Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Snowpocalypse 2009

A lot of people not from Texas are surprised that Texas gets its fair share of snow. Granted, it's not months and months of snow like in the northern regions, but in north Texas, where I grew up, we usually got a few weeks of snow every winter. Typically, the snow hit in late January or early February, but we sometimes had a white Christmas.

However, we never had anything like this year. (In the literary world, this is known as foreshadowing.)

Early last week, I drove up to my dad's in north Texas. I had planned on spending a few days there and leaving on Wednesday the 23rd. However, I later decided to stay an extra day and leave for the Dallas area (to visit my brother and his family) on Thursday.

Little did I know that that decision would forever change my life. (More foreshadowing and a lot of exaggeration.)

Around 4:00 AM Thursday morning I awoke to hear a heavy rain falling. It rained a few hours, creating a nice layer of ice on the ground. Later, still early in the morning, it began to snow. By the time I tried to leave there were already several inches of snow on the ground. I was unable to get my car on the highway. I was also unable to get my car back up the driveway, so my car remained uncovered the rest of the day.

It snowed almost the entire day with the wind gusting to 30-40 MPH. Several of the highways in the area closed, and some travelers were stranded for 10-12 hours. Many had to abandon their cars. By the end of the day, my hometown reportedly had 15 inches of snow. As far as I can remember it's the most snow we've ever had.

On Christmas morning I again thought about driving to my brother's. However, several of the roads remained closed, and my car was going to take some time to dig out. So I stayed one more day.

By Saturday morning I was ready to leave. I was a little burned out on playing the Wii, and I really wanted to sleep in my own bed. After I dug out my car, my sister and some neighbors helped push me out of the driveway, and I headed out.

The roads were still somewhat icy, but on the major highways there was usually one lane that was fairly clear. The most difficult part was passing the really, really slow traffic because that meant switching over to the lane that was less clear. Several of the abandoned cars were still on the side of the highway.

The first part of the trip was very slow-going. It took 3 hours to travel a distance that normally would take 1 hour. But once I got far enough south the roads were much better. Once I got south of Ft. Worth, there was no snow or ice to be seen at all.

So, after 8 hours of traveling, including a stop at my brother's to drop off Christmas presents (and to play Guitar Hero), I finally made it back home. It was nice to finally sleep in my own bed.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Canine Massage Therapy

I was getting my hair cut today. My hairstylist has been cutting my hair for years, so we usually chitchat about things going on in our lives. Today, she mentioned an additional career that she wanted to try, which involved going to Canine Massage Therapy School.

I paused, wondering if I heard her correctly. And I thought, did a Mr. and Mrs. Canine open a massage therapy school, or was there a school to teach massage therapy for canines? So I asked.

And yes, she wants to learn massage therapy for canines. Again I paused, wondering just how tense could a dog's life be. Do they get knotted muscles from the stress of laying around the house all day? Do they complain all day about their backs hurting because they "slept wrong?"

It was explained to me that this massage therapy was for rehabilitation, not relaxation. So, in the future if you have a dog who needs to rehab from a surgery or injury, I might have a specialist I can recommend.

Wednesday, December 02, 2009

The D stands for awesome!

It's been said that you can't give yourself a nickname. In an episode of Seinfeld George Costanza tries to get people to call him "T-Bone" only to end up with the nickname "Gammy." In my youth I once tried to get people to call me "Doc" because my first two initials are D.R. No one ever called me "Doc."

That's not to say I didn't have a nickname or two growing up. Since my full name is Donald and my incredibly handsome twin brother's full name is Ronald we heard our share of Ronald McDonald variations. And yes, we've heard them all.

(And just to clear up a common joke: we were often told that if we'd been triplets the "other one" could have been named Mack so it would be Ronald, Mack, Donald. My response: Look, genius, it's not MacDonald's, it's McDonald's. The "other one" would have been named Mick. Get the joke right.)

Some classmates used to call me Onald to ensure they were never calling me by the wrong name. An older kid in the neighborhood used to call Ron and I "Ding" and "Dong" which was actually one of my favorite nicknames. And my dad still refers to me as Ronald-Donald because he likes to pretend he doesn't know which one I am.

Recently, however, I was able to give myself a nickname that stuck. At my job we did a lot of software demos (and still do). It involved calling a conference number and logging into a meeting application such as WebEx or LiveMeeting. When someone was doing a demo they would have to share their desktop with the other attendees. To do that, the moderator or the most recent presenter would have to scroll through the names of the attendees and make them a presenter. If there was a lot of people in the list it sometimes took several minutes to find the name of the next presenter.

So I decided to do the old phone book trick of signing in with an "A" name, ensuring my name would be near the top of the list, and making it easier to find. The name I used: Awesome Don.

Over the course of several months and many, many demos that name stuck. Perhaps it was for ironic reasons (like calling a bald man Curly), but it stuck nonetheless. And recently, the nickname has spilled out into life outside of work. People ask me how I got that name, and I could tell them the boring truth (like I just did), or I could make up a fantastic story about doing something truly awesome.

Or I could just tell them that my name is Don, and the D stands for awesome!

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

And for that, I give thanks

Thanksgiving is around the corner, a time when people remember all the blessings in their lives. However, there are people who aren't satisfied with what they have. They think that if only they had a little more, then they'd be thankful. It's always easy to focus on what we don't have.

Today, I was riding on the local hike-n-bike trail. For most of the ride I was lost in thought, thinking about problems that needed to be worked out, bills that needed to paid, and chores that needed to be done. I wasn't paying attention to the beautiful weather, the red and brown leaves scattered along the trail, or any other blessings in plain sight.

On one part of the trail a woman was walking with her dog and not doing a good job of staying to one side of the trail. I sighed, slightly put out because she was blocking my path. I politely said "on your left" to let her know I was passing, and she scooted over with a bright smile and a cheery "oh, sorry."

It was then that I realized that there's a good chance she was blind.

It was not one of my finer moments. So for the rest of my ride, I thought about the things I had: my sight, my hearing, my overall health. I have a good job, a roof over my head, a mostly well-behaved dog, and a cat that tolerates me. I get to play the sports I enjoy, and my church choir doesn't mind having me as a member. My family gets along with each other and is only slightly dysfunctional, but in a good way. My life is full of people who genuinely care about my well-being.

And for that, I give thanks.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Ego search

An ego search is when a person performs a web search on their own name. A person might legitimately do an ego search to ensure there isn't false or embarrassing information about themselves online. Companies sometimes perform them to see what people are posting or blogging about them. Me? I just have an enormous ego.

I also have the distinction of sharing a name with the Representative for the state of Alaska. Congressman Don Young is currently one of the longest-serving members of the House. He has chaired both the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee and the Resources Committee. He is noted for having lost his first election attempt to a man who had been missing for almost a month and was later declared dead. He has also been investigated on more than one occasion for ethics violations.

As you might expect, there are many web pages, online articles and blogs about Congressman Young and an "ego search" of Don Young returns a lot of hits. There was also an unexpected side-effect. People searching for the Congressman would sometimes end up on my personal website. Despite my "About Me" and "Contact Me" pages specifically mentioning that I am not the Congressman for Alaska, I would still get the occasional e-mail meant for that other Don Young.

One time, I got an e-mail from a woman who was VERY upset with the way I voted on a particular piece of legislation. She went into great detail as to why my vote was the incorrect one, and she was nice enough to thrown in a few insults, too. I had no idea what the legislation was about, and I didn't care, but I began typing a response to the woman. I gave my reasons for voting the way I did, all completely bogus, of course, and I included a few insults of my own. However, I thought better of impersonating a Congressman and deleted my response before I sent it.

I would hate to have been brought up on ethics charges.

Wednesday, November 04, 2009

I'm one of the select few

Temptation comes in many forms, and it usually strikes us where we're weak. A person with an addiction will often be tempted by that addiction. A person on a diet will probably be tempted by food. A person with issues with pride will be tempted by power and recognition. Or so I've heard. :)

I like nice cars. I like the big engines, the fancy options, the nice sound system, etc. However, when I have a car, no matter how nice it is, I get as much as I can out of it. I've never had a car for less than 6 years. I've had my current car for over 10 years and nearly 190,000 miles. In fact, I've been a car owner for more than 25 years, and I'm only on my third car.

I've had the new car bug for a few months, but I've been wanting to wait until next year when I'll be closer to paying off one of my mortgages and I won't have any other outstanding debt. I'm hoping my current car lasts until then with just the usual maintenance.

But temptation struck. Yesterday, a loan specialist from my bank left a message. I was one of the "select few" customers chosen for a special car loan rate. And by select few, they mean that I'm a customer who doesn't have a big outstanding loan with them, so they're not making any money off of me. How nice of them to offer me a loan out of the goodness of their hearts. :)

I thought about it a long time yesterday, but for now I'm going to wait. The new cars aren't going anywhere, and I'm guessing the bank will still have money to loan next year. Who knows, maybe I'll be one of the select few again.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Holly Day's Inn

Sometimes in life things work out despite our worst efforts.

Growing up I went to a very small church, and that meant that the youth group was small as well. One year the youth group put on a Christmas play called Holly Day's Inn. The story was about a man, Hollister "Holly" Day, who owned a hamburger stand called Holly Day's Inn. On Christmas Eve several unhappy people visit the stand, including a young minister and his wife, but they leave with their questions answered.

My incredibly handsome twin brother Ron and I were the only teenage boys in the youth group, so Ron played the minister and I played Holly Day. Despite my desire to be the center of attention, being in a church play was not something I wanted to do. So I complained constantly. I was sullen and moody. I purposely made very little effort to memorize my lines. In the acting world, I was what they call "difficult."

My older sister was also in the play. At the time she worked at a bank, and a few weeks before the play a bag of quarters fell off a table, landing on her foot and breaking it. I was ecstatic, not because she broke her foot, but because I thought we would have to cancel the play. But, she was a trooper and played her part on crutches. Darn it! :)

Despite my worst efforts, the play went off mostly without a hitch. Somewhere in the middle I accidentally skipped a few pages of dialog, which almost caused my sister to miss her cue to enter. Luckily, the people back stage noticed my mistake and were nice enough to push her onto the stage at the right time. In hindsight, that probably wasn't a good idea since she was still on crutches.

Also, my brother's duet of Silent Night with his "wife" was a little off-key (he blames the "wife"), but because of that, my line after the song made me chuckle to myself: "That was beautiful!"

So why did I not want to be in the play? I don't know. Our lives are filled with things that we don't want to do or that we think will be difficult, but the right thing isn't always the easiest thing. And sometimes we learn that it wasn't nearly as difficult as we imagined. Despite our worst efforts.

Friday, September 18, 2009

I was doing fine until the ants

Sometimes when you're trying to make a difficult decision, there are figurative signs pointing you in the right direction.

As noted before, I've ridden the MS 150 (a 2 day, 170 mile bike ride from Houston to Austin) five times and finished it four times. Back 1993 I first rode the MS 150 with some friends, including my incredibly handsome twin brother. It had been around 10-15 years since I had ridden a bike, but I was young and moderately athletic. I rode on some short rides around Austin to get ready, but my training was interrupted by a bout of the flu a couple of weeks before the ride. However, I recovered and felt ready to go in time for the ride. Or so I thought.

On the first day my group started out. The stronger riders in our group rode ahead, but several of us took a more leisurely pace, pausing frequently to take pictures. We stopped at all the break points to drink fluids and eat snacks (power bars, bananas, etc.).

Around the 50 mile mark, I started feeling bad. I had a fever, chills, and I felt very weak. I had to make frequent stops in between the break points and rest, so I told the group not to wait and that I would catch up.

Around the 80 mile mark, I made another stop on the side of the road to rest. I felt weak, and my whole body ached. I stood next to my bike trying to decide whether I should continue or not. I had no idea how many more miles I had left or if I could make it, but I didn't want to quit. I went back and forth, alternately between wanting to give up and talking myself into going on.

And then I felt a stinging sensation in my right foot and lower leg. I looked down and saw that I was standing in an ant pile, and my foot leg were being bitten by fire ants. I paused, took a deep breath, and thought, "Well, there's my sign." And I called it a day.

I was only 20 miles from finishing the first day, but I'm fairly certain I wouldn't have been able to ride the 70 miles on day 2. Plus, I knew how to read the signs.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Do not attempt

Toyota has a commercial where a driver pulls up to a drive-thru in an old, junky car. The person on the speaker asks, "Can I take your order?" Suddenly, a big mechanical claw drops onto the car and pulls it into the air, revealing a nice, new Toyota underneath.

If only it were that easy.

At the bottom of the screen during the commercial is the legal disclaimer: Do not attempt.

I understand that our litigious society is the reason for legal disclaimers in the first place, but what exactly do they think the viewing public will attempt?

Sunday, August 09, 2009

If you come back tomorrow, it will be

When someone is a little too sarcastic or mean-spirited in what they say to me, I usually think of a nice retort much too late, sometimes not even the same day. Granted, sometimes it's better to not say anything, to be the bigger person, so to speak. But every now and then people (including myself) need to be reminded that they aren't the center of the universe. In a nice way.

My summer job during my college years was on the flight line at Sheppard AFB. The base trained Euro-NATO pilots on the T-37 and T-38 aircraft. As a summer hire, my job was to do the simpler tasks, like refueling and cleaning the windscreens, and to assist in the not-so-simple ones, like sitting in the cockpit pressing on the "brake pedals" while the real mechanics worked on the brakes. And most fun of all, I got to launch the aircraft (pictured).

Launching an aircraft involved taking the pins out of the landing gear (so that they could be raised once the plane was in the air) and stowing them, stowing the grounding wire, stowing the pitot tube cover, hooking up the compressed air hose to the engine (used to start the plane when the pilot was ready), and getting any items the pilot needed for the cockpit. While I was doing that, the instructor pilot and his student were doing their walk-around inspection and then getting strapped into the cockpit. Once in, I would remove the ladders and get ready to turn on the compressed air when given the signal. Once the engine was running, I would remove the hose, remove the tire blocks, and marshal them out. Simply put, the pilots could not take off without ground support.

One day, we were extremely busy. A couple of pilots had done their walk-around and were waiting for someone to launch them. They were concerned that they weren't going to make their launch time, which meant having to come back later in the day. All of the mechanics were busy. I was refueling the plane next to the waiting pilots, and I couldn't leave to help until I was finished with that job. When I finished 5-10 minutes later, I told the fuel truck driver that I would start refueling the next plane once I launched the other plane.

So, we're extremely busy, and I was taking time out of the task I should've been doing to make sure these guys made their launch time, which was observed by the waiting pilots. I rushed over to the other plane and asked the instructor if they needed anything for the cockpit, and said in an angry tone, "I need a couple of spacers for the front, and I needed it done yesterday!"

To which I calmly replied, "Well, if you come back tomorrow, it will be."

Monday, August 03, 2009

No, I ain't no Denzel Washington!

Many years ago I was in Hollywood with my girlfriend at the time and her son. Let's call the son James. We were shopping one day and stopped into a comic book store. Each of us has gone off to look at different things. I was looking at the old Spider-Man comics when I suddenly heard a recognizable voice over the racks of comic books: the voice of Samuel L. Jackson.

"No, I ain't no Denzel Washington!"

Apparently, someone had mistook him for another actor, and he was letting that person know that he was mistaken. He didn't sound angry, but imagine the tone of Jules from Pulp Fiction during his "furious anger" speech.

And then I had a thought. Oh please don't let him be talking to James. I worked my way through the store and bumped into James working his way through the store to find me. He asked who that actor was, and I told him. And then I asked him if Mr. Jackson was talking to him. James lowered his head and said, "Well, I couldn't remember his name."

We asked for a picture, but he politely said no (very politely actually), so we left him alone. I'm just thankful he didn't sound entirely like one of his characters and add a curse word or two to his response to the Denzel Washington question.

I'll leave the curse words to your imagination.

Monday, July 20, 2009

I smell smoke!

I'm not a teacher, but I'm guessing that they prefer a class full of honor students versus the alternative, but sometimes those smart kids use their big brains for evil instead of good.

When I was a senior in high school I took a Calculus class. The students in that class consisted entirely of the top 20-30 in that grade. The teacher was a very nice woman, although she had a tendency to go off on tangents. She had a clock sitting on her desk, and she once mentioned that the alarm on it sounded very similar to the fire alarm our school used.

A few months later we had a substitute teacher. Before the class started (and before the teacher was in the room), someone came up with the idea to set the alarm to go off during class. (I would credit the person who came up with the idea if I could remember who it was. No, it wasn't me.) When the alarm went off, the substitute asked what it was, and we innocently replied that we thought it was a fire drill. And one of the students, who had a very prominent nose, started sniffing the air and shouted, "I smell smoke!"

The substitute wasn't sure of the fire alarm process, so she told us to do what we normally do. We hadn't really thought that far ahead, so we just went outside. While we were heading out the teacher in the room next to ours told our teacher that there hadn't really been a fire drill, so those of us who had made it out of the room were sent to the office.

We didn't do anything too terrible, so we weren't going to get in a lot of trouble. But it was even less of a problem since both the principal and assistant principal were out of the office that day. The only two staff members working at that time were the secretaries, my mom and Mrs. Biddy, who also had a son in that class. When they were told what had happened, they both just rolled their eyes and sent us all back to class.

Of course, there were other consequences. When our regular teacher returned the next day she gave us a 1 question pop quiz. You either made a 100 or a 0. But I think most of us in the class thought it was worth it.

Thursday, July 09, 2009

Let me help you fix that Bible

As you might have noticed, I'm a bit anal retentive. (That's like saying a woman is a bit pregnant.) And obsessive compulsive. And a nerd. I'm fortunate that the work I do (testing software) is made for people like me, but it also means that I like to fix everyone and everything. Even the Bible.

I have a study Bible, also jokingly known as a cheater's Bible, and I gave myself a goal of reading the entire Bible since it's something I've never done before. I started with the New Testament (because it's shorter). When I finish I plan to go back to the Old Testament for more of the historical information.

One of the things I like about the study Bible is the section before each book that describes who the author was, who it was written to or for, and the major themes of that book. Last week I was reading 1 Peter when I see a small typo ... nothing major, and it didn't hinder the meaning of the passage in any way.

But, I couldn't let it go, so I e-mailed the publisher Zondervan this following tidbit:

On the Megathemes section of 1 Peter (pg. 2100), in the Importance portion of the Salvation theme the last sentence spells "should" as "shuld".

I included that I was pretty sure that it had already been corrected for future printings, and I expressed my gratitude for a wonderful Bible.

But now I can rest easy knowing that this version will be fixed for future readers. You're welcome!

EPILOGUE: I got a reply from Carrie Colter in Customer Care (a nice bit of alliteration) saying that the information had been passed on to the Bible department for advisement. In other words, "Thanks, nerd boy. Go have that OCD looked at." :)

Monday, June 22, 2009

How not to go green

At my current job my employer provides a corporate American Express card for business use. Due to cost cutting, or as we call it, aligning our expense to revenue ratio, we don't travel as much. Plus, would any company want me to be their "face" to the customers?

So, I haven't use my card in many, many months. And if I don't use the card I don't get a statement. However, this past month I got a bill for $0.00. The reason they sent me a statement was to include a notice saying they weren't going to send paper statements any more. To save money and the environment all future statements are going to be via e-mail.

So, wouldn't it have saved even more money if they just would have sent the notice via e-mail?

Tuesday, June 09, 2009

I wonder if I'm the beneficiary

Every now and then something happens in my life to remind me that I'm an idiot. I did some financial planning this past week and part of the comparison included my current life insurance policy and some that they offered. Since I don't have the policy handy, I called my agent this morning to get a copy of it. She didn't have it on file so she had to get it from the home office and was going to e-mail me the info when she got it.

Later, she e-mailed me the info, but I was confused by the monthly charge. I called her and asked why the monthly charge was $35, yet $70 was being drafted from my checking account every month. She gave me the policy number for a second policy that was also being drafted from my account and the phone number for the home office so that I could have the auto-draft removed, if need be.

The home office gave me the information on that second policy, and I immediately responded with, "Holy crap!" I was the primary policy holder on another life insurance policy. I won't give the name of the secondary, but it was someone I stopped dating in 1999. So for 10 years I've been paying the premium on that ex-girlfriend's life insurance policy.

Yeah, that auto-draft was removed.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Oh, you heard that?

A fool gives full vent to his anger, but a wise man keeps himself under control. - Proverbs 29:11

In my younger days I had my share of foolish times. I'm not saying it doesn't still happen in my older days, but hopefully much less often. During some of those foolish times I was able to "give full vent to my anger" in private; however, I sometimes wasn't as alone as I thought.

Many, many years ago I had a terrible cell phone. Well, the phone was OK; however, the battery wouldn't stay secure and would sometimes come loose in the middle of a call. And since there wasn't power, I would lose the connection.

One time this happened I was in the middle of leaving a voicemail for a friend. I was telling her I was on my way to pick her up for lunch when I heard the call disconnect. I looked at the phone in disgust, threw it on the passenger floorboard of my car, and vented my frustrations with a barrage of obscenities aimed at the phone. Never has an inanimate object been the subject of such a scolding.

A few minutes later I was picking up the friend. She asked me why was I screaming obscenities in the voicemail. I said, "Oh, you heard that?" Apparently, the call didn't really disconnect and she heard every word. So yes, she did hear that.

And she thought it was so funny she replayed the message for all of her coworkers. Repeatedly.

Monday, May 25, 2009

Mysterious ways

They say the Lord works in mysterious ways. I guess that's another way of saying that we don't always know or understand what His plan for us is. Trust me, there's a lot I don't understand. :) (And no, I don't know who they are, but they sure do say a lot.)

My parents wanted three kids. That was their plan. First, they had my brother Richard. A few years later, when my dad was stationed in England, they had my brother Robert. I never got the chance to meet Robert because after a little more than a month, he passed away from fluid on the lungs. A couple of years later, when dad was stationed in his final stop of Texas, they had my sister Teresa.

Again, my parents had planned on three kids. So a couple of years later they tried again. And they had twins. Since I am the younger twin, my incredibly handsome brother Ron has always maintained that they didn't actually want me. My rebuttal has been that it was a shame then that I turned out the best. (No, that's not really true, but it's the only rebuttal I have.)

I would never claim that having Ron and me was a blessing in disguise, because there is plenty of evidence to the contrary, but I think about my brother Robert when I'm confused about the paths my own life has taken. Sometimes we just have to trust that there's a bigger plan for each of us.

Thursday, May 07, 2009

You're a better man than I am!

Over the years I've received my share of compliments. Of course, I've also received my share of insults and criticisms, but that's not important. As for the compliments, there was one that surprised me more than usual.

The MS150 is a 150 mile (or more) bike ride in various cities in which the proceeds from donations benefit the National MS Society. The Houston to Austin MS150 is around 170 miles over two days, with an overnight stay in La Grange. The first day is around 100 miles of mostly flat riding. The second day is around 70 miles and goes through Bastrop and Buescher State Parks. This part of the ride also has a few more hills in it.

None of the hills are difficult for the professional or frequent riders, but a lot of the people riding the MS150 are neither professional nor frequent riders, including me. So, on some of the steeper hills people would have to walk their bikes to the top and catch their breath. The really difficult hills would have many, many people sitting at the top resting and catching their breath.

I've ridden the MS150 four times, but I only finished it three times. The first year I had the flu and had to drop out after 80 miles (detailed here). My second year I was determined to finish it. Plus, to make up for not finishing the year before I gave myself an additional goal of not having to walk my bike up any of the hills.

On that second day during the hilly section most of the hills weren't a problem. As I was riding I saw the steepest hill of the ride coming up. I could see several people walking their bikes up the hill, so I accelerated to get some momentum. About halfway up the hill my pace slowed considerably, almost to a stop. I stood in the saddle and forced my legs to keep peddling. A few agonizing moments later and I reached the top. I sat down in the saddle and exhaled in relief.

Unbeknownst to me, some people resting at the top had been watching me battle my way to the top. When I got there, there was a few congratulations yelled in my direction. However, one of them caught me off guard.

After it got quiet, a woman yelled at me, "You're a better man than I am!"

No woman had ever said that to me before (or since), so I wasn't quite sure how to respond. With a confused look, I gave the only response I could think of:

"Uh, thanks?"

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

The Big Picture

Robert Fulghum is the author of the bestselling book All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten, which is one of my favorite books. The followup book, It Was On Fire When I Lay Down On It, was also very good. In that book, he told the following story:

A traveler went to Chartres in France to see the great church that was being built there. He arrived at the site just as the workmen were leaving for home. He asked a man, covered with dust, what he did there. The man replied that he was a stonemason. Another man, when asked, said he was a glassblower, who made slabs of colored glass. Another said he was a blacksmith who pounded iron.

Wandering inside the unfinished edifice, the traveler came upon an older woman, armed with a broom, sweeping up the stone chips, wood shavings and glass shards from the day's work. "What are you doing?" he asked. The woman leaned on her broom, looked toward the high arches and replied, "Me? I'm building a cathedral for the glory of God."

Now there was a woman who knew how to look at the big picture.

Some recent events at my job reminded me of this story. I work for a computer company testing software. My job is to make sure the product does what it's supposed to do and that the quality is good enough for our customers.

With the current economy people are worried about their jobs and hope they rank high in their department. Managers are always trying to measure employees, and for QA people one of the common measurements is the number of defects found during testing. It's not a foolproof measurement, but it's a tangible one that gets used a lot.

A coworker mentioned to me that his manager was disappointed that another group found a defect in his product instead of him. Of course, there's many valid reasons for this: 1) that set of testing wasn't his responsibility, 2) that defect wasn't there when he tested it and was just recently introduced, or 3) the other group had the resources to test it and his group didn't. His concern was that his ranking would be lower because he wasn't the one that found the defect.

To me, it's a shame that he has to worry about that. I'm not saying it's not a valid concern because I'm sure his manager will use this in his ranking. However, we should be happy that the defect was even found before the product was shipped, no matter who found it. Our job is to ship a product that has value for the customer and works well.

That's the big picture.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Free Breakfast Tacos

I like coming into work early because traffic is minimal and there's fewer interruptions from coworkers. Most of the time I'll just pick up some breakfast on the way, but today was Free Breakfast Taco day at work. The company provides breakfast tacos the third Thursday of every month.

So I drove straight to work. I thought I could get in 1-2 hours of work before the tacos arrived at 8:30.

It was at 7:30 when I realized today was Wednesday. Tacos won't be here until tomorrow.

Anyone want to go to McDonalds?

Saturday, April 11, 2009

Don Young: Cheerleading Competition Judge

When switching through the channels, you've probably seen a cheerleading competition or two. You may have wondered what kind of experience the judges have. Perhaps they used to be cheerleaders in their younger days, or maybe even a coach.

Or perhaps they were undercover.

Many, many years ago a friend of mine coached a cheerleading team. In their bracket was a team that consistently won the various competitions. And in those competitions they usually had the same set of judges, more or less. And one of those judges used to coach the team that consistently won. In that case, the judge is supposed to let the alternate judge take care of that bracket, but this judge wasn't doing that. So my friend wanted to make sure that everything was being judged fairly, and she needed an undercover judge to investigate.

And that judge was me.

I was never a cheerleader in high school or college, and I had no idea how to judge them. My friend brought over tapes of prior competitions and I took a crash course in what to look for. And we also decided on what my cheerleading experience would be when I was introduced at the competition. I also decided that the reason I no longer cheered was because of a knee injury, just in case anyone asked.

At the competition I was the alternate judge, which meant I tallied the other judges' scores and took them to the person running the competition. For that one bracket, the judge in question had been asked to let the alternate take his place, so I did. And truth be told, the team that kept consistently winning was doing so because they were actually better than all the other teams. We proved that the judge wasn't playing favorites.

As for me, my friend and the person running the competition thought I did such a good job that I was a judge at the competition the following year, too. After that, I retired.

Monday, March 30, 2009

That time Jessica Alba met me

A few years ago the movie Sin City was filmed in Austin. It was based on the graphic novels by Frank Miller and directed by Robert Rodriguez, and it starred Bruce Willis, Elijah Wood, Mickey Rourke, and many others. While the cast was in Austin, Bruce Willis' band gave a performance at Antone's with another band (whose name escapes me) opening. That band performed a second set with director Robert Rodriguez joining in.

I was able to attend because my friend's sister's husband's brother is Bruce's personal assistant. It's actually easier to understand if I say that my friend's brother-in-law has a brother who is Bruce's personal assistant, but I like the other way better. And yes, I'm calling Bruce by his first name because he and I have an understanding: I don't bother him when he's making movies, and he doesn't know who I am.

Anyway, the assistant got us four tickets and one VIP pass. My friend had been in the VIP section the previous time Bruce was in town and his band performed, so I was given the pass this time. I went upstairs where Bruce, Robert, Frank Miller, and others were sitting. I'm not someone who gets autographs or tries to take pictures of celebrities, so I sat down and had a nice conversation with the woman standing near me, who turned out to be Robert Rodriguez's wife (now his ex-wife).

Bruce's band started their set and other people sat down. I glanced to my side and noticed that I was now sitting next to Jessica Alba. I probably would have said hello, but she was trying to pay attention to the band. Plus, on the other side of her sat Woody Harrelson, and he was talking and talking. For those that don't know, Woody believes in the legalization of marijuana, and he was exercising his rights. I believe the term is "baked."

I don't think I'm going out on a limb when I say that no one gave me a second look that evening.

Wednesday, March 04, 2009

Learning to drive on the ice

In Texas we have pretty mild winters, at least compared to the rest of the country, so we don't have to drive in icy conditions very often. That's fortunate since most of us don't do it very well. However, I learned from an expert.

My dad grew up in a northern state and had quite a bit of experience driving in bad weather. One weekend when my incredibly handsome twin brother and I were sixteen, we had to go with our dad to pick up his truck from where our older brother had left it the night before. I was going to have to drive our mom's car back while dad drove his truck. It would be my first experience driving on an icy road.

On the way, Dad was offering advice and tips on how to drive in the ice, such as: accelerate slowly, tap the brakes when slowing down, don't be in a hurry, don't make any sudden movements with the steering wheel, etc. All of it was excellent advice.

If only Dad would have listened to it himself.

During the drive Dad reached for his beer that was sitting to his right. He reached with his left hand, jerking the steering wheel in the process. The car started swerving back and forth while Dad tried to regain control. The car spun around and ended up in the ditch on the side of the road.

After coming to a stop Dad said, "See, that's why you don't do that."

And it was fortunate that both Ron and I were there, since we had to push the car out of the ditch.

Thursday, February 05, 2009

Don vs. Sprint

Several years ago I had cell phone service with Sprint. I was very happy with the cost and the features; however, there were two places where I didn't get service: the apartment in which I lived and the building in which I worked. To use my cell phone at work I would have to stand out on the balcony, and to use my cell phone at home I would have to stand outside. So I closed my account and changed to a different provider.

A few weeks later I got a prorated bill from Sprint for 51 cents. I had been with Sprint for a few years, and I thought that maybe they could have not worried about that final 51 cents. However, I also didn't want my credit to be impacted for such a small amount, so I sent them a check.

For 52 cents.

Simply because nothing would have made me happier than for Sprint to have to issue a credit or refund of one cent. I just would have thrown it away, chuckling to myself over my victory over "the man."

I guess they got the last laugh after all. They never refunded me the penny.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

I just met the future version of me

This might surprise some of you, but I have been known to talk a lot, and it doesn't matter if I know you or not. Last week, I met the future version of me.

I was in the doctor's office for a routine checkup, and I was finally called into the back. My actual appointment didn't take long, and I rushed out of the office so that I could get back to work. Well, that was my intention.

In the waiting room an elderly gentleman was sitting by himself waiting for his appointment. No other patients were there. As I walked toward the door he asked me if only one doctor was working today. I answered, and he then continued talking for the next 15-20 minutes on a wide range of topics. I gathered he was just happy to have an audience so I stood there quietly and nodded occasionally.

Here are some of the topics that were brought up:
  • On his first visit to this clinic the doctor stuck a needle THIS BIG (hands held 2 feet apart) up his butt.
  • Seventy-five is a good age to die. After that, the body starts falling apart, and you spend most of your time in the doctor's office.
  • He was 87.
  • When Indians (Native Americans) turned forty, they went off into the woods to die. That seemed like a good idea to him.
  • He voted for Obama because the other clique had their chance for 8 years.
  • I should invest in silver.
All-in-all, it was an entertaining conversation, albeit a bit one-sided. I guess now I know what my friends go through. :)

Wednesday, January 07, 2009

That time I tried to give my cat a bath

Sometimes, something can seem like a good idea beforehand, only to be monumentally stupid in retrospect. Like the time I tried to give my cat a bath.

Cats are largely low maintenance pets. They poop in a litter box, eat when they're hungry, and take care of their own bathing needs. However, several years ago my cat Boo got into something stinky and needed a bath. So I thought I would be a good owner and give him one.

Boo is a special cat. He's very skittish (thus the name Boo) and doesn't really like to have new things sprung on him. He also still has his claws, and I thought giving him a bath in the tub would be a struggle.

So I had the brilliant idea of bathing him in my shower. It was a stand-alone shower that had a detachable shower head so cleaning him would be really easy. Or that's what I thought.

I didn't want to get water all over the floor --- and I didn't want him to escape --- so I had another brilliant idea: I'll be in the shower with Boo and keep the door closed. I didn't want to get my clothes wet, yet I also didn't want any dangling body parts to be misinterpreted as a cat toy, so I wore swimming trunks in the shower. Plus, being naked would have been a little creepy.

Initially, Boo's bath went well. And by initially, I mean the first one or two seconds. After that, he managed to get lose from my grip and attempted to jump out of the shower. The shower walls were six feet high, so I knew he wasn't going to get out.

Surprisingly, he came very close to the top of the wall. Another surprise was what happened after his jump. Since he was now falling from a high jump, he stuck out his paws to latch onto anything close by.

Which happened to be me. My screams could be heard for miles when Boo's claws dug into my chest and stomach. I immediately opened the shower door so that he could get out and I could attend to my injuries.

As I stood in the shower, in my swimming trunks, rinsing the blood off my body, I thought, "You know, maybe this wasn't such a good idea."