I’d like to thank the Academy….

Now that my epic search for a new part-time career has reached its conclusion, I want to publicly thank some dedicated professionals who made that possible.

Lauraine Bush, Disabilities Resource Coordinator, CNYWorks

Lauraine was my first contact. She was the one who pointed out that my work as a caregiver to family was an important resume bullet point. She helped me rework my resume and cover letter to work in the current job market. Lauraine gave me what I most needed at that point — a clear sense of “yes, we can do this.”

Patty Jowett, Counselor, ACCES-VR (The NYS vocational rehab agency)

Once my application to enroll in ACCES-VR was approved, Patty was the one who worked with me to figure out what specific help I needed. She guided my selection of an agency to do the grunt work of helping me find a job. She also gave me some incredibly practical help by issuing a clothing voucher. Yes, the state of New York is pragmatic enough to realize that people like me probably don’t have clothing fit to wear to an interview. She sent me off to Casual Male XL in Fairmount with enough resources to get a fairly serious business casual wardrobe.

Frank Whaley, Employment Counselor, ARISE

Frank was my man in the trenches. He got me off to a quick start by creating an account at Indeed.com and a GMail address to use just for the job search. He searched the first listings and pushed the button to apply me for some of those jobs. That gave me essential focus for the job search, focus I needed as the weeks wore on. He also provided moral support during the last few weeks as my financial situation grew more desperate and all my attempts to apply for jobs went into a black hole.

As I start out on what may become a serious career in public health, I want to repay these three people by giving them the most valuable thing I can think of — confirmation that what they did made someone’s life better.

-= G =-

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Thinking of my father

My father died in 1994 and I still think about him, especially on Father’s Day.

We were a lot alike. I was born on his birthday and grew up to be the same height and weight, as well as having the same color hair and eyes. I used to joke that we were identical twins born 32 years apart to different mothers. Of course the similarities caused some confusion. At that time, a NJ driver license number consisted of a couple of letters from your last name and about 16 digits based on other information about you. I ended up with a number that was identical to Dad’s except for the last two digits, which called out the year of birth. Since I lived at the same address, it was much too easy for people to confuse us when looking up personal data for things like credit applications. I used the ‘Jr’ suffix everywhere, but it didn’t always help.

We were also very different. Dad had a much tougher life than I did. I had all the issues that arise from the vacuum that results when both parents work, but my father definitely went through worse.

He never knew his birth mother, who died in the influenza pandemic of 1918 six months after he was born. Grandpa John remarried, and Dad and his two sisters did not get along with their new step mother. They all left home fairly quickly.

I don’t know much about Dad’s history from that point until he was drafted in 1941. I do know that he was captured in the first action he saw, a botched campaign in North Africa in which we fought the Germans for the first time and lost badly. Dad’s unit was nearly destroyed. The general in charge was sent back to the U.S. and dad landed in a German prison camp where he spent the next 16 months. During that time, he learned to play the guitar. He also suffered a back injury, although it has never been clear whether that happened in the battle or in the camp.

He came out of that camp a very bitter man. When he learned that there would be a two to three year wait before he could get his back injury treated, he took his mustering-out pay and had the surgery done privately. It didn’t work well, and he spent the next 50 years in pretty much constant pain.

He also met my mother somewhere in the post-war confusion. She was an Army nurse, and I assume they first met while he was being processed as a returning POW. I really don’t know the details and I really wish I had asked more questions while they were still alive. But somehow they met, and were married in 1948.

Fast-forward to early 1994. I’ve been married now for nearly a year and I’m looking forward to finally going home so my parents could meet Jen for the first time. We planned the trip so I would be home for our shared birthday. But it was not to be. By this time, Dad had bad diabetes and other chronic conditions. He had been in and out of the hospital several times, but was stubborn and kept working as a public accountant and tax preparer. On Monday, March 7, he went into the hospital. He died two days later.

I knew when he died. I was at home that Wednesday evening and I suddenly got a strange feeling. Something at the edge of perception had changed. My sister called a half hour later to tell me that Dad had died. I realize now that I had been feeling his pain at some level and was startled when the pain suddenly stopped.

So Dad never got to meet Jen, which saddens me. But Dad had called out of the blue one evening a couple of months earlier, and we ended up talking for an hour and half. We talked a lot about our wives, and realized that our stories were very similar. Neither of us had been looking to get married. Both of us met our wives through improbable sequences of events. And both of just knew from the start that we were going to marry this woman we hardly knew.

So Dad got to meet Jen, sort of, through my descriptions of her. I wish he could have met her in person, but I am consoled by one thing: at least he knew that I was happy.

-= G =-

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Some More Constructive Exhaustion

I had an opportunity this weekend to take care of a long-deferred maintenance shore and push my physical and mental limits at the same time.

We have three air conditioners that we depend on in hot weather. To make sure they keep running, I try to give them some preventive maintenance each year by opening them up and cleaning out the crud that builds up on the coils. When we lived in NH, I just hauled them out to the driveway, parked them on the tailgate of my truck, and went to town.

That all changed when we moved to Syracuse. By that point, the combined stress of all the events of the previous two years had my fibro roaring away at top speed. I also no longer had my truck or even the garden hose I used. There was no way I could carry the air conditioners downstairs to clean them, and no way to clean them in any case, so they didn’t get cleaned. I could see the effects. All three units had to work harder to get the job done. But there wasn’t anything I could do about it.

When the time came to put in the air conditioners this year, I stopped and thought very hard. The downstairs neighbors had a garden hose I could use, so if I could just manage to get the things downstairs, I could clean the coils and get all three air conditioners running right again. It would be a massive effort and I would be pushing the envelope a lot, but I decided to go for it.

By the time I got to the third air conditioner, I was spent. I was resting more than working and I was starting to get very shaky. My bandanna was dripping and fibro fog was setting in. I obviously had pushed myself right to the edge.

But I got the job done. All three air conditioners are in their windows running smoothly. I feel a sense of triumph there. But more importantly, I have successfully pushed myself beyond my recent limits.

This is a major threshold event, like fixing the exhaust pipe on the van, but bigger.  I have now been able to do something I haven’t been able to do for six or seven years.

I’m feeling the effects of working that hard, but ya know, it feels good.

-= G =-

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A New Attitude Toward Exhaustion.

I had another chance yesterday to reconsider my mindset about being disabled. I spent a tough two hours making a relatively minor repair on our van. Most of the effort actually went into getting the front of the van safely and stably elevated so I could crawl under it to do the work. Thanks to our lumpy and uneven driveway,  I ended up trying three times on each side before I got a combination of supports stable enough that I felt secure about working under the van. That was a lot of work, and making the repair was almost anticlimactic.

What was interesting about the whole circus was the level of exhaustion I incurred and, far more importantly,  my reaction to that exhaustion.

On one hand, I had to rest several times throughout the process. I hit several points where I was too winded or too unsteady on my feet to work safely, so there’s no doubt that I still am not nearly as strong as I used to be.

On the other hand, I was able to keep going and get the work done, and it felt good. I used to do a lot of work on our vehicles and doing this one piece of repair work left me feeling like I had reclaimed a lost part of my life. I also recovered more quickly and completely than I have in the recent past, and ended up feeling just ordinarily tired at the end of the day.

This is significant. Back when I was first diagnosed with the stroke, I was sent off to physical therapy for gait and balance training. This was before anyone realized I had fibromyalgia. I nearly passed out during the evaluation and the therapist sent me back to my doctor with a note saying that I was unable to work hard enough for PT to do any good. That’s how feeble I was at the time, and I didn’t regain much of my strength and stamina for several years.

I am now aware that my condition has improved over the last year or so. I was so stuck in the role of ‘disabled person’ that I didn’t realize that I was doing better. I still have limits that I cannot ignore, but I’m doing better, and it was my reaction to yesterday’s hard work that helped me realize that. I’ve passed passed some threshold and can now look upon exertion and honest fatigue as a good thing.

It’s hard to express how important this discovery is. It’s probably going to be a major focus in my daily meditations until I completely absorb it.

-= G =-

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The Job Search, version 3.1415926589793

I’m starting the get really frustrated by the effort required to get a job. In spite of the excellent help I have received from several agencies, I have nothing to report. I really feel like the “voice crying in the wilderness.”

What is going on here? I read about employers complaining that they can’t get qualified help. But I’m out there offering my services to companies that appear to need what I have to offer, and I am getting nothing in reply.  Why is there this terrible disconnect? I wish I knew.

So, for what it’s worth, let’s repeat the litany – I am looking for a job that engages my varied and extensive experience and skills. I have solid value in admin / finance, as well as technical areas. Surely someone must need a genial wizard who can keep the books balanced and the network working, and all for one low price.

-= G =-

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An Unexpected Transition

I turned 66 on April 3rd. For the most part, it was no big deal. I’ve never done much on my birthday and it’s mostly just another day because, really, nothing much has changed.

But this birthday marked a transition that has had unexpected effects on the way I see myself.

Age 66 for me is what the government calls ‘full retirement age.’ This is the earliest age at which you can retire on Social Security and get your full benefit. Now in my case, I have been getting that full benefit since 2009 because I was disabled. That’s all Social Security Disability is – retiring on full benefit early for medical reasons.

At one level, it’s just semantics. I get the same dollar benefit with a different name. At another level, it’s a big shift in reality. You see, although my medical status hasn’t changed, my legal status has. I am no longer bound by the restrictions imposed by the rules of SSDI. Instead, I am now bound by the more liberal rules of Social Security Retirement.

This has had an interesting and unexpected effect on the way I see myself. Being on SSDI sharply limits what you can do to earn money. When I first retired on SSDI, the limits didn’t bother me because I couldn’t work at a job if I wanted to. But I have come back quite a bit from that low point, partly because my doctors have been able to alleviate the impact of my medical conditions, and partly because I have learned to overcome some of the limits and work around the others.

I hadn’t stopped to think about it before, but I was starting to rankle at the limits of what I could do for work. I didn’t realize it, but I was starting to resent having to act disabled because my retirement benefit demanded it. Now that the benefit has changed to ordinary retirement, I am free to do what I can, not just what the SSDI rules allowed. In short, I don’t have to let those rules define me any more.

Now I know that I still have limits I must respect. I’m not kidding myself there. My medical issues have cost me a lot of the strength and stamina I once had. But I suddenly somehow feel less disabled, and I think that is going to make a big difference as I move forward.

= G =-

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More Browser Heresy

As an engineer, I try to be thorough when I investigate something. I therefore felt the need to try Edge, the replacement for Internet Explorer. Internet Explorer has been so awful for so long that I really couldn’t believe that the new browser could be any good, even though it was written from scratch.

Well, I’ve tried it and it it’s a lot better than I thought it would be. I was able to import my bookmarks from Chrome and dive right into my daily browsing.

The first thing I noticed was how quickly pages loaded. I haven’t done real timing tests, but there was a definite sense that pages loaded even faster than they did under Chrome.
I also noted that Edge supports “Reading Mode,” which Firefox does but Chrome does not. I discovered Reading Mode a couple of months ago and I love it because it reformats web content into a book-like layout that is much easier to read. Chrome’s failure to support Reading Mode is a big misfeature.

All is not perfect. Edge’s interface is not to my taste in a number of ways. Also, the way settings are organized doesn’t always make sense. Setting the home page, for example, is buried in Advanced Settings and is clumsy to do.

Bookmark formatting is also poor, mostly because line spacing between bookmarks in a bookmark dropdown menu is excessive. It’s nearly double-spaced, so you see fewer bookmarks before you run out of screen.

So I’m not switching to Edge any time soon. Despite being written from scratch, it still has traditional Microsoft attitudes showing in many places. But if for some reason I couldn’t use Chrome, I would have to consider using Edge over switching back to Firefox. Edge put in a good showing at Pwn2Own, and I have to choose security over convenience these days.

So Edge beats out Firefox on the essentials. Never thought I’d catch myself saying that.

-= G =-

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Bill’s Current Resume (short)

Here is the short version of my current resume, which I have done in PDF format. That’s a bit experimental, and not something I have tried before. I’ll be very interested to see how well it works.

-= G =-

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I hope this isn’t the end of an era

Mozilla Firefox has been my preferred browser for a long time now, and I have stuck with it despite its increasingly serious issues with security and stability. But we have passed a new threshold and I have been forced to change browsers.

The Pwn2Own hacker conference is a good benchmark of how secure an OS or a browser is, and this year’s conference produced a very troubling result: Firefox didn’t even show up. Even worse, Microsoft Edge, the written-from-scratch replacement for Internet Explorer, put in a good showing. I’m quite certain that if Firefox had entered, it would have been beaten out all the others.

So I was faced with the reality that Firefox is now the only major browser left clinging to an obsolete and insecure architecture, with no prospects of being rewritten any time soon. That left me no choice. I had to move on.

I’m still fooling around with Microsoft Edge because it is completely new, but for daily work I now use the 64-bit Google Chrome. I don’t like some of its misfeatures, and I trust Google even less than I trust the NSA, but Chrome is fast, secure, and stable.

I really hope that Mozilla gets its act together and writes a whole new version of Firefox and I hope they do it soon. Mozilla is a major leader in the fight to keep the Web open and free, and the mere presence of Firefox has forced the other players to do likewise. It would be a tragedy to lose that. The Internet would not be the same without Mozilla. But I am worried. As I said in the tile of this post, I hope this isn’t the end of an era.

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Back to an Old Theme For Now

I switched to the Catch Evolution theme a while back. I’ve gone back to Twenty Ten for now due to what I consider an intolerable misfeature in Catch Evolution. Continue reading

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