Thursday, December 31, 2015

"These kids today"

Every generation seems to have its time to complain about the younger generation. They have too many things. They don't have to deal with the problems the older generation had to deal with. They don't respect the older generation. They don't work as hard as the older generation. And on and on. I guess this is only natural. But it can also be unsettling to the younger generation and allows the older generation to miss things they aren't paying attention to. The latest one I've been hearing is that the kids starting to work now don't take correction well. They get too upset when they are told they are wrong. If they are reprimanded, they just shut down or quit. Or worse, they go to their parents to get them to "make it all right."

Let me tell you - this has been going on forever. No one likes to be told they are wrong. No one likes to be humiliated in front of other people. No one likes to be made a fool of. It is always (and has always been) a matter of how the correction is communicated.

If I walk up to someone and yell in their face that they are doing it wrong, they react negatively. If I walk up to someone and explain the problem and how the way they are doing it could be changed for the better, I get a better reaction. Even better, if I listen to their explanation of why they are doing it the way they are doing it, I may learn something. Maybe they are seeing a circumstance I hadn't considered. Maybe I am looking at the "result" in the wrong way and it isn't the result I thought. If you are a supervisor and you think your job is to toughen up your workers, then you are wrong. Your job is to make the company more productive and to help your workers do a better job. Leave the toughening up to the Marines.

If we really are seeing more young people shut down or quit, maybe it's because the older generation has forgotten how to give guidance. Perhaps the older generation has forgotten the good training they received when they were first starting out. I had both good and bad supervision as I was growing up and learning to work. I chose to emulate the good supervisors and not behave like the bad supervisors. You are doing wrong when you say, "I had to deal with bad bosses when I started out and these kids need to learn to deal with that, too." No they don't. They need to be shown the right way to do things. Period.

Wednesday, December 30, 2015

A bribe in Paris

I read the blog of Earl Pomerantz just about every day. Well, he only publishes on week-days so I read his blog, Just Thinking..., every week-day. Over the last three days, he has written a story about trying to set up an arrangement at a resort in Hawaii to get the folks who set out the chairs and towels for the guests to set his family's chairs and towel out every morning without his needing to wait in line. It involved an arrangement where he "took care of" the attendants at the beginning of his stay. The "taking care of" was a kind of bribe, I guess. Reading his story reminded me of something that happened to me back in 1987 when I was working for the US Geological Survey. We had been working on a research vessel off the coast of Africa. To get back home, we had to fly from Abidjan, Ivory Coast to Paris and spend the night (no one complained) to get the connecting flight the next morning. The whole group of us, about six or seven people, were traveling together.

We all went to a restaurant that was packed. We waited and waited for a table and there was no place to sit. I was trying to get one of the women of our group to notice me and thought I'd be a big shot and get us a table. I was shaking and nervous because I'd never done it before but my desire for this woman to notice me was greater than my fear. My French was horrible and the Maitre D' didn't speak English very well. I handed him a large Franc note and tried to explain why I was giving him money. I thought he'd been through this before but the look on his face made me even more afraid. It was a mixture of shock and anger. Maybe I insulted him or maybe I had been too obvious and he was afraid the owner had seen it. He looked like he was going to pass out. I didn't know what to do and tried to explain some more but I think I was just making it worse. And I wasn't sure that maybe, in my broken French, I was asking him to give my dog a bath or something.

He kept holding the money in his hand so I just grabbed it back and slunk back to my friends. I remember that the woman I was trying to impress had seen the whole thing and thought it was funny. So, in the end end, she did notice me and we talked a good bit that evening but mostly about how inept I was. Nothing much ever came of our conversation that evening and I never tried to bribe anyone again.

I suggest reading Earl Pomerantz's posts. They can be found in three parts, Part 1, Part 2 and Part 3. They are better written, more insightful and funnier (he is a comedy writer after all). They are just better, OK?

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

A little thing that happened that didn't get bigger

I was out shopping by myself this week-end and heading home. There is a place on the road where you have to get in the left lane to make a left-hand turn and I was in the right lane. Of course, on a four-lane highway, you are supposed to travel in the right lane and only use the left lane to pass or, in this case, make a left-hand turn. So, I checked the other traffic. There were people traveling in the left lane but that's expected anymore. Fewer and fewer people follow the rules but we are all used to that. The important thing is to watch the traffic and drive safely in the circumstances whether the other people are driving correctly or not.

I checked ahead and behind. There was a gap in the left lane with the car in front and the car behind leaving a gap of at least four or five car lengths. So, I put on my left turn signal (or as it's called in Massachusetts, my blinkah) before I started moving left and then, after a few seconds, started to move left. As I watched my mirrors, I saw that the car in front was keeping steady but the car behind (a big Cadillac) was moving up. It was closing up the gap a little but it looked like there was still enough room to make it. When I was half-way into the left lane, I could see the Cadillac was accelerating! This guy was trying to keep me out of the left lane for some reason. He had been going along at a steady pace for a long time but my needing to get into the lane ahead of him had caused him to act. His Cadillac didn't have the acceleration to close the gap enough to make it dangerous for me to continue and I ended up in the left lane. But as I kept my eye on the rear-view mirror, I saw him continue to close the gap until he was right on my tail. I saw him gesture at me (guess which finger he showed me) and his mouth was moving a lot and I assume he wasn't complimenting me.

If I hadn't checked that he was going at a steady pace before I started moving or if there hadn't been enough room, I could see his anger. If the guy in front in that lane had been moving along so that the rest of the people in the left lane could be passing I would understand his anger. But no. It seemed he wanted to get upset. It seemed he thought I was wrong for pulling into his lane. I don't know why he was so ready to cause a problem that wasn't there but I'm glad I kept my head and didn't do anything to make it worse. You never know what kind of a day someone else has had. I won't lie and say I wasn't mad at him for being mad at me - for no reason (I think). It's just a reminder to me to try to keep things from escalating. Maybe he had a gun. Maybe he had just stolen the car and didn't care about whether he got in a wreck. Maybe he had a mental problem and it looked like I had done something I didn't. I'm just glad it didn't go farther.

A minute later, I turned to the left to get off the road. He zoomed past me but had to slow down again when he got closer to the guy who had been in front of me in the left lane. Now, that guy shouldn't have been staying in the left lane if he wasn't passing or turning left. I'm so mad!

Friday, August 07, 2015

20,000 miles

On August 7, 2015, the odometer of my scooter turned over 20,000 miles. That's a pretty reliable vehicle. Even with the harsh winter we had this year, I've averaged a little under 4,000 miles a year just going back and forth to work. I do ride it around town for small errands but that's only if I'm going alone and don't need to carry much. The picture on the top-right was taken just as the odometer started to turn over from 19,999.9. I was afraid I wouldn't be able to pull off the road to get a picture at exactly 20,000. But, less than a tenth of a mile later, I found myself at the entrance of the new town water supply filtering plant and was safely able to pull over again and snap the picture of exactly 20,000.0 miles you see below.

So, after 20,000 miles, I've saved a lot of money on gas. The scooter gets between 85 and 90 miles to the gallon. Our van (which I'd probably have to use otherwise) gets about 17 miles to the gallon. Now, the price of gas has fluctuated greatly over the last five years but I figure it averaged out to about $3.00 a gallon. With those numbers, it means I've saved about $2826.54. That's more than the scooter cost originally. Even if you use the current price of gasoline, $2.65 in our area, it comes to about $2496.78 in savings. That almost exactly the price we paid for the scooter ( it was on sale, it was marked as $3,000 but we got there when they were only charging $2,500). So, besides all the fun I've had with it and besides all the wear and tear it has saved on our van (where some repairs cost as much as the scooter cost to buy), I'd say it was a very good purchase. When I get to 50,000 miles, I'll post another picture.

I'm post dating this to show up on August 7 so I'll remember this event better. I'm really posting this on August 15. Yes, I'm still having trouble finding the time to write in my blog.

Friday, July 31, 2015

Where do the poor, the needy and the powerless turn for help?

I've got to start just writing quick posts to my blog. I sit around and agonize over what I'm going to say, how I'm going to say it and which pictures to use to illustrate my point. That takes too long.

Today, I was reading the Humans of New York site that I've mentioned before. The Facebook page is here and includes comments. The photographer, writer and owner of the site (Brandon) is traveling in Pakistan this month. It is not a place I am interested in at all but when the ordinary people get a chance to talk, I find myself being very interested. One of the people interviewed is a young woman who is a member of the local worker's party. I don't like Communism but in this case the young woman and the other members of her party are working to help the poor people in their area to resist evictions. I know you also see terrorist groups helping the poor to get a foothold and even drug cartels and mobsters will make a big show of being helpful to their neighbors. Is this benevolence given freely or is there an ulterior motive? Only time can tell but in most of these cases, it is meant to get popular support and to mask other activities they would rather not be known. This has gone on for ages. But when no one else will help desperate people, who do they turn to? If the government has turned its back on you and the people with power are taking advantage of you, what choices do you have? If no one else will listen to you, where do you turn for help?

It's easy to complain about the in-roads made by groups that ultimately want to destroy. But if a young person is rejected by their friends and family and someone on the street offers to listen and help, you have to acknowledge that it is the fault of the people they first knew. We can prevent these groups from getting new recruits and we can keep the drug pushers and pimps from taking away our young but it's not easy. It means loving your neighbor. It means not worrying so much about our own situation and how we can get even more than we already have. It means sharing what we have and what we know with people who may not deserve it. Out neighbor may not be a very nice person and may not appreciate what we're doing. But if we don't do it, there are despicable groups waiting for the chance to pick up the pieces.

If someone has enough money to live well and sees a brother or sister in need but shows no compassion—how can God’s love be in that person? Dear children, let’s not merely say that we love each other; let us show the truth by our actions. 1 John 3:17-18 NLT

There is nothing new here. You and I know all this stuff. It's just that today, I was reminded of it and, I hope, I have also reminded you, too.

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Ben Franklin charges a capacitor

First off, I can't believe it's been over two months since I last posted something in my blog. It's not that nothing has been happening and it's not that there aren't a lot of things to write about. I hope to get started in earnest soon. But until then, a short post about what happened today back in 1752.

Ben Franklin was standing out in a thunderstorm. He was flying a kite and the string holding it was wet (allowing it to conduct electricity) with a metal key at the bottom of the string to accumulate electrical change. There was a wire (or more wet string?) connecting the key to a Leyden Jar (an early form of capacitor which can store electrical charge). While some people say the experiment never really happened (or, they say, Franklin would have been electrocuted), the kite was almost certainly NOT struck by lightning or Mr. Franklin would have died. As it was, other people who tried the experiment did die. So, don't try this yourself. Lightning and static electricity is notoriously unpredictable.

But lightning didn't have to strike the kite to prove Franklin's conjecture. His idea (built up from the ideas of others) was that lightning is a form of electricity and it is. That electric charge builds up in the atmosphere as clouds move through the atmosphere "rubbing" against the atmosphere kind of like your feet rub on a carpet and build up a static charge. So, just the fact that the clouds were moving fast and building up charge in the atmosphere (in preparation for a lightning discharge), Franklin's Leyden Jar did accumulate a charge from what was in the atnosphere, transferring to the kite, running down the wet string, into the key and on into the jar and he was able to prove his point. He went on to do a lot more experiments with electricity even setting the precedent that electrical current flows from positive to negative which is still used in most electrical engineering texts. In reality, the flow of electrons (the current) is from negative to positive but that's OK. We know what's really going on. And the preponderance of texts and writing with current flowing from positive to negative is too great to change now. Just keep it in the back of your mind when you're tracing electrons.

The picture I showed above is from the Bureau of Engraving and Printing and can be found at this link. That's Franklin's son William helping him. It reminds me of the time my own son helped me put up some fence in our backyard and it began to rain. He stayed out with me to help because we were rushing to get it done for a deadline. He got wet and muddy and didn't complain. He stayed to the end and seemed very happy when we finished.

Thursday, April 02, 2015

Finally rode my scooter to work

It was a long, cold winter but I put all that behind today. This morning, I got up a little early and got my scooter ready for spring. I had not started it all winter so the battery was drained (yes, I should have removed it and brought it in the house - but I didn't). Then I checked the oil. There was enough but it looked awfully dirty. I should have changed the oil before riding the scooter but I haven't yet. That's what week-ends are for. Then I checked the tires. They were a little low so I pumped in some air. So, the last thing was to push the scooter over to the car and jump it from the car's battery. I was ready for a long session of cranking the engine but it started right up. Honda makes a wonderful scooter.

It was cold - in the mid-twenties. Under normal circumstances, I wouldnt have ridden to work. But it was going to get warmer during the day and I didn't want to miss the chance. Who knows what the weather will be like the over the next week? I dressed in warm clothes and it turned out to not be so bad. My legs were cold but that's all. And I think I had a smile on my face the whole way to work. I do miss listening to the radio on the way to and from work but that's the only think I miss when riding the scooter. It makes me feel so much better when I get to work (even with cold legs). I think the fresh air helps but it's also the fact that you've got to keep yourself more alert when commuting like this. You have to watch everything and stay focused. And you see so much more. There is nothing in your way (like dirty windshields and roof supports) and everything seems more vibrant. You notice a lot more when you have such a wide view of the road and surrounding area.

I had to stop to get gas on the way home and, as I always do, I entered it in a notebook I keep. The last time I got gas was on December, 4 last year. Since I usually need to buy gas every three days I use the scooter, that means I only used it twice between that date and today. I've never gone that long between rides. That just shows what a rought winter it was. Another interesting fact was the price of gas when I got it last - $3.04.

One final fun fact - I had gone 86 miles since that last fill up and needed to buy 0.956 gallons of gas. Thats about 90 miles to the gallon. You have to average out the readings over many fill-ups to average out the difference of high high you fill the tank. But, that's pretty good for a bike that sat around (presumably evaporating gas) for four months.

Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Another driver on the road

I meant to write about this last week. On Thursday last week, March 26, my son went for his driving test. He hadn't rushed out to get his learner's permit as soon as he was 16 years old as he could have. He decided to wait until he was 18 years old. I think that was very responsible and I also think it was smart. He didn't feel pressure to get the license. He also didn't want to have to go to extra classes that are mandated just for younger drivers. Also, once you get a license but are still under 18, there are restrictions on the license. Even though he would have been responsible and followed the rules, it seems silly to have to worry that you might be driving during the restricted time (12:30 am to 5:00 am) if if you find it necessary to use a cell phone or to be driving a person younger than 18 years old without also having a person over 21 in the car. None of these would have ever happened - under normal circumstances. But why add one more worry to life?

Because scheduling the test was difficult (given the scarcity of testing times and the number of people wanting to take the test), he had to travel about an hour away to the city of New Bedford for the test. There was a forecast of rain for that day (heavy at times) and there are sections of New Bedford that are very old with narrow streets.It didn't seem like it was going to be easy but that was the path he chose and we were going to back him up. My wife was too nervous to accompany him so I took time from work to go along as his sponsor. That just meant that I needed to accompany him on the drive to the Registry (because the learner's permit requires that) and to sit in the back seat (silently) during the test. We got there an hour early and, surprisingly, they took us in early. The tester was very nice. He was calm, he explained everything carefully and he seemed really interested in seeing if my son was a good driver or not. I've heard of many testers challenging the new driver and making them very nervous. Our tester seemed more interested in seeing how my son really drove.

We started out by turning onto one of the busier streets in town. My son waited patiently and was pulling out when one more car came a little too fast down the street and we had to stop. He made a slight mistake by attempting to back up without first checking behind him but it turned out OK and the car that had forced us to stop moved on. But in the back of my mind, I counted, "One."

The tester instructed my son toward a back street where most of the test would be given. We had to deal with traffic lights, stop signs, turns against traffic and had to deal with whether we had the right-of-way or not. But after a few minutes, we got to the street the tester had wanted. First off, he had to parallel park. This was the thing I was most afraid of given that it's the thing I think is the hardest part of driving. I didn't have to parallel park in my own driving test (almost 50 years ago) and it's always held a bit of mystery to me. My son made the maneuver like he'd been born behind the wheel. I almost cheered but I was supposed to stay quiet and I did. The next thing he had to do was park on a hill by a curb. This was another of my fears. For some reason, I could never quite get the logic for the way you are supposed to turn the wheels in this situation. It always seemed to me that the drawings were wrong. But my son had it figured out. I knew right away which way to turn the wheels once the car was stopped. But he made another small mistake when he didn't set the parking brake right away and needed a reminder from the tester. It seemed like a small thing but in the back of my mind I said, "Two."

Next, the tester said he wanted to see a three point turn. My son checked for traffic correctly and started the turn but the tester said, "Where was the turn signal?" My son did set the signal and completed a flawless turn. As we were headed back up the street, though, I thought, "Three." The tester informed us that were were going to head back to the Registry office. That seemed awfully quick to me. It reinforced my fear that he was going to fail my son. I was thinking up all the encouraging things I could say like, "no one is perfect," and, "schedule a new test right away so it doesn't drag on" and, "get back on the horse right away," and all those other parent sayings.

The rain had held off but now it was starting to come down fast. The tester said we didn't need to park and could just drop him off near the door. I saw him filling out his form and going into his briefcase to get a stamp which I assumed said, "Fail." But instead he said, "Congratulations. You passed." The stamp he had was to stamp the learner's permit so it could be used temporarily as a full driver's license until the permanent one arrived. I was so proud of my son. He knew he had made small mistakes and it would have been very easy for him to just give up and make even bigger mistakes. But he kept his cool and stayed in control. The tester certainly noticed that and also how 99% of the time everything was going so well. My son drove with confidence and patience. He drove steadily and didn't make sudden moves. It will be my pleasure to let him drive whenever he wants to.

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

A short note about an interesting sign

When I ride my scooter to work (which I haven't been able to do since the middle of January), I pass a small church which has a sign out front that has a section that can carry a short message. Sometimes, it announces activities and services and sometimes it has short little messages.

The short messages are sometimes humorous but they are always meant to make you think. The one I want to tell you about today is not necessarily humorous. But it says a lot in a few words:

Don't forget. You are unique.
Just like everyone else.
The first line is encouraging while the second line brings us back to reality. Too many of us take the first line and run with it. We take it as a license to place ourselves in front of everyone and everything else. We use it as an excuse for thinking we deserve special treatment.

The second line hearkens back to the Golden Rule.

The little church, the Cataumet Methodist Church, is a partner church with the Bourne Methodist Church. Their combined website is at this link. The Methodists seem to have a tendency of combining small churches like this. My mother used to go to a Methodist church that was partnered with two other churches in the area. They shared a minister and later, as finances decreased, they all moved into one building. But that didn't help things because the Methodist district conference later dissolved all three churches.

There is another interesting thing about the Cataumet church. This is where I first got involved with a Valentine's Day dance for special needs kids who met in the basement of the church. The dance used to be held there, too, until our company opened up its cafeteria to the dance so more people could attend and more of our employees could join the band. I wrote about that dance here and here. And every one of the kids who attended the dance was unique. Just like the rest of us.

Friday, March 06, 2015

Why I almost didn't become an engineer

When I originally considered going to college, I thought I wanted to major in chemistry. I'm not exactly sure why. It's been about 47 years since I had to start thinking about what I'd want to study in college but part of the reason was that I was good in that subject and I'd had a chemistry set when I was younger and the things you could do with a knowledge of chemistry fascinated me. Also, with the growth of the plastics and pharmaceutical industries in the 1960s, it made me think I could do something useful with a degree in chemistry. So, when I was applying to colleges, I included Bucknell University in my list (I also applied to Penn State, the University of Pittsburgh and Carnegie-Mellon University - I was accepted at all four schools) because it had very good reputation in chemistry. Then I took the Advanced Placement exam for chemistry and did horribly on it!

My other interest at that time was music and I briefly thought about going to school to get a degree in music. My parents were not happy about that, though, because they worried about my finding a job. They would have backed me up on any decision I made but it was important to me that they be happy with any decision I made. So, while I did look into applying to Duquesne University's School of Music, I didn't go too far down that path.

Then came a big event in my life. I was selected to go to a district band after trying out among other high school band students and we performed an interesting piece that included some electronic music. I found the idea of actually making music that included traditional instruments with electronically produced sounds (not an electronic organ or electric guitar) very interesting. My father had taken a course in television repair (when that sort of thing was still done) to supplement his operating heavy construction machinery (which often led to no work during the winter) and he was always trying to get me interested in electronics. Also, one of my best friends was interested in electronics, too. So, the idea of being able to design musical instruments and perform with them tickled my fancy.

At this point, I had already decided to go to Bucknell but since I didn't think I'd do well at chemistry at the university level, I switched my major to electrical engineering. My parents were happy with this decision because they thought it would lead to a stable and well-paying career. They were right, of course, but I liked it because it was an exciting field of study. I had initially found it interesting because of music but there were a huge number of options once you had an electrical engineering degree. Another of my interests had been marine biology and I thought it might work out that I could design instruments to help in that field.

So, I arrived at Bucknell University in the fall of 1969 as an electrical engineering student. But one night, I went to a get together and there were a few upper class engineering students there. One of them was a senior and was thinking about where he might be working after graduation. He was talking about preparing to work in a company for the first time and talked about working in an office. Someone asked him if he knew how to type. This was before everyone had a computer on their desk and it was easy to write a paper or letter and just print it out. In those days, if you wanted to write a paper, you had to type it on paper with a typewriter. It was a good skill to have. Some students who knew how to type and had a good typewriter could make extra money by typing other students' papers.

I'll never forget the engineering student's answer: "No, I haven't learned to type. I understand that if the company finds out you know how to type, they won't give you a secretary." I was completely floored by that idea. For one thing, this guy seemed so petty. For another, he made it sound like he was going to be assigned a slave. Then the idea of writing up things being so important to him (instead of designing things or making things) made the whole idea of being an engineer seem much less appealing. Would I just be sitting around all day and dictating things to be written to someone? Was engineering all about just writing reports? I didn't want to be in a profession if the other people were like this guy.

The next day, I went into the Dean of Engineering's office to talk with him about it and to tell him I wanted to change my major. I'd just seen an interesting show about population biology. Also, as I mentioned before, I'd always had a special interest in marine biology. I watched all the Jacques Cousteau documentaries and thought maybe I could help change the world in that field.

The dean was not happy with my decision but had to acknowledge that it was my decision to make. But he tried to dissuade me. He scoffed at the engineer who had made the statement about not wanting to learn type. He stressed how much of engineering was in doing things and not the writing of reports (although there is certainly a lot of writing involved). Fortunately, the dean came up with an interesting idea about combining electrical engineering and biology in a five-year program that would allow me to get degrees in both disciplines. That is what I did. I had hoped to get a job in medical instrumentation or for a company that instrumented biology labs but that didn't happen. The closest I came to that was in working for the US Geological Survey where the instruments I developed were used by scientists in the Water Resources division to monitor our nation's water supply and, later, aboard ships to study marine geology. But no matter how I got here, I am very glad that one engineering student's off-hand remark didn't keep me for continuing in this fascinating field.

Monday, March 02, 2015

Mr. Spock as viewed from high school

I was sad to see that Leonard Nimoy died on Friday. I really enjoyed the character, Mr. Spock, he played on the original Star Trek series and I enjoyed his appearances in the later Star Trek movies and as a guest on the later Star Trek series. I liked how he and the writers kept the character from veering into parody or changing into some sort of super hero. But there were two things I really liked about the Spock character as I was watching the series in high school (I graduated in May, 1969 while the final Star Trek episode aired on June 9, 1969). Mr. Spock was an outsider on the series and he was the Science Officer.

As far as an outsider goes, I think everyone, to some extent, was an outsider in high school. We all tried to act like we had it all together but no one could live up to the expectations put on you by society, your parents and the school staff. That is to be expected because none of us is perfect. Even if you could possibly get 100% on every test and never missed a day of school (neither of those happened in our school), you couldn't do everything right. My big "downfall" was in the social aspects of high school. I never went to any of the big formal dances and only went on one real date the whole time (and that was because a girl that I was friends with asked me to a Sadie Hawkins Day dance). I looked up to Mr. Spock because he was an outsider, too. But in reality, he was the smartest, strongest and would out-live any of the others in the crew of the USS Enterprise. You always knew that if no one else could figure out how to get out of a bad situation, Mr. Spock could do it. And he didn't let his emotions get in the way! That was the thing I think I wanted to emulate more than anything else. Every time I noticed a girl I liked, it would never work out (usually because liking her meant I would never be able to talk with her). Every time I tried something out of my comfort zone (being in the school band and doing well academically), it didn't work out (like the time I tried out for the track team). And every failure seemed like the end of the world. Every failure hurt terribly. Why couldn't I be like Mr. Spock and just shrug off those things and just keep going?

Then there was the science. Whenever the ship and crew ran into trouble, they always went to Mr. Spock to figure it out. Science really had a use. It wasn't just something to like and to be good at. Science could be used to save lives, get you somewhere faster or help other people. Mr. Spock made science cool. And he always seemed so sure of himself! What a difference to how I felt (and probably everyone else in school). Oh to have that kind of confidence. To know what you should do and to be able to do it. He was just the guy a shy, outsider could look up to. While I did have heroes in other areas like my father, the minister in our church, even Jesus (another outsider) and various athletes and musicians, I also include a fictional character from a fictional story that somehow made my situation seem OK.

Friday, February 27, 2015

My birthday

Today, I am 64 years old. When I was much younger, I figured that by the time I got to this age I'd be ready for retirement and would be having a hard time getting around. But as I've aged, my view of aging has changed (I'd like to say it's matured) into the realization that age really is just a number. In a lot of ways, I feel better now than I did 10 years ago! Of course, there are other ways that I feel and look worse than 10 years ago but you can't have everything.

I'm not ready to retire yet. In fact, I love my job and the people I work with. Just this week, we had our yearly job performance reviews and I got the highest rating I've gotten in many years. They are really happy with the work I'm doing and I'm happy to be here. It helps that my job is not a physical job because I would probably have a hard time keeping that up at this age. Although, if I did have a physically active job and was at it every day, I'd probably be in better shape than I am now. But I would also have a greater chance of hurting myself. But with my software engineering job, as long as I can think clearly and continue to enter programs for the computer and write up reports about what I'm doing, I could do this job forever.

Anyway, my hope is that everyone could be as happy with their life as I am with mine.Today's daily devotional from our church (Cape Cod Church, here's a link to the page which is updated six times a week) has a message that is appropriate and includes this encouraging verse.

Always be full of joy in the Lord. I say it again—rejoice! Let everyone see that you are considerate in all you do. Remember, the Lord is coming soon.

Don’t worry about anything; instead, pray about everything. Tell God what you need, and thank him for all he has done. Then you will experience God’s peace, which exceeds anything we can understand. His peace will guard your hearts and minds as you live in Christ Jesus. Philippians 4:4-7 NLT

Again, I hope to get back into a rhythm of writing more posts for this blog. That brings me great joy, too.

Thursday, February 19, 2015

Walking and writing

My blog posts have certainly dropped off again. I think the reason is that, with all the snow we have and with how cold it has been been, I have not been walking, either. I'm not sure the two things are interrelated but it certainly seems suspicious.

Anyway, I may take a short walk in the woods at lunch today to see what shape the paths are in. I'll certainly get a lot of exercise walking in the deep snow. It will be an adventure.

[Update - after lunch]

The woods are lovely, not so dark but deep
Well, the snow is still very deep out in the woods. I made it about 30 yards along the trail and gave up. The picture at the right (just click on it to see it full sized) shows the path I would have liked to take but I was exhausted just to get to this point. I was breathing hard and it was cold. Sweating in the cold is not a good thing. You can get colder mightly quickly after that.

So, I stopped long enough to get my camera out and snap these pictures. My hands were pretty cold in the short time it took me to take this picture and the next one.

My steps were deep, too
The next picture may be hard to place. It's a picture of my foot about 18 inches into the snow.The snow came up to about my knee. So, taking each step was difficult and keeping my balance was not easy either. You never know what is below the snow and it's easy to twist an ankle if you're not lucky.

So, right after taking these two pictures, packing up my camera and tucking it back into my coat and putting my gloves back on, I headed out the way I came. I hoped it would be easier as I tried to use the steps I'd already made in the snow but even that was much trickier than I'd thought. It was good to get back in the the warm, dry office.

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Pluto Discovery Day

Two views of Pluto and its moon Charon
Right now, a 1,000 pound spacecraft is streaking toward Pluto at about 30,000 miles per hour relative to Pluto itself. The New Horizons spacecraft was traveling as fast as 51,000 miles per hour (relative to the Sun) after it got a gravity boost by passing close to Jupiter. In July, it will make it closest approach of Pluto and our knowledge of this mysterious body will expand more in the approach and close encounter than it has in all the years before.

It was on this day in 1930 that Clyde Tombaugh discovered Pluto (although it wasn't called by that name until March 24 from a suggestion by 11-year old Venetia Birney of Great Britain). Mr. Tombaugh was the first American to discover a planet (at least it was considered a planet then). I wonder if that was part of the motive for the International Astronomical Union to demote Pluto from being a full-fledged planet?

There are a wide range of instruments aboard the spacecraft and you can find all sorts of other interesting facts about the spacecraft and Pluto on the New Horizons webpage here. The pictures above, although grainy and not very distinct, were taken by New Horizons when it was about 125 million miles from Pluto. So, it's understandable that they are not the best views we have of Pluto and Charon. Don't worry - the pictures will get better!

Saturday, February 14, 2015

Eight years later

About eight years ago, I wrote about playing for a Valentine's Day dance. It was the last time I played at that yearly dance. But this week, I did it again. Here's the link to the write-up about that dance eight years ago. I'm no less neurotic now than I was then but they needed a keyboard player. The trouble is, I haven't been playing as much as I would have liked. I wrote about getting a new, 88-key keyboard about this time last year (here the link to that post) and I really did have high hopes that I'd be playing a lot more. Then the rest of 2014 intervened. I keep promising to write about the trials of last year but I'm not quite ready to write it all down yet.

I didn't take my new keyboard because it' not set up to plug into an amplifier and its own built-in amplifier and speakers aren't loud enough for something like this. So, I took my old, reliable Korg DS-8 synthesizer (that's not mine in the picture but it's still a picture of some one's DS-8). My amplifiers still don't work (I hope to get them fixed some day) but they other guys said I could plug into one their amps.

Anyway, it was a big step to play for the Valentine's Day dance this year. The guys I played with were better than ever and it's an honor to get to play with them. They are real musicians and performers. I learn a lot just by sitting in with them. But I am a terrible live musician and especially when there is no written music. Not even lead sheets (with the melody and chords) like you'd find in a fake book. What happens is that one of the guitarists will mention a song and start playing. If I know it, it helps but often they'd forget to say what key the song was to be performed in. So, it took me most of each song to figure out the key and then the rest of the song to figure out the chord progressions to play. For most of the songs, I just figured out what I should play by the last line of music. But it was still fun.

But the very best part is seeing the smiles on the faces and the dancing of the kids at the party. You see, they are all special needs kids. This is a big deal to them. They all look forward to this dance. To them, we make up a terrific band. Not only that but we get to make our own ice creme sundae and spend some time talking with the kids. It's usually about the things they like to do and what they did that day. And they are so excited! Why do I have any right to be neurotic? Because, as Popeye would say, "I am what I am and that's all what I am." It's doing things like playing for this dance that put the neurosis behind me for a while.

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

A Big Snow (for Cape Cod)

The big storm that was forecast for yesterday and today hit right on schedule and for Eastern Massachusetts, it seems like the weather forecasters were right on the money. We got a lot of snow and a lot of wind. That combination makes a blizzard and no one who knew it was coming wanted to be out in it. It snowed all night and the wind blew it around with gusts of up to 58 mph. It was supposed to stop snowing around noon but it didn't. I took these pictures around 10 AM.

It was hard to walk around in our yard. There were a few low places that the wind scoured out but those places didn't go where I wanted to go and there weren't that many of them. My guess is that we got about 18 - 24 inches. It's hard to be sure because there were drifts well over 48 inches high and bare places with barely a few inches. I know people in other parts of the country and Canada would laugh at our inability to deal with this amount of snow but we're just not used to it. Plus, this winter has seen particularly little snow so far. So, this was a shock. In the picture to the left, you can see how little snow is on the cars and how much has drifted up around them. But it's not all drifts because it's about that deep over most of our yard.

This next picture shows the drift in front of (and on top of) my mother-in-law's part of the house. She won't be using her front door. The last picture shows our front porch and how the snow drifted up in front of the porch higher than the porch itself. My son and I started to dig out the driveway and got within a few feet of the road when the wind and cold got to us.

We've come in to warm up a bit but I wonder if we're going to go out again tonight. It's getting dark and the snow is still coming. The wind has died down but there are still gusts once in a while. My office was closed today. It was nice not to have to feel guilty about not going in or rushing to try to get there. But work is on for tomorrow and I may be taking vacation time to do some more shoveling. We'll see.

Just click on the pictures to see them full size.

[Update: The reports on TV news say our town got 24-25 inches of snow]

Monday, January 26, 2015

A little mystery is solved

Often, when I'm talking with people, they will say, "How do you see out of those glasses?" Then, I'll usually clean my glasses and be amazed at how much better I can see. I like clean glasses as much as the next guy but they get dirty so slowly that I don't notice it. Of course, what I should do is just clean my glasses regularly. But I don't do that. I should. I will work on that.

But the way I've been handling it is to be very careful when handling my glasses. I never touch the lenses when I'm putting them on or taking them off. I carefully put them up on a shelf above our bed when I go to sleep at night. So, once I clean them, they shouldn't be getting dirty. I know that if I'm outside in the rain or in a dusty environment, they are going to get dirty and I'll need to clean them (after being informed about it). But why should I have to clean them that often?

Well, this morning I realized what is happening. When I woke up this morning, our cat was crying and he wouldn't stop. I was afraid he'd wake the kids (my wife and I were already roused by the meows) so I wanted to get up quickly and I grabbed for my glasses. It was dark and I couldn't see them so it took a few grabs before I got a handle on them. And then it hit me. The lenses now had my fingerprints all over them! The oil from my fingers was now going to start collecting dust from the air. That's how my glasses get so dirty so fast. It was obvious this morning but now I realized that every morning I search around for my glasses and touch the lenses with my fingers. How could I have been so blind?

So, there it is. I've now decided that I must clean my glasses every morning. Whether I think they need it or not. Because whether I remember it or not, I've touched them with my fingers just about every morning.

Thursday, January 22, 2015

A parable come to life

I heard a story on the radio this morning about a non-profit hospital that is being investigated because it is suing some of its poorest patients. This is happening around the country and it involves hundreds of patients but the story concentrated on one family. In this case, the family had a low enough income that they should have been eligible for free medical care under the hospital's own charity guidelines. But instead, the hospital has had the family's pay docked for 10 years and they still owed $25,000.

Senator Grassley of Iowa has been working for years to make hospitals accountable for the tax breaks they receive as non-profits and he also made sure that language in the Affordable Care Act (sometimes called Obamacare) got hospitals to provide more charitable care. By the way, Senator Grassley is a Republican - there is room for both parties to work together for the common good). From the NPR story,
Grassley says the health care law may need to be strengthened in order to force nonprofit hospitals to offer financial assistance to poor patients. "If they don't get the message now, we'll have to work towards getting the ideal language in the legislation," Grassley told NPR and ProPublica.
Non-profit hospitals have been offered a gift of not having to pay federal income tax or local property tax. Yet some of them turn around and refuse to help those who owe them. This reminds me of one of Jesus' parable as told in Matthew 18. It's sometimes referred to as The Parable of the Unforgiving Debtor.
“Therefore, the Kingdom of Heaven can be compared to a king who decided to bring his accounts up to date with servants who had borrowed money from him. In the process, one of his debtors was brought in who owed him millions of dollars. He couldn’t pay, so his master ordered that he be sold—along with his wife, his children, and everything he owned—to pay the debt.

“But the man fell down before his master and begged him, ‘Please, be patient with me, and I will pay it all.’ Then his master was filled with pity for him, and he released him and forgave his debt.
“But when the man left the king, he went to a fellow servant who owed him a few thousand dollars. He grabbed him by the throat and demanded instant payment.

“His fellow servant fell down before him and begged for a little more time. ‘Be patient with me, and I will pay it,’ he pleaded. But his creditor wouldn’t wait. He had the man arrested and put in prison until the debt could be paid in full.

“When some of the other servants saw this, they were very upset. They went to the king and told him everything that had happened. Then the king called in the man he had forgiven and said, ‘You evil servant! I forgave you that tremendous debt because you pleaded with me. Shouldn’t you have mercy on your fellow servant, just as I had mercy on you?’" Matthew 18:23-33 NLT
It's not exactly the same, of course. In the parable, Jesus is explaining how we have been forgiven so much and that we should, in turn, forgive those people in our lives who have done things to us. If we can't forgive them, we are no better than the unforgiving servant in the parable. But the similarity is the blindness of the hospital that is similar to the blindness of the unforgiving servant. We must be careful, though, to not look for revenge but we cannot just let it go, either. We must work to correct injustice and stop the Unforgiving Debtors of the world to continue their selfish behavior. Hats off to Senator Grassley for his attention to this.

Monday, January 19, 2015

Things I think my father told me

I have been telling people the following two quotes for years and I tell everyone that my father told me these things.

Quote number 1:
Watch out for people who notice whether you lock your car or not and make a big deal about it. Especially watch out for the people that make fun of you for locking your car.
Quote number 2:
All Welshmen think they are great singers. With so many people in Wales singing, it makes sense that a larger than average number of Welshmen are good singers.

By the way, my father was born in Wales so his talking like this about Welshmen is from experience. My father was a pretty good singer, too.

I've been reading a book called, You Are Not So Smart by David McRaney. It explains how we often delude ourselves and how we fill in details of our life with false memories. It has me questioning my memories about things like this. Most memories I'm very sure about but these two may not have happened like I think they did. As I read more of this book, I'll write a post about it. Maybe, when I finish the book, I'll be able to figure out if these are real memories or something I just made up and thought my father told me. They're still good quotes, though, and if Dad didn't tell them to me, what does it matter?

Friday, January 16, 2015

First good walk in a long time

I hope, someday, to go back over the last nine months and write down all the challenges my family and I faced over that time. One of the consequences of all that was that I either wasn't in a place I could walk or I didn't have the time to walk. I'd go for short strolls but I didn't have a good long (more than a mile) walk in all that time.

Well, today at lunch I finally went for a nice 30 minute walk and it felt wonderful. It was cold but not too cold. There had been a little snow last night but only a dusting. And, in a way, the slippery conditions from the snow gave me more exercise than normal as I worked to catch my sliding and needed to balance better. The path was just as I remembered it. I stopped using the main path over a year ago because it was overused and getting too muddy and the bare dirt was getting ditches dug into it by running water. So, I found a path that looks like it had been blazed by deer. It pretty much parallels the main path but is about 20 yards into the woods so it is prettier, more isolated and quieter. The dirt bikes never use this path so I don't need to side step when they come roaring by.

When I say it felt wonderful, I have to say it was more tiring than I remembered. I really am out of shape and really need to walk. So, I'm hoping, along with my more frequent entries in this blog, I will be walking more frequently now. During the nine months of not walking, I broke all the rules I specified in "My thoughts on walking" post three years ago. Here is the list of things I thought were important - without the explanations you can find in the original post:
  1. Get out even if it is only for a few minutes
  2. It's better to walk on uneven paths and up and down hills
  3. It's better to walk on a schedule
  4. It's better to walk with a dog (or another person, but a dog is better)
  5. It's a good idea to take a cell phone with you
  6. Take a small notebook and something to write with
  7. Keep track of how long you walk
  8. Take a camera with you
  9. Walking a shorter distance more times is better than walking one longer distance - and then canceling
I still think those are pretty good ideas. Now, if I can just stick to them every day.

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Who has seen the wind?

I was reading a review of the movie Something, Anything today at lunch. It sounds like a movie I'd like to see but beyond that, the reviewer included a poem that is used in the movie. He only included the second stanza in his review but here is the whole poem:
Who has seen the wind?
Neither I nor you:
But when the leaves hang trembling,
The wind is passing through.
Who has seen the wind?
Neither you nor I:
But when the trees bow down their heads,
The wind is passing by.
I love how simple yet profound it is. It speaks to me of faith and acceptance. It speaks of the power of God and the gentleness of Jesus. It was written in the 1800s by Christina Rossetti who lived from 1830 to 1894. I had never heard of her before but now I want to read more of her poetry. This reminds me of one of my favorite verses in the Bible:
He has shown you, O mortal, what is good.
And what does the Lord require of you?

To act justly and to love mercy

and to walk humbly with your God. Micah 6:8 NIV
The movie also sounds wonderful. You should read the review yourself (link to the review) so you can decide but it sounds just like the poem and the Bible verse; simple but profound. It sounds like it has true insight into the life changing experience a person can have when they seek God. I hope it comes to a theater in our area.

And here is something I just learned - Ms Rossetti wrote another poem entitled "In the Bleak Midwinter" which has been used in a number of different settings for hymns. So, there is even more to explore! This is one of the wonderful things I get from writing this blog. Learning about one small thing and researching it for a post leads to many new things I would have never discovered.

Monday, January 05, 2015

First post of 2015

And of course, given my personality, my first post of the year is an apology. After my December 31, 2014 lament about finishing out a bad year of blogging, I said I'd do better this year. What a great way to start!

But is it better to say that I broke my New Year's Resolution and then just give up or is it better to just acknowledge my mistake and then keep on going? I think most people would do that latter. It's not the end of the world that I'm late with this post. Just like it's not the end of the world that I haven't walked yet this year, either. I am going to walk more this year and I am going to blog more this year.

New Year's Resolutions are not like watching a series on TV where each episode builds on the episodes before it. When you miss one or more episodes of the series, you feel lost and will have to wait for reruns to catch up. Or buy the DVDs or watch it on Netflix. And what makes missing a series episode especially tough is that it is hard to watch the newer episodes without ruining the older episodes when you finally get to watch them.

Walking and blogging (and a LOT of other things) are wonderful activities. In fact, when I start walking after a time off, I seem to enjoy walking even more. Blogging is like that, too. I am having a great time right now. And you know what is even better? Playing the piano after a long absence. Not that I purposely stop playing the piano (or blogging or walking) but it's nice to know that starting these activities up again is a reward in itself. When I start these activities after a long time away, I am The Prodigal Son returned. And that just points out the joys of blogging. While I am writing about one subject, I usually think about two or more other subjects for later posts. Last year, I read a terrific book about the Prodigal Son (or the Two Sons as it is sometimes called). I plan on writing about that and how it changed me forever. Stay tuned.