Friday, November 12, 2010

Attitude

The quote below is attributed to Charles Swindoll. It's well known; likely you've seen it before.

“The longer I live, the more I realize the impact of attitude on life. Attitude, to me, is more important than facts. It is more important than the past, than education, than money, than circumstances, than failure, than successes, than what other people think or say or do. It is more important than appearance, giftedness or skill. It will make or break a company... a church... a home. The remarkable thing is we have a choice everyday regarding the attitude we will embrace for that day. We cannot change our past. We cannot change the fact that people will act in a certain way. We cannot change the inevitable. The only thing we can do is play on the one string we have, and that is our attitude. I am convinced that life is 10% what happens to me and 90% of how I react to it. And so it is with you... we are in charge of our attitudes."

While I think all of it is true and worthwhile, I particulary like the last two sentences.

It seems that today most people would reverse those percentages, believing from their heart that life is controlled 90% (or even 100%) by external, outside factors. Their life is, to them, all about what happens TO them; what others do TO them; bad luck; bad karma; bad genes. It's not their fault, and it's all beyond their control.

Well, maybe so. We all know that "stuff" happens. Life throws us all kinds of curves.

Often I see others get angry and rail at God, or fate, or institutions, or just other people. Sometimes, it's tempting to join them. When I do join them, I usually wonder later what my problem was.

I guess an example of my philosophy is demonstrated in the posts just below, about the railroad crossing. At the time I was delayed, I was angry. But I asked myself how I should best respond or react to the frustration, and was soon able to put things in perspective. Sure, I wasted 35 minutes of time and was late for work. So what!? Hardly worth getting sour about. Besides, I had a chance to offer the railroad some suggestions which might make the situation better in the future.

'nuff said. As Mr. Swindoll writes, "WE are in charge of our attitudes." That means you can change yours!

Might make your life better. Think about it.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

End of the story -- maybe.

(See the prior two posts for the first emails.)

One week later . . .


Ivan,

A quick follow-up: Yesterday afternoon I approached Bloomington from the south (commuting home this time) to see the gates coming down. A train slowly moved across the highway, again from east to west, and stopped after only about a dozen railcars had passed the highway. I had a strong sense of déjà-vu.

However, THIS time the train was only stopped for 3-4 minutes before it began backing up (ONE song on the radio). It cleared the intersection promptly and traffic moved on.

The contrast was stark. This was to me the way it ought to happen (IF the railroad has no choice but to switch cars across a highway intersection, a practice I would hope UP would try to avoid if it could). Now granted, this was almost certainly a MUCH shorter train. But the length of time elapsed while it was stopped also seemed appropriate and prudent.

I don’t intend to re-open a dialogue that I think is completed — just to let you know that RR crossing delays of moderate duration are expected and at worst usually only a source of mild irritation. Also there was MUCH less traffic at 3:45 pm than during the morning commute.

Thanks again for “listening.”

John Earle



Mr. Earle,

The size of the train absolutely plays a role, as do the different crews. Our employees must have a detailed "job briefing" on the moves to be made to ensure a safe operation. When you are dealing with a smaller train or cut of cars, it reduces the complexity of the moves and thus the job briefing required (how many tracks will the cars go into, how many switches will be lined, how long will the move take, etc.). I hope this helps...

Ivan Jaime


Okay.

I guess.

I don't plan to write him again.

I DID copy those phone numbers he provided (including his direct line!) into my cell phone contacts.

I'm disappointed that he never addressed my question about why the train couldn't move completely through (past) the intersection and THEN stop for 12 minutes to conduct their briefing, allowing road traffic to proceed.

Or my seemingly obvious but unwritten question: Why wait until the train is stopped across a highway and blocking all morning commute and school traffic, and THEN conduct your briefing? Why not stop the train short of the intersection, brief everybody, then pull forward, stop, and immediately reverse?

Unfortunately the answer is probably this: The railroad's priorities have nothing to do with traffic flow, and everything to do with moving their freight safely. This is not wrong, per se, but it seems to me that there are ways to accomplish their objectives while "operations managers try to handle their business with as limited an impact on the community as possible."

If anyone reading this knows someone who works for a railroad and would like to correct my misconceptions, please feel free to weigh in. Absent that, I'm left with the impression that Union Pacific really doesn't care as much about their "impact on the community" as they would like us to believe.

Am I being unfair?

Friday, October 22, 2010

The rest of the exchange

(See the prior post for the lead-in letter.)

Hello Mr. Earle,

First, let me apologize for your experience last Thursday and for your thoughtful email below. I will look into the matter and ask my counterpart in Houston to contact you soon to discuss the issue further. I will not attempt to answer each of your questions, until we learn exactly what happened that day. In short, there are many scenarios which may have played out. It does in fact take a decent amount of time to stop a train, line a switch, and get it moving again. Moreover, only Signal employees or police officers may lift a gate to allow vehicular traffic to proceed.

We will get back with you soon. Please let me know if I can be of further assistance in the mean time. Thank you.

Ivan Jaime



Mr. Jaime,

Thanks for the prompt response.

I have wondered in the past if it was legal for railroad employees to hold up the gates, although perhaps they were “Signal” employees. It seems to me that the potential liability could be huge if a mistake were made. Next time gates appear stuck perhaps motorists should call the closest law enforcement office. But in this case that would have been the Victoria County Sheriff’s office, at least 20 minutes away and not a good solution.

I suppose my only remaining question involves the need to move so much of a train so slowly across a highway intersection and then, after a 12-minute stoppage, back it up even more slowly until it clears. The only answer that presents itself to me is, assuming a switch was being lined up, that the location of the switch was so close to the intersection that the train had to proceed that far to clear the switch. If that is the case, likely relocating the switch is not feasible and there is no good solution for this occasional problem. Or, just a thought here, perhaps during prime commuting time the entire train could be moved through the intersection and then stopped for 12 minutes while traffic flowed. Then the train could back up across the intersection and through the lined-up switch and again clear the intersection. Maybe? But perhaps there was other rail traffic invisible to me that prevented this solution as well.

And it’s also likely that UP doesn’t have the option of scheduling these road closures at some time other than prime commute time. If it did, the middle of the night would seem ideal. But obviously you can’t schedule all your switching activities at night. So I suppose the situation is not the result of inattention or lack of caring by UP at all.

It really isn’t necessary to provide me with a more detailed explanation of the events of that day. I feel better for having vented to you.

Thanks again for listening/reading.

John Earle




Mr. Earle,

It is interesting that you nailed pretty much what happened. After digging a bit deeper, it appears that there was a long train moving from Houston to the border that had to "set-out" half of its rail cars at the Bloomington Yard. After moving past the switch, the crew had to line the switch and have a proper job briefing of the move to be made. They then made the move back into the yard, at which time the gates got stuck. We don't expect this to happen very frequently, and rest assured that our operations managers try to handle their business with as limited an impact on the community as possible.

I'd like to leave you with a few telephone numbers just in case. You may feel free to dial (800) 848.8715 to report malfunctioning gate signals, blocked crossings, or any other situation that you may encounter with the railroad. If you have an immediate emergency, you may instead dial (888) 877.7267, which will connect you to our emergency command center. Finally, you can always call me if you need to vent or if you have any general questions. My contact information is below.

Again, thank you for your patience and understanding. Have a great week.

Ivan Jaime


You'll notice he didn't address a few of my suggestions. There was a bit more follow up from this week. I'll share that tomorrow.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

When I think it might help . . .

I write letters (or emails). Here's a recent exchange that ought to be self-explanatory. Mr. Jaime is a public relations official with Union Pacific Railroad.



Mr. Jaime,

I found your contact information on a “UP in Texas” web site. I’ll try to make this concise.

In Bloomington (Victoria County), TX, an active (busy) UP line crosses Highway 185, a likewise busy commuting route on early morning and early evening weekdays—a route I commute on. I’d like to describe my experience Tuesday morning 10/13. Unfortunately it wasn’t as rare as I would wish.

Then I’d like to ask a few questions.

I drove into Bloomington from Victoria, and pulled to a stop at the end of a 4-block-long line of traffic stopped for the railroad crossing. I could see the crossing arms down and lights flashing, and made out a dim outline of tank cars proceeding slowly from east to west. Time: 6:21 AM in pre-dawn darkness.

This happens at least once every week or two, so . . . no big deal. I allow an extra 15-20 minutes (from experience) to avoid being late for work.

The train slowed, and at 6:25 it stopped completely, blocking the road.

Now count off 12 minutes. Visualize the line of commuters behind me growing longer and longer. Horns begin to blow. Cars begin to bail out left and right onto side streets seeking an open route around the stopped train. Frustration mounts as no one is sure if the train will move again, much less when.

At 6:37 the railcars begin inching the other direction (from west to east). The train is backing up! Well, at least it was moving. For 6 minutes the tank cars crept across the road. It was now light enough to see them clearly. Eventually, the locomotives also passed. Time was now 6:43 AM.

Trucks and cars began to inch forward in anticipation of the gates going up. Then all stopped. The gates stayed down. Minutes passed. MORE minutes passed!

As you can imagine, cars began driving around the stuck crossing arms. I saw a number of near-miss collisions as other commuters, desperate to get to their jobs, broke the law. Exacerbating the problem were school busses and tank trucks that would not cross the tracks while the lights flashed (as they shouldn’t, but of course, neither should the rest of us!)

When my turn came, I too broke the law and crossed the tracks. Time: 6:51 AM. No train was in sight other than the one that had blocked the road for so long; it was about a half-mile away. In the now-clear daylight I could see no UP employees nearby and wondered if anyone knew the gates were stuck. I called the number for Union Pacific, Bloomington. A man answered, “Union Pacific.” I said (in a not very kind tone, I’ll admit), “Do you guys know your crossing gates are stuck down?”

He replied calmly, “Yeah. It’s been turned in and we’re waiting for responders.” I disconnected before I said something ugly. His tone said clearly to me, “. . .and I don’t care!”

Thirty minutes doesn’t sound long, but it seemed an eternity. Yes, I was late for work.

That tale describes my frustration. Now that I’ve cooled off I’d like to ask a few questions. I debated putting these in a letter to the editor of the Victoria paper, but decided the more mature course would be to ask you.

First, to satisfy my curiosity (since it happens with some regularity), what is going on when 60 railcars of a train cross an intersection, the train stops, and nothing moves for over 10 minutes? Does it take that long to throw a switch so the train can back up and add or remove cars? Is there a crew change, and if so, does it take that long? With miles of switchyard just east of Bloomington, is it really necessary to block this intersection while switching cars?

I admit, I’m ignorant of the workings of your business. Likely valid reasons exist for these practices. Unfortunately, most members of the general commuting public are also ignorant and, like me, assume in their ignorance that the railroad doesn’t care if traffic and lives are disrupted, and simply blocks intersections needlessly because it can.

Next question: Was that employee all alone when I called? I’ve seen railroad employees in the past (at Bloomington) who would hold open a crossing gate arm when no train was present or would be moving for a while, to allow highway traffic to proceed across the tracks. If Mr. “we’re waiting for responders” had another employee or two around, he could have done wonders for UP’s public image by having one or two of those employees visibly help traffic move.

I understand the inherent danger of proximity to moving objects weighing a quarter of a million pounds each, and thus the need to be very careful and deliberate. Still, in my ignorance of railroad practices, policies and procedures, it just doesn’t seem like what I witnessed yesterday should happen.

Please help me to understand.


John Earle


(For my next post, I'll publish his response. And then the rest of the correspondence.)

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Was it hot where you are?


At about 3:00 pm. Yes, in the shade.
As the song says, "Too hot to fish, too hot for golf..."

Wednesday, August 04, 2010

A REAL Blast from the Past

(If you've never seen this, or, like me, have forgotton most of it, prepare to snort your beverage through your nose!)

56 B.C. AND ALL THAT

RICHARD LEDERER

It is truly astounding what havoc students can wreak upon the chronicles of the human race. I have pasted together the following history of the world from genuine student bloopers collected by teachers throughout the United States from eighth grade through college level. Read carefully, and you will learn a lot. RL


Ancient Egypt was inhabited by mummies, and they all wrote in hydraulics. They lived in the Sarah Dessert and traveled by Camelot. The climate of the Sarah is such that the inhabitants have to live elsewhere, so certain areas of the dessert are cultivated by irritation. Early Egyptian women often wore a garment called a calasiris. It was a sheer dress which started beneath the breasts which hung to the floor.

The pyramids are a range of mountains between France and Spain. The Egyptians built the pyramids in the shape of a huge triangular cube.
The Bible is full of interesting caricatures. In the first book of the Bible, Guinessis, Adam and Eve were created from an apple tree. One of their children, Cain, asked, “Am I my brother's son?"

God asked Abraham to sacrifice Isaac on Mount Montezuma. Jacob, son of Isaac, stole his brother's birthmark. Jacob was a patriarch who brought up his 12 sons to be patriarchs, but they did not take to it. One of Jacob's sons, Joseph, gave refuse to the Israelites.

Moses led the Hebrew slaves to the Red Sea, where they made unleavened bread, which is bread made without any ingredients. Afterwards, Moses went up on Mount Cyanide to get the ten commandments. He died before he ever reached Canada.

David was a Hebrew king skilled at playing the liar. He fought with the Finkelsteins, a race of people who lived in Biblical times. Solomon, one of David’s sons, had three hundred wives and seven hundred porcupines
.
Later came Job, who had one trouble after another. Eventually, he lost all his cattle and all his children and had to go live alone with his wife in the desert.

The Greeks were a highly sculptured people, and without them we wouldn’t have history. The Greeks also had myths. A myth is a female moth.

One myth says that the mother of Achilles dipped him in the River Stynx until he became intollerable. Achilles appears in The Iliad, by Homer. Homer also wrote The Oddity, in which Penelope was the last hardship that Ulysses endured on his journey. Actually, Homer was not written by Homer but by another man of that name.
Socrates was a famous Greek teacher who went around giving people advice. They killed him. Socrates died from an overdose of wedlock. After his death, his career suffered a dramatic decline.

In the Olympian Games, Greeks ran races, jumped, hurled the biscuits, and threw the java. The reward to the victor was a coral wreath.

Eventually, the Romans conquered the Greeks. History calls people Roman because they never stayed in one place for very long.

Julius Caesar extinguished himself on the battlefields of Gaul. The Ides of March murdered him because they thought he was going to be made king. Dying, he gasped out: “Tee hee, Brutus.”
Nero was a cruel tyranny who would torture his poor subjects by playing the fiddle to them.
Rome came to have too many luxuries and baths. At Roman banquets, the guests wore garlics in their hair. They took two baths in two days, and that’s the cause of the fall of Rome. Rome was invaded by ball bearings, and is full of fallen arches today.

Then came the Middle Ages, when everyone was middle aged. King Alfred conquered the Dames. King Arthur lived in the Age of Shivery with brave knights on prancing horses and beautiful women. King Harold mustarded his troops before the Battle of Hastings. Joan of Arc was burnt to a steak and was cannonized by Bernard Shaw. And victims of the bluebonnet plague grew boobs on their necks. Finally, Magna Carta provided that no free man should be hanged twice for the same offense.
In midevil times most people were alliterate. The greatest writer of the futile ages was Chaucer, who wrote many poems and verses and also wrote literature. During this time, people put on morality plays about ghosts, goblins, virgins, end other mythical creatures. Another story was about William Tell, who shot an arrow through an apple while standing on his son's head.

The Renaissance was an age in which more individuals felt the value of their human being. Martin Luther was nailed to the church door at Wittenberg for selling papal indulgences. He died a horrible death, being excommunicated by a bull. It was the painter Donatello's interest in the female nude that made him the father of the Renaissance.

The government of England was a limited mockery. From the womb of Henry VIII Protestantism was born. He found walking difficult because he had an abbess on his knee.
Queen Elizabeth was the “Virgin Queen." As a queen she was a success. When Elizabeth exposed herself before her troops, they all shouted “hurrah.” Then her navy went out and defeated the Spanish Armadillo.

It was an age of great inventions and discoveries. Gutenberg invented removeable type and the Bible. Another important invention was the circulation of blood. Sir Walter Raleigh is a historical figure because he invented cigarettes and started smoking. And Sir Francis Drake circumcised the world with a 100 foot clipper.
The greatest writer of the Renaissance was William Shakespeare. Shakespeare was born in the year 1564, supposedly on his birthday. He never made much money and is famous only because of his plays. He wrote tragedies, comedies, and hysterectomies, all in Islamic pentameter.
In one of Shakespeare's famous plays, Hamlet rations out his situation by relieving himself in a long soliloquy. His mind is filled with the filth of incestuous sheets which he pours over every time he sees his mother. In another play, Lady Macbeth tries to convince Macbeth to kill the King by attacking his manhood. The clown in As You Like It is named Touchdown, and Romeo and Juliet are an example of a heroic couplet. Romeo's last wish was to be laid by Juliet.

Writing at the same time as Shakespeare was Miguel Cervantes. He wrote Donkey Hote. The next great author was John Milton. Milton wrote Paradise Lost. Then his wife died and he wrote Paradise Regained.

During the Renaissance America began. Christopher Columbus was a great navigator who discovered America while cursing about the Atlantic. His ships were called the Nina, the Pinta, and the Santa Fe.

Later, the Pilgrims crossed the ocean, and this was called Pilgrim's Progress. The winter of 1620 was a hard one for the settlers. Many people died and many babies were born. Captain John Smith was responsible for all this.

One of the causes of the Revolutionary War was the English put tacks in their tea. Also, the colonists would send their parcels through the post without stamps. During the War, the Red Coats and Paul Revere was throwing balls over stone walls. The dogs were barking and the peacocks crowing. Finally, the colonists won the War and no longer had to pay for taxis.
Delegates from the original 13 states formed the Contented Congress. Thomas Jefferson, a Virgin, and Benjamin Franklin were two singers of the Declaration of Independence. Franklin invented electricity by rubbing two cats backwards and declared, “A horse divided against itself cannot stand." Franklin died in 1790 and is still dead.

George Washington married Martha Curtis and in due time became the Father of Our Country. His farewell address was Mount Vernon.

Soon the Constitution of the United States was adopted to secure domestic hostility. Under the Constitution the people enjoyed the right to keep bare arms.
Abraham Lincoln became America's greatest Precedent. Lincoln's mother died in infancy, and he was born in a log cabin which he built with his own hands. Lincoln said, "In onion then is strength."

Abraham Lincoln wrote the Gettysburg Address while traveling from Washington to Gettysburg on the back of an envelope. He also freed the slaves by signing the Emasculation Proclamation.
On the night of April 14, 1865, Lincoln went to the theater and got shot in his seat by one of the actors in a moving picture show. The believed assinator was John Wilkes Booth, a supposingly insane actor. This ruined Booth's career.
Meanwhile in Europe, the enlight¬enment was a reasonable time. Voltaire invented electricity and also wrote a book called Candy. Gravity was invented by Isaac Walton. It is chiefly noticeable in the autumn, when the apples are falling off the trees.
Johann Bach wrote a great many musical compositions and had a large number of children. In between, he practiced on an old spinster which he kept up in his attic. Bach died from 1750 to the present.

Bach was the most famous composer in the world, and so was Handel. Handel was half German, half Italian, and half English. He was very large.

Beethoven wrote music even though he was deaf. He was so deaf he wrote loud music. He took long walks in the forest even when everyone was calling for him. Beethoven expired in 1827 and later died for this.

France was in a very serious state. The French Revolution was accomplished before it happened and catapulted into Napoleon. During the Napoleonic Wars, the crowned heads of Europe were trembling in their shoes. Then the Spanish gorillas came down from the hills and nipped at Napoleon's flanks. Napoleon wanted an heir to inherit his power, but since Josephine was a baroness, she couldn’t have any children.
The sun never set on the British Empire because the British Empire is in the East and the sun sets in the West. Queen Victoria was the longest queen. She sat on a thorn for 63 years. She was a moral woman who practiced virtue. Her death was the final event which ended her reign.

The nineteenth century was a time of a great many thoughts and inventions. People stopped reproducing by hand and started reproducing by machine. The invention of the steamboat caused a network of rivers to spring up. Cyrus McCormick invented the McCormick raper, which did the work of a hundred men. Louis Pasteur discovered a cure for rabbis. Charles Darwin was a naturalist who wrote the Organ of the Species. Madman Curie discovered radio. And Karl Marx became one of the Marx brothers.

The First World War, caused by the assignation of the Arch-Duck by an anahist, ushered in a new error in the anals of human history.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Speaking of bad puns . . .

(See post below. Hey, I DID mention puns!)

(And yes, I realize that "bad puns" is redundant.)

You know how sometimes you are presented with an opportunity you just can't resist? Even thought you KNOW you'll regret it later?

Well . . .

Last week at work I attended a safety meeting (I know . . . BOOOORRR -- ing), the topic of which is immaterial. I was drifting in and out of paying attention, when Mark (the presenter) made an analogy. His point was that if you get used to seeing the same thing over and over and over again in constant repetition, pretty soon you just stop seeing the "thing" and focus on the repetition.

He said, "For example, if you're looking at rows and rows of numbers that are all 3s, eventually if a couple of 4s are included your eyes will pass right over them, right?"

My sad excuse for a brain figuratively went "click."

I blurted out, "You mean you can't see the fours for the threes?"

After a brief puzzled pause, the room cleared as people ran for the rest rooms to vomit.

(Read the sentence aloud, slowly, making "fours" a two-syllable word.)

(Sorry!)

Totally Inappropriate. And yet . . .

I'm referring to the Fathers Day card sent to me by my younger daughter.

You know, the daughter I've written about before with whom I compete to see which of us can send the other the birthday (or other-day) greeting card with the worst pun, the worst somehow fitting double entendre, etc.

Usually we just try to "out-clever" each other. The thrill is in the search for a card that somehow seems to make a however-vague reference to some foible in our lives.

The one I just received from her reads on the inside, simply, "Happy Fathers Day."

Ah, but it's the FRONT of the card that prompted the title of this post.

That I just HAVE to share:


As I said: TOTALLY inappropriate.

(You win this round, daughter.)

Sunday, June 06, 2010

O – KAY already!

I know; I brought it on myself. I was commenting on a Facebook entry and mentioned the dreaded “C” word.

But gee, did it have to strike so fast and so hard?

First strike was against my commute-to-work car. It has only 25k miles on it and came with new Michelins so there’s no appreciable tread wear. I evidently drove over something that sliced into the sidewall near the tread and suffered a flat.

No big deal, right? Right. In fact, while I was changing the tire in the shade of a handy overpass, two guys from my plant on their way home saw me, pulled over, TOOK over the job, and changed my tire for me. The tire dealer adjusted the price of the new tire for the almost new tread depth on the bad one, and I was on my way.

Next strike was my three-year-old, expensive but just out of warranty, Kitchen-Aid dishwasher. I was able to fix that myself (I’ll spare you the details) at minimal expense and with just one minor cut on a finger, but getting it out and then back in took the better part of my Saturday.

Then there was the blowout on our camper-trailer. That one cost me a LOT of sweat, plus three new tires; two on the axle and a new spare. Yeah, I know, I needed them anyway, but the timing could have been better!

Then yesterday afternoon my high-dollar, commercial quality, Echo weed trimmer just quit working. Right in the middle of trimming the lawn. No, it WASN’T out of gas! I think it was a fouled spark plug. I cleaned the plug, the air filter and the exhaust port (muffler), and now it’s running fine.

Finally (I HOPE!) last night my computer hard drive stared running continuously and all processes slowed to a crawl. Checked everything I knew to check, including rebooting, anti-virus scanning (no), downloading updates (no), other internet activity (no, disconnected from router to be sure), and just turned it off. Today it SEEMS okay, but I’m suspicious!

SO, BE WARNED!! Be on guard. Hopefully it’s just me, but don’t count on it! Last night my daughter in Tampa had a rock thrown through the window of her car right in front of her house. Nothing stolen, just vandalism. But the cost of replacing the window will hurt.

Remember, the ycaripsnoc can (and WILL) strike at any time.

Oh no, there goes my hard drive again—

Wednesday, June 02, 2010

The missing keys

If you follow me on Facebook, you saw my very brief tale of changing a blown-out trailer tire on the shoulder of a major highway with traffic whooshing past at 70. But I didn’t tell about the keys.

The blown tire was on our camper-trailer. I keep a hydraulic bottle jack in a small front compartment of the trailer, accessible through a locked hatch. After struggling in the blazing sun for nearly an hour to get the tire safely changed, we secured everything, put away the tools and the jack, and made the trailer ready to resume the trip home.

The spare had been a little low on air, so I drove slowly down the shoulder for about 2 miles to the nearest gas station/convenience store. I aired the tire while Carol went inside to buy us LARGE cold drinks. I had sweated away at least a quart of body fluid and was shaky with exertion and dehydration.

We rested there for a few minutes standing in the gas station parking area while I gulped the icy liquid. Carol then asked, “Where are the camper keys you used to lock the hatch when you put the jack away?”

I gave her my best blank look, patted my pockets, glanced around at the front of the trailer tongue area, and shrugged.

“Well, where did you put them?” I told her I didn’t know. I remembered securing the jack and locking the hatch, and then I . . . what? Did I put them in my pocket? Not there now! Did I set them down on the trailer tongue? Not there now! Did I toss them into the open tool box I had been using?

We opened the back of the SUV and rummaged through the tool box.

No keys.

I struggled to think back, but there was just no memory of the keys after locking that little hatch. We decided I must have laid them on the trailer tongue and left them there. Surely they fell off while we crept down the shoulder looking for an air hose for the tire.

I was ready to write them off and drive home. We had others (duplicates), and I could get more made. But no; we had to go back and look for them!

We pulled the trailer out of the gas station and back onto the opposite side of this 4-lane divided highway. I located a crossover beyond the point of our blowout, waited for traffic to clear, and retraced our path to the spot of changing the tire. There I stopped and Carol got out and searched.

No keys.

Well, maybe they fell off the tongue between here and the gas station! We crept along the shoulder of the road scanning for this small ring of about 5 keys with a blue plastic/rubber rectangular tag or grip attached, while traffic kept roaring past. It should have been obvious if it had been there. No luck.

I was sure the keys would have landed and stayed right where they fell, since I had been driving so slowly with the soft tire. They couldn’t possibly have “bounced” into the weeds!

Back at the gas station we parked again, got out and scrutinized the area where I had turned in. Nothing.

I gave Carol a look of resignation and said, “They’re gone. It’s my fault. Let’s just go home and I’ll get more copies made.”

She nodded but stood there, hands in her shorts pockets, as if thinking. A strange look came over her face.

She jerked out her right hand holding the key ring! It had evidently been in her pocket all along.

We laughed and laughed and laughed.

I KNOW I locked that little hatch, but I have NO MEMORY of handing her the keys. She has NO MEMORY of taking them from me, or picking them up, or putting them in her pocket. She also says she checked her pockets several times after we discovered the keys were missing.

We decided we are both senile.

Or idiots.

Or both!

Saturday, May 22, 2010

Remember the Elvis song, "Return to Sender?"

(Earworm alert!)

From the fifties. Here are the lyrics — see if you remember the tune:


I gave a letter to the postman,
he put it his sack.
Bright in early next morning,
he brought my letter back.

She wrote upon it:
Return to sender, address unknown.
No such number, no such zone.
We had a quarrel, a lover's spat
I write I'm sorry but my letter keeps coming back.

So then I dropped it in the mailbox
And sent it special D.
Bright in early next morning
it came right back to me.

She wrote upon it:
Return to sender, address unknown.
No such number, no such zone.

This time I'm gonna take it myself
and put it right in her hand.
And if it comes back the very next day
then I'll understand

The writing on it:
Return to sender, address unknown.
No such person, no such zone.



Ah, yes. A golden oldie!

Well, somehow that song got into an endless loop going round and round in my head. Then I wondered if I could change the lyrics, but keep them similar enough that the original melody would still work and remind the "hearer" of Elvis' song.

Here's what I came up with. This is for all the ladies out there struggling to lose pounds. And don't be offended; it's a parody!


The Anorexic’s Boyfriend’s Lament
(With apologies to Elvis)

I got a picture from my girl friend,
Her dress looked like a sack!
She was as skinny as a rail bird
So I sent her picture back.

I wrote upon it:
Return, too slender! Dress size unknown!
You got no figure, no meat on those bones.
I like ‘em healthy, plus-sized and stacked!
She was always skinny but she thought that she looked fat.

She wrote to tell me she was sorry,
She’d lost the weight for me.
She even sent another picture,
But I sent it back, special D.

I wrote upon it:
Return, too slender! Dress size unknown!
You got no figure, no meat on those bones.

Next time I’m gonna pick one myself
And tell her ‘fore I ask for her hand
That if I find out she wants to get thin,
She’d better understand;

I’m gonna say:
Return, too slender! Dress size unknown.
No girlish figure, no meat on those bones!

Ah, return, too slender.
Return, too slender.
Return, too slender.

Monday, April 12, 2010

My grandson. A prodigy?

Probably both(?) of you who read this blog already saw my daughter Joy’s Facebook post about this, but lemme tell you what her son (my grandson) did this weekend.

His dad, Johnny, was browsing around eBay looking at ultra lights, powered parachutes, and the like. He then walked away from the computer.

Joy noticed her son a bit later “messing” with the computer. She asked him, “Trevor, what are you doing?”

No response. She ignored him for a few minutes, and then became curious.

Now remember . . . he’s only 4 (almost 5).

She checked the screen, and just about croaked! Actually, according to her Facebook post she “shit a brick.” (I’ve never had that experience, but it sounds painful.)

She saw that the current high bid for the powered parachute on the screen was her husband’s! Knowing that he hadn’t actually intended to buy anything (especially in the $6,000 - $7,000 range) she suspected Trevor. She checked “her husband’s” maximum bid.

Are you ready?

$600,010.00!! That’s when the brick episode occurred. Trevor had not only entered that amount as their maximum bid, he had confirmed it!

After some frantic maneuvering, she was able to contact the seller and arrange to retract their bid, restoring that particular auction to normalcy. So, all ended well.

But here’s the funniest part: She had exclaimed to her husband, "Trevor just bid SIX HUNDRED THOUSAND DOLLARS ON EBAY!"

Trevor spoke up. “No, Mommy. It was six hundred thousand . . . and TEN.”

C’mon, Mom. Get it right, willya?

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Insanity?

I ran across a famous quote today. I have used it myself, occasionally.

It is often attributed to Einstein, and goes like this: “Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result.”

I’ve had observers apply that quote to my golf swing. I’ll think I’m changing a key aspect (grip, stance, angle, etc.) but they tell me they can’t see any change, and sure enough the ball keeps curving sideways. Time after time after time.

But today I had a different take on the saying. I saw it in a work-related article about the new health care bill, but the context isn’t germane. I just chuckled at it and went on.

Not long afterward I overheard co-workers complaining about a software application which seemed to display images differently each time they were opened.

That’s when it occurred to me – Einstein died in 1955 and never had the opportunity to deal with a Windows computer! He would have realized that there are some cases in which doing the same thing time after time DOES produce different results!

Thus he would have changed his definition of insanity. Something like this: “Insanity lies in expecting ANY two Windows computers to produce identical results after identical input.”

Right?

(All you Mac users know what I’m talking about.)

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

I get letters . . . and emails . . .

I’m an HR manager. People want jobs. It’s logical that they’ll contact me, right?

Well, of course! Part of my job when we have openings is to fill those vacancies with qualified applicants. I do that through a process called screening.

This screening is predicated on the assumption that there are more applicants than positions. And in my long career I’ve NEVER had fewer applicants than openings. Thus I have to assess each applicant to determine the best, most qualified one(s) for the job(s) I have.

Screening begins at first contact, which most often is in writing. A letter. An application form. Or today, maybe an email.

If you’re looking for a job and contact me in writing, wouldn’t you try to make a positive first impression? Of course you would! But then, maybe you’re different from a lot of people.

Here’s an email that came to my address yesterday. I’ve changed nothing except the name and email address. I didn’t even have to change the phone number (you’ll see why).

__________________________________________
From: Mark Smith [mailto:marksmith3@yahoo.com]
Sent: Tuesday, March 23, 2010 10:10 AM
To: Earle, John
Subject:

hello my name is mark smith i was looking to see if there was anyway that i can get a chance to be able to work at the plant, i just turned 18 and i really do need a job. if you need any info message me or call my number is 956-209865 think you and have a nice day.
__________________________________________

Now, each year I go to our local high school and present to seniors something I call “Getting the Job.” I talk about the screening process, how it all really works, what hiring companies are really looking for, and what they do and DON’T care about.

I explain why we HR meanies screen OUT applicants before we even see them or know whether or not they’re qualified. (Because we don’t have TIME to interview 30-50 applicants to fill one job!) Is that FAIR? Probably not! But it’s how the system works.

Knowing we only want to actually interview about 5 people out of the 30-50 applicants, we screen out based on spelling, grammar, and content in the person’s writing. Is that a valid predictor of future job performance? Again, probably not! But it’s all we’ve got, initially.

No, I won’t be calling poor Mr. Smith above. I can’t—he left a digit out of his phone number. I could (and I might) reply to his email. If I do, I’ll try to gently suggest that in future contacts with ANY prospective employer he be a little less . . . uh . . . casual. In fact, I’ll give him an example of a properly written and formatted employment query.

Heck, I do it for the local high school seniors! Why not him, too?

Think you.

Monday, March 22, 2010

Not AGAIN!?!

Our house is 38 years old, and we’ve lived in it for 24. Last October we replaced the two original wooden overhead garage doors with sparkling new steel-and-foam-sandwich insulated doors (can you say, “Energy Tax Credit?”).

I mean, we replaced everything; doors, electric openers, guide rails, rollers, remotes. . . THE WORKS!

And they are NICE! Whisper-quiet opening system (belt drive), and good, strong solid doors that almost glide up and down the rails. Expensive, yes; but I expected them to last as long as I own the house.

Did you catch the use of the past tense in that last sentence? Not a typo.

A few mornings ago while I was at work, Carol pushed the “open” button on the wall, and “her” door went up. Er . . . It started to go up! After about two feet of travel she heard a noise and the door stopped. She didn’t see anything wrong, so pushed the button again thinking that the door would reverse and go back down. But no, it started UP again(??). Accompanied by a cacophony of pops, cracks and groans, the door struggled to the top of its travel and stopped, but two of the four panels had buckled and sagged in the middle over her car.

She called me at work. I advised her to get her car out (quickly!), but not to touch the button, or her remote. I then called the company that had installed the doors and described what Carol told me. They sent a repair technician immediately.

He examined everything and left, scratching his head. He told us we’d hear from his boss.

The boss called later. “Can’t possibly be a defect in the doors or opening system. Never seen anything like it in 25 years in the business, but definitely not a warranty case. I’ll sell you a new door for $625.”

I asked, “So what damaged the door!? It was fine the day before. It lowered just fine the night before it failed.”

Answer: “Had to be something hit it from the outside when it was down, damaging the panels.”

Oka-a-a-ay.

I called the police to report apparent vandalism. (Not that the police could DO anything about it, but in case there were other reports of this kind of vandalism in our neighborhood, they needed to know.) An officer came and looked over the situation. His assessment: “No marks or scratches on the outside of the door. No broken glass or other indications. You heard no noises during the night, right? Nope, no other reports of problems around here. Definitely not vandalism. Probably the door jammed going up and buckled.”

Gee, if it wasn’t the door . . . and it wasn’t damage from somebody, then . . . ??

I KNOW!! IT HAD TO BE THE . . . oops (shhh) ycaripsnoc!!

Anyway, you know what THAT means! Plumbing will start leaking, electrical appliances will start failing, your home may develop strange cracks in the walls, and your car will start making noises and having mechanical problems.

Likely your computer will freeze, your hard drive will fry, and your modem will stop modem-ing.

Be warned! Be alert! And be afraid!

Sunday, March 07, 2010

Military Wisdom

"If the enemy is in range, so are you." — Infantry Journal

"It is generally inadvisable to eject directly over the area you just bombed." — US Air Force Manual

"Whoever said the pen is mightier than the sword, obviously never encountered automatic weapons." — General MacArthur

"You, you, and you ... Panic. The rest of you, come with me." — U.S. Marine Corp Gunnery Sgt.

"Tracers work both ways." — U.S. Army Ordnance Manual

"Five second fuses only last three seconds." — Infantry Journal

The three most useless things in aviation are: Fuel in the bowser; Runway behind you; and Air above you. — Basic Flight Training Manual

"Any ship can be a minesweeper. Once." — Maritime Ops Manual

"Never tell the Platoon Sergeant you have nothing to do." — Unknown Marine Recruit

"If you see a bomb technician running, try to keep up with him." — USAF Ammo Troop

"You've never been lost until you"ve been lost at Mach 3." — Paul F. Crickmore (SR71 test pilot)

"The only time you have too much fuel is when you're on fire." —Unknown Author

"If the wings are traveling faster than the fuselage it has to be a helicopter — and therefore, unsafe." — Fixed Wing Pilot

"When one engine fails on a twin-engine airplane, you always have enough power left to get you to the scene of the crash." — Multi-Engine Training Manual

"Without ammunition, the USAF is just an expensive flying club." — Unknown Author

"If you hear me yell; 'Eject, Eject, Eject!,' the last two will be echos. If you stop to ask 'Why?' you"ll be talking to yourself, because you're the pilot." — Pre-flight Briefing from a 104 Pilot

"What is the similarity between air traffic controllers and pilots? If a pilot screws up, the pilot dies; but If ATC screws up, .... the pilot dies." — Sign over Control Tower Door

"Never trade luck for skill." — Author Unknown

"Airspeed, altitude and brains. Two are always needed to successfully complete the flight." — Basic Flight Training Manual

"Mankind has a perfect record in aviation — we have never left one up there!" — Unknown Author

"Flying the airplane is more important than radioing your plight to a person on the ground incapable of understanding or doing anything about it." — Emergency Checklist

"The Piper Cub is the safest airplane in the world; it can just barely kill you." — Attributed to Max Stanley (Northrop test pilot)

"There is no reason to fly through a thunderstorm in peacetime." — Sign over Squadron Ops Desk at Davis-Montham AFB, AZ

"If something hasn't broken on your helicopter, it's about to." — Sign over Carrier Group Operations Desk

"You know that your landing gear is up and locked when it takes full power to taxi to the terminal." — Lead-in Fighter Training Manual

As the test pilot climbs out of the experimental aircraft, having torn off the wings and tail in the crash landing, the crash truck arrives. The rescuer sees a bloodied pilot and asks, "What happened?" The pilot"s reply: "I don't know, I just got here myself!"

(As a former U.S. Navy carrier jet pilot, I found many of these to be both reminiscent of my own military experience, and true.)

Friday, March 05, 2010

The Shredder

A young engineer, who had graduated with distinction, was leaving the office at 5:45 p.m. when he found the Company President standing in front of a shredder with a piece of paper in his hand.

"Listen," said the President, "this is a very sensitive and important document, and my secretary is not here. Can you make this thing work?"

"Certainly," said the young engineer. He turned the machine on, inserted the paper, and pressed the start button.

"Excellent, excellent!" said the President as his paper disappeared inside the machine, "I just need one copy."

Lesson: Never, ever assume that your boss knows what he's doing.


(This was sent to my company's managers by its President. At least he has a sense of humor . . . and maybe reality!)

Monday, March 01, 2010

Birthday card fun

The Earle family is not big on picking out special birthday gifts. Often Carol and I don't even buy the other one a gift for a birthday.

Oh, we always celebrate; usually with dinner out, some wine, or maybe even a round of golf at a slightly more "upscale" course than the ones we usually play. For our adult "kids" we usually just send the gift everyone wants -- a check!

Ah, but card selection is a different matter altogether! The message on the card is critical, and might require trips to several stores over a few days to find the one that is just right.

My daughters and I try to outdo each other with really awful puns. When I think I've found one for a daughter that's bad enough I show it to Carol. If she gags and retches, it's perfect!

But Carol and I, when picking out a card for each other, try for humor that's a bit more subtle. We also search for a message that will have a special meaning for the recipient. Maybe a double entendre. Even better, a card that's not intended to have a double entendre, but for us it does because of one of our (usually my) foibles.

We are not wine snobs. Oh, sorry, I meant wine "connoisseurs." We enjoy a glass of wine with a meal, and usually know if a particular wine is a red or a white (or even a "blush!"), but beyond that it's either smooth and pleasant, or it bites.

However, often a glass of wine (especially TWO glasses) leaves us in a fond, romantic mood.

That "foible" made this card she recently bought for me that much more appropriate:



Here's the inside:


I'll leave it to you to figure out what the W. P. initials stand for.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Remember Karyn Lyndon?

I can say, "I knew her before she was famous. We used to trade blog barbs."

Her blog address is in my sidebar (down a ways on the right -- it's the one called "Who Let the Blogs Out?" )

Anyway, if you'll click on that link you'll see that she has her first book out, called "CurvyKathy31."

Yeah, I know -- weird title. But it makes sense once you read the book.

I think you ought to check it out. Hey, you can buy the PDF or HTML download version for just $6, and I promise it's worth it.

I wrote a review of it for Amazon.com (where only the paperback is for sale; personally, I'd buy it from the publisher's site).

Here's the review. I mean every word.

CurvyKathy31

Author: Karyn Lyndon

It sounded like a stereotypical chick-lit tale with internet chat-room and Instant Message lingo as a hook. I figured it was probably poorly written with lots of sex, little plot, and no characterization.

I was wrong.

Within the first few pages I realized that Kathy was a very smart, introspective, clever heroine. Did I mention capable, imaginative, and sweet? The story has lots to offer besides the romance angle, with enough twists and turns to make you dizzy in a delightful, "Why didn't I see THAT coming?" kind of way.

I promise you'll laugh out loud. (Oops, I mean lol!) And I almost guarantee you'll get tears in parts, unless you're made of granite.

The sex is torrid, the conflicts are real and intense, and the pages almost turn themselves. Within the first 20 pages I was telling myself, "This woman (Lyndon) is really sharp. How does she come up with these?"

Examples:

"Jeez. No doubt about it. The man gave good Email, especially for a rookie."

". . . his big boat seemed to compensate for his little dinghy."

"My palms were wet and my throat dry . . . Isn't it weird how nervousness can cause two opposite reactions at the very same moment, kind of like the amazing way yogurt can cure both constipation and diarrhea?"

"I was starting to feel like Mrs. Doubtfire, running back and forth between tables at the restaurant. The good news was I didn't have to change clothes."

". . . that was exactly the kind of person I was, always led by my emotions instead of my brain."

(Don't believe this last one! CurvyKathy's brain is her best--if not her biggest--asset.)


This book had everything I love in a novel: catchy humor, an intriguing story line, characters with breadth and depth, and a well-thought-out, satisfying ending. (Just wait `til you read the climax!)

I may not have quite fallen in love with Ms. Lyndon (yet), but I can't wait to catch her next title when it comes out. I'm dying to see if she can top this first effort.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

The suicide pilot and the IRS

This week’s story about the man who deliberately flew his small plane into the Austin IRS offices has struck a chord in many. It brought to my mind the true story I wrote about in 2005. I’ve reproduced the story (three separate blog posts) below.

The man in my tale also felt driven to the verge of suicide, but his despair lacked the rage to direct itself at the IRS.

I’m glad.


Wednesday, October 05, 2005
Dealing with a tax levy.

I hope you never have to.

Fortunately I’ve never had the personal pleasure of much contact with the IRS.

Oh, there was that one time about 16 years ago when they questioned one of my deductions. What made it nerve-wracking was they didn’t choose to tell me in the letter they sent that it was a single charitable contribution they were interested in.

NO, they just sent a “Dear Taxpayer” letter telling me to appear in person with all my records for an “examination” of my 1988 return. They don’t use the word “audit;” it’s an “examination.”

I dutifully loaded up a medium size cardboard carton with all my receipts, records, check stubs, bank statements, and on and on. I showed up in the lobby of the Federal Building feeling like a criminal, and cooled my heels for about 30 minutes past my “appointment” time. Shoot, THEY were in no hurry. They knew I wasn’t going anywhere.

When I walked into the examiner’s office and she informed me that all she wanted was documentation on one contribution, I almost wept in relief. Shoot, I had that! And sure enough, within about ten minutes I was skipping out the door and down the street to where I’d parked the car, feeling like a kid just let out of school for summer vacation!

But I’ve never had to face a tax levy. That only happens if you’re delinquent in your taxes, you’ve set up a good-faith payment schedule, and you then fail to make your scheduled payments.

Trust me; you don’t want to do that. It just happened to one of my employees.

No, they won’t throw you in jail. Why not? You can’t PAY them if you’re in jail. They want you to keep your job, and maybe work a second one as well.

But they will obtain a court order to attach ALL or your wages (except, of course, your taxes, Social Security, and voluntary deductions for such things as health insurance and other benefits) and then they’ll let you take home a minimal, fixed amount based on your filing status (single, married) and your number of exemptions. All the rest, however much it may be, they make your employer send to them.

In the case of my employee who files single with just one exemption, he’s allowed to take home a maximum of (get this)... $158 a week! That’s it.

You say you can’t live on that? They don’t care. You say your home will be repossessed, along with your car? They don’t care. The IRS has no compassion.

And guess what? If you take a second job, they’ll levy those wages too. For how long? Until the entire amount you owe, including interest and penalties, is paid.

As this guy’s employer we’d like to be compassionate and fudge for him. But we can’t. It’s a court order, after all. If we knowingly ignore or violate it, I could go to jail. So, sorry Mr. Q. Have fun on $158 a week.

I hope you never have to experience a run-in with the IRS.
POSTED BY DUKE_OF_EARLE AT 5:15 PM



Thursday, October 06, 2005
Nowhere to Run, Nowhere to Hide?

(Martha and the Vandellas, 1965. If you care.)

So what do you do if the IRS levies all your income except $158 a week, and you can’t live on that?

Well, most of you out there who read this are married with family responsibilities. That complicates matters, but it also presents the opportunity for your spouse to go to work, or take a second job to make ends meet. The IRS can’t levy your spouse’s earnings, unless he/she were a party to your non-payment.

Of course, you would also do whatever you could to reduce your weekly expenses. Like car-pool if possible, eat cheaply, and generally live as frugally as you could. You might even sell some things at a garage sale, or trade in that high-payment car for an older cheaper model.

But what if...

You were single with no dependents? You were renting a cheap place by the month because after your divorce your spouse took most of what you had (including the kids) and left you with just the debts and child-support payments?

And what it your car was already an old clunker? And you couldn’t get out from under your debts because of the tax levy and the court-ordered child support — there wasn’t even enough left to set up any long-term payment plans?

And what if there were no way you could borrow any more to help consolidate debts because your credit was already shot? And the only thing tying you to this geographic area was your good-paying job with great benefits — except that now the IRS gets all of your paycheck so the job won’t seem good-paying no matter HOW much you make?

Finally, what if you thought you knew how to get some counterfeit (fake) ID, including a Social Security card?

Would you be tempted to drive your old clunker quietly out of state, set yourself up with a new job somewhere else, and drop out of "the system?”

Sure, the new job would be entry level and low paying, but you’d take home more than $158 a week and you wouldn’t have to worry about all those debts. You wouldn’t be able to marry without your past coming back to haunt you, but you’re not interested in that right now; you’re consumed with fear and anxiety over your hopeless financial situation.

I’m not saying it would be easy. But it wouldn’t be all that hard, either.

It sure is tempting to my employee (see yesterday’s post). I’ve tried to counsel him that “run and hide” is NOT the best option. We’ve discussed the company’s Employee Assistance Program and other “safety net” agencies and programs available locally that might help. He seems dubious.

We’ll see if he stays, or just doesn’t show up for work one of these days. Ever again.
POSTED BY DUKE_OF_EARLE AT 4:18 PM


Thursday, December 01, 2005
Follow-up (Somewhat Unbelievable)

Remember my posts about one of my employees with a tax levy from the IRS?

No? Well, for a quick review check out this post and this post from back in early October.

Okay, now that you’re up to speed, here’s the follow up. (Initials have been changed to protect confidentiality.)

Mr. Q tried to live on the $158 per week the IRS allowed him to take home. After a month or two, when doing so (living) became obviously impossible, he petitioned for a reduction in the amount of the levy. He called the same “1-800” number 6 times over a few weeks, but each time was connected to a different IRS office. As you might expect, he received no help at all from some, and conflicting information from others.

He pleaded with me for help, but I had a court-ordered levy to deal with. I couldn’t ignore it, nor could I stop sending the levied amount to the IRS without written instructions from the IRS. I sent him back to the IRS to ask them for something in writing that I could use to reduce his levied amount.

This week he came to me in tears (a bit disconcerting — this is not a man prone to them). A lady in an IRS office in California had told him they only expected us to be sending them $590 per month on his behalf, and we were sending almost $1,800. She didn’t understand why. She had an agreement, signed by a Mrs. C, which stated the $590 number.

Just so you’ll know; Mrs. C is our company’s payroll administrator. She works for me. I asked her about this alleged “agreement,” and she produced a copy of the only thing she had ever signed and sent to the IRS. It was VERY CLEARLY not any kind of agreement. It was simply a cover sheet that went along with the first check we sent them on Mr. Q’s behalf. That first check had been for $590.

This was no “agreement...” but if the IRS thought it was... and accepted it as such... AND (most importantly) if somebody changed his account records in their computer system to show that they HAD such an “agreement”... Well, all would be wonderful.

Apparently that’s exactly what happened.

Today Mr. Q, Mrs. C and I called the 1-800 number from my speakerphone so we could all participate. We were on hold forever, but then were connected to a Mr. White. He listened to the dilemma, checked the computer records, agreed that Mr. Q had an agreement with the IRS, and only owed them $590 per month!

When I explained my need for something in writing to authorize me to amend the current levy, Mr. White agreed again. He kept us on hold for a loooooong time. Twice he came back on to ask us a question, and then we were back on hold.

Then he asked for my fax number, and a minute later I had my signed, written authorization. Since we are processing the current pay period’s payroll today, this allowed me to immediately change the levy and spare Mr. Q another two weeks of extreme hardship.

Now, that would be reason enough to celebrate and marvel that the IRS had made such a goof and it actually benefited a taxpayer. But if you’ve gotten this far, read on a bit.

When I thanked Mr. White for all of his empathetic efforts, and told him that he may have literally saved a life today (Mr. Q told me he was wondering why he should go on living), Mr. White said, “Well, the Lord has me here for some reason, I guess. But I’m just doing my job.” (That from an IRS agent!?)

At that, Mr. Q’s tears began to flow again and he stepped out of my office. He had been on his knees last night in desperation, asking God to intervene. Mrs. C got teary as well. She has prayed about this situation, feeling terrible for Mr. Q. But worse, as the payroll administrator SHE had to arrange for that horrible levy every payday. She had also asked God to intervene.

Now get this: The paper she signed that became this “agreement” that the IRS accepted and then cut the levy by two-thirds, contained the $590 figure in error! In figuring up that first check (it was the first time she had ever done this) she exempted some amounts that were not supposed to have been exempted. From that first erroneous check until now, the amount we’ve had to take out of Mr. Q’s biweekly check has been hundreds higher.

You can easily attribute these events to a government snafu or a comedy of IRS errors that worked out okay for once.

I choose to believe that God answers prayer, and has intervened.
POSTED BY DUKE_OF_EARLE AT 5:10 PM

Friday, February 19, 2010

Home again, home again, jiggedy-jig.

Yes, as reported in my last post, we are home. I have now been to the office to work for 5 consecutive days, getting caught up as is inevitable after an absence.

Actually I’ve accomplished very little, because during my absence our I.T. guys converted my office computer from Windows XP to Windows 7. Oh, don’t misunderstand – Windows 7 is fine! The machine is fast, and I like some of the new bells and whistles that do improve the user’s experience compared to both XP and Vista (which I’m running here at home.)

But with a new OS on the machine, they had to re-install all of the programs I use. Mainly Microsoft Office 2007. And they run pretty much the same, but I had to re-establish all the little settings and preferences that I was used to: default filing areas, email handling, location of the preview pane in Outlook, advanced features in Word and Excel that I use, and so on.

I had been using all those features for so long I’d forgotten HOW to set them up! So I spent most of the week just getting my work station back the way I wanted it.

Meanwhile Carol succeeded in getting all the ski paraphernalia washed and stowed away for next year, all the leftover food either frozen or put up in small portions for meals in the coming days and weeks (yes, we took WAY too much food for dinners), and getting the car and house back in order.

OH, Jack K. asked what books we listened to on the trip. The first was No Safe Place by Richard North Patterson, a political thriller about a candidate in the final week of the primary elections for the Democratic Presidential nomination. Extremely well done. In two separate “scenes” Mr. Patterson built the tension to a level that had me gripping the steering wheel in suspense! I highly recommend it.

The other is Brimstone by Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child, a murder mystery with sufficient lurid details and twists of plot to keep anyone enthralled.

Both were good escapist fare, and helped the miles pass quickly.

On long driving trips we generally select books based on the greatest number of CDs (longest books). Often we don’t finish a book before arriving home. In those cases we then sit for about an hour each evening listening together in the living room until we get to the end.

Stories of the trip will come, but not tonight.

Oh, and for those of you not familiar with it, I took the title of this post from the nursery rhyme:

To market, to market, to buy a fat pig.
Home again, home again, jiggedy-jig.


To market, to market, to buy a fat hog.
Home again, home again, jiggedy-jog.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

The Cookies Are All Eaten!

Er . . . Not really. But the ski trip is over (darn it!), and everyone is safely home (thank God!), so that chapter has closed.

Except for the stories I can now tell about it.

(Heh heh heh.)

But that'll have to wait for another post. I have just driven from Denver to Victoria on Saturday and Sunday, arriving home today at about 2:00 pm. We have unloaded the filthy car (its bath will come soon), unpacked the many boxes and suitcases it contained, filled the dirty clothes hamper, and stowed much of the gear that does not need to be washed. The rest of it will be cleaned over the next few days and carefully put away until 2011.

I'm tired.

We listened to a recorded book going and for a few hours on the way home, then listened to most of another on the REST of the way home. We will listen to more of it tonight and plan to retire early. Tomorrow it's back to work for me, and laundry/clean-up time for Carol.

Stories to come!

Thursday, February 04, 2010

The cookies are all baked!

. . . and the house smells heavenly!

Not to mention that the cookies taste better than the house smells!

Also, we have staged in the den most of the "stuff" we're hauling to Colorado for skiing with the exception of our suitcases with traveling clothes, toiletries, etc. That happens tomorrow night, after which we load up the car with everything except the food in the freezer and the fridge.

Saturday we hit the road before dawn, hoping to make at least Raton, NM or maybe Trinidad, CO. On Super Sunday we'll arrive, unload, get set up, rent our ski equipment, figure out what we forgot to bring and whether or not we need to replace it, welcome family and friends, and get some rest.

Monday we hit the mountain!

More to come.

Monday, February 01, 2010

I'd seen these before, but I still laughed out loud

The Zen of Sarcasm

1. Do not walk behind me, for I may not lead. Do not walk ahead of me, for I may not follow. Do not walk beside me either. Just pretty much leave me alone.

2. The journey of a thousand miles begins with a broken fan belt and leaky tire.

3. It's always darkest before dawn. So if you're going to steal your neighbor's newspaper, that's the time to do it.

4. Don't be irreplaceable. If you can't be replaced, you can't be promoted.

5. Always remember that you're unique. Just like everyone else.

6. Never test the depth of the water with both feet.

7. If you think nobody cares if you're alive, try missing a couple of car payments.

8. Before you criticize someone, you should walk a mile in their shoes. That way, when you criticize them, you're a mile away and you have their shoes.

9. If at first you don't succeed, skydiving is probably not for you.

10 . Give a man a fish and he will eat for a day. Teach him how to fish, and he will sit in a boat and drink beer all day .

11. If you lend someone $20 and never see that person again, it was probably a wise investment.
12 . If you tell the truth, you don't have to remember anything.

13. Some days you're the bug; some days you're the windshield.

14. Everyone seems normal until you get to know them.

15. The quickest way to double your money is to fold it in half and put it back in your pocket.

16. A closed mouth gathers no foot.

17. Duct tape is like 'The Force'. It has a light side and a dark side, and it holds the universe together.

18. There are two theories to arguing with women. Neither one works.

19. Generally speaking, you aren't learning much when your lips are moving.

20. Experience is something you don't get until just after you need it.

21. Never miss a good chance to shut up.

22. Never, under any circumstances, take a sleeping pill and a laxative on the same night.

Sunday, January 31, 2010

My Wife -- Imelda?

Carol and I have been married a long time.

Occasionally people will ask, "How long have you two been married?" Carol will usually begin to do the math in her head (which doesn't take her long because she's a very sharp lady). I, however, immediately blurt out the correct answer, which is (take note husbands), "Not long enough!"

That always earns me a smile and points. NOW who's sharp?

But I digress: In those many years since we said our vows, we have noticed a recurring phenomenon. We will occasionally find a product we really like. It's always just right for us. It fits our needs perfectly. It's comfortable, in every sense of the word. It's well-made. Sometimes it's even available at a lower price than similar but not-so-perfect items.

These products can be a simple as a hand-held gadget for the kitchen or as complex as a motor vehicle. A garment. A tool (hand or powered). A bed-pillow. A particular restaurant's version of General Joe Chicken (Szechuan style -- yum!), and so on.

How do we find these perfect items? Well, we shop carefully. We compare. We discuss our likes and dislikes about similar items we've tried that aren't perfect. Plus sometimes we're just damn lucky and stumble onto "it."

What's the recurring phenomenon I mentioned? It seems to be one of those immutable laws of nature, like the fact that the dropped slice of bread always lands buttered-side down. It is the apparent FACT that not long after we find one of these items/products/devices/garments, etc., it is discontinued.

Oh, maybe not immediately, but soon! Want some examples?

I've written on this blog in the past about our early SUV, a 1984 3/4-ton Dodge van. We put over 200,000 miles on that van in 13 years, and loved it! By 1996 Dodge had improved their van but hadn't changed the basic design, so we gave the old one away (literally, to a friend) and bought a brand new one just like it. By 2008 the "new" one was getting long in the tooth, so we thought about replacing it. You guessed it; Chrysler had quit making the vans.

I mentioned General Joe chicken above. Here in Victoria there was just one restaurant that got it right, with just enough hot spices to make your nose sniffly, but not enough to burn away the taste. Yep, they went out of business.

Anyway, our solution to this damnable phenomenon is this: Once we find one of those perfect products (other than perishable stuff, like General Joe chicken) we stock up.

Is there a point here? Does it have anything to do with the post's title? YES!!

My wonderful wife Carol has discovered the most comfortable shoes she has EVER worn in all those years of our marriage and beyond. You may have seen them—they are Skechers Shape-Ups. (No, I'm NOT getting paid to endorse this product.) (Darn it.) These are walking shoes with a boat-shaped, rounded sole that allows you to roll from heel to toe as you walk.

This rounded sole is cushioned and designed such that the entire sole of your foot is supported throughout each step -- even if you have very high arches. Some reviews say it feels like walking in sand, but without the resistance.

Now . . . YOU may not like these shoes. But Carol says she may never wear another shoe in her life that isn't one of these Shape-Ups.

After wearing her first pair for about a week, she bought another. Then another. Then a pair of low-top boots of the same brand and design. She's going to try playing golf in a pair (instead of her soft-spiked golf shoes), and if successful will keep a pair just for golf.

Yesterday we bought, assembled and installed in her closet a horizontal storage rack just to contain all these shoes. This for a lady who already had plenty of shoes she used to think were comfortable.

So . . . All of that to say these two things: First, if you want to try on a pair of these Shechers Shape-Ups for yourself you'd better hurry. Experience tells me they won't be making them for much longer.

And second, if they DO keep making them for a few more months you may want to buy stock in the companys that makes shoe storage racks, because Imelda Carol will be buying more of them soon.

Saturday, January 30, 2010

More ski trip prep

One week from today we'll be heading for Denver!

Or, actually, heading for the area around Raton, NM, or Trinidad, CO. That's about as far as we can manage in one long day of driving. The long range forecast doesn't show another storm coming across the Southwest then, but it such a storm develops we may alter our course to head straight north into Kansas, and then West on I-70.

Either way we'll make it to Denver by next Sunday morning, stop for groceries and supplies, and trek across Berthoud Pass to Winter Park.

Still, there's a lot to do between now and then. We've already begun gathering up all the winter gear and garments. We'll have to get all of the golf paraphernalia out of the SUV and rearrange the seating/storage.

Aside: we thought about golf this weekend, and may still play tomorrow if the wind eases a bit. Today we have bright sunshine and afternoon temps in the low 50s, but the wind is 15-20 and pretty biting. Wimps that we are, we're skipping golf today.

The one preparation that is of PARAMOUNT importance this week isall Carol's responsibility. It is . . .

COOKIES!!!

In past years I've copied into a blog post the actual recipe, and if anyone is interested I can do so again (or email it to you). These are the World's Best Chocolate Chip, Oatmeal, Peanut Butter, Wheat Germ, and Whole Wheat Cookies, and thus (with all those ingredients) actually good for you.

They are at least as good as anything the elves in Tolkein's Lord of the Rings trilogy could make, and MUCH better than anything the elves at Keeblers make.

We'd survive if we forgot most anything else, but the COOKIES are vital!

(It's not "cookies," it's always "COOKIES!!")

Oh, and I just HAD to borrow this quote found on talented artist Ryan Wolf's blog:

"Skiing combines outdoor fun with knocking down trees with your face."
Dave Barry

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Be careful what you post!

You knew that, right? Seems like the rule is, "Once on the Internet, ALWAYS on the Internet!"

Oh sure, you can always delete blog posts. But once they've been up there you have no control over who might copy what you wrote, publish it no telling where, and put in there a reference to YOUR blog. And if you (like me) actually identify yourself with a real name, a real home town, and a real email address, you can ALWAYS be found.

What am I babbling about?

Well, I had a phone call today at work from Area Code 571. The first time the call came in I glanced at the number, didn't recognize the area code, and let it go to voice mail. Hey, I had someone in my office and it was an important conversation! Anyway, that number called me three times and on the third time I answered.

On the line was a very nice lady from Northern Virginia (suburb of D.C.) who was conducting a survey about needle coke. She had Googled the term, and found this very blog!

Yes, back in 2006 I wrote a post titled "What is Needle Coke?" Here's a link to it, since I just KNOW you're going to rush over there to read the post!

Or, you can just Google "needle coke" and my blog post is the 5th item down from the top.

What she really wanted was some inside information about PRICING of needle coke, and I really couldn't help her there since we don't publish prices. Needle coke is one of those commodities that, if you wanted some you'd probably already know the approximate cost.

Anyway, we had a very pleasant conversation. And likely she will produce an article in some high-dollar publication quoting me as an unnamed "industry insider" who would only speak "off the record."

(I told her I was just the HR guy, and didn't really know much about the business side of our operation, so please don't quote me by name. She MIGHT even have believed me!)

Anyway, I figure if a short post I wrote in August of 2006 is significant enough for someone to track me down in my office at the plant and ask me a bunch of questions, WHO KNOWS what will happen when someone reads some of my OTHER posts?

They might learn about the ycaripsnoc and identify it for all to see -- then we'll all be in BIG trouble!

So be careful what you post!

Or hide your identity well.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Not so much of a match-up after all

Vikings defense was awesome.

Dallas never had a chance once they started turning the ball over.

Good for Favre! You gotta love it for him.

Ski trip progress

Yep, it’s about time for the annual Earle family ski trip. February is our traditional time and, since we are a traditional family by nature, it’ll be in February again this year

As I have noted in past posts, we Earles have been accused of taking our vacations VERY seriously. Right, Tina? (You know who you are!) Well, why not? After all, much of the fun is in the anticipation and preparation.

Why so much preparation? Glad you asked!

We are, by turns, extravagant and penny-pinching. In order to penny-pinch we have to shop for the very best advance deals on:

1. Getting there, including airfares for those who are flying and motel reservations for those who drive but spend a night on the road.

2. Early-purchase discounted lift tickets (a HUGE saving).

3. Meals for the entire week, which Carol prepares in advance in quantity (like stew, and spaghetti sauce, and so on) and then freezes. This avoids the expense of eating out daily or buying those $10 hamburgers for lunch at the restaurants on the mountain.

4. Ski and other cold weather apparel, which costs MUCH more at the resort than in your local sporting goods and outdoor stores—especially when they are having a sale!

All of that penny-pinching allows us the extravagance of our accommodations at the resort and our blow-out final dinner at a Denver restaurant before we all go our separate ways to our separate homes in Tampa, Chicago, and Texas.

Here's a shot of the whole group from last year just before that blow-out dinner, in our matching official Earle Family Ski Sweaters, each of which (the sweaters, that is) comes with a Certificate of Authenticity:


This year we are including a couple from Virginia as well, but they can’t stay for the whole week and will thus miss much of the total experience, to their loss.

More on all of this later. I’m cutting this post short to prepare for watching the Dallas Cowboys play the Vikings this afternoon. Romo versus Favre—what a match-up!

Later, all.

Monday, January 11, 2010

Have you seen this?

This brand spanking new Airbus 340-600, the longest passenger airplane ever built, sits just outside its hangar in Toulouse, France without a single hour of airtime.


Enter the Arab flight crew of Abu Dhabi Aircraft Technologies (ADAT) to conduct pre-delivery tests on the ground, such as engine run-ups prior to delivery to Etihad Airways in Abu Dhabi.

The ADAT crew taxied the A340-600 to the run-up area.



Then they took all Four engines to takeoff power with a virtually empty aircraft. Not having read the run-up manuals, they had no clue just how light an empty A340-600 really is.



The takeoff warning horn was blaring away in the cockpit because they had all 4 engines at full power.
The aircraft computers thought they were trying to take off, but it had not been configured properly (flaps/slats, etc.)


Then one of the ADAT crew decided to pull the circuit breaker on the Ground Proximity Sensor to silence the alarm.
This fools the aircraft into thinking it is in the air.


The computers automatically released all the Brakes and set the aircraft rocketing forward.
The ADAT crew had no idea that this is a safety feature so that pilots can't land with the brakes on.


Not one member of the seven-man Arab crew was smart enough to throttle back the engines from their max power setting, so the $200 million brand-new Aircraft crashed into a blast barrier, totaling it.



The extent of injuries to the crew is unknown due to the news blackout in the major media in France and elsewhere.


Coverage of the story was deemed insulting to Muslim Arabs.

Finally, the photos are starting to leak out.



A French Airbus: $200 million dollars
Untrained Arab Flight Crew: $300,000 Yearly salary
Unread Operating Manual: $300

Aircraft meets retaining wall, and the wall wins.
PRICELESS!!!

Saturday, January 09, 2010

How cold was it last night?

Probably not as cold here in South Texas as where you are.

Well, except for Michelle in South Africa -- it's summer there, remember!

But for those of you in the NORTHERN hemisphere, global warming seems to have taken a vacation. Proof?

Well, just down the street from my house I saw what is pictured below. I stopped, looked at the sun sparkling on the icicles covering the discarded Christmas tree, and just HAD to go back for the camera.






Yeah, they ran the sprinkler on the tree all night. And I'm sure this is a fairly common sight "up north" where people have snow blowers in their garages.
But down here, southwest of Houston, it's a rare night when the temperature reaches 18 degrees F.
(Yes, that's the answer to the title question. Good job picking up on that!)

Thursday, January 07, 2010

Gettin' Ready!

This year was the most fun Christmas I've had in 5 years.

See, 5 years ago was the last time both my daughters and their husbands were all at our home here in Victoria, TX. Older daughter Christina was carrying my grandson Trevor, who was born the following April.

And that year we had a magical Christmas Eve snowfall of almost a foot! Now you've got to put this in perspective . . . I've lived in Victoria for 24 years, and it has NEVER snowed in all that time. Much LESS acculmulated! But in 2004, despite global warming, etc., we went to bed on Christmas Eve thrilled to have seen light snow falling and starting to actually stick to the grass. Imagine our delight and disbelief Christmas morning to have a foot of snow on the ground! (I've got HUNDREDS of pictures to prove it!) Snow had not even been in the forecast!

No. I'm sorry. You CAN'T imagine it.

Anyway, no snow this year. But both daughters, their husbands, and my grandson all spent 4 nights and days with us before flying back to home and work.

What fun to have a house full of people for a change, and to watch the thrill of an almost 5-year-old on Christmas Morning! This is the best of times for him. Santa is very real, and of course we spoiled him terribly before giving him back to his parents to take home to Tampa.

Anyway, I just hope any of you reading this had even HALF as good a holiday season as we did.

But now the decorations are put away, the house is clean, and we're gearing up for the NEXT family tradition . . . THE EARLE FAMILY SKI TRIP!!!

I've reserved our lodgings, airline reservations are made for the Florida contingent, ski lessons are reserved for Trevor, discounted lift tickets are purchased, lockers are reserved at the mountain, reservations are made at the Denver Macaroni Grill for our Farewell Dinner . . .

THINGS ARE FALLING INTO PLACE!

Next, Carol will begin baking COOKIES, preparing and freezing dinners, the car will be loaded, and I note from Weather.com that there is LOTS of SNOW out there.

So, excitement is running high. We are (as the title of this post says) "Gettin' Ready!"

Sunday, January 03, 2010

I couldn't stand it!

"Lost my desire to put up blog posts."

Uh-huh.

That lasted, what, a week? Maybe two?

Well, I'm not sure that the desire is back to stay, but when I saw this "Letter to Ma and Pa" from a redneck farm kid in the Marine Corps, I just had to share it with those few of you who haven't already seen it.

It's pretty funny. Here you go:


REDNECK FARM KID in the Marine Corps

Dear Ma and Pa,

I am well. Hope you are. Tell Brother Walt and Brother Elmer the Marine Corps beats working for old man Minch by a mile. Tell them to join up quick before all of the places are filled.

I was restless at first because you get to stay in bed till nearly 6 a.m. But I am getting so I like to sleep late. Tell Walt and Elmer all you do before breakfast is smooth your cot, and shine some things. No hogs to slop, feed to pitch, mash to mix, wood to split, fire to lay. Practically nothing.

Men got to shave but it is not so bad, there's warm water. Breakfast is strong on trimmings like fruit juice, cereal, eggs, bacon, etc., but kind of weak on chops, potatoes, ham, steak, fried eggplant, pie and other regular food, but tell Walt and Elmer you can always sit by the two city boys that live on coffee. Their food, plus yours, holds you until noon when you get fed again. It's no wonder these city boys can't walk much.

We go on 'route marches,' which the platoon sergeant says are long walks to harden us. If he thinks so, it's not my place to tell him different. A 'route march' is about as far as to our mailbox at home. Then the city guys get sore feet and we all ride back in trucks.

The sergeant is like a school teacher. He nags a lot. The Captain is like the school board. Majors and colonels just ride around and frown. They don't bother you none.

This next will kill Walt and Elmer with laughing. I keep getting medals for shooting. I don't know why...the bulls-eye is near as big as a chipmunk head and don't move, and it ain't shooting at you like the Higgett boys at home. All you got to do is lie there all comfortable and hit it. You don't even load your own cartridges. They come in boxes.

Then we have what they call hand-to-hand combat training. You get to wrestle with them city boys. I have to be real careful though, they break real easy. It ain't like fighting with that ole bull at home. I'm about the best they got in this except for that Tug Jordan from over in Silver Lake . I only beat him once... He joined up the same time as me, but I'm only 5'6' and 130 pounds and he's 6'8' and near 300 pounds dry.

Be sure to tell Walt and Elmer to hurry and join before other fellers get onto this setup and come stampeding in.

Your loving daughter, Alice