christmas 2008

A Christmas both familiar and unfamiliar...

Last time around, I mentioned my brother had moved to the West Coast. Strictly speaking, that isn't technically true. He's an hour inland, having landed himself in Corvallis, Oregon. When I unexpectedly saw him at Thanksgiving in Greenlawn, he mentioned that I would need to rent neither a room nor a car should I decide to trek west for a visit. I tossed that idea around in my head, until realizing... I've got a ton of reward points available to me! After looking at various itineraries, I booked one that I thought would work well within my schedule, while still ensuring that I'd pay zero dollars out of pocket (for the airfare, that is - still paid to check a bag).

And so, last Monday, I flew PHL -> MSP -> PDX. It wasn't without difficulty. Once I'd packed my seabag, I tried to lock it... but it failed to lock. I had to detour on my trip down to the airport to buy a luggage lock, leading Delta to declare that I was checking my bag "late"; running that through the Airline to English translator yields "45 minutes early." They told me it might not arrive when I did; I walked away from the counter chalking that up as merely some kind of scare tactic to get me to show up earlier next time. The layover in Minneapolis-St. Paul just added to the fun. I thought 43 minutes would be sufficient to grab a bite and connect. In related news, I fly quite rarely, and not in over two years prior to last week. Hearing my last name and the words "final boarding call" while I'm walking down a conveyor belt for humans definitely finds a way of putting a spring in your step. One of the unexpected highlights of the trip came right off the bat; just after touchdown, my brother let me know that my half-brother wanted to have lunch with us. His choice of venue - Claim Jumper in Tualatin - was spot on, although it felt like dinner to me, as the food was set down about 3:30 Pacific time. I was wiped and so I slept most of the drive down to Corvallis.

While down there, I got the chance to explore a little bit, insofar as the immediate Corvallis area offers. But I did end up spending a lot of time camped out and relaxing at the house my brother and a friend of his have rented, where two more of his friends will join him early in the new year. I learned that John is a massive History Channel junkie. I was cool to The Curse of Oak Island, but the show that really got him going was Hunting Hitler. He got me caught up before last week's new episode. I thought the series was well edited for dramatic effect, but my evaluation of the fruits of the search turns heavily on what burden of proof you apply to Bob Baer and his team. If it's the criminal standard of "beyond a reasonable doubt," then one must find for the settled history (Hitler died in the bunker in Berlin). But on the civil standard of "preponderance of the evidence," they might carry the day, although given that P(Der Führer lives) < .001, I'm not sure how much it matters. Try him in absentia? Given we have much bigger fish to fry, why? Speaking of those fish - my brother's on the left, I'm on the right:

(That was a few hours before last night's finale.)

John could not have been a more gracious host. Two weeks before I touched down in Oregon, he exhibited class by not trash talking until Josh Brown's kick sailed wide in overtime. (He's a Jets fan.) He indulged my craving for Jeopardy! each weeknight (delaying as necessary for football or the aforementioned Hunting Hitler) so that I wouldn't be behind when I came back east. He set us up to see Star Wars: The Force Awakens. I enjoyed it more than he did; he pegged it as too derivative of A New Hope and Return of the Jedi. As everything closed up on Christmas Eve, he delivered delicious chicken parm, in honor of our late parents' traditional Sunday dinner. The next morning, as we lazily watched Die Hard, he served up a tasty surprise: chicken and waffles for brunch. That being so, we resorted to cultural appropriation a few hours later, ordering in some Chinese for dinner.

The twenty-sixth dragged, especially for me, toward an absolutely ugly NFL matchup - Washington at the Eagles. I was in the hellish position of having to drop my resistance to the Eagles fandom, as they needed to win to give Big Blue even the slightest chance to win the NFC East. As the game clock at Lincoln Financial Field closed out the division title for the Snyderholes, the clock had already run out on my time in the Beaver State. As we left Corvallis to ferry me to PDX, my flight out had already been delayed nine minutes. When we took the exit off Interstate 205, it'd been delayed another twenty. That put me in a perfect position - plenty of time to clear security theater and find some beer and food, and plenty of time to make the connection. On the drive up, I'd researched food and drink options in Concourse D; I was intrigued by the Rogue Ales & Sprirts. After the government was through with me, I found my way there... right next to the gate! SCORE! Two tall drinks and a chicken finger platter eased the way... until the time on the board changed from 11:25 to 11:55. Even then, I knew I'd be in trouble on the back end. Not the kind of thing you want to be worrying about on a red-eye, when you want to be sleeping. And I was most certainly awake for the full duration of the return trip. An unexpected upgrade to "economy comfort" sustained me, as did the chance to correct a mistake from the summer - I caught Trainwreck, led by the amazing Amy Schumer. But I spent the second half of that flight checking, rechecking, and checking again the gate assignment of my connecting flight...

... for very good reason. The delay out of PDX had cut my layover to twenty minutes. I retained vague familiarity with DTW, having driven to it from Findlay many times as I interviewed for my current job. When I saw the gate for my connection, I knew it would be hella close. The flight crew was on point with the announcements - paraphrasing: "if you're getting off here, or if you can take your time, sit the heck down." I could do neither of those things. Emerging from gate A72 at 7:00 Eastern time gave me a brief flashback, quickly replaced by the need to reach A25 - and with a quickness. I sprinted. I used the conveyors. I walked quickly. I used more conveyors. I glimpsed A25... plane still there! A shot! I reached the counter, thrust my boarding pass at the attendant. She goes down the jetway... nothing. She calls somewhere... asks whether I have roll-on bags... I don't. Like Link with the magical key, the door opens for me! I collapse in my seat...

... only to endure an hour ground stop. The weather in Philadelphia prevented anybody from taking off or landing, so we'd have to wait. Fortunately, it was only an hour. As I walked off that flight and through PHL's Concourse D, I knew I'd need a boost. In 1987, it was called "liquid Schwartz"; nowadays, we call it 5-Hour Energy. It was indeed enough to get me to my "new" car (hold on, I haven't mentioned that here yet) and back to Phoenixville. I was a shell the rest of the day, which is just as well, as it gave me an excuse to turn off that horrific Giants-Vikings game halfway through the third quarter.

I awoke Monday morning somewhat refreshed. Hadn't completely acclimated to the time change back, but had done enough to get through a test and a scenario. But as our planet approaches the arbitrarily determined start/finish line of its orbit, I feel ready to take on what 2016 is going to bring on. And it starts early - our NRC exam will conclude before January does.

In 2015, I broke a good habit by barely posting here at all. I hope to re-break that habit in this year that will see me to three and one half decades. As for whatever else I can do to improve my life? Perhaps a piece of property, or someone to share this... or both? That's up to the Fates and me to determine.
christmas 2008

All that's old is new again - but not the same, nor can it ever be

Thanksgiving is, of course, about homecoming, and about family. But for the reason detailed in my last post here so very long ago, Thanksgiving no. 35 was unlike any of the first thirty-four.

What to do over this long weekend had weighed heavily on my mind for a while, but was uncertain, given the radically changed circumstances in my family over the last twelve months. My brother moved to the West Coast in August. At the end of September, we closed on the sale of the land on which the Ancestral Palace formerly sat. Though my roots will always be spiritually on Long Island, the temporal roots had pretty much been severed...

... or so I thought, until two Fridays before last. On the day Paris was targeted by the scum of our species, I got an email from my cousin who works for the State Department. She'd attached pictures of standstill rush-hour traffic in Jakarta, where the government had sent her. She also mentioned her return date and plans for the holiday - dinner with her sister - and that I was welcome to get in on those plans if I wished to. Problem solved! Having set my agenda, I didn't think much of what John would be doing; having made a trip back east last month and making another one in December, I figured he'd be content to stay put in Oregon.

Just as the football commenced on Thursday, I walked into an unfamiliar house in Oyster Bay, weary from three hours seated in my car. Though I really would have benefited from having a family tree in my pocket to keep the relationships straight, I immediately felt at home. I especially enjoyed the more civilized timing of the meal. I was told that we were starting at 1:00, but we didn't sit until a little before three, giving us plenty of time to socialize and catch up. I made it a point to show up only a few minutes before one, having heard Adam Carolla complain year after year about his parents arriving 45 minutes early, with the meal nowhere close to being ready. At the same time, I couldn't shake the urge not to be late, because for so long as I can remember, Mom saying "we're eating at 2:00" meant "I'm shooting for 2, but it certainly won't be later - and it might be 1:45."

Between my arrival and our eating, I got a text from John; I let him know what I was up to. He responded with the news that, four days earlier, he'd bought a ticket and flown in. Of course, now I had to go see him. I meandered my way to where he was - so that I might pass through Northport for the first time in three hundred forty-nine days. I made stops down at Village Park and at the plot of land on which I was raised - on which is being built a worthy replacement to the Ancestral Palace. Befitting the styles and preferences of the times, it encompasses both more square footage and more height than its venerable predecessor. When I did finally meet John, he informed me that one of our neighbors is quite displeased with the structure going up, and wrote strongly worded letters to that effect. But we (read: my brother) sold to a relative of his former construction boss, who knows both the zoning requirements and how to stay within them. That neighbor can go... well, let's keep this clean.

John and I caught up with each other while we watched Bears-Packers, followed by a few episodes of Pawn Stars. I ended up crashing there with him, before leaving early the next morning, and finally making my way back down here to Phoenixville mid-afternoon. I'm already looking at PHL-PDX round trips over Christmas; and perhaps more importantly, the trip has left me feeling rejuvenated - a most important feeling, as I and my class head into the home stretch of our license training.

christmas 2008

"What we leave behind is not as important as how we've lived."

Those words, uttered by Captain Jean-Luc Picard in the final scene of Star Trek Generations, have rung through my mind more times than I can count over the last two weeks. They were the words I uttered shortly after 9 p.m. on the Tuesday before last, to only three other people in the room, just before I did the hardest thing I've ever had to do -- which is saying something, given that I said something very similar less than eighteen months ago. This is a story that has, to some extent, already been told in the media. Let me tell it from my end.

Friday morning, December 5. Refueling today. Fun topic... we'll learn how we get old fuel out and new fuel in, something you don't really do in the Navy. The lecture starts like any other, seemingly, until about 8:15. The site training director enters, and pulls me out. Highly irregular. My first thought is, come on! Last exam was only an 84! An off day, but I still passed! He asks me to dial one of the senior managers. That senior manager gives me a number with a 631 area code. Without dialing, I knew then that serious shit was going going down back home. I call the number, I speak to my brother, I hang up the phone. I open the door to the office, and the training director asks me, "Everything all right?" And I can only respond truthfully... "no, it is not."

I relay what I've been told over the phone. There's been a fire back home in New York. The house is destroyed. And Mom's gone.

Within two and a half hours, I've told my classmates, been walked up the hill back to my car, thrown some clothes into a sea bag, held my mail (instinctive from going underway on the submarine), and pointed the Focus toward what was left of the Ancestral Palace. I reached Northport shortly after two, picked up my brother, and drove out to Crab Meadow. I turned the corner, and there was a giant truck. At first, I thought it was a news crew, but when I recognized the crest as that of the Suffolk County Police, I was relieved that it was their mobile command unit. I briefly talked with them, left, and an hour and a half later, came back and stepped foot into what was, for all I knew in that moment, the eighth circle of Hell. The house I'd stood in less than a week before, fully intact, was a mess of blackened debris. And yet somehow, my brother's wallet had been sufficiently shielded from the flames. One small sign of hope.

As all this is going down, I fielded the first of what have been innumerable messages of condolence. One of them was from a couple of friends from the Big Red Marching Band back in the day, who live in nearby Huntington. I didn't want to smother my brother, and wanted to ensure he has space to grieve as he wished to, so I asked them if I could crash at their place. They graciously offered their guest room, and for the next seven days, that was home base for me. It was also a welcome distraction; they've got a three-year-old daughter, so I got to play blocks and Legos and watch Cinderella in between everything else I had to deal with. That said, I briefly questioned the little one's movie choice at the time; I had to summon a bit of self-control to keep from losing it at the mention of Cinderella losing both her parents, so that I would not have to disclose to her the true reason for my visit.

There are many events that bring long-lost friends and family out of the woodwork. Winning the lottery, or getting drafted into the pros and signing your first contract, can bring them out and showing you their worst. On the other hand, when something like this happens, they come out and show you their absolute best. One of my friends from high school appeared with basic clothing for John. His friends rallied behind him, not only on Long Island, but coming in from around the country to help us grieve. It's unfortunate that it takes an event where we lose so much to remind us of just how much we still have.

Saturday was spent in a holding pattern. I'll say here what I've said to many others - I hope and pray that nobody has to hear the words "forensic dentist" outside of dramatic fiction. Finally, on Sunday, the body was released, and we were able to make arrangements. Monday was another day without forward progress, strictly speaking, but it was still filled with warm experiences, despite the cold weather. I spent an hour and a half walking in the woods near the house with my friend who brought the clothes for John, and we caught up on a whole lot of things; among the topics covered were international bureaucracy and long-lost high school classmates. Later that evening, I processed with Ryan over dinner and drinks downtown.

Tuesday was the wake. It ran the gamut, to say the least. There were the highs of remembering all the great things Mom did with so many of the people she touched so deeply. There were the deeper lows of just how senseless and raw this is. As the crowd dwindled and it was getting to be that time of the hour, I felt the urge to share the thought I shared here at the top, which had lodged in my head so soon, particularly because it was a fire that claimed the lives of Captain Picard's brother and nephew earlier in the movie. I recall saying "let's not sugarcoat this - there isn't much left behind. But how Mom lived is beyond question."

We tied up some loose ends over the next couple of days. I spent much of both those days researching things like estate taxes and the finer points of the Estates, Powers, and Trusts Law of New York State. We met with the lawyer who had drafted a will for Mom. We also met with a representative from Fidelity, who manages Dad's retirement account. But by Friday, I knew there wasn't much more I could do there. I had one last dinner with John, and pointed my car southwesterly, at least for the time being.

I reported back into work on Monday morning, and set about the task of catching up on what the class had done in my absence. In particular, they'd taken two exams, and a third this past Wednesday while I was studying for the other ones. I took the first one on Thursday, and came out relatively unscathed. The remaining two will be taken next week, the aim being to get me all caught up by the time the class reconvenes for the second year of initial license training on January 5.

Those two exams won't be easy. Nor will be the process of picking up the pieces from what happened. But my brother and I have incredible strength behind us to get through the challenge - not only from the people around us, but from the values instilled in us by our parents. And we take further strength from the knowledge that though neither of them remains with us here on Earth, they watch over us from somewhere - and wherever that may be, their souls are healed simply by being reunited with one another.
christmas 2008

The Battery Bungle, episode 2

(Episode 1 occurred back in July 2008.)

We had some record or near-record low temperatures here in the northwest suburbs of Philadelphia last night. For the first time this autumn, the mercury dipped near 20 °F as I left for work at six this morning. When I went to start my car, it wanted to, and it struggled... but that struggle was followed by a series of clicks. No dice, but the actuation of lights signified only a low voltage condition, one that hopefully a jump start would temporarily correct.

Being as it was so early, there didn't appear to be anyone else up, and I wasn't about to wake them. Around 6:15, someone came out of the building across from mine. I asked her if she'd be willing to help me. She asked me where my car was and if I lived in the complex. I pointed to my car and apartment; she said she had to bring her dog inside; and so I walked back over to my car. After a few minutes, I wondered what was taking so long, but I wasn't about to tell someone who'd agreed to help me to hurry up. Someone else came outside, and I considered asking them for a jump, but the first lady had gone to the trouble of putting her dog back in her apartment, so I didn't think it proper to turn around and tell her I didn't need her help.

A few more minutes pass, and I see someone who I think is her looking down at me. The situation completely flips at about 6:30, when around the corner rolls... a cruiser belonging to the Phoenixville Police. He told me that it wasn't standard procedure to give jump starts. I replied that nor was it standard procedure to call the authorities when a neighbor asks you for help. I'm conflicted about the encounter. On the one hand, I wonder if something I said or did alarmed the neighbor, and having the cop jump me saved me a few minutes over having to wait for another neighbor. On the other -- and pardon my language, but it is my blog -- what the fuck is our society coming to when a simple request for help is rejected without telling me so, and the police are called? I did not say a single word which would have in any way threatened my neighbor. Two years ago, I was driving back to Long Island from a job interview in Maryland. While getting dinner at a rest stop on the New Jersey Turnpike, an older gentleman asked me for a jump start. You know what I did? I pulled my car around and provided my twelve volts! Not that difficult! Are we so wrapped up in media hype about "stranger danger" that we've lost all perspective and can't help each other out when we're in need?

Fortunately, the officer was friendly and jumped my car, and I was on my way, arriving to work only a few minutes late. Once I arrived, all heads turned to me. One co-worker asked me how old my battery was. "As old as the car -- four years, eight months," I replied. He suggested replacement, which is exactly what I did on my way home this afternoon. Given that the battery failed on the first truly cold day of the season, I'm confident it's the right call, and it'll save me from not only unintended lateness, but unpleasant interactions with either unfriendly neighbors or the local P.D.
christmas 2008

Presents on my doorstep!

And by that, I mean I got the stuff I ordered from Amazon last Friday. I'm no longer amazed that when I buy from them, my goods arrive to me well before the promised date. In fact, I wonder whether they blatantly rip off Scotty's tactics.

Here's what was in the goody box:
  • 2 12-packs of orange 5-Hour Energy. Our training normally rolls from 6 am to 2:30 pm or 6:30 to 3, to which my nocturnally inclined body does not acclimate well. In days past, I would remedy this by downing Coca-Cola. But with me sitting in a classroom all day, and needing to log north of eighty miles a week on the bike just to hold my weight steady, an additional forty or more grams of sugar per day is out of the question. Thus I turned to the energy shots several weeks back, and they've worked reasonably well. After having sampled several of the flavors on offer, I've come to roll with the orange as the most palatable. I was only going buy one 12-pack to take my order above the $35 threshold for free shipping*, but I elected to throw another one on there, since I'll consume them eventually.

  • A pair of EARBUDi. My new iPhone came with the standard Apple earpods, which I considered buying by themselves years ago (and didn't). While I like having the remote control on the right earpod cord, they tend not to stay in my ears. I wondered whether I was wearing them correctly, and so I googled "how to wear apple earpods" or something like that. That search yielded this blog post; I checked out their website and added them to my order. They snapped right on to the earpods, and they've performed quite well at their task, including my bike ride this afternoon.

  • Overruled: The Long War for Control of the US Supreme Court, by Damon Root. I enjoy Root's writing at Reason, and I expect this book to be just as fine a work. As the summary at the link states, the debate over judicial activism vs. deference is one that cuts across the traditional American political divide, uniting Oliver Wendell Holmes and Robert Bork against modern jurists like Randy Barnett and Alan Gura. It's also a debate that could come to another head in the year to come, with the Court having agreed to hear King v. Burwell (Root's summary). I'm definitely looking forward to getting into Overruled when I can find some spare moments to do so.

* Before you remind me of the existence and/or greatness of Amazon Prime, let me counter by saying that I purchase from Amazon so infrequently as to not make it worth my while. When I placed this order, the default address listed was in Findlay.
christmas 2008

gluttony for punishment

As I type this, I'm on an NJ Transit train bound for New York City to watch the Big Red football team battle it out with the Columbia Lions in football. Actually "battle it out" may not be quite the proper term. Fortunately, Harry Enten of FiveThirtyEight has given this game some prominent Internet exposure; many of the relevant statistics are stated there. I'd add one more: since the last time Cornell traveled to the northern tip of Manhattan, Columbia is winless. The Lions carry a 19 game losing streak into today's clash of titans of futility.

The prospect of some abjectly bad football adds an extra layer of anticipation to a game that I'd be attending anyway. The abundance of Cornell alumni in the area bumps up the red-clad turnout. And afterward, we get a parade! Down Fifth Avenue! That's right, after Cornell at Columbia in each even numbered year, Cornellians parade six blocks from Rockefeller Center to the Cornell Club. It's a tradition dating back over four decades. I marched in one as an undergrad in 2000, and this will be my third straight one without the band uniform on. So even if the product on the gridiron is putrid - heck, even if the Big Red fall this afternoon - it'll still be great to catch up with many folks from the good old days on the hill who I don't get the chance to see too often.

Let's Go Red!
christmas 2008

How many hoops can one be made to jump through...

... to get one's hands on a new iPhone 6 and obtain the promised trade in value?

When Apple's newest cell phone model was first announced, I had no intention of replacing my trusty 4S. It may have been pushing the limits of its memory and been slowing down a tad, but that's nothing I wouldn't be able to live with. After all, I did have a flip phone for nearly seven years.

It was only after a conversation with someone next to me at the bar at Iron Hill Brewery in Phoenixville that the seed to upgrade was planted in my head. He showed me his 5S, and I liked the feel and speed. Since the 6 was on the verge of release, I went with the new model, not needing the larger 6 Plus because I already have an iPad mini. I finally pulled the trigger on September 30 so that I could take advantage of AT&T's offer of a $200 promo card for my old phone. It would be a couple of weeks, but I had no problem waiting.

What I did have a slight problem with was the delivery window being shifted from the end of October to the first two weeks of November. I was beginning to get antsy. Finally, last Friday, I got the email that my phone had shipped. Bad news: despite being shipped 2nd day air, it would need four days to reach me. Good news: like myself, UPS was working on Veterans Day, so I got it on Tuesday, exactly six weeks after placing the order. The process of bringing over my data from a backup was seamless. And the phone is as excellent as advertised, especially the new features like Touch ID.

When I went to start the trade-in process on AT&T's website, the promo code I'd been given failed to work. So yesterday, I went back to the store and talked to the sales rep again. I waited patiently as he spent nearly an hour on the phone with AT&T corporate, talking to at least five different people. Finally, he got a promo code, which I wrote down as he repeated it back. I left the store relieved... only to have my aggravation re-ignited when the code didn't work when I got home. When I called the sales rep again, he did a smart thing - he texted me the code. This alerted me to the fact that it contained two dashes that I didn't know existed. At long last, I was able to print out a receipt and label, and ship back my old phone.

It was an arduous ordeal, but I came out the end of it with everything I wanted. At the end of the day, that's the most important thing.
christmas 2008

The best kind of crazy

During the cooldown portion of my time on the stationary bike this morning, I caught the tail end of Let's Make A Deal. Wayne Brady, not needing to choke a b*tch today*, noted that a contestant had turned down an expensive prize, and said that she was crazy. The school-bus-clad contestant responded that it was the good kind of crazy. That got me back thinking about some other things I've been exploring, to the extent the Internet allows me, during this period off from work. I'm not sure how often I've mentioned it here, but growing up, I was fascinated with the Tour de France. I would watch the highlights on summer afternoons on ESPN, amazed that these men could speed and sprint and climb and time trial under such repetitively stressful conditions. I didn't follow the TdF quite as closely after the rights transferred to what was then the Outdoor Life Network (now NBCSN), and even less so after the Lance stopped winning Tours.

I don't know when it first was that I heard of a test of will and strength of shorter duration, but of significantly greater severity. I speak now of the Badwater Ultramarathon. The lowest and highest points in the lower forty-eight United States lie less than one hundred miles apart, as the attack crow flies. Respectively, Badwater Basin at -282 feet (-85.5 m) and Mount Whitney at 14,505 ft (4,421 m). There's enough man-made interventions between the points so the route can be traversed. Four decades ago, a man named Al Arnold decided to do so. After two failed attempts, he succeeded in 1977. It became something of a holy grail to ultra-distance runners - people who'd refer to a marathon as a warmup run - and a decade after Arnold blazed the trail, an official race was born. Nowadays they only go to the Mt. Whitney trailhead, but nonetheless, "135" - the number of miles from Badwater to the Whitney Portal - is a hallowed number. Oh, and let me mention some other points. In the Tour, you take the start as a team of nine, and as you're hauling ass up those Alps and Pyrénées, the team leader has his domestiques to conserve energy for him before he drives to the top. At Badwater, the organizers strenuously object to and strictly prohibit any sort of drafting. You've got a team along the way - in fact, you're required to - but each competitor must cover every centimeter under their own power. And this race takes place in the middle of July. You don't need to remind me what Death Valley is like in that kind of heat. In 1999, during our family's road excursion to Alaska and back, Mom took us through there. On July 11. Some checking reveals that was only four days before that year's Badwater 135. I slipped out of consciousness for at least part of that leg of the journey, probably thanks to mom securing the air conditioning - which on balance, was integral to us getting through and on to Las Vegas.

Something brought me back to the Badwater website shortly after the start of the year, at which time I discovered a total travesty - the route would have to be significantly altered in this and possibly subsequent years. The superintendent of Death Valley National Park had suspended the issuance of permits for sporting events within the park in order to conduct a "safety review" of such events, notwithstanding the impeccable safety record of AdventureCORPS, the company that stages the event (and others in Death Valley). Seeing this raised the usual libertarian impulses within me, which comprise a combination of "oh, come on now" and "I am not surprised in the least." AdventureCORPS did two things. First, they released a strongly worded statement, combining strains of "you're really stabbing yourselves in the heart" with "did you forget we run 100 milers for fun? We're ready to fight for this." Second, they composed a new course which is arguably tougher. Twenty miles of climbing off the bat? Check. Eight miles up, over dirt, to a ghost town, and back down? Done. Plus the usual finish at Whitney. Striking at Badwater only makes it stronger. Take note, DVNP.

But who gets it in their head to do this? Why does anybody think this is a good idea, much less pay a thousand dollars to do so, not to mention organize the support crew and logistics? Last night, I found the answer in a talk from last year's TEDx Honolulu:
The runner's low - depression & the badwater ultra marathon: Hannah Roberts at TEDxHonolulu
I was stunned by how Hannah laid everything on the table - not only about the community of ultra running, but about her own struggles. On top of that, having done it, she comes back the following year... not to crush the course again, but to crew for somebody else. That brought it home to me just how much of a family the ultra-running community is. I then made my way to her blog, Run Sea Legs Run. The Navy hook intrigued me. I clicked that tag in the sidebar... and found one post in particular. Whoa! Ex-LTJG Roberts is a hard-core "I'm done with this, and I don't care who knows" type, just as I was once upon a time. (There are innumerable posts to that effect in the history of this blog; finding them, especially in the 2007-2009 range, is an exercise left to the reader.)

As topsy-turvy as the last five years have been, I most certainly would not have traded them for an equivalent period of time in utilities the not-so-new anymore Navy BDUs. I knew, from a time long before I met my own EAOS, that it was the goal. What I have to admit I'm still looking for is something that Hannah expressed exquisitely in her TEDx talk, and which I requote from AdventureCORPS here:
I used to say that Badwater saved my life and I think I believe that still to an extent, but what I see now, is that it's not the race, because that's really just a place-holder. It's more the community of people that I have been exposed to doing these races. What I think primaly was so initially powerful and appealing to me was not necessarily that people are running this distance in this heat, but as you watch people talk and do Badwater, you are watching people do what they love with people that they love. I think, more than I wanted to be an ultra runner, I wanted to be someone who does what that they love with people that they love. And through ultra running I am so grateful that that has been part of my story. So my hope is not that everyone goes out and runs Badwater, but it is that you find your equivalent, whatever it is that lights you up, and maybe the people that also light you up. So I hope you find a community that by your involvement in, you make it better, and that they make you better.
I hope that Hannah finds the perfect shade of blue for her hair, and that she continues to find the right races to challenge her and the right people to get to the finish line of each of them. And I hope that the rest of us - myself included - find the strength to live up to her words, to find the spark to our torches and the friends to keep them lit over whichever one hundred and thirty-five miles we choose.

* Discovered this clip while searching or the one above linked. Plus two to Robert Flores.
christmas 2008

up for air

Let me first plead absolutely, one hundred percent guilty to the charge of gross negligence in posting in this space. The time has been there, but on many occasions when I've sat down to write, I've ended up with a block in the motor pathway between the brain and the fingertips. Thus, this one will be a catch-all post on a multitude of topics.

Work. I'm presently going into the closing stages of the "generic fundamentals" phase of the license training. This is exactly what the name likely implies - the basics of how things in a nuclear plant work, divided into components, reactor theory, and thermodynamics. Most of this is review for me, having seen it first when I went through Naval Nuclear Power School ten years ago (ooh, nice reminder of oldness there). That being so, there are still differences in terminology, as well as some concepts that aren't the same here (Limerick is a BWR, vice the PWRs that power aircraft carriers and submarines). Also important is the need to get everyone up to the required level of knowledge. Not all of us in the class have backgrounds in operations; some people are seeing much of the material for the first time. The NRC GF exam is in a week and a half, and I expect that not only will everybody be ready, but we all will pass it.

Purchases. The sum provided by Exelon to finance my relocation to Pennsylvania was far more than I required, so I spent some of it on much needed upgrades. Dresser, nightstand, bed and mattress - all hand-me-downs from Mom. Desk - probably the cheapest one there was in Target in New Hampshire in 2007. "Couch" - actually a futon, purchased from the New Haven IKEA in 2008. All of them out to the trash in the first two months of this year, replaced with a large haul from the IKEA in Conshohocken and self-assembled. Now, all the faux wood finish is the same color, so it looks as if I put some thought into interior design - even if it was but a tiny bit of thought. More importantly, I now have a desk sized to my needs, and a mattress and frame that aren't possibly from the middle of the last century.

We had a refueling outage in March, and I spent three weeks working the night shift - three weeks of twelve hours a night, six days a week. The overtime pay from that stretch went toward the end of ridding myself of the last mandatory connection to my time at Cornell - my student loans. The monthly payment was well within reason, and most of the interest had already been paid, so the primary benefit was psychological.

Working a normal weekday schedule (for the most part), combined with the particularly harsh winter, did serious damage to my exercise routine. I've put back on a good chunk of the weight I lost in the second half of 2012 and the first half of 2013. Earlier this month, I got another quick influx of cash when LSI Corporation, in which my parents bought me a few shares of stock when I was five years old, was acquired by Avago Technologies. I had been debating internally whether I should join a gym (namely the newly opened Planet Fitness five minutes from my apartment) or buying a piece of fitness gear (which would be a stationary bike, since it's smaller, and the pounding of feet on a treadmill is unworkable in an apartment complex). Some cogent advice from a co-worker earlier this week settled the question in favor of buying the bike. It's not equipped with a suite of wham-o-dyne bells and whistles, but it's silent and it gets the calories burnt, regardless of time of day or precipitation conditions.

Sports. John Tavares got hurt during the Olympics; while it sucked, it's the nature of having the dual duties to club and country, as has long been the case in the World Cup. Besides, the Islanders were already well out of contention by that point. They managed to salvage something for Thomas Vanek, but a single prospect and a draft pick swap deepened the sting of saying goodbye to Matt Moulson. Cornell hockey made it back to the conference semifinals, where they lost to Union; the Dutchmen would not only take their third straight ECAC Hockey championship, they came here to southeastern Pennsylvania and convincingly won the national title, something that would have been absolutely unthinkable a decade ago. Cornell lacrosse did what Cornell lacrosse has done on many occasions in recent years - they came out on the wrong end of a razor-thin margin, this time against Maryland in the first round. As I suspected they might before the baseball season started, the Mets seem solidly headed toward another win total in the mid-seventies.

I got a chance to see my family at the start of the month, right after my birthday. What felt the most weird was sleeping in Dad's room, since the room I'd previously occupied was now taken by my brother, who moved back in a couple of weeks prior. They both seemed to be doing okay. It was good to be back, and a weekend felt like just about the right amount of time to be there.

Last but not least... Ever since Cornell announced that Ed Helms, aka "Andy Bernard," would give this year's Senior Convocation address, I've been looking forward to it. I've haven't watched an episode of either the American or British versions of The Office, so I'm not familiar with Helms' work beyond his role in The Hangover. But I was just so glad that for the first time since 2008, the graduating class secured someone who's claim to fame isn't politically related. And Helms delivered a great address, archived here. Helms's speech begins at 28:45, but I also recommend class president Rob Callahan's remarks at 3:45. The fictional Cornell alumnus was insightful without being very preachy, along the lines of Keith Olbermann in 1998, and for humor content, with Phil Rosenthal at Hofstra in 2011. Neither playing an alumnus who's a touchstone of popular culture nor delivering the Convocation address confers a real Cornell degree on Helms. In that respect, I'm in the same boat as him, and I join his congratulations to the Class of 2014 - you deserve it, and you most certainly have earned it.
christmas 2008

In former Soviet Russia, OLYMPIC FLAME LIGHTS YOU!

The XXII Olympic Winter Games are just underway, even though the opening ceremony isn't until tomorrow night. When the Olympic flame enters the stadium, the cauldron will be lit and the fire sustained for sixteen days by a steady stream of 1,000-ruble notes. After all, Sochi has already gone through fifty-one billion dollars - what's a few million more at this point?

You'd think all that money would produce facilities that are state of the art and the envy of the world - for all parties; competitors, officials, fans, and media alike. You'd be wrong in thinking that. The international press arrived to the shore of the Black Sea to find, as John O'Connell tweeted, something "like an extended Yakov Smirnoff bit." The accommodations are not up to par in the eyes of the Western media - and in some cases, not even completed. Deadspin has a lovely compilation of what reporters are finding over there. And this doesn't even cover all of it; I read elsewhere that some of the faucets spewed forth raw sewage.

Given these circumstances, I would not have begrudged Shaun Walker had he bought the bottle of gin after realizing that it wasn't water. But it was that picture at the very top that got my attention here. Greg Wyshynski, aka "Puck Daddy," tweeted out a picture of a sign warning against depositing toilet paper in the toilet, kindly requesting that the bin beside the bowl be used instead. He's been getting some backlash, with people calling him "high maintenance" for this stance. I stand with Puck Daddy on this one. Even though your country is barely two decades removed from the shackles of communism, you signed up to host a world-class event. That means that for these two weeks, you need to be a world-class city. And part of being a world-class city is having sewage lines that can handle stained TP. Had MTV sent the Great Cornholio to the Games as a special correspondent, his bunghole might unleash a wrath that not even Putin's FSB could contain. But that's not why I initially found the picture humorous. I cracked up upon first seeing it because the rule on the sign was, and still is, the rule in the Carberry household, on the lovely North Shore of Long Island, New York, in the United States of America. You see, the Ancestral Palace - aka, my mom's house - has not more than a cesspool. Whether simply to keep the lines from clogging, or to save money by not pumping it out as often, placing toilet paper into the bowl was verboten growing up.

Here's the kicker - if you think this is bad, imagine the possibility of it being multiplied by ten, when Russia hosts the World Cup in four years' time. But let's end this on a positive note. In the (completely out of context) words of the great Borat Sagdiyev, "U S AND A! GREATEST COUNTRY IN THE WORLD!" The start of another Olympic Games is yet another opportunity to demonstrate Borat's prescience.