Friday, December 30, 2005

Something a little different…

I sit here on this hillside, overlooking
the field below. The sword seems suddenly
very heavy in my hand. Sweat stings my eyes
and makes clear sight difficult, my body
still sore and tired from the fight.

The rising sun glints from the blade, at
times brilliantly, at others dulled
by the battle scars it carries. I find
myself thinking of the men, the battles,
the wars. How we too shine at times, yet
at others are seemingly dulled somehow
by our experiences.

Innocence lost, character built, friends
made and lost… it all blurs together
at times, the good mixing with the bad,
sadness outweighing happiness. I notice,
light being reflected off the scarred blade,
one scratch in particular, close to the hilt,
so bright I have to squint, even in
this early light.

Remembering now, the struggle, the sweat,
the tears… smiling softly at the memory,
that first battle, that first win… when
victory was still sweet on the lips.
Wondering how, through time and countless
struggles the wins and losses blend into
a continuum almost, much less sweet.

Rising, lifting my head to the sun,
now fully up and bright, my body aching
less for the warmth… What is the point
I ask… of all of this, when even the win
is no longer sweet? I know the answer,
though I’m tired and don’t want to
hear it, have it in my sight.

It’s the struggle after all, the battle,
the war, that is the point. Without it
there is no glory, no strength, no peace.
I wipe the blade clean once more, sliding
it back into the scabbard, it seems
lighter again somehow, as I'm turning
and walking from this place.

At the ridge, I look back into the valley…
smiling softly once more. I’ll be back
tomorrow and for all the days after,
until this body is no longer able to fight.
Not to do so would be the ultimate defeat,
the final loss, with the knowledge of
sweetness no more, that final plight.


I look at my life this way at times…. Like a warrior, weary from battle. Not everyday, but on some days for certain. The scars and scratches on my ‘blade’ sometimes catch the sunlight and reflect it as brilliantly as a diamond; from others the light seems almost absorbed somehow. It’s as if the mere memory of that struggle can pull all the life from the light.

It’s those brilliant memories we, or at least I, long for though. As if by amassing enough of them we can overpower those that threaten to dull our lives. We revel in the brilliant reflections, are warmed by their memory, emboldened by those successes.

In those periods between however, life can sometimes begin to feel pointless, dull, as if we’ve literally worn a groove into the earth by traveling the same piece of ground, time and time again. It’s then that the strength to press on, to continue the fight has to be found, as it often feels as though it has gone.

It isn’t gone though; it’s always there, even if out of sight, below the surface. When I have to look for it, I find it can be a slippery prey, often hard to find, even harder to grasp. It’s one of the wonders of life to me, that if you’re persistent, it will always come to you in the end.

Almost a Zen thing, in that the harder you search and grasp, the more difficult grabbing hold seems to be. Then, when you pause, nearly exhausted from the fight, it slips once more into your hand, feeling heavy, solid, yet light and powerful as well. Like a well made sword.

I don’t know how others find their strength, or even if they sense it as a material object as I often do. I do know they search for it, at times, I’ve witnessed the quest, seen the struggle and the discovery, so I know I’m not alone in this.

I’ve found it’s the battles in life that serve to define us; or me at least. The wins certainly, but, possibly more so the losses, wins are easy to assimilate, to be proud of, with losses that pride is often harder to find. It’s more important to find though, and once found, serves us well going forward.

Winning is not what matters, learning is what matters. We can learn far more from losses, than from wins. That over time, each loss can teach us how to win, even while, we’re still suffering from that loss. Learning what went wrong, how to be better prepared, faster, on our feet, of hand, of wit for the inevitable next time.

Thursday, December 29, 2005

A New Years Eve Fire…

Once again, this is a story from many years ago while I was active in the North Bay Fire Department.

I don’t really remember the year exactly, but I do remember it was New Years.

As was usual back then we were over at Larry and Jet’s house (Larry Flint, from my earlier stories) playing cards, having a few drinks and in general just relaxing and having one of those ‘good friends, good times’ evenings.

I remember the sound of the pager going off, and how it stopped time for a moment. How we all stopped, looked at one another, our wives knowing it would be another holiday evening without us, Larry and I knowing that this kind of call, with the Chief already on the radio calling for equipment was rarely good. Then an instant later Larry and I made for our vehicles, grabbing our gear on the way.

It was also usual back then that all of my gear was sitting next to his by the front door. You see, you wouldn’t want to have to run back home in case you needed it, so my gear traveled everywhere with me.

He and I slipped into our boots and bunkers, and hit the door carrying the rest of our gear. As I recall we jumped in his Datsun pickup and headed for the fire barn. It only took a couple of minutes from his house to the barn and shortly, as usual, we were standing on the apron waiting on a crew for the truck, which we’d already started and was warming up.

Several communications from the Chief (Gary Skinner) let us know the fire was around the corner from the fire house, he was getting the folks out of the house and needed us there, sooner, rather than later.

Once we had a crew, instead of turning left towards the fire, we turned right and headed 100 yards up the road to the ‘pond’. There, we dropped one end of a 5” line, or a portable hydrant as we sometimes called it, and proceeded to drop line all the way to the intersection.

As we pulled up on the scene, and Larry took control of the engine’s pump and hose system (as he was hands down the best pump operator we had back then) I busied myself with connections, hose lays and the like. As Gary and the first attack crew prepared to make entry into the house, I started towards the front porch steps intending to back them up.

As I was approaching the steps, I heard Larry yell something, I paused, looked back and he was pointing towards the eves of the roof… I looked up and could see a rhythmic ‘pulsing’ of smoke from the eves. Now, for those of you who don’t know, this is a very bad sign. It’s indicative of a structure deprived of oxygen that is beginning to try and suck air even from the higher parts of the building. It’s a potential disaster, a ‘flash-over’ waiting to happen.

As the crew opened the front door I could feel the air being drawn into the house, it was like a wind at my back. So could Gary, I heard him yell for everyone to “get down”, and I ducked up against the porch below the floor.

In an instant, there was a huge fireball blowing out over my head and reaching halfway to the street. I know, that in reality, it only lasted a second, maybe two at best, but it seemed, at that moment, to hang there forever.

When it retreated, my thoughts turned immediately to the team ‘on’ the porch and I began to climb up, as I did, Larry was right alongside me, and we both peeked over the rail and I heard Larry say “Everyone alright Chief?” . One by one they all sounded off that they were fine. Gary looked up at Larry and said “get me some water!”

With that the firefight was on. It was a long night, and we were fighting a losing battle. I tried to vent the roof, but it was so hot, and the structure so weakened, I couldn’t get the job done (well safely anyway).

In the end, we resulted to what’s sometimes referred to as a ‘surround and drown’, where all attention turns to containing the fire to the single structure and protecting the surrounding properties. We had lots of help from Cleveland, McConnellsville, and Gary even brought in a ‘ladder pipe’ from the Rome FD.

I still remember the sight of that truck, erecting the ladder, directing the nozzle, and the ‘deluge’ of water it dropped on that old house. The stream was so strong that in places it actually broke through the weakened roof, and finally we had the vent we’d wanted earlier. Once that happened, the steam conversion kicked in and within an hour or so, the fire was all but out and we’d begun to clean up.

The real story of the night though, came later, as we were sitting in the firehouse doing our usual ‘post-mortem’ on the fire and our efforts.

It seems Gary was the person who actually triggered the alarm. He was driving home from some get together he’d been to, and noticed what he thought initially was a chimney fire. After banging on the front door with no luck, he found the door was open and went inside.

The occupants of the home were all in a back part of the house, the kitchen I think he said, playing cards and having quite a bit of “New Years Cheer”. He said there were sparks flying out of the walls and ceilings, as well as from around the stovepipe as it entered the chimney.

However, the folks at the party were all having such a good time that they had neither noticed, nor did they seem to care. Gary said that it took him quite a while to convince them their house was on fire, and that initially they’d even wanted him to just leave! I remember he also said that what eventually finally convinced them of the problem was one of the other occupants coming down from the second floor and telling them the house was indeed on fire!

It seems that no one likes to be told they have to break up their New Year’s party!

I think this house fire stands out in my mind for several reasons. First, because it was a terrible fire and we lost the house, although we did prevent it from involving the adjacent homes. Second, that despite several opportunities for injury to our team(s), that no one was seriously injured fighting this fire. That like in many cases, the leadership we had in place then acted swiftly and decisively, and in doing so kept everyone safe. Third, because it was the last New Year’s we had with Larry and Jet. By the following year he’d become ill, and had left the area and Jet. I saw him only a couple of times after that before he died.

As always, recalling one of these stories makes me think of each of those firefighters, their efforts, and selflessness. That despite the hour, the weather, the personal sacrifice, they always showed up when the bell rang, that they always came with their ‘game on’; ready to do what had to be done.

I will be forever thankful I had the opportunity to know and work with people like this.

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Monday, December 26, 2005

Another Christmas Tale….

Writing up the previous post, had me thinking about Christmas’ past, and one in particular ended up stuck in my head, so, in an attempt to get it ‘unstuck’, I thought I’d tell you all about it.

This took place about 20 years ago. I had a fairly busy consulting company then and one of the products I’d had great success with was an Accounting system from a company called SBT. I’d written 100’s of customizations of the base package, and had it installed in all sorts of diverse businesses.

One of these was a place called “Onondaga Suburban Foods”.

It was not one of my ‘better’ clients, in that they were almost always ‘slow pay’, would find 1,001 excuses not to pay, but, in the end would always pay the bill. They were one of those customers you often wished you’d never agreed to take on, but, in the end found some redeeming quality that caused you to keep working with them.

This company’s sole redeeming quality, in my mind, was their accountant/bookkeeper/Finance manager. She worked as hard, or harder than anyone I’ve ever known. Gave up many nights and weekends for the company, not for herself, but usually so someone else didn’t have to do so. The owners were ‘old school’, in that they were very tough on their employees, always demanding and rarely if ever showing any real appreciation for their efforts.

‘Old School’, where the paycheck was all the thanks you were supposed to expect.

To set the story, it is Christmas Eve, Upstate NY, snowing heavily, stiff winds, and temps in the teens with near zero visibility at times. I’ve already had a long day of ‘on site’ work in and around Syracuse, it’s about 5:00pm and I’m finally headed home.

My car phone rings and I answer it, thinking it’s my wife wanting to know when to expect me, or to stop and pick up something on my way (no caller ID back then). Instead, it’s, let’s call her Tina, she’s still at work and has been trying to get the December accounting close done before she leaves for her first real vacation in years. From a conversation we’d had earlier in the week I know she’s going to Florida on the last flight out of Syracuse tonight, Christmas Eve.

She’s also in trouble. In the course of the close, there’d been a power outage, and as the owners had not felt the purchase of a UPS for each PC was important, her close had died along with the power. She’s got maybe four hours to get things right, or her vacation is history.

Despite my feelings about the company, I couldn’t just leave her in this predicament. I knew a decision to work Christmas Eve was not going to be well received, but, I also felt I had no other choice. I turned the car around, called home and broke the news, and headed to their office.

As I had about an hours worth of file restorations and configuration to do, I sent Tina home to pack while I was doing that. She returned about an hour later and waited patiently while I got everything back to where it was prior to her starting the close. She’d followed my instructions to the letter before beginning the process, and, as a result, we’d be able to restart the close as if nothing had happened.

Unfortunately, in those days, a December, and for them also a “Year End” close could take hours not minutes. We sat watching the process, and talking about her vacation. How she’d been planning it for over a year, that it was the first real vacation they’d allowed her to take in several years, how if it were not for me automating the Accounting System she’d not have been able to think about, let alone actually take this trip.

All the while it’s continuing to snow, get colder and the winds are and piling it up outside.

Eventually, around 9:30pm or so things with the system are beginning to wrap up, so I went outside and started the truck to let it warm up a bit before having to make the drive home. We wrapped up the close, put the reports on the owner’s desk and got everything ready for the folks when they returned from the holidays.

As we ventured outside, as I recall, the weather was so bad I drove her to the airport. I may not have, but that’s how I remember it.

I eventually got home at close to midnight, wrapped up my billings for the day, put everything in the mailbox, and went to bed.

The rest of the holiday was pretty uneventful. By that I mean I don’t remember anything particularly strange or ‘eventful’ about it. The fact of the matter is, I wouldn’t remember working that night either, if it weren’t for one thing.

When the bill arrived at Onondaga Suburban Foods, the owner’s son, David, called and essentially accused me of falsifying a bill to them. That there was no way I was there, working, on Christmas Eve, until nearly 10:00pm. We had a brief shouting match, during which, at some point I said “David, no on who owes me money, gets to yell at me” and hung up the phone.

Several, (now) humorous moments followed where he’d call back and tell me I couldn’t hang up on him, and I’d inform him that, telling me I couldn’t do something I’d already done, didn’t make much sense, and to show him how wrong he was, I’d then hang up again.

In the end, we agreed to just wait until Tina got back from vacation and let her either confirm, or deny, the fact that I had, in fact, been there and that the call was necessary, not merely some conspiratorial attempt by Tina and I to ‘fleece’ (his word) him.

In the end, as always, they paid the bill. The difference was that this time, and for every time after that, I got paid while I was there. If I didn’t get paid while I was there, I wouldn’t return, regardless of the reason, until the previous bill had been satisfied. In addition, I made it a requirement going forward that one of the owners sign a work order before I’d start on any project for their company.

I don’t know where Tina is these days, but I hope she’s retired and doing well. I know the company closed down, and several years later David tracked me down and tried to talk my wife into getting me on the phone with him (I was working out of state at that time), it seems he’d started another company and wanted me to write some software for it.

I eventually called him, and said “Thanks, but no thanks” as I was no longer doing that sort of thing. Even if I had still been doing exactly what I’d been doing, I would not have taken him on as a client again. Some clients are just not worth having, regardless of the revenue they might generate.

As with all things, this too taught me a lesson. Some of the most wonderful people in the world, work for some of the most abusive employers… that despite the best of intentions and efforts, they’ll still go not only unappreciated, but be surrounded by doubt and suspicion.

I do not know how to live like that, or how to build a team when you don’t trust the members. I’m thankful for the chance to work with Tina, as she was truly a wonderful person, and for the lesson in how to recognize a potentially disastrous client. This one experience let me make much better business decisions going forward. Not always perfect, but at least the troubles were different!!

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Sunday, December 25, 2005

My Crappy Christmas Eve….

Well, not ‘eve’ exactly but the day before Christmas anyway.

We had a plumbing ‘event’ on Saturday and not a pleasant one either. As we were going through the morning, there were clothes in the washer, chores being done, a little blogging… some TV watching… all in all things were going pretty well.

I’d slept in until about 8:00am, which is a big deal since I’m normally up between 4:30 and 5:00am with or without the alarm clock. This morning though as I started to rise Maryan said “Go back to bed there’s no need for you to get up.”… I did, and a wonderful extra few of hours of sleep it was.

I should have known on Friday something was wrong. As we were bringing in some groceries I noticed, and remarked on a damp spot…. Both Maryan and I both wondered what had caused it… a little ‘foreshadowing’ in my reality…

Then, as I went into the bathroom to brush my teeth I hear the toilet gurgling… Ominous, as years ago, when we first got this place, that was the sound of a blockage in the sewer lines… but we’d had that taken care of…. A little later, a toilet flush, followed by the always anxiety inducing... rising water level… that threatened, but did not overflow.

I finished getting dressed, went out, checked the “clean out” nearest the house.. and sure enough…. Christmas eve morning (about 11:00am) and I’ve got 200’ of backed up sewer line… Maryan and I talked about it… complained about it… thought of things like a weekend in a hotel, which we assumed would certainly been cheaper than holiday rates for a ‘Roto-rooter’ type service call…

In the end, I decided there was not much of an alternative… so I called a rental place… confirmed they were open and had the dreaded ‘Power Snake’ I’d need. In the course of the transaction the clerk mentioned, in almost a reflective tone, “I don’t think I’ve ever rented one of these on Christmas Eve before…”

I think I mumbled something about never even ‘thinking’ about renting one on Christmas Eve before… Shortly thereafter I was in the ‘yard’ loading the snake into the truck, getting some operating instructions (which were accompanied by some, I’m sure very funny, jokes about a ‘crappy’ Christmas) and heading back home to start my new “Christmas project”.

Let me tell you something about these power augers (Sewer Snakes)… they’re a killer to operate… first you’re not dealing with ‘pool water’, and they’re twisting and turning as you attempt to keep enough pressure on the line so it continues to move forward. The problem is, too much grip and your gloves will catch and begin to twist up in the snake, lose your focus, even for a moment and so will your jacket or any other piece of loose fitting clothing. Don’t make me tell you how I know!

After about an hour of wrestling with this beast, covered in sweat and lord knows what else, I’d run out of ‘snake’, I managed to feed all 100’ foot of it into the line. The good news was that I only had to haul it all back out of the sewer, and put it back in its ‘cage’… the bad news was, the line was still clogged!!

So, I did the next thing on my list, assuming now that I’d run far enough to have reached the ‘main’… which was to call the city sewer department. I also assumed we’d get a polite but disheartening “Closed for the Holiday” message considering it was now well into afternoon. Instead, our call was answered by the police department, who told us they’d get someone over ASAP.

I know what you’re thinking, and so was I, ASAP on Christmas Eve was likely to be Monday. In reality it turned out to be about 45 minutes. Really, in about 45 minutes, the amount of time it took me to pack up the snake and haul it back up the drive way, the truck showed up.

They checked the mains (which were clear), and then, out of the blue, the guy on the truck says, I’m about to give you a Christmas present. He proceeded to fix some sort of nozzle on the truck’s hose and feed it into my cleanout until he reached the clog. His partner turned up the motor and in about 30 seconds we heard an audible ‘pop’ and the sound of rushing water (a good sign at this point!!)…. He didn’t have to do that, in this town, like many others, the city only maintains the main lines. You, as the home owner are responsible for everything between the tap into that main, and your house.

So here we sit, on Christmas day… with clean running drains!! What started out looking like a holiday disaster, ended up being not such a big deal after all… we worked at it, refused to accept defeat and in the end got a favor from a couple of underpaid city employees who were working on Christmas Eve, and from what they’d said had been on the clock for about 20 hours in the past 36.

What started out feeling like a crappy Christmas… ended up with a feeling that there’s Christmas spirit everywhere, even where you least expect it… Maybe it’s because I’d tried to resolve the issue before I called, or the fact that we thanked them for coming out, or offered them coffee, or, maybe, just maybe these were a couple of guys who were thinking what this kind of problem would have done to their Holiday, and wanted to fix ours if they could.

Whatever the reason, it is acts like this that make this season one of my favorite times of the year.

I hope this finds you all well, with fully functional plumbing and a home filled with love and happiness.

Merry Christmas!!

Friday, December 23, 2005

The Holidays Are Officially Underway…

Companies are closing up shop; folks are swarming the malls, the internet and stores for last minute items. The grocery stores are filled with folks stocking up on food and snacks, and nearly everywhere folks are wishing each other a Merry Christmas, or a Happy Holidays. It really is a wonderful time of year.

Each year about this time I find myself wondering where all of this love, caring and generosity goes. Why do these same folks, who wish complete strangers a wonderful season, revert to their own ‘space’ and barely acknowledge the existence of the same people they wished a Merry Christmas?

I ponder at times how different the world would be if we just hung on to the spirit of Christmas all year. That we took time out to notice the world around us and made an effort to do something, for someone less fortunate than us, everyday.

Those thoughts then have me thinking what a wonderful upward spiral that would be. That all of next year, folks would be a wonderful as they are this year at Christmas, and than the cycle would be repeated, each year folks being better to one another than they were the year before.

Just about the time I begin to perfectly envision this ‘fantasy world’ something jolts me back to reality. Some over zealous shopper snatches a toy from the hands of another shopper. A person obviously in a far bigger hurry than me cuts me off in traffic, and I’m left wiping my morning coffee off the dashboard. Someone responds to my “Merry Christmas” with a sharply snapped one finger wave… I realize that not ‘everyone’ is truly in a good mood!

None of that can dampen my spirits this year though. I’ve got nothing but good things in my heart this year.

At this time last year I was recovering from the trauma of a recent career shift, and a fairly uncertain 2005. My wife was still recovering from a recent surgery and our lives were pretty ‘upside-down’.

Now, a year later, I’ve had one of the best years of my life, both professionally and personally.

My relationship with my wife is stronger and deeper than it’s ever been, partly because of what we’ve been through together, but, mostly because we’ve worked at making it that way.

From a professional standpoint I’ve done some of the best work of my career over the past 12 months, all with less stress and more support and appreciation than I’ve ever known.

Two of my good friends, who also went through a ‘career shift’ about the same time as I did, are both doing very well. They’ve both found good jobs, where their talents and efforts are appreciated, and are making more money as well!

Most of all though, my heart is filled with thanks for the fact that Mom is doing so well, she continues to improve each day and while she’s never going to be ‘20’ again, she’s certainly got a lot to look forward to as well.

I suppose I could focus on any of a hundred things that aren’t perfect, but, the truth is, life isn’t about it being perfect, it’s about what we make of it.

I find that it’s what I focus on that becomes my life.

If I focus on the good things, my life feels full and rich. If, on the other hand, I focus on all those things that aren’t right, it suddenly feels not quite so full and rich.

I know the difference because I’ve had both as the primary focus in my life at one time or another. Over time I’ve decided that I’m much happier, and far less stressed, when I focus on what’s right, and good, in my life. That, not letting the things I’d like to be better take center stage, helps me see ways to change them and make them better.

I don’t always succeed, in fact, at times I feel like I fail far more than not. It’s during those times that I remind myself that failure is simply a way of reminding me I’m taking enough risks. That a lack of failure in my life means I’m playing it safe, going for the ‘sure thing’, instead to stretching out and looking to push the envelope.

I’m not sure how much I’ll be around the blog over the weekend, so, before I go I want to wish all of you a very Merry Christmas!! I hope the season finds your heart, and your plate, full!!

Tuesday, December 20, 2005

A Bit Of Catching Up....

A New Project

I seem to always think I know more than I actually do.

Last week I got an email from my manager letting me know there was a new project on my plate and that I should call the contact person this week to get the details.

I’d talked to this particular person several times over the past few months about his needs with respect to a publication one of his teams is responsible for. I assumed that it was this project that had officially been moved to my plate.

Once again, I’d out smarted myself! The project in question had nothing to do with the other, and, is in fact, an entirely new project.

It has to do with generating statistics on the health of equipment. The data from sensors is collected and warehoused in databases, but, up until now, the statistics generation has been a manual process. I’ve been charged with developing an application that will automatically gather the data and generating the statistical reports according to the predefined schedule.

This is one of those “Christmas present” type assignments. I love statistics, well generating them anyway. It’s been part of my stock in trade for over a decade, and until recently one of my most underutilized skills. I’m going to enjoy automating this process!

After reading the 87 page ‘scope’ document I can see why they want this automated! I’ve got a meeting scheduled with the lead analyst on Thursday to nail down some initial details and data locations and it looks like I can begin on it next week while things are quiet between the holidays.


I know I promised a write up on the heart surgery my Mom had, but I failed to bring the pamphlet home with me, so, I’ll try to recall what it said.

In essence, the surgery is much like a ‘bypass’, they open up the whole chest, place the patient on the ‘heart-lung’ machine, cool the patient down, stop the heart and do the procedure.

In this case it involved opening up the heart, removing calcium deposits and replacing a valve. Due to the amount of removed tissue during the calcium removal, the Doctor opted for an artificial valve instead of the ‘tissue’ valve they’d originally wanted to use.

When the procedure is finished, they close the heart and begin to warm the patient back up.

During this warming procedure they’re waiting for the heart to restart, or to restart it. In my Mom’s case her heart restarted on its own.

All of this took place between 1:00 and 7:00pm on Tuesday.

By Wednesday evening, Thursday morning she was sitting in a chair and had taken her first post-surgical walk!!

Even after witnessing, not only her, but several other similar patients be up and around so quickly, this all seems fairly miraculous to me. I found myself thinking about the mid eighties when my Dad passed on, and how this was the stuff of science fiction then. Oh, there were heart procedures then, but no one was up and around in 24-36 hours!


Another thing, that really needs to be said here is, what a great man my Mom married!

Andy was a rock through all of this. He’s a pretty private guy, and not given to expansive displays of emotion. However I could see the emotion on his face when it became clear Mom was going to pull through, the relief, the love, the caring this man has for my Mom was very, very wonderful to see.

He was also great to watch as he worked around that Irish (meaning stubborn) streak my Mom is known for. Convincing her to try a little harder on the respiratory therapy, working with the nurse, and me to talk her into taking just a short walk, even though she was tired.

He was there, and has been there, for her through all of this, never thinking about anything but her well being. I’ve told him to his face, but I just want to put it in ‘print’…

He’s a good man! A man I’m very honored to have as part of our family.

He was not prepared to lose her now, any more than the rest of us were. I continue to be very thankful they managed to find one another, and that they’ve built a solid loving relationship.

It seems difficult these days, to see folks manage to find one good relationship and these two have each managed to find two!! There’s a lesson in there somewhere, while I work everyday on the my marriage, I hope one day I fully understand their secret!

Saturday, December 17, 2005

Well The Visit Is Over….

I had very mixed emotions last night as I had to say goodbye. It’s tough for me to have to leave with her still in the hospital. My Mom has always been a strong woman, spiritually, emotionally and physically… “good Irish stock” as she’d say.

Having to leave now, with her still so vulnerable simply goes against my grain. I don’t have much choice though. I’ve got to get back to the job, they’ve been understanding but the list of “todo’s” has been piling up all week, despite my efforts from the hotel room each night. There are just some things that work much better when I’m on-site, than when I’m not. Regardless, I still found myself overwhelmed with emotion, and fighting back tears as we said goodbye.

I know I should just be happy she’s doing so well, and that I was able to be here with her during this, but, I can’t help wishing I could just stay until she goes home. I know a return trip is in the cards for the near future.

This event has also re-doubled my resolve to build a client base I can service from anywhere in the world that has broadband access. I may not know ‘how’ I’m going to do that yet, but I definitely have the ‘what’ down pat!

As I’m closing this up, I want you all to know that I don’t discount anything. Prayers, thoughts, well wishes… I’m of the belief they’re all ‘heard’… and I know Mom would feel the same way. I’ve always admired the peace she found in her faith, you can literally see it in her face when she’s in church, or receiving a blessing from the priest in the hospital.

We’re about to hit the highway so I need to wrap this up. As I do, all of you are on my mind. I hope this finds you all well and thinking about your family. I may not always get along, or agree with, my family. I am however always thankful for them, especially at times like this as, for the most part, they put aside everything else and rally around the one in need.

Thanks again for your support, encouragement, thoughts, prayers and well wishes!!!

Friday, December 16, 2005

Mom Update #4

I continue to be amazed at her recovery.

Yesterday they had her up, walking and doing some arm and leg exercises. She's eating solid food, and they believe they'll be able to take her fully off oxygen before she goes home!

There's still a pretty good chance she'll need a pacemaker before she goes home as the surgery often damages some of the nerves that control the heart rhythm.

The Docs, nurses and respiratory folks have all expressed their surprise at not only how well she’s recovering, but at how quickly she’s responding as well.

This cardiac unit is a real active place. There hasn’t been a bed empty for more than a few hours all week. I’ve met the family of the guy that was the emergency that delayed my Mom’s surgery on Tuesday. According to them, the Doc told them had he gotten there even an hour later he would have died. We’ve also talked with the family of a local firefighter. He’s been in the OR three times this week, but as of last night he’s finally on the upswing.

The personal side of all of this has also been pretty amazing. All of the folks hanging out in the visitor center have taken time to listen to our stories, and to tell us theirs. Each day when we all arrive at 11:00am for the start of visiting hours it’s like we’ve been friends for years.

Another aspect of the process here at St. Elizabeth’s hospital, in the Cardiac Care Unit is that each patient gets a specific nurse assigned to them for the entire shift. There are other aides, professionals from other areas and so on who also care for the patient, but, that one nurse is the primary care giver, and everything goes through them.

Again, I can’t tell you how much each of your comments, well wishes, thought and prayers have meant. I’m truly honored to have folks like you as friends and readers!

Thursday, December 15, 2005

Mom Update #3

She continues to improve steadily.

They still had the heart catheter in as of last night, but inferred they should be taking it out last night or this morning.

I'm working on a post about this prcedure, as I'm still in amazement that it's possible, but, it will probably be next week before I post it.

Things here in NYS are still cold, single digits this morning. We've got a fairly major winter storm headed for the East Coast today, which means we'll probably head South on Saturday.

Once again, thank you all for your thoughts, prayers and well wishes!!

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

Mom update #2

Mom came through the surgery well. They had to make a couple of decisions once they were 'in there' that hadn't been expected, but overall the Doctor was pleased with how everything went.

She had a small amount of post-op bleeding, but, according to the nurse, nothing unusual.

They took the breathing tube out around 2:00am, after they had to re-sedate her as she was a little 'agitated' over it, again according to the nurse.

So, at this point it appears that it's "so far, so good".

She's still got an extended recovery period in front of her, another 8-12 days in the hospital, and a few months at home... but all in all, the outlook is pretty good.

As an aside, there was a 90 year old woman in the hospital here who had just had heart surgery as well... Despite my rantings about the medical community from time to time, I remain amazed at what the right people can accomplish with the technology we have today!

The procedure in and of itself is nothing short of "sci-fi" kind of stuff, in fact it was Sci-Fi a couple of decades ago!!

Once again, thanks to you all for your thoughts, prayers and well wishes... She's been a little amazed to know people she'd never met were thinking of her!

Sunday, December 11, 2005

One, Your’s or My…

Reality.… That’s the question I’ve been pondering today.

There have been recent advances in Quantum Physics that suggest, that what we perceive as reality, is, in fact just a collective perception that may bear no resemblance to what is in fact reality.

That the reality we see, the world, universe and so on is nothing more than the way our minds have processed the information our senses have relayed to it. That our brains, in giving us back our reality only use about 2,000 out of 20,000,000,000 bits of information. That leaves an awful lot of information unaccounted for. Actually not unaccounted for, as these same scientists say we’re storing it all, we’re just not using it all.

While all that is interesting, the most interesting thing to me is how our perceptions actually affect our lives, our bodies physiologically. One scientist has photographed water molecules after taping labels to the containers. Purportedly, the molecules changed shape due to the messages. I found that a bit of a stretch in that some of the other tests used what I’d consider subjective measures. Like classical vs. heavy metal music that were said to produce similar results.

I think it’s this (the water crystal experiment) type of pseudo science that can prevent us from seeing the possibilities that knowing our perceptions shape our realties presents.

Think for just a moment, about your life as it is, right now, today.

Then think for more than a moment on the types of thoughts that dominate your day.

Is your life, in line with those thoughts, or radically different than them? I’m guessing your life, like mine, is very much in line with the thoughts you have.

If your thoughts are in line with what you’re experiencing in life, are the thoughts a result of your life, or, is your life a result of your thoughts?

I say, it doesn’t matter.

If you agree, that having a bad day finds you thinking bad (or negative) thoughts, why then couldn’t it also be true that thinking good (or positive) thoughts couldn’t find you having a great day?

It’s a process, though, it doesn’t change over night. But it does change. You didn’t always have negative thoughts, or bad days. When we’re young, the world is an amazing place, full of wonder, new and exciting experiences. We were learning then, touching, smelling, tasting… almost everything that came close to us. We’d climb trees because we’d not yet taken a fall that stopped us yet. We were blissfully unaware of danger, and lived in a world without fear.

Over time though, we experience setbacks, injuries, broken hearts, fractured careers and on and on. We also experience many very good things, but, for some reason, for most of us, it’s those negative experiences that serve to shape our thinking.

I suppose it’s a good thing in many respects. Learning not to place our hands on a hot stove for example, is a good thing. Not living our dreams however, because we’re stuck on a less than stellar result 10 years, 5 weeks or 5 minutes ago, is not a good thing.

I’ve talked before about control, and how it’s an illusion at best. I’m here to tell you today, that for most of us, ‘positive thinking’ can be just as big an illusion as well. Often, we believe we’re thinking ‘positive’, when what’s really going on is that we’re thinking positively on the surface. Underneath, we’ve got all sorts of doubts, second thoughts and what I call “saboteurs” going on.

I’ve had a real ‘roller coaster’ of events over the past few weeks. There have been some real wonderful ‘ups’, and some very, very low, ‘downs’.

So I’ve been pondering… Pondering where some of this stuff is coming from, what’s brought this stuff my way. First, I have to take my Mom’s health out of the equation. That’s really happening to her, not me. My role is to show her love, and support, as she and Andy work through this.

Once I take that out, there have been an amazing series of events. Most I’ve told you about, some I can’t tell you about yet as they’re still in the discussion stages. One I will mention happened Friday night.

I got a call Friday night from a guy in Singapore. He’s gotten my name from a fellow I’d gotten an inquiry from on one of my websites (on Friday morning!). It turns out he’s looking for a few ‘mentors’. Seventeen people nationwide to be exact, each with the background and skills to teach young promising developers how to develop systems in Visual FoxPro.

The group he’s interested in me mentoring will be centered at Duke University, which is about 30 minutes from here, and in between my home and the project I’m working on.

That call was significant to me on two fronts. First, it was extremely flattering to be recommended for consideration. More importantly though, it’s what this guy is trying to do that really impressed me. He’s looking to build his own recruiting candidates, versed in Visual FoxPro, mentored (in his words) by some of the best in the country to fill his company’s need for qualified developers.

Visual FoxPro (or more specifically FoxPro) was once the predominant database development environment for PC’s. It’s been sliding from the perch since Microsoft bought the company in the early 90’s. The developer community, for the most part, will tell you its all Microsoft’s fault. I’ve been saying for years, to anyone who would listen, that it’s up to us, the developers, to be the evangelists the product needs.

So here, on the phone, Friday night, from halfway around the world is a guy who’s trying to do just that. Sure, he’s got a personal, profit based, motive, but so does anyone who considers themselves a FoxPro developer.

So, the question I’m pondering is, “what are the odds this guy would find me?” I’m a relatively obscure developer; he’d never read this blog or been to my websites before talking to the fellow who referred me. Sure, there was a time when I was ‘fab’, but as I’ve chronicled here before, that was over a decade ago.

Was it my unfailing belief that Visual FoxPro (or VFP as many call it) remains the single most flexible development environment? My perception that nothing I’ve seen or worked with is better? The reality I envision where VFP makes a stellar comeback in spite of Microsoft’s reluctance to give it the same kind of push it gives .Net?

I don’t really have an answer to all of that. I choose to believe though, that it’s this kind of thinking that brings many things to my plate that I would otherwise normally never see. So, once again I’m going to warn you, be careful what you wish for, you might just get it!

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Saturday, December 10, 2005

A quick update….

Mom’s scheduled for surgery on Tuesday. I’ll be headed up there at some point on Monday after I get the last publication done at work.

I’m afraid I’m not handling all of this very well. I swing from “everything will be fine” to “what if it isn’t?” kind of thoughts. I know it’s all pretty normal in a situation like this, but it really makes me wish I were closer as she’s going to need a lot of care after she comes home.

I want to thank you all for your thoughts and prayers.. they mean a lot.

I know this is going to leave a lot of items ‘up in the air’ around here professionally, but hey, I can always get more work. You only get one Mom.

I’ll do my best to update everyone on what’s happening, but I’m not sure what kind of web access I’ll have while I’m there. I’ll figure something out, I always do!

I'm working on another post for today, but, I wanted to give you all an update. It's strange isn't it? The way we all become close out here in 'blog-land'? I feel like I know each one of you, and often wish we lived close to one another so we could get together and talk over coffee. I truly appreciate all the thoughts and prayers, it means a lot, it really it does!

Thursday, December 08, 2005

Good News, Bad News…

Did you ever notice, you get that ‘kiss/kick’ treatment from life, that you’ll get really good news, either right before, or right after really bad news?

It seems to happen to me on a fairly regular basis.

Let’s take Tuesday for example.

I worked from home on Tuesday, or “TeleCommuted” to use the popular term. I was having a very productive morning (which serves to put me in a good mood) when I got an email from my project manager telling my contract has been renewed through June of 2006, and that renewal through December of 2006 is a near certainty.

My day was just getting better by the minute!

The next email was from my sister Kathy, and it let all the wind out of my sails the instant I read it.

Mom was taken to the Hospital again early Tuesday morning. Once again in heart distress, once again with fluid build up in her lungs and placing pressure on her heart.

While I wanted to celebrate the contract renewal, and be happy, it was just not possible with her on my mind, the way she was, all day.

The folks at work have been great though. The next two weeks are ‘crunch time’ as the annual reissues of all of the publications I work with are due. When I told my project manager about my Mom, and assured her I’d find a way to get the reissues done, even if I had to do them remotely, she said, and I quote: “Family comes first, the reissues can wait if they need to.”

I can not recall a time when I’ve had a better manager to work for, or a better company overall.

That doesn’t change the fact that I’m not sure what to do about Mom, she doesn’t seem to think me being there is all that important, Andy and my sister think there’s not much I could really be doing anyway. I know I’d ‘feel’ better if I was there, but, I also know I’d ‘hover’ and she probably needs to rest without me ‘hovering’.

I’ve got someone who’s able to check out the credentials of her Doctors, I call her everyday, and talk with Kathy or Andy everyday… If she gets at all worse, I know I’ll head up there, but, for now, as long as she continues to get good care, and is improving, I’ll hold off “pointing the car North”.

Then Tuesday night I had a great chat with my friend and business associate Rick. We’ve sketched out our ‘game plan’ for the website(s) revamp, and moving to data driven web publishing, as opposed to static web pages.

Interestingly, a true ‘dynamic’ site, does not get properly searched and indexed by the search engine (Google, Yahoo etc..) crawlers. Our idea will keep the site constantly updated, all the pages refreshed and the ‘last changed’ date as current as the last page view.

I’ve got another “web guy” I know in England who has offered to help with the layout(s) and testing, in return for some help I’ve given him, which is way cool as I like what work of his I have seen, and our conversations about the direction of web development are definitely in line.

Rick brings ‘big site’ experience to the table, as he’s on the design/development team for a large online retailer. Me, well my main claim to fame has always been data, storing it, retrieving it and making sense of it.

Between the three of us, I’ve got high hopes for what we can accomplish.

On Wednesday I got a call about two, potentially very big projects that fall right in line with the talk Rick and I had on Tuesday night. The universe giving me a kiss again, the kick came when I got home and called the hospital, they’re doing that cardiac cath on Thursday. The cardiologist decided that something is going on, and he’s not willing to “not know exactly what” any longer.

I suppose it’s a good thing, I had one 6 years ago, and it was a fairly simple (from my end) procedure, no pain, and fairly interesting to watch on the monitor. I’m just worried that this is more serious than any of us has been willing to accept up until now.

Despite being excited though, about the professional possibilities, it’s all being run through the “crisis” filter, and will continue to be, until Mom’s out of the woods and gets a clean bill of health! I do wonder sometimes if it’s just me, or does this kind of ‘kick/kiss’ thing happen to everyone?

Just when I thought the cycle might be over, I had one more of those ‘kick/kiss’ days today.

Today was the start of the annual reissue of the industry publications I’m in charge of producing. Now, I’m not the only person involved, but the application I’ve been working on produces the documents that go to the printers and become the books.

Last year it took us about three days to get through the process. Today, it took about 4 hours, from start to initial approval. Definitely the shortest amount of time they’d ever been produced in. So, from a professional standpoint, I was feeling pretty good at the end of the day.

When I got home tonight, I called the hospital to check on Mom; see how the cardiac cath went, what the findings were and how she’s doing. She came through the procedure very well, but, they discovered that her mitral valve is leaking very badly and they’re talking about replacing it. That’s open heart surgery, and I’m not sure how I’m handling that news.

On one hand 30 or 40 years ago, they probably wouldn’t have even been able to attempt it so I’m happy there’s something they can do, on the other, I’m just very worried about her. I guess we’re never to old to worry about ‘Mom’.

If it happens to you, is it a rare thing, or what happens most often?

I usually get the kick first… as in “you’re no longer needed on this project” … which is then (thankfully) usually followed by a call where I’m asked “Would you be interested in a project that…” … Kick/kiss… this was a little different, for me anyway where I got the kiss first, (contract extension) then the kick (Mom’s in the hospital), then as a little added bonus another little kiss (Rick and I being in agreement on our direction)….another kick, Mom needing the cardiac cath… a kiss with the two project leads… another kiss when the reissue ran flawlessly… and a big kick finding out she’s going to need surgery….

I guess if I was to put on my ‘Zen’ hat I’d have to say that Mom “only” being in the hospital wasn’t a kick at all, but a kiss as it certainly could have been worse.

So tell me, what do you think? Kick or Kiss? Does this happen to you…

Oh.. and before I forget it… there will be another code post, probably either tomorrow or Saturday… You’ve been warned!

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Monday, December 05, 2005

While I’m thinking about Christmas…

I finished putting all the outdoor lights up, only to realize I need “one more” extension cord than I have. Well, I have more extension cords, but they’re all 25 and fifty footers… and I need one about 10 to 15 feet and intended for extended outdoor use.

It’s funny though, the memories that flow through your mind while you’re doing something like this. Well my mind anyway.

I got to thinking about when we were kids (there were seven of us in all), living the house on Newton Street in Ilion, and how decorating for the holidays was a family thing. How the trees and the lights we had for the holidays changed over the years.

I remember the early Christmas’s when we’d have a short needled pine, maybe a fir or a spruce. Then came the Aluminum trees, no lights on those, it would have been more than a little dangerous considering how well Aluminum conducts electricity. No, in those years we had this four color disk, that mounted to a fixture with a flood lamp and a motor the rotated the disk. The tree would shift from blue, to red, to green and I think an orange or yellow. They were all the rage then, everyone who had one, had it in the front window so folks passing by could see it change color. They all vanished after a couple of years, thankfully, although I here they are “in” again… retro ya know.

Then we were back to real trees, ‘Scotch pines’ as I recall. They are, as I was told at the tree yard this year, a “Yankee” tree. The lights were fairly large then, although smaller than the outdoor bulbs, and got very hot to the touch. So much so, that the tree in our house would be lit, sometime after supper, and was only left on for a couple of hours at the most.

A few years later and Mom and Dad had moved on to artificial trees. Dad always claimed it was because over time it saved money, but, I think the real deal was that they were more worried about a fire than the price of the tree. I recall he even went as far as to get a can of “Real Pine Scent” to spray on the tree each year so the house would have that fresh pine tree smell, or so the can said.

Outside, in our neighborhood, and all around our small town, folks would put up lights, Santa’s, Snowmen, Candy canes, Nativity scenes and so on. When I see depictions on TV these days of the holiday season, where the streets are snow covered and there’s a blanket of snow on everything, with each building having its own special lighting touch… it reminds me of those times.

I don’t know, if my siblings remember it that way, but I do. If they’re still drifting in here from time to time, I’d like them to chime in as well.

A Christmas that was not “white” there, was as rare as a White Christmas is here in North Carolina. So it’s not quite the ‘holidays’ for me, without the snow, although I do appreciate the balmy sixty degree temps of the past couple of days while I was outside working on the lights.

After I’d purchased my first home, I noticed that the previous owner had actually wired the Christmas lights into the house wiring, and they could be turned on by simply flicking a switch inside the house. It wasn’t until several years later that I once again was outside, in the late fall cold (temperatures in North Bay, NY this time of the year often don’t reach 40 during the day) and sometimes snow, putting up the lights. I remember thinking that he was a very smart man. Then again, when I asked him where he’d ever found the time to rake the large lawn, he just smiled at me and said: “Bill, I clean up my own messes, God put that there, not me”

I thought each year, about leaving them up, as the previous owners had, but again, it helped me get into the holiday spirit to go through the process. Somewhere along the line though, I just stopped doing it at all. Always had a tree, and indoor decorations, but not much at all outside.

I don’t remember the exact year; it might have been the mid-seventies when we made the switch from the old, large outdoor bulbs to the new, smaller “mini-lights”. One thing I do remember is how bad the original mini lights worked… if one bulb burned out, the whole string would go out (those old large bulb strings never did that!). I also recall thinking it was easier to simply replace the string than to test a couple of hundred bulbs looking for the ‘dead’ one. Fortunately, today, that problem has been long resolved.

I do remain mystified however, how a string of lights, that worked last year, suddenly ceases to function when you take it out of storage this year. It’s like there’s some built in, timed obsolescence feature or something. The third year they’re energized... they just quit working. Oh, I know, I could test bulbs, take apart the plug ends looking for those little inline fuses and test those…. But the truth is, these little sets are so inexpensive these days, it hardly seems worth the effort over a couple of dollars.

I also tend to start to get carried away as I’m putting up the lights too… I start envisioning a snowman on the roof, big candy canes by the front door, fake present boxes complete with lit edges under the cedar trees…. And on and on…

Slowly, as I start thinking about what I’ll do with it all after the holidays, where will I store all the stuff, I realize I’m happy with the just the lights…. But then again… there was this one item… and I do need that extra cord…. Hmmmmmmmmmmmm.

Well, I got the cord, and this nifty photosensitive timer to automatically turn the lights on, I got it all wrapped up before dark, and the rain set in and waited patiently for nightfall and our first ‘lighting’. Everything went like clockwork, it got dark, the lights came on, and all was right with the world.

A little while later though, Maryan commented, “I didn’t know you intended to put a flasher on the outdoor lights” … Now she knows I wouldn’t do that, I don’t like those flashing light strings, never have… so I walked to the front window to see what was going on.

There it was, she was right, the entire lighting project was flashing… randomly even… but flashing just the same. Now the funny thing is, I’d had them all on this timer, in the ‘on’ position for a couple of hours and they’d never flashed once.

Eventually, I decided that it had to do with the photo eye, and that it was having trouble settling on ‘light or dark’. So today, with the outside temperatures in the mid 30’s, and a hard rain, I went back to the store, picked up a nifty old fashioned (retro) mechanical timer, and everything is working just fine tonight.

Maybe there was a reason I wasn’t putting the lights up in previous years… besides the “waiting for the landscape to fill in” excuse I was using… maybe, my subconscious remembered all of this stuff!

Naaaa… it was fun, despite the obstacles in the way… and I’m very happy with how it all looks, not too much, but festive all the same!

So what about the rest of you? Got your lights up? How’s the shopping coming along? Have I inspired you to get into the spirit yet??

Cold weather settling in here for the next 5 days or so, we had thunder here last week, if the old timers tale is true, we should see at least a little snow this week.

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Sunday, December 04, 2005

What is the magic of Christmas?

This is the third atricle of mine that Alamance Magazine has published. I've told all of you each time they've accepted one of my submissions, and as promised, once the magazine hits the street, I also post it here

I remember Christmas as a child as a time of the year when dreams came true. I’d be on my best behavior, in hopes that Santa would bring me that special toy I’d been dreaming of, hoping for. More often than not, he did!

I have fond memories of spending hours looking through the “Toy catalog” my parents had every year, picking out that one ‘perfect’ new toy from its pages, carefully crafting a letter to Santa, with hopes, hopes only a child can have, of seeing it under the tree on Christmas morning.

Later in my teen years Christmas lost a lot of its shine for me. I worked in a retail store, and frankly, by Christmas I was tired. I was tired of restocking shelves with toys, gift wrap, and decorations and of increasingly irritable customers. Most years, by the time Christmas finally arrived, I was simply happy to have the day off.

That lost holiday spirit stayed with me for many years, I’d almost dread the arrival of the holidays, the rush, the crowds, I tried, but I just couldn’t seem to get the ‘spirit’ of the holiday back.

These days, I actually look forward to the holidays and I want to tell you why.

I’ve actually found the joy, the magic, in giving, giving, without knowing who the actual recipient is, just the simple act of giving something, to someone else.

You see I feel fortunate. I may not have a lot of money, or the biggest house on the block, but I feel that my life is rich in many ways, and at Christmas I’ve found a real joy in doing something, anything, to maybe make someone else’s life, just a little better.

I used to think, that I didn’t have enough money, to actually make a difference. The truth is, it doesn’t take money, all it takes a desire to do something for someone else, just because you can.

So, each year now, during the holidays, my wife and I find ways to share what we have with others. We’ll pick up an extra gift while shopping and drop it off at the Salvation Army, drop some money in their kettle each time we see one.

Some years we adopt a Christmas Cheer family, a family from the Salvation Army “Angel Tree” (or two), and shop for them, knowing that on Christmas morning some little kid will be wide eyed and happy Santa remembered them this year. While I’ve never met a parent in any of these families, I know in my heart that their faith in others has to be restored, just a little, as they watch those kids open presents.

In years where money has been tight, and work wasn’t easy to find, I’ve volunteered my time at various shelters, soup kitchens and rescue missions. If you want to feel really fortunate in life, you only have to spend a little time with those who are truly having problems to realize you don’t have any at all.

There’s something universal in the human experience of helping another person. It leaves us with a sense of accomplishment, a sense of the frailty of life and good times, and of how we all, really are interconnected.

This year, more than ever, our local charities are going to need your help. Their funds have been drawn down by the series of natural disasters we’ve experienced and the immediate job of helping all of those affected by them.

I fear that the amount of money left over to brighten children’s eyes this year, may be far too small to meet the need.

The magic in Christmas really is in the giving, it’s the reason parents delight in watching their children open their presents, and why they wish the kids could believe in Santa just one more year. When those children believe Santa brought them their presents, parents know the joy of giving, without the recipient knowing who really gave to them.

So, if Christmas has felt less than magical for you in the past, or if you already know the magic of giving, take a couple of seconds this year, do something, for someone you may never see, and feel the joy of giving like you may never have felt it before.

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Saturday, December 03, 2005

Sometimes a little fame goes a long way….

As you all know, my wife’s been having a tough time health-wise, over the past 18, maybe 24, months or so. As you might imagine, even with medical insurance we’ve managed to rack up a number of charges at the local hospital during all of this. Like most folks, we’re paying on them (as quickly as we can), by sending in our payment each month.

Well, we got a little early “Christmas bonus” in the mail this week; the hospital was offering 25% off on any bills you could completely pay off between now and the end of the year. Unlike some hospitals, ours keeps the charges for each procedure as a separate account instead of one big one, so this was a very nice surprise, and a chance to save some money!

So we went over our finances, looked at what we thought our tax liability is going to be this year, and decided to pay off what we could afford to pay off.

Friday morning, while I was working on yet another round of adjusted SQL code, she went over to the hospital’s AR department to settle up those accounts we’d identified. While she was waiting, there in the lobby, on a table was the October issue of Alamance Magazine, complete with my article on the hospital.

Maryan asked the receptionist if she’d read the magazine yet (she hadn’t), and proceeded to tell her that I had written an article about the hospital, and it was in that issue.

From that moment on she said she felt like a celebrity… everyone from the office was coming over to her, introducing themselves and telling her that the article was the ‘buzz’ all over the hospital, or pointing towards her and saying something to the effect of “that’s the wife of the man who wrote that article about the hospital”. They even told her the manager was going to be disappointed that he’d not been able to meet her.

No, she didn’t get any additional discounts, but she left feeling like much more than a number on a page, and that’s not a bad thing. I never really thought much about the article when I wrote it (if you missed it, it’s here). Like most things I write, it was just what was on my mind, and a fairly honest recap of our experiences with the people, and the facility. It truly brought a smile to my face, knowing it had been so well received by those same folks!

I know I’m not *really famous, but it made her day, and with all she’s been dealing with everyday, this was a very nice surprise.

Friday afternoon I went, once again to the client site in Greensboro. Finished? Nope… Seems we’ve found yet one more little ‘tweak’ I’ll need to do to completely segregate the inbound calls from the outbound calls, and still be able to build another data set with both inbound and outbound calls.

This is where that ‘sub-query’ I was talking about yesterday would, not only come in handy, it would also give the application a performance boost. One trip to the server for all the calls, and one sub-query for inbound, and another for outbound with no additional trips to the server. Anyway….

When I got home, Maryan told me she couldn’t believe what a response that article got. The folks were even suggesting that I should write another on the orthopedic department, as they’re rated number 10 in the nation. (Actually a pretty impressive statistic considering Burlington is a small city of about 50,000). It was nice to see the smile this small bit of ‘fame’ brought her, hey, if me writing articles puts a smile on her face, I guess I’ll keep writing!

Saturday is ‘Trimming’ and ‘Turkey soup’ day at our house. For the first time this year (because of the outlets I put in last month) we’re actually going to put up outside lights. We had them up at the house we rented before we bought this place, but we’ve not done exterior lights here before.

Maryan has already got the new mantle trimmed, along with a lot of the rest of the house. She really turns this place into our own little ‘North Pole’. I’ll get the stock pot set up this morning and then set the tree up while I’m waiting for that to come to a boil. Once the stock has begun to boil I’ll turn it down to a simmer, and let it cook all day, seven or eight hours at least.

While Maryan is trimming the tree, I’ll be outside putting up the lights. I was looking over the front of the house on my way in tonight. It’s amazing to me how all the ‘little’ landscape plants we put in just a few years ago have matured and ‘filled-in’, it actually looks like they’ve been there much longer than they have.

Primarily due to her care and feeding of them I’m sure, if it had been up to me alone, they probably would have all died! You see I have this silly idea that they’re plants, and they got along just fine without us humans for hundreds of thousands of years…

How well these plants are doing though… just points out that they sure did better with her care!

I’m off to do the holiday trimming. It looks like I’ll be building more SQL either later today, or tomorrow, so I can send the beta version to the client for testing before Monday morning.

Got holiday related plans this weekend? Do you put up outside lights? It seems like fewer and fewer homes are decorated outside these days… I know I miss the days when virtually every house was all lit up during the holidays.

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Friday, December 02, 2005

Speaking of work…

It’s time for a little ‘Code Talk’ again, maybe I should say “rant”, before I settle in to a more festive mood as we head towards the holidays.

It’s Visual Studio.Net (or DotNet, as we call it) and specifically VB.Net that’s got me thinking at the moment. More to the point, making complicated SQL calls, from VB.Net to SQL server for example.

Those of you who are also programmers know that we ‘coders’ tend to adopt a particular style and when we’re forced to deviate from that style can have trouble reading even our own code

I am currently making some changes to the Cisco Call Reporting Application I wrote. The changes are intended to more accurately extract Inbound and OutBound calls. It involves several tables, across a couple of databases. (as well as the fact that the Cisco Inbound/Outbound indicator is NOT a reliable indicator!!)

One of the remaining issues (as I see it) in truly opening up the vistas between disparate data sources and any particular language, is letting the compiler handle some of the translations in the background. It would make the process faster and allow the code to be far more readable.

If a person attempting to work with this application down the line, is not a fairly good SQL programmer, but an excellent VB programmer, they may have some trouble following some of the syntax in the SQL statements.

I’d much prefer to be able to establish a remote view into the database, and then treat it as though the data in the view is native to the language/environment. Barring that, the ability to query a dataset that’s been extracted from the SQL server would allow, again a more native approach. One other approach would to provide a mechanism for actually executing a stored procedure, locally, and have the resulting data returned to the application.

Since none of those methods are available, we’re relegated to constructing long strings often concatenated with embedded parameters that construct a final, preformatted, acceptable SQL statement. I remember quite fondly when the bookshelf nearest my keyboard would contain one or two reference books. Today, it’s three shelves, and a small stack on the desk of those I use most frequently.

I write code, in three separate languages and utilize at least three different application interfaces, everyday, and have for close to twenty years. You’d think, that after all this time, and all the ‘improvements’ that have been made along the way, it would have become simpler somehow. It hasn’t, in fact the opposite has occurred.

We have environments so complex, languages so rich in features, properties, methods, classes, overloads, etc… etc… that every programmer has 5 to 10 foot of shelving dedicated to reference materials… and they’re all ‘dogeared’ from frequent (often daily) use.

DotNet, when it slide into the limelight in 2002, was purported to be the ultimate environment, that code from many languages could be integrated, merged and seamlessly tied into an application. Well that hasn’t happened (in my opinion) on a practical scale. Yes, it can be done, but it’s not exactly smooth, or seamless.

Visual Studio.Net 2005 has just been released, I’ve not yet had a chance to dive into it, but, I can assure you, the first thing I’m going to do is look for the ability to ‘sub query’ a local dataset!!

Anyone else have thoughts on Dotnet? If so, what’s your biggest beef? What do you like most about it? What’s highest on your wish list? Have you seen VS.Net 2005? Is that item you want in there?

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