Tuesday, December 01, 2009

Fun With the IRS - A Year Later

Last year (November of 2008) I wrote my first piece describing the humorous events which transpired when my wife and I made a mistake on our taxes (see Fun With the IRS).

In the end, I left the experience feeling the government owed me $2.00. Of course, I wasn't going to make a fuss over two bucks. It's hardly worth the time and effort on my part, nor worth the waste of over $2.00 of someone's time to get the money. Although my wife and I would joke around about "Where's my two bucks?" from time to time, we pretty much forgot about it. Until yesterday, that is.

Yesterday we received a check in the mail from the U.S. Government for $2.10. No letter of explanation was enclosed, just a check. Maybe they read my blog post from last year and decided to make right their error - along with interest?

Who knows? I just had to laugh, though. And, we'll need to remember to claim that ten cents as interest on this year's income tax - you know they'll be looking for it.

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Windsheld Wonder

I hate dirty windshields on my cars. This is especially true in the Autumn and Winter mornings and evenings when the sun blazes through the front window and shows every tiny bit of smudge and fog.

I also hate washing the inside of the windshields. Which can be a problem if you hate dirty ones.

I saw the Telebrands Windshield Wonder on TV many times and thought that if it really worked it would be a great product for me. I normally don't order things off TV ads, but when I saw this item at the checkout of our local big box retailer, I decided to buy one and give it a try.

It really does work quite well. All one does is spray a little water from the small spray bottle included with the kit onto the cleaning pad and then rub the pad on the window. The pad is attached to a handle which makes it quite easy to use.

I think this is a great product. I'm glad I picked one up.

Disclaimer: I purchased the product and review it here because I like it. The above link goes to Amazon. If you purchase after clicking that link I will get a small percentage of the sale.

Friday, November 13, 2009

The Stuttgart Death Ride

During one of my Army tours in Germany, I found myself on a temporary duty stint outside of Stuttgart on a small airfield. While there, I found out a friend of mine was stationed at a barracks a few miles away. One Saturday I made arrangements to meet him.

In planning my visit, I misjudged the distance to where he lived. Instead of it taking about an hour, it ended up taking 2 1/2 hours to walk there. That put my visit time in a bit of a crunch. After meeting some of his new coworkers he suggested we all head out to a local haunt where the folks in his unit generally hung out. This turned out to be a 30 minute walk - in the opposite the direction I'd just come from.

We ate, drank some beers and told lies for a few hours. I had to work the next morning, so about 9 pm I decided to catch a taxi and head home. The place we were was in a small shopping center, so I figured there would be a cab stand outside (at the time it was illegal to hail a cab on the street). Not seeing one, I looked for a phone booth since there was usually a taxi ad with a number to call inside the booth. There was no phone booth.

I went back inside and asked the bartender if he would please call me a cab. He told me taxis didn't run near the bar's location. I was rather shocked to hear that. I couldn't imagine a place in a relatively built up area near a large city in Germany would have no taxi service.

I returned to the group at the table and told them my transportation dilemma. I had to ask them how to get back to the main road so I could hike it back to the airfield. One of the guys pointed out a group at a nearby table where someone in their unit was sitting with his girlfriend and her roommate. The ladies just happened to work on the airfield where I needed to go. He led me over and introduced me. I asked for a lift and they agreed to take me back when they were ready to go.

When they were ready to leave they signaled me to come with them. The boyfriend eyed me suspiciously as we walked out to their car. I guess he was the jealous type, though I was no threat to his relationship. I just needed a ride. We hopped in the car, the ladies in the front seat and me in the back with their baskets of clean laundry.

As we pulled out of the parking lot, the driver announced to me: "I just got my driver's license yesterday and bought this car this morning. Isn't that cool?" I didn't think much of it, since everyone needed to get a special "U.S. Army, Europe" drivers license to drive civilian vehicles in Germany. Then she added, "I've never driven before. I'm completely new at this."

That made me a little nervous, but she seemed to be handling herself well enough. I started to relax, but just for a minute.

Those who have lived in Europe know how the fog can be in the Fall and Winter. You can be driving along one minute in clear sky and clear air with visibility going on for miles and the next minute you're in a very thick fog through which you can barely see to the end of the hood of your car. This fog is THICK - and I mean THICK. The only place I've ever seen fog that comes close to this is on the coast of California.

We ran into one of those fog banks going along the Autobahn at about 120 "clicks" (kilometers per hour - about 70 MPH). It's really quite like hitting a wall, only you go through it while not being able to see through it. The only way I could tell we were moving was to look up out the window where I could barely make out the street lights going by.

One of the first mistakes rookie drivers make in a fog is to turn their brights on - even though every teaching manual and class informs not to do it. This young driver clicked on the brights, enveloping us in a shroud of light which even obscured the street lights I could see beforehand.

Panic started welling up inside me. Here we were, going about 70 MPH down the Autobahn totally blind. There was no way this young lady could see where we were going. I wanted to say something, but I didn't want to offend because she might stop and kick me out of the car, leaving me stranded not knowing where I was. "Think," I said to myself, "Think!"

I fished around in the dark back seat for the seat belts while I frantically tried to come up with some way to communicate to the driver to turn the bright lights off without offending her. As I found the seat belt, it came to me. I said to her, forcing my voice to sound calm and matter-of-fact, "You know, I once read in Reader's Digest that it's a bad idea to use the brights in fog because it makes it  harder to see where you're going."

"Good," I thought to myself, "that was good." Reader's Digest, I reasoned, was a non-threatening source of conventional wisdom which wouldn't offend the young lady.

"Really," she said, "I never heard of that." She clicked off the brights. Before I could breathe a sigh of relief, turned the lights off. Completely off. Bright lights, regular lights, running lights; they were all off.

Admittedly, with the street lights peering their way through the fog from above, I could actually see the road better; even better than when the regular lights were on. Still, in a dark colored car, at night, with no lights on, no one could see us. This was still very dangerous.

At this point, I wasn't too worried about offending because I was more worried about getting hit by another vehicle rather than running off the road. I said, "Well, you can see better, but with your lights off no one can see you. You really should turn the lights back on."

She turned the parking lights on and said, "There. Now we can see and others can see us." This wasn't optimal, but I reasoned on the Autobahn, with everyone going in the same direction, at least we probably wouldn't be hit by another vehicle.

We exited the Autobahn and took the short road up to the gate of the air field. Normally, one would dim the headlights as they approach the gate. In this case, the headlights were dimmed as we turned onto the road. The guard at the gate mentioned this to the driver when we stopped so he could check our ID cards. He said something like, "You're not supposed to dim your lights that far back, just when you approach the gate." When she told him she turned off the lights so she could see better in the fog, the guard told her that was dangerous and looked at me like I had something to do with her decision to turn the things off. I guess his attitude was that since I was "The Man of the Car" I should have done something about it. Gender, of course, had nothing to do with this - she was a new driver and didn't know how to drive in the fog and that was it. At this point, I was just grateful to be one piece.

As we pulled up to the building I was staying, the ladies invited me to go partying with them the following evening. I politely declined as I quickly made my way to my room, thankful I'd survived what would be known as "The Stuttgart Death Ride."

Tuesday, November 03, 2009

Growing a 'Stache in Movember

I've been involved in fund-raising for cancer research for a couple years now through the American Cancer Society's Relay for Life. Now I've joined the "Movember" movement. This is a month-long, world-wide effort to bring attention to those cancers which affect men most. As part of the effort I'm going to grow a moustache through the month formerly known as "November."

I hope you will join me by considering a donation, large or small. The funds will go to Prostate Cancer Foundation and the Lance Armstrong Foundation (LIVESTRONG).

To make a donation you can either:
  • Click this link http://us.movember.com/mospace/304584/ and donate online using your credit card or PayPal account , or
  • Write a check payable to ‘Movember Foundation’, referencing my Registration Number 304584 and mailing it to: Movember Foundation, PO Box 2726, Venice, CA 90294-2726.
All donations are tax deductible to the extent permitted by law.

The Prostate Cancer Foundation will use the money raised by Movember to fund research to find better treatments and a cure for prostate cancer.

The Lance Armstrong Foundation will use the money raised by Movember to fund:
  • The LIVESTRONG Young Adult Alliance program which has the goal of improving survival rates and quality of life for young adults with cancer between the ages of 15 and 40.
  • Research initiatives to further understand the biology of adolescent and young adult cancers.
Please also consider joining my team - there's a link leading to a sign-up page on the donation page linked above. Ladies can join too - and they don't have to grow a 'stache to help out.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Book Review: "Everyday Greatness" by Stephen R. Covey & Reader's Digest

"Everyday Greatness" is a collection of short stories gathered from the archives of Reader's Digest, compiled by David K. Hatch with commentary and insights by Stephen R. Covey.

It's an inspirational volume with stories by personalities including Alex Haley, Betty Ford, and Ed McMahon; but, also from people you may have never heard of. Some stories tell of triumph over adversity and long odds, some of gathering inspiration, and all have a life lesson. Each story is followed by the insights and commentaries of Covey, who expounds on the lessons and sometimes offers suggestions for application in everyday life.

The stories are divided into seven main categories:

  • Searching For Meaning
  • Taking Charge
  • Creating The Dream
  • Teaming With Others
  • Overcoming Adversity
  • Blending The Pieces. 
Each main category is further divide into three sub-categories, each containing three stories. In between are hundreds of quotes reinforcing the main point of that section.

All in all it's a great read. It's easy to read a section and pause to think about the life lessons presented in that section. It's also a great conversation piece as the morals and points of the stories are easily applied in many situations of life. Some of the stories are just plain interesting, too.

"Everyday Greatness" is a great book and I highly recommend it.

Disclaimer: I am a member of Thomas Nelson's Book Review Blogger program. Although Thomas Nelson Publishing provided the book at no cost to me, this review is my honest opinion of the work

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Hospice Care After-Care Bear

A friend of mine from work recently lost her father after an extended illness. As you can well imagine, this put quite a bit of stress on her and her family.

The other day, I went into her office and saw a teddy bear. A golf-themed teddy bear. Knowing she doesn't play golf, I had to ask her about it. She told me the bear was made from a shirt which belonged to her father. Someone from the hospice care group called after her father passed and asked her for a shirt which she felt was special to him. Volunteers with the hospice organization made the bear from that shirt as a way to help her go through the grieving process.

As she relayed the story to me, I got a bit misty myself. What a great way to lend a hand to someone during a troubled time.

Hats off to the volunteers who do this kind of thing for people - you are doing a great thing. Thank you.

Photo credit: Eric Lucas

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Hilarious Monty Python Joke in Church

While it is true that most churches would never have a funny Python moment, I'm glad I go to one where it's possible.

I live tweet during our Sunday services at church. For those unfamiliar with "live tweet," that means I get on twitter under our church's account and tweet selected highlights of the service. We find it's an interesting way to reach out to the world. Most of the time it's rather routine, me tweeting and every so often we get a message or a retweet.

Today, however, there was a very funny surprise. During the service I tweeted this:

2nd of 3 kinds of faith: Jehovah Jirah faith: "My God will supply all your needs according to His riches in glory in Christ." Phil. 4:19

A few minutes later, this appeared in the church's twitter stream by a user called "StoningBot:"

@vcftemple has been found guilty of uttering the name of our Lord, and so, as a blasphemer, is to be stoned to death. *throws a stone*

This is a reference to a part of Monty Python's "Life of Brian" movie. Here's a clip of the scene from YouTube:

I went to check out the profile for "StoningBot" and found that it is, as the name implies, a bot. It's purpose is to search for tweets which include the word "Jehovah" and automatically responds with the reply as above, substituting the name of the tweeter each time. As of this writing, the count is 201 tweets since the bot started on October 8th at 6:58pm (central time).

Does someone have too much time on their hands? Or, is this a way to bring a bit more humor to the world? Perhaps it's a little of both.

Either way, I had to bite my tongue to keep from laughing during the middle of the service as I thought about that scene from the movie. Thanks, "StoningBot" for giving me a good laugh today.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Temple Civic Theatre Production of "The Arkansaw Bear"

Logo for 'Arkansaw Bear'
The Temple Civic Theatre is presenting a Youth Production of Aurand Harris' "The Arkansaw Bear." This is going to be a great performance (and I'm not just saying that because one of my boys is in it, either). I highly encourage you to attend a showing.

Tickets go on sale Tuesday, September 22nd and cost $8.00 for adults and $5 for youth under 13. The box office is open from 9:30am to 1:30pm.

Performances are scheduled as follows:
  • Friday, September 25th at 7:30pm
  • Saturday, September 26th at 7:30pm
  • Sunday, September 27th at 2:30pm
The Theatre is located at 2413 South 13th St, off HK Dodgen Loop behind the Summit Recreation Center:

Temple Civic Theatre flyer for 'The Arkansaw Bear'

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Professor Slavitsky's English Lesson

Warning: This story makes many references to the "F-word." Although I will make this as family-friendly as possible, some might be offended.

While I learned Czech at the Defense Language Institute, one of our teachers was a linguistics professor in (at the time) Czechoslovakia, Dr. Slavitsky.

One day, Dr. Slavitsky came into class and announced to us: "I just watched 'Eddie Murphy: Raw' and I have a number of questions about this word F***. He uses it as a noun, a verb, an adjective, and adverb, an exclamation and in many other ways I simply do not understand. Will you please explain this 'f***' to me?" He held up the video as he said this.

Of course, being rough and tough young soldiers, all of us in the class were well-versed in the use of the F-word. Because all of us were from different parts of the country, we also had knowledge of the unique way the f-word is used in different parts of the US. It was natural for us to be able to fully explain to Dr. Slavitsky the proper (or, more appropriately, improper) use of it in colloquial speech.

Also, most of us having seen "Eddie Murphy: Raw" we knew what the good doctor was referring to when he mentioned the different parts of speech in which the f-word was used. Being rather current and fresh in our minds, we were more than able to discuss this as an intellectual pursuit.

Each of us, in turn, went to the chalk board and wrote down a sentence or two using the f-word which we either remembered from the video or from our own vast experience using the word. We would go over our sentence, explaining in detail what the sentence meant, and answer any questions Dr. Slavitsky might have. Of course, each question led to a different sentence, which led to more explanation, which led to even more instances of the f-word being written on the board.

Over the course of the hour, as we talked, Dr. Slavitsky took copious notes in the composition notebook he always carried. He wrote furiously, diagramming sentences and making arrows and underlining things he wrote as we emphasized certain points of "grammar." All in all I think he learned more English slang that day than a normal student of American English might learn in a month. He took it all in, occasionally looking up and saying, "Yes, yes, go on."

At the end of the hour, he thanked us for helping him better understand the f-word and left us to our next teacher. Our next teacher just happened to be our homeroom teacher, Mrs. Lang.

Mrs. Lang was a wonderful lady, who I describe as being "grandmotherly." Indeed, she was old enough to be a grandmother to most of us in the class. She was a proper lady who came from a family of means (at least they were of means before the Communists took over after World War II).

We came into class and sat at our desks, never thinking about the verbal carnage we'd left on the chalk board during the previous hour. Nor had any of us erased what was there. I don't think we did this deliberately, I think we just didn't think about it.

Mrs. Lang came into the class a few minutes late. As she turned toward the front of the class from closing the door, her eyes fell upon the, perhaps, hundreds of sentences on the chalk board - each containing one form of the f-word or another. I distinctly remember the color draining from her face and the audible gasp she made as she read some of the filth we'd managed to conjure up.

In a very un-grandmotherly fashion, she sprinted across the room, lunged over the desk and managed to grab the eraser from the chalk board's ledge and erase a good portion of the board before she almost toppled over the desk head first. She managed to complete her lunge over the desk, plant both her feet in front of the board and continue erasing in almost one motion. She spoke with each stroke of the eraser, in much the same fashion as one might speak to a child with each swing during a spanking: "I ... don't ... know ... what ... Professor ... Slavitsky ... was ... thinking ... having ... you ... talk ... about ... such ... filth ... instead of ... training ... your ... lesson ... from ... the ... book!"

After the board was erased, Mrs. Lang took a deep breath and composed herself again. She picked up her book and started the lesson as if nothing had happened. Flappable, but only for a short time.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Fest Call!

In one of my previous lives I was in the Army stationed in Augsburg, Germany. During my time there, it seemed like there was a beer fest every couple of months. A beer fest is something Bavarians do very well. The organizers will erect a huge tent, place a stage at one end and along one side will be station food and beverage vendors. While the fest is going, there will be an "Oompah" band playing, people sitting at long tables drinking beer and eating.

The food at one of these events is to amazing. 1/2 chickens cooked on rotisseries, giant pretzels, bread with salmon and onions - all truly, amazingly good. (The beer isn't bad either, as I was known to imbibe during my misspent youth).

The ladies who carry the beers and food back and forth are a sight to watch. Some will carry up to 12 mugs (Biermass) of beer at a time as they make their rounds through the tent. These mugs aren't what we're used to seeing in the States, either. Each mug is made of glass, holds a liter of beer and is stout enough to handle clanking together as is tradition in that part of the world. Empty they weigh, probably, four or five pounds. The ladies rush about, wearing the traditional dirndl dress, toting those mugs. Some of them had arms like Popeye - no exaggeration.

On one occasion, some friends and I were enjoying the food and music at the Augsburg German-American Fest. At the next table there were two groups: a bunch of soldiers and a bunch of German youths who looked to be about college age. Neither group interacted with the other until... The Incident.

One of the beer ladies came and deposited a few beers in front of the soldiers at the next table. Now, when beer or food is delivered, these ladies expect prompt payment and get rather terse when payment is not forthcoming. One of the soldiers in the group protested that they hadn't ordered the beers. There was somewhat of a language gap because he wasn't speaking German and the lady wasn't speaking English - but I think the disagreement was understood. After a few minutes of back and forth the soldier stood up quite suddenly. The lady, wanting no trouble from a potentially drunk American soldier took a huge swing at him, hit him square in the chin and knocked him out cold on the ground. I mean, she cold-cocked him and flattened him right there.

All of the sudden, all the Germans at the table stood up and faced towards the Americans - who also stood up to face the Germans. I elbowed my friends, thinking a fight was about to ensue and that we should beat a hasty retreat. A few tense moments went by, after which both groups turned to look at the kid on the ground, pointed at him and started laughing.

Afterwards both groups bought each other rounds, "prosting" and high-fiving.

German-American relations were just a little bit better that evening.

Friday, September 04, 2009

Help My Sisters Help The American Heart Association

My sisters are participating in the Heart Walk in Austin, Texas to help raise money for The American Heart Association. They both set a goal to raise $200.

Please consider helping one or both of them. Here are their donation pages:

Thanks very much.

Tuesday, September 01, 2009

I've Given Up TV

Yes, it's true - I've given up TV.

I've been a TV junkie pretty much all my life. Other than short periods where I was denied TV because of my location or situation I've not gone without TV for very long. On those rare occasions, too, the decision was made for me.

This time, it's different. I needed an adjustment in my life. My wonderful wife had the inspiration to give up TV for 40 days. We started on Friday. Basically, anything that involves using our television receiver is taboo, including: cable television, movies on the DVD player or streamed via Netflix, games on the xBox360, etc.

So far I've done more blog posts on those days than I've probably done in a month. She and I have played games together, read and caught up on things that TV "just got in the way" of.

I joke around that I've got a "TV jones" going. Really, though, it's not bad at all. I think I feel my brain's recent atrophy clearing up. Perhaps this will lead to a greatly reduced "tube time" in our lives. I shudder to think of what I could accomplish if I just spent less time in front of that thing.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Wanchai Ferry Chinese Dinners

My wife and I were in Walmart the other day doing our grocery shopping. Perusing the aisles I happened to note something new at our local store: Wanchai Ferry Chinese dinners. We've been enjoying a lot of Chinese food lately, so we thought we'd give it a try.

We just finished a lunch consisting of Wanchai Ferry's Kung Pao Chicken. I have to say, it was rather good. It was easy and quick to make - everything is supplied in the package except the chicken.

I recommend you give it a try.

Note: I was not compensated in any way for this review. I'm just a satisfied customer.

Monday, August 17, 2009

I Broke the Drill Sergeant's Nose

There I was, a young private in the Army at Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri, daily thinking to myself, "What did I get myself into?" It was quite a transformational experience for the long-haired, non-conformist I was prior to enlisting.

The scariest experiences of my young life happened there. One was climbing that giant ladder and sliding down the rope at the confidence course. That thing was a hundred feet tall if it was an inch. And, this was no ordinary ladder - the "rungs" were about 5 1/2 feet apart and one had to really climb to get to the top. "Confidence course" was right - I was confident I never wanted to climb anything that high like that again!

The second scary experience was when I broke the drill sergeant's nose.

My platoon was at the hand grenade range running through a scenario where we would practice running from place to place, shoot covering fire, and throwing a practice hand grenade at an enemy bunker. We walked through the task a number of times, practicing throwing the grenade into a bunker situated the end of the course. Then, in pairs, we ran down the course "for real" to be tested and evaluated by a group of drill sergeants.

There was on particular sergeant who didn't like the way I threw the grenade. Each time we walked through it, he was highly critical that I did not lock my left knee when I leaned back to throw. Try as I could, my left knee wouldn't quite straighten out all the way. Though I was able to toss the grenade with a fair amount of accuracy, he was still not satisfied with my performance.

When it was my turn to run down the course my partner and I were "moving and shooting" (which consisted of us taking turns yelling "moving" and running while the other yelled "shooting" and "bang, bang, bang" until the other person ducked behind something and yelled "shooting"). We were in lock, teamwork going between us. There was no enemy to stand against us - except the ones in the bunker at the end of the course.

I was the designated grenade thrower on our team. I got into position, pulled the pin, released the safety and counted. When my counting was complete, I yelled "GRENADE!" at the top of my lungs and let my arm fly to loose the instrument of death onto our hapless foe. But, our enemy was not vanquished - the only casualty of our mock battle was the sergeant who didn't like my left knee.

Just as I was letting loose with my throw, he ran to me, bent over to yell at me about my knee and caught my closed fist with grenade inside it right on the side of his nose.

He fell to the ground yelling and holding his face. I stood, transfixed, probably with my eyes wider than wide open and my mouth gaping. He stood with the assistance of the other drill sergeants, holding his nose while blood gushed out.

The only thought going through my head was, "Oh man, I'm going to jail." I took out the obligatory handkerchief we all carried and offered it to him stammering, "I'm sorry, I didn't know you were there." Anger showed in his eyes as he was led away to seek medical attention. His nose was broken, he had two black eyes coming and I was scared to death.

Our platoon's drill sergeant took me by the arm and led me behind a nearby shack. I don't remember the conversation too well other than I remember he told me not to worry because it wasn't my fault and to stay there and collect my thoughts for a few minutes before joining the rest of my group.

When I did emerge from behind the shack, I remember all of my fellow platoon members looking at me as I imagine one might look at a condemned man getting ready to go to the gallows. It seemed they were all afraid for me just as I was afraid for myself.

Thankfully, it really wasn't my fault. It was an accident, nothing more. Nothing more was ever said about it.

Still, it remains as one of the scariest things I ever experienced.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Crater of Diamonds State Park, Arkansas

The Crater of Diamonds State Park is a fun place to take a trip with the family. It's located just outside of Murfreesboro, AR - about 45 minutes north of Hope off I-30.

The crater is actually the site of an old commercial diamond mining operation. There aren't enough diamonds to make commercial mining profitable, but there are enough there to let tourists dig them up. According to their web site, just about a diamond a day is found there.

To search for diamonds, you can simply walk around the site. People (often children - perhaps because they're lower to the ground) find stones that way. You may also bring tools to dig with and search through the dirt and clay. The people working there are very helpful and will assist you in determining whether your find is a diamond or just a pretty rock. Their web site also has a lot of good information.
There is a restaurant, small water park and camping on site. The fee to the search area is just $7.00.

I recommend checking it out.

And just when you think the geek takes a vacation from technology:
Heading home we had some fun with Google Maps and the GPS unit on my phone. We used Google maps to plot our trip home and it found us the most direct route: down the dirt roads between the park and Hope, AR. It may not have been the most "modern" road, but it did get us where we wanted to go:
At one point we forded a low water crossing. While I could complain about the route, it was a nice, little adventure. What impressed me most was the comprehensiveness of Google Maps. I would think you'd have to purchase a pretty detailed map in order to see these roads.

Friday, August 14, 2009

Review: The Queen of Diamonds Inn, Murfreesboro, AR

I recently went to the Crater of Diamonds State Park outside of Murfreesboro, AR. On this trip, as on my trip this past January, I stayed at the Queen of Diamonds Inn in Murfreesboro.

It's not the fanciest place to stay, but it's clean, comfortable and the people who run it are very friendly.

There are nice, flat-panel TVs, microwaves, refrigerators and coffee pots in the rooms. The beds are comfortable. What more do you need?

I highly recommend this hotel if you happen to be in Murfreesboro.

Disclaimer: I was not compensated in any way for this post. I'm just a satisfied customer.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Space Center Houston - Great For Kids, Short on the Nerd Factor

On July 20, 2009 I took a trip to Space Center Houston. I thought it appropriate to go this day, the 40th anniversary of Man's first walk on the Moon; a great day to go.

The highlight of the tour was visiting the historic mission control room where U.S. space flight was ran from the very beginning of NASA until 1996. It was in this room where the first words from the surface of the Moon were spoken, "Houston, Tranquility Base, the Eagle has landed."

Another highlight of the day was visiting "Rocket Park," which includes large building housing an Atlas V rocket and displays showing all the Apollo missions from 1 through 17. It was quite fascinating to me.

On the whole, though, the day was a bit of a disappointment. The Space Center Houston building itself is rather lacking in real science "stuff" and was mostly filled with displays which would appeal to grade-school-aged children. To be sure, the kids were having a great time, but I expected a lot more "Nerd Factor."

I was also disappointed that there was precious little shown regarding Apollo 11. There was a small display of tools and other artifacts from the mission, but only enough to occupy 10 minutes of my time. According to the web site the official celebration was to be held on July 24th, and perhaps there would be more on that day. Still, I expected a bit more.

To satisfy my geek urge, next time I go I plan to do the "Level 9" tour. This tour goes behind the scenes and takes you to places where the average visitor will not get to go. Reservations are required and I understand from what one of our tour guides mentioned that only 12 people are allowed for each of the 2 daily tours. The cost is almost $84.95, but looks to be well worth it. Lunch in the astronauts cafeteria is even included.
If you're going to go for the regular tours, visit the web site and purchase tickets on line for a $3.00 discount. The extra audio tour was worth the price and I recommend getting it, too. Parking is $5.00. If you have younger kids and you want to try to get them interested in science, this is a great place to go. If you have older kids or are going with just adults, though, you may want to pass.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Forty-One and Eight Years Gone - 2001: A Space Odyssey

My wife and #3 son had never seen Stanley Kubrick's "2001: A Space Odyssey," and thus we decided to watch it on Netflix streaming service.

It's interesting to me to watch or read science fiction which shows someone's vision of our future on Earth. In this case, the movie was set in 2001, now eight years past. I don't know what Kubrick's vision was in 1965 (when the movie was made), but looking at it from 2009 there are some interesting things I noted.

Clothes: All the clothes worn by those on the space station and moon station sequences are of the style popular in the 1960s. Ladies wore skirts to the knees and men wore business suits with thin ties. Even the "futuristic" look of the flight attendant uniforms in the space shuttle were very much based on late-60s styles. The turban-like hats, I think, were created to help show how one might deal with long hair in the microgravity of Earth orbit.

Technology: I could go on for a long time about how much technology, even that in 2001, differs from what is portrayed in the movie. However, here are the points which struck me the most:
  • Communications - The video phone in the space station sequence stuck me as the oddest. Even in 2001, it seems it would have been more natural for someone to pull a cell phone out of their pocket and make a quick call. The video phone is also quite interesting to me. The sheer size of the booth along with the analog video screen is quite different from what we have today with a notebook PC doing streaming video over an instant messaging link on the web. It's also interesting that Dave's parents would send him a delayed video message instead of a video embedded in an email - which, to me, would be the most efficient way to communicate with a seven minute delay in travel.
  • Space Food - I'm sure today's astronauts are quite pleased that all the food served on the space shuttle and International Space Station is not in liquid or gel form as was served on the shuttle to the space station. At least on the moon they had sandwiches, albeit with artificially processed ingredients. The food served on the trip to Jupiter is still, perhaps, a realistic vision. How does one store enough food for two people to last the 2-year trip (minimum estimated time, depending on where the two planets are in relation to each other on launch)? The colored "glop" eaten by the Jupiter-bound astronauts may still be a good guess, though I speculate the food would be more like the modern military MRE.
  • Computers - Of course, there is no way Kubrick or Clarke could have imagined the massive miniaturization of electronics which has taken place in the years since 1968. The HAL 9000 computer is shown to be a massive complex of equipment on the spacecraft. One would have to think it would be quite bit smaller if a similar computer is developed. The fact of HAL's failure made me laugh and comment, "It's a Microsoft product, it just needs to be rebooted."
  • Credit Cards - Although not a technology in itself, paying with plastic is something we take for granted today. In the 1960s, though, this was not the case. In those days only a few carried the cards, and then probably only used them while traveling. The use of the card to pay for a phone call probably would have been considered very futuristic at the time. A future cashless society has long been a hallmark of science fiction. We're getting very close to that.
Product Placement: There were a few interesting references to companies operating during that time, seemingly predicting they will have an impact on the world in 2001. I don't know if companies paid for product placement in movies when "2001" was made as they do now. Still, it's interesting to see how these brands are portrayed "in the future."
  • Pan American Airlines - Having gone bankrupt in 1991, Pan Am is now gone. When the movie was made, however, Pan Am was an airline force to be reckoned with. It was quite natural to assume given their dominance at the time, that they would be on the forefront of commercial space travel in future. The dream of commercial space travel is close today, but we've still a bit further to go.
  • The Bell System - The monopoly phone company in the 1960s, I doubt anyone would have predicted its breakup into the "Baby Bells" during the 1980s and its eventual, almost total, recombination in recent years as AT&T. It's interesting to me that Kubrick didn't invent a whole new telephone company to provide service for his video phones, or at least try to make a futuristic logo for the Bell System.
  • Hilton Hotels - Still here after all these years. Hilton still enjoys the good reputation of luxury accommodations which I'm sure it had in the 60s. It makes sense that Kubrick would have included them as the hotel of choice in Earth orbit.
  • Whirlpool - Another company which is still quite successful today. Whirlpool was the brand on the meal preparation stations on the space shuttle. I have a Whirlpool dryer in my laundry room which I'm quite happy with.
These are just a few things I noted in my viewing of "2001: A Space Odyssey." What are yours?

Saturday, June 27, 2009

Product Review - Griffin iTrip Auto Universal

J and I recently took a road trip. We enjoy listening to our MP3 players over the vehicle audio system, but the car we drove didn't have a cassette player with which we could use the adapter we already have. I'd looked into an FM transmitter before, but thought them too cumbersome for regular use. For a road trip, though, one might work out quite well.

We selected the Griffin iTrip Universal, mainly because of two features: the SmartScan and PowerJolt.

Pressing the SmartScan button allows the unit to search for an empty frequency in the FM broadcast band and automatically set itself to use it. The display shows where to tune your radio to hear your MP3 player.

I found one weakness in this system, though. Because the unit is inside the vehicle, it doesn't always find a channel which is empty when you tune your radio - the antenna for which is outside. I found it was better to find an empty frequency on the vehicle's radio and manually set the iTrip to use it.

PowerJolt is a simple USB connector which allows you to power and/or charge the MP3 player while it's being used. This is a great feature and came in quite handy.

Overall I found the Griffin iTrip to be a good value and worth the purchase price. The sound quality was better than I expected when there was no interference by a broadcast station. While traveling from town to town we did have to change frequencies often, but if you stay in one area that shouldn't be a problem.

Financial Peace University - Postscript

My wife and I helped facilitate a Dave Ramsey Financial Peace University class which wrapped up a few weeks ago. It was an excellent time of learning as well as doing something positive to help others. (Here's a post I did about Dave earlier this year: What's Up With Dave Ramsey?)

Financial Peace University (FPU) is a series of 13 classes where an hour-long talk by Dave is played on DVD to the group and then a discussion takes place among the participants. We also provided dinner to those who came, which added a very nice social dimension to the experience.

I wrote in the post linked above that J and I have gotten a lot out of my experience with Dave's teaching. What was even better was hearing that we weren't alone. One couple in particular came to me on the last day of the class to tell me how their life has improved. They told me they fought about money constantly, and just learning how to put a budget together made a huge difference in their relationship. Now that they plan where their money goes there's no fighting and their money goes a whole lot further every month. The smiles on their faces told the rest of the story.

If you're at the end of your financial rope, I highly recommend getting involved in either FPU and/or reading "The Total Money Makeover: A Proven Plan for Financial Fitness". It's made a huge impact on my life, the lives of people I know and it can positively impact your life, too.

I'm already looking forward to facilitating our next FPU at the beginning of August.

UPDATE: October 19, 2010 - I can't believe the terrible typos I had in this piece. I apologize for the mess. I think I got them all.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Progressive Insurance Keeps Changing My Rates

I have 2 autos and a motorcycle insured through Progressive Insurance. In the 5 or so years I've had my insurance with them I've been very happy with their service. Whether doing business on-line or over the phone they've always done well in my opinion. (Here's a piece I wrote about their claims service)

There is one thing they do which puzzles me, though. They keep changing my rates. I'm not complaining, mind you, because they keep lowering my monthly payments.

Every year, a couple months before renewal time, I've gotten a letter from Progressive explaining they are going to raise my rates. The letters are apologetic and explain in great detail how they come up with the amount they want me to pay. It's never been more than a couple dollars a month, so I've not had reason to complain.

But, it never fails that after a couple of months they start lowering my payments. A few cents here and a few cents there and pretty soon I'm close to or below what I was paying before they raised my rates at renewal time.

I'm not saying you will have the same experience with them - you're mileage may vary. But, I have to recommend Progressive for your vehicle insurance needs. This type of attention to an individual customer is fantastic. Combined with their excellent customer and claims service, this type of attention makes Progressive a great company to do business with.

Disclaimer: I was not compensated in any way for this post. I'm just a satisfied Progressive Insurance customer.

Friday, June 19, 2009

Our Trip to Tony Packo's in Toledo

My wife has mentioned several times since I've known her that she wanted to one day visit Tony Packo's in Toledo, Ohio. We had our chance this past week - and we were not disappointed.

I rather expected a touristy-type place. What I found instead was a fun neighborhood restaurant with great people inside. To be sure there was a gift shop, but other than that and the three parking lots it was all about the food.

And the food was very good. The chili, hot dogs and friend pickles were very tasty.

We also enjoyed walking around and looking at the hot dog buns autographed by celebrities ranging from Jamie Farr (Klinger on MASH, who probably did more to make Tony Packo's famous than anyone else) to President Obama.

I don't recommend making a trip to Toledo just for Tony Packo's, but if you happen to be passing within 100 miles or so, it's definitely worth stopping in. We happened in on a Sunday and it was not crowded at all, but with three parking lots I have to assume they do have busy times.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Book Review: "It Happened In Italy" by Elizabeth Bettina

Cover Shot of It Happened in Italy by Elizabeth Bettina
Was Fascist Italy a safe haven for Jews during World War II? It turns out the answer to this question is "yes." Although not widely known, thousands of Jews survived the holocaust because of the Italian people.

Elizabeth Bettina was a lady who spent many of her childhood summers in the small town of Campagna located in South-eastern Italy. Her ancestral home, Campagna held a secret she only learned of as an adult back at home in the United States: During World War II an internment camp housing Jews was located a stone's throw from her great-grandmother's home.

She learned of the history of the Jews in Campagna though a series of fascinating coincidences which led her on a quest to learn the stories of those Jews who were spared the horror of the Holocaust because of many Italians, both ordinary people as well as government officials.

This book is the history of her quest for the true story of Jews in Italy. Interwoven within her story are the stories of those who survived this terrible time in history because of the graciousness and compassion of the Italians they came in contact with.

The book is written in a conversational style and contains many pictures and copies of documentation which makes it handy for the real history buff.

Disclaimer: I am a member of Thomas Nelson's Book Review Blogger program. Although Thomas Nelson Publishing provided the book at no cost to me, this review is my honest opinion of the work.

Saturday, June 06, 2009

Someone's Detroit Memory

We had dinner this evening with friends at the local Cracker Barrel. Just above my seat on the wall was this poster:

Poster for a DAV Dance in 1947On the corner of Van Dyke and Republic 3 blocks north of Nine Mile Road. That can only be in the Detroit area. Here's where it is on Google Maps:

View Larger Map

That particular chapter of the Disabled American Veterans is now known as the Biebuyck-Romano Chapter 127 and still meets in Warren.

If anyone attended this dance or remembers it, I'd love to hear about it. Leave your story in the comments.

Friday, May 22, 2009

My Tool Mess

I'm not a tool guy. I understand mechanical things very well. I can tell you how they work, how to maintain them and how to repair them. But, to actually work on things myself is usually out of the question. Thankfully I have a wife who is very handy and skilled with her hands.

Here's an example of my tool bad luck:

In one of my previous lives, in the Army, I was on a helicopter crew. As a crew member, I was expected to assist in maintenance of the aircraft. I certainly didn't mind helping out, so long as it involved cleaning, greasing and the occasional safety wire application. I tried to draw the line on tools, though, knowing my weakness in that area.

One day we were out on the flight line getting ready to do a regular maintenance inspection on our Blackhawk helicopter. The crew chief hands me a screwdriver and instructs me to take the sound-proofing panels down from inside of the aircraft. I told him quite plainly, "You don't want me touching this aircraft with tools. Something bad will happen." He "poo-pooed" me and told me to do it anyway.

It's not that I was totally incapable of doing the job. The panels weren't even held up with regular screws, rather they were those lock things with screw heads. I objected again, but was told I was being silly and to get to it. So I did.

I removed the panels, the crew chief inspected the things he needed to inspect, and I put the panels back up. No problem, or ...

After a maintenance inspection, a test pilot is required to take the aircraft on the first flight to make sure everything is in order. So, we all got out of the way as the crew chief set up outside the bird to assist with the run up for the test flight. The pilot fired up the engines and got ready to go. Just as he got both engines running, the wing on the back of the aircraft, called the stabilator, fell off.

In the inspection we performed, nothing was done to the stabilator other than to look at it. There was no reason for it to fall off - except that I touched the aircraft with a tool. Bad, bad, bad.

Needless to say, I was never allow near any tool box for the rest of the time I was in that unit.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Check Out Just Keeping Busy

My wife started her own web site. I'm very proud of her efforts. She's a very creative person in many ways and is sharing her ideas on cooking, flower arranging and other "crafty" things I claim no understanding of. Please stop by http://www.justkeepingbusy.com .

Monday, May 18, 2009

Cheating With Other Blogs

My blogging time has been rather preoccupied by my blog-novel "The Adventure of Pacir Staquetrane" and also my more serious "The Crossing of Marketing and IT." I invite you check them out when you have a chance.

Saturday, May 09, 2009

Bloom County

I have very much been enjoying reading Berkeley Breathed's "Bloom County" comics again. They were one of my favorites as a young adult and I still find them funny and insightful. Yes, some of the references are dated, but they are still very funny.

You can check them out daily at Go Comics: http://www.gocomics.com/bloomcounty/2009/05/09/

I've also been reliving the adventures of "Calvin and Hobbes" - another of my favorites: http://www.gocomics.com/calvinandhobbes/2009/05/09/

I have both of these on my iGoogle home page where I can enjoy them when I do my morning news peruse.

Friday, May 08, 2009

Help Me Support American Cancer Society

Next month I will participate in the American Cancer Society Relay for Life. I'm very excited to be a part of this great event again this year.

To make my participation a great success, I need your help. Please sponsor me in this year's event. Any donation is good, large or small. Unfortunately, the ACS doesn't have an online form, so donations will have to be done the old fashioned way - by check or money order through the mail.

Please send your check or money order made out to American Cancer Society to:

Elmer Boutin
PO Box 1674
Temple, TX 76503-1674

Thank you very much.

Where Did Pacir Go?

I decided to move my story about Pacir Staqetrane to a new blog. You can follow his adventures here: http://pacir.blogspot.com. Check it out, he met with his manager yesterday.

Thursday, May 07, 2009

Disappointment With Norton Internet Security 2009

I needed to update my antivirus software. Since I prefer Symantec products, I checked online and found Norton Internet Security 2009 for what I considered a good price.

The operating system on my computer is Windows XP 64-bit.

When I tried to install the Norton software on my computer, I got an error message indicating the software didn't support my operating system. I've had XP 64-bit long enough to know what was going on. I figured a quick visit to Symantec's web site would get me an update or a compatible install package. I found nothing.

I clicked over to the contact page and tried the online chat. Here is disappointment number 1 - the chat required an Active-X control; which, of course, required Internet Explorer (not Chrome or Firefox) and Windows (Mac and Linux folks are not covered here).

I take the few minutes and install the Active-X control and start my chat session. Here is disappointment number 2 - the operator I chatted with told me no Symantec product supports Windows XP 64-bit. Although this is disappointing enough, the thing which really got me was there is absolutely no indication of this on the box. Here is what is printed on the box for system requirements verbatim:

Windows® Vista Home Basic/Home Premium/Business/Ultimate***
Windows® XP with Service Pack 2 Home/XP Pro/Media Center Edition
  • 300 MHz or higher processor
  • 256 MB of RAM
  • 200 MB of available hard disk space
*** Must meet minimum Windows Vista operating system requirements

As you can see, there's no mention of supporting only 32-bit Windows XP. The operator rightly pointed out that Symantec's web site points out in many places that Windows XP 64-bit is not supported. But, that doesn't do anyone who's buying elsewhere any good. That fact needs to be prominently mentioned on the box.

Come on, Symantec, you have been in the business long enough that this kind of oversight is unacceptable.

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Inter-service Rivalry

In 1994 I was sent to Fort Huachuca in the High Desert of Arizona for some Army training. The post was also home to schools for the Air Force, Navy and Marine Corps. One could see a stark difference between the services by observing the morning routine.

We Army soldiers came outside for calisthenics and running at 6:00 am. By that time, the Marines were already done with their exercises and were starting their 3-mile run.

About 20-30 minutes later when we were headed out for our 2-mile run, the Air Force people were just coming out of their building.

By the time we finished our run, the Air Force folks were already done with their exercising and running and were crowded around the center of the courtyard talking loudly amongst themselves in several groups.

This was when the people in the Navy quarters made their appearance. They threw open their windows and yelled out, "Hey! Keep it down out there! We're trying to sleep!"

Friday, April 24, 2009

Chris Brogan Is Shaving His Head for Charity

This reminds me of my time in the Army. Often, when we wanted to raise money for a good cause the unit commander would volunteer to let whoever donated the most money for the cause shave his head. Well known blogger and online marketing expert Chris Brogan is offering to shave his head, live online, for Giving Kids Laptops. You can read about it here: http://www.chrisbrogan.com/shaving-my-head-for-charity.

Please consider supporting this worthy cause. Even if you don't know who Chris is, the money will be put to good use. Here's the tally (you can also click the box and donate):

Friday, April 17, 2009

I Know, Don't Delete Anything

I know it's not a good idea to delete blog postings. They never really disappear anyway. But, I did delete my latest two blogs about Governor Rick Perry, the first of which endorsed his support of Texas House Concurrent Resolution 50 and the second which mentioned his comments about some Texans who may want to secede from the United States.

I may have posted those in haste. Although I think it's high time people started to debate the Federal Government overstepping its Constitutional boundaries, I find the discussion has centered around the old Republican versus Democrat battle. The vitriol has gotten way out of hand, too.

Folks, our current problems are truly "bipartisan." The underlying issues have little to do with party - they stem from long ago and did not all-of-the-sudden start with the latest Congress, nor with President Obama. They did not even start with the last President - but rather long before.

After some consideration, I decided to delete those posts. I wish to ponder on some ideas further and present a more thorough discussion. This discussion, I hope, will stimulate some true debate rather than the simple "us versus them" rants I'm hearing now.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Led Zeppelin and the Book of Hosea

The other day as I was working "Hey Hey What Can I Do" by Led Zeppelin came on my MP3 player. As the song played, the lyrics struck me as kind of a parallel of the story of Hosea in the Old Testament.

In the story, Hosea marries a prostitute as a symbol of ancient Israel's rebellion against the laws of God. In the short story, in chapter 3, God tells Hosea to find his wife and bring her home despite her love for adultery.

The Led Zeppelin song tells the story of a man who goes through the town looking for his love who stays in bars and strays with other men. I can imagine Hosea thinking similarly as he looked for his wife, Gomer, in the streets and bars of his day.

In the end, the man in "Hey Hey What Can I Do" packs his bags and moves on. Hosea, however, does not give up on Gomer. This is an illustration that God does not give up on us even when we stray.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Let's Be Friends Award

Donna, who does the Fantasy Dreamer's Blog, has given me the honor of listing me as a recipient of her "Let's Be Friends" award. I appreciate this award very much.

Here is the story behind the award: "The Let's be Friends Awards stands for this: These blogs are exceedingly charming. These kind bloggers aim to find and be friends. They are not interested in self-aggrandizement. Our hope is that when the ribbons of these prizes are cut, even more friendships are propagated. Please give more attention to these writers. Deliver this award to eight bloggers."

I've been wracking my brains all weekend to think of 8 friends who actively blog. Unfortunately, other than Donna, I can only come up with four:

The first three blogs are done by ladies I know from work. They work in marketing and have just started blogging. I salute them for this and I hope this award goes towards encouraging to share their knowledge and experience with the rest of us:
The last blogger is a friend from way back. I've mentioned him in this space before, but he's certainly worth mentioning again. Scott Topping is the author of the Ugly Scott blog. Scott is a talented writer with a very unique perspective on things. He's also uproariously funny, often even when he's being serious. He's also a great friend who has shown me many kindnesses throughout the years.

Friday, April 10, 2009

Friend Walking in Breast Cancer 3-Day

A friend, Rose, whom I know from my days in the Army is walking in the Breast Cancer 3-Day, which benefits Susan G. Komen for the Cure and the National Philanthropic Trust Breast Cancer Fund. It's a 60-mile walk over the course of 3 days. Quite an ambitious effort, and one well worth supporting.

Please consider supporting Rose in her quest to raise $2500. Even a small donation helps. Donation information can be found here on Rose's Donation Page. There you will find information about how to donate online, by phone or by mail.

For more information about the Breast Cancer 3-Day, Susan G. Komen for the Cure or the National Philanthropic Trust Breast Cancer Fund, visit http://www.the3day.org/ or call 800.996.3DAY.

Tuesday, April 07, 2009

Not A Christian Nation

President Obama participated in a press conference in Turkey on April 6th where he declared that the U.S. Is not a "Christian nation, nor a Muslim nation nor a Jewish nation, but we are a nation of citizens. Here is the quote from the Chicago Sun-Times web site:
That's something that's very important to me. And I've said before that one of the great strengths of the United States is -- although as I mentioned, we have a very large Christian population, we do not consider ourselves a Christian nation or a Jewish nation or a Muslim nation; we consider ourselves a nation of citizens who are bound by ideals and a set of values.
Christian pundits went into an uproar. I heard many people call in to radio talk shows declaring that the United States is a Christian nation because it was founded by Bible-believing Christians under Judeo-Christian values.

Those people only have it partially right, though. Yes, most of the founders of our nation were Bible-believing Christians. Yes, the country was founded under Judeo-Christian values. However, the United States is not a Christian nation and it hasn't been for quite a few years.

It's too late to convince people this is still a Christian nation - the time for that is past. The U.S. is a secular nation whether we like it or not.

Saturday, April 04, 2009

What's Up With Dave Ramsey?

After I blogged about Dave Ramsey's Town Hall for Hope a few days ago, quite a few folks have asked about Dave and what he's all about.

How I Got Started - The Total Money Makeover
As I mentioned in that post, I was introduced to Dave's book "The Total Money Makeover: A Proven Plan for Financial Fitness" (TMMO) just before Christmas. My friend, Jim, caught Dave on Fox News Business and on the radio and was intrigued enough by what he heard that he bought and read the book. As Jim described to me the six "baby steps" outlined in the book and I read some of the stories by real people, I realized this is what I needed to get my financial house back in order.

A Short History
My wife and I married with some financial baggage left over from our previous lives. She made some bad financial decisions and declared bankruptcy a few years prior. I made some terrible financial decisions with my ex-wife and on my own and had a mountain of debt. I seriously considered declaring bankruptcy myself on more than one occasion.

Shortly after our wedding I was able to settle a fairly large amount of old credit card debt and I paid off a few things. There were still a few financial things hanging over my head, but, as a couple, we were treading water fairly well. We even purchased a new truck and motorcycle because we could "afford the payments." We thought all was going well until I received a rather unpleasant surprise: a call from a collection agency which informed me of a credit card I forgot about after my divorce.

This really woke us up to reality: We were fooling ourselves and living paycheck to paycheck. I knew we needed to do something to get things back on track, and as I spoke with my wife about it she agreed. But, what to do? We didn't know where to start. That's where Dave's book came in.

Our Road to Financial Peace
I ordered the book when I got home after Jim showed it to me. When it arrived, my wife and I sat down and started reading. As we read it, I realized there wasn't a lot in there I didn't already know. The things he teaches are things my mom taught me years ago. But, because I thought I knew better I went against those things and got myself in a mess. TMMO helped us formulate a plan to get ourselves back on track, out of debt, and into financial fitness.

Keep in mind - TMMO is not a "get-rich-quick" scheme. Neither is it a proven way to make more money so you can be rich without working, and it's not affiliate marketing nor MLM. It is a way of changing your attitude about money, learning how it works and how you can control it and use it properly.

Getting out of debt is the biggest part - and the part which takes the most work. We're in the middle of our Debt Snowball, which is step 2 in Dave's 6-step program. After totalling up our debt and starting to pay off those debts one at a time from smallest to largest, we have managed to knock off almost half of our total debt load in almost four months. I can't describe how liberating this is - you really have to experience it for yourselves. It hasn't been easy and we've had to tell ourselves "no" on many things. I can, however, honestly tell you it's worth it. If you are living paycheck to paycheck - or worse finding you have more month than money - I can't recommend Dave's TMMO book enough. It will change your life.

We Believe in Financial Peace
We believe in TMMO so much that we jumped at the chance to help run a Financial Peace University at our church. This is a 12-week program where a group of us meet and watch a lesson by Dave on DVD. It's TMMO, except in more detail and with more specific instruction. After 5 weeks we can already see the lives of some in our group changing for the better. We're already planning to hold another Financial Peace University later this year, this one has been so successful thus far.

Finally - The Big Picture
There's one more aspect of this I want to cover, concerning how our personal financial dealings can impact our nation. If you read some of what I've posted in this space, you've probably caught my attitude about how our government is running things. Over the past few days I've been giving this some thought and I've come to the conclusion that if we're going to change how our government does things, we individuals need to lead that change in our personal lives.

If we, as individuals, insist on living in debt and meandering around paycheck to paycheck, how is our government going to know we are serious about dealing with overspending and indebtedness at a national level? But, if we get our financial houses in order, could we not bring more pressure to bear on Washington to do the same?

You may be thinking I have it backwards. Those in Washington are supposed to be leaders, shouldn't they lead by example? Yes, they should, but they aren't. I think if we're going to change the attitude of Washington, part of the process is changing our own attitudes towards overspending and debt. I believe Dave Ramsey has a way to point us in the right direction. So, please join in on April 23rd and attend a Town Hall for Hope viewing in your area.

Tuesday, March 31, 2009

CERT Team Looking For Radio Equipment

The CERT I am part of is looking for some new or gently used amateur radio equipment. If you have any of these items to donate, please contact me
kb5nju hotmail com:

  • 2m Mobile Radio, 20w transmitter power or higher
  • Power Supply capable of powering a mobile radio of at least 20w
  • Discone Antenna, capable of transmitting on 2m. One that comes with a portable pole mounting system would be great.
  • 50 feet of RG-58 coax cable
Almost 50% of our CERT consist of licensed amateur radio operators with others who are interested in getting their licenses. Our goal is to set up a base station during events where a net control operator can facilitate communication with the hams as they go about their tasks.

The Temple (Texas) CERT is affiliated with the City of Temple Fire and Rescue and a 501(c)3 organization.

Thanks and 73.

Sunday, March 29, 2009

It's A Matter of Size

I hate shopping for clothes, shoes included. So when my black shoes fell apart (literally) it took a lot of effort to buckle down and get a new pair. Thankfully, us guys really only need a few pairs of shoes, so I don't have to go through this too often.

I have some very high-quality shoes. When I know I'm going to be on my feet for a while and I can't wear Crocs, I wear one of those pairs of shoes. When I'm going to be at work all day sitting on my butt, I don't usually wear one of those high-quality pairs. Pretty much anything will do.

Since the shoes I needed to replace were primarily for work, I didn't mind getting a pair at Walmart while we were shopping there anyway. I thought to myself it would be an easy thing. Alas, I was wrong.

I went to the shoe aisle at our local Walmart and grabbed a pair of nine-and-a-halfs to try on. I couldn't even squeeze my feet into them. I thought that strange, but I've run into times where sizes were a little off - no doubt to the metric to English conversion. So I grabbed a pair of tens. I got my feet into them, but they were way too tight. So, I tried a pair of ten-and-a-halfs next. They fit in perfectly in width, but they were about two inches too long.

I grabbed another pair of another style and brand. I was thinking, perhaps, if the one factory didn't do their metric to English conversion very well, perhaps another factory did. Well, this style fit just like the others I had just tried on: nine-and-a-half was too small, ten was too small, and the ten-and-a-half fit perfectly in width but was about two inches too long. I figured they were made in the same factory as the other ones.

I gave up at that point. I hate shopping for shoes in the first place, but now I was upset because someone didn't do their math correctly. I commented to my wife: "Can't we send our overseas manufacturers a ruler with inches so they can check their sizes before they ship stuff out? It seems we're not doing them or ourselves any favors by keeping the actual length of an inch secret."

In my town there is a shopping center with a Shoe Carnival with a Ross next store. Whenever I'm there for any reason, I always stop at Ross before going to Shoe Carnival because there's always a chance a nice pair of shoes will be for sale there for cents on the dollar.

In Ross, I found a great pair of leather shoes, just right for wearing to work. I grabbed a pair of nine-and-a-half and proceeded to walk around a bit. I practically walked out of them. Disgusted, I grabbed a pair of nines, thinking I might have to go down to eight-and-a-half on this brand. Thankfully, the nines fit perfectly and I left the store getting a great pair of shoes for the same price I would have gotten the Walmart cheapies for.

Am I the only one who has trouble buying clothes and shoes which fit? Aren't sizes supposed to be based on actual inches (or at least their metric equivalents)? Shouldn't one size nine shoe be same as another size nine? If I get a pair of pants with a 34-inch inseam, shouldn't the next pair of pants with a 34-inch inseam be the same length? Am I just being too picky?

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Dave Ramsey's Town Hall For Hope

I've been a fan of Dave Ramsey since I was introduced to and read his book "The Total Money Makeover" a few months ago. My wife and I are in the process of our own total money makeover and we're very satisfied with how it's going. We are also participating in Dave's Financial Peace University at our church helping others learn how to make their way to financial peace.

Dave's methods are not "get rich quick" schemes nor are they easy. They are time-proven methods to handling money which have been lost to many of us in the last generation or so. He's a straight-shooter and also very funny.

Believe it or not, there is hope right now. Yes, things are tough for many, but there is hope. Please check out the Town Hall for Hope web site, find someplace hosting the event in your area and attend on April 23rd to hear what Dave has to say.

Two Wrongs Don't Make A Right

Puzzle me this, Batman:

If debt and overspending got us into this economic mess, how is even more debt and overspending going to get us out of it?

Any thoughts?

Monday, March 23, 2009

But It's Not A Function Of Government

I read a well-written blog post by Danny Sullivan on his Daggle blog, As Obama Turns America Socialist, An American Reflecting On Life In "Socialist" Britain. It's a very well though-out essay using his experience of life in Britain as the basis for belief that Socialism, as it is "across the pond," is a good thing.

He makes an excellent point at the end of his essay that we in America need to get to a place where we are willing to care for those in our society who need assistance. I wholeheartedly agree with this ideal. Where I disagree with Danny is how to accomplish it. His contention is that it should be a function of the Federal Government to provide such care. I, however, believe it is unconstitutional for the federal government to do this and that it's really the function of individuals who can help to fill those needs.

I'm not entirely familiar with the constitution in Great Britain, nor all the ins and outs of their common law. So, it might be well within the purview of government there to provide welfare, universal health care, etc. to her citizens. However, I am familiar enough the the Constitution of the United States to know it is not within the authority of the Federal Government to provide such care.

My question remains: How did it become "OK" for people to rely on government assistance to help fix society's problems? Time was, long ago, that if someone saw a problem they would gather people together who agreed with them and they solved the problem. Many great charitable organizations were started from the idea that we, the people, need to take care of our fellow citizens.

My challenge to those who think the government should solve our problems is to find a way to fix the problems yourself. For example:
  • Is there a large homeless population in your area? Get some like-minded people together and start a homeless shelter. Enlist the aid of some teachers, doctors, and other professionals to volunteer and provide assistance to help people get back onto their feet.
  • Are there a large number of people in your area who don't have access to health care? Get some like-minded people together and start a free clinic. Actively solicit those in need to come in and start taking better care of themselves so they can attempt to head off the need for catastrophic care. Enlist the assistance of medical professionals to provide care and get money donated from the community.

    Can't do that? Then start a foundation and collect money to be used to pay for the doctor, dentist and hospital bills of those who need assistance.
These are just two examples of an unlimited number of potential ways to solve some of society's problems - and none of those need involve the government to do anything. All it takes is some imagination and determination to make things happen.

Chances are there are already charities involved in helping find solutions to issues you care about. Why not join with them and help others?

Lastly, although I firmly believe that is it outside the scope of the Federal Government to provide services outside those outlined in The Constitution, I do not believe it is outside the scope of the state governments. If the citizens in the individual states want them and the state constitution allows them, then I'm all for a state government providing such "socialistic" services.

Friday, March 20, 2009

Congress Versus AIG

Is there anyone else who thinks that members of congress are a bit hypocritical when making such a fuss over the AIG bonus payments?

Here are a bunch of folks who waste more of our money than any other group and vote themselves pay raises every year (again, out of our money). Yet they have the gall to call down "power from on high" to take money away from AIG for paying bonuses? Money which they freely gave away with no strings attached?

If congress really wants to "play fair" with the taxpayers' money, let them pass a law tying their annual pay raise to inflation.

"Let he who is without sin cast the first stone."

Monday, March 16, 2009

It's Because of a Lack Of Accountability

Obama blisters AIG, vows to try to block bonuses

Is it right for President Obama to get upset because AIG decided to pay some of their employees bonuses after they got billions of our tax dollars as a bailout? I don't think so. The money was given to them with no strings attached. AIG wasn't told or made to change how they do business, so why should they? It seems wrong to chastise them after the fact.

There has to be some kind of record for how short a time it took to draft up, pass and have the president sign the legislation which make up the various bailout and stimulus packages. There was no real debate in either house of congress and there certainly wasn't time for regular folks like you and I to read up on and voice our opinions about the various provisions of the laws. Under the guise of "immediacy or disaster" the whole thing was crammed down our throats, seemingly without much forethought or real concern about the ramifications of what might happen when the laws were passed.

The fact is, this entire bailout business was done with little or no accountability. There's no accountability of the recipients of the money to the government. And there certainly was not accountability of the government to the people who will be forced to pay off the bailouts and the stimulus package passed earlier this year.

Or is there?

My friends, you and I have the ultimate in accountability - our votes. It's time to tell those who deign to represent us that we are tired of the patronizing attitude that they know better than we do. It's time to let them know we're tired of their "business as usual." It's time to send a clear message that it's time for change we can REALLY believe in.

If we take it upon ourselves to vote out any and all incumbents who are up for reelection in 2010 we will let them know that we mean business. The ones left there will wake up to the fact that they represent us, the people of this great nation, and not the special interest groups, the corporations nor anyone else. They will realize that a government of the people, by the people and for the people is the real constitutional power in the country.

Please take a moment and think about this. If you are not registered to vote, then register - TODAY! If you are registered to vote, consider making the courageous move to change things and vote against the incumbents. You don't have to change parties, just vote against whomever is in there now either in the primaries or the general election. Let's send a clear message to those in Washington, D.C. that enough is enough.

Sunday, March 08, 2009

How Did They Get Away With Not Paying Their Fair Share?

This past November I described in this space my experience with the IRS. You can read of the whole affair here. The funniest part is, I think they still owe me $2.00.

So, the IRS came after me for just over $1000. It was an honest mistake on my part. But, it was no big deal and I paid it willingly.

So this brings to mind the question: How did 4 people appointed by President Obama to head some government department or another get away with not paying tens of thousands of dollars in back taxes? How is it that they all-of-the-sudden remembered they forgot to pay all this money to the IRS? How is it that the IRS was able to find the one thousand I owed them, but they couldn't find the tens of thousands these other people owed? They came after me for two dollars. Why didn't they go after these other folks for tens of thousands of dollars?

This all smacks of hypocrisy and favoritism to me. I wonder how many "regular folks" like me have been harassed by the IRS. I also wonder how many "politicos" have had their tax irregularities ignored.

If we want to talk about folks paying their fair share - lets start right now with elected and appointed government officials. Or is it that some are "more equal than others."

My Daylight Savings Time Story

I hate changing the clocks twice a year. It makes no sense to me at all. I can't see where it will save energy, boost industrial productivity, make the streets safer or provide any other benefit. Perhaps when ours was a more agrarian society it made sense, but now it does not.

Today I woke up at 7:45 am, which yesterday would have been 6:45 am. I forgot to change my alarm clock yesterday, so I was an hour behind. When I checked my phone for messages, it displayed a message which read that it had been updated for Daylight Savings Time. Funny thing was, it was still showing the time as one hour earlier than it really was.

I went downstairs and sat in front of the computer to check email. It showed the correct time, but no message that it had updated automatically. So, in my pre-caffeinated stupor I set the time back and hour to match the incorrect time on my phone.

I thought I had PLENTY of time to get ready. I leisurely checked my email, caught up on Twitter, ate my cereal and drank my coffee, took a shower; all the time thinking I was way ahead of schedule.

It wasn't until my friend, Jim, called asking me if I was going to show up for band practice. "Yes," I replied, thinking he was rather anxious. "We're leaving in a few minutes. Why, what's up?"

"Dude, it's 9:20. Did you forget to change your clocks?" Yes, I had. I didn't want to admit it, but I had. This is the first time in many years I missed a time change.

Things worked out OK even though I was very late and we had a couple good laughs at my expense.

I wonder how many other thousands had the same problem this morning? One day I might move to Arizona to get away from this time-changing mess.

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Subversion SVN Server Problem Solved

After having too many issues with Microsoft's Team Foundation Server, we decided to look for a different code store/source control solution which would better fit the needs of our small shop. After googling around, one of my colleagues found Subversion.

I downloaded the open source CollabNet Subversion along with the open source Ankh SVN plugin for Visual Studio. Both installed quite easily and were simple enough to get up and running.

The Problem "After the Sale"
After getting everything up and running, I could not connect to the Subversion server. I followed the instructions in the book which came with the install package, googled and searched around for a possible solution to no avail. Out of desperation, before giving up and looking for another solution, I decided to post a request for assistance on Twitter. Not long after my "tweet," I received a response from Jack Repenning, CTO for CollabNet, who offered to assist me. Three email exchanges later I was connecting to my Subversion server via Ankh in Visual Studio.

The Solution
I installed Subversion on a Windows 2003 server, which also happens to be running IIS. Subversion uses Apache for its interface. I set Apache to use an odd port during install, which should have allowed it to communicate. But, according to Jack, IIS sometimes hijacks any and all web functions which does not allow Apache to do its thing. So the solution to my problem was to turn off IIS. IIS was running on this particular only because this was my Team Foundation Server box. Since we're not using TFS any more, it was an easy decision to turn off IIS and let Apache do its thing.

So far I find the Subversion/Ankh combination to be easy to use. I'll have to play with it a bit to see if it will suit our needs. It looks as though we may have a winner here.

Thanks to Jack for his quick response and assistance. For those who wonder how Twitter can be useful, here is an excellent example.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Shin Splits Exercise Treatment

Back in the day when I was a strapping young lad I ran quite a bit. I also had occasional problems with shin splints. Shin splints is (are?) a very painful response to high-impact exercise which makes it difficult, if not impossible, to run.

I'm no longer a strapping lad, nor am I a doctor (though I'm handsome enough to play one on TV). Follow my advice at your own risk. I doubt you can hurt yourself doing what I suggest, but if you do it's not my fault! So there! Nyaa!

The Method
I was very fortunately to have been taught a highly effective treatment and prevention for this terrible malady. I can't remember the exact circumstances, but I think she said she learned it from her yoga teacher. I don't know if it's yoga, but it's simple and it worked very well for me:
  1. Stand with your feel approximately shoulder-width apart
  2. Slightly bend your knees
  3. Bend at the waist and rest your hands just above one knee - you might find it helpful to place the opposite foot slightly behind you to help with balance
  4. On the side you're leaning on, keeping your heel on the ground, raise your toes as high as you can.
  5. Repeat raising your toes until you cannot raise it any more. (If you already have shin splints, this will be somewhat painful)
  6. Turn the same foot as far to the left as you can and raise your toes as many times as you can.
  7. Turn the same foot as far to the right as you can and raise your toes as many times as you can
  8. Switch your hands to the other leg and repeat steps 4-7.
This exercise can also be used as part of your warm up to help prevent shin splints, too.

The key to this exercise is to strengthen the muscles which pull your toes up when your heel is on the ground. This relieves the pressure off the tendons which attach to the shin. It's this pressure which causes shin splint pain.

If you suffer from shin splints, give this a shot. If nothing else, it can't make things any worse.