Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Just a quick word about Hurricane Sandy

Image from
The storm named Sandy is no longer a hurricane. According to the National Weather Service Hurricane Center, it is now officially referred to as "Post-tropical Cyclone Sandy". It's still a large storm with a lot of precipitation but the winds are much reduced.

The worst of the new destruction from the the storm is probably past. But what destruction! The damage and loss of life in Haiti, Jamaica, Cuba and the Bahamas was terrible and in our country, the states of New Jersey and New York seem to have gotten the worst of it. We in Massachusetts were very fortunate. We were on the far edges of the storm and still got wind gusts in the 80 mph (128 kph) range but those were not sustained winds. There was some flooding but not in our area. We didn't even lose power although hundreds of thousands of homes did lose power in our state.

With all of that, I can't image what it must be like for victims of earthquakes and tornadoes who have almost no warning of the imminent danger. It amazed me how well the National Hurricane Center was able to predict the path of this storm. There was almost a week of warning that it was going to travel the path it did. And still people died and were injured. And still there was a tremendous amount of damage.That just shows the extent and power of this storm. It truly was an irresistible force. The effects of this storm will linger for a long time.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Follow the falcon...

...or the hawk or...some big bird. My children really like the Ninjago: Masters of Spinjitzu show on Cartoon Network. In some of the episodes, one of the characters sees a mysterious falcon and feels a connection with it. He follows it and it leads him to important discoveries. I felt like that character the other day on my walk at lunch. I happened to see what looked like a hawk or other large bird through the trees going after something on the ground. As you can see from the picture here, I didn't get a good look at it and only got this one out-of-focus picture of it (you can barely see it circled in red in the picture). But I wanted to find out more about it and to get a good picture.

As I tried to get closer, I stepped off the path and into the woods. I made a lot of noise as I pushed through the bushes, though, and the bird kept flying further into the woods. I was getting deeper into the woods and thought about turning back to the path. As I made one more push to get close enough for a picture, I saw a path that I had never seen before. The picture on the left shows the path (it's very hard to see in this picture - trust me - it was pretty obvious). I've been walking these woods for years and never saw this. The bird flew off while I was still thinking about whether I should follow the path or not. I finally decided it was worth exploring and headed off.

I'm not a great explorer but it was a thrill to see this new path. I imagined all the places it might go. Best of all, I hoped it would take me closer to places the birds and other wildlife hid. As I said in this post, I have been disappointed that the old path was widened to create a fire break a couple of years ago. The last picture on the right shows that widened path. When you're not as close to the trees, you're not as close to the birds that like to perch and/or hide in the trees. I hoped this new path would reveal a new world of creatures.

The new path cut through the woods. After a while, it came around to parallel the main path but then I ran into another new path that headed off into the heart of the woods. It swung around low areas where pools collect in heavy rains and where amazingly colorful trees grow because of the better water supply. Unfortunately, because the path was little used, the bushes and weeds brushed against me and I sounded like an elephant striding through the bush. This scared away all the birds I was hoping to see. That just means I should walk here more often to wear a good path - but not too wide. After a while, I realized I'd better be getting back to work and back-tracked to my starting place.

Later that day, I found I hadn't scared away all the wildlife. Ticks had found me and were probably as excited about my finding the path as I was. I ended up spending as much time getting rid of them as I had on the path. So, I think I'll wait until a deep frost kills them before I head back there. But it's exciting to think about it. I'll be looking forward to my walks at lunch even more.

Saturday, October 20, 2012

"Cubs release message from Castro" ??

I saw this headline on the CNN website the other day. Why would the Chicago Cubs have anything to do with Castro? And which Castro? Fidel or his brother? And doesn't CNN know the verb should be "release" since "Cubs" is plural? So many questions.

Could this have something to do with the old story (probably just a legend) about Fidel Castro being a good baseball player and actually trying out for the Pittsburgh Pirates at one time? That brings up all the "what if" questions about what would have happened if Fidel had made it with the Pirates. Would Cuba be a Communist nation now? Would Roberto Clemente have been happier if Castro (another Spanish speaker) was still on the team when Roberto arrived in 1955?

Well, as usual, I was just confused by the font they used on their website. The real headline was
Cuba releases message from Castro
That makes much more sense. This isn't the first time I've been deceived by a strange (or perhaps too small) font. There was the time I was worried about the Irish tenor threat from a BBC headline. I guess I never learn.

Friday, October 19, 2012


Fault Drawing from US Geological Survey
Three days ago, there was an earthquake here in New England. The center of the quake was in Southern Maine but it was felt all over Eastern New England. My family and I didn't feel it here on Cape Cod but some people we know say they did. Then again, some people feel earthquakes even when there are no earthquakes. And some people feel an earthquake when they are told there was an earthquake. I'll leave it at that. Here's a link to a story from a newspaper that knows earthquakes. And here's a link to the information about this quake at the US Geological Survey - the experts about earthquakes in general.

This, of course, reminds me of a story about my own experience with an earthquake. Yes, I may be self-absorbed but I only know these things about myself. In my sophomore year at Bucknell University, I was living in Hulley House - a small, old house owned by the university that was used (back in the early 1970s) to house some students when there wasn't enough room in the dormitories. We were on the edge of the campus but I really liked it there. There were about 20 or so men in the house and we all got along pretty well. We lived two to a room and had a nice kitchen area and a large, shared living room with a TV. Another nice feature was that we could get up to the relatively-flat roof through a trap door in the ceiling of the top floor. My roommate and I lived on that top floor on the corner of the house in the rear - farthest from the road and the front door.

I often did my work with headphones on with music playing that kept out the outside sounds. As I said, everyone in the house got along pretty well and we often got along loudly. So, one evening, as was normal, I was reading and working on my classwork with my headphones on. At some point, I thought I felt the floor shaking. As I mentioned, Hulley House was old and sometimes, when my roommate would walk around, the floor would shake. Or the other guys in the house would get really rowdy and shake the whole house. But I didn't remember it ever being this bad. I turned around to see if it was my roommate and saw that it was not. The shaking increased and I began to worry. It must be an earthquake! I'd never experienced one but this must be it.

I pulled off my headphones and headed out of the room when I heard the train horn. It wasn't an earthquake at all but one of the trains that periodically rumbled about 20 - 30 feet away from our corner of the house. I'd certainly heard the trains and seen them before (that's another reason I liked Hulley House so much) but I'd never had my headphones on when one of the trains passed by. The shaking was no worse than any other time but those other times, I'd heard the train from far off and was prepared for the shaking. But it never seemed all that bad because I knew what was going on.

It's just like a lot of things that seem bad because we don't know the whole story. Things seem bad when our view is limited. Everything seems worse when you're lying in bed early in the morning - unable to sleep - unable to do anything about it. I try to never make any decisions when I'm feeling sick, when I can't see or hear clearly or when I'm sleepy. But that doesn't stop me from feeling like I'm in an earthquake when I don't have all the information. I just try not to shout, "The sky is falling!" until I know for sure.

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Another visitor to our office

If you keep your eyes open, you can see a lot of amazing things around you - even when you're around an office building. Today, one of the other engineers saw this Praying Mantis hanging around behind our office. It seemed to be in really bad shape (not erect on its legs, not trying to get away) until I picked it up! Then it got very alert and followed my movements. When it finally came time for me to go back to work, I had a hard time getting rid of it. It held on quite tightly.

The second picture shows it on a tree branch after I finally convinced it to let go. As with all of my pictures, just click on the images to see them full-size.

I wish I could have taken a better picture of the Mantis in the leaves. It was amazing how well it blended in. I picked a bad angle for the Sun and it made the Praying Mantis look obvious.

Of all the things in the world that are scary or unknown or big or fearsome, the Praying Mantis is the thing that scares my mother the most. I remember, when I was young, that she used to talk about previous encounters with them and how it terrified her. I was scared of them before I ever saw one. When I finally got to see a real Praying Mantis, I wondered what the big deal was. But I always respected her fear and never played a joke on her with one. So, please don't tell Mom about this post.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Moving trays in the cafeteria

This is a quick story about a funny thing that happened in college. It's strange how I hadn't thought about this in years. But something happened in our company cafeteria that reminded me of this and I wanted to write it down before I forget it again.

One of my best friends, Nick, and his girlfriend, Andrea (they are married now), were sitting with me in the cafeteria in college.  I think we were finished eating and were just sitting around talking. A friend of Andrea's came in with a friend of hers and they put their trays down near us and then buzzed off to chat with other people. I forget Andrea's friend's name but Nick and I knew her, too. She was a very nice person but always seemed to be on the run. She was very friendly, too, so we weren't surprised that she had a lot of people to talk with. But why not sit near them instead of us? She could see we were close to leaving. But who knows what goes on inside people's heads?

I think we decided to stay a little longer in case Andrea's friend came back. She might have wanted to talk with Andrea, too. But they didn't come back. We wondered about their food getting cold. Then we saw them flitting from table to table to talk with other people. So, then we wondered what would happen if they forgot where they left their trays. Nick and I looked at each other and immediately had the same idea. We moved the girls' trays to the next table. Not far away (maybe five or six feet) but not at the same table. We figured they'd see that we had moved them and probably playfully argue with us about doing it.

They finally came back to where their trays had been. They didn't see them, of course, but didn't just look in the immediate area. I guess they assumed they'd really forgotten where they had put them down. So, they headed off looking for their trays. We saw them backtracking their movements around the tables they had visited. After they'd left our area, Nick and I moved the trays back to their original place.

We had a great time watching them walk all over the cafeteria and wondered how long it would take them to get back to us. Finally, after a long time, they came back and finally saw their trays. The looks on their faces were priceless. They really couldn't seem to understand what had happened. Had they hallucinated the first time? Had they gone to the wrong place the first time and somehow, even though it looked familiar, finally found the right place? Then they looked over and saw us grinning. To their credit, they laughed about it and we all enjoyed the prank. I hope their food wasn't too cold. If I was a gentleman, I would have offered to get them new food. But then, I'm not much of a gentleman, am I?

Sunday, October 14, 2012

And another thing about my scooter

After having passed 10,000 miles on my scooter, I got to thinking about how much gas I've saved over that time. I get about 85 miles per gallon on the scooter while we only got about 17 miles per gallon in our van. That means, I've used about 117.6 gallons to go 10,000 miles on my scooter. To go that distance in our van, I would have used about 588.2 gallons. I've saved about 470.6 gallons by using the scooter. At an average price of about $3.75 per gallon over that time (gas has been higher than that and lower than that but I think that's a pretty fair average), I've saved about $1,764.75 by using the scooter. And that's just for gas. Repairs for the van are much more expensive. Considering that the scooter only cost about $2,500 to purchase, it's been quite a deal. And after riding another 4,167 miles (in another year, perhaps) at an average of $3.75 per gallon of gas, I should have paid for the scooter. But I don't think gas is going to average that much. I think it will be rising and I'll pay the scooter off sooner.

One other nice thing about riding my scooter is that I'm able to see more of the road when I'm riding it. There are no window posts in the way and I'm up higher than most car drivers are. I noticed this when I was stopped at a light beside a regular sedan. I was much high than the driver of that car. I'm about as high up as a driver of a small truck or a van. I like that. I can see trouble coming down the road farther away. Now, if I could just do that in the rest of my life.

[The picture of the old gas pump here is from Creative Commns:]

Thursday, October 11, 2012

10,000 miles

Yesterday, the odometer on my scooter turned over 10,000 miles. The picture here shows the dashboard with the magical number showing. Surprisingly, I almost forgot about it and might have missed taking this picture. It was a similar situation to when I forgot to use my chance to fly in my previous post (on October 9), "I was going to fly".

Yesterday was a rainy day that had started out as just a cloudy, dreary day. I had missed the weather report that morning but it looked to me like it was going to be OK to ride my scooter in. And I knew this was the day I would pass 10,000 miles because I started the day less than the 30 miles from that goal and I have a 30 mile round-trip each day. Also similar to the day I was going to fly, I could see this day approaching. As I crept closer to 10,000, I could pinpoint "the day" more and more closely. So, maybe I pushed it a bit in deciding to take the scooter to work that day. But it did look fine that morning.

But as the day progressed, clouds piled up on the horizon and the air felt more and more like rain. I watched the radar on the local TV station website and you could see a big blob of rain heading our way. Would it arrive before I left and pass through before I would start my ride or would it hold off until after I'd arrived home? Or would it hit at just the wrong time? I wanted to stop and take a picture of the odometer when the big event occurred but I didn't want to do that in a rainstorm. So, I ended up worrying more about getting home dry than worrying about memorializing the odometer reaching 10,000 miles. Plus, I was facing two pretty big problems at work and that took precedence over everything. I didn't want to just leave early before the rain arrived because I had work that needed to be done.

Finally, the time to leave arrived and it hadn't started to rain. I don't usually watch the clock but in this case, I'd done all I could do on my work for the day and it made no sense to stay later than necessary. I ran out and jumped on my scooter and headed out. I kept an eye to the sky and could see things building up ahead of me. It was going to hit but when? Fortunately, I was able to keep my concentration better than I did when I was 12 years old and I watched the odometer slowly read 9,999.8 and then 9,999.9. Making sure to keep my eyes on the road ahead and only glance at the odometer, I finally saw it go to 10,000.0 and I found a place to pull off. I snapped the picture you see here and then made sure to stuff my camera under my jacket as I headed home.

Less than five minutes later, the rain hit. It was heavy and wind driven but Id been in worse. I was glad my camera was safely protected but I was also glad the the rain tapered off after a while. I got wet but I wasn't drenched. But to me, the best part was that it proved that in the 49 years since I missed my chance to fly, I had learned to focus my mind a little better and to make and keep priorities better than I did back then. Who says getting older is a bad thing?

Tuesday, October 09, 2012

I was going to fly

No, I wasn't going to fly in an airplane or a glider. I was literally going to fly! Just like Superman or a bird. More like Superman, though, because I wasn't going to have to flap my arms. I knew exactly when and where it was going to happen. I had completely forgotten about this until reading a funny article about Superman at lunch and this all came rushing back to me. The story was about Superman as a boy and being able to fly and realizing that he was different. Some of the details in my story are sketchy because this happened in 1963 when I was 12 years old.

Actually, it started in the summer of 1963. One day, I had this vision that I was going to be able to fly. I saw where it would happen, the playground at school, and when, at some specific time (I knew the hour and minute then but I don't remember now) during the lunch hour when I would be outside after eating. It would happen on a specific day (which I don't remember that, either). As I said, I don't remember the time exactly and I don't remember the date when I was "told" this would happen but I knew it then. Exactly. The reason I can remember the year was that I remember the playground where it was going to happen. I was going to be in the 7th grade that fall and we would be spending it in a different school than we did 1st grade through 6th grade. The school district was building a new junior high school that was not going to be ready until we were in the 8th grade. So, the playground I saw in my vision (and that I can remember) would only be available to me for that one year.

In the vision, I saw myself standing in the schoolyard off by myself. I would stretch out one arm and lift it into the air and I would slowly rise in the direction I held my arm. So, I was to hold it up at first as I gained altitude and then bring it down to point in the direction I wanted to go. I would rise slowly and move around gently. I wasn't sure if I was moving slowly because I wasn't used to flying or if I'd be able to fly faster later. That didn't matter and I didn't even think about it. All I knew was that in a month or so, I was going to fly at lunch time and everyone would look at me and be amazed. And the girls be impressed!

I could hardly wait for summer to end. I always looked forward to a new year in school but this year was different. Not only would we be going to a different school but we would be taking the bus for the first time. We would be meeting kids from a different town (who would later be joining us at the new junior high school in the 8th grade) and I would fly! It was all I could think about that summer. Finally, the day came. I ate my lunch quickly and headed outside. As I waited around for the time to come, I joined in on a pick-up softball game. Boy, think of how I'd be catching fly balls in just a little while. I was in such a good mood. And I was having such a good time, the time just flew by.

And I forgot. I completely forgot about flying that day at the right time. When the bell rang, I realized I'd missed my chance. As everyone was filing back into the school, I ran to the spot I'd seen in my vision. I stretched out my arm and nothing happened. I had one shot at this and I messed up. I tried it a few times on later days but nothing happened. Sometimes, there are no second chances.

[To be honest, I don't remember if I played in a softball game that day. This was 49 years ago. I just remember that I was doing something that held my attention and caused me to forget about the time. I used the softball game to make it a better story. But everything else really happened the way I described it here. I do remember the two girls I was hoping to impress that day but they don't need their names repeated in some stupid blog.]

Sunday, October 07, 2012

You can't help all the time

I make a pot of tea every morning when I first get to work. While I wait for the tea kettle to boil, I either strike up a conversation with anyone else in the kitchen or read the paper. But I always check the state of the coffee. There are a few people who take coffee but don't make a new pot if it's needed. So, if one of the three coffee pots is low, I start a new one - trying to be a nice guy.

One particular morning, it was busy in the kitchen and I was talking to some people and just as I noticed that the decaffeinated coffee pot was low, my tea kettle began to boil. I thought I'd quickly make a new pot of coffee and then pour the boiling water into my tea pot. But I hadn't gotten the tea bags ready. So, it was a big rush. I decided to make the coffee first. I dumped out the old grounds, put a new filter in the basket, opened a package of coffee and poured it in the strainer basket and fit it back into the coffee maker. Just as I hit the switch to start the brewing, I realized I had used regular coffee (not decaffeinated) in the coffee maker. There were going to be a lot of people flying around the office without realizing what was going on!

I had to wait around (I finished brewing my tea) until the coffee cycle finished (with a little "hurry up" encouragement from me). Then I topped off the two pots of regular coffee with what I'd just brewed and dumped the rest out. Then, I carefully selected a bag of decaffeinated coffee and made another pot (in the orange marked pot). I finally got back to my desk after about 20 minutes. I'm paid to write programs and solve engineering problems - not to make coffee. There are times to help and there are times when you just have to walk away. It wasn't like anyone was in danger or someone's work was being held up. I've got to try to remember that helping involves some responsibility. Just the fact that you are helping isn't enough. You've got to do the job right, too. You knew that and I'm just reacquainting myself with it.

Wednesday, October 03, 2012

More competing sayings

No worm for this guy
About six years ago, I wrote about how old sayings can be contradictory but people will quote them as if there is no other option. I wrote about this in my post titled "Look before you leap" or "He who hesitates is lost"?. As I said then, you can't run your life by these sayings but it's fun to tie them in with what you've just done. Somehow, it makes taking the action you just took seem as if it is the action people have preferred for hundreds of years. In the case of contradicting sayings, you can't go wrong!

I just ran into another saying that puts these two ideas into one sentence:
The early bird may get the worm but the second mouse gets the cheese.
This is poignant and funny at the same time. I hate the image of one mouse lying dead in a mouse trap while another mouse takes the bait. But it makes you think. Would the early bird start so early if he thought he was heading into a a trap?

I ran into this myself at work. The programming language we use for our products was recently updated. Now, normally, I'm the slow, deliberate guy who waits for a while to see how things are trending before I take action. But this time, I decided to be the early bird. I wasn't going to hesitate and lose. I updated the tools we use to create the programs we sell. I'm in charge of doing the daily builds of our product (that means, I compile everyone's work into a working program, create installers for the various platforms and make it available on the network for all the developers and testers - every day for testing). So, the decisions I make affect everyone in the software group.

Not two days after I made this decision and did the updating, I found out that there is a problem with printing introduced with this version of the programming language! I should have looked before I leapt. I found myself in the trap with the cheese out of reach. The sad part is that it was an uncharacteristic action for me. It's time to trot out another old saying, "Live and learn." Now I know it is better to procrastinate.