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