Friday, August 31, 2007

The End Of Time & Other Stuff

I've been rather lax in writing lately, this is due to any number of factors not the least of which is laziness. Also my laptop has been sent off for repair so I have to fire up my rather creaky desktop computer which is always somewhat risky.

Let's see - unrelated updates on various stuff.

Amy is doing better, she's not exactly doing handsprings but some of the symptoms she was having which concerned us a great deal have almost disappeared, so we think we're on the right track in dealing with that issue at least.
My recent fuming at Budget Host produced few results, except a call from someone at the corporate public relations department of Budget Host Inn who was apologetic but did nothing to really improve my opinion of the entire Budget Host Deluxe Inn chain.

However I did get a very nice response from the wonderful people at the Convention and Visitors Bureau in beautiful Fredericksburg and an apologetic note from the Chamber of Commerce. The gentleman from the Visitors Bureau informed me that the board had voted to stop promoting the Budget Host Inn in Fredericksburg for six months, apparently due to a number of issues they have had with that particular member of the hospitality industry, not simply because I sent them a ranting email.

Also a member of the CVB board happens to own a Bed & Breakfast in Fredericksburg and decided to offer us a free two-night stay to assure us that Fredericksburg's well deserved reputation of being a wonderful place to visit is still in tact. That was exceedingly kind, and really a bit much...

I felt terrible accepting, but really it was the only polite response.

This video has probably made it all over the Internet by now, but I did enjoy the story of this high school kid's prank.

The YouTube video is apparently a hit.


Oh, one other thing... in case you hadn't heard, the end of time is near.

Oh, no no! Sorry, I don't mean the end of ALL time....well, actually I don't know I suppose it could be but what I meant was the end of this time.

That's right, for six decades or so AT&T has operated a phone number, usually ending in 1212, which you could call and get the exact time.

AT&T says these days not many people call to get the time thanks to other modern day methods available to them like cell phones, PDAs, computers, the Internet and um, clocks. Anyway, that service is now officially on borrowed time. Get your calls in before time runs out!

The end of time is scheduled for September can set your clock by it.
If nothing else that bit of news provides me with an opportune segue...I need to end this little ramble.

Time's up!

Monday, August 27, 2007

This Smells Like A Gag

I figured this was a joke...but by all accounts a company that sells "e-textbooks" is serious, or at least claims to be. CaféScribe has issued a press release touting results of a survey it conducted which revealed one of the primary things students dislike most about E-books is that they don't have that familiar "book smell."

So the company claims it's going to issue "scratch and sniff" stickers with each e-textbook sold which students can slap on their laptops. The stickers will release the musty aroma of an old book, thus giving them some consolation.

Personally, I still think this has the aroma of public relations gag.

However, as I recall, there isn't much you can do to make most dorm rooms smell any worse. I hope they come in industrial sizes.

Saturday, August 25, 2007

Hair Today Gone To Maui

Life's been a scramble lately and I've seriously considered just "chucking" my blog. However I know once I make that decision I'll have to either get serious about writing, which means work, get serious about housecleaning...which means work, get serious about getting some websites I want up and operating up and operating...yeah...that means work too.

I'm not opposed to work...but I am opposed to being serious.

I think I'll kick back give that hair brain idea some more thought.

Photo credit:
The Sun Tabloid

Thursday, August 23, 2007

Web Stars

"We are all in the gutter, but some of us are looking at the stars." - Oscar Wilde

Stargazers...prepare to waste a lot of time today.

First Google got me hooked on zooming around the earth with it's Google Earth product. Then they let me waste even more time, tripping around the moon.

I still got lost, which is forgivable I guess on the's not like there are roads or anything.

Now...with Google Earth's latest version can explore the stars.

I'll let this guy from the Google Earth blog explain it...

If you follow my directions you might end up wandering around Uranus.

Monday, August 20, 2007

Dean, Death & Dallas

A dear friend of my "eclectic family" has died. He'd been in poor health for a while, but was vibrant and encouraging the bulk of his 91 years on this earth. The funeral is tomorrow in Dallas and at first I couldn't conceive of how I could be there for it. Although we're less stressed about Amy's health, she's not exactly rebounding yet, plus there is this hurricane which I initially believed would be bearing down on Texas fairly rapidly. I can't skip out on work during's not good for my long term job prospects.

The more I considered it though, and admittedly Amy had a great deal of influence, the more I realized I really needed to be there to praise this man, and to stand by my other "eclectic family members" whom he stood by for so many years.

So I scrambled with schedules, praised God that Hurricane Dean is apparently taking a cue from Howard Dean's Iowa debacle and running off in an unexpected direction, rented a car (not going to risk driving our car in such a rushed situation) and will stop into the office for a couple of hours in the morning to get things organized and before zipping up to Dallas. I'll only have a handful of hours before I'll have to turn right around and come back, so it will be a long day. I think it will be good day nonetheless.

Amy won't be making the trip. She's not happy about that but she knows she needs rest and a regular schedule of sleep. I don't want her to endure 10 or 12 hours of it will be a bit lonely.

I plan to rest in the company of my memories...of a very good man, a loving man and a legacy of integrity. I suspect that will sustain me.

Joe Jackson
January 1916 - August 2007

Friday, August 17, 2007

A Brief Update

I'm physically and emotionally spent...but I am spiritually renewed.

Just to update those who follow the saga of Michael & Amy, we've met with all the doctors, looked at the results of all the tests, and come to the conclusion that all of the big scary stuff that might have been causing some of Amy's problems is off the table.

Yeah, this is a very good day.

God is good.

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Christus Interruptus

A former boss of mine who moved on to a job in California that is a perfect fit for his passion has cancer. We hadn't communicated with each other much since he left, but when I learned of his ailment I quickly contacted him and his wife, with whom I also used to work.

He's gone through a lot already and there's more to come, but we're a lot more hopeful than we were initially when the diagnosis was "pancreatic" cancer, which is a particularly vile form of the disease in that by the time it's usually diagnosed, there's nothing that can really be done. It turned out that diagnosis was wrong (get a second opinion when someone says "Sorry, get your affairs in order") and although the situation is still serious, this guy is a fighter with a very positive attitude.

In any case, we've been emailing on and off primarily dealing with spiritual issues, something I don't think we ever discussed face to face. He's at MD Anderson in Houston for a few days for treatment and will then head back home. While at MD Anderson though he said he's been really "inspired" by the fellowship that cancer fighters, survivors and their loved ones have with each other. The common experiences they share in their personal battles allow a level of empathy and "community" which he's found both surprising and uplifting.

I responded to my friend, whose spiritual side has admittedly moved to the forefront as a result of his cancer battle, that whether he realizes it or not...this is sort of high ground theology. The healing nurturing nature of relationship...especially when it comes to our relationship with God. God wants a personal relationship with us and when we abide by that wish, not half-hearted, He will uplift us like no other.

I thought a lot about this today as Amy was having her brain scanned and I was trying to think of almost anything besides that procedure and its possibilities.

On one or two occasions recently I've alluded to that fact that Amy is having some health issues which are worrisome. I suppose I should spell out a few more details, although really I don't know much, which is part of the problem.

Those of you who've put up with my ramblings for a while know this is not the first time. We've been on this roller coaster health journey for some seven years. However in the last year or two Amy has been better - at least staying out of the hospital. Now though, she's experiencing not only some of her "old" symptoms but some new things are going on that are disturbing and as yet unexplained. She's falling down a lot...various body parts go into sudden very painful cramps, she's having more trouble focusing on tasks, etc.

So we're going back to square one.

After talking with one of the members of our "medical team," we decided to make sure there's not something "new" which we're overlooking because we're focused too much on her past problems. So this means a C-T, blood tests, an M-R-I and the like. It also means we wait...and we pray.

Between my friend's cancer and Amy's health, I was consumed today with this idea of how often "our plans" or "our lives" or "our careers" are interrupted by the unexpected, the unplanned, and all too often the unspoken.

It is easy to get into an attitude of silent suffering or self-pity in situations like this...Lord knows I have gone that route before and I ain't ruling it out this time.

However I do also have the perspective of time and experience now.

I honestly can say that as terrifying and heart-wrenching as I found some of Amy's previous health situations, it was during those very times that Amy and I moved closer to God...and to each other.

I witnessed miracles...absolutely.

I'm not saying that God deliberately inflicts suffering on us to get our attention, but I honestly believe that God does see opportunity for "intervention" in our suffering and calls out to us to refocus on our relationship with Him during such times.

I know at least He has with me...and when I've been smart enough to actually listen...I've learned the quickest, most lasting path to peace in times of such discomfort is to turn to God.

My friend with cancer always ends his emails with the phrase "Winning Is The ONLY Option!!"

I suppose soon I'll have to suggest that he give some thought to the idea that the best, most proven and workable game plan for victory is to surrender it all to Him.

"Cast thy burden upon the Lord" - Psalm 55:22

Monday, August 13, 2007

The Dance

Amy has always wanted me to take dancing lessons with her. I have a certain aversion to dancing in that, with the exception of weddings, I don't do it.

I have two brothers and when we were young my mother believed it important that we take "ballroom" dance lessons. Over the years it became apparent we weren't doing a lot of ballroom dancing and we hated going to the lessons. Apparently we were the last three boys to convince our parents of that because the Dance Instructor suddenly made a magnanimous offer to teach us for "free!"

It didn't take long to figure out why...there was a shortage of boys in the class, and if they roped in the Main boys they had trio of varying heights.

Anyway, I think this is the only way we'll dance in the future.

Get ready!

Saturday, August 11, 2007

Who's On First?

I made passing mention the other day in a rambling post (yes, I realize that doesn't narrow it down much) of how a Catholic writer was urging fellow members of his faith to enter into the popular "virtual" world of Second Life to spread their beliefs. I should have elaborated more on that at the time, but then again I was really only blathering on about anything that happened to come to mind.

Earlier this week my friend Gordon - known to a lot of folks as "Real Live Preacher" posted a thought provoking piece about his youngest daughter and her fascination with a Nintendo game that is essentially a virtual world, and some of the new ethical concerns it brought him to consider.

23 years ago or more, I helped run an on line chat-room in San Antonio. This was pre-Internet, at least for the masses, and a friend of mine actually bankrolled the operation - not that it made money, but he paid for the seven phone lines running into my house and the Apple IIE equipped with seven 300 baud (yes, 300 baud) modems which allowed this simplistic system to function. We eventually were able to tie our chat room to others in various cities. It was really a lot of fun and the software offered a lot of flexibility. For example, if you wanted to chat with one specific person, you could go off into one of the private chat rooms. That may not sound like much today, but in 1983 it was very "gee whiz." Still I saw some relationships form which made me uncomfortable "hosting" so eventually we put in some restrictions I think.

None the less, a lot of romances bloomed on that little chat room and some deep friendships, some I still have to this day.

Years later, still before anyone besides academics and super geeks were using the Internet, Amy and I "met" on a vaguely similar computer "bulletin board" system which offered "chat" and various other time wasters.

I have spent many hours on computer bulletins boards, and have wasted more hours than I can imagine playing various computer games. These days though the only computer game I play is "chess" which should give you a good idea of where to set the bar on the boring meter.

I ran across an absolutely fascinating, and truly wonderful article in Friday's Wall Street Journal which goes in depth about one man's obsession with the on-line game/fantasy world "Second Life."

Although, I consider this a "must read" article, I know a lot folks don't like to click on blog links so I'll give you a few pertinent highlights. This guy is 53 years old, with some health issues that have kept him from getting out in recent months and he discovered he can be 25, healthy and active in "Second Life." Now, he's really, really active. On any given day, he's busier on Second Life than Lindsay Lohan and Paris Hilton's Public Relations people are on Friday nights.

He not only runs a number "virtual" businesses - including topless dance clubs - but he is "virtually married" to a woman from Canada...a woman he's never met.

A woman he has met - oddly enough on-line - is his "real" wife of less than a year.
Her reaction to her husband's blind enthusiasm for his "virtual life" and her discovery of his "virtual wife" is summed up with the priceless quote from the article, "You try to talk to someone (him) or bring them (him) a drink and they'll be having sex...with a cartoon."

That about says it all doesn't it?

I feel guilty spending time writing a blog entry when there are always other things I "could" be doing. Still, Amy doesn't have to worry about me joining Second Life or having sex with a cartoon.

The "real" wife of the guy in the WSJ article has now joined a support group for spouses of people who are addicted to Internet games. Apparently there are several such groups to help so called, "Gamer Widows."

There's also a rather humorous parody of Second Life, but take note some of it might be a little offensive.

Humor aside, it is a lot to digest: evangelism in cyberspace, cyber-obsessions, and most importantly I suppose realizing our children are going to grow up with these virtual worlds being as common and attractive as TVs were when we were growing up.

It's going to be a big challenge to parents raising the generation of tomorrow to not only instill a personal code of ethics in their kids, but also help them understand that because that code is inside of doesn't matter what world it is in which they find themselves.

I think I'll pray a lot of parents make that a "first life" priority.

Humans are satisfied with whatever looks good; God probes for what is good.- Proverbs 16:2 (The MSG)

Thursday, August 09, 2007

"Are We On COPS?"

I've been dealing with the world of "customer service" this past week, not necessarily out of choice. I was trying to register a computer "the easy way" with HP and got so frustrated I nearly threw it out the window. Mercifully I was able to get in contact with a human being, a nice young woman, who immediately handled the matter and then a day or so later I received an email saying that particular function of HP's website wasn't really functioning well.

I had already figured that out.

Last weekend, Amy and I drove up to the Texas Hill Country for the wedding of a young lady we've known for some years and whose entire family we adore. Although we could have driven back home after the event, I thought it might be nice not to have to worry about getting home, so I booked a hotel room.

They say, "You get what you pay for" and in this case that certainly proved true. I figured correctly that we'd only be in the hotel to quickly change clothes before the wedding, and to sleep afterwards, so I didn't splurge. I went with the Budget Host "Deluxe" Inn in Fredericksburg, Texas. It's a motel, it's far from "Deluxe" and they have no concept of what the word "host" means.

Make no mistake this post is designed to warn any traveler, anywhere to avoid Budget Host properties.

As we were leaving, Amy noticed one of the purses she had brought was missing. It wasn't a huge deal...her primary purse with her identification, and other items was still accounted for, however this purse did have a document in it containing some quasi-sensitive social security type stuff. The purse itself was of little value.

None the less, we tore the room apart, unpacked and repacked our bags, and our car. Looked around the motel property thinking it might have dropped out of the car at some point. No luck.

So we did what we thought was sensible...we started asking the Budget Host Deluxe Inn employees.

We learned one thing: Budget Host Deluxe isn't real picky about who slaps their brand on their motel.

I would belabor the entire incident, but suffice it to say Amy was screamed at, we were repeatedly lied to, found ourselves at one point dealing with the "lobby staff" at the "Budget Host Deluxe Inn" who is in fact a 12 year old boy, and finally a man who refused to identify himself but whom I later learned was the "owner" of the "Budget Host Deluxe Inn", told us he had called the police...on us.

Huh? He didn't call the police to report a possibly stolen purse, he called the police because his customers were looking for their property?

This was at like 10 a.m. on a Sunday Fredericksburg, Texas a community that is completely reliant on tourism for its economic well-being.

I was stunned. Amy and I (after being ordered out of the "Budget Host Deluxe Hotel" lobby with fingers pointing in our faces) sat outside waiting for the police to arrive. We certainly didn't want to flee like criminals although apparently we had violated some law in the land of Budget Host Hotel/Inn properties when it comes to paying guests requesting information about items they owned which "go missing."

Amy's health has not been good...which is another post for another day...but I really hated to let our memories of the previous night's wonderful wedding be ruined by the maniacal employees of the Budget Host Deluxe Inn.

Eventually, we started to call the police to ask when they were going to show up and the owner (who finally unlocked the lobby door) admitted he had never called them.

At that point, I thought we'd salvage what was left of the day and I'd file a complaint with corporate relations for "Budget Host Inn" assuming they'd realize the lunacy of this situation and do everything possible to make sure the "Budget Host reputation" was not sullied further by what I thought must be a "rouge Budget Host owner" in the "Texas Hill Country." I really expected someone to resolve our complaint quickly since anyone familiar with customer service knows that dissatisfied customers often relay their dissatification not to the company but to everyone they know.

For the record: "Budget Host Inn" apparently doesn't have a customer service policy or a manual with a title of "Standards of Service" for "Budget Host Inns."

We spent what little time we had left to spare in Fredericksburg...much of it calming down and trying to understand how anyone in the hospitality industry could behave in such a manner and how a nationwide chain such as "Budget Host" or "Budget Host Hotel," Budget Deluxe, Budget Host Inn or whatever it is they call the Budget Host chain, could allow such behavior.

When we got home I fired off an email to Budget Host's only apparent outlet for complaints "" and also sent emails to the Better Business Bureau, various Chambers of Commerce, Visitor's Bureaus, etc.

I did get a call from a nice woman from the Budget Host corporate office. She agreed the situation was untenable, that the owner of the Budget Host Deluxe Inn in Fredericksburg, Texas was "not suited for the hospitality industry" and then offered her apologies.

That was it. Not an apology from anyone who actually should apologize, an apology from a very nice woman who had nothing to do with the situation that occurred in Fredericksburg, Texas.

She also had no solution.

She was very sweet...but I was still dissatisfied. Unfortunately I did not pay for the stay on a credit card so disputing the charge would be difficult and possibly dangerous. It really comes down to me driving up to Fredericksburg and confronting a man whom the Budget Host hotel, motel, inn chain has allowed to carry their brand name but whom I fear may be mentally unstable.

The Better Business Bureau said the situation was "out of their purview" which I took to mean they've had no luck dealing with previous complaints at the Budget Host Deluxe Fredericksburg.

I've wasted far too much time trying to get at least an apology from the wing-nut who runs the place, the "Budget Host Inn Fredericksburg", so I've decided to let it all go....into the blogosphere....far and wide...forever and ever.

If people happen to Google "Budget Host Deluxe" or "Budget Host Inn" or "Budget Host Motel" or perhaps folks just wondering where the "Best Places To Visit In Texas" might as a result happen to stumble across this blog, at least I'll know they are fully aware of the "DANGERS OF BUDGET HOST INN."

I think of it as a public service to make sure everyone knows what the name"Budget Host" or "Budget Host Deluxe" really means.

Friday, August 03, 2007

Squeezing Time Into A Pickle Jar

Life has been a little complicated lately, which translates in brief into long days, with little time for writing. The expanded version includes concerns about Amy's health, doctor's appointments, computer issues (I don't even want to go there) and some rather lengthy meetings at work primarily with a young reporter who is being promoted to a much more prominent position. It's a great opportunity and she's getting a lot of advice about expectations, and how she should "study up, be prepared, etc." The net result is she's been transformed from confident to fearful, so in truth I've been playing the role of "long term survival adviser" trying to help her separate out some of the "what if" clutter that's only distracting her and get her back focused on her goals.

Anyway, it got me thinking about confidence, and how we have all been guilty of doubting ourselves at one time or another...and how we should have more faith.

I mentioned to her that for more than 20 years now a large facet of my job has been something that when I started at these radio stations I thought was my "weakest" talent - coming up with story ideas. Yet it was something that I had to start doing almost immediately and soon I was being given various titles from "Assignment Editor" to "Managing Editor" because of story ideas or approaches I developed or, quite frankly, made up on the spot. Today I rarely even "do" any of those stories, I spout out my various ideas during a morning pitch session with my boss and one reporter and shortly afterwards I leave. The next morning usually many of those ideas have been produced into stories by one reporter or another and I look for a story to do.

Any news organization can chase red lights and politicians. I believe it's the human interest, creative, or even traditional stories approached from an unexpected perspective that separate our news product from others in the market.

I may be wrong, but my key card still works at the office.

Not that I'm a font of wisdom - in truth I honed this particular story pitch skill in large part because I worked with some very annoying people for years and it was to my benefit to have things for them to work on, preferably stories that got them out of the office as soon as possible.

And it's not like every idea I pitch gets a favorable reaction...which is where this confidence thing comes into play.

Almost two months ago, I learned of the operators of a little roller skating rink in a small town not too far from San Antonio called Seguin. This couple suddenly found they'd created something of a "mini-fad." It was very unexpected and the fad appeared to be growing. I pitched the idea of doing a story on them...and their fad creation...the "pickle-sickle."

I was mocked.

Openly laughed at and it became a running gag that if, "Main pitches the pickle sickle we know we've hit the bottom of his barrel."

Every bad pun, every joke, every snide remark about my increasing senility I took in stride...and I kept count.

I also decided I would pitch the pickle sickle story every day until someone actually did it. It's not like it required Mike Wallace.

I took the abuse every day.

To clarify for those of you who have no concept of a "pickle sickle" it's basically a pickle juice pop sickle. Essentially, the skating rink owners didn't know what to do with all the pickle juice left over from the big dill pickles they sold at their concession stand and they got the wild idea of pouring the juice into molds, putting pop sickle sticks in, freezing the stuff and trying to sell them to kids for 50 cents a pop.

It worked.

Better than they imagined.

Kids went wild for them...they suddenly had a hard time keeping up with demand and the pickle sickle was the talk of least that little town...two months ago when I started pitching the idea of doing a sweet little story.


Oh, well now things have changed a little.

Apparently I'm not the only fool hardy news guy willing to pitch the idea of doing a story on pickle sickles because one of the major daily newspapers in Texas finally got wind of the pickle sickle phenomena fermenting. On Tuesday, the Austin American Statesman picked up on the story and produced a huge front page above the fold feature story about the pickle sickle. The Associated Press then snagged and distributed the Statesman's story and...well, the rest as they say is the sweet juice of in your face justice.

Photo credit:Laura Skelding: Austin American Statesman.

Suddenly, without any prompting although there might have been a bit of gloating on my part, one of our reporters was "assigned" to do the long neglected pickle sickle story. She did a good job, breaking the news that the newly designed and multi-flavored pickle sickle was now being sold internationally with the first order going to someone in London via Pickle Sickle's new website.

And today it was that same 28 year old reporter whom I told to remember my battle over the pickle sickle in a week or so...when she slips into one of the news anchor chairs at the flagship 50,000 watt News-talk radio station of the largest radio company in the world. I told her to believe in herself, filter the noise of others, and do the job everyone working with her knows she can do.

People can shake your confidence in many ways, even with the best of intentions, but if you stick to your standards, and stand up for your beliefs...most folks won't pull the chair out from under you.

Although it might, occasionally, for a little while leave a sour taste in some people's mouths.

I'm thinking in the case of the pickle sickle, it might be about two months.

The gullible believe anything they're told; the prudent sift and weigh every word.
- Proverbs 14:14-16

Wednesday, August 01, 2007

Man Bites Dog

I know this image is probably being forwarded all over the Internet, but being a dog lover...and having had to write far too many stories about Michael Vick...well, I just couldn't help but post it.

Every dog has his day...