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Farewell, Dear Knight

I remember when I first saw him, a tall, lanky figure with flowing white hair flowing beard, wearing a leather duster, striding across the parking lot at work.  Somehow he wore it like a medieval surcoat and I could easily imagine him as a knight of old, or at least as a noble gunslinger of the American West.

As it turns out, he was both.

We spoke occasionally until I was put on the same team of experts with him, answering agent questions and solving problems.  I learned more about this person, who became my friend.  He had indeed used a sword, having been a heavy fighter in the Society for Creative Anachronism.  He had been a weight lifter, had practiced Kenpo, and he liked to go out to the range with his friends on the weekends.  At one point he’d also ridden Harleys, so I guess you could say he’d had a mighty steed, too.  As is common with people skilled in the use of force, he had impeccable manners and treated everyone with respect.

He also had a sharp and active mind with a deep knowledge of history, the type of guy who could tell you the difference between lorica segmentata and lorica squamata and which one he liked best.  He knew why “Decimation” means only to remove ten percent, and the content of the rations the rest of the decime would eat during the rest of their punishment.  (Barley, by the way.)  He liked anime and got all my references to old movies.  Along with his courtly ways he had a very dry wit.  I lived for conversations with him.

One day he didn’t show up to work, he was missing for weeks.  He came back with a leg missing and an account of how he’d been laid up in the hospital with a terrible case of sepsis, which he had only survived through the loss of his leg.  It had turned out that the cause was a small cut on his foot.  His slightly curmudgeonly attitude had changed for the better, his blue eyes now sparkled with the joy of life and he smiled more.  He got a tricked out wheelchair and was upbeat about his loss of a leg, calling himself “gimpy” and “pogo,” but refusing to let anyone feel sorry for him.  He never surrendered to self pity.  He took pleasure in the smallest things, like having an apple.

Time passed and my friend got an injury on his head.  This didn’t get better, even though he took care of it, and eventually it became clear that it was a nasty MRSA infection.  Back he went into the hospital, this time for four months, in total isolation, on a constant antibiotic IV drip.  I caught every scrap of news and was sure he wasn’t going to make it.  Yet, one day I saw him wheeling back in.  I yelped for joy, charged him and gave him a great big hug.   I was so happy to see that my knight had returned.  I happily had many more great conversations and when I left that job I tried my best to get him to come with me.  But no, he was used to where he was, and he didn’t want to leave.  So he stayed.

I found out today that he died sometime yesterday, of congestive heart failure that was likely brought on by damage from those systemic infections.  He was only 52.  I can do nothing but think of his life, his great smile, the fact that he never let his various ailments get him down.  In fact, even when wheelchair bound, he and his friends still went out shooting at the local gravel pit, having a good time together.  He still insisted on doing everything for himself and he never gave up.  I’m sure he fought to the end.

In his memory I am going to do two things.  Every time I have an apple I’m going to take an extra bit of time to notice its crispness, its sweetness, and enjoy it that extra bit.  And I’m going to make sure and remind anyone who has an injury that isn’t healing to get it looked at, because it really can turn into something nasty, even if you are taking care of it and are otherwise living a healthy lifestyle.  So clean that cut when you get one!  You don’t want the bugglies getting inside.

My friend was a wonderful, courtly person with vast knowledge about a lot of things.  He also treated everyone with respect and didn’t believe in running other people’s lives, or having them run his. n my head I always thought of him as “my knight” because that’s the way he was, and I told him so, too.  He got all embarrassed.  But at least he know how I saw him.  My only regret is that I won’t get a chance to spend more time with him.

I’ll miss you, my gentle knight.  The world is a darker place without you.

The $5 car fix – Or, the psychology of an Elantra

This sort of thing doesn’t happen very often, which is why I celebrate it when it does.  Usually my car repairs end up being much more than I want, which is often roughly double what I will have a week from the time the failure occurs.  However this repair is about as good as the flood episode, when I somehow managed to save a car from flood damage and a $5,000 engine replacement with nothing but a set of spark plugs, a half roll of paper towels, some starter fluid, and lots of net research and elbow grease.

A little background:  My Hyundai Elantra is battered, dented, from 2006, but quite faithful.  One thing it likes to do however, is have the check engine light come on right around the time I need to go through emissions so I can renew my registration.

This time was no different.   With concerns about expensive gasket, valve or seal replacements dancing through my head, I went to the local auto parts store and had them read my trouble code.

Much to my relief I found that the trouble code was indicating a faulty sensor.  It was a hundred dollar part, which isn’t bad but then I needed to have someone replace it, which brought the cost of the repair to around ninety dollars more than what was in budget.  Especially with those registration fees coming up, too.

So what’s a penny pinching driver to do?  Net research.  I fuzzily remembered that this sort of error could also be caused by a dirty sensor.  Lo and behold, I found out that it was indeed true, that the Mass Air Flow Sensor could easily be dirty and it just took a can of special cleaner to fix.  And sometimes a special tool to get the thing off, depending on the car.

Okay, so I was willing to find out where this thing was.  I did more research.  It turned out that the sensor was right up top next to my air filter, which I had successfully changed, and I would only need a screw driver for the hose clamps holding the sensor in place.  Yet more research revealed that the fancy cleaner could be swapped for simple isopropyl alcohol, administered by a clean spray bottle.  Total cost of some 91% alcohol and a spray bottle at my grocery store?  Less than five dollars, and I bought the PRETTY spray bottle.

With a hopeful heart I set about my repair.  The only difficulty was in getting the electrical lead unclipped, but luckily my intrepid partner knows more about clips than I  do and she got it undone.  A few minutes of spraying and an hour of air drying later, I had my little sensor back in place.

Now, if I was right, the check engine light should go off on its own.  I researched further, into something called the “drive cycle” for my car, which should allow the vehicle to do all the standard tests to figure out if the engine is healthy or not, and (hopefully) let the check engine light come off.  It sounded more like figuring out the psychology and motivations of the car than anything!  I had no luck on the long drive to work, even though I kept the car at steady RPMs between 2000 and 2400 for more than 10 minutes, idled for a minute, and did some but not all of the other parts of the drive cycle.  I wasn’t expecting much as I had found out that having a full tank of gas wouldn’t allow some of the tests to happen, because those need a certain amount of space in the tank to even run.

On the way back home I decided to buy a trouble code checker, since I’d found out that one was said to be available at a local big box store for about fifteen dollars.  It wasn’t until I traipsed through that entire store and found a code checker (for three times the price so I didn’t buy it) and got back to my car, started her up and drove out of the parking lot, that the check engine light finally went off on its own.

That evening I had the emissions test done with not a single problem.  I was floored but also elated.  I, the not so mechanical person, had actually managed to get the light to go off, not by some cheat or trick but by actually getting to the root cause.  As a bonus, my idle was smoother and I’m pretty sure my gas mileage is slightly better.

So that is how I won, for a change, and managed to get a $150 repair (at the least) down to less than $5.

The moral of the story is to always research.  No matter what the repair is or the problem is, there is usually information online to help you, and at the very least, knowing more about the problem will prevent you from being taken for a ride.

 

(If you are more interested in art than articles, check out my profile on ArtStation!)

Spring Revamp

Update!

I’m making some changes to encourage myself to put up more content and make more art.  So I’m combining my old personal art site, rohvannynshaw.com, and this one – and opening an ArtStation account to house my portfolio.  It saves time and money.  That time component is especially important, now that I’m a member of leadership at my company, and don’t have quite so much of it as I once did.

I really like ArtStation as a place to see store professional level work and it does everything I used to have with my old personal site, except it gets traffic.  It also has a clean, simple interface that makes my art look great.  It’s also filled with really amazing artists who do this sort of thing for a living, so I’m constantly inspired.  Therefore, I’m busily uploading my old work, linked here for your viewing enjoyment.  Just click on the image to see my brand spanking new profile.

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In future weeks and months, this means you can expect more content, and if there’s something in particular you’d like to see, feel free to leave a comment!

Contemplating Leadership

I never thought I would write about such a topic, but here I am.  For the first time in my life I’m entering management.  I’m co-team lead of a team of roughly thirty people and our job is to make sure that those people have enough work to do, have the resources they need to do that work, and also get rewarded when they do well.  If they do poorly, then they need the support to get back on track.

Always before I have worked under someone else, having no one but myself to be responsible for.  However, I have thought about leadershp a lot and have always wondered what kind of a leader I would be.

So I’m doing some things to improve my chances at doing a good job.

-I’m listening to the wiser heads around me and trying to absorb what advice they have to share.

-I’m trying to believe them when they say ‘you’ll do great, you can handle this.’

-I am going to keep a record of everyone’s name and something about them so I can create connections.

-I’m going to be present, saying hello to everyone in the morning, and saying goodbye in the afternoon, walking the rows so that I’m seen.

-I will use all my resources so I can be organized and get everything done that I need to, so that I have more time to be a resource for my people.

-I will learn who is good at what, so I can continue to tailor tasks to individual skills.

-I will delegate some of the things I currently do so I have more time for my team.

-And finally, I’m going to learn everything I can about what they do so I can understand their challenges and help anticipate any problems that might come up.

Daybreak – a new trilogy begins

In my last entry, I mentioned using an early start to the day as a way to use the natural creative period many of us have in the morning.  As followers to this blog know, I am an author, so it makes sense that I spend part of my time working on a novel.

Even if I only get a page or so done before work, those bits of effort add up over time.  I’m roughly 120,000 words into a new science fiction trilogy.  it’s a little unusual in this day and age, but this trilogy is going to be illustrated.

Part of the illustrations are going to be done by me, taken from the pages of the main character’s sketchbook, but part of them are going to be digitally rendered.  If you’d like a sneak peek at some of the concept art, feel free to go here to my good friend and CG artist’s site.  I’m sure she’d appreciate a hello.

This trilogy is set in the present day, in a world that might as well be our own.  It follows the adventures of three friends who discover that they are the heirs to an alien heritage that goes back many thousands of years.  However, being just normal people, they have their own unique ways of reacting to this new and strange reality.

We have an utterly normal young woman working as a medical claims analyst, who is a flight student and an artist in her spare time, her friend who is a lead vocalist in a very small and obscure heavy metal band, and his girlfriend who is Japanese but on long-term stay in America.  This unlikely trio is cast into ever-deepening mystery coupled with danger.

It has been a real pleasure working with my friend the CG artist, and it feels amazing to see some of the craft and scenes from the books take life before my eyes!

Our goal is to have the first book out sometime this summer.

Stay tuned for more updates!

How to Become a Morning Person

Are you a night owl?

Would you rather be a morning person, either because of personal aspiration or because you have a job that requires you to wake up early?  It can be pretty rough to have to wake up early when it’s literally painful to hear that alarm and get up, head still foggy, wanting to stay in bed.

I was that way for most of my life.  I naturally was a night owl who preferred to get to bed at two or three in the morning and get up around nine or ten.  I hated, hated, hated to get up early and just couldn’t go to bed much earlier than midnight.  The alarm was physically painful and triggered an adrenaline dump, causing me to always be grumpy in the morning.

At this point I get up at five for most of the week, and maybe six or six thirty on days off, but rarely later than that.  I feel pretty good and I’m nearly as grumpy as I once was.  I do go to bed at ten, but I fall asleep right away and get proper rest.

If you’re interested in doing this too, here’s how I did it!

First, I grew up.  I don’t mean I’m more mature and that’s why I get up early, but rather that my brain developed to the point that I wasn’t quite as predisposed to be a night owl.  People in their teens and early twenties naturally need a little more rest and physiologically will sleep late if given a choice.  However, that wasn’t all, as I still had trouble getting up early in my mid thirties.

I tapped in to what motivates me.  My job got dramatically better and so I didn’t hate the thought of getting up for that reason.  You don’t have to get a new job though, because even when I had a terrible job it was easier to get up on days when I had a personal project that interested me.

I found a less disruptive and jarring way to wake up.  In this case, since I have to wake up in the dark, a light-based alarm clock with a dawn simulation really helped.  The light starts out soft and gets gradually brighter, triggering my brain to wake me up gently and naturally, and there is an alarm at the end that in case I manage to sleep through all the light.  This is the one I use, I like it because it’s rechargeable, inexpensive and not hard to use.

I kept my sleep schedule consistent.  That is a good idea anyway, and your brain will learn to fall asleep earlier if you stay with it and don’t ‘cheat’ too much.  You will also get better quality sleep.

I started my new routine at a time when my life was disrupted anyway, and I was unusually tired and ready to go to bed early anyway. When my life settled out I was already on my new schedule.

I don’t wake up right before I have to leave.  I give myself a little extra time to wake up and work on things before I have to be out the door.  This gives time to be creative, or to have breakfast if I want it, and it is a peaceful and often productive period.  For me, this lasts about an hour.

I don’t use ‘snooze.’  That little bit of extra sleep is rarely truly restful.  When I wake up early, if I don’t have at least forty five minutes more to sleep, I just get up for good.

I also sometimes have some tea or coffee in the morning, and I also sometimes have a balanced, light breakfast.  Those are both good ideas that can help you but I have an easy time in the morning even when I don’t do them, so I can’t trace my success to those activities.  I also have a shower first thing, which helps a little, but that doesn’t explain this new behavior either.

Though it pays to know yourself and understand your own personal needs, if you want to acquire a new habit like this it’s well worth it.  The traffic is better early in the morning, the grocery shopping quicker and easier with fresher produce and full stocks, and for many people, a creative peak occurs in the morning!

Review: Not your usual political book — Creative Fancy

Do you find yourself yearning for polite discourse instead of heated battle when the subject of politics comes up? Do you remember when we could discuss things as ideas instead of simplistic views of good versus evil? When people of different political leanings could actually be friends? Prepare yourself, then, for a refreshing journey to […]

via Review: Not your usual political book — Creative Fancy