Swedish Meatballs

It’s been a busy month, so I just wanted to touch base on a few things, Dear Journal.

First, football has started. We’re 2-0 so far, so off to a good start. That alone keeps things busy, but I had a hard time even making the first two games.

We had a good friend get married, and then it was off to Sweden for me. No, I did not go on a solo honeymoon… it was a work trip. My first trip across the Atlantic, and it was paid for by someone else. Can’t beat that, even if I did have to squeeze in my sightseeing after a solid day of meetings.

I’ll keep this brief because things are really busy right now, but Sweden was fantastic. Most people there spoke English, so it was very friendly to an American like me. I am trying to learn a little Swedish on the side (thanks Duolingo), but it was helpful that I really didn’t need to. The food was good, and the people were all friendly and helpful. Plus, Stockholm is gorgeous this time of year. Don’t believe me? Take a look at this:

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Back to the grind, Dear Journal. Hopefully I’ll have more time to write next month.

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On Lives and Mattering

I’ve seen a lot of posting, with good reason, over the past few weeks regarding a vast disagreement in our nation that can succinctly be stated: Whose lives matter? Obviously, the most prominent group is those involved with the BlackLivesMatter movement. On the other side of the coin are those who often respond that “all lives matter.” This has created a national dialogue that, I hope, has identified some problems in our American society that still need addressed and mended. This isn’t to say that there are a whole lot of easy solutions, but rather that identification of a problem is the first step to solving anything, and it’s generally good that we, as a whole, are at least attempting to define a perceived problem.

I think all sides could agree that there are problems. People may disagree on the nature and scope of the problem, as well as on where the blame lies, but there are definitely problems. Americans should not be dying needlessly, and in my previous entry, I attempted to write down some of my thoughts on gun violence, so I’m not going to rehash that here.

Instead, I wanted to point out that I believe this whole “whose lives matter” argument brings to light a simple problem with human communication. In an effort to deescalate and use a somewhat parallel example that I’d recently seen posted on my Facebook feed, let’s examine the hypothetical example where someone outwardly shows support for our troops. This is a common enough thing. Perhaps they are wearing a “Support Our Troops” ribbon. Now, let’s imagine that someone saw that and responded: “I believe we should support all people.”

Taking the words at face value, literally, the statement is actually a very positive one. After all, wouldn’t the world be “better” if we attempted to support “all people?” This, however, does not take into account the intent of the speaker. In psychology, there is a construct where a message, any message, is defined as having three parts. First, there is the message in and of itself. The literal words. Then, you have the perception on either side. The individual that sent the message has a certain perception that we could call, in this case, their intent. The individual receiving the message also has a perception that we could label a bias. This is true of every message, no matter how mundane. When intent, message, and bias mostly agree, we get a clearly communicated message. When they don’t, things become muddied, and interpretation is required for true understanding.

Returning to our example, we must examine both the intent of the speaker and the bias of the receiver. It has often been the case, I think, that folks who might say “support all people,” are in fact intending to minimize and marginalize the original topic. This is a problem that is being intentionally clouded in their message, as clearly communicating such an intent might be seen as crass or inappropriate. Similarly, there are receivers whose bias is so strong (perhaps for good reason, perhaps not), that they cannot perceive the original intent of the words and, again, the message becomes clouded with the potential for offense.

This is the crux of the argument I see happening currently within the black lives matter conversation. I truly believe that all lives do, in fact, matter, and that saying so isn’t, in and of itself, wrong. If your intent is, however, to trivialize the original topic instead of honestly pointing out the preciousness of all life… well then perhaps you should spend some time self-reflecting on your reason for saying something in the first place. Similarly, if you find yourself being constantly offended by the conversation going on around you, you may have a bias problem. Take some time to think about intent, and analyze how past hurts may be impacting your current reality. (It should be noted that bias can be both positive and negative. Though currently societal connotation may give it a more negative cast, that is not my intent here.)

Either way, both communication issues are exacerbated by the popularity of short form social media. Often we try to reduce complicated topics to a clever graphic or pithy phrase because that is what shares well, and will be passed around. This can be both boon and bane, as it has the potential to greatly proliferate a message while also potentially muddying it.

This is not a “get off my lawn” dart thrown at social media, though. I believe short form communication definitely has a place and purpose in the greater arena of human interaction. I do fear, however, that we risk losing the nuance of message that can make long-form communication more appropriate. Sometimes we all do well to take a step back and look at the bigger picture, read the longer article, or have the more drawn out conversation. Often we can learn and understand so much more if we only take the time.

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On Gun Violence

As happens in the wake of a tragedy such as the Orlando nightclub shooting, Facebook feeds blow up with opinions from every possible corner of the world. I try to read a lot of them, even if I don’t agree, in an effort to broaden my worldview. The more I do this, the more I realize how many others fail to do the same thing. We are all very comfortable looking at life through the lens convenient to us, but attempting to look through the lens of another? That’s hard work. But it seems like useful work that could solve so very much. So, while I’m not claiming to be an expert or have all the answers (or actually, to have any answers), I felt like sharing some of my observations with you, Dear Journal. At the very least, it will provide me an opportunity to look through a different lens, 10 years from now, and say: What the heck was I thinking?

Let me start by recapping what I know in case my memory fails me 10 years hence. The basic story is that a dude walked into a nightclub in Orlando with an assault-style rifle, opened fire, killed a bunch of people, injured a bunch of others… numbering somewhere around 100. I believe the exact total killed was 49. It is also important to note at this time that the club was frequented mainly by people who self-identify as “queer” or “LGBT.

(Aside: Notice I say “at this time.” I’m hoping that 10 years hence, it may not be so important to note sexual persuasion. Let us recall that there was also a time in our history, Dear Journal, when it was important to note that a place was frequented by “blacks.” I’m happy that in my lifetime that has become much less important, though perhaps not “not important,” yet.)

First, can we agree, Dear Journal, that killing people is bad, period. In fact, killing is pretty bad in general. As in, I’m not a big fan of euthanizing pets. Though, I do eat meat, which involves killing. So, there is some line at which killing becomes acceptable. We must acknowledge that. Like, let’s say, with self defense. And tacos. Both are likely acceptable reasons for a death to occur.

Walking into a nightclub and offing 49 human beings just trying to get their dance on is, very clearly, Crossing The Line. Or, to use the eloquent words of my father in law: “That’s not what you do.”

I want to also note that, at this juncture in American history, I, personally, feel like I want to grab America, collectively, by the shoulders and shout: What the hell? Alternatively, I’d like to grab a rolled-up newspaper, shake it at the universe and say: Stop. Just stop. No. Bad.

All of the clearly across the line killing. All of the mean-spirited name calling instead of rational discourse. All of the dividing between ideological camps. All of the violence. All of the hate. Just stop.

However, you may have noticed, Dear Journal, that my amount of influence on the world is very, very small. I do what I can, but the folks leading the hate parades of the world aren’t peeking at these pages. That, I can pretty much guarantee.

Anyway, dude walks into a nightclub. But wait, some are saying that it must have been multiple people. No way could one guy with a gun, even a big one, do so much damage. It would take a bazillion bullets, right? To this, I will simply offer that, having been to a nightclub or two, it would not be unfathomable for a single bullet, fired from a close enough range, to notch more than a single victim. Firing into a crowd, a shooter would not need to be very precise, nor very well-trained to really rack up the injuries. I believe there is a phrase about shooting fish in a barrel that applies here (not to equate human life with fish, see above about killing. Different lines.) It is an uncomfortable truth that, indeed, such carnage is possible by a solo shooter in the right conditions. (Does that mean it is impossible that there actually were additional shooters? No, but I guess I’m not sure why it matters. Again, see above about killing. Even if this entire thing is some sort of crazy conspiracy, lots of people were killed by a gun or multiple guns. This is becoming more common in our society, and you can’t say every gun-related death is a conspiracy.)

So where does that leave us as a society? What can we possibly do? There are a lot of talk about laws to try to stop such senseless killing. Another uncomfortable truth is this: killers gonna kill. That is to say, criminals do criminal things even though there are clearly laws to try to stop such things. But that doesn’t make laws completely ineffective, either. Like I tried to elucidate above about the moral line of when killing is okay, there are also legal lines for things like killing and guns. Now, it is important to note that the moral line and legal line don’t always line up. Therein lies the problem. In an ideal society, we’d all have the same lines and the laws would match those lines and… utopia.

This is real damn life, though. We all have different lines and different ideas of lines and different thoughts on which lines actually are effective. But, let’s revisit the current fact: it is entirely possible for a single person to legally purchase something that will facilitate killing 49 people in mere minutes. How does one not at least ask: is our currently drawn line sufficient?

Like I said before, I don’t have any answers. There are some good ideas, like trying to classify weapons and limit based on those classifications so that what remains isn’t “too” deadly. Good idea, very difficult in execution. It’s easy to see when things are clearly over the line, but what do you do about things “on the line?” Maybe we should just slightly shift our lines over time until we find what works. Quit swinging the pendulum radically in different directions. But what does that even look like, legally?

We could maybe look into improving safety technology in relation to guns. I mean my phone has cameras and fingerprint scanners and voice recognition and GPS and I’m able to use it pretty effectively. Does any of that translate to solving the whole gun violence problem? What if guns had magic chips that could deactivate them completely in certain areas and there was magically no way to bypass it. Like magical cease fire zones that can be cast over areas where guns are extra dangerous, or private places that don’t want guns, or even initiated by police in such a way that only nonlethal weapons become usable and they have really badass stun rays or something else that sounds like a magical sci-fi concept (Because, you know, sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.) I don’t know.

I do know this, however. Killing a bunch of people primarily because you don’t agree with their lifestyle is clearly beyond any line you should be drawing. It both angers and depresses me. I wish I had a magical newspaper and shaking menacingly could work and afterward we’d all wag our tails and be happy. It won’t, though. This is real damn life.

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Short Week

It’s been a busy and productive spring so far, Dear Journal, filled with a lot of travel, though May was pretty calm. Summer has officially kicked off for some. My sister just graduated High School last weekend, signalling the last of the Hofferth clan to pass that particular marker, 13 years after I started the trend. I suppose you could call it the “end of an era.”

We had a great party for her on Sunday that leaked over into Monday. I find myself currently dragging from that, but fortunately this week is a short week. Tomorrow, I have a work trip to a minor league ballgame in Peoria, and then we fly out to Florida on Sunday for some much needed R&R. Somehow I’ll need to find time to mow the lawn in there. It’s getting shaggy.

Otherwise, I’ve just been working, enjoying the nice weather, and writing. I’ll keep this post short and just paste in a picture of the my little girl on Memorial Day. It was her first boat ride:

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I’m So Tired

It’s my own fault. I went to Vegas. You’re lucky if sleep is all you lose there (got about a combined 10 hours in three nights). By that criteria, Dear Journal, I can consider myself lucky. On the gambling front, I came out a couple hundred ahead. Now, that all got paid back in the form of food, lodging, etc. Mostly that “etc” part, but it was a blast. Here’s a pic of the crew at Paris (yes, this is inside):

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I finally was able to experience something in Vegas that I’d never had the fortune of experience before. Now, before you go all Dirty Mind on me Dear Journal, this story takes place at a craps table. Okay, okay, and all clothes stayed on. It was in public! It wasn’t THAT crazy of a weekend.

Anyway, I’m not a big gambler. This is only my second visit to Vegas. I enjoy going when I get the chance, but I have a very specific mentality. I don’t view gambling as a way to make money. I look at it as a place to have some social good times. So my goal is always to have a good time while losing as little as possible. You, Dear Journal, may suggest the best way to lose as little as possible is to simply not play, but you’re a digital journal. I’m sorry, but you’re only slightly more fun than a stick in the mud. It’s not your fault. You are what you are.

Being a human, I can tell you from experience that good times often involve alcohol. And alcohol is free in Vegas so long as you’re gambling. Thus, my goal is always to play and attempt to lose only what those drinks would have cost me had I been sitting at a bar. It’s a challenge, still, because money can go REALLY fast in Vegas. You have to be smart, and a little lucky.

I play craps and blackjack mostly, with craps being my favorite. They represent the two best odds in a casino, and I gamble rarely enough that they’re both a lot of fun for me. Others may branch out or stick to penny slots or something, and that’s cool, but a craps table is Where Its At, in my humble opinion.

So it was that I found myself on a craps table in Vegas, just betting the table minimum ($10), sucking on free drinks. This particular table was actually in old Vegas, or Freemont Street, at a casino called The D. No, there were no strippers. At least not that I could see. Though some hot dealers were dancing behind the tables, but that’s neither here nor there.

I’m at this table, just hanging out with a couple buddies and some random strangers. In craps the idea is that each person takes turns rolling, and you bet on the things the dice will do. (It’s more complicated than that, but let’s stick with that explanation for now.) And, basically, if you roll a seven, your turn is over (again, it’s more complicated, but…). For the most part, everyone at the table is therefore cheering for the shooter. If they roll a bunch of stuff before they crap out with a seven, then you’re probably going to get paid. Longer they roll, the better for everyone. Typically, a shooter will throw a handful of times and crap out, and the table is pretty “meh” about that. But every now and then, a shooter gets hot. They roll for a long while, avoiding the dreaded seven, and everyone wins… a lot.

I’ve been at hot tables before, and that alone is a blast and is what keeps me coming back to craps, but I’ve never been the hot shooter before… until this trip. Yes, Dear Journal, I got hot. I rolled for maybe an hour, never hitting a seven, and people around me going nuts. I made over $100 in that hour, and I was perhaps the most conservative better at the table. Dude a few spots away easily made a grand. *THAT* fast. It was crazy!

My favorite throw of the night happened about midway through my hot streak. Now, I’d had a few to drink and was feeling pretty cocky, making all these folks some money. Dude down the way throws a $5 bet on a “hard ten.” That’s a pair of fives on the dice, in case you’re wondering, and is pretty rare and pays out something like 7:1. It’s not a great bet, especially for $5, but I was hot. So, I look at him and say “I got you.” Then, I reach down and chuck the dice. They bounce, roll, and settle: two fives. The place erupts. The dude gets his stack of winnings and tosses me the original bet as a tip for rolling it. Pretty awesome.

Moral of the story? The house doesn’t ALWAYS win in Vegas. Sure, in the long run, but if you are smart about it, you can get a whole bunch of free drinks and have a fantastic time. Heck, you may even get hot.

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In Mountain Time, It May Still Be Feb

I didn’t completely miss the month, but it was a busy one. Got my first experience with skiing on mountains last week. It was fantastic. I mean just check out that view:

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That little spec in the yellow pants far below is Kate. She survived. I daresay that after this experience, she’ll be shredding the Midwestern hills with ease.

We flew in on a Weds night and had dinner in Denver before driving up to Breckenridge. Now, Dear Journal, I know heights mean nothing to you, being a collection of electrons and all, but consider this: Indiana, where my non-digital body normally resides, is somewhere around 800′ above sea level. Denver is up over 5000′. Breck is 9600′. We were staying a couple hundred feet up on the other side of the valley in that picture so, for easy math, let’s say we stayed at 9800′. That means I slept about 9000′ further in the air on Weds than Tues. And I have to tell you altitude sickness is real.

Now before you feel too sorry for me, it wasn’t that bad. At first, you just feel kind of tired. Like we walked up the stairs and I thought: Am I that out of shape? Nope, just less oxygen getting to my various parts. At night, however, I did have a bit of insomnia with a stomach ache. Luckily, it all cleared up by noon the next day as I acclimated. Pounding water was key. So was taking it a bit easy. If I were doing it all again, I’d have flown into Denver the night before in order to acclimate at 5000′ before going up another 4k. That probably would have been smarter. But hey, you live, you learn.

The skiing was spectacular. They’re actually having a down season for snow, but even so the conditions were better than what I’m used to. We eased into it, so while it was tiring with the runs being a ton longer, it wasn’t crazy hard. We ended up doing two half days, which worked out. This may sound stupid, but until you go you don’t realize how big mountains are. I can ski pretty much anything around here in a day and exhaust it. I could see hanging around Breck for a week in order to do everything, and even then not getting bored. Ideally, I think I’d like to do a three day trip next time. Ski the first and third days and have a break day in between. They even structure their tickets along those line, where you can get a 2-day ticket that is valid for 3 days, however you end up using it.

I do wish that Breck had night skiing. Everything closes up at 4pm and, though you could travel to nearby Keystone for another couple hours of skiing, it always came too soon for me. Part of that was that we weren’t starting early, I suppose, but the half day tickets shaved $30 off the cost. A 6 hour ticket would have probably been the warm porridge but, hey, that’s just being nit-picky.

All in all it was a great time, Dear Journal, and hopefully Kate didn’t hate it so much that I can’t convince her to do it again next year. Or, you know, next week if it weren’t for the whole flying thing. If I lived out there I’d totally have a season pass. Though I hear the traffic is pretty horrid.

Well, I guess since I got my skiing in, I’m officially ready for spring now. Cold weather is only really fun with skis on…

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How’s Work?

Finally sat down to write something. I’m just not feeling like much is share-worthy. Plus, winter makes me lazy. I skipped December. It was busy, but in a normal kind of way. Holidays and holiday-related travel are always exhausting.

That being said, I get that “how’s work” is the standard adult small talk question, but I find myself often a loss for how to answer it. What I want to say is “boring,” but that sounds negative. Boring isn’t always negative, especially at work. A boring day in the ER, say, is probably a good thing. In my case, boring means that things are just chugging along. Work items are being produced. Things are being designed. Eventually they will be mass-produced. The testing done on the designs are coming back mostly positive. We tweak a thing here or there, document it, and the world keeps on spinning.

But “boring” also typically means “slow,” especially when you’re looking forward to time off. In some ways, I feel that a slow day is more exhausting than an exciting day. Exciting days pass fast and you leave on a little bit of a high. Slow days just seem to suck the life out of you so that when you get home you just want to veg-out on the couch. (Also, see aforementioned winter laziness that may be a co-contributor.)

So when I find myself in that awkward social situation of “how’s work,” I’m really not sure what to say. I don’t want to explain the nuances of slow and boring and rate just how slow and boring my days have been. Nor do I think you’re really interested in the documentation I’ve been doing for the normal test results and the small tweak to the schematic. Heck, most days it makes my eyes go crossed and I’m getting paid to do it.

I typically go with something semi-humorous like: “Good. You know, just hammering out that paycheck.” As if I even sniff a hammer throughout my day. An exciting day is when I get to use tools to tear into something. Boring days, you keep tools at a distance from electronics. They don’t mix very well. Electronics aren’t even fun to watch function. Sure there’s a bunch of cool stuff going on, but engine controllers don’t even light up cool-like. We don’t pack a whole lot of nifty LEDs in there so that it looks like R2-D2 or something. Nope, just a boring circuit board that, unless you are actively measuring something, you can’t even really tell if it’s on or off. Boring.

Today is the end of a slow week. Thus, I’m squeezing in this post. I’m going skiing tomorrow and turning 31 on Sunday. It should be a fun weekend, but right now I just want to nap. I suppose this is why engineers drink coffee every second of the day. We want things to be boring and slow, but when we achieve that it makes us want to gouge our eyeballs out. Maybe I’ll just go hit something with a hammer… “Impact Testing.”

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