Monday, November 16, 2009

Commuting – NASCAR or Simple Driving?

I have lived many places, and experienced many types of driving. While each place is different I have noticed certain elements of NASCAR racing in each of them. Now don't get me wrong, I am not one to turn down the opportunity to execute an out-in-out maneuver on a turn that is rated way below the speed I am driving. There is the satisfaction of maintaining as much speed as possible to shoot out of the turn and pull ahead of the person driving behind you.

One clear example is the rush-hour freeways of Los Angeles. There are so many cars there that people drive literally bumper-to-bumper, something with mere centimeters separating them. Granted, they are moving slower than a snail with nowhere in particular to go. There isn't much danger of a serious crash unless the person coming up on the miles of crawling traffic fails to notice this and can't slow down in time. I was that person once driving in Belgium, that is a story for another time. I'll just say I was not at fault in the collision with either of the cars that hit me.

Another example is one I see on my drive to work in Montgomery (Alabama for those of you that have not had the fortune of living in the south). Some drivers are in such a hurry that they weave in and out of the lanes like a seasoned racer. Sometimes as many as two lanes over and back again. The difference is that many drivers use their turn signals, some do not. This goes against the typical southern stereotype of taking things slow. Personally, I just set my cruise control on 65mph (5 mph below the limit) and enjoy the show.

Finally, I go back to my time driving in Brussels, Belgium. There are two examples from that experience that I will share. First, most of the problem lies in the fact that there are people from many different countries, each with their inherited driving rules and customs. While the EU has managed to get most countries on one currency, they have a long way to go to get them all driving the same way. The other thing that contributes to the NASCARiness (yes, I made up that word) of European driving is that cars are generally smaller outside the United States. You can fit more of them in a single lane than you normally can. I have seen as many as 3 or 4 “lanes” where there are typically 2. As long as everyone fits on the track, I mean road, no harm no foul.

So on that note I leave you with this final thought; commuting is just like NASCAR except there are turn signals...some times.

Friday, October 9, 2009

Gool Ole Southern Cookin'

One of the things I enjoy as I move somewhere new is the local cuisine (be sure to say that last word with a French accent, it sounds better that way).

In San Antonio it was all the little Tex-Mex places that I went to the most. I tried a little menudo (cow stomach soup) , a little pisole (pork stew), and of course, fajitas. Who doesn't like a red-hot plate of sizzling steak, chicken, and peppers?

When we moved to Lompoc, California we got to enjoy "Santa Maria" style barbeque. A nice sirloin covered in garlic, salt, pepper, parsley, and other secret spices I think, slow-cooked over a red oak fire. Pile on some salad, piquinto beans, and garlic bread and you have a meal you could pick up on most street corners on any given weekend.

Belgium was another story, I tried moules et frites (mussels and french fries), the national dish and it wasn't bad. I only say that because I am not a big fan of shellfish. Everything else there was wonderful; the sugar waffles, the frites (with more sauce flavors than your average Baskin Robbins store has for ice cream), the pastries, and the beer.

Now I find myself in the south, Montgomery Alabama. Here I get to try things I only heard about growing up in Michigan. Things like grits, greens, fried okra, and incredible pulled pork barbeque. All very good dishes, in my humble opinion. I am just a fan of food.

Today, while driving to a doctor's appointment, I saw the sign at Hardee's advertising a new breakfast sandwich. The first thing that came to mind was the scene from "Sweet Home Alabama" when the groom's mother is meeting the bride's parents for the first time and her dad say something to his wife about getting the bologna ring out of the freezer. Now I'm not one to turn my nose at trying something new, but this one I may have to think about a little longer before I dive in and give the local "cuisine" a try.

Friday, July 31, 2009

Farmers Anonymous

I've recently been sucked in by the Facebook application Farmville. Why, you ask? As I look back in time (I'm not using that phrase because I subscribe to the podcast of "Borrowed Time" by Keith Hughes on iTunes,, and, I can't think of a really good reason, other than peer pressure from friends and family. Yeah, yeah, yeah, that is always a good reason to do something. The picture comes to mind of a little boy looking up at his mother and she is asking him, "If Jimmy jumped off a cliff would you do that too?" But I digress. I tend to avoid these applications because the moment you start them, your inbox fills with gifts from everyone, even people who aren't your "neighbors".

Neighbors are another thing that doesn't make sense to me. Why, do you need more neighbors before you can expand the size of your farm? Typically, the more neighbors you have the harder it is to expand. You can't just pick up their belongings and say, "Sorry, you gotta move because my farm is getting bigger" and take over their land. That would have a serious ripple affect throughout the entire town. Maybe you should start with too many neighbors and you need to find ways to get them to sell you their farm so you can expand. Makes more sense to me.

One time-consuming aspect of this game is the economics. I spend way too much time analyzing each new crop I can grow. I determine net profit per day for each item to determine if will grow my money fast enough to either buy a
barn, or expand my farm further. For example, you purchase seeds for peppers for 70 coins per square, it costs 15 coins to plow a square of soil, and they are harvested in 1 day for 162 coins. That give me a net gain of 77 coins per day. Whereas you purchase seeds for cotton for 75 coins per square, it still costs 15 coins to plow a square of soil, and they are harvested in 3 days for 207 coins. That only net me 39 coins per day. Get the picture.

The hardest part for me is caused by my Monk-like tendencies. If you've seen the TV show, you're probably chuckling or even laughing out loud at this point. I need to keep each type of animal not only in a group together, but separated from the other types by a fence. The animals need to be in neat and even rows, and evenly distributed between the fence sections. I keep each type of tree arranged similarly, but without fences (who ever heard of fencing in trees, I know they don't get up and walk around..psshhh). I try to keep the plowed land in the exact center of the farm, in a square with four equal sides (of course), and don't plant more than one type of crop at a time. Then it gets tricky....


They don't expand the farm evenly on all sides. That would make the most sense. Noooo, they have to jam the existing farm into a corner and only expand the space on two sides. Now I have to spend my precious time moving everything around. Again, if you have seen Monk...I have to.

Anyway, here is a snapshot of getting everything arranged after the last expansion. I trying hard to not think about how the crops are growing at different rates and that there is too much open area near the bottom. Guess I just need to head to my inbox, accept some gifts, and carefully place them on my farm.

If you ever see me post a wish list for farm gifts, please understand...I need to keep the rows even!!!

Saturday, February 28, 2009

Hope my luggage hits the jackpot!!

I spend the previous few days in the Washington D.C Metro area for a meeting, I still enjoy going there any chance I get.  The week was uneventful until Friday.  I spent the morning at the Pentagon ("That funny building with four walls and a spare" Col Sherman T. Potter, 4077 MASH) and got back to my hotel room with plenty of time to finish packing and get to the airport for my return.

I planned to get to the airport 2 hours ahead of my departure time so I wouldn't be rushed.  I got there to discover there were no lines anywhere.  I got to the gate almost 2 hours before my scheduled departure.  The good thing was I had enough time to get lunch, still a good day.

We boarded the plane, pulled away from the gate, and headed for the runway.  Then the plane stopped.  We had a short delay (1.25 hours) while we waited for the weather around Atlanta to clear.  I started making some calculations and determined I would not make my connecting flight to Montgomery.  No problem; I never pick the last flight into anywhere just in case.  I figured my luggage wouldn't make the flight either so there was nothing to worry about.

When we arrived in Atlanta, I checked the departure board and discovered my flight was delayed.  This is good since I now do not have to do the "O.J. Simpson" through the airport to get to my gate.  I took a leisurely stroll, called my wife and told her my new arrival time.  The closer I got to my gate I started to get concerned.  The place was packed with way too many people.  Notices on the screens alerted people to gate changes, flight delays, and other flying maladies.

My flight left on it's new scheduled departure and arrived at more or less that time it was supposed to.  I wandered over to baggage claim and spent the next 15 minutes watching other people pick up their bags and leave.  Sadly, I was not among them.  I shuffled over to the ticket counter and got in line with other sad-faced people.  I learned that my baggage was "delayed" and they would deliver it to me as soon as it arrived.  I was given a pre-printed brochure with a code written on it to track my bags.  

I didn't receive a call last night so I checked on my suitcase this morning.  Here is what they had to show me;

Delayed Baggage Status

Passenger Information

Passenger Last Name:
File Reference Number:
Delivery Address:

Baggage Status & Delivery Information

Bag Tag Number:
We have located this bag at Las Vegas, NV (LAS) airport and are scheduling it to be on a flight to your final destination. 
Please check back again for the delivery date and time of your bag.

I hope they wait until it hits a big jackpot before they send it back. Although, I do need my uniforms for work on Monday.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Lost? or Just Not Where I Need To Be?

On a recent trip to Mobile, AL I had a discussion with my wife; what is the difference between being lost, and not being in the place you need to be?  To defend my case, I enter the following exhibits into evidence.

Exhibit 1: Colorado Springs, Colorado May 1989

We were on our first cross-country trip, moving from Michigan to California.  We thought it would be a good idea to stop at Peterson AFB to fill up the gas tank and get a few supplies for the remainder of our trip.  It was such a long drive from the freeway to the base that I decided to take a shortcut back.  Long story short, I finally stopped for directions.  This was only after an hour or so of driving around Colorado Springs trying to find an on-ramp.  Clearly, I was lost.

Exhibit 2: near F├╝ssen, Germany November 2006

We decided to take a family vacation in Bavaria, and drive.  It was only supposed to be about a 12-hour trek, including a stop at Ramstein AFB for gas and a meal.  I'm sure you're thinking, AHA!!, that is where you went wrong last time.  Unfortunately, that was not the problem.  The problem occurred when the sun went down and the snow started falling as we started driving in the Bavarian Alps.  Our maps weren't very detailed, and we ended up on a narrow winding road that was not on the map.  We really enjoyed the peaceful drive down the valley to a beautiful village; it looked like a Thomas Kincaid painting.  Couldn't say for sure if it was in Germany or Austria at that point, we were so close to the border.  Anyway, we made our way back to a main road and I stopped at a hotel to ask for directions.  Left turn from their parking lot, over the bridge, make an immediate right.  From there we followed the signs for Garmisch-Partenkirchen and arrived safely.  Again, clearly I was lost.

Those clearly are examples of what it is to be lost.  I didn't know where I was or how to get to where I needed to be.  One thing that might have helped was a Yooper Compass.  It is a snuff can with a mirror in the lid.  It doesn't show you where you are or where you are going, just who is lost.  This brings us to the event that sparked the discussion.

Exhibit 3: Mobile, Alabama February 2009.

We thought it would be nice to drive across the opening of Mobile Bay on our way  home.  We got on I-10 heading east and settled in for a leisurely drive.  We saw the Battleship USS Alabama, and miles of wetlands.  As we reached the other side, my wife looked at the map and told me which road I needed, to get back to I-65 and our way home.  I saw the sign for the exit, made a note of it, and proceeded to drive past it without exiting.  About 8-10 or so miles later we came upon the next exit and made out way back to the correct exit and took it this time.  Shortly after that, my wife told our daughter we weren't lost anymore.  Usually I accept being told I am lost, but only when I am truly lost.  This time I knew exactly where I was and how to get back to where I wanted to be, and even got there without getting more lost.  Clearly a case of not being in the place I needed to be.

The defense stands.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Sometimes I Shock Myself...Literally

I was sitting in the dentists chair today, with a giant syringe jammed into my jaw, when something experienced something I hadn't felt in a long electrical shock running through my body.  I squirmed in the chair a little, and the dentist asked, "did you feel an electrical shock?" like it was something that happened every day.  I nodded, and he told me that he must have touched the nerve bundle he was trying to numb.  He then told me of another patient who almost launched out of the chair when he did that.  Guess I have a high tolerance for this kind of stuff.  

You might be asking yourself, what did he mean by "something I hadn't felt in a long time?"

Well, lets just say I've experimented with electricity now and again.  Once, me and some friends were out in the garage looking at this device that my dad had that generated an electric spark.  We attached the bare wire to a toy golf club and took turns holding the plastic handle while someone else threw the switch.  A little charge came through the staples that held the handle on,  and gave us a little jolt.  Silly me wasn't paying attention and my thumb touched the shaft of the golf club...yep, next thing I knew I was laying on the ground staring at the ceiling.

Another time involved a reading lamp bulb (the little ones), a 110V power cord (two-pronged, no ground), and a soldering gun (Dad's tool).  If you have any kind of imagination you know where this is going...small explosion of glass and filament.  Not too much of an electrical shock thankfully, since the cord was still plugged into the wall.  I think I tripped a circuit breaker with that one.

The last one I remember, there may be more but they might be erased, was while I was stationed at Vandenberg Air Force Base in California; your tax dollars at work.  I was running the telephone section at the time and was installing a new phone.  Silly me left one end of the phone cable plugged into the wall while I prepared the other end for a connector.  Someone tried calling that number while I was trimming the wires and pow! another shock.

The lesson of this story...don't stand next to me in a lightning storm.