Thursday, October 19, 2017

Count To Twenty

Try this experiment (you'll need a partner in another room, house or city).

First, pick a starting time, then wait twenty minutes. Now phone your partner and after she says hello, wait twenty minutes, then respond.

Your partner should then wait for twenty minutes after your response, then wait another twenty minutes to begin a conversation.  Each response in the conversation should be separated by twenty minutes for the send and a pretend twenty minutes for the receive.

That is how a conversation between a person on Earth and a person on Mars would play out. The signal takes twenty minutes in each direction.

The effect of a twenty-minute delay in communication was one of many factors being studied during an 8-month isolation experiment that ended a couple of months ago. Six NASA volunteers lived in a 1200-square-foot structure near a volcano in Hawaii. Picture 6 people living together inside a two bedroom, one bath apartment for eight months, with no option to go outside without wearing a space suit, no open windows, no fresh food from a local farmer's market or grocery store (only freeze-dried food). And a twenty-minute delay in every communication from outside.

To be fair and more accurate, the delay could be less than twenty minutes. The range is between four minutes and twenty-two minutes. I don't know what factors determine the exact amount of time. Try my experiment using four minutes each way. It's still an issue. This particular experiment used twenty minutes for their timeline.

The experiment was designed to simulate a trip to Mars; it takes at least eight months just to get there. The volunteers wore sensors to study moods, played games to measure compatibility, stress and personal space issues and used virtual reality devices to 'escape' their surroundings if needed.

Could you do it?

Pack up some freeze-dried food, lock your doors and start counting.

Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Wet Perspective

If you want just a hint of what people in storm-ravaged Puerto Rico are going through, shut off the water in your house for a weekend. Our water heater sprung a big leak on a recent Saturday morning. Fortunately the maintenance super was already on the property fixing another problem (on his day off). He couldn't replace the water heater till Monday and had to shut off water to the entire apartment because the water heater shut off valve was also broken.

Picture routine water-related activities you take for granted: flushing toilets, brushing teeth, making coffee, rinsing dishes after breakfast, taking meds, cooking almost anything. I lost count of how many times I instinctively turned on a faucet, sometimes after already pumping soft soap into my hands.

Fortunately we could turn the water back on a few times for a few minutes to flush toilets and fill containers and we could use a guest apartment to take showers.

Our 'ordeal' only lasted two days. Most residents of Puerto Rico still don't have running water weeks after hurricane Irma.  Many people there are without electricity and cell service too. We watched tv in air-conditioned comfort while texting friends.

That weekend provided some first-hand perspective on how fortunate we are.

Sunday, October 15, 2017


Ears, eyes, noses, throats, legs and arms are probably pretty jealous lately. Why?  Because knees are getting all the attention.

Football players taking a knee during the National Anthem started as a statement by one player, with the intention of drawing attention to social injustices in our great country. Other players have since joined in on this practice and a national conversation about race, the 1st Amendment, patriotism, policy and law is the result.

Sadly, the conversation is often more of a shouting match and the loudest voices are at each extreme end of the debate over the appropriateness of taking a knee rather than the original issue.

As each side digs their heels in (more body parts), the conversation has become more about perceived patriotism, or perceived lack of patriotism, than about the social injustices that led to this behavior. The loudest voices ignore the underlying issue and forget that kneeling is in its own way a sign of respect. Those players are not turning their back on the flag or setting it on fire. They're not waving a middle finger. They are exercising their right to point out problems in our great, but imperfect nation.

If our president (lower case p is my version of taking a knee) wants everyone in the country to think alike, speak alike, vote alike, then he is forgetting the entire foundation of our country and urging us to become a totalitarian state.

By the way, he proved again that he is a lying, fake leader by laughing and joking during a military flag ceremony he attended last week.  That action is far more disrespectful than taking a knee at a football game. His mouth again proves he is unfit to be president of the greatest country on the planet.

My suggestion for use of a body part: use your fingers to write, email or call members of Congress to demand they take action to remove this incompetent and dangerous person from office before it's too late.

His reckless lies and narcissistic attitude could very well be a plan to bring all of us to our knees to bow down and worship him. You can't get more un-American than that.

Monday, October 2, 2017

No Words

It’s hard to mentally process the mass shooting in Las Vegas last night.  Fifty-eight people are dead, at the time I’m writing this, and more than 500 are injured.  The shooter is a 64-year-old retired accountant from Orlando who lives in a retirement community near Vegas.  He killed himself as police were breaking into the hotel room where he was doing the shooting.

The casualties were among the 20,000-plus fans at the third day of a country music festival.  Jason Aldean was singing the third line of one of his hits when he dropped his guitar and ran off the stage.  He probably couldn’t hear the shots, but he saw the crowd reacting and I’m guessing a sound tech was able to warn him in his ear monitors.

The videos and news reports I’ve seen so far show the obvious panic.  Nobody knew where to run.  The tendency is to head toward the entrance where you came in, but it turns out that was the spot most in the sights of the shooter.  Artists who were still there when Aldean was performing reported hearing bullet hitting stage trusses and sound and light towers.

This kind of inexcusable, unforgettable tragedy hits each of us differently.  One of the most chilling parts for me is that I know that venue and hotel.  My company’s two-night iHeart Radio Music Festival has an afternoon component staged in that same spot.  I’ve stood on that spot three times in past years. This year’s event was only eight days ago and I know dozens of people who were there. 

The shots were fired from a room in the Mandalay Bay Hotel.  I stayed in that hotel a few years ago.

I’ve also met many of the singers who played this weekend, including Jason Aldean.

Enough about me!  Can you imagine the horror that was felt by those at the festival?  Realizing what sounded at first like fireworks was actually automatic rifle rounds.  People were looking in all directions for where the gunshots were coming from, but few looked UP.

I’ll never understand what can lead someone to plan - and this was definitely premeditated – to check into a room at a fancy hotel, bring in high-powered firearms and ammunition and a hammer-like tool to break the shatter-proof hotel windows that aren’t made to open … and shoot at thousands of people having a good time at a music event.

No words.

I have words to describe the scene and words to narrate the horror but no words to explain why someone would do this.

It is certainly terror in its most basic form, actions that scare people.  I’m planning to attend an outdoor concert in my area in just a few days.  There are no high-rise building near the venue and there has been security there for a long time, upgraded after mass casualty shootings in recent years. But there is still some underlying fear in my heart.

When disgruntled or power-hungry terrorist groups stage mass casualty scenarios, they usually have a stated reason and their members often fit known profiles of various types.  But a 64-year-old retired accountant with a penchant for playing high-dollar games in Vegas??? 

He’s dead, so we may never know his motive, but fear, anger, agitation, sorrow and depression are among the results of his actions last night.

Monday, September 11, 2017

Red, White, Blue and Gray

Red White Blue and Gray

The sunny, blue sky helped to keep me calm as I inched south in a typical Tuesday traffic jam on I-270 on the way to a 9am doctor appointment in Bethesda. I had already called the doctor's office to say I'd be late.

The DJs and traffic reporter, co-workers at the radio station I work for, were laughing about who knows what when suddenly one of them said "Oh my God."  A few seconds of silence was followed by "it looks like a plane hit the World Trade Center in New York."

The next few minutes were filled with hopeful speculation that maybe it was just a small plane that veered off course and hit the tower. That would be a tragedy, of course, but probably would mostly result in few deaths, few injuries, little structural damage to the building and maybe a few months of investigative reporting about air traffic control and pilot training.

As I left my annual physical exam three hours later, I simultaneously faced traffic gridlock of an evacuating D.C. and the unimaginable news that two airliners had intentionally flown into two of the WTC towers and another crashed into the Pentagon, less than fifteen miles from me. Two of the tallest buildings in the world had collapsed and the Pentagon was on fire.

Today, sixteen years later, the image of that day is as fresh for me as it was then, enhanced by this morning's sunny blue sky and my ride to work on I-270. The 'few months of investigative reporting' has become a decade and a half of countless stories of heroism, terrorism, patriotism, flight safety and building design.

Every aspect of life in the USA has changed and reminders exist everywhere, perhaps most notably at security check points in airports, stadiums and buildings.

Hurricane Irma coverage is the only reason 9/11 isn't the lead news story today; it's number two.

Some people choose to forget or downplay memories of September 11, 2001 and others choose to remember every detail. I choose to remember. I never want to forget the fear and feeling of vulnerability. I also never want to forget the coming together of people, Americans helping Americans.

Maybe the societal divisiveness we are currently experiencing in our great country will take a break today. Maybe the anniversary of that tragic day will help us remember the unity we felt in the aftermath of terror. 

Wednesday, August 2, 2017


We talk about tomorrow
But we've only got today.

(From a Keith Urban song)

The concept of carpe diem, seize the day, is both appealing and elusive.

Living for today, living like there's no tomorrow because tomorrow is not promised, live like you were dying (doing those things you've been putting off, knowing that this is your last chance to do them) ... all of those things line a great conceptual path to a rich life.

Work, commuting, living up to expectations and obligations, work, laundry, cooking, paying bills and work ... all of those things set up obstacles on that path.

How do we find a balance?  How do we live for today, knowing it could be our last day, while keeping an eye on tomorrow, knowing there's a decent chance we will see a tomorrow?

Those are questions I ask every day. What about you?

The closest strategy I have to answer that question is this: carve out at least a little bit of "today" time every day, celebrate that action and do something, however little it may be, to prepare for tomorrow.

In other words, find the balance.
Make the most of today and plan for the tomorrow you hope you'll see.

Sunday, July 30, 2017


Moments after planting your butt in a molded plastic seat, a sturdy u-shaped bar gently inches down across your chest, locking you in place. Your significant other is strapped into the seat to your right. A few duos are ahead of you, several more are behind you. A buzzer sounds and seconds later you're jolted forward, quickly accelerating up a forty-five degree incline.

You are relatively confident you won't be flung into the abyss at the top, emphasis on 'relatively'. You think you know what's on the other side but you're not .... whoaaa ... down you go, sixty miles an hour, maybe more, a quick twist to the left, then right, then slowly up again, now down quickly, a sharp left, up, over, dowwwwnnnn ... a twisted spiral, upside down, twice, shit, didn't see that coming, climbing again ....

Being in your 60s is an amusement park experience someone who is 30 can't really imagine. You watch other people going through it, you see them safely glide to the platform and disembark and comment unintelligibly, walking a little wobbly.

But nothing really prepares you for the ride. Or rides.

As you get near the end of the ride, you wonder how you survived it, you check yourself for bruises and you try to picture the next ride. Back at 30, you jumped off and said "what's next? ... let's go!!"  Now you carefully step off and say, "what's next? Let's go ... to the restroom. We'll think about the next part later."

Sixty years ago, 60 was old. To a modern-day 30-year-old, 60 is old. To some 60-somethings, 60 is old but to others it isn't. I'd like to think I'm in the "isn't" part of that spectrum, but it depends on the day and what I'm trying to do or what I can't do.

I was surfing the Social Security site recently and saw, in a retirement planning section, that someone who is 65 now can expect to live 19 more years. What?!!  That's just a targeted guess based on statistical averages, but it feels very short. My age is near that 60-something number but I want to hit 100.

The target guess based on statistical averages for someone born the year my Mother was born was mid 50s. My Mother made it to 95. She beat the odds many times. She gave birth to me just short of her 40th birthday, an unheard of feat in the 1950s. And I have a younger sister. My Mother never looked her age, even in her 90s; she always looked much younger. My sister and I are lucky to have that same physical quality.

More than half my coworkers are in their 30s and that helps keep me young, in thought at least. Attitude and hair color assist my blessed genetics with keeping me looking young, or should I say younger than the real number.

My future certainly includes more roller coaster rides. Yours too.  I accept them but don't always embrace them.  Some days I'm ready for the ride, on other days I tip toe through the aging landscape with a blend of confidence, annoyance and fear, seeking the predictability of level ground.

Regardless of the ups and downs, I won't give up living the best life I can live. I'll step off the roller coaster each time, as I said a minute ago, check for bruises, thank God I'm on level ground, look for the Men's room and board again.

Sixty is the new sixty. Don't fear the number.

Click! Buzzzz!  Here we goooooooo!

Sunday, July 23, 2017

At What Point?

At what point do childhood memories fade away and why do they sometimes come crashing back, unannounced, for no reason with no prompting?

My sister and I were in a carpool during my first few years of school. My Mother didn't drive, therefore she couldn't really take a turn as the driver, but the other mothers were ok with that. Mom usually came along for the ride, but not always.

I remember Mrs. Collins and her son Mike. And their 1957 Chevrolet. I don't remember the other moms or their cars. I do remember the time, probably in 2nd or 3rd grade, when I couldn't find the car that was supposed to take me home. I walked up and down the street looking, but didn't recognize any cars or mothers. Eventually all the cars were gone and I was still there, confused, scared and crying.

One of the older kids who helped the adult crossing guards asked me what was wrong. I told him. Fortunately I knew my address and this kid offered to walk me home. My mom was scared and worried that it took so long for me to get home that day and was relieved when I arrived. I'm not sure, but I assume she thanked the older kid, probably got his name, probably sent a thank you card to his parents.

I do know she was furious that some mother left me at school. Starting the next day, Mom took me my sister to school each morning for the rest of elementary school, walking part of the one mile route, taking a bus for about half of it. She would then arrive at the school each afternoon and take us home, partly walking, partly on the bus. New Orleans had very good public transportation back then.

Why did that memory invade my brain today, decades later? It's Sunday. I was drinking coffee and reading a science fiction novel. The plot of the novel has nothing to do with school, youth or parents.

The mind is a weird thing, isn't it?

Thursday, July 20, 2017

How Do They Do It With All That Noise?

Wine bottles in wood display cases lining the walls from near the front to the back, huge wood-framed mirrors on the only remaining wall space, wooden chairs and bar stools lined up along tiled tables down the entire center, concrete floors ... that's the decorative, functional layout of one of my neighborhood wine bars. All of those lovely surfaces reflect sound, in effect amplifying the sound of conversations among fifty or more customers.

At the front, just inside the sound reflecting floor-to-ceiling glass windows and door, is a musician singing his heart out, playing favorites from three decades as well as a few originals. He's pretty good but he's background music to the customers. Those sitting closest to him are paying attention and applauding at the end of each song. The rest of us are aware that he's there but our conversations and beverages are the focus of activity.  The talking is louder than the singing. The total reflected sound level is close to deafening.

How does a singer do it?  Performers all seek attention to some degree. It's why they do what they do in front people. I'm impressed that a good singer can play in a place with inattentive customers and bad acoustics.

I met my singer/songwriter friend Pete at this wine bar a few years ago, where he played and sang and did his best to interact with the patrons.  He was asked once to perform at a "comfort concert," which is basically a small show in somebody's home. He invited me and a few other wine bar regulars to share an evening of his original songs. It was the first time I really heard him and the first time I heard most of his own music. He's great.

In this setting, twenty people pay complete attention to the performer and the performer makes a truly intimate connection with an audience. The acoustics of this particular home basement entertainment room were designed for this use.

I have seen Pete perform many times since, in bars, charity events, private receptions and a pool party. Each of those settings had crappy acoustics and most people in attendance weren't really there to pay attention to the music. Pete and others who play in this kind of environment as part of their living accept that they are mostly background.

I'm happy that they are ok with those conditions but I truly don't know how they do it.

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Why the Hell Do I Know All These Songs?

Many boomers grew up in an era of musicals and variety shows. Songs from those performances became a part of our lives and hearing them now can transport us back in time in unexpected ways.

The Rain In Spain Falls Mainly In the Plain
Get Me To the Church On Time

I saw the musical "My Fair Lady" at a local theatre this week. As far as I know, I've seen the movie only once, back in the 1960s, and have never seen this as a live stage play. Yet I knew nearly every song.

I Could Have Danced All Night

Why the hell do I know all these songs?  Maybe singers on variety TV shows sang them. Maybe we had the soundtrack on vinyl and maybe our parents played it, although I don't remember that.

On the Street Where You Live
I've Grown Accustomed To Her Face

Is this aging or is it me: when I hear these songs, and other songs like them from my youth, I get teary-eyed. It's almost embarrassing but it happens all the time. Sometimes I wish I didn't react this way.

Wouldn't It Be Loverly?

Two other musical plays I saw in my 20s are "Fiddler On the Roof" and "Man Of LaMancha".

If I Were A Rich Man
Sunrise Sunset

The Impossible Dream

Those have each played in theaters in my area in the past few years and I made sure I saw them. I had a similar reaction during each, however I did know those songs and I know why I know those songs.

My "My Fair Lady" memory remains a mystery. With a little bit of luck … I'll figure it out some day.