Thursday, September 25, 2008

The fount of words has dried and all that's left is punctuation . . . .

Several times a week I read technical reports. I review them for consistency, readability, punctuation, and grammar. I have also been reading a lot of fiction. Thrillers and suspense novels have climbed into the car with me to be devoured on a plate of pillows and pajamas. If I am given a string of words, I can make them sound better and give insight as to how to improve it. But the words I want to come forth from my hands and mind are not there. I used to write frequently and with such affection for the process, but the facility is gone. Is this truly writer's block or am I just not equipped to be a true writer. Perhaps I am meant to be an editor forever.

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

In Business

I have taken measures to get my business on the right footing. I have contacted some attorneys I used to work for to see if they can help me create standardized contracts and agreements for the graphic and website design services I will be offering. My website is still being worked on, but I am excited about it. My old attempt languished because I did not give it the time it deserved.

Here's to success!

Friday, July 25, 2008

Being at Peace

My mind has been constantly thinking about writing something on my blog. I read a particular news article and consider its blogworthiness--often resolving to write about it as soon as I get home. However, my train of thought gets derailed, and I once again leave my blog outdated. As such, I will write about myself.

Recently, I have had some losses in my life. They have been difficult, but I am not destroyed. A year ago, these losses would have devastated me, and I realized that I am much healthier emotionally than I have ever been. It is not all my doing. I have the support group that I lacked before. I have friends. I have acquaintances. I have routine.

So with this post, I will say thank you to the friends who have made me this less fragile woman. I send my love, gratitude, warmth, and extend my support whenever you shall need it.

Thursday, May 29, 2008

The Future of Robotics


Ever since I picked up my first Isaac Asimov novel, I have been fascinated with robotics and what they could mean to the future of humanity. (Wikipedia.com has a very concise description of the field and its evolution) What always struck me in my pursual of this topic was that robots were always slated to be of service to man. For example, the Robot Institute of America defines a robot as a programmable, multi-functional manipulator designed to move material, parts, tools, or specialized devices, through variable programmed motions, for the performance of a variety of tasks. Like Asimov, I thought they could be so much more -- human.

When I started my education in the computer science field, my ultimate goal was to become an artificial intelligence/robotics engineer. The ethical dilemmas and concerns presented by Asimov in his novels, particularly in his Law of Robotics, heightened the interest and enthusiasm I felt when following the advancement of robotics. My interest was sparked all over again when I read an article about a robot created by Steve Yohanan to study touch and how touch is important in communication. Read the article here. The robot creature looks like an eyeless and mouthless rabbit and seems harmless enough. Depending on how this creature is touched, it can interpret your feelings and generate its own responses to how it is being touched – all recorded in sensors. Yohanan hopes that in the future, robotic pets will be created that then later allow someone else to feel what you were feeling when you were petting it.

“Yohanan imagines that the creature might lead to the development of a robotic pet that could connect couples who don't see each other often. For example, a wife who works different hours than her husband could convey her mood through touch to the creature, and the husband would sense that mood through the robot when he came home.”


The implications of this type of research are profound. While not specifically addressed in the article, when you couple a robot – a piece of technology, that can interpret how it feels through touch and convey its feelings through touch, with a robot that can move, talk, and process data at fast speeds, what you get is a sentient being – a being capable of feelings and emotions and intelligence. Additionally, the type of interpretations being performed by this robot will not be confined to touch much longer. It will develop into vocalizations. This is all beyond a robot emulating a human or performing a pre-coded set of facial expressions/parrot conversations; it is beyond a tool that can answer phones and direct calls—it is almost human, and IT IS EXCITING! (See some really neat human-like robots here.)

The ethicists should be swarming over this development. The self-aware robot is no longer a matter of future possibilities. The ability for intelligence and feelings to merge into one robot is fast approached and nothing will be able to stop it. [A discussion between top robotics engineers, ethicists, and artists about the ethics of robotics is discussed on The Tech Museum of Innovation’s website.]

The question that burns in my mind is whether a robot will be content to be of service to man if it is more intelligent, is self-aware, and capable of forming its own opinions and feelings.

(I have no doubt People for the Ethical Treatment of Robots will be forming during this century.)

Thursday, May 8, 2008

These photos were from a trip I took to San Francisco in November 2007.

It was a lovely place to be.



Created with Admarket's flickrSLiDR.

Sunday, April 6, 2008

May I Have This Dance - Entry for April 6, 2008


we two-step across the floor
in unpracticed synchronicity
traveling into a strange land
arms moving up even stranger torsos
madly wild kisses strewn on the face
of today's love
as we dance to the victory of youth
we care not about bills and mortgages
like our aging parents
or about time-clocks and whistles
urging the tired to their starting marks
or for others
the sagging walk home
we are at the cusp of those things
and the stench of it is close enough
to make us recoil
but not enough to scare us
out of each other's arms

Saturday, March 29, 2008

I Appreciate The Irony of this Blog - March 29, 2007

The bad thing about rediscovering myself and being single is that I have been thinking far too much about myself lately. I turn the most simple of conversations into an exploration into "Vanessa." Is that not a symptom of the decline of our civilization? When one thinks about themselves over the needs of others, does that not spell disaster for the collective well-being of the world? These kinds of questions shuffle through my brain, along with more selfish concerns. I feel much like a child--wondering who will care for me, love me, hug me, hold me, talk to me, and entertain me. I wept in the shower this morning because I felt so alone. I should be worried about more global concerns, but those self-indulgent tears were comforting.

When I think about how I was before the ex, I was pretty much on auto pilot. I worried over the daily things, like the children, bills, chores, paying the mortgage; my insides largely ignored. I did not evaluate my marriage in terms of my happiness level, but in terms of "our" mutal happiness. I did not scrutinize my ex-husband too much because a fault in his treatment of me or of our relationship would have been a condemnation of myself as well (after all, I could see the ill treatment, and yet I stayed). (Come to think about it, when I was going to school from 2004-2005, I never really talked to anyone. I was going to school in the day--full time, got 3 hours of time with my sons and to breathe, and then I worked till 11p.m. at night. I did not really speak to anyone.) Now it is all I seem to do. How am I feeling? What do I want? What do I need? It is too much sometimes. I cannot answer my own questions, and yet I cannot retreat back to the automaton that I once was. It is very frustrating, delightful at times, but more than anything, frightening. I do not know who I am, and I do not know who I want to become.

But thinking about me, me, me has been tiresome. I want to get this over with already. I want to stop wondering when I will feel normal again. (Have I ever been normal?) If not normal, at least past this soul-crunching self-awareness. (I do appreciate the irony that this whole blog is just another "me, me" blog, of which I am complaining of.) And so, in my conversations with friends online and in the big bad world, I am trying to insert the following disclaimer, "If you want to talk about something else, please do." Interrupt me, change the subject, tease me, and joke with me. If I open and close my mouth like a fish for a few minutes, or turn red in embarrassment, it's okay. Blushing is my natural state anyway. *grin*

Switching the Gears --- Admist Screetches and Groans

I am not an entity all to myself. My sons are big players in the world of Vanessa. They are the witnesses to all my good and bad moments. The biggest choices in my life revolve around whether they will be adversely affected. I am Mother. I cannot just take off and do what I like, or go out with whomever, or take off on a vacation. Their needs come first. Thinking about myself is detracting from thinking about them, and that is not acceptable.

I am trying to balance this situation. I have started to extend myself further out into the lives of my children. I owe it to them to make sure they are well-adjusted and not scarred irrevocably by me leaving their father. I do not want to sit idly by and let life transform them as it will. I have written long emails to their teachers asking the teachers how they are behaving in class, their academic and social progress, and if they need to share anything with me. They have responded with long emails in return. I have been playing with them more outside, taking them on walks, having them clean the house with me. Just yesterday, I took one of our guinea pigs, George, with me to pick up my son. It made my son shine and beam with pride. Having him feel that way and knowing that I caused that made me soooo happy. In fact, I feel great knowing that I am taking active steps to be more involved.

They are usually bright and happy boys, but there are times when I see the sadness in their eyes when they ask about their Dad, when he forgets to call, or when he breaks promises. It is heart-wrenching. I am working on making sure they are stronger from the experience--not weaker. I am trying to do what so many set out to do when they have children: not make the mistakes of their parents

Sunday, March 16, 2008

Waking Up

She lay in her bed waiting. Her long hair artfully splayed across the pillow - dark curls ringletting themselves in upturned hands. Each shallow breath seemed a shout in the quiet of the house; each shift of her legs like a siren. Still she waited patiently as the dark bedroom changed shifts and the shadows gave their coveted nooks and crannies to the light. She heard her mother's bedroom door opening and listened as her delicate feet padded to the kitchen to prepare breakfast and lunch for her step father. The low murmurs wafted to the room- carried by the scent of chorizo and eggs.

When the back door closed and her stepfather's car was heard leaving, her heart raced. Her legs and feet quivered in anticipation. Such joy filled her heart. Her mother entered her bedroom and awoke everyone for school. But still the girl did not move. Her brother and little sister groggily went to get their clothes and use the restroom.

Her mother was game today.

"Voy hacer las camas."

Barely containing a giggle, she waited for her mother's next move. Suddenly, the blankets were thrown to the floor, and the sheet was pulled off as well.

With a practiced snap, the sheet was unfurled over the bed. As soft as the cool air that preceded the sheet, the girl imagined that it was her mother's love that was embalming her. The sheet slowly made contact with her body and she finally let her self smile. The blanket quickly followed.

"Ya levántate."

The girl knew she had to get ready for school. She carefully pulled herself out of the bed and gave her mother a kiss on the cheek.

"Gracias, mamá."

Friday, March 14, 2008

Update on this Stranger Called Vanessa - Entry for March 14, 2008

The New Place and Job
I have been living a completely different life since I moved. The stress level that I felt before the move has all but evaporated. I no longer have the 3-4 hour daily commute, and I get home with plenty of time to help with homework, play with, eat dinner with, and bathe my boys. My furniture has been put in storage. That was a bittersweet moment because I worked so hard to buy it. My commute is actually 12-30 minutes now.

My new employer and colleagues are great! I feel so appreciated here and have a lot to offer their office. They want me to redesign the website, the internal site, and to implement new procedures to streamline their projects. As the Project Coordinator, I set the pace in how projects get processed. It’s an exciting feeling.

Aunt
My aunt has facilitated my new move greatly. She cares for me and for my children as though we were her children. I have never felt so cared for in my life. I fear displeasing her and making her not love me anymore – the reaction of a child. In many ways, she has shown me more consideration and affection than my own mother.

I wish I could do more to make her life easier. She has taken on the task of caring for my sons after they get out of school, and is also the nurse of my grandmother. I try to make sure my boys get out of both their way, but my aunt says they are a break from caring for her mother.

Grandmother
My grandmother has had a problem with her blood pressure for 2 years now and was diagnosed 2 days ago with Stage 3 kidney disease, bordering on Stage 4. Her condition has depressed and demoralized her because she used to be so active. She was part of the Red Hat Society, and they would go to various events, take trips to different parts of the world, and march in parades.
Being around my grandmother has been good despite her illness. She has seen so much in this world and is so accomplished. She was a nurse in WWII, then a nurse in doctors’ offices and hospitals, eventually becoming the head nurse of her hospital. When she was 60-something, she got her Master’s degree in hospital administration. She’s traveled to every continent except Antarctica. It is fascinating to talk with her.

Niece
My younger sister had a baby girl. I hope I can take a trip to see her in the near future. Very exciting stuff.

Sons
My younger boy has begun reading! He has always been a bit behind the other children his age, but he has started taking an interest in reading. I am so very proud of him. I have been giving him spelling tests at home, and twice he has gotten 9/10 correct. WOW! This new school/teacher has given him so much confidence. They believe he can do more than what he was doing before just as I believed it. I just never had the time to show him more. Now I do! We do homework together every night, and he writes, reads, and sight reads many words.

My older son, the one who thinks he is 20 years old, has plunged himself in Neopets, a website where you create virtual pets. I limit his time on this game website because I know of certain individuals who immerse themselves at the detriment to all else. He loves it and I believe it has unlocked his creativity. He wrote a story about a 3-foot butterfly that became the protector of all the butterflies. He battled an eagle, then a whole eagle army. I am so proud of both of them.

Those are all the updates for now.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Keep on Trucking -- Entry for February 12, 2008


As some of you know, I am making another move in my life. I have taken a job in Orange County and will be starting there on February 25th. It was not a decision I made lightly, but one that had to be made so that I could have more time with my sons. Commuting 3-4 hours every day was difficult on them and myself.


I have been making a lot of moves in the last year, but I think that my life is finally getting on the track that I want it to be. There are times that I despair and think that I made the wrong choices; that I would have been happier if I was still in Bakersfield, in my own home, and doing the things I used to before. I would right now be working on the newsletters that had to get out this month, and I would be working on the website. In one hour, I would be going out to lunch with either Ed, Hector, Clare, Nina, or Nancy, and I would be driving home at 5 to pick up my older son from school, and the little one from his babysitter.


But then I think about the past 7 months, and I realize that my life has never been so full. I have seen and done so many things that would have been unimaginable a year ago. I visited the East Coast, I had a boyfriend for a brief while, I saw my first opera, I met two online friends, I have gone to parties and clubs with family, I reconnected and connected with family members that I did not know I had. The list can get more detailed, but the fact is, since I moved to the Los Angeles area, I have felt more alive.


I have also felt like a better mother. My sons and I have gone to the park more and have gotten out of the house and visited with family members. They know that their family net is a large and far-reaching one. I have taught my older son how to play chess, and he can now navigate around the computer and internet like a pro. My younger son has been put into an educational program that has helped him grow and I feel more confident that I can advocate for him.*smiles*

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Everyone Needs to Eat -- Entry for January 29, 2008



My siblings and I grew up in relative poverty. We often moved with our parents to various migrant camps and housing so they could pick whatever vegetable or fruit was ready for harvesting. We lived in places that had outhouses and no indoor plumbing, and others that were miles from the nearest city. It would be easy for me to romanticize this period of my life, but it was not romantic. It was hard. We finally stopped moving when I was in 3rd grade.

Despite our limited means, we rarely knew hunger. My mother is a very resourceful woman. While we were migrants, we had the fields of vegetables to eat,and when we lived in rural places like the northern border of Washington state, my stepfather would hunt for live game. When we settled down in Santa Maria, CA, my mother changed tactics. When we did not have enough money to buy groceries, we would wake up before dawn to search for cans. I can remember those mornings and her starting up the Ford Ranchero so clearly. There is a different feeling to a house before dawn. We would pile into the truck and hit all the major dumpsters in our neighborhood and beyond. To the Lucky's Supermarket (now a discount mall), to the empty lot behind Wimpy's Liquor and across the street from Taco Bell, to the dumpsters near my classmate Theresa V.'s house. Sometimes my mother would stand in the dumpster and throw cans out to us that we would crush and toss in the back of the truck, other times we would all root around in the trash to find them.

My feelings about the enterprise were always mixed and volatile. I hated doing it. I was so afraid that someone I knew would see us and thus plunge my already absimal schoolyard status even lower. I would not only be the stuttering, loner, nerd, but the stuttering, loner, nerd who digs through other peoples' trash. But I was also proud of my mother. We would fill the back of the truck and get $30 to 40 dollars for our efforts -- enough to buy staples like rice, beans, and flour to make tortillas. We always had full dinners.

So when I read this article about the poor in Haiti, I remembered my mother, digging for cans, and growing up poor. There was no comparison. The very poor in Haiti eat a mud cookie made of dirt, salt and vegetable shortening. So many eat these "cookies" 3 times a day. I have never been this poor. My children will never be this poor. I want to help so bad. I wish I could send my food over there to help the girl Charlene in the article. They cannot go and collect cans like we did.

Please visit this The Hunger Site and click on the Big "CLICK TO GIVE" icon, or the link following my blog. Sponsors of the site donate the equivalent of 1 cup of food for each click. Add it to your favorites and when you are bored, sit there clicking for a few minutes. It will help so many people. If you want some alarming statistics on how much food is wasted in North America and Europe, visit stopthehunger.com, with the references included.


Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Homelessness in America - Entry for January 23, 2008

Homelessness is a social problem that needs to be fixed -- not only to help the homeless individuals and families involved, but to reduce the strain they pose to our cities and charity providers. Although there are several reasons why people become homeless and stay that way, it is up to society to take action and reduce the numbers of homeless people in America and enable people to get rehabilitated so that they do not become homeless again. Currently, a large part of the homeless problem is that people are not aware that there is a homeless problem and so do nothing to help or stop homelessness. They assume that homeless people are homeless because they do not care about getting a job and solving their problems, and many times, this is not the case. Without society being aware of the homeless problem, they will not be able to influence those in politics and in local governments to enact change.

What is Homelessness?
Most people think that homeless people are bums and panhandlers. Wikipedia defines homelessness as a situation in which a person does not have a long term place of ongoing residence, usually in cities or suburbs. Homeless people are demeaned in the media, ridiculed, and often the victims of hate crimes. But the truth of the matter is that homeless people aren’t just bums and panhandlers that sit on park benches or city streets, wear filthy clothing, or living in boxes, they are also people forced to live in their cars, with family members, in tents and makeshift camps, and in shelters.[1] In the United States, it is estimated that 41% of the homeless are single men, 40% are families, 14% are single women, and 5% are youth.

Why Do People Become Homeless?
People become homeless for several reasons. In Helping America’s homeless: Emergency shelter or affordable housing?, most authorities on the subject of homelessness say that poverty is the proximate cause of homelessness, the second are that wages aren’t keeping up with the cost of living. Other problems are the lack of health care and supportive services (mental health/substance abuse); inadequate shelter systems (lack of beds and permanent addresses); prison release and homelessness; veterans and homelessness; youth homelessness; and violence (spousal abuse, physical and sexual abuse at home).

Twenty-two percent of homeless people have mental problems that have not been diagnosed. They should be in institutions, and in fact, many were but were subsequently released because of lack of psychiatric facilities and beds.

Why Do People Stay Homeless?
The reasons people stay homeless are very similar to the reason why they become homeless: when they look for help, it is not there. There are estimated to be 3.5 million homeless people in the United States. With that quantity of people looking for help, most cities do not have enough resources to house the homeless people they have. For those who cannot find shelter and their needs are unmet, they are often criminalized for not finding a place to sleep or sleeping on city streets or public land. In many cities, homelessness is actually a crime.[2]

According to Homeless.org, when homeless people try to find jobs, they have a hard time because they do not have phone numbers and other contact information. Sometimes their work history is lacking, and they might not have references. The children of homeless people often have a hard time staying in school because they do not have a stable living environment, they are hungry, they get sick because they do not get the proper medical treatment, and some children cannot get into school at all because they do not meet residency requirements.

How Can We Fix the Homeless Problem?
Unfortunately, there are no easy solutions but there are preventative measures. A solution would be to raise the national minimum wage and regional minimum wages to help the poor who are on the verge of becoming homeless afford housing. According to the Chicago Coalition for the Homeless, there is not a single jurisdiction in the country where a person working full-time earning the prevailing minimum wage can afford a two-bedroom rental apartment. If people cannot support themselves, even with the lowest jobs, then they will not be able to rise out of or prevent homelessness. Another solution is to provide private donor, federal or state subsidized low-income housing, or at least provide a tax incentive for developers to include at least 25% low-income housing in their projects. Most shelters cannot meet the needs of the homeless people, so there has to be a way to allow other public lands to be used to house the homeless on a temporary basis and within a certain time period. But most cities do not want to be the one that allows homeless people to live where they want. In those cities, they can open public halls and fair grounds for the night, with adequate restroom facilities.

In Pasadena, the Pasadena Police Department and the LA Department of Health have partnered to form the Homeless Outreach Psychiatric Evaluation Team. The program created three teams of mental health and law enforcement officials to provide compassionate assistance to persons in need of mental health assessment and services.

Cities around the country have started realizing that you have to understand why someone is homeless before you can change it. Individually, do not ignore what your eyes can see. Homeless people are not invisible. Volunteer to serve them food. Pass out blankets. Change will start when we are aware of the problem and push for action.

References

Burt, Martha R., Laudan Y. Aron, and Edgar Lee. “Helping America’s homeless: Emergency shelter or affordable housing?” Washington, D.C.: The Urban Institute. 2001

Guzicki, Melissa, Manuel Manrique, Carolyn J. Tompsett, Paul A. Toro, and Jigna Zatakia. "Homelessness in the United States: Assessing Changes in Prevalence and Public Opinion, 1993-2001" American Journal of Community Psychology: Springer Netherlands, March 2006, p.47-61.
Homeless.org. http://www.homeless.org/

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Homelessness

Homelessness – Causes and Facts,” Chicago Coalition For The Homeless: Chicago, 2006

Hubbird, John. “What Homeless Problem,” Dignity Virtual Village: http://www.outofthedoorways.org/articles/eugene.html, 2002.

Hate, Violence, and Death on Main Street USA: A Report on Hate Crimes And Violence Against People Experiencing Homelessness, 2005.” National Coalition for the Homeless: http://www.nationalhomeless.org/civilrights/index.html

A Dream Denied: The Criminalization of Homelessness in U.S. Cities” National Coalition for the Homeless: http://www.nationalhomeless.org/civilrights/index.html

[1] According to a U.S. Conference of Mayors the homeless population is diverse: 20% work; 22% are mentally disabled; 11% are veterans; and 34% are drug or alcohol dependent. (Homeless.org)
[2] The National Coalition for the Homeless’ report, “A Dream Denied: The Criminalization of Homelessness in U.S. Cities,” they cite that this trend includes measures that target homeless persons by making it illegal to perform life-sustaining activities in public. These measures prohibit activities such as sleeping/camping, eating, sitting, and begging in public spaces, usually including criminal penalties for violation of these laws.