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!

Technorati Tags: - - -
-IceRocket Tags: - - -

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!

Technorati Tags: - - -
-IceRocket Tags: - - -

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!

Technorati Tags: - - -
-IceRocket Tags: - - -

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!!

Technorati Tags: - - -
-IceRocket Tags: - - -

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!!

Technorati Tags: - -
-IceRocket Tags: - -