31 December 2014

New Years Eve

    I don't know whether or not it has to do with Hal and I getting older, but the idea of going out to celebrate New Year's Eve really seems ridiculous. Every year we get invitations to go to some place for a "special" or a "once in a lifetime" celebration, but we almost always end up at home watching the ball drop in front of the TV. It isn't that we dislike going out, it just seems like such a hassle, especially after the parties are over with, trying to get back home even when we are sober. The roads are full of people who refuse to limit themselves on this night, and we have seen too many accidents to want to be involved in one. The sad truth is that we could be completely sober and still be involved in an accident with someone who should NOT be driving.
    Staying home keeps us out of those situations and also allows us to just relax and be with each other. That is more special than anything we could do by going out on the town tonight. Not to mention that staying at home is also much cheaper than going out. We can always find a use for the money that we don't spend at another time.
    For all of you who do go out this evening, please be safe. There are plenty of groups offering free rides for those who celebrate too much. Take advantage of them to protect yourself and everyone else. I look forward to everyone reading my blog in 2015.

End of 2014

    As 2014 comes to a close, I am taking some time to reflect on things that have happened during the year. Overall, 2014 has been a good year for me, but there have been some disappointments as well.
  • Finances
    • I am in much better shape at the end of 2014 than I was at the end of 2013. This is the result of planning and discipline on my part. Without having a goal, and forcing myself to stick to it, I would not have cleared off all but one of my debts at this time. It has not been easy, it has often involved sacrifices and denial of my wants, but it has also proven to be worth it in the long run.
    • I still have one debt to clear, but that one has never been one that was in arrears. It is going to take a while to get this last debt erased, but I know now that I can do it if I apply myself. The key is to not allow myself to get into the bad habits that got me into trouble in the first place. My credit score has soared over the last year. Offers for all sorts of things have flooded my mailbox, and all have gone to the shredder until this month. I finally opened a new credit card for the express purpose of having a source of funds for an emergency only. The temptation to use the new card is virtually non-existent, and that is a great feeling to have.
  • Job
    •     This is the tricky part. I still love the job that I have, but I am also finding myself thinking more and more often that there has to be something better out there for me. For all intents and purposes, I work alone. My coworkers never come to the office because they take advantage (abuse) the company's telework policy. I no longer even notice when they are not here, i am actually more surprised when they actually ARE here. I have come to prefer this arrangement since it distinguishes me from them in a measurable way. The situation has been discussed with the team lead, but he is actually at corporate HQ 3000 miles away from us and doesn't seem to realize the potential risks associated with the continues absence of the coworkers. That is not my problem once it has been addressed to him.
  • Goals
    •     As mentioned above, I often find myself wondering about other possible opportunities that might be out there. I work with data all day long, and with the situation described earlier, there is often no human interaction at this job other than a telephone call. I find myself wondering if I could re-adjust to working with other people. I am passionate about politics and Social Justice, I try to write a blog, but something always seems to get in the way.
  • Plans
    •     I want to write more during 2015. That is my primary goal. Perhaps writing and sharing my thoughts more will lead me to one of the jobs that would break the routine that I am in. At the very least, it keeps me happy when I do take the time to write. I also want to get into better shape physically, and I will try to do that in 2015. I wonder if the lack of pressure and stress about finances will help me to achieve that goal?
  • Loss of a friend
    •     I cannot close out 2014 without mentioning the loss of a very dear friend. Don Beasley was someone I met while in the Navy years ago, so long ago that is often seems like a past life to me. Don was one of the handful of people that made the effort to maintain contact with me through the years. He and his wife, Nicola are a part of the family that Hal and I have created for ourselves. There has never been any judgement from Don or Nicola about Hal and myself. Don died in a motorcycle accident in November while on his way to work. He loved his motorcycle, and took advantage of a spectacular day in November to get in one last day of riding. Sadly, he was involved in the accident that day and died almost instantly. I remember falling to my knees when Nicola called me a few hours after the accident to tell me what had happened. I have not felt that sense of loss in a long time. Hal and I remain very close to Nicola and the kids, Brianna and Connor. We spend Thanksgiving and Xmas with them every year with the exception of this Thanksgiving, because there were still so many people at their house after the tragedy. Xmas with them was terrific, and everyone is slowly coming to terms with the loss of Don. He will never be forgotten, and Hal and I remain committed to helping Nicola and the kids in whatever way we can.

24 December 2014

The uproar over The Interview

    I am a cynic. I seldom see things the way that most people do. It is part of my charm, or lack thereof. I often find myself looking for ways to avoid the groupthink that permeates our society. Having said that, I wanted to offer my observations on the uproar surrounding the movie "The Interview".
    The trailers and advertisements for this movie have been around for several months now. I have to wonder who actually thought that this was ever a good idea for a movie. The concept of a comedy involving spies is nothing new, but to set the story in the real world against an actual world leader seems to have been a lapse in judgement. Kim Jung Un is a total ass, the world knows that, and yet the idea that a real person would be the purported target of these inept assassins fails to make me want to rally to the movie's defense. Movies of a similar vein have been made before, just call the country involved something like Dumbfukistan, and give the leader a goofy name, and none of this would have happened. Or, was the plan all along to produce this PR bombshell?
    The ranting of North Korea over this movie was nothing but unexpected. North Korea is like a child that always demands attention by acting up and causing trouble. Having said that, I still find it a stretch that North Korea could then muster up the technological savvy to hack into Sony Pictures. I doubt that there are many 15-year old pimples adolescent males sitting in their bedrooms in North Korea with the knowledge to do so.
     At any rate, Sony Pictures announces to the world that their network has been hacked. Embarrassing emails that seem to be pure gold for talk shows are released. This is where my suspicion really begins to pick up. A story that is designed to generate even more stories seems too convenient. Then Sony Pictures wants to turn this alleged hack into a National Security event. The last time I checked, Sony was not the US government, nor a US government agency. The release of gossip celebrity infoporn is hardly a national security risk.
    The response to this incident by the US government is the next area where I really find it hard to keep pressing the "I Believe" button hard enough to make this work for me. Since Sony Pictures is a private corporation, why is it necessary to make this a government affair? Is it because North Korea is such as easy target to pick on? Look at what is going on here in this country as this "story" develops. The issues like Police Brutality and the resulting protests are dominating the headlines. These are real-world events that neither the media nor the government have any real control over. Doesn't this whole Sony thing just smell wrong to have happened now?
    I am a cynic. I see the connection where this could very easily be a manufactured crisis that was designed to take the attention of the general public away from real-world issues and divert it to this. The plot needed for this is more believable than the plot for the movie at the center of things!
A crappy picture destined for an early release to home video, that would never recover the investment made in it, now becomes a lightning rod for attention. The uproar causes the movie to be pulled from it's planned release. This causes even more uproar because "we cannot allow the North Koreans to take away our freedom to see this crap!".
     This so-called cyber attack itself cannot be satisfactorily explained because it is too complex and would affect, wait for it, "National Security". "National Security" has become the catchphrase for all sorts of attacks on the very freedoms that we are supposed to cherish. I instantly start to delve deeper whenever this is the excuse for any action, because it is just so convenient to tell people that there are things that they cannot know for their own good. The instincts of a child are more developed than those of the American public when "National Security" is the justification for any action. At least a child will ask questions rather than accept blindly whatever they are told.
    Now, of course, the movie will be released after all. Already the reaction is "I will see this movie because it will show North Korea that they cannot impinge on my freedom to see it". Obviously, the idea that these people are defending the idea that they have to accept everything told to them never enters their minds. The idea that they are going to enjoy exercising their freedom to be separated from their hard-earned money to see a crappy film that they would otherwise have ignored escapes them.
    
    

22 December 2014

An Evening with Friends

     Hal and I have finally convinced Nicola to bring the kids down for a visitShe recently lost her husbandmy dear friend Donin a motorcycle accident last month a few weeks before ThanksgivingEverything has been a whirlwind of emotions and turmoil since then for Nicola and the kidsHal and I convinced her to get out for a few hours without any pressure and just drop by and visit us.
     We are looking forward to seeing themPlans are for a nice dinner right across the street at our favorite local restaurant early this eveningThe rest of the time will be devoted to relaxing and letting them unwind for an evening.
    As I write this on Monday morning starting a slow day at the office, I can say that we all had a wonderful time last night. The cats were awesome and adorable with the kids.
     
    Hal, Nicola, Connor, Edna and Brianna.

     Brianna had a really good relationship with Spartacus, as the picture clearly shows. Stevie Nicks was too busy posing for everyone else to let me get a shot of her, but she charmed everyone all evening. Maxwell stayed aloof for most of the evening, but later he did sit next to Edna on the couch.
    We will be seeing everyone on xmas later this week. Hal and I are looking forward to more time together with Nicola and the family.

11 December 2014

Inconsistencies

    Just when things are supposedly moving in the right direction, something happens to derail the entire process. I work with records in a huge database and the task was recently set to make thousands of edits to individual records. This was not an insurmountable task, but it was extremely labor intensive. The timeline was never addressed properly, and this was the first problem that I encountered.
    I pushed to get this effort underway for several months. All these efforts were pointless, and precious time slipped away. The lead for this effort (not me), kept insisting that the manual approach would still work. He did this because he wanted something grand to put in his accomplishments list. I pointed out the inherent risks associated with the delays we encountered, but his overly simplistic and optimistic approach continued unabated.
    Finally we got the go-ahead to begin making the changes and I pointed out to the lead that even under the most optimistic conditions showed us missing the deadline. The lead took this information and decided to farm portions of the task out ot other people who were not as familiar with the data and have them make changes as well.
     This prompted another memo from me assessing the risk of this approach. Team lead was unmoved so we commenced on the fruitless task late in the timeline. We showed slow progress, but there was no way for us to meet the deadline. This finally prompted the lead to ask for software developers to generate a script to make the proposed changes! I had suggested this from the very beginning, but was ignored each time I brought up the subject.
     Less than 24 hours later, the lead relented and said we should resume our efforts because he didn't feel comfortable leaving this up to the developers. The actual task involves cutting and pasting, so a script was not a bad idea. I suspect that the lead did not want to give up on this big bullet for his own brag sheet.
     At any rate, we now are preparing to begin the effort where we left off. This also means that we lost 2 days for this effort that cannot be made up before the deadline. So now, we wait for the same lead to deliver us an updated spreadsheet before we can begin again. It is also worth mentioning that the lead will not be available to assist in the project for the rest of this week. Personally, this doesn't sit well with me at all. I am not peased when I am given a task with an impossible deadline and told how much the team has to contribute only to see that the lead will not be participating in the effort.
     The bottom line is that the work has to be done. I am already looking at putting in several hours this weekend in order to help meet the deadline. This will be a major point when I have my next 1-1 discussion with the team supervisor, he is not the person responsible for this fiasco.

Sign of the Times

    Yesterday afternoon, the company I work for hosted the annual Xmas party at a local hotel. This is a nice change from the normal routine, and it gives me a chance to see people that I rarely see during the rest of the year since I work remotely. The company provides the food and drinks for everyone, and the CEO and his wife are actually part of a band, so they always bring their instruments and provide the live entertainment as well.
    I had a great time at the party, I ate well and I drank plenty without getting into trouble for the drive home afterwards. I was able to watch the UK game and relax at home before going to bed. Since I left the party reasonably early, I felt no ill effects this morning and made it to work on-time. I am not surprised to see that several of the other people have not signed into their messenger accounts as of yet :)
    With the party over, it now is time to roll into the Holiday Routine here at the office. Since I am almost always the only person actually here, this will be rather easy for me to accomplish. The tasking has been slowing down, and I now have plenty of time to get things taken care of in addition to items that have been on the back burner for far too long.
    I am looking forward to the weekend as always. There is another holiday party that Hal and I both will be attending on Saturday. Since this party is in Baltimore, that means that I will not be partaking in any alcohol since I am the driver. There will be fun times regardless, although we cannot stay late because Hal has to work on Sunday.
    I am not religious at all, but I do enjoy the time that society sets aside at this time of year to allow us to get together with friends and have good times. It seems to be a healthy alternative to the rest of the year when things are always moving at breakneck speed. Time to enjoy life is very limited once we get into the rat-race of survival. Perhaps there should be a few more times like this throughout the year in order to allow us to actually enjoy ourselves collectively for a change.

09 December 2014

Why do we let things wear us down?

     I came home from work today, just like every other weekday. Hal asked me how my day went and I proceeded to inundate him with small details and stuff that has absolutely no bearing on our relationship. I was listening to myself talk and wishing that I would stop, but I could not until I was finished. I don’t know if Hal saw the inner struggle reflected in my face, but I realized that I felt awful for telling him about all the things that I cannot control s if I expected him to have any more influence over them than I do. That was terribly unfair to Hal, and I realized that it was a daily routine. Hal always listens to me when I vent about things, and he always supports me, but I feel awful about using him as a sounding board for things.
     I retreated to another room and started trying to think about what I can do differently. As I looked around my desk, I saw this old holiday ornament and it started me thinking. Why do I feel so down at times? What 
makes things seem so awful?
    I have worked at many jobs and they all have times that they really suck. It is something that is unavoidable. The important part is how I choose to deal with these temporary issues. Complaining about them doesn't do any good, I know this from experience. Dumping all of this on Hal is not fair. Hal didn't cause things to go wrong at work, he doesn't deserve to hear all the negative BS.
     I have been at points in my life that are so much worse than the things I face today. I have always come through and not only survived, but prospered. This is no different. Whatever happens, I will overcome it and keep moving forward.
     I am incredibly lucky. Hal is the best thing that I have ever had in my life and I will not do anything to take him for granted or drive him away. I have to deal with the negative things without making them his problems as well. Hal has been admirable as a sounding board, but he deserves better than that.
    I am making myself this promise. Whatever happens at work, stays at work. The time for worrying about the small stuff is over. From now on, I will do my very best to focus on Hal and myself FIRST. I will do this because TOGETHER we have already proven that we are unstoppable!

08 December 2014

Monday and things are crap

    Monday morning started as usual. I got to the office around 0630 and soon discovered that the coworkers were not coming in today. Nothing unusual about those events. Then I tried to access the network application that I need to use today and found that it is down. A few quick calls to corporate IT confirmed that the system is down, rather than a local problem with the network here. The next predictable part was the diagnosis that no one is sure why the system is down, and that there is no expected timeframe when it will be restored.
    This all falls into perfect perspective when I consider that this is Monday. The day when things are supposed to go wrong since the weekend is over. I am not sure why things always work out (or more accurately, Don't work) on Mondays. Perhaps the computer systems are missing the weekend as well? It seems as plausible as any other theory right now.
    My weekend was quiet. Plans for brunch with friends fell through for no visible reason yesterday. I just never heard from them and decided that I was not going to call and plead to see if things would proceed as originally planned. I used the time to get things done around the apartment while Hal was at work. I ran a few errands and managed to get some rest. In the final analysis, I came out ahead without the brunch and without the friends that could not make up their minds about anything so trivial as when and where to meet.
    I never bothered to contact the people supposedly involved. Things like this seem to be a pattern with them, and experience has taught me that I cannot make my plans based upon their possible plans. Too many times I have been the person not notified that things were canceled at the very last minute, and that was only after calling to see if things were still on to begin with.
    So, Monday has struck again. Hopefully this will get better as the day moves along, but that remains to be seen. The best thing about Monday is that the longer it goes on, the less of it there is left to endure.

03 December 2014

I can't breathe

     I can't breathe. These are just wordsThese words are words that should appeal to our humanity that someone is in troubleThese words signify something is terribly wrongThese words are a cry for help.
     To not breathe is to dieThese words should have people clamoring to help the personThese words demand action from others.
     These words are meaninglessThese words have no value anymoreThey are uselessNYPD has made sure of thator so they think.
     These words are MORE POWERFUL than ever this eveningThese words are a rallying cry for JusticeThese words ring out in the streets to protest brutality by those who are sworn to protect and serveThese words fall on the deaf ears of those very servants this evening.
     These words are growing louder as the cry is taken up by more and more people across this countryThese words will bring change for the better.

If everyone demanded peace instead of another television set, then there'd be peace. John Lennon

     John Lennon was a keen observer of human nature. This quote hits on something very basic to every person, the need to obtain a tangible reward for doing the right thing.
    We often talk about the grand idea of Peace, it is something that we all aspire to achieve, but there is nothing immediately gratifying about Peace unless we are in a war at the time, especially on a personal level. To everyone not involved in a conflict directly, Peace is something that is not as imperative because it does not involve an immediate change to our daily lives.
    Another aspect to this quote is that we associate working towards something with a definite end point and a definite reward at that time. The TV set is something that we can save our money to get, and when the time comes we get the TV and feel a sense of accomplishment on a personal level and walk away feeling that we truly achieved something. Peace, on the other hand, requires the cooperation of everyone, it is a collective goal. The measurements are not as clearly defined as the cost of a new TV set. Therefore, the progress towards the goal is not easily discerned and cannot be accurately measured on a daily or weekly or even monthly basis. We are not sure how long we will have to work to have Peace. We have no idea what the clearly established reward will be for achieving it, unless once again, we are in the middle of a battlefield actually fighting a war at the time.
    A hidden meaning of the quote is the backhanded swipe at consumerism. We are so used to buying things and equating that to a truly important universal goal that we lose our sense of society in the process. Look at the Black Friday madness every year. People do, to some small extent, actually go to war in order to get that new TV! Why? Because it is cheaper than it was the day before. We are being run through a maze by those in power who watch us part with our sanity and our money to get something for a smaller markup than at another time. Yet those who emerge from the store with that TV feel a great sense of accomplishment, at least for a while. I call this temporary satisfaction. This also emphasizes the individual over the society to an insane degree. Peace cannot be achieved solely from an individual perspective, it takes everyone working for the same thing.
    Peace is not mass-produced for us. The TV sets are. Peace is something that we all have to work on together. We are the producers of Peace and NOT the consumers in the traditional sense. No one markets Peace and sells it to us, we have to construct it collectively and distribute it to everyone. The TV makers will show an immediate profit for each TV they sell, we will all benefit in other tangible ways from Peace, but not in the immediate sense that the TV maker does.
    And so, the mindset that we often live under prevents us from truly working towards Peace in the first place. We need to examine ourselves first and determine that we are truly ready for Peace. Is that an insane question? Who doesn't want Peace? Then why is it so hard to achieve? As long as there are those who will profit from war and injustice and dischord, Peace will remain elusive and out of reach. It is only after we begin to see things through a different lens that the Truth becomes clear to us. Peace isn't easy, Peace is hard. Wanting Peace brings it no closer, only working towards Peace collectively will get us there. Focus on the self at the expense of our fellow human beings and society will never take us to Peace, although it will tear us to pieces if we let it.
    Read the quote and see what jumps out at you.