Thursday, December 27, 2007

"On the Mend"

"On the Mend"
Foo Fighters

One more day that I've survived
Another night alone
Pay no mind I'm doing fine
I'm breathing on my own

I'm here
And I'm on the mend
I'm here
And I'm on the mend my friend

Wake me when the hour arrives
Wake me with my name
See you somewhere down the line
We're tethered once again

I'm here
And I'm on the mend
I'm here
And I'm on the mend my friend

Was it you?
Who said hello
Here we go

Close your eyes and stay a while
But take me where you go
Single file we walk the mile wandering back home

I'm here
And I'm on the mend
I'm here
And I'm on the mend my friend

Was it you?
Who said hello
Here we go...

Monday, December 24, 2007

"The Beetle is Back" III - Now What?

It's now about 4PM and the tow truck driver gets us to the dealership service building.

Now, I don't know much about South Charleston, but it doesn't seem like the nicest area of town. The service buiding itself seems nice enough - from the outside - which is all we will be seeing today.

When we pulled off the highway I saw that there was as Marriot and I got on the phone and talked to a nice girl that said she had some rooms. I then asked here if they had a courtesy van that could come and pick us up. She checked and found the guy that drives the van and I told her were we were. We were at the the end of "D Street" at the dealership and I could see their sign from where I was. She said she knew where we were and that she would send the van immediately.

The tow truck driver unloaded the car in front of the service door and waited until I was off the phone. He asked me if he could take us somewhere and I told him that we had someone coming to get us - besides all of our stuff wouldn't fit in the back of his tow truck. He gave me his card and told me to call if I needed anything and left us at the empty service center at the corner of D Street and 10th.

We unpacked the car and gathered our stuff up so we would be ready when the van got there to pick us up - at any time. About 4:30 I realized that something was wrong - it had been at least 1/2 an hour since the nice girl at the Marriot had told me that they would be "right there". Wherever "here" was... Since I was hoping to use my HiltonHonors points for our hotel stay anyway I went ahead and called them and found us a Hampton Inn & Suites down the road. The next thing I knew I was talking with the manager there and she had a van headed our way in 10 minutes.

I called the Marriot...she informed me that the van driver couldn't find us! I told her a) that how could that be since she knew were we were and that I could see the sign from where I was standing and b) nevermind I had already found another hotel.

Meanwhile the clock is ticking. Now, we really have nowhere to be until tomorrow morning, but it's winter and the sun is setting. Everything is actually pretty cool - Josh is having a blast on his skateboard (he'd been in the backseat of the beetle all day and ready to burn some energy). Shawn and I are just hanging out wondering what is taking so long.

Now it's after 5PM and no van. I call the Hampton and she said that he's on his way and should be there any time. OK, so we wait and we watch. We are basically in a fenced in lot on the edge of no where and the sun is still going down. The nice cool air is getting a little colder.

I get a phone call from the guy driving the van - he doesn't have a cell phone and has stopped somewhere to use a phone to find out where we are (hey - atleast he didn't just give up on us like the Marriot). He keeps asking us if we can see "Suzy's" - we can't but we can see a couple other stores and SO CAN HE. At the other end of "D Street" (the way we expect him to come) is a big hill with a little park on the top of it. It looks man made. He asks me if I can see that I say, yeah! Now he knows where we you'd think.

Another 20 minutes go by and nothing. To make a long story short, he spent tha last 45 minutes driving around on the OTHER SIDE of the burm at the end of the street. He got there about 5:30. He was nice enough and apologetic about taking so long to get us.

We got to the hotel quickly and they set us up very nicely (it pays to be a HH Silver Member). They upgraded our room, there was a full breakfast (included) in the morning and each room had a flat screen TV. Also, there were plenty of restaurants in the same parking lot.

We were eating at Panera Bread by 6:30.

God provided - we were safe, warm, and well fed. Things could have certainly been much worse. We enjoyed our evening... Our adventure was in full stride, with plenty left.

Thursday, December 20, 2007

"The Beetle is Back" II - Hurry Up and Wait

It's now 1:30pm on the 25th and the three of us are sitting on the side of I-77, literally 50 yards from the toll booth. The good news is that I have a cell signal - if this had happened 5 miles in either direction that might not have been the case.

After opening the hood and scratching my head I looked in my glove box and found the number for the VW roadside assistance and called them. The nice woman on the phone informed me that my roadside assistance coverage had expired just a few months ago. However, she could get me to the closest VW dealership.

OK, we're getting somewhere now. So, let's get me to Beckley...right? No - the closest place that can work on the car is Charleston WV - we just passed Charleston - it's 45 minutes BEHIND us. She tells me that it will cost me $191 to get it towed to the VW dealership in South Charleston WV. I ask - isn't there something closer to NC? She starts listing off other places that are farther away - IN THE WRONG DIRECTION. Of course, it also costs more to get them there. I finally just tell her to send the truck and get us to South Charleston -they take Visa or MC...

How long will it be? About an hour and a half...

So, me and the boys sit tight on the side of the road and wait.

About 30 minutes later I get an automated message telling me that the truck will be there in about an hour. 30 minutes after that someone calls me and tells me he's on his way - just confirming where I am - pretty hard to miss us.

So, somewhere just short of 3pm the tow truck shows up. HE CAME FROM BECKLEY WV. When I figured this out I asked him if there wasn't some place he could take this in Beckley and he tells me that there isn't any place in Beckley that can work on a VW. Wow - the 8th largest city in WV, so named "The City of Champions", over 77,000 in population doesn't have any VWs. Go figure...

So, it's about 3pm and we are in a tow truck based in Beckley, traveling AWAY from home about 45 minutes north to South Charleston which, by the way, is WEST of Charleston. I asked the driver if we passed the airport on the way and he said that the airport was south of Charleson and that we wouldn't pass it to get to SOUTH CHARLESTON because it's on the other side of town. The driver is "pretty sure" he knows where this place is and asks me if I do. Wow, I'm impressed.

I already know that we going to end up somewhere that no one will be to greet us because it's Sunday and no one is home at the dealership on Sunday (or Saturday for that matter, but more on that later). I also know that even though this is 2nd the biggest "metropolitan area" we pass during our trips to and from Michigan (the biggest being Toledo) we can't usually even find a place to eat here except Hardees (they are everywhere).

We get to the dealership area about 4pm...

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

"The Beetle is Back" Part I

I would like to share a story with you - this story is true - some of the names have been changed to protect the innocent and not-so-innocent (some have not been changed to complain about the not-so-innocent).

It all started when my two sons and I went to Michigan for Thanksgiving. We had a great time. We took my beetle because we just thought it would be fun - even though we used every ounce of space to pack 3 guys and all their stuff (including TWO guitars and a skateboard). Everything went smoothly until...

We were heading back on Sunday morning the 25th and making great time. It takes anywhere from 9 1/2 hours to 11 hours to make this trip depending on weather, traffic, pit stops and all sorts of stuff. We were on schedule to make it home in record time. Everything was going great and then within the span of about 10 minutes it went from great, to not-so-great, to bad, to...

We were on I-77 heading south smack in the middle of West Virginia. This part of I-77 through WV is a toll road and we were getting close to the 2nd of 3. When we started to hear a weird noise coming from the car. It was clicking very fast.

We pulled over immediately and checked the engine - it wasn't hot it was just making this noise. So we got back in and drove to the next exit which was a rest stop. Me - being a complete dunce when it comes to cars - opened the hood and listened. The rest area was full of people heading home from the holiday and another guy walked up and told me it sounded like we had bad gas (no pun intended). So our plan was to get to the next town and get this taken care of. The next "major" town was Beckley and only about 20 miles away.

We got within about 15 miles (just past Pax, WV). When I slowed down to pay the 2nd toll the car just stalled and would not start back up. It sounded like it was trying to turn over but it wasn't moving. My oldest son and I quickly got out and pushed the car to the shoulder of the toll plaza...

Our day had just changed dramatically and the course of events from here were completely different than I could have (or would have) imagined. It was 1:30pm on the 25th and our adventure was just beginning. We were about to meet new people, experience adventure, frustration, joy, deceit and many other things...

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

Safe Computing I - EMail

I am going to assume that you do not have any third-party virus proctection software installed (like McAffee or Norton) - if you do then get rid of it and then come back to this point. I will probably come back to how to do this later...

EMail is one of those things that is abused, misused, misunderstood, underestimated, overestimated and overlooked. It can be a very useful tool and and a very big pain the neck at the same time. However, over the years (I wrote an "email application" back in the early 90's using tools that were not much more than "rocks and sticks", but it worked) I have come up with a way to effectively use email without worrying about spam and other junk.

General Email Guidelines:

  • NEVER send junk mail to your friends. I know that the term "junk mail" is very ambiguous, but think twice before sending that funny or sappy story to 50 of your friends. There are small percentage of people in this world that really want that stuff.

  • When someone gives you their email address accept it with responsibility - you wouldn't mail out 100 postcards to everyone you knew with the your new friend's name and address unless you had thier permission....would you?

  • CHECK YOUR EMAIL. If you give out your email address then there is an implication that if the person you give it to sends something to that address you will look it. It's very frustrating to say for the 100th time at a meeting for a group (at Church or something) "I sent an email about it!" (after hearing the immortal words..."I didn't know about that!"). So, check your email once a day (just like your "snail mail") or not at all - don't even give it out...

  • If you don't check your email then DON'T GIVE IT OUT. If you owned a barn in the country 3 states away that had an address you wouldn't give that address to anyone that you actually wanted to correspond with. An email account that is never (or very irregularly) checked is no more useful than a mailbox stuffed with letters that no one ever empties.

  • NEVER open attachments UNLESS a) you are expecting it AND b) you already know what it is. Almost all emails (in and of themselves) are harmless, but the attachments can be devastating. The only exception to this rule is if you REALLY KNOW WHAT YOU ARE DOING - in that case you probably don't need this article in the first place.

At any given time I have at least 4 different email accounts that I use. For some, that may seem like a lot (I actually have more like 6), but it's really not. There are lots of free email sites to help you get three.

My MAIN e-mail account: This is the one I guard with my life. I only give it out to people that I trust. This is usually the one that I am paying for (in some way). If I have given you this email address consider yourself a close, trusted friend.

  • CHECK this account every day that you would check your "snail mail" in your mailbox (or P.O. Box) at home.

  • NEVER use it for registration purposes - EVER.

  • NEVER forward messages sent to groups of people. If you want to forward a message sent to a large group of people to one or two people then click FORWARD, but then delete all of the addresses from the address line and then add the ones you want.

  • NEVER send spoofs, chain mail or junk mail to friends, family or others from this account.

  • SET every email you receive in this account that you don't want to get there as SPAM. Just about every email program has a "Mark as SPAM" option. Be diligent about this and over time your SPAM will decrease.

  • DELETE the Junk Folder about once a week at least - taking a quick check to make sure that nothing important was sent there by mistake.

  • Don't be afraid to "Mark As SPAM" any friend that only sends you mail.

MY "DIRTY" ACCOUNT: By "dirty" I mean the same way that you get dirty while you do dirty work (like cleaning or yard work). This can be a purchased account or a free one - a purchased one works better. The idea here is to reduce the amount of spam you get as much as possible, but to use it for things that you MIGHT want from time to time.

For example, I might use this account to register at a website that I trust or that I use a lot. I also, use this for email for my bank account and entities that I make payments to.

  • CHECK this account about every other day or about 2-3 times a week, or when you are expecting something in it.

  • MARK as many SPAM emails as you can, but don't kill yourself just delete the ones you don't want.

  • DELETE (AND/OR) READ the emails you get directly from places you registered but don't make them as SPAM.

MY SPAM ACCOUNT: When I get mail from the mailbox at home that is OBVIOUSLY junk I just throw it right in the garbage - I don't even open it. I give it the respect it deserves... This is how you should look at this account. Just about anything that comes here is junk. It's a big electronic trash can.

Why even have one? How many times have you went to a website that wouldn't give you the time of day without registering and they have to have an email address? Another thing I've seen many times is this same situation, but they want you to VERIFY your email address by opening the email they send you and doing something with it. Use this account for that.

I actually have two of these - both of them are free.

  • About ONCE A MONTH just go in and delete everything.

  • DON'T spend one extra moment of time managing this account.

Monday, December 03, 2007

Safe Computing - Prologue

I often find myself "cleaning up" the computers of my friends and family because "my system is too slow - it used to be fast, but now it's just too slow to use". It's a job that is actually getting easier partially because the tools to do so are better and partially because I have done it so often. Invariably I get asked the same question by all -

"Which virus checker do you use?"

My answer shocks them...

"I don't..."

They often look at me like I'm from Mars or something and then I have to start explaining. My answer is simple - just like life if you practice "Safe Computing" you'll stay out of trouble except those times when someone is bound and determined to get you into trouble. In those cases even if you had virus detection software you'd still get in "trouble".

Virus protection software, in a word, stinks (I'd like to say something a bit more direct...but...). It is the most invasive piece of software you will ever install on your machine (Lime Wire and other file sharing software gives it a run for it's money, but more about that later). It takes your nice, fast computer and brings it to it's knees because EVERYTHING you do on your computer - even the things you are CERTAIN are safe - are first considered by it to be unsafe and scrutinized before you can use them. It considers everything (including yourself) is bad and tries to protect you by being an overzealous watchdog.

For the typical computer user - even if they realize that everything worked great until they installed "X" virus protector - they can't DE-install it. Why can't they DE-install it? Because the virus protector considers this an unsafe act and says "you don't know what you are doing, so I'm not going to let you do it". You now have a program in your system dictating to you what you can and cannot do on your computer - most people just give up.

So, my recommendation (and it's worked for many years) is to practice "Safe Computing". My kids have grown up understanding this and they do it without thinking about it now. It's not hard, it's not magic, it's liberating and it's very safe.

The other day I decided that I would write all of the things that I do to keep my computers safe without using the watchdog so that maybe people (at least those that will listen) can start using their computers again.

Part One coming up...

"...Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. And we, who with unveiled faces all reflect the Lord's glory, are being transformed into his likeness with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit." 2 Corinthians 3:7-18