Monday, December 29, 2014

All About Me

I firmly believe that no one reading this blog has much interest in the minutia of my daily life.  If I'm correct, than this will be a boring post, because the following is what's going on with me right now.

For starters, this is the last post I'll be making on my Model M keyboard for a couple of months.  My personal computer will be going into storage on the first, along with most of my personal belongings.  I was able to plan on moving out of my current apartment before leaving, and not moving into my new one until after my trip, thus saving a months rent.

I leave for this trip on the fifteenth of January.  I'm all set as far as the trip goes.  All that's left is to pack away my life, while still meeting my obligations.  I will be working ten days in a row before I leave.

Last week I missed my posting, but I promise I have a good reason.  I was on death's door.  In a matter of hours I went from healthy, to passing out while standing.  I thought it was just something I ate, and didn't take the illness seriously.  Thankfully, my mistake didn't cost too much.  I was able to work from home that Monday, and was well enough to leave the house the next day.

As far as my diet goes, I'm still doing well.  I was hoping to lose 39 pounds before my trip, and I've lost 32.5 so far.  I know now that I won't achieve that goal, but that still makes this an incredible victory.  I'm proud of that, and all of the positive changes I'm making right now.

Friday, December 26, 2014

Recent Anecdotes

Thank you for checking my promise! I share three recent anecdotes:

Contact Lens Issues
I have had cataract surgery, I wear contact lenses because my cataract glasses are, well, unflattering. Ugly. Coke bottle bottoms. I wear my contacts all the time, except for just before going to bed and briefly after getting up.

Feeling as I’ve felt recently, I rest ( sleep ) much more than usual, and often on the couch. Because I am not supposed to sleep with my contact lenses inserted, and because this napping occurs in the morning, I usually wear my cataract glasses until after lunch.

One day I read the paper, dozed, did email with my smart phone, dozed, got and read the USPS mail, dozed, and finally had lunch. Somewhat energized, I inserted my contact lenses and went to work on my computer. I had a terrible time: I was barely able to see the text clearly enough to read. I did the things I could to make the text bigger. This helped, but I continued to struggle.

This sudden difficulty scared me. My recent falling incident at the Basilica told me bad things can happen in a hurry. I continued to worry, try to work different applications, trying to do a variety of things.The problem persisted.

Eventually I remembered a prior experience; “I wonder if that could be what’s going on here.” My two eyes require different corrections; to distinguish them, the Left lens is bLue and the Right lens is gReen. I hurried to the bathroom, got down my contact lens case, and popped out the contact lens in my Right eye. It was not gReen, but bLue! Somehow I swapped lenses.

I put the bLue one in the case, removed the other one, inserted it in the Right eye, the bLue one in the Left eye and hurried back to my office. I could easily see monitor’s text and read to my heart’s content once again. Life was good.

Daring Offer
In the far corner of the parking lot at my medical clinic, in the kind of weather that makes walking an adventure, as I pulled into a parking space, I noticed a woman: alone, on crutches, trying to carry a rather large handbag, struggling mightily. “I could help her with that,” I thought. Immediately following, “What do you suppose she will think or say if you do that? Do you really think that’s a good idea?

Realizing the risk I was taking ( Is it not a shame that this is something I had to even think about? ), I walked up to her on her right side, “It looks to me like you’re struggling with that purse. I’d be happy to carry it if you’d like.

Without sarcasm, and without trying to attack me with it, she said, “Oh, would you; that’d be so nice,” and handed it over to me. For the first time I saw her youth; I could’ve easily been her father, perhaps grandfather.

We had a very pleasant conversation on the walk in. At one point I even said, “I’m not afraid to carry a purse,” and opened my coat to show her the bag I always carry over my shoulder. We laughed.

She had been quite an athlete. Injuries to her left knee ended that; she was, then, taking her right knee, with its torn ACL, in to schedule surgery. I was quite early for my appointment, so I accompanied her to the orthopedic clinic, put her purse on the counter when we got there, my hand on her forearm, uttered “Have a wonderful Christmas,” and left for my appointment.

I experienced the event as pleasant and she got a huge help getting into the clinic; win-win.

Contact Lens Issues Unmasked
A few days after my initial Contact Lens Issue, I had just removed my contact lenses, cleaned them, and put them in the wells of the lens case. As I was putting the soaking solution in the Right well, I noticed the lens: it was bLue!

For the second time that week, after thirty years of not doing it at all, I had mixed up the lenses putting the Right one where the Left one should go and vice versa, setting myself up for reading problems once again. “I gotta get a new system,” I think.
If you would like to comment but don't care to use the comment field, send an email to

Saturday, December 20, 2014

Walter Snuck some Time Off

"You're not quite over this," my body would say to my spirit.

My apology to all; I took a break from posting and said nothing about it; just kind of "snuck it in." It's because I was sick, overcome with a cough that zapped most of my energy. Several times I thought I was improving and soon found myself in a five-minute period where I could do nothing but cough. "I'm not quite over this," I'd realize.

I promise to publish, next week, one or more anecdotes from the last few weeks. I found them interesting in real time and hope you'll find them so.
If you would like to comment but don't care to use the comment field, send an email to

Monday, December 15, 2014

Theological Skepticism - #3

I missed posting last week.  It was a busy week for me, which included a funeral, among other things.  It was a catholic funeral that took place at a church that I would describe as progressive.

This church does have a cross at the center, but it's far bigger than the Jesus, and shaped more like a plus, so as not to conjure up an execution device quite so much.  The Jesus, and all other statues, are left their natural wood color to avoid portraying a white Jesus without exactly saying he was brown either.

The ceremony was short, and had no kneeling.  In fact, there were no kneelers.  The whole experience was not unpleasant.  The priest never mentioned fire or brimstone, but of course mentioned heaven.  The catholics I know believe it is wrong to propose that they know who is in hell, but are happy to clam that they know who is in heaven.  According to the priest, the latter was the case for my recently deceased acquaintance.

This priest continued to explain what "we believe" about the afterlife because he is an intelligent man who knows a funeral will contain non-christians.  Then he got to the one part that really struck me.  After explaining that she will now be spending infinite time in an infinitely pleasurable place, he went on to say that this does not assuage our grief.

It doesn't?  Maybe he could have elaborated on that.  You could argue that our grief is for ourselves because we can't hang out with her for a while.  Sure.  But even then, how callous is that?  The best thing that could possibly happen to anyone, just happened to this woman, and instead of celebrating for her, I'm sad for me?

I've heard it argued that not knowing that you know something is the same thing as not knowing that thing.  I might have agreed except for this particular piece of knowledge.  Every christian I know, knows that life is unlimited, but lives like it is not.  They worry about death, of themselves and their loved ones, as much as a person who accepts that all lives will end one day.

I know there are a few suicide bombers who are exceptions to the rule, but it seems to me that most theists think that they think they're immortal, but live like they're not.  As for me, I say memento mori, but of course I said nothing of the sort at the funeral.

Thursday, December 4, 2014

One Price of Addiction - an Update

"Have you been reading your Facebook lately?"

"What does it say?"

"We won."

We won an eye-dropper filled fountain pen; in my prior post, from which the quote is taken, I wrote about entering the contest, winning an AirMail eye-dropper filled fountain pen, my excitement, my initial screw-up filling the pen, subsequently filling the pen correctly and how wonderfully the pen writes.

I have since retired that pen from use, at least for the winter months.

the retirement
The day after I posted that glowing report, I wrote this in my journal, "My prize-won-in-a-drawing AirMail pen leaked into the cap and spit all over this morning, first thing. ICK! Very unhappy. I predicted this, but not this soon. And not this bad, I don't think."

Full Disclosure: I had had another pen which spit up in use. Customer service told me that the problem was the temperature at night got too cool and my warm hands, warming the unit's ink, increased the pressure in the barrel so that the pen had virtually no choice but to spit. That pen was a piston filled pen, so the ink was in the barrel, only the barrel's thickness away from my warm hands. An eye-dropper filled pen also puts the ink right in the barrel, right next to my warm hands. "Piston fillers and eye-dropper fillers are not for you," he had said. He replaced the pen with another, filled differently and with a different ink-feed design, with which I am quite happy.

I based my prediction of this experience on those words from customer service. The pen had leaked, the pen case in which I had stored it overnight was wet with ink ( this was a hand-made item, made of  plastic canvas and yarn, and I was able to get most of the ink out with a good washing of it ), and I had had it with that pen. "The pen writes so nicely, though … ," kept going through my mind.

Having some experience with replacing the nibs in my Chinese pens and noticing that the nib in this pen seemed about the same size, I considered putting the nib from this pen in one of my Chinese pens. I removed the nib from the AirMail easily enough; I tried putting the nib and the Chinese pen's feed into one of my Chinese pens; that went smoothly enough, as well. Feeling a bit smug, I thought I'd make some lemonade.

After some appropriate diddling ( determining that two particular bottles of ink that I own just don't work with my Chinese pens, removing and reinserting the nib/feed several times, adjusting the relative positioning of the nib and feed ) I now have another attractive Chinese fountain pen that writes at least as good as it looks. 

I joined it with the other two pens with the number 6 nibs I received for my birthday, and I have a trio of fine looking and writing pens.

My three Chinese pens in front of a writing sample from each.

I just finished writing the Christmas cards my wife and I send ( yes, my job ) and I used all three of them without hesitation. 

for the winter months
This spitting phenomenon occurs when the pen gets cold overnight and is then subjected to my warm hands. The "cold overnight" occurs only in the winter.

I doubt that I'll return its nib to this pen and try it again in the spring. I may try it with the Chinese pen's nib, but that nib doesn't work well in the Chinese pens, I don't know why I'd think it would work in the AirMail pen. We'll see. If you want to know, please ask.
If you would like to comment but don't care to use the comment field, send an email to

Monday, December 1, 2014

Cheapness is a Sense

The other day a friend told me that American consumerism is out of control.  This is evidenced to him by all of the holiday sales the evil and greedy corporations are running to trick the poor unsuspecting consumer into buying something they don't need.  I couldn't disagree more.

The way I see it, capitalism has set up a system were everyone gets a nice lot in life if they choose to put in the effort.  I have friends who have more money than time.  This is because they perform difficult and specific tasks for our society.  Tasks that they trained for long and hard.  They have the option of paying a little extra to get what they want, when they want it.

I, on the other hand, did not train so long, and don't work so hard.  I have more time than money.  Yes, cuts are made, but it's a trade off I chose.  And I can still get most of the things I want by shopping around to find a good deal.  I can take advantage of those sales.  Sometimes I can find what I'm looking for used.

A friend recently mentioned that her child wanted a toy for Christmas that has a MSRP of $60.  She did not expect me to purchase this because that is too much to spend on a friend's kid.  I found it locally on sale for $40, and then I saved $5 on top of that with a discounted gift card.  A great trick is to buy a gift cards at cardpool at a discount.  That way you can stack that with any other offer you find there.

As for people that don't have the money, and can't be bothered to find the deals?  People who really do buy things that they neither need nor want?  They'll get no sympathy from me.

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

One Night, after a Training Meeting, Update

I have an update to my recent post about my time in the Emergency Room and the gash in the back of my head.

I am very glad to report that my physician removed the five staples from the two-inch gash in my head, talked to me, and examined me. She found me very boring, medically speaking. This means there is no reason to believe a medical condition contributed to my losing consciousness.

She also told me that getting concussed ( which clearly happened ) can result in some lapse of memory both preceding and following the event. So it is possible that falling is the first event that occurred. ( During the exam, my wife reminded me, "You're not the most graceful man I know." )

Both because it's medically reasonable and too scary to believe the other, I believe this sequence: I fell, gashed my head, lost consciousness, finished going downstairs, wanted to drive home.

I attended the next training session, in the same facility, and learned more:

  1. At the beginning of the session, the facilitator asked, "Any questions about anything?"

    "Does anyone know what happened to Walter?" asked a woman at the next table.

    "I'm right here," I responded. I thanked her for asking and gave a Reader's Digest version of the story. "Did any of you see anything?" I asked as I finished. Not a hand went up.

    Take away: not a single person involved in the training witnessed the event.

  2. Paula, the staff person who called my wife, sat at my table at the subsequent meeting and insisted I take the elevator with her when the meeting was over. I did.

    She told me the trail of blood began on the first landing I came to when descending the steps.

    Take aways:
    • I traversed four flights of steps after sustaining the wound.
    • This distance shocks me.
  3. Paula introduced me to the Security Guard who had kept me from driving; I knew her, but I did not realize she was the one. "Just doin' my job," she said when I thanked her. She also said I kept insisting, "I'm fine, I'm fine," when she first intercepted me.

    Take aways:
    • The guards just do their jobs, calmly and confidently.
    • They can make a serious difference in people's lives.

  4. As we spoke, a group of fellow students came down. She was telling me that I had been in shock, and the students agreed. "You were shaking." Several of them asked if I had been adequately tested for a medical condition contributing to my fall. I assured them that I had been.

    Take aways:
    • I was in shock.
    • The students truly cared and were concerned. ( This does not surprise. It is a living example of the radical hospitality notion I mentioned in the first post. )
My bottom line is, if I were going to pick a place to have an accident, I could not have picked a better, more caring one.
If you would like to comment but don't care to use the comment field, send an email to

Monday, November 24, 2014

How to Feed Myself - #4

It's been two and a half months since my last diet update, and I have stayed on track that whole time.  My waistline did not.  In early October I hit what they call a weight loss plateau.

I'm certainly no expert on the subject.  What my research indicated was that a plateau is brought on by a sudden loss of weight.  It is implemented by the body decreasing its metabolism as a defense mechanism.  And it usually lasts about three weeks if you stick to a healthy diet.

This was my experience exactly.  At the time my plateau started in early October I had lost 24.5 pounds.  I lost none until it ended at the end of the month.  Since it ended, my diet has been doing fine, and I've lost 4.5 since then.

The other thing I need to explain is how I've been measuring.  I was weighing myself with clothes and glasses and such.  I've realized this is fairly inaccurate, because that does change.  I did a couple of tests, and believe six pounds would account for everything I was wearing.  That makes my new starting weight 208 pounds.  It also means that my original goal of 175 pounds should be adjusted to 169.

With these new numbers, I can calculate my current weight of 179 pounds as a 29 pound loss.  I'm very happy with were I am now.  I obviously have some left to lose, but I think people would no longer describe me as a chubby guy.

As for my goal to be 169 pounds by the start of my trip?  I do think I can lose that last 10 pounds in fifty days.  I'm not positive if 169 will be my ultimate goal weight, but it's probably not too far from the mark.

Friday, November 21, 2014

Starting a Writing Life

I once had a notion to write  
A friend also wanted to write  
We signed up for classes  
We initiated a blog 

A friend also wanted to write    

My interest became telling my story  
We initiated a blog   

His interest centered on fiction 

My interest became telling my story    

I learned  writing short autobiographies  
His interest centered on fiction 

He furthered the book he’d been tending  

I learned  writing short autobiographies    

My journey held meaning for my peers  
He furthered the book he’d been tending    

The story grew in complexity  

My journey held meaning for my peers  
I once had a notion to write  
The story grew in complexity  
 We signed up for classes

If you would like to comment but don't care to use the comment field, send an email to

Sunday, November 16, 2014

The Dentist, My Old Nemesis

I started my first job that offered dental insurance a little over ten years ago.  It took me a couple of years to realize that the only important piece of information about that coverage is the yearly maximum.  I've used that max every year, and most years I've used more.

The problem came up again the other day when I felt a crack while chewing, but no pain.  A quick survey told my that a crown had detached.  I later learned that the tooth the crown's on is the thing that detached from itself.  The only reason I wasn't in pain is because that tooth has no nerve.  It has had a root canal.

Several of my teeth have needed root canals over the years.  I believe all of their fates will be the same as this tooth.  That root is there for a reason.  My dentist has recommended all of them be capped.  As I have just demonstrated, that is not a permanent solution either.

As for this cracked tooth, it needs to be pulled.  It's not the first tooth I've had pulled, but it's the first tooth I cared about.  I'll have a hole in my smile for the next two months minimum before I can consider fixing it.

The timing is interesting, to say the least.  Two months from that day is the day I touch down in Bangkok.  That might mean I'll be missing that tooth for the entire trip.  The trip I planned so far in advance.

But it will probably mean I can get it fixed there.  The sooner the better of course.  The cost of dental work there is low, and the quality is high, from what I can tell.  I'll be paying less than my portion after insurance here.  I might even get reimbursed some from my insurance when I get back.  It's not the ideal time to be spending money on dental work.  It's not the ideal time to have dental work done.  With these kinds of savings though, the possibilities are amazing.

Thursday, November 13, 2014

One Night, after a Training Meeting

"I'm going to drive home."

"Nooo, I think that's a bad idea; you come with me," someone said.

I'm a volunteer at the Basilica parish, and I am currently taking a six-session Leadership training program there.

I know Janice, the Director of Christian Life Ministries, and she delivered the presentation for the fourth session. She made some points about radical hospitality; that reminded me of a book I had read, and I wanted to mention the book to her.

Finishing a written evaluation of the evening, I was among the last to get up from the tables. Another participant was speaking to Janice, I waited, and then spoke to Janice about the book.

On my way to the double doors leading to the landing at the top of the five flights of steps, I said good night to Paula, and stopped to get some pizza leftover from dinner. I remember I closed only the lid of the box. The next thing I remember is being in the parking lot, realizing that my head is bleeding and deciding to drive home.

"Nooo, I think that's a bad idea; you come with me," someone said, as 2 or 3 people helped get me back inside the school. ( I believe the people included a Basilica security guard, other staff people and some fellow students. ) They sat me on a chair just inside the door; there was much excitement. Someone gave me a towel to stem the blood flow. I heard them talking about calling 911 and I did not wish to argue. I had trouble coming up with the phone number for Paula to call my wife. We blocked the doorway; we moved to an alcove, perhaps fifteen feet to the right of where we began. With help, I walked over. I was grateful to sit again.

By the time the ambulance arrived, my head was clear.  I clearly had no idea how I had navigated the steps from the third floor. They put me in the ambulance ( I recall having a pretty good time with them; we joked around and I found they have a pretty good sense of humor. ), took all my vitals, did an EKG, and found everything normal.

Once at the ER, I was able to tell three additional people that I had no idea how I had acquired the gash in the back of my head. Lots of blood work, more tests, including a repeat of the EKG and a heart monitor for a while, showed me to be completely normal, medically speaking.

I did, however, have that two-inch gash in the top left quadrant of the back of my head. The ER doctor ( who, interestingly enough, was married at the Basilica a number of years before ) sealed that wound with five staples, which he said to remove in a week. He also suggested … well, no, insisted, with a good-natured threat … that I see my primary care doctor in the next couple of days. When I agreed he agreed to discharge me.

After hearing this story, a friend of mine said, "Well, that's sobering." Indeed.

Innumerable people have said it: "Take nothing for granted; life is all gift, nothing is guaranteed." Not a one of their saying it impacted me as this experience did. Having no memory of traversing the five flights of steps to the parking lot and receiving a two inch head wound while so doing is sobering, scary, and reason to be grateful for every moment.

If you would like to comment but don't care to use the comment field, send an email to

Monday, November 10, 2014

For That You Need Power

I haven't looked outdoors since midnight, and that's not an accident.  Winter is hitting Minnesota like a ton of bricks right now.  A friend said he was looking forward to winter.  I told him, "Go to hell," but in a nice way.

I tried to imagine myself looking forward to winter, but the closest I could come was looking forward to Christmas.  I love Christmas, and a big part of it for me is the music.  So imagine my horror when my ipod mysteriously died last week.

I know what you're thinking, 'Ipods are so 2000's.  We all have smartphones.'  That is true, but this is all about hi-fidelity.  That old ipod happens to interface with my FiiO E1, which I purchased for $10, shipping included.  It's the cheapest amp you can find, and it also does a better job at digital to analog conversion(DAC).

So do I buy a $40 replacement five-year-old ipod to keep using the  cheapest amp on the market?  That seems silly.

For $20, I could buy a non portable amp.  I'm sure it would work well, but that seems like a waste.  I don't like spending money on something that's not what I really want.  Then again, it's not like I wouldn't find a use for that later.

No, if I'm going to spend $20, I might as well spend $60, and get a great portable model.  I'm looking at the FiiO E11K.  By all accounts, it's the one to have if you're not ready to shell out hundreds.  It's like the  FiiO E11, but with a solid metal body, and the bass boost is a little more user friendly.

I'm this close to taking a huge journey, so this isn't the time to be spending $60 on something I don't need.  On the other hand, I can't imagine not having hi-fidelity music this Christmas season.

Then yesterday I tried my ipod one last time out of frustration, and it sprung to life.  Maybe it was a Christmas miricle.  Maybe the hard reboot I tried the other day just took a very long time to happen.  Either way, I'm off the hook financially for a while.  Well, other than the pair of velour replacement ear pads I bought for my ATH-M50's for $20.  What?  They do double as earmuffs.  Do you want my ears to get cold?

Saturday, November 8, 2014

Titles Tell

Engineer: a person who designs, builds, or maintains engines, machines, or public works.
Technician: a person employed to look after technical equipment or do practical work in a laboratory

It was over in an instant; "Walter, would you come into my office, please?" my manager asked.

I was a graduate of Marquette University's School of Engineering; I had a Master Degree. I was recently promoted to Engineering Project Manager of the team that would develop the next generation computer for the Navy. I was in on the ground floor of the quality renaissance the division executive had initiated and was a respected member of the internal training team; about my role in this quality renaissance, one employee said to me, 'You are the conscience of the division;' I led several successful problem-solving teams, some of which, with only a different leader, had failed miserably.

I had a lot of latitude. As long as I'd put in forty productive hours a week, it didn't matter too much which hours they were. I was able to integrate my work for the Quality Team without getting special permission from anyone. I attended and called meetings as necessary to get the work done. I could take coffee ( cigarette ) breaks when I needed them. If I wanted to leave the premises for a longer than usual lunch, no problem.

The meeting into which my manager called me was a one on one. These were usually pleasant: a quick follow-up, a question, a request. "This is a bad day," she began, "a really bad day for me."

Truth be told, I don't remember anything else either one of us said. I do remember this: she was laying off three project managers. When I left the meeting I had thirty more days of employment.

Eventually, after doing some consulting work with an ex-colleague, I landed the job from which I retired thirteen years later. The work was staffing a Help Desk, aiding callers with their Personal Computer Software issues.

Beyond the significant pay reduction, I quickly learned how different from my previous full-time job my new job was. I didn't have any business cards; I didn't need them. I didn't so much have work to do as I had a shift to cover. My shift was rigidly defined as 7:30 to 4:00, unless, of course, I was on the phone at the end, then I had to stay until the call was completed. I was allocated two fifteen minutes breaks per day, at specific times, morning and afternoon. Lunch, too, was rigidly scheduled. Talking to a colleague to get help ( or offer it ) was hit-and-miss, as the telephone could ring at any time, for either one of us, and we had to answer such calls.

My manager focused this with a remark he made: "I will have one of my technicians look into that for you."

If you would like to comment but don't care to use the comment field, send an email to

Monday, November 3, 2014

I'm Going to Bangkok - #2

More than a year ago I wrote about my plans to take a trip to Bangkok in January of 2015.  Since then several people have asked, "Are you still planning that trip to Bangkok?"  To all my doubters, "Yes I am."  I did however, decided on a more reasonable one month vacation.

So here's how things look now:

Missing Pay
This is no longer my biggest expense.  Since I'm now going for just under 33 days, only 20 of them will be missed work days.  About 15 of those will be paid, so I'm now only losing a weeks pay.

I had said that I hoped my cousin, who will be joining me for part of the trip, would be able to get me cheap standby tickets.  And if not I didn't expect to pay more than $1,500.
Well, there's no such thing as standby tickets for the last leg of the journey now, so I did have to buy my own.  I could have spent $1,150, but I cherry picked the flights I wanted, and ended up paying $1,350.  Still within my expected budget, and now that it's not standby, I can go right up to my vacation limits.
I'll be spending 26 days in Thailand, 4 in Japan, 2 in the air, and less than 12 hours at home.  In fact, I will be going from work to the airport, and vice versa.

A year ago I was talking about renting a service apartment by the month.  That would have been pretty cheap.  Now I'm planning to be there less time, and I want to be more flexible.  I have found, so it looks like I can get a studio apartment in the $30 to $45 a night range.  It will be cheaper for the days I spend up north.  All in all, I'm probably going to spend $1,000 to $1,5000 for the whole trip on lodging.
However, I will not be paying rent at home like I expected.  I'll be moving at that time, so I have arranged to wait until I get back to move into the new place.  That means I'll be spending less than my initial expectations.

Fun Times
The conversion rate there is still amazing, but I'm thinking I might live it up a little.  I'm planing to spend two or three times what I normally do here.

Thursday, October 30, 2014

I Need to be Authentic

"Let's not let it be so long next time, eh?" I said as we parted company.

I had just finished having dinner with a friend and it was just OK. Usually it's better than that, thoroughly enjoyable. This particular time I was off-kilter. Why, I wondered, was this so?

Then it struck me … I had not been authentic.

I failed to bring up some negative feelings, some stronger than others, about our relationship. I brushed the weaker ones aside as I met him and we walked to our destination. I brought the topics of some others up, he updated me, and my negative feelings dissipated.

The last item though, was a whopper.

I had auditioned to be a lector ( proclaimer of Scripture ) at our parish and my friend is the liturgical coordinator with the final say about who lectors. I am a seasoned lector, having lectured in various locations for several decades and skilled at the ministry. Even so, I had to audition and that was fine. Although I anticipated some nervousness, when actually there, I was not nervous at all … unless rubbery knees count. I overcame the knees, proclaimed the readings in a fashion to which I had become accustomed and sat down.

Because nobody said anything to me about voting me in or out, I went home with some confidence, and no assurance, that I had passed the audition. I quickly received an email, "You are on the sub list and we will touch base next week … "  I was elated. The email included suggestions for improvement from the audition "audience." I figured we would discuss those suggestions as well as other items when we touched base.

The touching base never happened; a scheduled meeting was canceled and not rescheduled.

I wanted to have the meeting. I wanted to have the conversation he had in mind when he said we'd touch base the following week.

Was I clear with him about my desire? NO; heck no! That would have been too easy or simple. No, rather, I said, "Well, am I going to be on the lector sub list forever?"

His response, not surprisingly, was to put his coordinator hat on
( removing the friend hat ), "Well, we have a lot more people wanting to lector than we have openings. A few lectors, unfortunately because it's for health reasons, will be leaving soon." Next subject.

To be clear: I wasn't consciously attempting to manipulate him into the post-audition lector conversation he promised. I was conscious that his response was less than I wanted and needed. That put me on edge and off-kilter for the remainder of the dinner.

My unmet ( and unrecognized ) need had played a significant role in reducing my enjoyment of our time together. The episode reminded me that awareness of what is going on with me, and being authentic with it, is one key to a balanced, enjoyed life.

If you would like to comment but don't care to use the comment field, send an email to

Sunday, October 26, 2014

Theological Skepticism - #2

"Babies are innocent," I told her.

She pointedly looked away, unwilling to answer.  Unable.

"Babies... are... innocent," I repeated more clearly, as though she hadn't heard me.

She continued to look away, as if the far wall suddenly needed her full attention.  Perhaps she was just hoping that if she pretended I wasn't there, it might become true.

How could she have answered that?  'No babies are not innocent?'  No.  She is a loving aunt.  She's also a teacher.  She takes these roles seriously; willingly, and emphatically.  She would never claim that a baby could have something to atone for.

'You are correct; babies are innocent?'  No, she can't say that either.  She is Catholic.

The discussion at Flaherty's Bowling Alley had started about which of the Flahertys we know are related to which.  I jokingly asked, "Aren't all Flahertys related?"  We all chuckled.  Then someone else replied, "Well, we're all related to Adam and Eve."  We all chuckled at that too.

Everyone except for me at that table was Catholic, but not the kind of Catholic that would insist that a story like Genesis was true in the face of all of the evidence to the contrary.  No one believed there was actually an Adam and Eve.  But that raised an interesting question for me, so I asked it.

"If there was not an Adam and Eve, then what is 'Original Sin'?  What is the transgression you're washing off of babies?"

I got some hems and haws before one friend tried to tell me that, "No one is innocent," conflating the sin that is supposedly inherited with the sins people actually commit.  As you already know, I told her that, "Babies are innocent."

If you call yourself Catholic, ask yourself if that story can literally be true.

And if that didn't actually happen, what is it you are trying to wash away?

And is it possible to undo the moral transgression of another without their consent, or even their knowledge?

Can someone be guilty of a moral transgressing through no fault of their own?

I think inheriting guilt made since to a bronze age goat herder, and I think our understanding of ethics has progressed quite a deal since then.  If you don't get your scientific understanding from 3,000 year old books, why are you getting your ethics from one?

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

I Learn about asking for Help

"Pull the spark plug and look … that'll give you a lot of information about the state of the engine."

I had been battling the need to do yard maintenance for days … the lawn was too long and, while the leaves did not quite a carpet make, there were enough of them to make several huge throw rugs.

I had long since made peace with the need to do this fall work. Other legitimate needs had kept me out of the yard until that Friday. Fortunately, I owned a mulching lawn-mower. It would not make "short work" of my project, but it would mow and mulch. Having actually gotten outside, I was eager to begin.

I pulled the mower onto the garage apron. In my eagerness, as I filled the mower's gas tank, I spilled gasoline on the mower deck. I cleaned that, pushed the mower into the back yard, and pushed the priming pump's rubber button several times. Well, OK, four or five times, more times than recommended but a number experience told me I needed. I pulled the starting cord, and nothing. I tried again; nothing. Once more, and the engine coughed. I pushed the priming pump button a few more times. I tried the starting cord. Nothing. I pushed the button another time or two, a little harder this time, and the engine coughed in response but did not run.

"Crap, I've probably flooded it now," I swore. "I'll have to wait."

I feared returning to the house, feared I'd be unable to decide to come out again. Fortunately, ( fortunately? ) the parking slab next to the garage was carpeted with leaves. Thinking the mower would dry while I cleaned that up, I set about that. But I couldn't do that without intermittently going to the mower and trying it; I pushed the priming pump button several times.

"You're playing cards with Vern tonight; ask for help." The thought was an inspiration.

Asking him for help was perfect. Vern and I had never done anything together, just the two guys. This provided a bonding opportunity. Vern loves gasoline engines; he goes to shows and buys them for fun. This task is something he can likely do unconscious. He'll love it. So I thought. Incorrectly.

My plan began unraveling when he seemed not to hear me when we met up. "I'm good, but I've got a problem that I would like your help with tomorrow."

When I felt comfortable bringing it up again, my plan quickly went further south. "How old is the gas you put in today? How big is the engine?"

"He doesn't want to do it," my wife whispered.

"How old is the gas that was left from last time? Did you pull the plug? I have left plugs in engines for years, but had to clean them now and again. Pull the spark plug and look … that'll give you a lot of information about the state of the engine."

As I trudged to the garage the next morning, I don't know which chagrined me more: I was alone with this suddenly stubborn lawnmower or I had not made a clear request to come and help. Once more I pulled the mower onto the apron; mechanically I grabbed the starting chord and pulled. Once. The engine roared to life … and lived.

Very quickly I realized that he knew that it would happen like this.  He knew his coming was unnecessary and superfluous. "Vern, you're a genius!" I screamed to myself. "And thanks."

If you would like to comment but don't care to use the comment field, send an email to

Monday, October 20, 2014

Hi-Fidelity at Half the Price

Having attended a wedding this weekend, I happened to have a tie still tied.  The next day while shopping at Wal-Mart wearing dress clothes, I was approached by a stranger who told me how nice my headphones looked.  Styles have changed.

But I did buy my red Audio-technica ATH-M50's to look nice, in addition to their sound quality.  When I bought them I promised to follow up with a review, and having used them for six months now, I would recommend them.  I'm no audiophile, but I'd give them an eight out of ten for sound quality.  The only thing they don't have is noise cancellation, nor do they claim to.

Physically, they show no signs of wear, and are as stylish as ever.  The faux leather ear pads are starting to crack, so at some point I'll have to replace them.  Fortunately they are popular enough to have third party options.  The cord, which is usually the first to go, is as crisp as ever.

The thing I often forget about headphones is that the struggle is to have great sound on the go, on the bus, around strangers.  And sometimes it's you who just want to block it out.  If you don't need any of that, you can go to the front of the line with open air.

I still have a pair of Grado SR60's, and they're significantly better than anything I've ever heard; easily a nine out of ten.  They're like a treat for your ears.  And the best part is, you can have a pair shipped for $80.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

One Price of Addiction

“Enter to win,” read the Fountain Pen Revolution web page.

As previously confessed, I am a fountain pen addict. Here was a chance to win a fountain pen in a drawing being conducted by FPR, the Fountain Pen Revolution. FPR says “Join the revolution and declare independence from overpriced fountain pens!” on its home web page, and is one source from which I’ve purchased pens and which I’d recommend for anyone looking for an affordable, nice-writing fountain pen. My excitement at the possibility of getting an FPR pen by winning it was palpable.

The only glitch was the entry had to be made via Facebook … liking the FPR site and posting a comment on the page announcing the drawing. I will not do Facebook, even for a chance at a free fountain pen. But Benjamin does Facebook and is not the least bit interested in fountain pens. Not for the first time, I asked him if he’d enter for me.

He wrote back, “We are entered.  I had to choose, so I picked the Wality Ebonite Fountain Pen.

This implied a question; I responded, “Thx … I’m, however, guessing your choice will be unimportant … based solely on recent history. See you at 3:30.”

Our next email exchange consisted of this:

“Have you been reading your Facebook lately?”

“What does it say?”

“We won.”

I soon had the winning pen in my hands. Very nice looking pen; big. Big nib.

From the FPR web site:

  • Mottled ebonite body and cap; check, nice 
  • Engraved Gold tone fine nib; check, big, nice 
  • Screw on cap; my preference, nice 
  • Eye dropper filled; wait, what? Eye dropper filled?
Yes, indeed, eye-dropper filled. The entire body of the pen is filled with ink. No converter, no plunger, no ink cartridge. This provides a very large ink capacity; it also provides the possibility of ink leaking out the threads screwing the body to the nib assembly. 

I had watched a video on how to fill such a pen, and it was quite straightforward. Being anal, as well as an engineer at heart, I filled it with water first, to make sure it would not leak. ( And to clean it before filling with ink; the video suggested doing so. ) It didn’t leak, and it seemed to write with the water.  

Excited, I emptied the water, dried everything, and found a bottle of ink with nearly no ink in it. There was even less than I realized, only 2 or so eye-droppers, and that didn’t touch the capacity of the pen. Undaunted, I screwed the nib assembly to the cap, and … no leaking. I put the pen down for a bit, to let some ink migrate to the nib, and later came back to try it.

In my excited state, I noticed that it wrote very nicely, very smoothly, and felt good in my hand. Only then did I notice that my hand was full of ink, the barrel of the pen was, too, as was the cap. And every time I touched the paper with the nib, a blob of ink dropped onto the page. There was so much ink it penetrated to the back of the paper I was writing on:

I quickly emptied the pen, cleaned it, filled it with water again, and re-watched the video. This time I heard an important point: fill the barrel to the bottom of the threads, screw ½ way onto the nib assembly, point the nib down and finish screwing the nib assembly onto the barrel. This drives some ink into the nib, priming it, and establishes the proper pressure in the barrel. With so little ink in the barrel initially, I speculated that I was not able to establish the proper pressure, and the ink just ran out when I lifted the pen to vertical.

I left the water in the pen overnight ( in a dish, on a towel ) to make sure it would not leak. In the morning I repeated the procedure I had done the preceding evening, except for filling the barrel to the bottom of the threads first. And all has been wonderful ever since.

I heartily recommend fountain pens to anyone interested in a fine-writing experience ( as long as they are willing to risk a little ink on their fingers now and then, of course ).