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Monday, February 29, 2016

John Oliver's Donald Trump Segment

Watch this, please.  It's worth 21 minutes of your time.

Trump is the only man on the planet who can make me actually root for Ted Cruz.

Tuesday, February 23, 2016

Advice to My Daughters: There Is No Instruction Manual

There is no instruction manual in life.  Especially when you become an adult.

Life is, at its very heart, a process of trial and error.  Of taking educated risks.  Of learning from your mistakes.  Of doing the very best you could under the circumstances at hand.

Life is a continuous journey towards something, but at times we're just not sure what that "something" actually is.  And this is okay.  There are lots of little stops and milestones along the way; enjoy them and learn from them, but they really aren't the "something".  T.S. Eliot was right:  It's about being on a journey where you end up arriving at the place you started and you know that place for the very first time.

Life is ultimately even-handed.  The most wealthy and famous among us sometimes suffer the most, and sometimes not-so-wealthy and unknown manage to live wonderful, fruitful lives.  Why?  Because the things in life that matter the very most can't be purchased and they have nothing to do with being well known or famous.  Our wealth and our notoriety (or lack thereof) don't dictate what kind of life we live...our actions and our attitudes do that instead.

Life is about kindness.  That kindness has to include yourself for it to have any real meaning though.

Life is about resisting advertising.  It's not the big, flashy things that matter the most or truly bring joy...rather, it's the simple things.  No expensive perfume purchased at Saks Fifth Avenue ever smelled better than a lilac bush in early May.

Life is about living within your means, but not because that's hard, prudent or what your parent's want you to do; no, it's about doing that because you deserve a life where you aren't held a slave to trinkets and things that are fleeting anyway.

Saturday, February 20, 2016


As we get older, I think many of us accumulate artifacts.  Now outside of those poor, unfortunate hoarders you see of television, for most of us the artifacts we have aren't all that many.  For me, I have a fair number of things, but I'd only consider a small number to be actual artifacts.  And here they are.

Well worm statue of the Virgin Mary
The Story:  I found this in the attic a few years (and places) ago, as I was going through an exceptionally painful period in my life.  She was kind of beat up, but still beautiful.  It looked like she needed a home, and I figured that since I do ask for an intercession from time to time, it might make sense to keep her with me.  She's now on her third home with me, and this time no further moves are contemplated.  As long as I am here working in my office she will be about 2 feet away, watching over things.

Idolatry?  Nahh, more like a simple reminder.

Penn State Brick
The Story:  This brick was part of a fundraising effort that the Penn State Harrisburg Alumni Society undertook back in the 90's.  The idea of sell the bricks...which came from a student housing development that was being demolished...was mine.  I loved my experience at Penn State Harrisburg, and the brick is the perfect reminder of that time.

The Story:  I have kept a few notebooks I've written in over the years.  Even in those pre-Internet years I was always writing about something, mostly in pen.  I also have one or two saved school notebooks.  The one below is actually from my senior year of high school, back when I actually knew how to write in cursive script.

Framed "art" from my daughters
The Story:  I've had this for a long time and every time I look at it I smile.  I know I haven't been a perfect dad, but I think I've been a good dad.  And I've certainly tried.  If success at parenting is measured in part by the success of children, then I must be doing okay, for my daughters all make me so very proud.

Piglet figure
The Story:  I have this at my work office.  It is a reminder of my daughters were younger and just like piglet...namely small and pink.

Dr Hunter S. Thompson Quote
The Story:  Framed, hanging on my home office wall, reading as follows:  "Every now and then when your life gets complicated and the weasels start closing in, the only cure is to load op on heinous chemicals and then drive like a bastard from Hollywood to Las Vegas...with the music at top volume and at least a pint of ether.".  I made this myself, complete with lamination.  Again, this goes back to a very difficult time in my life, and while I've never tried any illicit drugs (although I did have ether once, when I was 5 and had my burst appendix removed), I really like this quote because it is a reminder that when things get tough, the worst thing you can do is to just sit on your butt and feel bad for yourself or your situation.

Thursday, February 18, 2016

The nest is for nothing when the bird has flown

I couldn't think of a better title for this posting, so I did what any self-respecting music fan would do:  I used a lyric from a Jethro Tull song.

Anyway, as I noted a few days (or was it weeks?) ago, I've had to come face to face with a potentially very serious health issue.  The very and truly good news is that things aren't nearly as bad as they could have been.  Not quite a "new lease on life", but certainly far better than "I'm never going to live to see retirement".

All of this goes back to a heart-rate monitor at my doctor's office seeming to generate a series of random numbers while hooked up to my finger.  Fast forward to now and I've had more tests than I care to count, including a "Nuclear Stress Test", which involved injecting me not once but twice with radioactive stuff.  [Side note:  As I was reading about the test, one document cautioned folks like myself to stay away from "pregnant women and small children" for a while after the test, as apparently I was radioactive.].  Sadly, I didn't get Spiderman powers.  Anyway, because of the nature of things in my ticker...according to the nurse, for the test I needed to achieve and maintain a certain heart rate for a specified period of time...I couldn't do the walk-on-the-treadmill stress test.  No, I had to get the chemical version.  I wouldn't recommend that experience; while I've never taken an illegal drug in all my life, the chemical stress test must be something like a "bad trip".  The good part was that it was over quickly.

The result of countless tests and temporarily generating more than my share of gamma rays?  My heart is basically healthy.  No defects to speak of and, most importantly, no heart disease.  Finally, some benefit to living as close to a Mormon lifestyle as a non-Mormon can live.

Granted I still have a some work to do in this space, but thankfully my visions of surgery and other assorted horrible stuff will not likely come to fruition.  At least not for this particular malady.

The work I have in front of me includes reaching and maintaining a more healthy weight, which I am glad to report is going very well.  This will keep my blood pressure down naturally and also help me stay squarely in the "no heart disease" category.  I've spent most of my adult life watching my weight rise and fall like the tide in the Bay of Fundy, which isn't very healthy.  In fact, I wouldn't be shocked if my yo-yo weight changes played a role in all of this.

I wish I could report that, as a result of the above, I had some stellar words of advice...of the sort that would impress and inspire.  In point of fact I don't.  I don't feel inspired.  I mainly just feel relieved and I will add, grateful.  There is much yet for me to do.

Monday, February 15, 2016

Annual Performance Appraisal Advice

(from THIS site)

For those undergoing the annual ritual of the year-end performance appraisal, I offer the following completely free advice.

1) Don't fall into the trap of competition.
Ratings systems used at many organizations can create the illusion of a competition between employees for things like salary increase dollars, bonus money, even ratings themselves.  Don't fall into the trap.  Competition breeds jealousy and hard feelings.  It's a kind of rat poison to collaboration.  In the end, the only person you are truly competing against is yourself.

2) Understand that the feedback is being provided to (you), the employee.
Performance feedback at work is about you...the employee.  It's not about you...the human being.  You can be a completely wretched employee and be a truly good human being.  You can also be a model employee at work and be a serial killer at home.  Again, the feedback you receive at work is about you the employee, so don't take it as an indictment of you the person.

3)  For the most part it's horribly unscientific.
Looking for the rational basis for your performance rating?  Good luck, because it simply may not exist.  Performance appraisals are written by flawed human being, about other flawed human beings.  We human beings are filled with biases and outlooks that sway our opinions one way or another.  It's just the way it is.  Now if your performance rating is solely based on stuff like production numbers, well then good for you...I guess.  For the most part though, all of us are rated on things that go far beyond simply the facts of what we did and did not do.

4) Take the long view.
I know that it's in vogue for folks to hop from job to job these days, and I suspect that there is some value in that, but if you do remember that you will be more beholden to the impact that a one time good (or bad) performance appraisal will have on your psyche.  The better tactic, in my estimation, is to take a long view of your performance.  Yes, be focused on what you've recently done, but remember to also think about how performance appraisals can show how you've developed over time.

5) Your manger really sweats over the stuff.
Writing and providing performance feedback is hard work, and your manager likely puts a lot of effort into what you receive.  Even if you don't necessarily agree with the feedback, recognize that effort went into providing it.  Unless you have strong evidence that tells you the opposite, give your manager the benefit of the doubt.  Be gracious in the face constructive feedback.

6) Don't let them see you sweat.
Yes, be gracious in the face of constructive feedback, but do it also for the following reason:  You need to be in control of your reactions so that you can be in control over what happens next. If you are receiving constructive feedback, there is little doubt that your manager may be planning on your reacting in a ways that's, shall we say, "less than positive".  Don't do it.  Don't be so predictable.  Being gracious in the face of constructive feedback gives you some wiggle room to think about how you truly want to react.  Your immediate thoughts may not necessarily be the same as your thoughts an hour afterwards.  Writing that tirade of employee comments may make you feel good for a moment, but it will also last in your employee file for a far longer period of time afterwards.  The better reaction:  Smile and say "thank you".  You can always have a follow-up discussion the days and weeks to come (you know, at a time and place that you choose).  Anyone can be gracious in the face of congratulations, but it takes real character to be so when the opposite happens.

Thursday, February 11, 2016

Road Apples, #167

S L O W  D O W N...I've never been a fan of blogs/bloggers who talk about going "on hiatus" and stuff like that; for Pete's sake, we're not drafting a new's just a silly blog.  Anyway, I say this with the full knowledge that I just haven't been writing as much.  Now I should be writing more, as I don't have a graduate class at the moment, but sometimes, well, it's just not there.  Besides, I've been distracted by some personal health stuff, and quite frankly I just don't want to write about that any more than I already have, and I've already reached the point of it being nauseating.

New Vehicle...I've never, in my entire life, ever purchased a new vehicle.  Now I have purchased vehicles that were a year old and less than 10,000 miles, namely "nearly new".  All that changed on Saturday.  Actually it was going to change for a few months now.  Having a truck was something my wife and I have been thinking about (well me more than her) for a while now; we've been talking about getting some kayaks and having a truck would make actually using them far easier.  It's also nice from a home owner perspective.

The Big Sell...As noted above, I've been thinking about buying a truck, but I was leaning more towards something smaller than a full-sized model (think Nissan Frontier or Toyota Taco).  This past Saturday we had a few errands to run, so while running around we decided to stop at the local Nissan dealership just to see what they had in their inventory.  The answer was "virtually nothing", and not a soul came out to talk to us.  That was a mistake.  From there we stopped at a used car dealer my wife and I have both purchased vehicles from, but they had all of about two trucks.  Lastly, as we were leaving the Wyoming Valley Mall, almost on a lark we decided to stop by Valley Chevrolet to look at the new Chevy Colorado.  We were greeted within about 10 seconds of hitting the lot.

Fast forward three hours later and I'm less one Nissan Rogue and plus one 2016 Chevy Silverado.  Suffice to say we got a very good deal, and despite the usual new car sale gimmicky stuff, it felt like a good experience.  The vehicle has several nice features, but one was a must have for me:  A back-up camera.  The camera comes in a lot of the rental vehicles I drive, so I've learned to really appreciate just how helpful it is (especially when one suffers from "Walleye Vision" as I do).

Introvert 101...I'm about as introverted as a human being can get without ending up in an institution.  Yet I've had something of a revelation.  Actually, as a side note, how cool is it that I can still have revelations at my age?  Anyway, I've discovered that while I don't necessarily like/enjoy/get energy from talking to other people, sometimes I need to.  It's that when I really, really get into my introverted self, things can get distorted, as if my thoughts end up folding in upon themselves. I kind of fall into a mental loop of sorts.  Having a quick, non-business conversation sometimes helps me clear my head...a kind of re-boot if you will.

Musicians Dying...Can we call a cosmic halt to all the musicians dying?  It's getting a little pathetic.

Politics...basically disgusts me these days.  Why?  Let me count the ways.

I don't think college should be free.  Now it shouldn't put someone into debt until they are age 45, but free?  Absolutely not.  If something is valuable, then it's worth paying and sacrificing (just a bit...) for it.  Making college free creates an entitlement that we just don't need in this country.  There goes one candidate.

Bill Clinton did more damage to the regulation of financial services companies in this country than every Republican president before and after him.   Call me crazy, but as a result I'm not keen on "round 2" with his wife.  There goes another candidate.

Mexico will not pay for a fence.  Muslims don't have the word "Muslim" tattooed on their foreheads, for ease of identification, either.  I don't want a president with more bankruptcy experience than me.  There goes another candidate.

Ted Cruz is a used car salesman.  And it's not a new car dealership...or even an upscale used car dealership...either.  I'm talking about some crappy little place with a trailer for an office, garbage in the back and plenty of beat up 2003 Hyundai's in the lot.  Skip.

Marco Rubio looks like he should be bagging groceries at a Kroger.  He sounds like he should be bagging groceries at Kroger.  If I want a memorized script I'll go to Mass on Sunday.  Next.

Is Jeb! Bush even still running for President?

I could go on, but the point is made.

At this stage there is no one from either major party that even remotely appeals to me.

Thursday, February 4, 2016

Comment, Save Scranton Blog Posting

You can read the original posting and my comment HERE (or read the comment, below).

* * * * *

I've heard both sides of this argument for year now; like most things in life though, the truth is probably somewhere in the middle (although tilted towards the negative in this particular case).

Is the Chamber a bastion of insiders and the political/social elite?  Sure it is.  You could play bingo with the names you see in The Scranton Times that appear in a seemingly wide array of functions, institutions and events.  There is no doubt in my mind that personal objectives (mainly for power) do trump the common good.  The bigger sin least in my the fact that the Chamber has been virtually silent for decades about the oppressive tax structure in Scranton and the generally very poor level of governance throughout NEPA.

On the other hand, the Chamber just doesn't have a ton of real power.  If anything, the only "real" power they have is that of neglect.  A business that hires an outside consultant to scope areas for a new operation will look at a variety of factors when considering location.  If the facts support expansion/location in NEPA, well then it will happen.  Unfortunately, one of those "facts" is business tax structure which, as noted above, the Chamber seems pretty silent on for the most part.

Would I like a more positively activist Chamber for Scranton?  Sure.  That's not likely to happen though.  Part of the underlying problem is that voters in NEPA have a habit of voting based upon a perception of personal gain ("If I vote for Fred he will get my kid a teaching job") and just blind, willful ignorance ("I'm just going to pull the D lever"...note that I am a registered Democrat myself).  The real economic solutions in NEPA can be found in the voting booth, not the Chamber's door step.

Just my eight sense.

As always, I enjoy the blog.

- Steve Albert

* * * * *

A few additional thoughts.

I'm  not accusing the Chamber of anything approaching malicious intent.  If anything, I think the Chamber does do more than a few positive things.  The fact remains though that it's an organization that should be a strong advocate for low taxes and good government.  What is sorely lacking in NEPA in general and Scranton in particular?  That would be low taxes and good government.

The question of "why" is really what's intriguing in this case.

When all is said and done, there must be a sort of equilibrium that's been reached by the Chamber.  Some kind of state whereby the local business climate and political leadership are "good enough", otherwise why would they not be shouting the loudest, over the past 50 or more years, for change?

In the end, that's probably it actually:  For the Scranton Chamber of Commerce, things are "good enough".  Setting one's sights incredible low does have the advantage of making success always achievable.  It's a kind of trophy for just showing up.

Tuesday, February 2, 2016

Monty Python & Perception vs Reality

What you're told by drug companies about being on a blood thinning medication.

What's in my head as I think about being on a blood thinning medication.

Monday, February 1, 2016

Tango in the Night (in my head)


I had exactly 5,476 metaphors in my head to use in this posting, but in all honesty I just can't pull it off.   "Honesty" being the key word in that last sentence.  I note, with some pride, that I am always honest in these postings.  Whomever wants it can get with complete honesty what's in my head at any given time I choose to write.  Now this doesn't mean that I tell everything...I don't, so call me guilty of the occasional sin of omission, but not of deception.

Preamble completed.  On to the story.

A member of my extended family has been fighting a health issue for over a year now, and things came to something of a head a week and a half ago.  Details are neither important or required.  The good news on that front is that, well, there is good news.  Finally there is a decent chance for a recovery, and while the road will be tough, finally there seems to be a road to take.  In my head (and in my actions) I've been helping with this particular issue for a while now.  I don't say that for purposes of self-promotion.  It just is what it is, and to borrow a line from my favorite John Mellencamp song, "I do things my way and I pay a high price".  Life has a funny way though of reminding you that it is full of irony.

Now on to the ironic part.

I've been pretty open about my health in this blog.  Specifically...

...I have what a co-worker used to call "Walleye Vision"; medically the correct term is "Strabismus".  I makes for a funny parlor trick when I force my eyes to work together, but for the most part they never do, and I'm left with being nearsighted in one eye and farsighted in the other.

...I developed asthma at about age 48.  Go figure.

...I have had trouble maintaining a healthy weight, and along with that my blood pressure ebbs and flows like the tide in the Bay of Fundy.  At the moment it's really good actually, thank you very much.

Now on the plus side, I am very active, I can basically eat Crisco for a month and still have excellent cholesterol readings (my last total cholesterol reading was 145) and when I choose to, I can actually achieve and maintain a healthy weight.

So in the midst of finally getting some good news in the extended family heath department, I've learned that I'm now dealing with a malady known as "Atrial fibrillation with rapid ventricular response".  Try and say that fast three times.  It was caught by accident really; at a recent check-up the little "heart rate finger tip thingie" read my heart rate as being, and I kid you not, something like "64 then 89 then 113 then 90 then 74 then 102", all in about 30 seconds.  After strapping some electrodes, the above diagnosis was arrived at in short order.  Per my doctor, had I complained of not feeling well in the slightest of ways he would have sent me to the hospital.  As it stands, during the appointment I felt really well.  I swore to him.  I offered to run around the parking lot of his office to prove it.  He believed me, as I'm writing this from home, by the way.

Since then I've had enough blood drawn from my arm to paint a small wall and more electrodes strapped across my chest.  I've also seen a cardiologist on a haste basis.  More blood work to come this week and two more doctor's appointments.  One will tell me if I now have a heart that's normal sized or something more along the lines of what's typically seen in a sperm whale.  I'm hoping for the former.

The cardiologist, in between talking about the dangers of a possible stroke (which always makes for lovely & uplifting conversation, by the way) tells me that I've got a lot going for me in all of this mess... blood pressure is good blood work, with the exception of one indicator related to heart functioning, is excellent
...I've never smoked
...I don't, for the most part, drink any alcohol
...I've never used an illegal drug (or abused a legal one) in my life.

Again, all good stuff which makes the likelihood of my doing the "blood clot in the brain tango" less likely.

Have I mentioned that in the midst of this, I actually feel physically really good?

What's next and why the Hell did I even write this anyway?

In reverse order, I wasn't sure I wanted to even write about this, but how could I avoid it?  The dirty, not so secret fact here is that I write this stuff for me, and if something big is happening in my life, writing about it actually helps me in the information processing department.  I just happen to invite the whole Internet into the process (which is part of the process for me).  This will likely be a part of my life for maybe the rest of my life, so better to start dealing with it now.  As for tomorrow (as in "what's next?"), I'm going to continue to eat better and get my weight down to something healthier.  I've actually done the latter twice in my life, only to see it climb back, so third time is a charm.  I'm also hopeful that will end up being a big part of my overall treatment.

Mostly though, the whole thing is something of a pause for me actually.  It's rather cliched to talk about "life changing" stuff, and I'm not.  I have had some sad thoughts about this whole mess, but better those things come out now than sit and fester.  I'm not angry about this either.  It has reminded me though that life can change on a dime, so all the more reason to live in the present moment.

Thanks for reading.