Friday, June 26, 2015

My kind of contest--thanks, Colonel!

Good Friday morning, friends....after a stormy night, the sun is shining here in central Kentucky, but it's going to be another hot day.  It IS summer, after all...

Just a couple of things to mention today.  I don't think I managed to bring this forward, but I upgraded my cellphone recently and am now the owner of an Apple iPhone 6 Plus.  In case you're been out of contact with the tech world for the last few months, that's Apple's answer to the "phablet" that had been introduced by Samsung, LG and other cellphone makers.  Much larger than a standard smartphone, but not quite as big as a small tablet.  I had been thinking about this for a while and decided to give it a try, knowing that I could return it if needed.

I've had it for two weeks now, and like it very much.  My wife helped me look for protective cases and together with the electronics store rep who handled my transaction we found a transparent soft-touch cover that is nice and grippy but not too thick.

The next obvious step was to order a holster for this phone from Colonel Littleton, my go-to supplier of all things related personal items and other such goods.  My holster arrived in short order, was perfect in every way, and had the usual Colonel Littleton touches that make their items so terrific.  The holster does a great job of balancing this bigger phone on my belt, preventing it from banging into my hip and allowing quick and easy access without overfilling my pants pockets!

So the only thing that this creates is the question of whether or not I need/want to have this larger phone AND a tablet.  For now, I want both, but this may evolve into something else.  I already answered the other related question--what should I do with my OLD Colonel Littleton phone holster, which fit my smaller iPhone 5?  I decided to redeploy it as a case for a headset I keep in the car for conference calls and the like.  Perfect fit, too!

Speaking of the Colonel, a couple of weeks prior to Father's Day, his Twitter feed (and other sources, I'm sure, although I'm not on Facebook) made mention of a contest in which folks were invited to share photos and stories of their "stellar dads."  Stellar is a kind of buzzword for the Colonel and his folks, as the correct exchange is as follows:  "How's your conduct?"  "Stellar."

Anyway, I entered with a tweet in which I related the most important lesson I received from my dad, that of being on time, all the time.  Still live by those words, and my family can attest to this, as my insistence on punctuality drives them crazy at times.  My tweet was retweeted and favorited by the Colonel's Twitter account, so that entered me into the contest.  By the way, the grand prize was the Colonel's shave kit (check that item out at http://www.colonellittleton.com/shop/leather-shave-kit-no2/ if you're curious, I saw it in their store a while back and it's very nice!), so I was hoping I would be the lucky winner.

But I wasn't.  Another entrant was chosen, and I was glad that someone would get to enjoy that great shave kit.  A couple of days later I got a very nice e-mail from someone with the Colonel's operation, asking for my initials and mailing address.  The note said that I would be receiving a small gift from the Colonel, in appreciation for my entry.

It came yesterday--a very nice leather strap key ring, which I can easily attach to a belt, my briefcase or hang as I like.  Here's a link to the item:  http://www.colonellittleton.com/shop/leather-personalized-key-ring-no6/

So it replaced another key ring I bought a few years ago from the Colonel, which I'll use for spare keys and such.  This new one will be part of my everyday carry ensemble!

Nice when the week ends on a high note, isn't it?



Monday, June 22, 2015

Open and shut

It's Monday once again, friends, so I hope everyone had a good weekend.  And if your dad is still with us, I hope you had the chance to visit with him for Father's Day!

I had a great Father's Day weekend, thanks.  I didn't play golf for the first weekend in the past four, but my back and psyche probably appreciated the break.  But I did take in a Reds game in Cincinnati with my son (the only one of the three this weekend that they lost, but that matters less than the stellar company).  And my wife and I joined him and his family late yesterday for a carryout picnic of chicken wings and fixings that was very good.

The evening was punctuated by some of the U.S. Open golf championship, which was played in the Pacific Northwest for the first time and televised (also for the first time) by Fox in prime time.  The leaders going into the final round didn't tee off until 6:00 PM Eastern, so that way the entire round could be viewed by the majority of the country on Sunday evening.  I watched a considerable amount of this tournament on television (little on Saturday, since I was traveling to and from Cincinnati) but have some impressions that I want to share.

First, regarding the golf course itself:  Chambers Bay was designed by the golf course design legend Robert Trent Jones, author of the Robert Trend Jones Golf Trail in Alabama and countless courses throughout the country and elsewhere.  So it was conceived and executed by someone who knows a little something about course layout and design elements.  I know that one of the courses of his that I played in the past contains elements of an old quarry that were left in place and are in play.

The land where this course resides is a former sand and gravel quarry with major elevation changes and continual views of Puget Sound.  So far as I could tell the layout was not as friendly to spectators as some have been in the past, as some holes didn't allow a defined area for galleries to stand or to follow their favorite players.  Large grandstands help, but because the hilly terrain claimed some victims among players and caddies during the practice rounds, I would think that spectators were encouraged to view play from flatter areas.

The course contains a lot of native grasses and has a much more natural look than traditional courses do, which I imagine requires less water and fewer chemicals to maintain.  More courses should move in this direction from an environmental standpoint, as I've read numerous pieces over the years of how a piece of land is effectively ruined if overtreated by pesticides and other greenscaping products.  It reminded me more of a course where you'd see the British Open played (sorry, Royal and Ancient, I will always think of it as that and not the "Open Championship," as you insist).  Brownish and difficult to discern the greens from the fairways, but not at all hard to see where the rough is.  The course included exactly one tree.

The competitors in this event were all pretty opinionated about the course and conditions, but I always think that it's fair for all competitors, they all have to play in generally the same conditions.  And that's a good test of skill and creativity and the ability to execute shots under pressure, in my opinion.  Complaints aside, many of them also complained about Shinnecock Hills a few years ago, saying that the greens were too fast, etc.  But the USGA keeps moving play back to that course as it will again host the Open in 2018.

I like the winner, Jordan Spieth.  All-American boy from Texas.  Solid family.  Devoted to a sister with a neurological disorder, if memory serves.  You can almost imagine him saying "gee, whiz" on occasion.  This kid won the Masters this year, and he's only 21.  Others have appeared to be the "next big thing" but I think he's it.  And he appears to be pretty humble while he's at it.  As fascinating to watch as Tiger Woods was when he burst onto the scene by winning the Masters going away in 1997 and for the next ten years, there was so often an inevitability about his success, that he was somehow destined to win, etc.  And it seems that his time may have passed.

So the pros play a few more events and then go across the Atlantic in July and to St. Andrews, the nominal birthplace of golf, for the Open Championship (I did that for you, R&A).  Let's see if this young Texan has what it takes on such a legendary stage.


Friday, June 19, 2015

Rain? In June?

Good morning from central Kentucky, where we're in the midst of some Hurricane Bill powered rain and severe weather.

This is always an interesting phenomenon when we here in Kentucky, this far inland, feel the effects of a hurricane or tropical storm.  But that's what's going on weather-wise here.  Yesterday I had an office day at home, except for a trip out for two errands and lunch with a pal, and noticed three different instances where rain seemed imminent.  It only rained once where I live, but that was a pretty substantial downpour.

And I have to get in the car in about an hour for a trip south to see two clients.  Crossing my fingers.....

My most sincere sympathies to those affected by the church shootings in Charleston, SC.  It just depresses me so when I see what we humans are doing to one another yet again.  Coincidentally, I managed to watch "Schindler's List" again recently in several installments.  My wife is often surprised that I've viewed it again, and I tell her that I feel the need to watch that movie periodically to remind myself that there are good people in this world and positive things can occur between those of different religions and origins.  It's a reminder we need even more when things like the Charleston shootings take place.

And in light of what happened there, one wonders about the motivations of someone like Rachel Dolezal, the recently resigned NAACP official in the Northwest who has created a firestorm of controversy because she appears to have been born white but "identifies," as she puts it, as black.  I've read comments from well-known African-Americans like Kareem Abdul-Jabbar who say that despite the confusion about her origins that her efforts in the area of race relations and the pursuit of equality are admirable, and I would not dispute that.  But I think there's also a corresponding negative effect from someone who appears to have created a field of reality distortion about her own issues.

And then there's Donald Trump.

See what I did there?  That's all I really have to say.  Donald Trump.  I'm laughing as I type this....

I would also like to take this opportunity to commend my battered Cincinnati Reds, whose clubhouse probably resembles a M*A*S*H unit these days.  There was a recent period where eight different players were placed on the disabled list, yet this team is playing better than .500 baseball in the last couple of weeks, with an assortment of utility players and career minor leaguers, many of whom are playing out of position but playing hard and in many cases producing.  Established players like Joey Votto and Jay Bruce are contributing to the Reds' success, but so are many less well known players, like Ivan de Jesus, Jr.  Let's see if they can keep this up and make things at least a little more interesting.

The golf world is focused on the Pacific Northwest this week, as the 115th U.S. Open is being played on a unique course called Chambers Bay, outside of Tacoma, Washington.  When I turned the TV on after lunch yesterday I thought I was watching highlights from the last British Open.  The grass is varying shades of green to brown, the greens are a splotchy mix of colors and apparently textures, and the ground underneath it all is rock-hard.  Needless to say, the players who got out while the course was soft yesterday scored far better than those who played later, when things got crusty and fast.  The great part about how the draw is structured for these events is that the tee-off schedule is reversed on day 2, so everyone gets a chance to play in the other type of conditions.

Tiger Woods managed to shoot 80 yesterday, which, in my mind, is like me shooting 100.  And I haven't done that in a few rounds, thank you very much.  In fairness, Tiger is still searching for his game, having switched swing coaches/"consultants" fourteen times in the past two years (not really, but it seems that way).  I watch this man, remembering how great he was just a few years ago, and think to myself "just hit the ball."  Really.  Less thinking once you're ready to hit a golf ball is actually a GOOD thing, I think.  As a result, I find that if I don't take practice swings that I actually hit the ball more the way I intended than if I swing at air two or three times to "envision" the shot, etc.  Works for me, anyway.

Thanks for making to the end.  Of the week, but also of this post.  Hope you have a good weekend.

Monday, June 15, 2015

Feeling the heat

Summer has not yet come to central Kentucky, at least not officially, but judging by the thermometer over the weekend, it's gonna be a long, HOT summer!

I had a good weekend despite the temperatures, and hope that you did, too.

My weekend began by driving back from a most-of-the-day work meeting in Louisville (a little more than an hour away, for those unfamiliar).  There is a great deal of road construction in the downtown area there, and, as you'd expect, paving and other less involved projects along the path from and to Lexington.  But I managed to sail through all of it without delays and made it home early enough to watch the Cincinnati Reds win in Chicago against the Cubs.

The following morning began a little early, as I met friends for breakfast and then proceeded to Garrard County, the home of the Peninsula Golf Resort.  This consists of what was once a very nice and challenging golf course, designed by the legendary Pete Dye, and now villas for travelers to come and "stay and play."  This option appears to be very popular, as the parking lot was nearly deserted but the course was not, as most of the players who started before and after our group were among the travelers.

I played here semi-frequently when the course first opened a number of years ago, but over time it lost some appeal, largely due to distance and the difficulty of getting a weekend tee time.  This tee time was easy to get, and inexpensive due to GolfNow, a service that pre-sells tee times for a small handling fee.  But now I know why this was the case:

- Some greens have been afflicted by a fungus of some sort, causing them to have pock-marks on them

- Most every sand trap on the course was missing any sand at all, which meant they consisted of a hard dirt surface

- A number of the fairways were as hard as the parking lot

- I don't remember a single tee box that was not slanted in one direction or another, and most were bare or patchy

As I say, we got a good deal on our round, and the company was good, but all hands agreed that the course could have been much, much better.

So we wrapped that up, and after I drank a quart of a sports drink afterward (very hot throughout the back nine) I was ready for something else.  I arrived home and my wife was ready to go to church, but I wasn't really ready for anything yet.  But we talked a bit about our evening's plans and I decided to go to the local butcher shop for some ground beef and made hamburgers.

Keeping with our theme of high temperatures, I lighted our grill to pre-heat it and brushed off the cooking grids.  Even though I turned down the heat, the grill temperature must have been too high when I began, as the fat in the beef melted almost instantly and caught fire!  So I quickly moved everything around and after a couple of minutes moved the burgers off the grill, and put out the fire with a little water.  I was then able to cook them without incident, and, despite a charred outer appearance, they were pretty tasty!

Yesterday we had breakfast and decided to go see "Jurassic World," which had been our tentative plan from the middle of the previous week.  We picked out a showtime at a cinema complex that we don't visit often, but one that advertised it had installed reclining seats.  Arriving about forty minutes before showtime, we were told that all but the very front row of the theater was sold out, so we would have to settle for that if we wished to sit together.  Not acceptable, so we went to another multiplex closer to home and got tickets and waited about thirty-five minutes for our showing.

As you'd expect, the theater was eventually full and a family to our right crossed in front of us FOUR TIMES during the movie.  My wife told me afterward that the wife/mother actually removed her shoes each time she sat down, and she stepped on both of our feet at least twice each. A different family sat to our left but were well behaved, so no issues there.

The movie was entertaining and well-made, if a little predictable.  The leading male actor is a former TV actor named Chris Pratt, who apparently has changed his appearance considerably over the past couple of years.  He was OK, but I felt he was a little blah.  I have read a rumor that Disney plans to reboot the Indiana Jones film series with him playing Indy, and I can tell you now that he's probably not up to it, unless something changes between this film and that project.

We ended up our weekend by joining our son and his family for a minor-league baseball game, where a friend's family had access to a suite.  It's a small room with a food serving counter, small sink and fridge and seating for about eight inside and ten outside.  But it was on the sun side of the field, so more heat and discomfort.  And the home team lost, too.

So we begin another week.  Lots of meetings and stuff this week, but not much travel, fortunately.  Hope it's a good one for you!

Monday, June 8, 2015

Satisfactory resolution

It's Monday, friends, so here we are again.  Kind of a habit, isn't it?  But hopefully not a bad one, as it certainly isn't for me.

Permit me to begin by stating emphatically that this is a Duggar- and Jenner/Kardashian-free zone.  Since there's so much out there on those subjects collectively, my input would only be redundant at this point.

If you'll recall, I believe I had touched on the frustration that we've experienced over these past few weeks with Time Warner Cable, our local cable TV provider.  Note that here in Kentucky each geographic area is awarded a single cable TV "franchise," and Time Warner and its forerunners under previous ownership (Telecable, TCI, Insight, et. al.) have held said franchise for as long as I can remember.  So it's not possible to simply switch to another cable provider, although satellite is available from multiple vendors, or I could just do without channels beyond the normal broadcast options.

Anyway, to recap, we have had problems with the on-demand programming that is included in our cable subscription.  Could not access the service, the box would simply display the message "Service not available.  Please try again later."  Maddening.

Three cable boxes, two service calls at our home and countless customer service and technical support calls later, we were still experiencing the same issue.  I called TWC Wednesday night, after a technician had visited the day before and proclaimed all to be well, as it turned out not to be the case. I spent about forty minutes on the phone with a pretty helpful gal, who appeared to understand the frustration this had caused, and she set up a service call for Friday.

The technician called and then arrived a little after noon last Friday.  He was pretty young, but polite and extremely thorough, quizzing me on what our issues were and what we and TWC had each done in hopes of resolving this issue.  He then used a meter to gauge our signal strength and said that our incoming signal was good, but the "return," which included commands we send back to the cable company, was not.  He then began to examine our connections (note:  the neighborhood "pedestal" where multiple houses connect to the service, is in our backyard, which is convenient in times like these, and not much of a problem for us, since that pedestal, plus a similar item for the phone company and an electrical box are all hidden behind shrubs) and found that things had not been connected properly in some time, that we had too many connections open, and that the signal quality from pedestal to our house was suspect.

Nearly two-and-a-half hours later, service completely restored, and he even improved my internet connection.  He observed that I would get better performance from a newer modem than the 2007 model that the cable company provided me when I first connected that service and advised me to buy one rather than lease theirs, which was a good bit of advice.  About the only downside to this is that he inexplicably ran a cable out of our yard, under a fence, along the outside of that fence in my neighbor's yard and then to my house.  This will eventually be buried, of course, but my neighbor was puzzled and somewhat displeased.

So all's good there.

That created a bit of a chain reaction, as one of the rooms in which we eliminated cable is where my treadmill resides.  Not a problem, since I generally watch movies while exercising, and I had been contemplating using my iPad instead of a conventional TV for that purpose.  So I reoriented the treadmill to the opposite wall and removed the small TV that was sitting atop a dresser in one of our spare bedrooms.  My wife and I went to clean that room a bit (treadmills are really dirty, if you hadn't noticed) and our vacuum began acting up.

So I decided to see what the problem was, as it would work if the rotating brush head was not connected.  I took out my Allen wrenches and took the brush head apart.....and hours later finally got it back together and functional (I think).  Turned out that we had vacuumed up a small cardboard cutout that had clogged the path into the vacuum.  That was the easy part, as it turned out.  This head involved fifteen screws and many, MANY moving parts.  Will update here if it ends up that it's not working, as I had opined to my wife that, well, if I can't get it back together, we can always replace it, since the vacuum is something close to twelve years old.  And if you're wondering, it's a Miele, solid German equipment.  We bought this after burning up two Hoovers and a Panasonic in short order way back when, and have not had a minute's trouble with this Miele.

As you can imagine, I'm happy not to be wrestling with something that doesn't work this morning, so I think I'll quit while I'm ahead.  Have a good week.


Thursday, June 4, 2015

Technically speaking

Good Thursday to all.  Today's entry is a product of a slow week at work--no outside meetings, only a handful of mind-numbing conference calls to endure.  So I've had some time to myself, which has been nice for a change.

I read with some interest about Google Photos, a service from the online search giant that was apparently a part of their Google Plus social network program (which by all accounts was not that successful) but is now a standalone.  Per the items I've read from trustworthy sources, this service will allow users to upload all of their collected photos to an online storage repository, and view them from any device, as well as add additional photos easily and seamlessly.  There's already a Google Photos app available for the iPhone and iPad, and I'm sure there is also one for Android devices, too.  

Since my library is somewhat more limited than either my son's or son-in-law's, I decided to see how it worked and yesterday afternoon I began uploading my collection of around 2200 photos.  It finished the process somewhere around 2:00 this morning.  To my untrained eye, the photos look fine, but that appears to be the catch--Google will grant you unlimited space for online storage but only if you agree to upload in "high quality" mode.  If you routinely edit your photos and make other enhancements, they probably won't go into the program without making you pay for storage, since they'll exceed a pre-set per-photo size limitation.  Next step will be to add the app to my portable devices.  I can see this being a good thing in a general sense, but, as my son correctly noted to me last night, there's always the possibility that Google will have every right to do something with your photos that you might not intend.  Stay tuned.

I also want to mention that Apple is apparently hard at work developing a TV app that would allow subscribers to stream a number of cable channels for a fee.  A smaller number of channels, mind you, than you have through your cable subscription (which is OK by me, since we watch fewer than 1/4 of the channels available to us).  Apple's wrinkle is going to be to offer broadcast network and local programming, and that apparently takes longer to iron out.  This product will compete with SlingTV, which my daughter's family already has to supplement broadcast TV.  More to come on that, too.

Timely to see this, as we continue to have difficulty with Time Warner Cable.  Tomorrow will be the third service call that they've made to our home in hopes of fixing our access to on-demand programming.  We've been through three cable boxes in the past month as they attempt to return access, which, of course, will work for a few minutes while the tech is present but then fails when we attempt to use the service a few hours later.  My patience with them is wearing pretty thin, but since it's so difficult to engineer the mixture of programming we prefer without either cable or satellite, I imagine they have me where they want me.

My wife and I went out for lunch and a couple of errands yesterday and found ourselves at the Apple Store.  I am simply astounded by the new Macbook, still, and typed on one yesterday.  To deliver something that compact with a Retina-quality display and pretty-much all-day battery life is quite an achievement.  Hard to contain myself until I remember that I have a Macbook Pro with Retina Display that will do virtually everything that the new device will do.  My theory is that somewhere along the line my iPad will be rendered redundant by either a lighter laptop or a larger phone that I'll keep handy when hanging out here at home, and will serve much the same purpose as the iPad does.  I'm on my third different iPad, by the way, as I have the iPad Air 2.  Luckily I have sold each of the previous items for about 70% of their original purchase price, so I find that to be an acceptable tradeoff.

I'm also still intrigued by the Apple Watch, although I am just not sure I would find this item all that useful, what with everything else I use and tote around with me.  The last fellow from Time Warner who visited the house was wearing what appeared to be a smart watch, and when I asked him what it was, he said it was a Pebble, but that he had an Apple Watch at home and found it to be the best tech device he'd ever owned.  Strong stuff for something that just came out.

I could go on (and on and on) but won't.  I would be interested to know your tech experiences and preferences, too, so feel free to share in the comments section.

Until next time.....



Monday, June 1, 2015

The ups and downs of the average weekend

Good Monday to all....as a comedian once said, I'm glad the weekend is over.  I couldn't take much more!

My wife and I started the weekend with some ambitious plans, and accomplished virtually everything we intended, albeit a little differently than planned.  Let me explain...

We began the weekend Friday night by attending a minor league baseball game with our grandson, his family and a couple of teammates from his Wee Ball team.  It was league night, and there were a number of teams represented there.  A big win by the home team and fireworks afterward assured a good time for all!

Saturday morning we had some breakfast and went to our grandson's game, which went fine.  From there, our plan had us going back to the garden center to buy what we planned to put in our front yard to finish out the bare place right in front of the house.  I decided to mow first, and then proceeded to begin the task of breaking up the ground with a mattock, a sort of pick-ax like tool.

After twenty or thirty strikes with that tool I realized I needed reinforcements, so we called our son, and he arrived to rescue us with his garden tiller.  That helped a lot, but then when we began to work toward actually planting the items we had selected (four arborvitae, which are bigger than a shrub but not quite a full-fledged tree, plus some ground cover plants) we recognized that many of the roots of a birch tree we had removed a couple of years earlier were in our way.

So began the struggle, made worse by what may have been a near miss with heat exhaustion on my part.  Apparently the time sitting at our grandson's game, plus the garden center, and the yard work prior to this undertaking had gotten the best of me, but after a brief rest and a couple of large servings of ice water, I rejoined the effort.

By the time I got back out there to the action my son had hacked a piece of root about the size of my grandson out of the ground, and things got somewhat easier from there.  But he shouldered most of the workload from there, and has my immense thanks.

To shorten our story, we got everything planted and watered Saturday night, so yesterday I went to buy mulch (that and our plants wouldn't all fit into our SUV) and spread that.  As an aside, I should mention that a few years ago we installed the shredded rubber mulch in our shrub beds and have been pretty happy with the results.  The color stays true, you don't have that awful rotting smell that most natural mulch products produce, and it doesn't decompose and dry out like conventional mulch does.

I must confess I enjoyed a much-needed relaxing afternoon, and helped out by grilling some burgers and other stuff for a family dinner last night.  Big fun!

So, in conclusion, perhaps I'm better off just working as I am today than attempting any out-of-character activities like landscaping and such.  Anyway, here I am, and I suppose the same for you, too, so let's try to make the best of it this week!

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