Sunday, April 29, 2012


Well, I expected to be back to a regular posting schedule, but I haven't gotten there yet. I started a new job three weeks ago. We're still in training, and it's pretty intense, more intense than I imagined it would be. The commute is a bit of a shock - 5-6 miles (depending on what path I take) and around 10 minutes, instead of 33-36 miles (it increased by three miles over the twenty years I worked there) and anywhere from 45 to infinity-minus-one minutes.

It's weird having "afternoons" again. When I was on salary these really didn't exist, though I would sometimes stop at a store on the way home. When I was working a twelve-hour schedule these didn't exist either, but that was offset by the four days off - though one was always a recovery day. (Eventually I expect to be put on an afternoon-into-evening schedule, so my "afternoons" will be before work.)

It's also weird having weekends. You might imagine that being unemployed is one long weekend, but it isn't. Your time is not your own, and you must be prepared to account for every minute (of the workweek, at least) to the government. You were sick? Very sorry to hear that, but since you weren't available to work, you weren't eligible for unemployment. You were off somewhere having fun? Again, ineligible. You weren't applying to n jobs each week, despite the fact that the only jobs available are ones that pay a fraction of what you were making before, actually pay less than unemployment, and have prerequisites that you don't have? Tough. No unemployment for you.

But I do value my weekends. I treasure my time with the Northeastern Pennsylvania Writers' Collective every Saturday from 12:30 - 2:30, and I wish I could spend more time with them. Perhaps I'll be able to rearrange some things to make that possible. I also need to find the time to write more - I haven't written any new fiction or poetry in weeks. Yesterday I read my blog post from September 11, 2008, complete with a multimedia component courtesy of another member. It was a little...intense. I think I may read another older (but less intense) piece next week.

One weird side effect of working so close to home: When I worked very far from home, I never went out with friends after work because of the long haul I would face when it was time to go home. Now that I work close to home, I never go out after work because anywhere we might go would increase the distance I would have to travel home! I'm hoping for lousy weather so I have less reason to head straight home after work.

The arc of my work life so far:

1989: Graduated with B.S. in Physics, second major in Philosophy, minor in Math
1990-1991: Solar Cell manufacturing
1992: CD Plater
1993-1995: Statistical Process Control Coordinator, CD manufacturing and pre-production
1996-1999: Statistician, Data Analyst, CD manufacturing and pre-production
1999-2007: DVD Asset Manager
2007-2010: DVD Mold/Bond Operator
2011-2012: DVD Mold/Bond Operator (temporary, part-time)
2012-?: Travel Agent

And where to next...?

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Endangered Susquehanna

For the past year, the Susquehanna River has enjoyed the dubious distinction of being at the top of the American Rivers list of Most Endangered Rivers in America. In a few weeks a new list will be released, most probably not featuring the Susquehanna. This is not because the Susquehanna is any less endangered than it was when it made the list (for the second time this decade), but because there are other waterways that need the attention that being on such a list affords.

At the request of Don Williams, the undaunted and tireless defender of the river known as the Susquehanna River Sentinel, I will be posting the banner that commemorates the Susquehanna's status as the #1 endangered river in America. Don was the prime mover behind this recognition.

The threat goes on. The damage is being done daily. Anyone who lives downriver from Pittston knows the sort of damage unregulated and unchecked industrial pollution can do. Natural gas extraction now poses a threat to the Susquehanna that could potentially dwarf the damage done by coal mining and illegal chemical dumping into the Butler Mine Tunnel. While it would be nice to think that we can always count on folks like Don Williams to keep up the fight for us, it is up to every one of us to take responsibility for our environment - and our river.

Sunday, April 15, 2012


No, this post isn't a segue. I'm still working on the third of the Three Blogtastic Days posts. But I have recently gotten my hands on a paperback dictionary - The Merriam-Webster Dictionary, New Edition, copyright 2004 - to replace the several that I've misplaced, because I don't trust online dictionaries any more than I trust online encyclopedias. And I was reminded of some fun facts about dictionaries - specifically, things missing from dictionaries.

"Cilantro," for example. It's a common word, an herb derived from the leaves of the coriander plant, distinct in taste from the seeds that are commonly referred to as "coriander." At least in the U.S. In England, where running shoes are known as "trainers" and popsicles as "iced lollies," the word is unknown - and therefore unworthy of addition into the Oxford English Dictionary, or any dictionary derived from it. "... anyone who claims not to know that 'cilantro' is merely a recent american name for the native european herb 'coriander' (p.511) is not fit, in my humble opinion, to act as a referee for this excellent book!" says one commentor on the page for the Shorter OED, demonstrating that they really should look up the definition of the word "dictionary" sometime.

Another word of interest is "segue." It's pronounced SEG-way, and refers to a transitional mechanism in speech or music. I think. The problem is, many dictionaries - including the one in front of me - do not contain the word "segue." Why? I have no idea. The word is defined in various places online, including Wikipedia (where the definitions restrict its use to music and journalism), (which will attempt to sell you all manner of stand-up scooters), Merriam-Webster online (loaded with pop-up ads, and apparently allowing the term only for music), and the online dictionary (powered by Farlex, a name synonymous with...something?)

Most of those sites I do not trust. But most paper dictionaries are crap, too; the name "Webster's" passed into public domain long ago, and now anyone can claim to have created a Webster's dictionary. Really, anyone can publish any dictionary at all, with no more authority than the most recent person who edited the last Wikipedia article you read. But eventually the more respected printed dictionaries, for all their flaws and omissions, will go the way of the Encyclopedia Britannica. After that, you'd better hope that the definition you've found online is accurate. Because you won't have anything to check it against.

Monday, April 02, 2012

Three Blogtastic Days, Day 2: NEPA BlogFest

FRIDAY, MARCH 29, 2012:

I was late, as usual. I really, really meant to be there early, but I got wrapped up with some yard work on what was threatening to be the last dry and beautiful day for a while, and then had to make a detour to buy some tickets for the Mega Millions lottery. (I am so glad that is over. Somebody let me know the next time a lottery is over $200 million or so, and I might consider buying another ticket or two.) I wanted to be there at 5:30, but it was closer to 6:20 when I pulled up.

Things hadn't gone off exactly as planned. We had intended to have the Arts SEEN Gallery, two doors down from Rooney's, open that evening for the benefit of everyone at BlogFest. But there was an issue of the doors being locked, and the keys (and keyholders) being unavailable. Then there was the issue of the coffee shop between Rooney's and the Arts SEEN Gallery. While I had done what I could to persuade the owner to stay open for BlogFest, he had made the decision to close at 5:00, as is his custom on Fridays. (Which would explain why, during the previous four BlogFests, I wasn't even aware that there was a coffee shop there.) So he lost out on a considerable amount of business. Oh well.

I met with Michelle Hryvnak Davies and Mike Burnside outside of Rooney's. We hung out and talked for a while, but I was eager to get inside and unpack the things I had brought, which included special "BLOGGER" nametags and a blogger sign-in sheet. Once I got inside I immediately saw Gort and Joe Valenti, the political-blogging duo who came up with the idea for Blog Fest. At a table inside I saw Karla Porter talking with Justin Vacula and someone else I didn't recognize, but would much later discover was Stephen Albert from Not Cease From Exploration.

As the night went on the bloggers continued to pour in: Chantal Rich from Crafternoon Tea, Steve Urbanski (whose blog is currently on hiatus, but who writes for, and Brent Pennington and Mandy Boyle. Later still I saw Tom Borthwick of NEPartisan and someone I didn't recognize at first, but who I later realized was Cheri Sundra with a different hairstyle! Leslie Stewart of Darling Stewie came bopping in, unmistakable in her style, accompanied by a blogger we don't have linked yet - Daz aka DKSaxton. Dave Yonki came in and immediately called me Tom, apparently missing my name tag. (But at least this time he didn't call Michelle "Jen Wade" in his post!) James O'Meara stopped by briefly - he was there as a blogger and on the job as a political aide!

There were plenty of politicians in attendance for all or part of the night. I recognized Gerry Mullery, Matt Cartwright, and Bill Vinsko, but there were quite a few others - see Gort's post for a complete list!

Gene Stilp was the hit of the night. He brought along a big enough posse of young, enthusiastic supporters to fill several tables alone - if they ever sat down! He was a ball of energy throughout the night, singing and dancing and posing for pictures. But what really stole the show was someone he brought along with him - Pignelope the Pig! This giant inflatable pig occupied much of the sidewalk in front of Rooney's, and has appeared in everyone's photos from the night.  Whatever happens, we'll have to make sure that Gene Stilp and Pignelope show up at future events.

Pignelope, looking dashing in a Blogging Hat
Several non-politicians and/or non-bloggers showed up just to see what was going on. My friend Betsy came in early (well before I showed up), and Susan Prywara and Sonibet Diaz of the Wilkes-Barre CareerLink came by along with several members of the Job Club to see if it was really as good a networking opportunity as I had made it out to be. I was able to connect Susan with Gerry Mullery as a potential Job Club speaker, and directed some friends who can benefit from the services of CareerLink and the Job Club to speak with Susan throughout the night. A blogger who I know through my writing group, Leslee Clapp, also stopped by to see what I've been talking about the last few weeks.

As the night wore on I noticed that two bloggers had signed in who I had never met before - Nathalie Sousa of Casa de Lola and Brian Fanelli of All the Right Notes. I was able to locate them quickly by looking for people who hadn't been there earlier. Brian also runs a monthly poetry reading, and I excitedly told him about the 570 Writers site that is a combination blog and events calendar for writing-related events. He pointed out that he already knew about it, since he actually co-administers the site.

(I probably missed a few bloggers throughout the night. I know that one aspiring blogger was in attendance, though his blog is currently without content. If you were there and I missed you, let me know!)

UPDATE, 4/2/2012: I took a look at the picture below to see if there were any bloggers that I missed. I started off by saying, "OK, at the bar there's Big Dan and Mrs. Big Dan, and..." So, yeah, I missed the bloggers from Big Dan's Big Blog and the Politics in Healthcare Blog!

As the night wound down I flopped into a chair at a table with, variously, Michelle, Karla, Duke from Dallas (who doesn't have a blog, but should), Cheri, and Justin. We exchanged pleasant conversations until the band - a four-piece electric act - started blasting out the greatest hits of the 60's and 70's at such a deafening volume that the conversations quickly devolved into "WHAT DID YOU SAY?" "I SAID, 'WHAT DID YOU SAY?'" "I SAID, 'I CAN'T HEAR YOU!!!'" At that point I could have really, really used a quiet coffee shop to use as a refuge and a source of coffee and pastries. That place would have seen a steady stream of business throughout the night.

People standing and talking. Many of them could have spent a few minutes sitting and talking in the closed coffee shop next door,
especially once the band decided to rock out at full volume and made it impossible to have a conversation.
So the "BLOGGER" name tags worked really well, helping to distinguish bloggers from non-bloggers, and identifying bloggers by name. The sign-in sheet worked well, too - not just as a way to keep track of who was there, but as a way to alert us when new bloggers walked in when we weren't watching.

The coffee shop being closed was a definite problem, a problem we've got nearly six months to resolve. The band was another problem. I love live music, but for an evening of mingling and networking, perhaps something more subdued would be more appropriate. I know several acoustic acts in the area who might be willing to play at the next BlogFest. Alternatively, we could incorporate the music into the event itself. Three words: BLOG FEST KARAOKE. See your favorite bloggers sing their hearts out!  Thrill to candidates for political office trying to make it through versions of "Brandy," "Horse with No Name," and "Sister Golden Hair" without screwing up badly enough to lose any votes! ...hey, it could work!

Gort has posted a wrap-up of all of the posts about the Spring 2012 Blog Fest over on NEPA Blogs. And before you get worried about when the next Blog Fest will be...well, that was announced even before this Blog Fest was over!

OK, technically it's the last full day of Summer. We'll see what the weather is like then!

Sunday, April 01, 2012

Three Blogtastic Days, Day 1: Best Blogs of the Lehigh Valley


A while ago Michelle Davies, co-administrator at NEPA Blogs, told me about a "Best Blogs of the Lehigh Valley" contest being run by the Allentown Morning Call. Now, I've soured on these popularity contests that are run by local papers after seeing how a few of them operate. The paper throws open the floor for nominations, and a handful of the most-frequently-nominated entries get put up for a vote. Maybe three, maybe five. In one "best blogger" contest, there weren't even links to the nominated blogs - you had to go searching for the blogs yourself. Or not. Because ultimately, these aren't contests based on merit, or even on popularity; they're contests to see who can have their friends stuff the ballot box as quickly as possible.

The Morning Call's contest was different. It listed and linked to every nominee right from the beginning - and didn't take down the list once winners were announced.
(We've duplicated the list on NEPA Blogs for safe keeping.)

After we added Shane Burcaw's Laughing At My Nightmare to NEPA Blogs, we talked about how it would be good if someone were to take the initiative to create a Lehigh Valley Blogs linking network - same idea, different location. After all, Shane wasn't technically in Northeastern Pennsylvania...

...just like NEPA Blogs isn't technically in Lehigh Valley. Which didn't prevent us from getting nominated as one of the "best blogs" - and invited to the awards ceremony.

I didn't want to go, at first. I felt like we would be party crashers, horning in on an event where we didn't belong. Then I saw that Shane was also on the distribution list, and realized that this might be our best chance to meet him in person! So this past Thursday afternoon I met with Michelle after she got out of work and we headed down to Allentown together.

We noticed two things about Allentown pretty quickly:

1. Almost every car in Allentown has tinted windows. Blacked-out windows, really.
2. Allentown has a White Castle.

A scene from the movie "Harold and Michelle go to White Castle." Because sometimes filling up on Brie just isn't enough.
The awards ceremony was in the Rodale Room of the Allentown Symphony Hall. It's a beautiful room in a  beautiful building. The room had seating for probably close to a hundred, and had a buffet table full of fruit, various cheeses, crackers, cookies, bottled water, sodas - all for an awards ceremony for bloggers being hosted by a newspaper.

The view of downtown Allentown from the Rodale Room

Close-up of one of the creeptastic birds that decorated the next building over
The room never really filled up, but several dozen people attended, bloggers and their entourages. After a while I saw a motorized wheelchair coming through the door, and I knew Shane was in the house.  He was barely through the door before I was introducing myself to him, and his father, and his cousin Sarah. After a few minutes of chatting, I had the presence of mind to ask his father to get a photo of us.

Me, Shane, Michelle, Cousin Sarah
Shane writes one of the funniest and occasionally most gut-wrenching blogs out there. This post is an excellent index of his stories. I only became aware of him when Monica Madeja from WBRE's PA Live! told me about him, after she read an article about him in the Morning Call. Again we see a special relationship that exists between the Morning Call and the bloggers of the Lehigh Valley.

The awards ceremony itself was a fun event, starting off with opening remarks by the Editor-in-Chief of the Morning Call. Cheers went up as each nominee was announced, and winners were feted with music as they approached the podium to receive their awards. A complete list of winners can be found here, and an article on the ceremony here. NEPA Blogs didn't win anything, though we were torn between what we might do if we won: either turn down the award on the grounds we weren't really eligible, or attach a chain to the plaque and wear it around our necks at the next evening's Blog Fest like an oversized rapper's clock.

Too many people on both sides of the issue believe there should be an antagonistic relationship between the "old media" of newspapers, radio, and television, and the "new media" of blogs, with various individuals being openly hostile towards or contemptuous of the other side. The Morning Call has gotten this relationship right: by providing no-strings-attached publicity to the dozens of bloggers nominated in this contest, they have generated vast amounts of goodwill towards the Morning Call within the Lehigh Valley blogging community. Northeastern Pennsylvania isn't entirely in the dark with this. WBRE's PA Live! has included the "Blog of the Week" segment from the beginning. Various newspapers and TV stations have given some coverage to blogging events like Blog Fest, including the front cover and a multiple page article in this past weekend's edition of The Weekender. But it would be wonderful if more people on both sides of the old media/new media divide realized the mutual benefits that come from doing the sort of thing that the Allentown Morning Call has done.