Just #!&^ing Stop

So as many of you know from my non-stop and regularly scheduled gloating, I’m retired.  I’m now allowed by statute to yell “Get off my lawn!” to people who get on my lawn.  I’ve not yet gotten to the point of calling anyone younger than 60 a young whippersnapper, a term which I never really understood, but I’m reading a book on my Kindle about how to be an effective curmudgeon.  I’ll get there.  Give me a minute or two, please.

Being of advanced age, I’m starting (who am I kidding, I’ve been doing this for years) to tell the same stories over and over again and prefacing them with “I’m sure I’ve told you this before, so stop me if you know this already.”  No one does, thankfully.  And I get senior specials pretty much everywhere except the strip clubs where I am universally ignored like I have been since I was 18.

Anyway, this is going to be a very curmudgeonly post.  So be forewarned.  And get off my lawn, you young whippersnapper!

Elected officials: what the hell is wrong with you?  Used to be that you folks could get together, hammer out legislation that may not have been everything that you wanted, but would benefit everyone at least a little bit. You’d compromise to the benefit of our great nation.  That’s worked pretty well for us certainly during my unusually long lifetime.

So why is it now that you insist on blindly following the wishes of your party?  Blindly is a gross understatement – y’all are deaf and dumb as well.  Why is it that none of you cross the aisle anymore?  Why is it that nearly none of you do your fucking jobs and represent the people whose interests you’re supposed to represent? Why do you blindly support whatever party jackass is calling the shots?  Really?  Is that what you were elected to do? 

News flash:  it wasn’t.

Just fucking stop! 

Do your goddamn jobs and stop putting party above nation.  Seriously, knock that shit off.  You swore to “… support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that [you would] bear true faith and allegiance to the same.”  Not “… support and defend my party leadership against anyone and anything.” I don’t think those words are anywhere in that oath.

Supposedly, you took that “…obligation freely, without any mental reservation or purpose of evasion.  Most importantly, every one of you no bullshit swore that you would “…well and faithfully discharge the duties of the office on which I am about to enter: So help me God.”

Well, I hope that God intervenes soon ‘cause you’re failing miserably.  And I’m having a tough time explaining to my kids that government is letting all of us down right now and that their futures are so phenomenally fucked that I want to blow my brains out just thinking about it.  Sorry, dudes.  Really.  I did three months shy of 29 years in the military an another five in federal civil service hoping that you’d have a great world in which you could thrive.  Fat lot of good that did, huh?

It wasn’t enough.

I used to be a news director, didja know that?  Well, an assistant news director in a staff of three.  I learned some hard lessons in journalism one of which that I wasn’t very good at it, terrible in fact.  So I chose back then to leave it to the professionals because I felt GOOD journalism was so important that that I didn’t want to screw it up.  So I became and actor where pretending is not just OK, it’s encouraged.  I was a lot better at that.

So journalists, this is for you. 

Just fucking stop. 

Stop with the opinions. Tell me facts.  Just the facts.  Joe Friday wanted just the facts.  Be like Joe Friday.

If you’d give us a chance, we are capable of deciding for ourselves what’s going on and we don’t need you to tell us what to think.  I know how to do that all by myself.  If you tell us what HAPPENED, we can figure out what to THINK.  That’s the appropriate division of labor.  That’s how it’s supposed to work.  You tell me what — no bullshit — happened, and we’ll make our own decisions.  We can’t possibly be everywhere to see what happens, but we CAN figure out what to think if you do your job and tell us what happened.

You know, I wouldn’t have a problem with Fox News, MSNBC or CNN or any of ‘em if instead of calling themselves 24-hour news channels, they called themselves 2-hour news channels and 22-hour opinion channels.  Just bill yourselves as what you are, purveyors of spin.  Be honest.  Stop pissing on my leg and telling me it’s raining.  Stop with the spin already. 

Just fucking stop.

And get off my lawn!!

Seriously, folks, get off the grass.  It’s not my fault that there are no sidewalks in this neighborhood.  Walk in the fucking street.  You won’t die.  Unless I am driving, then your chances of survival are significantly reduced, ‘cause I’m old, remember?  Really old.  Like I remember the Eisenhower Administration old.

Speaking of good ol’ Dwight, he championed the Interstate system that opened the nation to commerce in ways previously unimagined.

What have you done lately, Federal government, that is even fractionally beneficial to the whole country like the Interstate system, hmm?  Go on.  Take your time.  I’ll wait. 

Yeah, yeah, full disclosure:  I worked for the Federal government and I’ll tell you, in the facility in which I worked, everyone worked their collective asses off to make the highways in the U.S. safer, cheaper to build, and last longer. They worked together to benefit the nation and its citizens.  They were an impressive lot.

So to our elected representatives, just fucking stop blind loyalty to your party.  To our media companies, just fucking stop with the opinion shit – or at least bill it accurately.   Seriously, you folks.

Just. Fucking. Stop.

Nerd Alert! This is a Ham Radio Post

I’ve been doing this ham radio thing for about a year and a half now.  I have a couple more observations to add to the blog post I wrote last year.

1.   The amount of learning required to get started is not massive.  You can get started with a relative minimum of technological knowledge and if that’s all you want, you can do quite a bit.  But…

If you want to get really good at it or learn the nitty, gritty details of how and why things work, it’s a daunting task.  I’ve said before that it’s a bottomless pit of things to learn and from my perspective, it can be pretty overwhelming.  Having said that, …

2.  … established ham operators are, for the most part, more than willing to share their knowledge and experience if you just ask.  If you pop up on the air with a question, chances are pretty good that you can get an answer or at the very least a clue about how to proceed.  The experienced operators are a magnificent resource if you’re stuck or just need an explanation of something you don’t understand.

3.  If you make a mistake and do something incorrectly, most hams are very forgiving.  It’s likely that they’ve made a similar mistake at one time and they don’t hold your boo-boos against you.  I still dread screwing up, but at least there’s no ridicule from it. 

So far as I know.  (Maybe people are laughing and pointing at me on other channels.) 

4.  There’s a Young Operators’ Net on Sunday and there’s an eleven-year-old young woman who runs the net.  She’s terrific and does a really top-notch job of net control.  Hearing those young voices on the air leads me to believe that…

5.  …ham radio is not a dead hobby.  Far from it, matter of fact. 

One of the things that surprised me when I finally dove into ham radio was that technology has advanced the amateur radio hobby into the 21st century.  With at least three or four digital voice protocols and an untold number of digital data protocols, you can get a message through in any number of ways including the old standards like CW and SSB.  There are orbiting digital satellites that ham operators can use.  You can bounce a radio signal off the moon and back to Earth if you can figure out how to do that.  You can even communicate with the astronauts on the International Space Station.  If you’re willing to put in the time to study how to use these modes of communication, you can do it. 

Literally, the sky’s the limit.

6.  For we Hollywood types, there’s a working ham radio shack on the set of “Last Man Standing,” the TV show on Fox starring Tim Allen of “Home Improvement” fame.  Every once in a while, I’m told that someone on set fires up the on-set radio and communicates with the rest of we mere mortal operators, though I’ve not had that pleasure yet.

Here’s some more details: http://www.arrl.org/news/last-man-standing-moving-to-fox-network   (The photo is from the article.)

7.  You don’t have to be crazy rich to get started.  Once you are licensed, a new, entry-level handheld digital radio can be had for Amazon points, if you have enough of ‘em.  Even if you don’t, you can get in for less than $100 if you watch the sales.  If you’re OK with used equipment, you can get in for about half that.  If amateur radio interests you, cost need not be a barrier to entry.

8.  Ham radio operators help during natural disasters.  Here’s an excerpt of an NPR piece about how amateur radio stepped up to help Puerto Rico in 2017:

MCEVERS: How many messages have you relayed since the hurricane hit?

DOBER: Myself about a hundred.

MCEVERS: Oh, wow. And what’s – what are one or two that, you know, are you know you’re going to remember for a long time?

DOBER: Honestly, there was one woman who – she just broke down in tears when I told her. And she actually called me back five minutes later and she basically asked me, you just called me. And what you told me, I want to hear it again to make sure I heard it right.

MCEVERS: And what had you told her?

DOBER: I told her that, yes, I did call you five minutes ago. And the news I gave you is the news that your loved one is OK.

MCEVERS: And so she just had to hear it one more time?

DOBER: She had to hear it one more time, yes. And like I said, as soon as I told her – and it’s odd because you’re telling people – I mean, I was calling people in California, in Texas. And you’re telling them, hi, I’m from Pittsburgh, Pa., and I have news out of Arecibo for you or out of Puerto Rico. So for them it’s kind of like, what? You know, that’s not the way they’re expecting to get their news.

Here’s the whole article from NPR:  https://www.npr.org/2017/09/29/554600989/amateur-radio-operators-stepped-in-to-help-communications-with-puerto-rico

Here’s another article from NBC:  https://www.nbcnews.com/news/latino/puerto-rico-amateur-radio-operators-are-playing-key-role-puerto-n805426

And one more from CNN: https://www.cnn.com/2017/09/27/us/puerto-rico-maria-ham-radio-operators-trnd/

9.  I’ll quote myself from the original set of observations on this one:

People are people everywhere. I’ve made this observation about every country I’ve physically visited, and the international amateur radio community is no exception. I’ve talked on the radio with people from several different countries. I marvel at the universality of the experience among the operators I hear on the air. Korea, Canada, The Philippines, Australia, the UK, South America. It really shouldn’t surprise me how similar we humans are to our brethren ham operators around the world, but it did. It reinforces my contention that people are people no matter where you go. Governments may suck – and most do – but people are people everywhere. I find that very comforting.

This remains true and still amazes me every time.

10.  This isn’t an observation, but a shout-out to Jeff, aka VE6DV, from Canada who’s just happens to be moving this week.  He is our weekly net controller and runs the net superbly.  He’s all the things that’s right about amateur radio.  He’s helpful, friendly and welcoming.  And the net he runs has gained popularity because of the way he does it.  He deserves public kudos so here they are.

11.  One more shout-out, this time to Andrew Taylor, MW0MWZ, in the UK.  He authors and maintains a software package which allows amateur radio operators to extend their reach from tens of miles to all the miles.  His software makes worldwide communications easy to use.  It’s free and he’s WAY more responsive to questions and answers than any professional tech support company.  So thanks, Andy, for writing and maintaining Pi-Star.  Well done!

Bottom line for me:  I am thankful that my son, Jon (left), poked me in the eye about my license awhile back.  Jon, don’t make the same mistake I did and wait 50 years to get your license.  It’s a great hobby and really tests my technical expertise every time I sit down at the radio. (That’s other son, Andy in the background, circa mid ’90’s.)

If a person’s brain really IS a use-it-or-lose-it proposition as we age, this is a great way to exercise the ol’ noggin.  Amateur radio is a great way to exercise your mind and help keep you sharp. 

This concludes today’s nerd alert.

Emmett’s Letter to the Family

Quoted for posterity in its entirety from the lovely and talented Beth Geyer’s Facebook page.

Emmett’s feeling much better and wrote this lovely letter to thank us for taking such great care of him. He’s the sweetest!

“DEAR FAMILY,

I WRITE THIS IN ALL CAPS, NOT SO IT’S EASIER TO READ, BUT SO YOU CAN TELL I’M YELLING. MY DISAPPOINTMENT IN YOU THIS WEEK KNOWS NO BOUNDS.

FIRST OF ALL, HOW DARE YOU. ALL I DID WAS VOMIT ALL OVER MOMMY’S OFFICE. AND LIVING ROOM. AND HALLWAY. YOU YELLED AT ME AT FIRST, THEN YOUR YELLS TURNED INTO QUIET STARES AND WORRIED EYES. DAD GOT OUT THE BIG, SCARY CARPET CLEANER AND NOT ONE OF YOU LET ME LICK ANY OF IT BACK OFF THE CARPET. I WAS TRYING TO HELP! BUNCH OF INGRATES.

THEN YOU WHISK ME OUT OF MY HOUSE AND TAKE ME TO STRANGERS WHO STABBED ME WITH NEEDLES AND HOOKED ME UP TO MACHINES. EXACTLY WHAT DID I DO TO DESERVE THAT?! I GAVE YOU MY “OW, MY TUMMY” EYES, BUT YOU INSISTED THAT NOT ONE, BUT THREE DOCTORS RUN TESTS. HELLO?! I SAID IT WAS MY TUMMY, WHAT MORE DID YOU NEED? YOU NEVER LISTEN.

I SPENT THREE YEARS IN THE HOSPITAL THIS WEEK. THREE YEARS! I CAN’T TELL TIME BUT I KNOW WHAT I KNOW. AND DO NOT GET ME STARTED ON THE SHAVINGS. I LOOK LIKE A POODLE WHO’S GROOMER GAVE UP THE FIGHT HALFWAY THROUGH THEIR HAIR CUT. NO OTHER DOG BETTER SEE ME LIKE THIS OR SO HELP ME GOD….

TWICE YOU CAME TO SEE ME AND THEN JUST LEFT ME THERE TO BE STUFFED BACK INSIDE A CAGE. REAL NICE. IF I WERE A CHILD YOU WOULD BE IN JAIL RIGHT NOW.

I COULDN’T EAT, I BARELY SLEPT, AND NO ONE EVEN OFFERED TO BRING ME A TV. BARBARIANS. I WILL ADMIT THAT THE COTTAGE CHEESE THEY GAVE ME WAS LIFE-CHANGING, WHICH BRINGS ME TO ANOTHER COMPLAINT. SIX YEARS ON THIS EARTH AND I’M JUST NOW LEARNING ABOUT THE WONDERS OF COTTAGE CHEESE? WTF.

YOU’RE LUCKY YOU CAME TO YOUR SENSES AND BROUGHT ME HOME WHEN YOU DID. I WAS *THIS* CLOSE TO WRITING AN ANGRY LETTER TO MY CONGRESSMAN.

YOU’RE ALSO LUCKY I’M FEELING BETTER AND MORE EQUIPPED TO HANDLE THE NAUSEATING AMOUNT OF ATTENTION YOU’RE GIVING ME. ALSO, THANK YOU FOR BUYING MORE COTTAGE CHEESE.

In closing, HOW DARE YOU.

Love, Emmett”

#IneedToSleep #ThisWasFunnierInMyHead

One Month In

After months of house hunting, mortgage applications, moving company disasters, long-distance commuting (sorta), unanticipated major home repairs, government administrivia and last-minute projects at work, I’m finally retired.  Again.

I’ve told folks for years that the eight months after I retired from the Army were the best months of my life.  While that’s only a slight exaggeration, not working for those eight months was wonderful.  I could see a movie in the middle of the day, schedule medical appointments at my convenience, go to a real, actual bank and make a real, actual deposit with a real, actual teller – all without taking a single minute off from work.

It didn’t suck.

So here I am once again, one month post-retirement.  Things are mostly settled in and I’m finally starting to learn my way around the area.  I have an Ohio driver’s license and Ohio plates on my car.  I guess I’m committed, huh?

In my former neighborhood in Prince William County, one of our neighbors, also a government retiree of some sort, told me that I would surely suffer “Potomac fever,” (not to be confused with Potomac horse fever) described as an overwhelming desire to return to the NCR and engage in professional inside-the-beltway shenanigans.  He figured that I’d need to get back to the rough and tumble of life as part of or at least adjacent to the Federal government; that I would feel unsettled outside of it all.

I’m pleased to report that I have not even experienced a Potomac sniffle let alone a fever of any kind.

Yup, this time I think I got it right.

I’m still getting up early in the morning, but instead of engaging in a minimum 60-minute commute in occasionally high-speed and mostly no-speed DC traffic, I’m making the occasional breakfasts for the boys and seeing them off to their new schools.  I’m driving the 1.8 miles to Einstein Brothers Bagels over on The Strip, as I have learned it’s called, and bringing home a baker’s dozen pretzel bagels, but only on Mondays when they have a reduced price on such things.  If I need dog food, I can travel the 1.8-mile trip to PetSmart.  Milk is a paltry .6 miles away.  Even the movies are just .2 mile further than the milk.  I can walk to the Cinemark’s ten screens and if I’m ambitious, I can walk another .9-ish miles to ANOTHER ten screens.

Unlike living in Woodbridge, EVERYTHING is close by.

I do miss my colleagues at the Turner-Fairbank Highway Research Center, particularly those on my team: Lisa, Dawn, Maria and TaM. To all of you, thanks for making the experience of working there such a positive one.  Especially my team leader, Lisa Shuler.  Your support over these last five years was phenomenal and I appreciate your leadership, candor, kindness and compassion.

Apologies go out to Dr. Jim Shurbutt who worked in the cubicle next to me.  He never complained when I was loudly editing video, hearing the same audio over and over and over again through the cubicle walls.  He tolerated me talking to myself through the editing process and swearing at Adobe Premiere to do what the hell I thought I’d told it to do.  He put up with a lot of that and deserves some kind of medal ‘r something.

Turner-Fairbank Highway Research Center

The Center is a collection of engineers, chemists, computer programmers, behavioral psychologists and… Well, let’s just say it’s a multi-disciplined collection of people with advanced degrees all of whom are engaged in making the highways and bridges here in the U.S. and around the world cheaper to build and safer to drive.  I would love to be able to send a shout out to all of you by name.  I am honored to have been welcomed into your world and to have worked with this great collection of minds.  Thanks for all that you do.

Oh!  One other thank you to local resident Todd Herberghs.  Todd and I worked together back in DC and now he’s a telecommuter.  He sold me on this area when I came to do the home inspection.  Todd, you were right – this area has a lot to offer its residents.  We need to get together again now that I’m here full-time.

Bottom line: I’m doing well.  No regrets on the retirement and I am convinced that despite the obstacles in getting here, this is going to work out just fine.

And I don’t even need to be vaccinated for Potomac fever.  Looks as though I’m already immune.

 

 

Jim Acosta, CNN and the White House

I do not intend to debate who touched whom first or the truth of the CNN reporter “… placing his hands on a young woman…”.  Everyone can decide for themselves from the plethora of imagery out there.

To establish blame for this incident misses the greater point.

One of the tenets of good public affairs work is the relationship an organization or individual holds with the press.  For example, the Department of Defense provides office space in the Pentagon for the press.  Through repeated access to familiar faces and agencies, this encourages the establishment of positive relationships built on long-term trust between DoD officials and the reporters in the Pentagon press corps.  Such positive relationships facilitate the dissemination of truthful information from the government to the press, and helps to mitigate the adversarial relationship inherent to such relationships.

Bottom line: treating the press well because you have a long-standing trustworthy relationship helps your story be told accurately, fairly and in a timely fashion.  It’s in the best interest of the agency.

A mess kit. Yes, this was how the Army used to eat.

Conversely, an antagonistic relationship between the government and the press limits the ability of the government to put out accurate information.  If you’re pissing in a reporter’s mess kit, it makes sense that the reporter, being human, will be just as aggressive and antagonistic in return.

It is incumbent upon both the press and the spokesperson to conduct themselves with proper decorum.  And I will not excuse Acosta’s showboating, as my good friend Hank Minitrez characterized it.  Some may disagree with the characterization, but even if that was not his intent, he does come off that way.

And this is not the first time that a President has had a contentious relationship with a reporter.  Here’s an excerpt from an article in Houstonia that sums up the friction between President Richard Nixon and Dan Rather, then of CBS News:

“On March 19, 1974, Nixon stopped at Jones Hall on a national tour during the height of the Watergate scandal, making public appearances in an attempt to salvage his administration and reputation. ‘The president had received a warm reception in Chicago a few days earlier,’ wrote Ray Miller in his legendary 1982 history of the city, Houston. ‘He came to Houston to appear before a group he expected to be every bit as friendly.’ Unfortunately for Nixon, Houston-born and bred Dan Rather, then CBS’s White House correspondent, was in the audience that night.”

https://www.houstoniamag.com/articles/2017/2/21/remembering-the-night-dan-rather-sassed-president-richard-nixon

Here’s a video clip of the incident in question:

Adversarial?  Absolutely.  Unprofessional?  No.

Here’s my take.  Having been the spokesperson on occasion and attending many, many press briefings over my career, I always felt that it was my responsibility to present my messages in the most professional way I could. It was my job to keep the conversation professional so that I could tell the story I was there to tell.  I was lucky that I never had to deal with a belligerent reporter, but I was prepared to.

I expect that the government spokesperson to bear the burden of sucking up their private feelings and biases regardless of how a reporter behaves.  I expect the spokesperson to rise above the bad behavior and take the high road.  At the very least, move on and deal with the belligerent off-camera.  In my opinion, that’s the best – the only way to make sure your voice is heard.

Reporting at the White House should be aggressive.  The Fourth Estate’s job is the keep an eye on the goings-on in government.  Lord knows Congress won’t do it, so it’s up to the press.

Was Acosta showboating?  Does it really matter?

I’ll excuse an aggressive reporter long before I’ll excuse an aggressive spokesperson.  It’s the reporter’s job to be aggressive, not the spokesperson’s.

When the press is denigrated, minimized, or censored for any reason I get concerned.  The Fourth Estate is the last line of defense against a government gone awry.  The press NEEDS to be supported and encouraged to ask tough, embarrassing, even damning questions of our government officials when warranted.  I’ll give the benefit of the doubt to the press any day if the spokesperson refuses to take the high road as I expect them to.  And the high road doesn’t seem to be this administration’s strong suit.

P.S. Here’s some additional background on the Nixon/Rather relationship.  

Cool Pictures That I’m In or That I Took: Stuff-I-Should-Have-Posted-Earlier-But-Didn’t Edition

Here’s another in a series of posts I’m going to make when I find some of these treasures. Some will be captioned, others will not. The only criteria for posting in this series is that:

a.) I’m in the photo or…

b.) … I took the photo.

In the summer of 2017, Nate, Garrett and I went on a biking tour of the National Mall in Washington, DC. We stopped at all the sights – and there are many. Here’s some select snapshots from the trip including the Lincoln Memorial, The White House, The Ohio column at the World War II Memorial and the Capitol.

Here’s a video of the ride.  It’s 15 minutes long and the battery gave out, but it captures the event.

I was sitting at a soccer game last year and turned my head to see this dog relaxing on the sidelines.  Glad I had my good camera with me!
The solar eclipse in August of last year swept across the United States. Prior to this event, no solar eclipse had been visible across the entire contiguous United States since June 8, 1918; not since the February 1979 eclipse had a total eclipse been visible from anywhere in the mainland United States. The path of totality touched 14 states, and the rest of the U.S. had a partial eclipse.*

The boys and I road-tripped to South Carolina to the home of Lisa Shuler, who graciously hosted us for the event.  This is an edited version of the photo I took at totality. The only change was to add color to the corona, as that’s what most people expect.  However, the actual corona was pure white.

This is an oldie but goodie.  I shot this in 2009 at the Dog Paddle in our community pool.  At the end of summer upon the closure of the pool to humans, the pool is open for one day for dogs to come splash around and enjoy the water.  These two were observing the action from a comfortable distance.

* Most of this paragraph was excerpted from the Wikipedia Page.

On the Seventeenth Anniversary of 9/11

I almost didn’t re-post this.

Nearly every year, I have. It always refreshes my memory far too realistically and emotionally.  Just now, I re-read it and I realized that’s the whole reason I re-post this in the first place — so that I don’t forget how I felt that day.  So at the risk of being repetitive, here it is.  — Dan

I wrote this back in 2009 in response to all the “Where were you when 9/11 happened?” questions and recollections that were being circulated around the Internet.  I’ve reposted it many times in the hope that I’ll continue to recall not just the horrific facts of that day’s events, but the feelings with which I associate it.  To this day whenever I hear replays of the news broadcasts of that day, the feelings, anguish and anger can be nearly overwhelming.

Even though I wasn’t near any of the three places that were scarred forever by the acts of a few, 9/11/2001 changed my life in ways that I could not have imagined then and which I sometimes don’t believe even now.  Regardless, I will never shake the feelings that 9/11 evokes in me nor do I ever want to.  More importantly, I wish that all of us could share the unity, resolve and dedication to our nation and our common defense that we all felt in the days and weeks following that awful day in 2001.

Thanks for reading.

“So, do you think the Army’s going to call you up because of this?”

“I sure as hell hope so.”

That was the big question my supervisor at the E! Channel asked me on 9/11. While I did eventually get called up, I’d gladly give up all the financial and professional gains which resulted if it had never happened. But that’s not what these words are going to be about.

I was awakened that morning by a phone call from my mother-in-law who told us in frantic, disjointed words that something bad was happening. As a native New Yorker, she was understandably shaken at learning that Manhattan was under attack. The message was related to me by my spouse at the time who slammed into the bedroom and shook me awake and said “Wake up! The Pentagon’s under attack!”

I got up, rushed to the TV in a groggy stupor and saw the story as it was unfolding, still in chaos. Information was rolling into news agencies willy-nilly and much of what was heard and reported was unconfirmed. I dressed and hurried to work in the Wilshire District in LA, near the La Brea Tar Pits. The streets of Los Angeles were relatively deserted – not empty as they were during the LA riots in 1992. But it was clear that people were staying home. Businesses closed for the day and many more operated on essential staff only. Which is why I was going to work.

When I arrived at E!, I could see that many of the national cable networks which shared our satellite space had either gone dark or were carrying coverage from one of the big three networks. It was at that moment that the enormity and the immediate practical impact of this event on this Nation became apparent. Even broadcast commerce stopped for a time – shopping networks were carrying round the clock news coverage. Sports channels and others had full-screen graphics up telling people to tune to a network broadcast and follow the news.

One of the positive things about working at a TV network with all measure of high-tech TV equipment is that we could monitor as many TV stations as we had monitors. And we had plenty. CNN, Fox, ABC, NBC, CBS, MSNBC all raced to get pictures and firsthand accounts of the unfolding tragedy on the air. I flipped back and forth from moment to moment and channel to channel trying to find the best pictures. No one had a lock on the best, so it was back and forth from channel to channel.

As for what I was doing in between times, E! was trying to decide whether to take coverage from a major news network or stay with the on-air schedule without regard to the situation. My job was to design on-screen graphics in support of either option. Ultimately, E! chose to stay with their own programming rather than switch to one of the majors. I will not debate that decision, but I will observe on my own behalf that I had no interest in entertainment fluff at that point, and I couldn’t imagine anyone else feeling differently.

From the moment it sank in just what was going on, my heart was heavy, but my fists clenched in preparation. When my terrific boss, Ken Mason, asked me if I was going to get called up, not only did I hope so, but I was hoping it would be within the hour. For the rest of the day, most of us sat in network control going about our business with about as much feeling as the machines supporting us. It was quiet and the sounds of our air signal were mixed with the sounds of the coverage coming from ancillary equipment racks where the carnage of the day was being replayed over and over.

I would be many months before I actually got called up and reported here to Washington, D.C. in January, 2002. I spent the next 71 months assigned to the Pentagon in various assignments, some 9/11 related and others not.

A year after the attacks, our office moved into the rebuilt section of the Pentagon and shortly thereafter, the small indoor memorial and chapel was opened. Whenever I thought I was being unfairly put upon, I’d stroll the 30 seconds down the E-ring to the 9/11 memorial and stand for a minute or two.

It gave me perspective in two profound ways. It made me recognize that getting picked on that day wasn’t really so bad, and that any one of these people whose biography and photo were in one of two books would give anything to be in my predicament. Alive. Within reach of those about whom they cared. And it humbled me. Standing there for only a moment made me remember why I was there and that I had better do the best job I could.

Eight years have passed since the attack on our Nation. Today, while driving into my civilian job, I listened to replays of the coverage from that day and remember what it felt like that day. How shocked and horrified. How angry. How resolute. I suspect that will never change. I suspect that I’ll always feel the intense mix of emotions on this day. And I’ll fight back the tears on this day just as I did on this day eight years ago.

For many, the feelings we experienced that day have already escaped us, relegating the horror of the day to a collection of historical facts, figures and stately memorials to those who perished. It is right that we recall the facts and honor those who were murdered that day. However, it is my wish that somehow the shock, horror, anger and resolution I felt – that most everyone felt that morning – stay with us and unite us as it did on 9/11 and in the shadows of that day.

Eight years hence, we find ourselves a divided Nation when in truth, there’s so very much more about us that is alike than those things which divide us.

I wish we weren’t so divided and I have no solution as to how to unite us. I just know that we have it in us. The days following September 11, 2001 were some of America’s finest.

Remember what that was like. Not just today on this horrific anniversary. But every day.

It would serve us all well.

An Extra Slice of Ham

Most of you know that in a previous life, I was an actor. You can see how successful I was by my long-term employment with the government. Back then, I did a lot of stage plays and I admit it, I’m a huge ham. I love stage because you can be broad and loud and all those things that are far tougher to do on film. I was never very good at subtlety.

In the fall, at the urging of #1 son, Jonathon Wolfe, I jumped into the amateur radio field, which in the vernacular is called ham radio:

a : a showy performer; especially : an actor performing in an exaggerated theatrical style

b : a licensed operator of an amateur radio station

Guilty on both counts.

I like figuring technology out. I like the process of tinkering around with it until I either make it work of get so frustrated that I ask for help. Amateur radio fills that particular need for me. Radio transmission theory is a bottomless pit of learning opportunities and over my head much of the time, even though I have a background in technology from my college days, my time running broadcasting stations and networks, and my time in the U.S. Army Signal Corps. (Pro Patria Vigilans, bitches!)

In the few months since I got my license and ventured out into the radio frequency ether, I’ve made some observations. Let me be clear: these are observations – not criticisms. Here we go.

1. There are two schools of thought when it comes to ham radio license exams: Learn the material and take the test, or just memorize the test questions and answers (there are hundreds of ’em) and learn as you go. I’m kind of OK with either because learning by doing is a time-honored tradition.

I assumed that everyone in this hobby was as equally delighted as I was to figure stuff out on their own. I assumed that this was one of the reasons we all get into the hobby in the first place.

There is a subsection of folks like me who are perfectly fine, for example, taking eight weeks to learn how to program a DMR radio. No exaggeration, it took me eight weeks before I made my first call on purpose. Perhaps it’s because of my advancing age that I’m more patient now than I used to be. And get off my lawn!

There’s also a subsection of operators who want the easy solutions yesterday. (I suspect that these are the kinds of people that want the answer from their computer BEFORE they hit the ENTER key.)

2. People are people everywhere. I’ve made this observation about every country I’ve physically visited and the international amateur radio community is no exception. I’ve talked on the radio with people from several different countries. I marvel at the universality of the experience among the operators I hear on the air. Korea, Canada, The Philippines, Australia, the UK, South America. It really shouldn’t surprise me how similar we humans are to our brethren ham operators around the world, but it did. It reinforces my contention that people are people no matter where you go. Governments may suck – and most do – but people are people everywhere. I find that very comforting.

3. There are assholes on the air just like in real life. About a month or so ago, after having become somewhat comfortable talking to people on the air, I stumbled into a talk group on DMR, one of the many digital standards. It was one of my very first times on DMR. A talk group is just like it sounds – a chat room where people actually talk with one another instead of typing back and forth. There was a verbal knock-down-drag-out war of words going on between a few individuals and it was loud, rude and the primary instigator would not shut up. I was horrified because in the months since I had gotten my license, I’d only experienced hugely warm welcomes and willingness to help from everyone particularly to the new guys like me.

I should have expected that it wouldn’t all be sunshine and blue skies, but that first experience on DMR was shocking in its contrast to my other limited experiences. I almost didn’t go back. I did, of course, go back to that talk group as well as other ones and have had some wonderful conversations with folks on DMR. But yikes! If I’d have heard that first, I would have a very different perspective on the amateur radio community.

A KWM-2. I used to see these in Army MARS stations quite regularly.

4. My introduction to ham radio was in the 1960’s. My childhood friend’s dad, Nathan Vance, was K8TMX. (How I’ve remembered his name and call sign all these years still surprises me.) Mr. Vance was in the middle of a conversation on his ham radio and must have seen me standing there with wide eyed amazement at the buttons and dials of an old-school Collins KWM-2. He took pity on me and let me talk on his radio to some South American country, as I recall. This being the 1960’s, he conducted his conversation with his fellow operator without the benefit of the internet to get him there. His radio was connected to a HUGE antenna in the backyard, and he communicated directly with the other operator.

Today, computers, digital radios and the Internet have really changed the landscape. Today’s digital standards like DMR, D-STAR and others rely on the Internet to get you out of the county. Some claim that using Internet back haul for amateur radio is cheating – not “pure” amateur radio. Then again, the nice thing about this digital world is that it’s instant gratification. With digital standards, you can start talking world-wide today. Right now.

I get the guys who say it’s cheating. They contend the purest form of amateur radio is totally self-reliant. Speaking candidly, I kinda fall into that camp myself. But with limited resources and real estate, I can’t set up a big antenna for talking around the world directly – my back yard isn’t big enough and my homeowners association probably wouldn’t let me if it were. Using these digital standards, which require far less power and shorter antennas, allows me to overcome the space and HOA obstacles that otherwise would limit the people I could reach. (One more thing about the digital standards – transmissions made in digital mode are clearer and are MUCH easier to hear for a guy like me who should be wearing hearing aids, but isn’t. This turned out to be a bigger deal for me than I thought it would be.)

5. For a guy like me who loves tinkering with tech, it’s addicting. As I already mentioned, amateur radio is a bottomless pit of learning opportunities in everything from rules and regulations to antenna physics and Earth-Moon-Earth communication. I’ll never run out of things to study and learn, if I’m so motivated. The downside to this is that you want to buy every damned radio or device you can lay your hands on not because you need it, but because it’s fun. That can get pricey and a little restraint goes a long way. (Ok, a LOT of restraint for me. I admit it.)

6. Unlike the Citizen’s Band radios, hams don’t use handles. We have names. Mine’s Dan, thank you very much. I like the lack of anonymity that hams insist upon. Yes, there’s potential for subterfuge and deceit, but particularly with the digital standards, it’s virtually impossible to hide your identity. It makes you responsible for how one conducts oneself on the air. Comparing that to Facebook or Twitter, I find this strikingly refreshing.

7. You can always find someone to talk to. (See #2 above.) If you’re willing to look around, and you’re not mic shy, (yes, that’s a thing) you can always find someone to talk with. There are a zillion frequencies out there and someone’s talking on at least one or two. There are a zillion standards both digital and analog that operators are using on these zillion frequencies. And there’s a zillion talkgroups, reflectors or repeaters on which someone is talking about something right now. Maybe not in your language, but they’re talking. Bottom line: there’s no excuse for saying “there’s no one on the air!” If you want to talk, there are a zillion ways to find someone just like you who wants to talk, too.

As I mentioned at the top, my son, Jonathon, got me started on this while thing with a casual text message:

JW: “Hey, sir, do you have a HAM license?”

DW: “I do not. I used to carry a commercial radio operators license, but that was long before your arrival on my planet. …”

That’s what started it all. I have Jonathon to thank for planting the idea in my head. Since then, I’ve taken two tests, got my General Class license, and talked to lots of fellow operators around the country and around the world. I’m grateful for his offhand comment that motivated me to do something that I had always wanted to do but didn’t.

Now it’s his turn to get a license.