Friday, August 26, 2016

A Visit With An Architectural Engineer

Today we had an architectural engineer stop by.

We have had cracks in our ceilings and walls - not bad ones, but to my eye, they appear to be getting worse.  This has been driving me slightly mad, as we live in an area of known shifting foundations and the thought of a $12,000 foundation fix (yes, it has happened to an acquaintance) has been constantly playing on my mind.

So we finally called someone.

At the recommendation of the Realtor who helped us buy this house (who is just the most super nice, sweetest person in the world) we went with an Architectural Engineer.  "I do not trust those 'Let us evaluate you for free' sorts of foundation repair folks" was her response.  And, as a rule, you always go with the super nice sweetest Realtor.

There was a cost incurred, of course, an up front payment instead of waiting to see what it would cost (see the "Let us evaluate you for free" comment above).  This is the payoff for such a thing - and such a cost I am happy to pay in this case - for things like this, always better to pay the professional.

What was the result?  I have a verbal from The Ravishing Mrs. TB at the moment as she was here, but in fact we do NOT have a problem. The foundation has moved even less than he would have expected - maybe half an inch - and the cracks are due to the attic being hotter than perhaps it should be and the wood expanding.  Recommendations were an attic fan and looking at installing a radiant barrier if we get re-insulated (which should probably happen at some point) - the first one easily resolvable, the second someone I have thought about anyway.

I cannot tell you the sense of relief I have.  As it turns out, we are going to be here a little longer than I had originally anticipated due to the new job.  It is nice to know that at least in the aspect, we do not have a serious issue and any improvements we make will not be wasted.

Bottom line, take action. And always pay the professionals if it is called for.

Thursday, August 25, 2016

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

An Aquarium of Millennials

One of the things that Linked In is moderately useful for, other than keeping track of my various work acquaintances, is the various and sundry articles it posts on Millennials, what they do, what they value, and how to manage them.

I am (if you have not figured it out) not a Millennial - to be honest, I am not quite sure what I am.  But I have had plenty of coworkers that are and interact with them at church and even out in the real world.  And they are the new bloc about which so many are concerned commercials and politically (one wonders how the Gen-Xers are feeling at this point).

In reading of their values and concerns and issues, I am struck by the fact that the Millennial "way of life" (if there is such a thing) reminds me rather of an aquarium:  it works, but it assumes a particular set of circumstances to make it work.  These could arguably include things like an urban environment, a technological society a soceity where things like food and energy are to be purchased rather than generated, and a rule of law which expects people to be bound by it even if they disagree or it negatively impacts their life.

I compare this with my parents generation, the one slightly before the Baby Boomers, where they enjoy the fruits of a modern society but functioned at one time without them - and could probably do so again.  They took jobs that may not have represented the ideal but were a way to earn a living.  My perception - if my parents and their friends are any indicator - is that they went about doing their job and living life, regardless of the circumstances or how the felt about things.

Yes, I am aware these are somewhat sweeping generalizations and by no means is this a call back to the Halcyon Days of yesteryear (when many terrible things did go on).  But I think the principle still holds.

What matter, someone may ask.  After all, new societal groups have always emerged and come to dominate their day.  True of course - but for some reason these strikes me as different.  This is a group which, it seems to me, is highly dependent on a certain set of circumstances to exist and thrive - less of a Roman Commoner or Japanese Farmer than a Samurai or Highland warrior, a group that existed as long as the circumstances that supported them existed.

I am not sure what to do with this, only than to make the following observation:  aquariums allow us to keep and view tropical fish that we should never otherwise see - right up to the point that the heat and light go out and the fish can no longer sustain themselves.  

At that point, it turns out, the common goldfish is the fish of choice.

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Reallocating My Time

So my schedule has essentially converted itself.  Perhaps unsurprisingly, my thinking has not.

Work is pretty much a 9-5 matter at this point, with a little time on either side.  The commute is (blessedly) only 20 minutes each way.  So my additional time is really coming on the front end of my day - easily an hour and possibly an hour and half.  That is 5-7.5 hours back a week, just about what I figured it would be.

So here is the issue: what do I do with that extra hour a day.

Initially I was still trying to live my life in the after work phase, perhaps filling the early morning with Japanese or reading but still trying to do everything in the evening.  Turns out that is not the best time of the day for me to being doing such things.

Harp, for example.  I have never really felt I had the drive to practice it in the evening.  I want to, but apparently not bad enough to do it regularly.  But it is something that I have identified as being important to me.

Then the thought wandered into my head:  why do I not do it in the morning?

I have a perfect time slot every morning, time that was a gift and I have not really decided how to expend.  Suddenly I have a regular time, 5 days a week, to do this.

And the math just expands from there.  If I do not feel I have that hanging over my head in the evening, suddenly I can do something else - even something as mundane as reading - without that sense of guilt about practicing. And I still get 8 hours of sleep a night.

This is going to be the biggest challenge of the New Life, not the actual work part but the part of adjusting my thinking outside of the ruts it has worked itself into.

Monday, August 22, 2016

On Taking Stock of Progress

One of the great frustration of my iai journey of late has been my acquisition of a new bokuto.  It is 3.0 shaku long (35.09", 89.13 cm) and with addition of the tsuka (hilt, 13"/33.02 cm) is 48"/122 cm long.  Technically according to the chart for such things (yes, there is a chart) it is slightly longer than I am physically supposed to be able to draw. 

It is frustrating because I am basically having to relearn all of my techniques - one would not think a length of a few inches would make such a difference but it does.  I feel as if I am making no progress at all.

So on a whim I put my bokuto out to compare them.

The one on the bottom of the photo is my first bokuto, the one that I use for almost for years.  It is a standard katana length - 28"/71 cm blade and 10"/25.4 tsuka  for a total of 38"/96.4 cm.

The middle one was my second  bokuto, the one that represents the preferred length of my school - 33.4"/84.83 cm  blade, 11.5"/29.21 cm tsuba.  This was the bokuto I got nine months before my menkyo test - and to be fair, I struggled with the greater length (44.9"/114 cm).

I took a moment to do the consideration:  first bokuto 38"/96.4 cm, second bokuto 44.9"/114 cm, third bokuto 122 cm.  In 7 years I increased my length 10"/26 cm.

So for fun, I tried using my first bokuto again.  What did I find?  It is now so light that I fling it throw the air losing all technique - and when I try to sheath I cannot, because it is too short.  Training with longer and heavier weapons has made me a far different swordsman from the one that struggled to lift the blade that first day.

And all of a sudden my struggles are now cast not in the light of how difficult things are but around how far I have come from that first draw.    A pleasant reminder that progress is always there to be seen, if only we will look for it.

Saturday, August 20, 2016

Two Kinds of Criticism

I have come to realize that there are two kinds of criticism.

The first kind of criticism really is criticism.  It is, to quote Webster's, "the act of expressing disapproval and of noting the problems or faults of a thing".  It is the sort of thing just gets blurted out - sometimes casually, sometimes without thinking - or perhaps is the results of a carefully thought out meditation event.

In general, it hurts the person it is a directed at.  And it scarcely accomplishes what it was intended to do.

It fails because it elicits two responses in the individual:

First, it almost immediately makes them defensive - after all, it at least feels like it is an attack, and if I am being attacked my first response is to defend myself against further attacks, not open myself up to listen more closely.

Second, it is almost never offered with a solution.  It is a denoting that something is being done wrong or is wrong, perhaps with a sigh or a certain tone of voice. It is wrong because it is wrong (at least in the eyes of the critic).  Implied, usually, "is stop it" - stop doing it, stop being it, just stop it.

The result is seldom what the critic imagines.  They perhaps envision the individual hearing the criticism, gently considered it, and then saying "Yes, of course, I will stop it/stop doing it/stop being it".  More often than not, the criticized react precisely the opposite way:  made to feel small by what they feel is an attack, they either begrudgingly change their behavior or simply shut down.  After all, if one cannot do anything right, why should one put in the effort?

The second kind is really more of correction than criticism.  They both have the same origin - something is wrong or incorrect - but in the second version, a what and why is offered in the context of doing something better.  And the thing hardly ever comes across as an attack - instead, it is an attempt to improve something or someone and make it or them better.  One leaves the experience feeling better, not worse.  (As a side note, usually this kind of correction is always accompanied by commentary such that the critic verbally reassures the one they are correcting it is not directed at them in a personal way, but rather for the purposes of making them better.)

Both may have the same initiating thought: something is wrong and needs to get fixed.  But one truly has the concern of resolving the issues.  The other seems more of an exercise to get the thing that is bothering them off their chest.

But one ultimately makes a difference and builds bridges.  The other merely destroys them.

Friday, August 19, 2016

Hoping for a (Political) Miracle: The Ideal Leader

So yesterday, in my despair over the upcoming elections, I wrote that I should like to see the country elect the leader the country needs, not the leader we keep being told that we need (by those running).  It should only seem fair, I suppose, to elucidate what that leader would look like - or more precisely, what their character qualities would need to be to be such a leader:

1)  Servanthood - The leader would need to have the mindset of a servant.  They need to act and demonstrate they the office is not something they are seeking because it is "due" them or because it will help their image (business or otherwise), but rather that they are there to truly work on behalf of the country, not themselves or their own agenda.

2)  Truth - The leader would need to be a person of truth - not on as practiced in their lives but demonstrated in their speaking and acting.  No shading of the truth, no sidesteps to the right or left, no dissembling, no flat out false denials.  If they did it, they own it.  If something needs to be said that might be perceived as painful, they say it.

3)  Respecter of Laws - The leader would need to have complete and dedication to the laws (in our case, that is the Constitution).  They have such a respect for the laws that they do nothing to break them or try to find ways to work around them.  If they wish for a change, they make it within the system.

4)  Responsible - The leader would need to be responsible:  fiscally responsible, personally responsible, and corporately responsible.  Actions taken under their administration are owned by them, not by a convenient scapegoat.  A very, very basic level of fiscal responsibility understands that you cannot spend more than you take in (so spend less or take in more - your choice, of course, but you cannot pretend neither is an option.

5)  Lover of Freedom - The leader would need to understand and promote that the purpose of the state is to promote as much freedom as possible to its citizens, not circumscribe it as much as possible.  If you choose to do business with some and not others, that is your choice (the market should ultimately decide if this is a good thing, not the government).  If you choose to "light up" or ride without a helmet it is your right - but along with your freedom, you own the consequences.  The nation is not going to keep stepping in to preserve you from the consequences of your actions.

You will notice what is not on the list, of course:  previously holding administrative, knowledge of specific areas, even (I suppose) a high level of moral rectitude.  Perhaps I do not list them because we seem to have all of these in our leaders now and yet they have failed spectacularly.

Who would this person be?  I truly have no idea.  Those who possess such qualities are not the sort, it seems, that seek office.  And yet they seem very much to be the very sorts of people that we need at this very desperate hour.

Perhaps, like Aragorn of The Lord of The Rings they are out there in the wilderness of our modern world in the shadows and wilds, patiently serving those who do not know they are there, waiting for the time to take up their birthright.  If so, the time to arise is now.