Thursday, January 31, 2019

Poem: A poem of Los Angeles

I went to the Be Daring Open Mic at Adezzo in Scranton last night, mainly  to see a friend I haven't seen in over a year. I'm starting a new schedule in just over a week, and I don't know when I'll get to be there again. I decided I wanted to read, and scrambled to find something I hadn't read before. I found the rough version of a poem that I had put together a few weeks ago. Reading it over, I decided it was in good enough shape to present. So I did.

This poem was originally written Friday, January 11, 2019, and first read Wednesday, January 30, 2019.


A poem of Los Angeles

Almost wrote a poem of Los Angeles today
I was reading a story by Harlan Ellison
written the year I was born
a few pages in, it's a love letter to a Los Angeles that
isn't anymore
and probably wasn't even when he wrote it
like Ocean's 11
(the original, with Frank Sinatra and Dean Martin)
when Danny Ocean rolls out a map
hidden in a magic cane
that shows the five main casinos in a Las Vegas that
isn't anymore
and probably wasn't even then

I was there over two decades ago
for a week
(in Los Angeles, not Las Vegas, I've never been there)
the Los Angeles I saw then is gone
Madonna doesn't live in a candy-striped house anymore
the division of our company we were there to work with
closed just a few years later
a train ran behind it, in the industrial area known as Commerce
the people there got a kick out of seeing our eyes get wide
when the rumble of it shook the building

I learned there that all it took to make any food
"Californian"
was to put a slice of avocado on it

While I was there the rings of Chicxulub crater were discerned
the long-hidden footprint of the ripples
left by the asteroid that killed the dinosaurs

I got soaked on Hermosa Beach
we were on a tear as our time ran out
we had installed our database
taught them how to use the programs
and realized we had seen nothing of Los Angeles

so in one stretch we drove as much of the Pacific Coast Highway as we could
Hermosa had a steep beach
I stood well back on the shore, watching the waves roll in
not far enough back once they hit and climbed
and wrapped around my knees

The smog wasn't so bad on Monday
a little worse on Tuesday
horrible by Friday
and only gradually cleared over the weekend

that Los Angeles is gone
and I almost wrote a poem about it

Tuesday, January 29, 2019

Snowy birthday

The weather forecast for the first day of my fifty-first year (or is it the first day of my fifty-second year? I can never remember) called for snow today, and it wasn't wrong. The snow was supposed to start overnight, begin in earnest around 8:00 AM, carry on through the afternoon, and stop in the early evening - and darned if that wasn't what happened.

When I looked outside early this morning I thought the snow had stopped already, leaving us with just a dusting. But when I listened closely, I could hear the sizzling hiss that indicated that a fine snow was falling. The ride in to work wasn't particularly bad, but the snow continued to fall throughout the day, and the ride back home was much more challenging. This was for the most part a "sweepable" snow, provided you had a strong enough broom. In the end, the total snowfall in Nanticoke was somewhere between four and five inches.

Now comes the next phase of the storm: extreme cold. We'll see how these next few days go.

Monday, January 28, 2019

Half a century gone

Tonight marks the end of my first half-century on Earth. It's been quite a ride. I've met many interesting people, been lots of places, had many adventures, and done a few things. I still don't feel "old" in any sense that I once imagined it, though the white hairs on my chin and above my lip mark me as such. Just a few years ago I was keeping pace with someone a quarter-century younger than me, during what could best be described as my "midlife crisis." Granted, I was generally getting three to four hours of sleep at that time, and was gradually dying from the strain, but I think it was worth it in the end. At least, I enjoyed our time together, and I think I made her life better in important ways. I've hinted at bits of that story before. Maybe someday I'll tell the whole thing.

So: off to sleep. When I wake five and a half hours from now, I will be another year older. And the next chapter will have begun.

Sunday, January 27, 2019

Schedule changes coming

My training period at work is ending soon. After that I'll be moving to a new schedule.

This week will be my tenth week of training, and my last week of working Monday through Friday from 8:00 AM to 4:30 PM. The following week, February 4 through February 8, will be the final week of training, still Monday through Friday but on a transitional schedule of 11:00 AM to 7:30 PM. After that, my regular schedule will begin: Saturday through Wednesday, 3:30 PM through 12:00 AM. This means that I will be working ten consecutive days, February 4 through February 13.

To make tings even more complicated, on the morning of February 13 we will be having an "all hands" meeting: upper management will be hosting a breakfast, pep rally, and meeting with all employees. Attendance is not mandatory, but is strongly encouraged. So on the morning of the last day of this ten day stretch, sleep cycles will be disrupted by this early morning get-together. In the past when I have worked shifts ending around this time, I often wouldn't get to sleep until 2:00 or 3:00 in the morning. In the early morning hours of February 13, I will have to get to bed as soon as I get home, then wake up around 5:00 AM, head up to the breakfast around 8:00 AM, then be back by 11:00 AM and be ready to head out to work prior to 3:00 PM. That will be a bit of a trick.

Saturday, January 26, 2019

Random TV watching

Working where I do, I'm in touch with people who take their television a lot more seriously than I do: Netflix, TiVo, premium channels... I usually don't watch television, but sometimes I just watch whatever catches my eye when I happen to be doing something else that allows me to keep half an eye on the TV. The random nature of occasionally finding something on TV that interests me is kind of amusing. Case in point: As I write this, I'm currently watching Saturday Night Live, for the first time in a long time. (I love James McAvoy, but did they just get lazy and decide to put him in every sketch?) In recent weeks I've seen a bunch of Marvel Cinematic Universe movies, including The Avengers, Captain America: Civil War, and Doctor Strange. (Three times I've surfed to Doctor Strange, each time at exactly the same scene - when he unwisely begins to manipulate time with a spell from the Book of Cagliostro, without realizing that the warnings are written after the spell.)

Tonight I saw most of Rogue One, for the second time ever. It's a hell of a ride, and probably my favorite Star Wars movie. It's most effective when seen immediately before the original Star Wars (a.k.a. A New Hope.) Suddenly Luke and the gang seem like a bunch of bumbling bumpkins who got off a lucky shot and were awarded participation trophies for their accomplishment, while the heroes of Rogue One - all of them - made incredible sacrifices that made the destruction of the Death Star possible and were promptly forgotten, relegated to a footnote.

When I was a kid I would study TV Guide each week to see what was coming on, what might interest me. Now I just watch the news, Chris Hayes on MSNBC, and the occasional random movie that happens to be on when I have time to watch. In a few years, with current trends, who knows what television will be like? Maybe this form of watching TV will seem as quaint as the TV Guide era does today.

Friday, January 25, 2019

Sleep now

Mom is home. Still much work to do. But for now, I need to turn off my alarm and go to bed.

Thursday, January 24, 2019

Homecoming

The house is as ready as it's going to be for my mom's return and recuperation from knee surgery. Maybe I can do a few more things in the morning. But I have to go to bed now.

Wednesday, January 23, 2019

Final push

My mom is coming home on Friday, after being in the hospital for a week and a physical rehabilitation facility for two weeks. She still has a long way to go with recovering from knee replacement surgery, but I'm hoping she'll have a lot less pain than she did before.

I've been spending the last few days cleaning and rearranging the house for her. It should all be ready for Friday. I've managed to keep all of the cats alive for her, too, even the elderly one we didn't expect to make it to the Christmas before last, or the newly-sick one we didn't think would survive past this last Christmas.

The snow that fell Saturday night and turned to ice on Sunday could have posed a problem for her return, but rain and above-freezing temperatures may melt away most of it by Friday. Note to self: no ice melt outperforms calcium chloride pellets. Be sure to get a supply of that ASAP.

Monday, January 21, 2019

The coldest day

It's cold today. It was about two degrees Fahrenheit this morning, much colder than it was yesterday. But it's nowhere near as cold as it was on this date twenty-five years ago, on January 21, 1994, when temperatures dropped to the lowest ever seen in Northeastern Pennsylvania.  WNEP posted a video from 2004 that commemorated the ten-year anniversary of the event here:
Video Vault: Coldest Day (WNEP.com)

For more information, see here:
1994 North American cold wave (Wikipedia)

Sunday, January 20, 2019

Total lunar eclipse, January 20 - 21, 2019

The SUPER BLOOD WOLF MOON! I'll be adding photos as I get them.

Here's the first, a few minutes after the start of the partial eclipse:

10:34 PM
10:53 PM

11:13 PM

11:36 PM


11:58 PM

12:20 AM



Saturday, January 19, 2019

Back off man, I work for a telecom

My career path has been an odd one.

I started with a B.S. in Physics and moved on to graduate school, planning to get my Master's and a Ph.D. in short order. That plan was quickly derailed. I then moved into industry, starting out at a small solar cell manufacturer connected to my (now former) graduate school.

After a year and a half of this, I returned to Northeastern Pennsylvania and began working for a record, cassette, VHS, LaserDisk, and compact disc manufacturer. Starting out as a CD plater, making the stampers from which compact discs were pressed, this turned into a long and lucrative series of positions: a Statistical Process Control Coordinator in the CD Pre-production department, a data analyst for all of CD manufacturing, and at the turn of the century, the Asset Manager for the newly-created DVD Compression, Encoding, and Authoring department. Even after this all began to fall apart in 2007, I still stayed on for several more years as a DVD Mold/Bond operator.

As that job became increasingly unreliable, I moved into a totally different industry: travel. This was a bit of an adjustment after over twenty years in the manufacturing industry. But, after six years in the travel business, I finally felt completely comfortable in the role - which was a signal to the universe to pull the rug out from under me, again. Within a few months our office shut down, and I was looking to start over, again.

And now, I work for...well, most people think of it as a cable company, which would be a terrible industry to stake one's future on. But in fact it is a cable, phone, and internet provider, so there is a level of robustness. Many of the people I am working with have been with the company twenty years or more, which I find surprising and reassuring.

There is a rub, however.

The "phone" part makes us a telecom, a telecommunications provider. This makes us an essential service, part of the communications infrastructure that keeps the country informed in good times and in bad. The practical upshot of this is: we never close due to weather. In extremely inclement weather like we are expected to experience in the coming days - snow followed by ice followed by days of subfreezing temperatures - we are expected to be at work, on time and ready to save the day. Even if the state declares an emergency and closes the highways, we are authorized to be on them, by virtue of the fact that we work for a telecom. If we get pulled over, we are to show our badges and advise that, as telecom workers, we are an essential service. Which is simultaneously cool and crappy.

We'll see if I have to use this awesome power on Monday.

Friday, January 18, 2019

Super Blood Wolf Moon

Sunday, January 20 will mark the second anniversary of the start of the Trump occupation of the White House - which, thanks to the historically tacky banquet served there earlier this week, will have a lingering stench of Big Macs and Filets-O-Fish for years to come.

Coincidentally, that evening everyone in the United States (and all of the Americas, as well as Greenland, Iceland, Ireland, England, Norway, and other parts of Europe and Africa) will have an opportunity to see a total lunar eclipse. (See here for details and timings.) Like all lunar eclipses, it takes place during a Full Moon, and like all Full Moons, this one bears a special name bequeathed upon it by folk tradition - the "Full Wolf Moon." Because it is happening at a time when the Moon is close to its closest approach to Earth in its monthly orbit, it will appear larger than most Full Moons - hence the unofficial designation as a "Super Moon." And because it is a total lunar eclipse, the Moon will move through the central part of the Earth's shadow, vanishing more and more into darkness, until, at the point of totality, it will be bathed the light of every sunrise and sunset taking place during the eclipse, causing it to brighten into a color that can range from rosy pink to brick red to deep purple - though in the popular imagination (and sometimes in reality) it takes on the color of blood, which is why total lunar eclipses are sometimes called "Blood Moons." Put them all together and you get a Super Wolf Blood Moon.

Which sounds pretty damned ominous for someone.





Thursday, January 17, 2019

Barnes & Noble to reopen January 30!

The Barnes & Noble at the Arena Hub Plaza in Wilkes-Barre Township, damaged in the tornado that tore through the plaza on June 13, 2018, is scheduled to reopen on Wednesday, January 30. A special sneak preview is planned for Tuesday, January 29 at 6:00 PM.

I may not be able to make it to the January 30 re-opening as I am planning to go to the Be Daring Open Mic in Scranton that evening, which will feature the triumphant (but temporary) return of a soldier/poet who has been stationed in South Korea for what seems like forever. I may be able to make it out to the sneak preview on January 29, if I don't have anything else going on that day...

Tuesday, January 15, 2019

Make straight the path

My mom should be coming home from the physical rehab center sometime next week. Between now and then, I'm trying to get the house in shape for her return. She'll be using a walker for a few weeks while she recovers from her knee surgery, so I have to make sure that all walkways through the house have adequate clearance for her to move with a walker. For the most part this involves some temporary furniture relocation, but some areas will require a more radical approach. I think I can manage to get all this done in the next week. Maybe.

Monday, January 14, 2019

So much winning



Click to enlarge.


Note for future historians: This is during the longest shutdown of the Federal government in U.S. history, a shutdown being forced by Donald Trump, who refuses to end it until congress agrees to provide more than five billion dollars in funding for a little more than two hundred miles of border wall. This is also shortly after news broke that Trump had, to no one's surprise,been under FBI investigation for potentially being a Russian "asset." Trump is now serving fast food in the White House.

Sunday, January 13, 2019

Kai-Fu Lee, thirty-five years later

My grandmother used to love the news magazine program 60 Minutes. I found it mostly uninteresting, but sometimes I would watch it with her. Decades later I sometimes watch it on my own and think of her. Sometimes I find some of the segments interesting.

Today I heard a familiar name mentioned in the opening, just before I had a chance to change the channel: Kai-Fu Lee. Kai-Fu Lee, they said, is currently the biggest name in artificial intelligence, and they would be interviewing him at length.

Kai-Fu Lee? My computer science professor from Pennsylvania Governor's School for the Sciences?

In the summer of 1984 I was one of eighty students from across Pennsylvania - one from each Intermediate Unit - selected to participate in the annual program known as Pennsylvania Governor's School for the Sciences, held at Carnegie-Mellon University in Pittsburgh. I've written about it before. For five weeks we took intensive courses in Discrete Mathematics, Computer Science, Organic Chemistry, Molecular Biology, and Physics. Our computer science class focused on a programming language called LISP, and was taught by a young professor named Kai-Fu Lee.

I really haven't thought about him much in the intervening thirty-five years. My main interest turned out to be in Physics. I double-majored in Physics and Philosophy from 1985 through 1989, and briefly pursued graduate studies in Physics after getting my bachelor's degree. I haven't kept in touch with many of my PGSS classmates, but I do reminisce about my time there every once in a while.

Kai-Fu Lee has been busy those past thirty-five years.





https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/theworldpost/wp/2018/09/24/artificial-intelligence-2/


Here's his Wikipedia page:
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kai-Fu_Lee


Hereis his Twitter page, currently with 1.61 million followers:
https://twitter.com/kaifulee


And here is tonight's 60 Minutes segment on Kai-Fu Lee:
https://www.cbsnews.com/news/60-minutes-ai-facial-and-emotional-recognition-how-one-man-is-advancing-artificial-intelligence/


Like I said, he's been busy.

Saturday, January 12, 2019

Undecorating Weekend

I'm finally removing the last of the Christmas decorations from the house. Monday I took down the stuff that was outside. Today I finally had a chance to put away the tree. (The ornaments were mostly removed a week ago.) Tomorrow I will box up the antique ceramic tree and put away the assorted wreaths and knick-knacks from around the house. I'll also remove the cemetery decorations, before the groundskeepers toss them at the end of the month.

Friday, January 11, 2019

Almost wrote a poem tonight

What came out doesn't count as a poem
a collection of memories vomited onto the electronic page
waiting to be chopped and shuffled,
edited and expanded

My favorite poem was started on a scrap of paper
a smattering of thoughts and phrases
gradually tied together
written and rewritten
gutted and expanded
written in blood and soul-stuff
edited again
then read in public

This one is far from any of that

But I almost wrote a poem tonight

I got soaked on Hermosa Beach
we were on a tear as our time ran out
we had installed our database
taught them how to use the programs
and realized we had seen nothing of Los Angeles

Thursday, January 10, 2019

Potato leek soup

My mom was served potato leek soup in the hospital yesterday and really liked it. She remembered that she has had it before at Pasquale's, a favorite local restaurant. I decided to try to learn how to make it for her eventual return home.

I found four different recipes. At least, I think they're different.* I haven't compared the ingredient lists to see if they might be almost exactly the same, or if one is just a plagiarized version of another. In the manner of food blogs, at least one of them starts off with a rambling story, then describes the making of the soup, and only later gets to listing the ingredients. Each version calls for eight cups of chicken stock, except one that goes rogue and calls for seven cups of low-sodium chicken stock. I've never used pre-made chicken stock, but if it's good enough for Ratatouille the Rat, I guess I can use it. I might consider cutting the recipe that I use in half. The soup, once made, only keeps for a day or two.


Food Network: Potato Leek Soup (Robert Irvine)

Once Upon a Chef: Potato Leek Soup (Jenn Segal)

Food and Wine: Potato and Leek Soup (Andrew Zimmern)

MyRecipes: Potato Leek Soup (Sunset)


*Turns out I opened the Food and Wine recipe twice. I added a fourth from MyRecipes, which looks pretty easy.

Wednesday, January 09, 2019

Changes coming, maybe

I've maintained a post-a-day schedule since sometime last March. I wanted to see if I could get back into the habit, which I had fallen away from for several years. The experiment has had mixed results. Some of the posts have the feel of filler posts, though those may turn out to be significant to reconstructing this part of my life someday. Some posts were image-heavy, which felt great, until it turned out that I had uploaded the images in an unstable way, and now have a lot of broken images that need to be replaced.

My mom is recovering from knee surgery this week. The hospital she's in is half a mile from where I work, which is convenient for me. But my visits with her mean that I'm getting home hours later than usual. And there's still plenty to do with the house, and the cats. Tonight is garbage night, which means cleaning out the litterboxes completely (not just removing used litter) and hauling everything out. Today also saw me making an emergency trip to the grocery store, since I managed to simultaneously run out of every type of canned cat food. I'm only halfway through the garbage, and I should be getting to bed soon. I'll be lucky to get five hours of sleep tonight.

So, as this goes on, I may need to dial back the daily posting, We'll see.

Oh, before I forget: Yesterday I began the process of undecorating the outside of my house and my mom's house. Everything is down at my house, which is now set up for Valentine's Day, and everything is off the front of my mom's house. Shortly after I finished, a line of thunderstorms blew through the area. In their wake came much colder temperatures. We shouldn't get above freezing until sometime next week.

Monday, January 07, 2019

Of surgery and weird dreams

First and foremost, my mom had her knee surgery today, and it went well. She's in recovery now. She may be home very soon, or may go to a physical rehabilitation center for a bit to learn how to walk again.

I set my alarm for 3:30 this morning so I could make sure everyone else got up on time. (They did.) I went to bed just after 9:00 PM. I woke up at 10:30, just after midnight, sometime around 1:00, sometime around 2:00, just after 3:00, and then with the alarm at 3:30.

You only remember dreams if you wake during them. With all that waking, it was almost inevitable that I would remember one.

In this dream I was doing something similar to what I am currently doing in my new job.  People were calling me about subscription services they had purchased. Their rates had gone up, and they were calling me to see what could be done to lower their monthly bills. Only, instead of cable, internet, and telephone packages, these were Dungeons & Dragons packages, including character profiles (race, class, alignment, statistics, skills, gear, and weapons), as well as guaranteed access to upcoming adventures. Oh, and instead of people, the customers calling me were my cats. I was doing my best to come to amicable solutions that would last them for twelve months. I woke up to my oldest cat sleeping on my pillow next to me, and I felt glad that I had worked out a solution that would keep him as a customer through at least next January 6.

And then I woke up. It was time to see my mom off to her surgery.

Sunday, January 06, 2019

Early to bed, early to rise

My mom is going in for knee replacement surgery in the morning. I won't be going with her - my brother and sister will be taking her in the morning. She has to go in very early, and be there by 5:00 AM. I get to be everyone's wake-up call. Time to set the alarm for 3:00 in the morning...

Saturday, January 05, 2019

Dial-A-Moon 2019

I wrote about NASA's Dial-A-Moon a while back. It's a very useful site for knowing the phase of the Moon at any hour of any day. The site is only set to cover a single calendar year, and a new version is released every year. I knew that the waning crescent Moon had vanished in the morning sky a few days ago, and wanted to see if I might have a chance of seeing a thin sliver of the very young Moon in this evening's clear sky. I peeked out the front door and saw nothing. So I went to the site - the new, 2019 Dial-A-Moon site - and saw this:


...the hell? Has the Trump Shutdown (the third one of his time of occupying the White House, and the third one that he entered into with Republican control of Congress) extended even here? Will there be no Dial-A-Moon as long as Trump continues to hold the Federal government hostage over his wall fetish?

No. I just happened to hit the site when the Moon was at 0.0% illumination. New Moon = "no Moon." Some parts of the world actually experienced a partial solar eclipse today, the first of the new year. And because of the way these things work, this will be followed by a lunar eclipse in just over two weeks, the evening of January 20 and morning of January 21. This will be a total lunar eclipse, and will be visible from all of North and South America. I hope I can get pictures like I did in September 2015!


Friday, January 04, 2019

Wiped

I passed out for several hours after getting home today. We are still in training, but this was our second week of taking calls. We were scheduled to go back into class next week for two weeks to learn another facet of the job, then spend another two weeks on the floor, and in the second week we would be transitioning to an afternoon shift, and the week after that we would switch to our night shift positions in production. But as this is the busy season - a very busy busy season - we are being kept on the phones an extra week, extending our training by a week.

The practical upshot of this for me is that I will be able to go to an open mic the last week of January and see a friend who is currently serving with the Army in South Korea. Yay me!

Thursday, January 03, 2019

Writers' Showcase: Winter 2019 Edition

UPDATE: Due to severe weather expected on the original date, the Writers' Showcase Winter Edition has been rescheduled to February 9, 2019.



The Winter 2019 edition of the Writers' Showcase will be held Saturday, January 19 February 9 from 7:00 to 9:00 PM at the Olde Brick Theatre, 126 West Market Street in Scranton. Admission is just $4.00 for an evening of stories and poems by Kimberly Boland, Aurora Bonner, Rachael Hughes, Laurel Radzieski, and Alyssa Waugh, hosted by Brian Fanelli and Dawn Leas.

Go here for the event's Facebook page.

Wednesday, January 02, 2019

Christmas fish: the sequel

Back in early December I wrote about my mom's annual Christmas fish order. Let me tell you how things went this past Christmas.

I guess the first mistake was ordering by the piece, not the pound. In 2017 our order had been for forty-five pieces, approximately eight pounds. I guess we assumed that piece size would be uniform from year to year. It was not. In 2018, the pieces were more than 70% larger. Forty-five pieces weighted 13.78 pounds.

The next problem was the price. When my mom ordered, the price she wrote down was $5.99 a pound. If I had heard this, I would have told her that that was an exceptionally low price for cod, which is typically more like $7.99 a pound. I would have told her to confirm this price and write down the name of the person who had given it to her. That might have made a difference when my sister went to pick up the fist Christmas Eve and was told it would be $9.99 a pound. All 13.78 pounds of it.

My sister paid for the fish with her credit card, shocked at the price, which exceeded the cash she had taken to the store to pay for the fish. When she got home she looked at the slip that had been included with the fish, indicating that we had purchased 13.78 pounds of cod at $9.99 a pound, for a total cost of $137.66.

When she checked her credit card receipt, she realized she had been charged $37.66 for the fish.

So the next problem was how to set this right. Naturally, Christmas and New Year's were very busy and hectic holidays. Today after work was really the first opportunity to get back to the supermarket. I stopped at the customer service desk and quietly asked for a manager. When he arrived, I quickly summarized the issue, making sure to point out that I felt my mom had been misquoted the original price and that the final price was excessive. But, the bottom line was that I was there to sort out the bill and correct the error. The manager thanked me and accepted the $100 I had brought with me.

I don't know if we'll get our Christmas fish from the same place next year. But I do know that the ordering of the fish will be done differently.

Tuesday, January 01, 2019

The Return of NEPA Blogs

After having been on hiatus since August 2018, NEPA Blogs is back! I will try to keep updating it on a weekly basis.

Reintroducing NEPA Blogs