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Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Joni Mitchell

It's been reported in the news today that Canadian singer/songwriter Joni Mitchell is in a coma.  Sad, sad news.  I read an interview with her conducted over the past year, where she talked about her health issues and also about how her life-long smoking habit has hit her hard in later years.  As I said, sad news.

One of my favorite Joni Mitchell songs, which I have referenced in prior blog postings, is Free Man In Paris.  Evocative, wonderfully song and cleverly written are words that come to mind when I think of that song.  It's also a biography of sorts.  Anyway, this in tribute to Joni Mitchell, and the images of Paris that she have given me (and others) throughout the years.

Sunday, April 26, 2015

Wedding Cake Toppers

Getting married (again) entails a certain amount of planning, of which I am very much involved.  I even created a project plan for the event.  Among the times on the plan is this:  Trying to find a suitable wedding cake topper.

The actual wedding cake, by the way, is already ordered (from a fine Scranton baker).  Ms Rivers and I had to find our own wedding cake topper, and it was, shall we say, "interesting".

Now I normally credit the sources for the pictures I use on this blog, but in this instance you can find all of the pictures on eBay; simply search for "Wedding Cake Toppers".

On to the fun.

There are, of course, many classical wedding cake toppers available.  Below is just such an example.  Pretty standard fare if you ask me.
Although the above does beg the question asked by Ms Rivers:  "What if it's not new?"  Good question actually.  I mean, is this the by-product of some broken marriage that someone is now trying to sell off?  Would that create some kind of bad ju-ju/mojo?

This being eBay though, "classical" is a matter of personal taste.   For example, the soon to be "family NRA Membership" couple might be interested in this fine topper.

Now you know things are going to get even weirder from here.  Case in point:
Now maybe this would appeal to the Grateful Dead fans out there, but there would be one cautionary tale along those lines:  According to a book about the group I read last year, the late Jerry Garcia really didn't like all the skeleton stuff associated with the apparently creeped him out.

Well if you're thinking about a death motif for your cake topper, it's not much of a stretch to also consider something a bit on the violent side.  Fortunately, eBay have you covered:
If it weren't for the fact that the bride isn't covered from head to toe, I'd say this would be perfect for maybe a Taliban wedding.

Not to be sexist, but the violence theme works both ways/genders:

It gets worse:
And worser:

eBay has all of those Southern states covered; you know, the one's where the age of consent is, shall we say, "young"?

Then we have some toppers that are just plain odd.  I get it...some are "vintage"...but honestly, some also look as if the bride and the groom both have some kind of rare genetic disorder.
For the record, that's not to be disrespectful of people with rare genetic disorders.

Speaking of odd, in response to the popularity of all things Zombie, we have this:
Hopefully any red meat served at such a reception would be more on the "well done" side.

Then we have the just plain "in bad taste" models:
Seriously, try and explain that one to a 12 year old attending a reception.  Now you could take that same theme and be a bit more subtle:
"Mommy, why is she grabbing his rear-end?".

And lastly, what wedding wouldn't be complete with a bride and groom dinosaur topper?
But heck, at least they are the same species, unlike the following mixed marriage.

For the record we did find one that is tasteful and quite fitting.  And didn't involve groping, weapons, violence, zombies or different species.

Friday, April 24, 2015

Road Apples, #159

Few Apples...I just realized that I haven't written one of these "Road Apple" postings in a long time.  Long, as in February.  Time flies.  Part of it is that with school, I have less time to write in the evenings (although I am starting this in the morning, when I do get some writing done) as that time is shunted into, at the moment, tasks related to better understanding Compensation systems.  Anyway, file this under "long time coming".

Spring...I do feel a sense of a fog lifting over me.  School is nearly done for the semester, and I'm likely not going to take another class until late August (technically that would be "Fall I").  I've been dealing with a particularly difficult professional challenge over the past few months that seems to be clearing up just a bit (either real or imaginary...the challenge or my reaction to it...take your pick, as both are probably and equally valid), and quite frankly the weather is getting better.

Morlocks...For the record I do think it's important to talk (or in my case write) about how I feel.  Why?  Well in part because I am a firm believer that we are, all of us, more or less equally dysfunctional.  Now it's taken me a long time to understand this, and in complete candor sometimes I forget it, but it's an important life lesson never the less.  Knowing that someone who may seem to have all of their "stuff" together does in fact face challenges about stress, capacity, burnout and the like is a kind of gift.  I've learned over the years that it's okay to have inner demons ("Morlocks"), but it's not okay to believe that you have to struggle alone or, even worse, that you are so inherently disordered that no one else could possible understand how you feel.  One of the joys that writing and reading bring is that they open up clouded, inner they your own or someone else' the light of reality.

Reading...One of the benefits of school being almost over for the semester is that I can really dig into some discretionary reading again.  I'm planning on a Eckhart Tolle reading marathon over the next two months.   Some really smart people I know, both young and old, are quite impressed with his work, so I'm going to give it a whirl.

Birthdays & Pondering My Second Act...I have a birthday coming up, which gives me a if I need and/or wait for such engage in the fine act of pondering.  One of the things I've been pondering is the fact that I've likely got 14-15 years left if what I consider to be my main professional career (that is, the thing I do now to earn a living).  What am I going to do next?  I know that's a "ways off", so to speak, but never the less it's something I think about.  One thing is certain:  While I enjoy parts of what I do now, for my second act, I want to enjoy 98% of it.  Oh, and another point:  It won't be for the money either.  I do find that money creates this kind of trap in our lives in that we end up becoming skilled at something which in turn leads to financial success of sorts, which then creates a lifestyle that can then only be fueled by more earning.  I wouldn't use the word "vicious", but it is a cycle.  For my second act that get's broken, and it's much, much more about doing things I enjoy.

Speaking of Birthdays...I have a ritual every year whereby I take my birthday off from work.  It all started in 1989, when, new to my current employer, I had a horrible day while working on my birthday.  I was doing some work related to the old Eastern Airlines pension plan and I was getting savaged by retirees who were rightfully scared to death of loosing their benefits (Eastern had declared bankruptcy).  When I disclosed how difficult of a day it was to my manager, he shared the following words of wisdom:  "You know what your biggest mistake was Steve?  It was working on your birthday.", so as a result I've taken my birthday, or the business day before it, off ever since.  25 years straight to be precise.  And that day is today.  Usually part of the day is spent planting flowers, but that will not be the case this year, as it's just too darn cold outside during the over-nights.  This year?  Well I applied for a passport, which is at least something nice to think about, although not nearly as nice as flowers.

Self-Gift...As I gift to myself, I recently upgraded my phone to an iPhone 6+.  You know the one, it's the size of a baby's head.  Anyway, outside of having some work to do to get to customized to a level that I like, I really love the phone.  The best part?  It's just freak'n big, and my every so slightly diminished eyesight* appreciates the extra screen real estate.


(*) Per my last eye examination, my un-corrected vision is 2/40 in my right eye, and a whopping 20/200 in my left.  Corrected?  It's effectively perfect, all be it just one eye at a time.

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Should A College Education Be Free? I Vote "No".

I read a lot about the current student loan crisis, and hear many cries that a college education should be free.  I completely disagree.

Nothing of value is really free.

Not even the giving of our own time is actually "free", as it costs us, well, our time.  My fine Penn State education taught me that such a thing has an "opportunity cost".

Love isn't "free" either by the way, as it requires work...sometimes hard work...and sacrifice.  Sound familiar?

Education truly has value, and because of that it's worth paying for, it's worth sacrificing for, it's worth the investment.  Students, as in the folks who actually go to school, should be fully invested in their education.  This means they should be investing their minds and their wallets.  They should have "skin in the game", if you will, over and above simply blowing their parents money and generating profit margin for a student loan lender.

The moment you make a college education free you devalue it.  It becomes something that some feel entitled to, not because they worked for it, but because it should simply be theirs.  Do we really want to cheapen the value of higher education?

Now should an education cost the equivalent of a nice home in rural Pennsylvania?  I don't believe that it should.  The cost of an education should be something that requires sacrifice of the part of the student (and to a lessor extent their parents), but not 20 years of a financial indentured servitude to a student loan lender.  In the end, there needs to be a better balance in how we fund education, but it truly must be a "balance".  Simply saying "college should be free" diminishes the value of education, just as "20 years of crushing debt"  diminishes the prospects of some to actually obtain an education.  In order to change that balance though, I think some structural changes need to be made in American higher education.

Structural changes?  Well we need to re-focus just what higher education means in the United States.  What does, for example, having a feeder system for professional sports have to do with education?  College athletics started out as clubs of students playing games with students from other colleges, not about the development of big-league proto-professional athletes.  Time to break that cycle and get schools out of the sports business, as it's an expensive diversion.  Another cycle that must be broken is the notion of life time instructor tenure.  I'm sorry, but everyone should have to prove the value of their employment over and above simply the avoidance of getting fired in the past.  Finally, while I am as free-market as they come, I firmly disagree with the concept of "for profit" education.  Providing a college education is a service to humanity; it shouldn't be a service to investors.

I'm not pretending that simply getting rid of sports and tenure will make a college education affordable, but I am claiming that the basics of higher education need to change, from operations through how costs are passed along to students.  Our current system is simply unsustainable.  Society should encourage and share in these costs, but so too should the actual students who benefit from that education.

Sunday, April 19, 2015

"Shall we play a game?"

A follow-up to a follow-up, if you will.

You know, there are times when, within the course of a single day, I go from this feeling of "I'm an evil freak'n genius" to "I'm feeling almost in despair at the moment for reasons unknown" and lots of states in between.  I go from "Life is a blank canvas" to "I feel as if there are six invisible walls closing in on me", and (again) lots of states in between.

More than anything else, I suspect is the loss of a sense of control.

It is, despite the fact that I have a perfect batting average in dealing with life's ups-n-downs, a feeling as if I am but one crisis from some unimagined and non-articulate-able end state.

These sometimes feelings are horribly illogical, horribly so, for or a hundred and one reasons I could list right now, but I will not for reasons of both verbal economy and modesty.  The logic is even more undeniably stupid when you consider just where I started:  In a housing project, raised by a single mother who was barely able to keep it together.   Heck, anything north of crack addict or sterno-bum should deem me a success in life.

I do know that part of "it"* is a by-product of work, which as been more stressful than usual over the past few months.  This is despite, or in spite of, the fact that I've actually done some really good stuff of late.  Yet the work environment is difficult for someone of my wiring, for reasons such as:

Thinkers Beware
I like to think before I talk, yet that's really not how a corporate culture works.  I'm forever in situations where I have to run a shunt past my own best instincts simply because communication in the corporate world really is a real-time endeavor.  Now I am better communicator because of this need, but it comes at a cost.  Make no bones about it:  Corporate life is one where action comes before thinking.

Show No Fear
The corporate culture rewards confidence, and I can fake it really well, but again, it's not native equipment for me.  Now I know I do many things well, but I also know that the calculus inside my head is one of weighing and reviewing just about everything I do, twice over.  I get caught up in these review loops that can be very difficult to break.

Trust (or else)
I don't trust easily, and yet in the work environment trust is something that is almost expected, out of the box and without cost.  

I don't like competition or competitions.  I know, that's hardly an eye-opener, but yet so much of the modern business world really is a competition...
...To meet and exceed deadlines,
... for your supervisor's time,
...for the salary budget, 
...for a percentage of a bonus pool, 
...for "face time" during staff meetings, 
...for providing the best possible feedback when asked, be granted some token of appreciation for a job well done, be the one who comes in the earliest and stays the latest.  

Now when it comes to competition, I have only have two places in my head:  Winner and everything else.  What to know why I don't play card games, video games (against others) and countless other, similar things?  Because I absolutely hate to lose, so I end up driven to win at almost all (fair) cost, which literally sucks the life force out of me.  Again, I simply f&^%king hate to lose at anything.

The last item, above, is why in my civilian life I have adopted the philosophy of Joshua from the movie War Games:  The only winning move is not to play.  Unfortunately that's not always an option in the professional world.  Again, see above.

So, keeping the theme of the movie War Games going (it's a really good movie, by the way), what is the end strategy to this all?  I'm not entirely sure, but I do know this:  It's not something from the outside, yet certainly whatever I do on the inside will impact things on the outside.  Circular, I know.  Part of it is in this it genuinely helps me to understand how I feel about this stuff in this very sort of public, bloggy way.  Odd, huh?  I noted above that I don't trust easily, but yet I trust the whole Internet with my feelings.  It's not that horribly illogical when you think about it though:  This process makes me feel better because it's a thinking venue (rest assured that every.single.word written on this screen is here for a reason).  Also, while I sometimes feel massively out of control in other venues, I control every single word here.  Even the wacky sounding stuff is part of a well planned strategy that keeps in mind who might be reading this at any given moment.  Ah, control!

I think I'm feeling mildly better already.

Now to work on eating better and getting more sleep.

(*) I really need to give this feeling a name.  An ominous sounding name.  Something like "Morlock".

Thursday, April 16, 2015

(Recent) Lessons Learned

Call this one a quasi-follow up to the Decision Tree posting.

I'm sitting here at 8:57pm, trying to write this, but alas, I have little energy for the endeavor.  That's a good as any segue to the list.

In no particular order.

1) My Bandwidth
It isn't ever expanding, and things get weird when I really try to push beyond my means.  I've been running at about 120% for a while now, and I'm none the better for it.  Now this doesn't mean that I've been going 24/7, but it does mean that I've got so many things going on that when I do have some down-time, I'm simply too tired do anything.  It's a wonder that I've been able to keep up with the blog.  I feel oddly pushed by an assortment of things.  Some of the things are really good...really, really good...some not so good...but more so it's just that there have been so, so many of them lately.  And they all require bandwidth.

2) Fun Time
I think I am forgetting to have fun.  I was driving home yesterday thinking to myself "what little things do I do for fun?", and I really couldn't think of an answer.  How sad.  There are things I like to do, but I just don't make time for them on a regular basis.

3) Sleep
As in I am not getting enough.  I've always done that, as in not getting enough sleep, but when coupled with the "too many irons in the fire" thing, it gets worse.  I keep telling myself that I am going to bed earlier, but being in bed and actually getting to sleep are two distinctly different things.  Regardless of what time I go to bed I seem to always be up between 5:30-6:30am.

4) Physically
I feel physically just awful.  Rotten.  Bloated.  I can't seem to make the time to get to the gym regularly anymore, and my eating habits are getting horrible again.  I am suffering for daily headaches, mostly because, I think, I'm not wearing my glasses consistently.  I don't wear my glasses consistently because they give me headaches.  See where this is going?

I know the above is a pretty morbid read, but in reality there are a lot of things are going well.  See #1.  It's just that I really and truly need to learn how to better pace myself.

One would think that, at (nearly) age 51 I would have this stuff figured out, but that would be wrong.  Am I going to be this way when I'm 61?  71?  I hope not, but then again a lot of what we put on our own shoulders we do, in fact, put on our own shoulders.  I need to work on the off-loading bit.

In the interim, here's some thematic music, courtesy of Joe Walsh.

I really love this song by the way.  Joe Walsh is a very clever song-writer, in addition to being a terrific guitar player.

Speaking of guitar, one of the things that I've always wanted to do was to learn to play.  I even had a guitar once, but that got loaned out a few years ago.  Maybe once the continual crisis abates I should think about picking that up again.  This time around I happen to know a really, really good teacher.

Saturday, April 11, 2015

Decision Tree

I am both fascinated with and perplexed by decision making processes.

Now I've been contemplating something lately, a decision of sorts, and I have also been mightily fighting the urge to do what I normally do this cases such as this:  create a table, list pros and cons, etc.  Yet, either because of my failure to abide by old methods of decision making...or in spite of it...I am literally changing my mind about this particular subject on a daily basis.  One day it's "Choose A", the other it's "Choose B".  For the record, I don't have to choose "A" or "B" right now.  I may end up with only "A" or "B" by default.

The specifics aren't important here, and besides, they will eventually make it to the blog anyway.  Maybe.  What is important is my pondering about how I ponder decision making.  Got over-thinking?

Now the simple beauty of this is that maybe, just maybe, this is my golden learning opportunity to tackle this incessant issue of over-thinking that has dogged me for most of my conscious life.  In truth I have gotten tremendously better in dealing with the constant mental machinations that swirl in my head like so many currents in a giant mental ocean.  But "gotten better" doesn't mean "mission achieved".

One thing I do know for sure is the fact that while I'm very good at capturing concrete thoughts, figures, and other sorts of data points, I'm wholly inadequate when it comes to answer the following very basic question:  How do I FEEL about this?  You see, "feel" almost implies a singular, but in my case...and in support of poor English speakers's more like how I FEELS about something.  Again, my head is this constant swarm of ideas, images, thought, concepts and other stuff, all at once, mostly all the time.  Emotions?  I sometimes think they are difficult for me to pin down as a point of data for two reasons:

  1. They get crowded out (you know, by that constant swarm of ideas, images...).
  2. I have difficulty processing something as abstract as emotions...even (more like especially) my own.
#1 I can simply attribute to a lifetime of aways wanting to figure stuff out.  For example, as young kid I would take anything I could get my hands on apart (including a neighbor's phone once).  For another example, I would routinely bring the encyclopedia to bed to read.  Yes, while I could never get myself to read S.E. Hinton's The Outsiders, I did manage to get through the entire alphabet via Encyclopedia Britannica...a couple of times over.  For me, it's all about the data.

#2 comes from growing up.  Emotions were pretty much forbidden as a kid.

In the final analysis there is always a final analysis, meaning that regardless of my seemingly innate need to chew my thoughts like a piece of stringy beef, in the end I still have to make this decision (and many, many more of the rest of my life).  The trick, I think, is to improve the quality, not the quantity of my thought process.

Monday, April 6, 2015


I don't use the word "brilliant", as in a description of something exceptionally clever or talented, very often.  It's a good description though for the blog/website PostSecret.

The premise behind PostSecret is pretty simple:  People send in postcards containing things they are otherwise afraid to say in the real world.  I imagine that actually sending a secret to the PostSecret people is, in some way, therapeutic for the folks that participate.  For those that read the secrets, it's a mixture of fascination and cringe.  I've been reading the secrets for a while now, and what I've read has done everything from causing me sorrow to literally wanting to give my computer screen a high-five.

It is, as I previously noted, brilliant.  Do yourself a favor and check out PostSecret.  In addition to the link, above, you can find it on the listing of favorite blogs on this site.

Friday, April 3, 2015

My Remedy for the Mess in Indiana

Here is my official re-write of the Indiana Religious Freedom Restoration Act.

Section 1 - The Church Clause
No church or member of a clergy should ever be "forced" to officiate at a wedding that violated the rules, dogma, teachings or tradition of their sect.  Catholics should't be forced to marry Protestants, Muslims shouldn't be forced to marry Jews, Baptists shouldn't be forced to marry gay couples, Gay Church clergy should not be forced to marry straight couples, Moonies shouldn't be forced to marry just one couple, etc.

(Subsection 1) If a religion operates a not-for-profit business that only serves members of that sect, well then they can discriminate all they want.  If they serve others, as in any others, well then they actually have to serve others, as in all others.

Section 2 - The Public Market Clause
If you run a for-profit business in the public market, where you get all of the benefits of being in that public market, then you have to serve anyone in that public market who:

a) comes to buy your product/service
b) is of sound mind/body and is legally able to enter into a transaction
c) has the money to pay for your product/service

The only color that matters is green, the only orientation that matters is the one that spends money.

Section 3 - The Lawyer Clause
A merchant selling something doesn't equate to that same merchant endorsing the actions of their customer.  For example, a cupcake store that sells cupcakes to an ambulance chasing lawyer doesn't mean that the cupcake store owners endorse ambulance chasing; instead it just means that they endorse selling cupcakes.

Section 4 - Legal Remedy Clause
If you violate any of the rules noted above, then you can get sued, ridiculed, mocked on social media and just generally receive your comeuppance.