On the Internet nobody knows you’re a spook

OS Division, USS ELLIOT, fall 1991

OZ Division, USS ELLIOT DD-967, fall 1991.

Had a dust-up on social media the other day and, frankly, I am still mystified how it all took place.

I tend to follow online and amplify veterans who lean left because the perception of the military consisting of only right-wingers needs to change. A tweet from one of the more popular veterans I follow attracted several good comments. I liked one from a particular veteran (we’ll call her Karen), checked her profile, and followed her when I saw we had something in common: our Navy occupations were in cryptography.
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Not throwing away my shot

Durham VA COVID Clinic sign

Durham VA COVID Clinic sign


I got the first of two COVID-19 vaccination shots on Saturday. For several years the Veterans Administration (VA) has been providing my healthcare. About two weeks ago I asked my doctor there if it was possible to get a shot. I stressed that I did not want to take one away from anyone else but if one were available I would love to get it. Thankfully, the VA has made it a priority that every veteran who wants a shot can get a shot. To my surprise, I got a call a day later! I was to be at the Durham VA on Saturday, 6 February at 9 AM to get my COVID-19 vaccination.

Our son Travis has been eager to get his vaccination, too, so in the offchance that he could pick up a shot, too, he accompanied me to the Durham VA. We hit the road shortly after 8 AM and drove through mostly-empty streets to Durham.

We arrived to a somewhat chaotic scene. One of the VA’s parking decks has been undergoing repairs for the past several months and parking has been tight even on a usual day. This day, there was a stream of veteran patients all arriving at the same time for their COVID shots. Though we got there at 8:35 for a 9 AM appointment, it took several minutes to find an open parking spot. Reaching the top level of the deck, we hopped out and headed to the walkway.

It was at the start of the walkway that I stopped to read the sign on the floor. No walk-in shots would be available. Regretfully, I turned to Travis and told him today would not be his day. With sadness, he turned back and waited for me in the car.

I joined a scrum of people waiting in line after line. First was the typical COVID risk screening at the entrance. A woman studied the masks worn by the visitors and switched out ones that didn’t meet her standards. I was amused when I was asked to trade the NIOSH-certified N95 mask that has protected me for months for an uncertified KN95 mask I was given. This was even more amusing when visitors with surgical masks that are not nearly as protective as my N95 were allowed to continue wearing them. Could it be that I know more about mask protection than healthcare workers?
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I was the fox

A fox at Glacier National ParkAt a recent conference, an African American speaker told an inspiring story of an interaction with law enforcement, when he had expected the worst intentions from the officer but his worry proved unfounded. Our speaker had been walking to the local gym after an early-morning run. Soon he became aware that a police car was slowly following him. Immediately he assumed he was being profiled.

“Did you know you were being followed?” the officer asked. The speaker feigned ignorance.

“You were being followed by a rabid fox back there,” the officer replies. “I was just watching out for you.”

The happy moral of the speaker’s story is not to assume bad intentions, see?
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Highlights of 2020: Wings of Carolina ground school

In the spring of 2020, Travis and I took a virtual ground school from a local flying club, the Wings of Carolina (WoC). It was the second time I’d gone through ground school, the first one being in the mid 1990s. That time I never got around to taking the FAA exam and I’d hoped to complete it all this time around.

Travis has expressed his interest in becoming a pilot. He has excellent vision and would spend lots of time using my flight simulator. I’d promised him long ago if he completed ground school I would be happy to pay for it, but still he was on the fence. When dates opened up for the virtual ground school, I prodded him multiple times about signing up but he was noncommittal. Finally, I signed myself up with the goal of finally finishing what I started. This was all it took to convince Travis to sign up, too, and we were off!

Twice a week, we would gather in front of our playroom TV to “attend” class. For three hours per night we’d be on Zoom as our instructor, John, filled out formulas and sketches on a whiteboard in WoC’s classroom. About 30 other classmates joined in, too. There were some technical glitches, fewer opportunities to interrupt with a question, and more of a distant feel to it than I would’ve hoped.
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Highlights of 2020: The Election

One absolutely wonderful thing that happened in 2020 was the U.S. Presidential Election. Elections bookended the pandemic for me. In March 2020, I volunteered to be an inside poll observer for the Wake County Democratic Party. This gave me insight into how elections are carried out. Being one of those rare people who have never missed an election, I was already well-familiar with how the process worked from the public point of view but learning more about the various checks put in place was quite educational.

COVID was a thing in the March primary but not taken as seriously. Spending so long in a school classroom turned polling place, packed with dozens of strangers seems like suicide to me now. The general election was far more strict, with volunteers carefully limiting the number of people indoors.

I was also disappointed to be restricted in my movement during the general election. Chief judges would corral the observers into one area rather than letting us do our jobs. After some cajoling I managed to get this largely fixed. I’m sure part of the issue was the threat of violence that was on everyone’s mind due to heightened tensions.

Without exception, though, the interactions I had with the Republican poll observers I spent time with were positive. We had good chats about the state of the community and the country. In the past I would’ve posed for pictures with them but the pandemic made that unworkable.
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Highlights of 2020: Bermuda sod

I got sick of having a disaster of a lawn. Over a decade ago I had vowed to hang up my hoses and not waste money on grass, but something had to be done. I decided that drought-resistant “Celebration” hybrid Bermuda sod was what we needed.

At the end of summer, I killed all the weeds and grass in our front and back yards. A few weeks later I had a giant tractor trailer deliver 11 pallets of sod. It was pouring down rain when the driver arrived. In his efforts to place mulch in our backyard his forklift quickly got mired in the mud at the end of our driveway. For two hours we struggled to get enough traction to free his forklift, only succeeding when my neighbor Chris arrived to help steer as we pulled.

The damage to the back yard had been done, though. A 6,000 pound forklift cut deep ruts in our muddy yard and those ruts had to be repaired before the sod could be put down.

It took back-breaking, Herculean effort by myself, Kelly, and Travis to repair the yard and get the sod put down while it was still alive. I personally pushed myself past the point of exhaustion many nights. I was a wreck. Surprised I didn’t have a heart attack, actually.

It was a stupid, stupid amount of work. But. We. Got. It. Done!

And it looked incredible! For once we had a strong turf grass that didn’t mind the sun or the shade! It’s been perfect.

With the first freeze, the sod has gone dormant and some weeds have appeared but overall it will look fantastic in the spring when it greens up. I won’t have to do much with it to maintain it, either. So far it’s been a great investment in our home.

Highlights of 2020: Sleep apneas

There are some things about my health that aren’t yet going in the right direction. When the pandemic began, I saw a tip to get a pulse oximeter to measure one’s lung health. It has been great in tracking my sleep apnea. Most nights I sleep with no apnea events but it continues to happen. When it does happen I pop wide awake, frustrated not trusting that I won’t stop breathing again.

I still haven’t found any good solutions. I am not sure there are any. I hope that this gets better this year because I am useless without a good night’s sleep.

Highlights of 2020: Welcome, weigh bench

With gyms closed across the country it’s been tough to get in a workout. Not that I want to work out in a gym. Kinda shy when it comes to my workouts.

I took weight training for a few years in high school, both at South Meck and again at Herndon. To my surprise, it was a really supportive environment. There were guys who could life twice the weight I could but everyone seemed to applaud when someone bested their own record, whatever that may have been. When I arrived at Herndon in 1986 I could bench press 200 pounds, quite significantly more than my weight at the time!

Other than a brief gym membership in the late 1990s, I hadn’t pumped any iron since then. So, when Hallie and Travis started asking if I could find a weight bench for the house, I figured it was time.

I scoured Craigslist and Facebook Marketplace for benches and weight sets. Anything posted would be gone within minutes. I searched for weeks to find something that would work, even being willing to rent a truck and drive two hours to pick up a set.

One afternoon, though, I had finished up work and was browsing Facebook Marketplace. A guy in Creedmoor had just posted an ad for a weight bench and weights. Literally within 15 minutes. It was everything I was looking for, so I jumped on it. Travis tagged along with me as we weaved through rush hour traffic to rent a truck and bring it home. While we were loading it into our truck, the seller’s cellphone was blowing up with potential offers. Too late!

So now we have a professional weight bench and weights. Travis works out regularly, adding muscle to his 6’4″ frame. And I love being able to step away from my desk and do a few reps just to clear my head. I’m nowhere near what I used to be able to do yet but I intend to do whatever I can to get back in shape. It’s a great investment in health. I’ve got no excuses now!

Highlights of 2020: Exercise, exercise, exercise!

Strava 2020 totals


Not all has been doom and gloom for 2020. It was a year that I likely put more miles on my bike than ever before. Quarantining indoors (a.k.a, sitting around feeling powerless) has a way of negatively affecting one’s mental health. One of the few safe things (as well as one of the BEST things) we could do was get outside for some fresh air! Kelly and I biked Raleigh’s greenways on a regular basis (sometimes joined by Travis), knocking out 20 mile rides on a regular basis. We even rode the Neuse River greenway from Anderson Point down to its end in Clayton and back. I had signed up for the paid version of Strava before the pandemic started and, coupled with the sweet Garmin watch Kelly got me for Christmas last year, I was able to track all my progress.

I was amazed to feel the progress I made in my cycling, watching new personal records set on segments I’d ridden for many years. Kelly and I took a more leisurely ride just yesterday and afterward I felt better than I have in months. Cycling has kept me sane, that’s for sure. Daily dog walks don’t hurt, either.

Strava tells me that for 2020 I walked or rode a total of 1,182 miles, being active for 318 days of the year for a total of 266 hours. Overall, I feel great and hope to build on this for even more exercise this year.

Highlights of 2020: Raleigh’s Confederate monument comes down

Raleigh’s Confederate monument comes down

The George Floyd protests were a Godsend for one particular reason: they paved the way for Raleigh’s Confederate monument to come down. A group of protestors managed to pull down some portions of the monument and Governor Cooper stepped in to do the rest, declaring the monument a safety hazard (which is absolutely was). Travis and I set up chairs across the street from the work crew as they wrestled the granite monument to the ground.

Several attempts were made before the right technique was found to disassemble the thing and cart it to some state warehouse somewhere. It was late that evening in June when the first section was successfully removed. We were tired but it was so worth it to watch this history being made.

I have long hated the monument, considering it a giant middle finger to the idea of integration and equality. Not only was it a monument to hate, it was also an architectural eyesore, out of scale for the State House Grounds where it stood. It took up half of the sidewalk that passed in front of it. One could not simply walk by and not acknowledge it.

But now it’s gone. The State quickly dug up the rest of it, planted grass in the spot, and extended the sidewalk to its original dimensions. I’m only disappointed that with my downtown office closed, I will not get the chance to smile daily as I walk past its former place of honor.

It was one of the best parts of 2020.

Good riddance, Confederate monument. Traitors deserve no place of honor.