21

May 1, 2008

21 years oldAround here most parents’ children see their 21st birthday. My oldest saw his today.

I think this is a more meaningful milestone for me than it is for him; my work day has certainly been affected by it. The next time we get together – which may be a while, as he goes straight from end-of-semester finals to his summer job in Hartford – I think I’ll ask him to buy the drinks.

Congratulations to my 21-year-old and all those other 21-year-olds out there. Be wise, be careful, and go for that brass ring.


Tchotchkes

April 29, 2008

TchotchkesWhenever I go to a trade show I resist the urge to stuff my pockets or tote bag with the little giveaways that many vendors place at their booths to draw you close. Yet over the years my office has become a museum for a collection of objects that I picked up from who knows where.

The ones I can spy from my desk include the blue cheerleader guy, staple removers, myriad screwdrivers, “Talker Putty”, letter openers, a UB key chain, a Coqui frog, a ruler, one ubiquitous buffalo, two brains and a blue squeezie ball that bulges bright red when squeezed.

I don’t know why I keep the stuff. In my desk is another assortment of name tags (really nice ones!), 99-cent headsets, dozens – no, hundreds – of pens, a magnifying glass, and a rock with some saying on it that has long since been rubbed off.

Someday I’ll decide that my office would look better de-cluttered, and most of this stuff will get chucked. As for now, I simply leave it laying around, inert, reminders of trade shows that I’ve long forgotten.


Chores

April 27, 2008

Chores, circa 1940A friend of mine and I were chatting about how mundane life becomes as we get older, as we take on more responsibility and with that responsibility come tasks that eat into what used to be discretionary time. Funny how it mostly creeps up on you: Not the job, but the occasional dinner meeting or “social” gathering that you feel obligated to attend, and that chews up an evening. The house with its never-ending demands for maintenance; the children (bless them!) with their never-ending demands for attention. The dishes, the laundry, the bathrooms, the vacuuming, the lawn, and this past couple of weekends, the pool, and firewood.

I do not remember how I filled my day prior to having children. I do know that the number of evenings my wife and I go out, now that the kids are in college, has only marginally increased mainly because we’re too tired to go out. I also know that my week-long summer vacation is likely to be spent away from home, so that projects needing my attention will be delayed yet again.

I know only a very few individuals who do not live like this. They tend to pick up every couple of years and move on, either to a new job, a new city, a new home/apartment, or all of these. None are married. I wonder if they are at peace with a nomadic lifestyle, or if they are in search of and never finding satisfaction in life.

I, for one, will not give up my current lifestyle. It will evolve on its own, and eventually provide me with the time to do the things I want to do. As tired as I become by day’s end I am also satisfied that I have tried my best to reach a goal or two.


RIP Arthur C. Clarke

March 19, 2008

Arthur C ClarkeArthur C. Clarke has died.  I am forever grateful to this very best of science fiction writers for giving me Childhood’s End and 2001: A Space Odyssey among many, many other stories.

As a kid he turned me onto the science at the very fringe of the (im)possible, and my curiosity has never waned.

Rest in peace.


Powder

March 16, 2008

PowderPowder.

A most addictive distraction from the affairs of the week.

For anyone who likes to watch the patterns that the wind makes out of snow or leaves.


Energy

March 3, 2008

Light BulbToday, for the very first time, I put $5o worth of gasoline into a vehicle.  First.  Time.  Ever.

Gasoline in Western New York is typically 10-20 cents more than the national average, and at least a few pennies more than in other upstate towns like Albany, which I’m somewhat familiar with.   I’m told that it’s because we’re at the end of a long gasoline pipeline and so we pay for the cost of that extra pumping.  Sounds fishy.  More likely, gasoline suppliers jack up the prices a bit because they can.

The average New Yorker pays over 17 cents per kilowatt hour for electricity (I pay 15 cents, yippee), the most expensive in the country except for Connecticut and Hawaii.  The national average is almost 40% less.

Solar power costs in the sunbelt states are currently about 38 cents per kilowatt hour, higher here because we get less sunshine – on average, about half as much.  We really can’t get a break when it comes to energy expense.

But we do have plenty of cheap water, and I don’t see that changing any time soon.

Nonetheless, before I die I still hope to be completely off the grid.


My Very Exciting Magic Carpet

February 27, 2008

“My Very Exciting Magic Carpet Just Sailed Under Nine Palace Elephants.”

Just in case you needed a mnemonic to remember all the planets (including the three dwarf planets):  Mercury, Venus, Earth, Mars, Ceres, Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, Neptune, Pluto, Eris.

Some fourth-grader in Montana came up with it.

Now if only I could come up with a way to remember the spelling of my wife’s middle name:  Is it Ann or Anne?


Red-Cooked Fish

February 26, 2008

Red FishI wouldn’t normally blog about meal recipes, but this meal is so delicious that I had to write something about it, if for no other reason than perhaps to help guarantee that it will not be lost to history.

The following recipe is from  Mrs. Chiang’s Szechwan Cookbook, by Ellen Schrecker (1976).  It is one of the very best meals – perhaps the very best – I have ever had.  If you enjoy spicy Chinese food, then this recipe is well worth the effort required to prepare it.

  Read the rest of this entry »


Health Insurance

February 25, 2008

I am not overweight.

I am, however, paying significant health insurance premiums subsidizing many less-healthy people who are so grossly overweight that they are experiencing chronic medical problems.  The obesifying of America is only going to make it worse as deaths from weight-related illnesses like diabetes are increasing at alarming rates.  As an employer I grow tired of paying out $4K+ for employee health insurance premiums and then, as an employee, another $4K+ for the remainder of my health insurance premiums.

Getting health insurance companies to recognize me as a healthy, low-risk individual and putting me into a low-risk pool (as good drivers are able to do with auto insurance) is not likely to become an option in the near future, while I am still healthy enough to take advantage of it.

So here’s my idea.  Add a surcharge to every restaurant and fast-food meal that is based on the average “health rating” for that restaurant.  The health rating is simply the total number of calories of food purchased by the restaurant, divided by the number of meals served – giving an average caloric count per meal.  The surcharge is to be collected as a direct reimbursement to lower overall insurance costs.  If we can’t get insurance companies to lower their premiums or health care providers to reduce their costs, then we can at least come up with a more creative way to pay those costs than simply increasing premiums by 20% year after year.  Think of it as a cigarette tax on gluttony.

This is not to penalize restaurants but rather to force people who are habitual gluttons (or simply bad eaters) to pay more for the health costs that we will all eventually incur for their bad habits. I imagine that McDonalds will need to add hefty surcharges, as well any place that sells chicken wings, pizza or Chinese food.

The hefty taxes added to cigarettes were certainly one reason that cigarette use has decreased in America.  Maybe charging us for choosing unhealthy eating will have the same effect on our consumption of stuff that is not good for us.

 


Foolish Fundamentalism

February 24, 2008

Museum of Earth HistoryI have stated this before:  Exluding science in the name of God isn’t salvation, it’s laziness.  The Museum of Earth History, a rather extraordinary place in Arkansas based on Creation Science and the belief that the world began about 4,000 years ago, is one such place where the ownership group profits from that laziness.  Worse, the distortion of good science (Mary Schweitzer’s discoveries is just one example) is simply regrettable.

There is no need for this. 

The hard line camps that preach either science exclusively, or religion exclusively, are both in need of an examination of what each other has to offer.  Important as the Good Book might be, I think the fundamentalist extreme, in particular, needs to read a little more than just the Bible.

I believe that my God wants me to learn as much as possible the truth about this world in which he put us.


About Photographs

February 24, 2008
Brazilian FlowerI have taken roughly 10,000 photographs since my interest in photography dawned at age 14. My early photographs are catalogued, and I am ever thankful I did that as my brain would never have been able to remember all those faces or places.

None of my post-marriage photographs are catalogued and virtually all of the prints are still in the same envelopes the film processor mailed to us. We look at them only rarely.

Today I am in the process of taking that huge photographic archive plus my parents’ collection and digitizing them all, using a Nikon Coolscan V ED negative scanner. The resulting 6000×4000 pixel images (in JPEG format) take up on average about 25 megabytes apiece on my hard drive. Eventually, the resulting 250 gigabytes of digitized photographs will become the archive of my family and me. Losing that archive to a hard disk crash is not something I want to consider, so everything will get backed up to one or two different media, hopefully a media that will not be too obsolete in ten years.

And that’s a problem. Each new digital format means that some old format will no longer be supported. Floppy disks are essentially gone. Non-SATA hard disks are obsolete. CD ROMs, with their 720 MB limitations, are destined for perhaps the Smithsonian, but not the average person’s home. Even DVDs, which were introduced in late 1996, are bound to go the way of the Dodo as Blu-ray discs replace them as the recording medium of choice.

Each new generation of ever-denser but not necessarily longer-lasting media means that my archive will have to be converted again and again. Unless my children see merit in what I am doing, my last conversion will take place shortly before I die, and roughly ten years after that my photographic collection will be gone. In a sense I miss the days of silver halide and B&W prints which, when stored carefully, have a shelf life of a hundred years.

My life will have been defined by about 2.5 trillion bits. In the not so distant future, some genealogical member of my family may whittle it down to this:

  • Born:
  • Married to:
  • Died:

Rebates

January 30, 2008

If I get a $1,200 rebate this Spring from Uncle Sam (and it looks like I might) I will probably use it to offset some of the cost of my sons’ college tuitions.  However, I might just go shopping with it as the rebate, I believe, is meant to help stimulate the economy by increasing my purchasing power.

If I spend it I will try my hardest to spend it on products made or services rendered in the U.S.  A vacation to some city not close to where I live might be appropriate.  Or perhaps a down payment on a GM car.  Or 10 cords of wood to burn next winter.

I will try my best not to spend it on goods manufactured in Asia, because Asia is certainly from whom we are borrowing the money in the first place to pay for the rebates.  And it strikes me that if Americans spend most of their rebate checks purchasing electronics or anything from Walmart, Asia will reap the benefit twice while we merely stick it to our next generation.

The U.S. chooses to go into more debt in an attempt to get itself out of an economic stall.  I feel like this will be a Pyrrhic victory for us, at best.


Death by Sneezing

January 28, 2008

SneezeI simultaneously strained my right pectoral and lateral muscles about 3 weeks ago, leaving me very uncomfortable and downing a lot of Aleve.  Sneezing was profoundly painful, as if the right side of my chest was about to explode, and it made me wonder if anyone ever died from sneezing by breaking ribs.  I imagined that frail, elderly people might be susceptible to this.

This is about as close as I could find.


A Very Short Introspection

January 5, 2008

IntrospectionOnly rarely do I write about me, my innermost feelings.  I have been trying to comprehend why that is.  Most likely it’s because

I find myself boring.

But it also has to do with not taking much time to think about where my own life has headed, or appears to be heading.  Far too often, when those thoughts come to mind, I stare blankly for a moment, shudder, and then get on with the business of the day.

And there is always business to attend to.  From the moment I awake – and often, that’s before 4 AM – to the moment I fall asleep, my mind reels from the number of pressing needs related to my business, my employees, my family, some organization or some person that is not me.

When I do get time to myself I almost immediately try to fill it with something other than introspection.  Usually it’s Internet-related, often science or politics or religion.  When I do get time to myself I generally do not like what I see.  Hence the mental diversion to elsewhere.

I don’t hate my life but I can’t avoid all those thoughts of lost opportunities.  Not thinking about them (by exhausting myself thinking about other things) seems to be my usual way out.


In a Christmas Mood

December 24, 2007

Christmas WreathOn this Christmas Eve I got to thinking:  Has Birds Eye Foods’  VP for Business Development ever been called the Prince of Peas?

Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays to all.  Don’t forget to think about the really important things in life.


Ya Know What Really Pisses Me Off???

December 17, 2007

Pissed OffThis website.  WNY Media started it, around mid-November.  I thought it was cute and apparently, so did whoever helped start it – for all of about 5 days, after which no one submitted anything new.

It was amusing in the same way that web sites about, say, old telephones, are amusing:  Really focused in on that singular theme.  I had hoped that this site would bring attention not to the myriad major problems affecting our area but rather those small, picayune shards of life that slowly suck the life out of us.

This site could be a gold mine for those who find our troubles humorous, or our humor troubling.  Either one.

Maybe it’ll be updated soon.  I’d consider submitting this post only it’s not pissy enough.


RIP Dan Fogelberg

December 17, 2007

Twin Sons of Different MothersDan Fogelberg died yesterday.  Twin Sons of Different Mothers will forever be one of my favorite albums.

Rest in Peace, Dan.  Thank you for your creativity.


Christmas Lights

December 11, 2007

HouseFor many months now on most weekends I find myself at my computer doing work and career-related activity. My wife sighs and generally leaves me be, knowing that small business concerns can force one’s hand about where to spend “spare” time.

This past weekend I took time off to decorate the outside of my home with Christmas lights. The results, so far, are satisfactory and when my sons come home from college on Monday I anticipate that more lights will go up.

It was very therapeutic.


Random Television

December 3, 2007

Really Old Television SetIgnoring an entire television series, only to see the finale and wonder why I didn’t make the time to watch the series, is often how I live my life – looking back rather than forward.  If only I didn’t think that television is almost a complete waste of time, maybe I’d check out a few more shows.

Anyway, this evening’s episode of Heroes – the so-called Finale (whatever that means) – was very interesting.  I only wish I had some idea of who was who and who could do what, and what the plot was about other than releasing a virus and ending the world.  Looks like one of the villains got put away for a while.

The M.A.S.H finale was interesting as well.  I always wondered how good the series was.  Seinfeld, too.


Dying Young

December 2, 2007

My friend up and died on Friday. He was on a business trip to Utah, and somewhere around the time of his departing flight for home, he keeled over at the airport from an apparent heart attack. Early deaths did not run in his family.

He was my age. We graduated from both high school and college together. We were both exchange students; we joined the same fraternity; we both got engineering degrees. This is a serious bummer, for his friends and especially his family: He leaves behind a wife, a young teenage son and 10-year-old triplets.

I am still trying to sort out my feelings about this. We would get together for high school and college reunions, send the occasional email, and discuss our lives. He was easy to talk to, always upbeat and proud of his family. Now he’s gone, and I’m feeling a bit vulnerable right now, as if my turn is just around the corner.


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