Monday, December 29, 2014

Freedom (but only for a week)

Good post-Christmas Monday to all.  Hope you had a great holiday, and that, like me, the giving was more enjoyable than ever!

I titled today's epic diatribe thusly because I decided to take a well-deserved break from my current job that began at 2:00 PM local time on Christmas Eve and will have me returning to work, eventually, a week from today.  So I am free for the week!

So far the thing I've noticed is that I am sleeping better and longer.  I cannot recall if I've mentioned it in this space previously, but for about a year and a half I've had difficulties getting back to sleep during the night, on those nights when I wake for a trip to the bathroom.  And unlike my mindset in my former job, I am not lying awake agitated by the job or my responsibilities.  So this is likely some physical change that I have not yet fully identified.  Therefore, I keep my iPad close by and read a few articles until I feel a little drowsy.  Far better than staring at the ceiling or the clock.

Back to Christmas for a second--my kids used some great creativity and pooled their resources for my Christmas gift, giving me (and my wife) tickets to a Beatles tribute show called Rain that will appear here in Lexington in mid-February.  This group is supposed to be the best of those that do what they do, and, as I believe I've noted here, I am a HUGE Beatles fan.  They also added a gift card to a nice restaurant to make it a very complete date night.  Really great gift, and I'm excited for the date to arrive!

I don't follow the NFL that closely (no fantasy football for me, or baseball, either) but I think that a few coaches will receive pink slips and some nice parting gifts.  The day after the regular season ends is now known as Black Monday, and it has nothing to do with holiday shopping.  I told my wife last night near the end of the Denver Broncos' disassembly of the Oakland Raiders last night that I felt it was possible that eight coaches would be shown the door.  I know of one who's already agreed mutually to leave, combative Jim Harbaugh of the San Francisco 49ers.  How would you like for your job to work that way?  Things don't go that well, and you're out--but with a year or two (or more) of pay.  Not bad, eh?

I'm pretty active on Twitter and periodically adjust my feed to add or delete people who either aren't adding anything or are adding too much.  I recently dropped a famous business writer whom I respect greatly, but because he would ask open ended questions and then retweet EVERY RESPONSE HE RECEIVED I could go less than an hour between times I viewed my timeline only to find 200 new items, most of which were related to one of his statements/questions.  So I bade him adieu.  Likewise, someone local in sports media whom I do not like or respect wrote something that made it indirectly to me:  "So, Twitter is like an ongoing election.  You and only you make hits.  Just ignore what you don't want to read that raises your blood pressure."  Despite being incredibly self-absorbed, this man made some sense to me.  I probably change that feed more than I used to for that reason!

I have to confess that, other than trips to the grocery, I've managed to avoid the retail scene for a few days, opting to let the furor of merchandise returns and gift card spending to wain a bit before dipping a toe back into those waters.  I have a couple of items to return to a couple of adjoining stores, so that will probably be the first return.

Finally, will be working to catch up on some movie viewing in the next few days.  My wife and I took in a showing of "Exodus:  Gods and Kings" on Friday.  Dandy retelling of the Moses-frees-the-slaves-from-Egypt story from the Bible, and, more commonly, Cecil B. deMille's epic "The Ten Commandments."  This version is a little less self-impressed and, of course, chock full of modern special effects that enhance the story.  Christian Bale made for a muscular and effective, if somewhat doubting, Moses, and Joel Edgerton was quite good playing the thankless role of Ramses, the Egyptian ruler with whom Moses clashes.  Good picture.  "The Hobbit:  The Battle of the Five Armies" is most likely next.  And, just to recap, the third "Hunger Games" picture was very good, and I am still thinking about "Interstellar" six weeks later, if that tells you anything!

Enjoy your week--I know that I'll enjoy mine!

Monday, December 22, 2014

Nearly there

Christmas is coming, the goose is getting fat.....and so on!

Hope you're ready for Christmas, because it will be here on Thursday, whether we're ready, or not!  I think we're ready, but I've experienced a couple of instances this holiday season when I thought my wife and I had completed our shopping and preparation, only to find that we have more to finish!

Have you noticed some of this year's holiday advertising varies greatly from charming and fun to downright puzzling?  For instance, the Lexus commercials, showing their various models wrapped in a large bow have been around for a while, as have the Mercedes spots with Santa driving a team of red cars in lieu of reindeer.  I particularly like the Apple commercial that's running right now, showing an older woman enjoying and becoming emotional over a long-forgotten piece of music.  There was also a TV ad for a regional healthcare provider in my area that conveys a simple message of peace for the season.  Barnes and Noble has used a very tasteful series of ads to highlight what it's like to shop at their stores, narrated by veteran actress Sigourney Weaver.  The funniest I've seen is a spot for a video game store, wherein a group of elves hijack a truck full of games and equipment for Santa to deliver to good girls and boys.

Some of the misses, in my opinion, include Big Lots, the seller of discontinued and odd-lot merchandise.  They have some sort of faux Motown girl group singing very aggressively about "nailing this Christmas" and buying "real gifts" at their store.  The singing is OK, but the lyrics are a bit off-putting.  Wal-Mart has blitzed us with ads featuring former TV star Melissa Joan Hart and current performer Anthony Anderson (an odd coupling if ever there was one).  Not awful, but their chemistry is a little lacking.  And I'm kind of tired of the Soma ads for pajamas and other intimate clothing.  Just a little too in-your-face.

We've been out among the shoppers here and there of late, and the reports that people are spending less this year may not apply to my home area, judging by the crowds.  People are being pretty nice to one another, but that may change as time and tempers get shorter!

Let me share a quick story of humility.  My wife and I attended church yesterday morning, and as we were leaving saw that the local chapter of the Knights of Columbus were selling bags of kettlecorn to raise funds.  So I stopped after mass to purchase a bag, and noticed another man doing the same, only he paid quite a bit more for his bag than I did and indicated that he was happy to donate his change to the Knights.  I recognized him immediately, as he's a local celebrity, but the Knight who waited on him apparently did not.  I overheard them engaging in some chitchat, as another person walked up and spoke to this person, addressing him as "coach."  The seller said, "Are you at Kentucky?" and meant the University. The man acknowledged that he was.  "And what do you do?" the seller asked.  "I'm the head football coach," responded Coach Mark Stoops, with an enormous grin.  The seller apologized for not recognizing him, but it was a very nice moment that ended in a handshake.

I so much prefer that to a "don't you know who I am?" moment that might have happened with another person!

So that's that for this morning.  Hope you and yours have a very Merry Christmas!


Monday, December 15, 2014

Ever closer

Friends, we are FAST approaching Christmas and that means that everyone is really rushing around, getting things done, crossing items off their Christmas shopping lists, going to parties, and so on.  Let's all make a pact that we'll be patient and tolerant of others.  Makes things so much nicer, don't you think?

My wife and I visited a handful of retail establishments over the weekend, and while many were crowded, the patrons were still well-behaved, and there was no apparently fighting over limited quantity items or close parking spaces.  Yet.

I want to pause for a moment and thank those who contacted me with such positive comments about my most recent post.  Always nice to hear from those who read and enjoy this blog!  If you have comments, whether positive or negative, don't be bashful about sharing!

I made it through a particularly trying week last week.  Lots of travel and a lot of events scheduled, but here I am, safe and sound.  This week stands to be busy, too, but less traveling to go with it.  The good with the bad, right?

I'm still enjoying my experimentations with Spotify, by the way, but I cannot see myself ever paying for this service, which a good many people do.  Great way to listen to a few things that I either used to own but no longer do, or was undecided about whether to add to my collection.  And the sound quality is pretty good, so there's that.  Right now I'm listening to a new album (yes, they're still ALBUMS to me) by the stalwart Neil Diamond.  I heard a few songs from this on his SiriusXM channel recently and they were pretty good (first original songs in some years, apparently).

Speaking of music, we had two musical experiences yesterday.  First, our two "local" grandchildren (not to be confused with those from the Colorado branch of the family!) have been participating in a music program called "Music and Moves."  They seem to have enjoyed it quite a bit, and their instructor held a recital of all of her students, and they were both a part of it, and my wife and I were on hand, too.  Great fun, and nice to see kids really enjoying and connecting with music!

The second such opportunity was a University of Kentucky-based event last night, involving voice students, a youth chorus, a pretty funky brass band and a couple of immensely talented soloists who appeared as guest performers.  This was held in what many years ago was the "furniture block" of Lexington, turned into an enclosed shopping mall (with only limited success) a few years ago.  There are numerous levels to the atrium area where this was held, and the performers were even stationed on different levels.

Seating for this even was at such a premium that we all (our son and his family, in addition to my wife and myself) wound up sitting on a stairwell a level above the main orchestra area and watched it on a large television monitor.  I have to confess that I don't normally enjoy sitting on the steps watching TV, but this was worth the effort!

I hope that I just got over my holiday cold.  Came upon me about nine days ago, with the usual suspects (runny then congested nose, cough, etc.).  Based on my most recent experience and others in the recent past, I am now a firm believer in the power of saline.  Whether you apply this with a simple squeeze bottle, the aerosol variety or a Neti pot, it works.

OK, now that I've provided perhaps a little too much information, I'll close for today.  Have a fabulous week!



Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Thinking about what I've done

Good Tuesday morning, one and all.  I come to you today suffering from a cold or something, so bear with me!

Today's title was a kind of nod to what our parents used to tell us when we would be sent to our rooms (before "time out" was a thing, of course).  "Go in there and think about what you've done!"  Whatever that was.  I have two brothers and growing up, we brawled constantly, so what I had "done" was often what I was involved in, along with one or both of them.

But I've been traveling a lot by car lately, so when you're on the endless road, the mind wanders far and wide, and that phrase came back to me for some reason.

I was talking with my wife the other night about something and said that I should document all of the silly things I did when our kids were growing up that we all found so funny.  But since they both visit this space sometimes, I won't torture them further than I already have!

But invariably, we DO start thinking about things that have happened in the past, some great, some not as much. Loved ones who are part of our daily lives, and those now departed.  Friends we've known and have lost touch with.    Jobs we used to have.  Places we used to live.  And on and on.

I don't habitually keep a lot of stuff, don't maintain a scrapbook or a journal (except this blog, of course), and my photo library pretty much starts when our first grandchild was born (thankfully both my son and son-in-law are major shutterbugs).  But it's all in there, somewhere, amid the movie lines and baseball statistics, crew listings from the Apollo missions, song lyrics, etc.

But I like the randomness of it, how I will suddenly and for no reason think of my sixth grade teacher.  Or that time the prettiest girl in school came to my house to join a bunch of the neighborhood kids in climbing our friendly willow tree.  Or the occasion of meeting a Senator at a speech tournament while in high school.

You get the picture.

Lots of these experiences are interesting and memorable only to me, of course, and I think I like to keep it that way.  We're all the sum of our personal experiences, of course, so each of these little snippets contributes to the whole in some way.

Will I remember things that happen now in twenty years?  I hope so.  My grandchildren constantly do  and say things that make me laugh, make me think and make me FEEL, and I hope that never changes.  My wife and I already reminisce about our oldest grandchild, now nine years old, as though SHE'S old!

So I suppose today's another day to experience more stuff.  Make the most of it!






Monday, December 1, 2014

Time between the holidays

Good Monday afternoon to one and all.  As good as a Monday can be, anyway!

I hope that you had the chance to spend Thanksgiving and the day or two afterward with people you care about, as I did.  Managed not to do much shopping but did pick up something on Saturday morning that I had "pre-purchased at Black Friday prices," whatever the heck that meant.  All I know is that I saved some money on it, and went in to pick it up before the crowds descended on this poor defenseless retailer.

Did you know that last Saturday was designated as "Small Business Saturday?"  On that day small businesses ask that you not forget to patronize them.  We did, and normally do.  I like dealing with locally owned operations, as you pretty much know the money you spend will largely stay in your home community.  One of my primary outfitters these days is Colonel Littleton, Ltd., in the small town of Lynnville, Tennessee.  I don't live there, but buying from the Colonel always makes me feel good for many of the same reasons.

Other than that and a couple of other things, I didn't shop much in the past week for anything but groceries.  Fine by me!  I just returned from a frustrating chat with a retailer that makes a big thing of their "price match" policy, but they are somewhat inconsistent in applying it.  Asked on person on the phone about it, and she said that they don't price match their own Black Friday pricing, then when I visited the store today I was shown the policy, and in teeny tiny print it indicates that they do not match ANYONE'S Black Friday prices.  Oh, well.

My wife and I watched a movie with our son and his family Thanksgiving night.  According to the grandkids, we were treated to a screening of "The Wizard of the Voz," which was indeed quite a movie.  They came to our house to spend the afternoon the next day and we watched it again, but now it was called "The Wizard of the Oz."  No matter, we enjoyed it both times.

Speaking of movies, the next couple we want to see will be out shortly..."The Hobbit--The Battle of the Five Armies" and "Exodus--Gods and Kings" will both be released in a couple of weeks and my wife and I are looking forward to both.  I'm sure there are others that will be released that may turn out to be worthwhile, but none are as compelling to me as those are.

We're making progress with our Christmas shopping and other processes.  Just about have the Christmas cards ready to stuff and send.  And we have to have our shopping done for the Colorado branch of the family done early so that we can pack and ship it.  Can't get everything from Amazon, after all!

We're having typically unpredictable weather here in central Kentucky.  A cold rain is falling and the temperature is in the high 30's.  And I have to travel by car over the next couple of days.  Oh, joy!

That's it.  Get back to work!


Monday, November 24, 2014

One-liners

Happy Thanksgiving week, friends.  Hope your plans this week include some quality time with folks you love.

Sometimes I want to comment on a lot of things but they're kind of disjointed, and today is one of those days.  So here are some one (or more)-sentence random thoughts about, well, random subjects:

Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel, we hardly knew ye.  Tough to jump onto a train that's already moving, I suppose.

The music from the movie "Interstellar" is easy to overlook when considering the film as a whole, but it's extremely important to the movie.  Same can be said of many other movies, too.

Movies in a series present some difficulties, as the middle ones often are designed to keep the plot moving and by design don't conclude much.  This is true of the latest installment of the "Hunger Games" series, which is called "Mockingjay Part 1."  Good movie, but it starts and ends in the middle of a larger plot.

On that same line of thought, "The Empire Strikes Back" was the best of the original three "Star Wars" movies.  By far.

It's late November, we've had multiple hard freezes.  Why am I sneezing?

Nice to see that some things never change, as the Boston Red Sox once again make a concerted effort to buy another championship.  They used to hate the New York Yankees for doing the same thing.

On the other hand, the Cincinnati Reds didn't do all that well last year, and they're still making out their shopping list.

Kentucky's basketball team has won by some huge margins in the past week, yet everyone wants to know what's wrong with them.  Only in Kentucky.

Conversely, Kentucky's football team has one more chance to turn a rebuilding year into a bowl season, but they'll have to bring their "A" game against the hated Louisville Cardinals next Saturday.

I read the highlights article about the American Music Awards show that aired last night.  My God, I'm old.  And out of touch with popular music.

Last week I heard someone on one of the satellite channels I frequent express the opinion that the differences between my generation's musical tastes and those of the current "younger" generation were narrower than ever before.  Um, I don't think I agree.

Yesterday my wife and I were able to see our granddaughter perform in a play.  In suburban Denver, Colorado.  As it happened.  From our living room in Kentucky.  Via the Internet.  What times we live in!

Brain purge concluded.  Have a great holiday week!








Monday, November 17, 2014

Upgrades

Good morning, gang.  It's snowing here in central Kentucky.  The weather forecasters are calling for anywhere between a dusting and a couple of inches of the white stuff.  And it's the middle of November. So I suppose in that respect, this morning's title is a bit of a misnomer, as I would definitely NOT classify today's weather as anything remotely resembling an upgrade!

One thing that certainly is an upgrade is this year's Kentucky basketball squad.  So loaded with talent is his team that Coach John Calipari has divided the ten best players into two "platoons," and thus far he has substituted these groups as a unit (five players at a time).  The team hasn't really played anyone but that will change when they meet Kansas this week.  So I suppose we'll see how well this works out long-term.

The same cannot be said for Kentucky's fading football team.  After getting off to a fast start at 5-1, the team has now lost five straight games, with each loss seemingly worse than the last.  Saturday they lost for the umpteenth time in Knoxville to the University of Tennessee by a whopping margin.  The team appears to be trying but they simply don't have enough player depth to remain competitive and from my viewpoint are playing as though they're tired.  Which they most likely are.  Reinforcements are coming but not until next season, so the best news now is that they get a week off before trying to regroup in two Saturdays and compete against in-state rival Louisville (which has its own problems, since they'll be visiting an angry Notre Dame team that lost at home in overtime to an unranked Northwestern squad).

My wife and I are off and running with our Christmas shopping.  For you wet blankets who start in July this is not a big thing, but we have about 1/4 of the shopping completed and it's not even Thanksgiving.  Still in a quandary about Christmas cards this year (yes, we're old-fashioned enough to still do that), as we haven't seen many we like.  Yet.

I bought myself a present last week, purchasing a new Apple iPad Air 2.  I had decided to see about selling my venerable third-generation iPad on Craigslist, but only got a couple of nibbles.  But I noticed that a national electronics retailer (no names, remember) was offering trade-ins and I went to see about it and got what I would consider to be a worthwhile allowance for my old device.

In selecting the new iPad, I opted for 128 gigabytes of storage, as I didn't want to outgrow this device or have to come up with workarounds.  And I got the "space grey" color, which means the frame around the screen is black, just like the original (I'm a creature of habit, certainly).  The new device is decidedly thinner, lighter and faster than its predecessor, and the same was true of that device, too.  I'm enjoying it immensely, and it's usually close at hand when I'm here at home.  I may opt to use it more in my work, but I've tried that in the past with mixed results.

My biggest regret in trading up is that I can no longer use my former iPad's companion, a No. 4 Docker from Colonel Littleton.  That item is a leather play-in case that proved to be very functional and provided good protection, too.  But I have my original No. 5 Pocket to store the new guy in, so it's all good.

And I just got a teeny-tiny flash drive to use with my Macbook Pro, thereby expanding its storage capacity by 50%.  Haven't opened it up yet, but it's supposed to operate using the USB 3.0 technology, which means I should be able to access whatever data I store there quickly and efficiently.

That's about all from command central this morning.  Make your week an upgrade!

Monday, November 10, 2014

Uniformity

Friends, I come to you today with some remarks about a number of things, but I want to start with some thoughts about sports team uniforms.

Yes, that's right.  Uniforms.

This has interested me for some time.  I read a blog periodically called Uni-Watch, about, guess what?  Sports uniforms.  So here are some things that I want to throw out there:

Every university or fan or sportscaster who made fun of the University of Oregon for their ever-changing uniform combinations and possibilities, take note.  On Saturday, the University of Kentucky (famous for "Go Big Blue") wore grey uniforms for at least the second time this year.  On Senior Day.  I like them, don't get me wrong, but it's just a different thing, that's all.  On the same day, Oklahoma, whose uniforms had changed little in many, MANY years, wore white helmets.  Probably not the first time, either.  Arizona State University wore "anthracite" (dark grey to most of us) with copper accents.  Last I heard, their school colors were a deep maroon and gold.  And Notre Dame, the bastion of tradition in college sports, is allowing its football players to wear gold cleats.

In the NFL, there are more ugly color combinations than I can remember.  The Baltimore Ravens chose to wear their purple home jerseys with black pants.  Ugh.  The New Orleans Saints wore all black.  So did the Cincinnati Bengals, against the Cleveland Browns, who were wearing brown pants.  And in the NFL, which some have said must stand for "no fun league," since they used to value uniformity above all else, players are wearing all colors of shoes, colored belt/sash/towel things around their waists, and on and on.  Yikes.

Then there's my preferred sport, major league baseball.  Used to be that the team would determine that the uniform consisted of a certain color, and then the team would be outfitted with white uniforms, trimmed in that color, for home games, and grey unis with that same trim for road games.  Now, most teams wear a colored jersey (or two or three) and do so at home or on the road.  Plus it used to be that a team would designate that their players would all wear the same color shoes, but that hardly ever happens now.  And most every player wears his pants like pajamas, loose and long at the bottom, so completely covering the shoetops that many of the manufacturers of cleats have taken to placing their logos on the front half of the shoe, for greater visibility.  And, of course, that precludes the possibility of most players wearing proper stirrup socks.  Which almost none do, although sometimes players will pull their pants up toward their knee, revealing not a proper stirrup and sock combo, but a single-color sock much like soccer players wear.

This is all OK, because the NBA, pro basketball league, is threatening to start placing ads on their uniforms.  I say that it cannot hurt, given how many teams and sports already look.

                                                          ---------------------------

A couple of other things to note:  my wife and I saw "Interstellar" yesterday.  Awe-inspiring, jaw-dropping, emotionally charged, exceptional movie.  I want to go back to see it again, just to see what I didn't fully absorb the first time.  And even if you're not a fan of science fiction, don't write this movie off....lots more to offer than just sci-fi stuff.

Finally, former President George W. Bush is making the rounds right now, having just authored a book about his father, former President George H.W. Bush.  He seems a lot more likable these days, much as he seemed when he was Governor of Texas and before, when he was involved with the Texas Rangers baseball team.  And he clearly has a high opinion of his father, and I admire that.

That's good enough for a Monday.  Try to have a good week.



Tuesday, November 4, 2014

The ballot box

Good morning from the Bluegrass State!

I used the above title because today, of course, is Election Day in many parts of the country, my home state of Kentucky included.  And Kentucky takes its politics seriously.  There's a little Catholic church in western Kentucky in a place called Fancy Farm that apparently invited a political candidate or two to speak some years ago, and now that event, which is simply referred to as "Fancy Farm," is heavily attended by just about anyone running in a statewide race.

This year was no exception, as veteran Republican U.S. Senator (and Senate "important guy") Mitch McConnell is running for another term.  His primary opponent (there is at least one "minor" party candidate in the race) is the current Secretary of State, Alison Lundergan Grimes.  The maiden name is important, as her father, Jerry Lundergan, has been a major player in Kentucky Democratic politics since I was a kid.  He and his family operate a major catering enterprise, but are also involved in other avenues of business in addition to his considerable political reach.  I'd wager that he has both of the Clintons on speed dial.  Two of his kids went to high school with my kids.  But Alison is the only one of the bunch who's run for office, and she was apparently approached by the Democratic Party to challenge McConnell this time around.  She was briefly leading in the polls, as public dissatisfaction with Congress worked against McConnell, but his campaign has skillfully tied Grimes to President Obama, who's very unpopular here, so it looks as though McConnell will win, but not all that easily.

Funny thing about sentiment against the President.  Kentucky has an overwhelming majority of its voters registered as Democrats, yet have voted for the Republican candidate for President in just about every race since Ronald Reagan's first term.  The exception were Bill Clinton's two campaigns. A "Red" state indeed.  So it's not as though Kentuckians turned on Obama.

And when I say that we're serious about politics, I mean it.  Kentucky is routinely in the bottom 10% of all states in terms of job creation and education spending, but, by golly, we ALWAYS have the most advanced voting machines available.  No hanging chads here!

I think in an overall sense it's interesting that polling just a year ago indicated that fewer than 10% Americans approved of the performance of Congress as a whole, and yet, here we are, a few months later and many incumbents have turned this into dissatisfaction with the President.  This makes him poison to many Democratic candidates and red meat for just about any Republican.  I laugh out loud at races for things like state Senator (our legislature meets for about six weeks every two years), where the Republican candidate will run television ads indicating that his/her Democratic opponent is an "Obama Democrat."

Yikes!

I wouldn't expect a lot of surprises nationally.  Bad incumbents who have enough money almost always win, regardless of public opinion.  Funny how that works.

But regardless, of all of this, please get out and vote.  It's the only way we can change ANYTHING in this country!

Monday, October 27, 2014

Up on the roof

Good Monday morning, campers!  It was a beautiful weekend here in central Kentucky. The great weather began around Thursday and was spectacular all the way through to today.  Fall is indeed here, with just a little cool in the air.  Gonna be cooler still later in the week, they tell me.

Today's post is so titled because I spent a couple of hours on my roof yesterday.  No, I haven't gone completely around the bend, I just needed to finish a project I started last weekend.  I don't like to paint, which I think I have adequately documented here previously, but I can do it and do a decent job of it.  Home ownership these past 25+ years has made me develop at least tolerable skills in this area (and others, of course), and I'm not about to spent $1000 for someone to do what I can do passably myself.

So this painting project was the exterior trim.  Didn't need to paint the garage or entry doors, I had done those in the last couple of years.  No, we're talking about the frame around those doors, plus all of the windows.  And, yes, we still have old-style wood windows, the kind that require some maintenance.  Ten years ago I noticed some rot on a couple of the sills and had a handyman locate and install some metal sleeves that fit over those sills.  No more rot.  And he also used PVC to clad a couple of other windows, so they're in good shape as well.

Despite these efforts, these things need to be painted every few years, and I had put it off too long.  So last weekend I did everything within easy reach--ground level.  There was one window, on the front of the house, that required me to use a ladder, but that wasn't difficult.

Yesterday's effort required me to exit one of the upstairs bedroom windows and traverse the top of our roof to get to the other bedroom window.  I stood on the roof painting each window in turn until completed, then leaned out of the exit window to paint the sill and other parts that I needed to leave alone until I reentered the house.  And I successfully tilted in the sash (they all say that's possible, and it is, in theory, as I only had that one try to come loose once) from that window to paint it.

I'm sure the neighbors behind us are relieved, as they're about the only people who ever see these two windows.  I'm just glad it's done.  My next painting project may be to paint our stairwell, and you can just imagine all of the acrobatics that will require!

Couple of pieces of news to mention--all readers here know that I am not fond of the St. Louis Cardinals baseball team.  They're the nemesis of my Cincinnati Reds.  But I feel badly for them today, as a young outfielder for the club, Oscar Taveras, was killed in an auto accident in his native Dominican Republic over the weekend.  He was only 22 years old.

And Kentucky played football on national television Saturday, faltering only near the end of a good game against the number one team in the country, the Bulldogs of Mississippi State University.  UK was within a touchdown and tried an onside kick that failed and allowed MSU to score another touchdown, icing the game.  But our team showed that they're making strides toward being competitive, and that's all a fan can hope.

Keeping both feet on the ground today.  Shouldn't be a problem!

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Bad guys

Good morning, all.  A slight detour from my normal slice-of-life diatribes.  This morning my treatise concerns villains from movies and books.

Why are we fascinated with villains?  Is it because we secretly wish that we could act that way, with no real consequences?  Or is it because we know that most, if not all, of the time, the good guys win out in the end of a movie or book?

I don't know, but I find many "bad guys" from movies to be most interesting, possibly the MOST interesting character in a given work.  Without further introduction, and in no particular order, here are some of the villains I've found compelling in various movies and other sources:

Sir Laurence Olivier enjoyed a long and distinguished career in acting on stage and screen, but may be known best to people in my demographic for playing the Nazi war criminal Christian Szell in the '70's thriller "Marathon Man."  The plot is somewhat difficult to explain quickly, but in it Dustin Hoffman plays a student who is thought to know something significant and incriminating.  Szell and his operative capture Hoffman's character and in an uncomfortably memorable scene Szell, who was a dentist at one time, tortures his prey by drilling his teeth and irritating dental nerves, asking repeatedly "Is it safe?"  I'm shuddering just writing about it!

No discussion of movie villains would be complete without mentioning Hannibal Lecter, the cannibalistic psychiatrist in "The Silence of the Lambs" and its sequels.  Anthony Hopkins absolutely owns this film, winning a Best Actor Academy Award despite only 22 minutes of screen time.  Funny, revolting, terrifying and even sympathetic at times, Lecter is must more formidable than the "real" villain of that movie, the inaccurately named "Buffalo Bill."

Then there's old Mr. Potter in the Frank Capra feel-good classic "It's a Wonderful Life."  Miserly, vindictive, and ever opportunistic, Potter is most definitely a damper on the whole Bailey family, who has famously fought Potter to help the citizens of Bedford Falls.

The villains in all four of the Indiana Jones movies are interesting, for varying reasons.  None play their parts with as much relish as Cate Blanchett as the Soviet officer/scientist in the most recent of these movies, "Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull" (try saying that five times fast).  Although Paul Freeman, the British actor who played ruthless French archaeologist Belloq in "Raiders of the Lost Ark" was also memorable for his bad behavior, Blanchett as Irina Spalko was top notch.

The recent Christopher Nolan renditions of Batman also bring to mind two memorable villains, though both were quite different.  Heath Ledger's take on the Joker in "The Dark Knight" was the closest thing to Hannibal Lecter that I think I've seen since.  Even if he's not on camera, his presence permeates that film, as Batman/Bruce Wayne and the Gotham police have to try to figure out what to do in response to each atrocity committed by the Joker.  And in the final installment, we have Tom Hardy bringing life to a totally different villain, Bane, in a way that's faithful to the comics and graphic novels, and yet also most convincing.  Bane isn't insane, he's just completely evil, or, as he tells someone, "I am necessary evil."  Just so.

Final villain in my list---of course, Darth Vader.  Lots and lots and LOTS of great lines, outrageously evil behavior, and, well, the voice of James Earl Jones didn't hurt, either.  My favorite line?  After a foul up an officer says he will go to Lord Vader and personally apologize.  We next see that officer on the floor gasping and as he breezes by, Vader says "Apology accepted, Admiral."  The man (plus machine) we love to hate!  Although I must say that it's a little disconcerting to hate and fear him so much and then see his image all over the place at Walt Disney World, now that Disney owns Lucasfilm!

If you have others in mind that I overlooked in this space(and I do, too), send me a comment!





Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Changes of scenery

It's a rainy Tuesday afternoon here in central Kentucky today.  Hope the weather is a little more agreeable wherever you're reading this.

Working my first all-office day for some time.  Somehow I thought this would be more common when I moved into yet another work-from-home position, but given staffing changes, ever-changing client expectations and, well, an endless pile of things to be done, it has not happened much.  Hopefully this is the beginning of a trend!

Yesterday I was in the hills of eastern Kentucky for a meeting in Martin.  This is a small community in Floyd County, for those keeping score, but I have client locations based there.  It's a pretty drive from Lexington to Martin and yesterday was no exception, as there are many wooded areas along the hills en route to that part of the state and many of the trees have begun to blaze into fall colors

Ironically, my wife and I spent most of three days in the foothills of the Great Smoky Mountains in eastern Tennessee last week, with our visit centering on the Sevierville/Pigeon Forge area.  We connected with a very dear friend of mine and her grandson who were already in the area for a wedding, and the four of us spent a day touring the area by car, seeing some wonderful parts of the Great Smoky Mountain National Park and some sights along the way.  We even managed an entertaining round of miniature golf and watched my friend's grandson enjoy several turns on a go-kart track.  A great trip, a great day with some wonderful folks.

Somehow I don't imagine that Mitch McConnell and Alison Lundergan Grimes will be exchanging holiday cards this year.  The two are locked in a tight battle for McConnell's U.S. Senate seat and had a contentious debate on statewide television (and C-Span, too, as I understand) last night.  No one's minds were changed, I'd wager, but McConnell's difficulty addressing certain issues shows how out of touch a career politician can become by spending 30 years in Washington and coming home only long enough to get reelected every six years.  He'll probably keep his seat, but it won't be easy for him.

I also saw where Mitt Romney's wife says that he probably won't run for President again.  I didn't even realize that he was considering it, or that anyone in the Republican party wanted him to run.

And if you're keeping count of such things, we have a little less than two months until Christmas.  Wow.

So I suppose I need to get busy!

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

A big week

Greetings, all.  Rainy Tuesday morning here in central Kentucky, but we appear to have escaped the more severe weather that has struck areas south of here thus far.  But we're under a significant chance of rain for the next several days, so not out of the woods yet.

The cavalry has arrived in my job, as I now have three new folks who have received their initial training and are somewhat prepared to go out and do their new jobs.  This is great news for me, as I've been wearing a lot of hats over the past couple of months, just to keep things moving in a positive direction.

Playoff baseball continues to be fascinating.  In the American League this year, we have no Yankees or Red Sox or Rangers, none of the usual players.  The Baltimore Orioles, who have not played in a World Series since 1983, will face off against the Kansas City Royals, who've not done so since 1985 (if you're interested, both of them won the last times they went to the Series) for the right to go to this year's World Series.  Each swept their first round opponent, and Kansas City had to win a one-game wild card playoff in order to qualify for that.

In the National League it's a little more what we're used to seeing, as the Dodgers, Cardinals and Giants are all still alive, as most have been for the past several years.  The Washington Nationals are back in the postseason after a one year absence, and the two division series are at two games to one so far.  As one might expect.

I find it endlessly interesting how many teams divert from winning strategies that got them to this point (failing to "dance with the one who brung you," in slang terms) at this time of the year.  Managing a baseball team has to be the hardest head coaching job in pro sports, as so many decisions rest solely with the manager, and he has to trust his information as well as his instincts.  And they often disagree with one another!

My wife and I are embarking on a nice little getaway later in the week, traveling to Gatlinburg, Tennessee.  We will sleep in, shop, eat, sightsee and spend some quality time with a very good friend who'll be visiting the area for a wedding.  Even though the weather probably won't be ideal (predicted  chances of thunderstorms during our stay) we should still have a great time!

That's all for now.  Enjoy your week!

Monday, September 29, 2014

Ending well

Good Monday morning, everyone...hope you all had a great weekend!

A few things rattling around pertaining to things ending, and I suppose I should start with my beloved Cincinnati Reds, who ended their baseball season yesterday.  162 games filled with injuries and uneven performance, ending with a record well below .500 that did not qualify the team to play in the postseason, as they had three of the past four years.

But just in case you think that the last few games were downers, it's worth noting that on their way to wrapping up the season the Reds won Thursday against the Milwaukee Brewers, ending that team's postseason aspirations, and over the weekend won in come-from-behind fashion on Saturday with an extra-innings grand slam, no less, and then yesterday their wonderful pitcher Johnny Cueto drove in what would be the winning run to assure himself of a 20-win season, the first by a Reds pitcher since 1988.  As I am fond of saying, baseball is the greatest game of them all, as they were playing a Pittsburgh Pirate team that had only lost four times during September coming into the weekend, and won two of three.  So there you go.

Another ending was a Southeastern Conference losing streak for the University of Kentucky football team, as they outlasted Vanderbilt Saturday afternoon by a score of 17-7.  Not a pretty game, from all accounts, but it tallies the team's third win of the season nonetheless.  The Cats had not won a conference game in over two years, by the way.

Luckily for me, I appear to be ending a nasty cold or sinus disorder, which often happens to me in the spring and fall, when allergy sensitivity is at a high point.  Hacking and blowing, lots of fun for those around me, I'm sure, but if it's not over, it's pretty close.

My wife went out of town to visit her mother over the weekend, so I used some solo time to catch up on some TV that I knew would not interest her.  Via the PBS app on Apple TV, I watched "The Roosevelts:  An Intimate History" in fits and starts throughout the weekend wrapping that up last night.  Fascinating look at three very influential people, Theodore, Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt.  And even though I'm something of a student of history, I learned a fair amount about each during the course of the miniseries.  Ken Burns is a remarkable maker of these types of films, by the way; I still watch his "Baseball" masterpiece every spring as a tuneup for the baseball season!

Finally, my work situation has been interesting lately, as we hire three new team members, and it has fallen to me to train and orient these folks, one each for the past two weeks, and the third person starts this morning.  Once that's done, things will change, as I've been juggling multiple responsibilities in anticipation of these folks joining our team.  So I suppose that's one more thing that will end well!

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Falling

It's fall, campers, as of around 10:30 last night.  It's felt more like fall in these parts for some time, so appropriate it's now official.

And with that, I have my traditional fall cold.  I have been fighting allergies for some weeks, which is also characteristic of this time of year, but what I have suffered has morphed into a full-blown cold.  Congestion, some coughing (though thankfully not so much that I can't sleep) and general aches are its hallmarks.  How nice.  Using some over-the-counter stuff to fight back, but, as we all know, it generally just has to run its course.

We had our twice-a-year neighborhood garage sale Saturday.  I put out a few things, plus a couple of pieces of furniture that we no longer wanted.  Made less than $50, but that's better than the last time I did it, when I made about $15.  Sold a blender we haven't used in years, a weed trimmer that does not run, and a soap dispenser that clogs at the drop of a hat.  Plus a few other things.  

And as usual, folks came in asking for various stuff.  The first man who appeared said he was interested in finding some tools.  My bet is that he got lucky once and is hoping for history to repeat itself.  Not here, friend, I don't have that many tools, I thought.  

The furniture is now resting comfortably on Craigslist, until I can find time to haul it to a couple of places that buy used stuff.  Almost all of the rest of it went straight to Goodwill.  We've found that a good rule of thumb---if you're willing to sell it, donate what you don't sell, rather than returning that stuff to your other belongings.  When you live in a smallish house, important to fight clutter where you can!

Depressing times around here.  The Cincinnati Reds will NOT have a winning season, let alone participate in post-season play.  They begin their last six games of the season tonight, all at home.  May try to get up to the ballpark for one, since there won't be anymore until next April.  And that's what's depressing.  This time of year I think of the quote from A. Bartlett Giamatti, who wrote:

“[Baseball] breaks your heart. It is designed to break your heart. The game begins in the spring, when everything else begins again, and it blossoms in the summer, filling the afternoons and evenings, and then as soon as the chill rains come, it stops and leaves you to face the fall all alone. You count on it, rely on it to buffer the passage of time, to keep the memory of sunshine and high skies alive, and then just when the days are all twilight, when you need it most, it stops.”

I don't think I can say it any better than that.



Monday, September 15, 2014

Monday, Monday

Good Monday morning to all.  Hope everyone had a fabulous weekend!

Later today I'm going to be helping to orient a new employee (note that I did not use the non-word "orientate."  One of these days I'll do an entire blog entry on the fingernails-on-a-blackboard feeling I get from numerous very common grammatical errors.).  I'll be doing this each of the next three weeks.  I've done this many, MANY times, but I cannot say that I've done it when I myself have been this "new," having only started my current job in May.  But it will be good to fill out our team completely!  The only hiccup thus far is new hire #1 had difficulty finding our offices elsewhere for the HR portion of her orientation, but I was just advised that she arrived.

Had a couple of pretty awful customer service experiences recently, and while I could provide endless details of each, let's just say they were totally different from one another and involved completely different industries and products/services.  It's just sad that we more or less MUST expect customer service to be poor overall.

Have you seen "Guardians of the Galaxy?"  I have not, not sure if I want to, but in a mediocre summer for movies, it's apparently the box office champ.  Just wondering....

Isn't it funny how free, strong Wi-Fi makes about any place of business better, especially the ones that invite or encourage staying a while?  I took my wife to a medical appointment (involves her eyesight, so they require that the patient not drive afterward) this morning, and am cohabiting at a coffee-and-sandwich place.  One that's known for their wi-fi and lengthy customer stays.  I will be here for a bit, so it's fortunate that the Wi-Fi is good here.

I saw something that kind of amused me last week.  A former employer, which has been through an acquisition and is now apparently being sold to a large venture capital company, is now looking to ADD management talent to its ranks.  Presumably the new owners realize that the former ones thinned the ranks a little too much.  I love corporate America!

Confession--I watched the entire Apple presentation about their new products and services.  Ready to add to my existing arsenal of Apple products, but will wait until the right point (and contract interval, regarding a phone upgrade).

Last night my wife and I were scanning the television dial looking for something to watch.  The NFL game of the evening held no interest, so we wound up watching some stuff on the Cooking Channel.  Watched an episode of a show entitled "Carnival Eats," and it's about exactly that.  We saw, among other things, apple pie fries, smoked macaroni and cheese, a deep-fried cheeseburger, and a sloppy joe sandwich on two glazed doughnuts instead of a bun.

Then the next show was about sweets, forget the name, but the segment we watched before heading to bed concerned a candy shop in Portland, Oregon that makes their own caramel popcorn, infusing actual bits of popcorn into the caramel itself.  Then they make gumdrops from smoked sugar.  Quite something, I'm sure.  I was awake an extra hour from the indirect sugar rush.

All blogged out for now.  Have a good week!


Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Transition time

Good Tuesday afternoon to you all.

Fall has not fallen in most parts of the country.  In fact, given how wet our weather in central Kentucky has been up to this point of the year, we may not see the evidence of fall in the form of brightly colored leaves for a while yet.

But it's transition time for other reasons, too.  For example, in the past couple of weeks, both college and professional football began their 2014 seasons.  Always an exciting time for fans, since every team is in first place at the start of a new season!  And don't look now, but Kentucky won their first two games of the new season, and have already equalled their win total for the previous two seasons. A much tougher test is ahead Saturday, as the Cats travel to Florida to take on the Gators, but who knows?  Anything can happen.

My beloved Cincinnati Reds are also in transition, as they will most likely not play in the postseason this year, something they've managed to accomplish three of the last four seasons.  Injuries, lack of hitting (timely or otherwise) and some very poorly timed losing streaks have doomed my favorite team to mediocrity and a losing record.  But, as stalwart baseball fans always say, wait 'til next year!

Movies begin to transition from lightweight, youth-oriented summer fare into more adult-appeal films.  Have seen some advertisements for a few new films coming out soon, and, as with anything, some look better than others.  I am very much looking forward to Christopher Nolan's "Interstellar" later in the season.

My work team is going to grow by about 300 percent in the next couple of weeks, a welcome addition.  We've been doing all right with things, but having staffing at the levels that were originally intended will make a big difference to our customer.

Will you get a new iPhone?  Think about it?  I won't, at least not yet, as my current cellphone contract isn't up until next June.  But my wife is probably going to be among those who get the new phone when it becomes available.  The announcement event is occurring as I write this, so Apple may be bringing out more neat stuff with the new phones.

Recently we bought some new furniture.  Liked all of it in the store, but it all looks and seems different here in the house. So we're working with the retailer to see what can be returned, exchanged, etc.  Wish us luck getting all of this worked out to our satisfaction!

One last thing to mention---next month my wife and I are planning a trip to Tennessee, where we plan to meet up with a former coworker and very good friend whom I have not seen in several years.  And I just found out that she's bringing her grandson with her, so the two of them will tour Tennessee from the western end in Memphis all the way east to Gatlinburg, where we'll see them.   What fun!

But that comes later.  For now, back to the grindstone!

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Another long, strange trip

Good day, one and all.  I write to you from the heart of southeastern Kentucky, London, to be exact.  I am here in this locale today to conduct some meetings for my company and am writing this on my well-deserved lunch break.

The London area is only about an hour from my home base of Lexington, but I elected to come down here last night, just in case.  My plans were justified to an extent as I encountered some road-construction-related delays last night during my trip to the area.  I would not have wanted to have begun my workday this morning by sitting in traffic, wondering if I would make it to my first appointment on time!

Things are a little strange with work right now.  We started out in May with a team of three people to handle a given amount of work.  Through various circumstances, my two associates have left the company, leaving only me for the moment.  Replacement staff is on the way, as is an additional team member, but it may be a while before they're in a position to be productive.  So it's catch as catch can for now, lots of meetings and activities in the field.  I enjoy all of the interpersonal contact, to be sure, but anything can be a grind if you do it too frequently.  I will probably be pretty close to my saturation point by the time that our new people are fully able to contribute!

Conversely, the Cincinnati Reds appear to be going nowhere fast, much to my disappointment.  They have simply not played well since the mid-point of the current season, and are now well out of real contention.  The white flag move appeared to have come over the weekend, when the team traded a key member of the bullpen for players to be named later.  The explanation at the time was that it would free up much-needed salary space to sign some of their existing players to new contracts.  But they traded this player to another team in their own division, so that tells me it was more about moving this player and his contract than any other factor.  Wait 'til next year, as they say....

Kentucky started their football season with a bang on Saturday, scoring 59 points on a hapless University of Tennessee-Martin team.  Another lesser opponent this weekend, then the REAL test begins with conference play.  We'll see how well they hold up then.

Less baseball lately has resulted in some different viewing habits at home, and we've been through some of the archives for entertainment recently.  We've watched all three "Jurassic Park" flicks, all good (though the third one is my least favorite).  Also watched three of the four Batman pictures that predate Christopher Nolan's "Dark Knight" masterwork trilogy.  My wife simply will NOT watch "Batman Returns," as it features Danny DeVito as the Penguin.  Too gross, she says.  And Michelle Pfeiffer's nice work as the Catwoman apparently does not offset that feeling.  They weren't bad upon revisiting, but none hold a candle to the gritty realism and tension that the "Dark Knight" films convey.

We will probably watch "Ghostbusters" sometime soon, too, since it was just rereleased into theaters. I remember when that came out--had never seen anything quite like it.  The "action comedy" became a staple of American cinema for a while thereafter.

We've had some really strange weather lately.  Lots of rain, which we normally don't see in August or early September.  Grass is green and growing, instead of the earthy color we normally have by this point.  I'll bet the winter will be most unforgiving this year.....

My son is celebrating a birthday today.  He reads this diatribe periodically, so I'll add my birthday wishes for him here, too!

Lunch break is just about over, so I suppose I should get back to work.  Have a good (and hopefully short) week!

Friday, August 22, 2014

Fast food

Happy Friday to all.  Hard to believe that summer is almost unofficially over, but it's true.  They'll be playing football very soon, and that's always the surest sign to me that summer is nearing an end.  I also think that way in reference to the baseball season---when football starts, baseball is winding down, at least for the regular season.

This morning I have food on my mind, and not just because my breakfast today consisted only of a banana.  Full disclosure--when we buy bananas at our house, they become my "property" when the peels achieve that speckled, darker appearance.  My wife won't touch a banana in that state, except if she plans to make banana bread.  Likewise, I don't like them when the peel still has a greenish cast to it, too firm and not sweet enough.

Anyway, I was about to prepare dinner a couple of nights ago, with boneless/skinless chicken breast on the menu.  I looked at the weather forecast earlier in the day, weather appeared to be clear enough, but when I went outside to uncover and light the grill, the skies looks rather ominous.  So I pivoted quickly and decided to bake these breast pieces instead.

The heavens opened up a few minutes later, and I congratulated myself on my judgment, as I had avoided some weather issues.  About twenty minutes into their preparation, though, the storm had passed but then our power went out.....and our oven and range are electric.  Hmm.  What to do?

So I went out, uncovered and lit the grill, and proceeded to prepare our dinner on the grill.  Sweet potatoes that would have been prepared in those handy plastic micro-bake skins were instead wrapped in foil, and the frozen corn I was going to prepare accompanied said sweet potatoes to the grill.  The chicken, which was about 3/4 done by the point where I moved outside to cook, went a bit later.  By all accounts, the meal was passable, but my wife and I thought the chicken was rather dry.   That's the problem with cooking it partially, allowing it to cool as the oven temperature declined, and then cooking it some more, I guess.  Anyway, we didn't go hungry, even though we were without power for about three hours.

I had a couple of other experiences with food away from the house recently that are worth sharing.  First up:  a new age McDonald's just opened, within sight of an older unit across town from us.  We had business on that side of town, needed a quick lunch (sorry, but I still LOVE McDonald's) and so we gave it a shot.

Brand new building, which meant that they had registers on one side of the service area, and a separate area to pick up your food, which is well overdue.  The service person had a little trouble with the register, but only because it was new to her and the store.  Anyway, we got our food quickly and accurately, which is always nice.  Comfortable environment, too.  I hope to see more of these, as McDonald's is on my "they have Wi-Fi" list for when I'm out in the field and need to do some computer stuff!

I had to go to my sometime office yesterday for some meetings, and rather than commute there mid-morning, I decided to go before an early morning conference call began.  And often that means breakfast on the run, so yesterday I decided to visit a nearby Starbucks.  Ever been in one near 8:00 AM?  It's a ZOO!  The drivethru had about ten cars in line with more trying to join in, and when I entered the store, there were about six people ahead of me.

Despite this, everyone was waited on briskly, and served in turn, which is how it should be.  Pretty impressive, since most everyone else was ordering a mocha-decafe-latte-somethingorother and I was just having black coffee (Komodo Dragon blend yesterday!).  I ordered two small croissants and that required more time than pouring my black coffee, but no more than I would expect.

Then last night, my wife and I surrendered to the hectic pace of the day we'd each had and decided to go out for a burger.  This time, that meant Burger King, which generously circulates some pretty good deals via coupon regularly.   Dinner for both of us was around $8.50, which was only a little more than my coffee and croissants had cost that morning.  And it was served very quickly, hot and delicious!

The only downside was that Burger King has apparently done away with their lower calorie SatisFries, which I found to be quite tasty.  Oh, well, I suppose somewhere they're selling those alongside the aborted McLean Deluxe that McDonald's used to sell (which I also liked, although I was very much in the minority, I'm sure).

I firmly believe in credit where credit is due, you know, but also will pass along the negatives, too.  Good recent streak of positive service experiences, and I certainly hope it lasts.

Have a great weekend!


Friday, August 15, 2014

Business as (un)usual

Happy Friday, campers...looks like we've almost made it to the weekend.  Barring unforeseen issue, of course!

Those of you who are not baseball fans would have missed this, but for the first time in about twenty years, the team owners of major league baseball yesterday elected a new commissioner, to start work in January.  His name is Rob Manfred, and he's been the deputy commissioner and primary labor negotiator for some time.  He will be replacing Bud Selig, who used to own a team but has been in charge of baseball for many years.

I had used this space to promote my own candidacy for this august position, in jest, of course, but that's one of the things about these professional sports leagues that drives me bonkers.  You'd think they'd want or recognize the need for some clear perspective, from someone who's NOT been a part of the "business as usual" mentality.  Not so, and in the other major professional leagues, when the torch is passed, it passes more or less internally.  It's pretty much that way in business, too.

I learned recently that a former employer that laid me off when it significantly restructured the sales division of which I was a member of management is now moving back to its old structure, the new setup having proved itself a failure.  They apparently are telling the employees who remain (and there's not all that many of them, as the parent organization is openly courting buyers for that division) that they plan to conduct an exhaustive national search for the right person to lead the divisional sales effort.  Something tells me they'll look around the organization and tap someone who's already there for this position.  Because they've done it before!

Funny story about a credit card account that we don't use very often.  I've done business in one form or another for over thirty years, starting out in catalog form and moving to major appliances and lawn equipment.  This entity (nameless for obvious reasons) farmed out the management of its credit card program to a global banking company a couple of years ago.

Yesterday's mail brought a notice from that banking company, letting me know that my account was delinquent.  Now, those who know me know that's a virtual impossibility, unless something unusual happened.  And for those who don't know me, I'm VERY cautious about financial matters, paying bills and such well before the due dates, etc.

Anyway, I called the financial institution, and was told that I was more than thirty days overdue on my account.  I countered that I had not received a statement in some months, but only realized it after receiving the letter.  The agent then informed me that I had at some point agreed to have all statements transmitted to me via e-mail.  I didn't recall having agreed to that, as I like the piece of mail that reminds me to make that payment.  I also don't remember seeing anything in my e-mail that looked like a statement, so I'm guessing that it was categorized as spam and never appeared in my inbox.

I explained to the agent that I've done business with ___ for over thirty years, and, until this recent stretch had a very timely record of payment.  I asked him to examine my past history, and he countered with "all I know is that we haven't received a payment since May, and if you don't pay ___ today with me by phone, you'll be hit with ANOTHER late fee."  I attempted to reason with the man, but to no avail, and after he expressed incredulity at my statement that I would pay the balance in full today, but through my bank, and not over the phone (for obvious security reasons), I then asked for his supervisor.

When I got that person on the phone and reviewed the entire scenario, I finally used the "this call is being monitored and/or recorded for quality assurance" thing to my advantage.  I told this "escalation agent" what had happened and what I was prepared to do to remedy the situation.  I also told her that she would need to remove the existing late fee and provide me assurance that I would not receive another, since this was the institution's fault that I stopped receiving mailed statements.  Repeatedly, I added "since this call is being recorded or monitored" to my statements and all she could do was agree.  I also added for emphasis that "you're prepared to have me pay the balance in full and then close an account and end a business relationship I've had for over thirty years because you were interested in saving sixteen cents a month on statement and postage costs, is that correct?"  The response was another sheepish "yes."

Needless to say, I was not a satisfied customer, but since that company closed their larger operations in my home area recently, I don't consider that a major loss.  In the end, they'll get their payment, they're removing an late fees or any credit reporting regarding late payments (they say) and I can shred another credit card.  I suppose doing the right thing isn't always easy, but it's always the RIGHT thing.

Enough ranting.  Have a good weekend!


Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Genius

Good morning to all.

The title isn't a word I would use very often, and certainly tire of folks in the media throwing it around endlessly to describe people who coach football teams or write books.  But I found it to be the only appropriate word this morning when considering the very untimely passing of actor and comic Robin Williams.

Remember the first time we all saw him?  He played a far-out alien on the old sitcom "Happy Days," designed probably to be a one-off appearance.  This turned into "Mork and Mindy," then a contract dispute and then his entry into movies.  And many of those movies were pretty bad, if you recall.  "Popeye," "The World According to Garp," and many more that were largely forgettable.

But then something happened wherein it looked like Hollywood had figured out how to harness the immense comedic horsepower that Williams brought to a scene.  He was in several successful films, garnered Oscar nominations for "Good Morning Vietnam," "Dead Poets Society" (audio clips of which appeared in recent Apple iPad commercials), "The Fisher King," and an Oscar for a great supporting role in "Good Will Hunting."

Along the way he kept doing stand-up comedy, got very publicly sober, went through divorce and remarriage, had children and kept making movies and appearing on TV and elsewhere.  Laugh out loud funny when he turned "it" on.  Can't breathe funny when he kept "it" on, too!  I always wondered where that stuff came from, as he seemed to have an endless supply of pithy comments and observations about everything and everyone.

Like so many artistic folks, he was haunted by personal demons, above and beyond his substance abuse issues and was reportedly suffering from severe depression at the time of his death.  And like these other artistic people, his demons probably served as a foundation for his enormous creativity.

I won't say that I loved everything he did.  I also won't say that I found everything he did to be funny. But I will say that he was a true genius and he will certainly be missed.

Monday, August 4, 2014

Quick turnaround

Good morning, all.  Hope your weekend was exceptional!

A little behind the curve this morning, folks.  Late yesterday afternoon, my son and I ventured down the road to Louisville, KY to Louisville Slugger Field.  We went there to see the Louisville Bats take on the Rochester Red Wings in a minor league baseball game.  Slugger Field is an exceptionally nice minor league park, always very clean at the start of any game and staffed with friendly and helpful folks.  Last night was no exception.

One of my minor gripes in the past was the fact that the park did not accept credit cards for anything except souvenir and ticket purchases, but that is no longer the case, as most major concession stands now also accept plastic.  That's handy, particularly for someone like me who got out of the habit of having cash available for, well, most every occasion.

And last night's tilt, which the Bats ultimately lost 6-5, was also exceptional, in that it was the longest game in the history of Slugger Field, lasting well over five hours.  So yours truly didn't manage to return to home base until the wee hours this morning.  Good fun, regardless, and since the game ran 15 innings, we were treated to a considerable amount of free baseball!

Since I'm a bachelor for a few days, as my wife is out of town visiting family, I took the opportunity to clean some carpet.  We have a Bissell ProHeat machine for that task, and a couple of times a year I try to clean the carpet, to keep it looking and smelling as fresh as possible.  It's not that physically taxing to actually run the machine, but getting ready to do it, and emptying the dirty water and refilling with clean solution water can be a chore.

Yesterday I tried something new.  We had become disenchanted with many of the commercial carpet cleaning products out there (every machine maker has their own brand, of course) some time back, as most of these products seem to have way too much detergent in them, and foam and suds like crazy.  So the last few times I've simply used plain water, as hot as I can get it, and that's done pretty well.  But our soil level demanded something stronger than water this time.  The Internet yielded a number of interesting suggestions in this area, but the one that resonated with me was to use white vinegar in place of the cleaning product.  This mixes with the water on board and is what's sprayed into the carpet.

So I decided to use the upper level of our home as the beta test subject, and completed that part of the job yesterday afternoon.  From what I can see this morning, the results are pretty good.  Carpet looks much better than it did, and there doesn't appear to be any vinegar smell (which almost all of the online notations promised) except from the machine itself, because I left it out to use downstairs tonight.  And the dirty water that I dumped from the machine was that--dirty.  So I consider this to be something of a success.

And on the subject of vinegar, I'm also going to clean our windows this week with a squeegee, vinegar, ammonia and water, thus ensuring more rain for our area.

Wouldn't be one of my blog entries without mentioning the Cincinnati Reds, who apparently took a longer All-Star break than most teams and finally started playing better.  After coming out of the break by losing seven straight games, the Reds have now won four of their last six and are only four and a half games out of first place.  If you had told me that this team would have had this many players (I think it's up to fifteen) on the disabled list at different points of the season and would still be within sight of the lead, I would have questioned your rationality!

So it'll be another busy week for me, probably for you, too.  Make it a good one!


Sunday, July 27, 2014

Rainy Sunday morning musings

Good Sunday morning, all....not going to complain about rain in late July.  Rare occurrence here in central Kentucky.

I have a good friend in northern California who reminded me that the "water police" are out in force there, citing those who ignore regulations about watering lawns, washing cars and such during a severe drought there.  We don't have that here, and probably won't this year, so that's a blessing.

I love quiet Sunday mornings.  My wife is still sleeping, I'm here at my computer with a cup of coffee, perusing the Internet and writing this.  Listening to some music on headphones to keep the house quiet.  We'll enjoy a leisurely breakfast in a while, watch a little television, then decide how to spend the day.  Nice.

Was fortunate enough to play golf with two separate groups of friends the last two Saturdays.  Yesterday's game was an annual treat---a man who's old enough to be my dad annually joins me and a couple of other mutual acquaintances (also young enough to be his sons) for a game of golf.  This guy is a very good player, but we generally manage to bring him down to our level.  Great fun, always nice to reminisce, and I think our friend looks forward to this annual golf date as much as we do.

And I've been playing pretty well lately, which is a nice plus.  Had two consecutive birdies yesterday (for the uninitiated, that means I scored one stroke under par--par being the recommended number of shots it should take to get the ball from the tee to the hole--each time).  Complete luck at my level of ability, but fun and exciting nonetheless.

I mentioned headphones a bit earlier.  I have had an interesting problem of late.  I splurged on a new pair of Bose noise-cancelling headphones a while back, which freed up a pair of Bose earphones that I could then use while on my treadmill.  These replaced a pair of Apple earpods for that purpose, and I was excited that I'd have better sound while watching movies and such during exercise.  Since connecting the Bose set, though, I've had to play with the connections to make sure I was getting all of the sound quality, as I'd get most, but not all, of the soundtrack of what I was watching.  Did a little research yesterday to discover that Bose headphones don't like extension cords all that much.  So I'm back to a cheaper pair for now, but am acquiring a genuine Bose extension cord.  Frustrating, but given how Bose is so secretive about their technology and such, I suppose it's not entirely surprising.

I'm a big Bose fan, too.  Using those noise cancelling phones right now, with a pair of their computer speakers on the desk.  And we have one of their soundbars connected to our TV.  Great sound, takes up little space, and it blends right into the TV and stand esthetically.  And my wife approves, which is a major plus for any gadget-oriented purchase.  I'd rank Bose right up there with Apple as products that polarize opinion but are held in high esteem by those who own one or more of them.

Speaking of Apple, we were at the Apple Store last night for our monthly walk-through (as I commented to my wife, it's a minor victory to leave there empty-handed).  I continually find myself fascinated by the iPod Classic.  Pretty rudimentary machine compared to smart phones and the iPod Touch (which I used to have before acquiring my first iPad), as it only plays music and videos.  But it has a 160 gigabite storage capacity, and my mind races to figure out exactly how much of my library of music, movies and TV would fit onto it.  Not something I need, of course, but might be useful in many regards.  Of course, I feel certain that I can justify it in some way.

Oh, and the Reds won a baseball game yesterday for the first time in nearly two weeks.  I love baseball, but it loves me a little less when this kind of stuff happens.

Onward and upward, I suppose.




Friday, July 18, 2014

But what I really wanted was....

Good Friday to all....hope everyone has a great weekend planned.

Thought I'd share some things I found funny and/or interesting this week.  Traveled a bit (just one night) and have been out and about quite a bit otherwise, so here goes!

Boo!  and Hiss!  to American Airlines, who have apparently "redesigned" their full-size airline cabins to the extent that a "normal" coach seat affords a passenger about half of the forward-and-back space as before.  I was treated to a round trip earlier this week in a larger plane (couldn't tell you what make or model, I'm not THAT much of a geek) and found that I had about two to three handwidths between my chest and the seat in front of me.  Luckily, they're also featuring reduced size flip down trays, so that you can still have a place to put your drink....oh, wait, even that's too small for me now!  To compound matters, the gentleman (and I use that term loosely) who occupied the middle seat next to me on my outbound flight Tuesday afternoon made himself comfortable, completely at my expense.  Glad he enjoyed the flight.  I'm still sore from having his joints embedded in mine.

I just had something funny happen a short time ago.  I think I've mentioned that I have an office (really, simply a workspace in the event that I need it) but work primarily from a home-based office or in the field.  Anyway, I had an early meeting at the location of my office with three client contacts, then a phone call.  So I was there for a couple of hours.  I'm meeting a pal for lunch in about 45 minutes, so thought, well, I'll zip into a Starbucks and get a coffee, plug in the Mac and soak up some luxurious free Wi-Fi.  First Starbucks I visited --nowhere to park.  I mean NOWHERE, not even the meters on the street adjoining the parking lot!  So I resolved to run a quick errand and try another location.

Errand completed, I then encountered a McDonald's, embedded in a gas station (seeing more of those now, aren't we?).  I verified that they had Wi-Fi and then scouted for an electrical outlet, since the Mac was down to about 3% battery life.  No outlets in the seating area.  NONE.  And ominous signs everywhere warning that no one may remain seated there for more than thirty minutes.  OK, then, I'm outta there.

Undaunted, I remembered where another Starbucks location was, not far from the site of my lunch.  Parked, went in, scouted out the seating area....only there were no seats.  NO seats anywhere.  Plugs, yes, but no seats.

Hmm....so I decided to venture across the road to another McDonald's, this one a free-standing one, new building (I remember when they started remodeling it), saw plugs, ordered a soft drink, and here I am.  A little weary from my journey of the past 40 minutes, but up and running.  And enjoying a beverage, too.

This is what it's come to.  The search for free wi-fi.  My new company issued me an aircard, a device you can plug into your computer and it accesses a cellular phone company's data network to allow Internet access.  That's great, except the item they issued me does not work with my Mac.  At all.  Even ordered a portable router to use with it, but that didn't work either, AND the Amazon "partner" vendor from whom I ordered it wouldn't accept a return.  Amazon fixed that, thankfully.

So when I use my Mac, I have to find wi-fi if I'm in unfamiliar territory.  I kind of like being a trailblazing explorer, out in the wilds with nothing to rely upon but my wits.

OK, that was a little much, wasn't it?

The only other thing I thought to mention this morning is that I'm now shaving with amazing frequency these days (amazing what meeting with people regularly does for our grooming habits), so being able to remain clean-shaven while not regularly gouging my face has become a bit of a challenge.  But I love a challenge, so have played with my trusty Braun shaver to find a group of settings that I don't find so irritating.  So far, so good.  Will keep you posted.

Oh, and Sunday is my birthday.  Kind of afraid to see that many little sticks on fire in one place at one time.....


Monday, July 14, 2014

A few updates

Happy Monday, if there is such a thing.  I hope everyone had a nice, restful, enjoyable weekend.

Wanted to start with a handful of updates on items I've mentioned in this space in recent posts.

First, in the post entitled "Musical chairs" I noted my renewed effort to capture more music that is traditionally of interest to me.  I appear to have now completed my latest mission, as I now have 2452 individual songs in my iTunes library (and that's after deleting a lot of duplicates of the same recording, from "greatest hits" or "essential" collections).

I also neglected to mention one of my favorite streaming music services, Songza, which I mentioned in a direct communication to a good friend who read this particular post.  Songza was in the news recently because it was just announced that Google is acquiring the company.  It works on a context-oriented scenario.  The system will ask users what they're doing (relaxing, working, concentrating on something for work, entertaining, etc.) and then recommend a number of playlists based on that stated activity.  Pretty useful, and, like many other such services, if you don't happen to like a specific song, you can skip it, but only a few times per hour.  And there are commercials, as there are in the free version of nearly all of these streaming services.  I also didn't mention iHeart Radio, which is 100% free and I believe it's also commercial-free.  Give it a look, too, if you're interested in the whole streaming scenario.

As a corollary to all of this, I read recently that people are struggling to figure out how musicians will make a decent living in the age of subscription-based or free music streaming.  If folks aren't buying recorded music, who pays?  Those who do apparently aren't paying that much, it seems.

Another followup near and dear to my heart is that the Cincinnati Reds have climbed squarely into the race for the National League Central Division championship.  After lagging behind the leaders for the first couple of months of the season, the Reds caught fire and have played very well over the past six weeks or so.  And have done so despite more and more players lost to injury, whether on a short- or long-term basis.  My son and I attended a game Saturday night in Cincinnati wherein they overcame a four-run deficit, only to lose largely due to the efforts of a single Pittsburgh Pirate, Andrew McCutcheon (and what an exceptional player he is).

Saturday night also brought another first.  I walked out of a restaurant due to incredibly poor service.  It was after midnight, granted, but this was a burger place that pretty much specializes in late night dining.  Apparently the staff was totally unprepared for the large post-game and post-bar crowd.  Dirty tables, few servers, etc.  We got our table and were not acknowledged for about ten minutes.  My drink arrived but my son's milkshake was missing in action for over twenty minutes.  When it arrived it was thin and runny, and had clearly melted partially.  We simply got up and left.  Never done that before, and won't go back to that location, despite the fact that I like their food.  No matter, there's another location a couple of exits down the interstate.

Finally, to those wondering, I've just passed the two-month mark in my new job.  Like the change very much, and am already feeling far more valued and engaged than in my last position, which I now characterize as simply a bad situation and a bad fit.

That's all I have, folks.  Have a good week!


Monday, July 7, 2014

Writing it down

Good morning, friends...hope you had the chance to enjoy some time off from your job and have a long weekend.

Here's a little secret...my wife and I were married on July 4, 1986.  What a stroke of luck for me--a date I can easily remember, a day off from work each year to celebrate, and fireworks!  My wife and I enjoyed our anniversary this year, as we always do!

Among our anniversary activities was a movie--my wife particularly enjoys Tom Cruise's movies, so we took in a showing of "Edge of Tomorrow."  Imagine "Groundhog Day" crossed with "Independence Day," and add some well-done action sequences.  Intriguing and entertaining; I like to think at least a little during a movie, and this one had me scratching my head here and there.  It's based on a graphic novel called "All You Need is Kill."  Rather glad they changed the title.

I'm rolling a bit early today.  I have two conference calls to lead this morning, and because we have four more people in the house than usual, and because the first call will occur about the time everyone's trying to get some breakfast, I'm heading to my office for these calls in a short time.  It's not far, and I don't HAVE to go there, but it's easier for me and for the other folks who are with us.  Incidentally, those "folks" are my daughter, her husband and their two kids (one of whom has been with us for about three weeks, and it's been a joy for her to be here!).

So things have been just a little different of late, as I'm in a fairly new job (only two months in), and a lot of travel within Kentucky and otherwise as part of the onboarding and orientation process.  The job is just fine, thank you, if a bit different from the last seventeen years or so!

A brief followup on my remarks here recently about digital and online music...I spent a little time yesterday deleting duplicate songs from my iTunes library.  Amazing how many there were, given that I might have the original album where a song first appeared, then the same song in some sort of "greatest hits" or "essential" collection.  And in the computer, storage space is not something to be wasted, so I was happy to do a little housecleaning.  I will also mention another streaming music service that I passed along to a friend over the weekend--Songza, which is "context-based."  That means that instead of specifying what artist you want to hear, the system asks what you're doing, and will recommend genres of music accordingly.  So if you're working on a project, for example, it might suggest great music to hear in the background of your other activities.  It's free, so if you're so inclined, give it a try.

Try as they might, the Cincinnati Reds just can't seem to make up ground in the standings to the meteoric Milwaukee Brewers.  During the Reds' recent hot stretch, the Brewers played just as well.  And the two teams concluded a three game series in which the Reds won two, but only gained a game in the standings.  So now the Reds need to beat up on the Cubbies a bit, and that should prompt some movement in the standings.

I never really "caught" World Cup soccer fever, but if you did, I hope you're coping well enough.

And our unseasonably mild weather here in central Kentucky appears to be at an end.  Hotter yesterday, hotter still during the coming week and chances of isolated thunderstorms off and on all week.  Thursday through Saturday, especially, felt like early fall around here.

So that's today's update on things that probably could have waited.  Have yourself a good week.


Monday, June 30, 2014

Musical chairs

Happy Monday, one and all!

Recently something prompted me to take a good look at my music collection, just to see what I'm missing.  Several years ago (and I want to say that this process was recorded within this blog somehow for posterity), I moved away from using physical recordings of music and into those of the digital persuasion, if you will.  That meant that I said goodbye to some stereo equipment that I had had since high school (I know) and some vinyl records that I had had for longer than that!  I also divested all of my cassette tapes and the accompanying tape player, since neither of our cars have tape players in them.

At that time I mounted a pretty serious effort to reacquire most of that music in digital form, whether through the purchase of music through iTunes or CD (I still have a few CDs, since the cars will play them).  And I think I did a good job of recapturing some of this stuff, but there were invariably a few gaps.

Now, if you're like me and you troll shopping sites on the Internet periodically, you have no doubt noticed that it's possible to buy turntables and cassette players that will interface with a computer, thus making it possible to make copies of these recordings.  To my knowledge, these devices weren't around at the time I was making this transition, at least not at what I would have considered affordable prices.

Anyway, taking the long way to the point of today's discussion, I was listening to the 70's channel on satellite radio recently and heard a song or two that brought back some memories.  Have to confess that for the first year or better that we had satellite radio in the cars that the 70's channel was my go-to channel for music, then I finally began to diversity a bit. Anyway, I heard something that clicked and I thought, I used to have that record.  And so it began again, as it does every year or so.

And then I heard over the weekend that R&B great Bobby Womack passed away.  Never heard of him?  I hadn't much, either, but he put out a single called "Lookin' for a Love" while I was in high school and that made me a fan.  I think he was a better guitarist than singer, but that's what I remember of him.

So in the interests of completeness, over the past weekend I reviewed what's in my iTunes library.  Almost 2400 songs.  Then I stopped to think what I used to own in the form of records or tapes that I've missed having.  Kind of hard to do that without some point of reference, but I thought of a few items.  Then I began to see what was available on iTunes for purchase. For example, I was a big Boz Scaggs fan back when "Silk Degrees" came out.  Monster album (I still think of them as albums, folks, sorry) that yielded something like five top 40 singles (boy, I can tell I'm old when I start talking like that!).  Through the magic of iTunes, I bought the four songs I really liked and started playing them that morning!

Then I looked at the CDs I already have.  What of those had I not copied into iTunes?  Quite a few, as it turned out.  So I set about "ripping" those into my library, augmenting my digital selections a bit.  Next stop, my local public library, great source for music and such.  Found a few things there that I didn't have, so I'll pick those up for a listen soon.

Now, I know full well that most everything I want or like to hear can be heard on SiriusXM satellite radio.  And with online services like Spotify and Pandora, they're very customizable, to the point that you can even "rent" access to a music library of your choosing and listen when- and wherever you like.

But I'm still old-fashioned enough to feel that "owning" this music has value, even if I can't touch the records or disks or tapes or look at the liner notes.  So I'll continue this way, dinosaur that I am.

Now, if you'll excuse me, the Beatles are warming up in the other room.


Monday, June 23, 2014

Tweet tweet

Friends, I've been wondering how many of my loyal readers are also active on Twitter.  I don't "tweet" that often, but sometimes do, just because I see, hear or experience something worth mentioning.  And I can tell you that I don't have that many Twitter followers, but a few that are active and take note of some of the stuff I post.  Here's a sampling:

richardlexsmith
Just complimented a delivery driver on his Batman sox. Answered that his visor and shirt matched, adding that his name is Bruce Wayne.
6/23/14, 11:43 AM
richardlexsmith
How about Blazin’ Billy? Another base hit, RBI, ten game hit streak, and oh, by the way, he just stole second.
6/21/14, 5:26 PM
richardlexsmith
Neighbor was out with a chainsaw at 4:00 AM clearing a tree that was partially blocking the street. Civic responsibility is great, but…
6/20/14, 8:13 AM
richardlexsmith
I must be living right, as I’ve been to four of these spots: http://t.co/kSFN9XfkZH
6/17/14, 3:43 PM
richardlexsmith
@RickieFowlerPGA's sartorial tribute to Payne Stewart was outstanding yesterday. Well done!
6/13/14, 9:50 AM
richardlexsmith
@neiltyson You're killing it today, sir.
6/13/14, 9:15 AM
richardlexsmith
If you were as taken with the @COSMOSonTV as I was, here's the passage read by the late Carl Sagan: http://t.co/mZA5LWIy4T
6/8/14, 10:22 PM
You get the idea.

That's my Twitter "name," "richardlexsmith."  If you have any interest in Twitter, set up a free account and follow me.  I like it because I can follow friends or famous people, learn about interesting articles and lots more stuff.  Fun and informative, and a lot faster than sifting through all of that without some sort of filter!

Hope to see you in the Twittersphere!

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