Saturday, December 29, 2007

The Demise of Netscape

AOL pulls plug on Netscape Web browser

Like many people, AOL was the first ISP I used when I started surfing the web. It was an OK service, but on dial-up the constant updates were too much of a hassle. Thankfully, I soon learned there was more to the web than AOL and got on a local ISP.

Netscape was the browser of choice back then. In the early days of the browser wars, one had to pay for Internet Explorer as Microsoft hadn't yet integrated it in with their operating system (Windows 95 at the time). Netscape was great: it was easy to use, it supported all the web standards of the time, and it even came with a WYSIWYG HTML editor which came in very handy in my early web page-making days.

When Microsoft put out a free version of IE, Netscape had a real run for the money if it was going to make it. Soon, IE stood head and shoulders above Netscape in features and ease of use. It seemed like the Netscape folks just gave up. They put out some VERY bad versions in the early 2000s which really spelled out doom for the old standard.

When AOL bought Netscape, they were bundling IE into their package. I though for sure AOL would bring Netscape back to life and dump IE in favor of something they would have more control over. But, it was not meant to be. Soon IE took over as the dominant browser and has been there ever since.

So, it comes as no real surprise to me that AOL is finally going to let Netscape die. I think it was a long time in coming. A chapter of web history closes.

I think the spirit of Netscape is still alive in Firefox. I find Firefox to be much better than IE in many ways. I don't see them going away any time soon.

Sunday, December 23, 2007

Love The Message

Newcomer on block calls Santa display art, but Bremerton neighbors repulsed

Crucify Santa?

I love the message! Don't fall for the commercialism, greed, avarice and craziness of the holiday season and remember what the holiday is really all about. I posted on this last year (Boycott Christmas!).

I'm not sure if I like Mr. Conrad's method, but I certainly applaud his chutzpah and the underlying meaning of his message.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Tax Dodgers in the Great White North

Canadians Discarding Old Clothes in Mall Parking Lots on U.S. Shopping Trips

This is nothing new; it's been going on for years.

My mom worked at the catalog desk for a department store in suburban Detroit before her retirement a few years ago. She often said it was pretty routine for Canadian customers to order from the catalog (over the phone in those days) and have their purchases delivered to stores on the US side of the border.

They would drive across the border, out of their way, to come in to the store, pick and up their stuff. She said there were countless times she saw people put on the new clothes over their old or pack the new clothes into suitcases for the trip back across the border. This was, no doubt, an effort to avoid paying the 15% or so sales and value-added taxes they would have had to pay if they made their purchases at home in Ontario.

For a time, it wasn't unusual to see more Ontario plates than Michigan plates on cars in the parking lot.

It's a sad tale for those folks in Ontario who are forced to pay such high taxes that they must resort to going way out of their way to buy things without going broke doing it. For those in the US who want government-run health care, who want the "nanny state," take heed. That type of socialism comes at a high cost - not only out of our freedom but also out of our wallets.

Sunday, December 09, 2007

Guilty Until Proven Innocent - Part IV "A New Hope"

Please pardon the "Star Wars" reference. You'll see why I thought of that as you read on:

In my previous posts about my trials (or, more correctly, my lack of trials) with my child support issues I had quite the horror story to tell in Guilty Until Proven Innocent, Return of "Guilty Until Proven Innocent", and Return of the Son of Innocent Until Proven Guilty. I have a new chapter to add to this saga, and a surprisingly pleasant one, too.

After my previous experiences with the Texas Attorney General Child Support Division (AG), I was rather upset to receive a letter from them informing me that my child support agreement was to be "reviewed" to make sure everything was set up properly. It was a nicely written letter which described the benefits of going directly to the AG and negotiating since I wouldn't have to hire an attorney, pay court costs and would have any disagreements settled in a "friendly" atmosphere.

To say the least, I was somewhat dubious of the letter's claims and figured I was on my way to a kangaroo court. My fears were reinforced when I got another letter in ALL CAPS with a far more threatening tone which informed me if I didn't show up for the meeting a settlement would be made with no input from me. Of course, I was going to show up.

I took the day off and headed to the local AG office at the appointed time. What a place. It seemed that most of the people there were angry to one degree or another. Many of the employees looked shell-shocked as they went about their tasks. And no wonder, most of the angry people were giving them such a hard time about things. I have a healthy respect for those folks who work in that office, I doubt I could deal with angry people all day long and not go crazy.

The meeting went very well. My ex-wife and I agree on many things, and we weren't there to fight. I presented my recent pay stubs and the lady recalculated how much I was supposed to pay according to the AG's formula. In Texas, child support is pretty much set according to the law, so there really isn't much to argue about. My obligation went up a little because of a raise I got a while back, but it was still fair and according to the law.

All in all, it was a somewhat pleasant experience.

I do have to point out again how harried the folks working in that office looked. The lady who working in our meeting thanked us over and over for not fighting and getting ugly with her. I imagine we were probably the very rare exception to the rule that most folks go in there and give the employees a hard time. Again, I couldn't work there. The stress would have me in a nice white jacket, the kind with the long sleeves that tie in the back. My hat's off to the folks who work in our local AG office.

This good experience, however, does not erase my concerns about the lack of due process of the AG when it appears someone is in arrears in their child support. Though I appreciated their professionalism in this case, I still disagree with their methods in situations such that I experienced this past summer. After this latest experience, though, I am cautiously optimistic that us noncustodial parents aren't automatically vilified in all circumstances.

Thursday, December 06, 2007

ASP.NET DropDownList and SortedList Problems

In my computer-geek day job I'm working on a logistical system for our transportation department. Part of this application is to administer data on the driving teams. Each team consists of two drivers and a tractor rig.

I set up the first page in the application to list all the teams and sort them by various criteria such as last names, seniority date or tractor number. Then, one can click on a link and be sent to the page where a particular team's information can be edited.

The drivers are assigned to a team as either a senior driver or a junior driver. Since a senior driver can be moved into a junior driver spot and vice-versa for the junior driver, I created 2 drop down lists so the administrator can pick and choose which driver goes into which spot. I also created a method to get a sorted list with the drivers' names and numbers to populate the drop down lists. As the lists are filled, the app checks the actual team data and pre-selects the two drivers' names in the list.

Sounds simple enough. The code was something like this (in C# - it's similar in VB.NET):

int keepCount = 1;
ddlSenior_Driver.Items.Insert(0, "Select Driver");
ddlOther_Driver.Items.Insert(0, "Select Driver");
foreach (DictionaryEntry q in driverSortedList)
{
ListItem w = new ListItem();
w.Text = q.Key.ToString();
w.Value = q.Value.ToString();
ddlSenior_Driver.Items.Insert(keepCount, w);
if (w.Value.ToString() == teamData[1].ToString())
{ ddlSenior_Driver.SelectedValue = teamData[1].ToString(); }
ddlOther_Driver.Items.Insert(keepCount, w);
if (w.Value.ToString() == teamData[2].ToString())
{ ddlOtherDriver.SelectedValue = teamData[2].ToString(); }
keepCount++;
}

When I ran that code, the selected driver in both lists was the same person, the person in the team array which was the Other Driver. Strange.

I double-checked the data, the array data, the method which pulled the data from the database. Everything checked out. I even had a colleague look at the code to see if I missed something. Everything was set up correct as far as we could see.

So, in desperation I set up the Other Driver drop list to get its data from another sorted list. I set up the sorted list and made it equal to driverSortedList. Once I did that, everything worked as I expected.

I don't know if this is a bug, "feature" or just a quirk in the .NET Framework. But, here it is just in case someone else has the same problem. Perhaps this will save someone some aggravation.

Saturday, December 01, 2007

Evel Knievel 1938-2007

Motorcycle daredevil Knievel dies at 69

For those of us who are 40-ish and can remember the 70s, the image of Evel Knievel on his motorcycle flying through the air is indelibly imprinted in our minds. From the near-tragedy of the attempted leap over the fountains at Caesar's Palace to the triumph of flying over 13 buses, I can remember the exploits of this larger-than-life man very well.

Other than watching him on TV, I remember how so many of us kids tried our own daredevil stunts, though on a smaller scale. That was in the days before the "experts" told us that kids imitate things they see on TV - though it is perfectly true.

I remember visiting my cousin Frank one Saturday afternoon. He and his friends were trying to see how many garbage cans they could jump over on their bicycles. They started with two and eventually worked their way up to five. On more than one occasion my uncle, Frank Sr., yelled out of the screen door at Cousin Frank telling him to stop that foolishness before he was seriously injured.

You see, the three or four kids who were jumping the garbage cans with my cousin had well-maintained bikes; but, Frank's bike was missing a very important part - the seat. On his last attempt, Frank peddled as fast as he could. He was at top speed and hit the ramp perfectly. He made a perfect landing on his wheels. Then, the force of the landing forced his butt down right on top of the metal pole to which his seat would have been attached. That pole went right up his behind an inch or so causing him great pain and injury.

In my mind I can still clearly see and hear my Uncle Frank hollering at his son, "If you weren't already hurting down there I'd pound on your a$$!" Cousin Frank was OK in the end, but his recovery was quite painful.

The Evel Knievel toys were great. I had the set with the toy motorcycle which came with ramps and a launcher which one cranked and then stopped to send the motorcycle with the plastic action figure riding along off to daredevil glory.

My friend, Barry, next door had the same setup, but he also had the toy version of the rocket cycle which Knievel used in his attempt to jump the Snake River Canyon. The toy version, though, was rather slow and klunky, being a bit too heavy to jump things if it was only set off from the cranked launcher.

Barry had a better idea: take one of the ramps and anchor it on the edge of the roof and then launch the toy rocket from the peak of the roof and see how far it would fly. Ah, yes. A bit of foolishness for the preteen. I think he merely slipped the ramp under a shingle at the edge of the roof. He then climbed to the peak and got ready for the launch. Now, where we lived in Michgan the roofs are pitched at a little more than 90 degrees so they can withstand the weight of snow, so Barry had quite a good run-up to the ramp.

At the peak of the roof, he set up the rocket in the launcher and started cranking. I watched from the safety of my front yard as he let the rocket go. It flew down the roof at an unimaginable speed (at least from my young perspective), hit the ramp and took to the air. I don't think I'm exaggerating that it flew at least 25 feet across his front yard and landed on its bottom. When it hit the paved walkway which lead from the sidewalk to the porch, it exploded in a shower of plastic and metal. It was a glorious sight! We found the twisted action figure, not too far away in a position of certain death had it been a real person. Our only regret was: we could only do it once.

Eventually Evel Knievel retired. These days, I watch his son Robbie with my kids and reminice about those days when the name "Knievel" was a household name which meant "daredevil."

Monday, November 26, 2007

Progressive Insurance Claims Service - Excellent

Two years ago, my wife and I switched our auto insurance from State Farm to Progressive. We had just purchased a new motorcycle and the insurer my wife had her coverage with on the old bike wanted over $100 per month to cover the new one. I checked with Progressive and they gave the same coverage for $25 per month. I wanted to keep our auto insurance with State Farm, but they wanted over $300 per month for the bike alone and already informed me they were going to raise my auto premium. I wanted to keep our vehicle insurance with one company and Progressive offered us the same coverage on our autos we had with State Farm - and - even adding in the bike's insurance cost we came out at less per month.

Up until now, I've only had to make 2 claims against my auto insurance in the 30 years I've been driving. One was when I was stopped and someone backed into me. I was 17 and it was my mom's car - not a good thing. The next was in 1986 when I hit a deer driving from El Paso to San Angelo, Texas. Thankfully I had my car registered and insured in Michigan where such happenings are covered as an "act of God." Both times State Farm came through for me with flying colors. I kept my auto insurance with them for over 25 years.

Today I was in a fender-bender. Not a good way to start a Monday morning. A young lady backed into my path as I drove through the driveway of the apartments where I live and I hit the rear corner of her car. Although we were both going slow, the damage is nevertheless somewhat extensive because of the way cars are made these days. Plastic breaks a lot easier than metal.

After the police officer assisted us in exchanging information and setting up an incident report, I went into work. Later that morning, I logged into my Progressive account via their web site and filled out a claim form. The whole process took me about 5 minutes.

Within 15 minutes of my submitting the form, I got a call from the local Progressive adjuster. He had already called the young lady who was driving the car and the young man who owns it and wanted to get my side of the story. I've contact Progressive a few times in the time we've been a customer of theirs and they have always been prompt to respond. Even so, I was really (and quite pleasantly) surprised at the speed in which I got a response.

I'm not entirely sure how the rest of the story will pan out. More on this later.

"Flags of Our Fathers" and "Letters From Iwo Jima"

I rented these movies to watch with my kids over the Thanksgiving break. I like to watch films like these with them in an attempt to give them a sense of how much it costs to keep the freedom we have in the US and to show them examples of people who live and/or die for a cause bigger than themselves. These two movies, telling two sides of the Battle of Iwo Jima, portrayed those things in very distinct yet united ways.

"Flags of Our Fathers" portrayed the story of a group of Marines and a Navy Corpsman who landed on Iwo Jima and fought their way to the top of Mount Suribachi and planted the US Flag. Three of the men who raised the flag as shown in the historic photo and survived the weeks-long battle, were taken back to the US to help sell war bonds to a war-weary public. One man, in particular, was a very reluctant hero. He preferred to remember the men who died as the real heroes rather than be celebrated as one of the heroes of the battle. The story was well done and excellently portrayed.

"Letters From Iwo Jima" portrayed the battle from the Japanese point of view. It followed one very reluctant soldier who managed to survive bombings, artillery attacks, suicide missions and moving from Mount Surabichi to the northern part of the island. As he moves from place to place, meeting generals and colonels along the way, we see how some of the leaders knew the battle was futile and that they would certainly lose. However, they kept this knowledge from the lower-ranking officers and soldiers and encouraged them to fight to the end because they knew the longer they fought on Iwo Jima, the longer it would delay the inevitable attack on the Japanese home island by US Forces.

I hesitate to describe any more of the movie in deference to those who haven't seen them. Although panned by some critics, I highly recommend them and also recommend watching them together. They are excellent companions to each other.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Thank You Golden Corral!

On the first Monday after Veterans Day, Golden Corral restaurants across the nation offer free dinners to military members and veterans. Yesterday, November 12, 2007, was the 6th time Golden Corral offered this gift to our current and former defenders.

I was going to take advantage of this generous offer yesterday evening, but when I got to our local Golden Corral at around 7:00 PM the line was out the door about 70 deep. I like a free meal, but not enough to stand in line for an hour or so to get it.

Still, I want to extend my thanks to Golden Corral. You can be assured I will dine with you more often in thanks for this wonderful gesture.

Saturday, October 27, 2007

10 Years for That?

Young man in consensual sex case leaves prison
Georgia court ordered Wilson released, ruled 10-year sentence was cruel

I don't condone the actions of this young man who participated in consensual sex acts in a hotel room with 15-year-old and a 17-year-old young ladies. Nor do I condone the actions of those young ladies nor anyone else participating in that party.

But, giving a 17-year-old young man a 10-year sentence for having consensual sex with another teen is outrageous. That sentence was put in place to punish adults who prey on children. That is hardly the case with this young man.

I'm glad he's been released. I pray he will be able to put his past behind him and make a fresh start.

Water Shortage - Solved!

I don't want to get into a debate about global warming - how it's caused, who's responsible and how to stop it. Global warming is most likely caused by natural events we humans can do nothing to resolve making it out of our hands to stop it.

There is no doubt the fresh water supplies in many areas of the US are down. It's easy to see and measure. So, what are we going to do about it? Sit around and wring our hands? Wish for the problem to go away? Pray for a fix? (That would be the best way to go, but we must face reality and know that people don't believe in miracles anymore).

No, we need a real and concrete solution.

Here it is: Ocean water desalination.

Atlanta, Georgia is in crisis because of the shortage of fresh water. Yet, it has a large coast on the Atlantic ocean. Why are they not pulling water out of there and using it? It seems a no-brainer to me.

California has perennially been short of fresh water. The folks there come up with all sorts of unique ideas to tap into fresh water sources; even going so far as to propose digging a canal from Lake Michigan to Los Angeles. But what about the water in the Pacific Ocean? Take out the salt and you have the biggest reservoir of water on Earth.

Desalination is more expensive than treating fresh water. But, if you need it, isn't it worth the cost? Instead of spending billions of dollars trying to fight global warming, a fight we most likely can't win, why not put that money to better use and resolve problems which are in our power to resolve? The countries in the Middle East have been using ocean water for years with great success - why don't we do it, too?

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Congress Wasting Time

US to debate Turkey genocide bill
A key US congressional committee is to debate whether to classify as genocide the deaths of 1.5 million Ottoman Armenians between 1915 and 1917.


Aren't there more important things Congress could be working on other than a bill referring to something the US had nothing to do with and happened almost 100 years ago?

This is not only a waste of time, energy and money now, it was the last two times this bill was debated in 2000 and 2005 as well.

Oh, wait - this is another instance of Congress doing something other than wasting money, intruding into my life and raising my taxes ...

Monday, October 08, 2007

Freedom of Speech Versus Decency

Colorado Student Newspaper Editor Admonished But Will Keep Job in Bush F-Word Editorial Debacle

I might be a little late sounding off about this one, but here goes:

I found the remarks referred to in this story to be offensive. I don't think the "F" word is appropriate for a publication which wants to be thought of as "professional." Journalistic integrity should guide what is printed. If I lived where this publication was sold, I would refuse to purchase it.

It's the right of the editor of a newspaper to print whatever he or she thinks is appropriate for the story at hand. It's also the right of the owner of that newspaper to censure or fire that person. It's also the right of everyone to purchase or not purchase copies of that publication as they see fit.

We have the right to express whatever opinion we want about anything we want. That right is bestowed upon us by the Constitution. Should there be limits? Yes, if someone can be hurt, actually really hurt, there should be a limit imposed. If someone is merely offended by what is said, there should be no limit on it.

Think about this. If we limit speech (or press or media) for one reason, what's to stop us from limiting it for other reasons? Eventually, we slide down the proverbial slippery slope to limiting speech for any and all reasons.

I read this quote by Robert Jackson a few weeks ago and I thought it very true: "The price of freedom of religion, or of speech, or of the press, is that we must put up with a good deal of rubbish." Here, here!

Let that young man have his 15 minutes of fame. Whether you agree with him or not, he has the right to express his opinion.

Sunday, October 07, 2007

The Great Raid

I watched "The Great Raid" yesterday evening. It told the story of a group of US Army Rangers who raided a Japanese Prisoner of War Camp in the Philippines towards the end of WWII. It was not only the story of the brave men who raided the camp and liberated those POWs, it also told some of the story of the brave men and women who were left behind when McArthur was ordered to Australia and participated in the resistance movement against the Japanese. All told it was a great story of people who demonstrated single-mindedness of working against the evil they found themselves in.

At the end of the movie, I found myself asking: "Why haven't I heard this story before?" I am, by no means, an expert on WWII. I have read enough about that era that I know quite a bit of the history and happenings. and I cannot recall ever having heard of this incident. In my opinion, it ranks up there with the other important histories of the War in the Pacific.

This story isn't important because it was about the taking of some strategic piece of ground which help turn the tide of a battle. Like the raid on Japan led by Doolittle, it was a huge symbolic victory showing the tenacity of the American soldier and the willingness to fight for those who couldn't fight for themselves.

I hope many people will view this movie and learn about the daring raid, the courage of the US and Philippine soldiers and the brave men and women who resisted the Japanese until the liberation came.

Saturday, October 06, 2007

Kim Jong Il - If It Wasn't So Tragic It Would Be Really Funny

Kim Jong Il: I'm an Internet expert

So, did he help Al Gore invent it?

The tragic thing about this is: Kim and his cronies in high leadership positions in the Communist North Korean Government are allowed to surf the web and use cell phones, but the "regular" people are not. This is something totalitarian regimes and dictators have been doing for years: controlling communication and the media so they can push their lies down the peoples' throats and keep them in submission.

It's also tragic because people in this country, where we take freedom of speech and free media for granted don't understand what a cruel thing full censorship is.

For instance, if Cindy Sheehan were to protest in Pynongyang about not being able to use a cell phone, she'd be arrested and put in a "reducation" camp. That is why we must take a stand and resist against those who would enslave their people and control every facet of their lives.

Kim says wiring the free industrial zone in Kaesong, North Korea is OK, but "... but there are many problems if other regions of the North are wired." Problems for whom? Problems for Kim and his cronies, that's who.

When people are exposed to the ideals of personal freedom, self-determination and the pursuit of happiness, they rise up against those who would keep them down. It's happened so many times in just the last decade or so - just remind yourself about the fall of the Iron Curtain and the freedom now enjoyed by those who were under the control of the Soviet-led stooge governments in Eastern Europe.

This is why I write against Hugo Chavez (here,here,here, here and here). It's also why I write against socialism in all forms in the US (here, for instance).

Sunday, September 23, 2007

A Comedic Gem in Tyler Perry's "House of Payne"

My wife and I have been watching Tyler Perry's "House of Payne" since it started on TBS a few weeks ago. Like Perry's other works, this show is an hilarious work with a lot of seriousness hidden inside. If you haven't caught the show yet, I highly recommend you check it out. You can watch entire episodes on TBS' web site (be prepared to watch some Pine Sol commercials if you do).

Curtis Payne, one of the main characters in the show, is played by LaVan Davis. That this man hasn't been more well-known is beyond me. In the show, I can only describe the character he plays as a cross between Archie Bunker and Curly Howard. Those are comparisons I don't make lightly.

He is like Archie Bunker, not because of bigotry; there's none of that. But Curtis' world-view and being set in his ways make for some very funny scenes (with a lot of seriousness just under the current). Like Archie, he even has his own chair (throne) which no one is supposed to occupy but him. Unlike Archie, when someone is in his chair he's more likely to grab the person and throw him or her off than to just wave his arms and demand his rightful spot.

That Davis is like Curly Howard is something which elevates him, and the entire show, onto a whole new level of comedy reached by a very few. His body movement, timing, song-like vocalizations and one-liners tossed into the mix so remind me of Curly in his heyday. Davis does little of the slapstick-funny stuff which made Curly a legend, it's the subtle things he does with such aplomb that show his genius.

Davis may also be somewhat of a renaissance man. According to his bio on the TBS web site he is studying opera. I have a feeling whatever this man puts his mind to he will accomplish.

Monday, September 03, 2007

Another "President for Life"

Chavez says he could govern until 2027
Venezuela president says he needs more time to reshape economy


Down in Venezuela, Hugo Chavez is working hard to consolidate his power and to extend his influence in nearby countries. He's still holding true to the Hitler/Stalin play book by pushing his constitutional reforms to allow him to serve 7-year terms as president and eliminate term limits so he can be elected over and over. He says he needs to stay in power until 2021 so he can establish a "socialistic economic model" in Venezuela and help "the poor."

I guess it helps the poor to make everyone in the country equally poor - except for the cronies running the place. Someone has to figure out how to spend the country's money.

Chavez is also trying to cast himself as a humanitarian by mediating a prisoner exchange in Columbia between the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) and the government. This seems oddly familiar - perhaps I'm thinking about the "oppressed" Germans in the Sudetenland of the Czech Republic and how Hitler had to rescue them. Here, Chavez is helping the poor and oppressed FARC rebels, no doubt in return for favors later. It wouldn't surprise me at all if Chavez and his Cuban Pal Castro are among those who bankroll the FARC in the first place.

One last thought - I read this great quote from Frank Zappa the other day: "Communism doesn't work because people like to own stuff."

Perhaps I will expand upon that theme and write about one of the many reasons the people of Russia and the rest of the Soviet Block tossed off the mantle of Communism. One of the reasons is because (for the most part) oppressed people desire the freedom to determine their own destinies and to take care of themselves.

Then, it'll be time to look at a corollary of that: why do people who have freedom eventually insist on giving the government more power so they don't have to take care of themselves. Logically, I'd think the free people would insist on remaining free, but that doesn't seem to be the case. I'll have to ponder on that one for a while.

NB - I'm not sure why the headline on MSNBC.com reads "2027" while the date mentioned inside the story is "2021." One of the dates is doubtlessly a typo. It's probably the "2027" in the headline since multiples of 7 would make 3 terms under the proposed constitutional change end in 2021

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Tribute to CSM Lonnie Bagwell

In just a few lines his life is summarized:
Lonnie M. Bagwell
CSM U.S. Army
Aug. 16, 1951
Jun.16, 2006
Loving Husband
Beloved Father
Dear Grandpa
Proud Veteran
Until We Meet Again

There are notable achievements recorded on this piece of stone, especially in this day of quickie divorces and fathers who abandon their kids. This man did neither, and that alone makes him great.

But, what those few lines don’t tell is the story of how he positively affected a group of soldiers, some young and impressionable and some older and in need of focus.

I was a young man in the Army in 1986 stationed at Ft. Bliss serving with the 3rd Armored Cavalry Regiment. I was certainly in need of guidance at a time when, as happens in the military, a large group of our leaders left and some new ones came in. Included in that group was the new First Sergeant, Lonnie Bagwell.

A few of us were a bit concerned about this particular change. Bagwell had a reputation of being tough, mean and ugly. For a group Military Intelligence “weenies” this was hardly the type of leader we thought we needed. For my part, I was completely wrong about what kind of leader we needed – First Sergeant Bagwell was exactly the kind of leader our company (and I in particular) needed.

He came in and cleaned house. He was tough, expecting a lot from those in his charge. But, he was also fair, publicly praising those who deserved praise and privately correcting those who needed correcting. He pushed us to achieve more than we thought we could.

As I watched his example, I learned many important things helped me along as I progressed through my own Army career. Among these were taking care of soldiers, accomplishing the mission, doing the right thing even when no one is looking, working on and with a team to get things done. To be sure, I already knew these things in my head, but his example was a huge encouragement to follow through and start doing them.

Even now, over 20 years after my experience serving with him, I still remember those lessons. Many of those who served with me at the time also hold this man in high esteem. That also shows the tremendous positive impact he had on so many of us even though our time of working together was relatively short. I have no doubt he affected many more soldiers the way he did us through the rest of his career; eventually retiring as a Command Sergeant Major.
Recently, while on a trip to the Midwest, I was able to take a short detour and stop at the cemetery where this man's body now rests. It was an honor to place a small flag on his grave as a small gesture of my respect for the man.

Yes, being a loving husband, father and grandfather make a man great. Achieving the rank of Command Sergeant Major can also show greatness. In this man's case, the inscription on the stone only tells a very small part of the story. I'm sure are hundreds of people this man touched in a positive way which will make this world just that much a better place.

Monday, August 20, 2007

NHL - NASCAR Hockey League?

On Saturday I was shopping for school clothes with my boys at the local Wal-Mart. As we were perusing the merchandise I happened to notice a rack with hockey jerseys on it. In Texas, it's a little unusual to find hockey jerseys at the Wal-Mart, and I expected to see Dallas Star jerseys as they are the closest NHL team to us here in the Heart of Texas.

Imagine my surprise when I pulled one out and saw that it wasn't the Dallas Stars, but Dale Earnhardt Jr. on the thing.

Just in case someone doesn't believe me, I couldn't find the jerseys on Wal-Mart's web site, but I did find them on the NASCAR Things web site.

I know NASCAR is very popular and there are items ranging from toilet paper to underwear and everything in between with images of cars and drivers on them. But, hockey jerseys? Next thing you know, NHL teams will sponsor cars in some kind cross-promotion deal.

Thursday, August 16, 2007

Hugo Chavez - Consolidating Power

Chavez proposes unlimited re-election

Chavez proposed changing the Venezuelan constitution to extend the term for presidents from 6 to 7 years and to allow a sitting president to be re-elected to an unlimited number of consecutive terms.

Does this sound familiar to anyone?

Of course there would be elections every year - elections with just Chavez and his cronies on the ballot. Just like the elections held in Germany during the '30s and '40s, or like the ones in the former Soviet Union, or those which are held in Cuba today.

In the end it's the Venezuelan people who will be the losers in such elections.

Sunday, August 12, 2007

Return of the Son of Innocent Until Proven Guilty

When you think you have problems, often you hear about someone who has much bigger problems than you. I read an example of this in today's column by Ted Nugent in the Waco Trib entitled "Punks in black robes, courts of corruption." I feel a little ashamed for feeling sorry for myself dealing with my child support problem (See "Guilty Until Proven Innocent" and "Return of 'Guilty Until Proven Innocent'")

Ted tells the story of a man who was forced to pay child support despite the fact that the DNA evidence proved he wasn't the father of the child. Even the child's mother asserted she had never met the man who was paying support for her child. The DA and the judge both admit there were serious holes in their case, but that someone had to pay.

This man's story is amazing. In our country, with all the technological tools available to the police, prosecutors and courts - that someone can be forced to pay support for the child of a person he never even met is absolutely incredible. Instead of spending their time and resources trying to find the real father of this child they waste it putting the screws to an innocent man.

Yesterday, a friend told me of a man in Michigan who was forced to pay child support based not on actual salary, but based on what his salary should be when the average salary for his occupation was factored in. I'm would certainly be glad to hear that judge will force this man's employer to give him a raise. Oh, wait, that would be unfair to the employer. We certainly can't have any unfairness, now can we?

I wrote in an earlier blog I believe real deadbeat parents need to be prosecuted and forced to pay to support the children they helped bring into this world. But - some common sense and real justice needs to prevail as well.

Friday, August 10, 2007

Return of "Guilty Until Proven Innocent"

"Last time on 'Guilty Until Proven Innocent:'"

The State AG Office did a check of my child support payments and did not have a record of over $7000 in payments I made directly to my kids' mom. They immediately got a court order to garnish my wages for $100 per month to make up those payments without any type of communication with me to find out why those payments might be missing. I spoke with someone at the AG office and found out how to show I made the payments. Our story continues ...

I got the form from the AG Office, got the information about the payments I made directly to my kids' mom, and filled the form out. She was nice enough to meet me at the notary's office and we finished up the form.

Here's where the trouble starts over again:

My wife picked me up for our regular Friday lunch date. I planned to drop the form off at the AG's Child Support Office in my town. After we had a nice lunch, we headed towards the office. Right then, my phone started beeping - that's never a good sign. It was beeping to let me know I got some text messages that there was a problem at my office. My wife, being the great sport she is, agreed to drop the form off for me.

Fast-forward to that afternoon after work when I go to pick up my kids. Their mom comes out and tells me that the AG office called to ask whether the form was actually signed by her.

I was incensed at that.

Not only did they now question my integrity, they also questioned the integrity of my wife and the notary who innocently witnessed my kids' mom sign it. Amazing.

Thankfully, my ex-wife was kind enough to go to the AG Office and verify she signed it. The people there told her that those forms are never dropped off by the "current wife" with the ex-wife's permission. If that's the case, perhaps they should include instructions on the form as to how it should be delivered. If a notarized signature isn't good enough to prove the form's validity, the form should be changed.

Still in all, I am amazed at the mess this caused. Hopefully we have it all cleared up and I have been proven innocent.

Saturday, July 28, 2007

Guilty Until Proven Innocent

I never thought it would happen to me. The feeling it gives you is terrible. The shame is almost overwhelming. The thought of it makes my skin crawl.

What am I referring to? Being behind in child support payments.

Well, I'm not really behind. But, according to the Texas Attorney General Office I am; and I have the garnishment order to prove it.

My former spouse and I agreed on our divorce settlement a few years ago, it was during the last week of February. It was from that day until October before the final divorce decree was done and signed by the judge. Because I didn't have the proper court order, my employer would not take the support payments out of my salary and forward them on to the AG office as specified in the decree. Once I had the final paperwork in hand, I gave a copy to the payroll folks and the payments started coming out of my salary as agreed to.

In the meantime, I paid my support payments to my kids' mom directly. Every payday I wrote a check out and delivered it to her personally. No problem there, everyone was happy.

Fast forward to now. My support payments come up on the every-three-year review. They look in the records and see there is no record of payments made during the 8-month period before the final decree was finished. So they got a court order instructing my employer to take an additional $100 per month out of my salary to start paying back the support they think I didn't pay and they reported this matter to the credit bureaus. Without so much as a letter, a phone call, a "hey we're showing this discrepancy, can you explain it?" Wham! The gavel falls and I'm accused of and found guilty of a crime I did not commit in one fell swoop.

I called the AG Office to find out what the problem was. The garnishment order did not explain anything, it just mentioned the amount I am supposedly behind and ordered the amount to be deducted from my salary. Once the person at the office checked my records, I could immediately see it was a misunderstanding. I can understand where they might get the impression I skipped all those payments; but, given the fact that I have paid on time, every time since then you'd think they'd give me the benefit of a phone call or letter asking what happened to those payments. Nope - guilty!

I can have this backlog erased by merely filling out paperwork outlining the payments I made directly to my former spouse and having her sign it to verify I made the payments. Thankfully, we get along pretty well; I'd hate to think what it would be like if she were inclined to do "stupid ex-spouse" tricks like some I know of.

It's not the money I'm worried about. The worrisome part to me is that someone can be accused and found guilty with no due process, no recourse until after the fact. It's really a shame that our rights, guaranteed by the Constitution, are completely ignored in this type case. That is the real crime.

I believe any man (or woman for that matter) who does not pay their share of support for their children should be considered criminals. Their wages should be garnished and given to the custodial parent to make sure the kids don't go without. However - our Nation is founded on laws and one of the highest of those laws decrees that a person is considered innocent until proven guilty and that everyone is entitled to due process under the law.

If I had been given my due process in this matter, everything could have been settled with far less fanfare without labeling me a "deadbeat dad."

Sunday, July 22, 2007

Visiting Detroit

It's always nice to visit mom and hand around the home of my youth. This trip was inspired by my brother's mention he was having all of his kids visiting, two of whom live with their mom in Georgia. I thought it the perfect opportunity to take my boys and see everyone.

The trip up was uneventful - which is the way I prefer it. We drove up to Dallas (that's where William Shatner could get me the best deal); got through the maze of parking, checking baggage and security with no problem. The only bad part was that we were seated in the very last row of a DC-8, which meant no windows and the seats wouldn't recline. Small things, indeed.

The food is always what gets me when I visit. There are some things you can't normally find outside Michigan and my favorites are: Mock Chicken Legs, Fried Bread (the way mom makes it), and Faygo pop (soda for you folks down in Texas). I always eat way too much when I come here, but it's wonderful.

We visited the Henry Ford Museum. There was a special show called "Rock Stars Cars and Guitars." It wasn't a very big display, but it was interesting. There were quite a few special guitars, mostly from the collection of Rick Nielsen (of Cheap Trick fame). There was one of the original Gibson "Flying 'V'" models, guitars played by Nielsen, Ted Nugent, Billy Gibbons, Jimi Hendrix and many more. There were some very nice cars there which I wish I could have driven instead of just looked at. Two cars were featured in Van Halen videos ("Hot for Teacher" was one) and driven by folks from Elvis (a yellow Pantera) to ZZ Top. There was even the "Yellow Submarine" Rolls to pay tribute to the Beatles (though they only had pictures of John Lennon in the room).

I've probably been to The Henry Ford and Greenfield Village at least a dozen times over the years. Every time I go there's the old cars, planes and trains which have always made up the bulk of the collection, but there are always some new surprises. For anyone who is into history at all, I highly recommend a visit to The Henry Ford. It's worth coming to the Detroit area to visit for a day or two on its own.

My mother knows I don't do anything "Christmasy" until after Thanksgiving because of my protest against commercialism of the holiday. Still, she had to tease me a little. One of the local radio stations (WNIC) was having a "Christmas in July" show playing Christmas music. After shouting that the management of the station should be jailed, and hurriedly switched the radio off. Humph - the effrontery of it all. We did all have a good laugh over it, though.

Lastly, speaking of the Gibson "Flying 'V'" - my 13-year-old son wants a guitar for his birthday. Not just any guitar, but a Fender Stratocaster with a light finish. Not a bad choice. While he was telling me his reason for wanting the "Strat" he mentioned that the Flying "V" wasn't popular until Jimi Hendrix played one. I though that model of guitar was only around since the '70s. We googled it and found that the Flying "V" was first made in the late '50s. And, sure enough, at the exhibit at The Henry Ford there was one of the first Flying "V" guitars which was made in 1958. It's sometimes wild what you learn from your kids.

Thursday, July 19, 2007

Northwest Airlines Phone System Lunacy

First: let me preface these comments by telling I really like Northwest Airlines. I've flown with them many times in the past and I've always gotten good service at a pretty good price. But - their automated phone system leaves a lot to be desired. Here's my story.

I purchased tickets for me and my three sons to fly to Michigan. I normally like to do my travel deals on line, and this was no exception. I got a great deal on Priceline (I've been saying William Shatner negotiated a great deal for me). This was over a month ago.

The other day, I went to Northwest's web site to confirm my reservations and select seats. All I had to do was enter my confirmation number and my reservation for all four tickets was right there on the screen. When I went to pick my seats, however, I noted they were all taken except for the "premium" seats which cost something like $15 extra.

Thinking there was a problem and that the flight was horribly overbooked, I used the handy email form and sent a message. According to the web site I was to get an answer within 2 hours because Northwest has live agents on duty 24/7. I thought that was great service.

When I didn't get an answer by the next morning, some 14 hours later, I was slightly concerned. I knew from watching the news Northwest had been experiencing flight delays and cancellations because of a pilot shortage and bad weather. I thought it prudent to call. That's where my frustration started.

I'm used to automated phone systems, but I still don't like them at all. I especially hate the ones which want you to speak your selection. That just really gets me. It's a machine, for cryin' out loud. Some of them will skip you right to a real person if you hit the zero button enough times. Not this one, though.

So I went through the menu from flight information to reservation confirmations. Here's where the real fun started.

I was given a reservation similar to "3LBB9P." Every time I tried to say the letters and numbers, the machine at the other end got it wrong. "Did you say "3LDDB ... 3LPP9B ... 3LBD9Z?" Finally, after 3 or 4 tries the machine tells me it will connect me to a real person. To which, I got another recording telling me about extra-heavy call volume and my call could not be completed. Hang up.

At this point, I'm a little irritated. But, foolish me, I decide to try it again. I go through the whole mess again, even trying to say my reservation code in the international phonetic alphabet, "Three, Lima, Bravo, Bravo, Niner, Papa" to no avail. And again, I got the "extra-heavy call volume" message and the disconnect.

I'm really ticked off by now, but I had enough sense to quit trying for the time being. Thankfully, I got a reply in my email a little bit after the last call which let me know the reason I couldn't choose seats is because I bought them from another vendor and had to wait until check-in to choose seats. That was not a problem to me because I wasn't too concerned so much about picking seats as I was that the flight would be messed up and I might end up wasting my vacation waiting around in airports. In the end, I checked in on line and was able to choose seats.

Northwest IT/Telecom Folks: Either get a different way to enter reservation numbers or change the codes so we don't have to rely on a computer to differentiate between very like-sounding letters. Even live, human people have trouble hearing the difference between "B," "D," or "P" over the phone. I know I'm not the only one to experience this mess, so do something about it.

One thing I could have tried, but didn't, was to say "Agent" over and over. That works for the electric company's phone system. If I have to call Northwest again, I'll try to remember that trick.

Sunday, July 15, 2007

History Repeats Itself: Ford to Use Soy Plastic

Ford To Use Soybean-Based Foam In Mustang Seats

Although it may sound like a new idea in this era of searching for alternatives to fossil fuels, Ford actually experimented with soy-based plastics early in its history. Some of the first plastics used in automobiles were made from soybeans, and Ford led the way.

Henry Ford did have his quirks and idiosyncrasies and was downright foolish in his beliefs at times. Say what you will about him, but he and his sons were pioneers in many areas.

I highly recommend "Ford, the Men and the Machine" by Robert Lacey. It is a well-written and well-researched book about the Ford family and the Ford Motor Company from it's beginnings to the modern era (well, at least to the late-80s when the book was published).

Thursday, July 12, 2007

Another Microsoft Conundrum Solved

Here's the scenario:

1. Windows MMIII Server running IIS, multi-homed with 2 NICs, some web sites running on IP Addresses on one NIC, others running on IP Addresses on the other. This was originally set up so that password-protected web sites could be authenticated through a WebSense LDAP call. This server hosts our Intranet web sites.

2. No longer using WebSense and the Networking group wants to replace and get rid of old routers and switches.

3. The server will now run all web sites through one NIC.

Here's what I did:

1. Deleted the IP Address of the NIC which was routed through WebSense. After doing that, I deactivated the NIC.

2. Entered the IP Addresses from the now-deactivated NIC onto the other.

3. Changed the subnet mask and the default router on the one working NIC. Turned off Routing and Remote Access because the static routes that service handled were no longer needed.

4. Restarted the Server.

At this point, I expected everything to route where it was supposed to and we could call it a night after 15 minutes work. Ah, but that was not to be. Computers in the same subnet as the server could access the web sites correctly. But, those which were in other subnets (across the router) could not get the web sites.

I went through and double-checked the IP Addresses, subnet mask, and default gateway on the server. All was correct. I also ran route print to make sure there wasn't anything hanging on from the old routing. There wasn't. I also restarted the server numerous times. (Microsoft Troubleshooting Lesson 1: Always reboot first before doing anything else.)

The networking guys checked, rechecked and checked again all the routing info in the routers and switches which the server's traffic would have to cross.

The interesting twist on this, by the way, was that the server's non HTTP traffic going across the router worked just fine. It could get its dynamic content from the 2 database servers which are each in a different subnet, and it could make the AD LDAP calls for authentication.

Total mystery.

We spend the better part of 2 1/2 hours checking, rechecking, adjusting and changing settings trying to get this server to give it's web pages to everyone needing access to them. No luck.

Finally, one of the networking guys, who was very frustrated, suggest we remove all the IP Addresses off the working NIC and reenter them.

I did that and everything started working. I didn't even have to restart the server again.

So, if anyone out there needs to "un-multi-home" a Windows server, don't just enter the old IP Addresses on the other NIC, remove all the IP Addresses and start over.

One more piece of advice: Remember which was the first IP address you entered on the working NIC and don't take that one off. In our scenario, that was the only IP address which seemed able to communicate across routers. There is something about the first NIC and the first IP Address entered on that NIC that's magical. I'm thinking about my other experience with that IP/NIC problem.

Monday, July 09, 2007

Scandal? What Scandal?

I am tired of the endless barrage of criticism and congressional inquiries into the firing of federal prosecutors. It's been months since it happened, and Congress and the media are still wasting time, energy and a lot of hot air over this.

Presidential appointees serve at the behest and pleasure of the president. Those folks were appointed by Bill Clinton when he was president. George Bush is president now and he gets to pick and choose who works for him and who doesn't. It doesn't matter why he fired them, he did. He doesn't have to have a good reason - or any reason. They served at the pleasure of the president and he decided some other folks would work out better.

When Bill Clinton fired federal prosecutors when he was in office, there was no hoopla, no talk of scandal, no congressional inquiries. He fired more people that Bush did and there was hardly a mention of it. Why all the fanfare now?

With all the important things Congress could be working on right now, why are they wasting time on these "small potatoes?" With the real crises our nation faces these days, the firing of a dozen folks hardly rates even a scant mention. They're all smart people and good attorneys. They will land on their feet. The experience they garnered working in their office will help them land some great jobs in the private sector. And, their employment as federal prosecutors was not a contract job. They could be fired at any time, and they knew that going into the job.

Wait a minute, what am I thinking? If the congress is busy making a big fuss over this, maybe they'll be too busy to raise my taxes. Maybe they'll be too busy to pass some stupid law which will end up costing me more of my hard-earned money ...

Hey, what is all this? These people should have never been fired. Congress needs to bear their full attention on this crisis and get Bush! Yeah! I want to see 24/7 congressional inquiries into this matter right now!

Sunday, June 24, 2007

Yeah, What He Said - Again

It's funny how things work out sometimes.

Little did I realize while sitting in Detroit's air-conditioned Cobo Arena, my ears assaulted by the screaming feedback and wild guitar playing of the "Motor City Madman" that one day we would live in the same area of Texas and I'd be reading his opinion column in the local paper.

And agreeing with most of what he writes.

His latest column in the Waco Tribune: Terrorists who drink and drive is another example of "Yeah, what he said."

Just over a year ago, some good friends of mine lost a son and grandson because of a drunk driver. This young man was riding in his best friend's Jeep, not wearing a seatbelt. His friend was driving way too fast on a country rode after having a few too many beers. The Jeep went out of control and this young son/grandson/husband/father was ejected from the vehicle and slammed into a tree. He died a few days later because of massive trauma which caused his brain to swell.

Driving while drunk or high on drugs is a leading killer of people in the US. It's not funny and it's not a game. It's a real problem which affects real people in unimaginably horrible ways. Ted describes a great example of a real person whose life was changed in an instant because of someone else's selfishness and stupidity.

"Friends don't let friends drive drunk" should be a way of life, not just a catchy phrase. All the punishment in the world doled out after someone is killed or injured comes too late. Drunk driving needs to be stopped before it happens. Responsible drinking includes someone who doesn't drink who can help those who are drinking by making sensible decisions for them and not letting them get behind the wheel. It's more than just a designated driver, it's a designated thinker

Joining MADD, DADD or SADD is a great idea, but take it a step further and make a promise to yourself that in your circle of friends you will not let them drive while impaired. And let them do the same for you. The rewards are well worth the effort.

Sunday, June 10, 2007

Hugo Chavez - Marching to that Totalitarian Beat

Venezuelan Opposition Leader Demands Hugo Chavez Free Jailed Protesters

I just wonder how people can be so fooled. Hugo Chavez is elected to head Venezuela, the parliament gives him dictatorial powers (only for a limited time, though, wink-wink). Now the people are surprised when he puts people who publicly challenge his actions in jail and that he shut down a television station because it aired opinions contrary to what he dictates.

The people who disagree with jailing dissidents and shutting down free media demonstrate and many of them are themselves jailed. It should really come as no surprise the Venezuelan Government is making such moves as these. Not fair? We can still protest peaceably and freely in the United States, but the same is not true of Venezuela.

One person who lives in the United States and enjoys the freedoms of speech, press and assembly is the actor Danny Glover. I have watched many movies in which Mr. Glover appeared. I found his acting to be quite good and the movies he worked on very entertaining.

However, I will no longer watch, rent, buy or otherwise participate in anything Mr. Glover has a hand in. Why? Because Mr. Glover is a huge fan of Hugo Chavez, even going to far as to praise him on Chavez' talk show "Hello, President." (See Hugo Chavez to Finance Danny Glover Movies) He is among a group of celebrities who support Chavez and seem to have no problem with the increasingly totalitarian and communistic government headed by their friend.

Mr. Glover basks in the blessings of freedom he gets by living in the United States. He has every right to go to Venezuela, or anywhere else for that matter, and get financing for his projects from whomever he can.

As someone who defended those rights by spending most of my adult life in the military, I will exercise my right to ignore him completely from now on. To paraphrase something Rush Limbaugh once said: "He has the right to say whatever he wants, but he doesn't have the right to be listened to."

Useless Warning Label?

I remember reading once about a web site which displays useless warning labels. I might have found one yesterday while on a business trip to the Gaylord Texan resort in Grapevine, Texas.

In the Gaylord's hotel rooms there is a safe, much like in other hotel rooms. It's not very big, but you can put a notebook computer in it along with other, smaller, items. The nicest feature of this safe is the electrical outlet you can use to charge your computer (or whatever) while it's safely locked up.

While I was packing my stuff to leave, I noticed the warning label on the inside of the safe's door:

It's a little hard to read, but among the other warnings printed on it was, "SUFFOCATION DANGER EXISTS." Here's why I think this might be a useless warning:
You can see from this picture, the safe is not all that big. It's about 24 inches wide by about 6 inches high and about 12 inches deep. There's no way to fit a person in this thing, no matter how small they are.

I suppose, though, there are some folks out there foolish enough to try to stuff a very small cat or a dog in the thing, perhaps allowing the pet to suffocate while their owner was out of the room.

I can imagine a little old lady, sneaking her cat into the hotel in her over sized purse. She is sneaky, alright, but what happens when she has to leave the room for a time? "I can't just put the 'Do Not Disturb' sign up, someone might come in anyway," she thinks to herself. "Aha!" she says to herself, "I'll put Muffy in the safe. That way if someone comes in they won't find her, and the walls are thick enough to muffle any noise she might make. I'll just let her out when I get back."

Tragedy strikes, though, when she returns and finds Muffy dead from lack of oxygen in the safe. Because there was no warning label on the door, the lady sues the hotel and the safe company. Despite the fact she wasn't supposed to have pets in the room and it should be obvious not to put a creature which requires oxygen to stay alive in a box with no air holes, the court awards her $1 million in damages for her pain and suffering.

Maybe it's not such a useless warning after all.

I didn't see a warning, though, to alert the user of an electric shock hazard from the outlet inside the safe. Using the scenario above, instead of suffocating perhaps the poor cat might electrocute itself trying to claw it's way out of the safe. The electrical short could trip the breakers in the hotel and set off alarms all over the place. Then who would get damages: The lady who shouldn't have had her cat in the room in the first place or the Hotel and all the other guests staying there that day?

Sometimes it's just hilarious to see what hoops companies must jump though in order to avoid being successfully sued by people who refuse to take responsibility for their actions.

Monday, June 04, 2007

Modern Day Indulgences

In the 1500s, it was common practice in the Roman Catholic Church to sell indulgences. According to Catholic doctrine, indulgences are those acts performed by a penitent person to remit for any sins he/she committed. In modern times, this is done through the Sacrament of Reconciliation (Confession). In Luther's time, however, indulgences could be bought and sold for cash. In this way, the rich could, supposedly, purchase away their sins through monetary donations to the Church.

This led Martin Luther to write his "95 Theses" protesting the sale of indulgences. Forgiveness of sins was the purview of God alone and not something priests, bishops, nor even the Pope (Leo X at that time) could sell for a price. As Luther saw things, it was the responsibility of the individual to seek Christ and gain salvation by the Grace of God alone, which, as St. Paul wrote, "Is a gift from God so that no man could boast."

Sin Credits

In those days, one could purchase "sin credits" to keep themselves out of Hell or cut their time in Purgatory. Today, we have a similar system - the buying and selling of "Pollution Credits" or "Carbon Credits" or "Carbon Offsets."

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Carbon_credit

Now, anyone who buys into the notion that global warming is human-caused and mostly the fault of those who live in the United States can buy their guilt away by paying someone else to plant a tree, go solar- or wind-power for electricity, or do some other task which will supposedly offset the amount of carbon dioxide their activities might put into the atmosphere.

Like the indulgences of 500 years ago, purchasing carbon offsets merely gives the illusion that a person is really doing something about how much carbon they might put into the atmosphere. Instead of actually doing something about climate change, they purchase their guilt away and do nothing of real substance. Folks like Al Gore don't have to actually do something about their houses, cars and plane trips. They can point to how much they offset their lifestyle ("sins against the environment) through the purchase of these modern indulgences.

If you believe that global climate change is human-caused then go out and do something real about it. Don't let your opinion be overshadowed by the hypocrisy of driving in limos or large SUVs , taking trips on private jets which put more carbon per passenger into the air than regular passenger jets, or using many times the amount of electricity of the average family in a home where only a few people live. Get a smaller car (or a motorcycle or hybrid car), fly with the scheduled airlines, insulate and modernize your home. Don't just put your money where your mouth is - do something real about it and lead by example.

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

RFID Security In The News Again

Since I took so much time with my EMT class, I'm just now catching up on some news items I bookmarked during the semester. Here are a couple regarding RFID technology, which I regard as a potential security nightmare if not implemented right.

Larry Seltzer has a very good item which was posted to eWeek.com back in March: Uncle Sam's Got an RFID Jones.

Larry hits some very good points both for and against RFID technology using the new, voluntary test program in Washington State where drivers licenses are offered with RFID technology. In the Washington test, the license's RFID chip would only store a unique code which would be linked to the user's personal information stored in a central database. Although using RFID in this way may be safer for those who use it, it's still not a fool proof way to safeguard a persons information. Better implementation? Yes. Totally secure? No way.

I am a realist about computer security. Any data stored anywhere can be exploited given the proper circumstances. Still, I hold my opinion that RFID opens up a security hole big enough to drive a truck through. I agree with Larry on one point: bar codes on licenses can do pretty much the same things RFID can do. Bar codes are not as convenient, but they are a lot easier to safeguard.

Another item I found, also on eWeek.com, was RFID Feared as Possible Terrorist Target by Lisa Vaas. She brings up information on a study by the British Royal Academy which points out that RFID technology could be used to aid terrorists who want to target a particular person or group. In this scenario, the terrorists would plant a bomb somewhere they knew their target would be, set the RFID reader to react when the targeted person came within range of the reader and set off the bomb. In this instance, even if the person's personal data were stored elsewhere and the RFID tag in his/her identification were only encoded with a unique identifier, that unique identifier could be the thing which would set off the bomb.

For now, I'm going to hang on to my opinion that RFID can be useful, but that incorporating it into a system for identification is not a good use for it.

Sunday, May 20, 2007

Yeah, What He Said

Ted Nugent: Independence is a beautiful thing; dependency isn't

A while back I entered a blog entitled "The Government Ain't Your Daddy" which spelled out my opinion that the Federal Government is already too big and that socialism in whatever form is a bad thing. Here is a column by Ted Nugent spelling out a similar opinion in his own, unique way.

Our freedoms are slipping away inch by inch as we cede more power to the government. The lack of leadership in our country is pathetic. Politicians on both side of the aisle are not leading at all, but pandering to those groups from which they think they can get the most votes by either giving away people's money or offering to take less away in the form of lower taxes.

(It galls me to hear leaders of the Democrat Party go on about how they got a mandate from the people in the last election even though they barely have over 50% of the seats. That's not a mandate, people.)

Dependence on government is not the hallmark of Freedom. Going out and making your own way and participating in the American Dream is - "Independence" as Ted put it. There are endless opportunities out there for anyone who wants to work hard and make things happen. I just don't understand why anyone would want to limit themselves to what they can glean off the government.

If you're a working American, then you are footing the bill for all government programs. You need to stop thinking about it being "the government's money" and start thinking about it as your money, because that's what it really is.

Saturday, May 19, 2007

Your Pants Are Too Small For You!

/* Beginning of rant */

There's the joke stereotype of the plumber, electrician or handyman who goes around wearing pants which are too small for his butt and showing his "butt crack" every time he bends over. I think we need to add teenage and early-20s girls to that stereotype, too.

I know many young ladies want to attract attention to themselves and wear tight, revealing clothes. It's been the trend over the past couple of years to show a bit of belly; and, that trend has been towards more belly and less clothing.

Yesterday, I saw something which really set me off. I parked my car and came around the corner of my townhouse building and saw the teenage next-door neighbor girl sitting on the sprinkler control box outside her front door talking on the phone. The control box is about 4 inches high, and with her back to me, I could see she was sitting on the waist portion of her pants. If she was sitting on the waistband of the pants, then those pants were way too small for her.

My 16-year-old son said to me when we were on an outing not long ago, "Dad, I like looking at girls, but some of them are showing way too much." I take that as an indication the style trend has gone too far.

Parents of young ladies: TAKE YOUR DAUGHTER OUT SHOPPING AND BUY SOME CLOTHES WHICH FIT HER! You are contributing to a bad trend in design if you don't go and get some decent clothes for your kids. And don't give me the "That's all they make" excuse. Somewhere out there are decent-fitting clothes for young ladies. FIND THEM! If the stores you like to shop don't have them, COMPLAIN TO THE MANAGEMENT or SEND AN EMAIL TO THEIR HEAD OFFICE.

Your daughter may complain about having to wear uncool clothes. BE A PARENT AND TEACH HER SOME MODESTY. She isn't going to learn it from the media, their pop star idols, her friends nor anyone else. She has to learn it from you.

/*End of Rant*/

Anyone Remember Sir Graves Ghastly?

I'm really "digging" up some stuff up from my childhood in the Detroit area.

A few days ago I was thinking about a Saturday afternoon show where a "vampire" host named Sir Graves Ghastly would show old '50s and '60s horror movies. I remember spending many a cold winter Saturday afternoon watching Sir Graves and his cast of characters (all played by Lawson Deming). I think I saw the original "The Mummy" at least a dozen times in those years. I also remember thinking Boris Carloff was in every horror movie ever made.

The man who played Sir Graves, Lawson Deming, passed away just last month. Other than Bozo or Oopsy the Clown, I don't think there is another celebrity who was more popular amongst kids who grew up in the Detroit area in the '70s.

http://www.sirgravesghastly.com

Sunday, April 08, 2007

Random Thoughts For Early April

My EMT class continues to keep me very busy. I'm doing quite well in the academic portion of the class, but I do need some work on patient assessments in the skills area. I did 4 shifts at our local hospital's Emergency Department. Let me tell you, there is a heck of a lot to learn on the "other side of the waiting room." I can understand why it takes so long to be seen and sometimes treated. They really do go on a "sickest goes first" system. I have a new appreciation for the staff working emergency medicine.

I have done 1 out of the 4 shifts with an EMS service, which is also required for my class. In a 14 hour shift, we only went on 3 calls. That's pretty slow for them as I understand it. The ride-along was also very, very interesting.

I found an old friend I knew in the Army whom I last communicated with over 20 years ago. It was great to catch up and see what he's been up to. This is one of those guys I knew who "fell off the face of the Earth" never to be heard from again. Google is a great tool for finding people.

I got a few new CDs in the past couple of weeks. My wife got me the latest (and potentially last) release from Bob Seger. There are some good tunes on it, though they are not what I would call "typical Seger." I also got "Anthology" by The J. Geils Band. They did a great job grouping tunes together so the first CD is all studio stuff and the second CD is mostly live. The J. Geils Band is one of those who did their best stuff live, though they did a lot of great studio work as well.

There are some classic rock acts which sound better live, some which sound better in the studio and some which have great work in both realms. Here is a list of my opinions, you can take them or leave them:
  • Ted Nugent: Definitely better live. I might be a bit biased since I saw him live 4 times when I was younger. He is a great entertainer and I think "Double Live Gonzo" is some of his best work - even if he didn't record "Motor City Madhouse" in Detroit.
  • Rush: These guys did some fantastic tunes; "The Spirit of Radio," "Free Will," "Tom Sawyer," "Time Stands Still" are among my favorite songs of all time. However, I cannot stand their live stuff. I know a lot of people will disagree with my opinion here (my wife certainly does) but I prefer Rush in the studio rather than live.
  • Bob Seger: Here's one who stands equally well both live and in the studio. "Live Bullet" has some of his best work, but there are a few "clinkers" on there too. There are some timeless Seger tunes which were done in the studio.
  • The J. Geils Band: They have 3 songs which I think are some of the best live recordings of all time: "First I Look At The Purse," "Whammer Jammer/Hard Drivin' Man" and "Land of 1000 Dances." If you've never heard J. Geils' cover of "Land of 1000 Dances" you've never heard "Land of 1000 Dances." They also did some great studio stuff, though some of the "Disco"-sounding tunes I can take or leave.
  • Journey: Definitely better in the studio.
  • REO Speedwagon: Great in the studio. However, the studio version of "Riding the Storm Out" isn't even the same song as the live version. I would hate that song if it weren't for the live version.
  • Lynyrd Skynyrd: Great in the studio, but their live version of "Free Bird" is my favorite of their work.
  • The Who: I think better in the studio than live. Their live version of "Summertime Blues" is a classic in my opinion.
  • Led Zeppelin: I don't like the live stuff I've heard from them. Definitely better in the studio. I will throw out there, though, Heart's live cover of "Rock and Roll" is excellent.
Enough of that for now. I need to study for a test I have tomorrow.

Sunday, March 18, 2007

Detroit - Rock City

I love it here in Texas, but sometimes I get a little homesick for all the favorites I had as a kid. Anyone out there who grew up in the Detroit Area in the late '70s and '80s remember:
  • "WRIF, The home of rock and roll, BABY!"
    • The "Live at Hart Plaza" local music concert series
    • JJ and the Morning Crew
    • "It's me, Arthur P" Penhollow "The Grand Poobah of Rock and Roll"
    • The Dick the Bruiser Band
    • D.R.E.A.D - Detroit Rockers Engaged in the Abolition of Disco
  • WABX and the Steve Dahl show
  • WWWW - W4 changing from Album-Oriented Rock to Country and Western with no warning on a Monday morning
  • Marshall Crenshaw
  • Muggsy
  • The Romantics before they made it big
  • Bob Seger selling out 5 shows at Cobo in one day
  • The Numerous Ted Nugent Tours - except the one at the Acoustically Imperfect Pontiac Silverdome where The Cars were the opening band and they both sounded terrible in the nose-bleed seats
  • Ted Nugent's campaign to make "Wang Dang Sweet Poontang" the Michigan state song? (I still have a letter from Gov. William Milliken's office outline why that would not be an appropriate song)
  • I could go on for a while on this list ...
My friend Ron, who still lives near where we grew up, sent me a link which caused me to remember those days. Motor City Rock 1980-1990 is a site dedicated to "Preserving Detroit's Local Music Scene." They've done a great job of cataloging information about the bands of the Detroit area of that era with pictures, discographies, club dates and even some MP3s. There are a lot of cities which claim to have the "greatest live music scene" but I doubt any city can compare to Detroit back in those days and this site gives a lot of proof to how vibrant the Detroit music scene was.

It seems to me that every club had live music at least once a week, and there were plenty of concert venues both large and small. The site boasts it has 860 bands cataloged, and I would not doubt that in the least. I am even a former member of a few long-haired rock and roll garage bands - which unfortunately never got past the garage stage of development.

Another site sent to me by an old Army friend who grew up in the Detroit Area is Detroit Memories. This site is a collection of lists of things Detroit from the '50s through the '70s. There is even a link to an on-line store where you can order goodies only available from Detroit (Faygo Rock and Rye, anyone?). I have to admit, I have to have a Vernor's fix everyone once in a while, so I hop down to my local HEB and get a 6-pack from time to time. HEB is the only store I know in Central Texas which sells Vernor's, a long-time Detroit favorite still only available on a limited basis outside Michigan.

Sunday, March 04, 2007

More RFID Security News

Nixed: Black Hat talk on RFID access badge risks

ACLU, Outrage Fill in the Silence at Black Hat RFID Session

I'm glad to see I'm not the only one who has grave concerns about the security of using Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) technology being used as a form of official ID. During a recent conference, IOActive, a small security firm, was to give a talk on the inherent lack of security in an RFID badge system used by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). IOActive has its officed in the same building as FEMA and was curious about how good their security using RFID was.

The people at IOActive were quite successful in showing how vulnerable the RFID badges used are. So successful were they, that the company which developed the system used by FEMA, HID Global, threatened legal action against IOActive if they proceeded with their talk under the guise of protecting their intellectual property. IOActive, being a relatively small company which doesn't have access to legions of attorneys, were forced to skip the portion of their talk which directly illustrated the inherent weaknesses in the badge system HID Global markets, and which is used to access the FEMA offices in the building shared with IOActive.

Even the ACLU took note of this incident. They did their own experiments with RFID technology and found that the RFID standards currently planned to fulfill requirements of the Real ID Act are inherently flawed and will cause more problems than it will solve. As I have pointed out before here and here, it would be remarkably easy for someone to build an RFID reader, walk through a crowd of people carrying RFID enabled devices and gather a large amount of personal information which has the potential of enabling the "bad guys" to steal the identities of the people in that crowd.

I highly encourage everyone to educate themselves on RFID; how it works, how it's used now and how it might be mandated for use later. I believe everyone can understand enough about how it works to be as concerned as I am that it is not a good idea to use a means of personal identification.

Saturday, February 24, 2007

Going Back To School

For some time, now, I've wanted to go to school to earn certification as an Emergency Medical Technician (EMT). There are a number of reasons why I want to do this, chief among them is my membership in my "real" employer's Emergency Response Team. (Yes, I have a day job - sitting around and "opinionating" about stuff only pays off for the lucky few).

I haven't been to a real college-level class for quite some time. My computer geek duties send me to technical classes, seminars and conferences a few times a year, but those are normally only a week long and there are no exams. This class runs twice a week for 4 hours and 8 hours on the semiweekly Saturday. There are real tests to study for and homework! This is the real deal, let me tell you.

Most of the members of the class are much younger than I. Many of them are either working towards being a paramedic or firefighter and a few who are looking to hire on with an EMS service to help pay their way through nursing school. That makes for interesting discussions coming from many different points of view.

This class is really keeping me busy, too. There is a lot to learn, as I expected there would be. But I was unprepared for the sheer volume of information. I knew a little about medical stuff and first aid from my time in the Army, but this class goes way beyond anything I learned in the past.

I welcome the challenge, though. I passed the first exam with an 89 and I look to pass the next exam as well. Homework and study!

I'll update later.

Monday, February 12, 2007

"It Takes A Thief" and "The Apprentice"

My wife and I have been watching The Discovery Channel's "It Takes A Thief" for a few months now. It's an interesting show where two ex-burglars case out a home, convince the residents to let them rob the place, show them where their security is lax and then outfit them with tools to help them keep their homes safe. It's astounding how many people don't even lock their doors. When I consider that most of the episodes I've seen are done in the New York City area, I am even more astounded. (I'm not knocking New York City - crime tends to be higher in any large, urban center and locking doors should be a given anywhere one might live). What really gets me going, though, is how many people keep large amounts of cash in their homes. I'm talking about amounts above $1000.

I might be naive about such things, but isn't it safer to put money in the bank? Even if a thief took your bank statements or ATM cards, you would still have a chance to stop them by reporting the theft to your bank and having them freeze your account. Once the cash is gone, it's gone. It doesn't make sense to me. I can understand keeping a couple hundred dollars around the house for emergencies, but any more than that I don't understand. I'm not trying to be critical of those who keep such amounts of cash in their homes, I'm trying to understand the purpose behind it. It seems very counter-intuitive to me.

Another show I enjoy is "The Apprentice." "The Donald" is a very interesting character to me. Whatever you might think about him, you have to admit he is successful at what he does. It's fascinating to watch how he selects the people to be fired.

In this season of the show, the team which loses the given task not only has to go to the boardroom where "... somebody will be fired," but they also must live in the back yard of the mansion where the teams are housed. They're provided tents, cots, chairs, showers, grills and other necessities for life.

What amazes me the most is the way some of the the would-be apprentices whine about having to live outside. Here, they are given the opportunity of a lifetime to possibly work for the Trump Organization and instead of concentrating on that, a couple of them just go on and on about having to live in a tent. One person actually quit because she couldn't handle it.

I like living indoors with all the conveniences living in the US offers. But, I have spent a lot of time living in tents, sleeping on cots, dealing with the weather, etc. What was I doing at the time? I was out there training to defend our Nation so we could all enjoy the freedoms we have. There are men and women out there right now doing the same thing (and in addition taking fire, no less) so these folks could have the opportunity they have to better their lives and possibly make a lot of money doing it.

I say: Take advantage of the opportunity you have and don't complain so much about having to live in a tent. Staying inside the mansion is the prize you get for winning. Take responsibility, focus, work harder and win the next task. Then, you can move into the mansion and the other team can sleep under the stars.

Monday, January 29, 2007

Trip To Fredericksburg, Texas

My wife and I completed our Third Annual Honeymoon yesterday, which was a trip to Fredericksburg, Texas. Fredericksburg is a nice, touristy-type town in the Texas Hill Country, a little south-west of Austin and a little north-west of San Antonio.

During our visit we stayed at the Main Street Bed and Breakfast. This was the first B&B experience for both us, and it was quite nice. The rooms for this particular B&B are situated on the second floor of an older building, upstairs from shops and a B&B reservation service. The room was a little on the small side, but very nice and clean. A very nice breakfast was delivered to us every morning between 8:30 and 9:00 am. A lot of attention paid to the decor of the room, with pictures on the walls, antique furniture and a 4-poster bed. My favorite part of the room was a giant spa tub in the bath. It was large enough to fit the two of us quite comfortably and was equipped with lots of jets. Since the water heater was situated in the closet of the bathroom, there was more than enough hot water to fill the thing. Very relaxing - I loved it.

Fredericksburg seems to be known chiefly for 4 things: the German heritage of it's founders and residents, shopping, wine and the National Museum of the Pacific War.

The German theme is noted all along the main street (US Highway 290 and is appropriately named "Hauptstasse"). There are a number of German-style restaurants and many of the shops sell German-themed goods.

We ate at two very good restaurants during our stay. The Brewery combined Tex-Mex, German and American food with a microbrewery making for a great dining experience. The food came in generous portions and the beer was excellent. We waddled out of there more than a little full. The onion rings were particularly tasty. "Der Lindenbaum" is a small restaurant set up very much like an authentic German Gasthaus. Here, the food was excellent and tasted very authentic. I'd rather have had spaetzle with my Jaegerschnitzel instead of mash potatoes, but I think making spaetzle is an art not too common in America. They had the Franziskaner Dunkelweitzen beer on tap - very unusual outside of Germany. That was a great capper to a great meal.

There are a number of very good specialty shops along Main Street. One of the more interesting was Rustin' Bob's Texas Gourmet Foods. This store features a very large variety of Texas-produced goodies, home made fudge, and the largest collection of hot sauces for sale I've ever seen. My wife picked up a jar of jalapeño peanut butter, which she said was quite tasty (I think it's an abomination - but that's a story for another time). We picked up a 1/2 pound of fudge, but I think my wife ate it while I wasn't looking. I did get enough of a taste of the free samples to know that fudge is among the best I've ever had and would run a close race to Mackinac Island Fudge. There was also a unique bath shop which I forgot the name of. They had the funniest rubber duckies, including a Mr. T one. (I've had enough of your jibber-jabber. You stink! Get in the tub, fool!).

There are a number of wine shops in Fredericksburg. We visited two: Texas Vineyards & Beyond and the Fredericksburg Winery. Texas Vineyards & Beyond features wines from all over the world, and especially from Texas. I knew there were some wineries in Texas, but I had no idea there were over 100 as wells as a number of excellent vineyards. The people there were very helpful, and of course, assisted with some samples. The Fredericksburg Winery makes their own wine for sale. Some of it was excellent and bought a couple, three bottles. The owner is also a big supporter of our troops overseas, which is a big plus in my eyes.

I think the highlight of our trip was our visit to The National Museum of the Pacific War (originally called the "Nimitz Museum" because Chester Nimitz was born in Fredericksburg, and the museum was once housed in a hotel owned by his family). The museum holds a vast collection of artifacts, displayed in chronological order from the opening of Japan to the West to the signing of the surrender in Tokyo Bay. It was almost too much to take in. We spent almost 3 hours walking through and reading all the displays. There is even a Japanese mini-sub which was part of the attack on Pearl Harbor, but missed its target and ran aground elsewhere on Hawaii. A few blocks from the main museum is a tour of displays depicting an airfield, a PT Boat base and a typical beach head as it would have been defended by the Japanese in those days. This tour took about an hour and was well worth it.

All in all it was a great trip. I highly recommend a visit to Fredericksburg.

Note: I was not compensated in any way for any of the opinions given here. They are my own and I am not paid to endorse any product or company.