The Pickle Jar

Much as I would like to take credit for this story, this is actually from a forwarded email. This is for those who, like me, were lucky enough to have a pickle jar for them, and now have one of their own. By the way, my pickle jars are actually empty Coke plastic bottles. I use a cutter just big enough to fit a five-peso coin.

The pickle jar as far back as I can remember sat on the floor beside the dresser in my parents’ bedroom. When he got ready for bed, Dad would empty his pockets and toss his coins into the jar.

As a small boy I was always fascinated at the sounds the coins made as they were dropped into the jar. They landed with a merry jingle when the jar was almost empty. Then the tones gradually muted to a dull thud as the jar was filled. I used to squat on the floor in front of the jar and admire the copper and silver circles that glinted like a pirate’s treasure when the sun poured through the bedroom window.

When the jar was filled, Dad would sit at the kitchen table and roll the coins before taking them to the bank. Taking the coins to the bank was always a big production. Stacked neatly in a small cardboard box, the coins were placed between Dad and me on the seat of his old truck. Each and every time, as we drove to the bank, Dad would look at me hopefully. "Those coins are going to keep you out of the textile mill, son. You’re going to do better than me. This old mill town’s not going to hold you back." Also, each and every time, as he slid the box of rolled coins across the counter at the bank toward the cashier, he would grin proudly. "These are for my son’s college fund. He’ll never work at the mill all his life like me." We would always celebrate each deposit by stopping for an ice cream cone. I always got chocolate. Dad always got vanilla. When the clerk at the ice cream parlor handed Dad his change, he would show me the few coins nestled in his palm. When we get home, we’ll start filling the jar again.

He always let me drop the first coins into the empty jar. As they rattled around with a brief, happy jingle, we grinned at each other. "You’ll get to college on pennies, nickels, dimes and quarters," he said. "But you’ll get there. I’ll see to that."

The years passed, and I finished college and took a job in another town.

Once, while visiting my parents, I used the phone in their bedroom, and noticed that the pickle jar was gone. It had served its purpose and had been removed. A lump rose in my throat as I stared at the spot beside the dresser where the jar had always stood. My dad was a man of few words, and never lectured me on the values of determination, perseverance, and faith. The pickle jar had taught me all these virtues far more eloquently than the most flowery of words could have done.

When I married, I told my wife Susan about the significant part the lowly pickle jar had played in my life as a boy. In my mind, it defined, more than anything else, how much my dad had loved me. No matter how rough things got at home, Dad continued to doggedly drop his coins into the jar. Even the summer when Dad got laid off from the mill, and Mama had to serve dried beans several times a week, not a single dime was taken from the jar. To the contrary, as Dad looked across the table at me, pouring catsup over my beans to make them more palatable, he became more determined than ever to make away out for me. "When you finish college, Son," he told me, his eyes glistening, "You’ll never have to eat beans again, unless you want to."

The first Christmas after our daughter Jessica was born, we spent the holiday with my parents. After dinner, Mom and Dad sat next to each other on the sofa, taking turns cuddling their first grandchild. Jessica began to whimper softly, and Susan took her from Dad’s arms. "She probably needs to be changed," she said, carrying the baby into my parents’ bedroom to diaper her.

When Susan came back into the living room, there was a strange mist in her eyes. She handed Jessica back to Dad before taking my hand and leading me into the room. "Look," she said softly, her eyes directing me to a spot on the floor beside the dresser. To my amazement, there, as if it had never been removed, stood the old pickle jar, the bottom already covered with coins.

I walked over to the pickle jar, dug down into my pocket, and pulled out a fistful of coins. With a gamut of emotions choking me, I dropped the coins into the jar. I looked up and saw that Dad, carrying Jessica, had slipped quietly into the room. Our eyes locked, and I knew he was feeling the same emotions I felt. Neither one of us could speak.

Even though your parents may not have had a pickle jar, they made sacrifices for you that were not visible. Cherish the silent love that they shared with you.

Blog shift shwift

I was a proud user of Blogger. I have been a member since the year 2000, and it has faithfully kept and squealed my secrets, whatever the case may be.

I thought it was pretty cool to use something as unusual as Blogger. Unusual because I am part of a community wherein using free application service providers are not the norm ("Why use one, when you can create or install in your own server?").

With Blogger, I was unique.

With Blogger, I was also incessantly chided. It was only a matter of time, according to my "bitter half", before I finally become "true to myself," and customize a full-featured blogging application.

After almost four years, the time has come. I declared August 2004 as the time for change, among other things.

And so I began my research, and compiled a list of open-source blogging applications (too bad about Movable Type, huh?). I basically:

  • read the reviews,
  • visited sample websites,
  • browsed thru various support forums,
  • scanned user manuals, and
  • basically wasted my entire weekend.

At long last, I have narrowed it down to three: Nucleus, WordPress, and pMachine.

I’m a firm believer in the evaluation process. Although feedback from other users help (and unsolicited advice does not), each user has different needs. The only way I can choose the application is for me to actually install and try it out.

Thanks to Fantastico, I was able to instantly install both Nucleus and WordPress in the server.

WordPress

I ditched WordPress after an hour of tinkering. I found it too simplistic, and getting the required output takes too much code manipulation.

Nucleus

I tried Nucleus, and was actually becoming fond of it. I loved manipulating the skins and templates (after finally figuring out what they meant), and almost built an entire website around it.

However, I got frustrated when I tried to create a hack that will show the headlines of related articles. Surely, there must be something else which will easily accomplish this?

pMachine

With much hesitation, I installed pMachine. I had my reservations (and still do) about it. It has a highly commercial website which gives the impression that it is a Movable-Type-in-the-making. After all, who wants to receive an email after a few months stating in legalese that the script I was using is already for sale?

But I was getting frustrated (not to mention desperate), so I hurriedly installed it, and peeped inside the control panel.

Love at first sight

I was holding my breath. I immediately loved the way the control panel was organized. It took me a few minutes to figure out the purpose of each section, and how to modify the configuration.

Additionally, pMachine spoke my language (which is a cross between English, Filipino, newbie-techie, and basically a lot of unintelligible baby talk). I easily got the hang of the tags and variables, and started creating my own templates.

After approximately 3 hours, I have integrated all my templates into pMachine, uploaded a few sample articles, got my contact form working, and customized my search form.

As of this writing, this website is proudly powered by pMachine.

What web hosting company would you recommend?

The safe answer is always: "It depends on your needs."

It’s a tricky business recommending a web host, and I’m unfortunate enough to be asked that question frequently. I even have a ready script in hand, presenting 3 to 5 options to a client depending on their requirements, complete with a comparison chart, and a table of pros and cons.

There are instances when giving a hosting recommendation is not as risky, and in these instances, I won’t hesitate to mention the sites which come to mind everytime the subject of hosting comes up: I would personally recommend Site5 for Linux, and maybe Intermedia for Windows (not Linux). I know a lot of WiseWomen who swear by Pair. My brother is currently hosted on a Philippine-based webhosting company called Site.com.ph Digital Interactive, and is very happy with it.

I admit we host a lot of commercial websites in Intermedia. Some of our clients prefer LiveStats for viewing their website’s statistics, and their sleek DeskPilot for checking their emails from the web.

However, with big hosting companies, the impersonal attitude of the support personnel can be very off-putting, sometimes bordering on rudeness. For instance, I remember requesting SSH access for one of our accounts hosted in Intermedia. After filling in a request and providing them with the required information, the support personnel curtly replied that he cannot grant us SSH access on the reasons we provided. Period. (Ironically, they have previously granted us SSH access on our other accounts. Their client base must be so big as to bypass that information.)

Also, I’ve learned to be wary of hidden costs — in restoring from a previous backup, fixing a corrupted table in your database, DNS configurations, in upgrading/downgrading hosting plans, etc.

Thank goodness for hosting companies such as Site5. My feelings toward Site5 are very strong, and a bit personal. Back in 1999, when I was probably The Ultimate Newbie in their entire customer base, people like Matt and Todd were already there, patiently answering my questions — from Perl paths, to tips on backing up my database and DNS configurations.

I wasn’t actually the easiest (or smartest) customer in the world, but I have yet to encounter an email where they would refuse to give me any support because it was "beyond their scope of responsibility." In the rare case that I did ask a far-fetched question, they have always pointed me to the right direction, and even went as far as give URLs and tips on how to do things efficiently.

Fast forward to 2004, where thankfully, I don’t bug them as often:

  • I have finally gone past that newbie stage (even if, at times, I still feel like one)
  • Their NetAdmin leaves little room for questions
  • They practically have all the features I need. Do a comparison with other virtual hosting companies to see what I mean.
  • Most of all, they don’t forget their old customers. Did they implement a new pricing scheme that is better than what I originally got? No problem, here’s an additional 750MB space. I’m a little tight on cash this month, can I downgrade my plan first? No problem, consider it done.

Their slogan claims that they’re the most trusted name in hosting, and in my book, there is no doubt.

Check out their website at www.site5.com.

Formatting once more

I mistakenly installed one of those codec packs a few months ago.

To those who don’t know what a codec pack is, it is a program which installs in your computer the common audio and video codecs. These codecs enable you watch highly compressed videos from your computer.

I am very fond of my collection of videos. If others have their mp3s playing in the background, I have my videos. They are a necessary evil, and the only bearable thing which can shut down the noise in the office.

And so I installed one of ’em. I found it too inconvenient to search, download, and install all the codecs I needed one at a time (although come to think of it, I only needed 3 to 5, as compared to the 50+ that the codec pack actually installed).

Things worked well for a while. After a week or two, I noticed that although I can play my new videos perfectly, I cannot play any of my old ones without experiencing a drastic decrease in performance. My PC would either play choppy video/audio, or would simply show some registry reference error.

Things got nasty when I couldn’t even play my DVDs properly. I decided to go online to get the advice of the online codec gurus. They voiced out my greatest fear: "Do a clean reinstall of Windows 2000, earthling."

They were right, and yet I decided to put it off. I do a lot of reports from home, and couldn’t afford not to have my PC within ready access. After all, I can live without buying new DVDs, right? And who cares if I don’t have my videos. Silence might be a good thing.

Weeks turned to months, and even my "bitter half" was getting tired of the I-better-format-my-computer-soon remarks. I found myself spending a lot of time surfing, and, gracious, finally approving those Friendster requests. Working from home wasn’t just the same anymore.

Yesterday, I snapped. My bitted half got a new DVD, and innocently asked if I wanted to see it.

A:> FORMAT C: