Category Archives: Notes from Self

My spouse and I set up and decorated our Christmas tree a few days ago.  It is one of those pre-lighted deals — I had thought this would make the process easier, year-to-year.  This is the tree’s seventh Christmas.

When we set up the tree last year, I found a dead segment of lights that I spent an hour or more troubleshooting.  I finally yielded to my frustration and contacted the manufacturer’s chat support line, but it was ultimately to no avail.  Our tree turned out to be too old to fix.

Solution?  I went to the CVS down the street and bought another string of lights.  Adding foreign lights to a pre-lighted tree sort of felt like fitting it with a prosthetic.  But it worked.

Which brings us to this Christmas — and another segment of tree lights that elected to die.  Only this time, I spent zero hours troubleshooting the problem.  I went directly to the CVS down the street and bought a couple more strings of lights.  Happy tree, happy life.

Lesson learned: it is just not worth it to buy pre-lighted trees and I will never do so again.  They are a pain-in-the-arse to troubleshoot, and it’s much easier to add a string or two of $4.99 lights than to painstakingly pry out and replace bulb after bulb in a pre-lighted tree to find the culprit.  Sorry, Balsam Hill.

• • • 

In an effort to get re-engaged in my neighborhood, I have volunteered to be a member of our so-called Erosion Committee.  This purpose of the committee is to look at the risks to our mountainside development should we get 5 inches of rain in 24 hours.  This is not an unusual proposition in these parts, given climate change and hurricane tracks.  We, as a neighborhood, have woken up and hope to avoid the tragic fate of the Champlain Towers in Surfside, Florida, where community denial, diffusion of responsibility and slow action led to destruction and death.

One couple who lived — and perished — on the seventh floor of the tower that collapsed had just bought a home in our neighborhood.  We can see it out our living-room window.  Those folks would have been neighbors of ours in the spring.

We need to protect our neighborhoods, if we can.  But not just with defensive measures.  We need to rethink how we live, what we consume and how that contributes to the threat.

• • • 

I have decided to take a break from the blog for a while.  I need some time off to improve my attitude and refresh my perspective — I think there’s a string of neurons up there with a burned-out bulb in the middle.  So while I troubleshoot, may we all have a great holiday, and I’ll see you next year.

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It’s been a while since I did one of these personal updates — I decided to make a cool day in late August even cooler by doing so.

These are the kind of thoughts and tidbits that I once shared on Facebook, when I was a participant on Facebook.  There are parts of the FB experience that I do miss, mostly the casual interactions and keeping-in-touch with folks who are good people if not necessarily my closest friends.  I also miss the support and reinforcement of my social-political values by the like-minded people who were on my friends list.

But I can’t go back there, for reasons I have outlined before.  In short, the many downsides of the FB experience outweigh — maybe a better word is ruin — the upsides I listed.

What has been a bit disappointing is that, with some exceptions, the people I connected with on Facebook have not maintained contact since I left.  I suppose this says something about the nature of those connections.  It was fine when I was part of the news feed.

But enough preface and more than enough pity-me.  Instead, may I mention some books I’ve read since my last update.  The latest is Mortality by the late Christopher Hitchens, probably my favorite writer.  Though the book was published in 2012, I purposely held off reading these final chapters of his life, I suppose to avoid the finality of it myself.  It is not his best work, in that it is weighed down by his remorse, and ours, for his lost capabilities.  While there is neither self-pity or false bravado in these essays, the linguistic swagger that made Hitchens a pleasure to read is also absent.  For clear cause.

Earlier this summer, I read What Doesn’t Kill You Makes You Blacker by Pittsburgh native Damon Young.  It was an eye-opener for me, not just as a glimpse of black life in America but also as a commentary/documentary on the socialization of young men.  I appreciated Young’s self-reflection, along with his references to Pittsburgh and Western Pennsylvania,  where racism carries on.

I have been engaged in a succession of big projects this year.  I spent x hours (I lost track) trying to find and fix the leak in the rock-lined “water feature” next to our deck.  It consists of a tiny pond with two cascades and it was losing about 4 gallons of water a day.  I rebuilt half of it and reduced the daily loss to about 1-1/2 gallons.  In the process, I became all too familiar with the playlist of the local oldies station: “The Beat Goes On” by Sonny & Cher, “Wonderland by Night” by Bert Kaempfert, “April Love” by Pat Boone, “Something Stupid” by Frank and Nancy Sinatra… all the songs you only need to hear once a decade, if that.

I spent almost as many hours researching and writing the article “Don’t Fence Me In” for reasons known only to my brain’s impulse center.  The best thing about doing such pieces is what I learn along the way.  But efforts of that scale will remain rare for me.

I did a fair amount of landscape work this spring and summer, but that is behind me now.  It was discouraging, all the rain we had this year and the prevalence of powdery mildew on so many different plants.  It seems there are very few “just right” growing seasons here; climate change will only worsen that score.  That said, our shade trees are healthy enough.  I have some transplanting to do this fall — ferns, day lilies, some shrubs — as we lose more and more sunlit area to the ever-spreading canopy.

Then there were my web projects.  Making this site mobile-friendly was a substantial task; I did a top-to-bottom redesign of logos and navigation, with plenty of reverse-engineering and code-editing thrown in.  Programming has always been a satisfying hobby for me, so this was not a totally dreary chore. 

Sadly, the same can’t be said for my ongoing mobile rework of my art and photography site ART @ CHC.  There is simply not enough screen area on a phone web browser (see below) to display images of various sizes, plus titles and controls, without all sorts of twists and contortions.  I’m especially annoyed with the inability to make that space-eating address bar disappear.  I haven’t given up yet but I’m this close to throwing in the towel and asking viewers to use a tablet or larger.

Actual available display area (Moto G5) = 2.00 x 4.25 inches

Just a few more items.  Last Sunday, I entered — and finished — a 5K run/walk to support the Stephen Siller Tunnel to Towers Foundation.  (I walked.)  The event was promoted on our local news one evening, and I decided on the spot that I needed to do it.  Siller was a 34-year-old New York City firefighter.  His story, as related on the foundation’s website:

Stephen, who was assigned to Brooklyn’s Squad 1, had just finished his shift … when he got word over his scanner of a plane hitting the North Tower of the World Trade Center.  Upon hearing the news, Stephen … returned to Squad 1 to get his gear.  Stephen drove his truck to the entrance of the Brooklyn Battery Tunnel, but it had already been closed for security purposes.  Determined to carry out his duty, he strapped 60 lbs. of gear to his back and raced on foot through the tunnel to the Twin Towers, where he gave up his life while saving others.

I didn’t do the walk for the foundation’s sake, as I had never heard of them.  I mainly did it for myself, to pay tribute.  But had I known in advance that the route had a 250-foot climb, I might have bowed out.  Nonetheless, I made the climb (slowly) and finished last among the 50 or so participants.

(Note of Self-Consolation: The average human walking speed at crosswalks is 5 km/hour.  My time was 0:59:40 so I was as fast as an average human, if not the other walkers.)

Of course, the most noteworthy news is that I am now a grandfather for the third time, and I didn’t have to walk a block.  All are doing great.  Granddaughter is only ten days old and already speaks three languages: Hungrian, Sleepese and Cutish.  I am sure that when she is old enough to comprehend this blog, she will read it as avidly as my children do.


Lastly, I’ve been planning our four-state trip “out west” to visit family and college friends.  I had traveled to Colorado a couple of times on business but never had much chance to explore the terrain.  It will be exciting to see Arches National Park in person, and I look forward to visiting the markets and museums (Georgia O’Keeffe!) in the Santa Fe area.

I will definitely post a series of “out west” photos at ART @ CHC upon our return, for your viewing pleasure, on your suitably-sized screen.  Until next time, thanks for your time.

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Forgive me Readers, it has been four months since my last confession.

I have mostly, not entirely, given up online Scrabble.  I recently engaged in a few games with a randomly-selected opponent named Nadine.  Thanks to lucky letters, I defeated Nadine two games in a row, scoring a record (for me) 525 points one game.  However, our third game was much closer — during the game, each of us played two seven-letter words and after eleven rounds (with my having passed on the first round) the score was 385-381.

We started Round 12 with no letters remaining in the bag.  I played WOO for 29 points.  Nadine played YWIS for 23.  I texted to Nadine on the sidebar chat how I would be sure to remember YWIS the next time I had a Y, W, I and a blank in my tray.  I don’t think Nadine appreciated my comment.  After I played VEE for 27 points, she quickly played GREED for 10 points, clearing her tray and ending the game.

I won our third game by 24 points.  Nadine has not asked for a rematch.

It seems some Scrabble players want to win so much that they sit down before games and memorize odd words like YWIS.  And other Scrabble players want to win so much that they consult anagram-finders during play, to see what can be done with their letter tray.  Who is to say what took place there?  And moreover, does it matter?

I really don’t want to know the answer.  It is just a game.  Getting the win is fun, but I am not a better person if I win or a worse person if I lose.  If YWIS (Your World Is Scrabble) then we have little in common.

I have always tried to enjoy my interests and hobbies without feeling that I have to be the best — or even very good — at them.  At times, this has led me to resent our culture of virtuosity, where only excellence is admired and anything less means that your rightful place is in the audience.

Imagine a world in which human creativity and intelligence are not stifled by poverty, racism, sexism and fundamentalism.  Imagine what might blossom, if everyone in the world had the wherewithal (as I do) to achieve even their most modest goals (as I try to).

I know this is getting old, as it feels old to me.  I am still working on my The Price is Right optimum-bid research paper.  Since my last post, I did more study and found more data, and those findings led me to revise half of my text and almost all of my graphs.  So my new goal is to submit my paper to the MDPI Games Journal by Thanksgiving.

I need to finish this vanity project so I can move forward with my other vanity projects.

I resigned this month as the editor of our homeowner-association directory, after eight years of way-overthinking it.  I had originally volunteered because I was tired of seeing stock photos on the cover of the directory — of course, my photos would be much better.  Like most volunteer work, it was a thankless task.   Well, a few people did say thanks over the years, cancelling out those who found something to complain about.

As I said, time to move forward with my other vanity projects.

Fall-color-season in the Pisgah Forest of North Carolina has arrived again.  Which means that local tourism is in full-swing.  I don’t really get it.  Around our place, the leaves turn a dull yellow, then a crispy brown, then they fall off (except for oaks, which hang onto their leaves until spring, requiring two fall cleanups).  The brilliantly-colored trees, the maples and red oaks, are not as abundant here as they are in Pennsylvania and points north.

I say to the great people of Georgia, South Carolina, Florida and Alabama, drive another eight hours to the north, especially to the Laurel Mountains of Pennsylvania, if you want to see some really unforgettable fall colors and help reduce traffic congestion in Asheville.

Apathy is Death -- Scene in Asheville NC, 2018I voted early.  Afterwards, I stuck my voting sticker on the rear-view mirror of my car.  It may be too much to hope that my quantum act of political will will make a large-scale difference, but you never know.  Like the Mega Millions lottery, you may only be one of 300 million but someone is going to win.  You folks who bought a lottery ticket and figured out how to spend that billion dollars, I invite you to take the same chance on voting — it is free and the payoff is much better.

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