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.

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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."

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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 ). 

Monday, October 13, 2014

An Arbitrage of Profit

Arbitrage is a new word for me, and I can't stop thinking of an Albatross when I say it; which is not a good sign.  What it is, is when you purchase something in one market to sell in another market for a higher rate.  Like everything, it has taken on new meaning in the digital age.

These days there are many people making a living, or supplementing their income by buying locally to sell online.  It started on Ebay, but it looks like it really exploded when Amazon started their Fulfillment By Amazon program.

Imagine that you find a name brand four pack of facial tissue with a special scent that only Target sells.  Target is probably selling these slightly faster than the other scents because it's exclusive, but they will generally sell them at the same price as the non-exclusive scents.

Now imagine there's a guy somewhere who can't get to a Target easily, or just can't be bothered, but loves that brand, and loves that scent.  He might be willing to pay two to three times as much as retail to have it shipped to his door.  Someone like me could find it on sale, and maybe even stack a couple of other discounts, then sell it on Amazon.

After shipping and fees what I just described are meager profits, but profits none the less.  They can even get better when you're looking at clearance items, and the sale of used goods.

Now there are a lot of things that cost money that will potentially increase profits.  Things like fancier packaging materials, like vacuum bags for books.  Then there are the apps.  It seems to me that the ones the professionals use cost around ten dollars a month, and require you to pay Amazon forty for a professional account.

I think I'm going to dip my toe in the water without paying for those kind of extras.  Amazon makes a free app that gives me some of that useful data.  Other info can be found on websites, which is less convenient.  If my only expenses are the items and the shipping costs, I'll almost surely break even, even if I fail miserably.

I am going on vacation for a full month soon, and moving before I do, so this experiment may need to wait until late February.  What ever happens, I'll keep you apprised.

Thursday, October 9, 2014

Life Lessons

My dear friend is e'er the teacher
Arguing, challenging, testing and besting me
Such engagements are always about growth
As she engages me about life

Arguing, challenging, testing and besting me
I'd thrash around helplessly
As she engages me about life
I emerged wiser, stronger and truer

I'd thrash around helplessly
Though this was always unpleasant
I emerged wiser, stronger and truer
I knew I'd grown from the fray.

Though this was always unpleasant
I never resented the lesson
I knew I'd grown from the fray.
Still … I wished to do better.

I never resented the lesson
My technical courses held sway
Still … I wished to do better.
I should have paid more heed to the arts

My technical courses held sway
My dear friend is e'er the teacher
I should have paid more heed to the arts
Such engagements are always about growth

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Saturday, October 4, 2014

Theological Skepticism

Theology interests me.  I think about it often.  Although Walter has come to completely different conclusions, I do believe he gives this subject as much thought as I do, and I think that is rare.

He recently made a blog post to explicitly explain what he does believe.  One thing that I think he was not clear on was "purpose".  He didn't actually say that God gives his life purpose, but that seems to be what he means.  I'd go as far as saying that he seems to think that it's so obvious that it goes without saying.  What a strange concept, but he's not alone.  This idea was first introduced to me years ago by another person who asked me, "How can your life have meaning without God?"

I didn't know how to answer that at the time.  It's like asking, "How do you get home without a purple sharpie?"  The ideas just aren't related.  How could someone, anyone, who is not me, give my life meaning?

Let's assume that there is a God, and he not only cares about you, but has a specific purpose in mind for your life.

In what way does that give your life purpose?  Lots of people have a purpose for you; your employer, your family, your government...  Even the panhandler on the street has a purpose for you.  Spoiler alert, it involves giving him money.  None of these people can live your life for you.  You might consider their opinions, but they are just that, their opinions.

You might suggest that God's plan must be followed to receive reward, or avoid punishment.  What you need to do to survive is not the purpose of your life.  We're talking about a means to an end.

You might suggest that God's plan should be followed, because it can be assumed that it is a good plan, or that you're obligated to follow it whether it is a good plan or not.  Well, I don't know how you came to that conclusion, but that's still you giving your own life meaning based on God's suggestion.  His purpose is just one more purpose that you had to decide among.

And finally, even assuming that all of that is true:
1. There is a God.
2. He has a purpose for your life.
3. Him deciding that can, somehow, give purpose to someone else's life.
Wouldn't that need to be explicitly communicated to you?  How can someone give you a purpose without actually giving you the purpose?  'God has a plan for you... try to guess what it is.'  That's like saying that there's this perfect map of the area, but no one has ever seen it, and no one ever will see it.  Okay, well, then there's not a map.  We'll have to make our own.