Thursday, November 29, 2007

Give Different Dot Org

Can you remember what you got for Christmas last year? I can't. I know it probably had to do with hunting, and probably some DVD's, but I cannot remember what the kids got me, what Angie got me, and what I got from family back in NY.

Come to think of it, I bet the kids couldn't remember, either. I think we got Dylan his drum set, but I could be wrong. We have video of it if I really must know.

Imagine giving a gift that REALLY means something. Imagine remembering what you gave because your gift changed lives - possibly SAVED lives.

Think about giving differently this year. We are. If you get a shirt and a card, you'll know why.

To see a local Dallas newscast about giving differently, click here.


Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Watch TV and Feel the Burn

For the next four weeks I will be spending a significant amount of time traveling for work. This week has me in Raleigh for the week, and next week I will be in San Jose. The week after that in Salt Lake and the week after in Orlando.

Typically, when I travel I spend a great deal of time in the office, go out to dinner and then work more in the hotel room. Ultimately, even though I am working a great deal I have some free time. I made a decision that when I have free time, I am going to spend some time in the fitness centers in each of the hotels.

I got back from dinner tonight but was not very motivated. My back hurts a bit and I have some work to finish up on. I made up my mind that I was going to work out tomorrow morning, so I booted up the laptop and scanned the channels as Windows loaded.

I ended up finding the beginning of The Biggest Loser on NBC. Angie and I love watching the show (See a previous post about the show) and I am always very motivated by it. Tonight's episode was an even greater motivation. They met with a doctor on the show that explained all of the ancillary benefits to their weight loss. One lost 100 points to his cholesterol. One restored their blood sugar to normal levels. One lost 76 lbs of fat, but she only has lost 65 pounds. How can that be? She's gained 11 lbs of muscle. Another lost three water cooler sized vats of fat. One lowered his BP by 50 points. The stories continue. It has been amazing. I am so moved by their gains (losses), that I'm putting on my socks and sneakers.

As soon as the show is over, I'm going to work out. I want to be one of those success stories.


Monday, November 26, 2007

Duckless in Dallas

Why would anyone in their right mind get up at 1:30 in the morning?

The answer is to ensure that you get a great spot on the Brazos River for some duck hunting. Dylan, his dad, and I went duck hunting this Saturday. I was very much looking forward to it as their spot near the dam on the Brazos has always brought them good success. I hadn't been there before and didn't bag a duck last season, so I was looking forward to getting my first.

The hunting spot is more than 2 hours away, so you gotta get up early in the morning to get there, get to your spot (before anyone else), set up your decoys and wait for sun up.

We got to the river a little past 4:30am, and got to our spot around 5. By the time everything was set we had about an hour's wait until lawful shooting could begin. It was cloudy, cold and drizzling, but really beautiful. As the sun came up, you could see the hills, trees, water, etc. It was just really beautiful, and nothing what I expected. I'm not used to hills in is pretty flat, but there were amazing rock formations and forest covered hills where ever I looked. If it weren't raining and cloudy, it would have been perfect.

It would have been perfect even with the rain if the ducks were flying, but we didn't see a one. We sat for several hours as it got colder (37 degrees on a bank clock as we drove home), tried to call some in, but we never did see one.

I can't wait to go back, though. Even if the hunting is lousy, the surroundings were just awesome.


Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Happy Thanksgiving

A little Thanksgiving fun courtesy of Dorsey Elementary school's kindergarten classes.


Monday, November 19, 2007

Strange Visitor

I don't understand everything that he says. We agree on just about nothing. His point of view is completely foreign to my own. The kids think he's the coolest thing since sliced bread. I love him like a son and brother at the same time.

He's my nephew, Paul, who stopped by and visited with us for a couple of days as he was working in Dallas. Paul is 25 and has had an awesome opportunity traveling the east coast and the south while promoting Rockstar Games' "Table Tennis" for the Nintendo Wii. Basically, he's been going to college campuses and sporting events setting up flat screens and projectors to allow people to try out the game. It's a perfect job for Paul as he is one of the most charming, social and gregarious personalities that I've ever met.

He worked the Stars game, the Mavs game AND the Cowboys game this week, so he's definitely been around. When he wasn't working he was visiting with us. In fact, when he arrived on Friday, Cassie waited up till midnight (she fell asleep about 10 minutes before he arrived, but then stayed up with us until 2:00am). We played Wii, goofed around and ate. On Saturday morning, he wanted to play with the guns so Dylan, Paul and I went to the range and shot the handgun and the rifle. We thought Paul was a natural as we couldn't see his hits on the target. Upon closer inspection we discovered that he was missing it entirely. He improved quickly and was very pleased. He claims that the scope on the rifle is not properly sighted-in. He's wrong. I went off to school, while he visited with Cassie and Angie for a little longer.

Paul came back on Sunday evening. We gave him a home cooked meal (he took the leftovers for the road), visited some more, and I watched as he bounced with Cassie on the trampoline.

He left this morning for Indiana, where he'll return the van and catch a flight back to New York for Thanksgiving. I hope the trip gave him a greater appreciation for this great country and for his uncle in Texas.

It was great to see him - even if I don't understand him.


Friday, November 16, 2007

Little Drummer Boy

This week, a rock star was born. Pa-rum-pum-pum-pummm.

On Wednesday night Dylan played with the worship band at our church's middle school service called the Merge.

He's been practicing the songs for the last several days and he sounded great. The youth pastor had him try out several weeks ago and sent him a couple of songs in MP3 format. He listened to them and practiced them - all by ear. Dylan has never had a formal lesson on the drums, and has picked up how to play from Justin, who seems to be able to play any musical instrument he tries. We bought him a real drum set last year after he destroyed the not quite real drum set the year before.

So, a rock star is born, if he can get his grades up. We told Dylan that we would pay for lessons if he got his grades to all A's and B's. If being on stage and being a big deal with the girls doesn't motivate him to do it - nothing will.



Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Out of Commission - Again

As I write this entry this morning, I should have been at 45,000 feet over the Atlantic Ocean returning from several days work in Amsterdam. As you can see, I am not. Instead, I am sitting at my desk in my home office with a sore back. As I prepared for the first part of my journey (day trips out the San Jose, CA and then Salt Lake City, UT) I threw out my back - AGAIN. It is amazing how my back goes out - I wasn't doing anything - I just moved from one keyboard on my desk to another. I rotated my body perhaps 60 degrees and WHAM! I felt a twinge on the right side of my lower back. I knew instantly that it wasn't good, even if it didn't hurt too much. I took two Advil and went right to bed.

I had a very early flight the next morning, so I had set my alarm to 3:30AM giving me only about 5 hours of sleep. When the alarm went off I could hardly get out of bed. I was mobile, but barely, and I knew that my domestic travels were done. I went back to bed for a couple of hours and then called travel to cancel my itinerary. I had three and a half days until my flight to London, so I hoped for the best.

I worked not from my home office last week, but from my living room couch. It was the only place I could sit at for long periods, so with a TV tray on my lap and wireless network connectivity to the Internet, I worked as normal. Angie took care of me while I did so.

Saturday came and I thought I could manage the trip, but the plane ride really scared me. Nine hours to London in coach sounds long enough, but add the prospect of back pain, or worse - spasms, and I was terrified. I spoke to my boss and we decided it was best to cancel.

So, I've been up in my office this week but have some to the conclusion that I need to replace my chair with something a little more "quality". I'll reschedule these trips for December and January, so I will have lots to talk about. I have been to Amsterdam many times, but not within the last several years, so it will be a homecoming of sorts.

You know I'll blog about it.


Tuesday, November 06, 2007

Masked Troop

I overheard Angie talking to the moms of the girls in my troop. She was saying that I am very organized and because of this the troop will always be organized. The funny thing is that I agree with her right up to the point when the girls start to arrive. Then - all bets are off.

Actually, we had a GREAT second Girl Scout troop meeting last night - if I don't say so myself. This was Angie's first as she had an appointment for our meeting two weeks ago and she said that it went really well. I think the girls had fun.

The girls came in and worked on their name plates...we used them for our Kaper chart, which shows which jobs that each girl will do for the meeting. When we completed our pre-activity, we opened our meeting in the friendship circle. We worked on the Girl Scout sign, the quiet sign, the Girl Scout handshake, the Promise, the "Make New Friends" song, and the Pledge of Allegiance.

Once the circle was done, we went back to the table to do our activity. We made Harlequin masks. I had previously cut out the mask shape and eyes, so the girls decorated with feathers, paint, sparkles, jewels, etc. They did a great job with Angie's help (I did some paperwork with the moms while Angie took over). By the way, the idea to do masks was not mine. I talk to Cassie's kindergarten teacher every week and try to get ideas of things to do. During the activity, some of the girls tested on the Girl Scout Promise. Two girls succeeded (including Cassie) and one was very close - I felt so bad that I couldn't give her credit as she left some of it out. Angie was great, though. She complimented the girl and made her feel really good for trying. The girls that memorized the Promise get their Promise Center patch for their uniform.

After we cleaned up, we did snacks. After snacks, we closed our meeting in our friendship circle and I gave the girls their awards (the girls earned their first activity patch for attending their first troop meeting).

We'll have another meeting in two weeks and will be working on our invitations to their pinning ceremony.


Monday, November 05, 2007

Cultural Differences

This morning, Angie and I attended the funeral service for our next door neighbor, Billy Tyler, who passed away after a fight with cancer. His step-daughter is a friend of Marissa's, so we interacted with the family often. I didn't know Billy real well, but knew that he was the hardest worker I have ever known. He was out working in his yard all of the time, even after his diagnosis. You knew he was getting seriously ill when that stopped. He still has the greenest lawn and the most perfect landscaping on the block.

I'd like to think that I don't have racist tendencies and that I judge people based on what they do (mostly - I've blogged in the past about my judgement of those based on appearance, but appearance to me does not include race). We've known Billy and his family since they moved in about three years ago and liked them. It didn't, and doesn't matter, to Angie and I that they are an African-American family. In fact, the only reason I mention that is because I'd like to focus on the cultural differences that I observed at the service - difference that find there source in racial differences.

Billy's service was at the Mt Hebron Missionary Baptist Church in Rowlett. Angie and I were probably 2 of 10 white people there. There were seven pastors officiating the service, some from Billy's hometown in Tennessee and some from Dallas and Rowlett. Billy's direction to them was to have a "normal church service" which apparently includes a sermon, singing and lots of praise for Jesus. Much of it coming in the form of audience feedback as, "Amen", "Hallelujah", and "That's Right!". It was wonderful, if not a little strange for us. People who were speaking would spontaneously break out in song and then spontaneously start talking again. Like the sit/stand and response routine of a Catholic mass, unless you knew what to do and when, you just kind of sat there and took it all in. One thing we noticed is that the singing was awesome. Someone from Billy's family sang an a capella version of Amazing Grace that was...well, amazing. The sermon was like something you would see on TV or in the movies - of a very animated black pastor speaking his mind and explaining scripture.

Angie and I have been pondering the culteral differences, but are also pleased by several of the many things we have in common. One - love of family. Clearly, Billy loved his and they loved him. Second, the love and comfort that God provides for us through Jesus. We may celebrate that differently, but the message is the same.

Rest in peace, Billy.

Billy Lee Tyler
1954 - 2007


Opinion Piece VI

Who Killed Tom Hanks, Mel Gibson, Ted Danson and Alexandra Paul?
(a review of “Who Killed the Electric Car?” by Scott Lessard)

Occam’s Razor states that all things being equal, the simplest solution to a problem is typically the correct one. In my experience, this idea tends to be correct more often than not. This explains why I am not a huge fan of conspiracy theories. To me, most “conspiritists” are paranoid, misguided, or just plain insane. That is not to say that there isn’t something going on behind the scenes every now and again, but I don’t believe the Federal government was behind 9/11, that NASA staged the moon missions, or that the Holy Grail is the surviving bloodline of Jesus Christ and Mary Magdelene. The complexity of these events being conspiracies are just so incredible, the easiest and more logical answer is that these conspiracy theories are all false. The same is with the supposition placed by the makers of “Who Killed the Electric Car?” that the automakers, the oil companies, and government conspired to kill an incredible technological advancement and kept us dependent on foreign oil far beyond what that dependency should be.

In fact, I am more inclined to believe Dan Neil when he states in the movie that, “GM would sell you a car that ran on pig shit if it would sell.” Why? Because GM is a large corporation out to sell cars and make money. That’s the simple fact of our market society – the market has a demand for a product. If there is demand, but not enough product, the price goes up. Producers, seeing the price rise, realize they could make money if they had more product, step up production. This increased supply lowers the price so more people want to buy the product. The cycle repeats until people no longer want the product. This didn’t happen in the case of the electronic car (named the EV1). We have to ask ourselves why…The movie clearly states that this was because GM wouldn’t create enough of them and that they did this because they were in collusion with the oil makers, who are the ones that really had a great deal to lose. To distill it down, it was a conspiracy – that big corporations pressured the government to eliminate stringent requirements that the auto industry sell more alternative vehicles, thus removing the requirement for them to make more vehicles.

My question – and one that the movie does not address – is why would the auto industry do that? Why would they care if they are selling electronic cars or gasoline-powered cars, or both? I can’t imagine any reason for this. They want to make profit and can do so by meeting the needs of the consumer. If the consumer really wanted a car that went only 60 miles between charges they would have bought it. If the consumer really wanted a car with questionable battery technology, they would have bought it. If the customer really wanted to pay more for these problems, they would have bought it. The problem is that GM wants to sell hundreds of thousands of automobiles, not tens of thousands – the consumer demand just wasn’t there. If it had been, at the scope at which the marginal benefit of selling this car was greater than the marginal cost of building it, GM would have built them. This HAS to be the case. General Motors is a public company with many thousands of owners in the form of shareholders. To not take advantage of a new and profitable product would have been career suicide for the board and for its management. However, this never occurred, even with all of the publicity and the celebrity hype surrounding the car. This isn’t to say that GM couldn’t have marketed the car better, or provided better technology into the vehicle – they probably could have. What is evident, however, is that they had one real reason not to put the car into mass production – it wouldn’t have been profitable to a company whose number one responsibility is to grow value for the owners.

I find it interesting that demand wasn’t created by the fact that Ed Begley Jr. had one or that Tom Hanks said he was “saving America” by driving one. Further proof that the EV1 was either not ready for sale or that the American consumer was not ready to purchase.

Thursday, November 01, 2007

I'm No Hallow-weenie!

Last night the kids scored some mega-candy. I've been picking at it since. Angie, Cassie (cheerleader) and I (hunter) trick or treated with Cassie's friend Grant (spiderman) yesterday. We went about halfway through the neighborhood up one side and down the other. Unfortunately, we ran out of time (Cassie's bed time is 8:00PM) so we had to quit and inspect her candy. Contrary to popular belief, I do not keep all the pieces that I like.

Dylan (70's cool dude) stayed back to hand out candy until the lure of free sugar got to him and he went out with Marissa (90's cool dude) and some friends. They went around the entire neighborhood and scored a ton of candy. At that point Angie stayed back and handed out tootsie rolls, Sweet Tarts, etc. When the kids got back, I inspected their candy, as well. I ended up throwing out a lot this year - most of it opened or looking like it had been opened.

After Cassie went to bed, we popped in Poltergeist. It was great to see a fun movie from years ago - even if it scared the wits out of Marissa. She slept on the couch last night.

It's cool that our neighborhood makes a big deal about the night for the kids. Several houses are very decorated, and a couple are even like haunted houses. The kids love it and it's good, clean fun. Here are some pictures of that fun...