New Shoes in the Rain

Thursday, December 28, 2017

New year alert

Friends, I hope that you had the opportunity to spend time with those you love over the Christmas and Hanukkah holidays recently.

I'm working a short week this week, as my current company affords its employees with Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, as well as New Year's Eve and New Year's Day as company holidays.  And given where the days fell this year, I was off last Friday and will be again tomorrow.  Plus I'm taking Tuesday off, so that will be essentially a five day weekend.

Good thing, too, as I'm just about over the nasty respiratory disorder that has had a grip on me for over two weeks.  As reported here previously, my wife has had something similar, was diagnosed with Type A flu and is about a week behind me in terms of the progression of her discomfort.  So the light schedule and extra time off has been very helpful.

The time has also allowed some introspection, as 2017 is almost over.  I made no resolutions, usually don't, but experienced some good changes personally and, of course, were fortunate to welcome another healthy member of our family just recently.

As a society, though, I worry about where we've been, where we are, and most of all, where we appear to be going.  Through whatever means, we elected as President someone who embodies most of the worst personal qualities and yet who also doesn't appear to take seriously the responsibilities of his office.  Along with that, based on the extensive investigative reporting that has come out about the 2016 campaign and events since that time, he and his team appear to have been willing to do about anything in order to gain and retain power, and that's an equally dangerous proposition.

No matter your politics, no matter your personal preferences, this should concern you.  Under this President, the Justice Department is cracking down on all sorts of personal freedoms and activities.  The State Department is led by someone who appears more interested in "efficiency" and offers little in the way of explanation or even negotiation to the rest of the world.  Actions taken by previous administrations are being rolled back or done away with in rapid succession, mostly based on whose name is associated with these actions.

I have a friend who attributes our current politics to a contentious Supreme Court nomination from some years ago, the first such nomination that forced an across-the-board division along party lines.  He makes a good point.

Whether that was already happening or not, I don't have a lot of doubt that our current polarized climate and the candidates produced by it are the result of two major factors:  politically centered cable "news" and social media.

If you don't watch cable news, good for you.  Most folks do, and find some comfort in the reinforcement of their beliefs that they receive from the channel of their choice.

Social media, however, is a lot different animal than we first thought, with "bots" spewing propaganda with astounding speed and frequency.  Last night I read something that I found interesting about the recent special Senate election in Alabama, which, you'll recall, was won by Democrat Doug Jones.  According to a consultant employed by the Jones campaign, 10,000 of these "bots," which are essentially fake accounts manipulated by a common operator, were generating 65,000 anti-Jones tweets PER HOUR.

Do we know that this is true?  No.  But if there's even a shred of evidence, it's one more thing to worry about.  We've also been told by some news outlets that anti-Hillary Clinton tweets and Facebook posts appeared in much the same way and in similar numbers near the end of the 2016 Presidential campaign.  And what's more, they appeared in the most contentious states in the campaign, the industrial Midwest states that were ultimately won by Clinton's opponent.

Politics has always been the art of persuasion, so this is an inevitable extension of that description.  But in my mind it's an unwelcome one, as we have entire generations of people who rely on Facebook, for example, as their source of news reporting.

No quick or easy answers to any of this.  But let's at least hope that the American people get a fair shake all around in 2018, whether in their daily lives, at the polls or wherever there's a question of fairness.  We owe it to each other and our children and grandchildren to make sure this happens.

Thursday, December 21, 2017

Merry Christmas to you and yours!

Just stopped by to say exactly that!  Enjoy the season with those you love!

Monday, December 18, 2017

The joys of being sick at Christmas

Greetings, friends!  Is your house fully decorated?  Gifts purchased and wrapped?  Shipped those that need to go elsewhere?

In today's hectic environment, there are so many things to check off and keep track of for Christmas planning.  We all try to be in several places at once and make it to every party or work/client function.

And that's just a little harder when you're sick.

I had an interesting experience a couple of Fridays ago--the day of my last post.  If you recall, my flight was delayed in leaving south Florida, and, well, it never left.  Not that day or the day after.  I wound up staying through Sunday morning, when I finally was able to get a flight north.

Didn't feel any ill effects from the extra time there until I woke on Tuesday with a sore throat and cough.  Uh-oh.

The disorder escalated from there, and I'm managing the symptoms with a variety of over-the-counter medications.  I usually don't head to the doctor when these things arise, as I would then get an antibiotic that might or might now help.

I'd say I'm about 85% myself, but what's worse is my wife developed roughly the same thing, but it came upon her a couple of days later than it hit me.  So it's been a real treat around our house these last few days, two people wheezing and speaking hoarsely.

But, by golly, we're ready for Christmas!  We finished our shopping last night, and have but a few things left to wrap.  Our box to our daughter's family in Colorado went out last week, and was just delivered, so the U.S. Postal Service tells me.

We've been through this a time or two before in our thirty-plus years of marriage.  The worst we could both remember had us both suffering with horrible colds (traditionally runny nose/coughing/body aches) starting a couple of days before Christmas Day and lasting until New Year's.  There was another time where I was struck with something not unlike a flu bug about two weeks beforehand, and really had no energy at all until about three days before the holiday.

But, as you know, gentlemen shouldn't discuss their infirmities, so I'll leave that topic for the moment.

I suppose it depends on what you're shopping for, but I haven't noticed as many rabid bargain hunters as are depicted in news reporting, at least not in my home area.  And we probably have done a good combination of online shopping mixed with traditional bricks-and-mortar stores again this year.

I sincerely hope that you and yours enjoy the holidays, whether you celebrate Christmas, Hannukah, Kwanzaa or even Festivus!

Friday, December 8, 2017

Christmas shopping while delayed in an airport!

I used to travel pretty often for work, as long-time visitors to this space will attest.  However, I have been on a weeklong trip to my company's offices for meetings and now find myself with time on my hands.  Not only is it a Friday afternoon, but with weather rolling through parts of the southeast US today, the air travel system is chaotic, at the least!

So what better way to while away some of my delay than by sharing some ideas about Christmas gifts and shopping?

Now, I'm not dumb enough to reveal what those close to me may be receiving for Christmas this year (well, maybe not), but I can tell you somethings I like and I'll let you make the decision.

Are you or anyone you know in the market for a new phone?  I like my new iPhone 8 Plus, as this is the first trip where I've used it.  Love the brighter, more vibrant screen and the speed at which pages and apps load and react.  The sound is also quite something.  Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak and I apparently agree on this.  And be assured that the iPhone X is a very nice phone, too, but if you plan to buy it for someone else, you'll likely have difficulty finding one until right before Christmas, if even then!

Continuing the electronics theme, I have really given my Apple AirPods a workout during this trip, and am really impressed.  They sound great, are comfortable for long periods of time and work very well for phone calls as well as for music and movies.  We gifted our son a pair of Bose QC 35 headphones with Bluetooth a few months ago, as he's a night law student and needs ample amounts of quiet time for his studies.  He proclaims these to be a great asset to his equipment arsenal!

Not long ago, I received an e-mail from a very nice contact with who had read a prior post of mine regarding tech reviews and provided this link about Bluetooth headphone reviews:

If you're in the market for something like this, I hope you find it helpful.

I could go on and on (and on and on) about tech stuff, but I also have grandchildren, and three of them are of the age that they're not quite ready for heavy-duty electronics.  So for them, game and toys are it, and there seems to be no shortage of Star Wars-themed items, what with yet another Star Wars movie coming out shortly!  I personally like to give games and toys that have at least a little educational value, and we really haven't done our due diligence in that area yet.

And based on a long-ago pact, my wife and I do not give surprise gifts to each other, so no worries on that front, at least not for me!

Oh, and if you keep score of things I mention, we decided to postpone the purchase of a 4K HDR TV.  There's just not enough content out there for it yet, so we'll wait.

Hope this is just a little bit helpful.  Now I have only two more hours to wait until my flight departs!

Saturday, November 25, 2017

Apple II

Happy post-Thanksgiving Saturday.  Unusual day for me to post, but, well, I'm kind of off schedule in a lot of ways right now, as many of us who had the last two days off work probably are!

Wanted to share another experience with Apple (and, no, I'm not on the payroll).  My wife and I had planned to go to see a movie yesterday, opting for "Murder on the Orient Express," but were thwarted by our inability to get seats at our preferred multiplex at the time we preferred.  So I headed outside to do some yard work, and to run the gasoline out of our lawn mower.  My wife used that time to put away her Halloween and Thanksgiving decor in anticipation of decorating the house for Christmas during this weekend.

Anyway, after I got a shower and was ready to do something, we decided, unexpectedly, to go to the mall.  I have railed against doing so for some time, but we went with a specific purpose in mind.  I had finally decided to upgrade my iPhone 6 Plus and get an 8 Plus, and NOT the newest design, the iPhone X.  More on that later.

We could have gone a number of places, but having just done the same thing in upgrading my wife's phone, we knew what to expect at the Apple Store.  We also were confident that Apple would have its store well staffed in anticipation of the big Black Friday crowds.

So we made our way to the local mall (we only have one traditional enclosed mall remaining here in Lexington) and were not at all surprised to see parking spaces at a premium.  We parked in an area that was not a great distance from the Macy's department store, which is on the end of the building where Apple's store is located, and made our way inside and through the corridors and the many folks bustling along.

Arriving at the store, there were plenty of people inside, but we were also glad to see the number of red-shirted Apple staffers present.  I gave my name to the check-in person and only waited a couple of minutes to be connected with Mason, who helped me with my phone of choice.  Knew what I wanted, opted to trade in my old device, completed the transaction and moved seamlessly to the set-up area, where I essentially did it myself, despite help being available if needed.

The entire process took less time than to find a parking space and walk into the mall.

My wife had gone to get us a drink and was going to meet me when I finished, and we met and I was putting a new case onto my new phone when it suddenly stopped working.  Completely.  Luckily, though, we were seated on a bench right in front of the store, so the check-in person asked to give it a look and then Mason and I caught each other's attention, and he moved in my direction to also examine it.  Together we deduced that the screen had somehow failed, whether a power issue or otherwise, and he immediately said that we should replace it.

That was the easy part.  The hard part was that not only did I buy a phone, but I did so by having my carrier provide the financing, and then I traded in my old phone and the proceeds from the gift card were actually deposited into my checking account.  So Mason had to enlist the help of Marty, whom I assume was a supervisor, to undo and redo the multiple transactions involved.

This took about forty minutes, I think, and I probably received more apologies during that time than I ever have during any kind of sales or service hiccup.  In the end, I left with a newer new phone, plus some other related perks that I would not have expected but that were provided in recognition of my good humor and patience.

So, as you can see, I'm an even bigger fan of the folks at the Apple Store.  Busiest day of the year and multiple people stopped everything to make sure I was assisted until satisfied.

Oh, and why did I end up choosing the iPhone 8 Plus?  Several reasons, actually.  First and foremost, most of the internal components of this phone are identical to that of the glitzy iPhone X, and they share the same camera, which is a vast improvement over that of my 6 Plus.  Second, I've become very comfortable with the larger profile of the Plus phones, and this one is roughly the same size as my 6 Plus, perhaps just a touch thicker and somewhat heavier, but I liked the heft.  Finally, I examined both phones closely on several occasions, and while the X is a marvelous design, it just didn't seem to click with me.  I didn't see a major difference between the screen quality of its OLED screen and the high-resolution LCD display of the 8 Plus.

So what was the worst part of my Black Friday shopping experience?  The thirty minutes it took to get out of the mall parking lot!

Wednesday, November 22, 2017


Thanks for stopping by, especially on this, the single busiest travel day of the year.  Did you see that footage of cars on the freeway in southern California yesterday?  I've driven that very road, but in mid-April and, thankfully, at off hours.

If you're traveling today or at any time during the holiday weekend, please be safe.

I'm grateful for many things, as most of us are, but want to express a few brief thoughts.  Most of all, I am grateful to my loving wife and family, and most thankful that they're all healthy and productive.  And as I've mentioned here, our family will grow by one in about a week with the arrival of our fifth grandchild!

I am also grateful for my friends.  As I've mentioned here, I have a lot of friendly acquaintances but not as many true friends.  All of you know who you are, so thank you for being my friends.  Your friendship means a great deal to me!

I'm also grateful that I have a decent job, a good roof over my head and enough to eat.  There are many who have none of these, of course.

And with that, I'll thank you again for visiting, today and always!

Thursday, November 16, 2017

It's that time again

Good Thursday morning to everyone.  Or, should I say, early Black Friday?

That's right, friends, it's already Black Friday, and I haven't even had turkey yet (though I did prepare chicken last night).  The retail industry finally figured out that they might sell more products if they go ahead and start their sales early a couple of years ago, so now the television blares announcements about Black Friday sales here and there.

Think about this....we're not that far removed from the novelty of stores opening early the Friday after Thanksgiving.  Now they're offering drastic discounts roughly a month BEFORE that holiday!  Consumers rejoice, right?

Not quite.  Experts have long said that many of the "deals" to be had on Black Friday and Thanksgiving evening are not that attractive, and while they create traffic, they don't necessarily offer significant discounts on the latest and greatest items that we want for our loved ones and ourselves.  Seems that someone analyzed the actual models of televisions that were marked down for the occasion last year and found that in most cases they were not the current versions of those products.

I honestly don't know what to even say about the state of retailing these days.  Rarely do we make a major purchase without extensive internet research and, in many cases, placing an online order rather than buying it from a store.  Time was, you'd buy stuff from people who could also provide service if something went wrong.  Now the service aspect is such a rarity that it matters little where you buy your new whatever.

Recently I read an online article about a phenomenon called "showrooming," wherein people go to retail stores to see and play with a given item (let's say a tablet, for example), get some input from a salesperson, and then go home and buy it online from an entirely different organization.  I've done this, but didn't realize there was a name for it.

My wife, on the other hand, is a traditionalist.  When we bought her a new iPhone 8 Plus recently, do you think we went to the cellular carrier's retail store?  Or an electronics store?

No.  We went to the Apple Store.  And were treated with their usual care and appreciation.  But that's my wife's approach.  If I want a GE microwave, and there's a GE store, that's where I should go.  But I could certainly go on about the current state of retailing and how I now prefer to go online to buy most things, as the people selling them are often woefully underinformed about the products or services that they represent (as mentioned here recently, Apple is a notable exception to this).  Unless it's a clothing item and there might be a question of whether it will fit, online works just fine in my opinion.

As always, buyer beware....

We already have neighbors who have decorated their homes for Christmas, too.  One young family just up the street has a little one at home and so they went all out on the outdoor decor this year.  I've spotted a handful of indoor Christmas trees, too....and let's hope they're the artificial type!

We're still thinking about Thanksgiving, as my wife and I came to the realization last night that we have not discussed where we're having our family feast or what we're having!  Lexington has lots of places to buy turkey and sides, so I'm not all that worried.  I may have mentioned this in this space previously, but growing up my family opted for ham more than turkey (never did figure that one out) and so I relish (pardon the pun) the opportunity for a traditional turkey dinner.  And lucky me, I work for a company that is completely closed on the day after Thanksgiving, so I'll enjoy the holiday more than last year!

So it won't be long before we're writing Christmas cards, wrapping presents and sharing holiday cheer, but at least we'll have the chance to give thanks to our many blessings beforehand.

Friday, November 10, 2017

The Apple gang

It's Friday, people....we made it!  Well, we will have when this day is over!

Apple has been in the news a lot lately, first for their new iPhone X (pronounced "ten" if you're scoring at home) and then for problems people were and are having with their iPhone Xs.  Problems like how typing "I" in the Messages app produces a symbol and "!" right alongside.  Like how it won't operate correctly in low temperatures.  Little annoying stuff.

But I give them credit, as they figured out how to fix both of these issues and pushed out a software fix yesterday.  My wife is always astounded at how frequently we need to update our operating software, and with two iPhones and three iPads between us, it takes a little while.

I also want to share some credit for the folks in the Lexington Apple Store (or just "Apple," I think).  Over the past few weeks my wife has commented that the battery in her Apple Watch (yes, we each have those, too) was wearing down more quickly throughout the day than it used to.  Conventional thinking would be that some application was running in the background, so I went through her Watch app several times and eliminated non-essential apps and processes from operating when not needed.  Still didn't help.

I finally suggested we go to the Genius Bar to have them diagnose the problem correctly.  That way, we'd at least know if it's a hardware issue, a software issue or something altogether different.  So we set up an appointment for this past Wednesday evening at 7:15.

We went to get a bite to eat beforehand and then stopped by her preferred women's clothing store, almost making us late for this appointment, but we walked in right on time and checked in.  The nice gal at the front of the store (they're ALL nice there, really) directed us to a table near the back of the store and that someone would help us.

A young man named Trevor wearing a black baseball cap and the ubiquitous Apple t-shirt came over and verified my wife's name and introduced himself, shaking both of our hands.  He made small talk as he completed a couple of forms on his tablet.  Then asked a few questions about my wife's Watch, and proceeded to connect it to his tablet.  "Well, your battery is in excellent condition, so that's not the issue."  That's a relief.

But what's causing the fast discharge?

He said they would have to send it to a repair center, but that doing so was completely covered by the AppleCare coverage we bought when we purchased both Watches.  Said it would take five days or less to have the Watch returned to us at our home address.  Trevor added that it likely was a software or even a firmware issue, and that the engineers at this repair center would have to "open it up" and identify the problem.  And if they couldn't, they'd simply replace the Watch.  Nice.

The entire process took about fifteen minutes, and was interspersed with additional small talk about their store fixtures (I have long said that I would be very happy to have one of those light wood tables as my "desk," and he agreed), other Apple products, including the newest version of the Watch that can use your cellular account and data to place calls, stream music, etc.  And there was also a little discussion about the iPhone X.

We shook Trevor's hand and moved to the front of the store, and I picked up an iPhone X.  Nice.  Kinda heavy.  But not as overwhelmingly appealing as I expected.  I suppose that it's not revolutionary ENOUGH to make me feel it's a must-have, since I have an iPhone 6 Plus with the latest version of the software.  My camera and internal processor is not the latest and greatest but both still work satisfactorily.  And I have other devices, so my gut feeling is that this is an essential for those who rely on the iPhone as their only computing device.

I'll look at it again, but I'm not quite ready to commit to buying one and waiting four weeks for it to arrive.  Not that my hesitance will slow Apple's mammoth holiday sales quarter in the least, of course.

Word is that Apple is going to follow suit and revamp their iPad line in a similar way, pushing the boundaries of the display closer to the device's edges.  Sounds interesting.

But it's a comfort to know that if I want to keep my Apple products for a while and encounter a problem that I can't address myself, they're there to help.  Service is such a rarity these days that I really am happy when it's readily available.

Wednesday, November 8, 2017

"Thoughts and prayers" are simply NOT enough

Good morning, my friends.  Once again, we have experienced yet another tragedy in the United States that might have been prevented.

I say "might" because we may never know whether better controls on the sale of guns, especially assault-style weapons, would have prevented Devin Kelley entering a church in Sutherland Springs, Texas on Sunday and opening fire on the congregation, killing 26 and injuring more.

Blaming individuals or organizations for this specific act of unspeakable violence isn't enough.  The United States Air Force, of which Kelley was once a member, acknowledges that it erred in reporting his court martial for domestic violence to federal authorities.  And he was shot and wounded by a person outside of the church as he exited following the shooting, an act President Donald Trump lauded as the action of a "very brave person."

The President also told the media that it was "too soon" to talk about gun regulations, preferring to instead focus on "mental health" as the driving force behind this horrific event.  As I recall, he said roughly the same thing after the recent shooting at an outdoor concert in Las Vegas.  This isn't a great surprise, given the constituency to which many of his policies are aimed.

I noted with interest some online comments by pundits and others that wondered aloud what the President's reaction would be if the shooter's name were Arabic.

Since that event took place, the majority of our elected officials at the national level have once again asked for our "thoughts and prayers" as we remember the victims and their families.

That's not enough.

The United States leads the world, civilized or otherwise, in gun violence and gun deaths year after year after year, yet nothing happens.  I wrote in this space after the events in Las Vegas that it appalled me that nothing happened after the Sandy Hook incident, which claimed the lives of mostly children at school.  NOTHING happened in response.

We can all thank the National Rifle Association and its seemingly endless supply of campaign funding for members of Congress for this inaction.  The NRA has so successfully cowed so many of the current Congressmen and Senators that opposition to widespread gun ownership would result not only in loss of NRA funding, but would also ensure that the NRA would back an opponent, either in the next primary or general election.

I'm sure you're wondering what I think should and could be done, aside from the undue influence of the NRA.

Well, for starters, let me say that I know people who hunt and use guns for their intended purposes.  My own son owns two guns, which belonged to his biological father, and he keeps them in his home in a gun safe, as many responsible gun owners do.  As is often stated, it's not those people who concern me.

But if I were in a position to make it happen, I'd like to see a complete ban on all semi-automatic weapons for individuals in this country.  Trained military personnel and in some instances police units should be the only entities with access to weapons of this type.  Home defense does not require a machine gun.  Hunting for sport isn't a good match for high-round-capacity ammunition clips.  Rural residents don't need bump stocks on their guns to ward off dangerous wild animals.

I also think that guns and items that can be used to modify them should not be sold online.  It is simply too easy for those who shouldn't have guns to buy them there.  And I am not referring specifically to larger gun dealers (where a quick check of a couple of sites shows semi-automatic weapons as the top "trending items") who in most cases operate within the law, but rather the individuals who are selling firearms online and otherwise without any background checking whatsoever.

And if President Trump is serious about this being a "mental health" issue, then perhaps he would put forward a plan for Congress to enact and to himself sign that would strengthen that component of the background checking process that seems so terribly flawed in the aftermath of events like this.

I don't express myself to political leaders online very often, but just after this occurred I tweeted at Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (from my home state of Kentucky, no less), Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer, House Speaker Paul Ryan and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi.  I simply said this:

@SenateMajLdr @SenSchumer @SpeakerRyan @NancyPelosi  Leadership is needed to prevent more tragedy.  Please work together toward that goal.

I hope they'll take that to heart.

I have four grandchildren, with a fifth arriving soon.  I don't want them to be afraid to go to the grocery or to church or to school or ANYWHERE because maniacs with a cache of weapons may be lurking nearby.

You don't, either.  Call or write to your Congressman or Senator.  Ask them to do SOMETHING.  And hope that everyone comes to their senses before the next unspeakable act happens to someone that you love.

Monday, October 30, 2017

All Hallows' Eve eve

Good Monday morning, everyone.  Looks like fall is really here in central Kentucky, as reported in this space last week.  Hard freeze the last couple of nights, and spits of snow were visible while I was wrapping up some yard work yesterday.

Will you be wearing a costume for Halloween this year?  I had to think about the last time that I dressed up for the occasion.  It was probably the Halloween that I was working at a nursing home, as employees there were encouraged to dress up.  We had bought our son a replica of a classic flannel Chicago White Sox jersey, so I appropriated that (already had the hat) and went as a quasi-baseball player.  Got high marks from my associates, who assumed I was too serious to come in actual costume.

This year?  I'll probably dress as "Bruce Wayne, eccentric billionaire," borrowing that character's phrase from "The Dark Knight Rises."  My Halloween job is to hand out candy at my son's house, so that he and his wife can take their kids out Trick or Treating.  So best not to scare anyone.  Depending on the weather I may don a Reds jacket and cap, but no more than that.

But I think it's fun.  My wife and I were at the grocery last night and there was a student age male there dressed in a full gladiator outfit.  Even had a plastic sword.  I actually tried to utter the phrase "strength and honor" as we passed but never got it out.

I've been seeing some pretty neat celebrity costumes, some ridiculously elaborate, others deceptively simple.  For example, fans of the movie "Se7en" will get the reference when they see Gwinneth Paltrow wearing a cardboard box around her head.  I also saw that Kim Kardashian and a male friend dressed up as a dead-on Sonny and Cher.

On to more pressing topics....

Based on numerous press reports, it appears that we may learn today who will be the first person or people charged in special counsel Robert Mueller's investigation of the Trump campaign's possible collusion with the Russian government.  I have my theories about who will be named, as most people familiar with the figures and evidence that has so far come to light.  And we can all agree here, despite our political persuasions and opinions, that there is never a good time for our country to experience something like this.

It also appears that the avalanche of entertainment and business figures accused of sexual harassment is going to continue for a while, as people are now emboldened by those who've already come forward with their stories.  I applaud Jane Fonda's comments to the effect that most of those who have done so are "famous and white" and that there are far more such stories that should be taken equally seriously.

Kentucky beat Tennessee in football Saturday night, for only the second time since 1984.  In other news, ice was spotted in various parts of Hell over the weekend.

Tuesday, October 24, 2017

Now we're cooking

Good morning, friends.  It seems that fall has "fell" here in central Kentucky, so to speak as I played golf in shorts on Sunday and today I expect to wear a jacket all day.  It IS late October, of course...

I love to cook.  I don't recall mentioning that in any detail in the past in this space, but it's something I really enjoy.  Strangely, neither my mother, who was what I would call a "utilitarian" cook, nor my father, were that interested in preparing interesting dishes.

I think my first efforts to cook anything to actually be eaten came when I was ten or twelve, when my mom allowed me to heat up a can of pork-and-beans for lunch.  That was fine, but my next attempt involved adding stuff to the canned goods to the point where I was taking more time to find my add-in ingredients than to actually cook the final blend.

Fast forward to my first years post college, where I devised a recipe for chili that has served me, my family and friends well ever since.  Not going to give away a lot of details but there are a couple of unusual ingredients that make it, well, unique.  My son won a chili cook-off with a variation of that recipe, a contest that I didn't enter (I cited Marlon Brando's stance about the Oscars when asked why I didn't also enter).

My first roommate situation was interesting, as my roomie had lived on his own a couple of times previously, but I had not lived outside of my family home.  I quickly learned how to combine certain items (fresh and/or packaged) into edible, if not spectacular, finished meals, leaning heavily on things like steak and salad.

Then I met my wife.  From her I learned the basics of grilling (we didn't cook out when I was a kid, as my parents lacked the patience to properly light a charcoal grill) and that was that.  And since her kids became OUR kids, I now had an audience of three who were all interested to see what I could put together.

Inspiration came from a trip to a hibachi-style restaurant here in Lexington (no longer in business, sadly) and after watching the teppanyaki chefs do their thing and attempting to replicate their cuisine in our existing cookware, I found a wok under the Christmas tree one year.  Rick's stir-fry became a weekly staple of our meal planning.

Over time I gradually cooked more frequently for my family, as my wife and I both worked full-time outside the home in office jobs, so we each arrived home about the same time.  But eventually something shifted where I worked more flexible schedules and locations and assumed the greater responsibility for cooking.

Skills were also borrowed and obtained from television chefs, and this was well before the advent of the Food Network or the Cooking Channel.  My two primary instructors were a man named Pasquale who was an Italian on Canadian television.  One of the minor cable channels we had showed his program, called "Pasquale's Kitchen Express," in which he would cook an entire meal in about twenty minutes and then serve it to an audience member.  He sang opera while he cooked, which I found amusing.  I learned from him how to "steam saute" certain meats and how to season them for added flavor.  So now I could cook more things indoors that were not Asian, so that was a big step!

I also frequently watched Jeff Smith, known as the Frugal Gourmet, and picked up a number of things from him.

And when we got the Food Network things really took off.  Because, after all, most knowledge is shared and learned and not invented.  Thank God.

So today I do virtually all of the cooking here at the Smith house.  And my wife hasn't experienced any health issues as a result, so that's a plus.  What's for dinner tonight?  I don't know, but hope it will be tasty and won't take too long to prepare!

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

All in the family

A very good Wednesday morning to all, at least at the time of this writing....

I want to first say "thanks" to those who have discovered this blog over the past couple of weeks.  I have taken note of a much larger group of viewers than previous entries had enjoyed, and I appreciate more people reading and hopefully enjoying these posts.  Please feel free to comment as you like.

We just said goodbye to our daughter and her family, as they came to visit a couple of Fridays ago and left last Saturday.  I've mentioned here before that this branch of our family tree resides in the Denver, Colorado area, and we used to see them two or three times a year.  But between the high cost of air travel, their kids both being school-aged and the fact that I no longer travel by air for my work and collect frequent flier miles to use, those visits are now annual.

And it's probably for the best, as we heard what our "Colorado grandkids" (my colloquialism, not my wife's, as she hates the term "grandkids") are into on a regular basis, over and above being enrolled in a very good and challenging public school.  For instance, our granddaughter, who just turned 12 in July and is now as tall as my wife, is playing volleyball on her school team AND will be doing the same for a select group later in the fall.  Games and practices for both, and she also has a couple of other extracurricular activities.  Our grandson is involved in taekwondo, and really enjoys it.  He is now a green belt, but despite frequent playful wrestling during their visit, he did not use any of his expertise on me.

We helped our daughter and her hubby move to Colorado (twice) and they've called it home pretty much since she completed her education.  So these visits are very special to us.  We learned a few years ago that it works much better not to plan too much or too far ahead.  About the only thing we did wrong in that regard is we overbought milk, but we were able to share that with our daughter-in-law for our local grandkids.

I threw a wrench into things when I accepted a new job in late July, so would have been off work for the week they were here.  But I was able to shuffle my schedule a bit and ensure that I didn't miss anything really good, as my new boss was very quick to say "family comes first" and that meant a great deal.  So we attended two volleyball matches featuring the nationally ranked University of Kentucky team (they won both), the visiting party shopped for UK souvenirs and saw some of the local sights, enjoyed some good family meals and capped things off with a great dinner at a local restaurant, celebrating two grandchildren's birthdays (our "local" granddaughter and our Colorado grandson).

The most amusing aspect of all of this is watching my wife, who again had people in the house to care for (apparently I'm not enough of a challenge!).  She does this routinely for our son and his family, helping them keep up with laundry and housecleaning and picking up their kids after school.  But she was in her element with our daughter and her gang visiting, cooking breakfast and serving lunch most every day (I handled dinners that we had here at home) and just generally taking care of everyone.

So we miss them, certainly, and while we'll see them on FaceTime and on the phone and via messages, it's just never the same.  Suppose absence really does make the heart grow fonder.

Friday, October 13, 2017

The more we listen...

...the more we realize that what we hear is real.

How true is that?

Well, for instance, President Trump is now tired of waiting for Congressional Republicans (those in the Senate, specifically) to deliver to him a bill that will, once and for all, repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act, more commonly known as Obamacare.  Yesterday he signed an executive order that will allow government agencies to relax restrictions on health plans that don't cover certain conditions or those that exclude pre-existing conditions.  And he appears ready to follow that by withholding funding to insurance carriers who are providing coverage to low-income people.

Remember, he's been saying he would do this for some time.  The House passed a bill and the Senate tried more than once to follow suit.  Did the spectre of a Democratic bill co-sponsored by some TWENTY Senators force the hand of the President and/or Republican Congressional leadership?

Disaster relief came relatively quickly to those affected by hurricanes Harvey and Irma, but those in Puerto Rico, struck head-on by Maria, have not seen nearly the same kind of mobilization of help and resources.  Clearly President Trump hears the criticism, as he has attempted to squelch negative views of what his administration hasn't done there, and accuses the mayor of San Juan of playing politics when she's out in chest-deep water looking for survivors.  Who's in the right?  Are that commonwealth's citizens worth less effort because Puerto Rico is not a state, despite being populated by American citizens?

Regarding the President, I won't detail the number of items he has referenced in various tweets on these subjects and so many others, it's just too much.  But I do think that right-thinking people should be concerned when he tweets or says that he doesn't much like that the media can write and report issues that disagree with his world view, which he expresses often.

People in the entertainment world are shocked, SHOCKED at what movie mogul Harvey Weinstein has been recently accused of doing over a long period of time.  A group of women, led by the example of Kentucky's own Ashley Judd, among others, have come forward with details of harassment, objectification and worse.  Now the avalanche has begun, and such A-listers as Meryl Streep, Gwynneth Paltrow and Angelina Jolie are coming forward with what they experienced or at least what they knew.

Apparently this is one of the worst kept secrets in recent Hollywood history.

Outspoken minorities have gone on record for quite some time about how they're treated unfairly by law enforcement personnel in cities and communities across the country, and we all heard their claims but nothing really happened.  But with police wearing body cameras and police cruisers equipped with dash cams, and with anyone with a cellphone and a conscience now able to serve as an on-the-scene reporter thanks to social media, we now see evidence that this has been the case and in greater numbers than one might have expected.

But now it's turned into an argument over whether professional (and other) athletes have the right to kneel or sit or otherwise protest the playing of our national anthem.  Is that what we should be debating, or the actions that prompt these athletes to protest in the first place?  And how many people who join the discussion understand that in most cases these athletes aren't necessarily protesting how they themselves are treated, but rather the treatment received by those without a public forum?

I didn't stay awake long enough to see all of it, but it appears that a couple of potentially questionable calls by the umpires may have affected the outcome of the Cubs-Nationals game last night, which the Cubs won late.  Are the fans who say that the Nationals were victims right?  Were the umpires?  How about the replay officials "in New York," as they say on virtually every baseball broadcast?  Frankly, I liked it better when a call was made, managers came out and raged briefly and then the game went on, no change of a bad call.

Last one....Apple just brought out a couple of new phones, with a super-duper one to come in a few weeks.  There have been reports that a few of the new models are affected by a bulging battery.  Would that deter you from buying the latest and greatest iPhone?  Personally, I think that buying any engineered product in its earliest days of actual production can be perilous.  But bad battery or not, will that phone change your life and make things better, as we've been told by experts and reviewers?

No wonder we're all so tired all of the time.  Have a good weekend!

Tuesday, October 3, 2017

This must stop

Sunday night's horrific events in Las Vegas are dominating the news, as they should, as this is now the single most severe mass shooting event to take place on American soil.

We have a major problem in this country, and I'm not the right person to adequately detail all of the varying aspects of this maze of issues and positions and policies.  But what I do know has already been said by people far smarter than I am:  we need more than the "thoughts and prayers" of our representatives in Congress to address this insanity once and for all.

I honestly thought that the shootings at Sandy Hook in 2012 would finally be the tipping point, where a man who was determined to be suffering from severe mental illness opened fire on a group of children and their teachers.  And it seemed at the time that something positive would come from that unspeakable tragedy.

But members of Congress stayed true to form, cowed by the financial shackles placed on them by substantial financial contributions from the National Rifle Association and other like-minded organizations and threatened with these same entities bankrolling a strong opponent in the next election cycle.  And while they talked a good game for a time, they ultimately did NOTHING.

As I recall, the shootings at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando more recently did not prompt a renewed public debate on the issue of controlling assault weapons, either.

And now we've learned that an unassuming 64 year old retiree had amassed a cache of weapons and ammunition and had apparently refitted at least some of his weapons to fire in an automatic fashion so that he could spray gunfire onto a crowd of outdoor concertgoers some thirty floors below.

I won't attempt to debate the Second Amendment here, but I feel compelled to add that the words written therein were put to paper in the late 1700's, when there was a need for a state militia and citizens to join with others to protect their homes and communities.  Here in 2017 we're in a far different place than the framers of our Constitution were.

Certainly, there are many people who are responsible gun owners and use their weapons for the purposes that they are intended.  And I'm not naive enough to think that regulation will come with a crystal ball so that those in charge will be able to determine who will use their assault rifles and high-capacity magazines for constructive purposes and who will not.

But I am idealistic enough to believe that a constructive dialogue can be had, that people in positions of influence can discuss the number of military-style weapons in the wrong hands and identify some possible solutions that everyone can live with.  The NRA would do well to participate in such discussions in a contributory fashion, instead of simply saying that any controls or restrictions violate our Second Amendment rights.

I'm so upset by this, but I'm also most grateful that no one I am close to was affected directly by this heretofore unimaginable violence.  And I am sick and tired of using my small platform to express this sentiment whenever events like this take place.  And we all should be, because we shouldn't be afraid to attend a concert or a football game or any other event where people gather in a smallish space.

This must stop.  Period.

Thursday, September 28, 2017

Finding our happy place

Good Thursday morning, friends!

My schedule has been so haphazard lately that I really don't have any kind of pattern of when I find time to post, so I hope that this hasn't been an issue for any of you super-organized types out there.

Interesting times we're living in within these United States.  We have one active war, two other conflicts in which we're involved overseas, humanitarian disasters in Texas, Florida and now Puerto Rico and yet our leader seems obsessed with petty grievances with other politicians and with professional athletes electing not to stand for the National Anthem before their games or to visit the White House.

This same leader is being investigated by no fewer than four congressional committees and a special counsel for, well, a lot of things.

Talk about leadership.

Closer to my home we have the former basketball coach at the University of Kentucky, now the head coach at in-state rival Louisville, having been effectively fired yesterday over the school's identification (as "University-6") in an FBI investigation into bribery of prospective student-athletes.  This is the coach who is credited with resurrecting Kentucky basketball following its own shameful scandal some thirty years ago.

On the flipside, Kentucky's current coach has staged various events lately that raised money for hurricane victims a considerable distance from home.

We also have a state government retirement and pension system that is absolutely broke and will require billions of dollars to put right, while our governor and attorney general, who are of opposite political parties, cannot agree on anything regarding the pension or otherwise.

Specifically at my house all is well, thanks, so that's what I try to keep in mind right now.  Not much we can control outside of our immediate view, and even then control is a bit of an illusion.  Our family is all well, we'll be visited by our daughter and her family in the next few days, and later this year we'll welcome another grandchild to our family.

So that's not so bad, when put into the proper perspective.

I've had friends mention that they cut off political news from their Twitter feeds (and who's happy about doubling the number of characters that users can include in a tweet?) and I'm not quite ready to do me it's important to know what's going on, and sometimes finding out via Twitter is a little quicker than looking through more traditional sources.

I also have heard of people who simply don't watch the news, that it's too depressing.  I'd echo my own thoughts from above.  Important to know what's happening.

But perspective seems to be the key, so I'm going to do my best to keep everything in its proper place.  And I'm sure that you will, too.

Monday, September 18, 2017

Saw this on TV, too

Happy Monday, everyone. Hope your weekend was smashing, and that all of your teams won if you're into that sort of thing.

One of our teams was struggling last night, as it got close to bedtime, so we watched a bit of the Emmy Awards ceremony. You know, the awards for stuff and people on television. Important to note if Shailene Woodley is reading this, since she made it abundantly clear to a reporter prior to the ceremony that she does not own a television, she READS BOOKS. So there.

Anyway, I wanted to tune in because I like Stephen Colbert when he's not on so late at night (old guys can't stay up like they used to). In the twenty-five minutes we watched I saw him twice, once to say "Good night!" So that was a bit disappointing.

And as the public address announcer, the show employed some standup comedian who apparently specializes in imitating another comedian, Chris Rock, as this guy sounded like him and all of his comments about presenters and winners alike were probably designed to be funny to someone, but we found nearly all of them unintelligible.

The ceremony was down to the awards for limited series and dramatic series by the time we joined in. Big stuff. By then Julia Louis-Dreyfus had won her sixth straight award for "Veep," which is funny but largely unknown to us since we don't have HBO. "Saturday Night Live" was recognized for its political spoofs, and the performers who played the candidates, Kate McKinnon (HRC) and Alec Baldwin (Trump) both won awards.

Anyway, the limited series that got so much attention was "Big Little Lies," a drama that apparently centers around an honest depiction of domestic violence starring Nicole Kidman and Reese Witherspoon, won for series and for Kidman's role. Kidman spoke twice and I was honestly concerned that she was going to impale herself or someone else with the pointed part of the Emmy statue both times.

"The Handmaid's Tale" was the big winner in the drama category, with star Elisabeth Moss winning best dramatic actress and the series winning for best dramatic series. That show is on the streaming service Hulu, which we also don't have. And we likely would not have watched it, as the stated subject matter is this, according to IMDB: Set in a dystopian future, a woman is forced to live as a concubine under a fundamentalist theocratic dictatorship."

Wow, sounds like fun.

Anyway, good for the folks who create and appear in these programs, as they do address issues that need to be dealt with in some way for most people to understand.

The worst thing I saw was a young man who is one of the large cast in "This is Us", Sterling K. Brown, won for his role in that program, and was delivering an eloquent, entertaining and heartfelt acceptance speech. And they struck up the orchestra to get him off the stage, right in the middle of the speech. As someone observed online, Kidman spoke for a lot longer, and was never threatened with being played off. And this actor had just won an award the previous year for his role in the "The People vs. O.J. Simpson," so it's not like he doesn't already have industry credibility.

I saw this morning that the ceremony recognizes the odious Roger Ailes among those who passed away in the last year, but opted not to mention performers like Dick Gregory and Harry Dean Stanton who also were involved in the television industry. And they also somehow worked Sean Spicer, yes, THAT Sean Spicer, into the show someway.

The thing ended at two minutes after 11:00, which is a rarity in the awards show business.

I suppose that illustrates that HBO still has clout (and without "Game of Thrones," which did not air during the period for which the awards were given) and that big numbers of nominations (19 for "Stranger Things" from Netflix and 22 for HBO's "Westworld") don't guarantee wins, as both of those programs were shut out. Haven't seen either of these shows.

I don't know that I am now inspired to watch anything I wasn't already watching, but that's what voters liked and recognized. And now we return to your regular programming....

Thursday, September 14, 2017

Credits and debits

Good Thursday morning to everyone.

Here in my area, we're getting that promised portion of the remains of hurricane Irma, but a fraction of what folks further south experienced.  My thoughts are certainly with those affected in Florida and the Caribbean.

The Equifax hack that we all learned about late last week is more evidence that nothing and no one is entirely safe online.  Try as we might to be cautious and use the kinds of safeguards that make the most sense, someone's always out there trying to extract information from banks, retailers and now credit reporting services.

A good friend works in compliance and security for a regional bank and is a certified auditor, so I consulted him for advice.  His comments were simple and straightforward--freeze your credit reports immediately and consider a security product to protect your information from such attacks.

I spent a fair amount of time Sunday evening moving gradually through all three credit reporting bureaus' websites (Experian, Trans Union, and of course Equifax) and all were structured a little differently.  In doing so I found a few minor errors on each report, so I submitted requests for correction while I was in their processes, and all have reported removal of the erroneous information.

So I should be protected from people trying to pose as me and opening credit card and other accounts in my name, as no one, not even me, can access those credit reports without me lifting my requested freeze.  We're not planning any major purchases just now, so this isn't much of a hardship for us.  But if we needed to buy a car, for example, the freezes would need to be lifted to facilitate a credit application for that purpose.  And then put back into place.  At $10 per instance, I found.

But let's be frank about this--if hackers can get into other systems with this kind of ease, what else are they getting into?  It's not about MY information, of course, it's about as many people's info as can be obtained.

My son in law works in fraud detection for a financial institution and he's told a lot of stories about how hackers can intercept the wireless transmission of transaction data from department stores.  When you swipe your card at the gas station, it's being transmitted by satellite to your bank to verify the funds.  And as we've seen from ominous commercials, what's to stop a retail clerk or food server from cloning your card when you make a purchase?

I should add to all of this that Monday I received a fraudulent text message claiming that my Chase debit card was locked and that I would need to call a certain number to release the lock.  And I don't even bank with Chase.

And isn't it interesting that several Equifax executives dumped large amounts of their stock right after this breach was discovered, but right before it became public?  So much for "women and children first..."

So take care with your information and freeze your credit reports.  That's the one universal advice I've yet seen on this entire mess.

Tuesday, September 5, 2017

21st century consumerism

Good Tuesday morning....and, yes, I actually typed "Monday" before catching my own error.

I had the pleasure of playing golf with some friends yesterday.  One is a friend through golf whom I had not seen in some time, the others I see regularly.  Somewhere along the way through our time together our conversation turned to golf courses in our home area that are no longer in operation.  We collectively agreed that those who were now out of business had flaws and issues that likely accelerated the circumstances that led to them ending their operations.

The comments continued, and we began to collectively name restaurants and stores that have left the scene over the past few months.  It's a longer and longer list, and while new shopping areas open frequently, many bringing with them new retail and dining choices, some of the old stalwarts continue to leave.

For instance, here in Lexington we once had THREE K-Mart stores.  I was just saying to a friend of mine that when I was a kid, growing up in neighboring Paris, KY, the big treat was a chance to go to Lexington to K-Mart and then maybe eat at McDonald's!

That K-Mart store has been out of business for quite some time, and the building now houses a Goodwill thrift store and an operations unit for the local telephone company.  The one that opened last went out of business several years ago, and is now the home of a Burlington Coat Factory store (and, no, they don't make coats there, if you're not familiar with the brand).  The third and last one standing is on Nicholasville Road, a major thoroughfare and retail corridor.  Yet it's set to close by year's end.

As I mentioned, restaurants are a big part of this process, too.  I was never a huge fan of Applebee's, but others apparently were for a long time, as opening an Applebee's location was often a sure bet for success.  Now, two have closed within a few months of each other.  The original Logan's Roadhouse (not just for Lexington, but the entire chain) is now shuttered.  We had not patronized that place in a long time, either, but it's still a little strange to see it happen.

Newer restaurants come and go as well.  There's a condo development not far from the University of Kentucky campus that formerly housed a Firehouse Subs, Jamba Juice and Smashburger.  All three closed at one point or another, although the Jamba Juice location reopened not long ago.  The Firehouse spot was one my wife and I enjoyed, and they always seemed to do steady, if not spectacular, business.  No more.

I've read recently, as you likely have, that J.C. Penney and Macy's are both closing stores at a noticeable pace.  Both of those outlets still exist here.  A Rite Aid Pharmacy closed not long ago, one that never seemed busy but had been in its former location for what seemed forever.  Yet Rite Aid, CVS and Walgreen's have all opened pharmacies (mostly on busy corners) in significant numbers over the past few years.

And there has for some reason been a proliferation of mattress stores here in our area.  Why?  Someone in the local media postulated that buying a mattress is an "impulse" buy.  Really?  I'd just be driving down the road and decide "it's time to get a new mattress?"  I don't know, but to me it seems deciding to buy a candy bar is an impulse purchase.  Buying a mattress requires a little more thought.

I recently did something I've never done--buy something from someone who advertised on Craigslist.    I have been the Craigslist seller countless times, but for the first time, I bought something that was advertised.  My new job required the storage and organization of a pretty wide variety of printed materials, so needed a place to keep all of that.  So I bought a five-drawer lateral file cabinet from a very nice woman who's a work-at-home accountant.  Her husband and I loaded it into my SUV and it's in my garage as I write this.  That fit the primary qualification--something of the type that would be easy to clean if purchased from someone else.  That also explains why I would never buy upholstered furniture that way.

Yet I advertised something recently and a respondent to my advertisement actually asked me if I would "deliver" the item.  I responded that I would meet him in a public place, but he has yet to get back with me, as I assume he wants the Amazon treatment.  You know, order it, agree to pay the price, and have it on your doorstep.

Perhaps that's what's happening with retail.  And Amazon can buy Whole Foods but I can't imagine going there more because they sell a few things cheaply.  And I can buy an Alexa while I'm there.

Friday, September 1, 2017

The storm(s) and what followed

Greetings to all.

Sincerest sympathies to those in Texas and elsewhere in the path of Harvey who have lost loved ones,  property and all semblance of normalcy.  Things will get better, I'm sure, but not quickly enough.

Here in Kentucky we're getting some wind and rain, but not so much as was seen and experienced elsewhere.

We're in a strange place as a country right now.  We're in a position where the people whose lives were upended need help in the worst way, yet the second-highest-ranking member of the Executive branch of our government lobbied AGAINST relief after Hurricane Katrina twelve years ago, on the basis of what it would do to our deficit.  Both he and the President have visited Texas, as that's now an expected element of disasters and recoveries.

It appears that we're going to be hearing a lot about tax reform, though I don't yet have a clue if MY taxes will change or if that "reform" will extend only to those who most likely don't pay enough taxes now.  And the government is going to have increase the amount of money it can legally borrow to stay in business, or else it will have to shut down.  And our President has implied he's prepared to allow a shutdown in order to fulfill one or more of his major campaign promises.

And lest we forget, an unfathomable number of Congressional and other investigations about the current President's campaign and its possible collusion with Russia may be intensifying, creating even more havoc in our government.

But putting all of that aside, each day we see more and more evidence of the strength and goodness and resilience and generosity of the people of this country, providing for those in need.  I donated to the American Red Cross (despite some of these grumblings about there being better places to donate); you can, too, via a number of processes online, through a text message and otherwise.  Actress Sandra Bullock has donated $1 million for Harvey relief.  The Kardashian/Jenner clan, astoundingly, have donated $500,000.  Houston Texan football player J.J. Watt has raised about $10 million thus far.  The University of Houston's basketball and baseball coaches are asking for donations of clothing and shoes from their fellow university teams, and getting them in large quantities.  The New York Mets arrived in Houston yesterday for a weekend series against the hometown Astros, and were reportedly planning to spend today volunteering where needed.

People are taking strangers into their homes.  Multiple families with nothing.  Why?  Because it's the right thing to do.  This morning's news featured a Pizza Hut manager who waded through chest-high water to deliver pizzas to those without power, whether they could pay or not.  An armada of boats of all manner came into Texas from Louisiana to help with rescues and evacuations.  A Kentucky company called Alltech (fascinating company, check them out online) has donated a certain amount of cash and a larger amount in the form of animal feed and crop products, because those areas need assistance, too.  They're also sending a team of employees to help rope cattle that have scattered as the result of the storm and subsequent flooding.

Simply put, America doesn't need to be made great again, it's already pretty damned great.

Enjoy your long weekend, if you have the opportunity.

Friday, August 25, 2017

Travels and tales

It's me again, friends.  Just have a little more to say!

I was on the road in Louisville for work yesterday, in the process of returning to Lexington and decided to jump off the interstate to get something to drink, as I had spent the better part of my work day talking (but I'm in sales, so that happens)!

As I reached the top of the ramp, my car kind of bucked and sputtered and then THREE warning lights illuminated on the instrument panel!  I chugged into a gas station lot, the nearest place I could go.  Pulled out the manual, and by this time I was down to just one light, the engine symbol.  Remember, this car is ten years old with almost 160,000 miles.  Manual says it could mean MANY things and that I would risk serious damage by driving it while the light was illuminated.

I called the dealership in Frankfort, where we bought the car (new owners now, though, but they had provided service on it a little less than a year ago).  Roughly halfway to my house, they said I could drive it there safely as long as that light wasn't blinking.  And they'd provide me a loaner vehicle.  So that was my target destination.

When I arrived and explained what happened to my service guy, he was amazed.  "This just happened?"  I nodded and he kind of grinned.  "Good timing," he said.  I countered by saying that I was on a car trip to Alabama (more on that below) last week and decided at the last minute to rent a car.  "Good choice" was his only comment.

The initial diagnosis, based on the terminal they connect to cars, was that the throttle position sensor was malfunctioning.  I suppose that means that the car could not tell when I was depressing the accelerator.  Anyway, it should be ready today, with a nice dealer bill to pay!

This was the conclusion of a whirlwind trip to Louisville in which I met a total of six of my new company's affiliates.  In keeping with my tradition of not talking specifically about my work, I'll stop with that information, but let's just say that each was a pretty different personality.

My trip to Alabama was interesting, to say the least.  I talked with my boss about that before heading there.  From where I begin, there isn't an expedient way to get there by air, as I'd have to drive to another city to take a direct flight, or connect through a hub airport.  I'm new enough in my job not to have a lot of time pressures, so I decided to drive and to rent a car.

Our company has a national relationship with a rental company, and they charge the same for a mid-size car as for a full-size.  So I was pretty certain of a decent car, but wound up with a Ford Expedition, massive SUV.  My experience with the UK Radio Network had me driving similar vehicles all over the southeast, including to Birmingham, so this was something of a homecoming for me!

I did made a side trip along my path south down I-65, into Lynnville, Tennessee, home of Colonel Littleton, maker of excellent leather goods and other interesting items.  I had decided to commemorate my new position with a piece I could use in my work, so went there to see some of the choices in person.

As always, everyone there was just wonderful to visit and work with, offering choices and on-the-spot personalization of my final choice, a No. 30 Composition Journal that I highly recommend!  And I finally got to meet someone from the organization with whom I've had a lot of contact over the past several years, too, so that was indeed a very nice bonus!

The trip involved shadowing my counterpart in Alabama for a couple of days and served its purpose, and was pretty uneventful overall.  My only complaint is that I stayed in the same hotel where I suffered through a kidney stone attack about five years ago!

This is a little unrelated, but let me share a couple of things that have happened online.  I'm an active Twitter user, more reading other people's tweets than posting my own.  Two things occurred recently that are worth noting.

The first was a blatant and unnecessary attack by someone who writes humorously about Kentucky sports.  He wrote something downright mean about a famous woman with Kentucky roots who commented online about her treatment as she passed through security at a major airport.  She didn't name names, indicated that she spoke with management and that was that, but this sports tweeter called her an idiot and such, and it just struck me the wrong way.  I commented to him that perhaps her opinion in all of this counted for more than his, since it happened to her.  I received numerous positive comments, but none from this boor.  That's disappointing.

The other was a person I formerly followed, who is a self-proclaimed expert on a certain subject pertaining, again, to sports.  Not life and death, right?  Anyway, he posted something and I asked him a question, thinking he had inside knowledge, which he routinely implies on Twitter and elsewhere.  Instead of an answer to my question, I got a three part lecture about being too lazy to look thinks up and so forth.  Again, others commented that he could have just answered my question, and he responded to them about "give a man a fish or teach a man to fish."  Must have been having a bad day, but I certainly won't waste my time on his waste-of-time subject matter anymore.

More indications of the death of civility, I guess.

Anyway, that's the news from here.  Wish me luck with that car problem!

Wednesday, August 23, 2017

Dog days

Here we are, friends, panting our way into the Labor Day weekend a couple of weekends from now.  August finally arrived here, from a weather standpoint, in central Kentucky, with all of the heat and humidity and discomfort that we normally expect.

It always feels this way, yet I marvel at how things seem this time of year.  My Cincinnati Reds are in "rebuilding" mode (hopefully there's an almost completed structure by now, but I kinda doubt we're there yet), so they're not competitive.  So my interest in baseball wanes.

College and professional football will be here soon.  My teams (college: Kentucky, professional: Denver Broncos) have some uncertainty surrounding them.

The bigger movies have come and gone (not that I went to see any of them) and the fall will bring some bigger releases, but most are the variety that is designed to build critical acclaim, at least until Christmas, when it's presumed that people go to the movies and the more popular fare comes out.

Congress isn't in session, thankfully, but our news is filled with what our President said or did (or didn't say or didn't do), both in real time and in the past.

School is back in session in our part of the country.  My law school student son has returned to his evening classes for his second year.  My wife is back to helping out by picking up our grandchildren from school on some days.

And even the eclipse is over and done with, although some reports indicate that there are still people stuck in traffic in some places!  Well, not really, but a baseball player who makes his off-season home in Nashville got stuck in traffic leaving town to meet his team in Cincinnati.  The reason?  Exiting eclipse celebrants!

So now we have another holiday coming up, and it seems like a long time ago that we celebrated Independence Day.  Hope you and yours have the chance to do something fun.

Monday, August 14, 2017

America first

Good Monday morning from central Kentucky, where it's been raining.  One of the oddities of life as it stands now, is that we're getting semi-cool weather with ample rain.  In Kentucky.  In August.

I call your attention to the title phrase for today's comments.  This phrase has been coming up again and again, mostly in our political discourse in this country, for a couple of years.  But what does it mean?

Apparently, that depends on your perspective.

As I understand it, those who were protesting in Virginia in the first place believe it's important to preserve certain aspects of American history that others feel are best put aside, at the least.  Others seem to define that term as denoting the importance of keeping people from other countries and other cultures and religions out of our country, keeping our current America as it is, or, better yet, taking it back to how things used to be.

Here's how I define it.

I want an America that tries to live up to the lofty ideals of the founding fathers, who, as it turns out, were visionaries about the content and value of a true democracy.

I want an America that values and protects its citizens, regardless of what their origins are, who they love or how they worship, but I want those citizens to also value and protect MY rights equally.

I want an America where being a member of any political party says nothing about me other than my political preference, and that I am not automatically someone's enemy simply because they belong to a different party.

I want an America that has found a way to build good roads and airports and finds a way to pay good people worthwhile wages to work in key professions, such as teachers, firefighters, police officers and other first responders.

I want an America where my kids won't have to bankrupt themselves to send their kids to college, or for my grandkids not to have thirty years of student loan payments after graduation.

I want an America that recognizes its history of immigration, addresses the current situation effectively and fairly, and applies reasonable controls to the future.

I want an America where people can express themselves in public or online and not be beset by rudeness, bullying or other negative response.

I want an America where people no longer commit heinous crimes against others in the name of their love for this country, because they understand that, in America, we literally are all in this together.

Perhaps I ask too much, but I know there are people who feel as I do.  A lot of them.  And I think that, when you cut through the party-loyalty bluster, a lot of the people in Congress share many of these sentiments, too.

Let's hope so.

Monday, August 7, 2017

Journeys and rewards

Hello, friends.  Spent a good part of last week on the road for my new job.

I'm way out of practice as a regular air traveler, but most of the older habits tend to fall right back into place when you resume a formerly common activity.  For instance, I always managed to get to whatever airport I was departing well over an hour before my flight.  Why?  Well, for one thing, you just never know how long it will take to get through TSA security screening.  Now that people are being asked to separate their tablets as well as laptop computers and liquids from the rest of their carry-on baggage, there's a lot of stopping and starting in the security lines.

Anyway, this trip had me traveling to a location in south Florida, but for reasons I still don't quite understand, my itinerary went from Lexington to Atlanta to Key West, Florida and then to Fort Lauderdale/Hollywood.  First two legs were no problem, both flights departed and arrived on time.  The second plane landed in Key West a few minutes early at that.  But at that small, SMALL airport, passengers deplane onto the tarmac and then walk through a cordoned path.....straight into baggage claim!

That sounds nice if that's your final destination, but in my case, I still was to board one more flight.  So I had to exit the terminal, make my way through the parking garage (which, incidentally, was larger than the terminal), up an elevator and then into security for ANOTHER screening! All of this with about forty minutes between flights, too!

I reached the gate (remember, small airport, there are only seven in the entire place) and saw on the board that they were boarding my flight, so I got into line.  Once I reached the front of the line a very put-upon gate agent informed me that they were not boarding THAT flight and that I needed to sit down and wait!

Well, then!

So I did, after a quick visit to the restroom to towel off.  Forty-five minutes later we boarded, after the gate agent apologized for being so short with me, and said that their entire flight schedule the previous day was cancelled due to a tropical storm.  Understandable.

We arrived at my final destination airport, but, wouldn't you know it, there was a LIGHTNING warning, and the plane could not park and allow passengers to deplane.  We sat on a taxiway for what appeared to have been about an hour.  THEN we parked and deplaned.  By then it was raining again, but they proceeded anyway.

I won't go into detail about my first Uber ride, except to say that in the airport where I landed, Uber and Lyft riders are picked up where commercial vans and buses pick up their passengers.  Took my driver forty minutes to travel six miles as a result and longer for us to locate each other.

On my flights home there were a couple of other but different incidents.  Our plane was taxiing to take off from Fort Lauderdale/Hollywood when an announcement was made on the PA system inquiring about a doctor on board.  We stopped and stayed in place for about twenty minutes, we were thanked for our patience and went on our way, with the pilot even making up the time lost.

Finally, on my flight from Atlanta to Lexington, I was seated next to a large man (bigger than me, and that's saying something).  I said "good evening" and he just scowled.  When all of the passengers were on board the flight attendant came and asked this man multiple times if his name was "Jones" before he finally answered "Yeah, so?"

The guy was in the wrong seat.  He apparently decided to sit somewhere other than his assigned seat and hope they never caught it.  He was instructed to go to his ticketed seat or risk ejection from the plane.  He grudgingly moved, but that was OK with me, as it gave me more space.

Oh, and when that flight landed, the pilot said that the ground crew was confused about which flight we were and stopped us before directing us to the wrong gate.

Once on the ground nothing else happened.

I'm due to travel to another destination in a couple of weeks, so I've elected to drive.  Hope that turns out to be a good decision.

Saturday, July 29, 2017

Making the transition

Good Saturday morning to all.  We're supposed to have a couple of great weather days here in central Kentucky, with moderate temperatures and somewhat less humidity.  And we actually had some rain a couple of times in the past week, which is a rarity this time of year!

I thought I'd post this morning concerning my work status.  As you know, I don't delve into specific names nor do I often talk about my occupational life very often.  But this is a little different.

For the first time since 1996, I voluntarily left a position in order to accept another.  Between then and now, though, I've involuntarily left five positions, mostly due to the sales or reorganizations of my employers.

Not this time.

I have been exploring the market to some degree for a while, as I'm still working to recover the ground I lost during an extended period of unemployment last year.  The job I was in was satisfactory in most respects, but its compensation was considerably lower than what I had done previously, so financially it wasn't what I wanted.

I learned of the position I ultimately accepted about two months ago, and applied formally at the beginning of June.  I went through their extensive selection process and was offered the position on July 19, and gave my notice to my now-former employer on that same day.

The most interesting part of this process is how unsettled I've felt.  Not because I felt I was making a bad decision; quite the contrary, my new position will put me in touch with many of the contacts I've cultivated over the past nine months, and will offer growth opportunities that my former position could not.

And one of the oddities of this scenario is the former company's policy requiring a four-week notice of resignation, due largely to the type of business they're in.  This also ensures a full payout of accumulated but unused paid time off, no small thing for someone who has not taken much time off in his tenure but has accrued a fair amount of time off.

Anyway, the limbo was because I knew that my new employer wanted me to begin work sooner than later, but I didn't know what my old employer would do regarding an early release from that notice.  But yesterday we worked it all out and I finished my employment with the old employer and officially start with the new one on Monday, but won't really do anything until I start training in south Florida on Wednesday.

Do I regret not having some time in between the two jobs?  A little, but since giving my notice I've been kind of marking time, careful not to start anything that I could not finish in my remaining time with the former company.  I've had a fair amount of down time in the past couple of weeks.  So I don't feel that I've missed the opportunity for a mental health break, particularly since my former position wasn't all that stressful.

So I'm relieved, excited and optimistic.  In the last twenty years, the relief is usually the overriding emotion, as I was seldom expecting to change jobs.  This has been a different experience, of course, but made gratifying by the many good wishes I received from the business contacts with whom I've worked for the past nine months.

So on we go.  Will keep you posted!

Thursday, July 27, 2017

The Spectrum of negative experiences

I have been a Lexington cable television customer since the days when the provider was known as Telecable, and have continued using this service since that time.  During the years I have had this service, I would characterize service as uneven, pricing as endlessly escalating but overall have been more satisfied with this service than the few viable alternatives that have existed.

When Spectrum became the owner of the local system, I was concerned, because I had already read that its parent, Charter Communications, was well-known for poor service, particularly poor customer relations.  Not long after they assumed control, my service plan rate increased by nearly twenty dollars per month, and when I called to discuss this change with customer service I was cheerfully told that “oh, you must have been moved to a Spectrum rate plan.” And there was apparently nothing to be done.

Not surprisingly, Spectrum offers tremendous deals to prospective customers to entice them to sign on, and then raises fees after the promotional period ends.  I have repeatedly illustrated this fact to whomever I would speak with at Spectrum and its predecessors, as it makes little sense to continue raising rates for long-term customers and continue subsidizing low prices for new subscribers who may or may not remain customers.

To add insult to injury, when we bought our home over twenty years ago we knew that we had the neighborhood cable, telephone and electrical junction boxes in our back yard.  This means that anytime a house in immediate proximity to our home has a service issue or a new installation, a technician must access our property to get to the junction box.  And the cables associated with these installations often lay atop the surface of the yard for several weeks before a different contractor comes to bury them.

This is the most recent disagreeable issue that occurred in my long history with Lexington cable television.  Late last week a neighbor apparently had a service issue, and a Spectrum technician came to our door (I work from home so I happened to be here at the time) to let us know he would be in our backyard, a courtesy which I appreciate.  In summary, he apparently got the issue resolved by laying a new cable which went from the pedestal in our yard, through and around my next-door neighbor property and to the affected neighbor’s home.

On Monday I was outside and notice two men in a van pulling up near our house and I called out to them.  They confirmed that they were there to “finish the installation” and bury the cable.  I nodded and told them where access to our yard was and didn’t think much about it.  When they left, I had no service, as in burying the newly installed cable, they also apparently cut our cable that provides cable television and internet service to our home.

I called Spectrum to report the outage, told them what I suspected happened and was told that I could expect a call from “dispatch” in an hour.  Four hours later, I called back, reported all that I had discussed earlier, and was told, again, that I would receive a call in an hour.  Two and a half hours later I received a call from a different representative, who was laughing at the time of her call to our home.  She explained that they had been “so crazy busy” and that no one would be able to come to restore service until the following day at 11:00 AM.  Coincidentally, this was offered to me in my original call, but I pressed for more immediate service.  I replied that I had been waiting for most of the day to have service restored, that there was a time when a customer reported an outage that early in a given day and efforts were made to address those sudden issues, particularly when they were likely caused directly by a system employee.  The representative laughed again, said they had been “so crazy” that day and that I’d have to settle for 11:00 AM the next day.

It’s worth noting that our grandchildren were with us that day and the next, so we were pretty much counting on cable and internet to help entertain them during their visit.

In fairness, when the technician arrived the next morning I was not present, but my wife said that the technician confirmed that a) our line was cut, albeit accidentally, b) that he was pretty sure that technicians were probably available and c) he had our service restored in a short time.  And he was very apologetic about our experience.

I should also note that I posted several negative messages about Spectrum on Twitter that morning, and received a message from someone at @AskSpectrum suggesting I follow them and that he would direct message me thereafter.  All he did was confirm our existing appointment and espouse the company line.  After I pressed him he agreed to a one-day credit in our service charges, which I question whether I will ever see.

In closing I'll just mention that I sent roughly the same information to the Kentucky Public Service Commission and the office of the Mayor of the Lexington-Fayette Urban County Government a short time ago.  Approved or not, there's not reason for any company to treat its customers so disrespectfully.  We'll see if anything comes of this!