Category Archives: Professional

1st Foray Into ChatGPT

I finally decided to give ChatGPT a test drive. I made the following request: “Write a 500 word blog post about why Gen Z should vote in every election.”

Here’s the response I received. The response is actually 523 words. Close enough:

“Gen Z, also known as the iGeneration or the post-Millennials, is the demographic cohort born between 1996 and 2010. As this generation begins to reach voting age, it is important for them to understand the importance of participating in every election.

“Voting is one of the most fundamental rights and responsibilities of citizenship. It is a way for individuals to have a say in the direction of their country and to hold elected officials accountable. By voting, Gen Z can shape the policies and laws that will affect their daily lives, from healthcare and education to the economy and the environment.

“One of the most compelling reasons for Gen Z to vote is that their generation is uniquely affected by many of the current political issues. Climate change, for example, is a pressing concern for Gen Z, as they will be living with the consequences of current environmental policies for much longer than older generations. Similarly, the high cost of education and the increasing burden of student loan debt disproportionately affects Gen Z. By voting, Gen Z can make their voices heard on these issues and push for policies that align with their values and interests.

“Another reason why Gen Z should vote is that their generation is one of the most diverse in history, with a wide range of perspectives and experiences. By participating in the democratic process, Gen Z can ensure that their diverse voices are represented in government and that policies reflect the needs and concerns of all members of society.

“Additionally, by voting, Gen Z can help shape the future of the country. The decisions made by today’s elected officials will have a lasting impact on the future, and it is important for Gen Z to have a say in that future. It is also important for Gen Z to vote to ensure the continuation of democracy, which is the foundation of our country and it is something that should be protected.

“It’s also worth noting that voting is not just a right but also a privilege in many countries. Many people have fought and continue to fight for the right to vote, and it is important to exercise that right in order to honor their sacrifices.

“However, it is important to note that voting is not the only way to make a difference. Gen Z can also get involved in other forms of civic engagement, such as volunteering, organizing, and advocacy. But voting is an essential part of the democratic process, and it is the most direct way to make an impact on government policies and elected officials.

“In conclusion, Gen Z should vote in every election because it is their right and responsibility as citizens to shape the direction of their country. By voting, Gen Z can have a say in the policies and laws that affect their lives, ensure that their diverse voices are represented in government, and help shape the future of the country. Furthermore, it’s a way to honor the sacrifices of those who fought for the right to vote. It is time for Gen Z to step up and make their voices heard.”


My Life as a Wiener Clerk

Sometime in my first year of law school I had the opportunity to work at a place called The Wiener Factory. It was located just west of Kester on Ventura Blvd. in Sherman Oaks. Owned by a former stock broker turned English teacher, it was one of the truly iconic places in the San Fernando Valley to get a hot dog or other type of sausage (knackwurst, polish). The dogs all had natural casings, so they snapped when you bit into one. We also used egg bread buns that were steamed prior to placing a dog in them and the mustard was Gulden’s, slightly thinned with a bit of pickle juice. We did not served French Fries; instead we served hot German potato salad and coleslaw.

I worked for the original owner, whose name I can only remember as Gene. He had a way with words, as evidenced by the walls, which were covered with graffiti. The entire inside of the place was filled with different pithy sayings and slogans, many of which he had invented himself (I think; who knows?). The only two I can remember are “Please tell us how long you want us to hold the onions” and “We may be contumacious, but we’re never revocatory.” They were all amusing. However, were you to step out in the back where the bathrooms were located, it was a different story. There, the graffiti was raunchy and risqué, bordering on the profane. It was not something you were likely to encounter very often in your life. It was, after all, the early seventies.

The Wiener Factory after it closed.
Da Kine!

We served them with mustard, relish, and onions, mustard and sauerkraut (one of my all-time favorites), mustard, chili, cheese, and onions, and two that were oddballs at the time – red cabbage and cheese and coleslaw and cheese. Lately, I have been purchasing Hoffy all-beef, natural casing wieners and they are reminiscent of the Vienna dogs we served back then and that I used to buy in 10-pound bags when I was working with my father in the wholesale beat business.

This morning I got nostalgic. I had been eating kraut dogs intermittently for some time, but the thought of a coleslaw and cheese dog has been invading my consciousness with increasing frequency. Since I had to make a stop at Vons to pick up some items for a dinner we’re making for some friends tonight, I checked out what was available coleslaw-wise. There was some at the service deli, but it was early and they weren’t quite up and running and I didn’t feel like waiting. However, I was able to find a tub of it in one of the stand alone deli cases where they provide salads, cold cuts, cheeses, and other items one might want.

I don’t have any egg buns, but I do have hot dog buns and I also have some Gulden’s mustard and some cheddar cheese slices. So I used a paring knife to further slice the cheese into bits (impossible to grate a slice of cheese). I nuked the dog, then the bun with the dog in it and the cheese on top (I had already drawn a thick thread of mustard at the bottom of the bun) and, finally, topped it off with a generous helping of coleslaw.

Of course it wasn’t exactly as I remembered (is anything?) but it was close enough … and it was heavenly. I’m going to do it again. Tonight, though, is reserved for Italian Wedding Soup that Linda made for our friends. We’re taking a big pot of it over to their place and serving it with pepperoncinis, stuffed olives, and fresh garlic bread.


I’m Not a Chef, But …

My very first job, that is the first one I got paid for, was at a McDonald’s in Arleta, CA. I was sixteen years old and had just gotten my driver’s license. My first day I did nothing but make milkshakes. My second day I bagged french fries. Then they discovered I knew how to work the cash register and to make change. From then on I worked the window, taking and fulfilling orders. I had nightmares involving endless lines of people who ate every meal there (at least lunch and dinner; McDonald’s didn’t serve breakfast in 1963) every day. These dreams were based, in part, on the fact there were several customers who did eat there every day. It was a frightening thought.

My second job was as a bus boy at Pancake Heaven, which no longer exists but was just around the corner from the McDonald’s I cut my working teeth on. I eventually became a fry cook there for a while and learned how to make breakfasts, for the most part. At least, that’s all I can barely remember. I also worked at Mike’s Pizza on Van Nuys Blvd. for a while. The only thing I remember about that job was sneaking out a bottle of Chianti in a trash can filled with the sawdust I was responsible for changing out every few days so the floors were reasonably clean.

The Summer before I graduated High School, which was actually the Summer after I should have graduated High School, I worked as a “bus boy” at Pacific Ocean Park (POP). My job was to walk around the pier on which the park was built and scoop trash into one of those self-opening dust pans and empty it into one of the larger trash bins that were placed all over the “park”. It actually had nothing to do with food or food service, other than that most of the trash was created by people who had purchased something to eat and were too damned lazy to deposit the trash in a receptacle themselves.

I didn’t work in or around food service again until 1973, when I tended bar at the Ash Grove in Los Angeles, where I was raising money for my upcoming trip to Cuba with the 6th contingent of the Venceremos Brigade. I had studied Hapkido with Ed Pearl, the owner of the club. It was a favorite target for anti-Castro Cubans and was burned down for the third and final time shortly after I worked there. I don’t think we had a liquor license; only a beer and wine license, so tending bar wasn’t quite as intellectually challenging as it would have been had I been required to remember dozens of mixed drinks, but it was a busy venue and I enjoyed my time there.

Shortly after returning from Cuba, in my first year of law school, I secured a position as a “wiener clerk” at The Wiener Factory in Sherman Oaks, CA, where I served up the finest hot dogs, knackwurst, and polish sausage to ever cross a taste bud. Even though they closed on December 31, 2007 (15 years ago) it’s still talked about as the top example of how a hot dog should be presented to the discriminating public. I loved it there. PS – Click on the link and you might find my posthumous review of the place, which I posted almost 12 years ago.

I didn’t work in food service again until sometime in the mid-nineties. I had left my job at Rocketdyne to rejoin my brother in a family wholesale food/restaurant supply business our father had started when I was 13. After less than two years it wasn’t going well and I decided to leave and fend for myself. One of my customers was Les Sisters Southern Kitchen in Chatsworth, CA. The owner at the time, Kevin Huling, was working his butt off and wanted to be able to take a day off during the week. I offered to run the place for him on Wednesdays and, until I returned to Rocketdyne, I managed the restaurant once a week. My favorite day was when I had to wait on tables. I made quite a bit more money than I did from just managing the place (hint: tips!).

In addition to all these jobs, my father was working at the Grand Central Market in downtown Los Angeles when I was born. He worked at Faber’s Ham Shop, which was a stand in the market that sold lunch meats and fresh chickens. He liked to refer to himself as a butcher, but my birth certificate lists his occupation as “Food Clerk”. I remember my mother taking me shopping there when I was about five years old. We took Pacific Electric’s Red Car on the Red Line that stretched from San Fernando, running right through Panorama City, where we lived, to downtown L.A. My father put me in a far-too-large, white butcher’s coat, and put a Farmer John paper campaign hat on my head, stood me on a milk crate and had me selling lunch meat for an hour or so. I learned my first three words of Spanish behind that counter, which were “¿Que va llevar?” literally “what are you going to carry?”, but was more loosely translated as “what’ll you have?” or “what can I get for you?”

Later on, specifically right after I handed over every check I received for my Bar Mitzvah gift to my father so he could buy a truck, he went out on his own. He became the broken wienie king of Los Angeles, buying (essentially) mistakes from packing houses and selling them to his old boss, as well as to other small markets scattered throughout the greater Los Angeles area. Until his death in 1984, I spent virtually every school holiday being his “swamper” on his route or later on delivering and selling on my own as part of the business. Somewhere around 1994 I left my job at Rocketdyne to rejoin my brother in the family business, once again selling almost exclusively to restaurants.

My point is, I have no formal training in the culinary arts, but during a rather large portion of my life until I was around 50, I spent quite a bit of time working in jobs and being involved in businesses that involved food; at times merely delivering it and at other times preparing and serving it. I know my way around a kitchen and I know quite well how to operate a successful food business. It’s not easy. People can be real assholes when they’re hungry, and people who cook can be real prima donnas, so learning to satisfy your customers can be a painful experience. It is, however, quite rewarding when it works out. I think you have to genuinely like people in order to do it well.


Bye Bye Twitter?

I first joined Twitter in March of 2006. At the time part of my job at Rocketdyne Propulsion and Power, a division of The Boeing Company, was to examine platforms described as examples of what was then referred to as Web 2.0, as well as new applications being referred to as “social media.” I was doing this as a member of the Knowledge Management team for the division, and as the Knowledge Management lead for the Space Shuttle Main Engine team.

In 2002, I had been leading the team that introduced one of the earliest “social media” applications to the SSME team and the organization as a whole. We didn’t think of it as social media at the time, however. Our main goal was to provide a tool (we called it an “enabler”) that made it easier to locate subject matter experts (SMEs) and facilitate not only communication between those seeking knowledge and those possessing it, but to capture that knowledge and make it easily accessible for others who might need it at a later date.

The name of the tool we purchased 1000 seats for was AskMe Enterprise. It was, if memory serves, based on a former website of the same name, but was now a proprietary tool meant to stay within the firewall of an organization. Rocketdyne needed something that would be useful internally and had no reason to use something that was open outside the organization’s firewall. In fact, given the nature of its products being open to the outside was anathema and a matter of national security.

At the same time, we were looking for a communications tool that provided one-to-many capabilities and short-form text sharing and publishing. There were several tools that were coming online around that time, including Jive and Yammer, but Twitter seemed to be the most interesting. Nevertheless, it took me something like six months before I could identify a use case for it. At the time it seemed merely a tool for non-productive jabber and gossip.

What changed it for me was when I found out the team preparing the Space Shuttle Orbiter for the next launch was using it to communicate their activities and progress. There were something like two dozen people who were working on various tasks that were independent in numerous different ways. If you’ve ever done project management, especially if you’ve used a tool like Microsoft Project, you know there are several types of dependencies between activities, e.g. finish-to-start (the most common). The Orbiter team, much like many of the teams that organizations (not just Rocketdyne) have to accomplish their work, would meet every morning to present progress and discuss how to proceed with remaining activities.

Twitter changed the dynamic significantly. Now, instead of waiting until the team gathered each morning, team members who were out in the field accomplishing tasks could communicate in real-time with their colleagues (all of them) when they had finished a task which was a predecessor to another team member’s task. All they had to do was Tweet. They didn’t have to compose an email, direct an IM to two dozen people, or make a phone call. They just had to follow each of their teammates.

This may seem a trivial thing, but if a predecessor task was completed at, say, two in the afternoon and that fact could be communicated to the entire team, anyone who needed that information to know where they stood in the flow of activities didn’t have to wait until the following morning stand-up to find out what their status was. Work on complicated engineering projects can be expensive and even apparently small savings of time could add up to saving tens, if not hundreds, of thousands of dollars.

So, that was my introduction to Twitter. I never could get my colleagues at Rocketdyne to use it. I had a hard enough time getting them to use AskMe and soon after I accepted an early severance package in May of 2010 (as the Shuttle program was coming to an end) it became obvious without my constant agitating for its use it wasn’t going to survive. It didn’t.

However, I kept a kind of love/hate relationship with Twitter over the years. There were times I didn’t pay much attention to it, and periods where I was quite active. Unfortunately, a couple of years ago, after nearly a decade and a half, I was permanently suspended after I suggested a certain former guy might benefit from a coronary episode (I was only looking out for his best interests!). I created another account, which I am still using. Actually, I created two more accounts, one of which was also suspended, but reinstated upon appeal, though I no longer use it. Now, instead of @rickladd I’m @retreado.

I really wish I still had my real name, but it looks as though Twitter may not survive the petty indulgences of the world’s richest 10-year-old. Toward the end, I found Twitter to be an invaluable source of news, not so much as a primary but as a pointer to in-depth analyses, opinion, and good, solid journalism. It was a great way to keep track of trends and what movers and shakers were thinking, as well as hints as to which direction developing issues might go in. If Twitter does go away, I will miss it, but it won’t be the end of the world. I’ve already created an account at Mastodon and am considering other apps. Time will tell. Frankly, I wouldn’t mind taking a break from the immediacy and constant movement of Twitter. I’m getting old and I appreciate moments of silence more than ever.


Simi Valley Elections

Candidates NOT to vote for in Simi Valley.
Who NOT to Vote For in Simi Valley

If you live in Simi Valley, CA here are all the candidates you DON’T want to vote for. I live in City Council District 2 and School District D. Here are my thoughts on the candidates I can and will vote for, as well as most of their opponents.

IMLTHO, the fact that Mike Judge is endorsed by the SVPD says nothing good about the police or Judge. Judge is full of anger and hate and has accomplished little as a member of the City Council. His opponent, Sean Weisman, is young, intelligent, and full of fresh ideas. He’s also in tune with changes people like Judge won’t even acknowledge, e.g. climate change.

Fred Thomas’s focus is almost entirely on a “safe and family friendly community”, which I interpret as a dog whistle heavily skewed toward policing and the status quo. Joe Ayala is a forward thinking, long-time union member and negotiator. He supports working people and their struggles, as well as sensible approaches to our housing, water, and climate crises and how the City can lead in addressing these critical issues.

Don Brodt’s approach to education I find incomplete, as he puts parents and students first, with teachers as an afterthought. From a systems perspective, this is both short sighted and incomplete. Kristina Pine, OTOH, is both a teacher and a parent, with two children attending SVUSD schools. Her approach to education is holistic and realistic.

Jacqui Irwin and Julia Brownley are proven leaders and have represented our districts well, IMO.

I’m voting for Jacqui Irwin, Julia Brownley, Joe Ayala, Sean Weisman, and Kristina Pine. I hope you’ll follow me in doing so.

PS – I suspect most, if not all, of the candidates attending this forum are MAGA Republicans, which should tell you more than I can about their suitability to represent our entire community, not just the people they agree with. Choose wisely, fellow Simizens.

PPS – I forgot to mention Brian Dennert for Parks & Rec. Brian’s done a great job in his term as a Director. I have no doubt he’ll do even more if re-elected. I’m voting for him as well.

#simivalley#california#NovemberElections


Returning To The Scene Of The Crime

Yesterday I noticed I had a voicemail from late Friday. It turned out to be from someone at PRO-Unlimited, the organization that handles temps for Aerojet Rocketdyne. She said she was calling about the position I interviewed for a week ago last Thursday. I won’t know for sure until I can return her call tomorrow, but I’m pretty sure this means I’m getting the job I really wanted.

I’m beyond excited to think I may return and work on the same engine (RS-25, formerly the SSME) I worked on for over 20 years and that it will once again be hurling humans into space.


First Week On My Own

This was my first week running the business I’ve been working at for nearly eight months. The owner had to return to England with his family to renew their visas and for him to take care of some family business.

One of our three warehouses

It wasn’t a surprise. He had asked me early on if I was prepared to do it and I told him I would be happy to. Today was fairly slow, but the guy who’s been helping me out—and who I’m training to replace me when I get a job more suitable to my skills—decided not to come in.

I had to do a bit more than I expected to and by the end of the day I was whipped. I don’t generally have any problems doing the physical work I have to accomplish each day, but I ain’t no spring chicken and some days I really do feel my age. Today was one of them.

Going to bed early so I have the best chance of getting a refreshing night’s sleep. It will be another two and a half weeks before the boss returns. Fortunately, there are cell phones, texting, and email.


It’s Not Inflation-It’s Greed

I’m old enough to remember paying $0.25/gal back in 1968. Adjusted for inflation that would be $2.10/gal today. Clearly, the petroleum companies are screwing us royally.

PS – This was a first for me (>$100) and it was at Costco, where had can be up to $0.50 cheaper than most anywhere else.


Viva La Revolución Cubana

May Day in La Plaza De La Revolución

Forty-nine years ago today I had the honor of marching through La Plaza De La Revolución as a member of the 6th contingent of the Venceremos Brigade. I got to listen to Fidel give one of his shorter speeches (only about 2.5 hours, if memory serves.) The USA has been exceptionally cruel to the people of Cuba. They deserve far better, as do we all.


Booster #2 Was a Killer!

Last Thursday (April 28, 2022) I left work a little early to get my second Moderna Booster shot. The nurse who administered the dose told me the 15-minute waiting period that had been observed for all three previous inoculations was no longer mandatory and I chose to go straight home. I only live a couple of minutes away from the Kaiser location here in my home town of Simi Valley, CA., and I have never had a sudden, bad reaction from any vaccine in my nearly 75 years.

Image of syringe and vial saying "Common Sense."
Anti-vaxxers are Idiots

I enjoyed the rest of the day, slept well (my Fitbit tracker and app noted I slept well, giving me a score of 82, which is good, not excellent) and got up at 6:00 am to head off to work. I was fine until about noon, when my body started to ache a little I attributed it to the rather heavy packages I had assembled and loaded into a container to be picked up that afternoon by the USPS. I didn’t think too much of it, though I worried I may have injured myself in a way that would preclude my being able to do my job.

I began feeling uncharacteristically lethargic and my legs felt a little rubbery. Finally, after completing some tasks that needed doing, regardless of how I was feeling, I chose to come home early. When I arrived I was beginning to feel pretty bad, but I still didn’t connect it to the booster I had received the previous day. Friday evenings are normally reserved for a short trip to the gym, then an evening of dinner and craft beer with a couple of friends.

I decided to do something I hardly ever do; take a nap in the afternoon. By 6:30, a half hour before I normally go to the gym, I knew I wasn’t going to be able to make it and texted my friend and former colleague to let him know I wouldn’t be making it that night. I went back to sleep and, according to my Fitbit, slept for close to twelve hours.

Yesterday was absolutely miserable. I experienced both the chills and cold sweats. I was at times dizzy, nauseous, and had no appetite at all. At one point I experienced a strong sense of dizziness, despite my being nearly asleep and horizontal. When I opened my eyes, the room was shifting back and forth as though I was looking quickly from side-to-side, yet I don’t think my eyes were moving. It was one of the strangest feelings I’ve ever had and I couldn’t help thinking it was a precursor to something I did not want to experience.

My wife, bless her heart, kept trying to get me to eat, but I wasn’t having it. I think I really pissed her off by asking her to leave me alone, that I would eat when my appetite returned. I can understand her worry, as I had slept nearly twelve hours Friday night and hadn’t eaten dinner. I ended up eating nothing all day yesterday and, after sleeping over nine hours last night, I finally had a half cup of coffee, a mini baguette, and a bowl of salad a few minutes ago. I’m still a bit nauseous and still experience dizziness, but it’s subsiding with each passing hour.

I finally got up this morning and am sitting at my laptop in my home office. I was able to do my daily bookkeeping, something I wasn’t the least bit interested in yesterday. I’m also taking the time to record my experience here. My youngest daughter, after asking me how I felt today, asked if I regretted getting the second booster, as I had no reaction from the first one. I told her I regretted that it knocked me down, but not that I received it.

I was diagnosed with Covid-19 on December 29, 2020 and spent the first week of 2021 quarantined in bed, miserable as can be – but I didn’t require hospitalization despite my age and numerous comorbidities. I received my first and second doses of the Moderna vaccine on 3/22/21 and 4/19/21, which was as soon as they were available. I experienced some discomfort and flu-like symptoms both times, but they only lasted a day. When I received the first booster on 11/24/21 I experienced nothing I would consider a side-effect.

I think what happened has to do with how hard I worked on Friday. With all three previous vaccines I was not working and was able to either stay home or stay in bed and was in no way exerting myself for a day or two. This time, however, I was at work climbing, lifting, and walking far more than I was doing before. I’m thinking all that extra effort sped up the internal distribution of the vaccine in my body, and it reacted in a way that I had not truly experienced before.

I plan on getting up tomorrow at 6:00 am and heading off to work. Monday is generally our busiest day and I’ll have lots of lifting and climbing to do. I think I’ll be up to it. That weird-ass feeling I had with my vision happened a couple more times yesterday, but it seems to have subsided. I look forward to discussing it with my doctor when the opportunity arises.


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