Tuesday, May 29, 2007

A new record

For those of you keeping track, today's mail brought a literary agent's response to a query I mailed back on April 14.

The "no thanks" response was VERY polite and almost complimentary in a vague sort of way. The agency took pains to ensure that it didn't look like a form letter. And the scrawled signature looked real, signed with a real ball point pen.

So what's my beef? My query was sent on April 14 of 2006! The new record for a slow response now stands at: one year, one month, and 8 days!

Oh, and the post office even delivered it with the old 39 cent stamp I had put on my SASE.

Gee. To get a rejection back after well over a year is bad enough -- I'm glad it didn't come with postage due. Talk about adding insult to injury!

(COMING SOON: Interview with a squirrel)

Interview with a Great Egret

Romantic Ramblings: Hello. According to my guidebook to North American Birds, you are a Great Egret. Is that true?

Bird: Of course! What else would I be? And, by the way, I think the adjective part of my name is particularly apt, don't you?

RR: Well, leaving that aside for now, I must say you strike a very graceful pose. And you look to be in excellent physical shape. How do you maitain that slim look and flexibility with all those feathers?

Bird: Thank you. I work hard at it. Aerobic dance is the best exercise I've found for both fitness AND flexibility. Here, let me show you. . . (Hums "Stayin' Alive" and begins to dance.)

RR: Man, you've got some moves that would make a younger John Travolta jealous! But I understand that you can do amazing things with that long neck of yours. Can you show us?

Bird: With pleasure. I'll bet you short-necked creatures could never do THIS:

RR: Unbelievable!

Bird: No, that was nothing. Try THIS one some time. Stick your nose in your armpit upside down!

RR: Er... (ahem). Most of us would prefer NOT to stick our nose in our armpit, but I enjoy watching you do it. It looks like everything I've heard about you is true. I'm in awe! But graceful flying is supposed to be your real forte. Is it true you can do airborne impersonations?

Bird: Of course. Those are my specialties. For example, here's an angel flying:

Bird: And how about some airplanes? Here's a World War II F4U Corsair. Remember? That gull-wing fighter?

Bird: And for a more modern plane, how's this for a Stealth Bomber?

RR: Superb! Now show me a short field landing!

Bird: Short field? HA! I'll show you how to land and stop on a dime -- a pin-point landing. Watch THIS!

Bird: Now THAT was a full-flap landing!

RR: Thanks, G.E. Great feather definition on that last landing. Your control is truly wonderful. Well, we've got to go now. Enjoyed talking with you.

Bird: Come back any time. I can show you more moves than those!

Monday, May 28, 2007

Why no post?

Well, because we were out of town and busy. I didn't take the time to post anything.

What did we do and see?

Well, here's a teaser. More to come.

That is a read-headed woodpecker. Most North American woodpeckers have at least SOME red on their heads, but this one is particularly striking in its starkly contrasting colors. When it flies past, all you see is some black, a lot of white, and a flash of deep crimson. A very pretty bird.

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

The grass is always greener…

At my place of employment we have very low turnover. But it seems that each year one or two of our 120 employees decide they need to work someplace else.

Sometimes we are happy about their decision to leave. In those cases they have been clearly unhappy for a while, and usually unhappiness spreads. The departure will often forestall the spread of unhappiness.

But in some cases we are disappointed, and the departing employee is one we really hate to lose.

Last year our sales were not doing as well as we had forecast and we lost three experienced plant operators when our spring raise was not as high as they had hoped. We explained that we had plans in place to correct this, but due to some long term contracts that would expire at the end of 2006, we could not offer the full intended raise. We promised that by the end of the first quarter of 2007 we would completely correct the imbalance.

Those three didn't want to wait. Jobs for process plant operators are plentiful locally and they had no problem finding comparable jobs with the promise of more money within a few years.

One of the three, in particular, we really hated to lose. The other two were "high maintenance" employees who I was not unhappy to see out the gate.

Well, within six months the "hate-to-lose" guy called, said he'd made a mistake, and asked for his job back. He was reinstated almost immediately. Then, in March, we announced the promised big raise. And in early April, since we'd just met our first quarter profit target, we paid out a significant Profit Sharing distribution into everyone's 401(k) accounts.

Within a few weeks the other two guys called. They were ready to return as well. We have thus far put them off, saying we have no further openings at this point.

Today, one of the two kept a requested appointment with me and his former Production Department boss. He wanted to ask us face-to-face for his job back.

We reminded him that he had been openly unhappy with us for a year before he left, and that little had changed since then. What made him think that now all would be well?

He offered his reasons, but they seemed in the final analysis to revolve around money. Now that our pay was again competitive, things would be OK again.


I'll await a final decision until the Production Department group discusses the situation and tells me what they want to do.

But I'll be surprised if we don't just let him stay at his new job. It may grow on him, and be better for both us AND him in the long run. At this point I'm not sure that things are as bad there as they seem to him now.

That grass has a funny way of changing color based on one's position and situation. Maybe it'll "green up" some over there.

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Credit card woes

Well, it’s happened again.

An email arrived telling me my Discover Card statement was available to view, so I clicked the link, logged in, and scanned down the list of purchases.

Okay, there’s gas . . . gas . . . more gas . . . green fees at that out-of-town course we played in April . . . my internet service provider. . . Wait — Lowes? Oh, yeah, that was those plastic shutters Carol bought. There’s WalMart . . . Netflix . . . and, huh, Best Buy? I don’t remember . . . Oh! The battery UPS for my new computer after a brief power blip caused it some problems. There’s gas . . . gas . . . What’s this? “Macy’s West,” in Mason, Ohio? $150.00?

(I shouted to the other room.) Hey, Carol! Did you order something from Macy’s West in Mason Ohio on April 24? For $150.00? Yeah, Macy’s West. No? Me neither, but it’s on our Discover bill. Yeah, right here. See?

Oh, sh*t. Right below it is ANOTHER charge for ANOTHER $150.00 at “Bloomingdales.com.” It’s also in Mason, Ohio!

A quick scan down the rest of the charges revealed nothing else I couldn’t identify. I picked up the phone and dialed 1-800-DISCOVER. The nice lady at their fraud department assured me that I would not be responsible for the charges, and that Discover would investigate. Yes, my wife and I both still had our cards so they had not been stolen.

She told us that likely someone had noted our account number and expiration date when we’d made a legitimate purchase. She said they’d probably also noted the 3-digit security number on the back of the card. Given the exact amount of the charges ($150.00 – a nice round number!) her opinion was the person had bought gift cards. They can be used anonymously or even sold at a discount to further “launder” the stolen money. She would suspend our account immediately, and overnight new cards to us with a new account number.

Great! That means I have to notify my ISP, Netflix, the local newspaper and other merchants to STOP charging my monthly bill to that old Discover Card number, and start using a new one.

Inevitably I’ll forget somebody and get hit with a late charge or at best a “past due” notice.

I know—I’d be better off not using the charge cards for so many things. But I pay off the entire balance every month, so there are no interest charges. And it’s convenient to put as many “bills” as possible on one monthly invoice. Plus with Discover I get “cash back,” which is like a small discount.

Is this convenience counterbalanced by the INconvenience I’m experiencing now, when someone is dishonest? Maybe. Am I the victim of “identity theft?” Statistically yes, but with minimal consequences. Will I keep doing things the way I have been? Probably. I’m a creature of habit.

And unless this sort of thing starts happening more than once every 8-10 years, I guess it’s not THAT inconvenient.

Still . . .

Sunday, May 20, 2007

Caution!! Graphic images below!

We'll save those for last.

First, Carol took some more wildlife photos on the golf course, and I thought you'd enjoy those. Here we have three water turtles enjoying the May sunshine on a rock.

Here's anpther kind of turtle you don't see too often. It's a soft-shelled water turtle. Yes, its shell is actually soft and flexible!

Aren't they weird-looking creatures? Of course, they probably think the same thing about us!

This gal had dug a shallow pit for herself and was in the process of laying eggs:

No, we couldn't get an actual shot of the eggs without moving her, and we didn't want to disturb her so we left her alone.

This was a pretty fellow. A Tiger Swallowtail, our book tells us:

Finally, if you read my last post and the comments, you'll have noticed that Jan made a (somewhat snide) reference to the fact that I wear sandals and admit the same on my blog. She had the nerve to mention "manhood," as if the wearing of sandals somehow cast suspicion on that aspect of this person.


Although she DID have the grace to state that my manhood was not actually in question, I feel that her comment demands a response.

1. I went to college during the "hippie" era of the 60s, and back then it was quite fashionable for "real men" to wear both beards AND sandals. I forbore those, however, because I found both uncomfortable at the time.

2. To me, my wife's opinion is the only one that matters. SHE has no issues with my "manhood" OR with my wearing sandals.

Here is a picture of my actual sandals on my actual feet. Some of my hairy legs are in view, so ladies, please try to control yourselves!

As you can tell, I wear golf shoes (with socks) and shorts when I play golf. Thus the "golfer's tan" on my lower legs.

Now I ask you: Do THOSE look like the legs and feet of a man who should be ashamed of his sandals?

Of course not.

Saturday, May 19, 2007

Busy week

I know, I know -- you keep stopping by and there's nothing new posted. You wonder, "Where the heck is the Dule of Earle, and why doesn't he post some of his clever stuff?"

Or, maybe you think, "I hope he just stays gone this time!?"

Regardless, I'm still around. I was out of town at an industry HR conference for three days. I thought I might have a really good story (like Badabing's Badaboom often does) of meeting some eclectic people in a hotel bar. But that didn't happen. Perhaps that's because Carol came with me, and the two of us didn't visit the hotel bar. You think?

We did get to a couple of good restaurants. Carol spent one afternoon shopping for some sandals. Have you seen the sandals made by "Keen?" They are fantastic! Comfortable as slippers, and can be worn anywhere. I don't typically like sandals and have rarely worn any. But she was made aware of the Keen line by our younger daughter and bought a pair. She raved about them so much I had to try on some. They felt so good I bought a pair (last summer), wore them out of the store, and walked all over Chicago in them with never the first moment's discomfort. I'm wearing them as I type this!

Anyway, Carol found a store that sold them and bought herself a second pair. She bought a second pair for me too. I don't need them, not now at least. But we've both learned from experience that when you find a product that you REALLY like, chances are it won't be made or available in a few years. So now I'll have comfortable sandals for a LONG time.

When we came back home, an item I'd ordered from Amazon.com was waiting for me and I've been spending my time using it.

What is it?

One of these.

I have dozens of old vinyl LPs. Some are over 40 years old, and have songs on them that I grew up with. With this new purchase of mine, I can digitize each song as a .wav file, then convert that to MP3 format and burn them to CDs to preserve the music. My purchase even comes with editing software to let me edit out the pops and clicks and hiss of some of the old records. Cool, huh? Well, I think it's cool.

So, I've been busy.

But not too busy to play some golf. And for all of you many, many readers who are enthralled by my golf tales, here's something for you. It didn't happen to me, but to Carol!

She hit a booming drive on a short par 4 and had a wedge shot to the green. Unfortunately, she had tried to cut the corner on a dogleg and had some trees to negotiate. One of them, between her and the green, was a palm tree. Well, since a picture is worth at least 1,000 words, here it is:

So she rears back and swats her ball with the wedge. It goes up through the branches of one tree and hits this palm tree. Nobody sees it bounce off. We all approach and help her search for her ball in the rough around the tree. No luck.

On a hunch, Carol backs off a way and looks up at the tree. Right about here:

What do you think she sees? Lets zoom in close and take a look:

Saturday, May 12, 2007

Shriek! It's a Shrike!

A loggerhead shrike to be precise.

Carol took our digital camera to the golf course today in hopes of finding something photo-worthy.

I think these qualify:

We think this might have been a baby or adolescent bird, from the touch of yellow at the corner of its bill that you can only see if you zoom way in.

Like this:

But we could be wrong.

Wednesday, May 09, 2007


Words, words, words!
I’m so sick of words!
I get words all day, first from him now from you;
Is that all you blighters can do?

Recognize those lines? They were Eliza Doolittle’s complaint to Freddie in “My Fair Lady,” when that smitten young man tried to tell her of his undying ardor. The song was titled, “Show me.” Like the advice given to writers, time after time: Show, don’t tell!

My mother, a high school graduate who was plenty smart enough to go to college but never did (most girls didn’t back in the 1930s even if their families could afford it, which hers couldn’t) never took advanced English courses. But she knew that people formed an important first impression within minutes, based first on a stranger’s appearance; and second on his grammar and vocabulary.

As a youngster growing up I was never allowed to use improper grammar or pronunciation. If Mom was in doubt about a certain word or usage, we’d stop and look it up.

When my daughters were in their early teens, Carol and I fought battles with them about “goes.”

You know—the verb kids used to use before “like” became so pervasive?

Example: “I saw Paula this afternoon, and she goes, ‘Hi, Christina,’ and I go ‘Hi Paula,’ and she goes, ‘Have you seen Star Wars yet?’ and I go, ‘Only three times!’”

Carol and I would ask, “Go where?” The girls would roll their eyes and say (in total disgust), “Okay...(theatrical sigh)... I SAID!

For the last ten years that same story would sound like this: “I saw Paula this afternoon, and she’s like, ‘Hi, Christina,’ and I’m like ‘Hi Paula,’ and she’s like, ‘Have you seen Spiderman 3 yet?’ and I’m like, ‘Only three times!’”

Anyway, based on all that, I cringe when I hear some words and syntax that are misused repeatedly. Here are a few:

How many times a day do you hear people say “Undoubtably?” (The word is “undoubtedly.”)

How about “perimeters” when they mean “parameters?”

Almost every TV golf announcer says, “There’s a ridge between he and the hole.” HE and the hole have a ridge between them, but that ridge is between the hole and HIM.

When you want to drill into brick you use a masonry bit, not a “masonary” bit. (Were you thinking of “missionary?”)

“I need to orientate the new employee.” No. The employee goes through “orientation.” In the process he hopefully becomes “oriented.” You orient the new employee, you don’t orientate him.
The plural of “matrix” is not “matrixes,” it’s “matrices.” Oh, and not every graph, chart or table is a “matrix” either.

Got some of your own? Want to share? Feel free!

I resist the urge to correct people at work. They wouldn’t appreciate it. Folks become embarrassed to learn they’ve been mispronouncing a word for years.

I would know. I used to say “peculiaralities” instead of “peculiarities.” I think I somehow combined “plurality” with “peculiar.” Carol laughed one day and asked, “WHAT did you just say?” I said it again, like I always had, and was mortified to learn I was incorrect.

She assured me that most likely nobody had noticed (or cared, if they DID notice.) I felt like taking Eliza’s advice,

Don’t talk of spring, don’t talk of fall,

Monday, May 07, 2007


No, that's not acclaim. Acclimation is the act of getting acclimated. As in, to a particular climate. Get it? Ac-climate.

I'm quite thoroughly acclimated to a closely controlled climate. One that keeps the temperature somewhere between 74 and 80 degrees fahrenheit, with a relative humidity down around 50-60% or so. That's the climate in my office and my home; the two places I spend the vast majority of my life.

Since I am thus acclimated, if my environment gets much above 80 degress and/or the humidity rises above about 70%, my body gets damp. Or wet. Depending.

I expect that, and dress accordingly on the golf course. But this afternoon at about 4:30 Carol and I went outside to hang some light plastic shutters. The sun was low in the sky, and this is just the first week in May for Pete's sake.

Nevertheless, dressed in shorts and a tee shirt, within 30 minutes I was soaked. It may not be summer yet in South Texas, but it's darn sure getting close to it! I don't think the temperatures were higher than the mid 80s, but the humidity HAD to be 120%, at least.

When we bought this house (white brick) the front-facing windows had black, wooden decorative shutters. Well, we've lived here over 20 years, and the original shutters were rotting and falling off. We pulled them down weeks ago.

Carol just read that and said, "No, it was months ago. Months and months ago. In fact, it was last summer!"

She's a stickler for accuracy.

Regardless, we were now going to replace them! I am proud of the fact that within one hour by the clock we had new shutters up on all four front windows.

(That makes me wonder: is one hour by the clock shorter or longer than one hour by the sun, or some other measure?)

I am NOT proud of the fact that two of the little plastic devices that secure the shutters to the brick were ruined in the effort, and now have to be replaced. But "stuff" happens, as they say.

Carol says they weren't lined up properly when I tried to tap them into place. I say, "stuff" happens!

To someone driving by or walking down the street I'm sure those missing fasteners cannot be noticed. Nor do they negatively impact the shutters' security to the wall.

But Carol knows they're missing. And until they are properly replaced, I will likely continue to sweat. Acclimated or not.

Friday, May 04, 2007

Cactus Flower

No, not the Goldie Hawn movie, although I'm reminded of that every time I see a blooming cactus.

No, it's the time of year where I live when the prickly pear cactus puts on a dazzling show of bright greenish-yellow flowers. Especially when water has been plentiful and the sun is getting hot. Yes, we've had a very wet Spring.

You've seen the yuccas in out back yard. Well, in our desire to landscape with (mostly) plants native to this area -- which therefore need little special care! -- we planted some spineless prickly pear out at the end of our driveway. Here's what greeted me when I arrived home from work today.

Well, I just had to grab the camera and get some shots of the individual blooms. Here are four, side-by-side, all growing on one pad:

And here's a close-up on one particluarly pretty bloom:

Want to take a peek down inside the flower? Here's what it looks like zoomed in close:

And finally, a shot of a bloom that seemed to have more petals than most and was almost ball-shaped:

Lest I bore you, I'll stop there.

Thursday, May 03, 2007

The Giant Bubble Blowing Panda

Illustrated by RobotJam.
(Picture provided 5/04/07)

This morning RobotJam posted a comment on my "Rockin' and Rulin'" post of last Monday.

He asked,"Duke, are you doing requests now? I'd quite like a story about a giant bubble blowing panda."

He didn't say why. But then, that's RobotJam for you.

Well, okay. I thought I'd start in poem style and see what came out. An hour or so later, here's the result. Don't know if it's what he had in mind, but with RobotJam it's often hard to figure out what's in mind. If anything.

The Giant Bubble Blowing Panda

The giant bubble blowing panda
Danced across the stage
While children squealed with stark delight
—A trait that’s lost with age!

Their parents watched with thin-veiled glee
To see the youngsters’ joy.
T’was not a live bear, after all,
But just a puppet toy.

There was no need to fear this show
In circus midway tent.
The cost was but a penny, which
Was surely wisely spent.

Though blazing sun beat down outside,
The tent did shade the glare.
A welcome respite from the stagnant
Hot and dusty air.

Fair bubbles from the panda’s mouth
Did float above the crowd.
Then gently popped, their cooling mist
Descending like a cloud.

As each breathed in that vapor fine
He soon began to yawn.
Then hours later found himself
Awakening in the dawn.

The circus tents, the crowds and noise,
The midway on the lawn,
Along with each one’s purse or bag
Had disappeared. Long gone!

The parents and their children
Stumbled ‘round to find their own.
‘Mid hugs, they learned that each was well,
Then wended their way home.

But in the shire’s next county,
Near another little town
A circus now was setting up.
The people gathered round

To watch the bears and elephants,
The big top rising tall,
The many midway freaks and shows;
They’d want to see them all!

They marveled at the low, low cost.
How could this show make money?
When the giant bubble blowing panda
Tent cost just a penny!

So, Rob, there you have it. Care to illustrate this magnum opus?

Tuesday, May 01, 2007

"All My Children," chapter 2

I work in a small plant. "Small" is relative, I know. In this case it's defined as fewer than 120 employees.

Like a small town, little that's done by an employee goes unnoticed. Especially those things that involve at least one other employee.

Martha (not her real name) and John (not his, either) were both married, but not to each other. John began seeing Martha after work, and over time Martha decided to leave her husband and take up with John on a more permanent basis. Her divorce recently became final. John, who enjoyed having AND eating the proverbial cake, told Martha he too would divorce but never did.

Last weekend John and Martha had a less-than-amicable parting of the ways. Yesterday at work, little time elapsed before things came to a head.

First Martha was in my office telling me of being threatened over the weekend and subsequently calling the police. Nothing came of the threats, but she now felt vulnerable at the plant and wanted assurances that "we" would keep John away from her.

I asked John's supervisor to bring John to my office next to hear his version of events, and to guage his emotional state. But no; it seemed John had come to work on time, but had then alleged illness and gone home for the day.

This morning though, I had my time with John. He assured me that he was neither angry nor belligerent, and would be happy to have no contact with Martha at the plant for the next few weeks. I suggested to him the it would be a good idea to do just that. I was careful not to take sides, nor to assume that it wasn't really Martha who was playing the aggressor, trying to get John in trouble. You never know!

For now we seem to have a truce. At least, at the plant. What happens off the plant site is out of my control, and none of my business.

Martha wanted me to ask John for her house key, because, she said, "I know he won't give it to me." I did not accept that assignment, but rather advised her to change locks as soon as possible since there was no way of telling how many copies he might have made. I do not intend to be an intermediary nor an arbiter.

No, these employees are not (chronologically) high-school age; they are both in their 40s.

That fact did not stop me from wanting very badly to tell them both to "Grow up!"