Category Archives: Life

Overwhelmed? Stressed? Use Your “Safe” Thought

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Do you ever feel completely overwhelmed by a relentless to-do list that never seems to get shorter? I know I do. I have found that feeling like I can never really get on top of all I have to do can lead to a downward spiral of stress, anxiety and frustration. Feeling such pressure can often put me in a bad mood, making it difficult to enjoy and appreciate all the things I’m doing while I am doing them because I feel so rushed. Can you relate?

I have found something that helps: Taking a moment to think my “safe” thought.

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A Garage Full of Nouns

I have been reading Rob Bell’s latest book, “Love Wins”. Enjoying it a lot. Many fresh perspectives. One thing that struck me:

There’s nothing wrong with possessions: it’s just that they have value only when we use them, engage them, and enjoy them. They’re nouns that mean something only in conjunction with verbs.

That’s why wealth is so dangerous: if you’re not careful you can easily wind up with a garage full of nouns.

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Resurrection

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Hello all… Consider this post as if I were writing you a letter. It’s been too long since I shared something on this blog. My apologies. I used to post at least a couple of times a week, but that slowed down considerably by the beginning of fall. I have been through a rough patch, emotionally, and I doubted that I had anything to say. Then, I started having problems with my hand, experiencing chronic symptoms the likes of which I hadn’t seen for a couple of years, other than the occasional flare up.  Even now, it would be better for me to start using my Dragonspeak software so I wouldn’t have to type. I just bought an upgrade, so I am going to finally learn how to use it.

Yesterday was Easter, the holiday in which people of Christian faith and/or family tradition celebrate the resurrection of Christ. This is the third Easter where we didn’t attend a church service. I am still in the midst of working out my issues with the Church at large, but I firmly believe that God is okay with that and is patient, so I am at peace with it.

Instead of dressing up and doing church, we visited my wife’s father’s gravesite to honor him, bringing him fresh spring flowers. He passed away just last October. She also bought a rose for her mom and cast it into the waters of puget sound. I never met her mom; she passed away a year or so before I met my wife. My parents are still both with us, at 89 and 87 respectively, but they are steadily fading. I am going to write about that in a different post.

Yesterday, Easter, Resurrection Day, was significant for both of us. For me, it is a reminder that in order to come to new life, one must die first. We see that happen every spring, but it would have no significance if there is not a period that precedes it which involves dormancy, decay, and death.

It’s funny that we put a lot of pressure on ourselves when New Years comes around: I’m going to do this different or that different, we convince ourselves. In my particular case, to think that way is to set myself up for disappointment and failure, and that is because I suffer from Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), and it is very hard for me to hit the ground running come January 1st. In general, our mindset about making New Years resolutions is to recognize our disappointment over how we did the previous year and resolve to live differently the next year.

After yesterday, I realized that Resurrection Day is more meaningful to me than New Years will ever be. I don’t think that it always requires letting things die in order to experience new life. Some things just seem to die on their own whether we want them to or not. Such has been the case with my dreams. My dreams of finally pursuing my music after many decades of it being only an avocation at best, and only a hobby at worst. I was full of hope when I first started this blog three years ago. And the hope had slowly drained away, leaving only a residue of disappointment and despair. Things had not turned out like I expected. And so I started to think that the dream was only a fantasy, and it was time to let the dream die.

There is a purpose in death, and we rarely see it. Not until new life begins do we understand that there are parts of the old life that needed to die. I had worked so hard to make this thing happen for two years, and although there were accomplishments and high points along the way–my “Passage” CD the chief among them–so much of my activity was unsustainable and by last fall I was burned out. Still wanting to make something happen, but no energy left.

This year I was faced with a choice: Throw in the towel and settle for something less than what my dreams would inspire. Or…don’t give up, pick myself back up, and start again. Up until last week, I was starting to resign myself to option 1. Supporting that decision was the fact that my hand issues had really gotten bad these past few months. How could I possibly push forward when my body won’t let me?

As they say, it’s always darkest before the dawn. I don’t think it was coincidence that the resurgence of my hand issues happened as I felt the last vestiges of hope drain away. And I don’t think it was a coincidence that as hope started to return, as it has the past couple of weeks, that Easter happened and that this year it has been more significant to me than before. And my hand situation is starting to get better too.

What needed to die before I could experience new life? My way of doing things. My way hasn’t worked. So, I am now looking at new ways to do things, and praying for divine guidance.

And I am filled with hope once again. Details to come. Stay tuned.

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Do You Want to Feel Really Dumb?

I was searching Wikipedia for an indie band named “The Octopus Project” and happened upon two entries: one about the band, the other about some software package called “Octopus”. Intrigued, I clicked on the link. Here is what the description says:

question-markoctopus is a software package for performing Kohn–Sham density functional theory (DFT) and time-dependent density functional theory (TDDFT) calculations.[1]

octopus employs pseudopotentials and real-space numerical grids to propagate the Kohn–Sham orbitals in real time under the influence of time-varying electromagnetic fields. Specific functionality is provided for simulating one, two, and three dimensional systems. octopus can calculate static and dynamic polarizabilities and first hyperpolarizabilities, static magnetic susceptibilitiesabsorption spectra, and perform molecular dynamics simulations with Ehrenfest and Car–Parrinello methods.

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Wow, these guys are really smart. What is this, physics? Sure ain’t the E! Channel.

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Day After New Years Day

2012aHere is 2013–although I started to type 2301 and totally freaked out for .7 secs. Fresh from time travel, let me state the obvious. It is a New Year. And I am thankful. Generally, yes I am thankful–what do I have to complain about? But specifically thankful that 2012 is over. A year I don’t want to repeat.

I was originally tempted to title this post “2012 Is Going to be a Good Year”. Ironic humor at its best (or so I think). But a lot of people don’t get ironic humor (or so I think). Actually, it’s more like a lot of people don’t get my ironic humor, so to those of you in the exclusive club of kind souls who tolerate me out of love or pity: Bless you.

And now, out of consideration for those who don’t get my ironic humor and have therefore concluded that I didn’t proofread my title and am therefore challenged in some way and must feel compelled to pity me but then recoil at the prospect of thinking so un-politically correct: First, let me point out that I have spared you such moral torment by not using the afore-temptative title. Second, I want you know that I just made up a word: temptative. I just checked Websters because I was surprised that WordPress put that little dotted underline under the word. It seems like it should be a word. But before I go there, share in my bemusement by the fact that WordPress used the dotted underline thingy on itself. Literally “WordPress” doesn’t recognize itself as a word in its own dictionary. How ironic.

And third, (yes, if you were paying attention, there was a “first” and “second” buried somewhere in that big paragraph), I have made a New Year’s resolution to limit my blog posts to 200 words or less, so must end now. Don’t count them, but this blog post has more than 300 words. In fact, one more for each word I type. Fascinating…

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My Presidential Voting History

For what it’s worth, I thought I’d share my voting record for President ever since I was able to vote. Looking back, I see both a change in me and a change in the political climate. I remember how excited I was when the minimum voting age dropped from 21 to 18 shortly before the election of 1976, the year I turned 18. So, here is who I have voted for all these years, and as best as I can recall, the reasons why:

1976 – Jimmy Carter – I considered myself mostly a Democrat during the 70’s. It was hard not to be embarrassed about what happened to our country in the wake of the Nixon scandal and Ford’s immediate pardon of him after he assumed the position. Carter represented “change” by not being a Washington insider. And I remember how cool it was that he walked down Pennsylvania Ave after his inauguration.

1980 – Ronald Reagan – Like many, I was so disillusioned with Carter’s political ineptitude, and fatigued by runaway inflation, the energy crisis, the Iran hostage crisis, on and on. It was time for a different type of change. And furthermore, I returned to my Christian faith after a few years of rebellion, and “real” Christians were supposed to vote Republican, weren’t they?

1984 – Reagan – I can’t quite remember who ran against him that year. Was it Mondale? This was a case of “don’t fix what’s broken” and I still strongly identified myself as a bible-carrying conservative. Only in hindsight am I aware of the damaging policies Reagan put in place to allow corporations to eventually run roughshod over our political system.

1988 – George Bush – Back then, he was simply known as “George”, not “George H. W.” Again, this was a case of staying the course. Hey, the Iron Curtain has fallen. Who can argue against that? But I do remember the pit in my stomach when Operation Desert Shield commenced and our military started launching attack missiles upon  Iraq.

1992 – George Bush, who lost, of course to Bill Clinton. Bill Clinton, of course, was evil because he was a Democrat, who were inherently evil because they were all Godless socialists.

1996 – I didn’t vote. I know: no excuse. I didn’t like Clinton but I also didn’t like Bob Dole, who to quote my mother, “was a prune”. I find that amusing since my mom has always been a staunch conservative, so much so that she belonged to the John Birch Society back in the sixties.

2000 – George W. Bush – I thought Gore was a buffoon and I still strongly identified myself with the “Christian Right”. Be that as it may, I was shocked about the outcome of the election, never witnessing before that quirk in presidential elections: an electoral vote at odds with the a popular vote. I felt that Bush stole the election and was both pleased and repulsed by it. (Hey, our guy won the battle. That’s all that counts right?)

Little did I know that “W.” had an agenda from day one to cook up any pretext for a war in Iraq. Like many, I was torn about the U.S. waging war against Iraq. I think it was great that our country never adopted a culture of despising our men and women in uniform like what happened during Vietnam. But history has clearly shown that where was no justification for the war in Iraq. Yes we deposed a bad guy. But there are a lot of bad dictators out there (many like Hussein who our government installed)  who have terrorized their people and we haven’t gone after them.

2004 – John Kerry – After reading the last paragraph, it then comes as no surprise that I didn’t want to see W. get a second term. I had soured to the war on so many levels, not the least of which was the extent to which Bush thumbed his nose to the rest of the world community and decided to wage war without a coalition of support, something his father didn’t do. But frankly, I was changing too. I no longer identified myself as a card-carrying conservative. I started to see that there were other valid perspectives and started to be open to them.

2008 – Barack Obama – Something needed to change. And a young progressive like Barack represented that change. The primary reason I voted for Obama was his conciliatory attitude to the rest of the world. It was time for us to again join the world community, not play rogue cowboy.

And by this time, I could no longer identify with the Republican agenda, which has now for over two decades not truly represented the interests of its constituents, but rather a much smaller number of special interests promoting the agenda of big business. All attempts at enacting regulations against the abuses of corporate power have been thwarted by Republican-controlled congresses. And most regulatory agencies have been stripped of their power during Republican administrations. For example, how many people needed to die from hamburger tainted by E. Coli before before the remaining handful of meatpacking corporations were finally forced to actually test their meat? How many people have to have their life’s savings robbed by the capriciousness of investment banks, who due to deregulation, had merged with commercial banks and once again could gamble with other people’s money? How many people have to lose their jobs here in this country to have them replaced by offshore workers, which is real reason our unemployment rate remains high?

And I have been sickened by the Republican political agenda these last four years: Do anything to make sure Obama fails. Damn the country, just make sure Obama is a one-term president.

So you can probably guess who I voted for this year. My vote for Obama this time around is more a vote against Romney, who built upon his millions by orchestrating corporate buyouts and shipping jobs overseas. I don’t want to see our country return to the policies of the past that enabled the very rich to further consolidate their wealth at the expense of the poor and the middle class. That is not the way forward.

I wish I could have some hope for the next four years, even if Obama gets reelected. But unless the people who consider themselves Republicans actually take back their party by wresting control away from big business, I don’t expect the Republican politicians to give up their obstructionist tactics. Four more years of deadlock? I shudder at the thought.

Now that I have cast my vote, it’s time to pray.

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To Blog or Not to Blog

Lately there’s been a itch in my brain reminding me that it’s been a while since I blogged. And then I looked and am now officially aghast that it’s been like three weeks since I wrote anything. So the question I have to ask myself is “why?”   <– Now does the question mark go inside the quote mark or outside?

So why no bloggie? Sometimes I feel like I have nothing interesting to blog about. As if there are rules about being interesting.

Perhaps I am embarrassed about how many posts I have made about my vegetable garden, although I must say that it has been a very rewarding experience for me. I made some spaghetti sauce yesterday with some of my Brandywine tomatoes. Wow!

Perhaps another reason is that I am NOT a morning person, and since all the experts say that you need to post a blog by 12PM EST, I have to be fully functional–or, if you will, blogtional–by 8:30 AM at the latest. Now that I write this, I feel ridiculous. Most working people have to be functional by 8:30–so functional that they are already showered, dressed, fed and have commuted to work and are at their post, be it desk, construction site, or barrista bar.

On the other hand, I probably shouldn’t beat up on myself given that I am like a lot of other people who currently do not have a day job. And to be fair to myself, regardless of whether or not I am still in my jammies at 8 AM, I am busy working on one freelance thing or another. So, no more self-flagellation.

So, back on the horse, so to speak, here is a blog post, filed at 7:36 AM. Now time for another cup of java.

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The Zen of Record Playing

I know I’m going to sound like an old fart. So yes, official old fart alert! Read no further if you have zero tolerance for Boomer Nostalgia.

Still here? Awesome! Remember those things called “records”? The ones that they now call “vinyl”. I have been going through a little phase pulling out  the old records, aka “LP”s. By “old” I mean those from the 70s and 80s, before the rise of the CD. (Remember things called “CDs”?)

My record player (what was later called a “turntable”) is in our living room, just a few yards away from the kitchen, which I have been spending more time in lately, learning how to cook some new dishes while my overworked sweetheart slaves away at homework. She will have her masters degree next January–oh happy day break out the champagne high five until the palms bleed perform aerial acrobatics from ceiling mounted light fixtures lounge around in stunned rapture–but I digress.

There is a certain zen to playing a record.

Carefully pull the record out of its jacket by the edges so as not to sully the surface with finger oil (which would create a potential tar pit for dust). Many of my records are preserved in special aftermarket plastic sleeves to further protect them from the inevitable abrasion caused by pulling them out of a paper sleeve.

Then grab the Dishwasher. Pull the bottle of D4 out of its holder and line up a row of drops along the Dishwasher edge (marked by the arrow), then brush the bottom of the bottle along the row of drops to redistribute the fluid evenly across the brush.

Switch the turntable stylus to the raised position and move toward the platter to start the player spinning, then gently place the wet edge of the dishwasher upon the record’s radius, not hard enough to slow the 33 1/3 revolutions-per-minute rotation and ground any dirt into the grooves, but just enough to pick up any surface dirt. Then slowly rotate the brush away from its wet edge to pull the dirt away.

Now position the stylus above the outer edge and lower it.

Hear the low pop of the stylus as it lands, then some slight rumbling as it settles into the groove.

If you have reasonably decent speakers–mine are from Polk Audio–experience how lush the bass sounds, how smooth the midtones are, how creamy the high end is (if it was a well mastered album).

There is nothing hurried about putting on a record. It is a commitment for about 15 to 20 minutes of songs that play in the order that they were intended to be played. Nothing instant. No skipping around. If you absolutely must skip around, you have to take the time to line the stylus up with the gap between songs. If you have a steady hand, like the old DJs did, you can do this feat by hand without mechanically raising, moving, then lowering the stylus. If you don’t have a steady hand, you risk accidentally dropping and dragging the stylus and scratching the record.

With modern technology, you don’t have to commit to a record. You can skip around, rearrange songs, purchase only a few songs (if you pay for them at all). The consumption of songs has become almost trivial. iTunes forever changed the calculus of music consumption and commerce. Spotify has obliterated it.

I find it ironic that the sonic quality of most music consumed today is much less than even the humble old 33 1/3 RPM vinyl LP record. Back when CDs first hit the scene, we were all touting how superior its sound was to LPs. In many cases this was true. But now people don’t even listen much to CD-quality fidelity. The compression of digital music into MP3 (or AAC) format slightly degrades the signal, making it breathe less. The quality erodes further with streaming via services like Rhapsody, Spotify, and Pandora. This is ironic because the demand for video content progresses towards higher levels of resolution.

It’s possible that the quality of music audio fidelity was only the concern of audiophiles and musicians. Yet, a recent study showed that 94% of music listeners feel that sound quality “is crucial”. Go figure!

Ah.. but enough grousing! I’m going to put a record on and cook some dinner. Anybody heard of Gino Vannelli?

 

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Let’s Do This Again Next Year!

Now that we’re in mid-September, the little veggie garden I started is finally kicking out lots o veggies! Check it out. This is what I picked this past weekend. Still plenty on the way.

 

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The Real Reason There Are Less Jobs

I rarely like to get politcal, but the amount of campaign rhetoric being slung around about our unemployment crisis gets fatiguing, especially since it’s a smokescreen for what I consider to be the real reason so many people can’t find work:

Large corporations used the economic crisis as an excuse to lay off hundreds of thousands of workers so that they could replace them with offshore workers.

Most of the S&P 500 have recovered quite well from the Great Recession and are sitting on large stockpiles of cash. Here is a link to a Wall Street Journal article. Instead of using this money to hire back workers in the U.S., they have used it to invest in capital equipment and technology and/or setting up shop outside the U.S. The result is a leaner, meaner, and in many cases cheaper workforce which benefits the corporation’s financial statements which in turn makes stockholders happy.

The article states: The performance hasn’t translated into significant gains in U.S. employment. Many of the 1.1 million jobs the big companies added since 2007 were outside the U.S. So, too, was much of the $1.2 trillion added to corporate treasuries. Two-thirds of Apple Inc.’s $82 billion in cash and marketable securities as of Sept. 30 was held by foreign subsidiaries, for example.

While this is great news, of course, for investors, this is bad news for people back here in the U.S.  While the recovery has been great for large corporations, smaller companies continue to struggle. “It’s a real winners-versus-losers phenomenon,” says John Graham, a professor of finance at Duke University. This is most likely due to the lack of resources and infrastructure that smaller companies have. This makes them ripe pickings for buyouts by the bigger companies, leading to more layoffs.

Although companies and investors at the top of the food chain are “winning”, this success is short-sighted, in my opinion. Unless companies invest in workers here at home, people will have less money to spend, and the falloff in consumption will eventually take its toll on corporate revenues. Unfortunately, this may take longer than expected, given that consumption has gone up in other parts of the world. But lower consumption here has a cascading effect on smaller companies.

Perhaps the new normal in this country will be an overall lower standard of living?

My question for readers is this: What role should government play in providing incentives to companies of all sizes to create jobs here in the U.S.? Any ideas? Or should government be completely hand-off with the large multi-national corporations?

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