Friday, September 1, 2017

The Sneaky Test



Here it is ... the first day of September. Vacation seems but a distant memory and school is less than a week from starting, for us at least. I’m not sure how I feel about schools that get started during the month of August. To me summer is kind of sacrosanct. I don’t think it’s much to ask to have a full three months off for kids just to be kids, but I do think that some reinforcement of the knowledge learned during the school year is important. I remember the days at the campground doing fun activities that our mom gave us with nary a thought that we were actually still learning something from doing them.

During our vacation last month, I decided to do a little web surfing during some down time. I don’t know why, but I ended up checking the web site of a tech company I was provisionally hired for when I was in the process of completing the computer training course I had enrolled in back in late 2008. I eventually was hired and started working for another company, but a couple of guys I went to the course with had gone on to take positions with that first company. I guess I just wanted to see if they were still there, and if the tech company was still in operation. One was, and it still is. As I roamed about the website, I came across a section dedicated to the owner’s blog postings. Long story short, he was encouraged to do so share his adventures as CEO and entrepreneur. It turned out to be an interesting read in life lessons and trying to do the right thing in personal as well as professional life.

One of the themes that came up in a few of the posts was sticking by a poor decision for too long, or being indecisive about something altogether. That’s something that seems to be a theme in my own life. The owner hoped that some people may find some guidance through reading the lessons he learned in his blog, and I kinda thought that would be a good idea to do here since there is a crossroads approaching my family in the near future as well.

We often wonder if the choices we make are the right choices. Sometimes they seem so certain at the time, but in retrospect, we end up wishing we had made a different choice. Sometimes we wonder if what we are doing is really the right thing to do. One of the things I learned to help me in some of this decision making has been what I call the “Sneaky Test.” This came about many years ago; about the the time I was creating my website and getting involved with the “Millennium Controversy.” At the time I had an old Windows 98 desktop computer. It did it did its job, but I felt like I needed something a little more modern and portable in order to do more with the website … and play games, of course. It’s not that I couldn’t afford a new laptop computer, but money was kind of tight and it really was a frivolous purchase. But I threw common sense to the wind, and went ahead and got an Acer laptop running the then novel Windows Millennium Edition (we can talk about that mistake another time).

Now normally when you buy something, there’s an inclination to want to show it off, depending on what it is of course.  The “hey, look at my new toy!” type of thing. Not so here. I wouldn’t say it was buyer’s remorse, because I really wasn’t sorry I bought the laptop, and it did help with both the reasons I wanted the thing, but I felt like it was something that I had to hide from everyone else, especially my fianc√© at the time. I always kept it hidden and never used it when she was around, often getting up in the middle of the night to use it when she was asleep. Of course, I wasn’t as sneaky or clever as I thought I was, and she eventually told me she knew I had it. Of course I felt instantly guilty about the whole situation. Really, from that point onwards, I used the Sneaky Test as the litmus for whether I really needed something or not. If I felt I needed to hide something I wanted to buy and not show off to friends and family, then it was something I most likely really shouldn’t be buying. More often than not, it turned out to be the right choice as the money was better spent (or saved) elsewhere.
 
Somewhat related, but different as well came much later, during that time a few years ago I was in the midst of a career change and wondering if it would be the right decision to make. Leaving the known, comfortable world I was in for something I had never done as a proper job before. It was during that time that a potential opening was made available to me through one of my co-workers at the time, whose husband worked in a tech position with the state of New Jersey. It would be a pretty good job to have as a start, with the perks of being a state employee, and not having to work a typical help desk position that is the usual bottom rung a fresh tech support person would normally start out in. The only catch would be that I would have to be a resident of the state in order to be hired.

Considering we had just gotten out of New Jersey only a few years beforehand, I wasn’t too keen on moving back, especially considering some of the reasons we left in the first place. However, there could have been a potential way around that little issue in the fact that my parents were still residents. I could possibly finagle the system a bit to use their address as my new permanent address and the problem would be solved. Of course there were some risks inherent in that, but I don’t think it would ever have been too much of an issue, and I could have had myself a pretty good place to jump off into that new career path. After all, it was why we spent those thousands of dollars to attend the course and become certified in Windows OS Support. It was certainly better than my current position in the retail industry. It would seem like a pretty easy decision to make. And it was in a way.

Ultimately, of course, I chose a different path and went to work for a tech company in Pennsylvania. It really came down to just doing the right thing. As beneficial as it would have been to take that state job, and as good it might have been for me, it wouldn’t have been the right thing unless I did move back to New Jersey. It just would have been a cloud hanging over me the whole time, and really, if it was truly the right choice and the best choice, then I wouldn’t have had to consider resorting to the deception in order to make it happen. If I was going to do it, then I wasn’t going to be sneaky about it and I was going to do it the right way and prove beyond a shadow of a doubt that it was the right choice to make. Had I taken the other path, then it simply would have proven that it really wasn’t the right choice, and I had made the wrong decision.

Despite what transpired afterwards in the job I did take, it really did turn out to be a good choice, and the right choice. I wouldn’t be where I am now, and our family certainly wouldn’t be in the position now to make additional choices about our future that we can really look forward to making. In the end, it was an expensive lesson, but one that I am glad I was able to make and take some good things from, not the least of which was the curiosity that brought me to that blog that night during vacation and being able to take away some good life lessons from it.

Thursday, August 10, 2017

A New Who



A long time ago, when I was a wee lad, I was introduced to a Science Fiction program on PBS about a strangely dressed man who apparently travelled around in a big blue English Police Box that was bigger on the inside than it possibly could be when looking from the outside. I was captivated and became a fan, just as I was a fan of Star Wars and Star Trek. The show was called Doctor Who and it was a campy little thing that we inherited from England. A while ago, during the 50th Anniversary of the show in 2013, I wrote a blog-like entry that I later copied over to this blog, called Reflections. I can’t really say how many things in my life have had a profound impact on me and have made me who I am today. I am sure there are many more than I realize, but with certainty my love of Fantasy and Science Fiction has certainly influenced who I am. Throughout my life these three giants of the science fiction industry have been a mainstay in my life through the years, and each of them have changed in significant ways over the course of decades.

I recently learned that Doctor Who is undergoing another change. This one quite likely the most significant change since the program returned to the airwaves back in 2009. For those unfamiliar, the program is about an alien only known by the moniker of the Doctor. The Doctor is from a race that has mastered the ability to travel through Time as well as space with specially designed ships that can change their outer appearance to blend in with their surroundings. The series began in 1963 and the lead character was played by William Hartnell. After three years, Hartnell’s age forced him to leave the show, and thus was born the legacy of Regeneration. Time Lords have the ability to regenerate their bodies when they become old, sick, or injured to the point of death. The concept of Regeneration allowed the show’s producers to continue the program and allow for the changing of the lead actor as each of them departed from the show. Throughout the course of the show’s history, the Doctor was always played by a white, male actor. That will change in the Christmas Special this year when the Doctor will transform into a women – played by Jodi Whittaker.

When the news broke, it was received positively by most fans of the show. Of course there will always be those who do not like the change, just as there have always been those who disliked the next actor to take over from their current favorite Doctor. One of the initial detractors was one of the former actors who played the Doctor – Peter Davison who was the 5th person to take on the role. Overall his reaction wasn’t as negative as others, but bemoaned the loss of a positive role model for boys. His successor, Colin Baker took Peter to task over the comments, and I think they both made valid points. For me, I am torn by this decision.

Throughout the course of its run the show has developed a rich lore and history to the events that transpire, as is expected. Sometimes, also as is expected, especially in the case of Doctor Who, it sometimes has contradicted itself, but when the main character has mastery (somewhat) of time and dimensional space itself, that is easily explained in the lore. In all that time, the subject of Regeneration had been fleshed out more, but never has it ever been specifically stated that a Time Lord can or cannot change their sex. In the original run of the series from ’63 to 1989, when a Time Lord regenerated, it was always into a new body of the same sex – male to male and female to female. The first time that a cross-sex regeneration occurred was with the Doctor’s arch nemesis, the Master, who regenerated from male to female during this new run of the program, a couple of years ago. So as a fan, from the perspective of lore, this change isn’t something that can’t potentially happen. However, as I have been pondering the decision to make this move in the program, I find myself to fall on the side of the detractors of this decision.

That’s not to say that I don’t think Jodie can’t do the job. Quite frankly, I am unfamiliar with her as an actress (or actor, depending on your level of Political Correctness). It’s just that having the Doctor regenerate from male to female takes the program and lore in a direction I am not particularly interested in seeing. When Doctor Who went off the air in 1989, and was effectively killed off by the BBC at the time, I was upset at the loss of such a novel and entertaining science fiction program. As campy and low budget as it was, that was all what made it charming and entertaining. When a potential return was in the works with the 1996 one-off special, I had high hopes to be able to see the return of this fascinating character. However, it was another decade until that return was finally realized. However, the show had undergone such a change that it was no longer the show that I grew to love and look forward to as a boy. I think this decision by the show’s producers only cements that fact.

A lot of people happy to see the change have said “It’s about time” and that the show was long past due for a change like this – having had a white male in the lead for over 50 years. I have to take exception to that. Now, I am all for diversity and equal rights, and all that, and am glad to finally see a lot of things that were considered taboo or abnormal decades ago is seen as the normal course of human evolution now. But why in the hell should I have to feel ashamed for being a white male human being, or for enjoying something in which a white male human being is the main attraction, so to speak. Can someone please tell me why I am wrong for being comfortable and proud that I am a white male human being who is trying to make a living in this world and being the best person, best husband, and best father that he can be as a white male?

There is absolutely nothing wrong with having a white male in the lead role of the Doctor. That is who the Doctor is and was. Why is that such a wrong thing? Just like James Bond is a white male womanizing spy, just like Luke Skywalker is a white male farmboy with special powers, just like James T. Kirk is a white male captain of a starship. That’s who these characters are, why should they be any different? These characters and their respective stories are popular because of who they are. I fell in love with Doctor Who because of who the Doctor was and how the events of the show surrounded him. Even during the series return, I have watched a few episodes of the various incarnations of the Doctor, and while I don’t necessarily find the show interesting any more, I was still captivated by the character of the Doctor. All this decision speaks to me is about change just for the sake of change, and that just bothers me greatly. Sometimes change isn't needed.

At the end of the day, I would be a lot more interested in seeing the return of Romana as a character, and letting a spin-off show run with her as the lead. Again for those unfamiliar, Romana is a Time Lord (specifically Time Lady as established in the lore), who travelled with the 4th Doctor for a period of time and regenerated once during the show’s run (one of those unfortunate things that happened during that time to make her more of a typical damsel in distress companion). If anything is long past due for the show’s history, it’s to bring back that character and actually flesh her out more in her own series. That would get me back into the world of the Time Lords more than anything else.

Nope, I am sorry for all those out there who find this to be a fantastic decision. I find it to be complete crap. Call me a dinosaur as Peter called himself in his comments, but (shock of shocks) sometimes changes don’t need to be made and change for the sake of change is not always a good thing. I wish Jodie all the best of luck in the role, and I am sure the program will win over a whole new generation of fans for doing this, but this decision just makes me glad that I was never able to recapture my interest in the show when it returned almost a decade ago. And that makes me sad.

If there was one thing I have always looked forward to, more so than new Star Wars movies (awesome sauce!) and Star Trek movies (the reboots being utter crap), I think that the return of Doctor Who has been one of the biggest things I have ever desired in my life. I think out of those big three, the Doctor had the most influence on me growing up, even more so than my desire to be a Jedi, even if I didn’t realize it. I think I just found the Doctor to be more human and more relatable than anything else. And it makes me sad that I lost that influential character 28 years ago,

Monday, July 31, 2017

Greener Grass



I wish I had more time to write. I posted that as the comment when I posted a link to my last blog post on Twitter not too long ago, after realizing I had written that at the beginning of June. Now, here I am at the very end of July, trying to get something down so I don’t go another month without posting something in the blog. The truth of the matter is, I wish I had more to say. Time still is a bit of a factor – work, sleep, and trying to earn some money with video streaming on Twitch and YouTube so I can avoid getting a real second job, but even with that, I just don’t know what I would write even if I forced myself to sit down more often and work on it. I had always intended this blog to be a bit of a soapbox, to give me an outlet to comment on current social events, and certainly there is plenty of fodder for that on any given day in the grand ole U S of A. But how many times can you say idiot, unbelievable, apathy, or a joke and still make it interesting? Then there’s things that I really want to say, but need to keep my mouth shut so I don’t alienate too many people I know.

One thing I had been considering over the course of vacation last week was perhaps finally making this blog a bit of journal or diary. Sometimes the most interesting things can start with the phrase, “Dear Diary ….” I think, however, it would be just a way to help me remember little tidbits of things from year to year. After all, I am still trying to figure out where the last 12 years went now that Erin is in her last year of being a pre-teenager. Sometimes the daily grind just grinds you down so much that it seems to be the only thing that matters in life. I suppose that when you need to rely on the grind to keep food on the table and a roof over your head, it’s not that hard to get in that rut, and can’t see a way to get out of it without hitting the lottery. But of course, that dollar spent on a lottery ticket is another dollar that doesn’t go towards paying the bills, so it’s a dollar that can’t be spent on a high odds chance.

This year’s annual trek to the Lancaster area just cemented the fact that even though we may be stuck in that rut of the working grind, perhaps we need to do something to make it feel more worth the time away from home and the things that we really enjoy doing. It may be we are seeing some greener grass a couple hours down the road from us, but sometimes a change in scenery can be just what is needed to get a fresh perspective on life and our own little slice of the world. There’s always that fear of leaving one’s comfort zone; of having to start over and prove oneself in that grind all over again, but there’s always that hope that perhaps the grind won’t feel so grindy any more.

Out of curiosity, I wanted to see just how much greener the grass was that we were seeing on our annual vacation trips to the Hershey area, and see if there just a much to do around the hometown area that we weren’t just seeing. So I figured I’d keep to the things that are within an hour or so from home and likewise for the Hershey area and see what I could come up with.

At home we have:
Philadelphia and the related historical sites there.
The Art Museum
The Philly Zoo
Trenton and a few things there like the War Memorial and Planetarium
Washington’s Crossing
Princeton Battlefield
Bowman’s Hill Tower and a Revolutionary Battlefield park
The Camden Aquarium
And of course the big theme park – Sesame Place
A little further out we have the Jersey Shore and New Hope/Peddler’s Village

In Hershey there is:
The obvious – Hersheypark and Chocolate World
ZooAmerica
Indian Echo Caverns
The Pennsylvania Renaissance Faire
Strasburg Railroad and the Museum
Dutch Wonderland
The Toy Train Museum
Lake Tobias Wildlife Park
Gettysburg

After looking at the lists I realized that there is quite a bit of variety and things to do around home. The only thing we really haven’t done with the kids has been Sesame Place, which is kind of ironic since the primary reason we go to Hershey are the two amusement parks. So maybe the grass isn’t that much greener on the Hershey side in terms of things to see and do, but the lynch pin may just be the things that aren’t on the list – the quality and cost of living. The one intangible and the other more practical are the true things that can make the grind more bearable. In the end, I think we the older we get, the more we realize we need a change of pace, even if it’s just in those times we get to escape the grind, and perhaps it could just lead to a much better change in the grind itself. Even if the grass really isn’t greener for the Amish, at least having a different patch of grass to mow can’t be any worse than what we are looking at now.

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Another Summer



The Pointer Sisters covered Santa Claus is Coming to Town for the first A Very Special Christmas album way back in the late ‘90’s. At the opening of the song, they say “Another year has gone by.” More and more, that line keeps running through my head as we keep hitting those yearly milestones again and again each year.This time around, it’s another year of school ending for Erin, and another June that has arrived, which means another summer of Hersheypark and the second year of setting up our small pool. Another summer of dealing with ants in the house and finding toads and snakes out in the back yard. Another summer that I am sure will feel that it went by way too fast. But at least for right now, there are those fun times we still have the opportunity to look forward to. Those times when we can finally take a breather from the grindstone and sit back to relax for a change.

Going to Hersheypark is one of those annual family traditions that come Hell or high water we feel we need to keep going. It’s unfortunate that our ability to take those days trips is going to be much more limited this year than in years past, but it’s that one thing we can look forward to each year as our deserving reward for all the blood and sweat we put in to our jobs year in and year out, and for all the trials and tribulations Erin goes through each school year. That daily grind, day in and day out, 5 (sometimes 6) days a week, time spent away from each other and time and energy spent trying to earn enough to make sure we can pay the bills and put food on the table. It’s seems that whenever we manage to get ahead, something else happens to set us back again, even just a little bit. This time around, it’s the dog being diagnosed with Addison’s Disease. It’s something that John F. Kennedy had, and can be contracted by dogs as well, though it is rare, and rarer still in male dogs. Just our luck, it seems. It requires a daily pill, and a monthly shot that sets us back $150 each time (more if we were not giving Marley the shots ourselves). It just means we have to work a little bit longer and a little bit harder now to cover that additional expense. That’s just life in the real world, and another hurdle that has to be leaped.

But we have the summer. That really is the one time we can look forward to those couple of trips to Hersheypark to just be able to forget about everything else and enjoy the family time together. Obviously, in our line of work (retail) we can’t even count on the holidays. But it’s that one week of vacation and those couple of extra day trips we manage to squeeze in somehow that keep us going each year. Sometimes I wish we had the ability to just drop everything and go whenever we wanted to, but that’s life in the real world. We just keep looking forward to each summer when that opportunity presents itself once school comes to a close.

We managed to get our first trip in this past Monday, and, despite the heat, it allowed us the breather we needed from the grindstone of our daily responsibilities. A little breather for a few hours, at any rate. It was nice, though, now with Abby getting to the age where she can really appreciate the park and the rides. It made for great times and a few great videos I have to find the time to work on now. As relaxing as it was though, I still am reminded that there are others that are not as fortunate as we are. There are those others who don’t get the opportunity to go to an amusement park, or to the zoo, or to the aquarium, or to the beach, or even to a local playground. By nature of my involvement with Extra Life, I am always reminded or thinking about the kids who don’t have the chances that Erin and Abby have, of being able to get up and go to school every day, and of being able to have that experience and the experience of taking those all to rare family trips to relax together. I realize that even with our daily struggles, even when we have bad days at work, there are others who always have worse days. So I am thankful that, even if there are only a few days a year where we can truly escape the “real world” for a time that we do indeed have that ability given to us.

I am so glad for the Boo that her hard work has paid off and we can reward her with special occasions like this. I have to say that Erin might work harder than any of us. I was never a great student, and struggled with a lot of things with the exception of the liberal arts part (reading, writing, etc), or whatever it may be called now in the asinine “Common Core” age. But Erin really has put a lot of effort in this year to getting her work done and trying to improve her grades to make Second Honors. She takes a lot of the responsibility upon herself since the CC makes it difficult for pretty much any one with Common Sense to figure out how to answer some of the work that is brought home from school. Day in and day out she trudges along and manages to continue to succeed. With all the work she has done these last 9-odd months, she above all else deserves the reward of Hersheypark more than any of us. She has shown a genuine improvement in herself over the years, and I am so glad that we still have the ability to send her to the school we have chosen for her. It is truly making her a better person for the experience. I was never a big fan of school (really there probably few kids who are), but at the end of the day I wouldn’t have traded that experience in for any other. At the end of the day, it prepared me for dealing with the real world, and gave me the ability to be able to do what I do so I can give the same opportunities to Erin and Abby that my parents gave to me. I am so glad that we can continue the decades long tradition of making the family trips to Hersheypark one of those opportunities. The days spent at work and school make it worth so much more.