Friday, December 31, 2010

Last post of the year

My son and I are trying to stay up till midnight tonight. We did it last year but it's harder this year. We are both tired and we're not sure we'll make it. We usually go to bed at 9 pm or 9:30 pm at the latest.

What has helped in years past was a Twilight Zone marathon on the SyFy channel. But this year, for some reason, they stopped the marathon at 8 pm until 10 pm to have a stupid professional wrestling show. It's not like they don't have that farce on every Friday as it is. Why waste a special night with that stuff? Anyway, the Twilight Zone marathon is going again and we hope it will help us make it to midnight and a little beyond.

My posts have dropped off this month. I hope to improve that with the new year. Happy New Year to everyone.

Thursday, December 30, 2010

More good news about bad news

My wife finished her radiation treatments yesterday. It was a cold, windy day but we were so happy. Of course, Cindy has had the worst of it but it has affected all of us. Cindy's mother (my mother-in-law) also finished her scheduled radiation treatments last week. She had to endure higher doses of radiation for a shorter time period. Cindy and her mom said it seemed like it was a job that they had to go to every day - except they weren't getting paid. The twenty mile drive was not made easier by construction along the way and the snow we've been getting. But that's all behind us.

Also, during the treatments, I was leaving the office to work from home in the afternoons. I enjoyed this and found I was more productive in a lot of ways because there were fewer distractions at home. Notice I didn't say "no distractions at home." But there were fewer interruptions and the distractions were quicker and easier to handle than the ones I would get at work. At work, someone was always stopping by for a "quick question" that would inevitably take a long time to answer fully. Everyone (myself included) thinks that a problem that someone else is dealing with will take no time at all. We only see the looming twists and turns of a problem when we have to deal with it ourselves. But one problem with working at home was that I often found that a book or folder I needed was still at work. I tried to bring everything I needed with me each day but something always turned up to either be at the office or at home when I needed it in the other place.

Besides being at the office only half-days since right after Thanksgiving, I've been on vacation since Monday, December 20. So, starting on Monday, January 3, I'll be working full time at the office. It will be hard getting used to being there all day. It will be hard not seeing my wife and children and my mother-in-law as often as I have for the last month. And yes, it will take some getting used to working at the computer without a cat in my lap and a dog poking me with his nose me to remind me to let him out.

We're so glad the cancer treatments are behind us. But I have a feeling that we'll never feel like this episode of our lives is completely behind us. Now the horrible specter of this disease has been raised in our lives. You hear so many bad things about it. Even with the tremendous advances in diagnosing and treating cancer, the mythology of the disease lingers in our minds like the warnings of our parents not to cross our eyes or they'd stay that way. Or the fears of terrorism that are always in the back of our minds. Cindy will be getting increased care to look for recurrences of this and every time we wait for test results, we'll be a little more wary than we were before this all started.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Trying to catch up

I am finally feeling like I have healed from my scooter spill and I'm able to sleep through the night without waking up a million times and having vivid dreams that make me feel like I've been running around all night. So, then I started a two week vacation this week and thought I'd have all sorts of time to catch up on my blog but... we got snow Sunday afternoon (December 19) and into the next day and I spent a lot of my time shoveling. We didn't get much but it just kept coming and coming. I'd just finish shoveling the three areas that I do and we'd get another wave and I'd need to start again or the town snow plows would throw another wave of salted, wet snow onto our driveway (I've complained about this before in this post).

Then, Monday morning when Cindy and her mother needed to go to the radiation treatment center (more posts about this start here), the conditions were bad enough that I needed to drive. Then, when we got home, there was a phone message from the eye doctor asking if I could come to my appointment a half hour early. Eye appointment - I forgot about that. I grabbed a quick bite to eat and headed out one more time. Boy did I sleep well Monday night.

In spite of being on vacation, things keep happening at work that need my attention. For instance, 1) the power went off over the week-end causing problems with the daily builds of our software, 2) a bug was found in some code I wrote and 3) a hardware problem was fixed and to use it our software needed to be modified and a new version released. Thanks to my being able to work from home, my part in doing these things was not hard but time consuming.

We're expecting more snow and that means more shoveling so we'll see what happens in coming days. But the snow we've had so far has been quite beautiful. The look in the trees reminds me of how it looked after Christmas early this year. So, I've decided to post one of the pictures I took early in January this year. It is a view of the Coonamessett River in Teaticket Village (part of the town of Falmouth, MA) from the Raleigh Costa Bridge. I stood in the snow and cold for about an hour getting a lot of pictures of this scene. I liked this one best. To see it full sized, just click on this small  copy.

Thursday, December 09, 2010

This is getting pretty bad

Not only was I not feeling well (as I mentioned before), my wife is undergoing radiation treatments and I need to work from home to be with our children while my wife AND my mother-in-law go for their treatments. So, I've been working at the office in the morning and then coming home and working from home in the afternoon when Cindy and her mom drive the 20 miles to the closest treatment center.

Working from home has been great. But needing to switch gears each day has not been easy. Also, things are very busy at the office and I've been working through lunch which is when I usually write in this blog. I have a lot of ideas for articles I'd like to write but little time to write them and when I do have the time, I've been too exhausted to do it. Also, I find, when I'm set up to work from home, I end up spending more time working than the regular hours I would normally work.

I hope, in the next few days, to start catching up on my posts. I have at least four or five articles I want to write down before I forget them. I'm going to see a doctor next week to see if anything is permanently damaged from my spill but I'm feeling much better now.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

A little trouble

Once again, I'm way behind in posting things on this blog. The reason this time is that I took a spill on my scooter and I'm a little banged up. It's hard to concentrate and everything takes more effort.

I fell on the way to work on Thursday, November 18. It's kind of hard to admit but it was a stupid mistake on my part. There is a sharp left turn (it's essentially a 90° bend) on the way and I usually slow way down for it. But that day, a car was coming the other way around the curve. Instead of slowing down even more to let the car finish the turn before starting it myself, I kept going. I took the turn a little wider than usual to give the car plenty of room (not that the car was taking a wide turn). I just took the turn too fast and too wide and before I knew it, I was nearly off the road. I made the double mistake of a rookie on a powered bike - I turned too sharp and I hit the brakes! I fell to the left and skidded along the road until I was in the ditch. It didn't hurt at first. I was more embarrassed than hurt (at first) and I wanted to quickly get the scooter up and make sure no one was coming that might hit me. I stood the scooter up and walked it out of the curve.

I made a quick check and adjusted the mirrors. I started the engine and it sounded OK. The tires looked fine and the brakes worked so I headed back toward work. Then the pain hit. My left shoulder was killing me and my knee and elbow were stinging. When I got to work, I cleaned the scraped areas and put bandages on them and took a few aspirin to help with the aches and pains. I put a long sleeved shirt on so I didn't look quite so ghoulish. Then I remembered the plan for the day - we were going to be sitting in a conference room for four hours watching a video presentation. Under normal circumstances, I'd be able to get up from my desk whenever I needed to take care of some problem that cropped up but I couldn't ask them to pause the video presentation every time I needed to check a new pain or adjust my bandages. It was going to be a long day.

Somehow, I made it through the day. I wasn't happy about having to ride home that night on the scooter but, once again, my embarrassment over the whole situation kept me from asking for a ride home. Plus, I remembered all those cowboy movies I'd watched as a child - when you fall of a horse (or a motor scooter) it's best to jump right back on. So, I did. My family was at the hospital where my wife and mother-in-law were getting radiation treatments (see this post and this post for more information) so I arrived home to an empty house. I cleaned up and took some more aspirin. I wanted to tell my wife about it but she was going through a tough time getting the radiation treatment schedule organized. She was having a hard time sleeping and was getting headaches. Her mother was having the same problems.She didn't need another thing to worry about. I'd tell her in a day or two. Now that I'd made it through the day, I knew I hadn't broken any bones and my only problem that I was going to be stiff and sore for a while.

Well, it's turned out to be worse than I thought but not much. Yesterday was the first day I really felt like doing anything. Of course I had to keep doing things but I certainly wasn't enjoying them. My wife was upset when I told her but she understood why I waited. I may go to the doctor this week as a double check that nothing permanent is wrong but I pretty sure I'm fine. As I say, it's been hard to concentrate on things and since a lot of my job is concentrating on things, my work has suffered. I hope to make it up this coming week.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Driving at night

Since the motorcycle learner's permit lasts for 2 years, people have asked me why I worried about getting my full license after only 4 months. The answer to that is the title of this post - driving at night. When you have a learner's permit, you can only ride during daylight. Also, you can't have any passengers. That is another nice thing to be able to do (once we get helmets for the rest of the family) but it's not a necessity. But being able to ride my scooter at night is a necessity. With sundown coming earlier and having turned the clocks back the previous week-end (the infamous Daylight Moving Time but in the fall), it's dark by the time I head home. Yes, I could have continued with the learner's permit and just hoped that I wouldn't get stopped. But why worry? Other people might say, "Well, now that it's dark when you leave, isn't it dangerous? Why don't you just put the scooter away for the winter and wait until spring?" There are two answers to that. One is that I am a cheap guy and saving all this money on gasoline has really made me happy. The other reason is that I love driving at night.

I've always been this way. Even when I couldn't drive, I loved going out with my parents at night. Part of it is feeling like you're all alone. Just you and the people in the car. It's like you're in a different world. You could be almost anywhere. You notice the feeling of the road and the turns. There is a feeling that the car itself is pushing you one way and then the other. There is also the excitement that it is easier to get lost at night. So, you've got to be more on your toes. You need to watch the street signs more closely. There is a sense of accomplishment when you get to your destination. But being on my scooter at night is even better. You can smell what people are having for dinner. You feel more in tune with the scooter because you depend on it more. In some ways, it is safer because you see cars coming from farther away because of theirs lights. And I love the headlight on this scooter. It lights a wide path so you can see the entire width of the road. I think the high beam lights up as far down the road as our van high beam does. I'm more alert because you do have to be more careful, though. I feel my heart pumping harder. The worst part is that potholes sneak up on you and it can be jarring when you hit one unexpectedly. But that adds to the trill. You can't be looking down the entire ride. You need to keeping looking ahead, scanning for other, more dangerous things. I'd hate to hit a dog or a deer but by staying alert, you can see their eyes in the dark. They don't want the accident either.

By the time I get home, I'm more tired but happier. I feel like I accomplished one more thing that day. And when I turn into our yard, I see the lights on in the house and my my family moving around. Sometimes they see me coming and wave out the window to me. Sometimes they don't see my until I open the door. Then they smile and ask me about the day and I can rest. It doesn't get any better than this.

The picture above is from here by Michael Pierce. It's an interesting post about his own ride at night through the California mountains. He's a much better writer than I am. His ride is more dangerous than mine, too, and he rides a real motorcycle.

Monday, November 15, 2010

I've got my license... out! I just passed the road test for my motorcycle license. Yes, Massachusetts makes you get a motorcycle license to drive a scooter when the scooter can go above 30 miles per hour and has an engine larger than 50cc. My Honda Elite has a 110cc engine and can go over 45 MPH (50 if I'm lucky). Also, the state makes us register the scooter and get insurance for it. I guess it's OK. I'd hate to think a bunch of young kids would be riding these things around with no training. And the cost of the registration, license and insurance is much less than for a car. Plus, it didn't hurt to have to study the rules of the road again after all these years. More about this in a later post.

I was so nervous. I didn't know what to expect. As I mentioned in my first post about the scooter, I'd just barely passed the written test to get my learner's permit. So, my fantasy of being old enough to know everything was shattered. Would there be another written test? Would the tester ask me questions from the driving manual? How hard would the road test itself be? Would they follow me around the town in a patrol car or would there be some elaborate test course with obstacles and hidden traps? Would the tester ride behind me on the scooter seat? My test was scheduled for 10 AM but the testing site is almost 30 miles away (there is one Registry of Motor Vehicles office for all of Cape Cod). I didn't want to ride on the main road the whole way so I took back roads and my wife and kids followed me in the minivan. We hoped that they would get to watch my test and they were my back up in case something happened on the way. We left at 8:30 so we'd have plenty of time to get there and, perhaps, we could have a snack before the test.

Taking back roads added to the time it took to get there and we arrived at 9:30. Not enough time for anything but sitting there getting nervous.I made my first mistake when I saw a station in the back that said, "Check in here for road test". There were a bunch of signs and forms there but I'd already filled out my form so I asked the person in the office if I was supposed to check in with them. "Read the green sign!" I guess "checking in" means "read the sign". Finally, my name was called. I nervously shuffled my papers, gloves, helmet and wallet. She wanted to see my helmet first. Don't drop it! Keep hold of everything else! Don't look nervous! What am I? Sixteen? Then she inspected my learner's permit and registration. Why are the town names different? Good grief, now I've got to answer for the US Post Office not having home delivery from the post office in our town so sometimes the next town shows up when our Zip Code is used because they actually deliver our mail. Then she says to meet her behind the building with my scooter. And no, my family is not allowed to watch the test. Rats!

I rush out to get my scooter ready. Would she expect me to go through the motions of checking my tires, fluid levels, mirrors etc. as they mention in the manual? What were the hand signals again? What signal do you give if you're stopping just before you turn left? The stop signal or the left turn signal? Should I say something funny to calm myself down? No! Nothing you say is funny except to your wife and kids. I get out behind the building and the tester is not there. Did I take too long to get there and she has left? Was she watching me out the window and see that I didn't check my bike and adjust my mirrors and that I got here too quickly?

Finally, she got there with a huge notebook. How long was this going to take? First she asked me to demonstrate the hand signals. I said, "Right turn," and showed the right turn hand signal. I said, "Left turn," and showed her the left turn hand signal. I said, "Stop," and showed her the stop hand signal. Then she said, "And?" What "and"? There are three signals. "What about slow down?" she said.  I guessed and showed her the stop hand signal again. She said, "OK." I was going to fail this thing.

She did a quick safety inspection of my scooter (turn signals, brake lights, headlight and high beam, horn) then gave me instructions on what I'd be doing. There was a large circle painted on the pavement (maybe 20 feet in diameter) and a figure-8 inside that. I was to follow the figure-8 once then reverse direction and follow it back the other way. It looked like tight turns to me. I wouldn't be allowed to touch the ground with my feet. As I started out, she called after me, "Wait!" Oh, no. I've failed before I even started! I stop the scooter (I forgot to use the hand signal for the stop!) She was questioning my not putting my face plate down but then she remembered that I had glasses on so it was OK. I left the face plate up because it fogs up if I'm going too slow and I didn't want to shut out any sound so I could hear her.

I'm on the figure-8 tracing the line. I think I'm doing pretty well. "Can you speed it up a bit? You're going kind of slow." Oh no, another bad mark. I speed it up a bit but I'm afraid I'll not be able to make the turns. But I manage to finish the first figure-8. I turn around (was I supposed to signal a turn?) and head back around the figure-8 the other way. Am I going fast enough this time? Am I supposed to stay exactly on the painted lines?

I get back to where the tester is standing. Now I'm supposed to trace the large circle. Twice one direction, turn around and twice in the other direction. This one is easier because it's a wider turn. But after the first two times around and I'm turning to go the opposite direction I realize I forgot to ask if I was supposed to use turn signals. Too late, I didn't. I get back to the tester again. Since we're continuing the test, I assume I haven't failed yet. Now I'm supposed to drive up to a marker in the parking lot, make a left U-turn and drive back to another marker and make another left U-turn and drive back to the tester. I am to use the slow down signal and the left turn signal. I head off to the first marker and go to make my left turn. Oh no! I didn't use the slowing down hand signal. I just used the left turn hand signal. I finish the turn and head to the second marker. I do remember to use the slowing down hand signal then the left turn hand signal as I turned. Then I slowly drove up to her. I had made at least three mistakes. Maybe four if you count going too slow in the figure-8. She asked for my learner's permit again. "Congratulations, " she said, "You've passed." I could have fainted. I was sure I was going to have to do this all again.

I couldn't wait to get the scooter back around to the front of the building so I could go in and give my family the good news. But I didn't want to rush and make a mistake on the way. The tester could be watching. It could have all been a ruse to see if I'd go flying off without using hand signals or stopping or some other infraction. It took forever to get around the building as I stopped at every possible stopping place and signaled at every possible signaling place. Finally, I got in and saw them with expectant smiles on their faces, "Did you pass?" my wife asked. "Yes, I did," I said. It was so good to see them so happy for me. Being married with a family is the best thing in the world!

The leaves are getting ready

I can tell that the leaves on our trees are anxious to drop off the tree and onto the ground to make work for us because they are quivering with excitement. Last year was a big year for leaves and this year may be just as big. The story of last year's leaves is here.

We almost started raking up leaves this week-end but decided to wait until more leaves drop. This is a picture of our house, one of the trees and some of the leaves that have dropped so far. It's been a beautiful week-end. We had a full week of rain until Thursday this week. The bad weather makes the good weather seem so much sweeter. The colors of the local trees have been disappointing this year. There have been some isolated brilliant colors but not like in previous years. Oh, well, as we Red Sox fans said last month, "Wait till next year."

Sunday, November 14, 2010

A jihad was declared against the West today...

...96 years ago - in 1914. It was declared by an Islamic leader on behalf of the Ottoman Empire - what we now call Turkey. They were desperate to keep their diminishing empire. They had aligned themselves with Germany and Austria in World War I and wanted Muslims all over the world to take up arms against England, France, Russia, Serbia and Montenegro - the Allies in the Great War. How did they explain that Muslims should be angry at the Allies but not Germany and Austria? I don't know. But it makes me realize that declaring a Jihad is not a purely religious act.

There is a bit more explanation at the This Day in History website here. It's important to study history. It shows that many things we think are modern problems or ideas are not so modern.

Friday, November 12, 2010

An interesting irony

Can irony be interesting or is it just ironic? Perhaps it's similar to there not being anything that is "very unique". Something is either unique (one of a kind) or it's not. Here I go drifting away from my story.

This morning on the way to work (still riding my scooter), I was approaching an off-ramp from the highway. A truck with "Solartec" on its side was pulling off the highway onto the back road I was on. They were going to have to wait for me to pass but the sun was at my back. I could see the driver squinting into the sun and shading his eyes. He saw me but just barely. He was having a hard time seeing anything!

I could see the angry expression on his face and his mouth was moving and I don't think he was saying kind words about the sun. It's ironic, isn't it? His work depends on the sun or, at least, his work has a lot to do with the sun shining and not being hidden by clouds, but here he was saying bad things about the sun. The sun was OK if it knew its place but how dare it interfere with what he was trying to do. We're all like that. God may be the creator of the Universe and of me but when He asks me to go out of my way to do something, well, that's another story. It's OK if God asks me to go to church on Sunday. But all that other stuff? Love thy neighbor? Love thine enemies? Love somebody at 2 AM?

Lord, help me to not be so self centered. Help me to look at the big picture. Help me to be more accepting.

By the way, the image is from this site.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Now that the election is over

Again I'm late in writing about something. But should I lament that fact and just never write about it or should I say something and hope that it is still relevant? I choose to write about it. This is my blog and I can say anything I want. The main purpose of this thing is to get my thoughts down so that later, when I'm old and feeble (or older and more feeble as some may say), I'll be able to look back at this and say, "I don't remember thinking that but there it is in black and white." This is for me and my family. If anyone else happens to read this blog, I hope they enjoy it. If they don't, it isn't going to ruin my day.

Back to the election. This year, the Republican Party won a lot of races. They now have the majority in the US House of Representatives and have narrowed the gap in the US Senate. They also picked up a number of state governorships. Not in our state, though. Massachusetts remains a Democratic stronghold (although our local representative to the state legislature went from a Democrat to a Republican). There is a lot of hand-wringing and worrying going on in the Democratic party. There are a lot of people who tend to like the ideas of the Democratic party who think this election is going to be bad for the country. They may be right but I think in the end that the people who were elected will, for the most part, have the good of the country in their heart and do the right thing. Of course, as an old ad for the 1964 election might say, "Yes extreme right." And that worries a lot of Democratic-thinking folks.

There were a lot of exit polls where the voters were asked who they voted for and why. The people who were polled were categorized by age, sex, religion, ethnicity, political affiliation and many other things. The people who do polling will analyze those numbers for months and make many interesting conclusions about what happened in this election. But the most telling numbers I saw were that about 40% of registered Democrats voted and about 60% of registered Republicans voted. Those numbers are just what I remember seeing on TV and they may be off. I wish I could find a reference for those numbers. If I do, I'll add it here. But the point is - if Democrats are upset about the results of this election, they have only themselves to blame (not me, I voted). Instead of sitting down and worrying about how the election would go and now crying about the results, those 60% of Democrats who didn't vote should have gotten up off their lazy butts and voted! That's all it would have taken. Just get up, go out the door, get to the polling place and make some marks on a piece of paper (or pull a few levers).

I have no sympathy for them. And, like in 2008 when the circumstances were reversed, the Republicans at that time stayed home and didn't vote. They allowed the Democrats to win big in that election. So, stop your crying, people. A lot of you didn't vote. So, just shut up. If the country goes down the tubes, it's your fault - not the people who were elected.

Tuesday, November 09, 2010

My wife beats me

Yes, that title caught your attention didn't it? It is not what you think. My wife is very kind to me. She does a lot of things for me and is one of only a few people who think my jokes are funny. She would never hit me and I would never hit her. No, what I meant about my wife beating me was that she beat me in getting pictures of our Halloween outfits into our blogs (Cindy's entry is here). As a matter of fact, this blog is very much behind - in everything. I can't believe my last post was 11 days ago! I try to post something every 2 or 3 days (trending more toward the 3 than the 2). So, without further ado, here is how three of us went out trick or treating.

Last year, my son Evan went as Mario of the Nintendo game fame. I mentioned it in a post last year. This year, he wanted to go as Luigi (Mario's brother) and we thought it would be fun if I wore the old Mario costume and we went together. To keep with the theme, my daughter Emma decided to go as Princess Peach who is always either being rescued by Mario and Luigi or is helping them on their adventures. Also, in keeping with the theme, my wife was going to make a Princess Daisy costume but she wasn't happy with it in the end so I was just going to go out with the kids. Then Emma came down with a cold and we thought it best if Emma came home early so my wife ended up going out with us and then she and Emma came home early.

First of all, it was amazing that I was able to wear a costume my then-13-year-old son had worn! Then it was fun to hear the comments of people who recognized us as the Mario Brothers. Also, it was nice to see Emma perk up when we said she could go trick or treating for a while at least. I feel like I'm a kid again.

Friday, October 29, 2010

A different way of looking at my father

As I mentioned in my previous post, my son really enjoyed my little prank of putting the label "Suggestion Box" on our company's paper shredder. My feeling is that he enjoys it partially because it showed him a different side to his old man. I mentioned that I hoped to write about a time I saw a different side of my father, too. There were actually a number of times he and my mother revealed different sides of themselves to me but today I'm just writing about this one, bizarre instance.

My mother had three sisters and two brothers and they and their families all lived within 5 - 10 miles of their parents (my grandparents). So, we often got together for extended family parties and picnics at my grandparents' place. Any excuse would do whether it was the Fourth of July, someone's birthday (especially their 16th birthday) or someone graduating from high school. So, one summer day, we gathered for another picnic. My dad didn't say anything about a special surprise but after we'd been there a while, he started talking to everyone about some games and contests he wanted to organize. To get everyone interested, he mentioned the prizes that would be offered. A telephone, a toaster oven, a television and some other things I've forgotten. Well, that got everyone's interest. I was young and I forget if anyone questioned him about where he got these things. They all knew he would never steal anything and he was good at fixing things (besides his regular job as a construction equipment operator, he'd also gone through a technical program to learn to repair televisions and had a side business doing that). The only question was: Did he get a good deal on buying new items cheaply or were these repair projects where people were just throwing old things away?

My father was always a great motivator, though, and he got everyone into the games. There was a mixture of races and skill games (balancing things the longest, stuff like that I think) and quizzes...if I remember correctly. People who weren't interested in some of the games just watched and then competed in the games that interested them. Finally, as the afternoon came to a close, he announced the winners and made a big show of going to our car to get a box that had the prizes (All of them? In one box?). He struggled to carry the box to the picnic table from our car and wouldn't let anyone help him. He stood up on something so no one could see in the box. Then he started handing out the prizes. They were all small, plastic replicas - a tiny telephone, a miniature television and so on. My relatives were yelling and laughing at the same time.

My father was born in Wales (a part of Great Britain) and even though he was a naturalized citizen of the United States, he was still thought of as the relative from England. So, a lot of the joking afterward mentioned how they were going to get him and mention of a song that was popular at the time, The Battle of New Orleans written by Jimmy Driftwood and performed by Johnny Horton and his band. They especially liked the verse:

Yeah, they ran through the briars an' they ran through the brambles
An' they ran through the bushes where the rabbits couldn't go.
They ran so fast that the hounds couldn't catch 'em
Down the Mississippi to the Gulf of Mexico. 
This part was sung after the British had been defeated and were being chased by the victorious Americans. My relatives all forgave my father. I had never known him to do anything like this but I always remembered the excitement and joy he brought to the party. I'd never seen him be the center of attention like that before. He was like a carnival barker and a motivational speaker as he urged people to join in the games and to do well. He was quite a guy.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Shredder with a message

As many offices do, our company bought a large paper shredder many years ago. There were many reasons to get one but it ended up that the Engineering group bought it for safely getting rid of printouts of our computer programs and schematics of our devices. Not long after we got it, though, many groups started to use it. The finance group used it to destroy old financial records and the human resources director used it to destroy old resumes. As more and more people used it, our Director of Engineering attached a funny little label, "Whatever happened to the 'Paperless Office'?" as you can see on the picture to the right (if you can't read it in this small view, just click on the picture to expand it). He had been around when people really thought that introducing computers into the office would allow them to operate with less (or no) paper. Boy was that wrong!

About this time, the directors of our company made a big push to solicit employees suggestions. It was a great idea and a lot of people made suggestions and I was one of them. I came up with a lot of suggestions. And I thought they were all wonderful. Well, none of my suggestions were taken. So, in a fit of "getting back" at them, I added my own little label to the paper shredder. You can see that in the picture on the left. My son gets a kick out of this story. He still says, "...and they still haven't figured out that you put that sign there?" Well, they hadn't unless someone from the office reads this post.

I think part of the reason he likes it is that he sees a different side of me than he knew before. I always try to get my kids to follow the rules and not say negative things about people. Of course, there is a fine line between looking at people and things critically and just always looking to complain; just as there is a fine line between following ALL the rules and thinking before doing something just because that is always the way it was done. I hope to write about the time I saw a different side of my father, too.

Monday, October 25, 2010

A late anniversary

How did I miss this? I guess because it's not that big of a deal. But I just noticed that I've been blogging for four years now. I made my first post on Saturday, October 14, 2006. I didn't start all that well. I did OK in the first month with 14 posts in only half a month but then things dropped off quickly. In the next month, I only made 2 posts and I made no posts in December of that year. But the reason was that we moved into our new house the first week of November. There was no time for fun stuff like posting to my blog. But the sad part is that I should have made the time to write about our moving into the new place. It would be so interesting to look back at what my feelings were at that time. It was a very hectic time but it was exciting, too.

We had been living in my mother-in-law's basement since August of that year. We were crowded and most of our stuff was in storage. So, we were happy to be getting more room and finding the things we'd been missing for two or three months. Surprisingly, the cats were the least happy about moving. They liked their little domain. There were tons of boxes to hide behind and they seemed to like the quiet and darkness of the basement. My mother-in-law likes animals but one of the ground rules for our moving in was that the cats wouldn't be coming upstairs. Charlie, our dog, wasn't to be in the house at all.

But that is all behind us now. I wish I had blog posts from the moving days but I don't. Just remember that now and don't use, "I have no time to write," as an excuse not to blog. Not having the time means a lot is happening and that is the very time I should be blogging!

Friday, October 22, 2010


I pass cranberry bogs every day on my way to and from work. The other day, I passed one that was in the middle of harvesting the berries. Besides being a pretty sight, it points out an advantage cranberry growers have over other farmers. As with all my posts, just click on the picture to see a larger view.

Because the cranberries grow in low-lying fields along streams, the fields are easily flooded. The growers do this when the berries are ripe (or nearly ripe) and can easily be knocked off their stem. All the harvesters have to do is drive over the plants and shake them so that the berries come off. Then they float to the surface of the shallow water. Then they are "herded" into one end of the pond with long skimmers or boards (kind of like the oil skimmers used to keep an oil spill from spreading). Once the cranberries are all in one place, a truck drives up and the berries are vacuumed into the truck. It's a very interesting operation and they make it look easy. I know with modern equipment, much of modern farming is much easier than it used to be. But I find it hard to imagine that anything is agriculture is anywhere as efficient as cranberry harvesting.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

2000 miles

The odometer on my scooter turned over to 2,000 miles as I arrived at work today. Here's a picture of the dashboard.

I'm surprised that I've already gone this far because it doesn't seem like I've had the scooter very long. But when I go back in my blog and look at the date of when I first started to use it, I see that I first rode my scooter to work on June 28. So it has been over three and a half months. Depending on the route I take, it is between 12 and 15 miles to work. At twice a day, that becomes between 24 and 30 miles a day. Dividing 2000 miles by 27 miles a day, you get about 75 days and that comes out to about three and a half months - not counting week-ends.

So, there you have it. I'm right on schedule. I shouldn't be surprised.

Monday, October 18, 2010

This political season

As we get closer to election time and the political advertisements ramp up the volume, I'm struck by the fact that I've seen a lot of this before. I'm not talking about a lot of the candidates being the same as last time (after all, a lot of the people running for office are incumbents) and I'm not talking about the slogans not changing ("lower taxes", "create more jobs", "get rid of people who aren't like us" - you know the ones), I'm thinking of the ballot question signs. The signs are limited in size and they seem to be targeted at people who are driving by and don't have a lot of time to spend reading them. There would be a lot more accidents if the signs said more. So, the makers of these signs keep them pretty simple:
No on 2
It fills the sign and gets the point across. But what is "2"? Am I supposed to remember that when I go to vote in two weeks? I've seen signs telling me, "No on 2", "Yes on 2", "Yes on 3" and "No on 3". I'll go to the polling station and forget. Was it no on 3 and yes on 2? What was it on 1?

Then I get the sneaking suspicion that the people putting up these signs saved money by keeping the signs from the last election. Maybe they just ALWAYS vote No on any question that is number 2 whether question 2 is about taxes, jobs or building sewers. Maybe "2" has become the opposing political party: Their parents and their grandparents voted No on 2 and now they don't want to vote for 2 and they can't imagine who could ever vote Yes on 2! How could any true American ever vote Yes on 2?

Then there are the ballot question signs that go a bit farther:
No on 2
It goes too far
Now we know a bit more about "2" but I still think I've seen it before. Maybe they're saying it's OK to insist that dogs have collars but don't go forcing them to have leashes, too. Or maybe they think we need to create jobs but not jobs that that girl down the street does!

The most confusing election, though, was the year Massachusetts had a ballot question about getting rid of greyhound racing (that's dog racing to you Out-of-Staters, not racing buses). You would see signs on one lot saying, "Vote No on 3, Save the Dogs" and on the very next lot you'd see, "Vote Yes on 3, Save the Dogs". Wow, now what should I do? I'm all for saving dogs but which way should I vote? Well, it turns out that the people who wanted us to vote Yes to save the dogs felt that the dogs were being mistreated and that if we got rid of dog racing, the dogs would be sold to good homes. The people who wanted us to vote No to save the dogs thought that if dog racing was banned, the dogs would just be put down (that's "killed" to people who don't like euphemisms). It turned out that dog racing was banned in Massachusetts but the dogs were just moved to other states that still allowed dog racing. They are either still being mistreated in a different state or still having a wonderful time competing against the other dogs in a different state. Sometimes you just can't win.

Friday, October 15, 2010

The rescued miners in Chile

Yesterday, the world rejoiced as all 33 trapped miners in Chile were rescued. The whole world has been following this story and it's great that it had a happy ending. These men and their families and friends have been through a terrible time and I hope they will have a chance to recuperate and celebrate as they want to. By the way, the picture to the right is from here and is attributed to Martin Bernetti of AFP. It shows part of the huge number of people it took to pull off this miracle.

What I'm afraid of, though, is that these men and their families and friends will be hounded by hoards of people wanting to question them. They will be offered huge sums fo money for the rights to their stories. Their lives will be investigated for books and articles. People will look into their background for good reasons but also just for sheer meanness - there are going to be people who want to find problems with the poor people who have been through so much. I know a lot of this will come from people who are just curious. Many of the people crushing in around them will be well meaning. "How could they do it? What a wonderful, uplifting story. It must be told!" will be the reasons for intruding in their lives.

Well, I'm sure the world-wide interest was comforting at times and I think they deserve cheers and congratulations. But can we now just leave them alone? I wish them peace.

Friday, October 08, 2010

Time flies when you're having fun

I heard an interesting story on All Things Considered on National Public Radio on Wednesday. They were interviewing reporter David Biderman from the Wall Street Journal about a story he had done where he analyzed how much action there is in a baseball game. Here's a link to the transcript of the radio story. You an also listen to the story from that page.

Most people who don't like baseball (and even a lot of people who do like baseball) complain that the game is too slow. They say there is too much waiting around. So, Mr. Biderman decided to measure it. Of course, when you measure anything, you have to define what you are measuring and that is always the hardest part. What is "action" and what is "waiting around"? At first view, you might say that watching the pitcher and catcher trying to decide what the next pitch is going to be is "waiting around". But if there are men on base or the score is close and depending on how good the batter is, this can be a very exciting part of the game. The runner is taking a lead off the base - perhaps setting up to attempt to steal the next base. The coaches are sending signals to the batter, the runners, the fielders and the pitcher and catcher. The fans are yelling. Anything can happen and it is going to happen fast! That, to me, is the essence of baseball - the anticipation and the preparation for the coming action. Each fielder is running down a check list of what he will do if the ball is hit and where it is hit. Each runner is going down his own check list of what he will do if the ball is hit or the pitcher tries to catch him off base. There are so many variables that I can't imagine how anyone would say it is boring.

Anyway, you can go to the web pages for either article to see what they had to say. Let's just give a summary by saying that, based on what they call "action", there is only about 14 minutes of it in an average baseball game. "Aha," shout the football fans (American football, that is). "See? We knew baseball was mostly 'waiting around' as compared to football where there is always action." Well, not so fast, football fans. Mr. Biderman did the same kind of analysis for football and found that there was only 11 minutes of "action" in a typical American football game. And I dare to say that during the "waiting around" times during a football game, there is no tension. No one is going to try to sneak the ball down the field when no one is looking in football.

So, it all depends on whether you are enjoying the game or not. If you're having fun, the time flies by. By the way, that's my picture here - a Time Fly. You might be thinking that since this is a story about baseball, it would have been a Pop Fly. Yeah, we engineers can be funny sometimes, too.

Tuesday, October 05, 2010

Just one more post about mushrooms...

...for now. I've got just a few more mushroom pictures I'd like to post. The first is of a pair of plain, old mushrooms but I like the way this shot turned out. They look like old friends here and are leaning on each other. Or is the lower mushroom just trying to get the larger mushroom's attention? Yes, I know, I'm going too far. Let's just say it's a nice picture of two mushrooms.

The next picture is of a single brownish mushroom that looks more like an umbrella. The pleats look manufactured to me. OK, I won't read too much into this. I just like the look of it. One funny thing, though, is that this mushroom was out in the open. Usually I find that mushrooms grow best in the shade and in loose, moist soil. This one is growing on a hard packed path with no cover.

The final picture (at least in this post:-) is of an emerging mushroom. Its color is so bright and bold it is almost as if it's the brightness of the color that is forcing the ground to give way as the mushroom grows upward.

By the way, I found that it was NOT our company's firewall that was causing my picture upload problems to Blogger. I had trouble from home last night, too. These pictures were uploaded from work. At lunch time, of course.

Friday, October 01, 2010

More mushrooms

It was hard coming back to work after my walk in the woods at noon today. There were just so many varieties of mushrooms out that I kept stopping to take pictures and slowing my return to the office. It's a good thing I eventually got back, though, because a big rainstorm hit about five minutes after I got inside. I don't want this blog to just be about mushrooms but I do want to show as many as I can.
The first one looks like a flying saucer. I almost expect Klatuu and Gort to come walking out of it. The next one, on the left, looks like wax that was poured over a mold and overflowed it. As will all my pictures, you can see an enlarged copy by just clicking on the picture. Also, any pictures of mine are free to use as you like. I just hope you'll give me credit for them if you think they are worthy.

The next picture makes me feel as tired as it looks. It seems this mushroom was either overwhelmed by its own cap or just needed a rest. The stem wasn't broken - just bent. The variety of colors in the mushrooms I'm seeing this fall is just amazing. Orange and yellow are predominating but this shade of red is also showing up frequently. My wife and daughter will undoubtedly tell me this isn't red but some exotic shade that I've never heard of.

The last mushroom I'll show today is one of the few pure white ones I've seen so far. Normally, I think white is the most frequent color I see in mushrooms but this year it seems to be rare.

By the way, I think I've figured out what is going on with the "server error" I've been seeing when I try to upload pictures to Blogger. It only happens when I try to do this from work where we have a very tough fire wall on our Internet connection. We have a fire wall on our home connection, too, but it is not as restrictive as the one at our office. I will talk with our system administrator about it but I don't think they will be sympathetic to my wanting to update my blog at work. But I only do it at lunch!

Thursday, September 30, 2010

"The mushrooms that bloom in the fall"

..."Tra La". With apologies to Gilbert and Sullivan (and Nanki-Poo and Ko-Ko who sing this song in The Mikado), for taking the title of their song and modifying it to use as the title for this post. I'm not talking about flowers today. It's mushrooms that are "blooming" around here. The mushrooms in the top picture at the right looked like they were covered in velvet. The second picture is hardly even recognizable as mushrooms.

I am seeing an amazing number and variety of mushrooms lately on my walks in the woods. I've shown pictures of mushrooms before but I've never seen like what I've seen over the last few days. The interesting thing to me is that it hasn't been that damp. In fact, it has been pretty dry. We've gotten a good rain once in a while (and we're due for a big one today).

Because I'm having trouble with Blogger uploading my pictures, that's going to be it for today. I'll try to put the rest on tomorrow. Is anyone else having trouble with "server errors" when they try to upload pictures to their Blogger account? I started this blog early in the day and it took me until 9 PM to be able to get just these two pictures loaded.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Those dangerous Irish Tenors

I was shocked to see a headline yesterday on my Google page that pointed to a story on the BBC news site proclaiming that the British were increasing the level of the threat from Irish tenors! Wow. Being a bass myself, I was always a little envious of the publicity tenors always got. You never heard about the Three Basses traveling the world doing concerts. All the lead singers or soloists seemed to be tenors or baritones. What about Freddie Mercury (lead singer for Queen for all those years) and Robert Plant (of Led Zeppelin fame)? Bing Crosby had a pretty deep voice but he was a baritone. Michael Jackson sure wasn't a bass!

Johnny Cash and that guy who sings with the Oak Ridge Boys were the only famous basses I could think of and I couldn't even remember the name of the "that guy" in the Oak Ridge Boys! Oh yeah, the folk singer Gordon Bok (from Maine) is a bass, too. But that's it. Well ... George Beverly Shea (of Billy Graham Crusade fame) is listed as a bass-baritone. So even if he was a bass, he was trying to get some of that higher voice recognition by bringing the baritone label in.

So, being a little mistrustful of those tenors with all the girls chasing after them (my wife is a big fan of Mario Lanza and Tom Jones - you guessed it - TENORS), I was ready to believe that the British were worried about the threat from tenors. Then I looked more closely at the text (in the image above to the right) and realized that the font Google used made "rr" look a lot like "n". So, it isn't the Irish "tenor" threat that has been raised in Britain. It's the Irish "terror" threat. I guess that makes more sense. But I'm still not sure about those guys who can sing so high. Something's going on there I can't quite get. And why do the girls like them so much?

Friday, September 24, 2010

Better news about bad news

As I've mentioned before in this post and this post, my wife and my mother-in-law both have breast cancer. They are both in the very early stages and both have had operations (two operations in my wife's case) and have come through them well. My mother-in-law got the relatively good news last Friday that no traces of cancer were found in the lymph nodes they removed nor was any found in the outer areas of the lump they removed. Now, yesterday, we got word that no more cancer was found in the tissue removed in my wife's second operation. So, we thank God for this answered prayer and look forward with hope to the future.

They still need to meet with a radiologist and an oncologist to decide what their treatment will be like and how long it will go. But we are happy that no further operations will be needed. We couldn't ask for better news at this point in the journey.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

The other side of the mug

I'm not sure if anyone is interested in this but after my post about breaking my tea/coffee mug, I thought maybe people would be interested in seeing the other side of the mug. So, here, at the right, is a picture of the cracked mug. As you can see, we like cats in our house. We like dogs, too. The other mug that I broke recently had a dog on it. I don't have a picture of that because it had much more damage and I just threw it away. It had a picture of a Basset Hound on it because our dog Charlie is half Basset and half Black Labrador Retriever. A really nice mix.

I also mentioned how nice it was that our blue speckled Corian® countertops blended in with the white Corian of the sink. The picture on the left shows that. It's not easy to see from a picture and you certainly can't feel how nice the material is. It almost has the warm feel of polished wood. It's very nice to work on. No, I don't work for them and I don't sell their product. I'm just a happy customer.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

In praise of Corian®

I have a bad habit. It's not bad because I do it. It's bad because of the way I do it. After I finish whatever I'm drinking in my cup, I clean it. That's the good part. I rinse it under the faucet and then (here comes the bad part) I shake the water out of it before I wipe it off with a towel. I shake the cup over the sink and if I don't pay attention, the cup can hit the sink. The picture to the right shows the second of the cups I've cracked this way. The sink is fine!

Both cups I've ruined were gifts - this one was from my son. That makes it even worse. I really like this cup and I continue to use it but it's just a matter of time until I can no longer use it anymore. As I wrote that, I realized that every cup is like that. Eventually, I'll break or lose every cup I like (you can keep cups forever if you don't use them). It may take a long time like the mug I dropped at work. That mug just shattered and I couldn't use it anymore but this one is hanging on. Seeing the crack will remind me to take better care of it whenever I clean it.

This reminds me of the time I was talking with a guy who, as we talked, mentioned that he was dying. I said I was sorry and he said not to make too much out of it. "You're dying, too," he said. "We're all dying. We've all got a limited time to live." It turned out he didn't have a disease or anything wrong with him. He was just trying to live his life with the realization that his time was precious and he should not waste it. He didn't want to be morose about it. He turned it into a positive motivator. I try to do that but it's too easy to get bogged down in the everyday things of life.

Anyway, this post wasn't supposed to be about that. I wanted to mention how tough our countertops and sink are. They are made of Corian. It's a synthetic material that is solid (not just a veneer over wood) and really looks nice. We had the option of getting Corian, granite or Formica. Granite is tough, too, but you have to seal it and we knew we'd not keep up with that. Corian not only looks nice but it feels good, too. It doesn't have the hard, cold feel of other countertop materials. Another nice feature is how pieces of it blend together. Our countertops blend right into our sink with no gaps or cracks where water can leak. It's all one smooth surface.

I was going to say that Corian's one bad feature is that it is a cup killer but that's wrong. I'm the cup killer. And now my cup has a crack that will remind me to take better care of it. Maybe I'll learn to do that for everything I own and everyone I know.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Electronics catalogs

You'd expect electronics parts suppliers would be a little better at using modern technology than other companies. Also, I'd expect them to be more environmentally concerned since there are so many restrictions on the type of materials that can be used in electronics. Yet I still get catalogs like these in the mail. I haven't been involved in designing hardware (the actual electronic parts) for years now but companies keep sending me these catalogs. In a sense, they are obsolete as soon as they are sent. Things change so quickly in electronics that there are always changes that can't be reflected in a catalog. I end up recycling these when I get them. They are fun to page through once in a while but if I was really looking for parts, I'd go to the website of either the parts suppliers or the original manufacturer of the part.

It's not as if these two companies don't have websites. You can go to the websites of  Newark Electronics or Digi-Key Corporation and browse their catalogs just as you would the paper editions. Or you can search for specific components or types of components. You can't do that with the paper catalog. The problem isn't just that they send the catalogs when there are better alternatives. Look at the picture on the left. These catalogs are huge! They are both almost three inches thick!

Everyone doesn't have access to the Internet (although it would be a pretty poor electronics manufacturer that didn't). So, why don't they just make these catalogs available upon request? That would limit the waste of paper, time and money.

Thursday, September 09, 2010

The joy of taking back roads to work

One of the joys of riding my scooter to work has been that I take back roads to work. My scooter will only go up to 50 miles per hour and that isn't fast enough to take four-lane highways for too long. So, the back roads are a compromise but also fun. And going the back way only adds about 5 minutes to my commute each way. Being "forced" to use the back roads has increased the enjoyment of my ride - until now.

School started this week. As I made the turn onto one of the longer parts of my ride, I found myself behind a school bus. Not only did it stop often, it seemed to take forever for the bus to start up again and then slowly accelerated until it was time to stop again. And it didn't turn off until we reached the town line. A section of road that normally took me about 5 minutes to ride took about 15 minutes! It seems like the school district could have either split the route between two buses (I'll admit that's inefficient) or the driver could have pulled over once or twice to let cars go around. It's hard to complain because I'm new to this section of road (at least at this time of day). This has probably been going on for years and, apparently, no one else is making a fuss about it. And the argument against me would be, "So what if you're 10 minutes late to work! Just leave earlier." They'll say this is an important task and any changes would just cost the school district money or safety.

Another argument would be that my children probably cause the same problem to other drivers when they take the bus. Well, that argument doesn't work because my wife home schools our children. When they wake up in the morning, they're at school. Maybe I should take the kids out near the road every morning and stop traffic for 10 minutes while we walk back a forth a few times. How long would that be allowed to go on?

Well, today I found a better way to solve the problem. I found a side road that allows me to bypass a large part of the road that the bus uses. I did get stuck behind the bus for one stop but then we reached the turn-off and I rode a parallel road and came out on the original road well ahead of the school bus. So, as long as the timing stays about the same, I think I've got this problem solved even if it adds a few more minutes to my commute.

Tuesday, September 07, 2010

Bad news about bad news

We found out on Friday, after the lab examined the lump that was removed in the operation on August 30, that the surgeon needs to operate again and take more out. This is very sad news and has us all down in the dumps. But we are renewed in our determination to pray about this and to hope for the best. The prognosis is still excellent but we had hoped the operation last week was going to be the end of it. Now, Cindy is faced with another operation and radiation treatments that could last into December.

We would appreciate your prayers. Thank you.

Saturday, September 04, 2010

Good bye to Tropical Storm Earl

We were fortunate. The storm that was Hurricane Earl lost a lot of its punch by the time it got close to us. When it finally started affecting us it was downgraded to a tropical storm with sustained winds less than 74 miles per hour. And that was at the center of the storm. Where we are, about 140 miles from the center, it wasn't as bad as a lot of unnamed storms that we get from time to time. I don't want to come across as an "I've seen it all" New Englander. It could have been a lot worse.

I am very glad that the people in charge took this storm seriously and put restrictions on where we could go and what we could do. Also, I'm glad they put emergency procedures into action. There are a lot of people who complain that it was all for nothing. "Why did they tell us we couldn't go to the shore? Why did they waste money by calling up the National Guard and opening emergency shelters?" And from the tourist businesses here, "Why did they scare away all the tourists?"

My answer is, "Because of what could have happened." Tropical storms and hurricanes always lose a lot of their strength when they get into the colder waters here. The National Weather Service and the Coast Guard know this. The idiots who spout off about the "waste of time and money" aren't the only ones who know this. What the National Weather Service and Coast Guard know that the idiots don't is that up until the last 10 - 12 hours, conditions could have changed and Earl could have been a disaster.

Another way to think about it was that this was good practice. Getting the emergency shelters going and calling out the Guard and getting local emergency workers ready is something you have to do from time to time anyway so you can test your procedures. You don't wait until the time of emergency to come up with plans and try them. And, of course, people act differently when it is a drill from how they act when it is a real emergency. And the dedicated people who help out in emergencies are nice enough to help even the idiots when they need help.

Friday, September 03, 2010

Waiting for Hurricane Earl

It looked at first like this might be a major storm and we might be hit directly but now Earl is seeming less threatening. We're still not letting out our breath but it looks like we're going to just get a lot of rain. The image to the right (from this site at NOAA's National Hurricane Center) shows Earl moving more to the East and beginning to lose its punch as it gets into cooler, northern water.

It was announced at lunch that our office will be closing early today. Even with the weakening storm, I think this is a smart thing to do. Hurricanes, by their nature, are unpredictable. I'll be glad to get home before the hard rain hits. Wouldn't it be interesting if we found out later that God had originally planned for this to be a devastating storm but that a large number of people prayed about it causing Him to lessen the storm because of their prayers? It would make a good story anyway.

I just hope we don't lose power tonight.

Thursday, September 02, 2010

Good news about bad news

The bad news is that my wife, Cindy, has been told she has breast cancer. The good news is that it is in a very early stage, is confined to the milk duct and is tiny. More good news is that she had a lumpectomy on Monday (August 31) and there were no surprises. We still need to wait for the report from the lab on what they found.

She has recovered quickly from the operation (no overnight stay) and the worst thing seems to be the headache she has. We have no word yet on any treatments that may need to be done. That's all to be found out.

We got more bad news last week, though. In a strange coincidence, my mother-in-law (Cindy's mom, that is) has also just been diagnosed with breast cancer. Her cancer is also very small and was detected early but it is further along than Cindy's cancer. Mom's operation will be later this month.

I'll be writing more about this as we find out more information. This is such a hard thing to hear but it is so encouraging to see the reactions of our doctors, their staff, our friends and family. Everyone jumped in to handle this quickly and we've been showered with love and prayers. Cindy's successful operation was an answer to prayer and we are certain to see more. The bottom line is - in spite of some medical professionals' saying women younger than 50 don't need mammograms as often - make sure your wife, mother, daughters and female friends have a mammogram every year when they reach 40 years old. It can save their life.

Friday, August 27, 2010

An engineering "Miracle Worker"

I remember seeing the movie The Miracle Worker as a child (if you consider being 11 years old a child). I didn't particularly like it but I went because my parents wanted to go and I always went with them. At that age, I couldn't understand how Helen Keller's parents would let her get away with so many things and allow her to become so violent. Also, I didn't understand why Anne Sullivan would stick with such a difficult job. Everyone was mad at her. All the time. But as I look back at it and when I see it on television now with a lifetime of learning about these things, I now consider it one of my favorite movies. How a young woman had the courage and ability to help a younger girl, who was also courageous but blind and deaf, learn to read, write and speak is still beyond my understanding. Well, if they ever do a remake of this movie, my suggestion is to update it with one of the guys in our repair department.

Our company used to sell a line of products that were electronic data logging and control devices. You could write a program (in our own programming language) and store it on the device to have it collect and store data (like temperature, humidity, air pressure or whether a switch was open or closed or whether a light was on or off - and many other things) and store that data with a time tag so you knew when it happened. You could also control things like switches, motors or lights and make decisions about how you wanted them to work. For instance, one popular thing for our customers to do was monitor the temperature of something and then either throw a switch to start a heater or a cooler to bring the temperature back in line. Some scientists even used our boards to run and control experiment on the Space Shuttle, in under-sea pressure cases and in remote locations like Antarctica. The idea is that these places are inhospitable for humans to be there for long so our device would try to make decisions of how the experiment should proceed and record the results of the experiment. As you can imagine, these are very complex devices.

But our company dropped that line of products year ago. But the need for those devices didn't stop and customers continue to try to use them and get us to repair them if possible. So, when a customer called me a few weeks ago about trying to get some of our devices running again, I said I'd look at them to see what I could do. I found that two of the five boards were working and I was able to upgrade them with the latest operating system. But three of them were in bad shape. They couldn't communicate. In a sense they couldn't see, hear or speak. I tried a few things but I couldn't get them to go. I talked with one of the guys in our repair department and he offered to try. Since the boards were old, so was our equipment to test and program the devices. The programs don't run on new versions of Windows and our repair guy had to fire up his old computer - and it wouldn't work, either! So, first he had to get his old computer running. Then he had to remember how to test and work on the old boards. Then he had to patiently work through the board to figure out what was wrong. Finally, he had to find replacement parts for the parts that had failed. Our parts buyers weren't buying new parts for these old, discontinued boards and the components were cataloged or stored in the usual place.

Finally, he was able to get the boards to "speak" and "understand" - kind of like the breakthrough that Anne Sullivan made with Helen Keller when Helen finally made the connection between the things of the physical world and the movements of Anne fingers as she spelled out words into Helen's palm. Our repair engineer's miracle didn't take as long as Anne Sullivan's but it was still a miracle. To me at least.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

The Ball Game - just one more post

When I went to the ball game on August 31, the Red Sox were playing the Detroit Tigers. I was looking forward to the game itself, of course, but I was also looking forward to seeing Jim Leyland, the manager of the Tigers. I think he is a great manager and I've always felt badly that he has only won the World Series once. I grew up in Pittsburgh and followed the Pirates even after I moved away. Mr. Leyland coached the Pirates for eleven years and for three of those years (1990, 1991 and 1992), they finished at the top of their division and went on to the National League Championship game only to lose there without getting to the World Series. The Pirate organization always stressed batting over pitching (the team had the nickname "The Lumber Company" in the 1970's) and I thought Jim Leyland did a great job getting the best from his teams in spite of the organization's lack of top-level pitching. He helped develop Bobby Bonilla, Jay Bell, Barry Bonds, Tim Wakefield and Andy Van Slyke - only to see them traded away once their contracts were up for renewal. Although I was glad to see the Red Sox win, I wish the best for Jim Leyland. I just wish he'd give up smoking.

Another pleasantly surprising thing happened with a member of the Tigers. The young Miguel Cabrera is a member of the Tigers and can he hit! During batting practice, he launched a steady stream of balls into the stands and made it look easy. He was so impressive, the people in the stands nearest home plate (where I was sitting) gave him a round of applause. He was surprised and made an appreciative bow to the Boston fans. I liked this show of good sportsmanship on both sides. I thought about shouting, "Well done! Take the rest of the day off." But I didn't. Mr. Cabrera hit a home run in the first inning with a man on to give the Tigers an early lead. He had a pretty good day getting two hits in three at bats and walking once. Luckily, for the Red Sox and their fans, it wasn't enough and the home team won. I can still admire an opposing player and manager, though. I think they are both class acts.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

I've ridden over 1000 miles on my scooter

It's been about two months since I got my scooter and I've already ridden over 1,000 miles on it. As you can see in the picture here, it was at 999.2 miles when I left this morning and it turned over 1,000 just down the street. I didn't have time (or the room) to pull over and take a picture of the event. I figured this was close enough.

I love this scooter. I look for excuses to use it (even when I shouldn't). It is fun to ride and I feel it is very safe. It is stable and easy to handle. It gets between 90 and 100 miles per gallon so it doesn't cost much to use. Because the top speed is about 50 miles per hour, I take back roads to work and I'm enjoying that, too. It turns out to only take about 5 more minutes to get to work on my scooter than it does in the car using the more direct four-lane highway (it takes about 20 minutes to get to work in the car). One of these days I hope to take the time to take some pictures along my route to work. I'll post them here.

I mentioned above that I look for excuses to use my new scooter ("Oh, we need milk? I'll just zip down to the store on my scooter and get it!") and that sometimes I shouldn't have. That happened when I went to pick up some pizza we ordered. The boxes were too big to lie flat on the floor board or inside the seat so I stood them on edge between my feet. When I got home and opened the boxes, I saw that the pizza had slid down and that half of each pizza was folded over. My family was not pleased. I ended up eating the folded pieces. They were delicious! See, even food tastes better when it's been for a ride on my scooter.

In the interest of full disclosure: I'm actually posting this on August 20 but this happened on August 17 so entering it like this will help me remember the day.

A great message

I like the sermons the pastor of our church delivers. I've mentioned them here from time to time. I should mention them more and I will try to do that in the future. But this Sunday, we had a guest speaker because our pastor is on vacation. The guest speaker is a member of our church but isn't here often. He is a leader in a missions group whose mission is prisoners in jail - in this country and others.

His sermon was from 1 Timothy 2 : 1-7 and it was wonderful. But the line he used that affected me the most was (I'm paraphrasing here):
What we truly believe causes us to act.
In other words, it's easy to say we believe something. It's another matter, though, to truly believe something and it causes us to act. If I don't truly believe that this chair will hold me, I will not sit on it. If I don't truly believe that my next breath will draw in fresh, clean air, I will not breathe freely. So, if I truly DO believe that God has put me here for a purpose and has a plan for my life, how should I act on that? We all have mundane things to do every day. We can't do the Lord's work every minute of every day. But I know I can do more. I know I waste a lot of time. I need to keep reminding myself of this every day.

As a counterpoint to this, I am including this funny quote I saw attached to an e-mail message today.
It may be that your sole purpose in life is simply to serve as a warning to others.

Friday, August 13, 2010

What else could I expect on Friday the 13th?

I don't believe in luck and I don't think people have more trouble on Friday the 13th than on any other day. BUT...

I ran out of gas on my scooter on the way into work today. The sad part is I was pretty sure I might and was going to go to a gas station first so I wouldn't have to worry the whole way in to work. But then I got started late and thought maybe I'd "luck out" and make it in after all. Of course, I didn't. I thought I wasn't too far from a gas station, though, so when one of my co-workers saw me walking the scooter and stopped to help, I said, "Oh, there's a gas station right around the corner. Thanks anyway." I hadn't paid attention when I went to the gas station before. It wasn't right around the corner. It was two corners beyond that.

Scooters aren't meant to be pushed. You can't really put them into neutral. There is always something working against you as you push or try to coast down a hill. Plus, I kept worrying about when I would ride it down a little bit of a hill that I should wear my helmet or I might get stopped by the police. So, I was wearing my helmet most of the time. I finally got around the "third corner" after about a half an hour. When I gassed up, the total only came to about 1.5+ gallons where the manual says the gas tank should hold 1.6 gallons. Another lesson learned.

So, there was no bad luck involved. I just made two bad decisions:
1) Not going directly to a gas station
2) Refusing my friend's help
And as one famous quote says:
Good decisions come from experience, and experience comes from bad decisions. 
I've seen this attributed to various people so I'll just leave it as an anonymous quote here. I will now make a better decision the next time I think I might be low on gas. And I won't refuse help the next time it is offered.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

The Ball Game - part 3

This is the third post about my trip to a Red Sox game at Fenway Park. The first post is here and the second post is here.

Now we get to the game itself. It was a perfect day. The temperature was in the 70's (that's Fahrenheit - it was in the 20's in Celsius). There was a bit of a breeze and my seat was in the shade so I didn't have to worry about sunburn. But what did I do with that other ticket? I was going to sell it for about half of its face value of $95. You're not allowed to sell tickets for more than their face value and I thought $40 to $45 would be fair and pay for the parking, subway fare and lunch. I walked into a ticket office and asked what seats in the Loge section would be worth. Our tickets were in the section I circled in the top picture to the right - the circle on the lower right of the blue arrowed line. He asked if I had two tickets. "Well, I want to use one," I said but he answered, "No, I'll trade you your tickets for a single seat closer to the field. And I'll give you $50." Well, how could I argue? The ticket he gave me was in the section behind home plate that I've circled on the upper left with the arrow pointing to it. It was only 10 rows back of the field. That's where you see me standing in the picture of the first post.

OK, OK - the game. The Red Sox were playing the Detroit Tigers. They shouldn't have had much trouble with them but the night before, the Sox were way behind the Tigers going into the final inning when David Ortiz hit a Grand Slam Home Run to bring them to within one run but the rest of the team couldn't get any more runs and the Sox had lost. So, the team and the fans were out for revenge. The Red Sox pitcher was Daisuke Matsuzaka. He is a good pitcher but is not very consistent. Well, the whole team has been inconsistent this year.

Things didn't go well through the first seven innings of the game. The Tigers were ahead 4 - 0. The Red Sox kept getting men into scoring position only to strike out or hit into a double play to waste the chance. One of the bright spots was a player playing in his first major league game. Ryan Kalish got a hit in his first time up and ended up with two hits and knocked in a run for the Sox. But going into the bottom half of the last inning, the Red Sox were still two runs behind the Tigers. Once again they loaded the bases and who should come up but David Ortiz - the guy who had hit a grand slam the night before. Could he do it again or would he leave men on base as he'd done earlier in this game? The picture to the left shows the men on base waiting for Big Papi (David Ortiz' nickname) to get them home.

He did! He didn't hit a home run but his double was enough to drive in the three runs the Red Sox needed to win the game and keep it from going into extra innings. The last picture shows him swinging with the bases loaded but, unfortunately, this wasn't the swing that drove in the runs. I think this was a foul ball just before he hit the double. But it was the most exciting ball game I'd ever been to. I just wish my son Evan had been able to make the trip with me. We'd have talked about this for the rest of our lives.