Tomorrow is December 31, my last day to meet my 2008 goals – so how did I do?

1. Loose weight – Didn’t meet this goal in fact, I gained 6 pounds. Falling off the roof on January 4th really screwed things up royally for me.  Bill won the bet and I paid it publicly.  But finally during last month I have been healthy enough to run slowly and am getting back into a workout program focused on running/jogging.

2. Learn at least one new software/application per month. I did really well on this one only taking time off during August/September.

3. Continue to integrate Zoho suites into my life. I stopped using Zoho as my main Cloud application, it is very simple I don’t like the graphical interface on their word processor which is the main app I use.  Many of the other apps are not available unless you are connected to the internet.  As I discovered when I went to Atlanta in May and didn’t have access to the internet, I couldn’t access my Zoho accounts.  Wireless coverage is not as great as we need it to be.  So I purposely chose not to use Zoho nearly as much, especially after I changed jobs.  I tried to use it at my new job, but ran into stiff resistance and decided continued resistance was futile and gave in.

4. While I really am attempting to wean myself from Microsoft Office (I just never really liked 2003)… Since changing jobs, and trying out several cloud or software alternatives – I am using Microsoft Office 2007, almost exclusively.  It is what I use at work, so therefore it is not efficient to use a different productivity suite at home.  Viva Office 2007 and the Ribbon which I am beginning to really love.

5. Professionally – prepare myself for the future and teach to prepare my students for their future. I changed jobs completely, but while I was a teacher, I was able to move away from drill/kill and the lecture format to a more project based and student centered model.

6. One last goal is to prepare an electronic portfolio.  I put most of my stuff into an electronic portfolio based upon Microsoft OneNote, it works for me, but not that many people have OneNote, so it is not very shareable unless they have OneNote.  I plan to keep using it, but not to the level that I did as a teacher.

7. Look at Linux a little more closely, I won an XO Laptop from (haven’t received it yet), so I will get to play around with Linux a little bit and find out how it compares to Vista.  I found that I didn’t like the XO and gave it to Mr.Byrne – he had more uses for it than I did.  I did find that I liked the smaller laptop and bought a 12.1 inch HP Pavilion Tx2510 Tablet, which I love!  Wife got the 15.4 tank. Ubuntu still intrigues me, but when I attempted to dual boot on my new laptop couldn’t boot up the Ubuntu and I ddin’t want to wipe Vista, so still haven’t really tried Linux.  Now with Windows 7 coming out, I really want to try that.

I actually did pretty well on my 2008 goals, except the weight one.  That will definitely be at the top of the list again in 2009.  I am happy with my progress in 2008 and now that I am healthy again, the weight should come off quickly – if I can learn to watch my portion sizes and the sweet tooth.

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The first installment in what I learned in 2008.

I have learned quite a bit about Web2.0 applications and different software over the course of the past year.  I have learned is that applications/software that a teacher needs and can use in the classroom is different than the needs that a worker in government does.

A teacher should use a variety of software/Web2.0 applications to expose students to a variety of resources that provide Word processing, Spreadsheet, Presentation, Mind Mapping, Internet Access, data base, etc.  This exposure allows students to see how learning one application, can lead to an understanding of similar software/apps, and this variety also allows students to realize that there is more out there than just one product that does pretty much the same thing.   Also I learned as a teacher that I had more of an interest in learning the new applications, so that I could teach students the newest relevant applications.  But all that being said, a teacher does have a duty to the student to provide them with a foundation in the software that they will most likely be required to use in the business world, which is still Microsoft based.

I have learned as a government employee that productivity is centered almost exclusively around Microsoft and Adobe products.  It isn’t that other products are not used, it is just that those two products dominate.  I am glad that we have access to Office 2007 (I don’t really like 2003), now that I have gotten used to the Ribbon, it is very inconvenient to go back to 2003.  We use Adobe Pro quite a bit, along with Excel and Powerpoint.  It was actually quite easy for me to go back using Microsoft products almost exclusively at work, I have used Microsoft since Windows 1.0 and Office 1.0 they are definitely better now than they were back then.

At various times throughout the year I have attempted to go completely without using Microsoft products or being completely Microcentric.  I found that neither extreme worked particularly well for me.  As a teacher I was much more able to go without Microsoft products, but as a government employee to be able to be productive at home, I really need to use the same software.  When I attempted to be Microcentric, I found that not everything was the way I wanted it and when I went without using Microsoft products, I didn’t have the capabilities to share easily with other employees who did.

It is very easy to bash Microsoft and many of its past policies, but the software they provide is usuallytop shelf (if bloated for everyday use), but the culture from my limited view is that the Company has too many software silos that don’t interact or integrate well as I have stated in previous posts.  There seems to be attempts to break down some of these walls, so we will see Microsoft’s future direction for better or worse.  I personally hope it is better and can’t wait for Windows 7 beta to come out for public trial, I haven’t had a single problem or complaint with Vista but with the great reviews 7 is getting, I think I will try it when I can :).

So this is what I have come up with as a solution that should work for now:

Office Productivity – Stay with Office 2007 (I just have to come up with a good deal before my free trial period runs out on Feb 28th – so if anyone hears about a “great” deal on Office 2007 Professional – let me know), using Office Live to tie things together and make sharing easier.  Then see what happens with they put their productivity “suite” in the cloud.  I thought ThinkFree was the answer, but it has its own gliches and when I attempted to share a couple of different times it screwed up on me, so I need something that works reliably the first time.  Office 2007 has done that for me.  Still waiting for a new graphical interface from Zoho.

Browser – A combination of IE8 & Chrome.  IE8 has been crashing and freezing a lot lately but it seems to be stabilizing finally and since I bailed on Firefox and Flock in my Blog a couple of weeks ago – I have started using Google’s Chrome a lot more, sure is fast, but the lack of extensibility does frustrate me at times.  But it is quite useable.

Blog – I like Google’s Blogger it does everything I ask of it and then some.  I think I finally found a template that I really like and hopefully with stick with it for a while – well maybe change the header photos every once in a while – can’t be too static.

Those are the major applications/software that I use, things like Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, Delicious and other Web2.0 apps I will use until something better comes along, I am not investing a lot of time/effort into them.  I can honestly say that I like to experiment and try the “newest” apps to see how they work for me, but since I am no longer a teacher, I don’t feel the need to be at the tip of the spear, being back along the handle will work just fine for me at this time.

I am glad that I discovered Web2.0, it has given me more breadth and understanding of the different software/applications out there in the cloud and on the desktop.  So I want to thank everyone who has helped me on this journey, made suggestions to try out new things or helped me figure out how to actually use some of this stuff.

The biggest thing that I learned here is that Microsoft isn’t the enemy, it is a business trying to make money, that powerful software does not mean it is better (sometimes it just means it is bloated), that free or dirt cheap isn’t always as good and that it is is okay to experiment to see what works for you.

Those are my thoughts, what are yours?

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I have been at a loss about what I want to write about lately, nothing has been percolating to the top, that would be interesting for me to write about or for anyone else to read.  But while doing dishes – yes I do dishes, I got to thinking about the reasons why I actually blog and why I believe that it is an important part of my life.

First – Blogging does give me a chance to put my thoughts out there and talk with other in public conversations on a variety of subjects.  I have discussed educational philosophy with “top thinkers”, had interesting discussions on our last election and politics in general, discussed/reviewed great new or less than useful Web2.0 and software applications or hardware that I have personal experience with, or even talk about what is going on in my life.

Are these things important to me, you bet!

Being able to read other people’s views, opinions, experiences and then most importantly being able to discuss those issues in a mostly collegial environment (when it isn’t I can choose to leave the conversation), I learn so much and I would like to think that sometimes I add value to these conversations.  Some of my blog entries have even had people respond (I am finding that as more and more people use Twitter, etc. that I have less responses on my blog) and we have had discussions that have been fairly intense, but learning continues.

Second – The more people that blog, use microblogs (Twitter), and other electronic forms of communication, it seems that we are breaking down the walls that society has put up around itself.  For many years, I had no discussions beyond immediate family and friends on many of the issues that affect us.  By blogging I have been able to connect with a variety of disparate opinions that had broadened my appreciation and understanding of many of the issues that face us all.  In instances that information that I have “discovered” through blogging has changed my perspective and beliefs about that issue.  This is blogging’s strongest attribute in my humble opinion.

Third – Even though I am one of so-called the “ugly Americans” I have attempted to show that not all of us “Yanks” have a “do it my way or take the highway” attitude and that we can be thoughtful, respectful and tolerant of others in the international audience, who do not always agree with the “American Way”, which by the way I don’t always agree with either.  I do enjoy those conversations and even though they may not be in real time, I do believe that the sum total of these conversation by us all brings the whole world a little closer to understanding each other.  That we are not all always what was expected when we let our stereotypes blind us.

Fourth – It is fun, I know many do not think that writing (sometimes a lot) and reading are a lot of fun.  But I believe that the more that I write, the better I get (just have to get the proofreading part down a bit better).  It gets things off my chest, makes me feel that sometimes my voice is heard, when in the past – no matter what — no one or very few ever heard me.  Who knows maybe someday one of my posts will go “viral”.  Unlikely, but anything is possible.

I will keep writing my blogs, even if I don’t get more than a couple of hits a day.  Yes, I do look at the stats once in a while and no I will never earn a living doing this.  But the fact of the matter is that I still read and comment on other people’s blogs, learn a great deal from the variety of perspectives that I otherwise not get to if blogging did not exist.

I guess that is the biggest reason I continue to blog – to learn from others, that I could not have had a conversation with otherwise.

My thoughts are that blogging helps connect us to each other, when in the past we would be in our own little information silos without a “long tail” to connect us.

So thank you dear reader for taking the time to read this blog and please add your voice to to the blogosphere.

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I am reading an old Sword and Sorcery Fantasy (Series) Book called the The Great Book of Amber by Roger Zelazny.  It is a compilation of Books 1-10 of the Chronicles of Amber Series that he wrote back in the 1970’s.  I have always wanted to read the Amber books, but I couldn’t find the first book and I hate to not read the first book in a series (you miss so much).  Plus the compilation costs around $25.00 which is a lot to pay.  One of my new co-workers and I were discussing what we like to read and during the discussion he stated that he had the Amber book and that he would let me borrow it, if he could borrow my Dennis McKiernan’s first book in the Mithgar series – even swap.

The Great Book of Amber: The Complete Amber Chronicles, 1-10 (Chronicles of Amber)

So I am reading the Amber Chronicles and enjoying it immensely.  I am finding that the writing style is very well done, but different from most Fantasy adventure novels that have come out recently.  The Amber books originally were only 125-200 pages in length and they focused on the storyline of one character.  In today’s writing many if not most of the writers have taken after Tolkien’s writing style and have anywhere from 3-5 storylines going at once and most of the books are between 500 and 1,000 pages.

This simplification of the storyline, is actually making the book more enjoyable to read for me.  I don’t have to remember what is going on in the other storylines and how the present line will interact or intersect with the others to the climactic finish.  I can simply read and focus on the main character, which allows the writer (in my opinion) to tell me the story versus focusing on a journey and the multiple concurrent storylines which could are stories of their own.

The Tolkien fantasy writing method is very good and is the popular style out there today for S&S Fantasy – it is seen as a more mature and sophisticated style of writing.  But you know something – most of the time when I read this genre, I am reading for enjoyment and want to focus in on a story, the multiple storylines have become distracting to me, they don’t hold my attention as easily and to me are not as enjoyable as they used to be.   Maybe it is because they are becoming a formula and predictable?

What am I trying to say?  That I wish that more writers and publishers would go back to single storylines, shorter books (I don’t have time in my life to always read 500-1000 page books without loosing myself to something else and putting the book on the shelf to read later – which sometimes I might and other times I don’t.  The world is too busy today for that size of book.  Look at the Terry Goodkind or Robert Jordan or even Christopher Paolini sagas’ each book is so long, intimidating and so many books to read that to many that they require a real effort to read them even though they are a great stories.

My thoughts say to rein back on the level of sophistication (this is supposed to be for enjoyment) and multiple storylines or books and give us readers back the ability to finish a book (not a series) in 3-4 nights (about an hour a night) instead taking a couple weeks to wade through a book that we get tired of and don’t finish reading because we lost interest about 1/2 way through, no matter how fantastic it is or technically well written.
Writers/Publishers – It is okay go from start to finish in one book, not everything has to be accomplished in a trilogy, multiple book series or a megabook.

After my rant above – am I enjoying The Great Book of Amber – yes.  But I wish that I had found the 10 books instead of the compilation – it would have given me a larger sense of personal accomplishment to have read 10 books instead of 1.  At 1,258 pages it is a lot of book, where taking it in chunks of 150-200 page books, I think I would have enjoyed it more.

I guess to me it comes down to simplifying things in my life and this is another area, I would like to try.  Minimize the stress 🙂

Technorati Tags: books,reading,my thoughts,shaw,McKiernan,Tolkien,Zalazny,Amber

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I just received an e-mail from my best friend while I was stationed on the Coast Guard Cutter SPAR.  It was a very bittersweet message, but at the same time it was important for me to hear from him.  Let me give a little information on my friend…

We did a lot together while we were stationed together, raised a little hell as young guys will – I was 19 and he – I believe was 20, we thought we had the world by the ass and were going to do great things with our lives.

That all changed one day, we were working on the buoy deck and the weather changed while we were in the middle of  working a buoy.  The main hook of the crane detached from the eye and swung across the deck and knocked me back first into the side of the buoy deck.  The main was continuing to swing freely and the response of the crane operator was to attempt to drop the main to the deck, but it wasn’t get on the deck before it was going to drive into me while I was laying against the side of the buoy deck, just barely aware of what was going on, but I could see that main coming right at me and I couldn’t move.

David somehow grabbed the main and deflected it away from hitting me, but when it swung him back around it dragged him into a buoy sinker and I learned later that it toasted his knee.  If he had not put himself in between me and the main (at about 200 lbs or more) I hate to think the damage it would have done to me, it would have been pretty significant considering how fast it was going and I was pinned, against the side of the ship.  I don’t know what would have happened if the main had hit me, but it definitely would not have been good and in my mind there is a good probability I would have been killed or hurt and left with permanent injuries.

I went to the hospital that night and got some real strong drugs and was pretty much okay after a couple of weeks, no permanent damage.  David was forced by the Bosn to continue working even though he could barely walk and didn’t get medical care until later and was eventually retired from the CG medically as a result of that knee injury.

After that David switched to a different department and became a DC.  When he got married, he had to leave his wife in Ohio for a while, when she finally came out we trusted each other so much, that when his wife finally arrived, the first night she arrived he had duty and no one would switch with him until 8:00 that night, that he trusted me enough take her out to Shakey’s pizza and ensure that she was safe – we had a little too much beer to drink, but we got back in time and we all became good friends.

But as happens in the military I transferred and I lost touch with Dave and his wife, our path crossed briefly a couple of times after my transfer, but it seems that life caught up with us and except for an occasional Xmas card or phone call we lost touch with each other.  A couple of times we have attempted to get together, but just haven’t connected.

Our lives have taken very different directions since that day…but as I get older, I am finding that I want to re-connect with those who be-friended me at different stages in my life and plan to make more significant efforts to do so.  The internet will help me in this endeavor – greatly I believe.

So David you are the first of my “lost” friends that I have lost touch with and am going to reconnect with.  I hope that we can renew our friendship and put the “lost” years behind us.

Others that I want to re-connect with are:

Clint McGraw – Probably somewhere in Maine
Rick Borazzas – I know where you are
Roger Putman – I will find you.
Tim McKinna – I will find you
Bobby Trester – Probably in Minnesota
Mike Bouford – I know where you are, I just have to make time  and will.
Hal Larlee – same as above

So friendships change over the course of a lifetime, but do they ever really end?  Unless there is a major negative thing that happens – I don’t think so, I would like to believe that we only loose touch.  A friend is a friend and I plan to reconnect with as many of my old friends as I can.  A person can never have too many real friends.

Do you have any “lost” friends that you should get back in touch with?

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I look at what my dream job would be about once every year at this time  and this is the first year I have ever put it in writing so others can see it.  No – I am not looking for a job, I have one that I am really enjoying, learning a lot and look forward to going into work each day.

I have finally reached the point in my life that I very comfortable with who I am and what I want out of where I work.

My dream job will…

  • have a great mission…that helps people improve their lives.
  • not be the same day after day
  • offer challenges and causes me to use my problem solving abilities
  • allow me flexibility and creativity in how I accomplish the above (that includes hours and location(s))
  • allows staff to have fun and encourages cooperation in the office atmosphere
  • support me when I make a decision
  • be funded appropriately and is sustainable
  • provide enough time off and compensatory time, to have a personal life beyond work
  • have policy and/or guidance that is sufficient to get the job done without being burdensome
  • not micromanage, but gives guidance/training/supervision when needed
  • offer appropriate and pertinent professional development
  • use technology appropriate to the job and is willing to try new applications/software or hardware
  • not require me to manage a budget – someone else gets to do that.
  • not stifle new ideas, i.e. thinking outside of the of the box, but encourages them even if they don’t always work
  • not penalize for making mistakes, but uses it as a learning opportunity
  • hold me accountable when I continue to make the same mistake
  • allow me to travel periodically
  • recognizes good work appropriately
  • have a benefits package that is above average
  • have office politics that are cordial and doesn’t have the stab you in the back to get ahead climate
  • pay me a reasonable wage

I know that I will never be the person in charge or the “CEO” where ever I work.  This doesn’t mean that I can’t lead, but that I just don’t need to be the one in charge and have realized that I am better at being “one of the staff” and am comfortable with that.   Staffers are necessary and good ones are hard to find.

I don’t look to make a million dollars a year, what I do and how I can help others is much more important than how much I make.  No I am not rich and sure I would love to make lots of money, but that is not my driving force in life – never has been and never will be.  As long as I have enough to be comfortable and get the “toys” that I want, I am happy.

I guess I my time in the Coast Guard and as a teacher didn’t inspire me to be a entrepreneur, it just taught me to work hard, not worry about it if the hours aren’t exactly 9-5 and a lot of compassion for others.

My philosophy at work is:



do the right thing for the right reason

I believe that my philosophy is very important to me and would need to fit into my dream job’s work environment and climate otherwise, I wouldn’t be a good fit with that organization.

So those are my dream job requirements…my present position comes pretty close, except that I get to manage the budget, but that’s okay, I can do it.

But if I win the lottery tomorrow night, I do believe that I would retire to more of a “my” type of schedule and volunteer someplace after the initial six months and spend a lot more time at the gym or other outside activities like hiking, kyaking  and long walks with my wife.

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