Tuesday, January 15, 2019

The Best of 2018

This is the eighth of my “Best of the Year” series, dedicated to remembering and appreciating all the great experiences and memories the year holds, but before I get to those, I want to acknowledge the loss of several of our dear loved ones, as Marge, Dorothy and Toey passed from this world and into the loving arms of God. It was a difficult year for them in their suffering and for us in our grieving, but we’re comforted that they have been reunited with their loved ones that passed before them.

As is custom, I start this year’s countdown with the tenth best experience and work to the best of the best. What you don’t see are the other thirty-two that didn’t make the cut, but contributed to making this another fun year. Without further ado, here’s 2018.

10. Cocoa Beach

The lone vacation of the year was a January trip to Orlando, and unlike the past two year’s winter trips to an unusually cold Florida, this time we were treated to five days of sunshine and mid-80’s. We had left one day open in our schedule and we used it to take a trip over to Cocoa Beach on the east coast to soak up some rays, walk the sand and listen to surf. We found a tiki bar at the end of long pier and sipped a few frozen concoctions while we relaxed in the way only a day like this can bring.

9. The Loft Theatre

One of the hidden gems I was introduced to this year is the Loft Theatre in downtown Dayton, and with its capacity of just 212, there is truly no bad seat in the house. We watched a performance of the comedy “An Act Of God”, with Sara Mackie playing the title role and two fellow actors playing archangels Michael and Gabriel. The funniest joke I remember is the answer to the age-old riddle, “which came first, the chicken or the egg”. That answer is “neither, the rooster came first”.

8. Penguins Game in Columbus

While good tickets to a Penguins game in Pittsburgh cost a pretty penny, tickets in Columbus cost half as much, and it’s way closer to home, so we decided to visit “enemy” territory for a hockey game in February. Hockey games tend to be low-scoring affairs, but the action is non-stop and there’s typically a shot on goal every minute, leaving no chance to get bored. Since there are three periods in hockey, each team plays offense twice at one end, so we carefully picked seats where we would see the Penguins offense twice. We met up with a former neighbor for dinner at Forno’s before the game and then watched the visiting Penguins beat the Blue Jackets 5-2.

7. Meeting DL Stewart at Figlio

During one of our frequent dinners at Figlio, which more often than not we eat at the bar, my wife noticed the couple next to us and asked if I thought that was DL Stewart, our favorite writer at the Dayton Daily News. I said I thought so, and she proceeded to ask him if indeed that was he, which it was. He graciously talked for a few minutes while he and his wife waited for their table, and after their table was ready, he hung around for a few more minutes to talk some more. He is so personable and so funny, talking about how, long ago, he was supposed to cover the Cleveland Browns, his and my favorite team, but instead got stuck covering the Cincinnati Bengals. And he gave my wife some good-hearted grief over being a Pittsburgh Steeler fan.

6. Paying Off The House Mortgage

After two divorces and sitting at fifty-two years old, I didn’t own a home and never thought I would. Then I moved into my wife’s house after we got married and a few years later refinanced both the primary loan and an equity loan into a single, ten year loan at about eighty percent of its appraised value, which would be paid off when I was sixty-six years old. But we began paying extra every year to reduce that to eight years, when I would turn sixty-four. But we got some extra money as a result of the NewPage-Verso-Catalyst Paper transaction, and used some of that to accelerate the early payoff, which was accomplished in February of this year, just six years after we refinanced. A minor miracle.

5. Tenth Wedding Anniversary

It’s really hard to believe that a few days into the New Year we celebrated ten years of married life together. It’s true that time flies when you’re having fun. That wedding weekend is still a blur, from the rehearsal dinner at Benham’s, the ceremony at Incarnation, reception at the Carillon Park Transportation Museum and flying to St.Thomas for our honeymoon. Looking forward to many more years with my wife and soulmate.

4. My Retirement

First it was going to be October of 2018, then I moved it back to March of 2019, but when ND Paper purchased the U.S. operations from Catalyst Paper, I pulled it forward again, and completed my journey of the working world on August 24th after almost 41 years. I started at Wright State University in November of 1977, went to Hobart Corporation in 1980 and started the run of six paper companies with The Mead Corporation in 1981. It’s hard to leave friends and colleagues, and the work was still fun and challenging, but at 62 years old, I could tell I was ready for retirement and starting a new chapter of life. And whether anyone believes it, I was truly surprised and in a bit of shock when they threw me a surprise party at Jimmy’s Ladder 11. Still brings a tear to my eye.

3. Pat and Emma’s Wedding

My wife’s oldest son Pat married his fiance Emma in June at St. Patrick’s Church in Cleveland. From the rehearsal dinner blessed with beautiful evening weather at the Music Box to the bagpiper greeting guests at the wedding to the reception at Tenk West Bank, the entire weekend came together perfectly after many months of planning. Most of my contribution came from using my computer skills and an eye for detail in printing envelopes for the various events along the way. Staying in downtown Cleveland afforded me the opportunity to walk around FirstEnergy Stadium, home to my Cleveland Browns.

2. Universal Studios

The main destination for our Florida vacation in January was Universal Studios, and specifically, The Wizarding World of Harry Potter which spans the two theme parks. Our two-day, two-park passes allowed us to travel between Diagon Alley in Universal Studios Florida (the original park) and Hogsmeade in Universal Studios Island of Adventure, riding on The Hogwarts Express train. The most thrilling ride was the Harry Potter and the Escape from Gringotts, dodging He Who Must Not Be Named and his snake Nagini. with the help of Harry, Ron and Hermione. Not far behind, but easier on the stomach, was Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey, where you soar above Hogwarts. Other highlights included a having a refreshing Butterbeer, watching people disappear through a brick wall to access Platform 9 ¾ and the thrill in kid’s faces as they waved their wands to activate special effects.
1. Cameron Indoor Stadium

When something comes off your Bucket List, it’s no surprise it becomes the highlight of the year.
I’ve been a Duke basketball fan since the early 1990’s and have wanted to see a game at Cameron Indoor for many years, so when my friend and local resident Bob invited me down to see Duke play Princeton in December, I couldn’t say yes fast enough. Cameron is a unique stadium, seating only 9,300 without a bad seat in the house, and looks from the outside a building that could be a church. This year’s Duke team features the most talented group of freshman in the country, headlined by the high-flying Zion Williamson and super-smooth RJ Barrett, and complemented by floor general Tre Jones and sharpshooter Cam Reddish. After a slow start, Duke blew out Princeton by the lopsided score of 101-50. A dream has come true.

Wednesday, November 28, 2018

Three Stones

My urologist has told me that the passing of each kidney stone is a unique experience and I couldn’t agree more. I’ve had three stones pass so far, as I’ll detail in the following paragraphs. Women have said that it’s the closest that a man will come to experience childbirth, but honestly, if that was the case, we would all have at most one child and the human race would no longer exist. Of course a kidney stone is not as cute and loveable as a baby, so maybe part of my skepticism is based on the lack of a longer-term benefit. Or maybe I’m just a wuss with a low pain tolerance, but in any case, here goes.

The first stone made its appearance back in the late 1980’s while I was working at The Mead Corporation. The morning started with the usual alarm clock, shower, shave and donning of the traditional suit and tie. I walked out the front door of my house, turned to lock it and thought to myself “something just happened”. I stood at the door for a few moments, determined that I couldn’t put a finger on the source of that feeling, locked the door and drove to work. During that twenty minute commute things started going wrong, and by the time I parked at my normal spot on Riverview Avenue, my suit was soaked and I felt terrible. I stood by my car for a few minutes, started feeling better and made the ten minute walk to my office. Within a half-hour I was in more pain than I’ve ever experienced, without a clue to its cause or even a particular body part that was suffering. My colleagues took me to a room to lie down then quickly decided to drive me to Miami Valley Hospital. I spent the next two hours in pain, alternately burning hot and freezing cold, whatever pain medication I was given having no discernible effect. I was relieved when the diagnosis of a kidney stone was made, at least knowing I wasn’t likely to die that day. The doctor decided to give the stone some more time to see if it would pass on its own before deciding on surgery to remove it or shock waves to break it into smaller pieces. An hour or so later I remember the exact moment the stone passed into my bladder. My body temperature shot back to normal and the pain was totally gone. I felt fine and figured I would just go back to work, but they insisted I go home and rest. The final task was to capture the stone as it exited, which took about two days and resulted in a smooth stone no larger than a tomato seed. So much pain caused by such a little object.

Having one stone is not a guarantee of having another, but it’s always in the back of your mind. Is today the day? After about twenty years had passed, I figured, and hoped, I had a “one and done”, however stone number two was not to be denied. This one started with some unusual back pain on a Friday, but eased by Saturday morning, which was appreciated since my wife and I were making the two hour drive to Muncie, Indiana so we could drive a second car back home. By the time we got to Muncie I was not feeling well and passed on eating lunch. Shortly after, the pain hit full force and I knew stone number two was trying to work its way down. My wife drove me home as I laid down across the back seats, feeling each and every bump for two solid hours. We made it home and knowing it was likely just a few hours before the stone reached my bladder and the pain would stop, I tried to tough it out, but it eventually got too much to bear and my wife drove me to Kettering Medical Center. I remember sitting in a chair, bent over and miserable, waiting to be admitted, which seemed to take forever. Like before I was given pain meds, but this time they seemed to help quite a bit and the pain gradually faded away over a couple hour period, no sudden moment of relief. Two weeks later, I passed a nasty-looking, jagged, peppercorn-sized stone, so very different from the first.

The third stone repeated the theme of being a unique experience. My doctor had taken follow-up x-rays after the second stone and saw what could be another stone developing in one of my kidneys. He told me it might elect to stay put and never detach or eventually follow its brothers and make its way down and out. About five years after stone number two I had my answer. In the middle of the night, during one of my normal “wake up, relieve and fall back asleep” cycles, sitting half awake on the throne, I snapped fully awake when the familiar, abrupt, stream stoppage occurred. But in that split-second, my mind was really confused as I wasn’t expecting a stone, not having any pain or other symptoms like the first two events. But sure enough, bloop, a stone popped out, this one not quite the size of number two, but still large enough, and it was quite the relief to know I had skated past hours of pain and a trip to the hospital.

All I can figure, and fervently hope, is that I’m getting better at “birthing” these kidney stones, but since each one is different, who knows what a potential fourth experience may be like. I hope to never know.

Sunday, November 11, 2018

Six Paper Companies

My full-time, professional working career began in November of 1977 at Wright State University and continued at Hobart Corporation in 1980. But most of my career, 37 years in total, was spent at paper companies which produced a variety of coated and uncoated papers. Although there were six different names involved, I stayed in the Dayton, Ohio area during all the name changes. But in reflecting on my journey, I realized that every company change had a different, defining emotion, which I’ve bolded in their stories below.

The journey started at The Mead Corporation when I was hired as a mainframe systems programmer. The emotional memory from when I started there in February 1981 was Intimidation. I was in downtown Dayton on the 21st floor of the second tallest building working for a four billion dollar company. I felt like I landed in the big leagues surrounded by incredibly talented individuals and not really knowing if I would fit in or measure up. But the next 21 years were incredible as I moved up into management, ran the network group for awhile and directed the SAP technical group during that project’s initial four-year run. When people ask me where I worked, Mead is the answer, the place I felt most at home.

In August 2001, I walked into a management meeting to find out I was the last of our group to learn that Mead and Westvaco had agreed to a “merger of equals”, a term that has no real meaning since ultimately one company buys the other, and I was Stunned. This was my first real experience in having my apple cart upset and not having a clue what the future held for me. Fortunately it was decided that the IT group would be centered in Dayton and that I would report to the new CIO, the same VP that led the entire SAP project. That fortune only lasted a few years before it was announced that all corporate groups would be relocated to Richmond, Virginia. I am forever grateful to myself for not making that move and staying put in Dayton.

I was without full-time employment for the next ten months, doing a little consulting work, looking for my next job and best of all, planning my wedding. My wife took a big leap of faith, agreeing to marry this guy without a job. We wed in January 2008, and I didn’t get more than 5 hours of sleep the week before, worried about getting a job. When NewPage, the former Papers division of MeadWestvaco, offered me a job following their acquisition of Stora Enso North America, a wave of Relief washed over me. Not only did I get back to the ranks of the fully employed, but I re-joined some of the colleagues I had said goodbye to back in 2005. But after 8 years, my apple cart would be turned over again.

In late 2014, Verso Corporation, a near-bankrupt paper company based in Memphis, Tennessee announced it was buying the financially-stable NewPage Corporation in one of the strangest deals I’ve ever experienced. Now this was the fourth paper company, but the others worked out OK, so I wasn’t overly concerned until the first joint meeting and I got introduced to their highly dysfunctional group of executives, and then the emotion was Anger. I was mad this was happening and I immediately knew my time there was short. The Department of Justice filed suit against both companies and after a year of work limbo, Verso acquired six of NewPage’s paper mills with Catalyst Paper, based outside Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada acquiring the Rumford, Maine and Biron, Wisconsin mills.

Catalyst Paper needed to stand up a U.S. operation quickly and was able to hire a number of NewPage’s Ohio employees as part of the deal with Verso. I was so Thankful when I was extended an offer and couldn’t say yes fast enough. When I first met the Catalyst management team, I was very impressed. It was 180 degrees opposite of the pompous attitude that Verso demonstrated. Unfortunately, but out of necessity to insure that the I.T. system split would be success, I had to be Verso employee for four months to help launch the separation activities before becoming a Catalyst employee to complete the transition. Given the alternative would have been looking for a new job at the age of 59, it was worth putting up with the pain.

Finally, in 2018, as I was lining up my retirement date, Catalyst Paper sold the U.S. operations they had bought three and a half years prior to ND Paper, a large, China-based, financially-strong paper company, returning control to people who were paper-makers, after thirteen years of being owned by all types of equity and debt organizations. When the announcement was made, I was quite simply Calm. I moved up my retirement date to match when I thought would be the proper time to leave, grateful that the colleagues I was leaving behind would be in a better place.

So that’s the story of my 37-year paper career, staying in the Dayton region as the paper industry seemed to revolve around me. For all the changes, I’ve been fortunate to work for mostly great companies and always awesome colleagues. So the final emotion is Gratitude, that even for all the changes, it all worked out for the best in the end.

Monday, October 8, 2018

A Letter To My Eighteen-Year-Old Self

October 8, 2018

To: Paul Moorman @ 18

From: Paul Moorman @ 63

Dear Self,

Happy birthday!


If the theories we’ve learned about time travel are true, you will never be able to read this letter, but in case this does somehow fall into your hands, I’ll try not to give too much of our future away. But hey, now that you know you’ve made it to our sixty-third birthday, maybe I’ve given too much away already, but I’ll try to careful. You’ve already figured out that the co-ed Chaminade-Julienne is really different than our all-male Chaminade. You’ll get through it and have stories to tell the rest of our life. College will be much better. We’ll really hit our stride.

The simple message of this letter is “don’t change a thing”. Not that life won’t throw us curve balls along the way and there are things I wish we could have avoided, but any deviation might derail the life we have now. We have a wonderful wife who is truly the love of our life, our friend, our travel companion and our soulmate. We have two awesome children that we’re immensely proud off. So does our wife. I guess that gave away a little history. Worth the gamble.

We’re in pretty good shape at 18-years old and we are about the have the best suntan of our life. Our senior picture will be our best photo ever. Our passion for running, albeit interrupted at times, will be lifelong. It’s not really exercise to us, just a way to relax, think and enjoy the landscape. We’ll run some long ones, we’ll run some pretty fast ones, but mainly we’ll just run for fun. Certainly don’t change that.

Most of the plans we’ve made over the years did not work out. That’s good, because things worked out even better. Our expected career choice did not pan out, but what we end up pursuing is so much better. That cute girl in class doesn’t work out either, the first of a few like that. But don’t change a thing, because we’re waking up every morning with the best one.

Back in your day we’re pretty much a mountain vacation guy. Our career will change that as we travel, more at times than others, and we explore a decent chunk of the world. We’ll play some scenic golf courses, stand at the top of majestic ski slopes and watch sunsets settle over beautiful beaches. So while life will be challenging, and at times stressful beyond belief, it’s not without its share of really fun experiences.

We retired a month and a half ago because we wanted to and could afford to do so. We’re healthy and looking forward to the freedom and adventures. Our career morphed over the years and we can continue to play with, oops almost gave that away, into retirement.

I’m going out to check the mailbox for a letter from our 85-year-old self. But if there isn’t one there, I’ll just assume time travel really wasn’t solved or we’re just too busy to write.

Hang in there. Don’t change a thing. Everything works out the way it’s supposed to. And it’s pretty great.


Happily ours,

Paul @ 63

Thursday, August 30, 2018

Unexpectedly Long Runs

Typical runs are done on known routes at known distances, but every once in awhile you just start running with an idea in mind and get a bit carried away. Other times you get more than a little carried away. These three running stories stick out in my memory as the extremes of the “more” side.

Back in my high school days I lived in North Dayton, a little more than three miles from the center of downtown Dayton. I wasn’t a long distance runner at the time, but I was in pretty good shape, so when some friends were meeting in Centerville to play some basketball, I decided I would just run there and have a nice longer run. But I wasn’t familiar with the southern parts of Dayton and had no real idea of how far Centerville was, but I guess I figured it couldn’t be too far since I just needed to go through Kettering and into Centerville. Didn’t know about Oakwood and Washington Township. By the time I made it to the basketball court in Centerville I was pretty tired, and only later found out I had run a little over 13 miles. Had the story ended there it would certainly qualify as unexpectedly long, but I then proceeded to play 45 minutes of full-court, one-on-one basketball. I was not only in decent shape, but I was also decently stupid. By the end of all that, it was all I could do to crawl into my buddy’s car and let him drive me home, hardly able to move.

Sometime in my late forties, the MeadWestvaco Information Technology leadership team went on an overnight retreat to Hueston Woods, one of Ohio’s large state parks. I had been to Hueston Woods many times and back in the days when I owned a motorcycle, the park was one of my favorite country destinations. After the first day of the retreat we had about an hour or so before our dinner reservations, so I laced up the running shoes and started running down the road, roughly following the shoreline of Acton Lake. I was feeling pretty good that particular day, so after I ran a couple miles to my initial turnaround point, I decided I would just keep going and run around the entire lake, figuring it would add a couple miles to my planned 4 mile route, as the lake wasn’t that big. A couple miles later the lake’s shoreline was nowhere to be found, but I knew I was going in the right direction, so I continued. A couple more miles passed, I was getting a little tired, and the roads were totally unfamiliar. But turning back at this point was certainly going to result in a very long run, so with a prayer, I continued forward. Now dusk was upon me and a little apprehension started to fill my mind. How far did I have left? Would I get there before dark? Am I really lost? Nothing worse than the fear of the unknown. Finally, and with great relief, I returned to the main road that led to the lodge, relieved that only a short distance remained. Exhausted, I went to my room, showered quickly and joined my group as they were eating dessert, having to explain my absence, but the look on my face probably said it all. I was so tired that all I could manage was to drink several glasses of water, as the thought of eating food was unpleasant.  I sure had a great sleep that night.

Much of my formal mainframe training occurred in Crystal City, Maryland, located just west of Washington National Airport (now Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport) and southwest of Washington DC. One of my favorite runs was a two-mile trek over to the north end of the airport, stopping to enjoy jet planes on their final landing approach, roaring a few hundred feet above my head, with their landing gear down, wings at full flaps and the plane tipped slightly backwards to land rear wheels first. On one particular trip my friend Jim Nicholas and I travelled together, so I had my running buddy with me when we headed over to the airport. We were both in good shape and felt great that day, so instead of heading back to the hotel, we looked at the Washington Monument in the distance and figured that didn’t look too far, so we headed up to I-395 which would get us across the Potomac River and into DC. First lesson was that large objects in the distance are much farther away than they look. So when we finally entered DC at the Jefferson Memorial, we had run another three miles or more. But we were in DC and pumped up. We ran over to the Lincoln Memorial, then to the Washington Monument making a loop through the city. Then we learned the second lesson, we had to run back, and without the emotional benefits of exploration we had heading into the city. All told, our modest run turned into a half-marathon or more, but ended with one of the best running stories of our life.

Friday, August 10, 2018

Wright State Days

My time at Wright State University (WSU) spanned six years, the first three being your normal full-time course load and working part-time jobs, and then three years working full-time for their administrative computer center and fitting in my senior-level courses. Both my student and professional time at WSU were full of learning that seemed endless, much different than the limited and directed nature of high school. Below are some of the memories that stand out from those days and reflect my lifelong lack of fear at jumping into whatever seemed interesting and fun. Much of this is related to mainframe technology, so while the terminology may be totally foreign, I hope you find it reflective of my favorite double-negative saying, “The best thing I never learned was that I couldn’t do something”.

GOTHIC was a mainframe assembler program that read a single input card and printed out, sideways, each character using multiple lines of asterisks, creating large letters in a Gothic-looking font. Since the mainframe printers used continuous forms, GOTHIC was perfect for creating large fancy banners, many feet long, announcing birthdays or other special occasions. But GOTHIC was written for a DOS (Disk Operating System) mainframe, not the MVT (Multiprogramming with a Variable number of Tasks) version we used at Wright State, so it would need some modification to work, which I decided I would try, even though I didn’t have a clue what assembler language was, that class still a couple years away. Undeterred, I slowly came to understand that most of assembler language was a one-to-one mapping to the actual instructions that mainframes execute, for example, that an AR (Add Register) adds the contents of one of sixteen registers, essentially a really, really fast place to store a number, to another register. That was good news, as all those instructions did not need to change. The other piece to GOTHIC was something I learned were called “macros”, and those were different between DOS and MVT. One by one I swapped one macro, for example, a DOS DTF (Define The File) to its MVT equivalent, a DCB (Data Control Block). The program changed, I received some help with the JCL (Job Control Language) need to compile, link and execute GOTHIC and submitted it. A bit later I was asked to come back to the office of John Sloan, since then a great friend and one-time townhouse mate, where I was told my program crashed MVT because I had not “saved my return registers properly”, which at the time I had no clue what that meant, but it was the one last difference between DOS and MVT. However, I was pretty sure that a mainframe should not crash because of a simple student error. All ended well, GOTHIC was converted and was a big hit for years to come. And it got my name known within the administrative computer center, which opened more doors in the months and years to come.

The last quarter of my freshman year included learning the COBOL (COmmon Business-Oriented Language) programming language. To stretch the mainframe’s limited resources, the class used WATBOL (WATerloo CoBOL), a teaching compiler developed by the University of Waterloo in Ontario, Canada. All proceeded well until the last assignment of the quarter and I couldn’t get my program to run without issuing an error and stopping. I checked the code over and over and tried a number of ways to figure out the source of the problem until I stumbled upon an unlikely “fix”. Adding a simple “PRINT” statement at a certain point in the program, for some unknown reason, bypassed the error. But this statement also meant my output didn’t look right. I was sure the problem was with WATBOL and not my program, and with my professor’s permission and support, I converted my program to COBOL, figured out how to create real MVT datasets, and copy WATBOL’s file data to the needed input files. I spent the first week of my summer break in a mad rush to complete this transition and was rewarded when my program, now running in a real COBOL environment, worked perfectly and I was able to turn in that final assignment and rest assured that my diagnosis of a WATBOL error was correct. It was a great lesson to learn early in my career that, even widely used programs like WATBOL can contain bugs and that nobody is perfect.

But perhaps my biggest accomplish of all was writing the new, online Admissions system for the university. I had spent a year or so as a student employed as a maintenance programmer for the administrative computer center when the decision was made to have an online program developed to enter the data needed for an applicant to be considered for admission to Wright State. I jumped at the chance given me to write such a new and visible system, and spent countless hours learning how to write IMS (Information Management System) DB (Database) and DC (Data Communications) programs, dividing it into four separate programs to fit into the available computer memory, adding features, security and working out the bugs. In the end, these four programs totalled about 40,000 lines of COBOL code and were used for many years to admit students. Not too shabby for a 21-year-old puppy in the I.T. profession. 

As I was writing the new Admissions system I learned the tedious process of creating BMS (Basic Mapping Support) maps, a set of statements that described where titles, labels, input fields and their attributes would display on a IBM 3270 terminal and map it back to the format used by an online program. This was very much a repetitive, trial-and-error process of preparing a card deck, assembling it and testing it out on a terminal until it was perfect. I decided to write an online program that would allow a programmer to type everything needed, starting from a blank terminal screen, and let the program create the BMS statements, essentially reversing the existing process, making it visual and much less iterative. IBM expressed interest in acquiring it, as nothing at the time was on the market that generated maps like my program. They ultimately decided not to, but it was pretty exciting to create something brand new and have the dominant technology company of the time even consider it.

My friend Jim Nicholas hired me as his assistant systems programmer in late 1977, an opportunity I jumped at as few people were able to break into this advanced technical field as a senior in college. While working full-time stretched my final academic year into three calendar years, I learned at the hand of one of the very best mainframe guys to walk the planet. Jim moved on to The Mead Corporation in 1979 and I stepped into the large shoes he left behind, hoping I was not too outmatched for the job. The big project I had to accomplish was converting our SVS (Single Virtual Storage) mainframe operating system to MVS (Multiple Virtual Storages). I had worked with Jim when we converted from MVT to SVS, but now it was all up to me to use SMP (System Modification Program) to install and configure MVS, apply all the needed PTFs (Program Temporary Fixes), update HASP (Houston Automatic Spooling Priority) to JES2 (Job Entry Subsystem 2) and make updates to the existing system modifications. The amount of change was staggering, but thanks to learning from the best, the conversion was a success. 

Back in these old days, data was inputted to mainframes via punch cards, each of which consisted of eighty columns containing a code for each character. But as IBM 3270 terminals became common in our offices, it made sense to input the data directly to the mainframe and bypass the cards. I worked with one of the ladies who keypunched cards all day, leveraging my assembler language classes and my desire to learn VTAM (Virtual Telecommunications Access Method), IBM’s newest way to communicate to the mainframe from terminals, RJE (Remote Job Entry) stations and other devices. It was a fun little project, nothing as crazy as GOTHIC, WATBOL or the other stories, and I thought nothing more would come of it. But during my job interview at Mead, one of the projects they needed someone to take on was adding VTAM support to their homegrown, online Fast Response system and were surprised, and maybe a bit unbelieving, that I had already built a similar interface as a student. But rattling off how I had used VTAM’s OPNDST and CLSDST macros and lots of other details left little doubt I had gained this obscure skill at a young age. It wouldn’t be the last time that I would learn something because it seemed like fun which later turned out to be useful on some other project. Funny how that works out that way.

Wright State not only provided me with a top-notch Computer Science education, it afforded me the support and resources needed to learn beyond the curriculum, provided my first full-time job and many opportunities and experiences that let me advance my career at an accelerated rate. I’ll be forever grateful for the beginning they gave me.

Sunday, April 22, 2018

Emotional Speed

I think everyone is fascinated with speed. Not the raw form of speed that gets measured in miles per hour, but its emotional side that is measured in memories. Case in point, you are currently moving at a very high rate of speed. Each day the earth completes one turn on its axis, and while it varies slightly depending on your latitude, you’re moving about 1,000 mph. That’s almost nothing compared to the yearly flight of the earth around the sun, which clocks you in at about 67,000 mph. And that’s dwarfed by our entire solar system spinning around the center of the Milky Way galaxy at nearly 500,000 mph. None of that matters because you can’t feel it or be thrilled or terrified by it. So the following three stories, from my personal vault of stupid, will not amaze you with gaudy numbers, but hopefully displays speed’s emotionally scary side.

The Skiing Story

Beaches, golf courses and ski slopes are, to me, the most beautiful places in the world.
I’m not a great skier, maybe not even mediocre, but I love the view from the top of a mountain on a clear sunny day. I learned to ski, like all sports, by trial and error, more a fan of figuring it out than have someone teach me how. I struggled more with skiing than the others, and spent years muscling down slopes on the strength of my legs. A typical day was 5-6 runs down the mountain, taking frequent breaks, and then a day off in between ski days to rest sore thighs. Then one day I watched an older gentlemen effortlessly glide down a double-black-diamond run as I ascended a ski lift and it struck me that I was simply trying too hard. I decided to stop making my skiing a weight-lifting exercise and shift to a dancing metaphor, positioning my frame to maximize leverage as I carved down the mountain. Almost instantly I was transformed into making a few dozen trips down the mountain each day, with just a break now and then to enjoy nature’s beauty, and skiing every day. No sore legs or burning lungs. It was a glorious moment when I finally “figured it out”.

The upside of being a much better skier was I could go much faster than before. The downside of being a much better skier was I could go much faster than before, and of course who wouldn’t want to push fast a bit farther at some point? My point occurred at The Canyons in Utah, on a perfectly groomed, very wide, dark blue run with no bumps or curves. I went to the center of the run and got some speed going, but not thinking about anything other than enjoying the ride. But at some point I tucked myself into the skier’s position with my thighs parallel to the ground, hands tucked, poles pointing straight behind and sought to reduce as much air drag as possible. Speed was the reward. Faster I went and my focus intensified with the velocity. Then my skis began to vibrate and chatter, an experience I had never felt before and I knew I was going where I had never been. I can only guess I was going between forty and fifty miles per hour, not fast compared to professional skiers, but the actual number wasn’t important, only the feeling of raw speed. Giddy, a bit of fear began to make itself present, as I had never fallen at this rate of speed (of course), nor had I tried to slow down from this point (of course). My normal couple of cuts, always to the left first, followed by a sharp right, that would bring me to a dead stop delivering a shower of snow, wasn’t going to be possible. My first action was to carefully come up out of my tuck, letting the increasing air drag begin to reduce my velocity, but not knock me backwards. Skis still vibrating I attempted a very small right, my more confident turn, the fear of a high-speed tumble lasting hundreds of yards staring me in the face. But my balance was still there, so a small left turn was next, followed by several more, back and forth. Successful, but I wasn’t slowing down. I needed sharper turns and I needed them now, for no slope goes on forever. Falling was a far better outcome than would greet me if I ran out of slope, with trees or worse somewhere ahead. Placing more weight on my skis during the cuts, I carved wider curves, back and forth, over and over, and my speed began to return to a comfortable range. A few harder cuts and I was in complete control again, giddy over the memory of speed and overcoming the fear and most of all, happy to still be in one unbroken piece. A great memory, but an experience I’ll never repeat, as I think I burned a great deal of luck that day, and I’m not getting any younger.

The Motorcycle Story

The first motorcycle I rode was a Yamaha 400 2-cycle a friend owned. I learned at that first experience that motorcycles possess incredible acceleration which can throw you backwards in an instant. I also learned that when you’re thrown backwards, with your right hand firmly on the throttle, it twists the handle to make you go even faster, with your only resort to hold on even tighter with your left hand and let the throttle slip back to idle with your right. But I survived that introduction undeterred, and bought myself a Yamaha 400 4-cycle. I rode super careful, always anticipating a car not seeing me and getting ready for the worst, which saved me on more than one occasion. The thrill of a motorcycle’s acceleration, the wind rushing over my skin, leaning into curves on country roads and the sense of freedom are uncomparable. I rode to college, rode to family reunions, Indian Lake and Cincinnati, although interstate riding on this small of motorcycle is not really that much fun. I gave up riding after my daughter was born, realizing I was putting too much risk into my new reality.

During a ride one day on Frederick Pike I just needed to find out my Yamaha’s top speed and that stretch of road was the right place to gun it. I came out of a curve to a long stretch of perfectly straight road, no other vehicles in sight. I crouched down, head behind the fairing to reduce drag, and opened up the throttle. The Yahama shot forward faster and faster until it had nothing more to give. I just knew I had never gone this fast in any vehicle before and it was getting scary as the motorcycle vibrated and the scenery clipped by. A quick glance to the speedometer revealed 100 miles per hour, but my heart was beating even faster. Time to back it down and I promised myself never, ever again, a promise I most certainly have kept.

The Great Leap Story

I grew up at a swimming pool, which in Dayton, Ohio means Memorial Day through Labor Day, with my mother bringing her five children, most every weekday, to the Trotwood Aquatic Club. I’m sure Mom enjoyed the relative peace and quiet as we wore ourselves out swimming and splashing for hours, only occasionally indulging our begging for money to buy an ice cream cone or hot dog at the snack stand. I would see how far I could swim before tiring and challenged myself to swim underwater across the width of the pool, which was pretty wide, thrilled each time I made it. But as I grew towards my teen years, the diving area became my focus, with its pair of five foot, and single fifteen foot, springboards. I always dove head first, not a fan of jumping and having water rush up my nose. Diving was a bit hard on the top of my head at impact from the high board, but it allowed me go all the way to the bottom of the pool, pivot, place my feet on the bottom and push as hard as possible to return to the surface. There’s no better way to grow up than at a pool. I content myself now with jumping into ocean waves, my favorite being Daytona Beach, and the occasional snorkel in the warm waters of the Caribbean or Hawai’i. But mostly I enjoy frosty rum drinks and absorbing the sun’s rays around a pool.

Back in my college days I found myself at Glen Helen where there is a waterfall overlooking a small natural pool. The friends I was with encouraged me to join in the great fun in jumping off the ledge of the waterfall into the water below, which I’m pretty sure was illegal, and now entirely sure was just stupid. And, of course, there were girls involved, which is a sure way to get any guy to do stupid things. But I was sure, given my aquatic history, that the jump would be okay, I confidently climbed up the rocks and to the edge of the ledge. After one or two others plunged safely into the pool, I pushed off, and that’s when the real story starts. My back foot slipped slightly, resulting in less a push than I intended and consequently changing where in the pool I would enter, not in my favor. A slight panic started and I feared entering at too shallow a spot, resulting in either broken bones or worse, stuck feet first in the mud and drowning. But what I hadn’t thought through before jumping was how acceleration due to gravity really works, and I was jumping from a height at least twice as high than ever before. So while the first half of the plunge was consumed with the fear of the pool, the second half was consumed by how much faster I was heading towards planet Earth. Scary fast and getting increasingly faster as the milliseconds slowly crept past. Combine unfamiliar jumping with being off target and the exponentially increasing velocity, you can imagine that speed felt even faster than it probably was. My memory fails to recall, for sure, if I jumped again, but I think I did, since I think I mentioned there were girls involved. But much of the thrill, and the chills, are never as intense as they are the first time around. But I never attempted that kind of jump again after I survived that day. Stupid really shouldn’t be repeated too often.

Just recalling all the details behind these tails of speed makes the hair on my arms stand up, realizing that I’ve survived my share of foolish stunts. I hope I don’t make any more memories like these.