Friday, July 31, 2009

Putting The "F" In Friday

What a day!

I began the day by getting my teeth cleaned at 8am. What a great way to start your day; having expert practitioners in the ancient art of medieval torture perform their hideous acts of pain and suffering upon your poor defenseless mouth.

At the same time, Cindy was getting her driver's license renewed for 8 years even though the plan is that we'll only be here in Florida for another 8 months. Here was the funny (not) thing for her. They would not let her renew online and mail her license to her, insisting via a message in a postcard that she must show herself in person at the DMV office with a Social Security card, proof of her residential address (does the postcard they mailed to her count?) and her birth certificate or valid U.S. passport. My assumption, judging from what I had read in the news, was that these things were required to verify her identity and be sure she was not some kind of terrorist (they could have just ASKED me) and that is a good thing in these days. Right?

Instead, they tested her vision and hearing, took her picture and $26, and gave her a new license without ever requiring her to produce the documents they had insisted she bring. I feel so much safer.

We had a nice breakfast at Perkins (except for the part where they brought me the wrong order and I had to watch Cindy eat hers while I waited, empty place setting, in front of her until they brought the right order out 10 minutes later), stopped at the post office to mail some paperwork to my employer and then picked up some specialty boxes for framed paintings and pictures from the storage place. From there we stopped by Petsmart for some things for the critters and the went home where the real fun began.

We spent most of the day getting more things packed for storage or to give to Goodwill or to toss in the trash. I ask myself this every time, but HOW did we accumulate so much STUFF???? I made a trip with a full truck to Goodwill and a trip with a full truck to storage and filled our "hobo" with garbage, but we finally finished what we needed. Which was to have the hallway and my office ready for my fantastic son-in-law to come and paint this weekend. I got all the holes in the walls puttied up and sanded down to try and make the painting part go as quickly as possible.

My back is killing me, lol.

Then we paid (thankfully, only) $3.99 to watch "Knowing" on our Pay Per View. What a crappy, stinky, lousy ending. That doesn't even count the messed up stuff during the course of the movie, I was somehow able to overlook that. But bad endings leave a bad taste in your mouth about the entire experience.

Tomorrow will be a better day. This one was an "F."

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Saying "Goodbye"

Well, not really, more like "See you later."

Tomorrow morning our friend Rebecca and her mom will be leaving Orlando and moving to Waynesville, NC. The movers came this morning and picked up all their furniture and belongings. Earlier this evening Cindy, Amber and I took pizza over for a farewell dinner. The house looked very different and empty with nothing in it, but Rebecca looked full of happiness and anticipation.

It's not Ireland, but it's damn close, lol.

Safe journey.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Second Novel By "The Time Traveler's Wife" Authoress Due In Fall

A few days ago my mother-in-law and I were discussing the upcoming theatrical release of "The Time Traveler's Wife", a novel we both read several years back (I read it on her recommendation after she shared with me how much she enjoyed I'm a sucker for anything that involves time traveling). We both are interested in seeing how the novel translates to the silver screen. Sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn't. Our hope is that it does.

We also began talking about whether the authoress, Audrey Niffenegger, had published anything else since "The Time Traveler's Wife" but neither of us were aware of any of any other books by her coming out during the intervening years. So today I did some online research and discovered that she actually has a second novel entitled "Her Fearful Symmetry" set to hit bookstore shelves this September or October.

"Her Fearful Symmetry" is a supernatural story about twins who inherit an apartment near a London cemetery. They become involved in the lives of the other residents in the building and the ghost of their aunt. Ghosts, a cemetery and London; all the ingredients for the possibility of another great book from this multi-talented writer. I'm looking forward to reading her second published work.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

NEW! Wi-Fi Now FREE At Barnes & Noble

Barnes & Noble has offered Wi-Fi for customers over the past four years, but at a cost to those who did not have a qualifying AT&T plan. Today, B&N announced they will be offering complimentary Wi-Fi at its more than 700 stores. For customers with laptops, netbooks and smartphones, B&N's new free Wi-Fi will add another available hotspot for accessing the Internet.

Monday, July 27, 2009

Another Black Mark Against Borders Books

A while back Borders pissed me off by firing a friend of mine (Hey Rhon!) and then a few months ago they made it personal and REALLY pissed me off by suddenly changing how they deal with coupons while I was trying to make a much so that I left my entire and substantial stack of books sitting on their counter and walked out of the store. I haven't been in one of their stores since, choosing to take my book-buying dollars to Barnes & Noble, Books-A-Million, Independent bookstores and Amazon rather than patronize a company that seems hell bent on making bad decisions.

Now they've done it again.

In an effort, it seems, to stop information about how their company is heading down the tubes, Borders appears to be prohibiting any employees from blogging, podcasting or posting anything in general that reflects negatively on the company by trying to get employees to sign a "non-blogging" contract.

Pissing off your customers with horrible customer service and pissing off your employees by restricting their right to free expression when they're not disclosing proprietary company secrets, is a sign that you're not long for the retail book business.

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Oldies But Goodies

About 3 weeks ago my mom celebrated her 75th birthday and yesterday my father-in-law celebrated the same milestone. You can imagine how old those events made ME feel. The largest folder of music on my iPhone is named "Oldies" and I find that there is less and less of today's music that I find appealing.

Speaking of oldies music, some of the artists from the 60's and 70's are re-releasing their hits with new lyrics to accommodate those of us who are growing older. Good news for those feeling a little older and missing those great old tunes...

Herman's Hermits - "Mrs. Brown, You've Got A Lovely Walker"

The Bee Gees - "How Can You Mend A Broken Hip"

The Temptations - "Papa's Got A Kidney Stone"

Ringo Starr - "I Get By With A Little Help From Depends"

Marvin Gaye
- "I Heard It Through The Grape Nuts"

Procol Harem - "A Whiter Shade Of Hair"

Johnny Nash - "I Can't See Clearly Now"

Leo Sayer - "You Make Me Feel Like Napping"

ABBA - "Denture Queen"

Paul Simon
- "Fifty Ways To Lose Your Liver"

Roberta Flack - "The First Time I Ever Forgot Your Face"

- "Once, Twice, Three Times To The Bathroom"

Bobby Darin
- "Splish, Splash, I Was Havin' A Flashback"

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Blast From The Past

One of the benefits of keeping a daily blog is when my memory starts fading (as it has already begun to do) I can always go to my posting files and remember what happened. For instance, below is a post I made in a previous blog 4 years ago today on July 25, 2005.

Blog Girl and I had a good weekend, although it was definitely busy! We got off work early on Friday to meet a friend who was in town for a few short hours. Then we raced out to Disney to meet some friends for dinner. Saturday morning we were up early and running errands for a good part of the day, then we got to go over to George and Caroline's to celebrate Caroline's "mmmph" birthday on Saturday night. Caroline is expecting little Rowan in November and is just so absolutely serene looking and glowing. To look at her, you'd never guess she is "mmmph" years old! Sunday morning we were up early to get some family members into EPCOT, then we raced from there to Downtown Disney so we could have lunch with Kirk and Laura at Earl of Sandwich. BG sees Laura at work every day, but I don't get to see her or Kirk all that often or as much as I'd like, so it was nice to spend some time with them. We walked around a little bit, then stopped in at Ghirardelli's Chocolates where BG and I split a hot fudge sundae. The rest of the day and evening was spent here in The Blog Cave getting caught up on some things, but not all things.

Ahhh, memories.

Friday, July 24, 2009

Happy Birthday To Marvin The Martian

Believe it or not, this little guy is 61 years old today. Here's an entire rundown on him.

First IT Professional Service Call

One of our instructors this past week showed us this video and I had to share it. Be sure to read the English sub-titles at the top of the screen, not the Norwegian ones at the bottom.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Adventures in Scifi Publishing Podcast Is Back!

Hey, it's the middle of the day and all that but I wanted to get just a quick post up in a hurry to let you know that the Adventures in Scifi Publishing podcast is back in production. Their first episode back features Greg Van Eekhout, author of Norse Code.

Check out the link above and give it a listen!

Music While Writing?

The June issue of The Writer magazine had a small sidebar article on writers listening to music while writing. It made me think about the presence and effect of music when I'm writing.

I like to listen to music while writing. If I'm writing something non-fiction I can listen to just about any of the songs on my laptop or, when I'm home from the road, the CD's I own. What I mean to say is anything with lyrics in songs I enjoy. Admittedly though, there are times when I get SO into what I'm writing that I don't consciously hear the music or songs. I have had occasion to suddenly realize that I slid right through several songs and never realized they had played until I looked at my playlist.

But when I'm trying to create something fictional or especially if I'm writing dialog, I switch to either music only or to no music, no sounds at all. Complete silence. I need to be in my own head to "hear" my characters and what they are thinking or saying. But sometimes I listen to music that I think my character would listen to, in an attempt to get inside their (actually mine, of course, lol) head. Sometimes I listen to music that I feel helps set the "mood" for my scene setting or to get ME in the mood for the scene I want to write.

Do you listen to music while writing?

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Training Update

It's Wednesday evening and we had a very full, productive and enlightening day in class. In fact, so far the entire three days of class have been excellent. We have good instructors (three returning from my basic course 18 months ago and one new one from HQ) and a good well-rounded mix of twenty attendees. Out of those twenty I have serious doubts as to why three of them are in the class and why their regions paid good money to send them, but I could always be spectacularly wrong. It has happened. Anyway, that's all I'll say about that.

I had a really funny story to tell about one of my classmates, but the more I thought about it the more I decided I shouldn't because someone from the class (or the classmate himself) might read it and be hurt. Man, I need to lose my principles!

The highlight of our day was the mock briefing we were required to give to the top person when we are deployed. For our purposes, it's akin to giving the President of the United States a briefing report. Not something to be taken lightly. There were three of the instructors playing the role in separate rooms and the cool thing was they allowed us to pick the instructor to whom we wanted to give our briefing. I chose the one that I thought was the toughest and by that I mean;

1. Most experienced
2. Most qualified to critique my briefing
3. Most likely to be completely honest with me
4. Most likely to hold me to a higher standard

At the conclusion of my briefing she asked me what I thought I had done wrong and right and I answered. She looked at me and said, "It seems obvious that you have done this many times" and I chuckled and replied, "No ma'am, I've never given such a briefing, but thank you." I was then allowed to ask her questions and she gave me a wealth of information in a few short moments before the next student arrived to give his briefing.

A good day!

14 Basic Skills All Men Should Possess

Someone passed along to me this list of the 14 Basic Skills All Men Should Possess. Not sure what the criteria was to establish these, but what the heck, I'll give it a shot at determining if I have the basics down.

Drive a stick-shift - Easily.
Hook up an entertainment center - As long as everything is color-coded, lol.
Fix a toilet - Not a problem, I've got the butt-crack to prove it.
Navigate a map and use GPS - Piece of cake.
Change the oil - Don't like to, but I can.
Balance a checkbook - Checkbook? I do all my banking online.
Cook the perfect steak - Perfect to whom? Cindy likes them, or says she does.
Swim the breaststroke - I am very good at breaststroking.
Write effectively - I leave that determination to my readers.
Dress for the occasion - Yeah. Cindy says I sometimes overdress.
Sew a button - Sure can. Thanks Nana.
Do laundry properly - Very properly.
Handle roadside emergencies - That's kind of broad, but for the most part yeah.
Build a fire - I can, but Cindy is better.

Do YOU have the basics down?

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Where Do You Write?

Last Sunday's New York Times had a small article about Roxana Robinson, a novelist who lives in Manhattan in a very nice apartment, yet chooses to do her writing in a sparsely furnished former maid's room rather than in her well-equipped office.

It got me to thinking about where we choose to write.

I used to write in my home office, a nice, cozy room in our home which held my computer, desk, books and reference materials. It also had a window which looked out on our backyard where Cindy would plant colorful flowers for me to look at when I gazed out, and a TV, VCR, and DVR to watch programs, as well as nice speakers my brother bought me so I could listen to quality sounds from the music on my computer.

I loved my office.

But eventually Cindy expressed concern that we were not spending much time together because I was spending so much time in my office. After giving it some thought I realized, especially with my new (at the time) laptop and our wireless connection, that I could easily do a lot of my online research work while sitting on the couch with Cindy watching a TV show together or while she read. I would use my office when I needed peace and quiet to create.

Now I am on the road a lot and most of my researching/writing time is spent at a desk in a hotel room at night after work or sometimes in a Panera. When I'm writing something non-fiction I can usually write with the TV on or in a place like Panera with its multiple distractions of people, talking, etc., but if I'm trying to conceive and create I really enjoy the solitude of the hotel room with the TV and most of my social media apps (Twitter, Facebook, IM) turned off and perhaps some music playing.

With our preparations to move to the mountains next year I have lost my office in our home to storage boxes, but I am fortunate enough to not have been home much during the past several months so I have not really missed it as much as I might if I had been home. And the cabin we are building will have a nice second floor office overlooking the creek that flows at the edge of our property. I am looking forward to writing in that atmosphere.

If you're a writer reading this; where do YOU write? I'd be interested in hearing all about it.

Monday, July 20, 2009

Higher Learning For Vampires

Transylvania University in Lexington, Kentucky.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Wi-Fi Surprise!

I arrived safely at the secret training facility around 4:30 this afternoon after a 2-hour flight and a 90 minute shuttle bus ride out into the country. The best news is what you're seeing right now; since I was here 18 months ago they've added wireless connections to the cells...uh I mean dorm rooms. That means I can post here daily, in addition to the posts I've already written and scheduled for each day this coming week. So you might get double The Word Of Jeff pleasure!

I've already ironed my shirts for the week and had dinner at the dining hall. I also stopped by the "emporium" to buy a couple of postcards for loved ones. Now I'm back in my cell...uh I mean dorm room ready to get a good night's rest to be ready for the next four days of rigorous classroom training.

Wish me well, the competition is tough!

Flying To D.C.

Back on the road...well "in the air" actually, today as I'll be flying to D.C. and then a shuttle bus ride out into the country for a week of advanced training at the isolated "school."

When I was there 18 months ago, the facility had no Internet connection in the dorm rooms or classrooms and cell phone signals were almost non-existent unless you walked to the outer edges of the compound. I've not heard that any of that has changed, so I've already scheduled blog posts for each day that I'll be away. I cannot leave the facility during the week I'm there, so I'll have no opportunity to find a wi-fi signal in a coffee or sandwich shop.

As usual (and if I can find a cellphone signal to use my iPhone) the best way to keep up with me in real time will be through Twitter.

At least it won't be icy cold and snowing like it was when I was there in January of 2008.

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Podcasts I Like

One of the things I really enjoy about my new iPhone is that the ease of downloading podcasts through iTunes has finally managed to make listening to them something that I am really into now. My daily 30 minute drive from my hotel to the office and return trip in the evening is time well-spent as I listen to programs of interest to me. Although I usually read at lunch time, I've begun listening to podcasts too

Here's my first impressions on some of the initial batch of podcasts on various subjects I downloaded and listened to over the past 2 weeks.

I really enjoy Mignon Fogarty's podcasts, Behind the Grammar and Quick and Dirty Tips For Better Writing. Mignon is the author of a helpful little book titled Grammar Girl's Quick and Dirty Tips for Better Writing, but her podcasts are what a lot of people are familiar with. Three reasons I like her podcasts; First, she talks about some timely, informative aspects of grammar, writing and language that always leave me feeling like my time listening to her was well-spent. Second, she has some great guests and interviews with writers and people in the writing field. Third, it's her name, man! How could you NOT like someone named Mignon?

Chris Marquardt's Tips From the Top Floor photography podcast is emerging as one of my favorites in the photography field. His podcasts are short, usually confined to one subject and he gives clear, concise, easy to understand information. I've listened to three of his podcasts so far and all have been very informative.

Barnes & Noble Meet the Writers Podcast - the one I listened to was a very good interview with C. J. Box.

The Word Balloon podcast by John Siuntres
- I listened to a lot of crappy comic book podcasts before finding this gem. I've listened to two podcasts and they were both excellent interviews with writers Greg Rucka and Katherine Immonem. I'm looking forward to the 2-parter with Brian Michael Bendis.

I'm exploring other podcasts in the genres above and a few other subject matter areas, so I might drop another post in here sometime in the future to give you my opinion on any other good ones I find.

Friday, July 17, 2009

Leaving Kentucky - Playing The Odds

Today I fly out of Lexington, Kentucky for home. I only get to be home for 2 nights though, then I fly out Sunday for a week in a suburb of Washington, D.C. and I may be going somewhere else after that if things work out.

With as much traveling as I do in planes and rental cars, I guess it is inevitable that I sometimes find myself thinking about the odds of me dying in a plane crash or car wreck. That has been especially true during the past few days with the recent plane crashes and the weird Southwest Airlines hole-in-the-plane event that reminded me of the Twilight Zone episode "Nightmare at 20,000 Feet" with a young William Shatner.

These thoughts usually come to me when I am in a plane that is taking off or landing (the two most dangerous times during a flight), but sometimes I look out the window at 30,000 feet and think it is a long way down (though it would only take 12 minutes or so to hit the ground from that altitude, falling at a rate of 32 feet per second) and sometimes when I am driving long distances on deserted back roads in the middle of night (or even in the middle of the day) I imagine several different scenarios that would all, in the end, find me dead on that road, hopefully not in an extremely painful way.

I don't think I'm being morbid, it's just an acknowledgment that, while I'm not a gambler at heart, I am constantly playing the odds when it comes to travel and my longevity.

On the other hand, I could drop dead from an aneurysm or heart attack in my hotel room, so it really does no good to dwell on the subject of when it might happen, does it?

But here is a little piece I wrote about a year ago during a flight. I've edited it a tiny bit over the past couple of days and added an important piece of physics information that I had to research, but the majority of it is over a year old and the words originated from 30,000 feet in the sky.


I'm sitting in my usual exit row window seat, watching the clouds below and around the plane as it pushes through the air at 30,000 feet. Sometimes, when there are breaks within the cloud bank below us, I can see the ground underneath our vehicle in the sky. It is so far below us that I only glimpse a dull splotch of green if is land and blue if it is water. It's very peaceful up here as the aircraft maintains a steady speed of 500 mph some 6 miles above the world.

But should the plane suddenly lose power, or worse, break apart from some structural stress, natural or man-made, I ask myself; how long would it take to fall to the ground? If I were to suddenly find myself sucked out of the exit row door I know I would lose consciousness very quickly due to the lack of oxygen, but I've also read that there is every chance I would regain consciousness as I fell into a more oxygen-rich part of the atmosphere. Of course the bad part of that news is that I would also be closer to the ground and, if I were not completely disoriented, would realize that the earth was quickly rushing up to meet me, or more accurately that I was falling faster and faster to the meet the earth.

In most scenarios of this type the odds are that I would still be strapped into my seat that was ripped from the floor it used to be bolted to, falling, spinning, tumbling head over heels watching first the sky appear and then the ground and then the sky again in a wildly changing kaleidoscope. Something like an old-style ViewMaster gone crazy, flipping back and forth between two images. I've also read that falling from a height of 30,000 feet at 32 feet per second, it would take me 12 minutes or so to hit the ground. But having no idea how long I was unconscious I likewise have no idea how much time I have left until impact.

I imagine that, if I had my full faculties at this point, that I would most likely be frightened to the point of death at this realization, either through a heart attack or my conscious mind just shutting down at the inevitability of certain, painful death. On the other hand, if I didn't die of fright, I wonder if I would hit the ground with such force that I would never have time to even register the agonizing pain of the moment of impact before I would be dead. I have a feeling that the anticipation would be much more painful that the actual impact.

But for now, safe in my usual exit row window seat, I stretch out my legs, turn on my mp3 player and put such thoughts out of my mind.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Living Your Dream

Sometimes it's very difficult and painful to make people realize that you must follow YOUR dream, not theirs.

Pullin' a Palin

The Urban Dictionary has just added a new phrase:

Pullin' a Palin

1. Quitting when the going gets tough; abandoning the responsibility entrusted to you by your neighbors for book advances and to make money on the lecture circuit.

2. Bizarre move that will damn ambitions for higher office.

I bet when people saw Jade they were convinced that David Caruso was pullin' a Palin.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

On The Loss Of A Tree

Bad news on the cabin property front.

On our land stands a huge, immensely tall tree that I immediately fell in love with when I first visited the property before we even bought it. It is incredibly straight and, I might say, even majestic looking. I'm not a tree-hugger type, but that tree found a place in my heart as soon as I laid eyes on it. I even joked with Cindy that, instead of calling our place "The Enchanted Forest" as we had decided upon, we might consider changing it to "The Tall Tree Compound" or "Tall Tree Estate."

As I mentioned, I'm not a tree-hugger and my knowledge of plants, flowers, fruits and vegetables is almost nil. I depend on Cindy and her father to identify plants and trees for me and sadly, she tells me, that mighty tree is a Hemlock.

The problem with Hemlock trees these days is that they are being voraciously attacked by an infestation of insects that kill them quite quickly. Ours, it turns out, is dead or almost dead and will not recover, which saddens me deeply. I had so looked forward to seeing it every day when we move there. Now, that will not be.

And so we must ask the excavation people who, at our request, have been very diligent in not knocking down any more trees than absolutely necessary to clear space for our cabin's footprint, to go ahead and cut down our poor, beautiful Hemlock tree to avoid having it either fall on our cabin at some point in the future or paying a fortune to have tree surgeons come in and do the job.

I, for one, am baffled by my deep sadness because I would never have imagined that the loss of a tree would affect me so profoundly.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Autism-Friendly Harry Potter

This is pretty damn cool to me and might just make me forget some of the stupid things AMC Theaters have done to tick me off in the past.

Select AMC movie theaters across the US will be holding a special screening of Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince for those affected by autism on July 25th.

Get all the details by clicking on the link above and check out what AnnMarie has to say about it.

This is an excellent example of the kind of spirit of inclusion this world needs, opening doors for those who have had them slammed in their faces in the past.

Thanks to AMC Theaters for stepping out and stepping up to take this first move. Now I hope to see others make whatever accommodations they can for those affected by autism, either personally or in their families.

Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince opens nationwide tomorrow, July 15, 2009. Cindy and I are going to catch a matinee showing this Saturday when I'm home for one day.

Monday, July 13, 2009

The Diet Is Working!

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Buffalo Trace

Last Friday, after leaving Daniel Boone's grave site, I drove over to Buffalo Trace Distillery, one of the stops on Kentucky's Bourbon Trail. My unfamiliarity with the name Buffalo Trace was explained right at the beginning of the tour when Don, the tour guide, revealed that the distillery was bought some years ago and renamed, but that they originally produced (and still do) Ancient Age bourbon, which I did recall from my younger days.

And if, like me, you were wondering where the name "Buffalo Trace" came from, there is an interesting explanation. Located on what was once an ancient buffalo path on the banks of the Kentucky River, the distillery's namesake is a tribute to the buffalo that created paths followed by America's early pioneers. The Sazerac Company, a New Orleans, Louisiana-based producer and importer purchased the distillery in 1992 and decided to take the distillery back to its roots with the renaming. In Louisiana, they call a path a "trace" so, to honor the old buffalo path it was built on, the distillery was christened "Buffalo Trace."

Pretty cool.

The tour was interesting and the tour guide was very informative and personable. While it is true that all bourbon is whiskey but not all whiskey is bourbon, the fermenting and distilling process is much the same in general for all whiskeys. When Cindy and I and her parents were in Scotland 3 years ago we toured several Scotch distilleries and while on the Buffalo Trace tour I remembered a lot of the same information from the Scotland tours.

One of the important differences is that bourbon distilleries use their aging barrels one single time. What do they do with all those used barrels? They ship them to Scotland for them to use with their Scotch, to Mexico for them to use in making some dark Tequilas, to the Caribbean for their Rum and to Canada for their Canadian whiskey.

The one thing I wish was that they would have given us a tour of the actual distillery. We saw the storage area and the bottling area, but not the distillery itself. Again, though they are all basically the same principle and I saw several of them in Scotland, it would have been interesting to see how they do it specifically for bourbon. That lack almost made me think about going to one of the other distilleries on the trail, but it was getting late in the day and I had other things to do.

Of course the end of the tour is what everyone goes for; the samples. I tried one of their sour mash products known as "White Dog" that could have easily been called white lightning! Despite the very tiny amount in the cup, my throat burned for 20 minutes after downing it. I don't see how anyone could really drink that stuff straight or drink much of it unless they had a very high tolerance.

It was a fun tour; very interesting and enlightening. If you get the chance, I recommend you take a tour of one of the distilleries on The Bourbon Trail.

Pictures from the tour are up on my Flickr page.

Saturday, July 11, 2009

Google Vs. Bing

I have decided I still prefer Google search over Microsoft's new Bing search and it is all based on one quantifiable and totally scientific reason:

Placing the term "the word of jeff" in the search box brings up this blog in FIRST, THIRD and FOURTH place in results on Google, but only FOURTH on Bing.

Bah! Bing bad, Google good!!

Friday, July 10, 2009

May I Take Your Picture?

Another request for use of one of my photos I posted on Flickr has come in. This one was from my time in Cedar Falls, IA last year and a website wants to use it as a header image on each page of their site when they release the re-design. I think Cindy was more excited than I was. As I said to her, "It's not a big deal to me when someone wants to use your photo for free. If they offered to pay, THAT would be a big deal for me." LOL

But I would be lying if I said it doesn't give me a good feeling. This is the third time I have had someone see my photos on Flickr and ask if they could make use of them. I always say yes, just asking for attribution and, if possible, a link to my website.

Here's the collection from Cedar Falls. See if you can figure out which photo they requested. Or if they've already used it in the design then you won't have to search, LOL.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Touchscreen Trained

You remember my worry that I would not like or adapt very well to the touchscreen system on my new iPhone 3G S? Here's how quickly I have gotten used to it. I was using my Nuvi GPS device to find a restaurant the other day and when it displayed a list on the screen I automatically tried to scroll down by running my finger up the screen the way I do when using the iPhone. It took me a second to realize I would have to push the "down arrow" on the GPS controls to make that happen since it doesn't have a touch screen.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

The Agony Of Delete

I have been so busy here in Kentucky (and before that in Georgia) that I finally had to bite the bullet and delete folders full of e-mail and RSS feeds because I knew I would never get through the backlog. I have only had the time to keep up with personal emails and some favorite RSS feeds, while all the others have been just piling up.

Even having my Google reader available on my new iPhone (whoo hooo!) hasn't helped me as far as having time to actually read them, no matter where they are available.

I especially hated deleting the various writing emails (tips, newsletters, writer's association news, etc.) and photography RSS feeds (same mix of material) because I always feel like I may miss the one little nugget that will be the key that opens all the doors of understanding for me, lol.

Daniel Boone's Grave

My first exposure to Daniel Boone was as a child watching the Daniel Boone TV series with Fess Parker portraying the legendary figure. I was 9 years old the first year the series appeared on television and that next summer my parents took my brother and I to some kind of western-themed attraction. In the gift shop they were selling coonskin caps and while I begged and begged my mother for one (though I wisely knew when to take her "No!" seriously enough to avoid getting smacked for continuing to ask), she felt they were grossly overpriced and refused. I may have been scarred for life...I'll double check later and let you know.

Here's the TV series theme with the lyrics below the video.

Daniel Boone, Daniel Boone
What a do-er,
What a dream come-er true-er was he!

From the coonskin cap on the top of ol' Dan
To the heel of his rawhide shoe;
The rippin'est, roarin'est, fightin'est man
The frontier ever knew!

Daniel Boone was a man,
Yes, a big man!
With an eye like an eagle
And as tall as a mountain was he!

Daniel Boone was a man. Yes a big man.
And he fought for America to make all Americans free.
Daniel Boone was a do-er,
What a dream comer truer was he.

Daniel Boone, Daniel Boone

So, when I discovered that legend was buried right in Frankfort, KY where I'm working, I drove over to the cemetery this past Friday morning when we were off for the holiday and visited the grave site. The cemetery sits atop a hill and overlooks the Commonwealth of Kentucky's capitol building; a fitting view for the pioneer who blazed a trail through Kentucky for others to follow.

You can see all the photos over at my Flickr site.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Upcoming Schedule

I found out I'll be leaving Kentucky on Friday, July 17th. I'll get to spend Friday and Saturday night at home with Cindy before flying out Sunday to Baltimore Washington International aiport for a week of training at the super secret location I was at back in January of 2008.

At this point, I'm returning home to Orlando from there on Friday, July 24th and, as far as I know right now, there are no plans to send me anywhere. But as always, that could change at any time.

Twitter Police! Freeze!!

This is hilarious!

Digital Organization

I feel sorry for anyone who has to go through my laptop after I die, trying to look for all my writings. I have them spread all over the place in little snippets and larger files in so many different locations. I surprise myself sometimes when I come across a file and ask myself, "What is this?" as I'm clicking on it and then light up with recognition of some story or even piece of a story. It may even be something as small as a few words of an idea, but whatever it is I've forgotten it was there and it's like discovering something new all over again, lol.

So, if you're the person to whom the duty falls of searching my laptop for my words, be sure and look everywhere because unless I "clean up my act", so to speak, there's no telling where you might find the things I've written.

Yeah, I really need to get my digital life a bit more organized.

Monday, July 6, 2009

"Thriller" In Lexington

Last Thursday night the Mecca Dance Studio, a 200-student dance school in Lexington, KY, performed their version of Michael Jackson's "Thriller" video in Cheapside Park near downtown Lexington as a tribute to the late artist. After getting off work, I drove downtown to see what I might see. I got to take a few dozen photos (though only a handful are viewer-worthy) which you can see by going to my Flickr site here.

I also had the opportunity to use my iPhone 3G S to take some video for the first time. I've embedded it below and I didn't think it was all that bad, but I DO wish the iPhone 3G S had some zoom capability. The paper mache Michael is kind of creepy, but the performance was good and everyone on "stage" obviously had a good time. As you can see, the crowd filled the park area.

Sunday, July 5, 2009

The Horse Boy - Book Review

Most regular readers know that my beloved grandson, Mikey, was diagnosed with Asperger's Syndrome several years ago. Asperger's is a part of what is known as the "Autism Spectrum" and is located on the higher functioning portion of that spectrum. Mikey is extremely intelligent and unusually intuitive about certain things, but does have difficulty with social behavior and fitting in to the "norms" of social behavior as well as processing large or loud amounts of images and/or sounds, and has the tendency to become obsessive about certain subjects and actions.

Although it never seems to be enough for me, I spend a lot of time researching autism in general and Asperger's in particular, searching for knowledge to help me understand and deal with what my grandson lives with each day, and for information that may help him as he learns to cope with a world that he sees in a much different way than I do. He is 8 years old now and has begun to realize that he is "different" from other kids in his school. Knowing how unthinking and unfiltered kids can be in their words, I'm sure that he has already, along with his other "special" classmates, been subjected to comments that he and they are "stupid", "slow", "weird" and any number of other disparaging terms. I have surmised this from some recent depression he has experienced and a voicing of things about himself that he has never heard from his mom, dad or other family members.

But this post is not about Mikey, per se, but rather about a book I recently read because of him. A few months back I heard about a "therapy" for autistic, ADD and Asperger's children that involved horses. This therapy goes by several different labels such as "Equine Therapy", "Equine Facilitated Learning" and "Hippotherapy" but it all boils down to some seemingly great strides (no pun intended) that these children and their parents have seen after working with horses. In my searches for information about this therapy I came across a book, written by a father of a seriously autistic child, titled "The Horse Boy."

I happen to mention in one of my tweets on Twitter that I was looking forward to buying the book and seeing if this true story might contain something that would be helpful to Mikey. Amazingly, a few minutes after posting that Tweet, a member of the staff of Little Brown, the publisher of the book, sent me a tweet graciously asking if I would be interested in a review copy. I gratefully accepted their offer and a few days after sending them my snail mail address the copy arrived in the mail at home. Cindy included it in one of the "care packages" that she sends me when I'm on the road and a few days later it was in my hands.

"The Horse Boy" is subtitled, "A Father's Quest To Heal His Son" and I think that is the bedrock foundation of the entire story. Not that his son's autism isn't a major theme; it is, but it is more suffused with the belief of the father that he MUST make this quest to try and bring healing or what he feels would be healing to his son.

Rupert Isaacson was a writer and his wife Kristin a psychologist when their son Rowan, named after a tree in old British folktales that represented white magic, was born in Austin Texas in December of 2001. When Rowan was 18 months old, Kristin, who had training in child development, began to be a little worried when her son did not exhibit typical behaviors that most children do during that time in their development. After another year when little improvement came and instead the usual withdrawing that takes place with autistic children manifested itself, they suspected that Rowan might be autistic. Six months later, when Rowan was a little over 3 years of age, doctors completed their tests and told the Isaacson's that their son was indeed autistic.

Rupert had been an accomplished horseman when he was younger and growing up in England. In fact, one of the reasons he and Kristin had eventually settled in Austin was so that he could again enjoy horseback riding and perhaps teach Rowan as he grew, whenever Rupert was home from his travel writing career. Now, it seemed to Rupert that Rowan would never share his father's love of horses.

During an accidental meeting one day with a neighbor's horse, Rupert is astonished to see the great creature gently react to Rowan's typical hyperactive state and the possible connections begin to be made in Rupert's mind. Shortly after this, Kristin and Rowan accompany Rupert on a visit to some Kalahari Desert Bushmen who have come to visit the UN and Rowan gets his first exposure to shamans, the spiritual leaders of some of the tribes. His behavior changes radically in their presence and Rupert is genuinely intrigued.

As the story progresses Rowan displays more and more reactions to the horse, Betsy, and Rupert begins investigating a group of Mongolian shamans that his Bushmen friends have mentioned to him. Before long, despite Kristin's reluctance, Rupert has arranged to travel to Mongolia with a cameraman and sound technician to film the journey and any possible outcome, as well as for him to write about the experience. Thereafter the majority of the book is about their travel by van and then by horse across the wild, untamed land of Mongolia. Several interesting things happen along the way and at the end of their journey, carrying over to their return home to Austin.

This was a good read and I'm not just saying that because it was a review copy. Because my interests lie more in the areas of "Equine Therapy", "Equine Facilitated Learning" and "Hippotherapy", I would have wished the subject matter dealt with those therapies in greater detail. I'm not a spiritual man and do not put stock in such things, so the various rituals and trials they were instructed to endure by the shamans seemed ignorant and almost cruel to me, especially those things which made Rupert physically sick. But I can also understand a man, a father, doing everything he thinks might possibly work for his child's well-being. I cannot fault Rupert for his single-minded desire to do anything to help Rowan.

Isaacson also brings out an interesting thought. Two of them, in fact.

First, he posits that, rather than an abnormality, autism may be it's own type of personality. A running theme through the story is that the shamans all express to Rupert that, they too, once had the behavioral traits that Rowan possess. It may help explain Rowan's calmness around them and his even allowing them to touch him, something he would not allow anyone other than his mother and father to do. There did indeed seem to be some connection.

Second, he touches on the "cure" question. At the end of the book, Rupert states that despite all the improvements Rowan experienced, "...he has not been cured. Nor would I want him to be. To "cure" him, in terms of trying to tear the autism out, now seems to me completely wrong. Why can't he exist between the worlds...It is a rich place to be. Can Rowan keep learning the skills necessary to swim in our world while retaining the magic of his own? It seems a tangible dream."

I used to silently disagree with my daughter when she would say or write that she would not want to cure Mikey. I was not going to argue with her about it, he is her son after all, but from my perspective Mikey's life would be so much easier if he did not have to deal with the Asperger's. What I wanted was Mikey, and all the things that make up Mikey to remain, except for the Asperger's so that his life would be free of that particular hardship. This is difficult to even write and I have to keep getting up from the desk because my eyes are tearing up as I try to put this down in words. You just never want your loved ones to be hurt, whether by their own actions or especially by circumstances they have no control over. Mikey didn't ask for this, nor did his mom and dad. And for a guy who never looked at the world as being "fair" or "unfair", this seemed completely unfair to me.

But a few months ago, before ever reading this book and Isaacson's words above, I came to the realization that it was ridiculous to imagine a Mikey without the Asperger's. Mikey is who he is and all those things that are a part of him, even the Asperger's, are what make him Mikey. I would not love him any more without the Asperger's and I certainly do not love him any less because of it. My daughter showed much more wisdom than her old man did on this one, but I'm glad I could find my way to this truth.

But that truth does not preclude me from continuing to seek ways and means for Mikey to have tools to help him cope with this world that does not always understand him. Whatever I can do to make things easier for him, I feel like I have to do. To not do so would mean he does not mean all that he does to me.

Even if you have no connection to the subject matter, I recommend "The Horse Boy" as an excellent story of a father, faults and all just like the rest of us, taking up the quest to heal his son. And for those of you who remember the mention of the camera and sound men who accompanied them, the film is scheduled to be out in theaters in the Fall of this year.

Saturday, July 4, 2009

Happy Birthday America!!

Happy Birthday to the greatest country on the face of the earth.

Friday, July 3, 2009

Words Of Wisdom II

"One can have no smaller or greater mastery than mastery of oneself." Leonardo da Vinci

Thursday, July 2, 2009

On This Date

Throughout the recorded history of mankind, some amazing, astounding and astonishing things have occurred on this most important date. For instance;

1566-French astrologer, physician, and prophet Nostradamus died. Like Elvis and now Michael Jackson, the masses have refused to let him die. You've surely seen his yearly predictions on the covers of tabloid papers in the checkout lines of grocery stores around the first of every year.

1776-The Continental Congress passed a resolution that "these United Colonies are, and of right, ought to be, Free and Independent States." Ah...America, the Beautiful.

1881-President James Garfield was shot by Charles Guiteau; he died on Sept. 19. Talk about a lingering death. And all he got out of it was having a smart ass orange cat named after him.

1932-Democrats nominated New York Gov. Franklin D. Roosevelt for president at their convention in Chicago. I think, sometimes, that I would have liked to have met him.

1937-Amelia Earhart and her co-pilot Fred Noonan disappeared over the Pacific Ocean while attempting to fly around the world. Can you say, "Bermuda Triangle"?

1947-An object that the Army Air Force later said was a weather balloon crashed near Roswell, N.M. Eyewitness accounts gave rise to speculation it might have been an alien spacecraft. And that speculation was proved true in the movie, "Independence Day" starring Brent Spiner (otherwise known as Mr. Data from the Star Trek:Next Generation TV and movie series.

1961-Author Ernest Hemingway, 61, shot himself to death at his home in Ketchum, Idaho. I have to ask myself constantly, "Why are creative geniuses usually so...unbalanced?"

1964-President Johnson signed the Civil Rights Act of 1964 into law.
One of the most uplifting accomplishments of the U.S. government.

1997-Actor James Stewart died in Beverly Hills, California. He was always one of my favorite actors.

2002-Steve Fossett became the first to circumnavigate the globe solo in a balloon. A modern-day Phileas Fogg.

2007-Opera singer Beverly Sills died at age 78. A great singer that I have seldom listened to during my life.

And some fairly famous, infamous and/or important people were born on this date:

1908-Thurgood Marshall, the first African-American Supreme Court justice

1922-Dan Rowan Comedian Rowan & Martin's Laugh-in

1947-Larry David Seinfeld co-creator

1957-Bret Hart "The Hitman" Professional Wrestler, actor, artist, writer

1968-Ron Goldman Murder victim in OJ Simpson trial

1983-Michelle Branch Singer/Songwriter

1986-Lindsay Lohan Actress

As well as one singularly unimportant person born this day in 1955 who shall, for my part, remain nameless.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

My iPhone

I really am stupendously pleased with my new iPhone 3G S!!

So far, I have only been in one place where I could not manage to get either a 3G, Wi-fi or Edge connection. My BlackBerry would only connect through an available Edge connection. Like my BlackBerry, the iPhone will retrieve my e-mail from up to 10 different accounts. Unlike my BB, my iPhone will display the email exactly as it normally appears on my laptop screen. Also unlike my BB, my iPhone will grant me access to GoogleReader without the use of a third-party program AND it displays just like it does on my laptop.

The camera has a 3 megapixel lens, compared to my BB with has a 1.6 megapixel lens. The difference in picture quality is tremendous. Something the iPhone has that my BB never had (and one of the main reasons I bought the iPhone) is a video camera. I have not yet explored its ability to trim videos and upload them to YouTube, but most likely I will this weekend.

Being able to have TweetDeck, which I use on my laptop, on my iPhone also is fantastic. My BB version of TwitterBerry lacked the full functionality of TweetDeck on iPhone, such as the ability to ReTweet a notable tweet. The same is true of the FaceBook application so far, though I have not completely explored all of its abilities.

One feature I HAVE been playing with a lot is the ability to download free music and podcasts from the iTunes store, right through the phone. I also bought 4 songs just to try out the process and it was so painless that I will have to restrain myself from overdoing it (since the songs cost $). I can see I will also be tempted to download missed TV shows ($2.99 each) to watch during my flights when traveling. I still haven't seen the last 3 episodes of "24" or a couple of other shows I try to watch. Yes, I know they're free on Hulu, but the viewing experience leaves a lot lacking in terms of definition and buffering issues. Plus it will make the flights somewhat more enjoyable

Which brings up another cool feature. There is a setting where you can tell the iPhone to go into "Airplane mode" which is simply the ability to turn off the phone and GPS aspects of the phone while retaining the ability to use the audio/video player without "interfering with the airplane's electronic signals." Of course you can only use that during the "turn on acceptable devices" portion of the flight, but it's better than nothing.

I also have not yet fully explored the Apps Store, other than downloading the TweetDeck and FaceBook applications because I use those so heavily. But I'm sure I will be playing with that over the weekend as well. And I still need to try the voice control for dialing other phones or playing music. There is still so much fun with my iPhone ahead of me!!

After I bought the iPhone at the A T & T store, I went around the corner to the Best Buy store and purchased a car charger ($6 cheaper than the one in the A T & T store) and a Jabra BT530 stereo Bluetooth that allows me to listen to music or podcasts (and isn't ugly looking like the dual headsets that remind me of a doctor's stethoscope). It is so cool to be listening to music or a podcast, have it paused when a call comes in, then resume after your call at exactly the point it paused at before the call. I am thinking I won't have a use any more for my MP3 player, other than as another exterior hard drive to hold files.

That is the beauty of the iPhone; it is at least ten devices in one: a phone, camera, video camera, Internet device, music player, digital voice recorder, podcast player, GPS, compass and alarm clock. It's like the Swiss Army knife of Smartphones. In fact, I would dub the iPhone a "GeniusPhone" and that is no exaggeration.

After Best Buy, my next stop was Barnes & Noble where I bought David Pogue's "iPhone-The Missing Manual" book after scanning the Table of Contents and glancing through the pages. I typically read David's columns every week and his Twitter feed every day and, based on his writing style and content, I was reasonably sure his book would be just what a newbie like me would need and I was right. I devoured his book that first night and have used it to refresh my memory several times since.

I am so glad I listened to my friends who were also former BB users when they unanimously declared the iPhone experience to be a vast improvement. Heck, I'm even getting used to the touchscreen way of using this thing, something I wasn't sure I'd ever embrace.
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