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.

Monday, July 10, 2017

The little boy's game

Good Monday morning, everyone.  Hot here in central Kentucky these last few days.  And, yes, it's not just the heat, but the humidity!

I have something on my mind this morning regarding the great game of baseball, which most regular visitors to this space know is near and dear to my heart.  I've been a lover of the game since I was a kid, and was lucky enough to pass this love on to my son, who has, in turn, given the gift of baseball to HIS son, my younger grandson.  Baseball is nothing if not dynastic, I've come to understand, so seeing how much my grandson loves the game really touches me.

This grandson has been playing tee ball for a couple of years and this summer, at the conclusion of the regular season (a season in which his team won the league championship tournament, by the way) he began playing on a league all-star team.  This team has traveled to nearby communities for tournaments on three of the last four weekends, so the team and their families all head to these points out of town, as do other teams.

And the results have been good, as this team placed second in their first such tournament and won them each of the last two weekends.  But I'm more than a little disappointed in some of what I've seen in these weekend tournaments.

The first and perhaps greatest issue facing these kids is that many are playing for coaches that were unfamiliar to them.  There are practice sessions scheduled each week, but it seems that weather has prevented many such practices from taking place.  So the kids who are playing for several coaches who formerly coached their opponents are now taking direction from new coaches.  And there is a head coach, but there are also four other "official" coaches and several others helping, including my son.

That's a lot of voices to listen to.

One of the biggest dampers we noticed early on in our grandson's baseball "career" is that some coaches challenge umpires, argue with them and their opposing coaches and set a generally bad conduct example for these kids, who are all somewhere between 5 and 7 years old (our little guy just turned 6 in May).  With these tournament games having a somehow greater value, the least little thing triggers descent by these "official" coaches on already beleaguered and overworked umpires, and these protestations are generally long-lasting and in my estimation set the wrong tone for children trying to learn fair play and sportsmanship above all else.

Parent (and grandparents, including myself) often don't help, as we, too, want to see these kids play well and win, but I've been trying awfully hard to keep my comments in the "encouragement" column.  But more than once I've pleaded (loudly) for our first and third base coaches to "take care of our baserunners."  Kids get on base and they get too much information or too little, and mistakes happen.  One of our grandson's teammates has a father who is hypercritical of his son to the point of it being funny, telling his son to "back up" and accusing him of "dogging it" and saying to no one in particular that he will make him run after the game to see if he keeps doing this then and so forth.  His son is probably six or seven and is one of the better players on the team, and clearly performs better when his dad either keeps quiet or at least waits until a later time to provide instruction and criticism.

This happened yesterday and struck very close to home, as in the course of winning the tournament yesterday my grandson was on first as the result of a base hit.  His base coach (who is one of the "unofficial" coaches, it's worth noting) said something to him, and the next batter popped the ball up. I believe someone shouted the word "go" and my grandson began to run to second, realized the ball was going to be caught, and tried to get back to first but was too late and was out.  His head went down, he knew he'd made a mistake and shuffled back to the dugout, which was on the first base side.

Making matters worse, the head coach, whom my wife and I already disliked because of his penchant for pacing in front of the dugout during each game, bellowed at him about running on a popup.  The same coach who bellows at nearly every kid on the team not to look at the ball.  How's a kid supposed to see that the ball is caught when he's also being told not to look at the ball?

Not a big surprise what happened next, and the coach apparently felt bad about yelling at him and was much more conciliatory next time our grandson was on base.  Our son recognized how furious this made me and tried to assuage my anger,  I'm sure to prevent me from confronting this man during or after the game.  I wanted to but didn't, our grandson's emotions returned to their normal state soon enough and team won the game and the tournament.

Here's the rub.  These kids are playing a GAME.  That's what it is and how it should be treated.  If they win, great.  If they don't, we'll still love them and tell them that we'll get 'em next time.  Those of us who have lived longer know that life is this way, too.

I take sports too seriously, too.  And let's remember, I write this from Kentucky, a state where some of its citizens actually made death threats against a basketball referee who made some questionable calls against the University of Kentucky basketball team in last year's NCAA tournament.  Great to be a fan, as I should well know.

But these are little kids.  They need to learn and to grow and come to understand and love this game, not be afraid that each little mistake is going to cause Mount Vesuvius to erupt each time something happens, whether that volcano is in the bleachers or in the dugout.  And not be reminded of their failures or shortcomings, but be helped to recall the positive contributions that have helped their team.

To me, this is the greatest irony:  at the park complex where the tournaments were played on the last two weekends, a placard is on display in several places.  Here's what it says, better than I can:

He is Just A Little Boy

By Unknown

He stands at the plate,
with his heart pounding fast.
The bases are loaded,
the die has been cast.
Mom and Dad cannot help him,
he stands all alone.
A hit at this moment,
would send the team home.
The ball meets the plate,
he swings and he misses.
There's a groan from the crowd,
with some boos and some hisses.
A thoughtless voice cries,
strike out the bum.
Tears fill his eyes,
the game's no longer fun.
So open your heart
and give him a break.
For it's moments like this,
a man you can make.
Please keep this in mind,
when you hear someone forget.
He is just a little boy,
and not a man yet.

Friday, July 7, 2017

Phoning it in

Good Friday morning, campers!  Aren't these holiday-shortened weeks strange?  This week has been for me, and I'm only working three days this week!

I've been thinking a lot about the telephone and how my relationship with it has evolved over time.  Not uncommon that my relationship has changed; everyone's has over time.  But in reading about the forthcoming Apple iPhone 8, as well as watching some different programs on television, I began to think a bit more specifically about this.

I'm almost 57, so my earliest memories of a phone are of one located somewhere in the center of the house.  The one we had was a rotary phone, naturally, and was black and heavy.  I always wondered if they didn't make phones out of the same material as a bowling ball.  And my earliest memory of a phone was one located on a stand in our dining room in the house where I spent the majority of my upbringing.

We moved to that house when I was seven, I think, and that was the same phone that occupied that location until I was out of the house in my early twenties.  It was at that time that the phone company pretty much got out of the phone rental business and "allowed" people to choose their own phone hardware.  Of course, the phone company (South Central Bell, in our case) had to come and retrofit your wiring to allow a "modular" phone installation.

When I moved out I shared a house with a friend and he was already in an apartment, so he simply paid to move his phone to our house.  Then he moved back in with his parents, and I took over the phone account.  Years later I got a somewhat frantic call from "the phone company," though I don't know which one it was, telling me that I had failed to pay for a phone that was owned by first my roommate and then me.  Not clear on how, but that got settled without any major problems once the situation and explanation was made plain for everyone.

I met my wife about 33 years ago, and she had one phone in the house, a wall-mount phone in the kitchen.  Not long after that we got a cordless phone, and that was a revelation!  You could now walk around beyond the boundaries of a phone cord and still TALK TO SOMEONE!

Unlike many folks with teens in the house, we never had to resort to a separate line for one or both of our kids.  And around that same time, I began to play around with the Internet, using a service called Prodigy to visit websites, chat boards and the like.  All done via a dial-up connection, which, of course, tied up our phone line.

I got my first cellular phone when I took my first job that required travel.  My territory was the state of Kentucky, and this was when roaming was common, meaning that you were paying extra to use your mobile phone outside of your designated service area.  I was never shown the potential problem with this, as I was on the go every day, and would spend time making calls while driving to set up the next week's appointments.  Little did I know that making phone calls while ripping down the Daniel Boone Parkway in southeastern Kentucky would be so expensive!

This evolved into consolidation of the cellular phone industry into the three or four major national carriers we have today, and, with that, roaming just kind of went away.  But your minutes package was crucial.  I remember attending a conference in Traverse City, Michigan and playing golf with an attorney.  Great guy, quite the raconteur, and he was on his phone every few minutes, mostly to answer calls about active cases handled by his staff.  I asked the guy what kind of minutes package he had, and his answer floored me.  He said he paid for 1500 minutes per month, and often used them all.  Do the math and think about how long that is!

My first "smart" phone was the venerable BlackBerry 7200, which had the classic click-wheel on the side to navigate an onscreen (but not touchscreen) menu and to scroll up and down through your list of e-mails.  What a great innovation!  Suddenly I was freed of lugging a heavy laptop all over the country, as I could get all of my e-mail messages on a handheld device!  Magic!

This was probably around 2005 or so, and I continued using BlackBerry branded phones until around 2011, when I got my first iPhone.  Mine was a corporate issue, but my wife had had one for a year or two by then, so I became familiar with the ins and outs of using an iPhone that way.  Luckily, I was able to help my employees with their iPhones, too, so that was a big help.  I've had an iPhone of my own or one issued by my companies ever since.

The newest version allegedly will include an OLED screen (old hat for Samsung and other phone makers, but a good step forward for Apple) and may even involve facial recognition instead of the Touch ID feature.

They're no longer phones, you know, but rather pocketable computers that also let us make a phone call now and then.  And, yes, my wife and I are old-fashioned to still have a land-line, at least for now, but we only use it to speak to our kids or my wife's mother, as they're about the only meaningful calls we receive or make.

I thought that rather than becoming bigger again, as people want that larger screen on their smartphones (myself included, as my eyesight isn't what it used to be), that we would instead move toward what's shown in movies like "Minority Report," where it's essentially a self-contained earpiece that makes and receives calls.  Shows what I know.

Sorry, gotta run, my phone is ringing.....

Sunday, June 25, 2017

All you need is love. Really.

Happy Sunday to everyone.  We're enjoying some mild weather here in central Kentucky following a heavy dose of rain Friday afternoon and evening (thanks to Tropical Storm Cindy).

This week marked the 50th anniversary of the Beatles' worldwide television performance of "All You Need is Love," a simple yet wonderful song that speaks so well for itself.  SiriusXM's new Beatles channel had programs that reminded me of this milestone earlier in the week (worth noting that this came on the heels of the release of "Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band," when so many groups would have stepped back for some well-deserved down time) and I've heard the song frequently lately.  This morning's edition of CBS Sunday Morning, the excellent magazine show, featured a full-length colorized video presentation of the Fab Four's performance.

To say this song has been on my mind lately is a gross understatement.

Everyday life for everyday people is hard enough, but made harder when we are hurt by or cause hurt to those we love and those we hold most dear.  And this so frequently happens for no real reason other than circumstances.  Important that we love everyone just a little more, because, let's face it, we all need it.

Not going down the political road with this line of thinking, except to say that we need to see more love of our fellow man when governmental decisions are made, whether by the executive, legislative or judicial branches.

The legendary football coach Vince Lombardi stated flatly that he didn't have to like the men he coached, but allowed that "I must love them as men."  I'm paraphrasing, of course, but it's a powerful statement from a renowned leader of others.

I also recently came across the essay "Pale Blue Dot" by the late astronomer Carl Sagan.  He, too, advocates more love of our fellow man.  Find the video version of Sagan speaking these words from the recent re-do of the "Cosmos" television miniseries, I guarantee you will not be disappointed.

Thanks for reading this, as it was just something I wanted to share.

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Warning--tech reviews ahead!

Good Wednesday morning, friends.  Had a little time this morning and wanted to share my impressions about a couple of items I've added to my collection of tech devices recently.

Allow me to start with a little caveat---I'm a big believer in paying it forward, meaning that when something is no longer of use for me, I try to sell it to someone while it still has life and value remaining.  So both of the items that I've added recently replaced items that were sold to folks who were interested and needed what I had.  Win-win!

Now, here's my pair of non-expert reviews...

I think I've mentioned here that I really like Bose audio gear.  Started with a pair of Bose noise cancelling headphones when I began to travel extensively by air.  I will state categorically here that having those headphones made a huge difference in my ability to suddenly tolerate spending eight to ten hours a week aboard airplanes!

This fascination with Bose has continued through the years, as we acquired a three-piece Bose sound system for our television setup and eventually upgraded to their soundbar/subwoofer.  On my desktop my wife generously gave me a Bose Sounddock as a gift, and I kept first an iPod and then an iPhone docked there.  Later I replaced this with a pair of Bose computer speakers, since I went all-digital with my music.  Wonderful speakers, all.

We were in Cincinnati a couple of months ago and stopped by the Bose store in a mall there.  Big mistake.  On display was the new (well, new THEN) Bose Soundlink Revolve and Revolve+.  If you've not seen one of these, they look a little like one of the Google wi-fi speakers you see on TV commercials, where the commercial actors ask Google questions.  The other analogy is the larger Bose speaker, especially, looks like a camping lantern, complete with a loop handle on top.

Anyway, we asked for a demo, and the representative obliged, and, wow.  That's all I can say.  Sound just pours out of both of these things, and they work wirelessly, too, which is a huge plus!  And the sound is just as good in any direction, which is new in my experience.  The rep mentioned that if you place it along a wall or bookshelf that you'll get some redirected sound that amplifies the experience.  So I had to have one, and it more than replaced my Bose desktop speakers (which had to be used in a fixed location).  Carried it all over the house, used it on the patio while grilling, etc.  If you've in the market for a Bluetooth speaker and are willing to pay the Bose price, which is often higher than the competition, go for it, you won't be disappointed!

My other recent acquisition revolves around headphones.  I've had a succession of headphones (earphones, actually) that were originally bought for my wife to use in her exercise routine.  Because she wears hearing aids, we have looked for the right product for her.  First she uses Bose wired earbuds, which were excellent and which I still have.  Then came a pair of Bluetooth on-ear headphones, but she found them to be a little hot when exercising (and I'd agree).  The next iteration was a pair of Bose SoundSport Bluetooth earbuds, which she liked very much.  I thought so, anyway.

I returned home from some work activities away from the house one afternoon and she casually mentioned that she had visited the Apple store and gone through a demonstration of Apple's new but hard-to-get AirPods.  Superficially they look just like the latest version of their earbuds that they routinely include with a new iPhone, but without the cords.  Remind me a little of electric toothbrush heads.

Anyway, she raved about the fit and the quality and the sound, which must have been good for her to like them without any additional amplification.  So we ordered a pair for her, and after a brief acclimation period, she was very happy.

Then our daughter reported that her hubby bought them each a set.  Now, I should point out that while our daughter likes music, she's not a person who always has headphones on and music playing. That's apparently all changed.  She works at home a couple of days a week now and listens to music from her phone and then seamlessly takes and places phone calls using the AirPods.  She also uses them in the car, as her habit is to call us weekly while on her way home from her office, about a thirty minute commute.  Always sounds clear and static-free, which is not my experience with any other Bluetooth earbuds, including the afore-mentioned Bose set.

So just before Father's Day I decided to sell my trusty Bose QC 15 noise cancelling headphones, as they're based on older technology and I no longer fly as I used to.  Prior to that I sold my wife's former Bose SoundSports, too, so once I found a buyer for the QC 15s, I bought a set of AirPods for myself.

Better sound and fit than I would ever have expected.  I get going in the mornings a little before my wife and like to play music at my desk.  Have been using these all week (they just arrived last Friday) each morning and then some and have been very impressed and, I confess, pleasantly surprised, too.

If I were to return to frequent flying my needs might change, but I am oh-so-impressed with both of my latest tech acquisitions.  Unfortunately, I have my eye on a new television (which we do not need, of course) with 4K resolution and HDR picture enhancements.  Probably be a while before we take that plunge!

Monday, June 19, 2017

Exit Father's Day--enter summer

Friends, hope you had a good Father's Day weekend.  If your father is still around, hope you got to spend some time with him, and if you yourself are a dad, I hope that you got to see your kids!

For me, Father's Day weekend almost always marks the point where we know for certain that summer is most definitely here, as it "officially" begins later this week.  Making my point, I played golf with some friends Saturday morning.  By mutual agreement, we all concurred that we should play early to beat the heat.  By the middle of the round we were all soaked with perspiration.  And we started before 9:00 AM, too!

My score was pretty lousy, by the way, but would have been pretty decent had I not lost the ability to play golf the last two holes.  These things happen when you're hot and tired, I suppose.

To add to it, our grandson (the local one, the other little guy is in Colorado) played with his all-star T-ball team (!) in a tournament that included two games late Saturday afternoon and two yesterday morning.  To their credit, the team won the first three they played, but in the fourth they were pretty outmatched.  Waiting for our grandson's game to start Saturday afternoon (by that time of day the tournament was running about an hour behind schedule), I watched the team that ultimately beat my grandson's group and knew they were pretty good.

This bunch had players that hustled constantly, played the game with abandon and were just into it!  In our grandson's team's game their shortstop even attempted to fake a baserunner off second hoping to throw him out.  These kids are seven and below, by the way.  Pretty amazing, but as a lover of all things baseball, I was more than impressed.  It is, after all, the little boys' game!

These tournaments will apparently occur every weekend for the next few weeks, so I expect my wife and I will be bronzed nicely by all of this outdoor time.  My golfer's/farmer's tan is already firmly in place, by the way (happy to show you the contrast by lifting my shirt sleeve a little).

One more clear signal of summer is that we had one of those spectacular summer storms late yesterday afternoon, complete with a deafening downpour and thunder and lightning.  So I'll need to mow my grass sometime, as I was waiting for a little more rain to moisten it up before cutting it.

As a sometime golfer and fan of that sport, I watched a fair amount of the U.S. Open over the weekend, which was won by a fellow named Brooks Koepka.  The guy hits it a mile, putted very well and looked in command of the event from sometime Saturday onward.  A lot of purists were talking about how it wasn't a "traditional" U.S. Open venue, as the event was played for the first time at a placed called Erin Hills north of Milwaukee, Wisconsin.  Scores were pretty low compared to what we often see, but I love it.  All of these golfers play the same course, and the fact that the course claimed the world's three top-ranked golfers tells me, anyway, that it was challenging enough.

I used to wonder how I'd do on a course set up for the Open; at this stage of my life and golf "career" I no longer wonder.  It wouldn't be pretty.....

No need to mention anything regarding politics here, as there's already plenty of content out there. I will say that I appreciate so many members of Congress recognizing that their harsh partisan rhetoric may have contributed to the horrific shooting that occurred last week.  Alongside that, a reporter on CBS Sunday Morning suggested that members of Congress adopt a standing practice from Little League baseball (and the Stanley Cup playoffs in hockey, too, by the way) where after each game the teams line up and congratulate each other on a good game.  I hope the feeling of mutual acceptance, if not agreement, lasts for more than a short time.  We certainly need for it to last as long as it can.


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