Category Archives: The Way Things Are

Welcome to the Dark Side…We Have Cookies

I love technology…the more bells and whistles the better. I started out on an old Remington manual typewriter (the great-grandparent of modern day computers for the millennials out there), and I wouldn’t go back to those days for anything. Just trying to correct a simple mistake gives me the shudders, not to mention the problem of making multiple copies of one paper. Yes, today’s word processors beat the typewriter hands down.

But there is a dark side to technology, as well. Recently, I’ve been pulling my hair out trying to connect to the internet for work. Everyone else’s laptops connect just fine, but mine hangs up midway and refuses to cooperate. Having to do email on my phone is frustrating enough, but I do draw the line at trying to grade and correct essays on my phone. (I know, I’m just not tech savvy enough or at least haven’t learned the proper way to do it yet–I’m getting there, tho).

Yet what really bugged me was getting the alerts from Google that some other device had accessed my account twice and was I aware of it? Yes, Google, I was aware. That was me hacking my account on a friend’s computer so I could do my job because my authorized device wouldn’t talk to the internet. Beyond the fact that not only did my technology not do what I asked it to do, it had the audacity to track me and monitor my activities was a bit disconcerting to say the least. I mean, how do those dark net folks in movies get away with covering their tracks so easily? If a simple task like switching computers can raise red flags, how does anyone minimize their digital footprint?

Maybe this only bothers me, but I really don’t like the idea of some group, organization or other person knowing where I am at any given time without my permission. I’m a private individual and not fond of big groups to start with. I mean, I used to hang out in the government documents section of my college library just so I could read a book in peace. But it seems that in today’s techno world, falling off the grid isn’t so easy.

Welcome to the dark side; we have cookies and they aren’t chocolate chip.

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The Hand the Rocks the Cradle Rules the World

Yesterday while buying groceries, I overheard a family trying to prep for Mother’s Day and complaining because they couldn’t find the “perfect” gift.  Sometimes the “perfect” gift is so simply we overlook it. Moms don’t  need expensive perfume or jewelry–they just  need to know their work and efforts are appreciated. I wanted to tell that family, “why don’t you make HER favorite meal or take her out to eat at HER favorite restaurant?”  I’m afraid, though, they wouldn’t know the answer, although she would have known their favorites.

Still looking for that perfect way to honor Mom?  How about doing the laundry this week? Or offering to make the grocery list and do the grocery shopping?  How about cooking a meal or two or vacuuming /cleaning the house?  Anything to give her a break from the daily routine of ordinary that we take for granted.

So here’s a thank you to all the mothers out there; thank you for:

*getting up in the middle of the night when we are sick

*thousands of loads of clean clothes

*thousands of meals

*a clean house

*gas in our car when we were running low

*a little something “extra” during those college  years when dorm food just didn’t cut it

*band-aids on our physical and emotional hurts

*giving up your time to come watch our extracurricular events

*saying no and meaning it

*setting standards even when it made us feel “different”

*loving us even when we aren’t very loveable

 

There are some other “mothers” out there–those mentors who encouraged us, guided us, nurtured us above and beyond our families. Some of these are older ladies in the community, aunts and grandmothers, teachers.  Thank you for “standing in the gap” for us, for being there with a kind word or a hug. Thank you for believing in us when no one else would. Thank you for taking time to see us as a person of value and worth.

Motherhood is something precious and special that is becoming more and more despised as feminism attempts to force a cookie cutter mold on everyone–the one-size-fits-all mentality that only finds respect and worth outside of the home. But the home is the center of society and when the home breaks down, so does society.

 

No, I don’t want to return to the 50s when women could only be mothers, but I also don’t want a society where woman cannot be mothers.   So thank you, moms, for your courage, fortitude, perseverance and guts to continue day in and day out to make the world a better place, whether you are a stay at home mom or a mom who balances a career and a home. What you do matters!

God bless you!

 

Once Upon a Time

No, this isn’t about a fairy tale, although I suppose it might feel like one — one without a happy ending that is.  You see, once upon a time in the land of Golden Opportunity, inventors actually made products that worked, that made clients happy and met those clients’ real, not perceived, needs.

Take the ’57 Chevy for instance. Pure perfection in a car.  If you don’t believe me, ask Tom Paris of  Voyager, who designed the Delta Flyer to recapture those classic lines.

As a writer, I’ve gone through dozens of programs from the initial concept to the most current “improved” version and the improvements always tend to take the worst parts of the program and lose the best features which are what made us buy the thing in the first place.

One such program is Print Shop. When it first came out, it was designed to make personalized printing jobs affordable, easy and do-it-yourself from home. Now it is geared toward companies and the average individual spends frustrating hours trying to print a simple label. In past years, I could simply import the border I wanted, add text in various fonts and colours, flip it vertically or horizontally or even catty-cornered.  Now, it takes an act of Congress, a letter from my  mother, and a pint of blood to print something that is nowhere near what I wanted simply because it doesn’t fit the professional, corporate mindset.

Even my beloved Word Perfect has strayed from the 6.0 version that was ideal for novelists.  Publishing companies (who make it easy on themselves and not the writer) tend to opt for Word, which is designed for formulated, preset business memos and short letters–NOT 80,000 word novels (or legal documents, which is why Word Perfect will still be around 1,000 years from now). In spite of its flaws, WP has features Word chose not to incorporate: easily opened and viewed coding to rid manuscripts of pesky fonts, grammar code, etc that mess with formatting, a consistent grammar and spell check (still can’t get Word to operate properly), and WP doesn’t insist on reformatting my text or paragraphs or capitals like Word does. Which is why all my manuscripts are typed in WP and then saved to a Word file so it can be uploaded to Createspace.  For sheer ease and usability, WP wins hands down. Another useful aspect of WP is that no matter how old the file, WP will still open it, unlike Word that insists we upgrade, replace computers and programs every couple of years, so their CEOS can take expensive vacations and drive expensive cars.

I dread the day when Word will no longer allow the old .doc files to be opened in Word.

I wish I could say that somewhere out there in the space-time continuum is a bright young person with the will and desire to create a printing program that works across computers/programs and has options for both the individual and corporate.  Unfortunately, if said young person does develop such a ground breaking product it wouldn’t be long before Corporate America buys it out and tries to “improve” it to make it fit the stereotype corporate mindset.

I can already see curled lips and condescending sneers — “oh, you’re just old and not able to keep up in the competing market.”  Yes, I am old.  My college class was the first that had VDT (video display terminals, the many times great-grandfather of your laptops and iPads). But I’ve kept up with the tech because I love technology and what it can do. In fact, I daresay, I look ahead to things you haven’t even envisioned yet. After all, I grew up on science fiction where possibility becomes fact. I just see no need for tech to be complicated and take twice as long to do a simple task as what it did in the past. Tech should make things easier and faster, not harder and more complicated.

So I will keep searching for printing software that equals the original Print Shop in terms of versatility (fancy graphics are pointless if they can’t create the product one envisions), and I will stay with Word Perfect and Jerry-rig ways to make it compatible with Word.

And maybe one day, when I am really old and grey and my fingers are too gnarled to use a keyboard and my voice to soft to use speech to text, you’ll shoot me an email and say, “hey, I’ve got this great product….”

 

Yearly Rant

If you need one more reason to believe that Congress doesn’t have our best interests at heart, just look out the window.

Oh, wait. That’s just for us producers who had to get up at dark thirty this morning because Congress decided they know better than God what time it is.  Daylight Savings time. A waste of perfectly good morning daylight just so some people can play late into the night.

I’m reminded of the time Ecuador’s president decided to emulate the United States and introduce Daylight Saving Time. After a disastrous six months of people asking “Sixto’s time” or “God’s time” when they needed to make appointments, DST was repealed.  Changing the clocks didn’t change the fact that in Ecuador the sun came up at 6 and set at 6 everyday all year long.

If you do a Google search of DST to try to find the “real” reason why DST was established (or why we still have it), you find a variety of theories, but no real reason. City folk blame it on country folk; county folk blame it on city folk.  But it is one more example of how a very few control the majority of American lives.

Congress recently had the opportunity to change and repeal this antiquated law; however, Congress bowed to pressure of the monied, pampered few, the pleasure seeking crowd and condemned us to more years of getting up in the dark and going to bed in the light.

There is one benefit of DST. It contradicts the doomsayers who think living on Mars would detrimentally affect our internal clocks.

What Can I Say?

The idea that a company or corporation or organization can determine or limit what an employee can say on personal accounts or outside office hours is somewhat troubling. And although I understand that employees (both on the clock and off) represent their companies and that their behavior can cause embarrassment for their companies, it seems a bit hypocritical that an employee can be fired for saying something the company doesn’t agree with (or isn’t politically correct) rather than for making a drunken spectacle of themselves.

However, this blog isn’t about the rights and wrongs of that particular debate.

What is more concerning is a prevalent attitude that “freedom of speech” safeguards destruction of public property or the use of the “F” word, while the mention of Jesus’ name (unless used as a curse word) is prohibited. It seems that 200 plus years of freedom has bred a generation of Americans that are historically ignorant, as well as thin-skinned and overly sensitive.

When the Founding Fathers included “freedom of speech” right up there in the same place with “freedom of religion,” they certainly did not have in mind the current state of affairs in our country.

Back then, British citizens who disagreed with the crown (government) had to exercise extreme caution even whispering their discontent behind the closed doors of their own homes. Such “treason” was punishable without trial by torture and imprisonment. Our predecessors felt that one’s freedom to speak against the policies and actions of one’s government without threat or fear was a God-given right, and as such, worth fighting and dying for. At the same time, the crown (government) forced citizens to either practice the state religion (whatever faith the king happened to be) or else forbade the practice of their individual faiths. Violations of either law resulted in serious penalties. Again, the Founding Fathers felt strongly that the ability to practice one’s faith regardless of political correctness or popularity was worth defending and dying for.

It is a rather sad state of affairs that after 200 plus years of such hard-won freedoms, Americans are willing to turn their backs on these principles based solely on the “I don’t agree with it, therefore I don’t want you to do it.” What is equally sad is these very same folks fail to realize that without these two fundamental freedoms, the very act of protesting someone else’s faith and beliefs will soon be denied them as well. Freedom of speech–and freedom of faith–is protected for everyone. Not just those who believe like I do.

Yes, there are some ideas that are outside the pale of good judgement, good morals, and public sentiment. But is the way to deal with such stupidity really to fire people, destroy their property, prohibit their ability to say what they think, or ban the practice of their faith? The very folks who decry name calling are in effect name callers themselves who want harsh judgements for others, but not themselves.

What can I say? Nowadays, probably very little.

The Perfect Game

I’ve never been a sports fan–I guess I like my comfort too much to waste time freezing at a football game sitting on uncomfortable bleachers. Or maybe I just figured it was a waste of my time to watch people shove and elbow each other until they were black and blue just to drop a ball in a basket at the opposite ends of the court.  Granted, while I’m at one of those games, I will cheer and holler for my team like everyone else, but if I have a choice of whether or not to attend, I’ll opt for not attending every time.

However, there is one game you can always take me to: baseball. Maybe it’s because I understand the rules; maybe it’s because baseball is a game anyone can play regardless of ability or aptitude; maybe it’s just because baseball is a leisurely game with no time limits.

Ah, there’s the rub. Some smart aleck in sports has decided to change the fundamental principles of baseball by insisting on time limits for pitchers and batters. Really? Are you insane? What practical purpose could time limits serve to improve the game?

Baseball isn’t about time limits. It’s about long summer days, eating hot dogs or nachos and chatting with your friends. It’s about strategy, stepping off the mound or out of the batter’s box at the precise moment to throw off the pitcher or batter. It’s about keeping the first and second base runners honest, so they don’t get too big a lead. It’s about having plenty of time to enjoy America’s favorite sport.

There’s a reason baseball is a favorite, not just in America, but around the world, and it comes back to the leisurely nature of spending time with family and friends. Unlike football and basketball, where one has to be constantly watching, baseball is more laid back. You can take your eyes off the “action” for a moment to gaze at your sweetheart or exchange a bit of conversation with your best friend.  There’s no hurry, no rush, and in today’s frenetic paced society an opportunity to slow down is welcome.

Maybe that’s why even in science fiction, baseball is still around long after all the other sports have faded into obscurity (Deep Space 9). It’s as necessary as the air we breathe. There are a lot of things MLB’s head honchos have done I’m not happy with, but this one takes the cake. To take away even a part of what makes baseball unique for the sake of a few dollars isn’t just a crime, it’s reprehensible.

Don’t mess with perfection.

 

 

 

 

courtesy StarTrek.com

America: Welcome to the Third World

We left America at the end of the Reagan years to work in Ecuador. When we came back to the States in 2000, we were shocked at how different everything was. Nothing, however, prepared us for the continual decline we’ve experienced in the last 16 years as “the land of the free” has grown more and more like a third world country.

What do I mean America is like a third world country? Yes, we still have numerous “freedoms” sadly lacking in most Third World nations; however, there are several eerie similarities that clearly shows the changing nature of our country:

  • Darker city streets and highways
  • Lack of variety in stores
  • Empty store shelves
  • “political correctness” eroding freedom of speech
  • loss of jobs for talking against the government or government edicts
  • government insurance and taxes taking half of one’s salary
  • health care that requires longer wait time for less services
  • too many rules and regulations hindering the ability to start up a new business or keeping an existing one going
  • no middle class

The list goes on. The point is we have nearly reached critical mass, where the consumers have outnumbered the producers and the producers bear the brunt of keeping things going. There are several reasons for this downward decline, but one glaring reason is the number of politicians running our country. The founding fathers never meant for politicians to rule. They meant for people to rule. Folks who understood the pinch of making ends meet, of eating beans and rice for dinner, of dreaming of a better future for their children.

Tuesday is election day. A chance for change. So instead of voting for a party, or voting for a politician, or the lesser of two evils, vote your conscience. You aren’t “losing your vote.” If you vote for the same old same old or to keep the other guy out, you’ve already lost your vote and a chance at turning things around.

This country was built on risk takers.

Be a risk taker. Vote your conscience.

 

July 4th

After spending 10 years overseas, I’m a little more aware of July 4th and its significance than I ever was growing up in the USA with all the parades, fireworks, picnics, etc. Being overseas made me appreciate things I often took for granted and some days have to make a concerted effort to remember:

*running water

*electricity on demand

*free public education for everyone

*respect and dignity for the handicapped

*respect and dignity for women

*freedom to worship

*freedom to speak a dissenting opinion

Looking in from the outside, I can see the erosion of our personal liberties and freedoms, but what is most alarming is the apathy of our citizens. Because we have not fought and struggled for our liberty, because we have not suffered under oppression, because we have not seen life outside our own borders, we do not value freedom and liberty and we do not understand the terrible prices that were paid, even though we study about them in school.

So today I give a heartfelt thank you to all our service men and women for their sacrifices to keep our borders safe and our liberty unchecked. I thank their families for their sacrifices in missed birthdays and Little League games while Mom or Dad are gone, the struggles of the parent at home to hold the fort and keep the home fires burning.

America hasn’t always done the right thing or made the right choices, especially in the past few years as politics and peer pressure dictateslifestyles, but I am still proud to be an American. In spite of the internal problems, America is still the place of choice for immigrants; it is still a beacon of hope to the oppressed, the downtrodden, the tired and weary, and those seeking a better future.

 

Simple Solution

After a visit to the Pacific War Museum in Fredricksburg last week, Bruce and I decided to rent the movie PT 109, an excellent film, made all the better since it was based on a true story. The heroism displayed during that time period got me wondering if we have any young people with the same grit and determination as those young men who gave their lives during WW II, as well as wondering about the underlying differences between that generation and the present one.

With the rise in juvenile crime and delinquency, I realized there is a radical, yet simple solution to transforming our youth culture: require every high school-college age student to complete six months in the Peace Corps. Most of our disenfranchisement among today’s youth is due to ingratitude and lack of anything meaningful in their lives. Not only would a six month to year long stint in the Peace Corps fill that gap, but it would produce a sense of accomplishment in their lives that, frankly, working at a fast food join flipping burgers doesn’t.

We can take this even  further. Instead of sentencing juvenile offenders to a stint in the prison system (where they learn to be worse, not better), require them to serve their time in the Peace Corps. Yes, I know President Kennedy’s dream was to send the best America had to offer overseas, but most of these delinquents have the potential for greatness, yet lacked the opportunity to discover it. Giving of themselves in a place far less fortunate than anywhere they may have grown up in the United States provides the chance for them to discover who they really are.

Think about the costs of keeping a young delinquent in the prison system versus the costs of the minimal stipend in the Peace Corps. Not only does the US benefit from reduced costs of imprisonment, but the other country benefits in terms of service and income (the youngsters have to eat, pay rent, and enjoy some free time); in addition, the young person has gainful employment instead of sitting in a jail cell thinking of more ways to get into mischief.

It’s a win-win for everyone.

 

A Word to the Strugglers

I’ve been to numerous graduations and have noticed over the years the gradual sugar coating of the messages. Too much “cotton candy fluff.” I’m not “successful” enough to ever be invited to speak at a graduation, but fortunately I have a blog post.

It matters who you know.

I grew up in the “baby boomer” generation under the misassumption that you could make your way in the world on your own merits and not “who you know.” Unfortunately and fortunately, this just isn’t true. Once when in Ecuador, I needed to leave the country immediately on a family emergency. Such a move was impossible without the proper paperwork, which I did not have. Standing in line, hoping and praying I could make it through customs, I found myself standing behind the second most influential man in Ecuador. I didn’t know him, but my missionary colleague did. Problem solved. Many years later, working as the editor in a small town, I learned to network with the movers and shakers as part of my job. When it was time for my daughter to graduate, numerous local scholarships came in; partly because of her efforts, but partly because these folks knew me and knew of our financial need. Make networks. Invest yourself in your community. Find people and make friends, not just to better yourself, but to understand others.

Slow and steady doesn’t always win the race, but it does get you there. I’ve always been amazed driving down the interstate or in town at the folks who think speeding is the only way to travel. I’ve seen cars zip around me only to stop at the same traffic light or bottleneck. I’ve often wonder what their hurry is and why they didn’t just leave a few minutes earlier to avoid the rush. Studies have been done that speeding doesn’t get you there that much faster—at least not faster enough to warrant risking your life or someone else’s. We’re all on the same journey and most of us are heading to similar destinations. However slow or fast we get there really doesn’t matter. I’m the kind of traveler who enjoys taking detours. Going back and forth to see my dad in Florida, I would see an interesting place and say, “Oooh, let’s stop here for a moment.” Some of our most enjoyable “Kodak” moments came from impulsive stops like this. Life has too many wonderful places to see and things to do to be in such a hurry to get to a destination, especially since there is always someplace else we need to be later on.

If you don’t put anything in, you can’t expect to get anything out. I love the old story of the hand pumps during pioneer days. Modern generations aren’t familiar with these pumps, but I wonder if we shouldn’t reintroduce the concept into society, just to teach this principle. The old pumps didn’t automatically produce water. A sealed jug would be set inside the pump and a user was expected to pour the pint of water into the pump to activate the pump. Once the water is poured in, the pump is lubricated and produces an unlimited supply of water. The same principle applies to life, work, success, friendships, etc. The problem is we are conditioned to think only large amounts of input or risk are worthwhile. Even tiny investments, over time, produce great results. I always tell my students, “Start at 18 putting $2000 a year into mutual funds and do this for seven years. Leave the money alone. When you retire, you’ll be a millionaire.” They don’t always believe me, but the financial tables prove this out. The amount itself isn’t the key; it’s the action of investing yourself, your time, your money into whatever captures your passion.

At the end of the day, you are the only one who can determine the parameters of your success. There is always going to be somebody better than you. Don’t let society’s definition of success rob you of the enjoyment of your accomplishments. You might never win the Nobel Peace Prize, make the cover of Time magazine or be named Doctor of the Year. Only a minuscule amount of people is remembered by history and there are millions of us who are equally successful as those rich and famous who are also long forgotten by history. As long as what you accomplish matters to you, it is sufficient. The parent who raises godly children, the doctor who works in a rural hospital, the farmer who provides for his family, the teacher who sees the light dawn on one student’s face, the photographer whose work graces a local hospital, are as successful as those whose names and faces are constantly before the public. One hundred years from now you will be as well remembered as they are. So refrain from beating yourself up at your “lack” of success. Enjoy your talents and your abilities; embrace your accomplishments and take pleasure in your life.

 

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