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.
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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

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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.

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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."

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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.