Not Cease from Exploration

Monday, October 9, 2017

Witching Hours (and Days)

8:12am | Peabody, MA
I'm sitting in the lobby of a Hampton Inn (in some quarters also known as a "Hamster Inn"), located in Peabody, MA.  The free breakfast has been consumed, my Boston brand mint tea is finished, and I'm basically waiting for the rest of my traveling compatriots (Ms. River & my younger stepson) to complete their morning rituals.  The intent is to get on the road today, headed southwest back to Northeastern Pennsylvania.

Peabody, by the way, reminds me somewhat of central New Jersey.  The place sports continuous traffic, with a kind of non-descript, not-quite-industrial, look to it.  For the uninformed, Peabody is north-west of Salem and Boston.  No offense intended to New Jersey.  Or Peabody, which, by the way, is pronounced "pee-bidy", not "pea-body"(1).

This was our second mini-vacation of the year; the other was a trip to Vermont a few months ago.  I'm becoming something of a fan when it comes to the short vacation, mainly because it works well with my attention span (re:  Short).  One of the benefits of living where we do is the fact that there is a lot to see within a reasonable driving range.  I'm sure that's not the case everywhere...sorry residents of Idaho.  This trip entailed two days:  One in Salem and the other Boston.

I've been to both Salem and Boston before, although the former many, many years ago.  Boston?  I was last here about three or so years ago, but this time around we spent a fair amount of time in the Italian section of the city.

I enjoy walking, so hoofing about Boston was something I well tolerated.  The fact that there was a ton of good food also made it worth the time.  My weight/general health may somewhat disagree with that second sentiment, but hey, I can always work on that aspect of things.

The time in Salem was fun as well.  We took a cruise out onto the bay, which Ms. Rivers always enjoys.  I don't think that I'll have to work too hard to convince her that a retirement closer to the water would be a good idea.  The actual town of Salem is cute, especially this time of the year.  Its kind of like an extended, over-commercialized version of Haloween, except this one is for adults.  I could see where some of the more religiously conservative would be offended by the soft-selling of what they consider to be devil worship, but these days there is plenty of real evil in the world, so perhaps the "buy my trinkets" version isn't so bad after all.  Besides, I do think that there is a larger moral story to be found in Salem.

Part of that story, at least in my mind, centers around the need for a hard separation between church and state.  It's easy to take that for granted, but then someone like Roy Moore runs for United States Senate. Alarmist?  Perhaps, but then again hanging witches was considered pretty reasonable in the 1600s.

Another parallel story is playing out in the midst of this micro-vacation.  Over the past two weeks, I did two things that were important to me:  I cleaned out & did some necessary filing in our home office and reconciled my checking account (for the first time since January).  I am somewhat ashamed of both things, but I mention them here for a larger purpose.  Simply put, the past 12 months haven't been the easiest for me.  I don't want or need to get into those details(2) but the fact is that I allowed some things to get out of control.  Stacks of paper and an unreconciled checking account were a kind of avatar of sorts.  I will also note that someone in my extended family pointed out that some of what I've written on the blog over the past few months could be interpreted as being indicative of my not feeling well (my words, not theirs).  That made me first...and then the fact that they were basically right settled in my head.  Anyway, last weekend I spent an evening filing and cleaning up the office.  This weekend I went through nine months of bank statements and reconciled my checking account (I discovered my balance was's that for a procrastination reward?).  Does this make me feel better?  I'm not sure; then again, I wasn't entirely sure how I felt before feeling "better".  What matters more, I suspect, is the fact that I'm writing this in the first place.  Moving on.

I suspect that any moment my traveling companions will be down here, in the hotel lobby, wanting me to actually interact has a fellow human being.  That's a point Ms. Rivers made the other day (subtext:  It's rude to be playing on the phone while at a meal table...and she's right), so I'm going to close this chapter of the posting now.  With a bit of luck and light traffic, I'll be finishing this up from home this evening.

8:05pm | West Pittston, PA
The ride home was uneventful and traffic was more or less light.  That's somewhat surprising, in a positive way, but I'll take it anyway.  In other news, I can honestly say that I haven't been a complete slug since coming home, as I've managed to clean out two litter boxes and wash laundry.  This is in addition to unpacking from the trip and watching a few Star Trek Discovery short videos on YouTube (I'm still not sure whether I'll actually watch the show).

This week ends on a curious note, as on Friday the 13th of last year I was "retired" by my former employer.  There was a certain symmetry to the timing, I will give you that much.  This will be the only specific mention I'll make of it, as I've already said enough on the topic.  On one hand, I am almost glad that it happened, in the sense that I think it has left me a better person.  Adversity will do that sort of thing.  On the other hand, I still have a feeling of remorse about the whole darn thing.  And a feeling of failure.  I suspect I'll have those feelings for a long time (cue The Beatles:  "Boy, you're gonna carry that weight, carry that weight a long time").  Like most things in life though, it's not as much that it happened but rather what I've chosen to do about it that matters the very most.

(1) I had something of a bet with my wife regarding the pronunciation, which she won and I lost.  She still pronounces a "cubby" as a "cooby".  That must be a Philadelphia thing, you know, like "wudder" instead of "water".

(2) I actually wrote a fairly long blog posting about it, that I decided at the last moment to not publish.  I know, "why is that even relevant?".  It was one of those things that I think I needed to do for me, but then again I had the foresight to get a good night's sleep before hitting the publish button, which turned out to be a good idea.

Like these tiny endnotes?  You can thank the late David Foster Wallace, who used something very similar in Consider the Lobster (which I still haven't finished).

Sunday, October 8, 2017

5 Myths About Adulthood

Thinking back to when I was much younger, I had this notional idea in my head about what it would mean to be an adult.  Looking back now over a few decades of having been an adult, it's easy to see where things just haven't lived up to the vision I had as a child/young adult.  Here are five specific examples:

1.  Freedom
Myth - You can do whatever you want.
Reality - You can't; by and large you don't want to anyway.
Being able to do "whatever you want" doesn't mean you can actually do whatever you want.  For me, I think the biggest obstacle in adulthood is energy:  By the time I do all the things I need to do, such as my professional life, home responsibilities, etc., I basically don't have the time or the energy to do a lot of extra stuff.  If anything, I have to work really hard in order to be able to do at least some of the things I enjoy.  Sadly, sometimes it's easy for me to forget just what some of these things actually are.

2.  Money
Myth - Earning money makes your life far better.
Reality - Your overhead is considerably more than you ever imagined.
As a child (like most children) I only chose to see the having side of money.  Rightfully so, I didn't have much of a window into the other side of the financial equation, namely just how expensive life truly can be, especially when young children are involved.  Having to worry about paying bills is a kind of cancer that eats away at someone.  I've known both the worrying and the "I'm doing okay" side of things, and one is definitely better than the other.

3.  School 
Myth - School is boring and stupid; it will be far better to have a job.
Reality - School is a far, far easier gig than having a job.
This one is a slam dunk.  School was far, far easier for me than being in the working world has ever been.  Even my least challenging job was harder than my most difficult school experiences.  I want to note though that there is a corollary of sorts to this:  At least some of the work stuff has been far more rewarding than school.  This also loudly makes the case for adults to try and find "work" that they actually enjoy.  With me, well, I know what I enjoy, but I just have to find a way to do it more often.

4.  Relationships
Myth - "All I want is for someone to love me and it will all be okay."
Reality - People...and relationship...are far more complex than you think.
Young adults are such idealized romantics, and isn't that a wonderful thing?  Actually finding someone that you want to spend the result of your life with though is hard work, and for some, it should be even harder, because getting into a relationship can be far more difficult than getting out of one.  It's a kind of catch 22 actually:  When we are younger, at least some of us are in a hurry to find someone to spend the rest of our lives with, but yet that's when we are the least experienced with relationship and basic self-knowledge (we don't really know what we want ourselves in a relationship, let alone be able to articulate it to someone else).

5.  Health
Myth - Our bodies are indestructible and we can do whatever we want.
Reality - Our bodies tend to wear like car tires.
I never would have imagined how hard just living can be on the human body.  What's more, and in retrospect, I could have never conceived just how corrosive something like stress can be to my physical health.  It's nothing short of astounding.  As a younger person, I more or less took my health for granted.  These days?  Well, I can't.  Like some of the other points noted above, getting older means having to work harder (in this case, at my physical health).

Tuesday, October 3, 2017

Of Guns and Dead Children

On December 14, 2012, 20 children (and six adults) were slaughtered at Sandy Hook Elementary School(1).  That's an important date and fact to remember as we all process the most recent mass shooting in Las Vegas.  Why?

Well, I by no means wish to minimize the tragedy in Las Vegas, but the simple fact is this:  As a nation, we did BASICALLY NOTHING after 20 children were slaughtered.  Yes, we really did nothing.  What was done?  Well, among other things, the gun manufacturing industry, via its proxy the National Rifle Association, advocated for the purchase of more of its product through the arming of school personnel(2).  Yes, the solution to gun violence is more guns.  That's what we call in the business world "Marketing Genius" in action.  

By the way, I'm advocating for any specific form of gun control.  I've simply stated two facts.

In the end, I firmly believe that NOTHING will be done in response to the Las Vegas shooting.  Nothing.  That decision was already made in the in the days, weeks, and months after December 14, 2012.  Sadly, it will have to get much worse...worse than the slaughter of 20 children...before anything is done.  As much as anything else in this nation's history, that will be a permanent stain on our collective morality.

(1) Citation HERE.
(2) Citation HERE.

Saturday, September 30, 2017

New Beatitudes for the Angry Religious Right

You can read the actual Beatitudes, as recorded in the Gospel according to Matthew, HERE.

Here is my version, crafted for the angry religious right (regardless of the actual religion).

"Now when the preacher saw the potential for more money he went on television and began to teach to those who are perpetually gullible.

Blessed are the rich,
for they shall buy into the kingdom of heaven.

Blessed are angry, 
for they shall find comfort in the pain of others.

Blessed are the boisterous,
for they shall be called winners.

Blessed are the gluttonous, 
for they shall feel success in their excess.

Blessed are the spiteful, 
for they shall see that mercy is for suckers.

Blessed are the cold of heart, 
for they shall know that compassion is only for losers.

Blessed are the warmakers, 
for they shall be called conquerors of men.

Blessed are those who discriminate in the name of the lord, 
for theirs is the kingdom of Earth."

* * * * * *

To end this on a more positive note:

"Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves."
Philippians 2:3

Saturday, September 23, 2017

A Letter to United States Senator Pat Toomey

The text of an email I sent to United States Senator Pat Toomey on September 23, 2017.

* * * * * *

Dear Senator Toomey,

I am writing you today to ask that you not support the Cassidy-Graham legislation pending in the United States Senate.  My reasoning for this request is both simple and straightforward:  I have two siblings who would not have medical insurance coverage without the benefits provided by the Affordable Care Act (ACA).  More specifically, neither sibling would be able to afford the cost of private medical insurance without the subsidies provided by the ACA.  I am sure that, in the United States today, they are far from alone.

Given the above as my ask of you, I have a question that I sincerely hope you will answer:  Why would you...or any other member of Congress for that any legislation that would result in fewer people being able to afford health insurance?  Regardless of politics and political affiliation, that seems to be inherently wrong, as I am sure that you, like me, are thankful for the healthcare coverage that our employers provide.

In the case of my siblings, one works in an industry that does not provide employer healthcare coverage and the other is disabled (but does not qualify for coverage through Medicare or Medicaid).

I am deeply troubled that, in Congress today, the problem being solved isn't one of providing medical coverage for those that can not afford it; rather, it seems that the emphasis is instead on budgetary and tax policy.  It's as if somehow some believe that we can't both provide health care coverage to those who needed it AND have a better functioning tax system.  The two are not mutually exclusive.

Again, and to be very direct, in the absence of the ACA, two members of my immediate family WILL NO LONGER HAVE healthcare coverage.  That's not an exaggeration, it's not an example, it's not hyperbole, it's not a partisan talking's a simple fact.  Senator Toomey, they will no longer be able to afford healthcare coverage.  Period.  I ask that, as you consider your vote, you think of individuals (across Pennsylvania and the United States) such as my family members and vote with their interests in mind.

I respectfully ask for your reply to this correspondence.

Steve Albert
West Pittston, PA

Sunday, September 17, 2017

Road Apples, #174

LinkedIn...I did something recently that I've had as a goal of sorts for a while now:  I created a posting specifically for LinkedIn.  You can view it on my LinkedIn profile or on this site (HERE).  Why?  I think it's a way for me to bridge, in a way, what I (at least try to) do professionally with part of the "personal" me (this blog); I've always wanted to have something that did both, perhaps in the ultimate hope that I could steer my career more towards what I enjoy doing.  As for frequency, well in a perfect world, I would post more professional content in LinkedIn on a monthly basis.  We'll see how that goes.

Feel free, by the way, to connect with me on LinkedIn; you will find my profile HERE.

Earworm...I almost always have a song running through my head.  Pretty odd, considering my complete and utter lack of any musical talent, but factually true never the less.  Anyway, and for some odd reason, a few days ago I had the song "Someday" by Sugar Ray playing in my head.  I kid you not.  For the record, I really don't like that song, which makes me wonder why, in the name of all that is good, it would be in my head anyway.  Regardless, having that song pinging around in my head did lead me to a conclusion of sorts:  Sugar Ray is basically a less edgy version of Nickelback.

Anyway, here's something of a counter-agent:

Chicken Pops...An update:  I continue to be very tired, all too often.  I know, boo-freak'n-hoo!  It basically turbo-charges the normal, every-day stress that I (and really everyone) find myself under.  Hopefully, things are on the up-swing.

Tech Review...I recently purchased a Samsung S3 smartwatch.  You can read about the product HERE.  The good?
(Image owned by Samsung; link HERE)

  • It actually looks and feels like a higher-end watch, not something from an old Dick Tracy cartoon.
  • Terrific, intuitive functionality. 
  • The heart-rate monitor...a very big deal for impressive.  Among other things, it includes the ability to tag heart rates.
  • Outstanding integration with my Samsung Galaxy phone.  When paired, it's basically as if I have a single device.
  • The inductive charging stand looks...and functions...better than the traditional cable set-up. 
The not-so-good?
  • It's a bit bigger on my wrist than what I'm used to wearing, even bigger than THIS watch.  Then again, what I usually wear, a Fitbit Charge HR, is very light.
  • The notifications can easily distract me, but that says more about my attention span than the gear itself.
I'm saving the Charge HR, by the way, for weekend duty.  All told and so far?  I'd highly recommend it.

Seasons...It looks as if the upcoming week will be warm.  Typical "Indian Summer" kind of thing.  It's all a warning...or promise...of sorts, of the last gasp of a summer soon to be departed.  I'm good with it either way.

Retail 101...Granted that I haven't worked retail in a long time, but there has to be some kind of metric employed by retailers to measure the speed of checkout.  An especially challenged company?  By far and away it's the Bon Ton.  Sales associates seem to need a Ph.D.'s worth of knowledge to figure out how all of the sales, clearance, flyer coupons, Internet coupons, etc. all work.  The sum total of all that miscellaneous "stuff" sometimes makes the checkout process painfully slow.  While it's pretty aggravating, I do my best to remember as I'm standing behind someone with 4 articles of clothing and 8 coupons, that those pricing policies aren't set at the local store.  If anything, I feel very bad for Bon Ton sales associates as they wade through what seems like untenable amounts of confusion (and customers upset that it takes ten minutes to buy a dress shirt).

Sunday, September 10, 2017

Six Professional Lessons Learned

Before anything else, I want to note that anyone can be a professional.  It's not about what you do for a living, but rather it's about how you see yourself and how you act as you go about your business.  To that point, I've met some exceedingly professional individuals in the trades and some extremely unprofessional folks with fancy titles and degrees.

On to the point(s) at hand.

I've been in the workforce now for almost 30 years, and I'd like to think that I've learned a few things along the way.  Here are six things that come to mind as being particularly important.  I don't pretend for a single moment that I've mastered these things myself; to the contrary, I likely fail often at all of them.  The point though isn't so much acknowledging failure as it is acknowledging and living in truth.  With that in mind, here's my list.

First and Foremost:  Be A Decent Human Being
Organizations don't have souls.  They are an artificial construct of the law and social behavior, designed to create order for a purpose.  Human beings, on the other hand, have souls.  They also have hopes, needs, aspirations, and feelings.  It astounds me to no end the degree to which some folks, and I've met plenty in my lifetime, will make the conscious decision to put an artificial construct...a organization...before that of a human being.

Now don't get me wrong:  In organizations, sometimes tough decisions need to be made.  I've laid people off, and it's happened to me (well, technically I was "retired").  That action in and of itself is not the point at all.  Rather, what's at stake here is how one human treats another human, especially during times of duress.  In fact, it's during the tough times that we need to work HARDER at showing empathy towards our fellow humans.  I don't buy for a single moment the notion that tough decisions in a professional environment need to be made and executed in a sterile, unfeeling manner.  That's a cop-out of the highest order, one that devalues our fellow human beings and ultimately poisons our own souls.

What we all need to do is always work at simply being a decent human being in our professional lives, in the good times and, as noted above, especially during the bad.  Be kind.  Be considerate.  Spend as much time talking to the maintenance staff as you do that leader you want to impress.  Listen to your co-workers.  Hold the door open for someone who has their hands full.  If you see someone struggling, offer to help.  This isn't hard:  Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.

Second:  Keep Your Word
Return phone calls.  Answer emails.  Honor your commitments.  If something keeps you from honoring a commitment, apologize and try to remedy the situation.  The magnitude doesn't matter because what's small to me may be big to you.

Third:  Value Diversity (especially diversity of thought)
There are few things sadder than seeing the leaders of an it a group, a senior leadership team or a board of directors...look like they are all brothers from the same mother.  No good interests are served by surrounding oneself with those who look and think like you.  Diversity isn't just some nebulous concept created by rich liberals; it's a basic tenant of biology.  Inbreeding is dangerous for both procreation AND organizations.  

How can we live in diversity?  Give people permission to challenge you.  Give yourself permission to challenge others.  Above all else, don't fall into the ego trap of believing that no one can teach you, because it's at that point when your ultimate failure actually begins.  Don't walk away from that person who always seems to have a different opinion than you...instead, walk towards them.

Fourth:  You'll Sometimes Get In Trouble For Doing The Right Thing (but do it anyway)
I've done a few things in my nearly thirty-year professional life that have likely harmed my especially comes to mind...and that's okay, especially in those instances when I knew my intentions were good and for the benefit of other humans (see the first point).  The simple fact is this:  Sometimes you'll be punished for doing the right thing, but that's the cost of doing business the right way, so do it anyway.

I want to believe that, in the end, doing right for the sake of right ultimately does provide a reward, even if that reward is as simple as a John Mellencamp once noted in a song:

Fifth:  Never Stop Changing
We can choose to change with the world around us, or we can choose to passively watch as the world passes us by.  The former will keep us interested and engaged; the latter will almost always yield bitterness and fear.  When we think about it that way, it's actually not too difficult of a choice.  Like most things though, I think what holds us back...well, I know it holds me fear.  That's ironic:  We're afraid of change, but yet we should actually be afraid of NOT changing. 

Sixth:  We Are All Equally Flawed
We are all, each and every one of us, equally flawed.  No one has it completely figured out.  That person at work who seems to have his/her "stuff" together?  More likely than not, they are simply better at maintaining appearances than you or I.  Life is ultimately a very democratic thing:  We all have challenges, we all have fears, we all have hopes, we all have aspirations.  That goes equally for security guards and CEOs.  Labels and expensive suits are simply wrappers, a kind of plumage if you will, designed for a specific purpose but still masking a naked bird underneath.  Of the six things listed in this posting, this one is the most difficult for me to consistently master.  I was simply raised to, almost by default, always assume that the problem facing me at the moment is both unique to me and wholly my fault anyway.   Neither is usually true.

* * * * * *

A bonus:  Always assume positive intent.  That's not so much a separate lesson as it is a kind of lubrication for the other six.

Tuesday, September 5, 2017


As I start writing this, it's Labor Day, September 4th.  That means that it's less than a month to go until October.  Dreaded October.  What's so "dreaded" about October?  Well, the month has not been friendly to me over the years, a point I've made time and time again.  In fact, some of the most angst-ridden stuff I've written, going back years, was in the month of October.

Just how bad is the month for me?  Well in 2016 I decided I wasn't going to have any more of October's negative mojo, so I embarked on a campaign to "Make October Great Again".  I even had a graphic.  My thought was that I would flood the month full of positive stuff, rendering its powers merciless at my onslaught of all things good.

Then, well, I was "retired" from a company I had which had employed me for nearly 28 years.

Once again, October was not to be denied.

I've thought about bringing the "Make October Great Again" campaign back, but then I got worried that something else not-so-great could happen...for example, I could come down with scurvy...or trench foot...or lose my job it's likely that won't be happening anytime soon.  I'm not one for tempting fate.  Especially when it's called October.

So what's left to do?

Well, I am trying to fill the month with plenty of things to do.  Some are fun, such as a hike up to Ricketts Glen State Park (with my mother-in-law), others will be more strategic, such as studying for my SPHR designation.  I've got less than a month to go, and I've still got a lot of time to fill, so I had better finish my planning.  October looms.

Lastly, and as I've noted countless times before, I actually want to like October.  The weather is ideal, I enjoy Halloween, and I like getting the yard/house ready for the winter.  It just doesn't seem to like me all that much, but maybe there's hope.  Come on October, work with me a bit on this one.

(October at the Kinzua Dam)

Saturday, September 2, 2017

Useless, Useless

It's said that John Wilkes Booth, as he emerged from a burning barn (after also having been shot by Union soldiers) looked at his hands and said "useless, useless"*.

I've always been fascinated by that quote, and lately, well, I've been thinking about it more than usual.

Why?  Well, I think it's just a part of the fact that it's been a difficult year.  Now I have gotten recognized over the years by friends and co-workers for my ability to (mostly) remain calm and collected in difficult situations, but there's a reason why that's the case:  I didn't grow up in an environment that encouraged emotional expression.  So you see, (mostly) being calm and collected is relatively easy for me.  Like many seeming "strengths" though, it comes at a cost.

The truth is that I'm not good at expressing most emotions.

Now with the above, I know that I join the ranks of about 98.6% of all men, but this is more than just trying to meet a social norm.  Growing up, there was a kind of punishment of sorts associated with being anything outside of a basic okay.  I think for my mother, it was everything she could do to keep the ship afloat, so anything that might rock that ship, anything that distracted from the mission of just getting through things, was strongly discouraged.  On one level I understand that; on another level, well, I'm am both appalled and confused.

As a parent myself, the appalled part is readily apparent to me, and I'll note that having three daughters greatly helped in that department.  They simply never would have allowed me to get away with the "everything must be okay or else" manifesto.  In a way, the students were the teacher.  Children have an absolute right to feel a wide range of emotions and have those emotions acknowledged.  Now I was not a perfect parent, and I failed on many occasions as a father, but emotional suppression for my own benefit and/or convenience wasn't among my sins.

Confusion over my own emotional expression has a kind of radioactive half-life that I continue to unpack, a third of the way into my 50s.  Yes, I do get angry, but I also almost always feel a great deal of guilt over that anger immediately after the fact.  On the other end of the spectrum, I'm sometimes afraid to feel joy, as to me it feels like a kind of gaseous thing that, once uncorked, would dissipate, never to return.  In between the two, a calm demeanor hides sometimes more wide swings inside my head that I don't normally cop to, but since I'm already in the hole with this posting, I might as well be all the way in the hole.  No sense doing this self-expression thing half-assed.

N.B.:  This is, in part, why this whole blog thing has existed for so long, namely that I have plenty of things in my head.

So where to go from here?  I know I need to work on this stuff.  Heck, I've known I need to work on this stuff for a very long time.  And I'm trying**.  I can't say with a whole lot of certainty that I expect any success from my efforts, and despite what I've noted here on so many prior occasions, this is one instance where there should be a kind of destination (as opposed to just the journey itself).  However, I'm going to keep on trying.  Maybe I'm simply hoping for a kind of self-help version of the "Golden BB".  Maybe all of this has happened before*** and will happen again.

Maybe tired people shouldn't be allowed near keyboards.

Maybe I should simply write more about politics.  Or cats.

* * * * * *

A few end notes:

(*) Citation HERE.

(**) I've actually read quite a bit about this topic in the past, and I am currently reading Running on Empty by Dr. Jonice Webb.

(***) After having written about 75% of this posting, I checked and discovered that I've actually posted on this topic...using this same title...before, in 2009.  See HERE.  That's probably not the first time this has happened before (see above), but it's also okay,  I think it a adds a kind of veracity to the posting.

Sunday, August 27, 2017

Local Blogging Events

In NEPA we have Blogfest and BlogCon.  I know some folks who work hard on both events, and I've actually attended Blogfest a time or two.

(Blogfest 2010:  One of Mary Borthwick's sons, me, and a former Congressman; photo credit to Joe Valenti)

I've never been to BlogCon though, despite the fact that I actually think I write more than most other bloggers in NEPA.  A notable exception would be that over-achiever Andy Palumbo, but in all fairness, I think his postings that just have train pictures shouldn't count.

Anyway, and in complete honesty, I feel like I'm too old for BlogCon.  That's not a knock against the event, as I know that the topics are well thought-out.  However, I'm not interested in monetizing my blog and I don't really care about SEO (I barely know what SEO actually is*).  Should, by the way, I actually care about SEO?  It certainly sounds like very serious stuff, the kind of thing that younger types ponder as the sit and drink Pabst Blue Ribbon while simultaneously listening to Arcade Fire.

The above is actually far more about my insecurities as an audience member than anything else.  Words can not describe how incredibly uncomfortable I would feel sitting in a classroom during a blogging event surrounded by people younger than my oldest daughter.  My thought bubble imagines someone sitting next to me thinking "why's the old guy here?  At his age shouldn't he already know about SEO?".

Anyway, you can link to BlogCon HERE.  Note that the proceeds from BlogCon go to help fund a very worthy endeavor for local girls, SO PLEASE DO SUPPORT IT.
A close second on the uncomfortable scale for me is usually my attendance at Blogfest.  I don't mingle well, that is unless I'm doing it professionally (I stink at it then too, but at least I know I'm getting paid...).  Then there are the politicians, most of whom I don't really know.  That leads to the inevitable awkward conversation about me and my blog, where the politician tries to figure out if I'm worth spending time with; the answer is, by the way, NO.  Granted (and as previously noted), I have actually attended Blogfest though, which at least shows that I'm willing to try and engage in cross-human interactions every once in a while.  As for Blogfest 2017, well, I'm not sure.

I'd link to Blogfest as well, but there isn't a page for it yet.

(*) Search Engine Optimization

Tuesday, August 22, 2017

Scranton, circa 1968

I saw this photograph online somewhere and immediately had to grab it.  It was, shall we say, evocative.

One of the few memories I have of spending time with my father as a young child was at a bar.  I don't know the year, but 1968 will do just fine.  The bar itself was in downtown Scranton, maybe on Adams Avenue.  I don't remember too many other specifics, but one thing has stuck with me nearly a half a century later:  The smell.

The smell was of beer, and cigarettes, and maybe some urine thrown in for good measure.  It was a stale, almost heavy smell.  Like an invisible fog of stink.

Fast forward almost 50 years and I readily confess to not liking bars, as manifest by the fact that I've been to them recreationally (that is not for a specific event or gathering) less than a dozen times as an adult.

In retrospect, it just seemed all wrong.  Not the trip to the bar itself all those years ago, but more so the totality of the whole thing.  That memory has a kind of despair associated with it.  Related to that, I could never understand my late brother's consumption of alcohol, but maybe that's because he didn't have that experience back all those years ago.  Granted, I will confess to periods of time in my life when I did drink, but for the most part, I have abstained.  The short and easy answer to the question of "why" is that I don't like how it (booze) makes me feel; the better answer is that the thought of drinking (especially beer) mentally brings me down a path that seems to always land back at that bar circa 1968, back to that smell.  Back to a kind of despair that I can't quite describe, but yet somehow understand never the less.

Sunday, August 13, 2017



That's the approximate number of American casualties in the European Theatre of Operations during World War II*.

This is an important number to remember, especially in light of recent events in Virginia, where NAZIs and other assorted racists clashed with counter-protesters.  Now some on the fringe-right are going to call those counter-protestors "Anti-Fa" or "AntiFa" or some derivation therein, and use their presence and tactics at NAZI rallies to somehow deflect from the fact that, well, NAZIs are actually protesting in the United States.  In 2017.  It's all smoke and mirrors, a kind of nuevo way to make NAZIs and their NAZI tactics seem somehow reasonable in comparison.  It's a 12-year-old boy named Johnny trying to excuse his bad behavior by saying "yeah, but look at what Timmy did!", except for the fact that Johnny happens to be a NAZI.

Just remember the 182,893.

Our grandfathers and great-grandfathers were among those 182,893 who crossed the Atlantic Ocean to crush fascism, that soft political veneer intended to hide true monstrous nature of NAZI ideology.  This, lest we forget, is the ideology that created the Holocaust.

These NAZI and NAZI-minded marchers in Virginia (and elsewhere) aren't just a collection of nuts with guns that should be ignored.  They are moral descendants of the monsters who killed nearly 6 million Jews during World War II.  Looking the other way, ignoring their actions, somehow trying to explain away their presence is morally bankrupt.  It also denies the sacrifice of 182,893 Americans.

Twice in my life, I've been blessed to hear first-hand accounts from NAZI concentration camp survivors.  These individuals shared their stories of inhuman actions on the part of NAZIs in the hope that it would never happen again.  Yet here we are, and unless good people act, it will, in fact, happen again.

I have one request, one ask if you will, one purpose for this posting:  Don't forget the 182,893 and what they fought (and some died) for; don't allow discussions about what happened in Virginia to devolve into ridiculous squabbles about statues, the "Antifa", "Black Lives Matter", or any number of other distractions.  Don't take the bait.  This is about NAZIs and NAZI ideology.  It's about "people" (and I almost don't want to use that word in this context) walking around wearing tee shirts actually quoting Adolf Hitler as if he were some kind of Emo poet instead of a mass-murdering monster.

For the record, I doubt I'll follow-up this posting.  Why?  It simply took too much energy on my part, and I am already saddened at the prospect that I know people who will read this and somehow feel compelled to deflect and change the story related to Virginia, away from NAZI ideology and towards some other detail, all the while providing air-cover for monsters.

Finally, what happened in Virginia is a red-line kind of event:  You stand on the side of NAZIs or you stand on the side that included the 182,893.  There is no in-between, no neutral zone.  If you choose to stand for defend, deflect, or enable provide air cover for monsters...just know that YOU OWN EVERYTHING that goes with NAZI ideology.  EVERYTHING.  May God have mercy on your soul.

- Steve

* * * * * *

(*) This is a harder number to determine than one might think it should be.  Citation HERE.  The number includes MIA, KIA, POWs and injuries.

Saturday, August 12, 2017

Vermontesque #2 - You're My Best Friend

Friday morning and I'm typing this while Ms. Rivers is still sound asleep.  She firmly believes in the "you can catch up on sleep" myth, mainly because she goes to bed late during the week and gets up early to get some professional work done before the crack of dawn.  Me?  I mostly just hate sleeping.  Anyway, after our long bike trek yesterday, along with plenty of walking, she's entitled.

Thinking about Thursday, one odd thing stuck in my head:  We were taking a break from our bike ride, sitting in a nice lake-side park, watching water and people walking/biking by.  A rather scruffy young man was biking by, complete with scraggly hair, no shirt, ratty shorts, etc.  He was blasting music as he peddled along.  What was he playing?  Nine Inch Nails (make that "Noine Inch Nails" for all you Howard Stern fans out there)?  Rage Against the Machine?  Arcade Fire (just one really listens to Arcade Fire)?  Nope; it was "You're My Best Friend" by Queen.  I kid you not.

That's probably the most Vermont thing I've seen/heard so far.

* * * * * *

Saturday morning and it's just about time for packing up and shipping out.  I had every intention of finishing this posting last night, but I was simply too tired.  Speaking of yesterday, the day was spent at the Ben & Jerry's ice cream plant, wandering around an outdoor mall in Burlington, and a sunset (make that "cloudset" in our case) sailing cruise on Lake Champlain.  A splendid time was guaranteed for all, and by and large, it delivered.

Anyway, here are yesterday's Vermont observations:
  • Solar is a really big deal around these parts, which is interesting, given the fact that Burlington seems to get fewer sunny days than average (reference HERE).  
  • Burlington itself isn't all that large of a town, think Wilkes-Boro in size.  Yet the downtown was pretty vibrant, by and large (see below).  Then again, as a local explained it, this is a "six months of outdoor activity" kind of town, so maybe it's a year's worth of activity packed into half a year.
  • I discovered that there are, in fact, at least one or two flavors of Ben & Jerry's ice cream that I will eat.  Oh, and by the way, the hippies no longer own the business.
  • By and large, we saw a lot of younger families.  That was interesting in that the economy in Vermont apparently isn't all that great (according to our sailing ship captain, who was a great guy), and traditionally....well ever since they finished clear-cutting the forests back in the 1800...has never been all that great to begin with.  
  • The world's tallest filing cabinet is stupid.  Take our word for it.
  • Burlington as a downtown mall (indoor) mall that is struggling.  Something of a not-Scranton surprise in that regard, although there are plans afoot, apparently, to remedy the situation.  Ms. Rivers and I did enjoy the outdoor shopping area though.

Lastly, if you're in the Burlington area, you should check out the Whistling Man Schooner Company, which was the boat we sailed on Friday evening.  Beautiful boat, a nice cruise, and an informative captain.  Highly recommended.

Thursday, August 10, 2017

Vermontesque #1 - Whiter Than Sour Cream

Greetings from Vermont, which, I am told, is actually one of the least diverse states in the Union.  So far I've seen little evidence to refute that idea.

At the moment I'm sitting in a Courtyard by Marriott hotel room, waiting for the day's events to begin.  Those events include a maritime museum and bike riding along Lake Champlain.  Getting here yesterday was on the long side...something like six hours of highway and country road driving...but that's the cost of admission whenever you want to go some place and you have the attention span of a gnat.

Speaking of yesterday, it was another day for me of feeling exhausted.  This at least partially relates back to my case of "Chicken Pops, Part Deux", with the added self-inflicted wound of my having stayed up very late the night before working on something.  Late, as in 1:30 am.  Not sure if that was worth the effort, but we shall see.  Anyway, I know I wasn't the greatest of company, but fortunately, Ms. Rivers is understanding (in addition to being smart and beautiful).

* * * * * *

Fast forward to 9:30 pm, and it's been a busy day.  Like most Albert-Rivers vacation days, it's been pretty busy.  Among other things, we logged about 15 miles of bike riding along Lake Champlain.  Dinner was some wonderful Asian bistro...whatever that actually means, other than Mongolian beef I had and the curry shrimp that Ms. River had (which apparently was pretty spicy).  One would think that by now I'd be tired, but for whatever reason, it's now "second wind" time.

Anyway, here are a few Vermont observations:

  • It really is pretty damn white here.  According to one website, Vermont is second only to West Virginia in terms of absolute white-ness.  I can understand the West Virginia part by the way.
  • People look pretty healthy in these parts.  Seriously, pretty healthy, as in the average NEPA resident looks like a slug in comparison.  And we're definitely not talking about a place where, by the way, folks engage in running all year round.  With over 70 inches of snow in the Burlington area, I would think that the outdoors kind of shut down for several months at a time.
  • You don't see a ton of out-of-state license plates around, which is understandable, given the fact that it's not the easiest state in the union to get to via car.
  • Biking is a big deal in Burlington.  Many of the roads have a dedicated bike lane.
(Defacing public property, Vermont style)

If it weren't for the 10-degree average low in January and the previously mentioned 70+ inches of snow this might a great place to retire.

As for tomorrow, well we have some wandering around time planned in Burlington, the Ben and Jerry's ice cream tour, and a twilight cruise on Lake Champlain.  A splendid time is guaranteed for all.

Ten years ago I couldn't have imagined being where I am now, namely thinking back over a day of detachment and relaxation in Vermont.  I suspect there's a larger lesson in that last statement, some ground that I've already covered here before:  Each of us, all of us, have a shot at redemption.

Wednesday, August 9, 2017

Andy Palumbo's 08.09.2017 Blog Posting

You can read it HERE.

In this particular posting, Mr. Palumbo (Side note:  I'm 53 years old, so at what point can I stop calling other men "Mister"?  Still, "Andy" sounds so familiar...but so I digress.) shares another blog posting that talks about, well, blogs and blog posting from the perspective of another reporter.  So what's so special from my perspective?  Well, here's one of the several points made in the posting that I wholeheartedly agree with:

"So like I said, my blog is more for me than it is for my readers. Because, to be honest, I don't know if I actually have any in the first place."

In fact, here's a portion of my very first posting on (dated October 27, 2008):

"So there you go. Now whether sixty people read this or six, it doesn't matter a bit to me. I don't generally write for anyone but myself. Now that might sound selfish, but so be it. As someone who at least tries to do for others (as a husband, father, friend, etc.), I think I'm entitled to at least this much of a selfish indulgence."

A bit of affirmation is good for the soul.

Speaking of goodness and affirmation, in about an hour or so a three or so day vacation to Vermont is about to commence.  I'm looking forward to it, if for no other reason than the fact that I can use a bit of rest.  Camera and laptop will be in tow, along with a new book on the Protestant Reformation (a bit of "light" reading).

Sunday, August 6, 2017

10 Things I Have Learned from the Mediatakeout Facebook Feed

Mediatakeout is an urban culture Facebook feed that you can experience for yourself HERE.  Be forewarned:  It's not always G-rated.  Well, it's actually never G-rated.

1.  Always take out your weave before getting into a fight.  Seriously, it looks like a dead animal once it's laying there on the ground, post being ripped off of one's head.

2.  BAE is good.  THOT is bad.  INSTA-THOT is even worse.

3.  "Got hands" means that one is skilled at fighting.

4.  No matter how cruel or dire the situation, you can rest easy knowing that someone will be there...not to help...but to capture the agony on a cell phone video.

5.  Meek Mill and Nicki Minaj used to like each other, but now they don't.  They really don't.

6.  Drake may or may not be gay, but his father certainly isn't.  #mackdaddyforreal

7.  Some rappers, especially if they come from Philadelphia, apparently have their own personal gangs, known as "Goons".  This reminds me of the Elvis Costello song Good Squad.

Note that I am likely the only person receiving the Mediatakeout feed who has ever actually heard of Elvis Costello.

8.  The Kardashians have a dark secret, and it has nothing to do with a social disease or their choice in boyfriends/partners/etc.:  It's their brother Rob.

9.  No one actually likes Australian rapper Iggy Azalea, who apparently now is, shockingly, dating white guys.  Yes, welcome to 2017 where such things actually are considered news...for the Internet...on Mediatakeout.

10. No need to worry:  TI and Tiny apparently are NOT getting a divorce.  The world can now rest easy.

Sunday, July 30, 2017

Another Working Day Has Ended

I am pretty darn tired by the time Sunday night comes around.  That's not likely the way this is supposed to work, by the way.  You know, "day of rest" and the like.  Yet here I am, more or less exhausted.  I know, I could blame it on the Chicken Pops - Part Deux, and maybe that's contributing to things this evening, but the harsh reality is that both my wife and I both tend to do too much.

Here's an example:  I had wanted to just spruce up some rocks I have underneath our dwarf plum tree, but for whatever reason, I randomly decided to pull out a bush on the side of our house.  This particular bush serves no useful purpose unless you consider "aphid breeding ground" to be a useful purpose...which may be the case for aphids, but not for me.  Anyway, 45 minutes and three yard waste containers later, the bush is reduced to a few sticks in the ground.  This week I'll have to break out the pickaxe and complete my shrub murder.  All well and good, but what possessed me to do it in the first place?

I could have spent the time finally finishing a book or two.

When my daughters were younger I had a valid excuse for moving around like a spinning top...and excuse called "functional parenthood".  These days I have no more young children; the best it gets is a teenage stepson, and to be honest (and to his credit) he's fairly low maintenance.  Yet here I am, Sunday at 10:15 pm popping Tylenol like they were M&Ms (plain...the peanut variety would make me vomit).

I have brought this to the attention of my co-conspirator in life, Ms. Rivers, which is a bit like going to Donald Trump to complain about someone else's abuse of Twitter.  That's a fancy way of saying that she's just as bad as I am in this department.  In fact, she may be worse.  Needless to say, I don't think there is a solution in the offing for this particular challenge, at least not anytime soon.  Maybe this is because I simply don't like laying around being unproductive.  Maybe this is because I have warped sense of just what "unproductive" really means.  Case in point:  If it helps me physically and mentally, perhaps it's not all that "unproductive" after all.

This is to be continued.

* * * * * *

Chicken Pops Update:  Some muscle soreness in the general area and a bout of two of intense itching, but this is looking like a relatively mild case.  I also learned today that the chances of me getting this again are slim.  Better at 53 than 73.

Friday, July 28, 2017

It's all fun and games until the Chicken Pops come along.

"Dad, I don't want to get chicken pops"

- My youngest daughter Rebecca, somewhere in the 90's

I was 19 or 20 years old when I got the "chicken pops".  It was, I think, around January of 1983.  To this very day, I can recall the intense fever I had, something along the lines of 103 degrees, for two or three days.  There was also the incredible headache that brought, along with blisters in many creative places, including the soles of my feet.  It was not a good time.

Fast forward to 53 years old and I've been diagnosed with Shingles.  You can read more about this affliction HERE.  I won't bore anyone, least of all myself, with the details, but I'll note this:  I woke up with an intense desire to itch in an unlikely place, and that turned into a feeling that literally makes me want to claw away layers of skin.  Enter the red rash, a burning sensation, deep muscle discomfort and the beginnings (as of Friday night) of a blister or two.  I'm sure this will get worse before it gets better.  Yes, I bought calamine lotion, which does seem to help.  I hope.

For me, this is kind of end product.

The American Academy of Dermatology (and others) note that being under great stress can precipitate an outbreak of Shingles.  That's certainly been the case for me over these past few months.  My story (make that stories) is noted in blog postings here since October of 2016, so there's no need for a rehash.  What I will add is that I've periodically had to deal with what I consider to be bouts of depression over these past few months, something I've never admitted to before, but which can easily be alluded to between the lines of many postings.  While I've certainly met my they to my family, my (new) co-workers, and to myself (in finishing my Master's degree course work)'s sometimes been at something of a steep price.  I think Shingles is part of paying that price.  This also isn't the first time in my life that a physical failing has followed periods of intense stress.

I wish I had some kind of grand philosophical statement to make that would put my life of late into a kind of proper context, but I don't.  Maybe it's the intense itching at the moment.  What I do know is that I am hopeful for a kind of separate peace now.  None of us truly know what life has in store, but looking forward, I'm hoping for a break from death, from self-doubt, from mental ruminations, and from the physical unhealthiness that comes from mental, physical, and emotional exhaustion.
Maybe this is the period at the end of one sentence, with a new one soon to be written.  It's just that this particular period is red and intensely itchy at the moment.

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Lisa Brown is Not from the United States

Today's installment of incredibly bad phishing brought to you by Lisa Brown from United States.

Now that Lisa Brown has told me that she is from United States (as opposed to, say, the United States), and not, for example, from Burkina Faso, I'll be sure to write back for details.  

Oh, and also, Team Apple (there) has been gracious enough to let me know that they've found a problem with my account (there), therefore they are willing to help me fill data (whatever the Hell that means, there).

I genuinely think that I could have a career writing phishing emails, because some folks just really, really need help (there).

Sunday, July 23, 2017

24 Points of Random Stuff for Blog Topics

Preface:  I wrote this several years ago, and for whatever reason (perhaps because it "sucked") I never published it.  Here I am though, it's Sunday night, and I have almost no motivation to write about anything.  And, by the way, I enjoy writing, and as such, I promised myself that I'd post no less frequently than weekly.  Sometimes more frequently.  Anyway, for the moment, I seem to be running low on blogging units (a concept copyrighted by local blogger Gort42), and yet I am filled with guilt over the prospect of not blogging at least weekly.  What to do?  Recycle, that's what; see the posting below.

Here's to a new supply of blogging units, arriving soon.

Oh, and here are two random picture of an Osprey sitting on its nest.

* * * * * *
In no particular order, for no particular reason.

1.  Peanut Butter - I think peanut butter is the most vile, disgusting, acrid substance known to man.  I don't know how my fellow human being can even consume it.  The smell alone makes me want to vomit.  Writing about the smell makes me want to vomit.  Carrion is more appealing.

2.  Roasted Peanuts - I actually don't mind the smell of roasting peanuts.  Just don't turn them into butter.  See #1.

3.  Books, Part 1 - I am usually reading two or three books at a time.

4.  Books, Part 2 - None of the books noted in #3 are fiction.

5.  Television - I really only need four television channels:  WNEP (for news, in the morning), BBC America (for Top least until the new host starts, then it's "see ya"), whatever channel is playing Family Guy, and whatever channel is playing those shows about dingy looking people living in Alaska (and I'm not talking about the Palin family either).

6.  Religion - I don't consider myself religious, although I am a avid reader of religious material; in high school I read every book the Scranton Public Library had on the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Days Saints, even though I had no desire to become a Mormon.  As a side note, I recently saw the Book of Mormon musical, and it was hilarious.   I do pray from time to time, although I think the act of praying has more to do with getting my head straight than it does actually wanting something from God.

7.  Politics - I don't align with any political party, and quite frankly I think political parties are, well, stupid.  Neither political party has a monopoly on the truth.  I also think that party line voting should be illegal.  I vote for candidates based on their ideas, not political philosophies spoon fed in neat little sound bytes.

8.  Abortion - Gee, should I even include this?  Well here goes nothing.  When it comes to the whole abortion debate, I just wish there was less screaming, yelling and finger pointing and more genuine compassion from and for all sides.  Note the word "genuine", as in what isn't typically seen when politicians talk about abortion.  It bothers me to no end when elected officials use this issue as a wedge simply to court some kind of political base (where the real desired outcome is the accumulation of political power...ponder just how horrible that really is).

9. Guns - I don't like guns, but heck, if you do, well more power to you.  Fire away.  Please just don't point it at me, bring your gun into my house or my place of business.

10. Hunting - I try very hard to not kill things.  This includes insects, spiders and other kinds of critters.  I wish I were disciplined enough to be a vegetarian, but I'm not, so I'll just have to live with that contradiction for the time being.  Now if someone does like to hunt well that's okay with me, but I hope they do it in a way that provides the bare minimum of discomfort for the critter(s) involved and the resulting "kill" is eaten or otherwise used in some meaningful way.  There's a difference between responsible hunting and animal cruelty in my book.

11.  Animal Cruelty - See #10.  It's my educated opinion that anyone who is capable of torturing an animal is also capable of torturing a fellow human.  In my world, there wouldn't be much difference in the sentences for assaulting a human or assaulting a defenseless animal.

12.  Cats vs Dogs - I love cats, but I readily confess to not being a good enough person to own a dog.

13.  Music - I love music, but I don't have musical bone in my body.  My signing voice is somewhere in range between Michael Jackson and a 12 year old boy who is about to enter into puberty.

14.  Sports - I love to play sports, although I don't have much time for it these days.  Growing up I was constantly either playing tennis, basketball or baseball (in a real sandlot near where we grew up).  Watching sports?  It puts me to sleep.  Too much watching sports on television can, I think, create the need for a lobotomy.

15.  Radio - I am an avid Howard Stern fan.  He is a genius, on par with Hunter Thompson & George Carlin, who created his very own radio genre.  Political talk radio?  I think its a wasteland for those who are searching for someone to think for them.

16.  Tattoos - I will never have one simply because I get bored far too easily to have something that permanent drawn upon my body.  While it's not for me, I've seen a few stories about tattoos being used by breast cancer survivors (link to an article HERE), which I do think is incredibly wonderful. Oh, and let's get one thing straight:  If you get "Ozzy" tattooed on your knuckles, then please don't complain if you have trouble finding a job.  Self-expression is a wonderful thing, but broadcasting stupidity is another.

17.  Drinking - I confess to drinking far too much diet soda and ice tea.  Alcohol?  I may have a drink of it maybe once or twice a year, if that.  Seriously, I really don't like the taste of booze, and I like even less how I feel after drinking booze.

18.  Earliest Memory - My earliest memory is of watching a black and white Superman cartoon in a half double home we lived at on Pine Street in Scranton.  I'm not sure of the age, but I might have been two three.

19.  Biggest Personal Frustration - I have what I'd describe as a frenetic mind, which while it allows me to be interested in lots of different things, has more than a few drawbacks.  I'm sure my incredibly short attention span plays into this as well.  The worst part of it?  That's waking up just about every morning with all these thoughts in my head.  There are times when I'd give all the money in my wallet for just five minutes of true mental calm, especially in the morning.  Sometimes when someone asks me "what you are you thinking" I don't answer honestly, as doing so would both take too long and the answers would be far too disturbing.

20.  Biggest Personal Regret - Sure I have regrets, but even the time spent thinking about them for the blog blurb is a waste.  What's done is done.  Pay attention to the past only to the extent that it can actually help in the present.

21.  Biggest Health Challenge - Bad sleeping habits.  As I've noted here many times, I don't typically sleep well.  See #19.  I think they have medication for this...Thorazine maybe?  I am joking about the Thorazine part.

22.  Power - Obtaining it at work or at home...simply for the sake of having power seems immoral to me.  Besides, real power doesn't come from controlling or having control over overs, it comes from having control over yourself.

23.  Famous Person Dinner Game - If I could have dinner with a few famous people, who would be in attendance?  Well for starters, my wife would be invited.  Second, my list would be as follows:  Emily Dickinson, Hunter S. Thompson, Paul McCartney, Howard Stern, Berkeley Breathed, and Albert Einstein.

24.  How I'd Like To Be Remembered - If anything, I'd like to be remembered as a good Dad, a loving partner and a kind human being.

Sunday, July 16, 2017

Road Apples, #173

Friday's Travel...spilled into Saturday, technically speaking.  The final toll was as follows:  One completely canceled flight (Dallas to Philadelphia), two flight delays, two re-bookings, and a two-hour drive home from Harrisburg, arriving at 1:30 am.  My luggage, by the way, didn't make it to Scranton until about 3 pm on Saturday.  In the midst of the insanity, there were rays of light...the Avis counter person (Michelle) in Harrisburg, who found me a one-way rental, at 11:30 pm...the gate agent in Amarillo who got me re-routed, even if I ended up having to revise things further...the baggage staff in Harrisburg, who made sure my luggage got to me, even if it was a day late.  As I've noted here from time to time, there is nothing glamorous about business travel.

Lawyering, Scranton Style...I've been reading the verbal grousing between a certain local lawyer, the Scranton Times, and a Scranton City councilman.  Here's how I see it:  Whenever you have $400,000 that is paid out to a person(s) or firm(s) without bidding OR detailed records to document the work performed OF COURSE there will be flags raised.  There should be flags raised, by the way.  The fact the lawyer/law firm in question also significantly contributed to Mayor Courtright's campaigns over the years only makes it smell worse.  This is old-school Scranton back-room dealing at its finest.  In the end, it's entirely possible that the legal expenses in question were justified, but this is public money at play, so there needs to be more...not less...transparency.  Blaming the Scranton Times for continuing to raise this as an issue is SILLY (at best); what's the alternative?  Simply take Mayor Courtright's word for it?

Confederate Monuments...Apparently, there is all the rage over monuments to Confederate generals being moved and removed in places across the south.  My blunt assessment?  Why do we even have monuments to traitors in the first place?

The National Political News Blackout...continues on my end.  I'm simply not interested in the latest Tweets or scandals...real or imaginary...that are in the national news.  None of what's happening should be a surprise to anyone.

(the Catholic Church) It's Almost Official...There are practically two versions of the Roman Catholic Church in the United States today, at least as evidenced by competing books that deal with the LGBT community within the Church.  There's a very good article that touches on that point HERE.  As someone who does listen to militant right-wing Catholic radio (EWTN, Ave Maria Radio), it's pretty clear that the Church is suffering from an ideological split that fairly well mirrors the political split within the United States.  In fact, just listening to discussions about secular issues on militant right-wing Catholic radio will make you think that you're listening to a stereotypical ring-wing talk-radio host.  Just add a few references to the Magisterium and Mary and you've got the whole programming for militant right-wing Catholic radio fairly well locked down.

**The blog author now pauses and regains his composure, as he is getting somewhat cranky**

Blogs, #1...A former co-worker of mine writes a terrific blog that you can find HERE.  Her latest posting, The Retiree, touched on a few raw nerves for me, which I so noted in a rather lengthy comment (sorry about the length Michele).  I debated responding to the posting, but in the end, I am glad I did contribute my thoughts.  I do get anxious whenever I post something that's critical, by the way, even given my tendency towards restraint.  The fact is this though:  We are all called to always be decent humans, first and foremost.  We all fail at that from time to time (me too...well, especially me), but that failure is compounded when that it seems to be institutionalized, somehow a human failure of a planned sort.  My final word on this:  Always treat people the way you would like to be treated, be it in business or in your personal life.  Period.

By the way, I actually interviewed the author the blog in April 2014.  You can read that posting HERE.  

Blogs, #2...Andy Palumbo recently commented in a blog posting about how disappointing it is that people don't stay with blogs they start (my words; his words can be found HERE).  I concur with his sentiment, but with a qualifier, namely that I think sometimes blogs have a hidden purpose, and that purpose gets fulfilled in a time-frame that is all its own.  There have been times when I wonder why I write this, but then I remember the purpose of NCFE, which is basically a way for me to help explore things, to help me make sense of the world (the world that mostly exists in my head).  That need is not likely to go away anytime soon.  


Friday, July 14, 2017

Back in the Saddle

A few minutes to spare after packing but before leaving Amarillo, taking a long series of flights back to Northeastern Pennsylvania.  It's been a mostly good week.

The bad?  Well, let's call it "butter overdose".  It happened Tuesday evening, with a dinner that consisted of far more butter than my system was capable of handling.  That sort of thing has happened before, well many times before, and you would think that at my *advanced* age I would know better, but I am nothing if not consistent in my failure.  The result was waking up very early on Wednesday and an hour of so of dry heaves.  I survived.

The good?  Two fold really:
  1. I can't compliment enough the folks I worked with this week.  Exceptionally decent human beings.  
  2. It felt to be "back in the saddle again".
To that second point, I've spent a good part of my professional life facilitating workshops/discussions/learning events...I don't like the word "training" (that's another blog entry for another time)...and it's something I haven't done in any significant way in over 9 months.  This week felt, well, great.  Being in a conference room, having audiences, reading faces, making mid-course changes, developing material on the fly, getting challenged on something I said, answering's all both exciting and oddly comforting for me.  I imagine that this must be how a musician feels after they haven't been able to play in a while.

I'm heading home feeling accomplished.

Tuesday, July 11, 2017

The one was Texas medicine, the other was just railroad gin.

See HERE for the title reference.

Greetings from the land of the flat and the hot.

After something like a 20-year absence, I'm back in Texas on company business, although the 2017 version is a different company on different business in a different location.

The forecast for Amarillo, from where I type this?  94 degrees and incredibly sunny.  Every day.  All week.  The sky is a kind of scorched blue.  Not a deep blue you might see in Pennsylvania, but a washed-out variety, as if the sky itself was in the process of getting a tan.

Anyway, although I've probably spent, in total, maybe three weeks of my life in Texas, I've always felt that there are two versions of the state:  The one you hear about and the one you actually experience.

Part of what you hear about when Texas comes up is that it's the state of Ted Cruz, rabid anti-equality, fundamentalist Christian, and guns literally everywhere.  I'll be honest, that's never been my experience.  In fact, I've seen far more "open carry" nuts folks in Pennsylvania than I have in Texas.  And despite the impression one might get from the somewhat lizard-esque Senator Rafael Edward Cruz, I've met almost no one in Texas who wasn't incredibly nice.  Incredibly polite.  Whatever the opposite of acerbic (and Ted Cruz) is, quite frankly, seems to describe most Texans.

Case in point:  While eating dinner, I observed two older couples meeting in the restaurant.  One couple introduces a teenage daughter.  She actually more or less genuflected as a sign of politeness and respect.  You won't see that in NEPA, well, outside of a church.

I'll also note that the folks I'm working with this week epitomize what I noted above about Texas.  Just plain and simply nice people.  And the office they work in is shaped like an egg.  I kid you not.

I F#@cking Hate Flying

(Written during a series of flights from Scranton to Amarillo, Texas)

It wasn't always this way, for the record. 

My first actual airplane flight was in 1989, and I was barely 25 years old. It was from Newark (NJ) to Boston, on company business.  As I recall, that was shortly after smoking was banned from domestic flights.  Ponder that one for a moment: Being stuck inside a pressurized tube, breathing cancer smog.  Anyway, since then I've flone many more times, sometimes even for pleasure.  Like many things over the past (nearly) 30 years, flying has gotten far more complicated and far less comfortable.  At the moment, for example, I an stuck in a window seat that BARELY allows enough room for my lungs to expand and contract.  I also have almost no room to move my arms, which translates to my very uncomfortably pecking out the beginning part of this posting. 

Travel itself, in general, has gotten more complicated. I now possess one of those AM/PM pill holders, a fact that makes my wife hang her head in sheer, utter shame.  Granted, some of what I pack isn't prescribed...a vitamin, joint health supplements (2 pills that are so big that I look like a stork downing a turtle when I swallow them), and a probiotic  (that I take on the advice of the future Dr. Albert).  The actual medical stuff is enough, though, numbering more than 1 but less than 37.  Add in 2 asthma inhalers and you can see that this is something of a production.  One of these days I will post about the physical toll that my 30's and 40's, especially in the area of stress, has taken on me.

I should also note that, as a general rule, I don't like touching or getting touched.  Yet here I am, arm to arm with a 300 lb + seat-mate. At least he didn't object when I had to get up to go to the bathroom.  That happens, by the way, all too often. When stressed I tend to do two things...bite my nails into bloody stumps and, well, pee often.  As of this moment the finger next to my right thumb is crying out in surrender and, suffice to say, I'm trying hard to not think about my bladder.  The latter is not helped by typing this...nor is the former...although pecking out  posting at least helps to prevent more nail gnawing.

Probably the only good thing about flying is the fact that the view out the window...any usually breathtaking. It also reminds me of just how big the real world actually is, and how small the things that irritate all of us in the daily grind actually are.  I still wish I had more room though.

This is, by the way, the first business trip I am taking with my newer employer.  My previous gig had a decent number of very specific travel policies. My new employer? I looked and found hardly any. I asked our Finance guy, and his response was basically along the lines of "...just don't be a jerk".  Good thing I tend to be a cheap date.  We don't have a corporate card, so if I was a jerk, well, the joke would be on me anyway.

Speaking of former employers, three leaders I used to work with recently lost their jobs, although this time they had to work through their 60 day WARN notice period.  I confess that it brought back a few flashbacks for me. I won't get into the morality of layoffs, but I will note this: Rationale aside, how such things are executed matters, an awful lot.  A leader can deliver that kind of news in a direct but empathetic way.  My actual notice lacked that empathy, but I was treated very well by those who explained the financial details of my separation.  I know I have mentioned that before, and I will likely mention it again, as it was equal parts trauma and life-changing.  My hope for my 3 former colleagues is that their next chapter takes them places they otherwise never would have dreamed going.