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.


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:




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):

Photo Apr 19, 12 04 11 AM

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.


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:

Breck_2016 (21)

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…


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.”


The Benefit of Failure

I was reading an article the other day where an individual was recounting all that they had learned from failing in school. You see, Dear Journal, they were not very good at school. They struggled and, through those struggles, were able to really narrow down what they wanted to do in life. As a result, they love their job and feel like a lot of being able to find it had to do with those earlier struggles.

It struck me, while reading, that perhaps this is one of those “truths” of life. I’ve always said that the only true failure is the one you don’t learn from. There are a whole bunch of better quotations by smarter folk that echo that thought. I won’t bore you and paste them all here. Suffice it to say The Truth Is Out There.

I have (as have probably most humans) experienced areas of both abject failure and easy success. For me, school was very easy. Relationships have been hard. I can easily grasp the concept of integration to find the area under a curve, but can’t for the life of me understand how to listen without trying to solve the problem (ref: Being Supportive of A Wife 101). My mother once told me that relationships aren’t like math equations. You can’t plug and chug and solve for x.

Damn. Cuz I’m good at that. (Sidenote: MotherTeachers have a way of putting things right in your understanding wheelhouse.)

Anyway, I guess it struck me that maybe that’s why I’ve always had such a hard time figuring out what I really love to do in the working world. For the fella in the article, his decision process went something like… I’m not good at most of this stuff, except for x (there are those variables again). So, I should do something that heavily involves x. Plug and chug… I should do Job Y.

If you’re someone for whom school comes easily, you are faced with a different dilemma. According to school, my strengths are… pretty much everything. That may sound cocky, but I didn’t do bad grades and I was fortunate enough that learning is easy for me. Also, school does not equal real life. Just because you’re good reading about engines in a book and demonstrating that knowledge on a piece of paper does not mean you will be good at building a car. Point being, it’s not that I was really “strong” at everything, it just means that I couldn’t really count on school to help me point me in the right direction. I’m the kid that the guidance counselor would look at and say… well, what do you want to do? The world is your burrito (if, say, they had a particular fondness for burritos).

How to narrow it down then? Because after you leave the world of academia, Real Life smacks you pretty hard in the face and lets you know that it expects you to swim or die. Most people will tell you that the transition from college student to full-fledged adult is pretty rough.

Here’s a crazy thought. Perhaps if I’d experienced more failure early in life, I would have been able to draw on that experience later. Dear Journal, if you ever have little pages of your own, keep this in mind. Failure is not always bad. Maybe doing the whole participation ribbon thing actually hinders development.

At the same time, I’m not saying that early failure makes later life a breeze either. There’s just more learning in failure, I think. So, if you are smart but not good in school, you can still come out of it having learned a ton about yourself and leverage that into success. Conversely, if school was easy, it can be a struggle to figure out where you fit post-school. School success isn’t the be-all, end-all of life success. Yes, being able to obtain a higher degree can get that money tree growing in your backyard. However, really honing in on your passions and strengths is valuable too. Also, money accumulation is actually a pretty poor measuring stick for Life Success. It more like… a single variable in the vast equation of life. (Stick with what you know, right?)

So where does that leave me? Well, my twenties have been filled with figuring stuff out on the fly. Fortunately, I’m good at learning, so while I’ve failed along the way, I’ve learned a lot from it. I’m getting better at adulting. And I will say that, judging by my peers, my experiences are pretty par for the course.

All right, enough dilly-dallying. Back to work. Maybe if I take the multiplicative inverse of my Life matrix and use Gaussian elimination…



Time Flies

When there is football and the Cubs are still playing and the Hawks are raising banners (and even if the Bears and Boilers suck)… it’s a busy time of the year for me. Blink and you’re turning calendar pages.

The HS team sits at 4-3 going into tonight’s game. Two more regular season games left. Then, playoffs. As always, our tough regular season schedule hopefully has prepared us well for the playoffs. Look for the Rocks to make a run.

Fun times. Busy times. And that isn’t even including all the changes to the homestead. But that is a post for another day. I’m out of time and need to get ready for tonight. See you around Thanksgiving, Dear Journal.