Q-Up

I’m mostly an indoor runner. Particularly when the temperatures are hovering near zero degrees Fahrenheit and the roads are snow and ice covered. I’d rather not risk a sprained ankle, or worse, and setting my running progress back more than I already have with bronchitis.

I run on my treadmill. It’s decent enough, though several years old now. It has a max speed of 12 mph with a 15% incline. I have yet to train to the point where I reach either one of those. I have sprinted for 15 or 30 seconds at 10 mph, but usually stick with 8 mph as my sprint speed.

My home theater is in front of the treadmill, so I can watch cable while I run, except to be honest, watching television while running gets rather boring. I much prefer music. I very much prefer my own music on vinyl, which means playing a record on my turntable.

The problem with that is, if I run for any decent time over 15 or 20 minutes, the record ends. It’s a manual turntable. In other words, I have to lift the tonearm off the record before it starts doing that “shh-shk! ssh-shk! ssh-shk!”

It’s a sound that terrifies most vinyl music aficionados under ordinary circumstances because it means the needle is grinding away in the end groove, which isn’t good for said needle. So we all have a minor adrenaline panic episode as we try to reach the tonearm before it starts doing that.

Now magnify that adrenaline panic episode with having exhausted myself running on the treadmill. I’m jumping off, trying not to break my neck as I do so. I rush over to the turntable, and attempt to lift the tonearm off the record with hands shaking from the strenuous exercise, trying to make my fingers steady enough to lift the needle without going, “zzzzzzzit!” across the record and scratching it.

I’m only successful once in a while, therefore, to protect my valuable vinyl library, I had abandoned playing them while running. Which brings us back to watching TV and getting bored.

No more.

I found a product called The Q UP. It’s a small, plastic device you set-up on your turntable which lifts your tonearm automatically when the record ends.

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It came in a small, cardboard box. I pulled it out and followed the directions (which are only online, but I had read and watched the instructions earlier).

I cleaned an area on the plinth where I planned to place The Q UP. Then, with the turntable off, I placed the tonearm on the record at the point I wanted The Q UP to lift it.

I placed The Q Up next to the tonearm with the “trigger” just touching the tonearm and then I used their little 3M cardboard rectangle to mark the spot.

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I peeled off the 3M tape on the bottom of The Q UP, and set it at the spot marked by the little rectangle.

Now, it came time to test it.

It worked exactly as designed. I’m very pleased with The Q UP and would recommend it to anyone with a manual turntable who doesn’t like experience that adrenaline panic episode every time an album ends.

And now, I can run on my treadmill, listen to my vinyl, and not have to kill myself, or my albums, trying to get to the record when the last song ends.

Life is good.

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Will power needed

It’s been a ghastly holiday season from a gastrological point of view.

I stopped weighing myself in early November and that was probably my big mistake.

Probably, because I indulged excessively in holiday cookies. As well as appetizers at the family get-togethers.

I will admit that I did not overindulge when it came to meals themselves. I’ve never been one to gorge myself on Thanksgiving turkey, stuffing, mashed potatoes, sweet potatoes, and cranberry relish. Never.

Unlike many peopme, my plate has always had plenty of white space on it. I merely take a small sampling of each dish. And I very rarely eat dessert.

I have never understood the purpose of holiday overeating. As a child, I watched relatives stuff themselves until they couldn’t any more, then they’d sit around and complain how full they are. “I can’t believe I ate so much.”

So why did you do it? No one forced you. There is no expected famine. Gluttony makes no sense.

I remember one sister-in-law, who shall remain nameless, brought a bottle of Pepto-Bismol to one Thanksgiving. My wife and I would visit one of our mom’s for a few hours, then we’d go to the other mom’s place for the evening.

This SIL did the same, going to her mother’s after finishing here.

After the Thanksgiving meal, she pulled out the bottle of Pepto and said, “I don’t know how you do it. Eating one huge meal then going to the other side of the family to eat another huge meal.”

We just stared at her. “We don’t eat a second meal when we leave here. We just have drinks and appetizers.”

I mean, seriously, it’s bad enough to gorge yourself at one meal but two in the same day?

But stuffing myself isn’t how I got myself in trouble. It was a cookie craving. We didn’t bake any this year (no spritz cookies! Sad face.), but we did pick up cookies from the suoermarket, including cookies freshly baked by some local bakeries.

And I ate those mindlessly, not counting or caring.

And I paid for it. I didn’t weigh myself — I was afraid of what the scale would say — but the visible evidence was there. My stomach was mocking me in the mirror. “You thought I was gone, didn’t you? Think again, because I’m baa-aack!”

I resolved, without making any resolutions, to get serious about exercise and eating right.

And I started the year off well. I ran the 1st, the 2nd, the 3rd. Unfortunately, my streak was to end there.

I was laid low by a cold. I didn’t run on the 4th because of chest congestion. Friday the 5th was worse. And I laid around that entire weekend, consuming nothing but liquids: coffee, teas, and soups.

Monday, the 8th, I felt no better and stayed home from work. Ditto Tuesday. Wednesday, I felt so bad I went to urgent care.

I’ll let you in on a little secret. The last time I took more than two consecutive sick days off was when I had shoulder surgery. Taking off sick from work just isn’t something I do.

Prognosis? Bronchitis and a left ear infection. They gave me antibiotics. Bit the thing that shocked me was stepping on the scale. Theirs read 218 pounds! That can’t be right! I’ve been on a liquid diet, for Cripe’s sake!

I weighed myself when I got home. My scale, which I’m still not sure how accurate it is, read 207.7 pounds. Better than their scale (why do they weigh younwith your shoes on?). Not as bad, but not good either.

Thursday I stayed home, but Friday the 12th I went in. My boss sent me home after half a day because I sounded so bad.

I had a three day weekend, thanks to MLK Jr Day, and when Tuesday, yesterday, rolled around, I made it to work. I went in even though I still wasn’t 100% (and still aren’t. I still have a cough, sore throat, and sniffles).

When I got home, I forced myself to run. It was a slow pace, just 5 mph, for about 1.25 miles. But it was better than nothing.

At that point, I had gone 13 days without any exercise.

I have to get back into a regular exercise routine. I have to get back into running shape and start lifting weights again.

I’ve let myself slide too far and I have to shore things up.

But dammit! It’s Girl Scout cookie time!

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It’s alive!

A couple of years ago, I won a Watermans fountain pen on eBay for just a few dollars, knowing full well the pen wasn’t functional.

I soaked the pen in warm, soapy water to get it clean, but I couldn’t figure how how to seperate the section (grip) from the barrel.

I researched how to refurbish a Watermans, but I never found anything specific to this pen. I had no idea if it was threaded and unscrewed or if it was just held together by friction and a good twist would get it off.

Well, a good twist using my finger strength never did get it to separate, so in frustration, I took two pairs of pliars to it and finally got it apart. I had tried to protect the pen with a thin piece of rubber, but it didn’t help. If you look closely, you can see bite marks on the grip. (Yes, I learned my lesson and plan to get a pair of section pliars before my next pen surgery.)

After separation, I set the pieces aside for several months until recently, when I started cleaning the inside of the barrel of all the remnants of the old ink sac.

I took measurements, then ordered a new bladder. Today, I replaced the bladder following the steps I took when I did the same for my Esterbrook J several years ago.

I inked it up with some Diamine Oxblood, since the pen is, after all, red, and tested it. It writes very well, as well as most of my other fountain pens and I look forward to putting it into my regular everyday carry rotation.

Here are a few pictures.

I still have no idea what model it is or how old. The only identification on the pen is “Watermans” on the pocket clip. “Waterman’s Made in USA” on the barrel. And “Watermans Ideal 14k” on the nib.

Now it’s been resurrected and can look forward to a happy life helping me write my stories.

Ink up, write on

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Relearning cursive

Writers write. It’s the only thing we have in common. For instance, some writers use tape recorders to capture ideas, thoughts, and such, then they transcribe that to the computer.

Other writers do all their work directly onto the computer or tablet.

There might still be some that use a typewriter. I would, but I’m out of ink and since it’s a 60 year old manual typewriter, ribbons aren’t a supply you can readily pickup at the nearest Staples.

Still others carry a notebook with them and jot down ideas with a pen or a pencil.

Then there are the weirdos like me who write their entire first draft in longhand with a fountain pen.

I’ve mentioned my fountain pen addiction in the past. My first modern fountain pen was a Rotring Skynn, which I used until I wore away the rubber covering on the section, also known as the grip.

I also posted how I replaced the bladder in an old Estabrook J that was either mine in grade school (though I doubt it because I was rather heavy handed and had a tendency to destroy nibs), or it was my mother’s from the 1950s.

I also believe I blogged about getting a Parker 45 Flighter (age undetermined), which is still the smoothest writer I own.

So for at least a decade or so, I’ve been writing out my first drafts using paper and fountain pen. And for a decade or so, I’ve struggled to read my own handwriting when it came time to transcribe it to computer.

“Is that an i or an e? Maybe it’s an o. And what the heck is that word? Aargh!”

Here, I’ll show you a page from a notebook that I handwrote back in 2014:

Pathetic, isn’t it?

Imagine trying to transcribe an entire 80,000+ word document from that chicken scratch.

It slows me down at that point and turns the whoke process into a chore. I have several first draft novels lying in notebooks untyped for that very reason.

So, I have two choices, one is to stop handwriting, which isn’t really an option because for me handwriting is what makes the whole writing process enjoyable.

During the 1980s, I switched to writing directly to the computer and after several years of that, I realized my writing had lost much of its warmth, it seemed as cold and sterile as the computer itself.

Prior to the computer, I had written my stories out by hand, then transcribed them onto paper with a typewriter. This transcription part was an additional step in the creative process where I would edit and rewrite the story while transcribing, often going off on unexpected, but delightful tangents, changing or adding scenes in dynamically different ways from the original handwritten version.

That process was lost inputting thoughts directly into the computer. Once the doc was saved to disk, in fact, I hardly made any edits. It was as if the story had been carved into stone. So I returned to handwriting the first draft and then I gave fountain pens a try.

But fountain pens amplify my bad handwriting. Despite how much smoother they glide along the page. They glide almost too well and whereas a ballpoint pen will stop writing when you stop applying pressure as you move to start the next letter or word, fountain pens continue to leave an ink trail. You have to physically pick it up and set it back down again.

(So why, you ask, don’t you just use a regular ballpoint pen? Because, for the most part, ballpoint pens only come in three readily available colors, black, blue, and red. Fountain pen ink comes in a dazzling array of colors in every hue imaginable.)

Since I don’t want to stop writing longhand because of the reasons stated above, my only other choice is to improve my handwriting.

Fountain pens need to glide across the page like a figure skater glides across the ice. And in order for the pen to glide, I will need to relearn cursive. As you can see from the above example, my painful scrawl is a cramped form of block lettering. I print each individual letter.

To do that, I’m going to have to go back to basics, relearn penmanship from the ground up.

First, I have to change the way I hold my pen. I drove my grade school teachers all nuts because I held the writing implement clunched like “a gorilla holding a stick,” as one put it so elegantly.

As shown here:

Whereas most people have a writing callus on their middle finger (the flipping the bird finger,” I have a callus on my ring finger.

Therefore, I’m relearning my grip, thusly:

(I just noticed I have to relax my grip, my index finger is turning white.)

Second, I have to relearn cursive. It’s been so long, I’ve forgotten almost everything about it. As I went to research cursive, thinking there was just one cursive style, I discovered there are literally dozens of different styles of cursive.

There is Spencerian, which is highly ornate with great flourishes (think of the Coca-Cola logo). Another style is Copperplate, of which the Declaration of Independence is an example.

I was able to narrow what I think I learned in grade achool down to one of two methods, the Parker Method or the Zaner-Bloser Method. I’m leaning toward Palmer because of the timeframe I went to school and because I recall the lowercase “r” being higher on the left upswoop, before coming back down and moving across. (Yes, see? I have no clue what all those swirls and swoops are even called. Yet.).

Aside from the grip, there are other physical techniques to learn, such as posture, and using your whole arm with your elbow anchored to the desk as a pivot.

I started this relearning seven days ago. I’m working on little writing exercises, loop-de-loops, writing the lowercase and capital “U” because someone on YouTube said all cursive is based off of the “U.” Straight vertical and horizontal lines. Circles. And so on.

My main concern is, that I’m not patient enough (ADHD! Which might explain why I didn’t successfully learn it as a child)) to draw perfect examples of each. I tend to rush things, which isn’t helping. My other problem is, my hands are not rock-steady. They have a slight shake to them. It’s probably the reason I abandoned learning how to draw. All my freehand lines have a slight shimmy to them.

I doubt I’ll ever ne able to write with the artistic beauty some are able to achieve. In fact, watching some of them on YouTube makes me jealous. For example:

And she’s doing it on a chalkboard with a tiny little nub of chalk! I feel so inadequate.

But then, that isn’t my goal. I just want to make my writing more legible, not recreate a flawless copy of the Declaration of Independence.

I’ll let you know how things go.

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Is it a new year?

One of the things I’ve never truly understood is the whole new year thing. It’s just so arbitrary and random and yet everyone seems to treat it as an absolute truth.

Nothing ever changes. We don’t pass through some cosmic doorway that signifies the passing of another year. There is no intergalactic speed bump in space the Earth has to rumble over to get from one year to the next.

We don’t pass go and we don’t collect $200.

Yet every December 31st at midnight everyone acts like there is a change and they look forward to good things happening in the new year.

Yet nothing is different.

Yes, we may have completed one orbit around Sol, our sun, according to our manmade calendars, but is December 31st to January 1st the factual date when that happens? When the Earth actually completes it’s full circuit?

I mean, the Earth has been circled the sun approximately 4.54 billion times. But we don’t know on what date that very first first orbit began, do we?

No, we aren’t even sure of the Earth’s exact age. Earth lost it’s birth certificate a long time ago.

Maybe it was born in May, or July. If do, then it completed it’s very furst orbit around the son a year later. All this time we’ve been erroneously singing Happy Birthday to the Earth (which is, after all, what New Year’s is all about right?) on the wrong date, which probably makes the Earth very sad.

It’s bad enough we pollute it’s air and water, shit on it, strip mine it by leveling entire mountains, destroy the environment, spew toxic carbon emissions into the atmosphere causing catastrophic climate change, but then to forget it’s actual birthday?

How would you feel if everyone arbitrarily celebrated your birthday whenever they felt like it?

Unappreciated, I’d think.

But that’s how Man is. Always thinking about himself and nothing else.

But besides all that, why did we pick this time of year to start the new year? Why didn’t we pick a significant event, like the Spring Solstice, for example.

That would make more sense. The Spring Solstice ushers in the beginning of life. The Earth is warming, plants are sprouting (well, in the Northern Hemisphere, anyway).

Or how about the Winter Solstice because it it the shortest day and well, again, that’s just the Northern Hemisphere.

I don’t want to appear hemispheric-centric.

How about Earth Day? That way no one hemisphere will feel left out. But then Earth Day woukd be just as arbitrary as New Year’s.

I guess, until we can positively identify the exact day the Earth was born (or if we find it’s birth certificate), we can just keep our current arbitrary date.

In the meantime, could we at least treat the Earth with a little more kindness, love, and understanding?

Happy birthday, Earth.

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Fire Ted Thompson

I’ve been a lifelong fan of the Green Bay Packers. As I child, I was lucky enough to live during the Glory Years of Vince Lombardi, Bart Starr, Ray Nitschke, Paul Hornung and five NFL Championship Titles. Lombardi once said that the Packers never lost a game, they simply ran out of time.

It was a team so loaded with talent the NFL Hall of Fame put a moratorium on inducting any more players from that era!

Therefore, the next 25 years of mediocrity were hard for me. I couldn’t understand why we were perpetual doormats. What had happened? Why couldn’t we win?

Well, money, for one thing. Talent, for another. The Packers at that point were still selling out Lambeau Field. There was still a waiting list for season tickets. The Packers Brain Trust saw no reason to open the purse strings and put a winning team on the field.

A quarter of a century of medicrity, however, wears on fans, especially fans of a team that still had the most NFL Championships of any other team.

We wanted to win, but more than that, we wanted to at least compete!

Finally in 1989, they replaced Judge Parins, the President of the Packers Board, with Bob Harlan, and a new era began.

In 1991, Harlan hired Ron Wolf, who in turn chose Mike Holmgren as head coach. He then made what seemed at the time a baffling trade for an unknown young backup quarterback who was riding the bench with the Atlanta Falcons at the time, Brett Favre. Everyone said, who is this Favray feller?

Under Harlan’s direction, the Packers started to spend money. They were active in free-agency. They brought in another coup, Reggie White, the greatest sack master of his era. And once he was on-board, the floodgates opened and everyone wanted to play in Green Bay again.

Not only that, Green Bay began to win again. They won Division titles. They went to the NFL Championship game several times. And they went to the SuperBowl twice, winning one and letting John Elway win the other.

A return to a winning tradition felt good.

Which brings me to the current Ted Thompson era. He took over as GM in 2005. In his first draft he chose a quarterback, even though Favre was still with the team.

Aaron Rodgers carried a clipboard for his first few years. I won’t go into the whole debacle of the Farve “is he retiring or isn’t he?” nonsense or who is at fault. That would require an entire article alone. Suffice to say, there’s enough blame to go around, but Thompson wanted his draft choice, Rodgers, to start and he finally got his way.

The thing is, whereas Ron Wolf was a genius at recognizing talent and had a marvelous skill for picking gems in the lower rounds of the draft, Ted Thompson is an incompetent fool.

Yes, he picked Aaron Rodgers, who went on to lead the team to victory in SuperBowl XLV in 2010 and was named SB MVP.

And yes, Rodgers has a shitload of accomplishments including two time NFL MVP (2011, 2014) , six time Pro-Bowler (2000, 2011, 2012, 2014-2016), two time First-Team All-Pro (2011, 2014), 2nd-Team All-Pro (2012), AP Athlete of the Year (2011), Bert Bell Award (2011), two time NFL Passing Leader (2011, 2012), NFL Passing Touchdowns Leader (2016), he has a career passer rating of 104.0, has a passer rati g of 122.5 in 2011, and nas a career TD to Interception ratio of 4.13:1.

But none of that truly matters. What matters is Ted Thompson has completely wasted the talents of one of the greatest quaterbacks of all time by failing to surround him with talent suitable enough to be perennial SuperBowl contenders.

Rodgers should be mentioned in the same breathe with other great multiple-Championship quarterbacks, like Terry Bradshaw, Bart Starr, Joe Montana, and Steve Young.

Instead, unless things change, Rodgers will become part of the one-hit wonder club, QBs with only one SuperBowl win, names long forgotten by all but their most diehard fans, names such as Ken Dawson, Jim Plunkett, Phil Simms, Mark Rypien, Trent Dilfer, Brad Johnson, Jeff Hostetler, and Brad Johnson.

I lay the blame on Ted Thompson, and to a lesser extend, coach Mike McCarthy. They have failed to put a consistent winning team on the field. This was made apparent to everyone when Rodgers went down this season and his replacement, Brett Hundley, was unable to lead the team to consistent victory.

Injuries are a poor excuse. Quality teams win despite injuries. They have depth. They have talent at key positions so they don’t miss a beat when a starter goes down.

Hundley has the necessary skills and could have had more victories if the rest of the team had any talent. They don’t. Need proof? Not a single Packers player made the Pro-Bowl this year.

As a GM Ted Thompson has been an abomination, a total failure, unable to surround Rodgers with winning talent.

He has completely wasted Aaron Rodgers by failing to give him a quality supporting cast, instead he’s drafted a bunch of no-talent bums — players so mediocre they would have had a hard time making the Packers teams of the mid-1970s.

One lousy SuperBowl appearance in the decade Rodgers has been the leader of the Pack and that occurred seven years ago.

It’s time for Ted Thompson, and the rest of the Packers coaching staff, to go.

It’s time to bring in a GM who can actually recognize talent and who can salvage the few remaining years Rodgers has left in his playing career.

If Ron Wolf called his own tenure a fart in the wind, then Thompson’s would be a fart in a hurricane.

The Green Bay Packers will soon celebrate 100 years as a franchise. In their first 50 years they won 11 NFL Championship Titles. In the last 50? Two.

It’s time to turn this storied franchise’s fortunes around and fire Ted Thompson.

Immediately.

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Yes America, there is a Santa Claus

In these dark times, with the constant assault upon our human dignity by the current fascist regime, as every day brings more bad news of them foisting their evil agenda upon us, when hope seems lost, I think now would be a good time for me to repost that most famous of all editorials, “Yes Virginia, There is a Santa Claus,” because we need to be reminded that this too shall pass and there is good in the world.

To me, this editorial speaks most eloquently about the magic of Santa and why we should believe, now, more than ever.

The following editorial was printed in the September 21, 1897 issue of the New York Sun. Though the editorial was unsigned, it is now accepted that it was written by Francis Pharcellus Church and is probably history’s most reprinted newspaper editorial.

DEAR EDITOR:
I am 8 years old. Some of my little friends say there is no Santa Claus. Papa says, “If you see it in THE SUN it’s so.” Please tell me the truth; is there a Santa Claus?

VIRGINIA O’HANLON.
115 WEST NINETY-FIFTH STREET.

VIRGINIA, your little friends are wrong. They have been affected by the skepticism of a skeptical age. They do not believe except they see. They think that nothing can be which is not comprehensible by their little minds. All minds, VIRGINIA, whether they be men’s or children’s, are little. In this great universe of ours man is a mere insect, an ant, in his intellect, as compared with the boundless world about him, as measured by the intelligence capable of grasping the whole of truth and knowledge.

Yes, VIRGINIA, there is a Santa Claus. He exists as certainly as love and generosity and devotion exist, and you know that they abound and give to your life its highest beauty and joy. Alas! how dreary would be the world if there were no Santa Claus. It would be as dreary as if there were no VIRGINIAS. There would be no childlike faith then, no poetry, no romance to make tolerable this existence. We should have no enjoyment, except in sense and sight. The eternal light with which childhood fills the world would be extinguished.

Not believe in Santa Claus! You might as well not believe in fairies! You might get your papa to hire men to watch in all the chimneys on Christmas Eve to catch Santa Claus, but even if they did not see Santa Claus coming down, what would that prove? Nobody sees Santa Claus, but that is no sign that there is no Santa Claus. The most real things in the world are those that neither children nor men can see. Did you ever see fairies dancing on the lawn? Of course not, but that’s no proof that they are not there. Nobody can conceive or imagine all the wonders there are unseen and unseeable in the world.

You may tear apart the baby’s rattle and see what makes the noise inside, but there is a veil covering the unseen world which not the strongest man, nor even the united strength of all the strongest men that ever lived, could tear apart. Only faith, fancy, poetry, love, romance, can push aside that curtain and view and picture the supernal beauty and glory beyond. Is it all real? Ah, VIRGINIA, in all this world there is nothing else real and abiding.

No Santa Claus! Thank God! he lives, and he lives forever. A thousand years from now, VIRGINIA, nay, ten times ten thousand years from now, he will continue to make glad the heart of childhood.

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