How I Spent My Birthday

Yeah, this was going to be a big day. And It was, but not the way I wished.

So, we have not had cable TV for over three years, and we get our entertainment by way of streaming video (and audio) over the Internet. Especially streaming video tends to put a strain on your home network, and Barbara Jean was complaining. But this was something we could fix. Best Buy to the rescue. See the above.

The image is from Amazon. We purchased the Linksys Velop home network, and it works like this. You plug one of the systems into your cable modem, or into your Google fiber optic outlet. The other unit will connect wirelessly to the first, and the idea is you place that unit in your house where you are getting poor connectivity.

Here is what we noticed after we got the system up and running. We do get better connectivity down stairs. Improvement is measurable by running an Internet speed test from near the remote unit.

Another thing we noticed quickly is several times a day Internet connectivity goes away completely for about a minute. Then everything comes up, and life goes on. This is annoying, and a Google search indicates others believe it is a firmware glitch that Linksys needs to address.

A few things:

  • If your house is single story of the kind in Prue Bend, you do not need the second unit.
  • The units are identical.
  • Each unit has an Ethernet jack for connecting to your cable modem (Google fiber port), and it has a single jack to connect to all your other Ethernet wired devices. If you have multiple printers and home security devices not having Wi-Fi connectivity, you will need to purchase an Ethernet switch.
  • Linksys has an app for your smart phone or pad. The app is a must for setting up the system. Once you get everything going, the app is most handy for managing the network.
  • A look at the network by way of the app shows that stuff downstairs sometimes uses the upstairs router, and vice versa. Yes, that is strange.

I already had an Ethernet switch with five ports, and I was about to go with that. However, Barbara reminded me that without the extra Ethernet ports on our old router we were going to need a bigger switch. So we got one with eight ports. Be advised, one of the switch ports needs to connect to your router, so you will have only seven left over for your devices. Hint: you can get Ethernet switches with bunches of ports.


Do not get a hub. An Ethernet hub costs less than a switch, but it does not prevent packet collisions. When the switch receives packets simultaneously from two or more ports, it absorbs and stores them all and sends them out to where they are needed. Bottom line: no dropped packets, and faster throughput.

But back to the problem of dropping Internet connectivity. On Monday before my birthday I got up early and watched ABC News on TV while I ate breakfast. Then I logged off to do other things. Truth is, I took a nap.

Up from my nap, and we were disconnected. I waited for the connection to come back. It never did. I tried my usual stuff, recycling power to the modem and the network devices. No good. The light on top of the Velop router went red and stayed there. Barbara made the decision. Box up this piece of shit and ship it back. I needed to phone Linksys and make use of the supposed warranty. This I did around noon on Wednesday. They were very helpful. Linksys did not want to take back a system that still worked.

So for two hours and 55 minutes I walked through an extensive analysis of the system with the nice and very knowledgeable Linksys support lady. It got to the point she needed a wired Ethernet (not Wi-Fi) connection to the modem. For this I had to turn my chair around and access Barbara’s Dell Vostro, which does not employ Wi-Fi. Eventually I set up a dummy MAC address so she could run tests on Barbara’s computer.

Long story short, after two hours and 55 minutes we got the Velop network up and running again. I took the remote router down stairs so the support gal could run a connectivity test. She ran it. Everything looked fine. Then the light on the remote unit turned red. She agreed she could see this from her desk at Linksys.

The analysis, and we both agreed, is this. When I put the pieces back together again for the trouble shooting, I switched the two units. They are identical in appearance, differing only in a built-in password. The one that was now the remote was previously the main unit—the one that connected directly to the modem. When it went down it took Internet connectivity down. Not only did Wi-Fi go away, but Barbara’s Vostro, connected to the main unit by wire, lost connectivity, as well.

We parted ways. I mentioned I would run the Velop system for a few more days, and if the problem showed up again I should be getting an exchange or a refund. And this was the morning and the evening of my birthday.

Je n’ai pas la clé

Now I really don’t have the key.

The correct key for the correct lock.

See the previous post:

OK, now I really do have the key. But it is an interesting story.

In the previous post I poked fun at business that do not really have a handle on day to day operations. The state of business-customer relations also came up. I noted that when my new house was completed in 2010 the builder gave me the keys to the garage door, said keys having been given to him by the company that installed the garage door. Said company being Parrish & Company, Inc., 26995 Highway 281 N, San Antonio, Texas, (830-980-9595). I also mentioned that Parrish and Company had provided a lock for the garage door and had provided keys to yet a different lock. I also mentioned that when I informed Parrish and Company of their error more than two and a half years after the fact they graciously offered to make good on their error. They, at no expense to me, offered to provide me with the correct key. They would hold the key for me at the front desk of their offices at 26995 Highway 281 N, San Antonio, Texas, and would exchange the correct key for the wrong keys when I arrived. It was the kind of customer outreach that traditionally warms the cockles of my heart. I guarantee you that on this occasion their generosity did just that.

And now the key is gone. Not only is the key gone, but the lock is gone, as well. And not only the lock, but the entire garage door. It happened this way.

On a Tuesday night last month came a terrible pounding on the roof. I was upstairs at the time, and I was sure it was the fist of God. Turned out to be only the fist of hail, but that was enough. The roof is history, according to my insurance adjuster. Likewise the garage door. Hail dimples reduced the door’s real estate value to zero, and today they replaced it.

But not the lock. And not the key. The new door came without a key lock—the man said they don’t do that anymore. I’m guessing they don’t do that anymore when the insurance company is paying for a new door and not me.

Hey! Mike phoned a little after nine this morning. Said the crew would be there within 15 minutes. Just time for me to park the cars down the street. They came. They had the door panels loaded on the truck, already the proper color. See the photo. And no lock. And no key. The key I drove twice on 281 to the northern limits of San Antonio is now surplus.

The good part is, these people appear to do this sort of thing for a living. In and out in 30 minutes while I watched. They’re Mission Overhead Door Service, contracted by Blackmon Mooring, contracted by USAA insurance.

And now I’m wondering what I’m going to lose when the contractors come next week to do the roof. Stay tuned.

Odd Moments


In college I didn’t go for a degree in electrical engineering, because I considered the EE equations to be very messy, dealing with various harmonics and such. But I did take one EE course and obtained a degree in Engineering Science. Eventually I got a job as a mechanical engineer for a company that made optical character recognition equipment and document processing systems.

This was about 40 years ago, and we hired this guy Bill. Bill was an ex-Air Force electronics technician, and he was a sharp guy. He didn’t have a college degree, but he knew how all that stuff worked. I talked to Bill a lot and picked up some good knowledge from him.

I had this team of engineers, and we were designing a system to go in banks and process checks that people brought to the counter. And there was this other guy, Bob, and he wasn’t in our group, but he was an EE, and he was really sharp. He worked on some of the cutting edge stuff the company was developing, and one of the things he was working on was ASICs. ASIC is just a short term for Application Specific Integrated Circuit, and the idea was that companies that made them had a set of prepared designs, and you told them what you wanted your circuit to do, and they would produce a photo mask for the die. They would then produce short production runs of the die. A die is the proper term for an integrated circuit chip, and these could be quite large and complex.

Anyhow, Bob was a real whiz, and he got a lot of respect wherever he went. When he walked through the area people tended to just step back and let him pass.

Anyhow, Bob was working on a new concept, and he stopped by my desk and asked me about the problem he was having. I listened to him for about a minute, and it dawned on me what the problem was. I explained it to Bob, and he said something like, “Oh, yeah.” And he went away happy.

Then I looked up, and some of the guys on my team were looking at me, and it was a kind of strange look. I got back to working on what I was supposed to be doing, but I thought I could feel eyes on my back. For a few minutes it was a weird situation, and I thought about it again earlier this week. It was one of those odd moments.

Death Explained


Have you ever gone to a big time sporting event of great importance, one that featured the top players, one that decided a critical championship? The competition was intense, and the outcome was in doubt. Interest was high.

Then something unexpected came up, and you had to leave the game before it was over. And later you never could learn the outcome of the game. Maybe people you asked would not tell you, but more likely you could never find anybody who had attended the game or possibly anybody who ever heard of the game. And you never found out how the game ended, and it always remained a mystery to you.

Death is not like that.

The big time sporting event is the Universe and everything that happens in it from way before you were born until way after you are gone. All you can ever learn about the Universe, the world, is what happened right up until the time you die. And when you die, for all purposes, the Universe ceases to exist. What happens in the Universe after you die is of no consequence to you, because you no longer exist. In any form.

It’s not like this, either:

So live, that when thy summons comes to join
The innumerable caravan, which moves
To that mysterious realm, where each shall take
His chamber in the silent halls of death,
Thou go not, like the quarry-slave at night,
Scourged to his dungeon, but, sustained and soothed
By an unfaltering trust, approach thy grave,
Like one who wraps the drapery of his couch
About him, and lies down to pleasant dreams.

People get the wrong idea. They get many wrong ideas. “After you die you go to another place.” No. You don’t go to another place. Then, if you don’t go to another place, you spend the rest of eternity in complete darkness, devoid of any stimulus, any interaction with others or with any thing. No. You don’t.

So, what’s it like when you die? You ask that question, but you already know. You know the answer, because you’ve been dead before. You may ask me when was it you ever dead before. I respond, “Where were you in the year 1753?” You say you weren’t even born then. I say that’s true. You were dead. How did it feel? You don’t know, because you weren’t there then. I tell you it’s going to be like that again after you die.

Do you think I’m telling you that you should not fear death? Yes. Do you think I’m telling you that you should not respect your own life? No. You should not be careless with your life, and you should not forfeit it casually. Think of the consequences.

If you allow yourself to die needlessly, you will not suffer. Others will. You are part of a society of people. You have friends and family. You have other members of the community that may depend on having you around. Generally, if you die you will be sorely missed. If you give up your life for little profit you will disappoint people you care about.

But, you now conclude, once you are dead the effect on others will be of no concern to you. Nothing will be of any concern to you. You will be dead. You will not exist. You will not feel anguish for the pain of others.

Think again. Right up until the moment you die you have an empathy for others in your life. During this time you will feel concern for the consequences of your death, even if not after. Even if you carry rational thinking to the extreme, this concern will prevent you from deliberately moving toward your death.

Concerning suicide, the needless killing of yourself. Of what consequence is this? Those who care for you will be sorely disappointed in your action. They will fell hurt that you have chosen to reject their company and to leave it permanently. They may think bad thoughts of you. But you will not feel anguish over this, because you will be dead. In many instances it is the contemplation of these consequences that keeps many from ending their lives needlessly. It’s frightening to consider that faulty thinking is what’s keeping so many of us alive.

Concluding that all of the foregoing is true or even makes sense, what is it that keeps people alive? What installs in a person the desire to preserve his own life? There are a number of explanations, only one of them has any basis in fact.

The primal motivation to preserve life is that death is fearful. Burned into our brains is a dread of dying. Where does this come from? It comes from millions of years of biological evolution. Members of a population that have little regard for preserving their lives tend not to reproduce. This is often up to the point where the individual exits the gene pool. Consider the black widow spider. The male mates with the female at the sacrifice of his own life. Up until that point the male works to preserve his own life, avoiding predators to the best of his ability.

Animals, to the best of their ability, generally strive to avoid predation. See a bird pecking at seeds in your back yard feeder. Try to approach and grab the bird, and it will fly away. Birds lacking this reflex soon disappear from the gene pool. The converse is observed. Birds that evolved on remote islands, such as the Galapagos, do not suffer predation from other animals. There is nothing there that eats them. They have lost this reflex. Researchers studying the famous finches can reach out and pick one up to put a band on its leg.

So that explains our lust for life in terms of the natural Universe. What about in terms of the mystical Universe? People have made up explanations. Catholic priests will remind followers that suicide is a sin. If you kill yourself you will be damned to Hell. People who kill themselves are denied a Catholic funeral service. It works the other way around. Some religious followers believe that killing oneself to further a cause earns rewards in another life. Supposedly 72 virginal young women is one such prize. So, the religious view of death can cut both ways.

If death is inevitable and not all that unpleasant, then what’s the purpose of life? This may not be a Douglas Adams quote, but it should be: “Your job is to have a good time.” If you actually have a duty in life that duty is to enjoy it while you can. You’re not coming this way again.

This should not be construed as a prescription for launching upon a hedonistic lifestyle. To the contrary, I add naively, a hedonistic life may not be all that enjoyable. If it’s the admiration, respect and the good company of your fellow beings that you crave, your best fit will be as a cooperative member of society. Before this gets too far along the road, please be reminded that religion is not the answer. For affirmation take a few minutes today to switch on the television news.

Anyhow, you’re alive, which goes without saying. Where do you go from here? Allow me to be the most recent to inform you that you are going to die. What until then? Advice is free.

Be productive. Do good things for other people. Your life will be more enjoyable as a consequence. You regret not being able to live forever? You can to the next best thing. You can prolong your existence. Produce some lasting works. Have a child. Give good advice. Invent something. Post something on the Internet. Posting something on the Internet is like carving it in stone. Or at least writing it in ink:

Erica Albright: It didn’t stop you from writing it. As if every thought that tumbles through your head was so clever it would be a crime for it not to be shared. The Internet’s not written in pencil, Mark, it’s written in ink.

In the mean time, stick around. The game’s not over yet.

Rachel Rachel


I get these phone calls. I don’t mind them to much. I’m an old man, retired. Not much going on these days. Sometimes it’s nice to have somebody to talk to. So the phone rings. It’s a cell phone, but I have practically unlimited minutes. And, like I said, sometimes it’s nice to have somebody to talk to:

This is Rachel with Cardholder Services.

Rachel goes on to explain that the rules have changed. It is now possible for me to reduce the interest I pay on my credit card balance to as little as 6%. This is great news. I know, because this is about the 50th time I have received this call from Rachel.

Rachel advises that if I want to learn how to reduce my interest rate I must press 1 on my phone pad. This I eagerly do, because, like I said, I’m an old man and retired. If Rachel didn’t phone me several times a week I would’t get any phone calls at all.

After pressing 1, I wait for a moment to be connected to a live operator. He starts by asking some questions:

  • How much is my credit card debt?
  • What interest rate am I currently paying?
  • How many accounts is this debt spread over?

Regarding the first, I step neatly out of character. I lie. See, if I told the truth the live operator will immediately hang up. They are only interested in people who have massive debt. $500 is too small potatoes for them to bother with. If you want to talk to the live operator you’re going to have to tell him you owe $11,000 or something like that. Just lie. Jesus will forgive you.

Next there’s the matter of the interest rate. Rachel’s live operators only want to deal with people paying high interest rates. Again I lie. I say something like 11%. Truth is, I really don’t know what rate I pay, because I never pay it. The good wife and I charge so little on our cards we just pay off the bill when it comes due, and there’s never any interest. Again, I think Jesus will forgive you if you tell Rachel’s live operator you’re paying 11%. 18% and you may have to answer to the Big Guy after you die.

I tell Rachel’s live operator the debt is only on one account. This isn’t much of a lie, and it keeps the dialog simple. Who wants to get involved with talking about multiple accounts when all you want to do is have a conversation with somebody in Pakistan.

About this point, things are going to get sticky. Rachel’s live operator is going to ask you for your credit card number. Do not, I repeat, do not give Rachel’s live operator, or for that matter anybody who calls you up on the telephone, your credit card number. What I do at this point is say that I need to look at my credit card. This is true, and Jesus would approve. I have no idea what my credit card number is. I tell Rachel’s live operator I need to go get my credit card. I ask him to hold on for just a minute. I tell him my credit card is in another room. What I do not tell him is that the other room is in another state.

I make sure Rachel’s live operator is going to wait for me. Then I put down the phone so I can go into another room and look for my credit card. Then I hunt for the cable remote to find out what’s on The History Channel, while Rachel’s live operator cools his heels waiting for me to get back to the phone.

This may sound cruel, but it’s not. What is really cruel is when I come back to phone periodically and ask Rachel’s live operator to hold on a little longer while I hunt for my credit card. There really are some good programs on The History Channel.

Think that’s cruel? Please be advised.

What I like to do before asking Rachel’s live operator to hold the phone is to get him to explain as much as possible about the kind of deal he’s going to give me. How’s this going to reduce my interest rate? Is it going to cost me anything? What does he think about the new Republican administration. At this point it’s important to be careful. You do not want Rachel’s live operator to get the idea you’re stalling just to keep him on the line. This takes some skill. You need to practice this several times to get it right. I’ve had the practice.

All of this would not be so much fun if Rachel owith Cardholder Services were the only game in town. Fortunately for me (old, retired, lonely man) there are more. For instance, there’s Life Alert. I’ve had the most fun with Life Alert. It went like this.

How does this work?

You have an emergency (fallen and can’t get up), and you press a button. The system alerts the proper authorities.

What if I’m not at home?

No problem. Your remote device can contact the system from just about anywhere.

Sometimes I’m up in the mountains in Utah.

Can’t do that.

What if I’m just out on the street somewhere?

It can do that.

How does it know where I am?

It uses GPS.

Really. How does that work?

The GPS sends your location to the proper authorities.

If I’m in a car?


I don’t think the GPS signal will penetrate the metal body of a car.

Sure. We’ve tested it. It works.

What if I’m in a tunnel? I don’t think the GPS unit will receive satellite signals inside a tunnel.

I don’t know about that. I can check.

Who there can tell me?

Over-reach! The Life Alert operator must have had an egg timer running, because something told him he needed to get on to a live body. He disconnected the call. He didn’t even tell me to have a nice day. Or say goodbye. They’re so cruel.

I think maybe I overdid it that time with Life Alert. Thereafter I would get a call that said, “Hello, seniors.” And then the caller would tell me that I was qualified for a Life Alert system that wouldn’t cost me anything and that I should press 1 to speak to an operator. Now when I press 1 I am informed that is not a working number, and the call is disconnected. They don’t even tell me to have a nice day. Or say goodbye.

Rachel with Cardholder Services appears to be getting tired of me, as well. Not too tired of me to quit calling me on the telephone. I just a few minutes ago received another call from Rachel, advising me, as always, to press 1. I pressed 1, and the call was immediately disconnected. They didn’t even tell me to have a nice day. Or say goodbye.

A little research shows what I’m missing:

If you are one of the legions of consumers who suffered through those annoying robocalls from “Rachel with Cardholder Services,” you could have money coming your way.

That’s right. The Federal Trade Commission, the nation’s consumer watchdog, has reached a settlement with a collection of companies it says used that ploy. And now a special administrator is preparing to mail out checks to victims.

The total amount available to repay consumers is $700,000. The FTC says it is mailing out 16,590 checks this week. Each check will be for $42.95 and must be cashed within 60 days.

Here’s how the scheme worked: Robo-Rachel called you and claimed she could help with your credit card interest rate. If you asked to be connected with a real operator, the company then claimed it could get your credit card interest rate reduced for a fee. Credit companies are not supposed to guarantee you credit or a particular interest rate in exchange for an up front fee.

So… does this mean Rachel is dead and gone and you won’t be hearing from her again? Maybe. When a robocalling scheme works, other companies often copy it. In fact, after the FTC took its first action against “Rachel,” investigators were frustrated when the calls continued, likely placed by other sketchy companies.

If Rachel is gone, other robo-calling schemes will probably take her place. So report them! Robocalls are now illegal without your written consent and the same is true with political robocalls to your cell phones. As these payments prove, the FTC does investigate them.

See what I missed. This could have been so much fun.

Goodbye, Rachel. Though we were destined never to meet, keep thinking of me. And may Jesus have mercy on your soul.

Adventures in Car Shopping

I had this old car.


And that led to a blog post several months ago:

I don’t recall if the second man ever came back, but a third man, wearing a red shirt, came and explained they were having trouble locating the car. Gary later told me, and I firmly believe, a dealership always knows at all times the location of all its inventory. I remarked that if Barbara Jean were running this operation there would be a computer spread sheet and a relational database identifying the location and status of all high-priced inventory such as automobiles costing many thousands of dollars each. We were long past concluding the dealership no longer had the car or else never had the car to begin with. Their aim was to keep us around until some kind of business could be conducted.

As the story panned out, we ended up not replacing the old car. In the mean time we stopped by a dealership in Boerne, Texas. They didn’t have the car either. And they told us they didn’t have the car. I found that so refreshing. But we did consider getting a car for Barbara, instead. But first we drove down the road a ways to another dealership, just to see what they had. What they had was a better deal. Barbara came home with a new car:

So it was that Chambers and Barbara Jean arrived at our house shortly after me about 10 p.m. Wednesday night. Barbara Jean sat at the dining table and signed over her old car and gave Mr. Chambers a check for the new car.

All together, it was a very pleasant car shopping experience. People, that’s the way it’s supposed to be.

And Barbara drove her new car, and we took a trip to Pflugerville and back. And she parked her new car in the garage. And we went on vacation for three weeks while her new car sat in the garage. And we came back. We still didn’t have a new car for me.

So we went again to San Marcos, Texas. We needed to replace the furniture upstairs we had gotten rid of. The place in San Marcos had a good deal, so we ordered the furniture. And we left. We went back to the dealership where the previous month we had gotten Barbara’s new car, which was still sitting in the garage back home.

Did they have the car I wanted? Not quite. But they did have these three models. Only new cars. We told them we did not want a white car. No white car. And no black car, either. Black cars tend to get hot when outside on summer days. At night on the freeway they tend to disappear. Most dangerous. We did not want a black car.

So Michael Chambers said he had three models to show us. We went to look.

The first was black. No way. He had a green one. Green was fine. We walked over and looked at it. It was dark dark green. May as well have been a black car. He had one more. We liked the color, and it was not too dark either.


Only, Barbara didn’t like the interior colors. Did it come in any other colors? Chambers said it didn’t. I said I liked the colors.


We got the car. I gave up the keys to my old car, and we drove home in the new car.

Let me tell you, since the last time I got a new car back in the previous century cars have gotten high tech. My old car was completely computer controlled. It had fuel injection, and the computer monitored fuel and air mixture and ensured the correct mixture all the time. The computer also monitored air temperature inside the car and maintained whatever temperature you wanted. Another computer monitored the brakes and made sure none of the wheels locked up while braking in the slick. The new car has all of that. And more.





Looking at the control panel (don’t call it a dashboard anymore) I got the impression of the cockpit of an F/A-18 Hornet. It has about everything a pilot, rather a driver, needs.

It has a CD player, just like the old car, but who needs that. I loaded up all our music on a 64 GB USB drive and plugged it in. The display shows me what’s on the drive and plays whatever I select. Not interested in what’s playing? Switch to the engine monitor. How fast are you going? What’s your average speed for the current trip? Fuel consumption in miles per gallon for the current trip? It’s all there. And more.

When I switch the transmission into reverse, the display goes to a rear view camera image that lets me know when I’m about to back over a skate board. That is so cheesy.

What Barbara Jean did not notice and what I did not point out to her until after we got the car home is that my new car has alloy wheels, just like the old car. Wahoo! It also has climate control, just like the old car and which Barbara Jean’s new car does not have. It may be a Corolla, but it’s not your grandfather’s Corolla.

When I first met Barbara Jean she was driving a 70s version of the Corolla, and it was a lift back, and it was a little box on wheels. The new Corolla is a century on down the line, but it is still compact, which was essential for me. My old car I could park in my garage in the spot that has the work bench with the radial arm saw up against the back wall. The new car fits just fine, which we verified by measuring before going off to buy it.

We are thinking this is the last car that we’re ever going to get. I kept the Infiniti for nearly 15 years. Fifteen years from now I may be thinking about a walker instead of a new car. This may be the last of the Adventures in Car Shopping.

Adventures in Car Shopping

Earlier this year I had, what can best be called, an interesting car shopping experience, and I posted a small item of interest.

I’ve had this car since the previous century, and when I retired over a year ago Barbara Jean and I agreed to sell the car and just keep hers. I mean, with nobody working what need had we of more than one car? I negotiated with a buyer, and that went nowhere, and in the end we agreed that we can still use two cars. We might not both always want to go to the same place at the same time.

I’m retired, and new car ownership is not in my game plan. However, a local dealership was advertising pre-owned Toyota Corrolas that seemed to fit my budget.


That would have been just fine with me, and Barbara Jean and I were prepared to make the deal for this car. If only the car had actually existed.

That experience put us off car buying for the near future. I was growing to love my old car all the more. Still, Barbara Jean had this notion. Driving a 15-year-old car was maybe not the wisest thing.

So it was Wednesday. It was the long awaited day. We were heading off to Boerne for lunch at Centinela Mexican Restaurant & Bar with FACT, the Freethinkers Association of Central Texas. On the way out (what was I thinking?) I casually mentioned to Barbara Jean, maybe we should check out the Toyota dealership in Boerne.

Lunch at Centinela was just great, as usual, and the conversation was lively and enlightening. Piling back into my old car after lunch, Barbara Jean fired up the Garmin navigator, and searched for the local dealership. It was right back south on the interstate.

What a refreshing difference. We were actually treated like adults. We told the salesman what we wanted. He did not have what I was looking for in a used Corolla. He told us he didn’t have it. What a grown up concept! He did show us what he did have. We decided to wait until they did have what I wanted and made a note to come back in maybe November.

But Barbara Jean saw what she wanted. Barbara Jean had this Camry she had bought used from the Plano dealer six years ago. Miles were piling up on it (66,000 and counting). Toyota of Boerne had some fresher stock. Would Barbara Jean like a new or newer car? Barbara Jean would.

We looked at several, and Barbara Jean decided she liked the demo model with 5100 miles on it at a reduced price. It had alloy wheels and a moon roof. Snazzy. And it was the right color.

One problem. Barbara Jean left home without her check book. And we needed to trade in her old car. We had ridden to Boerne in my old car. Barbara Jean’s old car was back in the garage in San Antonio. The title was in the file cabinet back in San Antonio. We couldn’t close the deal that day. We got ready to leave.

The salesman asked if we would like to leave a check to hold the car. I said I did not want to do that. It was maybe five p.m. I figured there was no way they were going to sell a floor model before they closed the doors that day. We made an appointment to return at ten a.m. Thursday morning with Barbara Jean’s old car, but I advised the salesman that if anybody wanted to buy the floor model before we got back, then he should not hesitate on our account. In total it was a very pleasant car shopping experience.

And we piled back into my old car.

In the mean time I had mentioned to Barbara Jean a conversation with a previous wife. She had purchased her car at San Marcos Toyota. Barbara Jean punched the San Marcos dealership into the navigator, and we headed out over back roads to San Marcos. 6:30 p.m. and we were there.


Another pleasant shopping experience. A salesman named Chambers took care of us. We were only looking for a Camry for Barbara Jean. The dealership in Boerne had given us turn-key price for the floor model, taking into account the trade-in they were prepared to give for Barbara Jean’s old car.

Unfortunately, Mr. Chambers informed us looking over his list of inventory, he did not have any pre-owned cars with Barbara Jean’s mileage limitations. And he told us so. How refreshing!

But the new inventory was most acceptable. Chambers invited Barbara Jean to drive the car. Barbara Jean and I said we did not need to drive the car. We had driven Barbara Jean’s Camry from Texas to Seattle to Key West and back to Texas, where it was now parked in the garage in San Antonio. We knew what it was like to drive a Camry. You push down on the gas, and you go forward. Chambers insisted, and I knew why. When you drive a car you bond with it. So Barbara Jean drove all three of us around San Marcos Toyota’s expansive lot. I told Chambers we would not really know how the car performed until we got it up to 85 mph on Texas 130.

We told Chambers we needed to trade in Barbara Jean’s old car. We told him it was in top shape with at least 64,000 miles. He gave us a trade in value. It was completely satisfactory. He gave us a turn-key price. Again quite acceptable. We decided to buy the car.

Problem was, Barbara Jean left home earlier that day without her check book. Also without her old car and the car title. No problem, Mr. Chambers, assured us. He would drive the new car to our house in San Antonio that night (it was by now closing time at the dealership), and he would take ownership of the old car and also pick up the check from Barbara Jean.

So it was that Chambers and Barbara Jean arrived at our house shortly after me about 10 p.m. Wednesday night. Barbara Jean sat at the dining table and signed over her old car and gave Mr. Chambers a check for the new car.

All together, it was a very pleasant car shopping experience. People, that’s the way it’s supposed to be.

People Unclear on the Concept

I live in a large city in Texas, and, like most, mine has a number of codes of construction to prevent the creation of safety hazards. Here is one:

See, the steel barricades installed into the sidewalk keep pedestrians from accidentally stepping off or falling into the storm drains on either side. Pretty neat, eh?

Here’s another:

See, the steel barricades keep pedestrians from stepping falling off the sidewalk into the storm drains on either side. However, in this case I do believe the builder missed a key point. Am I the only one who thinks there is too much a thing of following strictly the letter of the code?

By the way, there are multiple instances like this.

Holy Days

Back when we lived in Dallas—actually about 10 years ago—we would go to this nice restaurant near our house. It’s called Sweet Basil, and it’s the spot in the neighborhood for Italian cuisine.

So we were all primed to go. It was to be a special day. It was Valentine’s Day, and we were scheduled for a nice quiet dinner. It turned out not to be.

We showed up, got a table. And we got the menu. Only it wasn’t the regular menu with all the stuff we liked. It was a special holiday menu. I’m thinking all dinners were the same price, and all included dessert. And they were not the oh so pleasant price were accustomed to.

We ordered. We ate. But it was not nice and quiet and low key. It was a holy day.

Ever since, Barbara Jean has been leery of holiday dinners. Before going somewhere on a “holy day,” she will call to see if they have a “special menu.” Sometimes we wind up going to Subway for a sandwich.

But we have realized something. Holidays (holy days) are not special. They are just numbers on a calender. Sorry for yourself you have to work on Thanksgiving? Don’t be. Celebrate the holiday some other day. It’s likely to be not as crowded, and you won’t have to put up with the restaurant’s special menu. You can actually enjoy your dinner.

And that’s my message to all on this holy day, namely Valentine’s Day. Tonight we went to Ruby Tuesday for dinner and had the nice grilled salmon salad. No crowds, no hassle. Just a chance to enjoy a quiet meal on Darwin Day.

If at first you don’t succeed

Obviously this was way back when. Way back before people like Ted Kaczynski and Timothy McVeigh spoiled it for the rest of us. This was in the spring 1958 when I could walk into a store and purchase a few pounds of potassium permanganate and not have the ATF knocking on my door before sundown.

My cousin and I and sometimes my brother and a school buddy built some neat rockets. Sometimes we had great success. Sometimes, not so much so. Anyhow, the statute of limitations has finally expired, and we can show the video.

Goodby, Old Paint

Yesterday was an important anniversary for me. A year ago I handed in my badge and headed back to San Antonio for the duration. Before I did that I made a video of my last trip out the front door. The song says it all.

Goodbye, old Paint,
I’m a-leaving Cheyenne.
Goodbye, old Paint,
I’m a-leaving Cheyenne.

Old Paint’s a good pony.
He runs when he can,
Good morning young lady,
My pony won’t stand.

Goodbye, old Paint,
I’m a-leaving Cheyenne.
Goodbye, old Paint,
I’m a-leaving Cheyenne.

Here’s the video: Goodby, Old Paint

Lock And Load

Earlier I posted this about the use of guns for self defense. Since then Zack Coombes has written the following, which I am posting for him. This should be of interest to all readers concerned with using a gun for something besides a toy:

The shooting method now taught in law enforcement agencies and in CCL courses is a two-handed hold, which is very effective when shooting stationary targets that aren’t shooting back, such as paper bulls-eyes on a shooting range.  The problem, though, in confronting a real-life emergency, is that it’s faster to shoot one-handed, and it’s all but impossible to shoot two-handed from behind a barricade such as a car door or the corner of a building without exposing yourself to return fire.

For many years the Army taught troops to shoot a pistol one-handed, but to do so requires a large degree of “trigger-control”—the ability to move just your trigger finger without moving your whole hand.    This is a learned skill, and without it, every time you squeeze the trigger you also move the firearm off target.

I remember one of my coaches in the Army telling me that “a good shot is made in the bedroom, not on the range”, which is a humorous and attention-getting way of making the point that for five minutes each night the shooter, after making certain that his firearm is unloaded and the chamber clear, should aim his unloaded double-action firearm at a spot on the wall and as slowly as he can, squeeze the trigger completely through the double action sequence until the hammer drops while trying not to move the firearm’s sights off the spot on the wall.  No more than five minutes, because fatigue becomes a factor after five minutes.   You’re trying to learn a skill, not build muscles.   After three weeks or a month of this, you go out to a range and use real bullets. You should be able to fire a respectable score with a one-handed grip.

We were taught to learn with each hand; you never know when one hand—and it may be your dominant hand—will be disabled.   In fact, this has served me well;  in the 1981 shooting I used my left hand.    My .25 was an old single-action automatic, and I can’t use my right thumb to cock the hammer back because of my 1965 motorcycle injury which mangled my right arm. OK…single-action and double-action.

With a  single-action pistol, either revolver or automatic, once the hammer is down, it must be physically cocked back in order to fire the pistol.  If it’s an automatic, like my old Beretta or an army 1911 .45, you can then fire as fast as you can pull the trigger.  But it’s unsafe to carry it with the hammer cocked; it can go off in your pocket with distressing effects on your private parts!

So modern revolvers and automatics are double-action, and they can be fired with the hammer down.   The first shot—with the hammer down—has a long trigger pull;  as you’re pulling the trigger the trigger is also cocking the hammer back until it drops, firing the pistol.  After the first shot, on an automatic, the hammer stays back in single-action mode, and you can fire as fast as you can pull the trigger; then you gently de-cock the hammer to put it back in safe carry mode.  With a double-action revolver, all shots are in double-action mode, but it’s still faster than pulling the hammer back after each shot like one has to do when firing he old classic cowboy single action revolver.

Without the afore-mentioned trigger control, this also pulls your sights well off target.   Anyway, most law enforcement officers are also military veterans.   Sometime in the late sixties the Army no longer regarded the pistol as a serious weapon of war, and the institutional memory of effective pistol use was lost as pistol users trained in the old way retired.

When I took the CCL course along with Tania after the abduction attempt on young John,  our instructor—a former law enforcement officer and a military veteran—kept insisting that I use the two-handed grip, but when my score equaled his using a one-handed grip, first right-handed, then left-handed, he dropped his objection.


Greetings, all. Here’s what we’ve been up to this year. Since I have my own blog these days, I’m going to start posting the yearly newsletters on the blog.

In December 2012 I quit my last job and came home to stay. The idea was to take some vacation, but not much happened until February. Then it was off to Florida on a road trip.

There’s not much to tell about our first stop, in Lafayette, LA, but New Orleans is worth talking about. Mardi Gras season was getting underway, and we took in some of the sights. Night was best. There were bands and other performances in the streets.

There was always something wild going on.

Dining in the French Quarter was especially good.

Cape Canaveral in Florida was an all-day tour. They have rockets and missiles I have not seen for 50 years.

When visiting Florida, you need to get out to Key West if you possibly can. It’s a different world out there.

It’s a tradition on the west shore to say goodbye to the sun each day.

Okaloosa Island was good for some scenics.

Back home I volunteered to review textbooks for the Texas Education Agency. First off they asked me to review high school physics texts, and this was done at home on my computer. Came summer and reviewers were invited to come to Austin for team reviews. The state of Texas put us up for five days in the airport Hilton.

Airport Hilton lobby

That was kind of fun, especially when I learned some creationists had been invited by the Texas Board of Education to review biology texts. I talked to two of them whom I had met previously. They are both educated men, but they do not have degrees in biology. Here are Walter Bradley and Ide Trotter.

Barbara has been busy this year, as well. I may not have mentioned before, but last year they had this thing called The Hill Country Yarn Crawl. If you are not familiar with the concept, a yarn crawl is sort of like a pub crawl, except without the alcohol. In a yarn crawl you go from yarn shop to yarn shop, the plan being to visit all shops on your itinerary.

Last year the itinerary included shops in San Antonio, Austin, Paige, Comfort, and places in between. This year they added a couple more. Last year I was working (most of the time), but this year I didn’t have any excuse. I went along, visited the shops, ate the cookies and took some photos. Here’s a quaint shop in Comfort, Texas.

Wait, there’s more. Across the street was another shop, and we stopped in there. The woman running the place gave us a demonstration of spinning yarn. You think knitting is the ultimate craft for creating cloth, but first you need to make the yarn from raw fiber, and here is how that’s done. I made this video and posted it on YouTube.

Lest I forget, 2013 was the year we finally sold our house in Dallas. In case anybody is curious as to why we sold our house in Dallas and built a house in San Antonio, here is why. The first photo is our house in Dallas. It may be a little hard to see, but it’s there.

Here is the house in San Antonio:

See the difference?

Speaking of videos, I finally got around to actually using my YouTube account. I made a number of instructional videos and posted them. Here’s one that shows how to make real Texas style chili con carne.  If Jack Warner is by now not rolling over in his grave, he’s at least laughing.

Sadly, I also came to the realization that I have never actually owned a motion picture projector. So, what to do with all the home movies I made, starting back in the 1950s (be quiet, Jack Warner)? I am sending them off to have them copied to DVD, and, worse yet, I’m posting the videos on YouTube. Breaking news! Home movies of decades past almost never had sound. But YouTube has the solution. With a few clicks you can select some music (?) to go along with your video. Here’s a clip I made back in the 1970s. In those days I had this magazine-load 16mm movie camera, and I attached it to my motorcycle helmet with duct tape (what else) and got out on the race course at the Austin Aqua Festival to give viewers an idea how it appears to riders. John Frankenheimer I am not as evidenced by this massive fail.

All the film is not back from the video company, but I will be posting more as the DVDs roll in. Warning: Some scenes will be embarrassing not only to the photographer but to certain people who will be watching these videos.

Barbara and John


Long story about little.

My dad used to have this marvelous piece of firepower. It was a .22 Hornet, and it packed a real wallop. I always coveted that weapon, but quite early Dad traded it to my brother-in-law for an 8mm movie camera. Hence this story.

So, as a kid I wound up shooting a bunch of 8mm. Shortly I went to sea on an aircraft carrier, and I purchased an 8mm camera of my own and took a lot of movies aboard ship and later in civilian life at motorcycle races and other fun places.

But here’s the irony. All this time I never actually owned a movie projector. There was a family projector, but when the inheritance was distributed somebody else wound up with it. So I have all these great films I have not viewed in decades.

Along the way I also acquired a 16mm camera that used magazine load film. I was familiar with the concept, because that’s what was used in the navy for gun sight video and also to record flight operations. In the Navy there is a special rating, photographer’s mate, that does nothing but take photos and such. Aboard the aircraft carrier their job was to get up at the 07 level in the ship’s superstructure and shoot movies, takeoffs and landings. If something went wrong the Navy wanted it on film. I think I may once have seen aboard the Randolph a freezer chest packed with Kodak boxes of fresh film.

Came time to do a blog post, and I needed an old newspaper clipping. I knew right where it was. It was right here in this closet in one of these boxes. So I started pulling out boxes and searching. The result of that was I recorded to DVD and discarded a bunch of skeptical VHS tapes. In one box I came across the movie films. I decided they needed to meet the same fate as the VHS tapes.

It turns out it’s fairly easy to get the DVDs from the movies, but it’s not exactly cheap. Like $8 for a 50-foot reel of 8mm. $200 for a running hour of 16mm. For me it’s either pay and throw away the film or else throw away the film and not pay. In one case I would still have the movies, but in a more compact form.

I have sent off two reels of 8mm to a place in Longview, and this morning I drove down to the place in San Antonio and dropped off my reel of 16mm. In a few days I will begin to come into possession of DVDs containing video of a number of people, known to me, and obtained when these people were much younger than they are now and not nearly as circumspect. Here is my deal.

These people, who can be easily identified in the video, even though they are now more advanced in age, will need to pay me a certain sum, or else these videos will be posted on YouTube. You know who you are. Do I need to elaborate?

Leaves of Grass

A great way to spend a Sunday afternoon.

The San Antonio Library presented Bruce Alan Noll as Walt Whitman in a one-hour impersonation of 19th century America’s favorite poet.

Whitman claimed that after years of competing for “the usual rewards”, he determined to become a poet. He first experimented with a variety of popular literary genres which appealed to the cultural tastes of the period. As early as 1850, he began writing what would become Leaves of Grass, a collection of poetry which he would continue editing and revising until his death. Whitman intended to write a distinctly American epic and used free verse with a cadence based on the Bible. At the end of June 1855, Whitman surprised his brothers with the already-printed first edition of Leaves of Grass. George “didn’t think it worth reading”.

Noll says he has now retired. He taught at the University of New Mexico in the College of Education. In his presentation he is Whitman, close in dress and person. He says he was inspired to take on the role by actor James Whitmore, who voiced for Mark Twain in the Claymation film The Adventures of Mark Twain. Noll’s performance closely parallels the performances as Mark Twain by actor Hal Holbrook.

The performance at the downtown library was free, but it was necessary to obtain tickets in advance. Barbara Jean instigated the festivities, and our friends Nancy and Gary joined us. After that it was dinner at Huhot to celebrate Gary’s birthday. It’s the kind of thing you do when you’re retired.

What Really Sucks

Slow day today. Here is some comment.

So, Barbara Jean and I were driving up to Pflugerville for movie night on Friday, and the traffic on Loop 1604 was bogged down for miles while a crew made some adjustments to a guardrail. Then we got to the I-35 junction, and the exit north was blocked because the Highway Department is in the process of reworking the intersection with new ramps and overpasses. Barbara was fed up with it all and commented, “This just sucks.”

I thought about this for about a second and decided maybe not quite. I responded, “No, this is not what sucks. What sucks is a mushroom cloud on the horizon and people running out on fire. That’s what sucks.”

And I though of one of my favorite Far Side cartoons by Gary Larson. What he shows here is that what sucks is really a matter of personal perspective.

Copyright Universal Press Syndicate