Category Archives: Holiday Letter

2017 That Was the Year that Was

Porch Holiday Lights

What a strange year. The first year of continuous scandal national government. Real scandals, not pretend scandal like those during 44’s watch. 45 became in violation of a building lease with the US Government upon inauguration (can’t lease to USG  employees or elected officials) and it has been a steady slide from there.

Institute for Learning in Retirement

Dave remains active as a standing committee chair in this Tidewater seniors club. The club is in the second year of migration from semi-automated membership and class registration processes to on-line processes that should allow our 3 person part time staff to continue to serve our growing membership. Those wanting to learn more about ILR may do so at https://www.oduilr.org.

The club is in the process of engaging a payment processing service and opening a merchant services account. With this change staff and Dave will be actively trying to figure out how things work and revising our internal work flows. We hope these changes will improve member services.

On the Church Front

Dave is a member of the audio-visual and networking teams preparing a new used building to be our future church. Our architect and builder are well regarded small commercial projects builders but we are finding gaps to be filled in completing the technical infrastructure needed by a modern house of worship having other non-profit tenants.

Networking

The increased size and complexity of our new building requires some internal access controls to allow staff to move about while keeping home school children and their minders out of the upper levels and unimproved areas of the building. In addition, we’re adding internal video and security telephones not in our older building.  Figuring out affordable ways to do this has kept Dave and his committee mates busy for a day a week.

It turns out that the best way to do many of these tasks is with Ethernet network devices. Each floor of our new building will have Power over Ethernet network drops for each office, classroom, and location we’d like to have a phone. The main entrance and staff entrances will have video door phones that allow staff to screen visitors and open the door for expected vendors and congregants

Each office and classroom will have an in wall WiFi access point to support use of WHRO educational materials by Home School Out of the Box classes and WiFi access for home schooler parents. The large meeting areas will also have WiFi service.

Audio Visual Stuff

Dave is also involved with the audio visual systems and theatrical lighting for the sanctuary. Planning for the AV system began with the first plans for the sanctuary. We engaged a local contractor to model the hall and recommend acoustical design elements to manage the reverberation time of the hall for spoken word and acoustic music.

The hall will include a robust high fidelity sound reinforcement system suitable for speech, small acoustic ensemble performances, and movie and video projection. The sound system has a modern digital mixer, high efficiency amplifiers, modern assistive listening, and is able to mix both front of house and on-stage monitor sound. Mix configurations can be saved and recalled making setup easier for  our volunteer audio engineers.

Theatrical Lighting

Our new hall will have theatrical lighting designed primarily for lighting services on stage but with multi-color LED sources to permit some use of theatrical effects as we learn how to do that. The church is fortunate to have a congregant whose day job is Exhibits Director at Nauticus, our local maritime museum. Dustin has been handling the nitty gritty of the stage lighting but Dave has been helping with hall lighting control so we can dim the house lights from the AV booth which also doubles as video and lighting booths.

Critters

Nick and Missy on Zombie Watch

Nick and Missy are both well but Nick is a senior citizen and acting it. His activity is down as is his piss and vinegar level. At 11 and a half, he’s pretty mellow and content to let Missy have the alpha role.

Missy

Missy reminding Dave that supper is late.

Missy defends the house from zombies, hoodie teens, bikers, and other assorted blighters. She’s mellowed some as she approaches 6 and no longer trolls school children at the fence but the neighbor dogs are fair game as are skater kids and bicycles.

Nick

Nick showing devil’s ears

Nick may be old but when Missy calls for aid, Nick comes running and is right in the mix. Interestingly, we have a neighbor dog, a playful Golden Doodle, retriever and standard poodle hybrid. He’s just a sapling and sweet as can be. Nick and Missy chat with him at the hole in neighbor’s fence (neighbor is a tenant). Neighbor dog is a bit bouncy so we’ve not let them run together (hardly a fare contest).

The moles appear to have moved on. But we have coyote confirmed in the area with sitings on the Botanical Garden grounds, airport grounds, and in the woods around the reservoir. They pretty much stick to the strip by the lake and are rarely seen in the neighborhood. The local ones are about 40 pounds and are believe to have a taste for outdoor cats and other small critters. Funny, rabbits are scarce at the moment. Maybe most have become coyote.

2015, That was the year that was

That Was the Week that Was is an old ’60s TV show of news satire. Robert Frost, BBC refugee, hosted with his British accent, prescient interviewing skills, and imperial irony. The show suggested the title for the 2015 year end post.

Missy

Missy with ball closeupMissy is doing well. This picture is from last fall but she is a 22E dog so she’s a young four and still full of play and chase. She has made a second career of trolling the school kids on their way to and from the bus stop and chasing bicyclers and skaters. Skater kids get her really excited as do noisy training wheels. The neighborhood kids have learned that the fence is good and that Missy is showing off her Kung Fu at the fence and won’t eat them.

Missy is a manipulative little devil. She has the most pathetic whimper which she’ll use when she believes she’s entitled to food or attention. And, like all greyhounds, she’s a tyrant about the plan of the day. Miss an activity and she’ll be in your ear that you’ve overlooked some important duty owed her.

I make it a point to play with Missy a bit every day, usually before sunset in the yard and in the evening in the house. She’s a great hunter of stuffies and loves squeaky balls and particularly likes those like the red example in the photo above. They’re her precious and she hoards them all in her outdoor lair. I have to make it a point to bring some back in for evening play. We have good lights in the yard so after dark outdoor play is also an option.

 

Golf GTI

volkswagen-golf-7-gti-021

A rear ending at Rosemont and Lynnhaven in Virginia Beach murdered my beloved 2001 Audi A4 Avant. I was trying to stay out of the market while Audi sorted out what it would bring into the US. I was hoping they would offer the A3 “Sportback” here. Sportback is Audi speak for a hatchback. It was not to be. And no A3 Etron, a hybrid hatch available in the UK and Germany. But Americans want SUVs so we get the Q3, Q5, and Q7, each bigger than the one before. I drove a Q3 and didn’t know whether to laugh or cry. It was refined and nice but it was not me. It was uncomfortable to drive in traffic and I’d never think of trying to squeeze it into the carport.

So it was down the street to look at the VW Golf. The Golf is an amazing vehicle. In US trim, the regular ones have the 1.8 TSI engine or the 2.0 TSI in the Golf GTI. I drove each version that was in stock, the base 1.8 automatic, the 2.0 manual, the 2.0 automatic, and the 2.0 Diesel. All are great vehicles having a strong agile family character. The 2.0 TSI gas power train was the most refined so a GTI was my choice. I was hoping to remain a shifty lad but no 2.0 white 4 door manuals were to be had. I ended up buying the 2.0 automatic from local dealer stock.

After 9 months with the vehicle, I’m pleased. It is refined, nimble, comfortable around town and on long drives, and a week’s driving takes about 5 gallons of fuel. The Audi needed 8 to make the same weekly orbit. And the car is quick but doesn’t feel it. The 2.0 T torque curve is flat so there are no cheap thrills from peaky acceleration. And no torque steer. Nail it on any surface and the car hooks up and goes straight with the traction and stability control on. Tanner Foust can drift it but not me. No drama. And it is nimble. Easily the most nimble of my several cars.

Remodeling

We’re done at last. The new kitchen is a joy to cook in and the Charleston entry has worked very well both to take the dogs out and to go to and from the car. I only use the front door to walk the dogs and tend the mail box. It was a lot of work but well worth it.

The project went smoothly but slowly as my builder was busy with my job and several others. Mine was the small project so it had its stops and starts to contract trades. We could have saved some time on the end had there been a handy guy on staff that was not also a project manager. There were a number of small tasks that lagged for want of finish plumbing, carpentry, and electrical skills. My builder had to bring one of his regular subs back for each bit of tasks like installing the downdraft hood ductwork. I ended up doing the last little bits of this stuff myself. Just a day or so to install a deadbolt, wire up the downdraft blower under the house, etc.

A New Chest?

This January, I returned to the gym to resume weightlifting. I’d not lifted in 10 years so I was in for some aches and had to catch up on training technique. The thing that brought me back was that I was becoming concerned about accumulating aches and pains and the growing difficulty of doing lame stuff. Aching hips, knees, etc. needed exercise to remain strong and stable.

I’ve been doing something different this time around. I’m doing basic 5 by 5 training. Five sets of five repetitions of the basic exercises.

  • Squat
  • Bench press
  • Row
  • Deadlift

These exercises cover most of the body and all of the big muscles. No specialization exercises, just the compound lifts. I took a break during the remodel to look after the dogs and have just gotten back to being regular for 3 or so visits to the gym each week.

I’ve been lifting at the Norfolk Fitness and Wellness Center on Newport Ave. This is the old Jewish Community Center. Unfortunately, it has limited weights but also limited patronage. There’s only one power rack and set of plates and a second corner with deadlift plates. They have lots of machines.

Clubs and recs like machines because they allow a small staff to show the setup and manage the weight room. Unfortunately, most machines make anything past newbie gains difficult, especially for those who are past adolescence. Machines are designed for safety, attractiveness to beginners, and ease of setup.

The catch is that the machine supports you and constrains motion of the limbs being trained. The muscles that stabilize the body, limb, and body core are not trained.

Traditional barbell exercises require you to support yourself and stabilize yourself. They involve many more muscles than the obvious ones directly associated with the joints being rotated. I was surprised to find my latissimus muscles sore the day after squatting for the first time.

The trick is to learn how to do the lifts properly. Most people begin lifting with little or no coaching so grip and motion vary all over the lot among beginners, even  young footballers and wrestlers who, in theory, have received strength training instruction.

I stumbled across several resources including Mike Matthews Muscle for Life (http://muscleforlife.com) and Strong Lifts (http://stronglifts.com) that teach the basic lifting techniques. Mike Matthews has books to sell. The second site is Belgian and it is not at all obvious how the owner makes a living as he is not advertising in the US but does do a lot of speaking and coaching at home.

http://stronglifts.com has good introductory videos that show the proper form and a complete workout including warmups. Warmups are important to establish correct motion and prepare for the work sets. The warmups mostly allow you to rediscover the correct motion and core support, and prepare the nerves and muscles to do the work sets correctly and strongly.

The 5 by 5 technique has you increase the weights by 5 or 10 pounds when you can do all 5 sets of 5. With the increase, you’ll be able to do 5 reps for the early set but not the last set or two. If you can do more than 5 reps on the last set, it is time to increase the weight until the last set is 4 reps or so.

Institute for Learning in Retirement

Raft
A Lazy Day on the Little Muddy

http://oduilr.org

ILR has been busy this year. I typically attend 5 to 6 classes per quarter plus a monthly board meeting and quarterly committee meeting. I’m chair of the Communications and Technology committee and webmaster. Each quarter, I get to update the website and class calendar on the website.

ILR has slowly been growing in size so we need to revise how we keep the membership records and class registrations. We had been using a home brew MS Access application to track membership and registration and an MS Excel spreadsheet to track payments. Both of these applications were single user. As membership grew and signups increased, it was taking the entire month of staff time available for registration to complete all of the registrations. Growth will force us to divide the work between 2 people as a worker can process 5 to 6 applications per hour and we has 200 to 300 to process. And we were handling each item a second time to post the payment.

After evaluating a number of alternatives, our automation task force recommend starting member accounts and sales invoicing to track registrations and payments. We would still need to divide the work among two or more workers so this meant that we needed a multi-user accounting package.

ILR had been using Quickbooks. Being comfortable with the Intuit product, we looked to see what Intuit offered that was multi-user. We found that the Quickbooks Online product was multiuser and offered a feature set that would track inventory for us. This allowed us to create our class seat inventory, invoice it to our members, record their payments allocating money to each invoice item, and send a statement confirming their signups and payment.

When we cancel a class we have to notify each member by Email or phone of the cancellation. We found that we could use the sales by item report to identify the members signed up for a specific class and that Quickbooks could Email those members having an address on file. It could also print a contact list. A second version of this report serves as a check-in roster for the class.

Our next goal is to begin sending class reminders and to allow members to check their signups online. This requires moving the website to a new platform that supports these sorts of inquires. An association management platform like Wild Apricot (http://wildapricot.com) has these capabilities. Wild Apricot is specifically designed to track small club and trade association membership, event signups, and send event reminders and membership renewals. Unlike many similar products, it could support our manual mail-in process while offering a path to online payments and self-service for the more audacious members.

Competing products did not support a manual workflow or manual payments. Most also charged a per transaction service charge on top of the payment processor’s charge. More on this if we move forward with the second phase of the project.

Unitarian Church of Norfolk

Quackers and the Church (1)http://ucnorfolk.org

Unitarian Church of Norfolk is in the process of moving. We have identified a property and are negotiating for its purchase. We have also found a buyer for our property who has a non-church but appropriate use for our building. Negotiation on both the buying side and selling side are slow but moving forward.

I’ll miss being on the Hague. It can be a pain at times as a result of coastal flooding but access to Ghent and downtown attractions after church and the nice view of the tidal creek and Chrysler Museum are attractive. Rumor has it that our new location has adequate parking, meeting space, and good access but that it will need renovation for our use. Even if we were to close real soon now, it would probably be fall before we could have first services there.

I’m church webmaster so I’ve been keeping the website up. This fall, our association, Unitarian Universalist Association, offered a WordPress theme and core content for congregational use. We are in the process of moving the church website to the new platform. Although not as rich as Open Outreach Drupal 7, the UUA congregation theme has all of the features we need in a church website. We’ve been able to stick to the UUA modules plus recommended modules with only the addition of WordPress Access Control to support members only pages.

I’ve moved most of our static content over and hope to begin proof reading everything in anticipation of taking the site live in early 2016.

 

 

2014, That was the year that was

I’m doing something novel this year. I’m actually writing my holiday post in the year it is about. Usually, I keep putting off holiday cards and the the holiday post. This whole business got started in 2006 when I moved up north to Rhode Island and it became difficult to make the Thanksgiving and Christmas pilgrimages to visit the relatives. The 2 day drive from Newport was too long, especially with dog lodging and wee breaks. So I started a Facebook page and began writing the yearly letter to send out with Holiday cards. Over the years, the on-line community got larger and a good bit of it (second cousins) were mobile making it hard to send cards. The card list is down to 10 or so retired moochers.

I Joined the Retired Moochers

Medicare sets you free! In January, I joined the retired moochers. Several cousins had preceded me by retiring early. With the health insurance situation in the US, I felt compelled to work until 65 when I became eligible for Medicare. So I retired at the end of 2013 having given my employer a year’s warning that i was going to bail. I don’t miss work one bit. Since moving from Newport to Norfolk, my command had become increasingly dysfunctional, largely as a result of the location down the street from the real Navy but also as a result of some unfortunate choices of support staff. IT was trying to wag the dog in modeling and simulation and the security pukes were getting increasingly obnoxious, and I was becoming less connected to the product over the last couple of years.

Hobby Jobs

I’ve not had time to miss work. In fact, I wonder how I ever found time to work! Catch up on neglect around home, two greyhounds, and new involvement in local clubs leaves me with few days with nothing to do.

Since retiring, I’ve joined ODU Institute for Learning in Retirement and become the Communications and Technology Committee Chair and webmaster and have become web master of my church’s web site. Over the course of the year, I migrated the church web site from Joomla to Open Outreach Drupal at a new hosting company and will move it again this winter. I’ve also migrated the ODU ILR web site from MS Frontpage to a new Open Academy Drupal 7 based design that will be hosted at Pantheon. Other articles describe these efforts in detail.

Dogs Go and Come

Having dogs is great but all of the good times come with a bad patch at the end. This year, I lost Rhea unexpectedly to complications of a panic attack. She was just shy of her 14th birthday and showing signs of advancing age including weight loss, some dementia, and a big reduction in activity. In early April, I was doing chores (flushing the tankless water heater). When I finished that chore, I found her anxious and having difficulty lying down. She was pacing a good bit, would try to settle, abort the down, and the panting would get worse. This escalated until it was obvious that medical intervention was needed.

As the hyperventilating increased, her breathing became labored and raspy so I carted her off to the emergency vet. They sedated her but she continued to hyperventilate. In greyhounds, raspy breathing is an indication of air way tumors. There were two forks in the road, to induce anesthesia and hope the autonomous nervous system reset itself or euthanasia. With her advanced age, the tumor indication, her dementia, etc my vet recommended the latter course of action. I agreed knowing that if the anesthesia gambit were successful, a wobbly Rhea would begin hyperventilating as she recovered from anesthesia.

Rhea was a dear gentle dog and I miss her. The anxiety episode spared us the accelerating decline and loss that were expected later this year.

Rhea
Rhea

Nick moped around most of the summer. He was accustomed to having Rhea in the house for company and suddenly found himself an only dog. He looked after Rhea who followed his lead through the day’s activities. Nick was pretty inactive through the summer. Maybe it was some post-partem depression but the Virginia heat may have had something to do with it too.

In August, I began taking Nick to meet and greet events to meet the local greyhound rescue folks and the dogs they had been placing. Nick recovered some energy with the passing of the July/August heat so I joined the queue for a second dog. You can read about Missy joining us in other posts.

Missy and Nick Day 4
Nick and Missy share the Lifeboat

Missy has been with us 6 weeks now and is taking nicely to companion life. On Thanksgiving Friday, I schlepped the pair to visit friend Judy Schooley and her dogs Meme and Einstein and grand dog Eliza, a devil of a herding mix. Missy got on well with everyone and even met Rocky the Cat who rules the roost. Both cat and hound survived the encounter. Missy is really sweet, very playful, and very affectionate in a greyhound sort of way. She even plays fetch! But only for a few throws to prove she’s a greyhound and not a retriever.

Year of the Garden

This year’s capital maintenance is to replace the legacy shed and fence. The shed was too small. I have 3 bicycles and winter tires in there in addition to yard tools. The existing shed was galvanized frame with sheet metal skin and was just floating on its slab. Each wind storm would find the shed displaced on the slab. So, this September, I ordered a Colonial Barns 8×12 foot shed to be assembled on site.

The new shed
New Shed

I also ordered a new vinyl fence to replace the too-low and badly worn chain link fence. This fence is a vinyl (vinyl is final, I hope) 48 inch rail and picket design with aluminum I-beam reinforced bottom rail and posts. The new fence is free of distorted fabric and fittings, both which can cause injury to an excited greyhound. The new fence is much taller and 50% opaque so the dogs appear to feel safer and fence charges should be less scary to the neighbors. As I write, the installers were short two line posts and the fence is not complete. Creative use of gravity and an Ex-pen close the gap so I can turn my dogs out into the paddock.

New fence
Back Garden

Editing the Legacy Garden

While all of this was going on, I also took the Norfolk Botanical Garden landscape design class and made drawings for new beds and hardscape for the back garden. The plan is to do a little bit each hear. This year, I’ve been editing the big things. The  aucuba japonica shrubs planted under the carport canopy and the ligustrum (very tree like here) guarding them from the street were this year’s casualties. The tree service did in the ligustrum.

I cut back the aucuba in July. As I’m writing this, they are growing back nicely so I’ll transplant them to locations identified for understory shrubs in the new design. I have 4 under the car port and 4 at random inappropriate spots in the back yard to be moved so my instructor and I identified places where these could be transplanted. Two hydrangea also need to be moved. One is in full sun and the other is oddly placed in the foundation bed in the back garden so we’ll move these two to the back fence.

Ligustrum Mess
Ligustrum Mess

I’m getting too old to do the big stuff myself. The plan is to engage a local landscaper to define the beds and move the 8 aucuba and 2 hydrangeas. We’ll also correct the grade, fill in holes, etc, and put gravel around the shed. I’m planning to do permitter beds with understory shrubs under the live oaks, some low crepe myrtle (Pocomoke crepe myrtle) along the hedge in back and various perennials in the beds around the house. In doing all of this, I have to keep a race track and drop zone for the dogs. Picking up used dog chow out of long ground cover is next to impossible and my yard is a block from our reservoir.

Year of the Duck

Did I mention that 2014 was the year of the Duck? The Chrysler Museum contracted a visit by Mr Hoffman’s big yellow duck. The duck attracted 1,000,000 visitors to Mowbray Arch and record opening traffic to the Chrysler Museum which was reopening after two years of renovations. This photo shows the Prophet and the Chrysler’s premier statue of a courier taking a message scroll from his fallen comrade. This view is from the Chrysler steps looking down the Hague.

Duck and Horse
Duck and Horse

2013, Year of Changes

winter_wonderland_by_porbital-d5qx9lp

Winter Wonderland — http://porbital.deviantart.com

About the image

This photograph is an Internet image by the artist Pete at the link. Unfortunately, Pete didn’t give contact information or license information. I’ve used this image without permission on a non-commercial share with attribution basis.

cc-license

I’m 65 and I Like It

With apologies to Alice Cooper! But this October I celebrated my 65th name day. (Well 66th if you are a C programmer) One of the good things about becoming 65 is that you are Medicare eligible and Congress encourages you to sign up in a timely manner. Well, I did. And I also signed up for an AARP Medicare Supplement policy that picks up much of what Medicare does not, like the 20 percent copay. Medicare sets you free from the swamp of the individual policy market and from employer group insurance. This latter item was the last check in the box for retirement for me. I have a pre-existing condition and the CABG scars to show for it. Entering the personal market as it was before the ACA (Obamacare) would have been ugly. I’ve yet to make a Medicare claim but that will change in January as my 6 month well baby checks become due again.

One Day and a Wake-up

Tomorrow, December 20, is my last work day, ever. Tomorrow my Facebook occupation becomes None. I’ve been considering something snarky like 90th percentile wealth unit, or petite bourgeoisie to describe my new status. I’ve been fortunate to spend 4 years in the Navy followed by 38 years in profession as a software engineer. Many of my cohort were not so lucky with class mates forced out during each recession, unable to find new work in their field of practice. For me, it took a couple of strategic changes from Fortune 500 boiler maker to small software service companies and then to a veteran owned small business in the modeling and simulation space and 3 moves.

I’ve been lucky to have some gigs that quietly changed part of the world. The first two were at Combustion Engineering which bravely moved from analog to digital reactor monitoring and protection systems in the 1970’s, the first reactor vendor to make the change. The second was also with Combustion, when a team adapted nuclear plant design models for use in operator training simulators. The design models moved from very basic first order models to detailed second order models that represented many fine details of the fission reaction, heat transfer, and mass transport processes in the reactor from start-up conditions to post-accident conditions. This model set was capable of reproducing plant transients and replicated the loss of coolant tests conducted at the National Reactor Test Facility in Idaho.

The third time was with the Navy where my work group changed the way the Navy trains for surface warfare encounters in preparation for deployment. Before, ships went to sea and took turns pretending to be the bad guy. After, embedded training equipment on the ship stimulated the ship’s sensors in response to the behavior of simulated warships and aircraft. The stimulated system training was much more accurate because the OPFOR entities looked to the ship’s sensors as they would in the world rather than as a squadron mate. And it could be done inexpensively in port. So I’ve been fortunate to contribute to some significant projects in my career.

Retirement Lunch

Retiring is a bit bitter-sweet. I met with my work mates for lunch today and was surprised by the turn out. A number of the BMH old hands and the younger folks I had worked closely with at Dam Neck and Norfolk, came to see me off today. Tomorrow is check out with the command and with the company. I’ll miss my work mates and the neat things I was able to do with them.

The thing I’m proudest of is the ballistic missile tracking filter that our tame physicist and I (tame systems engineer) developed. We needed to produce Link tracks of missiles and our effects simulation attempts had failed horribly. I went noodling for useful documents and found a paper describing a tracker that was fairly complete. Giving that and several articles on Kalman filtering to Boris, he derived a tracking filter from our missile ballistics model and coded it up. Once Boris had completed the coding, I tuned it and we premiered it in a missile shoot simulation. The complaints about kinky tracks stopped. I’ve always been a believer that a simple first order model was the thing to do. Effects simulation works for a small set of design basis cases but not for free play and sometimes not at all.

Boris is an experimental physicist and computer scientist by training and was quite brave to dive into non-linear optimal estimation without having seen the subject matter before. He quickly picked up state variable notation and enough random process theory that the two of us could pull it off together. Because the problem was non-linear, we had to linearize it and we had to estimate one of the model parameters. Not hard but more than a homework exercise. Although it was our first effort, it has worked well enough that it has not been challenged and if it were, it is on a sound theoretical basis and we can defend it unlike our attempts at effects simulation. This was a fruitful collaboration because I could round up the theory and read the math but I wouldn’t have gotten the coordinate transformations right. We had to tag team this problem into submission.

Like my other valued work moments, this one is not a personal accomplishment but a team accomplishment where each of us brought valuable knowledge and skills to a problem and solved it together. That’s what engineering is all about.

Life After Work

I’m not planning to sit around watching Fox News and getting angry. That way lies an early grave. For too many years, I’ve lived with a pile of boxes and accumulated cruft in the house. On each of my recent moves, the carrier elected to deliver me last and ate my travel time up. I’d unpack enough to manage and leave the rest boxed. It’s time to sort it all out to fit into an 1100 square foot hip roof ranch. That’s plenty of space for me and a couple of greyhounds but only if disciplined about accumulation.

I also would like to rediscover my waist. Like many of my cohort, I’ve let a few pounds come to stay in several of my 65 years and need to part with them. As I’ve aged, it has become harder and harder to exercise in the evening after work. Dog care has to happen and by the time they can be left, it is late to go exercise. I’ve also found it less pleasant to work out after dark. So I’m looking to start biking around town and to resume lifting at the community center. Norfolk has a nice city fitness center over by the Elizabeth River and a new community center going up on Princess Anne. City fees are $75 a year which is a deal for a nice gym.

We also have a lot of photo opportunities around town and near by including urban life in Ghent, on the Virginia Beach boardwalk, and the various town parks. I’ve been noodling around with digital photography for 10 years but have never taken the time to learn more than the basics. First, digital cameras are more complex than a Nikon F from the old days. The F was completely manual but could be had with an optional match needle through the lens meter. Today’s digital cameras have auto exposure, multiple scene modes that compensate for subject characteristics and ambient light characteristics, and can bracket. They also have auto focus that can be fooled or focused on the subject and locked. And they shoot full motion video at 30 or 60 FPS (25 or 50 in the land of 50 Hz power).

And no more dark room developer tanks, enlarger, and trays or drum processor. We work in light rooms now in front of a computer display using a program that renders the image by doing mathematical transformations of it to correct exposure, dodge shadows, burn in highlights, apply blurs and lens aberration effects or model the classic films and printing papers.

Anyway, there is a lot to learn and practice and no shortage of subject matter at the beach and parks.

The Greyhounds

Rhea is aging gracefully. She’s a dear dog approaching her 14th birthday in good health. Oswald Cobblepot sired her and a well-known stud, Kiowa Sweet Trey. Trey, in turn, sired Lord Nick. So this pair is my most closely related. Usually, the common ancestor is 3 or more generations back. With them, it is 2 for Nick and 1 for Rhea. Kind of neat. And Auntie is sweet on the young whipper-snapper. Nick’s a young 7, not uncommon for Kiowa Sweet Trey dogs. They have a reputation for prolonged adolescence and juvenile delinquency.

Rhea tires quickly so she’s not an outing dog but Nick is always raring to go looking for adventure. He loves to go shopping and on park outings. I’ve been taking Nick to the Shore Drive trail and to the residential beach.  I expect that I’ll get them both out more.

2012, That Was the Year that Was!

2012 has been an interesting year that included bidding a fond farewell to Faux News, my 64th birthday, Barak Obama’s reelection, a new blue ray player, and a new camera and several milestones.

Milestones

This summer, Aunt Mildred, Dad’s brother John’s wife passed away. This fall Johnny and Sue Gray (Dad’s sister) celebrated their 65th wedding anniversary. Shortly after that, Uncle Charlie Hamby passed away and recently, Aunt Gurla, John Watson’s wife. Aunts and uncles are getting thin on the ground.

Last year’s round of Christmas letters brought news of Peter Newcomb’s passing. Peter and I worked together at Combustion Engineering. Peter was a key part of the management of our simulator upgrade business, and was, like me, a former Navy Nuclear Propulsion professional. Peter was an interesting character who just missed a walk-on as offensive end at Penn State and worked for Pensky Racing in his miss-spent youth. One summer, motorcycling with his wife on holiday in North Carolina, Peter road by the farm and noticed the sign and asked about it on his return to work.

Charlie was notable in his dedication to the farming way of life and his active support of farm land preservation. Charlie was eloquent in his recollections of the good times had on the West Rowan, NC farms during the rough times of the depression. The Hambys, Watsons, and Bargers farmed the land at the west end of Sherrils Ford Road with the Watsons and Bargers on what was to become the extension service farm, “state farm” next door to today’s Hamby Brother’s Farms. One quote that has stuck with me over the years is, “I’m a farmer because I’m too stubborn to work for somebody else” Charlie also actively supported responsible hunting by leasing a tract for dove hunting to the local game preserve. Charlie was a character always ready with a ghost story for the nieces and nephews.

Gurla (Barger) also spoke fondly of her years growing up on the farm, particularly recalling how the three families would work the fields together and would help each other in times of hardship. This sort of helpfulness was a farm life tradition with 3 generations and sometimes 4 living on the farm. These were the days when mechanization was beginning. During the depression, my dad’s family worked the land with mule and horse teams. After the war, they began to mechanize and shifted from tobacco and cotton to dairy production. Uncle John was the leader of this transition, introducing ideas brought home from NCSU School of Agriculture.

Back in the day, people actually married the girl next door. Mildred Watson was dad’s girl next door and Gurla Barger was John Watson’s girl next door. As you drive around west Rowan County, you see names like Berringer Road, Hildebrand Road, etc, named for the farmers who built them for access to Sherrils Ford Road or the Statesville Road. During the pre-mechanized period, farms produced livings for several of the sons. With mechanization, national, and now world commodity markets, it is a challenge to support one family and children often move to the city as we are seeing in my cohort and our children.

Now, most of us are wage slaves in varied occupations and scattered all over the south east. Only a few cousins still farm, notably Louise Watson and her husband Joe Dean and Paul Hamby who does corn and beans on Hamby Brothers Farm. One second cousin is working on a microelectronics PhD, something about sharks with lasers. Another is a genetic biologist and is actually studying reef shark migration using DNA analysis. Another is a nurse. Cousin Jackson is in the large animal veterinary pipeline at Kansas State. Another is an undergrad at NCSU, judging from his Facebook posts, majoring in NCSU sports fan. Another has just started UNM and is either undeclared or unconfessed. And cousin Dustin is angling to work as a race car mechanic for one of the NASCAR teams. Others are IT professionals, cosmetologists, farm land preservationist, wilderness preservationist, you name it.

You know you’re old when you start reading mail from Social Security

Will you still love me when I’m sixty-four? Well, I’ve made it past that milestone and have actually been reading the Social Security Administration mailings I’ve received for the last two years. In the past, I would file them with the tax records after taking a brief glance. Needless to say, my retirement planning is changing from strategic to tactical.

I’m in that brave new world of defined contribution retirement. The strategic part is that I began saving for retirement in 1972 and believed Billie Holiday when she sang, “God bless the child who’s got his own.” Early on, I did not like the idea of leaving my retirement to the good graces of others and have been a conservative retirement saver. I also have a good financial advisor at Essex Financial Services which is the top ranked independent financial planning company in Connecticut. Hooking up with EFS was a beneficial side-effect of Mom’s injury back in 1993. The law firm who did Mom’s estate planning referred me to them. Between the two I’m well positioned to retire at 65 should I wish to while maintaining my standard of living.

It is important to do some careful planning as transition approaches because time value of money things can be counter-intuitive, particularly when Social Security is part of the mix. I found a good planning tool at http://www.esplanner.com that can do basic time value of money things. The basic planner is free and serves as a sales tool for their software and web services. The basic planner can function in accumulation mode or in economic mode. In the traditional accumulation mode, you tell it how much yearly income you would like in retirement and it determines the assets you’ll need to accumulate to produce that income. In economic mode, you tell it what your assets are, how they behave, and your obligated expenses (debt and other contractual obligations) and it will tell you how much discretionary spending your assets can support considering Social Security.

The model presents things in terms of your obligated expenses (taxes, contractual expenses, Medicare Part B, and your additions). Discretionary spending is anything not included in the obligated expenses Way cool. This is how I determined that I was OK. The model lets you add life stage expenses to the obligated side of the ledger. These may be things like eldercare, college expenses for offspring, or capital expenditures for home, cars, boats, etc that are one shot or recur for a few years.

When to take social security is the counterintuitive bit. Not having a surviving spouse, it is simple for me but the complexity of Social Security law with surviving spouses, disability, two earnings histories, two ages, two longevities, etc in the mix makes for a complex optimization problem. Esplanner has a tool for this problem too, unfortunately not free. In my case, it concluded the obvious, wait until 70 to collect Social Security. This increases yearly payout by 1/3. If you live to 85 (a reasonable assumption given aunt’s and uncle’s longevity), you break even. The counter intuitive bit is that this actually lets you increase you standard of living by freeing some assets held in reserve to produce late in life income for higher yearly discretionary spending. I would have expected being fully out of pocket for five years to have the opposite effect but the increase guaranteed (assuming Dec 2012 law) late in life income gives the opposite result for me.

The optional fee-paid models also lets you make assumptions about investment behavior and runs Monte Carlo simulations to determine the 95/95 spending supported over an ensemble of several hundred investment performance and yearly inflation random walks out to age 100. It also has an upside planning mode (a third option) that assumes that all equity investments are lost. Given this scenario, it does a Monte Carlo analysis to determine the 95/95 income that your bond investments can produce.

The basic planner does best estimate planning. If you guess the ensemble average investment performance and inflation rate conservatively (lower investment yield and higher inflation shrinkage) you will be ok but with lower predicted spending rates. Given that model initial conditions change each year as you spend and investments perform or not, it is good to repeat the exercise every year or so planning income harvesting for 2-3 years out.

This outcome is highly dependent on your total assets and the split between tax-favored and taxable accounts. You have to run the models for your individual initial conditions and assumptions. And the model produces predicted results. Actual results will differ.

At Last, a Real Camera

I finally tired of point and pray photography. With retirement approaching and time to kill, it was time to acquire a real camera. My pick is the Sony Alpha 65, a digital SLR camera, but with a twist. This camera uses a half-silvered fixed mirror that passes most of the light to the main sensor but splits some to a second sensor that services the viewfinder and phase shift autofocus sensor. The viewfinder is electronic which lets the camera show technical info and settings in-set in the finder. The finder design is excellent. I can see the full frame with my bifocals on and a diopter correction makes it possible to focus without them or I can let Auto do that chore. The finder also has a way-cool artificial horizon that lets you level the camera in pitch and roll. A pure optical finder can’t do this trickery at all. A hybrid finder can show a much smaller amount of information, usually mode, shutter speed, and aperture.

The fixed mirror makes the camera quite and low shake, just a focal plane shutter is moving. The shutter and electronics are capable of 10 frames per second until the burst buffer fills. The camera can also shoot full motion HD video in addition to high quality stills. The autofocus is like that in a motion picture camera. It continually focuses the camera as the subject moves and allows use of the zoom during filming. The auto exposure logic manages passable sunsets and indoor candids. This is the first camera to get them decent.

Being an enthusiast’s camera, it is also capable of full manual exposure and focus. In this way, it handles somewhat like a film camera but aperture and shutter speed are set using a front finger wheel. You have to toggle between them. Most of the time, you pick one and let Auto pick the other. Another convenient control lets you manually bias the exposure and you can configure the camera to take automatic bracketed 3 or 5 frame bursts.

Politics?

So far, I’ve avoided writing politics here because I know many of you are set in your preferences and won’t be persuaded. But, many of you are just getting started. I’ll write a bit about my biases at any rate. First and foremost, I’m a city mouse. I grew up in small town New England on a river and surrounded by woodland. Gales Ferry, CT ( the Ferry) was a great place to grow up, but I’ve become a city mouse.

I was fortunate to go to a good private high school with a twist. Norwich Free Academy provided high school services to Norwich and the surrounding towns on a contract basis. That is to say, it had elements of a public school but also elements of a private day school. I was fortunate to have good teachers and one taught me civics. I firmly believe that whatever our political preferences, between elections, we all should work together for the good of the commonwealth.

The two great inventions of man that make everything possible are written language that allows us to have an institutional memory that is potentially but not necessarily accurate and the city that brings us together to specialize and trade. Life as we know it today is a result of our making effective use of these two enabling inventions. Great cities are more than the sum of their parts and owe their essential character to the interaction of those parts to make something more than the whole. Technically, they are systems. A system is an entity whose existence results from the mutual interaction of its parts.

When you look beneath the superficial analysis offered on the for-profit news or even NPR, when you look at the long analysis pieces in journals like The Atlantic Monthly, you see that our divide is between city mice and country mice. The city mice understand the benefits of living and working together and are willing to chip in for the common good. Many things that are just there in the country must be preserved and maintained or provided in an organized and engineered fashion in the city, things like open space, woodland for recreation, etc must be reserved and maintained to sustain the resource when exposed to concentrated use. Water, waste disposal, environmental quality, all require greater and more sophisticated effort than in the country because of scale. But because we are concentrated, we bring together critical masses of resources and talent to do things that don’t happen in the country. And we all realize that these advantages of membership require us to pay our city club dues (taxes).

That connection is less strong in the country. Many individuals seek country life because they find different things to value in a rural setting including a sense of freedom that results from the lower density of people in rural areas. Rural settlers provide their own water and sanitary services and schlep their own trash to the transfer station because the population is too diffuse to require doing these things as community services. Yet we still have to be good stewards of our land and follow good practices to preserve clean air and water to the benefit of both city mouse and country mouse. Because the country is less densely settled, the challenges and conflicts are different and a one size policy does not fit both our dense urban areas and the Nebraska outback with its 500 person Connecticut-sized counties. Techniques and doctrine that are adequate in the country fail under the weight of concentrated life in the city.

I view government to be much like a gardener. The gardener clears his garden patch, amends the soil, and maintains a proper environment in which his garden plants can prosper. The sower sows seed on prepared soil, unprepared soil, and rock. The seed falling in the seed bed germinates and grows well while that landing on sand and rock does not grow. I was fortunate to land in good soil. Like Paul realizes the importance of maintaining healthy soil on Hamby Brothers Farm, I realize the importance of maintaining healthy national soil so my second cousins and their kids can prosper too.

Many of our differing political preferences follow directly from our urban or rural living choices. One school of thought believes we’ve chosen where we live to be consistent with our political taste. Another believes that cities, by their very nature, are liberalizing forces in our lives. I lean to the second of these opinions but I have seen indications of the former in my cousin’s choices of places to retire.