Sunday, March 29, 2009

Resolution - the Movie


A few blog entries ago, I mentioned a process that I 'invented' ... OK, stole, that I called Resolution.

I found my mind returning to the same thoughts over and over, rehashing decisions I had made or actions that I had taken, none of which were to my satisfaction. Did you ever get yourself into one of those spirals? You spend a lot of time debating decisions that were already long over with and couldn't be undone anyway.

Over the course of time, it dawned on me that I was spending a lot of time trying to come to terms with why I did this or that. This was time I could have spent on something constructive or at least whistling a happy tune. So I decided to do something about it.

In other words, I didn't have time for this crap.

This was maybe fifteen years ago and the fact that my father had died a few years before had nothing to do with all this angst. Like, I'm SO sure. But whatever the origin, I did what I always do, I studied the matter. Even all those years ago, you wouldn't believe all the self-help books out there with a sure-fire program to solve everything. So I helped myself to those aspects of a variety of programs that appealed to me or suited my purpose and ignored the rest.

Oddly, there was no self-flagellation or tough love among the recipe of rules I put together. That wasn't the point, I just wanted to be done with this stuff and not have it popping into what's left of my mind.

I can't really go into all the specific devices here, for all I know some of what I stole was copyrighted but I can summarize it for you in the name I selected for the program: Resolution.

I had to resolve the issues to the point where I no longer thought about them. Just to make you feel better, there was no murder or mayhem involved, it was job decisions, personal relationships, perceived insults, you know, childish junk like that. Boy, I can hear people signing off all the way from here.

So, I started by writing them all down.

That's a throwaway line that really translates into a great deal of work over a long period of time. I had to learn to recognize which issues were the ones contaminating my thoughts. Some were common and others rare. Some, many actually, were 'resolved' simply by writing them all out and staring at them. It was almost as if the act of writing them down had dumped them from the recirculating hash that masquerades as my thoughts. Catharsis, I suppose.

Others required actions. I learned by analyzing the patterns of what I had written that I actually wanted to be liked. How stupid is that? You may have noticed that I put that sentence in the past tense. People are either going to like you or not and it's almost invariably because of a reason of their own, not some action that you took or words that you said.

In Hamlet, Polonius (that's him lying dead at Hamlet's feet) said, "...to thine own self be true..." Well, he was right, you know. If you mess around with your decisions because you're concerned about what others may think of you, then you'll find yourself trying to figure it all out years later. They're your decisions and it's your life. What others may or may not think is the business of politicians, it has no place in real life.

Regardless of which decision you make, about the same number of people (not the same people necessarily) will 'like' you as did before. And as I said, likely for their own reasons. So please yourself. The only person you have to justify yourself to is YOU.

The problem with being so slow to 'resolve' my issues is that some of the people I wanted to speak to had disappeared from my life or had died. There are many things I would like to say to my mother and father for example. But that ain't gonna happen.

It's remarkable how much time I got back by means of this program. After I had spoken to those I could and fixed or attempted to fix those things I could, suddenly I had brain cycles at my disposal that were not available previously. Heaven knows there are few enough of those as it is. Plus, there is the added attraction of knowing what to look for and avoiding them. This was clearly another of those opportunities for testing that I've spoken of before. The release of pressure allows a machine, like the human mind, to operate at a more optimum speed with more optimum efficiency.

Remember the title of this blog? Past is Prologue. Put the past in it's proper place, for in our lives it is only the prologue. The good stuff is still ahead of us.

Friday, March 27, 2009

Leaving Home


I have no memory of leaving home to go off into the Navy.


How could that be? How could memory-boy come up with nothing? Well, it WAS September 12, 1966, that's a long time ago. It was just a few days past my nineteenth birthday and just four days after the very first Star Trek episode aired. You remember it, I'm sure, The Man Trap. Where the shape-shifting salt monster/vampire kills a bunch of people by sucking out all their salt.

It wasn't the first Star Trek episode shot, or even one of the pilots, but it was the first aired. Because it wasn't in the sequence intended, there wasn't any explanation of who these space people were or what the Enterprise was all about. Just Kirk's usual comments about the 'five year mission' (which turned out to be a three year mission) and -bam- right into the episode. Pretty gutsy, I think. I didn't see it when it aired, I didn't really see much TV for a couple of years before or after.

So, Star Trek was not
blurring my mind when I left. I remember the trip (it was my first jet airplane flight) and I remember arriving in Chicago. Was there some sort of trauma that caused me to forget? I've heard of people whose brain suffered some emotional insult and the brain said, "The hell with this! I'm outta here!"

Doesn't sound like me, though. More than likely, Bob Deeter's dad and/or mom picked me up after my mom and dad went off to work that morning and took Bob and me to the airport. Just nothing to remember.
Or else it was very early in the morning and I wasn't awake for any of it. Anyone who knows me even in passing knows I cannot abide getting up early in the morning, so it makes sense that I would go into military service. Or. . . DOES it?

When I was taking Physics in High School, the only accelerated class (HAD to be in the accelerated class! COULDN'T be in the regular class!) started at 7:15. 7:15 AM! Like in the morning! What sadistic bastard did that scheduling? There I was, working at Royal Castle,
flipping burgers and frying eggs until 9 PM, coming home doing my homework and then getting up in the stony dark to do it all again. I'm still tired.

Bob and I had joined the Navy together and we went to boot camp at the Great Lakes Naval Training Center where we learned to polish shoes and march. The GLNTC is on Lake Michigan in North Chicago getting close to the Wisconsin border. In a couple of years it will have it's one hundredth anniversary and some of the buildings looked it. It was in heavy use during World War II and some of the barracks from that period were still being used.

Remarkably, we were stationed in a brand new building. My company was the first one to use it. It was all clean and new. A little too new, actually. There was a row of brand new toilets in the head and everyone got the bright idea to leave most of them untouched so we wouldn't have many toilets to clean. As often happens, this had unexpected consequences. There was often a line. And since these were not stalls with doors, the line was directly in front of the guy trying to use the toilet. Not content to quietly await their turn, there was often yelling and abuse from those standing in line two feet in front of the poor schlub. "Come ON! Hurry UP! What's the PROBLEM!!" For some reason, privacy is a big deal for me now, I'm not certain why.

Not quite as bad as the public toilets in Roman days, but getting there.


Sunday, March 22, 2009

Old Navy


I must have met my Uncle Tanny as a boy, but I have no memory of him.


Stanford Wheeler Kleylein (that's my Uncle Tanny) lived most of his life in Indiana. He had met and married Harriet Copple and Harriet and her family were from Indiana and you know how that goes.

Here's a photograph of him from November of 1942. I can see from close examination of his rank and rating (the insignia on his sleeve) that he is a Machinist's Mate First Class. That means he could have worked on anything to do with ship propulsion or any other kind of shipboard engines that need looking after by a mechanic.

Here's what the Machinist's Mate rating designation looks like. I guess he could have worked on propellers too. A naval rating is like an occupation, you can glance at anyone's sleeve and instantly tell what their job is and what their rank is. There's no guessing in the Navy.

I don't know why he joined the Navy. It may be because his step-father, Avner Hoffacker Wareheim had been in the Navy. That's probably a pretty good guess. Avner's daughter, Violet also married a Navy man, Raymond Alt. But blind and dumb as I was when I was a kid, all this was lost on me. I was actually surprised to learn all the Navy connections later when I got into the whole genealogy thing.

Here's Avner holding my brother Dave. Look how stiff my brother looks. I think there's something wrong with him (Dave I mean) and Avner's probably trying to wake him up or something. Maybe he's in a coma, although I don't know how anyone could ever tell.

Avner was also a Machinist's Mate, but he was a Chief which is a higher rank than Uncle Tanny. In civilian life, Avner was a plasterer, I guess they didn't have too much call for plasterers on board ship. Or maybe he just wanted to do something different.

When my brother outgrew his little Navy suit, it got passed to me. Boy, there was a long history of that. Here's a photograph of me in the suit with my brother Dave and our cousin Audrey. Isn't she cute?

I guess wearing that suit as a little kid is another example of that foreshadowing thing.

Friday, March 20, 2009

In the Navy


When I was nineteen, I joined the Navy.


Yes, the United States Navy. You may recall that as I was growing up, I had always figured that if I was going to go into ANY service it would be the Air Force even though I couldn't fly because my eyes were not perfect. My, that was quite a run-on sentence, wasn't it? Sorry.


It wasn't until years later that I discovered the number of relatives that served in the Navy. It got a little weird. I had a cousin, two uncles and my step-grandfather all in the Navy and no one in any other service. No Marines, no Army, not even the Coast Guard. Oh, wait, my brother was in the Army Reserve, but apparently, he was in the Navy first.

That's quite a toy you've got there, buddy. Don't break it.
And comb your hair.

My uncle Tanny was also in the Navy. They
called him Tanny because my grandmother, in her infinite wisdom, named him Stanford. My father's youngest brother was named Nimrod, he went by Nim. He was named after his grandfather Nimrod Harrison, Jr. and his great grandfather Nimrod Harrison, Sr. Nimrod Sr.'s father Kinsey Harrison fought in the Revolutionary War. He was a Private in the Maryland Line for those of you familiar with Maryland history.

My father, Leon Kleylein and his brothers Stanford and Nimrod grew up in Maryland, for the most part in Baltimore. They did have to leave town for a while in 1917 and 1918 because their father, Peter had to abide by a rather peculiar law passed during World War I (actually, it was called the World War at that point)
.

If you had been born in Germany as my grandfather was, during the war you were not allowed to live within a hundred miles of Washington DC. Can you imagine them trying to pass such a law today? The court docket would be so clogged with lawsuits the commerce of the nation would grind to a halt. But not so in 1917. So Peter and the boys, Leon (the tall one) Stanford (the middle one) and Nimrod (the youngest one) packed up and moved to Pittsburgh.

I can't prove it yet, but I believe they made this decision because William J. Kleylein, son of John and Anna Kleylein was living there. William may not have been a close relative of Peter's, but they were both Kleyleins which meant their ancestors had all come from Unterrodach in Germany. The place was loaded with Kleyleins.


When the war ended, since Peter had not blown up the US Capitol Building, they were allowed to go back and live in Baltimore.

While he was in Pittsburgh, Peter still worked as a baker.
He was always a baker. I wonder if he enjoyed his work. I can't ask him, he was dead for twenty years before I was born. I wonder what he was like. Did he have driving goals? Was he really intelligent, but never had access to education? Or was he small-minded and belligerent and did he pass those qualities on to me?


I'm glad he had enough sense to get some good professional photographs taken of his boys. I know he had blue eyes from the photographs I have of him and I know he could smile because he has a broad smile making his bread deliveries.


I know this has taken us a long way from the Navy, but we'll get back to all that in due time.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Trossachs


The mind is a funny thing, the way it jumps around.


For years my wife had a screen saver of animated fish swimming around in an animated fish tank. Unfortunately, the gamma rays that are constantly bombarding us finally corrupted the code and caused her machine to operate in a less than optimum mode. In other words, it was messed up. Actually, I'm deliberately blaming the gamma rays although the real source of the contamination was probably Deb herself.

Now, calm down, I'm not accusing her of modifying the fish tank code. However, there is a decades long, well documented, voluminous case study of her mere presence affecting electronic devices. Her aura must be so electrically charged that the poor little electrons get all discombobulated. (Wow, spell check says that word is OK, how about that!). She can cause a computer to reboot simply by walking up to it. The thing starts yelling 'Proximity Alert' and shields go up.

But she felt better yesterday when we went to Home Depot to buy a Roman statue to place along one of her paths in the woods. As we were checking out the check-out lady was complaining that she has the same affliction. She's always being accused of demagnetizing people's credit cards and fouling up the electronic register. For some reason, Deb felt much better knowing that she was not alone in this crippling disease.

Back to my story, I was going to reinstall her fish tank program, but in the mean time, I started up the 'random picture display' screen saver until I could find the software. This is the option that goes to your My Pictures file and displays random pictures as a screen saver. I know, it makes no sense that Microsoft would name something so intuitively, but there you have it. The naming guys must have been having an off day, this name is not nearly as arcane as it should be.

Anyway, we liked it so much, we left it in place. We were seeing photographs we hadn't seen in years. "Hey, look at that!" "Hey!" One of the photos that flashed by a little while ago was from our genealogy trip a year and a half ago to England, Wales and Scotland. the photo was of a field in the Trossachs in Scotland and it struck me how lucky we were to have gotten to see it. We saw wonderful things at every turn on that trip, but this field really stuck with me. We were driving through the area on a day trip and there was one spot where a car could pull off so I stopped to take a photograph.

There was a little pathway that led through the bushes by the road to a hidden field beyond. So we had to go through. It wasn't a cultivated field, although it probably was at one time or another. With so much history, you can't escape reuse. But it was just grass now and you could hear the loch beyond. There was no one around, no buildings in sight and traffic noise had faded away. It could have been any time in the last four thousand years. No one was taking care of this place, it was just growing this way, just as you've read about it a hundred times and there we were!





And then we drove to the hometown of Rob Roy (Robert MacGregor) in Balquhidder Parish to visit the cemetery and say hello.


Here's what's left of his old church.


I don't know if you can read the inscription there, but it says MacGregor Despite Them. If you click on the photograph, it will enlarge. Boy, if that isn't Scotland!


Scotland has a motto "Nemo Me Impume Lacessit" which means literally "No One Assails Me with Impunity" but the modern colloquial translation is closer to "Don't F*** With Me".

Believe it!

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Conversion


Change happens.


My last entry on travel reminded me of a story. Back in the days of yore, when giants walked the
earth (OK, thirty years ago), I had just begun work at Shared Medical Systems (SMS - later acquired by Siemens) and I worked in the group that did 'Conversions'. In those days, SMS was growing rapidly, getting tons of new hospital customers all the time. Converting from one electronic system to another is a hard time for a hospital, most run on very thin margins and any disruption to their cash flow is very painful. So we tried very hard to get their billings moving again as soon as we could. And we did that by 'converting' their old files from whatever system they used to run on into the SMS file structure so we could do billings right away, in many cases the very next day after the conversion.

I was very pleased to be in this group doing that work because it was SO challenging. In those days, there were many more manufacturers of computers and many more proprietary file structures, some specifically built for one hospital. So every conversion was different and each was a little like forensic archeology. We had to pick the files apart and tease the information out of them and specifications were always poor because the company or group losing the account was never tripping over themselves to supply proper information. They were probably hoping we would fail so they could get another shot at the hospital. So we wrote our conversions in a language called PL/I (Programming Language One), which allowed us to manipulate data down to the bit level so we could actually change characters around if we had to. And we often had to. This is what coding in PL/I looked like:

It was such a strong language, we could decode bizarre 7-bit junk or data with arcane random buffer lengths or files that had another file to tell where certain data was posted (which was never included in the batch they sent us). But this is where I learned my love of forcing the system to do what I wanted it to even if it had no intention of giving me what I wanted. It was a real rush to pull a jewel out of a steaming pile of crap. The executives knew we were doing magic and were grateful to us and sent us letters of appreciation. But no money.

So, what's this got to do with travel? Well, the most money came in when we acquired a group of hospitals and that was fairly regularly. The deal maker was a Vice President named Mike Mulhall who had such commanding presence that his statements were regarded as stone fact simply because he had uttered them. These were not negotiations, they were pronouncements. It was amazing to watch. So he and I would travel to these places and meet with a room full of people and 'negotiate' what was going to happen. They would bring in their technical experts and I would question them about their file structures, aging decisions, financial codes, etc. etc. right in front of everyone. Then I would give Mike my estimation of the difficulty factor for the conversion and he
would apply it as one factor in the financial part of the deal. It was a little like the Pros from Dover had come to town and we were there to crack this kid's chest and get in a round of golf.

Only it wasn't golf, it was drinking. Mike drank more than any human I'd ever seen. On our fairly frequent trips, we would go the airport and into one of the many airline clubs he was a member of. I didn't sit in those cold plastic chairs at the gate for YEARS. When they called our flight, he called for another round. We only left when it was FINAL call. And then, when we boarded (always as the door was closing) he'd ask the stewardess for a drink so it would be ready as soon as we were in the air. At first, I tried to keep up with him, but that was just dumb. Mike was a studied, hardened professional drinker, but he never showed a sign of intoxication other than a reddening of the face as the evening (or day) progressed. There was more than one occasion when we would fly to our destination and go right into a meeting after drinking for hours! I have no idea how I pulled that off other than Mike expected me to, so that made me capable. It was a little worse when the meeting was first thing the next day because although he didn't feel it, I sure did.

Then my team and I actually had to DO the conversion and there was never enough time. But that's a story for another day. Imagine staying awake for three and half days straight and writing better code three-quarters of the way asleep than I did wide awake and rested. If I tried that now, I would be DEAD, DEAD, DEAD.

On the day of conversion, we didn't have any fancy file transfer, we had one of our guys hand-carry a set of tapes back from Michigan or Arizona or wherever. Timing was crucial as you can imagine. Between the day-end of the other system and the airline schedule, there was often a very tight timeframe. Our courier told the story once of his speeding across town in his rental car, squealing to a stop in front of the terminal door, jumping out with his case of tapes and as he ran through the door, he tossed his rental car keys to a cop standing there and said "Medical Emergency!" and just kept running. I can't remember if he said he made it through the airplane door as it was closing or it had already closed but either way there was no time for any rental car return.

We waited breathlessly for a ticket or bench warrant to arrive in the mail, but all we ever got was the rental car receipt. That means the officer may have personally driven the car to the rental car return himself and then had to arrange getting back to his post or made it happen some other way, but however he did it, we're grateful.

Can you IMAGINE trying a stunt like that now? We would be shot six times before we ever got through the first door. Traveling was different in those days.


Mike Mulhall died very young and it was a long time ago. He had a heart attack at the New York Athletic Club after a steam bath. I learned a lot from Mike, we traveled all over the country together, we were a good team. He is missed.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Travelin'


I'm traveling and the traveling is interfering with my blogging. What's up with THAT?

I recall the days of yore when traveling was exciting and interesting and I really looked forward to it. Now. . . not so much. Being in the destination place is still cool, it's the plane ride that's JUST NO FUN.

Right now, I'm sitting in a hotel room and out of one window is the Eiffel Tower and Caesar's Palace and out of the other window is the Arc de Triomphe and the Bellagio fountains. And if anybody tells you there's some sort of Recession going on, it sure isn't going on in Vegas. Just the money they make from cigarette taxes are going to keep this place afloat. I thought people were quitting smoking, but not in Las Vegas. I guess if you get cancer here, it stays here.


Being here is fine, but the frickin' terrorists have made travel annoying and unnecessarily long and . . . well, just not as much fun as it used to be.

When I worked at Eastern Airlines, they practically FORCED you to travel. A ticket anywhere on the system was $5. Yeah, five dollars! Unless you wanted to go first class, then it was SEVEN dollars. And if you wanted to travel to a city that Eastern didn't fly to, you could fly on another airline for TEN dollars. For our belated honeymoon, my wife and I flew from Miami to Hawaii round trip for $40. Plus there were outstanding discounts at the hotel chains where the pilots and stews stayed and cheap rental cars and discounted attractions. You could go broke saving money. There was a catch, of course, you had to dress nicely. OOOOhhh, bummer.

I know of managers at Eastern headquarters who flew to Dallas for steak dinners. We flew to St. Thomas in the Virgin Islands just to buy a camera because it was so much cheaper there. I was sorry to see Eastern go under, I would have liked to stay with them, but it just goes to show: Just because you're some fancy astronaut doesn't make you a good CEO, does it, Frank Borman? Huh, does it?


It's probably just as well, I would probably have put us in the poorhouse (are there still poorhouses?) by doing too much traveling. Shoot, you could get to the airport a half hour before your flight, have your loved ones see you off at the gate and you were dressed nicely when you arrived. Now you have to strip down naked, show some 'security personnel' every fluid you own and every now and again have the privilege of having your belongings rifled through after you spent a lot of time arranging them.

Oh, well, it's still not as bad as Europe. I was flying out of Munich one time and I noticed a female security guard circling me and darting around and eyeing me. Now it could be because I'm extremely attractive, or it could be because I was wearing my hair cut very short and I was wearing a Deutschland Uber Alles t-shirt. Or both, I imagine. Just as I was at the head of the security line, she pounced! "Voud you kum wis me, pliss?"

She took me into a little room, just the two of us and she searched my luggage. No, not the way American 'security personnel' search stuff, no she SEARCHED my luggage. She felt around every article of my clothing, the waistbands, the seams, turned the pockets inside out, felt the weight of it, the whole bit. And since I was going home, these were my dirty clothes. Whoo Hoo!

Then the toiletries. She opened everything, smelled it, squeezed my toothpaste tube all the way up and down, took my electric razor apart. Just like the stuff you've seen in the movies. Meanwhile, I'm standing there with this stupid grin on my face and every now and again, she would look at me - but NO smile, there were heavily armed soldiers guarding the airport and they were very serious about their work.

In the end, Rosa Klebb let me go, a little disappointed, I think. "Sank you for your. . . <eyebrow raised> cooperation."

Travelin'.