Vignettes and Current Life

Watching my feline family and how they move from location to location seemingly at random, lead me to the random thought that life is but a series of small vignettes. Playing with friends, going to school for the first time, middle school, high school, college, first job, first crush, first kiss, friends that are found and lost, etc. are all small moments in life that at the time are ones we believe will last forever.

As we live life and even as we look back, it is clear that some of these vignettes cross and overlap, some are separate and the distance between them can be jarring when looking back, yet what they all have in common is that they make up a large part of  who we become and who we are as people.

As these moments in time, these vignettes seem a lifetime when they are occurring, there is often a myopic focus only on that particular moment even when looking back, though this becomes stronger as we age and gain more knowledge and experience. The younger we are, the less of life has been lived and the less vignettes and awareness of them.

Yet as we age, we reach the point where within the first few moments of a situation it is possible to have a feeling of  familiarity with a situation, feel a nagging thought as if this has happened or that even if it is slightly different, the outcome is predictable. Moments where thoughts such as “Ignorance is bliss where knowledge is a curse, for even those that have learned from the past are sometimes doomed to repeat it.” come readily to mind.

Oddly, and perhaps it is a bit sad, but at least insofar as I have noticed, the vignettes truly only come to mind in two situations, when any change happens, such as a new better paying job, marriage, a favorite restaurant closes, loss of a friend, a family member names you a godparent, a hobby becomes impossible because of cost, etc. and when there is uncertainty about the present and fear of the future.

These feelings, both positive and negative trigger a look to the past and both a wondering ‘what if’, perhaps remembering a past that never occurred and a future that never was, times that might have been sad but also times that looking back seemed so much better than the present.

Perhaps in a world where people fear the future, live uncertain of the present and desire the past, one that is increasingly coming into existence, more people are looking back and this, in part, explains throwbacks to the 1980’s, remakes of movies and people clinging to a time when, at least as much as it ever has, the world made sense.

On a much more microscopic level, I see numerous examples every day within my work life and private life of people longing for a past that might never have been and desiring a future that never was and likely never will be.

I see it in family remembering their childhood as they raise their children and even in silly things, such as friends increasingly showing great excitement in a show soon to have a Blu-ray release, one we all remember seeing almost 20 years ago on television, the Japanese anime Big O. 

That in turn triggered discussions and talks about how Cartoon Network’s Toonami block back in the early to mid 2000’s, was awesome with shows such as Cowboy Bebop, Big O and even Case Closed; a time when what they brought over was more edgy and even the more ‘kid side’ of Cartoon Network was still going for more daring and original shows such as the original Powerpuff Girls, Samurai Jack and The Grim Adventures of Billy and Mandy.

As we talked it felt odd to me that the release of any show that is almost 20 years old can bring fond memories of ‘those days’, times when even seniors in high school and college freshmen and sophomores, a least looking back, saw life as so much simpler and how whatever fears now exist, weren’t even considered to be possible.

Outside of my private life, there is my work life and while I am sure my workplace is not unique in this, increasingly within my workplace, people are increasingly frightened and scared, and sharing snippets of times they remember in the past, even the past of 2 or 3 years ago.

Though thinking about it, it makes sense, for within that passage of years, there have been a lot of good people let go or simply choose to leave, changes made that make no sense, an attempt to destroy the existing office culture and replace it with another as if it can be done with a snap of the fingers, so many changes and so much lost that it is little wonder people are remembering ‘the good old days’ of even two years ago.

Thus, there are quiet whispers of what has been lost, the annual employee appreciation picnic, holiday gatherings for the unit, a chance to actually meet the Board of Directors, paid classes for employees to better themselves in their job, a Human Resources department that seemed to be working with employees not against them and within the discussion of what has been lost, shared stories of employees long gone from the company, and of people whose actions were, though they themselves were sadly not at the time, greatly appreciated.

This has left me thinking back over a very brief, perhaps one year, moment within the company and all that has changed and how despite there being many small moments, they are truly all interlinked.

The first though that comes to mind is of the former CFO and how things were so much nicer with him as, in my opinion, the de facto leader of the company.

He was someone that, for the various individual units that made up his department (about half of the company), worked to encourage, not artificially force, unity through quarterly birthday lunches and departmental breakfasts; arranged yearly holiday gatherings ranging from a fancy dinner to a daylong “Taste of…” event, where those in his department would leave the office for a full day of touring and eating at various restaurants in the local city and actually gave the impression he cared about his people.

He also did much simpler things including a yearly Final Four bracket contest where the most accurate bracket(s) would win a 10-dollar gift card to a local restaurant and the winning bracket(s) would win a 15-dollar gift card for the same local restaurant and a ‘guess the number of Jelly Beans’ to win the jar for yourself or your children. No one was forced to participate but everyone felt good about being a part of whatever he had going on at the time.

Truthfully, he was very creative in finding ways to get people involved, build relationships and teams without resorting to what I will always call cheesy team building.

Those teambuilding events such as “if you were a tree what type of tree would you be” or “there is a sticker with a name on you back, ask your co-workers any question other than ‘who am I’, about that name to find out the historical or famous literary character you are and then do a brief skit as them”.

I am sure almost all of us are familiar with those types of events, the ones where some people are actually enjoying it, but most would prefer a very different type of clear liquid in than glass or bottle than the water that fills it. Yet, like it or not, it is the type of event where everyone titters and jokes about the answers coworkers give and the impressions of the chosen tree people are forced to make or the famous historical person or literary character as who they had to act. Yet, again in my experience, these events have never truly build teams or bonded people as part of a team.

There is something to be said for embarrassing moments where everyone is making fun of themselves building commonality between people that can form a team, but those moments have to occur naturally and within the course of events, not artificially created where people remember the events and laugh but that is where the unity ends, at least in my experience, but I digress.

With all he did that was good, the CFO was still not without his faults, that much is certain. Yet the number of good things both small and large he helped bring about were invaluable toward gaining and maintaining far more trust and loyalty, if not to himself at least to the company, then these events could ever have cost either him or the company.

Yet, despite the obvious examples he gave of how it should be done, the moment he left things changed; gone where the quarterly birthdays, breakfasts and Final Four Brackets and no longer did units gather as a combined department for the holiday gatherings or get together for impromptu walks around the area at lunch.

Oh, don’t get me wrong, individual units might have an occasional holiday lunch or birthday cupcake purchased, or someone might have an afternoon holiday gathering at their house, but in the end, even those events are with far fewer people as there was less unity since no individual unit holds the power or resources to organize anything major or to bring units together that he held or his successors (yes, within three years it is successors, plural) held/hold.

If anything, his successors seem, intentionally to be doing the opposite and driving groups apart, silo-ing units, while claiming they are for unity and the breaking down of silos.

Without any guiding force to unify or bring the groups together, even for silly events like “guess the number of jelly beans”, gaps began to form between the units, work that was always there suddenly intervened and the impromptu walks even ceased.

While the people within different units remained friends, the units grew distance to the point they didn’t and still don’t, talk as much to each other and started to self-isolate, guarding their own territory jealously, even when that territory is shared on a project and communication should take place.

Granted, his departure cannot and should not be labeled as the sole cause for the lack of group unity or even for the initial subtle and now drastic shift of n office culture away from that of family to that of something else, but failure to follow his example in how to build and maintain a family culture and friendship between groups can, and in my opinion, must be unequivocally stated as a large part of the reason that now, there is little motivation, people leave almost as soon as they start and trust, loyalty and faith in the company and its new leadership is far less than that to which people give to ‘discount generic cereal brand x’.

If possible though, it is far worse than merely a of how to unify people leading to a loss of trust and loyalty in the leadership, it is a shift of power upwards, isolating itself at the top. In so doing the leadership is forgetting that like any pyramid the top is far less important than the base.

It quickly began apparent that since his departure and this shift of consolidating and isolating power at the top, this has gone from a place where people wanted to be, one where they spent time laughing and joking with a feeling of being part of a larger family, to one where people whisper in the shadows, where no one fully trusts others to the point conversations often cease if another person approaches, or a shadow moves, and it has become a place where people no longer fight for promotion but have become terrified to get a raise or promotion for fear it makes them a larger target for dismissal.

Just briefly on the history of the company’s leadership outside of the CFO… when I started, there was a woman who had been here for close to 15 years. She may or may not have been a good leader, I can’t say beyond that she always struck me more of an Aunt Bea than a Margret Thatcher, who let the CFO truly run things. That said, she was beloved, always seemed to appreciate and encourage the existing office culture, laughed and joked with staff and at least made it seem as if everything was done in the open and that she cared for the staff.

In direct contrast the new leadership does everything in a cloak and dagger fashion, they resort to Orwellian speak-think in the staff meetings, promising one thing and routinely delivering another while trying to spin that difference as people mishearing what was said originally  and since meetings are no longer recorded, it is impossible for anyone to go back and check the record. They state there is an open-door policy while openly saying they are creating a locked section to which people will need to be buzzed in to see them.

They stand in front of the staff and admit weakness, while adding their life coach is helping them work on being strong. They bring in consultants whose power trumps those of department heads who are actually supposed to be in charge. They show continual signs of being unprepared at speeches through dependency on notecards to the point they will stop their speech and sort through the notecards if they feel they are out of order and they seem uncomfortable with groups as they will make awkward jokes and leave obvious pauses for laughter that doesn’t come, pauses so awkward that if it were a cartoon there would be crickets, a tumbleweed and possibly a polite cough.

All of this is being done as they work as hard as they can, as if they were trying to copy and paste over text in a Word document, to replace the existing office culture with one that fits their ‘vision’, while ignoring or simply not caring about the impact this is having on staff.

Seeing this leadership, I, and those that will speak to me about this, look back in our own lives and remember both the former leadership here and leaders we knew in our life, teachers, coaches, tutors, people that always seemed strong and indomitable, people who never admitted weakness and, at least seemingly, never took actions that would lose them loyalty and trust without a good reason.

Again, contrast the leadership people remember and think fondly of to the current leadership where even if those in charge actually know what they are doing, the general feeling they have created by their own previous actions, is they have no clue beyond a belief that every single one of their actions must guide the company toward their new grand vision; a vision that is so specifically vague it verges on being vaguely specific. Again, is it any wonder loyalty now rests more heavily with a generic discount cereal brand then it does with them?

Okay, in complete fairness even this leadership realizes they are losing loyalty and trust faster than a FTL ship can make it from the Earth to Mars.

Yet, instead of asking themselves how to win back trust and loyalty, instead of asking, or perhaps caring, how it was so strong before they took power and what is costing them loyalty and trust now, three things are being done. The first thing they are doing is a step many leaders facing the same problem choose, replace as many people as possible as quickly as possible with new staff that doesn’t remember the old days and ways the company used to be run and therefore have no comparisons to make to the present and is less likely to challenge or question the current path.

The second thing is to create an atmosphere of so much fear that people are scared to speak outloud and more likely to follow the leadership, not because they believe in it, ut because until they can flee, they have no choice but to follow it, so long as they desire to even have a chance at staying with the company.

Thirdly is a direct promise from the new president/CEO, who has already broken more promises to staff than days are in year. He has sworn to staff that he has a secret plan to win back our trust and loyalty…a secret plan to do something… why does that have a vague historical ring to it, something about a secret plan to end a war…

Regardless, I am sure he will be implementing it at any time now since several months (six) have passed with no obvious signs of the plan being evident. Now, in fairness he has been busy globetrotting on the company’s dime for company business to locations that coincidently take him to places his family is on vacation.

At any rate s a result of all these changes, all that is going on, I certainly and based on how fast people are leaving anymore, so many others that have been here as little as three years, to turn to the wisdom of the mysterious people behind all the “it has been written” moments, and realize that it has been written that when something ceases to be enjoyable, it is time to move on, and perhaps that is true.

There are enough people that I know, knew, at work who are leaving at a quicker speed than ever before and even I have reached out, asking friends to keep their eyes open for me as the usual methods of online applications and job agencies are proving themselves as helpful and useful as four horseshoes on a Ford Mustang.

It is times like these when I look back to the good leaders, teachers and coaches that I knew, that I begin to wonder how, beyond having a major connection to this company’s largest donor, someone with seemingly no or poor delegation skills, no indication he is actually leading rather than letting others fill the vacuum and either taking credit or placing blame, ever became a leader and also wondering how widespread this is both in a business sense and in a global sense.

Well, as these thoughts fill my mind I am looking at my dozing feline family, and wondering if they too experience small vignettes, and compare the past to the present and think of how better things were when… or are they so living “the life of Riley” that nothing exists to trigger that type of vignettes. Though in fairness I must say they certainly aren’t taking to the spring bedcovers as quickly as they took to the winter ones, so maybe they are looking back and wondering what happened to those plush fluffy covers and how easily they sunk into them for a midday’s nap and to that extent missing those ‘good old days’.

 

 

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Common Courtesy

It is a strange world where I find far more courtesy from my feline family trying to knock food off my fork or sitting on my shoulder trying to lean forward to eat off my plate than I encounter in everyday life from other people.

These days, from waiting in lines in stores, dining out, driving on the road, speaking with people in person or over the phone or even something which should be one of the most private acts people engage in, using the bathroom, common courtesy seems far more of a lost art than sarcasm.

To the latter, most of the people I deal with have become such literalists, I could say about a transit company that instead using their vehicles to move items, hired an outside firm and then complained about the cost, “Yeah, it’s a shame they didn’t have access to a fleet of trucks and vans to conduct the move themselves.”; only to have someone reply in a confused tone, “But they do, they just decided not to use them.”

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I am being courteous, I’m sleeping in my own bed and not taking over yours.

Truthfully, I could write an entire entry on how funny and yet sad the world is by being that literal. Also of how it is scary people only see what is in front of them and fail to see possibilities that are not obvious or those that fall within the ‘gray areas’, but perhaps those thoughts are for another time.

 

The increasingly lost art of common courtesy is something that didn’t happen overnight, but aspects of it, actions that as recently as a two years ago would have been considered gauche and looked with disgust by some of the very people today that engage in those very actions without a second thought, are happening with increasingly frequency and that surprises me.

Honestly, it would be so easy to look back at what increasingly seems like the halcyon days of childhood and speak of how some of the uncourteous acts now, were impossible then because in some cases the technological levels were vastly different, i.e. no mass proliferation of cell phones, no GPS systems in cars or iPads or other devices for children to watch movies and play on when eating out.

Yet that is not entirely fair to blame technological differences. It is true that many people today are so tied to their devices they might becoming far more Borg than the Borg ever were… after all at least the Borg had awareness of their environment, something that most people today, who are so focused on their smartphones when walking, waiting in line or even being within a group of other people, seem to lack.

It also isn’t fair to completely blame technology because of the means in which some people act gauche today existed in the past. For example, I am increasingly seeing people enter a public restroom and audibly use the bathroom when on their cellphone. Personally, I would hang up, and have, on people doing that after saying, please call back when you are finished. However, it is becoming increasingly common.

Yet, I remember a friend’s house that had a landline phone adjacent to a toilet. Many jokes were made about its placement, but she was quick to tell everyone that she was under strict orders from her parents that the phone was never to be used when she using the bathroom. It seemed it would have been taken out but even in those days was basically a part of the wall.

So, it isn’t as simple to attribute this decline and lack of common courtesy to technology that now exists but didn’t at least in the same fashion in past. Though technology is unquestionably a factor.

Cellphones, iPads, smartphones, etc., have made it far too easy to lack any awareness of surroundings, have made it far too easy to answer calls when in a restaurant or in a movie theater or at a play or even when in a classroom. They all bother me, but the latter bothers me the most as schools are increasingly powerless to have students put away their phones even during tests and quizzes.

iPads and smartphones have created a situation where parents can shift the need to “watch” their children off on a device and not encourage their children to understand how to behave in social situations or even how to amuse themselves by reading or actually being a part of the family when dining out… that said I have seen, with great joy, many more children bringing books into restaurants to read when waiting for food.

Admittedly that is not the most courteous thing to do, albeit something I did growing up, but it is so nice to see children do something that is not tied to a device and something that they put down when the food comes to join family conversations, something that I rarely notice with games and devices. As such it is something I don’t consider as much of an uncourteous act as a child loudly playing their video game or watching shows at the table.

I know I keep saying I don’t blame technology and then it sounds as if I place a lot of the blame of the loss of common courtesy on technology. That is because while I don’t completely blame technology, perhaps technology does deserve a share of the blame with its users.

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I’m happy with just a soft cushion and a ear scratch.

While technology has given people a sense of entitlement toward instant gratification, which in turn leads to a loss of patience that people show these days and increasingly hostility toward others when instant gratification doesn’t occur or they think someone is standing between them and their instant gratification, it is the people that use the devices and feel they cannot live without texting, without checking e-mails every few seconds that hold equal or greater blame than technology to the loss of common courtesy.

 

It is people who, whenever they are at a loss as to what to do, who take out not a notepad to write, or a book to read, walk a bit or even close their eyes for a moment to mediate but take out a device to text, tweet, look up news, etc.

People are freely choosing to use the devices, to link their lives to devices, to such an extent I see them as becoming far less human than the Borg.

It occurs to me that perhaps the reason my feline family has their focus on the here and now and as such shows a great deal of common courtesy, is they don’t use technology for instant gratification. They get it from head scratches and tummy rubs.

They are also great at stopping me from using my devices too much by blocking my iPad and asking for tummy rub, or by walking across a keyboard to see rub behind my ears. It is as if they are telling me to take a step back and pay attention to what is truly important, them.

Sure, they can be impatient if dinner is late or they might knock their favorite of three water bowls off the counter when their favorite one is empty or mew demandingly next to their food dish to let me know it is half filled or kick litter all over the floor, but even in so doing, they are focused on the here and now and to a point they are patient and aware I can’t always top off a half filled food bowl or refill an empty water bowl when there are two other filled ones from which they can drink.

Within all that has been written, I don’t mean to imply there are not still people that show and understand common courtesy who have focus both in the here and now and awareness of what is to come, but they are becoming increasingly anachronistic these days and far rarer than those that walk without looking what is around them, go into restrooms while on the phone or to make a call, cut others off on roads or get to the front of a checkout line only to have the rest of the line wait when they go get something they forgot.

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The only instant gratification I ask for, is that door to be open so I can get at bird that has been taunting me.

So maybe, just maybe, society can learn something from my feline family, from felines and canines everywhere. Take some time to look around and see what is away from the screen, appreciate nature, appreciate the small things like a sunbeam to nap in and enjoy the instant gratification, not of ordering a product and having it delivered within two hours or of seeing how many people retweet a tweet within an hour, but of a head scratch and a belly rub or whatever is similar in their own lives.

 

Possibly, just possibly, in doing so society will reconnect with itself and find that common courtesy is returning. It might be that people will realize it doesn’t matter if they get an instant reply to a message sent, or what the latest news is, or what their friends or family miles, cities, counties, states, countries away are doing at that very moment.

Perhaps they will realize again that what matters most is human interaction, learning how important it is to actually have face to face conversations with the people near you and how that can open far more worlds and show far more about what is important in life than a text message with someone not even present can ever mean.

Conceivably this will lead to a return to common courtesy and a much friendlier society.

On a side, I always wondered how people know who they are really texting with at the other end. Yes, the phone number is known, but how do they know who is on the other end? Isn’t it a bit like the ventriloquist that is only ever on radio, how do people know they aren’t moving their lips when the dummy is speaking?

Truthfully, it might not be important how people know, but it is a question to ask, as people are increasingly unaware of how to read context in speech and even how to understand written text’s deeper non-literal meanings.

Is it then possible, is there at least a chance that by actually interacting with people that are present, not only will common courtesy be regained but people will actually be able to read and understand more depth in both conversations and written text, such as sarcasm and double contextual meanings to things said, such as in the back and forth of “Hey! She’s trying!”, “That, she most certainly is.” Or “Their loyalty is as unwavering as it has ever been.”?

At least there is a chance, right?

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Constant Construction

Construction and its noise abounds, everywhere I turn right now there is something being built, rebuilt, changed, repaved, torn up, etc. I remember construction ongoing when I grew up and even around the University I attended as they added buildings and renovated campus, but even that wasn’t everywhere. It did not lead to the continual construction noise, of lanes being closed, sidewalks closed, entrances to buildings moved, parking spaces blocked and so on.

Yet recently, it seems that I can’t travel anywhere without some form of construction.

A small microcosm of the work that seems omnipresent around me can be found in the area around my office. The building in which I work has been ongoing since October, with massive renovations and two wing expansion. That said most of the work until now was just annoying, loss of parking lots, sidewalk closures, but within the past few weeks it has gotten a lot noisier, as holes are cut into the building for new doorways to the existing structure and connections from the existing to the new wings.

The grocery store across the street has closed its main entrance to add about 800 square feet of retail and move their small café. They already have dug into part of the sidewalk and have fencing and blue tarp blocking what is going on behind the scenes. It sounds like a great project long term with the new café having garage style doors for year round seating (rather than just outside seating). Yet, to accomplish this, a permanent loss of about 6 parking spaces and the loss of trees that must have been close to 15 to 20 years old as occurred. Though in fairness maybe it wasn’t because of the construction that the trees were taken down. For some reason tree removal, of what appear to be healthy trees, for seemingly no clear reason is becoming far too common around here…

Most of the apartment buildings around the office, some clearly visible from the break room and the sound of which is echoing for some distance when walking at lunch, are having their yearly roof replacement… no, seriously this is something that happens every year around this same time…their HOA dollars at work, I guess. Also is just my ignorant Northeastern United States view on things, or is the time period of mid-to late December continuing through early to mid-January a really strange time to begin roof work, or any external construction for that matter, that is not absolutely necessary?

Actually, with the unusually warm weather this year, maybe this is a great time for all sorts of work.

On the weekends when I help walk a dog of a woman in a senior care facility, three major projects have been seen to be ongoing since at least early to mid-October. For the facility itself, there is yet another major roof repair.

However, unlike the apartments where they are going through one apartment roof a day, it is likely that in this case the start time of the work can be easily questioned. Of course, in my humble opinion, so could the quality of the work. In just the last month, I’ve witnessed the workers leave wood exposed to wet weather and ice, cover that same wood when still wet and when raining with siding, place no tarp or other protective cover over any building materials or seemingly let them dry first, and merely leave uncovered materials exposed to snow and ice. Perhaps though, in fairness, I must admit to knowing so little of construction that perhaps these actions have little to no impact on the quality of the job or lifespan of the work.

That which can be said though, is that the work has been a major problem for anyone trying to enter the building. Sidewalks, entrances and roadways around it have been off and on, some always closed some seem to rotate, since the work began and parking spaces along with lanes of the major roadway in front, have been routinely closed leading to major backups and dangerous driving conditions in the parking lots. What is truly amazing to me, is that when I ask how such things can be allowed to those at the front desk of the senior care facility, no one seemed to even consider challenging how equipment can be allowed to block a handicap parking area. Instead when asked about it merely say, “That’s how things are, I guess.”

Really? That’s it? No one has any outrage or challenge as to why that machinery must be parked where it is when it is not used for seemingly weeks and the people who are working on the building are working on the other side of the building? Whatever happened to looking at something that doesn’t make sense and challenging it. Though perhaps I should not be surprised as I have seen similar responses to the construction at my office.

It does lead me to wonder, with such a seemingly prevalent attitude of “ah, why question things” if written today, Kirk’s question in Star Trek V of “Excuse me. Why does God need a starship?” would have been written instead to allow the Enterprise to be handed over and Kirk to shrug and say “Well, it’s one of those things, you know?”

Maybe, in a very weak defense of those not rising up and challenging, maybe they are just feeling hopeless. There is so much ongoing construction that perhaps they just see no point in challenging anything at present.

I can certainly understand that to a point for those that have lost parking in my office and even those at the senior care facility, for even if they could put a stop to the roofing and gain control over it, right next door construction is ongoing for a new very large apartment complex. It is so close a rock thrown from just inside one of the care facilities windows could break an apartment window.

More impactful to the senior care facility since it is close are the torn up roads for piping, continual dump trucks and other construction trucks and the loss and redesign of even more parking that was once shared between the senior care facility and a very close office complex.

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Not the apartments being built, but the entrance does look very similar.

It must also be disheartening to those at the senior center because this is the type of apartment complex currently being built very rapidly all over the region to the point the “unique dynamic style invoking a gentler and grander era of soft neoclassical exteriors, private balconies, large entry ways (invocative of buildings from the 1920’s) common areas with trees, large friendly lobbies and exterior gathering areas for grilling out and tossing horseshoes” is becoming a dime a dozen.

 

It is the type of apartment building where the presale ads are also clearly geared to millennials or people just starting out. You know, those new to the workforce people who can afford a basic single bedroom or studio 800 square foot, base $900 per month, plus monthly pet fee of $80 and a $100 “common area use fee” along with any other HOA type of fees, type of people.

Then again perhaps the hopelessness at questioning or fighting the construction of both the apartment complex and the roofing on the senior care facility comes from the fact there is continual roadwork near the senior care facility. In fairness, there is continual roadwork near almost everywhere I drive these days. Some of which is obviously needed and the work being done clear, but most of it merely blocks lanes with no evidence of work being done beyond someone occasionally moving the cones to block the lanes of travel.

Even I admit to becoming very tired of the construction encountering it every day, on the weekends, driving almost anywhere in the region, but at the same time I still think one must challenge things when they don’t make sense.

Ask questions, try to find out why wet wood is being covered and if that will shorten the lifespan of the work, ask why spots are blocked if work isn’t being done in that area, ask why lanes are closed if nothing is being done, ask if the work truly needs to happen at rush hour or can it happen during off hours for most people.

These questions might not be answered and in the long run will likely not change anything, but if enough people start to ask questions, perhaps, just perhaps change will come and people will be hesitant to merely brush off questions and challenges and actually think before they act. Even the act of seeing others ask questions and challenge things, even if there are no answers, might encourage even more people to continue to push for answers and challenge things they think are wrong until they get the answers they like and that make sense or at least get answers that aren’t completely hogwash or ‘non-denial-denials’.

Who am I kidding? If that world ever did exist, it hasn’t for years, though perhaps it is starting to come into existence or return with the current world socioeconomically and political climates… at all how long can the 8 richest people combined have greater wealth of the bottom 50% of all humans, and the 10 biggest corporations have greater revenue of the 180 poorest countries before people start challenging and asking questions?

Well, at least my feline family is somewhat isolated from all of this chaos. They do have to listen to me talk about the construction in the office every night, the problems with traffic to and from the office and the noise around the area as everything is seemingly rebuilt.

Should construction noise ever become a problem right around me, should their sleep be continually disrupted by someone using heavy machinery for one reason or another, or merely hammering nails in a fashion that interrupts their naps… well, all I can figure is, most of my dinner would have to be scarified in apology.

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So Long Oz

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so long, oz

The world is going insane and on a personal level one of my feline family was lost early this morning. Oz died during the night. I a not sure what happened. He as healthly, judt hd a fle treament and checkup elier in the week and was trying tostelmy food two nights ago. Yesterday he began barfing a bit, but was stilleating a drinking. Then in the evening he became a bit listless and byaround 3:00 m  he  was  gone…

IfI can, later today I plan I posting one last post he helped me write earlier yesterday,but never got a chance to pose for a picture to go along with it.

Until then, I hope the end of this month and the start of the year is treating everyone ell nd despite the insanity of the world, providing you with some peace.

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A (belated) Holiday Movie Recommendation

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Favorite blanket for watching movies.

My feline family and I, for several years now, have gotten great holiday enjoyment out of a movie that seems to get little attention. In full disclosure and fairness, this movie unquestionably has a strong following amongst the fans of the series (both anime and Japanese light novel) on which it is based and is one that I not only watch each holiday but much like A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens, I try to read the book on which it is based, yearly.

The Disappearance of Haruhi Suzumiya. is a story filled with timeless themes and messages and echoes of the importance not only of oneself to the world but how one other person can make such a difference to your own world. With that said, there are unquestionable parallels between The Disappearance of Haruhi Suzumiya and It’s A Wonderful Life.

Yet, unlike so many other films, plays, novels and other mediums which try so hard to emulate the story (think of the many Harry Potter mimics for how this can go so very wrong, so easily) only to be obvious copies to the point the plot suffers, within The Disappearance of Haruhi Suzumiya, nothing felt forced or a mere copy.

Truthfully, The Disappearance of Haruhi Suzumiya contains such wonderful storytelling and through that comes to stand so strongly on its own merits that it saddens me it is not better known outside of Japan and the circle of existing fans.

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Regardless, I must admit one reason it is likely not more widely known, and has not become a perennial on television like so many other niche or predictable Hallmark movies, is that someone unfamiliar with the characters and some of the story of the earlier novels, or at least the anime series The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya, could be lost as to why certain characters react as they do at given times and to certain events in the ‘alternate world’.

While it is hard for me who is and was familiar with the characters and general plot of the movie when first seeing The Disappearance of Haruhi Suzumiya, to boldly state for certain that the movie is not so completely unforgiving to newcomers that it fails to offer some background and flashes to the previous episodes to help clarify certain plot points, it is something I fully believe.

I truly wanted to share this recommendation before Christmas but have been struggling with a way to write a spoiler free teaser to the movie without even providing spoilers to the series of light novels, which are both also highly recommended, that I was stuck for some time. For an idea of what I was, think about your favorite book or movie, think about how to describe it so you get someone else interested in a least looking into it more without possibly either sounding weak in the description or spoiling major plot points (i.e.selling the climax of The Empire Strikes Back without saying Darth Vader is really Anakin Skywalker, Luke’s father).

Therefore, I have decided to play it overly safe and be a bit lazy by providing  a link to the extended English movie trailer, which itself might contain some minor spoilers to both movie and series, and copy the teaser from the back of the DVD case which reads as follows:

“Ten days before Christmas, it seemed like another ordinary day for the SOS Brigade; Haruhi came up with another one of her crazy ideas to hold a Christmas party in the club room. But then things got weirder from there… The next day Kyon woke up to a world in which Haruhi didn’t exist and no one besides him had any memory of her. How can someone like like Haruhi Suzumiya, who’s supposed to be center of the universe, just vanish?” (from the back of the Bandai DVD English release-2009)

Truthfully, after all of this I am not sure I have done The Disappearance of Haruhi Suzumiya the justice it deserves. Hopefully though I have interested at least a few of you in checking it out and if you do, please let me know what you think.

I hope everyone has had and continues to have a happy holiday season. If not before, I look forward to returning in 2017. Happy New Year to all.

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My Feline Family and the Start of the Holiday Season

My feline family has greatly enjoyed the start of the winter holiday season, Thanksgiving Day. They indulged themselves with a bit of turkey to eat and a lot of family time. I truly hope too, as the holiday season progresses, they continue to have a safe and enjoyable one.

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Enjoying Thanksgiving Turkey

I also believe they enjoyed the Thanksgiving Day parades (both the Macy’s Parade from New York and the Philadelphia Parade from Philadelphia) on television. Though from me it was a bittersweet time watching the Philadelphia Parade.

It let me look back to holiday’s as a child and lead me to remember when these parades were mostly advertisement free and before the time when the stars of upcoming new shows on the network airing the parade just happened to “accidentally” be there to see the parade if not on a parade float singing the theme to their new show.

The Philadelphia parade also triggered more memories as I learned a person I actually met a few decades ago, at a place that also doesn’t exist, died this year, Captain Noah (W. Carter Merbreier). He had a television show on the local Philadelphia ABC affiliate for many years, and I have vague memories of watching it when growing up and it being one of my first favorite shows.

At the time of his death he was 90 years old, and truly I had only met him once as a childhood fan. Yet, despite that fact and how I haven’t thought of the show in years, hearing of his passing created a feeling in me as if a part of my childhood also died.

Though that could have also been triggered when I learned the place I met him, a local garden center near where I grew up called, “G-Boys”, was also gone and has been for several years.

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Sleeping off the Turkey

Perhaps I knew about G-Boys going out of business a few years ago, but to at least relearn about it in connection with Captain Noah’s passing awoken further memories of the G-Boys’ Christmas tree displays and holidays long past. It is odd how memories of happy times can actually lead me to feel a lot older and a lot more lonely. Perhaps that though is more tied to remembering things now gone.

I know time passes and the older one gets the more things they look back on and see either no longer existing or as different and remember them as they were, and I like to think myself still too young for most of these moments, but so far this year has had more of them then previous and still more seem to be creeping up faster than ever before and it isn’t even December

Well, we shall see what happens as this holiday season continues… maybe the constant changes in every walk of life anymore will only increase these feelings, or maybe the change will take my focus elsewhere. Either way, I am glad to have my feline family sleeping with me and near me as I write this entry.

It seems to be true that have a feline family member sleep in your lap and on your shoulder is the best way to feel included and fixed in a point in time.

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Cashless Society

Listening to or reading the news is never enjoyable these days. There are stories which rightly garner much media attention and stories which perhaps wrongly become lost in the shuffle. Amongst those lost stories is one on a topic that my feline family and I find to be of great interest and possible concern.

Admittedly it does currently and has had some coverage in past but often only with an odd story here or there, such as a segment on the PBS National Business Review or article on Reuters website. However, within the last month it does seem a growing topic. As recently as September 29th, 2016 this topic had a front page article on the BBC website and earlier in the week there was an hour long program on BBC radio discussing it and the impact it can have on society.

The topic is societies going cashless and the increasing push there seems to be from businesses, banks and governments for an entirely cashless world.

Attempts to move away from a cash society is nothing new and has likely been going on since the end of the barter system; yet only recently does it seem to be gaining an increasing push and support in many countries across the globe. There are even some regions and countries which have already gone mostly cashless, as was reported back in a January of 2015 Reuters article discussing Nordic countries strong push to a cashless society.

A cashless society truly frightens me. I grew up learning and respecting money by actually holding money in my hands. I also learned to respect budgets growing up through a fixed allowance for chores. If that allowance was spent on an item on the day I got it, it would be a week until I received more money and anything else I wanted in that week would have to wait or if an item was more than one week’s allowance, I would have to saved up for it. During the time I was saving for it, if someone else with money bought it first, I was merely out of luck.

It was also helpful to control my spending by knowing immediately what was in my pocket, knowing the money available made it so much easier to say I either had to save everything, or I could spend a little and know how that would impact my saving for expensive item.

To me, this means of learning about money by having a physical representation of actual amounts of money to spend, realizing when it was gone it was gone leading to the need to budget, is an excellent teaching method for later in life.

Truly, it was a far better means than if my parents could have handed my under 10-year-old self, a credit card. Even today it is only through the careful budgeting and tracking I learned by respecting money that I learned to budget with credit cards. It is my strong belief if I had just started with credit cards, I would have had no idea and no respect for how much money was spent as it would just be numbers that seem endless.

Also relying only on cash, and the occasional times of poor budgeting, I was taught the power and influence money has in society, and how “cash is king”. If you have the cash to buy something you have influence in a store, if you are a window shopper, you might be treated politely but have no influence whatsoever with the sales clerk. Admittedly, people can still use electronic money to buy something and have the influence in a store, but that too can lead to overspending and a lot of problems for the individual.

Of course, the articles published about cashless societies don’t focus on the idea of how valuable cash can be to teaching people to respect money and not go into debt or the dangers of overspending by not really knowing what money you have to spend in a given day. Oddly, they don’t even mention the studies where people are shown to spend more over time when they have a debit or credit card than they would if they have cash in their pocket.

The articles merely say a cashless society is nothing more than the next evolution in spending habits. After all people are already paying for even items as small as packs of gum with debit cards, making payments through services such as Apple’s iPay or having automatic withdrawals made monthly to pay for rent, utilities, phone services, etc. There is also no question with the increase of online shopping there are fewer people buying things with cash.

Let us not forget that all of the previous doesn’t even include how people are getting paid. Social Security no longer sends checks but has automatic deposits and for those still working such as myself, well I haven’t seen an actual paycheck in years, it is all done electronically. Admittedly, these latter examples are referring to checks and not cash itself, but it is still another move away from a cash based society.

Those in favor of cashless societies go on to say the best reason for the switch is convenience for stores and customers, neither of who will need to carry or worry about cash being lost or stolen if they are robbed. Instead (and this part they don’t add) the customers and stores will only need to worry about electronic theft of their information, but in their defense of not mentioning it, how often does such theft happen and when it does on how large a scale?

Yet, even while not bringing up that possible issue with a cashless society, almost all the stories I’ve heard or read, stress that while theft if possible, there are noted promises from governments to keep their peoples’ information safe and secure. Which is very reassuring, I mean if you can’t trust those making such promises given the recent track record they have in protecting their own systems and data, what’s the world coming to?

Now, not to downplay data security, for that is major in today’s world especially when nearly ever payment made, even those by check, ends up being an electronic transfer at some point but an equally large issue already hinted at but often overlooked is the loss of privacy.

When everything is done electronically, a person leaves continual footprints, their every move can be tracked and traced, profiles can be built on the person based on what they purchased, the sites they visit and what they search for and in the least possible nefarious use of such information (currently ongoing actually) likes and dislikes through habits and trends are determined which then allow a company to target advertisements to individuals based on this information.

This leads to the little spoken but major advantage of cash payments, anonymity. The same electronically paid for purchases when made with cash, leaves no trail and builds no footprint from which to build a profile. Admittedly, this profile is lost if someone uses a ‘discount card’ in which is just another form of tracking.

Regardless, it is important to remember that at some point every credit card and debit payment is linked to specific purchases. Even if the shop only sends the total through credit or debit payment systems and banks or credit card companies along with where and when (which itself is a lot of information) such purchases were made, at some point that payment carries with it a traceable code that is linked, even if only in a shops computer system, to each item that was purchased. Through that payment code someone can trace what was purchased and when it was purchased and from that build a profile.

Now even if someone is not stealing information of what shops are frequented, how often and when, that information is being sold continuously by banks and credit card companies, just read any privacy policy to see how little privacy there is when using cards.

Of course there are those, as they have for some time now on a multitude of privacy issues, that make the rather naïve statement that if a person has nothing to hide, then what does it matter if someone knows what is being purchased, how often and/or where and when it is being purchased.

As I said, that to me is a very naïve view. People with nothing to hide still have a right to privacy, and still should expect and demand privacy. This has nothing to do with what right or wrong, or if someone does or doesn’t have anything to hide. The desire not to be tracked has everything to do with a person merely desiring a sense of anonymity in this world.

Consider for a moment that it is possible that someone has nothing to hide, but still doesn’t want anyone to know that they went into a national chain story and bought Encyclopedia of Cats, Doctor Who Season 2 Complete on Blu-ray, The Incredibles, Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan, Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children, The Idiot’s Guide to the History of the Roman Empire, and How to Build Bird Houses for Fun and Profit. There is nothing in those purchases which should be seen as anything other than slightly eclectic tastes and by all means nothing which should be seen as ‘evil’ or ‘wrong’.

Yet can you imagine the rather interesting profile that can be built on just those purchases? It can be viewed humorously as someone wanting to travel back in time with help of ‘peculiar children’ in order to turn the Roman Empire into cat loving birdhouse builders in an attempt to transform all heroes of myths and legends, and all modern day superheroes, into cats that fight evil birds which will eventually lead to the Starship Enterprise becoming the Starship Catnip under command of Captain Mittens.

Of course that is the humorous view, it is also possible someone looking hard enough would find something ‘evil’ and ‘horrible’ in those purchases and find a reason why such as person should be watched closely. Granted, it is my opinion that those people would also likely find reasons that Pollyanna truly disliked the world and only pretended to like everyone for the purposes of making money off of them.

There is also the little mentioned oddity of people using debit cards to purchase a candy bar (.89) and a large bag of chips ($3.75) for a total with tax of around $4.99 but paying $24.99 so they get $20.00 back. I could start by saying that grocery stores should not act as banks, and they shouldn’t, but the larger issue and slight inconsistency here with people using debit cards, is people who will use a debit card to pay for something under $5.00 dollars still want cash on hand though for some reason don’t use a bank to get it and yet still ‘spend’ that money by having it deducted from their account with the ‘cashback’.

Then there are those people that don’t have debit cards, credit cards or bank accounts. These are the people who through no fault of their own must depend on the “Quick Cash Now” places in order to cash checks. How could they survive in a cashless society? Will they be issued debit cards or “Visa Cash Cards” instead of checks? They don’t have the bank accounts for a debit card or the financial history without a checking or savings account to obtain a credit card, which means they must use cash to survive.

So since it seems people either aren’t or can’t completely abandon cash, as seems evident by those that get cash ‘in change’ for purchases and there is a segment which seems to rely heavily on cash, why this push away from cash? Each article mentions, almost in passing, that banks pay a huge fee for moving cash around and a much smaller one to no fee to move numbers on a screen. The same is true for certain businesses that heavily rely on and move cash around, which brings us closer to the true reason behind the push for a cashless society.

While it is true some of the people might love the idea of a cashless society and it does have some advantages, it is increasingly clear to me that the real reason for this huge push is the banks and big business’s craving such a society. Just look at one of the big sponsors for World Series, Masterpass. Masterpass is pushing ‘how wonderful the world will be when paying with your phone.” One of commercials even mentions how instead of paper or plastic, or credit or debit, the new question at check outs will be “where is your phone.”

Is it possible, just possible, that this sudden manic push to go to a cashless society is similar to the seeming manic push for driverless cars? It is being done without a thought to if it is wanted or truly needed? The more I learn about both technologies the more one of my favorite lines from the original Jurassic Park comes to mind,“Yeah, yeah, but your scientists were so preoccupied with whether or not they could, that they didn’t stop to think if they should.”

I am loathe to sound like I am anti technology, but I do wonder if a lot of this is being pushed a bit to much at once, far to quickly for anything to actually be tested properly or allow a chance to see if people actually want to only pay by their phone or ride in a   vehicle that could be traveling near 90 mph over which they have no control, one that could be stopped or slowed by someone else from a remote location or by a computer glitch.
I encourage everyone to listen to commentators about driverless cars and hear how right now, there are only a small few that are actually loving the idea of being in a driverless car… in a similar fashion listen to people talk about a cashless society and see if there are people rightly frightened of having everything done over a phone or perhaps there are some people willing to  give it a try for a short time but not willing to fully commit.

Well come what may, at least my feline family doesn’t worry about cash and thankfully they will never have to worry about a cashless society. Of course their entire lives have essentially been in a welfare state, but then again, I can’t imagine a worthier group of furry felines to deserve such a life.

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