Monday, July 24, 2017

So, that just happened...

It's been an eventful few days.

Prologue: I got a random email from a recruiter for a staffing company a few months ago. He said he might have some interesting work coming up, and asked if I was interested. I didn't really think much of it, said sure, I'd take a look if he had something interesting. Worst-case scenario, I end up continuing to work at Aflac like I've been doing.

Fast forward to this past wednesday, I got a request from for a current résumé, there was a really cool job coming up, etc. Most of the postings forwarded to me by this company haven't been fantastic, but I send along an updated résumé anyway, and they send me a list of required and desired skills for the potential job.

Friday morning they called while I was on my way to work, to ask if I could interview Monday. Apparently the prospective employer really liked my résumé. I say ok, and let my boss know, when I got to work.

When I got back to my desk, my phone rang. Apparently Monday wasn't fast enough:
 "Could you come by at 10:30 or 11?" (It was 9:30)

I said sure, I guess. Yeah, I can make that happen.

"Great. Here's the name of the company you'll be interviewing with. You might want to do some research about them before you have the interview..."

Seriously? I'm at work, I have to finish up this thing, then leave for an interview, drive to the new place, and read about the new company when?

I get to the place at 11. It's a company that makes flying cars.

Flying cars? Good thing I'm flying blind into the interview.

Anyway... long story short, the interview was almost an hour and a half. And another hour and a half later, I got a call to ask when I could start.

SO... in a couple of weeks, I'll start working on making flying cars.

I don't know how the hell this kind of thing even happens, but I'm a little delirious about it.

More as it happens.

Wednesday, November 9, 2016

The art of the Personal Statement

This has been a rough semester. At the moment, my oldest is three and a half years old, the younger is almost 16 months. They're in school three days a week, I take care of them on the other two. I have a new job, working as an independent agent for AFLAC. I'm taking Anatomy and Physiology. And on top of that, I'm trying to hammer out an essay for my grad school applications. (I think I need to take GREs, too, but one thing at a time...)


Tonight I've been trying to hammer out a concise personal statement on what I want to do, and how I think a masters' degree in O/P (Orthotics and Prosthetics) will help me do that. And it's had my head spinning.

There's a lot of really cool stuff going on with Lower extremity prosthetics and bionics right now. It's exciting, and I want to know more, but it's really more a point of curiosity than anything else.

I really want to work with upper extremity stuff. I've been working with my hands for 24 years. I spent ten years working with my hands at a remarkably high level, at North Bennet Street School, and afterwards. And I spent a lot of time, reading about woodworking, and about Sloyd training, which was a major influence on what is still taught at North Bennet today.

The heart of Sloyd was found in working with one's hands. The basic idea was that one could teach children not just to be good workers, but to be good and upright citizens, through craftsmanship. Aesthetics were taught as an offshoot, because the aim was not just to produce, but to produce something useful, and beautiful. Through determination and effort, children could be taught to appreciate the value of one person's work. And, to appreciate their own abilities.

Woodworking was introduced at MIT around the same time, because the president of MIT thought it was important for engineering students to work in a three dimensional medium, to learn how to think in three dimensions, and not just on paper. (I can't come up with a citation on this, need to dig through my notes.)

And behind all of that, is a point that I make to various people, that doing things by hand will engage your brain in a much different way than doing things in theory, or on paper: Any child who has ever pulled a nail with a hammer will develop a much more intuitive understanding or leverage than a kid who reads about leverage in a book. I think that some of that has to do with the anatomy of the brain, and how it processes motor/ proprioceptive stuff in the cerebellum, and integrates it all with the logical thinking that goes on in the cerebrum. But my knowledge of all of that it still tenuous at best, so I'll leave that point as it is.

But children these days (from what I understand) are issued cheaper, simpler prosthetics, with the understanding that they're going to grow like weeds, and a fancy appliance would be outgrown quickly. As a result, at a time when children are absorbing everything they can, and their brains are growing and adapting, their ability to physically interact with the world is being hindered by crappy prosthetics.

There's a concept of human development called a critical period: It's a period of time during which certain processes and understandings grow and are shaped by interaction with the world, and after that critical period, development, if it's even possible, is stunted. So one of the things I worry about is that these children are missing out on critical cognitive development because their physiology is  insulated from so much of what they might be able to experience. On some level, I get that a missing hand is a missing hand. It's a tragic thing, and at some level, it can't be helped. But at the same time, I can't help but wonder if they are missing out on the opportunity to learn to do things skillfully with a prosthetic, simply because the equipment provided doesn't allow for the development of that skill set: A skill set that would make that more advanced prosthetic more functionally useful when they get older.


So, you might think from this that what I really should do is go back to school and become an engineer. On the one hand, that might be interesting. But from talking to friends who are engineers by training and trade, I've been told otherwise:

"If you want to do the cool stuff, you need a masters degree." (I have a BA in English. I'd be starting from scratch, again, some more. I'll be turning 43 in May. I only have so many fresh starts left.)

"We don't actually get to build things. We mostly do it in CAD, and then send it out, so we're not really involved in the process of making whatever it is. Testing the final product isn't typically done by us, and we don't have a good handle on the manufacturing process, so sometimes the process of getting from concept to execution is... messy, and imperfect." (I spent 7 years building custom pieces, one at a time, from concept to execution, and learning to refine both design and build the process, by hand.)

Long-term, I want very much to design new arms for children that will grow with them. I think it would be great to work with engineers, but at this stage, I'd want to do it in a team setting that allowed for a full-spectrum process (concept to execution) in house, and in a setting that worked directly with the kids who are using the damn things. I know a lot about developing skill, and helping other people to do the same. I'm also very good at designing things in a way that both informs how they'll be made, and is informed by the manufacturing process. I'll leave the CAD/ CAM and engineering work to an engineer. That's what teams are good for. (Committees are where good design goes to die... but it takes a team to move the ball down the field.)


On top of all of that, there's a trend I've been reading about that bothers me. At one end of the spectrum, there's a lot of really, really cool stuff being developed that has the potential to help a lot of people. On the other end of the spectrum, politics around health care in this country is such that people in some states can lose an arm on the job, and all they get is a lump sum of about $45,000. (and that's before lawyer's fees, etc)  So these folks won't necessarily be seeing as much in the way of high tech solutions. (Or, if they do see them, their situation is such that this would actually be more helpful.) And so that's another area where I want to see how I can influence things. I spent so many years building jigs and fixtures for various tasks in the shop, I really want to see if there's a way I can work collaboratively with those in need to develop prosthetic jigs and fixtures for earning a living, that will fall within the limits of what they can afford, or get reimbursed for.


The only question that remains, is how to fit the above into 4500 characters, or less.

Thursday, October 6, 2016

Meandering through

I'm still trying to find a thread for this blog. I'm not big on random confessional... That's better fodder for drinking stories anyway. At some point this will morph into a blog about my adventures as an aspiring prosthetist, but the biggest adventures right now involve taking pre-requisites, using exercise to stay awake while I do homework at night, and forgetting my book in class. Not exactly a thrilling read. I have two more prerequisite classes, and applications for school are due in December.

The best advice I was given on blog or article writing was to offer a solution to a problem, regardless of whether it's a physical quandary, or a philosophical hiccup. Learning about a particular solution, or just a general approach, is a better use of anyone's time than reading more garbage about heedless dithering or Internet Outrage. 

To date, the biggest problems I've been working through are just about survival. Stay at home dad for one, and then two kids, plus no job, plus homework, and trying to find a star to steer by... It's a desert out there. As of this week, it's been two years of it. Exercise has been helpful, if for no other reason than that it's one area in my life where I can set concrete goals, and measure progress. So, for the sake of the blog, I don't mind talking some about my process there. (The problems I'm attacking here are starting over, and maintaining sanity during the process.) Finding a focus other than daily panic is a good solution to the problems inherent in un-mooring, or being cut loose.


This week, I solved the job issue, too... For the moment. This week, I've become an independent agent for Aflac. The last thing I ever thought I'd find myself doing is selling insurance. But Aflac's been very good to me and mine for a few years now: We're policy holders, and Aflac helped a lot when each of the boys arrived. And I know or knew too many woodworkers who went by the wayside, in part because they weren't covered. One guy messed up his knee during an install, and figured it would be easier to live with the annoyance of a bum knee, than to get it looked at properly. Eight years later, the knee developed gangrene, and they had to take the leg off . All because he couldn't afford to get it taken care of properly. So it's a job that gives me the opportunity to help people, which is important to me.

For myself, I got into self-employment because I loved woodworking, not because I wanted to learn about navigating insurance issues. Viewed through that lens, I'm hoping I can save other business owners from some benefits-related headaches, and help make their lives easier, so they can focus on what they really want to do... And what brings in the money.

Another thing on my mind, to be candid, is that I avoided learning about real prospecting and learning to properly close a deal, the entire time I was in business. I just buried my nose in the woodwork end of what I was doing. Ultimately, that was a contributing factor to many of my difficulties in business. So, I'm also seeing this as a mentored, paid opportunity to learn something that will be useful if I decide to put my shingle up again. (I still see furniture building as a really cool potential part-time, and ultimately, retirement gig.)

So... this is more of an update on current events for me. The process is slowly grinding forward, with a pretty big goal (Applications) on the horizon. And, a promising new job in the meantime.

New Beginnings

About two years ago my career fell apart. After 10 years of hard work, it was time to start over.

The inventory at the time was pretty straightforward, once I got clear of what had come before. I had me, my wife, (who, thankfully, was working) and my (then) 1 year old. The rest was up in the air. We couldn't afford care for the munchkin, so I became the stay at home parent. But honestly, as much as it was my job to take care of the little guy, it was also my job to take care of me. I hadn't been doing a great job of that in recent years, and so the down time, much as it felt like being adrift, was welcome.

The first thing I that needed attention was the general state of my physical fitness. For years I'd been spending all of my time working, and not much time working out. That had changed some in the months leading up to the shop closing, and I decided to make nap time into workout time. 

Every time I set out to work on a big goal, or a big change, working out has always been the thing that helped me move forward. And looking back, I think it's because it helps reinforce my sense of self-efficacy. A little work in the gym, or a little bit of time spent on diet, provides feedback. Being able to get results for my effort in a quantifiable way always helps to remind me that yes, I'm able to accomplish things when I try. And this time around, learning more about getting in shape was the thing that helped the habit stick.

Friday, December 18, 2015

Every Inch

As of 8PM tonight, my fall semester is over.

I won't go into details, but it's been a brutal semester.

That said, I have documented progress towards a viable long term goal, and that pleases me greatly.

I feel like I had to fight for every inch. But it's nice to finally feel like I'm picking fights that I can win.

Friday, December 11, 2015


I'm still moving towards getting into grad school for Orthotics and Prosthetics. In that vein, I've been taking prerequisites at Bunker Hill Community College, in Boston. (Psychology and Physics, right now.)

In the meantime, I need to work. And one of the things I was advised to look into was becoming an Orthotic Fitter. (Basically, an O/P assitant.) So I've been working through online training, and I'm now down in Florida, going through the hands-on portion of training. (Next comes 1000 hours of experience, before I can test for certification.)

On top of all of that, I'm hanging out with my two boys during the day. The eldest is almost 3 years, and the new guy is almost 5 months old.

Things were going just fine with school until I added orthotics to the mix, and right before my wife's maternity leave ended. After those two factors came in, it basically felt like full time school work, on top of full time stay at home Dad. I'm getting sleepy just writing that down.

So far, the orthotics course has been interesting, but I can tell it will all be a lot more fun when I'm actually putting the information to good use, in context.

All that said, being down here in Florida, while tiring, has given me just enough time to write this up, and talk about what I've been up to. Life should settle down, briefly, pretty soon, which will hopefully give me a few more opportunities to write more often...

Tuesday, October 20, 2015


I've been putting this off for a while, because I'm not sure what I want to do with it yet. I'm sure it'll be a work in progress between layout, content, and my time-constrained ability to play with it.

I've been blogging about my woodworking for years. And I'm starting to get back to writing up the last few projects. I kept up a kitchen blog for a while, just as a goof. I still refer to it once in a while, to look up how I used to do things. I had other blogs that came and went, or were abandoned.

But there are other things that I haven't really been putting up, or putting out there. And things that I'd love to rhapsodize about.

The upshot of the demise of my shop is that I have a new trajectory: I'm going to work my way into the field of prosthetics and orthotics,, in the hopes of putting my skill and passion for making things to work for people who can use it, in a way that's actually sustainable in a way that my woodworking was not. That's going to mean school, and that has a list of other ramifications.

I'm a father... twice, now. I haven't really talked at all about that. The piss-ant kitchen has been in our rear-view mirror for over a year now. There's a new kitchen, and a few new recipes that I haven't put up or put out there yet, and more are coming... and I have a 2.5 year old who's showing an interest in helping me cook.

I found my way to kettlebells, too. I think I started lifting weights when I was 14, in boarding school, using a Universal machine. That means I've been pushing and pulling on heavy things for... 27 years? More than half of my life. But it was always in an endless cycle of work out for a while, get bored or strain something, and quit for a while. And it was, quite frankly, boring. The whole point is "push," or "pull," in whatever direction and with whatever appendage, and it worked just fine, but it always felt like a chore. Kettlebells are as much about movement and trajectory as they are about strength, and the workouts are never boring. In short, they've made physical fitness into something that's fun, and doesn't feel like a chore. That makes it sustainable for me.

On top of all of that, it's been a while since I really got down to it and wrote something on a regular basis, and I miss that, a little. It was good to be able to work my way through thoughts and ideas, and put them out there.

And I've done my best to avoid publicly writing about other things... thoughts and ideas, and random rhapsodies on topics from religion to Star Wars. And quietly, I think it would be fun to do so once in a while, in the hopes that it triggers a conversation with someone.

So, welcome to the continuing adventures of James. Grab some popcorn, and sit back.

And some floss, too. Because, you know, popcorn skins. Ugh.