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Tuesday, December 01, 2009

30 pounds of schoolbooks

So I have all these books on the floor by my desk. They are school books which arrived this past holiday week. I don't want to talk bad about my last school, but these books seem harder and they are for a community college. Maybe it's the content: Statistics, Nutrition, Biology (this book alone weighs about 10 lbs), and General Chemistry.

All these books are for pre-requisite classes for the curriculum I am eventually working toward. I've been perusing the Nutrition book and it's rather fascinating. I take this as a good sign that I'm looking in the right direction - I can't put the book down and my class doesn't even start until January.

A morsel to chew on, then:

Did you know that your muscles store about 20 minutes of glycogen? Glycogen is the storage form of glucose which is the fuel you get from carbs and fats and stuff. When you are doing a nice steady walk or jog on the treadmill and are breathing a little more intently (but not panting) and are sweating, you are burning off the glycogen for about 20 minutes. After 20 minutes, your body expends all the glycogen and the muscles signal your body to dip into the body fat reserves. This is what most overweight people want.

However, the window of fat reserve usage is fairly small. Fat needs oxygen to convert into energy and if you are working out too hard or too little (like yoga), your body uses other forms of fuel instead of fat reserves. So it seems if you want to lose body fat, you do a better job keeping your heart rate in the aerobic zone and working on duration.

To make it even more fun, when your body creates fat reserves, it does so in quantity and in size. The reason a lot of people lose weight and then gain it back rapidly is because the fat molecules shrink in size but you keep the same number of them. It gets complex here, but your body wants to keep a certain set weight it's comfortable with and will tell fat production to begin again when you enter a non-diet phase, explaining why fat seems to fly back on.

This is only one tiny piece of the puzzle. You should lose weight in certain increments and over certain periods of time to help stabilize these effects. I'll let you know more as I learn more.

Finally, you can't work out a specific area of your body and expect to lose weight right there. Fat is broken down in the bloodstream and pulled from where the chemistry tells it to, not from where you are flexing a muscle. Crunch all you want. Once your fat reserves are at a certain level, then you will lose the one-pack.

Hopefully I got all that right - I haven't even started class yet.

Statistics is first, actually, and I would do well to pre-read that book for this accelerated class which starts December 14. I'm anticipating a 95% probability of passing.

More later!

Tuesday, September 08, 2009

My cologne smells like some kind of animal

I haven't been writing a lot lately, and it hasn't bothered me much. But every now and then I want to write about my life and that's when the conflicting beliefs rush in. I'm unemployed right now and this suddenly makes public writing seemingly different.

There seem to be several camps of people, and hence corresponding beliefs that when you are unemployed, you should be publicly present in certain ways.

The Professional
For example, there are those former co-workers and family members who advocate 100% professionalism all the time in any post or presence, always. In this scenario, my hair is always freshly cut, I'm clean-shaven, and you can tell I practiced my steely, knowing gaze the whole time I pumped iron for the last 4 hours. My cologne smells like some kind of animal, and I'm ready to engage in this game called professionalism, relentlessly.

The Unprofessional
My natural tendency is to be straightforward and honest. In this scenario, my hair could use a trim, I've got an 8 o'clock shadow, and I've practiced erasing the 'holy shit!' look off my face all day. I did workout for an hour and I spent more time raiding Ulduar than looking for a job. My cologne smells like some kind of flower. A manly flower, yes.

These two belief systems fight a lot. I want to be both, but I don't necessarily have the energy for being "on" all the time (it feels like a lie) when the bent of my nature is to maneuver through this business of unemployment in a more "surprise me" kind of fashion. I also want to be assertive about the next thing I do. So, I sit somewhere in the middle of the Professional and the Unprofessional - this manifests as solitude and quiet, for the moment.

One of the things all this downtime has provided (besides a lot of leet gear) is a slow mental churn of all the jobs I've had. I've gotten past the initial surprise of being on my own again. I got to work with an awesome group of people at the State Bar of Wisconsin. And that warrants a note on it's own: in retrospect, working with them showed me how much I enjoy helping people without the barrier of another company in front of it. That has played very hard into some of the decisions I am now making.

So I've had time to look at all the jobs I've had in a new way. Instead of focusing on the situations (managers never being there, learn by failing, etc), I am looking at the things I've liked about these experiences. I've been doing this, and distilling those "likes" in different ways.

For example, my biggest satisfaction in all my jobs has been helping people. I like to directly help people. From grocery bagging, sweeping floors, working for printers, publishers, and consulting firms, the heartfelt "thank you" from the customer is the big win for me. "This is the best 40-page recommendation document I've read" is equally as satisfying. The paycheck is nice, but that's just to pay the bills. Give me a thanks, and I've felt like I contributed in some way and will walk away smiling.

I also like problem solving. I like delving into technical things, especially business processes and certain computer/technology issues. People always mistake me for a programmer or technical person because I am generally more savvy than they are. But, I am not as technical as say my friends Karen and Chris. At least not in the same way.

Piecing it together
So I've been taking all these things I like about my jobs and applying them to potential jobs. I like parts of the consulting work I've done, but there were distinct things about those jobs that I didn't enjoy. This doesn't mean I won't do them should I be offered another similar position. However, I've been focusing on things I WANT to do as I look for a new job.

I've been working with a dietician to solve my dietary challenges. Interestingly, in working with her, I see the opportunity to meet a lot of the goals I have in a new job. So, I'm exploring what it would take to become a dietician. They work with people directly, they problem-solve varieties of diets and people and processes, and there is an endless supply of people needing their services. I seem to have the right personality fit. So, it's a strong probability. I'm looking into it (without looking at the finances for the moment) -- I am actually working with schools to review the classes and stuff right now.

A note about resumes
In this pursuit of a job, I've had a ton of feedback about resumes. The current trend is to make sure that I make the resume fit the job, and I have an issue with this. On NPR last night, a recruiter was saying to look at the keywords in the job description and match your resume to fit it.

I admit I have an old-style resume that lists what I DID rather than what I CAN DO. I need to change that. But, I have a distinct problem with making my resume sound exactly like the job description if I'm not able to do it or am almost qualified. They tell me not to lie on a resume, but then ask me to lie by stating what they want me to hear. How does that ensure a good fit with me and a potential company?

My sense of customer service says that you work honestly with each other. Sure, there's a game to play, always, but I am for minimizing that game. I'm contemplating the part in the play that a resume acts - if it's ok to "lie" for the sake of getting an in. But, I don't like it. I think it sets up a situation to fail.

At the end of the day, I'm just trying to figure it all out. I can be the professional - I do good work, I have solid skills, and I like to work and be useful to other people. My cologne is the wild cat on those days, the Lion of my birth month. But on the other days, I don't always know, and I probably need a shower. Recognizing the two halves of the whole - and accepting them, rather than fighting with them may let the hunt be successful.

Monday, May 11, 2009

My odds are improving


Today I saw my 2nd shuttle lift-off live, on my 4th attempt. It was astonishing.

We started the day at 4am and left the hotel at 5:15am to drive 11 miles to Kennedy Space Center. They opened at 5:30 on this special day - launch day - and we only spent a little while waiting outside in a tired stupor.

We had breakfast with an astronaut at 7:30am (Mark C. Lee, who worked on Hubble once before and was the first man to have an untethered spacewalk - he used a jet pack). We got a photo op with him afterward and then went to see a IMAX movie to kill some time before we had to board the buses to the causeway where we were going to watch the shuttle lift off.

We got a quick lunch in after the movie and then stood in line waiting for the buses to be cleared for departure. Finally, after baking a while, they were. It's about 15 minutes out to the NASA causeway.

The causeway is just a road going over the water, and there's a little dip enough for thousands and thousands of people to sit and watch. It's 6 miles from the launch pad and the closest place non-VIP people can be. There's a relatively unimpeded view of the launch pad - only a small island with some trees slightly obscuring the shuttle. But you can see the orange top of the external tank and some of the rocket boosters in the distance.

We waited about 2 hours in the sun - it was SO hot. But, it was just fun to listen to everyone and watch the crowd. After about an hour I wandered around to stretch the legs and found a much better location that had speakers right next to it. They pipe in the engineering/flight director talk over this and that helps us know what is going on, so we moved to that area.

There was a brief 30 minutes or so of concern as they saw some ice build-up on the connection from the external tank (that holds liquid helium and hydrogen at around -400 degrees) to the orbiter. They decided it wasn't a concern. We also watched some big clouds build up (on the ride home they became thunderstorms, but during countdown it was not an issue). Nevertheless at T-20 minutes, then T-9 minutes, all was go for launch.

The last 9 minutes goes by really rapidly. The entire crowd, which has been chattering for hours suddenly goes silent and the flight director's voice over the loudspeakers is especially clear. You hear the different things happening - retracting the crew arm, starting the auxiliary power units, removing the beany cap. About a minute after the APUs start (T-5 minutes), we could hear a low grumble roll across the causeway - these are the APUs starting up. They are very loud.

Everything takes on this unreal feeling as you go into the last 2 minutes. It's eerily quiet except for the occasional voice over the speakers: "90 seconds".... "60".... "30 seconds, we have auto-sequence start". And then it's just holding your breath.

We could hear the 10 second countdown over the speakers as the igniters beneath the engine engaged, and then the "we have liftoff", and then you could see in the distance the steam rising from the little tiny area where the orange cone is, obscuring it. And then there's a bright fire as the shuttle leaps off the pad. The TV does not do this justice by any means: it is a solar fire, four times the length of the shuttle, and it's like the shuttle climbs this bright flame up.

The crowd cheers wildly: we can see, just over there, Atlantis lifting off, and arcing to the east in a very deliberate climb, long steam trail following the burning fire. It's about 40 seconds after liftoff and a subsonic sounds reaches you from the launch pad and climbs up the trail so recently occupied by fire. You can feel it in your heart, in the ground, in your body. It's a huge rumble that begins to echo across the water and ascends into a great crackling atmospheric vibration that you feel in your whole body.

Without expensive cameras and binoculars, the shuttle is gone in about 3 minutes. You realize the flight controllers are still talking about the status of the engines and trajectory. So there's nothing to do but board the bus and head back to the center. Still, you board the bus changed, and moved, and astonished.

And so we made our way back to Titusville, satisfied and glad for a clean launch... tired, happy, ready to have two days of vacation not shuttle-related. We're a little dazed. It's 1 part tired, 1 part hot, 1 part oh my god.

Be sure to check out my pictures on Facebook. I'll send you a link if you email me or comment. I also have about 3 minutes of video - from T-30 to T+2:30, with the flight controllers talking and the crackling in the sky.

We are go for launch... part 1

It's 4:45am EDT and Dawn and I are about to leave to head over to KSC. Yeah it's early, but we're supposed to be there by 6am to have breakfast with an astronaut. That's actually going to happen at 7:30 or 9:00 or something. But it was our suggested arrival time and we're going to try and not get caught up in the crowds. It's easier to wander around there in the morning than fighting traffic all morning long.

On my first trip to KSC I got there super early like this and there was still thousands of people watching and waiting.

Today is looking very favorable for a launch - it'll be my second out of 4 attempts. Right now, the shuttle is being filled with liquid propellants. It's many tons of fuel and takes a while and they have to make sure everything is pressurized right. They have a gazillion other things to do today, also, before the 2:01 launch time.

If you want to follow along online, I recommend You'll get uninterrupted coverage without newscasters falling over themselves and quoting ridiculous things. Also, the Discovery channel will be following the mission live about an hour before launch. The regular news/entertainment channels will show coverage of the launch the last 5-10 minutes before the launch.

I probably won't post again until after liftoff. I'll throw a status or two up on facebook. Here we go - looking forward to another launch! Go Atlantis!!

Sunday, May 10, 2009


If you are a member of Facebook, you can find pictures from the last two days on my profile. I think that link will get you in.


Today is a quiet day after the busy-ness of yesterday. Yesterday was go go go, exertion, walking, etc. This morning after a languid breakfast at Waffle House (right next to our hotel), we drove out to the Merrit Island Nature Preserve to go on the Blackwing nature drive.

I did this drive with Tom a couple years ago, and it was a nice quiet drive with a lot of waterfowl, other birds, alligators, and so on. It must have been a different time of year because the place was practically dried up and the drive was very quiet. It's about a 4-mile drive that took us about an hour (we stopped at a bunch of the stops and walked around some). We took a few pictures and I took some videos of some birds flying overhead, small crabs along the shoreline (hundreds of them!) and some interesting plantlife. It was very still and quiet out there. We were constantly on the lookout for alligators about to spring out of the water's edge. Dawn likes to squat down and take pictures of butterflys on flowers at the water's edge. The image of her being dragged under was pretty powerful and I kept a sharp lookout. And I made continual fun of her.

After the drive tour we went further north on Merrit Island and saw a couple of manatees - they are really quite huge! It was really really hot and humid still and after standing outside for a while we both got a touch of sunburn. We were going to go to the beach near the refuge area, but they close it down 24 hours before a shuttle launch because it's really close to the pads. We departed the area at 1pm and headed back to Titusville.

We picked up a few groceries to try and stave off the inevitable feeling of bleh that you get when you've been eating better (I have been lately) and then you eat junkfood. What made me want to eat that way in the past I will never know. Glad to see my diet is in the slow motion process of changing.

Anywho... we are back at the hotel, resting up. We have an early morning arrival at KSC (6am) so we are resting and restoring fluids today. Tomorrow morning we dine with an astronaut at 7:30am, then wander around until its time to get on the bus to go to the causway site - it's the closest the public can get to the shuttle launch. 6 miles and unimpeded by clouds. It will be clear, directly in front of us, and LOUD. I can't wait!!

As of this posting, everything is looking really good for tomorrow's launch. They roll back the service structure at 5pm EDT so the shuttle is exposed. Tomorrow morning they start fueling the tank with liquid hydrogen and liquid oxygen. Around 10:30am EDT they start loading the crew into the shuttle.

Off to nap, read, and drink water. It's SO hot and bright here. And it's only May.

Saturday, May 09, 2009

Tropical climate

A journey to see the space shuttle launch is a journey fraught with positives, negatives, and heat.

The trip so far has been a very good one, but I always forget how hot and humid it is here in Florida. I am not sure how I survived my first unprepared trip here in 2005 ( Nevertheless Dawn and I had a great, if tropical day. Ever present is the heat and humidity that turn the 95 degree weather into 105 degrees.

We spent 10 hours at the Kennedy Space Center complex today, going on tours, wandering from place to place seeing the sights.

Our first stop was the viewing gantry, about 1-2 miles from shuttle launch pad itself, and today was a very rare sight. There are two shuttles on the pads right now - this is really rare. Normally, the space shuttle goes to the International Space Station and they have refuge there if something goes wrong with the shuttle. They can always ride a Soyuz module home or wait for another shuttle. Now, since Atlantis is servicing the Hubble Space Telescope right now they will be in a different orbit. If something goes wrong they don't have any fuel to fly to the other orbit where the ISS is. Most people don't realize this but the orbiter itself has no fuel (except what is needed for maneuvering). The 3 main enginers are only used during launch, and those are fed from the giant orange external fuel tank. As soon as the orbiter reaches orbit, no more fuel and the shuttle is a glider that maneuvers some. So, the upshot of all this is that they have Endeavour waiting on the other pad as backup. If something goes wrong with Atlantis while they are servicing the Hubble, Endeavor can launch quickly with only 2 people on it to go on a rescue mission. So, two shuttles on the pad - and this is likely the last time it will be seen that way because the remainder of the shuttle missions are all to the ISS.

After that stop (lots of stairs in the heat), we rode a bus over to the Saturn V exhibit. It's really quite good. I always get teary-eyed at the video of the countdown of Apollo 8 in the old control room. I get a little overwhelmed with the challenge of overcoming huge odds, competition of the space race, and the triumph of innovation. Who knew I'd be wired that way? After the moving simulation, you go into a big room where the Saturn V is housed. It's really astonishing - huge, and a monumental engineering achievement. 2 million independent systems in it. Millions of pounds of thrust - designed to propel astronauts from the intense gravity of Earth to the gravity of the moon. It's unabashedly phallic.

Afterwards, we went to the International Space Station preparation room, where they make the modules and test the equipment going on the shuttle up to the ISS. It's the live processing facility and on workdays you can see people wandering around and doing whatever it is they do to get these huge things ready for spaceflight.

We eventually headed back to the visitor center and grabbed a late lunch. Ravenous! Afterward we went on the Shuttle Launch Experience - a ride that simulates the launch of a shuttle, from the inside. Videos on the walls with former shuttle commanders say they helped design the thing and it's the closest real sensation to an actual launch. The ride really shakes you around and simulates 3G of gravity and weightlessness. It's really really fun.

Beyond that, I switched out our 7pm Star Trek tickets to 4:30pm and we caught the matinee. I won't give it away, but I really want to see it again already. It's really fun and fast-paced. Honors the past but paves it's own way. Like it!

We wound up the day in the space shop, of course. I have new t-shirts and hats and a couple of other fun things. We left, exhausted, and drove back in to Titusville to have dinner, ice cream, and now I can barely keep my eyes open. I'm still warm, even after a shower. It was a hot day, but oh-so-fun. Even the weird little bugs that swarm all over the hotel building and sneak into the rooms at night aren't bothering me. I'm off to bed, to have a restful day before our early morning trip to KSC again on Monday. Launch days turn KSC into an entirely different place, but I'll tell you about that after Monday's launch goes off successfully. :)

Have fun, more later.

Fourth time the charm?

I'm back in Florida on vacation. Who knew vacation for me would entail trying to see the space shuttle launch again. This time I brought Dawn.

This is just a quick note - we're off to Kennedy Space Center to go get on the tours and see the sights. They close a lot of the up close tours on launch day and I'd like a chance to see two shuttles on the pads - it's likely not going to happen again.

I'll take lots of pictures and post them here and on my Facebook page later when we return. Bonus part of the day? Watching Star Trek this evening at the KSC IMAX. How freaking cool is that??

The shuttle launch is 2:01 pm EST on Monday, May 11. We have to get up at the respectable hour of 4am to be there early enough to dine with an astronaut for breakfast, get on buses to go out to the NASA causway, and sweat in the tropical Floridian heat. Fun times ahead!!

Catch you soon...

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Toronto proper

Going to take a break from the deep thoughts and update you on Toronto.

Had a really nice day - all the work stuff went well. I analyzed that data, boi-eeee!! Have some architectural ideas (I actually should be focused on requirements, not solutions, but it's a damn hard habit to break) and some documentation to do.

But what was really nice today was the snow. I woke up mighty early to go slug it out with the treadmill and bicycle machine. The workout room faces a big window that looks out over the street. I'm 10 floors up and as the morning light started coming in, I could see it was sleeting / snowing. It proceeded to snow all day long. It's still snowing now.

In Dallas so far we've not had "real" snow in the last 3 years. I saw some in north Dallas last year, but this is like Canada snow. It's different somehow. I had a blast walking in it and trying not to slip in my dress shoes on the sidewalk. Tomorrow - wear tennis shoes, note to self.

So we take the subway each morning one street up from North York and trudge out onto the street for a few blocks to where we work all day. Then the same going back to the hotel. Tonight we decided to go into Toronto (I'd been pestering) and I got some really nice pictures which I am having trouble downloading from my camera onto this loaner computer. I'll have them up soon.

We took the subway about 30 minutes to the end of the line (St. Andrews) and then took a streetcar 9 blocks to go to a great restaurant named Biermarkt. We had sausages and cheese and fondue for entree and a ton of mussels for dinner. I, um, had a burger because it was smaller. And I don't like mussels a lot. Drank a couple of beers (both Canadian on tap) and had an overall good time with the ex-current-co-workers. A chai tea dessert followed. After we all pushed our huge bellies out of the door afterwards, we walked the 9 blocks back to the subway. Then after we got disoriented briefly, returned back to the hotel where I sit, periodically looking out the window at the snowfall and trying to go to bed earlier than I have been.

In other great news, I have some more work coming my way that I'm quite excited about. It lets me work with a favorite client and favorite new Dallas friend again. Wow, things may be looking up after all. But, small steps. First one is off to bed. Pictures tomorrow or the weekend. Peace out, peeps.

Monday, February 16, 2009

More Deep Thoughts

So here I am in Toronto, Ontario. I've had sort of an unusual day in that this is the first work I've had in several months and I've discovered I have changed a lot in that time.

I've got a one-time and possibly more than one-time gig with a former employer to help them out with some business analysis. It's happening just in front of some other work I really want to do with another northern set of friends.

So the deep thoughts? Well, I've spent the last 3 months at home looking for work, adjusting to not being at work, and getting over a fairly minimal amount of irritations from my last job. When I was employed - at any of my past jobs - there were certain things I "owned" that I no longer own. Politics, and awareness of the inner-workings of a company. Weird co-worker relationships, working for someone else who may or may not share my ideals and communication style, etc, etc.

Also, being the resistant Type-A person I have been for the last x years, I realized that suddenly I am enamored of doing nothing. And it's especially weird to not feel bad about doing nothing. It's like since all this world economy junk has happened and all the change that is going on, it's like I am in between -- the old way clearly no longer works, but the new way is undefined.

So it is with my work situation, and some of my relationships. It's like they worked in the past and all the things I "should" do and have done automatically no longer feel right. But I haven't quite yet figured out how things work - a lot of unknown.

What's also interesting is that I am experiencing some fear, but not as much as I would have thought. This is good - there's been too much fear lately.

So, actually I have more to say but it's late and been a long day with long days ahead. I'll write more tomorrow. Stay tuned.

Friday, February 06, 2009

Loss, change, fear, hope...

I find myself in a complex place this afternoon. I just finished watching the last episode of Millennium, a tv series I enjoyed in the late 90s. I also just completed reading a series by one of my favorite authors, Stephen Donaldson. Both of these were about struggling against apparent good and evil, experiencing the horrors in life and trying to make sense of them. I don't have these kinds of extreme horrors in life at all, but I resonated today with the closing of these two series. I empathized with the way the crew felt in their documentary on working with something special and having it gone, move on. Loss. Ending an intense series is mirroring other losses.

Recently I was a pallbearer for both my grandmother and my wife's grandfather. I lost my job in December. Two good friends of mine are going through divorces. Relationships with my family have changed as they move from protectors to peers, and I grow into whatever it is I am growing into.

I'm contemplating loss today, and as I read an article earlier about Spain giving rights to apes, I imagined the feeling I would have recognizing a consciousness that humanity has probably hurt, being granted a reprieve by our own choice and the great hope that would bring for us a species. I also realized, probably belatedly, I am grieving over the losses I've experienced. Not just the recent ones.

Loss is about feeling like I don't have choices. I explained to Tom the other day that I have TOO many choices, that I needed to write them all down. All the things I want to do. So many, I attempt none of them. I still think about and talk with relatives who are gone. I imagine new interactions. I recall old relationships that served their time but likely will not have the same shining intensity they once had. But still, I dwell in these worlds - the choice is there to see them, they are not lost. They are just... different.

Expanding my vision, I see the world is experiencing loss - the US economy, the world economy, all the terrible things that are sensationalized to make us feel loss - that things are different and changing. Am I just seeing loss around me because that is what I am focused on?

Change is inevitable, and is full of new choices - it's not all about loss, despite what we are shown and what we bring to our attention. Why do we want this loss right now? What are we trying to get over - what are we trying to become?

The old analogy of the caterpiller becoming the butterfly no longer fits. We don't change from one state to another, to a completion.

I think, today, also, that I feel loss that I haven't done enough of what I think I am capable of. I keep my ideals away from my own actions and desires. I am afraid of the next change, of what things will be shed or changed - of the unknown.

I know this though - their are always choices. So many I don't see them all, or at all, sometimes. And, change must happen, whether it frightens me or not. If I see a greater vision, I should pursue it. I could be much more than I am, but I don't know how to get there.

So. I acknowledge all the loss. But I am weary of dwelling on it. I don't want to go down this path of abandoning living for survival. "Fear is the mind-killer" they say, but I think fear is the choice-killer. And fear belongs to us - we control it. It's time to acknowledge and accept loss, and time to address fear. It's time to see the choices and move on to what the butterfly becomes... next.