Monthly Archives: April 2017

Unquenchable Thirst for Reading

I can’t get enough of reading. For someone who read very little for pleasure up until about the age of 25, I’ve sadly missed a lot of years that I could have been reading. But a reader I have turned in to! These are some of the bookcases filled with books I’ve read over the years.

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Once I started this blog several years ago, I began to keep a digital list of all the books I read in a calendar year. And for several years, I’ve been keeping an Amazon “wish list” of all the books I wanted to read. I’ve written before about all of the books I have in waiting on that list, but unfortunately that list is growing faster than I can read.

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Not long ago, my sister-in-law introduced me to BookBub, a service you can sign up for in which you pre-select the types of books you would be interested in reading (I signed up for both fiction novels and non-fiction history books.). Once activated, you then get a daily e-mail message that lists digital books that are on sale—just for that one day—priced from “Free” to $3.99. Who can pass up these kinds of prices? So far this year, I’ve purchased eight BookBub books, each for $2.99 or less. Even with the current price of gas, I can’t drive to the public library and check out a book for much less than that.

My problem is, as always, I am a slow reader. I marvel at my wife for how fast she can read.

My Wife's Bookcase

My Wife’s Bookcase

Often when our evening is almost over, we will each get up on our bed and read a digital book on our iPad. It is amazing how quickly she is touching her iPad to move to the next page. Sadly for me, I often end up falling asleep while reading being so worn out by the end of the day.

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One of the best times for me to get to read is when I am traveling by air. I honestly don’t mind sitting in the airport waiting to board when I have a good book to read. And once on the plane, I often put ear buds in to discourage any conversation from fellow travellers so I can have hours of uninterrupted reading pleasure. Thank goodness we can now use our e-readers below 10,000 feet and while waiting to depart.

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My favorite flight is on my return trip from Amsterdam each year when I typically have a seven to eight hour flight during day light hours when, despite the 7-hour time difference, is still when I would normally be awake (The flight to Amsterdam is overnight so I usually try to sleep as much as I can rather than read to better acclimate to the 7-hour time loss).

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Another favorite time of mine is on vacation when I can also spend many hours reading non-stop.

Having turned 60, an age I’ve always thought of as “old” (although less so now that I am actually 60), I’ve had the sad thought of wondering just how many more years of reading I have left.

One of the items on my “to do” list once I retire is to read more. So even though knowing each of us has a limited number of years to live, I plan to accelerate my reading. Not that I will necessarily become a speed-reader to rival my wife. But with more hours available to read, I’ll be able to read even more books. But I suspect that even with that change, I’ll still have trouble keeping up with all the books I want to read. Because there are just so many great books out there, and the universe of books continues to expand ever larger.

Old Files

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Even though my retirement is still months away, I have already begun to clean out some old files as the archiving staff will be leaving before my last day. I have been the head of Stability for over 25 years so some of my files go back that far. On the first day of our site-wide clean up, I began to go through some of these quarter century old files.

It was really interesting looking back at some of the reports I approved in 1991. Even more interesting was seeing the names of fellow workers from that period that I had not even thought of in probably almost that long. Sadly, a few of them are not still alive so as I ran across their names, it was with a touch of sorrow.

But as I thumbed through documents from some of the other companies we worked with in the past, it was joyous to see names of people I know now that back then were just another name on a report. It is truly amazing how small the pharmaceutical industry really is.

That first day, I only managed to clean out one 5-drawer lateral file cabinet so I have a number of other files still to go through before I’m done. I fortunately didn’t come across any original documents that would have to go through the lengthy archival process. I did, however, generate a lot of recyclable waste. I can’t image how many trips I made to the recycle bin but I know I met my Fitbit 10,000-step goal that day (I even had to search for additional bins as along with fellow employees, we filled up all the ones close by.).

In advance of this clean-up day, I actually started going through some even older files that dated back to when I first started working.

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I ran across this photo of me that I think must have been taken for the company newspaper (remember those?).

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When I pulled out this file labeled “Programs”, I didn’t quite know what would be hidden inside. I was floored when I opened it.

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Inside was a Basic computer program I had written to crunch method validation data. My boss, when I first started, was very much into computerization (this was 1982) and challenged me as one of my first special projects to come up with a program to perform these method validation calculations.

When I was in college in the mid 1970s, I had studied Basic programming in a calculus lab course I had to take. Back then, the computer we had was a mainframe the size of two deep freezers end to end. We hand wrote out our program (there were no word-processors) and then typed each line of code onto a punch card (e.g., 100 cards for a 100 line program). Our task was to write a program to take multiple inputs of student’s individual test scores, generate a semester average for each student, assign a letter grade, and then rank order the students from highest to lowest average. I had had no exposure to computer programming in high school so this first semester freshman class proved to be a challenging assignment that I ultimately was not able to finish.

Imagine my chagrin when my boss assigned this project to me, a task far more challenging than my college assignment. Maybe it was the motivation of wanting to impress my boss (or the fact that I was being paid to do this rather than just earning a grade) but I remember taking home books on programming in Basic and hand writing my program at the kitchen table. Fortunately less than a decade after college, we were working on a “mini-computer” using a text processor that could take our lines of code and compile them into machine language—no more punch cards—so once my program was complete, I typed it into the text processor.

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Turns out writing it was a blast! I had to write several subroutines to perform the actual linear regression and to output the data in a table. I even figured out how to sort the data with a single pass through the calculated results, a functionality that had eluded me in college.

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In the same folder, I also found that I had started writing a computer program to manage our family budget. Only problem was this predated the invention of personal computers and so I had no computer of my own on which to run this program. But for a more “legitimate” business use, I did find that I had written a program to track our golf league participant’s scores and total them up to determine the season’s winners. It was almost like that student’s test score program I never was able to write correctly in college, only with golf scores rather than test scores.

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As I looked over these 34 year-old documents, I recalled the fun I had had writing these and the sense of pride that on my own, I had taught myself how to successfully program in Basic. It seemed that once I had slayed that old nemesis from college, I was bubbling with confidence to try even more.

I wonder on our next clean-up day what other treasures like these I may uncover that bring back such fond memories. I guess only time will tell.

A Sermon a Day

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This year for Lent, I did something different. Rather than the usual approach of giving up something for Lent as a sacrifice like chocolate or adult beverages, I chose the alternative approach and started doing something instead. I don’t recall how I came up with this idea but I decided that I would read one of my dad’s sermons every day during Lent. Having received and organized my dad’s over 700 sermons in 2016, I knew that I wanted to read them all so I thought this would be a good way to get started. And since I had them organized in numerical order from 1 to 710, I naturally started with number 1.

As I sat down that first time to read sermon number #1, I felt a closeness to my dad holding the same pages he had held over 70 years before.

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I also read the cited Bible passage upon which the sermon was based in my dad’s tattered “work” Bible, a chain-reference Bible published in 1934. After reading just the first sermon, I knew I had chosen a wise activity for Lent.

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I don’t know when my dad wrote this sermon but according to the date on the folder, he preached it for the first time in August 1946 in Duncan Oklahoma, a time when he was still in Seminary. It is entitled “Jesus, the Door” and is based on the scripture in John about the shepard’s fold and the single opening where the sheep went in to and out of the fold. It is the parable where Jesus states that he is the door. In the sermon, it was enlightening to read an actual shepard’s response to the question why there was no door in the fold, only an opening. The shepard’s reply was that after the flock went into the fold, the shepard would lay down in the opening acting as the door, preventing the sheep from leaving the fold and predators from getting in.

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For me, it made a clear revelation of this parable like I hadn’t recalled before. Looking at the seven dates my dad gave this sermon, only once could I have even possibly heard this one, a time when I was about 10 years old. But what really sent chills all over me was when I read my dad’s closing comments describing the Holman Hunt painting, “The Light of the World.” It was a copy of this very painting that I remember hanging on my dad’s church office wall. And it is the same painting that my sister got to see on her visit to Europe and which she brought a copy back to me that has now been hanging in my office ever since.

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I never knew the significance of that painting. That it was a direct tie back to my dad’s very first sermon, a talisman of where he got started. What a way to begin Lent!

And just five days into Lent, I came across another significant sermon: number 5 entitled “If Christ Be Not Raised!”

As I thought about it, I realized that writing a sermon about Easter and the Resurrection was probably one of the most important ones ever written by a young minister. As any Christian knows who has attended an Easter service and experienced the crowd, this one Sunday is the most widely attended of any in a calendar year. So a minister would want this sermon to be one of his better ones. And with Dad’s, I was not disappointed.

Based on Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians (I Corinthians 15:1-20) where Paul writes about doubts that have arisen of a resurrection, Paul addresses three aspects that would be anathema to early Christians if Christ had not been raised from the dead; namely that their faith would be in vain, their sins not forgiven, and the dead gone before them perished with no hope of life ever after.

Then in archetypal fashion of including three main points in a sermon, Dad proceeded to build very logical arguments around each of these three that for a Christian would leave no doubt of their importance in supporting a belief in Jesus’ resurrection.

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In all my years of attending church/mass, it was the best Easter sermon I recalled hearing, and for my private reading, one with no crowds. My Dad must have agreed as he gave it almost annually every Easter for his first ten years of preaching.

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As I wrote previously about my dad’s sermons, also included in the numbered folders were the church bulletins from the services in which he gave the sermon. I delighted in seeing the “retro” cover image of some of these bulletins.

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In this one from April 17, 1949, there was a bonus: a note of welcome to my mom and dad on becoming the pastor at the First Presbyterian Church of Tallulah, Louisiana, his first church after graduating from Seminary and just months after his February marriage to my mom.

Then I realized that not only would I learn some things from reading my dad’s sermons, but I would also get a bit of family history from the stories told in the bulletins. Another bulletin announced our family’s vacation to Richmond, Virginia, a trip I well remember.

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So this is how I spent my journey through Lent, reading my dad’s sermons, learning from his words written long ago, and feeling as close as I have to him since his death over 15 years ago.

Puzzle Addiction

Earlier this year, I posted about one of my favorite wintertime activities—putting together puzzles. In that post, I postulated that the popularity of puzzles was likely due to an addiction. Well I now have to admit that I too have succumbed to that addiction.

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In my last post, I mentioned that I had ordered another puzzle as soon as I had completed the first one. Whether I did it consciously or subconsciously I picked another puzzle that had a number of individual scenes rather than one main scene, which makes it almost like a number of smaller puzzles within a larger puzzle. With this puzzle type, you can focus on finishing one scene and gain a quick sense of accomplishment even though there are still a large number of pieces remaining to be placed.

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Obviously the first step with any puzzle is to lay out all of the pieces on your work surface, trying to isolate the side pieces in one area as you remove them from the bag. As with the Door puzzle, once I began to assemble the side pieces, I found that several were missing leaving three distinct gaps in the puzzle frame. But as before, I forged ahead knowing that they would eventually turn up.

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As I was laying out all of the pieces, I noticed that this puzzle, unlike most I had worked in the past, had a number of unusually shaped pieces. The four pieces at the top are shaped similarly to puzzle pieces I have assembled before. But the other pieces were rather oddly shaped. I could see that I would have to abandon my old approach of organizing pieces by shape for easier placement in the puzzle since some of these pieces seemed almost one-of-a-kind.

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As with the door puzzle, I started working on individual scenes that had some unique colors that would make their assembly easier. By the time I had almost completed four of these, I had finally located all of the side pieces.

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One helpful quality of this puzzle was that there was a brown border around each of the individual scenes. This made framing these simpler as I could look for the pieces that had this detail. But then I noticed the center scene (the Eames chair) had a turquoise frame around it. Therefore I decided to focus on that one next since those frame pieces would be easily distinguishable from the other ones that had a brown frame.

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With the center scene complete, I then focused on the other frames that each had a unique color combination.

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And before I knew it, I had only about four incomplete frames left…

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…and my pace quickened, aided by the diminished number of pieces remaining, until I had just one scene left to assemble.  At this point I couldn’t stop and so proceeded to work until the puzzle was complete.

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This puzzle I assembled in less than a week which is pretty amazing given that I had already returned to work (although I must admit I did multi-task on my work-from-home day adding pieces while in teleconferences).

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And at the end of the week, we had a snow day from work which gave me some additional time for puzzle assembly.

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But I also recognized that uncontrollable itch, that just like a drugged-up junkie; I was looking for my next “fix” even before finishing this puzzle and so ordered my next puzzle using my wife’s accelerated 2-day shipping.

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For this purchase, I decided to go with a more traditional single-scene puzzle. Exploring the world of puzzles online, I debated between train scenes, landscape scenes, and car scenes but anyone who knows me well enough could have predicted that the car scene would be my first pick, this particular one of the famous Woodward Avenue in Detroit, home of the annual Woodward Dream Cruise.

Obviously what caught my eye on this one were the 1960s era muscle cars. What I failed to notice was that nearly one third of the puzzle was an almost monochromatic night sky.

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This realization was validated once I had laid out all the pieces into four groupings: side pieces, colorful pieces, road pieces, and sky pieces. The sky pieces, mostly in two shades of purple are to the right. I decided that part of the puzzle would have to be last and I would likely have to use my trusty tool of organizing the individual pieces by shape just like I did for the snow scene puzzle.

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I got an early taste for what this would be like just assembling the sidepieces as the road at the bottom and the sky at the top required a one-by-one trial and error approach to completing the puzzle frame.

With the puzzle framed, I decided to focus first on the front three cars. If this approach allowed me to additionally place the road pieces around them, I would have half the puzzle complete before working on the center band of color leaving the sky to tackle last. With this plan of attack, I forged ahead.

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Turns out, starting with the blue car was harder than I thought. As I looked closer, I could see that the car was not a uniform blue color but had reds, yellows, and whites throughout it. I kept plugging at it but eventually gave up when I had only partially completed the hood and the tires.

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As can be seen, I actually had better luck with assembling the road, which I thought would be more difficult. With the headlights reflected on the road in the picture, it transformed what might have been a single colored road surface into rainbow shades of purple and tan.

Sticking with my original strategy, I decided to work on the red car next. Although it had some “surprising” purple and flesh tones colors incorporated into its picture, it actually proved much easier than the blue car to assemble.

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At this point, I decided to modify my strategy and rather than working on the yellow car, I moved all of the “suspected” blue car pieces over to the right and focused on the famous Totem Pole Drive In.

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This turned out to be a very wise detour as in no time; I had the iconic structure assembled.

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And if you look closely around the famous marquee, you will see it is outlined with what I thought were blue car pieces but were actually sky pieces, brightened by the sign’s lights from the evening purple sky to almost daylight blue. No wonder the blue car had been so hard to assemble; its pieces were hiding among blue-sky pieces that repeatedly would not fit anywhere on the car.

Before returning to the blue car, I decided to assemble the yellow car, which proved a wise decision as the two cars overlap and as I added yellow pieces, small bits of the blue car on the yellow pieces helped it get assembled as well.

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Then returning to the blue car, its assembly was much easier and any piece that didn’t go to it became part of all the other cars in the background.

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At this point, I was left with about 200 pieces of various shades of purple almost evenly divided between dark and light.

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I semi-organized them by shape and jumped in.

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I started with the lighter colored purple pieces first to build the sky from the ground up. I occasionally ran across a piece with small black dots on it (bits of tree) which made them easy to place.

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Once I had finished with the lighter colored pieces, it was a one-by-one trial and error approach to complete the darkest part of the sky. This process took a while as I might try 30 or 40 pieces in a single location before finding the right piece. Some of the pieces had unusual shapes, which made them much easier. After several days of this approach, I finally completed the puzzle.

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I was most pleased with the outcome.

As I mentioned before, once you complete a puzzle, a part of you just does not want to take it apart. After all, you probably spent hours and hours working on it only to have it torn apart in just a few minutes.

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This puzzle included an advertisement on the side of the box to preserve the completed puzzle in a frame for those individuals who just couldn’t bear to take it apart. Being a car-loving guy, I must say I was briefly tempted to frame it but in the end, I knew it wouldn’t look as nice as just a framed poster of the same scene due to all the “crinkled” lines.

So I took it apart satisfied with the three puzzles that I had completed prior to the end of January, which interestingly is National Puzzle month. But I think the time I spent this January working on these three turned me into a real “puzzler” and I look forward to next winter and the puzzles I will assemble then.

Retirement Dreaming?

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A few months before my planned retirement date, I had an unusual dream. I know we do not fully understand how our minds process data while we sleep but when we can recall a dream; it is often interesting and sometimes even enlightening how different events at the time get woven into our dream. In case you have not followed my posts previously, a little background information may be helpful.

Credit: Saveup.com

Credit: Saveup.com

After almost 35 years working at the same location, I am retiring. But the cause of my retirement is not necessarily a planned event; it is the result of our work site closure and relocation out of state. I was one of the employees designated to work until the site closure actually occurred to ensure a smooth transition of functions to the new site. And since I was planning on retiring in 2018 anyway, it did not make sense for me to relocate to a new site for what would likely be less than a year of additional employment.

Prior to my dream, several related events occurred.

First, for some time, I had been thinking about the fact that when I left, there would be no retirement party. Not that my vanity caused me to wish for the recognition in such an event but just the acknowledgement that there would be no happy celebration of one of the most significant milestones anyone can achieve in their professional career. Over my years at this location, I had been to numerous joyous occasions when others retired. It seemed almost as if rather than me leaving the company, it was leaving me.

Then a few days before I had the dream, my boss told me that rather than executing the previous plan of consolidating the last few remaining employees onto the first floor of our multi-floor building, that we had had an offer on the entire site and may have to actually vacate the site before our planned closing date.

With that as background, in my dream, I was going to a surgery center to have some procedure performed, for what I do not know. When I entered the center, there was a vast number of beds sunken into the ground so that the bed surface was level with the floor. The room was divided into plots with four beds to a plot, each surrounded by a walkway. The beds were of different sizes and styles (I tried to draw this image for you but alas, I am not a very good free-hand artist).

I don’t know if I arrived late but there was no more room for me on that floor so I had to go down a long walking escalator to the lower level. When they took me to my bed, rather than a bed level with the floor, it was a coffin. I remember sensing it was going to feel claustrophobic and uncomfortable and I was not going to be able to move around.

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I told the attendant I did not want to be in that coffin and so was shown to another bed much like the others in the room.

The next thing I remember, much like when we are sedated for a medical procedure, was afterwards. I never understand what procedure was performed on me. But my next image was of me standing at a loading dock. Backed up to the building were the open doors of an 18-wheeler trailer. Inside were rows and rows of identical wedge shaped containers, almost like roller luggage bags. I must have been told the trailer was loaded with biological tissues from other patients who’d had procedures, the contents of which were being taken offsite for sanitary incineration.

My bag was not on the truck and then the doors were closed and the truck left. After the truck was out of sight, my bag arrived at the dock all by itself.

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Somehow I knew that my red and black work backpack, which contained my work computer and my personal iPad was also in the roller bag. But when I looked closely at the bag, thinking I needed to take out my backpack before it went off to the incinerator, I could see that there was something beating inside the bag like a human heart.

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I knew I couldn’t open it for fear of what I might see inside and then all of a sudden the beating heart stopped.

My next thought was, wait I am not dead. Even though the heart in there has stopped beating, I am still alive. I then wheeled my bag into a secluded alcove where I planned to take out my backpack without anyone seeing me. Then I woke up.

I shared this dream with my wife over dinner that night and she thought it was quite revealing. She coaxed me through interpreting what it might mean.

The work life that I had known for so many years was dead but I was not. Something was taken from my body but I had survived. Going to the lower surgery center level was probably me having to relocate at work. Being lead to the coffin were the months of anticipation knowing our site was closing, in a sense dying. And the 18-wheeler was filled with human losses from all of the other employees impacted by this site closure reminiscent of how all our lab samples had actually been loaded onto an 18-wheeler months before and relocated to a new lab.

While this may sound like a bit of a morbid dream, I think it will help me bring closure to my working full time. I am actually very much looking forward to “retiring” although I must say that with air quotes as I plan to continue to teach and potentially consult. I know it will mean change for the life my family and I have known for so long. But I expect it to be a joyous change with more time for travel, more time with my family, and more time for other fun activities. SO close that casket and let the fun begin!