Exploring New Horizons

When I was not-quite seven years old, I remember being taken by my dad to Buhl Planetarium in Pittsburgh. Sitting through the sky show, I was completely enthralled. This was the year we landed on the moon and it had captured my imagination, and dad did one of those things he used to occasionally do – he took me by surprise and introduced me to something completely new. (A few years later, it would be Monty Python, when he took ten-or-so year old me to see The Holy Grail in the theater, but I digress.)

Dad also bought me this lovely picture of the full moon as seen through a telescope, and it hung on my wall until the late Seventies. They also had a model railroad running at the planetarium for some reason, which is probably where that particular passion of mine arose for the first time. Hmm, two birds with one stone, as it were.

I followed the space program religiously from that point forward. We had a telescope in the Seventies and Eighties, too, which I used to use to watch Saturn and its four visible moons when it was visible. No mean trick, I can assure you, as I had to use an ephemeris to figure out where it was in the sky. None of those clever phone apps we have today!

The past decade to fifteen years has seen resounding successes from NASA, made all the more incredible given the smaller budgets they get these days. Mars rovers,  Cassini, and now, New Horizons, due to fly past Pluto tomorrow before it eventually moves into the Kuiper Belt and, some day, interstellar space.

The images of Pluto and its system of moons have captivated me in a very big way. If you’d told me twenty-five years ago that we could expect high-resolution photos of the dwarf planet in a few days, I would have shaken my head politely and thought you were mad, given how little support NASA was getting for the shuttle program.

Now, though, I’m ridiculously excited. We need more of this sort of thing, and I know NASA has big plans. Space is our future, but it’s also our today and past. When we put our mind to it, we can accomplish amazing things. We need more of that and I hope New Horizons comes through in a big, big way.

Seven year old me would be boggled by this. Hell, fifty-two year old me is boggled by it. That’s pretty cool. Kudos, NASA.


Duck Season! Performance Management Season!

Every year here at The Firm, staff are required to give themselves a self-evaluation. It’s a laborious process for many, since by nature, many of us aren’t wired to be our own, best champions.

One thing I started doing about five years ago was keeping a log of all the things I do outside of my day-to-day training duties, so when I get to that part of my self-evaluation, I can copy-and-paste it in, and edit it to make it nice and shiny. Still, this leaves me having to come up with reasons why I rate myself so highly in the various parts of the self-evaluation, including things like “Problem Solving” and “Drive for Results.” After a decade, it’s hard to come up with new ways of saying the same old thing. Even HR has basically said you should pull up your previous self-evals in PeopleSoft and copy-and-paste over the contents into the current year’s and edit accordingly.

There’s also this lovely addition for most staff of a learning plan. What’s on the learning plan is a list of courses selected for you by your manager that you need to complete by the end of April. You usually get the list by the end of August the prior year (although I recall it being December one year), and there’s usually about four hours of videos that need to be watched. Many of them are HR things like, “How to be an effective communicator” and “How to manage your manager.” Part of my job is that I’m one of the administrators for the site we use to host all of our eLearning and documentation. Invariably, people wait until three days before the end of the performance management cycle to start, and then their computers don’t cooperate (usually a Java issue…) which spawns a slew of help desk tickets that need to be addressed.

Naturally, the person in question is often in a foul mood, since they waited until the very last second and things aren’t going smoothly. This is one of those times of the year that finds me being stretched to my thinnest and having to keep a smile on my face instead of slapping people up’side the head.

One example is a secretary in my office. Her attorneys had submitted their resignation from the Firm about six weeks ago and then took it back when some conflicts came up. She had given her notice as well, and then had to take it back (they accepted that, given the nature of the situation). She hadn’t done one item on her learning plan until the other day, and naturally she ran into problems since Murphy is the Patron Saint of Computers*. She got testy with me in the early afternoon, and then with a colleague from another office later in the day.

I have little sympathy for people who have done this to themselves. You had months to do this, and your procrastination isn’t my problem. Don’t be that person.

Oh, and hello. Been a while.

*My axiom for Murphy’s Law: At the worst possible time, your computer will go down. I have a second one, too, which substitutes Training for the word Computers.

The Thuggee Song

Many, many moons ago, I was introduced to this song by my late friend, Karl. He was a bard in the truest sense of the word, and when he would perform this particular “song” (it’s more of a chant), it was always a treat.

The Thuggee Song

words and music © 1979, 2001 c.e. by Clayton Clark
(a.k.a. Clayton Chaitanya O’Cleareach O’Crowley)
with possible modifications by Sally Eaton & Isaac Bonewits

[Mostly spoken, in a Cockney accent]

This is the story of / my first funeral, / this is exactly / how it was. / They wrapped me up / in a linen shroud / and hauled me off / to Benares. / Just as they was / lighting me pyre, / up jumps a saddhu, / just like that! / Pays three ruppees, / hauls me off, and / down on me rotting / corpse he sat. / Well, / he starts in to / meditating, / mumbling mantras, / waving lights, / burning water, / sipping incense, / doing all kinds of / strange weird rites.

When suddenly, / from the surrounding darkness, / comes a busty goddess / with a necklace of skulls. / “Would you like a sip / of me bloody chalice?” / says She, / in a voice that lulls. / “Cripes!” / says the saddhu / “Holy hare! / What in the Hell / do I do now?” / And he jumps / all the way / from the ghat / to the Ganges, / lands in a heap / in a garbage scow.

Well that / left only me / and the Goddess. / “Excuse me, Ma’am,” says I / “I’m only a stiff, / but if you’d like a / drinking companion, why / a swig or two of that / would sure give me a lift!” / “Oh dear!” / says She, / “A devotee of mine, / dead as a doornail / and talking too! / Why sure, I’ve a sorcerer / friend to resurrect you, / only cost / three rupees too!”

“Dear Ma’am,” / says I, / “You’re a good looking goddess, / what say we team up, / you and me? / I’m sure / that you’d be / able to support me / in the manner to which I’ve / become accustomed to be.” / “I aint marrying no stiff!” / says the Goddess with the Skulls, / “Shiva alone / is husband to me!” / [Cough] “How good / is this sorcerer friend of yours,” / says I, “where you are / taking me?” / “Not good / at all!” / says the Peerless Goddess, / “Wicked in fact / and a cheapskate too. / Good / at poisoning / little children / and he works part time / as a siddhi guru!”

Soooo, / that’s how I got / resurrected / and became / the fellow I be. / Spent the rest of the night / in a downtown whorehouse, / after drinking three hours / with the Goddess Kali! / And now I am the thuggee / representative / anywhere / that good yogis am. / Tiptoeing quietly / down the corridors, / smiling sweetly, / mild and bland.

Haven’t seen the / Guru lately, / wonder where / in the world / can he be? / Haven’t seen the ashram / manager neither, / nor the cook, / nor the sweeper, / gee! / No one ever notices / the smiling thuggee. / Note the smile on the Goddess too. / Hare Krishnas / are the choicest — / “Kali om! / Good luck to you!” / On the dark / moonlighted highway, / where deserted / Indians roam, / comes that heartfelt / cry of worship… / “Kill for Kali! / Ka~~li om~~~…”

Here’s What Happy Birthday by the ‘Dusters Sounds Like

When The Infamous Stringdusters crowdfunded their Silver Sky album a few years ago, one of the higher rewards was them singing “Happy Birthday” to whomever you wanted.

So Kim paid the price and here’s their recording of Happy Birthday specifically for me.

It’s pretty awesome.


About That Railroad Modelling…

…yeah, it hasn’t gained traction this year. I have negotiated space in the basement pending some re-allocation of other space, including our indoor gardening  center. That’s the place where we started the plants that gave us oodles of delicious, tiny tomatoes (but not so many bigger ones) this year.

I’m still debating what scale to go with, though. If I go HO, it’s a small switching layout, which is okay – it gives me some ideas for a dynamic industrial setting. Add in that HO allows my aging eyes to see things a bit better when it comes to building things. I’ll still likely have to use a big magnifying glass on a stand to see somethings, but that’s pretty much a given, anyway.

If I go N, I can go a bit bigger in my ideas, although at the end of the day, that may likely end up as an industrial setting, too, simply because for me, the railroad isn’t going to be just about watching trains go around in loops. It’s going to be about running trains on a schedule, switching industries, and all the things that go into running a real railroad.

Current plans, no matter the scale, likely call for some modelling of the nearby New York, Susquehanna & Western, aka the SusieQ. The nearby Maywood Station Museum even has some models of said station for purchase in both scales.

Hmm…. they have some books there, too. We just passed near this the other day, so I think I need to make a visit. Research ahead!

Catching Up, Musically

It’s been a long time since I was blogging, and in the interim, we’ve been to a few shows, all of which were at least good, if not great.

Railroad Earth in February in NYC was fun. We got a lot of the new album, which worked well live – particularly Grandfather Mountain.

In March we caught Stir Fried at Mexicali, with John Popper as special guest. That night was pretty freakin’ great, I’ll tell you what.


Us with John Popper.

Later that month, I ventured up to the Capitol Theater in Port Chester to see Steve Hackett’s Genesis Extended tour with Mark B. Another sublime night by the master.

April saw us at a house concert of John Skehan (Railroad Earth) and Todd Collins performing 18th century Italian mandolin duets. Beautiful music.

After that, it was a bit of time before we saw another show. At the end of August, we caught Todd Sheaffer on the grounds of a beautiful farm on the banks of the Delaware River in western New Jersey. This was a rather special day, as Todd shows always are. The farm is top-notch, and there are plans by Greg,  the owner, to bring more live music there next year.

A couple weeks later, we caught Cabinet at Mexicali with a bunch of our friends, and they really brought it that night. I’m finally getting why folks rave about the band so much.

Last weekend we ventured into the city to see King Crimson at the Best Buy. This was Kim’s early birthday present to me, and all I can say is, I’m still processing it, a week later! Seven musicians, with three drummers in the front. Incredibly complex and beautiful, I hope Fripp keeps the beast going.

Looming in the future, musically, there’s Yarn this Wednesday at Mexicali, Jeff Austin (formerly of Yonder Mountain) the following week, possibly Cabinet/Keller Williams/The Infamous Stringdusters in the city on October 30th, and then the three night New Years Even run by Railroad Earth in Atlanta. I’m particularly stoked because Sister Sparrow and the Dirty Birds are opening for Railroad on the 30th, so that’ll be extra fun.

Add in Railroad Earth with a three night run at Brooklyn Bowl in February, and things look great for upcoming music.

Ello, I Must Be Going

I’m Mister Social Media. I’ve been blogging for more than a decade on my own URL (and just putting up pages for four or so years before that). I’ve been using online forums for what seems like forever.  I have been active in online chats, was on Facebook rather early, as well as Twitter. I’ve been on Flickr since 2005, and Instagram for about a year now. I use Swarm, Untapp’d, and now Waze. I’ve dabbled with Vivino and Foodspotting.

In other words, I’ve always been willing to check things out (well, except for Tumblr. I don’t feel a burning need to dive in there).

Until now.

I find I don’t need another social media outlet. While I understand -and agree with – people who got pissed at FB over the LGBT issues, Ello just sounds too primitive at this stage, not to mention lacking in features in things like, you know, security. A free-to-use site without ads? Neat idea, but how will they pay for it? The only way is either with ads or a monthly fee. I don’t expect it to last too long without going down one of those two paths.

I’ll stick with the dozen or so current outlets available to me.

Everything Old is New Again

The site isn’t ready, but I’ve been putting too much on Facebook that deserves to be a blog post in its own right. Ignore the look of the place at the moment – my bride is doing a re-design for me.

You might note the name up above. The Gamer’s Nook. That was my first URL (www.gamersnook.com), from about 1998 until 2007, when we moved into the butterfly/tree sites. Now that The Slackery is here, it’s time to start blogging again.

In the words of my first computer program, “Hello, world.”


Looking Up

I’ve been fascinated with space since I was a little kid. Growing up in the Sixties and early Seventies, I have very strong memories of the Apollo program, in particular. I remember when the Eagle landed on the moon and Neil Armstrong’s first steps on another world.

When we lived in Pittsburgh, once a year or so our folks would take us to the Buhl Planetarium, which is part of the Carnegie Science Center. I would sit there completely awed over the images shown and always wanted more. For years, one of my favorite possessions was a photo of a full moon snapped by the observatory. It hung on my wall as a reminder to keep looking up.

Some time in the mid-Seventies, we got a telescope. We were in West Hartford now, and even though we were in the suburbs of a city, you could see all sorts of beautiful things if you knew where to look. I remember the first time I spied through the lens the beautiful rings of Saturn. I didn’t have any maps of the sky at my disposal – I just pointed at every bright thing up there and looked. This is how I saw Venus, Mars, and Jupiter, as well. The Pleiades were also fun to look at, but those, at least, I knew where to find.

And the moon. Always the moon. I remember watching it through a lunar eclipse once in the late Seventies and being thrilled at what I was seeing. Even though I only took the telescope out a couple of times per year, it was worth it.

This love of space has stuck with me my entire life. I’m always looking up at night, seeing what’s up there. Last year (I think it was last year…) we saw the ISS soar over head one night, and the wonder of it all came flooding back. Now that there are rocket launches down the coast off Virginia, we actually saw one arc into the sky from our deck. The shuttle launch I saw from the front yard of my folks when they lived in Florida was another great moment.

My browser homepage for the web has been APOD – the Astronomy Picture of the Day – since at least since 1997 or so. Doesn’t matter what browser I’m using, that’s what the first tab set to use. I even collect those images that I love and save them for my wallpaper in Windows. At home I’m probably over 400 images, while work is currently around 50. People are always oohing and ahhing over my desktop.

One of my dreams is to eventually get another telescope. With the advent of sky mapping programs for phones and tablets, it’ll make it easier to find interesting things to view. That excites me greatly. For now, though, it’s APOD every day, at the very least, to keep the excitement alive,  and as always, I’ll be looking up.


And So It Begins

I made one resolution for this year. It’s something that I’ve talked about for probably forty years, and dabbled a bit with when I was in junior high/high school.

I’m going to become a model railroader.

A few weeks back I ordered a diorama from Woodland Scenics, the premier scenic supply company for model railroading (and other kits). This one finally came last week and man, it’s going to be a fun one to build. I also ordered subscriptions to Classic Trains and Model Railroader (about the fifth time I’ve had one for MR) magazines. Somehow Kalmbach Publishing found me at the new house in Jersey – I may have had a subscription when we moved there which I let lapse. The deals for getting the subscriptions were ridiculously good, too, so it didn’t take much arm-twisting.

Part of the impetus – for me, at least – for working last weekend on the basement was so I can find a place to build a small layout. I’m thinking HO scale, to make it easier on my eyes and hands when it comes to working with tiny parts. N would allow me to have more railroading per square foot, but I think I’ll be happy with a small industrial-setting HO layout.

Lunch times are often spent watching videos on YouTube. The local IT manager got bitten by the bug last year and he’s building an N-scale passenger layout in his apartment uptown. He sits across from me and most days we spend some time chatting about this and that.

It’s happening. Slowly, but surely, it’s happening.

I’m pleased.


everything old is new again