Friday, August 28, 2009

A smell can trigger a ton of memories

I was just walking back from our company's kitchen area after heating up my tea and I caught a smell that was like the cheap car freshener that was in the first car I ever had. I don't know what caused the smell but the memories it triggered were intense. The car was a Corvair convertible (and when I'd forget to put up the top and the rain poured in, the resulting musty smell forced me to get the air freshener). The picture at the right isn't a picture of my car but it's the right color (brown) but it is an earlier model than I one I had. The picture is from here.

My parents bought the car for me but I had to pay for the gas and repairs. It really was a pretty bad car but it was a load of fun. All my friends enjoyed piling into it and there always seemed to be enough room to fit one more person in. It didn't last very long. You had to carry lots of spare fan belts because the design had the belt running over the top of the air-cooled engine (where, of course, the belt heated to near melting) and then it had to make a 90 degree turn to run down to the drive pulley. So between the heating and the bending, the fan belt seemed to break every other month. The car's slow speed and slower acceleration probably kept me from getting into trouble.

We started collecting Corvair stories after we sold the car. One of my high school teachers had one and told of her husband driving the car around a bend on a slippery road. The Corvair went into a spin and the front end (the trunk of this rear engine car) tore off and his feet were resting on the road after it came to a stop.

My mother was walking in our town one day and noticed a Corvair parked in front of the store she was going to. The car looked fine at that point. But when she came out of the store, a crowd was gathered around the car and she saw that the engine had fallen out on the street. The owner was trying to figure out what to do and the crowd was offering suggestions.

It was during one of the repairs I was paying for on the car that I heard one of the great quotes of all times. One of my friends' father worked in the garage where I took my car after I'd tightened a bolt too tight and the head just twisted off. I'd never heard of an Easy-Out (a screw extractor) before but my friend's father knew how to get the bolt out. As he was fixing it, I asked him how he ever learned all the things he needed to know to be a mechanic. He said, "It's because I made so many mistakes and learned from each one."

There were a lot more memories about that car but that's enough for now.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Is the medicine working?

Yesterday's post about the Good Samaritan was still in my mind today when someone at work asked about some medicine he was taking. The Good Samaritan not only had compassion for the man who had been beaten and robbed but he also had the right medicine to help the man.

The question at work was, "Will this medicine really do anything for me?" I remembered that my father used to say, "If the medicine tastes bad when you take it or hurts when you put it on, it's working. Otherwise, it can't be doing any good."

Monday, August 24, 2009

A great message

We heard an excellent sermon on Sunday (yesterday). It was the first of three sermons on the topic of The Good Church. This week's sermon was titled The Two Sides of Being Good. I wish there were specific URLs that I could direct you to but you have to go to this general location, Cape Cod Church Teachings, and then select the message. Another unfortunate thing is that the messages may not be available for long. Some stay there for quite a while but others seem to go away quickly. I should ask about that and see if there is a way to make all the messages available for as long as possible.

The two sides of good were explained as Truth and Grace. Truth as in knowing what God asks of us and doing it. Truth as in knowing what the rules are and sticking to them. Grace as in forgiving and accepting. Grace as in: we received it from God and we should give it as well. The text was from Luke 10:25-37 (New Living Translation) which includes the story of the Good Samaritan. In the story, the priest and a Temple Assistant (the New International Version calls him a Levite, a lay leader) pass a man who has been robbed and beaten but don't help him. They certainly knew the law and were considered Godly men. But they showed no compassion. The Samaritan, on the other hand, shows compassion and helps the man. But as our minister pointed out, he didn't just want to help but able to help. He had bandages and medicine and acted on his compassionate feelings. Also, he paid to put him up in an inn after he had made sure he was OK.

The illustration that will remain with me was when our minister said, "Would you use a GPS unit in your car that, when you got to an intersection, said, 'Go whichever way you want.'?" You have to know what is right and what is wrong. You can't truly help someone by being wishy-washy. Also, grace is necessary because the Samaritan could easily have said, "You should have known this was a dangerous road. You got what you deserved." Instead, he was able to put himself in the shoes of the man who was beaten up.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

A personal confession

When spring came around this year, and baseball season was about to open, I started looking for my Red Sox cap. I couldn't find it. I've searched throughout the season so far and I still can't find it. My wife and kids tried to help. They bought a new cap for me but it was too small (another confession, I have a huge head).

Yesterday, I finally gave up looking for my old one and returned the cap my family bought and got a new one of the correct size (the largest size they had in the store). I'm now proudly wearing my new Red Sox cap and it's working. The Red Sox beat the Yankees yesterday, 14 - 1. Now, we'll see how the rest of the season goes with this extra boost :-)

Friday, August 21, 2009

Lots of buttlerflies

There is (or at least there was) some worry about the number of butterflies declining around the world (a New York Times article on this). It may seem trivial if you don't understand how interrelated all the life on Earth is. But even if it isn't important to the environment as a whole, wouldn't it be a shame to lose the beauty of them? We can't keep building homes, roads and factories without considering the consequences of what we are doing. I know this is another thing that other Christians often say I'm wrong about. But it has always seemed wrong to me that we should destroy what God has given us. He has made us stewards of this world and what would you think of someone if you made them steward of your home and saw them ruining it? God told Adam and Eve to subdue the world, not wreck it.

Well, last week as I was walking in the woods behind our office, I was amazed at the number of butterflies I was seeing. There weren't huge flocks like you see in Mexico but I was seeing more than I've seen in a long time. I'd see one or two butterflies every 10 - 20 yards as I walked. I'm not sure why they were so spread out. Maybe they are territorial like birds and male butterflies drive other males away. Just wondering. Don't quote me on that.

I had a hard time getting close enough to take good pictures of them. Lucky for me I've got a pretty good zoom on this camera. It let me get a few good shots which I'm sharing here. Sorry they;re not bigger. Maybe if I catch them sleeping next time (do butterflies sleep?), I'll get some better ones. The one in the second picture seems to be glaring at me! But I'm glad, at least in this small area, the butterflies seem to be doing better. Perhaps the fact that we have started to think about the consequences of our building is helping. Or the decreased use of powerful pesticides and our learning to use more focused methods of controlling insect pests. Time will tell.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

"That's why God made tomorrow"

We were out in the yard raking up the grass left over from cutting the lawn. It was hot and humid and we were trying to finish up so we could rest. I thought we'd raked it all and we were putting away the rakes and getting Charlie Dog settled down from his "helping" us. As we were heading back to the house, I saw an area that we'd missed and Emma asked if we were going to have to get the rakes back out and work some more. That's when I used one of my favorite quotes (I think I made it up but who knows): "That's why God made tomorrow."

I don't mean it as a way to justify procrastination. I don't need any help in that! I came up with that line to try to help us feel better about the fact that there are only so many hours in the day. There are enough reasons to feel guilty about things that we haven't done (or can't do) without adding to it. At the end of the day, if you've done your best and there isn't time to finish something, there's always tomorrow. I think it's better to stop work, have a good meal and get some rest. Then you'll be able to tackle the job in a better mood - tomorrow.

At work, we a are using a system called Agile Programming where you plan out what you are going to do in two week increments. You are supposed to pick enough tasks to take up the two week period but you are supposed to finish the tasks in the two week period. It is a nice idea but many times you are doing tasks that you've never done before. So, you can't really schedule the tasks down to the hour. Also, many times other things happen that interfere with the task you're working on. So, at the end of the two week period, if you haven't finished your tasks, you just continue them into the next two week period. Hopefully, as you get better at scheduling your time, the tasks are completed at the end of the two week period. But what happens if they are not? Are you going to quit? Will you get fired? Will you sit there and worry about it? No, the answer is to do your best and then move on. There's work to be done and you might as well get at it.

This will make some Christians mad. I have many friends that will end every sentence that has anything to do with the future with the phrase, "if the Lord is willing." Well, yes. If I die tomorrow, I won't be able to finish the job. If Jesus comes tomorrow, I won't be able to finish the job. Let me tell you, if either of those things happen tomorrow, the last thing on my mind will be whether I 'd finished a job the day before.

So, tomorrow came and we finished the raking. It didn't take long because we'd done most of it the day before. The sky didn't fall and it was actually a little easier to rake the grass the next day because it had dried out a bit. We played a little Frisbee and gave the dog a bath. The kids ran through the sprinkler and we watched some funny shows on TV. Thank you, Lord, for tomorrow.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

There's always another side to the story

We have a large room at work where everyone gathers for lunch. There are refrigerators and freezers to keep food there and a stove (with an oven) and microwaves to heat up or cook hot meals, too. Previously, the company had regular microwaves that you'd buy for home but they were used so much that they kept breaking down. So, the company went out and got industrial strength microwaves. There are pretty nice except they don't have rotating tables in them and it takes a little work to get them to time the cooking for anything except 10 preset lengths of time. It's not that hard to do but it takes a few extra pushes of the buttons.

After about a week, though, they stopped beeping. Not only the beep you hear when you push a button so you know it really "pushed" but also the beep that lets you know that your food is ready. You know how it is, why wait there watching your food cook for three minutes when you can go find a piece of the newspaper to read or go off to talk to someone until the microwave beeps to tell you it's done. Well, we were no longer being signaled that the cooking was finished. People were leaving their cooked food sit while other people were waiting. So, the big shot engineer had to investigate!

Tthe fact that all three microwaves lost this ability at the same time told me that it wasn't a component failure. So, I looked around for the manual and read through it. I would be ashamed if the manuals for our equipment were this bad. But I worked my way through it and found that the beep could be turned off or on. Too bad you couldn't adjust the volume because the beep was pretty loud. I guess, with these being industrial strength microwaves, they would be found in noisy convenience stores or restaurants where the beep had to compete for your attention. So, I turned the beep back on for all the microwaves. I was so pleased with myself.

The next day at lunch, I went to heat up my lunch and noticed the microwave didn't beep again. None of them did. I checked the settings and they had all been changed to not beep. Someone was playing a little game here. So, I changed them all back to beep. Of course, the next day, the same thing happened. No beeping. I turned it back on. This went on for a week.

Finally, I happened to go into the cafeteria when the "beep hater" was turning off the beeps. I could have snuck out and come back in later to turn them on again but decided we'd better have it out here and now! "Why are you turning off the beeps?", I asked. "Don't you know how inconvenient it makes it for people wanting to be notified that there meal is ready?" Well, the guy who was doing it was the network administrator for our company. And he and another fellow spend long periods working in the network room just off the cafeteria. He said, "Do you have any idea how maddening it is to be working in that room with all the beeps going off? We are trying to concentrate there and all we hear is BEEP, BEEP, BEEP. It drives us crazy!"

So, I decided to stop turning the microwave beep back on after that. I know what it's like to be distracted while you're trying to do your job. I guess a little inconvenience isn't so bad.

Saturday, August 15, 2009


I was watching a show my kids enjoy and one of the characters was being told by his teacher that he was being put on 900 days of detention. That's pretty harsh punishment and was only done in the story for the comic aspects of it. It was a comedy and is only fiction, after all.

But as I thought about it I wondered: what would happen if the character actually got to like detention after a while? What if he found it relaxing and useful? He could get all of his homework done before going home. He wouldn't have to be involved in after-school activities that he didn't like. He wouldn't have to ride the bus with kids he didn't like. It turned out to help him organize his life and make him a better student. What happened to the punishment? Maybe to continue the punishment, he should be removed from detention!

This brings up the whole idea of what the purpose of punishment is. Is it meant to simply punish and be cruel or is it to teach the person to fit in better and improve? I guess there is a little bit of both and it depends on whether you were personally involved and wanted revenge on the person being punished. If someone hurt or robbed someone in my family, I have to admit it would be hard to forgive them. I am afraid I would be out for revenge. I know that is not the teaching of Jesus. It is more like the Old Testament. I think people fall back on the Old Testament when they want revenge and listen to Jesus when they find it in themselves to forgive. I would like to think that people can be rehabilitated in a well-run prison system and by showing mercy.

I pray for more of the ability to forgive. But in the meantime, don't mess with my wife or kids!

Friday, August 14, 2009

My home town

I grew up in the township around a small town not too far from Pittsburgh. There were about 300 people in the town itself but a few thousand (probably) in the township around it. There wasn't much extra money for things like police or a mayor. When I lived there, there was one policeman and he was pretty old. My mother worked in the drug store and the policeman would walk the ladies to their cars at night. He didn't have bullets for his gun. My mother and the other woman that worked in the drug store called him Barney Fife (behind his back). After he retired, a younger fellow took the job. He didn't have bullets either and he didn't have a police car, either. But he liked catching people for speeding (I'm told by one of my cousins). He would hide behind a tree or another car and jump out and nab the offending vehicle when they slowed down to make a turn. I don't know if he had a radar gun (I doubt the town could afford one) or just "judged" that the offender was going too fast.

The mayor at the time was also the town plumber. And the postmaster was also the pastor at the Methodist church. Later, a friend of mine from high school became the mayor for a short time. He worked in his father's real estate business. The town had a newspaper for a while where you could get mentioned on the Society page if you had a big enough birthday party. There wasn't enough money for a fire department, either, so there was a volunteer fire department. They had a big fair every year in the summer to raise money for equipment. The fair lasted for a week and there was always a big parade during that time. It was huge. There would be fire trucks from all the surrounding communities and an amazing number of marching bands and drum and bugle corps. I'll bet there where 20 - 25 bands in the parade as well as majorette groups and other organizations. There was always a carnival at the fair, too, and lots of food. The local churches always had booths set up and those were fun, too.

One final story before I go. This one is about the township police. There were a few of them and they had cars (they had a much larger area to patrol). One of my parents' friends was pulled over by the township police for hauling a trailer that had a light out (or something minor like that). My parents' friend knew the policeman and tried to talk his way out of it saying they'd never stopped him for it before. The policeman wouldn't bend and gave him a ticket. When the policeman went back to his car, he found he'd locked himself out of it. Luckily, my parents' friend hadn't left yet and had to help him get into the police car. He didn't get a break on the ticket, though.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

A couple of nice pictures

I was fortunate to get two really nice pictures recently. The first is a lovely wildflower. It seemed to be Queen Anne's Lace when I first saw it but the tinges of pink and purple amazed me. I've never seen anything like this. I had to wait a while until the bees and other insects left so I could get a picture of just the flower. The bees hung around so long that I was tempted to knock them off but I was worried that I might damage the flowers. So, I waited. The mosquitoes had a feast.

The second picture is of a type of dragonfly I've never seen before. When I first noticed it flying around, I thought I was imagining it. It seemed more like a ghost. I'd see it and then I'd lose it. It moved so quickly and blended in so well that I thought I'd never get a picture. Then it lit on this branch and stayed there for about 5 - 10 minutes. Perhaps it wanted its picture taken.

To see these better, just left-click on them. Then right-click on the resulting enlargement and save them. You're welcome to them, I claim no copyright on these two pictures.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Another view of my personality

Here's a funny little poem I remember reading as a child. Of all the poems I read when I was young, this is one of the few I remember:

Don't worry if your jobs are small
And your rewards are few.
Remember that the Mighty Oak
Was once a nut like you.

Yet another window into my personality. In some ways, it's hopeful: The best is yet to come. In other ways, it's pessimistic: my work always seems to be unimportant and trivial.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

A joke that tells something of my personality

This is one of my favorite jokes. I tell it every chance I get. I wish I could credit it but it came from a book about how to tell a joke that I bought (and lost) a long time ago.

An American opera singer gets his big chance to sing in a production at La Scala in Milan, Italy. He is nervous but works very hard and believes he is ready to perform on opening night. The big night comes and it's time for his big aria. He begins hesitantly but, as he goes on, gains in confidence and by the end he feels he's sung it the best he's ever done. The crowd goes crazy and applauds and cheers and pleads with him do it again. He is thrilled that this crowd, which has seen the very best opera singers, likes him. With the conductor's permission, he sings the aria again. And after the repeat performance, the crowd again gives him an ovation. If anything, they are cheering louder than the first time. So, he sings it again! This goes on a few more times. He has now sung the aria five times and is beginning to tire. Amid the cheering, he walks to the edge of the stage and motions for quiet. He says, "I am deeply humbled here today. I thank you for your encouraging response to my singing of this beautiful aria but I believe it is time to continue with the opera. My colleagues must also be heard and we must go on and finish this opera." Again, there is thunderous applause and as he turns to walk back to his place in the cast, a voice shouts from the balcony, "You'll sing it till you get it right!"

I'm such a neurotic. I'm sure that every compliment, every invitation to do something again, every day I get to go back to work is just a hair's-breadth away from finding out that I've been doing it wrong all this time. I think that's why I have such an affinity for this joke.

Monday, August 10, 2009

A movie I just can't resist

I was up too late last night. I was supposed to be watching the Red Sox - Yankees game but it was too depressing (I'll say no more about that). So, during the bad parts, I was flipping around and noticed that Hannah and Her Sisters was on. For as many times as I've seen that movie, I'm always happy to watch it again. I have it on tape but there is something exciting about coming across it on TV that I can't resist.

I think it is one of Woody Allen's best. I especially like the happy ending. Everyone is gathered for Thanksgiving dinner and everything seems to have resolved itself. The sisters have each found happiness but the very final scene always brings tears to my eyes. The least settled of the sisters, Holly (played by Diane Wiest) has married Woody Allen's character Mickey (after a rocky start - see the movie) and she tells him she is pregnant. She is such a good actress and Mr. Allen is such a good director that I almost feel the same way as when my wife first told me she was pregnant with our son. I was ecstatic when my wife told me but in this movie, due to their rocky early relationship, and Woody's neurotic personality, you wonder what her husband's reaction will be. They stare at each other for a long time and then they finally embrace and kiss and you know they are thrilled. The other actors and actresses are wonderful, too. And the music is great (mostly jazz standards and a number of good classical pieces). There are a number of story lines and there is a lot of hurt and anguish but the happy ending seems just right to me.

There are other movies that grab me like this. I own them all but its the surprise of finding them on TV that is what makes me especially happy. The Godfather, The Lord of the Rings (1, 2 and 3), Das Boot (The Boat), Casablanca and many others. I just hope I don't have anything important to do when those are on.

Friday, August 07, 2009

Stay within the specifications

This is another case of my having a discussion with a fellow worker and wanting to write down the idea before I forget it again.

We were talking about specifications for our products. We usually specify that the part will work within a certain temperature range and supplied with a certain range of voltages. We sometimes need to specify other things like a humidity range, too. For our software, we specify that it should be used on certain versions of the operating system or with certain versions of Java (the language, not the island or the beverage). We are always getting calls from customers that complain.

Say we specify an operating voltage as not to exceed, say, 12 Volts. The customer calls to say they've always had good luck running them at, say, 14 Volts - until now! Now, they've run into a series of problems when they run them at 14 Volts and they need to fix it NOW! Why can't they use it at 14 Volts? It always worked before.

Then I tell them my story about the guy who always drove his car 10 miles an hour over the speed limit. He did this for years. Then one day, he went through a speed trap and the policeman who was running the trap wouldn't give him a warning but wrote out a ticket.

That's what it means to run equipment out of its specifications.