Thursday, December 25, 2014

How I've Taken Back Christmas

When I was a young boy, like virtually everyone else I know, I loved Christmas. I couldn't wait to open all of my presents and eat the huge meal. I loved setting up the Christmas tree. The Christmas season meant snow, and if it was a particularly snowy year, it meant snow days. Everything about Christmas was magical.

Somewhere along the line, Christmas lost its magic. I think it started in my teen years, when I was too old for toys, so I got clothes for Christmas. Now please don't get me wrong, there's nothing inherently wrong with getting clothing for Christmas, but I've never been much of a fashionista, so I never got excited about getting clothes for Christmas.

By the time I was a young adult, I had reached the point where I really didn't like Christmas all that much. I hated the commercialism that caused Thanksgiving to virtually disappear. I hated the artificial cheer. I hated spending Christmas alone, and I hated traveling halfway across the country to spend Christmas with my family in the cold, cold Midwest. I was this way for a very, very long time.

Even when I moved back to the Midwest, and had children of my own, the Christmas spirit didn't return, because buying for children meant busting the budget. Christmas meant shoveling snow from my sidewalk and scraping frost and ice from my windows, it meant long lines at the store, and the stress of finding the right gift for my picky (first) wife who let me know in no uncertain terms when I missed the target.

I have spent many years raging against the commercialism of Christmas. I was a card carrying member of the "Put Christ back in Christmas" campaign. But no matter what I said or did, I didn't like Christmas. Over the years, that changed. Somewhere along the line, I realized that I didn't need to change society; I needed to change myself, and I did.

I guess the first thing I really did was make Christmas personal for my family and me. I started purchasing Christmas ornaments for my girls... Christmas ornaments that represented them specifically. When I got remarried, I extended this tradition to my wife. I think this is our favorite tradition. It certainly is mine.

I adjusted my attitude about Christmas gifts. I have learned to appreciate the effort placed into purchasing gifts that I have received, and I have started trying to find the right gift for the recipient. I also don't sweat the budget aspect as much. I still have a budget, but since I make a little more, the budget is larger, and I don't worry as much if I slightly exceed it.

I have come to realize that the "artificial" Christmas cheer isn't so fake after all. By and large, most people saying "Merry Christmas" and "Happy Holidays" really mean it. It would be nice if we could be this kind year round, but I'll take what I can get. In return, I have come to say "Merry Christmas" and genuinely mean it as well.

I have also remembered, and really internalized, that we are celebrating the birth of Jesus, which is significant to me. I do realize that Christ probably wasn't born on December 25. I realize that Christians morphed from a pagan holiday. That's okay. I also realize that Christmas is still a very secular event for the majority of the population. That too is okay.

You see, what killed Christmas for me was that I had been focusing on the trappings of the season, not the season itself. I had been focusing on what was wrong with the time of year, and was angry that society didn't bend to my will. What brought it back was the realization that I didn't need to change the world, I needed to change myself. Christmas was once again wonderful when I realized, nay remembered, that it's not about the gifts, it's about the relationships. That, my friends, is how I've taken back Christmas.

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

A Little Satire for your Wednesday

They say that a ring represents love because because, like a circle, love has no beginning and no end.

Yep.  A ring also represents love because it's hollow.  I should have bought my first wife a line segment.  (A little something for you math nerds out there.)  You know, something with a definite beginning and end.  Or maybe a line... of coke.  That's about how long the marriage lasted.

(Justice of the Peace)  "Do you take this woman to be your lawfully wedded wife, for better or worse, for richer or poorer, in sickness and in health, for as long as you both shall live?"

(Me) "I do."

(JP) "Do you take this man to be your husband, for as long as this line shall last?"

(The bride) "Yep" [sniff]

(JP) "I now pronounce you man and wife."

(The bride) "I want a divorce."

Friday, November 28, 2014

New Twists on an Old Tradition

Like most families I know, I do turkey on Thanksgiving.  And when I say "I do the turkey," it means that I do the turkey.  I've been cooking the family bird for about 10 years now, and I've done a lot of experimentation during this time.  I started out roasting it low and slow.  This has consistently yielded a melt-in-your-mouth, fall-off-the-bone turkey, but not something appealing to look at.  I've fried quite a few turkeys.  Fried turkey tastes wonderful, cooks quickly and produces a bird that looks much more like the traditional centerpiece turkey than the aforementioned low and slow method.  After that, I started smoking the turkey on my grill.  Smoking the turkey takes longer than frying, but less time than slow roasting.  The taste, in my opinion, is even better than frying, and it consistently produces a good looking centerpiece bird.

This year, we changed up again, buying a free-range organic turkey that was raised by some family friends.  Like I said, I've cooked a lot of turkeys over the years, so I thought I had it down to a science... until I got input from the family that raised the turkeys.  They indicated that cooking an organic, free-range turkey was significantly different than cooking your run-of-the-mill turkey.  Cooking time is supposed to be shorter, because of the lower fat content, so I did a lot of research, and found a lot of conflicting information.  In the end, I went with one common-sense article, which essentially said "There's a lot of conflicting information out there.  If you're not sure what to do, go with your gut and experience.  If it doesn't turn out the way you like, then make a mental note and adjust your method next time."

That bit of common sense set me straight and reminded me that cooking is a science and an art.  I quit worrying so much about the results and started laying out my game plan.  I decided to smoke the bird, since that's consistently produced the best flavor.  I decided to inject the bird with a marinade to hedge my bet against a dry bird.  I also invested in a meat thermometer.  It's the first time I've used a meat thermometer in my life.

Instead of giving you a blow-by-blow description of the process and results, I'll focus on the differences.  I'm hoping that talking about the differences, as opposed to talking about every little step, will help others who were in my position... people who have cooked store-bought turkeys in the past, but want to try a heritage bird.

-The breast is significantly smaller than a store-bought bird.  The legs are longer and thicker than a store-bought bird.  This brings the white meat to dark meat ratio closer to 50-50.

-As I said, I used a meat thermometer for the first time.  I used a thermometer with a remote reader.  This allowed me to stick the probe into the bird and leave it there, while the display was outside of the grill.  I started out with the probe in the leg.  Something wasn't quite right though.  The temperature reading showed 150 degrees in less than an hour.  I suspect that the probe was touching the bone, but I'm not 100% sure.  I rotated the turkey 180 degrees in the grill, and moved the probe to the breast.  It was absolutely the right call.  I KNOW that the probe wasn't touching bone in the breast.  The displayed temp instantly dropped down to about 110 degrees (which was more accurate based on the bird's size and the elapsed cooking time).  I left the probe in the breast for the rest of the cooking time.

-Cook time was not significantly different from what's required of a store-bought bird.

-The skin was thicker than what I remember from a store-bought bird.  Too thick to be edible in my opinion.

-There was a big layer of fat in the upper chest area of the bird.  All between the skin and meat.  Nothing to worry about, just an observation.

-White meat was very similar to a store-bought turkey.  Quite a bit more moist (probably due to the aforementioned fat).  A bit more substantial.

-Dark meat was far more flavorful, and far chewier.  Not exactly "tough," but a lot more dense than a store-bought bird.  This makes sense though.  Free-range organic birds actually use their muscles.

For the curious, here's a pic of the finished product.

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Tooting My Own Horn

I checked my Blog stats today, for the first time in I-can't-remember-how-long.  I was pleasantly surprised by the results.  I don't get a lot of hits on any given day, primarily because I don't write that often.  But, here are some significant statistics.

-I've been blogging for almost ten years, writing a little bit about a wide variety of subjects.

-I have over 800 separate blog posts.

-My blog has been visited over 30,000 times.

-I have four blog posts that turn out in the top ten results in Google and/or Bing.

*If you search "Xbox One Review 2014 Follow Up" on Bing, my blog post is the second item returned.
*If you Google "Interview with a Mortician," my blog post is sixth on the list.
*If you Google "Evaluate LS2 motorcycle helmet," my blog post is the top non-paid spot.
*If you Google "Evaluate Mustang Regal Duke" (a motorcycle seat), my blog post is the top spot.

Not too bad for a completely unknown writer who blogs strictly for the sake of writing.

*This information is accurate as of November 26, 2014.

Never Too Old to Mosh

Last night a friend and I traveled to Moline, IL to see Korn and Slipknot in concert.  I go to my fair share of concerts, but it's been a long time - a very long time - since I've done a concert like this.  Being a seasoned concert-goer, I'm familiar with the ins and outs of music fans.  Sometimes I'm up front with the die-hard fans, other times, I prefer to hang in the back and absorb the music.  I've even been known to sit in the stadium seats from time to time.  It all depends on my mood (and my budget when I buy the tickets).  For this concert, I purchased floor tickets, and wasn't sure at the time of purchase whether I'd push my way to the front, or choose to hang back.  There were two basic questions... Would I enter the mosh pit?  How hard would I push to get close to the stage?

In the end, I let fate decide.  My friend and I were about 1/3 to 1/2 way back on the floor for Korn.  I figured that if a mosh pit formed around me, I'd mosh for a while, or maybe hang out on the edge of the pit, where there's still some moshing, but you're not in the thick of things.  A pit formed close by, but I wasn't actually in it.

For those of you who aren't familiar with the mosh pit, the best way to explain it is a series of spontaneous dance areas that organically form and disappear throughout the course of the concert, except that you don't really dance in it per se; you slam into one another.  Occasionally fists and elbows fly.  There are only a couple of unwritten guidelines.  One is no blood, no foul.  The other is that if someone goes down, you give them an opportunity to get up and/or help them up.  Other than that, it's pretty much a free for all.  For lack of a better way to phrase it, it's controlled violence.

Korn put on a great performance.  My favorite part was where Jonathan Davis played the bagpipes for the opening of Shoots and Ladders, which is a dark, twisted mash-up of nursery rhymes.  A close second was when they did the bridge from Metallica's "One." The energy at this concert was great.  Lots of aggressive, but friendly testosterone flowing freely.  By the end of Korn's set, we decided to get closer to the stage for Slipknot's performance.

Shortly after Slipknot came on, a mosh pit formed, the crowd pushed forward, and my friend and I were separated.  My friend held his place.  I let the crowd move me, and as a result, I moved closer to the stage throughout the course of the set.  I ended up in the second row.  I was close enough that I could hear the custom percussion without the amplifiers.

For those of you who aren't familiar with hard rock concerts, let me explain something.  Energy flows from the stage.  Generally speaking, the more mellow crowd hangs toward the back.  The closer you get to the stage, the more intense the energy of the crowd.  The front is downright aggressive.  You're packed in like sardines.  It's hot.  Everyone is pumping their fists in the air, screaming the lyrics, and bouncing up and down like pogo sticks.  The front is not for the weak.  Though it's highly unlikely, it's theoretically possible that you can be injured in the front.  The front is also where you're most likely to get souvenirs... guitar picks, drum sticks, etc.  I got a guitar pick from Seven in Slipknot.  He threw the pick into the crowd and it landed squarely on my shoulder.

Maybe it was the energy from the crowd.  Maybe it was the fact that I was a forty-something holding my own, moshing with a crowd young enough to be my children.  But Slipknot was crazy awesome.  I loved hearing Psychosocial and Before I Forget.  It was awesome to actually keep up with fans who are two decades younger than me.  By the way, I got mad props and respect from the youngsters.  Got a lot of high fives and thumbs up from the kids who were impressed that the gray-bearded old guy was holding his own.

I should also point out that I'm really glad I've been working out.  Last time I moshed like this, I was far younger, and I was very sore for the next couple of days.  I woke up this morning a little tired, because I stayed up way past my bedtime, but I'm not sore at all.

So... what did I learn?  I learned that there's still a young metal head inside of this middle-aged body.  I've learned that I've still got some raw aggression inside of me, and it's okay to release it.  I would say that I remembered how much I love concerts, but the fact is, I never forgot.  My main lesson though, is that you're never too old to mosh.

Friday, November 14, 2014

Not Everything is a Miracle

Last week, the pastor at my church delivered a sermon basically saying that we shouldn't spend too much energy focusing on and looking for God's miracles.  His point was that what happens is that you basically get ADD in your relationship with God.  If you go too long without experiencing a miracle, you get distracted and/or frustrated with God, and your long-term relationship with God suffers as a result.

I'd like to go a step further, and posit that people see miracles where no miracle exists.  By definition, a miracle cannot be explained by natural or scientific laws.  This means that the overwhelming majority of events that people call "miraculous" are nothing of the sort.  I'll use my pastor as an example (though he probably won't like it).

We are in the process of moving to a new location.  The first step was to acquire property, which was a difficult, painstaking process.  The pastor, board and large part of the congregation had their heart set on a specific parcel, but it just wasn't meant to be.  Shortly after accepting that the first choice wasn't going to happen, another plot of land became available.  The church ended up acquiring this property, which was in a better location, more land and a better price.  My pastor has repeatedly called this a miracle.  My pastor, however, is wrong.

Again, I am going to refer to my previous statement that a miracle cannot be explained by natural or scientific laws.  Everything that happened in the land purchase was within the realm of natural law.  In fact, this kind of thing happens all the time in real estate.  Assuming that God was involved in this land purchase, it does not qualify as a miracle.  The correct term for this example is providence.  Providence is divine involvement that falls within the boundaries of science or nature.  Far too many people use the terms interchangeably.  The problem is, this cheapens actual miracles, and, quite frankly, makes people who use the term "miracle" too freely look a little nutty.

My personal opinion is that, while God loves us, he does not perform genuinely miracles very frequently.  In fact, I tend to think that most incidents of "providence" are probably just coincidences.  I believe that God loves us, and watches us, but it's precisely because of this love that he keeps his hands off, allowing nature -- the nature He created -- take his course.  I suspect that he subtly intervenes occasionally (providence) and on the rare occasion performs genuine miracles.

This doesn't diminish the thankfulness that we should feel and express toward God.  While God doesn't necessarily intervene as frequently as we would like, and as frequently as we give Him credit, that shouldn't impact our thankfulness.  After all, He created this wonderful world, where we can forge loving relationships, and experience all that life has to offer.  If God never performs a miracle in our lifetime, that doesn't mean He doesn't love us.  It doesn't mean that we shouldn't be thankful for what we have.

We shouldn't spend so much time proclaiming miracles.  We shouldn't spend so much energy looking for miracles.  We should, however, continue to be thankful for the bounty that we have received.

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

No Thanks Necessary

Like many Veterans, I was greeted with many thanks and well wishes today.  I had a free meal at Applebee's.  It's been a good day.  I want you to know that I very much appreciate the sentiments expressed by so many of my family, friends and even strangers.

With that said though, I would like to say that, for me, the thanks aren't necessary.  Don't get me wrong.  I really do appreciate it.  It's just not necessary.  As far as I'm concerned, it wasn't a sacrifice to become a Marine and serve my country.  It was an honor.  It was a privilege.  Yes, I was deployed in two foreign conflicts.  Yes, I was in harm's way.  But I came back whole.  My fellow servicemen and my countrymen stood behind me.

Besides, it's not as if I didn't get anything in return.  I received the opportunity to get out of a small town in the Midwest, where I knew I'd waste away if I didn't leave.  I made lifelong friends.  I received an education.  I received discipline.  I traveled the world and experienced different cultures.  I met the mother of my children while I was in the Marine Corps.  I learned that that the Midwest actually had a lot to offer.  I learned loyalty, commitment and camaraderie.  In short, my enlistment gave me as much as I gave my country.

I always appreciate when people thank me for my service.    Like I said though, becoming a Marine wasn't really a hardship.  It was something I did with pride.  When I receive the kudos, I just say thank you in return.  It's a lot easier to say thank you than to explain that thanks aren't necessary.

Thursday, November 6, 2014

An Open Note to Politicians Everywhere

Dear Politicians,

The election is over.  The Democrats are licking their wounds, and the Republicans are doing their happy victory dance.  (For those of you not familiar with this dance, the Democrats and Republicans both do it when their party gains power, and it looks a lot like the Elaine dance.)

I have two things to say about the elections, and these comments go to both parties.  First, your so-called commercials sucked!  I really wish that the lot of you would just grow up and quit trash talking each other.  It's worse than middle school!

The second comment is really directed toward the Republicans.  Though you gained a lot of seats this election period, it does NOT necessarily mean that America is endorsing your party, and it is NOT necessarily a repudiation of the Democratic platform.  The reason that Republicans gained seats is because the public is tired of business as usual in Congress.  Please take that lesson to heart.


A (Still) Disgruntled Constituent

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

I'm Just the Messsenger


I don't know who God is speaking to in this message.  I don't even know if I've ever met the intended recipient(s) of this message.  I know that I'm not a prophet and I'm not a holy man.  I'm certainly not better than you.  I'm just the messenger.

Monday, September 1, 2014

Answering My Own Question

In my last post, I asked what you'd do to fix our broken economy; not just fix it for now, but fix it permanently.  Realizing it's not really fair to ask the question without proposing my own solution, here's what I'd do.  The crux of my policy is short term pain for everyone, with the goal of long term gain for everyone.

I'd raise taxes on the rich.  When I say "rich," I will concede that I don't have a specific number to define rich.  After all, $1,000,000 in New York is significantly different than $1,000,000 in Kentucky.  Maybe I'd tie the term "rich" to your geographical location.  I would definitely tie the term "rich" to inflation, to make sure that it stays relevant.

When I say "raise taxes on the rich," it wouldn't necessarily be an outright tax.  I would close loopholes in the tax law.  Capital gain, for example, would be taxed the same as income.  There would be no tax breaks for purchasing second homes.  In fact, I would consider capping or eliminating mortgage interest deductions.

I'd cut entitlement programs.  I probably wouldn't make much of a change to Medicaid eligibility, but I would reduce food stamp payouts, reduce welfare cash assistance, and make it more difficult to qualify for cash assistance.  I'd probably limit the amount of time you could receive cash assistance as well.  I'd limit the number of dependents who are eligible for welfare too.  If you want to have one or two kids, fine, we'll help you out.  But if you want to have ten kids, you're doing that on your own dime, not the public's.

I'd raise the retirement age and decrease Social Security benefits.  I would phase this in.  People close to retirement would be unaffected.  If you're ten or more years away from retirement, you'd better plan on getting Social Security later in life.  If you're fifteen or more years away from retirement, you will need to plan to save more for retirement, because the government isn't going to completely finance your retirement unless you plan to live a very simple life.

I'd close tax loopholes for big business.  This is one area where I agree with the free enterprise folks.  Let's cut subsidies for (insert industry here) and let them compete in the global marketplace on their own merits.

I'd enact tort reform to reduce superfluous lawsuits, but increase fines to make sure that business feels the sting when they do stupid things.  The idea here is balance.  The problem with the status quo is that Jane Freeloader can sue McDonalds for coffee that's too hot and get a 10 million payday.  With tort reform, let's say that she could get her medical bills and lost wages covered, with a little bit for her inconvenience.  At the same time, this could lead Chevy to quit worrying about making an unsafe car.  In that case, a family that was horrendously injured in a car accident could still sue Chevy to recoup their losses, but any punitive fines would go to the government.  This would ensure that Chevy would still need to worry about keeping their cars safe.  By the way, any punitive fines would be earmarked for public improvement... building roads, toxic dump cleanups, etc.

I'd implement sunset clauses on all legislation.  This would help make sure that all legislation passed by congress remains relevant... no more suing based on some anachronistic law from 1845.  It would also force them to work together, otherwise there would be absolutely no law whatsoever.  It would also help prevent them from passing stupid bullshit laws and resolutions.

While we're on the subject of congress, I'd make the government subject to the same laws as the rest of us. I'd end congressional retirement packages.

I'd implement term limits for all public officials.  I'd probably go with 12 years.  That would be 3 terms for the President, 2 terms for Senators and 6 terms for House Representatives.  I would allow a person to serve in more than one capacity.  For example, you could move from the House, to the Senate, to President and serve 36 years.  This would only apply to Federal legislators, in order to preserve states' rights.

I would enact campaign contribution limits.  Money corrupts government.

I would prevent former legislators from becoming lobbyists.

I would  take a Libertarian view on personal freedoms.  I would end the war on drugs, decriminalize prostitution, and lift sin taxes on alcohol and tobacco.  If people are going to be adults, then they should be treated as such.  I would simply enforce other laws, such as burglary, assault, slavery and so forth.  This way, if a person wants to destroy their own life, that's fine.  But taking their family and neighbors down is where I'd draw the line.

White collar crimes would have stiffer penalties.  Why should a ponzi schemer get to spend 18 months in a veritable resort while a convenience store robber gets 10 years?  Nope.

I'd enforce this basic policy for a minimum of five years.  After that, I would tweak the policy based on what works and what doesn't.

I'd consolidate government agencies to reduce fraud, waste, duplication and abuse.

I'd make sure that we have a budget surplus each year, to pay off our national debt.  My goal would be to pay off the debt in 30 years.  The only exception to this would be national emergency.

I would reduce or eliminate foreign aid.  Our friends would understand that we need to take care of ourselves first. If they're not our friend, then they don't deserve our money anyway.

How Would You Handle Our Social and Economic Problems?

I read a friend's Facebook post recently, where he pointed to a statistic saying that about 1/3 of the public is on some sort of welfare.  Welfare, for the sake of this article, includes cash assistance, food stamps and Medicaid for sure.  It may include other payments, but I'm not sure exactly what constitutes "welfare" in the articl.  My friend, understandably and justifiably, got a bit irate at this, and said that there's just too much disincentive to work.  I partially agree with this.  There are a lot of people who will just sit back and take free money, without contributing anything to society in return.  This, however, presented a larger question to me.  How do we fix this?

Once upon a time, Iowa had a law that basically said that you can only get welfare for a certain period of time during your lifetime.  I believe it was five years, but it may have been ten.  I'm also not sure if this law still exists.  I think this time limit counted only toward cash assistance.  I don't think the time limit applies to food assistance or medical assistance.  I think this goes a long way toward addressing the immediate problem, but doesn't deal with the root problem... making sure that all Americans are able to earn a decent wage.

There are several problems here that kind of all tie in together...

-Medical costs are too high.

-The cost of education is too high.

-There aren't enough decent paying jobs.

-There aren't enough full time jobs with benefits.

-There is too large of a pay gap between the highest paid and lowest paid individuals.

-Our expectations are too high.  We don't all need 5 bedroom houses.  We don't all need cell phones, and our 12 year old children certainly don't need them.  We don't need a TV in every room of the house.  We don't need multiple game consoles for our entertainment.

Some people say that we need to remove government regulation, which would increase innovation and spur economic growth.  That's partially true, but it's simplistic.  While it would increase innovation, removing government regulation, in my opinion, would also lead to the end of the 40 hour work week, more pollution and more chaos in the financial sector.

Other people believe that we need increased government regulation, such as increasing minimum wage and forcing business to offer benefits.  This is also true but simplistic.  Increasing minimum wage tends to cause layoffs in entry level positions and contributes to inflation, which, over the long haul, tends to wipe out the short-term gains of increases in minimum wage.

So, my question to you, is this:  If you could single-handedly implement a complete economic policy, what would you do?

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Mixed Feelings About Robin Williams

Like many of you, I was saddened to hear about Robin Williams committing suicide.  The world has lost a tremendous talent.  There are many people far more eloquent than I who expressed their sense of loss far better than I ever could, so I won't really try.  I will, however, say that the world is a slightly less funny place, and there is a piece of me that is personally saddened from his death.  That doesn't happen very often.

I realize that depression is a crushing state of mind.  I've had a taste of it, and it's no fun.  It takes every ounce of willpower to get out of bed and to eat.  You don't sleep until you physically can't stay awake any longer.  You can't concentrate.  You want to cry, but you can't.  You can't explain the depth of your despair and emptiness.  Those who have never been depressed can't understand it.  My brief, shallow dance with depression was from a divorce... an acute case.  I realize that I'll never fully experience the depression that a lot of folks live every day.  I'm thankful for this.  I have a great deal of sympathy for the chronically depressed.

At the same time though, I can't allow that to justify suicide.  I vividly, painfully recall how I felt when I was going through my divorce.  It's without a doubt the single most painful time of my life.  But I never considered suicide.  I just couldn't do it.  It would have been the ultimate act of selfishness.  Okay, committing suicide will end your pain, but those around you will have to live with the pain for the rest of their lives.  You may take away your own agony, but you transfer it to those who carry on in your absence.  Sorry, I just can't justify that, and I just can't excuse it.  This is why I have mixed feelings about Robin Williams' death.  Yes, the world lost a genius.  But he selfishly removed himself from the world.

Monday, August 4, 2014

First Look at the Perception Expression 15.0

Last week I purchased a new Perception Expression 15.0 touring kayak.  My planned use for the boat is longer self-contained river trips.  The boat has a roomy cockpit, and plenty of room for storage.  The bungees on the deck allow for the option of putting gear in waterproof bags and stowing them on the deck.

I took the boat out to a local lake on Sunday and paddled around for a couple of hours.  First and foremost, the boat is fast, when compared to boats I've paddled in the past.  (I have extensive experience paddling canoes and whitewater kayaks.)  The retractable skeg helps the boat track very straight.  I also had the optional rudder installed.  The rudder helps the boat turn far more quickly than I had ever imagined.  Raising and lowering the skeg is incredibly fast and easy.  Raising and lowering the rudder is only slightly less fast.

The seat is highly adjustable, and very comfortable.  Even after sitting in the boat for a couple of hours, I never felt cramped or uncomfortable.

My setup has two possible downsides, which I have not yet tested.  Other owners of this boat say that the rudder and the height of the seat's backrest make rolling and self rescues somewhat problematic.  I haven't yet purchased a spray skirt, so I can't yet say one way or the other.  Once I try, I'll report back.

Overall, I am incredibly pleased with my purchase, and I can't wait to take the boat on its first extended expedition.  In the meantime, I will spend some time getting familiar with it, and some money equipping it.  I've read about some kayak sails that I'm excited to try out.

For more information on the boat, click here.

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Minimum Wage and Welfare

I've been reading a lot about discussions to raise the federal minimum wage.  Generally speaking, Democrats support and Republicans are against it.  (Gee, surprise, surprise.)  I'd like to propose an alternative:  Let's raise minimum wage, but stop raising welfare.  Let's increase the incentive to work, and reduce the disincentive.

Sunday, July 6, 2014

One of the Best Purchases I've Ever Made

Eight years ago this month I purchased a 2006 Harley-Davidson Sportster.  I bought it primarily because I've always loved motorcycles, but used rising gas prices as my justification.  (They were hovering around $2.50 at the time.)  A small piece of me realized that I was buying to a lifestyle, but I really didn't understand the extent that it would impact my life.  Eight years later, I look back and realize this was one of the best purchases I've ever made.

Every day I ride is a day that's a little more free and happy than a day where I drive.  I can't count the number of days where I seriously considered riding on past the job and finding out where the open road would take me.

Though bikes start out relatively stock and similar, there are millions of possible modifications that make each person's bike unique.  I can virtually guarantee that nobody has a bike exactly the same as mine.  A bike is truly an extension of its owner.  Some worship horsepower.  Some covet comfort.  Some scream "look at me."  Every one is unique though.  Take my ride for example...

The day I bought it...


The most important part though, is that my kids love to ride with me.  My older daughter asks me to take her riding virtually every day that we both have the opportunity.  My younger daughter purchased her own motorcycle earlier this year, and we ride together frequently.  And my toddler grandson is already showing a love for motorcycles.  This is a bond that nobody can take away from me... from us.  Over the years, I've put thousands of miles on my bike with my girls on the back or on the bike next to me, and I look forward to doing this with my grandson as well.  This is probably the biggest reason that my bike is one of the best purchases I've ever made.

Saturday, June 28, 2014

Getting Old Really Sucks!

I may be exercising and eating relatively healthy, and I might be far healthier than most men my age (and a lot of men far younger than me), but that doesn't mean that I'm immune to the ravages of time.  A couple of weeks ago, I woke up with back spasms.  It hurt bad enough that I stepped out of bed and nearly fell to the floor because of the pain.  I missed two weeks at the gym because I didn't want to aggravate the injury.

Yesterday, I went to a whitewater kayak clinic.  I haven't been in a boat for quite a while, but I didn't do anything strenuous.  My aging body once again objected, however, and I pulled a muscle in my side.  This was during flat water warm-up exercises!  When I pulled the muscle, I heard and felt the pop.  I was able to complete the class, but I paid for it.  Immediately after I got out of the boat, the muscles started seizing and inflaming.  It got to the point where if I twisted wrong, took a deep breath, laughed, coughed or sneezed, the pain nearly dropped me to my knees.

I think this means that I need to adjust my exercise routine to add some core strengthening and flexibility.  I hope to return to the gym Monday, but that depends on how quickly my side heals.  All of this leads me to one conclusion... getting old really sucks!

Sunday, June 22, 2014

Words of Wisdom

Most of you probably know that I volunteer for the Humane Society.  Each month, I go to the humane society, pick out a dog, and take it to a retirement home to visit the residents.  Last week, I was asked to do an interview.  The guy doing the interview is doing his thesis for his Masters Degree.

I was asked how I started volunteering, how long I've been doing it, and how I select the dog that I take.  He asked me about some of my more memorable visits and some of my favorite residents.  I asked him about his thesis project.  At the end of the interview, he asked me what I consider the most important question he could ask:  "What is the one thing you would say to anyone who's thinking about volunteering?"  I replied with these words of wisdom (paraphrased, of course)...

"We as a society spend far too much time keeping up with the Joneses.  We spend all of this time working, so that we can buy a bigger house... so that we can afford that shiny new car.  We seem to have forgotten that life isn't about things; it's about relationships.  I'm fortunate to have realized at a relatively young age that I have enough, while I'm in a position to give back.  It doesn't really matter how you choose to volunteer your time.  What matters is that you do something.  Life's to short to waste it on things, when you could invest it in people."

The interviewer kind of paused for a second and said "That's a great statement."  It was apparent that I caught him a bit off guard.  I've never thought of myself as a sage.  What I said in the interview is simply a philosophy that I try to live by.  His reaction kind of made me realize though, that my philosophy is something that's sorely lacking in our society.  Maybe, just maybe, if I say it here, where anyone and everyone can see my words, it could make a small difference to a few people.  And maybe if it made a difference to a few people, it could have a domino effect.  I don't expect that to be the case, but I can always hope.

Like I said, life isn't about things.  It's about relationships.

Monday, June 16, 2014

A Year in Review

It's been about a year since my older daughter and grandson moved back home with me.  It's been a bit of an adjustment.  My wife and I had just gotten used to having some evenings to ourselves.  We had a guest bedroom and a storage room.  Not anymore.  We had to adjust to becoming built-in babysitters while my daughter was at school and working.  We had to get used to the baby waking up in the middle of the night.

Since then, my daughter has completed school and has landed her first job, and the baby is growing by leaps and bounds.  He's walking and talking, and he has a wonderful relationship with his grandparents... a relationship that wouldn't be nearly as strong if they hadn't moved back in.  Furthermore, due to the fact that my wife and I were able to provide for my daughter and grandson, they didn't have to go on welfare.

Recently, I had a revelation.  Over the last hundred years or so, the family has changed a lot, most of these changes, in my opinion, are for the worse.  The extended family is nowhere near as strong as it used to be.  This, I think, is primarily because the extended family isn't as available as it used to be.  Yes, we've had to give up some things with my daughter and grandson moving back in.  But overall, I think it's a good thing.  I may have lost a guest room.  We might have lost a storage room.  We certainly have had to spend a lot of money keeping additional food on the table and clothing on their backs.  But I'd absolutely make the same choice again.  Life isn't about things.  It's not about a big house, or a fat bank account.  It's about relationships.  And what's resulted from the return home is that my relationship with my daughter and grandson are far stronger than what would have been if they'd have tried to tough it out on their own.  I hope that, in addition to strengthening the bond with my daughter, and forging the relationship with my grandson, that I've instilled these values into both of them.

Thursday, June 12, 2014

Fitness Report

It's been a bit over a year and a half since I decided to get in shape.  As a former Marine, I decided to use the Marine Corps' Physical Fitness Test (PFT) as a guideline for my progress.  It's kind of funny... I've always considered myself a relatively healthy, active guy, but when I started exercising, I couldn't run three miles within the allotted time.  I kept at it though, and within three months I was able to pass a Marine Corps PFT.  Within six months, I scored a first class PFT.  Within a year, I was in better shape than I was at 25, and in the best shape of my life if you account for aging.  I've hit a couple of plateaus during this time.  One plateau lasted over three months, but I was eventually able to plow through it.  I'm still riding the second one, which has lasted almost six months.  It's theoretically possible that I've peaked physically.  It's okay if I have peaked, but I hope that I haven't.  Regardless, here are a few things I've learned along the way.

-Be willing to change your routine.  I learned this early on.  When I started, I was running in minimalist shoes.  I'd read a lot about minimalist running, and heard that it was the way to go.  It didn't work for me though. When I decided to start running with standard running shoes, my run time improved significantly and I stopped injuring myself.  I recently made another major change to my routine with the hope that I can break through my current plateau.  I haven't been using this updated regimen for long, but it seems to be working so far.

-Listen to your body.  This kind of relates to my previous statement.  When I was doing the minimalist running, I hurt my feet frequently.  I listened to my body, and when my feet hurt, I stopped running and rode the exercise bike until my feet healed.  On days when I was unusually tired, I gave myself permission to take it easy.  On days where I felt particularly energized, I pushed myself a little harder.  When I was sore from the previous workout, I backed off a bit.

-Variety is the spice of life.  Every now and then, I don't feel like lifting weights.  Sometimes I suck it up and lift anyway.  Other times, I swim.  What's important is that you do something.

-Goals are good.  When you attain one goal, set another.  I have one goal that I set early in this journey, and I still haven't hit it.  That's okay.  There are several other goals that I've hit along the way.  The point is that you always need to be striving for something.

-Give yourself permission to relax.  Maybe you're sick.  Maybe you're on vacation.  If so, that's okay.  Don't sweat missing a workout or two.  That said though, I don't recommend skipping workouts if you're just starting.  Don't skip workouts until you're at a point in your lifestyle change that skipping out seems like a disappointment, rather than a treat.  Also, don't skip more than a week.  And if you do skip, give yourself a little slack that first day or two back at the gym.

-Be prepared for the occasional backslide.  This kind of ties in to my plateaus.  When I hit each plateau, I actually backslid a bit.  This has partially been due to the change of seasons.  When spring hits, life tends to get a bit busy for me; as a result, I tend to miss a few workouts during this time of year.  Not only do I not make progress during this time, but I actually find that my run time is a bit slower, I can't do quite a many pull-ups, and my bench press suffers a bit.  This is part of the game.  Again, keep at it.

Overall, I'm glad I've started hitting the gym again.  I feel a lot better.  I hope that it will add quality as well as quantity to my life.  Please understand though, I'm not here to preach, and I'm not here to brag.  My reason for writing this today is to share my progress with anyone who may care.  And if I'm really lucky, my words will help someone else who's decided improve their physical fitness.

Saturday, May 31, 2014

How Many Days Until Retirement?

I took my annual Boys' Trip vacation last week.  "Boys' Trip" has become a euphemism though, because girls have been allowed for the last three to five years.  That in and of itself is kind of a funny story.  I've got two daughters.  By the time they were 10 or so, they started asking if they could go on our trips.  My friends said no, so I was out-voted.  Now, my friends have daughters interested in going, they finally see my point, and girls are allowed on the Boys' Trip.  But I'm digressing.

Those of you who know me, know that I believe in God.  Though I've gone to church for several years now, there is no time or place I feel closer to God than when I'm on these trips.  Yes, I feel close to God in general when I'm outdoors, but the Boys' Trips in particular tend to be very spiritual for me.  I am never closer to nature, and there is always a bit of alone time to ponder the miracle of creation.  It's calming and awe-inspiring at the same time.  I always return home appreciative of what God's provided... a loving family... a close circle of great friends... a roof over my head and food in my stomach....

This year, I realized that I'm no longer fulfilled by my job.  I'm a computer geek.  I know computers and networks, and to some extent, I enjoy computers and networks.  But I realized that it's no longer my passion.  If I could retire today, I'd stop working on computers and never look back.

When I came back from my trip, and I tried to talk to several people about my realization... my wife... my friends... one of my pastors... my kids.  But they were all wrapped in their own problems.  Their problem du jour seemed to overshadow my issue.  When I got back to work, I had to hit the ground running, and for the next couple of days, the crazy pace continued, as did my realization that, in the grand scheme of things, my job really doesn't matter.  I tried to share this with a couple of other friends, but once again, when I tried to share my thoughts, it quickly became obvious that they were more interested in talking than listening, so this revelation has remained unrevealed... until now.

That's right.  I am no longer fulfilled by my job.  I've said it.  It's out.  As soon as I can, I will retire from my current career, and start the next phase of my life.  What I'd like to do is become a permanent volunteer.  This way I could do what I want, when I want, for whichever cause I choose.  I could work in hospice for a month or two... then work for VA for a while... then work for the Humane Society for a bit.  The point is that I've reached a point in my life where doing menial stuff for worthwhile organizations is more rewarding than being well compensated to do tasks that really don't advance mankind as a whole.

I want to be clear about this... I'm not a malcontent.  I'm not crying in my millions (relatively speaking).  I'm not having a midlife crisis or existential issue.  I've merely reached the point where I can acknowledge my lack of fulfillment, and am realistic enough to know that it will be a while before I can actually do something (outside of the house) that's personally rewarding.  Either way though, it's kind of liberating to know this, and be able to say it.

Friday, May 30, 2014

Giving an Obliviot Her Comeuppance

I was out riding my motorcycle earlier today, with my older daughter riding on the back.  Fortunately for us, I ride defensively, because some stupid bitch who was too busy talking on her cell phone, decided to turn left immediately in front of us, to the point that I locked my back brake during the emergency stop.

I actually saw all of this coming, thanks to experience and some pointers I picked up during my motorcycle safety course.  (Watch their wheels... if the wheels start rolling, they're going.)  As a result, I wasn't panicked, and catastrophe was avoided.  But I did lay on the horn during the stop, and I watched the chick as she continued her left turn in front of me.  She never looked at me, and she never stopped talking on the phone.  It was as if I didn't exist.  It was as if she never realized she could have seriously injured my daughter and me.

If she'd have acknowledged that she screwed up, (you know... the wave) that would have been the end of it.  But she didn't.  I was incensed... furious to the point that I (safely) made a U-turn and followed her to her destination, (a local grocery store) where I gave her a piece of my mind.

"Hey!" I screamed.  "I just wanted to thank you for being too fucking busy talking on your cell phone to see that you cut me off!"

She tried to say that she wasn't talking on her phone, but my daughter saw it too, and called her on her lie.

"Oh, I didn't see you because of that other car," she finally muttered.

"Yeah, that's because you were too busy talking on your fucking cell phone to watch for motorcycles."

"Do I need to call the cops?" she retorted, defensively.

"Why, to tell them you can't drive?"  Reminder, I'm screaming at her this whole time.  My objective was to publicly shame her, and possibly scare her, with the idea that she looks out for bikes in the future.

"No, because you're causing a scene."

"That's because you're a stupid fucking cunt who doesn't watch for motorcycles!"

At this point, people in the parking lot started paying attention.  This is what I wanted.  It's apparent that she didn't want the attention.  She walked into the store.  My daughter and I got back on the bike and continued our ride.

Now for my commentary on the whole thing...

-The bitch deserved to get her ass chewed.

-I kind of enjoyed being the hammer of justice... the voice of righteous indignation.  Kind of un-Christian of me, eh?

-The primary reason that I did this is because she looked right through me... even when she realized that she did wrong, she never gave the wave, or anything to acknowledge that she made a mistake.  A very close second is to hopefully sear the encounter into her little brain housing group, and get her to watch for bikes in the future.  I don't expect this to happen.

-I will admit that I swear more than I should, but I know that 'cunt' is a particularly offensive word, and I reserve it for the most grievous of situations.  This woman deserved the word.

Saturday, May 10, 2014

Illinois Tollway F*cking Sucks!

I did everything I was supposed to do.  I bought an iPass.  I activated it.  I linked it to my truck.  I made sure that there was money on the iPass.  Unfortunately, there was a flaw in the activation and I ended up getting a ticket for $155!  After receiving the ticket, I checked to make sure that my iPass still had money on it, but somehow my iPass had completely disappeared from their system, as if I had never activated it.  To make matters worse, when I originally activated it, I tossed the box that the iPass originally came in, so I can't activate it.  This means that I did the right thing, and I'm out $200 bucks for my effort!  It would have been 10 times cheaper to pay cash for the tolls!

Furthermore, though the ticket alleges approximately ten infractions, there's only one picture of my truck's license plate, with no date time stamp to give any indication of when or where the picture was taken.  This means that there's no real evidence indicating that I even ran through the tollways in the first place.  This screams Class Action Lawsuit.  Yep, no doubt about it, the Illinois Tollway f*cking sucks!

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Please Look for Motorcycles

I found out this morning that my uncle was killed in a motorcycle accident.  Please don't construe this as a ploy for sympathy.  In all honesty, I was not that close to my uncle.  Instead, take this as a plea to watch out for motorcycles.  My uncle, by all accounts, was a safe rider who always wore his riding gear.  Unfortunately, it didn't stop an idiot from pulling out in front of him, and taking his life.  I ask this not only as the nephew of someone who died in a bike accident, but also as a rider, and as the father of a rider. The life you save may be mine, or my daughter's.

Sunday, April 27, 2014

Evaluating the Sena SMH10 Bluetooth Headset

When I purchased my new helmet last month, I also decided to upgrade my Bluetooth headset.  My decision to upgrade was partially because my previous Bluetooth setup was hard-wired into my old helmet, and partially because I wanted a set, so that I could communicate with my daughters, who frequently ride on the back of my bike.

After a lot of research, I chose the Sena SMH10 headset, and I'm happy with my purchase.  Installation was simple and straight-forward.  The only difficulty I had was finding the proper position for the speakers, and that wasn't a real problem... just a bit of trial and error.

Sound quality is far superior to what I had with my old helmet.  I was able to receive phone calls and communicate with passengers at freeway speeds.  I was able to hear music at freeway speeds, but the sound quality wasn't that good.  This, however, is still a massive improvement over the old system, which was effectively useless at speeds above 45 MPH or so.  The two things I've noticed aren't directly related to the headset itself... One is that the headset mounts in such a way that opening and closing the sun visor on my helmet is a bit problematic.  The other is that, because I'm an animated speaker, people tend to look at me like I'm crazy, because when I talk to my passenger, I tend to nod, shake my head and so forth.  With all of the Bluetooth headsets available for phones in general these days, you'd think that people would be a bit more used to this, but I guess not.

It's very simple to switch back and forth between the intercom and the phone, fast forward or rewind music, and increase/decrease volume via a dial.  My daughter, who's a bit shorter than me, wishes that the dial didn't stick out so far from the helmet, because she usually looks over my left shoulder, and it blocks her view a bit, but this was an offhand comment, not a consistent complaint.

While the set isn't as clear as a set of Beats, you really can't expect that from a motorcycle headset.  That said though, the sound quality is adequate enough to play music (unless you're on the freeway) and good enough to communicate with a passenger or take a phone call even at freeway speeds.

Saturday, April 26, 2014

Evaluating the Daytona Twin Tec TC88A Igntion Module

It seems like I've constantly been tweaking my Sportster since I bought it.  When I purchased it new, it was a bone stock, baseline 2006 Sportster 883.  Over the years, I've put on aftermarket exhaust and intake (paid the Harley tax), done the 1200 conversion, added cams, and had the heads ported and planed.  Each change made a noticeable improvement in performance.  My most recent addition was installing the TC88A Ignition Module.  It was definitely money well spent.

Installation was a breeze.  I had the old module out, and the new module installed in less than 30 minutes.  I should state that this ignition module is really designed for Twin Cam engines.  What this means to Sportster owners is that you won't get the maximum benefit unless you purchase the USB cable as well, which means an extra $75 to $100 on top of the ignition module, because it's a separate purchase.  With the USB cable, you can connect your computer to the ignition module and modify the module with a surprising degree of detail.  You can also save these modifications and even download mods that others have made from the Internet and upload them to your ignition module.

Learning all of this during the research phase saved me a lot of work.  I downloaded a couple of very popular maps before my ignition module even arrived, and made a couple of small modifications to them.

Some of the modifications you can make...
-Control the RPM of the rev limiter

-Control the timing advance, based on Manifold Air Pressure, RPM, etc.

-Offset the timing of the rear cylinder.  This supposedly keeps the rear cylinder cooler and prevents pre-detonation (pinging).  You do this by retarding the timing on the rear cylinder.  I set mine back 2 degrees.

-Recalibrate your speedometer/odometer

I'm still doing some minor fine-tuning, but overall here's what I've noticed:  The adjustable rev limiter is awesome.  I set mine at 6500 per my mechanic's recommendation, and I can hit 40 MPH in first gear!  I have noticeably more power in the low and mid range.  All of this comes with no noticeable decrease in fuel economy.

I can, without a doubt, wholeheartedly recommend this ignition module for anyone considering it.  It was easy to install, it's easy to configure, and the increase in performance is noticeable.

Monday, March 31, 2014

An Unexpectedly Excellent Day

Who'd have thought that I'd write this on a Monday?  It started out with work.  Usually, I have to drive about 30 miles to work, but I got to work in town today, meaning I drove for about five minutes.  The work day was kind of light, so I got off a bit early.  My wife and I bought a new memory foam bed, which was delivered today.  We had originally planned to recycle the old bed, but a friend wanted it, so he got our old bed.  I got off of work early enough to go for a motorcycle ride with my daughter.

But here's the absolutely best part.  About six years ago, I lost my wedding ring.  I looked all over the place for that ring, but never found it... until today.  When my friend picked up my old bed, my wife found my wedding ring.

A slew of small things fell in line to make this a great day.

Sunday, March 30, 2014

Working out with Fatties, Oldies and Wimps

Last week was spring break.  It was kind of nice.  The usual gym rats and high schoolers were out of town, so the gym was almost empty.  Instead, what I saw was a gym full of fatties, oldies and wimps.  There were fat bodies in the pool, a couple of whom were so large that I suspect they noticeably raised the water level when the entered the water.  There were fat bodies huffing and puffing as they walked -- yes, walked -- around the track.  There were old people and wimps who actually used the machines without any weights!  Apparently, adding five or ten pounds was more than they could handle.  As I saw this group of misfits hanging around the gym, working up a sweat to zero pounds, or huffing and puffing at a snail's pace as I effortlessly lapped time and again around the track, one thought kept running through my mind...

Good on you!  Keep it up!  You see, despite what you may think, fat body, old dude, or prepubescent wimp, I relate to you more than I do to the stereotypical gym rat.  Yeah, you may not see a lot of fat on me, and I have a relatively toned physique, I relate to you far more than I do to the gym rats.  Though I'm in decent shape, I didn't get that way overnight.  It took discipline and dedication.  I hope that it's a dedication that you're in the early stages of developing.  I remember where I started, and as a nerd at heart, I hope I never forget.

What I'm trying to say, (poorly, I may add) is that I support you in your endeavor to become a healthier you.  You may think we're all looking at you... judging you... deriding you in our minds.  But that's not the case.  Most of us are silently cheering you on.  Keep it up, folks!  You can do it!  The only difference between you and me (especially the oldies and wimps) is that I've been working out a bit longer than you.  Never forget that.

Saturday, March 29, 2014

Evaluating the LS2 FF386 Modular Motorcycle Helmet

After owning my Vega V-Tune motorcycle helmet for about three years, it was time to upgrade.  I had a couple of reasons for upgrading, but the primary one was that the bluetooth on the Vega went belly-up.  This is my third motorcycle helmet, and with each purchase, I learn a bit more.  My first helmet, an entry-level Bell helmet protected my head, but that's about it.  It was heavy, and had none of the nice-to-have features of a higher-end helmet.

The V-Tune was a step up, but isn't something that I'd buy again.  It was lighter, but it was kind of cheaply built.  It was noisy, and the bluetooth was effectively useless at highway speed.  I was also disappointed that it went belly-up after less than three years.

This time, I decided to buy the helmet and bluetooth module separately.  I went this route for a couple of reasons that I will discuss later.  The bluetooth I purchased is the Sena SMH10, but I haven't finished evaluating that yet.  That will come in a separate write-up.  For now, let's get back to the helmet.

Let me start off by saying that I like the LS2 better than the Vega in every possible way.  The construction is far more solid, without adding a significant amount of weight.  It's a little bit heavier, but I believe that's more a function of purchasing a modular helmet this time.  The V-Tune isn't modular.  The external visor on the LS2 doesn't vibrate like the V-tune did.  The field of vision on the LS2 is clear and undistorted.  The V-Tune distorted things a bit in the periphery.  The drop-down sun visor is sturdier.  It's not quite as dark as the V-Tune, but I didn't see that as a problem at all.  The LS2 does a far superior job of keeping out environmental noise (which helps for bluetooth communication) and wind.  It's not absolutely silent... I can still hear wind noise (obviously) and the sound of my engine/exhaust (which I like... it makes me feel more in tune with my bike), but again, it's better than the V-Tune.

Since it's still early in the year, I kept the vents closed, so I can't yet say much about warm-weather airflow.  I also can't say much about airflow with the visor partially opened.  One thing I can say though, is that I'd like to see an anti-fog feature on the clear visor.  The sun visor didn't fog up at all, but at stop lights I had to open the primary visor to prevent fogging.  I also haven't yet spent a lot of time using the modular opening.  My main reason for getting a modular helmet is so that I can talk to other riders who don't have bluetooth when I'm at stop lights and so forth.  I have opened the modular face once or twice, and I've noticed that it's a tad difficult to close it from the fully opened position.  This might work itself out over time, but I did notice it.

One last negative with my specific configuration.  The sun visor opens and closes via buttons on the right side of the helmet.  This is very close to where the bluetooth headset is mounted.  As a result, the microphone boom is kind of in the way of raising and lowering the sun visor.  I don't see this as a problem during the summer months, but it's a bit problematic when I'm wearing thick gloves.

While my configuration isn't perfect, I am pleased with the initial performance of my rig.  The LS2 helmet is far superior to the Vega helmet, and the Sena bluetooth module is (based on what I've tested so far) is head and shoulders above the bluetooth that came with the V-Tune.  As I said, I will do further testing on the Sena bluetooth and write a separate review in the not-too distant future.

Since this is a review of the helmet, let me wrap up by saying that the LS2 is a solid helmet with a lot of features and a good price range.  The only thing I really would like is anti-fogging on the primary visor and for the sun visor open/close lever to be located where the V-Tune open/close lever is located.  Overall though, I fully recommend the LS2 FF386.

Oh yeah, I bought the LS2 at J&P Cycles.

Finally, here's a link to my original review of the Vega V-Tune helmet.

Thursday, March 27, 2014

Dumb$h!+'s Latest

DumbSh!+, for those of you who don't know, is my daughter's sleazebag, deadbeat ex-boyfriend... the one who was just recently took a plea bargain on a first degree burglary charge, who's facing first degree theft charges, who has two assault charges pending, and who can't find enough time to visit his son for one hour, twice a week.  Yeah, that dumb$h!+.

Well, daughter filed her 2013 taxes last week, and they were rejected due to a problem with her adjusted gross income.  Long story short, we found out that ex-boyfriend and his crooked (or incompetent) accountant flied their 2012 taxes claiming married filing jointly.

My daughter will nowf be filing an amended 2012 return, along with a note of explanation.  If everything turns out as I hope, the IRS will be paying dumb$h!+ a visit in the not-too-distant future.

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Catching Up With a Longstanding Friend

This week my wife and I went to Beaufort, SC to attend a friend's retirement ceremony, which capped a 30-year career in the United States Marine Corps.  I met Keith at MCAS Tustin in 1997, when I was a Private First Class and he was a Corporal.  At first he was a mentor.  He took me under his wing and taught me practical application of Avionics.  As time went by, we became close friends, spending a lot of time at the local dive bar drinking beer and playing pool.  Towards the end of my enlistment, we both got married and lived one building away from each other in base housing.  The Marine Corps by nature fosters close friendships, and ours was tight even by those standards.

After six years, I left the Marine Corps to pursue other endeavors, but Keith stayed in.  He became a drill instructor around the time I returned to Iowa.  We lost touch for about two decades, but he was never far from my mind.  Finally, I found his wife on Facebook a couple of years ago.  Late last summer, it hit me that I hadn't actually seen them for 20+ years, and mentioned that we should plan to get together.  His wife said that he was retiring in February and that I should come out.  A little bit of planning culminated with my wife and I driving to Beaufort for the ceremony and a long-overdue visit.

After a 16-hour drive, which included several hours of driving through the type of light snow that can induce highway hypnosis, and an awesomely fun drive through the winding roads of I-40 in western North Carolina, my wife and I arrived in Beaufort.  I was greeted with a broad smile and a back-slapping man-hug that told me he had missed me as much as I had missed him.  We got signed on base and checked into the base hotel, then it was off to his house to see his wife and start catching up.

At the house, I was greeted with an equally warm welcome by Keith's wife, and I was reintroduced to their son, met their daughter, and introduced everyone to my wife (who, for those of you not familiar with me, is a different wife than the spouse I lived with in base housing).  I also met Mike, a Marine Corps Captain who has been friends with Keith for just shy of 20 years.  I spent the rest of the night listening to Keith and Mike tell sea stories, asking them questions about today's Marine Corps, and reliving some Keith and Dave stories from the old days.  Keith's wife, Mike's wife and my wife were in the next room, getting to know each other and probably telling "my-husband-is-such-a-dumbass" stories.  Over the course of the evening, I decided that Mike was definitely a cool guy, and completely understood why Keith and he became such good friends.  Keith and Mike had a golf date for the next day, and they invited me to come along.  I had never golfed in my life, and I told them this.  They explained that golf is a game to them, and I agreed to give it a try.  Shortly after that, Keith's brother-in-law arrived. He's an avid golfer who can't play right now because of recent surgery.  He offered to drive the cart and give me pointers so that I didn't embarrass myself too badly.

We spent the entire morning on the golf course, where I cracked my first beer before the mist had lifted from the green.  (But then again, those of you who know me realize that I always start drinking early when I'm on vacation.  Hey, you can take the Marine out of the Corps, but you can't take the Corps out of the Marine.)  The four of us had a LOT of fun.  I had a couple of awesome shots... a few whiffs... a couple of balls ended up in the drink... I became a master at getting out of the sand bunkers... we all talked smack about each others' games.  I don't really know what to say beyond this, except that I'm chuckling out loud as I write this part of the story.

After finishing our round of golf, I took my wife to Parris Island boot camp, partially to rekindle some distant memories of my own boot camp, partially to give her a glimpse of a process that helped mold me into the man I am today.  We visited the Parris Island Marine Corps museum, which far exceeded my expectations.  From Parris Island, we returned to Keith and Toni's place for dinner, where Mike and his clan joined us.  After dinner we played Cranium... boys against the girls.  The girls started out kicking the boys' asses, but we rallied for a comeback.  We started a second game, but didn't finish.  The women were ahead, so we all agreed that the entire evening was a draw.  Regardless of the outcome, it was an absolute blast.  We all got to know each other better over several drinks and laughed mercilessly at one another's lame attempts to hum songs, impersonate famous people, draw, mold sculptures out of clay, and pretend to be a clam and drive low-riders.  Sorry... inside joke from the game, but I know that everyone who was there that night just laughed out loud.

Next day was Keith's retirement ceremony.  The Parris Island Marine Band played.  The squadron did a pass in review.  Keith got letters from the Commandant, the Sergeant Major of the Marine Corps, and President Obama.  Mike spoke about their friendship and what Keith had taught him as a Marine and as a man.  Keith spoke about what the Corps had given him.  Toni was given flowers.  I briefly questioned the wisdom of leaving the Marine Corps 21 years ago.  There were a lot of misty eyes.  And I'm sure a lot of the Marines in the formation were wishing they could go home.  But that's just part of participating in a ceremony.  For what it's worth, if you were one of the Marines who participated in Keith's retirement ceremony, I know that he appreciated it, and so did I.  You may not have volunteered for the detail, but your presence was noticed and valued.  Thank you for being there, and thank you for your service in general.

The retirement ceremony was over pretty quickly, and we moved to the Staff NCO club for the retirement party.  There were many Staff NCOs, a few warrant officers, and a few field grade officers.  I had the privilege of talking in depth with a Gunnery Sergeant (Mark) and a Master Sergeant (Mike) about today's Marine Corps, covering topics such as today's young Marines, our presence in Iraq and Afghanistan, the future of the Corps and a plethora of other topics that kept us all engaged for about an hour.  I also spoke briefly with a Staff Sergeant who was an immigrant from Communist Poland.  Keith came in during this conversation, and told the Staff Sergeant that he needed to tell his story to any Marine who would listen, because he was the embodiment of what makes America great.

Shortly after that, we moved back to Keith's house for the after party, which, oddly enough, included the exact same people who had been around for the last two days.  We ate, drank and felt merry until late in the evening.  There was a lot of smack talk and a ton of laughter.  But it was time to go home because my wife and I needed to leave early the next morning.  So we threw around the hugs, the handshakes and the Marine tongue-in-cheek insults.  As my wife and I left the next day, I kept thinking that it was perfect.  I wanted to stay an extra couple of days.  It felt that I'd been away from Keith and Toni for 20 minutes, not 20 years.  I loved getting to know Mike and his wife Amy.  I greatly enjoyed Joe's company (even though he is a retired squid).  They've all got great kids.  Everyone made my wife feel welcome.  This week forged a memory that will endure as long, and be remembered as fondly, as the the events that transpired when we were young Marines in the late 80's and early 90's.

Keith and Toni:  It was incredible beyond words to see you all again.  It's been two decades, but it seemed like 20 minutes.  In my opinion, the ability to seamlessly pick up where you left off is the litmus test of friendship.  Mike and Amy: I had a wonderful time meeting you.  I wish that I could have spent more time getting to know you, and pray that our paths may cross again.  Joe:  It was great to meet you as well (even though you are a squid).  Thank you for the golf lessons; it was a lot of fun hearing stories about Keith and Toni from your perspective.  If you're ever in Iowa, look me up.  To all of you.  Thank you for making my wife feel welcome.  I believe she enjoyed the visit almost as much as I did.  She spoke very highly of you all.

Thursday, January 30, 2014

Raising Minimum Wage

A friend of mine posted an on Facebook today.  The article discussed eleven facts about minimum wage that President Obama failed to mention in his State of the Union address.  Since Blogger appears to have some difficulty lately with links, here's the full URL of the original article...

The original article essentially argues against raising minimum wage.  I would like to point out some counter-arguments from items asserted in the original article...

"...because nothing says “I deserve a raise” like refusing to show up to work..."
The Strike is a legal, time-honored method of seeking higher wages.

"Only 1 Percent Of The U.S. Labor Force Earns The Minimum Wage."
I will take this statement at face value, however, the article does not discuss the people who make more than current minimum wage, but less than the proposed new minimum wage of $10.10.

"Teenagers Comprise The Single Largest Age Group Of Minimum Wage Workers."
The point goes on to say that 31 percent of all minimum wage workers are between 16 and 19 years old.  Okay... that means that 69 percent of all minimum wage workers are 20 or older.  Using the article's own math, 45 percent of those making minimum wage are 25 or older!  Have you tried living on minimum wage?  Have you tried raising a family on minimum wage?

"... 25.5 percent of all minimum wage workers work in sales and related occupations..."
"26.1 percent of all minimum wage workers work in food perparation and serving related occupations..."

Again, they're missing the point.  Waiters and waitresses generally work for LESS than minimum wage (because of a loophole in minimum wage law).  Also, many who work on commission make zero if they don't make a sale.  These occupations are kind of beside the point of minimum wage anyway.  Servers are compensated by tips.  Sales personnel have additional motivation to sell, and are in a position to make a great deal more than minimum wage through commissions.

"A Majority Of Them Also Worked Less Than 30 Hours Per Week"
"Less Than One-Third Worked Full-Time"

Yep.  I totally agree.  I would also asssert that this is the employer's choice, not the employee's.  Employers don't have to give as many benefits to part-time workers.  In fact, I believe that a lot of minimum wage workers are working multiple part-time, minimum wage jobs, which skews the author's first point even further.

"One-Third Of Minimum Wage Workers Either Dropped Out Of Or Never Attended High School"
Okay, I agree with this.  If you don't work hard, it's harder to get ahead.  That's a fact of life.

"There Are Nearly Six Times More Minimum Wage Workers Today Than In 2007"
Isn't that another reason to raise minimum wage?  Statistic after statistic shows an increasing divide between the haves and the have-nots, and a shrinking middle class.  Both of these indicate that it's time to raise minimum wage.

"A Change In The Minimum Wage Often Triggers Union Wage Hikes And Benefit Renegotiations"
Again, what's wrong with giving the working man a bit more of the pie?

A couple of final take-aways from the original article...
Raising the minimum wage would theoretically reduce the number of people eligible for public assistance, though I will concede that I don't have the statistics to back me up, and the Federal Government would undoubtedly adjust this as the economy adjusts to the increased minimum wage.

A large point of the original article is to minimize the impact of raising minimum wage.  Okay, if it's not a big deal, then why is corporate America fighting it so hard?

I also want to point out that I make more than minimum wage, and I don't work in a union job.  I will not benefit directly from raising minimum wage, but I support it.

Finally... I have included some links for further reading.  These articles present both sides of the argument, so you can make up your own mind.

Sunday, January 12, 2014

Xbox One Follow-Up Review

Per RayRay's request, I'm doing a follow-up on my initial Xbox One review.

For the most part, I'm as happy with it today as I was the day I set it up.  I'm still pleasantly surprised with the quality of the voice commands, but I must admit that it annoyed me when my older daughter decided to mess with me by saying "Xbox pause" during the middle of my favorite shows.  That little prank was short-lived though, when she realized that two could play that game.

There's also a cool smart phone add-on called Xbox One SmartGlass, which allows you to control the Xbox from your smart phone.  My favorite use of this so far was to randomly pause Netflix when my brother-in-law was watching something.  That, by the way, was a one-time prank... I wanted to play a practical joke, not piss him off.

On the downside, there's a severe shortage of split-screen games.  Though we use Xbox one as our media hub, I miss playing split-screen games with my kids.  Hopefully this will work itself out as more games are released.  (I considered Forza 5, but I'm not going to spend $60 on a game that effectively requires you to buy add-ons through micro-transactions.  Note to the gaming industry:  If this is the way you want to go, I will NOT be buying your games!)

My last complaint seems to be working itself out.  For a couple of weeks around Christmas, we were having problems signing on to Xbox Live, Hulu, Netflix and Amazon Prime.  This isn't a big deal for me, because I use my PC as a backup method of connecting to Hulu, Netflix and Amazon Prime.  It was, however, inconvenient and irritating... especially when it acted up after I went to bed and my daughter woke me up because she couldn't watch her favorite shows.  These inconveniences, however, should be expected when you're an early adopter of a new technology.  Let me correct that... it SHOULDN'T be expected, but it's an unfortunate fact of life.

Overall, I'm still pleased with the XBox One.  I just bought my second game (Battlefield 4) and when it comes to gaming, I still believe that the Xbox One is a major improvement to its predecessor.  There are several games I'm looking forward to purchasing and playing.