Wednesday, August 23, 2017

Dog days

Here we are, friends, panting our way into the Labor Day weekend a couple of weekends from now.  August finally arrived here, from a weather standpoint, in central Kentucky, with all of the heat and humidity and discomfort that we normally expect.

It always feels this way, yet I marvel at how things seem this time of year.  My Cincinnati Reds are in "rebuilding" mode (hopefully there's an almost completed structure by now, but I kinda doubt we're there yet), so they're not competitive.  So my interest in baseball wanes.

College and professional football will be here soon.  My teams (college: Kentucky, professional: Denver Broncos) have some uncertainty surrounding them.

The bigger movies have come and gone (not that I went to see any of them) and the fall will bring some bigger releases, but most are the variety that is designed to build critical acclaim, at least until Christmas, when it's presumed that people go to the movies and the more popular fare comes out.

Congress isn't in session, thankfully, but our news is filled with what our President said or did (or didn't say or didn't do), both in real time and in the past.

School is back in session in our part of the country.  My law school student son has returned to his evening classes for his second year.  My wife is back to helping out by picking up our grandchildren from school on some days.

And even the eclipse is over and done with, although some reports indicate that there are still people stuck in traffic in some places!  Well, not really, but a baseball player who makes his off-season home in Nashville got stuck in traffic leaving town to meet his team in Cincinnati.  The reason?  Exiting eclipse celebrants!

So now we have another holiday coming up, and it seems like a long time ago that we celebrated Independence Day.  Hope you and yours have the chance to do something fun.

Monday, August 14, 2017

America first

Good Monday morning from central Kentucky, where it's been raining.  One of the oddities of life as it stands now, is that we're getting semi-cool weather with ample rain.  In Kentucky.  In August.

I call your attention to the title phrase for today's comments.  This phrase has been coming up again and again, mostly in our political discourse in this country, for a couple of years.  But what does it mean?

Apparently, that depends on your perspective.

As I understand it, those who were protesting in Virginia in the first place believe it's important to preserve certain aspects of American history that others feel are best put aside, at the least.  Others seem to define that term as denoting the importance of keeping people from other countries and other cultures and religions out of our country, keeping our current America as it is, or, better yet, taking it back to how things used to be.

Here's how I define it.

I want an America that tries to live up to the lofty ideals of the founding fathers, who, as it turns out, were visionaries about the content and value of a true democracy.

I want an America that values and protects its citizens, regardless of what their origins are, who they love or how they worship, but I want those citizens to also value and protect MY rights equally.

I want an America where being a member of any political party says nothing about me other than my political preference, and that I am not automatically someone's enemy simply because they belong to a different party.

I want an America that has found a way to build good roads and airports and finds a way to pay good people worthwhile wages to work in key professions, such as teachers, firefighters, police officers and other first responders.

I want an America where my kids won't have to bankrupt themselves to send their kids to college, or for my grandkids not to have thirty years of student loan payments after graduation.

I want an America that recognizes its history of immigration, addresses the current situation effectively and fairly, and applies reasonable controls to the future.

I want an America where people can express themselves in public or online and not be beset by rudeness, bullying or other negative response.

I want an America where people no longer commit heinous crimes against others in the name of their love for this country, because they understand that, in America, we literally are all in this together.

Perhaps I ask too much, but I know there are people who feel as I do.  A lot of them.  And I think that, when you cut through the party-loyalty bluster, a lot of the people in Congress share many of these sentiments, too.

Let's hope so.

Monday, August 7, 2017

Journeys and rewards

Hello, friends.  Spent a good part of last week on the road for my new job.

I'm way out of practice as a regular air traveler, but most of the older habits tend to fall right back into place when you resume a formerly common activity.  For instance, I always managed to get to whatever airport I was departing well over an hour before my flight.  Why?  Well, for one thing, you just never know how long it will take to get through TSA security screening.  Now that people are being asked to separate their tablets as well as laptop computers and liquids from the rest of their carry-on baggage, there's a lot of stopping and starting in the security lines.

Anyway, this trip had me traveling to a location in south Florida, but for reasons I still don't quite understand, my itinerary went from Lexington to Atlanta to Key West, Florida and then to Fort Lauderdale/Hollywood.  First two legs were no problem, both flights departed and arrived on time.  The second plane landed in Key West a few minutes early at that.  But at that small, SMALL airport, passengers deplane onto the tarmac and then walk through a cordoned path.....straight into baggage claim!

That sounds nice if that's your final destination, but in my case, I still was to board one more flight.  So I had to exit the terminal, make my way through the parking garage (which, incidentally, was larger than the terminal), up an elevator and then into security for ANOTHER screening! All of this with about forty minutes between flights, too!

I reached the gate (remember, small airport, there are only seven in the entire place) and saw on the board that they were boarding my flight, so I got into line.  Once I reached the front of the line a very put-upon gate agent informed me that they were not boarding THAT flight and that I needed to sit down and wait!

Well, then!

So I did, after a quick visit to the restroom to towel off.  Forty-five minutes later we boarded, after the gate agent apologized for being so short with me, and said that their entire flight schedule the previous day was cancelled due to a tropical storm.  Understandable.

We arrived at my final destination airport, but, wouldn't you know it, there was a LIGHTNING warning, and the plane could not park and allow passengers to deplane.  We sat on a taxiway for what appeared to have been about an hour.  THEN we parked and deplaned.  By then it was raining again, but they proceeded anyway.

I won't go into detail about my first Uber ride, except to say that in the airport where I landed, Uber and Lyft riders are picked up where commercial vans and buses pick up their passengers.  Took my driver forty minutes to travel six miles as a result and longer for us to locate each other.

On my flights home there were a couple of other but different incidents.  Our plane was taxiing to take off from Fort Lauderdale/Hollywood when an announcement was made on the PA system inquiring about a doctor on board.  We stopped and stayed in place for about twenty minutes, we were thanked for our patience and went on our way, with the pilot even making up the time lost.

Finally, on my flight from Atlanta to Lexington, I was seated next to a large man (bigger than me, and that's saying something).  I said "good evening" and he just scowled.  When all of the passengers were on board the flight attendant came and asked this man multiple times if his name was "Jones" before he finally answered "Yeah, so?"

The guy was in the wrong seat.  He apparently decided to sit somewhere other than his assigned seat and hope they never caught it.  He was instructed to go to his ticketed seat or risk ejection from the plane.  He grudgingly moved, but that was OK with me, as it gave me more space.

Oh, and when that flight landed, the pilot said that the ground crew was confused about which flight we were and stopped us before directing us to the wrong gate.

Once on the ground nothing else happened.

I'm due to travel to another destination in a couple of weeks, so I've elected to drive.  Hope that turns out to be a good decision.

Saturday, July 29, 2017

Making the transition

Good Saturday morning to all.  We're supposed to have a couple of great weather days here in central Kentucky, with moderate temperatures and somewhat less humidity.  And we actually had some rain a couple of times in the past week, which is a rarity this time of year!

I thought I'd post this morning concerning my work status.  As you know, I don't delve into specific names nor do I often talk about my occupational life very often.  But this is a little different.

For the first time since 1996, I voluntarily left a position in order to accept another.  Between then and now, though, I've involuntarily left five positions, mostly due to the sales or reorganizations of my employers.

Not this time.

I have been exploring the market to some degree for a while, as I'm still working to recover the ground I lost during an extended period of unemployment last year.  The job I was in was satisfactory in most respects, but its compensation was considerably lower than what I had done previously, so financially it wasn't what I wanted.

I learned of the position I ultimately accepted about two months ago, and applied formally at the beginning of June.  I went through their extensive selection process and was offered the position on July 19, and gave my notice to my now-former employer on that same day.

The most interesting part of this process is how unsettled I've felt.  Not because I felt I was making a bad decision; quite the contrary, my new position will put me in touch with many of the contacts I've cultivated over the past nine months, and will offer growth opportunities that my former position could not.

And one of the oddities of this scenario is the former company's policy requiring a four-week notice of resignation, due largely to the type of business they're in.  This also ensures a full payout of accumulated but unused paid time off, no small thing for someone who has not taken much time off in his tenure but has accrued a fair amount of time off.

Anyway, the limbo was because I knew that my new employer wanted me to begin work sooner than later, but I didn't know what my old employer would do regarding an early release from that notice.  But yesterday we worked it all out and I finished my employment with the old employer and officially start with the new one on Monday, but won't really do anything until I start training in south Florida on Wednesday.

Do I regret not having some time in between the two jobs?  A little, but since giving my notice I've been kind of marking time, careful not to start anything that I could not finish in my remaining time with the former company.  I've had a fair amount of down time in the past couple of weeks.  So I don't feel that I've missed the opportunity for a mental health break, particularly since my former position wasn't all that stressful.

So I'm relieved, excited and optimistic.  In the last twenty years, the relief is usually the overriding emotion, as I was seldom expecting to change jobs.  This has been a different experience, of course, but made gratifying by the many good wishes I received from the business contacts with whom I've worked for the past nine months.

So on we go.  Will keep you posted!

Thursday, July 27, 2017

The Spectrum of negative experiences

I have been a Lexington cable television customer since the days when the provider was known as Telecable, and have continued using this service since that time.  During the years I have had this service, I would characterize service as uneven, pricing as endlessly escalating but overall have been more satisfied with this service than the few viable alternatives that have existed.

When Spectrum became the owner of the local system, I was concerned, because I had already read that its parent, Charter Communications, was well-known for poor service, particularly poor customer relations.  Not long after they assumed control, my service plan rate increased by nearly twenty dollars per month, and when I called to discuss this change with customer service I was cheerfully told that “oh, you must have been moved to a Spectrum rate plan.” And there was apparently nothing to be done.

Not surprisingly, Spectrum offers tremendous deals to prospective customers to entice them to sign on, and then raises fees after the promotional period ends.  I have repeatedly illustrated this fact to whomever I would speak with at Spectrum and its predecessors, as it makes little sense to continue raising rates for long-term customers and continue subsidizing low prices for new subscribers who may or may not remain customers.

To add insult to injury, when we bought our home over twenty years ago we knew that we had the neighborhood cable, telephone and electrical junction boxes in our back yard.  This means that anytime a house in immediate proximity to our home has a service issue or a new installation, a technician must access our property to get to the junction box.  And the cables associated with these installations often lay atop the surface of the yard for several weeks before a different contractor comes to bury them.

This is the most recent disagreeable issue that occurred in my long history with Lexington cable television.  Late last week a neighbor apparently had a service issue, and a Spectrum technician came to our door (I work from home so I happened to be here at the time) to let us know he would be in our backyard, a courtesy which I appreciate.  In summary, he apparently got the issue resolved by laying a new cable which went from the pedestal in our yard, through and around my next-door neighbor property and to the affected neighbor’s home.

On Monday I was outside and notice two men in a van pulling up near our house and I called out to them.  They confirmed that they were there to “finish the installation” and bury the cable.  I nodded and told them where access to our yard was and didn’t think much about it.  When they left, I had no service, as in burying the newly installed cable, they also apparently cut our cable that provides cable television and internet service to our home.

I called Spectrum to report the outage, told them what I suspected happened and was told that I could expect a call from “dispatch” in an hour.  Four hours later, I called back, reported all that I had discussed earlier, and was told, again, that I would receive a call in an hour.  Two and a half hours later I received a call from a different representative, who was laughing at the time of her call to our home.  She explained that they had been “so crazy busy” and that no one would be able to come to restore service until the following day at 11:00 AM.  Coincidentally, this was offered to me in my original call, but I pressed for more immediate service.  I replied that I had been waiting for most of the day to have service restored, that there was a time when a customer reported an outage that early in a given day and efforts were made to address those sudden issues, particularly when they were likely caused directly by a system employee.  The representative laughed again, said they had been “so crazy” that day and that I’d have to settle for 11:00 AM the next day.

It’s worth noting that our grandchildren were with us that day and the next, so we were pretty much counting on cable and internet to help entertain them during their visit.

In fairness, when the technician arrived the next morning I was not present, but my wife said that the technician confirmed that a) our line was cut, albeit accidentally, b) that he was pretty sure that technicians were probably available and c) he had our service restored in a short time.  And he was very apologetic about our experience.

I should also note that I posted several negative messages about Spectrum on Twitter that morning, and received a message from someone at @AskSpectrum suggesting I follow them and that he would direct message me thereafter.  All he did was confirm our existing appointment and espouse the company line.  After I pressed him he agreed to a one-day credit in our service charges, which I question whether I will ever see.

In closing I'll just mention that I sent roughly the same information to the Kentucky Public Service Commission and the office of the Mayor of the Lexington-Fayette Urban County Government a short time ago.  Approved or not, there's not reason for any company to treat its customers so disrespectfully.  We'll see if anything comes of this!

Sunday, July 23, 2017

57 years, 3 days

Greetings, everyone.  Writing on an early Sunday morning, as I was again awakened by some respiratory congestion that seems to be endless, but it's only been about ten days.  I blame our native climate and the mold and allergens that it promotes.

I had a birthday on Thursday, if you're keeping score.  57 years young.  Or, as one of my grandchildren pointed out when discussing this milestone, "wow, Poppy, you're really old!"  Not really.

I don't dwell on things like this very often, but my father died when he was 56.  For all I knew as a young adult,  he might as well have been 86 at that time.  He just SEEMED old to me, always did.

Do I feel old?  No, but I know that I'm well into middle age, at least.  Do I look old?  Probably not, and that's mostly because I'm heavier than average, so my face is filled out and therefore does not show a lot of wrinkles, except around my eyes.

This must have been the year of the pop-up greeting card, as the cards I received from my wife and my kids were all pop-ups of one kind or another.  Our son and his family gave me a Star Wars-themed card with the entire cast of characters depicted to wish me a happy birthday.  My wife gave me a very nice card that shapes out into a sailing ship, and our daughter and her crew send a really neat card that folds out flat and produces a colorful sailing ship.

I like ships, in case you had not detected that.

Two of the cards contained gift cards that are always welcome, from Fandango (you know, the online movie ticket seller) and iTunes.  Neither is burning a hole in my pocket, so I'll get around to spending them sometime soon.

My wife took me to a local spot we like for breakfast, the Keeneland Track Kitchen.  Keeneland is the very old and traditional horse racing track that isn't far from our home.  A friend tipped me off to the Track Kitchen a number of years ago, as it exists mostly to give the people who work on the premises a place to eat breakfast and lunch.  It's a family favorite and always a treat to visit!

The cutest thing about my birthday was that our "local" granddaughter is well aware of my penchant for chocolate, and began promoting the idea of having my birthday dinner at a local barbecue restaurant (part of a regional chain that we all like) and indulging in their tasty chocolate cake.  So that's exactly what we did, and I reveled in the occasion, with a grandchild on each side of me.  The food was pretty good, too, and that cake is always delicious!

The other notable activity of my birthday was a local business open house that I visited in the afternoon.  This was a grand opening of sorts and most of the people with whom I do business were there.  A surprising number knew it was my birthday, so I received a lot of very nice birthday wishes. Same goes for LinkedIn, where members are encouraged to post their birthdates.  Received a great many birthday greetings there as well.

So it was a very nice birthday.  In fact, I enjoyed it so much, I think I'll do it again next year!

Monday, July 17, 2017

Oldies but goodies

Good Monday to everyone.

We're right in the middle of the steamy season here in central Kentucky.  It IS mid-July, after all, so not unexpected that we'd have uncomfortable heat and humidity right now.  I worked for a bit Saturday morning at an outdoor event (our company was exhibiting there) and because it had rained Friday evening, the air was heavy and I don't think my glasses became completely unfogged until about an hour after arrival!

Saturday afternoon and yesterday my wife and I attended our younger grandson's T-ball tournament in a nearby community, which has been a pretty constant feature of our recent weekends.  Anyway, the team had some time between games and my son and I went out and bought fried chicken and some other stuff at a nearby grocery store, as we had all had enough hot dogs and such.  Nice change of pace!

Anyway, while we were hanging out, my younger granddaughter got her dad's phone and started playing music (note:  it still amazes me that these kids, starting at five or six years old, can access a mobile phone or tablet with very little assistance, and make it do as they wish!), ending up with some Taylor Swift songs.  She asked me if I liked that and I said that she was a little young for me.  Ever inquisitive, she asked me what I meant, and I told her that she's very talented but that people my age often don't enjoy her style of music as much as younger folks do.  "Oh," she proclaimed, "like old music!"  Riiiiiight.

I make jokes about not liking any musical performer who's younger than I am, and that's still pretty true.  The introduction of the afore-mentioned Beatles channel on satellite radio affirms that even more, as that's almost always on in the car, at least for the moment.

Interestingly, I sit here at the computer right now and I'm listening to Neil Diamond's original concert recording "Hot August Night," which I believe was recorded in 1972.  Low-tech, and the first of MANY concert albums Diamond has released.  I hear to this day that he is still a great live performer, one of the few that I would have liked to have seen and have not.

I don't think it's quite true of movies, but recently, over several days, I watched the John Wayne movie "The Cowboys," which depicts The Duke having to use young boys to help him with his cattle drive.  It was made in 1972, when Wayne was aging but was still most definitely The Duke.  They don't make them like John Wayne anymore, you know.

My wife and I explored a few of our movies over the last week (no baseball for about a week, you know, due to the All-Star break) and wound up watching four different movies featuring Russell Crowe.  Crowe has been recognized for some of his work, including some of those films we watched, "Noah," "Gladiator," "Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World" and "Robin Hood."  Crowe seems to be settling into middle age, taking more character-oriented parts.  It's my understanding that he plays Dr. Jekyll in the latest incarnation of "The Mummy," which came and went before we saw it (monster movies are a tough sell with my wife as well).

I have to say that I don't feel the same connection with old television shows as I do with music, in particular.  I enjoy old "Star Trek" episodes and still enjoy watching "The West Wing," which left the air some years ago.

Circling back to the start of this ramble, my granddaughter also reminded me that my birthday is this week, and we began to talk about how old I am.  When she finally guessed it right, she crinkled her nose and said "Really?"

That's kind of the way I feel.  I'll be 57 on Thursday.


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