Archive for December, 2006

Christmas Crossword: Rock the Castle

Christmas Day I worked on a crossword from the Washington Post.  It wasn’t an especially festive puzzle.  The theme was a lot of large words or phrases that included “Bah” (as in “Bah, Humbug!”) in them. 

One of the clues was for a song by The Clash.  As luck would have it, that song is fresh in my mind because it is featured in Cingular (?) commercial.  One guy downloaded the song to his cell phone and he and his buddy argue over the words.  They both have them completely mangled– one guy even singing about a “cat box”

I did think the commercial was amusing, but I thought they should have picked a different song.  It was way too obvious what the words really were.  They should have picked a song where the words were more ambigious. 

Back to Christmas Day, I smugly filled in “ROCKTHECASTLE” and moved on with the puzzle.  But, something was wrong.  I had all sorts of struggles with related sections of the puzzle.  Finally, just to outrule what I thought was a very small possibility, I consulted the Internet about the song title.

And…it was at this point, I decided the Cingular producers did pick a good song for their the premise afterall.  I had fallen into the same trap as the guys on the commericial.  Even though in my crossword, I knew I needed BAH in the title.  And most embarassingly, even though the commercial actually shows the song title at the end. 

Sometimes, I guess it’s just hard to compete with first impressions.

(Want me to tie this into ISO 9000 and quality management?  The conclusion shows the importance of having clean work areas and facilities when the auditor comes.  If the auditor’s first impression is the office is in disorder, it is easier for him/her to believe your processes and procedures will be in the same state)

December 27, 2006 at 2:12 am 1 comment

Dose of Dad Laughter

On Sunday, Mom, Dad, Sean and I went to see Night At the Musuem in the theatre.  I was very much looking forward to this outing.  One of my life’s great pleasures is sitting next to my father during a good comedy.  His laughter is so hearty and loud, that it’s infectious.  You can’t help but laugh yourself.  I had specifically requested to be seated by Dad.  Somehow this wasn’t communicated to anyone but Mom, so when we got to the theatre, there was an awkward shuffling and offset of seats until we finally got situated.  Mom-Dad-Me-Sean.  We were good to go.

It turns out there was a problem.  Night at the Musuem, it turns out, isn’t particuarly funny.  It’s amusing enough and entertaining and cute– but just not that comedic.  In fact, throughout the whole movie, I only heard my father snicker at one item (How Sacajawea tracked down the van).  I did not get to hear my father cackle and that alone made the movie a disappointment to me.

But I do not go home empty handed from his trip.  For Christmas, Carolyn and I got Dad “Da Ali G Show – Da Compleet Seereez” for Christmas.  It was a good bet.  In the summer of 2005, Dad watched some episodes with me and loved it.  And he continues to have praise for the Borat movie.  As late as Christmas dinner he was declaring Borat to be the best movie he’s ever seen.  He also likes to claim he had to go to the hospital for a hernia after the film. 

Tonight, Dad, two neighbors, Cody and I watched 3 episodes of Season 1.  I sat next to Dad, ate popcorn and listened to him laugh.  Just as good a movie theatre. 

My Christmas is now complete.  🙂

December 27, 2006 at 1:13 am 2 comments

Leesylvania State Park

This afternoon, my mother and I took our four collective dogs down to Leesylvania State Park for a “hike”.  Very few people were at the park, which was helpful for us… since we had four dogs to control! 

Mom poses with all four dogs- Moon, Sunny, Henry, Jimmie

Although it was right in the middle of winter, the area was beautiful and we enjoyed the sites.  We took the Bushey Point Trail which took us along the shores of the Potomac River and Powells Creek.

Silhouette of a Gum Ball Tree

View along the Bushey Pointe Trail

Right as we started back, a peaceful drizzle of rain begun.

“I like this kind of light rain,” I told my mother, “Because it makes my hair curl.”

Mom started to comment on how people like the opposite of what they have and cited my cousin Louise who straightens her naturally curly hair.  Then, as if to spite me, the weather changed drastically.  The rain started POURING!!!!  We picked up our pace to head back to the car.  Mom had a little extra challenge.  Her dogs kept stopping, so they could shake the water off.   A lot of good that did. 

By the time we got to the car, everyone (human and canine) was soaked, which meant Mom’s newly cleaned car got soaked as well:

Snippets of wet dogs.  You can see the rain in the back windshield.  You can also see how much water was brought into the car by the dogs.

A wet… and very pathetic looking… Henry

Luckily, I was traveling with a good spirited woman.  My mother took everything in stride– the rain, the wet car, the traffic home.  I think, maybe, just maybe, she’ll accompany me on an an outing again.

All my pictures from our trip to Leesylvania State Park can be found on my Flickr site.

December 27, 2006 at 12:51 am Leave a comment

A New Christmas Tradition?

This year, Sean and I spent Christmas with my parents in Occoquan, Virginia.  We had a lot of precipitation but it was far from a White Christmas.  More like a grey, dreary, muddy Christmas.  But inside, it was jolly and warm and definitely felt like a holiday. 

Our dinner was well attended.  Aunt Maria, Uncle Timmy, Sam, Frank and Grandma came as usual.  Then Uncle Mark and New Denise attended as well.  Add that to me, Mom, Dad, Sean, Carolyn and Clint– we had a total of thirteen people for dinner.  Having four barking dogs on hand to greet the arriving guests (including a 92 year old woman) didn’t seem to be the wisest decision.  So Moon and Sunny were sequestered to the surburban and Jimmie got to experience the comfort of the XTerra.  Henry is so little and helpless, he got to have free reign of the house.  He spent most of the time watching my father carve the turkey, just waiting for some kind of mishap to occur that would end up with food on the floor (Henry’s Christmas wish did not come true).

After all the guests were settled and dinner was ingested, Dad went to fetch the larger dogs.  His success rate was 50%.  He returned with one dog in his custody, Moon.  Sunny had bolted away and escaped Dad’s grasp.

It was up to Carolyn, Sam and I to seek out and capture Sunny.  We went out into the dark cold rain to start our adventure.  We were armed with nothing but our humor, a plate of turkey scrapes and the surburban keys.  The sun had set long ago, so we had very little light to work with.  We drove up and down Occoquan Road with the windows rolled down, calling Sunny’s name.  Cold rain dusted our faces and arms as we squinted and scanned the surrounding streets for a goofy silhouette with a curly tail.  We had very little luck.  We decided to take one more pass, which failed as well.  

Defeated, we were returning to our house when suddenly Carolyn aptly demostrated why Lasix is a good investment and yelled, “An overturned trashcan!  He’s there!” 

We pulled in and sure enough, Sunny had taken it upon himself to knock over a neighbor’s trashcan and was having his own holiday feast (one little Henry would covet).  Carolyn ran out and snatched him.  And then it was time to do something no one expected to do on Christmas day.  Sam, Carolyn and I stood out in the cold, winter rain and cleaned up a stranger’s trash.  A stranger’s soggy trash at that!

“Could this get any better?!?” I asked myself as I peeled a wet receipt off the asphalt.

Well, apparently for Carolyn, it could!  As I transported that piece of trash to the now righted can, I had a collision.  The trash hit Carolyn in the back of the head and thanks to its ample moisture— it stuck there!  Hair accessories are often common stocking stuffers for Christmas.  I guess I kept that theme going.  What better way to accessorize than to have someone else’s garbage embellish your hair?

Carolyn took the mishap in good humor.  Actually, she may be used to my poor aim.  In elementary school, I tried to throw a rawhide bone for a dog and ended up hitting Carolyn in the face instead.  In that incident, she was required to get a series of stitches.  At least this time, all she needed was a vigorous shampooing!

Sam, Carolyn and I got soaked, but we did have our fair share of laughs.  It was so much fun, I’m thinking we should do this every year.    Sound good to you, Carolyn?

P.S.  All my pictures from Christmas 2006 are available on my Flickr site.

December 26, 2006 at 9:44 pm 7 comments

The Precedence of the Swamp Thing

When I lived in the dorms in college, letter writing was more mainstream than it is today.  That’s a sign of the times– it was before email had really taken hold.  Checking mail was always a highlight of the day, going down to the lobby and getting letters from my family or my high school friends.  Well one day a little pink slip showed up in my box.  It turned out someone sent me a letter with insufficient postage.  My instructions were to come to the Post Office near University Mall to pay the debt in exchange for the letter.  I did not have a car at the time, so I believe me and Brian Nenninger and possibly Alex Moskwa spent an evening learning all about the BT so we could take a bus out to the post office.  I don’t remember what the letter ended up being, but I do clearly remember it not being worth the journey.

A little later in the year, Alex started getting mysterious voicemail messages.  Some clever guys in his dorm dubbed Alex “Swamp Thing” and would leave ground breaking, late night messages such as, “Hey Swamp Thing, You Reek.  You Reek, Swamp Thing!”  We always got a kick out of listening to the messages especially when the calculated pranksters forgot their extension was being appended to the message. 🙂 

Brian and I excelled at silly projects to entertain ourselves in the wee hours of the night.  For example, one time we took it open ourselves to decorate a forgotten bulletin board on the fourth floor of our dorm with information for the Virginia Tech Pencil Twirling Club.  Another time, we left message to a….well, very promiscious, female friend of ours on the ceiling of the study lounge.  It pretty much read, “Hi <name of girl>, On Your Back Again?”  It took a while, but she did finally found our message and interestingly enough, she was in the company of a male when she found it. 😉 

Well one evening, Brian and I decided to target Alex with our boredom.  At the time, we were pretty infatuated with a symbol font similiar to Wing Dings.  This particular font included a skull and crossbones image.  So one night, we printed out a page full of little skulls (think Font Size 6 or smaller) and then lovingly cut out each and every one of those skulls.  Next we generated a letter to Alex.  It started off with “HEY SWAMP THING!” then we used our favorite symbol font to articulate a simple message.  Below is a quick reenactment:

This is another sign of the changing times.  This letter was pretty innocent and funny.  I think nowadays a letter such as this would not be viewed so lightly.

Anyway, we put all those tiny, recently liberated skulls into the letter, folded it up and then we mailed it without a stamp.  So our thought was Alex would get the pink message about the letter would have to take the bus all the way to the Post Office, pay the postage and open it to find our goofy message AND as a final slight when he opened it, all the tiny little skulls would scatter all over the place making a mess.  It was a brilliant plan.

Unfortunately, the three of us always hung out at Brian’s dorm room to watch TV, eat sweets and play Doom on the computer.  Alex was on Brian’s computer and noticed a weird file called “SwampThing”.  So before Alex could ever receive the notification about the letter, the “surprise” was ruined.

This week, thanks to my delays at O’Hare airport, I didn’t quite have much time to get myself situated before returning to the office and leaving town for the Christmas holiday.  As I rushed around yesterday getting everything situated for my next trip, I took the very last batch of Christmas cards down to my mailbox.  I managed to get them there just in time– a little while later the mailman came by and exchanged our outgoing cards for a couple of incoming cards and a bill.

A couple of hours and roughly a hundred miles later, a  realization suddenly struck me.  I addressed every envelope, I sealed every envelope and affixed a bland return address label on each one.   BUT…. I never stamped the latest batch of cards! 

Please, please, please, please, please, please, Post Office.  Please tell me you’ve changed your policy about making the recipient pay for the missing postage. 

That last batch of Christmas cards contain a lot of people I don’t know that well.  They are recipients through marriage– Sean’s extended family and childhood friends.  Although I’m sure the recipients would not have to take a public transportation trek to the post office, I seriously don’t think it would be a worthwhile investment.

Hi!  You don’t know me!  I married someone you barely know!  Listen to how I hiked in Colorado and Tennesee this year whether you are interested or not.  Oh yeah, one more thing– please pay 39 cents for the privilege of reading this.

Maybe this is yet another sign of the changing times.  What was good and amusing in college, is a bit of an embarassment now.  What was good for the Swamp Thing, is certainly not fitting for Christmas Cards. 

December 24, 2006 at 5:49 pm 3 comments

Lengthy Layovers

It looked grim many times throughout the day, but I made it home.  I had two flights.  The first was delayed three hours which would normally put my connecting flight in jeopardy.  That’s okay because my connecting flight was delayed for six hours!  When he was imprisoned, Huey Newton filled his solitary time by keeping busy.  He kept his mind active while fleshing out some principles and concepts for the Black Panther Party.  He kept his body active by doing situps.  He read.  He wrote letters.  He kept busy.

A crowded airport may feel at times like a prison, but I know it is far from it.  Nonetheless, I tried to take a Huey Newton approach to my ever growing stay at O’Hare Airport.  I tried to stay active.  I worked on journal entries.  I read the paper (It said 14% of Americans can not identify our country on a map!).  I did two crossword puzzles (sort of– I did not get very far on the New York Times Puzzle, but I did kick ass in USA Today’s puzzle).   I finally bought a roll of stamps, thanks to a full Post Office at O’Hare Airport.  I did a few text messages.  Finally, I got a number of Christmas cards done.

At least three strangers saw me working on my Christmas cards and marvelled how that was a good idea.  Two of them also had Christmas Cards to work on….but had it in their checked luggage.  To that I say, “Suckers!”  🙂

For the most part, I was impressed by all the passengers’ good humour and demeanor despite all the delays, changing gates and frustratingly vague annoncements.  But, of course, there were still the people who felt entitled and had that “It should be all about *me* and all about what *I* want” syndrome.  When we finally got on a plane from Chicago to Roanoke, the two rows behind me spent most of the flight home talking about all the things the airline “owed” them.  It ranged from extra snacks to free alcohol to extra air miles to a full fare refund.  

Yeah, the airline should definitely be liable for the weather.  It serves the airlines right for putting trivial concerns such as, well, safety of the passengers and the well being of the crew, ahead of posted departure times.

You definitely see the best and worst of mankind at airports.  Luckily, I would still say I saw more of the “best” than the “worst” today.   

December 22, 2006 at 12:08 am Leave a comment

The Best Seat in the House

Tonight is my last night at the Hotel at Old Town in Wichita.  I’m really enjoying the hotel.  Some of the amenities I haven’t quite used– like the full fridge, dishwaster and stove that reside in my room.  But some of the items, I really find fascinating.  Tonight, I walked through all the floors of the hotel just to look at and read that captions about the historic photographs hanging on the walls.  My walk was accompanied by the sound of a fountain in the lobby and the soothing, live piano music they have every evening until 10 PM.  The workout room is top notch here and empty– which makes it even better! 

There has been one item that is a bit baffling.  That’s the placement of the television.  The TV is in a nice hutch enclosed by doors.  Pretty typical.  But, these doors only open 90 degrees and they don’t slide back into the hutch.  As a result, if you aren’t at the right angle, one of the doors is in the way.  The last couple of days, I noted the issue while laying in bed.  Luckily, all I really am in the market for is listening  to Law and Order, so I just roll over and listen away. 

From the bed– the left door obstructs the view.

This evening, I picked up a meal from a local restaurant so I could enjoy a new episode of King of Queens.  I cleaned off the table/desk and discovered that now the other door was obstructing my view.  No biggie.  I ate where I was at and could still get the gist of Doug Heffernan’s antics.

From the table/desk.  Now the right door obstructs the view.

A little while later, I had to go to the restroom.  A perk of staying alone is you don’t have to close the bathroom door.  It was then that I discovered the toilet was exactly the right angle to see the TV.  You were a little farther away– but neither door was in the way.

From the toilet— the angle is just right!

I gotta wonder.  Was this by design? 

December 21, 2006 at 12:04 am 1 comment

Driving in Style at the Golf Course

Another article on my brother-in-law, Bret, and his custom golf cars was published today:,0,2689148.story?coll=dp-business-localheads

Jeep Golf Car

December 19, 2006 at 11:36 pm 1 comment

Greetings from Kansas

Greetings from Kansas!  I had a smooth journey.  Plus I got to catch up on journal entries and I got to work to work on some Christmas cards.  A couple of quick notes so far:

Don’t Read My Lips
Often during football games you’ll see the head coach holding a clipboard or a piece of paper in front his mouth as he gives instructions to his colleagues.  He does this so the opposite team doesn’t read his lips and catch on to his latest strategies.  Today waiting at the gate in Chicago, I saw a business man exercise the same technique.  He stood in the middle of the crowded gate area, surrounded by other passengers.  He talked on his bluetooth headset and covered his lips with part of today’s newspaper.  The funnies section to be exact.  I’m not sure what trade secrets he was trying to protect with Hagar the Horrible, but I do know he looked ridiculous.

Minivan vs. XTerra
The rental place was still cleaning my compact car, so they offered me an “upgrade” to a minivan for free.  I hestitated at first and asked how long the cleaning would take.  They didn’t know.  Then I asked, “Is there a parking problem in Wichita?” to which the clerks laughed and said no.  You see, I was worried about having to find a tight space for a big minivan.  It was only after I had the keys and I was approaching my gold minivan that I realized, “Wait a second, I drive an XTerra.”  I drive a giant vehicle every single day of my life, but get me in Kansas and suddenly I’m worried about having too much car?!?

Keen Kutter
I’m staying at The Hotel at Old Town in Wichita.  Very neat place– it is a renovated warehouse that was originally built in 1905 for the Keen Kutter company.  The hotel embraces its history.  Throughout the building, they have pictures of historic Wichita and display cases of original merchandise and memorabilia from Keen Kutter.  You could tell I spent the whole day in airports.  I took one look at a display case and thought, “There’s a bunch of stuff you can’t take on an airplane.”  🙂

December 18, 2006 at 10:57 pm Leave a comment

Price of Nonconformance and Fence Building

Yesterday, Sean and I spent the day at Bill’s to help him build his new fence.  I got a really fun job.  Bill already had the posts in the backside of his fence and he had already affixed three horizontal boards between each post.  My job was to attach verticle planks to that framework via a nail gun. 

Early on, I had some quality issues with the nail gun.  At one point, I loaded the ammunition in backwards. I shot a plank only to discover in horror the nail was forced into the board head first, leaving the sharp point sticking out towards the yard, just waiting for a clumsy person to fall on it.  That was easy to take care of.  Bill retrained me on loading the nail gun and I was able to extract the misguided nail and replace it with one whose pointy end got embedded in the wood where it belonged. 

 As  I continued to work, I had a few more accidents.  I’m guessing I moved the nail gun as it shot– because I would get a nail halfway embedded into the fence and then slanted at an angle.  This especially caused me some concern when I messed up three boards in a row.  When I had messed up a total of seven nails, I lamented to Sean.   I was concerned my efforts were going to cause too much rework for Bill, that any gain he would have gotten from me helping would be overridden by fixing all these nails.

It’s safe to say, Sean was not impressed by my worries.  He gave me a funny look.   He grabbed a hammer, walked over to the fence and in probably about 20 seconds removed all my bad nails.  I refired them and the fence was back to good quality!

Sean and Bill went off to drill holes and later they made a run to Lowes.  Meanwhile I continued to make progress nailing planks.  The entire rest of the day, I only misfired one more nail!  That struck me as odd.  In my company, we calculate and communicate the Price of Nonconformance.  We want to show everyone the gain of doing things right the first time and just how much it costs if there is a mistake (rework labor, extra materials, etc).   Knowing the Price of Nonconformance is a good motivation to keep improving your processes and your efforts, allowing you to get better and better at doing things right. 

But in my case– knowing how simple it was to correct a bad nail (and not how expensive it was), liberated me.  It took no time to fix at all, so I wasn’t worried about that mistake.  And by not worrying about messing up the nails, my performance was significantly better.

Well, I thought a lot about the Price of Nonconformance as I continued my way down the fence.  As I fired perfect nail after perfect nail, I marveled at my improvement.  What in the world was the moral of this story?  How does not worrying about a mistake make the mistake less likely?  How does this scenario relate to an organization???

Near dusk I took a break and I stepped back from the fence to fetch some water.  It was then I noticed I had been concentrating too much on the details of the nails.  When I looked at the bigger picture, I discovered the most recent planks were making an unnatural and very drastic dip…and not because of the terrain.  Right at that moment, Sean and Bill returned and promptly noticed the obvious mishap. 

At that point, I got to witness a real Price of Nonconformance.  Sean and Bill had to fetch a crowbar and pry the last seven planks out of the fence.  One plank even cracked.

So I guess now, the moral is a little more clear.  One really shouldn’t monopolize their time analyzing problems that are established to be non-issues.  That focus is much better placed on preventing the items that still promise to be an expense to the project.

Luckily, Bill doesn’t seem to be detered by my performance.  In fact, today he invited me over to help with the fence again!  That’s good news–I thoroughly enjoyed helping with that fence.  Not only did I find the act of shooting the nail gun to be cathartic, I found the act of building a physical product of that scale fulfilling.  Plus it was amazing exercise!  My thighs are more sore from the squatting and standing required to shoot all nails than they are after a 13 mile hike!

December 18, 2006 at 12:13 am 4 comments

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