Friday, September 30, 2005


The title of this post, was the title of my first published article. I've been so busy, I haven't had time to tinker with scanning it and then getting it to post in a fashion that's legible. So here's the article, as I submitted it.

I wasn’t born here, but I often think I should have been.

I distinctly remember my first evening in Alamance County. It actually was a “dark and stormy” night, where I’d flown in a commuter (as in small) plane to Greensboro from Nashville, TN. The last 10 minutes of the flight and the drive to Burlington, had been in one of those ‘they only happen here’ late summer evening thunderstorms.

My destination that evening was the Hampton Inn (the one that used to be off Huffman Mill Road at Exit 141), as I had a breakfast appointment the next morning (a Saturday) with a potential client. My first surprise was the clerk at the desk, she actually told me she was sorry I had to drive through the storm, in all my travels, through all sorts of weather that, had never happened before.

My next surprise was at breakfast. My new client brought his (then) eight year old daughter to our meeting! Now I’ve had meetings with all sorts of executives, all over the country, and no one had ever brought one of their children to a meeting with me. He explained that Saturday breakfast was a regular thing for them as he traveled quite a bit, and he didn’t want her to miss out simply because he and I had this meeting.

I know for a fact that his daughter’s presence was the deciding factor for me in agreeing to take on their project and return to Burlington that September. I remember thinking that for someone that successful, he really had his priorities straight.

It wasn’t until I actually moved here to begin the project that I really began to see how different things are here from what I’d previously experienced.

It’s the people, and the lifestyle here, maybe nothing special to the natives, to them it’s just the way things are. To me however, it was, and remains, very special.

Take how I found my first apartment for example. It was early, before dawn, at the Circle K on the corner of Alamance Road and Mebane Street. I was getting gas before driving home in preparation for a for six (or more) month contract. I’d been thinking about how to find a place to live since signing the contract the day before, but, really didn’t know ‘how’ I was going to accomplish that from 800 miles away.

As I was paying for the gas (this was way before pay-at-the-pump became popular) there was a woman in the store who’d noticed my out of state tags and asked “Just passing through?”. I began to explain how I was leaving, but coming back, and had to find a place to stay in the next week or so. She proceeded to give me the name and number of a local man in the rental management business who had helped her find an apartment. When I got home, I called him. He not only had a place, it was fully furnished, in my budget and available. It turned out it was an apartment, in his home. He rented to me, sight unseen, no deposit, just the check for the 1st months rent. Over the following months he and I became friends and remained so until he died a year or so ago, in fact he helped me find the house I now own!

I’ve lived here for over 10 years now; these events took place back in 1993. The city has changed a lot since then, new stores, new roads, wider roads, more people and many new businesses. The one thing that hasn’t changed is how much I enjoy living here. Not a week goes by that I don’t experience something that reminds me how special a place this is. It might be the woman at the dry cleaner’s telling me about how much she loves Bingo, or the fellow yesterday at the gas station telling me about his son’s love of soccer while we filled up our cars. Something, every week reminds me that here in our little corner of the world we still see, talk and relate to one another in ways that are conspicuously absent nearly everywhere else I travel.


So there you have it, my first published piece. Certainly no work of literary genius, but good enough to make the magazine!! The Magazine is called "Alamance County Magazine" and it focuses on, of course, life here in Alamance County. The September issue was a 'Welcome to Alamance" issue and higlighted some of the benefits of living here. The piece was written to appeal to the theme.


Thanks again for stopping by, as the weekend is currently planned as a 'thrash' on the truck project weekend, I should be posting pictures and a narrative on the progress, or lack of it for the next three days.

You've been warned!

Tuesday, September 27, 2005

I think I’ve scored a paint booth…

Of sorts. Not exactly a ‘paint booth’ but a little bigger garage, possibly a little bigger compressor… more lights… “R…RR…RRRRR” - More power!!

My friend Mike Turner, who is also an excellent contractor… in fact if he’d ever let me build him a website I’d point any of you to him in a heartbeat… he’s a definite rarity... an honest home improvement contractor!!

Well, as a result of checking on his guys while we were finishing up the roof project (and yes, he even let’s me supply some of the labor to save me a few dollars, the caveat is, if I cause it to run ‘long’ that’s my cost not his), we got talking about project cars and trucks.

In the middle of our conversation UPS shows up with my new primer guns, and he’s wondering if I’d let him borrow them when he gets ready to paint his truck this fall. A few short minutes later, and I’ve set up a deal where I’ll shoot his truck, and teach him how in the process, if I can use his shop to squirt mine.

Can you say S-W-E-E-T!?!?

I know a lot of you don’t have the foggiest idea, what painting a car entails, and could probably care less, but I’m going to give you the short skinny anyway….

In terms of the environment you want:

  • Air flow, ventilation, pulling out overspray and fumes, will not only keep you healthy, it’ll yield a better finish
  • Light, too much is not enough, ideally it would be as bright as daylight, from every angle so you can ‘see’ how the paint is laying down.
  • Clean, and as ‘dust free’ as is possible, keeping bugs, especially gnats and mosquitoes outside is also a must.
  • Large volume air compressor, something capable of flowing 10-15 CFM @ 90psi non-stop is ideal. Painting takes quite a bit less than that, so the compressor will run cooler, less moisture in the compressed air, less that has to be taken out.
Why worry about all of this?

First, automotive paint is expensive; it starts at around $100/gallon and goes up from there. Even a low cost epoxy primer costs in the neighborhood of $75/gallon, and on a typical project I’d expect to use at least a gallon and a half of primer, a gallon of the base color and another gallon of clear.

So with just the paint, not to mention the additives, thinners and reducers, we’re talking $300, and at least double that if you’re planning on doing anything fancy. I saw a pint of a particular House of Kolor ‘Kandy’ priced at near $100 the other day!

With all this money involved you want to minimize the possibility of problems while you’re applying the paint. Ideally, you’d have a climate controlled ‘paint booth’ that provides down draft ventilation, plenty of lighting and an extremely ‘clean’ environment for the process.

One of the worst feelings in the world is to spend 100’s of hours in preparation, knowing you have an absolutely straight and square ‘canvas’ only to have all your efforts nullified by dust, dirt, water or poor lighting. I remember an ambulance we did once (I’ll tell that story another day), that we had to repaint; because the lighting in the shop we borrowed was so bad, there were actually places the paint didn’t ‘cover’ the primer. A hard lesson, and expensive as well!

Scoring a slot in Mike’s garage means I’ll be able to shoot the truck somewhere other than where I’ve been doing all the prep work. In short, that means a ton less dust.

Also, Mike’s shop is considerably larger than mine. That means we can set up some extra lights around the perimeter of the truck and not have to worry about ‘tripping on them while painting.

He’s got all the air compressor we’ll need and we discussed today my ideas for handling the ventilation.

All in all, I’m very excited (not to mention Mike will probably give me a hand with my project, so we can get to his!).

Work today was a series of nice little ‘wins’. I made some promises yesterday that I don’t think anyone thought could be fulfilled. I got lucky on one project because the fellow I’d been charged with guiding to a solution, not only accepted my suggestions, he got them implemented very quickly, with exactly the expected results! A nice win.

The little POL project I mentioned in yesterdays post is wrapped up and delivered, as promised by the close of business today.

I’m on target to get back on the Duns project in the morning, exactly on schedule. They added a couple items to my list for that project today that they need by the end of this week… If I knock that out on time, I’ll have had one of the best weeks on this project yet. All in all, I couldn’t be happier. My wife continues to recover, a roof with no leaks, a place to shoot the truck and the work projects are on track… does it ever get much better?

I hope you all are well, thanks for taking the time to stop by… by all means leave me a comment and let me know what you’re up to!

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Monday, September 26, 2005

Some odds and ends…

This isn't one of my 'real' posts, but just some tid-bits that needed saying.

Some odds and ends…

I’ve had a lot of hits lately, by people looking for one (or more) of the string comparators I’ve implemented in Foxpro and VB.Net. So… for any of you that are driving by, and would like a copy of the raw source for any of the comparators, just stop by CP.Solutions, navigate over to the feedback form and request a link to download it. You need to be specific and let me know what algorithm you want:


They’re free and I’m providing them without any express or implied warranties. The only thing I ask is that you give credit where it’s due and leave the comments in the program headers.

The entire package, along with the POL utility is very nearly complete. I intend to make that available for a very reasonable one time fee ($99/developer). If you’re interested in that, please indicate your interest on the feedback form. Formats will include a Visual Foxpro class library and a VB.Net DLL


I’m in the process of revamping my personal website with an eye toward providing a real photo gallery. I like the open source PHP product called ‘Coppermine’, and I’m wondering if any of my readers have any experience with incorporating PHP into an otherwise HTML type site. Any problems or special issues that you’re aware of? Any “gotcha’s” you can give me a heads up on??


Would the folks who are constantly ( 5 or 10 times a week) dropping by here after googling for “Chuck Gronsbell” drop me a note, or leave a comment? Curiosity has finally gotten the better of me!


The folks over at Byzantium Shores were kind enough to add a link on their page to my post the other day on Relationships. I’d like to say thanks, and point y’all over there as this fellow has some interesting things to say.


Things at work are extremely busy at the moment. From what I understand it’s a combination of things, year end approaching, budgets for 2006 being due and several ‘open items’ reaching the end of tolerance levels. For me, it’s meant being included in half a dozen additional small projects, all of which are ‘up against the wall’ and definitely past the due dates.

I suppose I could be stressing over it, but, I look at it this way… work, is work… I’d rather be working than not… and all this additional stuff, makes a contract extension look even more likely!!


On the home front… the new roof is all but finished, some cleanup and ‘caps’ to nail in and we’ll be calling that a wrap. I’m almost looking forward to a really, really heavy rainfall so we can ‘test’ out’ the results. After 5 years of patching, flashing and repairing, it will be so wonderful to not have to worry about leaks any more!!

You see this roof, has probably leaked since the house was originally built. Every section of roof (there are four distinct sections) has had at least one leak since we’ve been here. Even the section we totally replaced, still leaked in at least two places.

The new roofer, did discover why though, and has fashioned a fix.

My friend and contractor Mike Turner, says this guy has been doing all of his roofing for five years now, and there has never been a leak once he’s done. Y’all keep your fingers crossed, and I’m putting away the buckets!


This weekend is supposed to be in the mid-70’s, breezy and just beautiful fall weather.

That means I’ll be back on the truck project again and you can expect pictures of all the work this weekend. I’ll be getting the bed floor and wheel wells finished and in primer on Friday, the sides and front in final ‘blocked’ form and primer on Saturday and everything in a coat of sealer on Sunday.

Pretty ambitious, and with any luck it’ll get done. Then I can bring the chassis back in and pull the cab off and start on that!! I’m excited, it’s been too long and I need to beat some steel into submission!!


New programming projects… well, the two new clients I mentioned a few weeks ago are still alive and “potentials”. I’ve spoken with each and they assure me that as soon as the ‘rush’ is over… they want to get started on their projects.

It’s a good thing I wasn’t counting on either one to pay the bills this month!!


Blogroll… It’s been brought to my attention that some of the folks I have on ‘my’ blog roll, do not have me on theirs… Ummmm thanks, but that’s not why I started a Blogroll…. I just thought someone else might enjoy some of the sites I do.

I’m very happy to be listed on anyone’s site that thinks they’d like to add me. I try to visit the site’s of everyone who posts a message here, or where the URL shows up in my stats.. If I enjoy the blog and return to read more there when I can, I add it to the roll.

If I’ve somehow omitted anyone from the blogroll, who would like to be on it, drop me an email or leave me a comment and I’ll check your site out, and consider doing so.


Seems the POL utility I’ve written is finding more and more utility at the client site. I’ve been asked to generate ‘best match’ candidates to link several thousand new records in a new table to some existing datastore that contains several hundred thouand records.

I’m beginning to wonder how I got along without it in the past.

I think that so many of my previous clients were not aggregating data, but simply managing their own, that it wasn’t the issue it is here. Any time you attempt to bring together data from multiple sources you have a real potential for duplicates. The POL does a nice job of identifying existing records that may be duplicates of those being imported. It also can ‘preprocess’ the incoming file and write off to a suspense file those records that are identified as having potential matches in the existing datastore.


So.. that's about it for today.. between the roof and work I'm about worn out today... I'll work at finding something....Ummmmm... more interesting for tomorrow!!

Thanks again for stopping by!!

Saturday, September 24, 2005

A Little Rant on Conspiracy Theory…

My rant on Conspiracy Theory…

Today.. something a little different from me… a rant…

I’ve never been one to follow the paranoia spouted by the conspiracy theorists among us.

Although, just because I’m not paranoid, doesn’t mean they’re not out to get me!

However, just the other day, a friend sent me this link so I’d have a laugh for the day. It had the opposite effect; I found it troubling that anyone would spend this much time, attempting to tie the recent Katrina catastrophe as well as the pending effects of hurricane Rita, to this sort of conspiratorial babble.

The basis for all of this is something called the “Woodpecker Grid”, if you’re really interested click here for the results of a dogpile search on it. The thing I find so incredible, is that these folks seem to think it really is possible to do this!

If you’re familiar with even localized efforts at weather manipulation, like cloud seeding (if you’re not familiar with that there’s a good explaination here.). Then you probably already know that after nearly sixty years of study, attempts and funding, that the scientific community is still undecided as to the actual, measurable results.

So, if we can’t reliably, seed some clouds to make it rain, we’re (as in anyone, anywhere on the planet) somehow able to direct electromagnetic waves, to a specific point and generate an event like a hurricane?

When Rita was forecast to hit Galveston as a category 5+ hurricane, these same folks were claiming it was all a plot, to wipe out the oil refining/production facilities of the US.

Now that she’s spared most of the oil platforms, refineries and lessened to a category 2 before making landfall, I suppose they’ll claim that it was their (the conspiracy folks) reporting of the plot that caused the perpetrators to back down. Although, seeing how they were blaming everyone from Russia to Bin Laden, it’s difficult for me to imagine anyone with that type of power to back down…

There are a number of reasons why, I personally, don’t believe any of this is possible, but the number one reason is that it relies on EM waves. The amount of directed (even over an invisible 'grid') EM energy required to generate a storm the size of Katrina or Rita, would shut down all sorts of communications equipment worldwide.

I suppose there’ll be someone to say they’ve also discovered a means of transmitting these waves undetectably… That would be a pretty big deal, undetectable EM waves… you would have thought it would have made the papers, or CNN or something.

Maybe it’s just me. It’s possible I’m just so frightened by the possibility that someone could manipulate the weather this way I refuse to believe it could be done. But, then again, maybe if these all powerful terrorist types who can create hurricanes at will, would create one say in the North Atlantic, (where they rarely, if ever, start) and then steer it west into say Iceland, against the prevailing wind currents, I’d have to take a serious look at it.

It’s sort of like “Aliens from outer space”… I’m not convinced they don’t exist, as the universe is a pretty big place, and the odds of us being alone in it are fairly small (at least according to Carl Sagan). However, if they were visiting this planet, I think they’d do something more, ummmm, inventive, besides making circles in some farmers cornfield.

I’d be more impressed if they did something along the lines of what happened in Sagan’s book “Contact” (or the movie if you missed the book)… at least that showed some ingenuity.

Look, I know there are 'bad guys' out there. In fact, on some days I worry they outnumber the rest of us. Thankfully they don’t. In fact they make up a very small percentage of the humans on the planet. They just get all the press time.

The rest of us, going about our fairly mundane daily lives just aren’t deemed “News worthy”. Just once, I’d like to see an entire news cast that highlighted; the folks who cut out of work early to see their kid’s game. Those who come home after a rough day at work, and instead of dumping on the family, take them all out to dinner… those folks who despite many problems of their own; donate money to disaster victims, give blood to the Red Cross, spend the weekend painting their church instead of fishing, take time off from work to build houses for habitat for Humanity, take “Fresh Air” kids into their homes in the summer, or any of a 1,000 other generous acts performed each minute in this (and other) countries every single minute of every day.

I doubt I’ll ever see it.

Instead, I’ll hear about murderers, rapists, terrorists, burglars, robbers, serial killers, plane crashes, and on and on… I know that the 'good deeds' outnumber the bad, but, shouldn’t we at least get news shows that reflect that?

I somehow think, that if even one reporter, with one major cable network could back up any of this conspiritorial supposition, with fact, we’d have been subjected to hours and hours of it by now. They’d have full screen graphics, high-res photos with circles and arrows and a commentator explaining what each one means (sorry Arlo)… repeating it every fifteen (ok maybe 20) minutes 24 hours a day.

The fact is, there is no huge "out to get us" secret group out there… just the same old power hungry groups there’s always been.. and we’re watching them!!


I’ll be back soon (as myself), after the proper application of welding fumes, bondo dust, primer overspray, loud obnoxious power tools and carefully measured amounts of a cold, fermented, yeast, barley and hops mixture!!

Until then… what’s your favorite conspiracy??

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Friday, September 23, 2005

On Relationships and Changes…

It’s funny, to me at least, how our views can change over the years.

When I was a teenager, it was so very important to me to be with a girl that others, besides myself, thought was attractive.

As a young man, things shifted at bit, and what *I* thought became more important than what others thought. But, what they thought, was still important to me.

Today, it’s only what I think that’s at all important to me.

I know I’ve always cared about what was inside, how that person treated me and so on. However, in thinking back, I know I was treated the worst, by the most beautiful (visually) women, and tolerated it far longer than I should have, or would have, had they been less attractive. That's not to say I wasn't also treated well by attractive women, because I was, let me explain a little further.

This was a particularly difficult thing for me to face as I’d always told myself that the ‘outside’ shouldn’t matter. It didn’t, really matter; to me… it did matter though to the part of me that was seeking approval and validation from others. The hotter my friends told me a woman I was seeing was; the harder it would be for me to end the relationship, even though I knew I had to.

It’s only in looking back that I see these these things, and the subsequent changes, in me. I certainly never saw things this clearly then, or I truly believe I would have done something about it!

I need to say this, before we go much further. Not to take anything away from any of the other women I’ve known in my life, but to me, my wife is the single most attractive woman I’ve ever known. She’s inspired feelings in me I haven’t had since I was a teenager and some I've never felt before. I never tire of looking at her, and still after 6 years of living together, I can still be aroused by her simply walking across the room in a pair of overalls. She is, as they say “The object of my affections.”

So I’ve been thinking about how relationships change as we mature. I said mature, instead of age, because they’re definitely different. I know some guys that are still like I was in high school, all about the external appearance. They could care less what’s going on inside that woman, as long as she looks good on their arm. In my mind, they’ve aged, but not matured.

Fortunately though, most of the guys I know, and hang out with, are far more concerned about the quality of a woman’s character than the shine in her hair. They care more about how sexy she 'acts' with them in private, than how sexy she ‘looks’ to someone else.

Why am I rambling on about this, at this particular time… well, because I’ve been thinking about it, and when I get stuck thinking about something I end up writing about it!

As those of you who come by here on a regular basis know, my wife has had more than her share of health issues over the past 12 to 18 months. As a result, she’s gained some weight (or so she says) and on many days the smile I love so much has been replaced by the grimace of pain. I know however, there’s been no diminished love or desire on either of our parts, just an ‘inconvenience’ or so the doctors say.

As it would with anyone, she, from time to time, worries about her attractiveness, to me. That the changes she’s going through will somehow change how I feel about her, how much I desire her, or crave her touch.

This, in particular, is one of those times I wish it were possible to just plug someone into your thoughts, or record them, so they could play them back. It’s one thing for me to tell her, and act like; she’s as attractive to me as ever (she is). It’s yet another for her to assimilate that information and banish forever from her thoughts any feelings to the contrary.

It’s one of the issues in relationships I have the most trouble in understanding, yet I know it’s a very common problem. One not limited to a woman feeling that way, but one men worry about as well.

I don’t think we (men or women) really know how our partner’s see us. Instead we project what we see, our likes and dislikes about our bodies, ourselves, into what we believe they see.

It’s hardly fair, when you think of it. Especially for us ‘married folk’ to project things that way, to assume the person who’s picked *us* to spend the rest of their life with, would, or could, see us as anything but, attractive, to them. After all, they certainly saw something about us they liked well enough to want to commit a lifetime to!

Do we really think that little of our partners that they would have based their decision to be with us, on something as superficial as looks? Or, that we maintain some unstated, yet very real, mysterious ‘perfect weight’?? Do we truly believe that they were so ‘star struck’ by our physical attractiveness alone in the beginning that, they’d vanish into the night if our star ever fades? That a person who’s committed themselves to us for the rest of their lives would care if the number of hair follicles on our bodies increased or decreased?

I doubt that could really be it, after all, who in their right mind would marry a person they thought that little of. Would we have married a person if we thought that their love for us was so fragile, that, gaining or losing a few pounds, growing or losing some hair, getting a few gray hairs or where the appearance of some wrinkles would affect their feelings towards us? I don’t think so, at least I would not have!

So I’ve been thinking about this… what is it that I’m in love with, about my wife? What is it about her, that drives me crazy with desire for her?

I know I’m not speaking for ‘every’ man, but I’ll bet I’m about to speak for the majority! (here’s your chance guys, step up, be honest and tell us what it is for you!).

If I had to boil it all down to one thing, it’s how she treats me.

That’s a pretty broad statement, so let’s talk a few specifics.

How does she treat me?… with love, kindness and affection… that’s how.

It’s in the way she touches me, kisses me and interacts with me. The bond I feel with her, a bond that I would never break, because of what it means to me, if for no other reason, was born in this.

It’s the way she’s proud of my accomplishments, yet doesn’t let my ego swell up too much and get in the way. How she holds me after a failure and let’s me know it will be alright, that she believes I’ll find another way. That she considers me her best friend, her confidant and her sounding board. The way her touch excites me like no other ever has...

It’s that smile, that wonderful smile, that always crosses her face when she knows I’ve been watching her… in the garden, with the cats, mowing the lawn, in the kitchen, walking up the driveway or stepping from the shower… I love to look at her, and she loves catching me…

It’s in the way she’ll touch, my arm, my shoulder, my face… or ‘cop a feel’ when she’s sure no one is looking (or can see).

It’s in a thousand other things too; each one ties into the next, weaving a fabric that wraps me in emotions for this woman, my wife.

No extra wrinkle here or there, gray hair, gain or loss in weight… No freckle, age spot, mole or pimple… no stray chin, nose or ear hair… no sags or droops… none of those physical changes life will throw at us over the years, will change the love and desire I have. The only thing, that could (or would) change it, would be for her to change, the way she treats me.

I’ve probably not done this subject justice, but the fact remains, I truly believe we need to see ourselves, through our partner’s eyes… to show each other the vision we have of the other, so that they can share it with us.

As always... thanks for listening… and, by all means sound off and tell me what you think… what is it, for you, that fuels the fires, the love, the passion you feel for your partner?

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Thursday, September 22, 2005

I was a 'Madman' !!....

One of the Madmen of Goguen Industries anyway....

First, what’s up with BlogSpot? For the past couple of days my email notifications for comments have been sporadic at best. Today it took me three tries to post a comment here myself! Has anyone else had problems like this?

On to the story…

It was 1989 and thing were pretty good in the IT/IS business. The small consulting company I’d ‘restarted’ after my departure from APA was doing fairly well and I was working out of my home full time.

I’d also recently hired a fellow by the name of Rich Jeran, a legitimate claimant to the title of guru when it came to things Unix and Xenix, especially if those products were from a company called SCO.

I don’t really remember exactly how Rich found ‘me’, but I do remember at the time he called I was in a cast, and busier than a ‘one armed paper hanger’ with my little consulting business.

Rich talked me into giving him a chance, and I wasn’t an easy sell as I really had no desire to have ‘employees’. No sir, I was quite happy that I was finally making a decent living again in the computer business and working almost exclusively from my home.

At the time, in my little corner of the world, I was the ‘GoTo’ guy for things Novell, dBase or FoxPro. Back then, Novell was king in the DOS based networking arena and the xBase languages were the ‘big deal’ in PC based data based development. I was picking up one or two new clients a month, and had just inked a deal with the local Sears Business Center (anyone else remember those?) to be their primary Novell consultant.

My karma being what it is, between the time Rich first called, and we had our first meeting, I actually signed new client, who wanted Xenix, and not Novell, as their network infrastructure platform. Of course I knew he and I were meeting, but the truth is, back then I’d have taken the project anyway, I wasn’t at all afraid of stepping ‘out of the box’ and into unknown territory.

Rich and I met at the Denny’s just North of Carrier circle in Syracuse, we had breakfast, talked a little and headed over to this client so Rich could scope it for himself. (Now, if you actually knew Rich, or me, you’d know that us having a short talk was a miracle in, and of, itself!).

As I recall, we got the gig, and after we’d installed the software there was some issue over ‘training’ and as we started looking into it, the company had ‘lost’ (as they had ‘let them go’) the two folks we had trained, and wanted us to train some additional folks, for free. (That wasn’t happening!)

So, here I am, with a guy on the ‘payroll’, in danger of losing the only Xenix client we have, when through the door (the phone actually) comes another… to make a long story short, we continued to grow both the Novell and Xenix/Unix portions of the business that summer.

After Rich and I had been working together for only a few months, The Sears Business Center, calls in one afternoon. They had a lead they wanted me to follow up, a place called “Goguen Industries” on “Goguen Drive” in Liverpool, NY… well at first I thought they were kidding, but I made the call and had a brief talk with Bruce Goguen, before setting up a meeting in his office the following day.

I closed out that day, feeling pretty good as I recall, we’d had a good week, the Xenix portion of the business is growing, slowly, but at a steady pace and the Novell and SBT (Accounting software) are growing as well, more quickly, but still at manageable levels.

The best thing is, I’m making payroll every week, and I’m still covering my business and personal expenses as well. All in all, I remember thinking, things are going pretty well, finally!

In the course of meeting with Bruce Goguen the next week, as I’m moving to close the deal, he says: “Why don’t you sell me your company, and come to work for me?”

I know I must have stuttered as I asked: “Excuse me? But are you saying you want to buy my company?” (I like to remember myself as being ‘cool’ at that moment, but I’m not so sure I was) A rather brief conversation followed where he explained he did indeed want to buy the company, hire Rich, and I, and then expand the customer base, etcetera, etcetera…. I held off giving him a ‘price’, I let him know I was interested, but I needed to think it over a bit.

I remember getting home that night and talking to my wife about it, saying how I wasn’t sure if I wanted to sell it, go back to having a ‘real job’, all that sort of thing…. When she told me that selling it was in the original business plan I’d written. She then proceeded to dig it out and show it to me, and sure enough, there in black and white were my words:

“grow it sufficiently to the point where it can be sold”

To make this story a bit shorter, I did sell it, and we packed the office up and moved it to Liverpool. Almost immediately Bruce wanted me to start hiring additional people.

This went against my ‘grain’ as a business man, as I’d always gotten the revenue first, hired later. Now, he was charging me with hiring first and then finding the business. In the consulting business, that’s a bit like a law firm hiring lawyers hoping to get clients, it’s just not done that way. I should have seen then, that he was trying to apply a manufacturing model to a service business… but it was the ‘Honeymoon’ period and all… and hey, this was *me… I could do anything!

Around the end of the second week, they started calling us the “Micro Applications Division” (MAD) of Goguen Industries. It was just a few days after that when Kathy Bovee, the controller, sent out a memo, welcoming the ‘Madmen”, to the company.

So, in the beginning, it was Rich and I, the original ‘Madmen’… interestingly enough, that moniker wasn’t far from the truth as we both were hard headed and had explosive personalities.

In short order we’d hired Sherry Shultz (who has since passed on), Ken Sheldon (who’ve I’ve written about before) and Mark Montgomery (who I went fishing with back in June) and we were now at full staff.

Sherry’s job was what I called phone triage… she’d answer all inbound calls and route them to the appropriate person:

Mark was hardware
Rich was Unix/Xenix
Ken was SBT and custom programming
I was Novell and programming as well

Things were actually storming along far better than I could have ever imagined when we got started. The ‘division’ was beginning to show a small profit, our new client count was up to 8, maybe even 10, a month and we were all working like crazy to keep up.

We were ‘stars’ in our little world. At the 1990 Syracuse Business and Computer Expo our booth won “Best of Show”. We made the papers, life was good. We were all working tons of hours, but having a pretty good time and enjoying a hard earned reputation as ‘the guys’ to call.

Then, January 16, 1991, as Rich, Mark and I were sitting in the Euclid (a bar) having our regular after work ‘post-mortem’ of the day’s occurrences, an announcement was made on CNN that the US led efforts to expel Iraqi forces from Kuwait had begun.

I remember that announcement because of what happened the next day.

On a normal day, our phones would ring 15 to 20 times an hour, that next day; it was as though our phone service had been disconnected. We received maybe five calls all day. The world, as we had known it, had stopped spinning. No one was calling, and those who did call, were putting projects on indefinite hold. No one had anticipated this kind of effect on us.

The first casualty was Mark, as the hardware guy, when those orders stopped coming in, Bruce cut him loose, and fairly quickly. I remember feeling bad, as Mark had worked just as hard as anyone to build the entire thing, not ‘just’ the hardware piece.

This changed things, and not for the better, there was definitely a different feeling in the air after that. Goguen’s other businesses, including his core “recession proof” business were experiencing similar problems. It was about mid-February, or about a month later, when, as I sat down for a regular meeting with the owner and the controller that, he announced he was closing the division and we were all being ‘let go’. No severance, no kiss, just a ‘see ya’.

There was just one problem with his ‘plan’, he hadn’t finished paying me for the business (note to anyone thinking about selling a business, get as much as possible upfront and in cash!!). I informed him of this little fact, and that despite what he thought, division, or no division, he owed me that money.

After a bit of discussion, I told him I’d consider ‘taking back’ the equipment, and the client list for what he owed me, but, I’d have to think it over.

So that cold, mid-February day, the Madmen officially died. What’s interesting to me though, is that I’ve stayed in contact with these guys, and we all remember the days leading up to the end. The hopes, dreams and excitement we all shared, and of what might have been. It was definitely ‘Fab-times’ for all of us then.

I did take the company back, and that’s another story in and of itself, that I hope to share one day.

Wednesday, September 21, 2005

Barn Fires…

There’s nothing else quite like a barn fire.

Barns are big; they’re in mostly rural areas without a good water supply and filled with flammable materials. One other problem, the residents can’t notify anyone, so, most often it’s a passer-by, or the farmer as he wakes up who notices the fire first. Often, long after it started, and has plenty of time to get really working…

Once they get rolling, it takes a lot of people, and a lot of water, to bring that fire back under control, and eventually extinguish it.

There are essentially three priorities when you roll up on a barn fire. First, determine if there are any people in the barn. Second, determine what animals, if any, might be in the barn. Third, find a way to get enough water, on the fire, fast enough to get it extinguished.

The first two, just about any department in the country can accomplish.

The third however, is the forte` of my friend Jack Cottet. For all the years I’ve known Jack he’s been all about “Rural Water Supply”. I worked a couple seminars on the subject with Jack back in the mid 80’s that I’ve mentioned here in the past. I knew, at the time, what we (well he, I was simply helping) were doing was pretty revolutionary and beyond what the normal ‘thinking’ of the day was.

However, until very recently, I had no idea “how” groundbreaking this work of Jack’s was, and still is.

If you read the piece Jack sent me, and I posted here, you can hear in his words, that he’s a humble man, preferring to let his actions speak the loudest.

It turns out, that my friend and fellow firefighter, along with another fellow John Heintz, are about the top two guys, on the planet, when it comes to rural water supply. Australia, yeah, that’s right, the country, flew Jack there, all expenses paid to teach their fire departments about establishing, and maintaining an adequate water supply when fighting fires away from hydrants.

Think about that for a moment… best in the world… at what they do… and for the most part, they’ve both done most of their work as volunteers. Yes they had regular jobs, that were ‘fire related’, but no one was paying them to develop and expand on the ways of rural water supply… It was, for the most part, a labor of love (or possibly obsession).

I knew that Jack was good, and that our department and many of the surrounding departments were much better off because he was in the mix… but I had no idea, how good he really is.

You see when I got involved in the VFD, I naturally gravitated to those folks who knew what they were doing and were always on the ‘front line’, as it’s in my nature to want to be in the ‘thick of it’. So hanging out with the likes of Cottet, Flint, Heinz and Campbell was not an option for me, I was drawn to their knowledge and love for the fight, like a moth to a flame.

So, for the entire time I was involved, the ways we used to bring water to these rural fires, was just, to me, the way it was done. We were always looking for faster ways to fill, and dump the tankers, utilize multiple ‘ponds’, equalize water levels between ponds, all of that. But I’d never really experienced the way other departments did it.

More to the point, the ways others didn’t do it. We almost always had water, in more than adequate supply, to fight the fires. It turns out that one of the biggest challenges rural departments face, after getting enough trained people to the scene, is adequate water supply.

I remember several fires where we had multiple pumpers, moving a total of four, or five, thousand gallons a minute, for several hours as we’d fight one of these barn fires. I don’t remember one time having to pull back, take a break, and wait for water to arrive. Think for a minute, about the logistics of loading, hauling and unloading water, from a few miles away, at a 1,000 gallons or so a load, such that you have enough on hand every minute to support the effort.

I didn’t think much about it back then as I had no idea what a real problem this was for some other departments. I did however continue to work on improving what Jack and John were doing with guys like Larry Flint when we were given the opportunity.

As I think about these days, I’m amazed at how lucky I was, we were, to have folks like this. Guys who, in addition to working all week to provide for their families, gave of themselves, gave up the precious free time we all covet, to not only improve things in their own departments, but those of surrounding communities as well.

I will always be grateful for having had the opportunity to learn, work and grow with men like this.

Tuesday, September 20, 2005

My first Fire…

During our recent trip to Upstate NY, at the party, I spent some time with an old friend, by the name of Tom Metcalf. As we talked and reminisced I found myself remembering where we first met. It was at the very first fire I was involved in with the North Bay FD.

I’d joined and been accepted into the department only a week or so before this particular fire, and had participated in a grand total of one ‘Training Drill’.

On the night in question (I’ve often wondered why the worst fires seem to happen at night) the alarm went off, I rushed to the station only to be the second person to arrive. The other person there was Pete Roshier (R-ow-sher). Pete ran the local hardware store and had been in the department for many years.

As I came in the door, he starts yelling at me to jump in the front line pumper and drive it to the scene and he'll drive the tanker.

Now, I remembered, from my one drill, that the chief wanted the trucks to roll fully ‘loaded’ with personnel, and with qualified operators, but Pete’s insistent, and says “There’ll be ‘somebody’ there to run the truck, just get it there”. So, in deference to his long standing in the department, and his role as a fire commissioner, I fire that truck up and head out.

As we’re pulling up to the Bristol residence, the place is really working (which is FD speak for ‘really, really burning’), smoke and fire is visible from several windows and through the roof in at least one spot, it seems like everyone is yelling about getting lines (hoses) into the place.

One of the assistant chief’s points me to where he wants the truck parked, and I slip it in there as smooth as can be. I set the brake, slip it into neutral, engage the PTO (power take off) that runs the pump and jump out of the truck.

This particular truck had a front mounted pump, so I stepped in front of the truck and attached the two 1 ¾” line ends that had been left there.

Now… I’m in real trouble... I look around, the Asst. Chief that had been spotting the truck is gone, and I’ve expended the sum total of my vast fire fighting knowledge (obtained from that one drill), by parking the truck, and have absolutely no idea what to do next!!

I’m frantically searching for someone, anyone (you see that ‘somebody’ Pete had promised… wasn’t waiting on me when I got there) who has a clue how to get the water into, and out of this pump and to the guys waiting for it at the house.

Suddenly, I know it was probably only seconds, but it felt like hours, Ron Turk was standing next to me and asking what the problem was. I started to explain… and before I could get two full syllables out he was pulling levers and twisting handles and, like magic, the hose lines charged and water was going on the fire.

I knew what had to happen next….

I enlisted some help, got the ‘draft’ lines off the truck and prepared for the tanker to show up.

The tanker arrived; we slid the ‘portable pond’ off the back, opened it up and dumped the tankers contents into the pond. As the tanker pulled off to get more water, I realized, I was again in trouble. I had no clue how to shift from pumping from the pumper’s internal water supply to drafting water from the ‘pond’.

I started asking, yelling, screaming for someone (‘somebody’ had still not shown up)… to show me what needed to be done.

In plenty of time, Abe Cable came by and showed me the various levers and handles that needed to be moved, the sequence, and a brief ‘why’ explanation… In no time I was drafting from the pond and sneaking a little back into the internal tank for ‘reserve.

Shortly after that, tankers and pumpers from neighboring departments were showing up and there was a full scale attack on that fire. For several hours men and machines battled with that fire, sometimes gaining on it, sometimes not... Probably 40 or 50 guys, just like me, who'd jumped from the comfort of their homes to do this job... Everyone worked tirelessly, for 4 or 5 hours...

It didn’t really matter though, the fire had gotten too big a head start before we'd been called, and by the time it was over the house was a total loss.

Several things happened to me that night; I got:
  • a severe ass-chewin’ for driving that truck and not being ‘qualified’.
  • an atta-boy after the ass-chewin’ for showing up and getting the job done.
  • informed ‘somebody’ never shows up!
  • to spend the rest of the night guarding the scene, talking and drinking coffee with a guy by the name of Larry Flint, and the beginning of our long friendship was born.
  • knowledge that any fire can be extinguished with a thimble full of water, and a lawn chair. (If you sit in the lawn chair long enough, the thimble will put out what’s left of the fire)
  • a front row seat to an arson investigation, something I hope none of us ever have to go through.
  • and last.. but not least....
  • totally, completely and hopelessly addicted to firefighting. An obsession that lasted nearly 14 years.
Oh yeah… Tom Metcalf… Well, it turned out that he and Jim Bristol (the home owner) were friends, and had been over at Tom’s place when the call came in. Someone eventually tracked him down over there, I think it was his wife, and they'd shown up, hoping for the best.

Tom stood near the truck during most of the fire, and talked with me off and on all evening. I don’t really remember, about what, but we ended up as new friends as well.

Eventually, a few months (or maybe it was a year or so) later, Tom joined the department too.

In talking with Tom at that party, and he’s close to 60 now, he remembers every fire, every charge inside we made, every.. “everything”…. Maybe, one day, I’ll remember them all too. For now though y’all will just have to take them as they come to me.

I’ve also been talking with Greg Campbell (from McConnellsville) as well… he’s told me he has a lot of pictures from fires, training exercises and so on. I’ve been trying to get him to scan a bunch for me… it would be great to see some of those times in ‘color; again.

If he ever sends them, I’ll post them here as well.

Sunday, September 18, 2005

Wealth, Success… Happiness

First, in the last post I mentioned being a ‘Hot Rod’... a custom, one off creation. In truth, I believe we’re all unique, not just me. We’re each a little different from each other, yet fortunately we often share some ‘common ground’ with each other as well.

I’ve been in the process of redefining what’s important to me for many years now. Once I was entirely driven by success, making more money and having more things. Over the years I’ve come to believe that it’s not those things that make a person feel happy.

Don’t get me wrong, some money in the bank, the bills paid, a nice car and house are all things that we can look at, and take pride in. They are not however, in my opinion, the real components of happiness.

I know that most of my soul searching began after my Dad’s death. The hollow, empty feeling I had then went far beyond the loss of him in my life. I was grieving the loss to be sure, but, I was also adrift and without a focus for the first time I could remember.

In examining that, I realized that 95% of all the drive I’d had, the work that I’d done, the goals I’d achieved, had all been a direct result of my wanting to hear him say “I’m proud of you”. He’d died without ever telling me that.

So there I was, my reason for getting out of bed in the morning, the push behind my tireless efforts, my one true goal, no longer viable, forever unattainable.

I really had little other choice but to examine my life, my beliefs and what I felt was valuable in my life.

It was in this process, which continues today, that I came to believe that happiness, true happiness, comes from within. No other person; no drug, possession, or achievement, can give it to you. You have to give it, to yourself.

For me, that meant taking stock of, me. Who I was, how I lived my life and what I valued. It also meant identifying those things that caused me to not feel happy, and why that was.

I say I’m still in the process because, as much as I hate to admit it, I’m not happy, everyday. I’m happy more often than not, but my goal is to find happiness each day.

I believe that, I am the only person responsible for my happiness. Others can enhance, or detract from it, at times, but ultimately it’s how I process their actions that yields a happy, or unhappy, me.

I’ve been told that we can’t control our emotions that they just happen, that all we really have control over is how we react to the emotion when it rises. We decide how a certain event in our lives affects us by what we ‘feel’ when we experience it. Have you ever noticed that when experiencing the same event different folks can react in almost opposite ways? One person becomes enraged, another sad, yet another may seem ambivalent. It’s how they’re processing the event that yields this range in reaction. Or, at least that’s what I’ve come to believe.

So, with that in mind, it should be possible to minimize the amount of time (and energy) we spend on what I’d term ‘negative’ or ‘not happy’ reactions, and maximize the amount of time we spend in a ‘positive’ place.

I went through a course once, intended to lessen the chance of stress induced ‘burn out’. In presenting the course, the lecturer set a scenario where you and a friend went swimming. In changing into your suits, you placed your clothes and valuables into baskets and left them with an attendant.

Prior to setting this scene, he’d explained what he called the ‘body scale’, and how to use it to gauge how important an event (like getting cut off in traffic) really was. The scale ranged from a paper cut, through the loss of all four limbs (what he called the ‘torso’), and the idea was, to work your way up the scale in your mind until you found a pain or loss of a body part you’d be willing to endure to have the event not have happened.

So, back to the scene, as you and your friend are getting dressed after the swim, you discover your wallet (or purse) is missing. You’re obviously upset, and your friend turns to you and says, I know where your wallet is, how far up the body scale are you willing to go, to get it back?

It took me about 3 seconds to raise my hand… and when acknowledged, I said: “If a ‘friend’ of mine, said that to me, I’d go up ‘his’ body scale until he told me!”

Well, first, that’s not what he wanted to hear; second it got a decent laugh, but third, and maybe more importantly, at that time in my life, that’s exactly, what I would have done. It was also probably why the company put me in the class, but that’s another story.

Today, the truth is, I’d make a few phone calls, get some cards and ID replaced and when all was said and done, it would have been a minor inconvenience, not something worth getting upset about. How do I know that? Well, it’s happened on at least two occasions in as many years… not that it was stolen, but washed. For those of you that don’t know, washing and drying credit cards these days renders them all but useless…

The first time it happened, I got pretty upset, Maryan and I had a fairly major argument, and, when I cooled off a bit, I realized I was out of line, apologized and we just got things replaced. The second time it happened, we both just laughed about it.

I’m telling you this to illustrate that you can, and do, decide how you react to events in your life. The decision may not always be a conscious one, but it’s a decision all the same. So maybe, if you thought about that ‘body scale’ say the next time someone cuts you off in traffic, and realize that you’re not really willing to endure much at all to have it ‘not happen’, you’ll wonder what it is that has you so upset.

I believe we all wake up each day with a specific amount of ‘emotional funds’... and once we’ve spent them, we’re borrowing from the next day, or drawing from the funds we didn’t spend the day before. So, I try, sometimes with success, sometimes without, to choose when and why I spend those funds. I may need them more tomorrow, than I do today.

The result is, and that’s the point, the result, I’m happier more days than not. When an event comes along that really requires, or simply takes, a huge amount of emotion, more often than not, I have enough left to spend on it.

I really believe, that this one little thing, changed not only how I look at events in my life, but, my overall happiness and satisfaction levels as well.

Hey, try it, if you find it works for you great, if not, it really didn’t cost you anything to try.

So, tell me, how do you handle stress, simple ordinary everyday stress, or the bigger life altering types? What’s your secret to finding calm, staying happy?

Saturday, September 17, 2005

What is “Rich”…..

Or riches, richness, wealth… How is it that we measure this? What makes one man wealthy, and another ‘poor’? The rest doomed to be lumped into the dreaded ‘middle class’?

Certainly by most all measures a person like Bill Gates is ‘wealthy’… I remember a few years ago there was a joke going around about how the government was going to revalue the national numbers like the budget, debt and so on in “Gatesian Units”. One Gatesian Unit would be equal to Bill Gates net worth. It would have sliced at least three “000’s” off the numbers and made them look better to all of the rest of us.

Most Hollywood heavy hitters, large corporate CEO types, successful business owners and such are also classified up there in the ‘wealthy’ group.

The problem I have with all of this is the ‘stick’ by which we measure wealth. The stick, as you know, is money. Either directly, or indirectly, we measure wealth in terms of how much cash, or tangible material products (purchased with cash), a person accumulates in their life.

I’m not so sure that money, or accumulated possessions, are really a good measure of the wealth of a person.

I’d like the chance to actually get inside the heads of some of the ‘wealthiest’ people on the planet and see what occupies their thoughts. Do they walk around in some sort of giddy, euphoric state? Are they simply unable to slip from their happiness high, because the all the cash, or the toys, abates the flow of sadness from their lives?

If that were true, we’d never see divorce, suicide, substance abuse, therapy sessions, shoplifting, drunken brawls, adultery or any of the other of these behaviors in these folks we view as ‘wealthy’.

So then, what good is all the stuff, (money, houses, cars, boats, planes and yes even trains), if it can’t shield you from these life ‘problems’?

I’ve said before, I’ve been dead broke, and fairly ‘flush’, at different times in my life. Several up and down cycles actually. All things being equal, flush is better than broke, in my eyes as having the bill collectors calling and living in fear of losing what little you actually have isn’t much fun.

However, with that said, as I look back over my life, it has never been money, or possessions that have made the difference. Sure, I love to dream about getting a Dodge Viper, or a big fishing boat, building a stellar hot rod where cash is no obstacle, or any of a thousand other dreams. In the end though, it isn’t the money, or the ‘thing’ that I really want, it’s the joy I associate with it.

Cruising the streets with my wife or one of my buddies in a righteous ride, is (or can be) a joy unto itself. More so for me, in something I’ve built, than in something I’ve purchased. I’ve often wondered, why that is. About the only answers I’ve come up with are these two. First, because I built it, it’s unique, mine, one of a kind (like me) and there will be no other exactly like it. Second, no creation like a ‘hot rod’ is ever the effort of one person (well none of mine anyway), it takes some help from some other folks as well. In my case that’s usually my friends.

So as I’ve pondered the ‘wealth’ question, and thought about what my view of ‘wealth’ is, and how to measure, for myself, how wealthy I am, these thoughts started to come together.

You see, I like to think of myself as, and take a bit of pride in being, a ‘self made’ man. Like a hot rod, crafted in a vision to be a standout, one of a kind.

The reality is however, I’m not really a self made man. I’m the result of decades of influence of some pretty amazing (in my mind) people. From my parents, in the very early years, through to today, every person I’ve have the opportunity to meet and interact with has changed me, a little.

Sometimes I saw behavior, or attitudes I didn’t like and chose to try and eliminate them from my life. In others, I saw things I felt had value and attempted to adopt (at times adapt) and fit them ‘into’ my life. In some cases I saw the possibility of something simply because someone else mentioned it, or was just verbally ‘dreaming’ and I took a concept and ran with it.

All of this is much like constructing a ‘one off’ vehicle. You take what’s out there, eliminate some, others are taken exactly as they are and then the rest are ‘customized’ (adapted) into the final product. Some of the finest vehicles I’ve seen are not from shops like Coddington’ or Foose’… but from individuals, who had an ever changing vision for continually modifying and improving their ride.

So that’s me, a human hot rod, crafted from the experiences and people in my life.

To me, ‘this’ is wealth. I’m my own person, purpose built to allow me to enjoy, as much as is possible the time I have here. To provide a smooth ride through the rough roads, fly like a bullet on the smooth straight-aways and handle the curves like I’m on rails.

Occasionally, I’ll over drive myself, and like that hot rod can slip off the road and get ‘dinged up’ if not driven with an eye on the conditions. However, like that hot rod I can get back on the road again as well.

I have been lucky. I’ve had (and have) friends and family with, and without physical impairments, some rich, some poor, hard workers, slackers, drinkers, non- drinkers, all sorts of folks, from all walks of life. It’s this fabric, this gathering of the human experience that’s shaped my life.
I may be a long way from any kind of ‘wealth’ in monetary terms, but, in terms of the value I place on what I have, the people I know, and the world as I look out through my eyes, I have no choice but to consider myself wealthy.

I’ve been fortunate to have a richness that goes beyond money and things. Riches composed of people, family, friends, and experiences that money simply could not have purchased. For that I’ll be eternally grateful.

I’ve spent some time over the past few months attempting to put into words the ‘story’ behind some of the people I’ve known (or still know).

I suspect I’ll be doing more of that, especially over the winter, as for some reason lately these folks are all on my mind.

Life changes when you no longer view money as the ‘measuring stick’, and instead pick some other, inner ruler, to measure by. If you do, you may find, as I have, that you have riches you never really tallied up. That your ‘balance sheet’ is much fatter than you realized.

So tell me, how is it that you measure the wealth in your life?

Thursday, September 15, 2005

A Flash... From My Past….

Every once in a while, things happen that just make me wonder if we all, really are, connected in some way. A way that's not visible, tangible, but there all the same.

Years ago, I had this friend, now weren’t ‘best friends’ as in did everything together, but we were good friends. We shared some common interests, even worked at the same place for a while.

He moved around 1976, and honestly, I don’t think I’ve heard a word from him since.

Well, recently (as in the past few weeks) I’d been thinking about him. I don’t really know why I’d been thinking about him. Maybe it’s been all the talk about how talent is not always the doorway to success, and that he was the most naturally talented guy I knew back then.

Regardless, I’ve been remembering the great ‘ball point pen’ drawings he used to do. He’d sit, with a blank piece of paper and a ball point pen (like a “bic”), almost anywhere, and create these incredibly shaded drawings.

I’d seen other artists work in ‘pen and ink’, but never with a “bic”, and not like this.

Alan was a very talented artist, but like many talented folks, he still had to make a living. So possibly I was wondering if he ever made a living from his artistic talent.

This morning, while checking my email and deleting the always large amount of spam, there in the ‘In Box’, was an email from Alan Hailston. It seems his Dad had gone up to my Mom and Andy’s to check out Alan’s new website and he'd gotten my email address from them, and then sent it to Alan.

We’ve been emailing off and on all day, getting caught up on what we’ve done over the years, and talking about us all getting together.

If you should go to his website, be sure to check out this section as he uploaded these examples of his ball point pen work so I could see them.

I’m hoping Maryan is feeling well enough to travel soon, and that we can find a good time for us all to get together, hang out and swap some stories. It’s been far to long, and this reconnection too big a surprise to let it slip by.

It’s funny what you remember about folks…. I obviously remember his drawing ability.

He was also a very creative ‘Ad Man’ and while he and I worked at National Auto together he really did some amazing print ads. It turns out that he continued in the advertising business after leaving National and today has his own Ad agency on Virginia Beach, Va.

Another of the other things I remember was his ‘Nova’, now it wasn’t the ‘baddest’ car on the streets locally, but he wanted it to look sharp and I remember working with him on the pin striping layouts. Amazingly enough, in his original email, he mentioned he recalled that and how I’d helped.

I wonder sometimes, about the universe and how things come to pass. Here I was, thinking about him and out of the blue, along comes that email.

I’ve been thinking all day about how many times in my life, that kind of thing has happened. Where I’ve been wishing for something, thinking about something, or in general, just had something in particular on my mind, and how often the next thing I knew, there it was, right in front of me.

Is it all just ‘Universal Coincidence’? Is it just the mere randomness and chaos of life coming together, on occasion, and looking like it’s something more?

I know, I’ve written about this before and pondered about how things seem to happen, just because, when you’re ready for them, and not because you’ve specifically done anything special to ‘make’ it happen.

Maybe I did something recently that charged up the karma wheel, or it’s all just random happenings… I really don’t know. What I do know is that I’m glad he sent that email, and we’re back in contact again!!

Tuesday, September 13, 2005

Mixed messages…

This afternoon, I got two emails back to back…

The first informed me that my project manager would like to talk with me (which probably means negotiate with me) for another 1 year contract.

The second, literally about a minute later, let’s all the team members I’ve been working with know that in October, November and December all the reports, downloads etc… have to be performed without my assistance. (Which would be normal procedure for the end of a contract period)…

Now some folks might think bad things when they see an email like that. They might think there’s an intention here to be certain the company can ‘get along’ without them.

I, on the other hand, am thinking she’s got some new project in mind, and wants to be sure I’m not going to be distracted by what should be a production process once the new contract period starts.

One of my colleagues tells me I’m crazy. I may be, but probably not about this. I’ve mentioned before that my project manager is a good manager, and she is. She’s far too good a manager to justify having me in the budget, just to baby-sit an existing process that should be 99% automatic month to month.

What do I think this next project might be? I don’t really know. Possibly convert all the string comparison work I did with Levinshtein, MetaPhone, NYSIIS and Jaro-Winkler into Java or COBOL, but that wouldn’t justify a 12 month gig.

My guess is that it’s something else, that I’m not even aware of yet. Then again, my friend could be right, I might just be crazy.

I should know more next week when she and I talk, I’ll certainly let you all know, when I do.

I’ve been working tonight on adding some SQL and a revised report to the project I did for that insurance company in Greensboro last year. I’ve been promising to ‘get to it’ for a while now, but due to the work load on the present contract, stuff around the house, and a compelling need to ‘relax’ lately I just haven’t gotten to it.

I’d forgotten how hard it is to shift from one development environment to another. If I’m going to continue to try and develop in both .Net and VFP (Visual FoxPro) I’m going to have to set aside a few hours every week to work in the environment I’m not working in the rest of the week. Development skills get rusty far too fast, or at least mine do.

That’s about it from here today, it’s been a long day and 4:30am comes pretty early. So far, Ophelia hasn’t created much of a stir this far inland. We had some strong breezes, and some light rain late this afternoon, but nothing much at all so far. I’m not anticipating much either. It appears to me that this storm will dump a lot of rain from Raleigh east, but points west of Raleigh won’t see much other than the occasional rain shower… I guess we’ll know by this time tomorrow.

Monday, September 12, 2005

A look back…

Today, I did something a little different (for me), I looked through the ‘tub’ of pictures Maryan and I have accumulated since we’ve been together. You know those ‘Rubbermaid’ tubs, the ones about 30 inches long, 18 inches wide and about as tall?

Well we have one of those tubs that and it’s just full of pictures. I’d forgotten we’d taken many of them, but each one took me back to that exact moment in time, and brought back the smiles and laughter we’ve shared over the past six years.

I started going though it to look for some pictures to scan to go with some posts I’ve been working on. But, like many things with me, the original goal got lost somewhere between our first Thanksgiving here, and the first snowfall. After that I was on a three or four hour trip through time.

I got reminded of how our place looked then, how it looks now, and the transition it’s been getting to “here”.

Also, I saw dozens of pictures of Maryan, her eyes bright, they used to actually ‘sparkle’ when the light hit them, I kid you not. It was one of the very first things I noticed about her when we met. They don’t sparkle as much these days. It’s not her fault, and I’m sure they’ll sparkle all the time again soon, but her struggles with back pain have really taken their toll on her.

I see glimmers of that sparkle all the time, and her smile is the same, when the pain is absent. Fortunately, since the surgery it’s gone for longer periods of time now, but it always seems to return, just as she’s beginning to ‘believe’ it could be gone for good.

I don’t know how she keeps from letting this drag her into a ‘funk’, but she hasn’t, today she wanted to go to the small local ‘market’ where we bought some fall Mum’s for the front steps. It’s a September tradition with us that got started when I surprised her with 5 or six plants while we were in the middle of our renovations here that first year.

Every year after that, she’s made a point of us going somewhere to get another group of plants. Then, after they’ve finished blooming, we go out, and plant them in one of the flower beds. Not all of them survive, but usually one or two do, for another season or two.

I saw pictures of our ‘landscape’ project that first fall, those plants looked so small and frail in the pictures, today, they’ve grown and are badly in need of a trim as I write this.

Our relationship has grown too. We’ve seen, and been through a lot the past six years. There were three surgeries for her, and two for me, a bundle of struggles with her kids, and family problems on my side as well. Between her surgeries and mine, we’ve not had time, health or money for one of our favorite pastimes, motorcycling. For both of us it’s an escape from the day to day and each of our trips was an adventure in and of itself.

I’ve discovered something along the way though. She is definitely a person I can just hang out with. We can be in the same room, yet not feel the need to be in constant conversation. Yet, when the mood strikes us, we can talk for hours and hours, about nothing in particular. We’re our own ‘best entertainment’. Not to mention she'll listen to my 'stories' no matter how many times I've told them before.

I nearly got lost in the pictures of our trip to the Rockies. Each of those pictures, while beautiful, didn’t come close to capturing the beauty of that place, or the great time she and I had ‘just exploring’ the area. We got so caught up in enjoying the scenery and discovering more places to be, we kept heading south, and before we knew it we’d ridden all the way to Taos, New Mexico.

That hadn’t been in our plan, we actually had to stop, buy a couple of maps and plot a route home it was so far off our original plan. But, if that hadn’t happened, we would have missed the sudden, and incredibly intense, summer storm in Guymon, Oklahoma where we ‘weathered’ the storm in a picnic shelter. The deer darting across the road in the fog about ten miles east of Taos, or any of a dozen other experiences we had on the ride home.

I found all the pictures from our wedding and subsequent bike trip. Maryan had them all organized, in photo pages, with a little story for each page and picture. Finding that, actually brought a tear to my eye, that she’d done that, and, when I went to tell her how nice it was, she’d actually forgotten she’d done it! I’m going to have to pick up a binder for those pages; they do not belong in that ‘tub’!!

I’m going to save further details, and the rest of the pictures for future posts. But, I want to leave you with this thought.

We often don’t know, at the moment, which moments are going to end up being the most treasured. (My thanks to Mitch’s wife Debbie for making that statement when we were up there visiting).

I have a ton of photo memories, but I have 1000 times that in mental memories that no ‘picture’ exists. If you haven’t already, buy an inexpensive digital camera, and take pictures!! I’m going to look into having all of these converted to digital images so I’ll have them and can store them somewhere they’ll never get lost, stolen or destroyed.

One other thing, I’m going to find a digital camera that will take a ‘panoramic’ mode picture. The one I currently have is great, but it’s missing that feature. If you like taking pictures of mountains, great vistas, etc… you’ll miss this if you’ve ever had it.

While Maryan’s recovery from her recent back surgery is foremost in both her, and my, mind at the moment, we couldn’t help thinking today, that despite the problems of the past six years, we’ve been truly blessed in having each other, and the wonderful adventures we’ve had.

Sunday, September 11, 2005


The road to achieving a dream can be less than clear.

After I wrote yesterday’s post, I started thinking about ‘why’ the writing dream has remained so elusive for me.

I think, I may have stumbled over what’s been holding me back. It has to do with the way I approach problems and the resultant solution(s). I use a method I call ‘divide and conquer’. In short it involves taking all the known components, breaking them into discrete little tasks, organizing them, and starting in on the entire project.

I’ve used it in nearly every single activity of my life; as far back as I can remember. It’s served me incredibly well in the software development arena, and in most of my other ‘careers’ as well.

This writing dream however is a bit more, let’s say “fuzzy”, though. The writing part seems simple enough, once I get an idea in my head; the words seem to come along fairly well. It’s the ‘what to do with the words’ part that I find so perplexing.

You see, in everything else I’ve done, I had an assigned task first, the resolution second, and the delivery (and the money) last. In writing, it appears you deliver first, and then have to locate a ‘market’ for the deliverable, and last (hopefully) receive payment for your efforts.

Getting these first two articles published was fairly easy. I simply contacted the editor directly (someone I met gave me her email address), she sent me the editorial calendar and suggested I write something that would tie in with the various themes. I wrote two articles, she accepted both of them. (Task, resolution, delivery)

That process fit in with everything I already knew.

This new process, well how to begin it, is far less than clear to me. Many publishers only accept certain genres of work, others will accept many types of writing, but how they decide what’s ‘marketable’ is very unclear. No one ‘needs’ a book, it’s a luxury, an entertainment product, something I have zero experience in understanding.

What separates the selected work, from all the rest? What sorts of writing is more likely to ‘catch the eye’ of a potential publisher? What kind of living can I realistically hope to earn as a writer (assuming of course someone actually buys something I’ve written)?

That’s a lot of unanswered questions for me. I’ve always answered all the questions first, acted second. I wonder now, should I just write what’s in my head and then, look for a publisher? Or, research the market, find a topic someone is paying for, that peaks my interest and write something to submit? Or, some other avenue I’ve not considered yet?

My personality (an ENTP for those of you familiar with such things) is one of wanting ‘data’, information (and too much is not enough) with which to make these sorts of decisions. I’m beginning to believe that my inability to act on this is rooted in the fact I can’t seem to gather enough of the right information.

It’s frustrating as well, I search, google, yahoo… whatever... and I find an overwhelming amount of information, none of it specific enough for me to act on.

So, I’m reaching out to you folks, my readers, for some answers.

You’ve read my stories, thoughts and ideas, and so on… where do you think I should go to find a market? Magazines you read, publishers you may know of that publish these sort of “life’s moment’s” compilations… Honestly, anything, anywhere, you think I could turn to find a place suited to my style.

I promise, I’ll run down every lead y’all give me, and let you know the results.

Thanks again for stopping by, feel free to leave me a comment, I really do enjoy knowing what you think!

Saturday, September 10, 2005


Sometimes I wonder where my get up and go, got up and went.

It seems like just a few short days ago I was feverously working on the truck project, anxiously anticipating the completion of one phase after another, pressing on despite the heat and any sort of aches, pains or tiredness.

Lately though, while I know I need to get back to it, I’m finding I have less, and less, extra energy for it.

I could blame it on the additional (household) work I’m doing while my wife continues to recover from her surgery. In all honesty though, it really hasn’t been that much ‘extra’ work. Sure I’m doing a little laundry, cleaning the litter boxes for the cats, some vacuuming and, on occasion, mopping a floor or two. None of this explains my absent energy levels.

I’m beginning to worry that I could be getting depressed, again. Last time I had absolutely no energy, nothing seemed interesting to me, and I’d be perfectly happy vegetating in front of the TV for hours. About the only difference now, is that I’m happy sitting here in front of this ‘tube’ for hours.

While I like my job, the current contract, the people at the job and generally everything about my ‘professional’ life, it just doesn’t have the same “zing” it had years ago. When I first started in the IT/IS business, I was 100% wrapped up in it. I literally ‘lived’ the job.

There was so much to learn, and I felt like I never had enough time to learn all I wanted to learn. I was like an old, dried out sponge being reintroduced to water. I sucked up everything in sight, couldn’t get enough. These days, I have to force myself to ‘hit the books’ and learn new things (computer-wise), the ‘old ways’ just feel so damn comfortable!

I think part of it is I’d like one more ‘career’ before I retire from full time employment, something decidedly less ‘techie’, yet somehow as cerebral. Writing is certainly something I’ve often wanted to do, and with my first two ‘opinion’ pieces being published this year, I’ve taken one small step in that direction. Making the step to sufficient gainful monetary reward from it is yet another matter indeed.

I’ve been like this most of my life. Forever moving from one new experience to another, as soon as the current one feels ‘old’ od stale. Most folks, who don’t know me well, think I’m somehow ‘talented’, when the hard truth of the matter is, I become incredibly bored.

Yes, there I’ve said it, programming, once a source of endless fascination for me, has become, at times, stale. Not because there aren’t new challenges, there are 100’s, 1000’s even, but because I no longer have doubts about my ability to meet the challenges. In the last 20+ years, I’ve been told on countless occasions that what I was promising to do, was not possible, or that I couldn’t deliver, on time, as promised. Not once, did I ever fail to meet the challenge.

I need a new challenge… something that will give me a little ‘fear’, make me sharp again... it’s been far too long since I smelled the fear of a new challenge, one I have no clue about how to achieve. There’s an adrenalin ‘rush’ that accompanies running headlong into a new arena, not knowing how the ‘game’ will turn out.

My choices are a bit limited these days. I’m not so young as I once was, corporate doors tend not to open quite so quickly for someone past 50 looking to ‘break into’ something new. It’s expected you see, that I should be happy, just doing what I do, and to coast the next 10 or 15 years into retirement.

I just don’t know as I can do that.

No, I know I can’t.

It’s the loss of the dream I think that’s bothering me most. You see I’ve always had some kind of seemingly ‘impossible dream’. A dream that was certainly achievable, to some folks, but one that felt nearly impossible, to me.

First it was the garage, I dreamed about that all through High School, and my time in the military, then, one day, there I was standing in front of my own shop.

Next it was going back to college and getting my degree. It certainly looked impossible at the onset. There was little money, and a ton of bills. Yet, once again, eventually, there I was walking across the stage and receiving a diploma.

My first full time job out of college was teaching at a post secondary school in Syracuse. The first semester I taught primarily introductory accounting, and one flowcharting and logic class. During that semester I became enamored with computers and set my sights on learning and teaching some programming classes.

The next thing I knew, I was the lead programming instructor at the new branch location.

However, by the time that came to pass, I’d set my sights on developing applications for these new “IBM PC’s” everyone was talking about. My first project was for a trucking company, in a programming language I’d never seen, or even read about. I delivered that project, on time, and on budget, and my new ‘consulting career’ was launched.

Soon I was developing applications for a broader market, expanding, ‘making a name’ for myself in the little world I lived in.

Yet, once again the dream had shifted. I wanted to be a ‘hired gun’, the guy who came into town to build the tough projects. Soon, I was doing just that, in Tennessee, Georgia, California and then North Carolina.

I settled in once I got here. All of a sudden I was making ‘contract’ money, on a steady job, with benefits… I thought I’d finally arrived. But soon, that same old ‘call’ was back, I was uneasy, restless, looking for another challenge.

It arrived in the way of a contract with USAir to link the call accounting systems in their reservation centers with the payroll system on their mainframes. I took a sabbatical from my ‘perfect job’, risking the loss of that steady deal, just to prove I could do it. I did, and went back to the ‘job’, for another 6 or 7 years.

The restlessness has been back for a while. I thought, at first, that contracting again would feed the hunger, ease the longing, and it did, for a while.

I’m even having some fairly good success at it, more than I expected, and everyone seems very happy with the quality, and quantity, of my work. Still, this feeling there’s something else I should be doing, that haunts me.

The worst thing is, there’s no ‘dream’ this time. No clear vision of what’s next on the horizon. It may just be that it’s missing that bothers me most. I don’t know, if having a dream, that’s always just a little out of reach, is a good, or a bad thing. I just know, it’s something that’s always been with me, as far back as I can remember.

It’s entirely possible I’m simply mourning the loss of an old ‘friend’, an ally that was always on my side. It could be that this is simply part of the process of life and it took me longer than most to stop dreaming about what’s next.

I’m not ready to stop dreaming.

I’m not ready to stop finding ways to make life, and living exciting and new, everyday.

For now, I’ll keep writing, it gives me a lot of pleasure to do it, it always has. Writing, for a living, is the one, long term dream I’ve had, I’ve never pursued. I hate rejection, and I know writing can be a life filled with rejections, which is probably the one reason I’ve never gone after it.

Writing, like every other dream I’ve gone after, is also something I can work towards without giving up my ‘day job’.

Maybe, just maybe, I’m already living my dream. I’m writing and you folks stop by and read it; all that’s missing is the ‘money’. Truthfully, money has never really motivated me to do anything; I’ve always done everything because I loved doing it. Money was always secondary to me (which explains why I’ve never made a ton of it), it was the ‘work’ that got me out of bed in the morning.

So here I sit, having come full circle. Feeling lost, directionless, when I sat down and now actually smiling in the realization that I’m doing, exactly, what I’ve always wanted to do.

Thank you all for making it so much fun for me to do it!

Friday, September 09, 2005

Enjoying the moment....

I was talking with my Mom yesterday, she’s been having some medical problems and I like to check in on her when I can. In the course of that conversation she said (as many older folks do) “I’m ready whenever my time comes, I’ve had a good life”. I shocked her a little when I said, “You know what Mom? Me too!”

She started telling me I was too young to feel that way… I stopped her and said… “Wait a minute… I said I was ‘ready’… I didn’t say I wanted to leave a minute before my time!”

We went on to have a conversation about enjoying each day. I reminded her (not that she really needed to be reminded) of my ‘close calls’ with death and said “Every day, since then has been a bonus, a gift, I hate to waste even a minute!”

But I did, for many years; I never took the time, to just enjoy the day.

So often we’re all wrapped up in what’s wrong with our lives that we forget all the things that are right. (or at least I was)

It’s not hard, in fact it’s all too easy, to get wrapped up in our problems. After all, it’s the problems that are demanding our attention. There’s a whole list in all of our daily lives:

  • dripping faucet
  • the leak in the roof
  • the lawn needs mowing
  • the car needs brakes
  • you're not making enough money
  • gas prices are too high
  • how are we going to pay the power bill
  • groceries cost how much!?!
  • the raise/promotion you didn’t get
  • A boss who doesn’t seem to understand you have a life, outside the office
Feel free to add your own items to the list as I’m sure you have at least this many. With all of these problems/issues nagging at us daily it’s no wonder we end up focused on them, instead of focusing on the more important aspect of our lives, (if you like being happy anyway) what’s right with it.

I hear folks say, “everything in my life is screwed up”… however, when I start asking a few simple questions, it turns out that not everything is a problem, but the problems are all they’re thinking about.
  • The first thing I often ask is how’s your health?
  • Are you eating 2-3 times a day?
  • You’ve still got your house right?
  • Your wife (or husband), y’all are still together?
  • Still got the car you bought last year?
  • How’s the job, you are still working right?
Well obviously not all of these apply to everyone, but I hope you’re getting the idea. In most cases, the person I’m talking with is answering positively to all of these questions, and they most certainly have good things going on in their lives.

Somehow though, all of that has been obscured, covered up, by the problems they’re experiencing and perceive as all important. The trick is to get out from under the cloud of the problems, realize that despite whatever might be going wrong, there’s generally a lot more going right, and find a way to keep that fact in the ‘front’ of your thoughts, and let the problems drift to the back.

One way I’ve found that works for me, is to put the problems (like the household repairs) on a list. That way every time I take more items off the list, than I put on, I feel better about everything. Even when I’m adding items to the list, the simple process of writing it down means I don’t have to think about it again until I’m ready to spend some time on resolving it.

In July of 2004, I got laid off, made a career change, parted ways… what ever you want to call it... It was an emotionally devastating event for me. I’d been thinking about making a change, I was totally unhappy where I was, wanted to do something else, hated going to work and was developing a fairly solid dislike for my employer… all very ‘unhappy’ making ingredients…. The one thing that kept me going was coming home each night and spending time with my wife.

No, we didn’t have perfect harmony, but even when we’re in the middle of a major disagreement, I still prefer her company to nearly anyone else’s. She’s almost always in my corner, supports every passion I have, and when I’m really down, she’s like a breath of fresh air for me.

When she wasn’t capable of dealing with my depression (and let’s face it, who wants to, or can, deal with it nearly everyday), I’d take the bike for a short 20-30 minute spin to clear my head and remind me “why” I work.

I work, for a living. I do not, any longer, live for work.

Even with both of us trying to pull me out of my funk… I wasn’t budging. I’d given over 10 hard, long years to the company, with a promise of “you’ll have a job until you want to retire” … and in the previous six months I’d seen all the same signs, pointed at me this time, that were there whenever this guy decided he no longer needed someone… I was feeling like a fool, I’d believed his promises… well, no, it was more like I wanted to believe and turned a blind eye to anything that didn’t fit my ‘picture’… The reality was so bad I could make it fit any more.

Despite all of that, when the time came for the formal parting of the ways, it was like being hit with a bat. I stayed pretty stoic in the actual meeting and managed to squeak out a few extra tidbits in the settlement package, but as I was walking for the door, the emotions began to hit.

It was the whole range too, in the less than 90 seconds it took to walk from the building I went from angry, to sad, to hurt, to fear, to anger again… On the drive home… the tears came… mostly tears of self pity... feeling sorry for myself that despite all the work, I’d been cast out anyway… I eventually gathered myself up enough to call my wife’s cell phone, as I really needed her to talk to when I got home, as luck would have it she was already home.

We spent all of 20 minutes after I got home discussing what a raw deal I’d gotten, and then began to look for a ‘bright side’. It didn’t take us long to find it. She refused to let me have any self pity. She reminded me of all the work, the nights, weekends, promises made to me and repeatedly broken… that this was meant to be… it was just another step in the road.

We talked about the debilitating effects of the two ruptured disc's in my neck, the pain, the surgeries, the long recovery periods... and how if this had to happen, at least we were past that period.

The brightest spot of all? It was that I’d never have to work there again, period. No more late night and weekend phone calls, calls disrupting our dinners, vacations and holidays.

We celebrated my ‘liberation’ that night by going out to our favorite restaurant for dinner, staying up late and sleeping in the next day. By that next afternoon though, I’d made some phone calls, and set up a small project in Greensboro that would start the following Monday.

I’ve been thinking about this a lot this week. You see there was a time in my life where all I was able to focus on was what was wrong. Never taking the time to enjoy the various things I’d accomplished, just moving it to the ‘done’ column and moving directly into the ‘next’ thing.

I was lamenting my fate one day to a fellow a bit older than I was then, and he said to me “but look at all you’ve accomplished”. That stopped me dead in my tracks, and actually caused me to ask him what he meant. He explained by listing off about a dozen things that he knew I’d done, and that had impressed him. I tried to play it off by saying “Anyone could have done those things”… to which he replied.. “But ‘anyone’ didn’t do them, 'you' did, you should be proud of the things you’ve done.”

Well, all these years later, I still remember that talk, and every time I start to thinking about what’s wrong, I hear his voice, and try to start thinking about what’s right.

For the record, there are plenty of things wrong in my life, an uncertain employment future, that leaky roof, most everything on the list and on and on... but, that’s just a part of life, there will always be things wrong, the challenge is, to keep them in perspective, especially when they’re screaming at you for attention.

The trick is, enjoy the day, it’s only here for a little while, and when it’s gone, it’s gone forever. Don’t waste your days being angry, depressed, or doing anything other than trying your best to enjoy every moment.

You’ll be glad you did!