Sunday, November 16, 2008

eReader : Why it is So Good, in Spite of My Low Vision

(Thanks to a polite comment request, I retrace some steps and answer questions specific to software and equipment, instead of my reading interests. My new post will be up, hopefully, by next Saturday).

I have 20/200 vision in my only good eye. Without glasses I can clearly see about three feet in front of me. With a 12x magnifying bubble mounted in a pair of glasses, I can read print sizes from the printed phone book on up. I have to guess at entries in a printed phone book, or an average printed pocket dictionary, as I can't really see the individual letters clearly.

Every low vision person I've met sees differently. What works for one, does absolutely nothing for another person with low vision. For me, 12x magnification makes 99% of print available to me. I have to hold the printed material right up near my face (about a third of an inch away from my eye). I can only read about an hour and a half, before I get slight eye pain and muscle and body aches, from holding books up so close to my face. I also have to have a 100 watt light bulb about 4 inches away from the side of my head when reading real print on paper in a book.

When I got my first computer I found out about reverse video. The print is write and the background is black. For me this was a true revelation. I got a Mac, as I'd always had serious problems "losing" the cursor on a PC.

The only way you can get the experience of seeing my screenshots as I see them is to temporarily adjust your computer so you get reverse video. Look in the accessibility control panel and you should be able to reset your machine to see my screen as I see it. For the last two screenshots, my desktop is blue, not orange, in reverse video.

On a PC the cursor is a dotted outline, which is very easy to lose track of on the screen. The Macintosh cursor is a solid black arrow. In reverse video it is a solid white arrow. I can see it well enough to find it again after clicking a link and being moved to another page.

The way my vision works, contrast is everything. Black background gives more contrast to the print, then black letters on a white background. I find it interesting that for normal vision readers, reverse video is distracting and is avoided when possible.

In order to produce the square box you see around my cursor in the 2nd and 3rd screenshots I do the following in the accessibility panel. I increase the computer's screen zoom magnification to its maximum, but only request the "preview" viewing area. This produces a nice drawn rectangle around the cursor. This is what I use all the time on my computer, to quickly find the cursor when I lose track of it. With the 12x magnification in my glasses, I can only see about one square inch of screen at a time. This is why it is so easy for me to "lose" the cursor while working on my computer.

I soon discovered electronic, or ebooks. I have a screenshot of an ebook in the ".pdf" format. Either Adobe Reader, or Preview recognize ".pdf" (portable document format). These programs are designed for editing and sharing office documents, not books.

I read by moving my head more then the material on the screen. With preview, (screenshot to the right), I have to constantly scroll down as I work my way through an ebook. It is very doable, but not my preferred reading experience.

I can use Page-Down, or Down-Arrow keys to scroll. Page-down moves too much of the screen before I've gotten to the lower part of the page. So, I have to use the Down-Arrow key.

I was shocked to realize that I could read at my computer for three hours or more, with no pain anywhere in my body. I sit with my back straight in my chair, with the screen elevated to be right in front of my face. I have a table with a tray for the keyboard and I type with the keyboard completely recessed within the table. (I've never had such good posture).

I discovered eReader (another program for reading ebooks) while exploring this new world of books made to read on a computer, or handheld device. Adobe and Preview read ".pdf" files, while eReader deals with ".pdb" files. Most of my ebooks are in the ".pdb" format, as that is the one I have found works the best for reading books on my computer.

eReader was designed specifically for the book reading experience. You'll notice at once, its full screen looks more like the page of a book, instead of an office document, with its wide margins and page separators.

On the next two screenshots, the screen is 21 inches.

As you can see from the full page screen shot of the eReader program, I still have the problem of this long document to meander through. But with eReader, when you adjust the page size, you don't have to scroll through the document line-by-line, but it redefines a page according to your window size.

I may start out with a book of 200 pages, but when I shrink the window, the page count jumps into the thousands!. I use one Page-Down, arrow-Down or Arrow-Right per page. When I began exploring handheld devices, it is still the best reading experience. I've found. (eBookWise and Palm Handhelds will be covered in my next post).

One final note on ebooks. I live in a very small room, making a library of thousands of books impossible. With eBooks I literally own thousands of titles, all on my hard drive. This technology saves on paper, ink and the energy to print the book. Here are the links to the programs I've been discussing.

Adobe Reader

Apple's Preview

eReader (go back to their homepage for the FREE eReader version).

Free eBooks (in .pdb format)

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

The JOY of Easily Looking Up Words While I Read.

Yes, this is a love story about my new Palm Tungsten E2 hand held personal data assistant. (PDA). Having low vision has always been a dreary fight when having to use more than one book at a time. I have to explain the bad old days to help you understand why I am shaking with joy at this change in my life.

I have a 12x magnifying bubble mounted in a pair of glasses, leaving my hands free. I would pick up the book, or lean way over to write on a piece of paper, as I have to be about half an inch away from what I'm looking at. I did not start reading on my own until the sixth grade, when a friend stole a 12x magnifier from her science class for me to experiment with. It opened up the world of books, libraries and dictionaries to me.

But when I was reading something and I'd run into a word I did not know, I would have a serious set of problems.

  1. Put the book down, carefully, so as not to lose my place.
  2. Grab a pocket dictionary and start hunting down the unknown word.
  3. Realize I don't know how to spell the word and would have to go back to #1.
  4. Locate word in dictionary and try and read that really tiny print. I have learned to do some very accurate guessing by the "shape" of print that is truly too small for me to read. Not always correct: "boot" and "boat" look similar, but usually I'd figure it out via context.
  5. Return to the original book I was reading.
  6. Realize I no longer remember the thread of what I was reading.
  7. Go back a page or two to remind myself of what I didn't know.
  8. Find strange word again and realize I don't remember the darn definition. Return to #1!
Note taking in the library for research projects was almost as bad. I have always had a lousy short term memory and for sure, that gave me many hours of idea chasing. I learned it was faster to "guestimate" the meaning of a word. A very fast and lose system of having the vaguest notion of the meaning of say "habeas corpus".

I knew this was Latin and having something to do with legalese. That is a pretty crummy understanding of this term. I reproduce the following from my new Merriam-Webster Collegiate Dictionary for that goofy phrase habeas corpus:
n{ME, fr. ML, lit., you should have the body (the opening words of the writ)} (15c) 1: any of several common-law writs issued to bring a party before a court or judge ; esp : habeas corpus ad subjiciendum 2 : the right of a citizen to obtain a writ of habeas corpus as a protection against illegal imprisonment
Now, that means something. I'm reading a legal book outlining the problem of "enemy combatants" as opposed to "enemy soldiers", those who commit sabotage and spys. Legally the Iraq war is a mess. A lot of the problem has to do with this habeas corpus stuff.

We were so freaked out after 9/11 we rounded up people we suspected of being involved in the three planes-used-as-bombs and tried to detain them indefinitely with no official charges. This is a problem, legally if they are under the rules of our Constitution. I find the whole thing fascinating.

I had no clue that the law made such fine distinctions between types of behavior in war. Now I have a dictionary that is up to all the Latin they want to throw at me. But now I introduce you to the miracle of today's technology.

Well, okay, actually the Palm device I bought was new in 2005, but I love eReader as a program and I absolutely love the way Palm does things on their little hand held device.

When I'm using my hands, I shake a bit because of Cerebral Palsy, so touching the screen with my finger usually delivers something other then the command I'm trying to execute. But with the stylus - a metal pencil tipped with plastic for touching the screen more accurately - works like a charm for me. So here is the new way of my world.
  1. I'm reading my law book, or the King James Bible (old and odd English), or some police forensics book and I run into something I can't even guess at, in terms of its meaning.
  2. I reach for the stylus held in its slot and pull it out.
  3. I high light the word, or in some cases, the phrase, with the stylus.
  4. My eReader program automatically goes to my dictionary, finds the word, or the words which are closest to it and displays the definition on my screen.
  5. When I've chased down any other words in the definition I don't know, I hit "Done" and return to my original text! It takes seconds and not minutes.
For the first time in my reading life I can actually learn something from looking up words in a dictionary. I had to check out this new dictionary to see if it had all the strange things I am running into with my wide range of reading material.

Wist, Wont and blain - all old English. This baby not only tells me where the word originated and where it traveled, but the YEAR of its origination! Oh, its like candy for my mind.

Habeas corpus and that other phrases came up as soon as I correctly guessed the spelling on habeas. So, I went to the front of the dictionary and took a look at their pronunciation key. (It is a bit strange). I'm not sure if it is because the font is foreign to my eReader program, or they just have a strange system.

I started reading the definitions of things like 24/7 and 411. While grazing through a few of these abbreviations, I discovered chemical formulas! Yeah, this thing is smart enough for me - I am absolutely clueless when it comes to Chemistry.

What is so satisfying is the fluidity of my learning. Since I no longer keep having to run around trying to remember what I was looking up, or what the word ment, or what was happening in the original book, I no longer get discouraged, or angry. This is truly a miracle in my estimation. Now, my six hours of butt time on buses each week will be filled with reading and learning. It is nice to listen to music, but after awhile, I get bored.

I have thousands of things I want to read. A huge library a friend put together for me of public domain ebooks and a hundred, or so ebooks I've purchased. I also have an eight volume set of Church History on my computer, which I can easily move over to my handheld, a bit at a time.

My real prize is the 37 volumes of the Early Church Fathers. Believe it, or not, I'm in volume four of the set. These are source documents and they are amazing. I read what people thought about the works of the Early Church Fathers in the History book, but then I check for myself what these men actually WROTE. Sometimes the differences are a little scary.

Kind of like what happened over the new puppy Barak Obama promised his daughters in his acceptance speech. A day or two later, I heard a report from the CBC (Canadian Broadcasting Company) that the dog had not only been acquired, but had tried to bite a reporter! There was a bit of ga-fawing and this quite proper Canadian ended her report with: "... we'll be sure to keep you informed of any breaking (or barking) news as it happens here on the CBC". Cute report, right?

I don't know what happened for sure. But several people I know, who have turned Obama watching into their new religion, have vigorously informed me that Barak hasn't even gotten the puppy yet. A dog did try and bite a reporter, Bush's dog snapped at a reporter who reached out to pet it. I'm still not clear on where the truth is on that one.

But more then likely, I'll end up reading about the truth as I romp through my ever growing library of electronic books. I now can read comfortably not only sitting at my computer, but lying in bed, riding a bus, or standing in line. Works great in restaurants too, when I am alone with a bowl of soup.

Lying in bed is still my favorite place to read, because it has been so long since I was able to set up lighting to where I could read printed material in bed. Who needs print? I can scan it into my computer. As long as I don't sell it, who cares? Well, that's illegal, or it will be, but you never read this and I never wrote it, right?

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

A Customer (Lack of) Service Rant.

Since this business is stumbling toward making this situation right, they shall remain anonymous. However, the stupidity involved in this Sega is breathtaking and probably good for a few laughs as I unwind this romp with incompetence.

I'm cat sitting for some folks who have been traveling for the last 5 weeks. I responsibilities include: signing for packages, picking up mail and answering expected telephone calls. Not difficult, correct? Well, no. By-the-way, these folks are in Italy, as in out of the country and are 8 hours ahead of us time wise.

On my first week of duty I get a recorded message from a store reporting that the item sent in for repair is ready. They have five days to claim it, or it will be assumed abandoned. Well, this could be a big ticket item, I didn't know, but figured a quick call to the store would update the customer file. When my employers returned in a month, they could pick up said repaired item. (ignorance can be bliss).

Upon calling this establishment I ran into a 20-something dweeb who refused to update the customer file unless he was speaking directly to the customer. (Delivered with a vibrato which could have won an Academy Award. Patiently, I explained the situation about how silly it would be for these people to call from ROME ITALY. I again requested he simply notate the file, so the item would not be disposed of.

This clown then LECTURED me on how my employers: "should have taken care of this before leaving. Don't ya think?". Frankly, this tactic stunned me into silence. I didn't think to request a supervisor. So, I had to call Rome, Italy. (Joy).

Just a brief aside. I know from many lovely experiences with The Marriott Corporation, that it is possible to have a central file on a customer. This file is filled with reservations, reward points and preferences. For example, they know that I always call down for extra coffee. Magically, when I call the front desk, they not only know who I am, but in a friendly way inquire if I'm ready for more coffee!. If a HUGE Corporation spread all over the WORLD, can manage a filing system which is able to be updated from different locations and departments, why can't a national chain store manage the same feat?

I tried to call Rome from the employer's phone, but needed an "access code" I didn't have. Great, I'll buy some Skype Credit and do it through the computer. (Oh what a tangled web we weave, when we try to succeed)! Again, this should have been a simple transaction. Oh yeah, simple, sure.

Skype was easy and my debit card went through to a security system at my bank. Good, I'd waited until 12:30 PDT to call Rome, as not to scare the life out of the travelers with a 3:30 AM long distance call.

I had been through the bank's security system just a few days earlier when I'd set up Skype for unlimited Us and Canada calling. I knew my password and everything. For once I'd written it down and shot a copy to a web document. BUT since I was using a DIFFERENT computer, the bank denied the transaction!

I finally called customer service at said bank. This bank is extremely good at making you feel cared for while doing nothing for you. (I'm sure this is again a security measure). I like my bank, even when they try to sell me things I don't need instead of solving my problem.

I noticed I had another payment option with another source. I took it and got the required service, avoiding the bank's protection option. I shudder at how easily my information could have been used fraudulently, but thank God I was able to use my information NOW.

I put in the long distance call. The lady in Rome was very nice, but I had to spell out my message! By the time I got through this ordeal, I wanted to scream! Of course my people weren't at the hotel at the moment.

The next morning PDT, I get an email explaining the following situation. This is so amazing!
Before they left for Rome, they'd sent in a camera to be repaired. Store didn't manage to repair it, but damaged it instead. So, since they were leaving for Rome in a week, they RENTED a loner camera from this same store!

Am I crazy, or should this fact not have been noted in the file for the camera they were still trying to repair? I know, I'm using logic... The repair department and the rental departments have different files, which are not the same as the call center's file. Yeah, and for security, the call center people aren't given permission to update files anyway.

As I said, this business is attempting to redeem itself. My employers left no doubt that they would "deal with them... when we get back". So now I have to wait for a UPS package that requires a signature, hopefully to arrive today. I hope they will accept MY signature.

No Virginia: stupidity knows no bounds.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

The Pleasure Of Creativity.

Lately I've been branching out and doing new, daring things. I feel more alive and willing to do the "hard" stuff, then I've ever been before. What is happening to me?

Being willing to work with uncomfortable feelings in a psychiatric group has helped me get used to having moments of being uncomfortable without quitting an activity altogether. I'm accepting the uncomfortable feelings as just part of the process when doing something new.

I strive to explain what I experience, so you all can follow me, or even run ahead of me on this journey of recovery. I'm passing through a new stage of human development. Maybe Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs?

The chart to the right is from Wikapedia:

While I have a sense that, for the most part, I'm getting closer to the last two stages of this pyramid, it really doesn't reflect what I'm longing to express. In studying this chart, keep in mind, this is more of a general outline, not a hard and fast list of what you have to accomplish before moving to the next level. I believe we'll be working on some of these things until the day we die.

I feel like I'm almost leaving childhood. Perhaps I'm doing some kind of personality sprouting. I have continued searching for an explanation of what I've been experiencing lately.

There is an organization called TED (Technology, Entertainment, Design), on the internet. I listened to a presentation by Mihaly Csilszentmihalyi. Below is the lecture discription.

Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi: Creativity, fulfillment and flow
Mihaly Czikszentmihalyi asks, "What makes a life worth living?" Money cannot make us happy, he says -- instead, he looks to people who find pleasure and lasting satisfaction in activities that bring about a state of "flow." Watch this talk >>

This talk is about creativity, fulfillment and flow. The first chart was showing that income alone doesn't predict happiness. I'm sure I am not alone in learning this painful lesson.

Once basic needs are met and there is enough money to be comfortable, more money no longer contributes to being happy. I was surprised that happy people are only 30% of our population. That number is disturbingly low in my opinion. That means 70% of people are unhappy! Thus 7 out of 10 people you meet aren't finding fulfillment in life. That fact is very sad.

The part of this talk I found so energizing was a chart he showed about "skills" and their relationship to each other in terms of reaching a state of creativity and flow.

What he calls "skills" I think of as emotional states, especially anxiety, arousal and flow. I think of flow as another way of:
"following your bliss", from the work of Joseph Campbell. Flow can also be finding total enjoyment or contentment while doing something.

On the chart, notice the skills directly across from one another:
  • Flow -- Apathy
  • Arousal -- Boredom
  • Control -- Worry
  • Relaxation -- Anxiety
The left-hand list are all positive skills, while their opposites (Apathy, Boredom, worry and Anxiety) are all negative skills, or as I prefer to think of them, emotional states.

It is easier to change from being anxious then it is to pull yourself out of boredom. Boredom is not being interested in or engaged with anything in your environment. At least if I'm anxious I care about something in my life.

When people are really having a good time doing something there is a point where they forget themselves. Sometimes I forget where I am, time seems to stop and the task seems to almost complete itself. My entire being is working on something I am thoroughly enjoying.

Csikszentmihalyi theorizes that we only have so many concentration units, say 100, in our brain. Most of the time we are using around 60 concentration units. This leaves 40 concentration units to notice our bodies. In a boring meeting, it is easy to get distracted with how uncomfortable the chair is, for example. When we are in flow however, all 100 units of concentration are focused on the project. This is why being in flow gives the sense of forgetting yourself. There aren't enough concentration units left in our brain to track yourself, as there are under normal circumstances.

The people in this study were people who were accomplished in some field. Most people feel it takes about ten years to gain enough knowledge and experience with something to get into the flow mode. That place where the story writes itself, or the design pieces just seem to fall into place. This state of mind is not constant, but when one is in flow, time no longer matters and doing the task feels almost effortless. Flow is a place of intense satisfaction.

I got so excited watching this lecture. I can't count the number of times I have been carried away into a state of flow creating a church bulletin, reading a book, or learning something new. I pray we all go out and bring that happiness statistic up, one person at a time.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Recovery: The Garbage Stops HERE!

I remember a day in therapy when I realized I had to turn and face the monster in the closet, who was slowly killing me. I screamed out at my therapist:

"Why the hell do I have to do therapy? THEY made the mess!" I was referring to my life, as the mess. My doctor remained quiet, as he knew I was arguing with myself. Something broke lose and I made the decision. I made the commitment to turn around, open that awful closet door and fight formy real life, against the monster. I refer to all my abuse collectively as "The Monster".

Because I knew the mental illness which turned my mother into a sub-human zombie was in me, I refused to have children. People would coo at me: "Your mothering instinct will take over. You'll not hurt your own children," I knew that was not true. My mother truly didn't want to do what she did, or be what she became when she'd lose it. Her mothering instinct went away when her raging fits came forward.

I told my therapist I was in it for the long haul. It was MY problem and I needed help to get well. This was the beginning of real recovery for me, back in 1983.

Check out this magnificent post from Dad-O-Matic. This is heroic, beautiful and miraculous.

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Recovery: Working Through Uncomfortable Emotions.

I'm in a group learning basic social skills. I requested help with my social skills in groups larger than three, counting myself. I get so frightened, I either withdraw completely, or force too much attention on myself by putting on a "show". Neither place is truly me. I am tired of being ruled by fear.

I don't understand why I get so scared. I suspect it was just the years of "shaming" I experienced in my crazy childhood. I know I don't understand a lot of "people" things and I'm so afraid of making a mistake. I finally had to admit that prayer by myself wasn't solving the problem.

After several weeks in this group I am learning how to accept times of having uncomfortable emotions. I realize, with proper medication, my emotions are not crippling to me anymore. I don't get swamped and overwhelmed anymore. I have never learned how to just "experience" feeling mildly uncomfortable, until being in this very special and supportive group.

Different mental struggles cause us to need help being with people successfully. Sometimes it is Schizophrenia, where the person is learning to distinguish reality from their own thoughts. Some are paranoid and have to realize that everything in the group is not directed at them, or caused by them. Some people labor with learning difficulties. I am learning how to work with uncomfortable feelings for the first time in my life.

I approach this group of between six and ten people like a "white-knuckle-flier". I grip the arms of my chair as if I will levitate to the ceiling unless securely connected to the chair. My mouth dries up and after our session I gulp water like someone returning from a desert. There is great haling in this strange process. As I force myself to participate and interact, I reprogram myself to function under emotional discomfort. What a concept.

We meet once a week. I have total respect for the other members of the group, because I comprehend how hard they are working in the group. I am thankful for my set of problems, others seem to be laboring with things so much more difficult than I. I love the supportive atmosphere. This is not a group that needs confrontation, or tear-down. This is a group which is learning how it feels to be supported and gently taught new sets of skills. It sounds simple, but for people laboring with severe forms of mental difficulties "socalizing" is a tremendous challenge.

Our group leader is a psychiatric nurse. We have to "check in" giving a quick run-down on our week, or day. She shares parts of her life with us to model how to "check in". We then are asked who said what. If we don't remember the person's name, we can gesture to them and request their name. I find this part most troubling, emotionally. I want to run and hide, but I force myself to admit I don't remember a name and then tell what I remember of what the person shared. Sometimes it is very difficult to hear people speak, as they are so scared, they have trouble speaking much over a whisper.

Then we are led in mild physical and mental exercise. These exercises are math or logic problems and some gentle physical movement. We can ask questions of the group and sometimes our leader asks a group member specific questions about an interest, or activity they've mentioned. We wrap up the group with a fun exercise of telling a story. It doesn't have to make sense, or hang together. Again, just forcing us to open up and communicate.

Why the exercises? They are to help us reduce stress and gain physical and mental balance. Exercises also assist us in concentrating on the world around us, instead of being locked into our own thoughts.

I aways feel like I've been refreshed after group is over. I'm somehow lighter inside. I pray for all the members of our group. I am glad I'm getting some perspective on my fears. I hurt for some of the struggles I see members going through as they fight to overcome their fear. I am extremely grateful for the compassion of our leader and our HMO who provides this group. This group is a chance to challenge years of self-imposed isolation and self-hatred. A way to overcome our fears and emerge into thew sunshine of life with other people.

Friday, October 10, 2008

Counterfeit Life Part two: Mistaking "insanity" for "equality".

The government bail-outs haven't worked and our economic system may be in collapse. I heard the author of The Fourth Turning state that out of disaster comes new systems that work, while the old dead wood is swept away. Even though I might be one of the victims of the next "depression", I say: this fire will burn up the missteps of political correctness, THANK GOD!

This generation is beginning to wake up to our "Great Depression of 2008". Using back-of-the-envelope figures, I'd estimate the stock market has lost around 40% of its October 10, 2007 value. For every $100 you had in 2007, you now only have $60. It looks like our world as we've known it is about to become globally centralized and geographically nationalized.

How did we get so screwed up financially? Noble desires were made into ridiculous laws. Its not fair that poor people are denied the "experience" of home ownership. It is also unfair that people who are severely disabled are prevented from the "experience" of a mainstream education. So, laws were drafted to "right" these "wrongs".

Enter the law of "unintended consequences", or the "oops" factor.

Laws went through forcing institutions to lend money to under qualified applicants. Laws were also passed to force most disabled students into the main stream school system. For the world of finance we now have loan swaps, which have brought Wall Street firms to their knees. In the school system, entire classes are disrupted for the sake of the "rights" of a single student, who by common sense should be in a different educational situation.

In short order we will all have to handle problems we'd only read about in history books. All the "fluff" of our economic and spiritual lives will be squeezed out of us due to harsh financial realities. It won't be easy, or pretty. But after a natural ground fire in a forest, burning away the excess undergrowth, new life emerges from the ashes.

We tried to argue with what the 1929 survivors of The Great Depression learned. They realized that completely unregulated anything was a bad idea, as there is always someone who attempts to defraud, and or is dangerously reckless. They focused on their financial system and erected barriers and restrictions to prevent a repeat of what they'd just come through.

We also decided that, since our generation was somehow more far-seeing and noble, to throw out what used to be thought of as "common sense" business and educational practises. If you didn't have a certain amount of real money and a good credit track record, you couldn't get a loan for something huge, like a house. If your disability was so severe as to require one-on-one attention, you were placed outside the average classroom environment.

This fuzzy-thinking got all mixed up with another concept. The very real and different problem of prejudice. If a black family and a white family have the same amount of assets and the same good credit record, both should qualify for and be able to purchase a house. If not, prejudice is involved. That is immoral and has rightfully been legislated out of  "official" existence.

If a person's disability can be managed in such a way that the general learning environment isn't destroyed for the rest of the class, that disabled person should be allowed to attend a regular school classroom. If that qualified disabled person is banished to some other type of learning environment, prejudice has reared its ugly head and rightfully, legislation has been passed to right this particular wrong.

But now enter fuzzy thinking. The white family has an unfair advantage over the black family due to our dreadful past history of "sort of" civil rights. Therefore, ANY family, even those with few assets and a poor credit track record should be given the chance to have a house anyway! This is business suicide. Experience taught business what an average "bad credit risk" does. They usually end up in default. That means the bank doesn't get paid back and they have to re-sell the home at a loss.

The fuzzy thinking in education now mandates that All people with disabilities, with very few exceptions, shall be mainstreamed. So a child who is emotionally unable to control his tendency to scream is put into a 30-student classroom where an overworked and totally frustrated teacher, attempts to "teach". This is insanity, not equality. Sadly this issue has been swept from public consciousness due to our current financial woes.

What were the lenders supposed to do with this "mandated" bad debt? It was now law to run their businesses in a "risky" manner. Someone figured out how to gather a groups of mortgages together in a loan package which could be resold. There were "some" bad loans in the package, but most of it was "good" debt. With deregulation, the overall package was rated AAA and everyone ignored the small amount of bad debt that came with this thing called a Loan Swap.

Because old limits and restrictions had been removed, banks who used to be prevented from playing around in speculative markets with depositor's monies, now could roam free. It used to be that there were two different kinds of banks. A depositor's bank, where you put your money in a checking or savings account and when you want to get your money back out of the institution, at any time, you got your cash returned to you.

The other type of bank was an investment bank. This bank worked in a riskier environment and people who had brokerage accounts at this type of institution realized the difference. This bank had investment accounts instead of deposits. These investment accounts purchased stocks and other "investments". Once you were in play in this arena, you generally moved your money into and out of different stocks, making and losing money as the market ebbed and flowed. It was possible to lose all of your money.

A depositor, on the other hand, was protected from the problem of going to his bank and being told that his money was gone. With the evaporation of former barriers, basically, all hell broke lose, when the bad debts started cascading through the system. Because the bad debts were mixed in with good debts, nobody could accurately estimate how much bad debt they were carrying on their books. This is what caused the banks to stop trusting each other. The interest they charged one another began to skyrocket and then the markets went into free fall.

As of today (Friday, October 10, 2008) international leaders are seriously considering shutting down markets, world wide and re-writing the rules of investing. Instead of a bank "holiday" we may be looking at a Market Holiday. All of the "fixes" tried so far have not stopped the worlds markets from crashing.

I know the next months and possibly years will be difficult. I also know that a lot of our former fuzzy-thinking will be burned away with the current financial ground fire. Once again, whether in finance, or education, our generation will come to understand what past generations painfully learned. The harsh realities: "No, this time won't be different", "wishing don't make it so" and "people have to be protected from excesses".

Wednesday, October 01, 2008

Business Week Gives Fluky Technology The Bird.

My friend back East has chided me for being immature and over wrought when COMPLAINING about software, hardware and customer services which DO NOT WORK!

Well, nuts to you! Listen to what a business owner and CPA had to say... (God, this made my DAY!)

Again! Tech that doesn't work won't let us work - BusinessWeek

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Counterfeit Life Part One: Occult, Cults, and Scams.

As I watch a friend wonder ever deeper into the bizarre world of The New Age Movement, I asked myself: "Why"? Her latest money loosing adventure has to do with specially made glass "tools" for healing. The instructions for making these tools comes to us from something on "the other side", an Ascended Master. This Ascended Master speaks to and is seen by a living human being. As a Christian, I know what this something is. This is messing around with "spirits". God condemned the practice and counsels us to stay away from all of it. The occult, communicating with the dead and sorcery.

My friend knows how I feel about all of this and held down her enthusiasm while relating the details of her latest Seminar experience. I did some web searching and discovered a massive organization of interlocking companies and practitioners dealing in the utterances of this "Ascended Master". It is no coincidence that these practitioners are also "selling" his wildly expensive "tools". What a racket!

12 glass tools for $3,000! They look like poorly shaped glass bobbles. There is the tiresome, never-ending need to buy the latest gadget suggested by the Ascended Master. My favorite by far is the "Amplifier". This is a gizmo that makes the energy you get from earlier tools more potent! The wheel of "hope" is another side splitting piece of the "equipment". I was shocked to hear that these tools average $250 a piece. They are are of such poor quality as to be easily scratched, if they "bump" things. As part of the healing process, one is required to sleep with and or carry on their person several of these tools. One good nights rest causes scratching. I can buy a $25 paperweight from an office supply store which is more durable then that!

This gal is on a fixed income like I am, but has sunk thousands of dollars into this New Age garbage. Her family is eagerly "assisting" her in a desperate attempt to "help" her. This help is expensive, averaging $300 for a 50 minute "reading". (Average cost of a Psychiatrist is cheaper). She is blind, but her readings describe her soon-to-be "manifested" husband in visual terms!

After one Pump-her-up cycle and a failed relationship attempt, she went to her HMO and they upped her anti depressants! She is absolutely sure her next husband will make her life totally complete. Hardly. I feel both angry at and sad for my friend.

I refer to all of this, including my 20 years with Dr. Scott as "A Counterfeit Life". because the draw is getting all the benefits of a successful life without having to do the work to actually achieve a successful life. Dr. Scott promised me three things:

  1. I didn't have to read the Bible, he'd do it for me.
  2. If I gave money like he taught I'd be rich.
  3. I was involved in the next religious reformation. Smarter then the rest of the pack! (glory).
How do you build a successful relationship with God, a person, an animal or a skill? You have to spend time with it and put in some EFFORT. When I finally realized that Scott had sold me down the river spiritually, I made it my business to read the Bible for myself, by myself. Yeah, its a big book, but at 30 minutes a day, you can read it from cover to cover in a year.

This process of investigation is how you get to "know" and become familiar with God and His ways from The Bible's point of view. My prayer life started to change as I learned how careful God is with details. The way He keeps His people from unseen harm and danger. Little and large discoveries which I still experience when I spend time in the Bible. I invest my time and energy and gain the dividends of knowledge and expanding faith in God.

So now some folks admire and pay attention to my spiritual life and musings. There is no gloating in this situation. I have really learned that God has given me everything I have. He gets the credit. I just show up and tackle what is directly in front of me.

A rule of life. TINSTAAFL "There Is No Such Thing As A Free Lunch". There is no such thing as easy money, easy relationships, or an easy life. Every scam I've ever studied has at its root a motivation of greed: "... after 18 months I was making $5,000 a month." Doing what, selling Cocaine? (no, Real Estate, phone services, health care or little glass tools at $3,000 a dozen.

Note how the SELLER is making money off YOU the buyer! Real life works out slowly, cumulatively and in fits and starts. (There are no freeways to success). I am achieving some serious success and public recognition at my church as a webmaster and bulletin-maker. However, I had to do put in some serious behind-the-scenes effort for these things.

What you now see is a polished, professional weekly bulletin for the church. What you don't see are the countless hours of study. I had to read about printers, inks, paper, computers and many different programs to get the job done. I had generous help from friends who knew more than I did. They shared their time and friendship with me as I struggled to "learn" how to learn and work.

You don't see the several all-nighters I put in "teaching" myself how a program "really" works. "But it says in the help menu..." Yeah, Virginia, there may be a Santa Claus, but it doesn't really work like that". Oh the joy of getting around a programs "quirks"! You also don't see my hours of praying to, pouting at and arguing with God about how "I just can't do this!" But with all of the above and a lot of help from God, I continue to deliver a needed set of services to my church.

I started really playing around with printing back in 1999. (1999 - 2008 = 9 years)! Don't have buckets of money, or fame, or even a marriage; but I do have the greatest level of contentment and life satisfaction I've ever known.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

An Economic Fairytale.

Once upon a time, I was very immature and believed what MasterCard said on its commercials.
(phalanx of business suit clad marchers. singing:) "100,000 banks behind you!" as they paraded over a giant MasterCard. I got one and used that image to fluff up my ego until...

One day I had a medical crisis. Big bad reality slapped me with $3,000 of un-planned-for expense. Reality can be so MEAN!

I LOST my MasterCard when the bank realized I couldn't pay them back. I cried and cried.
So some wealthier friends and I invested in Real Estate, Junk Bonds and a drug to make a penis grow. We got REALLY, REALLY, REALLY rich!

Then one day the government told us owners of Real Estate that it wasn't fair to exclude poor people from home ownership. 

So, the NINJA loan was born. "No Income, No Job or Assets". All of us MBA-types knew this was C-R-A-Z-Y! But it is not politically correct to protest being "open minded" and or  "liberal". We didn't want to be called "meanies".

We had all these, well, "holy and righteous" loans. What to do, what to do...?

Then one of our business associates over at The Investment House of Sock It To 'Em
solved the problem. We repackaged all this, "New" stuff with the traditional "old" stuff and sold it as a revolutionary "New" low-risk loan swap. (Wow, now whoever came up with THAT earned their commission!)

Since the Firm of Sock It To 'Em was Huge, I mean H-u-g-E. They had to be trustworthy, right? Yeah. National and even FOREIGN banks gobbled up the new investment vehicle and the market went up and up.

But then The Big Bad Bitch of Reality forced a small bank to actually LOOK at the new loan-swaps they had purchased, to show off their latest profits. To their shock, they were insolvent!

Upon serious investigation, they realized that a 6:10 ratio of bad debt sat on their balance sheet. "I know SOME people did that, but ALL of them? 

What to do... what to do...?

When the other banks, brokers and the rest of the business world got wind of this, they got VERY, VERY scared because these loan swaps were EVERYWHERE and the markets started doing swan dives losing 10% and more of their total value A DAY.

What to do... What to do...?

Then a wonderful elderly gentleman quietly held up his hand and softly stated that he would buy up all those bad-old-investments and everything would be alright.

The markets rebounded for a few days, before people had time to consider...

Uncle Sam was already in Deep Shit debt. Several Trillion, (yeah, trillion, with a T) dollars in debt and this would move him up to something like a $15 trillion deficit per YEAR!

The IMF (International Monetary Fund) and The World Bank began to check up on 'ol Sammy boy...

See children, when the IMF and The World Bank "help" a country, they make mean-old financially sound decisions. (I refer you to the history to many countries in Africa, for a review of IMF reality). The business world is beginning to balk...

But wait, Uncle Sam says that there will be no accountability as to how the pot of money will be spent... Maybe the business World will accept this. They have friends who need help too.

Stay tuned for our next exciting episode:" The Day The IMF calls US Economic Voodoo a big pile of doodoo"

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Learning To Look To The Future With Hope: Not Letting My Fears Take Charge

For a few years now, I have learned (usually through running into pain I refuse to face) to keep my head down and focus only on what is directly in front of me. This pattern has served me very well in stopping fruitless forays into suicidal thinking. If it makes me that crazy, I back off.

Lately, I have begun to feel a kind of boredom and aimlessness. Part of this malaise, I'm sure was due to another dreary two weeks of having a bad cold which never completely went away.

While fighting the above, I have also had wonderful news and interactions with friends. I have been told to look forward to next year, as I will be invited to participate in a project a friend is putting together. Because my friend knows I get easily rattled, no further details have been given.

I had a feeling something like this was about to happen. God has a way of continuing to build my life in new and exciting ways. I've learned to ask few questions, beyond finding out what I am supposed to be doing, for the immediate future.

Then the business world darn near ground to a halt with the stock market in the U. S. taking a 950 point dive in one week. Since I have heard that when government money gets tight, the poor are the first to receive the financial cuts, I got very frightened.

Understanding the facts and causes of something helps me calm down. There was a great quote in The Making of a psychiatrist. He summed up his boss as follows: " could set his office on fire - and as long as he knew Why, everything was alright." (!) I am EXACTLY  like that. Information is what I need to conquer fear.

I know nothing about finance, so off to Google I went.  I wanted to see a history of stock market crashes to gage what I might have to contend with, should things continue going bad.

I discovered a series of books on finance which are collectively known as "Rich Dad, Poor Dad". These books are designed to teach folks like me basic "financial literacy", from the perspective of someone who has, or is considering gaining wealth. The first book came out in the '90's and its STILL a best seller!

I found a quote about character which has helped me sort out the fight between good and bad desires and actions. For me, it is the beginning of gaining control over my own mind.
Inside each of us is a kind person, a mean person, a greedy person, a rich person, a poor person, a coward, a crook, a hero, a liar, a cheapskate, a lover, a loser, and more.

Fromm: Rich Dad's Prophecy, Chapter 1. p 18. by Robert Kiyosaki

The key here is the thought frame of reference. Am I going to think like a courageous person, or a coward? Take a situation and consider how these two perspectives color feelings and actions.

I submit my usually completely irrational and cowardly attitude toward being on Government aid:

Cowardly self:

  • its hopeless.
  •  I'm completely at the mercy of the System.
  • I will continue to get poorer.
  • I'll be spending more money to achieve less.
  • HMO will choose to pay to let me kill myself, rather then to treat my illnesses. I heard a report of this situation already being a reality in Oregon where euthanasia is legal.
  • I solve the above by taking no action on my behalf.
  • I'll just wait for life to "have its way with me".
Courageous Self:
  • No external situation can dictate my thinking.
  •  I choose to gain emotional stability by learning how to challenge the dreadful list above.
  • I am not a victim
  • What if I do get further opportunities which could lead me off the system? A wonderful female comic used to say something completely outrageous and then cry out: "well, it could HAPPEN!"
  • God is my source of supply, not the government, or any other external situation. 
  • I am not alone
  • I am not helpless
  • I'm not sure he story about Euthanasia is true, but even if it is, God is in charge of the number of days in my life. PERIOD!
  • I will educate myself to what is out there financially, to prepare for getting off the system.
  • I will let God open any doors of opportunity. All I have to do is educate myself and plan.
  • I am capable of real courage and good character. 
  • Until lead differently, I'm going to assume, my dream of true self-sufficiency is starting to come true. 
  • I will study instead of stew when life starts to scare me.
This is where the battle for success really resides, not in your circumstances, but in your mind. I wish all of you a mental victory over whatever you fear will destroy you. 

"Yeah?", I used to scream at this kind of thinking: "well, what if it is as bad as I fear and all that bad stuff actually does happen to me? Then what, Shirley Temple?"

I still am in God's hands and He has control of the length of my life. Joining the "Ain't It Awful" club only saps my energy, kills my hope and is a waste of my (and others') time. Nothing has control over my thought-life other then me. 

I choose to think positively, if nothing else, it is good for my body not to dump all the fight/flight stress into my system.

If I end up staying on the system, I have the priceless gift of knowledge and new possibilities for personal growth because of new knowledge. I will have learned how to invest in and believe in myself. It is always easier to keep a moving object in motion instead of starting something moving from a dead stop.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

When Life Styles Colide.

I am absolutely in love with my first PDA, a Palm Z22. The bottom-of-the-line for this device. It is great, except the dictionary available for it just doesn't cut it. So, if I go up to the next level $199. I can get a serious dictionary program on a memory card.

A friend alerted me to the fact that for another $30 I could get an iPod Touch with everything I want with audio/video capability. A whole 8 GB. Let the drooling begin. We wrote back and forth and I realized I'd need to go to an Apple Store to make sure I could actually read the interface. As I always do, I began to lay out the pros and cons for an iPod Touch vs the Palm Tungsten E2 Handheld.

The iPod Touch wins hands down for flexibility, functionality and total hipness.

The Palm is attractive because I am now used to how they do things and am not sure I like not having a stylus to work with. Not nearly as cool, or "hip" device.

Then I remembered a problem with iPods and hipness. A few years ago a teen was killed over his iPod. Yikes! Unlike my upper middle class exec friend, I spend my life walking on the street or riding on various forms of public transit. Theft is an issue, everywhere, but I doubt my friend seriously worries about being killed so someone can steal his iPod!

I'm pretty sure I'll go with the Palm, as I feel safer using it in public. A hell of a commentary on the current state of affairs in the big city, huh?

So, when I make my decision, my friend will be buying me a better dictionary as an early Christas present. SWEET!

Monday, September 08, 2008

Building A Life Around What You Love

People who are passionate about what they do excite me. Chris Brogan is one of those people. He got my attention on due to his varied and always interesting questions. Actually, another friend on referred to him as a "must follow". This was advice I took and am grateful for. Chris is offering a free ebook: "Personal Branding for the Business Professional"

As a baby-boomer (age 55), I came into adulthood before the Internet revolution. We were taught to go to college, find something we liked to do, major in it and get a job. The assumption was of a job which could last for decades. Once work was settled we set about building the rest of our lives

Those days are gone. Sadly, it is now a world where you have to assume there is no truth or trust, or loyalty or even morality around any more anywhere.

Everything is fragmented, situational and "me-oriented. We are all tied to a computer for most of our day.  Social networking on the computer was developed as the new "water cooler" experience. You don't leave your work station to socialize, you shoot off an email, IM, or a tweet. 

Brogan's book is full of good ideas on many different levels. Beautiful lists of technology and life-building tools. This book is an outline for a new kind of social and economic structure. He speaks of a new ROI (Return On Influence). I believe this concept is much more valuable than we can imagine. Just for background, ROI traditionally stands for Return On Investment. But when I invest myself in something, I have potential influence, as my input has the ability to influence someone else. It is the start of an entirely new business and social model, built on the ashes of the pre-computer worlds of life and work.

Enjoy this man and his work. Check out his blog also.

This new model lives and breathes on the Internet. Welcome to life 2.0!

Friday, September 05, 2008

An Involuntary Set Of Masks

There are two parts to me I am becoming uncomfortable with. In a large group, say more than three people, I clam up and only engage with my food. Or, a switch gets flipped somewhere and I push myself to perform grabbing inappropriate amounts of attention in a group.

Both of these states feel somewhat beyond my control. I know that is not technically true, but I haven't figured out how to break through these behaviors on my own. So, when I had my yearly check-in with my Psychiatrist, I brought these issues to her attention. Are there any groups that can assist me with these issues?

To my great relief and surprise, such groups exist. Due to my strange background, some emotional exchanges between people also baffle me. I went for an intake interview for this group and will start on a three week "try out" next week. This group may not be what I need, but after three sessions, I can evaluate and go on from that point.

I can not express how good it feels to be able to tell the truth about an issue I've labored under for years. I hide my emotional in-experience with total silence, or with hyped-up performance. These behaviors have their place, but I want the freedom to choose how I behave. I no longer want to have my fears control my behavior.

Another victory of late was my successful visit to the grand opening of Barack Obama's Northern California campaign headquarters. I really wanted to go and see what it was all about. The first time I've ever desired to see a campaign headquarters for any candidate.

My less mature behavior used to be to plan to go, but not go at the last minute. Mindlessly repeating a pattern my family had of promising to include me in something, but changing their mind at the last minute. I am joyful to share that I actually got the transit information I needed and went to the campaign headquarters.

It was very crowded and set up with a bunch of tables where a large group of people could come through, sign-up for different activities and grab a snack. I'm talking a large crowd in a relatively average sized room. After looking around a bit and signing in, I decided it was more then I was ready to deal with alone. It would have been unfair to buttonhole one of the staff member and tie them up with being my "helper". So, I got some lemonade and left.

From this experience, I now have the confidence to visit the medical supply company in Berkeley to get a different, hopefully, lighter weight walker. A walker which will fit easier into small cars.

I have had to work very hard not to break promises I've made to myself. I used to let my fear keep me from attempting to go somewhere new. Now, I check things out. If I really wanted to roll along with a big crowd, I know I could ask for and receive help from friends. What a wonderful bit of knowledge THAT is. Truth be told, large crowds frighten me. I truly fear being trampled. But I'm no longer coping out on myself by not exploring things which interest me.

Thursday, September 04, 2008

This Campaign Is Sounding More And More Like A Bad Day In The School Yard.

One of my weaknesses is a sheer love of idealism. I fall for it every time and then get upset when the practice doesn't match the theory. Okay, this is politics and by its nature its nasty, sleezy, unfair and a weird way to select a leader. But what is happening with The Republican side of things is really beginning to bug me.

The female VP quipped that being governor is kind of like being a community organizer except one has REAL responsibilities! OH, PLEASE! And it just is twirling round and round like that. All Barack has to do is just stick to his standard speeches and not lower himself to the Republican level. Where have all the adults gone?

Professional commentators are getting so frustrated, they are alluding to going off after their show and getting good and drunk! By-the-way, whose stupid idea was it to make the election season more than a year long...?

Yeah, I hear you Republican-types telling me to collect my government check and go away. Sorry, next bit of feed back please.

I went out for dinner and was totally shocked at how prices are sky-rocketing. I may just skip my planned vacation and get a tech toy instead (while I can still afford to BUY said tech toy.

Saturday, August 30, 2008

After 40 years I've Become A Democrat.

My first election I paid attention to was Nixon in "68. I couldn't vote, but I was up most of the night watching returns come in as a Freshman in High School. I devoured and loved the first two books written by Rush Limbaugh. The republican philosophy galvanized my dream of overcoming my legal blindness to take my place in the American Dream.

Even after mental illness, spiritual bankrupsy and being unable to support myself broke my spirit, I hung on to the rhetoric of the Republican party. I tingled to "The Republican Revolution" and "The Contract For America". I slunk down in shame to see the shocking difference between the ideals and the reality of impotence delivered from Washington and elsewhere.

My own life got better as I came to terms with my reality. Thanks to several government programs, I am supported and cared for by God through the tax payers of this country. If the Republicans had there way, I'd have nothing, except private charity. A chill runs through me as I write.

When Bush II wove conservative religion into his inaugural, my heart again filled with hope for the Republican Ideas I still loved. 9/11 cemented me firmly as a republican. I rejoiced when Bush II got four more years. Sadly, I again fought through the bitter disillusionment of what appears to be corruption and incompetence dancing together within the Republican party.

Every time I hear McCain speak, I shudder at his age. Is this the best the GOP has? I just couldn't see myself voting at all in November. But as a U. S. citizen and a Christian, apaqthy isn't an option. I liked Obama's prepared speeches. Now this guy could give a speech!

But Obama without prepared notes is also an embarrassment. He needs to go to Toastmasters for nine months and dump the "ahs" and other problems he has when stalling for time to think of a reply. If I know about Toastmasters, don't Obama's handlers know about it?

But Obama being where he is AT ALL is historic. On the final night of the Democratic Convention I was hooked up live via the Internet to see and hear his acceptance speech. Conservative talk radio made much of the stage. Yeah, ornate, but not the regal set supposed. Nobody was carrying Obama in on a throne...

During that speech I switched parties. For the first time in my life I actually gave money to a candidate. When I hear and watch Obama, he brings back hope, optimism and a willingness to help him become president. When I hear McCain talk, I wonder how much longer he'll remain healthy enough to stand up.

So now McCain has picked a fiery woman from Alaska as his running mate.

Too little too late. I am moving on.

Since Thursday evening I've gotten four different emails from the campaign, Obama, Bidan and even Michelle Obama! Sure, they are trolling for money, but each email also has campaign news and friendliness. I like their style and will alert them to this blog, as part of my continuing contribution to the cause.

I hear my republican friends howling that I'm being taken down a river of rhetoric. Yeah, inflation is eating me alive and your people got us here.

Obama cries out: "Its time for a CHANGE"

and I join in the national reply: "YES WE CAN!"

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

After You're Done With Therapy, what's Next?

A friend has just started down that hard road of therapy. She's wiped out all the time and can't figure out why she doesn't want to do anything besides sit around and ... I informed her that right now therapy IS her life and there isn't much energy left over beyond that for awhile. How long? I can't answer that, but berating yourself for not progressing faster just saps energy better left available for the healing process.

I, on the other hand, have been through both the talking part of recovery and still take medication to manage my screwy brain chemistry. After therapy you begin to build a life. This blog is my example of that process, as it is happening. I stumbled along for awhile and slowly my "today" took shape. 

I have lots of work to do for my church. I am still working on not burning myself out doing the work-a-holic routine. It is so hard  to believe that I don't have to run myself into the ground to PROVE to God that I love Him. But I am getting much better at working at my job a few hours a day. Then I can enjoy other activities at will.

If you have come from a serious abuse history, your work is never totally done. I am now investigating some emotional issues. I have arranged to get into some short term group work for the problem. I was so relieved to finally find a place I can deal with my problems about emotions. Well, I came home and wept. Thanks to being on proper medication for my bi-polar disorder, I cried for maybe ten minutes and not several hours. What working your process gives you is this kind of control and freedom.

There was a time when being sad about a problem would hang my entire life up for days, weeks, or even months. It was just plain awful.

The wonderful part of being emotionally healthy is how life is always moving, changing and expanding. My church work keeps evolving. I now produce CD's of sermons I also put up on the web. So, I had to again dive into learning about how to make labels and packaging for CD's.

When I start something new, it feels like I'm dumb as a stump. Not a true evaluation. I ignore it and push on to produce labels and packaging. When I don't hassle myself for the learning "errors", the process almost becomes fun.

I am learning to apologize when necessary. Recently, I had an exam by a Dr.  She and I were both having a bad day. In my opinion she behaved badly, but for sure I behaved badly also. We basically sniped at one another.

Upon reflection, I felt bad for my part of the encounter. It was clear that my Dr. was having a bad day (before my entrance into her day). For sure I didn't make her day any better. So, I shot off a brief email of apology for my own snooty behavior. To my surprise, I got a very kind response. Probably made her feel better also. 

Another thing that begins to appear in a busy life is marvelous tech toys which solve problems.
I am totally addicted to my new Palm Z22. A little device I originally bought for reading all my eBooks. I have over 1,000 titles put together by a loving friend. The Z22 has a way to set it up so I can use reverse video. I can read anywhere and am no longer tied to my computer, or a stronger-than-normal light source.

I am also discovering other uses for this nifty gadget. I can take hand written notes on it, like I used to try and do with pen and paper. Notes never get crumpled up, or lost now. Oh, how sweet it it!

Finally, I bought a portable exercise machine, a ski-stepper. Actually use it too! Again, no marathon sessions, just a little exercise every few days.

So, for my dear friend just starting on the journey of recovery,  be PATIENT! Yeah, I know, I wasn't patient either, but I wish I had been able to hear that message when I was starting out in recovery.

Friday, May 30, 2008

Entitlement: I Waited Too Long To Get Subsidized Housing.

It is Memorial Day and I am at the apartment of a disabled church member. He has had several strokes and can't work. He has a one bedroom apartment with a backyard for $520/Mo. I confess I got angry and jealous over his residence.

For $560/Mo. I live in a 14 foot x 14 foot room with a sink, no heat, closet, bathroom or kitchen. This is not subsidized housing. But with a bathroom down the hall, careful use of a small space heater, microwave, rice cooker, refrigerator and one of those hang-over-the-door closets I make out pretty well.

I have heard many times that with my 3 disabilities: legal blindness, Cerebral Palsy and a hearing loss, I qualify for subsidized housing. Yes, but millions of others do also, and there is a pecking order.

See we disabled folk decided to make it a law that we are to be "un-disabled" legally. So, when I apply for a job, they can't have a note in my file about my low vision, use of a walker, or anything that would make me "look" disabled. What this accomplishes is a two trip stage to not being hired.

I go for the "agency" interview. Since my file looks like everyone else's file I get a call for a job. If I don't have a little chat with the placement agent, I'd show up at the work site and would be sent home! It is much easier to tell the placing agent about my legal blindness and get hung up on, without wasting hours of my life to accomplish the same thing. Yes, its illegal and no, I'm not exaggerating.

Because people love getting something for one-third of its value, able-bodied people have legislated new ways of being "disabled". No more is it the standard, "visible" problems. Now drug/alcohol addiction, being grossly overweight, mentally ill and most diseases qualify for government housing.

Enter the lawyers, after the passing of the Americans With Disabilities Act. It used to be that a blind adult was allowed to reside with the elderly. No more, blindness is considered a high risk condition and we are now in lovely segregated "disabled only" buildings that are just the opposite of what "mainstreaming" and "liberation" were supposed to be about. 

It wasn't until the passing of the ADA that any landlord ever called me a "bad insurance risk". Now my toileting habits are up for discussion. Its hard on one's sense of self worth to have to explain in painful detail that I can go potty all alone, yes, both kinds and I know if I need to vomit, to go to the potty too!

So, back in 2001, I decided it was time to go after those lovely apartments everyone was saying were mine for the taking. Oh, how shocked I became after several months of this dreary adventure. I decided to go through a Social Worker, as I thought they had an "in". They don't, but me traipsing through their office insures they have a job.

Upon entering this Social Worker's office, I met a young lady who demonstrated how one survives a drive-by shooting in one's living room. I was so totally taken aback by this, I actually lay prone on her office floor as she explained how you lay flat on the ground until the shooting stops!

Still believing I had some rights in this melodrama I sarcastically informed her: "If you think I want a studio apartment bad enough to risk being shot in my own living room - lady you are crazy!" Bad client, naughty, no! Never assert yourself. You need to understand...

This lady then lectured me on my attitude. Oh sigh! She then handed me a three-inch thick sheaf of papers with two columns of addresses on each sheet. The ones marked "open" were the ones I could contact for possible housing.

99% of the apartments were "closed" or "non-disabled", or wouldn't take MY set of disabilities!
The several that were open were in neighborhoods the police attempt to avoid. No, no, I won't go! So after an attempt with another agency, yielding even nastier neighborhoods to live in, I gave up and prayed to God for the gratitude for what I had in 2001. A ghetto room where people pulled knives on you as you attempted to go to the bathroom. (They were free-basing at the time).

Within three months that building was condemned and I moved to my current middle class location with a high rent. BUT it is safe, quiet and clean. I wish I had more space, but again, it is safe, quiet, clean and I have sunlight most of the day through a beautiful window that actually looks out to the sky and not another building wall!

People at church have been pushing me to really go for getting better housing. I endured their: "you have no faith" lectures and did not re-enter the world of subsidized housing. Oh, need I forget, I'm 153,462 on one waiting list and #1, on a second. I always lose out to an incoming AIDS patient and I've been #1 for YEARS! I finally just let them all laps. After five years, what the hell?

But viewing my friend's this lovely little apartment on Memorial Day, hypnotized me back into the fray. I was given an emergency housing hotline for my county. The person who called for me told me that this agency requested me to call them, as: "... they were sure they could help you". NOT!

I connected to what sounded like a 911 call room. I gave my story and was begrudgingly given two phone numbers. All housing recommended to me was in towns 2 hours away from where I live. Of course, some of those same great enclaves of crime and violence came up also.

I have to ask myself: Where is it written that I am entitled to something MORE that I can't afford? The Government is already paying my general support plus almost $300 a month in free insurance and medication. It isn't like I'm on the street with a tin cup. What is so bad about having a bathroom and shower down the hall, when being in the hall is so safe, that people leave their doors unlocked while in the bathroom, or shower?

Once again I relearn that to plan ahead when one is on the system is silly. The man on the hot line was not impressed that I felt I was losing my ability to walk up and down the 30 stairs in this building. They aren't set up for THAT. So, I'll walk until I have to butt-walk and when it gets to the crawling stage, I'll be screwed-up enough that my HMO will enlist that Social Worker to "put" me somewhere. But by then, my mouth might be the only fully functioning organ in my body. I'm going back to being thankful for what I have and not pursuing the holy grail of a kitchen and toilet I can call my own.

Sunday, May 11, 2008

Geek File: Desparation Is The Mother Of Disaster.

I had fifteen days of cat-sitting to do in the Berkeley Hills. I loaded up my portable USB drive with my four raw audio files and settled down to get the Black History Presentation edited. So when I returned home, I could burn the CD's, make their artwork and turn in our churches first CD for sale.

Now, I have been known to sit on a job like a hen, hoping inspiration will somehow hatch. It doesn't. But this time, I was on it and REALLY, REALLY worked. Two of the four files were full of those metallic clicks from defective cassette tapes. Oh, how I chased those buggers down!

Yesterday, it seemed like my drive was acting strange and the computer was just frozen in "spinning beach ball" heaven. When I ran disc Utility on the drive it failed and told me it was over.

I was briefly returning home to my newer Mac and slammed that drive back into my machine where it was seen on the desktop just fine. Then I ran disc utility again and something got fixed, according to Disc Utility, but something else got broken, as my "label records" were now invalid and Disc Utility doesn't seem to fix them.

Oh friends, here is where you can take a small water spill from a cup, turning it into an overflowing washing machine flooding your entire home. Beware! There are two demons that will drive you to make terrible judgements. a) current fatigue and b) dread of re-doing hours of work a second tine.

Current fatigue tells you that to re-do a week's worth of work will literally kill you. It won't , but the mess you make to AVOID that re-work, could...actually kill you!

Dread of the re-work. I have a friend who had offered to buy me a program that fixes sick discs and other things where your data goes bye-bye. I refused, at the time, as it appeared I didn't need the program and truthfully wasn't sure I had enough tech savvy to USE the program. But under the twin narcotics of fatigue and dread, I was ready to jump into anything!

I now share the IM's between my friend and I. Note that under normal conditions, (when I am not out of my mind) I would rather buy a new computer than face going into "Terminal" where you can turn your Mac into a doorstop, by fiddling around when you don't know what you are doing.

My Friend: "... and not a guaranteed success I hate to say it, but... You're looking at some re-work my friend."

Me: "np, can I screw around in Terminal and fix the bad records?"

My Friend: "Uh yah... the term "screw around in terminal" NEVER has a good result."

Fellow Geeks and geeks-in-training. I KNOW he already did this proposed experiment and probably had to do two weeks of back work to clean up the mess. What was I thinking?

Me: "sok, I won't die. If I wasn't paying for a vacation this week, I'd have the money (to buy special software)."

My Friend: "lol OK. So I won't even feel the least bit bad then. Vacation! Ha! Some kind of geek you are picking vacation over a tech tool!"

I realize, I must step away from this computer. No searching, logging in, or even pawingthrough the "Help" files. I now leave you to do something harmless, like read an ebook.

Tuesday, May 06, 2008

Humor: I Present To You The Hamster Dance

Yesterday a friend started reviewing that Austrian incest case. No doubt she was stunned by the level of depravity human beings are capable of heaping upon one another. Is there any limit to said depravity? Short answer: no.

When I first heard about this dreary episode I comprehended I didn't want to know any more. As my friend dredged up all the sordid details I perceived my vision blurring in and out. If I didn't act quickly, I'd remember something dreadful about my own childhood.

I decided to refuse the information and made a determined effort to keep my attention off my screaming psyche. It worked, no new memories. I really don't need to waste days with more of the same "details on a theme", cogitating and weeping.

My advice is to stay far away from this particular case, as elements of it could stir up memories you may not wish to recall. If you are in that difficult part of recovery where memory retrieval is important, than this case may be your ticket to personal liberation. It is a very sad and dreary affair.

When I woke up this morning NOT having flashbacks (thank you Jesus), I began my morning email / website review. As a fan of I read through the quick messages of friends. The word "meme" came up. I didn't know the meaning, so I did a Google search. A meme is a small piece of information, quickly understandable, and usually funny. Oh, like some of the goofy pictures people use to represent themselves.

I then ran into an example: The Hamster Dance.

This genre is about ten years old, according to some, but it is new to me. I am still laughing. I ponder: what stress and impossible task the author was avoiding, while he created this? Me, I should be editing audio for my church.

So, now that we can all have a good laugh, I leave you to return to what I should have been doing for the last 30 minutes :)

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

The Hidden Price of Success.

Scott Sigler got his contract with Crown Books. His dream is in the process of coming true. He quipped: "I'm an overnight sensation that has taken fifteen years."

 As I continue to follow his career I am reminded of the hidden price he has and is paying for the hard cover book release, five city book tour and finding out how many of the 100,000 copies of INFECTED have actually sold.

As I sit at my computer happily consuming his wonderful audio version of INFECTED, it seems so easy. How hard is it to tell a story? I've written stories and have imagined plots. But I am nowhere near being even a wannabe writer.

I produce this blog, but this is not truly professional writing. I have vague illusions about someone picking up my blog and seeing the potential for a book, but reality lets me know that it probably won't happen. Why?

Because I don't put in the time and effort to make it happen. Crown decided to back Sigler because of the quality of his work. Sigler has been working and reworking INFECTED  for about twelve years. He is also involved in continuing research of scientific topics, to add to the plausibility of his fictional horror yarns. 

Twelve years ago, Scott discovered a book on Parasitism. His brain latches onto the beginning of a story idea. That part is fun and exciting. The hours of rereading, rewriting and more researching can feel oppressive. Boredom lurks after the blush of "newness" wears off.

Scott is married and can't pursue career success at the expense of his family and friends. He has learned to walk that tightrope between career and personal life.

Scott has embraced the discipline of learning the rules of grammar, style and storytelling. He is willing to slash and burn his own work to make sure it is ready for the "break" when it does come. He balances opposite parts of himself.  His head may be in the clouds but his feet are on the ground. He'd like to be the biggest thing in publishing history, but what will he settle for if he not the biggest thing in publishing?

This part of the journey I'm somewhat familiar with.  I am coming to terms with having several disabilities, large aspirations, champagne tastes and a beer budget. I discovered I must like the "process" of what I'm doing, not just the result. Therefore the achieving of a goal isn't the only time I find enjoyment.

I killed myself to become a computer programmer, only to discovered I'd been happier as a data entry operator! Ooh, that realization was a real sad moment.

So Scott's pre-launch shin-dig with family and friends is held on the eve of his book launch. He has some candy, that turned out to be spoiled. He got a nasty case of food poisoning, a condition with which one can't argue. It is hard to do a phone interview with a radio station in New York when you are too sick to speak.

I know he never fantasized about having those radio interviews while fighting nausea! Crown, having dealt with a legion of authors, took it in stride and Sigler is still in their employ. People do become ill.

Day two (April 2nd) he's on a plane for Los Angeles and the first of a five city book tour. Success is tiring and after the first three cities, he found his bed at home and collapsed into it. I'll bet he didn't daydream of this aspect of success either.

One of the reasons I know I wouldn't make it as a writer is my tolerance for depression. The level of depression at the "let down" phase of success would be more than I could handle.  After several days back home Scott is off to New York and sees that he has strong sales, but not as strong as he'd hoped. How does he handle what must be a terrible personal disappointment?

All of these emotions are thrashed out alone, or at best with a few trusted friends. When you get noticed, people come out of nowhere and want to be your "friend". Usually not with your best interest at heart.

I know I'm a fan, more then a friend. Yes, I care about Scott and his work deeply. I want the absolute best success for him. But I'm also having my own money fantasies about owning what will become the equivalent of a first run copy of a signed book by Tom Clancy! My daydream is something like this. I bought it for $30 and now people are willing to pay $30,000. Wow, that would be SWEET! This kind of thinking makes me a fan, not a friend.

I study Scott's career and continue to mine personal inspiration from his honest and shoot-from-the-hip interviews. The hidden price of any successful endeavor is hours of just plain hard work.

I reflect on my current success with my church and the computer. I looked for that "hidden" work pattern and realized it was indeed present. I got a computer, programs and manuals. I had a real difficult time figuring out Adobe Acrobat 5. It took me days of reading and rereading their documentation to actually successfully use it. But from that adventure I found I could read much easier on a computer and bought serious Bible software. I love history and began the ridiculous task of reading the works of the Church Fathers, all 37 volumes. I'm in Volume four now.

Continuing with self education, my next difficult task was comprehending how to use Nisus Writer. There as still things that program could do I don't understand. But I learned more of how to learn and how word processing on a computer works.

When I made the leap to my first Internet capable computer the world exploded open to me. I read a lot of almost everything that came my way. Sometimes I long for those days with nothing to do but what I wanted to do, with no external responsibilities. My days are not like that anymore.
I have projects, deadlines and the challenge of learning when something is too difficult for me to tackle alone. I just turned over the project to create church stationery to someone more experienced with business stationery. It feels good to admit I need help.

Today after a little over three weeks out there in bookstores. INFECTED is doing well, nearly in the top 35 of the New York Times Best Sellers List. He'd published before with a much smaller company and when he sold 3,000 copies of a book, the company could barely fulfill the orders!

Crown sees potential in Sigler, because of his proven success in the podcast arena. So they gave him an unusual 100,000 book roll-out. Most first-time print runs are around 3,000 copies. Scott mentioned how that pressure weighed on him, in the beginning. I break out in a cold sweat just thinking about it, and it isn't even my life.

Sadly, Scott and his family now have to concern themselves with personal security issues. There are dangerous people out there who seem to glom onto folks in the public eye. Scott rarely talks of his wife or his marriage. I'm sure partly to shield his mate from some of the insanity of being in the public eye.

So when you find yourself angry because somebody else got the promotion, praise or recognition, remember all that went into that "moment in the sun". I am content with my life and am not angry or jealous of someone else's "five minutes of fame". I have learned to remember those lonely, hard times of grinding effort, that "hidden" price of success. 

Taking Responsibility In Our Crumbling Society.

I have been shaken up badly to realize I am now treating others the way some professionals treated me. They treated me harshly when I was strong enough to start accepting responsibility for my life. At church I got tricked by a homeless person, who spun a tale of family suicide. She conveniently neglected the details of her resent hospital release, destitution and homelessness.

I assumed I was dealing with a middle class person being rocked by the suicide of her 11-year-old grand daughter. I now question whether that actually happened to this lady.

I started receiving calls from her in various states of hysterics. "I have no place to go. No one cares." Being I've lived among the very poor I recognized this ploy. I refused to buy into the idea that I was now totally responsible for her well being.

She managed to secure a temporary hotel extension from the hospital she was released from. Her check comes in next week. I then get the call this morning that she has no food. I heard that Lilt of victory in her voice as if to proclaim: "Now you HAVE to do something!" Again, I had to decline to assist her. I gave her information I had about various feeding programs in Oakland, but beyond that, I will do no more.

I have that sick feeling in the pit of my stomach. I have food, money and a place to stay. If-I-were-really-a-good-Christian... Common sense redirects my flight into unrealistic guilt.

Neither I, or my church are equipped to handle a person in such desperate straights. We can refer her to The Red Cross, The Salvation Army or The Lighthouse Mission. These groups are set up to render emergency assistance. True to the nature of the mentally ill and or very immature, this woman refused all three options. She ran down everything that was wrong with each group. At that point, I hung up the phone.

Oh how I remember my own battles with agencies and doctors. Here I was a seriously messed-up mental patient ((self-committed, but now only able to leave when someone else judged me sane). I had all the answers for everything except my life and current circumstances.

Yes, I was suicidal. I'd been that way for years and knew that played right, someone would do something to make it stop. So, I dragged myself into yet another doctor and showed him my drawings depicting my desire to die.

I whipped the drawings out as a kind of victory. I thrust them into his hands with the triumphant feeling of: "Now, even a dumb-ass like you will see how badly I need YOU TO DO SOMETHING!"

The doctor's response shocked me into stunned reevaluation.

He rudely threw the papers on the floor at my feet and angrily growled: "So? What do you want me to do with these? Its your problem, not mine." He then walked out of the conference room. As cruel as this may sound, at first, it was a continuation of my real recovery.  This man was the beginning of my understanding that I was responsible for my own life and problems. Oh, what a series of painful lessons I had to endure before embracing the idea of carrying my own butt through life.

I truly hurt for this homeless and obviously troubled woman. But part of what Christianity is preparing us to become is leaders. We will rule and reign with Christ. What are the qualities of leadership? One big one is knowing that you can't be everything, everywhere to everyone.

If I have information the Director of the FBI needs, I'd go through the phone-channels and eventually I'd be put in touch with the Director, or one of his close associates. You have to go through channels. The Director of the FBI can't field every request for his attention, he no doubt receives.

Our 50-member church has limits as to what we can have and do. We can and do give occasional emergency food and or hotel stays. One night with the related referrals given to the people the next day. If they refuse to act on our information, we don't continue to give them aid. It can get ugly, but sanity dictates that our church isn't taken for a ride by people who refuse to seek out appropriate forms of assistance.

Leadership demands that one knows their skills, weaknesses and very real limits. I have a friend back east. It would be totally unreasonable and unrealistic for me to request him to fly across the country because I'm lonely. While he would be happy to speak to me on the phone, he would no doubt refer me to my local sources of assistance. This isn't being cruel, or irresponsible. He has a family of five to support and precious little time which isn't accounted for. When you are friends with busy people and they give of their time and resources, it is a truly loving act of friendship. 

As a writer I know always acknowledges to his readers. He tries to make his work worthy of our TIME. Once time is given to something, you can't get it back. Before my life got busy I used to laugh at such a statement. Now I thank God for the loving friends I have who are always there when I'm going through a rough spot. Thankfully, those times are becoming fewer and farther apart.

I also must manage my time. I have several types of part-time work, needs for rest and study as well as needs for some "down" time. I get overtired and ill, when I ignore these limits.

I no longer will give my phone number to strangers. I don't have the time, or resources to adequately help them. When I give out my number, I'm implying that I have the time and resources to help.

It is painful to see my old self for what it truly was: mentally ill and desperately immature. I thank God, He didn't give up on me. I knew I'd changed, but it was a shock to realize that I've come full circle. I am now acting like some of the professionals who used to work with me. I repent for some of the nasty things I thought about them at the time they were introducing me to that nasty concept of taking responsibility for my own life.