Sunday, December 30, 2012

Guilty, I'm Sorry - a review of the 2012 Honda Civic

It was a Sunday night and I was headed out to pick up Chinese (food) for the family; I turned the key and the 2003 Kia Optima was a "no go," just a taunting "click, click, click".  I had replaced the battery early this year.  A couple of months ago, I encountered a similar situation (dead car) and took the car back to the Firestone where I had purchased the battery.  Extensive testing was done to try to find any drain on the battery.  Nothing was found.  About a month or two ago, an airbag light came on.  I had that checked out at the dealer and after about $200 of diagnostic work, their best guess is that it was the airbag in the passenger door.  They related that they "reset the system" (translation, they disconnected the battery so the the system was rebooted) and that if the light returned and I decided to get the airbag replaced it would be $1200 which they related they did not feel was worth it...

Sunday, December 23, 2012

Work Like You're Retired

Harvey MacKay of Swim With Sharks Without Being Eaten Alive (book) fame is well known for saying, "Find something you love to do and you'll never have to work a day in your life”.  While I find this advice a bit simplistic and glib, the fact remains that probably most of us will be working longer than the previous generation.  (Indeed, it seems that some of the most popular solutions to "save Medicare" run along the lines of pushing back eligibility to make sure that enough people die before they can collect, but I digress.)  The reality is that most of us don't "love" our jobs; rather, the great majority tolerate our jobs because we need an income.  This post is a reflection of strategies I have employed to tolerate my "day job."

Sunday, December 16, 2012

It's an honor?

We recently received a letter from the school regarding my son.  I never fear these letters because all of my kids are great students and have consistently done very well in school.  On this occasion, the letter related that my son had scored very high on some standardized math exam and as a result he is eligible for participation in XYZ.  The letter went on to laud what an honor this is and how participation in XYZ can offer so much for my child.  Also, sandwiched within the letter was a brief notation of the $40 membership fee which would make my son eligible to take exams from XYZ (for an additional exam fee of between $30 - $75) which may open whatever elusive, nonspecific doors of opportunity.

Sunday, December 9, 2012

2 Essential Tech foundations for your kids

This post is for those families who are struggling, but aware that times have changed and that some things that were at one time considered optional are now essential.  While I do not believe struggling families need to provide the "latest and greatest" in technology to their children, I do strongly believe that there are 2 essentials that all households must have or they will severely place their members at a huge disadvantage.

Sunday, December 2, 2012

Security and Tech Support

A few years back IBM's advertisement in some popular tech magazines showed a company who's tech guru had installed lasers to ensure security resulting in substantial obstacles for the employees to access the system.  My employer hasn't installed lasers...yet, but we definitely have layers of security and unfortunately I was a victim of "access denied" recently when one security update did not play nice with another security update... so much for working remote... after 3 calls to the "Help" desk, I was told, "you have to bring it in."

I suspect the buying decision for security software is something that could be well illustrated by Scott Adams in a Dilbert cartoon, resembling:

Vender:  This software slices, dices, toasts and roasts... (rambling on with incredible features)

IT Manager:  I'm not so sure... it sounds expensive and it might be a lot of work to install...

Later that night at Hooters after filling with Beer and Wings...

Vender:  ... so what did you think of our Security Fantasmo Suite?

IT Manager:  ugh?  Is it really that good (thinking that now that the truth serum of beer has kicked in, the "real deal" will emerge).

Vender:  Well it sort of stops everyone dead in their tracks; we're confidant that nothing will get through...

IT Manager:  Nothing?

Vender:  Nothing and no one, not even your users (...whoops)

IT Manager:  We'll take it (thinking... if my users are so buggered up by security, they won't have time to bother me....)

Sunday, November 25, 2012

The Windows 8 Plunge

Technology has been very good to me in my professional life and although I don't believe my employer will be migrating to Windows 8 any time soon, I enjoy dabbling with technology and this interest ties nicely to my interest in blogging.  For the purpose of this blog, I will organize my thoughts into 3 sections, The Buying Decision, The Install and Initial Impressions.

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Android Apps - 8 Boring Picks and 8 Personal Picks

After a series of finance and benefits focused posts, its time again for a fun, tech post...

I have long been a "pre-paid" (pay as you go) cell phone customer and was thrilled to see the arrival of smart phones to pre-paid plans a couple years ago.  I initially purchased an Android phone with Virgin Mobile back in the day when Virgin had their $25 per month unlimited plan.  That phone became my daughter's phone - yes, I'm a bit of a soft heart... she was soon to head to college and I believed it would be more important to her than to me.  Thereafter, Virgin Mobile increased their rates; AT&T offered an Android phone which I purchased and as expressed in my post relating to pre-paid plans, AT&T changed their plan options.  Although, I was disappointed by AT&T's behavior in regards to how they rolled out their changes, I have been able to adapt to the plan that they ultimately offered.  I highly recommend smart phones and for those who are budget conscious, I highly recommend looking at the Android offerings.  While those iPhones may be wonderful, I am not quite comfortable with the idea of such a high priced device being so vulnerable to being lost, damaged or stolen.  I love my Android LG Thrive (screen shot below), it does all I need and more in regards to "on the fly" type data and messaging.

Here are some of the apps that I particularly enjoy:

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Evaluating Health Plan Choices

If you have health insurance through your employer, it may be that time of year where you need to make some hard choices.  This post describes my choices and methodology and is offered in the spirit of helping others navigate similar choices that may be offered through their employer.

Sunday, October 28, 2012

The best life insurance plan...

is to keep breathing and remain among the living.

Life insurance always makes for an interesting discussion as, let's face it, what we really are doing is planning for death, not planning for life.  Many look to the "experts" for guidance when approaching death planning; I question the qualifications of these "experts" for this very personal decision.  To start, these "experts" are, more often than not, also life insurance salespersons (or sales consultants or whatever glorified title they may be going by).  All too often we listen to "experts" whose judgement is impaired by self interest.  At best, these "experts" are only able to suggest appropriate insurance based on "bean counter" quantitative measures.  For example, these bean counters may suggest that you need insurance in the amount of 1 year's salary (or 2 years or 3 years) and/or they may suggest that the insurance cover certain obligations such as a house, child care and the hole in the ground for your corpse...blah, blah, blah...

Here are my thoughts and philosophy when it comes to life insurance:

Sunday, October 21, 2012

What the FSA?

It's that time of year again when many of us get a chance to consider "benefit" choices for the coming calendar year.  I try to look at every possible way to save a buck.  This is not to say that I don't like to spend money; I do (and am continuing to learn the pleasures of spending money from my kids).

Saving is not buying something you don't need or something inferior to what you want because it's cheap.  Saving is all about getting what you want at the best price.  And so it is with health care.  In this blog, I'm going to talk about 2 strategies for setting aside tax-free money for the purpose of purchasing health care.  I have had personal experiences with both.

Sunday, October 14, 2012

G's Top 7 blog annoyances

In an effort for me to improve my blog, I try to regularly seek out and read the blogs of others.  In doing this, I find many great blogs.  Unfortunately, I also stumble on many common annoyances and vent my annoyances below.

1.  A blocking dialogue window which requires action before reading.  This is my top annoyance; I hate it when I am lured to a blog only to encounter a dialogue window that forces me to click something before proceeding.  This could be an advertisement, a subscription to the blog, an invitation to create a user account, yada yada...  Let me help you out - NO, I don't want it and if I do want it, I will look for it in a reasonable location like in the right, left or bottom regions of your page.  Don't sign me up for ANYTHING, thank you very much!    Moreover, I am concerned about the potential for malicious code so unless I am really desperate to read the content in your blog, I will close the page and go elsewhere.

Sunday, October 7, 2012

5 Musings regarding the Affordable Care Act

I am a firm believer that the Affordable Care Act was a courageous and necessary step toward addressing health care in America.  Undoubtedly, there are some areas that I'm somewhat leery of and a few areas where I feel somewhat robbed.  Some of specific areas of concern are discussed below:

1.  Health Insurance is NOT equal to Health Care.  I continue to be disturbed that in conversations relating to health "care", health "insurance" is commonly used synonymously.  In my posting relating to customer care, I describe how a particular insurance company failed to pay valid health claims in a timely manner.  Since that time, I have heard numerous anecdotes of neighbors and colleagues who have delayed or not sought health care due to cost issues even though they were insured.  Yes, those deductibles and co-pays are real money.  In one case, a spouse of an employee declined going to an emergency room due to the high cost of an emergency room visit.  While some may criticize gambling with your health over a $50 emergency room co-pay, for many $50 is a significant hit to the weekly family grocery bill.  It seems to me that we need a minimum bill of rights for all when it comes to health care and that these basic needs need to be exempted from co-pays and deductibles much as preventative health is under the current initiative.

Sunday, September 30, 2012

What about Linux?

Several years back, it was widely regarded that Linux would emerge as the biggest threat to Microsoft's dominant Window's operating system.  At the time Linux was very much in its infancy and casual peeks into this alternative seemed to suggest that Linux installers were very much left to search for benign software drivers.  Long story short, much tinkering was required to get the thing working... all things considered, I still shudder thinking of the grand fun (sarcasm) to be had trying to install a 33.6 modem into Windows 3.1.  Then came Windows 95, "plug and play" or as many preferred to refer to it, "plug and pray."  This was a mild improvement, but I still recall many hours spent trying to resolve all those pesky question mark "?" icons in Device Manager.  I was blown away when a colleague convinced me to install Windows 7 and to my surprise about 99% of the set up completed successfully - wow, we've come a long way.  Thus, when it came to Linux, the last thing I wanted to do was spend hours troubleshooting and looking for drivers.

In the past couple of years, Linux has largely been eclipsed by the success of Apple and Google emergence within tablets and smart phones (which should be considered hand held computers).  I have an iPad and an Android phone and love them both, but I'm typing this blog on a Windows laptop; however unlike my phone and iPad, I can't say that I "love" my Windows computers.  The iPad and Android phone are both "touch" devices so in fairness this may be regarded as an "apples to oranges" comparison.  However, I think many would agree that we do seem to be moving toward a convergence whereby the analogous "apples" are beginning to look more like "oranges" and the "oranges" are looking more like "apples".  There are 2 primary features that support my love affair with touch devices:

1.  Apps - I have blogged previously about apps that I love on the iPad (and plan to soon create a post for Android).  I'm sure readers could add many more apps that they absolutely love.

2.  Quick start up - let's face it, it's a drag waiting for Windows to boot up.  With either touch device, I press a button and access what I want within seconds.

Unfortunately, as I have previously discussed in an earlier post, tablets and smart phones leave much to be desired as "input" devices.

I (occasionally) listen to co-workers and on one such occasion, an IT staff member had remarked about installing Linux on netbooks, resulting in some really speedy netbooks.  At the time, I placed this in the back of my mind, being unmotivated due to my forestated bias regarding the hours required to get Linux to work.   Then one day of Internet surfing, I stumbled on a blog relating to fast Linux boot ups.  In particular, Ubuntu 11.10 was reflected as booting in 10 seconds!  Wow, 10 seconds - while I don't believe everything I read and what is notably left out of this blog is exactly what type of hardware configuration was used to achieve this result, this blog certainly got me thinking that if I could get a substantially better boot time than Windows, Linux might be worth a second look.

I have an old Dell Dimension 2300 with about 1 gig of memory that I have placed on Craig's list for $35 and no takers... I also found myself with a few flexible hours.  My first hurdle was to find a suitable Linux version for installation.  The most recent versions of some of the more popular versions of Linux have grown so large that they now require burning on a DVD or memory stick.  While these options might work for a newer netbook, these were not options for my old clunker.  I looked specifically for Ubuntu 11.10, but could not get what I found to work.  Ultimately, I settled on Linux Mint.  While I'm not too crazy about the theme colors (mint green), I love the way that Linux Mint provides a clear offering of both their new and old versions.  Linux Mint also provides a nice series of pictures of each version as well.  Many sites, hawk their latest and greatest version and you need Scooby Doo to help sniff out earlier releases.  While I liked the look of "Julia," I observed that "Isadora" was to be supported until April 2013 so I went with "Isadora."

Sunday, September 16, 2012

7 iPad Apps I Like... plus 1

There is an interesting difference in the Apps that I select and use for my iPad 2 versus apps that I select and use with my Android phone (or even the iPod Touch that I owned prior to the Android phone).  Specifically, the iPad does a great job of rendering websites.  Thus, if the website is full featured and does a nice job, there is little reason to install (and consume space) with an often down sized interpretation of the original.  Therefore, my criteria for iPad apps is that they must provide value beyond what can be found on a website or somehow enhance the iPad as a tool or entertainment device.

I will interject one exception to this general guideline for iPad apps which is that if you anticipate that you may be working from a slow wifi connection, it may be worthwhile to explore and install an app as the app may be optimized for a mobile device and provide greater utility on slow connections.  For example, I have experimented with "tethering" my iPad to a 3G device (cell phone) and for this slower connection, I have found that the proprietary app from my stock trading company works better than attempting to trade using the Safari browser and a log on.  This exception aside, here are 7 apps that I enjoy:

Sunday, September 9, 2012

Yachting with G

##Update 2013 Outing Added##

Yes, it's my 5' yacht docked at Renssellaer Lake (also known as Six Mile Waterworks).  Ok, maybe it's not what you expected.  Yup, I'm about the only fool who boats on the lake in an inflatable, but it works for me.   No need to strap a big kayak on the top of my car, deflate it a little and it fits nicely in my mid-size car.  All I need to do is quickly add a little air from my portable pump and viola, my yacht awaits for another adventure.

The kayaks seen in the background are part of L.L.Bean's adventure excursions which can be booked at the Colonie Mall.  I believe the cost is around $20 and it is well worth it as an introduction.  You'd be amazed at all you'll see in the back portion of the lake - numerous turtles, a frequent blue Huron among beautiful, natural views.  Surprisingly, I have not been bothered by bugs while boating on this lake.  If boating is not your things, there are many trails in this back wooded area of the Albany Pine Bush.  Please note that you can get lost in this area and years ago when I did walk this area, I do recall a generous supply of mosquitoes.

Passing through the narrow channels where the  I-87 (the Northway) highway and ramps pass over the water is tricky and the 4th overpass right before the pedestrian overpass is very shallow.  My boat often rubs bottom going over this section.  Another tricky spot is after you pass the narrows, but before entering the wide body of water in the back part of the park.  There is a fallen tree and generally you need to keep your boat near parallel to another fallen tree on the right to squeeze past the tree and a broken branch that points upward in the water blocking the greater part of the opening.

Sunday, September 2, 2012

Finding God with Dan Brown and Wikipedia

I wasn't seeking a religious awakening when I read Dan Brown's "The Da Vinci Code" a few years back.  In fact, my only reason for reading the book was due to it's long running appearance on the New York Times bestseller list.  A book with a description that expressed solving a murder in the Louvre did nothing for me.  My reason for reading this book was simply to try to understand why so many other's had read it.

After reading "The Da Vinci Code," I think I somewhat understand the book's mass appeal which I believe is that people are generally hopeful beings and "The Da Vinci Code," although fictional does present a wistful "what if" scenario.  I was raised in a born again, Baptist environment although I do not embrace this faith now as an adult.  Along the coarse of the plot in this book (as well as in Dan Brown's, "Angels & Demons"), the origins and varieties of early faith are explored.  (This, too, may account for some of the mass attraction to this literary work).

In particular, I was attracted to the description of Paganism and learned that pagan did not translate to godless heathen.  Instead, it was clear within this book as well as through outside references that pagans are very much god-aware.  While in the Army, a close friend explained his faith in god as "dog spelled backwards".  I don't think I could ever become atheist.  Foolhardy or not, I want to believe that there is more to the scheme of things.

In my quest for knowledge, the first step in this modern age is to Google everything.  Thus, I Googled, "Pagan" and Wikipedia provided the starting point.  I read this information with zest.  As stated within Wikipedia:
The term pagan is from the Latin paganus, an adjective originally meaning "rural", "rustic" or "of the country."  As a noun, paganus was used to mean "country dweller, villager".
Paganism certainly provided a good initial fit with my life experiences - a rural upbringing on a dairy farm (also a Great Grandmother who was a "half breed").  I had long felt that my "church" was in the open under nature; quite simply, my sense of worship would consider a walk with Mick the Wonder Dog being a more rewarding and fulfilling venture than any worship I have ever experienced sitting in a church pew.  I place a high value on accessing nature and consistent with this value, I have dedicated full web pages on to local parks that I frequent.

Sunday, August 26, 2012

...and the Winner is...Walmart Pants

Update 8/20/2014 - The flat front with extender waist khaki from Walmart favored in this post is no longer being stocked in Walmart.  I'm back in search of the perfect khaki.

I have lots of clothes.  I suspect it is something psychological from childhood.  Growing up on a dairy farm, we didn't have a lot of clothes; we had school clothes, church clothes and barn clothes.

I love to find a bargain and the clothes have accumulated... BUT, despite having lots of clothes, I find myself wearing the same 3 or 4 pants week after week.  This lead to a reality check - WHY?  Well, in some cases it was because I just didn't like the feel / fit of the seldom used pants - these were an easy call; time to go.  Others, including some of the 3 or 4 being frequently worn were a bit more difficult to objectively assess.  They fit ok, but some just were not very flattering.  For example,

No Pleats, Please-

In fact they should be outlawed for all waist sizes over 32.  Why would anyone think pleats look good with all that bunched up material gelling up front - yuck!  I need something trimming and slimming not bunching and looking like lunching... another cut had to be made and bottom line, if it didn't look good, it needed to go.

It was hard to let go, but in parallel with identifying what I didn't want, I reassessed what I did want.  This flowed seamlessly from my analysis of what to get rid of; specifically, get rid of all pants that were not comfortable AND get rid of those that don't look good for my middle aged physique.

I'm a khaki person - no need for jeans.  Khakis are just as comfortable plus they look more business casual which is what I shoot for.

Second, those "hidden waist bands" are a god-send.  I have had some gastric reflux and also have had bouts diverticulitis - at times I want a little extra room.  Unlike those horrible bunchy looking elastic pants, these hidden waist bands give you a little dignity looking like a normal pant...

Sunday, August 19, 2012

G's Craig's List Tips

I love Craig's list and have referenced Craig's list in multiple posts.  Craig's list may be a great way to score a bargain or to convert your unwanted possessions to cash.  The premise of Craig's list is to bring together local buyers and sellers.  The purpose of this post is to discuss this great resource and to offer some practical tips.

Face to face transactions are a key consideration; keep in mind that the "other" person whether they be buyer or seller will be different than you.  This can mean different values and different behaviors than yours - brace yourself; you will probably like some and may even enjoy some chit chat; some will test and may even exceed your patience and tolerance and some will not even be rationale (no, I'm not kidding, some will be downright crazy and I don't mean in a good way).  Example, I once sold a coffee percolator for $5 and even set it up to demonstrate that it worked.  Thereafter, I was contacted by the purchaser who expressed that he thought I miss-represented the item... are you kidding me, Mr. Big Spender?  In this case I flat out told the guy to bring it back in the condition that it left and I'd be happy to give his $5 back... yes, you will find some Craig's list patrons are just plain short of a full deck (and no, he never brought it back... sometimes you just need to tell them to put up or shut up).

Before even getting started, you need to evaluate whether Craig's list is for you.  If you don't want to deal with people like Mr. Big Spender, you might be better off to make a charitable donation.  The Salvation Army and Goodwill are excellent options.  Keep in mind that Mr. Big Spender may not be the worst that you see - you could get unlucky and land a stellar patron who swears and threatens you on the phone.  Yes, they're out there, also.  Fortunately, by far most of the sellers and purchasers that I have dealt with have been reasonable to deal with and I will continue to use Craig's list with reasonable precautions.

Sunday, August 12, 2012

How to organize your blog posts in Google Blogger by keyword, topic, subject, or rating

Recently while reading a local post, I was admiring how the blog owner had neatly organized their blogs by subject.  It occurred to me that this is something that I should do as I might talk about a social type issue one week, then talk about some tech type issue for a couple weeks, then hit back to a social issue and so forth so that organizing my blog posts simply by post date may not be optimal.  The blog that I initially viewed this organization was hosted on WordPress while my blog is hosted (as may be obvious) on Google Blogger.  My initial thought was, "no problem, surely there is a similar feature in Blogger."  As with any initiatives like this, I started with a Google search.  I searched something along the lines of "How to Organize blogs by subject" and variations thereof.  I was surprised to find that nothing simple and straightforward jumped out at me.  I also poked around in my Blogger settings and looking at "Post settings" but again, nothing obvious.

Since this was not a pressing issue, some time elapsed and I had the occasion to skim some Blogger blogs and I stumbled on something that reflected the use of keywords to navigate to past posts.  Hmmm, I thought, this is close to what I want... but I've used a bunch of keywords in each post so what a hodge podge this will turn out to be.  Since I did not find a blog or other source that discussed my needs in a straightforward manner, I have decided to post my learning here.

Alas, all is good, the secret is using a gadget.  Here are the steps involved:

Sunday, August 5, 2012

4 (four) Pre-paid (pay as you go) cell plan options

I am not a big cell phone user and have stuck primarily with pay as you go mobile cell service.  This review is based on my experiences and knowledge of the offerings of 3 providers that I have had experience with (Tracfone, Virgin Mobile and AT&T) and 1 (T-Mobile) which I have researched as a future prospect.

(Note:  smart phones and data [plans] are used within this blog to refer to cell phones capable of accessing the internet through the cellular service).

Sunday, July 29, 2012

Desktops, Laptops, Netbooks, Tablets, Smart Phones, oh my

Computer offerings have exploded.  This blog entry is targeted for novice users as an introduction to the many computer options that are currently available.  Finding the type of computer device that will work for you can be a challenge.  In some instances you will find that you will want more than one type of computer depending on your needs.

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Drugs, Urine and Old People

One of the first things that I learned from B (my social work mentor), many years ago as an intern doing home care to geriatric patients was to avoid the soft furniture.  As recommended by B, whenever you do a home visit always shoot for the hard, wooden furniture.  It was advice well taken.  Two of my most prominent memories of from the experience was the smell of incontinence and the sight of an exploding medication stash.

Mick the Wonder Dog is now around 14 and sadly he has had a few "accidents" in the house.  Fortunately, as far as I know the humanoids of the house are still continent and, in my subjective opinion, have done a reasonably good job responding to Mick's accidents.  That was the good news...

While in bygone days, the "pill stash" consisted of prescribed medications, both the current ones as well as the ones that you never threw out; today's "pill stash" often reflects the hottest, make yourself healthy, natural remedies and vitamins.  What started off simple with one or two, has somehow reproduced like rabbits on Cialis.  This photo reflects my kitchen, "don't want to forget to take that" stash:

many bottles of pills

Yes, I should be running marathons with all this stuff.  It started off simple; oh, vitamin C will help with the common cold.  At one time I added vitamin E, too, but I no longer take that one.  Every educated person today knows that you need Omega 3s, so fish oil, check - got it.  Let's not forget the CoQ-10, which is essential to counteract the side effects of the prescribed cholesterol medication (statin).  I have a bit of seasonal depression so got to have the St. John's Wort plus add a bit of D3 for good measure.  But wait, I read that D3 by itself was no different in some study against a placebo... hmmm, what to do?  Good news, a new study, Calcium plus D3 seems to be better - oh yeah, a two-fer!  I was feeling a bit draggy in the morning so I thought maybe if I add some protein.  So I added the protein, but I think I might have a bit of milk intolerance... good thing I have the Ginger Root to settle down the stomach!  I've been under a bit of stress lately; good thing I watched a few minutes of Dr. Oz a few weeks ago - that and a few minutes on and I'm good to go with some Theanine... and just in case I missed anything, I have a multivitamin - "Alive!  Men's 50+" - it sounded good, but it seems way too strong - I split it in half and take it very sparingly.

The scary part is the stuff I just discussed is just the kitchen stash.  It does not includes all the over the counter (OTC) medications and other assorted pills stashed throughout 2.5 bathrooms...

so I wonder, are 30 somethings also taking these pills OR am I officially on my way to being "old people?"

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Family of Five Vacation

I'm a bit behind on my weekly post; just returned from a mostly successful family vacation.  There have been a number of family vacations where I truly think I was ready for a vacation AFTER the vacation (but not with the family...).  This one was for 5 nights to Virginia Beach, an approximate 9 hour drive from our home.  Selecting a hotel was the first big challenge and for families of 5 this is an even greater challenge.  For the most part, restaurants and hotels accommodate 4 and less very well.  Square table typically sit up to 4 people.  Likewise hotel rooms typically offer 2 double or queen beds.  Thus, the dilemma - does number 5 sleep on the floor?  We do have an air mattress OR maybe the hotel can provide a roll-away.   If they provide a roll-away, is there an extra charge?  Some do and some don't...  How do you select who sleeps where?  If you're staying 5 nights, it does not fit into a "fair" rotation (and no, my wife and I won't be in the rotation).

Since it was for only 5 nights, we decided to splurge and stayed in an ocean front room in the Hampton Inn North.  It was probably a good decision, the hotel provided a roll-away at no extra charge and on this particular trip, all seemed to settle in without debate - yeah!

Although clearly a beach destination, most in the family are not beach enthusiasts, excepting myself and S.  S and I both enjoyed soaking in the ocean and were also treated with numerous dolphin sightings.  K and my son, J, both enjoyed the pool.  The Virginia Beach destination was determined by my middle daughter's, K's, site of her dance competition.  The dance competition consumed a couple of days.  There's a reason why there is a couple reality shows with "Dance Mom".  No need to debate nature versus nature here - crazy parents (nature) and crazy environment (such as instances of scantily clad under-aged girls gyrating to racy music) equals double crazy kids... no kidding there were times I was experiencing flashbacks to ventures in strip clubs during my Army years... Thankfully, not all are of this genre.

While on vacation, we have come to enjoy taking the road less traveled in seeking out shopping opportunities.  I visited 3 Goodwill and 2 Salvation Army thrift stores while in Virginia Beach.  It is always fun to search for bargains and see the variety from among stores and locations.  Some great things about thrift store shopping is that you likely can well afford whatever you find AND your purchase goes to a worthy cause.  Also, for those environmentalists in the audience, you are re-using and thus reducing waste.

G's travel tips:

1.  Pack a pair of ear buds - even if you don't use them to listen to music, they can be handy to mute unwelcome noise.  I used my pair during the dance competition and it was great to be able to bring the dance music down a few decibels.

2.  Always, always, pack a night light.  No, none of us are "scared of the dark".  Rather, the bathrooms in hotel rooms always have very bright lights AND big mirrors.  There is nothing worse than using the bathroom in the middle of the night, snapping on the light and instantly being jolted to fully awake mode.  A night light placed in the bathroom at night allows you a soft lighting so you can stagger into the bathroom, do what you need to do without the instant wake up jolt.

3.  Use (and contribute to) sites like Trip Advisor and Yelp.  I will be posting my reviews on Trip Advisor.

Saturday, June 30, 2012

Sicilian dementia and customer care

It's been a couple of years since I've walked with my friend, B who is a retired nurse.  When I worked with B, I repeatedly told her that she was a the brains of the operation and I meant it.  B is a master's level nurse.  Beyond her medical knowledge, I frequently witnessed her compassionate care.  B is also "old school" Italian.  On this particular walk, we joked about aging and our perhaps declining memory when B identified an affliction she termed "Sicilian dementia". As B expressed to me her affliction with Sicilian dementia:

"I don't remember much these days, but I always remember a friend AND I never forget those who screwed me."

I think a symptom of of my OFS - old fart syndrome may be Sicilian dementia...

I have had recent highs and lows with customer service.  Among the lows, United Health Care (UHC) who remains on my shit list.  After numerous calls and speaking with numerous representatives and supervisors, I continue to receive numerous diverse explanations as to why they have not paid the hospital claims for a family member who was hospitalized in a "participating hospital" after a life threatening EKG reading.

In preparation of my written complaint against UHC, I contacted Time Warner Cable to obtain an Outbound Call Record.  In my contacts with Time Warner, I expressed my dissatisfaction with their "teaser incentives" for new customers, but failure to reward loyal customers.  Although I really like Time Warner's service (which is a primary reason for remaining with them for so long), I have been seriously considering other options due to the escalating cost.  I will note that I had voiced this complaint to them previously, but this time I hit pay dirt with C, a customer service rep.  Long story short, C listened to my issue and RESPONDED... I now have "turbo" Internet access - which they advertise as "twice as fast" as the service I had AND a DVR (still having fun learning this new toy) AND paying less than I was paying!  Yes, I understand that nothing lasts forever and that in another year or so I will probably need to re-contact Time Warner, but I am thrilled to have someone listen AND respond.

Similarly, I contacted the Health Services division of the New York State Attorney General's (AG) Office.  Wow, was I ever pleasantly surprised.  As I live and work near the AG's office, I called and asked if I could hand carry my UHC complaint to them.  They expressed that they were a very small unit and did not have this capacity, BUT after a very cordial conversation, M expressed that she would be happy to come downstairs and out to the street if I wanted to drop it off.  WOW!  I dropped if off Wednesday, by Friday of the same week (2 days later), C called me to tell me that they had received my complaint and were giving UHC 3 days to respond.  Later that day, C called a second time that she had spoken to a trusted contact at UHC and had learned that yes, UHC had received the medical records back in May (over a month ago) and that no one (even after I had spoken to numerous reps who expressed that they were sending the records for review) had reviewed these records.   DOUBLE WOW - UHC issues aside, let me express my gratitude and appreciation to the AG's office and to M and C specifically - Thank you.

I probably should have played the lottery this week.  Last Sunday, my daughter and I went to Dick's Sporting Goods in Crossgates Mall.   We went our separate ways to browse at our areas of interest and re-connected.  She had found a pair of sale sneakers that were in a clearance bin in the middle aisle with a big "25% off" sign prominently displayed.  They were priced about $40 so 25% was easy math - $10 off - $30... but not so fast...  We got to the register and they rang up $40+ - what gives?  Well I asked the cashier; he called someone and I was told that they had to end in $.97... yup, I walked back to the sign and buried under 2 layers of sneakers in small print that is what it said.  My normal method of operation would have been to have pitched a fit at the register and if the item was for me, it would have been a fast "no sale" but for my daughter... plus I was getting shaky from low sugar so I didn't throw my normal tantrum.  Later in the week, I get a "Please complete our survey about your shopping experience" email from Dick's... and another happy ending, I contacted the store, asked to speak to a manager and they listened AND responded.  Who knows, I might go back and buy that kayak yet.

Years ago, my wife went to the CapCom credit union to get some credit union promotion / discounted Great Escape tickets.  The CapCom rep explained that you couldn't pay by credit card, but that he could help her out with a work around.  This work around was a cash advance, so tickets that were supposed to cost about $50 ended up costing about $75 dollars.  My wife had never taken a cash advance in her life; didn't need to now and definitely didn't understand the implications of taking a cash advance.  I complained to both CapCom and to Chase, the credit card issuer.  CapCom made good - they're an All Star.  Chase never responded.  I stopped using my Chase credit card.  After several months of non-use, I sent Chase a second written message.  Once again no response.  I continued to not use my Chase credit card until they sent me a "teaser" offer - get $200 back after spending $1000 in 3 months... No problem, Chase - I spent the $1000 and I was happy to also accept your $200, but I've stopped using your cards again... yup, I think I may have a little Sicilian dementia!

Sunday, June 24, 2012

things your dog will do to annoy you...

...and I'm not just talking just skidding his nasty hiney across your carpet.

It is not well known, but these dogs go to a secret dog school to learn tricks like these...

Sneaking a snooze on the couch and turning your new shirt into an Angora sweater.

Your dog can sleep all day (or pretends to) except when you're working from home and have that important conference call, then he'll invariably find something to engage in a spastic fit of barking.

You're on a dog walk and have passed a wastebasket and he decides it's time to poo.  They know you don't want to carry poo all over the park so they make sure you're well past the last garbage can, but not close enough to the next one so you have to carry the poo and greet the oncoming traffic... "no, it's not really poo I'm carrying; it's my lunch."

You can be up walking all through the house, but it's when you sit down in your recliner and have a laptop on your knees that he saves his special "I've got to go out" signal.  After you unload all the crap from your lap and lumber out of the recliner to the back door you stand and wait and wait and wait for him to do his business.  Eventually, you figure he wants to sniff around or do whatever dogs do so you take a bathroom break yourself... you guessed it as soon as you sit down on the toilet, he's back at the door barking like you've abandoned him.

One of his favorite tricks is one he learned in school with Flipper the bottle-nosed dolphin... I tend to keep the bedroom and bathroom doors mostly closed for privacy, but cracked so I can hear anything else that may be going on in the house.  This dog regularly uses his snout with Flipper like dexterity to fling open the door.  More than once I've been caught standing and fully hanging out in the bathroom (and no, I wasn't on the phone) when he has decided it was time to be noticed.

Loud snoring - yup, they're doing it on purpose... don't fall for that fake sleeping routine.

...and while he's sleeping he adds his favorite, the silent, but deadly fart...

then he (might) look up at you with innocent looking brown eyes and you know even as you're calling him a nasty hog, that your dog will be with even even when your kids don't know who you are.

Sunday, June 17, 2012

of Phones and Toilets

I did the deed.  I used my cell phone in an airport restroom while on the toilet.

It wasn't my intention.  I was exhausted after a day of travel, arrived at the destination airport and had an issue with my ground transportation.  I was told by the carrier that they'd call me back in about an hour... so sure enough about 10 minutes later and being well about my business the phone rings and what was I to do?  There was no way I was letting that go to voice mail so that I would need to call them back at their 1-800 customer (dis)service number... and so I answered it and offered up the best of toilet prayers that the stall next to me wouldn't flush until I quickly got the info I needed and off the phone.

And so it was that I did something I thought I'd never find myself doing.  I'm not a "Type A Personality Disorder," who is hard charging and glued to the phone.  In contrast, I had a seldom used Tracfone at the time.

Ok, so I'm not in the league of those swashbuckling manly men who gamely gab on their blue tooth while lined up at the urinal, but since that experience I'm beginning to ask myself, "who is this guy?"  I don't travel as frequently as I used to, but more and more I'm finding myself using the bathroom (among other things) while on the cordless home phone.  I realize this is not as risque as you have more control over the flush and the mute, but it's my version of multi-tasking.

Now after substantial phone-toilet experience, I need to plead with all phone manufactures... please, please, make a prominent mute button that has a nice bright red light when it's on as with the flimsy button on my current phone, it is only a matter of time before I screw up in a big way and express some serious gastric noises while on the phone with a friend... or the boss.

So I ask, Have you done it?

Saturday, June 9, 2012

The Oppression of Men

I am fortunate to have a work schedule that allows me a Friday off every other week.  I love it.  It's great to stroll the mall and shop without the droves of weekend shoppers.  For the most part, you can shop undisturbed.  One thing you will notice is that us guys are hopelessly outnumbered when it comes to Friday shopping and I'm not just talking in the grocery store or the jewelry section, I'm talking anywhere in the mall, even the men's department which leads me to my next thought...

There ought to be a law - at least 2 hours each day, no women in the men's clothing section.  

I'm serious, the ladies are a different species.  Men tend to be more solitary creatures when shopping, maybe its an alpha male thing or maybe we emit man to man pheromones to maintain at least 10 feet from another man when shopping.  Women seem to have a social packing instinct.  If I'm checking out a bargain rack, you'd think that someone just set out the flashing blue light... "Attention, all women over here, this is the rack that has all of the bargains you want... Swarm! Swarm!"  No kidding, I can bank on it within no time it seems the women move in and before I know it I can't shop because I have a woman blocking my rack movement to either my right or left... And it doesn't seem to matter what section it is, sportswear, dress shirts, pants, even underwear.  It gets to the point where I just want to hold up a pair of underwear and say, "Excuse me ma'am, do you think these boxer briefs would make my butt look big?"

Saturday, June 2, 2012

The Jobs I Didn't Get (Fortunately)

There has been much ado lately about employers asking job seekers to provide their Facebook password.  Let me clearly state the right response - "hell, no" (feel free to add your own personalized expletive).  As I stated in my first post, I'm not a fan of Facebook; however, I do appreciate that Facebook does provide value and enhance the lives of many.  Any employer who has the audacity to invade your privacy to ask for a password is not an employer worth working for.

As I've matured and OFS (old fart syndrome) has set in, I more than ever view the employment experience as a 2 way street.  You should be evaluating whether you want to work for an employer just as they evaluate whether they want you as an employee.  The sooner you say "NO" to an abusive employer the better.  When I left the Albany County Probation Department for a lesser paying job, I had and still have zero regrets...This employer was ruled by a tyrant at the time and treated their employees poorly.  Life is just too short!

Money is only a single attribute of a position.  It helps to place this attribute in perspective; I use a headache to dollars ratio - how many headaches are they heaping on you for how much compensation.  Perhaps a job where you can wear Hawaiian shirts and flip flops might be the best job for you even though it might pay $20,000 less than the self-important wear a tie and  respond to a 24 hour pager position.

...and I now play tribute to jobs I didn't get...

Saturday, May 26, 2012

Hunger Games, Sadness and War

I have a 13 yo.  As he has gotten older, he hibernates more and I see him less; I miss him.  And so it was that the Hunger Games came out offering an opportunity to actually spend some together time.

J had read the entire series and had eagerly anticipated the movie.  J has a sensitive side and in his protective manner, he tried to prepare me for the show, explaining that it could be disturbing as it is about children killing each other.  All in all, I am glad he made the effort.  This movie certainly has the potential to be disturbing.  The story line resembles that of "The Lottery" which I found very disturbing as a young person.

After the show, we enjoyed our tradition of pizza and sharing a Snapple in the Food Court.  I asked J what he thought the theme of the movie was.  J explained that he understood it to be a commentary combining the concept of war with a reality show.  I was taken aback slightly that a 13 yo would be so perceptive.  Indeed this movie certainly has the potential to strike a chord.  I found it a bit chillingly more real than reality show.

Indeed, it was not so long ago that we had a draft and many young people were forced into life or death circumstances.  Perhaps you could make a strong case that there is still an economic draft.  I am a veteran from "voluntarily" enlisting; my reasons for enlisting were more closely aligned with economic desperation than patriotism.  I believe there are many who share the experience.

And so it brings us to another Memorial Day.  I approach it without preaching and grandstanding of the perils of war or the sacrifices of the dead.  I think of the living; of young amputees skiing and engaging in life... and I wonder in 20 years when the world's short attention span moves on to the next pressing event, will they still ride gleefully down slopes of white snow?

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

3 Very Different Indoor Swimming Options Near Wolf Road, Colonie, NY

10/20/2012 - Update:  I recently learned that the University at Albany (UAlbany) has changed their offerings.  There is no longer a "pool only" option and they no longer have the monthly option that was referenced in this original post.

I love swimming.  Sure, its great for my OFS and arthritis, but let's face it, swimming is just plain fun.  How else can you get near naked and wet in a socially acceptable manner?  I think there may be something primitive to it - maybe we truly came from the sea and feeling the sun and water on our skin is what is programmed deep inside us.

While Colonie is a terrific area, it is as the politically correct would say, "sunny day challenged."  I'm looking outside now and yup, its cloudy.  Long story short, if you like to swim and you're in Colonie, you need to check out indoor swimming options.  In this excerpt, I'm going to discuss 3 very different options and while I probably will be brutally honest about what I like and don't like about each, your circumstances may be such that my dislike may be your like and vice versa.

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Lawn Sale Euphoria

If you are one of those who have a perpetual (as in never ending) lawn sale, this quip is not for you.

I love a great lawn sale...If you're going to have a lawn sale, make an effort to drive around and visit a few sales before you put your's on.  When doing this take notes.  No, I'm not kidding.  Jot down what you liked and what you saw that you didn't like.  Also, jot down some typical prices for items that you see being offered that resemble what you will be selling (books, CDs, etc).

Here are some of my other tips to ensure happy customers and a successful sale:

Get in touch with prime time lawn sale time- 

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

In Search of...a Blog?

Home, Home on the Range (or the WWW)

I wanted a website, my website.  I have some tech skills, but in the world of launching a site from the ground I am a novice.  The desire for a site lead me to a cursory exploration of web hosting options.  There is, of course "Go Daddy" which seems to be the mainstay.  Going with the obvious just isn't my style so as with all things web, all roads start with Google.  A search of web hosts yielded a rich array of options to explore, among them a host named, iPage.  iPage sounded promising, the reviews looked great, and their rates sure seemed reasonable.  Next step was to take them up on their "Live Chat" and this is where things started going south.  As a novice, I had many questions, but it seemed that no matter what I asked, the response was always followed by a hook to proceed to set up the account and at times I felt as though the Live Chat Host wasn't focusing on responding to my questions, but rather working (too) hard to close the sale.  For example, at one juncture I inquired about "Censorship"... the response from the Live Chat Host was "Would you like me to see if is available"... to borrow that classic line from Cool Hand Luke, "What we have here is a failure to communicate..."  After this exchange, I expressed to the Live Chat Host that their aggressiveness made me very nervous and our exchange was quickly concluded thereafter.  I did take a second look at all those glowing reviews and upon closer inspection, I am much more skeptical of whether they are indeed objective reviews.  Quite bluntly, all reviews are not created equally and those loaded with advertising and/or which are just too endearing need to be particularly questioned.