Tuesday, October 31, 2006

What have I DONE!?

I think I messed up, big time.

In a fit of frustration, pique (not “peak” or “peek,” as many try to spell it), and false bravado, I mentioned an Unmentionable in yesterday’s post!

I fear the end of the world may be near.

I came home from work today to find that our power had been out at some point. My computer (which I had left on) was running, but had obviously rebooted since no applications were open. I successfully opened several with the mouse, but then tried to type something on the keyboard.

Nothing happened. Nada. Zip. Zero.

Dead keyboard.

I tried unplugging and plugging it back in. The “Num Lock” light was on, but no keystrokes were getting through to the computer.

Okay, I thought, I’ll just restart. When all else fails, pull the plug and plug it back in. That works 95% of the time. The other 5% of the time you get electrocuted.

But the odds were with me so I restarted. Still nothing.

This was starting to get serious.

Oh, I know that keyboards are fairly cheap, but I was worried that the computer itself might have shorted something out on the motherboard, and I would need a LOT more than just a new keyboard. I thought about possible workarounds, like a USB keyboard (mine is a PS2). But again, if there’s a damaged component on that motherboard I’m in serious trouble. (I thought about the fatherboard, too, but the motherboard is MUCH more significant. If the motherboard is fried, it can be a real mother-something-else of a problem.)

I tinkered. I unplugged and replugged. And in the process of those activities, the mouse also died.

Now I was in REALLY deep doo-doo. The mouse is a USB device, and if THAT system fails I’m looking at a phone call to Dell or a trip to my friendly Best Buy that I mentioned yesterday for a whole new “system.” I had visions of $$$ flying out the window, or down the drain, or (choose your favorite analogy).

With absolutely no control I/O device left, I did the only thing I could. I literally pulled the plug on the computer.

No more software restarts. No more softball. If this computer (and the [shudder] “C”) were going to play hardball, I guessed I would too (not “to” as many tend to spell it). I reached under the desk and pulled the plug out of the socket. I waited a few seconds and plugged it back in.

Since I WASN’T electrocuted, the odds were REALLY in my favor now. Keyboard and monitor lights flashed. The speaker “beeped.” The computer restarted, booted normally, and everything worked.


Likely that was my one warning. My precautionary shot fired across the bow. I’ve been put on notice that the “C” is neither to be toyed with nor mentioned in polite company.

As we say here in the South, “Well shut my mouth!”

Monday, October 30, 2006

Be afraid!

I fear I am being revisited by the CONSPIRACY!

Yes, I’m naming names. No beating around the bush, no pussyfooting around the issue. When the going gets tough, the tough get going. So let’s go.

It’s our nice, expensive digital camera. Last July we noticed it was putting a tiny red spot in every picture at the same place. After our long vacation trip[ in September we sent the thing off to Olympus Warranty Repair in California. We enclosed a complete description of the problem, including a CD with sample pictures showing the red dot.

What do you think happened?

No, you’re wrong. They DID fix it, and they didn’t charge us anything. We were happy campers!

They repaired the CCD unit (that’s the part that actually records the image when you click the shutter, and converts the light into digital ones and zeroes. The also upgraded the firmware! That sounds like a good thing, right?

Well, as per their explicit instructions, we did NOT send off the 2GB Compact Flash memory card in the camera. In fact, it (the card) still had in its memory over 200 wedding pictures we took of the “golf” wedding of our good friend Ruth.

When the camera was returned, all repaired and upgraded, we inserted the memory card and erased all the pictures (since they had been previously downloaded to a PC.)

Usually when we erase all the pictures in memory, the camera menu tells us we have 452 images available. Then it counts down each time we take a picture. When we erase each picture it counts back up again.

Well, THIS time when we erased the pictures the counter stayed at 187. We took another picture and it went to 186. We erased that picture and it STAYED at 186. Uh-oh!

We have done everything you can think of to do, including:

1. Re-formatting the memory card.
2. Re-flashing the camera’s firmware.
3. Putting our memory card in a different digital camera (works perfectly).
4. Putting a new memory card in our camera (shows the same count as before.) Then took a picture and the count went down by one. Erased that picture and the counter stayed the same.
(Both 3 and 4 above were done at our friendly local Best Buy store, so kudos to them for helping us troubleshoot the problem.)
5. Putting that CF memory card in a slot in our photo printer, and using Windows to access the card, erase it and reformat it to ensure it has no corrupt files on it from the camera.

All evidence points to a problem with our JUST-REPAIRED camera!

So, we’re boxing it up tonight to send it back to California for ANOTHER repair.

The counter is currently at 137, and I’m afraid that when it reaches zero the camera will “think” it’s out of memory space and refuse to take any more pictures.

I believe I hear macabre laughter coming from the walls around me.

Sunday, October 29, 2006

Nuts on a golf course

No, I’m NOT talking about the golfers.

Nor am I talking about other people who sometimes choose to come onto the golf course, thus putting their lives at risk from errant shots. Although “nuts” is an apt term for both of the above classes of people.

Today I’m talking about another kind of nuts.

Get your minds out of the gutter! I mean nuts from trees!

Okay, here’s an example:

This is a small-to-average-size pecan. We have pecan trees lining the fairways, and sometimes in the middle of our fairways at my local city park golf course.

Next I have a shot of a slightly larger pecan. This is the size I look for as I’m walking towards my golf ball after a shot. Usually it’s a short walk, but I DO pick up the occasional medium-to-large pecan, crack the shell, and snack on the meat inside. This time of year they are plentiful and delicious.

A few days ago I mentioned Live Oak trees, and told you that they produce acorns (although their leaves do not look anything like oak leaves. Well, here’s an example of the acorns from a live oak. Typically the tree will retain the little “cup” the acorn grows in, and when the acorn is ripe it turns brown and falls to the ground. I picked a green one off of a tree to show you the entire thing, so you’d recognize its similarity to the Oak acorns you may be more accustomed to seeing.

And speaking of the acorns you’re accustomed to seeing from regular oak trees, we have some of those here as well. But you know how people always say that “Everything’s bigger in Texas?” Well, in some cases it’s true.

Those Live Oak acorns are similar in size to the acorns I used to gather from oaks in the northeast. You agree? I’ve seen some bigger, but not more than maybe...what? Twice as big?

Well here are those same two Live Oak acorns next to a Texas Oak acorn.

Bigger indeed!

Saturday, October 28, 2006

A great day for golf!

Not a cloud in the sky. Wind variable from zero to maybe 10 mph. Temps ranging from the lower 70s to maybe 80 at the highest. Very low humidity.


No, I DON’T want to talk about score, thank you! It’s not the score that counts as much as the experience. Unless you’re playing for money, which I never do.

Why not? Well, because I don’t have a lot of extra money that I care to lose, and if I DID play for money I wouldn’t have ANY.

Carol, however, is a different story. She could play for money quite successfully, most days. Today she had three — count ‘em; THREE! — birdies. Plus she had a number of pars. I think her final score was 82, if you must know. She beat me by exactly 12, but who’s counting?

We played with Ruth and Donnie today. Donnie had a bad day (for him) but still beat my score. Ruth was closer to Carol with an 87.

There! Are you satisfied now? I SAID I didn’t want to talk about scores, but you forced it out of me. If you’re a good golfer, you play for score. If you’re an average (or worse) golfer, you play for the occasional good shot and the exercise. Guess what I play for! (Mostly, for the exercise.)

Okay. That said, I’m changing subjects on you. Halloween is upon us, and I’ve JUST learned that one of my daughters is going to a costume party. She and her husband are dressing as super heroes.

Which ones? Well, since a picture is worth 1000 words, here’s the whole story in a flash:

Meet Wonder Woman and Aqua Man!

(Yes, my daughter MADE the costumes. She gets all of her talent from her mother.)

Friday, October 27, 2006

MUCH better now, thanks.

Prescription refills are now complete, normal daily dosage has been resumed, and thus my emotions are again on an even keel.

As I look back through my posts earier in the week I have to laugh. I mean, come on! Who could imagine a concerted attack on unsuspecting humans by fish and birds and bugs, much less trees!

Oh, I checked again and I did get that Bible reference right. You know, about the trees that caused more deaths than the sword in that big battle with 20,000 casualties? Yeah, that was real. Hmmmm. Does make you wonder...

So anyway, now that my mind(?) is clear again, I've been looking over what the rest of the blogging world is writing about, and it all seems to be oriented toward Halloween. And though Halloween does NOT occur this weekend, that's when most of the celebrations and activities will take place.

But the bloggers have got it wrong. They shouldn't be blogging about Halloween. The really scary event that happens this weekend is the return to Standard Time (unless you live in one of those weird places that doesn't shift the clocks forward and backward during the year).

So, as a public service to all you thousands of faithful readers, don't forget to change your clocks by one hour before you go to bed on Saturday night. Otherwise you'll never regain that hour of sleep you lost last spring. Plus you'll show up in church an hour too early, and the preacher will have a heart attack from shock.

Well, now I can hear all of you asking, "Which way do we set the clock? Do we fall forward and spring back, or do we spring back and fall forward?"

Just recite this old nursery rhyme:

"Hickory dickory dock,
Three mice ran up the clock.
The clock struck one,
The mice ran down.
The clock struck two,
So buckle your shoe,
Three, four; shut the door.
Five, six; rednecks and hicks.
Seven, eight; open the gate.
The worms crawl in, the worms crawl out;
The worms play pinochle on your snout.
Jack be nimble, Jack be quick.
Jack, set the clock or we'll all be sick.
Which way do I set it, forward or back?
Set it so we'll have more time in the sack."

Remember that one? I think Jill sang it. To Jack. As they were going over the hill, or something.

So the moral of the story is: "Never trust a banker who tells you the Czech is in the male!"

And with that, dear blogging friends, you can now safely set your clocks on Saturday night and be totally confused on Sunday morning.

Speaking of confused, did I actually TAKE those pills this morning, or did I toss them in the trash with the coffee grounds?


Thursday, October 26, 2006

Upon still further reflection...

Steve has a point... Although as someone who lives across the pond in Germany, sometimes his points might be a little hard for us “auslanders” to understand.

I mean, in my last posts I was discussing the dangers from attacks from various sea creatures, right? Later I moved on to land creatures, birds, and even microorganisms.

But then Steve cautions, “It's not just breathing things we have to watch out for.”

Do Stingrays breathe? I mean sure, they pass water across their gills, but is that breathing? And the microorganisms I spoke of? They can survive in all kinds of environments, and they don’t have lungs OR gills. Some don’t even need oxygen to survive. Do they breathe?

But, okay, Steve was talking about plants. And the more I thought about this, the more sense it made. He referred to “The Attack of the Killer Tomatoes.” But I immediately thought of “The Lord of the Rings” trilogy, and how the ents rounded up the trees of Fanghorn Forest, herded them to the battle raging at Helms Deep, and how the orcs and other creatures fled into the trees but never came out.

I’m not just talking about plants that are poisonous. I’m talking about killer trees.

I’ll bet you think that happens only in fiction, right? Well, let me refer you to a fascinating passage in the Bible. Please turn with me to 2 Samuel, chapter 18. Are you there yet? That’s OK; we’ll wait while you find it.

What’s happening is this: Absolom, a son of King David (yes the same guy who slew Goliath -- remember him?) wants to be king, but there’s just one little problem... His father, David, the current king, isn’t dead yet.

Absolom figures he will hurry up the process, and rounds up an army to fight against David and HIS army to see who will rule Israel. Here’s the Bible’s description of the scene (New International Version):

2 Samuel 18: 6 The army (of King David) marched into the field to fight Israel, and the battle took place in the forest of Ephraim. 7 There the army of Israel was defeated by David's men, and the casualties that day were great—twenty thousand men. 8 The battle spread out over the whole countryside, and the forest claimed more lives that day than the sword. (Emphasis added.)

I am NOT making this up! It’s right there!

So, Steve, you’re right. We have a LOT more to worry about concerning creatures living things that might attack us than just those things that seem to be able to move across the landscape.

But y’know, trees breathe too. Isn’t that what photosynthesis is all about? Taking in CO2 and giving off O2?

I'm getting more confused.

Damn! Where ARE my meds?

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Seriously now...

A few of the comments made to my previous posts started me thinking (a very dangerous situation) that many of you might be taking these reports too lightly.

Remember Hitchcock’s “The Birds?” We’ve already discussed “Jaws.” How about “Arachnophobia?” “Snakes on a plane.” People, this list really does go on and on.

Okay, you’re thinking, but those are all fiction. Those things didn’t really happen.


How do you know that? You believe all this pseudo-science about global warming, don’t you? Yes, you do. Why? Because you read about it in the newspapers. Well, you read about the stingray attacks in the paper, and saw reports about them on television, right? Killer bee attacks are almost routine these days.

Birds HAVE been known to kill people. Geese have knocked military fighter jets out of the sky by flying into the jet intake. Granted, it’s always just as hard on the goose as it is on the plane, but still.

Microorganisms kill people all the time, and we call it disease.

So maybe you’d better not snicker when someone writes about attack worms. Or swarms of jumbo shrimp or Maine lobsters coming to their house in the middle of the night.

Heck, the next thing you know Zinnia’s chickens might start coming after her when she tries to punt them over the barn roof! All manner of animal attacks might occur, now that the creatures are getting their acts together.

In fact, the longer I go without refilling my prescriptions, the more likely these scenarios become.

So laugh if you must, but this could be serious!

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

A plague of worms

No, not earthworms. Web worms. And their cousins; other leaf-eating worms that don’t web up but can strip a tree in a week.

We have a tree in our back yard that’s called a Live Oak. No, that’s not as opposed to a dead Oak. These trees are related to the oak in that they make acorns, but their leaves are small and dark green, and stay on the tree all year long. Even when it freezes.

It’s like having a deciduous evergreen.

They grow maybe twice as tall as a house, and provide dense shade. During a South Texas summer, dense shade is very nice. They require little maintenance, and don’t make a mess in the yard.

So, what’s the downside? Well, every year in late October to mid November, they attract a crop of these nasty worms that eat their leaves.

The first time we noticed this was when the tree was small. I glanced into the back yard one day and commented that our tree was dying, since about half of the limbs and branches were bare. Carol hadn’t noticed, so we went out to look at it. The darn thing was literally crawling with worms!

The worms would drop off to the ground and then climb back up. There were worm droppings all over the ground under the tree.

I went to Lowes, bought a bottle of Malathion, and sprayed the heck out of the tree. The next day the worms were all dead and the tree slowly began to put leaves back on. That act has become an annual ritual in the fall.

Guess why I’m telling you all this. Give up? Yep, THEY’RE BA-A-A-CK!

So this afternoon, after work, I put on old clothes and sprayed Malathion all over our Live Oak tree. It’s now higher than the house and the hose can barely get the spray up to the top branches. In the process I sprayed myself quite thoroughly as well.

Yes, I’ve showered and put my stinky clothes outside. But the house now reeks of that oily Malathion smell.

The good news is, the smell will be gone by tomorrow.

And so will the plague of worms.

Monday, October 23, 2006

Typical Texas

Saturday we played golf. The temperature was in the upper 80s with very high humidity and almost no breeze at all. By the end of the round my shirt was soaked. Heck, even my underwear was soaked. (Yeah, I know: TMI. Sorry.)

We walk the course whenever possible. That day we managed to do so, but by the last few holes I was just about shot, physically. The air conditioning in the car felt SOOOO good driving home! A cool shower and cold beer really hit the spot.

Then came Sunday. Cloudy with drizzle in the morning, but mostly cloudy with no rain in the early afternoon. The temperature was 56 with a north wind blowing.

We walked the golf course again, but this time in long pants and sweatshirts, with a light jacket handy. Driving home it felt SOOOO good to be warm and out of the wind. A nice hot shower hit the spot. Later we watched TV on the couch, dressed in sweat pants and tee shirts, and under a light blanket.

Today is cool and dry and beautiful, but by tomorrow the humidity is supposed to be back, with afternoon thundershowers.

“What a difference a day makes.
Twenty-four little hours.”

Sunday, October 22, 2006

The Perfect Illustration...

...to my post of Friday.

Jim Davis is on the right track.

And even if not every attack is successful, don't think they won't continue. In fact, I predict they will escalate in frequency and in intensity!

Click HERE to view.

(With a nod to the comments of Steve G and Hale McKay.)

(And yes, I'm probably violating the copyright law here, but if someone complains I'll take it down.)

Friday, October 20, 2006

Spielberg got it wrong

“Jaws” and its sequels and spin-offs put fear in the hearts of millions of people. In fact, the tag line for one sequel was, “Just when you thought it was safe to go back in the water.”

Turns out that all that hype about shark attacks was really just (dare I say it?)... a red herring.

Sharks are not the real threat! It’s OTHER creatures from the sea that we have to work about. They don’t eat you. They don’t take off a limb. They aren’t attracted to blood in the water.

In fact, neither you nor they have to be in the water to attack.

An alert reader sent me the link to this AP story.

We all thought Crocodile Hunter Steve Irwin’s incident was a freak occurrence, right? A “once in a lifetime” accident. And admittedly it was not only a horrible tragedy, it was unheard of. A stingray stabbed Steve in the heart with his barbed dart.

Well, now the stingrays are coming right out of the water, landing in your boat, taking dead aim, and striking directly for, yes, the heart!

A coincidence? Come on! Two completely unheard of incidents involving the same species within 6 weeks of each other. That alone would be enough to disprove any coincidence theory, but look at the key similarity: both stingrays went straight for the heart!

In the past we’ve always assumed that the ray was a docile creature that only used its poisoned barbed darts defensively. But now they are clearly on the attack. They’re pissed, and they’re coming for us.

The good news is that the gentleman in Florida may survive his attack through the simple expedient of leaving the barb in his heart until surgeons could remove it.

But what’s next? Will sea lions flap their way ashore and attack us in out beds? Will schools of mullet jump en masse into fishing boats, swamping them and drowning the people?

And how about fresh water creatures? Will rainbow trout swarm to overwhelm fly fishermen in mountain streams? Will minnows swim up the nostrils of swimmers to suffocate them?

I don’t know about you, but I’m staying well away from boats and bodies of water until this water-dweller threat is understood and contained.

Jaws was only the beginning!

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Candace did it... Not me!

Dear readers, I fear the worst has happened.

Although I have striven mightily over the last several months to AVOID any mention of the dreaded “C” word, Candace has now done so. And most of you know what that means!

If you’re not sure what I’m talking about, please review yesterday’s post on this blog (below) and the comments.

I mean; all I was trying to do was offer a humorous complaint – sort of “tongue in cheek,” y’know? But nothing really serious – about a couple of long days at work.

Karyn jumped in with her own crack about being too tired to make a smart-a** comment. Now THAT was funny! We ALL know that no matter HOW tired Karyn is she can ALWAYS be depended upon to provide a smart-a** comment! In fact, most everything that she says is smart. Because SHE’S smart! Right, K?

And then RobotJam made an appropriate dig about getting to work 8 hours before I wake up in the morning. To which I now respond, “Yeah, Rob, that may be. But before I get HOME from work the sun has been down over at your place for hours!”

(I never can work out the time difference between here and the UK. I always forget if I’m suppose to spring forward or fall back going east. I remember an old ditty about it from years ago... Something about “East is least and West is best, and never Mark Twain I’ll meet.” I never did know what that meant.)

I even had a serious comment from a reader I’ve never heard from (or of) before: Stag. He looks like a very neat Canadian with a world-class beard and some SEE-REE-US weapons from the Middle Ages.

But... (HUGE sigh)... then Candace had to make her “conspiracy” comment.

I fear that we are now doomed to round after round of all kinds of mechanical/electrical/plumbing/etc. failures, made even worse by extremely busy days at work (for those of us who work).

But don’t blame me. Candace did it this time. Not me.

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Q & A

Q: What's worse than a Monday?
A: A second Monday, that falls on Tuesday.

I was at the plant today from 6:30 a.m. until nearly 5:00 p.m.

"Busy" doesn't begin to describe it. Well, maybe it begins. But it goes no further!

Q: What did I do all day?
A: You don't want to know.

Q: Was it interesting stuff?
Q: Depends on what you consider interesting, but for 99.999% of the population of Earth (and 100% of the population of the other planets in this solar system except Pluto, which is no longer a planet anyway), no.

Q: Will tomorrow be better? Or will it be a third Monday in a row?
A: The last time in recorded history that there WERE three Mondays in a row occurred in 2344 B.C., so I doubt it. Of course, little was recorded in 2344 B.C., so nobody knows for sure what happened then anyway.

Q: If I come back here tomorrow, will you be in a better mood?
A: Come back tomorrow and find out. I'm making no predictions tonight.

Monday, October 16, 2006

A new day

Gee. Yesterday I posted about a lazy, rainy day, and not getting much done. Today was... well, different.

Today I got to deal with the immediate aftermath of the positive drug test I wrote about last week. And it’s pretty good news so far. The employee has already been to his first counseling appointment and begun the process of rehab. He states that he is resolved to get cleaned up and change his ways. I sure hope so.

Then I dealt with a pay issue involving a maintenance call-out on the seventh consecutive day worked in a work week. Why was that an issue? Well, we have specific policies dealing with those situations, but an employee thought his particular circumstances were outside of the policies’ guidelines. I had to convince him that no, they weren’t. (Don’t worry. He’s getting paid well. And—more importantly—he’s getting paid consistently with the way we’ve paid others in the past.)

The phone rang... well, not constantly; but a lot! There were issues about our uniform service, questions about schedules and time sheets (today was “time-sheet” day when everyone had to turn in their time for the previous two-week pay period), and the inevitable calls soliciting donations and contributions.

Ant to top it off, today (and tomorrow) the outside auditors are in to look at our ISO-9000 Quality Program.

All of that “stuff” falls within my HR department. I’m fortunate there were no safety or plant security issues today!

I guess the time DID pass fairly quickly with all that activity.

But tomorrow? I’d just as soon have a day like Sunday.

P.S. Closing in on 25,000 hits! Woo-Hoo!

HA! This from Michelle:

Sunday, October 15, 2006

A rainy Sunday

No golf today. No photography. In fact, not much of anything except rain.

We watched football. I cleaned the garage and put Rain-X on the car windshields.

We basically relaxed.

I read some, I wrote on my latest WIP some.

All in all, not a bad day. But then, tomorrow’s Monday and it’s back to work.


Remember the old Carpenters’ song, “Rainy days and Mondays Always Get Me Down?” For me it’s not the rainy days as much as the Mondays.

Saturday, October 14, 2006

Camera withdrawal

In case you’ve been wondering about the dearth of photos on this blog lately, there’s a reason.

Our SLR digital camera developed (no pun intended -- and since there’s no film in a digital camera, there was nothing to develop anyway, right?) a slight problem last July. On every picture, at the same spot or location on the photo, you could see a tiny red dot. It was only noticeable if the background at that spot was dark, and even then you’d never see it unless you displayed the picture at 100% size.

But it was there, and it was sometimes annoying.

Using Photoshop Carol could clone it out, so it didn’t really matter too much. But the camera was still in full warranty. So after Ruth’s wedding (where Carol took nearly 200 pictures, so there was LOTS of “cloning out” to do) we sent the Camera off to California for repair.

The bad news is; Carol was going through camera withdrawal for about two weeks. She overcame that by working in Photoshop on all the wedding pictures, so it wasn’t too bad.

The good news is, the camera is now back, safe and VERY sound, and fully repaired at no charge.

I wish they had sent us some kind of explanation about what they found, or what they did to fix the problem. But there was no explanation at all. Nothing. We don’t know if they simply cleaned it, adjusted something, or replaced components.

Doesn’t matter, really. The bottom line is: it works now, with no red spot! Carol is much happier.

And when mama’s happy, EVERYBODY’S happy!

Friday, October 13, 2006

Drugs in the workplace

At my place of employment we just completed a routine round of random drug and alcohol testing.

Why? Well, I don’t want to get into any kind of debate on legalizing marijuana (Christina) or other substances. But at this refinery-type plant many jobs are deemed “safety critical.” That means that errors in judgment or performance can cause injuries or death. For those jobs (at least) we have both a moral and a legal obligation to take steps to prevent impaired employees from endangering themselves and others.

One generally accepted way of “controlling” this risk is a program of random drug testing.

But one of the risks you suffer WITH such a program is that you might actually catch someone. We did, yesterday.

He told us before he was tested that he knew he would fail. He was devastated. His biggest concern? He knew that he’d have to tell his wife.

The marriage was already troubled. He feared this might be too much of a blow for it to survive.

I spent some time with him this morning going over his options. He will not lose his job, or even any of his base pay, if he really wants to keep working here. It’s his choice.

Assuming he DOES want to keep his job, we’ll place him on medical leave and require that he report to our designated independent Licensed Chemical Dependency Counselor (LCDC) on Monday. She will create a program for him. Those details will be private between her and her patient. She will report to me ONLY the fact of his compliance (or not) with her program, and let me know when he is ready to report back for work.

Noncompliance = no job.

As a condition of employment he must then agree that any subsequent positive test will result in his termination.

The key to all of this, as I stressed today, is that it’s all his choice.

He never gave a prior thought to the impact his earlier choice (to abuse the drug) might have on not just him, but also his family and those who work with him. He has lost a level of trust that took years to create. It’s going to be a tough job to recreate that trust. It can be done, though.

I hope he beats the odds and makes it. I really do.

File this under “The Joys of a Career in Human Resources.”

Thursday, October 12, 2006

Sudden... WHO?

Our local cable TV company is Cox Communications. Well, mybe I sould say "was."

They (Cox) recently divested service in my local market to an affiliate, or spin-off, or something, called Suddenlink.

We've had billboards around town announcing the change, ads on the local (cable-provided) TV stations, ads on the radio, and even in the newspaper. All are clearly designed to make me and other customers feel good about our new cable provider.

Concerning cable TV, the provider of that service seems to me to be like a commodity. As long as the prices are similar, one provider is pretty much as good as another. Of course, I live in a “small market,” so there IS no competition. But a change from one cable company to another is no big deal.

For broadband internet service, however, it’s a different matter. Before too long I’ll have to change my email address. I’m not sure yet if it’ll be “@suddenlink.COM,” or “@suddenlink.NET.” But neither of those is as easy to type as “@cox.net.”

I may not be able to keep my email “prefix” or I.D. either. A few years ago Cox changed their domain name from cox-internet.com to cox.net. You'd THINK they would just move all their customers' I.D.s over to the domain, right? OH, no! We all had to "apply" for new email addresses at "@cox.net." My old one of "jearle" was taken.

I just received an email “newsletter” yesterday warning me that I needed to back up my personal web space (currently on cox.net) onto my home PC. That tells me that soon I'll have a new domain name on my personal web site, links I post on this blog to pictures, and other pages.

I’ll need to get new business cards for my "author" business. I still have some correspondence out relating to my novel that lists my current “cox.net” email. Hopefully they will automatically forward any mail sent to that old address for a while.

But what bothers me most is the lack of information about all this. I imagine every one of their cable internet customers shares some of these concerns. I sure wish they’d tell us details about the upcoming changes.

But then, as Carol is fond of telling me, I’d have to find something else to worry about.

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Tagged for a meme!

It’s been a while since I've done one of these meme things. But this one is about books, so I’ll give it a go.

I was tagged by Zinnia Hope. She writes erotic and other fiction. And does so quite well, I might add. Although why I would want wet panties is a mystery. She must be saying that to her fans of the opposite gender, eh?

Anyway, here are the “questions:”

1) One book that changed your life:
You mean other than the Bible? Not a fair question. There have been many, many, MANY. Just about every book I read changes my life at least a little. If it didn’t, then it’s not worth the read. Sorry. I can’t name just one.

2) One book that you’d read more than once:
Another unfair question. I’ve read LOTS of books more than once. From Mark Twain (Tom Sawyer, Huck Finn, A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court) to Tom Clancy. And many, many more.

3) One book you’d want on a deserted island:
How about the Encyclopedia Britannica? Or maybe, “Primitive Boat-Building for Dummies?” (Yes, I made that up.)

4) One book that made you laugh:
Again, many. I remember laughing out loud numerous times at Joseph Heller’s “Catch 22.” Also at several of Mark Twain’s works.

5) One book that made you cry:
This’ll kill you. I always cry when I get to two parts of MY OWN NOVEL, “Cherish is the Word.” It’s personal, but I get teary over what that part of the story meant to me.

6) One book you wish you’d written:
The Lord of the Rings trilogy. That is (and will continue to be for centuries) part of our culture. For money’s sake I wish I’d created the Harry Potter series.

7) One book you wish had never been written:
How about Hitler’s “Mien Kampf?” Or “The Communist Manifesto.” The thing is; it’s not the books themselves that are evil. Rather it’s what people take from them and then try to do. Much of the Islamic world condemned Salmon Rushdie’s “Satanic Verses.” But the book isn’t bad.

8) One book you're currently reading:
I’ve recently started reading the works of Michael Connelly. The current one on my night stand (from the library) is called “Blood Work.” Great police and detective fiction.

9) One book you've been meaning to read:
Uh... Gee. Can't think of a one. When I decide I want to read a book I go to the library and either get it or reserve it (if it's not in). There's SO MUCH good stuff out there, both fiction and non-fiction.

10) Tag five people:
Okay, writers. I’ll tag Candace, Viki, Kirsten, Rob Hamel, and RobotJam. (C’mon Rob. I know you’re an artist, but you DO read, don’t you?) Also Christina! Can't leave HER out!

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

She did it again.

My critique partner, that is. She’s the one who emailed me out of the blue with a question about a literary agent I had some experience with. After several conversations she asked for a sample of the novel I was trying to sell.

She offered to go through it page by page, editing and offering suggestions. After making sure she wasn’t planning to send me an invoice for her time when she was finished, I said, “Sure!”

She was SO complimentary, and offered so many good insights on everything from individual word choices and sentence structure all the way to character development and plot that she got me excited about writing again.

Well, that book is ready to go, but I’m currently without an agent so I’ve put it aside for now. I had started a new tale; a thriller based on internet and computer technology, but had bogged down when work and other life events and interests intervened to limit my time to write. I still think it’s a good concept and story, but after the first 10k words it’s just been simmering for a number of months.

Well, Katie asked to see what I had so far, so I sent her the 45 pages or so I’d put together.

This weekend I got her email response.

I had sent her a Word attachment. She opened it, used that software’s reviewing tools, went through my work line by line adding comments, suggesting changes, fixing awkward spots, and just generally making it much better.

Then she told me how good it was, and how hooked she’d gotten, and wants me to send her the next few chapters ASAP so she can see where the tale is going.

Darn her! She’s got me excited about writing again.

I don’t know when I’m going to find the time to write, but I’ll try to do a little each day if I can and keep this thing going.

Enthusiasm and praise. What a powerful narcotic that combination can be!

Friday, October 06, 2006

Last post on this topic

...for now.

What is the number one cause of marital discord, separations and divorce?

If you said “Money,” go to the head of the class. And I see that fact regularly here in the HR office at my little plant.

I have a divorce pending because the Missus couldn’t control her spending and hid that fact pretty well from the trusting Mister. Unfortunately there are four boys from high school to elementary school age who will be staying with Dad from now on because Mom wants her freedom. Maybe she wants her freedom mostly because Dad’s bank accounts are now depleted, but I don’t know that for sure.

I have another divorce pending because the Missus is financially conservative and wants to live strictly within a budget with minimal debt, while the Mister wants to buy what he wants (on credit cards) when he wants it. Most recently his purchases have been a big-screen plasma TV, a digital camera, and a motorcycle. Things that she calls his “toys.”

And as I posted yesterday, I have 4 or 5 employees who want to hide their bonus money from their spouse so they can spend it on themselves.


(Ahem). Sorry about that little outburst.

Now that I’ve stopped beating my head against the wall, let me tell you about Carol. She does NOT like to shop. She dislikes debt and hates interest payments. She believes in saving and having a cushion for times of need. And she believes in saving up for expensive things and paying cash for them, even if it means doing without them for a few months or years.

No, she’s not a tightwad. When we decide to make a purchase, we usually don’t select an item based on price alone (unless it’s a commodity, like gasoline). We often pick a higher-priced thing based on features, or dealer service; but only if we can afford it.

We evaluate and choose. We weigh options. Sometimes we spend weeks deciding exactly what we want without regard to price, and then shop both locally and online for that item based on price including taxes and shipping.

For most of our marriage we have been a single income (mine) family. But our money is OURS, not MINE. We own all things jointly and each has full access to the accounts and assets we own.

Is our way the “right” way?

Well, for both of us it definitely is. We are like-minded.

Money will not be an issue in our marriage.

I am so blessed!

Thursday, October 05, 2006

But the BEST question...?

(I’m still on yesterday’s topic of employees’ views of our bonus plan.)

Them: Why are you just including it with our pay instead of giving us an extra check?

Me: Well, we could have done that. But by law the bonus is part of your “ordinary income” or compensation, and so it is subject to normal taxes and must be included on your W-2. So we have to process the bonus through our payroll system. And an extra check run is kind of expensive, so we’d rather save that money to pay you a bigger bonus.

Them: But I thought this was supposed to be “mad money.”

Me (intentionally playing dumb): I don’t understand. Money is money. You can use it for anything you like.

Them: Yeah, but if you separate it from our pay it’s better.

Me (knowing what's coming, but making them say it): Why?

Them: Well... (hem...haw... shuffle... look at the ground) if it’s separate my wife won’t see it and I can spend it on beer and stuff.

(Honest! That’s what several of them told me!!)

Me (struggling to keep a straight face and not explode in some combination of laughter and frustration): Okaaaaay, well, how about this. I’ll let you know in advance what your bonus amount will be. You can then use this form to have that amount direct deposited into a different checking or savings account that only you know about. Then, before our next pay period, you can change it back. She’ll never know unless you show her the pay record (like a check stub that details where the money came from and all deductions.)

Them: Dude!! That’ll work. You’re a genius!

(I actually got this request from several of the men, and believe it or not, one of the women who work here. Her excuse was, “It’s Christmas money, and my husband would just spend it if he knew we had it.” Hard to tell, but from the look in her eyes I think she had other personal plans for it herself.)

“What terrible tangled webs we weave...”

Wednesday, October 04, 2006


A magical word. Especially when it’s in reference to your paycheck or other compensation.

A bonus has both positive and negative connotations. The positive is obvious — more money in your pocket! What could possibly be negative about that? And why am I going off on this topic anyway? (Yes, I hear those questions leaping into your minds!)

Well, my company declared in July that it would pay a bonus each quarter if we accomplish certain goals. Each goal had a value attached, and if all goals were attained we would each receive 4% of our gross pay (including overtime, for those who earn it) for that quarter. Without bogging down in specifics, most of the goals were safety-related in one way or another.

That quarter has just ended. It looks like we’ll be earning 3.667% (we missed one goal for one month. Bummer!) I’m in the process of calculating the exact dollar figure for each employee so we can include it in the next regular paycheck.

Here are the questions and complaints I’m already hearing:

1. But if it’s all paid in one lump sum along with a regular paycheck, it’ll put me into a higher tax withholding bracket for that check, so I won’t get as much money.

My answer: You’re supposed to establish your withholding rate based on your actual tax status, and the withholding will be what it will be. If you think the withholding will be too high, you can change your tax status to a different bracket. Please fill in this form and turn it in. But don’t forget to change yourself BACK next week, or you’ll owe taxes at the end of the year.

2. That’s too much trouble.

My answer. I’m sorry. Here... sign the form and tell me what you want to accomplish and we’ll fill it out for you.

3. The trouble with a bonus is; it’s a one shot deal. And it won’t be factored into my earnings when I get my next “percent” raise.

My answer: You’re exactly right. But this was never intended to be a raise in your pay. It is simple an opportunity to earn some more money on a one-time basis by doing things that help save the company money. We’d rather pay it to YOU than pay for the injuries and damage of accidents. We WANT you to earn the money.

4. Okay, then just pay it to me in the form of a raise.

My answer: But what if we don’t achieve the goals? Then the company would be spending more money on accidents, but you’d still get more money too. You can’t have it both ways.

5. Why the hell not?

My answer: Look, everybody wants more money. We understand that. We’re trying hard to raise everyone’s morale by giving two raises this year PLUS the performance bonus. But the bonus has to be conditioned on attaining our goals and thus saving the company the money.

6. Well, MY morale would be higher if you just gave me a bigger raise and kept your bonus.

My answer: But we’re giving both. What could be wrong with that?

7. In fact, MY morale would be higher if we had a pension plan and retiree heath coverage. When you gonna put THOSE in? And what’s more, I think you oughtta offer more flex time. And that’s not all...

My answer: Excuse me, please; I have a meeting I have to attend.

Monday, October 02, 2006


Did you ever hear a song and think, “Huh?” As in, “What the heck does THAT mean?”

I was driving to work this morning listening to an oldies station. “Draggin’ the Line” came on. I knew the song. I’d heard it many times. It has a steady beat that’s catchy, and good harmony in the chorus. But I never paid any attention to the words.

Makin' a living the old hard way
Takin' and giving by day by day
I dig snow and rain and bright sunshine
Draggin' the line (draggin' the line)

My dog Sam eats purple flowers
We ain't got much but what we got's ours
We dig snow and rain and bright sunshine
Draggin' the line (draggin' the line)
Draggin' the line (draggin' the line)

I feel fine
I'm talkin' bout peace of mind
I'm gonna take my time
I'm gettin' the good sign
Draggin' the line (draggin' the line)
Draggin' the line (draggin' the line)

Loving the free and feelin' spirit
Of huggin' a tree when you get near it
Diggin' the snow and rain and bright sunshine
Draggin' the line (draggin' the line)

I feel fine
I'm talkin' bout peace of mind
I'm gonna take my time
I'm gettin' the good sign
Draggin' the line (draggin' the line)
Draggin' the line (draggin' the line)
Draggin' the line (draggin' the line)...

Just what is that song saying? Was the song writer high on something and just felt peace and love and jotted down these lyrics? “My dog Sam eats purple flowers...”

Okay. So?

And what is “Draggin’ the line” all about? What line? Or, a line of what? Is it all about drugs?

Then I started thinking about other songs that were big hits in the 60s and 70s despite the fact that the words seemed to be nonsense or were completely incomprehensible.

I remember clearly all the hoopla about the “real” words to “Louie, Louie,” and whether or not they were pornographic. How about “Wooly Bully?” Remember “Iko Iko” sung by the Dixie Cups? Read this story and their lyrics.

I guess all of those songs had one thing in common: a strong, foot-tapping beat. Maybe that’s all it takes sometimes to make a hit.

Can you come up with some more examples? There must be hundreds.