Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Top 5... Favorite Disney Songs

If you've been reading my last few blog posts, you know that I'm not in the greatest of moods, nor have I been for several months. Despite what my friends probably believe, I don't enjoy being depressed or living in frustration. As such, I keep trying to boost my morale with conversation, movies, TV, and music. A couple days ago, I decided to put together a top 5 list that I haven't done before. In fact, up until now, I hadn't even considered this list! You have no idea how much fun I had researching this list! I feel so much better right now it's amazing! Anyway, now I give you my top 5 favorite Disney songs.

Here are the criteria: First, it has to be from a straight up Disney movie with the castle graphic and everything. Second, it has to be a song that I genuinely like, meaning that I could listen to the song without the movie and still enjoy it. Also, that I could listen to the song at any time, anywhere and still enjoy it. Given my current mindset, these songs MORE than qualify for this list! So here we go:

5) Mary Poppins - Chim Chim Cheree
Most people like a certain other song from this movie which is really fast and very difficult to spell. But personally, this is the song that really got to me. This song was cheerful, mesmerizing, wondrous and atmospheric. It was simply awesome.

4) Tarzan - Strangers Like Me
I love education & learning.And one of the themes that I enjoyed the most about Tarzan was the exchange of information between Jane & Tarzan. As he learned about the human world, he taught about the jungle. But the fire of curiosity that was lit in his mind was perfectly characterized by this song. I can hear it over & over again and NEVER tire of it.

3) The Lion King - Be Prepared
I've always been a fan of villains. And Scar was one of the greatest that Disney ever created. The pure callousness and evil that he spewed was nothing less than OUTSTANDING. This song was absolutely perfect as a showcase for that evil. I'll never get tired of hearing it!!

2) The Little Mermaid - Poor Unfortunate Souls
Another villain song. Ursula earned my respect as one of the most manipulative Disney villains ever. And the way she uses Ariel's love against her was truly spectacular to behold. All the subtle prodding (well, subtle for Disney, at any rate) in this song was simply DELICIOUS to watch.

And my NUMBER ONE favorite Disney song is.....

1) Aladdin - Friend Like Me
Aladdin is my favorite Disney animated movie. It was nothing short of entertaining, but my absolute favorite part of the movie is the Genie. His introduction and first song just simply blew me away! I can honestly say that I LOVE this song! And I will till my dying day! Here's that first intro scene with song and everything for your enjoyment: 


Wasn't that awesome?? Go ahead, play it again, I'll wait!

Okay, now I do have some honorable mentions that didn't quite make the list. Songs like Under The Sea, Be Our Guest, Arabian Nights, Kiss The Girl, and Prince Ali. All fantastic songs, but the five listed above are just the best. What about you, my dear readers, what are YOUR favorite Disney songs??

Saturday, May 26, 2012

Tough Week... Aftershocks

You know what's worse than an earthquake? The aftershocks. It's like a killer combo from a heavyweight boxer. The first full force punch cracks your defenses, but it's the follow up punches that put you down. Today, I got an aftershock of my last week. The job offer I was hoping to get... I didn't get. I was called out of the blue and told that the offer was 90% in the bag, they had some paperwork to finish, but I was pretty much in. I had to wait a week for a final answer. The time came and they asked for another week. (Again, I should've taken it as a sign.) Then, the answer came down... No. You might wonder Why? Well, they had problems with my history. Despite me explaining it to them several times, in person & over the phone, they still said no.

Frankly, I'm not able to keep going as I am on my Unemployment check. Company X's rejection now necessitates some drastic measures on my part. At this point, something has to give, and that something is me. Among all the things I've lost, I'm now losing another: my home. I can't afford to maintain my bills, my cell phone, my car, AND my apartment. Since I need the car and the cell, the rest HAS to go.

Don't worry about me, my dear readers. It turns out that I have an unexpected ace to play here. Those of you who know me, know that I'm a decent person; a nice guy, as it were. You also know that I've lamented over that fact ever since I realized that girls always want the BAD guy and not me. Being the nice guy has gotten me abused and taken advantage of for most of my life. (Several of my friends can attest to that fact.) I've tried to turn myself around, but my basic history, training, and experience has proven... difficult to overcome. However, in this instance, being a nice guy gained me the ace I mentioned earlier. A long time ago, I gave shelter (and a home) to a friend who needed one in a hurry. Now, they offered me the same. I would use this as proof that being a nice guy has benefits, but I don't believe it myself.

Any way you look at it, moving is the smart play. There is only a small cost for the move, and the benefits are vast. I'd save somewhere around $400 a month, just in rent. I also will save money by not being tethered to maintaining utility bills, aside from my cell phone. I also save by not having to purchase groceries on my own. My friends save on rent because I'd be covering a portion of it, so they get more money, too. Win-Win!

Socially, I get to hang with my friends every day. Including some new ones that live in the area. To be honest, they're all ecstatic about having me live with them, but I can't share the sentiment. Intellectually, I understand the angles I see. But, I'm losing my home. The little piece of real estate that is mine. The place I use to rest from the demands from the rest of the world and keep my head as straight as I can get it. I'm also losing another thing: my autonomy. A quality that I cherish, and that I had only regained a couple of years ago. Having to choose to relinquish it just adds to my already present depression due to my lack of work and the resultant train of relentless personal life crises I've dealt with ever since.

And then to make it worse, I know that my lack of enthusiasm hurts my friends feelings, because it makes it seem that I don't want to move in with them because I don't like them. They understand my dilemma, but it's still hurtful to witness. And it's painful to be the cause. I hope my fortunes turn for the better soon.

I'm not sure what little sanity I possess will last for much longer.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Thoughts On... Computer Training

I wrote a post on my selection of a training program awhile back. So far, it's been going well. I'm currently at the tail end of my third class, Intro to Web Development with Visual Studio 2010. I have to admit I was a bit nervous about getting into training. It's been a long while since I was in school and it seemed like completely alien stuff that I had to learn. The "being in school" part was not a problem. I've always loved school and being back in training was like riding a bike. 

What surprised me was how much of my "old" software development training STILL applied. I can see how these classes could be exceedingly difficult for someone who is brand new to any type of programming, but for me it was like redecorating a room in a house I've lived in for years. The bulk was still the same, just a few new details have been added in. The development environment (Visual Studio 2010) is very intuitive and makes stuff that I remember taking FOREVER to code, much faster and much easier! Looking back on it now, I could have just picked up a book and pieced together this training on my own. But it wouldn't have the same effect.

Let's be honest here, I'm doing this because I want to get a job. And, anyone will tell you that getting a job is about WHO you know and not WHAT you know. Taking official training gets me a couple of things that I wouldn't have gotten otherwise:

1) Standardized training in a wide range of items that training on my own just wouldn't have gotten me. I would have focused on the parts that I found interesting and left the rest alone which makes for an ad-hoc training style.

2) Official recognition that I actually TOOK this training. Depending on how things work out with some other stuff, I might be going for official Microsoft certification, which is a badge of honor saying that MICROSOFT says I know my stuff. It's not just me babbling at you, a recognized leader in the software industry is saying that I know my stuff and I can be relied on to develop software. Right now, I have a world-renowned training facility backing me up. Who do I know? I know THEM. And they are vouching for my skills!

Now, I'm not really done yet. I still have a lot at home practice to do before I'm fully comfortable with the new stuff I'm learning. But I didn't have to learn as much as I thought I did, which means I'm much further along than I was expecting. Things are going to get really interesting from here! And who knows what my future holds?

Sunday, May 20, 2012

The End Of A Tough Week...

Ever since I was laid off at the beginning of Feb my life has been nothing but one crisis after another. It's been almost 4 months (wow, right?) of this non-stop crisis fighting and I'm just drained. Dodging evictions, utility shut offs, family issues (medical & otherwise), engaging in a full time job search, and facing off against MULTIPLE government agencies for help (and failing with most) just isn't easy. It's been a huge battle, and it's nowhere near over. I've only survived this long because of the strength & support of friends and some of my family, coping mechanisms I've learned over the course of my life, and pure ornery contrariness. (That last bit I didn't even realize until my landlord pointed it out to me!)

This week was a particularly painful one, though. For the past couple of months or so, I've been angling to get into a software programming training program that was funded by the state of NH. (I talked about it in a previous post.) Needless to say, I got in, but this was the first full week of intensive training. It's been awhile since I've been in school (and the subject matter is hard) so it was difficult to get into the swing of things again. It was a hard week. Then there was the stuff that happened outside of the training.

Let's take a step back. The Friday before last, I got a call from a company I had applied to (and interviewed with) a long while ago. They told me that I was 90% of the way to a job offer. They only needed to get some final paperwork & some due diligence done to complete everything. Company X also told me that I'd have an answer on the official job offer by the end of this week (May 18th).

By the beginning of this week, I driving around on an empty gas tank, and my cell phone was not working cause I didn't have the money to pay the bill. I was basically praying that I could survive until the check on Wed to put gas in the tank and re-start my cell service. Tuesday night, I come home from training to find that the power had been cut off. With no gas in the tank, and no cell, all I could do was sit in my apartment. So I spent the next FIVE HOURS doing nothing but sitting in the dark obsessing about how I was going to get any money to the power company. It's truly amazing how sitting in the dark helps focus the mind. With no distractions, I was able to collapse all the mental tracks in my head down to just the one problem: how to get my power back on. Everything I do is on computers, including my job search, so I really need electricity. Ironically, that time was really refreshing, focusing on one problem gave me a break from all the rest. At the five hour mark, my sister came home and I used her phone to contact the power company. She then loaned me the money to get the power back on. So, now I have power back on, but now I have someone ELSE I have to pay back.

Wednesday morning I got my phone back on, put gas in my car, and paid my weekly rent. I had no messages from Company X. I didn't hear anything at all the rest of the week either, not until Friday. (I should have taken that as a sign.) On Friday, I get a call from the company. They tell me that there are some issues with my resume. They feel uncomfortable with the amount of jobs I've had in recent years. Despite my explaining this to them during my in-person interview, I walk them through my long history of lay-offs. After that, I'm told that I have to wait another week for an answer. I protested, and told them that my life is going to hell in a hand basket and I needed an answer ASAP, but they stuck to the "need another week" story.

After that, I get a call from my car loan company. (Mind you this is DURING my classes, so I have to step away from my job training to answer these calls.) They tell me that I need to pay $205 by 5pm next Wednesday or they'll take the car. The most I can come up with and still be able to pay the rent, thereby avoiding the standing eviction I have with my landlord (Don't ask.) is $160. I ask if that would be enough. They said NO. I owe too much on the car and the $205 is the minimum they can take to keep the car from being repo'd. So, now I need to come up with approximately $50 or I won't have a car to drive to my potential new job!

The frustration had me almost in tears for the last hour and a half of training. Now I'm trying to figure out how to overcome this next obstacle. If and when I survive this, I just know there'll just be something else. At this point, I don't know if I have in me to beat this. I don't even know if I want to. After all, what's the fucking point? I've always told everyone that I endure. No matter what comes at me, I endure. But now, I'm asking "Why?". Why am I enduring all of this? What is the point? What do I get out of all of this besides a permanent case of depression?

My friends, family, and people in general, tell me that things will get better. I used to believe them, but now my belief is gone. And I'm sick of answering their platitudes with the natural question, "When?". The whole "Things will get better" thing is just a lie we all tell ourselves to give ourselves the boost to survive the next hour, day, or week. Again, I ask, what's the point? Why bother with the lie? Life would be less heartbreaking if we just stop lying to ourselves and face facts. Life isn't going to get better. This is it. Whatever you're dealing with now, is what you got for the long haul. Get used to it.

And yet, even with everything I've just written, in the back of my mind, I'm still working on what I can sell to make up the money I need to keep my car. I just can't seem to stop myself. So now, I guess I'm going to see what happens next. It looks like I'm just a glutton for punishment.

P.S. You're not going to believe this, my dear readers, but I wrote the content of this post long hand while sitting in a bar during a karaoke night. While surrounded by cute (albeit a little underfed) women gyrating to whatever song was being sung, I was writing this post out. What does THAT tell you about the week I've had?

Sunday, May 13, 2012

A New Look...

Well, my dear readers, I'm sure you've noticed that my blog looks a little different. For some time now, I've been getting reports that the previous template was difficult (and sometimes painful) to read. After getting over my compulsive resistance to change, I decided that it would be a good idea to update the look of my blog and I took the chance to make my posts a bit easier to read.

After all, the whole point is to get more of you to actually READ the crap... er, stuff... I put up here. So, I brought it to a point where I get the best of both worlds. The site is easier to read, and yet not all bright and fluffy which goes against my personality. So, here it is. Tell me what you think. Sound off in the comments below!

Friday, May 11, 2012

Thoughts On... Person Of Interest

You are being watched. 
The government has a secret system: a machine that spies on you every hour of every day. I know because I built it. I designed the machine to detect acts of terror, but it sees everything. Violent crimes involving ordinary people, people like you. Crimes the government considered irrelevant. 

They wouldn't act, so I decided I would. But I needed a partner, someone with the skills to intervene. Hunted by the authorities, we work in secret. You'll never find us, but victim or perpetrator, if your number's up...we'll find you.

-- Intro Voice Over of Person of Interest
What would your reaction be if you found out that the government had a machine that was spying on you (and everyone else)? The point of the surveillance is to detect and prevent acts of terror. And, what if you found out that the system actually worked and had stopped many act of terrorism? What would you think? Would you be scared? Angry? Confused? Intrigued? Would you keep it a secret? Would you want to tell the world?

That's a portion of the premise of the show, Person Of Interest. The show is being told from the point of view of the creator of the Machine, and follows the effort of the creator and an associate in tracking down people who have been flagged by the Machine as either a potential victim or possible perpetrator of a crime. (The acts of terror are handled by the government.) The show has been running for almost an entire season (there's one ep left), and while I had my doubts when I heard the premise, the show's execution has been for the most part, flawless. The reason I'm writing about it today is because of the latest episode of show and how it changed my perception of the events of Person Of Interest.

Looking back on the inaugural season of POI, what I see is the slow unfolding of a particularly well crafted conspiracy. The most intriguing part is that POI keeps you on the INSIDE of the conspiracy. We, as viewers, are clued in to the hidden events and back story of the people. And it's done piecemeal over the 22 episodes aired so far. It was so smooth in its delivery of that story, that you forget to ask questions. In the latest episode, the Machine flags someone who, it turns out, HAS been asking those questions. The "client" has no clue what he's getting into, but that drive he has to find out shatters the web that POI had spun for the past 21 episodes and turns things around, forcing you to imagine what this entire operation would look like to someone on the OUTSIDE. Small threads of information, events that look normal, but don't quite add up, and then people trying first to frame you, and then to KILL you. All for something that you don't even understand. You don't even have the information to make an ATTEMPT at understanding what is going on around you!

It was an impressive shock to the established pattern of the show, and one that started me asking questions about the underlying philosophy of POI. After all, it was deceptively easy to buy into the premise of two people with extraordinary resources and skills trying to help people and operating just outside the parameters of the law. Since the show is following them, we can see the choices they make, mistakes that happen and the problems they have with the morality of their means to an end. But the questions aren't only on THEIR side of events. As someone who is being watched (within the mechanics of the show), how would you feel about the existence of that Machine? (Please don't bring up any Sky-Net references. While interesting, that's not the point of this particular post.) Would you give up privacy FOREVER, to potentially save the lives of your fellow countrymen? Would you be happy with just the ILLUSION of privacy? Would it make you feel better knowing that it was a machine and not some government spook watching you, cataloging your life, and looking through your private files?

The most compelling part of all this is that these questions are no longer as far-fetched as they would appear. Humanity may not have the tech to build this machine yet, but we will and very soon. As I mentioned in a previous post, science can do it. The question is SHOULD science do it. In my mind, it really comes down to a matter of trust. Not necessarily in the faceless monolith of "The Government", but in the individuals that make up that monolith. The human beings that are just trying to do their jobs and do what they think is right given the information & power they have. So, my dear readers, I put the question to you:

Would you trust the government to use the Machine properly?

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Avengers ASSEMBLE!! A Movie Review...

Years ago, when I heard Marvel's ultimate endgame for the Avengers movie, I thought it was a brilliant move. Give every member of the Avengers their own film to explore their character's own private story so the Avengers film won't be burdened with an overabundance of exposition to cover. It's absolutely brilliant from a movie making standpoint. They get to start over FOUR new film franchises with over FIFTY YEARS of written back story to use. And given Hollywood's new attitude towards comics films (put in quality cast & crew, get quality films), this is essentially a license to print money. I could just see it all.

But knowing the media machine, I also knew that for me to truly enjoy these films I would have to SEVERELY limit my access to all the "hype" behind ALL the films. And so, I stayed away. But, I watched Iron Man 1 & 2, both Hulk films (Norton was my favorite.), Captain America, and Thor. I watched and enjoyed, for the most part, all of them. And yet, with all the groundwork laid down, with all the evidence in front of me, I was still hesitant about The Avengers, and there was reason for it. But all my doubts were washed away within about a minute of the film starting. Within that minute, I knew that the movie was going to be nothing short of awesome. But you get all up in arms, my dear readers, I'm not going to spoil anything of the movie. I'm too much of a comic nerd to do that to you. However, that doesn't mean I can't discuss the film and I'm going to start with the director. 

Joss Whedon is one of my favorite directors. I've seen almost everything he's done. But he was one of my hesitations in this movie because he has a track record of being overridden by the studio execs above him. (Anyone remember Firefly?) Few directors have the clout to retain creative control of the properties they handle. While I had no doubt that he would produce quality work, I was worried that his gem would get carved into a bland mess of quips, one-liners, and cheesy action. And I'm happy to say, I was DEAD WRONG on that. Whedon cut his teeth in television, which from what I hear, is MUCH harder to do than movies. And in most of the shows he's dealt with (Buffy, Angel, Firefly, Dollhouse) , he built a world class ensemble cast. And that's what Avengers is at its core: an ENSEMBLE.

Watching the Avengers, I was treated to seeing genuine moments between people who are used to being the only "larger than life" person coming into contact with others at the same level and having to accommodate them in their life. Each one of the Avengers had their moment to shine, dealt with personal issues and evolution, and grew into their place on the team. Think about how difficult that is. To have no less than SIX DIFFERENT MAJOR CHARACTER STORY LINES woven together in a fashion that showcases each and every single one of them without detracting from the others. There are exceedingly few directors I can think of that pull that off while also working moments of genuine humor, pain, romance, and of course, action. And that's just the directing (and the writing. Joss Whedon wrote the film, too!)

Now, about the casting. Given the layout of the Marvel strategy, Whedon was stuck with some no name actors for the Avengers. Especially that Robert Downey Jr., whose ever heard of THAT guy?? But, they managed to pull it together. :-)

Seriously, though, the new idea of having quality actors in comic based movies really paid off with the Avengers. This cast was seriously top notch! At this point, RDJ just needs to stop messing around and legally change his name to Tony Stark. Chris Evans more than made up for his participation in the Fantastic 4 films with Captain America, Chris Hemsworth was believably god-like as Thor. At long last, Jeremy Renner is being given roles that fit his talent, and he showed it off as Hawkeye. Scarlett Johansson was simply DELICIOUS as Black Widow; slick, sexy, calculating. Everything that a sexy soviet spy should be! But the two roles that truly stuck out for me were Tom Hiddleston as Loki and Mark Ruffalo as Bruce Banner. Yeah that's right, I said it. I LOVED Mark Ruffalo as Bruce Banner.  

Initially, I had my doubts about Ruffalo replacing Edward Norton as Bruce Banner. It wasn't that I didn't think he was up to the task, but Norton was my favorite out of all the Bruce Banners in recent years, and I was looking forward to seeing him live it up with the Avengers. I did feel really bad about how Mark Ruffalo was treated by the fans at Comic Con, though, which is what started breaking my fever about Norton not being in the film. However, after watching the movie, I completely agree with Whedon's choice to have Ruffalo in the role. With so many larger than life personalities in one film, there had to be someone who could stand with everyone, and yet be the subtle, subdued one. Frankly, Norton's frantic, frustrated, find-a-cure-at-any-cost version of Banner would never have worked. But, in watching Ruffalo's performance, it felt like he built off of Norton's performance and tempered Banner with an abundance of experience. He came across as a more experienced and more accepting of his "curse". He was still wary of it, but he'd gotten used to it. And that style of calm, level headed (and under-played) experience served as a reprieve to all the intensity brought to the table by the other cast members (read Tony Stark).

Tom Hiddleston is completely different story. While I didn't like Thor as much as the other Marvel films (it felt too emotionally hollow for me), one of the parts I did like was Hiddleston's portrayal of Loki. He didn't really get much screen time in Thor, but more than made up for it in Avengers. There are very few actors that can portray a character with the complexity of Loki and be able to hold their own against EVERY SINGLE OTHER CAST MEMBER IN THE FILM. He was nothing short of astounding. Watching him on film, especially in the one-on-one scenes between Loki & Tony Stark and Loki & Black Widow, you could really tell Hiddleston was relishing the role. And it was so much fun to watch. I am definitely looking forward to seeing him expand the character in Thor 2.

By the way, I do have to mention one other member of the cast, and that is the ever alluring, Scarlett Johansson. In her first appearance as the Black Widow (in Iron Man 2), her performance left a little to be desired. I can definitely see why she was cast in the part. She has the sex appeal, the stormy demeanor, and the cold calculating intelligence that Natasha Romanoff displays in the comics, but her performance was off. In part because she was just a side character in the film, but also because she just didn't have the ability to portray the action in which Ms. Romanoff engages in a believable way. That was completely fixed just in her first scene in The Avengers.Watching her action scenes in this movie, as opposed to Iron Man 2, was like night and day. It looks like Ms. Johansson really worked herself to the bone to be able to perform the action scenes and for me, it paid off beautifully! With all the authority I possess, I hereby give Scarlet Johansson leave to proudly take her place as one of the majorly bad ass women in Hollywood. 

Now, I'm not going to tell you that the Avengers is a complex, mindbending film, because it's not. That was never the point of the Avengers. What I can tell you is that the movie is a two and half hour thrill ride, full of humor, fighting, intensity, and emotion. If you're looking for a action-packed good time, then I wholeheartedly recommend The Avengers. This is a movie that I would actually PAY to see again. Have you seen the movie, my dear readers? If so, sound off in the comments below!

I added the above pic just because I'm in love with Scarlett Johansson and I wanted another pic of her in this post. If you don't like it, sue me! :-)

Saturday, May 5, 2012

To My Eternal Shame...

Despite my deep and abiding love for music, there are several arenas of music that don't really appeal to me. One of these arenas is the Musical. There are very few (about 4, actually) that I can honestly say that I like. Mostly because the bulk of musical theater can only get either the story OR the music right. It's rare for me to find musicals that get both of them. The musical I revile the most is Grease. I hate that movie with a passion that is almost holy.

The music sucks, the story is garbage, and the acting....BLECH!! Yet, despite my well advertised dislike for that damned movie, I get repeatedly bludgeoned with it by friends, family, even my beloved television programs. Earlier today, I was working on a playlist (Upbeat Mix 2nd Series Disc 3) when a song came into my head that I could barely remember. In fact, I could only remember a couple of lines from the chorus. I did some research online and, much to my horror, I found the origin of that song.

Now, I know what you're thinking, that the song I was remembering came from Grease, but no. That wasn't it. My research showed me something much, MUCH worse. The song came from......

Grease II

Yes, my dear readers, it's true... There is one song that exists in that atrocious hellhole of melodious torture known as Grease-related music that actually appeals to me.

Now, before you lose all respect for me, I do have three points in my defense!! One: This song is one the final releases of the old school Motown sound, but recorded in the early 80s when technology made recording music much higher quality. Two: It's song by the FOUR TOPS!!! One of the greatest groups in the history of music! Second only to the Temptations!! And Three: It's only that SINGLE track! Nothing else appeals to me!! That has to count for something, right? 

I know, I know. I can only hang my head in shame, as I join the vast, unwashed masses who worship Grease and Grease II, if only for the one song. *sigh* Can you ever forgive me?

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Thoughts On... Customer Service

Two months ago, I started working on getting some training to update my coding skills so I might be able to land a job writing software. After jumping through some hoops to get into the program, I was faced with a unique and distinct challenge: picking a training program to attend. The training was funded through the NH Unemployment office and they gave me a list of three schools in the area that were approved for the funding and had the proper classes for my training needs. Two of them were close to me; the third about 30 min away. I was told that I had two weeks to determine which school's program I wanted to attend.

After that Monday meeting, I went home and called the three schools. I left messages for Programs A and C. Program B, the far one, had a real live human being that I spoke to and told my training goals.

Program A: They called me back within an hour of getting my message. They made an appointment for the same day. They walked me through their facility and their available classes. They told me that that it would take a week to finalize the schedule for my specific training needs. I'd have it by Friday to take to the Unemployment office.

Program B: I got a call back on Thursday to arrange for a conference call the following Tuesday to get a better idea of what training options I was looking for.

Program C: Never called me back.

At the end of the first week, I had an email with my recommended class schedule from Program A. Given that Program B was a 30 min drive away and in the same week, couldn't even get their act together to give me a list of available classes, I dropped them from consideration.

I went to my meeting at the Unemployment office and told them what had happened and that I was choosing Program A. Per state regulation, I was required to speak to at least THREE schools. And so, Program C was back on my radar. I had some personal stuff & some interviews going on so I had to delay the meeting a few days. The appointment was set for Thursday.

When I went in, I got a bad vibe at the start. There was no one at the front desk, and there was a security camera aimed at the front door. That tells me that having no one there to receive people is the norm. The rep for the program came out and we had a very good talk. They went over their program, and gave me a great deal of detailed information. He answered my questions with ease. I asked about the class schedule for me and he told me that it would be ready by that evening. I made it a point to mention that I had an appointment on the following Monday and I needed the schedule for that meeting. The rep agreed.

I didn't get the Schedule that night. I sent an email on Fri morning asking about the status and reminding them I needed it by Monday. I was informed that they were "putting the finishing touches" on it. That was at 10am. By 8pm on Fri, I still hadn't received the schedule. As of Monday morning, I didn't have the schedule. In fact, I didn't receive it until about 10 min before my meeting with Unemployment.

I still went with Program A. Getting the schedule on Mon would have been fine, except that I was promised the training list on Thur. Program C failed on the initial callback, didn't have a proper reception, and failed on their promise of delivery. All the positive energy they built up in the face to face meeting has been lost.

Needless to say, I didn't choose Program C.

So, after looking at the three schools, my initial decision still stands. Program A wins. The people at Program A presented themselves well, received me at their facility well, and delivered on their promises.
People always wax poetic about how important customer service is. When I was in retail, it was all my managers would talk about. In the end, it's true. And part of customer service is delivering on what you promise your customers, ESPECIALLY when it's a POTENTIAL customer. Program C had a MASSIVE fail. And, now that the funding is approved, my training with Program A starts next Monday!!

Thoughts On... Science & Religion Part 2

There are very few things that the bulk of the world can agree on. One of those things is the seemingly eternal battle between Science & Religion. For some reason, people believe that there is no reconciling the scientific method with a belief in the existence of God. And for a long time, I was convinced of the same thing. But then I read an article in a magazine (I think it was Time, but I don't remember for sure) about scientists finding God through their work.

In particular, there was a segment about a scientist who had spent a great deal of effort calculating the exact voltage of an electron. What struck him about his finding was how specific the voltage was. He tried working some standard equations with other values for the voltage and came to the conclusion that the universe as we see it today would never (COULD NEVER!) have come into existence if the electron's voltage was ANY other value. To have that voltage arrived at through an evolutionary process of trial & error was a problematic premise and one that this guy was not able to entertain. Which led him to the conclusion that this value had to have been built into the electron. And if that's true then SOMEONE had to have done that. Who? Well, the only answer he came up with was God. Interesting, right?

After reading that, I started thinking about the battle between Science & Religion. A lot of disparate ideas came together in that session and I realized that I never really believed that Science was at odds with God. The real battle is Science vs Human Arrogance. And THAT is a battle that will NEVER end.

Part 2 - Science

Now before I give you the wrong idea, I want to get something straight. You already know I don't believe that there is a conflict between Science & Religion. The reason why there is NO conflict between science and religion is because they deal with fundamentally different aspects of this world that have very little overlap. The core tenet of science is really simple: explain how the universe, and everything in it, works. That's it. That's the whole point of all aspects of science: to discover the rules and principles which govern the universe we live in. Religion deals in the meaning of living in this universe and in the study and honoring of God. Personally, I can think of no greater way to honor God than to study Her greatest work: our universe.

Now, in all my historical readings & research, I found that one thing rang true for most of human history: Religion ruled all. Despite the presence of all sorts of royalty, the church was on top. After all, they stood between the people and their God. They dedicated their lives to the study of the Word of God, to better and more fully understand the true meaning of God's intent towards us and our purpose in Her plan. They gained a measure of respect for that, and the people mistakenly put Religion in a position it was unsuited for: explaining how the world works. Religion was at a distinct disadvantage because they had no real way of knowing how the world actually worked, but the people asked and they looked to the bible for answers. When they couldn't find answers, they just made them up.

Based on the Bible, Humanity was the last creation of God. That led them to believe that Humanity was the best creation and most favored of all of Her creatures. And as a sign of that favor, our world was placed in the center of God's universe, with the sun and all the stars revolving around us as proof of our status. And for a little while, the information scientists uncovered supported that position. But the scientists kept pushing and analyzing information, and that's where the problems started.

Their new info suggested that their initial conclusions were incorrect. It seemed that the universe was not centered around the Earth (the religious view supported by science so far) but instead around the Sun. Which from a religious viewpoint makes more sense. After all, God is represented as being of light & warmth, right? Kind of like the sun? And don't we all bow and worship Her? One could say our lives REVOLVE around God. So why shouldn't our planet? But the Church's higher ups had spoken and could not be wrong. For this was the word of God and God is never wrong! (For those of you keeping track, this is a picture perfect example of Pride. One of the Seven Deadly Sins!) So, rather than owning up to a misinterpretation the word of God, or just admitting they were wrong, they instead chose to vilify and demonize the scientists that were contradicting them. One of the most famous examples, of course, being the trials of Galileo.

At the end of the day, science doesn't really care about God. There is too much left unexplained about THIS universe to start dealing with issues regarding others, such as Heaven or Hell. Despite the differences between the realms of Science & Religion, they are both being practiced by people. And people can use anything as justification for the things they want to do or want to believe. Just like with religion, there are many times in our history where people have used science and the "Quest for knowledge" to support ghastly, evil deeds (like the "experiments" conducted in the Nazi concentration camps) or blatantly false ideas (like the WWII idea that Negroes have "bad night vision" which makes them unsuited for combat). The cold, hard facts would contradict those ideas, but people refused to accept them.  

For the most part, however, people accept that science is always changing, evolving, and becoming more accurate in its representation of the universe we're in. As new facts are discovered, new questions are being asked. Old theories are challenged and what proves to be false or outdated gets discarded, while certain theories get re-affirmed.  

Earlier, I said that there is very little overlap between science and religion. The one part that both these realms have in common can be summed up in one word: ethics. Religion tries to determine what does it mean to be an ethical (or moral) person, and since it's people that are working to further the scientific understanding of the universe, ethical behavior becomes an important consideration. Many potential avenues of discovery have been delayed or shut down entirely because of ethical considerations.

And, I completely agree with that. It's all too easy to get caught up in the chase and get so hyper-focused on a particular thread of inquiry that one forgets to consider the cost of that knowledge or how that knowledge (or the pursuit of that knowledge) will be applied in the world outside the laboratory. There are things that scientists wish we could unlearn. The most famous example being of course, Oppenheimer's reaction to the first atomic bomb detonation in New Mexico:

"Now, I am become Death, the destroyer of worlds."

Science and religion aren't at odds with each other. And they never have been. It's human arrogance that set these two realms of thought against one another and created a kind of cold war that has echoed down through history. And the worst part about this is that it didn't have to be this way. Because when they are used at the best of their true potential, religion creates the ethical prism through which the light of science can shine and enlighten our world, making human life all the better in the process.