Friday, June 30, 2006

Give Until It...

... Doesn't really hurt at all?

I went in today to my local Red Cross chapter to give blood. I do this, now, about every eight to ten weeks or so. I've been donating like this off and on for about 5 years. The last time I gave, back in May, I even received my 2 gallon pin. I was pretty proud of that, until I chatted with the guy sitting next to me who had given over 20 gallons since he was 19 years old!

Now the reason I bring this up is not to toot my own horn, but rather to let those of you who've never given before know that it really isn't that bad. Oh, sure, I'd rather be eating ice cream, but in the big scheme of building up some good karma (and keeping my girlish figure!) this is probably a lot better in the long run. The process goes like this:

You show up (preferably with an appointment). You read an information packet which tells you about what to expect and informs you of a number of possible factors which might disqualify you from donating. Then you visit with a nurse for a while. She gets basic information from you to verify that you are eligible to donate and takes your temperature and blood pressure.

Then comes the first terrifying part: She pricks your finger.

OK, someone splash some water on that guy in the third row. Obviously, he's a bit squeamish. Seriously, though, this hurts less than when I cut myself shaving (and I am a big baby). They do this to test the iron content of your blood.

Then you head off to the donation room. Our local chapter recently moved to a new location complete with comfy recliners. They sit you down in one of these, swab your arm a couple of times, just to make sure everything is clean, and then say "You'll feel a little pinch". Between five and ten minutes later, you are done. They put a bandage on your arm and tell you to drink lots of liquids and no heavy lifting (I keep trying to convince my wife that this means I should just sit around and watch TV for the rest of the evening), and out the door you go.

Oh, did I mention that you get all the cookies and juice that you can eat? My favorite part!

Listen. The nurse who was working on me today told me that they recently ran out of type O blood in the southeast Michigan region. Ran out?! What kind of craziness is that? What do they tell the poor schlub on the operating table who's down a quart? "Gee, could you hold on while we call around to find some more?" I know a lot of people can't give blood for one reason or another, but a lot of us can and don't. I was in that group for a large part of my life because I was terrified of what would happen. I hope my story helps you get past that faster than I did.

The Red Cross is a great organization and I hope you'll take an hour or so to go and visit. Maybe you'll even make a donation. They always seem to need it. Maybe the next time I'm there, we'll even strike up a conversation over some of those tasty cookies!

When was the last time you gave blood?

Monday, June 12, 2006

TLA Tutorial: CSS, Part 1

Time for another in my attempts to make the obscure jargon of the tech world just a little more understandable. Today's topic? CSS.

CSS, which should not be confused with "CSI", has nothing to do with the forensic examination of a crime scene in order to discover who committed the dastardly deed. It stands for "Cascading Style Sheet" and, as its middle name implies, it is all about style.

In our last TLA tutorial, we talked about HTML tags. If you look at the source for a web page (under the "View" -> "Source" menu item), you will see a lot of things that look like <b>, <h2>, and <div class="sidebar">. Please remain calm. There is nothing to fear. Just relax and close the source window. Now as we learned in the first TLA tutorial, <b> just turns text that follows it bold, which stops as soon as you see </b>.

The next tag is a little trickier. <h2> says to treat the text following as a header (level 2). There are header levels one through six. The lower the number, the bigger and bolder the text. That last tag <div class="sidebar">, just says that everything after this mark is of this new type called "div", and further, we have given it an optional class name of "sidebar". You can think of it as having a particular group of objects called "people" and a particular class of "people" called "teachers".

Now your browser (Internet Explorer, Firefox, Mozilla, Safari, etc) has a default way of showing these different objects to you. For example, <h2> might show up as bold, 24-point, Times Roman font that is centered on the page.

Now, for the big secret. Are you ready for it? Make sure no one is looking over your shoulder, because we don't want this to get out.

CSS can change this to whatever you want. Scary, huh?

I'm not going to go into all the details of how to set up the CSS file, there are a number of good tutorials on how to do this (you can even see how to do this by just looking at the source, like we did above -- just search for the line that has "css" in it). Many HTML editors also generate their own CSS file, so you don't even need to look at it if you don't want to.

That's pretty much it. CSS just allows the web page designer to break out of the limitations of how the browser presents HTML. If you want your <h1> text (usually the title of the page) to be in 79-point (wow, that would be big), bold, blinking, purple Arial font, with a yellow and pink polka-dot background, you can do it. You should't, but you can. Remember Spider-man's motto, "With great power comes great responsibility".

Now, I can hear you thinking: "Hey! Wait a minute! That's the 'style' part. What about the 'cascading' part?", "Why did he tell us about <div> and 'classes'?", "Is he trying to rip us off?", and "I can put the red three on the black four." Don't fret. I will address the "cascading" issue in an upcoming post. For now, sit back and relax. Now you know that CSS is all about style and no one could accuse you of lacking style -- though you may want to reconsider the yellow and green paisley-print slacks. I'm just sayin'.

So, who was your favorite super-hero when you were growing up?

Friday, June 09, 2006

Building Walls...

... brings us closer together.

Over Memorial Day weekend, my wife (Lisa), my mom (Debby), and her husband (Steve), all got together for that most traditional of all family activities -- building a retaining wall. What? Your family doesn't follow this tradition? I feel so sorry for you. It's amazing that you turned out so normal coming from such a dysfunctional family. Don't worry. Your embarrassing secret is safe with me.

Seriously, though, my wife and I decided to build this retaining wall in our side yard. Ok, she decided to, and I went along for the ride. We made our plans and took the measurements and before you know it, we were the proud owner of a pile of bricks, gravel, and topsoil. Now all we had to do was turn it into something structural. Fortunately, I did a quick search and found detailed instructions on how to build a retaining wall. What did we ever do without Google?

We started the project early. We had heard that it was going to be hot that day. It was work. I have a new respect for those who make their livings by the sweat of their brow. Each of those bricks weighs about 25 lbs. This isn't much when you are just lifting one, but if you continue lifting it over the course of, say, four to six hours, it begins to feel a trifle heavier -- about on par with a pickup truck -- one of those big Ford F350 models like my brother has.

Still for all the hard work and sweat (and even a certain amount of bloodshed), we had the sense, at the end of the day, of a job well done -- and done together. There's nothing like a shared project to bring groups and families closer together. In years to come, I won't remember the sore muscles and the unpleasant heat. I'll see the beautiful garden and remember the joy of working beside those I love.

What projects have you done with friends and/or family that brought you all closer together?