Author: jwd

Infinite Palette

An artist chooses from among things to create his or her art. The painter chooses paints, mixes them and chooses something to put them on; the musician chooses sounds, instruments, technique and a million other things; the writer chooses words; the photographer chooses a camera, lens, film or digital, printing–traditional darkroom or digital printer. Each of these creators of a work of art chooses from an infinite palette, making infinitely many choices along the way, constantly. Likewise, an engineer chooses from among infinitely many choices when designing something; an interior decorator does the same. An architect does also. When a person landscapes his or her yard, many choices are also made. We are constrained, however, by our training, our background, our culture, our own limitations, sometimes by what we think others will think. Even then, however, the choices are infinite. What is not commonly thought about often, however, is that every move we make in our lives, every word we say, everything we think, everything we do, all of our plans, our hopes, our dreams, are chosen from infinite palettes of possibilities. Sometimes we choose consciously, but often we choose unconsciously, without even thinking about it. Never forget that at each instant, you have infinite choice. Your life, what the inside of your house looks like, your character, your friends, your developed abilities, are the result of your own choices. Paradoxically, a disciplined person has more freedom of choice than an undisciplined person. Discipline itself implies an ability to choose. Remember, at every instant you have infinitely many choices to make. Choose wisely, and be sure to include some fun, some productivity and some love every day!

Priceless Things

The priceless things in the world are those things beyond material comfort: the appreciation of art, music, literature, friendship, love, experiences shared with others, moments of accomplishment, understanding or spiritual enlightenment, the joy of helping someone in need.  Money cannot buy these things. Ironically, money may be a prerequisite for experiencing some of them, because if one is spending all one’s time obtaining basic food, clothing and shelter, then obviously the finer flowers of a person’s development and experience go unbloomed, wilting before they have a chance to blossom. Noteably, wealth cannot buy culture, kindness, intelligence or class in a person. If a person has all these qualities and is wealthy, they are lucky. People are sometimes held in awe for their great wealth though when they are bizarrely lacking in basic human qualities. Money as an end in itself is a sickness, as a means to accomplish and experience things it is an essential tool.

Qualities that make people what they are

Intelligence, wisdom, talent, character and goodness are all different things. Intelligence has been defined in many places, and most people would not have trouble coming up with a decent definition. For wisdom, we must look to philosophy and religion, but suffice it to say, one can have intelligence but be seriously lacking in wisdom. Talent comes in many forms; it is not synonymous with intelligence, but like it, can be endlessly developed by our mutable human characteristics. Character includes those good qualities that a human would ideally have, particularly in the social environment. Goodness relates also to how a person behaves socially. One could be good without having any of the other qualities mentioned above except character, which goodness would indicate a certain amount of.

Off to Florida again

I’m going to Florida on business for a few days, so I get to stay in my Orlando house where I have not been since the first week of April–too long. If I could, I would extend the trip a few days and stay the weekend, but I must come back to Virginia to try to close on a house here. I miss Orlando, mainly because it’s a really cool city, in spite of the heat. The odd thing is–this is hard to believe but true–, so far this spring and summer the daily highs have usually been higher here on the Virginia Peninsula (Hampton Roads) than in Orlando. Granted it is sometimes cooler here, but the reality I’ve seen doesn’t jibe with the data from a ten-year-out-of-date Places Rated Almanac I referred to before moving up. Last week it hit 97 F in Hampton; next week it is forecast to hit 99 F in Hampton. I recall one day it was ten degrees cooler in Hampton than in Norfolk just across the James River. But it is truly surprising to see it ten degrees warmer in Virginia than in Orlando! Is this typical? On the data will show. Another great thing about Orlando is low taxes. Here in Virginia it is lovely–I wouldn’t be buying a house here if it were not nice, and I love the neighborhood where I’m buying, but the taxes are incredibly high–at least to someone whose never had to pay state income tax (in Tennessee, Texas or Florida). Sales taxes, high car taxes every year, property taxes, state income tax…they’ve even passed a law adding huge “civil penalties” to traffic citations, milking hundreds or thousands of dollars from citizens in a blatant revenue-generating scheme. It seems more communist than even socialist, but as a citizen of the free world, the thing to do is make money, pay the taxes, and live. That said, ceteris paribus, it’s economically better to be in a state without income tax. There must be a lot of cheating that goes on, but it would be stupid to risk prison for mere dollars. After all, the most valuable things in life are priceless.

New to Cleveland

Due to some strange weather peculiarity, it’s not quite spring here yet, although according to the locals it should be. There are a lot of bare trees, but in the evening rain that doused me a little coming out of a huge 24-hour grocery store, it really was not cold. On the way up I had an over-three-hour layover in Dulles airport, a real dog of an airport–at least, it’s been my least favorite. Before touching down I decided, somehow, I was going to look for things to like about it. I must have landed on the right concourse, because I got a great burrito at a good price. Indeed, the B concourse where I had entered did have a large selection of food places. I had sat next to an old woman in Norfolk awaiting the plane for the first leg of the journey. She was somewhat dowdily dressed in a matronly old lady kind of way, but not cheaply dressed; her clothes were in good shape. We did not converse. When I got my burrito I walked to a seat in a calm, partially-deserted gate and sat down a couple of chairs from the busy walkway, which in that portion on the opposite side of the walkway from me was a long, blank wall with only a private, locked door for employee access. My back to a wall, I sat munching my burrito, realizing it would have been helpful to get a fork, but managing not to make a mess. Walking in the same direction down the passageway I was facing came the elderly woman who had sat next to me in Norfolk. As she appeared on my left passing the wall at my back, she backtracked behind where I was sitting in the corridor, where I could not see her, then she walked by again. She walked towards the other side of the corridor from where I was sitting, gestured with her hand, then backtracked and came over to me. “Excuse me,” she said, pointing to the empty space of the blank wall in the then empty corridor. “There’s a spirit over there. Granby.” Then she walked off. I wasn’t sure if I’d heard her last word correctly. My tendency was to believe that somehow this woman had perceived something. If she had, it was clearly not in the material realm. Saw a large stand of sunscreen being sold in the grocery store where I shopped tonight. Coming from Orlando, although I know it might be useful sometime here, I could not help but think, Who needs sunscreen in a climate like this? It’s very nice here in Candlewood Suites. It’s weird. You catch a plane, go shopping, next thing you know you feel at home. There are free CDs and movies to check out at the front desk, high-speed Internet, a kitchenette and big refrigerator and microwave.

Weather (Newport News)

Yesterday, here on the Peninsula, the temperature was in the upper eighties, almost ninety degrees Fahrenheit. The air conditioner on my car was blowing cold, the fan on “5,” when I first got in on my way home. These past few months I’ve noticed occasions when it was about ten degrees warmer here than in Orlando, which indeed often has a climatological sweet spot through the end of May. Today, before leaving my apartment, I took a second to check the weather by bringing up the dashboard on my Mac, a cool feature whereby by the touch of a single key a selection from among thousands of widgets are displayed on my computer screen, some of which instantaneously draw information of sources in real time off the Internet. It takes all of a few seconds to get the weather. I noticed it would be cooler today, but left without a jacket, wearing an undershirt and a heavy long-sleeved shirt. Today when I left my office at 5:00 (my hours have been varying almost daily, but today that’s when I left), there was a slight fog out, it was in the 50s (a little over thirty degrees cooler than the day before), with little water droplets hitting one’s skin while walking. Magical variety. This afternoon I came home, ate some cheese and crackers, then lay down for a moment and was out for a couple of hours. When I woke up, I had a weak cup of coffee (not taking time to grind some fresh, then set out with a salmon salad at Panera Bread in mind for dinner. Arriving ten minutes before they closed I was informed there were out of lettuce, and no, I didn’t want anything else. When I left my apartment, I encountered thicker fog than earlier in the afternoon, a night fog, often an orangesque glow caused by the orange sodium street lamps throwing their light into the foggy mist, with each water droplet becoming like a little light bulb of orange splendor. Driving down the street, it could have been fantasyland. After the brief stop at Panera Bread, I started navigating through the massive backstreet infrastructure of retail malls, restaurants, huge cul-de-sacs of  retail “anchors” and parking lots to make my way to Walmart without driving onto the main drag. This part of the peninsula has grown fast, and it is indeed city here. About a hundred yards from the parking lot of Walmart, climbing a hill, on my left was a brilliant of spectacle of light in the fog, stunning in its magical beauty. I had that thought that I’d never noticed these lights before, then realized these were auxiliary approach lights—fog lights—to the Newport News-Williamsburg International Airport, (aka PHF, Patrick Henry Field), where I had recently returned from Orlando via Airtran on a one-hour-twenty-minute flight. Yesterday the sun felt so sweet it made one want to go to the beach and hang out all day. Tonight, the fog was so beautiful it made one want to stay up all night and roam around in it. But this was, after all, a work night. I must look pretty geeky in my second military haircut, even shorter than the first (after  twelve weeks without a trim, it was time). It cuts my shower time down to about ten minutes though, making for a fast morning routine. It seems weird maintaining a residence 800 miles away, where I visit infrequently. It shouldn’t; many people do that. After all, it’s now part of my humble portfolio, and one must take care of one’s investments.

Flying out of Houston

My first business trip to Houston was actually my second trip there. My first trip to Houston was in 2001 when I bought a car on Ebay (a Mercedes 300TE wagon), then drove it home. It was a nice trip. I stopped in Bouluxi, Missisippi when I got too sleepy to drive and got a hotel room for the night. Anyhow, leaving for the airport on this recent trip I was driving from Webster, Texas to the airport. As I stopped at a turn light at the on ramp to the Interstate, there was a slight moment–less than a second–when I quickly ascertained that no traffic was moving and I could turn right on red, which I did. Maybe a second later I saw the blue light in my rearview mirror of a motorcycle cop, one of Webster’s finest, who induced me to pull over into the road leading into a shopping mall. I explained my situation: I have a flight. I was here for a NASA meeting. “Did you see the sign saying NO RIGHT TURN ON RED?” he said. “No,” I said. “A woman crossing the street almost got run over there recently,” he said. I apologized profusely. After thoroughly checking me out on his computer, he let me go with a warning. God bless Webster, Texas’ finest. As I neared the airport, the directions to the rental car place included all companies except the Alamo brand I needed to return. A call to Alamo got me bad directions, so there I was, heading in the wrong direction, which intuitively I figured out. I pulled off the road and called again, this time getting better directions. People drive fast in Texas. That’s fine. I love it. But, I’m used to Orlando and now, the Hampton Roads area of Virginia. (When I lived in Fort Worth, the speed limit was 55 mph on the Interstate and on the loop around the Dallas-Fort Worth metroplex it was a rare soul doing less than 80 mph. It was common to see people routinely do 100 mph.) I must cross two lanes and turn left as I get back on the road, which doesn’t seem to be a main thoroughfare. As I pull out to cross the two lanes, a car going a very high rate of speed comes along in the lane I want to pull into, so I stop straddling the lane (no choice). Now I’m driving a Ford Taurus, which over ten years ago I told myself I’d never rent again, yet, here I am in one, because I made the mistake of giving the bull another chance. (Yes, this car is a dog. Anyway, there’s no human way one can get it into reverse with the sloppy shifter and backup in a couple of seconds.) This last part is important, because when I stopped I observed on my left a large SUV-type pickup truck moving directly towards my driver’s door at a very high rate of speed. There was no time to backup (as noted). I had the sudden thought that it was not my intention to have it all end, not my expectation to give up the game, here in Houston this morning, hurrying to catch a plane. The second and a half or so it took the pickup truck zooming towards my door quickly passed. Right as he approached me, he managed to stop his truck a few feet away. He was laughing. I pointed in the direction of the car that cut me off in explanation, then managed to back the clunky, new Ford Taurus off the road. When I finally made it to the rental car return, I boarded the shuttle to the airport most gratefully and have never been so happy to be sitting in an airport shuttle.


Spent the day in a Technical Interchange Meeting here at a conference center. Saw an interesting video this morning about the new journey back to the moon and saw the launch manifest of vehicles from about the next 15 years. The ship going to the moon is rather big. It oughtta be, considering they are planning on establishing a permanent base on the moon. Had a “business” lunch at a great Mexican restaurant, Mom Alone. Impeccable service, great food, and, when I asked the woman alone at the cash register if she was Mom, she verified that indeed she was. When I bought a Mercedes on Ebay several years ago and flew to Houston to pick it up and drive it to Florida, I talked about what there was to do in Houston with the salesman, who was from Iran. (We ate at a Middle Eastern restaurant, and when I offered him some hummus–a favorite of mine–, he recoiled in horror, saying, “No! That’s Arab food.!” I recall from business school that a deal was lost when a person insensitively spoke of the “Arabian Sea” to the wrong person. Try “Persian Sea” or whatever.) My Iranian salesman remarked that it was so hot in Houston that people went to restaurants and ate a lot, not having a lot of recreational opportunities in the heat. Not sure what the connection is, but in as expanse of road I was driving today I saw so many good-looking restaurants that it seemed that within a few miles you could eat at a different good restaurant every day for months. Like Fort Worth, there are a lot of fat people here. Too hot to exercise? I don’t use fat as a pejorative term. If I were fat, I’d own up to it. Being fat is something people take seriously. When I was working at Disney, I heard a woman had complained that when she wanted to buy a shirt, they didn’t have her size: XXXL. Disney took this complaint seriously. Disney takes every word a guest says seriously, and analyzes it with the highest level people who can be hired. Impressive operation. Fat. A woman was at the back of the plane I arrived on. Before we took off, she couldn’t fit in her seat. They had to get two people in first class to move so they could sit her down up there. I didn’t laugh or make fun. After all, she’s going to Houston, where the streets are paved with restaurants. I decided I wanted a salad. Tooling down the street, I saw the neon sign: SALAD EXPRESS. Turning lane time. Other restaurants all over the place, I noticed as I got out of the car. As I approached the door, a woman exited, about the same size as the woman who couldn’t sit in coach. The biggest salad bar I’ve ever seen, all fresh. Baked potatoes, soup, fruit, Mexican tacos, ice cream, brownies, etc. For a nominal price–all you can eat. It would take weeks to sample everything here (if you ate once a day). I put my backpack in a booth, then head to the salad bar–a long, deep one. A young lady has started just in front of me. It’s slow going, as I wait for her, slightly annoyed as she yacks on the phone. Slowly, she progresses. Although I’m not intentionally listening to her conversation, I cannot help but discern that she’s talking to her mother, who has lost a lot of weight. The woman says she’s trying to lose weight, too. Step by step, I move down the line. As we reach the end, I look at her. Although I realize it’s the height of rudeness to comment on someone’s private conversation, I find myself saying, “You won’t lose any weight eating here.” She looks at me, smiles, and says, “No. I live on the road anyway. this is all for me” (this last with a firm finality). As I sat eating my salad, I observed several heavyset women, some of normal weight, and a few fat ones. Obesity really is a problem in the U.S. I got small seconds on the salad, a bowl of Italian chicken soup, some fruit and a little apple-nut-coconut-etc. concoction, which, when I was eating I felt my belt getting dangerously tight. I definitely gained some weight in the brief time I was in Houston. Back at the hotel, I decide it’s time to hit the pool, it having been a year and a month since I last used my total immersion swimming skills. Putting on my trunks, I exit the door wearing nothing else. Barefoot, I immediately step in some mud on the sidewalk that I momentarily mistake for dog doo. Investigation over, I head for the pool. Stepping into the water, it feels cold. Step by step, I go down until my trunks are wet. Remembering my goggles at the side of the pool, I get out and retrieve them. Getting the goggles, I’m suddenly no longer cold. I start swimming in the small pool diagonally. One breath and a few strokes from one end of the pool to the other. Back balance… A few people come to the window to see what is going on. As always, after the swim I feel younger.

Hurricane lesson

(written when power was out for three days due to a hurricane): There is a profound lesson here. Everyone should break his or her routine occasionally to gain perspective (and maybe see a way to get out of a rut if needed). Live a day without running water, without power, in the woods. Allow yourself a cell phone/PDA for comfort and for emergencies especially. If you’re an electronic musician, consider what it was like to play acoustic instruments. If you are an artist try working with paint “old style.” If you’re a writer, try pen and paper. If you’re a medical doctor, learn the remedies of the forest–where a large number of the medicines known to man originated. One could give endless examples, but you get the point. Man is a spiritual being. One must be not only one with technology, but one with the world. It is not technology that distracts from the oneness, but its misuse and poor design. People coevolve with technology. The clock cannot be turned back; only a fool would want to return to another time. But there is a need to be creative, to not accept the status quo, to be unafraid to simplify when needed to obtain a much needed integration of technology with our lives. This does not mean that you should dig a latrine before going to the bathroom, altough while camping it might be a good place to start.

Hurricane life (in Orlando)

The Florida officials in the Tampa-St. Petersburg-Clearwater area had effected a mass evacuation in anticipation of Hurricane Charley. On the afternoon of the 13th, Friday, however, the hurricane shifted direction and came ashore in Punta Gorda, with sustained winds of 145 mph. A large number of residents, many living in mobile homes, lost not just their homes, but their lives. On the television and on the Internet, one saw images of the storm taken from satellites, with a wide variety of imaging techniques, utilizing ultra-sophisticated technology. Meteorologists on television tracked the storm for us, with entertaining commentary; one of the television meteorologists was even brilliant, dazzling the viewer with his intellectual understanding as well as real-time graphic manipulation of satellite imaging data. The National Hurricane Center gave their analysis and commentary, with all the preciseness that the latest computing power could provide. The storm moved fast, however, and its change of direction caught many by surprise–those hundreds of individuals who lost their lives most of all. There was a need to allow for a greater variance in the probabilities of where it might land. No amount of technology could supplant the need for conservative human judgment. It is inconvenient to prepare for a worst-case scenario, but when the unexpected card shows up there is usually no time to prepare, although lessons learned can be gleaned, if we can admit our mistakes. This does not reflect poorly on the individuals making decisions about hurricane preparations in Florida, but teaches us all to be wiser. As one TV newscaster put it, referring to the situation in Orlando, “If you hadn’t bought groceries at Publix by 2 pm yesterday, you were SOL.” The boy scout motto “be prepared” comes to mind.