Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Stop The Insanity!

Remember the early 90s? One of the big fads, and one I bought into hook, line and sinker was the Low Fat Craze.

I had a personal guru for each of the three tenets of SELF...one for Mind, one for Body and one for Spirit.

Covert Bailey was the guy who spoke to my Mind. He talked about the science of losing fat and getting fit. Enzymes, conversion of carbohydrates into energy, he kinda, in layman terms, got into the freakin' Krebs Cycle (the biological process of the body producing energy that gave me so much trouble in Joe's Honors Biology II in 12th grade, ugh!)

Jane Fonda was my Body guru. Richard Simmons was doing his Deal-A-Meal Plan and still kickin' it with "Sweatin' to the Oldies" sequels, but it was Jane's aerobic workout tapes that I literally became addicted to. It started with Low Impact dance-like beginner stuff and progressed to her full fledged Step Aerobics plan including her very 90s fuchsia and turquoise colored step system.

Finally, Susan Powter spoke to my Soul. Her high energy belly-screaming approach to virtually slap you awake from your fat-induced nightmare did wonders for the psyche. She made sense, but in an almost spiritual new-age love yourself first above all else approach. And she wasn't all hippy-dippy about her prostelization of the doctrine of self-love. She was tough about it. She basically screamed..."Don't listen to the hype. Fuck the negativity. Do what you need to do for you and nobody else. And do it NOW!"

I stepped on the scale this morning and lo and behold...

I'm back to 315.

And I feel it. I'm huffing and puffing again from simple walking to and from my car.

I've got to Stop The Insanity.

BTW, quick side note, but here's a "Then and Now Headshot" of my Spiritual Guide...

Well, at least she didn't gain back her weight.

Crack can do wonders that way. (No, just kidding!)

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

This Is Just So Wrong

"A dog models an Elvis pet costume. Dressing up your dog for Halloween can be safe and plenty of fun if you use common sense." (Ross Hailey / Fort Worth Star-Telegram)

My NationStates Country

The Commonwealth of Disillusioned Minds

Motto: "Bitter, Party of One..."

Category: New York Times Democracy
Civil Rights:Very Good
Political Freedoms:Excessive

Location: the Pacific
Regional Influence: Minnow

The Commonwealth of Disillusioned Minds is a tiny, socially progressive nation, notable for its burgeoning neo dodo population. Its hard-working, intelligent population of 5 million enjoy a sensible mix of personal and economic freedoms, while the political process is open and the people's right to vote held sacrosanct.

The medium-sized, corrupt government is mainly concerned with Social Welfare, although Healthcare and Education are secondary priorities. The average income tax rate is 19%. An almost nonexistent private sector is dominated by the Furniture Restoration industry.

Crime is moderate, and the police force struggles against a lack of funding and a high mortality rate. Disillusioned Minds's national animal is the neo dodo and its currency is the wafer of truth.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Please Sir, I Want Some SPORE!

Despite a self-imposed freeze on spending, on Tuesday I bought the much awaited game SPORE at Target. (Now the only highly anticipated release on my short list of "gotta have it games" is Fallout 3)

Well worth the 50 bucks! The game is a true Will Wright masterpiece (again) and will probably be a stupendous seller rivaling other landmark sales records broken by his stuff (the superb "Sim City" and "The Sims" series of games).

Needless to say, I'm barely getting enough sleep.

But my creatures need me!

Meet a member of the race I call Primogenex. These guys are my first creation, thus their name...get it? (Primo=First, Genex=Genetics) They're currently trying to build a little proto-society in the Tribal phase of the game. I tried to go as peaceful and social as I could with these people, but during the Creature Era, I had to have them evolve more and more aggressive adaptations in order to survive. So unlike their wussie ancestors who died out eons ago, these dudes have had to learn to "grow a pair". They are still mainly social though, and I'm trying to develop them to be collaborators.

I downloaded the free Creature Creator tool trial version here at work so I'm busily pumpin' out new and funky creations throughout the day and uploading them to the Spore Metaverse. Notice my new SPORE widget to the right. What a fun and creative way to pass the time. I love my job! It's a shame it's coming to an end.

Eh well, in real life as in the game, it's a creature-eat-creature world.

What's a simple human to do?

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

FLASHBACK: September 16, 2002

I woke begrudgingly, still under the sedative influence of the 3 Benedryl capsules taken to induce much-needed sleep in my restless body the night before. The drugs had finally taken effect by 2 am but the after effects were still present when the alarm clock announced it's obnoxious presence at 5:30 am. Though I need not be in work until 9:00, I had to wake now in order to catch my bus, which would, luck smiling on me, connect on time with the next bus I needed to get to Altamonte.

I got ready, dressed in slacks, dress shirt and necktie, and walked to the gate of Park Central, my luxury gated community which, in some ways, had become my own psychological prison. Though without automobile transportation staying here was more than tedious, it was oppressive, I was stubborn and wanted to retain the gain I had made. In the back of my mind that morning, and for some stubborn months to follow, it was more important for me to remain in my luxury apartment than it was to remain in my job.

Just a month earlier I turned down the prospect of a change in managerial position from a dual-location trainer to a one location supervisor stationed in the Altamonte office. But the planned prospect of buying a condo jointly with Ric churned as a bad idea in my stomach, and moving to the less centrally located northern metropolitan city of Altamonte Springs, in my minds eye, may have limited me in future employment prospects that may come available in Greater Orlando.

I sat at the bus stop bench and waited for the bus. When it didn't show within a few minutes as expected, I again studied my watch...I was on time...early in fact so I could not have missed it. After 15 more minutes, I realized that the bus just didn't come. That happened sometime. They sometimes just don't show up at all...no explanation.

I walked to the nearby corner McDonald's, ordered a coffee and sipped it at a lonely booth, the sun rising now, as I waited for the next hourly arrival of the bus. I got to the bench early, watched the sun rise in the sky, and noticed, that for the first time in many months, the air was dry and relatively cool. Ah, finally, a respite from the oppressive heat and humidity. It was going to be a great day.

The bus was on time for this hourly scheduled arrival here on Americana Blvd. and I got on, thinking about the excuse I'd need to creatively spin in order to avoid more trouble at work. I'd already pushed my luck too many times with my frequent absences on last minutes notice. Not the desired behavior at all for the only trainer for all new hires at the company's two Orlando area call centers.

But when the bus arrived at the downtown station, I made a split decision, which would haunt me for years. I stepped off the bus, looked around at my fellow bus riding citizens, and turned made my way to the entrance of the bus again, swiped my bus pass and sat down. That's right, I was going back home.

Why did I do this? I've asked myself so many times. I guess I was just tired of playing the game of the unaffected victim of my own dire court-imposed punishments. They had finally hit home and I saw the futility in trying to keep up appearances. But, then again, perhaps I was just overly tired due to the Benedryls and stress of late, and I just needed a day off. I just really don't know. It just came over me.

If I had been diligent and called in to make a crafty excuse, I might well have gotten away with just a mild admonishment from work. But, instead, I bought a 12-pack of beer, drank it by sundown, and walked to the store to get another.

One day went by, then another, and another. Each morning I told myself I would call in to work and make up something...by the end of the week, I said to myself that I'd now need to breakdown and apologize, claiming mental stress or a breakdown, but I didn't use any of the many excuses I invented to account for my actions. I just didn't show up for work each day, and I didn't bother to call in.

By the second week, I knew I'd made the decision to abandon my job. A comfortable management job in which I was being groomed for even higher positions in the company. My bosses had loved me and I was extremely popular with virtually all of the 300 or so employees of the two call centers, most of whom I had trained.

But the dry wisps of a pre-autumnal wind had blown across my psyche that morning, and with it, it had whisked away reason. I wanted to be free. Free of the shackles of my State-imposed predicament and able to do as I pleased.

No matter the consequences.

This was the fateful decision I somewhat subconsciously made that early morning, sitting on a bus stop bench, slowly sipping bitter McDonald's coffee from a paper cup, waiting on a bus I wasn't too sure would even arrive.

Monday, September 15, 2008

Black Monday

Just before 9am, the whole crew logged into "meeting" status and we slowly ambled our way into the St. John's Conference Room. It was a somewhat tight squeeze but all 13 of us snuggled in around the large conference table and sat nervously fidgeting in awkward silence. Some brought notepads and used them as handy tools to look prepared. Patricia, having left for the Philippines over the weekend, joined us on speaker phone. Few dared look too intently into the face of Sharon, our manager who had flown in from Springfield to hold this mandatory team meeting. It didn't take her long to get to the point.

"Due to the department's plan of consolidation it's been decided that there would need to be a reduction in workforce. Therefore, the Customer Care unit in Heathrow will be closing."

She went on to explain the layoff in more detail and she did express herself sounding sympathetic and caring. But when it was all said and done, it just meant that our dire suspicions were finally confirmed. We'd all soon be out of a job.

Of course the writing was on the wall even before the recent changes in VP and his bold cost-cutting measures. When Sharon had come here to Florida in October last year, she reduced the then-much-larger crew by half in one fell swoop. Of course it was all temps back then and we FTEs breathed a guilty sigh of relief. But I knew Madame Guillotine would be back...it was only a matter of time.

This day could be just as "black" for Ric as well. Ric works just across the highway in a nice campus-like office building with a big logo above its windows: AIG.

Unlike our belt tightening which is pretty much confined to our department within Symantec, he went to work today probably unsure if the entire company he works for would survive for much longer...at least in the form he had become used to. I'll find out more soon, I expect.

As far as our drama today though, a few things are in place to make the bitter news a bit easier to bear. First, the effective end date of our positions will be November 14...two months away. That's good, so we'll all be able to save up as much as possible. Also, we will be eligible for the severance package which is tenure-based in it's payout amount. (For me, it's looking like it'll be about 6 weeks)

Interestingly, about the severance package, since it's based on how many years you were with the company, I hope the little glitch I discovered today isn't detected...you see, in the intranet HR site that displays one's employment information, my account, for some reason, has my start date as 1/1/1900. If our payroll system factors my package based on this, and no one catches it, I figured it out that I'd be looking at a check of about $128,000! Oh baby, let's hope it's a totally computer controlled thing! It'd be a Happy Thanksgiving for sure! Until they discovered the error and come after me for it. But I'd be long gone by then.

BTW, as a little FYI: Despite the graphic I chose above, today actually is the day of the full moon.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Water, Water Everywhere...

I was watching CBS Evening News tonight (I usually watch NBC but the local NBC station was staying with local coverage of potential tornadoes in Osceola County. I don't live in Osceola County so I switched the channel.) There was a segment devoted to the safety of bottled water verses tap. It pretty much exposed the truth..bottled water is not better.

Yes, I knew it. I drink tap water, whether it's the filtered system at work or the regular tap water I use at home to make Crystal Light, I have long known it was silly to pay extra for bottled water that was no better than what was available for free.

Here's some stats I found when researching this:

Tap Water

Regulated by EPA

Bottled Water

Regulated by FDA

Cannot have confirmed E. coli or fecal Coliform bacteria.

A certain amount of any bacteria is allowed.

Filtered and/or disinfected

No federal filtration or disinfection requirements.

Violation of drinking water standards are grounds for enforcement.

Bottled water in violation of standards can still be sold.

Utilities must have their water tested by certified labs.

Such testing is not required for bottlers.

Tap water results must be reported to state or federal officials.

There are no reporting requirements for bottlers.

Water system operators must be certified.

Bottled water plant operators do not have to be certified.

Water suppliers must issue consumer confidence reports annually.

There are no public right-to-know requirements for bottlers.

Costs pennies a day

Costs $.80 to $4.00 per gallon.

Contains essential nutrients for the body such as calcium and iron.

Natural minerals are removes by filtration.

Chlorine residual in water to prevent bacteria growth.

No disinfectant present to kill bacteria in bottles.

Tuesday, September 09, 2008

Goodbye Cruel World

No, this isn't a suicide note...but a sardonic reference to tomorrow's planned "Big Bang" simulation to take place at CERN, the ultra-nerdy scientific research facility that brought us, among other things, THIS. What you're viewing right now. The World Wide Web...

It is afternoon in the control room of the Atlas particle detector, the biggest and most complex system of its kind. Prof. Giora Minkenberg of the Weizmann Institute is examining the tracks of a few muons 100 deep meters in the ground, which were picked up by the apparatus. Minkenberg points out the path of the muons, elementary particles that bear a negative charge, a heavy version of an electron.

"These are plain muons," he explains. "They are from the cosmic radiation reaching the earth. They were picked up in our experiment just by chance."

But if scientists identify a Higgs Boson (or "God particle") by the muons it breaks up into, this will be the key to proving, or disproving, the standard theory guiding nuclear physics.

International physicists at the vast underground complex near Geneva will inaugurate a 20-year project today to try to reenact the Big Bang, in an attempt to explain the origins of the universe and how it came to harbor life.

In a giant machine called the Large Hadron Collider, or LHC, at the CERN research center straddling the Franco-Swiss border just outside Geneva, scientists plan to smash particles together to create a small-scale reenactment of the event that kicked off the cosmos.

The LHC will use giant magnets housed in cathedral-size caverns to fire beams of energy particles around a 27-km tunnel where they will collide at close to the speed of light. Computers will record what happens each time, and the vast store of material gathered will be analyzed by some 10,000 scientists around the globe for clues on what came next.

Scientists at CERN, the European Organization for Nuclear Research, will pursue concepts such as "dark matter," "dark energy," extra dimensions and, most of all, the Higgs Boson "God particle" believed to have made it all possible.

"The LHC was conceived to radically change our vision of the universe," said CERN's French Director-General Robert Aymar. "Whatever discoveries it brings, mankind's understanding of our world's origins will be greatly enriched."

Minkenberg, 61, divides his time between CERN and Weizmann. He has been conducting experiments with CERN for over 20 years. Now he spends his time running from building to building in last-minute preparations for the launch, and smokes his pipe between the meetings. He is the head of the Israeli team, consisting of over 50 scientists, including students. Other members of the Israeli team include Prof. Ehud Duchovni and Prof. Eilam Gross from Weizmann, along with others from Tel Aviv University and the Technion.

CERN scientists have been at pains to deny suggestions by some critics that the experiment could create tiny black holes of intense gravity that could suck in the entire planet.

Cosmologists say the Big Bang occurred some 15 billion years ago when an unimaginably dense and hot object the size of a small coin exploded in what was then a void, spewed out matter that expanded rapidly to create stars, planets and eventually life on Earth.

But the 10 billion Swiss franc ($9 billion) CERN project, begins with a relatively simple procedure: pumping a particle beam around the underground tunnel.

Technicians will first attempt to push the beam in one direction round the tightly-sealed collider, some 100 meters underground. Once they have done that - and CERN officials say there is no guarantee they will be successful in the initial stages - they will project a beam in the other direction.

And then, perhaps in the coming weeks, they will pump beams in both directions and smash the particles together, initially at low intensity. At the end of the year, they will move on to produce tiny collisions that will recreate the heat and energy of the Big Bang, the reigning theory on the origin of the universe.

The detectors will monitor the billions of particles that will emerge from the collisions, capturing on computer the way they come together, fly apart or just simply dissolve.

It is in these conditions that scientists hope to fairly quickly find the Higgs Boson, named after Scottish scientist Peter Higgs who first proposed it in 1964 as the answer to the mystery of how matter gains mass.

Without mass, the stars and planets in the universe could never have taken shape in the aeons after the Big Bang, and life could never have begun - on Earth or, if it exists as many scientists believe, on other planets.

But the experiment is not without detractors. Certain Web sites on the Internet, which CERN created 20 years ago as a means of passing particle research results to scientists around the globe, have been promoted claims that the LHC will create black holes that will suck in the planet. "Nonsense," say the CERN and leading international scientists.

"The LHC is safe, and any suggestion that it might present a risk is pure fiction," said Aymar.

Saturday, September 06, 2008

Wanna See Me Get Poked In The Rear?

Two months of raucous fun, folks!

And it'll likely be, yet again, another photo finish.

Yes, indeed, it's time for some campaignin'!

Click on link below:

(Watch for my cameo appearance towards the end of the video)

Friday, September 05, 2008

I Will Taste Those Damn Malaga Coolers Forever!

"Have you ever tasted Mogen-David extra-heavy malaga wine with soda water and lime juice?"

One of my favorite quirky movies is the now little known early 70’s black comedy “A New Leaf”. In it, playboy Henry Graham (Walter Matthau) squanders his wealth and must seek out a new source to maintain his idle rich lifestyle. The easy alternative to work is to find a rich woman, marry her, and murder her. Klutzy, nerdy Henrietta Lowell (Elaine May) is the ideal candidate. But in dealing with his introverted, socially-inept and over-trusting new wife, and her ill-managed estate, Henry unwittingly begins to assume some sense of responsibility and affection for her, slowly realizing this while planning to do away with Henrietta on one droll camping trip.

I loved this film because it featured a main character I could really relate to, a dedicated bachelor not wanting to worry one tiny hair on his head about money, either the means of its acquisition and gain/loss-potential or its finite nature. That's what his lawyer/financial manager is there for. Ah, my dream lifestyle.

He’s been reared in an old-money gilded cage, is over-educated but absolutely uninspired by any field of what could be construed as employment or even activism. Because of this of course, he’s at heart an aloof cad, not needing or desiring accolades, recognition or approval from anyone, especially not a woman. He doesn't want to aid anyone else but himself and his own pleasure-seeking ways, since, he no doubt feels, they simply aren't worth it. The epitome of a true snob.

Of course part of the dark humor is that he’s also, apparently, total bereft of morals and would be willing to kill innocents in order to perpetuate his selfish hedonism. I personally wouldn’t go that far.

But we see in the end that perhaps it was all just a plan he never really had the full-fledged intent on committing since, when opportunity eventually comes his way to efficiently do away with his new wife of convenience, he passes it up. Love got the better of him, finally, just before he went down that ominous path.

Main plot aside though, one of my favorite scenes in the movie is when Henry discovers, soon after he weds Henrietta and moves in to her mansion, that the household staff are all robbing Henrietta blind since they’ve been left virtually in charge of the finances, padding the spending and payroll accounts giving themselves outrageously inflated salaries. When Henry meets them, they all think that he is like “one of them” out to get his own free ride. The part of the head housekeeper, Mrs. Traggert is played by Doris Roberts (“Everybody Loves Raymond”) magnificently. Unfortunately for them though, Henry is actually appalled by their actions and fires the lot of ‘em.

The look of disbelief on their faces is too funny. You watch and laugh thinking “How could they be so overtly corrupt?” and “Didn’t they know they’d be caught one day?”

Wednesday, September 03, 2008

I Got A Bad Feeling About This

Though fall here in Central Florida takes quite a while to make it's changes known since it means the days are now only slightly less humid and slightly less hot, I remember well the dramatic signs of the onset of the season as it rolled in each year up north.

The wind would be crisper and the evening temperatures would suddenly plummet some 20 degrees from the midday high. The sun would get noticeably weaker and fail to attain the heights in the sky that it used to during summer. The leaves would start to dry out and you could imagine the trees screaming silently in pain as the suppleness left them. The world seemed bewitched and darker as if a spell had been cast upon it by an evil entity.

Though the weather changes are virtually non-existent here, I am starting to feel a change now as fall approaches, in the way my life has glided along this summer. And it ain't all for the best, I fear. It may be the end of an era of relative calm and comfort in the now well-ingrained cycle that is Koyaanisqatsi.

First there was the accident. Yes, I was fortunate to not have suffered any major or lasting injuries, but the hit to my financial "storm shelter" may signal a paradigm shift back to a high-debt, over-exposed lifestyle, ala pre-Koyaanisqatsi.

Now, just as I have committed myself to a heavier dependence on the fair winds of stability of income, dark clouds of potential doom are collecting on the horizon.

The department here at work recently underwent a transfer from being under the umbrella of sales to the scrutiny of business operations (ie: the pencil pushers). Now, the stats generated by the department are scanned daily by those up above to see what they can do to "trim the fat".

We have been cautioned about every action we do that could increase costs and decrease worth in their eyes. But I have a feeling it won't matter. It's like a worker in a vast municipal landfill putting his used Kleenex in his pocket so as not to add to the mountains of trash around him.

The offshore Level 1 folks are taking on a new initiative now...they will receive every single inbound call and either work it or triage it up to us if it needs "specialized and expert" attention. It's in the early stages but so far, it's like the sudden autumn cold snap that catches you off guard...the calls have ground to a virtual halt.

Here's my prediction:

The department has only 4 reps currently equipped to handle Spanish-speaking calls from North or South America (Asia, Africa and Europe are serviced by our counterparts in Ireland, Beijing, Sydney and Singapore), they may have a shot, or at least some of them, at being retained. But, they may not stay for long...Level 1, after all, can develop a group of the same number to replace them. They're in the Philippines...I think they have some Spanish-speakers, wouldn't you say?

As for us mono-linguist reps? Well, I am the only one in Heathrow with CSI-GOV classification...a US-born citizen able to take calls from government entities (Department of Homeland Security, et al) that only deal with those certified reps. How that would be more secure is beyond me...ask the bo-bo's who thought up the USA Patriot Act and all. Nevertheless, I may have a bit of protection with that, not to mention my status as the department's Subject Matter Expert on Backup Exec, the signature "availability" product accounting for a large percentage of the calls.

But I don't think that either of these imagined "medals on my chest" will amount to anything when the gauntlet is thrown down. Springfield has reps that are also CSI-GOV certified, they have their own Backup Exec expert and many reps have more tenure with the company than even some of the former Veritas folks here in Florida. I think, as far as this crew of 14, we're all pretty much screwed.

Like the fact of the change of the seasons, I think it's inevitable.

It's just a matter of time, and it's not like it hasn't happened before.

Methinks that soon I shall be vexed by an evil entity, bewitching and darkening my world yet again...