Tuesday, July 31, 2007

What do you love to get paid to do?

I’ve found at least three things. Only one though that paid what I thought the job was actually worth.

Fixing, building, welding and/or painting vehicles was definitely the first thing I loved getting paid to do. . . and I did that with great enthusiasm until about 1979. I loved (and still do) the way a project car just 'comes to life' as the last nuts and bolts are tightend.

After that I found I loved getting paid to teach, and it really didn’t matter what the subject was, what mattered was seeing that ‘light’ go off in a students head. . . and knowing I got paid, was earning a living, to get the joy and satisfaction of seeing that happen.

While I loved both of those jobs, neither paid close to what I felt the skills were worth.

My teaching career lasted until 1985, when with the computer business booming, I got hired to bring my computer skills (I'd become quite interested in all thing computer while teaching) to teaching customers how to use computers, and more specifically to use things like WordStar, Lotus 123, Wordperfect and dBaseII. . . That very quickly morphed into building systems, from simple Lotus 'macros' to full on accounting applications.

For the next 20+ years I’ve loved the work of being in the computer business. I’ve been in, and out of virtually every aspect of it. Most of the things I got involved in however were simply to help me keep doing the one thing I really loved, designing, and then building, business software applications.

From the moment I delivered that first business system to Bill Beck, my future was cast. That look of surprise on the office manager’s face, the smile on Bill’s face, told me all I needed to know. This was not only something I was good at, enjoyed doing and found challenging, it was also something that paid pretty well, and that customers were (almost) happy to pay for.

This was not a ‘luxury’ like a custom paint job, these were mission critical business tools. Not only were they less likely to be ‘cut’ if times were a bit lean, there was actually a real possibility projects like theses would be stepped up to build competitive advantage in lean times.

So what made it ‘Ok’ with me, made it seem reasonable to alter this seemingly wonderful career path I’ve been on?

I think there are a lot of small, yet contributing, reasons, but, the one that keeps coming back to me is the ‘design’ aspect of development.

It’s always been the design piece I really loved, building something in my mind, writing it up, drawing it out and conveying that dream to someone else as we set about to build it.

So, today, in my new role as a business analyst, drawing up those business needs, drafting that requirements document, and then conveying not only the words but the spirit’ of those words to a development team *is* my job. I’m responsible for seeing that the application becomes a useful tool, ties into the overall vision of related applications, and the over all business plans of the company. All of this while still meeting the very real business needs of an entire industry. . .

Pretty cool stuff the more I think about it.

The more I think about it, the more I realize I’ve just made a natural transition.

Back in the day, there wasn’t ‘specialization’ we were all generalists. We had to do a little bit of everything as there was not enough work (or enough people) for someone doing ‘just one thing’. I watched many startups come and go who claimed they were going to alter the business model, stick to strictly development, or only do the design work. I modeled my operations more like a ‘Design/Build’ construction business. (I’m sure it helped that I had a half dozen or so customers in exactly that business).

Today, with ‘offshoring’ and now (can you believe it?) ‘OnShoring’ becoming such a large part of the development environment, there’s less and less opportunity for the ‘design/build’ generalist. We’re in an age of specialists when it comes to things computer…

I had a choice I guess, continue to try and find those few projects that required a generalist who could do a little bit of it all, or, find another way to stay gainfully employed for the next decade or so…

When this chance came along, I’m not sure I really saw it for what it is. It’s a chance to continue to design software, design it in a way that makes a difference to the company, the user and the industry. I’ve always been a ‘business guy’, I just wore the “puter guy” hat because it let me do something I loved, and get paid to do so.

That’s what I’ve been doing, the real difference is, that now, once I’m done with the design, I can watch it being built, and make necessary adjustments (hopefully small ones) in the process as the product materializes.

Maybe it’s true… do what you love, everything else will fall into place… any thoughts?

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Life after Coding. . .

There is indeed, life after coding, for me at least.

If you had asked me five years ago if I would ever let go of my ‘developer’ hat, move beyond coding and into another career line I know what my answer would have been. I would have told anyone who asked, “No thanks!” in no uncertain terms.

I’d centered my ‘worth’ in what people were willing to pay me to do, those of you who know me, know that’s been a common theme in my career… I reveled in jobs that had been deemed impossible, the proverbial “It can’t be done” scenario.

I made a nice living in the 80’s and into the mid-90’s doing exactly that for anyone willing to pay me to deliver what others had said couldn’t be done. I only stopped contracting, and that life, because a client had hired me to continue to build the impossible, and in the process get some job “stability”. (Which we now know was certainly a false sense of ‘stability’)

When that gig ended, I jumped back into contracting, eventually ending up where I am now as a result.

However, this time when they decided to make me a job offer, it wasn’t my programming, design or development skills they wanted. Nope, they were actually interested in my analysis skills. Those same skills I’ve been using to spot trends in data for 15 years or more, and to prove, or disprove what was often just a ‘gut feel’ of mine for the data.

I’ve been at it now for about six months, and the jury is in, I *like* not being a developer!

That revelation has been on my mind a lot lately... How can *I*, the guy who loved development, who lived to build things no one else would tackle, suddenly find myself on the outside, looking in, and not missing the development work?

How does that work exactly? How are we (or more specifically, am I) able to shift our primary feedback mechanism, alter our professional “raison d’ĂȘtre” without so much as a second thought?

I never really contemplated the change; I just knew I wanted to make a difference in this project so I accepted the challenge knowing it was a departure from what I’d known for the last 20+ years. Stepping firmly over the line, one I’d straddled fairly well I might add, that divides the ‘business’ folks, from the IT folks, onto the business side of the line.

So, here I sit, a coder, who’s no longer a coder, and what once was the reason I got out of bed in the morning, is no longer any real part of my day. Yet, I still get out of bed, and I still (maybe even more than ever) look forward to going to work… I can’t remember the last time that happened.

Wait, yes I can, it was December of 1994, then again in August of 1998... Then not again until October of 2004... in the interim, I hated the job... but I loved the work... and the people who developed with me... but, then again, it’s always been about the work, for me.

The life I loved was making software with my friends. . . .

More on all of this as my thoughts gel, I think I’m still to close in to the change to fairly observe what’s going on with me.

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Monday, July 30, 2007

Now this could get me interested. . .

In electric power!! No, nothing has changed, I still don’t really care about global warming, Al Gore’s “Inconvenient Truth” (which all too convenient for Mr. Gore and far too short on truth for my taste), or alcohol replacing fossil fuels…

I care about horsepower.. raw, unadulterated ass-whoopin horsepower… and this two wheeled rocket has it in spades… This is the kind of stuff that gets a new generation interested in ‘go fast’ stuff.

While the technology is a long way from making it to your driveway… it shows what a few folks, some money (about $13K/year for the racing), a little ingenuity and some elbow grease can get done!

Electric Motorcycle drag strip video...

YouTube Link: KillACycle

Here's a link to their website... http://www.killacycle.com/

I’m really pretty excited over what I’ve read about this stuff.

Here I am, mid-50’s and a died in the wool, gimme cubic inches, and gimme lots of horsepower… fossil fuels… loud, ear splitting V8 thunder and all of that…

Watching this video has me thinking about a whole new plan…

I mean 350 horsepower, from batteries that can be recharged in 5 minutes? I think these folks may just be on to something here.

If they’re not… hell it’s still fun to watch the video!!

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Sunday, July 29, 2007

It occurs to me. . .

That this journey we call life was never meant to be easy.

I’ve had a number of people remark that Maryan and I have had a “rough go” of it over the past four, or five, years. It’s true, we’d had as many challenges in the past few years as many folks have in an entire lifetime. On the other hand, I also know there are at least as many folks who’ve had it much “rougher” than we have.

There have been many days where I just wanted to scream: “Enough! It’s enough already!!”, and just as many days where I did scream it, at least mentally.

The truth is though, somehow, we’ve gotten through it all. The career setbacks, uncertainty and changes, the medical problems, surgeries, and, at times, inept medical care….

One day at a time, one problem at a time, we just kept living, walking the journey, and believing. Believing; that somehow we’d eventually emerge from the other side of the trouble, and finally be able to get on with “our lives” once again.

Of course, by “our lives” we meant the life we had before any of these things occurred.

The reality is though, that we are living “our lives”, everyday. These are the days, the times, we’ll tell stories about, remember, and almost wear as one of our life achievements. Wanting to remember the struggles and the victories, to remind ourselves what we’re capable of doing when faced with adversity.

There’s no doubt, we both miss the long motorcycle trips, meeting all sorts of strange, yet interesting people as we traveled. We both loved the freedom of the road, the anticipation of the next new place we’d see, finding that next new restaurant and the local specialty… Maybe we’ll get to experience that again, maybe not. Either way we have the memories. It’s possible that was just a chapter in our lives, and it’s over. It’s also possible that it’s a long novel, and all that’s happened is a plot shift and we’ll experience it all again, but in a somehow different way.

Life it occurs to me is in the day to day living, not in the past, or in the future. But, right here, right now, and making the absolute most of every moment we have, in the best way we can.

Maryan is home from the surgery now, and as I type this she’s actually sleeping peacefully, possibly for the first time on almost two years.

She’s still in considerable pain, but, and this might sound strange, this is a different pain, focused in the surgical sight and not radiating down her legs… I’m hopeful they might have actually gotten it right this time.

She’s an inspiration to me as you all know by now. Despite pain that has her near tears, and medications that have her emotions in an uproar… she still finds ways to make me laugh… still presses forward, pushes herself against the pain… refuses to give up, or let any of this “win”… determined to get as much of “her life” back as is humanly possible.

I wonder, often actually, what it is that separates us. Those of us who just can’t, or won’t, ever give up, from those that simply just say I can’t take it, and give up.

I’ve been fortunate to have been surrounded for most of my life, by folks who just didn’t know how to quit. It didn’t matter what life tossed at them, they just kept getting up, brushing the dust off, and then just started in again. Sometimes a lot the worse for wear, at others, once the dust settled they were in a much better situation.

As hard as it is for some folks to understand, hell it’s hard for me to understand sometimes, I continue to believe we’re in a better situation now, than we were 5 years ago, and we’ll be in an even better situation three months from now, than we are today.

It is a journey after all, isn’t it?

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Saturday, July 28, 2007

A week ago I was focused…

On entirely different ‘stuff’.

Last Saturday I was trying to mow the lawn, spread some mulch, trim a little here, a little there. Put away a few of those tools that seem to collect on the work bench… Check in on the Application monitoring at work; make sure nothing’s gone wrong….

Looking into better ways to invest my 401K (paltry as it may be)… getting pissed off that I’ve still got a leak in one of the skylights… why does the dryer ‘smell’ funny when it’s running? Is that a knock in the motor of the truck? When can I get the oil changed in the car?

Those, and probably a thousand other, thoughts filled my mind all last weekend.

Today however, there’s but one thought on my mind. Having Maryan home from the hospital, and making sure she’s comfortable and has everything she needs.

What a difference a week makes ‘eh?

She had her back surgery on Wednesday, while the procedure went well, she was in a ton of pain after surgery. That intense, nothing takes it away pain… They eventually put her on a dilaudid IV pump, late Wednesday night and she was able to at least get some relief.

For those of you who don’t know dilaudid is the next step up from morphine, and the last rung on the painkiller ladder. Even with that, she still didn’t sleep until Thursday night, and then only 10, or 15, minutes at a time.

Now it’s Saturday, the pain is pretty much under control, and she’s home and resting, sleeping actually, as I type.

I want to be pissed off at what this doctor found… I want to call a lawyer, somebody, make someone “pay” for all she’s been put through… but, for the moment, I’m staying focused on doing what I can to help her heal up.

It’s frustrating though, as there isn’t really much I can do… get her a sandwich, something cold to drink, an extra pillow, pick up her prescription… but, other than those few things, not much.

This is one of those things where a person is pretty much on their own… not much they can do either, just ‘cowboy up’ and tough their way through it… one moment at a time.

I’m hoping, that by next Saturday, I can go back to worrying about 300 unimportant things!!

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Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Thank you all...

This is just a short post to thank you all for the kind words, thought and prayers for Bill and his family..

Bill was definitely a great guy, and his niece Sue sent me two great photos of Bill enjoying some family time that she’s told me I could share with you all.

Unfortunately I’ve got to scan them and such before I post them, and with work as busy as it’s been, it will be the weekend before I get time to do that.

I’m also working on a reflective post as I’ve been thinking about my life and how meeting Bill really helped me forge a new direction for myself. I’m hoping to have that done by the weekend as well.

There is life after coding it seems. I’ve been working on a post about that too, but as I’m still very much in the middle of that transition, it’s been difficult for me to put my thoughts clearly into words.

I’m touched that you all still stop in, and I’m trying to carve out time for blogging again. Maryan has her next surgery (hopefully the last) on her back next week. I know I’ll have some time to write then, either while I’m home alone, or waiting there at the hospital. Either way you’re likely to be seeing some more words from me soon!

I hope you’re all doing well… it’s strange… I feel as though we’re all friends and I’ve never actually met any of you. The fact is though, we probably know more about each other, and out lives, than we (or at least I) do about many of the folks we see every day and consider friends.

Thank you.

Thursday, July 12, 2007

An update on yesterday's Post....

I received a phone call this evening from Bill’s niece Sue. I hadn’t expected a call, but it was wonderful to have a chance to talk with her as she obviously cared deeply for him.

We laughed, cried a bit and in general ‘told a few tales’ of our memories of the man.

It was so great to hear from one of his family members that he was every bit the same guy, day in, day out, whether he was working, spending time with family or friends, or talking with someone he just met.

She told me about the past few years, and that despite everything, anything else, he cared for his sister (Sue’s mom) and for every one, and everything around him.

Folks, I believe, if you’re lucky, really lucky, you too will have the chance to meet and learn from a man like this. He was one of those people who led by example, he walked the walk, and rarely ever talked about himself, or what he had done.

Every time I think about him starting a long way from ‘home’, with next to nothing and building a company with 48 Tractor Trailers, a dozen or so dump trucks and employing in excess of 50 people, in a fairly short period of time, I’m impressed all over again.

Sue has promised to send me a picture, when she does, I’ll put a copy up so you can all put a face to these words.

Sue also placed another notice about Bill’s passing in the Berkshire Eagle, I thought I’d share that here as it adds a little more of his human side than the one I posted yesterday.

William H. Beck

BECKET -- William H. Beck, 77, of Fulton, N.Y., died Saturday at Vassar Brothers Medical Center in Poughkeepsie, N.Y. after a short illness. Mr. Beck was a former resident of Becket.

Born on June 10, 1930, in the town of Hyde Park, N.Y., he was the son of William G. and Matilda W. Beck.

Mr. Beck graduated from FDR High School in Hyde Park, N.Y. in 1947.

Mr. Beck was the owner of William H. Beck Inc., a trucking company based in Fulton, N.Y., and from 1997 until his death, he worked for the Hitchcock Press in Holyoke.

He enjoyed traveling throughout the country and abroad. He attended many county fairs and enjoyed working outdoors. He loved to cook, and brought much joy to others with his specialty soups.

Mr. Beck leaves a sister, Mathilde B. Hohl of Plainfield, Mass.; a brother, Edwin Beck of Hyde Park, N.Y.; two former wives, Ellen Murphy of South Hadley, Mass.; and Merle Coy of Poughkeepsie, N.Y.; four stepchildren, Scott Nelson of Staatsburg, N.Y.; Wayne Nelson of Centennial, Col.; Brian Denegar of Chicopee; and Debra Leavitt of Simsbury, Conn. His first wife Beulah Budd predeceased him.

FUNERAL NOTICE -- Graveside services for William H. Beck, who died Saturday, July 7, 2007, will be on Wednesday at 1:30 p.m. at the Poughkeepsie Rural Cemetery. Arrangements are by SUTTON FUNERAL HOMES, 1 Woodside Place, Highland, N.Y. There are no calling hours. A memorial service to celebrate the life of Bill Beck will be held at a later date at the convenience of the family. Survivors also include niece's children Heather Snider of Beverly, Mass.; Brent Snider of New Haven, Conn.; Ashley Sykes and Colin Sykes of Lenox; Jen Coffin of Nobleboro, Me.; and Julie Souicie of Hartland, Me. To send online condolences: www.suttonfuneralhomes.com. His presence at family gatherings was always a priority. He will be fondly remembered for his work ethic, generosity, thoughtfulness, and love for family and friends. Bill loved animals, so in lieu of flowers, please donate to your local animal shelter.

Published in The Berkshire Eagle from 7/10/2007 - 7/11/2007.


Thanks, as always for stopping by.

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Tuesday, July 10, 2007

The Obituary Read. . .

William H. Beck

July 7, 2007

William H. Beck, 77, of Fulton, NY, passed away July 7, 2007, at Vassar Hospital in Poughkeepsie, New York. Mr. Beck was born June 10, 1930, the son of William G. and Matilda Wassenmuller Beck. Until his retirement, he was the owner of William H. Beck, Inc., a trucking firm in Fulton.

Before moving to Fulton, he was a longtime dairy farmer in Dutchess County, as was his father. He is survived by a son, Wayne, and his wife, Sandra Nelson, and their children, Olivia and Erin of Centennial, CO; a stepson, Scott, and his wife, Penny Nelson, of Staatsburg, NY; a stepdaughter, Debbie, and her husband, Adam Leavitt, of CT; a brother, Edwin Beck of Poughkeepsie; a sister, Matilda Hohl of Plainfield, MA; longtime friend, Merle Coy; also several nieces, nephews and cousins.

Graveside services will be on Wednesday at 1:30 p.m. at Poughkeepsie Rural Cemetery. Memorial services will be held in Becket, MA, at a later date. Friends will be notified by the family as to time.

Arrangements by the Sutton Funeral Homes, One Woodside Place, Highland, NY.

To send online condolences, please visit www.suttonfuneralhomes.com


My longtime friend Ken Sheldon forwarded that notice to me this morning. Ken, as you long time readers know has worked with me for many years and Ken was the only person besides me; Bill Beck would allow me to have working on his projects. Getting Bill to agree to let Ken be involved, was almost as hard as ‘letting go’ of those applications was for me.

I mentioned Bill Beck a year or so ago (in March of 2006), in this post, and again in this one.

I talked about what *I* did, how that first project came together, and how it pretty much got me started.

The truth is, Bill didn’t ‘kinda’ get me started, he not only got me started, he got me rolling and by continuing to provide me with steady work, gave me the courage to forge ahead with my first successful consulting venture. No, that’s exactly not right either; he was the cornerstone of my first business venture that actually ever made a profit.

More than that though, he was a good man. He was honest, if he made you a promise, you could absolutely count on, that whatever he promised you, he would make good on that promise.

He was also a generous man, I have vivid memories of times I’d be in his offices, stopping in as I passed by for one reason or another and he’d see me there and say:

“Glenda, write Bill a check for $500!”

I’d always say something to the effect of “Bill, you don’t owe me any money.”

Every time, he’d reply “I know, but I will.”

I always took it as a sign of his faith in me, and the work I’d done… Maybe it was just his way; I prefer to think it was something more personal though.

He was also a demanding man. He held no quarter for broken promises, missed deadlines or less than accurate work. He also knew he was the customer, and when he needed something, he wanted it right now, not tomorrow, or next week, but right now.

If he was upset, he made no politically correct attempt to explain his view of the situation. He’d let you know, often ‘colorfully’, just exactly what was on his mind.

I still have a vivid, near picture perfect recollection of the conversation we had the first time he felt I didn’t deliver exactly what I’d promised him. He must have yelled at me for 45 minutes. I remember thinking at the time, that, “Well, I guess that’s the end of the road here.”

About 20 minutes later, as I was finishing up installing the new equipment I’d brought in, Bill walked back in to the room and said: “Hey, have you got plans for lunch?”

Just like that, it was over… We went to lunch, where he laid out the plans he had for the business, and a whole new piece of software he wanted me to design and write.

Eventually, during lunch, I asked him why he was telling me this, as I thought after what he’d said earlier, I was going to lose his business. He went on to explain that when he’s upset, he just had to get it off his chest, and then, once he’s done that, he’s done with it all.

Bill went on over the years to ‘christen’ every person who ever worked for me. They all knew his company, and how important it was to me, for many reasons. Eventually they’d answer the phone when he called, and he’d let them know, in no uncertain terms, why I needed to call him, and for me to call sooner, rather than later.

I’d always ask them to sit with me when I made that return phone call, in each and every case he thanked me for getting back to him so quickly, and then let me know what he needed and when, we then went on to do just that.

I also stole a "line" from Bill. When I first asked him how he ended up in Fulton, NY from his place in Massachusetts, he said:

“I came here with a 90 day contract to haul grain; I’ve been here ever since.”

He grew that business from one truck to around 40 Tractor Trailers, and a number of dump trucks as well, employing in excess of 40 or 50 drivers, and several folks on his office team as well. As far as I know he was still running all of the software I developed for him when he retired.

These days, when folks ask me how I came to be living in North Carolina I say:

“I came here in ’93 on a 90 day programming contract; I’ve been here ever since.”

I’ve also come to realize I’ve spent the vast majority of my professional life developing software for the transportation business. At first, for Bill Beck’s trucking company, later for an insurance company who specialized in insuring trucking companies, and now for the Railroad industry. I doubt any of that would have ever happened, had I not met Bill Beck.

Life is funny, almost spooky, sometimes, I was thinking back a bit on Saturday, and got to thinking about those days, and Bill Beck, and found myself wondering just how he was doing. I had no idea where he was, or that I would see that notice today.

I went by the funeral home website, and left a little note for his family. I have no idea if they even knew who I was, but I certainly knew and respected him.

I know my life has been better, and followed a particular path, simply because our paths crossed.

I also know that I’m a better man for having known him.

God Speed Bill, you’ll be greatly missed.

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Monday, June 18, 2007

Weathering the storm. . .

As you all know, my wife has been struggling health-wise for some time now. We were discussing it the other night; and it’s been a journey (for us) that’s now lingered into five years.

She had knee surgery in 2002, in 2003 I had two separate back surgeries. We both got laid off and she had a hysterectomy in 2004, then a back surgery for her in 2005, and another in 2006… and finally a Thyroidectomy and radiation therapy in 2006 for her as well.

Now, fresh from our visit to the latest in spinal specialists, we find that there’s definitely a problem with the last surgery, in that at least one of the screws used has literally broken out of the bone… more tests, and in all likelihood another surgery are in our future for 2007.

One the upside and we do try and stay focused on the upside around here, with the exception of the back issue, and the resultant intense pain that brings, things do seem to be improving on the health front for her. The new Doc specializes in what they call “failed back” syndrome. That’s when you’ve had surgery, but have not gotten any pain relief. With any luck, this guy will be able to find the root cause and get it corrected this time.

One of the things that can become overwhelming at times, when a person deals with constant chronic pain, is the concept of “I don’t deserve this”. I know I had it, and she helped me stay focused and get through it, and now I’m trying to get her through it as well.

Couple that with the fact that she often feels as though she has no ‘life’, and doesn’t feel like much of a wife at times… and you have all the makings of a good solid depression. I’m constantly amazed at her ability to “cowboy up” and just tough her way through it.

Despite all of this, I feel blessed. That’s right, blessed.

I had no way of knowing it at the time, but, getting out of my last job, was probably the only reason I’ve been able to ‘be there’ for her, in the way that I’ve been. This company, from the top down, believes family is the single most important thing. They let me work from home any time I need to be here, to go with her to Doctor’s appointments, or she just needs me here.

On the days where I’m not going to be able to get any real work done, I can use a sick day without fear I’ll be taken to task for it.

On the last job, even if I called in sick, they’d call me at home wanting me to take care of things from my sick bed. In two years of working here, not once has anyone ever called me outside of normal working hours, unless it was arranged in advance (often when making system changes the business owners have to verify connectivity and functionality after the changes are made).

I’m definitely living in a very different world now, working for a company that honors not only the employees, but their families as well. I can tell you this for certain, had the last company not outsourced me, I would have been fired, or had to quit, to get through this anyway.

I laugh sometimes, when I think about the emotions I felt at the moment I left that last job. Fear, anger, uncertainty, was just the tip of the iceberg… In the end though, like I’ve always done, I kept looking, and this gig found itself to me. We never had a lapse in health insurance; in fact we’ve had even better insurance since the split than we ever had before.

Most importantly though, we’ve been there, for one another through it all, day in, day out, that has never changed.

Yes we worried about money, argued about what we could, and could not buy, but, we got by, kept the bills paid and carried on.

Life has a funny way, of giving you exactly what you need, at precisely the moment you need it… even if, at that moment, it seems the exact opposite is happening.

She and I have been through more, in our eight years together, than many folks go through in 20… what’s amazing to me, is that I love her more today, than I ever have!

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Sunday, June 17, 2007

It’s Father’s Day again. . .

Every year around this time I find myself thinking back, and thinking about my Dad specifically.

It’s often hard for me to write about him. Not because there isn’t anything to write, but, because just thinking about him often brings home how very much, I still miss him. I find myself, at times, as I write, actually having to stop, to wipe away tears that make it hard to see.

My Dad was a great guy. He had faults, and I, at one time or another triggered every one he had I’m sure… if I didn’t, it sure wasn’t for a lack of trying on my part.

I spent many, many, years trying to get out “from under his shadow”… I’d give anything today to have just that shadow cross my eyes one more time.

I do wonder sometimes though how he would have faired as this country shifted into a nation of people offended by every little thing… He was a man disposed to action, not talk, and swift action, or maybe better yet, reaction when things went awry.

Years ago, as in almost 40 years ago, in the fall, about the time the first snow fell in Upstate New York, the store he managed would experience what we called the “Tire Rush”.

It seemed every car owner in town would show up that morning and line up to get a pair of “snow tires” (anyone else remember those?) put on.

I remember this one year, I had to be 17 or 18, we were in the middle of this ‘rush’ which was so crazy we workers didn’t get to break for lunch, instead he’d send out for burgers and cokes and we’d all work and grab a bite between cars (I’ll bet you don’t see much of that any happening these days either).

One of the standard things on the work order in those days, was a note indicating what the customer wanted done with the ‘take offs’ (the tires you removed from the rims to install the snow tires). Many customers would have us pull the front tires, put the new snow tires on those rims and rotate the back tires to the front, so these instructions were clearly spelled out.

(In the days of rear wheel drive cars, most folks had the best tires on the driving wheels.)

Some people had us throw away the old tires, others wanted them put in the trunk to use again in the spring (remember cars with a trunk large enough for two full sized tires?)…

Anyway, back to the story. We pulled a car in, and it stated clearly on the work order this woman wanted the tires placed in her trunk. However, in the heat of battle, the tire buster (that’s the guy who actually removed and installed the tires on the rims) had some sort of brain fart and tossed the tires on the cast off pile instead. No one noticed what he’d done at the time, and as there were two of us balancing and removing and reinstalling wheels on the cars while he put tires on the rims, it wasn’t hard to miss.

An hour or so later though, the woman returns to the store after discovering her tires were not placed in the trunk as requested. I remember Bernie Zanowski, the tire salesman came out and talked to the guy who was at the tire machine, an argument ensued and ended with Bernie exiting the garage and slamming the door.

Now as a little background, Bernie was one of those guys who could sell ice water to a drowning man… I once saw him sell a refrigerator to a man who didn’t have electricity… and he was a very hard worker as well, and had been with the company for probably 20 plus years… He also had a very loyal clientele, people who came to the store year after year, and asked for him by name. He remembered every one of those folks too. If Bernie sold you something, he’d remember you forever.

So back to the story…

About 2 minutes later, Bernie, the customer and my Dad come walking into the garage.

There’s about a 45 second conversation, and the next thing I know Dad’s got this guy by the collar and the belt, and literally tosses him into the used tire pile (which by the way is like ten feet high and 20 foot around at the base).. along with the admonition “… and don’t come out of there until you’ve found this woman’s tires!! Come see me when you’re done.”

I was instantly promoted to tire changer (tire buster), my buddy Mark moved up to the balance machine and one of the other stock boys got shown how to use the air wrench.

The beat went on… snow tires continued to get installed…. Barely a blip in the action…

Eventually the guy found the woman’s tires, we loaded them in her trunk and she drove off. The guy went in the store to talk to Dad, he never returned to the shop that day, or any other day for that matter.

Justice was swift in Dad’s domain. This guy was fairly new, less than a month on the job, and he’d broken the two fundamental rules:

1. The customer is always right
2. Do NOT argue with the boss

I wonder today how that would have to be handled.

A week or so before that happened, on the way home from work one night I’d mentioned that this guy was working pretty hard, my Dad’s response was “A new broom always sweeps clean”.

He went on to explain that anyone can handle the normal days, it’s the crazy days (like the tire rush) that sorts folks out… it certainly sorted this guy out.

There was the other side of Dad’s coin too… I also remember Christmas Eve (that same year I think), it was probably around 6:00pm, we’d locked up the store, made the bank deposit filled out the reports, etc. and were headed for the front door and home when the phone rang.

Uncharacteristically, Dad answered the phone, thinking it might be Mom wanting him to pick up something on the way home.

It wasn’t Mom though, it was a customer and the guy on the phone was panicked, he was supposed to have picked up his kids Christmas toys from Lay-a-Way on his way home (remember Lay-a-way?) but, he’d stopped off after work for a couple of holiday beers with his co-workers and had lost track of time.

He was obviously drunk, but said that he could be at the store in 30 minutes.

Now Christmas Eve was one of my Dad’s favorite nights. It not only signaled the end of the shopping season and six weeks of 12 hour days, but, it was “family time”.

At our house, Christmas Eve meant all the kids were home, Grandparents, Aunts, Uncles, friends and even shirt-tail relatives came over for the evening, and around 11:30 we’d all go to “Midnight Mass” after the get together… He truly looked forward to this night all year. It continued every year I can remember until he died.

I watched his face as he talked to this guy on the phone, listened as he explained *he* had a family waiting for him too… but in the end, he told the guy to come on over.

We waited, for nearly an hour before the guy finally arrived, got him his stuff and after we helped him load his car, headed home, late, ourselves.

On the drive, as usual, he explained why he did what he did. I don’t recall asking, but he was prone to just saying what was on his mind as we drove.

“I was thinking about the kids” he said to me, “and their faces tomorrow morning if there were no toys. I just couldn’t stand the thought of those kids being disappointed.”

He went on to explain to me, that while a man has to be able to go out, have some fun, and drink a cold beer with his friends, he can never forget his obligations, his promises.

“Billy” he said “It’s not always so much what you *do* that will define you as a man, but, often, it’s what you don’t do because you’ve already made another promise that will define you.”

That, my friends, is why I don’t make promises I can’t keep.

Happy Father’s Day Dad!! You are still very much missed.

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Saturday, June 16, 2007

I know I’ve been away a lot lately. . .

First, let me say I definitely miss blogging more than I ever thought possible. I've really enjoyed the process of writing, posting and getting to know all of you who've actually made me wish we all lived close to one another.

Second, I’ve just been so busy, between the job, the house, the yard and all of my other ‘projects’ I just haven’t had much time to sit and write.

Not an excuse really, as I know many of you are at least as busy as I am, if not more so. It is however about the only reason I have for being away so long!

I’m hoping to post pictures of the work I’ve done this year on the ‘Natural Area’ of the yard. Some of you may recall that I got started on it last year, but never really wrapped it up. This year I touched up the areas I started last year, and I’ve about doubled the area that I can actually ‘walk around’ in now.

You’ll see in the pictures (when I post them) that I still have a lot of brush to clear along the drainage area, and in the back corner of the lot… that said, I still think I’ve got about 75% of the deal under control now, compared to about 25% last year!

Regarding FoxPro…

I've been fairly quiet on the announcement by Microsoft that they've ceased new development on Visual FoxPro. I, in my heart, knew this day would come the day they announced they'd bought the company from Dave Fulton. I even wrote Bill Gates, and spoke extensively with the folks at Mirosoft back then and was assured they had no such plans.

It seems they may not have had immediate plans... but at this point it feels like all the 'words' did nothing but delay the inevitable.

Most of you know I’ve been a proponent, hell, even a zealot, when it came to singing FoxPro’s praises. I’ve spent the better part of the past 25 years earning a decent living with the Fox (or VFP as many like to call it) as my primary development tool. Many years the number of lines of code I wrote in anything other than FoxPro were so small as to not even be worth counting.

That era is over though… Microsoft is abandoning the product, and once that happens it may as well as be already dead and gone. No new development is popping up on the horizon (well not *my* horizon anyway), and there are fewer and fewer contracts for even maintenance work. It is, after all work, and the work I've done to earn a living for over two decades.

It’s a very strange position to be in.

I feel like I’m assisting in the death of an old friend… Helping an otherwise healthy friend commit suicide… very strange indeed.

Many of you may find it odd that I’d call FoxPro an “old friend”… make comparisons to a living, breathing entity…. Others will simply understand the feeling. Let me try to explain it.

A computer language, is much like any other type of “tool”.

A bit cumbersome when you first pick it up, but, over time, each and every time you use it, you get a little better at using it.

Eventually, you get so good with it, it’s no longer separate from you, but a part of you. You’re better as a result of having the tool, it ‘extends’ you. The tool enables you to do things that before it existed, were either impossible, or so costly as to be considered impossible.

So here I am, a mid-50’s guy who’s achieved a bit of success, and some notoriety (from time to time) as a VFP/FoxPro developer. Yet, I find myself looking forward with a bit of uncertainty as to my marketability, now that my ‘claim to fame’ is soon to be a "here lies" headstone the landscape of development languages.

Yes, it’s true I have decent DotNet chops, and have even completed a couple fairly complex projects with it as the primary tool. I don’t however seeing me becoming the kind of “DotNet guru” that I was with VFP.

Why? A couple of reasons actually.

First, and probably foremost, is the fact that while a decent development environment, DotNet is no VFP. The raw power to manipulate data is simply absent. Not a day goes by that when I show a DotNet, or even a Java developer what I can do with ‘data’ in less time than it takes them to set up to begin coding, that they’re not impressed.

Second, I really don’t have the desire I once had to work day and night (on the job and off) again to get *that* good at any language I’m currently aware of. Trust me on this, there’s no shortcut to become truly proficient with a language, it takes years of 10, 12 even 16 hour days before you truly master a computer language. I’m just not that interested any more… I’d much rather lie in the shade with a pitcher of Gin, Tonic and Lime when I'm not working!!

What I am interested in however is working on mastering the use of the written word…. It’s time to hang up my ‘developer’ hat, and begin a new journey I think…

One where I work at putting words together, to achieve a specific effect… but this time the language will be English, and the effects will be more human emotion, and less mathematics, in nature.

I’ve been thinking lately, that there have been a lot of experiences (in developing systems) over the past 25 years, some funny, some sad, that I’ve never written about… I'm thinking a lot lately of doing so soon.

I haven’t mentioned it before, but a recent position change on the job has me more in the ‘Business’ side of things, and less and less on the “IT/IS” side of things. On a day to day basis, I’m much more involved with the business *need* and far less involved with the IT/IS *how*…. I'm concerned more with analytics, metric and application flow now, than with how that flow is accomplished.

I’d forgotten what a challenge working from the business side can be, and how much fun! We were working on the 2008 Project specifications last week, it’s a strictly business need driven process, and I’ve had more fun reviewing and contributing to that, than I’ve had in quite some time!

So, I'm hoping I'll actually start writing again and you'll start stopping in again to let me know how I'm doing!!

I hope you're all doing well... drop me a note and say hi!

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Monday, April 16, 2007

Well… It’s official…

My post about Cesar and the Dog Whisperer is going to be in his new book!

I thought they’d changed their minds, or we wouldn’t be able to work out the details, but, they came back this past week, made some changes to the agreement and I FedEx’d off the signed documents today.

I’ve got to admit, when I started posting out here I never expected to have one of my ramblings get picked to be included in any publication.

Other than that, it’s just been busy. I wonder sometimes where I found the time to write as often as I did a year ago, I barely have time to sit down and eat dinner these days!

I promise I’ll be back soon with some updates on what’s been going on.

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Sunday, March 25, 2007

What Have I Been Up To? . . .

Since the last post?

Well, primarily I’ve been working for the Railroads, my workload there has been, well, let’s just say, overwhelming, this month. There were several tight deadlines, and some areas of responsibility that were fairly new to me as well.

Those combined with my “Not a problem, I can handle it” attitude got me in some trouble around mid-month… I know, me, Mr. “I deliver on time”… finally got himself in trouble and missed a deadline… that may not be a big deal to some of you, but, it was a big deal to me.

I’m happy to say the team I work with, really, and I mean really, stepped up to the plate to help me bring this one phase in, and get the project back in the green. For someone (me) who has had little success in getting help from others (with a few notable exceptions) this was a wonderful turn of events.

In another phase, I’ve completed a data model and an application in VB.Net to allow folks to analyze what they’ve been working on. It’s comprised of one basic form, with a tab control, thirteen tabs each with various views of aspects of the data model. There’s even a context sensitive column search feature that’s activated on a right mouse-click.

How did I get that done, with everything else on my plate? One word, “Infragistics”.

These folks have a slogan “Powering the presentation layer”… from where I sit, they definitely do! If you’re involved with .Net, and are looking for a controls toolbox that functions in Windows, or Web, applications check this company out, for my money they’re definitely the real deal.

In my spare time, I’ve been working on, believe it or not, preparing a commercial VFP application for delivery. A very well known paint company contracted with me to help them with this project earlier this year, but, things didn’t really start heating up until mid-February, and then got very serious, when, in the middle of my other crisis.

Just this past week I worked over 50 hours for the RR’s and another 30 on the project for the paint company… my entire month of March has been a series of 70-80 hour work weeks. I’m not complaining mind you, just recognizing that old saying “When it rains, it pours!”

In talking with some of the other team member on the paint project, I’m pretty confident we have a shippable product now. We’ve converted the application to VFP9, added a software licensing process, altered how some internal password functionality is derived and in general done a decent ‘cleanup’ on the product.

Again, great team, excellent communications and hard work by everyone got this pulled together in time.

My friend Ken Sheldon (remember Ken?) and I had been planning to get together this weekend and hit a bowling alley, roll a few games and, in general just catch up with one another. On Wednesday, as I was looking at some additional tight deadlines (changes to the RR application for a Friday demo, and the fast approaching shipping deadline for the paint company, I was seriously considering postponing our plans.

At some point however, I realized that I always do that, let the work interfere with my personal life. I’ve been doing it for 25 years, Ken would have understood, he knows me and my dedication… about that same time I decided that four or five hours out of the weekend, to enjoy some time with an old friend (Ken and I have know each other 20 years, this year, and we’ve worked together at 3 different times over those years), was something I definitely needed to do.

So at about 8:00am on Saturday he and I headed out to Buffaloe Lanes in Cary. (Yes, that’s how they spell it… as Ken would say, from the Dan Quayle school of spelling).

When we got there, a youth league was in full swing, all 32 lanes in use by kids in the age range of 5-10 it appeared. Well we stood around and talked, and watched the kids bowl for an hour or so, and decided we’d reserve a pair of lanes for when the first pair freed up. As we were talking to the folks, one of them said “No one showed up on 27/28, let them have the pair”

So we were off and rolling (literally).

I’m happy to report that Ken has finally beaten me in bowling; in fact he gave me a sound ‘thrashing’… I averaged about 146, he averaged 198… The only other time he and I bowled together it was in Liverpool, NY.. I had probably the best three game series in my life, he had one of his worst… and I’ve hung on to that victory for over a decade… I’m just so glad that we got out again, and he won, it gives an excuse for a rematch!! Hey, he’s a great bowler, I’m just glad he’s not embarrassed to be seen rolling with me!

So what do ya think folks.. a strange month for sure… I’m neck deep in both VFP and .Net, Microsoft announces the end of VFP yet I’m working like a mad man to keep up…

Two lessons here for me…

1st, you should always make time for friends and family.. It’s worth every second of the time

2nd, hard work, and great team members can accomplish amazing results, especially when you let the team know you need their help.

So how has your March been?

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Sunday, March 18, 2007

Open Source… the future?

The open source community, that’s where Microsoft says they intend to place VFP once they’re done with it.

I see few distinct possibilities for the future if that’s what they actually do.

First, and the worst case, is that it will simply die there.

If you know the history, Microsoft bought FoxPro originally to get the ‘Rushmore’ technology it contained. You see, at the core of the Fox was a database engine, one capable of incredible speed, even on those old 286/386 and 486 boxes with slow hard drives.

In many cases it out performed databases on much larger platforms, costing ten times, or more money.

Surrounding that core was (is) a language designed from the ground up to manipulate and work with data. It has some of the best string manipulation functions of any language I’ve ever used.

So, what I fear is that if they release it to the open source community, it’ll be stripped of the technology that made it such a work horse, and saddled with a shell of what it has today.

If those things happen, it will surely die a fairly quick death out there in the open source world.

The other, less likely, but far more exciting prospect is that it’ll land in Open source intact. A group of developers, possibly some of the folks from the current VFP group at Microsoft will pick it up and run with it.

There’s a ton of us ‘old coders’ out here, and a great bunch of young guns as well that would love to be able to tell our clients we’re building their new application on the newest piece of open source software.

The open source community is, overall, robust. It’s also made up of folks just like most of us VFP geeks, zealots, they grab onto something an run with it, and before you know it, it’s the “language de jour” … hey look at Ruby, it was virtually unheard of a couple of years ago…. It’s all the ‘buzz’ today.

Another, possibly even more interesting possibility, is that a group will form up, and using the base code, build a .Net version of VFP. A VFP.Net.

Personally I think that is the track that holds the most promise of widespread success, in my opinion. Microsoft has invested untold millions in the .Net platform, and it’s actually beginning to find some widespread acceptance in the corporate market place. It’s still behind Java, but it’s gaining.

Currently, while you can ‘connect’ to a wide variety of Databases from .Net,
manipulating that data, slicing it, and analyzing it, in .Net, is a long way from the ease with which it can be done in VFP today.

The concept of ‘Macro substitution’ inherent in VFP, simply doesn’t exist in .Net (or at least no one *I have talked to has found it), it would add a ton of functionality if it were there.

We can currently combine code from any .Net language, in the same solution as it all eventually is compiled to be utilized by the .Net CLR (Common Language Runtime), so why not a VFP.Net?

Hell there’s even a COBOL.Net, surely there are minds out there smarter than mine who could get it done!

I’ve built some DLL’s in VFP that I can add to a .Net application to provide some of the functionality I’ve needed from time to time… can a VFP.Net be that far away?

Regardless though, I’ll be devoting most of my free time now to converting my favorite VFP apps, like my TimeClock© to .Net. I can’t afford to be out of work with a skill set no one is willing to pay for!

If you’ve got thoughts, I’d love to hear them!

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Friday, March 16, 2007

The End Of An Era. . . .

Well folks, it’s official… Microsoft is ending development on any new releases of Visual FoxPro.

Redmond Developer News Microsoft: No Visual FoxPro 10

I’ve been an xBase/VFP developer for over two decades, 20 plus years, and now, well, it seems those skills will pretty much be about as useful as those of an ‘old school’ TV repairman.

Yeah, there will still be a ‘need’, but nothing like there was. Makes me glad I’ve worked on my .Net chops over the past few years… time to get really working on them now though!

Sorry I haven’t been around much. A lot has happened over the past few months, not the least of which is that I’ve been very busy. I miss everyone, and appreciate those of you who still stop in to see if there’s anything new.

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Saturday, January 20, 2007

Thursday we got our first taste of ‘winter’ here….

After a weekend in the 70’s and then temperatures slowly dropping into daytime highs in the forties, Thursday morning found us receiving a bit of frozen precipitation.

The morning news, as well as the various internet and cable weather forecasters had all claimed the ground was too warm for anything more than some accumulations on ‘grassy’ areas however.

So it was armed with all of this high tech information that I got in the car and set out on my 50 minute morning commute to the office.

As I was slowing for the turn onto the interstate I noticed that the bridge I was on had managed to get a bit slick, “Nothing serious” I thought, but filed that little piece of information away for the drive.

As I was entering the interstate, I also noticed that the road was not ‘wet’, but beginning to become snow covered, despite some rather heavy traffic. I decided to ease up to speed in the ‘slow’ lane until I’d reached the top of the rise and saw what the traffic ahead looked like.

I’d just matched the speed of the pickup in front of me, noticed the semi pulling up on my left, and the one along side that pickup in front when it happened….

The tail-end of that pickup twitched to the left slightly, I eased off the gas a bit, then it twitched hard again, but to the right this time… again I lifted off the gas… about that time the pickup got almost sideways and clipped the front of that semi…

The impact tossed the pickup back into our lane, but now it was spinning… in one of those spins it clipped the guard rail and got airborne… rolling over twice, landing on its side…. Then, just as I reached it, slid off the road and over the edge of the embankment….

I managed to get my car stopped, find the four way flashers… grab my cell phone and dialed 911 as I ran back to the truck… as I was giving the 911 guy the location, I heard the driver moving in the truck… he said he was fine, but needed help getting out.

I told the 911 operator the driver claimed to be fine, but to please roll some help and hung up as I climbed up to help the driver climb out.

He got out Ok.. and amazingly enough, he was fine, not a scratch. His pickup however looked much worse for the experience.

Both of the truck drivers stopped as well… the most amazing thing to me, besides the fact that no one else (including me) got gathered up in this incident, was the way that both of these big rig drivers stopped, and made sure help was on the way.
As we were waiting, there was another crash, in the opposing lanes, and a driver hit that concrete center barrier hard… with snow falling heavily now, and daylight just barely making it possibly to see more than a few feet without the aid of headlights… it all seemed very surreal.

I remember thinking, as I watched things unfold, that “this is going to hurt”, then, as the truck slide out of my way a split second before we would have hit, it felt like some sort of NASCAR slow motion replay… but it wasn’t, it was real time, real people and real dangerous.

I’ve never let the weather deter me from driving where ever I wanted to go. I’ve driven 100’s of miles in blizzards, on closed interstates, on roads where it was impossible to tell where the road actually was… staying ‘on the road’ only by trying to watch for guardrails, telephone polls and other markers.

I’ve had many, many, close calls… this however was the closest I think I’ve ever been to a 50+ mile an hour, in traffic, collision.

I’m thankful for many things, those new Goodyear tires I put on the car this fall, anti-lock brakes… and yes… seat and shoulder belts. The driver of that pickup was wearing his; I doubt he’d have escaped injury if he hadn’t been.

I didn’t continue on to the office that morning, instead I returned to the house and worked from home. On returning, the news was story after story about the dozens, and dozens, of accidents, between where I’d been, and the office. The commute would have been several hours at least from the reports.

One last thing, this whole thing, from the first twitch of that truck, to getting my car stopped took only a couple of seconds, perhaps 10 at best as I’d only traveled about the length of a football field or so, from start to finish.

I’ve mentioned before how intense traffic can be at times… and I know I’ve had a tendency lately to drive a little closer than I should to the car in front of me… I’m thankful that all those years of Upstate New York winter driving kicked in as I eased onto the interstate Thursday morning… I hung back and decided to ease into traffic… I really don’t want to think about what might have happened if I hadn’t!

Please drive safely folks… You never know what might happen next!

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Monday, January 15, 2007

Working in an art museum….and other tidbits…

I had the good fortune to be able to visit the corporate headquarters of BNSF Railway in Ft. Worth, TX this past week.

I say good fortune because, well, the place is simply amazing. Every wall, in every area of the building I saw, is decorated with American art, old paintings, drawings, photographs and pieces of American railroad history. Their lobby/reception area is adorned with museum type glass cases that are filled with over 150 years of railroad artifacts.

I was told, the collection that literally covers every common wall area in the building, is second only to the Smithsonian in size.

In my career, I’ve been to 100’s of corporate offices, many that held large, expensive pieces of art…. But nothing, anywhere I’ve ever been, compared to this.

We spent several days this trip at the Texas Motor Speedway, and those of you who know me, also know, that to a motor head like me, that, in and of itself would be a real treat. However, the few hours spent at the BNSF Railway headquarters on Friday were definitely the highlight of the trip for me. I was, and remain, amazed at what I saw there.

I don’t know if they allow visitors, or give tours, but if you’re in the Ft. Worth area, I’d suggest checking on the possibility if you’re even remotely interested in this sort of thing.


On an entirely separate front, those of you who check out the comments pages, may have noticed the first comment on my Dog Whispering post. It was supposedly from one of the producers of the show who was also co-authoring Cesar Millan’s new book.

I’m sure you all thought exactly what I thought… “Yeah, right”… or something to that effect. I’ve certainly gotten all sorts of, shall I say ‘interesting’ comments, in addition to the ones my regular readers leave. I responded politely, and did send a follow up email.

I remained skeptical however, until Saturday morning.

On Saturday I received an email from the executive producer of the Dog Whisperer show, letting me know I’d be seeing a release document this week, thanking me for being willing to let them use my post, and so on.

This may, or may not, lead to anything further in my dream of writing for a living, but, if it all works out, being noticed by Melissa (a very accomplished writer in her own regard) and being included in the book’s success story section is fairly flattering!

Stay tuned, I’ll definitely keep you posted on both the progress, and on the release date for Cesar’s new book.


Work-wise, things are pretty much, situation normal… no change in employment status, but I continue to work, and be billable, one week at a time. I am looking into a gig in New Hampshire however. It’s a ways from home, but, it’s a FoxPro focused gig and pretty decent rates as well. I’ve submitted all of my info, and now we’re in the wait and see phase.

In this phase, while the company is checking out my skills and experience, I check out the cost of apartments (furnished) etc and what sort of costs I’ll incur to take on the gig. If everything works out, as in a total “win-win” situation, I’ll earn more, after expenses than I am now, and, my skills will match their needs fairly closely.

Stay tuned on this as well. I’ll definitely keep you all posted.


Other than traveling, working, and attempting to relax in the time I’ve had off, not all that much else has been going on. Maryan continues to get better, Lulu has become a wonderful member of the household and, in general, life is good and I continue to feel lucky despite some speed bumps along the road.

Then again, regardless of how lucky I might be feeling today… I’m thinking these guys are feeling even more fortunate!! (The pictures were emailed to me, they are definitely NOT mine! I do not know who actually took them.)

Thompson River Derailment
More Info
One More Story

There are a lot of opinions about railroads, and railroad safety. I’m pretty sure about this however; CN developed a new cab design, that involved ‘Armor Plating’ the front of the cab, in order to better protect the crew in the cab in the event of an accident. I’d say, from these, and the other photos I’ve seen, as well as the fact that neither of the crew men were seriously injured, that the design worked very well!

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Saturday, January 06, 2007

Whispering to Dogs….

If you’re a dog owner, and have cable television, chances are you’ve at least seen the show “The Dog Whisperer” in the listings. Even if you haven’t yet taken the time to watch an episode or two and check it out.

In talking about the show with friends and acquaintances, I’m finding that folks seem to be divided cleanly into two distinct camps over the show, and the man, Cesar Millan.

It seems people love him, and his methods, or they absolutely hate him.

I found myself fairly baffled, especially at those folks who clearly do not like, or agree with, his methods. His methods never include any sort of mistreatment, or any of what I’d call ‘aversion’ conditioning, but rather, a more proactive, direct, firm, but gentle, approach.

Those of you who know me, know I’m not a fan of using ‘corporal punishment’ to train a dog, I’d rather the dog simply understand what I want, and just do it.

I’ve had moderate (I say moderate because I now know so much more is possible) success in the past, and have often told folks who’ve asked why my dogs were so well behaved that it was because I expected them to be. I’ve also always treated my dogs, like dogs, or at least how I used to think dogs expected to be treated. I’ll admit to projecting human qualities to them at times, it’s often just hard not to, but in the end I’ve always reminded myself that they’re dogs, and not humans.

I think, that most of the dislike people have of Cesar, and his methods, stems from his core belief that the ‘owner’ is at the root of all undesired dog behavior.

Most of us, including me, hate to be told that something is our fault. It’s much easier to project the problem back on the dog (in this case) than to accept responsibility for the problem and therefore responsibility for what’s needed to correct it. Strangely enough though, I think that’s what I like best about his methods, they put me in control of obtaining the behavior I want, and work quickly, almost effortlessly, compared to anything I’ve done/tried before.

My wife and I have been experimenting with the methods we’ve seen on the show. Especially using a leash correctly, and taking control of the walk.

His philosophy of exercise, discipline and then affection it so simple, it’s hard to believe the difference it makes.

As my regular readers know, we rescued our dog Lulu from the local shelter. When we first brought her home, she would roll over and pee if you tried to pet her… She was especially afraid of me and would normally roll over on her back, tail tucked between her legs, when I entered the room she was in.

Outside the house she was very difficult to control on the leash, off the leash she’d tear off across our yard, then the neighbor’s yard(s) and I’d end up down the block before I’d be able to get her back.

Both Maryan, and I were very concerned about our inability to control her, and that she seemed interested in the cats more as a meal (or a snack), than in having them as friends.

As we’d both seen “The Dog Whisperer” show, and had been impressed with what we’d seen, we decided we’d try out a few of his methods.

Two in particular stood out to me (us). The first was the “Tshhhst” sound he makes, on the show; it always gets the dog’s attention, and nearly instantly. The second was using the leash, but up high, right behind the ears, instead of lower, near the base of the neck.

A third method, using a treadmill, to provide exercise when you’re otherwise unable to take the dog for a walk, seemed like something we’d like to be able to use (as Maryan has had great difficulty walking for any extended period of time) “if” we could figure out how to get her to do it. It seemed nearly impossible to us initially as just the sound of the treadmill seemed to scare Lulu.

I’m happy to report, that in just a few short weeks these three, seemingly small, techniques, have transformed our life with Lulu. She’s far more confident, calm and far less of a ‘handful’. Maryan is now able to take Lulu with her when she walks to the mailbox; Lulu is attentive, calm and incredibly gentle on the leash now. No longer tugging, or refusing to move, but instead she’s become a great walking companion.

She, and the cats have made friends, and we’ve all become “a pack”... my only real wish is that these same methods would work on the cats!!

As for that “Tshhhst” sound... I can attest that it works and it works so well that I’m amazed each time we use it. I think it works on two levels, first, the sound alone triggers something in the dog, but second, and maybe more importantly the sound is free of any vocally inflected emotion. The dog hears the sound, knows where it came from, and simply focused his/her attention on the sound and the person who made it.

More importantly, there’s that lack of vocal emotion... One of the things I picked up from the show was that dogs quickly pick up emotional clues from us, if we become agitated or excited, they become agitated or excited (or more, if they already were). So when we ‘yell’ at a dog, we get exactly the opposite of the effect we’re looking for.

I don’t know what your position on Cesar, and/or his methods are, but, I can tell you this, they work. They work without either of us becoming agitated, frustrated or angry. We’re able to have the dog we wanted, without any sort of traditional discipline... just walks and consistent expectations on our part.

Getting Lulu on the treadmill was the most difficult of the three, the first time we tried it literally scared the crap out of her. We persisted however, initially just getting her up on it (with it off), sitting on it, and laying on it etc... Then once she’d get up there without any fear, we started it up. Initially she’d try and get off, but with her on the leash, and keeping her up there, she eventually started walking. Today, she’ll actually get our attention and then go to the treadmill as if she’s asking for a session. It has been a truly amazing transformation.

Our cat "Precious" and Lulu have become such good friends, they acually will sleep next to one another at times! They were both pretty comfortable until Lulu decided she needed to take a closer look at the camera!

One last observation... When we first got Lulu, I found myself comparing her to ‘Maxine’ a Sheppard/Husky mix I had years ago. Maxine was really a great dog, she was loving, loyal, great with kids, essentially just a joy to have around. What I realized though, was that I was remembering Maxine, as she was, not as how she started out. In the beginning she’d been nearly impossible to house train, she’d run off if she wasn’t closely watched, but, eventually she became a member of the ‘pack’ and a valued member at that.

I decided that the sort of comparison I was doing was unfair... after all I’d had Maxine for almost 14 years, nursed her back from near death twice... and we’d formed a real bond. We hadn’t done that overnight, in reality it took years... and just grew naturally. I think that right now, I’m only a few weeks with Lulu, from being where I was with Maxine after a couple of years.

Last, if you stop in here often, you might remember that initially, I thought adding a dog, especially one that was pregnant, and had spent over half her life in a shelter, to the ‘mix’ at home was not a good idea. I was 100% wrong; adding this animal to our home has been a wonderful experience. It’s allowed us to focus on something other than illness, and to focus on the dog. This animal has not only been fun to have, but, in the process of working with her, she’s helping to rehabilitate us as well!

If Cesar lived locally, I’d head over to his place to personally thank him. His techniques are so simple, so basic, and so gentle that my only regret is that I didn’t know about them 20 or 30 years ago!!

His overall philosophy, one of balance, ties closely to my own. I’m of the belief that in order to achieve balance we need to live, “in the now”. It’s a belief most often touted by eastern religions, but, that once it’s examined, causes you (or at the very least it caused me) to realize that the ‘now’ is all we ever have. The past is gone, and nothing about the future is guaranteed, all we ever have is the moment we’re living in, right now.

Discovering that dogs, very much live in the moment, has altered a lot about how I not only interact with Lulu, but with my life in general.

While Maryan and I are very happy we found homes for all of Lulu’s puppies, I find myself, at times, a bit sad that we couldn’t have just kept them all. Unfortunately, our town has a law that no household can have more than two dogs over the age of four months. If I thought I could make a living at it as he has, I’d buy some land and start my own large pack. When I see the love Cesar’s pack has for him, I’m honestly a little envious. I’d love to have a dozen or more dogs, living together, balanced like that, and share the ability to create that environment with others. Who wouldn’t??

I think the most important thing that’s coming out of his show, and his interactions, is that parents, and children, are learning how to interact with dogs. They in turn can show others, and eventually the children will grow up show their children… This guy will have an impact far beyond his ability to touch people personally, and will continue to have a positive impact on future generations. What a great legacy to leave behind.

I’d love to hear from you, what’s your stand? Do you love this guy, and his methods, or hate him? If you’re opposed to what he’s doing, I’d really like to know why. If you’ve got a success, or failure, story of your own, I’d love to hear it.

As always, thanks for stopping in!

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Wednesday, January 03, 2007

Man I Love Writing Software…

Even when I’m not getting paid to do so...

I had a couple of hours last evening and decided to look into a problem a good friend asked me to help him solve.

He’s a photographer, and has a fairly extensive website that displays his work. Up until now he’s had to run each of his photos through a manual process to place a ‘Proof’ bar across the picture before posting it to his website.

The idea was, how can we, programmatically, run a series of pictures through a process to place a ‘proof-mark’ across the photo? Doing that allows the picture to be seen, and appreciated, yet prevents it from being taken and used elsewhere with out him being compensated for his efforts.

Well, truth be told he asked me to look into this many, many, months ago, and I’m sure he thought I’d either forgotten about it, or given up on writing something to address his need.

For whatever reason, last night I was thinking about all the other Windows API functions I’d been able to employ to handle FTP downloads both from the internet and from the Main Frame at the job, that I decided to look into the GDI portion of the API and see what I could come up with.

So, for a couple of hours I wrestled with the rather terse (to me) GDI documentation, and attempted to read, and rewrite a picture, then a picture with some text added, then added a ‘bar’, then placed the text in that bar.

Eventually I had an, admittedly incomplete, little application that will read an image file, create a semi-transparent rectangle and place some text inside the rectangle that’s fairly centered as well.

Now this might not seem like much to some of you, but I assure you I was close to dancing on the desk once I got this working.

If he thinks it will meet his needs, I'll tweak it just a bit to provide an interface and he’ll be able to specify a source and target directory and just click “Go” and have all the images in that directory ‘Proofed’ in one shot…

This is not rocket science, but it is definitely one of the things I love about writing software… being handed a problem and then finding a way to solve it.

The best part? That I did it in FoxPro of course… That language that no one seems to have an interest any more, but that continues to ‘come through’ in every situation I toss at it. It’s really a shame it doesn’t get the respect it deserves!

Here’s a sample of a before:

And the after:

Keep in mind folks, this is a language designed to manipulate databases, NOT images.

Again, it’s not software to cure a disease, or change the world, but a little (less than a couple of hundred lines of code) application that does exactly what I set out to do.

It’s also a little project I had a ton of fun wrestling with!!

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Monday, January 01, 2007

Happy New Year!!

I know that I’ve been absent a lot of late, real life issues have kept me pretty busy, on several fronts. Despite being busy, I know the real reason I’ve been away is that I’ve not felt particularly creative, in fact if the truth is known I’ve pretty much been just “Pickin ‘em up… and Puttin ‘em down

Which is, of course, a euphemism for just going through the motions… I first heard it in boot camp, when a drill instructor told me I wasn’t there to enjoy the process, and to just keep “Pickin ‘em up… and Puttin ‘em down” as we continued on our march.

Over the past few months, I’ve spent a considerable amount of time in waiting rooms, doctors offices and hospitals.. all of which redefines ‘patient’ in ways I’d never really fully pondered in the past. I don’t know where I found the patience to not simply strangle one of the doctors with 180 degree opposing positions on my wife’s condition… or how I managed to stay calm and demand both ‘professionals’ get in the room with us and decide who was right instead of leaving it to us to figure out.

Somehow, we got through these past few months… and I’m 100% convinced 2006 was our ‘turning point’ year. That in 2007 and going forward we’ll be healthier… and stay that way… that’s how I face the fear of the alternative, I simply refuse to let it be a part of my reality set.

Over the months though, I’ve had quite a bit of time for reflection, introspection, and I think I’ve discovered some things, about me, and maybe about finding joy in life, even when some folks would say you had nothing to be happy about.

There’s an old Zen proverb that goes something like this:

“Before enlightenment; chop wood, carry water. After enlightenment; chop wood, carry water.”

I’ve always taken this to mean, regardless of your ‘state of enlightenment’, life itself continues. (If you find yourself totally intrigued by the proverb, you can spend several years researching its meaning as entire books have been written about its meaning.)

A friend of mine asked me recently how it was I’ve been able to not be out riding (on the motorcycle) when I get so much enjoyment from doing so. (For those of you new to the blog, prior to 2002, my wife and I were out on the road, on the bike, most weekends and usually took motorcycle vacations.)

Initially I told him I’d just put if off for a while, and that I missed it, and was sure we’d get back to it one day soon. As I’ve thought more about it though, I’m not so sure we’ll ever get back to riding like we once did, hell I’m not sure we’ll ever go riding again.

That thought however, got me to thinking.

Was it the actual ‘riding’ I found so much joy in, or was it something else?

The truth is, I enjoyed the process, at least as much, if not more than, the actual ride. Certainly I’d enjoyed the process far more than any single destination or group of destinations.

Then I realized that somehow, somewhere, I’d changed.

There was a time when I’d been totally focused on the goal that I never even noticed the process of reaching it. That once I’d reached a goal, I never took any time to enjoy the thrill of achievement, but rather, focused on the next goal and achieving that one.

That ‘epiphany’ had me thinking about the ‘welding cart’.

I *really* enjoyed the process of building that little piece. Each cut; measurement and tack weld… even the mistakes… I reveled in it… immersed myself in it.

It’s certainly far from the most complex thing I’ve ever done with steel and a torch; in fact it’s one of the simplest, but, for whatever reason, this time I was able to just get lost in the process.

Motorcycling is like that for me as well. There the pre-trip preparation. Oil change, routine maintenance, checking tire pressures, a wash and wax, packing for the trip etc… Some of our fun talks when we reminisce about a trip is how we (mostly my wife) managed to pack everything we’d need for a 10 day trip into two small saddlebags and one ‘back pack’ style bag. Less space than we’d normally use for a weekend away in a car trip.

I’ve started to get all ‘Zen-like’ with regards to the truck project as well. (long time readers will remember the zest with which I started that project) I done nothing on it in over a year, except to move a few things around and lament the fact that I’ve done little or nothing on it.

So, as we start off this new year I’ve decided I’m going to focus less on work related goals, and more about the ‘process’ of my life. I’ll start back in on the truck project, get back in the gym and tackle several projects around the house that I’ve been putting off (like finishing the work in our ‘natural area’)…

I have but one resolution for 2007, to find more joy in the process of living, to allow myself to focus on the process rather than the end result, and enjoy ever facet of that process, even the set backs and failures.

Stay tuned... This time next year you can let me know how you think I did!!

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