Sunday, July 31, 2005

Summer Reading

Having finished "Hiroshima" last weekend and "The Great Infuenza" today, I made an early morning foray to Barnes and Noble to scout for some new acquisition. As always, it was a delightful trip despite the dark clouds scuttling across the sky and the heavy rain pelting the windows. If anything, this actually put me in the mood to buy books as there are few greater joys in life than rainy afternoons spent with a strong cup of coffee and a good book. This afernoon promises to fall well within the ideal and I'm looking forward to spending the day spent in this manner.

I was pleasantly surprised that B & N had in stock all the books on my list. Usually I have to do a special order at the store or just order it online at home. But not today. I had to make some decisions so as not to come away with too many. As the Honduras trip won't occur until November or December, I opted to hold off on the travel books until late August or so. And the same is true for Vietnam, which is under consideration for my extended Southeast Asia trip beginning in January. Plenty of time to pick up the travel guides at a later date. Besides, they would serve only as a distraction now.

Of the five books under consideration, I came away with the following three:

1. Betrayal of Trust: The Collapse of Global Public Health (Laurie Garrett)

2. The Coming Plague: Newly Emerging Diseases in a World Out of Balance (Laurie Garrett)

3. Guns, Germs, and Steel: The Fates of Human Societies (Jared Diamond)

These three works should be sufficient to keep me occupied for most, if not all, of August, depending on available reading time.

Saturday, July 30, 2005

Road to Recovery

Feeling much better this morning. The inflammation in my tonsils is receeding and I'm much more energetic than I've been this week past. So it appears that the worst is behind me and I should be back to 100 percent by the time i reluctantly go back to work on Monday.

And most importantly, I've regained my taste for coffee. I'm sure there is great rejoicing among Starbucks stockholders.

Friday, July 29, 2005

The Art of Mentoring

Cloudy, rainy, cooler, yet still humid this morning. A refreshingly wonderful break from the oven we've lived in the last two weeks. Though off from work again today, I arose at my customary hour of five-thirty. The only thing on the agenda today is laundry, which isn't a necessity, but if I get it done today, I won't have to worry about it over the weekend.

And speaking of the weekend, thesis reseach will go forward as planned, but I won't be conducting it myself. I've delegated it to one of my employees who has assisted me with the fieldwork periodically throughout the year. He's pretty sharp and has quickly picked up the research methodologies, so I'm confident that things will get done in reasonably good order. In a sense, I've served as his mentor both academically and in the workplace.

Mentoring is an important leadership quality that seems to be either lacking or overlooked in many career fields. This is unfortunate since mentoring is perhaps the best way to create capacity in those who have potential that otherwise may not be tapped, or slow to develop via standardized on-the-job training programs. Mentoring is also an art; it's not something that can easily be learned through books or classes. One has to have a mentor at some point to truly learn this art and eventually become a mentor themselves.

While I've had guidace to varying degrees from many individuals in my almost six years in the public health field, I have been exceedinly fortunate to have one true mentor who can certainly be credited with developing my approach to leadership (that I now employ) and my idealistic passion for public health. He was a health director with whom I worked for almost two years before he moved on to bigger and better things. Right after our initial meeting (which I remember very well), he took me under his wing and taught me so much about leadership, public health, and, indirectly, the subtle art of mentoring. Near the end of our partnership, he arranged my first international public health mission, a trip which I initially declined, citing my inexperience in such mattters. But he believed and I eventually yielded to his gentle persistence. The trip was a success and I contributed more than I thought my abilities at the time would allow. What's more, the trip opened up a much larger, more mature, perspective of public health and helped define ultimate career goals.

Much of what was learned during my own mentorship, I apply today serving as a mentor guiding the development of one mentee in the workplace. While it's important to maintain the proper manager-employee relationship, it's nonetheless critical to develop a sense of being colleagues working together for the ultimate goal. Mentoring is all about developing a trusting partership which facilitates the natural transfer of knowledge and skills from one to the other. In addition to his regular duties, he often takes on additional projects under my guidance which helps build both his abilities and confidence. We define goals for these additional projects and I frequently ask his thoughts on problems in order to develop critical thinking skills (e.g., "With this situation...what would you do and why?"). Right and wrong answers aren't nearly as important at this stage as the process of a logically-developed approach.

Unfortunately, one inevitably runs the risk of accusations of "favoritism" with a metor-mentee relationship. Such assusations are typically generated by the less-talented, career employees who've been in the same position for 15 or 20 years and demonstrate little initiative in their normal duties, let alone seeking out additional responsibilities and/or personal enhancement. So in a sense they are somewhat correct in terms of preferential treatment (from an odd point of view), but that's simply the nature of mentoring. You identify those with talent and potential (and a demonstrated willingness to be mentored--this is a key point) and proceed to develop such potential to new levels.

Certainly mentoring can be a time-consuming process, but its benefits to all involved (the mentor, the mentee, and the organization) far outweigh any perceived inconvenience. And it's probably due to the perception of inconvenience that mentoring-- true mentoring-- is an infrequently practiced art. This is unfortunate because mentoring not only develops individual ability, it also creates future leaders, the next generation who will face new and complex challenges. In any career field, such long-term preparation is the key to success.

Thursday, July 28, 2005


Summer of 2005 "Revenge of the Sith" viewing count: 4


As of today I'll be enjoying an unexpected four-day vacation of sorts. A very minor scratchy throat earlier in the week settled into my tonsils yesterday and reached the point of annoyance, so off to the doctor I went. Just a minor bout with tonsilitis, but enough to keep me home from the office today and tomorrow and away from the research this weekend.

So I managed to get a much-needed break from work, though not under the most ideal of circumstances. The funny thing is that I feel so much better this morning having gotten a solid 10 hours sleep last night. I feel better today than any day of this week past so technically I could go back to work. Am I going to do this? Hell no. I'm under doctor's orders after all, so I'm going to enjoy the time away from the office, time to read, to see a movie if I so desire, or simply just enjoy the rest and relaxation.

Now comes the question as to whether or not I want to get my tonsils removed. This is my third bout with tonsilitis in just over a year, so it's a procedure I may want to consider. At the moment, I'm not particularly inclined to follow this route unless absolutely necessary since tonsil removal in adults is rumored to be a rather painful undertaking.

Tuesday, July 26, 2005

The Evening

Well so much for spening the evening with a book. A friend managed to drag me out of my hermitage for a few margaritas. Not compaining of it's nice to have the pressures and stress of work just drift away for a while. to do some reading before bed.

I'm melting......melting!!

I've never been one to mind hot weather, but today was a bit excessive. The air conditioner in my office could barely keep up and as a result I sat there at my desk ever so slightly uncomfortable (and equally ever so slightly grumpy) in the long-sleeved shirt and tie. Part of the problem is that I have a large office and the air conditioning unit is probably just inadequate anyway.

As tomorrow is forecast to be more miserable than today, I think I'll switch over to khakis and a light cotton shirt. One day of less than professional attire won't hurt. Besides, I'm the manager. I can pretty much do what I want. Well...almost. My director didn't particuarly like the idea of early afternoon margarita breaks for my staff....but I guess you can't win them all.

The agenda for the evening is relatively sparse. This is a good thing as I always value such decompression time. Unless some friends drag me out for alcoholic refreshments, I'll most likely spend most of the evening reading. I finished "Hiroshima" Sunday evening and have begun "The Great Influenza," which totally has me hooked. It's been quite some time since I've encountered a book quite this engaging and, consequently, detrimental to ones sleeping habits.

Sunday, July 24, 2005

Coffee Break

It's nice for a change being able to sit in my non-air conditioned study without melting. Though rather warm again today, it's nowhere near as bad as it was this week past, nor what they're forecasting for the first part of the coming week. Fielwork today was tolerable, though I took care of it very early in the morning and was on the way back to my lab by ten. The early schedule was kept to both evade the heat and to free up as much of the rest of the day as possible.

I haven't done all that much since coming home around 1pm other than a load of laundry and some reading. I'm currently reading John Hersey's "Hiroshima" and "The Great Influenza," the latter of which I picked up during a brief but delightful trip to Barnes and Noble yesterday. While these subjects are perhaps a bit morbid for summer reading, I am just in the mood to read something worthwile and thought-provoking and not the usual silly summer literary fare. "Hiroshima" I read back in the fall of 2000 and I only rediscovered the book last week whilst sorting though a box of old VHS tapes slated to be thrown out. How it got into that box I'll never know, but I was pleased with the discovery.

"The Great Influenza" has been on my list of aquisitions for a while. Working in the health field as I do, combined with my acadmeic background in epidemiology, I suppose such grim fare has a natural, though surely somewhat disquieting, appeal. It's also a timely subject of sorts, given that the global community is facing the possibility of another world-wide flu pandemic when and if the pesky avian flu virus acquires the capability to jump from human to human. If this happens, we're...well....screwed. The threat to civilization posed by "terrorism," as claimed by certain unsavory politicians, is nothing, nothing compared to what such a flu pandemic could do and yet so much money and other resources are expended for the lesser threat.

But let me step down from my soapbox before I launch into poverty, famine, global health, and the wickedness of consumerism. Otherwise this would be a very long post.

Saturday, July 23, 2005

Sultry Saturday

Though it is still relatively early in the morning, the heat and humidity are already oppressive. It quite reminds me of those humid mornings back home in Thailand. I would rise early and sit out on the front veranda of my host's home to scribble in my journal, drink coffee, and have a few cigarettes while watching early-risers in the neighborhood come and go. I remarked more than once in my journal about just how humid it was for that time of the day. I didn't mind, of course, as it was just part of being in the tropics.

And for any new readers of this blog, perhaps I should clarify the phrase "back home in Thailand." I am not from there, though the country made such a lasting impression that I will most likely move there if the opportunity presents itself. Perhaps a somewhat fanciful dream, but one that also has a high probability of fruition with the proper planning and determination. Besides, you only go through life once, so why not make your own path and follow it to whatever end.

Moreover, I quite like the sound of the word "expatriate." :-)

Friday, July 22, 2005

Decompression Time

I can't recall whether I've ever been this glad to see the arrival of a weekend. Not that I have anything special planned, mind you (nothing on the agenda other than thesis work, laundry, and chores); it's just that the break from work is most welcome and, more importantly, terribly needed. I've come home from the office late each night this week and have been too emotionally drained to do anything of consequence beyond a little reading.

Unfortunately, I'll be heading into the office for a few hours in the morning to work on some strategic planning. Some of this won't be popular with the staff, but such is life. I'm not paid to be everyone's friend; I'm there to achieve the mission and goals of the organization. I suspect the only problem I'll have will be with two or three old-timers who always resist change and whose mantra is "we've done it this way for 20 years, why do we have to change now!" Of course this sentiment vexes me to no end and those miscreants will vex me further by pouting, calling in sick on critical days, and dragging their feet on projects. But given the ultimate consequences of such action, they eventually come around. And perhaps they'll even see the merit of change.

I've been in public service my entire working life and I've often wondered how workplace change is received/effected in the private sector. I suspect it's better received as profit is typically the ultimate goal and if one doesn't change with the times, you simply lose out.

Ah well....enough rambling for one evening. Off to socialize and decompress from the long, long week.

Sunday, July 17, 2005

Back on Schedule

It feels good to be back on schedule. I was up before six and by nine-thirty I had taken care of the morning routine (coffee, shower, and email correspondence), did laundry, and finally made the long-threatened grocery run. The latter was very important as I was absolutely out of provisions save for a dodgy onion and some potatoes, both of which are now in the trash can behind the building where they belong.

I think a cook-a-thon may be on the agenda later today. It's time to once again prepare my special recipe spaghetti sauce (which requires fresh ingredients starting with roma tomatoes and herbs and takes hours of cooking to reach just the right flavor and consistency). Most of the sauce I'll freeze for later use. I might even make some homemade bread today. Haven't done this in a while. I recently picked up a preforated French bread pan from Bed, Bath, and Beyond that needs to be tried out.

Off to clean.

Saturday, July 16, 2005

Saturday AM

I must be getting old. I slept in until 8 yet again. While I probably needed the sleep, I nonetheless dislike waking late as the most productive hours of the day have already passed. When I spring out of bed around five (or before) I'm energized sufficiently to lauch full tilt into the day. I can get so much done in those first few early hours and the momentum built then carries me through the day. When I sleep in, as this morning, it takes a while to get going and I am overcome by guilt for being so very pedestrian.

The need/desire to wake early certainly originated back in the days of my youth. It was a habit which began then that has followed me throughout my life. I have many fond memories of waking before the rising of the sun on those carefree days of summer, hopping on my bike and riding down our long driveway to get the morning paper or gathering assorted fishing gear and biking off down the old farm path behind the house to spend a few hours watching a bright red cork bobbing along the shore of the lake, hoping to catch something to make the trip worthwhile. But it really didn't matter if I caught anything. Simply being amidst the quiet grandeur of nature, the chirping of insects, the smell of the wax mytle bushes and the gentle lapping of the water against the cypress knee lined shore as the sun gradually rose over the eastern horizon....this is what mattered.

Friday, July 15, 2005

Wrapping up the Week

I'm just now home from yet another long day at the office and thus ends another work week, and in many respects, the week from hell. Today was the best out of the five so the week more or less ended on a positive note. But the week isnt technically over for me.

In addition to carrying around the emergency pager this weekend (e.g., minimal alcoholic refreshments and other sordid fun), I'm making an appearance at a community health fair tomorrow. Hopefully this thing will be brief (I plan on showing up and saying something like: "Goddamnit... be healthy!!" or if there are children present "&*$#)@#$^ healty!!" and then go home). But then again, since a church is sponsoring tomorrow's health fair, perhaps "Verily I say unto you....Thou shalt be healty!" is most appropriate.

OK...I think I've technically lost it.

Wednesday, July 13, 2005

Wednesday Evening Ramblings

A coffee, a cigarette, and the rain pelting the study windows. A somewhat typical, yet nonetheless good evening. I'm savoring just not being at the office. Much work came home with me, but if I don't get to it...oh well. There's always tomorrow. This evening is my time to be productive or do absolutely nothing if I so chose.

Unless, of course, the emergency pager summons me out into the fading, wet twilight.

I suppose I should fix dinner at some point tonight. Not that I'm really hungry; I just want to putter about in the kitchen for a while. Always a very relaxing endeavour and whatever I make I can certainly bring to work tomorrow for lunch. Unfortunately I haven't been grocery shopping in a while, so I'll have to be creative to make something worthwhile from what provisions I have on hand.

Tuesday, July 12, 2005


I haven't been home long due to working late at the office and I'm pretty much fried. Yet another wretchedly busy day. My only hope is that this fresh cup of strong coffee will revive me sufficiently to take care of the usual slate of housekeeping and/or reading this evening. I could certainly use a beer (or better yet, a top shelf margarita), but, alas, there will be no alcoholic refreshment tonight as it's my week to carry around the emergency pager.

This morning early I met with my graduate committee to go over a section of my thesis which was more or less well received. One professor threw some rather off the wall (yet oddly relevant) questions at me, which I handled well. So the research project is on track and going well and there was lengthy discussion as to publication of various project components, possibly as early as this winter. The thought of publishing original research in a scientific journal that no one ever reads is...ummm....hmmmmmm. To be honest, it doesn't strike me as exciting as it once did. I have a few small articles floating around in equally small journals and I suppose the novelty of that sort of thing has quite worn off.

One of the benefits of today's meeting was that it helped revive (or refocus) my academic interests which had been flagging over the last month or so. I think much of this was due to the distraction of work which still tends to take on this all-consuming life of its own. I'm still keeping it all in perspective (the well-balanced life thing of which I wrote a while back), though it is difficult.

One final observaton: professors have it easy during the summer. There I was today dressed in shirt and tie (I went straight to the university from work) and sweltering in the awful heat an humidity whilst walking across campus and there they were in t-shirts and shorts. It's soooo not fair!

Wednesday, July 06, 2005

One More Year

The humidity this evening is absolutely oppressive; in other words, a typcial summer evening in Norfolk. It feels as though I'm sitting in a sauna, not my study. As I may have metioned in a long ago post, I keep my study door closed due to my cats. They have a passion for chewing computer cords and the like, so to avoid the possibility of computer damage and fried cats (not to mention the research arranged neatly on the lab table behind me), I just keep the door shut. Since my apartment lacks central air, it gets a bit uncomfortable in here late in the day during the summer.

Ah well...just one of the minor annoyances of being owned by cats.

Last week I signed and returned my lease renewal so I'll be here for at least another year. When I received the notice two weeks ago, I considered the possibiilty of moving to a newer building. Perhaps something with central air and heat, washer and dryer in the unit, and reserved parking, all things that I lack. I looked around a little and found a few apartments to my liking, but they were all typical in the sense that, no matter how nice, they're managed complexes and not within walking distance of anything. Despite the minor inconveniences of where I live, the one thing that I do have is location. Simply being able to walk out my front door and be right in the middle of the closest thing to urban living Norfolk has to offer is worth more at this point in life than a few modern conveniences. Restaurants and bars, coffee shops, a movie theater that has a wonderful reputation for playing independent films, and assorted shops of all types within a walk of a few minutes. Can't put a price on this.

Monday, July 04, 2005

Afternoon Coffee

Taking a break from cleaning and tidying the apartment to enjoy a coffee and hammer out a few lines to update the blog. It has been a productive day. I cleaned the kitchen this morning then went out to Pier One for a bout of shopping. They have a bedroom furniture set that I like and will probably acquire a piece at a time over the next few weeks, depending on what I find up at the Ikea in northern Virginia, assuming of course I find time to make the trip up there before I begin recreating the bedroom space. Depsite the tempation to start acquiring peices today, I showed restraint and purchased only a small 30 inch tall Nanking cabinet for the living room. It's an odd little piece but perfectly sized for one particular corner and ideal for a piece of Thai statuary art I purchased in January.

So next up on the cleaning agenda for today are the living room and the bathroom before heading off to meet up with a friend for dinner around 7pm.

Sunday, July 03, 2005

Morning Routine

I'll be off to the ecological preserve in a bit to do some follow-up fieldwork from yesterday but in the meantime I'm enjoying the morning routine of coffee and cigarettes. A wonderfully stimulating and relaxing combination that clears the mind and puts it into a highly productive gear.

And yes I know that smoking is bad for me. I'm very hit and miss when it comes to this habit. I've quit for months or a year at a time and will occasionally pick it back up. But I believe it was Mark Twain who summed it up so nicely: "quitting smoking is easy. I've done it hundreds of times myself!"

Saturday, July 02, 2005

Saturday AM

For the first time in what seems like forever, I actually slept in this morning, crawling out of bed at the ever-so-late hour of 8:30am. For most normal human beings this is probably still early, but for me, someone who always gets up before the sun rises, this is a significant deviation from routine. Not necessarily a bad thing though as I probably needed the extra sleep.

The two primary activities of today will be a grocery run this morning and thesis research this afternoon/early evening.

Off to get started on things.