Friday, December 17, 2010

Going Back

The last time I was in the Brooklyn Elementary School in Brooklyn, PA was back in July of 1985. I had just resigned from my teaching position in order to move my family to North Carolina, and I went back to my classroom for about 30 minutes to gather up my personal belongings. While I’ve driven by the building every time I visit the area, I have never had the opportunity to go inside. However, during a recent visit to northeastern Pennsylvania, I had the opportunity to spend a little time in the classroom where I taught sixth grade from 1975-1985. What a thrill to be able to ‘go back’ to the place where I have so many happy memories of working with students who were 11 and 12 years old when I knew them, and are now…well, much older!

The Brooklyn School was built in 1924, so it was over 50 years old before I ever set foot inside. It is a two story brick building…3 stories if you count the basement level. The interior, typical of the era, was constructed of plaster and lath. It had old cast iron radiators and large window panes with iron sashes. These windows, which have since been replaced, covered the entire width of the outside wall, and could be opened in, with chains supporting them in the open position. There were hardwood floors throughout, and though they were not always smooth and even, the wood itself was beautiful. Located in a rural school district, the school housed (during my tenure) one classroom for each grade K through 6. There were a couple of small offices on the top level, and a cafeteria, bathrooms, and boiler room took up most of the basement level. It was a simple building, but very functional for roughly 150 students.

The building remained an active elementary school until 1992, when the district opened a brand new consolidated elementary school across from the existing Jr./Sr. High School. Since then it has been used intermittently as a township building. The cafeteria has been turned into a municipal office, and part of the playground is now home to trucks, snow plows, and other road equipment used by the township. The remainder of the playground is now a town park.

The first floor classrooms are still being used occasionally by the township, so they have had some modifications made and are in good repair. The building serves as a polling place, and is where monthly township meetings take place. The local historical society also holds their annual meetings here. As I stood in the hallway, I was amazed at how familiar it seemed.

The second floor, where my classroom was located, is a different story. While all but one room still has electricity, this floor is only used for storage, and is no longer heated or cooled. Because of the extreme temperature fluctuations, the plaster is curling away from the lath and falling in chunks to the floor. Aside from that, however, I was quite surprised to see how little it had changed. The replacement windows made it look different, but otherwise, it was almost as I had left it. A sign that I had made and placed on the door 35 years ago that said “Fire Exit Left” was still there. My classroom bookcase was still there. And while the bulletin boards and blackboards had been removed, the floors and walls and closets remained just as I remembered them.

It was a chilly day, so I didn’t stay long. But while I was there, I could almost hear the chatter of a busy classroom full of students. If walls could talk, there would be stories I could listen to for hours. It was a wonderful experience to remember the happy times spent there. Among the happiest were the 15 minutes after lunch recess when I read aloud a chapter from the Narnian Chronicles. Ringing in my ears are the words that start the series…”Once upon a time there were four children named Peter, Susan, Edmund, and Lucy.” Those words still give me the chills.

We can’t always go back like I just did. Buildings get torn down and replaced. I feel so fortunate to have had the opportunity to revisit, for just a few short minutes, a place that has such meaning to me, and also to share a cup of coffee with 3 former students while I was in town…one of whom was a member of my very first class.

Funny how they've gotten older, but I haven't!

Monday, December 6, 2010

Monday in (Cold) Atlanta

Before it really gets started in earnest, I’m done with the cold weather. It reminds me how much I like wearing shorts and flips. It’s 34 with a stiff wind in Atlanta, and it feels like the dead of winter.

On my flight today, I was introduced to a frequent flier website ( by my seatmate. It has all kinds of information about promotions offered by the various frequent flier programs out there. Looks very useful. Tons of information. She also showed me an iPhone app called GateGuru. It’s like Yelp for airports, and I’m anxious to see a blackberry version become available (supposedly in the works). A quick way to find where the Sky Clubs are would be very helpful.

I continue to have a love/hate relationship with online shopping. Thumbs down to Sears today for not making it obvious how to edit the contents of your cart. Not to mention that in a promotional email, they advertised 10% off on tools (today only). Only after spending way too much time investigating, I learned that the particular tool I was interested in was not covered by the promotion. That’s why I like to shop at Amazon. They have their act together when it comes to ease of use and customer service.

Hotel internet service is working like it should in every hotel at this week's Fairfield Inn. Turn your computer on, open your browser, access the web. No logging in, no agreeing to terms, just browse. And a fast connection to boot! Yep...this is how it's supposed to work!

Shout out to Panera Bread. Friendly service, free WiFi, decent coffee, and the best salad anywhere - Fuji Apple Chicken Salad.

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Snowing Too Early

Having originally been promised only a stray flurry late tonight, this afternoon it snowed like crazy, leaving an inch and a half of the white stuff covering the yard. It’s December 4th. Still flip flop season in my book!

I’m glad not to have to shop so much in the stores this season, but this cyber-shopping is beginning to eat up enormous amounts of time. Deal hunting can be an obsession.

Challenging thought from a sermon by Eric Ludy. While we typically wait for people’s needs to present themselves, Jesus came to SEEK and to save that which was lost. Waiting is nothing more than an excuse for not meeting people’s needs, yet still feeling OK about ourselves. As the hands and feet of Jesus, we are called to seek the needs, and then be willing to give what we have to meet them.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

A Leafy Alarm Clock

A rare sleep-in (8:15am) and no workout this morning. Awakened to the sound of the city’s leaf-sucking truck. Huge leaf piles are now history.

We have one thirsty Christmas tree. My daughter thought the same thing, until she realized her tree stand was leaking. Apparently her carpet was the thirsty one! Fortunately, our tree really is sucking up the water and the hardwood floor is dry as a bone!

Just did an interview with a writer who is putting together a white paper for a firm I consult for. The paper is on account aggregation, which is a service I’ll be implementing sometime in 2011.

Baby, it’s cold outside! (And that’s not just a song title!)

We have our kitchen table back! For two weeks it has been piled with gifts bound for our western grandchildren. Box is packed. Pickup is scheduled. Table is returned to its intended use!

We enjoyed a nice Providence Baptist Church staff Christmas Party tonight. Paulette is very part time staff as orchestra librarian. Nice to share a meal and the season with friends.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Random Mid-Week Thoughts

Persistent dark clouds today, but the sun is trying hard to take over. I’m probably a little weird about this, but I prefer consistent weather on a given day. I don’t care if it’s sunny or rainy. Just don’t change it up on me.

Pet peeve: wobbly tables. I like our local Caribou Coffee, but there are too many wobbly tables. Coffee catastrophe today due to such a table. Blackberry Torch momentarily sitting in a pool of hot coffee.

Fickle weather, fickle stock market. Dow is up almost 250.

Even though I have a quiet home office, sometimes I wind up being more productive at the coffee shop with people coming and going all around me. It surprises me how many guys bring their Bible and do their quiet time over coffee. Not exactly quiet, but I had a good one myself there today.

The Christmas tree is finished. Gets decorated on December 1, gets torn down on January 1. In between, I’ll sit and stare at it for hours. Always have.

Monday, November 29, 2010


Though many college students attempt to thwart the system, admittance to bars serving alcohol is limited to those who have attained the age of 21. In a Las Vegas casino, the right to visit the VIP lounge is restricted to those high rollers who have spent at least a certain amount on the gambling floor. Amusement parks occasionally offer rides that require ticket-holders to be a certain height. Throughout life, we regularly run into places we’d like to go, or things we’d like to do, that require us to have the proper qualifications or credentials. Without them, there is always a little mystery in our minds as to what we might be missing.

This year, Delta Airlines has created a brand new elite status they call Diamond Medallion. Their Medallion program starts with Silver, then Gold, and then Platinum, which until this year was the ultimate level. The highest status I’ve attained in the past is Gold Medallion, and I couldn’t wait to see what awaited me on the other side of the Platinum Medallion door! I thought it might be great to achieve that ultimate level. And then they upped the ante and created the Diamond level. However, through a series of special promotions, as of October 31 I had done it! I achieved Diamond Medallion status and am now enjoying the best perques Delta has to offer.

While not guaranteed, it isn’t unusual for Diamond Medallion passengers to be upgraded to first class. Since early October, I’ve been upgraded on every flight. Not one to look a gift horse in the mouth, I won’t dwell on the fact that the service is only marginally more attentive, and the meals are really nothing to write home about. However, the real benefits to first class seating are the ability to board early without waiting in long jetway lines, and the opportunity to be among the first to deplane at the arrival gate. The extra room is also welcome, though I often had more room when seated in the exit row aisle seat in coach class.

The entire airport experience becomes much more pleasant at the higher status levels. Complimentary access to the Delta Sky Club often means comfortable seating, free snacks and beverages, and very adequate office cubicle accommodations with power outlets for laptops and cell phones. Combine that with a quieter, more mellow atmosphere, and waiting for a flight is no longer marked by wading through crowds, fighting for access to a power outlet, and hoping to find a seat. Not to mention the incessant high noise level and constant flight announcements.

Airport check-in is much less of a hassle at the Diamond level. Wanting to reward their most frequent fliers, Delta often provides special lines for checking in, as well as for passing more quickly through the security checkpoint. Even upon arrival, the experience is improved. At the higher status levels, my checked baggage is specially tagged so that it is often one of the first bags to arrive in baggage claim. The time savings is noticeable!

Delta has also thrown in some additional benefits, including the ability to earn a higher miles bonus with each flight, free companion upgrades, and a couple of “congratulatory” gifts. I was given 50,000 miles, and I received $400 in travel vouchers to use for my personal flights. This new status has made my flying experience much more pleasant, and when your work requires frequent air travel like mine does, the extra benefits are very much appreciated. I’d have to say, now that I’ve achieved the ultimate status level, that Diamond is a (travelin’) guy’s best friend!

Monday, October 18, 2010

Kodak Moments

A child plays a part in the school play. An athlete breaks a world record. A marriage takes place. A graduation occurs. A baby smiles for the first time. Typical of what we would often refer to as “Kodak Moments”…moments worthy of preserving on film. The phrase is slipping out of the cultural vernacular, though…and for a couple of reasons.

First, Kodak is not quite the name it used to be in all things photography. Several decades ago, Polaroid and Kodak were the two companies you thought of when the topic of photography came up. Not so much today. Second, the ability to take photographs instantly these days is ubiquitous in our culture. Not so much back then!

I can’t remember my first camera, but the film had to be threaded manually, and I’m pretty sure the flash was an attachment that used flash bulbs. Before any big event, you had to make sure you had film and bulbs, and that you had wound the film. And of course, each photo involved the decision as to whether you would want to use one of the 24 or 36 photos on the roll of film for the current shot. Once taken, that frame was gone for good. And once you did take the shot, you had to remember to advance the film prior to taking the next one. If you forgot, you would end up with a double exposure…often fun to look at, but ultimately a waste of two frames on that roll of film.

Waiting for film to be processed was also a common thing. Even after the “1-Hour Photo” services sprang up, there was always a waiting period between the time a photo was taken and the time you could see the result. For years, we used those mail-in envelopes to send our rolls of film to be processed, and it would often take ten days to two weeks before receiving the photo prints and the negatives back in the return mail. And if we wanted to share photos with family and friends, we had to remember to order double prints.

What a different world we live in today! The advent of digital cameras has changed the landscape considerably. With digital cameras, we are no longer tethered to a specific number of frames per roll, because we no longer need rolls of film. As a result, we can take photos with near reckless abandon. We no longer have to be so careful that we‘re capturing just the right shot. We pretty much take one shot after the next, assuming that at least one of them will be a keepsake version of the moment we want to capture, simply discarding the rest. So while “Kodak Moments” still occur, capturing them typically comes as a result of snapping several dozen or more photos, rather than only one or two.

Another huge change came when cell phones began to include cameras. No longer did we need to remember to take the camera along. Once we owned a cell phone, we usually had it with us pretty much all the time. Once cameras were added, we suddenly had the ability to take photos on a whim, any time at all. Sharing photos became easy through the use of emailing and text messaging.

Another big change that has taken place has to do with how people share photos with each other. It used to be that we might carry some family pictures in our wallet. If we were visiting distant family or friends, we would sometimes take along a small photo album. Now much of the sharing takes place with digital photos on a laptop or a cell phone. Now that touch screen phones like the iPhone are becoming more widespread, it is common to see people swiping through photo after photo. And of course there are blogs and other online services like Shutterfly and Picassa which provide a place for you to upload your photos where they remain safely backed up and available for friends and family to view.

Kodak moments certainly still occur, but now they blend right in with the rest of life that is so easily photographed these days. Capturing the moment in a photograph is still as important as it ever was, but the hard part today is not making sure we’ve captured the moment, but determining which of the hundreds of shots we got captured it best!

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Is This Necessary?

Ever since September 11, 2001, things have never been the same at the airport. While I regret that so many changes have been required because of the activity of terrorists who have no regard for human life, I am grateful that measures have been taken to ensure our safety and security in the air. However, I haven’t always believed that some of the security measures are always necessary or even useful in keeping our airports and flights safe.

For instance, there is a security threat level announced routinely, supposedly to give an indication of how likely we are to encounter another terrorist attack. Originally, the level would fluctuate, based on the likelihood of terrorist activity. Several years ago, however, something happened that caused Homeland Security to raise the threat level from Yellow (Elevated) to Orange (High). It has remained at that level ever since, and as a result, has become as meaningless to travelers as the announcement that only two carry-ons are allowed. Perhaps the possibility of airport terrorism indeed remains high, but to the frequent traveler, it seems as though the threat level system has been abandoned, yet not eliminated. However, this is just a minor annoyance. Especially when compared to the newest security measure that is now popping up at airports around the country.

I first heard about full body scanners several years ago, when they were introduced on one of the morning news shows. I was appalled. The image taken had to be blurred out for TV, because it was so explicit. These machines essentially take a picture of your body, almost as if you had no clothing on. I remember thinking to myself that I would never submit to that type of screening. It seems an incredible invasion of privacy. And as I watch these scanners being installed at more and more airports, I have to wonder about the airports that do NOT have the scanners. Are we less secure there? Have we for years now been less secure than we thought, simply because TSA agents have not been able to see underneath our clothing? Why are metal detectors no longer sufficient?

My first encounter with the full body scanner was earlier this year in Boston. When I realized what was about to occur, I decided to “opt out”. Not that I’m overly modest, but I felt like I was standing on the principle that this was an unnecessary invasion of privacy. As an “opt out”, I was subjected to a rather complete body pat-down by a male TSA agent. It was annoying and time consuming, but I felt like I needed to stand my ground. Particularly because right next to the body scanner was a standard metal detector, and quite a few other passengers were permitted to pass through it as normal, without having to be exposed to the body scanner. When I opted-out of the scanner, I would have expected them to let me use the metal detector.

My most recent encounter with the full body scanner was unfortunately at my home airport in Raleigh. I never noticed the new machine, and I randomly selected the line that was sent to the scanner. Had I chosen the other line, I would have only encountered the metal detector. Once again, I opted-out. Once again I was subjected to the complete body pat-down. And once again, right next to the scanner, many passengers were told simply to walk through the regular metal detector. I was not a happy camper. Especially when I learned that within a month, all security lines at RDU will include the full body scanner. From what I can tell, it will simply be the “luck of the draw” as to whether you’re asked to submit to the full body scan or permitted to pass through the standard metal detector instead.

It seems that I have two choices for airport security going forward. Either get used to the idea of the full body scanner, or be prepared to submit to a time-consuming (and somewhat uncomfortable) physical pat-down every week. I’m not sure what I’ll do. Yet, even though I’m assured that the TSA agents viewing the incredibly revealing photos of passengers are far away from the actual screening site and behind closed doors, and that the photos are not retained in any way, I still believe that to take a photo of someone that looks as if he/she has no clothing on is a terrible invasion of privacy, and one that is unnecessary for maintaining the safety and security of air travelers

Thursday, July 15, 2010


When you're alone and life is making you lonely
You can always go - downtown
When you've got worries, all the noise and the hurry
Seems to help, I know – downtown

Just listen to the music of the traffic in the city
Linger on the sidewalk where the neon signs are pretty
How can you lose?

The lights are much brighter there
You can forget all your troubles, forget all your cares
So go downtown, things'll be great when you're
Downtown - no finer place, for sure
Downtown - everything's waiting for you

If you are of a “certain age”, those lyrics will be familiar to you. In fact, I’ll bet you’re humming the tune to yourself right now! I remember, almost like it was yesterday, that this was the first song I ever listened to on my very first transistor radio. I got it for Christmas in 1964, just before I turned 11 years old. Every time I hear Petulah Clark sing “Downtown”, I’m instantly 10 years old again up in my bedroom, with that little “single ear” earphone plugged in. (Remember the days before stereo earphones?)

So what made me think of this song just now? I’m in New York City, and I have just returned from walking through Times Square on my way back from having dinner. It was a sea of humanity…and I can only imagine what it must be like on New Year’s Eve! As I stood “people watching” for awhile, this song popped into my head. At this stage of my life, I would not really want to live downtown, but when I travel, I sure enjoy the opportunities I have to be downtown.

Not all of my business trips are in major cities, but a handful of them are. Each year, I get to be downtown in Chicago, New York, Philadelphia, Boston, San Francisco, and Denver. I always select a hotel that allows for a nice brisk walk to the office every morning. I just enjoy being part of the hustle-bustle of the busy city streets, not to mention being able to stop in and get a coffee at any one of a number of Starbucks I typically see on the walk to work.

One thing that I try to do when I’m staying downtown is to get a room that has a view of something that reminds me of what city I’m in. If it’s Chicago, I like to have a view of the lake, or perhaps of the Sears Tower (and yes, I know it has a new name now). When In Philadelphia, it’s nice if I can get a view of City Hall (which is the largest city hall in the nation, by the way). In Denver, of course, I always try to make sure I can see the front range of the Rockies. In San Francisco, it’s not the view so much, but I stay in a hotel that sits on Market St. right where the Powell St. cable car line ends and does its turnaround. I always ask for a room above the cable car, so I can hear the cable car bells ringing throughout the evening.

This week I started out in Boston. I stayed in a hotel in the Copley Square area of the Back Bay that provided a beautiful view up and down the Charles River, and across into Cambridge. Now in New York, I have a perfect view of the ball that falls every year in Times Square on New Year’s Eve. It’s not a particularly spectacular view of the city (since I’m only on the 8th floor), but there between a few older buildings and a couple of skyscrapers, is the famous ball with the year 2010 brightly lit underneath it. It would be the perfect place to watch the New Year’s Eve festivities, and when I look out my window, there certainly is no question about what city I’m in.

Over the next couple of weeks, I will visit several other cities on my summer speaking tour for Schwab. I’ll be in Baltimore, where in the past I‘ve had a spectacular view of Camden Yards (the baseball stadium). I will also visit Chicago, Columbus, and Minneapolis. And with five more cities to visit in the first two weeks of August, I’m quite sure I won’t be humming “Downtown” anymore. Instead, I’m sure I’ll be ready to say, “there’s no place like home”

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Goodbye Phone Company!

Did you ever want to kick yourself when you found out you paid more for something than you really needed to? We all want a good deal, and I’m no different. Which is why I’m kicking myself for spending way too much on business phone service for way too many years. Thanks to my son Ben for introducing me to something that will save me a ton of money every year.

What is it? Ooma phone service! Ooma is a VoIP (Voice over Internet Protocol) phone service (similar to Vonage, which is probably more widely known). Rather than paying a local and/or long distance phone company for monthly phone service, Ooma phone calls are made and received over a high speed cable internet connection.

I had heard of VoIP technology, and I was familiar with Vonage. Yet I was always a bit wary of depending on my internet connection for phone calls. I felt like the internet connection may not always be reliable, and I count on my business phone to be there when I need it. Not to mention that it just seemed “easier” to stick with what I had. I certainly didn’t need another item on the “to-do” list. That is until I found out how much money I would save.

The Ooma service requires that you purchase a unit called the Ooma Telo. This is a small unit that looks like an answering machine and connects to your cable modem. The list price is $250, but is often on sale for $200 if you shop. That’s the price I paid, and it will be my only expense for the entire first year. Once connected, you are ready to unplug your phone from the wall jack, plug it into your Ooma Telo, and CANCEL your costly monthly telephone service. All US calls, both local and long distance are free! After the first year, I will pay $11.75 per YEAR (not per month) to cover certain excise taxes and fees. I have also chosen to pay an additional $9.95 per month (optional) to get some premium level services.

So the initial outlay isn’t chicken feed. That is until I looked at how much I had been paying for my business phone service on average every month…$105!! For a small one-man business with mostly local clients, that was a ridiculous amount of money. It was a no-brainer to follow my own financial planning advice and reduce that $105 per month down to $11 per month. After several months, the cost of the Ooma Telo will be covered, and then the savings really begin.

As part of my $9.95 per month premium service, I was able to port my number over to Ooma at no additional charge (without premium service, they’ll charge you $40 if you want to keep your existing number). In addition to the regular features (most of which were not included in my phone company service) like call waiting and caller ID, there are a couple of premium services that I really like. First, I can still screen my calls as usual, so that when I hear a client leaving a message, I can pick up on the call right then. That is not possible with most voice mail services, and was only possible before because I had an answering machine instead of paying for phone company voicemail.

My favorite premium feature is what really keeps me connected, particularly when I travel. When someone leaves a voicemail message, I immediately get an email telling me who called. Attached to the email is an audio file of the message, which I can play on my phone or laptop, depending on where I received the email. No more calling in to check messages. I’ll know right away if a call came in, enabling me to return calls in a more timely way when I’m on the road.

And what about reliability and call quality? So far, at least as good as my phone company service. I forget I’m making calls over the internet. That is until I remember that all of the calls are free!

Once I switched to Ooma, I had to give up my toll-free 800 number. When I looked into it, I realized only a few people ever used that number, so it's no big loss. I’m impressed enough that we’ve decided to install Ooma for our home phone service as well. So goodbye monthly phone bills! Ooma is my new best friend!

Wednesday, March 17, 2010


It’s no secret that I like music. Having a house that is wired for sound, we frequently have music playing in the background at home. Technology has only enhanced and increased our listening options. From my first transistor radio (Christmas, 1964), to our stereo turntable “hi-fi” system, to the walkman era, and on and on, we keep fine-tuning our music playing capabilities. We still have a 5-disc CD player and a couple of BOSE Wave Radio/CD players, but now we also have iTunes accounts, mp3 players, and the ability to download and play music right on our computers. My newest technology passion, though, is Pandora radio.

Recently discovered through a friend, this internet based “radio” option has broadened and enhanced my music options almost exponentially. For the uninitiated, let me explain the basics. First, you sign up for a free account at Easy. And did I mention, free! This free membership allows you to listen to 40 hours of music per month. If you think you might listen to more hours than that, you can pay $3 per month for a more premium service and get unlimited hours. Or (and I like this option), if you hit your 40 hour limit prior to the end of the month, you can choose to pay $0.99 (that’s 99 cents) to get unlimited hours for the rest of that month. The premium service does offer a few more benefits, but none that I really care about.

When you log on to Pandora, you’ll find a broad array of “radio” stations, all designed to play a certain genre of music. I’ve tried a couple of the Oldies options, a few from Classical music, one of the Christian stations, and several others. I’ve been very impressed with the music choices. I enjoy the fact that I am only exposed to infrequent (2-3 per hour) very brief and unobtrusive commercials. With the premium service, you have no advertising whatsoever.

Behind the scenes (and I think this is impressive), Pandora radio is like having a huge music library at your fingertips. While you are unable to play or repeat a specific song on demand (like you can with music you own), Pandora’s logic finds music you like. The complex model behind Pandora was developed by a group of computer savvy music majors at a large university. Based on input you provide as music plays, your “stations” get refined to play more and more of what you like, and less and less of what you don’t care for. As music plays, you can choose to give a particular song the “thumbs up” or “thumbs down”. Through this process, you can begin to customize what you like to listen to. Thumbs down blocks that song from ever being played again on that station. Thumbs up causes the model to look for other music with similar attributes that you may like. Over time, you wind up with some very personalized stations to listen to.

One feature I particularly like is the ability to create a custom station from scratch. Start by naming a song or artist, and the model goes to work finding music by the named artist or similar to the named song. As you continue to name songs and artists for your station, Pandora will also make suggestions of other artists to add. I spent some time reading about the logic behind the Pandora model, and it’s really impressive. Sometimes it selects music that I don’t care for, but most often I get to listen to artists and songs I never would have thought about, or perhaps never heard of.

On those days when I don’t want to listen to just one kind of music, I can set up a “Quick Mix” which allows me to select several stations at once and blend the music choices from all of them, for a more eclectic music mix for the day. And while the music is playing, you have access to all kinds of information about the song and the artist. I’ve had some fun learning more about music and artists that I’ve enjoyed for years, yet actually knew very little about.

Over the years, we’ve bought hundreds of CD’s, and I suspect we’ll continue purchasing music we like, either a song at a time on iTunes, or the actual CD’s. But I have to say that listening to and refining these custom stations on Pandora Radio has been a huge enhancement to my music listening choices. I recommend that you give it a try.

Monday, February 15, 2010


The Vancouver Winter Olympics have just begun with a spectacular (if not technically perfect) opening ceremony. In two short weeks, all of the medals will have been awarded, and the athletes will a have left the Olympic village, many headed to their next competition.

I did not grow up watching the Olympics with my family. Then in late summer of 1972, I tuned in to the summer games being held in Munich.. I had just finished working full time during what would have been my freshman year in college, and as a result, I began my college career a year later…arriving on campus on August 26, 1972… the day the Munich summer games opened. Quite a few of my dorm mates watched the games on the TV in the dorm lobby, and it was there that I was introduced to the excitement of the Olympic experience. Unfortunately, that introduction was marred by tragedy when Palestinian terrorists took 11 Israeli athletes hostage on September 5, all of whom eventually lost their lives. I still marvel at how the Olympic spirit rose above that tragedy, and others since then, and continues to demonstrate how hard work and dedication, in the context of good sportsmanship, can produce excellence in athletic achievement.

By now most of you are aware that this year’s games were also marred by tragedy. In a training run the day prior to competition, 21 year old Georgian luge competitor, Nodar Kumaritashvili, lost control on an uncharacteristically fast luge track, smashing into a support post, losing his life. Very different circumstances than what occurred back in 1972, but no less tragic for a family, a team of athletes, and the entire Olympic community.

Between those two Olympiads, I’ve enjoyed being to witness the “thrill of victory and the agony of defeat” (as we were reminded every Saturday for years by Jim McKay on ABC’s Wide World of Sports)! Who can forget the 1980 victory of the USA Men’s Ice Hockey team over the Russians at the Lake Placid winter games? And what about Mary Lou Retton’s vault at the summer games in Los Angeles in 1984? Remember Mark Spitz winning seven gold medals back in Munich? (He just turned 60 the other day, by the way!) And then Michael Phelps topping that record with eight golds at the 2008 games in Beijing. And I know most guys wouldn’t admit to this, but I also happen to enjoy the ice skating competition during the winter games. Now there’s a sport that has had its share of controversy. Yet if you watch, how could you forget the “Battle of the Brians” (Boitano and Orser) at the Calgary winter games in 1988? Oh, how Canada wanted that gold…yet it eventually went to Boitano from the USA.

Since watching in the dorm back in 1972, I have watched 20 telecast Olympiads. I eagerly anticipate it each time, even changing my cell phone ring-tone to the Olympic Theme. Because, what would the Olympic experience be without that terrific music? I know that the 2010 Vancouver Winter Games will have added to the list of exciting Olympic moments I’ll have to reminisce about for many years to come.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010


This post is nothing more than a rant about something I have to get off my chest.

A couple of weeks ago, I flew to Florida, primarily to help my sister-in-law sign up for Social Security retirement benefits. I researched it online before making the trip, and I learned that the SS office may ask to see documents like a birth certificate and maybe a divorce decree. Since I keep all of these important papers for Peg, I made sure to have them with me when I made the trip south.

On a positive note, I discovered that you can apply for benefits online these days. So, Peg and I sat in front of the computer the morning after I arrived, and we worked through the questions together. It was all pretty simple, and because of the research I had done, we actually had all of the information we needed. Right at the end of the process, though, it seemed like my computer had a "hiccup" or something, making me wonder if the application actually got submitted. I never received any confirmation, so I was left wondering. When I attempted to go back in and review the application, I was asked for a confirmation number. Based on this, Peg and I decided that it would be worth a trip over to the local SS office to confirm that the application had indeed been received and was being processed.

My GPS very easily took us to the address on the letter Peg had just recently received from the SS administration. One problem...they moved to a new office LAST JULY! Yet still sending letters (obviously photocopied) with the old address. Fortunately, the new address (further away, of course) was posted on the door of the old office, so once again we relied on GPS to get us there. We arrived at 3:15PM, and they close at 3:30PM. We had to take a number. There were 10 people ahead of us. Fortunately, their policy is that if you get there in time to take a number before 3:30, you WILL be seen that day. As we waited, we watched several people come in and ask questions of the employee who was stationed at a desk at the entrance. In every instance, this employee allowed the questioner to go on and on until they had finished explaining their dilemma, only to be told that she couldn't answer any questions...please take a number. Now, why didn't she stop them before they got going if she knew she wasn't going to be able to help them?

As an aside, even though this was a new facility, it still looked a lot like your typical DMV office. Rows of cheap chairs were set up for waiting. Somehow, you're made to feel like you're in detention back in high school. Like you're going to be in trouble if you're caught chewing gum. Crazy that they can't create a more inviting atmosphere in these places. But I digress.

Our turn comes, and as we approach Window #10, we are pleasantly greeted by a nice woman who is sitting behind a window that has bars on it. After returning the greeting and taking a seat, I explain that we applied online for retirement benefits, but were left wondering if the application had actually been submitted. She took Peg's Social Security number, typed it into her computer, and began nodding her head. Yes...the application had been received, and it was already being processed. Everything was in order, and within a few days Peg should expect to receive a letter by US mail telling her when her benefits would begin. We were relieved. I also brought up the issue of the letter showing the wrong address, and the agent was very apologetic. She even asked to photocopy the letter so she could show it to her supervisor and hopefully get the problem corrected. I was impressed by her interest and responsiveness.

When she returned with the letter, I mentioned that my research online had indicated that we might be required to produce certain official documents like a birth certificate in order to complete the application process. I told the agent that I had the documents in hand, and asked her if she needed to see them. She promptly began typing something into her computer again, nodding her head as before, and then replied, "No, there is no need for me to see the documents. You were able to provide enough information online that we could ascertain that you are who you say you are." She ended the session by reminding Peg to look for the letter in the mail, which should arrive after several days. We left feeling good that, even though we had made an unnecessary trip to the SS office, we could now rest easy that the application was complete. I only wish, in retrospect, that I had though to write down the name of our friendly agent!

The next last day in Florida, was busy with other things. In fact, as is quite common, Peg never even looked for her mail on that particular day. Later that evening, I flew home. I still had Peg's important documents with me, since they are kept in a firebox at my house for safekeeping. Let's just say one of Peg's strong points is not keeping track of where things are...thus we decided long ago that I should hang onto her important papers.

Fast forward to the next morning. Phone rings. I answer. It's Peg...sounding all cheerful. "What's up?" I asked. "Guess what?" she replied. "When I went to walk the dog early this morning, I checked my mail, because I hadn't bothered to look yesterday...and I got my letter from Social Security!" Mind you, that means this letter arrived less than 24 hours after we had been told it would be several days...and more importantly, it arrived while I was still in Florida! We just never checked the mail that day. "So," I asked, "what did the letter say?" Peg's reply caught me completely off-guard. "It says that they need to see my birth certificate, my marriage license, and my divorce decree."