Memories of Pan Am 103

(Photo source: Wikipedia)

There are moments in your life when you remember exactly what you were doing as though it happened yesterday, even if it happened many years ago.  I previously wrote about what I was doing on 9/11.  Likewise, I remember other events, such as the Challenger disaster (I was a freshman at Syracuse having lunch in my dorm dining hall).  In this article, I want to write about another such fateful day.

Yesterday, with only a day to go before Syracuse opens its football season at Western Michigan, I went poking around a couple of websites for more information about the upcoming game.  I went to the Daily Orange‘s website, and in doing so, I stumbled upon this article, which I was not expecting to see.  As soon as I saw it, memories from nearly thirty years ago suddenly came back to me.

On December 21, 1988, I was winding up the fall semester of my senior year at Syracuse University.  I was living in a house that I shared with six other guys only a block off-campus.  It was finals week.  That evening, I was in my room, studying for one of my final exams.  I decided to take a study break and went downstairs to the kitchen to get myself a snack.

As I made my way down the stairs, I saw my housemates in the living room, gathered around the TV.

“What’s going on?” I asked.

“A plane crashed, and there were Syracuse students aboard,” I was told.

I was in shock.  To be honest, I don’t think I got back to studying that night.  I took a seat in the living room with my housemates and was glued to the TV, watching the news for the rest of the night.

The phone started ringing.  A number of band alumni friends (all of us in the house were members of the marching band) had just heard the news, and were calling to ask if any band members were on board.  (Those of you who know about marching band culture understand that band members consider each other to be family.)  At that point, news was just trickling in, and we were not aware of who was on the plane.  I remember hearing that SU students were aboard, but there was no information as to how many of our classmates were affected.  We heard varying numbers: ten, fifteen, nineteen.

I went for a walk around campus the next day.  The campus was eerily deserted, except for a few news trucks parked around the campus to cover the breaking story.  For such a large campus like Syracuse, the entire place felt like a ghost town.  With the nearly empty campus, combined with the cold December air, it was probably the only time I ever felt unnerved walking around the campus.

It turned out that there were thirty-five Syracuse students on Pan Am 103.  Thirty-five of my classmates were gone.  Although I didn’t know any of them, I now feel as close to them as I do any of my friends from college.

Syracuse played a home basketball that night.  As a member of the pep band, I could’ve attended the game, but I opted not to go, since I still had final exams to study for.  I understand that SU got a lot of flak for not canceling the game in light of the tragedy.  They did observe a moment of silence at the beginning of the game.

The marching band did have an opportunity to recognize the tragedy a couple of weeks later.  The Orange football team had played its way to a 9-2 regular season, good enough for a berth in the Hall of Fame (now Outback) Bowl in Tampa, FL.  We wore black ribbons on our uniforms for the game, and observed a moment of silence on the field during our pre-game show.  After the game, I took some White-Out and wrote “PA103” on one half of the ribbon, and “12-21-88” on the other.  I still have that ribbon.

Syracuse University has since paid tribute to the disaster by building a memorial, setting up a scholarship fund, and setting aside a Remembrance Week commemoration each year.  Whenever I’m back on campus, I try to take a moment to spend some time at the memorial as I remember my thirty-five fallen classmates.

Part of my reason for writing this post is so I can go back to that article I found.  At some point, I want to travel to Scotland and take a trip to Lockerbie — a pilgrimage, if you will.  I feel a need to connect with my classmates at the place where they died nearly thirty years ago, as well as pay tribute to the small town that was affected by the tragedy.  The article helped me better understand the town of Lockerbie, which would enable me to better respect the people there who have since moved on from that fateful day.

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Fun times in the office

Steve Jones’ post today about fun at work got me thinking about the fun times I’ve had in the office.  So I thought it’d be fun to write an article in which I shared a few photos of some fun times I’ve had in my workplace, past and present!  Enjoy!

Here’s a pic of me around the holidays.  As you can see, I just have to have something Syracuse-related at my desk.  I’m loyal to my alma mater; what can I tell you?

My office has a significantly large Indian population.  Last year, they had a Diwali celebration in the office, to which the entire office was invited!  This is a pic of the spread in the main conference room.  If you walked away hungry that day, it was your fault!

One day, we declared Hawaiian Shirt Day in the office!

This next pic is from a previous job, right after I was moved to a new desk.  My friends asked me if I had my stapler, so I took this pic.  Yes, it was a Swingline, but unfortunately, I didn’t have a red one!

Practical jokes abound!  One of my co-workers built this around another cube while the occupant was on vacation!

Of course, said co-worker got her revenge!

One day, one of my co-workers and I randomly showed up at work wearing these.  How often do you see two guys in the office randomly wearing hockey jerseys on the same day?

Another pic from another previous job.  I looked out the window, and saw this guy sitting on the street light!

And finally…  I occasionally need to work from home.  Here’s one of me where I’m working out of my living room…  along with my co-worker for that day!

Every once in a while, say “what the heck”

“Sometimes, you gotta say ‘what the f@%k!'”
— Miles Dalby, Risky Business

“All we are is dust in the wind…”
— Kansas

“While you see a chance, take it…”
— Steve Winwood

Last night, I checked an item off my bucket list.  I met and got my picture taken with my favorite band!  The pic is above.  That’s me in the middle, along with the guys from Kansas: from left to right, Phil Ehart, David Ragsdale, Richard Williams, yours truly, Ronnie Platt, David Manion, Zak Rizvi, and Billy Greer.

I became a fan of Kansas sometime around college.  I saw my first Kansas concert a couple of years after college, in Pittsfield, MA (unfortunately, by then, group stalwarts such as Kerry Livgren and Robby Steinhardt had already left the group).  Last night’s concert was in my hometown of Kingston, NY (well, my actual hometown is Woodstock — yes, that Woodstock, NY — but most of my hanging out when I was in high school was done in Kingston), so that made it an extra-special experience for me.  I don’t know how many Kansas concerts I’ve attended in-between, but some notable ones included Syracuse at the State Fair last year; the “Big E” (New England fair) in Springfield, MA; Pittsburgh, PA for the beginning of their Leftoverture 40th anniversary tour (and the night before I spoke at Pittsburgh SQL Saturday — which was why I was in Pittsburgh in the first place); an Alive At Five concert in downtown Albany; and Latham, NY at the now-defunct Starlight Theater.

That was a great experience, although if I really wanted to complete my experience, I would’ve liked, as a musician, to have played just one song with the band!  Alas, I realized that just wasn’t in the cards, if it ever happens (I’m not holding my breath).

I splurged and paid the money for the meet ‘n greet (or as we Kansas fans — a.k.a. “Wheatheads” — refer to them, “Wheat ‘n Greet“) event, along with a seat right in the front row.  So why pay a few hundred bucks (or whatever it was) for a twenty-minute meeting with a band and a front row concert seat?

Let me ask you a question.  How many times in your life have you ever said, “I wish I’d (fill in the blank)” and didn’t follow through?  How many times have you had the opportunity and the resources to fill in that blank, only to not follow through and let that opportunity (which might have been the only such opportunity in your lifetime) slip through your fingers?

In my life, I’ve had a number of significant experiences, more than a lot of people can say they’ve ever done.  As a musician, I’ve had a chance to perform in large events such as the Macy’s Thanksgiving Parade, a major college bowl game, an NCAA tournament, and major league baseball and football games.  I’ve met sport celebrities such as Reggie Jackson and Jim Boeheim.  I’m friends with some television and media personalities (granted, they’re not prominent big names, but still…).  I’ve taken trips that I never thought I’d take.  Through my involvement with SQL Saturday, I’ve had the opportunity to meet and make friends with some big names in the database industry, and I’ve become a fairly respected speaker myself.  Last night, I took advantage of an opportunity that came my way, and I took full advantage of it.  I have absolutely no regrets about spending those few hundred dollars.  As far as I’m concerned, that was money well spent.

A fulfilling life is about taking advantage of opportunities when they come your way.  Don’t be one of those people who doesn’t take a chance and end up regretting it later.  Grab the opportunity when it comes your way.  You’ll be smiling afterward — and you just might end up with a great story to tell.

Don’t fear the CrossFit

(Photo source: https://www.endlesscrossfit.com)

“I gotta run a little faster; I gotta reach for the sky; I gotta come a little closer; even if I lose, I gotta try…”
— Kansas, “Inside Of Me”

“Try not.  Do.  Or do not.  There is no try.”
— Yoda

Every Saturday, my CrossFit gym invites friends to join members for workouts (“Bring A Friend Day,” as it’s called).  It’s a little bit of a misnomer, as guests don’t necessarily have to be friends — as one coach likes to describe it, “bring your friends, neighbors, coworkers, colleagues, enemies, ‘frenemies,’ whomever.”  It doesn’t necessarily have to be by invitation; anyone interested in trying CrossFit can come to these classes — a type of “try before you buy” session, if you will.

I’ve tried to get friends to go to these sessions, with mixed success.  Those who do enjoy the sessions, but I have yet to have one friend (other than my wife) try it out and join the gym.  (Admittedly, there are fringe benefits for me to get someone to sign up — a month of free membership, for example.)

What’s interesting is those who don’t try it and outright refuse my offer to join me.  (As I tell people, joining me in these sessions pretty much guarantees that I will work out on Saturday!)  I tried to tell one friend that I thought CrossFit might benefit her.  Not only did she outright refuse to take me up on it, I got the impression that she was actually scared to try it.  She would not even keep an open mind about it; she just said, “I will NOT do it.  Don’t ever ask me about it again.”  End of conversation.

My question: why???

I would never twist anyone’s arm into trying it (well, okay, maybe friends with whom I know I can get away with it), but what I don’t completely understand is why people fear it.  I get why people won’t do things like go bungee-jumping (disclosure: I am deathly acrophobic), eating exotic foods (I’ll try almost anything, although I draw the line at anything that has more than four legs, shellfish excluded — Andrew Zimmern I’m not!), or do something on a dare.  But why are people afraid to try CrossFit?

I think part of it is that it’s human nature to fear what you don’t know.  People will see these images of CrossFit (I often post what I do on Facebook) and immediately get the impression that they’re expected to be able to lift large amounts of weights, be pushed to do double-unders, or be able to do pull-ups right off the bat.  The fear of “gymtimidation” comes into play.  People who fear it are likely afraid of being embarrassed or injured.

First, one of the selling points of CrossFit is that anyone can do it.  I’ve seen people as old as eighty (and even more!) in the gym.  I once saw a guy who had the use of only one arm in a workout (it was interesting watching him on a rower and an Assault bike).  I’ve seen newbies who struggle with weightlifting form.  Even I have my own struggles; I can’t (yet) do any moves that involve pulling myself up (pull-ups, muscle-ups, rope climbs, etc.), I have trouble with movements that involve squatting (I was diagnosed with osteoarthritis in my knees), and I’m not exactly the fastest runner (for me, there’s almost no difference between a jog, a sprint, or a fast walk).  Heck, even some warmups can sometime leave me out of breath.

However, one of CrossFit’s selling points is that it is scalable.  You are never asked to do anything you are not capable of doing.  If you have trouble with pull-ups (like I do), you can do barbell pull-ups or ring rows.  Unable to do a certain type of weightlifting movement?  Don’t worry about the weight; instead, use a lighter weight, an empty bar, or even a PVC pipe, and practice your technique.  Whatever movement gives you trouble, there is always a way to scale it that will allow you to perform it to your capabilities.

I’m sure the fear of being injured comes into play.  As I just said, you’ll never be pushed to do what you’re not capable of doing.  But one of the selling points for me is that CrossFit emphasizes technique.  If you are not sure about how to do a movement, coaches will teach you how.  If your form has issues, coaches will tweak it so it is better.  Technique is key to anything: the better your form, the less chance you’ll be injured.

I also think the intensity is a factor.  CrossFit can get very intense.  Admittedly, there isn’t a lot that’s enjoyable about working your tail off to the point where you’re gasping for breath and end up lying on the floor.  That’s something that can scare people off.  However, how hard you work out is up to you.  Intensity is what you make of it.  But why is it so intense?

I think it’s because the majority of people who take CrossFit seriously want to improve.  People push themselves because they want to get better at what they do.  Did a deadlift weight of 305 pounds?  Next time, I’m going to try 315.  Run 5,000 meters in under ten minutes?  Next time, shoot for nine.  CrossFit is about making yourself better.  While you are not asked to do anything you can’t do, you are asked to challenge yourself and push the limits of what you can do.  Even my own gym’s motto is “(Be)tter” (as in, “be better”).  I wrote before that you have to get uncomfortable in order to improve.  Making yourself better involves going out of your comfort zone.  How much discomfort — intensity — you decide to put into it is up to you.

Finally, there’s the phenomenon that Planet Fitness refers to as “gymtimidation.”  People are embarrassed by their lesser skill level and are often intimidated by performing in front of other people who are in much better shape.  This attitude does not exist in CrossFit.  Everyone — even the elite athletes — roots for everyone else to succeed.  I remember one time watching the CrossFit Games on TV and hearing the commentator say, “CrossFit is probably the only sport in which the person who comes in last gets the loudest cheers.”  Even in events where athletes are finished, they will often go back out into the field to cheer on and encourage those who are still working through the event.  Here’s a secret: everyone, at some point in their lives, was a beginner at something.  Someone once said that one of the worst phrases ever coined was “do it right the first time.”  It’s almost never done right the first time.  Fear of embarrassment should never be a factor in trying something new.

I wrote before that CrossFit is a supportive community.  I have made a large number of friends in CrossFit, and even though I look more like a couch potato than an elite athlete, I feel as comfortable with this group as I do as any group in which I’m involved.

Although people have their reasons why they don’t want to try CrossFit, fear should not be one of them.  CrossFit can be a fun and exciting way to keep fit.  Give it a try.  Who knows?  You might just get hooked — like I did!

And if any of my local friends are interested in hitting a Saturday “Bring A Friend” WOD, hit me up!

Want to get ahead? Don’t get comfortable

“Moving me down the highway, rolling me down the highway, moving ahead so life won’t pass me by…”
— Jim Croce, “I Got A Name”

“It’s important to be able to make mistakes.  If you don’t make mistakes, it means you’re not trying.”
— Wynton Marsalis

“Don’t look back.  Something might be gaining on you.”
— Satchel Paige

“Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.”
— unknown

Late last Friday afternoon, our manager stopped by our workspace for a chat.  Some of it was just small talk, but he also wanted to give us a reminder of something, which is what I want to write about here.  I don’t remember his exact words, but the gist of what he said went something like this.

“We want you to develop personally and professionally,” he said (or something to that effect).  “The way you do that is to take on tasks that you know nothing about.  Volunteer to do things you wouldn’t typically volunteer.  If you see a support ticket, don’t worry about looking to see whether or not you know what it is or if you know how to handle it.  Just take the responsibility.  That’s how you develop.  If you want to move ahead, you need to step out of your comfort zone.”

Indeed, these are words to live by, and it isn’t the first time I’ve heard this.  I have had countless experiences where I’ve been told that I need to step out of my comfort zone in order to improve.  In my music experiences, especially in my ensemble performance experience, I’ve often been told by good music directors that I need to attempt playing challenging passages to get better.  When I first started doing CrossFit, one question we were asked was, “would you rather be comfortable or uncomfortable?”  The point was that in order to get better, some discomfort would be involved.  I also remember one of the points of emphasis back when I took a Dale Carnegie course; each week would involve stepping a little more out of our comfort zone.  We would do this gradually each week until we reached a point where we had drastically improved from where we had started.

Falling into a rut is common, and while it happens in all different facets of life, it is especially easy to do in the workplace.  Sometimes, the work environment can slow down, and you have a tendency to fall into a routine.  I’ve had this happen more often than I want to admit, and more often than not, I’m not even aware that I’m doing it.  Every once in a while, a pep talk or some kind of a jolt (such as a kick in the butt — whether it’s from someone else or myself) reminds me that I need to branch out and try new things if I want to get (and stay) ahead.  I am well-aware that I need to step out of my comfort zone to get ahead, but I am also the first to admit that I will sometimes forget about this, myself.

Too often, I see people who fall into ruts themselves, and who have no desire to step out of their comfort zones.  As much as I try to tell these people to at least try to do something about it, they insist on remaining where they are.  These people strive for mediocrity, which is a major pet peeve of mine, and something for which I have no tolerance or respect.  People want to remain in their “happy place,” but what I don’t understand is how these same expect to get ahead, yet refuse to leave their comfort zones to do it.  These people will be stuck in a rut forever, and they have no right to complain about it.

Everyone has a dream, or at least some kind of goal they want to achieve.  The fact is, if you want to reach that goal, or at least take steps toward it (whether you reach it or not), you need to get uncomfortable to do it.

Instant decisions


(Source: New York Times)

A NY Times recap of a ballgame got me thinking about instant decisions.

I watched this game on a TV at a restaurant where I was having dinner with my wife.  I remember watching Brett Gardner getting thrown out as he was caught in a rundown between third and home.  I remember thinking, “now the man on third is erased.  What were you thinking, Brett?”

As the Times article points out, it ended up being a fateful decision by (Orioles pitcher) Dylan Bundy.  Had he thrown the ball to the shortstop instead of his catcher, he potentially could have turned a double play to get his team out of the inning.  Instead, the Yankees, with an extra life, rallied in the inning to go up by a score of 5-0 (highlighted by a Tyler Wade grand slam).  The Yankees ended up winning, 9-0 (making me, a Yankee fan, happy).

But this article isn’t about the game.  It’s about the instant decision.  In this case, a quick decision ended up affecting the outcome of a ballgame.

Think about all the times in your life when you’ve had to make an instant decision on your feet.  We’ve all had them.  How did they turn out?  Good?  Bad?  Did they end up changing the course of your life, or were they just blips on your lifetime radar screen?

I’m sure there’s some kind of psychology as to how your background — upbringing, education, etc. — might play a role regarding the kinds of split-second decisions you make, but this is a subject about which I know nothing.  Rather, it got me thinking about the idea that quick decisions can have consequences.  In the scheme of things, many of them might not have any effect.  But depending on the time, place, and circumstances, such decision-making could have disastrous consequences — or result in the opportunity of a lifetime.

Unite the world

“Hey you, don’t tell me there’s no hope at all; together we stand; divided, we fall…”
— Pink Floyd, Hey You

“An eye for an eye only makes the world blind.”
— Gandhi

“You may say I’m a dreamer, but I’m not the only one…”
— John Lennon, Imagine

“I have a dream…”
— Martin Luther King Jr.

Just for this one article, I am breaking my silence on all things political.

As is much of the country, I am outraged with what has happening at America’s southern border.  I have my opinions regarding the current administration, and what is happening to our country and around the world.

However, that is not the point of this article.  I am not going to write about my politics, my opinions, or my outrage.  Today, I want to write about something else.

It occurred to me this morning that, more than ever, we are being divided.  We are identified by our divisions: Democrat, Republican, liberal, conservative, and so on.  And that is the problem.

There have been studies performed in which individuals identify closely with groups to which they relate.  In these cases, people in groups will defend their groups, no matter what the groups are doing, and regardless of whether the groups’ actions are perceived as being good or bad, right or wrong.

I am not a psychologist, so I won’t pretend that I know anything about these studies (disclosure: I did do research on groupthink when I was in grad school).  Nevertheless, what they seem to reveal is that we relate strongly to the groups to which we relate.  And we will defend our groups, no matter how right or wrong the groups’ actions are.

I do understand the effects of group dynamics.  I say this because I am a sports fan, and few things test our group loyalties more than sports.  I root for the Yankees, Syracuse, and RPI.  As a result, I stand firmly behind my teams, and I tend to hold some contempt for the Red Sox, Mets, Georgetown, Boston College, Union, and Clarkson.  Many of my friends are Red Sox fans (heck, I’m married to one!), Mets fans, Union College, and Clarkson University alumni.  Yes, it is true that we will occasionally trash-talk each other when our teams face off against one another, but at the end of the day, they are just games and entertainment.  I will still sit down with them over a drink and pleasant conversation.

Likewise, I have many friends who are on both sides of the (major party) political aisle.  I have friends of many races, religions (or even atheists), cultures, and creeds.  However, no matter where they stand on their viewpoints, I respect each and every one of them.  And there, I believe, is the difference.  No matter where we stand, we need to listen to and respect the other side.  One of the issues regarding group identification is that we do not listen to the other side.  We lose complete respect and empathy for anyone who is our “opponent.”  That is where communication breaks down, and that is where divisions occur.

What we need is something that unites us.  We are not Democrats, Republicans, Christians, Jews, Muslims, Americans, Canadians, Europeans, Africans, Asians, white, black, yellow, or brown.

What we are is human.

Nelson Mandela united a divided South Africa behind rugby, a story depicted in the movie Invictus.  What will be our uniting moment?  For those of us in North America, I was thinking about something like the 2026 World Cup, but that is a long way off.

I don’t know what that something is, but we need to find it, and fast.  We are being torn apart by our divisions, and it could potentially kill us.  If you don’t believe me, take a look at our past history regarding wars and conflicts.  The American Civil War comes to mind.

I don’t know how much of a difference writing this article will make.  I am just one voice in the wilderness.  But if writing this contributes to changing the world for the better, then I will have accomplished something.

We now return you to your period of political silence.