Sunday, July 24, 2011

Is There a Solution to this Mess?

In case you haven't been keeping up with the news about the crises over the budget deficit, we have a very serious problem in this country.  That problem is not the budget deficit and increasing the debt ceiling.  That problem is the inability of our leaders to solve problems.  We elected our leaders to run our government and to solve problems.  That is not being done.  All our leaders seem to be able to do is blame the other side on why a particular problem is not being solved.  All our leaders seem to be able to do is score political points at the expense of the other side.  All our leaders seem to be able to do is talk, talk, and talk.

I think I have a solution to this problem, but I do not have the power to implement this solution.  It is called binding arbitration.  Our leaders should be put in a room with no contact to the outside.  Then they work on a solution until they can all agree on it.  They will not be let out of the room until a solution is found and agreed upon.  Whatever the solution is, that will be the solution that will be implemented.  No debate. 

Obviously binding arbitration can't be used for every problem, especially in a democratic society.  However, binding arbitration has been used when there is no other way to forge an agreement.  We seem to be in that situation now with the issue of the debt ceiling and the budget deficit.  Just when we are getting close to an agreement, the talks breakdown when some group says no.  Some groups seem only to want to say no, and only no.  There is no willingness to compromise.  It is my way or the highway, to coin a phrase.  Our government can't work with this kind of attitude.  Our government, at least our government in Washington, is not working now.  Both sides are to blame.  I have my opinions about who is more to blame, but that doesn't matter.  I just want an agreement so that this country will not default on its financial obligations.  The long term consequences of defaulting will hurt us all in the long run.  I am tired of the blame game being played by our leaders.  What the people of this country want is for this problem to be solved so that we do not default, and then we can move on to try to solve the other big problems that we have.  Our leaders have been elected to solve our problems.  If they can't find a way to do that, then we will find someone who can do that.

Sunday, July 10, 2011

I am Addicted to my Smart Phone

I admit it.  I am addicted.  I am addicted to my smart phone.

My addiction started when I bought a HTC Sensation 4G smart phone from T-Mobile a week ago last Thursday.  I have been wanting a smart phone for a long time, but I did not buy one because I had higher priorities (like eating).  My old cell phone was a flip phone with two basic functions that I used, making and receiving phone calls and texting (to a small extent).  This phone was really all I needed in a phone.  I dropped my land line over two years ago, and my cell phone kept me in contact with people everywhere I went.  The problem was my old cell phone was starting to have issues.  It started to miss phone calls even though the phone was right next to me.  My phone would still tell me that I had received a voice message from the person who just tried to call me.  Also, my phone started not to match the person's name with the phone number even though that person was in in my contact list.

The problems with my old cell phone was an excuse, a very valid excuse, for me to buy a smart phone.  I had heard and read all about the things smart phones can do.  I felt like I was missing out on something, that I was behind the times.  I saw people engaged with their smart phones ( they were smart phones, not cell phones, because they were not talking on their phones), and I wanted to be doing the same thing because everyone was doing it.  I did not want to miss out on the experience they were having.  It must be a good experience because they would keep doing whatever they were doing on their smart phones.  They would be oblivious to what was going on around them even though they were with other people.  They were enjoying themselves.  They might not be talking to anyone near them, but they were certainly connected to other people in other places, even to people around the world.  They did not have to be at home to do this, nor did they have to bring their laptop with them.  They just had to bring a small device that fits into a pocket or small purse, and they can be connected to almost anyone.  How cool is that?

My salesperson at the T-Mobile store at the Dulles Town Center did not have any trouble selling this phone to me.  You can see why.  However, I now realize I have a problem with this new phone.  I take this phone everywhere.  I not only do that (I did that with my old phone), but I doing something with it all the time.  Part of that is the time I am taking to learn how to use the phone.  There are so many functions, apps, and widgets on that phone.  I have also installed some apps and widgets.  I can now check my email on this phone.  I access Facebook and Twitter.  I look at videos on YouTube.  I check my bank balance.  I check the standings of golf tournaments.  I check the weather forecast.  I use the GPS function to help me get somewhere.   I do some of these things even when I go to bed (not the GPS part, obviously)..

I now feel like I know something about drug addition.  Being addicted to my cell phone is not the same as being addicted to drugs.  I am not physically addicted to the phone.  I may be mentally addicted to my phone though.  I feel better mentally when I am doing something on my phone.  It is so much fun.  Of course, drug addiction may have a mental component to it as well.  Drugs can make you feel better, too.  Hopefully, I will not have to go to some organization like AA to get over my addiction.  Hopefully, I will get over the newness and excitement of this new toy.  I do worry about some people who really do seem to be addicted to their phones or other electronic devices.  Being engaged with their device seems to be all they do.  I hope this is not creating a society where there is no personal social connection, and all connections are via electronic devices.  That is not a society I want to live in.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Making Decisions about the Future

For some reason this past weekend I made two decisions about what I am going to do in the future.  I decided what I am going to do when I payoff my car loan two and a quarter years from now.  I also decided what kind of condo I want to buy when I move out of my current condo.

In the April 2011 edition of Discover magazine, there is an article on how humans recall their past and how humans think of themselves in the future.  Both abilities seem to be performed in the same area of the hippocampus portion of the brain, and these abilities may have appeared when our our ability to speak using language evolved a few hundred thousand years ago.  I guess my hippocampus was very active this past weekend.

I find it enjoyable to dream and think about what I might do in the future.  I seem to be an optimist and always see the glass half full instead of half empty.  Yes, I know I have problems that need to be solved.  Not everything in my life is going well.  However, not everything is bad.  Things could be worse.  I am not homeless or starving.  I am not unemployed.  Thus I feel things will get better.  For that reason, I dream about a future that will be better.  I dream of a possibility that my problems will be solved and my situation will be better.

Oh, what did I decide this past weekend?  After I payoff my car, I will save the money that normally goes to my car payment.  Part of that savings will be used for a down payment for a new car with much better gas mileage and a much lower monthly car payment.   As for my next condo, I want a two-bedroom, two-bath, one-level condo with a garage and a big enough living room or family room where I can have both my TV and a desk for my laptop (I currently have that kind of living room now).  My current condo has only one bedroom, one bath, and one-level, and it does not have a garage.  A new condo will have to wait a while.  My current condo is underwater, which means it is worth less than what I owe on it. 

I may change my mind about these two decisions.  Nothing about them is set in stone.  That is the fun part about it.  There is no reason I can't dream a whole different dream.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Two Weeks of Death and Life

The last two weeks, at least for me, has been full of both death and life.

I mention death first because the news of the last two weeks has been dominated by the death of Osama bin Laden.  Of course, everyone knows who he was.  He was the worst terrorist and the killer of many people, including many Americans.  If anyone deserved to die, he certainly did.  As well as killing so many people, he affected the lives of so many friends and relatives is such a negative way that their lives are forever changed despite his death.  His death will not bring any of those he killed back.

Yet I did not feel like other people who celebrated his death at Ground Zero, at the White House, or at others places.  I did not celebrate his death like they did.  Despite what Osama bin Laden did, it did not seem quite right to me to celebrate the death of anyone.  Yes, I am glad that he is dead, but at the same time, I do not wish for anyone to die.  Perhaps I would feel differently if a friend or relative of mine had been killed by him.  I was horrified when so many innocent people died on 9/11.  I haven't been affected by the events of 9/11 in such a strong way as people who had so many loses on that day of almost 10 years ago.  I did not lose a friend or relative on that day.  I have not had to live my life without a parent, spouse, sibling, or friend who died by Osama bin Laden's hand.  All my life, I have been taught to celebrate life.  I have not felt comfortable in celebrating his death. 

At the beginning of this post, I said the last two weeks has been filled by both death and life.  The news has been filled by the death of Osama bin Laden.  For me, the last two weeks has been filled with life, in particular, my life.  Actually more than two weeks ago, I had a mini-stroke in the retina of my left eye.  A blood vessel broke in the retina, and my vision in my left eye has been affected.  The mini-stroke was caused by high blood pressure.  I have made changes to my diet by eating more fruit, drinking tomato juice, and not eating as much of the stuff that is bad for you.  I am exercising much more now.  I have had a fitness walk five of the last seven days, and as a result, I have walked eleven miles this week.  I am on blood pressure medicine, and my blood pressure has gone down to around 120/80.  I check my blood pressure twice a day since I bought a blood pressure monitor from Walgreens.

Obviously, this health event has caused me to make changes in my life.  I realize that if I really want to keep on living on this earth and continue to have a high quality of life, I am going to have to continue with these changes.  I have lost a little weight already, but I am nowhere near the weight I want to be at or need to be at.  This is the start of a long process, but I am actually looking forward to where these changes will take me.  Last Thursday, I did not have the time to do a fitness walk.  I had walked four straight days (2.2 miles each day).  As I was walking to my car to run some errands, I could feel that my body wanting to walk faster.  My body wanted to do a fitness walk.  I had to slow myself down.  I felt guilty not doing my fitness walk.  Today I did my fitness walk despite the threat of rain.  More and more, fitness walking is becoming a part of my life.  It is what I do along with teaching.  It is what I have to do, along with the other changes, if I want to keep on living.  Too bad something drastic had to happen to me to make these changes.  I really knew I had to make these changes at some point in my life.  Now I know I have no choice.  I have to make them.    

Sunday, April 3, 2011

We are not Vulcans

I love the Star Trek TV shows and their movies.  They portray such a optimistic view of the future.  Two of the more fascinating characters on the various Star Trek shows are Spock and T'Pol,  two vulcans.  Supposedly, Vulcans do not have emotions.  However, we do learn that Vulcans do have emotions.  They just do a better job of suppressing them.  That does not mean that Spock and T'Pol do not express their emotions.  They do express them, just not as often or in conflicting abundance.

Yes, we humans do have emotions, and we express them in their many forms all the time.  We are moved by beautiful music (I am listening to some beautiful classical music as I write this posting), or we get angry when we hear a politician say something that we disagree with in a fundamental way.   Emotions can be a good thing or a bad thing.  Anger can make us say to someone something that we really did not mean and which we may regret for a long time.  Anger can also motivate us to make meaningful change. 

I was watching a video this morning about a person who has made the decision to switch from a PC user to a Mac user.  He made this decision after much thought and deliberation.  The person who was talking with the person who has made the switch to Apple products (he has bought an iPad and a Apple TV as well) made the comment that PCs are getting so inexpensive, especially compared to Macs, that buying a PC can almost be buying on impulse.  Many manufacturers actually count on people to buy on impulse to sell a lot of their products.  I certainly have been guilty of that, as has most everyone else. 

I have Windows Vista on the laptop that I am using to write this posting.  I really want to install Windows 7 on this laptop as Widows 7 is a much better operating system than Windows Vista.  My emotions are telling me that I must go to Best Buy today to get Windows 7.  It would be so cool to have Windows 7 on my laptop.  However, I know that I have higher priority things that need to get fixed or replaced.  I have a leaky faucet in my bathtub that must be fixed.  I need some new clothes, especially t-shirts and polo shirts which are wearing out.  There are other things that are higher priority as well, but I really do not need to mention them.  Actually I am not having any problems with Windows Vista if I must be honest with myself.  If I am having any problems with it, either I put up with them or ignore them. 

Just suffice it to say that emotions are tough to deal with, and we deal with them on a daily basis.  Some people wear their emotions on their sleeves.  Others are better at hiding their emotions, but that does not mean they do not have a hard time dealing with their emotions.  In fact, they tend to have a harder time with their emotions, and their emotions may come out more intensely as a result.

I am glad I have emotions.  I enjoy life more because of them.  They are a part of who I am.  Emotions can make me feel bad as well.  However if we did not feel bad at times, we would not appreciate the times when we feel good.  We appreciate the warm spring days more when we have had the cold winter days.  I am glad I am not a Vulcan.  

Saturday, March 12, 2011

We Don't Know How to Drive in This Country

After reading this posting, maybe before even finishing reading this posting, you will classify this posting as a rant.  You will probably be right.  This posting is a rant.  So be it.

I have been wanting to write this post for a couple of weeks, but I just haven't been able to carve out some time to do so.  I do a fair amount of driving around the county in my teaching GED classes and tutoring people in math.  There are two things that really bug me during my driving.  Everyone that drives around here has seen these two things.  There is nothing new about it.  I just have to get this off my chest.

There are a lot of cars out there that have non-functioning turn signals on the rear ends of cars.  I really do not see another reason why so many people make lane changes and turns with no turn signals blinking like mad.  I can't believe that these drivers think it is not necessary to let a person in another lane know that they are going to make a change into their lane, or let a person know that they are going to make a turn in front of another car that is behind them.  I can't believe that they do not think accidents can happen if notices of a lane change or a turn are not given.  I can't believe that they don't care that they may have just cut someone off or they may have just missed being hit in the rear of their car by another car because the car behind did not have enough time to slow down before the turn was made.  Non-functioning turn signals must be the cause.

When waiting at a traffic light, why do some drivers stop a car length or so behind the car in front of them?  They must not be thinking of what is going on behind them, or they would not leave so much space in front of them.  If a right or left turn lane is next to them, they must not realize that other cars behind them could be blocking access to the turn lane because of the space they are leaving in front of them.  If they knew they were responsible for someone not being able to make a turn onto another street, they might be embarrassed if they knew that they might be making someone late for a very important appointment.  Surely what they are thinking about while sitting at a traffic light would not interfere with being aware of all of their surroundings.  Surely they would not want to hinder anyone getting to their destination on time, or make someone waste precious gas while waiting to get in the turn lane.

I don't know why I let these things that drivers do bother me, but I seem to be irritated about it more and more.  Maybe I am getting too old for my own good.  Maybe I should not worry about it since there is really nothing I can do about it.  Maybe there are things I do while driving that irritates other drivers.  I do try to turn my turn signal on when I make a lane change or a turn onto another street.  I even turn the turn signal on well before I start slowing down to make my turn onto another street.  I certainly don't want to be the cause of an accident.  I know I am not a perfect driver.  No one is.  I just wish other drivers were more aware of what their driving actions are doing or not doing to other drivers around them.  Just because no accident occurs does not mean what they did is okay.  Not being a courteous driver by keeping a driver from getting into a turn lane is not okay.  By delaying someone for a even a few seconds may make a big difference to someone.  Maybe this is a rant.  So be it.

Saturday, February 19, 2011

I Love to Sing

I love to sing.  It is one of the things I do that make me the person that I am.  I have been singing almost all of life.  I remember singing in kindergarten the song Heart of My Heart.  I liked the song so much that one time I got up at a restaurant where there was someone playing a piano.  I asked him if he would play that song while I sang it in front of everyone there.  I would not dare do that today, but kids have no fear, or maybe I just didn't know any better.  I don't think I knew all the words to the song.  I would have not made it to American Idol.

In third grade I joined my first choir, the Cadet Choir, at my church.  In school, they would sometimes let me sing a solo.  I was in the youth church choir starting in seventh grade through senior high, and I sang some solos in church as well.  Now don't start thinking that I am, or was, a great singer.  I am not a great singer, but sometimes I do have my moments.

As an adult, I sang in church choirs, and I sang in the Manassas Choral Society (they no longer exist) and in the Manassas Community Chorale.  They let me sing solos as well and in small groups.  I really enjoy singing in small groups where just a few singers are making music together.  I like the team aspects of singing in a small group.  You must blend together to make a good sound.  There can be no divas in a small group.

I am not singing with any choir or group right now.  I have had an issue with my hearing this year, and I have had to drop out of my church choir, the Trinity Singers, who sing at the 8:30 service at Trinity Episcopal Church in Old Town Manassas.  Let me explain what happened.

First of all, I am completely deaf in my left ear.  My hearing has been that way all of my life, probably from birth.  I have never made a big deal of it.  I actually have been more embarrassed by it, so I have always tried to hide it by having people be on my right side.  When singing with others, I make sure everyone is on my right side.  My hearing in my right ear is not 100% either, but it is good enough (I know one or two people who might debate that).  As a result, I usually do not have a problem hearing someone unless they are on my left side or are speaking away from me.

Last May my church choir was rehearsing in the sanctuary when the organist hit a couple of notes on the organ really loud.  He did it by mistake, but the result was I started to have hearing problems in my right ear.  There was a roaring in my ear, and sounds started to sound distorted.  It was like I was missing some frequencies.  I finally went to an audiologist to have my hearing tested.  She found that I had some low frequency loss.  She recommended that I see an ear, nose, and throat doctor so that an MRI of the ear could be done in order to determine perhaps the cause of the hearing loss and the roaring.  I was able to get a prescription for the MRI, but I did not get the MRI done right away because I do not have health insurance. 

In September, my hearing started to improve.  The roaring became less and less, and the distortion started to decrease.  One Saturday morning I woke up to find my hearing was back to normal.  There was no roaring nor distortion.  I told my audiologist about the improvement, and she told me to wait a few weeks before making another appointment to have my hearing tested again.  Meanwhile, I did not rejoin the choir, but I continued to go to the 8:30 service.  I just stayed in the back of the church so that the music, especially the organ, and other sounds were not so loud. 

However, I had a setback.  At the 8:30 service one Sunday, the organist hit a loud note on the organ, and I started to have the same problems with my hearing.  I was not so worried this time.  My hearing had come back before, and I trusted that it would come back again.  I made one change though.  I quit going to the 8:30 service, and now I am going to the 9:45 service where the piano is played only and the organ is not played.  My hearing has indeed come back again, but I am being very careful not to be around loud noises.  I miss being in the church choir with my fellow singers, but I cannot risk losing my hearing.  I can go without being able to hear in one ear, but not in both ears.

When I think about it, it is amazing that I am a singer at all.  Even at my best, my hearing is just okay.  I probably miss some sounds that I am not aware of.  I do have a tendency to sing louder than I should.  I may do that to compensate for my hearing.  Over the last few years, I think I have done a better job of not singing so loud.  When I sing a solo, I will sometimes sing a little loud, which makes my pitch go a little sharp.  I have to concentrate on not singing loud, and I have to realize that I do not have to sing loud for people to hear me. 

I do not know what I am going to do about singing again.  I certainly cannot sing when the organ is being played.  Even though there is no organ playing at the 9:45 church service, I still am sitting in the back of the church.  I sing along with songs on my CDs or songs being played on the radio, but that is not the same as singing with others in a choir or a small group.  I love to sing, but I also love to hear.  I am very thankful that I can hear.  My singing with others will just have to be on hold. 

Thursday, February 3, 2011

I am Changing Lives

As you may know from reading my previous posts, I am a GED teacher.  I help people get their GED diplomas.  This week I found out that two more of my students from my GED Math Only Class took the GED test this past weekend and passed.  That means at least five students that I know of from that class have earned their GEDs.  That certainly makes me feel good, but this will have a much greater impact to the lives of these students.

One of these students who passed the GED test this past weekend has been working to get his GED for seven years.  His father once told him that he was not smart enough to amount to anything.  Despite this and a lot of other obstacles, he did not stop going to classes, and he kept on working to get his GED.  He has always wanted to be a mechanic, and now he can get the training he needs to be a mechanic.  He has other paths he can also take.  He can get a better paying job, or he can go onto college.  With his GED in hand, he now has choices in life.

The other student who passed the GED test this past weekend came to my GED Math Only Class Tuesday night with her two children to tell me that she passed the GED tests.  She now wants to go onto college.  She also now has choices of what to study and and what she wants to do for a career.  She has choices in life.

What better job can one have than a job that impacts people's lives in a positive way.  By helping them obtain the knowledge that enables them to have choices in their lives, I am having a positive impact on their families and the community as well.  I would have to look hard to find another job that does the same thing.  I also enjoy teaching them and working with them.  I will not get rich doing this, but I am rewarded in so many other ways.  I feel very fortunate to be making a difference. 

Sunday, January 30, 2011

Art, We Take It for Granted, at Least I Do

I fess up.  Today I did not go to church.  I just felt like relaxing (drinking coffee and reading the newspaper), watching the CBS Sunday Morning Show (this show conflicts with church, so it was a treat to watch it today), and doing some things around my place (laundry and such).

There were two pieces on the CBS Sunday Morning Show that got me to thinking, a sometimes dangerous thing to do.  One piece was on Roy Lichtenstein, the person who started pop art.  The other piece was on actor Geoffrey Rush, an Oscar winner who is in the film "The King's Speech".  Both people are involved in very different forms of art, one being painting, the other acting.

I started to think about how much I take art for granted.  Art is all around us.  We see it everyday whether we think of what we are seeing as art.  Art might be a building, a bridge, even a laptop.  It might not have been built as a piece of art, but it can be art nonetheless.  Art is really in the eye of the beholder, to coin a phrase.  What I see as art, or what I see as art I like, can be just junk to someone else.  I think that is okay.  Everyone is certainly entitled to their opinion.

I do have art in my condo.  I have several prints and one original painting by Kenneth Aunchman (I am not sure that "Kenneth" is his correct first name).  It was given to me by my ex-wife for our 10th wedding anniversary in 1995.  It is a sea scene with a view both above and below the water.  Above the water is a sailing ship and the sun partially hidden by the clouds (having the sun in his paintings is a signature of his).  Below the water are two whales, three porpoises, and a school of small fish.  One of the whales is breaching, jumping from the water into the air, half in the water and half out in the air.  When I look at this painting, it makes me wish I lived by a body of water.  There is something calming and peaceful about being around water.

I worry that we really don't appreciate and support art like we should.  In tough economic times, like the present, things like art get cut from school budgets, and financial support to both artists and art galleries goes down.  We need art and artists in our lives, whether we understand it or not.  Art, in my opinion, is part of what makes us human beings.  We as a species have had art in our lives since the stone age with the paintings on the walls of caves.

I certainly want to have more art in my life.  I especially would like to hang more prints on the walls of my cave, my condo.  Alas, my current cash flow does not support such a desire.  I have to admit that in someways I am no different than the people who put together the school budgets.  If the choice is between a new print and eating, I have to choose eating.  I can do one thing at least.  I can do a better job of not taking art for granted.  I can do a better job of recognizing the art that is all around us.  I can go to art galleries (especially the free ones) and look and admire art of all kinds.  I can see and understand what each art piece means to me, after all art is personal.  It might be a small thing to do, but it is something that is guaranteed to enrich my life.  

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Today is my Birthday

Yes, today is my birthday.  For most of us, we look forward to our birthdays.  I certainly do, although not as much as I used to.  Another birthday means we are another year older.  The older you get, the more you realize you have already had the majority of your birthdays.  That is certainly true with me.  I am 62 years old today.  There is certainly nothing wrong with being 62.  I believe I am a somewhat wiser person now.  I certainly have more knowledge.  I always tell my students that if they are not learning, they are dead.  I am always learning, so I am not dead yet.

Being 62 makes me think of my parents.  They both died in their early sixties.  I am not worried about that from a genetic point of view.  I am adopted, so I am not worried about dying in my sixties because they died in their sixties.  I do realize however that I can still die in my early sixties if I don't take care of myself.  I must do something about that.  I am overweight, and I am out of shape.

What am I going to do about it?  Well, I am not going to go on a crash diet to lose weight.  I have heard too many stories about people losing weight and then putting the weight back on.  I have lost weight before, but after I reached my weight goal, I stopped the diet (which was really just eating better with more fruits and such) and went back to my old eating habits. 

Actually, I have already started to make some changes in my diet.  A couple of days ago, I bought some navel oranges.  I will eat them instead of eating cheese sticks or Oreo cookies for snacks/deserts.  Yesterday I saw a piece on the Today Show about eating whole wheat bread.  I know whole wheat bread is good for you and white bread is not so good for you.  The trouble about white bread is that it tastes so good, especially when you put butter (not real butter, but soft margarine) on it and bake it in the oven.  I bought some honey wheat bread, and it actually does taste good.  I had it this morning with my breakfast.  I also have some yogurt in my fridge, so I will eat more of that for snacks.  These changes are not major in scope, but I want to make changes that have a good chance of sticking.  If I make these changes as a lifestyle change and not think of them as going on a diet, I hope I won't drop them when I reach my weight goal like I did before.  One might say I am playing a mind game with myself.  However, if I really want to make it out of my sixties, I have got to make changes in my diet.  As I continue to ponder my diet, I am sure I will be making more changes to my diet.  I feel good about the changes I have already made.  They are small changes, but you have to start somewhere.

Now, what about exercising?  I have to do that too if I want to lose weight and be in better shape.  I am not so sure how to approach this.  Exercising is not my favorite thing to do.  You get out of breath, and it can be hard to do.  I know I can at least start taking walks.  I am certainly able to do that, and it does not cost anything like belonging to a gym does.  What would help me to do that is having a walking buddy, a person who encourages me, a person whom I would also encourage.  I would feel bad if I missed a walking session with my walking buddy, so I would more likely do the walking if I had a walking buddy.  Until I do find a walking buddy, I will just have to do it on my own.  I just have to remember why I am walking (and changing my diet), to live a longer life and a quality life.    

Monday, January 17, 2011

Both Our Differences and Our Similarities are Good

"Infinite diversity in infinite combinations".  This is a quote from the TV series Star Trek.  I do not know if Dr. King ever followed Star Trek, but I think he would have liked this quote.  At least to me, this quote is saying diversity is good.  We are all different, but those differences can bring progress.  It would be boring if we all looked alike and thought alike.  It is when someone thinks in a different way that new ideas are born and new ways of doing things are discovered.  I am not saying that every new idea or new way of doing things is good.  It may not be good for me, but it might be good for someone else.  There is nothing wrong with that.  We must always remember our similarities, but we can also celebrate our differences, differences that make us both unique and special.  If we can all realize it is both our similarities and our differences that make us human, make us grow into better humans, and make us create a better society, a free society where we all can live in peace and prosperity. What a concept!   

Friday, January 14, 2011

Another Reason I am a GED Teacher

I want to relate what one of my GED students said at the jail today.  He said he had some good news to tell.  He had just heard that there is a GED graduation ceremony for the students who earned their GEDs.  Not only that, but the GED graduates get to wear caps & gowns during the ceremony.  That part means a lot to him.  He had promised his mother that he would someday wear a cap and gown for graduation.  He would be the first one of his brothers and sisters to do so.  The others had their GEDs, but none of them had worn a cap and gown.  When he dropped out of high school, he said that it really hurt him that he was breaking his promise to his mother that he would wear a cap and gown.  Now he has the chance to do so.  I firmly believe that he will get his GED this spring.  He seems to have the ability to do so.  They take pictures of each GED graduate in their caps and gowns and with them holding their certificates.  My student said he will not tell his mother about the cap and gown.  He wants her to be surprised when she sees his picture.  He also said that she will probably cry when she sees the picture.

I always look forward to GED graduation.  All of the graduates have overcome so much to earn their GEDs.  This next graduation will be even more significant.  A student will be fulfilling a promise to his mother.  How special is that?  You can see why I see GED graduates as such special people.  Getting those GED certificates mean so much to them, much more than we will ever know.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Will What Happened in Tucson Really Change This Country?

The horrible events that occurred in Tucson this past Saturday has really started a discourse on how we conduct our public business and debate issues.  In the past few years, public debate is more about making political points for the next news cycle and making personal attacks instead of really trying to solve our problems.  Now it seems that violence against public servants is being used to get one's point across.  I don't think we know yet the motivation for these killings.  The killer may have some mental problems.  There may have been political motivations.  It is too early to know the reason or reasons for this horrible act.  Maybe, just maybe though, this act has made us realize that we all have gone too far in how we debate the issues of the day.  Many people are now saying we need to tone down our discussions a few notches.  I was encouraged by what President Obama, among others, said tonight at the Tucson Memorial Service.  He called for us to remember that we are all Americans and that we all love our country.  He said there are more things that unite us than divide us.  The memorial service has given me hope that we will tone down our discussions and really attack our problems together.  There was some of that bipartisanship during the last lame-duck session of Congress.  However, there have been events in the past that have united us for a time, but only for a short time.  The events of 911 are a case in point.  Despite this, I am choosing to be optimistic and believe that we will change and do a better job of working together and solving our problems.  This change will not happen overnight, and there will be setbacks.  Hopefully the events in Tucson will make us realize that what we are doing now is not working and that we must make changes in the way we debate and discuss the issues in order to get a handle on our problems.  Something has to be done, and maybe this is a start.

Saturday, January 8, 2011

Technology, Isn't It a Good Thing?

Technology can be so cool, and I don't even have the latest or best technology.  My Dell laptop is about 4 years old, and I have Windows Vista on it.  I do have a G wireless network with a Netgear router (N wireless is faster and has a larger range), and Verizon DSL is my internet provider (cable is faster, but it can be unreliable).  Both my laptop and my printer are wireless.

I also have a cell phone that is not a smart phone.  It's primary function is actually making phone calls.  I can send text messages on it, but I do not have a QWERTY keyboard to write the messages with.

Even though I do not have the latest technology, I can still do so much on my laptop.  I have complete access to the internet, both at home and anywhere there is a wi-fi connection.  I can connect with family and friends via email, Facebook, and/or Twitter.  I can also access the news, including breaking news, and weather reports via the internet.  I can manage my finances with Quicken (it is so easy to balance my checkbook) and can pay my bills on the internet (some may say that is not a good idea, but I have had zero problems doing this).  I can also read e-books by using the Barnes & Noble e-reader, and I prepare my GED lessons using my laptop and wireless printer.  This is not be all I can do on my computer network, but I believe you get my point.  I can do a lot on my system even though my system does not have the latest technology.

The reason I find this so amazing is that I am old enough, way old enough, to remember when none of this technology existed.  Bills were paid by check, and those bills were mailed out.  You also might actually go to a place to pay your bill in person (I saw people who still do that at the cable company office just this week).  Most stores did not accept checks.  You had to pay with cash.   Because I have a debit card that can be used as a credit card, I either do not carry any cash or very little cash (I got in trouble once because I had little cash, but that is another story which I probably will not tell).  Technology always gets better and better.  Who knows what will come next to make our lives more productive and enable us to be connected with people anywhere we go.

Is technology always good?  Of course not.  Just like anything else, it is misused.  Our teenagers can be bullied on Facebook or MySpace.  People can be lured into situations where they can be harmed, or even be killed.  Your identity can be stolen, and your PC can become infected with viruses.  In some ways, technology has made us more vulnerable than ever.

Despite the threats and misuses of technology, I am glad that I live in a time when technology has improved our lives and continues to improve our lives (look at some of the product announcements at the CES convention in Las Vegas this week).  I know there are some people who do not have this view.  Some believe technology is even evil.  On a whole, I believe our technology advancements have done more good than harm.  Technology can even be used to help us lessen the harm that the misuse of technology can cause (anti-virus software, for example).  Technology has certainly improved my life and has made me more productive.  It has enabled me to write this blog, which I am enjoying doing so much.  We just have to keep the advances of technology in perspective.  It is just a means, not an end.  We can use it to connect with people, but face-to-face connection, actually being with people, is better.  After all, we are human.  Humans are very social creatures.  We need to be with each other.  It is our family and friends that give true meaning to our lives.  Don't let technology get in the way of that.             

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Change, Part 2

This is an update to my post on 1/1/11 on change.

Today I talked with a Comcast representative about getting their basic cable service.  Basic cable, without HD, cost more than my budget will allow.  Unless something else changes, I will not be changing how I watch TV this year.  I have survived without cable TV so far, and I can continue surviving without it.  I am sure Comcast will continue surviving without me.

Making a Difference versus the Mega Million Dollar Lottery

I am a very lucky person.  I have a job where I am making a difference, even if it is a small difference.  I teach GED classes, and I tutor high school students in math.

It is in the GED classes where I feel I am making the most difference in people's lives.  I am helping people getting their GED, which can enable people to go on to bigger and better things (college, a better job, etc.).  Two of my GED classes are at the jail in Manassas.  When the inmates get their GED, it can help them turn their lives around and become productive members of society.  Of course for all of these people, I just point them in the right direction.  They are the ones who are doing the work to get their GED.  They are studying and doing extra work outside of the classroom instead of doing something else.  I certainly admire these people who overcome many obstacles to reach their goal.  It is really quite incredible.

So what does this have to do with the Mega Million Dollar Lottery?  Yesterday, the grand prize for the Mega Million Dollar Lottery was $355 million dollars.  Two people won the prize, and neither one of them was me. 

What if I did win the lottery?  Almost everyone says if they won, they would immediately quit their job.  I said as much on my status on Facebook this morning. On Facebook, I said that I went to work this morning because I had not won the lottery.  It was meant as a little joke, but there was some truth in it also.  However, if I did win the lottery, would I indeed quit a job that really makes a difference to people?  Not everyone can say they are making a difference.  Even though I am currently not making much money in this job, I have a lot of job satisfaction.  I have a good reason to get up in the morning.  I am helping people who really want to learn.  There is a lot to say to that.  However, winning a lottery can make a big difference in my life.  It can get me out of debt.  I would no longer be living from paycheck to paycheck.  I can remodel my condo, buy a new car (one that gets better mileage than my Jeep), and travel. 

The best part about winning the lottery would be that I can do some things with the money that can make a difference to many more people than I do now, at least I hope I could.  It is that hope that would be the decision maker on whether I would quite this job or not if I won.  All that money can be a temptation however.  I have heard too many stories of people blowing all their winnings and being in worse shape than they were before they won the lottery.  I hope I would have the maturity and get the correct advice on how to handle that much money.  It is fun to dream about what you would do with all that money, but it can be a curse instead of a blessing.  It is very unlikely that I will ever have to make that decision because the odds are so against winning the lottery.  One can only dream.         

Saturday, January 1, 2011


I am excited.  I could be excited because I have had 3 cups of coffee this morning.  I don't think that is the main reason I am excited though.  I am also excited because I am making some changes.  Some changes are small, some changes may not be so small.  Only time will tell the effect of these changes and whether the changes stick.

This time of year people resolve to make changes.  After all, it is the beginning of a new year.  We tend to look back at the previous year and reflect on what went well and what did not work well.  Some of the things that happen we have little or no control over.  Other things we do have control over.  It is the things that we do have control over that we can change ourselves.  The question is do we want to make changes.  This past week my hair dresser (Yes, despite my lack of hair on the top of my head, I go to a hair dresser.) said she is a person who does not like change.  However, change can be good.  Change can be an improvement in our lives.  It might be hard to adjust to change, but it can be better in the long run.  After all, if we don't accept change, we can't improve.  We can't become better.  We might actually get worse in some respects if we don't change.  If you think about it, life is change.  Evolving and changing is how the human race became the human race, and the human race will not remain the human race.  We will eventually evolve into something else, hopefully something better.  

Of course, the changes I am doing or thinking about doing are not so drastic as evolving into something else.  Some are minor.  Some may say I shouldn't be doing.  At least one change is minor in implementation, but it could have a major impact on my life.  Only time will tell that.

One change I made yesterday.  Several months ago I won a Zune HD.  I downloaded the Zune software from the Microsoft website and used Zune to manage my music library.  However,  a few months my Zune HD went bad.  The Zune HD screen now has a bunch of horizontal lines and is unusable.  For Christmas I received an iTunes gift card, among other things.  Yesterday I downloaded the iTunes software to my laptop.  It detected all of my music on the laptop, and now I am using iTunes to manage my music library.  I used the iTunes gift card to buy a Norah Jones album, The Fall.  The album only cost $13.99 plus any tax, much cheaper than if I bought it from a store like Best Buy.  I used iTunes to make a CD of this album, and I am listening to it now.  It sounds great on my 12 year-old Bose Wave Machine.  There are other things you can download using iTunes.  It is a popular piece of software, and considering the cost of CDs at stores, I should have downloaded iTunes a long time ago.  With the blank CDs I already have, I can make CDs for both home and my car.  Now I have to think about some sort of iPod to take my music anywhere I go.  This old gator is trying to get with it finally.

Another change I am thinking about is going back to Comcast for my TV.  A couple of years ago, I dropped Comcast because it was too expensive, and my finances could not handle it.  I was getting the regular digital broadcasts with HD, and I had a DVR along with getting HBO and something else of which I can't think of the name of.  Now my finances are a little better (not much better, but a little better).  I noticed in the paper that most of the college football bowl games are on ESPN, including the BCS Championship game (thankfully the Florida Gators' bowl game is on ABC this afternoon).   I am currently getting TV over-the-air, which is free.  However, the selection of over-the-air stations is not great, and I do miss some of channels I was getting on Comcast.  If I do switch back to cable, I will not get a DVR or any extra stuff like HBO.  I do hope to be able to get HD stations without much cost.  I will do some investigating next week and see if this change is doable.

I have already made a change that is small in implementation, but it could be a big impact.  They say you should pay yourself first before you pay your bills.  On December 1, I put $100 in my savings account.  Yesterday I put in $100 more in my savings account.  I could do so because my cash flow is good in December and in January.  The question is will I be able to keep this up in the months that my cash flow is not so good.  My income is not the same each month because I work part time, and not all the classes I teach are in session, and my math tutoring declines in the summer.  I am also going to try not to spend as much in the "good" months so that I have something to get me through the "not so good" months.  If I can do that, my savings account will grow, and my finances will improve.  As you see, this simple act of putting something away can have a big impact on my life.

Change can be good if it improves things.  We do not always have control of what changes, and that can be frustrating and hard to accept.  However, the change we do have control of can be both exciting and life impacting.  Year 2011 is here, and I can't wait to see it unfold.