Saturday, May 30, 2009

Bird tows balloon around the world in record time. - Guest post

Greenville, SC (AP) - The Audobon Society released some stunning news today. News of something almost too amazing to be true. In what was previously a closely guarded secret, the Audobon Society has been working with NASA and the US Department of Defense to develop a super-secret spy mechanism, designed to look like an ordinary bird. Apparently, the bird looks so real, that the only clue it's a machine is inside the mouth, where access to the GPS and digital display are located.
The first sustained flight test of this device began last week in Cape Canaveral, timed to coincide with the Space Shuttle's recent mission to repair the Hubble telescope. NASA felt launching the test at that time would distract any and everyone from noticing the bird. They've been tracking the device around the globe over the past several days, with a fiber-optic cable tethered to the hot air balloon you see in the picture.
It was thought the hot air balloon would make the bird even less noticeable as it relayed valuable data to computers located on the balloon. In effect, the bird towed the hot air balloon around the world and has made it all the way back to Greenville, SC before turning south and heading back to the launch site.
Dr. Timothy "Slim Tim" Simmons tagged along in the balloon itself, monitoring the in-flight testing data. "It performed far better than we ever dreamed, failing only 1 out of 157 individual test tasks. It was remarkable. As soon as we install the radio control software, we'll be able to control the flight path from terra firma instead of a hot air balloon. We are all looking forward to that day."
NASA spokesman Bill Jameson declined comment, citing DOD regulations. The White House denied any involvement, but did say they felt this kind of technology might prove useful in future hostile engagements, allowing the US Military to render medical aid much quicker to wounded troops by pinpointing their exact global location to within 6 feet.
Eric over at The Edge of the Galaxy took my challenge and wrote the headline and story above to go along with the picture my wife took. He wins the big prize ($5) in my contest. Thanks Eric! The check is in the mail...

Friday, May 29, 2009


I'm going to steal an idea from my blog-friend Neil and post a list of other blogs I've seen this week. Maybe I can be Neil's padawan blogger.

Don't forget my contest. You can win a big prize ($5), just for making up a story. Post it in the comments or send me an email. Today's the deadline. The judges will vote tomorrow and the winning story published.

I confess I stole the idea from the contest from (or was inspired by) the Lazy Man and Money. Lazy is one of the blogs I've been reading about practical money management. He received two copies of a book, 10,001 Ways to Live Large on a Small Budget, and is giving one away. Be sure to read the comments, some are funny, some are sad. See his post here.

Another practical money management blog I've been reading is The Simple Dollar. A recent post focused on Quantity Surcharge. You always thought that the bigger bottle of ketchup was cheaper, right?

Probably my favorite blog of late is Free by 50. It's not as much day-to-day practical information, but probes deep on some subjects. Home ownership, foreclosure, subprime lending, etc. Be sure to read several posts to get a feel for the blog.

I first heard Gerri Detweiller on the radio, she focuses on consumer alerts of all types. She's the credit advisor for She doesn't blog every day, but her posts are good.

Monday, May 25, 2009

Memorial Day

Today, while you're eating your burgers and hot dogs or steaks or whatever you decide to cook on the grill, pause for a minute to think about those who never made it back. From Europe or Asia, or the Middle East. Maybe from some country that they couldn't even pronounce. Maybe they never made it out of the US, but they still died serving out country.

Many didn't know what they were fighting for, they just fought because they were told to fight. In doing so, they preserved the right for you and I. They paid the ultimate price and today we remember them. Remember their families, their mothers and fathers, their children.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

$ - Contest - you make the story - cash prize - $

This weekend is the time for Freedom Weekend Aloft, our annual hot air balloon festival. In addition to the balloons, there is live entertainment, rides for the kids, a Frisbee Dog contest and more.

This year the balloons came over our neighborhood. One landed in the street less than a block away. My wife took the photo at the right of one of the balloons that flew overheard. She didn't realize the bird was in the picture until she got home and downloaded the pics.

I was trying to decide a caption and a story to go along with the picture and decided to hold a contest. You, my faithful readers, can write your own caption and story and post it here. I'm actually going to give a cash prize! Ok, it's not great, but I figure with this being Memorial Day weekend ("first enacted to honor Union soldiers of the American Civil War" according to Wikipedia), I can spring for a crisp Abe Lincoln, a $5 bill.

So here's the challenge. Come up with a caption or headline for the picture and short story to go along with it. On Saturday, May 30, I'll review all of the entries and announce results. I'll send the winner $5 by either snail-mail or PayPal (if I can figure it out), so be sure I can get in touch with you by email if you think your story is best. I may engage the services of an additional judge. Decisions of the judges will be arbitrary and final, no whiners allowed.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Credit Card Bill

You may have heard that the congress has passed a new bill, changing the way credit cards work. Congress is working to protect consumers, who have been bearing the burdens of the companies (who else would bear the burden? See the bottom of this note). No matter that the Federal Reserve had already tightened a lot of the rules, congress wanted it's name on a bill.

The new law (to be signed soon) will make it harder for people under age 21 to get cards, and "it would also ban rate hikes unless a consumer is more than 60 days late -- and then restore the previous rate after six months if minimum payments are made." (According to CNN) There are other items reported to be in the bill, I found a good list at the Simple Dollar (this site). He even some predictions as to what might come about in the future. Some of bill's line items include restrictions on raising interest rates without a 45 day notice, putting a stop to double-cycle billing, which hit me back in April 2007 (see here). Teaser rates that last a couple of months would be gone for good.

So what do you think of this new bill? I'll share my opinion. I don't think much about it. And neither should you. Not that I think bad about it, just that I haven't wasted many brain cycles thinking about it.

I'm one of the freeloaders, the folks who charge using their credit card, then pay it off each month. I never (except in April 2007) get hit with interest rates, fees, etc. In fact, I get reward points which I trade in on free travel, so I'm making money off the cards (well, not much). I pay no annual fee and therefore, I'm getting a free ride. The credit card companies are making this money by charging fees on other people. They charge interest, late fees and annual fees.

So this sounds like a reverse "tax", much like the lottery (see my note here), a Robin Hood thing - take from the rich, give to the poor. So this legislation seems like a good idea, right?

Actually, I think it's not a good idea. First, there seems to be some hypocrisy here. We're telling credit card companies they've been bad corporate citizens, but we're not telling the consumers they've been bad. Isn't that a little one-sided. Additionally at a time when we're trying to encourage our banks and financial institutions to be cut their expenses and be more liquid, we are cutting one of their tools to increase their liquidity. If they can't make a profit "on the backs of the consumers," how will they make a profit? If they don't make a profit, they will go out of business and then who profits? Certainly not the consumer.

Many conservatives have been saying that a likely change will be increases in annual fees. People like me will suddenly see new fees where they had none before. The Simple Dollar (another reference) disagrees. No problem, I'll change cards or eliminate them all together.

You may say that it's fine for me to suggest I'll change or eliminate cards, what about those who can't afford to do that? They have a super high balance and bad credit and can't get new cards. My answer is simple, if you can't afford the stuff you bought, you shouldn't have bought it. Credit cards are nothing more than a way of deferring payment on something. If you can't afford it today, what makes you think you can afford it a month from now? Instead of paying $25 a month for that big LCD TV, why not save $25 a month and pay for it in cash?

One thing is certain, this new legislation will make credit cards less attractive. Those with poor credit are less likely to get cards, because the companies can't charge the exorbitant fees. And those who pay the cards off monthly are likely to see less benefits. In reality, this is probably a good thing. Which brings me back to the original statement. Why did congress do this? Most of the line items in this bill were already set to take effect next year due to the changes made by the Federal Reserve. So why all the ranting and raving? Because congress wanted to have their name beside something good.

Seems like much ado about nothing.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Sweet Caroline - *updated*

No, I'm not talking about that song by Neil Diamond (which can be seen/heard here). I'm talking about my newest grand-daughter, Caroline Adair Beam. She was born early this morning (4:44am - that's easy to remember) and is my oldest daughter's first child. She came a little earlier than expected, weighing in at 6 pounds 8 ounces and measuring 18 inches.

Caroline joins her two newly born girl cousins Audry (detailed here) and Kayden Grace (detailed here) and will likely torment their 3 year old cousin Anthony (way back here). He's in for a mess between these three and another girl on the way (just hang on Anna Grace, your time's coming).

I will have to share this little girl with her paternal grandfather who is on a local talk-radio show. He & I tend to think in some similar ways, he was able to start playing the Neil Diamond song a few months ago when they chose the name. I may have him beat though, I think I still have the song on an 8-track tape somewhere.

For Caroline's dedication here, I'll use some of the words Neil Diamond wrote: "Sweet Caroline - good times never seemed so good." And when I see her, it will be "Hands, touchin hands - reachin out - touchin me - touchin you."

I'm also going to repeat what I said with some of the others - babies are a sign from God that He intends for the world to continue. A miracle from God, babies teach us so much. Caroline has the ability to teach her parents, her grand-parents, aunts and uncles. Or to be used by God to teach them.

It will be late this week before I get to see this beautiful child, I planned a full week out of town and can't back out of it. Congratulations Adam & Ashley! I know you will be great parents.

*Update* Caroline's paternal grandfather called into his radio program to announce her birth. But I scooped him here.

Monday, May 11, 2009

Star Trek - no spoilers

Ok, tonight I went to see the new Star Trek movie. Don't worry, I won't spoil it for you. I will tell you that it will blow your mind. Ok, if you watch the Big Bang Theory and you're like Sheldon, that means I already spoiled it. But if so, that's just too bad.

I will say the movie was great. It stayed true to The Original Series (TOS), with a few changes that were explained. Yes, there were one or two cheesy lines, but they were easily overlooked (I'm a blogger, not a critic). There was very little use of old tricks from the series and when they were used, they made sense.

You get introduced to most of the characters from TOS. I have to say my favorite is Bones (Dr. McCoy). You learn new things about him that are funny. The character is better than I ever imagined. I never saw Nurse Chapel, but heard her name called once. And Yeoman Rand was missing (or at least I missed her). All of the other characters were there. And very believable.

The movie had some good special effects, but the writers didn't rely on that to make the movie. Ok, there was too much hand to hand fighting and maybe a little too much space fighting, but hey this is Star Trek. Yes, Kirk is shown with his shirt off, but again...

My only complaint was the profanity. We made it through three years of the series without any profanity, we could have gone through two hours of the movie without it.

I give the movie a solid thumbs up and I'd go see it again.

You also meet Captain Pike. Some of us remember Captain Christoper Pike from TOS or the original pilot. Something about him stuck with me through the whole movie. When I got back here, I looked him up on the Internet and realized that he was played by Bruce Greenwood. This is the same guy who starred in my all-time-favorite-too-soon-cancelled TV Show "No Where Man." (sometime I have to see if I can get that on DVD). It made me like Captain Pike even more than I did in the original pilot.

New way to invest $50,000

Seems like someone has found a new way to invest money, by building a nickel pyramid. On my Google home page, I have a selection that is the "How To" of the day. Actually, there are three entries and they sometimes change more than once a day, so it's just the "How To" section. Today, they had an article on "How To Coin Stack a Nickel Pyramid."

Seems you take eleven nickels and make a stack. Then you build a base that is 2x2, that is four stacks close together. This is followed by a fifth stack on top of the four. That gives you a pyramid of two levels.

Now to make it a pyramid of 3 levels, you need 9 at the bottom, 4 at the second level and one on the top. It doesn't take an Egyptian to see that this pyramid can quickly start costing some money.

See the complete "How To" here. It shows a pyramid that it says is over 1,000 nickels. That's a little over $50. I think somehow they cheated, it looks like it has 15 levels to me and would be like the pyramid in the video, over 13,000 nickels and about $682.

But the guy in the video has a goal of over 1million nickels. That would be 65 rows. And about $50thousand. So if this guy is successful, he'll have $50thousand tied up in nickels on his dining room table. That would be about 25thousand rolls on nickels. I don't think you can get that at the drive thru of your local bank.

Of course any time we talk about investing, you're going to want to know the return. How much money will you get back when you cash in all those nickels? Well, it's not hard to figure. And the return isn't that great. But it's a lot better than most stocks have done the last year or so...

Enjoy making your nickel pyramid.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Happy Mother's Day

How many women in your life do you need to thank on this special day? How many have shown their selflessness, have given up part of themselves to be a mother to you?

At the risk of boring my readers, I wanted to list a few of the special moms in my life. Of course I have to start with the one that brought me here, my own mom. As far back as I remember, she was a working mom. Oh, I remember when she first got the job as the substitute teacher and can't recall what she did before that. Or the job at the temp agency. But in my mind she was always a working mom. Cook, cleaning, all the rest too. Even found a way to slip me a little cash on weekends when I was in college, when I know she didn't have the cash for herself. Somehow thanks doesn't seem to cut it as a response.

The second mother I need to thank is the mother of my children. Some of you know that my first wife passed away 10 years ago. She gave 15 years of her life to raising our 3. Boy if she could see them now.

God is good and in everything He finds ways to show His glory. A little over eight years ago, I met a woman who was a mother herself. Her kids were out of the house, she had "finished" the job of raising her kids (do you ever finish?). She gladly stepped in to help complete the job with mine. She's given up a lot of her dreams over the last eight years to make sure that they have a chance at theirs. Trying not to overshadow their own mother, but also trying to help them in the way that she knows will result in mature adults (after all, she was already batting 1000).

And then there's our girls and girls-in-laws. All four are mothers or will be in about a month. For one of them, this is their first mother's day with a little one. For two, they have the sweet knowledge that in a few days or weeks, they will hold the little one in their arms. They all have no idea what the next 18 years will bring, but I know that they will devote everything to the little ones.

I could go on and talk about my sister and her giving up her career for the second time to devote to her daughter, or my sisters-in-laws and how they drop everything to take care of theirs. You get the picture.

To all of these mothers, and all of you mothers out their, thank you for what you do, have done and will do. Thank you for giving of your life to take care of us. Thank you for giving up the things you want for being mothers. Happy Mother's Day. Somehow, one day just isn't enough.

Friday, May 08, 2009

Randy's popularity is dropping

Well, it looks like my popularity is dropping. Or at least the popularity of my name. Seems the Social Security Administration has been tracking the popularity of names and you can find your name at this site.
Being adventurous, I looked at my name popularity over the last 50 years. You're given the rank in popularity from 1 to 1000. Looks like in 1958, my name was the 32nd most popular name. Comparatively, in 2008 (the most recent year reported), my rank was down to 301 (up from 321 in 2007).
So I did a little math and created a popularity index. The index will be a value from 0.1 to 100. Looks like 1959 was my best year (which happens to be the year I was born, so I guess mom & dad inflated the number that year). But no matter how you look at the chart above, looks like I'm headed downhill.
My kids aren't helping much, I had two grandchildren born in December and two more due in June (with one threatening to make an early appearance). But all four of these are girls, not much chance for a "Randy" in the bunch.
So, it sounds like it's time for a new "rule" from me to my kids. From now on, you are only allowed to have BOYS and you MUST name them "Randy". Even if you have more than one, after all if George Foreman can name all his kids George, you can name all of your kids "Randy." And remember, you do this because "I'm the Dad."

Thursday, May 07, 2009

Unthink what you thought about KFC

That's KFC's tagline for their new grilled chicken. Earlier this week, Oprah announced that you could download a coupon good for a free 2-piece meal. Apparently, KFC underestimate the demand. The website was very busy and KFC stores have "sold out" of the free meals. There were rumors of a riot in NY City, but KFC says that's not true.

Anyway, I printed my limit of four coupons and decided to take my son out to lunch. Hey, if it's free, I'm a big spender. I even gave the two extra coupons to my daughter and her husband (their kids can go hungry). The coupon was truly a freebie, you get two pieces of chicken, two sides and a biscuit. Manager's choice on the kind of chicken (white/dark meat) and the kind of sides.

We first encountered some skepticism about our coupons as they didn't have a good clear watermark (I guess my laser printer didn't print them well). But after conferring with someone in the back, they decided my coupons were genuine and granted me my free meal. Apparently, it's not really the manager's choice what kinds of chicken and sides you get unless the young lady at the counter was the manager (if so, why did someone else have to approve the coupon?) She quickly boxed up two pieces of chicken a side of potatoes and a side of cold slaw. I was surprised that she didn't ask if I wanted a drink (which I did).

So, we spent $1.59 for a medium drink (+ tax times two for two drinks) and had a meal. After we ate, I explained to my son that this was a marketing test to see how people liked the new taste. He said it was ok, but not great. I agreed. This is supposed to be lower fat, lower cholesterol. But if I'm going to KFC, I want the hard stuff.

If you try the grilled chicken, I'd be interested in what you think.

P.S. My daughter called, they wouldn't let her use the two coupons I gave her. Seems they couldn't see the watermark. Even though all four coupons were printed at the same time.

Tuesday, May 05, 2009

Sinko de Mayo!

Happy Sinko de Mayo everyone. A co-worker from out of town is coming in today and it was my job to co-ordinate dinner. So yesterday I sent out a note suggesting a Mexican restaurant. I included this bit of history and decided to put it on my blog today.

For those not familiar, Sinko de Mayo represents a big event in Mexican history. The actual event has been over-shadowed by the parties, so most people aren't familiar with the history. Details are sketchy, but it appears that a shipment of mayonnaise was being delivered from Spain to Mexico, but there were significant taxes on the mayonnaise. Taking a clue from the Boston Tea Party, native Mexicans slipped onto the ship and loaded it with charges. When the charges exploded later that night, the ship sank - hence the phrase "Sinko de Mayo!". The holiday comes on May 5 this year.

Enjoy the day!

(Oh and Adam, the exclamation points are for you!!!)

Monday, May 04, 2009

Who's your daddy?

When I say this phrase, it comes out "Hoosier daddy?" (which is approved by Wikipedia) or "who's yo daddy". Wikipedia says the phrase "is commonly used as a boastful claim of dominance over the intended listener." I've been thinking about this phrase and how it relates to our present day government. It's been rolling around in my mind for a while and I had the chance to explain it to one of my daughters this weekend while my son was listening.

As I explained to my daughter, "yo daddy" does things for you when you are young. He buys you things like clothes, food, shelter and maybe some things you want as opposed to need. As you get older, you find that "yo daddy" has certain rules. Rules for the way you drive, rules for where you can go and sometimes rules for who you can see.

When you borrow money to buy something like a car or a house, you accept a new daddy. The bank becomes "yo daddy." They make sure you keep insurance on your car, make sure you pay taxes for your house and will probably require you to risk some of your own money. They will likely look over your shoulder to make sure you're getting a good deal and not getting ripped off. FHA loans used to require extra inspections as "yo daddy" was stricter than most.

One of my daughters (who was the one hearing this) decided she didn't like her daddy's rules and decided to move out on her own. She's learned that some of her daddy's rules weren't all that bad after all.

Now, the government wants to step up help people in a lot of new ways. I'm convinced that universal health care is coming, we just don't know the style it will take yet. There is already an expanded health program for children, there's a promise of new medicine from stem cell research, new foreign policy, etc. The question comes up "hoosier daddy?" What rules will "yo daddy" have for you to live by?

Friday, May 01, 2009

Swine Flu Prevention

My dear sweet wife sent me this note with a simple solution to prevent swine flu.

Don't do what this little girl is doing!!