April 2012

The Break From The Blog.

So I haven’t written anything in the blog for nearly a week. Aside from the video entry I did last week, I haven’t really thought about my blog, but I guess I did think about it more than I did Facebook, which I haven’t really thought about at all. I still think about Google+ and Twitter, both of which I enjoy, but I haven’t felt overly motivated to write the past couple of days. Some would interpret this to mean that there is something bothering me but the truth is quite the contrary; I am enjoying my life to the fullest and sometimes that means that you can’t sit down and write a blog entry. I guess some chapters of my life are just meant for the autobiography that I’ll write in my 50s and don’t really afford themselves to a sneak peak as to the contents of that stunning piece of literary work that won’t be out for at least a decade.

The Dumping Ground Situation.

I’m pretty good at much my job*. I can say that with confidence because during my last annual review I noticed that I scored well on all the important parts and my numbers were all headed in a positive direction. That’s a good thing. It’s better to have high numbers on the review instead of high blood pressure numbers because that just leads to a fast track to the big cubicle in the sky. I’m not much of a cubicle person so we are trying to avoid that.

Because I’m good at my job and people like the work that I do (I build applications that make you go “woo!”), I tend to get a plethora of suggestions on how to make my applications even better. “Can we make this turn red when there’s an issue. Can you require that field to be filled in and pop up a warning when they do it wrong.” I get that sort of thing and since I’m the architect that builds to the needs of the occupant, I do my best to accommodate. It’s kind of what makes the career side of me tick.

The problem with all of this is that I have a hard time admitting that I’m going to need help on a project. I’m a bit of a control freak (surprise!) and while I love being part of a team that comes up with the direction of the project, I like being the one that builds the code. I have a vision, I usually have an idea of how that vision is going to be executed, and I like to be the one that executes it. For all of my career I’ve usually been the lone programmer or system administrator for a group, so it’s kind of weird for me to think that I might have to write code with someone else that has the same or comparable skill set as me. After all, loner tendencies + control freak = me. It’s simple math.

At nearly 44 years old I am trying to find a way to share my toys a little bit and to allow others to play in the sandbox with me. If I don’t do this, I’ll make myself insane, have some sort of fit and then go off and find another opportunity. In reality I don’t want to work for another company. I like what I do, I just need to find a way to be realistic of what I can handle and to let others help me out. I want to be the guy that’s really awesome at his job because he had it all under control and he bit off exactly what he could chew without spitting it out all over the audience. I don’t want to be the guy that they think is awesome because he’s spending 80 hours a week working. That’s not who I am. I want to be fueled by passion, not control freakiness.

I guess I need to make a concerted effort to manage these projects better. Something to ponder.

I do know that the cookie I just had made me feel a little bit better. Nom nom nom.

* Thank god I’m not a professional proofreader.

The Something On Your Face Sensitivity.

Rarely am I asked as to why I have grown this big mustache. Once in a while I’ll get a comment on it and it’s usually a positive comment, but it’s rare that someone asks why I have grown it to begin with. When I had a previous version of this mustache I had a very touching conversation with a woman who admired it at the mall. On the few occasions that I have been asked about this version I’ve had a variety of sarcastic responses:

“My house boy missed a spot.”

“The barbershop was plunged into darkness due to a power outage and the barber couldn’t see what he was doing.”

“What mustache?”

“I like milk.”

I don’t know why I feel the need to be sarcastic. I should probably stop thinking along those lines. The actual answer to the question is actually a two part answer, “I like mustaches, a lot” and “because I can.”

Now I have no desire to grow a lavish mustache that involves much maintenance and is the size of a tennis racket that is held in place by some wishful thinking and a masculine version of Aqua-Net. That’s not my thing, really, because that approach is a little too primpy for my tastes. I admire the guys that have the patience and the staff that can help with the upkeep, though. Yes, I’m just letting it grow for now but I’m not looking to put something on my face that requires a huge amount of care and maintenance. As long as I abide by the house rule of “I still want to kiss lips”, all is well. Actually, the ‘stache is a favorite of my husband’s and he hopes that I continue to maintain it for a long while. I know I will barring any scissor related catastrophes.

In all honesty, my mustache was inspired by a similar style seen on two men I have crossed paths with over the years. The first was the Airborne Express delivery man that visited the radio station on a daily basis. His ‘stache was wider than mine and if digital cameras were as prevalent as they are today, I could share a picture of him right here, but that was then and this is now. I don’t know what happened to him with the demise of Airborne Express but I like to think that his mustache lives on. The second was an at-the-time recently divorced man I met at Hillside Campgrounds (the gay campgrounds that Earl and I occasionally go to) who could really rock a good ‘stache and he was a friendly sort of person. Now I have a picture of Dan and his mustache but I haven’t talked to him in a few years and I don’t want to share his picture without permission so I won’t do that.

Now that I think about it, I’ve met Homer’s friend Patrick in person and he had a really good mustache, but his is more of the traditional waxed variety, which I find enjoyable but then we get into the maintenance thing and at 5:30 in the morning I’m afraid I’d end up with wax in the wrong places on my body. Nevertheless, Patrick’s mustache is award winning and I’m sure Homer’s probably could be but I haven’t met him in person yet so I can’t say for sure. Close inspection is important.

I think I’m rambling.

Some think that my mustache is a result of that guy that used to be on all the game shows and Doritos commercials in the 70s, but I just like Doritos, his mustache didn’t really do a lot for me. As I recall, his name was Avery Shreiber.

I think I’m still rambling.

Now I have completely lost my train of thought as to where this blog entry was headed. I know that the entry was inspired by the fact that I had a quizzical look flung in my direction by a new counter person at Dunkin’ Donuts (as evidenced by my tea not be prepared and ready upon my arrival) and I could just tell that she wanted to say something but she didn’t. I just smile in a friendly manner in those instances. The lady at Starbucks over the weekend yelled a compliment at me over the din of a blender and I did an Elvis-like “Thank you, thank you very much.” I don’t know why I sounded like Elvis because I don’t recall him ever having a mustache.

The Social Commentary Realisation.

I remember it like it was just a few days ago. It was third period of a typical freshman day back when I was in high school. I was sitting in Room 208, ready for English class. I was feeling particularly good because I had read the assigned short story the night before. I adored reading back then, just as I do today, but I despised being told what to read. For me, part of the joy of reading is discovering on my own as to what I want to read. Being told to read something with empty promises of literary escape just rubs me the wrong way. But I felt pretty good because I had read the short story that was assigned to us and I was ready for the quiz that I was sure Miss Whalen was about to pop.

Miss Whalen entered the room carrying all of her necessary teaching equipment, she was one of the few teachers that didn’t have her own room because the school wasn’t big enough for the temporary population explosion going on in our tiny village. This was her usual way of entering the room, book bags and gear in tow; what was unusual on this day was that she was pushing a cart with a TV and one of those newfangled VCRs.  We were going to watch a movie.

So much for the pop quiz.

Now when I completed my assignment and read “The Lottery” by Shirley Jackson the night before, I kind of envisioned it taking place in some sort of nebulous time that wasn’t the present. They were talking about lotteries and crops and stonings and the like, so I figured it must have taken place in some medieval time. People didn’t act that way anymore.  Why would a community want to stone people to death in the 20th century? Stoning a person to death was something that happened in the Middle Ages.

Miss Whalen made a few remarks and then started up the VCR. I was immediately surprised by the setting as soon as I saw the pickup truck: it was taking place in a small farming community that could have been any community not far from the little town I went to school in. While the film felt ‘old’ (it was made in 1969 and the year was 1982), it still felt far more contemporary than the scenes I had played in my head the night before as I was doing my assignment. The clothes were familiar. The vehicles were familiar. The attitudes were familiar.

As the short film progressed, almost word for word with what I had read the night before, I realized that something was wrong with those people on the screen. Why didn’t they think about what they were doing? They were just blindly following a tradition that no one really understood anymore other than the saying “Lottery in June, corn be heavy soon”.  These people paid no attention to the fact that they were about to stone a woman to death. And she was such a nice woman. She wasn’t some medieval woman who wore big dresses that I envisioned in my head thing night before. The woman they were about to stone could have been the mother of any of my classmates.

Screen Shot 2012 04 22 at 6 49 55 PM

My young heart cried out as the first stone hit Tessie Hutchinson as she cried out “it’s not fair.”  Terrified for Tessie and terrified that I would be teased for the remainder of the day, I hid the tears that were welling up in my eyes. I shoved the lump in my throat back down where it belonged. I wasn’t going to gasp out loud and I wasn’t going to cry for this fictional character. No one would see me do that. But something struck a chord within my soul that day in Room 208.  Luckily, the film wasn’t horribly graphic but the audio was another matter. Her cries freaked me out and rattled me immensely. Watching that film was a life changer for me.

Heavy stuff for a naive high school freshman.

Last night as we left the movie theatre, having just thoroughly enjoyed “The Hunger Games”, my thoughts drifted back to “The Lottery” and Tessie Hutchinson.  I did a quick search on the Internet when I got home and found it available on YouTube. I watched it again from beginning to end. No fast forward. No skipping. No rewinding. Beginning to end, just like the day in Room 208. I cringed and teared up and honestly, I’m not afraid to admit that I had to go upstairs and cuddle with my husband for a few moments. It’s been 30 years since I last saw that movie but it hit home just as hard, if not harder than it did back in high school. The folks in the story were doing what tradition told them to do, without even thinking about the ramifications. They did something just because “that’s the way it’s done”. The old man that keeps grumbling about new thought and the young people in neighboring towns ending the tradition of the Lottery even though we don’t really know why they’re doing the Lottery, other than the brief mention about “Lottery in June, corn heavy soon”, how different is that from the talk about “traditional marriage” today? How many people blindly follow tradition without providing any thought to what they’re doing? I have little against folks that follow the teachings of the Bible, as long as they’re using their brains when they’re studying the words that they’re following. Today, how many elders cast stones and then hand more stones to their youngsters so they’ll blindly cast stones as well? How many teenagers brutally attack their classmates that are different simply because they’ve seen their parents act the same way? How many people today follow tradition simply because they’re following tradition? How whacked out is that?

Olive Dunbar plays Tessie Hutchinson in the 1969 version of the movie and she does it well. The changes in her expression with each realization as the lottery progresses hits me hard. Like I said, she could easily be the mom of any of my contemporaries. She goes from a housewife who is late to the ritual because she didn’t want to leave dirty dishes in the sink to a woman who is forced to realize her own mortality in minutes, all in the name of tradition. The cinematography is subtle. Most would find it bland, boring and amateurish. I find it moving. It steps out of the way and makes the viewer think.

Just as the assigned reading did back in 1982.

The April Showers Theory.

So yesterday it was sunny and 80F. Today it is raining and 52F. I know that it is April and April showers bring May flowers and all that, but why does it have to be cold and rainy? Granted, I should be happy that it’s not snowing, because snow at this time of the year in these parts is not uncommon at all. At least the leaves are popping nicely.

My theory is that the somewhat eccentric weather of this spring will bring us some fun storms to chase this summer. We’ll probably get flooded out again in the autumn but at least we’ll have beautiful weather to enjoy in the meantime. Once the rain stops.

The Friday Night Light Show.

So Earl, Scott and me just got back from a Friday night field trip. After watching two episodes of “Hot In Cleveland” on the DVR, I declared that we were going to go for a ride (though it had nothing to do with what we just watched). I grabbed two fluorescent bulbs from the basement (after confirming that they worked) and we hopped in Earl’s car and headed out to the countryside not too far from where we live. When I found the perfect spot, we pulled over on the side of the road. Earl asked me to put on the warning flashers.

We were parked under the Marcy-Massena Power Lines. The lines are 765kV and are among the highest voltage lines in North America. The voltage is so high on these lines that the experts call this line an Ultra High Voltage line.

Earl and Scott stayed in the car and watched as I hiked into the field headed toward the closest tower. The first thing I noticed is that there was a slight crackling sound coming from the tower itself. Apparently an insulator was losing a little bit of current to the air around it. Once away from the headlights of the car, I noticed that the fluorescent tube in my hand was somewhat illuminated around my grasp of the tube. Once I touched the tube to the ground, the tube lit up impressively; there was enough light coming from the tube that I could see the writing on my t-shirt. Earl and Scott were able to notice the light.

I then walked back to the car, crossed the road and into the field on the other side. I was now walking away from the closest tower (and the crackling noises coming from the insulators) where the three spans start to dip down a little bit. I noticed a repeat of the tube lighting up around my hand, but it was brighter this time. This makes sense, since the wires were a little bit lower than near the tower. I touched the tube to the ground and it lit up impressively, much more than it did the first time I tried it. Earl and Scott were my witnesses and noticed that it lit up. I picked it up, reducing the light to just around my hand again, and swung it around whilst making light saber noises.

My video didn’t come out good at all. Because I was standing in complete darkness and the light coming from the tube was being powered by EMF (Electromagnetic Field) Radiation coming from the lines, I didn’t have a lot to work with in capturing the video.

I need a better setup without being paranoid about the crackling noises coming from the tower and being questioned for my eccentric activity. I need to borrow a friendly farmer’s field.

Update Sat 21 Apr 12 0006 EDT: I forgot that it was Friday night and not Saturday night. I updated the blog entry accordingly. Duh.

The Power Lines Fascination.

Warning: This blog entry is super geeky.

I have always been fascinated by power lines. I’m surprised that I haven’t been overly fascinated in the “Transformers” movies and the like, because as a little kid I thought that the poles and towers that carry powerlines across the country side kind of looked like people.

After taking care of some family business up in my hometown today, I took the opportunity to take some of the less-traveled backroads home. The ride is actually shorter if you can successfully navigate your way through the twists and turns of the Tug Hill Plateau and I was able to do this successfully. It was a beautiful day for this sort of adventure and since I was off from work, I wanted to savor every moment.

The route home included driving by the Bennetts Bridge Hydro-Electric Plant, one of two power plants on the Salmon River in Oswego County, New York (the other plant is the Lighthouse Hill Power Plant).

Built in 1932, Bennetts Bridge has two sets of powerlines coming out of it. The pair of towers carry a total of four circuits. By the looks of the towers, one set was installed before the other.

When I see the pairing of these towers standing along the side road, I actually see a “couple” with one wearing a hat.

The lines on the left are on the older towers. The circuit on the right side of the right tower is a higher voltage than the others, though I don’t know the voltage of these lines. This is the first time I have been able to peg a date on these towers, knowing that Bennetts Bridge was first put into service in 1932. This pair of lines heads toward Syracuse, where it joins the other lines distributing power across New York State near Caughdenoy, which is wear the Great Blackout of 1965 originated (Aunt Clara’s participation in the event notwithstanding).

I decided not to take photos of the power plant itself because there were warning signs all over the place discouraging such activity and I wasn’t in the mood to get into a hassle with the security patrolling the area.

If you’re ever up in that area, the Department of Conservation has built a wonderful park area around Salmon River Falls, with a ranger stationed nearby to answer any questions you may have. When I was in high school it was common for some of my classmates to go up on the falls to party on the weekend. I lost a couple of classmates that fell off the falls.

It’s an especially beautiful drive in autumn as the leaves turn gorgeous shades of colors in this neck of the woods.

The Common Sense Equation.

You are approaching a traffic light that serves multiple lanes in one direction. The left lane is a left turn only lane and will have a protected left-turn arrow to move traffic efficiently in that direction. The middle lane has a straight-through lane and the light will turn green for your direction after a set amount of time has elapsed for those turning left. The right lane is a right turn only lane and there is no restriction as to when you can turn right, other than the approaching of other traffic headed in your intended direction.

You are in the left hand turn lane waiting for your protected arrow when you realize that you wanted to go straight through instead of turning left. What do you do in this situation?

1. Proceed to turn left as originally planned and then go around the nearest block or find a turn-around to get back on your desired course.

2. Jimmy your car to the right and try to get in front of the other vehicles waiting to go straight when the light turns green, potentially blocking those behind you that are waiting to turn left with the protected arrow but hopefully getting enough out of the way and waving a sheepish “thank you” to the person that you’re now blocking in each lane.

3. Drive straight through the intersection when the protected arrow comes on, flipping off the opposing traffic that is turning left on the left turn arrow they see in tandem with the one facing you.

Would anyone like to guess what the car in front of me did a few moments ago?