Friday, June 24, 2005

Attention all idiots: Get out of the gene pool

A young woman in Maria's office is dating a guy who bought a motorcycle a few weeks ago.
Even though the guy had to take the Motorcycle Safety Foundation's rider course when he was in the Marine Corps, it appears he forgot how important safety gear is. Well, from my brief encounters with him, the guy is a moron and has no judgment.
Maria and I dropped into the office a couple of nights after he got the bike and he was there visiting his girlfriend - make that distracting and interfering with her job. His bike, I think it's a Honda Shadow, was parked in front of the office. It had no license plate.
When I asked him about it, he said the temporary cardboard tag got wet in a rain shower and disintegrated. I also noted the absence of a helmet with him or on the bike.
It developed that he had a helmet, but thought he'd only use it on trips. He also planned to ride home in the dark with sunglasses for eye protection.
I worked into the conversation the fact that I've ridden more than 300,000 miles and was an MSF instructor and Bureau of Motor Vehicles motorcycle skills examiner for 10 years and suggested that the urban traffic environment is the most dangerous place he could ride.
"If you're going to get hit, the odds are it will be at an urban intersection where the car or truck driver makes a left turn into your path," I said, adding I wouldn't ride around the block without a helmet, let alone make a habit of it.
Other than the fact that his behavior will likely put unnecessary demands on the health care system when his inevitable crash occurs, I care little for what happens to him.
But I am concerned about how his stupidity can harm others. He has custody of his 2-year-old son and I was horrified to hear he took the kid for a motorcycle ride, with the bareheaded kid perched in front of him on the gas tank. In my judgment, that's grounds for Child Protective Services to take the kid away - reckless endangerment.
He also carries his girlfriend around as a passenger. I haven't had the heart to ask, but I assume she rides without a helmet too.
A friend of his was killed this week in a motorcycle crash. The victim, a 22-year-old guy, was riding helmetless when he tried to pass a car on the right at a point where the pavement narrows to two lanes. The guy ran off the road, lost it in gravel and did a face-plant on a deer crossing signpost.
Boyfriend went to the hospital after the crash but his friend had been transferred to a regional trauma center where he died a few hours later. Chances are, a fullface helmet would have saved his life.
Get the message, Boyfriend?

Canine habits and weddings future and past

Ruthie ignores her bowl of IAMS Chunks most of the time. Until someone sits down to a meal at the nearby kitchen table. Then she recognizes it's time for Her Pack to eat. So as I finished my breakfast of strawberry yogurt just now, she began crunching her way to the bottom of her food bowl. Now she's sprawled out at my feet with her belly on the cool vinyl floor, no doubt wondering if I'm going to give her the Dannon yogurt cup to clean out.
I usually have instant oatmeal for breakfast - trying to knock the cholesterol down a few points - but I switched to yogurt this week when the antibiotics sterilized my digestive system. Oatmeal can harden to concrete in a bowl, so I usually let her finish off the last few bits before I rinse the bowl and put it into the dishwasher.
Today is Maria's last pre-vacation day at work and it's a day I must spend getting everything ready for tomorrow's wedding photo shoot and Sunday morning's departure for points west.
My to-do list includes:
1. Find the missing Thermarest air mattress, buried deep in the jumble of stuff in the attic. It must be done soon, before the heat of the day turns the attic into a sauna.
2. Buy chlorine concentrate for the hot tub. We don't have enough to see Morgan through our absence and I don't want to come home to a tub full of murky, bacteria-filled water.
3. Charge all of our camera batteries.
4. Shift some cash from savings to checking to cover the bills I'll pay from the road. I hate going on vacation just before the end of the month and having to calculate when Maria's paycheck and my pension will roll into the account in relation to when various bill paymnent checks will get cashed. There's also the question of when my tenant's rent check will arrive and whether Morgan can deposit it in our account without the benefit of our endorsement.
5. Do a couple of loads of laundry.
6. Edit a few more photos for use in our community art fair exhibit that takes place a couple of days after our return. We have much of the work done, since there will be precious little time to pull this stuff together after we get home on or about July 6.
We're shooting the 4 p.m. wedding rehearsal at a rural church today. I don't think the photos are that important, but it's a valuable chance to work out the angles and lighting issues for tomorrow afternoon's ceremony.
The temperature is expected to soar into the 90s today and tomorrow, with heat indices above 100. It was hot and steamy like this on June 24, 1967, when I got married for the first time. Yes, today would have been my 38th wedding anniversary. We hung in for 26 years before the wheels came off for the final time. I lay claim to half - well, maybe 51% - of the blame for the implosion, but I know we're both better matched now. And we have two splendid sons to show for the effort.
Well, that took an odd turn, didn't it?
Now, it's off to the attic in search of the Thermarest.

Thursday, June 23, 2005

Eli Ohlhausen of California BMW Motorcycles bolting a new Staintune exhaust onto my bike in July, 1995. Posted by Hello

Cosmic bugsplat

Rummaging through my documents folder this afternoon, I came across this little piece from 10 years ago.
The bug was a black flash against the Wyoming desert sky as it died in a juicy splash on the chin piece of my fullface helmet. I heard the impact and felt the wet spray on my lips and chin through the slit vents.
"Shit! That was a big one!" I thought, making a mental note not to lick my lips anytime soon.
I was, after a fashion, working on my insect collection.
Racing southwest across southern Wyoming at 90 mph, I was five days into a motorcycle vacation that had taken an ugly turn.
My 1991 BMW K100RS checked out fine at BMW Motorcycles of Indianapolis two weeks earlier. I'd spent more than $700 on a 10,000-mile service, brakes, a battery and a set of Metzeler radial tires. My exhaust system – the Achilles heel of the otherwise-reliable bike – was declared sound.
But I knew better.
This was the fourth stock exhaust bolted onto the bike since it was born in the Spandau Bayerische Motoren Werke plant in early 1991. The first died of broken welds on Colorado's harrowing Mount Evans in August, 1992. The second was replaced a year later when a bumpy Nebraska road shattered its baffles. The third broke welds on the twisty Kalmath River Highway in northern California in August, 1994.
I expected exhaust trouble on this trip too. A month earlier, I phoned BMW North America to propose a deal.
“Why don't you guys put me in a Staintune exhaust right now and save us all a lot of trouble? There's no doubt in my mind that this exhaust is going to break sometime during my three weeks on the road,” I suggested, knowing in my heart of hearts I was asking the impossible.
I was right. The testy reply of the BMW service representative made it clear that I had asked him to entertain a thought he just couldn't think.
The next call was to California BMW in Mountain View, Calif., the importer and U.S. distributor of the Australian-made Staintune systems.
Eli Ohlhausen assured me a shipment of Staintunes was on a freighter headed for Los Angeles.
“We should have them in about a week,” he said.
“Well, put my name on a 16-valve sport model, because I'm pretty sure I'm going to need one,” I said, wondering where I would be when I would have to call Ohlhausen next.
It turned out, I would be in Sturgis, S.D.
On the third day of my trip, two days after my 50th birthday, I pushed the starter button in the motorcycle parking lot of Mount Rushmore and heard the telltale sound I'd been dreading. I rode the length of the parking lot, pulled in alongside a station wagon, dropped the sidestand and dismounted to have a look.
I didn't even need my reading glasses to see the crack. There it was, right where I figured it would be, in the weld where the header pipe met the muffler.
“Sonofabitch!” I muttered to myself. “Only three days out and on a fucking Sunday afternoon. I hate being right about shit like this!”
I rode back to Rapid City, topped off the tank at an Amoco station at the south edge of town and continued on to the northeastside of town where I remembered a Wendy's from my visit in 1990 for the BMW MOA National Rally.
I fished my BMW MOA Anonymous Book from the tank bag, secured my helmet to the bike and strode inside.
My research was postponed while I chatted over lunch with a BMW rider in his 60s, out on a long ride from his home in Virginia.
After lunch, I stuffed a quarter into a pay phone and called Don Leonard, a local BMW rider. Leonard referred me to Lyle Crowser, whose Sturgis shop was the only BMW dealership in South Dakota.
After booking a room at the Thrifty Inn across the street from Wendy's, I called Crowser's home. Lyle was ill, but his son Joe assured me they'd be happy to help and to be on their doorstep when they opened the next morning.
Rising at 6 a.m. on Monday, I rode the 30 miles or so to Sturgis, presented my 11-month-old exhaust system receipt and sipped a cup of coffee while Joe Crowser ordered a replacement pipe from BMW North America in New Jersey. The exhaust would be rushed out via FedEx, Crowser said, and I would be on my way by noon Tuesday.
I took a room at the nearby Star Lite Motel and set off for a day trip to Devil's Tower. The cracked exhaust held together, despite about six miles of greasy clay where road crews had ripped out the pavement.
Tuesday morning, I was up with the sun and rode the 200 yards from motel to bike shop in seconds, hoping the exhaust would cool quickly and not keep the mechanics from the task of replacing it.
The minutes and hours ticked by and, when the FedEx driver passed the shop on his morning rounds, Joe put a tracer on my missing exhaust.
“FedEx says your exhaust system is on a plane that's grounded in Memphis by a thunderstorm,” Joe said, bravely fixing me with a friendly gaze.
“Terrific!” I replied, my voice heavy with sarcasm. “Mind if I use your phone?”
I keyed in my credit card number and the digits for California BMW.
Eli came on the line and I posed the crucial question: “Have your Staintunes arrived yet?”
“They just cleared customs in L.A. and I should have them inventoried in here by close of business tomorrow,” Ohlhausen reported.
“Okay. Put my name on one of them. I'm on my way.”
“Where are you?”
“Sturgis, South Dakota.”
“You're kidding!”
“Nope. I've already wasted two days over this and I'm not staying here any longer. I'll see you Thursday,” I said, hanging up the phone.
“Well, it may hold together. You'd have to break welds on all four pipes for it to disassemble itself,” offered one of the Sturgis BMW mechanics, being careful not to endorse the 1,400 mile ride I was contemplating.
“Wish me luck. I'm outta here,” I said, zipping my Hein Gericke TKO jacket and thanking the Crowsers for their hospitality.
I headed west into Wyoming on I-90, stopping for gas at Gillette.
West of Gillette, the sky darkened and lightning arced from cloud to earth. Seeing a wall of rain approaching, I switched on my emergency flashers and coasted to the berm. I dismounted and pulled my blue-and-blaze orange two-piece First Gear rainsuit from the lower compartment of the tank bag. I struggled against the rising wind and rushed to get everything buttoned up as the deluge rolled nearer.
Then, as the fat raindrops began to spatter my face shield, I swung my right leg over the saddle, kicked the sidestand up with my heel and thumbed the engine to life.
The rain grew quickly in intensity, covering the pavement with sheets of water.
“It's only water,” I silently admonished the slower drivers as I droned past them in the downpour.
But then I noticed the hail.
Little pea-sized bits of ice, bouncing off the roadway, then bouncing off of my helmet and outstretched arms and the backs of my hands and fingers.
“Oooch! Ouch! Shit, that hurts!” I exclaimed aloud and the icy little bullets stung me through the vinyl and leather.
I slowed to 30 mph, then to 20 mph, trying to minimize the impact while still hoping to ride through the storm as quickly as possible.
Up ahead, I could see brightness – the clear air beyond the storm – and I hung on as the BMW carried me toward it.
In a quarter-mile, I was clear of the storm, riding on rain-washed asphalt. I suddenly noticed the incredible fragrance of the freshly watered desert and I instantly forgot the splash of the trucks and the hailstones' sting.
“This was worth every minute of the discomfort,” I thought as I savored the intoxicating scent of the sage and other desert plants. “This is why I ride a motorcycle!”
I turned south on I-25 at Buffalo, riding into light showers as I approached Casper.
Gassing at Casper, I phoned ahead to reserve a room at the Days Inn at Rawlins, Wyo.
Even though I'd spent a night in Casper two years earlier, I wasted about 45 minutes searching the city's southside for Hwy. 220. Humbling myself before an Exxon station/convenience store clerk, I got directions and set out to the southwest in evening rush-hour traffic.
“This is one of those ‘leap of faith’ roads,” I thought, as the two-lane highway wound through empty valleys, flanked by grey mountains. Other than the occasional semitrailer truck, there was no prospect of help for at least 30 miles. This was one of those times you trusted your skills and your equipment.
With that realization, came an exhilaration.
“This isn't exactly bungie jumping or rock climbing, but it’s farther out on the edge than I normally live,” I thought, smiling at the prospect.
That was when the hapless, juicy bug made the fatal mistake of buzzing across Hwy. 220 at an unfortunate altitude of about 5 feet.
I grimaced behind my visor as I felt the wetness on my face. I pondered briefly about the seeming randomness of a universe in which a large insect could live a comparatively successful life, feeding on desert flower nectar or whatever bugs of his species ate, only to be sent to oblivion in an instant encounter with the helmet of a motorcyclist – a motorcyclist whose journey began three days and 1,700 miles ago and, until a few hours ago, had never intended to be on this road. Who could have imagined that this bug and this rider would ever have found each other in the Wyoming wilderness. Was it pre-ordained or was it random chance?
“What the hell's the difference?” I thought.
The afternoon overcast yielded to a golden sunset as I rode into Rawlins and, following the mini-map in the Days Inn directory, located the motel.

Good advice for motorcyclists

At the rise of the hand of a policeman, stop rapidly. Do not pass him by or otherwise disrespect him.
When a passenger of the foot hove in sight, tootle the horn trumpet to him melodiously at first. If he still obstacles your passage, tootle him with vigor and express by word of mouth the warning, “Hi, Hi!”
Beware the wandering horse that he shall not take fright as you pass him. Do not explode the exhaust box at him. Go soothingly by or stop by the roadside till he pass away.
Give space to the festive dog that makes sport in the roadway. Avoid entanglements of dog with your wheel-spokes.
Go soothingly on the grease-mud, as there lurk the skid demon. Press the brake of the foot as you roll round the corners to save the collapse and tie up.
Advice from a 1935 Japanese brochure, in English,
explaining the rules of the road to foreign drivers.

Wednesday, June 22, 2005

Waiting for the tub man

It's 8:47 a.m. on a sunny Wednesday morning and I'm back on the upstairs balcony porch on this second day or summer, typing away while I wait for a call from the hottub service guy.
A week ago tonight, my stepdaughter and her girlfriend came in from the backyard hottub to report it was "broken." I went out to check, noticed the acrid smell of overheated electrical stuff and immediately cut the power to the tub. The motor, which carries a lifetime warranty, had somehow burned out. This is the second such motor burnout since we bought the tub in January 2001. But, since the lifetime warranty is still in force (I'm still alive), all I have to pay is the $60 service call fee. The folks who sold us the tub said the service guy would call sometime after 8 a.m. to schedule his arrival. So I wait.
If anyone is curious, the brand is CalSpa. I've always resisted calling these things spas because I feel the term is too ambiguous. Spa is the name of a town in Belgium, renowned for his thermal hot springs and to which Kaiser Wilhelm retired after Germay's defeat in World War I. Over the years, the name has come to mean any place or institution used for relaxation and the restoration of health. To condense such a broad term down to apply to a single appliance, seems wrong to me, so I'll be content to call it a hottub. Speaking of "hot," we set the temperature at the default of 100 degrees in summer, 101 in spring and fall and 102 in winter. It's surprising how much difference a single degree makes, but there it is.

Tuesday, June 21, 2005


My meteoric college career took place at Indiana State University in Terre Haute, Indiana. I went there for all the wrong reasons. It's a wretched little third-class state-supported college that had the poor judgment to award an honorary doctorate to drop-out Steve Hilbert, whose Conseco house of cards ruined hundreds of investors. Probably the only reason to know about ISU is because Larry Bird played basketball there.
I have no illusions about ISU's prestige and this snippet from Jeopardy makes it abundantly clear:

Monday, June 20, 2005

Local royalty

A guy who owns a considerable amount of real estate in this town and who, until recently, was a figure in local government, was in the bank today when I stopped in to deposit checks. He was going on at length to the tellers about how happy his mother is at a new elder care facility in a nearby city.
At one point, his wife chimed in that it's "assistant living." She said it twice, as if to make everyone notice that she's learned a new technical term.


So I've spent the last few days with a persistent upset stomach - the feeling of continuous heartburn that's had me gobbling antiacid tablets by the handul, to little or no avail. It's been worst at night, keeping me awake or sleeping fitfully at best.
Then, yesterday afternoon, it dawned on me. I've been taking an antibiotic in preparation for a root canal tomorrow morning. Antibiotics annihilate helpful intestinal bacteria.
So I went down to the local IGA grocery store (no way does it rise to the definition of a supermarket) and bought an armload of strawberry yogurt, jampacked with an active acidophilus culture.
Within a couple of hours, my discomfort was gone and I slept soundly through the night.
I hate it when I overlook such obvious diagnoses and solutions.

Goin' to Guffey

We plan to be in colorful Guffey, Colo., on the Fourth of July. Here's why:
(From the Park County Chamber of Commerce website.)

On the Fourth, Guffey will conduct a chicken flying contest. For $5, people can rent a chicken. The money goes to city improvements. Those who pay are able to spend quality time boding with their fowl prior to the event. From a special containment box 12 feet above the ground, the chickens are "encouraged" to see how far they can fly. The record is 138 feet established in 1998.
The town is named for James Guffey, who was born in Pennsylvania. He got in on the ground floor of the oil business during the 1870s. Using money he earned from selling machinery, he began to lease land and sink his own wells. His oil wells eventually extended from Pennsylvania to Texas, and his name was associated with some of the country's major oil fields. In the 1890s, he bought mining property in the Freshwater Mining District on the south end of South Park, Colorado. He gave the town of Freshwater money for street improvements. For this, the town honored him by changing its name to Guffey.
Gold was discovered in Cripple Creek during the 1890s and prospectors were drawn to the Guffey area by its similar geology. As word got out, more than 1,000 prospectors came into the area. The town of Freshwater was founded in 1895, and it soon grew to over 500 residents.
Freshwater's main street was lined on both sides with false-front stores. Businesses included three grocery stores, four saloons, three hotels, four restaurants, a couple of bakeries, three hardware stores, two clothing stores, a couple of assay offices, two barber shops, a fruit store, two meat markets and a furniture store.
The residents of Freshwater applied for a post office in 1895. Because there was a Freshwater post office in California, application under this name was denied. Residents then decided on the name Idaville for Ida McClavery Wagner, owner of several mining claims. The following year the name was changed to Guffey. The post office remains active today.
Metallic ore in the area also included some silver, copper, iron and lead. One of the rarest metallic ores, yptotaritralite, was also found. Its main use is as an alloy.
As with many other Colorado mining towns, there wasn't enough ore to sustain a mining industry. Several tunnels were drilled and shafts were sunk mainly northeast of the town. No large lodes were discovered and within several years Guffey was almost deserted. Its economic base became ranching.
Today, Guffey is best known for its mayors. In 1988, Park County officials in Fairplay lost the town plat. A new map was drawn and zoning changed what was once residential property into commercial at a substantially higher tax rate. As part of a protest, Guffey residents created a new zone called "ET" for "existing transitional." It applied the ET zoning liberally to town lots.
They also elected a feline mayor, a cat named Paisley. She died of natural causes and was replaced by Smudge le Plume, also a feline. Smudge died mysteriously in 1991 and was believed to have been eaten by an owl. Whifley le Gone, a calico cat, took over the mayoral duties. In 1993, Whifley moved out of town to a ranch.
Shanda, a dog, inherited the position when her master, Bruce Buffington, bought the general store where the mayor's office was situated. The two appeared on the Oprah Winfrey show. During the interview, Shanda preferred to let Buffinton do all the talking. Guffey's two political parties are the "Democats" and the "Repupkins".
Some residents felt the mayor should be an elected position, and on Halloween, 1998, there was a general election. Monster, a solid black cat, was elected, beating out Lars and Luke, both dogs, and a cockatiel. Monster's office is on an old sofa in front of a stove in the Guffey Garage (an antique shop).

Sunday, June 19, 2005

Since today is Father's Day, here's a photo of my dad. It was taken in his office - he was a smalltown insurance agent - in late 1945 or early 1946. There's a small baby photo of me propped up next to his desk calendar. The multi-drawer steel cabinet in the background to the right is now in my home office. Dad died in 1997 at the age of 87. Yes, I miss him. Posted by Hello

Maria and I went on a benefit motorcycle ride Saturday for a kid who has undergone two brain tumor surgeries and faces a third operation. There were 170 motorcycles and about 300 people. It as almost entirely Harley-Davidsons, with maybe a half-dozen Japanese motorcycles. Our K1200GT was the only BMW present and we were the only people there in complete riding gear - helmet, jacket, pants, boots, gloves. I've been to Daytona Bike Week and a lot of ABATE events, so I was prepared for the scene, but it kinda weirded Maria out. Even so, we're glad we went. The organizers raised more than $23,000 for the boy's medical expenses. Here I am, showing the colors in a group photo. Posted by Hello

Friday, June 17, 2005


This is dangerously close to at least one version of my perfect morning.
The sun is shining brilliantly in a perfect, cloudless blue sky, the temperature is a comfortable shirtsleeve 66 degrees and I'm sitting on my upstairs balcony porch blogging on my VAIO via our wireless internet connection.
I have a cup of coffee at my side and Ruthie the Wonder Dog is surveying the world from her dogservation post just outside the porch railing.
The only sounds are the birds chirping, the distant hum of traffic on the highway some five blocks away and the voices of children on the playground equipment at the park a block south. Every now and then, someone - usually a farmer in a pickup truck or on a tractor - drives past. I can also hear the distant groan of the Smith Trash Service packer truck compacting someone's trash. Friday is trash day here and ours awaits the truck at the curb.
If I listen very closely through the haze of background sounds, I can hear the snap of the flag as the wind billows through it on the nearby Little League baseball field.
This is what the folks who built my house 100 years ago had in mind when they designed a small balcony porch just off the master bedroom. Of course, the view was mostly farms and forests when Pearlsend was constructed in 1905. And the builders would have found the idea of a wireless notebook computer and the internet to be completely incomprehensible.
I grew up in a town of 2,500 and remember quiet June mornings like this from when I was a kid so, despite my 34 years in the Big City, I feel very much at home here.
That said, I'm more than ready to load the Subaru Forester with camera and camping gear and head for Colorado, Utah and points west a week from next Sunday.
Even more than I, Maria desperately needs a vacation. She's been working endless hours of overtime and is fried to the point where her publisher and her editor have threatened to confiscate her key to the newspaper office if she doesn't take a vacation.
We're photographing a wedding on Saturday, June 25 and the plan is to get out of town either that night or early the next morning. I favor a well-rested morning departure, but I understand Maria's eagerness to get on the road. The VAIO will make it possible for me to edit the wedding photos and post them to our site where the bride and groom and their friends and families can order prints of whatever images they like. All I need is a WiFi hotspot somewhere in Missouri or Kansas to upload the images from the road. And, of course, check e-mail and blog.
We plan to return to the canyonlands of Utah - Moab, Bryce Canyon and Zion - with a foray through Monument Valley before looping back to spend time with our friends Tim and Linda in Alma, Colo.
It remains to be seen if and when I do my 20th Annual Mid-Life Crisis Tour on the motorcycle. July has filled up, August is loading up as well and September may be the only time when I can get away.
But in the meantime, I'll sit here with a dozing dog at my feet, sip my coffee and surf the internet.

Thursday, June 16, 2005

Bride of Frankenstein? I found this in my archive of negatives from my newspaper days. This woman was working on a community quilt to celebrate the U.S. Bicentennial in 1976. The completed quilt now hangs in the rotunda of a courthouse. Nice hair. Nice scarf. How very '70s. Posted by Hello

Tuesday, June 14, 2005

Michael Jackson

"Not guilty" does not mean "innocent."
Would you send your kids to his house for a sleepover?

Monday, June 13, 2005

Anyone here old enough to remember Paul Revere & the Raiders? They were big in the mid-60s and they were also the first to record Louie Louie, even though another Portland, Ore., band - the Kingsmen - had the huge hit with it. Mark Lindsey (circled) was the lead singer. Paul is still performing with the latest version of the Raiders and Mark is a solo act. Posted by Hello

VAIO con Dios

So here I am at the Subaru dealership, having turned our ‘02 Forester over for an oil change and lube and also to have the service technicians check out a jerkiness that has developed in the transmission.
I thought I noticed a problem a week or so ago and it was particularly pronounced on the interstate drive to the dealership, which is about 30 miles from my home.
The interstate was full of cars and trucks all headed the same way I was and it made for lots of changes in speed - plenty of acceleration and deceleration. When I let off the gas at 80mph, the severity of the engine braking felt more like I was driving a standard transmission vehicle. At other speeds, the transmission seemed to be “searching” for the right gear. There was also a noticeable lag between the time I pressed on the accelerator and when the vehicle responded. This all probably adds up to something very expensive, but I fervently hope not.
That’s because of this Sony VAIO FS660 notebook computer I’m using at the moment.
Maria and I had been having notebook thoughts for a long time, but two things pushed us over the edge.
My son Steve showed us his new Apple Powerbook G4 with all of its slick software weekend before last when we visited him and his family.
Our friend Rich, a world-class photojournalist who is recently expanding his wedding photography business as a means of escaping from Gannett wage slavery, told us how he uses a notebook as a powerful selling tool. After the wedding ceremony, he downloads his photos to his notebook computer, then sets it up to play the pictures as a slideshow at the reception. He puts a stack of his business cards next to the notebook.
So after Maria’s quilt shop visit last Saturday, we went computer shopping. Fresh in my mind were an admonition from my computer guru friend Tim that all of my software investments have been in Windows format and the recollection of having seen a really killer photo demo running on Sony VAIOs on a couple of occasions.
A visit to the nearest Best Buy gave us a chance to compare notebook screens and the VAIO was the brightest and sharpest of the bunch. So we pulled the trigger.
I’m what you might call a decisive shopper. I go into the marketplace with a fairly clear idea of what I want, can assimilate the data at hand quickly and don’t take long to make a decision. I have friends who seem to enjoy prolonging the shopping process - endlessly weighing the pros and cons of various products and to-ing and fro-ing from one store to another in a protracted search for the best deal.
The older I get, the more aware I am that time is the only irreplaceable commodity I have, so I’ve become increasingly concerned about wasting time. I guess I’d rather waste money than time. Sounds like an Attention Deficit Disorder issue, doesn’t it?
Anyhow, I figured we could use the VAIO right now. We have a wedding coming up on the 25th and want to leave immediately afterward for our photo vacation in the West. The VAIO will let us do the Rich-style slideshow at the reception and, with its wifi capability, will let us edit the wedding pictures on the road and upload them to our online sales site, probably from somewhere in Missouri or Kansas.
Since there is a bit of a learning curve involved, the sooner we get our hands on a notebook computer and get familiar with it, the better off we’ll be, I reasoned. Fortunately, Maria thinks about this the same way I do and we were congratulating ourselves on our decisiveness as we carried our new VAIO from Best Buy to our car.
We were eager to see if our photos display as well as the VAIO demo shots. They do! It’s an absolutely spectacular display. Rich uses a 17” Powerbook, but we settled for a 15.4” screen after deciding that the 17” notebook is a bit unwieldy and that extra 1.6” isn’t worth the extra money to us.
So what we got is 1 gigabyte of RAM, an 80 gig hard drive and a really fast (I forget how fast) Intel Centrino processor which the sales guy says is much easier on power consumption than other processors. The estimated battery life on a charge is between 5 and 6 hours.
Maria had been agitating for a portable DVD player for her birthday (which was yesterday) and, since this plays DVDs magnificently and on a much bigger screen, she’s a happy camper and is looking forward to traveling with it.
The touchpad substitute for a mouse is a little hard to get used to, but I’m sure I can master it. I recall my friend Tim bought a mouse for his first laptop, but the last time I looked, he was no longer mousing. I miss the mouse mostly when I’m doing a lot of point-and-click fixes in Photoshop.
The ergonomics of the keyboard have forced me to take off my watch while typing for fear the stainless steel bracelet band on my Breitling Chrono Avenger will scar the area below the keypad.
On another front, I finally heard from my tenant who had asked me to hold her rent check until her next paycheck on June 10. After I called and left a voicemail for her on Friday noting that I had not yet seen this check I was supposed to be holding, she phoned on Saturday afternoon to tell me she’d spaced it - actually she was planning to give it to me in person when I came up to clean the gutters - a task I haven’t been able to perform since I haven’t been able to borrow my father-in-law’s pickup truck to haul a ladder to the house. She assured me it was now in the mail and that she had added $25 as a late fee.
I’m relieved, but I will be even more relieved if I find the check in my mailbox when I get home from Subaruland. My experience with the Tenant from Hell prior to this one has left me extremely nervous about this whole landlord thing.
Maria’s daughter bought her a new wallet/checkbook combo for Maria’s birthday because she’s a conscientious girl who takes after her mother. Her son, who takes after his idiot father, returned Maria’s phone call yesterday, but made no mention of her birthday. We’re sure he has no idea that his mother had a birthday. She misses him since he moved to his father’s house after graduation, but I must confess I don’t. I wish him well, but my goal in life right now is a truly empty nest.
We dodged the bullet on the Subaru transmission. The service manager test drove the car and said the lack of smoothness is a common thing for Foresters with 70,000 or more miles (88,000 on ours) and he’s never seen a transmission fail as a consequence of this symptom. So I got off with just $20.80 for the oil change and lube.
However, there is a lubricant leak around the timing belt. The service guys said I should plan to change the timing belt at the next oil change - 91,000 mles - which will be on the other end of our photo trek through the West.

Friday, June 10, 2005

Feeling smarter, faster

I doubled the memory in my desktop computer today and can finally run Photoshop CS at something approaching a reasonable speed.
I have a Dell Dimension 8200 that came with 512MB of RAM. That seemed like plenty until I installed Photoshop CS a couple of months ago. It loaded like molasses and took a little short of forever to load its browser with images from our Nikon D100s.
So I went to the Dell site and determined it would cost me $349.99 to kick the memory up to 1GB.
I complained to my computer mentor Tim, who does a brisk business helping his neighors in Alma, Colo., sort out their PC problems and he suggested I shop around. He also sent me a copy of a diagnostic program that helped me determine precisely what kind of memory my Dell needed.
My shopping led me to and what appeared to be the very same Samsung memory Dell was offering, but for only $195. I placed the order Monday and it arrived in today's mail.
It took me all of 5 minutes to shut down the computer, open it up, snap the new memory into the two remaining memory slots and fire up the machine.
It noticed the new memory right away and put it to work immediately.
And I'm enjoying the $155 I saved by not paying Dell's price.
The bad news in today's mail was the absence of a rent check from my tenant - the one I gave a break to two weeks ago when she said her paycheck was short due to a medical absence from work.
Our arrangement was that she would send me the rent check straightaway and I would hold it until today, which is when she gets her next paycheck.
Well, here we are on check-cashing day and there's no rent check. I was even such a sympathetic sap that I waived the $50 late penalty that is provided for in the lease.
What a dope. No more Mr. Nice Guy. From now on, it's purely business.

Thursday, June 09, 2005


I wonder what it would be like to get through a whole day without a single credit card offer in the mail or a single Liberian money scam in the e-mail.
Jesus! These people never quit.

Feeling stuck

I feel stuck today - hanging out in a holding pattern and waiting for things to happen.
Our cash flow is out of whack because our tenant is two weeks late with the rent. She called me at the end of last month and explained that she'd been off work for throat surgery - possible cancer of the larynx - and her paycheck was too short to make the rent payment. I agreed to her request that I hold her rent check until June 11 so her next pay period will cover it. However, it is now June 9 and I still haven't seen the rent check I'm supposed to be holding. Considering my experience with my previous tenant, this makes me a little nervous.
Maria's birthday is Sunday and we still haven't settled on what she would like for a present. At the moment, it's narrowed down to $150 worth of quilting supplies - which comes in a special shopping bag that gives her the status of a Bag Lady at the quilt store and confers special privileges and benefits - or a personal DVD player for use while traveling.
We're also trying to blast her loose from her job for a vacation in the West. The plan is to combine a photo expedition to the canyonlands of southern Utah and Monument Valley with a visit to our friends in Alma, Colo. The only problem is that Maria is sometimes calendar-impaired and inadvertently schedules multiple activities for the same day and time. She also has a hard time asserting her right to a vacation. Since we're planning to cover a lot of ground in a short time, carrying photo gear and in probably hot weather, this will be done in the Subaru Forester rather than on the bike.
I ordered 512 megabytes of memory for my computer this week in hopes of making Photoshop CS run faster and be more manageable. I'd love to be installing it this afternoon, but it didn't come in today's mail.
As soon as I get the memory boost, I can start ascending the learning curve of the Creative Suite of programs that is the CS in Photoshop CS. It includes the tools to make the website Maria has been wanting for our photography business and I'm eager to get going on it.
We've got our first "paying" wedding scheduled for June 25. We're only charging $200 plus prints because the father of the bride is a police detective who is also an excellent source for Maria and her newspaper.
We're scheduled to have a phone conversation tonight with Rich, probably the best photographer on the major daily where I used to work, about the dos and don'ts of the wedding photography business. Rich has been doing weddings as a sideline for a few years now and seems eager to share his knowledge and experience with us.
We're also signed up to have a booth in a community arts fair on July 9 - a scant 5 days after we get home from vacation - so we need to figure out what to include and get most of the preparatory work done before we leave.
When I went out to check the mail Monday morning, I found two guys from a tree service standing in the alley that is our driveway, looking up at the three trees the town council finally admitted responsibility for. They looked pretty intimidated by the prospect of working on three 65-foot-tall maple trees that are within 20 feet of my house. At least now I know that the town council followed through and contacted a tree service about the job. I worried that they would just let it fall between the cracks until a storm puts a tree on my house. Of course, now that they see the scope and complexity of the job, they may never come back. We shall see.

Wednesday, June 08, 2005

Tuesday, June 07, 2005

Not coming back

I got a letter today from Charles Piermarini, president and CEO of Harrisdirect, a stock brokerage with whom I had an account for four years.
It was, of course, a form letter intended to lure me back into the fold with glowing statements like, "To help earn back your business, we have made significant changes in our pricing structure to ensure that you get the most value for your money," and offering me 20 free online equity trades and a $75 account credit when I transfer $10,000 or more in assets.
Ordinarily, I wouldn't have bothered to open the envelope. I'm not sure why I did. But the first line - "It has come to my attention that you have closed your account with Harrisdirect..." - annoyed me so much, I sent the following letter to Mr. Piermarini:

Dear Mr. Piermarini,
I received your letter today asserting “that you have closed your account with Harrisdirect and I would like to do everything in my power to persuade you to come back.”
The fact is, Mr. Piermarini, I did not close my account with your firm.
Without consulting me, Harrisdirect arbitrarily closed my account and confiscated my 10 shares of Cirrus Logic.
Let me explain further.
I bought the stock on Oct. 11, 2000 when it was valued at $40.375 a share. That is to say, I invested $403.75 in Cirrus Logic.
Like many stocks, Cirrus Logic was hit hard by the post 9/11 market slump and I watched as my stock plummeted in value. Recognizing that the only way to lose money in the stock market is to sell short, I determined to hang onto my stock until it regained value or until the company went out of business.
Harrisdirect apparently took a different view. Citing account maintenance fees and without warning, Harrisdirect terminated my account and, in my view, stole my 10 shares of Cirrus Logic on Oct. 13, 2004.
Whether I would ever have recouped my $403.75 investment remains to be seen, but that opportunity was denied me by Harrisdirect.
Will I come back to Harrisdirect? I think not.
Will I use whatever influence I have to dissuade investors from doing business with Harrisdirect? You may be sure.

Maria gives granddaughter Lisa her first digital photography lesson. Posted by Hello