Thursday, December 18, 2008

Merry Christmas, 2008

I suspect that most of us don't really deal with innocence on a daily basis. There is an aspect to innocence that undermines the way our minds work; the layers that can both deepen and destroy our relationships. Motives and our mindsets color everything we do. It's a function of Christmas that for a time, at least, we're a little more conscious of the things that we really should be all year round.
I've been thinking of Christmas in terms of Emma this year. She's been watching a Christmas Sesame Street video all year as part of her large rotation of DVD's; we've been party to the theme right along with her. I don't have the slightest clue what her understanding of Christmas or birthdays or any other special occasions might be, other than the fact that she loves a party and loves to open presents. She does not appear to suffer from envy or want; there is never disappointment in what is unwrapped - in fact, the unwrapping can be the best part. It also follows that one can't really predict with any success which toy or book will capture her interest - there is no pressure, then, to provide the latest, most interactive Elmo, she prefers one that she can manipulate over one that performs for her.
There's no anticipation, either. It's mostly just keeping her from the tree until the prescribed day. This frustration, for all of us, is just another facet of her innocence, albeit her perhaps not-so-innocent drive to get to the goods.
What it all means is that our Christmas happens in the moment, not so much in all of the trappings and greater meaning that it otherwise implies for the rest of us. Living with Emma - engaging with her in discipline, play, meals, etc. means more in the here and now. Lessons are not always learned the first, second, ninety-eth time. Joys can also be had, over and over again, too, in ways that don't seem to grow old like they often do for those more sophisticated. Certainly, there is reinforcement and relationship. It's just different. This has been my learning and gift, this year, from her.
I deal with Emma's innocence on a daily basis. Realizing this has, I hope, changed the way that I've dealt with who she is. It is frustrating to still be changing diapers, but there is still a cheering demonstration from us when she chooses to use the potty. It's frustrating to pick up her stuff off the floor, at least once a day, and I will probably be muttering to myself every time I do it for some time to come, but she's helping to set the table and often tries to help in ways that she can. My times of anger turned her way are inevitably shamed by her innocence, and I'm taken to a place where I have to examine why I am the way I am. It's just the way it is.
She's no angel. She has her schemes, and, like any parent, it's my job to subvert them and somehow channel them into opportunities for advancement. She's capable of getting into the kitchen and fixing herself a snack. Fortunately, she's innocent enough not to be quiet about it, and is usually caught in the act, banished to the family room, and forced to ask for it. It is also fortunate that none of her snack-making involves using the stove, and the microwave is (at least so far) out of reach. Innocence can be, and often is, dangerous.
She also still loves to run into my arms. Her giggles when I tickle her or chase her around the house make up for an awful lot. She loves to dance with me, and I love to dance with her because she has no idea how goofy I look.
That she will probably remain this way, in some extent, means that I will be faced with this sort of introspection for the rest of my days. Her promise is one of perpetual honesty, too, a gift that should not be overlooked.
Innocence. Purity. Joy. Promise. Love. They are the themes of the season. Just as it was, so long ago, they existed in the midst of personal struggle, societal upheaval, and great uncertainty for the future. In the moment, though, there is great joy to be had in the face and heart of the innocents. That we could all enjoy the day thus will be my wish for all of us, this Christmas Day.
Merry Christmas!

Saturday, December 13, 2008


Is it the nature of modern human life that we multitask ourselves to oblivion?
I'm just askin'.

My routines have been all out of whack. I spent four days, the week before last, under the care of one of the largest companies in the world. I was there for training for our building controls software. It was really quite fun, in a room filled with both state of the art equipment, ready snacks, and a corporate trainer whose mission was to enable 11 of us to fully understand and embrace the curriculum. I was able to sleep in a little later, help get Emma on the bus, a different route to and from, lunch out. . . when you've been institutionalized as long as I have, it feels like cutting school.

This week was the reality that not much had really changed. Let's just leave it at that. The reality is that 'things' are just getting worse, a steady deterioration. They have been for some time. The longer it goes on, the less we keep up appearances, the less appointments we make, the more we withdraw. It's not bad, and we have a very lot to be thankful for. It's Bittersweet all over the map, babaaay. I've just been delaying writing because I've been looking for the clouds to part. A couple of my best online friends are new to this game, the last thing I want to do is discourage them so guys, know that this has as much to do with who I was before Emma was born as it does with her. As with so many other things, she's the magnifying glass, the fulcrum, the point where so many things just have to focus through. That I am feeling so weak and worthless and not able to overcome, like I'm supposed to, is a function of so many things. I got my blood-pressure meds doubled a few weeks ago, I think it's affected my thinking. Gonna talk with the doc this week about it. My passions are muted, modulated. I've been on a short bout or two of anti-depressants over the years, this is not like that.

I'm not wanting to complain, really, it's more a matter of documentation. Don't need to call me with awkward conversation. I'll do better, next time. I've got great friends and family, and I'm talking with them. I had a serendipitous phone conversation with one of you, this week, that still resonates in my heart. Nick, the warmth of your fires, lately, have been both nostalgic and inspiring to me. The realization that some of my scars, while still sore to the touch, have healed some. Keep those fires burning. Tom, your consistency, through your book and music reviews, even - I baffle at my attempts to understand how you manage your time, frankly. I could sure use a conversation with you, about now.

We got the tree today. The lights on the house, that I left up all year, came on last night. Most of them. Christmas is coming a little late this year, and it's already shaping up into a less-than-stellar year. Some years you can just feel it. "People make too much of Christmas, sometimes", Garrison Kiellor just said in the background on the radio ("A Prairie Home Companion", a radio show for those of you across the pond). I don't think I'll be making too much of it, this year. Nothing wrong with that. Maybe it'll kick in a few days before, I won't fight it, but it will be alright if it doesn't. I've had worse ones, for sure.

Sorry, no Dave Barry wackiness this time, no gravitas. Just me. Kinda disturbed. Some good, some bad. Bittersweet.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

The TV Generation


About 45 years ago, give or take a day, is when my memory begins. I remember the black & white TV, on the wire rack stand with the plastic clear wheels, bringing the images of Walter Cronkite, a caisson, a horse with the boots backward in the stirrups, and a little boy, about my age, saluting. I remember realizing that it was very sad. For all that this event has done and meant to the collective consciousness and memory of this nation, it is that benchmark for me.

The fortunes of JFK's memory, from incredible American Hero and martyr to womanizing drug-abusing power-monger to the eventual accommodation that he was all of these things has mirrored my childhood, adolescence, adulthood, including my "middle-age" sensibility whereupon it is indeed possible for one to be all of these things at once, given enough money, power, and opportunity. Was George Washington, who could never tell a lie, also a wildly successful land speculator who rebelled against the government's efforts to limit his holdings? Yep. Is it possible for a leader to have a vision and mission for a nation/group that flies in stark contrast to their own secret desires, flaws, and appetites? Apparently so, it seems to happen all of the time. Does the power corrupt, or is it exactly this quality of capabilities, ambitions, and impulses inherent in these individuals that brings them to these roles?  Nature/nurture/chicken/egg?  Why do painful childhoods produce stand-up comedians? Why do we park in a driveway and drive on a parkway? Questions for the ages, I suppose.

I have been shaped by the media. There is a CRT or LCD in 5 of the 7 main rooms of my home. My particular background was one where television was regarded with some conflicting emotions and attitudes - awe at the shrinking nature of the world and the growing speed of information, suspicion of the moral impact of such a device into what had, up until then, been the safe moral harbor of the home. There were only a few channels then, too, and the days of JFK were still run by an elite group of old-school newsmen and network heads who had ethical standards that they embodied by their control of the airwaves. The personal lives of public personalities were crafted, accepted, and the realities were off-limits. It was a matter of respect, to some degree, for how we wanted to be as a culture. Today, the results of the abuse of that respect - Vietnam, Watergate, Iran-Contra - pick your poison - along with the explosion of media outlets (including this one) mean that we are all "on", nearly all of the time. I see no need to Twitter, but people do. My workplace is becoming increasingly covered by cameras, and employees and equipment wear badges that pinpoint their presence in the building. I am monitored - for various reasons - when I watch TV via my cable box, when I surf the Internet, when I purchase goods with 'club' cards, etc. etc. etc. I fully anticipate - and sometimes welcome the thought, what with all of the user names and passwords I almost manage - an RFID implant that would provide me with coordinated access to all of the things I now access. I began to leave a trail of minutiae on the Internet that I'm told will last for generations, or until the next great electromagnetic pulse that comes either from outside or off the surface of the planet. We've been provided with many different sets of privileges and responsibilities. Like that 'idiot box', the reality brings awe and fear at the same time.

What's my point? I don't really know, it's just what I've been thinking on this anniversary. Just as my Grandfather saw life go from horses and outhouses to a Lunar Landing and toilets with warm water jets, I'm not sure what's in store for the rest of mine, but I know where it began. It was TV.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Coming of Age

I am not known for the quality of my memory. I do remember the night when Samuel was born, 12 years ago, yesterday. The doctor saying, "You've got a towhead, there! His first cries. My first words: "Hello, Buddy!" Walking out into the air, about 2 or so in the morning, looking up at the stars, and feeling the earth shifting under my feet, and the distinct realization that everything had changed. The pediatrician, eying him for the first time, saying "You've got a week-old baby there." Yeah, he was late. I can't say that I blame him. He's always known a good thing when he sees it.

Samuel means "God Heard." He was an answer to prayer, the culmination of so many complex threads and events that had proceeded him. We weave those threads, good and bad, on a daily basis, some on purpose, some without our desire and even control. Samuel was, and is, our best declaration that life was worth living and investing in. The process of enabling Samuel laid the groundwork for what was to follow.

I used to joke, before I had them, that parents got the children that they deserved. It, of course, is not up to any of us to make that judgement, but we sure deserved Samuel. Through the alchemy of nature and nurture, he is that mixture of what we are, are not, and what we want to be.

Sam is sharp. He is funny - he has to be to survive around his dad. My biggest problem with him has been that, because he's so smart, he's had to endure more than his share of my sarcasm - and I've had to be reminded, time and again, that he's still a boy. A 5 foot-6 boy whose nearly-adult voice made me shudder when I spoke with him on the telephone the other day. He's terrific at math - he has to get that from his Mother. He, without my knowledge or approval, chose to play the cello. I approve, it just, well, startled me (it was my first instrument of choice). I can't play computer games against him, because he embarrasses me in front of his friends. I suppose I deserve that. He has an incredible imagination and can write stunningly descriptive fiction. He is compassionate, and he both sees and steps up to help those in need. He loves his sister, through all of the complications that she presents to his daily life. He's had to learn some things that many never will. He has my ultimate respect for these things.

There's still a lot for all four of us to do, and I've been struck with the growing sense of our time getting shorter to do the best that I can do. We both need to work together to make some stuff happen, and it's not going to be easy. Teendom, here we come.

I love you, Samuel. I hope someday you can know the joy that you've brought me.

Happy Birthday, Son.

Sam's 12 from Jeff Goble on Vimeo

Saturday, November 08, 2008

States of Grace

I haven't been writing much. One of the reasons is that I've been reading Roger Ebert's Journal.  Through his physical travails, including the inability to speak, his writing, particularly the creation of his blog, has become quite phenomenal. It's the purification born of the refiner's fire. For me and writing, however, it's been like coming home from a Peter Gabriel concert- I can't entertain the thought of playing my  bass for quite a while afterward. Tinny, out of shape, incompetent in the face of greatness.

Another reason for my absence has been to resist the temptation to say something stupid about our recent 'troubles' , er, I mean, election. There was enough of that available for you, already. The comments made about Senator McCain's concession speech, though, was the catalyst for this essay. Several commented on how "gracious" it was - and it was. It has been my sad experience that many of these great men who are in public service seem only able to exercise this grace in private, or at the end of political campaigns. The process seems to make it impossible. Most of the Presidents in my memory have been smarter and of more value to me after their terms were completed. They were no longer posturing, they were able to fully speak their minds and display wisdom that was somehow obscured by their office, the need to skew and spin, or the Machiavellian machinists that seem to gravitate to the power of the office. That's a whole other kettle of fish. 

I began to think about Grace (with a capital "G"). I began to seek it, a bit more than usual.

This one was easy, it happened yesterday, in an instant. Walking in the hallway at work, running into Sister Leonita ('gracious' is not the first term I think of in terms of all of the Sisters of Mercy that I've met, but Sr. Leonita embodies it), we're going the same direction. There's a patient in a wheelchair moving ahead of us, slows us both down a bit, just the normal traffic, you know. Sister says hello to him, asks where he's going, and then says, "Can I help push you there?" Sister Leonita is about 5 foot 3, her age a Mediterranean mystery. Patient agrees, and they head off. I think, suddenly, that I should have thought of that; stupid galoot. Sister Leonita's grace surpasses her vows and job description, it is part of who she is.

Grace is always extended, offered, presented. Unlike trust, it does not exist on a two-way street - there's no implied contract. It exists without a requirement for reciprocation. It is the result of the law of sowing and reaping, a by-product of a previous investment. Graciousness, at least as far as I've been able to think about it, always comes from Gratitude. The cost to the one being gracious, while sometimes difficult, comes from the heart, which, by nature, gives in the knowledge that love is its reason for being, and is rewarded by the act itself. Grace, then, is not tentative, it is self-confident. Grace is a manifestation of Love. It is why Grace is recognized "under fire". I am able to be gracious when I have something to give, realize it, and offer it to you without qualification.

I guess what I've been thinking about, too, is when I and others aren't gracious. It's boiling down to selfishness, mostly, I suppose, the antithesis of grace. There's more to it, I'm sure; I haven't been googling "Grace" or seeking theological tomes on the subject, it's mere rumination on my part (and yes, I intend the analogy of turning it over and again in my gut, thank you). It's the realization part, the awareness aspect that's been gnawing at me. I'm sometimes not aware of an opportunity to be gracious, sometimes, like the example above, it's not realized until the opportunity has passed, and, at still other times, there's awareness, opportunity, and selfishness intervenes to prevent the flow of what should be. I am less apt to be gracious when I am at my worst - tired, frustrated, etc. - which means that Grace is also a product of the self-discipline of awareness, of taking care of oneself, of being able to do the right thing because you already are. Grown-uppedness. Grace is, then, a quality of a certain maturity, although my children offer it to me on a regular basis.

Grace is a particularly appropriate subject to be on one's mind in the runup to Thanksgiving (yes, even those of you across the pond who may not have a formal day for it in November). Maybe that's why Thanksgiving comes before Christmas, on the calendar, not after. I'm not being theological for a reason. The Grace of God is not separate from this discussion, it's just too huge for this little essay.

My daughter (and in this way opens the door to so many mind-boggling ways to portray who the rest of us really are) exists in a constant state of Grace. Provision is made for her every need, and her responsibilities are few. She does not know what she needs, she thinks she knows what she wants, and pitches quite a fit when her agenda doesn't match the greater one. She's quite unaware of the dangers that surround her, and disregards the warnings and barriers put between her and those dangers. She often has no understanding of the efforts on her behalf to educate and make her life better. Her awareness of concepts of time, love, what it means to be happy, exist in different dimensions of comprehension than mine. The result of our extension of that grace to her, through responsibility borne of love, brings a happiness and joy to us that is boundless and indescribable.

Emma has brought me more enlightenment on the nature of God, I think, than anyone or anything. Just a note, there.

I have existed in many states of Grace. Most of you that come to mind that might read this have extended that Grace to me in many ways, shapes and forms, even if that just means reading this. Thank you.

Our lives are really all "grace periods", from beginning to end. Here's to sharing it more often than not.

Saturday, November 01, 2008

We're on the 'een of Destruction

samhw08web  Here they are, the Hippy and the Princess emmahw08web

We had a rather pleasant end to a pretty stressful week. Sam went Trick-or-Treating with Ryan, from across the street, and we went around the block with Emma - she dutifully walks to the front door, holds open her bag, says "Haiee" and "Baiee", and, while she enjoys this bizarre annual ritual, I don't think she's particularly jazzed about the whole thing. Dressing up, of course, is the best part, and Nana crafted the lovely costume for this year's festivities. We came home with Emma, she sorted through her candy, and even gave Mom & Dad some, and Sam called from Ryan's to let us know that they were hanging out there, for a while. Sam's voice, particularly over the phone, is surprising me these days. Testosterone.

There were even less decorations, and less lights on in the neighborhood. I think that there are a lot of reasons for this, and it may be just the particular niche that I live in. I know that my parents have run out of candy (yes, Dad goes and gets more!) in recent years at their house. I think that next year we may have to seek our amusement elsewhere. That, in itself, is one of the reasons. . .

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Fall in

Everyone seems to be busy. I don't know if it's the new fiscal year for most businesses, don't know if it's the lack of holidays, the impending holidays, but this has always appeared to me to be a time of year where people just buckle down and get stuff done. One of the driving forces of my occupation is the preventive maintenance work order (PM). Equipment - emergency generators to exit signs - is inspected, cleaned, repaired if necessary on a schedule determined by a combination of government regulation, manufacturer's recommendation, and experience. Mostly, any more, by government regulation. For reasons heretofore unexplained, we have a lot more PM's in October than most months. Last week, the fire inspector came to visit, always a means to job security and opportunities to improve. This week, we've had 22 government inspectors combing the building, looking for whatever they can find. Did you know that, in a hospital, there are regulations stipulating the number, height and distance from other objects for hand sanitizer dispensers? Glove boxes? Sharps containers? Hospital patient room walls are crowded places. Regulators (read bureaucrats with clipboards) will sometimes overlook utility for an arbitrary standard. But, I digress.
These inspections are good, they can find sometimes obvious things that we miss because they look at things with different eyes. What's not good is the tizzy that it seems to send many people into. It makes for a stressful day.
Anyway, it's been busy.


I look at the pictures we have from our trip, and of course want to explain each one, and before you know it an hour has gone by, no decisions are made, and there's a huge slide show forming in my head, with parallel thoughts of slideshows I've sat through. Sat through one, once, where the photographer had, for each shot, taken a 'portrait' and a 'landscape' version, and eagerly displayed each and every one for us. "Groundhog Day" - in slides. Over three hours.

So here's one from Sunday evening. I don't know if you've ever seen rain off in the distance, in the desert, but you can see it here, in the lower right part of the picture. Now, it's about 85 degrees or so, it's sunny where we're standing, there's a wind picking up, and you can smell the rain coming. About 45 minutes or so after this was taken (wasn't wearing a watch, on purpose!), we got some strong winds - had to redo one of the mooring lines - and about 10 minutes of big, fat raindrops, then it blew by us. At one point, there were 2 rainbows.

Only 335 days to go.

For all my blogger buddies, yeah, I miss you, too.

Wednesday, October 08, 2008

Blog Awards - Curmudgeon Alert

There are blogs, and then there are blogs. The range of reasons for self-publishing are as varied as there are publishers.

Thank you. The End.

Of course not. Just felt like doing that. It's my blog.

Once it's out there, you can promote your blog, get "discovered", get famous, I suppose, sometimes, make some money, maybe, and or/just feel good about yourself. You can cross-reference, cross-link, crossover and a host of terms that I'm sure I'd misuse and misconstrue into next Tuesday. Not my thing, at least not with this little adventure. More on that, in a bit.

Then there are the awards. There are industry awards, entertainment awards, awards for design, content, unique visitors, Megagiggles transmitted, etc. etc. ad nauseum. There's probably a Blogger Magazine being printed.

My online community is very much like my real life. Wow, go figure -  it is a pretty good chunk of my real life. I occasionally make a pretty good friend. Often that brings me into contact with their wider 'circle', and that's where my lack of social skills begin to show. It's just happened.

There's a type of award that, while I'm sure it's well-meaning, makes me squirm. It's a social thing. I'll try to explain - I want to explain because I've 'gotten' a couple of them recently, and I haven't pasted them here, and I want to explain why to my benefactors.

The award consists of a cute graphic, and/or a particular term, like "Rainbow Writer Award" or "Best Barney Blogger" (I have received neither of these). The award is given to you, with all sincerity by a regular reader. Unfortunately, it doesn't end there. It comes with stipulations. In every case I've seen, one must:

    1. Provide a link to the creator of the award.
    2. Bestow the award upon several others.

It's an electronic chain letter, and its' primary purpose is to promote the award's creator under the guise of mutual appreciation. It's like those letters that one gets (or I used to get) from the Oxford Official Listing of Who's Who in American Business/Young Up-and-Comers/<insert your career>Movers and Shakers. You can obtain this wondrous volume (be sure and buy 7 copies for your office, extended family and business contacts) for only $49.99 plus shipping and handling. From Oxford, Minnesota, of course. The listing sells the listing, profits only the publisher. That's not entirely true here, but it impresses me in the same manner.
I suppose that I might feel differently if I knew these award creators, but, since I do not, the whole exercise impresses me as 'cheesy'.  Congratulations! Now link to my blog and send this award to 7 other people. Get to work!

I know that my online friends have given me these awards with the best of intentions, and to you all I want to express both my thanks and mutual admiration.

Thank you, Yankee.

Thank you, NanP.

Thank you, Nick (sorta).

I would hope that you knew that, already, being my pals and all. I vow to go into my blog template soon and make sure that I'm displaying a link to your blog - that's a real award, to me - giving you space on my space, as it were.

So. A simple gesture sent my way turns into an internal Auto de fe. Welcome to my world.

I write here to:

  • Record the things that are important in my life, for now and later
  • Share that with family and friends
  • Practice Writing
  • Hopefully help (and subsequently receive help, thank you) from those in similar circumstances/places in this journey
  • Strengthen my Relationships with all of the above.

So, thank you, but no thank you. I hope, if I hurt your feelings, that you'll forgive me. When my blog becomes syndicated, I promise to send a car round to pick you up for dinner when I come through your part of the world on my promotional tour. It's the least I could do. Well, not quite, but close.

Wednesday, October 01, 2008

My 'Toemage' to Tom and Lake Meade

Leaving the Dock


The front of Hoover Dam
(sorry, didn't check the focus, here's another shot)

Entering the Narrows

At the console

Cheetos on the upper deck

Just out of the water -
stormy way out there

Clouds at the cove

Sun's waning

Back to the Marina

We had a great time.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

The same thing happens every year.

Awaken, to the sound of water softly lapping against the hull, or perhaps a far-off fishing boat speeding toward a favorite spot. Momentarily wonder what time it is, realize that it doesn't matter. Dave's already long gone, up on a ridge, taking pictures. Check the wind to see if the coffee pot's already percolated; if it is, then she's already up on the top deck, and you can take her a refill. Grab your book and a cup, maybe a piece of chocolate, and head up there to read for a while, maybe even take a nap - it's decaf.
Later on, after breakfast, read some more or put your headphones in and listen. It's time to let go of the junk that clouds your soul for a little while. Talk about stuff - it doesn't matter what the subject is, it's called enjoying each other's company, in their company. Being with them without something to have to do, so rare, anymore. Jump in the lake - usually good for a cool jolt before lunchtime. Dry off, grab a snack. Read some more. Doze off. Look for burro droppings nearby, maybe we'll get some visitors as the sun recedes. We stare, they stare, they drink, we drink, they leave.
Afternoons are for floating, napping (naturally), and getting dinner ready. The music heats up, more junk food is consumed, and the energy level reaches a peak of activity that, while not lathargic, is better described as unhurried. The sun goes down, we pause and admire the serenity of it all, the uncomplicated desert landscape, and get back to the big dinner. Dinner takes a while, like it should when good friends are together. At last, we clean up most of the mess and head up to the deck and the stars.
Even with the 'light pollution' of Las Vegas to the West, the sky is magnificent to us city folk. The "Milky Way" is, really. We can see (even with our aging eyes) shooting stars, planes, satellites, some claim to have seen a UFO, one year. Years ago, we would sit and talk and gaze up for what seemed to be hours on end. Nowadays, it usually doesn't take long before the sound of snoring begins. Too bad, but it's who we are. One by one, we either say our goodnights to the remaining sentinels and head down to bed, or make our bed upstairs, if the weather's right. By then, the lake is like glass, and the stars shimmer back up at you as you take a last look before you tuck in.
The time seems to pass more quickly, each year. Idle time, but by no means wasted. Time to breathe. Time to listen, to see. To gaze. To share both memories and expectations. It's hard to believe that we've done this 19 times. I can't wait to go, tomorrow.

Monday, September 15, 2008

Workin' on the Night Moves. . .

My life has been turned upside-down, these last two weeks. Not figuratively, literally. I've been working what's known as the "graveyard" shift, 2300 - 0730, while a co-worker is on vacation. I've been rather skillful in avoiding this sort of thing over the last 20+ years, and never have had to do more than one shift at a time. There was no escape.
I'm a real circadian-rythm kind of guy. I'm regular in just about every sense of the word, my waistline notwithstanding (more on that in an upcoming post). I am a light switch. For me, it means that my eyelids usually slam shut at about 9 p.m., nearly always opening at about 5:24 a.m. - 6 minutes before the alarm goes off. Emma sees to it that this rythm is unbroken on weekends. The prospect, then, of regularly leaving for work an hour or so after my bedtime was somewhat frightening. How does one prepare? The answer is that you really can't, you just have to do it. So, I did it. Took a thermos of freshly brewed coffee, and set off into the night.
There is a rythm to this shift. The first requirement is that you're available to respond to whatever might come up at our nearly million-square-foot facility. Second, you have to take the 'vital signs' of the building - chiller readings, compressed air, vacuum, medical air, boilers, water softeners, verify that the emergency generators' switches are in the 'auto' position, fueled, batteries charging, and warmers warming (in the event of power loss, these big diesel engines have to come to life and take the load within 10 seconds), make sure that the water heaters are working, that the fire pumps have pressure, check the Liquid Oxygen and Nitrous Oxide tanks (no sampling). You have to travel to each 'negative pressure' room, close the door, and emit a small puff of chalk at the bottom of the door to verify that it is indeed providing negative pressure - keeping the nastiness that could be inside, inside. There are operating suites and intensive care sections that have to be tested for temperature and humidity, all of this logged meticulously in notebooks and clipboards. In between, there can be calls for everything from plumbing concerns (it's a 50 year old, 12 story building) to the nurse call system and everything in-between. A good night, of course is when nothing untoward happens. I've been pretty lucky, it's been quiet.
It's pretty solitary; there are only two of us on. The other position is in my beloved BOC, where one basically tries to keep occupied and answer the calls that come in for engineering, housekeeping, and security. Making the rounds takes one outside the building; it's odd to be out in dark places at the outer edges of this property. Gazing across the canyon to the apartment buildings hugging the opposing hillside, windows glow from televisions. We're 'uptown'; there seem to be a lot of people awake at 2 in the morning, or asleep in front of those TV's. I am reminded, each night that I do this, of the two nights I stepped out of this building after both Sam and Emma were born - both entered the world shortly after midnight. The first night, gazing at the stars, feeling the center of my universe shift. The second night, looking to the stars from a world completely changed. Going into the OR where I watched Emma enter the atmosphere, pulled out by one leg; the smell made by the cauterizing scalpel. I've worked here long enough to accumulate a lot of memories; they're closer to me now in the quiet, empty halls.
Eating something at 0300, alone on the 12th floor. Looking out over the empty bay and the lights of the city. Marking time. It takes time, a long time when you're just waiting to leave, this is universal no matter what you're waiting on.
Finally, it's time to go home. The rythm has to change, because it's better to get some sleep in the morning, before the kids get home from school, so it's straight to bed at 0830. Earplugs help. I've been moderately successful at getting about 4-6 hours of sleep; yesterday I got a full 7 plus, not waking up until 4 p.m. Stumbling out of bed into what is the middle of everyone else's day has been very disconcerting. The upheaval of the inversion (most people get up, then go to work, then do the rest of their lives before sleeping again) has made it hard for me to focus or concentrate on much else, so my major accomplishments have been taking out the trash, cleaning up after dinner, and trying not to sigh every 3 minutes between 8 and 10 p.m., when it's time to do it again.
Traffic is great. Elevators arrive within seconds. You're not bothered by the nonsensical chatter of those who really don't have anything to say in the first place. Management is non-existent.
Other than the reminder (and an appreciation) that there's a whole world of people doing this, all of the time, some of them here by choice, I really haven't learned much. One more shift to go, and my existence will return to what passes for normal, again. I'm very much looking forward to it.

Saturday, September 13, 2008

What it's like, continued. . .

A good article.

Topical Thunder

I am a fierce proponent of the privacy of the ballot. I have rarely shared my selections with anyone, for a myriad of reasons, but the primary one has been that it's extremely personal. Combined with the fact that I've never voted along any party's lines; I suspect that it's a guilty pleasure that I relish voting differently than people think I have, sometimes.I'm going to break with that tradition, today, and I'm going to try and explain why. I think I've come to a logical conclusion, for some very personal reasons, and only God knows why I'm prompted to reveal it.
One of the songs that formed my social consciousness is "Reader's Digest", by Larry Norman. The pertinent lyric for this post:
"It's 1973, I wonder who we're gonna see
Who's in power now? Think I'll turn on my TV,
The man on the news said China's gonna beat us,
We shot all our dreamers, and there's no one left to lead us . . ."
I was young, but I remember reading about the transformation of Robert Kennedy from priveleged poster boy to social catalyst, only to be cut down on the verge of making this country very different than the one we're living in now. He was not allowed to fully create a legacy the way that Martin Luther King did; he now has the benefit of the memory of lost potential over actual history, of course, but I think that he would have made a tremendous difference had he been elected. The net effect of these two assassinations on our society is still being felt, 40 years later. You should be able to agree with me on that.
It is personally sickening to me to watch the conservative and christian (yes, small 'c') media embrace Sarah Palin and her daughter's situation, proving themselves hypocrites because they've done 180 degree spins on what they've said publicly for years about other people in public life for years in the same circumstances. Their moral stands, then, were dogmatic and taken primarily for shock value and self-promotion over compassion and caring. What they don't seem to realize is that their past pontifications are more accessible for review and regurgitation now than ever before. Their morality appears to be for sale, or at least for rent, in exchange for the promise of policies that would please their canonical maniacalism. Their slobbering endorsements and apparent willingness to turn their blind eyes to all of the other issues facing this nation, I suppose, confirm her selection to the ticket. I don't think she's the most talented, qualified person for the job. I am disappointed that the party needs these people to win. It has become a character issue for me.
I wish John McCain had been the party's choice 8 years ago. I think that things would be different - if not uantitatively, then qualitatively. That's all I'll say about that.
I have a cynical head, and an optimist's heart. I've been thinking of Barack Obama in the context of Jimmy Carter's administration, a bit. I don't think that the President of the United States can make radical change - to me it's like steering an oil tanker or trying to stop a train - it takes a lot of energy, time, and distance. Those who have, have had the courage to rally both the American people and the Congress solidly behind them. This is as it should be. Gerald Ford and Whip Inflation Now. Jimmy Carter in a sweater appealing to America to turn down their thermostats come to mind - unable to capture the 'hearts and minds' of the citezenry.
There is a dreamer running for President, this year. So far, he's saying the right things, focusing on those things that are important as I see them. If he's able to follow through, I think he has more potential to be what George W. claimed to be - "A uniter, not a divider." I think bold moves are needed.
This election season, for a lot of reasons, has put me (and I suspect many others) farther out of my 'comfort zone' than any Presidential election in recent memory. I think the last election was a chilling reminder that each of our votes count. I very nearly did not vote then; I was completely non-plussed with the choices.
I think, this time, I'm going to try to dream, a little. I'll let you know if I change my mind.

Friday, September 05, 2008

Saturday, August 30, 2008

Going "Full Re-pub"

Yes, that title is terrible. I just couldn't help myself. Should I copyright it?

I detest politics. I detest what it does to me, emotionally. I'm admitting to you all that I am immature in the respect that I can't reconcile the heated debate about ideas and concepts that ultimately becomes personal, divisive, mean-spirited, and cruel. I saw an interview program, a couple of years ago, where Bob Dole and Bill Clinton, post election and post-presidency, gushed on and on all over each other with admiration and praise, joking like old war buddies. I was flabbergasted. I so wish that they'd shown one iota of respect for each other during their incumbencies. That was disgusting to me. I'm also, then, admitting that I'm naive in the ways of the politico, growing up in a household where people were pretty transparent. I have been the victim of this naiveté a couple of times in my career; I have also held steadfastly through those events to the principle that I'd rather be me than 'them'.

So, independent, naive, immature citizen that I am, I find myself seemingly in the midst of a dilemma.

I asked Sam to watch Barack Obama's acceptance speech, last night. I told him that it was a historic occasion, and that he could tell his Grandchildren that he'd witnessed it. He shrugged and complied with all of the enthusiasm one would expect of a nearly 12-year old for a speech from any adult. The best news for me was that it was no big deal to him, an African-American earning the candidacy of a major party for the Presidency of the United States of America. He hasn't really grasped what it means to me, to us as a society. With any luck, the event won't ever have to bear the weight for him that it does for me.

Emma has changed just about every aspect of my existence, my personal political views, too. Here's a bit of it, in a nutshell - and I do mean nut. I've already told you that I'm immature and naive, so either keep reading or dismiss yourself.

I've always seen the Republican view as one of both personal responsibility and public compassion. The current party's representation to me has been merely selfishness and greed. While the Bill and Melinda Gates bunch are being generous with their more-than-we-could-ever-spend fortunes, I'm pretty sure that the bulk of those between those like me and those like them are keeping the money to themselves. The Bush administration (small a) has been myopic with its policies, unwilling to even participate in a reasonable dialogue with the electorate in a dogmatic march that poorly represents both their supposed faith as well as what it means to be citizens of this republic. "Corporate Responsibility" is a sham. When HMO CEO's have million-dollar golden parachutes while denying ten-thousand dollar claims, our society is severely awry.

You see, to me, leadership is about servanthood.

I've not been a huge fan of increasing government assistance or expensive social programs. Well, guess what? I need them, now. One lower-middle class income is not going to provide well for either of my children's futures. My bootstraps are busted. So, does that make me a Democrat, now? Perhaps. Should I be practical, or philosophical? Can I be both, or none, or something in-between?

Yesterday, John McCain chose Sarah Palin as his running mate. Gov. Palin has a four month old son, Trig, who has Down Syndrome. She has been an inspiration to many of us, confidently revealing that she knew about the Trisomy 21, did not abort him, and describes him as "perfect." I am, frankly, saddened by how many parents in my little community have just unabashedly thrown their support to this ticket based upon that one reality. Perhaps, true Republicans, they just needed this perk to justify their own dilemmas. I don't think that it's enough; that this should be the deciding factor about how I cast my vote. No more than voting for Barack Obama due to the color of his skin. To finish the thought, yes, it's about the content of their character.

I'm convinced that our government is sick. It wallows in the throes of it's own bureaucracy, rules, and party machinery. To morph what Benjamin Franklin said at the signing of the Declaration of Independence, we are all now hanging separately. Necessary change idles while resolution after non-binding resolution are passed like gas and the bad checks that they're writing against the future. Will freedom become "just another word for, nothing left to lose?" It's beyond my scope, but I feel a need to influence it, if only by my one vote. That's my responsibility.

So, just by stating my thought processes, have I set myself against you? Have I convinced you of anything? I hope the answer to both questions is "No."

I sometimes envy those who have a clear grasp of the world, how it should work, and passionately drive themselves and others toward that vision. Problem is, it usually means that someone else gets trampled or left behind. I think that's the ultimate American (US) dilemma - Freedom vs. Responsibility.

I'll let it go, at that. I just hate politics, that's all.

Monday, August 25, 2008

Tubular Bells (& Whistles)


In another life, I was a data-driven TQM, TQI number crunchin' fool. I don't particularly like statistics as a discipline (it requires discipline), but I do like goofing numbers around when the data suits me.

I took the raw logs from my beloved tube system for the month of July, and learned some interesting things. O.K., not interesting like guaranteed winning lottery numbers, interesting like "hey, look at that! Let's eat."

This post is dedicated to Nick, and his, er, seemingly indefatigable interest in this subject. I still don't know why.

I have to say that the repair that made all of the difference occurred on July 15, the middle of the month, so the data reflects both an ailing and a healthy system. I'm going to run these numbers again, for August, but I'll probably only share them with Nick. But let's not delay the suspense, any longer. . .

Total Number of Transactions: 18,070 (31 days)
Average # of transactions per hour: 24
(a transaction about every 2.5 minutes, if it were a constant)

118 Returns (0.65%) - a little more than 1/2 of 1% were sent back due to some system problem. Nearly always just resent, then they go. For a mechanical system run by a PC running Windows NT 4.0, I'd say that that's pretty good.

51% of transactions took less than 2 minutes
95% of transactions took less than 3 minutes
(this improved dramatically after 7/15, when the pressure/vacuum tripled).

63% of transactions were either to or from the Lab.
28% of transactions were either to or from the Pharmacy.
That makes 91%. That's a lot. See?

The hastily drawn chart, below, shows the volume of traffic by time of day!


I think it's interesting that, with only a couple of spikes, the traffic is rather constant. Lots of body fluid samples, lab results, drug orders and drugs whizzing back and forth, all day, all night, Mary Ann.

Well, those are the highlights, Nick old man. I don't think anybody's really realized just how busy this thing is, and how it's really serving these two departments so well. Kinda like one's sewer system (Kelly!) - you take if for granted right up to the moment when it stops working. I'm hoping it will spur the powers that be to up the ante on the stuff that needs to be upgraded on this thing before it 'craps out' , someday.

Let's Eat.

Saturday, August 23, 2008

Another Horrible, Divisive Debate

iMac Vista

"Elbog, how could you defile your Mac with Vista?

That’s like eating Chinese food with a fork."

Diversity. It's appalling to me that, even those in our community could project such a jaundiced and callous view such as this. Can you believe that someone would say something so spiteful, when we're all trying so hard to support each other?

Well, TOM, I'm going to tell you why. I eat Chinese food with a fork, too. I'm not Chinese. I've learned to cook Chinese food, and using a fork is the most economical way that I've learned to shovel it into my mouth (and after all of that chopping and wok-ing over a large flame, I'm pretty stinkin' hungry). I feel that I have gained an appropriate appreciation of Chinese culture by this means, and I certainly have and can use chopsticks, and certainly would if I were a guest in a Chinese home, but I gain no sense of world-citizenessness or edumacation dining at home with them. It's a tool. That's answer #1.

#2> It runs GREAT. There's nothing wrong with Vista, they just pooped in their own messkit by not being clear about what hardware it would run on. I've read that it runs better on an iMac than just about anything else. I'll testify to that.

#3> I do because I can. I earned free, legitimate copies of Vista and Office 2007 at about the same time that my old PC, cobbled together/upgraded/etc. since 2000 was showing some strain. I was frustrated by the fact that PC pieces don't always fit together so well, anymore, and the cost of a new machine with the specs I wanted faced me with some complicated choices. Mac, of course, solves that by controlling the process and also more than doubling the price. My way, the highway, and thanks very much. It's very much like many other religions I've seen. The iMac was a generous Christmas gift this year; the timing was right, and the Boot Camp software made it easy. I took the road less-traveled.

#4> I'm a guy who's known DOS, Novell, Arcnet, token-ring, the command-line. I saw the original Mac, it was cute, but I like taking the back off stuff and making it better, you know, the smell of burning silica. My only complaint about my current Mac is that I can't upgrade the video card. That's whining, and I won't do it again. I currently have 3 drives, 2 keyboards, an extra monitor plugged into it and enough wires strung around to keep me happy and busy. It's workin' out o.k.

#5> There's always been a Mac in the house, and I've gained an appreciation for it's ease of use, sometime's obtuse but simple-minded interface, and plain reliability. I have OSX installed on this baby, too, so I get the advantages of both platforms - goofing off in Garage Band and IMovie, although, due to my lack of constant practice with Mac commands, they often prove to be just as frustrating as any other software I've ever used. No faster.

I think that the competition has really brought these software giants to a point where there's not a whole lot of difference in how the average user interacts with it to do stuff. That leaves the specialties to divvy up the rest, depending upon certain preferences, features and hardware/industry history. I spent a couple of weekends with Ubuntu, last year, too. I found it to be just as challenging to set up and use as Windows, albeit for free. I somehow would rather pay for that pleasure, kinda like you eating Chinese food with chopsticks, Tom. Sorry, that was a cheap shot.

I'd add that, for example, neither platform has provided an easy way (read free/cheap/tweakable) to integrate the home network to my television set. They both approach this from annoying, proprietary angles that, well, annoy me.

In summary, I'm a PC. And I'm a Mac. And I'm proud to be both. I'm not here to judge any of you inferior, I'm just asking that you please re-consider your old ways, fueled by multibillion-dollar corporations and perhaps your own pride. If you can't, that's o.k. I admire your French-film watching, knees-bent, running around maneuvers and such; if you require a sense of superiority, then so be it. I'll still be your friend.

And that's how I like satire. If you're not laughing, then I've gone horribly wrong.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

I think this about does it, for me.

Patricia Bauer is a professional writer. There's been so much written about Tropic Thunder - although I'm curious as to how much those of you not living in my world have actually seen of it.

Ms. Bauer wraps it up, very well, with this piece. I'd rather you read it than for me to tackle it, poorly.

If you've got the intestinal fortitude to read it all, note the sections that she finds terrifying. These are the things that keep me up at night, not the name-calling by wealthy dilettantes. Margaret's amazing to me, do I dare dream the same things for Emma? I turn 50 next year, she will be 10.

I've posted some mighty wicked replies to about 15 blog and forum posts over the last 10 days or so. Diverse community that we are, there have even been several discussions reminiscent (perhaps only to me) of the Sermon on the Mount scene from "The Life of Brian." Cheesemakers, indeed. The right of free speech, the limits of same. Responsibilities and where they ultimately lie. My online friends have argued with each other, with radio and TV wonks; some have argued with themselves. They've picketed and protested, and fractured and frittered - it's all part of any 'movement'.

I'm utterly convinced that those responsible for this film had absolutely no intention to cause this eruption. As Ms. Bauer points out, that alone is at the crux of the problem. I've railed at one friend already about the state of the industry. Read this book, "Vulgarians at the Gate" by Steve Allen - wow, a celebrated comedian - if you want more. The treatment of the disabled is only one signpost on the slippery slope we're on. Did I mention that I'm almost 50? Get off my lawn.

Anyway, Patricia hits all of the highlights, with skill and heart. My sincerest thanks to those of you willing to engage yourselves for the betterment of my Emma's world. That is what the blather's all about.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Not quite the team player

So, I've been 'tagged' by my very good online friend, Kelly at Where there's a Will. It's called a meme although, having just looked it up, I'm tempted to quote Inigo Montoya in "The Princess Bride" - "that word you keep using, I don' think it means what you think it means."
So, ever the one to please, here's the deal:
Reveal 6 unspectacular quirks of yours:
1. I avoid cracks and seams when walking on concrete.
2. I prefer to eat peas mixed with mashed potatos.
3. I will eat Prime Rib with ketchup, if given the opportunity.
4. I despise dog spit even more than I despise dog breath.
5. I like orange cake with orange frosting.
6. I will turn all of my socks right-side-out before putting them away.
7. I don't play tag, anymore.

Now I must tag some more participants and explain the RULES:
1. Link the person who tagged you.
2. Mention the rules on your blog.
3. Tell about 6 unspectacular quirks of yours.
4. Tag 6 fellow bloggers by linking to them.
5. Leave a comment on each of the tagged bloggers blogs letting them know they have been tagged.

Truth is, I don't know if I could come up with 6 people to tag, Kelly'd have to be one of them. And that would be copying, or shall we say, meme-ographing, as it were.
And yes, I realize that half of my quirks are about food. Yep, they are.

Monday, August 11, 2008

A Favor, Por Favor.

I don't ask for a lot, at least I don't think I do.
Please don't spend any money on the movie "Tropical Thunder".
Read some facts, if you want to.
Then don't go. If you're of a mind to, ask your friends not to go, either.

Sunday, July 27, 2008

Emma's 9th Birthday

We had a great time at Emma's party, yesterday. Did the presents, did the cake, had fun out of the sun in the Family Room. Emma got lots of good stuff, including her bi-annual replacement Elmo and Zoe puppets.

Once again, the cameras were rolling. Commence with the Amateur Auteur Hour:



 emma opens card


Happy Birthday, Girl!

Sunday, July 20, 2008

My Great Aunt Willo May

Willo May

The service for Willo May was yesterday. I waited until today to write about her because I needed to. I wanted to reverberate the thoughts of her family, friends, and co-workers with my own, in an effort to be not quite so selfish in my thinking about her. For you see, it's one of the words that describes Willo May. Unselfish.

Willo May was, as her son said, part of "The Greatest Generation." She was a professor of music - piano, organ, theory - for some 39 years. She taught piano to thousands of people, including me. She began playing piano, then organ, in church services at the age of 12, nearly every Sunday, until 17 days before her death - a span of 79 years. She was one of those individuals who befriended nearly everyone, cooked for nearly everyone, taught us all much more than just music, and prayed and cared for everyone. She has played piano and organ for multiple generations of families' weddings (yes, mine and my parents') and funerals - she's accompanied thousands of rehearsals, recitals, choirs. . . A life of service.

She has always been a part of my consciousness, my wider family circle. As a young boy, we would travel to Aunt Willo May's for Thanksgiving and New Year's Day - they lived in Pasadena, and, back then, on New Year's Day, the floats from the Rose Parade would be parked about three blocks from their home, where we could see them up close. I know that it was more about the food and the fellowship, though, than flowers. In my memory, I have been remembering the sights and smells of that house, these past weeks. Her husband, Dan, was a football fan of epic proportions, particularly college football. His enthusiasm was infectious, and I found myself following players just to try and impress Uncle Dan, or at least keep up, when we were there. Thanksgiving usually included at least one guest from the college, or a serviceman from church - their hospitality nearly always extended outward to someone not home for the holidays. To put it bluntly, they set standards for us all, not by display, but by practice, of how to serve and love each other.

Then there were the piano lessons. Learning to play the piano, unfortunately, became the skirmish line in the battle between my Mother and I for control. I hated it. I was learning to play the cello, then the bass, rock and roll was in full swing, all I saw were guitars and basses - and I really didn't want to be a church pianist at all. It is a testament to both of them that they persevered with me as long as they did, and I did learn many valuable things about theory and life and love from Willo May. You see, we lived in Long Beach, about 30 -40 miles apart. Mom used to drive me, every other weekend, for at least two years, to Willo May's for piano lessons. I have a musical gift that is in fact a two-headed monster - I have a real 'ear' for music. It makes it easy for casual music, to learn by listening. It doesn't work so well for the orchestra or, let's say, playing the piano, where you're really supposed to play the notes exactly as written. Most piano teachers, when giving me new music, would play the piece for me as an example. I would then go home and, when not stubbornly not practicing, I would learn to play the song from memory, not disciplining myself to translate the notation. Willo May figured this out, and started handing me music to learn sans demonstration. It was tough love. What small skills I now possess in the realm of reading music are attributable to her - as much for the realization that there was more to be gained by this than by not learning it, that discipline brought long-term rewards over short term satisfaction. She set a new standard for me. I didn't meet it, and I don't think it was too long after that that Mom surrendered to the battle of wills. Over the years, I had a few opportunities to play alongside her, as a bass player, and she was always very complimentary. She didn't know it, but I cherished those times, as I did her approval. I know that she wasn't pleased that I hadn't pursued the piano, but she never spoke a word to me to that effect. Willo May was a self-determined accompanist, and I understood this, and have shared and tried to emulate that aspect in my own playing.

I'd always felt that Willo May 'got' me, that she knew me pretty well, and loved me in spite of all that. I came to the realization, many years ago, however, that that was the way just about everyone else felt about her. The loss of that feeling of exclusivity, eventually, made me just love her more. Whether this trait was a gift, or the result of great effort, I do not know, but she applied it generously.

She died from what turned out to be a rapidly growing brain tumor. The diagnosis was that she'd have 3-4 months to live. I lazily assumed that she'd be around, this next weekend, for Emma's birthday party. I didn't speak with her. Fortunately, a large number of those that she'd 'gotten' did. She teaches, again, by example. Don't hesitate to tell those you love that you love them.

Yesterday was beautiful. I cried, not from sorrow, but from gratitude. Many people never know someone like Willo May. Others are influenced. I was privileged to gain part of her heritage; to claim her as my own, if only in small part. The outpouring of music, most of it selected by her, was testament to both her talent and heart for her savior. Her legacy is substantial, albeit mostly played out in churches around the world on Sunday mornings, not in great concert halls.
A life lived with excellence, through service to others. It is the life that Christ calls us all to.
Well Done, Aunt Willo May. Thank you. Thank you.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Tube System Tales - Epilogue

Sunday night, one of the four APU's (blower) motor bearings went to pieces. The decision was made to tear the motor down to see how much damage had been done. My 'mentor' joined me, and helped me disconnect it and unbolt it from the floor.


The APU lineup.
The black boxes are air shifters. Air goes into the motor on the left tube, out of the motor on the right, the air shifter's like a paddle that moves in a circular housing to direct the flow.


Here's the APU off the floor.
Notice the screens at the bottom. The inlet side is about 70% PLUGGED. The outlet side, about 40% PLUGGED.

My 'mentor" - the guy that I'd inherited the system from, was flabbergasted. He had no idea that these screens were there, let alone that they needed to be cleaned. The preventive maintenance work order procedure (quarterly) says to clean the blower motor screens, but he thought that meant another set of screens that are on the air shifters. Upon further discussion, and questioning, there were other employees that knew of this need, and had in fact performed this maintenance - it was a situation where the proper information had not been passed along from knowledgeable people to those that needed to know. These screens had not been inspected or cleaned for at least THREE YEARS.

I left the motor tear down to the real mechanics, and returned to the tube room. One at a time, I cleared and cleaned blocked screens. Four hours later, I had a rockin' tube system. To express it numerically, tube stations where my meter had shown vacuum of 5 inches of water now showed 15. The BOC guy got a complaint call from one floor secretary that her tube station was making too much noise - no, baby, that's the sucking sound of success!

That nagging feeling that something wasn't the way it was supposed to be was gone. The need to primp and preen each opening and orifice to keep minimum functionality was gone. The pressure, now on full blast, was off me. I was observed, smiling, at work - a phenomenon rarely seen since the turn of the century. Like the motors, I was relieved. It is now 10 degrees cooler in the tube room than it usually is. Transactions - tracked by the computer - are taking 2/3 of the time they used to take to get there. Faster. Better. More reliable. Me happy.
I can deal with this.


Tuesday, July 08, 2008

Sucker, Part IV, or Existing in a Vacuum

In frustration, I turned to the healthier parts of the system. I learned that:

  • There are several different ways to construct a diverter - it seemed that each one was put together in a manner different from the last 3 I had looked at. I am going to assume that it's because diverters are set up differently - horizontal tubes, vertical tubes, etc - and not that we were just the victim of using whatever happened to be on the truck, that day. It didn't really matter now, except that each solution would be different.
  • In my well-working zones, there wasn't a whole lot of difference in pressure/suction between the stations closest to the APU's (Air Power Units - blowers) and those at the farthest end. This meant that it was possible to realistically expect this - not to assume that the end stations were just going to be weak.
  • The two zones I had problems with, those stations had the largest number of diverters between them and the APU's. More opportunities for leakage. Sure, it makes sense now, but I was learning this on my own.
  • Suction was the first indicator of a problem, because of inertia. When pressure is applied to the tube, it's only about 20 feet from the APU. Gets the kick in the pants and off it goes. If the pressure's weakening as it gets to the outer limits of the system, gravity and inertia tend to carry it along. With suction, it's the opposite. The closest analogy I've thought of is holding a rubber band between your two hands. The farther you pull your hands apart, the more force it takes. That, of course is kinetic energy pulling your hands back together, but the point is that that energy has to be transmitted the entire length of the tube to have an effect on that carrier sitting out in the open atmosphere in an arm to be pulled into the tube in the first place. The reverse effect. Did I mention that I have a degree in psychology? Thank you.

Fascinated? I know I am. Let's continue.

One exampleslider1, then we'll move on. Here's one end of one diverter. The white plastic ring is what would slide on the metal wall of the box from one path to the other. The other end would be connected to a section of metal tube with a rubber sleeve, flexible enough to accommodate the movement. At the other end, another sleeve to the one opening at the other end. Now, let's take a closer look, shall we?


I would draw your attention to the brown thing between the white ring and the metal. That's a rubber ring, yes it is. It's actually tubing that's wedged in there, with the ends glued together to make a ring. Now, this is one of the things that I really didn't see until someone pointed it out to me - remember that these boxes are wedged up in the ceiling between conduits, steam lines, gas lines of various persuasions, etc. - and this is only one configuration. Some of these details, one can only find by feel or shutting it down and dismantling them. It was time, though.

There was no huge leak. They were all over. It became a matter of methodically working through the diverters, and the suction increased gradually until we were peggin' the meter everywhere.

The lessons learned were these:

  • The system was more complex (and better designed) than I originally thought it was.
  • Because of this, my expectations of what it could do needed to change.
  • Once my predecessor finally started to get more detailed, this included admitting to a certain lack of maintenance and, shall we say, follow-through on his and others' parts. Aye, there's the rub! Now the college boy was making him look bad. Guess what, the system was doing that, not me.

So, I'm smarter, it's better, and I've gained a certain confidence in an area I never wanted to know better. I'm proud of the work ethic that's been instilled in me by those who chose to invest, as well as my own stubbornness and ability to work through really being pissed off. Sad to say, I'm surrounded by a working atmosphere where, when the work's not obvious, people take shortcuts and would rather put some tape on something that really needs to be replaced. Most of this system is hidden; I have literally pulled 3-4 layers of tape off certain places. It is also sad that our current working environment does not lend itself readily to mentoring, apprenticeship, the passing down of the values behind the processes, the true nature of quality that starts with the person holding the tools, doing the right thing, making those pieces shine that no one else would ever see. It was this realization that turned my anger into action, and then into pride of accomplishment. I learned what it would take to make this work like it should, and then did it. It's why I've gone on so long about it. Nobody else really cares, beyond it's working or not, but I know better. I'm not proud about a lot of things; you won't hear me talk like this, very often (at least I hope not). It has been something of a journey for me, this tube system.

Friday, July 04, 2008

Sucker, Part III

Pardon the blurry cellphone pics, please.


Ok, so I was angry. The guy before me was really too busy to help me, cleaning out a boiler. I was left to my own devices. I soon learned that there were no devices - you just kinda looked around for leaks, fixed what you found, and tried it again. I had a couple of problems with this, in that I didn't know what I was looking at, listening for, or feeling around at. After about a week, crawling around in ceilings - oh yes, it's all in the ceilings, obscured by ductwork, insulation, and conduits - I decided that I needed a device. Something to measure the movement of air, specifically suction. Following the layout of the zone, I still really couldn't tell where my vacuum was dropping off, at least not by sticking my hand into the open maw of each tube station to get a sense. I needed numbers.


Air pressure/vacuum is measured in "inches of water" - no, I really still don't know what that means, my degree is in psychology. At any rate, I found a Magnehelic gauge with a working range for what I wanted to do, and set to drilling, running a tube through a carrier to said gauge. My co-workers gazed at me with disdain, the college boy's wasting more time. I fitted it with a rubber collar, I didn't want this thing taking off and embarrassing me further.



I soon learned that a properly working station would peg the scale, providing at least 5 inches of water. The non-working stations were only 'pulling' 3 or more. Receiving, at the end of the line, barely made 2.

I enlisted the aid of my co-workers. Some gave me good advice, some told me long, anecdotal stories with no real point, and still others sent me on complete wild-goose chases. One of the things that ultimately turned me from psychology as a career, as a young man, was that it's practical application depended upon one's philosophy/philosophies, there were no concrete answers. I was beginning to feel that way about this tentacled beast that seemed to defy common sense. Everyone had their theories, but none were proven. I was wrong, of course, it was just a matter of getting the right information, this is physics, not the inner workings of the human mind.

I was on my way. There was at least one big leak, and I was going to find it. Now, if it had been water, the problem would be evident. How to find it? Couldn't use smoke. . . although it was tempting. Thought of using some sort of odor, but I let that pass, too. I knew from my exploration that there were no gaping holes, no cracked open section due to some contractor's mucking about on some other mission. It had to be the diverters. Specifically, it had to be either diverter C12, C07, C11 or C06. I'd been told (and shown!) by one co-worker that they were all fine. Little did I know that he knew as little as I did.

Next time: Diversions and Elbog's rubber-band theory of space and time.

Tuesday, July 01, 2008

Hey, Ain't This Great!

Woman has breast cancer-free baby!

Hope they can soon screen for the "won't grow up to hate her parents and join the Druids" gene or "economic success - will definitely end up on the dole" gene.
I'm just saying. We're on the precipice. How good is your vision?

Monday, June 30, 2008

Sucker, Part II

So, to review:

The Five Stages of Grief are:


Looking at them now, I'm chagrined to admit that it's not an appropriate descriptor in this case. Denial was momentary, went straight to Anger. Not much in the way of bargaining to be done, no one to trade with. Anger (direct, not the residual) lasted a good couple of weeks. Fortunately, when one has been even angrier, for longer, one learns to channel this energy. We'll come back to this. Depression was good for another 3-4 weeks. Acceptance came with some success. This concludes our overview.

When we last left our hero, Food Service had virtually no suction. Central Service, provider of all things sterile and clinical, was not much better. Receiving had given up on using their tube station, some months ago. The EAU and 8th floors were complaining of intermittent service and lost tubes. The two major zones weren't sinking, but they were listing hard to port, as it were.

Now, the technical description. This system is a one-tube system - the same tube is used for sending and receiving. There are 42 stations, segmented into 4 zones - 4 main routes that branch off to each station by means of diverters - think railway switch. They converge in the basement at the "Dazzler" - a conflagration of bent, rotating tubes that makes the exchange from station C12(Lab) to B11(11th fl.) possible.
Nurse Nancy puts her lab sample into bubble wrap, then puts it in the tube. She puts the tube into an arm-like holder, and enters the destination's address on a keypad. The station accepts this (usually), and moves the arm over to the gate - the closed-off opening. In the BOC (Pit of Despair, see earlier posts), A PC takes the request and lines up that zone to the station. One of the 4 large blowers in the basement fires up, vacuum is created, and the tube is pulled into the basement, into the "Dazzler". The PC then directs the "Dazzler" to line up a path to the destination station. The blower shifts from suction to pressure, and the sample winds it's way to the lab. That's it. Usually takes less than 2 minutes. There are communication links, optical sensors that track the trajectory, and log the results. We hardly ever lose a tube - it has to go somewhere, and it does. When it goes, of course. These weren't leaving the station.

As you may have experienced, pneumatic tube systems can move small items very quickly and efficiently. This beneficial service is multiplied in an institution such as ours. It is one of those things that is easily taken for granted, which, like fresh tomato on a "California Burger", can lead to outright rage when it's taken away. Food Service had had to find a different way to get patient menu selections from the floors, and the affected floors were really missing the quick and efficient transfer of minutia, like medicines from the pharmacy. My boss had set me firmly in the midst of a large steaming pasture, whether he knew it or not.

Next: Anger is an ener-gee, or Troubleshooting Things You Don't Understand.

Sunday, June 29, 2008

There's a Sucker Born Every Minute, Part I

Alright, I mentioned it, and some of you have been needling me about it, so here's my essay on the tube system. Pneumatic. Ecstatic. Acrobatic, tube system.

In the world according to Dilbert, I have done my best to transform myself from Dilbert into Wally. Wally - the little bald-headed guy whose raison-de-etre' is to do as little as possible, while maintaining the illusion of work. For me, this has been by focusing my efforts on those systems that are least likely to result in a telephone call in the middle of the night from our latest hire, naturally working the graveyard shift with no experience and a million square feet to take care of. The actual fact is that I am so good at maintaining the things that I'm responsible for (as my friend says, "It ain't rocket surgery"), that I end up looking for things to do. So, into my semi-secure world drops the tube system, as I guess someone noticed that I'd actually been happy at work for 3-4 weeks or so.

I was very angry at the manner in which it came to me. My current supervisor/Manager/Team Leader/I-really-don't-care-what-his-title-is, is a nice-enough guy who was working his way up the ranks while I had crested and fallen. He's actually asked me for some occasional advice, and I've seen him make some real progress, management-wise. His job (which is actually the job I had, reconstituted into something I'd never want to do, again) keeps him up at night at least 2-3 times a week, and his hair is going greyer even faster than mine did. Every morning, we carry on a fine naval tradition called the POD, or Plan of the Day. Sharing info, doling out assignments, finding out where the floods were the night before (It's a 540 bed hospital that's 43 years old, you do the plumbing math). This particular morning, the meeting breaks up, he motions me over, and tells me - in the presence of my co-worker that's being relieved of this burden - that it's now my responsibility. No warm-up, no warning, no smoke signals of any kind. I then get about 90 minutes of "this is where everything is"- "here's the main parts of the tube station" - and I'm left alone, seething with a handful of work orders and a third of the system not working.

Flash back to 1990. I am a "Management Specialist", working for the Director of Engineering. We've just replaced our 25 year-old pneumatic tube system, and the new system's performance is not quite what the brochures and sales pitches told us that it would be, primarily in the form of the amount of daily attention it requires from our service techs. The boss calls about 5 of us into his office, where he places a conference call to the president of the company. He informs him that we're not satisfied at all, and we're going to inform all of the trade publications and medical device newsletters of how incompetent this system is. He wants the president and anyone else he wants to bring to be in our offices tomorrow, for a meeting about how they're going to fix it - or else. It is the age of Total Quality Management. I actually "Facilitated" that meeting - my first one, handed to me, incidentally, three minutes before it started, without warning or preparation (yes, history repeating itself). We came up with an action plan, and basically made them sweat until the warranty was up, or they went out of business - I don't remember which happened first.

Yes, this all went through my mind before that day was over. You bet your sweet bippy, I was mad.

Next: The Five Stages.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

One for the money, 2fer the show.

As residents of Southern California, we have the unique opportunity to participate in Disney's "2Fer" offer - During the first few months of the year, one can visit Disneyland and Disney's California Adventure for the price of one admission. The only real rules are that you can't visit one park twice, and you have to visit the second one within 30 days of your first visit. Yesterday was the 29th day after our recent day at the Magic Kingdom, so DCA (that's what you call it when you live in "the OC" - the surrounding Orange County) was in order.

Hot. Hot and muggy. Stinkin' hot and muggy - probably an average day on the Eastern Seaboard, but oh so icky for those of us used to a desert climate. Arriving late, our first omen was our parking placement without tram service - meaning that we had the pleasure of traversing "Downtown Disney" on foot before we'd even started.

The purpose of the 2Fer is to pump up attendance in the off season. Our procrastination, this year, means that we hit the resort (when I was a kid, it was Disneyland, now it's The Disney Resort. Big whoop) in full Summer swing. Stinkin' hot, muggy, and crowded. Sweating bullets at the front gate, already. Quick, head for the Muppetts' 3-D theater. When I was a kid in Arizona, there were signs on restaurant windows that boasted "refrigeration", regarding their air conditioning. This theater was refrigerated, baby. Emma had great fun with the 3-D effect. Rides. Lines. Lunch. Pushing the stroller back and forth. Melting. Everybody kinda caved in at about 6 o'clock - even though there were 3 more hours of magic awaiting us. Our hip OC friends with annual passes who met us barely had time to see the parade, and we were leaving. I think that they were hot enough, themselves, by then.

We're spoiled, like meat left in the hot sun. When I was a kid, and there was no internet, no 183 channels on the TV, only a record player and some books in the house. Disneyland took planning, stamina, and an intense feeling that, if one didn't work at it, certain fun would be missed. It's not that way, today. Spoilage aside, it does seem to be a bit more relaxing.
So, for your comparative note-taking, here's footage from DCA's carousel, along with some scenic interpretations from Samuel L. Goble, BSC (class of 2015).