Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Resolutions for 2015

   Okay. I realize making and keeping resolutions are two very different things, but my Quixotic nature compels me to at least try.
   First, as most people do, I will try to take steps to maintain my health. (I would say “maintain and improve”, but at my age I’ll settle for the former). In order to accomplish this I will try to maintain a basic exercise regimen. Nothing too brutal, but enough to get some cardio on my days off. Having a job that requires physical activity will also help in this regard. I will also try to improve my diet. This is an instance where the younger generation is teaching the older. My son is eating healthier, eschewing red meat and transitioning to vegetarianism. Though I doubt I will go that far, I will try to decrease the amount of red meat in my diet and will try to decrease my binge eating. I will also try to pay attention to my mental health through mindfulness techniques and other practices that may be useful.

   Second, I will try to continue my education by taking advantage of free online college courses. By using random methods of choosing courses, I hope to challenge myself to learn in areas that I might not have thought I’d have an interest. I may be bored on occasion but I think it more likely I may surprise myself and awaken an interest that had been dormant.

Finally, I will try to do something creative every day. Even if it’s only 15 minutes a day as my schedule allows, I will do my best to do SOMETHING… whether it’s songwriting, poetry, prose writing, playing guitar or learning keyboards, I will try my best to do something that will cause my life to be more than just work and chores. Consider this post to be the first installment in this undertaking. We'll both see what happens.

Monday, July 1, 2013

Five Seven Five

I've been reading some Kobayashi Issa, and... well... you know... I just can't help myself.


Summer morning haze -
Yesterday's brilliant sunlight
Now an egg yolk smear.

Friend reads my haiku,
Tapping his fingers as he
Counts the syllables.

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Obsessive. Compusive. Dismissive.

   Last summer, when the family went on our vacation "down south", we stopped by the small town of Wapakoneta, OH to visit the Neil Armstrong Air and Space Museum. Naturally, as the family's resident obsessive space geek, I loved it. I saw the Gemini 8 capsule which was on display, as well as numerous items related to Neil Armstrong's life as well as mementos
from the flight of Apollo 11.
   I did, however, notice a mistake in one of the displays. They showed replicas of the two Westinghouse television cameras carried on Apollo 11. One was a color camera carried in the Command Module and the other was the smaller black and white camera that sent pictures from the lunar surface. The signs indicating which was which were reversed. I was going to mention this to someone at the museum, but when I noticed the only ones there were an elderly couple who looked happy to be serving their community by volunteering at the museum, I decided against it. I had the impression they were there for something to do rather than because of abiding love of spaceflight history. I'd have felt like I was harassing someone's great-grandmother for having an incorrect setting on their computer. Yes, I'm persnickety about my space facts, but why be a buzzkill? And so the Apollo 11 camera gaffe went uncorrected - at least on that day. Hell, it may STILL be wrong. In case it is, and for the sake of those few who A.) plan to visit the Neil Armstrong Air and Space Museum in the near future and B.) actually give a damn about this sort of thing, the camera on the left side of the display depicts the color camera and the camera on the right is a replica of the Lunar Module camera that landed on the moon.
   So now you know.

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Through Dark Trees

   There's a painting I love. It hangs on the wall of the University of Michigan Medical Center's Frankel Cardiovascular Center. Specifically, it's on floor 2A in the hallway across from the consultation rooms. Unless you happen to work at the hospital or are having heart problems serious enough to require a discussion with a cardiologist, you're not likely ever to see this painting. The name of the work is "Through Dark Trees". The artist's name is Richard Kooyman. Aside from the fact he painted this work, I knew absolutely nothing about this artist.
   The painting's theme is simplicity itself. Most of the canvas depicts a gloomy dark - mostly black, in fact - forest. But through a gap in the darkness shines a vibrant, sunlit beach and an azure lake extending to the horizon. Upon viewing the painting, one gets the impression this glimpse of the grand vista was a hard-earned reward for a long slog through the forest. And one can almost feel the warmth to be experienced by stepping from the chill woods onto the serene shore. This resonated with me since I was having to drive over 60 miles to work every day, dealing with Ann Arbor's notorious parking, sardine-dense shuttle buses and the high cost of having to fill my gas tank twice weekly. I was away from home so much due to traffic and the length of the commute that it seemed I was either working, getting ready for work or driving to and from work. I was physically and mentally exhausted but, having to support my family, I had no choice but to carry on.
   I kept hoping I could find a position on the University of Michigan's Flint campus. It would be much closer to home. I remember during each Christmas season hoping would it be my last one at the hospital. But I found myself still there the next Christmas. And the next. I was in those seemingly endless dark woods. But I kept hoping one day I would finally gaze upon that sunny lake out in the distance. And that painting kept the hope alive. Each day I walked by it, my gloom was made easier to bear.
Then, after a seeming eternity, it happened. I was interviewed for a custodial position in Flint and I was offered the position. Soon, the long drives and short stays at home would be a thing of the past. In a very real sense, I felt as though I could finally see the beach through all those dark trees.
Despite the hassles I experienced during my time commuting to Ann Arbor, there are some things I will miss. The nurses on the CPU floor, for one. They showed me the greatest love and support during my time there and I couldn't ask for better people to work with. And, of course, I will miss that painting. I may not understand art in an advanced way, but I know that painting communicated to me and gave me hope in a way mere words could never do.
And now, new adventures await. I hope the beach is as nice as it looked all these years!

Saturday, October 20, 2012

I Was Bored. I Have No Other Excuse.

   Once upon a time, a culinary scientist was testing a new smartphone app he had created. With it, one could point the smartphone at any food item and that item would give information about itself – in its own words – that would help inexperienced cooks in preparing those items. After much work, the app was ready for testing. The scientist went to the local grocery store to try it out. First, he pointed it at a pepper.

   “I am a pepper. I was grown in Mexico. I am moderately hot and can be used in sauces for added flavor.”

   The scientist was ecstatic! He tried other items:

   “I am a potato. I was grown in Idaho. I contain starches and carbohydrates and if cooked at 400 degrees for one hour I will make an excellent baked potato.”

   Another success! Encouraged, the scientist tried more complex foods.

   “I am a tiramisu. I was made by a chef in New York from the finest ingredients, including excellent mascarpone cheese. I am the perfect dessert for special occasions and holidays.”

   Finally, the scientist decided to test the new app on an apple pie:

   “The CIA and the Trilateral Commission are using secret hydrogen bomb technology to undermine the continental shelf in order to cause earthquakes! Oswald didn’t act alone! He was helped by space aliens who used special mind wave technology to get rid of the President because he knew too much about Atlantis!”

   Confused, the scientist tried again:

   “The Norwegians are trying to corner the silver market in a conspiracy with a secret advanced race of super-intelligent rodent-beings so they can destabilize the internet in order to hide the truth about homeopathy!”

   Disappointed, the scientist went home to figure out what went wrong. Despite much tweaking, whenever he tried the app on a pie, he got the same kind of bizarre diatribe. One day, he mentioned his problem to a mathematician friend.

   “Oh!” said the mathematician. “I know what the problem is!”
   “What?” asked the culinary scientist.
   “Your app is working fine! It’s the pie that’s the problem!”
   “Really? How so?”
   “Well,” replied the mathematician, “as any mathematician can tell you, pie is irrational!”

Thursday, August 2, 2012

Theological Insights from Olympic Beach Volleyball

   While watching the Olympic beach volleyball competition recently, I noticed the American women’s team practiced a small ritual after each point. They would smack their hands together in a double high five, then hug, then do another double high five and then one of them would point skyward, apparently acknowledging the role of the Almighty in spiking the ball over the net and leaving the competition with a face full of sand.
   It was that final gesture which caught my attention. The volleyball player was pointing directly overhead… to what astronomers call the zenith point. This would imply that God is in a specific place in the heavens - for if, as some people state, God is “everywhere” there would be no need to point anywhere to recognize Him. God is just as much in the sand beneath the players’ feet as he is in the sky. But based on the pointing of the player it would appear that God was in the sky at a point directly over the London Olympic beach volleyball court at the beginning of the match.
   As the match continued, however, I noticed something intriguing. The American volleyball players continued to curry Divine favor, kept scoring and consequently kept hugging, high-fiving and pointing… directly overhead. As someone with an amateur interest in astronomy I found this fascinating. If God was indeed at a fixed point in the sky, that point would appear to move over time from our Earth-bound perspective as the Earth rotated about its axis. In other words, as the match continued, the volleyball player should have been pointing at a point in the sky slightly off the overhead point she was pointing to at the beginning of the match. Yet she kept pointing directly overhead.
   This could only mean one thing! Something profound in its theological and astronomical implications: God is in a geostationary orbit! Like a communication satellite, God is revolving in the heavens at the same rate as the Earth’s rotation. Thus, from our perspective, he remains in the same point in the sky at all times.
   It would also imply that in parts of the world opposite London, God is never in the sky at all! The Antipode of London (the point opposite the Earth from that city), in fact, is near New Zealand. Do religious New Zealand volleyball players point at the ground when they score a point on home turf? Is divine power unable to pass through the center of the Earth? If so, that would make New Zealand quite literally the most God-forsaken spot on the planet. That would make sense, I suppose. After all, could a creature as bizarre as the Kiwi have been intelligently designed by an All-Powerful Creator? This may also explain why the Olympic Games have never been held in New Zealand.

   So much to think about. So many questions. Maybe someday the American women’s beach volleyball team will tell all!

Saturday, July 21, 2012

Why I Love My Kindle

Years ago, at the now-defunct Border’s books in Flint I spied a massive box, about the size of a steamer trunk, containing The Complete Works of Mark Twain. It carried a price tag of several hundred dollars but I was still drooling. It was something I would have loved to own, but the inconvenience of the size of the box combined with the steep price steered me away.

   Fast forward a good number of years. I now was working as a janitor at the Cardiovascular Center in Ann Arbor. I loved reading on my break time as much as ever, but taking books back & forth was beginning to become a hassle. Small books weren’t too much of a problem since I could always stuff them in my coat pocket in the wintertime but larger books and books during the warm weather months weren’t as convenient.

   I had been wondering whether one o’those newfangled electronic gizmos for reading books would be a good solution for me. I had first seen them on vacation several years earlier in Washington D.C. Many commuters were engrossed in reading them on the Metro. It looked like a convenient way to enjoy reading in busy, chaotic circumstances. I wanted to know more about them, and as it turned out the weekend supervisor at the hospital had just purchased a Kindle and she let me check it out. I was immediately sold. It was easy to read and easy to use. Plus, I could download lots of public domain titles from such sources as Project Gutenberg and the Internet Archive.

   One of the criticisms of the Kindle (usually from those who don’t yet own them) comes from people who say they like the feel of holding a physical book. I completely understand that. Heck, I like physical books, too. But this isn’t an “either/or” proposition. Using a Kindle doesn’t mean you can no longer read regular books again. It’s something one uses in addition to physical books. Not in place
of them.

   So finally, last year, I saved up my birthday money and bought my Kindle. I’ve never regretted it. I’ve been reading an insane amount of material… much of it old and obscure historical works from the previously mentioned internet sites which are available for free. I also enjoy reading old technical papers from NASA which are posted on the history sections of their website.

   But one of the most amazing finds for my Kindle was an electronic version of The Complete Works of Mark Twain. Yes, not only was it available online, the price was a mere 99 cents!!! Naturally, I clicked the download button and within a few minutes I was the proud owner of a work I’d wanted those many years before. Cheap, easy, convenient. What’s not to like?

   Lest you think I’m merely being a shill for Amazon, I would like to state clearly there are certain things I DON’T like about how Amazon does business. One thing I don’t like is you can’t order a magazine subscription using a gift card. Seems kinda silly to me. I think it’s related to another thing I don’t like. Namely, you can’t just order a magazine subscription for your Kindle for a finite period of time. If you wanted to order a 1-year subscription to a given magazine for X amount of dollars, you can’t do it. You can only give them your credit card number and get an open-ended subscription and have your account billed indefinitely until such time as you actively cancel the subscription. I do NOT like that. I want to pay a given amount of money for a given good or service and be done with it. If I want more later, I’LL make the decision to renew.

    Heck, even on subscriptions to the print versions of magazines they will automatically renew your subscription and keep billing you unless you cancel it. I found that by going to the website of a magazine itself I could not only get a print subscription for a finite period, it was cheaper than the price charged by Amazon as well.

    That having been said, however, the Kindle itself has been a welcome presence in my daily routine. Not only does it excel in its primary role as an electronic reading device, it also has basic e-mail and web browsing functions. Nothing fancy, mind you, but it gets the job done when no other internet access is available. When I’m taking a break at work and need to let my wife know I may be late getting home, a quick e-mail from the Kindle does the trick.

   The Kindle I have is the one with the monochrome screen. Since I bought it, there’s now the Kindle Fire with full color display and (from what I understand anyway) a more powerful processor and enhanced internet connectivity. Yeah, that would be neat, but on a janitor’s salary money IS an object and for now my old reliable Kindle is handling things well. Along with the trusty old Sony ICF-2010 shortwave radio which I’ve had for decades, it’s one of the favorite material things I own.