looking back at old photographs

The injured dove
This photo was taken by me June of 2010, nearly nine years ago. I had a still-new (to me) Olympus E-P2 and I’d just picked up the M.Zuiko 17mm f/2.8 pancake lens. As I was out walking I came across this injured dove, and stopped just long enough to hold my camera down to its level and snap this quick photo. It had an injured wing and could only hop about on the ground. I took an instant sympathy to it, but left it behind because I was at work and couldn’t tend to its injuries. I still remember this dove, and even though I know it’s long since died, I can’t help but wonder what might have happened to it. There’s a lingering bit of guilt that I left it behind, probably to die later that evening from some predator in the area.

This little photo reminds me of how fragile life it and how it should be cherished as much as possible. All life.

And I’m also reminded that in spite of its limitations, the E-P2 was, and still is, quite a capable camera when used properly. I still have it and I still use it on occasion. The lens is long since gone, one version having been sold, and the second having been given away to one of my daughters.

We demand too much of life, of resources, of the things we buy and own. We’re too quick to condemn a camera because we’re too easily convinced by others that our camera selection wasn’t good enough. I’m guilty of that, and the collection of four thirds sensor cameras I have in my house is silent testimony to that. But when I take the time to re-view all my photography from all those cameras I find I’ve grown quite satisfied with the results, as if I can finally like my own work.

There are no such things as bad cameras, and there haven’t been since at least the release of the E-P1 and the E-P2. Only bad photographers.

to retire or not to retire, that is the question

I turned 65 this past December. Even before I turned 65, I was considering retiring as early as possible. The problem with early retirement is that if I had retired right when I turned 65, I would have only gotten a little over 93% of my total Social Security benefits, and I would have been penalized for quite a while. If I were to retire right now, in March, that goes up to 95%. If I want my full 100%, I have to wait until December of this 2019 when I turn 66. Considering I’ve been working and paying into the system since I was 16, I want it all, every last penny.

The original Social Security Act of 1935 mandated a full retirement age of 65. This age was chosen because that’s what was in common use at the time with state pensions and the railroad pension. Then, in 1983, the Social Security Amendments Act was passed that began a phased approach to full retirement. Because I was born between 1943 and 1954 my full retirement age was bumped up to 66. Beginning in 2021 full retirement goes up to 67 for people born in 1955 or later. Although it’s being “phased in”, the blunt numbers are that I have to wait until I turn 66 before I get 100%, and starting in 2022, everyone born in 1955 and later will have to work until they’re at least 67 for a full 100%. Lucky me. I get full 100% benefits if I can stand to wait until December of 2019.

For me that’s the problem. I’ve been saving and paying down, and I’ve also been paying very close attention to costs, especially insurance. I’ve had both knees replaced already, and this past week I had dental work that cost me $750 out of pocket. Needed dental work to be sure, and based on medical papers that now show a solid link with gingivitis and Alzheimers, it behoves me to maintain good dental health and not just by brushing alone. But there are still costs associated with living, and while a lot of costs would disappear if I no longer worked and commuted every day, it’s still a disquieting point in my life to contemplate.

But there are also a lot of solid reasons to move on. They are, in no particular order:

  • My work environment. That one is very complicated. By some miracle I’m still able to work in software engineering for a major DoD project even at my advanced age. Right now I’m attempting to help shepherd the development group onto a new automated build system using Jenkins V2 running on Windows Server 2016 VMs being hosted on VMware. I love working with the people, without exception. I hate the environment I have to work in because it’s considered a secure facility, and the entire facility, VMs included, are heavily STIGed (Security Technical Implementation Guides). And that makes doing anything and everything significant arduous at best, and at times down right impossible without wavers. Needless to say that while I am ever so slowly winning in my goal to finish this task, it’s wearing and I’m tired of having to fight this battle; this isn’t my first rodeo trying to work in a STIGed software environment, not by a long shot. Couple this with the annual security certifications and the annual active shooter classes I have to take and all annual security classes I have to take with their emphasis on the “insider threat”, I’m now at a point where I’ve had enough. It’s gotten to where I’m made to feel untrusted and unwanted, not by my workmates, but by the local arm of the federal bureaucracy that enforces all this policy. If I’m that much of a perceived threat then why have me on payroll?
  • Like so may others, my professional work life is governed by the SF-86, or Standard Form 86. Without that, I can’t work in that part of industry that requires it. Unfortunately, due to the Office of Professional Management data breach in 2015, I had all of that sensitive and personal information spilled out on the web. I know this because I got my official letter in the mail telling me that. And I set up a warning system, and I’ve been getting emails telling me I had changes to my personal information as well as other alerts. Problem with that alert system is I knew about those alerts before they happened because it was something I and my wife did, and the only ones I get now are that my email address has wound up on some dark website or other, or now, that some person marked as a sexual predator has moved near me. I’m surprised at the number of sexual predator alerts I get; you’d think where I live is being overwhelmed.
    • A lot of what many consider cyber vulnerabilities I’ve taken steps to mitigate over the years. First and foremost, compartmentalize everything. I no longer have everything conveniently tied together on the Web. Even before Mat Honen’s epic hacking where he lost nearly everything, I’d know better to compartmentalize information as much as reasonably possible. For example, as I’ve gotten older and more paranoid I’ve tried to move away from older email accounts, that you can now find on Have I Been Pwned, keeping them as my “trash” accounts while opening new email accounts with distinctive logins and unique passwords that are used no more than once with critical accounts, especially accounts that require two-factor authentication using an email account.
    • Speaking of two-factor authentication, I no longer use text messages on my phone (or at least as little as possible) but use a dongle instead.
    • All of this is pointless if there is a determined adversary going after you. I’m realistic enough to realize that it’s not a matter of if, but when, and to try to slow up the adversary and minimize damage as much as possible. And that includes not putting anything you consider critical on, or accessible by, the web. The web has become totally weaponized now, thanks in no small part to NSA hacking tools that’ve been leaked. My tax dollars at work.
  • My family needs me, especially financially. I joke about the Bank of Mom and Dad, but the harsh truth is that both my adult children need assistance on occasion. That’s what the Great Recession and poor governance out of Washington has left us to deal with. Providing assistance while employed is doable, but in retirement, a lot tougher.
  • Finally, there’s the fear of the unknown. What ifs constantly bubble up in my mind and make me hesitant. And yet, I keep thinking constantly of the time I don’t spend with my wife, who is herself disabled. Considering what my life would be like without her is yet another nightmare scenario.

It’s a tough dilemma for me, and one that will not be easily made. But it will need to be made, sooner rather than later to be sure.