Sunday, November 21, 2010

Life’s Challenges

Today a posting by Steve Pavlina in Facebook where he stated:

The point of weight training is to get stronger, not to move hunks of metal up and down. Many of life's challenges are similar in nature.

brought to my mind an experiment I undertook in my own life to deal with challenges.

I was about to depart on an international flight from Canada to Chile which, in the past had always been a challenge.  I recalled that every time I had taken that journey, there had always been un-expected problems which seemed to turn the trip into an unpleasant experience.

What I decided to do was to expect problems and see how capable I was at getting through them.  In other words, rather than hope that everything would just go perfectly –or at least without any difficulties- I was actually looking forward to them as a challenge to my own capabilities.

Well, as it turned out there were unexpected things which would have been horrible under other circumstances, but when the first one came along (and there were several), my first reaction was to think: “Hey, this is my first problem of this trip … how am I going to handle it?”

I’m not sure if I had previously decided to expect more than one problem, but by dealing with each and then taking the attitude of “well that’s dealt with … now, what’s next” I wasn’t setting myself up to be suddenly smitten by another problem coming out of the blue when I “thought” I’d dealt with them all.

If we can establish this kind of thinking about everything in our lives, then life’s challenges will be no more onerous than adding another few pounds to the weight we’re trying to lift in a weight-training program.

Friday, November 19, 2010

What is policing?

police officersToday I made a stop at a Starbucks near to my residence to warm up on a cold day.

When I arrived I noticed 3 uniformed police officers at a table near the window.

I took my time, warming up and passing a few long minutes reading an interesting article on my Kindle and noticed that these officers didn’t seem in any hurry to leave and continue doing their duty.

Then I started thinking:  What do police officers do when they are policing?  In the end, I’m sure that these three officers were in this particular Starbucks well over an hour and while I wasn’t able to hear or observe anything about what they were up to, it didn’t seem to me to have much of a “policing” nature to it.

I’m not writing this to point fingers because I can’t say that these individuals were acting like typical police officers in this area, nor can I even conclude that what I saw was the way they acted on a regular basis.

All it did was get me to start thinking what it is that police officer do when they are policing and asking if what they do might be done well in a group of three sitting in a Starbucks cafe.

Image South Australian police officer via Wikipedia

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Calling spades spades

To anyone who knows me it would not come as a surprise that I believe in the precepts of free-market capitalism (FMC).

T hat being said, it is also vital to recognize that I do not condone any and all actions that are taken or promoted under the banner of FMC. I also feel it is important to take into account the fact that there has never—ever—been a country which has been a 100% pure FMC economy.

To my recollection the USA, even at it’s very inception, was a mixture and it has moved more and more away from FMC every year even though it is popularly held up to be the exemplary model of FMC.  Perhaps, it is still the most free of all the countries today—although there may be much reason to doubt that—it is still far from a pure FMC and should, in reality, be called something else.

With this background I wish to express some doubts that I’ve had in recent times which grow out of the increasing concerns—both in number and loudness—that I’ve been hearing about the movement of the US towards a socialistic or communistic economy.

The crux of my concern is the connection which is always shown between the horrible actions of major communistic movements in the past in terms of genocide and suffering.

The questions which I am asking is what is there in socialism or communism that is inherently violent, or that makes a nation which adopts these systems to start killing off people on a large scale.

Yes, we can look at a large sampling of nations and name leaders like Mao Zedong, Stalin, Hitler, Castro, etc and show that under them millions of people perished.  I’m not arguing about these facts … but the thing that I am asking is whether it is the system that is at fault, or the person or people who were flawed.

From the evidence I’ve seen I have little doubt that the most efficient way for an economy to operate is the FMC model, but that, in itself, doesn’t make the other systems inherently evil, just as travelling in an ox cart is slower than a bicycle, comparing the two needs to be done on the basis of what you wish to achieve and not on the personalities of the famous people who have used ox carts or bicycles.

What this point of view raises is another issue which is possibly more vital to our future than the exact mixture of economic systems which we use:  the issue is that some individuals are possibly much more inclined to abuse power than others.

With this in mind, then we need to concern ourselves with two points:  1) Identifying who are most likely to abuse power and 2) Limiting the power which they can have so as to limit the damage which they can do.

Coming back to haunt you

I think that one of the greatest challenges we face in life is being honest with ourselves. 

We may be conscious of using some deception or attempts to influence the thoughts of other, but somehow we even go to great lengths to avoid the fact that we may be doing

the same to ourselves.

When my children were small, I always attempted to teach them what I believed would be helpful to them in their lives, although I may not have always realized that there was some variance between what I said and what I did.  You may remember the old saw: “Do as I say, not as I do.”

One of the things I frequently would say to my girls whenever they complained that some rule or outcome or event “wasn’t fair”, was “Who ever told you that life was fair?”, or as an alternative I’d say “Fare is what you pay to the bus driver.”

Recently I’ve moved from being an active worker into the realm of the retired, and as such, have felt that my life should be much more relaxed and free from obligations imposed by the needs and desires of others.

My wife, however, decided to take up employment where she was on call, and could be called at a pre-dawn hour to work.  On a couple of occasions I was awakened and asked to drive her to her place of employment, arising several hours before I would have otherwise.

On one of these times I found myself thinking: “This isn’t fair! Now that I’m retired, why should I have to ‘work’ too, just so my wife could work”?

Then, as I was searching for the answer to that question, I recalled what I had attempted to instil into my children … now I have to decide:  Do I live by my own teachings, or do I decide that I’d been wrong all that time?

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Monday, September 06, 2010

Dynomighty Designs

Dynomighty Design : Products - Mighty Wallets
I stumbled upon this while pursuing some links on a wholly unrelated topic.  Oddly enough, I had been searching for a simple replacement wallet for a few weeks and had just, the day before I discovered this page, purchased something which met my needs.  When I saw this product, I was intrigued and totally dissatisfied with my just-completed purchase.  How I wish I'd delayed my purchase a couple of days.
Of course, this is not a major disaster or setback for me, but because I dislike unnecessary back tracking, frivolous waste, and duplicated effort, the issue is an annoyance for me.

What I find so interesting is the simplicity and inventiveness of the products which this company produces.  The line of wallets which the company produces suggests that this is its biggest selling line but in addition they have several other ingenious products such as a bottle-top tripod, magenetic jewelery, desk pops, and sky vases.

Simplicity is, in my opinion, one of the things that makes many classic designs, products, and ideas so special.

Tuesday, August 03, 2010

You can say whatever you want

freeA package of soymilk reads:

 IT’S FREE! Silk Vanilla is free of lactose, dairy, cholesterol, eggs, casein, MSG and worries. You still have to pay for it though.

Before I get to my point, I’d like to say I love this product and find it an excellent replacement for regular milk.

The thought that struck me, when I read that statement on the package is that it seems so typical of what we hear everywhere in the media from politicians and about most everything.  Statements are made which are the complete opposite of what they say …. and as long as the person somewhere, somehow, clarifies what they are saying, it is considered totally acceptable.

A defendant of this kind of action would likely state: “Why should a person be criticized just because a reader didn’t read on a bit further to learn the real, full meaning of what was said.”

I would tend to agree with that kind of defence, and yet I also see that there is a lack of trustworthiness demonstrated by the person who makes a statement of this nature, because he is relying on his own cleverness and his listeners’ lack of acuity to actually create a false impression which is serving his own ends and not those of his listeners.

It is tragic that this kind of thinking is too prevalent today.

Monday, June 28, 2010

Global Warming, Population growth, and Petroleum Reserves

YouTube - The Most IMPORTANT Video You'll Ever See (part 1 of 8)

This professor has some impeccable math, and a very clear explanation of how it can be applied. I highly recommend it, however I do not agree with his logic. He doesn't take into account the fact that innumerable situations in which this kind of exponential growth have never occurred, that something -- usually completely unexpected -- have happened to prevent the disaster from culminating.

This does not excuse us from acting sensibly in dealing with issues which face us either now or in the future. Using the issue of global warming, as an example, whether or not you agree that it is a real problem, it does not make sense to continue to pollute our environment with abandon.

Friday, March 12, 2010

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Google Sidewiki entry by Jack

International comments about tremors as new Chilean president is sworn in.

in reference to:

"Chile hit by powerful aftershocks"
- CBC News - World - Chile hit by powerful aftershocks (view on Google Sidewiki)

Saturday, March 06, 2010

It’s Not What It Seems

After having been woken every morning for the past week by having my bed shake, I’ve been led to re-think what we’ve all been told about the earthquake in Chile.

One conclusion that has come to me is that this was not a natural event. It is a man-made phenomena that comes from the testing of a secret government project to develop a national alarm clock!

To explain the various discrepancies which opponents of this theory might raise I offer the following explanations:

  1. The massive quake on February 27th was an accidental result of the simultaneous activation of several separate shaker apparatuses.
  2. The several hundred aftershocks were due to a malfunction of the control mechanism provoked by event Number 1.
  3. The varied times are a combination of the damaged control mechanism and deliberate testing to determine the optimum shaker intensity required to awaken the maximum number of citizens at different times of the day and night.

If they can be located, sources close to the newly elected president of Chile, Sebastian PiƱera, who is a well established entrepreneur, may indicate that the president-elect has been quick to recognize the potential commercial value of this program. Once the timing and intensity controls are perfected, it is said he has plans to licence the use of this technology to other countries whose economies need to be awakened.

Among the various benefits the new technology offers are:

  • The quick demolition of old and dilapidated buildings and neighbourhoods.
  • A final testing procedure of new buildings before they are occupied to ensure that they meet all anti-seismic standards.
  • Demolition of inadequate roads, bridges and transportation infrastructure.
  • A quick method of testing the moral character of large groups of people and identifying those with delinquent tendencies who participate in looting during simulated emergency conditions.
  • A process to stimulate and reactivate the construction industry.
  • A justification to use the manpower and machinery of a country’s armed forces in peace time without provoking any external conflicts.
  • A focal point to unite the citizens of a country toward a common national goal which supersedes political agendas.

It all makes sense now, doesn’t it?

Wednesday, March 03, 2010

My Wonderful, Useless Kindle

I mentioned in my first post about the earthquake in Chile that I had just purchased a Kindle book reader from Amazon.

This marvellous piece of equipment has functioned perfectly from the day it arrived in early February and of all the communication possibilities I’ve had at my disposal since the earthquake on in the wee hours of February 27th, this is the only one that has not failed to work.

This device is lightweight and easy to transport, it consumes little power, once charged it runs for a long period and can be recharged relatively quickly.  I have never, to date, attempted to connect to their network and not been able to make a connection to either the Kindle store or to Wikipedia.

There is the nub of the marvel and the worthlessness of this piece of equipment.  While I’ve been able to connect when the regular internet, cell phones, fixed phones, television and power systems failed, the device has not permitted me to send or receive any personal or specific information.

For example, as I sit here at using my laptop computer to compose this blog, I have to save it for some future moment when I might connect to the internet, but my Kindle, sitting at my side, is connected to Wikipedia telling me the latest news which has been posted about the Chile disaster. (The web browser is “not available” in Chile.)

It occurred to me that possibly if I searched for a book title such as “Help! Earthquake in Chile” that it might be noticed by someone.  I did so, and maybe it was noticed … however, not in any way which I can verify.

The fact is that the technology is there now.  It is in place and working now.  All that is necessary is for Amazon, or other companies to implement some sort of emergency trigger that would allow a person in a critical situation to enter in some kind of key phrase or even use a certain special button to be immediately connected to an operator who could attend to the request and assist.

Whether this service would be free, an optional extra which would be charged for if used, or completely without cost is not important.  What is important is to recognize the tremendous service and and potential which this marvellous machine now has, and to set up some way to put it into practice.

The Good, The Bad and The Ugly

The extreme conditions of the Chilean earthquake serve to reveal the character of the people and to make one wonder about one’s own convictions.

Imagine a service station with cars lined up for blocks in both directions for hours and, after several hours in the line the electricity which operates the pumps is cut.

Apart from the cars lined up in both directions, people are arriving on foot carrying gas cans.  There’s a line of cans in front of one of the pumps.  Each new arrival, looks around, and places their can in the line –– possibly marking it in some way to distinguish it from others which look the same.

Since I had been in the vehicle line and the power was cut just as I stopped in front of the pumps, I was in a perfect position to watch this line grow along with the actions of the people who participated.

No one seemed inclined to try to jump their can to a more favourable position in the line … it was a model of respect, order and patience that would satisfy the most stringent standards.

The Bad

One of the bad characteristics I’ve observed came from the various TV reports which have been broadcast in which reporters interview people from all areas and in all sorts of circumstances about how they’ve been affected by this catastrophe.

Certain people, it seemed to me, mostly in the larger urban areas, showed a common reaction to their situations saying things like “I’ve lost everything, when is somebody going to do something?”, or “Whose going to fix this? Who’s going to be held responsible.” 

In short it was an attitude of “I’m suffering” and “Somebody has to take care of me.” 

In my estimation these reactions seemed most common in young to middle-aged adults and in large urban areas.

In contrast, it seemed that older people and quite generally most people in either small towns or in rural areas seemed to be simply confused, distraught or dismayed by their plight and their losses … but they did not seem to be expecting that someone else was going to – or should – show up to fix everything up again.

The Ugly

The really ugly side of people seems to be almost entirely confined to concentrated urban areas. 

I see this in the areas where electricity and water has been cut off for several days, where stores have been closed for lack of electricity and dangerous structural damages.

Extensive looting started, according to some reports just minutes after the first earthquake and TV cameras recorded people breaking open warehouses, carrying out every imaginable type of merchandise from plasma TVs to grocery carts completely filled with liquor, video games, cell phones, etc.

In these areas the army has been called in and a curfew has been established, yet people in residential areas banded together with poles, garden tools, guns, knives and whatever other implement might be used for defence to set up patrols on their streets and protect their homes from midnight marauders.

I see this state of affairs as a very ugly aspect of humanity, and yet I find myself wondering how I might act if I were to find myself in some of the situations that people are in when they resort commit these acts of looting.

Imagine yourself, possibly with a hungry child, a brother or sister who is badly injured, without water, without electricity, your house devastated, you are sleeping on the street, your vehicle has been crushed under a wall which collapsed, there are no stores open, no banks operating ….

Does it make you think, too?

Tuesday, March 02, 2010

More Chilean Earthquake Experiences

Another day has passed and my life-after the earthquake hasn’t changed much.

I’m still suffering from intermittent Internet Withdrawal. 

Thousands of people have either partially or completely lost their homes due to this event.  Part of the damage was directly from the quake, others from the tsunami which hit the coast only minutes following the principal shock.

I mentioned in my previous post I’ve found the rapid action on the part of the government and the infrastructure very impressive on the positive side.  Some large communities are still without electric power and water, but considering the extensive damages, I feel it would be difficult to imagine any country who could do better than what Chile is doing now.

For me, and for many thousands of people the most immediate and devastating effect of this event is the simple lack of gasoline to allow one to travel about as they would normally do.

I mentioned that I escaped to a resort area, Lican Ray, because there was electricity, food and lodgings available to me.  Yesterday I went to the only gas station in town and after waiting about 1/2 hour in line, discovered that they had run out of gas.

This morning, I learned that gas had arrived, when I saw the length of the line which had already formed, I asked the manager of the station if it was worthwhile to get into line and was assured that there would be enough gas for everyone lined up so far.

After I was in line, I checked to see that I had my wallet and discovered I’d left it back at the Inn.   I asked the driver of the car behind me if he would look after my place in line and move my car forward when the line moved, and he agreed.

I walked back to the Inn and got my wife to drive me back, and she entered the end of the line about 5 cars behind where I was.   Slowly the line inched forward.

I knew before I reached the pump that sales were limited to 10,000 pesos (about 15 litres) of fuel per vehicle, but I didn’t know that they were only accepting cash.  I only had enough cash to pay for my car, but not enough to pay for my wife’s ration.

As a result when I reached the pump my car wasn’t served immediately until I got the OK from the station manager to receive my cheque to pay for both my car and my wife’s.

She OK’d my cheque and I went back to the pump to pass it to the operator.  When I arrived, the electric power was cut!

I was number one in the line and I couldn’t get gas!  We decided to keep our places until the power was resumed…the wait was over 3 hours until power was finally resumed.

In summary, not a great adventure, but it is a situation where it seems that for me, and a great number of people who I spoke with or overheard while waiting in the line for gas, we just have to remain calm, be patient and slowly work our ways back into positions and areas where we can contribute to the great reparations which are going to be needed in the country over the next few months.

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Sunday, February 28, 2010

Living through an earthquake

Construction damage The bed was shaking.  To the right, to the left, from the foot upward, from the head down. Left, right, upm down over and over.  It was pitch dark, I could hear things falling to the floor, yet I was not terrified.  On and on went the shaking, the dial on my phosphorescent watch read around 4:30. 

The shaking seemed never-ending.  A pair of table lamps fell from my headboard to the floor. After what I guessed  was between 5 and ten minutes movement finally stopped.

I groped about and located a flashlight I kept near the bed and turned it on, found my glasses and moved the light around the room.  Two lamps were on the floor, nothing else seemed out of place, no cracks or openings in the wall or ceiling joints, no windows broken or cracked.

The rest of the house was somewhat of a shambles, but I found nothing broken except for an old cedar chest whose spindly legs had collapsed.

I located my cell phone and attempted to call my wife.  “Connection error” was the message my phone returned. Same thing with a call to the electric company’s emergency line.

I returned to my bed and as I sat on the side, I felt some further movement, considerably milder than my first shaking.

The phone rang.  The screen told me it was my sister-in-law but as soon as I pressed the connect button the phone went dead with another “connection error” on the screen.  Attempts to return the call brought the same results.

I tried to sleep, but it was like laying in the bunk of a moving train.  I could never sleep on a train and I didn’t succeed sleeping as much as I tried. (In the next 24 hours over 110 after shocks would be recorded).

Soon after daylight broke I dressed.  Showering was impossible since without electricity my water system was useless.  Thanks to a rechargeable shaver I was able to clean my face a bit.

I picked up several fallen lamps around the house as well as several bottles and ornaments which had fallen to the floor.  The inside of most cupboards were in complete disarray and I discovered ONE broken glass among the total disorder in the house.  No structural damage was evident anywhere.

A quick breakfast of fresh fruit and I attempted to phone all the contacts in my phone starting from the top.  After a dozen attempts one phone rang and a Canadian friend answered. He, too, was without power and had felt the quaking, but was without any damage or injuries. No further calls produced any results.

Suddenly my guard-dog, Kelly, started whining excitedly which was strange for him.  I looked out and saw him beside the gate and in the distance my gardener was approaching on foot.  I realized that he had been considerably more terrified by the shaking which had gone on through the night than I was, and he was just happy to see somebody that he knew come to assure him that things might be OK.

I entered my car and struck out for town, looking about for any evidence of disarray or destruction in the 9 km route to town.  The first I noticed was that the approach to the bridge entering Villarrica was barricaded and that traffic was re-routed to a new bridge which had earlier been redirected for use only by traffic leaving town.  I could see little evidence of damage to the old bridge as we crossed the new one, but there was a policeman stationed at the intersection on the other side to direct traffic away from that crossing.

The gas gauge, read about 1/4 tank so I decided to take an alternate route and pass by the service station to fill up before I arrived at my business.  When I arrived at the entrance to the station, there was already a line up which stretched some three blocks to the south.  Innocently, I decided to leave the gasoline for a later moment and proceeded directly to my shop. 

A large bus was blocking the street as I approached my parking place so I had to proceed with caution to the place where I left my car.  Because of the obstruction I hadn’t noticed that a small dwelling beside the bus had completely collapsed.

On arrival at the shop, where we distribute tires and batteries, I noticed little out of the ordinary, and since it was Saturday and before 10:00 it didn’t even seem odd that the doors were still closed.

On entering, I noticed some display stands turned over and a few piles of tires had fallen, but it wasn’t till I ascended to my second-floor office that I was able to appreciate the complete shambles which confronted me there with all of the books which lined two wall almost all scattered about on the floor.

My secretary had started to put things back into order, and apart from telling me that there was no electricity could not tell me much more about the general state of affairs.  The fixed line phone system was partially working but no internet connections were available.

The 30 high sign which stood on a 1 foot steel pole was leaning against the building, slightly inclined down to where the welding on the pole had broken some 7 feet above the ground.  Any further strong shaking could easily dislodge the massive sign and bring it crashing down.  We had to find a welder who had his own electrical generator to make repairs.

Aftershocks continued, at what seemed to me on an almost regular schedule.  Since the early morning I had the impression that there were regular shakes occurring more or less every hour on the hour.

There was no sense in opening since we depended on electricity for most of our services and I sent a couple of employess off to try to find a welder with a generator when phoning produced no results.

I walked down to the service station on the corner to see if the line had diminished and saw it was longer than before. I spoke to a police man who informed me that one of the highway to Valdivia was impassable due to a 15 meter wide rupture but that other roads were passable.  The problem with travel was not so much the roads but the availability of gasoline as evidenced by the line at this station … and the fact that some stations would be without any fuel at all.

My secretary suggested that it would be an idea to use a gas can she had in her car to purchase at least 10 litres of gas, but when we sent someone to the station they refused, saying that only vehicles were being filled, and that we’d have to get into line.  Knowing the owner, nor being a regular customer wasn’t of any use.

We were on the point of setting out to join in the line when I decided to send someone to inquire how much fuel they had left.  It didn’t make much sense to me to get into a line of several hundred cars only to have the station run out of gas before we reached the pumps.  It turned out that while we were making the inquiry, the pumps ran dry and no word was available as to when the tanker would arrive to refill their supply.

I managed to communicate with my wife at her Inn in Lican Ray and learned that she had electric power re-established.  Since no word was available from the local power company as to when power would be available in the town or the rural area where my house was situated, I decided to drive there in spite of the limited fuel I had.  At least we would have electricity, water and a stock of food for a few days.

Up to that point, the only thing that I had been able to learn about the general situation in the country was from a neighbour who had learned from his car radio that the epicentre of the quake seemed to be near Concepcion where a force of over 8 on the Richter scale had been registered.

A walk around Villarrica revealed relatively little damages.  The small dwelling about three doors down from my shop and another small construction where a cement wall had fallen down were the only damages of houses we observed.  A large store, which had been in a very old, poorly constructed building had suffered considerable damages.  Most businesses, likely for the lack of electricity, kept their doors closed.

Before I left to drive to Lican Ray I was surprised to have my phone ring showing a number which I didn’t recognize on the screen.  I answered and wonder of wonders, was speaking to a friend from Ecuador who had heard of the quake and was concerned for our well-being.

I assured him that we were physically in good shape but almost without any communication and knowledge of the rest of the country.  He assured me he’d communicate with my two daughters to put them at ease over our well-being.

There was one minor fissure in the highway from Villarrica to Lican Ray which hardly was noticeable and only one structure, a local handicrafts store, had a canopy over the entrance which had obviously collapsed.

On arriving I drove by the town’s single gas station, in the hopes that it might be operating and have little or no line up.  This line was only slightly shorter than the ones at Villarrica’s stations. I chose to go directly to the Inn and wait til things had stabilized a bit before trying to get gas.

How Amazon could Help

Just a couple of weeks back I had purchased a Kindle e-book reader from Amazon.  Since I had not established with any external or national source I decided to see if it’s wireless connection was working and discovered that I could connect with the on-line store.

It occurred to me that I might register a plea for help by putting in a search for a book called “Help Major Earthquake in Chile”  The search  did not produce any results, as I rather expected, but still I hoped that someone might review their logs and might somehow trace the origin of the message to my general whereabouts.

Even if it didn’t work, this seems to me an excellent potential for assistance in disaster situations perhaps by establishing a special code which would allow the contact to be routed for special handling.

Next I decided to do a search on Wikipedia for Chile Earthquakes and was amazed to discover the extensive information which had already been published by them about the size, extent and general overview of the situation, barely 12 hours after it had taken place.

I have managed to connect, very briefly to the internet to send out a short email to many of my friends and relatives who might have concerns about what is happening but that connection was short lived.

I’ve seen, on TV locally the enormous effort which the country and the government is making to re-establish a basic level of normality to the situation, and must say that from what I’ve seen so far, it is very impressive over how well they’ve been able to handle the situation, especially in light of the estimates I’ve read which estimate this earthquake to be over 500 times that which has recently devastated Haiti.

The government has declared that the entire country is in a state of catastrophe with over 13 million persons affected.  While I don’t mean to diminish what this has meant to others who have suffered losses far in excess of what we’ve experienced, I do believe that the “affect” which most people have seen here is likely much more like mine than the few which have been featured and dramatized by much of the news media.   Personally, my greatest agony, I think, has been from Internet withdrawal. I hope my story serves as a useful counterpoint.