Thursday, December 12, 2019

The Collapse XL: Death

13 October 20XX

My Dear Lucilius:

Sad news – we have had our first local death.

Young Xerxes stopped by and gave me the news. An older couple, one I do not recall meeting except perhaps at the July Fourth Celebration, who apparently – simply – gave up. He was, apparently, a diabetic with limited insulin. Not many other details from young Xerxes except that they simply “Gave up.” At their request, their things are to parceled out to the community as needed.

There are the usual issues, of course: the practical issue of burial (the ground here is not precisely easy to turn at this time of year), how their possessions are to be distributed (someone suggested creating a depot of sorts at the building that has become a sort of community center), and of course the lingering thought on the back of everyone’s mind (and now undoubtedly at the forefront): the reality of death.

I wonder, Lucilius, even in the short period since the official “Holiday”, how many have died. For me, it seems an abstract thought in a way: I am hundreds of miles from a major metropolis, but surely some have. How many? Scores? Hundreds? Thousands? Unless things rapidly return to normal – and how unlikely that seems today – it will be millions.

But even in that, there are two issues. On the one hand, there are those who will die from privation and lack of food, of shelter, of warmth, of medical care – of basic needs. The others – like those here – are those that will die from lack of hope.

A lack of hope? It seems like such an odd thing to die from, does it not? Yet for other thousands – or perhaps millions – there has been a passing away of the old order that is perhaps not likely to ever return. It is one thing – even where we live – to live through a harsh week of Winter or a power outage that lasts a few days. We have done that before. But to look forward into the future and see…. Chaos. Disruption. No sense of things ever returning to the way the were before. That, my friend, is a gap that so many have never considered at length.

The cynical side of me asks if this has always been the case, or really just the last 10-15 years. Our national spending out of control, our deficits beyond what we could repay in three lifetimes, the personal finances of so many financed by debt, a society where the ability to live without working was almost as profitable as working.

Perhaps, in that sense, we were always staring at this abyss. It is just that the view has finally been revealed.

Your Obedient Servant, Seneca

Wednesday, December 11, 2019

December Wind

December Wind blows
in Winter, as falling leaves
die an Autumn death.

Filling flowerbeds
with different layers of brown,
 I rake in silence.

Tuesday, December 10, 2019

Paid Off

So last week we hit at least one more of the goals I had set for us for the year:  we paid off the last of our consumer debt.

This was a rather long time coming - longer that it should have been, really.  We at one time had them all paid off and then I made the rather foolish decision of going with The Firm.  That did not make us have to go into debt of course, but it did create the environment where it was very easy to do so.  And so, 15 years or so later, we are finally back to an even keel.

We benefited from a bit of luck - options I had received at my current company were worth something, and so I sold.  And now, for the first time in 15 years, we are not making the banks rich.

To tell you truth, I did not think we would be able to pay everything off this year.

This opens up all kinds of possibilities, of course:  money that was paying debt can now go to savings or investing (or spending - I cannot be foolish enough to pretend that everything will go to the first two).  But for the first time in a long time, I can breathe again - and actually have some confidence that in the event of an actual emergency, we can be in a position where the debt is not hanging over our head like an anvil and we can actually live on a lot less.

It is a good feeling.

Monday, December 09, 2019

On Not A Sense Of Christmas

Of all the things I am looking forward to some day, one of the biggest I am hoping for is a sense of Christmas again.

Christmas growing up - it seemed to last far longer than the 25 days of December.  And the season really did to seem different than any other time of the year. I do not know that I can point to a time when it started (other than I really do not think that it was the day after Thanksgiving), but it did "start".  And maintain all the way to Christmas Day.

Now, I have almost completely lost that sense.

The Christmas Season, for many years now at least, is really subsumed into the end of the year and all that has to be done (mostly at work) to get there.  Work has become the all consuming force of the season, intensified by the fact that all things that must get done in the year must get done by then - oddly enough, no matter how well you plan or schedule, it always seems to come down to the end.

Yes, it might be acknowledged and yes, some things might be done - a party perhaps, or a luncheon - but the need to finish things out is what really dominates one's calendar and the landscape.  Any sense of the Season is bucketed to the last two or three days before Christmas.

Just once - just one more time - I would like to have an actual sense of Christmas again, to be able to enjoy all of the songs, the decorations, the traditions - the "Christmas Spirit" that we sing about often but I seem to experience not at all.

Charles Dickens said that the reformed Scrooge kept Christmas every day in his heart.  I wish I knew his secret.

Thursday, December 05, 2019

The Collapse XXXIX: Silence

09 October 20XX

My Dear Lucilius:

Snow, snow, snow – that is all I can see from my windows at this point. It feels as if we have had nothing but snow (or blowing snow) forever, but really it has only been 5 days. Except for quick dashes out to check on the quail or to get wood, I remain huddled indoors.

The most noticeable thing is the silence.

Our modern world was (note the past tense) filled with noise: the noise of appliances and such inside a building, the noise of cars and planes and music and power tools (especially those greatest of all annoyances, the leaf blowers), occasionally even people. Our transit, be it via automobile or elevator, was filled with music or talk, our evenings with entertainment (I speak in general here as I have not had any sort of television in many years).

And suddenly there is none of that.

My house is now filled with the sounds of almost nothing: the fire crackling, the rabbits hopping in their cages or drinking or quietly eating. Occasionally, if I have power, one can hear the whir of my drive and the hot water heater working (followed by the sounds of me showering of course) or the clothes washer working. Perhaps the clink of dishes being done. But really, that is all.

Yes, the snow outside deadens everything, even inside (which makes no logical sense to me, other than a matter of mental perception). But even were there no snow, the sounds of civilization would no longer be present.

For myself, I have really spent the last few years working towards this point and now, embrace most of the silence. But there are millions now throughout the country whose lives have always been filled with noise; how truly discomforting this must seem. Our modern society was defined not only by the impact that we had on the world around us and how would manipulate the fabric of nature but by the noise with which we filled the world.

Once again, the world wins.

Your Obedient Servant, Seneca.

Wednesday, December 04, 2019

Old Fashioned Tupperware

For Thanksgiving, we indulged in that once a year sin, Cool Whip on our pumpkin pie.  Tonight when I went to do dishes, I found this:  

When I was growing up, this was our Tupperware.

I have vague memories of what we would now consider "actual" Tupperware - for our house, some square containers (which invariably I associate with applesauce storage and some actual real 1960's vintage Tupperware at my grandmother's house (picture light orange and blue bowls with clear lids).  But for the most part, we used these - or plastic bags (pre-Ziploc) for our lunch.  But for most of our short term food storage, this was it (or other recycled items - large margarine tubs were also well used).

This was back in the day when there were not cardboard inserts on the on the lids or cellophane wrappers around the outsides and so, over time, the writing became faded, in some cases fading to complete illegibility.  One "knew" it was a Cool Whip container by its shape and its faded blue images, not like some of the those "lesser" imitation whips.

Oddly enough, this really represented the first "recycling" that I can recall.  I suppose it was because my grandparents were quite frugal (having lived through The Great Depression) and the fact that growing up, we were probably what would be considered lower Middle Class.  But we faithfully reused those things until eventually they either broke or we finally graduated to "real Tupperware".

Today of course, we only speak of such things as items to be recycled, not reused. (Interestingly enough, I do think that in principle packaging is something we need to address.  That said, no-one wants "their" butter to be purchased in sticks or their toothpaste without boxes.  Always something else).  But once upon a time we had these things for free.  Why did we feel the need to "invent" additional plastic storage devices?

Tuesday, December 03, 2019

On Preparing For Retirement

I was speaking with a friend this weekend, commenting on the fact that I have rather rapidly come to the realization that I have a great opportunity to get my financial house in order and I did not want to mess it up. 

The response was "That is really great for you - sadly for generations following you, probably not possibly. Certainly for me."

The response struck me as odd.

My friend is with 15 years of me so (I guess technically) we are almost in the same age cohort.  Yet to her, it seems as if the concept of not doing a job for which you get paid for the rest of your life is something that cannot be achieved. 

Has the fissure really become this great?

My initial reaction (which I did not speak, of course) was that things may be different, but not necessarily harder.  But is it?  Is this the first American generation that will not think of retiring?  And if so, what changed so dramatically?

Student loans?  Yes, I think that is an element - but then again, that comes back to decisions.  No-one forces anyone to take out a student loan, and there are plenty of ways to make money without a formal degree?

Cost of living?  Possibly, but then again do have to live where you want to live?  For me, and millions like me, we follow the jobs and sacrifice where we might want to live for where we have to live.

Taxes, fees, licenses?  That is a third rail no-one willingly touches, but if I were in states with significant state taxes, I would definitely consider that to be an issue.

Or is just simply the question of spending - that retiring for most of use requires years of planning and sacrifice, something that many - most - are no longer willing to do?  We have become a society of instant gratification, where waiting is considered foolish at best and painful at worst.

One other thought: the painful reality is that we are now in a 24 hours global economy where the tolerance for error has become much less.  We have made some significant errors which cost us - but have had the time and money to recover.  In the new cycle, I suspect such things are now much more unforgiving. 

Perhaps it is all of these.

The better question - instead of all of us bemoaning the fact that less people can consider this, is how do we get more people there?  Sadly, if it comes with sacrifice and delayed gratification, I suspect most people will still say "No".

Monday, December 02, 2019

On Raking Leaves

Yesterday I raked leaves.

Leaves come in two seasons here in New Home:  The first is the season (about now) with what the rest of the country (and where I grew up) happens in October or November, with the trees that are not native to this place.  The second is in February, when all the oaks drop their tiny leaves that burrow into the grass and (given time) make a lovely mat.

Raking leaves has never been my favorite task.  I rank it slightly above mowing the lawn (less times required overall) but certainly lower that working in the garden.  Still, The Ravishing Mrs. TB likes a raked lawn, so out I go.

Raking growing up, we had fallen Fruitless Mulberry leaves.  They are big and rake easily.  The leaves here seem less easy - in my yard I have a melange of leaves from the tree that grows in back (and is helpfully blocking out our new neighbors), the leaves that blew in from everyone else's yards, and those darn oak leaves that are not nearly as cooperative as I would like.  The result of this collection is that I (inevitably) seem to get 90% of the leaves, but there is always that left over 10% that burrow themselves into the grass and defy me.  I have learned to let them go. 

My grandfather raked leaves almost continually.  I feel as is he was always raking leaves, especially after my grandmother passed away - Literally every morning he was out there, collecting the 20 or 25 leaves that had fallen from the night before. I have not reached this level yet - but perhaps this becomes the purview of the old, living in their memories and the sense that today, I made something better.

In some ways, raking bridges the gap of 30+ years and reminds me of him.

I have one more round of raking to do in back (not all the leaves have fallen off our tree - an inconvenience, but I would prefer to let the wind work that have me stand there and continue to shake the tree).  And then on to the front yard, where there are undoubtedly at least three seasons to be performed before things are relatively right.

Falling leaves and raking leaves - once I would have said the first is seasonal.  Now, I suspect that it has become The Great Dao, the Ying and Yang of existence:  the leaves ever falling, me ever raking.  Perhaps this, and this alone, keeps the universe in balance.

Saturday, November 30, 2019

A Few Words from...Jerry Pournelle

"By the 1960's, the authorities could write that peace was more important than law.  Enforcement of international law was entrusted to the United Nations - whose charter stated that no power could interfere in the internal affairs of another, and made self defense the only reason for resorting to force.

A small country could seize the property of a great power; murder her citizens, defy every contract and convention; and the authorities would gravely announce that the Great Power had no right to take military action.   The powers could only sue before a court that could not enforce its judgments.

Pretty soon, nobody paid much attention to international law."

- "Enforcer", High Justice (1974)

"As he went through the rather dingy corridors Enoch thought about Alden.  Incomprehensible, like all Americans.  The whole country seemed to have a collective guilt complex about its past successes.  The world struggled after the impossible goal of obtaining a way of life that Americans had achieved, while the Americans grimly hung onto what they had and covered themselves with self reproach.  Incomprehensible people, all of them."

- "Enforcer, High Justice (1974)

Thursday, November 28, 2019

Thanksgiving Day 2019

George Washington's 1789

Thanksgiving Proclamation

Whereas it is the duty of all nations to acknowledge the providence of Almighty God, to obey His will, to be grateful for His benefits, and humbly to implore His protection and favor; and Whereas both Houses of Congress have, by their joint committee, requested me to "recommend to the people of the United States a day of public thanksgiving and prayer, to be observed by acknowledging with grateful hearts the many and signal favors of Almighty God, especially by affording them an opportunity peaceably to establish a form of government for their safety and happiness:"
Now, therefore, I do recommend and assign Thursday, the 26th day of November next, to be devoted by the people of these States to the service of that great and glorious Being who is the beneficent author of all the good that was, that is, or that will be; that we may then all unite in rendering unto Him our sincere and humble thanks for His kind care and protection of the people of this country previous to their becoming a nation; for the signal and manifold mercies and the favorable interpositions of His providence in the course and conclusion of the late war; for the great degree of tranquility, union, and plenty which we have since enjoyed; for the peaceable and rational manner in which we have been enable to establish constitutions of government for our safety and happiness, and particularly the national one now lately instituted for the civil and religious liberty with which we are blessed, and the means we have of acquiring and diffusing useful knowledge; and, in general, for all the great and various favors which He has been pleased to confer upon us.
And also that we may then unite in most humbly offering our prayers and supplications to the great Lord and Ruler of Nations and beseech Him to pardon our national and other transgressions; to enable us all, whether in public or private stations, to perform our several and relative duties properly and punctually; to render our National Government a blessing to all the people by constantly being a Government of wise, just, and constitutional laws, discreetly and faithfully executed and obeyed; to protect and guide all sovereigns and nations (especially such as have shown kindness to us), and to bless them with good governments, peace, and concord; to promote the knowledge and practice of true religion and virtue, and the increase of science among them and us; and, generally to grant unto all mankind such a degree of temporal prosperity as He alone knows to be best.

Given under my hand, at the city of New York, the 3d day of October, A.D. 1789.


Wednesday, November 27, 2019

The Hour Of Your Doom

- Which, if you think about it, could be a very terrifying thing.  But even Christians believe that God knows everything about our existence, even the hour of our own passing.  Thus, in a sense, even in the Christian World View the Hour of Our Doom (really our death or Judgement) is already set in God's calendar.  Do not do anything foolish of course - being an idiot solves nothing and ruins your usefulness - but neither be overly worried about when your time will come. 

Tuesday, November 26, 2019

Something To Give Up, Something To Add

It is already almost the end of November.  Never too early to begin thinking about goals for next year.

I looked at this years goals.  In a word, I achieved almost none of them - some by dint of the fact that events changed, but some simply did not happen.  That makes the whole consideration rather dismal, and this with a month to go in this year (pretty much no chance to accomplish any of the rest of them, unfortunately).

One wants to do better, of course. I actually want to create goals that both make me stretch and at the same time are achievable.  So perhaps I need to go about finding a different way to do it.

As I sat there looking at my list and sighing rather intently, the thought arose "Why do you not think about giving something up as a goal?"

Hmm. A "negative" goal.  I had never thought of this before.  I have thought of goals in terms of  accomplishing or adding something, not subtracting or removing something. 

So I am thinking about changing up goals this year.  The categories will still be the same, but for each item  of adding-accomplishing-doing there will be something for subtracting-removing-ending.

How does this apply itself?  Well, I will try to make something up on the fly to demonstrate.

One thing I need to work on next year is my sleep pattern, which is awful and not at all near the 7.5 to 8 hours a night that research suggests most people should get.  To help with this, there are really two components:  allocating the time to encompass the sleep and doing things to make sure that you get the sleep.  So a positive goal would be to "Allow for 8 hours of sleep a night".  I know my rising times, so that becomes a math problem.

The second part of it becomes the issue - how do I make sure I get 8 hours of sleep a night?  One easy item is to make sure that I go to bed at a prescribed time each night (which I have better control over than when I wake up every morning).  Which means I will have to curtail my scheduled activities and move a schedule such that I really get 8 hours a night.

So a negative goal in this sense would be "Ending all activities at 9:00 PM" or  "Not checking electronics after 8:00 PM" (something that inevitably keeps me up).

I will keep working on this, of course.  But I need to be here this time next year with items that were achieved, not things that I wish I had done.

Monday, November 25, 2019

When Do Nation States Give Up On Themselves?

When do nation states give up on themselves? When are they no longer worth fighting for?  When do they simply dissolve, perhaps not into chaos but into smaller units for which the past becomes a vague memory?

Governments, of course, never give up on themselves.  They always consider themselves to the best form of rule and therefore see no reason for anything to change at all.  (Yes, I know a great many people define this as "the elites", but the elites can be anyone those not an elite do not care for.  A government is a distinct unit).  For them, anything that is not themselves represents disorder and chaos and a bad ending.

No, what ultimately holds a nation state together is the belief of its population in the nation state.  The inhabitants the believe in the state, that are willing to abide by (and enforce) its laws, that are willing to die for wars, that are willing to pay its taxes, that are ultimately willing to endure decisions which impact themselves poorly but help the nation state as a whole - these are the ones that hold the nation state together.  Without them, the government at best rules an apathetic population who does not care (to quote a joke from the Cold War Soviet Union days, "We pretend to work, they pretend to pay us") or at worst a population which is actively working to destroy the government.

History, of course, is littered with these:  The back and forth of Chinese Empire (perhaps until the Yuan dynasty), the rise, dissolution, and re-convening of Japan's Sengoku Jidai (Age of War) that accompanied the latter years of the Ashikaga Shogunate, the Western Roman Empire and then the Eastern Roman Empire (or as was said in the 1400s,
'Better the Sultan's turban than the Pope's Tiara"), the Norman conquest of England and the disappearance of the Anglo-Saxon order (after Hereward the Wake we do not hear of more resistance), the collapse of the Austro-Hungarian Empire into what we now call Central Europe, the Fall of Imperial Russia and the the re-fall of Communist Russia and then the Warsaw Pact itself.  All of these, at some point, even if there were (as there often were) a violent takeover, ultimately collapsed because those that lived in them did not support (or came not to support) the previous regime.

Why does that matter, today of all days? I find myself questioning the longevity of most modern nation states, including my own.

I can only speak of my own experience, which perhaps both gives weight to my considerations as well as undermining them as being my own - but with my self, I am finding less and less connection to the concept and idea of my own government on a national scale.

Overall my government - be they one party or the other in power - have taken a much greater concern in how I think, what I believe, and how I live my life rather than in creating and establishing a system where I can live my life.  The circle of my ability to live freely has slowly been eroded over the course of my life to where alone in a room with no windows, no electronic devices is the only place I am free of potential government involvement and action.

Add to that, as the population has grown over the years and the size of lawmaking bodies has not, my representation has grown smaller and smaller. I may be on in 15 million for my state and on in 330,000,000 for the nation:  can it be said that government truly represents my best interests?

I am the first to confess that in many ways I am still very grateful to my country - after all, the concept of God-given rights versus rights granted by the government started no-where else and even while under attack, still seems to be a bedrock - but the trend is not towards government making itself less intrusive but more intrusive, more overbearing rather than less, more controlling instead of more enabling.  And I suspect I am not the only one.

Given this, can we truly not be that far away from a day when we begin to wonder if something else is better than something we have - and act on it?

Friday, November 22, 2019

Accurate Versus Precise

I am accurate. I am not always precise.

Accurate:  Done with care; conforming exactly, deviating only slightly or within acceptable limits from a standard.

Precise:  Minutely exact; exactly or sharply defined or stated.

So I am accurate - I get the gist of information or the sense of it, the concept of what is being discussed.  But I am not always precise.  And I really need to work on becoming more precise, especially in my line of work. 

An important note:  Accuracy does not necessary take time, but being precise always does.  That comes at a cost, of course:  accuracy generally happens more quickly than being precise.  So accuracy has its place as well.

What can one do to become more precise?  (Or really, what is my opinion on what one can do to become more precise?)

- Define the outcome up front.  Decide if accuracy or precision is required.
- Allow sufficient time and focus for the decided outcome.  Precision is never accomplished in a rushed fashion.
- Have someone review your work.
- Re-review your work.  Maybe review it a third time.
- Have a clear line of sight on where the data supporting either assertion (accurate or precise) is coming from.
- Make a clear statement.
- Review after each event:  What went wrong?  What could have gone better?  Was I not precise enough?  Was I overly precise?  Did I really accomplish what I set out to do?

What say ye?  Accurate?  Or Precise?

Thursday, November 21, 2019

The Collapse XXXVIII: Winter And Work

04 October 20XX

My Dear Lucilius:

Gray weather accompanies this missive today. We have had a scattering of snow flurries; my “warmer weather” has melted as quickly as a snowflake in the sun. Not intolerable to be sure, but neither quite the Octobers of my youth.

Every day that it is not snowing is a day to be out doing – this has always been true, I suppose, but no more so than now, where every day out is pushing out the potential survival curve a little more. So I bundle up to go fishing or collect wood. You have never quite known joy until you try to catch a fish at 36 F; you have not known greater joy in trying to clean said fish.

Collecting deadwood, at least, does not make the fingers as cold.

If it snows, of course, little enough is to be done. Even before, inevitably one or two people a year would perish from being outside in a snowstorm and getting lost; how much more so now when medical aid is effectively gone. I learned years ago to tie a loose line between the door and the greenhouse and the pump shed to always find my way back (I suppose, now, one to the old outhouse – one never knows).

With snow, of course, some level of activity become critical, so snow days involve indoor calisthenics and the walking machine (which I despise, by the by, but better to stay in shape than despise). It is a careful balance, of course: burn too many calories and the food all goes away; do not enough and the muscles and endurance disappear. So I walk, listening to classical music and trying to remember walks of my younger days in far away places, when things seemed more pleasant.

Our power, for some reason, has been on more of late and so I have been able to follow the world outside of the “glass”, at least on those few sites that continue to operate. It sounds horrendous everywhere. I note that the government sites still continue to shine forth messages of “Things are going to get better” without providing any concrete information.

I look out where my truck used to sit. I have all the information I currently need.

Your Obedient Servant, Seneca

Wednesday, November 20, 2019

Tuesday, November 19, 2019

Learning Online: An Update

Oddly enough, this attempt to learn new things has kind of gotten a hold of me.

I am taking "Principles of Analytical Chemistry" - yes, I know what you are thinking:  "Have you lost your mind?  This is first thing you start with?  There was not anything more interesting or relevant to your life that this is what you started with?"

Let us just say that I am filling in a very old knowledge gap that needs to be rounded out.

Here is the odd thing: I find that I am kind of enjoying it (yes, even this dusty, dreary subject).

In terms of practice, it is not more than 20-25 minutes a day, which means I am completing a lecture every two days.  So the time investment is not burdensome.  But I forgot - until now - how much taking in new knowledge.

On a side note, the lecture format - at least this lecture format - works for me.  But then again this is not a class designed for the InterWeb (which I do not do so well at), rather a class that has been recorded and is available on the InterWeb.  There seems to be a difference.  And for regular classes, I am okay - I was always very good at going to school.

What is that point of all of this, you may ask - after all, this knowledge will bring you up to the level of all your coworkers (science based industry and all) and indeed, after this you will know as much as a high school freshman (or maybe an eighth grader - they teach it earlier now).  It will not make my life better in any discernible way.  I will not get a degree or credit for doing it, and it will never show up directly in my body of work.

But it is knowledge - and knowledge is something that is always valuable, sometimes even if it is not apparent at the time.

And for me, the other aspect is simply the act of doing it.  It is the discipline of getting up 5 days a week and siting down and learning.  And discipline itself is always the ultimate reward.

Monday, November 18, 2019

Performing An Embu

This weekend we performed an Embu  (demonstration).

An embu, I find, is somewhat nerve wracking.  It has all of the potential stress of any public demonstration - people are watching what you are doing, very closely.  It does not help, of course, that one is dressed a formal attire and in our case, actually carrying swords.  You are quite the focus of attention.

Which is in and of itself enough.  But combine that with  combined with the additional reality of the fact that one is representing one's school - and for 99% of the people involved, the very art itself.  No-one has heard of Iaijutsu, let alone really knows what it is.  All they know is you have swords and you look like you are going to use them. 

The good news is, of course, everything went well - and by well, I mean that it passed the two major considerations of any major event:  No-one was injured and everyone completed their demonstration.  Looking at the initial videos I can see, we looked okay (I say that - of course, there is always something that you can do better). 

Two particular items of note from the embu, at least from my position:

1)  My heart was racing preparing to perform and then performing.  I have no understanding of why this occurred, only that it did.  It strikes me as odd, considering that I have performed some of these kata hundreds of times.

2)  Once one enters the kata, I found myself in the zone.  That I know of I did not make any serious errors in conduct of the kata.  One comment that did come back to me is that for at least one of the paired drills, my fellow student's sword came close - very close -to my head.  To be honest I have no memory of this happening, so maybe it just appeared more so from the side. 

It was good practice.  We will be performing an embu in February when I travel to Japan next year.  Hopefully this will serve as a good foretaste to prepare myself (mostly, to get my heart rate down). 

Thursday, November 14, 2019

Resources For Fighting Loss of Learning and Excellence

Because of yesterday's post - one needs resources, of course!

The podcast "Grow, Adapt, and Reinvent Yourself Through Ultralearning"

The book itself:  Ultralearning:  Master Hard Skills, Outsmart The Competition, and Accelerate Your Career

One of the things I learned through the Podcast is that MIT (Massachusetts Institute Of Technology) has a great many classes that you can take on-line for free:  Link

But that is not all!  Lots of schools do:  Link

So what are you waiting for!  Go do some excellent learning today!

Wednesday, November 13, 2019

Loss Of Learning And Excellence

So a funny thing happened last week.

I was listening to a podcast from The Art of Manliness entitled "Grow, Adapt, and Re-invent Yourself Through Ultra Learning" (More on that tomorrow) in which the author of the book Ulltralearining, Scott Young, describes individuals who learn large amounts of new things in a short time (he himself took the equivalent of a computer science degree from MIT online in less than a year).  As I as listening to it, I suddenly made a huge discovery:

I was not longer into becoming better. I was in to just remaining at my current level.  And that was leading to a high level of frustration in my life.

I am busy. O friend, I am busy.  I am as busy as I have ever been, or more so.  But interestingly, I am not trying to become a better person anymore.  All I do anymore is work a great deal and try and fit in the little bits of my own life.

This alarmed me.  This shocked me.  I tried to think of when this lack of willingness to try new things and the pursuit of excellence left me.  Surely it was within the last year or so (turns out it was).

And my current goals reflect this:  they are things to do, not things to become or even achieve.

So I need to fix this.  I need to find that drive to become better, to become excellent, to learn more.  I need that as the focus, not just doing more.

That helps in a lot of ways - for example, I will focus less (or not at all) on the things I cannot control.  I will focus on the things I can control, on learning new things and strengthening what I have and become better.  It will help me push through things - not just do them (my current nemesis) but have a reason for why I am doing them (to get better, to learn something new).

Why does this happen?  Because I fell into a bad habit, a habit many people (I suspect) fall into:  we get so busy trying to just stay afloat that we lose the push for being excellent.  For learning new things.

Work - I would love to say within the last month but it has been longer than that - has become an exercise in just getting by.  Just getting through the next crisis.  Just getting through to do the next thing.

When that happens, I eventually lose the will to do better.  Why?  Because it is enough to get things done, because there is always something else to be done.

Of course, this does nothing for my career - or my life.  Everything becomes one long reactionary event, trying to either get something resolved or avoid something else.  And ultimately, just stay in place.

So that needs to stop.  And I need to rediscover the reason to excel and learn new things again.  Because now I have seen this side of things.  And that road leads nowhere good.

Tuesday, November 12, 2019

Sweet Potato Harvest 2019

This is the 2019 sweet potato yield:

There are three different varieties represented (you would think I remember what I planted.  I do not and will have to look them up).

Overall I am very pleased.  Sweet Potatoes are something else that are adapted to our current hot and humid summer climate.  They performed like champs; their growing season was about six months.

Apparently there is now a "hardening off" where I have to let them settle a bit before they are edible.  Still, there are a good many meals represented here.  I will be growing them again next year

Monday, November 11, 2019

In Flanders Fields

In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row,
That mark our place: and in the sky
The larks still bravely singing fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.

We are the dead: Short days ago,
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved and were loved: and now we lie
In Flanders fields.

Take up our quarrel with the foe
To you, from failing hands, we throw
The torch: be yours to hold it high
If ye break faith with us who die,
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields.

Lt. Colonel John McCrae 03 May 1915

Friday, November 08, 2019

Japanese Rabbits

In lieu of my typical Friday thoughtful statement, a couple of Japanese prints of Rabbits for you to enjoy:

Thursday, November 07, 2019

The Collapse XXXVII: Ponderings

28 September 20XX

My Dear Lucilius:

We have had a bit of a return of autumn – just enough to give a bit more life to the garden – but it feels as if our Winter is returning for good. That is not terribly surprising for this time of year, of course.

The issue of the now-gone truck has haunted me far more than I had anticipated. I had anticipated, of course, that something like this could happen at some time. One would like to believe that I had prepared myself mentally for it. But nothing prepares you for the quiet sound of a velvet demand backed up by force.

It is the question that ultimately undergirds every civilized society, is it not? Will rule of law prevail, or the rule of the tyrant? The law of the jungle – the strong over the weak – or the rights of the individual?

At one time – in my youth – I would have told you that the rule and the law and the individual was the winner. A few years ago and really up to this past summer, I would have told you that the rule of the tyrant – or the tyrannical – was what prevailed (carefully preserved under the name of “the best thing for the people”). And now, perhaps we have moved to the law of the strong over the weak.

I know, I know, Lucilius – you wonder if I have any actual practical advice to suggest in all of this. I may, but it is not the practical sort of thing that makes many people happy.

In my world, the fact that this happened now – rather than later – is a good thing. Now, we still have some semblance of the rule of law. There was no shooting that I am aware of for this incident. No-one – at least here – died. And now, people’s attention is now firmly planted on the here and now with what we have around us, including ourselves. It is clear – brutally clear to any who would think about it briefly – that no help is coming from any of our elected officials.

As I mentioned, Winter is coming soon here – and with Winter will come the virtual end of much activity around here. In years past, the only activity would have been occasionally hunting and those going to their jobs. This year, almost nothing will happen.

But it is not just with us. It is with those around us as well. Those soldiers – and the ones they represent – will not be back until Spring. The cost to benefit ratio of driving here to collect anything is small. There are towns much closer and the cities will demand their attention. Cities fall into disorder far more than the countryside does. And demand more attention. And Winter costs fuel and supplies.

Do not mistake me – I think they may be back, but not until Spring. And by Spring, much will have changed both here and there.

My mental preparations need to be deeper and more thoughtful than they were before, Lucilius. The hard times are no longer coming. They are now here.

Your Obedient Servant, Seneca.

Wednesday, November 06, 2019

Traveling And Not Traveling

One of the great "divides" that exists in the TB household is that of travel.  

The Ravishing Mrs. TB is a traveler.  She likes to travel and enjoys all parts of planning for the trip: researching where to go, making itineraries, booking places, deciding which restaurants she wants to eat at, identifying small wonders to be discovered.  And she is willing to go anywhere.

I am less of a traveler.  I do not mind going, but the places I am interested in going are pretty specific.  I really do not enjoy the planning aspect of it (other that to find the things I would like to see).  I am just as much a "spend time at home" person, both by inclination and by current reality (e.g., when you out of your home so much that you pay for, you like to be in it when you can be).

This has created, as you might imagine, a bit of a thought exercise as we continue to roll towards not having Na Clann around anymore.  Any sort of long term relocation has to be set in terms of not only all the usual things, but availability of an airport to go away.  This tends to limit one's options for relocation.

How does this all end up?  Not sure, but I suspect that in the end someone will be taking more vacations and someone else will be spending more time back at home. Which is perfectly okay - I think we have discovered over the years that we can each do that part of it well.

But yes, there are still some places that even I would like to still go.  Maybe I will even tear myself away from my projects and goals to see them.

Tuesday, November 05, 2019

Passion And Stress

This last week ended a period of 4 weeks at work where I (and a great many other people) have been working 60 + hour weeks to get something done.  We ended up accomplishing the task Friday evening. 

Sadly, there was no sense of achievement or accomplishment.  It was more of a "Well, that is done.  On to the next emergency."  And then this gem showed up on my view in The Book Of Face.

It is a fair point when you think about it, is it not?  We put in the the same amount of work regardless.  It is just what we are working on that changes our perspective.  I have spent, over the years, hours working on Iai, something which has no direct perceivable value in the modern world.  I can assure you that I have never felt stressed by it.  At the same time, I have my most recent month that tells me based on my stress level exactly how I am feeling about what I currently do.

Is it a 100% either/or?  Of course not.  There are always moments where even a passion can create stress (for example, preparing for a demonstration) or where an item of stress can provide a moment of passion (as when something I do impacts someone's life).  But underlying all of this is the reality that, for the most part, it is true.

Think about your words.  How do speak when you are talking about something you do not believe in versus something you believe in? (I read some of your blogs and know what you think....)  It is telling if you think about it, is it not?

I do not have a full answer here (I seldom do, it seems), other than to say I am simply going to start asking the question about stress versus passion.  And see what my words tell me.

Monday, November 04, 2019

On Work Culture

This weekend I finished the first of four modules of a certificate program I am taking for work.  This particular module was on Organizational Culture - something I have intuitively known is important at companies, but could never quite put into words.

In short (to digest 4-6 hours of videos), organizational culture matters because without it, people do not stay.  There is nothing to keep them engaged in the work nor is anything to keep them there except for an income (and incomes can be easily replaced).  And eventually, it will destroy any company.

I write this as someone who works at a company that has not sufficiently defined its culture - in our case, we went from less than 20 to almost 200 in the space of two years.  As a small company, culture is almost something instinctive - after all, you see each other every day.  Culture is almost assumed or just an extension of the relationships that you have with each other.  But get enough people involved just doing the work to keep a company going and all of a sudden you find that suddenly have no culture at all, in fact nothing but a mad dash to be doing and keep doing essentially until the end of the company or the end of time, whichever comes first.

Oddly enough, when the subject is mentioned (I have brought it up, others have as well) it seems to get a general sort of nod and "We should do something about that", followed by the comment "That is something we are looking for the department leaders to do" (research suggests this is the responsibility of senior management, by the by).  Unfortunately, as anyone slightly lower down on the rung from the top knows, trying to put anything in place which has not been approved by the top inevitably ends (at best) with a "Cease and Desist" or at worst with more rigorous consequences.

What am I going to do?  The part I can, of course. I can propose a culture for my department, I can live by it - but I have no sense that it will permeate the company.

That, of course, and consider what my next steps should be.

Saturday, November 02, 2019

A Few Words From...Thomas Jefferson

“Determine never to be idle. No person will have occasion to complain of the want of time who never loses any. It is wonderful how much may be done if we are always doing.” 

(HT:  Survival Blog)

Thursday, October 31, 2019

The Collapse XXXVI: Loss Of A Truck

25 September 20XX

My Dear Lucilius:

Your message made its way through. I am, as always, grateful that you are still well, although I must confess your description of life second hand in our childhood state sounds grim indeed. I am surprised they are still allowing news like that to be distributed, even infrequently. The food riots sound awful.

By way of introduction for this letter, I no longer own a truck.

The circumstances are a bit confusing as they are alarming. Two days ago, young Xerxes comes knocking on my door almost out of breath. “Convoy” he slammed out between deep breaths. “Military”. And then he was off.

I had expected this day to arrive at some point, I suppose. I just did not expect it so soon.

The day was slightly warmer – we have had a brief lull in the cold – so I decided it would be a good day to be out picking over the last of the garden. And so I went out with hoe in hand, quietly working around the rapidly dying summer garden when the soldiers arrived.

There were two of them in their camouflage dress (totally standing out in our climate, by the by), weapons in hand. They walked through the front of my gate, one of them eyeing the Cabin while the other walked up to me. I studiously ignored them both, hoeing away.

The young soldier (they are always young, I suppose) greeted me with a chipper “Good morning” to which I responded with a nod. He waited – I suppose for some other acknowledgment – while I continued to hoe away.

Finally he broke in again. “Apologies sir. I have order here that you are to surrender your vehicle.”

I stopped hoeing.

He held out a paper to me – I scanned it. State of emergency, government orders, would make full restitution upon the ending of the emergency, full faith and credit of the US Government, etc.

I handed to paper back. “It is my only car, sir. I live alone and will be completely without transportation”.

The soldier promptly replied “Sir, we are ensuring that there are a number of vehicles left in the vicinity. I am sure you will be covered by your neighbors in the event of an emergency”.

I nodded – not really anything else to do at that point – then asked him to come over to the truck with me. The second soldier – the one by the cabin – started as I walked over. She tried to cover the fact that she had raised her weapon directly at me.

Shook my head. This was the sort of thing one expected in a dictatorship. Perhaps we had reached this point already.

I reached the truck, reached into the glove compartment, and pulled out the ownership paperwork. “I am going to need someone to sign for this” I said, holding out the paper and a pen to the first soldier.

“Sir, I am not authorized...” he started.

“Please” I said. “Here is what will happen. If I do not have the paperwork signed for, I will get billed for this next year. Not really fair if I do not own the vehicle, correct?”

The second soldier snickered. The first soldier shot her a look, then with great ceremony affixed his name to the document.

Telling them both to wait (but leaving the door open so they could both see me), I went back to the cabin and got the keys, which I slipped off the key chain. I shut the door, and brought it back out to them. “Give me a second” I said and then reached into the glove compartment to pull out those little things I kept in there: a Gideon’s New Testament that I had received in high school, writing pens, a tire gauge, and the post drawing one of my daughters made years ago that I kept as a talisman of better days. I flipped over the key to get the mileage, which I added to the ownership certificate. Finally, I reached behind the seat to take out the emergency kit and tool set I kept there.

Holding everything in both hands, I gave the key to the first soldier. “All yours” I said, then without looking back took my things to the house and shut the door.

I heard the sound of the truck firing up but did not bother to look out to see them drive off. I came out after that to get the hoe I had left against the house. What I saw was the convoy headed off – not just military vehicles but a collection of other automobiles and trucks, rolling on to the next town.

(Checking later, I found that the town was denuded of all but two vehicles: a 1999 Oldsmobile that a retired couple kept and had managed to convince the military that they needed for health reasons and a two ton old army truck which the owner had cleverly disabled by pulling off the distributor cap).

The loss of the truck does not concern me greatly: without the ability to get fuel it was a liability that I am now rid of. Yes, I am without transportation, but more and more I become convinced that a lack of transportation will be the least of my issues. At best I will bill the government when this is all over; at worst, I am rid of something I could never use again.

No, the bothersome thing was the moment that the second soldier aimed their rifle at me. As if I was an enemy to be confronted, not a fellow citizen.

It is not a grand thing, Lucilius, when your government sees you as something to be controlled, contained, or executed.

Your Obedient Servant, Seneca

Wednesday, October 30, 2019

Tuesday, October 29, 2019

The World Is On Fire

By my count over the last week, the following countries have significant protests going on:  Chile, Brazil, Spain, France, Iraq, Lebanon, Syria in the midst of a invasion.  A city in Mexico erupted into a drug cartel war, demonstrating that the Mexican government has zero power.  The European Union is a long, drawn out free-fall as Great Britain tries to leave. And, if you have not heard, California is actually on fire.  And I actually saw somewhere that Western Canada leaving the Canadian union is maybe a thing (Glen?)?

It has been a long time since I have seen this much turmoil and unrest.

I do not mention, of course, the upcoming US Presidential election, which is quite likely to be create issues no matter what side actually takes victory. There was a survey out this week stating that most Americans do not see this ending well.

And yet, oddly enough, the world seems to go on as normal.  People quarrel about sports games, the weather, the fact gas is going up or down in price.

Part of me wants to shout "Dear God, is anyone actually paying attention?"

I do not, of course.  To do so is to attract unwanted attention to one's self.  Far better to read the weather gauge and prepare at this point.

To be clear, none of this ends well.

Monday, October 28, 2019

Meet Joy

In my general meanderings, I forget to introduce you all to Joy, our (relatively new) house rabbit:

She is a gray lop, much smaller than Midnight: 

We are glad she is here.

Sunday, October 27, 2019

Why I Will Never Fit In With Modern Christianity

I had an epiphany of sorts last weekend as I went to church.

We were finishing out a series on, for lack of a better word, social issues the Church should be involved in.  Some of them are real (look up the statistics on Modern Day Slavery.  It is stunning).  Some of them are what I would term "social causes" of the current decade.

At the end of the message, there was this prayer of repentance where the church was to pray for everything they had done to mess up society - oh, and any other sins that we were guilty of as well.

At that moment, I realized that I have little in common with Modern Christianity.

Modern Christianity - at least to me - has become a shallow reflection of the culture at large, all of the social issues of the day "with God thrown in".  At best the teachings of Orthodox Christianity - repentance of sin (all sin, not just the ones we feel strongly about), the uniqueness of Christ, personal holiness, the inerrancy and truth of Scripture - are something that are brought out if it somehow backs the narrative.  Classical theology is neither understood nor taught and the history of the church apparently extends only to our lifetimes at best, and really only to when the Church "realigned" its focus.

At best, I will only ever be a guilty party in Modern Christianity.  The cause of all social ills and the root of every evil part of the culture and system.  My role - my only role - is neither servanthood nor leadership nor even membership but rather an endless monotone of chanting of "It is my fault.  It is my fault."

I have not fully decided what to do about this - we are a bit invested in the Church we attend at the moment - but I know what changes it is prompting in my own life.

Within the Church, I am simply becoming a servant.  I have some ways that I volunteer that allow me to serve and keep me from really having to interact with people. And I will continue to do those.  But I am moving on from any sense that beyond this, I have anything meaningful to contribute (I believe I do.  Just not anything they can hear).  I can be a ready pair of hands.

Without the Church, it puts the greater burden on me to delve more deeply into my relationship with God.  Pray more.  Study theology and the historical church more.  Find those fathers of the Faith that I admire and be like them.

Why?  Because at some point, the grand edifice of Modern Christianity will come tumbling down (We may be closer than we think.  I read an article this week that stated those with no religious affiliation outnumber US Catholics, 27% to 20 %).  And when it comes tumbling down, there will be a great many people that simply leave the Church (after all, as some wag put it, why would I waste a Sunday morning getting something I can just watch online?).  But there will also be some that are hungry for real Christianity, not the socially driven drivel they have been given.  People hungry for real truth, not the fickle truth of a society that will quickly move on to even more demands.

And when that day comes, the rest of us will have to be ready.

Saturday, October 26, 2019

Small Methods On Saving Money

(Before I start today's posting, I note (with a little reluctance) that I am not always sure that my blog is on target.  That would, of course, mean that I had a target, which I do not think that I do. Really, this is just kind of my life unfolding.  Sometimes I find the right thing and go with it.  Sometimes I am pretty sure my postings are just a series of random events pieced together.  But perhaps that is simply the stuff of life).

While we are continuing to try to make progress on the big expenses, one area of my life that I am starting to work through is the smaller expenses, those little bits and pieces where the small amounts of money trickle through.  I am not really sure how this came to my attention, but it did.  So I have been working on it.

An easy thing is lights, of course.  Not just turning them off or on but how many you have on.  So, for example, I only need one living room light on instead of two so one got turned off.  Or turning off the lights in the house far earlier than I have in the past (no real reason for lights to be on after 10 PM anyway).

Haircuts: My bane.  I had been attending a Men's barber shop (because, frankly, I liked the experience).  But it turns out I like my money more.  Haircut at home from The Ravishing Mrs. TB with the electric razor we purchased cost the price of electricity (and handily, I save on hair products).

Water:  I am not as good at this as I should be.  I still turn the faucet on full force, even though I only need it partially.  Another area where I can get better.

Driving:  I tend to think that I manage this pretty well.  But the reality is that there is always something that I can do better.  Or less of, any more.

With work and Iai and church the gym and the Rabbit Shelter, I drive about 130 miles a week.  And if I could keep to that, I would need to refuel perhaps twice a month.  But I keep adding in smaller trips that add to the total.

Yes, I know, these are not major money saving events.  But every little bit helps.

Wednesday, October 23, 2019

Planting The 2019 Garden

So this weekend (after my Winter Scare) it was time to plant.

This is the "new bed".  It is the one that gets the most sun in Winter.  It is rather heavily sown with Winter Rye:

The "Old Bed" before processing:

From the other end.  The Sweet Potatoes are still moving right along.  I will leave this end for spring:

It took out one of the Okra plants (we have plenty) and smoothed everything out:

These are saffron bulbs.  Turns out it is a variety of Crocus.  New to this season:

I planted beets, garlic, onions, spinach, lettuce, and leeks.  Onions picture below:

This is an Egyptian Walking Onion.  Not sure how it will grow, but why not?

Gardening:  Adventures Abound!

Tuesday, October 22, 2019

The Great Stuff Purge of 2019

So the Great Stuff Purge of 2019 is picking up steam.

It started innocently enough.  The Ravishing Mrs. TB got two bags of items she was no longer using and sent them off.  And then she realized our local neighborhood also had a "stuff other people do not want that you can have" group.  So she listed some items on there - you just put it out, and then it magically disappears.

And then, today, she moved to The Craft Table.

The Craft Table has sat in our house where the formal dining area is every since we moved here six years ago (replacing The Previous Craft Table located in the upstairs main room when we rented).  The point of The Craft Table was to be a location for all of the crafting supplies - scrap book, sewing, Na Clann's various crafting activities over the years.  Which is was, on and off.

Until everyone got busy.  And life happens.  And trends happen (who actually scrapbooks any more?).

And so, by the time I returned from the Rabbit Shelter, The Craft Table was completely cleaned off.  Vacuumed.  And a rather large pile of material ready to either be placed out in the recycle bin or to be donated.  (As a bonus, the four dining room chairs that we have had for two years since we got the new ones were also ready for donation).

It is a slow process, but we seem to be reaching the point where there is more stuff going out of the house than there is coming into it.  And that is a good thing.

Monday, October 21, 2019

The Exciting World of Personnel Management

Yesterday when I was at the Rabbit Shelter, I received an e-mail from my co-worker in Human Resources.  Had I checked my e-mail and what was originating it?

Sigh.  I try to avoid checking work e-mails on the weekend, but better to be informed now rather than surprised later.  Short answer:  it is an HR problem which will need to be resolved.

(Of course, that is all I can say about the problems itself.  Privacy laws and all).

Reason number 52 why I need to get out of what I currently do.

I am probably not the best supervisor. I really, really do not deal well with conflict between people.  On the whole, I would just like people to act like adults, get along (at least to complete their jobs), and if they have issues to manage them like adults.  Notice that I have listed word adults at least twice.

The reality is that supervising is not really like that - at least not anymore (maybe it never was).  People are emotional.  People are irrational.  And Dear Heavens, I do not mean to come down on the current generation, but certainly seems like emotionalism at work is now a part of the common accepted work practices.

I am, by nature, an introvert.  I can do extrovert when I have to - and in my current job, I do have to - but it is the most draining thing in the world to me, to the point that I am virtually silent for the first hour that I home after work.  In my happy work world, I talk to almost no-one, get my instructions, do my job, and go home.  I supervise no-one. 

To those that have never supervised, a request:  imagine what it is like trying to balance not only your story, but the story of the person you are butting heads with while making sure that work gets done.  Now imagine there are 20 people just like you.

I am just not up to the rigors of 21st Century personnel management.

Sunday, October 20, 2019