Relaunching The JTB Experience

About 4 years ago, give or take a month, I was in a point of transition in my life, I just didn’t know where I was transitioning to. I had moved from Los Angeles, California, to Worcester, Massachusetts almost two years prior, and my career wasn’t moving as I had hoped. I was still single, very alone, and was planning to move back to Philadelphia and figure out what to do next with my life. I met an old high school friend for dinner one night. An incredibly smart man, and a warm friendly personality, his company was perfect for me. Dave K. could advise me what to do with my life, and not make me feel like a loser for not being there yet in my mid 40’s.

    “What we got to do,” he said between forks of steak, “is come up with Josh 2.0.” There was something about that phrase that stuck with me. And I used it a few weeks later at a funeral. This lady was asking about me, where I had been, where I was, and where I hoped to go, and I told her that I was currently working on Josh 2.0. She coyly looked down at her coffee, and then back up at me, and said “I think Josh 1.0 is pretty good the way he is.” I married that woman a year later, currently living in Richmond, Virginia as a husband and father. Without even thinking about about, or making an effort, Josh 2.0 was up and running.

    Recently, there have been some other major changes in my life. Back In 2004, I started a new career in golf course and turf grass management. That adventure brought me all over the US, and I had the privilege to work at some of the finest golf courses in the country. But very recently, that all has changed, and the mind boggling part, is that I am not sure what it is changing to. It is way too early to start Josh 3.0 (or even Beta testing it), so maybe this is Josh 2.2…

    Regardless, it means something for The JTB Experience. Now I have an opportunity to explore and relaunch this blog. And it will be different, but not entirely, mostly because I am not entirely sure of what is really is. It is a work in transition, an experiment, a work in progress. But I can define a few things:

What The JTB Experience will not be

  1. It will not be anything that is not me. It is called The JTB Experience for a reason. It is about how and what I see in my life as cool, helpful, and interesting.
  2. It will not be political to the point of alienating random members of the general public. Although I may have a political view that some may call “extreme” this blog will not become an advocacy blog. For example, I am a 2nd Amendment advocate, but I am not going to write posts about it (unless the country is moving in a direction where I feel I must take some sort of action).
  3. Although subject matters might be as varied and eclectic as I am, it will not be haphazard. or chaotic. I will strive for the best writing, photography, and design.
  4. Controversial: much like political stance, I do not want to loose a possible reader for taking on a subject too controversial.
  5. Some sort of Lit mag. It is not a place to showcase my fiction or poetry.

What The JTB Experience will be

  1. Regular: I will take great efforts to make regular contributions.
  2. Honest: if I am going to write a blog about my life, and the experiences that make up my life, I must write honestly, about subject matters that mean much too me.
  3. Discrete: Just because I am being honest about my life, I must think about the impact of my honesty on other people. I do not want to disclose things about other people’s lives without their full consent. That includes all members of my family.

 

    I am excited about the possibilities, and the new adventures that my life now has to offer. And I am excited to write about them, sharing them with the world. I also hope you are excited about reading them.

 

A New Year and a New Blog

Wait a minute… This is all wrong. Things need to change…quickly, drastically, and dynamically. First of all, my profile is 200% inaccurate. There have been many changes in my life, huge changes, and I no longer resemble the man that started this blog. Secondly, there has been a massive shift in technology. Smart phones, tablets, clouds, and eruption of social media, etc. Lastly, and most importantly, is has been 2 years and 11 months (not since Jan 30, 2012) that I have posted anything on this blog. That is 1,064 days. That is also, in a word, unacceptable.

So there are going to be changes, the most important of them, the frequency of which I publish something. The whole blog will get an update, a makeover, a polishing. But one thing will stay the same. I am the chief writer and editor, and this blog, The JTB Experience, will continue to be about the wide scope of subjects that entertain me, from the Auxiliary to Linux to table top RPGs to cooking. This isn’t going to be about one specific subject. The only common thread is that I think it’s pretty neat… I will not rule out the possibility of a professional blog one day, and one day soon. I do see the need of creating and sharing a website that focuses strictly on one’s career and industry. But at this very moment, I do not know what that will be or look like. Just like there are changes coming to The JTB Experience, there may be changes coming to JTB himself (more???).

So if you are looking at this for the first time, thank you for taking a peek, and I hope you have enjoyed what you have seen from my past. If you have seen this blog before, thank you for coming back and seeing what is in store. I promise there will be more in the very near future. Either way, The JTB Experience is back, and will be more experienced than ever.

Reading, Writing, and some Arithmatic

It seems that 2011 was a year of revolution through out the world, and still burning today. There are the political uprisings in the Middle East. Back home, the Tea Party is attacking the left, as well as the GOP, screaming that we need to make changes in how government works, or rather, spends. The Occupy Movement is camping around the establishment, ranting about the 1% vs. the 99% (almost as if it wants to start a class war). And technologically, culturally, and even business wise, there is a huge revolution going on right under our noses (and eyes), and we are only just reading about it…and its how we are reading about it is an excellent example of this revolution in action.

Amazon Books, that large box book store that doesn’t even have a single store, has finally sold more ebooks than real books. We as a society on a whole are doing significantly more reading via technology (iPhones, iPads, laptops, Droids, Kindle, etc) than we were five years ago, and measurably more than just two years ago. We are a society on the go, sitting in airports, trains, drinking coffee for fifteen minutes in Starbucks between meeting. Books have become cumbersome, that big heavy thing that makes our briefcase or hand bag a bit more difficult to carry. Not only that, but on an ebook reader, you can carry your entire personal library with you wherever you go. The convenience of it cannot be over stated. That copy of War and Peace that you have been reading for the past two years,you know, that big book on your night stand that you can’t seem to finish, because you can only read it when at home because its so damn big…well now you can read it anywhere and everywhere due to technology, and finish it in a fortnight (yes…I said fortnight). Or you sister calls you up and tells you about the great book that she just finished, and you have to read it, because it is so you, and so funny, and sad, and action packed. You know the phone call. The thing is, you have to cook dinner, put the kids to bed, wake up early for work, stay late for an important meeting that you have no idea why you need to be there, and there is no time for you to go to the book store and buy a book. Nor do you like the ides of buying it online and waiting for three to five business days for delivery, because you are looking for a new book now anyway, and its a Friday on a three day weekend. Well now, you just turn on your e-reader, download, and BAM! Within minutes you are starting chapter 1.

Don’t get me wrong. I love books, and books are not going away. They are more than a tree killing tool of communicating information and ideas. We are a tactile species. We like to feel and smell things. There is comfort in the weight of a book in our lap. The running of an edge of paper across our finger tips as we turn the page. They are also trophies and signs of achievement, be it the bookshelf filled with everything you read on display to those who visit your home, or the satisfaction of finishing a book four inches thick with over 700 pages. Lastly, how do you give an ebook as a gift? Where do you inscribe  “I hope this books means as much to you as it does to me…” No, ebooks are here to stay, and print will not die. It may have to go a retirement home, but it will not die.

But there is more to that. This revolution is changing the business of publishing books. In a recent article about the top self-publishing authors, a light switched on in my head. Up until this ebook revolution, publishers have been the gate keepers to writers. Unless an author had enough time and money to print and publish the book himself (and market, and sell, and distribute, etc), he had to rely on publishers. And publishers tend to be very picky about who they publish. taking a manuscript and turning into a book on the shelves of your local bookstore, let alone convincing the public they need to read it, is a very expensive investment. But now, that all changes.

So over the next coming few weeks, I am going to be investigating this ebook revolution, and seeing how it can not only affect me as a reader, but as a writer. Now that self publishing ebooks seems to be a growing trend, I am going to start looking on how I can now become more than a blogger, a writer in his home dabbling in the written word, sharing my craft with the world via The JTB Experience. Maybe now the door is opening for me to make money as a writer, a poet, an author. Maybe now there will be opportunities for me to make a living sharing my ideas and dreams through ebooks. Look for more posts in the future where I explore and share this new trend in publishing.

Serving your community and country… (and the budget?!)

First of all, to my loyal readers (is that two of you, or three…so hard to keep track), I wish to thank you, and apologize at the same time. It has been way too long since I have written anything. And that is my fault. I could go on about how my life just got so busy with work and everything else, but I won’t. I forget what I was watching the other day, but these two guys were talking, and one was saying how he had meant to do this, that or the other thing, but he had too much other stuff to take care of. And the second guy said, with a tone of dry empathy but with a hint of no excuse “Stuff is what gets in the way of life.” And it is very true. Way back when in a different life and city, when I was slinging coffee during the day and trying to make it on stage during the night, there was this lawyer who came by almost every afternoon to get her fix. We got to know each other, and her story was fascinating to say the least. She was a public defender who had finished law school not too long ago. But she was also a single mom and a recovering alcoholic. She and her ex-husband were both alcoholics (he couldn’t get off the juice, that’s why they divorced), so she was raising her two teenage sons alone, while bar tending, and going to law school. That blew my mind. To be a recovering alcoholic, and yet work in a bar is some sign of person strength (…ok…there is Sam Malone from Cheers…but that was a TV show). Add in raising to teenage boys alone, and going to law school?!?! That is impressive indeed. Obviously she didn’t let stuff get in the way of life, or at least not the parts of life that are important to her. Every time I think that I am overwhelmed with my career, chores, and what-not, and that I don’t have the time and energy to do the other things that are important, I sit back and think of her, and eventually tell myself to shut the hell up, stop complaining, and make the time.

But that is not the reason for this entry. I did not sit here to write about how we procrastinate and rationalize our procrastination, or tell stories of how others set goals and figure out how to achieve them despite obstacles. This entry is about an organization that I am a part of, that most of you may have no idea exists at all. An organization that is a vital part of our Homeland Security. And it is an entry to hopefully inspire a few of you to join as well.

The United States Coast Guard Auxiliary has been in existence since 1939 as part of the Coast Guard Reserve, and as its own organization since 1941. It is a 100% volunteer organization, meaning that our time and efforts go unpaid. In fact, we pay money to be a part of the Auxiliary in the form of annual dues and purchasing uniforms and equipment. And in a shrinking economy, and a time when the government is cutting budgets (be it good or bad), such service to the Coast Guard, community, and nation, is vital. We as member auxiliarist do perform essential operations at a substantially reduced coast to the Coast Guard. By law we do not and cannot perform military or police action missions (no boarding drug smuggling vessels or chasing down terrorists in high speed  boat chases…drat!), but we train to support the Coast Guard in almost every other mission, from administrative support, to search and rescue missions, to public education, and vessel safety inspections. All without pay.

This past weekend I was able to attend the D-Train conference, a district wide event offering conferences, classes, and round-table discussions on several aspects of the Auxiliary. The Auxiliary is nationally divided into regions called Districts, 16 total. Each District is then divided into Divisions, a more localized unit. Within each Division, are Flotillas, the smallest unit, in which each auxiliarist is a member of one. I am a member of Division 12, Flotilla 4 (known as 12-04) of District 11 Southern Region (which includes souther California, and small parts of Nevada and Arizona).  In all, this D-Train (or District Training) event was an outstanding experience, where I got to meet others from all over the District, learn from their experiences, and get some training in such areas as Leadership, Public Education, and Public Affairs.

No. I am not part of the military. I am a member of Team Coast Guard, but I am not in the Coast Guard. I am not, nor will I ever be considered a veteran. I am just a civilian who puts on a uniform every now and again, and tries to serve his community and nation to the best of his ability. I wish it could be more. I try to make it more. And maybe it is something that you, dear reader, might want to look into.

Semper Paratus

Blogger’s Note: One of my six New Year’s Resolutions this year is to post a new item on my blog no less than once a week. I would kindly appreciate any support you can give to help me achieve that goal. Like a friendly email saying something like “Hey dead beat! You are two weeks late! Get writing!” or words to that effect. Again, the more feedback I get from you, the better this blog can be.

I Could Hear My Country Calling Me

It has been quite some time since my last post. And this morning on my list of things to do, I had written down to add at least one more post to my blog. I have three lined up, partially written or in need of editing. I was planning on finishing at least one of those today.

It’s easy not to write my blog. I work six days a week, on an average of 10.5 hours a day, longer if you you count my commute. I leave the house at 5:15 AM every morning (earlier on weekends), and often don’t get home until after 6 PM. It doesn’t leave much time for me to do much after work outside of showering, cooking dinner, and stealing some “me time,” mostly rotting my brain with an hour or so of TV, or reading. So when I get my one day off each week, it is usually spent catching up on the errands, chores, and other things that I don’t do the other days. You can call this an excuse. I like to think of it more like an explanation.

So here I am on a Sunday morning, sitting at my computer with a cup of coffee, listening to NPR, about to write in my diary, when I hear a story that made me stop everything that I was doing, and move to write this brand new blog entry.

A 28 year old man, a student at Cal State Northridge and a ROTC cadet, is fighting to serve in the US Army. He needs to fight to serve, because he is deaf.

Lets go back to the spring of 2002. Less than six months after September 11 (never 9/11… its is a date, not a number, and should remembered as a date), I was a 31 year old man, trying to enlist in the Pennsylvania Army National Guard (PANG), more specifically, Troop A of the 1/104th Cavalry. Yes, I was about 10 years older than the average enlistee, but I had always wanted to serve in the Army. And after finding a unit where I had several friends, and with proper inspiration and motivation, I made my commitment. I will admit that the financial aid to help me return to school also motivated me, but it was by no means the only reason.

On April 3rd, 2002, I was at Ft. Dix in NJ, getting my physical, taking the drug tests, going through the paperwork, and planning on raising my hand and taking oath. But it never happened. I had failed the hearing test. I have a severe hearing loss in one of the middle frequencies. Something you wouldn’t notice in everyday conversation, and only find with tests. My Recruiting SGT, a 19 year Master SGT who was counting down his days until retirement, told me not to worry. I would see a hearing specialist, get a waiver, and then off to basic training. I saw the hearing specialist, and he confirmed the hearing loss, and noted that in his opinion I was be fit to serve. All I had to do was wait for the waiver to pass. A month passed…nothing. A few more passed, and the Recruiting SGT didn’t return my phone calls or give me updates on my status. After six months, I contacted my US Representative to look into the matter. A week later I got a very irate SGT calling me, asking me who the hell I thought I was going over his head to a congressman. As it turned out, the SGT had buried my paperwork, and was doing nothing to get me my paperwork. His retirement was coming up, and he didn’t want to do any “heavy lifting.”  So now he had to send my paperwork off, but he did the minimum, and my waiver was refused. I spent the next two years fighting that. It didn’t make sense to me. The unit I was wanted to join was in Bosnia, we were at war in Afghanistan and Iraq, and the Army was turning me, a healthy, intelligent, motivated young man, away because a recruiter didn’t want to do his job. I had Senators, army officers, doctors, and even lobbyist, trying to get me in, but my PDQ (Permanent Disqualification) seemed to live up to its name. In 2004, I finally gave up my fight, and accepted the fact that I would not be able to serve my country. I didn’t like it, but there was nothing left for me to do.

So here I am today, listening to this story of CDT Nolan and his fight to wear the uniform, and I have very mixed feelings. Part of me is very sympathetic to him. Yes, there are several non-combative rolls he (or I could) do to serve, that would not put himself or his fellow soldiers in jeopardy. Yes. Part of me says “let the magnificent bastard in!” I want to stand up and sing “Why was he born so beautiful….” (some of you will get the reference)…

But then there is the other side of the coin. I wasn’t able to serve with a modest hearing loss. Why should this man, who is deaf, unable to hear anything at all, have the honor of wearing the uniform. That is not fair. And sadly, with my 41st birthday pending, if he is allowed to serve, it would be too late for me to enlist again, using his actions as a precedent to get my PDQ removed. It is frustrating…

So I have decided to stand behind my deaf brother in arms, and support his quest to get his Commission. All this man wants to do is to contribute to the defence of his country, to your freedoms. Why stop him?

He’s a Mac….He’s a PC….and I’m a Penguin

Ok. This might be confusing for some of you, so I am going to try to walk you through this. I do not use Windows, or any Microsoft product for that matter. Oh! you say. So you are a Mac type of guy. No. I do not use any product by Apple either. Oh…uhm…so you do what? I use Linux, or Linux Mint to be more specific. Ahhh, you are a computer geek. No I’m not, although part of me wishes I was. To be honest, I really don’t know much about programming. I can’t write code. I just point, click and drag like the rest of us lemmings… and so can you.

Back in 2008 I came to the realization that the computer world was dominated by two empires, and neither of them needed any more of my money. Microsoft, the biggest game player in the industry had way too many flaws and was easily exploited by hackers. Viruses are written with Windows in mind. Furthermore, lets admit it, Apple is a cult. Yes, they make very cool, stylish products that work. The iPod and the iPhone are great because they are hip and they work. But to use them, you must go to iTunes to download, or iBook, or whatever iCompany that Apple owns and controls. If you use an Apple product, you are a slave to the will of Apple and what they decided you can have and not have. I have not, and will not, drink the iKool-Aide. So that leaves me with one other choice…

Linux.

I am not going to pretend that I understand the ins and out of Linux, or how it works and what makes it different from OSX or Windows. All I do know is that it works, and its free. Yes, you read that correctly. It’s free. It is free because it is Open Source Software written and developed by a community for the better good of the community.  Those of you who are already using Firefox are using Open Source Software.The basic idea is this. Someone writes a program and puts it out there for free for all to use. Then someone else looks at it, finds a way to tweak it, improve it, or change it just a bit to make it more personalized, and then they put it back out there. No one is trying to make a buck. No one is trying to protect their creative genius ego. Its almost like computer communism, without the guns, labor camps, media control, and leaders with funny facial hair.

There are several different operating systems in Linux, all for different types of people with different needs and skill levels. For the basic, everyday, home computer user, there is Ubuntu. It is very user friendly, and for those who have been a Windows user since birth, it is easy to make the transition. Other systems include Debian, Fedora, and Gentoo, just to name a few. There are several of them, hundreds even. I am currently running Linux Mint 10, and couldn’t be happier.

Another great thing about Linux is that you can test drive them with a Live CD, and not have to worry about loosing anything on your hard drive. What happens with a Live CD is that you are telling your computer to run off of the CD instead of the hard drive. It boots up from the CD, runs the programs on the CD, and lets you try the operating system without having to do anything to your computer. It is a great way to shop around to find a distro (that is what they call an OS, or operating system) that meets your tastes and needs without making the full commitment to installation.

I can hear you all now. That’s great, JTB. But I often use my home computer for work related stuff, and I need Microsoft Word, Excel, Power Point, and Outlook. Can I use those on Linux? The answer is yes, but why would you? Why would you want to use a program that you have to buy, when you can have other programs that do the exact same things for free, and are 100% compatible, so your poor co-workers, lost in the slave salt mines of Microsoft, can read your beautiful data presentations you compiled at home and emailed to them with Open Source software? I’m talking about Open Office. It is a free, complete office suite (document, spreadsheet, database, etc) that is completely compatible with other office suites. And for your email needs there is Thunderbird, made by the same people who brought us Firefox. And its all free, in more ways than one.

It’s free in the fact that it won’t ever cost you a penny. You will never get a window popping us saying that your free trial is about to expire, and that you will need to buy the official version if you want to keep using the program. But it is also free in the way that no one owns it. No one controls it. people are free to adjust it, improve it, tweak it, change the colors, look, feel, and not have to ask for a single person’s permission. That my friend, is free. True freedom.

So, start snooping around. Download and burn a Live CD of Ubuntu or Linux Mint. get a feel for something different. Stick it to Steve Jobs and Bill Gates, and the rest of the mindless sheep who follow the herd. Become a penguin. Here’s a video to help you out if I confused you even more…

Give us this day our Daily Bread

Seriously, I am not turning religious with this post. Even if you remove the religious refernce from the title, it shows a very historical insight into culture. Up until the mid-20th century, there was a large number of people in world who baked bread on a daily basis. Stores and bakeries were just too far away to get the bread needed to feed a family, so home-makers would bake bread, some on a daily basis.

While living in LA, one of my struggles has been in finding good bread. For the most part, it doesn’t exist. And the sad thing is that the people here really don’t know that the bread sucks. It has bland flavor and boring texture. It is hard to tell the difference between one type of bread from another. You can go buy a loaf of what looks like beautiful, rustic, artisan bread, but when you take it home and cut into it, disappointment fills your mouth. Bread in LA has become, more or less, an edible utensil for shoveling butter, jam, cold cuts, or whatever you want to put on it, into your mouth.

I have never been a baker. Although I know my way around the kitchen pretty well, my baking experience might have been confined to one cake made from a box. But a few weeks ago, so flippin’ tired the bread nightmare in LA, I decided to bake a loaf of bread myself. Looking for a recipe, I found this on the web for beer bread. This is the easiest loaf of bread in the world. From pre-heating the oven, to cutting my first slice is only an hour and a half.  The only difference between what I do and the recipe is that I actually bake it in a loaf pan at 350 degrees for 1 hr and 5 min. I have not bought a loaf of bread since then, and bake a new loaf about every third day. I have used different types of beer, and mixed in different amounts of whole wheat flour (always adding up to 3 cups total). And I have yet to bake a loaf that wasn’t damn tasty, even on the third day.

So go into your your kitchen right now, pull out a beer, and make some bread. You will thank me for it.