Friday, March 30, 2012

Bombers Over Houston!

We've seen lots of WWII airplanes fly over our home.  I am a little kid when it comes to WWII planes.  I am used to hearing the commercial jets fly over as they land at George Bush, so when I hear the deep rumbling of a WWII plane, I run outside to take a look.  We usually hear them when Wings Over Houston air show is running (October).  But every once in a while, we get one that flies over at times other than October.

All the ones I've seen thus far have been fighters.  Today I heard the big rumble of a B-17.  I grabbed the camera and ran outside and snapped a shot.

Someday, maybe I'll be able to afford taking a flight on the B-17.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Review: One Hour Air Conditioning

About a year ago, we signed up with One Hour Air Conditioning and Heating.  We pay a monthly premium and in return, we get two check-up services per year - one in the Fall and one in the Spring.

Last year, after we returned home from our Summer vacation in August, we found that the AC wasn't working.  We knew there was a leak in the coils, but we weren't sure how long it would last before the leak became too big.  So by August of 2011, the coils needed to be replaced - there was no reason delaying the replacement anymore.  We paid a lot, but since we were on the premium service, we received their "discount".

Fast forward to about three weeks ago.  We had the technician come out for the annual Spring check-up.  He checked both the upstairs and downstairs units.  They are both about 17 years old, but they still passed with a fairly clean bill of health.  So we were good to go for the Summer months.  Then, about 3 days passed and the upstairs unit stopped working.  We called One Hour on a Friday night (March 16) and they said they couldn't get a tech out until Sunday - fine, no problem and we scheduled the visit.

Sunday March 18 - all during church services, I kept an eye on my phone waiting for the 30 minute heads-up phone call.  Nothing.  We got home at 2pm.  Still no call.  I called them at 3pm to see if a tech was coming.  They said he was on his way.  Then my wife gets a call on her phone stating that they don't do work on the weekends.  That really surprised us.  So we called them back and they said they just merged companies and there was a mis-understanding ... something about one company not doing weekend work and the other doing weekend work.  But the bottom line is they reassured us the tech would come ... eventually.

The original appointment was for between 12 and 4pm.  He showed up between 8:00 and 8:30pm.  We had put the kids to bed and he quietly worked on it.  The circuit board was out and wasn't sending a signal to the fan to turn on.  I had checked earlier, outside, and the pipes from the outside unit were iced over.  He said he had a universal board ... it would cost $700.  Oh well.  He went to install it.  He came back downstairs and told us the universal circuit board isn't compatible with our unit - he needs to special-order the part.  That's fine.  So he jimmy-rigged it to by-pass the broken board so at least the AC would run.  We really only needed the board for the furnace to work.  He leaves around 10pm and said they would call us to schedule a follow-up visit.

Monday March 19 - no phone call from them.

Tuesday March 20 - I call them; explain the situation.  They tell me the part should be there this week and that they can go ahead and schedule the appointment.  We schedule it for Friday March 23 between 12-4pm.

Friday March 23 - I get home early from work.  One tech shows up - it's not the original tech we had requested.  It turns out this other tech is there to sell us a new AC unit.  I politely explain that we're not buying a new unit at this time.  This was at 1pm or so.  3:40pm - still no call from One Hour.  I call them and tell them that the tech still hasn't showed up and that we are leaving the house and that we will not be there after 4pm. So he puts me on hold to see when he can schedule the visit.  While I'm on hold, I hear the motto "Always on time ... or you don't pay a dime"  When he comes back, I ask him about the motto.  He said something for every 5 minutes the tech is late ... some amount of money is deducted up to $300.  Cool!  That's about half the cost of the circuit board.  I explain what happened to us on Sunday March 18.  He makes a note of it and says someone would call me to discuss.

Monday March 26 - the appointment is for - you guessed it - 12-4pm.  This time, the tech called ahead of time and showed up within the 4 hour block.  He did the work - did a great job.  Then we sit down to talk about the invoice.  I explained to him all of the above.  I told him I was ok paying (now $617) the bill, but that if something could be done about it now ... if I could get $300 knocked off it, then it would help.  I'd rather get the $300 knocked off first rather than having to pay in full and then try to chase down the $300 later.  Anyway, he gives me his supervisor's phone number and I call him.  I explain everything to him - including that no one called back after I had originally told them that they were late.  I said I'd like to get the $300 off up front, if possible.  The supervisor told me it wasn't $300 ... it was the whole bill!!  Wow!  Even better.  So I gave the phone to the tech and the tech talked with the Supervisor.  He hung up and zeroed the bill.  It didn't cost us a dime - just like they had said.  I was very impressed.  I was ready for a fight, but there was no fight - which was very, very pleasant.

So - I give One Hour 4.9 stars out of 5 stars.  If it weren't for the scheduling SNAFU, they would remain perfect in my eyes.  But the fact that they owned up to that problem and kept to their word - that we didn't pay a dime - it made up for the scheduling problems.

I fully endorse One Hour Air Conditioning and Heating.  If I were a rock star or a professional sports athlete or a radio/TV personality, I'd probably be endorsing them on the radio or TV right now.

Monday, March 26, 2012

Diet & Exercise Routine

The diet and exercise routine that I have currently posted will work for me.  I've played with this routine many times before and got it to a point that I felt it would work and help me shed the pounds.  But the last two weeks have been brutal and I've been eating like it's the holidays again.

The deal is, I can follow the routine when I am focused on it and life is not too busy or hectic.  But when work and family activities and weird schedules get in the way, I forget my plans and then I find myself where I am today.

I need to simply make my diet and exercise routine a habit.  I've made other habits and they've stuck ... because I placed the proper amount of focus on making that thing into a habit.  Now I need to do the same for my diet and exercise routine.  I may use this blog to help me stay focused and on track over the next 30 days.

Saturday, March 24, 2012

The Soul of Battle Part 2

There were so many things discussed on the second part of the book.  Indeed it was about William Tecumseh Sherman, but it wasn't only just about his march through the South, but it was also about the man, a bit about his background, and why he, of all the generals, was the perfect candidate to finish the Civil War with his unprecedented march.

I can't recall everything that I found fascinating with the second part of the book, so I'll just write what I remember as having struck me as significant.

The Man - he was essentially a failure for most of his life.  He attended West Point with several other future generals.  He served many years in the military, but only as a captain.  While others saw battle in the Mexican-American War, he sat on the side-lines and saw no action.  He experienced failure as a banker and businessman.  His wife came from a wealthy family and thus he felt he needed to "strike it rich" to support her lifestyle.  He was one of the founders of LSU.  He eventually was recalled into the service.  But after a short while, he suffered a mental breakdown.  He then, miraculously, survived the battle of Shiloh.  He eventually lived to carry out the march that this book discusses extensively - the March to the Sea and then the campaign into the Carolinas.

The March - Hanson discusses how several people, including Grant and Lincoln, probably would not have agreed with Sherman's march into the South.  But he was given leeway to do as he chose.  He cut off his supply lines and his 60,000 plus army marched through the South, living off the land and plantations while obliterating the Confederate nation and those who supported the Confederate army.  His idea, in a nutshell, was to bring war to those who started it.  He felt that he needed to reveal the hypocrisy of the South's way of life.  The South - or the elite plantation owners - wanted to preserve slavery.  And they sent thousands of young men to defend that way of life, many of which were not slaver-owners.  Sherman proposed to strike at the heart of the desires of those elite plantation owners - their property.  If they had nothing left to hold on to, the war would be over - slavery would be over.  And so his army, marched deep into the South and on to the sea, virtually untouched, while they burned and dismantled everything.  For the next one hundred years, the South would despise Sherman's name.

The march would not have happened were it not for the unique experiences of Sherman - his failures, his past, his recent successes.  It would not have happened were it not for Sherman's desire to expose the hypocrisy of the South.  His soldiers, who were from the mid-West, not the East, caught onto his idea and caught the vision of the march.

When it was complete, over 100 million dollars of damage was done (which would be over a billion dollars of damage in today's dollars).  The South was ruined, and with it the capacity to wage war.

There was so much that Hanson covered in this second part and I'm sure he could have gone on and written an entire book on Sherman.  Again, I'm glad to have read more of Hanson's books, as I have learned more about a man, a war and our nation's history.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Found: xkcd

I try not to be too consumed by all the stuff I consume.  So I try to keep my RSS reader fairly clean and I keep my focus on things that I really like.  Stuff gets added; stuff gets dropped.

Today I added xkcd.

Here's a sample, which I picked because of the reference to chess and Calvin & Hobbes:

Thursday, March 8, 2012

March 2012 Painting

My kids are very talented - they get it all from their mother.
#1 paints and draws well and plays the clarinet very well.
#2 also has a good eye for drawing; is a great writer and is very athletic.
#3 & #4 are still fairly young and their outstanding talents are yet to be identified, but we can see certain things that lead us to believe they have just as much budding talent as their two older siblings.

I will be posting a few of their pieces of all their art.

This one below is a painting #1 just finished last week.  It will be a Mother's Day present for the two grandmas.

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Cornered by Blather

This "muse" was from several years ago when I worked in a cubicle and I would get frequent passers-by.  Nowadays, I have my own office with a full-fledged door!

I wanted to post this in light of today's Dilbert


One of the toughest situations I face every day is being cornered by a blathering idiot.

The other day at a social gathering, a bag of hot air blows over my way and kicks up a conversation. "How ya doin' Rocky?"

I barely nod my head and begin to open my mouth to respond, but in that split second he starts up his bagpipe. "Yeah that's great! So my son made the football team. Yep, he's only a freshman and he made first team. We're real proud of Roy. Gonna be an all-American."

The bagpipe continues to issue steam. Every fifth sentence, I attempt to interject my own comment. "When I was in college, I played ..." Bagpipe blows louder for several more minutes. I try again, "Oh yeah, I remember when ..." Bagpipe shouts out to a passer-by and then says to me, "What were you sayin'?" "I was just going to say that I remember ..." "That reminds me" and the Bagpipe is going full-steam ahead.

Ten minutes later, I shout out to an imaginary friend and say goodbye to Bagpipe "I'll catch you later Bo!"

The key to dealing with a blathering idiot is to head them off before they gather steam. Usually, thinking up a good excuse to suddenly leave a conversation is vital to extricating youself from the corner.

When you're at your office desk and a blathering idiot enters, you can accomodate them for a few minutes and then pretend a meeting notice from your calendar just popped up. "Uuuhoop, sorry Brian, gotta run to a meeting. I'll talk to you later." Then you proceed to an office on the other side of the building and hide for 30 minutes.

The unexpected cell phone call will work too. You can pretend it's on vibrate and act like someone just shot you in the hip. "Oh man! Don't you hate it when the phone shocks you! Let's see who this is. Ooo! I need to take this call. Excuse me." Then you get up and rush out of the office like it's on fire. Head to the nearest exit and call your wife in case the blathering idiot follows you.

Sometimes you can instant message an ally to rescue you. Have him come over and pretend that he needs you to sign some important papers at his desk. Then promptly excuse youself from the blathering idiot and run like h-e-double-hockey-sticks.

If you fail to come up with excuses and extrication plans, then you will be forced to endure long, boring conversations. When the blathering idiot finally runs out of hot air, you will then have to endure several minutes of awkard silence interjected with several concluding remarks. "Well, that's one heckava story Jim." At this point, Jim is supposed to say, "well, I better get back to work" but no ... he lingers like a noxious fart. You may try to wave it away, but it spreads and endures. And with each passing moment, more and more brain cells are expiring. Eventually you marshall the courage to stand up and pretend like you're leaving. This causes Jim to release his grip. You're free.

Finally Jim leaves and you can breath freely again. While you can, you begin to jot down ideas for rescuing yourself the next time a blathering idiot corners you.

Monday, March 5, 2012

Exploding Whale

Here's an oldie, but a goodie.

Problem: dead whale on the beach and it really stinks.
Solution #1: cut it up and bury it. Nope. Too hard and time-consuming.
Solution #2: burn it. Nope. It'd probably smell really bad too and add to global warming.
Solution #3: blow it up with dynamite. Awesome! Outcome: raining chunks, blubber all over everyone in the vicinity, damaged car and most of the whale is still there!
Final solution: bring in the bulldozer.

Friday, March 2, 2012

The Soul of Battle Part 1

I started reading The Soul of Battle: From Ancient Times to Present Day, How Three Great Liberators Vanquished Tyranny by Victor Davis Hanson.  This book has been in my queue for quite a while.  It is divided into three parts, each about a military general Hanson admires: Epaminondas, Sherman and Patton.

I've decided to provide a quick summary of each part as I finish it.

I just finished Epaminondas last night.  I've read other Hanson books before and have read bits and pieces about Epaminondas.  But after I read the 120 pages about him in this book, I was left hungering for more about this incredible person.  The Greek and Persian history is drenched in conquest and continual war.  You often hear about the Spartans and the Athenians.  But rarely do you hear about the Thebens and their decade of liberation.

The Wikipedia entry on Epaminondas (if you want to hear how to pronounce his name, click here) is very interesting and provides a lot of information and historical background.  I learned quite a bit more about him reading the wiki entry after having my interest piqued by Hanson.

As usual, I found Hanson's writing amazing.  I love the way he writes and describes things.  Every time I read one of his books or articles on the web, I get this swelling feeling of pride in Western culture and civilization.  His descriptions of Epaminondas and his BC 370-369 winter liberation of Peloponnesia were very enlightening.

Before reading this first part of the book, I didn't know much about what his latest book was going to be about (The End of Sparta).  But now that I know the context of this book, I am even more excited to read it.

The next part will focus on William Tecumseh Sherman - another general I've heard bits and pieces about, but am nevertheless excited to read even more about.