09282013 My Mother Never Had a Birth Certificate

My mother never had a birth certificate. In this age, it sounds impossible, doesn’t it?

She was born in September 1946, in Widener, Arkansas. Although I’m not sure which crops were being picked or harvested, I’m certain that my grandparents were there working the fields of Eastern Arkansas in some capacity. My Aunt Marylou was somewhere around 15 at the time and she still remembers it. (Coincidentally, Marylou had to request a delayed birth certificate many decades after her birth, as she didn’t have one, either.) The family was very poor so anything other than an at-home birth would have been almost impossible for my mom.

Mom is probably one of the last people who will ever be able to get through life in the U.S. without a birth certificate. The rules are so strict now and modern living so complicated that the government has no interest in allowing people to go without distinctive identification. Somehow, mom skated through collecting social security and other bureaucratic complications.

A few years ago, I helped mom do the paperwork for a delayed birth certificate. She got too frustrated, though, and gave up without trying very hard. Part of the reason in her mind was probably that she wasn’t going to live long enough to need it, anyway. She had just started a new job as a janitor at Brinkley public schools and retirement was just a fantasy to her at that point.

I hate to think that mom worked the last 5 or 6 years at such a physical job. She didn’t have to, of course. It would have been comforting to know that she had even a year after working until retirement to enjoy her life, even if it were limited to reading and visiting people. Many of her choices limited her options and that somehow doesn’t mitigate my wish much.

This is a picture of my mom, her brother Harold, my grandma Nellie and my grandpa Cook, in December,1956.

A Rusty Nail Is All I Need

As strange as it sounds, one of my most prized possessions is most of a rusty nail. Seriously.

Years ago, before it was torn down, I visited the last house my maternal grandparents lived in together. I went on the property at great risk, as it looked like it had been abandoned and infiltrated by wasps, weeds, and rain through the old metal roof and tar paper siding. Before moving to this house, they lived to the south, still off highway 39, on the opposite side, near White Cemetery. They had an outhouse at the previous house.

I have an incredible number of memories about that old “house on the hill” as I call it. It was in Rich, Arkansas; not much of a place, really, even its heyday if it ever truly had one.  It was on Highway 39, on the west side of the road. Cook Road was slightly to the south of the old house. Most of the time cotton seemed to be the crop surrounding it in every direction.

I remember when grandma and grandpa moved in. One of the first things done was to hang a porch swing on the south end of the full-length wooden slat board porch. In that day, one didn’t use complicated screw hooks – a long nail would be hammered in and bent around to hold the chain linked through it. This isn’t the safest of ways to do it, not by today’s standards. Yet I can’t remember seeing one fall when I was young. (The second thing done was to build Grandma Nellie a storm shelter. She was deathly afraid of any weather, having survived the stories of the tornado in 1909 that leveled the town of Brinkley.)

Either Uncle Raymond or Uncle Harold picked me up and held me up high toward the roof of the porch. I held the nail more or less straight while grandpa hammered it in. Once we nailed the two nails, we hung the swing and sat in it, enjoying the simple fun and relaxation of it. I spent a lot of hours on that swing with grandpa. On some level, it is partially to blame for my extreme views on simplicity and comfort. Adding 44 uses and extras to things mostly ruins them.

To this day, when it rains sometimes I can smell the dirt and cotton blowing across the porch toward grandpa and me, sitting on the porch. If weather was coming, we’d usually be listening to grandma cajole grandpa into coming into the house or getting to the storm shelter.

The only thing I was really interested in salvaging that day in the 90s was the swing nail closest to the house, the one I remember “helping” put in. Honestly, I can’t say with 100% certainty that it’s the same nail, although I believe that it is. I’m humbled to think that the first swing installed at that house was balanced there almost 1/2 a century ago. I managed to extract some of the long bent nail from the upper wooden beam above the porch. Everything was caving in as I struggled to use it for footing.

Sidenote: one branch of the Pledger family was the last to live in the house. Their stuff, including pictures, were scattered all around inside. I learned later in life that my grandpa Willie supposedly had an illegitimate child with one of the Pledgers. At the time, he was working for the original Pledger patriarch at a sawmill in Clarendon. My mom didn’t know anything about her half-sister until after the half-sister died. The story is that she and mom looked a lot alike. Although I have delved fairly extensively into the Pledgers, I have avoided any direct linking to their trees or stories.



This picture is of the old house on the hill. (The aforementioned porch swing is on the left in the background.) Grandpa Willie is seated center. They are sitting on the porch steps, a series of piled railroad logs. I nailed at least 1,000 nails into those logs. These logs were one of the many reasons that I still love the smell of creosote of all kinds.

God and The Weather (Interventionist God…)

‘Belief in a cruel god makes a cruel man’
-Thomas Paine

(I couldn’t get this blog post “right,” not by any measure I could fathom. It’s really 2 distinct concepts slammed together inelegantly. But it’s honest and written with a good intention.)

I don’t believe in an interventionist god…

I know that I am a very small minority. There aren’t many people who purport to believe in god, yet don’t believe in god’s interventions in our affairs – or with nature.

-God does not interfere in the affairs of men.
-God does not control, direct, or mitigate the natural order of the world, including the weather.
-God does not use disease, weather or other things to punish or reward people or countries.
-I distrust people who disagree with my opinion on the 3rd bullet point.

God set it in motion and has given us a large enough brains and toolboxes to work out our own issues. And yet we are not doing what we can to help one another. We have been successful to a point but our own individual and national allegiances stymy our potential. So concentrated we are on smaller issues that we are allowing things to be unfixed that wouldn’t cost us much in time or resources- not really.

I have a huge respect for what we have done as a civilization. Despite crazy nationalism and divergent and bitter religious beliefs, we continue to figure things out and solve complex problems. Our world is improving, becoming smarter, and people in general are suffering less. I think that the world is becoming a better place. As education replaces opinion, I think that our lives will continue to improve.

I look at our brains and our potential and see a positive universe, rather than negative.

This blog is supposed to convey who I am and what I think. I’m not sure what bothers me more: people saying I believe the opposite of what I’ve stated or becoming angry that I disagree with them. I’d hope that recognizing that our opinions diverge is important to everyone. But I’m learning anew with great frequency that the admiration and respect for other people’s opinions tends to shrink dramatically where religion treads. Whereas once I was atheist, I now “believe,” but my belief does not include a clause which allows for a beneficent god to intervene on our individual behalf. I am certain that the cosmos was set into motion by some force, but I don’t believe that the universe can  be made to change course based on human consequences.

I also find it amusing that many people would tell me “You can’t believe that!” As if any religious argument can be presented as a logical buttress for any such proclamation. There are a lot of religions in the world, many practiced by those would insist that their flavor is the only one possible. I don’t tolerate that type of religious exclusion well. The joy of religion is that we can and do select what works for us. Even casual observation of religion at work demonstrates the striking diversity and difference of religious opinion.

Someone once said that you can choose your own opinion, but not your own facts. Our development as a civilization is full of instances where “everyone knew” something that turned out to be false. Experts were put in the spotlight to placate people- right up until they were no longer right.

Never Ask For Lost Phone Numbers Again

For whatever reason, I was around several people this week who lost their phones, had to reset them, or otherwise suffered from a lost of data with their phone.

While sometimes surprises happen, there is no great reason to ever be left without all your contact phone numbers, pictures, or videos from your phone. I can throw my phone into the lake without worrying about “losing” my important information. I might lose a very few recent pictures, but anytime I take a “keeper,” I back it up at the next opportunity.

If you use Gmail and input your contact info through gmail contacts, then link them on your phone, everything will always be updated, available from anywhere, and never lost. It will even load the picture you put into gmail into your phone. If you have a couple of hundred contacts, you shouldn’t use the excuse of “it takes too long” to input them into gmail, as you won’t notice you’ve lost all that time later when you must attempt to beg, scrounge and find your treasured contacts once you have lost your phone or data.

I didn’t include a long, complicated explanation of how to do it in this post, as I’ve found that the best way to learn is to google it yourself. Even better – take advantage of someone smart at your particular phone store and ask them to walk you through it.  Using gmail for your contacts is such a time-saving, effective way to ensure you have your contact information backed up and always at hand. If you so choose, you can also input ALL of each person’s information, including addresses, birthdays, notes, etc.

I try to keep an excel file updated, too, with at least the important names, addresses, and phone numbers of the people in my life. The file can be accessed from anywhere with internet access. It is surprising how often I am out and about and someone asks for a mutual friend of family member’s information. It is at hand no matter what the circumstances. An excel file is ‘old school’ without a doubt, but I can’t convince myself to stop doing the extra step yet.

As for pictures or videos on your phone, each of us should be connecting our phone manually to a computer at regular intervals and using the drag-and-drop method to copy what is one our phone. There are also great tools to automate this for you, too. But for them to work, you have to use them.

I’ve written several times in the past about the need to backup our stuff. I know my advice is mostly forgotten or ignored.


Backup Commentary (Technology)

(Update 22 Oct 2013)

Don’t like to backup your computer or phone?

The good news is that you don’t have to. No one will come to your house and point a pistol at your head for choosing to not do it. (Although such a business would be an interesting one to pitch to investors!)

On the other hand, please don’t cry in anguish when your computer or phone crashes and you suddenly have lost all the pictures of your favorite cat wearing a kimono.

You should assume that your computer will crash. It’s mechanical and uses moving parts. It is going to crash if you use it long enough. The longer you use it without it failing sadly means that it is MORE likely to crash and burn without notice.

Assuming you have internet…. If you don’t have internet, stop reading now. Everyone has access to free email and backup services. Did you write an important paper? Send it to yourself as an attachment, archiving it in a folder to maximize your organization and minimize distractions and terrible loss later. Synchronize your browser bookmarks or back them up to your computer. Don’t have time to do this? Where will those 10 seconds be when you’ve lost the only copy?

There are TONS of free services on the internet for backup. Sure, you can pay for them, too. OneDrive, Dropbox, etc. You can save all your pictures, even if you have 5,000 of them. All in the cloud. Since you will be also making a local backup on another hard drive, on DVD, or flash drive, too, you aren’t tied to worrying about all the servers at Microsoft melting, nor are you concerned about your house catching fire and eating your computer and DVD backups.You can also arrange with a friend to copy all your cherished stuff and send it to his/her house and he or she can send their cherished stuff home with you, if you don’t want your stuff on the cloud, too. 

Even if you promise yourself to connect your phone once YEARLY and copy your pictures and music, this is better than losing all of your content. You can surely promise to copy it once a year, if not more often.

If you don’t know how to make cd/dvd/flash drive backups of your pictures, music, documents, and bookmarks – you are ALREADY DOOMED! Seriously. You don’t have to know how to change a tire to own a car, but you need to know how to deal with it in an emergency. Making backup copies of your data is considered to be the most basic, absolutely essential computer task.
The technology we use on smartphones and computers is ALWAYS going to be changing. You will learn one thing today and will never be able to relax. The way you do things will constantly change. There’s only 1 rational choice: learn as it changes. If you can’t or won’t, be prepared to not only pay other people for the service of maintenance or repair, but also steel yourself against the inevitable total loss of everything you have stored on your electronic devices.

Want to be self-sufficient? Learn to Google. Learn and study which sites give the best advice. Compare site’s instructions. Experiment with it. It’s how I learned. Waiting until you know how to do something is a waste of time. Figure it out when there’s no pressure. I’m not smarter – just more persistent.

If you are too busy to learn computer basics, then you can and should expect to pay for other people to bail you out of your troubles. If your car breaks down, you call a tow truck and mechanic – and you pay them. If you want to save $, you either buy a reliable car, maintain it better or accept the need to be severely inconvenienced when your car breaks down. Your computer is the same.The difference is that a tire is just a tire, whereas a computer or phone might contain priceless or one-of-a-kind memories. I can easily think of a dozen people who have lost everything on their phones or computers. Several of them were quite literally ill thinking about what they had lost.

If you CHOOSE to NOT learn certain computer skills and how to backup data, please make arrangements for the time when your machine fails and/or you have lost the term paper that is due tomorrow. It is going to happen to everyone eventually. 

Best Buy taught me this harsh lesson, after I thought I already knew it. They “fixed” me out of a ton of music and pictures. I had to pay them for the privilege of breaking my computer. Even though the issue went all the way to the manager and then to corporate, I was put on the “hell list” of customers. Honestly, though, I cost Best buy way more business than they caused me in anguish. I got a valuable lesson out of it and I made it my mission to ensure that they lost a lot of business for a couple of years.

If I take pictures I wish to keep, I transfer them from the camera card to my computer. I then transfer the exact same copy to my wife’s computer. Then, I upload full-sized copies to my OneDrive account, automatically. (I don’t have to do anything – they copy without any other effort on my part.) At the end of each year, I make a new archive onto a usb stick. Even though I preach this constantly, even I have been known to delay uploading or backing up – and twice it has cost me considerable effort to attempt to reconstruct that which I’ve lost or misplaced.

Once weekly, I do an automatic 100% backup of my entire C drive to another drive. If the drive fails, I can have it restored in 20 minutes – entirely. I could do it daily, but I found it to be too redundant and beyond what I need.

I use dropbox as well, which is a nice redundant way to ensure I’m not peeling an empty banana. My important stuff is being saved somewhere, without my needing to manually find it, copy it, store it, etc. (The banana quote comes courtesy of Steve Martin.)

As for my music, I keep most of it archives on dual-layer DVDs. I’m not as concerned about it, as it is replaceable. My wife has an exact copy on her hard drive. If the house burns, I am screwed, as all my backups are local. I could keep a backup at someone else’s house, but I have weighed the cons and decided it’s not a priority. I can replace it all. It’s my personal selection of the ‘best’ music, but it’s not something that can’t be 100% replaced.

This is not the case with pictures, documents, and personalized stuff.

Regarding smartphones and regular dumbdialers (like I have): I get annoyed when I see or hear people say ‘my phone broke’ or ‘I lost my phone/sim card.’  Even if all you do is go to your favorite phone store and ask someone how to keep everything protected for the day when you either lose your phone or it breaks. It is going to happen to everyone.

Backup your data. It’s a learned habit.

In case I wasn’t specific enough: if you have data on a computer or smartphone, it will eventually get lost when the device fails, breaks, gets lost, stolen, drowned in water, etc.

Have a plan and least try to stick with it. 

11052013 #Hashtag – Just Another Evolution in Language

 Fallon and Timberlake’s Infamous Hashtag Skit
The link above is for the viral take on hashtag usage invading spoken language. 

It is the way of the world for new things to be despised. New words and ways of communicating are often the most hated. It’s always been that way and probably likely will continue to annoy people. Most of the changes are driven by younger people, regardless of how older people or entrenched concerns react to them.

As for the ” # ” or hashtag symbol, it is a very useful communication tool when used properly. The hipsters and octogenarians of our world would have us believe that any usage of the hashtag is dumb and that it doesn’t add any meaningful content to our language.

And they are quite wrong. Like any meme or idea tool, the hashtag is only as good as the people using it. It would be a better tool if people would stop parroting the same tired “it’s stupid” mantra before learning how it is supposed to work. If you are on the “I hate hashtag” bandwagon, you are going to be seriously tested – as the hashtag is a part of our culture now and likely will not disappear from usage, at least for a long time.

As someone getting older, these new means of writing and communicating can be confusing and hard to adjust to. I can either choose to attempt the transition or be left behind. As an amateur linguist, it is my obligation to stop trying to keep language static and uninteresting.

Hashtag Wikipedia Page

I don’t expect the haters to google the usage and etiquette of hastags – but they should. You can’t creatively criticize something if you don’t understand it. I know that we often do – but we look foolish when we do. 

Before being crucified, I’d like to mention that I don’t appreciate people who are misusing the hashtag symbol. It’s just another way to communicate poorly when over-used or used improperly.

Like everything about our inefficient language, though, the # is an evolution of content and context. Our language in every sense has been nothing short of a long revolution and evolution of usage.

08222012 Pranked And Fired at Work (From 2012)

One of my co-workers, Alex, had his last day of work. He had often told me that he was going to ‘get me’ one way or another. Little did I know that he was capable of pulling off the best work prank in a long time. He even managed to get the head of Human Resources involved.

My supervisor called me up to go with him to H.R. We sat down and the head of H.R. told me that I was being suspended and/or fired depending on his investigation and that I had been accused of fostering a hostile work environment.

If you’ve ever been fired or been in the room when it has happened to anyone else, you can imagine how horrible the experience was for everyone else (not just me.) Both my supervisor and the head of H.R. had perfectly inscrutable expressions and delivery the entire time. We talked for a few minutes. As I was leaving and just about the shut the door, the head of H.R. stood up and said, “Wait a minute, X, I’ll let you go ahead and read the file.” He had handed me a blue folder with my name on it. It had been laying in plain sight during the firing meeting.

When I opened it, what I was saw inside was a single sheet of paper, the paper pictured below. Even looking at the paper, it took a few seconds for the realization to sink in that not only was I not fired, but that Alex had finally punk’d me, all with the incredible performances of my supervisor and H.R. head. I had to sit down.

When I returned to the storeroom, everyone was at the front area, awaiting to see how it had went and to get a good laugh.

It was an exceptional experience and I’m glad they ‘got me,’ so to speak. Alex was as happy as the king of the world knowing that he had pulled off the prank. I think everyone was surprised that I had no inkling about it happening. I’d like to say I suspected, but I was totally ignorant of what was going on. Even when inside the H.R. office I still had no clue or even a suspicious thought in my head. They had me perfectly fooled.

I learned a lot from the prank. The first thoughts in my head were of my wife and how she’d be affected and also of my supervisor and how much I’d let him down. I also realized that it was true how much I liked my job. I’ve always said it and even preached it – but being ‘fired’ focused that idea into certainty. I’ll never look at Steve, the H.R. director the same way again, either. His performance was Oscar-worthy.

I guess it’s a good thing I didn’t start screaming and throwing things when I was told I was fired? : )

10102013 Senti-Minimalist

Today, I saw one of the words I thought I invented a few years ago used on a blog: Maxi-malist.
Here’s the Reference (Great blog, by the way…)

It was used in the way that I had thought of, too, involving the idea of too much stuff, in comparison to minimalism.

I also had thought of another word back in the day: Senti-minimalist. For the way I meant it, it describes a minimalist whose main focus is on concerning himself with items of sentimental value first and foremost. It’s obviously a mashup of both “sentimental” and “minimalist.” For example, if I were to be tasked with an impossible hoard, I would start with identifying and extracting items of strong sentimental value first, even ahead of alleged valuables.

Either a lot of people share many ideas in common, or sometimes I actually come up with good ideas. 

04092013 Quality, Qualicide, Perfectionism


Lately, I’m encountering ghosts from my “quality past.”

When I worked at a huge multinational meat processor, I taught dozens of 1 and 2-days quality classes. I also administered the pay-for-skill-and-knowledge component that involved testing and evaluation. The version taught at our location was based on the revived Crosby method in the 90s. I taught many more classes in Spanish than English, probably about 7-to-1.

Overall, even though the effort was doomed from the onset, it was one of the best things I was ever involved in.

(The premise of this type of quality hinges on accepting a new definition of quality. Instead of using it equally across different brands of the same car, for instance, you were required to look at things with a “conformance to requirements” filter. In other words, a Mercedes-Benz wasn’t necessarily higher quality than a Ford Escort, depending on one’s customer requirements…)

Before I digress like I am accustomed to doing, teaching these classes and doing the testing forced me to learn a significant amount of practical Spanish. My accent and inability to roll “rr'” dipthongs was horrific, but I plowed through, reminding myself that no one else had the right combination of English ability to navigate the program to the majority Hispanic workforce. Almost everyone in the program would be speaking Spanish, rather than the management language, English. I was “good enough” for the circumstances.

The class and testing absolutely forced me into a “good enough” non-perfectionist mindset. I knew even then that it was a little ironic to keep telling myself that “good enough” was more than enough in a class and learning system designed around quality initiatives.

Basically, when the quality program was launched, I wasn’t a key cog in the machine. It didn’t take long, however, to realize that I had been given the almost never-heard-of opportunity to write my own ticket and create the system to suit my own ideas. Granted, there were a lot of people involved. The reality, though, was that I had huge latitude in vetoing even required components. This was especially the case with the Spanish version of the testing and classes.

When I went to Minneapolis for quality training, I was the only hourly employee to be given the chance. My Spanish-speaking counterpart who accompanied me never once taught a class or led testing. I acquired a poor Spanish version of the proposed class book and took it back to Springdale with me. I spent weeks doing a very rudimentary redrafting of the entire book.

In the Spanish version of the class, I largely ignored the pie-in-the-sky elitist components of the entire program and used what I instinctively knew to be practical. After a few classes, I relentlessly threw out any aspect that didn’t work immediately or effectively. I listened closely to anyone who would take the time to explain their criticisms to me. If I detected boredom with some components, I discarded them or changed them to make them relevant to the people in the room. Many classes were in fact led by me but directed by the participants. I can’t express how fulfilling it was to see people step up and take the reins and lead their coworkers, especially when they were being creative. Several of these people surprised themselves by being confident and creative. The workplace we were in was known for fostering the exact opposite of this type of mentality. We were basically human beings doing mechanical work, for the most part. It is one of the reasons that programs such as Quality which rely on creativity were facing an uphill battle.

I encountered resistance from authority figures but ignored their commentary and edicts unless no alternative was given to me. Usually, though, I got creative and found ways around every attempt to make the classes boring and devoid of real significance. With the English version of the class, though, I couldn’t get by with doing the things that worked. I had to conform. Which led me to the realization that much of the observable output of the class, at least through management’s eyes, was totally incorrect, as the language barrier prevented them from properly “seeing” the class and how drastically different the class could be when compared by language.

Life is largely a series of repeated events, I’ve noticed. Things I’ve learned before come back around to be learned again. Being in social organizations can be frustrating because there are large meta issues which bear striking resemblance to what I’ve already went through.

12292013 Grandma and Her Snuff

Back in the day, it wasn’t an odd thing necessarily for women to dip snuff. “Snuff” is most often thought of as the type of tobacco that you might see pro baseball players or bull riders pinch out and put between their teeth and gums, letting the flavor seep and then spit. But the kind most of us might imagine is not the kind that my grandma enjoyed. Using snuff isn’t often portrayed in television or movies, even though it was extremely common in many areas, even among the affluent of society.

The snuff that my grandma Nellie loved was the other kind, the dried, powdery type. It very much resembled cinnamon, and was the result of dried and very finely ground tobacco. Instead of sniffing it or inhaling it through her nostrils, she would put a pinch in her mouth and let is seep. She would then spit into a cup and wipe the corner of her mouth. Keep in mind that by the time I was born in 1967, grandma would have been 58 years old and didn’t have most of her original teeth. I no longer remember whether she ever sniffed it through her nose. I don’t have any memory of it.

For an interesting history lesson, you should google snuff or read a little about it on wikipedia:
Snuff Wikipedia  It is a reminder of how strange and bizarre some of our customs really are.

I admit to loving the smell of snuff. Grandma’s most-purchased brand was W E Garrett.  The taste could be very bitter. I’m not certain how much nicotine was in it, but I’m sure it was very potent.

It was made packed in small metal canisters, or in a larger drinking glass size. The drinking glass size is worth mentioning because that is exactly what many people used them for – glasses. The top of the glass was an embossed metal lid, sealed onto the glass under the paper label. Using glasses like these was pure marketing genius.


Above it a decent picture of what these glasses looked like.


The small metal canisters were 2-3 inches tall and an inch or two wide. As you might imagine, these little cans were used to store coins, buttons, bugs, just about anything an adult or imaginative kid could imagine. I would often open one and just sit and smell the acrid tobacco after grandma emptied it.

Growing up, grandma always had a damp rag by her, mostly to wipe at her lips from dipping snuff.

If you look closely at the picture below, you can see that grandma has a little spittoon on her foot rest.
(She looks grouchy because she didn’t have her glasses on and she often didn’t enjoy getting her picture taken.)