Monday, October 31, 2005

Fighting Norton (!!*#*!&#!*!)

Last Saturday I mentioned a software installation problem I was fighting on our friend Ruth’s computer. It’s a new machine, just 3 months old. It came with a 90-day trial version of several anti-virus software packages pre-installed. Well, the 90 days were up, so I tried to install a brand new copy of Norton Antivirus 2006 (NAV 2006) to keep her protected.

The program installs just fine. But then it won’t run. You can’t open it. You can’t “activate” it on the Symantec website. The computer thinks it’s there, but can’t make it start. Thus, obviously, it’s not protecting the machine from malware.

This weekend I un-installed it (and all other “security” software that came with the machine). I went beyond the “add or remove programs” feature on the control panel. I manually deleted or changed the file name of every file in any folder that and anything to do with Symantec or Norton.

Then I went still further. I deleted or changed the name of every file or folder in the system registry that had anything to do with those names. I used a registry clean-up program from Norton’s website.

Convinced that I now had a clean slate to work from, I again installed NAV 2006. Successful install! But, same problem. The program will not open to activate or to configure.

A friend at work who had encountered a similar problem in the last year told me HIS ultimate solution was to reformat the hard drive and re-install Windows.


But, OK. I’ll try that.

First I carefully saved all of Ruth’s data files. Then I went through the hour-long process of restoring her system to the way it had been when she first brought it home. I uninstalled all security programs, and tried a new install of NAV 2006. Same problem as before.

I called the Symantec tech support line, held forever, and finally spoke with a very nice tech support person in India. How do I know that? I asked! Her name was Atriana (she pronounced it “Uh-tree-na.”)

Atriana assured me that we would get it to work, and talked me through even more Byzantine deletes, renames, and other changes than before. We reviewed all we had done together before she told me to restart the machine one more time, and then the install would work.

I thanked her and we hung up. Ten minutes later I was cussing Atriana. (Don't worry; she wasn't on the phone and doesn't know.) Same “successful installation”; same failure to open or run.

I called back and held for another 30 minutes before talking to a man (also in India) named Manoj. Manoj was sympathetic and asked if I had done ________ (insert the whole laundry list of all the things I had tried, INCLUDING all the stuff Atriana had talked me through). Yes, yes, yes, and yes.

Undeterred, he had me go through another uninstall, but this time all manual. We did not use the “Add or Remove Programs” feature, but just started deleting files and folders and registry entries. We changed shortcut targets. Hell, I think we re-wrote the entire program code for the NAV software package.

He then ASSURED me that the install would HAVE to work now, because we had manually ensured that there was no POSSIBILITY of a corrupt file or entry that would prevent it.

I’ll let you guess the results.

No, take your time and think about it.

DING!! You’re right! Nothing changed! Go to the head of the class.

My computer guy at work thinks that maybe if I install a copy of the “Corporate” edition of the security software (which supposedly does not require a product key or activation) IT will work.

Why am I doubtful of that?

I’ve now re-installed Windows three times to put the machine back like it was when it was new. The 90 day trial version is thus renewed and will work for three months. Then I think I’ll see if I can simply renew the subscription to THAT version online and maybe have a working security system on the machine.

Any other ideas out there?

By the way, I’ve tried to Google the problem, and apparently a LOT of users experience problems with Norton installations. Next time I think I’ll buy McAfee!

Sunday, October 30, 2005


Yesterday I kinda sorta promised a nice, gracious, or amusing post for today. Don’t know if this qualifies, but it’s an interesting story.

A co-worker of mine told me of a Friday morning (four a.m.) experience that borders on the bizarre.

(Side note: I’m always careful with putting the hyphen in the word “co-worker” to avoid someone reading “cow worker” and thinking I’m talking about either a ranch hand in a Stetson, or a well-endowed female fellow employee. Sorry to throw that in, but it’s one of those weird things that occurs to me when I’m reading certain words. Carol says it ties in with my fondness for puns and my ability to make them out of thin air, seemingly.)

Anyway, Jay (yes, his real name) said he was awakened at 4 by a loud CRASH. He had no idea what it was or where it came from (inside or outside), but is sounded close and was loud enough that he came to in an instant, wide-eyed, sitting up in bed.

He heard nothing else. He threw back the covers (annoying his wife, who had not heard anything but was disturbed by his sudden movement in the bed) and leapt up, heading for the front door.

Jay lives in a small community just outside the fence of a large Formosa Plastics chemical plant. He tells me that the first thing people who live there do, when disturbed by night noises, is to go outside and look and listen towards the plant. That’s exactly what he did. There were no sirens, loud noises, flashing lights, or any other sign of unusual activity there.

He looked around the front yard, saw nothing unusual, and went back inside. Back in his bedroom he found a pane of glass from the front-facing window was shattered and in pieces on the floor. Right beside where he had run past, barefoot, on his way to the front door.

He carefully picked up the broken glass and looked at the outside screen. It was intact, so nothing had gone through it. Although it was a little earlier than his normal time to get up, he went through his morning routine and came to work.

Later, after daylight, his wife called to tell him that there was a black mark on their front vinyl siding, and the siding had a crack about 4 feet long from the mark.

Jay went home to look and found the black mark about 4 feet above ground level. A close look at the mark revealed a tire tread pattern. THEN he noticed, over on the edge of his front yard, a tire mounted in a wheel. Just lying there, innocent as could be. He hadn’t seen it earlier in the dark.

At this point in his story I asked him, “As in a car wheel? Maybe an airplane wheel?” I envisioned an overflying light aircraft with loose main-mount bolts. Hey, stranger things than that have happened!

He said, “No, just a standard spare that would fit a Chevy pickup.” (Remember, this is South Texas, where two out of every three vehicles on the road seems to be a pickup.)

His best guess is this: Down at the end of his block, he tells me, the road has a significant dip on one side. If a pickup came flying through there and hit that dip, it might bounce enough to flip an unsecured spare tire and wheel out of the bed. Said wheel would be moving at the same speed as the truck it came out of, and if it happened to hit just right it could easily bounce and roll down the block and whack the front of his house. With enough impact to crack his vinyl siding and break a pane out of a nearby window.

I told him he was lucky the tire didn’t hit the window, or it could have ended up in bed with him and his wife. Where it could have seriously injured or even killed one or both of them.

Pretty bizarre, huh?

But what’s really going to be interesting is the reaction of his homeowner’s insurance company when he files his claim.

“Your house was struck by what? Yeah, RIGHT!

Good luck with that one, Jay.

(NEW TOPIC:) Hey, Beautiful Vibe just put up a post on her blog. It's a good one! Check it out.

Saturday, October 29, 2005

Computer problems

Rather than have no Saturday post at all, I’ll merely say that it’s late; I just got back from our friend Ruth’s house after spending five hours fighting a software installation problem; and it’s still unresolved.


It’s time for bed and I’m in no mood to be amusing or gracious. So, that’s all the post you get today.

Hopefully tomorrow I’ll create something extra nice to make up for this.

Or maybe I’ll spend all day at Ruth’s slugging it out with her computer.

We’ll see.

Friday, October 28, 2005


Who do you watch, if anybody, on television for the news? Do you have a favorite anchor?

I used to watch CNN Headline news every evening for about a half-hour. Their format was fast-paced, and within a 30-minute time span I could get at least a quick glance (“Headline” news, right?) of all the main events going on in the country and the world.

Then CNN changed. Now their prime time headline news features the newscasters more than the stories. Or so it seems to me.

The “personalities” who present the stories inject a lot of their own emotions or feelings into their reporting. I guess that’s nothing new, but now it seems that they compete with each other to see who can give a story more emotion.

Paula Zahn is one of the worst, with Anderson Cooper not far behind. Paula speaks loudly with body language, facial expressions, and tone. And all of those non-verbals are screaming, “ISN’T THIS HORRIBLE!?”

Occasionally, when interviewing someone, Paula will make repeated efforts to get them to tell us how awful things are. She’ll furrow her brow and ask the person, “Well, how does that make you feel?”

If the interviewee doesn’t respond with enough horror or emotion, she plunge on with, “Yes, but don’t you think that is just terrible?” Her tone tells you that she is just appalled! And you should be too!

Sometimes I’ve listened to one of her reports, and then played it back in my mind using neutral tone and an interested but otherwise blank expression. Gee, guess what? The story is just as compelling, but I don’t have that urge to cluck my tongue, shake my head, and say, “Can you imagine that?”

The newscasters' whole demeanor pushes hard on the viewer to be outraged or incredulous. To me, it’s too much. Its lack of subtlety causes it not to work for me. I don’t like to feel manipulated, and their (apparent) efforts to project their emotion into me makes me balk.

And I then find that I’m so turned off by their hyper-projected emotion, I’ve lost the thrust and real flavor of the story they’re reporting.

What to do? Watch Fox News, with its widely acknowledged spin toward the right? Watch the ABC/CNS/NBC networks, with their widely acknowledged tilt toward the left? Go burrow under a rock and ignore current events?

I find myself leaning towards getting the actual stories from either the internet sites or tomorrow’s newspaper, and just watching the TV reports for the video clips.

Anybody else have this problem, or is it just my advancing senility and resistance to change?

Thursday, October 27, 2005

Please see yesterday’s post...

...if you don’t know what this is about.

Dedicated to Viki of Chicago, which now happens to be the home of the World Champion Chicago White Sox. (In payment of a stupid bet.)

The 2005 World Series
(With profound apologies to Ernest Lawrence Thayer, author of ‘Casey At the Bat.”)

The outlook wasn't brilliant for the Houston nine last night:
The series stood at three to zip, with little hope in sight.
No Texas team had ever made it quite that far before,
But now Chicago’s White Sox were about to slam the door.

The first game in Chicago led to many anxious doubts:
The Rocket Roger Clemens only lasted for six outs.
And though the Astros tied it up at three in just the third,
The Sox just kept on coming. Won by two, or so we’ve heard.

And Game Two was no better, though exciting at the last,
For Houston tied it in the ninth with two runs coming fast.
Chicago struggled, looking like a boxer on the ropes.
But then Podsednick homered, thus erasing all our hopes.

But now our team was coming home! They’d play much better here!
Games 3 through 5 at Minute Maid! We’d teach those Sox to fear!
And so with hope and confidence in Houston’s Killer Bees,
We watched them take a 4-0 lead... but then they seemed to freeze.

First Crede homered in the fifth, but that was just one run.
We’ll surely get the others out. Hey, winning feels like fun!
But then Chicago batted ‘round, and when the dust did clear,
We found that we were down by one, with little left to cheer.

But Lo! Deep in the eighth our Houston “A”-stros battled back.
They tied the game at five, and then they went on the attack!
With bases loaded in the ninth, they needed just one more.
But Ensberg swung and missed three times. We fussed and fumed and swore!

The innings came; the innings went, and time kept marching past.
The longest series game of all, we held out till the last.
But in the 14th with the bullpens empty and depleted,
Chicago finally prevailed, and Houston was defeated.

But hope dies hard. With one chance left to keep from being swept,
Game 4 arrived to sold-out stands. The fans their faith had kept.
And all the losses, all the wins that brought us pain or bliss,
With everything now on the line, it all came down to this.

A classic pitchers’ duel emerged, and batters could not hit!
Though sometimes runners reached the bases, nothing came of it.
For seven innings neither team could get a runner home.
Then Houston pulled out Backe (a mistake, now thought by some).

In inning 8 Chicago’s batters quickly found their groove,
And Lidge, the “expert closer,” couldn’t make his slider move.
Through decent defense Houston held the Sox to just one score,
They had just two short innings then to win, or tie once more.

I could go into detail about who did what to whom.
And claim that it was “no offense” that sealed the Astros’ doom.
They managed to get runners in position for a score,
But all were stranded by Uribe’s fielding, slick and sure.

So now, the series over, with the Sox as reigning champs,
And all the Houston fans departed down the exit ramps,
It seems the mighty “A”-Stros with their fearsome Killer Bees
Have by a clearly better team been brought down to their knees.

Oh, somewhere in this favored land the sun is shining bright;
The band is playing somewhere, and somewhere hearts are light,
Last night some men were laughing while their smiling children slept;
But there was no joy in Houston – the hapless ASS-tros had been swept!

Wednesday, October 26, 2005

Preparing my poem

I didn’t make a big deal of this, and maybe some of you don’t know, but one of my blogroll friends Viki is from Chicago and just felt compelled to offer me a bet on the World Series. Since I’m from Texas, and not too far from Houston, I felt compelled to accept.

Right now that looks like a pretty dumb move, right?

Oh, well, why should I let logic get in the way of team spirit and emotion?

Neither of us was in the mood to lose any money over this, so the loser pays off by writing and posting on his/her blog a poem about the whole affair. After last night’s game (#3) I’ve started drafting my poem.

Heck, I’ll probably need it tomorrow.

But you never know. The old ‘Stros have kept it close in most of the first three games. So much so, in fact, that the outcome was in doubt up until the last pitch. I mean, getting swept is bad. But getting blown out and swept would be horrible.

Of course, as many of you are thinking right now, it’s only a game, and who cares anyway? I’m not really that big of an Astros fan.

Now Carol’s mom is a different story. At 82 years old she still watches every game during the season if it’s televised. And if not, she listens on the radio. Then she always calls her twin sister (who lives about 75 miles away) and exults if the team won, or grouses if they lose.

But I don’t even know the names of all the Astros’ players or what position they play. Still, I kinda hope they win one game, at least. It would be really nice if they could win the next two to send the series back to Chicago. Then the home town crowd can cheer their home team on to final victory.

And what would be REALLY nice is if the ‘Stros could somehow (cheat if necessary) win the next three and make it a one-game contest.


Because I stated in my bet that if it took the White Sox 7 games to beat Houston, I wouldn’t lose!


Tuesday, October 25, 2005

Temp files


The post you are about to read (or skip, if you’re just blog hopping through) is on a computer/tech topic. If you find these boring, inane, or otherwise objectionable, feel free to skip today and come back tomorrow.

(That’s kinda like the warning on Karyn’s Blog on her “Freaky Friday” posts. Hers always entices people to read. I wonder if mine will...)

Twice in recent weeks I’ve been harassed by Windows’ propensity to create and save “Temp” files. These little beasts are supposed to help and enhance your computing experience, not hassle you.

What is the definition of “temp,” short for “temporary?” Something like “not permanent,” right? Or maybe, “only needed for a short time, and then disposable.”

Well, why doesn’t Windows clean its own house every now and then instead of making the user do it?

Okay, here are the stories:

1. Before my vacation trip I thought I might need access to a nationwide dial-up ISP in case I couldn’t find wireless access to the internet somewhere. As all you regular readers now know, that was a needless worry because wifi is almost everywhere. (Like the Visa commercial tagline — “It’s everywhere you want to be!”)

Not knowing that, I installed a cheap version of on my laptop. The cost was $1.00 for the first 30 days. One dollar! Woo-Hoo! One of the features of was “high-speed dial-up.” But what does THAT mean?

Well, it means that displays pictures (graphics) from web pages at much lower resolution than they are designed to be displayed at. That means they are not clear, but fuzzy. But I didn’t know that.

All I knew was that pictures of many web sites were now fuzzy and pixellated, even using wifi and broadband (not even CONNECTED through!) In fact, I uninstalled the software completely, thinking that might be the cause. No change.

I did everything I could think of, including calling’s tech support line. They were very nice, but assured me that once I had uninstalled their software it no longer had any influence or effect on my browser.

Long story short — they were wrong! Their software had installed a TEMPORARY FILE (!) in my Internet Explorer Temp folder, and it was still affecting all my browsing. Once I deleted the temp files, the problem was solved.

2. My friend Ruth recently got a new computer with 90 days of trial anti-virus software installed. Once that expired, she bought a copy of 2006 Norton Antivirus. I tried to talk her through the installation.

We had some problems the first attempt because something in the trial software was interfering with Norton. We uninstalled all the trial software and started over. Then Norton seemed to install properly, but it would never open and run!

We uninstalled and re-installed it about a dozen times, but we knew something was wrong because the software never asked for the security key. I gave up and searched the company’s (Symantec) web site.

Guess what I found.

Yup! When the first installation was interrupted by the other software, Norton had nonetheless installed some TEMPORARY FILES that interfered with future attempts to install it. Uninstall efforts had no effect on these temp files. The instructions from Norton explained how to delete all the temp files in the windows folder.

I’ve learned something from all this.

I USED to have a guaranteed fix for MOST computer problems. It was, simply, shut the damn thing off, wait a minute, and then re-boot. And it worked almost every time.

Now I know that the next step, if the first method fails, is to delete all those TEMPORARY FILES that are created (and sometimes corrupted), and then start over.

Hey! It works (most of the time)!

Monday, October 24, 2005

Great weekend.

Absolutely gorgeous weather, a scenic and challenging golf course, and a good friend along to enjoy it with us. What more could you want?

Yeah, three hours each way is a long drive to spend two nights out of town. In fact, it felt like we’d gone across the country since the weather turned cooler on Saturday, and then cooler yet on Sunday with a stiff north wind. As we were driving back home Sunday afternoon we all agreed that we’d like to have been able to spend just one more night before heading back.

Our campground DID have wireless internet access at our campsite. So why didn’t I put something on the blog this weekend? Just lazy, I guess. (Nobody got a hole-in-one, either. All three of us got at least one hole-in-eleven. But I didn’t think that was worthy of a special blog post. Hey, I TOLD you it was a challenging course!)

We took the opportunity (wifi) to corrupt Ruth by introducing her to Sudoku puzzles. I won’t say she’s hooked, but she’s intrigued enough that she wants to play some more on her home computer when she has time.

Today dawned with a temperature of 50 and light drizzle. As per usual in this part of Texas, you turn off your air conditioner and turn on the heater. It’s one or the other.

Can you believe that the holidays are almost upon us? At work today the planning is gearing up for our company Christmas party. It’s only four more weeks until Thanksgiving week. First thing you know it’ll be 2006.

Meanwhile Hurricane Wilma is pounding Florida. I hope Christina (Tampa area) has electricity tonight and tomorrow.

OH! Speaking of wifi, one of my faithful readers reminded me that I had promised you a funny story regarding unsecured wifi. Here ‘tis:

A friend of mine I’ll call Joe has a laptop with a wifi card. He recently ordered DSL service for his home because he was tired of slow speed dial-up. Just AFTER he ordered the new service, a neighbor apparently installed a wireless router on HIS broadband source (cable or DSL), and Joe could get and use the neighbor’s signal.

I advised him NOT to cancel his DSL order. His neighbor might secure his router at any time, or disconnect it, or move away. Besides, Joe had already committed to some one-time setup charges for his DSL, and they were non-refundable.

The day came when his new DSL modem and instructions arrived. He worked his way through the instructions and plugged in the cable between the DSL modem and his network port on the laptop. Success! He now had his own (wired) broadband connection.

The next day he called me to tell me that now, in addition to his wired DSL connection, his laptop was receiving not one, but TWO unsecured wifi signals, both with “excellent” strength.

I told him that he could move all over his house with the laptop and have his internet anywhere, but he still couldn’t count on either of those signals being there all the time. He asked me to get him his own wireless router and install and secure it for him, so he could have a dependable portable internet experience without broadcasting his network signal to the world.

I got the best deal I could on a wireless router for him, and went by one day to install and secure it.

He proudly showed me his DSL modem and connection. I looked at it, and wondered. I asked him if he had any instructions for it. There were none.

I went to his laptop and searched for available networks. Windows reported that there were three available; one wired and two wireless. I disconnected the power to his modem and refreshed the network list. Now there was only one wireless source.

Satisfied, I called him over to his modem. I pointed to a four-inch long black appendage sticking up from the back of it and asked if he knew what it was.

He said, “No. But it looks like an antenna on a cordless phone.”

I asked, “What do you think an antenna on this modem might be for?”

He looked puzzled. “I don’t know. Something about picking up the DSL phone signal?”

I said logically, “No, that comes in through the phone wires to your house.”

He thought for a moment, and the light dawned. “You mean I already have wireless? The modem came with it?”

I nodded, and resisted the urge to snicker.

I got my money back on the router. Now when I see him I ask him innocently how his wireless internet experience is going. By way of answer he usually salutes me smartly with his right middle finger.

Then we both laugh.

Friday, October 21, 2005

Out of town again

The Duke is taking leave of this blog and of his normal weekend routine this afternoon. Some might add, “ he routinely does of his senses, right?” But that would imply that I HAD some sense, occasionally. An arguable position.

Carol and I are taking our camper and our friend Ruth to Central Texas for a weekend golf outing. A cool front is supposed to blow through here tonight, and the forecast for tomorrow where we’ll be is clear with a high of 79. On Sunday, after an overnight low of 47 (!!), the forecast calls for clear with a high of 76.

It doesn’t get much better than that.

We’ll leave this afternoon and come back late Sunday. It’ll be a little mini vacation. I can quit thinking about things like substance abuse policies and random drug tests. How lovely!

So, if you stop back by over the weekend you may or may not find a new post here. Oh, we’ll take the laptop along, and I think the campground has wifi now, but I may not find (or even try to take) the time to post anything. Unless I get a hole-in-one or something special like that. Not too likely.

But, what the heck... Check back and see. You never know.

Change of topic:

The Perfect Christmas Gift For the Person Who Has Everything!

Click HERE and read the last (big) paragraph under Michelle’s October 20 post titled, “Out From Under the Rock.”

What a great idea. The 500 South African Rand converts to just under $76 U.S. Think of all your friends (relatives?) who would love to get an “adopted” South African penguin for a gift!

Thursday, October 20, 2005

A Challenge

I find myself challenged, both by my daughter’s comment to yesterday’s post and by several emails I’ve received on the same topic, to defend my position on drug testing at my plant.

First I’ll say that I understand the “con” point of view. I agree with Joy (Christina) that, “I don't think that something you smoked on a Friday night, 3 or 4 weeks ago should automatically get you fired if you always show up to work on time, unimpaired, and do a good job.” My company also agrees.

Our policy is that if you come to work with sufficient drug or alcohol (or their residues) in your body that you might be impaired, we will take you home and offer you a choice: either leave our employ, or go through a program overseen by a medical professional (not us!) and present yourself back free from drugs. You will then be reinstated.

As a legal issue, the courts and legislatures have defined at what level you and I are impaired. In actual fact you and I may NOY be impaired at that level. And if we do our job safely and well, why do employers care?

Well, two main reasons.

First there is a federal law called The Drug Free Workplace Act, which mandates that we employers provide a workplace free from the hazards of drug-impaired folks. The law is long on what our results must be, but very short on what methods we should use. In practice the only time that law is enforced is if either: someone filed a complaint, or an impairment-related incident occurred with loss of life, serious injury, major property damage and/or public safety or health implications.

Next there is the moral duty we have to protect both our employees and the public (not to mention our own plant property), and the huge potential liability (litigation) we would face if we were negligent in performing that moral duty.

Big words, right? In plain English: if we failed to take what the world considers reasonable precautions, AND something bad happened; we’d be sued for everything we and our insurance companies might have. Plus we’d be branded as one more example of evil, greedy industrialists who make obscene profits at the expense of everybody’s health and safety — not to mention that we all also destroy the environment. That’s what all of us do, right? Just watch any movie or TV show!

So what does the world consider "reasonable?" In most cases it’s random drug testing to prevent impaired workers from harming or killing themselves and others.

Does random drug testing prevent that? NO! But it might discourage someone from coming to work impaired if he thought he might get caught and knew he’d be in serious trouble.

That’s my defense. Right or wrong, for those reasons I can look our employees in the eye and tell them I believe we must have a drug and alcohol policy that includes random testing with pretty serious penalties for violations. I do NOT agree with “one strike and you’re out” programs; there’s just too much chance for borderline cases or errors.

Some industries do have those policies of immediate discharge with no questions. In fact, a nearby nuclear power plant is one of them. The thought of one or more of those guys working impaired (kinda like the pilot of your jetliner) is something I don’t want to have to worry about. But it could happen, even with all the programs in place.

Okay, on a more pleasant note, how was the Rolling Stones concert last night, Joy?

Wednesday, October 19, 2005

An HR tale

Sometimes you get lucky.

One of our department managers came to my office today with a problem. He’d been told (grapevine stuff) that one of the contract employees who works in his department was using and selling drugs.

Not selling on our plant site, but a dealer. Presumably at home, or at least in town.

Further, the grapevine indicated that this man had attended a party on Monday night, and had called in sick yesterday but was at work today.

Since the person (“Mr. X”) was not our employee, it would be up to the contract firm to handle the situation through their substance abuse policy. That policy calls for random testing of 2-3 employees per month.

We agreed after some discussion that the best course of action would be to call the contract firm’s home office and “suggest” that this might be a good time to include Mr. X in a random drug test.

Hey, before you get on my case about being a hypocrite (since on yesterday's post I claimed Libertarian tendencies, and that if there's no victim there's no crime) you've got to remember that this guy works at a refinery-type plant. His job is such that inattention to detail or impairment could cause very serious injuries or death, and LOTS of property damage.

There were additional concerns expressed about Mr. X learning of his random selection early enough to attempt to leave the site before he was asked to take the test. Another was that he might even attempt to mask the test results through one of the many questionable methods described and sold through the internet. Such was the rumor of his possible habits.

Unfortunately I can’t go into more detail here since this is a public blog read by some locally who know my plant and its people.

Our conclusion was to try to have him tested through the contract firm’s program. If the test came back as a confirmed positive, the problem would be solved since their policies call for referral to treatment at the employee’s expense (which most can’t afford, especially since it usually involves considerable time off without pay) or you’re out. If it came back negative, either the rumors of his usage were false or he’d been successful in masking the chemicals in his system.

A third possibility was that the test would be “inconclusive,” which usually means that foreign substances were present that interfered with the test (masking agents). We’d discuss how to proceed in that case after we knew the results.

So, the call was made to the home office, and a routine request for two specific contract employees to be “randomly” tested came back to the supervisor. He dutifully gathered up the two and drove them into town to the testing lab to produce their sample.

One of them did so. But Mr. X thought about it briefly, and then told the supervisor he didn’t think he’d take the test, since he hadn’t studied for it. He’d just quit, thank you very much.

So, problem solved. Like I said, sometimes you get lucky.

Oh, and I heard that the local police might get an anonymous tip about a certain Mr. X who was rumored to be dealing drugs in town. The ubiquitous grapevine at work again.

Tuesday, October 18, 2005

A movie review

Some number of weeks ago we put the movie “Kinsey” in our Netflix queue. It showed up in the mail one day last week, and we got around to watching it last night.

Not exactly my idea of a date movie.

Okay, I admit it; I’m an old prude. I was uncomfortable with some of the scenes.

The thing is; I’ve been thinking about the movie much of the day. No, not the sex scenes. In fact, the sex shown was depicted in such a clinical setting and manner that it didn’t make me squirm at all.

And philosophically I tend toward the view that what goes on in private between consenting adults is private and thus no one’s concern.

There are those who claim, “Oh, but that activity will lead to other acts NOT in private, and withOUT consent, etc., etc.” Well, if it does, then THOSE acts need to be dealt with, but not the private ones with consent between adults. Call me a libertarian, I guess, but if there’s no “victim,” where’s the crime?

So why was I uncomfortable? Maybe it was the scene where the Kinsey family was having dinner together. The conversation between the parents and their three teenage kids involved Dad’s ideas about when intercourse was and was not appropriate, and specific (graphic) advice to the younger daughter about some of the mechanics of sex.

Their teenage son was uncomfortable and left the table. I guess I could relate with him. His expressed view was, “This (having a conversation like this) is not normal.”

Of course, Dr. Kinsey’s main thrust was to challenge folks’ ideas of what was and was not “normal.”

Maybe it was the depiction of Dr. Kinsey trying out an affair with another man. I consider myself pretty open-minded about gays and same-sex partners (again, in private between consenting adults), but I don’t find the idea personally attractive and therefore can’t relate to the characters shown thus engaged.

If the movie was at all close to what Dr. Kinsey was really like and really trying to do, I think he’d have understood my discomfort. He probably would have challenged me to determine why I felt that way, and to question the logic of it.

I guess, overall, I’d have to say the movie was well done. And that I enjoyed it.

But I probably won’t put it back on my queue to see it again.

My advice would be: if you rent it, don’t watch it with your kids unless you have a VERY open environment with them and can discuss literally anything with them without embarrassment.

Monday, October 17, 2005

Photos and Carol

As my regular readers all know, I consider myself a writer. Thus this blog is oriented more to the printed word than to visual imagery.

(Translation: I don’t post pictures here. I just write stuff.)

However, I DO occasionally put pictures, scanned images, photographs and so on, on my free web space I get from my ISP, and put a link to those images IN my text, so you’re not totally deprived of eye candy.

Some of you (Christina) have been anxious for pictures from our recent vacation, including shots of our grandson. You will be pleased to know that some progress has been made in that regard.

What progress? Today we took 4 rolls of exposed film to Wal-Mart to get them developed. We should get the pictures on Thursday.

What? One hour processing? Yeah, I know about it. But why should we pay for that when we’ve already waited 3 weeks after the trip to take the film in? C’mon, use your head!

Anyway, on Thursday we will sort through the shots, scan them to digitize them, crop and adjust them to the point we’re happy with them, and then you MIGHT get to see some of them on a link I’ll provide. If any turn out.

Carol is the expert in this family in digitally processing photos. Really! She has become very adept with both Adobe Photoshop and with JASC’s Paint Shop Pro. The only downside is, she’s such a perfectionist that she takes a LOOOOONG time to get them just the way she wants them.

That’s why I’m glad she likes to do that stuff and will do it while I’m at work. If it were up to me, I’d pay the extra $1 per roll and get the pix on a CD, then just upload them to a web page with some captions and you’d see exactly what came out of the camera.

But no. When Carol is done they will be as good as they can be. Neatly cropped to the perfect size to highlight the main feature in the shot, brightness and contrast adjusted, even any stray specks from dust on the lens or from processing flaws will be “cloned” out.

Like most everything she does, she’s good at that. God, I love that woman!

They say opposites attract, but that can’t be true in this case or I’d be a total loser and an idiot.

And we all know that’s not true.

Don’t we? (No answer is required, thank you ALL very much!)

Sunday, October 16, 2005

Favorite pet

Did any of you readers not have a favorite pet, at some time in your life?

Peg, better known as Schnoodlepooh over on her blog which she calls “Jack,” tells a heartbreaking story of her little dog named Bijou and how he met his demise one year ago today.

She then relates the guilt she has felt ever since for not being aware of the hazard and correcting it. (It wasn’t her fault. It was one of those crazy, freak things. You’ll have to read the story to understand.)

Her story reminded me of (and I commented on her blog briefly about) a favorite pet of mine and Carol’s who also suffered an untimely and awful death.

His name was Marshmallow. He was an English bulldog who looked ferocious, but who, like his name, was soft and sweet on the inside.

He never met a person he didn’t like. His tail was docked, but he would wiggle that little stub so hard his whole hind end would wag, trying to show how much he liked you and how much he wanted you to like him. Unfortunately, if you didn’t know him and saw him coming, you would probably (like most people did) cower or run away in fear.

We saw some folks actually try to climb a fence to avoid him. Yeah, he was ugly. So ugly he was cute!

He was the smartest pet I’ve ever had or been around. You talk about an animal with a huge vocabulary! We could tell him to “go to the kitchen,” and he would hang his head and look at us with pleading eyes. The kitchen, you see, as where we would banish him if he happened to be producing his typical malodorous gas. The kitchen was also the place we would send him at bed time.

When we would affirm the banishment with a stern, “Go on!” he would slowly get up and trudge out of whatever room he was in. When he left the carpeted area we could hear his toenails scrape across the tile floor of the kitchen to his spot near the refrigerator. A bit later he would reappear, wagging his way back into our good graces.

He is the only dog I’ve ever seen who would eat banana. Not only would he eat it, he craved it. If he heard a banana being peeled in another room he would race in, plop down in front of whoever was peeling it, and look up with yearning! He got to the point that if we mentioned the word “banana,” he would expect to eat some.

We had another dog at that time who thought he should get some of whatever Marshmallow got. When Marshmallow was getting a piece of banana, Hurricane thought he ought to be getting some too. We would dutifully give him a small piece, which he would snatch from our hand, mouth a bit, and then gently deposit on the floor. At once Marshmallow would gently pick it up and gulp it down.

Marshmallow, unlike many dogs, hated to be wet. Like a cat, he would shake his feet if he stepped in a puddle. If we happened to mention the word “bath” in his presence, he would quickly slink off and hide under a table, desk or chair. When we actually gave him a bath he would tremble the whole time, but loved it when we would rub him all over with towels.

I could go on and on with stories about this dog, but I need to tell you of his ending.

We let him out in the back yard one evening as we often did so he could do his business. There had never been a problem. An hour or two later (after dark) we called him but he didn’t come. This was unusual, so we searched.

I found him in our backyard swimming pool, drowned. We’ll never know how he fell in. He wouldn’t have gone in voluntarily with his loathing of being wet. The poor guy was so solid and heavy that it was a tremendous struggle for him to keep his heavy head above water. We know he had to have been terrified.

Well, I cried. Carol cried. Joy and Amy (our daughters) cried. In fact, we wailed!

This was at least 15 years ago, but to this day whenever we see a real (or even a picture of an) English bulldog, Carol will always smile and say, “Awwww, bulldawwwg!”

Sorry. I don’t usually do sad posts.

Blame Peg!

Saturday, October 15, 2005

Saturday, and a round of golf!

Since both the orthopedic surgeon and the physical therapist told Carol that golf would NOT do any damage to her rotator cuff tear, we (including Ruth) played a round today.

No, we did NOT “play around.” We played a round. As in, 18 holes of golf. (That’s for all of you who love double entendres, and were already salivating as you prepared to hit the comment link and make nasty cracks about me and Ruth playing around. I could see you all out there, ready to do that! Well, one of you anyway.)

Carol actually played pretty well. She played especially well considering her sore arm (causing her to swing easier than usual) and the fact that we last played on our vacation in Georgia a month ago. (We last played golf a month ago. Whether or not we’ve “played around” since then is none of your business!)

Ruth played fairly well also.

I played like someone with TWO sore arms! Oh, I hit an occasional good shot. Trouble was, I usually hit it when I was expecting to hit a poor shot and flew the ball over the green.

Carol tried to console me with comments like, “Oh, even the pros hit bad shots.” I didn’t say anything, but I was thinking, “Yeah, every once in a while. Maybe 4-5 times in a round. More than that and they wouldn’t be pros for very long.”

Well, those few good shots already have me wanting to go back again tomorrow and try to duplicate them. Maybe even multiply them. At least add a few of them.

I guess that’s why golf is “flog” spelled backwards.

Well, on the bright side it was a beautiful sunshiny day, light breeze, temperature in the upper 80s. We walked the 4-5 miles it takes to traipse around a golf course, so there was fresh air and exercise involved.

Now we’ve showered and are ready for a nice relaxing evening at home. Might watch a Netflix movie after dinner.

(MIGHT even play around! But that's none of your business either.)

Friday, October 14, 2005

A close encounter of the “O” kind.

This morning the alarm went off at the appointed hour and I had time to prepare breakfast before leaving for work. (I just KNEW you’d want to know that, after yesterday...)

ANY-way, I was eating that breakfast (a cheese omelet with Canadian bacon, for those of you who track my eating habits) when from the garage came the unmistakable sound of things falling over. The garage is just off the kitchen, btw. What things? I couldn’t tell, but there was no clanging metal or shattering glass.

My first thought was, “It’s one of the #*!!#@*! neighborhood cats.”

I don’t know which neighbor(s) they “belong to” (you know what they say about cats belonging to people, or vice versa), but we have about 4 neighborhood cats that frequent our yard often to hunt birds by the birdbath. They also strut into our garage when it’s open and spray urine on just about everything in there. Marking their territory, I’d imagine. But nasty!

As soon as that image came to my mind I leaped up, threw open the door to the garage and hissed. Yes, I hissed. A loud hiss will always get a cat’s attention and usually scare it.

The response to my hiss was immediate thumping and bumping, but no animal raced out the open garage door. I strode toward the area from which the bumping noises had come, determined to give that cat a good scare. “That might keep it from venturing in here the next time it wants to spray something,” was my thought.

I stopped.

What if it’s not a cat? HA! Fearless, I grabbed a long-handled car-washing brush to fend off whatever rabid creature might attack me and stepped forward again.

And again I stopped.

What if it’s a skunk? Wouldn’t THAT be an appropriate follow up to yesterday morning’s coffee episode? We DO have an occasional skunk show up in the neighborhood. An encounter with a skunk would definitely delay my departure for work. By about a week, probably.

So I ducked back inside the kitchen and grabbed a flashlight. Yes, there’s an overhead light in the garage, but it was very dark in the corners. And the noises had come from one of the corners.

From about 10 feet away I aimed the light into the dark area. There, cowering behind the bottom rung of my stepladder and holding very still was the object of my search.

It was gray, with eyes that reflected red in the glare of the flashlight beam. It had a long, almost pink, hairless tail and a long pointy snout.

No, not a huge rat. It was an opossum ("possum" to all you southerners). You know, like Pogo? Anyway, they’re pretty harmless (if not rabid, which this guy didn’t seem to be).

In fact, (side note here, which Joy will remember) when my daughters were in elementary school we once found a dead mother possum that had been hit by a car but still had two live babies clinging to her body. We nursed the babies and raised them to a size we felt to be big enough to release, took them out into the countryside and let them go. They were definitely unusual pets.

And dumb? As a fence post!

In case you’ve never been around these creatures very much, they do, indeed, “play possum.” If they are threatened and have no place to hide or escape, they WILL lie down and not move. I remember one once who would bare its teeth slightly in a snarl if we approached, but otherwise was totally still. When we backed away a “safe” distance, it jumped up and ran off.

OK, back to my cornered garage guest. I figured he had probably wandered in looking for bugs to eat, and would quickly leave once he sensed the threat (me) was gone. I went back into the kitchen and finished my omelet. (It was very good, btw.) Ten minutes later there was no sign of Mr. O, as I had begun to think of him.

Next time things go bump in the dark garage I’ll probably get sprayed by a cat. Or Pepe LePew.

This morning my close encounter was of the “O” kind, but not Onerous. Next time...??

(And NO, all of you visually oriented readers, I did NOT get, or even try to get, any pictures!)

Thursday, October 13, 2005

Not a bad day – after a rocky start.

I cracked open one drowsy eye to see how much longer I could sleep before the alarm would go off. I had a hard time focusing, so I blinked and tried again.

DAMN! The alarm was supposed to go off 25 minutes ago!

Adrenaline pumping, I went through my morning shave and dress routine in a blur. Just in time I remembered that I had to attend a lunch meeting of other local HR managers today, so I put on some dark gray slacks and a more-dressy-than-usual shirt.

I had time to make some coffee and scan the headlines in the paper, but not enough time to make breakfast. No problem, I thought; I’d just stop by the local fast-food drive-through and grab a sausage egg biscuit and eat on the fly.

Most mornings I drink some coffee with breakfast at home, then put the rest in an insulated mug with a snap-on lid to drink on the 30-mile drive to work. Well, today I tried to put the whole 4-cup pot in the mug and of course it wouldn’t fit, so I put the overflow in a second smaller lidded mug (for safety!), jumped in the car and roared off. The large mug was securely between my legs while I sipped from the small one.

I usually turn right at the first light, but today I had to turn left to get to the breakfast place. From quite a ways back I saw the light turn green. With a stale green light I crossed the intersection faster than normal in a left turn and promptly slopped a lot of very hot coffee out the little hole in the large mug’s snap-on lid all over, well, let’s just say a very personal region.

Fortunately there was no traffic at that intersection at 6:10 this morning. A casual observer might have wondered if the driver of my car was involved in a fight with a passenger, or just couldn’t decide whether to go straight across or turn.

We won’t discuss the language that emanated from the front seat. We won’t even discuss the extent of the, uh... damages. I WILL say that through Herculean self-control and some very skillful steering I managed to pull into a business driveway very close to the intersection and attempted to limit the “coverage” of the slopped coffee.

Then I had to decide whether to go home and change my pants, or if they were dark enough that when they dried the coffee stains wouldn’t show.

I had the fleeting thought that if I’d just bought that coffee at McDonalds I might have a very lucrative lawsuit to file. Hmm... Wonder if I could sue the maker of the mug? Too big a hole in the lid, maybe? Gross negligence, at least. I could claim mental and physical anguish, pain and suffering, erectile dysfunction, loss of consortium, and...

Nah. I wouldn’t want to testify to all that.

With all the mugs properly secured (and emptied of some of their previously brimming contents) I proceeded to buy my breakfast sandwich. I opted to take the chance that the stains wouldn’t show, and headed off for work.

All is now well. The stains did NOT show once the coffee dried. (Which reminds me of the old joke in which the bitter employee says, “Doing a good job here is like wetting your pants in a dark suit. It gives you a warm feeling, but nobody notices.”)

The rest of the day was fairly routine. There are no burns to heal, thus no disruption of my normal activities (which I will leave to your vivid imagination).

Tonight you can bet I’ll set the alarm clock, though!

Wednesday, October 12, 2005

Another work post

I got to thinking about yesterday’s message concerning the many duties nobody else really wants to do that end up in my department.

It occurred to me that I learned many years ago how to decline (with a modicum of grace) some of the many requests/demands put on my personal time for worthwhile things like school projects for my kids, church projects, community projects and so on. I mean, you reach a point where you meet yourself coming and going! And then various parts of your life begin to decline in quality. In fact, I think I recently boasted about my skill in that area in a comment on one of my blogroll buddies’ blogs. (You know who you are!)

Maybe I need to apply that same skill-set to my work. In fact, Nankin said that to me in her comment to my post yesterday.

Those thoughts led to the following effort. (And Karyn, I’m NOT trying to compete with your “Poetry Wednesday.” Your poems are MUCH better than mine, anyway.)

“An HR Manager’s lament.”

To Greg:
You got a task for me to do?
Well SURE I’m busy, but for YOU
I’ll put the others off a few,
Gimme a week — or maybe two.
I’ll do it.

What’s that? You say there’s something more?
And you can’t squeeze it past your door
With all the stuff piled on your floor?
I understand. I know the score.
I’ll do it.

To Linda:
You say there’s too much on your plate,
You come in early, stay so late.
You’ve got a project that won’t wait?
I’ve got a staff. I’ll delegate.
I’ll do it.

To Jay:
You need that manual to be clear,
The way it’s written now, I fear,
Will cause confusion far and near.
Want it redone? Just give it here.
I’ll do it.

To Al:
The policy you want to write
Should have in it both bark AND bite.
You can’t use words like “may” or “might."
Just let me work on it tonight.
I’ll do it.

To me:
What makes me think I must display
Such willingness to work all day?
I ask myself with keen dismay,
Why do I feel compelled to say,
“I’ll do it?”

I need to learn, ‘midst all this flow,
To pace myself and take it slow.
It shouldn’t be so hard, you know,
Like Nancy taught, to just say, “NO,
YOU do it!”

Tuesday, October 11, 2005

A traffic cop with a quota?

That’s what our outside ISO auditor reminds me of.

He told us his boss recently evaluated him and informed him that, on average, his audits resulted in slightly fewer “write-ups” than other auditors in his company. A “write-up” could be a non-conformance (classified as minor, serious or major), or simply a “suggestion for improvement.”

So today, after a 1½ day audit, he apologetically informed us that although we have a good program that seems to be functioning well, he has found three items that will be listed as minor non-conformances.

Ah, that’s OK. The stuff he “found,” although relatively insignificant, will bring about an improvement if we make the changes he suggests. And that’s part of his function as an auditor. So I’m not really complaining. I just hope my boss understands that our program is really pretty good, even though we’ve now been “written up” by the outside auditor.

Greg, if you’re reading this, now you know the real reason he wrote those non-conformances. You understand, right?

Am I worried about getting fired? Not really. Let’s face it, nobody else here wants to run the quality program. At one point our finance manager ran it, but she begged off citing lack of time. Come to think of it, that’s about the 5th duty she has begged off of for the same reason, and they all seem to slide down hill (as that kind of stuff tends to do) to HR.

What? Am I saying that HR has become the “dumping ground” for all the programs and duties that nobody else wants?

Well, in many cases, yes! And in those cases where the duty or program has value to the company (or employees) and the HR folks have the training, skills and time to handle them, that’s fine. That way HR provides more value to the “line” organization, which is what “staff” departments are supposed to do, isn't it?

Boy, is this a boring blog post or what? I got started talking about cops with quotas for traffic citations, and look where I ended up. I’m sounding like a real “company man.”

Greg, are you paying attention??

Well, I call this thing “Ramblings.” Maybe I’ll find something at least vaguely “Romantic” to write about tomorrow.

Monday, October 10, 2005


1. Today was very busy at work. We had our annual outside ISO 9000 quality audit, and I’m the “Management Representative” for the ISO quality program.

Big deal, right? Well, it means that I’m a key focal point of the audit, and thus I get to spend most of the day with the outside auditor. He was fairly happy with what he saw of our program today, so if all goes well again tomorrow we’ll do all right.

The reason that makes for a long day is; our normal work hours are 7 a.m. until 3:30 p.m. I usually arrive at work by about 6:30. The outside auditor typically works from 8 to 5, so I had to stick around today until he was ready to leave at 5.

The next day or two will be busy as well, because although he plans to be finished by noon tomorrow all my regular work from today and tomorrow morning that didn’t get done will be piled up and waiting. Ah, the price we pay!

2. Re: my post yesterday about ambulance chasing... That same lawyer is running a full media blitz in this area, including another big ad in the local paper today and TV and radio spots this last weekend. I saw her on our local cable ad segment during the Dallas Cowboys football game on Fox! She must really smell blood in the water!

3. Oh and our beautiful weekend weather turned nasty this morning with a line of very heavy thunderstorms rumbling through dropping nearly 3 inches of rain. It was a pretty spectacular light show on the way to work this morning though.

4. For those of you who expressed concern, Carol was diagnosed with a partial tear of her rotator cuff (muscle). She got a cortisone shot and has had physical therapy prescribed, but was told that any activity she wants to participate in is fine if she can stand the pain. The tear should heal itself; but if not, then the doc will consider surgery.

That’s good. I appreciate surgeons who first prescribe conservative treatment and cut only if all else fails.

Sunday, October 09, 2005

Ambulance chasing

Here in South Texas, lawyers are held in about as much regard as... Gee, I can’t think of a good comparison. “Used car salesmen” comes to mind, but that’s not quite right. “Congressional representatives” is close, but then most of them are lawyers.

One indication or the high regard in which they are held is that the number of lawyer jokes almost equals the number of Aggie jokes. If you’re not from Texas you may not know that the “national pastime” here is telling Aggie jokes.

Anyway, given that introduction, what I’m about to show you will come as no surprise.

Three days ago, on Thursday, the largest petrochemical plant in this area (and there are about 7 of them, my plant being one of the smallest) had an explosion and major fire when a six-inch pipe carrying polypropylene under 165 psi was struck by a forklift moving a trailer. The forklift was driven by a contract employee. He was maneuvering in congested quarters in an area where he shouldn’t have been.

Anyway, HERE’s the article from our local paper with a picture describing the incident. As you can see and read, it was bad. But it could have been a lot worse.

My little plant is nearly 20 miles away from the Formosa Plastics plant that suffered the incident, but we could see the huge smoke plume easily from ground level.

So what’s my point about lawyers?

I told Carol the evening of the incident, while I was feeling guilty relief that it was “them” and not “us,” that I was sure people from the surrounding counties would be lining up to file lawsuits claiming everything from smelling toxic fumes to cows that miscarried in the fields. That’s just the way of some folks. They view the big plants as a giant cash register, and if they are able to hit the right keys it will pop open and shower them with money. (Maybe a slot machine would be a better image.)

Well, imagine my lack of surprise to find, in Saturday morning’s paper (the same Victoria Advocate) THIS AD.

Does that qualify as “ambulance chasing?” If not, why not? Sure seems exploitative to me. If nothing else, the timing is certainly damning.


Saturday, October 08, 2005

Sunshine, Superman

Are any of you old enough to remember Donovan? Today reminds me of that song.

Bright sun, temps in the 70s, no wind (just a slight movement of air every now and then to remind you you’re outside). Today is one of those “soft” days.

I actually went out after mid-morning and did some chores in the garage and back yard, and didn’t even break a sweat!! First time in over six months!

They say that spring puts a spring in your step, makes you feel frisky, and turns a young man’s thoughts to love. Well lemme tell you – I’m no longer even close to being young, but as for getting that frisky feeling, nothing gets me going like a cool, crisp day with bright sun after months of hot, humid summer.

“Superman and Green Lantern ain’t got,
Nothin’ on me!”

Yup, a great day. Too bad about no golf, but Carol goes to a specialist on Monday and hopefully he can get her arms back to normal quickly.

This will just be a weekend to glory in the beauty outdoors, relax, and maybe get a few small projects done.

Friday, October 07, 2005


Fall. Finally!

But don’t blink or you’ll miss it.

Our first “cold” front of the season blew through yesterday and our high temperature today is supposed to be about 20 degrees cooler than the average high for all of last week, or 76 vs. 96.

In fact, if the high today only reaches 76, that’ll bee cooler than the LOW on many days this summer.

The low last night was in the low 60s, and if it’s clear tonight we’re liable to se the upper 50s!

Well, for US that’s a big deal! I’m probably located farther south than any of my regular readers. (except you, Michelle. But you’re in a whole 'nother HEMISPHERE, so that doesn’t count. Your seasons are all backward down there anyway, and you’re ready to start telling us how Spring is springing.)

But all the rest of you, even those in Dallas area and Austin, get more fall and winter than we do in Victoria.

Anyway, it sure felt good to drive to work in the pre-dawn this morning with the air conditioning off and the vents open.

Tomorrow will be a perfect day, weather wise, for golf. Sunshine, a high temp in the 70s, and little wind.

I may not get to play, though, because Carol’s been having some upper arm (rotator cuff) problems recently and can’t comfortably raise her arms in a golf swing. I tried to tell her I’d quit beating her around the upper arms if she’d just do things my way more often, but NO. So it’s all her fault. She’s brought it on herself.

(Isn’t that just SICK? But that’s the justification some lower life-forms that call themselves “men” use for hitting their wives/girlfriends. It makes me so mad I want to hit THEM. I can’t even joke about it without getting angry.)

OK. Sorry about that.

The thought of me raising a hand to Carol is just so foreign. Of course, if I ever did I know I wouldn’t see her for at least two weeks. And THEN, if I were really lucky, I might just begin to see her through the slit in my left eye as the swelling went down.

No, I can’t even joke about that. Any form of physical abuse between married partners is just so wrong on so many levels. My advice to anyone in a relationship like that is to do whatever it takes to get out of it. Now!

End of sermon.

Ahhhh. The weather is just about perfect.

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.

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. F. Have fun on $158 a week.

I hope you never have to experience a run-in with the IRS.

Tuesday, October 04, 2005

So I took Monday off! So sue me!

Actually I guess I’m flattered that at least one of my thousands of readers noticed that there was no new post on my blog yesterday.

You don’t think I have thousands of readers? Well, just look at the hit counter. Even discounting all the times that I accessed the blog to post, edit, or view and write comments, there are thousands of hits.

Yes, I’m aware that the thousands of hits could be just one person (like Michelle, who actually suggested it) hitting the “refresh” icon thousands of times. But Michelle’s WAY too busy with her new entrepreneurial venture to do something like that. And that person would have no life! Besides, what possible motive could he/she have?

(See? I read enough John Grisham and watch enough Perry Mason to know that you’ve got to have means, motive and opportunity to convict someone. Ha!)

But don’t blame the Sudoku. I’m already tapering off on that time waster activity. Guess I’m down to only about 4 hours per day now. And my job has been too busy after that long vacation to sneak time off to play, so it’s all been at home.

Did I tell you I got Carol started on Sudoku too? She started off a bit slow and I thought maybe I’d finally found a pastime where I could beat her on at least an occasional basis. But after two days she’s finishing the puzzles faster than I can. That’s another reason I’m tapering off.

Just as in her supremacy at golf, I blame my inferior equipment for mastering Sudoku. In fact, it’s the same mental equipment that causes me problems at golf.

No, my only excuse for disappointing so many of you yesterday who called up my blog only to find the old stale Sunday post is that I did chores after work. What chores? Well, car maintenance stuff; like changing oil, washing the windshield, and airing up the tires.

I have an air compressor with a small tank for airing tires. When I tried to use it, a check valve was stuck and the regulator didn’t want to regulate. So in order to air the tires I had to disassemble the compressor parts, clean and lube them, and reassemble. So what should have been a 45 minute job took over two hours.

After supper I browsed the blogs on my blogroll, emailed daughter Joy, and went to bed early. A really exciting evening, right? Maybe today I’ll get motivated enough to post something.

Or maybe I just did.

Sunday, October 02, 2005


It’s Jennifer’s fault!

She’s on my blogroll, so I check out her latest posts at least 3-4 times each week. She had to go and mention Sudoku.

Hey, I know! It’s JUST a puzzle. No big deal, right? How can a little puzzle become so addicting?

I Googled the word and checked out a couple of the zillions of web sites dedicated to it. The rules are simple, and the logic is pretty straightforward, so I started with an “easy” one.

No problem. I got the hang of it pretty quickly and came up with the correct solution in about, oh, 20 minutes or so. I tried another “easy” one. This time it only took about 15 minutes.

Thus emboldened I tried out a “medium” level puzzle. Hmmm, same rules, same logic, but fewer givens and thus more unknowns to figure out. This one took about 30 minutes, but again I got the correct answer. So, another “medium.” Then another.

OK, this is a little bit of a challenge, but I wonder how hard the “hard”ones are? Gotta try one.

Ooo! This one went for over an hour! I got to a point where I thought I’d looked at every square and nothing just HAD to fit in any of them. I walked away for a few minutes and then came back to it.

THERE! Now I saw it! Oh, and after THAT one, the rest of it started to fall into place and soon I had the correct solution to it, too!

Hey, I think I’m GOOD at this!

Next I tried a web site that offers a “speed challenge.” You work the puzzle online and compare your speed against others.

HA! Let’s just see how good they are! Bring on that first puzzle!

Oh. Well, darn. This one is sticky. Must be the pressure of knowing the clock is ticking and others are probably ahead.

I actually start to sweat! I CAN’T let this thing beat me! AH, there’s the move I missed. There’s another! OK, OK... Done!

Let’s check my time. Gee, the winner took about 6 minutes. Several others finished in under 10, then a bunch at 15-20 minutes.

I found my name WAY down the list at about 48 minutes. Obviously, “good” is relative.

I’ve succeeded in interesting Carol in the puzzles. Not hard to do, since she’s a crossword puzzle whiz and works logic problems for fun. I actually beat her by a significant margin on the first few she tried. The last few have been very close, and I can see she’s getting better rapidly.

I think I’ll quit Sudoku now and go back to golf. There I have an excuse for losing to Carol almost every time. My excuse is that my equipment is inferior to hers.

And it’s true!

But I’m talking about our MENTAL equipment. She’ll always have a clear edge there.

So thanks, Jennifer, for the Sudoku experience. I was good at it for a few hours anyway.

Saturday, October 01, 2005

A relaxing Saturday

We spent most of the day getting caught up on “chores:” cleaning the camper inside and out to get it ready for our next excursion (whenever that might be), yard work, paying bills, and just general straightening up.

Later in the day, after cleaning up from the sweaty outdoor stuff, I browsed through my blogroll friends’ recent posts and just generally took things easy.

For my post today I thought I’d resurrect an email story that made the rounds a few years ago. I discovered it again hiding in one of my file folders where I’d dutifully saved it, thinking it was funny and I might enjoy it again later. I laughed out loud several times the first time through.

See what you think.

What to Do With Hotel Soap?

The following letters are taken from an actual incident between a London hotel and one of it's guests. The Hotel ended up submitting the letters to the London Sunday Times.

Dear Maid,

Please do not leave any more of those little bars of soap in my bathroom since I have brought my own bath-sized Dial. Please remove the six unopened little bars from the shelf under the medicine chest and another three in the shower soap dish. They are in my way.

Thank you,
S. Berman


Dear Room 635,

I am not your regular maid. She will be back tomorrow, Thursday, from her day off. I took the 3 hotel soaps out of the shower soap dish as you requested. The 6 bars on your shelf I took out of your way and put on top of your Kleenex dispenser in case you should change your mind. This leaves only the 3 bars I left today which my instructions from the management is to leave 3 soaps daily. I hope this is satisfactory.

Kathy, Relief Maid


Dear Maid - I hope you are my regular maid.

Apparently Kathy did not tell you about my note to her concerning the little bars of soap. When I got back to my room this evening I found you had added 3 little Camays to the shelf under my medicine cabinet. I am going to be here in the hotel for two weeks and have brought my own bath-size Dial so I won't need those 6 little Camays which are on the shelf. They are in my way when shaving, brushing teeth, etc. Please remove them.

S. Berman


Dear Mr. Berman,

My day off was last Wed. so the relief maid left 3 hotel soaps which we are instructed by the management. I took the 6 soaps which were in your way on the shelf and put them in the soap dish where your Dial was. I put the Dial in the medicine cabinet for your convenience. I didn't remove the 3 complimentary soaps which are always placed inside the medicine cabinet for all new check-ins and which you did not object to when you checked in last Monday. Please let me know if I can of further assistance.

Your regular maid,


Dear Mr. Berman,

The assistant manager, Mr. Kensedder, informed me this morning that you called him last evening and said you were unhappy with your maid service. I have assigned a new girl to your room. I hope you will accept my apologies for any past inconvenience. If you have any future complaints please contact me so I can give it my personal attention. Call extension 1108 between 8AM and 5PM. Thank you.

Elaine Carmen


Dear Miss Carmen,

It is impossible to contact you by phone since I leave the hotel for business at 7:45 AM and don't get back before 5:30 or 6PM. That's the reason I called Mr. Kensedder last night. You were already off duty. I only asked Mr. Kensedder if he could do anything about those little bars of soap. The new maid you assigned me must have thought I was a new check-in today, since she left another 3 bars of hotel soap in my medicine cabinet along with her regular delivery of 3 bars on the bathroom shelf. In just 5 days here I have accumulated 24 little bars of soap. Why are you doing this to me?

S. Berman


Dear Mr. Berman,

Your maid, Kathy, has been instructed to stop delivering soap to your room and remove the extra soaps. If I can be of further assistance, please call extension 1108 between 8AM and 5PM. Thank you,

Elaine Carmen,


Dear Mr. Kensedder,

My bath-size Dial is missing. Every bar of soap was taken from my room including my own bath-size Dial. I came in late last night and had to call the bellhop to bring me 4 little Cashmere Bouquets.

S. Berman


Dear Mr. Berman,

I have informed our housekeeper, Elaine Carmen, of your soap problem. I cannot understand why there was no soap in your room since our maids are instructed to leave 3 bars of soap each time they service a room. The situation will be rectified immediately. Please accept my apologies for the inconvenience.

Martin L. Kensedder
Assistant Manager


Dear Mrs. Carmen,

Who the hell left 54 little bars of Camay in my room? I came in last night and found 54 little bars of soap. I don't want 54 little bars of Camay. I want my one damn bar of bath-size Dial. Do you realize I have 54 bars of soap in here? All I want is my bath size Dial. Please give me back my bath-size Dial.

S. Berman


Dear Mr. Berman,

You complained of too much soap in your room so I had them moved. Then you complained to Mr. Kensedder that all your soap was missing so I personally returned them. The 24 Camays which had been taken and the 3 Camays you are supposed to receive daily. I don't know anything about the 4 Cashmere Bouquets.

Obviously your maid, Kathy, did not know I had returned your soaps so she also brought 24 Camays plus the 3 daily Camays. I don't know where you got the idea this hotel issues bath-size Dial. I was able to locate some bath-size Ivory which I left in your room.

Elaine Carmen


Dear Mrs. Carmen,

Just a short note to bring you up-to-date on my latest soap inventory.

As of today I possess:

- On the shelf under medicine cabinet - 18 Camay in 4 stacks of 4 and 1 stack of 2.

- On the Kleenex dispenser - 11 Camay in 2 stacks of 4 and 1 stack of 3.

- On the bedroom dresser - 1 stack of 3 Cashmere Bouquet, 1 stack of 4 hotel-size Ivory, and 8 Camay in 2 stacks of 4.

- Inside the medicine cabinet - 14 Camay in 3 stacks of 4 and 1 stack of 2.

- In the shower soap dish - 6 Camay, very moist.

- On the northeast corner of tub - 1 Cashmere Bouquet, slightly used.

- On the northwest corner of tub - 6 Camays in 2 stacks of 3.

Please ask Kathy when she services my room to make sure the stacks are neatly piled and dusted. Also, please advise her that stacks of more than 4 have a tendency to tip. May I suggest that my bedroom window sill is not in use and will make an excellent spot for future soap deliveries?

One more item, I have purchased another bar of bath-sized Dial which I am keeping in the hotel vault in order to avoid further misunderstandings.

S. Berman