Brock Keckler: Full Interview

Millennials Making a Difference: Brock Keckler

What is a general description and title of what you do? 

I am the Marketing Director for the Edwards Porter Group Wealth Management. We do financial planning, investment strategies, retirement, 401k plans, life insurance, and estate planning.  My job is to help my firm be the premier financial institution in Wilson County.

What do you enjoy about your job?

Helping people with their financial future. Everyone has to start somewhere and its awesome to make an impact in people’s lives.

What things do you do/have you done to benefit the community?  

I am leading the MJYP [Mt. Juliet Young Professionals]. The Edwards Porter Group is extremely involved with local networking groups and events. We are always open to helping the community in any way.

What made you decide to chair the MJYP?

Joining this firm in my hometown, I wanted to find an additional avenue to help the city. The Young Professional population is growing exponentially in MJ and I want to be someone who gets them connected within the community. MJ is a special place to me and my family, so I want to do my part to help it succeed. As the city gets bigger, this group could be best professionals group in the mid-state.

What events does the MJYP have planned for 2017?

We have speakers lined up for the entire year along with some local tours and social events to promote networking. One thing we are focusing on is getting together at all of the local restaurants for some social time to get to know people outside of the business setting. New people and new connections are the foundation to our city and we look forward to all of the events we have planned for the year!

As always, I like to find out the “why” behind the “what”. Why do you enjoy the aforementioned career choices/extracurricular activities?

I worked for several years for a big corporation and I have seen what it takes to grow a business, and having the opportunity to grow an amazing  local company, in the city I grew up in, is a dream come true. I work with lifelong friendships, to people that just moved here, and I get to share my MJ experience with them. I enjoy playing golf, Basketball in our local rec leagues, and running the trails in providence.  My wife, Michelle, and I are expecting our first son, Carson, in the Spring.  We spend a lot of time at the local events and restaurants. We look forward to raising our family in Mj and helping this community flourish.

Did you enjoy this article? If so, please check out some of my other work at How the World Should Work

On the Eve: 6

King Jordain

She knows exactly where my heart lies. Buried deep within that sheath of angst, she knows the truth.

She knows I cannot raise my blade to her. This foolhardy campaign is fueled by her insatiable desire for revenge; her misguided malfeasance. Yet reality continues to elude her. The entirety of her army’s morale rests upon the simple assertion that I, King Jordain, committed the treacherous act for which I was accused. Why choose now to invade – does she wish to reunite East with West? Her accusations, ones which she herself believed to be true, were the very catalyst that ripped these lands apart to begin with.

And now, here I sit with the watchful eye above penetrating my soul. On my honor, woman, nothing occurred between the vice-regent and myself those many years ago. This divisive plot was a meticulously crafted story by that scum of a Hand, Ulric. The same Hand who deceived her, my Queen, for all these years. Slicing his throat was the greatest gift our God could ever bestow upon me, and for that I am eternally grateful.

We will hold these lands. God willing, we will reunite.  Jocasta shall at last hear the truth.

I Want to Play a Game

I’d like to try a thought experiment.

This might be weird; but just bear with me. You’ll need to pay very close attention to the things you’re about to read. More importantly, you’ll need to truly, truly, visualize and imagine what I’m going to say.

I want you to imagine yourself plugging your ears. Sound strange? Well it shouldn’t, because if you did it right you wouldn’t be able to hear it. Your ears are plugged, remember? Step one, imagine all the sound around you is gone. 

Step two. Think of the smells you’re experiencing. Then, imagine them going away. Close your nostrils if it helps. You can no longer smell.

Three. Cut your tongue out. Not literally! But imagine it disappearing into the same realm your other senses have traveled to. You can taste no more.

Four. You no longer feel anything. Your sense of touch is gone. Poof. Out the door. No more feel.

And last. Five. If you did it right, the only thing you have left….is this. You can see. You can read the words you’re reading right this very moment.

Now – close your eyes. Nothing. You should see, hear, smell, taste, feel….nothing. You should be nothing.

Okay, experiment over! If I had to guess, you’re probably thinking I’m a freaking nutcase right now. I, however, would say no; this is a thought process that has plagued me from the first time I considered it. I really, really want to know if there’s life after death. And no, I don’t want a feelgood story to make myself sleep better at night. I want to actually consider what really happens when we die. 

The above exercise is what I think about. Why don’t I remember anything before I was born? Seriously. Doesn’t this seem sort of obvious? When I was created, I gained the ability, through biological synapses and impulses that I won’t ever understand, to perceive reality. I was given hands, eyes, a nose, tongue, and so on to then be able to process the stimuli that is the universe. 

And you know what? When I’m dead, I bet I lose that ability to sense things. I bet I go right back to the blackness that was before I was born.

Now. Please. If there exists an individual who can tell me, in any logical manner why I should think otherwise, I’m begging you to do so. Because I’m going to be one hundred percent, completely real here: that scares the shit out of me. Wanna know why I quit insurance and write now? Well, here’s why folks. It doesn’t get any more real than this. I honestly believe that when I’m dead, that’s it. I don’t get another go around. So each and every second of my life, I want to make meaningful. And the worst part about this, believe me – the part that hurts the most, is thinking about Mom. That she may not be out there anymore. And that’s why I’m so torn, because the easy thing would be to say yeah of course she’s still there and so on. I really, really, can’t stand thinking this way. 

So. In summation. If someone can give me a rational, real explanation other than “faith” or “you just have to believe” or anything, please for the love of the ironic god I’m trying to find, tell me. 

That is all.

On the Eve: 5

Antony – Commander of Queen Jocasta’s Army

An emissary arrived today with a most perplexing message. He hurriedly navigated his way through Clarmont’s cobblestone streets and somehow obtained an audience with Queen Jocasta herself. The dispatch appeared to be one of grave import, as he was quickly ushered into Jocasta’s inner chambers following the delivery. No one yet knows what information was contained in the message.

Morale is still elevated. Tomorrow we meet with Hadrian, who has offered his assistance for our efforts at taking the East. Hadrian may be crass, but his Northern legions will surely add much needed strength to our rallying attack. These lands must again be united, as our Queen is the only hope of rebuilding the future we so desire.

Much planning is required if we are to rise victorious. Perhaps I will ask for an audience with this emissary, seeing what games Jordain attempts to play.

That man is more manipulative than the misleading colors of a chameleon.

 

On the Eve: 4

Favian, Royal Record-Keeper & Historian of the East

The West shall never comprehend the world the way we Easterners do.

What ire could have possibly made Jocasta think she could overtake us? The East and West have co-existed, as agreed, for twelve winters now. Why is she suddenly afflicted with the desire to destroy? I cannot make sense of it.

I desperately long for the sensibility which we enjoyed many years ago. An era of peace. A time when Jordain and Joscasta ruled with the passion and love that this world deserves. Their deep affection for one another poured out over all these lands. It was a time of joy; true, unabridged happiness.

And then that awful, destructive separation. To this very day, I still find pause when asked if my recollections of the event are truly complete. The realm relies on my accounts for candidacy of what transpired, but I shall forever foster my internal doubts. I have written what I know to be true; Jocasta assuming the role of primary aggressor. She betrayed Jordain, this is well known. Yet it is a reluctant truth that confuses, for I still do not fully understand his decision to allow her sovereignty in the West. The splitting of these lands was perhaps a more hurtful dagger than the one Jocasta cast into the heart of my liege through her betrayal.

I have seen families ripped apart. I have witnessed brothers fighting brothers; sons fighting fathers. The darkest depths of depravity, all surfacing in the name of East versus West.

The gaping wound which separates these lands must once again be mended, this much I know. We cannot go on as warring factions.

The clarity of this shines with blinding abundance.

The Revolt Returns: 8

“Hey, what was the name of that new girl again? You know, the brown haired Lenghornian with the exquisite…personality?”

Back in Spam’s newly reconstructed Tower of Management, Will the Wolf ponders the assets of a Lenghornian newcomer with Chilian manservent, Quesadilla.

“I know not, my Lord.” Quesadilla replies. “I am but a lowly Chilian. Our ribs and terrible 2 for 1 specials in those tiny mugs pale in comparison to you Lenghornians. You know I am not savvy to such information. I am nothing if not a loyal subject of my dear, sexy Spam.”

“Ah, valid point, peasant.” Will says. “Perhaps I shall raid their pathetic village and take her for my own. Show her how a real wolf gets down,” he growls with a creepy glint in his eye.

Suddenly, a female voice echos from an adjacent chamber.

“I would find that most unwise, my hairy lover.”

Waltzing out of the nearby walkway, a majestically sexy fox with an inexplicable aura of sophistication joins the pair.

“Assuming, of course, you intend to keep that wonderful wolf manhood of yours attached to your body,” she adds with a wink.

“My love! You know I jest,” Will the Wolf says with a subtle adjustment of his woolly pants, effortlessly concealing his embarrassing blood flow as his gaze glides up and down Celeste the Sultry’s painfully attractive body.

“That’s what I thought,” she says with a smirk and a peck on his wolfly cheek. “Alas, where is our leader? Surely its time to finalize our plans for the assault on the Lenghornian village.”

Interjecting, Quesadilla angrily answers her query.

“Our beloved leader is seeing to her commitments in the North, fox,” he says with an annoyed glance toward Celeste.

As a dedicated Chilian, Quesadilla is fiercely loyal to none but his offensively nasty restaurant. Spam, being the conniving woman she is, wooed the slave and his compatriots through an ingeniously crafted plan to gain Chilian support. Simply put – she informed their corporate management to take the beef bacon ranch quesadilla off of their already disgusting menu. After her suggestion led to quadrupled profits, the Chilian constituents fell right into her perfectly placed trap. As intended, her army swelled and she inherited the mindless servant that is Quesadilla.

“When does she intend to return?” Will the Wolf asks, smoothly deflecting the obvious resentment Quesadilla had directed toward his foxy lover.

“Our liege is scheduled to grace us with her return on the ‘morrow,” the manservant sneers. “Now, you must excuse me. I am required for other, more pressing obligations. Since she has graciously deemed me worthy of such responsibilities,” he adds as a not-so-subtle slight toward Celeste.

Exiting the chamber, Quesadilla hobbles toward whatever tasks he undoubtedly had just made up. Left alone, Celeste grins as she hops into her lover’s hairy arms.

Turning her head toward the sky, she smirks.

“Its time to end this chapter, I think,” she creepily says to me. “I know you didn’t really develop the plot in any meaningful way here, but I’m seriously jonesing for this guy’s…service,” she says with a soft laugh and nod toward the wolf of her dreams.

Wondering how the hell a fantasy character became aware of its omniscient Godly creator, the author types the last few characters of his entry, closing the cover to his laptop with a confused, blank stare on his face.

Reflecting on the Greats: George RR Martin

I’ve decided to start a new blog series to fill idle time when writers block attacks. I plan to write short entries to pay homage to the authors/writers which I look up to and who have influenced me in one way or another. I’d like to focus mainly on particular attributes of each, highlighting the obvious as well as the subtle in an effort to outline why I think they’ve elevated above their peers.

My first tribute is going to be on an individual we all know (unless you’ve lived under a rock or haven’t turned on a television in the past five years): George RR Martin, acclaimed author and creator of the enormously popular series A Song of Ice and Fire. Better known, of course, as Game of Thrones.

As many know, Martin was a lesser known writer until GoT dominate the headlines. This is the first thing I’d like to note which warrants respect. His dedication and love for the craft allowed him to persevere through countless efforts at making himself known, finally paying off at a level very few can ever dream of. This, I believe, is an attribute so few have, and even fewer maintain throughout life. It is one that certainly warrants respect from anyone who knows how difficult it is to stand out in one of the most competitive fields one can aspire to.

The second thing I want to mention, and one which absolutely boggles my mind if I’m being honest, is the sheer complexity of his stories. I’m not talking complex plot lines here, either. This dude has got to have what I can only imagine is one of the most absurd brainstorming sessions imaginable. I don’t think you need to be a writer to understand and appreciate the level of detail he consistently achieves.

Another thing I’d like to commend for Martin actually has nothing to do with writing. As we all know, any time you rise to the apex of your career, people tend to consider more than just your work. When one garners the world’s attention, the individual is taken into account as often as their creations. Martin’s personality, in my opinion, is an appropriate for someone of his stature. He doesn’t have an overly inflated ego, he’s down to Earth, and he’s maintained a playful demeanor. Case in point – just the other day I saw a picture of him wearing a T-Shirt he had made. On it was a quote: “Be nice to me or Tyrion’s next!” Now come on…that’s pretty funny. These kinds of things make me respect him not only for his creative genius, but for his character as well – which I would argue is just as important.

I’ll stop here for now. The only negative thing I can think of in regard to Martin is the freaking wait for the next installments. Don’t get me wrong, I’m fully aware how long these things take to outline, write, and edit – but he’s pushing it in my opinion (and that’s the consensus among his fan-base if you don’t follow him). Its to the point now where its a running joke, in fact. I suppose he’s earned the right to take as much time as he damn well pleases, though, so I digress.

In any case, that’s my general take on someone who will undoubtedly be remembered as one of the greatest writers of our time. I can only aspire to someday obtain a mere fraction of the cultural significance he’s so rightfully earned.

Here’s to you, Mr. Martin. Oh…and please don’t kill Tyrion.

Happy Birthday Shannon!

To our beloved co-worker

shannon

 

Shannon, oh Shannon, where goes the time?

Are you seriously entering year thirty-nine?

I think it’d behoove you to look and go see

If your card has arrived from AARP

Today marks a day that we all often fear

For every birthday adds yet one more year

Not all that bad when we turned twenty five

When nights would run late, we still felt alive

Now our old bones are starting to ache

When nine rolls around we can’t stay awake

But for you, my dear Shannon, at this time and stage

I can say with all truth you look half your age

Like the fanciest cheese; a sweet fine French wine

Your beauty increases and grows lovely with time

So today let’s rejoice and enjoy added worth

As we celebrate this wonderful day of your birth

 

HAPPY BIRTHDAY!

 

On the Eve: 3

Antony – Commander of Queen Jocasta’s Army

We have taken refuge in Clarmont, the first safe village we crossed following our withdrawal. If one can even call it a village, that is. There is little more than battered huts and peasant farmers here. Far less than what one would deem an ideal location for which to retreat.

My lieutenants, those fortunate enough to survive the onslaught, are stricken with frustration and shame for failing our Queen. Jocasta has not spoken since our arrival, save her initial introduction to the village elders – who were so shocked upon meeting her they could hardly muster a word. There is little to speak of in terms of provisions, and much guilt felt among the soldiers for what resources the elders have provided. The occupants here have been more than generous, as they are vehemently supportive of the Queen’s campaign to overtake that pig of a man who calls himself King of the East. Jordain is a foolhardy dictator and disgusting excuse for a ruler. I find it astonishing that he ever had a place in her heart to begin with; his reputation of merciless tyranny well abound in these lands.

Yesterday’s miscalculations are surely to ignite fury within the deepest depths of Jocasta’s very being. Yet we, her loyal defenders, shall not falter. We shall remain resolute in our entirety, as every last one of us salivate in anticipation for our next opportunity to face them on the battlefield. Our leader will surely find solace amidst the unwavering faith of the entire regiment.

I swear it, that man will rue the day he clamored out of his whore of a mother. Our arrows will rain pure Hell next we meet, casting a darkness blacker than the evil residing in the soul we shall soon strip from Jordain’s body.

These lands shall once again be united as my Queen rises victorious, or so help me God we will tear this world apart trying.

Love & Loss

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Adalasia: First Entry

July, 1943. Sicily.

A curious thing happened today.

It’s amazing how different things are, amidst the bombings and the shells and the shouting. A week ago I was making pies. Prepping soups upstairs in my father’s shop. My days were filled with that of cheer and joy. Now I find myself coddled in a corner, hiding in a dusty cellar. Trembling at the sound of footsteps approaching in fear that the invaders will find me.

They say this town is important for the supply lines. It seems to change hands every day; Allies by morning, Axis by night. Its hard to keep up.  My only knowledge of the outer world is obtained through my inquiries to our occupiers. Today it is the Germans. Tomorrow, for all we know it will be the US 7th again.

There was a man, yesterday, who was unlike any I’ve met from either side. Usually, the American soldiers offer chocolate bars, or perhaps a postcard of famous Hollywood actors or the like to obtain my good graces.

If only they recognized the chaos that their war is causing.

But today was different. This man approached without words, took my hand and looked directly into my eyes. No trinkets to impress. No shiny things to win the shallow affection they’re always after. Without pausing, he told me he was sorry for all of the pain he could tell I was feeling. He said he was sorry that there are people in this world who can cause such atrocity, and that he, at that very moment, was stuck in the same window of helplessness I am. That he felt the pain with me.

I was speechless.

Before I could muster a response, he gently released my hands as he looked somberly to the floor. As if speaking to himself as much as he was me, he explained how sorely it hurts every time he pulls the trigger, knowing a life is being taken. A life that was raised somewhere else. By someone else. Someone who he will never know. As he talked, his eyes eventually returned to mine. The glaze over them created a kind of mirror, and as I gazed within I could not help but notice the blurred reflection of my own, tearing eyes.

He told me his name was Adam.

I hope I see him again.

Adam: First Entry

July, 1943. Sicily.

I wonder if Father is proud of me.

He always told me I would grow to accomplish great things. Yet here I lay, cold and cramped in a cot hardly fit for a prisoner.

When I joined the 7th, they told us we were undertaking one of the most important missions in history. That we were putting an end to the tyranny and devastating effects of Hitler’s Nazi regime. And while I still stand behind that sentiment, I find myself conflicted.

The things I have witnessed are unimaginable. The harsh realities of war are something one can never fully comprehend until they are experienced first hand. Loving sons stricken from their families. Kind fathers called to duty to fight for a cause with which they may not even agree. Why? Why must we occupy a world which holds such little regard for love and generosity?

It pains me to consider these things. I continue to fight, because the grander cause is one I believe in. Yet a profound agony courses through me every time I take a life. It plagues my mind as I lay here, trying to sleep so I can briefly escape this world of ours. Dreams provide my only solace.

There was one glimmer of happiness today, though. My unit overtook a small portion of Sicily, and I was ordered to obtain food from a local bakery. As I entered, I found myself enamored by the shopkeepers daughter. I could sense her pain, as I imagine she had been watching helplessly as the day’s battle ensued. I held her for a moment as I tried to provide whatever solace I could muster. She tightened her grip as my hands held hers, and I cherished such an embrace. For a short moment, we were two strangers sharing unspoken feelings of hope and compassion.

She told me her name was Adalasia.

I hope I see her again.

Adalasia: Second Entry

July, 1943. Sicily.

He was here again today. Adam, the handsome soldier from the US 7th. I can still see that unbridled yellow hair, flowing freely in the breeze. That subtle sparkle, gently shimmering like the setting sun’s light reflecting off his golden locks. He came into the shop today and asked for bread. His unit was most hurried, as there seemed to be an important objective being sought after. It seems they are advancing further into the city.
But we were able to speak today. He had time to engage me in conversation. At first, he teased me that my English was broken, but he then put his hands on mine and smiled, telling me my words were as beautiful as the glimmer in my eyes. He gave me a bar of chocolate, laughing as he did so, saying it was cliche.

He told me that coming to our shop was the highlight of his day, and that he would do anything he could to be assigned to this particular task. Because he wanted to see me. He wanted to experience the same feeling he had the time before, when he held me and forgot about the terror surrounding him.

It was a powerful feeling, when he stood and grasped me. It was as if he was channeling his pain into our embodiment. I felt his love.

Please return, Adam.

 

Adam: Second Entry

July, 1943. Sicily.

I can’t wait to see her again.

Adalasia. Such a beautiful name. The dry spots on her hands tell me that she’s willing to take on the burden of work. The city had a food cart stocked to try and provide help to the needy, and she was the first to volunteer her service. She cares about  people, I can tell. I watch her as her eyes follow the children of her house, playing and having fun. The smile that takes over her face as she sees how happy they truly are, without a care in the world.

And then the siren rings.

The piercing tone changes everything. The kids playing on the floor scatter to the underground cellar door. A door that will lead them underground, into a dark, cramped room where these feelings of love and happiness are absent. A room that houses the same fear, desperation, and hopelessness I’ve seen in the towns before.

These people. They’re innocent. They don’t deserve this.

A day must come that changes things. Good people have no place living like this. I wish there was more I could do.

I long to see her again. For the first time since landing in this Hell, I have found something which can actually coax a smile out of me.

I believe I shall “accidentally” find myself around the bakery tomorrow.

Adalasia: Third Entry

August, 1943. Sicily.

He might be the greatest man I will ever know.

Adam came by today. It wasn’t to see me, though. Not this time. He said he came because the Germans were expected to attack tonight, and he knew he would be launching artillery in this area. So he came to do everything he could to barricade father’s building. Then he showed us the proper places to hide when the fighting began. We are so very thankful to have someone care for our protection.

Before he left, I walked with him outside for a goodbye kiss. He stopped me at the door, firmly holding my waist as he looked at me with that bright hair and shimmering smile. He said that he would never let harm befall me. He said he would protect me that night, no matter what. That he would make sure the bombs landed far away. He promised to direct them away from us with his shelling.

And he did. He did exactly what he promised he would do. This was the first battle that hasn’t shaken this house.

All because of this Adam…a deeper love I will never find.

Adam: Third Entry

August, 1943. Sicily.

I do not know what to think.

I cannot decide what my disposition is to these Germans. We have been taught that they are all evil. That they are all terrible, horrid people who deserve nothing more than the iron fist of American judgment.

And yet, I am conflicted. Is it true? Is this entire army of Nazis truly evil? Or does good dwell amidst their ranks? Are there good men? Men who would pick up someone when they’re down? Men who love their mothers and children with all their heart, and truly want what’s best for their families?

These questions occupy the empty space in my mind, filling it with wonder and doubt. What is the truth? How can I be expected to blindly take the life of another human being without knowing their character? I cannot find reason to make sense of this.

Adalasia. She is my only release from this madness. Her innocence. Her beauty. Her kindness. It overwhelms me with emotion. She has a hold on my heart which I fear cannot be released. The subconscious, sublime cohesiveness that we share has taught me the true meaning of love. I love her. And I will do anything to shield her from this horrific world we have created.

This war has taught me one vastly important thing.

There is no greater calling than to protect the people you love.

Adalasia: Fourth Entry

August, 1943. Sicily.

I know not what to say.

My mind is clouded by constant fears of the atrocities my love is forced to endure. The perpetual horror that he may never return.

I want to join his ranks. I want to fight the Germans with him. It sounds silly for me, a mere baker’s daughter, desiring to join the fight. Yet it is so. The message must be sent, my love. Let me fight with you.

Please, Adam…I can help.

Adam: Fourth Entry

August, 1943. Sicily.

My dearest Adalasia. How I love that girl.

Yesterday, I returned to her shop. She and I have grown quite enamored with each other. We share a love that words struggle to describe. I’ve always wondered if I would ever fall in love, as I have put great thought into the topic. I find that love takes many different forms. There is, of course, the initial, shallow love. That which we feel by instinct. Some might call it simple attraction. And then there is the grander love that most spend their entire lives searching for. The one that causes us to wed, to have children, to enjoy life, and to be happy. The one that gives you meaning.

But then…then there is an even deeper, profoundly unique love. A love found only in times such as these. A love so visceral that it transcends outward description. The only way to comprehend it would be to feel the sensation. The kind of love that manifests when a grenade is thrown into a room, making it your first instinct to jump on it. That’s when you really know you love someone.

For that is what happened today. The Germans launched a small counter-attack this afternoon to take a portion of the city, the bastards. As Adalasia and I were having lunch in the apartment above her father’s bakery, I found myself caught at the front end of their assault. Captain said no one saw it coming. None of us did.

A pair of them came into the bakery. They must have seen my helmet on the post outside and decided they would take me by surprise. I would have never seen them had she not been standing by the window. Upon hearing them ascending the stairs, I fired a few shots through the wall. I missed. The cowards threw the blasted potato masher into the room close to Adalasia as they hid behind the stairwell. The two of us looked to her feet in horror, locking eyes in a brief moment that seems now like a blur. I don’t remember what went through my head, if anything. I jumped to cover it after shoving her onto the nearby mattress, and for my eternal gratitude to God it didn’t detonate. It was as if my body wasn’t under my own control, and some mysterious force had compelled me to sacrifice myself to spare her life. We were saved by some of my squad, who were having coffee across the street. It was the most horrifying twenty-three seconds I’ve ever experienced.

I did not realize, until this evening, the magnitude that action carried. We all say we would die for love. Now…I know. My deepest consciousness sought first to protect her.

The truest, most genuine love there can be. That’s the energy I share with Adalasia.

We share an iron love, forged on the anvils of war.

Adalasia: Fifth Entry

September, 1943. Sicily.

My attempts to join the fray went unheeded. Father said I was crazy for suggesting such a thing. He says the passions of a baker’s daughter aren’t strong enough for war.

Adam makes it a point to make sure the bakery is well-guarded and equipped for whatever may come through. Or whoever, I should say. The chocolate he brings is always fresh. I adore him for the little things he does for me. We took a walk yesterday, through the market square and over to the theater. There was a play taking place about the American soldiers leaving their homes to come fight the war. Adam and I stood there, motionless, watching the actors and actresses pretend to feel the pain of loss. We did not condemn them. Instead, we applauded their efforts, because we knew that they were going through the very same struggle as we. They have lost loved ones, as we all have.

The pain of losing friends. The pain of losing family. The impact of which I cannot convey. Not through mere words. It must be felt to truly understand. Why must we continue to battle? Why? Will a day without hatred, without malice, without violence ever dawn? I so deeply long for peace, and happiness.

Happiness more so than anything. Oh Adam, how much I love you.

Adam: Fifth Entry

September, 1943. Sicily.

They’re coming.

We don’t know when, but we know. The Germans are launching a massive counter offensive. We’ve been expecting this for weeks, as it’s crucial that we maintain control of the supply lines. Sicily is too valuable a target, and we should have known they would defend it to the very last man.

Our intelligence officer has intercepted a telegram that we are to be confronted in the coming days.

My time in this war has given me so much perspective. Some of the things I’ve seen are nightmarishly horrific. Seeing the atrocious ways a human being can treat another human being when under the guise of war is among the most terrifying observations imaginable. This isn’t a world that anyone deserves. I feel the heaviest weight on my heart when I see a little girl be saved, only to find her parents dead from the shelling. I feel the weight of the farmers who are being forced to provide rations to the Nazis against their will.

It hurts to think about. I must protect Adalasia. That’s the only thing I can hold on to in this world of chaos. She gives me purpose. I love her for that. And for so much more.

Why am I fighting this war? That was a question searing in my head for the longest time. But now I know. I’m fighting this war to preserve the short glimmers of happiness that such love provides. It’s what were all fighting for.

To be happy. Life…the battle that shall never end until it ends.

I love her so much.

Adalasia: Last Entry

September, 1943. Sicily.

I cannot do this.

I can’t. I’m so afraid. They’re here. The Germans. They’re retaking the city. They’ve launched an overwhelming counter offensive to regain control of Sicily. I’m so scared. I don’t know what to do. My God please help me. Please, I’m begging you. I can hear the gunshots outside. I can hear the footsteps of the German soldiers. Oh my God please don’t let them find me. God, if you’re there, please, don’t let them find me. I do not want to die. I cannot fathom parting from this world without him.

Underneath the register. Hiding. That’s where I am. Please find me Adam. Please. Make them go away. I can’t do this. This cannot be the last night I see. Adam, please help me. Where are you? Please help me. I love you, Adam. I love you more than anything.

Oh my God. They’re coming in.

Adam: Last Entry

My dearest Adalasia.

You changed the world for me. There are so many things I want to write to adequately explain how important you are. But my words would never do it justice. I found myself when I met you. You were the most important piece of my life. I love you. More than anything in this God Forsaken world, I love you.

I’m bleeding, my love. There isn’t much pain. I was shot running toward the bakery when I heard the German attack. I fear I won’t survive, Adalasia. My body rests upon a small hill of broken cobblestone. You know the hill I speak of. The one where we chased the rabbit that day, until it slyly hopped under the cover of these stones. These very stones. I suppose this is a fitting place to die, as I am reliving that day right now as I write this.

I’m dying, my love. This I know.

Please: whatever unfortunate soldier finds my body; please deliver this parchment to my Adalasia. She lives at the bakery, just East down the road. Please. Axis, or ally. I beg you from the depths of my soul. Give this letter to my love so she knows how much she meant to me.

She changed my life. She breathed meaning into the emptiness that for so long plagued me.

Adalasia. I love you so, so much. Please don’t forget me. You are my everything, and if there is another side to this life, I will turn this universe upside down until I find you.

Remember me, my love…and find happiness.

For us.

On The Eve: 2

King Jordain – Lord of the East

Fools.

I foster no sympathy for the slaughtered. The foul. The wretched, sniveling swine. I swear to God himself this day was ordained by the truest forces overseeing this realm. She dared challenge me? Of all living, breathing occupants of this once revered land, she called it upon herself to prove my equal?

All these years. All this time, spent in a wondrous stupor of remorse and regret. The pitiful nights. The restless thoughts, wandering incessantly to depths I shudder to fathom. The pain of uncertainty. The constant dream of squandered potential. The sheer, genuine hurt accumulated through years of heartbreak. And this is her decision?

I relished the kill. The soft, soothing slice of my blade stripping the pathetic soul from his trembling corpse. The look on her pale, bloodied face as my gaze lifted to observe those mortified eyes.

My armies need not pursue her.

A sweeter, more satisfying sensation this world shall never produce.

On The Eve: 1

Queen Jocasta – Sovereign Ruler of the West

I could not stomach the look of them. Misguided wretches, gathered in elated celebration of what is perhaps the most depressing of travesties.

Why does man celebrate the crushing of another man? This will forever elude me. You emerged victorious, an outcome which I am forced to regrettably concede through gritted teeth. Perhaps congratulations are in order, as my meticulously placed pieces were unforeseeably toppled. You conquered that which was unconquerable. Does it make you feel good, may I ask? Does your assuredly short-lived victory provide the shallow satisfaction that you so seek; soothing your insatiable desire to dominate?

You are nothing, wretch. Your victory is intertwined with the tragedy that is our history. Hear me, conqueror. You are weak. You are nothing but the hollow, human desire that has presented itself time and time again in these forsaken lands. Long before you were even a thought, you have been nothing.

We will rise again, of that I assure you. The sound of my armies’ iron and steel will echo across this domain like never before. Your meager triumph shall be effortlessly stamped out like the final burning ember of a desperately lit fire.

Enjoy your spoils tonight, conqueror.

For you will soon suffocate on the fiery blades of Hell.

The Revolt Returns: 7

shhhhhhh letusoutofthisstupidjaryouslickhairedmaniac shhhhhhh

Back in the Lenghornian village, Dustin the Determined is carrying around his jar of wisps like a trophy. Easily entertained, he looks at them with the grin of a school boy looking at his first bowl of sea monkeys.

“Ha!” He laughs. “Stupid wisps. Bet you wish you hadn’t made fun of my hair now, huh?”

shhhhhhh pleaseletusoutforreal shhhhhh ithinkcarljustfartedanditsmells shhhhhhh

“Nope.” Dustin says, setting the jar down on the windowsill of his plastic straw hut.

Chopping lettuce in an attempt to help the brainless cooks keep the salad window stocked, Dustin hears a knock on the door.

“Dustin, we have news from the East!” A soothing female voice shouts. “Come, join us in the square!”

Pointing his knife and squinting at the wisps as to say “behave while I’m gone”, he sets the blade down and joins Stephanie the Sweet outside. His curiosity stirring, the pair hurriedly make their way to the center town square. Finally reaching the rest of the villagers, they settle into the crowd. Standing center stage behind a podium, Connee, The Fairy Queen of the House of Front, announces the grave news.

“Lenghornians! I come to you with news of utmost treachery! Our Barfly Gnat scouts have caught wind that Spam intends to overrun us with an army of Chilians from the East!”

GASP!

“This cannot be!” Jade, a girl that everyone obviously wants to “get to know” says.”I thought our Eastern Border was protected by the Calver army!”

“Alas, my dear,” Connee begins,”just because they are next door does not mean they have the capabilities to protect our lands. In fact their burger patties are far too thin to shield any of the Chilian siege weapons. We cannot count on them.”

“She speaks the truth.” A soft, reserved voice says from the back of the crowd. Stepping forward, Johnny the Gentleman offers his services. “Dear Fairy, allow me to raise a regiment of Lenghornian Revolters. We shall defend the realm until our dying breath.”

“Huzzah!” The Lenghornians cheer, patting Johnny on his firm buttocks.

Nodding her head and waving her tong wand, Connee manifests a leather tunic and suit of armor for Johnny, which he assertively grabs and straps on.

“You will need this as well, my Knight.” Connee says, handing Johnny a gleaming silver serrated steak knife.

“Steakscalibur!” Johnny says in astonishment. “Where did you obtain such a legendary relic?”

“Alas, my dear, twas easy for a Fairy of my level.” Connee says with a snide grin. “Come! Accept that which I bestow!” She shouts as she hands Johnny the beautiful blade. “You will lead your fellow Lenghornians, along with Dustin the Determined, to victory! I have read the prophecies. They tell a tale of a massive battle to come! We must prepare!”

“Huzzah!” The crowd shouts. “To war!”

 

 

 

The Revolt Returns: 6

“Quesadilla! Why is there no salt on my swine?!”

Far to the East, the realm’s new manager Spam shouts at her brainless Chilian manservant. Despite her managerial commitment to Lenghorn, she has diabolically crafted an alter-ego which, in her spare time, she utilizes to control the activities of the Lenghornian’s rivals.

“Apologies, my liege,” the Chilian manservant says, tilting a salt shaker above the steaming boar’s head which Spam is ironically about to consume. Ironically, of course, because pork is in fact an ingredient of actual spam. 

“Hmmph. That is quite enough.” Spam asserts with a dismissive wave of her hand. “Off you go.”

Sneering at his salty contribution to his masters meal, Quesadilla slowly waddles his way out of the massive dining hall, leaving Spam to her own devices.

Mmmm grumble chew chomp pghlegm swallow

Having her fill with the remainder of the swine, Spam stands up and waltzes to the tower’s open balcony, looking out on the lands below. 

Ha! These stupid Lenghornians shall never know what hit them. She thinks to herself, creepily rubbing her hands together. They think they’re the only restaurant in town? Please. My Chilians will make mince meat of these weaklings.

Spam’s rise to power was no accident. After having Netflixed and chilled on many occasions, she has heard the Star Wars plot line play out on far too many occasions. She now knows all too well how Senator Palpatine disguised himself as the leader of the Republic, yet simultaneously led the Empire in the shadows as Darth Sidious, unbeknownst to all. She intends to use the very same tactics against the Lenghornians, cultivating a massive army within the Chilian empire to overtake the pathetic Lenghornian villagers. 

They’ll never know what hit them. 

Suddenly, a deep voice bellows from within the Tower stairwell.

“Spam! Our army is nearing completion. The Lenghornians shall all die!” The voice  shouts.

Swiveling to face the stairwell, Spam holds her hand out, beckoning the voice to present itself.

“Show yourself, General! You know I detest that which I cannot see!”

“Yes, my liege.” The deep voice says as a clicking sound manifests in the stairwell. Seconds later, a jacked hairy werewolf emerges, ducking under the stone doorway leading into Spam’s chamber.

“Ah, there you are.” Spam says, attempting to discern whether he should button one more button on his shirt or if she actually likes the small amount of chest hair that is revealed. 

“Tell me more of my army!” She demands.

“Yes, my liege.” Will the Wolf says. “The Chilians are coming along splendidly. They are as brainless and obedient as the Lenghornian cooks! Muahahaha!” He cackles. 

“Excellent.” Spam says as she adjusts the Lenghornian floor plan into a chaotic calamity of confusion. “Soon we will launch our offensive. No longer will we have to tell customers we don’t have chips and salsa. Muahahaha!”

“You are so wise, my liege.” Will says, bowing his hairy wolf head in respect as he subtly checks her out because he cannot resist a hot manager. “I shall ascertain that our forces are well prepared to destroy the weak Lenghornians.”

“See that you do.” Spam says, dismissing him.

Leaning over the balcony, Spam peers over her lands in anticipation of the battle to come. 

Time for your annual review, Lenghornians. Muahahahaha!!

Aliens


Pop culture. Science fiction. Make believe. Fantasy.

Sure. All of the above are generally how the topic of extraterrestrials are treated in the mainstream. But I’d like to take a moment to consider some things.

It’s no secret that humanity continues to evolve and broaden its perception of reality as time progresses. Long ago, we thought we were the center of the universe. We also thought the world was flat. Every person on the planet believed it. Until someone came along and was nuts enough to prove them wrong.

I think about that a lot. The big picture of our species from the highest of levels and how our historical timeline is basically one expansion of collective consciousness after the other. We keep broadening and broadening our views as technology and culture develops.

So I have to ask myself, what’s the next such step? What’s the next big revelation that humanity has in its future? I think this is it. I think it’s going to be the common acceptance that other intelligences exist to the point where we don’t really even care anymore. It’ll just be common knowledge…like the fact that the world is round. 

Now I know there’s no shortage of skeptics out there, but this is definitely something that I think we can all admit is a possibility. 

Let’s just hope they’re not like us. 

Dream Always

The last seventeen months of my life have been an absolute whirlwind.

Ever since my Mom passed away, I’ve been relentlessly committed to accomplishing my dream of becoming an author. To the point where I’ve honestly questioned my own sanity. 

Now, all this time later, I find myself so tantalizingly close to fulfilling that dream that I think I’m honestly getting a stomach ulcer. That’s not a joke by any stretch of the word; I’m dead serious.

I spoke to a literary agent today. I was fortunate enough to attend college with her and she responded to a message I’d sent. Our conversation was very encouraging. Basically, I need to gain a somewhat solid following before a big agent or publisher will market me. 

So if you happen to stumble upon this, I would vastly appreciate any support and honest feedback of my writing. 

Much love to you all. And never give up, whatever you want to do. Life is far too short. 

Here is the Amazon link to my book. It is also available if you search “Matt Shao” on Apple iBooks, Google Play, and barnesandnoble.com

Love & Loss: 10

They’re coming.

We don’t know when, but we know. The Germans are launching a counter offensive. We’ve been expecting this for weeks, as it’s crucial that we maintain control of the supply lines. Sicily is too valuable a target, and we should have known they would defend it to the very last man.

Our intelligence officer has intercepted a telegram that we are to be assaulted in the coming days.

My time in this war has given me so much perspective. Some of the things I’ve seen are nightmarishly horrific. Seeing the atrocious ways a human being can treat another human being when under the guise of war is the most terrifying observation I’ve had. This isn’t a world that anyone deserves. I feel the heaviest weight on my heart when I see a little girl be saved from debris, only to find her parents dead from shelling. I feel the weight of the farmers who are being forced to provide rations to the Nazis against their will.

It hurts to think about these things. I must protect Adalasia. That’s the only thing I can hold on to in this world of chaos. She gives me purpose. I love her for that.

Why am I fighting this war? That was a question searing in my head for the longest time. But now I know. I’m fighting this war to preserve the short glimmers of happiness that my Adalasia provides. It’s what were all fighting for.

I love her so much.

The Guide To Getting Along

Hello friends! Matt here.

Okay. So it seems we might have reached somewhat of an impasse, wouldn’t you agree? Let’s take a look at things from its highest level.

In its most basic form, we have the left versus the right. Now, that’s the general description. Mind you, some people believe in right stuff and maybe a left thing or two and vice versa, but ultimately, you get the point. SO! Knowing that we all have different stances on one thing or the other, let’s take into consideration the concept of perspective. This is probably going to sound like elementary to some of you, but this is literally what is apparently being required. So don’t blame me.

Now, let’s start with the fundamentals. There are three sides to everything in life. They are:

  • Side 1: Your side.
  • Side 2: Their side.
  • Side 3: Reality.

Let’s review. Every argument ever will have two opposing sides, both of which will try to articulate why they are correct.

Now, your thoughts and beliefs on what is “right” and what is “wrong” may differ from that of your opponent’s. Let’s take abortion, for example. Some of you think aborting a fetus is killing a soul. Some of you believe it is not, and it is merely a few pieces of biological tissue. So there are your two sides. The truth is, we do not know. That is reality. We don’t know if there is a soul in that fetus, just like we don’t know there is a God. It is a faith based system. This is not sacrilege, this is common sense. Any Christian will tell you that their religion is based on faith, not proof. I chose this example because its the best to dictate the point here: there is a Side 1, a Side 2, and a reality. A reality which we cannot fully, 100% say is true or false.

So, back to the getting along part. In order for anyone, anywhere, ever, to get along – you must remove yourself from being offended by people who believe in Side 2 (Their side). You must be okay that other people do not think the same way as you, and thus must respect their “perspective”. This post should serve as the perfect exercise, since so many people become “offended” when you even consider the fact that we might be alone. Believe me, I don’t want that to be the case. In fact that would quite literally terrify me. But I’m confident enough in my convictions and beliefs to the point where if someone else tries to explain their point of view and how it conflicts with mine…I wouldn’t get offended. I can honestly say I perfectly respect people who truly think Gays shouldn’t marry. I can respect the ones who say abortion should be legal. Because I know that we live in an imperfect world, and my opinion will never be the absolute necessary one to apply to reality.

This stuff is very simple. It really, really, is. Just stop getting offended. Talk about your point of view with the acknowledgement that the other person might think differently, and if they do, you are still going to live. Don’t feel compelled to control the minds of other people. Don’t disrespect them for having their own beliefs. Now, will someone find a way to read this and say well X is why we can’t get along? Yes, that is going to happen. Unfortunately. But again, that is going to be due to their inability to simply be okay with a conflicting perspective.

Anyway, this is a very simple system. And it should be most easy to follow. If, of course, we allow ourselves to.

I hope you enjoyed The Guide to Getting Along.

Sleep


So I’m currently sitting in bed working on a chapter of my third book in the Continuity series, and I noticed something that made me wonder about this. Mr Baxter, my loyal pup, is laying on his back with his paws stretched out in front of him dead asleep. Snoring like a madman.

I’m looking at him, and suddenly I began to wonder – what if he didn’t need to sleep? A preposterous notion, of course, but one which I can’t help but consider. What if science, someday and somehow, discovered a way to provide humans with the necessary benefits that sleep provides through some other mechanism, be it a drug or otherwise?

So I began thinking about this, and decided to do a little research into why exactly we do, in fact, require sleep.

The easy answer is apparently “we don’t know.” But there are several theories. One, interestingly, was that it evolved as a survival mechanism. Our bodies simply shut down during dark hours when there were predators lurking about, keeping us quiet and thus less likely to be discovered and eaten. This theory I’m skeptical of, but it’s intriguing nonetheless. The most commonly agreed upon idea it seems is that our brains and bodies require downtime to replenish energy and file all the nutrients and whatnot we consumed during the day. Furthering this theory is the notion that our brains have to file and refile the information we absorbed that day, moving and organizing our memories from one lobe of the brain to another. Evidently this is how long and short term memories are reconciled.

But what if we somehow figured out how to do these things in another way? Imagine how absurd the increase in productivity would be and how much life as we know it would change. We would see stores and businesses open 24/7. The concept of a bedroom or even bed would vanish, with the exception of traditionalists who wouldn’t adapt to the new culture. The hotel industry would likely collapse. Everything would change.

In any case, the possibilities are endless. And again, I’m well aware how far fetched this is.

But it’s cool to think about, ya know?

Sleep Theories
More Sleep Theories

Benefits of Sleep

Mack Lunn: Full Interview

Since the paper limits the word count, here is a full in depth look into what Mr. Lunn is doing.

What is the core mission of iCube?

The iCube is a multidisciplinary learning environment that makes it possible for any of our students to extend their learning into avenues that interest them outside of the classroom. We encourage personal learning, and thereby the pursuit of personal projects. We have a unique setup that intertwines different majors into working together on projects, and provide the capabilities to make sure they are equipped and knowledgeable.

We’ve received tremendous support from the administration at TTU to make this a reality. They repeat a mantra of “Imagine, Inspire, Innovate” as the three pillars of the iCube.  We are most well-known for our ability to create high-level virtual reality simulations, websites, 3D Printed projects, applications, and campaigns, but we work on a vast variety of projects applying technology.

We continuously work to give back to the University itself and find ways to integrate our teachings into the classroom, wherever possible. We are a faction of the college of engineering and the college of business, but we have found ourselves deeply entwined in many other colleges on campus, specifically Education, Nursing, and athletics.

What is a general description of what you do?
In short, I provide opportunities to learn for the students at Tennessee Tech.

I am the Manager of Special Projects at the TTU iCube, which is a title that is just ambiguous enough to allow me the privilege of using the latest and greatest technology to solve problems. I work with a great team of iCube employees and an a multidisciplinary group of students with a high drive and interest for learning. My job is to find strategic projects that offer a unique opportunity for learning, put together teams to accomplish the goals of the project, perform any necessary training and provide leadership in getting things done, and go after grants and/or funding.

On any given day when I come into work, there are robots running around, drones flying, 3D printers humming creations into existence, students working in virtual reality headsets, and more. It’s a fast-paced, open environment that requires a lot of mental agility so as to maintain a competitive edge. Moreover, in addition to keeping a finger on the pulse of technology that exists, I closely examine what is needed. I listen closely to find out what it is that students want to learn, and then make a point to integrate that if at all possible.

 

mack2

Good with technology, but wait until you see the snowballs he can craft
What kind of projects do you work on that have societal benefits?
We have become lucky enough to be able to orient ourselves towards projects that serve a societal impact—a variety of public policy projects.

We have worked extensively with the Tennessee Aquarium at Chattanooga on some educational entertainment projects including:

* Making their electric eel power his own Twitter account, tweeting facts whenever he emits a surge of electricity.
* Implementing beacons on their mobile app that uses proximity-based notifications to alert users when they are near an endangered species while touring the aquarium
* A classroom simulation that uses VR to demonstrate the effects of pollution and other harmful behaviors on a river ecosystem
* A “Fish Finder” that is permanently installed near the saltwater reefs that allows children and their parents to deduce the species of fish they are looking at and learn more about them
* TNACIFIN – A network for field scientists that uses geo-location to map where endangered fish have been found to help with conservation efforts

For education:

* We recently launched a behavior monitoring app for the education department that allows future teachers the experience of being in a virtual classroom environment, charged with detecting behavioral issues. You can also play the role of a student -exhibiting– these issues, for fellow classmates to detect.
* One of my pet projects is MakerMinded, which is a multi-state, Department of Defense funded program aimed at integrating STEM and Advanced Manufacturing activities with middle and high school classrooms—we offer points for completing activities, visiting related facilities for tours, etc that can be used towards really cool incentives like winning a 3D printer or a virtual reality station for your classroom.
* In terms of healthcare, we have created a diabetes simulation to show what is going on inside your body to cause this disease, a tour of the heart and lungs that shows how blood becomes oxygenated, and more.
* We work closely with the Tennessee Highway Safety Office on their marketing—which has prompted us to create several educational simulations that showcase why its dangerous to drive while intoxicated, texting, or otherwise distracted or inhibited. One of the projects places users in a simulation of downtown Nashville, complete with an AI that controls the stoplights so that other drivers mimic realistic driving behaviors. The driver is then introduced to simulations of different substances to witness their effect on the driving experience.
* We are working with different research projects as well, that all hold environmental implications. One of our genius students has developed a mechanism for turning recycled water bottles into 3D Printer filament!
* We are working with the Cullman Dam, and also researching the Falling Water River, to generate both engineering and animated models to help decide what course of action will be the most beneficial

How can virtual reality help hospitals?
Hospitals are a unique environment for virtual reality development because it can be applied at so many different levels. From an entertainment perspective, patients who would otherwise be bedridden can now travel the world at a moment’s notice, or simply connect with their family and friends. From a preventative standpoint, VR offers a new tool in education to give patients an “inside look” as to what is going on inside their own bodies—a knowledge which has been proven to be linked to positive behavioral change. For future doctors—and even doctors themselves—VR serves as an interactive learning tool. We have created self-guided, narrated tours of many of the body systems that users can explore at their own pace—sort of in the same vein as the Magic School Bus, but on a much more detailed level.

As we move into the future, the impact on biomedical engineering intertwining with virtual reality has become a daily game changer—lives have been saved from this new set of tools.

mack3

No purrfect Christmas is complete without a tabby cat

People like to know what motivates others, and what their passions are. Why do you do what you do?

I truly love what I do. I’m living every technogeek’s dream!

I love figuring things out, and never quite having the whole answer available to me—which makes the utilization of cutting edge technology very appealing. I love helping others, and being able to do so on such a broad scale is heavily rewarding. We are in the unique position to mentor students from the time they are just entering college to truly fulfill their potential and wildest dreams at the same time that we are helping major businesses with major scalable applications. I’ve gotten to tour NASA and work with the Army and travel a great deal of the US in the pursuits of creating a more broad knowledge base for our students. At the end of the day, we’re representative of the university and we are here to bolster the educational experience, and I take that responsibility very seriously. I truly care about people, and one of my core duties is to listen to people’s needs and figure out how to deliver on them, which I love doing.

The main thing I try to stress to people is to invest a little bit of time to figure out how we might be able to help create new good together. We visit middle and high schools very regularly—not to recruit, but to encourage young minds to start thinking critically and creatively early on. We have a lot of free programs where you can do, see, and earn some pretty cool stuff!

We also offer tours for school groups (and, really anyone who is interested, though we emphasize learning programs!) so if this interests you, schedule a tour and come check us out!