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How To Close

It’s in the news that Walmart has closed a bunch of Sam’s Club locations.  Just for the record, I despise Walmart for many reasons, so don’t be surprised at the stance I’m taking with this most recent news.

A while ago, a regional Walmart closed down unexpectedly for “plumbing maintenance”.  It was part of a series of closures as well.  At the time, there was a massive conspiracy swirling around that the store was shut down to quell a union organizing.  And, on schedule, the store reopened, with an all-new crew and no union considerations among them.  Who’s to say what the real reason was?  Maybe it was plumbing?

In both that case and this new case with Sam’s Club, the closures were done with no warning for either employees or customers.  This is the part that really bothers me.  It reminds me of a time when I was working for a pizza chain and there was a coordinated closing of a bunch of neighboring stores.  The manager would show up in the morning and the district manager was already there to inform him the store was closing immediately.  The other employees would find out eventually, whenever or however.  It’s a shitty way to do business.

That Walmart is operating this way says a lot.  However, I’m not sure if they are making a commentary on their customers, their employees, or both.  In all cases, including my own near-closing experience, it’s all about a lack of trust.  It’s a disdain for people and an assumption of the worst in people.  The owners believe that if a closing date was scheduled, their assets would be at risk for theft or damage.  So, to mitigate that possibility, they surprise everyone with the closure.

I say that this really bothers me, but I really do understand it.  I can easily see an employee pocketing some merchandise, because, “Why not?  I’m only here another week anyway.  What will they do, fire me?”  I can see an employee turning a blind eye to shoplifters, because “Why should I care?”  Hell, I can see this happening at Walmarts that aren’t even closing.  And that’s what makes me think differently.

Walmart has built an entire culture on worthlessness.  All their products are cheap and disposable.  They’ve created a culture of customers that think this same way.  The customers have no pride for shopping there.  The employees clearly aren’t trained to actually care about their store and take pride in their jobs.  How can they when the chain has the reputation it does and the customers reinforce that belief every day?

Is it possible to create a culture where employees will be loyal to the end?  Maybe if given a fair severance?  Maybe if treated well during their entire career?  Maybe if the corporation was respected?  Maybe if the employees and customers took a little pride in their store.

Here’s a little factoid about me.  Sometimes when I’m shopping somewhere, I’ll clean the place up.  I’ll rehang a shirt from the floor or straighten a display.  I’ll organize things (especially CDs) as best I can.  I leave the place better than I found it.  But, sometimes, I don’t.  And in the cases I don’t, it’s a gut feeling that it’s of no use, that it would never be appreciated.  And, in the extremely rare instance I’m in a Walmart, my only desire is to leave, not to try and make things better.

Because, when I’m in a store I enjoy, I want to be comfortable there.  I want it to look nice.  I want other customers to enjoy it as much as I do.  Yes, that’s a role for the employees to fulfill, but there’s no reason there can’t be a family-type feeling in the place.  And if I remove one source of disarray and the result makes another customer more cheerful at how non-disheveled the place is, then the store will succeed and I’ll get to keep coming there.

And I would hope, that on the day my favorite stores have to close, there is a nice structured ending.  Kind of a farewell parade – a little bit sad, but dignified.  And nothing like the shotgun finalities of any of Walmart’s closures.


Getting Lit For Christmas

This year, I am following through on an idea I had two years ago when I first re-acquired my house.  At the time. I was very interested in getting more community-focused.  I have lived in my house for 12 years now, So I think I’m a fairly established community resident.  But I have seen over my years here that fewer people are interacting with each other, and I’m certainly not helping in that regard.  So, in 2015, I planned to do a community event.  I registered an Internet domain for it and everything.  And it didn’t happen.  In 2016, I wanted to do it again, but in December, the GF and I ended up on a cruise for vacation, so there wasn’t really much time to organize it.  I should have started much earlier than December anyway.

This year, I committed to doing the event.  Right after Thanksgiving, I put flyers on everyone’s door announcing my plan and asking for replies.  Surprisingly, I did get some replies, so the event was a go in my mind.  What event?  What the fuck are you going to do?  Yeah, I hear you, I’m getting to that.

I had already assumed I wasn’t going to have any assistance from the community, so I budgeted all the supplies as if I was going to do the whole thing myself.  As it turned out, there were almost a dozen people who contributed, so my supplies were way, way, way overbought.  It’s fine, though.  I consider them backup supplies, and maybe I’ll need them next year.

Ok, so here’s my plan.  I want to decorate the whole neighborhood with… LUMINARIES.

All you need are paper bags, lights, sand, and lot of effort.  I did a quick estimation of how much roadway I’d need to cover in my neighborhood and estimated I’d need somewhere close to 1000 lights.  Holy shit.  So I got online and ordered supplies for 1000 lights.


Shortly after placing the order, I realized that my measurements were wrong.  I didn’t take into consideration that there wouldn’t be any lights placed in front of driveways.  That significantly trimmed down the required roadway to cover, so I have plenty of extra.  Plus, some people did choose to provide their own lights, so that’s even less.

So I spent days and days folding the lips of bags to keep them upright and sturdy.  Then, the day prior to the installation, I began filling the bags with sand.


And more


And more


And more


And more


That’s 430 lights.  How many will go out, I’m not sure.

This is the day of the event and regretfully, I haven’t really communicated with the participants.  With a week to go, I placed flyers on all the community mailboxes with a bright “One Week To Go!!!” message at the top.

The witching hour came and with the assistance of AK and Husband, the final assembly of the luminaries took place – placing the lit LED light in it.  Then the lights were taken to two waiting vehicles.  Once those vehicles were filled, the extras started going out on the lawn.  That’s when the people started showing up.

My neighbors across the street all came over and collected lights and took them away for their property.  Then they came back and took more for further down the road.  Then trucks started coming and loading up more lights in the trailer beds and driving them off.  I can’t say it was incredible participation of the neighborhood, but the ones that were into it were really into it.  There wasn’t any complaining to be heard, just getting it done.

The three of us headed up in one car to begin filling in the gaps.  I chose to start at the far end and work our way back.  We emptied the car after completely covering one area.  It was a little depressing to see the lack of participation in that section, but that’s why I got so many.

I swapped cars and we began filling in more empty areas.  And sadly, we ran out with maybe 10 houses left.  We went back to the house and scrambled to make some more luminaries.  We stopped at an even 500 and that limit was due to lack of sand to weight the lights down.  It made me a little irritated that I must have squandered what sand I had for the early lights.

We drove back out and placed the remaining lights.  We were still about 5 houses shy of fully covering the neighborhood and most unfortunately – for me – we did not get the lights out to the main roadway, which would have been a pleasant invitation for others to visit.

Nighttime photography is not easy, and this is my first attempt at it.  Take it for what you will.




If You Can’t Feed The One You Love, Feed The One You’re With

This idea came to me the night I was in charge of running my local Blimpie.  The customer in there was complaining about women.  You know, you can’t live with ‘em and whatnot.  He’d gotten himself in a bind because he had a girlfriend or maybe a wife, and one of his other female friends slipped a phone number to him of her friend who probably wanted to get with him.  The fact the guy was unattractive is completely beside the point, but does bear noting.

This guy thinks he’s going to get in trouble from one of these three women involved.  I’m thinking to myself, “Feed ‘em!”  You’re here at Blimpie and I’m in charge, wait, the owner’s back, so I guess I’m second in charge now.  Get an extra sub for the woman, whichever woman you’re going to see next.  That will show you care.

I made a promise to my GF a long time ago that I would always make sure she would be fed.  There was a period of time where she was schooling full-time with no income.  I kept my promise.  I cashed in tens of thousands of credit card reward miles for Longhorn gift cards and with those, she ate and studied at the local restaurant.  It was such a frequent thing for her that the wait staff gave her a corner of her own so she could eat and do schoolwork unbothered.

Back to this guy and his woman issues.  Showing affection with food is something that works on every relationship level. It keeps the relationship healthy (even if the food itself isn’t healthy).  Obviously I feed the GF well, but I also have a close friend that I gift food to, and another co-worker that I treat specially as well.  And it’s become a two-way street with gifts of snacks and candy going back and forth between all of us.  In addition to that, there’s social interaction over work cake (and it’s curious to see who participates and when and who huddles together devouring the spoils).

Although I consider myself more of a financial provider in my relationships, I can totally understand how women, mothers especially, get so much satisfaction from feeding people.  With the holidays here, I’ve somewhat taken on some cooking duties.  I’m not complaining, it’s a great thing to be able to do.  My skills are limited, but I am becoming a specialist in mashed potatoes.  I will not apologize for choosing such a specialty.

Language And Its Repercussions

I finally dug out my laptop from when I made my last trip to the wasteland.  I didn’t have any internet access there, so I didn’t post any blog entries.  But I did have a text file of ideas and this is one.

So, this trip.  It’s made me a little more sensitive to language in a couple of ways.  The first way is what I perceive as the overuse of the phrase, “I’m sorry.”

When I have to tell someone why I’m visiting, I have a choice of what to say, but no matter where I start, questions will always reveal the root cause.  Like, “I’m up visiting my mom.  Oh, she’s doing ok.  No, she’s in a nursing home home.  Yeah, she had a stroke.”  And at some point, “I’m sorry” will come out.  And that irks me, only because I view that phrase as an apology, not as sympathy.  And people may not understand that I wouldn’t say that phrase in sympathy, either.  I would say something like “That’s too bad.”  Because I’m not sorry.  I didn’t have any involvement in the process.

Similarly, but not, my GF and I are apart for this trip.  And because of the GF’s unreal schedule with work and school, we don’t see each other very often anyway.  And we had to work out a difference the other night in regard to expressing how we felt about this.  She would tell me, “I miss you” and I wouldn’t really return the sentiment.  Most times, I would say something more positive, like “we’ll see each other soon.”  So the returned sentiment was that I didn’t miss her.  It’s only been recently that I’ve understood this behavior.

I didn’t get why this was a big deal because in my head, I never focused on the lack of the present, I focused on the happiness of the future.  I never missed her, because I was always happy that we would see each other soon.  It’s a pretty different viewpoint.  But the issue was, I was not communicating that clearly enough.  By being reassuring and saying, “we’ll get to see each other this Friday”, I was not really saying I cared.  It was only addressing her problems.  A more relative and truer way to express the same thing would be to say, “I can’t wait until I see you Friday.”  That statement makes clear a couple of things: I am not sad about the present; I am excited about the future, and she is the object of my excitement.

Language is a tricky thing.  You have to say what you mean and sometimes you have to say more than what you mean.

Personality Reorder

imageTimes have changed and so have I.  A recent reassessment of myself via personality profile informed me of such.  It was just a very simple personality test, one meant to be simple and easy to administer, but useful enough to apply in a workplace environment.  The test is called Kingdomality and the results of the test will map your personality to a particular role in a self-sufficient medieval village. 


I had taken this test back in about 2010 and I’m somewhat surprised I don’t have any past posts that discuss Kingdomality or my results.  I know I have discussed it in another blog, but apparently, not here.  So then, why not now?

imageIn my earlier results, I was classified as a “discoverer”.  This was the person in the village that would leave and go in search of great things and bring them back to the village for everyone’s use.  And that’s pretty much what I did in my work life.  I would find new technologies and techniques and present them to everyone, then I’d be off again.  It sounds like every team would want one of these people, but you also have to understand that discoverers are hard to pin down and may have trouble focusing on current tasks because they would much rather be exploring.  And that’s pretty much what I did.

imageIn my most recent test, my result was a “dreamer-minstrel”.  I think their role is to encourage and cheer everyone up, like a wandering minstrel.  I never really thought of myself as encouraging at work.  I’ve been pretty cynical for quite a while and have a slightly bleak outlook on the company’s future.

In the time between tests, the world changed.  For one, I grew very weary of the rate of change in the software development world.  Because of that, there was nothing I felt like discovering any more.  If I did discover something, would it still be around in six months?  Secondly, at my job, things are pretty stable.  There isn’t a pressing need to get with the latest technology.  That need was there when I first got hired, but we’re pretty good now.

Over the weekend, it finally dawned on me why my results changed.  It’s my relationship.  When I first took the test, I was single (well, almost divorced) and was plowing all my effort into my career.  This time around, I’ve been in an excellent relationship for many years.  And one of my primary functions in that relationship is cheerleader.  The GF had made a deprecating remark on something and I immediately reframed the issue for her in a positive light.  I should have noticed that behavior earlier because I do it somewhat frequently.

I’m not going to say I’m always good at it (“God damn it!  Things are not that bad!”) nor will I say I do it for everyone (“Excuse me miss, I overheard your comment and I wanted to say that I think your hair looks great.”).  There are very few people in my inner circle, which has the benefit of not exhausting me from being supportive. 

Trying to extend that into the workplace means that I try to understand the positive reasons for the crazy business decisions we have been making as of late.  And even if I don’t understand or agree with them, I need to try and promote them as good for all of us.  Is it lying?  No, it’s just focusing on the positive.  That wall of water approaching?  Well, it’s been pretty hot lately and it will cool us off.

Let It Be

In the early programming days, back when the language was called BASIC, there was a instruction that has since become deprecated.  That command is called LET.  Because language parsers were simpler back then, there needed to be a way to identify assignment of a value to a variable.  Nowadays, you just say x=1 and assignment is understood.  However, saying x=1 could imply comparison, resulting in a true or false value.  To avoid that ambiguity, in the past, you had to say LET x=1.

I started off with that little history lesson to say that I was listening to a recently purchased CD and a song title was “LET X=X”.  Since I was driving while the song was playing, I couldn’t really make out any of the lyrics, but the title gave me plenty to think about.

A programming statement like that is pretty useless.  It changes nothing.  And that thought is somewhat powerful.  Telling someone “LET X=X” could be saying “Leave things alone.” or “Don’t change a thing.”  Or you could be a bit more philosophical about it, applying a Que Sera Sera viewpoint to it – whatever happens, will happen.

So I looked up the lyrics and to me, they don’t make any sense.  But whatever, that artist rarely makes any sense to me.  But I got my own meaning out of the title, and I think that makes up for any confusion.

It Wasn’t Me This Time

Today, I got an answer to something that I’ve always wondered.  What would I do if an accident happened right in front of me?  Well, it was actually right behind me.  I drive that road every day after work and I know how it can get. 

The road is a two-lane off-ramp connecting two interstates.  At that time of day, the right-most lane gets backed up.  There have been times that I couldn’t merge in and I couldn’t very well stop and hold up traffic in the left lane, so I was forced to take an alternate route home.  Because the right lane backs up and the left doesn’t, I think that people driving in the right lane (and this has happened to me) misread the speed of their lane, because they are keeping pace with people in the faster left lane.  Then all of a sudden, your lane grinds to a halt.

If you’re lucky, you’ll see it happen a couple of cars ahead, if you’re not lucky, the car in front of you will suddenly slow down.  If you’re really unlucky, the car in front of you will swerve onto the shoulder and the car in front of them will be stopped.  All of that happened today.


I actually was not lucky, I was surprised by the car in front of me.  The cars behind me were less lucky.  I escaped unscathed.  But not being involved in the accident, what was I to do?  This is the question I had been wondering about.

See, I hate the world.  I really hate people.  I blog about it; it’s not a secret.  But I hate that the world is that way.  And so what did I do in this moment of truth?  I pulled over and jogged back to see if there was anything I could do to help.

Everyone was as fine as you could hope for.  One guy who had his airbags go off seemed a little stunned and I had to roll his windows down to get some fresh air in there (Airbags really stink.  That’s the second time I’ve smelled it.)  Another Samaritan was checking on drivers too and said he would call 911, but he disappeared quickly after.

I hung around until the police and paramedics arrived and gave everyone my contact info in case their insurance company wanted it, but I’m not sure I’ll be of much help.  The people behind would have been better witnesses, but everyone’s got somewhere to go…

So, why didn’t I take off like everyone else?  It’s not my problem – I was lucky.  I suspect that I don’t care about “people” because I can’t.  I can’t care about them because I can’t do anything about it.  People trapped in a cave in Argentina?  What the fuck can I do about that?  People right behind me getting in an accident?  I can try to help there.  It’s a proximity thing.  I might have said before that help begins locally and this just reinforces it.

Do What You Love, Because What You Love Needs You

In my line of work, which is software development, there are two distinct types of people.  There are programmers and there are people who “do programming”.  You can probably relate that to your job, too, especially if you are in the former group for your field.  Some people are the field, and others are in the field.

If you define yourself by what you do, meaning you take pride in your work, you constantly learn the latest of what is going on in your profession, and you strive to push your profession further and be –if not notable – at least respected in your field, than you are your field.  That means you say “I am an X.” 

If you go to work to accomplish your tasks and mentally clock out at the end of the day to live your life, if you don’t have any interest in learning or studying what you do at work outside of work, then you are simply in your field.  Then you would say “I do X.”  Even if you work late or come in on weekends.  That just means you’re a good employee.  Then you would say, “I work at X doing Y.”

The people that “do” and not “are” should be reconsidering what they do.  Not only are they doing themselves a disservice because they lack the passion for their activity, but they are doing a disservice to the profession they are occupying.

In my line of work, there are plenty of people who are mediocre programmers.  And they get paid quite well and can do some good things for a company.  But they can’t do great things for the company.  And sometimes they can do bad things by not doing great things.  Think of security.  If you have a good programmer at a company and a great hacker who wants to attack that company, well, you know how that’s going to end up.

In any profession, do the people in the field bring down or hold back the ones who are the field?  Imagine going to the hospital and being worked on by not “a doctor” but instead someone who “does surgery.”  And what about those people who actually identify themselves this way unknowingly?  “I do house painting” vs. “I am a house painter.”  “This is what I do” vs. “This is what I am.”  It’s a big difference.

I feel I need to point out that skill and competency don’t play into this at all.  There’s the sarcastic, mocking statement, “I’m an artist!”, but despite skill level, the person that makes a statement like that has passion and will do the best that they currently can.  More importantly, they will constantly try to get better.  They push forward out of desire where others get pulled forward out of necessity.

There’s an endless number of professions out there and the one that you really want to do really wants you to do it.  They don’t want the clock-in/clock-out workers.  They want champions and leaders.  If everyone did what they loved, everyone would benefit.

Humility On Display

In the game Ultima IV, you play a character whose mission it is to become pure in virtue by only doing good things.  It’s a rather sharp contrast to modern games, right?  But anyway, knowing about these virtues makes for some positive change in your real life.

Some of these virtues are stronger in me than others.  Honesty, Humility, Sacrifice are some of the stronger ones.  In a real-life Ultima, I would probably end up being one of the wimpier character classes, like Shepherd.  But, good virtues are good to have.  I say this because I recently made a mistake.  A big, big mistake at work.

I do a lot of my work on intuition, doing what I think is best and usually that works out pretty well for me.  So when I was told to reactivate some application functionality that we had taken out previously, I immediately knew what needed done and where to go to make the change.  The problem was, I didn’t read the details.

My change had been in use for almost a month and when Accounting went to do their billing, everything was rejected.  And it was because of my change.  I didn’t notice the instruction to leave the records open after processing.  That was different than the way it used to be.  And because of that, the company had lost a month’s worth of billing.

It’s not often that a person can say that they cost their employer a million dollars in revenue, but at that moment, I was in that exclusive crowd.  When asked about the change, I owned up to the mistake and fixed it immediately.  And then I started thinking about what I did, which is never a good thing.

I did the math and calculated the damage.  What could I ever do to fix it?  I can’t take a pay cut to zero dollars and work the next 15 years for free.  Even if they fired me, that money can’t be recovered by my elimination.  And there wasn’t anything I could do about it, that corrective work is in a totally different department working on a whole other level.  All I could do was wait and see what would happen to me.

And as I thought about it that night, I wasn’t scared.  I knew I could get another job easily enough.  I was just sad.  I just cost the whole company a substantial amount of money.  Bonuses for everyone?  Forget it.  Pay raises?  Nope.  New equipment? Not this year.  They could fire me, but the impact of my mistake would hit everyone.  And for that I was sad.

The next day I went in to my boss’s office and I asked what was going to happen.  He looked puzzled and then remembered our discussion where he explained that I missed a detail in my task.  “Oh, that’s taken care of.”  The honesty I gave him for my mistake, he gave the same honesty to the client that was rejecting the billing of all of our “closed” records and they agreed to work with us to reopen them and bill them properly.

So I was never really in any serious trouble.  The fear was just something I invented in my head.  But that mental invention, taking ownership of and feeling the impact of your actions on others, is a reminder of one of the principles of Reiki: I will do my work with honesty.

And, like many of my other instances of fortune, I am grateful for what I have been afforded in life.  Never forget to be grateful.


Today at lunch, I parked my car and was walking to the restaurant and a women heading the other way called to me, “I like your car!”  I turned and said “thank you” and kept going.  Now, after a short reflection, there’s a lot I have to say about this.

The first reaction I suppose people would have is, “She was totally into you!” or in a more modern phraseology, “She wants the D!”  Or even at a more simple level, my car was an icebreaker.  Let me share a story.  This is from my last dating experience (and I expect it to be my last since I have an awesome GF and I’m not going through that hell again in these modern times).  The dating site I was using had a feature that would anonymously poll users to find the best picture from your collection that you could use as your profile picture.  Of the ones I had uploaded, the highest-rated photo was of my car.  Isn’t that a crushing bit of knowledge to have?  The best picture of me is not a picture of me.

So excuse me if I’m a little sensitive on this particular matter.  There’s a huge difference between saying “Nice car!” and “Cute baby!”  The latter is something that you made.  It’s unique.  The former is something you bought.  Anyone can buy it.  There’s also a difference between a pedestrian person saying “nice car!” and an enthusiast saying “nice rims” or “nice mods”.  The enthusiast’s knowledge and expertise lend credibility to his compliment and makes the compliment more directed at you.

Finally, there’s a huge difference between “I like your car” and “I like your taste in cars.”  Is the difference that obvious?  If I hear the first, I don’t even give it a second thought.  If I heard the second, it would be a conversation-starter.  So, here’s a quick tip for you single and searching people out there.  If you see someone you are interested in, don’t compliment the things they have, compliment them on their choice of things they have.  After all, you want to be one of the things they choose, right?