27 February 2011

Keeping my head down

Long time, no write.  I've been busier than a one armed paper hanger with an itch.

Been off the grid for a while.  Ran up to Austin for a few days to help out my son with some minor surgery.  Wasn't a big production, but momma insisted she had to be there to make sure he was ok and who the hell am I to question the boss.  The dogs seemed to enjoyed the road trip, even if stuck in a trailer for a few days.  Life always seems interesting when camping on the road with a couple of active mutts.   

I finally seemed to kick my cold/flu thing, but it hung around a while.  I haven't run since the 1/2 marathon because I did not have the energy, but finally started back up my routine this week.  When you slack off a couple of weeks, these old muscles are a bit less forgiving.  Still, it beats the alternative.  Now to start training for next year's run.   

It's rodeo time down here.  To be a bit more specific, the 78th Annual Houston Livestock Show & Rodeo offcially starts on Tuesday and runs though March 20th even though there has been a build up of activity starting this past week.  Friday was Go Texan Day where a lot of people haul out their jeans and cowboy boots and cowboy hats to wear to the office.  Friday was also the official kick off of the rodeo season with the Trail Riders converging on Memorial Park (13 different groups of trail riders coming in from all over the state) and the World's Championship Bar-B-Que contest.  For the next three weeks, there is lots food, games, activities, and concerts to attend/see.  Every night, after the rodeo, there is a concert for a different artist/performer.  Lest one assume that this is a purely country venue, the list of performers has been pretty mixed each year.  This year they have booked a lot of country artists (Clay Walker, Trace Adkins, Keith Urban, Tim McGraw) but there are a number of other musical talents on the stage this year as well (Kid Rock Janet Jackson, Kiss).  Over the years, there have been a ton of different acts performed on the rotating stage (Maroon 5, Mary J Blige, Beyonce, Justin Bieber, Black Eyed Peas, Tony Bennet, Jimmy Buffett, Styx, Sinbad, Bill  Cosby, Miley Cyrus, Billy Ray Cyrus, Larry The Cable Guy, Sonny & Cher, and even Elvis - twice).  I've had a chance to see a few of the shows and been to the rodeo in the past, but most was with my son when he was older.  I haven't been back in a few years, but it still is a hopping place to go over the next three weeks.  

Oh, yea, Mardis Gras Galveston is starting up as well.  Not as big and flashy as the New Orleans version, but it does turn out some interesting parades/people/costumes.  Lots of beads tossed out.  Remember good people, what happens at Mardis Gras, usually winds up on YouTube.

19 February 2011

Book 'Em Danno

Ok, Terri threw down the gauntlet and RC followed it up with his own spin. I guess I can add my two cents as well. I may not blaze the trail but I can follow a path.

Books. They can open doors to whole new adventures.

I would label myself as an average reader. As a kid, I was more into comics than novels. I really did not start into books until high school. Some of the required reading in middle and high school seemed long & tedious to me. Great Gatsby, Grapes of Wrath, A Tale of Two Cities, Catcher in the Rye. Some of these I connected with, some not. At that time of my life, I was more into escapism. I was an introverted teenager and spend a lot time reading sci-fi and fantasies. It was in high school that I discovered Tolkien. Started with The Hobbit and got hooked onto the Lord of the Rings trilogy.  I have read those many times and still have the hard back volumes on my book shelf.  When I get hooked on a particular author, I tend to read through all their publications. 

In college I read a few books, but it really wasn’t until I went joined the Army did I start to read more. There is an old saying in the military – Hours of boredom punctuated by Moments of terror and chaos. We spent a lot of time in the field training for combat operations. The expression “Hurry Up and Wait” was our motto at times. I recall spending days on end in the field on guard duty or training maneuvers or waiting our turn for gunnery practice. This was in the days well before the Internet, cell phones, wireless communications, Nintendo, PSPs, iPods. To pass the time, a lot of guys would either play cards (could be detrimental to your bank account), shoot hoops, or read. We would spend 4-6 weeks at a time in the field and I learned to take a few books along to fill in the down time. I tried to find books long enough to last me a week or so, but eventually, we’d plow through those and be looking for something else. We set up a mini collection of books in the company so as you finished one book, you could trade for another. Most of the guys were not that complex, so the style of books available was a bit on the simpler side. I would up reading a lot of westerns (Zane Grey, Louis L’Amour, Max Brand). I’ll even confess that I’ve read the entire Robert E Howard (Conan The Barbarian) series. When you have that much time on your hands, it doesn’t take more than a day or two to plow through one of those books. At one point, I wound up reading a number of sci-fi series(Anne McCaffrey, Doug Adams).

As I got older, my tastes changed. I started reading more adventures or mysteries or Sci-Fi. I’ve read most of the books by Tom Grisham, Dan Brown, Michael Crichton, Tom Clancy, Robert Ludlum, Sue Grafton. Sometimes it takes me a while to get into a book, but, once I do, I will plow through several chapters at one sitting.  Whenever I travel, I will try to find a book that will keep me entertained for the trip.  On my recent road trip to Milwaukee, I read through the Girl with the Dragon Tattoo by Stieg Larsson and I am on the next one in the series. What made this one interesting to me is that I had also gotten the Girl with the Dragon Tattoo DVD from Netflix. I wound up watching the movie right after I had finished the book to see how it looked in film. Interesting but dark story.

I see some people with the new e-Readers (Nook, Kindle, iPad) but I am not sure I am ready to give up my low tech paperbacks.  Easy to carry, simple to use, requires no batteries or external power source, no accessories, low cost, will not interfere with airplane operations, no special TSA screening requirements, and you can use it when the power goes out.  As new and intriguing as the e-Readers are (yes, my inner geek wants one), I will probably stick with my old fashioned books (for now).

10 February 2011


Still sick.

Fever's gone, but I've still got some nasty hacking old man type of cough that I just cannot seem to kick.  I feel way better than last week, but not back to neutral, yet.

Was interesting to be in Packer Country last week before the big game. Everyone was glued to their TVs watching all the pre game hoop-la. Given their current weather, they found all the weather problems down in Dallas amusing. As the defacto representative from the Lone Star State, I was requested to provide some first hand intel to the situation in Arlington. As my earlier missive explained, we don't do cold weather too well. When the big ice storm of 2011 hit Dallas-Fort Worth, it basically shut down most of the city. Freeways were a war zone, DFW airport closed down, schools closed, pipes froze, etc. There ain't a lot of snow plows and salt trucks in the Dallas-Fort Worth area. Down further south in San Antonio and Houston, we've only got pictures of snow plows. So when Jack Frost comes to town, the whole place boards up. The news channels go into major panic mode. (Remember the 3Ps!!!  Plants, Pipes, Pets!). They make it sound like we are preparing for Armageddon. The only thing that gets more attention is when a Hurricane rolls up in the Gulf. I try to remind people that, sure tonight may get down to 24-28 degrees, but, by Saturday it is supposed to be in the 50s and we should be playing with 70s by next week. Put a coat on, wear a hat and cowboy up.

Stole this picture from a friend's FB page - but it fits the mood.

04 February 2011

Packer country

Did I happen to mention I was on the road? 
And I was headed north to Milwaukee? 
And that's located in the great state of Wisconsin? 
And that they have a pro football team here? 
And that team is located in small town north of here (Green Bay)? 
And it appears that the team has done fairly well this year and won some kind of championship game? 
And they're playing in a big game this weekend?

It's rather interesting to witness all of the local support/furvor that the fans have for their team.   Lots and lots of CheeseHeads up here.

03 February 2011

Improvise, adapt, and overcome

I always love a challenge.

Weather down here has been a bit chilly. Woke up to 21 degrees yesterday. Was nippy to walk the dogs, but they seemed to come alive at those temps. Something about wearing a fur coat in Texas. Cold temps in Texas have had the power company initiate rolling blackouts yesterday to preserve the grid. We showed up to the office yesterday morning with no power. Got power on at 0800 only to have it go down again at 0915. It did 3 more times throughout the day. The IT department chose not to bring the server on line only to have it get kocked off again and we don't have a back up power supply, so nothing was working. No e-mails, no documents, could not log into system, could not even hit the internet to check the weather. The company chose to let everyone go home at 1000 seeing how it wasn't going to get any better. What mad it interesting for me is I was interviewing a candidate at the time. Kinda hard to do an interview when we keep losing power but at least I picked a conference room with lots of windows. I told the candidate this was part of the test - to see how people react to adversity or uncertain situations. Finally wrapped up the interviews, did what I could given no power, and left for home to pack for my trip.

I packed up for the frozen trip to Milwaukee and kept an eye on the weather/airports. All day yesterday, Milwaukee had closed their airport for weather, so I was on edge if my trip was going to happen. My flight today was still on schedule, but it was still too early to tell. Made my plans to go forward with the trip regardless of the situation. Weather in Houston was supposed to get very bad (icy, sleet, snow?) Thursday afternoon, so things are subject to change.

Got up at the crack of early and logged in to find my flight had been cancelled. Houston was shutting down its airport in the afternoon anticipating deteriorating weather conditions but my flight was to lift off at 1100. Turns out all of the smaller jets were pulled out of service down here and the flights were cancelled. Now I had two choices: 1) take this as a sign and postpone my trip, get some rest, get better, and reschedule for later or 2) call the airline like a madman and try to figure out options. Never one to back away from a challenge (or follow the course of sanity), I pursued the latter. After about 45 minutes on hold, I finally got a live body who, inspite of the myriad of calls he was handling, was very nice & professional. Was able to move me to another flight that would get me to Milwaukee, albeit a bit latter than I had planned. I picked up a flight that took me through Cleveland to Milwaukee. Long flight, but it gets me there before dark. I'd love to postpone this audit, but we've delayed this one too long. So here I sit in Cleveland waiting on the next flight.

Actually, was a great flight up. They pulled in a second plan to handle the cancellation and it was only 1/3 full. Nice, smooth flight with lots of room and quiet. Cleveland airport is also a pleasant surprise. Typical airport, but hardly anyone here. I had lunch with only two other guys in the resaurant. No crowds. Very nice airport. Maybe it is due to the weather delays or travel time, but iIn all my travels, I've been through a number of aiprorts and this one definitely makes my top ten list. Onward to Milwaukee. Would love to enjoy a good local brew, but given my lingering illness, that might not be prudent.

Addendum:  Finally made it to hotel around 1930.  It's only a balmy 8 degrees out. 

The road goes on forever and the party never ends.

02 February 2011

No rest for the weary

Ok.  Let me just apologize up front.  This may have a slight tinge of whineyness in it. 

First of all, been sicker than a dog.  Interesting expression.  After RC's explanation of Brass Monkey Balls, I looked up the expression Sicker Than a Dog.  Not pretty, but it does give a visual.  I completed the 1/2 marathon Sunday in decent time and the weather wasn't too bad.  Was pretty sore and stiff afterwards but figured it was because I hadn't trained well enough.  By Sunday night, however, I was definitely feeling like hammered crap.  Fever, aches, cough.  Not sure if it was the run that pushed me over the edge (running in the rain I'm sure did not help) or if this was already coming.  A lot of folk at the office are out with the same symptoms so I am inclined to believe the latter.  Anyway, was up most of the night Sunday night with a fever tossing & turning.  I tried to watch a Netflix movie (AVATAR) to get rest but was up half the night dreaming about floating mountains.  Woke up Monday feeling way worse and a 101+ fever.  Not what I needed now.  I had a busy, short week ahead and no time to be sick.  But, given how much I felt like doo-doo and upon advice of my home physician (wife), I logged into work and told them I wasn't coming in.  Slept most of the day but the fever never really went away.  Woke up Tuesday feeling a bit better but could not afford to stay home since I had an interview to conduct (for my group) and it would be bad form not to show up.  Manned up and went in.  Felt a better than Monday.  Came home last night, loaded up on all sorts of meds and crashed around 2100,  Woke up this am feeling a bit better (slept through the night), so I think the fever has broken, but the cough, nasal drip continues.  I don't get colds very often and they usually go through certain phases fairly quickly. 

Now, for the record, let me state that I am not one of those "I'm siiick and don't feeel well" kinda guys.  I am more of a cowboy up and ride through it (most of the time).  I tend to try to work my way through any sickness with lots of meds at my side.  If I do stay home, I prefer to be left alone.  I do not need to be waited upon, served lunch in bed, check your temperature every hour.  My darling bride, bless her heart, keeps wanting to take care of me and I appreciate it, but I tend to hunker down and try to sleep it off.  

Anyway, I went to work yesterday and did ok.  Will do the same today.  Now there are two things I am dealing with now.  First of all, it is the "storm of the century down here" or so I'm led to believe from the news reports.  Artic Blast Slams Texas.  Freeze Tightens Grip From Texas to Maine.  Winter storm leaves bus passengers in limbo at Dallas terminal (reminds me of a story I will share in a later post).  OMG!!! We might see a 1/2 of snow by Friday!!!!  Start stocking up supplies!  Get out the snow shoes!  Bring the cows in!  Now, from the news reports, you'd think ice age was coming.  People are loading up like it is going to be 2 feet of snow and it will last until June.  Reality forecast has it in the mid 20s through Saturday with it warming back up to the 50/60s by Sunday.  If it does snow (and I mean a dusting), they'll close whole school districts and businesses.  I've lived in colder climates for part of my life.  Spent a good number of years of my misbegotten youth up in Jersey, so I know what snow is like.  Spent 4.5 years in Germany and, let me tell you, they can get some snow.  I've shoveled it, snowplowed it, slipped in it, drove in it, even driven on black ice, so I would claim to have a wee bit of experience in colder weather.  But when it comes to icy/snowy weather down here, I will NOT get out on the roads with these kooks.  Most of these people have never seen snow except for movies and a Christmas Special.  And driving in it?  Sure!  I can go 75 MPH down the freeway in my big a$$ SUV.  I can pass you on the side of the road in my Audi.  If given the opportunity, I will stay home and watch the mayhem on tv (my kind of reality tv).  But, I would not expect much of the white stuff.  As of this morning, there is a 5% chance of snow.  One of the other problems with colder temps is most of the houses down here are build for extreme cold.  Because of foundation issues, pipes are typically run through the attic, which, make them susceptible to freezing.  When we moved back down to south Texas in 1990 there had been a hard freeze the month before and most of the houses/apartments we looked at had pipe problems.  I am just hoping to keep our pipes warm enough to avoid any damage. 

Now on top of all of that, I am supposed to go back out on the road again for another audit Thursday.  You think that I would plan this better and go to some place like South Florida or Hawaii, but nooooo, I have to fly up to Milwaukee.  So not looking forward to this road trip but there is no way to postpone it until warmer temps.  Keeping an eye on MKE.  They've already closed down Ohare for flights and I could see some delays. 

I know, some of you might be reading this thinking (What a Wimp!  I walk/drive through 4 feet of snow every day) but all this time down in Texas has made me a bit thin skinned.  Trotting out my cold weather gear for the excursion.  Hope nothing important freezes off.