Monday, March 30, 2015

Certification or Bust

My field of study is Computer Support.  There's a lot of things I love about it.  One of those things is that it's goal orientated.  Employers want people who can actually maintain and repair the equipment.  That's why they place a large emphasis on certifications rather that just formal education.  A degree tells someone what you were taught, and what you know, while a certificate just certifies that you know it.  I have one degree in Computer Support, and zero certifications.

I took a class geared toward getting an A+ when I was in college.  Everyone but me took it, because I decided to take the two week break between semesters to continue studying for it.  About two thirds passed the test, which is about the same as the general population who take it.  I'm not sure what to make of that.  When I went to take it, the testing center was temporarily closed due to an illness.  It never reopened, and I never sought out another testing center.

The truth is, an A+ really is less important to employers than a degree in Computer Support, which I do have now.  I really should grab it, just for one more thing to stick on my resume, but it's not high on my to do list.  What I've been after for years, and continue to strive for, is my CCNA.

That stands for Cisco Certified Network Associate.  The starting salary for a technician with one is about 25% higher than what I currently make.   Not to say I need a new job, but I will have another one day, and now is the time to prepare.

My struggle began in college when I took the first and second of the classes using Cisco's curriculum.  I passed the tests provided by Cisco, and got A's in the classes.  I didn't feel like I understood it though, so I sat in on the second class a second time.  Needless to say, I still don't have my certificate.

My meaning behind all of this is not to say I've given up.  My current get-knowledge-quick scheme is to read the latest study guide by Todd Lammle, and accelerate my reading by pairing it with Text To Speech.  I'm using the Caitlin voice by CereProc on my Android phone in the @Voice Aloud app.

As always, I'll keep you informed.

Thursday, March 26, 2015

Humble Pie ... for Easter?

"Do you think that's true, Walter?"

I spoke to a friend early in the week, calling to clarify whether we were on for later in the week. We were.

Then he spoke, and spoke some more, in long paragraphs about what seemed to be either his lack of commitment or temptation to forsake a commitment. I could not tell which.

Then he flattered me, talking about my humor, my strength and intellect, and my bearing. He returned to his long paragraphs. Suddenly, "Do you think that's true, Walter?" after an assertion.  I was distracted and didn't "get" the question. 

Oh, I heard the question all right, but not the assertion. "You know, I don't know," I replied, casually. True enough, I didn't know. But I didn't have the integrity to admit why not. Perhaps - ha! "perhaps" - I didn't want to lose face; he is so sure I am a great listener … which I am generally sure of as well. Not at that moment, though. I didn't want him to know that.

I feared that his knowing I was distracted might send the wrong message. What you say doesn't keep me engaged. Or, I am not really interested enough to actually listen. And I wondered: Was I worrying about him and his feelings or was that a camouflaged excuse to spare my reputation as a good listener? And in whose eyes?  Admitting to distraction would certainly have been an admission of failing to listen well in that moment.

My two servings of humble pie came in two corrections to my self-image: my listening is not as good as often as I think it is; neither is my integrity.

Shame on me! Truly. Fortunately I've had a recent opportunity to practice forgiving myself.
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Monday, March 23, 2015

It's Con Season

The other day I was with friends who decided to figure out who was the nerdiest among us.  Competition was fierce.  No one wanted to be the least nerdy, but no one wanted to be the most either.  The accountant was accusing the Magic player, but the leader of the marching band was sure it was me.  Then I mentioned I was planning to attend a science fiction convention soon for a series none of them had ever heard of.  We had a winner.

Manti-Con will take place in two months, and I will be attending for the first time.  It's not number one on my list, but I did read all the books.  I'm actually really interested in finding out about the culture, and why is it has such a big following here.

The other draw for me is that it will be very cheap.  It's literally blocks from my work, which is a place I can crash on the weekends for free if need be.  The place is mostly deserted, and I keep a hammock in the back.  I may or may not miss a day of work.

I am also planning to put together an uniform from that series for Convergence, so that will probably be a good place to get some ideas, and the badges I need, and such.  I wouldn't be surprised if I could buy the whole uniform fully assembled.

Then there is Convergence a month and a half after that.  I was informed the other day that I once again did not get a hotel room.  I'll be staying about a twenty minute walk away instead.  That doesn't sound like much, but leaving the hotel, versus not, is a big difference.

Next year I will have a plan.  If you volunteer at the convention for 25 hours, you get put ahead of the non-volunteers on the hotel list.  I never really considered it, because I didn't want to miss out on the convention while volunteering at it.  Then I found out that, not only can I volunteer before and after it, but those hours count as double.

Saturday, March 21, 2015

Helping Battle Cancer / An Update

The house feels empty.

It’s now going on thirteen weeks, a whole fiscal quarter, that Ellie is staying at our friends while the friend battles cancer. I had no idea, on December twenty-first, when I urged her to return there for the night, that this would happen. So do I have any thoughts to share?

Ellie is doing what she has to do. While she and I differ on some of the details of her caring for our friend, someone needs to be there. Managing medications is the most significant, but not the only significant, activity.

This is not easy for any of us.

our friend 
Our friend is in hospice care, has seen her world become significantly smaller than it was, and is significantly less independent than she was. She has someone else in her residence almost all the time. If she wants to go almost anywhere, Ellie has to take her.

Ellie has her own space which is the second bedroom of our friend’s modest condominium. Of course, she has free reign to go anywhere, but the rest of the place is our friend’s. Only in this bedroom can she keep her own meds, toiletries, clothes, books, jewelry, trinkets, exercise ball, Journal, and other items that she uses throughout the course of a day or a week.

I am in charge of meals; this means, of course, that if I want to eat I have to fix the meal ( Fortunately, I absolutely love sandwiches of almost all kinds. ), shop, make a list to be sure I pick up what I need to make the meals I want to have. ( Even just sandwiches require bread, some sort of filler ( usually sausage, but sometimes ham or thin-sliced turkey ), cheese and, frequently, mayo. )

I am also in charge of decorating … which doesn’t amount to a hill of beans, of course, for a few days or a week. But Ellie has a fine sense of both decorum and of the seasons, a very nice way of portraying them and the season has changed since December twenty-first. My blog partner and friend, Benjamin, came by the other day ( We were within ten days of the first day of spring at the time. ) and just casually made me aware of a few things. A Christmas wreath is hanging on the outside of the front door, another Christmas wreath is hanging in the dining room, and  Christmas Carolers are set up on the table behind the couch.
Christmas wreath
( dining room )

Christmas Carolers
( behind couch )
   … oops     

These things made me aware of the winter wreath hanging on the outside of the back door and the winter themed mug set hanging from the mug rack in the kitchen.

There are two decorating issues. First, if I put these things away now, the likelihood of one of us being able to easily find them for next year is reduced to near zero. Second, I have no idea what to replace these things with, so putting them away would leave a large empty space in the living and dining areas. Even I will unpleasantly notice that.

And, finally, the house feels empty. After our bird died, I became the only sentient being in the house. The house feels empty. When there is interesting “stuff” to share, it has to wait until we can connect, and it’s not the spontaneous animated face to face conversation we’d normally have. The house feels empty.

 I eat alone, I wash dishes alone, I pray alone, I read alone, I go to bed alone ( and almost always way too late … but that’s the subject for another story ). Did I mention the house feels empty?
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Monday, March 16, 2015

Traveling Tidbits - #2

Not a reason for traveling, but of interest to me, was counterfeit goods.  I had heard you could get anything in Thailand on the cheap.  What I found was interesting, and unexpected.

Counterfeit goods are there for the tourists; the locals seem to have no interest.  The places I found them were the tourist driven open air markets.

The first place to look are the random stalls where you can find various products that are made of the same materials, in the same style as the luxury brands.  They will have the appropriate tags as those brands as well.  They are more expensive than you'd normally find for a generic in Thailand, but still cheaper than a generic of that product in the US.  The problem is that they don't look like any specific product made by those luxury brands.  These may be a source of quality goods, if you can identify quality construction.  Some are not as well constructed.  The real question is, 'Will someone notice that Prada doesn't make that exact purse?'

In the same area, there are some stalls, but mostly shops, that specialize in one brand.  They are also selling knockoffs, but they are knocking off specific products.  They're not going to charging trifling prices, but their products are not to be trifled with.  They were very good copies, from what I could tell.  The downside is that they work hard, and they know they have something worth paying for.  For example, I could have gotten them down to $60 per Prada purse or backpack, but only if I bought three.  You can buy a purse for that in the US, but it won't be a good knockoff of a $2,000 purse.  You have to know what you want, but you can get a great deal at these places.

The last matter was the credentials.  I heard you could get anything from an FBI badge to a Harvard diploma at the backpacker's market near the palace.  That is true.  The problem is, I don't know what those things look like.  I can do an internet search, but that's not going to give me all the details of paper weight, and holograms, and such.  I do however know what my state ID looks like, and it's not what their state ID's look like.

I told one salesman that I'm from America, and that's not what my ID looks like.  He asked to see mine.  I didn't have it on me, which is what I told him.  It's also what I'd have have told him if I did.  I explained that my ID flexes though, and he quickly replied that I won't find that feature anywhere here.  He said it's too hard to reproduce.  I thanked him, and moved on without asking the obvious question.

'What's the point in a counterfeit ID that doesn't match the original?'

Thursday, March 12, 2015

The funeral

Our writing instructor this winter gave us an assignment:
"Can you tell a story in 6 words exactly?

Now try the same story in 50 words max. 
Then try it in 100 words"

I am happy with the results and share them here:

I came. I saw. I wept.

We accompanied Loretta, to support her as presider at the funeral of her nephew’s nineteen year old half-brother, Victor. Victor’s mother’s husband had murdered Victor, Victor’s mother, and killed himself. Opening the doors of the funeral home hall, seeing the families milling about, bumping blindly into one another, I wept.

We accompanied Loretta to Chicago, to support her as presider at the funeral of nineteen year Victor Robles. Victor was the half-brother of Ben, Loretta’s nephew. Victor’s mother came to Chicago and took Victor back to Arkansas to celebrate Christmas. The night before Christmas eve, Victor’s mother’s husband, whom Victor and Ben had always been suspicious of, and warned their mother about, murdered Victor, Victor’s mother, and killed himself. The funeral would occur New Year’s eve day. Opening the doors of the funeral home hall, seeing the families milling about, bumping into one another, as in a fog, I wept.
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Monday, March 9, 2015

Traveling Tidbits - #1

I had scheduled this trip a year and a half in advance.  That made since for a lot of reasons.  One of those was that it brought me joy just thinking about my plans to escape it all.  When things weren't interesting, I could imagine more interesting times ahead.  My trip did live up to the dream.

During that time there were two sentiments I often received from various people.  The first was, "Are you still planning that trip?"  It always seemed silly to me.  I stayed on plan from beginning to end.  Why question it?  The other was along the lines of, "Watch out for the ladyboys."

If you've never heard the term, that's what the Thai call male to female transgender people when speaking in English.  The reason for this term is obvious.  Most people there speak a bit of English, but only so many words.  The word they use for a female adult is "Lady", so an adult lady who was once a boy, is a ladyboy.

This concern always puzzled me.  How prevalent do westerners think they are?  What was I to be concerned about?  Is it really so funny?  Let me dispel some myths.

I ran into very few in my daily travels in Thailand, but not zero.  Certainly more than here.  The red light districts were another story.  They had whole bars and go go's staffed by them.  I spent a bit of time with bar girls, and some were ladyboys.

First off, I can tell you that they don't want to trick you into thinking they were born women.  They are not embarrassed to have been born men.  If you're ever in doubt, there is one simple, and sure method of finding out.  You ask them.  No lady or ladyboy there would be offended.  They don't see any reason to be.

As for the number, there are exactly as many people living as transgendered as there are people who wish to be; no more, no less.  It's not a social taboo.  It doesn't conflict with their most common religion.  I asked a few, and more than one told me that they have been living as a female since they were a young child, and told their parents they would rather have a dress.  The parents had no problem with this.

As for the kind of people they are, I can't really say.  All of the one's I met were working in the red light district, so that's probably not a representative sample.  I can say the ones I met were mostly easygoing, and fun people.  I had fun playing pool with them.

And as for female to male transgendered people?  No one mentioned them.  I don't even know if they have a name for them.  I did see a couple, so they are more common there than here.  I guess people just find them less intriguing.

Thursday, March 5, 2015

Adventures in a Toyota Yaris

“This is not working.”

As previously discussed, I am batching it as my wife, Ellie, is living with a friend of ours who is battling cancer and needs help at home. Since late January our friend’s Toyota Yaris is in our two-car garage and Ellie’s Honda is in our friend’s single-car garage.

The Yaris had been sitting a long time, and needed a jump to start when we moved it. An experienced stick shift driver, I had some trouble with the clutch, nearly killing the engine at least once driving home. Ellie was following with jumper cables, but the possibility of a dead Yaris on the road, in January, was unsettling.

I planned to take it out periodically; it wouldn’t start the first time I tried this. I jumped it again, let it charge in the garage. Only a few days later I tried it again. Nope. The dome light would not even come on. Our friend wanted to take it to her dealer. I wanted to wait for warmer weather. This came to a head when our friend got a notice that Toyota had recalled her Yaris. Fortunately, slightly warmer weather also arrived.

Our plan was simple enough.
  • I’d call Ellie mid morning letting her know I was getting the car prepped for jumping and she’d come.
  • Using my car, in the garage, we’d jump the Yaris.
  • I’d drive to the dealer and Ellie would follow in her car, with the jumper cables.
This simple plan was not so simply executed.

They arrived, I jumped the Yaris, Ellie started it, and backed into the alley. A car came behind her, and she drove  around the block, back into the alley.

Our friend, who’d come wanting to drive the Yaris, decided I should drive. I killed the engine.

Ellie, behind us in her Honda, drove around the block to come hood-to-hood with us; we jumped the Yaris. Our friend decided she would drive. In the driver’s seat, waiting for Ellie and me to clear stuff out of the way, she instinctively shut off the engine.

Ellie pulled the Honda hood-to-hood again, we jumped the Yaris, … . Again we’re all set. Our friend killed the engine.

She became the most vocally frustrated of us, “This is not working. I think we should call a tow truck. I don’t know why … .” I had Ellie pull up, got the cables, and said, “This car is drivable. Ellie drove it around the block.” I felt another surge of admiration for my wife. “Perhaps she should drive.”

We reached consensus. I jumped the Yaris. Ellie drove out of the neighborhood. I followed.


Ellie took an extraordinarily long time to turn onto the freeway entrance ramp; yup, she killed the engine. I pulled around the stalled Yaris and jumped it once more.

At the dealer, the battery was still uncharged; the tech had to connect a portable battery to have enough power to get the mileage reading.

Upon reflection, over the Bloody Marys we had at lunch, which we believed we had earned, I realized we didn’t jump that Yaris as often as it seemed. It was only 5 times. In less than an hour.
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Monday, March 2, 2015

The Other Side of the World - #5

It's been a couple of weeks since I've returned from my trip.  When I did leave the Land of Smiles behind, I took a short flight to Japan for my three day layover.  I was not prepared for the 50° weather that met me when I arrived.

I was again without internet as soon as I left the airport, but fortunately for me, the AirBnB host provided step by step directions from the airport using the train system.  It was tough, and I wished I had internet to help me research, but his directions were all I needed.  Even after they got me there, I was unsure how I was going to coordinate my check-in without phone or internet.  To my amazement, the bottom of his directions included instructions on how to access the keys via a key safe.  This guy has AirBnB figured out.

The apartment was very authentic.  It's exactly the kind of place a local might live in order to commute into Tokyo for work.  It was a rural area, but just a block from the train station.  You could walk a few blocks to local restaurants, and stores, and still live a quiet and affordable life.  The place itself was just enough for one person to live comfortably, and no more.  Plus it came with a MIFI for portable internet.  It was exactly what I wanted.

The next morning was my first chance to check out Tokyo.  I had quickly adapted to the weather.  Wearing a necktie helps.  I found almost everyone to be pleasant, but no where near as pleasant as Thailand.  Most had little patience for someone who didn't speak their language.  I think that is true of my hometown as well.  I did enjoy my time, but learning Japanese would be critical to a happy life in Japan.

I checked out a maid bar, and a maid cafe, again.  This time around the staff were young adults.  I found their antics to be kitschy and adorable.  The girls were cute.  I was not the only single male there, but I would recommend going with friends if possible.  It could be a lot of fun if you're in the right mood.

I tried some new foods, and checked out some interesting shops.  Then I made my way home feeling like a Japanese train expert.  When I started planning my next day I found most of the places I was looking at would be closed, or had limited hours.

That's why Sunday I decided to sleep in.  When I awoke, I checked out the neighborhood.  It was quiet and pleasant, but not much to say about it.  I got some fast food, and took a bath for the first time in many years.  The tiny bathroom had a great tub.  Then I called it a day.

Monday I had big plans for the first half of the day.  Then I realized as I left my room for the last time that I would be leaving the MIFI behind.  I wasn't the Japanese commuter train expert I thought I was without it.  It took all morning to get to the restaurant.  Kobe beef is worth it, by the way.  Then it was off to the airport.  I made it just in time.