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Jason Grose's BLOG

February 2004

 

 

 

 


What's a blog, you ask? It stands for "weblog" and it's basically an online journal of daily thought. We'll see how long I can keep this up (as though I don't have enough to do!)

If you must have a title, I'll go with: The daily thoughts/rants of a Marine Officer, father, scholar, husband, marathon runner, Flash cartoonist, computer nerd.


Sunday, February 29, 2004

Quote of the Day:

“The inherent vice of capitalism is the unequal sharing of the blessings. The inherent blessing of socialism is the equal sharing of misery.

- Winston Churchill

When I awoke this morning, the first thing I did was to try the LiveUpdate (read yesterday's BLOG). I know that setting myself up for disappointment is not the best beginning of a Sunday but I’m very vendetta-driven.

Lo and behold, it just worked. I did nothing different, it just decided to update. This poses an interesting mental wrestling match from me. On the one hand, it works. Plus, I didn’t do anything to cause it to not work. But on the other hand, I’ll never really know what the problem was. Plus, I spent too many hours working on a problem that evaporated.

I thought computers were the ultimate in logic. They are supposed to work the same every time and have a definite cause and effect. That’s why they are so useful, right? They should be immune to intermittent problems and the ultimate rule for computers is that they do not just fix themselves. If they have a problem, that problem is supposed to manifest exactly the same as the computer goes through its dumb, step by step, pre-programmed steps, right? Well, mine pouted yesterday.

Today, I did some research for a friend. She was our real estate agent and wanted me to build a webpage for her business. I looked online at some companies that offer the service and discovered that I cannot even begin to compete with the big boys. For 5 hours of what a freelance designer would charge, they offer a year’s worth of service. Plus, they have high speed Flash-based templates, free domain registration, 24/7 live support, etc. But even though they have all this, my friend will still need me to do the work. She simply does not have the time and I can still design it on my limited free time.

Other than that, it was good to be home on the weekend and the weather was a nice break. It was in the high 60s and nice. So nice, in fact, that I tried to read the paper on my deck but it was just too bright. I thought to myself, why am I squinting out here on a plastic chair while I could be in a comfortable leather chair, legs propped up, and listening to my MP3s pouring out of my computer? My wife accused me of being a hermit. I protest. Just a creature of comfort.

Free Advice for Today:
Remember that no time spent with your children is ever wasted.”
- H. Jackson Brown, Jr.

Saturday, February 28, 2004

Quote of the Day:

“In general, the art of government consists in taking as much money as possible from some of the citizens to give to others.

- Voltaire (1764)

I meant to wake up, catch up with the blog, and answer some email. Well, I did wake up but then at about 5:00 PM, I came back to life and realized I spent the entire day in front of the computer. What happened?

First, I couldn’t get into my router for some reason. I wanted to open up some ports but I was locked out. There was the possibility that I had tweaked my services on the advice of www.blackviper.com and maybe that was causing the problem. Ironically, Black viper’s website was down so I went in and tried to enable some of the services I had disabled to see if I could stumble onto the problem. Did it work? Yeah, right.

I had to reset the router to factory defaults. This made it necessary to set up all the WEP settings and the wireless connections. I also relocated my wireless point which made my son’s computer go from 60% signal strength to 100%. All this tinkering took a few hours.

Next, my antivirus update was not working. When I tried the LiveUpdate function, it gave me this stupid error.

I uninstalled and installed the program twice. No help. I researched all over the web and after scouring Symantec (things are not as easy to find there as I’d like), I had run across a page that outlined the problem. I tried everything on it to no avail.

By accident, I discovered you can directly download the updates (like I used to a long time ago). The direct download worked so I was protected but still no LiveUpdate capability.

A lot of the solutions I found had to do with firewalls. Since I had reset my router which is my hardware firewall, it seemed like too much of a coincidence that I was having this new problem (even though I think I discovered the problem before I reset the router, I can’t remember). I checked and rechecked the settings but everything seemed normal.

The thought hovered in my head that the services I disabled might be the problem but I dismissed it. The confounding thing was that the LiveUpdate worked on my laptop that was connected to the same router. So that would tell me that there was nothing wrong with the firewall. Since I had removed and installed the software twice, it wasn’t a software problem. Not a hardware problem, not a software problem. What was left? What had changed?

This is to remain a mystery. I finally gave up by resigning myself to download the updates manually by making a link on my desktop and checking it every few days. This is just a few more clicks than the handy LiveUpdate but it’s the fact that I can’t solve it that really bugged me. I put a call for help out on my web page so that maybe someone can throw some brain cells at it.

Free Advice for Today:
When you're lost, admit it, and ask for directions.”
- H. Jackson Brown, Jr.

Friday, February 27, 2004

Quote of the Day:

“If you want government to intervene domestically, you're a liberal. If you want government to intervene overseas, you're a conservative. If you want government to intervene everywhere, you're a moderate. If you don't want government to intervene anywhere, you're an extremist.

- Joseph Sobran, former Editor of the National Review (1995)

The alarm was loud and early. I was tired and ready for some more winks but I had to get up.

Driving from the BOQ to the headquarters, I was enthralled with the scenery. It was cloudy, cold, and threatened rain. As I got ready this morning, I was well aware I was at a place of great horror, honor, pain, legend, and suffering. We drove by areas that had recruits training and I remembered all too clearly how miserable it was during this time. I think it took on an increased perceived misery since I didn’t attend Parris Island and the area was new. The treatment and reactions were the same though.

The closest we got to the recruits were the ones designated as road guards. They were posted at each intersection for the graduation ceremony (a special brand of torture since they got to see the coveted escape up close even though they had a long way to go themselves). These recruits sat cross-legged by each intersection with orange road guard vests. They had one hand on each knee and stared forward without flinching. Obviously, they were told in no uncertain terms to sit there immobile until told otherwise. The effect was sitting statues at every corner. To normal society, these would be a weird sight. On an MCRD, standard operating procedure.

The meeting came and the meeting went. Actually, it went with less questions than we expected and was a bit anti-climatic. We showed a meeting room full of people how our new system would make their lives so much better and they thanked us before dispersing. They obviously had important matters to attend to. We bolted to the BOQ, checked out, and headed to the airport.

When we got there, it shaped up to be a perfect bookend to the arriving trip. Our plane was delayed and we worried about the connecting flight. We were assured by Delta that they would get us there on time. They lied.

This trip, I had 4 flights to catch, two legs on each side. My only hope was that the last flight would be late like the other three. When we got to Atlanta late, we had about 5 minutes to catch the flight. When I exited the plane, I asked the Delta rep where I caught my next flight and she very cheerily said gate A5. This was like poking me in the eye because I was in B concourse. When I started rushing down the causeway, I noticed I was at gate 37 and the numbers were getting smaller. This meant I had a long way to go.

Dismissing this blow, I hung my hat on two things. First, that the plane would be delayed. Second, that once I got to the A concourse, gate 5 would be relatively close.

Exiting the B concourse, I followed the sign to A concourse, down a big escalator with people who obviously think that a moving conveyance system is still not enough and that they must park their fat asses instead of using any effort to propel themselves.

When I got to the bottom, I found myself at a subway system. Crap!!! I decided to hoof it instead and made my way to the A concourse up escaloator, only to be met by more wooly mammoths who don’t using the escalator as stairs.

Once I got to the top, I found myself in A concourse, still with the glimmer of hope. As I looked up, I saw the first gate was A39 and the numbers were getting smaller. Of course.

It was almost 3:45 PM and the plane was scheduled to leave at 3:30 PM. I knew I was sunk when I could see in the distance that no one was at the gate, not even an agent. I stopped at the gate before it, sweating profusely by now, and asked them for some info. They cheerfully told me the plane left a few minutes ago. I wanted to cheerfully tell them where to cheerfully shove it.

But not to worry, I was assured, they had me booked on a flight that left in two hours. I asked them what about their flight that left in an hour. They cheerfully told me it was booked. No amount of arguing would get me anywhere except on the standby list. I was put third standby but later, when they started to load, they said they were over-booked and ask if anyone wanted to give up their seat. That was not a good sign.

This introduced yet another problem. If I didn’t get on this flight, I would miss the last train home from the airport. This, of course, was not a concern of Delta and another reason I will avoid them for the rest of my living days.

Standby number one and two somehow made it on the flight. Me? Well, I had to call Carrie and tell her she had to drive all the way to DC to pick me up since Delta couldn’t manage to get me from Savannah to DC in half a day.

Being severely beat upon this entire trip, it was no surprise when I called my wife on the cells and found out she was lost. I waited an additional hour after landing for her to show up and then we diverted to the base on the way home to drop off my boss. A stop at Wendy’s for dinner and 40 minutes until home, I finally stepped into my house, tired and frustrated.

One of the last things I remember is my dog Buster jumping on my bed. As I pulled him to his side, he swung his head around and it collided with the side of my head, at a high rate of speed. My ear felt like it had been hit by a bat.

That was it. I went to sleep after that as the final flourish of this most auspicious day.

Free Advice for Today:
Don't open credit card bills on the weekend.”
- H. Jackson Brown, Jr.

Thursday, February 26, 2004

Quote of the Day:

“If you think health care is expensive now, wait until you see what it costs when it's free.

- P.J. O'Rourke

Ready for the rest of the story? I wasn’t.

When I got up this morning, I tried to call the travel agency but they were closed. I was hoping to get this plane reservation thing settled early since it already cost me a totally good night’s sleep. I then called the TMO who had to release the funds. I got in touch with them at 7:30 AM and they told me that they would get the info over to the travel agency when they opened at 8:00 AM.

I called the travel agency at 8:30 AM and they had not heard from TMO. I called TMO and they said they were working on it right now. I didn’t have the nerve to call once more in case I unleash the red tape wrath of these agencies and they see how long they can make me squirm. Instead, I headed to the YMCA with my wife for an early morning workout. I figured I wasn’t going to be able to get a work out tomorrow so I had better do what I can today.

After I took out my frustrations on the treadmill, I got home and called the travel agency. They told me the tickets were done and ready. Relieved, I held myself back from telling them how I thought this whole process was akin to Hogan’s Goat.

My wife drove me to work where I was meeting the program manager, who was giving me a ride to the airport. Everything was fine until we got close to the airport and Eric’s cell rang. It was the boss, who was at the Jacksonville Airport (with tickets arranged, thank you very much) and he said that they were canceling flights to Atlanta because of weather. His plane got canxed and was getting a rental car to drive to Parris Island.

Let me pause to point out that all my headaches of the last two days have just been branded “for naught” at this point.

Now I was in a new pickle: Eric was driving and intending to drop me off since his flight was out of another airport. So we had a flurry of possibilities. Would my plane be cancelled? Would his? Would my head explode into a thousands shards?

The plan was that he would drop me off, I’d run in to see if my flight was cancelled while he made a loop and at the same time called the airlines to see if his flight was still on. We both had cells so it looked feasible and we quickly put together the plan like a military order, with contingencies of course, and executed like an attack. They just love that there at the curbside drop off point at the airport. A guy jumping out of a car, running inside, while the car he left speeds away. I realized as I entered the airport that I might have a hard time picking out Eric’s SUV out the thousands there at the airport. Oh well.

My plane was delayed 40 minutes (Go Delta!) and Eric’s was on time. After returning curbside, under the increased observation of the cops, I called Eric on his cell and he drove up shortly thereafter. Cell phones are wonderful things and they were helping things immensely. He said he wanted to call the boss and I was trying to email him on my Blackberry (yes, it was a techno-orgy) while we were curbside. We were just taunting security.

We got the go ahead and parted company. By the time I got in, they had pushed take off time another 10 minutes so now I had two hours before my flight. This was not a problem because I had a book, a magazine, headphones, an MP3 player, two books on tape, and a CD player (with Norah Jones’ new CD).

It wasn’t until after I hit the Brookstone store ($65 for a pair of slippers?) that I started worrying about the connecting flight. If I was delayed taking off, how would that play with the connection in Atlanta?

I called Eric, a veteran traveler, and he told me to talk to the ticketing agent. I went there but since the Atlanta flight before mine got canxed, there were approximately 20,000 people in line. Screw that, I’m going to the gate.

But first I had to go through security. With so much traveling lately, I had it down pat. I looked like Neo walking into the business office but instead of guns, I had gadgets. Pulling all of the contents I had out, I filled a tray full of techno stuff. Walking through the machine barefoot (like someone would ever try that again), my bag was snagged for inspection. The guy was nice enough but found a grooming kit I had lost weeks ago. I carried on all my luggage so my toiletry bag contained the missing little kit. It had a Swiss Army Knife-type grooming tool which had a small blade. Sleep well, the world is now safe. The butcher knife I tried to smuggle was duly confiscated.

Getting to the gate, there was an equally populated line. I tried to use a trick Eric pointed out by calling the 1-800 number and getting help that way. But the line was busy. Seems it’s not all that secret. After waiting in it for about 15 minutes, one of the agents started working the line. She was asking if anyone had tickets other than a certain flight and I fell into that category. She told me to talk to another agent at another desk which, to my glee, had no waiting customers.

My glee was short-lived because she said she did not know if I would make the connecting flight or not. This presented a problem because Eric, who was on a direct flight, would be waiting for me in Savannah. My boss called me on my phone and told me that if it looked like I would be getting in too late, to not come at all. This looked like a distinct possibility at this point. I rode the psychological ups and downs about missing the trip, between accepting this new wrinkle and wanting to go.

Eric reminded me of what I already knew. If the airline cannot guarantee to get you to your destination, they are required to find you another flight even if it’s on a different airline. I was about to invoke that right when I was told that even with the delay, there was enough time to connect. Also, there were a lot of delays in Atlanta and my connecting flight would probably leave late anyway. That was strangely comforting until I realized these yahoos were really putting a kink in my traveling experience.

Through chance, I was in boarding zone 11. Because I was one of the last people on the plane, all the overhead bins were full by the time it was my turn and they made me check one of my carry-ons. I had specifically packed light and tight so I wouldn’t have to deal with baggage claim. With this day’s track record, what were the chances I would marry up with that luggage in Savannah? I bid the suitcase goodbye, certain I’d never see it again. One again this day, I was put in a situation that I could do nothing about except be really pissed off. So that’s what I did.

When I got to Atlanta and debarked, I rushed over to my gate only to find it had, indeed, been delayed. Then it was delayed some more. And more. Finally, we boarded and I was in the window seat with the Specter of Death sitting next to me. I would guess Bubonic Plague. Whatever it was, she was not having the best moments of her life and lucky me, sitting in tight quarters with her.

We sat at the gate for 20 minutes. Then as we taxied out, the captain came over the intercom and announced that we would need to de-ice the wings and that we were 8th in line. It got dark and 40 minutes later, we were de-iced. Watching this process, I could be happy I wasn’t out there in sub-freezing weather spraying warm solvent in the dark but at the same time, this trip was evolving into a turdcicle.

After waiting an hour to make a 38 minute flight, we got into Savannah and there was Eric waiting for me. We got my bag and hit the road to Parris Island. I was starving but the boss was already eating and drinking at a restaurant an hour away. He wanted us to join him and since we were going to make it there right at closing time, we put in our orders through him using Blackberry email. Now the technology usage was getting out of control!!

Two rental cars, a boss that already had a few beers, and a military gate to get through. Eric couldn’t drink because he was driving and since the boss already partook, I, once again, had no say in the matter. I was the designated driver with emphasis on the “designated.”

For the first time in my life, I boarded the famous Parris Island. It was late so no one was wondering around and we drove straight to the BOQ. I caught glimpses of the famous training area to include the long drive from the gate to the main area. This makes one feel like they are being sequestered away from the real world and intensifies the feeling of isolation. I was here for an entirely different reason than a recruit but I could empathize and imagine what it was like to be coming here for its usual intended purpose.

Getting to the room, I was amazed that it was as nice as it was, especially since it was $22.50 per night. It had a TV room and a sleeping area, both with large TVs. I wasn't interested in the TVs because I had to iron out my uniform for the next day and get some sleep. I was not about to be caught on the famed MCRD PI with a wrinkled uniform and especially since just about everyone there knew how to wear a great looking uniform. I got to sleep at about 1:00 AM, thankful that this traveling nightmare was halfway done and that I had made it in time for the meeting the next day.

Free Advice for Today:
Champion your wife. Be her best friend and biggest fan.”
- H. Jackson Brown, Jr.

Wednesday, February 25, 2004

Quote of the Day:

“I don't make jokes. I just watch the government and report the facts.

- Will Rogers

Complicated confusion wrapped in red tape with a short fuse hanging out the end. That was my day.

Coming into work today, the first thing I was hit with was that my boss wanted to come with me on a business trip that I had to spend most of yesterday setting up “last minute.” Now it was the “laster minute!”

To complicate matters, he was already on a business trip, in communication with only his Blackberry. So I had to get him a hotel room (easiest part). Then I had to get a flight from Jacksonville to Savannah and then a return flight from Savannah to Washington DC… all starting tomorrow! Plus, I had to get a modification to his current authorizing paperwork, the originals of which I did not have. Mission Impossible.

Add to this, I didn’t know the status of my own request I put through at the end of the day yesterday and to find out, I had to make many phone calls and expose myself to the wrath of many bureaucratical layers I needed to request immediate action from.

So after working through the travel agency to reserve the necessary flights for my boss (miracle 1 of many), I drafted the mod for my boss and sent it to my admin who create the official travel authorizations. I also asked they find the status of my own orders. The travel agency told me to call them back by 4:20 PM to make sure the paperwork came complete circle and they could actually purchase the tickets they reserved.

Admin found my request from the money-authorizing branch and created my orders along with my boss’s mod. I walked over, picked them up, but when I got back to my office, I noticed his mod was worded all wrong. I wrote an email to explain the situation but got ancy as I flailed and decided to proceed to the next step because I was running out of daylight. I was supposed to fax the orders and mod to yet another agency who, after doing some check and balance voo-doo of the convoluted process, was to circle back to the travel agency and authorized the ticket purchase. I was advised they didn't really need the fixed version. I foolishingly believed that because I wanted to, not because it made sense. If this sounds complicated, that’s because it is and I’ve simplified it for time/space/patience constraints of this BLOG.

So I faxed. And I followed that up with a phone call. They spent awhile looking around (check the fax machine!) and found my paperwork. But then they couldn’t find the original orders my boss was using in order to make the mod I sent to make sense. “Could you send us the original orders?” (AKA, the sound of the wrench thrown into the machinery.) I almost pulled off the next miracle in a series.

But I still had fight in me.

I didn’t have the orders, had never seen them. So I called up the admin shop who should have had a copy. They had a right to be tired of my calls but agreed to fax the orders directly. So I told them to call me with status as it was getting late in the day. I was fighting the travel agency closing time.

The second hand kept moving. The minute hand kept moving. The phone ringer was silent. I was getting peeved. OK, more peeved than the day had already caused.

I couldn’t take it anymore and called admin. They put me on hold while they got the girl I was dealing with. After 5 minutes on hold, I hung up. I called the agency. They had not received the fax.

I called admin back. Busy signal (likely me on hold).

Finally I got through and was told that the mod was not necessary after all. WWWWhat!?!?

It seems that my boss’s orders stated that “Variation Authorized” which meant he could change his travel on the fly and settle up when he got back. No modifications required. I didn’t know how to react to this. It was good because it negated the need but bad because the I had a hoop around my ass which I had just dived headlong to amke the mod come into existence.

Then they told me that my stuff went through and everything was golden.

I made one more call to the agency to make sure they had contacted the travel agency and booked the tickets. They assured me that everything was taken care of.

I had done it. I pulled off the impossible many times over. It cost me a day and a number of them off my lifespan but mission accomplished.

When I got home, I had the idea to triple check through the net and see if I could pull up my itinerary on the airline website. Delta made me go through some hoops about signing up for their frequent flier program to get a number that I had to use to access my itinerary. After going through it, I put in the number and hit the “Check my flights” button.

It told me it had no flights booked for me.

I almost cried.

But then I noticed it said if I booked flights before getting the ID number, the itinerary for those flights would not show up and I had to call Delta agent to fix it.

So that is what I did and after living through a lifetime of automated phone torture, I finally got to a warm body and explained the situation. My problem was that I didn’t have my itinerary information and couldn’t remember any info about my flight. This made it difficult to look me up for some reason and we stumbled around until I remembered I had my bosses itinerary. I was on the same flight on the last leg of the return trip. It was a long shot but it worked and she found me. Putting in my code to my account, I was then able to refresh my screen and up popped my itinerary. I even checked into my flight and printed out my own boarding passes!!!!

Chalk another mark in the Miracle column!!!

But I still had the problem of checking on my boss’s tickets. I couldn’t apply for a frequent flyer program for him and go through the process as him (don’t think I didn’t consider it!). I resigned myself to calling the travel agency first thing in the morning but at the last moment I decided I could call the airline and just maybe they would divulge his information as a result of my explanation. I doubted it in the ultra-safety environment we now live in.

I called and for some reason, they took my explanation and was willing to tell me if he had a flight. I didn’t know if I liked that or not. I gave her the flight number and his name and she had it, confirming all of the info (again, should she do this?)

Relieved, I looked forward to shutting the book on this for the night and spend a few care-free quality hours with my family since I’ll be gone for two days.

“Oh, but wait, it shows here it’s on a courtesy hold. The tickets were never actually purchased yet” said the airline agent.

Thus ended my day. So many miracles and then a crash and burn right at the finish line. So close.

She could not confirm but I suspect the courtesy hold lasts only 24 hours. If so, it expires at 8:16 AM tomorrow. Hopefully, the travel agency opens at 8:00 AM. Guess what I’ll be doing at that time? Gee, another time crunch. What are the odds?

Our plane leaves at 2:30 PM. I’ve been assured, regardless of my numerous miraculous accomplishments, that if my boss’s tickets are not waiting for him, there are many swamps where we’re going. I blush with appreciation.

Free Advice for Today:
Don't be afraid to say, 'I need help.'
- H. Jackson Brown, Jr.

Tuesday, February 24, 2004

Quote of the Day:

“Government is the great fiction through which everybody endeavors to live at the expense of everybody else.

- Frederic Bastiat, French Economist (1801-1850)

Today I worked through lunchtime and had a rather stressful day. Taffy-situations found me reacting to many masters and I was the only one actually in the office. Finally at about 2:00, I decided I needed a run to undo some of the stress. When I got outside, it was raining and the wind was kicking up a little. Oh well, I had my running jacket on.

At about the halfway mark, I realized it was not the greatest idea, jacket or no. But I made it through the run. Soaking wet and shivering, I got back and jumped back in to the mix in a flurry of work to tie up the day’s crazy events. I decided I had done enough and decided to catch an early train. Misreading the schedule, I found myself waiting for a train that only came on the weekends. By the time I discovered this, I was forced to wait another hour for the next one so I naturally slid over to the coffee shop and deflated there over a hot cup of java. I met up with Sir Phil who promptly laughed at my dumbassedness all the way homebound.

Getting home each day, I loudly announce “Daddy home, Daddy home, Daddy home!!!” I’ve done this all the kids’ life and despite they being 9 and 12 now, I still continue the tradition. I probably will even after they leave the house. At least Buster still reacts. In fact, Buster is the only one who scrambles toward me and is jumping-excited when I come through the door. Of course he does this when I go check the mail but that’s beside the point.

The kids brought home their school pictures today and Carrie laid out all of the years’ pictures in order. This was a perfect opportunity for me to scan them all in order and get them on my webpage. The fruit of my labor (in both senses) can be see on Alex’s page and Steph’s page. It took about an hour for each kid to scan, crop, resize, thumbnail, design, put information in, and upload. But what a great reference for later years.

So it was an evening well spent and here’s to a better tomorrow.

Free Advice for Today:
Remember that all success comes at a price.
- H. Jackson Brown, Jr.

Monday, February 23, 2004

Quote of the Day:

“'Stewardesses' is the longest word that is typed with only the left hand.

- Unknown

This morning I went into work but decided to get a haircut before arriving. Sitting there waiting for my favorite barber got me to thinking about this little ritual I’ve been following for so long.

When I was young and enlisted, I was on a base that had hundreds of Marines trying to get a haircut every Sunday. It was a multi-hour affair to show up, get a number, sit, and wait for your number to be called. Every week this went on and I mourn the hours I lost every Sunday just trying to get this requirement taken care of. Back then, I didn’t care who cut my hair as long as it got cut for Monday morning inspection. There was a little apprehension on which barber you would get because some of them legitimately sucked but you weren’t about to go back to the end of the line. It was Haircut Russian Roulette.

When I got to Yuma, I had a wider choice of barbers but the Sunday ritual was basically the same. I used to frequent a civilian shop right outside the gate and it wasn’t long before I gravitated to a certain barber for over 5 years. In all that time, our entire conversation consisted of this:

Her: How cut?
Me: Medium reg, please.
Her: Top?
Me: Trim please.

And then at the end when she held up the Mirror of Compliance…

Me: Fine

Then I would hand her $5 for the $4 haircut and she would nod and say “Gracious.”

Every week for five years this dialogue never changed. She was a strikingly beautiful Mexican girl but the fact was, she was the best barber in the place. That she had movie-star looks didn’t make things unpleasant but this was the extent of our dialogue.

Then one day around Christmas, I noticed that a younger version of her was in the shop and I ascertained it must be her younger sister. After cutting my hair, the elder sister rattled something in Spanish and her little sister turned to me and said “My sister says that because you have been such a good customer all of these years, she wants you to have this haircut for free.”

I was a little surprised because for years, we had never exchanged any words other than the above conversation. I still gave her the $5 for a tip but then the thought hit me as I was leaving that it looked like I had rejected the offer. Smooth move, Grose.

In 29 Palms, I frequented a elderly barber who did a good job but didn’t speak a word of English. One day he was not there and after a couple of more weeks of absence, I asked one of the other barbers who happened to be his daughter.

“He dead.”

That was the full extent of all future conversations with her as she became my new barber. I felt bad.

Two more thoughts came to mind today. First, the relationship with a barber is a personal choice. Personally, I like the anonymity approach and, as my story above highlights, I like to stay distant from my barber and not engage in conversation. A good barber will detect and respect this as did my Yuma Seniorita. If they don’t and bombard me with idle chat, it drives me nuts because I like to sit and enjoy the haircut undistracted. I don’t like airing my opinions for strangers to hear and don’t like listening to other people’s conversations. I think it’s rude. Plus, with electric shavers buzzing in your ear, it’s difficult to hear coherent conversations. So I like to sit there in silence and let the barber concentrate on the work I will have to live with for a week.

The other thought was that on an average of $5 per haircut per week, I have spent about $4100 of the $5200 on haircuts over a 20 year career. Yikes.

Worst barber moment: in Seattle when I got a barber who could not fade the sides and back and I walked out too embarrassed to even pitch a fit at the bold boundary clear around my head (to this day, I never argue about the cut. They could shave me bald and I would nod and leave after paying. Just not “an arguer.”) It was so bad that as I left, a barber coming back from break stopped me and asked if I wanted him to fix it for free. It was pretty uncomfortable to walk back in and sit in the chair next to The Butcher and have the other barber fix it.

1st Runner Up: Either day one of bootcamp or OCS. About 10 seconds each.

Worst barber moment that never happened to me: When they give you a military cut, some barbers just dive right in about mid-head and shave straight down and then spend the rest of the time trying to fade the line up. I always thought that if the power went out right as they were in mid-cut, that would really suck.

Worst haircut joke I use over and over: “I used to tell my barber to only cut the grey ones but then I was worried he’d shave me bald.”

Honorable mention: “I don’t care what color my hair turns, as long as it doesn’t turn loose.”

Worst haircut joke I never use: (To a friend in the barber chair) “Give him a high and tight on me.” Can we all agree that this is a stale joke and never use it again?

Bad indication of impending age: when they start including your ears in the final touch-up clips.

Worse indication of impending age: when they start including your eyebrows and nose in the final touch-up clips. (I’m not there yet).

Biggest barbering pet peeve: the idiot who has to argue every detail when given the Mirror of Compliance. Just shut up and live with it. It’s only one week and people are waiting.

When I was going to college, my wife would cut my hair and most of the time, she did a great job. But her arm would get tired and if you want to introduce stress into a marriage, have your wife cut your hair to save money. We had some wicked fights over this weekly struggle.

So now, I have found another favorite barber, a nice Asian lady this time, and she takes her time (but very irritating when you are waiting and there is someone in front of you). She even does the shave on the bottom and sides with a disposable razor, complete with warm foam so that the bottom feels like plastic by the time you are done.

Thus ends my ramblings about haircuts. There's more but The Daily Show With Jon Stewart is about to start...

Free Advice for Today:
Leave a quarter where a child will find it.
- H. Jackson Brown, Jr.

Sunday, February 22, 2004

Quote of the Day:

“YOU ARE ONLY YOUNG ONCE, BUT YOU CAN STAY IMMATURE FOREVER.

- Unknown

This morning, I finished up some of the “Dad’s Photo Album” work which ate up most of my morning. Sometimes trips down memory lane can suck the life right out of you.

I also finished up my taxes. Come to find out, the $800 in child tax credit we got earlier this year was an advance. Who knew? Not me. So despite using Turbo Tax for the first time, I totally overlooked this little $800 detail. The IRS rejected my e-claim (and probably put me at the top of the “Audit This Moron” list) but with a little work, I got it straightened out. I’m still getting enough of a windfall in the form of a tax return to send my wife’s eyes swimming with home improvement dollar signs. I would rather get more computer stuff (like a removable hard drive for backup, or an IPod, or a DVD burner so I can put my VHS home movies on DVD, or…) but I dare not even bring it up. The computer toys take back seat to fireplace mantels, entertainment centers, and other projects she’s seen on those fix-it-up shows she watches all weekend.

Free Advice for Today:
Never argue with police officers, and address them as 'officer.'
- H. Jackson Brown, Jr.

Saturday, February 21, 2004

Quote of the Day:

“EVERYTHING IN EXCESS!!! ENJOY THE FLAVOR OF LIFE...TAKE BIG BITES...MODERATION IS FOR MONKS....

- Unknown

I suddenly awoke at 7:30 A.M. I knew I had gotten more sleep than imaginable but for some reason, I felt normally rested. The first thought that came to me was that I had no abdominal pain any longer. In fact, I felt strangely normal with seemingly no side-effects of my horrible day yesterday. I got up and sure enough, I was back to normal. Weird.

This caused a bit of embarrassment for me because I couldn’t help but look at the situation from an outsider point of view. It looked suspiciously like I faked sickness to get a three day weekend. I had been gone all week so if there was a day to get off, Friday was the one to glide right into the weekend. Then the miraculous healing. Hmmmm, how convenient.

But I will defend myself by pointing out that the Friday morning vomit was oh-so-real. Plus, the “day off” I got consisted mostly of REM 4 sleep so was not much of a Ferris Bueller Day Off.

So today I got up and got to another project that has been in the wings since I moved here. I spent most of the day scanning my father’s photo albums and putting them on the site. I bought a new printer/scanner machine for this purpose and it worked like a charm. But it still is an enormous task to scan, crop, edit, design, transfer, and test hundreds of photos on a page, not to mention the mental drain of writing the commentary. Here is the fruit of that labor (likely interesting only to me and my family but have at it).

Free Advice for Today:
Don't buy expensive wine, luggage, or watches.
- H. Jackson Brown, Jr.

Friday, February 20, 2004

Quote of the Day:

“ANYTHING THAT CAN BE CHANGED WILL BE CHANGED UNTIL THERE IS NO TIME LEFT TO CHANGE ANYTHING.

- Unknown

I felt fine for most of the day yesterday but on the last plane ride from Charlotte to Washington, I started feeling really bad. Not the “I’m riding in an airplane” bad but just a general intestinal discomfort. The ride home did not make things much better but I worked through it, got home, unpacked, and got ready for the next day at work. All was fine, except for the extreme pain in my stomach. Oh well, it would be better in the morning.

That thought haunted me at about 0130 this morning. I kept waking up knowing what had to happen. I fought it over and over again but it would just not let me sleep. Finally, I succumbed and lumbered up to the toilet, got a glass of water ready, and metally prepped for what had to happen.

The problem was, I had not eaten anything since lunch at the buffet, other than two small baglets of plane pretzels and two small cups of apple juice (my normal airplane snack choices). So I was really wondering what exactly was so eager to make the return trip up my esophagus. If it was the lunch, it would have manifested sooner than it did. Was it bad apple juice? Whatever the reason, there was a job to be done and with resignation in my actions, I performed the kneel of shame.

Small lurch. Nothing. A little more power, acid seeped into my mouth (yum). Then the gates opened. Where the hell did THAT come from?

I would say that I hate vomiting but who likes it? I hadn’t done the Technicolor yawn in years but I felt much better afterwards. I wondered if I would be up for work in the morning and after the episode, I felt so much better than I couldn’t justify skipping work over a bit of lost sleep. I returned to bed, my wife never the wiser despite my guttural expulsions. I thought I was waking up the neighbors.

I thought the night would be peaceful after that, I felt so much better but it was not to be. I woke up a few hours later with a diluted version of the pain but I knew I had nothing more in my system to donate to the chrome. I had dry-heaved the last few offerings which felt oh-so-good to finish up a vomit-fest.

For the rest of the night and morning, I suffered through the pain and when morning came, I knew I was in no shape to work. I weakly asked my wife to get me my Blackberry and I composed an email right from my deathbed. Technology can come in so handy when you feel like smashed feces. I typed something about throwing up toenails and my boss chastised me for reading the Blackberry and told me to get some rest. That was the last coherent thought I had all day.

I slept. Then I slept some more. After that, I napped. Then I snoozed followed by deep rest. Once that was over, I caught 40 winks and finally, I took a siesta. I vaguely remember getting up twice to go to the bathroom and waving off a few offers of food by my attending wife. The last thing I remember, it was 9:00 PM and Carrie was turning off the light. I had made it through an entire day with almost no sensory input or output. It’s a day I will regret when I have no more days to squander.

Free Advice for Today:
Put a lot of little marshmallows in your hot chocolate.
- H. Jackson Brown, Jr.

Thursday, February 19, 2004

Quote of the Day:

“THE BRAIN IS A WONDERFUL ORGAN. IT STARTS WORKING THE MINUTE WE WAKE UP IN THE AM, AND DOES NOT STOP UNTIL YOU GET TO WORK.

- Unknown

Another morning in Pensacola, another drag out of bed to go for a run. And another wonderful run once I get my butt out of the bed and hit the beach. Funny how these things work.

Running on the beach was a wonderful experience, almost spiritual. No one was there and mine were the first footprints on the hard packed sand by the water. No waves, no wind, and the sun rising up over the water. Now if I wasn't carrying around 10 pounds of food in my gut, the morning would have been complete.

I realized how valuable time alone was for me. I was more happy to be to myself than with the group. I cover a range of degrees when it comes to being outgoing, depending on the group and how I feel. For this trip, I would have chosen to be to myself but we can’t always choose our situations. When the mismatch occurs, I know I come across as a stick in the mud but as long as I at least get a bit of individual time, I can muddle through, even if it takes getting up and going where I know others are not interested in following.

My impression of Pensacola would not be a fair assessment. We really didn’t do much outside of the meetings and eating. McGuire’s was a great time but I didn’t get any pictures and never got to explore. The weather was great, what you would assume Florida weather to be and a welcome relief from the Virginia cold. It was a business trip and that’s what we did. Since we tied everything up today, we got our plane tickets moved up a day and are going home today instead of tomorrow. So I had to make a quick run to get the kids their trip gifts I promised them.

Shopping for the kids is always easy for the girl but the boy is different. I picked up a matching bracelet set for my wife and daughter in addition to a green stuffed bear for the girl. But for the boy, that was another story. We got to the mall before going to the airport and I searched high and low. It was going to be a hand-held Yatzee game but a quick phone call to Carrie steered me to the Yugio cards.

I’m just about as educated on picking out Yugio merchandise as I am with lingerie. In other words, I was lost. I got a few different packets for the boy when I saw a huge box of them. Nine cards per pack and something like 100 packs. I was pretty stoked about it until I saw the price. Somehow, $125 for trading cards as a trip gift just wasn’t happening. If I bought it and doled the cards out, Alex would probably no longer even be interested in Yugio by the time I got to the bottom of the box. Sorry, Boy, all you get is three packs. I couldn’t spring for the brick.

Free Advice for Today:
Eat less red meat.
- H. Jackson Brown, Jr.

Wednesday, February 18, 2004

Quote of the Day:

“ETERNAL BOREDOM IS THE PRICE OF CONSTANT VIGILANCE.

- Unknown

This morning worked out great and I got to watch the sun rise on the ocean. At first, I found the path but it was separated from the ocean by trees. After funning the first mile on the trail, I found a way to the beach and was happy to see a couple of things. First, it was hard packed near the water so it was perfect for running. Second, there was no wind and no waves so the end result was that I had an ideal path to run along. As a bonus, the crimson sun rose on the water as I was finishing up. For a guy living in Virginia, running on a Florida beach in February was a rare treat. Regardless, I still got cold wind-burn on the face. But I got to run to negate some of the calories I consumed last night.

The very reason I came to this lovely area was, yes, you guessed it, meeting. There was donuts, a meeting staple, and coffee involved. I stayed away from the donuts, opting for breakfast bars but the coffee was a welcome relief. I was in listening mode most of the day, trying to understand the technical details as well as the business rules processing flying around the room. Nodding knowingly, I absorbed as much as I could while the others exchanged important information. I was good for interjecting a few reinforcing comments to summarize what I thought was going on but for the most part, I just had to sit there and try to grasp the overall discussions.

For lunch we went to a burger joint and I was trying to be good by ordering a BLT. If you saw this restaurant, you’d understand that the BLT WAS “being good.” I got talked into ordering a burger because it was mainly a burger theme so my discipline flew right out the window. I should have known that when there is a choice between small and large fries, you had better go with the small. Sure enough, I went with the large and out came the 50 gallon drum of fries. Oh, the gluttony.

After we got back and wrapped up a few details, we went back to the hotel room, got changed over, and headed out to an Irish restaurant named McGuires. It was one of those places you “have to go to” if you are in Pensacola and when I say “have to go to” I mean you must donate to the local economy to the tune of over $30 per person. But the theme was complete with bag pipe music and an unusual twist. They had one dollar bills, mostly signed, and stuck to the ceiling. In fact, you could not even see the ceiling and there must have been thousands of dollars hanging overhead that gave a look of mossiness. Some of the more famous customers were enshrined with pictures; a divergent group that included the mailman character from Mr. Roger’s Neighborhood (Mr. Nealy), Sugar Ray Leonard, Elizabeth Dole, Scott Hamilton, Earnest Borgnine, David Copperfield, Smashing Pumpkins, and many more I can’t remember and more I didn’t see.

Now you would think that I would take it easy considering my lunch but….no. I had to have the ribs again and I left ¼ of them untouched, stopping just short of bursting my gut wide open like a scene from Aliens. Wish I could take the leftovers to Buster but that would be a long, disgusting trip from Florida to Virginia. Sorry Buster, them’s the breaks.

For the second night in a row, I barely made it back to my hotel, contented to kick back, Blog, read, and collapse. I gotta get off of business travel or I’ll be expand to immense proportions.

Free Advice for Today:
Be courteous to everyone.
- H. Jackson Brown, Jr.

Tuesday, February 17, 2004

Quote of the Day:

“IF NO OTHER ROUTE OF ESCAPE IS AVAILABLE...JUMP THROUGH YOUR ASS.

- Unknown

Sorry for the hiatus. Sometimes you just need a break and I took one.

You are probably wondering why the sudden change in the page and I wish I could explain but suffice it to say, the page has been transformed into a personal, family page. I cannot go into it farther than that so I hope you understand. I want to thank all of you that have been faithful readers of the page and I hope that my personal existence proves as interesting as my former theme. I shall start the BLOG again and keep it going, staying within the parameters required.

OK, now that that’s over, let’s get to today’s entry.

I traveled from Fredericksburg Virginia to Pensacola Florida for a three day business trip. Before I left in the morning, I played an online game where you have to match the states’ names to a map. In the time allotted, I got a whopping 35 and my daughter got 28. By the time I called her tonight, she tied my score. I’m such a geography rock. The depressing fact is that I will return to the game and hammer away at it until I get all fifity. When will I stop? Only when I get all fifty, even if it costs time, sleep, or even blood. That’s just the world I live in.

While flying is ripe with potential BLOG rants, it was altogether an uneventful trip. I, of course, overpacked and often feel like Thurston Howell III packing for a three hour tour when I go on these trips. With clothes for every possible occasion, I also find it interesting that I pack more techie stuff than necessary. With my MP3 player, my laptop, my cell phone, my new Blackberry, my noise canceling Bose earphones, my Bose CD player, and my GPS, I look like a freakin’ Borg. On the entertainment side, I brought two books, a computer magazine, a book on tape, and a manuscript. Despite all of this, I was bored silly on the plane.

One of my favorite things to do is people watch when I’m at an airport. Never will you see a more depressing set of humanity. Other than the excitement at the gate, most travelers look like their dog just died and wander through the airport with a look of despair. No revelation here, just an observation. Cheer up, people! (I'm one to talk! I'm the most guilty of them all.)

After getting into Pensacola, we went out to dinner and ate at a rib joint. This place was the place you just had to eat at if you want ribs. Walking in, it looked like the inside of a log cabin with picnic tables for the customer. The menu was an artery bursting affair replete with aneurism-causing offerings mostly of the animal flesh variety. The ambiance was simple: come here, eat meat, and eat more meat. It also had the coldest beer I’ve tasted in a long time and we had a good time gorging ourselves unashamedly. By the time we left, I felt like a bear with a half dozen traq darts sticking in my ass.

Tomorrow, I hit the running path along the ocean. Maybe the darts will have dislodged by then.

Free Advice for Today:
Don't cut corners.
- H. Jackson Brown, Jr.

Sunday, February 1, 2004

Quote of the Day:

“Just because you do not take an interest in politics doesn't mean politics won't take an interest in you.

- Pericles (430 B.C.)

Super Bowl Sunday

The only reason I was excited about today was that there was football. Not being a big fan of either team, it was just fun to watch the spectacle that is the Super Bowl. I get a kick out of watching the fulfillment of lifelong dreams and for all my pessimistic views of professional athletes, I still have to marvel at the fact that ever since these guys were kids, this has been a pinnacle event, dreamed about. And now they get to live it. If only for that, it’s worth the 4 hours.

That and where else are you going to see college-educated millionaires beat the piss out of each other on national TV?

Since we live on the East Coast, the game didn’t start until 6:00 PM so I had all day to do other things. You know, sit around and, … um… sit around.

I started a fire and sat down to watch the game. I realized that I was in a jam because the commercials were so famous, I didn’t want to tear myself away during breaks in the action. This caused a bit of pain in the bladder area but I managed. Also, I’m going on the Adkin’s Diet to get down to marathon training weight tomorrow so it logically follows that I gorged on as many carbs as I could get my lips on. It was not pretty.

The big news, of course, as everyone knows by now, is …. Snow volleyball. Just kidding; girls night out for one of Janet Jackson’s girls. I have to admit, rather reluctantly, that I was watching the Janet Jackson, Justin Timberlake routine because I was too lazy to push the remote control button and my wife forbid me to pay per view the Lingerie Bowl. I was thinking how a skinny white boy from Millington TN gets to grind it up with a Nubian goddess. That’s when he did what he did and for a moment, Breastzilla made her appearance. “My God, it’s full of stars.”

There is a lot of outrage but at the time, I just thought to myself “Hmmm, they let her do that. OK.” The fact is, nothing shocks me on TV anymore and when it became such a media frenzy, I didn’t expect it. Madonna and Brittany Spears kissed and now Janet is flashing. Seems like a logical flow. Not that it’s right but just not all that shocking if you track TV’s downward slide.

Then there was the streaker at halftime. The TV station chose not to show it (which I find hypocritical since they show much worse on prime time) and this is something actually worth seeing since they say it was a linebacker who plowed this dumb bastard to the ground. Now that’s Must See TV!

So I watched the game, gorged without shame, and enjoyed the fire. All in all, a good day.

Free Advice for Today:
Keep expectations high.
- H. Jackson Brown, Jr.

Email -- jason@grose.us
Web -- http://www.grose.us/