Sunday, November 30, 2008

Quick update on the post below

Yes, the one about 1-800-goog4411.

I've used it three or four times now, and it works seamlessly. Just yesterday Carol and I were leaving the golf course (go figure) heading home when she wondered if our local Wal Mart pharmacy had received a prescription her mother had been waiting for. She suggested we stop by on the way home and check.

Neither one of us was thrilled by the idea, since it would have been out of the way. But then she said, "Why don't you use that Google thing on your cell phone and call them?"

No, I don't just happen to have the number of the Wal Mart pharmacy in my phone book. But I called the Google number, said, "Victoria, Texas. Wal Mart Pharmacy."

I was automatically connected within less than 30 seconds. Pretty slick, especially if you're out of town!

Now the Google web site assures me that there is no charge for this service. But I guess I'll know for certain when I get my next month's cell phone bill.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Have you seen this?

Here's a number worth putting in your cell phone, or your home phone speed dial: 800-goog-411 (or, for the alpha-digitally challenged among us, 800-466-4411). This is an awesome service from Google, and it's free -- great when you are on the road.

Don't waste your money on information calls and don't waste your time manually dialing the number. I am driving along in my car and I need to call the golf course and I don't know the number. I hit the speed dial for the number above.

The voice at the other end says, "City & State." I say, " Garland , Texas." He says, "Business, Name or Type of Service." I say, Firewheel Golf Course." He says, "Connecting" and Firewheel answers the phone. How great is that? This is nationwide and it is absolutely free!

Click on the link below and watch the short clip for a quick demonstration.

Tell all your friends you read it here first. Unless you read it somewhere else first, in which case . . . Aw, forget it.

Thanks, Hale!

Hale McKay, better known as the Pointmeister, sent me this cartoon in response (sort of) to my last post.

Since one of the points I made to the high school students concerned the need for brevity in a resume, (especially for an entry-level job, for which prior experience is not a requirement), I thought it was very appropriate.

Some folks seem to think that the impressiveness quotient of a resume or curriculum vitae increases in direct proportion to its weight and/or page count. (Kinda like that last sentence!) But in most cases, less is more.

Friday, November 21, 2008

I promised you a report

. . . about my presentations to the high school seniors on the topic of "Getting the Job."

They went very well. Most of my audience stayed awake through my entire spiel and I got a few laughs at some parts. Some were (naturally) more interested than others, and there were a fair number of questions.

Probably most gratifying was the reaction of the teachers who heard me, and one who didn't.

Those who did hear me all agreed that the information, although pretty fundamental, was important for the students to hear. And they were gracious enough to say that it was presented well.

I had put together a two-page (actually one piece of paper, front and back) bullet-point outline of the important points, dos and don'ts, etc., without the anecdotes that were in my talk. This was intended as a handout. Most of the students didn't take any, so I had a stack of them on the table at my company's booth that was set up in the large auditorium. A small number of those copies were picked up over the two-day program.

One teacher from a different high school (who had not heard my talk) picked up a handout and sent me an email today complimenting it and saying she intended to make copies and give them to all of her students because they needed to know those things. She felt it would have more impact coming from "someone in industry rather than a teacher, because students don't think teachers know anything about the real world."

I replied thanking her for her kind words, and offering to make my talk to her students. She was thrilled and we've set a date in early December.

So, yes; it was gratifying. And hopefully a few of the students might have learned something. That would be a real plus!

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Just good ol’ boys. Never meanin’ no harm . . .

As all you regular readers will no doubt remember, way back in the dark ages (Vietnam era) I used to fly F-4 Phantom jets off the USS Forrestal.

For a long time I didn’t really keep up with any of the other pilots from my squadron, but more recently contacts have been reestablished. You know how older men love to reminisce about the good old days. So now I exchange emails occasionally with some of the guys.

Probably my all-time favorite was my squadron Commanding Officer (CDR Ron Miller) during my second cruise to the Mediterranean. This was back during the old cold war, and the primary role of the sixth fleet in the Med was one of “showing the flag” and serving as an armed presence to deter any possible aggression by . . . whoever.

Why was Ron my favorite? As the skipper, he could choose any pilot he wanted to be his wingman, and he wanted me. Now each one of us thought KNEW we were personally the best pilot in the squadron. The ultimate measure (as in the movie “Top Gun”) was which pair of pilots could whip other pilots in dogfighting.

Oh, excuse me. We didn’t call it “dogfighting.” We called it “ACM,” an acronym for “Air Combat Maneuvering.” EVERY phrase had its acronym in those days, but it was still dogfighting.

Well, Ron and I just seemed to intuitively know what the other was going to do in advance. We worked so well as a team that the two of us in two-plane formation almost never lost a dogfight. Truth be told, I probably wasn’t a better pilot than any of the rest of them (although I’d have fought you if you said that in public back then). It was just one of those synergies where the two of us together were better than any other two, and even better than either one of us when paired with a different wingman.

Kinda like Simon and Garfunkel. Each was good, but together they were special and unlike any other duo.

Okay, all that to say this:

Last week Ron Miller cc’ed me on an email he sent to another of his friends who had served in the US Air Force on Crete during the time we were in the med. I am the “wingie” John he refers to. And yes, I remember the incident very well.

Here's a little story about one of my days on Crete. I was the CO of VF-11, the "World Famous Red Rippers" (oldest continuous fighter squadron in the Navy.) We were on USS Forrestal for a 7 month Med cruise. Ship dropped anchor on the W. end, S. side of the island late in the afternoon. We had sent about 6 of our birds (F4s) to the airfield just above us there on the West end.

The Greeks flew F-84s from there. My wingman and I were scheduled to fly first thing the next morning. So, early on, we gathered our flight gear and were hauled ashore in one of the ship's boats. I had a really good young pilot as my "wingie" so decided to act up a bit, and we planned it all out.

We were taking off to the South, which would take us nearly over the ship. I rolled first, to be followed by John just seconds later. It was gear up, leave her in afterburner, nose over crossing the bluff, then pull up into the first half of a huge loop. John intercepted me near the top, and joined up as we rolled out on heading. I don't remember, but I suspect that we were over 10,000 feet.

On return an hour or so later, we came into the "break" at 450 knots in tight formation, etc. Great fun.

Just after landing, my Ops officer found me and said: "Better lay low because the CAG (Commander, Air Group) is looking for you." The aircrew briefing on the ship (which we missed) said the Greeks had pretty strict air rules, so don't do anything out of the ordinary -- no aerobatics, no high speeds, etc.

So, what happened to me? Nothing at all. You see, the CAG was a bit of a cutup himself (but that's another story.)

Yep, that was us back in the glory days. Spending the taxpayers money having fun.

Just Good Ol’ Boys. Never Meanin’ No Harm.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Big Blue

The picture below was taken with a cell phone camera in poor light. But you can see what it is. It's the license plate on Carol's car.

In Texas it is possible to order specialty license tags with certain pictures on them. They cost about $30 extra, but the money goes to support the "cause" portrayed on the tag.
In this case, the $30 goes to the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department to support their many programs for the conservation and preservation of Texas wildlife. Hence the motto, "Keep Texas Wild."
The combination of letters and numbers on the tag is random. So a year ago, when Carol got herself a nice, new Ford Expedition to replace our 12-year-old Dodge van, she wanted a license tag that pictured a Texas Horned Lizard. These critters are better known locally as "horny toads." (I am NOT making that up!)
Anyway, when the tags arrived and Carol saw the number/letter combination, she said it looked to her like "Big Blue"
Well, okay. That's a good way to remember your tag number when you check in at a motel and they want to know which vehicle is yours. So for a year we've been referring to her tag number as "Big Blue."
Now if you'll scroll down a few posts you'll see that I also just got a new vehicle. And like my wonderful wife, I decided to support Texas wildlife by putting a horny toad on MY ride also! Last week I went to the county tax office to order mine. The receipt shows what MY number/letter combination will be.
I was really hoping for something like "LTL BL" which I could christen "Little Blue," since my car is smaller than hers and blue in color. But no such luck. What I got was "FJ 50P."
Carol looked at that and immediately said, "Oh, 'Fat John, 50 Plus!'"
Needless to say, despite having my very own horny toad license plates on their way, I am NOT pleased with the memory aid she has come up with! I mean, come on! There are LOTS of potentially complimentary (or at least neutral) memory aids she could have thought up using "FJ." "Fighter Jockey" comes to mind, recalling my days as a Navy F-4 Phantom pilot.
But alas, I fear that my car will forever be known to the two of us as "Fat John," for once spoken some words just can't be taken back or forgotten.
So I guess that the next time Carol makes some snide remark about a bit of "middle-age spread" appearing on or near my waistline I'll have to tell her, "I just trying to live up to my car's nickname."

Sunday, November 16, 2008

An opportunity

This week I get to address four groups of 30 local high school seniors.

The occasion is what the school district calls Career Days. Presentations are made to all four high school grades on various topics, to include:

· information about specific jobs that are available locally – what the job pays, what the duties are, what education and/or experience is required to get the jobs, etc.,
· information about further educational opportunities after high school – trade schools, community college, four-year universities, etc.,
· information about obtaining financial aid for further education, and
· “life skills” required to GET a job and to be successful in the workplace

My topic is called “Getting the Job.” I’m going to cover all the usual stuff about resumes, job applications and interview dos and don’ts. But I also plan to hit them with some life philosophy.

I plan to start out by telling them, “I’ve been a human resources manager longer than any of you have been alive. I may not have ‘seen it all,’ but I’ve seen a lot!”

My tips and advice are specific.


“Do not even TAKE your cell phone to an interview, but if you do take it turn it OFF! Do not DARE answer it if it rings, unless you can tell me you’re expecting an emergency call.”

“Leave the cologne and after-shave at home. If I detect any odor during your visit, it should be the smell of soap.”

“Do not assume your Sunday best clothing is appropriate for an interview. If in doubt, call and ask what the interviewer would prefer you to wear.” (At my plant, if you came dressed in a coat and tie in the Texas summer I’d think you had a screw loose!)

“Fill in EVERY blank on an application. Use “N/A” if appropriate, but put something in there. Otherwise I'll think you're careless.”

“ALWAYS print ‘Open’ in the inevitable blank asking for ‘Salary Desired’.”

But before I talk to them about the actual interview I will ask for a show of hands of those who consider themselves shy. Then I plan a 2-minute lecture on the fact that they can CHOOSE not to be shy! No, it isn’t easy. Yes, it takes some practice and some work.

I used to be shy and scared to death to speak in front of a group. But in the Navy I was an instructor in the Flight Training Command, and had to give training lectures to student pilots. Sure, I stumbled and fumbled at first, but I quickly realized that was stupid! These younger students didn’t know as much as I did, and if they laughed at a gaffe, so what!? I didn’t get sick and die.

I watched others and learned both good and bad ways of handling awkward situations in front of a group. And in a fairly short while I became good at speaking in front of others, and proud of it! People would come up to me after a presentation and compliment me on my delivery.

And guess what? I haven’t been shy since. (Maybe a bit of an arrogant egotist, but hey, who’s perfect?)

So, you high school seniors, DON’T be shy. Shyness is NOT an endearing quality in the workplace or in life, and it can hold you back in your career. Get over it.

Rah! Rah!

Okay, end of lecture. I’m looking forward to what kind of reaction I get from the students. Each “talk” is only 25 minutes, so I don’t know if I’ll get everything in or not.

I’ll let you know.

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

Reality check

Did you ever have your self-imaged abruptly changed?

You know; you're going along minding your own business, thinking of yourself as you usually do (in my case, as a middle-aged man in pretty good shape and not all that bad-looking), and some stranger addresses you as "Gramps?"

No, it didn't happen to me quite that way. Let me explain.

On Halloween I had just picked up my brand new hybrid car (see post below). Sure, the salesman at the dealership showed us all the features including how to sync up my bluetooth-capable cell phone with the car's hands-free phone system (a pretty slick setup!) But I hadn't had time to really internalize or practice finding the different controls and using them. So I was busy checking out features while driving instead of paying attention to driving.

It was dark, and I was on the same stretch of road where I had hit the deer a few weeks ago. I didn't feel as if I was driving fast at all, and activated the cruise control while Carol and I played with the ambient lighting selector. Within a minute the red and blue lights of a highway patrol cruiser were flashing behind me. I immediately pulled over. The car was quiet, engine off.

The trooper approached on the passenger side and tapped on the window. I had been waiting for him to come to the driver side. I fumbled around for what seemed like forever trying to find the button to lower the electric window on Carol's side of the car.

He grinned patiently, and then introduced himself and asked if I had my driver's license and proof of insurance (a requirement in Texas). I told him I had JUST picked up the car, was still trying to figure out all the features, and confessed I hadn't been watching my speed. He politely explained that he'd clocked me at 62 in a 55 zone.

We discussed the fact that I DID have proof of insurance, but only because the dealer had asked me to phone my insurance company and request them to fax over a copy. In the middle of that discussion the car . . . Well, the car screeched at me!

This horrible, LOUD "R-R-R-R-E-E-E-E" noise made me jump, and the trooper jerked his head back from the window. Carol and I looked at each other in confusion. The car did it again; "R-R-R-R-E-E-E-E!" The trooper then said (a bit condescendingly, I thought), "THAT's your phone."

OH! YEAH! The salesman had synched it to the car, and now the whole CAR was ringing!

Well, I had no idea how to answer it! (I now know there's a button on the steering wheel, but at the time . . .) I grabbed at the phone itself and started pushing buttons. All I wanted was for the car to stop screeching. It did, and the trooper again waited patiently while I said, "It's my daughter."

I turned to the phone and said in haste, "I can't talk now. I'll call you back and explain." Then I hung up on her.

The trooper said he would go back to his car and just write me a warning. I thanked him, feeling like a total idiot. But it wasn't over yet. As he walked back toward his car, my engine started! (Remember, this is a hybrid. When you stop, the gasoline engine stops. But if you have the air conditioning on, eventually the engine starts and will run a while to power the compressor for the A/C.)

I quickly shut it off and sat there, face burning. Carol was reminding me that when you are stopped by the police you are supposed to shut off your engine and leave it off, or else they are likely to think you're going to drive away. When the trooper came back with my warning we apologized for the engine starting and told hime we hadn't intended to start it, that it just started by itself because I'd forgotten to turn off the key, and . . .

He smiled and held up his hand. "I understand," he said. "It'll do that every time you stop at a light, too. That's the way they work. That's one of the ways they save gas."

At this point I REALLY felt like an idiot. And I knew HE thought I was an idiot, too.

He asked us where we were going. We told him straight home. He nodded and said, "Good. Please drive safe."

As he walked away I think I saw myself through his eyes. And what I saw was a gray-haired man approaching senility, with little command of anything the least bit technical or mechanical. An old fella who ought to be in bed once the sun went down.

Now that is NOT me! But it was an ugly reality check regardless, to realize that people might see me that way.

Getting old sucks, but it probably beats checking out early! (Hey, at least he took pity and only wrote me a warning!)

Sunday, November 02, 2008

My new ride!

Dear readers (*sigh* . . . both of you),

As you saw in my last post, my poor old commute-to-work car met its demise in a close encounter with Bambi’s mom. One of you (Kenju) asked what I would be driving to work now.

The short-term answer was that I used a borrowed vehicle. Fortunately for us, Carol’s mother lives nearby, doesn’t drive any more, but has a Honda minivan. Periodically she asks me to drive it to work and back just to keep it in running condition. She was happy (she said) to let me use it for a few months until the car I had ordered last June was delivered.

What had I ordered that took so long? Well, I knew that my old Mazda (12 years old with 195,000 miles on it) wouldn’t last too many more years (months?), and I had begun lusting after the 2009 Ford Escape hybrid. It is Ford’s small SUV with better gas mileage than my little 4-cylinder, 5-speed Mazda, but with lots of room and hauling capacity. Seemed like a great compromise when gas was over $4 per gallon!

So, on the first day the ‘09 models could be ordered, I ordered one. That was June 4. They told me it would be October at the earliest before the car was ready; and more likely January! Well, okay. My Mazda was still running. I didn’t NEED a new car yet. January would be acceptable. You know, Merry Christmas and all!

What made the ’09 model more attractive than the ’08 was that the newer one came with stability control features lacking before. There were some other nice features, but that was the main reason.

Anyway, last Friday, October 31 (Halloween! Spooky, no?), I got a call at work from the Ford dealer.

My new car was in!

Since I know you’re just DYING to see it, here it is. Yesterday morning I sat in the car reading the manuals and trying to figure out all the features, hybrid charactaristics and nuances, while Carol walked around it snapping photos:

For you in the harsher climes, yes I live in South Texas. Yes, this shot was taken on November 1. Yes, it's still "late summer" here (we played golf yesterday with bright sunshine, temps in the mid 80s, and sweated in our shorts and short-sleeve shirts!)

Ford calls this color "light ice-blue metallic." It looks almost silver in these shots because I lightened them up a bit for detail. The first picture (up above this one) is pretty close to the real color, on my monitor at least.

I have another story to tell about my first driving experience in this car, but that will wait for another post.