Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Forward motion

Good tidings to everyone this morning.  I hope that you stopped for a moment over the weekend, especially yesterday, to reflect on the sacrifice that so many have made for us through their military service.

Major League Baseball continues to "celebrate" occasions during the six months of the baseball season with special uniforms.  Yesterday I watched the Cincinnati Reds in a rare victory over the Colorado Rockies, and, naturally, both teams were wearing special Memorial Day uniforms.  These consisted of camouflage caps and all logos were trimmed with the same, regardless of team colors.  This was preceded by "special" Mother's Day unis which were dark grey caps trimmed in pink, in honor of the fight against breast cancer.  I believe that we can expect other special-use uniforms for Father's Day, the 4th of July and Labor Day.

This all evolved from special wristbands and bats and such and I suppose it's a way to recognize an occasion, but it's also a way to sell souvenir merchandise.  Yeesh.

The best "recognition" event that MLB does each year is April 15, otherwise known as Jackie Robinson Day, in which every single uniformed player, coach and manager wears the number 42.  I love that, and especially like that it started with former Red Ken Griffey, Jr. asking permission to wear that number on that date.

Switching gears....recently I posted a brief set of comments on the completion of the "merger" agreement for Time Warner Cable to become a part of Charter Communications, with the new entity to be called Spectrum.  We're now seeing television advertising regarding that, and the promises of no contracts, no major fee increases, etc. are all interesting.  Kentucky's Public Service Commission will no doubt grant whatever rate increases these folks request, they always do.

I believe I touched on this a while back, but TWC dramatically increased their internet speeds for all packages not long ago, with no direct increase in service costs.  We went from an average of 28-35 megabits per second of download speed to 250-320, but our household speed only increased somewhat.  A friend with tech background had warned that I might have to buy another modem, having purchased one in the past year or two, but it turned out that wasn't the problem in our case.  It was the limitations of our old router, an Apple Airport Express that had served us well in our smallish home.

So last week I went to a local electronics store and bought a super-duper product, the Apple Airport Time Capsule, with a 2 terabyte hard drive built in for backups and such.  Installed that, and, lo and behold, my speed went to where it's supposed to be.  And since we have a couple of products other than computers and tablets that rely on our Wi-Fi signal, we've seen good improvements in the performance of those items.  So while that's not an improvement that pays for itself, it at least removes some aggravation that previously existed.

The Airport Time Capsule, incidentally, advertises itself as a personal cloud of sorts, where one may store files and access them from any authorized computer from anywhere, provided there's an internet signal available.  So I went about testing that, as I stopped by our son's house to mow his lawn while he and his family were away for the weekend.  Sure enough, I could access the drive from his home base, which is exactly what I was hoping.  Nice feature, and lots more control than a cloud-based solution!

Finally, I entered the selection process for another promising job prospect last week with a very encouraging phone interview with a vice-president of a company.  Looking for the next step with that and a couple of others that I already have in the "pipeline" to consider.

Thanks for visiting, and try to remember that today isn't Monday!

Monday, May 23, 2016

The process

It's Monday, everyone.  This time next Monday, much of America will be celebrating the unofficial start of summer, otherwise known as Memorial Day.

For me, in my current situation, it will simply be Monday.  I continue to explore the market for an appropriate job opportunity, and have been developing some good contacts and possibilities over the past several weeks.  I find it odd how long it's taken to move forward even this much, but the job market is certainly not like it used to be.

My wife and I have had a running joke for a number of years on how the job search process worked for her (she's retired now) versus how it functioned for me.  In my case, when I would decide to explore new possibilities or be unexpectedly unemployed, it would generally take some time to get things going.  And even when it did move forward, there were often multiple interviews that would lead to anticipation and then disappointment when I would be informed that the hiring company had selected another candidate.

And my wife?  The joke between us was "one resume, one interview, one job."  Always.  I don't know if she was just so super-selective in her prospecting or she simply wowed the potential employer, but I seldom remember her ever taking more steps than that to secure a job.

Of course, as I have matured and my experience is greater and better developed, I seek higher-level positions than I might have twenty years ago.  And to be fair, given my current status of being unemployed, I have applied for many, many, MANY positions that probably are not a good match with my skill set.  But we convince ourselves that we have to do SOMETHING, so applying for additional positions is not a bad thing.

What continues to surprise me, and is no different than it was years ago, is the number of companies that do not bother to let candidates know that they are not being considered.  Worse, to me, are those that ask candidates to spend significant amounts of time completing online applications (most of which duplicate EXACTLY what's contained in my resume, of course), tests (this is a newer phenomenon in my experience, as I was displaced three years ago and don't remember testing this frequently), phone interviews, videoconference interviews, and traveling to company locations for in-person interviews.  And twice I've gone through that entire gamut in these two-plus months in the market, and both times did not get an offer of employment.

Disappointing?  Of course.  Discouraging?  Somewhat, but the task at hand continues.  I firmly believe that we make our own luck, and that's what I seek to do most every day of my forced idleness.  That and worthwhile projects around the house, and I have completed more than I care to detail here.

So the process continues.  And I am confident that it will take me to the right outcome.  I just don't know when....

Thursday, May 19, 2016

Uh-oh

Good morning, all.  The sun is finally shining in central Kentucky, after what feels like weeks of darkness.  I'm exaggerating, of course, but it certainly FELT that way.  It's mid-May, so time for it to start getting warm, you know.

I write this morning upon seeing the news that Time Warner Cable, our local cable TV and internet provider (and phone, too, if you're into that sort of thing), has now been acquired by Charter Communications and will later begin operating under the brand name of Spectrum.  Comcast apparently was going to buy TWC a while back but regulators let the principals know that they would not approve it, so, naturally, the next largest cable company was given the green light to acquire TWC.

My title today is indicative of the "be careful what you wish for" mindset that so often plagues our utilities (and cable TV is a utility, of course).  Here in Lexington we've had a flurry of changes in who owns our cable operator over the past fifteen years, going from Telecable to TCI (I think) to Insight Communications to Time Warner Cable.  I may have missed one or two brand names that didn't last long, of course.

But the consistent thread is that here in Kentucky, the Public Service Commission grants approval for ONE cable operator per market, and markets vary depending on geographic size and population.  That means NO competition, but this commission also is supposed to approve rate increases.  That has helped our pricing to not explode over the years, I suppose, but each rate increase requested has been granted, as far as I know.

In our state capital of Frankfort, they have something called the Plant Board that oversees the water, electric and cable TV operations.  I have always assumed that things work better there, but could be mistaken (I invite comment from anyone with first-hand knowledge either way).  Time Warner has systematically purchased most of the smaller cable operators that served smaller communities in Kentucky, so they have something close to a cable TV monopoly in our state.

I've written here previously that cutting the cord, so to speak, interests me considerably, but I have a feeling that it will be very difficult to get reliable and fast internet service, which would be a must for cord-cutters, without a cable package.  And the word online is already indicating that Charter Communications raises rates annually, caps data usage for their internet subscribers, and may actually make all of this worse.

I suppose satellite is an option, though not a very good one, and Windstream, which provides local phone service, is now offering gigabit (pronounced "very fast") internet service in some areas of Kentucky.  Perhaps an alternative will present itself.

For now, though, I suppose we'll have to wait and see.


Tuesday, May 17, 2016

Polling

Good Tuesday morning to everyone.

Today is primary election day here in Kentucky, unless you're a Republican, in which case you've already gotten to do this once.  Yes, the Commonwealth of Kentucky's Republican Party opted to separate the Republican presidential primary from the "rest" of the primary ballot.  Reason?  So that current Republican Senator Rand Paul could simultaneously run for President and for reelection to his Senate seat in the same year.  Good thing, too, since we all know what happened to his bid for the Presidency.

This is always a strange time, when Kentucky is mentioned in the national news for having politicians conduct rallies here and not for a natural disaster or for the Kentucky Derby.  We've had Trump, all of the Clintons, Sanders and a few other surrogates and such visit in the last few weeks.

My wife and I are planning to vote, and we have a grand total of three things to vote on:  President, Senate and House of Representatives.  So it shouldn't take long once we're in the voting booth.  And it's been raining all night, which means that turnout will be lighter than if the weather was good.

I'm still pretty amazed that Donald Trump is the last candidate standing for the Republicans.  In the past week, it came out that he may have posed as his own spokesperson with People magazine and other media outlets some years ago, talking about who "Mr. Trump" was dating, etc.  He's also appointed New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, who now always appears with Trump at his New York-based public appearances, as his "transition chief," which is a little premature.  I suppose we now see what name recognition over substance can do for a candidate for high office.

Unfortunately, I already recognize that this will be a LOOOOOONG season for my Cincinnati Reds and its diehard fans.  Blew a four run lead last night against the equally lowly Cleveland Indians, for example, and the overworked and undertalented bullpen allowed a one run Cleveland lead to become a nine-run loss.  And as their beleaguered manager told the media after last night's game, the cavalry is not on its way, so this will likely continue for the time being.

Admittedly, the Reds playing competitive baseball for the season was a long shot, with numerous contributing players having been traded since mid-season last year, but after having numerous pitchers go down during spring training, and other injured players requiring longer to recover, the die was cast.  Have to say that after the first week of undefeated baseball, it looked like it might be possible for the Reds to defy predictions, but they've now settled into the level of play that they probably were destined for.  And that's a shame.  They have only won three times away from Cincinnati.

Remember my long strange trip to California a few weeks ago for a job interview?  I've fully recovered from the oddities of the trip itself, but about a week later got word that the company opted to pursue another candidate.  I asked them if they could identify where I came up short, for future reference, and never got a reply.  Oh, well.  Since that time I have moved forward with another company with whom I had a phone interview right after that, and have cultivated two or three more specific targets.

Allow me to end today's thoughts by saying that I am truly sick of rain.  As I mentioned earlier, it rained all night and is due to rain most of the day today.  A golf game Sunday was affected by previous heavy rains which had made a mess of the course, and the wind bringing in our current weather pattern was a problem, too.  And I just know that we'll be begging for rain in, oh, about two months.


Tuesday, May 10, 2016

Derby daze

Friends, the Commonwealth of Kentucky appears to be getting back to normal following the descent of, you know, everyone who's anyone into the state for the Kentucky Derby, which occurred last Saturday.

Disclaimer:  I know NOTHING about horse racing, and have never attended the Derby, despite having been a Kentucky resident for virtually my entire life.  But it's our state's annual moment to shine and show the world a little bit of itself.  This year apparently did not disappoint, with overall good weather (save for a sudden but brief thunderstorm a short time before the big race) and favorite Nyquist winning in good fashion, although another horse was closing fast at the end of the race.  Will Nyquist have what it takes to repeat what American Pharoah accomplished last year and win the Triple Crown?  We'll know in a few weeks!

When I say "everyone who's anyone" my tongue is firmly planted in my cheek, but lots of famous, semi-famous and formerly famous people turn up at the many parties, particularly in the Louisville area, the night before the race and then for race day itself the next day.  I won't name-drop, as I really never saw a list or a group of pictures of who attended, but I do know from news reports that Senator Ted Cruz, who recently suspended his presidential campaign, was on hand with his wife, eluding reporters and declining to answer questions.  A lot of the famous were from sports and entertainment, which one would expect.  Former Kentucky basketball and football players are royalty at this event, as you'd expect.

There was one very nice story associated with this.  Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers came to Kentucky to attend one of the more prominent parties and the race on Saturday, but in between managed to witness his wide receiver and friend Randall Cobb graduating from the University of Kentucky, as Cobb had promised his family he would do after leaving UK a year early to enter the NFL draft.  Nice.

Speaking of NFL players, last night I saw a clip online that showed quarterback Mark Sanchez, now with the Denver Broncos, showing off a cane to some friends.  The cane, it turned out, was actually a flask.  Since the Derby crowd is apparently propelled by alcohol to some extent, why a millionaire athlete would go to the trouble of smuggling in liquor is unclear.

I live in Lexington, some 80 miles away, yet our NBC affiliate has for many years packed up virtually the whole news operation to Louisville to "cover" the Derby.  It's pretty funny seeing news anchors and reporters dressed up for a festive occasion, particularly all of the females wearing hats that are not comfortable or customary to them and trying to look somewhat dignified all the same.  Easier for men, of course, they just wear a sportier jacket or tie and they're all set.

So those who follow the sport of horse racing will now turn their gaze to Baltimore, where the the Preakness Stakes will take place at Pimlico in a couple of weeks.  I hope they have as much fun at their big event as those in Kentucky appeared to have had!


Monday, May 2, 2016

Tripping

Good Monday morning to all.  I hope that you had a good weekend.

This morning I come with tales of a whirlwind trip to southern California late last week.  A company whom I had targeted for potential employment and with whom I had interviewed by phone and videoconference a couple of weeks ago invited me to come to meet senior leadership to discuss a career opportunity.

When the human resources contact for this company told me that we'd be meeting in Pasadena, outside of Los Angeles, I was filled with conflicting emotions, as I know what a long and logistically challenging trip that can be, but that outweighed the excitement of moving ahead in the selection process with this particular employer.

I received the flight itinerary last Sunday and was surprised to see that my trip involved THREE flights in each direction.  On top of that, the primary place I was connecting was in Charlotte, and, if you visit here periodically, you will likely remember that the Charlotte airport is not among my favorites, due to the chronically tight connections and spread-out nature of that airport.

Regardless, that was the plan, I was to spend much of Thursday traveling to the area, would have the late afternoon and evening to recharge, then meet with my contacts first thing Friday morning (at least, first thing local time) and then back to the airport to fly home.  OK, I thought, no problem, I've had worse flight schedules and certainly worse reasons to travel.

I sailed through security Thursday morning without a hiccup, and when I arrived at the gate I saw that my flight to Charlotte was to be delayed.  Since I knew I had little room for issues, I talked with the gate agent and her comment was that I would likely miss my connecting flight to Phoenix.  That in itself wasn't the issue--the real problem was that I would also miss the last plane to Burbank (the terminating point of my trip and the Los Angeles-area airport that was closest to Pasadena) if that happened.  She asked if I would object to flying instead to Los Angeles International, and since I knew that getting there was the primary issue, I told her I did not.

After reviewing a number of options it appeared the best plan was to have me fly to Charlotte and wait for a flight that would leave there at 4:45 PM---a wait in Charlotte of nearly six hours!  That didn't sound great, but the other options would have also involved a couple of flights, etc., so we agreed that's what should happen.  I had already checked my bag in anticipation of tight connections and the thought of missing a flight because I was awaiting my planeside-checked bag was really more than I could accept.  So she changed it to LAX, and I worried all afternoon that the bag would not arrive.

All went well, I endured the wait with some wifi and a recharge of my phone and the trip with plenty of video entertainment to occupy me.  But I then had to wait another thirty minutes to see if my bag came with me, and I was pleasantly surprised to see that it had.  On the way to baggage claim I and several others from my flight had to take an elevator and just as the doors were closing two men entered suddenly.  One was not familiar to me, but the other was actor Sean Penn, wearing dark glasses and a suit.  He stood next to me, we exchanged pleasantries and that was that.  He's much smaller than I often realize.

Once I got the bag I went to the rental car plaza by bus and then mapped out how to steer my Impala from LAX to Old Town Pasadena.  Two comments--it wasn't as bad as I anticipated to drive LA streets and freeways, and also the folks there certainly drive fast and make snap decisions about lane changes and such!

In the end, I arrived, finally, for some rest.  My interview went well the next morning, and my return flights went as scheduled, tight connections and all.  I was pretty tired when I finally made it home around midnight Friday night!


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