Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Snowbound in Duluth?

My strategy seemed sound when I conceived it.  I was going to save a few bucks by flying to Minneapolis, renting a car and driving to Duluth for a meeting.  I’ve done this in the past when the meeting was in central Wisconsin, saving something like $300 or more on travel costs.  Last year the temps plummeted on the final day and I drove back over icy roads, but nothing bad happened and it all worked out OK.  I even stopped at a local cheese shop and bought cheese curds for home consumption, which everyone loves.  So, this year the meeting is in Duluth.  It will be fine, I thought.

On the way up I saw what must be a promotional billboard which said, “Those that can, do.  Those that can’t, Duluth!”  I’m still not sure what this means…

Watching the weather channel and checking weather cams for Duluth I knew that there was a storm raging here.   It was rain for a while, but by the time I landed at MSP airport it had changed to rain.  The counter agent at Enterprise said to me, “Well, at least you aren’t driving to Duluth!”  I said I was, and he admitted to being from that august city, and had been receiving photo messages from friends showing that the snow level was already at 12” and deepening.  I had rented a Ford Focus, a basic economy small car (part of me cost savings strategy), and he offered a 4 wheel drive for only $20 more per day.  I declined, and we walked out to the cars.  We walked around a small one, and he said, OK, how about for $10 per day?  Alright, I said, and I rented a Kia Tuscon, a 4 wheel drive small SUV.  My savings margin shrank, but my feeling of security increased.

The drive turned out to be 160 miles.  For the first 100, all I saw was rain and wet roads.  Then it started to get a bit colder, and snow showed up on the road margins.  As soon as there was actual snow the plows were out and doing their jobs.  People forget that in this part of the world snow in the winter is a reality, not just a curiosity as in so many places.  Either you deal with it early and often, or it consumes you.

The last 30 miles were the worst.  As I approached the city the cars were lined up behind a plow that effectively blocked the road.  We marched down the steep hill into town on the interstate at 40 mph, a respectable speed, and then the plow turned off.  At the exit to the hotel I finally hit snow at about 6-8” deep, and the car did fine.  I now have to go and clean it off because we need it to make the mill tour this afternoon as the bus has cancelled on us.  My 4 wheel drive is now the only way we can all get to the mill and back.  Others have them, too, so there will be a bit of a caravan.

I’ll write more later and tell you how the tour worked out…

Friday, November 22, 2013

Home Again

Wow, has it been a month since I've blogged here?  My apologies.

I have a new phone now, and the number is one from Atlanta.  I could not get my old number back, unfortunately, so I have to be sure that people know I have a new one.  It is four oh four, three seven six, five nine eight two.

The new job is going very well.  I have been welcomed back warmly, and I love not driving back and forth between home and Salem.  That part has worked out especially well.

The big news is the new baby in the family.  Gibson is really cute and easy to be around, and Shannon and Clint are taking to being parents wonderfully.  I think that part is working out really well.

More later.  I have to go now...

Monday, October 21, 2013

Are you Connected?

These have been the worst days of my adult life.

Well, maybe I overstate that a bit.  Being without a cell phone these past several days has certainly been a challenge for me.  Not being able to check my email constantly.  No alarm to set to get up.  No ability to call and talk to people when I am in the car.  No maps and traffic info.  Nobody calling me. 

It all seems to be too much.  

I had expected to be just drop by a local store and pick up a new phone, probably an iPhone, but possibly a LG or Samsung.  Both have come recommended and maybe I’m ready for a change.  But as it turns out BRUKS is getting a phone for me, an iPhone 5, which is being delivered to the office in Alpharetta, so there is nothing to do but pass the lonely hours without any phone.  I may have it when I visit the office later today, or at least by Wednesday. 

Is there a recognized medical condition called App Deprivation?

 But on other fronts, I write this sitting in seat 18E, an aisle seat on a 767-300, on a flight to Atlanta.   I rose at 4:00 am, and was at the airport at 5:25 am.  No upgrade for me this time, but soon, I hope.  I am very close to qualifying for Platinum Level, which carries the advantage of getting notification of upgrades to first class 1 week before a flight.  Mere Gold Level flyers like me have to hope to be upgraded the day before, or at the gate.  You just don’t know until the last minute.  I hate that, but love to hear the sound of the little printer go off when my boarding pass is scanned.  (Did I mention that I don’t have a cell phone so I can’t do paperless boarding passes?  There’s an App for that!)

This weekend I was finally able to get to making apple sauce.  Filling the large pressure cooker with apples and cooking them down produced enough sauce to fill 6 quart jars.  I did this twice, so now we have an even dozen.  Most of this will be consumed by grandchildren, I’m thinking, so it is effort well spent. 

Judy and spent a lot of time this weekend working on paperwork to support the efforts we are making to more actively plan for our financial future.  We have signed up with Shannon’s company, ICON Consulting, and the program they put new clients through is intense and thorough.  We have scanned all of the important documents in our life and have trusted them into secure storage, among many activities.  This includes the normal stuff you might think would be important, like savings accounts, 401k accounts, etc., but also things like wills, insurance, and so forth.  I don’t think we have sent a copy of our marriage certificate, but I bet they ask for it shortly.  I think this is a very good thing to do overall, and I trust that the time and effort will be worth it.

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

An Era Ends

In a surprising and quite unexpected turn, I made my visit on Monday to the WSM office and was debriefed, and hustled back out the same door.  I turned in my computer, iPad, iPhone, and other company-issued items, said a few quick goodbyes, and was done.  I guess the weekend allowed the whole Des Is Resigning process to solidify in someone’s mind, and on Monday the path was clear.
Note:  My old cell phone number is no longer good.  Please stay tuned for a new number that I should have shortly.

So, my day involved getting up at 4:30, showering and departing the house at 5:00 am, transiting Seattle and Tacoma before rush hour (it is surprising how many cars are up and out at that time of day), and then catching some badly needed winks sitting in a park in Chehalis.  I typically catch 30 minutes of nap along the route in the morning, but yesterday I stretched it to 60 minutes.  I was sleepy.  When I started again I pulled back on I-5 South, only to be immediately pulled over by a State Trooper.  It seems that my right rear running light was out.  I tapped the clear plastic housing and it came back on.  Strange.  No ticket, just a notice by the Trooper.  On down to Salem, arriving about 10:20.  People quickly informed me that my new status of Ex-WSM Employee was known to everyone, so I started in on the goodbye talks.  I was stopped by many and wished good luck, etc.  I went to lunch with Bob, and that was nice.  I met with ML for about 20 minutes, and was reminded that I was under strict obligation not to take any company IP with me when I left, and not to divulge any secret info to others.  We then reviewed projects (very briefly), and I was given my walking papers.  I met with a couple of others and hit the road to return home at 4:20.  I got home at 8:45 pm, after stopping at Costco for gas.  500+ miles for a 1-day commute.

Now I have the rest of this and all next week before I start with BRI.  I have a busy schedule in November, with 2 weeks of conferences to attend in Vancouver BC, and a trip to Atlanta to squeeze in, along with Turkey Day and all the rest.  It promises to be a busy end of the year.  Actually, I am looking forward to it.

Sunday, October 13, 2013

A Transitional Employment Update

In the movie Avatar our hero gets lost in the space between his 2 worlds - the familiar world of what we might call reality, and the Pandoran world of the Navi, the native people with whom he spends time with in the form of his avatar.  He struggles to keep them separate, and to know where his loyalties and priorities lie.  Both are real in their separate ways, and both compete as being the one and only "reality" in his mind.

In Des World things have moved into a similar sort of 2 world separation.  I live in the reality of life at WSM and the commuting to Salem world there for at least another week or 2, chasing WSM projects and thinking about how to land WSM orders, but also now focusing on the BRUKS world where I will be spending my time in the very near future.  It helps that the companies are so different, and the products are so different.  And it helps that my 4+ years at BRI were good years as far as I was concerned. 

I have given my notice at WSM, but only to the president.  I wrote a very direct and clear 2 page letter describing why I was leaving, which he and I discussed on Friday, and will again tomorrow.  He said he wanted time to digest it.  My leaving is essentially a secret at this point, as he tries to find a way to convince me to stay.  In the notice of resignation I suggested a short list of activities I can perform over the next couple of weeks, which I have been doing here at home, and that I can pursue this week in Salem.  Next week is a question as far as I am concerned - Will I go to Salem or stay home?  I would prefer to stay home.  The president of WSM is now talking with the President of BRI about the change, which I hope results in forestalling any possible legal action.  Mark and Steve have been business friends in the past, so I hope this works out well.

What ever happened to the WSU job?  Yes, an excellent question.  I interviewed on Sept. 27, 2 + weeks ago now, and I have heard absolutely nothing from them or about the results of the interview process.  As far as I know they are still mulling over their options, or talking to the other candidates, or doing nothing at all.  I will send a note to the Search Committee Chair this week withdrawing my name from consideration.  I would have liked to have been be asked, but apparently time outside of the University behaves differently than time inside.  This is another reason that I don't think this would have been a good fit for me.  I still burn a candle against the possibility of an actual university-level teaching job someday, but a Program Directorship in Hardwood Biofuels is not in my future, despite the convenience it represented.

Saturday, October 12, 2013

Week 6 - Following My Teams

I don't normally blog about sports, but I am excited about the way today is turning out. 
  • U. of New Hampshire won today 54-19 over Rhode Island.
  • Mizzou, now 6-0 and rated number 25 in the nation this week, beat No. 7 Georgia in a trouncing.
  • Washington (no. 17) is losing to Oregon (no. 2) as I write this, but they are looking strong, and will certainly rise in the national rankings.
  • And WSU plays Oregon State at 7:30 tonight.  Anything can happen.  The Cougs have been playing well lately.
And I am getting some needed Honey-Do Chores done while I follow the games.

I just wish I was playing golf at the same time!

Sunday, September 29, 2013

Intervew Process with WSU

I wanted to give you all a feeling of how the interview process went on Friday with the WSU Extension group here in Everett.  It was different in many ways, and I was able to get a pretty good feeling for the program and the people who work there.

It started when I arrived in the parking lot at 7:45 am.  I parked next to a guy in a suit and tie, just what I was wearing, and we walked to the front door together.  It was locked, but was soon opened by a woman who didn't expect us or know why we were there.  I said I was here for an interview, and he admitted that he was too!,  Soon we were joined by a woman who was also interviewing!  They had all 3 finalists in on the same day, and the format called for 2 of us to hang out while the other of us made our presentations to the group!  I've never seen anything like it.  It gave me a chance to meet the others, of course, and through the guarded conversations and expressions of confusion about the format, we found each other interesting, I guess.  Ralph is a about 60 years old, from Montana, and drove over for the interview.  Cynthia is a 40's woman who works for the Dept. of Energy in Golden, Colorado, and she flew in on Thursday. 

We met the Team during the coffee session from 8 to 8:30.  The group was composed of the 2 PhD members of the Team, the one support staff person, the Principal Investigator on the Extension side (I'll call him the PI), and some administration staff people from Extension and from Pullman who are involved in the evaluation and hiring process.  It was an awkward situation from the start, with everyone sort of limited to quick answers and somewhat vague questions.  The applicants didn't know what to make of the format, and having what could only be described as you competitor standing next to you created awkward silences.  We were all thinking, "Should I take charge now, or wait for my 1-on-1 time with the committees that will come in a few minutes?"  It was weird.  We all waited.

Ralph went first, while Cynthia and I waited in the small conference room.  She told me she was a chemical engineer working for the DOE, was single, and liked the PNW.  We steered our conversations away from things that might relate to the position, and I think she was particularly uncomfortable with the format.  I was second, and Cynthia was last. The order was set alphabetically by last name.  When I was done Ralph and I had an hour to kill so we jumped into the Prius and went out for coffee and a little drive around.  He and I hit it off pretty well.  We had a group lunch with everyone involved, and then individual meetings with the Search Committee as one group, and the PI and the WSU HR guy in another group.  We ended the day visiting the office space they have rented a short distance away for the project people, which was just a large corner room on the second floor of a generic office building just off of I-5 at 128th St.

The contact the applicants made with the WSU people was stilted, guarded, and guided by a playbook that had been explained to them by the HR people and which they carefully followed.  Certain sorts of questions could not be asked.  All the applicants were to be asked the exactly same questions by the same committee people, with everyone taking notes and filling out forms on each candidate.  The opportunity I felt I had to make individual contact was limited in time and space, in the sense that the Team members all deferred to each other, and they were generally aloof.  Also, the times where it might have been possible to get 1-on-1 contact time were the morning meet and greet, the lunch, and the brief office visit, but with all the candidates present all the time, this was quite awkward.  I did send some time with the PI, who would be the person to whom I would report, but that was about it.

So, all this description pertains to the process and not to the content of the interview.  I don't know what I should really say here, other than to point out a few of the key issues and ideas I gave and received, and the impression they made on me (and maybe the impression I made on them).  I'll break these down the way I see them:

  1. The $40 million grant was for 5 years, and started in August, 2011.  It ends in August, 2016.  Today is the end of September, 2013, which means that any participation any new person can have in the original grant activity is possibly limited to 2 years and 10 months.  I say possibly because the grant might be extended, or another grant obtained to continue on with the work that has been started, but this is not secure at this point so it is speculation.
  2. The position of Director for this part of the grant is really just a worker in a group, but one with administrative responsibilities as well as creative and educational ones.  This is not a real faculty appointment to WSU, but is a term appointment with a sort of figurehead title of Asst. Professor that goes with it.  There is no clear path to a regular academic appointment when the grant ends, other than the Director becoming known to the academic folks at WSU and UW, and beyond, and possibly finding a way to leverage those contacts into favorable consideration at a later date.
  3. The point of the grant is to support the national Renewable Fuels Standard, version 2 (RFS2) through the development of plantations of Poplar trees to serve as feedstock for a new conversion process being developed jointly by UW and a company called ZeaChem.  The conversion process turns Poplar trees, grown and harvested sustainably, into ethanol, jet fuel, and diesel fuels. The success of the grant will lie first in the success of the conversion technology, which is in pilot plant phase in Boardman, OR, but has not been accepted to the point where a proper production facility has been commissioned.  Once that happens then everything has to happen pretty fast: contracts with growers to plant Poplar trees, supply chain logistics have to be worked out for harvesting, storage, and delivery of the chips produced, then the downstream off-take agreements for the liquid fuels produced.  At the tail end are the Education and Extension portions that have public interface and information dissemination responsibilities for the overall project.  The conversion process is the dog, and the rest of the activities are the tails.  If the dog does not survive, then the tails are meaningless.
  4. In the offices of the Everett Extension people there were piles of files stacked on desks, everywhere.  The offices were a mess.  The career WSU Extension people give off an impression of endemic Academic Clutter.  The Biomass Team was completely different.  The desks were clean and things were put away, but of course there was a tour planned.  I didn't like the clutter.
  1. The PI and I didn't hit it off great.  He sat at the back of the room during my presentation, away from all the Team members.  He kept himself isolated all day.  I found him to be officious, and he was protective of what he considered to be His Team.  At one point he asked me, "How will you keep from screwing up my Team?"  I can only suppose he asked the others that same question.  I think he is competent, and probably a good administrator.  I'm not sure how he is as a leader. 
  2. The Team members sat close to the front and asked questions about my presentation.  They are both 30-somethings.  One is an Indian man whose English I have to listen to carefully to understand.  The other is woman who seems a bit too bright to be in this sort of program.  They both were the most engaging of all the people I met, and I did have a very limited sort of chance to connect with them on a personal level during one set of interviews, and while on the tour of the office space.  I think I could work with them easily and well.  The woman who is the admin. for the group is early 30's (?), and seems very competent.  We also seemed to get along.
  3. The HR and Senior WSU staff people, both 50-somthing men, were neutrally friendly and professional.  I got no feedback from them, and didn't really expect to.
  4. There was one guy from an outside cooperator company called Greenwood Resources which is responsible for the Poplar plantations that exist currently.  He and I hit it off well, and he sat next to me at lunch.  He is also on the Search Committee.
My Impressions:
  1. My assessment is that I fit their needs the best of the three candidates.  They need someone that has direct experience with biomass projects and understands the process flow.  They need a leader.  They need someone who can direct the development of marketing materials, educational pamphlets, presentation materials, and can organize trade show activities.  In all these respects I think I had the best qualifications.
  2. There is a problem with the relationship between the Biomass Extension Team and the regular Everett Extension Office, and for that matter, the WSU Extension office in Pullman.  The temporary nature of the Team's existence is something that the rest of the Extension organization can't really get invested in.  The regular Everett Extension office is staffed with overweight ladies that answer the public's questions about whatever they may call about.  The Biomass Team is focused in an entirely different way.  They see themselves as professionals on a mission to save the world, and in a way, that is their Charter.  Being a Master Gardner or identifying garden pests is not relevant to their goals.  The PI has a regular appointment in the Everett office and has a day job as an Extension  Forester doing specific sorts of work.  Managing the Biomass Team is layered on top of his regular responsibilities.  This diluted his focus.  Maybe this is the source of the tension I felt about his protection about His Team.
  3. The structural problems are real, and don't fit in well with my personal plans.  If I were 63 and applying, then having the project end when I was 66 might work out fine.  As it is, the timing is not good. 
  4. For the 2 Team Members, this has to be seen as a sort of post-doc assignment.  I mentioned to them specifically that one of my goals would be to look for opportunities to add to their professional resumes so that they might leverage their time with the project in a positive way with respect to their careers.  I think I can help them do that, but this is peripheral to the goal of the grant.  It dilutes the effort.
The path forward is for the various groups to meet, prepare a list of recommendations, then kick it upstairs to the HR and Extension office in Pullman for action.  I suspect it will take at least 2 weeks for them to take any action.    I'll get back to you when I learn anything...

Thursday, September 26, 2013

Relief From the Road

Well, I think I need to catch my faithful readers up with my new status at WSM, and potentially other places as well. 
I am currently working from home.  Or at least I will be working home more, as I have negotiated a new arrangement with WSM.  Like I did before when I worked for BRUKS, I have committed to traveling to Salem about 1 week a month, or as needed for important meetings, etc., but will be able to tele-commute.  I have set up something called on my computer where I can initiate meetings, use video conferencing and share what I am working on over the internet, etc., with my coworkers thereby creating a virtual meeting from here in my office in Snohomish.  It works pretty well, actually. 
I can do this with anyone, so if you have a few minutes and want to try it out, go to, download the free software it takes to run on your machine (I think it can work with , and call me using the phone.  I will start a meeting and give you the number you need to enter and we will be able to have a face to face meeting, using the internet for all 3 media: voice, visual conferencing, and I will be able to share what I have on my computer.  It is actually really cool.  You can also share what you have on your device, too, if you like.  As the administrator I have the ability to share controls from my setup.
In the meantime I am pursuing a couple of other options, as well.  Tomorrow I meet with the people of WSU Extension here in Everett to talk about their program in the area of growing Poplar trees as a feedstock for a liquid fuels production project.  WSU and UW each have received a grant to study the feasibility of making this conversion process work and become viable in the marketplace.  Since I am up to my ears in the biomass and biofuels space generally it makes sense that we at least talk about it together.  I think it will be fun day.   Check out the site at 
Today my phone has been very busy with customers calling and me getting caught up on project issues.  It always turns out that planning anything results in everything else happening at the same time.  I'm sure tomorrow will be full of potential interruptions, but rolling with the flow is what it is all about.

Wednesday, July 10, 2013


We've entered the Quiet Time where people sneak off and enjoy the summer sun, the heat, the growing plants, and each other.  Those of us who are still at it are slogging away in a sort of peaceful doldrum, where the boat floats along but there isn't anybody manning the oars.  I suppose this it the time to catch up on all those long term projects that you put off until you had the time to do them, and certainly some are able to make that work for them.  Others of us just want to run away and have the fun we imagine summer us supposed to hold for us.

I think it goes back to our childhoods where summers were Off From School and the responsibilities of life were still far in our futures.  I remember climbing the hill that looks over the town of Twisp.  It took quite a while and I enjoyed the climb.  The next day everyone I met asked if I was the kid that climbed the hill, and I had the pleasure of saying that I was.  Maybe I was 12 years old.  Or 14.

I remember going down to Lake Michigan when we lived in Sheboygan and playing on the beach, and fishing in the stream near our house, and riding my bicycle, and playing baseball all summer.

And camping up on Early Winters Creek above Mazama and fishing for Cutthroat Trout on small streams where fishing is more like hunting and you have sneak up on all these very small fishing holes and cast your lure where the fish can't see you.  Looking down from this really big rock into a large pool below, and the water is so clear and the rocks across the bottom are so light that you can see the fish lined up just below the rapid part, and casting the Indiana spinning rig with the trailing salmon egg just so one of the trout will see it and rush out to grab the hook.  That summer I know I was just 12.  We were moving to Milwaukee OR that summer, and this was the trip we took to re-connect with the mountains before we left for the city. - They were building the highway over Rainy and Washington Pass that summer and there was lots of construction on the road near the campground, but still, it seemed remote and alone.  We were just about the only people in the campground.  My dad and I filled the cooler with fish, and we shared them with all our family in the valley below.  There was no waste, I can tell you.

Having spent 12 years of grade school followed by 11 years of University education, it is hard not to think of summer as Off.  Imprinting, that's what it is.  I was imprinted by the System.  It is in my DNA.

Monday, June 17, 2013

Bee Sting Update

I wanted to note that I got  bill from the walk in clinic in Maine where I had my finger looked at in March.  Remember when I got the bee sting?  Well, it cost $144 for a PA (physician's assistant) to look at it and tell me that "It sucks to be you!".

Modern medicine...

It has been a while...

I think there are 2 kinds of things.  One of the classes of things is represented by a big circle which includes all things that can be diagramed using a Venn diagram, and the other is a small circle for those things that cannot.

I have been reflecting on the reasons I change jobs.  I hadn't realized it at the time, or at least not exactly, but there seems to be a seminal event that occurs where I experience something, learn something, someone says something, or some sort of event that serves as the seed for an epiphany.  This enlightenment event serves as the key to my realization that things are not going right, and I need to make a change.  Looking back, I can see them clearly now.  At A there was such an event, backed up by many events of a similar nature, that put me into an Orientation of Discontent.  Once that cat was out of the bag I was actively looking for something new to do, even though I was content where I was and my employer was content having me where I was.  21 years with that employer worked both for and against my staying, as my history was long and storied, and my position within the company was (mostly) secure.

At B I can name the exact second where this event occurred, the circumstances, and exactly why I felt that way.  I don't believe my facial expression gave me away, but I realized it was happening at the time, and I knew it for what it was.  I suppose the 4.5 years with B suggested that I had fewer ties, but actually I think the opposite was true.  My exposure was broader, my contacts were of a different sort, and what I was able to do as an employee there seemed more than at A, in retrospect.  My contribution was valued, at least as a co-worker, and as a person of a different sort of perspective than the rest of the crowd.  My difference there was an asset, not a liability.

Study after study shows that Job Satisfaction is the most important thing for employees.  It is not money.  It is not perks.  It is not commute time, or office space, or free coffee, or health insurance.  It is feeling that your work is appreciated and your contribution is recognized.  Does your boss listen to you?  Are you satisfied with your role in the company?  Does the companies' direction align with your personal values and objectives?  Do you have a future with this company?  Things like that.  The trouble with investing 21 years with one company is that you form some pretty strong opinions about how companies work, how they should work, and what your proper role within a company should be.  Not only that but you get access to many other companies, and employees in these other companies, and you get a sense of what works and what doesn't work.

Another important part is the value of sticking with a job long enough to reap whatever benefits may come from being a Valued Employee.  A short term employee isn't as valuable as a long term employee, and time in service cannot be replaced by education, experience outside the company, or any other non-service metric.  It is often said that 80% of participation in an activity is just showing up, and this is exactly what I am talking about here.  Sticking with the program through the thick and thin of normal company life is really important.  Times are good, times are bad, and we know that we can count on YOU through it all means a lot to everyone, both co-workers and employers.  Co-workers look to you for guidance, and employers look to you for leadership and support.

So, I have been fighting not to have a similar sort of Epiphany Experience at W.  I knew that the commute would be an issue.  I knew that the smallness of the company would be different than B, but I thought it would be similar to A.  It has turned out to be very different than A, and I am having a hard time getting used to the difference.  The personalities are different, and there are fewer of them.  The structure is hierarchal, and the King at the top is autocratic and entrenched.  I was hired to take some of the sales burden off his shoulders and to provide structure to the sales process.  And I was hired specifically to become the product manager for our cellulosic ethanol bale processing line, seen as the highest value system-style product the company produces.

But what has happened?

Monday, March 25, 2013

Time wounds all ... fingers?

We have yellow jackets living in the roof tiles at the house.  We see them in the summer, especially in the afternoon when the sun is hot on the roof.  They like hot weather.  It makes them frisky.  In the winter they are slow and dopey.  They fall on the floor and walk around, they can't fly, and they clearly are waiting for warmer weather.

Unfortunately they don't die in the winter.  They do like to crawl into tight spaces and ride the winter out in some sort of comfort.  I always shake our my bicycle gear in the garage before putting on my shoes, or helmet.  You never know...

So, you think I might have been just a little cautious when I put on the left handed glove I keep on the gas grill that I use to hold oysters to shuck them when I grill them.  NO, I didn't.  And last night when I pulled it on there was a moment when I didn't really understand why my middle finger was feeling odd - a sort of stinging, like maybe a blackberry thorn was inside.  Then it got more acute, and I understood I was under ATTACK!  I pulled my hand out, and a now-squished yellow jacket fell to the deck.  The damage was done.  I iced my finger and all seemed well.  It was fine overnight, and didn't really bother me.  Until the flight today from Seattle to Portland, Maine. My finger is now quite swollen and a bruise is apparent.  The effect is limited to the joint that has the fingernail, and just a bit into the one behind it, but it is definitely affected.  My typing seems to be OK, and it doesn't really hurt, but I notice it.  OK, it hurts a bit.

On Saturday I played golf in Port Townsend.  On the first hole my ball landed in the fairway (yes, it happens once in a while) but I could not tell how far I was from the green.  Often they mark sprinklers with the distance, so I leaned over to have a look at one that was close by.  It was covered in grass clippings, so I used my right hand to wipe away the grass, and YIKES!  The sprinkler had been chopped by the lawn mower which had left a razor sharp shard sticking up!  It sliced my middle finger and the blood shot out in profusion.  It hurt like an SOB, but the leakage was the real problem. Fortunately I carry a red golf towel on my bag, so it didn't look like I was so badly injured as I played on (you didn't think I would stop, do you?).  It stopped bleeding after a few holes anyway.  And you can always wash a towel but you can't always play golf!

So, here I sit on Monday night.  The middle fingers on both hands are messed up.  One is swollen, and one is healing a scarred side.

I thought this shit was supposed to slow down as we aged...

Friday, February 15, 2013

The Brink

In the recent movie, Star Trek, a young James T. Kirk drives a stolen classic car across the wide open plains of what appears to be Iowa.  There is not a thing in view in terms of a hill or mountain, only miles and miles of wide open space.  He is having a great time, thrilled with the act of driving a fast car without any external limits, only wide open space and long straight roads.  His is an act of rebellion, apparently against the situation he finds himself in - too young to legally drive, an absent mother who is currently "off planet", a step-father he doesn't respect, responsibilities to his family and school he doesn't accept, and a sense that he is above it all, smarter that everyone around him.  He is complete within himself, confident of his abilities, sure of every action he takes and makes, respectful of nothing and plunging headlong into the future.

Eventually he is chased by a possibly robotic cop on a futuristic motorcycle without any actual wheels since it floats over the road.  To escape this annoying reminder of his responsibilities Kirk turns off down a dirt road, at high speed, heading apparently nowhere.  The cop is in hot pursuit, demanding that he pull over.  The metaphor of the cop is clear: he represents the world that requires the young future Captain of Starfleet to acknowledge his place in things, that there are forces larger than himself to which he must submit, forces which he must acknowledge and to which he must conform.  Kirk will have nothing to do them at the present, as he is all about himself and the present moment.

As an audience we are suddenly pulled back, and what is revealed is an enormous chasm, a crack in the earth where the road upon which the young Kirk is traveling abruptly ends.  If he continues his current course he will plunge headlong into the abyss to his end.  The depth of the chasm is not clear, but it is DEEP, really deep, and it is a one-way trip.  It is the Brink of Existence for Kirk, if he doesn't change his ways.  Sirens blaring, the cop is hot on his trail.  Oblivious, Kirk plunges on.

What will happen here?  What does the edge really represent to Kirk and to all of us?  Is this an ending?  Is this a beginning?  It is a Brink, a forced epiphany where we must confront something fundamental about ourselves.  We can't escape it, it bears down upon us relentlessly.

In Groundhog Day, Bill Murray and Phil, the groundhog, drive off the edge of the cliff to their demise, only to wake up at 6:00 a.m. the same day they departed as if nothing ever happened.  This doesn't happen to the rest of us.  We suffer the consequences of our actions in linear time, with day following day, consequences following acts, in a billiard ball universe where actions create reactions ad infinitum.  Things done cannot be undone.  Balls set into motion continue to move.  There is no do-over.  There is no control-Z on the keyboard of life.  More's the pity.

We face more situations where brink-like conditions exist than we may realize.  Every day we are faced with choices that, if taken one way, could lead to the precipice Kirk faced.  Roads that appear fine and safe, and are, until they come abruptly to an end.  Can we see the end coming?  Maybe.  Maybe friends can help us see the end.  Maybe we can see them ourselves but choose not to see them.  Either way, there are situations that are more than crossroads, they are the precipitous Brinks that mean everything.  Fall over them and you are lost.  Step back and you can save yourself.  Lines that should not, cannot be, crossed.  Brinks.  The Brink.

Metaphors abound in this arena.  How about the tightrope walker?  Does that work for you?  He walks the high wire where any misstep will mean disaster and death.  Walk the straight and narrow and you are safe.  How well does that represent life as we know it?  Not so well, I think.  Things are not as black and white as that.  Or maybe they are even more stark, and we choose not to see it.  Believing is seeing, as we learn.  If we believe we are safe, we can't see how far gone we are.

I have a friend who is at a brink, and it is painful to see the process unfold.  What will happen?  What can I do to help?  What action that I can take is too much, and what is too little?

How can I reach out and help?

Monday, January 14, 2013

My Saga Continues

For Christmas I bought Judy a Sony speaker that sits on the counter.  She can sit her iPad on it, or her new iPhone, and it plays stations like Pandora or specific radio stations that have apps for them.  She uses it all the time now, and it has replaced the temperamental and scratchy wireless system we have been using in the house for all these past years.  I consider this a major step forward.  It plays loud if you want it to, or quiet.  The quality is excellent, and the ambience it creates is wonderful.  The best thing is that the sound is exactly where you want it to be - in the kitchen.

Tonight I went to Costco and bought a pair of speakers that are the size of large eggs.  They pop up and sit there, making a tremendous sound absolutely belying their size.  They are amazing.  They have internal batteries that power them, and they plug into the iPad (not Bluetooth) but expand the sound and the sound quality in an unbelievable manner.  I'm listening to them now as I write this.  Yikes, this is cool.  Headphones are cool, but ambient sound is also cool.  I'm listening to Pandora and the songs are exactly what I like.   Technology is working for me tonight...