Monday, April 23, 2018

T is for Toastmasters

Are you nervous and afraid to make a presentation at school, work, church or some organization you belong to? Do you just wing it and hope that you get your message across and will live to tell the tale?  You're not alone.

Public speaking is one of the most frequent fears.

There is an organization with a local club that will welcome you and help you. It is called Toastmasters.

Best of all it is inexpensive and fun!

I was a Toastmaster for a number of years. I would still be a member today if not for my hearing getting so bad that I can't participate.

Toastmasters is a communication and leadership organization. Everyone joins to improve their communication skills and then find out that their leadership skills also benefit.

The clubs offer you a chance to speak and be evaluated by your peers in a non-threatening environment. You will quickly learn to discard those annoying filler ah's, um's, you know's and dude's when you speak. (Most charge you a nickle every time you utter one in a meeting — luckily for me, my club had a quarter maximum fine.)

I joined, got my info packet and soon gave my first speech at the club. Not very much later, I was recruited as an officer.  I volunteered to write a weekly newsletter. I progressed.

In due course, I completed enough speeches and leadership positions to earn my Distinguished Toastmaster award. The DTM is the highest award available.  I won several state level newsletter competitions and won two International newsletter awards. In 1985, I was named Toastmaster of the Year for District 47, out of the 3,000+ Toastmasters in Florida and the Bahamas.

Toastmasters gave me the confidence to give presentations at technical conferences across the U.S., give keynote speeches to statewide conventions, speak on the rubber-chicken circuit in my community and give seminars for my company's HR department.  All this, despite the fact that I am an introvert supreme.

At one time, I got my boss involved with Toastmasters. One day, he gave a speech on our company's promotion procedure. The example he showed on the overhead projector was my promotion package. What a pleasant surprise. My work with HR and my speaking gigs at conferences was heavily noted in the packinge. In 50 years of working that is the only title promotion I ever received.

I have seen so many success stories among my Toastmaster buddies. I hope you will investigate Toastmasters and will share your success story with me. Peruse their website and find a club near you.

Saturday, April 21, 2018

S is for Space and Satellites

Most of my blog readers know that I spent a 45 year career in the computer business. Many do not know that I had five years as an electronic technician before my entry into computers.

After high school I graduated from an electronics technical school. They somehow awarded an AA degree despite it being only 18 months long. In reality, it was a glorified radio and TV repair school, although I did get a good basics in vacuum tube circuit design. I studied on my own and passed the FCC First Class Radiophone license before I graduated.

In 1960, I joined Electro-Mechanical Research (EMR) in Sarasota, Florida. One of the first projects that I worked on was the solid state data transmission system for Explorer 12 — the S-3 Energetic Particles Satellite. EMR was noted for their mechanical commutators and this was their first semiconductor version.

We also did the integration of the complete satellite with a lot of testing at Goddard Space Center in the Washington, D.C. area. Yes, that picture above is the satellite. Things were a lot less strict in those days. I actually carried the flight solar panels around in my 1960 English Ford Anglia some times. After launch from KSC in 1961, I went back to D.C. and helped set up a satellite integration lab for the company.

When I returned to Sarasota, I worked on the Data Transmission System for the Gemini manned spacecraft.  That included environmental testing at Bell Aerospace in Buffalo, NY. One of the tests was a salt water immersion test. We joked that because the box would be under the astronaut's seat, it had to pass the test in case they peed on it.

In the late 1970s, I worked for two years in the Space Shuttle Firing Rooms at Kennedy Space Center. Although I left KSC before the first launch, it was a tough job. I was a Senior Software Engineer in a group that mainly poured over memory dumps finding problems, then getting the appropriate subcontractors to fix them. We supported not only of the systems in the firing rooms, but also the computers onboard the Shuttle and Mobile Launcher. I still have my white hard hat with the Shuttle decal on the front from the times that I had to go inside the Mobile Launching Platform.

One of the fun things we were able to do at KSC was to go up on the roof of the Vehicle Assembly Building (VAB). It is that super tall, 35-story building that you see from far away at KSC. The view from up there is amazing. To get there, we took the elevator to the top floor. Walked up some stairs and then across a wire-caged walkway across the high bay to the final stairs. Lots of people panicked on the walkway as it swayed and you had 35 stories of empty space beneath you.

Finally, in the early 1990s, I worked on a spy satellite program at Harris in Melbourne. We had to put "sunglasses" on the satellite. The Russians were using our spy satellites for target practice with their lasers. The bright light would cause the electronics to burp and blinded the satellites for a while. Hence, sunglasses so it could still function while being a target of the laser beams.

Lots of people think that I am a bit spacey. Now you know why.

Friday, April 20, 2018

R is for Races

"Off to the races," has been my frequent response over the years.

In the early 1960s, I lived and worked in the Sarasota/Bradenton area.  I was a co-owner of a late model stock car for one season. We raced at local tracks in Bradenton, St. Petersburg and Tampa. Lots of fun, but, oh, what a money sink that was! You can do nothing but cry when a car that is being lapped crashes your car into the wall 50 feet from the finish line. (Yes, we were leading at the time.)

I also went to the Sarasota greyhound dog track almost every night for a year. My budget for gambling was a paltry $20 per week.  Since I came to know all of the dogs running, I actually made a little money over the course of the season.

As a kid, I loved to watch harness racing at the county fairs. In the mid 1960s, I was based in West Palm Beach for a year and a lot of my coworkers were pilots. I often went along for the rides. I remember watching the harness races in Pompano Beach at night from 3,000 feet while flying with a buddy.

We also flew over to the the 24 hour Sebring race in a Cessna 182. Took our boss along and scared him to death. We arrived and got into the pattern with lear jets and twins. I must admit that I don't like seeing lots of aircraft around me either. Especially when they are bigger than me!

I have owned and shown horses, but I don't really like horse races. They just take too much time between races for me.  Couple that with the fact that I never seem to win. I know horses well, but I cannot pick a horse race to save my life.

I can't let this discussion of races go without telling about another kind of race.

In the early 1970s, I lived in a redneck trailer park in Manassas, Virginia while working for Univac in Washington, D.C.  It was the only park we could find that allowed us to keep our collie dog. I used to invite a coworker out to our mobile home frequently. I would always be out front to greet him when he arrived. Why? I enjoyed the hell out of seeing my redneck neighbors peeking out from behind their curtains with their mouths open at a black man getting out of his automobile in that trailer park.

Thursday, April 19, 2018

Q is for Quotes

The letter "Q" (along with "X" and "Z") are tough ones to peg a thought to.  Until I thought of "quotes", that is.

I love some of the more thoughtful quotes, as well as, some of the more pithy ones. So here is a smorgasbord for you.

“Don't cry because it's over, smile because it happened.” 
― Dr. Seuss

“Be yourself; everyone else is already taken.” 
― Oscar Wilde

“In three words I can sum up everything I've learned about life: it goes on.” 
― Robert Frost

“If you tell the truth, you don't have to remember anything.” 
― Mark Twain

“I am so clever that sometimes I don't understand a single word of what I am saying.” 
― Oscar Wilde

Can I be conceited and add one of my own?

"Your sense of humor, it is true. Depends on whether, the joke's on you."
― DC Stultz

Wednesday, April 18, 2018

P is for Parrots

My wife loves birds and has been a real bird lady for years.  We started out with a couple pairs of cockatiels and then she went for macaws.

Rocky, her current scarlet macaw is her baby. He loves her. She loves him. He HATES me. I hate him.

He's a one-person bird. The wife can hold and cuddle him and groom his feathers. He will even lay upside down in the palm of her hand and play dead. Beautiful bird. But dangerous to anyone besides her.

He attacks me any chance he gets. The picture above is not Rocky, but it is his twin.  You'll notice that large beak with a point on the end. That point will completely puncture  my leather cowboy boots and dig into the skin!  On the rare occasions that the wife was not around and I had to put him into his cage, I have to put on my boots, let me bite me on the foot and hold onto the boot while I lift him into the cage with my foot.

He is about 30 years old and they live to be 60 or more. Which means he will outlive us. When the wife has to get rid of him, she will cry. Me? I will do backflips of joy.

Rocky isn't the only parrot around the place.  We have flocks of quaker parrots (aka, moot parakeets) and nanday conures that frequent our outside bird feeders.  They are not native to Florida, but there have been long established flocks in the area.

Parrots, by nature, waste a lot of food. They nibble and toss. They are the mainstay for the critters on the floor of the rain forests that cannot climb or fly into the trees.  Rocky not only throws half of his food on the floor, he dunks his food in his water dish so it is always icky.

The parrots outside also toss half (or more) of the food out of the bird feeders onto the ground. Some pigeons follow them around to the various bird feeders on their daily rounds and pick up the dropped seeds.

Amazingly enough, the wife has potty trained Rocky. She will tell him to poop and he knows if he does, she'll pick him up and take him from our bird room to the living room.  Of course, she has to remember to take him back out in about a half hour or else she'll be changing clothes.

Tuesday, April 17, 2018

O is for Opossum

Well, we could have put this post in the A-Z Challenge in either O for Opossum or P for Possum.

I live in Clearwater, Florida. Which is in Pinellas County — that peninsula on the west coast of Florida that juts down and separates Tampa Bay from the Gulf of Mexico. It is the most urban and built-out county in the state and is home to approximately one million people.

We're chock-a-block crammed with housing developments and apartment complexes. But some wild critters have found that they can coexist with us all.

The possum seems to thrive.  I have had to evict three of the darn things out of my garage in the past year. In each case, I ended up boxing them up and taking them a couple of blocks away to a ball field and park with a small body of water. (I spend a lot of time in the garage. That's where I use my chromebook while I smoke my pipe. Thus, the garage doors are open of an evening when they roam.)

They are not aggressive unless cornered. Then they will snarl and bare their sharp teeth.  I can always tell when they have visited our yard. They dig a distinctively round hole in the yard when they hunt for grubs and worms.

Amazingly enough, Pinellas County also has a fair number of coyotes. There are enough golf courses and county parks around that they can call home.  I have seen a couple. People are finally wising up and keeping their cats inside. Coyotes love to snack on them.

I just read where a river otter killed a small dog down in St Petersburg. I didn't know we had them in the county.

Of course, this being Florida, alligators are in nearly every lake and pond in the county. A few years ago, a coworker found one in his fenced in back yard. It seems nearly every week we'll see pictures of a gator that has decided to take a swim in someone's swimming pool.

Florida, land of hurricanes and critters.

Monday, April 16, 2018

N is for Night Lights

There is no need to carry a lantern around our house to navigate after dark. No night lights plugged into electrical sockets either.

We, instead, have many red, blue, and green lights visible in all of our rooms. Chargers and devices with lights are everywhere.

In the home office, we have a cordless vacuum cleaner than sits there and charges and blinks a big blue light to either say it is charging or that it is already charged. That room also will have a Kindle or Kindle Fire plugged in with either a red, yellow or green light.  And, the cable modem, phone modem and wifi router light up with multicolored blinking lights like a christmas tree. Add my captioning telephone which always has its display lit.

In the kitchen we have green clocks on the stove and microwave. A month ago, we bought a new Oster coffee maker. That damn thing has blue backlighted buttons and a huge blue back lighted timer display. It is so bright, we routinely cover it with a kitchen towel at night.

In a couple of rooms, we have cable set top boxes that glow. Add in three cordless phones in their chargers with red lights. Not to mention a couple of cell phones and computers telling us that they are charging.

No wonder my electric bill is so high.