29 February 2012

When technology doesn't serve you well

We've never been "early adopters" of technology.  That's not for wanting, believe me.  It's really a matter of budget.  I tend to wait until the second generation of a new technology before I take the plunge.  Hence my iPhone 3GS, an off-brand flat screen TV, and an unfulfilled longing for an iPad.  Can I just point out that I have a friend who is a true Luddite now has an iPad!?  This is a man who until Christmas 2011 shared a cell phone with his wife that didn't text, at .25 per minute, who missed dial-up.  He's got an iPad now.  I don't.  But I digress.

One of the few times we were on the cutting edge of technology nearly got me punched in the head.  You may recall the first generation of video cameras. They looked like this -

They were cumbersome and not much smaller than a broadcast camera that the TV news uses.  You put an entire VHS tape in them.  They were not super-awesome to lug around, let me tell you.

The next generation were the hand-held type.  They still weren't sleek (e.g. built into your phone), but it was a huge leap from the previous generation that required a Ph.D in engineering to use properly.  So we got a hand-held and one of the first places we used it was on the stunningly patient and mighty fine SML's first trip to Europe with me.  It was an amazing trip.  We had no plan other than knowing the day we were arriving Frankfurt and leaving.  The rest was up to us.  We were joining SML's mom and her step-dad, The Chief Pilot.  Upon arrival in Germany, we found it raining so we headed south.  We had an awesome trip through Bavaria, the Italian Alps, and Austria.  It was great to capture the beauty of that trip on that hand-held video recorder.

It was in Bavaria, though, where things nearly went nuclear, all because of the stupid hand-held camcorder.  We had just finished touring this place:
Neuschwanstein Castle
Neuschwanstein Castle is spectacular in its beauty and worth seeing.  At the end of the tour, restrooms are available and you need them.  It's a long tour. Anyway, I was glad to stop in and take care of "business."  Now here's the thing - even the views from the modern bathrooms in this castle are incredible and as I was standing there, I gazed out the window and saw another one of King Ludwig's castles.  It had to be captured on video tape.  Right then and there. Much like people who insist on speaking on their phones while in the bathroom, I had to get the view of this castle on tape.  This, as it turns out, was not a good call.  Let me tell you, Europe in 1998 wasn't as liberal as one might think.  Not one person in the bathroom seemed pleased that I was firing up the camcorder. They all needed to calm down, although I was wishing at that moment I'd paid more attention during the three years of German I'd taken.  It would have been easier to explain myself.  

In spite of the hub-bub, I got the shot of the other castle.  It was gorgeous.  I should post it sometime.  Just forgive the sound of the "waterfall" in the background.

27 February 2012

Banned in China!

From time to time, I've wondered about what I want this blog to be.  It started as a place for me to document what was going on with my family.  This helped quell the constant complaint from my mother that and I quote, "I never know what's going on with your family."  This is a falsehood but documenting life in the Den went a long way to tone that lamentation down.

As I look back on the last four-plus years of blogging, I've stayed pretty true to keeping this a personal blog.  Sure, I've waged a mini-war (albeit one-sided) with one particular airline.  I've questioned Mother Nature time and again.  I've shared more than one personal experience, embarrassing or otherwise, that if I had a better filter in my head, I probably wouldn't have shared.  My inability to filter is your gain, people.  You're welcome!

I've never considered commercializing the blog or making it a revenue source. I've hoped that people would read it, get some laughs, and on occasion, walk away from the Den feeling like they've learned something.  Although I think most people rather than learning something, seem to wonder why the stunningly patient and mighty fine SML remains willing to put up with all she does from me. That, my friends, is a whole other post.  In spite of that question, based on the feedback I've gotten from you, I'm doing something right here.

Yesterday, though, the Den garnered what I consider to be its highest compliment yet: BANNED IN CHINA!  What?  Here's what went down - just as Church was winding down, I got a text from a globe-trotting friend of mine, stating the following:

You'll be pleased to know that you have been specifically targeted as a Chinese dissident.  Your blog is blocked in China. ??? What have you done to them?

J, my globe-trotting friend, to answer your question.  I have no idea.  Maybe they didn't like my 'Mitt Antoinette' post, although I doubt that.  I'm thinking this goes back to my first trip to Shanghai several years ago when I served as the host for a business travel management conference.  As I entered the ballroom where the meeting was kicking off on the first morning, it was a sea of flowers, each more beautiful than the next.  And each more fragrant and bent on sending my allergies into hyper-reactive mode.  By the time I took the podium to open the conference, one eye was essentially swollen shut.  The other eye was now acting as an uncontrolled fountain competing with another fountain, my nose.  I was a train wreck.  There was no way I was going to get through my opening speech, let alone the whole conference, with this floral attack zone enveloping me.  

Now I get how important and symbolic flowers are to the Chinese.  As I was giving that opening speech, in the back of my head I was trying to work out how I could talk the conference managers into changing out the flowers without causing an international incident.  In the end, I think my swollen, snot-encrusted visage convinced them that something had to be done about the flowers.  That and whatever they got from the herbalist next to the hotel seemed to do the trick.

So all these years later, is this banning payback for the Great Flower Incident? Who knows? I kind of doubt it but it did make for some excitement here.  I will admit though that the 'dissident' label seems a little harsh, if you ask me.  

22 February 2012

The Search is Over

I am an unabashed fan of the music of the 1980's.  It gave us some of the most.awesome.music.ever.  Given that everything must have its ying and yang, that era also gave us some of the most awful music ever as well.  I'm not too proud to admit that and some of that awfulness can be found in the music of Survivor.  Who?  Think (if you must) Rocky III and the song 'Eye of the Tiger.' Now that the cacophony of that song is relentlessly pounding in your head, you'll remember who Survivor is.  You're welcome.

Why the Survivor reference?  They had a song, released in 1985, whose title seems apt for what I have to say today.  What song?  'The Search is Over,' thank you for asking.  What search?  My search for employment.

That's right.  The search is over and I am delighted to report that I will be going back to work after twelve weeks of unemployment.  I am very excited about the company that I am joining and for the experiences that lie ahead.  Suffice to say that it's going to be a very exciting time. I've made it a point to not mention the name of my employer in the Den nor have I used the Den as a forum to talk about my job specifics and I will continue to maintain that stance with my new job.

With this new job, I'll quote little Bobby Zimmerman, I mean Bob Dylan, and say, 'The Times They Are a-Changin.'  This new job means a change in physical location.  The Den and its residents are heading east.  We will be calling a fine New England state home shortly.  There are lots of decisions to be made and lots to be done before we pack up.  Whew!

I just have to say that I am beyond blessed.  I have an amazing wife and children who are getting behind this decision and who joined me on an intense exercise in faith.  There's more to be said about that in another post.  A 'thank you' shout-out to them seems wholly inadequate but I want you, good readers, to know how much I appreciate them.  As long as we, meaning my amazing family, stick together on this ride, we are going to be fine.

21 February 2012

The Perils of Tunnel Vision

This past Sunday brought us the season premiere of the twentieth season of what is the best reality program on television, "The Amazing Race."  None of this season's teams are ones that I want to root for instantly but there were a few that either creeped me out (here's looking at you, Clown Couple) or made me wish our nation's obsession with New Jersey was a distant memory, like that skank Snooki's healthy liver (here's looking at you, Jersey tools).

The episode ended with an epic bungle by one team - a pair of hard-driving athletic sisters, who, by their own words when they filmed their walk of shame, said that they had "a lot of heart."  What they did not have was a lot of sense or even a clue.  They were literally a few feet away from the finishing line of the first leg and they never even saw it.  They claimed they were stuck by this:

All they had to do was to look to the right and they would have seen the show's host, the unflappable Phil Keoghan, and they would have coasted across the mat for the final position. Instead, they freaked out, looking straight ahead and screeching that they couldn't find Phil.  Even when they turned around and ran out to keep up their futile search, they still didn't see Phil.  It was all over for them at that point as the two tools from Jersey (seriously, Governor Christie, I think the theory that any publicity is good publicity no longer applies to your state - make it stop) made it across, thus subjecting us to at least one more episode of their ridiculousness.

This televised undoing of a team got me thinking - how often have I been guilty of the same?  Being so blinded by tunnel vision - the things unfolding around me - that I didn't see the solution right smack in front of me...as I pondered that, more than one example from my own experience came to mind.  I'd say we've all been guilty of it at one time or another, but mercifully it's not been on television or cost us a chance at $1,000,000. How often has that tunnel vision caused me to do something rash, unkind, or to judge harshly? Sadly, more than once.

While when He was on the earth, the Savior never mentioned 'tunnel vision, He did talk about the things that block our vision.  At the conclusion of the Sermon on the Mount, He admonished us to "Judge not, that ye be not judged." Why? Because the judgement we unload on others will be the same yardstick by which we will be judged (ouch!).  He then went on to teach:

Who knew that an episode of an Emmy-winning reality series could be so instructive?!  Turns out it was a good learning moment for me.

16 February 2012


A few highlights from February 16's of yore per my favorite arbiter of all things true on the 'net, Wikipedia:

  • 1804 - U. S. Navy Lieutenant Stephen Decatur led a raid to destroy the captured U S S Philadelphia in Tripoli, denying her use to the Barbary States in the First Barbary War.
  • 1977 - Archbishop Janani Luwum of the Church of Uganda, a leading voice against the regime of Idi Amin, was arrested for treason and murdered the next day. (P.S. - for those of you who don't remember, Idi Amin was the maniacally bad, despotic leader of Uganda)
  • 1990 - Utah Valley Regional Medical Center hosted the birth of one Our Lady of Awesome.
Yep, it's another birthday here in the Den.  Technically, she's out of the Den, married to Awesome and making an exciting new life, but our oldest daughter, like all of our children will always be a part of the Den.  We could not be more proud of our oldest and the choices she's made.

It hardly seems possible that she was born 22 years ago today.  Her mother and I were ridiculously young, but not Appalachian cousin-marrying young, mind you, when we welcomed our first-born daughter.  She's been a joy to us ever since that snowy day in Provo, UT when she came into our world.  She survived the testing lab of family life that is being the first-born child.  I think it's more than funny that she's majoring in family development. I figure her growing up years, particularly with a dad like me, have proven to be fertile ground for class discussion.  Our first-born continues to thrill us and teach us.  I wouldn't want it any other way.

Happy birthday, Princess.  You may be married but I still get to call you 'Princess.'

14 February 2012

Delivering on Valentine's Day

My disregard for Valentine's Day is widely-known and has been chronicled here for the last three years (read here, here, and here for a bitter recap), so I'll not pen another diatribe about it today.  I'll just say that my sentiments about this day have not changed.  I'm sure this will come as a shock to many of you, and by many of you,  I mean no one.

That said, I did do something to bring people happiness today.  A very smart friend of ours opened her own cupcake bakery without the benefit of a storefront.  She has marketed her business almost 100% via social media and she's done really well.  The marketing is super-smart and the product is delicious.  She found that she needed help with deliveries today and so I signed up to be a delivery man.

That's right - I facilitated bringing people happiness on Valentine's Day. It was pretty straight-forward and incident-free. The majority of my deliveries were to businesses.  I heard a lot of things from receptionists like, "Well I wish someone would send me cupcakes."  I refrained from saying back to one of them, "Well I wish you hadn't worn that sweatshirt with the picture of your cat framed by a heart on it."  Today was a day to be nice.  I mean I even wore a red shirt to be in the spirit of things.  Like I said, it was incident-free with the exception of one awkward moment.

The one residential delivery I did was from a wife to her husband.  It was obvious when he got to the door that his day was just beginning.  He gave me a weird look as I stood at his door, carrying a couple boxes of smartly-decorated cupcakes.  I asked him to confirm his name and I handed over the goods.  I told him they were for Valentine's Day and he looked at me with just a hint of concern.  "Sir," I said, "they aren't from me.  I'm just the delivery guy."  We both laughed, relieved to have avoided what would have been a really awkward incident.

It was a good thing to do today.  Tonight will be good as well.  The Sacramento Kings are in town to play the Bulls, so we are going to that game tonight.  The Boy is convinced that if we get there early enough, he can make it court-side and shoot a few with  Jimmer.  Good luck with that.

12 February 2012

An Open Letter to My Fellow Passengers

This past week found me flying five out of seven days.  It was a nightmarish recurrence reprise of the days when I was flying almost every week for work.  Being on the road again brought back a lot memories, some good and some bad.  It also reminded me of how the commercial flying experience is a disturbing thought-provoking mirror on humanity.  To that sea o'humanity, I pen the following open letter:

To My Fellow Passengers:
Good ___________ (insert appropriate time o'day reference here).  It looks like we'll be spending some time together today.

To those of you who elected not to pack the entire contents of your panic room/hoard into your carry-on; who elected to not fly in your pajamas; who have never bought a Bluetooth; who choose not to snap your gum incessantly; and to those of you who have opted to wear clothing that does not reveal your epic body art, thanks very much.  You appear to understand the flying experience, which is akin to Theatre of Cruelty, and are working to lessen that cruelty.  Thank you.

To those of you who are doing some, or in most cases all of the things listed above, a word.  So you've decided to skirt the charge for checking a bag by packing your entire hoard into your carry-on.  The zipper on your bag looks more strained than the zipper on your pants that are three sizes too small (based on what most of my fellow flyers wear today, they are living in homes decked out with fun house mirrors, but that's another post) and good for you.  However, just because you've figured out how to violate the laws of science, don't ask me to lift your bag into the overhead (do you see a pair of wings on my shirt?  No, no you don't and don't ask the flight attendants either - it's not their job to accommodate your crap) or to move mine so you can now try another law of space violation as you attempt to wrench your bag up there (now you know what your gut feels like as you try to get into those tragically ill-fitting pants you're wearing).  Speaking of what you're wearing, please don't wear your PJ's on the plane.  Please.  But I guess the PJ look is appealing for some as it allows them to show off their body art (tats, piercings, gauges).  This needs to stop.  As one who frequently sits on the aisle, I'm growing weary of the close-up views of tats and piercings that I'm getting as you lift your bag in the overhead or lean over to jam your bag under the seat in front of you.  I wish you luck in your pursuit of working out your 'daddy' issues, ladies, with all the body art, but stop the advertising.  And brethren, if you've got a 'tramp stamp,' there is no blog long enough to describe why you shouldn't be showing that off.  So stop.

Speaking of stopping, stop talking on your Bluetooth or similar device.  For those of you deluded enough to think it makes you look cool, it does not.  It makes you annoying.  Your fellow passengers thank you for not using them.  Text and go silent.   And on the topic of silence, if you can't chew your gum silently, then don't chew gum.  There is nothing more repellent to me than the sound of someone snapping their gum as they gnaw on it like a beaver taking down a tree.  I think it should be an offence worthy of capital punishment.  (Editorial aside - If that were the case, the lady in 13B next to me coming back from DFW Friday night would have been summarily executed - an action I would have stood and applauded.)

So, let's make it a good flight.  To quote Bon Qui Qui, "Don't nobody get crazy!"  Let's all sit back and make the best of our time in this flying petri dish.

Thanks very much.
A Fellow Flyer 

09 February 2012

Flying the line

A quick observation while on the road - in the last year of work with my last employer, I had my wings clipped as it were.  My business travel pretty much ground to a halt.  It was a radical change of pace for me and frankly, a welcome one.  But that pace gets in your blood.  You get used to scenes like this:
Reason #110 why Coach blows

You start to miss the intrusion of the tool seated next to you in 3B.  You get the shakes thinking about playing "Upgrade Lotto."  You get worried that you can no longer precisely recite the safety dance demo in three languages.  You fret that you are missing the taste (and I use that word loosely) of airplane food.  It's then that you know it's time to get back on an airplane. 

This week put me back "flying the line" with a vengence - here's what this week brought:
  • Day One - ORD/SFO
  • Day Two - SFO/ORD
  • Day Three - ORD/LAX/PHX
  • Day Four - PHX/DFW/PHX
  • Day Five - PHX/DEN/ORD
I have to admit that it's been fairly uneventful...so far.  Two more days to go.  And one of those days is going to spent with an airline with whom my relationship could be described as "volatile/hostile" on its best day.  Good times.

07 February 2012

Ears to hear

Over the course of the last several weeks, my hearing has been getting progressively worse and worse.  It had gotten so bad that I began contemplating what life was going to be like with a device like the gent to the left is sporting.  Was this another sign of my march into solid middle-age? How much longer could I go on leaning into conversations without looking, well, pervy?

I finally decided to get an answer today by scoring a same-day appointment with our medical provider (yeah, COBRA coverage!).  I saw an internist and within twenty minutes and after a bit of  fun with some poorly named device called 'Elephant Ears,' I was hearing again.  I wanted to hug the doctor but given that I was wearing a lovely paper gown, I thought it might be a little awkward, so I refrained.

So here I am - hearing literally everything again.  Turns out I'm a whole lot louder than I thought.  I need to tone it down.  I'm not Nigel Tufnel - no need for the "11" notch.  In spite of being loud, it's good to be whole when it comes to hearing.  It's not something you want to be without.  I got to thinking about a scripture in the book of Matthew, chapter 11, verse 15 in the New Testament:

He that hath ears to hear, let him hear.

Eight wise words.  We need to be active in our hearing.  We need to be open to messages both obvious and subtle, loud and quiet.  I find that when I'm actively searching for an answer that the answers come quietly.  That's how the Lord works with me.  Guidance comes quietly and I have to be alert and open to hearing those quiet answers.  I'm just glad my ears are back to working as designed.

04 February 2012

The travails of Mitt Antoinette

Queen Marie Antoinette once allegedly said, "Let them eat cake!" in response to the suffering of famine-stricken peasants during the reign of her husband.  To be fair and according to the truth monitor of the interweb, Wikipedia, there is no evidence that the ill-fated Queen (she'd have a date with a guillotine later in life that would go horribly wrong for her) that she ever made the now infamous declaration.

The same cannot be said of the Republican presidential nominee and heir apparent, Mitt Antoinette Romney.  He had an epic "Marie Antoinette" moment earlier this week on CNN in a live interview with Soledad O'Brien. In referring to America's poor, Mitt said:

"I'm not concerned about the very poor.  We have a safety net there.  If it needs repair, I'll fix it."

If you saw it, Soledad's reaction is priceless.  If you DVR'd it, you can play it back at super-slow speed and see where her head briefly explodes.

Mitt, in a now firmly established pattern, flipped on his comments, saying they needed 'context.'  He claimed they were a "misstatement" and that he "misspoke."  Umm, apparently.  But actions speak even louder.  Upon declaring his disregard for the poor, Mitt essentially genuflected before the King of All Tawdry Wealth, Donald Trump, in order to supplicate enough to get the Donald's endorsement.  Donald, a couple of things: A) the 80's called and want all the gold leaf back and B) gravity called and wants a serious explanation about your hair.

Like most politicians, and make no mistake, Romney is a politician, Mitt is shockingly out of touch.  But he seems particularly disconnected from the reality of America today.  This latest gaffe is proof positive of that.  

I'm eight weeks into unemployment now, Mitt.  Ask me about my safety net.  And about those nets, let me ask you something, Mitt.  Would you let one of your grandchildren use one of these nets?

I didn't think so.

01 February 2012

My (near) futbol melee

I was saddened to read of the deaths, at the time of this writing, of 73 football fans at a match between rival teams in Egypt.  The BBC reporter described the rivalry between the two teams as "bitter."  With 73 fans dead, I'd say kudos for the typically dry British approach to that detail.

This got me thinking about my first trip to Sao Paulo, Brazil, a few years ago and the opportunity that was mine to go to a "futbol" game, where the rivalry was, well, bitter.  I've been to Sao Paulo several times now but as I recall my first trip was in 2007 to participate in a business conference.  Our conference hosts had arranged for us to attend a futbol match between the famed Sao Paulo team, Palmeiras, and one of their most hated rivals.  Sadly, the name of said team escapes me - that's what I get for not faithfully blogging back then.

Upon learning that we'd be going to the match, I was really excited.  I'd been introduced to Australian Rules Football  a couple of years before while in Melbourne and had the time of my life at that match.  I figured this was going to be much like that.

That vision began to change when the hotel concierge learned that my colleagues and I were attending the game.  They checked our tickets to insure we were sitting on the Palmeiras side.  We were then given very explicit instructions about the colors we could not where - no green, white, red, or black.  We were told this as if our lives depended on it. Turns out this was wise guidance.  Then things got interesting - the hotel advised that we would be using their bus to get to/from the match and P.S. they had hired bodyguards - yes, bodyguards - to accompany us.  Wait, what?  This futbol match was now turning into some bizarre death match event.

So with all this in mind, caution was tossed to the wind and to the match we went.  The "U"-shaped stadium was full of Palmeiras fans.  The visiting team's fans got one section of the "U" - at top of the "U" on the left.  Said seating section was topped by barbed wire and had armed police in full riot gear surrounding it at every other row.  The section next to it was empty - a veritable no man's land. Peppered throughout the rest of the stadium were more of the riot cops.  Clearly this was no ordinary game.  In spite of the huge firearm presence, the vibe was electric.  That electric feeling went nuclear when Palmeiras was the first to score.  The entire stadium shot to their and in one fell swoop moved towards the top of the "U," lunging en masse at the hapless visiting fans.  That paltry crowd had the testicular fortitude to start throwing things.  It was clear that this was not going to end well.  It was also clear that this was going to be one of the wildest nights ever.

It was clear that we needed to be Palmeiras fans and we were.  Each time our team scored, we rose to our feet and joined the crush toward the opposing team.  I picked up some Portuguese that night that I won't be repeating in mixed company.  It was an amazing night.  Palmeiras won.  It was incredible to be a part of it.  As we clawed our way out of the stadium, I was never so glad for the bodyguards.  There was gunfire, there was fighting, a fire or two in the street - apparently, a typical night at a futbol match.  Like I said, I loved it.  I'm ready to go again.