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Monthly Archives: September 2012

It’s a Good Day

Some days are not great. The car won’t start, you get a parking ticket, the dog barfs on the rug, the fast food joint gets your order wrong. We all have days like that, and many of us are not shy about sharing them. Certain walrii (ahem) have been known to complain long and loud about such days when they happen.

But how often do we take the time to appreciate the days that go right? Not the spectacular days when the world is at your feet — those are rare and special. But sometimes, days just kinda go well in lots of small ways.

Every once in a while, the little things that go well start piling up. You’re pleasantly surprised by the amount in your checking account. Lunch is tasty. You have time (and the cash — see above) to stop on your way back to work for that special coffee indulgence from the little corner shop. Then to top it off, a favorite song plays on the car radio and you do your best to howl along with Warren Zevon on “Werewolves of London.” (and trust me, some of us are, to quote Tom Petty, sublime.)

No, it’s not winning the lottery. It’s not getting a new car, welcoming a new family member, getting a new job or anything that big. But the little things all conspire in a way to make you say “Yeah. This is a good day.”

It’s far too easy to get lost in the day-to-day routines. We lose sight of just how many of those good days we have. Maybe it’s time to step back and smell the coffee — breathe deeply, it’s dark roast.

It’s a good day in Walrustropolis. How’s YOUR day going?

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Meetingzzz…

In the business world, meetings are a necessary evil. Sure, they’re needed as a way to share information, set goals and objectives and recognize achievement, but is there an employee or employer anywhere who truly looks forward to them? How many people have actually said “I’m excited about the meetings we’re going to have”?

While I’ve never been a big fan of meetings, I didn’t come to dread them until I had a job as a manager a few years ago. The powers that be in the human resources department decided the employee handbook needed updating. What followed was weeks of excruciatingly dull department head meetings in which we could easily spend an hour debating whether a sentence should start with “A” or “The.” There was literally no detail too small to be argued. It was exhausting.  It kept managers out of our departments for hours. Meetings were beyond boring to the point of catatonia. But eventually the handbook was revised successfully — with very few changes from the original wording.

Fortunately, my current employer is considerably more enlightened, and requires few routine meetings. But we’re embarking on a new project that demands weekly meetings to keep all team members informed and up to date. We should be able to have some good — brief — discussions of the project. But if we get around to discussing the “A” or “The” question, wake me when it’s over.

Antietam

Today, September 17, is the anniversary of the bloodiest single-day battle in American history. It was not fought not against a foreign foe seeking to invade our great nation, but rather Americans fighting each other.

This is the 150th anniversary of the Battle of Antietam, a day that saw some 23,000 United States citizens dead or wounded — at the hands of each other —  and in several ways changed the course of history.

Perhaps because of the distance in time from it, we tend to gloss over the Civil War today. The names and places of battles fought long ago feel distant, not relevant. Sure, there are the small bands of re-enactors who relive the battles from a safe remove. But for most of us, current concerns both at home and abroad take precedence, as they must.

But the anniversary of the Antietam battle is a good time to pause and reflect on the war and its consequences. How many of us realize that the Civil War was the deadliest war to date in our nation’s history? Approximately 750,000 soldiers, both Union and Confederate, gave their lives on fields of battle we know too often only as names from history books — Antietam, Gettysburg, Bull Run, Vicksburg, Shiloh.

The Battle of Antietam was technically a Union victory, with Confederate troops forced back across the Potomac to Virginia. It may have helped persuade the British not to intervene in the war. It gave President Lincoln the confidence to issue the Emancipation Proclamation.

And make no mistake. There were men of honor on both sides of the battlefield. Both sides were fighting for a cause they believed in. For Union soldiers, that cause was keeping the nation together. For Confederate soldiers, it was to preserve the only way of life they had ever known.

The nation could not stand divided and the moral abomination of slavery could not continue, of course. But we must never forget the high human costs of the war.

Today in History….

Today, ladies and gentlemen, is a truly momentous day in history. A day to be remembered.

Why, I hear you ask?

Because on this date 12 years ago, Microsoft introduced a legendary product. A product that will live on in the annals of history. A product so extraordinary that grown men are humbled by the mere mention of its name.

Yes, folks, on this date in 2000, Microsoft introduced the one, the only (we can hope):

Windows ME.

Quite possibly the worst piece of software,  in my not-so-humble opinion, that the software shamans of Seattle (yes, I do know it’s really Redmond, but we’re all about alliteration here. Work with me.) ever  foisted on an unsuspecting public. How do I know? I made the mistake of buying a computer that came with it installed.

It seemed like a great idea at the time. Buy a new PC through a discount program arranged by  my then-employer. The computer had decent specs, better than the one I had, and of course it came loaded with the latest and greatest home OS Microsoft offered at the time, Windows Millennium Edition.

It proved to be a disaster.  Win ME was the most unstable operating system I’ve ever seen. The dreaded “blue screen of death” became a regular occurrence, as did random total freezes and failures to shut down properly.

And I was far from alone.  One popular computer magazine of the time called it the “Mistake Edition.”  It lasted just over a year in the marketplace before being replaced by the far superior Win XP.  Unfortunately for me,  my machine wouldn’t run XP, so I ended up suffering through another four years or so of ME. When I finally upgraded to an XP machine, it was like moving from an old VW Beetle to a Porsche. The difference was staggering.

The XP machine is getting on in years, and is due for replacement soon.  I managed to miss Vista,  which, from what I’ve read was pretty close to Son-of-ME.  I’ve also missed Win 7, which by most accounts has been a good OS. But the next machine will undoubtedly have Win 8, due for introduction very soon.  I’m afraid to find out if it follows the established pattern of every-other-version:  Win 98 good,  Win ME bad,  XP good, Vista bad, 7 good….

So I’m awaiting my next computer with some trepidation. We’ll see before long what Win 8 brings. Wish me luck.

 

The More Things Change …

A wise soul once said the only constant in life is change. In our modern world, that seems more true than ever. New discoveries, devices and diversions arrive almost daily. The digital revolution has put tools at our fingertips that we could only dream of as recently as a decade ago.

The Internet of course is one such marvel. A world of information  beckons. Want to learn how a car engine works? A quick search gives you mechanical details, schematics, pictures. How about translating a foreign phrase into your native language? No problem. A simple app will do that from your smartphone.

Indeed, it appears that the universe is far different than it was in our parents’ day, let alone our grandparents’. And in many ways both large and small, that’s true.

But have people really changed? Not so much.

If you don’t believe me, use the wonders of the World Wide Web to go back in time. Find a newspaper archive from a few years or decades ago. (Yes, one of the wonderful ironies of the digital age is how easy it makes finding relics of the analog era.)

Take the time to browse some headlines. Skim some ads.  Do that for a little while and you’ll soon discover that in terms of human behavior, there’s really not much new under the solar panels.

Scan the headlines for your hometown. In many cases, you’ll find the same issues forty or fifty years ago are current issues as well. What to do about traffic congestion. How to pay for new roads, sewers, schools. Budget cuts. Higher taxes. Lower taxes. The challenges of keeping the local economy strong. They’re all there. The names of the players may have changed, but the game remains the same.

Even on a national scale, some stories have a familiar ring. Economic issues, stock market ups and downs, even the question of health insurance reform are nothing new.

Now take a look at the advertising. You thought “Christmas in July” promotions were a recent development? Nope. They date back to at least the 1930s. And while automobile dealers have different makes and models, many of the ads still look pretty much the same today.

Thankfully, that doesn’t mean nothing has changed, however. There are some stark reminders that we’re a far more inclusive and welcoming society today in terms of civil rights, gay rights, women’s rights. Environmental issues that weren’t addressed in the 1940s — such as the widespread use of lead paint — have been cleaned up. As a whole, we’re far more aware of environmental matters today.

Having said that, you’re likely to find far more similarities than differences overall. Human nature being what it is, even many of the crime stories will appear to be, to paraphrase a popular TV show of the past decade “ripped from today’s headlines.”

Then again, anger, sorrow, jealousy, hope, fear, inspiration and love have been with us since the beginning of time. Just ask that fellow who wrote Romeo and Juliet how much has changed….

9/11 Remembered

Some days define a generation. Anyone who was alive and above the age of 10 or so can instantly recall where they were.

Pearl Harbor.

JFK’s assassination.

9/11.

It’s a safe bet that if you’re reading this, you know exactly where you were when you heard the news 11 years ago this morning.

I was in a courtroom, covering a routine hearing for the local newspaper. A court employee came in and whispered to me that something big was going on.

My phone was turned off for the hearing. When I turned it on, I found a series of messages, each increasingly more urgent to call the office.

When I got back to the newsroom and saw the video replays, I had no words. There were none to convey the horror and shock.

You know the rest. You were there.

A lot has happened in the intervening 11 years, but I’ll never forget the feeling of staring at a TV  screen feeling helpless and furious and heartbroken.

Life has moved on, as it must. But we must never forget those who died in the attacks, whether in the World Trade Center, the Pentagon or the planes. Let us honor their memories by celebrating their lives, and by keeping those memories alive.

New Season, New Possibilities

Happy New Year!

Not literally, of course. But to me, Labor Day has always really felt more like the start of the year than New Year’s Day.

I’m not sure why, but autumn just feels more like the natural beginning of things to me The lazy freedom of summer is over, the days are getting shorter, school is back in session at every level from kindergarten to college. It seems like it’s time to buckle down and get to work.

It’s more of a fresh start. There’s something in the air that brings people together. It’s a shared sense of responsibility, an energy,  a new purpose. Compare that with January. Let’s face it, January just feels like a continuation of winter, not the start of something fresh and new.

So, Happy New Year. May it be filled with wonder and possibilities!

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