to people in a treatment program who are pretty sure they've landed there by mistake or some wicked twist of fate, so it should be interesting to watch how my words are received. Another different facet to this form of communication is that, while I have written extensively on my alcoholism and recovery, I very rarely speak publicly about it to groups. In fact, it's rare when I share in a meeting, so this is a rather huge stepping stone for me and I won't have my trusty monitor or keyboard to help in the telling of my story. I'll be looking eye to "eyes", and I'll even admit to being a little nervous about the prospect, but the overriding thing I need to keep in mind, is that if I do nothing more than plant a few seeds, share a few past experiences that may ring true and sound familiar to someone in my audience, it may possibly make a difference and in the end, that's the prize. The brass ring. If I keep my purpose and focus on the reality that alcoholism is quite literally a life and death issue, I know inside that God will steady my knocking knees and distill my delivery into what I hope are the right words. He's gotten me THIS far, and I see no reason to doubt my Higher Power's direction. But don't let that stop you for praying that I don't make a complete shambles out of my presentation. Prayers for intercession are encouraged and welcome! You might want to pray for my audience as well.

Which brings me to the end of February and even though February is yet to commence, I have promised myself and my friend at Random House, that I will be flying up on 28 February to deliver more words, in a form I'm much more comfortable and familiar with - written words. Additionally, it will give me the chance to have lunch with my friend Erik at PC Mag, and Glen of RH fame, has promised me a "no holds barred" tour of his stomping grounds which happen to be on the same island that my daughter now calls home: Manhattan...here I come.

I must also let you know that my wonderful, lovable Daddy celebrated his 83rd (or was it 38th???) birthday on 24 January. This spry young man made out like a bandit in cards, good wishes, phone calls and I was most pleased to run out and buy him a new pipe, some special tobacco and yes, some very spiffy pipe cleaners! From where I stood, he looked as if he had a fantastic day and it's nothing less than he richly deserves. He's a pretty wonderful guy and so is his wife. They're both so blessed to have each other and I'm even more blessed to have them both. Happy Birthday DADDY!!!!!!

On 6 February, I'll celebrate 48 crazy, unpredictable, adventure-filled years on this planet. I love birthdays. I love everything about them. I can be heard now and then to complain about turning another year older but, in the grand scheme of things and taking a quick glance at where I've been and, more importantly, where I am, I feel nothing short of blessed to still be around to splash in the waters, dig my toes in the sand and offer up a huge "THANK YOU" to all that is God. Turning 48 doesn't really rattle me because I know, deep inside, I'm still as dazzled and amazed at life as I was when I was 8 or 12 or even twenty.

One more request: There is a certain young man in Cincinnati who is presently undergoing a bone-marrow transplant after two relapses of Acute Lymphoctic Leukemia. If you would be so kind, visit his site at: Matthew Fackler's Website, sign his guestbook and leave a nice message, it would cheer him on immensely. I know that tomorrow night, should I feel my knees start to knock or my voice begin to tremble, I'm going to think of Matthew and remember what he's in the middle of and the courage and style he is exhibiting through his present challenge. He's a true hero. I'm just a hacker. 'Nuff said.