Sunday, February 27, 2011

Today I am 60

This is just a short post to mark my 60th birthday.

I know it's just a number. I know I don't feel any different than the day before when I was 59. I know, given my current good health, that I've got a lot more years to go. But...

It seems like 60 is SO OLD. When I was younger, I couldn't imagine what it would be like to be 60 years old. I imagined I'd be walking around with a cane or a walker. I imagined I'd have no hair left on the top of my head. I imagined that I wouldn't be walking every day and keeping active. I was wrong about all those things.

The age of 60 is indeed just another day in your life. In many ways, I have never felt better in my life. In many, many ways I am so much better off than I was when I was younger. For instance, I have a wonderful wife and two terrific children. I didn't have that when I was in my 30's. I have a wonderful house that I didn't have when I was in my 20's. I know I don't know it all and that is more than I could say for my younger self. I thought I knew everything. Now I know the gaps in my knowledge. But I still have the desire to learn and understand more.

I can't run as fast as I used to and I can't ride my bicycle as far as I used to but so what? I don't need to do that. As long as I can do what I need to do, I'm happy. And I can do that and more. It truly is a wonderful life. Thank you God and thank you to my family. You've made this a wonderful day.

Saturday, February 26, 2011

From a distance - sometimes

On two previous posts, here and here, I mentioned the song From a Distance. This link to the song is different from the ones I made in the previous posts. This one is to a YouTube video someone made with still pictures backed up by the song. I like this song but there is one thing that it gets wrong. There is a section that says,

God is watching us. God is watching us.
God is watching us from a distance.

That's not correct. While God can watch from a distance, he does not. He came to earth in the form of Jess to live among us. He understands our problems. He literally feels our pain. Some say, "If God loves us, how can he allow evil in the world?" This is a question that has been asked centuries. He doesn't allow evil. It is what happens when we turn away from him. It is what happens when we choose to do things our way.

If you'd like to see a really terrific sermon on how much God loves us, you can go here. This is the first sermon in a series about God's unconditional love for us. Our church has started putting the videos of the sermons in an on-line archive so you can see them any time. Previously, they would only be available for a short time. Now, they should be available for a long time.

Friday, February 25, 2011

Manager of what?

This is just a quick, silly story. Today at lunch, there was a big rush on the three microwave ovens we have in the cafeteria. For a company with about 130 people, we really need more but that's all we have. So, it's important to use them efficiently. But people put stuff in them and then forget to get their food out when it's done. Or they get their food out early and leave the remaining time showing on the display so people think there is something still cooking. So, today, as my lunch was heating up, I took it on myself to direct the use of the microwaves. I checked which ones were free and which ones were about to finish. I noted which ones appeared to be in use but were not and showed people waiting in line which one to use. I called myself the Microwave Cop but then thought that didn't sound right. I wasn't arresting anyone. So, as I looked for a better name, someone suggested Manager. "That's good," I said. "I'm the Microwave Manager." Then I shortened it. I called myself the Micromanager. Just like some managers I've had in the past.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Another thing about writing

Yesterday, in my post commenting about a report of the decline of blogging, I mentioned why I write this blog. But those two simple things are not the only reasons to write of course. Those are just the reasons I write this blog. There are as many reasons to write as there are writers. I recently thought about one nice reason to write - it is one way to have the perfect conversation. If you're like me, you always think about what you wanted to say to someone after you've hung up the phone or after you've come home from the party. You know how it is, you're talking to someone and they talk like they know everything. You say something like, "I wish I knew that there was going to be a problem. I wouldn't have done what I did." Then the other person says, "Oh, I knew all along that there was going to be a problem. That's why I did what I did. And boy am I happy!" Then you go home and think, "Wait a minute! How do I know they did what they say they did? They're such a liar that I can't just accept what they're saying without proof."

But it's too late. You're home and you can't continue the conversation. But if you're a writer, you can have a conversation like this.

The Know-it-all says, "Oh, I knew all along that was going to happen."

You, the writer says, "Is that right? That's not what you said the day before."

The Know-it-all say, "How do you know? Do you have a recording of that?"

You, the writer says, "As a matter of fact I do. Would you like to hear it?"

The Know-it-all says, "You're just bluffing. You don't really have a recording of what I said."

You, the writer says, "You know - between you and me we know everything thing there is to know in the world. You know everything except you're a lying jerk. And I know that!"

See? Isn't it wonderful to get the last word? You get to think about it as long as you want. You don't have to write your response until you're ready. Time doesn't matter when you're a writer. You get to have the perfect conversation.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

The decline of blogs

Over the week-end, I read a story on the New York Times website about how the use of blogs is declining. You can see it here. It made me think about why I write in this blog and why I bother to write anything at all.

Why do I take the time to write in this blog? While it's like a splash of sunshine on a wintry day when someone posts a comment on one of my posts, that's not the reason I do it. I know I'll never be well known for my writing and I'll never get a large following. And, to tell the truth, I wouldn't even want a large following. Then I would feel more pressure to get posts out on time and to write with my readers in mind. I don't like being self-centered but there it is - I do this for myself. And I do it for two reasons:

  1. I write in this blog to improve my writing
  2. I write in this blog to remember what I was thinking about at the time

That's it. Everything else is icing on the cake. I am not drawn to Facebook or Twitter because I'm not looking to have a bunch of people see what I'm posting. The Times article said that young people are abandoning blogging to post on Facebook and Twitter because they don't want to take the time to compose a more lengthy article for a blog. Also, it's easier to just pop over to Facebook or Twitter and post something quickly and then move on to something else. And many people want to use those media as ways to socialize and keep up with friends. Well, I don't have that many friends and I'm certainly not young so I guess I'll stick with blogging.

This is a chance to mention a terrific book titled If You Want to Write by Brenda Ueland. While it was first published in 1938, it is well worth reading today. It has been updated and the version I have (pictured above and found here - the 10th edition) was published in 1997. There is a newer version here. It doesn't tell you how to write it just tells you - write! It gets you excited about writing. It tells you why you should write. And as I said about three and a half years ago, "The best way to be a writer is to be a writer." Ms Ueland points out that there are far too many people telling you not to write. You are not good enough to write. You have nothing to say and what you have to say has been said before. You have to prepare before you can be a writer. None of that is true. I am not saying that you should not learn from other people and I am not saying that writing cannot be taught. But I think it is more a matter of being taught to write better. We all know how to write - at least at the grade school level. What we need to learn is how to write better. That's where I think the longer form of blog writing does this better than the short writing style of other mediums.

So, now this is written down and I can come back to it years from now to see what I was thinking today. And that's all the motivation I need.

Monday, February 21, 2011

Customers: who needs 'em?

Last week was my turn to be in the Tech Support department of our company. Normally, our tech support people handle all interactions with our customers who have technical problems with our products. They are all very adept technically but they also have another characteristic - they know how to deal with people. Most of us in the software department don't do well with people. In the past, when our company only had 10 - 12 people, we all had to do tech support but now that we have over 130 employees, it was decided to only have people dealing with customers who wouldn't drive them away or insult them.

Since most of our customers' interactions with our products is through using our software, most of the problems our customers have are software related. And since our software is so complex, it takes someone who has worked on the code to really understand it. Thus, about a year ago, our supervisor decided one of us should be assigned to the tech support group for a week every 8 - 10 weeks. Previously, the tech support folks would do their best but sometimes they would get stuck on a problem and would come down to our area to ask for help. They wouldn't be sure who would know the answer so they'd either "announce" the problem so a number of us could hear it or they would work their way down the room until someone showed interest or could point them to the right person. This disrupted the whole group and was inefficient for the tech support person who needed our help. Now, there is a designated person they can go to who is sitting in their area. They don't have to leave their area and they don't have to waste time looking for the "right" person to answer the question. It helps them solve the problem quicker and makes the customers happy. Or at least as happy as a person with a problem can be.

But for us, it is always a trying week. We still have our normal tasks to do but, in addition, we will be interrupted an average of 4 - 8 times a day. We will need to spend a large portion of our time dealing with problems that don't move our regular work along. And, depending on how complicated the problem is and how insistent the customer is, we will have an increased frustration level for the entire week. I don't know how the tech support group stays so calm and nice. Even though we don't deal with the customers directly, I am sometimes ready to say nasty things to the customers and threaten them with physical violence. Our company, in its wisdom, doesn't allow us to deal directly with the customers, though. We are just there to support the tech support group and not start an international incident or lose our company a customer.

So, I'm actually looking forward to getting back to work on Tuesday (we have President's Day off - is that the official name for the holiday?) because I'll be able to get back to working full-time on the projects that have been assigned to me and I'll be able to, hopefully, get back on schedule for completing my projects.

Maybe, some time in the future, I'll write about a few of the fun things that we've been asked to do to solve a customer's problems.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Rhapsody in Blue

Once again I'm falling behind on my blog posts. I think part of my problem is that I'm trying to make them too good. Whether I'm succeeding is a matter for debate. But I'm spending too much time thinking about them and trying to make them longer than I'm capable of in the short amount of time I have. Well, I have to come to the realization that I'm not that good of a writer. If it takes me too long to make these posts "right". It's just a sign of my writing skills. So, I'm going to try to publish more of my backlogged drafts and not worry so much about their quality.

The first is a fairly recent one that I should have posted on February 12. I saw on the This Day in History site that February 12 was the anniversary of the first performance of George Gershwin's Rhapsody in Blue. It's a beautiful piece and it's also an important piece. The article about its first performance is here. It's important to me, too, because of what it meant to me as a piano student.

I started taking piano lessons when I was about six years old. I was pretty good at it and I enjoyed it. But as I got older, I started to enjoy other things, too, and didn't spend the time I should practicing. But one day, when I was home sick from school, I was watching TV and the movie Rhapsody in Blue was on. I watched it because there was nothing else to do but I really enjoyed it. It was the biography of George Gershwin and the highlight was the preparation and performance of the Rhapsody. It got me very excited to see the background (as fictionalized as it was in the movie) of the piece and how Gershwin was driven to play the piano. Unfortunately, the station showing the movie was going to play it in two parts. My mother, seeing how moved I was by the movie, let me stay home the next day to see the end of the movie. After that, I was much more interested in working at the piano. I saw what could happen if you practiced. It was a good lesson for everything you do in life but it had the biggest impact on my music. Seeing that movie definitely changed my life.

Friday, February 11, 2011

Different types of stability

Just a quick comment on the news that the leader of Egypt for the last 30 years, Hosni Mubarak, has stepped down. There have been demonstrations (mostly peaceful) for the last 18 days in the country and their biggest demand was that Mr. Mubarak give up his post as President (although he was really a dictator). He offered a number of concessions but the demonstrators didn't give up. But today, he finally gave in. I am hoping and praying that this will be a good thing. It's in the hands of the Egyptian people and the Egyptian military now.

But my comment here is prompted by an article I saw in the New York Times, "History Upends Icon of Stability in Egypt". Usually, we think of stability as a good thing. It is if the situation is a good one. But when you have no job, your family is starving or you are being persecuted for your beliefs, you don't want stability. You want change. Depending on how bad your situation is, you may want a revolution. Well, things must have been pretty bad for the majority of people in Egypt because they had a revolution of sorts. We in the West look at this situation as unstable and, thus, bad because it might affect our oil supplies or it might have a bad effect on our ally Israel. But that's because we're look at it from a distance.

I'm sure the people of Egypt want stability again. But this time, they want the good kind of stability. We can only hope. I pray that their stability will include peace with their neighbors (especially Israel) and peace and more prosperity for the people of the ancient country of Egypt.

Tuesday, February 08, 2011

Legends and facts

I've added a terrific website to my list of sites. Look under the Links list to the right of this post. That site is which labels itself as the "Urban Legends Reference Page". But it is so much more than that. I've been looking at this site for years for both its entertainment value ("How could people believe these things?") and for its thorough research on current events. Yes, there are articles about urban legends (here's one I remember from college) but that's just a part of the content of the site. They cover topics from politics (Are Congressional staffers and family members exempt from repaying their student loans?) to fake pictures (Does this photo show a shark attacking a British Navy diver?). They find the truth about sports stories (Was professional hockey's Stanley Cup trophy really left in a snow bank?) and movies (Did Charlie Chaplin once lose a Charlie Chaplin look-alike contest?). You owe it to yourself to go to the site and look around. But beware - you can spend a lot of time there without realizing it.

The reason I'm writing about this today, though, is a story that I saw today about car batteries. I'd always been told not to store a car battery (or any lead-acid battery like a lawn tractor battery) on a cement surface. I didn't know why but enough people who I trusted had told me this so I always made sure to put a piece of wood under the battery. Well, by reading this article, I found that this is no longer true. Yes, it was true in the past when the materials used to make the casing of the battery weren't as good as today's materials. Now I know it's OK to do that and I know why.

With so much information available on the World Wide Web, it can be confusing to try to take the time to figure out what is true and what is not. It's nice to have these dedicated folks doing a lot of the work for us. So, the next time someone sends you an email saying this coming July (2011) will contain five Fridays, five Saturdays and five Sundays and that this only occurs once every 800+ years, you can tell them that while the first part is true (that month will indeed have five Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays), it's not that unusual and you can point them to this article to prove it. If you don't, they'll do it again in March, 2013 or August, 2014. Or, if they are fixated on July, it will happen again in July, 2022. Hardly 800 years.

Tuesday, February 01, 2011

Thoughts of spring

With yet another snow storm on the way, I thought it would be nice to think ahead to spring. This is a picture I took a couple of years ago in June. To see it in its original size, just click on it.

One of these days, the snow and ice will melt. The skies will clear. The air will smell fresh and sweet. Birds will sing and we won't need coats and gloves when we go outside. Every year, the winter ends and spring begins. In my mind, though, it seems like this will never happen. But it does. Every year.