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Lessons From A Bowl Of Popcorn

Popcorn was a big part of my family growing up. My dad loved it. The man who rarely gave compliments bribed my little brother into making it with flattery. (Lies My Father Told Me)

This was the days before microwave popcorn. In fact, I think one of the main reasons my father bought our first microwave was the hope of making popcorn even quicker.

Back before we all became pseudo-experts on microwave technology, we had a disasterous episode with popcorn and a plastic bowl. It was the last time we ever used that bowl.

Did you know that a popcorn has about 30 calories per cup? And it’s high in fiber. Of course, if you add salt and butter, or what passes for “buttery topping” at movie theaters, you boost the calorie count significantly.

I don’t like the butter or salt. My favorite is popcorn as plain as possible.

I typically make microwave popcorn. Why do microwaves have a popcorn button? Does anyone ever use that button? Did you burn your popcorn?

My bags take about 2:30. But, sometimes they only take 2:15. Sometimes they take the full 2:30. But, I have to listen to the bag popping. When there is about 5 seconds between pops, it’s time to the take it out. Leave it in too long and the popcorn will actually burn.

However, no matter how long you leave it in, even if it starts to burn a little in the middle, you can never get all the kernals to pop.

I buy a high-end brand of microwave popcorn. If popcorn brands can be described as high-end. The cheaper brands have more unpopped kernals. My brand has fewer, but there’s always some.

I used to pop popcorn in a frying pan. You add a little oil, don’t let it get too hot, or the oil will smoke. Add your popcorn and then shake. Shake for a long time.

But, here’s a strange thing, the pan is the same temperature all the way around. The kernals all enter the pan at the same time. And yet, they pop at different times. And some never pop at all.

I think I only know one song about popcorn.

I looked out the window and what did I see?
Popcorn popping on the apricot tree.
Spring has brought me such a nice surprise.
Blossoms popping right before my eyes.
I could take an armful and make a treat,
A popcorn ball that would smell so sweet.
It wasn’t really so, but it seemed to be
Popcorn popping on the apricot tree.
– Popcorn Popping, words and music by Georgia W. Bello

It’s a children’s song. There are actions that go along with it; hands “exploding” out as bursts of popcorn.

There are two lessons I think we can draw from a bowl of popcorn. Well, maybe you wouldn’t draw them, but they make sense to me.

First: Not everyone develops at the same speed. Sometimes that late bloomer just needs a few minutes longer in the pan.

Second: Some people never bloom. And you end up throwing. . .Umm. . .Okay, maybe it really was only one good lesson.

One good lesson and a kid’s song.

(You can hear someone singing the Popcorn Song here)

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) 2020 Rodney M Bliss, all rights reserved

May It Please The Court. . .I’m Not Wearing Pants

I’ve spent more time in courtrooms than I can honestly remember. In fact, a judge once said, “Your parents have been in my courtroom I don’t know how many times.” She didn’t mean it as a condemnation of us, my lovely wife and me.

Courtrooms are just like you see in the movies. It’s often very formal. I try to wear a suit every time I go. I will typically wear a shirt that is not white. I wear a white shirt every Sunday to go to church. I rarely get the opportunity to dress up in a colored shirt and tie.

I have a set of silk suspenders. When I walked through the metal detector, the brass fittings on my suspenders would set off the alarm. Eventually, I was simply asked to lift up my pant legs to show I had nothing strapped to my ankles. Or maybe the baliffs simply wanted to see if my socks matched. They didn’t say.

We don’t go to church anymore, of course. I haven’t put on the suit in over a month. Strange how court was still linked to church, even if in a negative connotation. I don’t wear the suit to court either.

I had court yesterday. Both my lovely wife and I attended. And as you may have noticed in my opening paragraph, I was there for the sake of one of my children. It was a scheduled meeting. We’ve had one each week for the past four weeks. The first was via a phone call. The second was supposed to be via video, but they couldn’t get the video to work. The third, I went in person. Today’s was via video; WebEx.

WebEx, like most video conferencing software allows you to show multiple people on screen. In the upper left was the “host.” It was an empty courtroom. No one was visible, but we were assured that somewhere off camera was a court reporter. The judge appeared to be broadcasting from her living room. A light behind her kept making her image artifically bright or dark as she moved closer and farther from the camera. She was dressed in normal clothes. No black robe.

My child appeared with staff in another window. The prosecuting attorney was in a suit and tie. He had chosen an unfortunate camera angle. His head was in the lower quarter of the screen. The upper 3/4 was a blank wall. But, he was definitely the best dressed.

I was wearing an pressed shirt but no tie. It wasn’t a white shirt. My lovely wife wore a knit top. We both wored jeans. It didn’t matter. No one was going to see them anyway.

I don’t know what kind of pants the defense attorney was wearing. Perhaps it was Bermuda board shorts. It would have matched the t-shirt he was wearing. For all I know he might not have been wearing any at all, although I think that might have been too much even for him.

None of us stood when the judge entered the room. She wasn’t announced. She was simply there like most people who pop into a video conference.

We all spoke deferentially, of course. My child was very respectful. We were all respectful. But, we were also all very unsettled. It’s hard enough being in a normal courtroom, with its formal setting: wood panelling, high ceilings, the judge seated literally above the rest of the courtroom. The setting is both intimidating and formal on purpose.

But, today that wasn’t the case. We might have been members of a work group gathering for a project meeting. The judge read the charges and spoke in the formal language of the court. It was incongruatous given the decidedly informal setting.

And yet, there we were. The proceedings completed and we scheduled the next project meeting. I flipped to a new window on my PC and brought up my work calendar to find my availabilty and schedule the next meeting 45 days out.

It is definitely a brave new world.

Stay safe.

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) 2020 Rodney M Bliss, all rights reserved

Well, What Did You Expect?

I work on broken systems. It’s not all I do, of course. In fact, I do a lot less of it, especially as we have been focused on moving our agents to work from home.

We have a process for handling cases where we have systems that fail. It’s not a complicated system. The simpler the process, the easier it is to follow.

One of the key steps happens right at the beginning. Once an outage has been identified, we need to get the number of people impacted in each line of business. We handle multiple LOBs for our client; helpline, Certificates of Deposit, Investment, Accounting.

We need to know how many Lexington CD agents were impacted by the outage? How many Cleveland Investment agents were impacted?

These numbers are really important. In fact, the numbers are vital. We plan our staffing levels very carefully using historical data and projections. If one line of business has agents at a particular center cannot take calls, we can ask agents at another center to help take up the slack.

And then after the outage is over we create reports based on which agents were impacted. If the outage was our fault, there may. be penalties involved. Our penalties are assessed on lines of business.

It’s kind of an important number.

We sent 1200 agents from across our six sites to work from home this week. It’s never been done by this client before. We didn’t even know if it was possible two weeks ago. We are still working out how to support them.

Today we had an outage. It wasn’t a huge outage, but it was across multiple sites. Our client called me to report the outage.

Rodney, we noticed some dropped calls at three of your centers. Could you reach out and find out who was impacted?

Ah. . .

See, here’s the thing. When I built our outage process, I knew that we had to have a quick an deasy way to find that initial impact count. Our method? Go out on the call floor and ask the supervisors and agents on teh floor if they were impacted.

My problem? My call floor now stretches across multiple states, hundreds of towns and over a thousand work-at-home homes.

Like many businesses, we didn’t have time to prepare for our work-at-home strategy. We had a couple of days to design. A few days to test it. And then we had to roll it out as quickly as possible.

(We’re IT. we love those kind of crazy schedules.)

The problem was that we didn’t have time to also update our operating and outage processes. We figured we’d address it when the need came up.

Well, it came up today.

How many? What lines of business? Who knows?

Email them? Nope. They don’t have corporate email. We have their cell phone numbers. We needed that to enable our multi-factor authentication. But, ever try to text 1200 people? And how do you filter their responses?

You don’t.

Anyway, we’ll figure it out. We’ll develop processes that acknowledge our new reality. In the meantime, I got to give an answer that I don’t normally give.

How many agents were impacted on each line-of-business?

I have no idea

What else did you expect?

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) 2020 Rodney M Bliss, all rights reserved

Are You Tired?

I’m tired, boss. Tired of being on the road, lonely as a sparrow in the rain. I’m tired of never having a buddy to be with, to tell me where we’s goin to, coming from or why. Mostly, I’m tired of people being ugly to each other. I’m tired of all the pain I feel and hear in the world every day. There’s too much of it. It’s like pieces of glass in my head, all the time…Can you understand?
– John Coffey, “The Green Mile”

Are you tired? I think I’m tired. I’m not bored. I know some of you are bored. I’m not scared. I feel terrible that many of you are scared, unsure what you’re going to do next week or next month. How do you find a new job when the world is locked down? How do you work when it feels like no one is working?

And then there’s the elephant in the room. Except we don’t know if he’s in the room do we? He’s like this hulking, imposing, invisible elephant. . .who may decide to kill you in your sleep. Or maybe kill someone you love. It may kill those closest to us and the most vulnerable.

I’m a great crisis manager. My entire family is. In fact, when there’s a disaster, we are at our best. I never really understood it was something one could get good at. And, I never really knew I was good at it. I just knew that when things went bad, I found a way through.

Isn’t there always a way through? I had to believe there was. And all I had to do was find it. And looking for that way through helped me focus. And focus kept me on task.

We’re in a crisis now. The biggest one of my lifetime. The biggest of nearly everyone’s lifetime. People have described this as a war. Maybe, it is. But, we lack something that a true war provides. We have an enemy, of course. We have death lists. We have casualty reports. We even have battlelines as the virus, like some invading army started at the coasts, New York City, California, Washington, and relentlessly pushed it’s way toward the heartland and the Rocky Mountains.

The invader won. At least temporarily.

After 9/11 we were all encouraged to attempt to go back to a normal life. We were told,

If you don’t go shopping, the terrorists win.

Well, this invader won without firing a shot. The 9/11 terrorists couldn’t shut down our schools, our malls, our cinemas. No other invader has been able to lock us in our homes, afraid to greet our neighbors. Unable to attend weddings, or funerals.

Not even World War II was able to stop baseball. But, baseball died along with every other sport, concert, play and piano bar.

What this war lacks is someone to fight. There are no Germans, or Japanese, or Al Quida, or Vietnamese. Not that xenophobia is something to aspire to. And our former enemies are now are now some of our staunchest allies. But, we mobilized against our enemy.

But, not this time. This time, the enemy is unseen, but deadly. We are confident we will beat him. . .her. . it(?) We are Americans. And we will win.

Americans love a winner and will not tolerate a loser. Americans play to win all the time. The very thought of losing is hateful to Americans.

You are not all going to die. Only two percent of you right here today would be killed in a major battle. Every man is scared. . .If he says he’s not, he’s a liar. But the real hero is the man who fights even though he’s scared. . . The real man never lets his fear of death overpower his honor, his sense of duty to his country, and his innate manhood.

– General George C Patton, to the men of the Third Army preparing for the D-Day invastion June 1944

But, we can’t see what we are fighting. It’s in the air. It’s on that gas pump handle. It’s on the grocery store cart. It lived for 17 days on a cruise ship after the passengers were gone. It’s everywhere and nowhere.

So, our only weapon is to wait it out. The entire world is waiting. Waiting for a friend’s quarantine to end. Waiting for the test results. Waiting for the stay-at-home order to be lifted. Waiting for the medical miracle workers to find a bullet small enough to kill it.

I’m a crisis manager and while this is crisis, it’s not the kind where my skills help me. There’s nothing to do except wait. And that’s a lack of doing. So, we wait. And waiting is tiring.

I’m just tired.

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) 2020 Rodney M Bliss, all rights reserved

Coronavirus Chess

Which would you rather have?

1. A million dollars
2. The amount of money earned in a month by getting a penny the first day, 2 pennies the second, 4 the third and so on

There’s something called the wheat and the chessboard problem. You place a single grain of wheat (or rice) on the first square, two on the second, four on the third and so on. How many grains of rice will be on the final square? Will it be more than the board can hold? More than you can count?

The chessboard problem illustrates the concept of exponential growth. Linear growth is what most of us are familiar with. Our height and weight follow a linear path. You gain a little at a time. More or less in a straight line. Hence the name “linear.”

Exponential growth is different. It starts low and goes up very, very, VERY fast.

Epidemics experience exponential growth as opposed to linear growth. I saw someone say that “Only 1000 people have died in the United States from the virus.” They questioned the draconian measures that governments are taking to stop the spread of the virus.

Of course there are more than 1000 dead now. In fact, it’s been less than a week since the USA passed 1000 deaths. Today? There are 3,167 deaths. In 5 days, the number of death has increased 200%. And it’s going to continue going up.

I don’t know if the United States will end up with 100,000 dead, which is the low end estimate, or 1,200,000 which is the high end. And if the numbers follow their graph, we’ll see all those deaths in the next month. It’s unlike anything we’ve seen in America since the Spanish Flu epidemic of 1918 when 675,000 died in the United States and 50 million worldwide.

Don’t let the low numbers fool you. Math works. And the math, the horrible, relentless, deadly math is following an exponential curve.

Oh, the answer to the two riddles?

You would absolutely want the the doubling pennies rather than the million dollars. After a month (call it February with it’s 28 days) you have:

2^27 + 1 penny for the first day = 134,217,729 pennies, or over $13,000,000

and that would just be awarded on the last day. The totals for the other days added together would be close to another $13 million.

And the wheat and the chessboard? That is even more outrageous.

2^63 + 2^62 + 2^61. . . + 2^3 + 2^2 + 2 +1 = 18,446,744,073,709,551,615

That’s 18 quintillion and change. Just to give you some perspective. If you wanted to travel 18 quintillion miles you could rack that up by travelling the 93 million miles from the earth to the sun. You’d have to make multiple trips, of course. 200 million of them, or 100 million round trips.

The virus won’t reach that many, of course. And not just because we have less than 8 million people on earth. Governments are attempting to “flatten the curve.” To prevent the virus from spreading as rapidly as it might have.

But, if anyone tries to convince you that it’s “only 1000” or “only 3,167” deaths, ask them for some pennies and a calendar, or wheat and a chessboard.

Stay safe.

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) 2020 Rodney M Bliss, all rights reserved

The Two Saddest Words In Sports

Do you know what today wasn’t?

Odds are it wasn’t your birthday. (If it was, happy birthday. For rest of you. . .no happy birthday.)

It wasn’t Easter, or Christmas or Thanksgiving. But, then you never expected it to be.

No, today was not a lot of things, most of which were never expected. But, the saddest thing that today was not is that today was not Opening Day.

The stadium at the corner of Edgar and Dave in Seattle sits empty. The House that Ruth built, or rather the house they built after the House that Ruth built is quiet. The great cathedrals of America’s pasttimes are silent and deserted on this first unofficial day of Spring.

I guess you can say we knew this day wasn’t going to be Opening Day. We’ve known it for weeks. But, we believed it would be Opening Day for much longer than we’ve known it wouldn’t.

Fans look forward to Opening Day starting with the final out of the previous year’s World Series. And for some, they start looking after the last out of their teams that fell short of the World Series, or even the playoffs. For other’s, like my beleaguered Mariners, we start thinking about Opening Day at the point our team is eliminated from the possibility of the playoffs.

Opening Day is not just a day on the calendar. It’s the unofficial start of Spring. It’s the end of the long cold winter. It snowed in Utah today. We woke up to 3″ on the lawns and the trees. In any other year, I would laugh at the snow. I would laugh at nature’s attempt to delay the inevitable.

But, not this year. This year our March snow is one more reminder that regardless of the calendar, the winter drags on. There is much debate of when the season might start. And even some debate of the necessity of abandoning the season all together.

So, today, on March 26th, in a depressing twist of fate, the two words that should have been the most exciting are actually the two saddest words in sports.

“PLay Ball.”

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) 2020 Rodney M Bliss, all rights reserved

Participating In The New Gig Economy

I went to a concert today. It was a concert by Rachel Solomon. She wouldn’t have called it a concert. In fact it was really a piano bar. Well, I guess actually it was virtually a piano bar. In fact, that’s what it was called Rachel’s Virtual Piano Bar(c). I’m not really sure how many people were there. I couldn’t really see anyone else. I suppose I could have but I didn’t bother clicking on anyone’s profile picture.

Before the concert I had to go to work today. The first call came in at 5:45 AM. I joined a meeting at 8:00 AM and was on one or more more calls all the way up until about 9:00 PM. I was a little late to Rachel’s concert as a result. I attended both work and the concert in my pajamas.

Welcome to the new reality. My job, fortunately, is secure. I am a Technical Program Manager for a large telecommunication company. I’ve spent the last few weeks building a work-at-home strategy for our call center agents. We are spending 12-13 hour days getting it done. My job is classified as essential. I guess that means I can go into work at the call center if I choose to.

I don’t.

I’m working from home.

Not everyone is as lucky as me. And I really am lucky to be working 12-14 hour days. I have plenty of family and friends who are not nearly as fortunate as I am. They are either out of work or struggling on reduced hours.

Some of my friends who are hardest hit are entertainers. The writers are doing okay. David Farland, creator of Runelords, and I have been friends for decades. He posted,

Due to the Covid-19 virus, I plan to stay home and write for a few weeks.

Then in the comments he added, “So not much different than normal.”

But performers like Rachel have lost their jobs without ever being fired. I met her when she was performing on a ship with another artist Pierson Keating. I love live performances. And piano bars, especially. I spent a lot of time listening to their dueling pianos. I became friends with both Rachel and Pierson during the week at sea.

I have another friend, Steve Hofstetter. Steve is a Mets fan, a sometimes TV personality and a fulltime travelling stand up comedian. He travels about 300 days per year and does tours all over the world.

But, not this month. The comedy clubs closed their doors and Steve found himself in quarantine like the rest of us. An artist without an audience.

My daughter-in-law and her husband both lost their jobs. They had entry level jobs. She was a temp CNA. He worked at McDonalds. Now they are both out of work. Them and indirectly my eight month old granddaughter.

Mark has been my friend longer than anyone else I know. We met in the 5th grade at Lakes elementary in Lacey, Washington. Mark is one of the smartest guys I know. He was much smarter than me in school. But, we were both kind of nerdy that way.

Mark has carved out a nice business for himself teaching Wilderness First Responder classes all around the world. At least that’s what he was doing last month. This month he’s unemployed. And having been self employed, he’s not eligible for unemployment. He’s not even sure he’ll get part of the stimulus money, although even if he does, $1200 won’t go far.

Mark will figure something out. He’s always resourceful like that. And being my age, that is to say closer to old than young, he’ll probably work until he dies. He’s divorced with two grown daughters. He also owns a track of land and is well skilled in the art of survival. He’s one of the few people I know who can safely can salmon. (You do that wrong and you won’t just get sick, you’ll die.) Mark will be okay.

My daughter and son-in-law will do what young married couples have always done. They’ll scramble and keep going until they can find something better. In fact, my son-in-law immediately applied as a call center agent at my company. And then asked me for a recommendation. Smart kid. I really like this one.

But, the entertainers have always lived on the financial fringes of society. Historically artists often were supported by a patron. Modern performers sometimes turn to the a similar model. Steve Hofstetter, for example, has an account on Patreon is a website where you can choose to support an artist for as little as $1 per month, or as much as you’d like. The idea is that you want your favorite independent artist to continue to create, so you throw some money at them each month.

Now many artists are also turning to online performances. Sometimes they are pay-per-view type of arrangements, but for struggling artists often their best option is to create compelling content and offer it up for free. . .with an option to tip.

I tipped during Rachel’s performance. It was about the same amount I’d pay for a local comedy show. I have no idea how much Rachel made from her tip jar. I don’t imagine it was anywhere near as much as she’d earn on the ship. But, I do know that I’m probably going to weather this current economic crisis reasonably well.

And if I truly believe that arts are important, and that my friends are important, it’s my job to help where I can, even if that means paying for free online concerts.

You can find Rachel Solomon’s page here.

Pierson Keating’s music can be found here.

Steve Hofstetter’s comedy content is available here. (NSFW)

David Farland’s home page is here.

And finally, you can read a review I did of Rachel’s excellent second album “Right On Time” here.

If you are doing okay in this economy, try to help others, whether it’s supporting local shops, or paying for free concerts.

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) 2020 Rodney M Bliss, all rights reserved

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