Monday, August 31, 2015

And Now We're Empty

One week ago today we left home to take the Magpie to her penultimate semester at college (no telling if next year we'll be taking her to grad school, but I seriously doubt it). This was an easy trip, as her campus is a little over an hour away, and easy also because by this time, she knows what to bring, what NOT to bring, and how to pack it. We moved in, helped her get partly set up, went out for lunch and to pick up a few more items, and that was it. The tough part was the fact that we just got her back after her year abroad, but at least we got to spend a couple weeks with her before she left again.

Thursday was the Catbird's turn. The Catbird is going to college about 4-1/2, 5 hours away, in a whole other state! We had to board the dog for the night (never a fun thing) and leave at 7 a.m. to get to campus at the appointed move-in time of between noon and 3 (the Catbird's college decided to stagger the arrival time, presumably to ease congestion around the dorms. I'm not sure I would follow that rule again, knowing what I now know, which is nothing bad. Just that, with orientation activities for students beginning somewhere in late afternoon, the kids arriving in the morning had more time to put things to rights and maybe relax a little.).

The Catbird's school had 2 days of "activities" aimed at parents, so we stayed overnight, which we might have anyway, because who wants to do 10 hours of driving in a single day? In hindsight, the 2-day "orientation" for parents really wasn't all that necessary. We ended up missing the one session that might have actually been useful because we were dealing with a problem with our motel, which amounted to this:

Apparently, every school in town decided to have move-in day at approximately the same time, and the motel ran out of rooms. I'm promised a reimbursement check for the room they ultimately found me in another hotel elsewhere, and I'm hoping I don't end up having to go through a big runaround on this. We'll see.

At any rate, despite some concerns over what and how the Catbird was packing, things went smoothly there as well. As we waited at a traffic light to turn into the campus, we were greeted by a small cadre of students on the sidewalk, jumping up and down, cheering the incoming students and calling out things like, "Welcome home." The freshman class is ~500 students; there were at least 100 upperclassmen on hand to help move in (they were on our car like ants on a cracker), to lead new students to and in orientation activities, and to help everyone feel welcome. It was a great way to start.

For my own part, the emotions I expected to cause problems were pretty under control. This is one of the benefits to being busy, I suppose: it's hard to dwell on the changes in life that are coming if you're running around doing a bunch of things. The kids were kept busy, too, with meetings and trips and group activities. Last night we had our first 3-way Skype session, which was an oddity to say the least, but both my girls look happy, and that's the best I can hope for.

Monday, August 24, 2015

Droning On and On

When I was a kid, one of the coolest things anyone could get was a free-flying, radio controlled (RC) airplane. No one I knew had one, but I recall one of my friends was building a model airplane (one of those made out of a forest of balsa wood, covered in tissue paper) that he was hoping to outfit with an engine and controls. I don't recall if he ever finished it or not; if he did, I was not around for the flight, because I'm sure I would have remembered that.

On the way to the beach we used to go to was a town park. Almost any time you drove past that park you would see RC planes flying around over the treetops from the parkway. There was a club of some kind that met down there, or maybe that was just the only place you could find sufficient open space to actually fly the things.

You never saw those things flying around in the neighborhood. You couldn't fly those things around the neighborhood. While the streets we lived on had plenty of room for take-off and landing, the big trees, telephone poles and electrical wires overhead were a serious obstacle. The big park was wide open, so you didn't have to worry about that. But even if someone had been making an RC helicopter (and I don't remember seeing any of those back then; the closest we got to that was this), I don't think we would have been allowed to fly them around. You see, those airplanes, they were noisy. Imagine a team of landscapers arriving next door at 6 in the morning. Now imagine them flying back and forth over your house. Common sense of the day was that you didn't disturb the neighbors like that. If we had, the neighbors would have gone to our parents to complain, and I think it would have been an easy decision for parents to make: keep the peace in the neighborhood. Fly the planes in the county park.

Fast forward forty (!) years. Now we have drones, which are glorified RC helicopters. They take off and land vertically, so no need to try to find a gap in the ever-increasing traffic on suburban streets. They're noisy, but not as noisy as those RC planes. And they're relatively cheap--I just found a model available for $80. And they can be equipped with nifty little cameras, which means everyone and their uncle in the YouTube generation has yet another means of striking gold with a viral video.

Is anyone restricting these things right now? Last month, a Kentucky man was arrested after using his shotgun to blow a drone out of the sky over his backyard. He says it was hovering over the yard where his 16-year-old daughter was sunbathing. Last week, I read a story in the Washington Times that stated pilots have reported nearly 700 instances of close encounters with drones. Earlier in the year, a drone was used to drop contraband in a prison yard. And finally, there's this video, which shows people largely harassing animals with drones.

As kids in the time and place I grew up in, I believe we never would have gotten away with the kind of crap . The first time a neighbor came to our parents and complained about us hovering the drone over their house, outside their bathroom window, or buzzing their pool, that would have been it. We would have lost our drone privileges. And probably been grounded, AND had to go and apologize directly to the person or people offended. In many cases, however, these are adults who are flying--and abusing--these things, and the sense of entitlement trumps and respect at all for the people or animals around.

Drone technology allows us to do some great things. Last month, I saw a presentation in which a drone was used by a grad student at a local university to make maps, and to monitor things like stream bank erosion and sedimentation in a lake. There are a lot of good things they can do. They can also be used for fun, but we've got to show more sense in doing so, because there's also a real potential that someone's going to get seriously hurt.

Have you had any close encounters with drones?

Monday, August 17, 2015

Monday Musing, Full Nest Edition

Well, it's been a while.

When I posted last, I kind of thought I'd be back last week, but time and circumstance worked against me. It was rather low on my priority list during the week.

The big news is we picked up the Magpie at JFK airport on 8/7. After almost a full year in Japan, she had finally returned. There was much rejoicing. We spent the night with some friends who live near the airport and were gracious enough to once again open their homes for us, and then we drove out to the east end of Long Island for a long weekend with family. Our relatives throw an annual bash called Lobsterfest, which involves much eating, drinking and socializing. It was a bit of a whirlwind, I think, for the Magpie, who had to deal with the effects of jet lag and didn't get the luxury of having a few days of recovery before being dropped in the middle of all of this. A splendid time was had by all.

And so now our nest is full, though that is a temporary state of affairs. I'll be back at work today, we have all this week with both girls home, and then next week (either Sunday or Monday, I'm still not quite sure which) the Magpie is off for her senior year. Late next week we take the Catbird off for her freshman year, and the house will be empty. It will be a bigger adjustment for us to make for sure.

Funny thing, after sending the Magpie off on her Japan adventure last year, I said to my wife, "Albany is going to be a big come down after spending the year in Tokyo." I don't really know what the campus looked like at her university there, but I know what U Albany looks like--quite frankly, it's hideous. The campus is loaded with buildings that would be perfectly at home in Stalinist Russia. It's a dystopian future world as envisioned by a campy 1950s sci-fi film. And, of course, she will not be surrounded by Japanese people and Japanese culture. I know she'll work hard to retain her Japanese, but it will be a lot tougher to practice the language skills she's worked so hard on.

One thing I had not thought of when she departed last September is that she wouldn't want to be here. Neither of my girls are party animals (and this is not just me being a naive parent). Both have been perfectly content being homebodies. But now that the Magpie has tasted life in Tokyo, I think it will be much harder for her to want to be around here. Our little pocket of central New York is beautiful, but it doesn't necessarily have a lot to offer young people right now--especially someone with a major in Japanese. We've known for some time that she's going to have to move eventually to get a job. I just don't think we (okay, I) imagined that she'd really want to. Now, I can't imagine her wanting to stay around here.

It doesn't make me sad. Not yet, anyway. This is part of the natural order of things. Children grow and become their own people with their own lives, separate, yet intertwined with their parents. For now, I'll enjoy the nest while it's full.