Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Decisions, Decisions, Decisions

  We got back from vacation on Sunday at around 1 in the morning after leaving New Jersey at 7 in the morning on Saturday and 18 hours of driving and breaks. By Sunday night we had Daisy and Baxter back from the kennel and were settling back into our normal routines and one of my routines is to watch the TV show ‘Falling Skies’ on TNT every Sunday night at 8. Ben told me what a great show it was last summer but I spent my Sunday evenings watching reruns of ‘Law & Order : Special Victims Unit’ on the USA network until I happened to catch a rerun of Falling Skies one Saturday morning and got hooked. The show centers on the adventures of a group of survivors from the Boston area in a post-apocalyptic United States after an alien invasion has destroyed most of the world’s population. A typical episode shows the band of survivors forage for fuel and food and attempt to retain their humanity while they battle the aliens who have superior firepower and technology and the ability to turn the younger humans into aliens. This season, the group has been attempting to make their way to Charleston, South Carolina where there are rumors of an organized government and resistance movement.

  Even though I doubt the survivors would have any chance against these aliens (especially since they unleashed their new flesh eating spider type creatures 3 weeks ago), I still find myself carried along in their weekly fight for survival. This past week as the group made their way to Charleston they had a choice of 2 roads to take. Captain Weaver (played by Will Patton in his best role since Quentin Glass in the epic 2004 film 'The Punisher') decided to take the East road. I wondered why and the writers anticipated my question by having the Captain's driver ask him. In answer, the Captain asked his driver if he could smell the sea air. It was an easy decision for the Captain to make since he had no way of knowing if either or both roads would lead them into an alien ambush, but having made the decision, there was no turning back. Even heading to Charleston instead of hunkering down in Massachusetts for the winter was a big decision, probably made easier by the fact that without the road trip there wouldn't be any more episodes.

  I’ve never had to make a decision about which road to take to avoid hostile aliens. At work I make plenty of decisions about how to solve programming problems but the only consequence of making the wrong decision is spending some extra time getting things right later on. On Saturday, I had to make a more important decision. We were driving to Iowa from New Jersey and ran into some rain halfway through Indiana. The rain quickly turned into a downpour with wind, lightning, and bending trees. Motorcycles and some cars took refuge under every available underpass to wait out the storm. It was hard to see and there were drivers with their hazard lights on going 20 miles an hour in the right hand lane, effectively rendering Interstate 80 into a one lane highway. Then Matt called a friend in Iowa and told me there were tornado warnings right where we were in Indiana. It was pretty hard to see even with wipers on full blast, but I decided to keep on going. After a half hour of traveling at around 40 MPH the storm broke and I was back traveling at 75 miles an hour.

  I didn’t really have to think about this decision since I’ve driven through a lot worse going back and forth from work. I’ve worked from home because of snowstorms a lot of times, but in 16 years, I’ve only stayed at work one time after I had already made the drive to Des Moines. One of Newton’s laws is that a body in motion tends to stay in motion (unless acted upon by an outside force) and I think that applied to my decision to keep driving through the storm on Saturday. I wasn’t too concerned by the threat of a tornado since I figured we were equally likely to be hit by a tornado no matter where we were, but I wanted to keep getting closer to home.

  I made a much more questionable decision on Sunday. After getting a few hours of sleep, I turned on my computer to work on my emails, get the vacation pictures loaded, and get my blog posted. I wrote my blog on Saturday in the car when it wasn’t my turn to drive. I was working through my tasks when I went to print an email and my computer went into a major slowdown. My email froze, Word froze, Excel froze, Internet Explorer froze. Everything froze. I rebooted my computer and it took 20 minutes to reboot. I could go into safe mode and things would be fast, but in safe mode I had no access to Word, Excel, or Outlook. I backed up my computer and then I went back to non-safe mode and was back to waiting 5 minutes between I clicked on an icon and the program to appear on my desktop. I was about to bring the computer to a friend of Matt’s to look at when Ben came downstairs looking for breakfast so I asked him to look at the computer. Ben asked me if I had changed anything and I couldn’t recall anything.

  I was pretty upset at this HP computer. I had 2 Dell computers for 4 years each before they died and here was this HP computer broken after less than a year. I had the computer for a year before that as a backup but it mostly had sat in a box. I realized I should have had a backup computer ready when I put the HP into commission, so I went to Staples and bought an inexpensive Dell computer to at least have for my youth tournament on Saturday. When I got home, Ben had the computer running a little faster by disabling the anti-virus and some Windows services, but it was still nowhere as fast as it was before it froze at 8 in the morning. Meanwhile I loaded my tournament software and Microsoft Office on my new computer. As my new computer was loading, I realized I did change something on my computer on Saturday. Since I was using it in the car without a plug, the battery was being used up quickly and I changed the power settings to conserve my battery by dimming the display. I went to the HP computer, reset the power settings to not dim the display, and ‘Viola!’ – everything was working like it was before. After everything was all said and done, Matt chided me for running out and buying a computer at the drop of a hat just because I was having problems with my old one. I had to agree that it was a pretty panicky move, but after looking at it, the poor decision was made months ago in not having a contingency plan in the case of a computer crash.

  Next week I’m heading to Jackson, Minnesota to play chess at my friend Sam Smith’s Jackson Open. Jackson is 20 miles north of Okoboji and Sam has run this tournament for 6 years. He has never had more than 14 players and made some big decisions this year to try to boost attendance. The first big decision was to make the tournament open only to players under the expert level since he has rarely had more than 1 or 2 expert or better players each year. The other big decision was to guarantee the $700 prize fund which represents a major financial commitment. As a tournament organizer I’m not sure I like the idea of excluding players based on rating, but as a sub expert player I like the idea of being able to have a realistic chance at a big money prize. I’m sure these decisions were difficult for Sam to make, but in my opinion well worth the risk to boost attendance and regain momentum for his signature tournament.

  Sam has always been a big encouragement to my chess efforts and ran a couple of chess camps with John Flores on Matt’s behalf to help with the travel expenses of representing Iowa at the National High School championships so it was an easy decision for me to head up north to support his tournament. I have no idea what to expect from my first chess tournament in Minnesota. I’ve played in 2 tournaments this year. In the March CyChess I felt as sharp as I ever have only to have a bad tournament in which I was lucky to draw 2 of the 3 games to go along with a painful loss, while in the week before the May CyChess I couldn’t stop giving away my queen yet played exceptionally well in winning the tournament with only one mistake in 100+ moves. I may be heading into a Minnesota-Iowa border buzz saw with the 3 prime movers of chess in that area enjoying big successes in 2012. John Flores win the Okoboji Reserve in April, Jodene Kruse (the Okoboji Open Organizer) won $1200 at the National Open at Las Vegas in June and Sam just picked up 100 rating points and $165 at the Catfish Days chess tournament 2 weeks ago . In any event I hope I won’t be preparing for the tournament by hanging my queen every chance I get from now until next Friday.