One Graham's View

Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Boo to you

Happy Halloween!

Its that time again, the evening when spooks and goblins roam the streets to find friendly houses that will give out treats.

I’ve always love this day as far back as I can remember. Maybe it was the candy. Maybe it was the wearing of a costume. Maybe it was just the scary feeling about the whole thing.

As I look back, I think it was the costume that was the best part of it. Think about that. You get to be whoever you want to be, even if it is unrealistic, creepy, or just goofy. The day is all about escapism. In some ways, this would be an ideal day to have year-round. We’d never have to be ourselves and deal with our day-to-day lives.

I never liked the formed, plastic masks that came with so many of the costumes. These were always held on by an elastic band that would sometimes break, forcing you to find some way to fix it. These masks also had the tiniest hole cut out for breathing and always caused condensation to build up inside.

My favorite costume was a furry gorilla mask that I kept for several years. The face was molded of rubber and the rest of the head was covered with shaggy, brown fur. I liked it because it was pretty realistic and didn’t fall off my head. I got the mask when I was a teenager, but don’t recall where it came from. I never had any of the rest of a gorilla outfit, but seem to recall that I tried to do something like wear padding under my clothes. Just a goofy kid thing to do, trying to have fun and not be recognized.
In my 20s and 30s, I loved Halloween night for the parties that were taking place. I think it had an element of the childhood fun of costumes, too. I recall getting excited going to a Halloween store and stating that Halloween was like an adult version of Christmas as far as the fun they get out of it.

Today, I’m not doing anything big for Halloween. I’m a parent of a 4 year old and its about the kids, not us.

Austin has worked through the various costumes and finally decided that he wants to be Robin from the Teen Titans. Honestly, I had never heard of the Teen Titans until earlier this year when Austin’s youngest cousin introduced him to the characters. His cousin is almost 8 years old and is Austin’s favorite playmate. Austin just adores him. When his cousin wanted to be Robin, Austin wanted to be the same thing. On Friday evening, the pair of Robins got to test run their dynamic duo presentation and all went well. Hopefully, tonight will go just as well.

I hope you have fun doing whatever it is you have planned for the eveneing.

Happy haunting!


Friday, October 27, 2006

A Freaky Friday post

Good morning,

In addition to personal notes, I also like to post information on OGV about strange things I read in the news. Just to let you know, I read three newspapers almost every morning and bookmark those news articles that stand out as quirky, interesting, or just downright weird. Additionally, I read a collection of blogs regularly, doing the same things there.

With this technique in mind, I present to you today’s strange and weird news…

Imagine if you will, a bird. This bird is not your typical sparrow, crow, turky or chicken. Nope. He’s not even in the same category as the larger birds we know like eagles, hawks, or vultures.

This bird was more in line with the ostrich or other large, flightless birds. It was a running bird.
This bird stood about ten feet tall.
Yes, that’s right, ten feet tall. And, you’re right…I did use the past tense in that earlier sentence. I said “was.”

This bird is extinct, but a bird that tall that could run. Wow! And, top that off with what its typical prey was—a sheep-sized rodent.


I think today’s rats are huge and disgusting. Can you imagine a rodent whose size is larger than most dogs? I’ve read that rats have been known to nibble on sleeping humans. I’d hate to think what kind of bite this dude would put on some poor, sleeping schlub.

With all the turmoil in the world today, the crime and corruption, and the threat of some idiot getting his hands on a nuclear weapon, I’ll still take today’s crazy world over the potential of being eaten by some huge, hook-billed feathered freak or, even worse, by its prey!

Have a nice weekend!


Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Come Walk in Our Shoes

Good morning,

This past weekend, I had the pleasure to participate at Come Walk in Our Shoes, an annual experiential educational event in Central Texas. Sponsored by the VIP support group in Temple, the event had a strong showing of support from the local public. While the event is designed to be an educational outreach for the sighted public, it also served as a good networking of blind resources and as an information gathering opportunity as well.

The event had several challenge tables set up where sighted people were allowed to don a blindfold and attempt to do various tasks they are used to doing, but taking away their ability to rely on visual input. This is what the original concept of the event was—educating those who do not usually know how blind people function, but are interested enough to learn. However, as the event has evolved over the several years of its existence, it has grown to also include an offering of information and resources to the blind people in attendance.

One of the presenters at the event was Mark Marvel, with the
Blind Ambitions Groups,
A blind support group based in Dallas. The group’s web site offers its mission and purpose as follows:

“The mission of Blind Ambitions Groups is to educate blind and visually impaired people and their families about available resources – and to encourage each person to move to the next step – whatever it may be for that person."

"PURPOSE: Through support, we teach blind and visually impaired (hereinafter referred to as blind) people to advocate for themselves in getting what they need to facilitate a better quality of life.”

I met with Mark and am impressed with the work his group is doing. While they are based in Dallas, he said they are planning to offer their services state-wide in the future. Already, they host two radio programs on the Reading Radio network, Eye on Employment and Sound of Sight. There are archived shows available for download on their web site. There is a strong emphasis on advocacy and Mark is a really dynamic spokesperson who seems to have a good grasp of his resources. He also said their web site was going to undergo some updates in the coming days.

Take a little time to check out the group’s site and look through the archives of past shows. They present a good resource to offer your blind and visually impaired students who are looking for information and will eventually be seeking employment.

Also, while I was at this event, I had the opportunity to investigate, first-hand, the
Kurzweil - National Federation of the Blind reader.
At my last position, my colleague and I had read several news articles about this innovative piece of OCR scanning technology. Since the time I had first heard about it, I had been very intrigued by what is in essence, a portable scanner that runs OCR software. It is built with a digital camera linked to a PDA running OCR software designed by the granddaddy of OCR himself.

I think the KNFB Reader does a good job in scanning the photographs it takes and extracting out the text, but has a couple of drawbacks. In this age where computers are always processing information faster with each passing month, this device seemed a bit slow. The Reader also seemed a bit bulky for my taste, in its traditional camera bag-sized carrying case. For $3,500, I expected something a little more compact and also thought it would process the images faster. Perhaps, these aspects are coming in a future build of the unit. I have to admit that the whole concept of integrating the technologies that this device does is putting the tools in place to make independence among the blind a fact of life, even if the pricetag is a bit hefty.

Additionally, representatives from the Seeing Eye, the Texas Division for Rehabilitive Services, and a technology trainer who teaches blind consumers how to use JAWS and Zoom Text were also present and sharing information about their specific services.

Overall, the Come Walk in Our Shoes event was very successful in its mission to educate and provide resources. I look forward to seeing how this event grows for next year.


Thursday, October 12, 2006

Woman on death row gets pregnant

Good morning,

Did you hear about the
woman on Viet Nam’s death row
who had been held in solitary confinement for a year and got pregnant?

Gee, I wonder how that happened.

Aside from her pregnancy, three big things stand out to me about that story.

Point 1.
Trafficking more than 600 grams of heroin in Vietnam is punishable by death or life imprisonment.
Point 2.
The woman was set to face a firing squad for possessing approximately $63,000 of heroin.

Point 3.
She went to trial last year and already has had an appeal hearing.

Here are my thoughts about those three points:
Now, I’m not a drug traficker or advocate for them, but that kind of penalty (Point 1) is one to get my attention and make me weigh my options if I had been. The price of doing business in this profession are pretty steep and if you’re not ready to pay that penalty, get out of the business.

Call me a chicken, but I couldn’t take that trade off.

Now, as for her specific penalty:

First, she said that her life was worth only $63,000 of smack (Point 2). What a low valuation of life.

Secondly, the justice system in Viet Nam is swift and moves without any apparent bogs (Point 3). I have no idea if it is a fair system, but that is a very efficient speed. I just don’t know the effectiveness of it, whether it provides the opportunity for innocent people to keep from being swept up in the swiftness of it.


Wednesday, October 11, 2006

As the worm turns...

Good evening,

I just had to post this article here!

Do you want a pet that doesn’t make noise or one that you don’t need to buy any special food for?

How about a pet that you can go away and leave for two weeks and not make any special care arrangements for?

And, what if the state encourages you to bring this pet to work?

Well, then go to California and get some worms!

I couldn’t make this stuff up. For details, read the below Associated Press story.


Oct. 11, 2006, 7:53PM
Calif. encourages bringing worms to work

NOAKI SCHWARTZ Associated Press Writer
Copyright 2006 The Associated Press

LOS ANGELES — Next to a copy machine on the 10th floor of the city's public works building sits a plastic bin filled with worms wriggling in rotting lettuce.
Public servants walk by without even glancing at the box or the note above it: "Quiet please. Worms at work."

Always on the cutting edge of all things environmental, California is encouraging public and private-sector employees to bring worms to work so that the creatures can chew up apple cores, sandwich scraps and other lunch leftovers and produce compost.

The employees are then invited to take the stuff home and use the all-natural fertilizer in their gardens and on their houseplants.

The state's Integrated Waste Management Board is so serious about this that it has posted on its Web site a list of top 10 ways to recycle on the job, and No. 2 is: "Keep worms in your office."

Supporters of the idea say that once you get over the ick factor, it's not so bad. Open up a bin and it looks like a box of odorless, wet coffee grounds.

"Worms are the most forgiving pets you'll ever own," said Carol Parker, the "worm lady" who cares for the worms at the public works office. "You can go away for two weeks and ignore them and they're fine."

Tips for keeping happy worms are available on the state's Web site. Among other things, it suggests buying your worms from a worm supplier, to make sure you get the right kind. ("Unless you are pretty well brushed up on oligochaetology, do not try to dig up worms from your backyard.")

The site provides a long list of suppliers across the state to choose from, including As the Worm Turns, Live Nude Worms, and the Happy D. Ranch Worm Farm, which sells a three-tray "worm factory," which for $117 includes a bed of shredded coconut fiber and two pounds of worms.

To start a homemade bin, experts recommend putting down a little dirt and shredded damp cardboard or newspaper. Be sure to poke holes in the bin _ air flow is necessary to promote decomposition and keep odors down _ and make absolutely certain you've bought the right kind of worms. Apparently if they are not red worms, they may try to escape en masse.

The waste management board _ part of the California Environmental Protection Agency _ began promoting composting at least a decade ago, though the Top 10 suggestions are more recent. Andrew Hurst, who oversees the program at Cal EPA, acknowledged that only "very, very small numbers of businesses have worms."

"It's a weird thing to do," he admits. "It's not normal behavior to bring a bucket of worms to your office and put food scraps in there."

At the Cal EPA complex in Sacramento, hundreds of thousands of worms process some five tons of food scraps per year. The 60-some bins are in offices, halls, even the daycare center. There is a waiting list for bins among employees, some of whom have been known to compete over whose office has the more productive worms.

Over time, the caretakers have learned a thing or two about the worms' preferences.

"Worms don't like ranch dressing," Hurst said.

They also seem to harbor a special dislike for bologna sandwiches, though any kind of dairy or meat product is problematic because of the smell, he added.
Like other slender creatures, worms are also finicky about fatty foods and carbs, and eat bread only in moderation. Coffee grounds, on the other hand, and rotting fruit go over very well.

"They don't have teeth, so things have to rot," Hurst explained. "Worms need to be able to slurp it."

At least one Los Angeles County employee acknowledged that her popularity did not exactly skyrocket when she brought her new hobby to work.

"People found it objectionable that I had worms behind my desk," said Janet Coke, with the county sanitation agency. "They would just kind of tease me about my worm pile."


On the Net:

Monday, October 09, 2006

Happy rebirth day to me

Today is Oct. 9, the anniversary of the accident that forever changed my life. You’ll notice that I didn’t say that in a negative tone. I didn’t say it was the day that forever ruined my life or any other focus on a negative facet of the change. The reason is that I love the life I have and if I hadn’t had that accident, so much of my life as I know it wouldn’t exist. Nearly all the good things that I know in my life today have come about as a result of the changes brought by that fateful day.

It is a day I call my rebirth day. It is the day when my life changed and allowed me to start all over again, considering education and career options, much like I did when I first graduated high school.

I’m not going to blow my own horn and list my accomplishments. While those are meaningful, they are almost exclusively so to my family and myself. No, those aren’t what I’m talking about as good things. Instead, what I’m talking about is the life I live today is a result of what happened 13 years ago. I have my lovely wife, my wonderful son, and so many friends that I have made because of the path my life took when I flipped that car.

Yes, if that car had not flipped, I might have kept the career I cherished and ultimately reached the lofty career goals I had set, but there is more to life than accomplishing success at work.

So, aside from work, what other yardstick can one use to measure success in life?

For me, personal happiness is a big one. I love my life, doing what I do, even if that means that I’m not working right now. Without a work identity, I’m very much at peace with myself. I work hard, but at things other than my vocation. I work hard at being a good man, a good husband, good father, and a good friend.

As for material things, I don’t want for anything. I don’t mean to sound spoiled, but I have what I want. That makes it hard for those who want to get me a gift for my birthday or Christmas, but I think this is a good problem to have. I can think of so many that have many needs.

There was a time that I lived paycheck to paycheck, counting down the dollars in my checking account to make sure I had enough money until the next payday, and I’m not talking about the candy bar. I lived fast and loose at that time, but really had an empty life outside of work and a few friendships. This meant that my bank account and happiness accounts were equally low. No, this wasn’t when I was just out on my own at age 18. I’m talking about that last year that I had sight, that year leading up to my accident.

I’ll gladly take what I have today over what I had back then. And, that’s really saying a lot, as anybody who knows what my career with the prison system meant to me. However, like I have been saying, life is a lot more than the job one has. It took me giving it up to realize that.

When I took disability retirement, that was one of the most difficult decisions of my life. It meant letting go of the one thing I knew I could do and do well. However, it was letting it go that freed me to pursue interests outside of working for TDCJ.

I was listening to a broadcast a few days ago that discussed people’s adjustment to blindness and the host said for two to three years after he went blind, he didn’t do much, trying to figure out what he could do. Hearing that made me think back to the difficulty I had accepting that I was blind. I didn’t want to accept it, refused to accept it, and finally conned myself into accepting it for today, if not forever. At that time, still in the first six months of being blind and out of the hospital, I was clinging to the hope that there was a miracle surgery just around the corner that could restore my sight.

When I came to the realization that the fix wasn’t going to happen overnight, I still clung to the hope that this was going to be resolved in a short while. I had been seeing an ophthalmologist in Austin who added to those hopes by telling me about all this research he knew about. I’m not knocking him, because his enthusiastic support was something I think I needed to get my head where it needed to go. I really bought into his talk and figured that within five years, I would be able to have a surgical procedure that would restore my vision. He said that the technology would evolve in about five years. While I allowed that far off dream to linger, I was also thinking about how far off five years seemed like it was going to be.

Well, it has now been thirteen years and I’m still as blind today as I was the day I awoke in the UMC hospital in Lubbock. That five-year timeline passed a lot quicker than I thought it would when the doctor first told me about it. It came and went without me really marking that date on any calendar. By the time that date finally came around, I was more in tune to the acceptance that I was functioning in high gear and wasn’t longing for that surgery.

Its not that I’ve given up hope for seeing again. I’d truly love that to happen so I can see the many beautiful things in my life. What I’ve done mentally, though, is shift that to a prospect that I plan on eventually occurring, not setting it as a priority. That change was a critical one for me to move on with the adjustment process. As long as I was putting my life on hold and pinning all my dreams on the hopes for restoring sight, I was unable to move on with the rest of my life. I did that for the first few months of the time I was blind. It was that shift in priorities that let me move on and embrace life.

Thirteen years of being blind. That was something I perceived as unfathomable during those early months of being blind. However, that time now makes the time I’ve been away from the prison system equal to the time I worked there. That’s a strange thing for me to consider. I have such a big part of my identity tied to that career. I still have dreams about that period of my life. Just the other morning, I woke up having a dream about one of my Wardens giving me my performance evaluation to sign. I was in the REM stage, dreaming really well when that alarm went off. That means I could vividly recall what was going on in that dream, so I know exactly what it was.

Still, that time in my life is just where it needs to be, in the past. It was a great experience, one where I learned a lot, but it was a chapter of my life I had to move on from. And, I think I’ve done so very well, if I do say so myself.

Happy rebirth day to me. The same goes for you too,

(That link is for Marcus' home page; for more insight to who Marcus Engel is, check out
Engel's Ensights.)


Friday, October 06, 2006

Strong memories and what triggers them

Good afternoon,

Something happen today that took me back to one of the most vivid memories I have of my stay in the hospital after awakening from that long coma nearly 13 years ago. That reminder was when I was giving Austin a bath. He has got into the habit of eating a popsicle when he bathes. It makes the excitement of bath time even more fun. However, Austin doesn’t like to eat alone and insists that I have a popsicle too.

Today, right after Austin came home from school, he said, “Austin take bath.” He’s so cute when he says this, because he whispers it in a tone that is so excited, as if he’s keeping a secret from the rest of the world. Of course, I gave him a bath, he handed me my popsicle. His job before getting in the bath is to grab our popsicles and mine is to get the water warmed up. He gave me mine and said, “Daddy have orange.” Immediately, my mind raced back to that day so long ago, to a time Austin knows nothing about. I must say that those orange treats will always hold a special place in my heart. BTW, it was pretty darn good, sharing that one with Austin today, too!
For me, the significance of a popsicle goes back to Christmas Eve, 1993. I had been out of the coma for about two weeks, but was still connected to the ventilator and was also still not able to eat anything aside from ice chips. I had a feeding tube down one nostril and another tube going down the other to take out anything produced when processing the liquid nutrition. I was getting tired of ice chips and talked to my doctor about eating something. He said he could let me have a popsicle, but the other tube would suck it right out of my stomach. I told him I didn’t care, that I just wanted to taste something.

For Christmas that year, one of the best gifts I received was an orange popsicle. I still recall how good that frozen pop tasted. I had been chomping ice chips for way too long and I didn’t care if it didn’t stay on my stomach. I declared that afternoon that popsicles were one of the best foods ever made. In context, they sure were.

The other best Christmas gift I received that year was a phone call to my sister. This was no small feat and I’m not sure if it had ever been done before at University Medical Center. My brother had finagled to get a phone line dropped through the ceiling and into my ICU cubicle. A phone was brought in and tested to make sure it would work. Then, the connection was made and I got to talk to Diana. The rest of my family was there with me, but she had to leave while I was still comatose and return to work at her Air Force post. So, the loop was made and Christmas was saved.

All these memories brought about by a single orange popsicle this afternoon and Austin still doesn’t know what he triggered. That is the beauty of innocence.