How I Learned About Internal Combustion Engines…..

The saying of, “You don’t always get what you want, but you might get what you need”, is probably true for most people. As has been happening of late, certain conversations trigger memories of my Army days. In the short version, I joined the Army in order to afford law school. The fact that didn’t happen is a very different post that I’ll do at some point in the future.

Anyway, I actually came into the Army through a special program because contrary to popular belief, women could not enter as officers through either ROTC or the military academies until 1976. I was commissioned into the Women’s Army Corps (WAC) in the waning years before they officially disbanded that. Part of the disbanding was to no longer have all women assigned to WAC units, but rather have them go into the various branches of the Army, most of which were open to women. Through a series of misunderstanding on my part (also another future post), I found myself in a situation where I didn’t know which branch to ask for and the Ordnance Corps decided they wanted to increase the number of women being brought in. They sent a couple of majors to Fort McClellan to explain to all of us why we ought to request being in Ordnance. Now, there are essentially two major areas within Ordnance. The original, as the name implies, is Ordnance as in ammunition. The other is maintenance which gained far greater prominence once there were things like vehicles. To say I was not mechanically minded is an understatement and so when I was assured by the two majors that Ordnance really was the branch we ladies ought to join I agreed and thought, “Okay, how hard can it be to learn about munitions?”

A not particularly important event occurred and I was later strongly advised to swap from my idea to instead go into the maintenance side. I very carefully explained my genuine concern about my ability to learn about maintenance. I was again assured the fact I didn’t know anything didn’t mean I couldn’t learn what I needed to. As an officer, I would not be actually working on vehicles (to include things such as tanks). The mechanical training we would receive was to enable us to understand the basics so we could understand what it was the fully qualified mechanics (enlisted and warrant officers) were doing. In other words, we had to know just enough to be able to say, “Bull___” if someone wasn’t doing their job. I reluctantly agreed and in the initial stages of my training, my concerns seemed justified. Several of us struggled and failed tests because we really weren’t grasping what pistons, wiring harnesses, hydraulic systems, etc., did. Our instructors were equally struggling because they couldn’t figure out how to get the ideas across any differently.

Our male counterparts stepped in to help. This was when most guys worked on vehicles to some degree or the other. They essentially took those of us who were having difficulty and said, “You’re making this too hard.” Of the two that took me under wing, one was a mechanical engineer and the other highly mechanically inclined as what was referred to as a “shade tree mechanic”. Admittedly, this was back before vehicles became much more complex with electronics and computers. As it turned out, the guys were right. We just needed someone who could take their time with us and phrase things in a way we could grasp. One of the practical exercises we had to complete toward the end of the three-month course was to disassemble and reassemble a jeep engine. Despite the extra tutelage, I certainly wouldn’t have tried to tackle this alone, but we were in teams and I was in fact fully capable of helping and understanding what my guys were doing. Aside from the direct application to my Army career, the same knowledge has been quite useful when dealing with auto repair shops.

Where the Days Go…..

I fully intended to post yesterday and managed to get caught up in a series of unplanned tasks. Since the day was pretty well already filled, that did cause a bit more slide to the schedule. One of the things is, as I believe I have mentioned in the past, we do have the seasonal population increase here which runs mostly Jan-Mar, but we see some increase as early as Nov and late as May. The reality is several annual events are built around the intent to draw in seasonal residents (I can’t recall if we’re supposed to no longer use the term snowbirds) and there are only so many days during the “core time”. Therefore, we have major things going on either literally back-to-back or sometimes overlapping. In my case, I’m involved with different organizations that either run or support those events and therefore everything I routinely do gets another layer added on top. The actual irony here is when people talk about how other months are the “slow time”, that doesn’t apply in our case. Aside from the fact I rarely have such a thing, it is especially true for Hubby because late spring through Labor Day is peak dive time. Unless storms disrupt, it is not unusual for him to have to go 7-14 days without a break. That also means he isn’t available to do routine things like grocery shopping, etc.

Anyway, back to our winter/early spring months that are genuinely jammed. There really is “something for everyone” from the Southernmost Rodeo in the country to multiple major fishing tournaments and with the Seminole Theatre hitting its stride, plenty of performances to choose from. Ah well, life certainly isn’t dull. At the moment, I am searching the calendar to try and find a day to go diving. I have indeed been out of the water too long.

You Never Know With Kids……

I mentioned our granddaughter loves that we have a pool.  This year during the holidays was a repeat of last year in that the temperature was such she could be in the pool the first two days and then unfortunately not the last two. She still had some difficulty in grasping the concept and by next year she should be okay which will no doubt mean the weather will be perfect and not an issue. Anyway, you never really do know what kids are thinking and the automatic vacuum for the pool is a perfect example. It attaches to an outlet in the pool with a flexible hose and runs a repeated pattern along the bottom for however many hours we have it set for. It’s great with picking up most of the leaves and is about the size of a medium pizza. There is a rubber “skirt” around it that resembles a small stingray and we do indeed refer to it as “Ray”.

Our granddaughter, however, didn’t like it and when we were in the pool, I kept having to push it away to make her comfortable. She wasn’t reassured by me explaining how helpful Ray was. One of the mornings it was too cold to get in, I glanced out and saw that once again, a tiny frog had found refuge on top of the hose and I was able to get the net, scoop it out and place it well away from the water. Our daughter-in-law was out with us watching the process and explaining to our granddaughter what I was doing. That piece of information apparently did not soften her view of Ray.  It will be interesting to see how she feels about it next year.

The photo was when we had a big ugly frog one day, but we haven’t had those around for a while.

Big, ugly frog in the pool

Our Dependence on Repairs…..

In my former life of military logistics, with a concentration in maintenance (I’ll explain that in a post someday), I became keenly aware of the vulnerability of mechanical/electrical things. Matched to that was the variance in the ability of individuals trained to repair such items. Pretty well equal was the fact that impatience does not assist in the repair process. However, if the individual/individuals responsible for hiring/retaining repair individuals is not aware of shortcomings, that is something that can be rectified. That statement also comes with a caveat – there must be places that can adequately train individuals and one must also allow for experience as a factor. So, without getting into politics, which I do try to avoid in this blog, we really should do more in this country to recognize and promote repair trades at all levels. I’m not about to say a computer repair technician is exactly the same as a plumber, but when you have that toilet overflowing/stop working, it definitely affects your well-being.

Reliability of items is the other component and those who are old enough have seen the movement toward a “disposable” marketplace. That, too, is really another post and for the sake of this discussion, we’ll stick with the issue of training repair individuals rather than engineers, etc., that design and manufacture things. Anyone who has worked with students knows there are different ways of learning and there is a wonderful quotation from Albert Einstein about labeling genius. It goes something like, “…If you measure the intelligence of a fish by the way it climbs a tree, it will always be seen as stupid.” I don’t dispute the value of a college education, but in watching the absurd, quite frankly inexcusable escalation of college costs, the need for technical training in many areas for those who have the aptitude should get greater focus than it often does. There is a growing awareness in this country and if you have influence on young students in whatever capacity, do be attuned to the possibility that rather than a college path, technical training may be the right option, at least for that first career.

In closing, my posting has been delayed because we experienced network outages for almost six days. Is it a design issue, equipment, or maintenance? I don’t know. What I do know is we, like so many people today, greatly depend on network connectivity and are severely impacted when we don’t have it.

About That Age Thing……

My maternal grandmother was one of those women who never wanted to admit her age. I never quite understood it and I think it may be less of an issue these days, although I’m not certain of that. The group of women friends I have my standing Happy Hour and other events with in general don’t mind telling their age and most of us accept the process philosophically. I think it probably has to do with us have worked in interesting jobs, traveled a fair amount, and enjoyed our youth in the day. We also understand that the 20/30-somethings who see us no doubt can’t imagine they will be like that someday. I haven’t had a “traumatic” birthday yet, but I am sometimes a bit startled in thinking of being 64. I’m obviously close to another “big” number and who knows, the moment could hit when I say, “Goodness, I’m not ready for this.” I think the whole being active for much longer is part of why we don’t view aging in the same way. Granted, I walk and don’t jog any longer, but that has far more to do with the fact I never liked jogging and only did it as a requirement of my Army life. I swapped back to my preferred walking as soon as I was able to.

I’ve also never wanted to bother with coloring my hair and that hasn’t changed. I’m fine with whomever wishes to deal with it, but what a lot of effort it takes! I may have mentioned in a previous post all the women on my mother’s side of the family have fine, straight hair and we “gray” early. I had my first silver hairs around 20. In my case, they were/are silver as opposed to white. My mother, unfortunately, had clusters of white instead of evenly streaked, so her decision to color made a bit more sense. As for wrinkles, again, it just seems too much of a bother to have some multi-part daily regimen to deal with. On the other hand, I have always been careful about moisturizer, especially with 30ish SPF sunscreen living here in South Florida.

Fiction and Non-fiction…..

I’ve posted before about the differences in writing fiction and non-fiction and with my latest book, To Play on Grass Fields, I’ve had several questions since I have a note in the book about how it was inspired by my experiences in Haiti during Operation Uphold Democracy (1995).

The reason it took me 20 years to actually write this book is because 1) the main theme is very complex, 2) I wanted to be cautious of the technological, economic, and social elements I included and that required a lot of research, and 3) I wasn’t certain of what approach I wanted to take. Ironically, one of the original angles I wanted to use for the climax of the book I decided to change because I didn’t think it would be credible, and yet, something similar is currently occurring with the resistance in Iran. Setting that aside for the moment, some of the more brutal aspects depicted are sadly based on events that have taken place in other continents. Third-word countries, and especially those considered virtually hopeless for any chance of development, face a very different reality than do those of emerging nations. Have I personally experienced it? No. Have I worked with/known people who have traveled in some of those places? Yes. If you watch movies such as, “Hotel Rawanda” or “The Last King of Scotland”, they are based on true stories.

The lengthy discussion in the one chapter about transforming the military of the fictional Malathos is quite valid. This is one of the areas that was discussed by the Task Force in Haiti and is being implemented in a few (too few) countries to try to lessen the possibility of future change of government by coup.

I debated for quite some time about including the final segment “Excerpt of Lecture by Dr. Byrne”. There were, however, points I wanted to make I could not and keep the dialog/pace moving as I wished and that’s why I created the final segment as I did.

Another New Year….

What will 2018 bring? It’s difficult to know and as I have mentioned, I gave up making resolutions quite some time ago. The short visit with the kids and granddaughter was a bit hectic, but fun of course. Two-and-a-half is on the cusp of so much. The ability to express in words advances, but not yet to the point of being able to explain all those outbursts of frustration. The wanting of a cupcake for breakfast is pretty easy to understand – the sobbing over some other issue once all the usual questions are asked not so much so. On the other hand, it does provide the opportunity for grandparents to say, “Yep, you were like that, too, and this phase will pass”.

I hadn’t actually calculated it before, however, 2018 will be both our 30th wedding anniversary and the kids’ 10th – theirs in August and ours in November. Special trips could be in the planning, although there are personal events which could also occur to impact plans and it might be best to not make any arrangements too far in advance.

Our schedules aren’t likely to slow down a bit and therefore, it would be rather a waste to act as if that’s going to change. At the top of the list though is me doing everything I can to stick with my intention of getting out to dive once a month. Yes, the water will be chilly for a few months, but I have a thicker wetsuit and still more natural insulation that I care for. That generally helps keep me warmer. As for writing news, I’ll talk about that in future posts.

For those who do still make resolutions, think through what you’re considering and be gentle with yourself in the process.

Lapse In Posting…..

Ah, those disruptions to schedules. It was Christmas of course, but a couple of unexpected tasks popped up as I was trying to also prepare for the kids’ arrival and party we have New Year’s Eve. I was absolutely determined to get one more day of diving in before the end of the year and that pretty well takes most of a day. The conditions were decent with only a little bounce (waves) and visibility underwater of about 40 feet. For those of us who often get 70, that’s “marginal”. For those who dive in places that rarely get even 20 feet, it’s terrific. This is genuinely a relative measure. Hubby was finishing up a class with a guy who is the fiance of a young lady who dives, as does her father. They were along and it’s always nice to see two generations diving together. I did find them a stingray, and did see a nurse shark, although I couldn’t get to the rest of the group in time to show them. I love the spotted trunk fish like in the photo and I got all my angel fish – queen, gray, French, and rock beauty. Other divers saw an eel and turtle, so between the two groups, it was a nice array of the more “fun” stuff. The “biggie” for our group was a juvenile Goliath Grouper. It was no more than about forty pounds, but still impressive. Adults grow to 200-300+ pounds.

The kids’ flight on the 28th was slightly delayed and traffic was still pretty heavy at that hour. School not being in helps, although a lot of people who took off for Christmas are back at work. I had a couple of friends over for dinner that evening who can’t make the New Year’s Eve party so the timing got a little tricky. All went well, however, and Hubby had gotten the child’s seat correctly installed in the car. Those were not required when son was that age, therefore, neither of us have experience with the things. When you have a part “left over”, it tends to be a matter of concern. I had the part and the instructions with me and it turned out the piece in question was if you had a younger child. Ah, good.

Depending on how today unfolds, the kids will go off to see “The Last Jedi”. Hubby has to finish up a course for a couple and Gram and granddaughter will be baking cookies.

All That Technology….

There is nothing wrong with still liking a flip phone, and actually, there are still a few models that precede those. When I say “nothing wrong” I mean in having a preference. The issue, as often happens, becomes the problem of maintaining older technology no matter what the item is. Try finding someone to repair an eight-track tape player these days.

With all the gadgets that will be unwrapped tomorrow, those who know how to use them will probably squeal/smile with pleasure. In some cases, the recipient will politely respond, not certain of what on earth they are going to do with “this thing”. For older people, there is a range of, “I’ll give it a try”, to “I really don’t want to mess with this.” That kind of reaction is genuinely nothing personal, but it is something to keep in mind when looking for technology that will make an older person’s life easier. That can very well be true or it can be a source of frustration. The point is that first, the individual has to want whatever the result is supposed to be. Let’s take the e-book reader as an example. The features of being able to increase the size of the font at a press of a button, order something within a matter of minutes, and not need more bookshelf space are great. But if an individual is not comfortable with ordering on line and can’t quite figure out how to use the functions without someone there to help, that’s not such a good deal. And yes, the phrase, “If I can do it, anyone can,” is simply not always correct. Each person has their own way of learning, and more importantly, retaining new information. Spiffy technology might be just the thing, but you do have to be prepared that it also might not be the answer.

Why Amazon Reviews Are Important….

It’s been a while since I posted about this topic, but a recent discussion brought it to mind. Independent authors are very much like out-of-the-way restaurants. You know the kind – they can’t afford to be in a prime location, the food critics aren’t likely to know about them, and they aren’t going to have a robust advertising budget to blanket their target market. Yes, social media is a tool, but if you’ve never tried to actually use social media for promotion, you will find that what marketers will happily point to as successful campaigns usually equally ignore those that fall flat. The simple fact is word-of-mouth combined with actual quality are still the best ways for any “unknown” to become known

Book reviews, even if they are only a few words, on Amazon, Good Reads, or whatever you’re preferred on-line book seller is continues to be especially important to little-known authors. People can find a lesser-known author through various means, but when they do, their question is  – “Why should I take a chance on this?”. As most of us know, the description of a book only gets you so far. When they see positive reviews though, that can make a difference in taking a chance on an unfamiliar author. You hope the outcome is a new fan who then helps spread the word.

The downside of course is people can and certainly do post negative reviews; some of which can be painful. It’s part of the life of an author to accept this risk and read those reviews to see if there is a valid point. There is a saying, although I don’t know who to attribute it to, of something like, “No two people ever read a book in the same way.” I  have been quite surprised over the years when speaking to groups to have characters or scenes interpreted in different ways than I intended. It too, is something you learn as an author.