Friday, February 27, 2009

Girl Scout cookies with Grandpa

The little girls in our neighborhood know that I'm a sucker for Girl Scout cookies. Actually, for anything that they're selling. Christmas stuff, fruit for their band, whatever. But Girl Scout cookies are my favorite.

This year, with the kids being out of the house (see here) and my ever-round midsection, I decided to cut back to two boxes. Those coconut carmel things with chocolate drizzled over them and the peanut butter sandwiches. These are my favorite for two reasons: 1) I like the flavor and 2) they're the least favorite of other people (so I get more). The two boxes came a couple of weeks ago. My wife went to the door and the little girl stuck them out and said "Here, that will be seven dollars." I wish I had been able to see that.

Last Saturday, I came in after doing my VITA/TCE thing. My almost three year old grandson came up to me and said "Grandpa, we cain't eat all your Girl Scout cookies." The way he said it was so sad, it sounded like he had tried his best, but just couldn't do it. I think I gave him an extra cookie right then (sorry mom).

Yesterday, he came over for a while. I poured us a small glass of milk, one of the glasses with a large mouth. Then I got us each two of the peanut butter sandwiches (the coconut cookies are already gone) and sat down beside him. I showed him how to carefully and artfully dunk the cookie into the milk.

At first he was a little skeptical, then he started sucking the milk off the cookie and re-dunking it. I decided not to dunk my second cookie into the glass after that. But at least I've taught him about one of the good things in life. Girl Scout cookies with Grandpa.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

The State of the Union Lite - Part 2

Well, I guess my message yesterday, really didn't get through. I fully expected some different responses. In reviewing what I wrote, I guess I watered it down somewhat.

My major beef this year (and last) is why have a response? Why must the party not in power feel the need to contradict the president and give their own view?

Typically, the response just sounds bitter. The response is written ahead of time without hearing what the president has to say. Who are they fooling? That's not a response, it's a presponse. It's like voting on a trillion dollar bill without reading it. But that gets to the economic spending package again.

The Republicans have a chance to show that they can be in politics without being bitter. They can take the high road and NOT have a presponse every time the president grunts (no disrespect to the president intended). Yes, the Democrats did it for 8 years, but that's no excuse.

Will this happen? I seriously doubt it.

The State of the Union - Lite

Last night was President Obama's first address to Congress. I admit, I did not watch, nor have I read the transcript. I watched a couple minutes of his Chief of Staff's explanation of what he said, and I watched the 11 o'clock news and saw some of the president's comments. I also did not watch Gov. Jindal's response, but I did see him talking as I flipped channels. I intend to read both speeches.

However, I wanted to make some comments similar to my comments from a year ago (seen here).

The purpose of the State of the Union, as prescribed by the Constitution, is to "from time to time" address the Congress. Think of it as the CEO telling the Board of Directors where he plans to take the company. It's a good time for him to challenge the congress on the direction he wants to take the company. He is, after all, the President. I'm not sure why, but the press all billed this as NOT the State of the Union, maybe because this administration is still new. He does need more time to evaluate before he makes an assessment. I wish more time had been spent evaluating things before the economic spending package was passed, but that's another story. I respect the president for addressing congress.

But I do have four specific problems:

1) This is supposed to be an address to congress. While I didn't watch, I suspect most of the speech was addressed at the TV cameras.

2) It's supposed to be "from time to time". Recent tradition has been to do this every year. Maybe President Obama will change things, we really don't need it every year. The current administration is still too new to make a "state of the union" speech, but I'll give a pass on that.

3) Why have a response? Why must the party not in power feel the need to contradict the president and give their own view? Typically, the response just sounds bitter. The response is written ahead of time without hearing what the president has to say. Who are they fooling? That's not a response. It's like voting on a Trillion dollar bill without reading it. But that gets to the economic spending package again.

4) The political pundits. I didn't listen last night. I'm sure they said how great the speech was and how President Obama reassured everyone. How he inherited the debt (and ignored that he's doubled it) and that this is the worst recession since 1929 (or was it 1982?). I'm sure there were some pot shots taken on Fox. Where in the Constitution does it say that political pundits are required and can we please only make it "time to time"?

It will be a couple of days at best before I can digest the President's and Governor's speeches. Not sure if I'll blog about them, but I do intend to read them.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Social Networking at it's best

I heard a commercial a few weeks back on the radio that focused on social networking. I can't remember what the commercial was for (which questions the effectiveness of the ad), but I think it might have been McDonald's.

Seems a guy was really in to social networking. He had just received a virtual high five from a friend and was looking for a way to spend some of his virtual bucks in another virtual game. Some real friends ask him if he wants to go to McDonald's (or the advertiser's) and he explained that he had to wait on a virtual reply.

The focus was on real networking with real people - - and of course the now forgotten advertiser.

Last night, I had dinner with an old college Friend that I met through Facebook. A couple of weeks ago his sister found me and then I found him. We haven't seen each other in around 27 years, but he commented that we hadn't changed that much, just that we had both put on a couple of pounds (well, understatement is a good thing).

We talked over dinner about our careers, our interests and our families. It's amazing how many times in the last 27 years our paths have nearly crossed, even working for the same company for about three years at one time and never knowing it.

Not sure when we'll have a chance to get together again, we live about 4.5 hours apart, work took me to his town. I make this trip every 2-4 months, but often have dinner plans with a client when I get here.

But at least something positive can come out of social networking.

Monday, February 23, 2009

Salary caps - good for the goose, good for the gander

"Good for the goose, good for the gander" is a saying I heard often from my mom & dad. I've been thinking a lot about the idea of salary caps and I have to say it bothers me.

The idea is that companies that take bail-out money (banks, auto companies, etc) would cap salaries of their CEO's etc at $500,000. In the interest of full disclosure, I have to admit that I would NOT be affected by this cap and probably won't be affected for at least the next 2-3 years.

But I got to wondering, if this is good for bank and auto CEO's, why not for other people? I saw this article that writes about two college presidents that make $900,000 and $1.4million. Seems like those colleges take scholarships handed out on the federal level, shouldn't they be capped also? (I'm ignoring the football coaches, as that will start a different argument).

More importantly, how about politicians? Well, the president is typically the highest-paid official, his salary is only $400,000. But if you tack on his expense account, travel account and entertainment account, he's over the cap at $569,000. Reckon President Obama can afford a $69,000 pay cut?

And how about past politicians? Remember, what's good for the goose is good for the gander. According to an April 2008 article, the Clintons made about $20million in 2007. Now since there's two of them, they would be capped at $500,00 each, so they get a cool $1million. Shouldn't they give $19million back to the government (in fairness, they did pay about $5.1million in taxes and typically gave around 10% to charity - that means they are only $12million away from this cap).

Let's not stop with education, business and politics. What about sports? Seems that Tiger Woods makes about $227million, LeBron James $40m and A-Rod $35m just to name a few. (thanks to Sports Illustrated for the reference). And if we look at the left coast (Hollywood), George Clooney rakes in $15m (paltry compared to Tom Cruise's $25m) according to

Once we dictate what CEO's can make, why not stop there? Why not establish salaries up and down the line? We're already dictating the minimum wage. It's the middle class that's left out of the picture.

Ok, my opinion should be clear, but just to be sure: I'm against salary caps.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Free for only $12.95

This morning I saw a commercial on television for a Free Credit Score from Equifax and it piqued my curiosity. I follow my credit report with the real no-charge (I hate to say free) credit report at, but you don't get a credit score. So logging on to, I looked for the catch.

It turns out the score is free, but you pay $12.95 for the other stuff you get for free: Credit monitoring (which you can get for free at,. unlimited Equifax reports (you only get 1 per credit union at and "An explanation of what your score means and how it compares to national averages." gives you three truly free credit reports per year. You can space these out every four months and you will be up to date on your credit report pretty frequently. If you're married, your spouse can check his/her report every four months also. Space these separately and every two months one of you can check their credit report. I check ours in odd numbered months (getting ready for March).

Last year we received a notice from some strange company that they were collecting an old debt. We felt we didn't owe it, so we requested more information. After waiting almost 30 days (the limit the company had to respond), we received a notice asking for more information from us: driver's license, address history, etc. I checked and none of it was required, so I sent a new letter asking for the origin of the debt.

This second letter included a request that the company clean it off my record and reported that I was following the law. I also explained that if I did not get sufficient response, I would send the next letter to the Attorney General.

Within 30 days (barely), I received a letter that the debt was cancelled, my report was cleaned. I've checked a couple times, and nothing unexpected is on my credit report.

So here's the moral to the story: You should check your credit report frequently, but ONLY use the site. It's really free (doesn't have a catchy song and commercial) and is accurate. You can do this three times a year per person and stay up to date.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Oliver North Day

Today I spent a good part of the day cleaning out files. I changed jobs back on February 1 (actually 2nd since 1st was a weekend) and I needed to get rid of a lot of junk. Anything with a customer name on it had to be shredded (not that anyone really cares) and anything labeled "confidential" saw the same fate, even if it was years old.

I saw some documents from as far back as 2003, there were probably some older. Maps from airports to hotels that I've forgotten about and some others that I wish I could forget.

At the end of the day, I had four large bags of shredded paper. Fawn Hall came home from her day of teaching and tutoring and we had dinner.

Oliver North's got nothing on me...

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Economic Spending Package - Hurry up and wait

Last week I posted a note about the economic spending package (see here). One of my comments said that our president was running around like Chicken Little saying the sky would fall if the bill wasn't passed quickly.

As I expected, the bill passed quickly. However, the president changed his tune a little and waited four days to sign it. So what happened while he waited? Well, according to this article, quite a bit.

"Based on the average daily job loss in January, four lost days amounts to more than 77,000 lost jobs. In addition, four days is worth more than 35,000 foreclosure filings, based on averaging the 274,000 foreclosures and notices posted in January."

So what did Senate leader Harry Reid say? "Sitting idly by is not an option." Well, actually he said that after the Senate passed the bill and before the president sat idly by.

And what did the president say? "We'll begin making the immediate investments necessary to put people back to work doing the work America needs done." Of course he said this on Saturday, the immediately waited three more days before doing anything.

So why did the president wait? "The White House explained that it waited until Tuesday to sign the bill because the clerk of the House didn't deliver it in its enrolled form until mid-day Monday."

But the most important part of this story is the final line: That meant it took longer to prepare the bill for (President) Obama's signature than it took for lawmakers to read the final compromise version in its printed form."

Actually, I doubt any lawmaker read the bill in its entirety before voting. For me that should be good enough to vote no. Would you sign a contract without reading it? (maybe that's part of our foreclosure problem).

Monday, February 16, 2009

VITA/TCE Certified - Update

About a month ago, I reported that I was VITA/TCE certified (see here). I thought I'd offer an update.

VITA stands for Volunteer Income Tax Assistance and TCE stands for Tax Care for the Eldery. Locally, it's administered through the United Way, but the IRS provides the training material, the software we use and some of the hardware (some laptops). The goal is to help those with low-moderate income with their taxes. We do e-filing for both federal and state (SC).

I went through a few classes (it started out as six, but after the first three, much was repitition) provided by two VITA site coordinators. The key to remember in all of this is that V stands for volunteer (as in no-pay). At the end of the classes I had a good feel for the software, a better understanding of taxes, and a little bit of information on how the process works.

I've now spent three Saturday afternoons and two Friday afternoons preparing taxes for others (still haven't done my own yet). I've probably filed taxes for over 30 people (I wish I had counted). For their privacy, I can't say a lot about them, but I will say I have been pleasantly suprised at the attitudes. No one has gotten upset at me and with only one or two exceptions, they haven't asked the government to do more for them. Most are very polite, with several of the young adults being overly polite (yes sir, no sir, thank you sir).

There has been some challenges, like the 3 year old girl who pulled the fire alarm, but there have also been some very good points, like the three young boys, around age 10, who were quietly waiting for over an hour, then helped stack chairs while someone else helped their mom. We are looking for them to come back next Saturday to help stack chairs again.

The site coordinator at one of the sites I work came in this last Saturday and announced he was late because he had been in prison. I'm sure some of the taxpayers raised an eyebrow, but he later explained he was working with Prison Fellowship Ministries, like my blog-friend Neil.

I have another two months to go, but so far, I'm enjoying providing this service to others.

Friday, February 13, 2009

Baked Chicken Spaghetti Casserole Recipe

I have to give credit to the folks at CDKitchen for this recipe (see here). I made this for dinner Tuesday night and it was very good. I'm looking for ways to "improve" it, so if you have ideas, please post them here.

The recipe says it takes two hours, but I don't think it took me that long and I'm slow. I'll post the full recipe here with my alterations.

3 tablespoons margarine
1 cup celery, chopped (we didn't have it, I thought about water chestnuts, but didn't have that either)
1 cup onion ,chopped (I used 1 large onion, didn't measure)
3/4 cup green pepper,chopped (I don't like green peppers)
1 teaspoon flour (I used about 3 tsp)
1 1/2 cup chicken broth
1 cup milk
1 can cream of mushroom soup
black pepper
2 cups chicken breast cooked and cubed (I boiled two chicken breasts, didn't measure)
12 ounces spaghetti cooked and drained (I didn't measure)
1 cup Mexican blend cheese ,shredded (again, didn't measure)
buttered cracker crumbs (we had garlic & herb)

(I started the chicken cooking and the spaghetti. I guess the folks at CDKitchen just assume. Once the chicken was ready, I started the sauce cooking)

Sauce: Cook celery, onion and green pepper in margarine. Stir in flour, chicken broth and milk , cook until thickened and bubbly. Add mushroom soup. (My goal was a thick sauce)

In a 9x13 baking dish, layer a layer each of the sauce and spaghetti. Repeat layers again. Top with cheese and cracker crumbs. (note it didn't say to add the chicken. I made a layer of spaghetti, then a layer of chicken, salt & pepper to taste, then repeated. Then I poured the sauce over it all).

Bake at 325F for 45 min or until bubbly. ( I cooked for 30 minutes, then added a layer of cheese and a layer of cracker crumbs and cooked 15 more minutes).

I thought about adding some chopped broccoli. I would have like for the finished product to have more color, maybe some green and red. The broccoli would add flavor and green, not sure what for red. I also like crunchy, celery would have added some, so would water chestnuts. I'd like to find something else.

I shared the recipe with a friend who is vegetarian. For her, I suggested portabello mushroom instead of chicken. I'm sure there are many variations.

Any other suggestions?

P.S. This made 6 servings. I eat the last leftovers for lunch today...

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Newest Duke Scholar

I meant to post this last week, but got otherwise occupied. Seems my oldest grand-daughter (barely 2 months old - see here) has already been accepted at Duke University. Yep, they contacted her and extended a special invitation. They sought her out.

She's already attended one day and at the end of the day they were so amazed they awarded her a certificate. Seems she's going to be helping some of the older students work on a research project (see here).

Now, my son was a Duke TIP scholar (see here), but that was when he was old, like in the 7th grade or something. Kayden is getting into this way early.

And of course, I'm sure it's because of something her grandfather has already been teaching her...

Monday, February 09, 2009

Economic Spending Plan - Too big to fail?

My frequent readers will know that I like cute titles. I thought of a couple for this post "Part Deux - No Duck" or "Like Prego - It's in there!" I decided to be somewhat sincere instead and ask the question - is the economic spending plan too big to fail?

Last week I heard comments that there was a bailout for Hollywood in the plan. Seems movie theaters weren't making enough money and actors were underpaid. I think the spending plan was to buy leftover popcorn after the movies were over. However, on more research, it looks like that has been removed.

I also heard there was spending in the plan for starving artists. Always looking for a handout, the NEA had some $$ placed in the bill for them. I have no idea if this is in or out. My question is, if this stays in, do I get a choice on what is deemed "art"? Or at least the government? Somehow I doubt the artists will allow that.

Included in the plan is (was?) money to re-sod the grass on the National Mall (I was there last summer, it needs it), money for Head Start, Pell Grants and college loans, money for new computers for the State Department, and restrooms in national parks.

There's also money for infrastructure. There's a list of infrastructure projects at this WSJ site, but some include a waterfront duck pond park and dog park, a senior center and aquatic facility, sports parks, and life style centers.

This bill is turning out to be worse than a bill signed by the previous president that included a tax break for wooden arrows. And the current president is running around like Chicken Little, saying the sky will fall if we don't sign this bill now. Many will say that this is politics as usual, but I thought we were promised change in this administration.

Mr. President, here's the change I suggest. Don't press for this bill. If it gets through congress (it probably will) it should not be signed. Instead, pull out pieces that are good (there might be some in there). Explain why it's good (e.g. it creates jobs) and package it as a bill by itself. Have congress pass the bill and then sign it. Instead of one big bill have several smaller bills.

I seriously doubt President Obama will have time to read my blog today (I hear he has a busy day planned), so I'll ask you, my reader, to pass the word around.

My final thought on this for the day is a quote (Mark Twain? Will Rogers?) that said "As long as congresss is in session, your wallet isn't safe."

Friday, February 06, 2009

Dumb quotes from politicians

I had a discussion the other day with a co-worker about a certain former vice president. I won't say which vp, but I will say there were potatoes involved.

My comment was that, with the news media following you every day, all day, you're bound to say something that sounds stupid sometime. In fact, the whole conversation started because I had said something like "we need to be prepared for every known problem and even for unknown problems." She accurately pointed out that you can't really prepare for unknown problems and I was reminded of this old quote.

But I decided to look for some dumb quotes from politicians. I decided that the current president is still on his honeymoon and finding dumb quotes from him may be difficult and I frankly didn't want to work that hard. I wanted to be bi-partisan, so I looked for quotes by both Republicans and Democrats. I offer below some quotes by two former presidents and two former vice presidents and two former candidates. In some cases, I cite the source, in others I don't. Sue me. I also did no checking to see if these are correct, it's just not that important. My point stands: You can find something stupid on everyone.

Bush: "Our enemies are innovative and resourceful, and so are we. They never stop thinking about new ways to harm our country and our people, and neither do we." —Washington, D.C., Aug. 5, 2004

"Too many good docs are getting out of the business. Too many OB-GYNs aren't able to practice their love with women all across this country." —Poplar Bluff, Mo., Sept. 6, 2004

"I had other priorities in the sixties than military service." –on his five draft deferments, April 5, 1989

"I'm up in the Senate most Tuesdays when they're in session. The first time I ever met you was when you walked on this stage tonight." --Vice President Dick Cheney to Sen. John Edwards during the vice presidential debate, despite the fact they had met on at least three previous occasions

"You bet we might have." (that's definitive)

"I actually did vote for the $87 billion, before I voted against it." (standing up for what he believes in - at the moment)

"I spent several years in a North Vietnamese prison camp, in the dark, fed with scraps. Do you think I want to do that all over again as vice president of the United States?"

Bill Clinton:
"I'm sure I spent more time in Texas than anybody else who had run for President recently." (George H. Bush?)

"The last time I checked, the Constitution said, 'of the people, by the people and for the people.' That's what the Declaration of Independence says." - Bill Clinton (Note that the statement quoted was from the Gettysburg Address)

Al Gore:
"There was never any doubt in our minds that men and women were equal, if not more so." (Source: NY Times, 08/12/00 - he must have read Animal Farm)

"A zebra does not change its spots."

Thursday, February 05, 2009

Graham Says Obama Is 'AWOL' on Stimulus Debate

For those of you unfamiliar with SC politics, Senator Lindsey Graham is about as far from conservative as you can be and still be in the Republican party. I told someone last year that he had never met a compromise he didn't like.

So him saying President Obama is not showing leadership is disheartening. I've read the article (here) and I'm not 100% sure I know how I feel about this. It just seemed a little unusual....

Wednesday, February 04, 2009

Digital TV - another change

Ok, the latest word is that the conversion is off. NY Times says that we'll hold off the conversion until June. See here.

So we've been planning this since 1996, and we get to the end of the conversion and hold the presses, let's wait four more months.

Then we decided not to wait, now we're waiting again.

On, off, back on and now back off.

Can't we just get it done and over with?

Broadband Stimulus - Part 2

I don't often post on the same thing this quickly, but a combination of a busy day yesterday and updates to the topic forced this on me.

A NY Times article seems to point out some of the contradictions in the broadband stimulus part of the economic spending plan. I encourage you to read it.

There are three things it points out that I took to note:

1) "it will take at least until 2015 to spend all the money on infrastructure to deliver the service — vastly limiting the stimulating punch." - Where's the stimulus?

2) "$110 million in tax breaks in the Senate bill that could benefit large Internet service providers." - So we bail out the big guys again?

3) "The broadband effort also runs another risk inherent to government stimulus spending, by reducing private investment." - enough said

There is a discussion by a NC congressman about providing access to rural areas and bringing them onto an equal ground with more urban areas, especially in the areas of education, health care and apple pie (that last part is my add-in). I would ask the congressman, if he thinks it's such a good idea, why doesn't the state provide it? Why should this be a federal bail-out?

Monday, February 02, 2009

Broadband stimulus

One of the items in the current spending package (I've decided not to call it a stimulus package) is some funding to help provide more broadband Internet connectivity to rural areas. The idea is to wire areas to the Internet in much the way they were wired to electricity during the New Deal era.
But it also seems like before we start wiring up Ma & Pa Kettle's house, we ought to make sure they want to use broadband. A survey done by the Pew Internet & American Life Project says that 2/3 of Americans that don't have broadband today, don't want it. The problem isn't availability. The problem isn't price. They just don't see any reason for things to move faster than with their dial-up modems In fact, "19 percent of dial-up users, for example, say that 'nothing' would get them to upgrade, not even lower prices." (see here)
Now you may think this is crazy. You're reading my blog and probably have some sort of high speed connection. But you're not the one targeted by this. Who is? Why it's the big Internet companies who stand to make the most from it. So let's call this the Internet bail-out part of the current spending plan.
A better way to handle this is to let the Internet providers fight it out themselves for speed. Charter is hawking a super-fast 60Mbps downstream Internet services (I think I'm running at 3Mbps, maybe 5Mbps and it works fine for me). Verizon is upgrading it's FIOS and is drooling over the possibility of getting some bail-out money. (see here)
Another option for high-speed Internet is to use a "cellular" card or "air card" as it is sometimes called. These cards can be used almost anywhere. When I travel, I sometimes find that they are faster than the hotel's "high speed connection."
The broadband stimulus needs to be cut out of the economic spending plan