The Facial Hair Conundrum.

I recently saw a friend that I haven’t seen in a couple of years. We were very happy to see each other as it had been much too long. As we shared hugs and conversation, he mentioned the fact that I am clean shaven. It’s not a look that he is used to on me. I gave him my standard answer when asked about the absence of my beard these days, “most pilots don’t have facial hair.” This was something that my Dad mentioned to me over 30 years ago during my first trip to Oshkosh, Wisconsin. I know many of pilots with a beard or mustache, but I don’t feel comfortable amongst their number.

It’s not the first time that I’ve heard a comment about being clean-shaven. Back in the day I was known for my huge fireman’s mustache.

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I thought about growing a mustache again but I’m not really feeling it right now. I love the attention that I get when people compliment the mustache but I’m not looking for attention these days. Getting that attention pushes me into a prideful mindset. I’m content with who I am and how I look these days. In the past it’s been rare for me to be able to say that.

I feel good. I think I look good. I’m a happy man.

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The Technology Invasion.

Anyone that’s had any sort of awareness of the 21st century has probably noticed that technology has permeated the life of everyone in some sort of a modern society. I sometimes wonder how my grandmothers would have enjoyed the likes of Skype and such but they moved on back in the days of AOL floppy disks so I never had the chance to see how their interactions with the Internet would have been. I think my city grandma still had a rotary phone in the kitchen, now that I think about it.

I’m digressing.

With technology everywhere, it’s easy to see that people are now becoming dependent on technology. It’s not uncommon to see a driver behind the wheel of a car in the dark without their lights on because the whizz-bangy doo-dads didn’t turn the lights on for them. This drives me crazy for many reasons, including the fact that it’s a safety hazard for the rest of us. Is it necessary to use technology to automatically turn the headlamps on? Shouldn’t the responsibility fall on the shoulder of the driver, not the computer?

There was recently an article in the LA Times that suggests getting rid of automatic flushing systems in toilets to could save California millions of gallons of water. I know that back in the day when these automatically flushing toilets came about that we were told it was better for the environment because the toilet could control how often it was being flushed. I don’t know about anyone else’s experience, but every time I use a public toilet that has the automatic flusher, it flushes two or three times as I move around in the stall trying to get my pants back up. If it was a manual system, like in the “good ol’ days”, I would have flushed the toilet once and that would have been it. If we figure three gallons of water per flush, that one incident would have saved six gallons of water right there.

Who’s idea was it to automate toilets, anyway? Have we become so lazy as a society that we need someone to flush our toilets for us? Have we become unable to use our foot to push down the flusher (because god forbid we use our hands.)?

Sharing information and having the world at your fingertips at all times in pretty nifty in many ways. But when people are more focused on their phones than on the world around them, who is benefitting from the advancement of technology? The user? The viewer? The ad companies?

I’m all for technological advancements, even in my middle aged years where I’m probably a little crankier than I used to be. But those advancements need a purpose. We should have a reason for implementing technology, not just throwing an electronic doo-dad in every thing we use and do because we can.

Play.

I like to think of Earl and me as a “power couple”. We both have pretty intense careers; Earl’s is a little more high pressure than mine, but in recent years my career has really started to move in a positive direction and I am very happy with that.

It is because we work hard during that week that we are able to play hard on the weekend. Traveling isn’t an easier affair for us; I carry two computers, one or two iPads, my iPhone and possibly my work phone (I usually use my iPhone for both work and personal business) and Earl carries his personal iPad and his work iPad. There have been many occasions where Earl has taken care of conference calls along the side of the road in places like Des Moines, Iowa or at the entrance gate to Animal Kingdom. Last week I spent two hours along the New York State Thruway in a snow/sleet/rain storm fixing a server issue using my iPad, my work computer and a smattering of profanity. I know others that do the same thing; a very good friend of mine writes applications using his laptop whilst sitting at a resort hotel swimming pool.

The only time that I’m really disconnected from the world is when I’m flying an airplane, and even then I’m not disconnected; I can still get phone calls and text messages, I just wisely choose to ignore them.

I am living the life I had always dreamed about and it’s because of a lot luck, some crazy twists and turns along my path and a lot of hard work. When you put your mind to it, one can accomplish anything.

Exercise.

I had my annual physical this morning with my primary care physician. I’ve been seeing the same doctor for nearly 20 years and he’s a good guy. He’s moved his practice a few times but I follow along like the good patient. One of the reasons that I like my doctor is that he is always punctual. If my appointment is scheduled for 9:20 a.m., he is in the room at 9:20 a.m. There’s no waiting around. He doesn’t like to keep his patients waiting.

To comply with FAA medical expectations, I had to resort to taking medicine to control my blood pressure. Happily, my blood pressure has been staying where it belongs, it was good this morning. I don’t like being dependent on medicine but if it’s going to keep my alive longer, and it allows me to fly an airplane, I won’t complain about it. My doctor didn’t pressure me to start taking medicine, we just discussed the pros and cons. We had the same discussion about cholesterol medicine today. I’m waiting for my blood test results before deciding if I want to do go down that path or not. He said it was up to me.

I’ve been wanting to exercise more now that the spring-like weather has arrived, but Mother Nature is still living on the wild side a bit. I started a 20 minute mid-morning walk in the sunshine this morning, but a fast approaching storm had me being pelted with hail for the last five minutes of the walk.

It made for a pretty sky, though.

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Sears.

Sears Holdings Corp. recently announced that they will be closing the Sears store in our local mall in June. This particular location opened with the mall in 1980. It is one of four anchor stores. The mall has been struggling a bit over the past decade or so; I’m not surprised to see the Sears store has been slated for closing.

I am surprised that the nearby Kmart, also owned by Sears Holdings Corp. is not going to be closed. The store has not been updated since the mid 1980s and shares a building with an abandoned grocery store. It seems to never be busy and is often in disarray.

I’m sad to see that our Sears is closing. I don’t like to see any establishment closed down, even a national chain in a nondescript mall, and especially an establishment that’s part of a company that’s been around for a century or so. Sears is as American as the Brady Bunch.

Hard times have fallen onto the Sears Holding Corporation; I don’t know that the folks of K-mart really knew what they were getting into when they bought Sears. There’s been a whole bunch of missteps since the acquisition; Sears Grand, Sears Essentials, the continuance of “Big K” (when we all know the damn thing is just a Kmart). However, a few years ago Sears tried a new concept in Duluth, Minn, and from the outside it looks like an upscale version of your typical Sears store. I think the return to the original script Sears logo adds a touch of elegance.

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photo courtesy of Labelscar.com

Personally I think Sears should completely abandon the Kmart name and focus on two things: upscale Sears stores with a boutique approach, located in malls and revitalized downtown areas, and Sears Essentials, the Sears name going after the Kmart crowd. With names like Kenmore and Craftsman behind them, I think Sears Essentials can carve out a niche outside of the Walmart/Target mindset. Get rid of all the other variants and stop trying to be everything to everyone everywhere.

Outside.

For the first time in 2015, I am able to sit on our front steps and write a blog entry without fear of frost bite, sleet, snow, hail or other weather calamity. It’s a good feeling.

With the weather being less than stellar over the past month or so, I’ve been walking every morning in an effort to get ready for cycling season. The snow banks are slowly receding and we see a little more of our lawn every day.

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They’re predicting that tonight’s low is going to be relatively sane for this time of the year (in the low 40s), so I’m determined to go on my first bike ride of the year tomorrow morning before work. My bike is in great shape, I’ll have my clothes readied before bed tonight so I will have very little in the way of excuses not to ride.

I’m looking forward to getting this spring thing in motion.

Escape.

I took Earl on his first ride in the Cherokee 180 yesterday. It was a beautiful day here in Central New York, the temperature was thinking about reaching 40ºF and there was lots of sunshine. The winds kept me on my toes during take-off and landing, but all in all we had a great flight together. We flew to Elmira-Corning Regional Airport and back; it’s a little over an hour’s flight in each direction. This made it qualify as a cross-country flight in my logbook. This is good, I need cross-country time for my Instrument rating, which I just started studying for. 

Flying with Earl is just like riding in the Jeep with him. We talk, we enjoy the scenery around us and most importantly, we enjoy the time we are spending together.

  

Flying is also an escape for me. As a pilot, my focus all comes to one place: flying the airplane safely. In my life it’s rare that I can focus on one thing. At work I am part of several disconnected software projects. I can be intently working on Project A when I’ll get hammered with instant messages on Projects B, C or D at any given moment. This pulls me away from my focus on Project A and my thoughts scatter. I used to think that I was a good multitasker. I’m not. I work best when I’m focused on a task and I allow myself to become completely engrossed in that task. I do my best work by focusing intently on what I’m trying to achieve. That’s why I twitch a bit when I get instant messages or text messages on my phone. They distract me and honestly, I’m easy to distract.

I continue to find the news outlets to be distracting. “Aviation experts” showing pictures of the airplane in the Germanwings crash. According to the photos I’ve seen, the airplane could have had one or two floors in the main cabin, two, three or four engines at any given moment and it was made by either Airbus, Boeing, Bombadier or some other company. These experts have no right to call themselves an expert. So much speculation and so many wild opinions. To me it’s sad to see the 24 hour news channels barely hide their delight that they have a tragedy to go on and on and on about. I feel sad for the families left behind after the crash of the Airbus. I feel even sadder that their images are being paraded around on the tube during their time of mourning.

So I turned the news off. 

I guess getting super focused on something affords me the escape I feel my brain needs. I need to better myself at removing distractions, and finding that happy place, even when I’m on the ground.

Respect.

While I’ve been trying to steer away from getting too emotional about politics lately, two recent developments in the arena have caught my attention. 

The first news item is Hillary Clinton’s use of a personal email server housed at her home in downstate New York during her tenure as Secretary of State. Apparently she had a server somewhere handling to @clintonemail.com domain and according to her explanation yesterday, it was because she wanted to carry only one device with her (like an iPhone or Blackberry or whatever) and she didn’t want to deal with multiple devices. She has her own server but her IT people can’t figure out how to put two email accounts on the same device, apparently. This revelation (the server, not the two accounts on the device thing) has created a media frenzy. Apparently Mrs. Clinton deleted everything she deemed personal and considers all her correspondence to @state.gov and other government addresses as the matter of record. 

OK, so there’s quite a few holes in the logic. The fact that no one brought up red flags during the time that she was using her own server is disturbing enough. Of course, many are weighing in on the matter, including Sarah Palin, who condemned the practice. Because apparently, using your own server is a no-no but using a Yahoo email address as the Governor of Alaska is, you betcha, okie-dokie.

Now see, that last sentence there makes me sound disrespectful of the Governor of Alaska, when indeed, I just don’t like Sarah Palin. In fact, I believe that whoever brought Sarah Palin into the spotlight in the first place should be tried as a terrorist. As far as the Governor of Alaska, well, I don’t know who that is right now but whomever it is probably did their best to get there and hopefully they’ll ignore precedent and stay the course until the end of their term. They are the elected leader of the people of Alaska, and I respect that. Respect is important.

The second news item that has caught my attention is the letter signed by 47 members of the GOP to the Iranian government, essentially circumventing the negotiations that President Obama is trying to, well, negotiate. This unprecedented act is completely disrespectful of the spirit of our country and the role of the President of the United States.



Look, I’m not the biggest fan of President Obama. I think he’s done an adequate job and honestly, my life as an American right now is in good shape because of the work he has done as President. I voted for him because I believe he was the best choice at the time, but I don’t think he was ever the ideal choice. I might not agree with everything President Obama does as Commander-In-Chief, but I certainly respect the position he holds. I respect the office of the President. I will voice my praise and my opposition of policy, as a U.S. Citizen I have the right to do that, but I will never go out of my way to make the office look bad. I don’t believe that anyone, especially elected officials, should be going out of their way to make our country look bad, disorganized or unresolved. I wasn’t a fan of President George W. Bush at all; I thought that he took many missteps along the way and I didn’t agree with much of his policy, but when push came to shove, he was the Commander-In-Chief and I still respected that. 

I think there’s a current of disrespect in our society these days that is damaging for the long term. I wonder if some of it stems from the outspokenness one can have on the Internet under a guise of anonymity. People think nothing of being disrespectful in comments on a political story or in the stream underneath a YouTube video. Users type without thinking; they spew their venom, completely disrespect their target and then move on. As people become more brazen on the Internet, I think this behavior starts to carry into real-life. How many videos have you seen where a customer has completely trashed a McDonalds because they couldn’t get Chicken Nuggets when they wanted them? It’s a lack of respect; respect for property, respect for people and respect for fellow human beings.

Smashing out a drive-thru window in a fit of rage is basically what happens when Congressional members write letters to Iran saying that they can easily undo anything that our Commander-In-Chief does. Why would you go out of your way to make your leader look weak? Just because you don’t like him? Well, you may not like him but you have to respect the position that he holds. You can disagree, you can voice opposition, but dont’ be disrespectful and don’t undermine him.  That’s good for no one.

I think we need to start respecting one another again. Smile at the drive thru window, don’t rage. Be kind to the person behind the airline counter, don’t have some hellacious hissy fit. Be respectful.

Inspiration.

Earl, Jamie and I spent our evening watching “The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel” this evening. Simply stated, the movie is about a group of British retirees who decided to outsource their retirement and relocate to India. There are several familiar faces amongst the cast, include Dame Judi Dench, Maggie Smith, Penelope Wilton and others.

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I found this movie delightful in many ways, mostly because I found the circumstances of the plot to be most inspiring. Granted, I’m more than a decade away from any sort of retirement, but the idea of relocating and immersing myself into new surroundings and a new culture is very appealing to me.

Lsat week I remarked to Earl that I was in the mood for a change of scenery, a new adventure. It’s probably residual effects from my annual bout with Cabin Fever. But seeing the characters of that movie navigate through their new surroundings made me wonder what it would be like to travel somewhere outside of our comfort zone.

Archives.

I am fascinated by the New York State Historic Newspapers archive (nyshistoricnewspapers.org). The archive has scans of numerous newspapers dating back to the early 1800s. Every issue of the two newspapers that were in my hometown, The Pulaski Democrat and The Salmon River News, are available in this archive. Full text searches are available. The interface is quite nice and easy to use.

I have been using this archive to research the airports in the area of my hometown, as well as the building of Interstate 81 and the reconstruction of many roadways in the area. For example, I always wondered why “Confusion Corners” was named as such; it turns out that the intersection of (then) US Route 104 and NY Route 104B was poorly marked, contained a lot of medians in the middle of the roadway and generally created havoc for motorists when it was opened in 1950. There were also several car related fatalities in the area. I had always thought that the roadway was built in the 1960s, but it turns out Confusion Corners was born in 1950. It had a similarly designed, but not as busy sibling at the other end of NY Route 104B, where it intersected with NY Route 3. Both of these intersections have been reconfigured to a standard intersection as of sometime in the 1990s.

After searching around about airplanes and roads, I started looking up the history of various family members over the years. I found an interesting article about my paternal grandfather’s poultry farm, which was awarded by Niagara-Mohawk (the local power company at the time) a mercury vapor light to illuminate the yard. Apparently the farm had a lot of electric equipment and the power company was quite grateful for this consumption, so they award the farm a light.

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A smaller farm down the street also received a light for their yard. My grandfather is quoted in the article that accompanied the photo as having a friendly competition with the other farm and that first and foremost they were neighbors and friends.

The photo and article have such a technology-progress vibe so typical of the 1950s and early 1960s to it. I get a kick from the “looking forward” ambiance of the photograph. It reminds me of another photo I found in an archive years ago, where two women, in their 1950s dresses and high heels, are standing under high tension wires in the Finger Lakes, gazing up at the towers carrying the electricity overhead.

It was such a different time back then.

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Photo courtesy of Niagara Mohawk Corporation