Friday, December 3, 2010

What I’ve Learned

As I prepare to retire from 26 years of service in the Air Force, I think back on what I have learned throughout my career.  I found that learning came in many forms; classes from software and hardware vendors, hands-on work, military courses, and the list goes on.  Some things I would learn on the first try, but most times is was only through repetition that I would prevail. 

In basic training I learned what it would take to be a good Airman.  Apparently folding your underwear in 6” squares is critical to our nation’s defense.  Not only did you have to fold it a specific way, but you had to stack them up with the biggest one on the bottom.  We had regular inspections to make sure we folded everything just right, and spent our spare time folding and refolding until we thought it was perfect.  At the end of the 6 weeks I was quite the expert.  After another 26 years my wife probably wonders where that knowledge has gone.  What I really learned is that attention to detail is important.  Take nothing for granted, no matter how insignificant it might seem.

It my technical training I learned what it would take to be a good computer operator in the Air Force.  Apparently, in spite of everything I learned in college, 80-column punch cards were all the rage.  We learned how to put data on cards, how to read the cards, and even how to program the card punch (using a punched card) to make our data entry work easier.  What I really learned is that you need to recognize when your current solution is no longer the way to get the job done.  Don’t just continue down the same path because “that’s the way we’ve always done it.”  Always look for ways to improve what you do.

I also learned how to communicate well.  For starters, timing is everything.  When you are eating a nice Valentine’s Day dinner, prepared by your loving wife, it is not a great time to mention that you have orders for a new assignment in California.  Also, consider your audience when choosing your words.  When my supervisor was counseling me about how I talked to a customer once, I believe her exact words were, “Gary, just because someone is stupid you don’t need to tell them that.”  My immediate response was, “Yes, you do.  they need to know when they are being stupid.”  Needless to say, they found me a job where I didn’t work directly with customers.

Throughout the years after that first assignment I took those lessons, and many more, and honed my leadership skills under the tutelage of many supervisors and commanders, but mostly from my peers.  They are the ones who managed to mold that young, outspoken Airman into the Senior NCO you see today.  Over that time I lived in Michigan, California (twice), Texas, Belgium, and Alabama.  Mixing and mashing many cultures, customs, and traditions into an experience, and an accent, that is uniquely mine.  But, I digress.

When I arrived at my final duty station I learned the most important lesson of all.  I was a little hesitant about this assignment because I had not worked in a largely “military” organization for many years.  Little did I know that I still wouldn’t before I retired.  The place was full of new airmen, freshly arrived from their technical training.  As I got to know each of them, my anxiousness diminished.  I realized that they were looking to me and other senior leaders for validation and direction, the same thing I was looking for 26 years ago.  I remembered what I was like at that point in my career and suddenly realized I had become that old, crusty Master Sergeant.  The final clue dropped during a conversation with them one afternoon.  We started talking about when they were born.  Much to my dismay I learned that only one of them had been born prior to me coming on active duty.  It was at that moment that I looked back and understood the tired looks on the faces of the Non-Commissioned Officers that I worked for so many years ago.  I learned it was time to go, and let the new guard take over.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

My Wife, The Forensic Scientist

So many people say that television will rot your brain.  In some ways I agree.  As a child I we had only 3 channels, all in living color.  My dad bought a state-of-the-art device that allowed him to adjust the aerial remotely.  This meant there was a remote chance of picking up additional channels.  Those of us who were kids in the pre-cable days remember the anguish of the State of the Union address which meant the President was on all of the channels and there really was “nothing on”.  That was before cable television invaded our homes.  Now we have more than 100 channels to choose from, many of them dedicated to a single topic, like golf, sports, and even news.  Television may rot our brains, but sometimes it can teach us valuable tools.

My wife is a big fan of the mystery genre. Not only does she enjoy reading those types of books she also likes the TV shows. Some of our favorites shows are Castle, The Closer, Bones, and The Glades. She is good at solving many of the murders before they get to the end.  Her mind just works that way.  Me, I usually solve it exactly when the reveal it at the end of the show, don’t you?

Anyway, one evening we were watching TV when I noticed some bright spots on the screen.  My first reaction was, “oh no, the TV is broken.”  Most people would be happy for an excuse to buy a new set, but I would rather put the money into home improvements.  I walked over to the TV and took a closer look.  When I touched the bright spot, I discovered it was a liquid of some kind.  It was clear and odorless, but I wasn’t sure if it was tasteless or not.  Relieved that the TV wasn’t broken I stood back up.  I noticed that there will similar drops on the picture hanging on the wall behind the TV and on the wall too.  My first impulse was to check for a leak in the ceiling right above the fan, but there was nothing there.  I needed to investigate more. I looked at the drops on the wall and they seemed to have the same properties.  When I asked Debi what she thought she reminded me that the dog had just gone crazy trying to shake the stuffing out of one of her toys.  My first reaction was that it was dog spit; suddenly relieved that I didn’t check for a discernable taste.  She then points out a trail of water coming from the animals’ drinking fountain into the living room.  Upon further investigation she noticed the toy the dog was playing with was wet.  Next, came the flashback montage where she explained what happened.

She threw the toy into the kitchen.  The toy landed partially in the drinking fountain.  The dog picks it up and runs into the living room, leaving a trail of water behind.  The dog displays her rage by viciously shaking the toy splattering the wall and TV.  Mystery solved.  I guess I should continue to pay the cable bill.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Play it again Sam

Before anyone writes to me and tell me that the quote I used for the title of this piece is wrong, rest assured I know that.  I have seen Casablanca and remember what Rick said in the movie, but that is not what this is all about.

Over the last year I found that I listen to live radio less and less.  I can’t find a station that will play the music I want to listen to at the time I want to hear it.  I also discovered the wonderful world of podcasts.  I typically listen to books read by their author(, and sermons by prominent Christian teachers.  With the invention of the MP3 player and the ability to carry your entire music collection in your pocket, why would you listen to radio?

Nowadays radio is filled with “jibber-jabber”, commercials, and outlandish contests rather than hours upon hours of music.  Much like what happened to MTV, for those of you who remember it when it started; but I digress.  I prefer to plug in my MP3 player and decide what to play, or just put it on shuffle.  If I don’t like what’s playing I just hit the “next” button and something else plays.  You can’t do that with live radio!

Anyway, my wife and I were on our way to Mobile to visit our daughter at college; it’s a 3-hour drive, a 3-hour drive [thunder crash/lightening flash].  Sorry to all of you who never watched Gilligan’s Island.  We just turned on the radio for the trip and were rewarded with a variety of songs including Elton John, One Republic, some commercials, and mention of a contest for tickets to a local play.  About 30 minutes into the trip the John Tesh show came on with a good mix of music and interesting tidbits about how to improve your life.

A short time later we stopped for breakfast and to stretch our legs.  I know it is a relatively short drive, but the older you get the more you need to stop and stretch.  When we were back on the road, we noticed that the John Tesh show was not on anymore.  We thought it odd, but what can you do?  Then we noticed that they were playing the same music, commercials, and contest notices that was on when we started the trip.  This continued when the John Tesh show started about 30 minutes later, again with the exact material that was broadcast earlier.  Unfortunately by the time that show was getting to new material the signal was fading; and so began the search for something else to listen to.

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Ketchup Packets

I thought I would begin this piece with an interesting story about when the ketchup packet was invented, and who is responsible for this revolutionary liquid distribution system.  Unfortunately, I could find nothing on the internet that came from a source I could rely on.  Granted, my attention span is short, and I could probably find something if I spent more than a few minutes searching.  Anyway, on with my story.

This invention gave us an easy way to distribute condiments while ensuring the people don’t waste the product.  You find restaurants that use them to distribute ketchup, mustard, soy and hot sauce, and even relish.  You would think that would be the end to the usefulness.  But no, some genius found a use for this method of distribution which is iffy at best.  Which brings me to the point of this rambling.  A personal experience with something that should not be distributed in ketchup packets. 

Recently I decided to go a little cheap on a hotel since it was only me and I wasn’t going to spend that much time in the room.  When I checked into my room, after a long hot day touring the campus and listening to the various department heads talk, the first thing on my mind was taking a shower.  I headed to the bathroom when much to my dismay I found the shampoo…in a ketchup packet.  I pondered this for a moment, hoping it would just tear open without the need to use my teeth.  Well, Murphy’s Law was working against me that day and the simple tear-off-the-corner-with-my-fingers technique failed.  Now it was decision time, do I risk tearing it open with my teeth and ingesting some unknown brand of shampoo or just use the bar of soap?  I decided to throw caution to the wind and open the packet with my teeth.  It did turn out favorable for me.  I was able to tear the corner enough that I finished the job with my fingers and ended up with clean hair.

I think it is safe to say that I will go back to hotels that offer shampoo in bottles.  I don’t want to be there when Murphy’s Law succeeds and I end up eating the shampoo.

Saturday, February 27, 2010

Shameless Plug - Borrowed Time Podiobook

I was listening to my friend Keith's Time Out podcast this morning and he asked for people to review his podiobook, Borrowed Time, on their blogs. You can find his podiobook on his website, at, or your can subscribe through iTunes or the Zune Marketplace. Wow, 4 shameless plugs for web sites; I think that is a record for a single sentence. Anyway, he said that he would shower anyone who did that with thanks and praise. Well, I'm not one to pass an opportunity to feel the warm glow of appreciation, but first I must digress. is great place to get free audiobooks. This site encourages folks to write and record their books, and gives them a place to publish and distribute their work. I have listened to more than 10 stories and am going back for more. The recordings range from a simple reading of the story to something like radio shows of the past with voice acting and background sounds. The site gives you the opportunity to show your appreciation to the authors by donating money that goes to support the site and the author as well. One of their biggest success stories is the 7th Son series, which caught the attention of a publisher and is now available in print. It goes to show the caliber of writers that publish here. If you have a long commute and a short budget for entertainment, check out the site and find a story that make the miles go by faster.

Now, back to the reason I am writing. Borrowed Time is a time-travel adventure that takes place in the great state of Michigan. Nestor “Ness” Relevant is a photographer who receives a package from an old college professor. The package contains a PDA that allows Ness to time travel, but with limitations. Throughout his adventure he uses the device to help him get out of sticky situations, visit his past, and get one foot up on the bad guys. But enough about the story, no sense spoiling the plot before you listen to it.

Keith takes a new angle on time travel that kept the story moving and the listener guessing. Each time Ness got into a tight spot you wondered how, or if, he would use the device to escape. He didn't use time travel as a crutch giving the listener a good mix of adventure and sci-fi all wrapped up in a neat package. The story is not long and moved at a good pace. The only time I wanted him to move the story faster was at the end of each episode. There were many times when he left the listener hanging and anxious to know what would happen next. He did a good job of making character voices distinct so it was easy to tell them apart, and added variety to his reading. The only detractor for me was when Keith did the voice of a female character. I had an image in my head that was akin to Eric Idle playing a woman in a Monty Python skit. There are also companion episodes that follow the progress of the story. He discussed the story, how he worked his ideas onto “paper”, and presented feedback from listeners. These were fun to listen to, especially when he included the blooper reel. You got an idea just how much work went into making this podcast.

Overall I really enjoyed Borrowed Time, and am looking forward to more of Keith's podcasts. Check it out, you won't be sorry.

Friday, January 15, 2010

Who Provides Your Comfort

Comfort, as with most things, has a different meaning for many people. I, for example, like my “Wicked Warm” slippers from L.L. Bean. They keep my feet warm; sometimes to the point that I have to take them off because my feet get too hot. I like them enough that I reattach the sole and the upper piece with new a leather thong every few years when the thong breaks and the pieces start to fall apart. We tend to surround ourselves this things we love (or think we love) and people who love us to give us that warm fuzzy feeling.

Some people are satisfied with the basics needs; a roof over their head, a bed to sleep in, and a hot meal. My wife is happy with a comfortable chair, a soft blanket, and a good book; especially if it involves a patch of warm sunlight. Others seek comfort in basic wants; a large high definition television attached to an array of speakers that will rattle the windows, a shiny new car every couple of years, or a house so large that the master bedroom and living room are in different zip codes. If you do that, then you need to seek mental comfort by buying insurance for all those things; how else are they going to get your “comfort” back if it is stolen or destroyed by a fire, flood, or other disaster?

Fortunately there is one source of comfort that it always available, no matter what it going on in your life. Take a moment and read the following passage from the Bible; one of my favorites.

Matthew 6:25-34

"Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more important than food, and the body more important than clothes? Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to his life? "And why do you worry about clothes? See how the lilies of the field grow. They do not labor or spin. Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these. If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, will he not much more clothe you, O you of little faith? So do not worry, saying, 'What shall we eat?' or 'What shall we drink?' or 'What shall we wear?' For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.

Bottom line? Trust God, He loves you and will provide you lasting comfort.