Not Cease from Exploration...a blog by Steve Albert

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Maine Course, Day 3

Day 3 in Maine started with a late morning trip to Acadia National Park, specifically Cadillac Mountain.  Unfortunately for us, there were low clouds covering some of the valleys, which obscured the views to places like Bar Harbor from the 1550 ft peak.

But it also created some interesting effects, such as clouds mushrooming over islands.

After Acadia, we headed back to the house for some downtime, which for me included a much needed nap.  Normally I don't like taking naps, but since I haven't been sleeping well they have become a necessity.  In addition to napping like a preschooler, I also managed to get some writing done and I took a 45 minute photo hike.  Here's some of what a I captured.

By late afternoon fog was returning to Southwest Harbor in full force, beginning to look much as it did on Monday.  

Ms Rivers and I went out to dinner this evening, walking to a nice restaurant just down the street from our house.  The steak I had was one of the best, ever.  Ms Rivers reports that her beef salad was pretty good too.  After dinner we took a stroll down the foggy streets to an ice cream parlor for some desert.  Lucky for us the fog seems to make mosquito flight more difficult.  

The rest of the evening was spent on my part writing, reading and losing two games of pool to Ms River's brother in law.  While I did keep it close in both games, "close" doesn't count in pool, just horseshoes, hand-grenades and nuclear bombs.  There's always tomorrow.

Speaking of tomorrow, the plan is for four of us (myself, Ms River's dad, and two of the kids) to go out fishing into the bay for four hours.  I'm not much of a sea fisherman...heck, I'm not much of an any fisherman...but I always enjoy the boat ride and sea air.  The afternoon may include, if I have the energy, a trip to Bass Harbor, one of my favorite places on the island.

Here's to good catches for everyone tomorrow.  Goodnight from Foggyland.

Advice To My Daughters, Part 2

As a follow-up to THIS POSTING from March 18, 2013, I want to share more advice with my beautiful daughters.  These are gifts to them that were never given to me.

Professionals - Find and develop professional relationships with people who are good at what they do.  Knowing and trusting someone who is an expert at something is important, because it will help you solve difficult problems in the most efficient ways possible.  Now I know that sounds overly formal, so let me bottom line it for you:  you will never be good at everything, and there are just some things in life that you simply can't do yourself (for example, self-dentistry is, shall we say, somewhat problematic), so you will always need help with some things.  Find a mechanic, a doctor, a dentist and a lawyer that you can talk to on a more than just professional level.

Respect - Now matter how much you accomplish in life, how educated you become, no matter how high or low your perceived social standing, always show respect to the people that serve and help you.  I've come to the opinion that the hardest job in the country is probably being a waitress at some busy restaurant off of a highway exit.  Tip at about 20% if you received good service; a little more if you got great service.  Always be polite to people who serve you.

Religion - Never let religion get in the way of your search for a higher meaning in life.  For a long time I was really fearful of exploring religious beliefs outside of how I was raised.  Now?  I wish I would have started exploring far earlier.  Our lives lead somewhere and must mean something.  Make looking for that meaning a part of who you are and what you do.

Give - Something else I wish I would have started doing sooner.  Give your time and your money to causes that mean something to you.  It doesn't require a lot of time or a lot of money by the way, and if you don't have one (be it time or money) simply give more of the other.  Just make sure that the investment you make is in an organization/cause that is both legitimate (sadly, there are people out there who steal resources from the truly needy) and aligned with what you believe to be important.

Read, A Lot - Spend as much time as you can reading.  It doesn't matter what you read, just read.  Growing up we were relatively poor, but we always had some books laying around.  I hope that by doing the same for you when you were younger the cycle of lifetime reading will continue.

Never Stop Learning - I would say that one of the few pieces of advice I ever got from my mother was on the importance of an education (hence having books, see above).  Please, never ever become mental loafers!  Always and continuously keep learning new stuff.  I don't care what the new stuff is; I don't care the venue by which you learn the stuff, just keep learning.

Zombies Are Real - I am of the concerted opinion that zombies are real...mental zombies that is; these are people who walk among us, but yet are no longer engaged in any meaningful way in learning or growing.  Maybe they are bitter at past mistakes, maybe they feel they have done and learned enough, maybe they just figure that life now owes them.  Regardless of the cause, never be one of them.  Always search for and find reasons to be engaged with life.  Remember this:  Every moment of every day counts.

Be Physically Active (as you grow older) - It's easy to be active when you're younger, not so much so as you grow older.  Heed my advice:  never stop moving.  Your body will wear down over mine is starting to now...but that's not an excuse for sitting on a couch and letting your parts atrophy into jello.  Me?  I'd rather see my parts worn out of use than degrading to goo due to inactivity.

Always Assume Positive Intent - No matter what the situation, no matter who the people, always assume positive intent in all of your interactions.  If someone or something just isn't right, you'll learn that soon enough, but assuming positive intent from the beginning helps you put your mind (and soul I will add) on a firm footing.  Yes, it's easy to fall into negativity, as that's what so much of what society teaches these days, but make it a point to take the mental and emotional high road.  It's especially important when you feel threatened, be those threats real or imaginary/personal or professional, because positive intent teaches you to pay attention to your own emotions, resulting thoughts and actions.  If a situation is truly negative, then you'll figure that out soon enough, and positive intent isn't code for "naive" either.  You can assume positive intent and be cautious at the same time.  In the end though, being aware of self is a key personal and professional advantage that many people don't have these days.

One of the joys of parenthood is seeing your "children" grow into adults.  I hope that as you grow older and start families of your own you make it a point to share what you've learned in life with your children, just as I now share with you.  It much for you as it will for them.

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Maine Course, Day 2

Day two of the Maine vacation began as Day one began:  with me getting up at 5:30am. I simply don't sleep well normally, let alone in an "alien" bed.  Good thing I am a morning person!

On tap for today was a scouting trip to Bar Harbor to check out fishing and whale watching opportunities for later in the week, as well as the obtaining of tourist-y types of wares.  Both endeavors were successful for the record.  From there, Ms Rivers, her mother and father, her younger sister and husband and I set off for Asticou Gardens, which is near Northwest Harbor.  I have a soft spot for gardens and such, which I think is a product of growing up in a housing project, where the opportunities for such things were severely limited.  Anyway, it was a nice hike up some stone steps, some wonderful views, and of course flowers, flowers and more flowers.  Here's is a small sample of what we saw:

(view of Northwest Harbor while climbing up to the gardens)

(there were many flowers...and bumblebees)

(where we were at)

I'll be posting more to the Facebooks shortly, but this is a pretty good sample.   Have a mentioned I also have a soft spot for boats?

(I love little boats)

After the jaunt to the gardens, we retreated back to the rental house, where it was the responsibility of Ms Rivers and I to cook dinner.  Feedback on dinner was positive, and as of this writing no one has come down yet with food poisoning. 

This evening?  Outside of cleaning up and my poking fun at Hippster bands like Mumford and Sons, it has been pretty quiet.  

On to tomorrow...

Scranton School Board Follies: Giving your wife a raise

I reference THIS article.

"Director Cy Douaihy said the one-year contract means the district and union will be back at the bargaining table soon..."

Here is my question:  Why is Director Cy Douaihy even allowed to vote on this fact finding report (and soon to be contract)?  He has a direct personal financial stake in the agreement because his wife is a member of the bargaining unit.  On what planet is THAT NOT considered a conflict of interest?

This doesn't require further commentary or analysis.  Any school board director who has immediate family members that would benefit from a labor contract with the district should not be voting on the contract, period. The fact that this exists in the Scranton School District is yet more proof that education comes second to self-interest in the district.

Please, someone try to defend this, as I'd love to hear the argument FOR being allowed to give your family a raise using public money.

Monday, July 28, 2014

Maine Course, Day 1

It's nearly the end of full day one in Maine and one word comes to mind: washout.

It's been raining here most of the day, and when it wasn't raining it was foggy beyond belief. Rather ironic actually: the only thing that temporarily dissipated the fog was the rain, and when the rain ended the fog returned. Oh well, it's still a rainy day in Maine, which is a step up from rainy days in most other places.

So what was the day spent doing?

Well not doing much on-line. The house we rented has Internet service that might be the envy of most countries in the third world, but not so much in this world. That's a fancy way of saying that it stinks, and the only way I can post this dribble is to pair it with my iPhone, which I am only going to do sparingly. All the better I suppose, as what's the sense of going to a place like Maine but then goofing off on-line? Pretty much no sense.

So again, what was the day spent doing?

I was 3 for 2 playing pool. Not all that great, especially since, in theory, I should be pretty good at pool.

There was a walk to downtown Southwest Harbor, which would have been much better had we not been assaulted by mosquito near “Chris' Pond”. We made the mistake of walking up to the pond only to be met by an assault squadron of bugs, which ended up following up about a block and a half before ending the chase. The walk it self was fun, if not taxing on my left calf muscle for some reason.

Then were was lunch at a tiny little shack south of Southwest Harbor, where we had the finest in greasy food, served with a smile. This particular place was near a ferry landing, and apparently was only opened from Father's Day to Labor Day. Not much of a season, but the ladies that run the place told me that they make a decent go of it.

The afternoon was spent reading, playing more pool and taking a dreaded (at least for me) nap.

Dinner consisted of a fine Italian dish, created by Ms River's mother, which since it had ingredients that included corn and olives, wasn't for me. The fall-back was sloppy joes, made by Ms Rivers for me. It must be true love, as that is the only reason why a special dinner would be made for me (in fairness, I wasn't the only one who had the sloppy joes). The resulting after dinner conversations was as much fun as any other time of the day, talking about topics ranging from “how do you say 'I surrender to superior German forces'” in French to our plans for tomorrow and Wednesday. By the way, tomorrow will consist of Bar Harbor and some fishing, although the exact order and timing for both are to be determined.

After dinner was my time to lose at not only pool but another game as well. Somehow the gaming gods were not with me today.

Now it's writing time and then, some time soon, probably bed. Rainy days are tiring. Speaking of tiring, our house is nice, but our specific bedroom gets a lot of road noise, which seemed to commence at about 5:30am. Guess what time I got up this morning?

Here's to a dry Tuesday.

On legalizing the use of Marijuana

All the world (of Deadheads, fans of Phish & the Dave Mathews Band, etc.) is a buzz(ed) over the legalization of Marijuana in the state of Colorado. Me? I am somewhat conflicted. Here's how I see the issue.

The Case for Legalization
I think you can boil down the case for legalization down to one simple question: is it worse than alcohol? On a net-net basis, I don't believe that it is especially worse for any of us; in fact, by some measures it may be actually not as bad for society as a whole. Have you ever heard the phrase “he was an angry stoner”, as opposed to “he was an angry drunk”? Nope, I haven't either.

Then you have the “but people are going to do it anyway” argument, which actually is validated by all the small time pot dealers in jail, most likely learning how to become more hardened criminals while they waste away in the land of societal incarceration. Yes, I also agree that people (all be it stupid people...more on that later) are going to do this, so society might as well reap some benefit from it in the form of additional resources for roads, schools and the like (via taxing the heck out of it).

There is a compelling medical argument for the use of Marijuana. As I understand it, Marijuana is a very helpful medical resource for those individuals who need pain medication but, for a variety of reasons, can't benefit from more traditional treatments. The example I've most commonly read about is that of a cancer patient who is undergoing chemotherapy and can't keep food (or pills down), where the Marijuana helps moderate the pain and increases the patient's appetite.

Lastly, there is the simple argument that the government...any government for that matter...should have limits when it comes to how we regulate our own bodies. As I have noted here relating to the abortion issue, there are few things in life more invasive than a government telling you what can happen to your own insides; if you don't own what's under your own skin, then you don't anything.

The Case Against Legalization
Marijuana, despite claims to the contrary, is not this harmless substance that just makes you happy and gives you the munchies. I've read several studies that show, for example, it can be harmful to the development of teenage brains. If inhaled, it is also far worse for your lungs than tobacco smoke (which is almost always filtered in some way when used). It also can cause impairments that would make driving difficult, to say the least (I believe that Colorado has a standard for “buzzed driving”).

The biggest red herring I see regarding the use of Marijuana though is in the area of medicine. To be blunt, it seems pretty clear that at least some portion of Marijuana users in California, where it is legal for medicinal purposes, basically fake illness just to get (quasi-legally) stoned. “I get headaches, therefore I need to get baked on a regular basis” seems to be the truth behind many users. For the record you can substitute “headache” for any number of other medical issues, real or imaginary. From my end, acknowledging full well that I am not a doctor, unless someone has glaucoma or is a cancer patient, I honestly don't see the need for medical Marijuana.

My final argument against the legalization of Marijuana? Pretty simple actually: it's stupid. Yes, I said “stupid”; stupid as using Marijuana to escape reality is a sad excuse for what is really a lack of personal discipline. Guess what? You can't ever escape from reality because no matter how stoned you get, reality is always still there for you, waiting on the back end. For some, Marijuana is just another crutch, another way to cry “I can't cope”, a way to undervalue one's own self worth without really ever trying. As for me, well I don't want my reality altered, because quite frankly, reality is wonderful! Now matter how challenging your life is, there are always alternatives, always choices, always new things to be explored. Note that I don't write this as someone who has lived a life of privilege and/or hasn't seen any hardship if life; my personal story is as far from that of Paris Hilton as one can get. I also don't consider myself to be a man of better than average personal discipline either, so if I can manage to cope with reality without the need to get stoned out of my mind, then I think the average person doesn't need to either. I'm not that good, and most aren't that bad (nor is reality for that matter).

In the final analysis, I really don't have a firm opinion one way or another when it comes to the legalization of Marijuana. What I do have a firm opinion on is that the use of foreign substances to mask the realities of life is never, ever a good thing. Be it alcohol, Marijuana or any other drug, all represent the running away from a reality we all should be running towards. Now if someone reading this disagrees with me, then so be it; I am only the king of me and my own behavior...which is precisely my biggest issue with the use of Marijuana: namely that when you use it, you no longer the king of your own.

Sunday, July 27, 2014

10 Random Things You Realize When You Get Older

In no particular order and for no particular reason (well other than vacation contemplation).

The things that seemed to physically hurt you as a kid just really don't seem to hurt nearly as much any more. Shot in the arm? No big deal. Blood work? Ditto. Dental fillings? Bring'm on.

Things that never physically hurt before hurt now. My left foot for example. Arthritis. My foot sometimes feels like there is sand in some of the joints. Now I have to take horse pills to “lubricate” my joints. It's a pain in my...well...foot.

You realize that your parents actually were right about some things.

You begin to listen to music that your parents liked and discover that it's not all that bad. Especially given the state of popular music today.

You have to take medication to get your body to do things your body used to do all the time as a kid. Easily.

You look forward to quiet evenings instead of dreading them.

You actually take pride in the organized nature of your clothes drawers.

You move beyond the want or desire to care about the drama around you. For me, I've just learned to smile through it all.

You see just how simpler life was when you were a kid and realize just how you were lucky to be born in a previous era. Case in point: Had the Internet existed in 1976 I probably would never have left the house.

You start to see some of the little details in the world around you that, in years past, you would have just sped by.

Saturday, July 26, 2014

All in a days (not) work.

Well today is the start of my second vacation of the summer.  The first was during the last week of June/early July and was to Ocean City, MD.  The second, this one, is to one of my favorite places on Earth, Mount Desert Island in Maine.  To say that I am blessed to be able to take two vacations, with one of them being to Maine, is a severe understatement; in fact, I am the recipient of gobs of blessings, far more than I can count.

As I was driving today along I84, I95 and then the Massachusetts turnpike, I was pondering a few things, mostly about just this whole blogging thing. Side note:  For me, Maine is to writing as fertilizer is to a lawn.  Anyway, I do give myself lots of credit to sticking with this whole writing thing for years now.  How many?  Well October will be six on this URL, and I am not going to count the years on other platforms.  That's nice, I suppose, but what's probably more interesting is the fact that so many start this kind of endeavor but yet peter out after only a few postings.  Why?  I think it comes down to one simple fact:  you have to like it in order to stick with it.  I, for one, really like doing this, and as a result, I don't see ever not doing it.  This isn't to say that I'll always be writing with the same frequency (unlike the super disciplined Andy Palumbo from WNEP-TV), but after a few days I just seem to get the itch to write.

Speaking of writing, one of the thoughts that was going through my head while driving was that I actually am pretty disciplined about abiding by my own posting rules.  Simply put, there are some things that I never write about, and will never write about.  For the record, if I were to mention them now that would actually violate my own rule, so I'm going to do that, but I am going to give myself proper credit for consistency.  What's more, I think everyone who does this kind of thing should have some basic rules that they should follow, from the simple (for example, I do not use swear words on my blog, ever...oops, I think I just violated my rule about not violating my rules; damn), to the complex (I will not ever speak poorly of people I think have wronged me in the past...regardless of what they've done...damn, I've violated my own rule again).  I think I had better end this thought before I get into even deeper trouble.

So why are rules important?  Well just by way of personal trait and upbringing, I am a rule follower by design.  I recognize though that not everyone shares that trait with me, but I think that having basic rules for writing is still, never the less, essential.  Again, why?  I think that having some measure of discipline in the writing work aids the thinking process.  Note that I didn't say "creative", as that might imply that these ramblings are more than, just, well ramblings.  The thinking process is enhanced precisely because I make the affirmative decision not to be vulgar and therefore I have to find positive ways to express myself.  The thinking process is also enhanced because I make the affirmative decision not to use this space to "get even" with others, as it forces me to never act out of quick (and negative) emotions.  The very concept of "getting even" is absurd and counter-productive.  Anyway, the common trait between the two comes back to discipline, which is also a good description for why I am still at this after nearly six years on this URL.

Here's one final thought about writing, consistency and discipline:  you can't take this too seriously.  It can't be about posting views, page hits or any of that other least not at this level.  I think that the moment someone starts writing precisely for page hits is the moment that they being the process of ending their blog.  Now I do know that there are some kinds of postings (NOT this kind, by the way) that generate far more page hits for me.  In fact, just adding a select word or two to a title is guaranteed to get a posting more attention.  The fact is though that I am able to stick with this in part because I get to truly decide what I write about at any given time.  Me, just me.  Whatever moves me, not whatever moves page hits.  The down side to this?  Well occasionally I do get suggestions to write about a particular topic, and quite honestly I am pretty bad at actually following through on what has been suggested.  If that's the worst I am guilty of though, then I think I am doing okay.

Here's to more writing.  And to Maine in the summer.

Thursday, July 24, 2014

In a shocking development, the new Scranton City Council member is... older, politically connected white guy.

Reference HERE.

Yes, the powers that be, responsible for filling city council vacancies, figured out that the kind of thinking required to get the city out of the pickle that it has been in for decades is pretty much the same kind of thinking that got the city into the pickle it has been in for decades.

Oh, and did I mention that the guy Mr Evans is replacing was an older, politically connected white guy?

It's all kind of like an alcoholic figuring out that the "cure" for alcoholism is to simply keep drinking.

Here's a thought:  how the city has been run has not been working.  Continuing to put people in power who will do nothing but maintain the status quo will only result in more status quo.  In the case of Scranton, that means the inevitable death spiral towards bankruptcy will only continue.

Now I am sure that Mr Evans is an honorable man, a nice man, a man who means well.  I don't know him personally, but I know of his reputation, which is that of someone who is pretty much just like all of the other members of council.  Is that what the city REALLY needs in this day and age?

Maybe, just maybe, the city needs someone who is not connected to...and beholden to...entrenched political interests.

Maybe, just maybe, the city needs someone who doesn't view the world through the lens of a older white guy.

Maybe, just maybe, the city needs someone who understands what it means to financially struggle while living in a city like Scranton.

In the final analysis, assuming that this story is correct, Scranton City Council has once again failed its constituents by making political connection the single most important qualification for office.  To quote the line of a song I know...

"...and we never failed to fail, it was the easiest thing to do"

Monday, July 21, 2014

(This Introvert's) Worst Job Ever

Well it wouldn't be my worst job ever, as that would have been the day I spent working at McDonalds.  No, I'm talking about the worst job I've ever had at my current (and for the past 25.5 years) employer.

Now to properly set this up, I'll mention that I'm an introvert.  Make that really introverted.  As in "about as introverted as you can get" kind of introvert.  In fact, I am such an introvert that I have joked in the past that my ideal job would be a Bridge Troll*.  Being an introvert, interacting with my fellow humans takes a lot of energy out of me.  In fact, on this very day (Monday, July 20, 2014) I had to do a lot of interacting with other people, which has left me tired and somewhat cranky.  And so I digress.

Anyway, I was pondering what my worst job was over the past quarter century.  What was it?  Easily, it was the year or so I spent working in Accounting.  Specifically, I helped develop an asset to liability proof process for the separate accounts my employer offers to customers.  This means that I spent all of my time with my nose in Excel spreadsheets working on and with numbers.  I absolutely hated it.  I was good at it, but I hated it.  No offense to anyone that works in Accounting, but the fact that I could do it...the fact that it didn't involve interacting with other humans...meant that I really didn't find it challenging.  Again, I am sure that there are plenty of jobs in Accounting that are challenging, but for me, the biggest challenges are the ones that I have to over-come on the inside.  The fact that I didn't have to challenge myself by interacting with countless other humans made the Accounting job really stagnant.

Yes, in as much as having lots of "on" time with my fellow human beings takes a lot out of me, it's truly a good kind of tired.  Think of it as being the kind of tired that a runner feels after a marathon.  Or a boxer feels after a long fight.  Sadly or proudly, I seem to have grown accustomed this almost daily kind of tired.  Well most days I have; like today, there are still times when the introvert in me screams "No Mas!", but just like that boxer, I'll be ready to get back in the ring tomorrow, guaranteed.

(*) It actually makes for the following very interesting line:  "I really don't like people, which is why I work in Human Resources."