Friday, May 29, 2015

Works For Me

When we were in Charleston recently for the college graduation of our granddaughter we rented a house only 2.5 miles from the graduation site.  However, we had heard horror stories about both the traffic and parking on Graduation Day.  Everybody we talked with said the same thing:  Do not drive downtown if you can avoid it.  So before leaving home we made up our minds to use Uber as transportation to and from graduation.

It's amazingly simple.  We downloaded the app and registered on their site.  Part of the beauty of the whole thing is that you use Uber without any cash changing hands.  The site gives you the option of registering either a credit card or using your Paypal account.  I chose Paypal; Uber has only my name, email and phone number.  No credit card info.  So we were set to go before hitting the road.

I had done some reading up on Uber before we set out for SC and like anything else that's reviewed online you can find good and bad.  Most of the bad seemed to be from former drivers whose opinions I discounted because their personal beefs with the company had no relevance to getting us back and forth from graduation.  Uber seems to be very popular with college students and millennials who use it as the designated driver on nights they are out drinking.  Our granddaughter and her friends use it constantly and reported it to be cheaper and to have cleaner vehicles and friendlier drivers than the taxi companies.

On Graduation Day we wanted to leave at 1:00 p.m.  At 1:01 I opened the app.  No need to enter our location; Uber knows where you are.  I know, spooky, but the price you pay for living in a digital age.  The app told me that due to high demand that we could expect to pay 3X the standard rate.  I had to click an icon to accept, which I did.  I then entered our destination and requested a ride.  As I put the phone back in my pocket the text alert sounded.  I pull the phone out and the text message says "Your Uber driver is here".  Huh?  Turns out he was just coming off the interstate a block away when he got the message.  The guys car was clean, he was friendly, had cold bottles of water for us and confirmed how busy his day had been.  He got us as close as he could before we encountered road closures.  Again, no cash needed, no card to swipe.  Just say goodbye and get out.  Before my foot hit the curb I had a text with my receipt.  The 2.15 miles cost us $29.32.  We both cringed at that, but your granddaughter only graduates once.

After graduation and some family pictures we had to go back to feed Abby before meeting the family for dinner.  We walked a few blocks to station ourselves in front of an easily recognizable location.  Requested an Uber pick up and the guy was there in 2 minutes.  The app had said that rates were now 2X the standard.  Again, nice guy, cold water and a clean vehicle.  He was originally from Kazakhstan and had an interesting story to tell.  Damage for the trip home:  $19.12.

My impression of Uber?  Excellent.  Like any business, supply and demand drives the price.  Did we pay a lot for two short trips?  Absolutely, but for every day travel where you don't need the hassle of dealing with traffic and parking I would highly recommend it.

Thursday, May 28, 2015

Back to the Seventies

By The Big Guy
Senior Contributor

I’m watching the set and suddenly the cable goes out. That’s not quite right. The cable did not go out. It went wacky. I went to change the channel and I got a message on the screen that there was a tuning problem (what?) and I couldn’t connect with the channel I selected so I was being returned to the channel I had been watching. Well that’s something I’ve never seen before. Best part was that the next thing I saw was not the channel I had been watching but some completely different channel. Let me clarify. I was watching The Price is Right on our local CBS channel. I changed to Celebrity Name Game on our local CW station, which it said it could not tune to and so it was sending me back. Instead it sent me to a station running a Korean talk show but at the bottom of the screen it said I was watching The Price is Right. Now, I admit that I do not speak any Korean but I know what Drew Cary looks like and he was not there.

So I began to experiment and the more I did the worse it got. Many of the stations had “tuning problems” and I was always promised a return trip to the station I was previously viewing, which was never the case. I got bumped to Fox Sports 1 and it told me I was watching The Weather Channel. It sent me to BBC America and told me I was enjoying TNT. In an effort to avoid the dreaded call to the cable company I did what they always tell you to do, which is to yank the power plug out of the wall and let the damn box reset itself after which all will be right with the world. No such luck. I made the call.

Fearing the connection to Mumbai and the opportunity to talk to someone whose name was allegedly “Jimmy,” I was pleasantly surprised to find out my phone rep’s nom du jour was Emily and she lived in Virginia. I guess this was the time of day that folks in India were asleep. After giving Emily my address and the last four digits of my social security number (something I had done just moments earlier to the voice recognition machine that initially answered my call) I explained my problem and told her that I had already tried the reset gambit, with no improvement. She began with the usual apology (pleasant but worthless) and looked at whatever it is those people look at on their always incredibly slow peecees. After I listened to a good deal of typing sound effects over the phone, she advised me that a technician would have to come to the house but unfortunately the next available appointment was not until next week. To me this says that every available house call technician had been laid off until after the first of the month to make the stock price look better. I thanked her for her time, let her know that I was disappointed but that I would tough it out until the technician’s arrival.

Toughing it out is never fun. I remembered that some months earlier I had purchased but never hooked up one of those thin film indoor antennas that picks up high definition digital signals out of the air, in other words rabbit ears for the twenty-first century. What do you know? It actually worked! Now I had all of my local channels, all the major networks. I also had one of those devices, an Apple TV (not unlike a Roku or a Chromecast or a Fire TV) that could provide me with lots of other channels, sporting events, movies, even TV shows. Suddenly I’m thinking why the heck do I need to send hundreds of dollars to a cable company each month? I may not have as many choices as I do with cable but it’s certainly way more than I had back in the seventies. This is exciting! I can get off the grid! I can stop the madness! I can do this!

And then, completely without warning the cable was back up and working flawlessly. What was gone just as quickly was any desire I had to become a cable-less pioneer. Oh well.

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Hero Of The Week

Army Spc. Chad A. Edmundson
Age:  20
2nd Battalion
112th Infantry
56th Stryker Brigade
Pennsylvania Army National Guard
Died 27 May, 2009
Baghdad, Iraq

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

I'm Addicted

Mountain Dew first gained national distribution in 1964 when Pepsi Cola bought the rights to the formula.  I can honestly say that I've been addicted to the citrus beverage ever since.  If I remember correctly, it was originally made with real sugar.  It's been so long since they changed to artificial sweeteners that Pepsi is now marketing a version made with real sugar as a tribute to the original.

When I was working I spent each day in the car and on the road, driving from appointment to appointment.  I got in the habit of stopping mid-afternoon at convenience stores for a bottle of Mt. Dew.  What I failed to take into consideration was that these weren't the 12 oz. bottles of my youth but instead they were now 20 oz. of goodness.  Nearly twice what I had been drinking.  Couple that with an aging metabolism and the result was what you would expect, a gain in weight.  I was also experiencing slight headaches, which I attributed to my sinuses.  It wasn't until Mrs. Big Guy schooled me on the amount of sweetener and caffeine in Mt. Dew that I decided it might be a good idea to stop drinking the stuff.  Except for an occasional relapse, I stopped drinking the stuff for about six years.

Recently, I felt the urge for a Dew and had a bottle.  Mrs. Grumpy knows I like it and she found a cheaper substitute called Big K Citrus Drop.  The taste is not exactly the same, but it's close enough.  She doesn't drink it so when we're out it means I drank all that was in the house.  And guess what?  I'm gaining weight and having periodic headaches.  I should stop.  I've stopped before, but now I don't seem as motivated to quit.  I can always buy bigger clothes and take a pill for my headache.

Friday, May 22, 2015

Thoughts From The Road

  • The farther south you travel, the cheaper the gas.

  • A good test of compatibility before marriage would be to spend 20 hours together in a car.  With a dog.

  • Southerners are more friendly.

  • Do not expect the student body at a southern liberal arts college to be diverse.

  • If you haven't used AirBnB for travel accommodations you should try it.

  • Our dog Abby is a great travel companion.

  • Grits still suck.

  • It was worth a 160 mile round trip to cross Scott's BBQ off my bucket list.

  • 50% of the male graduates at the College of Charleston have a roman numeral after their name.

  • 50% of those are named Tyler or Tanner.

  • After a few days, "y'all" just becomes annoying.

  • When traveling by car, women will stop to pee at about 2.5X the rate of men.

  • Uber is the greatest thing since sliced bread.

  • We made a new friend from Kazakhstan.

  • It's impossible to drive North through Kentucky without encountering a huge back up.  Every time.

  • The best part of any road trip is getting back home.

Thursday, May 21, 2015

The Tallest Tree in the Forest

By The Big Guy
Senior Contributor

Somewhere along the way I learned that those gigantic forest fires we experience out in the western states, while horrible, are just a part of the way things work. It’s the earth renewing itself. Vegetation gets old and reaches a state where it needs to be cleared. Oils build up inside the trees and eventually are ignited by the heat of the sun. The forest burns to the ground and new vegetation begins its hundred years journey toward the sky.

Okay, it’s a metaphor. In a brief period of time we’ve been losing those more senior guys hosting the nightly talk shows. First Jay Leno, then Craig Ferguson, last night David Letterman and in several more weeks Jon Stewart will join the departing crowd. It’s not nature but rather culture renewing itself with this coincidence of timing. Four people who along the way may have lost their enthusiasm for the work, although it probably has more to do with the fact that there are things you do when you’re thirty for which you just don’t have the stamina when you’re in your fifties or sixties. Eventually, things go stale on both sides of the television screen.

As Dave Letterman entertained me on his Late Show finale last night, I realized I would miss him beginning this very evening. That fun place for me to go at 11:35 (10:35 Central) whenever I wanted is gone. Then again I also realized last night that that fun place has probably been gone for some time. All it took was seeing those old clips from twenty and thirty years ago when Dave not only made me laugh but also stunned me with the audacity of his program's sense of humor. I realized both he and I were no longer living anywhere near the edge. Is it age or is it THE age? Has political correctness moved us all to a place not so audacious as it once was? I guess it doesn’t matter. Humor will also renew itself if it becomes necessary.

In any event, I appreciate the great ride. I’ve got plenty of memories and Dave’s legacy is confirmed. For me, he will always be the tallest tree in the forest.

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Hero Of The Week

Army Sgt. Kurt D. Schamberg
Age:  26
2nd Battalion
14th Infantry Regiment
2nd Brigade
10th Mountain Division
Died 20 May, 2005
Baghdad, Iraq

Monday, May 18, 2015

You Reap What You Sow

I was in South Carolina last week and all the media buzz is about Luis Lang, a 49 yr. old resident of Fort Mill, SC.  Mr. Lang is self employed, working for the government and banks on maintaining foreclosed properties.  He has done pretty well, living in a 3,300 sq. ft. house valued at more than $300K and having a wife that doesn't work.  He has never bought health insurance, actually boasting that he and his wife paid their own medical bills.  That plan has worked for a number of years while they were both relatively healthy.  But recently Mr. Lang has run into a problem.  Ten days of severe headaches sent him to the emergency room.  They told him he had suffered several mini strokes.  He quickly ran up $9K in medical bills and wiped out his savings.  He also began having vision problems and couldn't work.

No problem, he thought.  That's why there is the Affordable Care Act.  Well, there were two problems: 1.  Enrollment for 2015 had closed.  2.  Because he has no income he earns too little to qualify for a federal subsidy to help him buy a private policy.  Mr. Lang, a self described Republican, admits he knew he was required to sign up for the ACA, but he chose not to do so.  For two years he chose not to sign up.  He thought, wrongly it turns out, that in the event of an emergency help would be available.  Who do you think he and his wife blame for his situation?  That's right, President Obama and Congressional Democrats.  "My husband should be at the front of the line because he doesn't work and because he has medical issues.  We call it the Not Fair Health Care Act", said his wife  What idiots.  Even with private insurance you can't skip premium payments and expect to get your care paid for when you get sick.

Mr. Lang, his eyesight getting worse by the day, has bleeding in his eyes and a detached retina.  To save his sight he needs care that is going to cost about $30K.  What about the Medicaid expansion, you ask?  Isn't it supposed to cover those who fall below the poverty line?  Yes, that's what it does.  The federal government pays 100% of the cost to cover low income, able bodied people.  Oh, wait.  South Carolina and its' Republican controlled legislature and Republican governor declined to participate in the Medicaid expansion.   So through his own stupidity and with the help of the morons he surely helped elect, Mr. Lang is royally screwed.

Did I mention that Mr. Lang also has diabetes?  He's a lifelong smoker who still smokes (note the pack in his pocket) and admits he's done little to control his diabetes.   He got himself into this mess, but has what he hopes is a solution.  He has started a page, asking others to donate and get him out of this.  Maybe Gov. Nikki Haley will donate a big chunk of change.  How about the Koch brothers?  The irony in all this is too ripe to ignore.  I wonder how many times he's complained about the liberal "takers" and "moochers".   Now he's finding out how it feels to be poor, sick and without resources.

You might want to check out his GoFundMe page, if only to read the comments, even by those who donated.  Suffice it to say, he's not getting a lot of sympathy.  You can find it here:

Friday, May 15, 2015

Because, The Bible

Heading out to pick up my kid at day care
Is it just me or does it seem that state legislatures are becoming nuttier all the time.  The best known example, of course, is Indiana's recent attempt to codify bigotry.  How do people with ideas like this get elected?  That's actually a rhetorical question.  Religious nuts who are passionate about certain issues will actually go out and vote in state elections, while most people ignore them.  The result is nutty people making nutty law.

Now it's our turn in Ohio.  Last week Republican lawmakers introduced new legislation that would further loosen the gun laws in the state.  And by "loosen" I mean basically make the state into a free fire zone.  One proposal would allow concealed carry without a permit.  Meaning concealed carry for everyone, no training required.  They had already reduced the training requirements necessary to obtain a permit.  Now there won't be any training required or even a permit.  Rep. Ron Hood, R-Moron, calls it "constitutional carry".  He says "If bearing arms is a right, it is not the job of government to require law abiding citizens to jump through one of the most burdensome processes in the country to exercise."  He's saying the current requirement of 12 hours of classroom training and exhibiting minimum proficiency on the range is "burdensome".  So let's lift that burden and just allow thousands of untrained people to carry concealed weapons.  What could possibly go wrong?

Also proposed is new legislation that would permit concealed carry in previously forbidden places, like college campuses, churches, day care facilities and government buildings.  We have already had numerous instances of physical altercations in our local courthouse between parties on opposite sides of criminal cases.  Now let's give them all guns.  Why not sell popcorn while we're at it?  Rep. John Becker, R-Idiot, actually quoted the Bible in supporting this idea.  "Jesus tells his disciples '...if you don't have a sword, sell your cloak and buy one'".  He also claims that gun ownership is a "God given right."  Backing him up is Rep. Tom Brinkman, R-Mush for brains, who, I'm sure after much thought, intoned that "It does have some biblical background".  I can only wonder at the process in one's brain where a biblical passage about swords translates to the right of everyone to own a gun.

When one of the sponsors of the bills, Rep. Ron Maag, R-Brain Dead, was asked what limits would be imposed on the types of weapons that could be carried, his answer was "something you can carry".  Most people can carry a bazooka or an RPG.  Where are we headed?

Thursday, May 14, 2015

Habits Never Change

By The Big Guy
Senior Contributor

Let’s get right to it. Today we’re talking important habits, not stupid things like whether you brush your teeth before or after you take your shower in the morning. This one is all about what you watch on TV and how you watch it.

Perhaps you realize that we are in the death throes of a TV system that was first made available to us common folk around seventy years ago. Perhaps you don’t give a damn just as long as you can point the old clicker at the old screen and watch a cage match pitting Dr. Oz against Dr. Phil on the pros and cons of aggressive flossing. For those who have forgotten, there was a once upon a time before your programs came to you through a wire into a box near the set or harmlessly (?) beamed like a laser from twenty-two thousand miles away in outer space to a receptacle on your roof and then through a wire into a box near the set. Way back when, pictures and sound simply floated through the air and magically showed up on your TV screen and the only price of admission was what it cost you to buy that TV at the furniture store and lug it home and plug it in.

Hard as it may seem to believe that old free through the air thing still exists and you could actually take advantage of it right this very minute. Of course you’d have to wave goodbye to all two dozen flavors of ESPN, all those pretend news channels like Fox and MSNBC and CNN and Al Jazeera America, all those cooking channels (how many things can you really do to chicken and have it remain edible?), those handy homeowner channels, the channels for ladies that for some reason are always showing movies of ladies being beaten up, your faith based channels, Oprah, Conan, and the historical channels that seldom mention history but find all the time necessary for pawn shop owners screwing people out of their treasures, traveling scavengers screwing barn owners out of their priceless antiques and hucksters screwing each other bidding for abandoned storage lockers full of the garbage of strangers.

If you make that small sacrifice what awaits you on those really actually free channels include quite a variety of programming to make any viewer happy. There are reality shows like The Taste, comedies including Bad Judge, One Big Happy, and The Millers, plenty of procedurals featuring CSI: Crime Scene Investigation, Forever, and Battle Creek, dramas like Hart of Dixie, Revenge, State of Affairs (although some insist it’s a comedy), even shows that dabble in the occult including Constantine and Resurrection. What a lineup.

Wait, seems I picked up the wrong list. All those shows were officially cancelled this week by their network overlords (Okay, CSI gets to do a two hour made for TV movie in the fall to wrap up fifteen years of blood and guts – then they’re cancelled). Guess they all sucked after all. Ah well, plenty more drivel where those came from. Can’t wait to see what’s in store for us come September. Happy viewing.   

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Hero Of The Week

Army Spc. Ronald W. Gebur
Age:  23
1st Battalion
22nd Infantry Regiment
1st Brigade
4th Infantry Division
Died 13 May, 2006
Baghdad, Iraq

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Being Accountable For Your Actions

I'm sure we all remember the infamous lawsuit of years ago brought against McDonald's by a woman who claimed she suffered severe burns when a cup of their coffee spilled in her lap in the car.  I seem to remember that, even though many people laughed, she won her case and McDonald's even changed the temperature of their coffee.  Well, the hot coffee bogeyman has struck again.

Starbuck's has a policy that police officers in uniform receive free coffee.  One day in 2012 Lt. Matthew Kohr of the Raleigh, NC Police Dept. stopped in to a Starbuck's to get his free cup of java.  Upon driving off, he claims the lid popped off and the cup crumpled in his lap, leaving him with third degree burns.  Instead of going to an emergency room right away, the lieutenant went home and took pictures of his injuries.  Shortly thereafter he and his wife sued Starbuck's for $750,000; he originally wanted to sue for $10 million, but civil suits in NC are limited by statute to $750K.  In his suit he claimed the burns aggravated his Crohn's disease, caused him anxiety and sleeplessness and caused loss of intimacy with his wife.  His doctor testified that he became depressed, stopped eating, became malnourished and had to be admitted to a hospital.  Because he spilled coffee in his lap?  Starbuck's countered that his health problems pre-dated his coffee spill by many years and that the spill did not contribute to his ill health.

Where is the common sense in this case?  Unless one orders iced coffee, coffee is served hot.  The lieutenant claims "I didn't know it was that hot".  I know coffee is hot; most adults know coffee is served hot.  I actually like mine piping hot.  I also know when I pick up coffee to drink in the car that it's not a good idea to hold it between my legs.  Common sense, right?  That's why God invented cup holders.  Let's assume that police cars are so loaded with communications gear, computers, hump mounted shotguns and other law enforcement tools that there aren't any cup holders.  Every convenience store in the world has cup holders that can be clipped into the front window channel.  About $.69.  Buy one.  Don't hold hot drinks between your legs.

The jury ruled that Starbuck's was not liable, a verdict I consider a vote for common sense and personal accountability.  If you do something stupid and get hurt, admit you were stupid and move on.