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Sunday, December 29, 2019

2019 - Time

The older I get, the more appreciative I become of how complex something as seemingly simple as “time”.

As a kid, time was much less fluid than it is now that I am older.  As a kid, Christmas morning came and went by incredibly fast, but yet any given day of the school year seemed to last a lifetime.  As a decidedly mid-50’s adult, well, time just seems to move fast…and getting faster…all the time.  It’s as if my life is rushing towards something (yes, to be frank, the end of it).  That makes it all the more important to appreciate the here and now.

Part of appreciating the here and now rests with understand what has come before.  When I think about 2019, what comes to mind is change.  Probably more change, I will note, than many other years.

“I’m from Iowa; I only work in outer space”
(paraphrasing Star Trek’s Captain Kirk, responding to whether or not he was some kind of spaceman)
I started 2019 working for a company that took over the company that previously employed me.  I went from working for the same company for nearly three decades to (now) three different companies in the span of three years.  That’s a lot of change, and the fact that I’m here to write about it, having navigated that change, says something good about me. 

Company number two in this time frame was just about the worst possible fit for me in terms of culture, business model and just about any other dimension imaginable.  It was a place where I never would have sought employment myself.  Yet as difficult as that situation was, and it was pretty difficult, I managed to bring it to something of a conclusion.  Even in the difficulty of working for a “worst fit” organization, I was able to gain connections with some truly remarkable people.  It also was a stark reminder to me of how deeply ingrained the notion of work is to me.  A wise person told me that work is important because, oddly enough, I am comfortable in the environment.  I’ve filed that in the category of “Feedback I don’t necessarily understand…but I will accept nevertheless”.

Company number three, where I am now, is something of a gift, being a kind of anti-matter equivalent of company number two.  Where the former was enormously large, the latter is relatively small.  Where I struggled to understand my value in the organization (in fact, feeling lost and devalued), now I know where I fit in and the value I provide.  I owe a debt of gratitude to those who helped get me here, directly or through encouragement, and I’ll do my best to repay that over the years to come.

“I have met the enemy, and he is me”
There are no two ways around this:  I haven’t done enough to take care of myself, and that’s gotten worse in 2019.  After something of a frightening health experience last December, I’m left with the prospect of a colonoscopy every three years for the rest of my life.  Granted that’s not terrible, but it is a stark reminder that the teenage years of almost super-human invulnerability to all manners of physical neglect and abuse to self are long, long gone.  No, at this stage, things will, in fact, wear out, and what how I treat myself does matter.

There are, by the way, at least 876 reasons why I should take better care of myself.  That’s a fact.  What’s less factual is why I have allowed myself to get to this point in the first place.  Part of it, I am sure, is a kind of general despair that comes from a horrible working environment (see above).  Regardless, no manner of excuse is actually sufficient. 

“And there’s someone on my head, but it’s not me”
(Pink Floyd, Brain Damage)
When I think about the 11+ years I’ve written this blog, one of the things that I am most proud of is the fact that I’ve allowed myself, modestly I will note, to be somewhat vulnerable in terms of self-expression.  Now there are fits and spurts where this is more prominent, but I can honestly say that what’s here is pretty much me (all be it with hopefully spelling & grammar).  I don’t know though that I’ve been fully transparent over this past year. 

I have been troubled on the career front (see above, and some other postings), but pretty much kept the worst parts to myself.  There are practical reasons for that (which I can’t disclose), but it’s hard to deny just how dark that drove my life for the first half of 2019.  I still find myself digging out of the emotional toll-hole it has taken.  The good news though is that A) I am making progress and B) I can at least now admit the problem existed.

Now I’m fully aware of all the learned advice about “what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger”, but I’m calling B.S. on that concept, at least as it applied to the scenario above.  I’m not stronger from that experience.  I am, more correctly, feeling damaged, but at least recovering.  For a person who is naturally wired to be very self-reflective and critical, this past employment experience was simply Hell. 

I also think a lot about my late brother Chris.  I had a very vivid dream a few weeks ago that he was in, where I told him how much I missed him.  He said, “I know”.  That was a remarkable bit of coherency for one of my dreams, by the way.  Spiritual people would tell me that was some kind of message.  I don’t know about that part.  What I do know is that when I woke up, it didn’t offer much in the way of comfort.  As difficult as the latter part of his life was, I still feel cheated by his passing. 

“Cheat your landlord if you can – and must – but do not try to shortchange the Muse.”
(William S. Burroughs)
As something of a side effect to all the above, actually writing these postings has become more difficult for me.  I normally (whatever “normally” means) get ideas for things and then just pretty much bang them out in an hour or two.  Occasionally I start writing something and then come back to it later.  Even rarer is a posting like this, that is written in parts, stitched together like some kind of written Frankenstein’s monster. 

Anyway, it feels as if I’m almost trying to punish myself by not doing the things I enjoy.  As if I need to be punished for a year that was quite punishing enough, thank you very much.  It’s a good thing the sole, only intent of these postings…and it’s 2,000 siblings by the way…is my own enjoyment, as it’s been a disappointing year at NCFE.

“You and I have memories, longer than the road that stretches out ahead”
(Paul McCartney, Two of Us)
There’s a real danger, I think, in spending too much time in retrospect.  As I used to tell my daughters, it’s like driving a car:  If you spend too much time looking at the rear-view mirror, you’re not going to see what’s in front of you.  Granted though that an occasional glance is actually prudent. 

The task for me, at least as I see it now, is to pack all of what 2019 was (the good, the bad, and the very ugly…some of which is noted here, some of which is not) and put it away.  We all have bad years, for sure, but they all come to an end as well.  As is our annual ritual, I’m going up “to the cabins” for a few days of being unplugged from all manner of Internets and Social Medias, which creates something of a natural re-set button.  There I’ll catch up on some quality reading, do some off-line writing, spend some time hiking and maybe take a few photographs, all surrounded by my wife and her family.  It’s a kind of simple, gentle end to a year that was far from simple…or gentle.

* * * * * *

All the best to anyone reading this, and I hope your New Year is full of promise.

Tuesday, December 24, 2019


And so it came to pass in the town of West Pittston that I was sent to find and acquire pecans for the baking needs of Ms. Rivers.

There are a few reasons why this is noteworthy.

First, I barely know what pecans look like.  Put them in a lineup with walnuts, cashews, and some of their other friends and there's about a 50/50 chance I will not be able to make a positive identification.  This isn't the case of some benign indifference, mind you. I really dislike nuts.  All nuts.  In my head there is a scale of sorts, starting with walnuts, where my reaction is one of "I'm not eating that!" to peanuts, where my reaction is "that's simply disgusting...why are you eating that?".

Second, there were no pecans at our local Gerrity's supermarket, at least not that I could find, as I scoured the baking isle while on the phone with Ms. Rivers.

Third, after getting off the phone and staring blindly at the shelves, hoping a bag that said "pecans" on it would appear, low and behold a kind stranger comes upon me, and after hearing my plight, decides to have pity on me.  This was a lady of my age or younger, with a cart full of stuff and clearly lots to do on her own, but yet she wanted to help.  And help she did, as she showed me some additional hiding places where pecans tend to congregate.  At the third stop, we hit the jackpot, and pecans were, in fact, located.  I thanked this lady three times (at least) for her concern and help.  And I got my pecans.

Now it's easy to get caught up in the negativity that seems to be swirling around us these days.  On a national level, we have folks glorifying & excusing tawdry name-calling and treating greed as if it were some kind of warped virtue.  I feel that all the time, and it certainly permeates how I think about things all too often.  Yet this lady I did not know, spent five-plus minutes of her obviously busy shopping day to help me find pecans.  Why?  I suspect it was because she simply wanted to help...because it was the right thing to do.  I'm sure it wasn't a big deal to her, but after this past year (there's a larger post coming on that topic), it was a big deal to me.

I know, this may come across as sappy and maybe a bit stupid, but I honestly don't care.  Maybe if all of us helped each other (and strangers) out just a bit more...for no more of a reason than it is simply the right thing to do...our nation and our world would be a slightly better place.

Happy Holidays to one and all.  Whatever you celebrate...or don't celebrate...may it bring you peace and some joy.

Sunday, December 15, 2019


"Sleep, those little slices of death, how I loathe them"
- Author Uknown

I've probably noted a few times in this space about the relationship I have with sleeping.  At best, I'd call that relationship one of convenience; at worst, well, it's a kind of war of sorts, all fought within the confines of my head.  

My Head, At Bedtime
"Boy, I am actually tired, this is great...I'll be able to fall asleep quickly."
Then it comes time to turn things off and actually fall asleep.  That's when my head starts telling me "crap, I don't know if I can actually fall asleep".  The good news is that I usually do fall asleep fairly quickly, but even then part of me fights it.

My Head, Asleep
"Let's get a few dozen images and tie them together in some truly surreal stories."
Saying that I can have vivid dreams is like saying "there might be a Tuesday next week".  In fact, I have vivid dreams just about every night.  Right now I can remember details of some, even those that are days, weeks or months ago.  I'll admit that here, but I won't describe them, as often they just don't make any sense; maybe they did at the time, but now I'm simply left with fragments floating around in my head, like shipwreck debris on the water.  As someone who tries to go about my life in a logical and ordered way, my dream time is chaotic and disordered.  There are times when I really don't want to go to sleep on account of not wanting to subject myself to yet another round of mental chaos.

My Head, Early Morning
"Hey, wake up!  Here are a half dozen important things to consider."
Pretty much between 5 and 6am my head grows weary of the disjointed chaos of my dream state and starts to ponder the realities of the day to come.  That's the point of no return, and by then I usually can no more fall back to sleep than I could create cold fusion in a blender.  

I'll note that I try to fall asleep around 11pm-ish, and during the week, I am up and out of bed by 6:15am.  My actual odds of sleeping a bit later are far better during the week than they are during the weekend.  That's downright cruel.

Now I have had nights where I've gotten a good night's sleep and felt refreshed in the morning.  I think that's actually happened twice in my adult life.  Twice. 

Now part of me wants to believe that one day I'll get this sleep thing finally figured out, that the adversarial relationship I have with the "little slices of death" will give way to a kind of truce.  That's a nice thought, to be sure.  Until then, the battle begins anew in about 90 minutes.  Wish me luck.

Monday, December 2, 2019

Cat Fishing Man

Admittedly, I work hard at maintaining my composure, and for the most part, I am successful.  Every once in the while though I get close to losing "my stuff".  Such was the case today coming home from work today, as I talked to my wife about this story in the news:

"Fishing for Cats Suspect Gets Prison Time"

This story has bothered me since it first appeared in the news a while ago.  The latest iteration is hopefully the last time it rears its ugly head.

I will not describe the story, other than to say that the story title is literally true.

Now it's not much of a secret that I love cats.  In fact, I've written 29 (now 30) postings that reference cats and those are the ones that I actually remembered to correctly tag.  Nothing against dogs, which I do like also, but I have a big soft spot for cats.  As a fully functional big adult person, I have that right.

Anyway, here's the larger point: I work hard...very believing people are inherently good.  Even when bad actors appear, I want to believe that they are trying to do the right thing, even if their actions contradict that idea.  Maybe they are simply confused.  Then I read something like this, and, I just don't understand.

Our pets (cats and dogs) don't have malice.  Even in the worst of circumstances, their actions are a product of instinct.  If someone is attacked by a dog, for example, the dog is doing so because it feels threatened (or feels that their owner is being threatened).  There's an almost comforting purity to that notion, even when polluted by those who would train the dog to act inappropriately. 

To this story, I simply can't process how this "person" could harm a helpless cat.  It genuinely pains me to even think about it.  How does this person's thought even work?  How disordered...does a thought process have to be in order to come up with this kind of action?  I don't understand.  Part of me wants to understand, but another part of me is incredibly angry at what this "person" has done.  Unlike this "person" though, I have the ability to exercise some control over my errant thoughts.

In this story, the animal wasn't the cat.


Friday, November 29, 2019

Thanksgiving and an Quasi-Almost-Anti-Giving-Thanks Post

This is Thanksgiving time, and I’m supposed to write a posting about the many reasons why I am thankful.  Granted that I do have many, many reasons to be thankful, but if you think about it though, that’s almost self-serving, to the point of seeming to brag to others about just how wonderful life has been.  What to do?  Well, I can’t really call this an “anti-Thanksgiving” post, but I am going to do something different:  Instead of writing about the good things I am thankful for, I am going to instead write about a crappy thing that ended.

Specifically, I spend an unhealthy amount of time thinking about where my professional life has taken me since being involuntarily retired in December 2016, from an employer that I thought would take me well into my 60’s.  There have been some good things happen on that front, including meeting some great folks & discovering some new things about myself.  There have also been some bad…genuinely bad…things happen as well.  To that latter point, I feel guilty for having been previously associated with an organization that, in my opinion, was not good for me, for my community, for people I call friends.  I went from a nearly 28-year association with an organization I am proud of (still to this day) to one where I can barely speak the name.  It’s as if I contributed to something unhealthy, and I need to apologize for some nebulous damage by the association I may have caused, knowing full well that some of the damage was, in fact, to myself.

Part of the above damage included an almost constant inner dialogue…

“This seems wrong, why are you a part of it?”
“This contradicts a lot of what you personally value”
”You are not valued here and this is demeaning”
”You need to just quit”

…conflicting with…

“I need to work, and just leaving will make me feel worse”
”It would be wrong to bail on my co-workers”

I know, it’s all so very circular. 

In yet another example of cosmic synchronicity, that job ended, and another opportunity became available.  These days I have the luxury of no longer living a daily professional life of contradiction, but instead, I can ponder it from the past tense.  Now I have the ability maybe help make something better, as opposed to being associated with something that (in just my personal opinion) made things worse.  My professional night has literally turned into a professional day.

Within this larger story, there are, as is usually the case, many mini-stories:
  • There’s the story about my learning the value of networking.
  • There’s the story about my leaning into the discomfort of change.
  • There is the story of learning to take pride in some of my accomplishments.
  • There’s a story of practicing humility in the only way it truly makes being made humble.

All of this may change in the blink of an eye.  Or it may stay the same for the next ten years.  One thing is for sure though:  There is more to be learned.

Monday, November 18, 2019

Scranton's Teachers, Learning a (Biblical) Lesson

"Do not be deceived:  God is not mocked, for whatever one sows, that will he also reap."
(Galatians, Chapter 6 - Verse 7)

As noted in a recent Scranton Times article (link HERE), unionized teachers in the Scranton School Distract are upset.  You can read the article for the particulars, but that's not the point of this posting.  Rather, and as noted above, this is about a lesson of almost biblical proportions.

For decades, unionized teachers in the Scranton School District financially supported and campaigned for school board candidates are where, at best, incompetent.  At worst?  Well, according to the Pennsylvania Attorney General, there is more to come on the "at worst" front (link HERE).  It was this history of union-supported candidates who...

...drove the district to insolvency & at the doorstep of a state takeover
...approved to no-bid, dramatically over-priced, busing contracts
...allowed a non-employee to receive employee healthcare benefits
...looked the other way as a former Business Administrator was committing felonies

...and I could go on (and on), but the point is made.  Call me unsympathetic, but the union knew exactly who they were supporting, and what these individuals stood for, such as no-bid busing contacts.  What was the underlying thought process of union leadership?  That the money would never stop flowing, so what's some graft here or there?  Maybe it was that "better the known and incompetent than the alternative"?

Now the teachers' union has an absolute right to support the political candidates who they believe will benefit its membership.  They don't, however, have a right to be exempt from the rightful criticism that comes with aiding and abetting (at best) incompetence.  What's called for here is an examination on the part of the union leadership as to their role in the downfall of the Scranton School District and how such a role can be prevented in the future. The teachers' union is just one of many with dirty hands in the sorry state that is the Scranton School District; as learning professionals, they should be at the forefront of culling some important lessons from it all.

Wednesday, November 13, 2019

Free Range Human

Greetings from Cedar Rapids, Iowa.

I'm here in a nice hotel room, having checked my company email for the last time today.  Tomorrow starts the two flights that will eventually bring me back home.  Since I've washed the travel off of me (literally...I just got out of one of those "far too long in the shower, but what the heck, it's a hotel room"), I'm left to here to either watch TV (which I don't like to do), organize files (which I don't want to do) or write.  As you can see, writing won.

Speaking of writing, I'm not publishing stuff on this blog as frequently as I used to.  I still do write, almost daily, as a matter of fact, but most of that stuff isn't fit for even this cheesy attempt at public introspection.  I feel a bit guilty about the whole not writing as much thing, by the way.  Guilty not because I somehow feel it is being missed, but guilty because this is a kind of commitment I made to myself back in 2008, and I should be doing a better job of honoring it.  Yes, that's one of the hundred or so thoughts pinging around in my head at the moment.  I'll be spelling out some more (literally) shortly.  Guilt aside, at least I am writing this posting.

The above is a kind of in I am stalling.  One of the things bothering me is the fact that a fellow Pru alumni, fellow blogger, and terrific human being, the author of the blog "Lights Cancer Action!" disclosed that she has a reoccurrence of breast cancer.  You can find her blog on the listing to the right of this screed, as well as a link to the specific posting HERE.  I'm not going to say much about her story, as you can learn about it from her blog, but I am going to say that there are times when I just really don't understand the cruelty of life.  Cruel, as in a third cancer diagnosis.  Cruel, as in children being tortured by drug-addicted parents (link HERE).  Cruel, as in the abuse of animals who only offer us unconditional love (link HERE).  Yes, I am bothered by all of this, and more.  I know that life offers us opportunities to learn in ways that we never really expect, but there are times when I wish the lessons weren't quite so painful.

Maybe I need to take another one of those "washing away showers".  Then again, if I shower once more today, my skill may actually start to flake off, en masse.  The joys of the heating season I guess.

Trying to move on, this was my third to trip to my employer's office in Fairfield, Iowa.  For some reason, they seem to not mind my visits, and for that...and the advice on local places to eat...I am grateful.  I am also grateful, in general, to my employer for providing me with work that (hopefully) has a positive impact.  That was...and is...important to me, and is something of a lesson learned from my last employer/micro-disaster.  I am not sure when I am coming back, but I am sure it will be sooner or later.

By the way, and as both a final point and explanation for the title of this posting, I'm wearing this shirt for my trip tomorrow.

For some reason, it seems fitting.

Tuesday, November 12, 2019

Tips for (In)frequent Business Travelers

From the temporary office in Fairfield, Iowa.

Tip:  When it comes to hotels, you get what you pay for (sort of).
Without mentioning names, I've been in hotels that cost $250 a night and those that cost $60 a night.  The big differences?
  • Food.  The food is better at the expensive places.  I'm currently staying at a "lower end of the scale" hotel this week, and I was sure that I would end up projectile vomiting my breakfast yesterday morning (the eggs smelled kind of, well, funny).  So far my immune system seems to be ruling the day.  
  • Decor.  Everything in my current hotel room seems to be tinted a dull yellow.  I'm not sure if that's the horrible compact florescent light bulbs in use, baked into the paint cigarette smoke (this place is in pre-smoking ban older), or just yellow-ish paint.  The completely yellow-themed bathroom doesn't help.
  • Sound.  I could literally transcribe the voicemail I heard from the room next to me last night.
There's one not-so-universal caveat to this rule though:  Water pressure.  I've been in higher-end hotel rooms where water basically just oozed out of the showerhead.  In my current room, I am reasonably sure that I could strip paint off of an automobile fender with the pressure available (this is a good thing).

Tip:  Never, ever leave anything on the floor.
I was told this back in the early '90s.  Maybe it's an urban legend, but the idea is that anything left on a hotel room floor may end up becoming a transportation vehicle to your home for some kind of unwanted critter guest.  I even keep my shoes off of the floor.

Tip:  Ziplock bags are your friend.
I always keep an extra ziplock bag with me when I travel.  Use them to store the extra batteries you had to get at WallyWorld last night.  Or keep the above-mentioned critters from eating that half of a candy bar you also bought at WallyWorld last night.

Side note:  Forget fancy pill containers...I now just use three ziplock bags.  I use a big bag with two smaller bags inside of it (one for morning stuff, one for evening stuff).  The advantage?  I can easily find a nook or cranny in my backpack for the stuff I am taking.

Tip:  Bring a spoon.
I always have a spoon in my toiletry bag.  It comes in handy in case you, well, need a spoon.  Seriously, for example, if you bring something into your room to eat or if you are old and need to mix your Metamucil.

Tip:  Don't connect through Chicago O'Hare.
I've been violating this tip lately, and I'm sure at some point there will be a punishment administered.  According to the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), Chicago O'Hare has an on-time rating of about 80%.  That means there is a 1 in 5 chance that your flight will be delayed or even canceled.  All it takes is one forced overnight stay in an airport to learn why this is a bad thing.  In addition to the Russian Roulette of on-time departures, O'Hare can be over-crowded and filled with nasty people (Why? They got the 20% previously referenced).

Tip:  Airports are food Hell.
Airport food is dramatically over-priced and rarely any good.  I've tried to get healthier food (well, healthier by my...low...standards) and have always been disappointed.  Want a hot drink for Starbucks?  Well, if you are at Chicago O'Hare and your flight is delayed, you may just have time to wait through the line.  Otherwise?  You're out of luck.

Tip:  Checking your bag isn't so dangerous.
I've been traveling for almost 30 years and do occasionally check my bag.  The number of times I've actually had a checked bag lost?  Exactly zero.  The number of times a bag has been delayed?  Exactly twice.  You have to be smart about this though; for example, never pack medications or expensive electronics in a checked bag.  It's actually pretty nice not having to lug a bag through an airport.

Tip:  Spring for First Class every once in a while.
Every once in a while I will spend an extra $70 (or so) of my own money and upgrade to a First Class seat.  After a long and tiring trip, it's sometimes down-right demoralizing to cram yourself into a seat with enough leg-room for a dwarf and less than an inch of cushioning for your posterior.  First-class is like another world of airplane travel.  There is actually room.  The seats aren't (seemingly) 18" wide.

Sunday, October 27, 2019

A Ritual Purification (of sorts)

I was having a conversation with someone I support at work last Friday, similar to one I had with my boss as well, about how learning to deal with adversity at work is a necessity.  In this particular case, the issue is a difficult personal dynamic between two individuals.  Some leaders deal with these kinds of situations by removing the dynamic (i.e. basically removing one of the people in question from the situation).  I do think this is a mistake.

Why?  The White Album.  Rumors.  Just to name two.

In case you don't get the reference, these are two classic albums that share something in common, namely a tremendous amout of stress during their creations.  I can cite other examples, all of which would make any and all think that I have far too much time on my hands, but the point is made:  A certain amount of tension can help produce great results.

It's not just that tension and stress can sometimes bring about great results, it's also that a certain amount of this stuff simply makes us better, provided that allow ourselves to learn from the experience.  I can think of a few examples in my own professional life where I worked for folks who were just very difficult (at least for me).  I still somewhat cringe at some of these memories, but I know for an absolute fact that I also learned a lot from these folks.  As they say about making hotdogs, the process wasn't all that pretty, but I'm more or less happy with the result. 

Getting back to the first paragraph, I concede that we can't force people to work together...well we can certainly try, but it may end up being counter-productive (think squeezing jello:  Sometimes the harder you squeeze, the more you lose between your fingers).  The better way is to try and get folks to simply try to work through their difficulties.  We don't have to like everyone we encounter, but I do think it's important to always assume positive intent(1), especially in those where our natural instinct may be to assume the exact opposite.  Even if someone is, in reality, a serial dirtbag of a human being, sometimes a little "forced consciousness expansion"(2) can be a good thing.  This is, of course, tempered in the reality that nothing lasts forever anyway.

* * * * * *

On a related note, maybe I'm channeling more of myself that I realize in the above posting.  The underlying reality has been that up until about 90 days ago, I struggled professionally.  My new job, what happened about 90 days ago, is going well.  Before then?  Less so. Dramatically less so.  In fact, I'd say that the period of July 2018 to July 2019 was the worst time in all of my professional life.  There's almost something ironic about that statement, in part because during this period I had a terrific boss (who I would gladly work for again) and wonderful fellow team-mates.  Everything else?  Well let's just say I wasn't a good fit for the organization, and the organization wasn't a good fit for me.  If ever there was an employer-employee mismatch, well, it was then.

Looking back over this above referenced period, I can't yet see how that tension has helped me grow.  What I see instead is a kind of scar, covering up damage where I began to question my professional value and the choice I've made over the years.  Maybe that's the point though:  Sometimes the sole purpose of a difficult experience is to simply prepare us for something else...something better...maybe a ritual purification(3) of sorts.

* * * * * *

(1) Actually learned by me, for the most part, from someone who was very difficult to work with many years ago.

(2) Hunter S. Thompson:  

“No sympathy for the devil; keep that in mind. Buy the ticket, take the ride...and if it occasionally gets a little heavier than what you had in mind, well...maybe chalk it up to forced consciousness expansion: Tune in, freak out, get beaten.”

(3) Reference HERE.

Sunday, October 13, 2019

Road Apples, #180

Vaping Commerical
An actual line I heard during a vaping commercial (on Sirius satellite radio) "...gave me the nicotine satisfaction I was looking for...".  Given that nicotine is a highly addictive drug, I can imagine similar commercials (if they were allowed) "...gave me the Meth satisfaction I was looking for...".

Speaking of Nicotine
I was listening to an interview with young Miley Cyrus the other day (you can listen to it here), and my gosh, her voice.  She sounds like Lucille Ball at age 65.  Let's put it this way:  If lung cancer could speak, it would sound just like Miley Cyrus.

Among the things that have been missing in my life over the past year or so is photography.  I just don't take many photographs these days.  I need to change that one of these days.  I've gotten several compliments on my photographs (used a computer wallpaper) at work, which should be at least somewhat motivating.  Here's one of my personal favorites, taken in the Fall of 2009.

The News
I still don't listen to the news.  I just can't.  It's just too difficult for me to hear, too, at times enraging.  We have a President that tweets like an angry junior high girl.  With apologies to junior high girls for the stereotyping.  If you are a fan of the President, well, so be it...but I think we can all agree that the country would be better off if he kept his fragile, thin-skinned, vindictive feelings to himself.

reMarkable Tablet
I've been using a reMarkable tablet now for about 9 months or so.  The verdict?  Well worth the investment.  This is a great product that enables me to keep a wide variety of notes on different topics all organized and within a small footprint.  What's more, the notes are backed up to my desktop and can be exported to pdf files.  Just as cool?  I can import documents and notate them.  You can find out more about reMarkable HERE.

Not Really Remarkable
I received this email several times in September (the worst stuff blocked out with ###):

* * * * * *

Confidential message for:

Recently you visited one of the porn websites I attacked with my Xploıt.
When you started watching videos it executed payload on your device and
installed a ʋirus I developed.

As soon as I ίɳfected your ɗevίce, it started to act like a remote
desktop with full read/write access.
I gained access to your files, your email, contact lists and most
importantly - your camera!

My ʋirus started recording your web browser and your camera every time you
########## during last 2 weeks.
While my ʋirus is not perfect it managed to record 6 videos clearly showing
you ###########..

Call me whatever you want, a criminal or a dick, but this is just my job.
I do this on regular basis and I recorded hundreds of people, but you are
Why? Because of the aberrant and perverse videos you were watching while
########## - you know what I mean!

Now I am your master, and you are my slave..

Let me ask you a question.

How would you feel if I upload to pornhub all the videos with you
########## and send the links to everyone on your contact lists -
including your family and business partners?

You don't want me to do this, right ?

There is only one way you can stop me from exposing your fantasies. You have
to pαy.

Let me be straightforward with you.

You know what Bitcoin is, right?
Buy 2,000 USD worth of Bitcoin and send it to me immediately.

You can buy Bitcoin in many places like Coinbase, CoinMama, Binance..
Google for 'how to buy cryptocurrencies'. You can use your credit card or
bank transfer.

I am giving you 3 days to complete this payment, after which I will start
uploading and sending your ########## videos.
Just imagine your family and collegues reaction to those videos 🤣

Save your life now!
Transaction details are below:

Send exαctly 0.200312 BTC

to this Bitcoin address:

* * * * * *
What's kind of funny about this is:
1) I don't visit sites like that, to begin with.
2) 95% of my computer usage at home is with my HP desktop, which doesn't have a webcam.
3) For the remaining 5% or some of the time when I use my laptop, I keep my camera covered (I have a little siding cover purchased from Amazon).

I do wonder how often emails like this actually do result in people paying scammers.  For the record, the above text is fairly standard stuff according to the actual bitcoin folks (reference HERE).

Columbus Day
Tomorrow is Columbus Day, making it a holiday for some, but not for me.  It's actually an odd holiday, given the fact that Columbus didn't, in fact, discover America (more like he re-discovered it).  Then we have the whole unsavory aspects of what he ultimately brought to the new world.  Proof positive that progress is often times a painful process with a high body count.

Thursday, October 3, 2019

Just a song before I go... whom it may concern...

(from THIS song)

Live from some (not so) out of the way kiosk at Chicago's O'Hare International Airport.  It's already been a long day, with my waking up at 4am-ish for a flight out of Cedar Rapids, Iowa.  The plan is for me to get back to Scranton by around 2:30pm or so.  Then again, based on the last data I've seen, there is a 1 in 5 chance of that arrival time not being true when flying out of this airport.

Anyway, one of the things I've had to personally come to terms with over the past 3 years is post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).  I never thought much about this until recently, with my prevailing attitude has been one of "this is what happens to soldiers when they return from the war".  That sentiment is true, I am sure, but I never thought that it would impact me.  However, I can see now that the events surrounding my brother's death have impacted me in just such a way.  Even writing this is difficult in part because I am loathed to admit any kind of mental or emotional failing (other failings are fair game).  I still, all these years later, need to be superman, even though my (figurative) days of rescuing are long gone.

What does the above look like?  How do I feel about it?

There isn't a day that goes by when I don't think about my late brother.  Sometimes they are fleeting thoughts.  Sometimes they are reminiscings about times past.  Sometimes they are the vague kind of future dreams that we all have of some happy ever after in our old age.  What there isn't is anger though; I am not angry at him.  I am angry...and always will be a person or two that enabled the worst in my brother.  Mostly though, I feel a certain sadness about it all. 

A few years prior to my brother's passing we (my brothers and I) were there when our mother died in the hospital.  In fact, I think that it was Chris who was holding her hand when she finally slipped away.  I have no sadness at or for that event, as my mother had suffered enough.  It was, in an odd sort of way, good that she had passed away.  Life was always a difficult endeavor for our mother, oftentimes filled with anger and disappointment, with physical pain and dark memories of the past.  All of that is gone now.

So, why the difference in feelings and reactions between my brother and my mother?  Looking back in as objective a manner as I can, I know they were both in physical pain.  My mother being riddled with the lasting effects of multiple brain tumor surgeries, exceptionally poor vision and arthritis.  My brother with shoulder pain that required a certain degree of sobriety to treat, a degree that he was never able to achieve.  They were both in emotional pain as well. 

The odd thing about my brother is the fact that I never felt that part of his emotional pain was dealing with his substance abuse.  In fact, over the last few years of his life, that abuse had become an ingrained part of his life.  It has become a kind of organ unto itself, no longer being external to his existence.  He just seemed to accept this as part of who he was, only making efforts at sobriety at the urging of others.  It was as if he had decided that whatever emotional pain he was feeling needed these substances to be kept at bay.  He never told me this directly, mind you, but I had so many conversations with him where this subtext was so clear that even the dullest among us could clearly see this particular forest from its trees.  In the end, my brother had convinced himself that substance abuse was the only way to live a pain-free life, failing to see that this "cure" was actually the real disease.

Seeing the above, and maybe just as important (sort of) understanding the above is something of both a blessing and a curse.  I have thought and thought and thought about all of this time and time again.  I've used all of the logic I can muster to try and understand that which is inherently illogical.  Yet throughout all of my reflection, I'm not really left feeling that much better about it all.  I haven't "made peace" with my brother's death, but part of what I've learned since January 5, 2017, is that this may never be the case.  What I have come to terms with, thanks to much reflection and help, is that I accept how I feel about all of this; put another way, I've made a kind of separate peace about my feelings relative to those events.  Thinking about my brother can make me decidedly sad, but it's okay to be sad when thinking about losing someone close to you.

The above is an important kind of lesson, especially for me:  Life is a series of opportunities to learn and grow.  Some of the most important lessons though are also some of the most difficult to learn.  One of those difficult lessons for me is that sometimes the things I am good at in life (logic, control, problem-solving) aren't always the things I need in life.  Sometimes logic makes it worse.  Sometimes we simply have no control.  Sometimes we encounter problems that just can't be solved.  And all of this is okay.

Monday, September 30, 2019

There's Nothing Glamorous About Business Travel...

...and it's getting worse.

Just a quick word or two from the road, as I make my way to Fairfield, Iowa for a few days worth of work.  My current location is gate E20 at Charlotte-Douglas International Airport.

Anyway, I've been traveling for work-related reasons now for something like 30 years.  My first business trip involving an airplane was in 1989, and it was to Boston.  I should note that was my first time ever traveling by airplane.  Since then, well, let's just say that there have been many trips.  The good news in all of that time past is that I'm still alive to tell this tale, and by and large, nothing all too horrible has happened along the way.

There have been bumps along the business travel road though.  I had to once stay overnight at the airport in Detriot.  Then there was the 1am drive from Harrisburg to Scranton in a one-way rental car that I have to practically beg to get (because of a whole series of flight delays).  In the grand scheme of things though, it could have been worse.

What stinks about business travel?  Well, a few things come to mind:
  • Airplane Seats - Airplane seats are utterly horrible.  Unless you are in First Class or have the same physical dimension of, say, Tinkerbell, you are not going to be comfortable.  Making matters even worse is when you end up with a dreaded window seat (which I had from Scanton to Charlotte this morning).  With an aisle seat, you do have the option of extending one leg.  You can also get up and go to the bathroom, affording you the ability to momentarily unfold your legs like a newly emerging butterfly.
  • Airports & Cleanliness - Keeping an airport clean must be a herculean job.  In a larger airport that is open 24/7, emptying trash and cleaning bathrooms is a never-ending task.  It doesn't help that many folks are simply, well, pigs.  Case in point:  I'm sitting here typing on a surface that has at least three layers of spills.
  • Food - I don't care which airport you go to...the food is going to be over-priced and not all that great.  
  • Running - By and large, when I am traveling for business, my schedules are tight (today is an exception in that I have a 2+ hour layover), so the entire exercise is about getting off a plane, finding a bathroom, finding another gate, and running there.  What makes it worse?  Well, that would be when you travel through an airport like Chicago O'Hare, running to a new gate only to discover that the flight has been delayed anyway.  For there record, O'Hare is a horrible airport for connecting flights.  Last time I checked, the on-time percentage for O'Hare is 81%, meaning that there is about a 1 in 5 chance that your fight will not leave as scheduled.
Speaking of airports, here are my least favorite airports, listed in no particular order:
  • Chicago O'Hare.  See above.  There is also the fact that the rental car location seems like it is located in Indiana.
  • Philadelphia International.  The place is literally laid out like a cheese maze.  One good point though:  It has very convenient garage parking, and driving into and out of the airport is relatively easy.
  • Atlanta Hartsfield.  Very, very big.  You need to take an underground train to get anywhere.
I don't envy the people that work at airports.  Some travelers get downright horrible.  Granted, having flight plans disrupted is nothing to be happy about, and airlines seem to get a certain amount of joy out of torturing their customers, but airport staff have no control over the weather, airplane mechanical issues, or seats designed with the under-5 foot population in mind.  Yet they are, by and large, good sports at taking care of the travel-disrupted.

On that note, I need to get ready for my next flight.  This time around I have an aisle seat, so at least I'll have one leg cramp.

Sunday, September 22, 2019

The Cost of Betrayal, NEPA Style

...and asked, "What are you willing to give me if I deliver him over to you?" So they counted out for him thirty pieces of silver.

- Gospel of Matthew, Chapter 26, verse 15

Dunmore (PA) borough council voted this past week that the Keystone Sanitary Landfill is not a structure for purposes of zoning, and as a result can go forward with a plan to create a real mountain made of (mostly) out of state trash.  You can read more about this HERE.  This will allow the landfill to remain open for more than four decades into the future.

I'll note that I have nothing personally against the family that owns the landfill.  In fact, as supporters of the University of Scranton, they helped fund scholarships that enabled my soon to be Ph.D. middle daughter to earn her B.S. in biology.  What I do have a problem with though is allowing something that will harm the environment of this area of centuries to come. 

Taking a step back, Northeastern Pennsylvania (NEPA) was the world's center of anthracite coal mining for almost a century.  The area still bears the environmental scars from this activity, even though most of the regions coal mines were closed by the time I was born in 1964.

The coal mines made a few people wealthy and left many areas in ruins.  I personally also think that this activity helps contribute to the higher cancer rates in this region(*).  It's against this backdrop that four members of Dunmore borough council voted to allow the landfill expansion.  The key question is this:  Why?  Really, what's the underlying reason in support of the landfill?

While the landfill is a highly engineered structure (by its own admission), the fact remains that no amount of planning will prevent some level of groundwater contamination by the decaying consumer and commercial waste at the site.  What's more, the landfill itself sits upon abandoned deep mines (you can see for yourself HERE), which in this area tend to be filled with water.  The landfill also produces methane gas as the trillions of bacteria treat its contents as a kind of "all you can eat garbage bullet".  Some of this gas is captured and used for energy production, some of it is also burned off.  Some of it inevitably escapes into the atmosphere.

Yes, we need to put our garbage somewhere.  However, in NEPA, we shouldn't have to also deal with the garbage of other states as well.  At this stage, we've done enough in the area of sacrificing for the greater good, again going back to the coal mining days.

In the end, the records will show that four members of Dunmore's borough council decided that some benefit known only to them was far more valuable than the health of an entire region.  For their figurative 30 pieces of silver, they betrayed an entire region.

(*) A few citations:
Northeast Regional Cancer Institute data
NEPA Cancer Rates Continue to Rise
Pennsylvania Ranks Third in Cancer Incidence

Sunday, September 15, 2019


(from THIS site)

I'm referring to this posting about Scranton School District (SSD).  Here's what I've learned:
  • The hired teacher is related to Director Lesh through marriage, although not in his immediate family.
  • I was told that Director Lesh had nothing to to with the individual's hiring.
  • The SSD Board was not told about the more distant familial relationship.
  • The hiring would fall outside of the SSD's (arguably laughable) anti-nepotism policy*.  
Like many things in the SSD's administrative history, this instance seems to just skirt the boundaries of impropriety.  Technically the policy was not violated, but it does tell a story that this particular hire was not questioned during the last board meeting.  I mean it's not as if the SSD has had problems with this in the past (I'm being has been a problem; see this posting from August 23, 2013).  

As I've noted before, given the significant legal and ethical lapses of the SSD Administration in the past, one would think that the SSD Board would have gone the extra mile and disclosed the relationship, even if it did not technically violate the policy.  I do realize that there is a lot of the SSD Board's plate, but part of that is because prior versions of the SSD's administration failed to pay proper attention to both the letter and the spirit of the law. 

By the way, unlike the SSD's Conflict of Interest policy, there appears to be no real sanction or consequence if the board were to not follow the Anti-Nepotism policy.  Why is that?  Well, I suspect that's the case because the Anti-Nepotism "policy" isn't really a's actually a guideline.  The distinction is important because a policy effectively says "you must do this"; a guideline says "it would be kind of nice if you did this".  The Anti-Nepotism policy guideline is actually a "trust us, we'll do the right thing" kind of document. 

In the end, this is not the SSD's final hour, and I'll confess some sense of dismay at the Scranton Times for failing to report on the issue.  As soon as the name "Lesh" appeared in the board meeting notes, the individual's hiring should have been put on hold pending a review.  That isn't required per the SSD's anti-nepotism policy guideline, but it would the right thing to do for what has historically been an ethically challenged organization. 

(*) You can find all of the SSD's policies by following this link.  Here is the text of the anti-nepotism policy guideline (red text by me):


The district prohibits nepotism in the selection, hiring and assignment process.


Nepotism means the hiring of relatives of the Board or Superintendent.

Relatives shall mean father, mother, brother, sister, husband, wife, son, daughter, step-son, step-daughter, grandchild, nephew, niece, first cousin, sister-in-law, brother-in-law, uncle, or aunt.

Delegation of Responsibility

As soon as the Superintendent becomes aware that a finalist for a full-time position is a relative of a current Board member or the Superintendent, s/he shall notify the Board. All candidates shall be required to complete a written form disclosing any relationship with any current Board member or Superintendent.[1]


Nothing in this policy should in any way reflect on the teacher selection process, provided that in the event a relationship is identified between a member of the selection committee and a candidate, the member of the selection committee who is related to the candidate, shall be disqualified from participating in the selection process.[1]

No persons shall be assigned, or reassigned to a position that requires that the employee directly supervise or be supervised by a relative. Should such a relationship occur, the employee to be supervised shall be transferred to another position with no diminution of his/her employment status. In the event such a transfer is not possible, a nonrelated supervisor shall conduct the employment evaluation. This policy and its implementation shall not cause the resignation of any Board member or discharge of any employee should a relative be elected or hired/transferred to a position of supervision.

It is the intention of the Board that this policy not prohibit the selection, promotion or transfer of any person in the employ of the district prior to the date of the adoption of this policy.