Sunday, June 25, 2017

All you need is love. Really.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Warning--tech reviews ahead!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, June 19, 2017

Exit Father's Day--enter summer

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, June 8, 2017

It's a family thing

Good Thursday afternoon, friends.  We've been experiencing some unseasonably mild weather this week--even cool, based on the chill I felt during my grandson's T-ball game last night!

Fathers and sons and grandsons and the like are the core of my thoughts today.  We're nearing the end of this grandson's T-ball season, so we've come to know (or at least recognize) most of the players' family members who attend.  And we're not the only grandparents who attend, either, which I think is great.

Growing up, my grandparents all lived at least two hours away, and as they aged we saw less and less of them.  One, a maiden aunt who raised my father, never drove, so it was a much greater effort for her to visit, as she would have to either ride a bus or rely on a ride from another family member for transportation.

But for those kids on the team (or in any of our grandkids' schools, for that matter) are so fortunate to have extended family close by.

That said, I don't know that the dynastic approach always guarantees success.  Sometimes it works very well.  A good example for me, anyway, is my beloved Cincinnati Reds.  A couple of years ago the team announced that Dick Williams, who is the son of one of the minority owners of the team, was to take over this season as the team's general manager and president of baseball operations.  In the second year of a multi-year rebuilding effort, the Reds are playing the kind of hustling baseball that fans enjoy and embrace, and were it not for a series of major arm injuries to starting pitchers the team would likely sit atop the Central Division standings.

Another pretty fair example that I can think of is that of is the S.C. Johnson Company, formerly known as Johnson Wax.  The CEO of this company is Herbert Fisk Johnson III, who is the fifth generation of the Johnson family to lead this corporation.  If you're having difficulty placing the company name, look around your house, as you probably have some Windex or Pledge or Ziploc bags or Glad air fresheners or a host of other products.  They have strategically acquired competitors and yet maintained their status as a private company that employs about 13,000 people and sells about $7 billion in goods each year.

The Coppola family business is the film industry, with patriarch Francis Ford Coppola a much-decorated movie director, best known for the "Godfather" films.  His daughter Sofia has overcome the misfortune of being cast in the third "Godfather" picture to become a recognized film director in her own right.

I could go on with more positive examples, but I think the most glaring negative one is that of the family currently occupying the White House.  Donald Trump was elected President, yet he felt it necessary to install both daughter Ivanka and son-in-law Jared Kushner as official White House adviser, leaving grown sons Donald Jr. and Eric to run the family business.  Kushner allegedly has a massive portfolio of responsibilities yet I don't know that anyone can specifically identify anything he has been able to accomplish.  Ditto for the First Daughter.

And the Trump sons?  I suppose they've been successful, as the Trump Organization continues to grow and profit despite the absence of their father in day-to-day operations.  What their business is appears to be that of simply making money from spreading the Trump name onto real estate properties and such around the world.

Will there be notable achievements?  Hard to say.  Will there be questions?  Undoubtedly.  Is the next chapter easy to predict?  Nope.

Guess we'll have to see what comes next.

Wednesday, May 31, 2017

This is where we are

Good morning to all.  Unexpected thunderstorm underway here in central Kentucky.  'Tis the season, you know!

By the way, I hope that everyone was able to enjoy the long Memorial Day weekend.  I read about some rather crass suggestions for celebrating the day.  Those who are given to deeper thought appreciate the day off as much as the sacrifices that allow it to occur annually, of course.

Did you read about golfer Tiger Woods?  He was found unconscious in his car in the middle of a street in the middle of the night.  The engine was running at the time.  Arrested for DUI.

I learned of this while playing golf with some friends on Monday.  My first comment was that, well, let's remember that the guy had back surgery not so long ago and likely mixed alcohol with prescribed pain medication.  The police report is due to be released today, I believe.  I think Tiger has a little more explaining to do, even though he's months from attempting to return to competitive play.

Woods' fall from celebrated golf prodigy has been long and painful, as his body and image simultaneously broke down.  In his prime I enjoyed watching him play and watching him make a golf ball do some pretty amazing things.  Will we get to see him play at a high level again?  It's very hard to say.

Big fight in a Major League Baseball game over the weekend, featuring talented but temperamental player Bryce Harper of the Washington Nationals. His agent is making an argument that he does not deserve the four-game suspension handed down by MLB.  Provoked or not, there are rules against charging the mound, Bryce.

The Reds were showing some fight themselves recently, as they started a road trip on a good note and won their first series in Philadelphia since 2006.  Then they arrived in Toronto and promptly were decimated 17-2 on their first night there and lost narrowly last night, too.  I swear, I'm almost ready to volunteer my services as a pitcher, at the rate they're going they'll need me by the All-Star break.  Absolutely remarkable that this team is as close the the .500 mark as they are, with a starting rotation that has been decimated by numerous injuries.

RIP to sportswriter Frank Deford, who graced the pages of Sports Illustrated for many years before helping start The National, a daily sports newspaper.  You know, back when we used to rely on NEWSPAPERS for our information.  Deford was a frequent guest on ESPN's The Sports Reporters and other venues where his commentaries, which he wrote, of course, were the only thing better than reading his work.  In my lifetime I've had the privilege to read his work and that of Roger Angell, the brilliant writer of baseball and other subjects.  He will certainly be missed.

Speaking of antiquated institutions, I saw just a few minutes ago that CBS apparently decided to remove Scott Pelley as the anchor of its evening news broadcast.  We don't watch CBS News in our home, except for CBS Sunday Morning, but the few times I've seen Pelley he drives me bananas because he speaks so slowly as to be condescending.  Probably not intentional, but that's how I take it.  "I"m going to speak slowly for you so that you'll understand what I'm saying."  He'll still be on 60 Minutes, apparently, another news show which is very long in the tooth.

Have to confess that we watch NBC Nightly News in our household, well, nightly.  Because I spend some time online during the day, I usually know the majority of what will be covered, but my wife still prefers a digested version of the latest news.  Networks will keep putting these shows on provided they make some money, I think, but once the profit motive goes away, so will the programs.

Last comment:  I noticed that the latest "Pirates of the Caribbean" movie made out well at the box office over the holiday weekend, sailing (sorry, bad pun) past the competition, which included a reimagining of the old TV show "Baywatch."  We saw the first three, noted very little original in numbers two and three, didn't bother with the 4th and agreed that this latest one was clearly a cash-in move by Disney, the producers and star Johnny Depp, whose quirky talents have not yielded anything close to a hit in some time.  Hope those who saw it enjoyed it, as I don't plan to.

Enjoy your Wednesday.  And, yes, I almost typed "Tuesday."

Thursday, May 25, 2017

More sorrow

Friends, it's raining here in central Kentucky this morning, which is probably contributing to my mood.

I am still so saddened by the recent events in Manchester, England. but I would add to that sentiment that it's powered by some family information.  In the past year both of my granddaughters, aged 11 and 7, have attended pop concerts by performers not that different from Arianna Grande, whose show was marred by this senseless act of violence.  So I have difficulty not thinking about this.

But it's becoming so much the norm, isn't it?  Think about it:  the TSA just announced a new pilot program where they'll more closely examine all kinds of things that they used to not look at specifically, like electronic devices larger than a cellphone.  Regular visitors to this space will remember that it wasn't that long ago that I flew for business regularly, and became rather numb to the art of getting through security quickly and without needless delays.  First the liquids, then the laptops, and now it looks like tablets and e-readers and portable gaming systems will be subject to added scrutiny.

My son and I attended a baseball game in Cincinnati recently, and I have to say that I was rather nonchalant about the need to pass through a metal detector when I arrived.  That's just how things are now.

At one point in my life I was a voracious reader of certain authors' work, and the late Tom Clancy was at the top of the list.  Clancy was the author of the Jack Ryan books, many of which have been turned into pretty good movies.  In any case, both the novel and film versions of "The Sum of All Fears" centered around a terrorist plot to detonate a nuclear weapon at the Super Bowl (the movie did not refer to the game as that, given trademark issues and such).  There were countless mentions in the book particularly about how such an attack would scar the psyche of our country.  Another of Clancy's books, "Debt of Honor," ends with a rogue Japanese pilot deliberately crashing an airliner into the Capitol during a Presidential address.

Those are just the most evident examples of how this stuff is pervasive in our culture.  And it's not that Western nations need to provide inspiration to those who would carry out such acts.

I agree with those in Manchester and Paris and Nice and London and Boston and other cities that the best thing we can all do is NOT allow such possibilities to prevent us from living our lives.  So I plan to continue to do so, but with a more practiced eye toward what might be happening behind the scenes.

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

News of all kinds

Friends, it's Wednesday, so we're at about the halfway point of the work week.  And we're approaching Memorial Day weekend, the unofficial start of summer.  School is almost out for the summer, too.

Let me first make a general comment about what's happening in Washington.  I don't think anyone who visits here would disagree that we're in for some rough times over the coming weeks and months.  I was a young teen when the Watergate break-in, coverup and investigation occurred, and remember well my mom (who was not working at that time) watching every minute of the Senate hearings on the subject.  I don't know if I understood everything that was happening, but got enough of it to know that it wasn't good for anyone.

My take now is that there are now so many media outlets that information is likely leaking from numerous sources, in the executive or legislative branches of our government as well as within some departments.  That's not good, but things are found out quickly in our current 24-hour news cycle and that may mean they resolve quickly.  Hoping that our most important institutions withstand what's happening right now.

Less important stuff to move on with....

It's hot here in central Kentucky.  Really hot.  Damned hot, if you ask me.  This often happens, the weather is fair, damp, often with a cold snap thrown in for good measure throughout the spring, then a switch appears to be thrown and here we are, in blazing heat.  We should be used to it, it seems to happen every year!

Good baseball weather.  Our grandson is in the middle of a good season with his T-ball team and at last night's game he made a very good play from his second base position on a ground ball, fielding the ball cleanly and making a perfect throw to first for the out.  Remember, these kids are four to six years old, so a semi-professional play on a ground ball is kind of a big deal, at least to me.  Our grandson's team has only lost once, but they have a couple of games to make up due to some of the foul weather I mentioned.

The Reds continue a surprisingly good season, too.  Thanks to having lost four straight games, they've fallen back to the .500 mark, but, honestly, rebuilding teams rarely get to that point and stay there, so it's been an up and down season marked with a fair amount of promise for the future.  And all of this with a makeshift starting rotation forced by multiple injuries to several pitchers.

My son and I visited Cincinnati last week and watched the home team beat the New York Yankees in a good game.  Great to be in the ballpark for that!

I've been trying to play some golf, but it seems that it has rained on so many weekends that it hasn't come together as it often does.  Played with some friends a couple of weekends ago, played a decent round with a good stretch of holes in the middle, which is not bad for a complete lack of practice and playing.

One more thing and I'll let you get back to your Wednesday...our family will be growing again in December, as we just found out over the weekend that our son and his wife are expecting their third child!  What a wonderful Mother's Day surprise!

Tuesday, May 9, 2017

Same as it ever was

Good morning, everyone.  And on a Tuesday, too!

Our schizophrenic weather continues here in central Kentucky.  Hot, then mild, then downright cool, and now warming up again.  Rain and then dry and then drizzle and so on.

Enough about that.  I come to you today regarding a musical oldie-but-goodie.  And unlike so many of my preferred artists, this one is not so old.

I refer to the dynamic late-70s to early-90s group Talking Heads.

The four members met in art school in New England, as I have read, and combined new wave rock, funk, pop and performance art into a driving form with undeniable rhythm and catchy songs whose words are, well, interesting.

I began to think of them recently upon learning of the death of film director Jonathan Demme, better known for directing the acclaimed "Silence of the Lambs" and "Philadelphia," but whose roots were in documentary filmmaking.  Demme collaborated with Talking Heads for a concert movie entitled "Stop Making Sense," the title lifted from a lyric in one of their songs.

I have a copy of that movie and watched it recently, and despite its age (made in 1983, I think), the film and concert both hold up well.  Talking Heads' music was always an acquired taste, with lead singer/songwriter David Byrne's vocal style intriguing and challenging to the audience at the same time.  Demme and Byrne cooked up an interesting film that relies mostly on photography of the band (and crew, for once) at work, with long shots of secondary players like a rhythm guitarist or percussionist and almost no displaying of the audience or their reactions.

The Heads played at the University of Kentucky when I was not long out of school and performed pretty much this same show here in Lexington at Memorial Coliseum, the one-time home of the Kentucky men's basketball team.  The entire show was performed with the house lights on, which probably diminished the impact of the show, but I learned later that someone had called in a bomb threat and the campus police would only allow the show to proceed (with a lengthy delay) with those lights still on.

It was a great show, and it still is quite entertaining.  The level of intensity by Byrne and his bandmates, with the lineup expanded for live performance, is evident throughout, but this bunch always seemed to enjoy it.  I suspect this film is available online in different places, so if you like music from that era, give it a look.

I must be reliving that part of my life recently, as I caught myself listening to the Police recently, too.

Monday, May 1, 2017

Seeing it on TV

It's Monday, everyone.  Which means, here in central Kentucky, that it's raining again.  At least the rain bookended the weekend, which allowed a steamy round of golf Saturday and grilled dinner last night!

I come to you this morning prepared to discuss several aspects of the television industry.  There have been items mentioned in the national media, and locally as well, that made me want to share some of this information.

I'll start with ESPN, the self-proclaimed "worldwide leader in sports," a phrase co-opted from ABC Sports, which used to make the same claim.  Last week ESPN very publicly thinned its workforce in announcing layoffs of many recognizable on-air personalities like Andy Katz, Jayson Stark, Ed Werder, Trent Dilfer, Jay Crawford and a number of others, as well as a number of writers who seldom, if ever, appeared on camera.

ESPN, and its parent The Walt Disney Company, took this action after a workforce reduction just a year or so ago.  They indicated that this was in response to changing viewing patterns, which is probably true.

ESPN was a neat-o thing for me when I first had access to cable TV back in the 80s.  Why, the very idea that there was a channel that had all of the highlights of all of the games on THAT NIGHT!  Of course, now, virtually ALL of the games in EVERY sport are on somewhere, so I saw what I wanted to see already.

Thus the changing viewing patterns.

That leads me to my next point.  Our local newspaper featured a story yesterday about customers of our local cable TV company, now called Spectrum following the acquisition of Time Warner Cable by Charter Communications, finding that channels went dark suddenly because Spectrum determined that these customers weren't paying enough for their programming.  Worth mentioning that in Kentucky cable TV is controlled by the state's Public Service Commission, regulated just like any other utility like electric or gas or water.  And a single entity is allowed to provide service in any geographic area, so there's no competition.

I experienced something less jarring but no easier to accept recently, when our overall Spectrum bill jumped about twenty dollars from one month to the next.  In our case it was a revision of fees for the rental and USE of a cable box/DVR combination.  Yes, a charge to rent the box, and a separate charge to USE it to record programs.  I know, defies logic.

Just as the man who was heavily quoted throughout the newspaper article, I called Spectrum in hopes of negotiating a somewhat better deal, which used to be common with Time Warner and its predecessors, but now their approach is to explain what services can be removed in order to achieve a financial objective.

I left my package as is for now, opting to leave it alone.  Eventually, Spectrum will begin monitoring and either capping or throttling Internet usage, so until then at least I can stream and browse endlessly.

My final set of comments regard the traditional television networks.  Every year, my wife and I review new shows to see if there's anything we'd find to be worth watching.  And every year we wait to see if the new shows we've been watching will return in the fall schedule.  I don't know this, but it seems to me that the networks used to be a little more definitive about shows that were cancelled vs. shows that were returning.  Now it seems that shows just sort of fade away, never to be seen again.

Let's remember, the original "Star Trek" television series lasted barely three years, but has lived on in syndicated reruns, sequels, spin-offs and movies since the late 60's.  So you have to believe that the folks who decide on these things are simply guessing and hoping they're right.

Now, if you'll excuse me, I'm heading to my treadmill for some exercise, where I'll use my tablet to stream Netflix to pass the time while walking.

Monday, April 24, 2017

Making it work

Happy Monday to you.  

Did you get rain over the weekend, as we did here in central Kentucky?  I realize that this IS spring, and it IS routine to see ample amounts of rain this time of year, but why, oh, why, does it have to seemingly ALWAYS rain on the weekend?

My wife and I elected to give ourselves a change of pace from our respective routines over the weekend, and traveled to Cincinnati, our preferred getaway destination.  As I've explained in this space before, we love Cincinnati because it's a larger city than Lexington but is only a little more than an hour's drive away, so we can spend less time getting away and more time BEING away!

That sounded a little like a tourism commercial, but no matter.

We normally visit a specific shopping mall that has some things we don't have, and also better versions of what we DO have, here in my home city.  For instance, we love visiting the Apple Store in the Kenwood Towne Center.  Why?  It's substantially larger than the one at Fayette Mall here in Lexington, so it holds more people and there are more staffers there.  So a large crowd here disperses well into a larger space there.

But one place we almost always enjoy visiting is IKEA, the Swedish-based furniture and home store. The nearest one to us is in West Chester, Ohio, just north of the city of Cincinnati.

We've probably been there a dozen times and I can count on one hand the number of things I've bought there.  We bought guest room nightstands (that we later sold on Craigslist when our living room end-tables became available to replace them) and a matching dresser, also for that same guest room.  And we bought ramekins there a few years ago, and they've been invaluable in serving small portions of food, especially to our grandchildren.

But the area of IKEA that endlessly fascinates me is the office furniture section.  From the time I was a kid I've always liked desks, bookcases and the like, and still do.

Full disclosure--I bought "traditional" office furniture for my home office twelve or so years ago, opting for a large wooden desk with a matching credenza and hutch.  I used to also have a matching bookcase but we sold that to clear out more visual space in my office, which was originally a dining room and is the first room one sees when entering our home.

Having that office furniture does not stop me from spending a good amount of each visit to IKEA's office furniture department.

At some point I became fascinated by the "modular" style that one can create, using multiple tables, drawer units and legs to create a system that provides working and storage space.  That fascination has now grown to include sit/stand desks, some motorized and others manual-crank-operated.   We're all learning, after lo these many years, that remaining in a sitting position at a desk, particularly in front of a computer, for extended periods of time is NOT good for us.  So mixing sitting and standing is now a trending but valuable practice.

Another point full disclosure--when I began to work at home full-time in 2003 my first purchase was a Herman Miller Aeron office chair, which can be adjusted in a variety of ways to ensure proper ergonomics.  I've improved the lumbar support and added a headrest since purchasing it, but it has never ceased being comfortable and supportive, and I had back issues long before spending countless hours at a desk.

Anyway, the myriad solutions available from a place like IKEA start my mind racing with possibilities, and since my office is perfectly square (on three sides, anyway) with no windows, arrangements are infinitely flexible.  My ideal solution would probably now be an open table, rather than a weighty traditional desk with drawers, with storage nearby for the shrinking amount of paper materials that I keep.  In my mind's eye this open table would be about the size of my current desktop, or perhaps even a little bigger, and would adjust in height, too.

Realistically, after investing in "good" but traditional furniture a few years ago, it makes little sense to chuck it in favor of something new, and I've posted this set on Craigslist more than once and received a lot of vague interest but no specific offers.

So for now my vision will have to stay in my mind's eye, I suppose!

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

Citizens (against) United

Good morning to all.  Nice, warm weather here in central Kentucky is due to be interrupted by some rain throughout today.  But you know what they say about April showers.  My grass is a direct testament to that old adage!

Unless you've been completely sequestered from any news sources over the past couple of days, you are aware of the incident that occurred with a passenger on a United Airlines flight from Chicago to Louisville (not far from my home area in Lexington) over the weekend.

Anyone who flies relatively often knows that airlines routinely overbook some flights, largely because the no-show rate leaves valuable seats unsold and decreases profit.  The flight in question was such an example, and it was already overbooked when the airline also decided to make some room on board for some of its own employees to be shuttled to Louisville for a flight out the following morning.

I've been in situations where the airlines offered as much as $1000, but not in real money--this was money to be spent on other travel on the same airline, in my experience.  There are often meal or hotel vouchers included.  In a couple of cases where I was on my way home and had my bag with me, I've been tempted to accept such an offer, but the desire to complete the trip and return home generally overrides the willingness to be paid to be inconvenienced.

In any case, it's important to remember that it's legal for airlines to arbitrarily bump passengers at its own discretion, as long as they are compensated for the inconvenience.  This was apparently the scenario on Sunday.

But regarding the United and Chicago airport security employees involved, I am astounded at the total disregard for appearances, as three armed security personnel physically removed a 69 year old physician from a small aircraft, dragging him from his seat and up the aisle.  He apparently got away briefly and ran to the back of the plane, saying "just kill me," until he was reapprehended and removed from the plane.

We know of this because, in today's society, everyone with a cellphone and a social media account is potentially a journalist, and so video and audio of this spectacle was quickly posted and became viral online.

Let's go back a few days--this is the same airline that prohibited girls from boarding a flight because they were wearing LEGGINGS.  The gate agent claimed that she was enforcing a dress code for those flying on United employee/friend passes, but kids in leggings?  I don't know about you, but I marvel at what people wear onto airliners these days....pajamas are not unusual, even for adults.  And I have a granddaughter who fits that age range and I guarantee you that she and my younger granddaughter regularly wear leggings and no one even thinks twice about it.

My personal experiences with United date back several years, when I first began flying regularly.  Twice I was boarding a large and mostly full plane at Chicago's O'Hare airport, positioned in group three or four, and heard the gate agent announce that "all of the overhead bins are now full, so everyone must now check their bags to be picked up at baggage claim at [insert destination]."  The irony is that in both instances, group one had not even completed boarding.  After the second time that happened, I consciously avoided that airline from then on, and only when my employer required the lowest fare did I resume using United.

Airlines have such an overall poor reputation anyway, so it boggles the mind as to why they would risk their already shaky reputations on stunts like what happened Sunday or a few days prior with the little girls wearing their leggings.  United made things worse by releasing a couple of mealy-mouthed statements by their CEO, one to their own employees that contained outright lies about the incident with the removed passenger, and also inflamed things by referring to the process as "re-accommodation."

United's shareholders should "re-accommodate" this CEO while their shares still have some value, and should then hire Tom Peters or another well-known authority on positive customer relations and thoroughly train their employees, at all levels, on proper and positive customer service, so that no one is dragged from an airliner for such a trivial reason.

That last part will never happen, but United would be well served to at least consider it.

If given the choice, I won't fly United Airlines for the foreseeable future, and you shouldn't, either.

Thursday, April 6, 2017

When everyone is in first place

Good morning to all.

We're experiencing the delights of springtime weather here in central Kentucky this morning, as a cold front blasted through last night, dropping temperatures and producing rain, hail, and in some areas heavy winds.  Still blowing this morning and the temperature continues to decline, although we're due for it to recover somewhat over the weekend.

My title today refers to the official start of the 2017 baseball season.  It's the one point in the season where every team is on equal footing.

This year's opening day, which is something of a holiday in my family, was a little different.  If you follow me on Twitter at @richardlexsmith you saw a tweet about this.  My son is generally my accomplice, as we've attended the Cincinnati Reds' opening day game several times in the past, most recently in 2014.  If not in person, we find a way to watch the game together, often taking the day off and playing golf that morning.

In recent years the Reds have begun scheduling their first game at 4:10 PM, for reasons that I have never quite understood.  This game used to always be at 1:10 or so, and also used to be THE first game for all of Major League Baseball.  But no more.  There were three games played on Sunday with the balance of teams playing on Monday, including the Reds.

I may have mentioned this in this space, but my son is attending law school at night at present, nearly finished with his first year of classes, and, as luck would have it, Monday is one of the nights that he attends.  So he wasn't able to be here, although we spoke as the game was starting and he was able to watch a bit while traveling to his law school.

This didn't affect the outcome; the Reds allowed some early scoring by the also-rebuilding Philadelphia Phillies and trailed most of the game, making it interesting late but ultimately losing 4-3.  They won in the first night game (delayed by our bad weather) last night by a score of 2-0.

In other athletic news, the Kentucky basketball team's super freshmen--DeAaron Fox, Malik Monk and Bam Adebayo--all declared for the NBA Draft.  Fox and Monk hired agents, so they're at the point of no return, but Adebayo wisely is not being represented yet, and will participate in NBA workouts (tryouts, really) to help determine where he might be drafted.  And he can withdraw with no penalty and return to school if he chooses.  I hope he returns, he's a dynamic player who has a great deal of unrealized potential.  In my non-expert opinion, Fox and Monk are already prepared to play pro basketball.

And the stunner of the last week in football was that Dallas Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo, who lost his starting job to rookie Dak Prescott last year when Romo was injured, decided to retire and enter broadcasting, joining CBS as their top analyst.  He will replace Phil "The Football" Simms, a native Kentuckian who played some years ago for the New York Giants, and I call him this because he always reminds us that a player is throwing a "football," or fumbling "the football" or catching "the football" and so on.

No indication of what happens to Simms, but this is a step in the right direction.

Finally, I don't feel the need to comment on Washington at this moment.  What's happening there, as bizarre as it seems, really speaks for itself.

By the way, as I write this, the Reds are in a three-way tie for first place in the National League Central Division.

Monday, March 27, 2017

Learning opportunities

Good Monday morning to you.

Perhaps I should state up front that it's a bit of a blue Monday here in the Big Blue Nation, as our beloved Kentucky Wildcats went down in defeat to the arch-rival North Carolina Tar Heels last night in a wild and highly competitive game.  Kentucky's team never really got going in the first half, owing to foul trouble for three starters, and that foul trouble and lack of rhythm carried over for the rest of the game.  Somewhat miraculous that Kentucky had the lead at a couple of points late, but Carolina's depth and experience won out.

Though my wife doesn't agree, that's pretty much the end of basketball for me this year.  I don't watch much other college basketball except to see who Kentucky might end up playing, so if they're done, I probably am, too.

My company is getting into a new aspect of business that you've probably seen and heard about, but because I don't talk in detail about work in this space, I won't elaborate, but to say that I'm pretty intrigued by some training I have coming up for my sales position.

Did you hear about the two young women who were prevented from boarding a United Airlines flight because they were wearing leggings?  You're reading that correctly, I did a double take when I first saw it.  There were three in a group traveling together, all on United passes that were given them by someone who works for the airline.  United claimed later that they have a "strict" dress code for those traveling on company passes and leggings are not allowed.  One of the women had a dress in her carry-on bag that she was able to put on over her outfit and was able to board.

Now, if you've been on a commercial airliner in the past five years, you've seen what I've seen.  People in sweatpants, yoga pants, leggings, pajamas, you name it.  Unless I am flying out and back in the same day I routinely wear shorts, unless it's a winter day.  I find it hard to believe that this was a rule that needed to be enforced.  Supposedly it was a gate agent who barred these women from boarding in their "objectionable" clothing.  Objectionable to whom? would be my question.

Saw something else that made me look twice.  The Atlanta Braves are opening a new ballpark next week, and they've announced some interesting menu items to be sold there, but at the same time also announced that they will not allow any outside food or drink into their new park.  As regular readers know, I'm an avid Cincinnati Reds fan, and have attended games in their last three venues, Crosley Field, Riverfront Stadium (later briefly known as Cinergy Field) and their current home, Great American Ball Park.  All have traditionally welcomed fans who choose to bring food and drink, within certain parameters (no glass containers, liquids must be in SEALED plastic bottles, etc.).  I can even remember walking into Yankee Stadium (the old one) several years ago with a bag of peanuts in open view of the tickettakers.  In NEW YORK.

The funny thing to me is that minor league parks stopped allowing outside food and drink years ago, but they charge a fraction of what the major league teams do for tickets. I always considered that the trade-off, that if you pay more to enter the game, they let you bring stuff to eat if you so choose.  This is a move that will further prevent many families from attending games.

Our former Vice-President has made a few public appearances recently and has said flatly that he now regrets his decision not to run for President in 2016, that he felt he was the best qualified and would have won the election.  No way to know any of that, nor can anyone who has never lost a child begin to comprehend the pain and grief Joe Biden and his family have experienced.  I've always liked Biden, despite his shortcomings he's a pretty down-to-earth and plainspoken man for a career politician.  I think he'll find his new place in private life and something to put his considerable energies into before too long.

My last comments are about the failure of the Republican leadership to pass their American Health Care Act from the House of Representatives, a body that their party controls.  Never mind the fact that there are three distinct factions within the Republican majority there, and that they also control the Senate and the White House.  This was their signature issue for seven years:  repeal and replace "Obamacare."  Ample time to craft a workable bill that would have fixed what they claimed was wrong with it.  But they couldn't.

Suppose they've learned anything yet?

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Then vs. now

Happy Wednesday from central Kentucky, where it's a balmy 17 degrees as I write this.  Every year we seem to get what I would call a "false positive" with our weather, as spring seems to come very early and then we have our average temperatures plummet, just to remind us that it's not actually spring.  This year appears to be no exception!

With our current President in perpetual crisis mode, there's been a lot of news coverage about the late former President Richard Nixon, who was in office when I was a kid, so that's prompted a lot of comparisons between Nixon and President Trump, and, in me, anyway, more comparisons of how things were back then and how they are now.

For instance, I had lunch with a friend yesterday, and we had a spirited discussion about the proposed reforms to the Affordable Care Act.  My friend is a Libertarian, says that our government should be small enough to fit into the trunk of his car, and is definitely opposed to government supported healthcare in most forms.  I lean a bit more progressive, and mentioned to him the social contract with citizens that began with FDR's creation of the Social Security system and continued in earnest with the creation of Medicare in the 1960s.  I added that during my childhood, if my mom took me to the doctor for anything, at the end of the visit, she'd write a check to the doctor's office for $10 and that was that.  No insurance was needed.  And if we had not had the $10, free healthcare would have been available at the local health department, as their primary role was to provide care to those without the means to pay.

See what I mean?  What was and what is are pretty far apart.

My friend also decried the lousy quality of so many items that are made in China, and it's clearly a case of cheap materials as much as anything.  My response was that it's often the only way for manufacturers of consumer goods and clothing to continue to provide items at prices comparable to what has traditionally been charged for, say, a waffle iron.  A waffle iron made in the U.S. would cost quite a bit more than one made in China, I'd wager.

And on it goes.

A sports media guy whom I follow on Twitter mentioned his sadness at going to the Arnold Palmer Invitational golf tournament this week, with Mr. Palmer having passed away last year.  My response to him is that we have so few authentic heroes and legends still with us, and I recall having noted that in this space previously.  Same with John Glenn, there'll never be another like him.

Is it because in today's twenty-four hour news cycle that we're just bombarded by so much information on everything and everyone that we don't hold people in similar roles in such esteem anymore?  Maybe.  It might also be because those icons really were that special.

My wife and I speak often about how Hollywood has no fresh ideas, that much of what comes to the local metroplex is another sequel or reboot or remake of something that may have been great the first time around and really can't be improved upon.  That didn't stop someone from green-lighting a remake of "Ben-Hur," of all things, last year.  As I remember, it lasted a relatively short time in theaters.  I see now that Warner Brothers is contemplating a remake/reboot/reimagining of "The Matrix."  Why?

Even reality television is repeating itself.  How many different ways can the producers of "Survivor" reinvent what was a novel concept so long ago?  And the Food Network is resurrecting the "Iron Chef" concept, which is licensed from Japanese television many years ago, for a new sequence of "Iron Chef" competitions.  I'll probably watch, because I confess that I enjoy some of these competitive cooking shows (never thought I'd like "Chopped," either, until we began watching and found it mildly addictive).

So can it be said that what was once old is new again?  Sometimes.  And sometimes it's not so great, and perhaps it wasn't so great the first time.  Only in our memories, right?

Tuesday, March 7, 2017

Nearing the abyss

Friends, it's raining cats and dogs here in central Kentucky this morning.  Well, not really.  And who came up with that turn of phrase, anyway?

But it IS raining again this morning.  As someone who travels regionally for work, I tell myself how fortunate we are that this is rain and not snow, which tends to paralyze our area.  Easy to say that from inside the house, but when you get doused the first time you have to get out of your car and spend the rest of the day damp or worse, well, you get the idea.

Speaking of plans, it now appears that the Republican plan to "repeal and replace Obamacare" now looks more like a plan to change it to better fit the traditional Republican narrative of tax cuts for those who largely don't need them and making healthcare more difficult to obtain for those in need.  It's telling that the House of Representatives plans a vote a scant two days after the details of this bill were made public, which will not allow proper scoring by governmental agencies.

In the Senate, there are apparently four Republican senators who are already expressing reservations about this law.  I won't get into the specifics of this, but much of what Republicans have decried about  the Affordable Care Act, aka Obamacare, will still exist.  But what's gone and significant in its absence is the requirement that all citizens purchase health insurance or pay a penalty.  Without there being any "musts" for individuals to access the health insurance market, however they would do so, the number of insured people will decline dramatically--one set of estimates I read was between fifteen and twenty million people will be without coverage.

I've also read quite a few treatments on the number of regulations that are being set aside or revised in the current governmental setup.  It's a large number, made more significant by the fact that these regulations cut across so many aspects of American life or business.  The mentally ill will now be better able to purchase a gun.  Golf course operators will not bear any responsibility regarding the quality of bodies of water that flow through their property, and salaried workers who were routinely expected to work many extra hours each week for no additional compensation will again be expected to do exactly that.

There's a systematic effort to undo more regulations, and what's worse, it seems that most of the cabinet secretaries who were nominated and confirmed were selected to help ensure that these regulations went away and in some cases to benefit personally from these changes.

I don't even know what to say about the White House and what's emanating from there via Twitter or third-hand leaked stories, but we can likely be certain that much of it is not accurate.  But as we're seeing, that doesn't seem to matter anymore, at least not to a certain percentage of our fellow citizens.

I know, as you do, that this is far from a perfect country.  Our flaws are too numerous to mention here.  Perhaps we lack a common goal, as we had in working in unity to defeat the Germans and their allies in World War II.  Or the lofty expectation of working to put men on the moon and return them to Earth safely.

I'm naive enough to believe that things can get better.  I also believe that if enough of us want them to improve, they will.  I just hope that there are enough people of like mind that it will come to pass.

Monday, February 27, 2017

Oscar Magico!

Good Monday morning to everyone!  If you're like me, and stayed up to watch the Oscars last night, you're a little sleep deprived.  I mean, after all, how often does an awards show end with a major twist in the ending?

If you didn't watch and have not watched or read the news, then you don't know about the colossal screw-up that ended what was a pretty entertaining Academy Awards show last night.  The final and biggest award, for the Best Picture, was being presented by Warren Beatty and Faye Dunaway, selected apparently because 2017 represents the fiftieth anniversary year of their vehicle "Bonnie and Clyde."

In any case, after a brief political statement, the pair got down to business and introduced the nine nominees, then Beatty appeared a bit flummoxed by the contents of the envelope.  Dunaway laughed and said "you're impossible" and announced "La La Land," the odds-on favorite, as the winner.

In the midst of acceptance speeches by the three producers, along with much of the cast and crew of that film there appeared a man wearing a headset and a couple of others whom I didn't recognize.  Then the primary spokesperson for "La La Land" said that there had been a mistake.  The winner was actually "Moonlight," a "small" coming of age film that had already won a couple of awards earlier.

Beatty then tried to explain by showing the camera that he and Dunaway had been supplied the WRONG ENVELOPE, containing the name of Emma Stone, who moments earlier had won the Best Actress award for "La La Land."  The "Moonlight" team arrived on stage and exulted in their victory, however it was announced.

This morning I saw that someone had frozen a screen shot from their TV, and, sure enough, Beatty's explanation was accurate, you could read from the front of the envelope that he and Dunaway had been given a duplicate of the Best Actress envelope.  Left my wife and me on our couch shaking our heads at the time, but laughing when the Internet got going with all of the hilarious quips about what happened.  I strongly encourage you to check those out.

We thought the show was good, fun, reasonably fast-paced, made enough jokes about awards for movies no one saw and about our current political landscape.  Host Jimmy Kimmel acquitted himself pretty well and continued something from his late-night show that regularly jabs actor Matt Damon, which produced some pretty funny moments.  The opening production number with Justin Timberlake performing his nominated song from "Trolls" set a nice upbeat pace and also yielded a good comedic moment when he tossed his microphone to Kimmel, who made no effort to catch it.

Kimmel did a cute bit where he tweeted a couple of things at President Donald Trump, including #merylsayshi.  Nice tribute to acclaimed actress Meryl Streep, whose Golden Globes speech decried many of the new administrations actions and policies.

Winners spoke out about equality and fairness as appropriate.  None of the losers in the audience appeared to be terribly sore losers, which is a nice change from a few over the last couple of years who failed to contain their disappointment.  Some of the women who were nominees or presenters wore pretty dresses while others' ensembles were not so appropriate.  And it appeared to be the year of the navy tuxedo for the men, as we saw quite a few of those.

Unlike last year, we saw none of the Best Picture nominees, and happened by chance to see the film that won for the Best Animated Short Subject, another triumphant piece by the Pixar crew entitled "Piper."  See that if you can, and you'll have a smile on your face for quite a while.

I still think my favorite Oscars ceremonies are those where I have a significant rooting interest.  The year that "Schindler's List" won the major awards was quite moving, as that film is.  And the ceremony that culminated in "Schindler" director Steven Spielberg proclaiming "it's a clean sweep" in announcing that "The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King" had won Best Picture and and the other TEN for which it was nominated was probably the most satisfying for me personally, as this film and its two trilogy counterparts are high on my all-time favorite films list!

By the way, the title for today's post comes from a pretty terrible magician's name.  He entertained my elementary school nearly fifty years ago, but that name has somehow stuck with me.  One of those oddball things I'll probably never forget, even if I can't recall what I had for lunch last Thursday...

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

It's a world gone mad

Greetings, everyone.  Is the weather unseasonably warm where you are, or are you getting torrential rain in place of the years-long drought your area has suffered?

It's been in the 70s here in central Kentucky recently.  New record high temp for yesterday's date.  I played golf in short sleeves on Sunday.  February 19.

Common wisdom around here says we'll pay for this warm stretch with some heavy winter weather.  Much the same thing happened last year, as we had two major snowfalls in early March 2016.  Let's hope that we don't see a repeat of that.

I suspect I'm a bigger baseball fan than many of you who visit this space regularly, but I'm pretty dejected over an announcement made by the leaders of Major League Baseball.  Starting with the coming season, a manager may signal from the dugout that he wants to intentionally walk an opposing batter, instead of the ages-old practice of actually having his pitcher throw four balls way outside to walk that batter.

There's also a move afoot to add drama to extra innings by placing a runner on second base.  And, no, I'm not kidding.

This is all designed, allegedly, to promote a quicker pace of play.  As I noted to a friend on Twitter recently, pace of play issues are understandable in timed sports, such as basketball and football, but in baseball?  The leisurely pace is one of the game's great features, in my mind, and arbitrarily speeding it up with pitch clocks and signaled intentional walks don't enhance the fan experience.  Neither does replay, either.  I offered this to friends recently, so I'll do so here:  if a manager requests a replay, as is his right, and the replay umpires can't make a decision within two minutes, the original call on the field stands.  I think that replay creates more delays than it prevents, so that's my two cents.

But teams are readying for the 2017 season.  The Reds traded popular second baseman Brandon Phillips in order to clear a logjam of middle infielders.  It appears the alternative would have been to reduce Phillips to part-time status, and that would have been more of a distraction than anything.  The Reds have also picked up a few players from the waiver wire and other low-cost/low-risk sources, which is how a small-payroll team has to function.  We'll see how the pieces fit in about a month.

Kentucky's basketball team is looking for another piece of its puzzle, as it continues its schizophrenic 2016-17 season.  They had trouble defeating 7-19 Missouri last night, which is baffling.  This team looked like a group of world-class athletes early on, handling several quality opponents with ease.  Now, every game is a struggle.

Regarding what's happening in Washington, I'll repeat what I said last time around.  I can't really add anything to what's happened, or been said or written.  But I do love the fact that Kentucky's senior Senator Mitch McConnell was met with hostility at a town hall meeting yesterday.  This is a pretty common theme nationally right now, and, no, the protesters are not paid and are not being bussed in.

Last thought--are you going to watch the Oscars?  I don't think we will, but I've been wrong before.  We've seen a couple of the movies nominated, but don't really have any rooting interest.

That's it.  For now, anyway.

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Can you hear me now?

Greetings to everyone.  More strange weather here in central Kentucky, featuring massive temperature swings, all manner of precipitation and forceful winds.  I won't say it's unusual for February, as there's hardly any weather pattern that's actually "usual" any longer.

Had a recent oddity with our home telephone.  And, yes, before you gasp further, we DO still have a landline at our house.  I think I've mentioned here that it's easier to keep it as is for now, but as time passes, we have fewer and fewer compelling arguments for it to remain in service.

Anyway, Thursday I noticed that the phone would ring, and on the other end would be what sounded like a call that I had dialed attempting to connect.  A lot of static and interference, but the unmistakable sound of a phone ringing was present.  If you hung up, you'd get a callback almost instantly.

For some reason it stopped at the close of the business day on Thursday, so my wife and I wondered if it was a fax machine erroneously attempting a connection with our number.  Wouldn't have been the first time, of course.  It started again on Friday but halted after 6:00 PM as it had the day before.  But on Saturday, it started and continued right on, so we unplugged our phone.  Naturally, my mother-in-law attempted to call, and when she didn't get an answer called our son with understandable concern.

By Sunday morning, the line had only a hum to it, and connection of a different phone and phone line changed nothing.  The problem was outside of the house, so I contacted our local phone provider, which has been a problem historically.  But to my astonishment, they had a technician on scene and had it repaired by 10:30 yesterday morning.  Said something about lines being crossed and a "bad pair."  All I know is that it's working now.

The title of today's visit holds true for Sunday night's Grammy awards, as we watched some of it.  Between Adele losing her place to the Lady Gaga/Metallica performance being marred by a nonfunctioning microphone to generally bad sound mix, it was disappointing.  Biggest night for the music industry and it overall didn't sound good.

I did learn, though, that Kentucky native and rising country star Sturgill Simpson has some chops.  I'm listening to his Grammy-award winning album "A Sailor's Guide to Earth" on Spotify right now.  Baritone voice, witty and thoughtful lyrics, a sound more bluesy and Americana than traditional country, and the guy doesn't feel the need to wear a cowboy hat.

I also was reminded of how good Adele is, despite the hiccup in her George Michael tribute, and how good Bruno Mars is, in his Prince tribute.  And was surprised to see the Best New Artist, Chance the Rapper, does not even have a deal with a record label, as he relies totally on his own team and streaming services to spread the word.

I won't add any specific comments about what's happening in Washington right now, except to say that the Senate continues to astound me that they're blithely confirming the people who were nominated for various cabinet posts despite how inappropriate so many of the choices have been, for the offices they aspired to or any other.  And I see this morning that the Trump administration is looking for a new National Security Advisor, one who hopefully isn't quite so chummy with the Kremlin.

A satirist recently said that this current scene in Washington stands to put him out of work, that what's happening is already so absurd in so many ways that he can't top it.  And that's saying something.

Time to go to work.

Tuesday, February 7, 2017

Mission almost accomplished

Friends, I really meant to follow through on my comments about NOT watching Sunday's Super Bowl.  I tried.  But ultimately, I failed, although only partially.

Let me explain.

My wife was in complete agreement with me, she also stated that she did not care to see the New England Patriots and more particularly their owner, coach and quarterback all receiving the Vince Lombardi trophy while acting as though their past behavior had not happened, as they had acted on four prior occasions when winning the game.

We avoided the pre-game programs, watching a movie at home.  We decided to go out to see a movie, "Rogue One--A Star Wars Story," thanks to a Fandango gift card from our son and his family.  We even decided to have a modest dinner out before the movie.

Aside--we really enjoyed this movie.  I'm not as invested in Star Wars as others I know, but found the original three movies highly entertaining and the most recent film to be very good as well.  This one was very, very good, well done, with a brisk pace and lots of believable events.  Two thumbs up, as a couple of late critics used to say.

We returned home to watch the news that we recorded while we were out, and my wife glanced at her phone and noted that Atlanta was leading New England late in the game.

So we decided to tune in.

Sure enough, the Falcons held an eight point lead with about five minutes left in the game, and had the ball.  They moved upfield nicely, and then encountered resistance and then a sack of MVP quarterback Matt Ryan moved them out of field goal range.  They were forced to punt with a bit over three minutes left.

You know what happened after that.  And we watched the remainder of the game.  Friends advised what a huge lead Atlanta had held at different points, but it didn't matter.

At least we got away from the broadcast before all of the trophy presentations.

I will say as an aside that I respect Tom Brady for having cited his ailing mother as inspiration for his performance.  We all have (or had) a mother, and I can't think of a nicer thing to do for one's Mom than win a Super Bowl in her honor.

So that's over.  No more football until the fall.

Yesterday I saw online that the Cincinnati Reds were loading the big truck carrying their team equipment to Arizona and spring training.  Pitchers and catchers report soon.

Oh, and Donald Trump is still President of the United States.  I'll refer you to any news source you prefer to see how that's working out.

Wednesday, February 1, 2017

Stunningly apathetic

Good afternoon to everyone.  Unusual day and time to post, but my schedule got a little fouled up this week.

Are you planning to watch the Super Bowl?  For a number of years, starting when our kids were, well, kids, we really made a big deal of the day of the big game, buying special snacks, planning a menu appropriate to the site of the game or the participating teams' cities, and so forth.

Last year was great, since the Denver Broncos won and our daughter and her family are season ticket holders!

But this year?  Hard to get excited about the New England Patriots (again) and the Atlanta Falcons.  Admittedly, the Falcons have a Kentucky native and UK grad on the roster, tight end Jacob Tamme, but he was injured mid-season and won't play.  But otherwise, the Falcons don't have any players who command a high level of attention from me.

And then there's the Patriots.  Sorry to my friends in the northeast, but I don't care for the team owner, the head coach, the offensive coordinator or the quarterback.  At all.  I disliked the lot of them before the multiple cheating scandals that have arisen and been investigated, but even more now.  Sort of like the St. Louis Cardinals in the baseball world.  The team is successful, yet, but in a soulless way that is offputting to just about anyone who's not already their fan.

So I don't know if we're even going to watch the game, which is slightly un-American, but that's the way it goes.  May watch a good, long movie instead.

Did you tune in to see President Trump unveil his choice for the Supreme Court last night?  I didn't, and missed it on purpose.  I have to also say I was disappointed but not surprised by much of anything that has happened since my last post to this space.  The latest is that Senate Democrats boycotted the committee votes that would have sent certain Trump nominees to the general Senate for a vote, thus tying up the nominations.  And there are already a number of Senators who say they won't vote to approve the afore-mentioned nominee.  Kentucky's own Senator Mitch McConnell, the Senate Majority Leader, openly defied conventional wisdom this time last year by not allowing hearings or a vote to approve President Obama's last Supreme Court nominee but is now actually expressing shock that Democrats would respond in kind now.  Hmm...

Kentucky's basketball team broke a two game losing streak by outlasting Georgia in overtime last night, but not without some effort.  The team's point guard was out due to illness, so others had to pick up the slack and did so.  But this Kentucky team doesn't look quite so special at this point in the season, but there's still time for improvement.

One last thing I'll mention amid the twenty-degree temperature swings we've seen less than two weeks, Cincinnati Reds pitchers and catchers report for spring training.  If that doesn't put a spring in the step of a baseball fan (like me!), I don't know what will.

Stay out of trouble!

Monday, January 23, 2017

That didn't take long

Good Monday morning to everyone.

We're again in the midst of what promises to be a lengthy stretch of rain and foul weather here in Lexington.  Warm temperatures and lots of moist air from the Gulf of Mexico, and that produces rain.  And lots of it, judging by what's happening outside.  Luckily we have not been part of the devastation in the south, as there were numerous tornadoes and storms that resulted in massive property damage and loss of life.  Here's hoping those affected get a break in the weather to regroup.

I was not in Washington over the weekend and attempted to avoid Friday's Presidential inauguration and accompanying events, but wound up hearing most of our new President's speech.  Since that time there has been an expected war of words between the Trump Administration and the media about the size of the crowd at Friday's ceremony, whether Mr. Trump had removed a bust of Martin Luther King, Jr. from the Oval Office, whether Mr. Trump should or will release his income tax returns, discussion of "alternative facts," and whether or not Mr. Trump likes and trusts the CIA.

Remember, the Trump Administration officially began last Friday at noon.

Last night I read that a citizens' group is suing the new President over the emoluments clause in our Constitution, and that the Administration's new National Security Adviser is now under investigation by most every national security agency of this country, the result of a string of phone calls between himself and contacts in the Russian government.  There is also the issue of an elected official being permitted to hold a lease on a government building, as Mr. Trump and his company are leasing the Old Post Office building in Washington which houses the Trump International Hotel.  I also noted that two prominent Republican Senators, John McCain and Lindsey Graham, have now indicated that they support the President's nominee to be Secretary of State, the former Exxon Mobil CEO Rex Tillerson.

Am I gloating?  No.  Am I happy to see all of this?  No.  Am I surprised?  Not in the slightest.

This confrontational and combative tone was prevalent throughout the long, LONG campaign, and continues now, unabated.  The Trump team of advisors and surrogates who make the rounds on the Sunday political shows all make the case that their conduct and approach is necessary, since they're fighting press distortion and misinformation.

This may get better.  But this also could get much, much worse.  Only time will tell.....

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Good and not as

Greetings, friends.  Taking a brief break from work to post this morning.

I think "unusual" is just the beginning when talking about weather.  We had deep cold for several days here in central Kentucky recently, but in the last few days it's been mostly wet and unseasonably mild.  Back closer to normal today, as it's 42 degrees as I write this, overcast and breezy.  I won't say "that's more like it," but I suppose it does seem more appropriate.

We were spared the ice storms that plagued spots southwest, west and north of us.  We've had two major ones in my memory, neither affected us too directly but I know folks who were hampered by them.  So best wishes to anyone in an ice-affected area.

I think I mentioned here recently that we had to buy a refrigerator.  Unfortunately, the unit came with a damaged handle.  The selling dealer shipped first one replacement to us, and when that was discovered to also be damaged (but in a different way) a second one was shipped.  The technician who "owned" the service ticket acted pretty put out that the first arrived in less-than-perfect condition, and replaced the second in a rushed and impatient manner, and was here for less than ten minutes.

Not long after he departed, I noticed a deep nick in the door of the refrigerator, just above the top of the handle.  Whether it was already there or this disgruntled technician damaged our door (purposely or otherwise), I was pretty unhappy.  My wife shocked me by saying "you can barely see it," but I wasn't having it, and called the dealer.  To my astonishment, the representative stated flatly that "we should just replace the entire unit, since you've had so much trouble with it.  We don't want you to be unhappy."  Astounding!

The new fridge arrives on 1/31.

I did not mention this dealer by name, but in a less successful situation, I'll mention the vendor--SiriusXM Satellite Radio.  We've been customers of theirs since buying my wife's car twelve years ago.  I renewed our subscription in October and shortly thereafter we began to experience ongoing signal drop-outs on a routine basis.  I reported this a total of FIVE times, three times by phone, twice by online chat.  One of the reps with whom I spoke (and they're offshore, making it even more challenging) actually told me that there was nothing they could do, and that I'd need to take the car back to my dealer for them to address.  The last such attempt was late last week, and I spoke with a pretty nice man who was very apologetic.  He, as the others, assured me that I would hear back from someone about this.

I received a call yesterday, from someone based in Washington, where Sirius is headquarters.  Turns out this is a known issue, that AT&T changed their cellular transmission pattern and interfered with the repeater system that Sirius uses to deliver its signal.  The woman said that it should be resolved in the next week or two.  But what she couldn't answer is why no one along the line would or could tell me that, particularly since this was supposedly circulated to their Listener Care line.

If any of you have satellite radio service anymore, I'd be curious to know what your experience has been regarding this specific issue or others.

The parade of cabinet nominees continues on Capitol Hill.  The group, which more than one pundit has compared to "the crew of a pirate ship," has generated some interesting reaction from Democrats, but it looks like most will endure the process and be confirmed.  And I hear that there's some ceremony in Washington on Friday.  Can't wait to hear how that goes.

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

The beat goes on

Good Tuesday to all.  We finally cracked the freezing mark here in central Kentucky yesterday and it's due to be even warmer (and wetter) as the week wears on.

A good friend in northern California reported that the main reservoir for the Sacramento area has risen an astonishing twelve feet since that area started seeing some big weather systems moving in and through.  Let's be glad, those folks seem to never get a break.
Broken is the right word for the famous "tunnel tree" in Calaveras Big Trees State Park.  You know, it's the one that someone literally cut a tunnel through the base of the trunk many years ago.  Anyway, it was weakened by the recent heavy rains in the area and fell in the last day or two.  Another iconic symbol gone.

Speaking of icons, let's give acclaimed actress Meryl Streep some credit for saying what many have been thinking.  Politics aside, her message should resonate with everyone.  I'm quoting here: 

“Disrespect invites disrespect, violence incites violence. And when the powerful use their position to bully others, we all lose.”

Well said.  Sad that we've moved so far away from the "please" and "thank you" and "yes, ma'am" of my youth, let alone respecting the opinions of others.

Here's a shocker:  the Alabama Crimson Tide lost the collegiate National Championship game to the Clemson Tigers last night 35-31.  I missed the entire second half, because I didn't want to try to watch a football game that dragged on for well over four hours.  And people complain about the pace of play in baseball....

Not so shocking is that these Cabinet confirmation hearings that started today will be rather contentious.  The fact that a good percentage of the nominees did not complete their required ethics paperwork for vetting purposes is problematic, but ultimately all of these people will likely be approved for the positions for which the President-Elect chose them.

The PEOTUS is due to have a press conference tomorrow.  What he's asked about and what he'll discuss are likely two separate sets of topics, but we'll just have to wait and see.  Yesterday it was announced that he has appointed his son-in-law as Senior Advisor to the President.  All in the family.

I read online this morning that the CEO of Yahoo, Melissa Mayer, will be departing that company once the sale of it to Verizon is completed.  And that means we will no longer be reading about her abbreviated maternity leaves, or her reflections of the necessity of pulling an all-nighter occasionally to move a project forward.  

Suppose I should move a couple of my projects forward and sign off.  Hope the weather is agreeable where you are!


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