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Monthly Archives: November 2010

It’s a dreary, chilly day here in central Pennsylvania today.  Outside the air is hanging at temperatures just high enough to allow us rain instead of ice or snow.

Somehow it feels appropriate for the last day of November this year.

The end of the year crept up on me this year.  My head is still trying to get around the fact that Thanksgiving has come and gone and Christmas is on the horizon.  But, the chill in the air and the dreariness outside is a stark reminder that winter is fast approaching.

This has always been a special time of year for my family and I.  By now we usually had the decorations up and the Advent calendars were hanging in the house teasing us with their daily treats and fuzzy ornaments.  My family always loved Christmas, it was an important time for us both spiritually and secularly.

From Thanksgiving on each day seemed to have a small piece of tradition.

I think that most of us carry some sort of tradition with us this time of year.  And while many of these traditions may change as we get older the things we did as kids will always ride with us in our hearts.  These days my wife and I have replaced the Advent calendars of my youth with small gestures or gifts on alternating days of Advent.  An evening meal of my Mom’s spaghetti on Christmas Eve has been an evening of snacks and movies the past several years.

I love our new traditions, they are a sign that I have begun something of an adult existence.  But, this time of year, I enjoy remembering being a kid.  I like to stroll down memory lane and negotiate with my parents on how early we can get up or with my siblings on who is going to sneak downstairs and peek.  These things bring a melancholy smile to my face.  Some parts of those traditions are gone forever, but they will forever live in the warm rooms of my heart.

But, I do have one thing to say.  The turtle does not belong to my brother, despite his claims otherwise.  So there.

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Hello, everyone.

As I’m sure my few regular readers noticed, I’ve been absent for about two weeks.  That’s two whole weeks you have been deprived of the wit and wisdom I normally strive to provide to my readers.  Or, two weeks without my yammering, I’ll let you be the judge.

It has been an interesting couple of weeks.  My wife and I decided to take a little time off to recharge our batteries before the stress of the holidays joined the other multiple stresses already doing little dances in our heads.  In fact, my last week of postings were done with the sound of the ocean providing calming background noise.  It was during this vacation period that I finally managed to land a position, which entailed spending some of the aforementioned vacation running around doing paperwork.

Ugh.

However, I was able to start on the following Monday and was ecstatic to be back in the workforce.  At least I was for four days.  Shortly following the training period that I had to endure it was decided that I was not, after all, a good fit for the position.

Now, I have been making concerted efforts to turn my attitude around and pull myself up out of the doldrums that unemployment can put you in.  I have worked hard to maintain a positive outlook and keep an optimistic tone to my thinking.  This, my friends, is harder than you might imagine for a natural cynic and pessimist like myself.  However, I was doing well until that day.  Having that opportunity flit away from me was a blow.  I really wanted that job badly for a multitude of reasons and holding it in my hands so briefly was, quite frankly, devastating.

Thus, I didn’t write.  I have spewed enough negativity and self-pitying philosophical navel-gazing on the Jungle Gym since its inception.  You guys didn’t need more of that.

But, now that I gave internalized the problems, made them a part of me, and begun turning them into tools to learn from rather than arrows to fell me from my attempts to soar I can turn my attentions back to the Jungle Gym.

I do, however, want to take this opportunity to say a deep and heartfelt “thank you” to everyone who was in my corner as I fought for that job, no matter how temporary it was.  Knowing how many people have my back is a humbling experience, and I truly do consider all of you to be my greatest gift.

God blessed me with a loving family, and then he gave me a second family of dear friends who I love and respect.  Thanks to you all.

The Jungle Gym may be a little dusty, but it’s still good to be back.

Tomorrow is an important day for this country.  It is Veteran’s Day.  For many, that equates to not much more than an extra day off work or school, but it really should mean much more than that.  It should be a day of remembrance, memorial, and solemn gratitude.

As Americans we set a standard for the world to follow when we founded our nation.  We created a place of freedom and liberty for all men and women.  And, while there have been many bumps along the road, we have weathered the storms the world has thrown at us with courage and tenacity.

And this courage and tenacity was born from the brave sacrifice of the men and women who have worn the uniform of the United States military.

The members of our military have answered a high calling.  They have put aside much of what is important to them on a personal level to fight, and too often die, in the defense of freedom and American interests the world over.  Every day they are separated from hearth and home, often in places hostile wo their presence, protecting the ideals that were put forth in our founding documents.

There is nothing political about this holiday.  This isn’t about whether you agree with this conflict or that.  It doesn’t matter whether you believe we should have troops here or there.  The truth is they are there, or have been.  They have been in harm’s way, regardless of your feeling on the reasons, and they are there because they were called to defend this nation.  You need not support the war, but our soldiers deserve your support.

From that day in 1775 on Bunker Hill to today in the dusty hills of Afghanistan, extraordinary men and women have answered the call.  They know what price they may pay, but march forth anyway.  They do it for duty.  They do it for honor.  They do it for us.  And we owe it to them to always remember.

So, I say thank you to all vets out there.  I sincerely admire them and consider them all heroes.  And, special thanks to the two solders closest to me, Daniel Smith and Dennis Hardman.  Thank you for your service, you both have my admiration.

Lately something has been bothering me.  And the more I think about it, the more I think there may be cause for alarm.  It is very possible that I am just being a little bit paranoid, but I think there may be signs that nature itself has declared war upon us.  The initial sign is subtle, but the attack is ingenious in its seeming innocuousness.

I speak, of course, of the rise of nut allergies.

Think about it.  Back in your youth how often did you hear of someone being allergic to peanuts?  How commonplace were signs warning that various tree nuts were handled and processed in an area?  You never saw these things.  Peanuts were a standard part of the American diet.  Mr. Peanut smiled, tipped his hat, and offered us his salty treats without fear.  We ate Cracker Jacks and in-shell peanuts at a ballgame without worrying that the dust from our ballgame repast would cause someone to go into cardiac arrest three rows away.

These days nut warnings on food seem to be as common as the Surgeon General’s warning on cigarettes.  I was walking into the grocery store the other day and there was a sign preemptively warning that there would be nuts for sale in open air bins for the holidays.  What was once a tasty, and fairly nutritious, group of snacks are suddenly treated like they are plutonium.  And the scientists are apparently baffled.  A quick Google search reveals that they have no real explanation for the rise in nut allergies.

That’s because we are all being terribly naive.

Nuts are obviously nature’s version of Navy SEALS.  They are Special Ops sent in to infiltrate and sow confusion among the populace.  Before you know it the grains will begin their own dastardly campaign of propaganda and fear.  And then, all hell will break loose as the entire produce department rises up in a bid to cause mass hysteria.

You say I’m crazy, but you’ll be begging for my help when the rutabagas are beating down your door.  Mark my words.

Anyone who has spent any serious time in retail environments knows that stores are set up for shopping easy on the customers and encourage them to purchase.  Grocery store chains, in particular, have gone to great pains to determine how to best arrange their aisles to make the customer experience easier and more efficient.

At least that is supposedly the case.

But, if that is really the case, I don’t see it.  It’s not that I think that the store I frequent is necessarily laid out incorrectly.  One would think with the millions of dollars spent researching customer shopping trends and paying consultants to help design their stores we would have stumbled across a universal design that would work everywhere.  A design that could be implemented without fear, knowing that it would suit the needs of all people.  So, do we have such a thing?

Apparently not.  If we did I would not walk into an unfamiliar grocery store and have to do an aisle to aisle search for something as simple as a loaf of bread.

The grocery chains really need to get their collective acts together.  I suppose there are sick individuals out there who enjoy going to the grocery store and browsing through the aisles for hours.  Most of us do not.  Most of us walk in with a definite list of items we need.  Our greatest hope is to grab what we need and make it to a check out line that is either open or has a short line.  We wish to spend as little time within the confines of the grocery store as humanly possible.

Grocery shopping should not have to be a scavenger hunt.  There should be some sort of standardization that allows me to quickly grab what I need based on relative geography and product positioning.  Why must we change where things are located from store to store.  Heck, even within the same chain I often run into stores that flip the aisle order in reverse from store to store.

So, all you executives at the food retailers out there, get your act together.  Hold a summit.  Do something.  I’m tired of searching for bread when I stop somewhere not the norm.  It’s just bread, for the love of God.

Greetings movie lovers!

Here we are in November.  The horrorfest of October has been left behind and the holiday movie season is nearly upon us.  It is this time of year that the studios really beginning prepping their big guns for the run at the Oscars.  And we, as a movie going public, are he beneficiaries of the solid lineup of releases.

so what does November have in store for us, let’s take a peek…

“Due Date”

Trailer

Synopsis: Peter Highman is an expectant first-time father whose wife’s due date is only days away. As he hurries to catch a flight home to Los Angeles from Atlanta to be at her side for the birth, his best intentions go completely awry when a chance encounter with aspiring actor and disaster-magnet Ethan Tremblay leads to the two of them being tossed off the plane and placed on a no-fly list…while Peter’s luggage, wallet and ID take off without him. With no alternatives in sight, Peter is forced to hitch a ride with Ethan and his canine traveling companion on what turns out to be a cross-country road trip that will destroy several cars, numerous friendships and Peter’s last nerve.

MovieDruid’s Comments: It’s hard to argue with a comedy directed by Todd Phillips (“The Hangover” & “Old School”).  But when you add “Hangover” alum Zach Galifianakis (“Youth in Revolt” & “Up In The Air”) and the inimitable Robert Downey, Jr. (“Chaplin” & “Only You”) to the mix there is little doubt left that this will be a quality film.  Comedy may not be my genre of choice, but a quality film is a quality film.

“Megamind”

Trailer

Synopsis: “Megamind” is the most brilliant supervillain the world has ever known. And the least successful. Over the years, he has tried to conquer Metro City in every imaginable way. Each attempt, a colossal failure thanks to the caped superhero known as “Metro Man,” an invincible hero until the day Megamind actually kills him in the throes of one of his botched evil plans. Suddenly, Megamind has no purpose. A supervillain without a superhero. He realizes that achieving his life’s ambition is the worst thing that ever happened to him. Megamind decides that the only way out of his rut is to create a new hero opponent called “Titan,” who promises to be bigger, better and stronger than Metro Man ever was. Pretty quickly Titan starts to think it’s much more fun to be a villain than a good guy. Except Titan doesn’t just want to rule the world, he wants to destroy it. Now, Megamind must decide: can he defeat his own diabolical creation? Can the world’s smartest man make the smart decision for once? Can the evil genius become the unlikely hero of his own story?

MovieDruid’s Comments: Dreamworks has a knack for making great animated films.  They are always creative and demonstrate a unique and slightly skewed look on the world.  I like that.  And here, once again, they seem to take told territory and offer up a slightly skewed look at it that gives it a fresh feel.  The story, despite being rooted in rather typical superhero territory, looks to both spoof and respect the genre.  Add to the always exceptional animation work the voices of Will Ferrell (“Stranger Than Fiction” & “Elf”), Tina Fey (“TV’s “30 Rock” & “Date Night”), Jonah Hill (“Superbad” & “Funny People”), and Brad Pitt (“Fight Club” & “12 Monkeys”) and you have the makings for a truly enjoyable family film.

“For Colored Girls” – MovieDruid Pick of the Week

Trailer

Synopsis: “For Colored Girls” weaves together the stories of nine different women – Jo, Tangie, Crystal, Gilda, Kelly, Juanita, Yasmine, Nyla and Alice – as they move into and out of one another’s existences; some are well known to one another, others are as yet strangers. Crises, heartbreaks and crimes will ultimately bring these nine women fully into the same orbit where they will find commonality and understanding. Each will speak her truth as never before. And each will know that she is complete as a human being, glorious and divine in all her colors.

MovirDruid’s Comments: One can hardly ignore Tyler Perry (“I Can Do Bad All By Myself” & “Diary of a Mad Black Woman”).  He raged onto the scene and has directed films that have been very successful.  Most of his work has not been my cup of tea, mainly because much of it centers around the comedy of his character Medea who I just haven;t been able to get into.  However, bringing an award-winning play with the dramatic magnitude of this one to the screen is a feat worthy of his talent.  The real problem with a film like this is finding enough talent to fill the large ensemble, nine roles is a tall order.  But the casting here is incredibly well done with Janet Jackson (“Poetic Justice” & “Why Did I Get Married?”), Thandie Newton (“Crash” & “The Chronicles of Riddick”), Kimberly Elise (“John Q.” & “The Great Debaters”), Phylicia Rashad (“Just Wright” & TV’s “The Cosby Show”), Kerry Washington (“Ray” & “The Last King of Scotland”), Loretta Devine (“I Am Sam” & TV’s “Boston Public”), Anika Noni Rose (“Dreamgirls” & “The Princess & The Frog”), Tessa Thompson (“When A Stranger Calls” & TV’s “Veronica Mars”), and Whoopi Goldberg (“Sister Act” & “Ghost”).  With that much talent this is going to be a film of unprecedented power.

Greetings, to you all.

First, allow me to convey my congratulations.  I can imagine a campaign is a grueling process that is both physically and emotionally draining.  You worked hard to get your name and platform out there and your message obviously resonated with your constituency on some level.  Well done.

But, as much as I know you are probably exhausted, it is now that the real work begins.  It is important that you remember that you weren’t running for a position of power but a position of service.  The election was a job interview and the people gave you the job.  Your shiny new title is impressive, but it comes with a great deal of responsibility and very little true privilege.

At least that’s how it should be.

Those of us out here in America have spoken.  We have selected the men and women who will walk the halls of power.  And, while we understand that there is power in every elected position, it is important that you remember that the power in those halls is derived from the people.  The citizenry of this great nation are the true power.  You, and your colleagues, are representations of that strength.

I don’t truly care what party you are from.  I have my personal political beliefs as well, but they don’t enter into this discussion.  Every elected official in this nation, from the councilman in the smallest town to the President of the United States, has chosen a career of civil service.  You sought after, and won, a job with very heavy responsibility.

We expect you to live up to that.

You have a duty to faithfully represent your constituents.  Everything you do should have their best interests at heart.  To truly live up to the standard set down by our Founding Fathers you should offer no special consideration or favors to any one individual or group.  Is this a realistic measure?  Many would say it is not.  But, I believe that men and women of true character to live up to the calling.

Right now, we celebrate and cheer with you.  We slap you on the back, shake your hand, and offer hearty congratulations.  Bask in these moments, you have earned them.  But when you stand up and take the oath that will install you into office, whatever office that might be, listen carefully to what you are saying.

Keep your promises.  Secure our trust.  Serve with humility and respect.  Seek not privilege or give anyone undue influence over you.  And always remember that your guiding principles should derive from the will of your constituents and the Constitution.

Sincerely,

Matthew F.

Keeper of the Jungle Gym

Of late, my job search has seemed to enter a new region.  Where I initially was getting very few bites on the resumes I was sending out, recently I have been getting more calls not only from these resumes but also from recruiters finding my resume on various job boards.  This, in turn, has led to the beginnings of the most nerve-wracking portion of the job search process:  The Interview.

I have gone on several so far, and I have decided one thing.  Interviewing is bad, interviewing for technical positions is worse.  Now, I’m sure there are other positions that have equally difficult interviewing processes, but technical interviews are crazy.

It can be bad enough, especially for someone who isn’t terribly good at the “sell yourself” thing, to sit there and try to answer all their personality and behavioral questions in a way that leaves you looking like a confident and solid candidate without straying into arrogant and insincere territory.  But, after all of that, you have a whole new battery of questions to make sure you know what your resume claims.

I have pretty solid troubleshooting skills.  No one does tech support for any period of time and comes out sane unless they develop those skills.  I’m also tenacious when it comes to issues, I don’t like to let a problem beat me.  And all of that amounts to exactly zero when I am trying to pull the proper methodology for diagnosing an issue while sitting in a suit in an uncomfortable office chair with nary a mouse or keyboard at hand.

When it comes to tech you learn to prioritize the things that are at your fingertips in your mental card file.  Everything else is ties to a myriad of references to sites, resources, and notes.  The important thing is never really being able to spout off the answer from memory.  It’s about being able to lay hand on the correct answer quickly.  Knowing where to find the data is more important than banking it in your gray matter, the data will change too often for that to be of any use anyway.

But, still I sit in those chairs or on the phone and try to sound like I have a clue.  Intellectually I know what the answer is, but often at a high level that would need resources or specifics to clarify.

Thus, you never really get a good feel for how you did on the technical interview.  You just hope, pray, and try to have confidence in your skills.

 

ALSO….

As I hope all of my readers know, it is Election Day.  I don’t care what your politics are, I don’t care who you vote for, I just care that you get out there and VOTE!!

It goes beyond not complaining if you don’t vote.  This nation ceases to be the Republic it was founded to be if the people do not exercise their right, and duty, to vote.  So, get out to the polls, no excuses!!

The human hand is capable of creating objects of breathtaking beauty.  It is a talent that I have always been in awe of whether it was the Great Masters or my brother-in-law, Danny’s, work.  The ability to make the image flow from your mind into a physical form is a skill which will always be inspiring to me.  It is this love of artistic achievement in all its forms that drives many of the things on my Bucket List.

And, today is the day in of these was gifted to the world.  It was on this day in 1512 that Michelangelo revealed to the world the wonder he had created on the vaulted ceiling of the Sistine Chapel.

As an admirer of the beauty of human artwork and a Roman Catholic, the Sistine Chapel was an important item on that Bucket List.  I have, of course, seen images of the work that have been published in any number of books on the subject.  However, with a work like this I knew that beholding it first hand would be a wildly different experience.

I had no idea.

This particular item was checked off that List, along with several others, during my honeymoon in October or 2004.  My wife and I had planned the trip to be memorable, wanting our first days as husband and wife to be indelibly stamped in our memories.  And it worked.  I will remember those moments forever.  Each one a different experience.

Stepping off a bus in Rome and into St.Peter’s Square was humbling enough.  Passing through the corridors of the Vatican Museum even more so.  But stepping through that threshold and into the Sistine Chapel….

There is a scene in the movie “Good Will Hunting” in which Sean (Robin Williams) is chastising Will (Matt Damon), explaining to him that all of the things he knows intellectually mean little without experiences to make them real.  One of the things he says is “But I’ll bet you can’t tell me what it smells like in the Sistine Chapel.”  That quote went through my head as I crossed that threshold.  It hit me because the reality of what I was seeing amde every attempt ever made to describe it or illustrate it seem weak and shallow.

Here I stood in the presence of one of mankind’s greatest works.  It was arrayed all around me.  It was so large, so beautiful, so overwhelming that it was impossible to take it all in.  One was left to stand in awe and wonder.  I have read many books about religion.  I have studied the conceptualization of sacred spaces.  But, I had never in my life experienced such a grand demonstration of the concept.

This was a truly sacred space.

There has been much written about the politics and other aspects of the creation of the masterwork on the ceiling of the Chapel.  I have read much of it myself.  But, somehow all of those concerns seem trivial once you are faced with the reality of what was created there.

I, for one, am eternally thankful to Michelangelo for what he created.  His works are studies of what the human soul can create.  His ceiling in the Sistine Chapel a testament to the inspiration that can be given to us by a higher power.

All we need do is listen.

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