Saturday, November 29, 2008


The Cohen's had Chrismakuh. The politically correct have Chrismakwanzanakuh. We have Thanksgivagain.

It is believed that Thanksgivagain traces its origins back at least ten years - near the end of the 20th century - when, upon finding themselves competing for holidays with their children's in-laws, old mother and father Wilcox graciously agreed to celebrate most major holidays on an adjacent, non-holiday day.

Thanksgivagain is the day after the fourth Thursday of the eleventh month of the Julian year. It is the day when the Wilcox clan, both young and old, gather together for a fine Thanksgiving meal, again. Despite having stuffed themselves to seam-bursting levels just 24 hours earlier, they do it all over again on Thanksgivagain, further testing the stress limits of both stomach tissue and bathroom scales.

Happy Thanksgivagain, everyone!

Friday, November 28, 2008

Black Friday - Part One

I browsed through the advertisements from the Thanksgiving day newspaper last night after everyone had gone home from our family gathering. We didn't "need" anything, but I hate to miss out on a good deal for something I can or will eventually use. We are still looking for a couple of Christmas presents for the kids, and I found a few things in the ads to get for them. With Madison and Brookie having spent the night at Grandma's, Karsten and I ventured out to brave the throngs of bargain hunters. 

Naturally, there was not one single store that would meet all of my needs. In fact, of the eight items on my list, no two items were from the same store. 
  1. Sears was our first stop. False advertising. The item did not exist at that location.
  2. Second stop, Walmart. False advertising. The item did not exist at that location. No empty shelf. SKU not on file.
  3. Third stop, BestBuy. Sold out.
  4. Fourth stop, Home Depot. Success!
  5. Fifth stop, OfficeMax. Two in a row! Unfortunately, that was not for a present. Just replacing our worn out shredder.
  6. Sixth, Toy-R-Us. I was a fool. Even IF they'd had the item in stock, the customer relations of Toys-R-Us is so poor - with their checkout line that stretches around the perimeter of the store, clerks that cannot answer simple questions, trashed product packaging and general clutter, barriers made out of products that prevent shoppers from walking where they want to, and so on, and so on - I knew I was setting myself up for disappointment from the get-go. I won't even mention the parking lot or some of the rabble they tend to attract.
  7. Next was Coastal Farm to stock up on cat food. In store? No problems. Parking at OCSC? 20 minutes. I ended up parking at the opposite end of the shopping center in front of Rite Aid.
  8. We also needed to pick up a new pacifier tether for Karsten. He's worn out his third one already. Rite Aid doesn't stock any. Fred Meyer doesn't carry the type that work with pacifiers made on our planet. Kmart was sold out. No tether for Karsten.
  9. Last stop, Chevron. No lines. Good prices. Good service. Ahhhhh.
With little to show for our effort, Karsten and I made our way home to where our Thanksgiving leftovers needed attention.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Business Up Front, Party in the Back

Unsupervised play time this week meant "beauty shop" for Madison and Brooklyn, Madison being smart enough to be the beautician and make Brookie be the customer, but not smart enough to realize how much trouble she would get into once the deed was done.

We've been allowing Madison a lot of freedom to do her "crafts" as she has demonstrated more responsibility. She tells us she wants to be an artist when she grows up. I suppose that is what helped her to feel comfortable sneaking some scissors from the cupboard.

For her part, Brooklyn was more than a willing participant. She's the one that came downstairs to show off her new do and in the process, blew the cover of the illegal hair cutting ring operating out of our toy room. The only things missing were some tattoos and unnaturally tan, leathery skin. Brookie has a mullet.

Both girls are presently locked out of the toy room - the crime scene - until Christmas Eve when all of the cousins will come over and we'll be forced to let them in. Madison has also lost all of her "craft" privileges until that same day. That was my punishment for them.

Sara's choice is psychological abuse every time they ask for anything. "No, because you cut Brooklyn's hair and now she looks like a hillbilly."

Madison also wanted to choose a punishment. She decided to institute a library-style system for their DVDs. Now, all of their movies are in a drawer in my office and they must check out one at a time and return it before getting another.

So far both girls seem rather indifferent to the entire situation. I'm not sure who's punishing who.

Friday, November 21, 2008


I watched American Idol for the first time ever during the most recent season. I was following the two Mormons; Brooke White and David Archuleta. Both are fantastic singers and both represented the Church very well.

Brooke has a rough, sultry voice that, in my mind, makes her unique not only among the other contestants but the entire industry. David's voice is velvety smooth like milk chocolate and he specializes in hitting the high notes.

For those that were perhaps on holiday from the planet at the time and are not aware of the results, David Archuleta wound up placing 2nd and Brooke took 5th. Two weeks ago David was the first of the contestants to release his debut album. I had pledged my support long ago and the album was automatically downloaded into iTunes because I had pre-ordered it.

Part of my commitment to DA meant I would listen to the entire 16 songs (got a few bonus tracks with the preorder) at least twice before passing judgment. It's a good thing I did. After one listen there were only a few songs that stood out - that I thought I could hear on a regular basis. After the second time through, there really is only one song that I don't particularly care for.

"Crush" is the first single from the album and was released a couple of months ago. It's catchy and reached #2 on Billboard's Hot 100, but not the best of the lot. In my opinion, that honor goes to "Barriers", a satisfying R&B crowd pleaser that I hope gets plenty of attention on the radio to give it the airtime it deserves. Following closely for supremacy is a beautiful quasi-duet with Kara DioGuardi - who also co-wrote the song - called "To Be With You."

A couple of my other favorites include a made-famous-on-Idol cover of "Angels", originally recorded by Robbie Williams, and "Touch My Hand", a peppy little number that will have you singing along in the car.

Perhaps the best quality of this album is it is chock full of good music. There are no caps being busted in any one's posterior. No degrading descriptions of women. No foul language. No suggestion of impropriety. There is no reason whatsoever to hide this disc when you give somebody a lift. Unless, of course, you have a thug image to maintain in front of your homeboys.

Still waiting for something from Brooke White.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008


I fully expect to be asked the following survey question someday: "For how long have you had your current DVDs from Netflix at home?"

This would, of course, serve as some type of indicator as to how busy one's life is at that particular juncture. 

We've been with Netflix for nearly four years. Early on, we were extremely eager to take full advantage of the "unlimited" feature of our rental agreement. We typically could turn around a DVD on the day after we received it in the mail. This allowed us to churn through six DVDs per week using our 3-at-a-time plan, barring post office holidays. We definitely got our money's worth back then.

But that was all before kids numbers two and three showed up. Before swim lessons. Before preschool. Before ballet. Before they were capable of hurricane-force destruction on a daily basis. And before they overthrew the previous commander in chief of the television in a bloodless coup.

We've slowed down quite a bit since those times. Just a few months ago we were averaging approximately three DVD turnovers per week - still a remarkably good deal when compared to renting those same 12 movies from a local rental store each month.

However, the three discs we currently have at home have been in our possession since the end of September. That's seven weeks. We've paid two monthly dues during that span, yet have not watched a single movie. We're obviously already aware of this and still cannot seem to find time to watch our current films.

So we agreed we should suspend our account until after the first of the year when (hopefully) our lives will be a bit less hectic. Netflix allows customers to suspend their accounts for up to 90 days without losing anything. Sort of like a vacation hold on your mail or newspaper.

I haven't gone through with the suspension yet. Reason being - we have seven days to return the DVDs currently in our possession before a you-bought-it fee of $20 per movies is assessed. Therein lies the problem - at present I don't think we can reasonably expect to watch our current movies and return them within seven days. It's not that we don't want to watch them - we do. It is simply a matter of prioritization. 

And so it is that our Netflix movies remain at the bottom of my inbox, AKA to do list, AKA honey-do list, AKA that big pile on my desk. Kevin Spacey, Steve Carell and Natalie Portman will simply have to bide their time waiting for their 15 minutes. Sorry guys. After four months the membership dues will wash with the $60 I'd have to spend to buy you outright. If you're still around at that point, I'll be forced to return you, unwatched.

Saturday, November 15, 2008


Every day I get an email from radio tech talk show hostess Kim Komando. Every day she offers a short review and recommendation of a free computer software download. These are things like organizational tools, security software, system tools, games, graphics/music/video programs, etc. In all cases she has investigated the companies behind the product and tested the software herself before recommending it to her listeners/readers. I've tried several of them over the years and still use many of those free apps such as:
  • AVG - virus protection, comparable to Norton or McAfee
  • Scribus - a free desktop publishing package similar to PageMaker
  • GIMP - the free Photoshop

Most days I simply skim Ms. Komando's description of the software and move on. I keep a lookout for something that meets an actual need that I have. AVG AntiVirus, for example, saves me the $60 annual subscription fee charged by most of the alternatives. AVG does offer paid products such as their premium security suite, but they give their antivirus software away for free to get you in the door. Thus far, I haven't been compelled to step up to a more powerful product, nor have I experienced a security breach of any kind since I've been using their product.

Scribus solved a problem I was having where I needed to create unique text wraps around and within custom shapes. There may be a way to do it with Office, but I couldn't figure out how to do it. Scribus allows me to edit the points of my shapes and place text on the inside of those shapes, whereas Word and PowerPoint only allow me to wrap text around the exterior of a predefined or custom shape.

My new favorite is a dandy of an app called WordWeb that was featured a few days ago. I can't believe how much I'm using it. WordWeb is a dictionary/thesaurus/encyclopedia all rolled into one very easy to use package. It is not a spellchecker, per se. The app resides in the system tray next to the clock. You use it by holding the CTRL key and clicking on any word with the right mouse button. Up pops a small tabbed window containing everything you could possibly want to know about the word. 

I'll show you. Pick a word - "varmit" - got it. Oh, WordWeb told me that is not a word and suggested I might actually be looking for "varmint". That's true, I was. Here's a screenshot:

This works on any text (read: not words in an image file). I like having a universal solution that works anywhere within my operating system. Word, Excel, Internet browser, blog, whatever. Same process. Same interface. Just today it saved me, in two separate work-related emails, from using words that did not mean what I thought they meant. Anything that can help me not come off as a half-wit (I just used WordWeb again to find a synonym for "moron").

If you're interested in experiencing the same enlightenment I now enjoy, you can find WordWeb here: The download on the left is the free version.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Evangelical/Catholic Props

Some promising developments being forged among the various Christian sects. Perhaps common ground has finally been found. 

Saturday, November 8, 2008

That Phone Call

I got that phone call again today...

Computer: Do not be alarmed. There is nothing wrong with your account. However, this is this is your last chance to take advantage of lower interest rates on your credit card. This will be your final notification. Press "1" now to speak with an account representative.

(I press "1")

Person: Are you calling about our lower interest rate offer?

Me: No, I'm actually not calling. You called me about my account. Which account are you referring to?

Person: So you are not calling about a lower interest rate on your account?

Me: Which account?

Person: On your credit card.

Me: Oh, are you my credit card company? Which one are you?

Person: Huh?

Me: What is the name of your company?

Person: We're offering a better interest rate on your credit card.

Me: Great, what interest rate are you offering me?

Person: Well, first I'll need to get some information from you. Let's start with your name.

Me: Oh, I'm not going to give you any information.

Person: Sir, I will need to ask you some questions to complete your application.

Me: What application?

Person: For your lower interest rate.

Me: I'm not applying for anything. You're either offering me a lower rate or you're not. 

Person: Sir, I don't understand why you called us if you don't want to fill out an application by phone.

Me: I didn't call you. You called me.

Person: Sir, I'm afraid I can't process your application unless you can provide me with some information about you.

Me: Excellent! The computer that called me said this was my final notification.

Person: Yes, sir.

Me: Do you promise?

Person: Uhhhh, yes, sir.

Me: Good. Because that's the same thing it said last week and the week before. I'm glad this will be the last call.

Person: I do apologize for that.

Me: Thank you very much. I'll talk to you next week. Bye.


It's not so much that I mind the phonecalls - I actually will talk to everyone that calls (surveys, market research, political polls, policeman's ball fundraisers, etc.) - it is the shadiness of this particular operation. I do not like that they purport to be one of my financial institutions. I do not like that they ask for sensitive information over they phone on a call they initiate. I do not like that claim each call will be the last, yet continue to call back. I do not like that the humans I get transferred to have such poor command of the English language (though many are native speakers; I deliberately made the phone rep above speak very politely and properly so the phonetic interpretation of the conversation did not distract from the content.)

I used to simply hang up. Now I try to waste as much of their time as possible so they don't bother you.

Thursday, November 6, 2008

And... Again!

Another 450 points were shed today, bringing the two-day selloff to 10%.

For the record, I really do hope that our elected officials can develop policies and legislation that serves to strengthen our economy, our security and our quality of life. And I don't care who gets the credit. 

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

So This is "Hope"?

Exit polls showed the economy was the number one issue on voters' minds when selecting a candidate. Presumably they voted accordingly.

The stock market was down 500 points Wednesday in the first trading session after the election.

Just an observation.

Monday, November 3, 2008

Mmmmm, Gas

A couple of months ago we took "A Long Drive" out to Timothy Lake to look for a GPS treasure for the Mt. Hood Territory geocache contest. On our way home we passed through Sandy and got caught in a big traffic backup around the Arco gas station in the middle of town. There were news vans and even a chopper flying overhead filming all of the activity. Turns out both the cars and the news people were all there because they were selling fuel for $2.99/gallon as a publicity stunt. "Gas Under $3.00" was the lead in on the 6-o-clock news.

I filled up the Jeep for less than $50 for the first time in at least a year. $2.44/gallon with my Fred Meyer Rewards card. That alone could spell a small economic recovery package, I think. That's $30 less than I was paying just a few weeks ago, which essentially $30 extra in my pocket, since I would have spent $80 were it not for the dropping prices.

Last night we drove out to see the Pypers in their new house and saw unleaded for $2.30/gallon at the Safeway in Molalla - less with your Club Card.


One of my business school professors at hyper-eco-PSU tried to convince me that it was my environmental responsibility as a human being to drive a bio-diesel. Tell me, if that one guy - you know the one with all of the bumper stickers - if that one guy is buying up all of the vats of used cooking grease to make bio-diesel for his slug bus, what are the rest of us supposed to do? Buy new vegetable oil from Costco at $7.99/gallon? For a business professor he definitely lacked a basic understanding of capitalism: the market will develop/produce products that it can sell for a profit; meaning mass-market appeal at a competitive price. The fuel savings on many hybrids doesn't even offset the higher purchase price over the average life expectancy of the vehicle. 

Now, I'm all for alternative fuel vehicles - hybrids, electrics, solar, etc. - as long as they don't cost me more at the car lot (which they currently do), more to operate, or look like a Jetson-mobile. Somebody will eventually stumble upon the right formula for mass-market success, and my guess is sooner than later. They will figure out how to produce vehicles at a competitive price and with comparable features and performance. They will figure out how to power them in an environmentally friendly and economically efficient manner. Meanwhile, over the course of the next 10-20 years while that technology is worked out and the infrastructure is built, I'd rather be paying $2.00/gallon than $4.00 for the vehicles I already own. And it's not like gasoline is going to disappear from the marketplace overnight either. It will take many years for the market to replace our dinosaur-powered rides with something better. As alternative-fuel vehicles grow their share of the market, I expect traditional fuel prices will plummet like last year's fashions.

Here's hoping the supply/demand curve continues to shift in our favor as we all change our driving habits and supplies improve.