Sunday, December 27, 2009

Christmas Weekend, 2009 and an Avatar Experience

I couldn't keep my days straight over the weekend; Friday was Saturday and Saturday felt like Sunday to me but it was fine because the weekend seemed longer than normal and not the other way around.

We had a dozen people or more from my side of the family over for Christmas Eve and had an enjoyable evening seeing them all. We were a little worried that the heavy snowfall we got would cause most everyone to have to cancel but they all made it and we were happy for that. We let technology fill in the gaps and bring us together with those who were separated from us by too many miles. Melody, my niece in Portland had the idea to connect with us via Skype and a good idea it was. I downloaded the 1.9mb file and tested it the night before with my brother who also lives out there. The connection worked much better than I figured it would. Here's the result from his end and from ours. The only issue we had was the lighting on our end but I found a quick fix for that.

Tammy got me the two main things I wanted for Christmas; a Park Tool stool for working on my bikes in the garage and the 28 hour, 7 volume Lance Armstrong Tour de France DVD collection for viewing while I'm training on my rollers in the basement. I managed to get through the first 2 of 28 hours yesterday.

Most of my workouts lately have been behind either a shovel or my 23 year old Simplicity 8hp snowblower. We got seriously dumped on over the weekend with the type of snowfall that's sure to cause you to cringe watching an older, out of shape person attempt to tackle; wet and very heavy. The bank at the bottom of our driveway is getting as tall as I can remember it ever being in previous years. It would make for great fun if I was still in my tunneling phase of life but I've recently outgrown that. The kids across the street are taking full advantage of their similar mounds of snow as are other kids in the neighborhood. I watched the plow come through yesterday and you could tell the driver was being watchful for kids as he was going quite a bit slower than normal.

I brought Mom over to Keith and Tracee's Christmas day and spent an hour with them. Keith recently purchased a used 37.5 foot motor-home and I wanted to check it out. He and Tracee travel a weekend drag racing circuit in the Midwest during the warmer months and this will give them quite a bit more comfort than they've enjoyed in the past.

Tammy and I saw the movie Avatar last night. The fact that it was 3-d was the main reason I wanted to see it. I'm a bit of a 3-d geek. I'm not much for Sci-Fi stuff but Tammy is. Odd thing though was that not all screens offer it in 3-d. It's playing on three different screens at Burnsville's Atlantis 15 but only one of them was 3-d. It would be a good movie regardless but spend the extra few dollars (we paid $12.50 per ticket) and get the full affect. The glasses they give you come sealed in plastic and are quite a bit better than the cardboard framed lenses you've previously used.

We got there early enough so we could have a good choice of seats. There were two guys in their mid teens in line behind us there to see it for their fourth time. That was a good sign. They recommended sitting in the middle of the theater half way up the height of the screen which is what we did; smack dab in the middle. While the 3-d effects were quite cool they weren't so strong that they'd cause motion sickness.  They were maybe a little less than what I was expecting. Dizzying 3-d effects would've been an issue for Tammy so it was just right. I did catch myself flinching once as some chunk of exploding debris came at us and barely missed me over my right shoulder. I'd occasionally lift my glasses away from my eyes to see the difference with and without them. About what you'd expect; a little blurry.

The color in some of the scenes, especially the night scenes is spectacular. You're watching computer animation for the most part but it works so well that you won't give it a second thought. I liked the futuristic air traffic control stuff and thought it was mind-blowingly cool. I wouldn't mind staying around a few extra years at the 'place of dysfunction' if that's where we're headed. But then the movie takes place in August, 2154 so it's doubtful I'll make it that long.

The story was one of good vs evil. I won't say any more about the storyline in case you're going to see it except to say that I did find myself at one point pondering the similarities with what was happening in the movie and some of the wars we've waged in my time; Vietnam in particular. I mentioned that thought to Tammy after the movie and she thought maybe a stronger comparison could be made between European Settlers and Native Americans. Go see it. Two thumbs up from us.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

214 out of 216 and Falling or FAA Management Gone Wild

Let me frame this entry with a simple question: What is a leader? A simple answer: Someone people choose to follow. The FAA has very few leaders while we're top heavy with managers. What's the difference between a leader and a manager one might wonder? Simply put, a manager says 'go' while a leader says 'let's go'. A leader is somebody you respect and try to make look good. You have their back and they have yours.

Christmas is just a few days away and I want my thoughts in a different place than where they are. I wish they were of family coming to visit and gifts under the tree with the anticipation of a late Christmas Eve service at Hosanna during a huge snowstorm we're expecting. Instead they're stuck in a 5 minute episode that unfolded during a holiday dinner at work with our crew the other night only to be tweaked once again in a Quality Assurance briefing this morning.

Our crew's supervisor (to me and others, a leader) orchestrated a potluck dinner for several of us to be held during our team meeting Sunday night. He also invited his boss, our area manager (heavy emphasis on the word 'manager' and absolutely none on 'leader') to sit in and listen. We were all sitting there with full plates in a rather quiet room. To be honest, the presence of this particular 'manager' soured my mood and would set the tone for the topic of discussion I would pursue.

I broke the silence.

Because this person represents in my eyes all that is wrong with FAA management I expressed my disappointment about a lack of change in culture I was hoping to see with the new administration (more about that culture at the end of this post). The FAA currently sits at 214 out of 216 of government agencies to work for when defined by employee satisfaction. Controller input into the survey was only 10% but I'm quite sure we make up a higher percentage of the workforce than that. Had our voices been proportionately heard we'd likely have finished dead last in the survey. I commented that while it's nice that myself and my fellow controllers will finally be receiving raises after three years of frozen wages, had McCain been elected we controllers would still be looking at another two years of no pay raise while management would continue getting raises as they have all along. The manager assured me that they too would have finally gotten into the game this coming year and had their wages capped had we not ratified a contract. Wow...what leadership!

He went on to say (and this is the part that bothered me most) that he felt the highest paid controller should be making less money than the least paid supervisor in a facility. Say What? I asked him in so many words if he really meant to say that a much younger 4 year employee should be able to trump my 28 years of controlling just because they opted for a management position? He was emphatic that they should and went on to say that it's because the job of supervisor is a more responsible position than that of a controller and you can't have someone in a position of authority making less than the person they're supervising. Sure you can; the FAA has done that my entire career without it being an issue that I've ever heard of.

His, a more responsible position? I asked him if it was permissible for supes to surf the web while they're on position. He stated that it was. I then told him that there's no way I could do that as a controller in the sector because I have far too many responsibilities in front of me. I asked him again who had the more responsible job. If he had an answer I don't recall it.

He then asked what I felt it takes to do the job he does? Without hesitating I replied "A GS-7 (government scale pay-grade 7) with two months of training". It was an honest answer. Before I could follow up with thoughts about NWA188 and his key role in that management fiasco, Mark, my supervisor, asked if we could change the subject because it was getting too heated for a holiday dinner. I agreed.

News got around about what had been said in the meeting and I was happy to hear the words of thanks from those who'd heard what had happened. I merely said in so few words what they also believed; that the job of supervisor/manager has nothing to do with accepting more responsibility but is actually just the opposite. You're no longer on the razor's edge of critical thinking necessary to get the job done. The primary task a supervisor has is ensuring sectors are staffed adequately to handle the traffic. Trust me when I tell you that I could teach my wife or daughter in a matter of a day or two how to do that. Provided you have the sectors staffed adequately, if you're a supervisor and there's an incident you have little to fear. That's all on the controller in the sector.

If the FAA was serious about reducing costs they'd consider hiring and training people to answer the phone in each area of specialty for the purposes of approving/denying shift requests and disseminating traffic management initiatives. They could pay them so much less than they're currently paying someone to do the same work and we could avoid the huge expense of training people to be air traffic controllers when their only goal is to sit at a desk and answer a phone while making an obscene amount of money for so little effort.

Our management ranks are overflowing with people who were less than stellar controllers but yet according to the area manager in our pot-luck dinner meeting I'm to believe that those people (including him) were actually in search of more responsible positions. Bullshit!

Oh, and about that culture change we've been so patiently waiting for? Suckers!

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Saturday Evening Musings and Wally Cleaver

Tammy's comment from ten minutes ago, "If that dog lives another year I'll be surprised". We just got back from the mall to find the remains of Rachel's Hershey's Kisses candy-cane on the couch in the basement. A quick check with Rachel told us that she hadn't had any of it yet and had left it on the couch after watching TV where we're assuming Charlie got into it. I can't figure out how he was able to separate the foil from the chocolate but he did...well, most of it anyway; I'm sure he ingested some of that as well.  There's nothing left but the plastic tube the chocolate came in.  Tammy looked online and found that a dog his size would have to ingest twice the amount he did before it would be hazardous to him.  The fun that little guy has while we're away!  I'm half tempted to set up a couple web-cams around the house just to check in on his antics from time to time.

We gave up on trying to teach him to leave the ornaments on our Christmas tree alone. The temptation is too great for him. Tammy moved all the ornaments from the bottom half of the tree to the top half. It may look odd but it works. He's making his first Christmas with us a memorable one.

Tammy and I spent a few hours this afternoon at the Dakota County government building watching Rachel's Mock Trial team take on a team from Eagan High School. The competition played out over two days with Rachel's team taking 2nd place overall behind Lakeville South. Rachel plays the part of an expert witness. It's a bit of speech, drama, civics and law all rolled into one.

The case is a fictional story about a high school athlete who dies suddenly from anabolic steroid abuse. The widowed father of the dead student is in court to hold the school accountable for his child's death asserting that the stresses placed on his child by the track coach to succeed led her to improve her performance illegally.  Attorneys for the school dismiss the blame and accuse the father of being negligent in his role as parent. There's a script that's followed but different outcomes can be arrived at depending upon where emphasis is placed by each side. The teams have to learn both the defense and plaintiff sides of the case as they will argue each throughout competitions over the next couple months.

As I was sitting back watching I couldn't help but be impressed with a few of the kids in particular. I'm a bit biased but I'd include Rachel in that bunch. She came away with an award for best witness out of six so my impressions couldn't have been too far off.

My Wizard of Oz meets Pink Floyd's Dark Side of the Moon video series on YouTube is no more. Warner Brothers put the kibosh on my uploads due to copyright infringements. I'm surprise they lasted as long as they did, actually. The 1st video out of the 6 had just gone beyond the 125,000 hit mark and was showing no signs of slowing down. It wasn't like I was somehow benefiting monetarily from the videos but it was a clear violation on my part so who am I to challenge the decision to yank them? I'm in the process of resurrecting them on my Vimeo account.

I am left with one troubling last impression of the movie. Do you see anything wrong with this image?

Speaking of images that go back a ways...there's a guy I work with who was in a band years ago. He was their lead guitarist and they traveled the Midwest under than name Wally Cleaver. They once opened for Huey Lewis and the News before 40,000 people. They had a pretty good run from around 1981 to 1987 before their lead singer decided to head out on his own leaving the others to pretty much go their separate ways.

I remember asking Grant years ago if he still played his guitar and he said he didn't. That surprised me because I'd love to be able to play but I'm completely tone deaf and the only thing I can play besides the radio is a CD player. If I had that talent I know I'd use it.

Grant isn't on Facebook (yet) but he told me last week that one of his former band-mates started a fan page on on Facebook where he uploaded a few dozen photos and some video of the band from back in the day. I had to check it out. Sure enough, there they were and there he was...a lean, fresh faced Grant with guitar slung around his neck. I'm not sure you can access these if you're not on Facebook so I've uploaded a few of them here; mostly for the guys from work who will get a kick out of them:  Grant, in what looks like a make-shift sound room...some motel/hotel room someplace...the band with '80s hair and a more recent photo of them all from last summer.

Is there a reunion of Wally Cleaver in the works?  

I'll leave you with this...rock on!

And the rest of the video set.

Monday, December 14, 2009

2009 Jalisco Terrace House-hop and 2 of 6

Tiger Woods is no longer a tiger; he's a cheetah!

We had our annual neighborhood house-hop on Saturday and as always, it was a late but very fun night. Somebody said there were 32 of us. We started at 6:00pm and worked our way to four homes throughout the evening with ours being 3rd on the list. We usually offer up our place every other year as a host house. It's fun to have that many people over and seeing them enjoying our digs as Tammy and I don't do a lot of entertaining. Here's a set of photos from the party that I posted to my Flickr account.

I'm enjoying having a heated garage for a change but it comes at a price and I'm not just referring to the additional cost to heat it. Many of our side streets are full of slush from an 8 inch snowfall we had last week and that slush sticks to the underside of our cars where it eventually melts in the 40 degree temperature of the garage leaving lots of water on the floor. I was squeegeeing it out onto the driveway to be scooped up and thrown on our snowbanks but with the temps being in single digits as they were for most of last week the water quickly freezes to the driveway and that's not a good thing. Tammy had the idea to get a wet-vac from Sears and vacuum up the water to pour down the drain in our laundry tub bypassing the driveway altogether. Why didn't I think of that?

We finished panel 2 of 6 for our entertainment center over the weekend. I'm not so good at estimating how many hours of work are left to do on a piece. When I say we've got 10 hours left, I've probably more realistically got twice that. The sort of stained glass projects that Tammy and I do are typically much more labor intensive than much of what you're likely to see at craft fairs and shops. It can be a slow process but we love the challenge.

Here's a closeup view of what a single panel looks like.  The 3rd of 6 panels is in the queue and ready for our attention.

For those who read here regularly you know that Charlie is our puppy-mill dog. We didn't actually get him from a puppy-mill but we suspect that the person we got him from did. He's a nut to put it mildly and we love him but he marches to his own beat and he's either slow or stubborn to understand when we don't like something he's doing. Lately that something is trashing our Christmas tree. We've come home several times in the past week to find broken glass ornaments strewn throughout the house. Much of the time he'll chew the ornament to bits but it doesn't appear he's cut himself at all. The world is his chew toy.

I was putting dishes in the dishwasher this morning and for the first time ever I noticed Toby sniffing around trying to lick the plates. He's never done that before and I'm quite sure I know where he learned it.

Monday, December 7, 2009

Day Tripping

Rachel sent her application to the University of Minnesota at Rochester a few weeks ago with plans to send out at least one other to Northwestern College. I know in her heart that she really wants to go to Northwestern but because it's a private school it will be more expensive and we're not sure that the curriculum is going to be strong enough for what she wants to study. We're still looking into that. So it was a little bittersweet this past week when she received an acceptance letter from UMR. Tammy and I aren't sure that she's fully bought into the idea yet and we want it to be her decision. We were actually surprised that she received her acceptance letter so quickly as the deadline to submit applications was the end of November; the date on her letter.

Last Thursday night found the three of us tree trimming and home decorating. It was the end of an era of sorts because next year when we break out the decorations Rachel will be off to college and it will be just the two of us. Our tradition has always been for Rachel and I to do the tree together while Tammy tends to the other decorations. We talked about leaving it all until she comes home on break next year but my guess is she'll be so busy seeing friends that it won't be practical. So, I savored this one last time (at least for a while) that we trimmed the tree together while listening to Christmas music and retelling the stories behind many of the ornaments.

It was Tammy's birthday Saturday but since she had to work we spent the day together Friday and celebrated it then. It was one of those days that you look back on and wish you could do it all over again and no, not because I messed it up but because it was such a fun day.

We got a mid-morning start and stopped for coffees at Starbucks a couple miles from home. Getting on the freeway Tammy programmed the Droid for Excelsior to check out its GPS navigational abilities along the way. I'm still singing that little gizmo's praises. One thing I'm curious about and I suppose I could easily find out through a search of the Droid forum is if it will route me around congested traffic. My guess is it does given that it gets its data from Google Maps but I'm not certain. Traffic was light as we got on 35W and drove the 30 miles to our destination so it didn't matter.

We got up to Excelsior and stepped out into mid teens weather then went about checking out the many shops that line Water Street. There were a few antique places which don't interest either of us much but there's also a nice mix of home decore and clothing stores as well as restaurants. We spent a few hours in and out of shops before coming to rest at Jake O'Connor's Public House for a late lunch.  I think we'd both like to visit Jake's again, maybe for dinner next time.

Rather than leave for home after lunch I wondered if she was up for an hour long drive to Stillwater for more of the same. We haven't done enough day trips like this lately and I think we both wanted to make the most of it. Tammy liked the idea and it actually worked out well as she had an hour long conference call she was supposed to be a part of at 2:30 so she spent the drive on the phone in addition to the clock at work from the passenger seat.

It's been a few years since we've toured Stillwater and never had we been there in Winter; it's usually a summer afternoon drive for us. It's a lot like Excelsior but rather than being a lake town, it's a river town with lots of shops and restaurants. We worked our way up the block against the late day cold and a brisk wind then ducked inside Northern Vineyards Winery to sample some wines. $5 gets you a sampling of ten different wines and your money is refunded if you purchase a bottle. We bought more than enough to recover our $10 'tasting' fee. The woman who served us mentioned that many of the shops in town close by 6:00 so we gathered up our packages and continued up the sidewalk.

A block north of the winery is Stillwater Art Guild Gallery where we took our time looking at the eclectic mix of work from local artists. Randahl Raduenz was kind enough to offer to give us a tour behind the scenes where a lot of the magic happens and showed us many other pieces that couldn't be displayed because of a lack of wall space in the gallery. Randahl's work is unique in that he will often paint images within his scenes; images that aren't apparent at first glance but once you begin to look deeper they appear. We'll be back to visit but next time with an eye toward bringing something home with us.

Walking back to our car on the south end of the city we decided to keep the day/night going and stop by the Mall of America on the way home. Christmas is always my favorite time to be at the mall. Sure, there's a lot more people there this time of year but the mall is so large that it absorbs them well. I've never felt it to be overcrowded. My only disappointment was with the new decorations they've switched to this year. I don't get a sense of warmth from them as they're mostly blue and silver with some flocked greenery. Nothing like years past with the large bulbs of Christmas-ee colors.

Throughout the day we'd been in search of an artificial tree or two for our basement to bring some holiday cheer down there but we still hadn't found one...or two. That would change once we got to the mall where we spied just what we were looking for. We brought our finds out to the truck then went back inside to stroll around and maybe knock off some stocking-stuffer items on our list for Rachel.

We had one last stop at Target for ornaments for our new trees before we'd arrive back home 12 hours after leaving.  It was a full day but surprisingly we both still had energy to set up the trees and trim them.  I can't think of a better way to spend a day.  I was telling Tammy how years ago before we ever met, December 5th was for some reason always a very good day for me, to the point where I had singled it out unlike any other day of the year just for that reason; because it stood out.  How was I to know that it was Tammy's birthday?

Thursday, December 3, 2009

A Virtual Stroll

This is a continuation of a series of writings about my time in the Navy. The first in this series of posts can be found here or go here for the most recent.

A lot of my friends had cars and apartments off base and would be able to escape shipboard life after work if it wasn't their 'duty day'. I didn't feel the need to have to get away, in fact, I found a nice routine living on the ship that worked for me and I was able to save a fair amount of money by not having all the added expenses my friends were taking on. Meals were provided on the boat but occasionally I'd head out into the city on my bike for some fast food. Once each week I'd load my laundry into my duffel bag and sling it over my shoulder for a two mile bike ride to the laundromat on Highland Ave and 16th street; what is now Italy's Beauty Salon.

I remember being inside there one night in October 1977 doing laundry when I learned of the plane crash that would be the demise of the Lynyrd Skynyrd band. I wasn't a huge fan but I liked their music.  It's one of those moments that for whatever reason I have a distinct memory of where I was when I heard the news.

Tucked in behind the laundromat was the bike shop where my interest in bikes began to seriously take hold. The shop was run by a nice, older guy in maybe his 60's. He would give me tips on what components I could swap out on my Peugeot I'd bought a few months earlier at the Navy Exchange for upgraded stuff he'd sell me. He would eventually point me in the direction of a guy a few years older than me from his church named Jerry LeRue.  Jerry raced locally and was in need of some cash for his wedding and parting with a frame was a means to that end. It didn't actually fit me all that well but I was more supple back then and made it work. I put a ton of miles on it.

The frame, an Eisentraut Ltd, is as much a piece of art as it is a bicycle frame and would eventually become an American classic.  I have to wonder if Jerry ever regrets parting with it. I nearly did but I still have it. I placed an add online maybe ten years ago with some photos of it looking for a buyer.  I had offers but in the end I couldn't let it go. Years later I would stumble onto the pictures I'd taken and uploaded on a website called Classic Rendezvous. I was flattered to have photos of my frame on the site.

With my new frame I developed both an appreciation and appetite for more expensive bike components than what the shop behind the laundromat typically carried.  I had already begun frequenting other higher end bike shops when he closed his doors before the end of my enlistment. A 'head shop' would open in its place.

Down from the laundromat and beyond a small building which used to be a flower stand was Winchell's Donuts. It's still a donut shop but no longer Winchell's. I'd sometimes make late-night runs there on my bike when I got a craving.

Across 16th street was McDonald's which according to my journal was boasting 25 billion served as of early 1977.

Of all the intersections in San Diego I knew Highland Ave and 16th street best.  Next week will mark 30 years since I left the area after my enlistment but from my short Google Street View tour it appears this small section of shops remains largely unchanged while much of the surrounding area has become unrecognizable to me.

I was semi-content with where I was in life at this point but at times I couldn't help but wonder how much ground I was losing to my friends who were well into their 2nd year of college. I'd be four years behind them when I got out and while I knew I was where I needed to be I also knew I had a lot of work in front of me once I got out. Some of the writings in my journal reflect an impatient attitude wishing my enlistment was over so I could really get on with my life. I no longer felt challenged by my position and to me each day seemed another day further back that I was falling. Still, for as anxious as I was to move on I was able to enjoy the time I had left knowing that I was living some of the more carefree days I'd ever know; and I was right.

To be continued...