Thursday, November 30, 2006

Follow-up to DigitalHome

A couple of things I forgot to mention in my previous post (DigitalHome):




MagicDVDRipper.

Here’s a tip for using MagicDVDRipper. The free trial included with the download allows for 5 free uses. I thought this meant 5 ripped DVDs, but I soon learned it was 5 uses- literally. As long as I didn’t close the program or turn off my computer, I could rip away- I ripped many, many DVDs over a weeks time.

Accessing it all.


How do you access all this great media in your home?


  1. Dedicated Windows MediaCenter notebook connected to your equipment wherever you watch TV (TV, DV-R, DVD, etc). The notebook sits in front of all the components, and you can use a remote to control them all accessing TV, satellite, cable, your networked media collection of music, films, photos, etc.
  2. Wireless transmission of your media in various rooms around the house- simply plug a device in, set it up on your network, and access your music in any room.

Here are three models of players to check out:


Creative SoundBlaster

Sonos Digital Music System


Linksys Wireless Music Bridge







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DigitalHome

I am moving closer to my ultimate digital goal: Being able to consume the media I want, when I want it, where I want it.

Music
All 10,000 or so of our CDs are now digitized- not once, or twice, but three times. Each time I got a better digital music player, and increased the volume the music played on external speakers, I could hear more of the hiss present at the lower rip rates- so after moving from 128kbs to 256kbs, I then made the ultimate leap to Windows Media Lossless (essentially, the same quality as a CD). Each time requiring me to open up and re-rip each CD. Insane. I store it all on an external drive/media server connected to our wireless router. By the way, you can set your WindowsMedia Player to rip at this level by clicking Tools/Options/Rip Music.


Photographs

Now, almost all of our family photos are also available on our home network, accessible anywhere in the house (via laptop/desktop, tv). All that is left is to get our old photos converted from negatives to digital files (about 75 cents a strip at Wolf/Ritz Camera).

Video

The final frontier (at least as I can see for the time being) is to get our video content digitized. The goal is to move the cases in our family room that currently hold good old-fashioned plastic discs with movies on them to a final resting place in storage next to the dusty cases of CDs.

I have been able to get our home movies onto the network- the ones from the last couple of years were recorded on a Sony Handycam DVD recorder. The older ones were a bit harder. $30 a pop at Wolf/Ritz to convert our old Sony Handycam 8mm tapes to DVD. It only took a couple days, but with about 20 to convert, was not cheap.

Our DVD collection is next on the list. I have found a simple tool (and free as well if you use it right) to rip all our DVDs called MagicDVDRipper, so the only issue I can see is storage. Each DVD when ripped will take up about 4.7-15.93 Gig (depending on if the disc is single or double layered, has extra content, etc)- so I will be able to place about 30-60 movies per 300GB external drive (the size I use now).

I will likely wait a bit longer before ripping the full collection- maybe until something in the 5-10 Terabyte storage range if affordable so that I will be able to get all of our films on one drive- important as the new formats coming out (HD DVD, Blu-Ray) have much larger capacity for content.

File size will only get bigger- One hour of uncompressed Ultra High Definition Video (UHDV) consumes approximately 11½ terabytes of data. Can't wait.







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Wednesday, November 29, 2006

30 Seconds That Ruined The Day

In Frank Capra’s classic It’s A Wonderful Life, the lead character George Bailey has a critical scene where we see him move closer to the end of his rope. His uncle Billy has lost $8,000 of the Bailey Building & Loan's money, he is facing financial ruin, and he comes home at the end of the day forgetting his coat and hat. He walks through the front door with the beginnings of a cold, and the stage is set for an interaction with his family that, while short in duration, impacts his family greatly.

As his mind is reeling under the pressure of the imminent collapse of his business, and his personal liability in the mess, his daughter Janey is merrily practicing a Christmas song for the extended family gathering that night. His wife and son Tommy are busily decorating the tree, and the normal chaos of early evening family life is causing George’s headache to worsen. He finds out his daughter Zuzu has caught a cold because she walked home from school without her coat buttoned up to protect a rose she won as a prize.

When George hears this news, he starts to unreasonably string together all of the pressures on him: his uncle lost the $8k, that money is vital because his business is small and family owned, he is trapped in this position because his father died, the job does not pay well, he therefore can not afford to provide a nice home and other material things for his family, the old house is drafty and cold, his daughter has a cold and his family is going about the daily routine unaware that the little they do have is about to slip away.

He forgets for a moment that what really matters is not slipping away- his family.

George heads upstairs to comfort Zuzu, and after returning, lays into Zuzu’s teacher Mrs. Welch who has called over to the house to check on the little one. He also gets in a dig at her husband Mr. Welch who got on the line after hearing his wife called a stupid, silly, careless person. Everything starts to goes sideways from there.

Janey is still practicing the same song, Tommy needs help with his homework, his other son is making noise playing with some sort of toy, and the weight of it all crashes down on him. He yells at his kids to stop, kicks over the desk in the foyer, knocks off everything from the top of a counter, and stops suddenly when he realizes the impact his behavior is having on his wife and kids. He heads out of the house, distraught and heart broken at how he has treated his family, and begins the fateful journey to end his life.

I had a similar incident happen to me yesterday. Well, not really that similar. Not nearly as tragic, huge and life-changing. And certainly NOT the start of a journey to end my life. I guess not similar at all. But I did sort of lose it yesterday.

After a day at work dealing with a few small things from my current and soon to be ending job, and thinking through options for the future, AND dealing with some pesky things that are rotting on my desk and need to get done, I cut out a bit early and headed upstairs from my office to relax and get in some guitar practice.

A few months ago I pulled out my guitar from storage after it had sat relatively undisturbed for 20 years, and have been logging 30-60 minutes of practice every single day. The time is important to me, and allows me to put the stress of the day out of it's misery.

As I sat down on our great room floor, with some chord charts in front of me, and a few songs to practice pulled up on my laptop, I dove in. Shortly after, my daughter K who was at the kitchen table doing homework came across a song she liked on her digital music player (currently connected to external speakers) and cranked it up. I could barely hear what I was playing.

Then, moments later, my other daughter L started her piano practice in the other room- while my 5 year old wandered downstairs singing some song or other. I was going nuts inside. I just wanted peace and quiet (except for my mediocre strumming and picking) and started to get agitated. I won’t go into the details, but I let it known to all in the immediate vicinity that I wanted them to cease and desist. Probably (more accurately, for sure) in a way that rudely communicated frustration and irritation.

What I know now, the next morning, is that it wasn’t their noise and activity intruding on my guitar practice that set me off. Instead, it was the bubbling pressure from the changes in my life being inappropriately expressed in a way that hurt those close to me.

I know that what I am going through in my life right now is in no way near what George Bailey dealt with- not even close. I also know my actions and attitude pinged a 3 on a scale of 1-10 compared to the characters scale busting 11.

The reason I am tying the two together is because this morning as I was going through my usual routine of scanning the internet for news and information I came across a site that streams old movies out of copyright. With the holidays on my mind I checked to see if the site had my fave Christmas movie, and sure enough- they do. After watching it for a bit, this scene hit me and I thought of my actions yesterday. So, there you go.

Here is the link to the movie online- no cost, no registration, just click the link and hit the play button:
http://www.jonhs.net/freemovies/its_a_wonderful_life.htm

To see the full list of movies and other content available, use this URL:
http://www.jonhs.net/freemovies/

Merry Christmas.

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

New Study Leaves Me Speechless

Perusing through the news last night I found this gem: “Women talk three times as much as men, says study.” I imagine Fiona Macrae, a writer for the UK’s Daily Mail, delivered this to her editor with a straight face truly believing she was reporting the news.

Meanwhile, 50% of the worlds population- the men- (well...maybe more like 48% or so if you catch my drift) see the report as just another 700+ time-consuming words thrown around about something they already know. Time wasted that could be better put to use watching sports or hanging out in the workshop (or for me, playing Battlefield 2 on the PC).

The key findings from the study:


  • Women talk almost three times as much as men, with the average woman chalking up 20,000 words in a day - 13,000 more than the average man.
  • Women also speak more quickly, devote more brainpower to chit-chat - and actually get a buzz out of hearing their own voices.
  • Girls arrive already wired as girls, and boys arrive already wired as boys. Their brains are different by the time they're born.

Dr. Luan Brizendine gathered the data from this new study to put forth her findings in a new book titled 'The Female Brain.' My favorite quote from the “news” story is this from Dr. Brizendine:

"Women have an eight-lane superhighway for processing emotion, while men have a small country road."

Love it. So true, and apparently, so newsworthy to the good doctor from San Francisco. As I read the “news” story it became clear that this book and the findings in it mark a huge change in Luan’s life. She seems to have turned over a new leaf- pledging it seems to now favor truth over political correctness. She admits this clearly in her next quote:

"I know it is not politically correct to say this but I've been torn for years between my politics and what science is telling us. I believe women actually perceive the world differently from men.”

Torn for years between "my politics" and what science is telling us? Hmmm. I wonder how many other scientists and doctors in her field, or in other fields of study, have the same problem?

Perhaps after Dr. Brizendine uttered these words to the reporter, she remembered that soon after the publication of the “news” story, she would have to hang out with her female friends for drinks and deal with glaring evil stares and 10-20,000 words worth of bile. She quickly redeemed herself by throwing out a bit of reverse-sexist red-meat:

Fiona Macrae writes “Dr Brizendine explains that testosterone also reduces the size of the section of the brain in men involved in hearing - allowing them to become "deaf" to the most logical of arguments put forward by their wives and girlfriends.”

Hilarious.


So here’s how it boils down for me personally. My wife talks way more than I do. I do not listen very well. I have a hard time talking about what is going on inside my head and heart. That is why I started this blog. I am able to sit here and drink coffee, listen to music and pour out thoughts and ideas (and I guess feelings or emotions of some kind- but I hate admit that) without having to say a single word.

Later the same day my wife reads my blog and voilà- we are communicating!

Michelle- if you are counting- please include the 1000-1500 words per day from this blog to my normal 7,000 or so spoken words. That is somewhere around a 14.29% - 21.42% increase over the norm. Progress!

Monday, November 27, 2006

Status Report- My Life's Goals

Many years ago I was part of a retreat consisting of a small group (15 or so) of men, all of us part of the same organization, that gathered together to learn more about each other, and hopefully, increase the effectiveness of our daily interactions. We were connected together through our business, but the weekend turned very personal for most of us.

As part of the retreat, we each had to state to the group our personal mission and goals. I had loosely gathered goals together in my mind over the years, but this forced me to write them out and organize them- and in the process face up to where I was lacking and needed to press forward.

Now, 10 years later, I am reassessing those goals and pursuing the next stage in my life, next career move or position. During the weeks (or months?) ahead I will be keeping this list in front of me and taking an account of the successes and failures to date. It’s hard to face up to where I am failing, but a good thing to take the time to recognize it. I stand a much better chance of adjusting actions and plans doing it.

Here are my life’s goals and the grade I have right now on the progress report (self-graded. It would be interesting to get Michelle's grade for me on a few of these- but that's another story):

SPIRITUAL
1. Seek God's will in my life daily through prayer, meditation on the scripture and the counsel and fellowship of others (GRADE C+)
2. Strive constantly to really understand and appreciate the saving grace of Jesus Christ (GRADE B)

FAMILY
1. work with all that is in me to understand what it means to give myself fully to my wife, and love her unconditionally (GRADE B-)
2. To heap love, acceptance, encouragement and affection on my 4 girls so they learn what it means to love God, and know what real love from a father and a man is about (GRADE B+)

BODY
1. To lose weight and get in shape to extend my life for me and for my family (GRADE C-)
2. Drink more alcohol (ok- this may seem weird- but last year I jokingly said this to Michelle after we had a few nights in a week we had wine with dinner, just a drink or two. We just don't drink that much in our home, but we enjoy it. So I made a new years resolution last year and this year we have made sure we have wine on hand for a few dinners a week. No biggie. We are not getting buzzed all the time or anything) (GRADE A..this is sort of like P.E. at school- no worries landing an A on this one).

MIND
1. To never ever stop learning and wanting to change and improve (GRADE B+)
2. Read at least one book a week (GRADE F)

CAREER
1. To work with all that is withing me for the success of my company, and to do it all for God's glory (GRADE B-)
2. To support, encourage and grow my staff, and always honor and serve those in authority over me (GRADE A-)

PERSONAL
1. Attend every school function, play, parent/teacher meeting, etc (GRADE A)
2. Coach or at least assist on the sports teams my kids play on (GRADE A)
3. Work six months or more in another country (TBD)
4. Own my own business (TBD)
5. Serve on a foreign missions trips (Hopefully in 2007)
6. Learn to fly (My wife is not on board with this one…yet)
7. Visit Israel (TBD)
8. Serve my country (Not sure how yet)
9. Own a yacht (How did this one slip in?)
10. Have my kids tell me I am one of their best friends AFTER they are 18 (TBD)
11. Honor my Father and Mother better (GRADE C. I really have to do better on this one. Sometimes I still act like I’m 17 with them-short and snippy)
12. Give to anyone that asks of me (Newly added!!! See my post from Nov. 18th)

I know my goals are a bit lopsided and selfish in some ways (I discovered that this morning writing out this post), and I will be thinking through that in the coming weeks.

It is amazing, this blogging thing. It is forcing me to think about things I would normally touch on in my mind and then push to the side promising to come back to it later. Now, I am diving in and working through things from A-Z at one sitting. My hope is that it is somehow rewarding for you (the reader, if there is one) as well.






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Sunday, November 26, 2006

Our Family's Off-Road Adventure

I live in a relatively rural area, full of horse farms and rolling hills. We moved here three years ago from a large development about ten miles away. Living in Leipers Fork has been a dream of ours since we came to Nashville in 1994. Shortly before we moved into our new home I thought it would be a good idea to get a truck as I imagined having to haul manly things around since I would soon become a gentleman farmer (we don’t really grow much here on our land except for lawn grass and the occasional wild flower)- things like planks of wood, chain saws, stuff like that.

I’m not really a pick-up truck kind of guy, so I went with a hybrid (not the environmental kind- more of a mix between a rural truck and the kind of ride Tony Soprano drives- a black tricked out Chevy Suburban). When I bought it I instantly felt a bit of country bloom in me. Just the idea of pushing the button on the dash board and transforming my Suburban into a 4x4 was appealing. This lead to my demise, and taught me 3 things:

1. My wife’s concerns and worries can sometimes come true
2. Humility
3. A Chevy Suburban is neither a sports utility vehicle or a 4x4

Our eleven acres is flanked on one side by a 15 acre lot and a 60 acre lot on the other. Shortly after we moved in I secured permission from the land owner with the 60 acres for our family to use his land for taking walks and exploring. He lives in downtown Nashville and plans on building his dream home on the land when he retires in a few years. I got his name and number from my realtor. I didn’t specifically ask if I could go 4x4’ing on his land- I sort of put that under the “exploring” classification.

It was a Saturday afternoon, and for some reason I can not recall, our family took 2 cars on an outing. I think it was because I had to pick something up in my truck and bring it home, while my wife was going to stay out shopping, meeting up with her sister. After lunch, and after picking up whatever it was I had to pick up, I headed home with my two oldest daughters.

We turned into our driveway, and as we headed towards the house I made a fateful decision. “Girls- you want to take the truck out onto the land next door and do some off-roading?” The word “yes” rang loud and clear, and so I veered left, and made for the opening in the woods that took us “next-door.” We went through the clearing, down a small hill, and crossed the small creek in my new 4x4. Great so far. It was awesome bouncing and splashing over the creek like I was in a Land Rover commercial.

We spent the next 10 minutes bounding over hills and through sparse woods exploring the land, and it got real exciting when I told the girls we were going to speed up and shoot across the clearing up ahead- hoping to catch a few bumps and jumps that would cause some epic bouncing. As I accelerated and sped forward a strange sensation came over me. It almost seemed like the truck was on an elevator going down, and the horizon line seemed to unnaturally rise around me. The truck started to slide sideways, and then we came to a sudden stop. I noticed that if I reached out my hand from the window, it wouldn’t take much to touch the tall grass. We were stuck in mud.

If anyone tells you that the best way to get your car or truck out of stuck mud or snow is to slowly rock in back and forth, alternating between drive and reverse, don’t believe it. Especially if you are already in about 3 feet of mud. The result of doing that is to sink to about 4 feet of mud.

I decided to get out and take a look, and when I opened the door I had to push hard to get it open far enough to step out- and when I did the bottom of my door scraped about six inches of mud off the top of the ground. Big trouble. Bad. Very bad. The words my wife spoke to me only a half hour before were ringing in my ears- the words she said as a response to my mentioning that I might do exactly what I ended up doing…”Rich- don’t do it. I’m telling you something will go wrong- you’ll get stuck or break something, and it will cost a ton of money to get it fixed. You might even ruin your truck. Don’t do it.”

I had left my cell phone at home that day- of course- and so, took my shoes off, jumped into the mud (I sunk up to my thighs), and carried each girl, one by one, to the safety of the shoreline. The “field” I thought we would trek through was actually a large swamp that collected the rain from the surrounding hills. It was deep in the back part of our neighbors land, and I could not see any homes or roads from where we were. We walked home, I changed clothes, and set about fixing the situation- hopefully before Michelle got home.

Earlier that week I had seen my neighbor across the road working in his field with a tractor, and though I had not met him before this, I walked to his house and knocked on the door. You can imagine the conversation…”Hi my name is Rich- we live across the street…nice to meet you…you have kids?...so do we…its a nice day, isn’t it?...can I use your tractor to try to get my vehicle out of 4 feet of mud way back in the field behind my house?”

He agreed to help. He drove the tractor while I jumped on the side and held on, and we made our way to my car where we promptly got the tractor stuck.

I called a tow truck. The trucker got within 100 feet and started to sink fast. He was able to back out to safety, and informed me he couldn’t help me and drove away- charging me $50 to tell me so. I went back home and sat at the kitchen table trying to figure out what to do. I looked in the yellow pages under towing and learned there was a specialist in the towing field that was an expert at off-road/extreme vehicle recovery. That was the one. I called and they were out to our place in about an hour- right after Michelle pulled in and I gave her the update. That was fun and humbling.

The recovery team had a truck with 2 wenches- and seemed to know the drill perfectly. They purposely drove their truck full speed into the mud, sliding to a stop as close to my truck as possible sinking to the full four feet. They attached one wench to my truck, and the other to a tree behind the tow truck about 150 feet away. They pulled my truck to within 3 feet of theirs, and then turned on the other wench and pulled both of the trucks out of the muck while almost pulling the tree out of the ground. Success. 10 minutes. $250.

I have not, and will not again, take my 4 wheel drive off the road, I listen to my wife’s cautions (even though I don’t always indicate to her that I do), and I am content to stick to the excitement of navigating the pot holes in our 500 foot gravel driveway.

Saturday, November 25, 2006

5 Year Old Prayer List

To be clear, not a prayer list that is five years old, rather, a list of prayers from a 5 year old. Each night (the ones that are not hectic and hurried before a school play, night out, or other event) our family sits down for dinner together, and after dinner, we read from a book called Sticky Situations: 365 Devotions for Kids and Families. A short story is told with some sort of moral dilemma, and a family discussion ensues about what the character should do and why. It is then tied to a specific place in the bible to back up the message. While it is a pretty good tool for younger kids, we have found that for our 11 and 13 year old, the answers are a bit too predictable. Its hard to have a scenario that is navigable for a 13 year old as well as a 5 year old. It requires some creative editing on the fly as I read the story to make it a bit more interesting and challenging.

After we finish, we jot down a list of prayer requests, and then divvy them up among the six of us. R, our 5 year old, takes on her share as well. Then the fun begins.

R has no inhibitions in prayer. No concern that she uses the right words or phrases the requests in the right way. Its just pedal-to-the-metal honesty and openness. Here are a few recent prayers:

· Please help daddy find a new job like a veterinarian or doctor or something.

· Thank you for Jesus.

· Please make mommy’s tummy stop hurting.

· Please help the soldiers protect us and keep us from getting hurt. And help them come home so they can be with their kids.

· Please help Aunt Carla’s new baby come out of her tummy ok.

In 25 words or less she covers what takes many people 100 words or more (including me). While on several occasions R’s choice of words during prayer causes her sisters to have to stifle laughs, on more than one occasion I have had to stifle tears. She inspires me to speak simply and directly of my requests and needs.






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Friday, November 24, 2006

Work Days Off vs. School Days Off

The energy and excitement kids have when they are out of school is amazing. Their true personalities arise- alive, excited, and fresh; the world is full of fun and possibilities.

Somehow, the excitement of a day off work is not what a day off school ever was. I guess it depends on what work you do. If you are like me, and current or past jobs had other people in different time zones or even countries (i.e. they don't have the day off) depend on work you do, or if big projects that transcend Thanksgiving, Christmas, Easter or even Martin Luther King Day need to get moved down the playing field, the days off just aren’t as exciting. The Blackberry buzzes, phone rings, people need responses first thing in the morning after a holiday. All of it robs the abandonment of a day off work.

I don’t recall ever getting an E-mail from my teacher on Saturday afternoon informing me that something big came up and I need to put in some extra hours and also do the EVEN numbered problems 1-50 from page 238 in my math book- not just the odd ones. Didn’t have a professor call late Friday afternoon and let me know the deadline for the essay was moved up a few days to Monday at 9AM. When you have a day off from school- its just that. You know going in the total of what you need to have coming out, and if you are smart, you get it done at the end of the first day off. No worries.

As I enter the last few weeks of my current position, and only have a few things to wrap up- I am sensing a glimmer of that past joy. Yesterday I only had an hour or so of work. Today- none. This weekend, maybe a couple hours aimed at determining what I do next- so I can’t really chalk that up as work.

The agenda for today- a healthy breakfast of leftover chocolate silk pie, write up a few words for this here blog, hang out, turkey sandwich for lunch, head out with the family and buy a Christmas tree, set it up, dinner and bonfire with friends. I’m starting to get that tingly feeling again.

Thursday, November 23, 2006

Top 10 Things I Am Thankful For

  1. While boxes of Splenda are expensive at the grocery store, they are free for the taking at McDonalds.
  2. I didn't get a 3rd speeding ticket this year! Woohoo!
  3. A few people have driven off the embankment in front of my house, and some got hurt, but no one has hit or damaged my fence.
  4. The IRS only audits a small percentage of tax payers.
  5. None of my friends or family asked me to help them move this year.
  6. My past life has yet to be discovered.
  7. I didn't have to bail any friends out of jail this year.
  8. I kept bounced checks due to stupid online banking mistakes to under 5 in 2006. Actually, I think it was 5 exactly.
  9. I didn’t have to complete any performance reviews for staff this year. YES!
  10. I don't think there were any witnesses when I backed my truck into a red BMW convertible at the mall last week.

Well- there you go. It's been a good year. I have much to be thankful for.

I of course am kidding. At least about #1, 4, 6 and 10.

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Fly The Friendly Skies

It's Thanksgiving week, and people all over the US are preparing to travel and see family & friends. I enjoy traveling, whether personal or business, and especially like long business flights where I can dive into work or a book and log a good 3-4 hours uninterrupted. Like many frequent travelers I have road stories. Amazing things observed and endured through the years.

Early last year, I was flying from Nashville to Los Angeles. A good 4 hour flight lay ahead, and I had chosen an aisle seat during check-in. I hoped and prayed as always that the middle seat would stay open.

The inevitable words were uttered by the flight attendant; “good morning- we have a full flight today and blah, blah, blah, blah…” Didn’t catch the words after the bad news.

Sure enough, a large gentleman (about equal in size and stature as me) boarded the plane and walked towards my row. He glanced around, gave the universally known glance communicating “that seat right there next to you is mine, please get your butt up so I can get in.”

We settled in. Buckled up. The lady right behind him, RIGHT BEHIND HIM, watched us do the dance, then said the window seat in our row was hers. We both got up, moved out, let her in, and settled in again.

The plane was packed. Except for two empty seats- directly across from me- the aisle and middle seat, with one frail old lady in the window seat. Perfect. The plane door was still open, but I got ready to make my move. Just then a flight attendant walked by closing the overhead storage bins and I got her attention.

“Excuse me, ma’am, is it ok if I take this seat?” I said pointing at the open aisle seat.

“Sure- please wait just a few minutes though, we are still expecting two more passengers, but we are about to close the door. Once we do, you are welcome to take that seat.” She said.

So I unbuckled, gathered my things in my lap, and made ready to move. I noticed that when I had this exchange with the flight attendant, several passengers turned, watched and listened intently our brief conversation. I remember one man in particular, in front of the open seats, on the aisle. He watched and listened, and then shot me a smile when I looked at him. I smiled back.

Moments before the door closed, as I started to stand up, that same man jumped up, quickly slid one row back, and plopped his rear-end right in the empty seat and started intently reading his book. I was flabbergasted. Stunned. I knew without a doubt he had heard every word spoken between the flight attendant and I.

I don’t mind confrontation at all, so I started a friendly dialogue with him. “Excuse me, sir, but that’s my seat. Please move back to your seat” I said as I stood up and loomed over him trying to be both friendly and threatening.

He refused to move, and just ignored me. Didn’t even look up or acknowledge me. Just then, the flight attendant up front noticed me standing, and made a general announcement that we couldn’t take off until everyone is in their seats (the kind of announcements they try to make sound like is for everyone, but is really meant for the one goofball that isn’t sitting down).

I returned to my ticketed seat, and my adopted position of leaning half-way into the aisle due to the combined size and mass of my next-door neighbor and I. Then the guy looked at me, and smiled.

After we had reached cruising altitude and the captain turned off the seat-belt lights, I squared off with the thief and repeatedly, and in an increasingly louder voice, forced him to acknowledge me. I explained the situation, reminded him that he heard the entire conversation I had had with the flight attendant, and asked him to kindly move back to his seat. Just then, the guy that was in the middle seat in front of him (who I gathered was a friend of said thief), got up, and moved to the aisle seat that the thief had originally occupied. My new friend smiled and said sorry- he couldn’t move back because someone was in his seat now.

After some additional words were exchanged, he said something that got me thinking. “Listen buddy, anyone can take any open seat- you don’t own it because you asked about it. If its open, its fair game.”

Ok, I thought, you got it ‘buddy.’

“Fine, then I will take this open seat” I said, pointing at the open seat in the middle of his row, right between him and the old lady. He laughed, assumed I was joking, and didn’t move. So, I made my move.

I placed one leg over his body, foot planed firmly in the open middle seat, my butt to his face. Grabbed onto the headrest in front of my new seat, and hauled my rear-end up and over him, plopping down heavily and loudly in my new seat. I then took out MY book, pushed his elbow off of my new arm-rest, and made myself as wide as a male peacock in spring.

WELL….that went over real nice. He was livid. He started arguing with me, complaining, saying what I was doing was being rude to the old lady, everything he could think of. I repeated his quote about anyone’s right to any open seat. After a few minutes, he unbuckled, got up, and asked his friend to move back over so he could have his seat back.

I got up and took the aisle seat, giving the old lady some breathing room. Several people around us laughed, and a couple even clapped. The old lady leaned over to me and said “that guy is a jerk.”

What fun! I love traveling.






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Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Promise Me You Will Never Grow Up

My heart hurt yesterday. While I do have a few extra pounds on me (well…more than a few), and I don’t exercise as much as I should, I assure you it wasn’t that kind of pain. It was more of a heart-ache. I have “lost” some people in my life and it hit me hard last night.

K, my oldest, performed in her school musical. She had a great part- a few solos, good dialogue, and an overall stellar performance. The other kids in the show did an awesome job as well. It was one of the best middle-school musicals I have ever seen (granted- this was only the second). There was one particular part in the musical that impacted me far deeper than I expected. K walked out on stage to start off a scene and it hit me hard. “Who is that woman?” She’s not my little girl, that’s for sure. She looked like she went from 13 years old to 18 in a matter of minutes.


While one half of my brain continued to pay attention to the show, the other half started diving deep into thoughts and memories. Where are my little girls? I remember K and L holding onto my neck as I walked around with them, each with their feet firmly planted in my hands. I remember them crawling into my lap and hugging on me, asking me questions, kissing all over me. I looked to my left and saw L and my two little ones, A & R, and sure enough…they looked older too. It’s as if some magical dust was sprinkled by the witch in the musical that made my girls age several years at about 7:30PM last night.

I think what might have contributed to all of this was a recent decision to convert all of our old High8 video tapes to DVD. I dropped them off at Wolf Camera, and within a couple of days, we had amazing DVDs of all our family movies. They even create a couple music video’s out of several scenes. The last month or so we have been watching them, and the kids are fascinated at who they used to be. Me too.

I unconditionally love my four girls, just as they are now, and am excited to see who they become. That does not take away, however, the longing I have for who they were 5 or 10 years ago. Those kids are gone forever.

Before I had kids, I remember people telling me that I will not truly understand love until I do. Romantic love is just one part of love- to have children, to love your neighbor, and to love God completes the circle. After Michelle and I had our first, we got it. Really got it. But no one told us about the pain that goes along with having children. Well- maybe during child-birth Michelle figured that part out.

For me, the pain started soon after the love. That pain becomes most evident when your child gets physically hurt, or sick, or loses a favorite toy, forgets something at a restaurant or theatre- and breaks into tears, weeping and gnashing of teeth that is worthy of an academy award. The hard ones are when a friend betrays them, or a mean kid at school hurts them with words. It is shocking how personal their pain becomes. How it feels like the pain is completely my own. It makes me love and appreciate my parents even more.

These next few years are more critical than ever. I want to be there for my oldest two as they become women, to support, encourage and challenge them to continue to grow in grace, to love God and others, and to make right decisions. I also want to have a fresh heart and mind with my two youngest- to do the same things with them I did with my oldest. Man, this is hard.



Monday, November 20, 2006

Dining Out

I like spicy food. My father used to warn me that I would get a stomach ulcer if I kept eating the spicy stuff. One of my earliest memories of doing research to prove an adult wrong is based on this. Several studies in the 1980’s showed that eating spicy food did not cause ulcers, and several cultures that typically had a spicy diet showed lower rates of stomach ulcers and stomach cancer than the US population.

Can I hear an amen?

So, this is my personal code when it comes to eating out. I hope you enjoy.

______________________________________________

The Hierarchy of Dining Out, by DigitalRich

1. When dining out, always remember the final objective: Food Nirvana. This is defined as a state of intense internal heat and a sweating head. Above all, this is what should be pursued. If you can actually get sweat to RUN down your face, you have reached the highest level of oneness with the great spice god).

2. In order of preference, look for these types of restaurants: Hispanic/Latin (Authentic Mexican, Spanish, Cuban, Brazilian), Asian (Thai, Vietnamese, Mongolian and Korean), Mediterranean (Southern Italian/Sicilian and Greek).

3. If none are these are readily available, eat a power bar with some habanero sauce (the most intensely spicy chile pepper of the Capsicum genus).
______________________________________________






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Sunday, November 19, 2006

Report From The Traffic Chopper

Have you ever watched someone perform or present something to a group, and everything go horribly wrong? Perhaps they were extremely nervous and speaking almost nonsense, or they tripped walking on stage, or even were just plain not-good at it. Something like a bad wreck on the side of the road happens. And the audience is the rubber-necker.

At the Curb Café last night I saw the koo perform a set after a young aspiring songwriter/guitarist/vocalist did an unnecessarily long opening spot. If you have happened to read my posts the last two days, let me stop here and assure you I don’t normally go to multiple clubs and live music performances in a week. Or even a month. This week has definitely not been normal.

The opening act (Nick was his name, I think) had a bunch of spirit. He strutted boldly and confidently from table to table in the small club introducing himself to patrons and mentioning his name and that he would be performing soon, and thanking us for coming out. I must admit- in all my years of attending live music performances that was a first.

He started to play at 9PM. Just him, his guitar, and 2 bottles of water. Immediately, a 3 car pile-up happened on stage. God bless him- he couldn’t hit any high notes (he actually sounded just like me and a million other guys singing in the shower with a luffa for a mic wailing out the high notes in off-key falsetto), flubbed his chords, and on a two occasions even put a song in a holding pattern mid-chorus while he tried to tune his guitar.

He seemed to think he was nailing it. Very confident on stage, trying to conduct witty between-song stage banter, and eliciting nervous laughter and wide-eyed glances between friends at tables. It was just plain awful. But he tried, and he seems like a genuinely nice guy.

I don’t know what his goals are, or why he was performing last night. Maybe he just loves to play the guitar and belt out a tune, and for the same reason millions of people around the world go to karaoke bars, really enjoys inflicting his talent on others.

Let’s assume though, that he wants to make it in music. At what point will he either practice and play himself silly and hit a level of quality, or finally figure out that he isn’t that good? Will he realize it himself, or will someone, like a merciless panel of judges from American Idol, whack the machete of “feedback” right through his skull?

On the way home I turned on the radio…interesting…in a matter of minutes I heard two bands (actually one band, and one solo artist) perform that I know very well, and also know couldn’t sing a good lick just a few years ago. For various reasons both had been thrust into a position of leadership within their respective units, and had to pick up the reigns of lead vocalist from a departing member. Within a relatively short period of time, and after diving headfirst into the work of vocal training and development, both have emerged as quality vocalist each with their own unique sound, and both leading the way to multiple gold records.

So…is that within each of us? I am not speaking about music specifically- it could be anything. Can anyone grab hold of a dream, and even if performance or track record is just average (or in Nick’s case, bad), drive themselves to greatness with good coaching and a real commitment of time? How does this impact Nick? Should his friends, several of which were at the show last night and rooting for their buddy, not let him know how bad he sounds right now but just encourage him? How does this impact me? Or you? What dreams have we put on hold, or dropped, that should be picked up again?

I think the potential for greatness is in everyone. I truly believe that anyone- any ordinary person- can do extraordinary things. I hope Nick keeps at it. I also hope he keeps his day job.

Saturday, November 18, 2006

Taco Bell Beggar

The koo is a start-up band I manage on the side. Good kids, strong hearts- they want to change the world through music and the arts, and they are working hard to hone their performance and songwriting. Last night they played a show at a small club in East Nashville called The Five Spot. My wife and I went, grabbed a beer, and had a few minutes to chat before they went on. They sounded great.

After the show I decided to hit Taco Bell for a bite to eat- I didn’t have a chance to grab dinner, though my wife did. Drove up to the drive through, placed my order, moved to the first window.

As we pulled up towards the window, in line with one car ahead of us, we noticed a beggar sitting on the ground, with his back to the building and on a small strip of sidewalk between the Taco Bell and the drive-through lane. He must have been under 20 years old, but already haggard looking, dirty, broken. His eyes were half-open, glancing around every so often, and was clutching the standard-issue bent-in-the-middle cardboard sign with black sharpie scribbled words “will work for food” or something like that.

[Insert sound-effect: flashback cue from ABC’s Lost]

A few weeks ago when my wife was not feeling well we skipped church. I thought it would be a great opportunity to crack open the “Jesus” DVD someone gave us. The Jesus Film Project is an outreach that has shown the film to over 6 billion people (how is that even possible? Amazing). Our family had not been in that number. None of us had ever seen it.

The film was ok- definitely dated looking, and since it was based on the book of Luke and only used dialogue from that ancient account, it was a little hard for our kids to follow. Everything was going well until a scene from the film really shook me. Jesus was walking with some folks and talking about real life issues and how to deal with them. Among those things he said was something that somehow I never really heard before. It’s from Luke 6:30- if someone begs of you- give to them. Not just a generic “thout shalt do this,” but a good old-fashioned red-letter statement from the Man himself. 40 years and never caught that. Interesting.

So back to last night. Decided to give this kid some money, so I rolled the window down and called to him holding out a few dollars. As he got up he started to pitch forward like he was going to pass out. He regained his strength, and as he approached the car he lost his balance again and had to thrust his hand onto the car door to keep his balance. He was drunk and could barely focus on the money. He gently took the money, mumbled a thank you, and plopped right back down on the ground.

After a few minutes (the car in front of us was obviously ordering tacos for a Vanderbilt frat house that had the munchies- it was taking way to long for their order) he struggled to get up again, holding the money in his left hand, and started to walk away. I assumed he was off to find something to “drink” with his newfound riches ($3 to be exact), and so was instantly frustrated and disappointed with the kid. Instead, he changed direction, and started moving to the Taco Bell doorway. He tried to enter, but it was locked- closed. Only the drive-through was open, and they don’t take walk-up orders. He disappeared around the corner of the building and we didn’t see him again.

It was the first time in many years I had given money to a beggar. Now and then I have done it- especially when I was caught off-guard or if my kids were with me (ouch. A hypocritical moment for sure). I always justified not giving money to beggars by assuring myself that if given, the money will quickly find itself at liquor store (or worse) buying a high for the next hour or so. I told myself that what I should do is go buy some food and give it to them- but of course I hardly ever did that. Just didn't have the time since I saw them mostly downtown when I was trying to get somewhere on time.

What Luke reminded me was that there are two transactions that occur when someone begs and we give. One is between God and giver, and a separate accountable transaction between God and receiver. I am being called to only concern myself with the first.

If anyone happens to read this, and has wisdom, suggestions or thoughts on how best to respond to beggars I would enjoy reading it. Leave a comment. Thanks.

Friday, November 17, 2006

Switchfoot And Stolen Cars

Last night my 13 year old daughter K and I went to a Switchfoot concert in Nashville. It was the umpteenth time I've seen them live, and I never tire of it. They were amazing, and besides playing most all of their hits and a few lesser known oldies, they managed to do what many bands attempt but fail to do- play a few cuts from their not-yet-released new album and keep everyone engaged. Absolutely wonderful show.

My wife and 11 year old daughter were supposed to come with us, but ended up backing out. A few days before the show we were notified the venue had changed from Nashville’s War Memorial (with somewhat comfy padded seats) to City Hall (SRO). As soon as my wife heard that she would have to stand for several hours she was “out.” My 11 year followed suite.

The show brought back a flood of memories. I was part of the team that worked with Switchfoot up until I left EMI Music last year. It was kind of sad to stand there last night listening to these amazing musicians and vocalist and think about how fast life is moving by. It seemed just a couple of years ago that I got to meet the boys at Charlie Peacock’s Nashville home- when they were young teenagers that barely knew how to write songs and perform. I will never forget that day- chatting with them, amazed at how young they were, eating mediocre barbecue and drinking sweet tea. I knew then, along with several others, that there was something special about these gents, and that they would have many years ahead of them making great music.

After the show, K and I walked quickly back to my car. We had parked around the corner from the venue in a small office building parking lot. We chatted about how great the show was, and wondered why they had not played one of their biggest hits- Learning To Breathe- during the show. As we talked and approached my car, I suddenly realized that it should have been parked in the VERY spot we stood. It was not there.

“My car has been stolen” I remember numbly muttering as my heart sank. I couldn’t believe it. 11PM, downtown Nashville, 30 minutes from home, freezing cold, no car, with my daughter. My wife mentioned I should wear a warmer jacket, but I thought my light windbreaker would be fine.

I looked up, and immediately saw my car, moving away from the parking lot, facing the wrong way. It took a second to figure out what was happening…it was being towed, and there were 2 other tow trucks ahead of it towing other Switchfoot concert-goers that were unlucky enough to stay for the encore like us.

My mind raced- a car was pulling out of the parking lot and I grabbed K and chased it down. Fortunately they rolled down their window, and the young couple amazingly- and a bit reluctantly- agreed to allow K and I to get into their car and chase down the tow-truck. As we raced to catch up, and blew through a stop sign, I noticed my Chevy Suburban doing something very unnatural….it had started moving down the road sideways. Somehow part of the Suburban became dislodged from the tow-truck and it looked like it was about to jack-knife. The tow truck stopped, and as we slowed- and were still moving- I opened the door and jumped out. K followed when the car stopped, and I think I remember yelling out a thank-you to our chase-car driver as I ran the 20 yards or so to my car…or maybe it was K.

5 minutes later, and $65 lighter, I got my vehicle back and headed for home. What a night.

Thursday, November 16, 2006

My First Comment

I’m new to blogging. I would not characterize myself as a writer, though my wife says I do fairly well signing cards to people. This blog is a way to express ideas and thoughts, and I committed to give this a shot. My goal is to write a post each day for 21 days. After that, who knows? I don’t expect anyone to ever read them. It is much more fun that I thought it would be, so I don't really care if anyone does.

The inspiration for me was a recent retreat I attended (…well…not that recent really…now that I think about it...it was back in January) called BrainCamp in New York City. It’s where leaders and trendsetters in the kid’s entertainment space gather to be inspired, challenged, and to network. One of the speakers, Fred Seibert (former president of Hanna-Barbera) said this about blogging: “If you don’t have a blog- you’re stupid.”

That was it for me..no one was going to call me stupid. So I went right away, 11 months later, and started this blog. Again, with no idea anyone would read any of this.

Last night everything changed. SomeONE had actually read one of my posts! Wow! He (or she) had even left a comment. Maybe I DO care.





I will treasure those words and that emoticon forever. Thanks FMF.

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Rain In The Middle Of The Night

It has been raining constantly since yesterday afternoon- about 15 hours now, at varying rates. An hour of light rain and then 20 minutes of torrential downfall. Rinse and Repeat. Even now, when it rains in the middle of the night, I wake up suddenly with fear and concern before remembering that all is alright and fall back to sleep. Allow me to explain.

We moved in to our new home in the spring of 2003, and prior to that created a “punch-list” of the things that needed fixing by the builder before work was complete. There were the standard things like patches of drywall that needed to be smoothed and painted, the odd closet door that didn’t close right, and many other small fixes. For the most part, the builder and his team did a good job getting these things done in a timely manner (measured in “home builder time” - one human year equals 1 day for a builder). Except for one HUGE problem.

Our back patio, with a 4 foot retaining wall on three sides, floods every time it rains. The patio was designed to have a slight slope towards the back and 3 drains were installed into the brick retaining wall that allows the water that falls from the deck above, and from the 3 gutters running from the roof, to gently drain out into the yard. Interesting plan…but it didn’t work.

The first storm we had after moving in- more than a month later- turned our patio into a lake. The drains didn’t do a darn thing. The water just rose and rose, and finally when it reached the door jam of the 3 doors that open to the patio I took action. It was in the afternoon, and I rushed to Home Depot. I bought a sump pump, plugged it in, hooked up the drain hose and plopped it right in the middle of our patio. Within an hour the lake had become a pond, and the wood floors on the basement level were saved. Thus began a 2 ½ year epoch that we called "the great flood years".

I soon graduated to two pumps, and then upgraded both pumps to the ones that automatically turn on and off. On many occasions storms arrived in the middle of the night, and I awoke with a start, threw on shorts and grabbed rain boots and umbrella, and stood in the pouring rain setting up the pumps, plugging them in, and muttering a half-awake prayer to God to keep me from getting electrocuted or badly shocked. If I fell down unconscious I would surely drown on the flooded patio. If I did, Michelle would be really bummed when she got up in the morning. The wood floors would probably be ruined.

All this time we are arguing with the builder (I will call him Mr. B from now on) to get this fixed. His solution was to dig two trenches through our backyard out to our creek (about 100 feet away), connect them to two of the drains on the backside of the retaining wall, and allow gravity to drain the water out to the creek. Great idea. He just never got around to doing it. I would call him and leave a voice mail (I stopped trying to E-mail him since his AOL account reported back that his inbox was over capacity…for two years!), and he would call me right back (about 2 weeks later…in builder's time that is 8 hours later) when I wasn’t home. On occasion when we did talk, he said he couldn’t get the work done because it recently rained and the equipment would damage the yard, or the crew he used was busy on a job on the other side of the county, or whatever. This went on for years. By the summer of 2005 I gave up. I stopped calling him, and he stopped calling me.

Leverage is a BEAUTIFUL Thing

The story is not over. There are two very important things to understand before I conclude. When we moved in to our home Mr. B left his Yamaha 9’ Grand Player Piano (worth about $40k) in one of our first floor rooms that came to be known as the Piano room. Mr. B wanted to store it here because it added a nice touch when prospective home buyers were ushered in by their real-estate agents. At closing, he asked us if it would be ok to keep the piano in our house for six months or so until he finished building his own new house. We said ok, and promptly put our two oldest girls into piano lessons and enjoyed the collection of player discs they left. It was great. The six months turned into a year…and then two. We didn’t ask Mr. B about it, we just kept praying that a miracle would happen and he and his wife would suddenly forget they ever owned a piano.

On a cold winter Saturday morning in 2005, the fateful call came. It was Mr. B calling at 9AM to inform me that he had a moving truck on the way to our house to pick up the piano- he needed it that night for a Christmas party they were having at their house. His wife is, shall we say, a very determined person, and really had Mr. B’s tighty-whitey’s in a wad about waiting so long to get the piano back. I listened to Mr. B's sad story while a broad grin formed on my face. I used the ancient mystical power of leverage. Mr. B’s $40k piano, a successful Christmas party and his marriage were hanging in the balance.

I casually, and with a kind and gentle voice, told Mr. B that I wasn’t letting anyone in my house to take the piano until my drainage problem was fixed. Mr. B was silent for a good 10 seconds (a surprisingly quick reply in "builder’s time"). He assured me he would take care of it right away- would try to have his crew out sometime before Christmas- if it didn’t rain- and get it fixed. I agreed that was a good plan and told him he could get the piano back right after that. Again silence. We went back and forth for a few minutes- him throwing out solutions, me laying out the only way it would go down.

By 11:00AM there were 6 workers in my backyard, a backhoe, 2 trucks, and a crew of grass seeders that couldn’t speak English. All the while the piano movers were sitting in their truck at the front of the house.

By 2:00PM the trenches were dug, drain pipe laid, trenches re-filled, and grass seed and hay laid down. The crew left, and Mr. B arrived in his obligitory builder's Ford F-150. He walked me through the work area, proudly showed off how it would work, and then said he would go out front to let the movers know they could get the piano. “Not yet” I said. We went through a series of tests- flooding the patio with water from the hose twice to make sure the drains took care of the problem. It worked great, but I was concerned that leaves and debris would clutter the drain openings and asked him to install wire grid traps. He left for Home Depot, returned and personally cut and installed the filters. By 3:30PM all the work was done, his movers came in and got the piano loaded by 4PM, and rushed it to Mr. B's place in time for his 6PM Christmas party.

No kidding- that night it rained like crazy. Out of habit I came downstairs at 1AM to check the patio and was thrilled to see all was ok. I went right back to sleep.

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Secret Recipe For Bonfire

My friend Jeff invited himself over to my house for a bonfire. Actually, I invited him last year- and for several reasons it was delayed, and delayed, and then didn’t happen. He reminded me about it a few days ago, and so we finally did it last night. I also had my friend Jay over as well. It was a wonderful, cold and starry night and the fire was amazing.

About 4pm in the afternoon I went about the task of staging the bonfire. There is an art to this that I have learned over the last few years (and many failed bonfires).

How to build a bonfire:

----------------------------------------------------------------------------------
RICH’S SECRET RECIPE FOR “BONFIRE”
a 3-4 medium sized cardboard boxes, cut into strips about 24" x 6"
a 1 Gallon of gasoline, unleaded
a A stupidly large amount of wood, split and well seasoned
a A small greasy/oily rag

Set up the cardboard strips like you would a house of playing cards, leaning them into one another, leaving 5 or 6 strips for later. Then, gently stack the wood around the cardboard, standing upright and leaning into one another, in a growing concentric circle around the cardboard innards. Once you have built a rough circle with a diameter of about 5 feet, begin to lay wood flat on top of the structure in a loose pyramid leaving space between each log for air and fire to flow. Then, stack additional wood, standing up right, on top of the edges of the wood on the outer edge of the circle. Anywhere you can safely balance additional wood on the entire structure do so liberally. The last part of preparation is to take the remaining cardboard strips and tuck them into open spaces around the outside of the circle spreading evenly. Finally, carefully pour the gasoline, making sure that a large amount flows down to the cardboard center. Stand at least 15 feet away, light the rag, and throw anywhere on or near the wood structure. Quickly pull your arm back to save as much body hair as possible. Enjoy the mushroom cloud of heat and fire.
SERVING SUGGESTION: Serve with large amounts of beer, cigars, marshmallows, Hershey’s© Chocolate Bars and Graham crackers. Some prefer to bring along milk to down the ambrosia known as ‘S’mores’ but I prefer Shiner Bock or Blue Moon Ale.
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Last nights bonfire was a success. A roaring fire, good friends, good beer (until the Shiner Bock ran out and we switched to Corona) and dark but mild cigars. Oh yeah…the conversation was good too. There is just something about sitting out in the cold (it was about 30 degrees) with a huge hot fire warming you, and staring at the blue flames and dancing embers. It really is magical.

One other unrelated note- yesterday I let loose the information about changes at my company. No need to detail that here…in a nutshell, we took a flying leap for a year to prove a hypothesis. We did it! We proved it wrong. In the course of that journey, we determined the right direction, but unfortunately that new direction is headed towards a place I am not an expert in. Too bad. I love the company, its mission, products and people, and will continue to support it 100%. I am excited to continue some project work for them around a few interesting opportunities where I am able to contribute.

I sent out a message regarding the changes at my company to partners, suppliers/vendors, or folks that I have kept in the loop regarding developments with the company. I am overwhelmed at the encouragement and kind words these people have responded with. My purpose was not to solicit those comments, or anything else for that matter, but it came anyway.
It is wonderful to have many caring and interested friends and associates, and I am thankful more that I can express. So…I will just say thanks.

“Therefore encourage one another and build each other up, just as in fact you are doing“
1 Thessalonians 5:11

Monday, November 13, 2006

Wintery Morning

It’s beautiful outside. We had a fairly decent freeze last night, so the grass is covered in frost, the sky is grey, and the memories are flooding my mind. How great were cold, snowy winter mornings when we were kids? That feeling of responsibilities (i.e. school) thrown to the side. The new possibilities for the day were dizzying.

What snow brought out in me was the hidden architect. Here are a few of the projects I build over the years:

An igloo big enough for 3-4 people, with windows and a chimney of course

A monolith (in the late seventies- I was inspired by 2001 A Space Odyssey)

A downhill sledding race track, with iced embankments and a huge life-threatening jump at the end

The oblighitory snow-ball-war fortress, complete with a pyramid stack of snowballs with iced centers for maximum damage

An under-snow maze tunnel (the blizzard of 1978 provided almost 3 feet of snow with huge drifts)

Two things have changed for me now. First, I am forty years old and that basic kid-like drive and creativity when it comes to the medium of snow seems to have left me. Secondly, I moved to Nashville- and a big storm here is one inch.

Bring on the dirty, grassy, dead-leafy 24” snow men!

Sunday, November 12, 2006

Ill Equipped For Deep Conversation

Yesterday my father and brother-in-law, along with my mom, sister and my family celebrated a family birthday. It was fun- insane amounts of pizza at Mellow Mushroom, followed by a sugar rush at home with cake and ice cream. All was going well until the inevitable happened. My dad and B-I-L dove into a mind numbing conversation about the foundation of morals, how and why US law enforces morality, liberalism vs conservatism vs libertarians (when will they figure out that they are such a small political minority they might as well join forces with the Green Party and finally attain a level just under 1% of the population?) and the recent ballot measures in several states regarding gay marriage.

My usual plan is to sit quietly and observe those two go at it. Its great theatre. I try not to participate too much because its just too fun to watch unencumbered by having to think and jump into the melee.

I blew it yesterday. I got sucked right in. No need here to detail the points and counter-points- the important part was to realize, yet again, how I wish I had more time to read and form well-thought-out opinions and positions on important issues. I inevitably end up saying things that when challenged, make me realize how much of what I think is based on a lifetime of personal observations and judgment, not necessarily studying facts, figures, and history. I really need to make time to seek out more solid information for the fuzzy edges of how I see the world.

I have resolved to make time to do the following:

1. Learn more about the foundation of morals and Judeo-Christian laws and mores
2. Read up on the spiritual beliefs of our founding fathers
3. Be able to more clearly state the tenets of liberalism and conservatism
4. Find out if Thomas Jefferson was really that good of a president (like my B-I-L thinks)
5. Stick to my goal of just watching these arguments (conversations) in the future

Saturday, November 11, 2006

When Saturday Morning Is Not Sunny

I love Saturday mornings. I have a routine that I look forward to all week. Get up early, go to Pucketts Grocery in Leipers Fork to fill up the gas cans, head back home. Then I become a short-order cook for my wife and 4 girls. Anything they want- fried eggs, french-toast, pancakes, bacon, ham, scrambled eggs, whatever. It really is a joy to do this for them- and of course since breakfast is my favorite meal I benefit in other ways as well ("is anyone going to eat these last few pieces of bacon?").

After wrapping up breakfast, and leaving the mess for the mysterious kitchen-fairy to clean up, I don my Saturday morning uniform for the mowing task ahead- raggedy sweatpants shorts, a t-shirt, flip-flops and a baseball cap. Oh...lets not forget the iPod and beer too (ask me and I will give you biblical back-up that this is the one time it is allowable to drink beer in the morning).

The 4 hour journey is ahead of me. I have 11 acres to mow.

Today, however, is one of those rainy, cold Saturdays that blows a hole in my weekend routine...and leaves me wondering what to do. I will of course head upstairs shortly to get breakfast going, but after that I will wander aimlessly around the house looking for something to do. Maybe we will go to a movie, or I might attack that growing honey-do list. We shall see.

A nice pointless blog today to make up for yesterday.

Friday, November 10, 2006

How The US Changed November 7th

"Daddy- how will things change now that the Democrats won the election?"

How proud would you be if your 11 year old daughter asked you that question? Then imagine that your 13 year old daughter chimed in, and your 5 and 8 year old were listening with rapt attention?

Well...either proud...or maybe you immediately recognize that you have the news on too much and your children's God-given desire to stare endlessly at the TV has overcome their natural distaste for news programming.

My kids ask me questions fairly often, some deep, some not-so much. This one stumped me for a minute. I think because I was caught off guard. I am not one to let the government's swaying and proclamations get in the way of my day-to-day life. I know several people that live and die by what the government does, thinks and says. As for me, I rather like these quotes about government:

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I contend that for a nation to try to tax itself into prosperity is like a man standing in a
bucket and trying to lift himself up by the handle.
- Winston Churchill

A government which robs Peter to pay Paul can always depend on the support of Paul.
- George Bernard Shaw

A liberal is someone who feels a great debt to his fellow man....which debt he proposes to pay off with your money.
- G Gordon Liddy

Democracy must be something more than two wolves and a sheep voting on what to have for dinner.
- James Bovard, Civil Libertarian (1994)

Foreign aid might be defined as a transfer of money from poor people in rich countries to rich people in poor countries.
- Douglas Casey, Classmate of Bill Clinton at Georgetown Univ.

Giving money and power to government is like giving whiskey and car keys to teenage boys.
- P.J. O'Rourke, Civil Libertarian

Government is the great fiction, through which everybody endeavors to live at the expense of everybody else.
- Frederic Bastiat, French Economist (1801-1850)

Government's view of the economy could be summed up in a few short phrases: If it moves, tax it. If it keeps moving, regulate it. And if it stops moving, subsidize it.
- Ronald Reagan (1986)

In general, the art of government consists of taking as much money as possible from one party of the citizens to give to the other.
- Voltaire (1764)
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I particularly like President Reagan’s and Voltaire’s quotes. That about sums up my philosophy. Please don’t mistake this blog for a political one. I wouldn’t dare venture into that world- those bloggers who live there, according to them, are much more superior and smarter than any of us. I wouldn’t dream of treading into their space. I’m just a regular old dumb American.

This, instead, is about how I answered my daughter’s simple question. It was not the most convincing answer- remember I was caught off-guard…and the underlying message here is that I didn’t have a solid answer in my heart that I truly believed.


The answer is…in my opinion, that it will not really impact us that much in ways that are evident to my daughters. This is how I did answer:

“Girls- that’s a very good question. Very good. Really, it is. Why did you ask that? (note the stalling technique). Well, let me see. Well, hmmm…let me think. Ok- this is what will change now that the Democrats control Congress:

  1. Nothing will get done, mercifully, because no one political party, or wings of those parties, have a strong majority. We will have two years of really cool soundbytes and headlines about people being jerks and mad that things aren’t moving forward (again, mercifully).
  2. One way or the other, our taxes are going up. Daddy gets to give more of his money to other people that want to spend it for him better than he knows how to.
  3. The world, according to “journalists” will instantly seem better, nicer, friendlier, happier, sweeter-smelling now that “their” team has won control of congress. The fact that we have the lowest unemployment in years, a strong economy, low cost and high standard of living, and a peaceful country will suddenly dawn on them…and they will gleefully thank the new congressional leadership. The world as it should be. Dan Rather must be dancing in his professional grave.”


They didn’t get that last one. Or number 1 for that matter.

Thursday, November 09, 2006

Cream Cheese On The Kitchen Floor

So this morning I got up, and after reading the reminder sticky note my wife placed on the coffee machine, placed a block of cream cheese and a stick of butter on the floor, next to the heat register, in the kitchen. Its for my daughter's school project. Long story.

It's foggy at 6:30AM, but the sun is burning through. Good to see after several days of rain and mist. I need anything positive I can get right now, as I am a couple weeks into the change of direction at my company. For the first time in over 16 years I face a time soon without steady income. A bit frightening.

This morning I have several projects to work on with my soon-to-be "former position." I also might have time to learn Google SketchUp a bit better. I downloaded it yesterday, and designed a stand for my acoustic guitar. Tell me what you think. Its a bit "blocky" since I havent learned how to draw rounded edges.

Deeper thoughts are coming...Just set up my blog this morning, so this is all for now. I might expand further on my lame answer to my daughters yesterday when they asked what would change now that the democrats will run the country.


Saturday, November 04, 2006

Great Lessons 4

Timeless lessons I found somewhere or other, and wanted to share. Enjoy.
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"The Obstacle In Our Path"

In ancient times, a king had a boulder placed on a roadway. Then he hid himself and watched to see if anyone would remove the huge rock. Some of the king's wealthiest merchants and courtiers came by and simply walked around it.

Many loudly blamed the king for not keeping the roads clear, but none did anything about getting the big stone out of the way.

Then, a peasant came along carrying a load of vegetables. On approaching the boulder, the peasant laid down his burden and tried to move the stone to the side of the road. After much pushing and straining, he finally succeeded. As the peasant picked up his load of vegetables, he noticed a purse lying in the road where the boulder had been. The purse contained many gold coins and a note from the king indicating that the gold was for the person who removed the boulder from the roadway.






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Great Lessons 3

Timeless lessons I found somewhere or other, and wanted to share. Enjoy.
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"Honor Those That Serve"

In the days when an ice cream sundae cost much less, a 10 year old boy entered a hotel coffee shop and sat at a table. A waitress put a glass of water in front of him. "How much is an ice cream sundae?" "Fifty cents,” replied the waitress.

The little boy pulled his hand out of his pocket and studied a number of coins in it. "How much is a dish of plain ice cream?" he inquired. Some people were now waiting for a table and the waitress was a bit impatient. "Thirty-five cents," she said brusquely.

The little boy again counted the coins. "I'll have the plain ice cream," he said. The waitress brought the ice cream, put the bill on the table and walked away. The boy finished the ice cream, paid the cashier and departed. When the waitress came back, she began wiping down the table and then swallowed hard at what she saw. There, placed neatly beside the empty dish, were two nickels and five pennies her tip.






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