Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Dog Show

So last night, at the encouragement of various friends and family members, my wife and I took our kids to see Marley and Me. The story really hit home for us as a couple, as we are about to bring our third child into the world. No, we do not have a dog like Marley in our house. In a way we did, but because of our changing situation, we were forced to give her up.

The elements of the story that hit home were the family and the couple. The wife gave up a career she loved to raise children - and in so doing, gave up (to paraphrase a line from the movie) a lot of the things about herself that made her who she was. I know my wife has given up a lot of her life plans and goals by being a mother. She wanted to be an attorney, and most likely a prosecutor. She has a strong sense of justice, and she believes in the legal system. She knew, though, that being a Mom did not go well with being in the criminal world, so she walked away from it and studied music instead, even before she met me.

Even some of the conversations they had sounded eerily similar to things my wife and I have said. When she told her husband to take another job and be happy, I saw a lot of my wife's support in those words. All in all, it wasn't exactly like watching our life story (especially not some of the more PG-13 elements of it), but it definitely reminded us a lot of our own situation.

The scene where she found out she had a miscarriage probably captured the emotion of that moment as well as possible on film. People who've never had one have trouble understanding the true heartache of that moment when the nurse or sonogram technician suddenly gets distant and evasive with comments - the moment when it becomes clear that a baby will not be born from a pregnancy.

It was touching, and I can definitely understand the appeal of the book better now. The dog definitely shaped a lot of that couple's life. They were the All American family in many ways, just trying to find their little slice of happiness in the world. I definitely appreciate how little they seemed to care about the material things of this world. It's a great message to the world.

So this post might count as an endorsement of the film. It might count as a review. It might be a spoiler for anyone unfamiliar with the story. I just felt it was a good thing to write about on this, the last day of the year. We look back on a life of happy and sad moments, and we look forward to a life of worries and dreams. Somewhere in the middle we live, we love, and we learn.

-- Robert

P.S.: Happy New Year, everyone! And happy 250th post for this blog!

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Technology Fun

Since moving to our new house, we have only one internet connection for all of our computers: a wireless card. Our previous wireless card worked through a wireless router that allowed all our computers to share the Internet, but that card never actually worked well (or at all), so it had to be replaced. The router still works for network activity, and we've been able to connect all of our computers to it, but it couldn't use the wireless card with a USB cable like it could with the old card.

Last night, though, we had a great idea (I'm man enough to share credit). I was logged on to the internet with the wireless card, and I knew my computer was sensing the wireless router, so I decided to share the internet connection to see what would happen. It worked! The desktop, once connected to the router, was immediately able to get online. We uploaded the wireless card software to the desktop (our desktop was only recently recovered from the graveyard of a dead power supply and had not "met" this new card) and got it online. Then I shared the connection again and my computer immediately saw it and connected. Mission accomplished!

Now we just need to get my wife's laptop on, which runs Vista (the rest of them run XP). Still, I find it pretty great that we have managed to created a sort of back door on to the World Wide Web for our computers. We just need to show Vista how to unlock it and come out to play!

-- Robert

P.S.: Now if I can only explain why my laptop would believe it is not online (i.e., won't connect to certain websites) but will connect remotely to my office.... just crazy.

Monday, December 29, 2008

Utilitarian Prayer

Two weeks ago, I really started working on getting my son to pray. We had worked with him, but I really made it a goal for him to give as many of the family and personal prayers he could until he started to understand both the need to give them and the way to give them. Before the second week was done, he could already give his own prayer. His prayers, though, are about very visible things.

His prayer for a meal goes something like this: Hea-en-y -a--er (he's struggling with the Heavenly Father so far, but it's clear what he's saying), --ank -ou my day, --ank you my pea--es (peaches), --ank you my noo-les, --ank -ou my o-i-es (olives), --ank -ou my --at (anything on his plate he can't name he points at and says his version of "that")... (until he gets to), in name, Jes-- Chris-, A-en.

I find it rather adorable how much he is thankful for. Not every single thing he mentions in every prayer is visible, but they are almost always things he has seen (such as family members not in the room). I suppose I could be worried that he doesn't understand the need to be thankful for things not seen, but hey, he's only two. I'll take it, quite proudly, that my little man can say a prayer at all.

-- Robert

Sunday, December 28, 2008


Today in church I gave a talk about trials. This year, after all, seemed fraught with trials for almost everyone we know. I certainly don't know anyone who felt the year went through care-free. So, in preparing my talk, I read Elder Hales's talk from April '98 General Conference called Behold, We Count Them Happy Which Endure (which comes from James 1:5). The message of that talk was powerful, that in trials we learn of our true strengths and deepen our faith. I remembered my mother-in-law's story about liking hard things. She had a student who kept struggling with a piece and complained about it, so she let him know he liked hard things. He disagreed, but she asked if he played the same level of a video game over and over, or if he still had training wheels on his bike. He agreed such things were silly, so she pointed out that he must like hard things.

I must say, I must like hard things. I have certainly taken a tough route to realize I should have headed into teaching much earlier, and now I am going to do the hard thing and go back to school, leaving behind a good job with a good paycheck. I know I must do the hard thing, and I must like doing it.

I didn't focus so much on my own life and situation as I spoke today, though. I shared some stories from history, some from the article, and some from those I know who have learned from particularly difficult trials. As I said in my comments, I doubt anyone prays for trials and difficulty, we all seek after hardship from time to time. We set goals to improve, and improvement almost always requires effort which can sometimes wear us out. Still, without improvement, complacency sets in, and eventually an atrophy of the organ not used - even of the brain itself. Something must grow, or it begins to die. Here's hoping my brain hasn't already started to atrophy. The meandering style of this post points to yes, unfortunately. Still, the talk was well received, so hopefully this post will be, too. Or at least maybe it will make sense.

Whatever the case, hopefully this can set a tone for the new year: trials may come, by we can learn from them all.

-- Robert

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Crazy Stories Heard In Trucking

On Christmas Eve, a truck owner related this story to me.

He flew from Ohio to Jacksonville, FL, by way of Charlotte (where he was laid over several hours because of plane repairs). He needed to update his Florida driver's license, so once he got there he drove an hour to stand in line five hours. Then he flew through Atlanta (more plane repairs, more delays) to get back only to have the plane skid off the runway in Ohio all they way until the from landing gear was mired in the mud of the field at the end of it. The rescuers had to actually build a ramp to the plane because they didn't have any method of getting the people off the plane mired in the muck. All the while the passengers had to stay seated and wait for the seatbelt light to go off.

Next time someone tells me a story of a bad flight, I think I'll trump it with that one. I think that even trumps the one I heard while working in Atlanta where the plane had the cabin fill with smoke just as it took off and at least one person was screaming at the top of his lungs with various methods of colorful expression to ask them to land the plane. I heard that from a manager who randomly showed up to work on a day we knew he was due in New Jersey.

I hope everyone out there traveling has a better experience than that poor truck owner. Merry Christmas!

-- Robert

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Just Because I Can

So as I write this post, I am connected wirelessly to the Internet - no power cord, no cord anywhere in this building governing my ability to connect. Okay, so there's a tiny USB cable between the wireless card and the laptop, but stil, that's pretty remarkable. So just for fun, I logged on to my old server at work (which serves as a VPN terminal for my brother-in-law most of the time now). And then I updated the Quickbooks software on it so it would be ready for the new year. And then I felt like updating our cash advances, so I used another remote session within that one to get on the new server and fire up Quickbooks. Then I toggled between an internet page on the old server and the Quickbooks software on the new (all while the update was installing on the old one) as I entered the advances. All from the comfort of the floor outside my children's bedroom door as I lay there in the hope they would GO TO SLEEP!

Seriously, though, is that not one of the neatest things to be able to do? Actively do work on two computers OTHER than the one I'm actually doing it on? After the update of advances, I was able to back up the Quickbooks file on the server (that makes six places the company data file exists now, unless you count the RAID duplicate which makes seven in that case), then I logged out of that remote session. Then the update on the old server was complete and the computer needed to be restarted, so I I rebooted it and ended that session.

I just find that session amazingly cool. No, I'm not a workaholic. I just did it because I'm not going in at all for five days, I knew there were a lot of things written today, and this saves me having a hectic Monday when I get back. I am really looking forward to the days off. Hopefully the pest control service has made some headway on getting rid of the mice. I got one, but I will let anyone interested in just how read about it in my wife's blog,, since she plans to write a detailed post about our whole Christmas Eve, which started and ended very nicely. Tomorrow will be a lot of fun with and hopefully for the kids, so I'm excited.

If our son would just sleep.... he may be down finally... just past midnight.... I wonder if he's scared Santa is really coming, since he didn't like Santa at the mall. Who knows, Merry Christmas everyone!

-- Robert

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Tick Tock

Tomorrow marks the day after which the baby can come safely. He is due January 21, but it would be fine with us if he comes any day. This baby has certainly worn my wife out. We did enjoy a nice respite in Florida this weekend, traveling down to Orlando and then over to Daytona the next night. We probably won't be traveling again until I hear back from schools and then we're planning to take a trip to decide which one is best. If any of them let me in, that is. Two deadlines have passed, five more to go...

Tick tock... tick tock.... tick.... tock.......

Oh, yeah, Merry Christmas everyone! Amazing to imagine tomorrow is Christmas Eve. I have had more profound things to write about in the past few days, but all in all, what is more important than the celebration of the birth of Christ (I realize it is not Christ's actual birthday)? I am grateful we've managed to get to Christmas day without a large mound of presents building beneath our tree. I'm proud our kids have made sure we've read the Christmas story from the Bible all through the last two weeks. Most of all, I'm looking forward to our own little Christmas again, two beautiful children coming to bounce on our beds and say "It's Christmas! It's Christmas Day!" What more special moment is there?

So, again, Merry Christmas everyone.

-- Robert

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Material World

I could completely understand the sentiment "everything is amazing, nobody's happy" jokingly presented by the comedian featured in the Youtube on Natasha's post. The way another comedian described it was that people in today's society are standing in front of the microwave screaming for it to hurry up. Not so very long ago, people had to wait for ovens to get warm, and not so long before that, it was a hot fire. A meal that can be prepared now in a couple of hours used to take all day. Or to draw the same comparisons as the first comic, people now get frustrated when their online movie occasionally stops for a moment while it downloads but it wasn't very long ago that tapes had to be inserted in VCR's and fast-forwarded manually through the previews just to get a movie on a "big" 22-inch screen. I still remember arguing with my roommate because our phone line was taken up by the modem while I got online to register for classes (or check email, or... okay so I was online a lot in college). Now people get irritated that their DSL or cable modem occasionally needs to have the plug pulled and reinserted to get their service to return to working.

The message in all of these frustrations comes down to one simple truth: material things will never satisfy the human soul. Making everything faster - faster cars, faster computers, faster internet - has simply freed up more of our time to fill with more worldly pursuits of a more vacuous nature. Studies that show how much time is spent each day texting, reading email, or surfing the web are amazing, since ten years ago none of those things were true of the average person. Some of the younger generation had email and checked out websites, but most people were still unaware of the Internet, and texting was still an apple in some techie's eye. Meanwhile families are spending less and less time together, more and more marriages are falling apart, and, oh yeah, our economy has just taken a hard right turn into a wall of rising debt. If there is one lesson I hope the average person takes home from the current recession, it is the need to live within our means and prepare for a rainy day. I would really love it if we had a return to real spirituality and more people began to find a connection with God - but maybe I'm asking too much of a society who wants to know what Paris Hilton thinks about Britney Spears's life choices, or who can't wait to find out which person won Survivor 55 - the NYC sewer system.

Now if I may be excused, I have to get back to figuring out how to hook up this new HD-antenna to my 32-inch LCD monitor-TV through my desktop to make sure I don't miss recording my five favorite shows to be watched later when I can fast forward through commercials.

-- Robert

Wednesday, December 17, 2008


No, this post is not about Christmas. I am not writing a list of inexpensive gift ideas (hmm, maybe that might work for another post). I am writing about one of my gifts. This post is inspired by Melissa's post about playing an instrument extremely well on certain pieces. The pieces she just owns. My instrument, to draw a broad analogy, is a deck of cards. I can play Spades pretty well, and I do fine with cribbage. I "own" Bridge.

When I first was getting to know my wife, we spent a lot of time talking about our interests and abilities. Somewhere in those conversations she said there was no one thing she was the "best" at among those she knew. I told her there was only one thing about which I could say I felt I was best, and that was playing Bridge. I could tell she was somewhat shocked, and she clearly thought I was simply joking or showing bravado. I asked her what else she had observed about me that made her think of me as a braggart. She acknowledged that nothing really had. Still, she remained skeptical.

Then she watched me play. After one time, I think she understood I had simply reported a fact. I play the game of Bridge as well as anyone I know. Of course, writing such a thing on my blog is probably an invitation for a challenge, but I would enjoy it. I haven't played in a while and might well lose a few hands and games before catching fire. Still, I know in the end I could beat anyone willing to play me, as long as we each had partners with reasonable skills. A truly terrible partner can be kryptonite to any player, simply because bad information or outright misinformation can truly ruin a good Bridge hand, game, or rubber.

Much like Melissa, I imagine most of my (few) readers won't "get" this post. Not a lot of people play Bridge anymore. But for any who do, they can probably understand these statistics. I once played 14 rubbers in a weekend and lost only one of them. My father, on the drive home, said "Well, you sure got lucky." I asked him if he honestly believed luck was all it was. He thought about it and connected my meaning. Someone can "get lucky" on a hand or two, win a game here and there, but to get lucky that long against that many different people makes no real sense.

Another time I was invited to play in a tournament hosted by my grandmother for her friends. Each player in the tournament played with everyone else for five hands. I won every round except one - the round I played with the person who came in very last. I would've won that one, too, if I had simply ignored her and bid one particular hand the way I just knew I should. Still, I beat the next competitor by nearly double, scoring over 10,000 points and scoring a rubber in every five-hand round but the one I lost. I was never invited back. I think the rest of the players didn't find it competitive with me in the mix.

I do not take credit for my skill as though it were all my own doing. I spent many hours playing Bridge with a group of women who taught me a tremendous amount about bidding strategies and techniques. In time I was able to boil all my basic strategy down on to the front and back of a single printed page. I jokingly call it my Jeet Kun Do (like Bruce Lee, who created that martial art by combining elements from many different ones and making the Way of the Fist). To understand the system, it requires a basic understanding of how Bridge works, but with those basics it is pretty usable in actually bidding a hand at Bridge. I love sharing it with people because it has been so helpful to me.

But to return to the metaphor, knowing how to play the notes on a page is one thing when it comes to playing an instrument. Yes, a person can learn to strike the right keys on a piano at the right time, to pull a bow across a string on the right beat, or blow at the right time with the valves in the right place to play a note. To truly bring a piece of music to life, though - to "own it" - can require years of training, and in the end requires a piece of the musician's heart and soul to become a masterpiece. When I am playing Bridge at the highest level I am capable of, it sometimes feels like I am playing my masterpiece. That's the best way I can explain how I play Bridge.

-- Robert

P.S.: I am very grateful to a wife who finally took up the game herself and has become a very accomplished player in her own right. I truly enjoy playing with her across from me.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008


Just the other day, it occurred to me that ten years ago, I was in my senior year of college. I had a list of classes on my wall that I had made the year before showing me the order I had to complete them to graduate. I was probably actively crossing several off and scheduling the last set. Because I was a transfer student, I had learned quickly that I had virtually no choice in my schedule if I still wanted to finish up on my original schedule of three years. All of my business classes from my prior school were conveniently labelled "arts and science" for my electives, so everything left except one course was a business class. Most of those were accounting classes, so I had to take two at once most of the time I was in school. The main thing I remember feeling at the end of the semester ten years ago was burnout. I had gone to school straight through the summer from September 1997 to December 1998. I did not want to even see another text book for several weeks (and really, never again). Yet somehow, I managed to pass all of my classes.

Now, ten years later, I'm sitting here waiting to find out where I can go spend four to five years studying again. Amazing what a decade can do to a person. Hopefully it's a sign of maturity and growth. And hopefully the schools I applied to agree.

-- Robert

Thursday, December 11, 2008

High Tech Rednecks

Over the past two weeks, we have decided to start scanning all bills of lading for our invoices. We have also started scanning many other things, or using a really great program called CutePDF which creates a "printer" that actually saves the printed file as a pdf file. We house the files in a central folder system where we can the retrieve them for email or store them for digital documentation.

Honestly, setting the system up has been a lot of fun. After deciding to do it, we consulted with a computer expert and he suggested we do a double or triple backup. First, he suggested having a second hard drive that exactly copies everything on the primary (called RAID) constantly. By having duplicate drives, a simple failure of one of the drives would not mean a total loss of the data. Second, he suggested having an external hard drive that backed up at least daily, either the entire system or new files (as small as our data set is, the whole system backs up in under an hour). The third option he mentioned by didn't go into great detail about was online backup. We decided to use Carbonite because it has unlimited backup online for $49/year for one computer (which is all we truly need to back up). It runs whenever the computer is idle and backs up all new or changed files. Then if some real calamity struck the business (tornadoes and tropical storms are common to this area), at least the data is still there.

So in a few weeks, we have gone from a company with a lot of paper files to one "going green". In our case, though, the "green" motivation was the improved speed of cash flow, not so much the number of trees we claimed each year. We have found several customers willing to accept documents by email (cutting the cost of copying and mailing as well as the time lost as they went through the mail) and others willing to accept faxes (just as efficient). More will decide to accept them in the future, especially with the incentives likely to come from a Democratic Congress and president.

We will be ready.

Or at least my company will be - I'll be off researching how small businesses are responding to "green matters" as compared with large corporations (not likely).

-- Robert

Update: I just backed up over four gigabytes of data with Carbonite in less than half a day (after that process, only new or changed files will need to be uploaded, but most of the data is protected).

Wednesday, December 10, 2008


Moving has a way of helping a person know just how much stuff he has. What initially might seem like a quick, easy move from one place to another can quickly turn into several hours and multiple loads back and forth between places.

So that was my day yesterday. I should say our day, since a couple of friends helped us. But everything big is moved over (beds, table, chest, etc.). After getting the freezer over and plugged in, I reached to turn on the lights and found the power had been turned off. Fortunately, the city was responsive in getting it turned back on, since we had paid all appropriate deposits and fees.

So we slept under our own (rented) roof last night. It was very nice. After making the beds, we all basically crashed into them.

Today the unpacking begins.

-- Robert

Monday, December 8, 2008


Dear Harvard,

I hope the committee will please allow my professor's recommendation to be included in my application. His university decided to do a software upgrade that has essentially crashed their system, including his computer. As such, he was unable all of last week and the week before to submit his letter, but he assures me that it will be forthcoming very soon, in paper form if no electronic solution can be found. Thank you for your consideration.

Robert, the applicant

P.S.: No, I wasn't quite that eloquent in the actual letter I sent, but I did try to get that point across. After all, what else can I do when an esteemed professor has a crash that threatens my application?

Thursday, December 4, 2008


Today we signed a lease on a rental house. By doing it, we got our friends' deposit back for them (since it was their old place) and we're back on our own. I am confident it will help our family get back to a routine and a more stable existence. I know it will be good for us to establish our own household again.

One nice thing is that the house is closer to work for me, so much so I can easily walk to work and back home for lunch, then again at the end of the day. I think it will be good practice for campus next year, and I know I want the exercise. We'll also get an appreciation for just how small a house we can manage to live in when we move.

So obviously, we are feeling good about the move. There is a silver lining, and a definite sense of relief. I know it's right to move now.

-- Robert

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Deadline Number One

The first school to have a final deadline passes today. I'm holding my breath and hoping they received all my materials. Well, okay, I'm calling and asking whoever I can to be sure, too, but since one particular item seems to have been left out (and it's an item out of my control) I'm holding my breath a bit. Most of the rest of the deadlines are at the end of this month or at the end of January, so it's not a huge deal if this one isn't completely right, but I keep hearing, "that will be taken care of" and then the date it will be done by. Each time it's passed, and each time it was not accomplished. So I am stuck waiting and hoping and counting on someone else not to be a roadblock to this whole process.

Head down, arms folded, here I go. Just have to keep repeating it.

-- Robert

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Christmas Carols

The Christmas spirit seems to have finally come, at least in our little household. We drove home tonight singing "Hark the Herald Angel Sings", "Joy to the World", "O, Holy Night", and "Silent Night." Our son fell asleep, and it was wonderful. I love those songs.

-- Robert

Monday, December 1, 2008

My How the Time Flies

This weekend marked the one-year anniversary of my starting this blog. I didn't touch my laptop at all from Thanksgiving until late last night, so I am writing a belated anniversary post.

A year ago, my wife and I were getting started on trying to get our house paid off quickly. Today the house is gone. A year ago we were deciding on whether to try for our third child. That child is due in a month and a half. A year ago I was examining ways to increase sales for my company through contract business (instead of negotiating individual loads). Today I'm (im)patiently waiting for deadlines to pass to find out about applications to doctoral programs.

A lot can happen in a year. I've said many times "you can have 2008" - meaning it is not the best year in my memory - but my wife pointed out something to me that rings quite true. She said we have grown more as individuals and as a couple in this marriage than in any since we've known each other. It's definitely been a year of learning and growing, especially with regard to our faith (in God and in each other). So I will remember 2008 as one that tested us and which we survived. It certainly hasn't been all bad. I've enjoyed several trips with my family, by myself, and with my brother-in-law. I've seen my best friend married, made new friends, and spent time with old ones. Friends and loved ones have passed away in numbers, and others have been on death's door. I've read several great books, both for pleasure and for enrichment. Most of all, though, I've seen my family grow each day, and I've seen them move through all the things this year has brought on without a lot of complaint. I am proud of them all. They inspire me to work hard and live worthy of being in their lives each day. I know I am a truly blessed man to have such a great wife and wonderful children.

Now bring on the next year.

-- Robert

Wednesday, November 26, 2008


"We are pleased to advice(sic) you that you are one of the winners in the second category of Sweepstake and Lottery Draw held on October 1st, 2008...."

Wow, really, I won $450,000? And the money to pay the taxes is coming to me from an elementary school in Florida? Gee, that's amazing. Lemme guess, this is how ING plans to use the funds from the bailout to stimulate the economy, right? Right???

Okay, so I had a good laugh about the crazy letter and enclosed check I received in the mail today. I thought it made for funny blog fodder. Hopefully no one receives such a letter and takes it seriously.

Hope everyone out there has a Happy Thanksgiving tomorrow!

-- Robert

Tuesday, November 25, 2008


Last night we had some friends over for the evening. We showed them around the house and along the way came across a picture of my family when I was a little boy. I think it's cute how much my children resemble me at that age (though I still swear my son looks like my wife's nephews). It was also a reminder of an anniversary as I looked at my brother's picture.

Tomorrow is the twenty-second anniversary of his death. My vivid memories of that day have faded into a few choice moments, but we still remember him at this time of year, much like the eldest brother in Zanna's Gift. I think that is why Thanksgiving is almost more special to my family that Christmas, because we remember how fortunate we are to have the chance to be together. Much like the wives who married in to the Pullman family, my wife has been able to appreciate how much my brother's life and death changed the relationship my family shares irrevocably. Because of some special experiences she has shared with me, I know she understands the bond my brother and I share. I have often thought of him as my guardian angel, and I know he has helped me get to where I am in more ways than one.

So in this season of Thanksgiving, I give thanks to my brother. I still miss him, but differently now, because I would love to know him as a grown man. I would love to hear his thoughts on the world today, on literature, and so many other things. For now I can make do with his pictures and his words, and the knowledge that we'll get to share our thoughts again some day.

-- Robert

Friday, November 21, 2008

The Christmas Sweater

Since Glenn Beck is coming to the area tomorrow, I wanted to read The Christmas Sweater and possibly get him to sign it. I have never felt compelled to do that for an author before, though I am sure I would love it if Orson Scott Card or Jeffrey Archer was in the area. Still, Glenn Beck wrote what he described as a very personal story that sounded like it held some special insight into life, and I wanted to see what he meant.

I loved it, though not as much as Zanna's Gift. It was harder to read - probably because of the greater focus on grief and angst. But I could still identify with exactly how the main character felt. The guilt over things said to or about a loved one just before they die can weigh on a person, especially a young person. The night my brother died, when someone wondered why he was late, I joked, "Maybe he's dead." Those words haunted me for years. In high school, the last time I saw a good friend, one of us said, "See you later." and somehow I just knew it wasn't to be. He flipped his car the first day he got his license, a week or so later.

I can completely connect with the anguish the young boy in the story felt. I know such guilt can tear a person apart. It nearly did that to me, until I finally faced my own "storm" (read the book). I have never regretted "walking through" and seeing how much better life is on the other side.

So yes, I would recommend this wonderful book. It just might not go down easy for the first 230 pages or so (the story itself is around 250). Still the message rings solid and true, and it deserves to be heard. It needs to be heard. So many need to hear it.

-- Robert

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Zanna's Gift

Over the weekend in Orlando, my wife and I each picked up several new novels. We love to read, and there are some bookstores there that carry things not available in our area. I saw two Christmas stories by authors I respect, and I decided to pick them up. I like the spirit of Christmas, not the materialism.

Last night, thinking a little reading would put me right to sleep, I started reading Zanna's Gift by Orson Scott Card (though it says "Orson Scott Card writing as Scott Richards"). I could not put it down. Perhaps it was how close to home it felt, and the time of year, but I found myself weeping at times. I wanted to kiss each of my kids and my wife when I was done.

The story centers on the Pullman family and starts around the time of the Great Depression. Their eldest son died in his sleep without any warning, and the whole family took it hard because he was such a wonderful son and brother. Their youngest child, Zanna, struggled with it because her brother had been the only person who could understand her special drawings. The rest of the story swirls around how much Zanna's final drawing for her brother shaped all the family's future Christmases.

A week from today, it will have been twenty-two years since my brother died. He was on his way to meet us for Thanksgiving after taking some midterms at college. He was only eighteen, and had planned a brilliant future as a science fiction writer. His passion for that genre led him to study engineering at Georgia Tech, and that led me to become an avid Tech fan for many years. His life-path, much like Zanna's drawing, shaped much of my family's future, especially mine and my sister's.

My sister followed him to Tech first. She had spent many years following him through classes, as he was just two years older. I wondered later if following him to Tech had simply been the most logical course for her at the time. She finished, even receiving the same degree, and became an engineer. I thought for a time I would do the same.

I wanted to go to Tech because it was such a wonderful school. I just realized somewhere in high school that engineering was not for me. I did not struggle in science or math, but I simply didn't have a great love for seeing how things worked the way most engineers I know seem to. I took apart a few toys as a kid, but mostly I was just happy to leave them put together and play with them. I learned enough about opening a computer to put in parts, but I never felt the desire to build one.

No, I was not an engineer. I hated the idea of being computer programmer, too, even though I had a gift for it. I loved math, and my high school coach desperately wanted me to follow in his footsteps and study that there. Math was something I loved in simplicity and at a basic level because I was good at it. I knew that studying the upper levels of it would likely change me - perhaps drive me to obsess about it like so many in that field. So I could not bring myself to major in math, either. Instead, having developed an interest in investing and financial planning, I decided to pursue a business degree. I still held some glimmer of hope that I could go to Tech, though, because I accepted their generous President's Scholarship to pursue my studies there.

I probably realized my mistake the first day on campus. I was given the wrong combination to my mailbox, and I wondered if it was a sign. At orientation, they gave their standard line "One in three of you won't be here at graduation, so if you look left and look right, one of them won't be here. If they're here, it'll be you." To my left was an empty seat, and to my right was a friend I knew was born for the place, so I quipped "I guess it's me!" Maybe it took me a few weeks to realize how true that joke would become. I finally admitted it somewhere in the middle of my second quarter. I did not belong at Tech. I probably could have found a place there, if anything about it had given me a reason to want to. But no, I fought for the money I was promised because of a computer error that never got fixed. I sat through classes that spent more time focusing on keeping the athletes on the fields and courts than on educating me about business. And I got asked every single day by someone, "Why are you here?" In the end, my answer varied between "I ask myself that every day" and "Don't worry, I won't be soon."

Following my brother had been wrong for me. I was not him, and like the eldest brother in Zanna's Gift learned, I could never be him. I had at least realized I did not want to follow in his exact path by then, but some part of me probably subconsciously wanted to fulfill his dream. I wrote a book in high school, then a book of poetry and another of short stories in college. I even went as far as finding a self-publisher to help me release my work in major book stores. Something stopped me, though, and I let that dream fade with time. Still, I thank my brother for providing me with such a great example to strive for throughout my education. That is probably why Zanna's Gift touched me so deeply. The death of one so special has a profound influence on the lives it touches. It need not be a sad one, either, but instead one that helps each of us cherish those who remain a little more. I know my brother's death did that for me and for my family. I hope it continues to do so for years to come, just as it did for the Pullmans.

-- Robert

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Things Learned In Difficult Circumstances

This weekend, we had a somewhat unpleasant Saturday. I could beat my chest and complain about it, but I really see no need. Instead I'd rather look at the bright side of it, so I thought I would write down some things I observed (most of them were things I already knew, but further confirmation is always nice).

1) We have a wonderful son. He was patient about the fact that we were not doing things to entertain him, and he was very pleasant about everything we did that day. The worst he got was a little too wild in the late evening while waiting in a boring triage area.

2) My wife and I work well together. When we tried a few things to cover our window, neither of us got impatient with the other while we tried our ideas. We just kept suggesting new things until one worked.

3) Scotch-brand packaging tape actually works very nicely as a "replacement window". It stood up to 80+-mph winds. That is to say, it didn't rip off despite the speeds I was driving.

4) Material things really aren't that important to me. I really haven't been angry or bothered by the loss of our GPS. I might have been more bothered if they had taken the camera, simply because it contains special memories (more than just being a material thing). It might have been annoying had they taken the DVD player because it makes rides with my son a lot easier, but again, not because of its material status. Things, after all, can be replaced or repaired.

-- Robert

P.S.: For anyone confused, I refer you to my wife's blog, the entry from Saturday night, for information on what happened Saturday.

Friday, November 14, 2008

Temple Trip

I am looking forward to this weekend at the temple very much. I haven't managed to make it into the temple despite having been very close to about seven of them in the last several months. We just never managed it on our trip out west, and our one weekend to go last month got swamped by other things. My last visit was in Los Angeles while at the AOM Conference.

People ask me, "Why do y'all [you guys] go to the temple so often?" That or they ask, "So your church makes you go to the temple every month?" Obviously there is a different tone to the second question, but sometimes the asker basically means the same thing. Recently, though, I was asked by someone who really wanted to know. I told her what I try to convey to anyone who asks, but most simply ignore me.

We go to the temple because, to us, there is no place on Earth where we can feel closer to our Heavenly Father. Inside, we are away from the world with all its distractions, and we can simply focus on a relationship that is so special, yet so often neglected (on our parts). The temple is a beautiful, peaceful place, but more important is that it is a sacred place, set apart from the world to give those who wish to a chance to commune with the Lord. Suggesting someone makes me go is like saying someone makes me eat a favorite food, or that someone makes me read a good book. I simply have never seen it as an order, but instead as a blessing coming from simply choosing to be in one of my favorite places on Earth.

Nobody has to make me breathe for me to want to do it, and nobody has to make me want to be nearer to God. I want to be, and I would love to be there all the time. Unfortunately, we are commanded that we cannot expect to be there always. When Jesus and his disciples were on the Mount of Transfiguration, the disciples wanted to stay there forever, enjoying the peace and tranquility of the place and the moment. Christ told them they could not remain. He commanded them that they might return to be with the people and share their testimonies that others might know of the gospel message. So in short, if there is a commandment, it is to go forth and be out among the people of the world. Simply put, we're told NOT to stay at the temple all the time. We just go back as often as we can to renew that closeness, and perhaps to recharge a bit. Why wouldn't we want to do take that opportunity?

-- Robert

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Thankful to Be An American

I knew very little about Proposition 8 in California. I had no idea it was on the ballot until just before the election. I certainly never heard that my church was heavily involved. Members certainly were, from what I've since learned, but the Church itself does not appear to have broken any laws involving support of political actions. Because of a blog I read from time to time, I heard about this article (and part 2) written by a policeman faced with the aftermath of the amendment's passage.

This post is not really about the Proposition 8, though. One line in his article struck me in particular, "[S]ince when do we as Americans stand by – no matter what our religion – while access to a place of worship is forced to close down because of aggressive outside influences?" He is referring to the decision of those in charge of the Los Angeles Temple to close for the day.

My wife and I were already going to the temple this weekend. We had pushed back a trip last week to this week so we could spend time with friends, but we finalized our plans before I read this article. Now, though, I am going with a deeper appreciation for the opportunity to enter the Lord's house. I hope others feel the same way and make an extra effort to go, as a show of appreciation for the special blessing it is to have such a chance. Not only does that blessing come from the Lord having established these beautiful buildings across the globe, but it also comes from living in a country where I am free to worship as I choose.

I will pray before I go, and while I am there, for the safety of all concerned - members of the church, innocent bystanders, and even the protesters - and for the hope that peace can be found again. After all, we live in a nation that has shown many times that we can settle our internal differences peaceably. I hope that civility can be restored, and that no further violence will occur.

I hope this incident gets members of the Church to attend the temple more regularly. I hope it encourages more people to realize the need to protect the rights of voting, free speech, and religion. Most of all, I hope this incident encourages all of us to appreciate our ability to worship in our chosen way in this country.

-- Robert

P.S.: After finishing this post, my wife shared this link with me to show that the Church did take a stand on Prop. 8. Still, no laws were broken in that act. Also, there apparently was a letter sent out to be read, In the spirit of full disclosure, I include it here, though I had no knowledge of such a letter when I wrote this post.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Beauty in the World

Tonight, as I returning from an evening meeting at the church, I got out of my car and looked up. There above me was an amazing moon, bright and beautiful. Clouds were so thick around it I almost felt I could reach and cup them in my hand as I might bubbles in a bathtub. Truly, it was a sight to behold. Images like that are why I ever bought a high quality camera. One day, maybe I'll get lucky and be able to actually manage taking a picture of such an amazing event.

I do think, though, that I was touched by the moment. The meeting I had just left was so filled with the Spirit, I am still feeling a bit of a glow from it. I listened to amazing men teach us principles, and I felt strengthened. Our little branch of the church here has been struggling for a while to maintain its attendance let alone grow. Here lately, though, we have felt a turn take place. Almost like a new moon signals a new time has come. Perhaps that was why the moon struck me so powerfully tonight. Whatever the case, I am thankful for such experiences, and I do my best to write them down when I am still in the midst of them. I hope I have captured this one tonight.

-- Robert

Monday, November 10, 2008

Quality Time

This weekend, our family had a lot of quality time. We had the place to ourselves, and we had playdates with a couple of friends, so we spent the morning helping the kids clean their rooms. We also did a ton of laundry (washed and put away), and threw away those things that tend to accumulate when children forget what a garbage can looks like. All in all, it was a great day. I especially loved it, though, because the kids actually enjoyed doing it after a while. We gave them an incentive - for every block of time spent cleaning, they got a block of fun time. After an hour's worth of cleaning, their room was done and the living room was much better. So we spent the rest of the morning playing with them before going to the park with friends.

In short, we had a great weekend (nevermind the sick day I spent in bed yesterday - I'm ignoring that because Saturday was so wonderful). This weekend we're planning an overnight trip to Orlando, but after that we'll probably try to do that sort of thing most Saturdays we're home. It's a good way for the kids to appreciate the need of it more, and it's fun time to spend as a family. It also helps our small place seem more livable - which will come in handy next year when it's not much bigger and we're there for several years. In those days, we'll have to learn a lot of cheap ways to entertain ourselves again - like going to parks, playing at home, and free entertainment on campus. I'm sure we'll manage. Saturday was just a great example of how.

-- Robert

Friday, November 7, 2008

Signs of the Times

Okay, this post has nothing to do with prophecies being fulfilled. I just thought it was a catchy title.Hopefully it will be apparent why.

In 1996, Todd and I took a government class. The teacher offered extra credit for working on a political campaign, but he assigned everyone to Republican candidates because the Democrats did not have an opponent in their primary for Clinton. We were both assigned to the Dole campaign, and because of my background of having worked on several campaigns before, I became the point man for the group. That was how I got the job of putting out one hundred signs all over the county.

We first went to the people who had actually requested them and put them in yards. We didn't always take the time to verify the person actually wanted it. After all, we were on a mission.

Once we had been to those homes, we still had dozens of signs to put up. We started at major intersections. Then we went to not-so-major intersections. Finally I ran across two lanes of the busiest street in town (which in the Atlanta area is not a simple task) to nail one in to the grassy median. Todd nearly fell over he was laughing so hard at that one. Still, I enjoyed seeing that sign over the next year (even after the November loss) still standing. No one else was brave enough to go pull it out apparently.

That was one of the most fun times he and I had together in high school. Our clandestine mission was the hit of the class, and we loved imagining where else we might've planted one. Almost every time we put one up we acted like we were going to be arrested and thrown in jail for the night. That probably helped the comedy level.

That was why, when a friend of mine asked me to put out signs the night before the election this year for him, I gladly agreed. I went with another buddy who was helping, and we drove to six polling places all over the county.

The signs now don't require a huge hammer or precise aim (a bad swing meant a cracked post more often than not), just a firm push on the wiry frames. That makes it all the easier to quickly place dozens of signs in a community overnight. This time was just as much fun.

So even though the candidates I helped lost those elections, I will remember them fondly. The memories of camaraderie and friendship, of time spent in a common cause, those will stay with me through the years. That is why I still keep coming back to the game of politics. And hopefully the huge turnout in this election will mean more will come back in the future. Maybe we can all work together, as Americans, to achieve the goal of a better tomorrow.

One yard sign at a time.

-- Robert

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Cleaning House

Around this time every year, I spend some time evaluating past due items from drivers to determine whether or not we ever expect to receive payment. The list always reads like High Fidelity - a long line of bad relationships and falling outs. Some drivers had loads go bad and just disappeared. Others got advances from our customers without telling us. Some swore they would repay small loans and never did.

Always, the long unpaid balances are the result of someone failing to make good on a promise. Unfortunately, no press is interested in these cases. No government bailout is coming. No, instead companies like mine are simply forced to absorb such costs of dishonesty as a cost of doing business. Courts (and lawyers) are rarely if ever interested in helping recover these losses. After all, most of the bad debts result from a lack of funds no the part of the borrower. It's microlending gone all wrong. But again, if the government continually teaches people "don't worry, we'll fix it" then why should anyone care about accountability anymore?

I'm not angry, for the record. I'm not even sad. I'm just used to it. That's probably the saddest thing about it. No one should ever have to get used to being taken advantage of or left holding the bill. One joke around here is "I've eaten a lot of food I've never even seen" meaning we have paid for a lot of products that were disposed of.

I take heart in one thing, though. These problems are still the exception. The vast majority of advances are repaid. Loads are hauled and we pay the driver, then get paid ourselves. Short payments are the exception. So I still have hope, and I still have faith in the general honesty of people. After all, I have never laid eyes on the majority of my customers, yet we have a sound relationship of trust based largely on the spoken and written word. The words of people. Individuals. That still means something. So I can live with a few writeoffs.

-- Robert

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

The Post-Election Day Motivation

Last night was a historic night for the country, but one could easily say that every election is historic. Today we wake up to an America that seems refreshed and perhaps relieved that this arduous journey toward a new Presidential administration is over. There are many things to be fearful of this morning, including the uncertainty of a new direction in government, an economy whose strength seems compromised irrevocably, men and women in harm’s way half across the world and perhaps more frightening, a feeling of cynicism over the ideals that divide Americans never being bridged.

Perhaps five years in state government and twenty-five more being raised in a household full of bureaucrats has left me skeptical, but I reject cynicism at this important time. In my experience, and probably yours, I find that politicians and self-proclaimed leaders come and go. Political parties even rise and fall and the ideals that they supposedly represent will shift with the winds of popular opinion. Campaigns can rile emotions and raise hopes…promises are made and most left unfulfilled. Change is hoped for and springs forth from the lips of candidates and pundits alike. But no President, no leader, no Congress nor any political body can make change. Change happens with us. Only the citizen, the sometimes forgotten, ever-downtrodden remnant of what is good and hopeful in a Republic is the instrument of change.

Change doesn’t occur when inspirational speeches are given or candidates smile toward lifeless cameras. Change occurs when we wake up and choose that today we are going to do better than we did previously. Whatever our role on this earth, change occurs when we decide that we have the ability to improve our own actions before we improve anyone else’s. Casting a ballot is an important and sacred right, but casting a ballot will not feed anyone. Nor will casting a ballot help men and women of all backgrounds and all economic statuses find better opportunities for their families. Casting a ballot only is an expression of support. It must be followed by real meaningful action that supports. When we support one another, when we trust in our heads and hearts to overcome problems, we find that our vote is not the most powerful part of our being as citizens. In fact, our vote pales in comparison to our compassion, our willingness to sacrifice and do what is right. When we put ahead what is right for our community before we focus on what is right for us, we can accomplish good that shines on all.

Today some will celebrate and others might find themselves frustrated and disappointed. Whomever you chose to vote for in whatever political contest, remember this…There are people suffering today. There are people hurting. There are people who do not share our hope, only our fear. There are people whose governments have abandoned them, and whose loved ones find themselves helpless to protect and nurture them. If we fail to help those individuals both within and outside our own borders, what good can we say we’ve done? When we place again our ambitions on a pedestal and our hopes in a locked closet, there will come a day when there is no sunrise for this world, only darkness.

Today take that step, and make that choice. Only those that decide to do better, to do good, to make the extra effort will provide change enough to lead us from our despair. There will always be challenges, and there will always be fear, but it is not words that cast out darkness. Only the firmness of an outstretched hand and the purity of work—those tiny measures of hope in action that renew our spirits and send us forward into the future with heads held high.

A Better Way to Work Together

This post is inspired by Natasha's post on why socialist government policies make sense to her. She compares a socialist system of government to living what our church calls the Law of Consecration. In simple terms, the Law of Consecration calls on everyone in a community to pool their resources and only take back what is needed to live. At present, the General Authorities of our church who are called to full-time service consecrate their wealth and receive back a simple stipend to live on, but the church at large is not expressly living this idea.

I have a problem thinking of tax dollars to the government in the same way as the law of consecration because the government does a lot to 1) waste that money on bureacracy the while the Church does not (no one in the church is paid out of church funds), 2) use that money to fight against things I believe in (keeping religion out of public life and keeping abortion legal, for example), and 3) inflate the costs of things by those taxes thereby harming the poor they are supposedly trying to help (corporate taxes represent inflation, as do other taxes charged on goods and services in a way).

So no, I don't agree with the comparison. I would have no problem whatsoever living with the Law of Consecration with church leaders administering the funds. I have worked in a branch presidency and know how carefully funds are given out, and I have visited and loved Welfare Square and Humanitarian Center in Salt Lake. I do not begrudge one dime I have given to the Church to support those programs, even if they might help people on drugs.

One other problem: yes, teach a man to fish. Government policies in this country for decades made it harder for people on welfare if they got a job by reducing the welfare allotment by more than the job made up. That is teaching a man to hold out his hand, and to break his fishing rod (to use the analogy). Imagine how much more effectively welfare funds could be used if those on it were put into a system like the Law of Consecration - some funds would go to caretakers who watched the children (and that could be a rotating responsibility so the rest could be accomplished), some would go to offer training on job skills, and some would go to provide necessities like food, clothing, and shelter. Again, I look to how the Church manages these ideas and I definitely see an improvement over the government system.

Here's an idea along the lines of another post I wrote about health care: the government could remove all tax-related costs from goods and services paid for out of welfare or social security funds. A doctor would not pay taxes on health care provided. A store selling groceries would be able to make a small profit above the actual cost of the products and pay no sales or income tax on those items purchased. The Church (as a comparison) produces as many goods as possible and takes no profit on their sale to people so funds are not being expended on taxes (Many people in the Church donate their time and thereby reduce the money spent helping the poor - but that is an aside). Only goods that cannot be produced less expensively are purchased to help out the poor.

So reviewing: I do not agree that a socialist government compares at all to the Law of Consecration, at leas not favorably. It could, and I would be interested in seeing such a thing happen. I am not opposed to helping those less fortunate than myself. I love to help people through difficult times. I do believe, though, that the Church (and the teachings of the gospel) calls upon people to help themselves whenever possible, and those who have enough to help those who simply cannot help themselves or who need some help in difficult circumstances. There are wonderful blessings that come from helping others. I just do not agree that the government is the best conduit for accomplishing that goal.

-- Robert

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Tomorrow is Another Day

This election, barring a change, every single person I voted for has lost but one, and that one was my least favorite candidate to elect.

My hope is this election will wake up the Republican Party and help it realize it desperately needs to return to its true conservative roots.

Congratulations to all those who wanted to see the first president of non-white persuasion elected. Now we can finally quit talking about it.

I really can't write much more. McCain was never my candidate of choice. He was my default. I will be spending a lot of time praying for the country in the next few weeks, months, and years. I did point out to my wife it'll be nice that the benefits Obama plans to give will actually help us because we'll be living in abject poverty for his entire term. So we've got that going for us.

Good night, America. Tomorrow is another day.

-- Robert

Monday, November 3, 2008

Waiting Made Easier

There are still months between now and the eventual decisions of the various schools where I applied to pursue my doctorate. In the meantime, waiting makes time seem to crawl.

Today, though, I got a reminder of the fascinating world I wish to join. The Entrepreneurship Division of the Academy of Management sent out an email notifying me of their new website. On the site I see links explaining the division and its goals, links to research, links for Ph.D. students (which will be even more valuable next year and beyond), ideas about teaching, and other resources.

Thanks to my wonderful professor suggesting I go to the conference in Anaheim, I have this continuing stream of information from the Academy that has helped me begin to know what my future might be like. I have received copies of the various journals being published, emails about the online archives, and communications from the leadership about the conference next year. It helps me know about the community I hope to be a part of in the future.

I'm just glad to have a reminder that I'm not in a waking dream. I really have sent off my applications. I really am going to go back. It's thrilling and terrifying in the same moment. Most of all, I'm looking forward to see where it takes me. I know my family would love to know the specifics of "where" soon, too.

Thursday, October 30, 2008


From, Semantics is very neatly described as "the study of meaning." I find that much of my life has been spent debating semantics with people. I grew up with a lot of kids that would listen to everything a person said (and often that person was me) in the hope of finding one element to tear apart. Whenever they couldn't find a serious issue with it, they would attack the semantics - the meaning of a particular word I used - in the hopes of tearing down my argument.

And yes, they did it even if we weren't actually arguing.

By the end of high school, everyone who knew me would agree I talked like a politician. I couched my terms so carefully with qualifiers (such as "for the most part" or "a lot of the time") so the only thing left to debate was semantics. I did it because I grew tired of the constant debates and wanted to be ready to defend myself. As long as I used words I knew, I was safe. Most of the time.

I actually love to study language, and especially meaning. I enjoy learning new words and sharing words I know with others. Because of my father, I also work hard much of the time (see what I mean about couching?) to be precise in what I say. Right now, though, I think too much of the debate in politics has boiled down to a debate over semantics instead of actual substantive comparison of ideas. People would rather label every idea as "socialist" or "capitalist", "communist" or "corporate", or whatever other pigeon-holed word makes the other side look bad.

Recently I was trying to explain the nature of economics to my cousin who just so happens to be working on a masters in mathematics. I said that the way to get people to do something is to incentivize them. At the word incentivize, he got up, walked over to the bookshelf, and started flipping through an old dictionary. Reaching the page where that word might fall, he said, "Would you please show me where that word is on this page?"

It wasn't there, obviously. Which was his point, to simply ignore my argument because I used a word not in his dictionary. He really didn't care about what I was saying, so much as how to tear it apart. I gave him the definition, though, which turned out to be almost exactly what could be found on, "to give incentives to". As someone who has studied linguistics a little in my Latin classes, I know that the word is simply constructed from the noun underlying it, and there is nothing wrong with forming a verb that way. That process is actually called making a gerund. I find incentivize is a synonym for motivate, though perhaps a more specific and clear term. It is also in regular useage among business academics, and even among many normal folk in my experience.

I must admit, though, that I was just as guilty of a semantic argument later that evening. He kept using the word "anti-intellectual" over and over, so I turned the still-open dictionary around and said, "Would you kindly show me where that word is in your dictionary?"

"Touche." was all he said. When pressed, he finally came up with, "An inch deep and a mile wide." which didn't sound terribly intellectual to me. So I looked up the definition for him: anti-intellectual. I found a great deal of irony in the idea that an "intellectual" disliked the use of unfamiliar words. Does that mean he was the anti-intellectual?

-- Robert

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Plural You

This post is partly in response to, but more inspire by, this post by Natasha. Thanks for a good laugh. At least, I think your post was meant to be humorous.

I've always appreciate that most other languages seem to have a plural you (e.g, tu vs. vous), and just figure that Southerners have improved English to include one. My wife believes that Southerners use y'all as a singular (like talking to just one person, they'd still say y'all for you), but I told her only really ignorant ones do. All y'all is simply a more inclusive plural you, like in this example:
"All y'all can come on over." followed or preceded by a gesture to a large group. Looking at just a small group within a large one and saying, "And y'all're welcome to invite some more folks to come, too. We got plenty o' fixin's." would distinguish between the smaller y'all and the larger y'all.

See how much clearer that sentence is without the ambiguous "you" to refer so non-specifically to one person, several, or a lot? And for the record, y'all isn't even improper English - it is a contraction of "you" and "all". It's not like "ain't" for "isn't" or "aren't". It is the way someone should contract those words. Ah, the beauty of the English language. So bizarre, and so flexible.

Y'all come back now, ya here! Tomorrow's post is about semantics.

-- Robert

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Too Good to Be True

The adage, "If it seems too good to be true, it probably is" seems as appropriate today as ever. In the now-now-now microwave culture of the United States, we are inundated with emails, infomercials, phone calls, flyers, and even "new friends" wanting to share get rich quick schemes. A few years ago, some good friends of ours met such a new friend who invited them to a "dinner" which turned out to be a few snacks and a sales pitch for a pyramid scheme. We went along (I had no idea it was not actually just dinner until we got there), and I sized it up for them.

"What these people are doing is making it sound fun and exciting for you to join so they can make money off of you." My poor friends were sure I was wrong, but then I explained the nature of what they were asking me to believe. The scheme: get a bunch of friends to buy their groceries through this service instead of the grocery store. By buying through this service, members get paid as a "thank you" for not making the service use funds to advertise.

No one is getting rich from buying their own groceries. Someone who has hundreds of people buying groceries that way might be making a nice profit off such a scheme, but the people at the bottom are probably making nothing - if not losing money.

Such is the way of almost any get rich quick scheme. It does someone rich: the person selling it. In the midst of an economic downturn, many people get drawn in to trying these things simply because they're hoping to find a new bucket to bail water out of the sinking financial ship. What they often find instead is that they have pulled the plug and sunk it instead.

My advice to anyone considering a new idea on how to make money: sleep on it and pray about it. If the person shilling the idea can't wait for a day or two, then something is going on. My wife and I made the commitment several years ago that we would sleep on any major decision about money after we let ourselves get sucked in to a bad car deal. We have rarely regretted our choices since that time.

-- Robert

Monday, October 27, 2008

High School Musical 3

Yes, I really am going to write about the movie. No, I don't ordinarily write about movies. No I'm not going to spoil anything. I just wanted to talk about it in general.

The local one-screen theater premiered HSM3 Friday night, with at least a hundred people attending the first show. People openly laughed, danced, clapped, and cheered in the theater. The whole experience reminded me of my own high school days. I remember rarely, if ever, missing the school plays and almost never missing a musical. I loved watching people my age perform live. We even had a song and dance troupe in town called Class Act, comprised of the most talented people from all three high schools. I loved their performances, and I would not be surprised to hear that someone from the groups I saw made it on Broadway or even in the record business.

Watching HSM3 was a lot of fun. My kids loved it. My wife and I loved it. Not all of the songs were great, but they really managed to portray the image of kids putting on a show, all why interweaving their lives off-stage. It almost became unclear where the stage began and the "real world" ended (or vice versa).

Certainly there were some moments that might make an adult groan. But taken as a fun, youthful performance, it was a real treat. The smalltown theater atmosphere probably really added to the effect for me, too. Whatever the case, it's always fun to get a little nostalgic now and then. It even made me consider going as "Washed up Troy Bolton" for Halloween, just for fun.

-- Robert

Friday, October 24, 2008

Upgrade or Screw Up

In the past, my poor experiences with updating or upgrading have generally centered on Windows and Microsoft products. The newest products are almost always heavily laden with bugs, so I avoid them until the inevitable "patch" or "service pack upgrade" comes out. Sometimes I avoid them altogether. I, for instance, still run Office 2000 on all my work computers but one, and on my own laptop at home. I am sure when I return to school I will have to get Office 2007 or whichever version is current, but I will avoid that change for now.

This week, though, I am dealing with a problem with an upgrade to Quickbooks. We first upgraded several years ago from Professional to Premium, having been told by a technical support person that the file size was simply too massive to be accommodated by Professional anymore. A year or so ago, we upgraded to Enterprise Solutions (the highest end version, as far as I know) for the same reason - file size. The reason we called, though, was because speed had become a real issue. Inputs from the keyboard were sometimes not noticed because the file was so busy checking something, causing data entry meltdowns. Processes that previously took me twenty minutes ballooned to hours. Simple procedures that had been fast and easy required the user to wait for each step in the entry process to finish the hourglass-wait before entering more.

I started writing this post as I was waiting on hold with Quickbooks. Since starting it, though, they came on the line, fixed all my problems, and now have me running faster than ever. Anyone who ever doubts why I recommend Quickbooks should read this post. Truly, they upgrade their products and services all the time. Thank you, Intuit, and thank you Quickbooks Tech Support.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

One Word Tag

So I was looking for something to blog about, and my wife mentioned that Melissa had tagged anyone needing something to blog about. I will pass that along to anyone similarly looking for something to post.

Answer the following questions using one word:

Where is your cell phone? desk
Where is your significant other? home
Your hair color? vague
Your mother? MOM
Your father? wise
Your favorite thing? experiences
Your dream last night? realistic
Your dream/goal? professor
The room you’re in? office
Your hobby? shelved
Your fear? mediocrity
Where do you want to be in 6 years? teaching
Where were you last night? work
What you’re not? simple
One of your wish-list items? Indiana
Where you grew up? Atlanta
The last thing you did? installation
What are you wearing? clothes
Your TV? LCD
Your pet? imaginary
Your computer? HP
Your mood? hopeful
Missing someone? no
Your car? Chrysler
Something you’re not wearing? watch
Favorite store? book
Your summer? changing
Love someone? totally
Your favorite color? black
When is the last time you laughed? yesterday
Last time you cried? Chihuahua

Monday, October 20, 2008

Departing Friends

This Sunday, a lot of changes happened in our women's groups. One reason it was time for these changes to come was because one family is leaving -where is not yet known because the Army keeps putting off telling them. For what seemed like months, their departure has been upcoming, but it never seemed imminent. Then Sunday they informed everyone wanting to have a farewell party that they would only be here one more Sunday before shipping out.

The suddenness of their departure made me think ahead to our own. Right now, time seems to both fly and drag. It flies because each passing day goes by rapidly, but it drags because we too await news of our future. I am not impatient - I know I will not hear anything for several more months - but I can definitely feel the sense of approaching a waterfall. We are about to take the plunge. What awaits us in the mist beneath is anyone's guess.

For now, life continues. We plan for birthdays and holidays. We take our daughter to preschool. My wife teaches her lessons. We watch our son grow up and become more verbal all the time. We prepare for the new baby.

People ask us often about when we'll know where we go from here. The answer is always the same - months from now. It's nice to know people are taking an interest. Friends I've barely talked to since moving back here have heard the news and asked me. Maybe we're more noticed here than I realize. I am sure now we will be missed more than I had originally thought. Certainly our lives will never be the same. I hope and pray the new challenges will bring new joy and new learning.

And to our friends now leaving, we wish you well. We will pray for you as you serve your country. We know you are taking a big step, leaving the town you have called home most of your lives - in the case of your children, their only home. You will be missed.

-- Robert

Saturday, October 18, 2008

I'm It!

Here are the rules to the tag:
1) Link to the person who tagged you.
2) Post the rules on your blog (copy and paste 1-6).
3) Write 6 random things about yourself (see below).
4) Tag 6 people at the end of your post.
5) Let them know they are tagged and leave a comment on their blog.
6) Let the tagger (who tagged you) know when your post is up

First off, in the spirit of the person (Crissy) who tagged me, I don't know any blogs that weren't tagged already, so I'll simply respond with six random things about me.

1. I have wide feet. The first time I visited my current doctor's office, the Physician's Assistant just kept saying over and over, "Your feet are huge!" Must've said it five times. I wear 4E's whenever I can get it.

2. I love history. I enjoy listening to television shows about it, reading books and stories about it, and seeing elements of it by visiting sites of significance. I give my parents credit for a lot of it, and a couple of my teachers really nurtured that love by how they related stories of significant figures in history. Listening to a documentary about the Civil War in eighth grade certainly helped.

3. I love olives. I have gotten a can of them in every Christmas stocking for more than two decades (so far as I can recall) and they rarely lasted past lunch. I can find a way to work them into almost any dish, or at the very least any cheese or pasta-based dish. I think they are the manna described in the Old Testament.

4. I once won over $5,500 from a $5 bet on video poker. And I've never played since.

5. I own a couple dozen medieval or oriental weapons. My collection started when I inherited my brother's claymore - a five and a half foot tall sword he'd ordered when we went to Scotland. He wanted it partly because he loved Conan movies, and he used to swing it around that same way in the back yard. I have purchased my additions from all over the world - as well as town fairs and mall stores. I haven't added to the collection in at least seven years, though.

6. I love all of my in-laws. I could not have picked out a more perfect group of people to bring into my life, and I consider myself fortunate to know each and every one of them. I not only don't dread when they visit, I look forward to it, and even find excuses to visit them.

Those seem like fairly random thoughts that certainly make me unique, if not terribly interesting.

Friday, October 17, 2008

Happy Anniversary, Sis

Sixteen years ago, I remember you ribbing me about my not wanting to drive much yet with my learner's permit. What amazing ride it's been since then. Now we're both married, both have kids, we've both got two degrees, and hopefully we're both happy with the direction of our lives. I wish you well on this, your anniversary.

-- Robert

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

What We See of the World

During my first quarter of college, I took one last English course - though the school called it Science, Technology, and Culture. I knew it would be a little different when the professor explained the format - we were to read the assignments and write an online piece about it or about the posts of another student. I loved that class, and I really got to like the professor. I often walked with him after class toward his office.

One day, he laid a fascinating piece of wisdom on me that still sticks with me. I commented that people see so much more of the world today than ever before, to which he said, "They see the same amount as they always have. They just see more in less detail."

I asked him to explain, and he pointed out that the human eye can take in just the same amount of visual information as it always could. Now we just see the world rush by from speeding cars or screaming jets, so we miss the finer details people who lived in the days of the horse and buggy might notice.

Twelve years later, I still remember his point. I think about it as I am wandering through airports, observing so much humanity around me, and so little connection. We're all too busy buzzing along to take time to notice each other. I didn't start writing this post as an examination of societal woes, but obviously it must be on my mind just as it is so many others. We have become a society so bent on getting ahead ourselves or "helping" people (so long as someone else pays for it).

Maybe this economic crunch will help more people take the time to stop and smell the roses. Greet a neighbor and maybe make a friend. Listen to someone older relate a story from the past. Study the scriptures rather than simply reading them - or read them instead of just thinking about doing so. Call an old friend and catch up. Take time to play games with children. Go for a long walk in the neighborhood.

Who am I kidding? Push the gas pedal and get outta MY WAY! (just kidding)

-- Robert

Monday, October 13, 2008


In high school, or maybe it was college, I wrote down a list on my computer of all the different nicknames I had been given over the years. Almost none of them were the type of names people would use to regularly refer to me. They were simply momentary monikers that seemed to fit. Still, I got a kick out of them, so I started writing them down. Since that computer has long since disappeared - and the list along with it - I thought I would share some of them here for my own record and to hopefully share some laughs.

Mr. Connected - I got this one because I engineered club elections in high school for my friends. Think Rove, but on a much smaller level. I got a kick out of it towards the end, and actually elected a friend out of a field of six candidates just because he swore he'd shave his head if I did. He was a liar, but that goes right along with being a politician, I suppose.

The Human Heater - I have always emitted head from my body for as long as I can remember. I did not realize how useful a skill such a thing could be until a female friend started wrapping up around my arm to get warm in class. The funniest time came when she sat in my lap in class and the teacher just stared at us, unsure of what to do (since she knew we were just friends). I explained it was for warmth, and she let it go. (My wife finds this skill useful when we're living in colder climates than at present)

The White Wall/White Knight - The only time my coach was foolish enough to put me on a skins team in soccer, the other team called me that because I was still just as fearless about getting in their way, and because I had a serious farmer's tan (still do) - two brown arms and pasty white torso.

Tenille - I laughed at this one because I had actually never heard of the group, but one of my buddies who liked to be a contrarian gave it to me because I was captain of so many teams. He said, "I should just call you Tenille, you're captain of so many things already."

Little Old Man - a family friend and later teacher said to me, "Robert, you're just a little old man." I wrote a whole post about this one so I won't explain further.

Big Rob - I lived on a hall twice with multiple Roberts. The first time, I was just Robert because the other guy was "Big Rob" but the second time there were four Roberts (technically, anyway, since one was Roberto). Rob (who hated being Little Rob so people only called him that when he wasn't around), The Hungarian Hammer (because he was from Hungary), Big Rob (me because I dwarfed the other three), and Roberto. It came in handy when people wanted to yell explicatives in my direction. Not sure it ever got used otherwise.

RobRob - Amazingly, no one picked up on this obvious nickname until I did in creating my first email address. Then it stuck and many friends still use it.

Brotha Bob - As Bill Cosby would say, "I told you that story so I could tell you this one." I enjoy my other nicknames for their anecdotes, but this one is probably the funniest and most used (besides Robrob). It came about like this:

At the beginning of my Masters program, we were given an impromptu assignment to think of three funny things about ourselves. I was stumped until I thought of three things I thought were funny considering I had done them and yet I was still back in school. About ten seconds after I handed them in, I realized I sounded like a total snob for writing them and had to give a lot of explanation to that effect when they were read to the group.

Later that night at a class dinner, I thought of two much funnier things to share, and I told the people I was sitting with. First, I told them I had a suit that whenever I wore it, people wanted to know where I preached or what church I was the minister of, so I call it my preacher's suit. Second, I told them I never liked being called Bob because it was one letter short of boob.

Without skipping a beat, one of my classmates (who I still think is a great guy) said, "Well I think you just named yourself."

I asked what the name was. and he said, "Brotha Bob!"

After that, whenever I would raise my hand in class, he'd yell out "Lay some wisdom on us, Brotha Bob!" or something along those lines. It was a great nickname and I still get a kick out of it. I had gotten over being called Bob (and told them as much) by that point in my life because so many friends knew I hated it and forced it on me in a joking way, but that is the only way I've actually enjoyed being called Bob.

-- Robert

P.S. There were more names - something like twenty - that were on that old list, but they (like so many memories) are lost to the ages (or at least too boring to share).

Friday, October 10, 2008

Happy Birthday, My Son

To my wonderful boy,

Happy Birthday. I love you and your sister very much, but this post is for you.

I enjoy the sheer joy with which you meet life every day. I love the way you try to protect your sister, and the way you love to be where she is. I love your compassionate heart. I love the mischievous grin you get when you're about to do something you know you shouldn't (or even when you're just having a lot of fun). That grin certainly helps me know you're up to something, but mostly it's just cute. I know with your blond hair, blue eyes, and great smile you will steal many girls' hearts one day. But you probably won't even know it, because you don't worry a lot about what other people think. You're fearless. You want to be where the action is. You also want to know how things work. Your curiosity might seem troublesome now, but I know it will take you far in life. I hope you never lose it. I look forward to seeing you grow up even more. Every day you have been in my life has been great.

Thank you for being my son.

Love, Dad

Thursday, October 9, 2008

An Analysis of the Banking Fallout - Article Review

Yesterday Glenn Beck shared a letter he wrote to his sister about how we as a nation came to be in the situation we're in financially. I think he states a lot of it far better than I could hope to, and I appreciate that he did not point the finger at one party, but he did name names when particular individuals had acted or made statements clearly showing they played a role.

In simple terms, though, what he said was greed drove it all. I think he has hit the nail on the head. Politicians greedy for power, bankers greedy for profits, individuals greedy to have things NOW instead of waiting for when the time was appropriate, builders greedy to put up more and more homes while credit terms were so loose... greed greed greed.

It really is sad that such a base, animalistic drive got us here. Regulations were ignored, overlooked, or sequestered. Risk was ignored because it was all being passed on to someone else who didn't care about it. Everything spun out of control.

Fortunately, the economy is still functioning. Rampant inflation (caused at least in part by these slackening credit terms) has not managed to destroy it yet. People are still employed at high percentages, and they go to work and do their job, then come home and purchase goods and services from other people. We have not reached a total fallout, nor will we it would appear thus far. So hope remains. Today may seem dark, but tomorrow - or several hundred tomorrows from now - we can still hope for a brighter day. And maybe, just maybe, that day will bring with it the wisdom learned in the midst of these trials.

-- Robert

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

College Roommates

My wife's post about weird science reminded me of two different experiences I had with roommates at two school. My first quarter in college, I moved into a dorm room with a buddy I had met the year before at a summer program. We shared a mini-fridge since the hall fridge was just a good place to have food stolen. The school required that all appliances by unplugged when students were away for break, so we had to unplug the fridge. I finished finals before my roommate, so I told him just before leaving, "Hey, I know you still have food in there, so just clean it out and throw anything away, then unplug it when you go."

Somehow only that last phrase "unplug it when you go" was the only part he listened to. I came in to start the new term, plugged the fridge back in and opened it to put in a soda or something. If green smoke had come out to color the smell that hit me, I would not have been shocked. I nearly vomited right then and there, and I almost fell over. I quickly closed it back up and went into the hall to catch my breath. If I had known when my roommate would be back, I might've saved it for him to find, too, but instead I cleaned it out. That was the first time I learned that mold could be orange and yellow (on top of white and green). It was also the first time I learned that butter could grow mold.

A year and a half later, I was sharing an apartment with three other guys. Todd and I chose to use my mini-fridge and let the other two guys use the main fridge. Because of a strange set of circumstances, Todd and I ended up having the apartment to ourselves for more than a month. Because of that, we decided to finally use the main fridge, which had ignored by the vacating roommates.

What we found was pretty disgusting. In the vegetable keeper, there were blobs of things no longer distinguishable as a particular fruit or vegetable... or as food, really. Then there were the various bottled substances. I say substances because they had expiration dates from our senior year in high school, nearly three years before and a year before Todd had moved in (I joined him a year later). I'm pretty sure that means they were no longer "food" or "condiments".

I am amazed I did not die of food poisoning or some random fungal infection thanks to those two experiences. I did have a lot of breathing problems in college, which probably were not helped by the disgusting filth my roommates kept in the kitchen. So when I opened the "rice" my wife had left, at least I had dealt with such things before. Hers was mild by comparison.

-- Robert

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Should Wii, or Should We Not?

So today our family has joined the world of Wii owners. I think it will be cool to find out if I can manage the whiteboard trick I saw on this video. My brother-in-law did it and loved it for his classroom. I am sure my kids (and my wife) will enjoy the actual games of the Wii. Okay, I probably will, too. In fact, I'm sure I will enjoy it a lot. Just hopefully not too much. All things in moderation or something like that. Maybe I'll be Wii Exercise or whatever workout "games" they have and see how that goes. I am certainly open to suggestion.

Thank you, my loving wife. I love you.

-- Robert

P.S.: I am sure she would love to hear any suggestions for good games for kids.

Monday, October 6, 2008

A Challenge to Our Higher Institutions...

Like most of you, Robert and I both have Master's Degrees, and as Robert mentioned he's working feverishly to continue his education. If there's one common bond that Robert and I share it's our love for learning, and that love for learning has been passed down from our parents and other family members to a common focal point -- college.

In most families, like ours, who have risen out of poverty and blue-collar jobs, the prospect of college is often thrown around like an arrow whenever a unruly teenager gets out of line. In both of our families college was not an option, it was a requirement. There was never any question that my brother and I would attend--and finish--college. There was never any entertaining the thought that "college just wasn't for me." Everything in my education, from pre-Kindergarten onward was focused on college.

To be sure our young people are under a tremendous amount of pressure to achieve that college degree. Neither of my parents nor their parents nor their parents' parents graduated from a four-year University, so while the pressure was on my brother and I, I doubt I experienced any pressure like those of children from severely impoverished families, or those from disadvantaged socio-economic classes. It's the pressure to learn (and eventually earn) that our institutions of higher learning must cradle, nurture and frankly use to prepare students to become better wage earners, better thinkers and hopefully better citizens.

Our "Higher Instituions" should be regaled for the importance they play in our collective future. Yes, all education is critical including early education, but how many doors are closed to those that don't attend college? I can't begin to name how many were open for me, and how many more were opened once I attended graduate school. I've heard the refrain from others saying that college isn't for everbody and I think the best answer is, "but it should be." With that in mind here's a few challenges to our Higher Institutions:

1) Place more emphasis on teaching interpersonal communication and developing and maintaining relationships. There are many outstanding Communication programs in multiple universities. But I would love to see more emphasis placed on this type of curricula for students across disciplines. The world runs on relationships, and the grist for the mill of commerce is communication. We need to not just develop great problem-solvers but problem-solvers who can work with people. Leaders aren't the ones with all the answers, they just have the right people around them. I think too often we dismiss this type of learning as "fluff." It isn't fluff, it's critical, and our lack of attention to building great communicators harms our ability to build great leaders, great workers and great citizens.

2) Emphasize Partnerships with Public Schools, especially those in impoverished areas. The Education Departments of many, if not most Universities are well-schooled in this area. They can provide teaching support and assistance for many under-funded school districts. But what about providing support beyond just student help? If we asked a random University President how involved they were with the ten closest high schools to campus what could they say? Universities need to lead the charge for resource sharing and partnerships in everything from curricula development to athletics programs. This type of work builds more and better future college students, and everyone wins.

3) De-emphasize athletics by instituting revenue sharing across athletic divisions. Collegiate athletics are important, please don't get me wrong. I love collegeiate athletics, I'm a multiple sport season ticket-holder. But the fact that football and men's basketball are supporting so much at so many insitutions begins a sort of inter-collegiate competition that is unhealthy for education. Yes, I recognize that collegiate athletics opens up doors for fundraising and recruitment, and yes, I recognize that these two most visible athletic programs are self-sustaining. However, at some point we need to decide "enough is enough." The NCAA would do well to institute revenue sharing across all schools in a particular division, not just within Conferences. When certain conferences are competing against one another, and school's athletic programs get stronger and stronger, everyone loses. With the massive TV revenues now being experienced by nearly every major conference, we need to put less emphasis on making the best better and more emphasis on raising the ability for all schools to use athletics in positive ways, at lower costs. This too, would require schools agreeing to spending limitations on athletic programs.

4) Continue aggressive efforts to fund education for poor students. True, private universities are not in the business of giving away education. Public universities aren't either...but public universities share a duty to provide education for the "common good." In many ways their outreach and resource-sharing efforts accomplish this, but so too should the substantial resources that larger universities generate from commercial partnerships. True, there isn't enough money to go around for everyone, but expansion of grants, low-cost or forgivable at the Federal and State levels must be coupled with a Universities own efforts to expand its education among those who may otherwise not get a college education. Helping people get out of poverty on their own terms...that's "common good."

5) Expand social entrepreneurship as a discipline through research, teaching and funding. Business is a good field, and we know that sound business principles can lead to meaningful social change and profits for investors. It's important then for our Universities, who by and larget do outstanding work partnering with the private sector, to ramp up efforts to expand this important field. I share the call of Nobel laureate Dr. Muhammad Yunus to build this "new kind of business" to ensure that we get beyond simple charity and effect lasting change through social business. The type of piecmeal work that many charities and non-profits do is honorable and laudable, it is not my intention to tear them down. But a self-sustaining enterprise can take these efforts to the next level and eradicate many of our social ills. I see our Higher Instituions holding the key to opening this field to the masses.

I'm interested in your thoughts, how would you challenge today's Higher Institutions?