Friday, August 29, 2008

The camping trip that wasn't

I was supposed to go camping this week. Unfortunately (for me), Fay had other plans. On Monday, I drove in the mist and sprinkles to Table Rock. This is about an hour from home and a wonderful State Park. Of course I packed the tent, some groceries, cooking supplies, hiking supplies and a couple of good books. My purpose was to get away and refocus some of my thoughts.

All the way there, I kept wondering if this was really stupid. I don't mind a little rain, and we certainly need it in this area, but tents are not a good place to stay in a monsoon. And if it was raining the entire time, I wouldn't get to do much hiking.

At this point, a little aside is required. I'm a believer in signs. I believe that when God wants to tell you something, He uses signs to speak to you. Not billboards or burning bushes - but of course, He could do that if He wanted - but little things. So I was wondering if all of this much needed rain was a sign that He didn't want me to go camping.

I missed my turn into the park and travelled west on Highway 11 about 2 miles too far. All of a sudden, I hit a downpour. I turned around and headed back and looked carefully for the entrance. When I entered, I headed to the campsites. I couldn't check in because the ranger station wasn't open, so I went to inspect the sights. I made a few mental notes and then tried to decide what to do while waiting on the station to open. I decided I could take a small hike, hoping the weather would clear - I hate the idea of putting up a tent in the rain.

Once at the trail head, the rain returned. OK, it was a good chance to eat an early lunch. As I got out of the truck, God decided to speak to me, clearly and loudly. In the form of lightning and thunder. And then more lightning and thunder. I got back into my truck and decided to think more about whether this was a good trip or not. After a few minutes, I went ahead and fixed my lunch, using the cab of my truck as my kitchen and lunch room (sandwiches aren't that hard to make).

Then I remembered part of my purpose was to read not just a book, but The Book, so I pulled out my Bible to read some. First Psalm 42 & 43 to refocus, then I wondered what was God's message. Well, using the concordance, I decided to look up references to thunder and lightning. What I found was that almost every reference referred to God's wrath or to punishment.

I have been accused before of being slow, but I'm here to say that's not the case. When God speaks to me, it only takes about 5 to 10 times before I get the message. So camping was not to be.

Instead I've stayed home this week and read my books. I've done a couple of honey-do's and relaxed and refocused from the comfort of my bed as opposed to a sleeping bag. I'm hoping to get a camping trip in soon, hopefully with no thunder or lightning.

Oh, I should also mention that on Tuesday, a tornado was spotted about 25 miles away from Table Rock. The same storm brought thunderstorms to Table Rock and some flooding. A hiker in nearby North Carolina lost his gear in a flash flood and had to be rescued. There were also mudslides in that area. I'm convinced, I was not meant to camp this time around. You only have to tell me about 5 times for me to learn that

Tuesday, August 19, 2008


On Saturday, after becoming an empty nester (see Sunday's post), I took my wife's car to the local auto parts store to have the battery tested. It had failed to start earlier that morning, and the battery seemed like the best bet. Once it was checked out, the store-worker confirmed that the power in it was low (something like 100 amps, vs expected 400). He also checked the alternator and saw that it was putting out 14 volts, which meant it was in good shape. A new battery was purchased and the car is fine now.

This morning, the optical mouse on my desktop computer stopped working. This happens pretty frequently, and rather than wasting energy by turning on the low battery light, it just dies. I stopped at WalMart this morning for a pack of AAA's and it should be working again soon.

So where is all this leading? Well, it's time to recharge my personal batteries. This year has been a particularly frustrating year at work and it doesn't look like it's going to get better. So it's time for me to take a vacation.

Next week I plan to go camping at Table Rock State Park. One of the beautiful things about this State Park is that there are no computer hookups. No cell phones. Just peace and quiet. I plan on doing a little hiking, but since I'm not in 100% shape (maybe not even 75%), I won't attempt a climb to the top. There are a few nice shorter trails that I'll use. I'll take my camera, a few good books and the Good Book and just get away for a while.

I'm planning on 3 days (2 nights), but depending on the weather (hopefully Fay will have visited and gone) and how I feel, I may shorten or extend the trip.

I'll miss the Democratic Convention (darn), but it will go on without me. I'll catch up on the news when I get back. Consider this a fast (or really a "slow"), away from computers, the internet, tv and work. I'll probably post once or twice more this week, then no computers for a week

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Empty Nest - Part 2

Back in May 2005, I was accused of suffering from empty nest syndrome (I encourage you to go back and read my blog post here). Well, today, the nest moved one more step towards empty.

My youngest child, my son, moved off to college today. It's not a long trip, about an hour, and in fact, I've got to take him some things he forgot tomorrow. Such is the life of an "empty nester" - the job is never done.

I've decided that the anxiety that is expected to accompany and empty nest is over all of the things that you forgot to teach the one who has left. Does he know to brush his teeth? What if he forgets a homework assignment? Did he write down every transaction in his checkbook? I'm sure there are MANY things I've forgotten to teach him over the last 18 years and many more things that he was taught, but he just didn't learn.

But regardless, he's off to a new phase of his life and so, I begin a new phase of my life. For the first time in almost 25 years, there are no children living at home. I'm not sure what this new phase brings, but I look forward to finding out. Who knows, maybe I'll be like Terry Bradshaw in the movie Failure to Launch and turn his room into my Naked Room. But probably not until he moves out for good.

Friday, August 15, 2008

Small bills

Back in June, I posted a note about past due bills. In it, I mentioned a bill I got several years ago for 6cents. Last week, I had another such bill come in.

Up until a few years ago, I had a Delta Sky Miles American Express card. I thought I was getting ahead by gaining Sky Miles every time I used my card. But then I had to pay an annual fee. So, when renewal time came around, I called and asked them to waive the charge. They offered me other American Express cards, but wouldn't waive the fees on the Sky Miles card. So I cancelled and went for a better deal.

That's been at least two years ago, if not three or more. Then last week I got a bill from them for 10cents. Yep, they spent 42cents to mail me a bill for 10cents. So, I called and spoke to a very nice man who looked at my account. He could only look at one year's worth of history and he could see my account had been closed all that time. And he could see the 10cents was on the bill for the entire time.

With a chuckle, he waived the 10cents charge and made it go away. I explained that this was the first bill I had received on this account and wondered where the 10cents came from. He said he didn't know and I decided to leave well enough alone.

Now, I wonder, how long should I keep the bill for 10cents? I wrote the name and date of the person I spoke to. Do you think American Express would sue my over a late bill for that small amount?

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

My Christmas List - Icon A5

This is a picture of what I want for Christmas. The Icon A5. Have you ever sat in a traffic jam, and looked up and said, if I could only fly out of here...

The Icon A5 is a light sport aircraft that seats two. It should be able to take off and land about anywhere (needs about 750 feet), the videos show it taking off and landing on water. Meet your friends out on a island, take a picnic lunch to the mountains, go just about anywhere. Flying lessons are offered, supposedly you only need about 20 hours of training. A valid driver's license is the only requirement.

With top speeds of up to 120 mph, this will get you to your meeting in record time. My weekly commute to Columbia SC will go from about 90 minutes to about 45. It folds up and my guess is will fit in a parking spot (be sure to take the parking pass with you).

It has a parachute (optional, but I'm thinking a good thing) that can be deployed in an emergency that can bring "the entire airplane gently to the ground," an intuitive cockpit that looks like the driver's seat of an automobile and "forgiving flight characteristics.

The plane seats two, perfect for a couple's getaway. As we will soon be empty nester's, I think we deserve this machine. The baggage limit is 60 pounds, so my wife will have to pack light. The price is actually reasonable, only $139,000. While that sounds like a lot, think of the fact that there are some cars that cost that much. And if all 5 kids pitch in, it's only about $27,500 each.

If you can't fit this under the tree, you could always put a model airplane there. Here's a picture of what we'll look like:

You can see all the details here:

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Word Picture - Integrity

I like word pictures. It's where you define a word, by building a picture, telling a story. The result is a more robust definition, something that sticks with you for a long time.

One such word picture surrounds my idea of integrity. Wikipedia defines integrity as being the concept of basing of one's actions on an internally consistent framework of principles. Back in June, I posted on character and I spoke of integrity by asking the questions "Does a person's walk match his talk? Does he do what he says he will do? Does he follow through?"

But a better word picture comes from a pastor I knew in Charlotte, NC. It's been on my mind a lot and I got to share it with some folks this morning. A little research (thanks to Google) told me that it comes from the Latin word sometimes interpreted sincere, which literally means "no wax".

The picture is that of pottery. Pottery is of course made out of clay. It is shaped carefully for a particular purpose, say carrying water. Then it is placed in an oven to bake it. During the baking process, the clay can shrink and sometimes leave cracks. Of course a pot with cracks is pretty useless, so it should be thrown away.

But some dishonest dealers found they could fill the cracks with wax. They might paint the pot, to make it pretty and then sell it to an unsuspecting buyer. The pot works fine until it ages or is heated and the wax melts out. Then the pot is fairly useless for carrying water.

The word integrity can be literally interpreted "no wax". It's a finer grade of pot and the seller has the integrity of only selling pots with no cracks.

Thursday, August 07, 2008


Personally, I can't stand to wear these kind of "shoes". My wife loves them and would wear them all year. Well, maybe not outside in winter, but definitely inside.

In a recent "Family Circus" cartoon, Dolly commented how the toes don't like flip-flops because the big toe was separated from the other toes.

But lately, presidential candidate flip-flops have been in the news lately and it wasn't about their foot attire (although I did see one candidate running in the surf, he might have had flip-flops). Seems the candidates have been accused of flipping or flopping, but neither will admit it.

I have to personally say that I'm not opposed to political flip-flops. Hear me out. There is a time to admit that you've felt a particular way in the past and now you've changed. One of the best examples of this was the late Strom Thurmond.

In his early days, Thurmond was a staunch segregationist, and some might even say racist. He was a WWII veteran, having left a position as judge to volunteer for the 82nd Airborne. When Democrats started supporting civil rights issues, he left the party and started the Dixiecrat party. He even ran for president so that he could influence issues his way. His popularity became so great, he was the only person ever elected to the senate in a write-in vote (see here).

Thurmond is probably best known for holding the record for the longest filibuster in Senate history (24 hours, 18 minutes) attempting to stop the civil rights act of 1957. In 1964, Thurmond switched parties and became a Republican (major flip-flop).

Later in his career, Thurmond supported the Voting Rights Act and making the birthday of Martin Luther King a holiday. He also enjoyed widespread support from African-American voters in SC. Another flip-flop for a die-hard segregationalist?

I believe that Thurmond changed his mind when he realized he was wrong. Whether it was all politics or it was real, we'll never really know, but he did change his political position. And it was a change for the better.

Flip-flops are not necessarily a bad thing. I know that candidates don't want to admit to flip-flopping, but they should realize that it's not always bad. When they see that a better idea exists, or an exception to a stance needs to be made, they should embrace it, not deny it.

Wednesday, August 06, 2008

Working from home

I've posted information before about my schedule before, this week is different. This week I've spent the last two days and will spend today working from home. This is typical for me, busy days away at customers, then a few days here catching up on "desk" work. But I thought I'd explain what working from home is like.

Typically, I get up before 7am and fix me some breakfast and coffee (see yesterday's comments about coffee). Then I start work by reviewing any emails that came in overnight (typically 5-10, most of which are garbage) and responding as necessary. I turn on my "radio" to the local conservative Christian talk radio show to listen to the news (I listen online). Depending on my workload, I'll occasionally turn it down if I need to call anyone or take calls.

Somewhere around 9am, I'll take a break and actually get dressed. Working in my footy jammies after 9am just isn't a good thing (it's good I don't do video conferencing).

I'll take conference calls and make calls most of the day, typically stopping for lunch around 11:30-12:30. Some days I'll have a conference call during that time. Other days, I'll eat lunch at my desk while I work. The afternoon is pretty much the same.

Around 5pm, most of the calls die down. Sometimes, the folks on the left coast schedule calls late, so I'll get on the phone again as required. And I'll do emails and desk work until I'm finished. Then I'll check email again before I head to bed.

Everyone tells me that they envy working from home. I'm here to tell you that it ain't that great. The commute is short and the requirements for attire are easy. But it's lonely and the work day typically is longer.

Now for the heart-felt part. I like working from home. It gives me a lot of flexibility. But some days I long for the times of being in a cubicle farm, being able to make comments to others and going to lunch with colleagues. It's a true mixed bag.

Tuesday, August 05, 2008

Substitute Sugar

Many of my readers know that my wife is out of town, so the title of this post may raise some eye-brows. But I'm not talking about THAT kind of substitute sugar, I'm talking about the stuff that comes in little blue, yellow or pink packets. I'm talking about this kind of substitute:

When looking for an image to go with this post, I even learned there's a NEW substitute, I wonder what color package it will use? Probably green, everything seems to be going green these days.
Yesterday, I decided that I would try an alternative in my coffee. I know I can stand to lose a couple (no laughs please) of pounds, so I decided to use some of the pink packets instead of the normal stuff.
Now my coffee usually has this really rich flavor. I've gotten used to this Colombian coffee that I received as a gift earlier this summer (which is about all gone, hint, hint). It was given to me by someone who actually went to Colombia just to pick up the coffee. While they were there, they decided to make it a week long stay, see some friends and some sights etc.
I've decided that the rich coffee flavor is a combination of the special beans (if you've seen "The Bucket List", I don't want to know why these particular beans are special) and the fact that the coffee is finely ground. I'm convinced that some scientist somewhere knows that the fine ground coffee permeates every molecule of water as it brews.
But I noticed that the flavor wasn't the same with the pink stuff. This morning, I tried the blue stuff. Still not as flavorful. I don't have any of the yellow stuff, so tomorrow I'm going back to the real deal.
As a side note, why is it that we choose our sugar by color now?
Anyway, I just want to say, no substitute sugar for me. That goes for my coffee and my lips too!

Monday, August 04, 2008

A watched pot never boils

Last Monday, I posted a random thought about maintenance. This week's random thought is the phrase "a watched pot never boils."

Before I start, two mild tangents I won't explore: 1) If I have a random thoughts on schedule, is it really random? and 2) why am I limited to one random thought per week?

Anyway, Sunday morning I was toasting biscuits. I take a left-over biscuit and slice it horizontally. Add a little low-fat margarine and toast it. You can also add cinnamon and/or cinnamon combination. Toast it for a couple of minutes and then I added some high-calorie jelly. It's a wonderful, quick breakfast.

While standing waiting on the toasting event, I notice how long it took. The random thought struck my brain from somewhere out in the Kuiper Belt (where comets form), "a watched biscuit never toasts." Somehow, it doesn't have that poetic touch to it.

What else when watched never happens? Well, when you're really watching your money try to grow in a savings account or a specific stock, I think you can say watched savings never grows. You have to put the money there and leave it a while. Keep adding to it. That makes it grow. Same goes for a 401k. If you look at the balance every day, you'll think it's never going to grow.

What about weight loss? I confess, I've never changed my diet to lose weight. I probably need to, but never done it. Seems to me that if you weigh yourself every day, you won't lose any weight.

Any other ideas from my readers? I'd enter some more, but I left my coffee brewing and I think it's ready now. I didn't stand watching it because .....

Saturday, August 02, 2008

Unfair advertising - Update

Back in April, I posted this entry about a local car dealer who was running unfair ads. The ads resulted in multiple law suits (reportedly 14) and customers who could not afford the cars. They purchased a car with very low payments, that soon escalated. In one report, the payments started at $47/month, then escalated to over $700. Over 50 complaints were filed with the BBB.

Well, the lawsuits have taken their toll on the dealer. The dealership filed for bankruptcy a few weeks ago. He owes hundreds of creditors and dozens of employees have lost their job. (see here for details). Now, the dealership has closed down completely.

My initial reaction is that it couldn't happen to a nicer guy (sarcasm). The guy doesn't deserve to run a car dealership. Some of the creditors who lost money are the TV stations that ran the ads and the advertising agency who created the ads. These are the folks that I identified back in April that I thought should share the burden.

However, a lot of individuals lost money too. They thought they were getting a good deal, then got stiffed. Now, I'm a believer in "Buyer Beware", and I think these people shouldn't be made 100% whole, (even though I said that in April), but this deceptive deal has cost them more than it should have.

Remember, if you see a deal that's too good to be true, it probably isn't true.