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If You Have The Faith Of A Jack Stand

I had a religious discussion while replacing the power steering pump in a 1991 Chrysler New Yorker. It came down to jack stands.

First some background. As long time readers of this blog know, working on cars is one of my hobbies. Oh sure, it saves money, but it’s also something I enjoy. I think it’s the contrast with my normal job of working in IT. If you work with computers, at the end of the day there is often little physical evidence of your labors. My company has a clean desk policy. That means at the end of the day my desk looks exactly the same as it did at the beginning of the day.

Working on cars is different. There’s occasionally some work that needs to be done with error codes and the onboard computers, but mostly it’s hands-on, get-your-hands-dirty work. And you take a car that isn’t running, or is running rough or badly and when you get done, it’s running smoothly. My son’s 91 Chrysler had a steering problem. The power steering was failing. It took Hercules to crank the wheel. The power steering is controlled by the power steering pump.

To replace the power steering pump, you have to remove the right front tire. . .and the serpentine belt. . .and the alternator. . .and the belt tensioner pulley. . .and a couple of brackets, one of which we never did figure out where to replace. . and then you can pull the power steering reservoir and pump. After you replace the pump in the reservoir, you reassemble it in the opposite order.

I’m been working on the project for about a month. Lots of business travel and occasional bad weather have limited the time I could spend on it. And frankly, although I like working on cars, I honestly don’t know a lot about them. I finally called in reinforcements. My cousin Nick is a great mechanic. He came down to help me finish up the project this week.

Nick grew up in Salt Lake City. But, unlike most people in Utah, he’s not Mormon. In fact, he’s not religious. He’s agnostic. We spent about 6 hours wrestling with the power steering pump. It gave us a lot of time to talk. Our discussion turned to faith, specifically faith in a higher power.

You know, I figure if the devil is real, then there must also be a God. And I know that if there is a God, I don’t want to worship the devil. So, I couldn’t be a Satan worshiper.

I laughed. It made a lot of sense in a “follow my logic” point of view. I respect his world view. And since he’s a great guy who tries to be a good person, who am I to say that he needs to change? I tried to explain my idea on faith. There’s a scripture that says faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen. To me it means that faith and evidence cannot coexist. And since faith is a necessary part of our relationship with diety, it would actually be counter-productive if we could prove the existance of God. (Like, I said, we had a lot of time to talk.)

I decided to use a physical example. I held out my hand with my fist clenched.

I’m telling you that I have a coin in my hand. Do you believe me?

Sure.

Why?

Well, I know you are an honest person and you’ve never lied to me.

Okay, so you have faith based on what you know of me that I’m holding a coin?

Absolutely.

I then opened my hand to reveal a Schlock Mercenary challenge coin.

I then closed my fist again.

Now, if I tell you I have a coin in my hand, do you believe me?

Of course.

Why?

Well, because I just saw it.

In the first example Nick had faith in me, the second time he had knowledge. In this simple example, he couldn’t have both. If we pulled some random guy off the street and did the same exercise, it’s unlikely he would have faith in me the first time. Random Guy doesn’t know if he can trust me or not. But, after showing the coin, Random Guy is, of course going to agree that I have a coin.

I was pretty pleased with my simple object lesson. Nick had an insightful observation.

Oh, I get that. But, you are still asking me to have faith in a man. I don’t know if the preacher, or the prophet, or the pope has had a spiritual conversation with God. I pretty much have to take his word for it.

And that’s why there are so many different paths on the road of faith. I couldn’t disagree with his point. We went back to reassembling the various parts in the Chrysler engine. We got down to last screw that needed to be tightened. Actually, we only remembered the last screw because we messed up. (I was going to say we “screwed up” but that would be a pun too far.) We got the upper part of the engine put back together. We tightened all the bolts and went to refill the power steering resevoir with new power steering fluid. It’s basically a really thin oil. Nick held the funnel, I very carefully poured the fluid. We both heard the fluid splatter on the driveway at about the same time.

Yeah, we had neglected to hook up the return hose to the bottom of the pump. We’d just dumped a half pint of oil all over my driveway. We just shook our heads and were glad no one was there to see it. Getting the final hose on required us to tighten the hose clamp. The clamp was located exactly halfway between the top and bottom of the engine in a really narrow spot. We ended up with me lying down under the car with my arm fully extended to hold the clamp in place. Meanwhile Nick was literally kneeling in the engine compartment reaching down into the engine trying to use a screwdriver to tighten this one last screw.

Nick is a big guy. Well over six feet tall and 200 lbs. In addition, the car itself is pretty heavy. And I was lying directly under the exposed wheel hub. If the car had fallen, I would have died. It would have been quick, painless and very messy as the weight of the car (and my cousin) drove the steel hub into my chest. And yet, I had perfect confidence in my safety. The car was supported on two jack stands. The jack stands are rated at 2 tons, 4000 lbs, each. I thought about our earlier discussion about faith.

You know, Nick, someday I hope to have the same level of faith in my religion that I have in these jack stands.

He just laughed.

The jack is used to raise and lower the car onto the jack stands. The jack stands are what keeps the car held like the rock of Gibraltar

Rodney M Bliss is an author, columnist and IT Consultant. His blog updates every weekday. He lives in Pleasant Grove, UT with his lovely wife, thirteen children and grandchildren. 

Follow him on
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or email him at rbliss at msn dot com

(c) 2017 Rodney M Bliss, all rights reserved 

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Book Review: Seventy Maxims Of Maximally Effective Mercenaries

It’s a real book based on a fake book based on a real book. . .by a different name.

I really like Seventy Maxims Of Maximally Effective Mercenaries. And not just because everytime I mention Seventy Maxims of Maximally Effective Mercenaries my word count goes up by six. It’s a fun book that is just serious enough to be interesting, not so serious as to be pretentious, and absolutely hilarious.

Seventy Maxims is a book that came out of the wildly popular web comic Schlock Mercenary. The book is literally a “how-to” guide for people whose primary job is hurting people and breaking things. The book was original titled “Seven Habits of Highly Effective Pirates.” (More on that in a minute.) At under a hundred pages (it’s right around 70, for some reason) it’s a quick read. The stated author is Link Weimar. However, considering his “Introduction” is dated June 12, 2700, it’s safe to say that he’s not the real author. Howard Tayler, the brilliantly funny creator of Schlock Mercenary gets that credit.

The book itself is a collection of 70 rules, or maxims (but not habits) that mercenaries should live their lives by. Well, if the mercenary was mostly concerned with doing the maximum damage and getting paid for it. The maxims themselves are short and pithy. Many of them are twisted takes on familiar sayings.

Familiar saying: Cheaters never prosper
Maxim 31: Only cheaters prosper

Familiar saying: When the going gets tough, the tough get going
Maxim 36: When the going gets tough, the tough call for close air support

Familiar saying: Two wrongs don’t make a right
Maxim 59: Two wrongs is probably not going to be enough

Other maxims are completely original.

Maxim 11: Everything is air droppable at least once

Maxim 37: There is no “overkill.” There is only “open fire” and “reload.”

Maxim: 46: Don’t try to save money by conserving ammunition

Tayler wrote the maxims over the 17 years he has been creating Schlock Mercenary. Typically they were introduced as the punline in a joke. Maxim 20, for example, “If you’re not willing to shell your own position, you’re not willing to win,” was the final coda on a story about two neighbors playing “war games” with garden gnomes and live ammunition. The winner was victorious by sacrificing his own gnomes in an artillary strike that also destroyed his neighbor’s gnomes.

And yet, as silly (and funny) as this story was, Maxim 20 resonates in real life in the story of American serviceman Lt John Fox. On December 26th, 1944 in Sommocolonia, Italy Lt Fox and a group of eight Italian soldiers called in an artillary strike on his own position to stop a German advance. The strike worked. The strike slowed the German advance enough to allow the Allies to organize a counter-attack that retook the town. Fox was killed in the barrage. For his efforts, Lt Fox was awarded the Medal of Honor. Not all of Tayler’s maxims have such a direct real life application.

Originally the sayings were collected in a book called “The Seven Habits of Highly Effective Pirates.” You have no doubt noticed the similarity in name to Steven Covey’s widely popular “The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People.” The Covey people noticed the similarity too. They threatened to sue Tayler despite the fact that his first reference to “The Seven Habits of Highly Effective Pirates” actually predates Covey’s use of the similar title. Howard changed the name rather than fight it out in court.

When asked what he would have done had he gone to court and won, Howard explained, “I would have wrung every concession possible out of them and then I would have changed the name anyway.”

What I Liked

Being a long time Schlock Mercenary Fan, it was a delight to see the maxims all collected in one place. Each maxim is a single page and includes “scholarly” commentary on the background of the maxim. Howard stays in character the entire time, as the future writers and scholars debate each maxim. The tone is light and conversational. No one is at risk of taking the advice in the book too seriously, but we can enjoy the tongue-in-cheek references to “hurting people and breaking things.”

What I Didn’t

Howard had to walk a fine line between giving fans of the comic what they wanted and still creating a book that would stand alone. At times the narrative drifts away from the core story. I can understand his reasoning and I think he does the best job possible. But, it still, at times it feels too generic for a fan and too specific for someone who’s never heard of Schlock. However, I think the compromise still gives both groups enough to make the book entertaining.

What It Means To You

If you are a Schlock Fan, you will love this book. In fact, you probably already have a copy. If you are in the military, you will swear that Howard served with your unit. He perfectly captures the humor in a military organization. For the rest of you, it’s a clever book that will make you laugh at least once, even if you don’t understand the context in which it was written. The final maxim has advice for everyone.

Maxim 70: Failure isn’t an option. It’s mandatory. The option is whether or not to let failure be the last thing you do.

My rating

3 out of 4 stars

Rodney M Bliss is an author, columnist and IT Consultant. His blog updates every weekday. He lives in Pleasant Grove, UT with his lovely wife, thirteen children and grandchildren. 

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(c) 2017 Rodney M Bliss, all rights reserved 

Onions and Apples and Scales

The woman placed two large onions into the scale and glanced at the weight. She then picked up the onions, placed them in her cart and kept shopping.

It’s Thanksgiving tomorrow. We ventured out to the store to pick up some last minute items. The grocery store parking lot was only about half full. The calm before the storm of Black Friday. My lovely wife sent me to collect Granny Smith apples for homemade apple pie.

If they are pretty good sized get 15. But, if all they have are the small ones get about 20.

These are the kinds of instructions that work best for me when shopping with her: a specific item and a number. As I counted out 15 Granny Smith apples (do they look pretty good sized to you?) the woman came to weigh her onions. I rarely use the scales. In fact, I only weighed the apples for the picture.

image-1

I wondered, was there any number that could come up on that scale that would have made the woman put the onions back? Was she weighing them to see how much they would cost at the register? did she do the multiplication in her head as she headed toward the frozen food aisle? Would she have purchased the onions if she couldn’t weigh them first?

But, there is something reassuring about measuring things. In woodworking there is a saying,

Measure twice. Cut once.

It acknowledges the fact that once you cut a board you don’t have a chance to go back and make it longer, for example. On Monday I’ll head back to work along with most of the rest of the world. I’ll commute the 40 miles from my house in Pleasant Grove to my office in Salt Lake City. I will watch the speedometer, of course. But, will I use it? I’ll be on the freeway with thousands of other cars going about the same speed. I won’t go faster than them. I won’t go slower. Why have a speedometer in that case?

Because there is something reassuring about measuring things.

In business, especially IT, but most business, there is a saying,

What gets measured, improves.

My company measures everything. We measure length of a call. Number of calls. Customer satisfaction with a call. Employee satisfaction with the company. Client satisfaction with our company. Much of the data is used for specific purposes. We get paid based on the numbers. Our management team knows the numbers to the third and fourth decimal place.

But, other numbers are captured to let us know how we are doing. We grade ourself. And our client grades us. If I were to get a poor client grade, I would care about it. But, I wouldn’t care if I got a 3.5 out of 5.0 or a 3.75. The fact that I was getting less than a perfect score would mean that I had areas to improve. In fact, if I’m doing my job well, I already know what areas I have to work on.

But, there is something reassuring about measuring things. I don’t need a score on my performance review to know that I’m doing a good job. Sometimes it’s just nice to know that I bought 2. 96 lbs of apples.

Rodney M Bliss is an author, columnist and IT Consultant. His blog updates every weekday. He lives in Pleasant Grove, UT with his lovely wife, thirteen children and grandchildren. 

Follow him on
Twitter (@rodneymbliss)
Facebook (www.facebook.com/rbliss)
LinkedIn (www.LinkedIn.com/in/rbliss)
or email him at rbliss at msn dot com

(c) 2017 Rodney M Bliss, all rights reserved 

This Is How You Lose A 3rd Generation Customer

I broke a tradition today. It was a tradition that my grandfather started. He passed it on to my father. My father passed it on to me and I passed it on to my children. But, no more. It happened at 3:30pm at Allred’s Ace Hardware in Pleasant Grove, UT.

I normally don’t use this platform to call people or businesses out. I’m making an exception. And while my story is about a family owned hardware store in Northern Utah, the lessons apply to any business that is interested in keeping its customers.

It all happened because of a broken 6-point 13mm Craftsman brand socket.

All of those details except the size are important to the story. I’ve never broken a socket before. And certainly not a Craftsman brand socket, my brand of choice. Craftsman brand tools are not the best tools you can buy. I would say Snap-On or Matco tools are probably the top of the line. But, I like Craftsman because they are good quality and if you happen to break one, they replace it, no questions asked.

My grandfather was a junk dealer. When he passed away, I inherited his tools. There were a lot of Craftsman brand tools in his tool chests. There were a lot of old and well used Craftsman brand tools. At one point I took one to Sears (the exclusive Craftsman dealer at the time) and traded it in. It was about 60 years old. They handed me a brand new one and I walked out. They didn’t even ring it up. Just a one-for-one trade.

I loved Craftsman tools.

Anyway, I broke a socket. I was changing the brake pads and I was taking off those super tight bolts that hold the brake pad housing on. The wheels were off my car and I needed to fix the brakes before I could go replace the socket. Saying you need a new socket is like saying you need a truck. There are actually lots of different 13mm sockets. First is the idea of the number of points: six or twelve.

I prefer six point sockets. They are typically stronger. My current situation notwithstanding. And they don’t risk stripping the nut as much as a twelve point socket. The advantage of a twelve point socket is that in situations where access is tight it helps to be able to adjust the socket slightly.

Next is the idea of a short or deep socket.

Sometimes a bolt might be longer and the socket has to fit over it to remove a nut. Or, it’s just easier to reach with a longer socket. After a broke my short 6-point, I switched to a deep socket. Mostly, because I knew that I couldn’t break this one.

The final aspect of a socket is the size of the drive. Typical sizes are 1/4″, 3/8″ or 1/2″. You can get into bigger sizes as well, but for most mechanic work, a socket is going to be one of those three. I had other 13mm sockets, but they were 1/4″ drive. I would have snapped the socket driver. The one I went with was deep, heavy and a 1/2″ drive. I would break the bolt before I broke the socket.

I have a lot of tools. Between what came to me from my father and grandfather, and the tools I’ve purchased over the years, I estimate I have about $15,000 worth of tools in my garage. And I buy tools on a regular basis. Generally, I go to a big-box store. They have the selection and their prices are good. But, I also like to support my local family owned hardware store, like Allred’s Ace Hardware.

That brings me to my visit this afternoon. I love to shop for tools. And, I typically know what I’m looking for. I found the socket section and located the Craftsman brand 13mm 3/8″ drive short socket. But, it was a twelve point instead of a six. I looked and looked and couldn’t find a six point. I decided that it was mostly personal preference, and a twelve point would work just fine. I also picked up a couple of other tools that I needed. If you have a house full of teenage boys, there is often a hole in the bottom of your tool chest.

As I was picking out my replacement tools, there were a couple of employees helping a woman make a new house key. The machine is automated so I’m not sure why they needed two of them, but I didn’t think much of it. As I started toward the front of the store, a manager joined the key club. I addressed the group,

If I want to exchange a broken Craftsman tool, do I just take it up to the counter?

(I recieved slightly confused looks)

Craftsman still has a lifetime replacement guarantee, right?

Well. . .they do for now. Black and Decker just bought them and they may be changing the guarantee, but as of today, it’s still in force.

So, do I just take them up to front?

(Helpfully, I held up the broken socket and the replacement.)

This is a six point, but you guys only have the twelve point, so I was going to swap them.

Oh, you have to match the numbers.

What?

We can only replace a Craftsman tool that is the exact same number. So, we won’t be able to exchange these.

Do you have any 6-point 13mm short sockets?

If it’s not on the shelf then we don’t carry it.

Do you know anyone else that carries Craftsman tools?

Ah. . .no. Sears stores used to, but most of them are out of business.

And with that she turned her attention back to the key lady.

Well, thank you for your time.

I replaced the Craftsman 13mm 3/8″ drive twelve-point short socket. And then I replaced the rest of the tools I had been planning to buy. I walked out of Allred’s with two resolutions:

  1. Never to buy another Craftsman tool
  2. Never to go back to Allred’s if I can help it

I drove across town to the big box store. Do you know that their hand tools come with a lifetime guarantee? And their selection is huge.

I’m not trying to start a campaign. I’m not trying to start a boycott. I’m telling you what I decided to do based on the customer service that I received. You might think I’m being harsh. The employees were not rude. And they were simply quoting me the company policy. But, they made two fatal mistakes.

First, they refused to stand behind a brand that they have in their store. They expressed uncertainty about the future of Craftsman tools. That was a stupid thing to do. The policy is exactly what it has always been. They didn’t need to speculate that it might change.

The second flaw, even worse than the first (because they have other brands that I might still buy even if I abandon Craftsman) was they didn’t seem to care. they didn’t care about replacing my socket. They didn’t care that there was literally nowhere else for me to go. Well, there was somewhere else to go. And I went. The quality of big box store tools are probably about the same as Craftsman. The prices are cheaper. The value of going to a locally owned store is to support our community. I’m willing to pay a premium for that.

This was a $2.50 socket. I didn’t need to have it replaced for free. But, the experience means that the thousands of dollars of tools I buy will be purchased somewhere else. That’s a pretty expensive lost sale for $2.50.

I had several 13mm sockets, but needed one more.

Rodney M Bliss is an author, columnist and IT Consultant. His blog updates every weekday. He lives in Pleasant Grove, UT with his lovely wife, thirteen children and grandchildren. 

Follow him on
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or email him at rbliss at msn dot com

(c) 2017 Rodney M Bliss, all rights reserved 

I Made Shoes Over The Weekend

Ever been to a dentist that didn’t floss?

Or a personal trainer who was obese?

In IT, we aren’t like other people. We will tell you that you need to change your PW every 30 days and that xY7&lI1o0O is a better password than MarinersRox, but we may be guilty of using the same PW we have had since right out of school. We’ll tell you to backup your data, but . . yeah, let’s hope my hard drive doesn’t crash.

firewall: a physical partition designed to prevent the spread of fire. Found in cars, houses and computer network

Okay, maybe the computer firewall has a slightly different definition. A firewall is designed to keep the bad guys from getting into your system. It can also be used to prevent the good guys (your users) from getting to bad stuff. And it can also be used to keep your users from getting to the really good stuff. Basically, anything you want to prevent access to you can do it through a firewall.

Firewalls come in two types: software and hardware. A software based firewall is just that. It’s a program that runs either on a server or on a local computer that sets up a series of rules to prevent access. Windows computers ship with a built in firewall. The problem with a software based firewall, is that by the time the bad guys get to the firewall they are already at your computer. Kind of like bolting your front door to keep out the thieves. Sure, it’s a good strategy, but you still have a thief banging on your front door. He now knows where you live and he can try the other doors, the garage or the Windows. (See what I did there?)

A hardware based firewall does everything that a software based firewall does, but seperates it from your house. It’s a physical computer with two network cards. One network card is connected to the internet and the other is connected to your internal network. If a bad guy gets to the firewall, he can bang away all he wants, but he cannot step through the firewall to get access to your network. Kind of like having your mail sent to a PO Box. Someone cannot find your house just because they know how to send you mail. Hardware firewalls can be complicated and expensive to setup. You essentially have to dedicate a computer to just running the firewall software.

I use Sophos UTM as my firewall solution. (Yes, I just shared potentially useful information for someone wanting to hack my home network. But, since this blog is not hosted on my home network, it’s a risk I’ll take.) Sophos is a hardware based solution. I’ve had it for a couple of years. About 3 months ago it broke. The server was old and it finally died. I should have installed it on a new computer right away.

I didn’t.

Instead, I routed around it. In this case, my knowledge made me a little lazy. See, I have a internet based VoIP phone at home. It actually acts like it’s own firewall. It has an IP address assigned by my ISP and it broadcasts a separate IP range inside my house. In addition, I have Circle, by Disney. Circle is a software based solution that only allows known devices to communicate on my network. If you hack your way into my wifi system, for example, Circle will see you and not recognize your device. It will send me an message saying a new device appeared on the network. In the mean time, your phone, tablet or laptop will have zero privileges on my network.

So, it’s not like I was running naked on the internet. But, my firewall is an important part of my “defense in depth” strategy on my network.

And it broke.

And I didn’t get around to fixing it.

For months.

Finally, over the weekend, I invited my smarter-than-me neighbor over and I reinstalled the Sophos software. Actually, first I had to rebuild the computer it was going into. It wasn’t the broken one, but an old one that my neighbor had kicking around. I had to put in new harddrives. And it didn’t have a DVD drive, so I had to pull the DVD drive temporarily out of my network server and hook it up to the firewall computer. And then, I had to download the Sophos software on a separate computer and burn that image to a DVD. Then, I could boot from the DVD in the jury rigged DVD player, and reformat the hard drive and install a version of Linux and the Sophos software. Of course, then I had to go in and configure the Sophos software because I couldn’t save the previous configuration. Oh yeah, and Circle, by Disney saw my new firewall computer and made me go in and give it access to the network.

The short answer is that after several hours (and months) I now have a working firewall server again. I still need to go in and tweak all the rules. Right now, it’s set to allow just about everything through. I’ll go in and tell it to deny everything except for the computers that are in my network. Essentially, it will turn into another Circle device, just controlled via hardware, not solely software.

Anyway, I’ve felt a little like the cobbler who’s children went without shoes. It was such an easy fix, I’m not sure why I didn’t do it sooner.

Just lazy, I guess.

Rodney M Bliss is an author, columnist and IT Consultant. His blog updates every weekday. He lives in Pleasant Grove, UT with his lovely wife, thirteen children and grandchildren. 

Follow him on
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or email him at rbliss at msn dot com

(c) 2017 Rodney M Bliss, all rights reserved 

The Tragedy of Adoption

I love adoption. My younger brother adopted four children. My sister adopted three. My lovely wife and I adopted ten. And my older brother and I were adopted by our step-father.

I’m a pretty strong advocate for adoption. It has brought countless joy into my life and the lives of people I know.

It’s also one of the most horrifying events that can take place. People think children are available for adoption because they have parents that do not love them. In my experience those cases make up the vast minority of cases. One of my children is adopted from China. Abortion is legal and cheap in China. The fact that my child was born meant that a mother wanted the baby to be born. The baby was placed near a police station. It was quickly found and placed in an orphanage.

Another group of children we adopted are from Haiti. We met their birth mother. The first question the birth mother asked my wife was, “Do you love my children?” This mother loved her children, but was unable to care for them. She made the heartbreaking choice to place them for adoption. Another child was born in India. That child’s mother placed the baby at the orphanage because she could no longer afford to care for her.

Other kids were from Columbia. Their mother visited them often and attempted to be a part of their life even though she couldn’t raise them.

I was adopted at 14 years old. I asked my birth father to allow me to be adopted by my step-father. I wanted to do all I could to strengthen our family unit. My birthday was heartbroken. But, he loved me enough to say yes. I avoided contact with him for years. Decades even. He is now battling cancer. I reached out to let him know how much I appreciate the sacrifice he made all those years ago.

A few years ago one of my children, who was in the foster care program, asked if I would allow her to be adopted by her foster parents. It was gut wrenching. This was my child. And yet, I remembered the lesson my birth father taught me. I said yes. The judge later overruled the adoption, but I still had to go through the emotional struggle.

I have grandkids that may end up being adopted. And they may be adopted by strangers. At least strangers to me. The thought is crushing my heart.

Yes, adoption is a wonderful thing. It gives children a chance at a life they might never have had. But, it’s not without its victims, too. The joy of a new family is often a reflection of the sorrow of another.

I love my children and I’m grateful that they had the opportunity to be placed or adoption. I sympathize with the pain and grief that the adoption caused their parents. . .and grandparents.

Rodney M Bliss is an author, columnist and IT Consultant. His blog updates every weekday. He lives in Pleasant Grove, UT with his lovely wife, thirteen children and grandchildren. 

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or email him at rbliss at msn dot com

(c) 2017 Rodney M Bliss, all rights reserved 

Facing The Headwinds

Headwinds. They impede progress, right? Last weekend as I was mountain biking with the scouts through the Utah mountains, just before our turn around point we rode through a couple miles of flat, level cow pasture. After the uphill climb we’d done for the previous 8 miles, it was a welcome relief. The bikes seemed to glide across the former train track.

After a short lunch break we headed back the way we had come for the second half of the 23 mile trek. It would be easy, right? Level cow pasture then coast down the last 8 miles. It should have been easy. But, as soon as we started, we encountered a headwind. It wasn’t much, maybe 5-8 mph. But, it was enough to make the level grade the hardest stretch of trail that day. Every turn of the pedals was a struggle. What would have been a leisurely ride in the park was a test of our already tired muscles.

Headwinds. Who would want them, right?

Today, I’m flying back to Utah from West Palm Beach, FL. I’ve been here for two days getting a new call center ready to open. Soon, I’ll climb on a Boeing 737 for a trip to Atlanta and then change to a 757 for a 4 hour trip to Salt Lake City. The trip West actually takes longer than the same trip (SLC –> Atlanta) coming East. It’s because there is a headwind when heading West. The Jet Stream is a constant river of a wind blowing around the world in the opposite direction of the earth’s rotation. If you take a snow globe and quickly spin it, you’ll notice the sparkles don’t spin at the same rate. The Jet Stream is the same idea, except the sparkles are on the outside of the snowglobe.

The point is my plane will be facing a headwind as I fly home and it will take me longer to get there.

No one likes a headwind, right?

We have headwinds in our own lives. Yesterday was a particularly blustery day. My client presentation was supposed to be of a fully functional site. We won’t be using our Florida site for several months, but my team had assured me we were going to be production-ready now. . .We weren’t. It worked out okay since the client only required we be 50% ready. But, my disappointment was palatable. During the tour of our facility my lovely wife called me. . .twice.

My family has a phone code. If we call a family member and it’s something important, we don’t leave a message. If there is no answer, we send a text. If it’s really important we call twice. Call. Hang up. Call right back. It’s our own family 911.

I got two of those calls and the corresponding texts yesterday. We try to be equal partners in raising our kids. We aren’t. My lovely wife does the lion’s share. I travel a lot. I work late. I take phone calls during family events. She covers for me. Sometimes the kids don’t like it, but she explains that Dad’s job pays the bills.

The headwinds were blowing pretty steady yesterday, from three different directions. It was a pretty rotten day.

But, you know who likes headwinds? Pilots.

My son-in-law is a pilot. He flies for an arial photography company. He’s working on getting enough flying hours to become an airline pilot. It’s impossible for a plane to take off if it has a tailwind. Well, it’s not impossible, it just has to go faster, a lot faster than the wind. But, give a pilot a headwind and he not only can take off, he can do it in a shorter distance. A plane with a proper headwind, can actually take off vertically, like a helicopter. The headwind provides lift for the wings.

Landing also requires a headwind. Without sufficient headwinds a plane is useless. Now, once they get into the air, the pilots look for that tailwind. It saves them fuel and lets them cut time off their trip. But, to get off the ground, they need resistance.

My flight is having absolutely no trouble lifting off.

Rodney M Bliss is an author, columnist and IT Consultant. His blog updates every weekday. He lives in Pleasant Grove, UT with his lovely wife, thirteen children and grandchildren. 

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