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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