Poem by Zbigniew Herbert

"The Unicorn Will Not Cross Our Tracks..."

'too easily we came to believe that beauty
     does not save
that it leads the lighthearted from dream
     to dream to death
none of us knew how to awaken the dryad
     of a poplar
 to read the writing of clouds
 this is why the unicorn will not cross our tracks'

Zbigniew Herbert

['To Ryszard Krynicki - A Letter' translated by John and Bogdana Carpenter from: Report from the Beseiged City and Other Poems (Oxford University Press, 1987)]

Build Character

Invest in yourself...

Take control of your life.

Educate yourself and develop your mind.

Take good care of your health, mental and physical.

Have relationships with people who are good for you and who you are good for.

Think positively, work at replacing bad habits and thoughts with good ones.

Figure out what works best for you and develop a habit of positive self-talk and engage in it. Ignore any idea that it doesn't work or what others may say about it. Affirmative self-talk does work by reducing stress and improves your life. I'm living proof of that.

It's not my style to go into a list of things I've survived, although there are people who know all about them, without them I wouldn't have survived. You'll just have to trust me that these concepts have worked as tools for getting me through tough times and past them.


Between Palm Springs and Phoenix

OH NO! Stuck in Desert Center Again...

OH NO! Stuck In Desert Center Again... from JR Snyder Jr on Vimeo.



Urban Desert Flowers in Bloom


Hibiscus has always been a part of my memory since they grew all over Bermuda, where I was born. When I moved to the US when I was 14, I found they were also prolific in Arizona.

They are of the flowering Malva genus in the family of Malvaceaea commonly referred to in English as mallow. They're can be found in warm, temperate, subtropical and tropical environments throughout the world as native plants. They are not native to Arizona but grow very well with little care, primarily a good water source, some varieties require partial shade and are widespread wherever people live.

After Market Bust, What To Do With An Undeveloped Lot?

A Christmas tree farm in central Phoenix?

A quadrant that encompasses Central Avenue on the east, Second Ave on the west, Turney Avenue to the north and West Glenrosa Avenue to the south has remained vacant since being cleared during the real estate bubble. The intent was to build yet another luxury condominium high rise along the Central Corridor but construction was never started as the real estate crash cascaded before building could begin.

View Larger Map

I've wondered what would happen to this particular piece of land, since even in this long time well regarded uptown Central Corridor, it was unlikely any substantial residential or commercial properties will be built for a long time. The market is over saturated and financing is difficult. It's across from Steele Indian School Park on this side of Central and I've enjoyed it as an open field to walk around just to get out of the house. For the longest time it was a dry open lot.

Recently with the heavy winter rains it had started to green up a little and become more interesting to photograph.

Then I noticed as I was driving by one day, about a month or so ago, men working digging trenches to place irrigation drip lines. I speculated the city may have forced the property owner to place irrigation lines to keep the grounds green and dust pollution down. That didn't make total sense because it is near the Grand Canal and in the boundaries of the Salt River Project area allowing for flood irrigation. Then even more rains came, torrential as a matter of fact, tearing up the incomplete trench digging and irrigation line laying and also making the lot very green by the grace of nature.

Today I noticed this Use Permit Hearing notice for "Use permit to allow a wholesale tree farm and harvesting." The applicant is Thomas J. Perry Tree Farms, LLC and research so far indicates they are growers of Christmas Trees. The property is owned by Petree Properties, a company that owns and leases apartments. Research also indicates it appears the value of each of the parcels has dropped significantly since the peak of the market, when the property was purchased and the old building torn down.

It will be interesting to see if we have a tree farm in our neighborhood instead of another residential complex or office development.


Some Things My Parents Taught Me

although I don't always follow them...

1. Be responsible for what you do. Clean up after yourself, pay your bills, be on time, take care of your possessions, fix your mistakes, apologize if you're wrong, be honest, tell the truth. Respect other people's property; don't trample the land.

2. Perseverance. If at first you don't succeed, try and try again. Don't give up in the face of adversity, it will make you stronger and success will be more rewarding. You can do anything you have a mind to, if you think it's worthwhile and you really want it. If anything is worth doing, it's worth doing well.

3. The Golden Rule. Treat others as you would have them treat you. Civilized people have a sense of fair play; don't kick the underdog. Respect other people's differences, be civil and polite. Have a modicum of respect for the social order, moral values and habits of the general population.

4. Be selective of the company you keep. They can either help you or harm you and always reflect on your choices about character, yours and theirs. Appreciate your friends and people who are good to you; don't hate your enemies, you made them. You can always find someone worse off and someone better off than you.

5. Eat right and take care of your health. Value learning and education. All that glitters is not gold. There is beauty in simplicity. Respect nature and wildlife. Be prepared for a rainy day. Think before speaking. Don't talk too much. Waste not, want not. Haste makes waste.


English: Two Dialects

On Being Bicultural: One Language...

My life story started on a dot on a map in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean, about 640 miles off the coast of North Carolina on the islands of Bermuda. It was a wonderful place to grow up but I always wanted to "get off the rock" and move to the United States. Our arrival coincided with a very tumultuous time in US history with civil unrest, racial strife, assassinations, anti-draft protests, divisiveness over the Vietnam War, Kent State shootings, a President in trouble, economic distress and much more. In spite of all that I was excited to be in America.

My mother was a very "pull yourself up by the bootstraps" woman from a classic British middle class family and my father a definite "true grit" American from a family that was successfully "self-made" and had done well for themselves. My parents left their respective home countries after WWII to seek adventure and met each other in Bermuda, were married there and stayed. My sister, cousin and I were born and spent most of our childhood on the islands until we moved to the US for high school.

Since I was not born on a US military installation and as a British Subject, although my father was an American, due to the laws of the time I went through a process to become a U.S. Citizen. I have never regretted that or looked back. This is one of my first vlogs from 2007 where I talk about growing up learning to English in two dialects, "proper" British and "standard" American.

On Being Bicultural: English, Two Dialects from JR Snyder Jr on Vimeo.



Hummingbird Feeding

When The Sun Goes Down I'm Just Stocking Up...

An Immigrant's Success Story

A True American Entrepreneur...


In this video Diana cuts Gregg's hair and tells me her story of coming to the US when she was very young. She didn't know how to read, write or speak English very well but she was determined to go to school to improve her opportunities. After passing the state board exams she didn't understand how some people she went to school with, who grew up here, understood the language and had opportunities provided for them, didn't study and pass the exams. She had borrowed money from the bank, with the assistance of her brother, knew the amount of interest she would have to pay above the principle amount. Since she was going to pay it all back, she saw no point in going to school, not finishing and getting her license.


How many times have you driven by this statue and wondered about it?

Navajo WWII Code Talkers Tribute: 
Arizona Communications History...

Qwest Tower 20 E Thomas Rd Phoenix AZ
Tribute To Navajo Code Talkers statue

This statute by Doug Hyde is on the northeast corner of Thomas Road and Central Avenue in Phoenix and was placed in 1989 as a tribute to the Navajo Code Talkers. The statue was commissioned through the Heard Museum by Best West Properties Inc. (investor real estate owned by US WEST Inc.) and the Koll Companies, developers of the plaza project. The intention was to represent communications history in Arizona and the commission was due to the location becoming the new state headquarters of US WEST Communications (now Qwest).

At the time there was still some sentiment among corporations in the US to honor the heritage and influence of their industries on the communities they served. This was especially prevalent in telephone companies who had strong traditions and sense of their history and heritage. This specific example is particularly remarkable in that it recognizes the forgotten contributions of the Navajo (and other Native American) Code Talkers of WWII, the connection between historical communications of a group once considered inferior to western US civilization and modern communications. The intent was also to recognize the diversity of the employees and customers the company served.

The inscription on the plaque reads:

This tribute represents the spirit of the Navajo Code Talkers, a group of more than 400 U.S. Marines who bravely served their country during World War II.

Their mission: to utilize the Navajo language in the creation of an unbreakable secret code. Between 1942 and 1945, the Navajo Code Talkers used this code, and their skills as radio operators, to provide a secure method of communications vital to America's Victory.

Among many Native Americans, the flute is a communications tool used to signal the end of confrontation and the coming of peace. This tribute represents the advancement of  peace for all future generations.

This is the first permanent tribute to honor the Navajo Code Talkers.
Official website of the Navajo Code Talkers: http://www.navajocodetalkers.org/ 


Yard Art

Made in America: Hand Crafted Garden Sculptures...

Our neighborhood is made unique by these original Made In America garden art sculptures. They've been maintained for quite a while and kept intact.


Analog Social Web

How Rosie the Riveter became the First Social Web Guru...

Dallas Bryan Street Toll Office
In the period after World War II telephones and dial service became a priority for the nation as the telephone system became the primary way to connect people for social networking. The building of new, more efficient switches and Operator Service centers became a priority for the Bell System and Independent Telcos to accommodate the rapidly escalating demand for service. A primary way of rebuilding the social, economic and political fabric of the country was by way of connecting people through communications as rapidly and effectively as possible. The United States was emerging from a long era of economic downturn and war.

"Hello Operator? I'd like to make a call."

The role of telephone operators interlacing the analog social web known as the telephone system cannot be underestimated. Without them, many connections could not be made and the call for those connections was skyrocketing. In order to handle the traffic volume, it became necessary to develop standardized methods and procedures for call handling consistency and calculated scheduling techniques, to meet the demands of service. It was a matter of efficiently accomplishing tasks in an analog, mechanical world operated by humans for customer satisfaction at a reasonable cost.

Albuquerque NM Toll and Assistance Cord Switchboard ca 1970

The original customer service contact centers that we know today originated in telephone company operator service centers with methods continuously developed after WWII and institutionalized in the 1950s when Operator Toll Dialing was rolled out nationwide. Operator Toll Dialing was the original implementation of the 10-digit telephone area code and number system we use today. The telephone company Operator Toll Centers set the precedence for call routing to centralized locations and the attendant discipline within operations, required to treat common call situations consistently and staff at peak and trough times, and now the core of call centers today. Regimented operating practices were instituted for the most common types of calls handled and scrupulously monitored, to speed up call handling. This led to the widespread institution of what is now known as "Average Call Handling Time", Available Time" and "Actual Work Time," to shave milliseconds off each call to improve the overall financial performance of what are cost centers.

Diagram of original AT&T Traffic Operator Position System (TSPS) keyshelf

With the onset of computerization and operator systems such as Traffic Service Position System (TSPS) and Traffic Operator Position System (TOPS) more data could be gathered to automate processes. The principles of centralization and standardization were replicated outside the phone companies, creating the call center industry. With each switchboard advance, computerized mechanization and automation of routine tasks, the groundwork was laid for contemporary call center operations.

Northern Electric Original Toll Operator Position System (TOPS)

Bell System TV ad introducing "Computer Assisted Phone Operator" (TSPS) to United States

If you enjoyed this article you may also be interested in my post from two days ago "On Social Web Platforms: Bringing It All Back Home..." http://bit.ly/cok7Ur OR from March 2009 "POTUS LBJ and Obama: Early Adopters of Communications Tools" http://bit.ly/co2TRi


Desert Bloom Bells

Urban Balcony Garden, A Wildlife and Human Refuge...

My third floor balcony garden serves multiple purposes. It is off my office and provides a sense of bringing the outdoors in and I don't feel so enclosed in a building. Also it faces the west side and the plants provide great shade and a sense of cool relief in the heat of summer. I have a hummingbird feeder and a small bird bath and is now an urban wildlife refuge not only for birds but bees, butterflies and is home to a small lizard.

Up and Away

Paraglider Over Ahwatukee...

A paraglider floats over Ahwatukee, this video was shot from the communications towers area of South Mountain. Ahwatukee is a community of Phoenix that is physically separated from the rest of the city since it is located on the south side of South Mountain.

Paraglider Over Ahwatukee from JR Snyder Jr on Vimeo.



On Social Web Platforms

Bringing The Digital Life All Back Home...

Recently I've being spending less time on the social web and when I am on my preferred platforms, I'm using them for different reasons. Although I like Facebook (it's a pleasant walled garden) it has always seemed a bit like high school and the applications and games don't appeal to me. Twitter, where I've spent most of my time the past few years, started for me as simply a note-taking service for brief thoughts that occurred to me. It morphed into something pleasantly unexpected, a replacement for the interaction I once had on the community that existed on YouTube during 2006-2007, as well as meeting new online friends. After trying Google Buzz it is still a non-starter for me, social web celebs raves aside, currently it just seems more of the same.

It is natural these platforms progress and evolve and for me they have come to feel more like communications tools than hubs for social interaction and community. I embrace that, I find myself more interested in using them to discover new things to read, do, gather information and make contact with people for more extended interaction. My perception is the social web is narrowing down to a connection point for more personal, in-depth conversation, than can be conducted on limited space open social web forums.

Foursquare, Gowalla, Google Latitude, Yelp and other Location Based Services along with smartphones are making inroads I believe because people are looking for more depth in their online connections and want to bring the social closer to home as well as offline. A more personal web, where the platform becomes the communications tool that bridges the community people create online, to more intimate levels for deeper relationships. The internet is the replacement for the old social network, the telephone system, so it is no surprise it is making connections in the same way. Fundamentally human social networking remains the same, regardless of the tools used.


Grand Canal 3rd Avenue Pedestrian/Bicycle Bridge

Mallards and almost Vernal Sunset...

We Will Still Need To Wear Shades...

Phoenix Economic Crisis Solutions in Six Paragraphs

Part Two: A follow up to my post Phoenix Economic Crisis in Six Paragraphs http://bit.ly/a0nS7T Low Tide, Waiting for Second and Third Wave...

Residential Mortgage/Lender Crisis: We need to acknowledge that since the '93-'94 recession, we intensified a decades old delusion of an economy built on housing construction, that was unsustainable. The mortgage/lender standoff is an actuality that must be resolved in a variety of ways, although the answers are not easily attainable, to avoid becoming another Detroit or Cleveland somehow they must be worked out. The populist notion of "walking away" is not acceptable with few exceptions. The process of mortgage holders admitting some responsibility for leveraging when they did and lenders accepting their share of accountability in this situation is without doubt an extremely difficult one.

Unemployment/Underemployment: We should accept we aren't an overly educated (but certainly not a poorly or undereducated) population. We do have very strong customer service and mechanical skills and polite, conscientious, motivated people with a good work ethic. We should actively seek to attract jobs that match what we are really good at doing. We're excellent at high end customer service centers, warehousing and shipping, aviation and communications, healthcare, hospitality and tourism. We have our fair share of software and technical companies and do quite well in manufacturing and transportation. We should focus and capitalize on those qualities and sectors.

State Government: Our state government needs reform but not more regulation and taxes. Our last six Governors have not served us well by design, lack of skill and/or default. Our current Legislature, with few exceptions, is a disgrace. We are a testament to why legislated term limits don't work, a lesson the nation should strongly heed and learn from. "Clean Elections" has been a farce and exacerbated a corrupt campaign contribution system even further. The reorganization implemented by Bruce Babbitt and the Legislature in the seventies was timely and well intended  but no longer works for us.

It's interesting to note that the Babbitt era reforms were primed due to the force of hand of the Federal Government and Federal Mandates during an unpopular Presidency. We now face a similar situation with a divisive US Congress, unwieldy onerous Federal Mandates and another unpopular President. As Arizonans it is time to reclaim our independent nature and reshape our government to make sense for us today.

Commercial Real Estate: The elephant in the room could be our greatest asset. We now (or soon will have) a large inventory of cheap office, business, hospitality and retail space. We still have a great climate and now is a great opportunity to attract businesses and jobs, based on simple supply and demand of available space and an abundant work force, motivated by an extended period of unemployment. Our climate allows us to benefit from Las Vegas' fiscal situation and reputation. What happens in Arizona is generally clean and healthy as well as acceptable to companies, conventions and visitors.

Immigration and Population: The topic of illegal immigrants is a complex one and inspires emotions of every range. A Rasmussen Poll on March 18, 2010 indicated that 59% of all Americans say the US should continue to build "The Fence" along the border. Those of us who have lived here for decades cannot remember a time that illegal immigration has not been a problem for our state. It was not until the problem started spilling over into more distant states that it became a heated national issue. There are no easy answers but somehow all sides must come to the rational conclusion that illegal immigrants of any background in the US, under these economic conditions, is fiscally unfeasible. We need to recognize our legal population needs to be stabilized at a sustainable level for the harsh environment of the geography we exist in. We must invest in education in an analytical meritorious way, recognizing that it will take several generations to build the employee base that attracts leading edge employers.

Acceptance: We have relied on unsustainable economic enterprises in an environment that is not capable of sustaining a large population without damaging our environment to the point of damaging and permanently devastating it. Realistically, although the entire country is in (at a minimum) the worst recession since post WWII, we are for all practical purposes, in a depression. The best indicator of the future is the past and looking at history. In that context, we are quite capable of pulling ourselves out of this condition but it will require hard work, consistent and unified effort, with a sustained ability to perpetuate progress one step at a time. 


Ocotillo Splaying Green in the Desert

Blooming is just beginning...

Ocotillo (Fouqieria splendends), also known as Coachwhip, grows mostly on stony slopes in the desert southwest of the US at altitudes around 3000-3500 feet. Like Saguaro, it is most frequently located in Arizona and factually is not a true cactus. Growing in the shape of an inverted funnel most of the year it is dry and appears as a large shrub of sticks with spines. These sticks are frequently used as handy poles for fencing, wired together to make sturdy structures as wind barriers and to keep animals in and out.

The leaves are present most of the year but are small and tiny but in the wet season become evident by turning very green and large. The rainy winter Phoenix has experienced this year is bringing the leaves out magnificently now. Soon the red flowers, which are pollinated by hummingbirds and carpenter bees, will become much more abundant and larger.

This promises to be a gloriously green and colorful desert spring in the southwestern US.


End of the Road?

Cordes Junction 


Phoenix Economic Crisis in Six Paragraphs

Low Tide, Waiting for Second and Third Wave...

Residential Mortgage/Lender Crisis: In the Phoenix Metro area housing prices have dropped at least 50% leaving most homeowners underwater. There are quite a few indicators they will drop further. Personal debt stress, exacerbated by overextension of HELOC, credit card and other unsecured debt, has created social problems and identity crises on a large scale. Lender's are not in a position to  forgive debt in an economic scenario with a cornucopia of perpetrators. 

Unemployment/Underemployment: Although statistically the Phoenix unemployment rate is not as high as some areas (it technically hovers around 9%) realistically it is probably in the high teens and possibly low twenties percentile. This does not include the underemployed and those who have been employed for the duration of the economic crisis but never earned high wages and/or had their earnings decreased by cut backs in hours, bonuses/incentives slashed or stopped, 401K contributions ceased and wage step backs.

State Government Indebtedness: The State of Arizona's budget problems are legion, of all states it has the second highest shortfall and considered the worst deficit in the nation. The gap is $2 billion with no real pending revenue in the foreseeable future. Federal stimulus money has all been spent basically due to the Governor and Legislature failing to realistically deal with budget cuts at state agencies and in programs. The Unemployment Insurance fund is insolvent. The Legislature is once again called this week into Special Session by the Governor. Additionally the tax structure of Arizona is largely based on sales taxes, money is collected by the State Treasurer and then distributed to counties, cities and towns. Proposals to increase sales taxes is strongly resisted. Raising taxes on a population and business community that is having difficulty paying current bills could only curtail spending and hiring, resulting in actually reducing revenue.    

Commercial Real Estate: The elephant in the room. The Valley is spread with high rises and strip malls that have never been occupied or even completed. There are many more that have already been vacated or are emptying out and prices on all commercial real estate this year have descended by 50%. The implosion of Mortgages Ltd. sparked devastation in the commercial market by reaching far beyond properties Scott Coles and company ever supposedly financed in a Ponzi-like scheme of tremulous magnitude. Essentially commercial property is in abeyance and has yet to fall completely although on it's way. It is a ticking time bomb.

Immigration and Population: Phoenix has a large illegal immigration population that is not being resolved. Regardless of political, ethical or moral considerations, this is economically unsustainable. People living in the shadows with little or no income and the associated social problems is factually a fiscally risky business. There are also reliable indicators, although the statistics are not complete, that Phoenix is de facto losing other population. It is accepted that a lot of talented, educated and high earners have already left, a loss of leadership and skills when most needed.

Denial: There is a sizable segment of the business community, political class and general population that has blinders on. No one likes to fail, concede or relinquish the life they've been living. The Day of Reckoning is coming and many people will be forced to skip anger/resentment, bargaining, depression and crash directly into hard pavement acceptance. Many people are going through these stages now but putting on a brave face (I refer to this as The Scottsdale Syndrome), which is masking as denial.

For some background, visit my post with a video blog done on Labor Day 2009, "The Economy and Me: My Hometown" http://bit.ly/3jjus3

There is a future


411: What City Please?

Men Broke Barriers Too...

In early 1973 I was one of the first male telephone company switchboard operators hired by the Bell System (and Independent Companies) in the US in over 75 years. I was crossed-trained as a Directory Assistance operator (we worked with large paper directories) and as a Toll and Assistance operator on a manual cord switchboard built in 1948. I later worked as an overseas operator on old circuits in an International Operator Center. Some of my anecdotal operator stories, as well as operator history articles are on the website Privateline.

Telephone history still interests me and look forward on this blog for photographs of original switchboards we used "back in the day."

This is a short video I did a few years ago telling a comedic story about one of my experiences in those days.

411: For What City Please? from JR Snyder Jr on Vimeo.



Arizona Blooms on the Ides of March

Season of "Just Right" blessed by lots of rain after Season of "Cool"

Desert Broom in bloom
Phoenix has three seasons: cool, just right and very hot. This has been an unusual year since we have had a very rainy winter with rainfall in the Phoenix metro area since January ranging from 4 to 10 inches according to rainlog.org for the period between January 1st and March 14. This has caused a lot of early blooming and an abundance of greenery after a very dry decade of drought.

March is generally when we can tell what type of summer we will have and so far this look's very good. I can not remember having a winter weather like this since the mid-nineties. What a great way to start a decade.

Spring Leaf Buds
We know that we can look forward to very hot but many of us like that season. It's far more enjoyable though after a mild cool winter and a spring of just right.