Thursday, June 25, 2009

Farrah Fawcett: 1947-2009

This just makes me sad.

I had only one celebrity poster hanging on my bedroom wall when I graduated from high school and this was it.

May she rest in peace.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Richmond Public Utilities: Customer Disservice

The problem with moving from one state to another is that the blog material comes in at a rate inversely proportional to the time you have to do any writing.

The Wanderers

There should have been a post about the whole experience of finding a house in Richmond two weekends ago. It was good and bad. The bad was, if I'd had a dollar for every time someone with a property to rent said, "Well we still need to . . . we're planning to . . . we've been meaning to . . . etc," I think it would have paid for the trip. We saw some seven or eight houses, all but one needing major cleaning or work before we could move in, and we weren't slumming folks. There's simply a trend to post rentals on Craigslist before they're really ready for showing. Of course, of our top three, numbers two and three had rented already.

Like Family

Lucky for us though, our number one choice, even before our arrival, was not rented, and it was very nearly pristine. In fact, all of the looking we did after seeing it was only so that we had a backup plan. But the best part of our first choice, soon to be the address we call home in Richmond, was the owners. We had time to look for a backup during the weekend because we weren't able to meet with them until Monday morning. They were coming from a wedding in New York. They were in the United States for the wedding, and to rent their former home in Richmond. They live in Greece. They are Greek. They are wonderful. We spent most of the morning with them a week ago, and by the time we parted after lunch, it was like parting from old friends, family even.

We are delighted to be moving into this home, and I believe they are relieved that we will be. I now own and rent two of my former residences. The first I ever owned I've kept as a rental for over twenty years. I have stories to tell. The home I lived in before moving to Charleston, I still own with my ex-wife. Last year was not the best time to sell a home, to leave the service, to change careers, etc. I know how comfortable I am that, that home is rented to someone whose own home in Ft Collins is also rented to someone whose own home in . . . you get the picture. When houses begin to sell again, there will be a cascading effect, but until then, many of us who've had to move for work are back in the renting market after owning homes for decades.

Finding a good renter for a beautiful home is not necessarily easy. Finding a rental home that feels like a home you would like to own is not necessarily easy. I feel very lucky on both counts. We'll care for our new home as if we owned it because one day we very well may. We would have cared for it that way anyway, but you understand what I mean.

Setting Up House

Having moved some thirteen or so times during my military career, I'm fairly adept at getting things up and running by the day we arrive. The move to Richmond has been no different, with one exception. I've got the TV, the internet, the electricity all set up to start the day before we arrive. The water . . . not so fast. It's on, and it should stay on, I think, but trying to have it put in our name with Richmond Public Utilities was the worst bureaucratic nightmare I've seen in a while.

The homeowners are wonderful, responsible people. The home is immaculate. But living in Greece, the forwarding of their mail stopped some time ago. As a result, I expect they've not received water bills. No one has lived in the home for some time. The bill can't be for much. But because there is a bill due, Richmond needs to verify my lease before they can set up service in my name. Mind you, they don't tell you, as the new customer, that there's a bill due, they simply ask for your lease and leave it at that.

Phone Tree Hell

RPU: We'll need your landlord's phone number so we can call them to verify your lease.
ME: They live in Greece. I don't have a phone number.
RPU: They live in Greece?
ME: That's correct. They live in Greece.
RPU: How do you contact them?
ME: E-mail. Would you like their address?
RPU: Then I'm going to need a copy of your lease.
ME: Can I e-mail you a pdf?
RPU: We don't have e-mail to the outside. Can you fax it?
ME: Sure.

I don't mention that it's a good deal of trouble. I scan it. It's on legal paper and my scanner is letter, so I overlap paragraphs for good measure. Then I send it through PamFax. Of course, I have to buy PamFax credits to do that. Eventually, it goes through. At least, PamFax says it did. When I call to confirm receipt, RPU claims not to have seen hide nor hair of it.

Mind you, even getting through to RPU is a two minute technological nightmare.

RPU automated phone system:

  • "Welcome to hell. Please press one for English or . . . "
  • "Press one for Department of Public Utilities . . ."
  • "Thank you for calling the City of Richmond. For a gas emergency press one. For a sewer emergency press two. For all other inquiries press three . . . "
  • "Press one to enter your acct number, Press zero if you don't know your number . . . "
  • "We could not verify the account info that you don't know. Other queries menu. Press one if you have six fingers on your left hand. Press two if you believe in flying saucers. Press three to connect or disconnect service . . . "
  • "All representatives are assisting other customers. Your call will be answered after a wait in inverse proportion to the amount of time you have to kill. Thank you for your patience."
Mind you, this is every time you call. So when I get do get through to see if the fax got through . . .

Catch 22

RPU: We don't accept faxed leases.
ME: Excuse me? Then why was I just asked to fax it?
RPU: Can I have your landlord's phone number? [This is a new person.]
ME: As a matter of fact, yes. [I had remembered, in the meantime, that we actually did have it.] 011 . . .
RPU: Did you say 011?
ME: Yes.
RPU: What's that?
ME: That the first part of the phone number, the international dialing code. They live in Greece.
RPU: Just a minute. . . . . . [Insert theme from Jeopardy.]
RPU: Okay. Did you say you faxed your lease?
ME: Yes.
RPU: Do you know who you faxed it to?
ME: I sent it to the attention of . . . .
RPU: Let me go look for it. [Theme from Jeopardy again.]
RPU: It's not here.
ME: I have a transmission confirmation that says it is. Why do you even need it to put service in my name?
RPU: Because there's a balance on the account, and when there's a balance on the account, we have to have a copy of the lease to open a new account.
ME: Can I simply pay the balance? [How much could it be? No one has lived there in some time.]
RPU: Yes you could pay it.
ME: Okay, how much is it.
RPU: I can't tell you. It's not your account.
[ . . . time passes. . . . . 99, 100.]
ME: If you don't tell me how much it is, how can I pay it.
RPU: Well, see, it's not your account.
ME: But you said I could pay it off.
RPU: Well you can pay it off if you want to.
ME: Well then how much is it?
RPU: I can't tell you how much it is. It's not your account. You'll have to call your landlord and ask them.
ME: If they knew how much it was, they'd have paid it already.
RPU: Well, I'm sorry. I can't tell you how much it is. It's not your account.
ME: . . . . . Is there a supervisor there I can speak to?
RPU: Sure. Just a minute.
[Theme from Jeopardy.]
RPU: She's with someone right now. Can you hold?
ME: Sure. The minutes are only $.35 each after 2100, and we've only used, what 1950 so far, so yeah, I can hold. What's the supervisor's name?
RPU: Pardon me?
ME: Name. Her name. To whom am I waiting to speak?
RPU: Ms . . . . .
ME: Thank you.
[Theme from Jeopardy one last time.]

Mind you, I've been on the phone since about 6:30 p.m. They close at 7:00 p.m. I wait patiently for about ten minutes. At 7:00 p.m., the phone goes dead.

This is why government buildings need barriers for protection.

UPDATE: I call back today. I get someone new. I learn that I do, in fact, now have a customer number. (And probably a red flag that says: "Danger. Radical anarchist. Has tried repeatedly to introduce logic into system. Treat as armed with rationality and therefore dangerous.")

ME: May I simply start with a supervisor today.
RPU: Is there some issue I can help you with?
ME: I doubt it. Is there a supervisor there please?
RPU: Just a minute.
[Time passes again.]
RPU: This is . . .

I explain the history. She looks for the missing fax. She asks if I can fax it again. I say yes, but ask if there is an e-mail I can send the file to. She gives me her e-mail. So much for "We don't have outside e-mail." I send the file, but because it is a 3MB pdf, it takes a long time. Eventually, she hangs up, again.

I am deep in trying to fax it again when the phone rings. It's the very first person I spoke with. The fax has been there all along. No one is quite sure where, but it was there. She'll review it with a supervisor and call me back.

And this is where we left it. Do you suppose I'll have water when I get to Virginia, or will they have finally come out and turned it off? God only knows.

And Virginia is the state that thinks it invented democracy and only leases it to the rest of us.

Give me North Carolina any day. Or just shoot me.

Monday, June 22, 2009

The Hangover

We saw this movie today. It's what anyone should do when the temperature outside is hot enough to shrivel the grass while you watch. I laughed. I was not insulted. It was not stupid. It was genuinely funny. It was funny and yet it was the antithesis of a Will Ferrell movie. Thank God. Nothing happened during the entire movie that completely blew your willing-suspension-of-disbelief circuit breakers. Well, okay, the taser scene may have stretched it a little, but not much. Funny. If you need a laugh, see it.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

25 Random Things About My Father

I mentioned once before, just in passing, John Eldredge's claim, in Wild at Heart, that every man is wounded somehow by his father. I implied in that earlier post that such wasn't the case with me. Today, Father's Day, I want to state it outright.

I do not believe I suffered any psychic wounding at the hands of my father, ever.

Honestly, that's no small claim. I've watched other men and their dads. I've watched women and their father's too. I had acquaintances long ago that couldn't return home when they left the Air Force Academy they hated because their fathers told them not to come home if they quit. I had a so much more than friend, who will likely read this, who went there for a year, because her father told her if she would try it for that long, he would foot the bill for college elsewhere--she did; he did not. I've heard fathers say things to children in public that made my heart ache.

I had and have the best father I know. I know a couple more who are right up there with him (my new father-in-law among them), and I have friends who think or thought the same of their fathers. We are lucky people, those of us in this club, and today is a day we celebrate that luck.

Not all that long ago, I posted 25 Random Things About Me. Today, I'm going to take a shot at publishing another 25 about him. Wish me luck.

25 Random Things About My Father
  1. He has taken up the drums. At least, he bought a drum set months ago, and for a while at least, he was playing them. This is especially interesting to me because a little less than four years ago, I took drum lessons for a short while. Neither I nor my father knew this about one another, which is a good segue to the next point:
  2. My father's life has mirrored mine in so many ways that it's genuinely eerie, especially romantically. I could elaborate, but I'm going to leave it at that for now.
  3. I suspect my father of being a closet adrenaline junkie. He owned a motorcycle from the time my parents split up until well into his second marriage. And he was, after all, a volunteer fire chief for over a decade.
  4. When I left for the Air Force Academy, over three decades ago, the last thing I remember him saying to me as I walked out of Charlotte's Douglas Airport to climb the stairs to a waiting jet, other than, "I love you," is, "If you get there and you don't like it, son, you know you can always come home." It put staying there all on my shoulders. No expectation, no threats, no rebellion value in leaving (not that I ever felt any need to rebel). It made it possible to stay even during the months that I hated it most and seriously thought of leaving. Having options makes almost any task less onerous.
  5. In all the years of my youth, he gave me only one spanking I hadn't genuinely earned. That one time, he was acting on misinformation from my Sunday school teacher. I didn't forget, but I didn't really hold it against him either. I just never liked that teacher much after that.
  6. I've seen him pitch nearly perfect games of horseshoes. At Five Forks ball park in China Grove, NC, I watched him and Lee Smith, on their way to winning first place in a church league, throw ringer after ringer from one end to the other. It was awe inspiring.
  7. He taught me gun safety at an early age, and how to shoot birds on the wing, to drain a rabbit's bladder before putting it in your hunting coat, how to build a rabbit trap, and how to enjoy the beauty of good bird dogs working a field.
  8. He also taught me, by example, to think of all men as equals, at least equal in worth and rights, vehemently disdaining all the petty prejudices that so many fathers so sadly wean their children on. The stories in this regard are almost legend and fodder for longer posts at a later date. I'll simply say here that had Harper Lee known him, and if you knew him and her novel, you would think him her model for Atticus Finch.
  9. He blames a long tour in Alaska, at Gambell Air Base, on St Lawrence Island, for the early loss of his hair. His seven brothers each kept theirs most of their lives.
  10. His children have always come first in his life. Whatever other ambitions he may have had, I truly believe that being a good father was the ruling goal of his existence. God knows, he put up with more, and sacrificed more, for our sake than any other man I know would have.
  11. Right behind Atticus Finch, the character from fiction that he is most like would be Sheriff Andy Taylor of Mayberry. He was, for all practical purposes, the unspoken mayor of the small town in which I grew up. Smaller than Mayberry.
  12. He can teach anyone to waterski and he was always good at it himself. For the most part, when anyone learned to waterski with us, they learned to slalom, right out of the gate.
  13. He plays a wicked game of hopscotch. He always played with us on the shore during our annual vacations at Windy Hill Beach, SC, and I have since played more than a few times with my own daughters.
  14. He loves tractors. He may think we haven't caught on to that, but he does. I'm not entirely certain there isn't a frustrated farmer trapped in him somewhere.
  15. His two greatest shots in golf may have been his hole-in-one and his blind eagle. The hole-in-one was so dead on that it bent the base of the pin going into the hole. In basketball lingo, he "stripped the net." His blind eagle I was there for--a par-four on which he'd hooked the ball into the adjacent fairway, hiding the green from him behind a set of pines dividing the two holes. He hit the ball over the pines on his second shot and into the hole. I found it there. He was still looking everywhere else.
  16. His dedication to golf during my youth was such that my youngest sister once recited the days of the week as, "Sunday, Monday, Golfday, Wednesday, Thursday . . . " He worked all day on Saturdays until he retired, but only half a day on Tuesdays. He is as good a golf coach as he is a ski coach. I should have tried out for the golf team at the Academy instead of wasting my time with track.
  17. He would still like to learn to fly. He says he's let that ambition go, but I think I know better.
  18. He can fix or build just about anything.
  19. So far as I know, he has never cultivated any of the vices that other men, including myself are prey to. He doesn't swear, drink, or smoke, and yet he doesn't begrudge other men those "pleasures." I think he is simply cautious of the genes he carries, having had a father, grandfather, and more than one brother for whom these things were problems.
  20. He is fiercely and poignantly patriotic. I remember him once calling me to the window over our kitchen sink, pointing to the flag flying at the fire station he helped found about a quarter mile away, and saying, "Isn't that beautiful?"
  21. In our family business, he was all about Total Quality Management and focusing on the customer long before TQM became a watchword for the rest of the world. I remember trying to figure out what the fuss was about when the Air Force tried to institute TQM because I had always thought those principals were common knowledge. I've learned better since.
  22. He is a true gentleman--gentle and yet fiercely strong. He is always polite. He opens my stepmother's car door, holds her chair, helps her with her coat.
  23. He's more or less ambidextrous. He plays sports left-handed, yet he writes right-handed. It makes him very handy to have around when your ball is up against a tree and you really need a left-handed club to swing.
  24. What he lacks in distance these days, he more than makes up in accuracy. I've been able to outdrive him since college, but I've never outscored him on the links.
  25. I love him. I admire him. And I still want to be like him when I grow up.
Happy Father's Day, Dad.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Let's All Twitter from Iran

Based on the following hint from a post over at Chap's place:

4. Help cover the bloggers: change your twitter settings so that your location is TEHRAN and your time zone is GMT +3.30. Security forces are hunting for bloggers using location and timezone searches. If we all become ‘Iranians’ it becomes much harder to find them.
TheyRodeOn will be Twittering from Iran for a while.

Friday, June 19, 2009

Freedom March 2009

Over at Bearing False Witness, Joel Newmiller has some poignant thoughts about what it means to go through the days while a loved one is wrongly incarcerated. Joel's father, William, maintains the blog. Joel's brother, William's son, Todd, is in his third year of incarceration for a crime I don't think even the prosecutors believe he really committed.

The Freedom March taking place in a number of states on 27 June 2009 is intended to raise awareness of wrongful convictions in our justice system. You'll find more information at the web site for the march.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Dream Team Baby

Hard to believe it's been more than 18 months since I first mentioned the Dream Team on this blog. They were getting cranked up then, and I had every confidence they would be a success. Now they've really hit the big time. This morning, long time friend, Conner Herman, and her partner, Kira Ryan, made an appearance on NBC's Today show. You have to love it when good things happen to good people.

Kings Firecrackers

If these girls don't make you smile, you need help. The audience at the Naval Academy was clearly impressed.

Saturday, June 13, 2009

On Knowing versus Believing

Knowing comes naturally, passively, like breathing out. It's resisting knowing, denial, that requires effort. And it's believing that requires the greatest paradoxical effort of all, because it requires conscious, rather than passive, relaxation. Believing is a cessation of denial. Believing is fully accepting what we've already known all along.
--cdc, 10/30/2007

Friday, June 12, 2009

On the Road Again

I'll be on the road this weekend, in Richmond, Virginia, looking for a new place to live, beginning another new adventure. Blogging will likely be light as I explore firsthand, yet again, the old saying that, "North Carolina is a vale of humility between two mountains of conceit."

Thursday, June 11, 2009

New Audible for Blackberry

Still in Transition

Replacing a Palm with a BlackBerry has at least two distinct aspects--that of abandoning Palm and that of making the jump to BlackBerry.

The first is often motivated by a feeling that Palm abandoned us first. Over the last few years they've done little to suggest anyone was even awake at the company other than introduce a new desktop with fewer features than previous versions and then call it an "upgrade." Admittedly, the launch of the new Pre is getting as much press as each of Britney's releases from rehab, but for many of us, it's just too late.

On the other side of the coin, is the jump to BlackBerry. Hands-down a better communication device than the Palm, it is not, however, a better PDA. Thus, those of us who've made the jump have done so partly based on the faith that the longer BlackBerry outsells Palm, the faster developers will close the application gap to make the BlackBerry what the Palm might have been if they hadn't holed up in Howard Hughes penthouse to live on nothing but ganga weed for the last few years.

Audible for BlackBerry

One of the first shortcomings I noticed in the application department was the BlackBerry application from I prefer to burn my books to CD and use the player in my vehicle to listen, but lately, I've had more trips than time to burn CDs, so I'd taken to using the Palm or BlackBerry player and piping it through the vehicle stereo. That had the added advantage of allowing me to listen on long walks with the dog without having to find my place in two different media. The problem was that the BlackBerry Audible application had more quirks than Carter had pills. So after a couple months of getting by, I decided surely there had been enough complaint and demand for Audible to come up with something better.

They had. Checking for updates, I found version 1.3 for BlackBerry. It's still not perfect, but it seems to be an improvement over version 1.0.whatever-it-was. Unfortunately though, someone appears to have taken a cue from Palm and the newer version is missing a feature I did occasionally use on the old: bookmarks. Still, overall it seems to be a step in the right direction.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

The Blue Angels: Bring Your Airsickness Bag

One of my best friends in Colorado is a former USAF Thunderbird, Thunderbird-7 to be precise (you'll hear his voice here, as the airborne safety, saying "Knock it off! Thunderbirds knock it off!" and ending the demonstration following the crash of one of our birds at Mt Home a few years back), and fellow skydiver, so I have nothing but the utmost respect for any of the men who maneuver this much metal at this much speed within this sort of proximity. The challenge of working all those vectors in three dimensions is one of the things I like about Canopy Relative Work, but my hobby is far more forgiving.

The video below was sent me by another friend though, and it's not the Thunderbirds, but the Blue Angels, and the footage is not from the ground, but from the cockpit. It's a long video, but once you start watching it, it's rather hard to stop. Good luck.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Green Travel

Are you racked with guilt over your carbon footprint on mother Earth? Well, for tree-huggers and recovering Catholics (for whom guilt never fully recedes), United Airlines (whom I used for at least half of my recent trip west) has set up an online confessional of sorts. You can visit their Carbon Offset Program, and there you'll find a convenient Carbon Offset Calculator to quantify just how much guilt is appropriate. You can then decide whether bearing it is something you can live with, or you can select from a variety of available indulgences, allowing you to travel guilt-free, or at least as nearly so as possible.

For my recent roundtrip from ATL to COS, for instance, the suggested donation to International Reforestation to offset 0.4927 metric tons was $5.91. Instead, I rented a Prius and drove nearly 300 miles on less than five gallons of gas. I found the overall effect of the Prius rental to be so environmentally sound that I felt compelled to offset my carbon offset by spending the $5.91 on a Venti Iced Mocha Latte at Starbucks just to take the self-congratulatory edge off. Thing is though, the buzz from coffee grown using environmentally sound methods is only serving to make me even more smug. I may just have to go out and crush a dandelion before anyone can stand to be around me. I can barely even stand myself.

Monday, June 8, 2009

Quote for the Day: Joey Alfino

Think of it this way: wine critics shouldn’t review corn dogs.
There are not enough hours left in my life for me to waste another minute in a Will Ferrell film, so don't expect any reviews of Land of the Lost from me, but I loved this line from critic Joey Alfino, who did a fairly good job of reviewing the new film . . . on a corn dog scale.

You'll find Alfino's complete review of Land of the Lost, here.

Sunday, June 7, 2009

Quote for the Day: Ike

This really should have been posted yesterday, but I was on the road from Colorado back to Georgia.

I believe these people who talk about peace academically but who never had to dive in a ditch when a Messerschmitt 109 came over, they really don't know what it is.
For a longer article on Eisenhower's legacy, click here.

Friday, June 5, 2009

888-453-1922 Is Not Verizon

If you get a text message (as I did today) reading:

Free VZW msg. UR on track 2 incur overage charges for Minute, Data, or Message usage. Call 888-453-1922 NOW for more info or Dial #MIN & #DATA to check usage.
Or if you get a call from some automated system along the same lines, DO NOT CALL. This is not Verizon. You'll find trails on this scam going back well over a year, here and here.

I guess the people that sell those vehicle warranties had to find something else to do.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Starbucks Meets Hooters

On a day when I was explaining to someone how I have no TV service nor newspaper anymore, and get my news almost entirely online, I find this article in a USA Today I picked up at lunch, and I wonder what else I may be missing. My favorite line: "I think it's kind of like Starbucks meets Hooters."