Monday, April 30, 2007

Rockin' and Rulin'

I love this simple cartoon!

After all the comments about my last post, concerning whether I'm brave or stupid (and there's a FINE LINE there, sometimes!) and some of you saying "You rock," with reference to my being lucky enough to mess with the computer and live to tell about it, (deep breath...) made me think of it. So I Googled it, and hereby violate some copyright laws to show it to you.

I just wish I'd thought of it first.

Oh, and I think I've made a new blogger friend. Jan, over at "The Poodle (and dog) Blog" (who didn't say, but most likely found my blog through Schnoodlepooh) and I have been exchanging emails after her comment. She says that if I include a dog -- preferably a Poodle -- in my next novel, she will read the manuscript and write me a wonderful review.

Somehow I bet that wouldn't happen if the Poodle died needlessly, or was part of the bad guys' entourage, or wore a pink tam. . . Oh, wait! That's Killer Yapp from over at Miss Snark's blog. Forget the tam.

Obviously I'm rambling with no end in sight. Well, this site is called "Romantic Ramblings" for a reason, n'est-ce pas?

But I think there IS an end in sight.

And I think we've just reached it. Rock on, rule. Rule on, rock. Or vice versa.

Saturday, April 28, 2007

"Brave and Talented?"

That's what Schnoodlepooh called me for "tweaking" my new computer. Carol, on the other hand, calls me "stupid!"

Gee! "Stupid?"

Candace, or Chenoah, thinks I should have bought a Mac and I wouldn't HAVE to tweak or learn a non-intuitive Operating System.

But I'm a bit hard-headed (Carol is nodding) and a tinkerer by nature.

Plus I love to save a buck. So I decided to install my OLD computer hard drives into my NEW computer, transfer any wanted files to the NEW hard drive, then re-format the old hard drives and use them for extra storage space.

I didn't really NEED the extra space, but why waste a good hard drive? Yeah, they were older technology, but hey. . . they WORK, right? So I opened the case, stuck them in there and wired them up.

(RobotJam warned me. He made it clear that like Pandora's box, once that new computer's case was opened all KINDS of evil would ensue. But I -- stupidly, says Carol -- pressed on.)

Ah, but one of them had been "partitioned" (using a program called "Partition Magic") and I needed to UN-partition it so I could access ALL that space. So I fired up "Partition Magic" (One of the programs from my OLD computer) and tried to do so. Unfortunately that program works fine with earlier versions of Windows but has compatibility issues with Vista. I tried anyway. It seemed like it was working. . . at first.

But it never quite managed to "UN-partition" the drive. So I gave up.

But then I had a new error message pop up everytime I started (booted) my new machine. Something about "XMNT2002 Program not found. . . skipping Autocheck."

I Googled that error message and found that it's a product of Partition Magic when the program doesn't work right. (As, when it's not compatible with the Operating System?)

Oh, but there's a fix! It requires going into the Registry Editor and changing your Registry entries.

But all of the "experts" tell you NOT to mess around in the Registry unless you REALLY know what you're doing, or you might permanently mess up your whole computer!

Did that stop ME?? NO!! I'm "brave and talented!" ...or is it Carol's version? (But first I got some advice and a script to follow from my I.T. -- Information Technology -- guys at work. Lucky for me, they DO really know what they're doing!)

And the fix they provided worked!

So I have now uninstalled the incompatible Partition Magic from my computer. Everything is rosy again, and the computer now works just like it's supposed to. It's fast, and becoming more intuitive every day (as I climb that learning curve that I wouldn't have to climb if I'd just bought a Mac. Right, Candace?)

But I think Carol's adjective may have been right (as usual) after all.

Sorry, Schnoodlepooh. (But thanks for the thought!)

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Making progress!

With the new computer, that is.

I guess it's like a lot of things that seem different at first -- you just have to spend some time with them and before long you'll climb that learning curve and wonder why the thing was ever uncomfortable. I'm still climbing, and parts of it are still uncomfortable, but I think it's all going to be OK before too long.

I've been inside the case already. Decided to try just taking the twin hard drives I had in the old computer out and installing them in the new box. No, I don't need the storage, but with the drives installed I can transfer files to the new hard drive and keep all my old saved emails and other data. I can even run programs that were loaded on the old drives and so far they work just fine on the new machine -- even under the Vista OS.

I'm still getting my desktop icons set up and finding my way around Windows Explorer. With three hard drives, plus two cd/dvd drives. plus an external drive for backup and a USB flash drive I have lots of drive designations to keep up with. Oh, and don't forget I'm networked through the wireless router with Carol's laptop, so it shows up as a network drive on Win Explorer.

I'm still happy with my new purchase. Mainly because it's FAST! Well, compared to the old machine at least.

But it still doesn't write emails and book pages for me. Maybe someday I'll upgrade to that new wireless headset that picks up your thought patterns and types words on the screen and launches programs when you think about them.

What, you haven't heard about that?

I'm thinking about including it in my new thriller I'm working on. It may be SciFi today, but by the time the book is finished it'll probably be old news.

Since I'm making it up for now, I'll give it a very minimal learning curve. Totally intuitive! That'll put Vista out of favor in a hurry.

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

There it is, in all its glory. The big black box on the right is the new Dell. It came with the flat panel monitor on the left. I kept my old CRT monitor, and now have a twin-monitor setup.
You've gotta admit I did a pretty good job of hiding the wires.
I'm getting better with Vista. I'm sure it'll just take some time.
A precious commodity, though.


That phone call last Friday? I still think it was legit. The caller just sounded too genuine and sincere. But then, I can be gullible at times.

Our plant is way out in the country, but it IS on the same rural road as (and between) two other (larger) chemical processing plants. So if someone were making the rounds of industrial employers, it would make sense for them to drop in here and inquire.

It's happened before, but this caller -- from his accent, grammar, and overall presentation on the phone -- struck me as one who might be looking for unskilled or semi-skilled work at most.

I hate to stereotype people from their manner of speaking, but hey, remember "My Fair Lady?" Professor Heny Higgins says of Eliza Doolittle,

"It's 'Owww' and "Garn' that keep her in her place. Not her wretched clothes and dirty face!" Then he launches into the song, "Why can't the English teach their children how to speak?"

We all tend to form opinions of a persn's background and education (or lack thereof) from their grammar, vocabulary, and verbal presentation. To me, this man had the stereotypical poor black manner of speaking down pat. And I'm not saying there's anything wrong with that. But when you're looking for a job and calling on a company's Human Resources department, you'll do better to come across as, at least, literate.

Anyway, I DO have an excuse for not posting over the weekend. Or yesterday. And that excuse is...

My new Dell computer arrived on Friday afternoon. And yes, I'm STILL getting it set up! I'll get a picture of it up soon. But it's not the CPU and all the peripherals that are giving me trouble. It's the Vista operating system that's kicking my butt!

I've been around this block before. More than once. My first computer was an Apple IIe. I finally bought an "IBM compatible" machine when the first generation Pentium chips were new and hot. I've moved from Windows 3.1, to Windows 95, to Windows 98, to Windows XP. Yes, I skipped ME and Windows 2000. None of those gave me the fits that Vista is giving me.

I don't mind the new image-based "look and feel," but I can't find the stuff I'm used to working with on applications. I tried to set up Internet Explorer as one of my first tasks. I looked for the "Tools" menu. It isn't there. I right-clicked all over the window and used help until I finally figured out how to put those little "File Edit View Favorites Tools Help" menus up there. Things just aren't intuitive yet. We'll see if they get that way later.

Anyway, there's more to my story of angst. But that's enough for now. Stay tuned for a picture (and more angst) soon.

Friday, April 20, 2007

I get phone calls...

Like the one this afternoon. I was in my Human Resources Manager’s office, working on an email to send out to all employees announcing our first quarter’s contribution to our new profit sharing program.

When the phone rang, caller I.D. showed the number in our Admin Building lobby.

I answered, “John Earle.”

A man’s voice stammered slightly, “Uh, yessir. Uh...God bless you... praise the Lord. y’all hire women?”

I couldn’t believe that’s what he really said. I said, “I’m sorry, I didn’t understand. What did you ask?”

“Do. . . y’all. . . hire. . . women?” (Spoken slowly, with emphasis on the last word.)

I actually laughed out loud. “Do we hire women?”

The caller said, “Yes sir.”

I laughed again and said in what I hoped was a friendly, man-to-man tone, “In today’s world, do you know how much trouble I’d be in if I said no?”

At that point he laughed as well. “Yeah, I guess that’s so. Mmm Hmm. Well, y’see, I’s looking for a job for my wife.” He sounded like a character out of Uncle Remus.

I almost asked what her skills were, but quickly decided I didn’t want to go there.

So I explained that my plant currently had four job openings, all of which were listed with the local office of the Texas Workforce Commission. I told him they were: two engineering jobs, and two skilled technician positions.

Not easily dissuaded, he then asked, “Well, do y’all hire men? My brother, he’s lookin’ fer a job too.”

I gave him the number for the Workforce office, and another for a local firm that hires laborers by the week. I told him he could use our phone right there in the lobby if he wanted. Just dial 9 for an outside line.

A bit later I walked past the lobby and looked through the glass door. The room was empty.

I wish him well. And his wife and brother, too. Hopefully he’ll find something for them, because the world can be a cold, dark place if you’ve little money and no job.

But I think that’s the first time in well over 20 years I’ve been asked if we hired women.

For a second I wondered if the call had come from 70 years ago.

The theme from The Twilight Zone began to play in my mind.

Then my phone rang again, and it was Carol. The room brightened. I smiled. Everything was right again.

Thursday, April 19, 2007


One of the writers on my blogroll with talents I would love to emulate (Kirsten Mortensen) posted a series on her blog concerning Health Care FSAs (Flexible Spending Accounts). She initially had a few misconceptions about them, but through three posts tells her story quite well. Then she emailed me to ask for my "take" on the subject.

Well, I AM a Human Resources Manager, after all!

You might want to read her posts first, staring with the one titled, "If it smells like a scam" and working up from there. After she read my emailed reply, she suggested I post it here. As one who is always open to suggestions, I thought, "Why not?"

Here 'tis:


At first I wasn't sure if you were talking about Health Care Savings Accounts (HSAs, which I know little/nothing about) or employers' Flexible Spending Accounts, a.k.a. "Health Care Reimbursement Accounts." It now appears you were talking about the latter.

My company through its last 3 owners has offered these FSAs. That's been over a period of 8-10 years. I've signed up for them each year, and each year I INCREASE the amount I set aside. For 2007 it's up to $2,000.

Why so much? Well, you wrote about having to “estimate or guess” how much your family will spend in un-reimbursed health care expenses. In some cases, no guessing is needed. I know how much my plan will pay for my (and Carol's) "maintenance" medication -- those are the pills we take every day. We pay $80 for a 90-day supply of each of three medications. That's $240, four times a year.

Co-pays for regularly scheduled visits will eat up another $100-$200 a year. Dental work has been costly in the past, but I don't project any of that this year. The final kicker is vision. We each see the optometrist annually and usually have to get a new prescription for our specs. My plan pays for some of that, but not all. Anyway, we have no trouble claiming the remainder on over-the-counter pills and sundries. But if, near the end of the year, we still have several hundred left over that we might otherwise forfeit... We simply order a pair of prescription single-vision glasses (Transitions!) for golf.

Bottom line: I have NEVER forfeited a penny, and I'm increasing my purchasing power by whatever my income tax marginal rate is (25%?) Now, if I only spent that last few hundred $$ because I'd otherwise lose it, that's false savings. I realize that. But that rarely happens.

For people on blood pressure medication or other maintenance meds, the program really does offer some savings. I (as H.R. Manager) often advise employees who DO know that their planned treatment during the year will cost them X dollars out of pocket, to set up a FSA for THAT AMOUNT (only!) to derive the tax savings.

As you point out, it's ludicrous to bet on whether or not Junior will break his leg this year.

(Time Passes)

Okay, now I've read your NEXT two posts in which you correctly point out that the employer keeps the money you forfeit. But Kirsten! Take my own example. If I set aside $2000, I derive a tax savings of $500. SO WHAT if I forfeit $100 through poor planning? I'm still money ahead.

Absolutely; the person who sets aside $500-$1000 and forfeits $100 or more is not better off with this plan. But in my role as HR manager I'm only recommending this FSA to a small percentage of our employees -- the ones who KNOW what they're going to spend out-of pocket and are looking for some relief. Those who HAVE no known, recurring expenses I counsel to opt out.

Another prime example is orthodontics. Typically a set of braces and all the adjustments and treatments will set back a parent $3000-$5000 (or higher). My plant's dental plan only reimburses 80% up to a maximum of $1000. If a parent KNOWS what the treatment will cost, and what the plan will reimburse, they're losing out if they DON'T set aside at least some of the difference in a FSA.

We also send out reminders to all those who do have FSAs each year. In July (mid year), October, and mid-December we remind people if they still have an unclaimed balance so they won't forfeit any. My boss uses it. Our Finance Manager uses it. Hell, our company president uses it. These are smart, financially savvy people.

You just have to understand what your KNOWN expenses are going to be (or get pretty close, which isn't that hard), know what your insurance plan will pay, and keep track.

As you point out, betting on what your UNKNOWN expenses might be, is... well, for lack of a more politically correct term... stupid.

In admiration of your talent,


Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Still going.

Like the Energizer Bunny, my old desktop computer is cranking along. Beating its little drum and spinning around as it treks down the road.

My replacement machine from Dell doesn't even ship until April 30, and then it will take another week to get here, likely. Althought the company headquarters is just up the road a piece in Round Rock, the computer is probably being assembled in Sri Lanka. Or maybe Manilla.

But meanwhile the warning signals emanating from the old beast have been recognized, and I think its days are numbered. Perhaps in the single digits! But hopefullyI'll get another two weeks out of it.

I said earlier I was taking this death-watch one day at a time, but now I fear it may be down to one keystroke or mouse click at a time. At least the taxes are done, the files are all backed up, and most other preparations for the imminent demise are complete.

Now, if I just don't get hit with a copyright infringement suit for that picture above...

Monday, April 16, 2007

A repeat

Last night I turned off my suspect computer. After it had finished it's weekly virus scan, and a hard-drive defrag.

I mean, why not? I had turned it off over the weekend and it came back on when I pushed its little button. No reason to think it might stay comatose like after the lightning storm, right? I mean, that's old news.

Besides, I've already ordered my new Dell machine. So if this old one gets cranky again, I'll just have to wait a week or two and I'm back in business.

So I turned it off.

This afternoon, after arriving home from work, I pushed its little button and guess what happened? Right! Nothing.

I spoke a few choice words to it, and pushed its button again. Same result.

My words became a steady stream. I removed the side panel to make sure the little green LED was glowing. Sure enough, it was. AHA!! Snoozing again!

I shook the case, pushed the "on" button repeatedly, and incanted additional invective. (Say, I ought to put those words in a poem... like "paregoric" and "anagesic.")

I pulled the plug, cycled other switches, and wiggled various wires and ribbon cables. Nada.

So I walked away. In fact, I got into my car and ran an errand. About 15 minutes later the machine remained just as I'd left it (imagine that!), so just on a whim I pushed its little button again.

LIFE! Its fans began turning, its hard drive commenced clicking, and it booted up Windows! I'm typing this post on it, so if the post is published and you're reading this, it stayed alive long enough for me to do that much, at least.

And no, I don't think I'll be turning it off again any time soon. Not until the new machine is up and running, at least. What is the mantra? Oh yes, "One day at a time."

Sunday, April 15, 2007

Yucca prime time

Here are all the yuccas in pretty-much full bloom.
I say "pretty-much" because although the very top blossoms have not yet opened, the bottom ones are just about ready to start dropping off.

They're very pretty in their stark white-green contrast to the plant's leaves. It's a pity they don't last longer. Within a week there will only be a few white blossoms at the very top, with the rest of the bloom looking dead and brown.
After the last of the blossoms falls off, the brown stalk will remain for months unless someone cuts it off.

Carol always does.

Friday, April 13, 2007


Well, it IS Easter after all.

Carol pushed the "on" button this morning and the computer booted up as if it had never had a problem in its "life." Resurrection!

But meanwhile, at work, I logged into the Dell web site hoping to find some kind of discount offer or special sale or coupons for $$ off the system I had put in my wish list. Alas; nothing.

But I noticed a little blurb offering a live "chat" with a Dell sales professional if I had any questions. I clicked the link and entered my question: "Hello. Are you able to talk about any possible upcoming specials or sales for the system I have in my wish list?"

My sales professional (named Syed) asked for my email address so he could access my wish list and see what was there. I typed it and waited.

His response was simply, "I can offer you $100 off if you order it now."

I thought, gee, THAT was quick! I wonder how much MORE I might be able to get!!

I replied, "Well, thanks. But I was hoping to get the total purchase price down to... (I put in a price about $400 below the list price.)"

He came back with, "I'm sorry. I can't discount the system that much."

Disappointed, I began to type, "Well, how about... ($200 below list)." But before I had finished he came back with an offer to "throw in" for only $100 MORE the 3-year warranty priced at $200.

I thanked him, but told him no. I was trying to reduce my total out-of-pocket cost. I had already selected the standard 0ne-year warranty for that reason. Then I asked, "Is there any way to get the price any lower?"

He typed, "I can discount the system by $150. That's the limit."

I thought about it. I typed, "How about free shipping?"

He said, "OK."

I typed, "Let's do it!"

He wrote up the order and emailed it to me, but said his manager wanted to call me. I said that was fine and gave him my work phone number.

Well guess what the manager wanted to do?

He offered me the FOUR-year, IN-HOME warranty for FREE if I'd pay the original list price!

I explained (politely) that in my experience, most electronic components that fail do so in the first 90 days of operations. If they last a year, they almost always keep running for MANY years. (I did NOT mention or give ANY credence to the "C" word that all of you are familiar with!) So, thank you, but that 4-year warranty does not have any perceived value to me. I just want the one-year regular warranty and the lowest price I can get.

He gave up and sold me the system for $150 off list price.

Now, could I have gotten in cheaper? Maybe. But I doubt it.

Did I screw up by NOT taking the 4-year in-home warranty? (Under that contract, if your system doesn't work right Dell will send a technician to you home the next day to fix it!) Well, I guess only time will tell.

But I learned that you can bargain with Dell and get a better price if you just ask for one! And I also learned that their pricey 4-year in home warranty is available for NO CHARGE if you just hold out for it!

So I got what I wanted, saved $150, and got free shipping ($35 value).

Meanwhile, my old computer is still running just fine. But I'm going to turn it off before I go to bed tonight. We're forecast to have a line of possibly severe thunderstorms move through here by morning, and I don't want a repeat of the "big sleep" I sweated through last time.

Thursday, April 12, 2007

Taxes, computer problems, etc.

Taxes: It's income tax time in the good ol' USA. Once a year (or four times a year if you're lucky enough to have to file quarterly estimates and payments) we pay our homage and our money to Uncle Sam. It's all a part of citizenship in this great land.

At those times we try not to think of all the waste that goes on, paid for with our money. Or the expenditures we don't personally approve of, paid for with our money. Or the fees we have to pay for either: 1) a professional tax preparer to fill out our forms and render unto Caesar, or 2) tax preparation software that does the job cheaper but with some investment of our time to enter all the data needed.

I've always filled out my own tax forms, and once my daughters began earning money and paying taxes I offered to do theirs as well. As I reported here earlier, this year I opted to buy a copy of Turbo Tax and use it for the three family returns.

When my desktop computer went to sleep and wouldn't wake up I was concerned. Why? Because I had used it and the Turbo Tax software to prepare almost all of my tax return. I was just waiting for one more piece of information to complete the (lengthy) process.

I feared that the computer was fried, and I would have to load the software onto Carol's laptop machine and start over from scratch.

When it roused itself all by itself, I was delighted. But I didn't want to turn it off or reboot it in fear that it might never show further signs of life. Kind of like those movies, in which the star is dying but his/her companions keep saying, "Don't fall asleep! Stay awake! Stay with me!"

Well, I have now finished the tax return and filed it. Tonight I will turn off the compbuter, and tomorrow I'll learn if it will ever awaken again.

(Meanwhile I've speced out a great new desktop powerhouse from Dell, and I'm almost hoping this computer does NOT wake up so I'll have the perfect excuse to buy a new one!)

In the midst of all this activity at home, I've been in the middle of our annual benefits renewal at work. Plus we're interviewing for two engineers and a couple of technician openings. Plus...well, you don't want to hear about all my boring work stories.

Thus I have not been posting here at "Romantic Ramblings." I've not been reading your blogs and commenting. I've just been otherwise occupied.

I WILL let you know the status of this computer. At some point.

Have a great weekend, all!

Sunday, April 08, 2007

A great weekend for camping!

Well, Friday was a great day for it.

We went to Kerrville, Texas. That's about one hour northwest of San Antonio on I-10.

Friday was clear with temps in the 60s to low 70s. Really nice golf weather! But that night the front blew through, and Saturday's temperature never rose out of the 30s. Oh, and it rained all day as well. No more golf for us! (I know, we're wimps. What can I say?)

By late Saturday afternoon we had several spells of sleet. The forecast was for snow that night with up to 3 inches of accumulation!

That prognostication turned out to be hype. But here's what we woke up to on Easter Sunday morning:

That's the windshield of the pickup truck parked near our camper.

Once we broke camp, stowed everything in our van, hitched up the trailer and hit the road, this is what we saw looking out the front windshield:

Like I said; we're wimps. We couldn't wait for the van's heater to start blowing hot air out the vents so we could get some feeling back in our hands.

Saturday, April 07, 2007

Yucca Progress

Just for Easter, here are the yucca blooms the day before Good Friday.

From left to right you have the triple whammy, size matters, and double whammy. Scroll down to earlier posts on this topic for explanations of the names, if desired.

Triple whammy on the left and size matters on the right, from a different angle. These are the most developed blooms of the group.

The white individual flowers open starting at the bottom of the bloom. By the time the top flowers are open, the bottom ones have begun to fall off. The whole show, from the first bottom flower opening to the last top one turning brown and dropping off is about three weeks.

They're sure pretty after about one week, though!
(No golf today. Where we're staying in Kerrville the high is in the mid 30s today with rain and sleet. Yeah, we're wimps!)

Thursday, April 05, 2007

Out of Town

Have a great Easer weekend, everyone. (That's an order!)

Carol and I have taken our camper to a campground somewhere and plan to just relax and play some golf -- weather permitting. If the forecasters are right, we MAY get to play tomorrow (Good Friday), but the rest of the weekend is supposed to be cold and rainy.

I have some more yucca shots for you, and if we don't golf I'll try to post them.


(As you were!)

Tuesday, April 03, 2007

No multiple entendres this time

Bloomin' plants!
(HA! Found my meds!)

The "double whammy."

The "size matters" duo.

And the "tripple whammy."

Looks like they're getting all prettied up for Easter weekend.

I'll show you the full blooms in a few days.

(And no more politically incorrect posts for a while.)
(Uh, maybe!)

Monday, April 02, 2007

An Inconvenient UNtruth?


This is going to get me in trouble. I know that, but I’m going ahead. Never stopped me before, right? (Sigh.)

For years I have been a skeptic about the whole issue of global warming being the result of man’s activity. In fact, I’ve pooh-poohed the idea to whoever would listen (not many). My skepticism has been based more on what seemed to me to be inconsistencies within the “evidence” being presented, than on any alternative theory as to the cause. I would point to the hard evidence that the planet has gone through many dramatic climate changes over the eons with no help from man. Earth has seen long ice ages, and periods when the arctic regions were sub-tropical.

But as the weight of scientific opinion has moved further and further toward blaming man-produced CO2 as the culprit, I was wavering. What I lacked was a sound, science-based reason for the (clearly factual, albeit far from catastrophic!) temperature rise we’re seeing, other than man-produced “greenhouse gasses.”

Was it the sun? Was geothermal energy warming the ocean and the ocean warming the atmosphere, instead of the other way around?

Well, I now have my answer!

That answer is simple, meets the common sense test, and (more important to me, of course) it fits my view of mankind’s relative insignificance in affecting immense things; like the way our solar system works. It also explains why “everybody” has jumped on the man-made gasses bandwagon. Finally, it’s presented by credentialed scientific authorities using hard scientific data, not by a bunch of left-field crackpot theorists. Let's face it: the man-made-greemhouse-gasses bunch are not crackpots either! They include a bunch of credentialed scientific authorities.

If you’re comfortable in your view that Al Gore and the IPCC scientists are right, please ignore the links below. If you are willing to at lease consider an alternative view of things, then take a look.


Documentary Film (YouTube)

Yes, I know. This is not a particularly Romantic Rambling. I should stick to bird pictures and humor. If I could just find my meds, I might be all right again by tomorrow.