2014 – An Even-Numbered Year

No, I suppose that’s not the best thing I can say about 2014. But it was the first thing to come to mind when I wanted to describe the year in a nutshell.

2014-logo-stock-market-forecast-predictions-goldman-sachs-gold-europe-japan-options-trading-technical-analysis-etf-educationThis past year was actually pretty decent as years go. It had its high points and it’s low points and a lot of points in between.

Sidebar: My Dad always used to say, “The shortest distance between two points is a straight line.” I always parodied it as “The shortest line between two distances is a straight point” or something like that.   The straight point always made the mathematician in me giggle.)

This year marked my return to the world of the employed. I wrote about my first year at Turner-Fairbank Highway Research Center a while back.   In July, I unintentionally acquired the mission to coordinate a presidential visit to the Center. That turned out to be a huge shot in the arm both professionally and personally. I had not experienced any real successes for along time and successfully coordinating that visit was the kind of confidence builder that I didn’t know I really needed – but I did – much more than I’d thought. So for that opportunity, and for all of the great people at the Center and at the White House who contributed to that success, I am very, very grateful.

Emmett, biting an object that for a change isn't my arm.

Emmett, biting an object that for a change isn’t my arm.

We lost Bella and gained Emmett as our family dog. While in my mind, the jury’s still out on whether this is a good thing or not, in moments of clarity, I recognize that Emmett provides me with a little bit of calm quiet time when we go on our evening walks around the neighborhood.

Of course, when I come home from work in the evening, he’s at the top of the stairs wagging his tail like a garrison flag in a tornado, his teeth are often bared in an aggressive grimace that rivals that of a battle-readied Klingon, and he’s growling in a way that to the uninitiated would be a clear indicator for future avoidance.

Oh, he’s also licking my hand as fast as his tail is wagging. In between growls, there are squeals of either delight or constipation. But so far, he’s not pooped, so I’m going with delight.

He’s a canine nutcase. But we have a mutually beneficial relationship even though he’s bitten me on a couple of occasions. So Emmett, and you’ll only hear me say this once, I’m grateful for your presence in spite of that time you sank your teeth into my left forearm.

10711081_10204501114865980_4278450657355952218_nAnd to Beth Geyer, Mistress of the Universe and Supreme Leader of All She Observes, I am grateful for you, for finding Emmett, for believing in him when I didn’t and helping me find his inner sweetness. Really, REALLY inner. And not very sweet when you get right down to it.

Oh, and thank you for taking such good care of me, Nate and Garrett. You do good work and we all love you! And you’re really, really pretty too, which is a plus!

The Prius, some years ago.  It doesn't look much different today.

The Prius, some years ago. It doesn’t look much different today.

I’m grateful for my Toyota Prius. At over 205,000 miles, it’s going strong, in good mechanical shape and still fun to drive. It’s unexpectedly comforting to have a vehicle that is reliable, comfortable and fun to drive even if the technology under the hood is ten years old. Thanks, Toyota, for making such a terrific car. (I just noticed that I was grateful for the Prius last year because I paid it off. Well, at least I’m consistent about something.)

My brother, Jefferson, and his family at a German Ikea store which looks remarkably like the ones here in the U.S.

My brother, Jefferson, and his family at a life-changing German Ikea store which looks remarkably like the ones here in the U.S.

I’m grateful to the U.S. Army for a number of reasons, but the latest isn’t even something that affects me. Thanks for sending my brother, Jefferson and his magnificent family to live in Europe for a few years. I mention this because back in 1981, the Army sent me to Europe to live and it was an overwhelmingly positive, life-changing experience that I really do cherish to this very moment. I hope that for him and his family it is at the very least an equally positive experience.

Another sidebar: I admit I am more than a tad envious. I’d always wanted to go back for another permanent change of station to Europe. So I am grateful for the opportunity to hear about their experiences over there.

Here’s a quote from last year. It’s not like my social life has changed much at all, so this really still applies:

“I’m grateful to the online community for keeping me company when I can’t get out of the house, which is pretty much always. Thank you for entertaining me, engaging me and giving me an outlet for socialization even if it is virtual in nature. I recognize that you’re all real people on the other side of my screen, and I value your friendship, your candor and your confidence. I’m extra grateful that I DO get to see many of you in person from time to time. Thank you for being so welcoming and so supportive.”

I’m pretty sure I’m grateful for a ton of other things, but at this moment, I am too sleepy to write about ’em all. So for the moment, I’ll be particularly grateful for the opportunity to count my many blessings at the end of this very eventful and positive year and say thank you to all my friends for just being.  You all matter to me.

If I had to do 2014 over again, I’d do it with more comfortable shoes. Other than that, 2014…? You go in the “win” column!

Oh, and thanks for reading the stuff I post on this blog. It’s always a pleasure to interact with you even (especially!) when we don’t agree. Let’s make 2015 the year of cogent discourse!

And chocolate. Yeah, 2015 should have more chocolate.

Playing Catch Up with the News

I’ve not written much lately. You know, life getting in the way and all that rot. I am a terribly undisciplined person writer and don’t always post here or anywhere else, for that matter. But I got this web site and I really should feed it more often. But I’m lazy.

For now, since I am far too lazy busy to write lengthy essays on topical issues and in the spirit of feeding this blog, here’s a list of winners and losers from relatively current events.

Kim Jong Un vs. Sony Pictures:

Winner by KO: Kim Jong Un. North Korea appears to have single handedly dealt a serious economic blow to a major U.S. corporation. The accepted definition of terrorism, ”the use of violence and intimidation in the pursuit of political aims,” applies here. We as a Nation should respond accordingly.

the-interview

(Sidebar: I’ll bet sales of “Team America: World Police” are going to skyrocket because of this. Therefore, Trey Parker and Matt Stone are the only American winners in this transaction.)

 

Mid-term Elections: Republicans vs. Democrats:

Winner: No one. We still get the same guys for the most part. I long for a viable third party.

 

Kim Kardashian vs The Internet:

Winner: The Internet. She didn’t break the Internet. Kim’s butt is the broken one – it’s got a crack in it. (Hardy har har.)

(Sidebar: If you were expecting a picture here, you will be sorely disappointed.)

 

U.S.A. vs Cuba:

Winners: Everyone. We’re now a step closer (albeit a small one) to exporting American culture, commerce and freedom to Cubans. Besides, what was in place wasn’t working and after 50 years, it’s time to try something new.

Now, let’s sell those Cubans some DirecTV dishes!

 

Marvel vs. DC:

Winner: Marvel. While “Gotham” on the Fox network is terrific, Marvel has masterfully woven its characters into a rich fabric spanning movies and television. The finale of “Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D” delivered a magnificent situation from which the Marvel universe will blossom even more. Well done, Marvel Studios.

Chloe Bennett as Skye

Chloe Bennett as Skye

Loser: Paramount Pictures. They still can’t get “Star Trek” right. Trek is as rich of a property as Marvel with an established fan base. Why they keep screwing it up is beyond me.

 

NASA vs. ESA:

Winner: The edge goes to ESA for landing on a comet ten YEARS after launching the damned thing. Philae’s successful landing on Comet 67P/Churymov–Gerasimenko is the culmination of a monumental undertaking by the European Space Agency. Well done!

ESA_Rosetta_Philae_CIVA_141113_1

NASA, please don’t feel left out. You only missed by a hair’s breadth. I have always loved what you do. You contributed enormously to my childhood imagination so I’m automatically prejudiced. Orion’s first flight was a remarkable accomplishment and paves the way for the return of American manned space missions. But dude, ten years? Man, that’s tough to top! (If that little explosion at Wallops hadn’t happened, you’d have had the edge. Just sayin’.)

NASA's Orion soon-to-be manned spacecraft.

NASA’s Orion soon-to-be manned spacecraft.

Cool Pictures That I’m In or That I Took: Facebook Cover Photo Edition

I’ve used this photo collage around Veterans Day both as a header for this here blog and for my Facebook cover photo as well.  I call it my “Career at a Glance.”

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I’ve received a lot of kind feedback from people on this collage.  I even made similar ones for other people.*  I chose these photos of me as I passed through the officer ranks of the U.S. Army during my nearly 29-year career.  There’s two of me as a captain because I spent an unusually long time as a captain before getting promoted to major.  Here are the original photos and the brief story behind each.  Click on any one of ’em to see it full sized.

 

Army ROTC Cadet, 1977:

AdvCamp77-editedThis was taken at Fort Lewis, Washington at graduation from ROTC Advanced Camp.  I’m third from the right on the next to the top row.  We had great weather that summer.  It only rained one day and it was the one day we had leave around July 4th.  Our platoon produced one general officer that I know of, Maj. Gen. Megan Tatu, who as a cadet is standing in the front row second from the left.

 

Lieutenant,1980, U.S. Army Signal Center and Fort Gordon:

Dan2LT

I’m not certain the occasion during which this photo was taken.  But here’s a semi-educated guess.  It may have been at the promotion to lieutenant general of the post commander at the time, Maj. Gen. William J. Hilsman.

 

Brand-New Captain, 1984, AFN-SHAPE, Belgium:

Dan&Esme001

This is me and my dog, Esme.  I’m sitting outside our apartment in the Belgian countryside about 20 miles or so from the office.  My oldest son, Jonathon was born in Belgium some months after this photo was taken.

 

Captain, USAR, 1992, Camp Pendleton, CA:

DANJEAN

This was taken during WOUNDED WARRIOR 92, an Army Reserve medical exercise conducted at Camp Pendleton Marine Corps Base in Southern California. That’s Captain Me and Master Sgt. Jeanie West. We both worked for the public affairs office at the 63rd Regional Support Command at Los Alamitos, CA.  Army Staff Sgt. Jim McGehee took this photo of us as we were sharpshooting Lt. Col. Stan Kensic’s rehearsal press briefing or some such thing.  I remember laughing uproariously during the rehearsal with all of these folks plus Ted Bartimus, who was 63rd’s full-time civilian PAO. I’m pretty sure this is the first digital photograph I ever saw.

 

Major, 1997, AFN-Balkans, Bosnia:

Bosnia051-med

This was taken outside the Armed Forces Network station in Tuzla, Bosnia.  This was relatively early in the deployment, as I recall.  In the photo with me from left is Capt. Shawn Jirik (now Colonel Shawn Woodbridge), Spec. Darius Sims, Spec. Jennifer Lopez (now Jennifer Lamb O’Cuinneagain, according to Facebook), and Sgt. Jennifer Braden.  Shawn, Darius and I were Reserve Soldiers and the two Jennifers were active component broadcasters on loan to us for a few months from AFN Europe.

 

Lieutenant Colonel, 2001, Army Forces Central Command – Saudi Arabia:

LTC-Wolfe&GENFranks

This may have been taken in 2000.  Hard to tell – it’s always summer in Saudi Arabia.  Anyway, Gen. Tommy Franks, the commander of U.S. Central Command at the time, paid us a visit. As a one-man PAO shop, I was doing all the photography for the event.  By the time this photo was taken, I think I had room for just one or two more photos in the digital camera’s storage.  Maj. Mike Downs, who went on to retire as a lieutenant colonel, took the camera from my hands and said “Let me take this.  PAO’s never get their photo taken.”  So Gen. Franks and I assumed the “grip and grin” position and Mike took the photo.  That was a terrific assignment and people like Mike made it memorable and fun.

 

Colonel, 2003, Fort Benning, GA:

DanAndyBJ

This one was a truly special occasion. My nephew, Andrew Kimes, went to the U.S. Army Airborne School at Benning as an ROTC cadet. When he was ready to graduate from the Basic Parachutist Course, my sister and Andy’s mom, Bobbi Jo, invited me to come down to his graduation and pin his jump wings on him. So she and I flew to Columbus, GA where we had both lived for a few months as REALLY little kids while my Dad was in his branch advanced course. I carried an extra set of airborne wings in my pocket so that I could remove mine from my uniform, pin my wings to his uniform, and then replace mine with a different set so I wouldn’t be out of uniform. This photo was taken after the graduation ceremony. Andy went on to have a great career and is currently a major and the acting battalion commander of a unit in Ohio. My sister was recently award a Doctorate of Nursing Practice from Otterbein University. I’m crazy proud of how they both turned out.

 

* The first one of these I did for my Dad:

Dad-CoverPhoto

Then I did one for Shawn Woodbridge:

Shawns-VeteransDayCover

And one for my younger brother, Jefferson Wolfe.  Jeff is now serving somewhere in Africa in support of the Army’s Ebola eradication efforts there.

Jefferson-CoverPhoto-1_edited-1

 

What a Difference a Year Makes!

One year ago:  Nate dressed up for school in celebration of my first day on the job.

One year ago: Nate dressed up for school in celebration of my first day on the job.

Yesterday was my one-year anniversary of employment with the federal government. (Yes, of the United States.)   I guess I must be doing OK because they’ve not yet asked me to go home and leave the parking pass behind.

This job has been an unexpectedly pleasant surprise. After nearly two years of being unemployed, you’d think that any job would come as an unexpected surprise and this one was no exception at the time. That it’s remained unexpectedly pleasant for a year is really quite amazing.

The day I was hired, before driving out here to the research center where I work, I in-processed downtown at the DC offices near the Navy Yard. Without exception, everyone I encountered there told me how fortunate I was to have landed a job out here at the research center. Once I arrived on site, everyone here made me feel welcome and necessary to everything that was going on out here. It’s remarkable that such an attitude persists for very long at all but the truth is that everyone here still makes me feel that way. The real beauty of it? It seems that everyone out here gets the same treatment.

This place is overloaded with Ph.D.’s and engineers and smart people the likes of which I’ve not seen outside of academia. I am totally outclassed by pretty much everyone with whom I interact but no one has even once made me feel less than important even though I am less accomplished academically.

Sciency stuff:  The RABIT bridge deck assessment tool collects comprehensive data on surface and subsurface conditions automatically and simultaneously.

Sciency stuff: The RABIT bridge deck assessment tool collects comprehensive data on surface and subsurface conditions automatically and simultaneously.

I experienced a lot this past year. I got to photograph and briefly meet the President of the United States. I observed a small robot inspect an entire bridge structure. I watched a bunch of engineers and scientists break a bridge structure with over 300,000 lbs. of force. And a couple of spectacular car crashes NOT involving my Prius.

Anyway, why am I telling you all this? I’m grateful for having survived a year as a federal government employee. But more importantly, no one should ever disparage the entire federal workforce. There’s some serious — and I mean serious talent out here at Turner-Fairbank just as there was among my civilian colleagues within the Department of Defense.

But probably the most important and lasting thing that I’ve learned is because of my colleagues: dedicated service to your nation doesn’t have to come with a uniform.

Thanks for a great year!

Why I Support Net Neutrality

Netneutralitycopy1Stay with me here, this is liable to get complicated.

My first instinct when it came to this subject was to pooh-pooh government regulation of what amounts to a private pipeline. The Internet, after all, is an electronic pipe that delivers information on demand and unbiased by location. In other words, you have access to the same information regardless of where you are on the network. (That’s the beauty of TCP/IP.)

Since an Internet service provider owns the broadband network infrastructure, they should be allowed to manage it and charge what the market will bear. Consumers will regulate the value and price of delivery through the usual dynamics of supply and demand.

Makes sense, right? Let’s look a little more closely.

Enter Comcast, for example. (And there are other examples. I’m picking on Comcast because I’m a former Comcast employee, sorta.)

Comcast and others have decided that they will prioritize the delivery of Internet traffic based on the information provider’s ability to pay. This means that an information provider can pay Comcast to move its information faster than a competitor. Plus, if I’m a high-volume information provider, I’m using up a whole lot more of Comcast’s bandwidth to deliver my information. Therefore, if I’m using more of Comcast’s resources to move my information, it should cost me more, right?

While this sorta makes sense in the context of a Netflix streaming service, or iTunes Movie delivery, when you consider the second and third order effects, this concerns me.

Comcast owns the National Broadcasting Company, or NBC and all of its entertainment and news operations. Let’s suppose hypothetically that Comcast decides that it will give top priority to Internet delivery of its NBC News products and relegate other news organizations to a lower priority.   Comcast understandably wants to you to see their advertisements in their news products instead of those of their competition. That means that if you’re a Comcast subscriber, online access to NBC News products would be easier to find, more readily available, faster to download, featured in ads and otherwise presented to the consumer IN LIEU OF products from other news outlets.

670px-comcast_logo-svg

Taken to the extreme, since Comcast owns NBC, they may make an economic decision to offer ONLY NBC News products on their network by routing all Internet searches for news and current events to NBC resources.  This would have the effect of censoring all news and information from any other source but Comcast’s NBC News.

And Comcast isn’t the only one who would likely engage in such a scenario.

Time Warner, Cox, Verizon all would likely strike similar deals with information providers who would collectively decide what information gets priority on their networks and what gets relegated to the basement of Internet transfer speeds, ultimately limiting what your eyeballs can see.

Do you want your access to information limited in any way just because of the company you’ve chosen to deliver your Internet service? Do you want your Internet provider deciding what news source you’re likely to see?

I don’t.

I have no objections to the CONSUMER paying higher prices for using greater capacity. I have a problem with Internet service providers deciding for me whose information is more valuable. The value of any given piece of information is a decision that individuals should make for themselves.

If there were multiple broadband Internet service providers available nationwide, I’d not be too awfully worried about the issue as the marketplace would have multiple choices from which to choose information they want. But in most cases, there exists a duopoly or, as it is in my hometown, only a monopoly on broadband Internet service.  In these communities, market forces can’t apply and if the ISP limits the delivery of certain kinds of information, what’s a consumer to do?

Since broadband Internet service in a given community is more often than not limited to one or two companies, it becomes more like a utility than not and should be regulated appropriately. No single company should have the power to limit news and information provided through their networks given the public’s reliance on it.

Internet service is no longer a luxury. It’s a must-have. Schools rely on it. We voters rely on it for the delivery of facts and opinion. In fact, broadband Internet service has become so important that it serves the public, and therefore the public interest.

Keep the information flowing to the public without bias, without limiting choices and ideas and without commercial interest censoring it.