28 January 2007


To Thomas (likely no "Thomas" you know)

I shouldn't have laughed, but when you offered, in conversation at a bar, to instruct me in matters spiritual, after taking offense ("I'm very serious about these") to my smiling and laughing but (what I thought was) warm response to your calling yourself "a preacher and a teacher"—sorry, it made me think of "And You and I" by Yes ("The preacher trained in all to lose his name; // The teacher travels, asking to be shown the same."—it really was a compliment, but you didn't get it)—well, I just thought you were acting like a total flake. (Doesn't make it a "be" thing; might've been a moment thing—there's not enough info to tell. Well, in the bigger picture, it's all moment things, no?)

I'm muy skeptical about this enterprise of yours. I have some well-developed (for me, not by the standards of many of those past, of many of those alive now, or of many of those to come) ideas about our place in this universe, and, as I told you immediately, "I have the universe as a teacher, and I'm not looking for another." I don't necessarily share those ideas with even my closest friends, with even the patient few who read here, with even my lover. You wouldn't know that about me, but if you're going to be in the preaching/teaching business, you might give a moment's thought as to where the one you're offering your services to might be in the matter of their spiritual life. I said I was reticent to discuss it, not that I didn't have one, or that I wanted instruction in it. From you.

You're in good company. I once threw two very good friends—people I'd known for longer than five minutes—out of my trailer (this was when I was living in a trailer house) when they both claimed to "see the light"—"can't you see it Timmy?"—of Jesus Christ himself, right there in the trailer. I risked real friendships, friendships that involved actual shared experiences, more than just shared air and music in a smokey bar, over that: those friendships survived.

As someone whose trade is academic instruction, I'll share with you one thing I think I've figured out: All a teacher really can do is create opportunities for others to learn. The learning takes place inside each of us, and better teachers just create more learning opportunities, better learning opportunities, than others do. They find ways to help those intending to learn, interested in learning, to do just that, sometimes by showing how to learn, the value of learning, in their own lives. But the action, the real point of interest, is the students, not the instructors. The teachers with the biggest egos are sometimes—hell, often—the least effective ones.

But I did learn something, or at least was reminded of something, from the exchange: I remembered that I should be more gracious with strangers. With anyone. Not scoff. Not belittle.

I shouldn't have laughed, and I'm truly sorry for that. If you happen across this, please accept my apology. And my gratitude for the lesson.

21 January 2007


Occasional Post-Holiday Reminder

Christmas is over
The goose is dead and eaten
Take down your lights
Or you're gonna get beaten


Update, 20070121

Just got around to updating my reading list page for the first time in months. It's not that I stopped reading; I just stopped updating.

Also, added a very stupid favorites page that I can link to from MySpace, Facebook, etc. It's a starter, woefully incomplete.

I'll try to update the daily read page soon. Some new stuff there: for example, Patty's spacebawl (the blog) blog.

20 January 2007


If Only...

If only Dr. Dre's real name were Hobbes, then he and Snoop would be Calvin and Hobbes.

Okay, so we watched The Wash today. The redeeming aspects: It featured Tommy Chong as Snoop's far out dope dealer, and it featured Pauly Shore as a guy in the trunk of a car. No stretch there. Likely Snoop and Dre made much money. More power to 'em.

16 January 2007


Willie's New Song

"Engineers are Secretly Fond of Each Other".

Found as a search string on my Sitemeter log. From Newfoundland, Canada.

15 January 2007


Martin Luther King, Jr.: "I Have a Dream"

Watch it.

Watch it for a lesson in rhetoric.

Watch it for a lesson in delivery.

Watch it for a lesson on the worse parts of American history and the better parts of the American dream.

Watch it to renew the sense of what it means to have purpose and passion, to see injustice and to speak and to work to make the world better.

Watch it to celebrate the role that one man played in improving our lives. If you were alive then, you can't but see how the world, the American world at least, has changed for the better in matters of race. Not that there doesn't remain room for improvement, but it is a vastly different world than Dr. King's in 1963.

14 January 2007


Spelling Question

"Wack" or "whack"?

Thank you.

13 January 2007


Fire Your Phone Company

Friend Bryan T. is having problems with the phone company.
Bellsouth claims it is on my end (but of course!), and left me a rambling, [...] sort of message, outlining a procedure that I should follow by going outside, opening the box on the house exterior, connecting a telephone to something, testing it, and if I still hear the problem, then I should call them.

People, I am in complete disbelief over this kind of garbage. Is someone like an eighty-year-old grandmother supposed to follow through with this kind of shit? Why in the name of all that's reasonable should ANYONE be fed this kind of complete, utterly insulting bullshit?

I HATE BELLSOUTH, PROBABLY MORE THAN I HATE ANY OTHER CORPORATE ENTITY (except Wal-Mart). It's likely the fault of the half-wit tech that installed the second line, on a Friday afternoon, wanting to get the hell home for the weekend.

I don't remember when it all happened -- maybe when they broke up Ma Bell into the Baby Bells -- but at some point, the phone companies gave up all the interior wiring to the home/business owner. Way back in the 70s or so. So, yeah, this has been law or court order or consent decree or policy or whatever for quite some time, and it's not just Your Favorite Telephone Company, the one soon to be know as... AT&T. And, yes, unless Granny buys a service contract for interior phone wiring from YFTC, or its equivalent in other locales, then she's gotta go out to the NETWORK INTERFACE and plug her phone in so she can claim that it's their problem and not hers.

When we had BellSouth DSL on the beachside in Daytona Beach, we had recurring problems. Interacting with their service and troubleshooting personnel was a real pain. Mack finally got some super special troubleshooting vice-president designee who finally got our service fixed and running at, well, about half the advertised speed. By then, we had gone back to Time Warner / Bright House and were doing our network connectivity over the cable. (Current service by Comcast, which has not been nearly as bad as I thought it would be based on complaint level visible on the net.)

We also started doing phonage over the net. Our service provider there is Voice Pulse, not a biggee in that department, but adequate for our purposes. After we got the net-phone stuff working, we fired Bell South completely. I've never regretted that once.


Boxer Briefs

No, this is not a short piece about Mrs. Boxer's dressing down of Miss Rice in the matter of whether someone who's childless can make good decisions regarding the personnel of our Armed Forces, all of whom are someone's child (well, except for the cloned ones, but that's another story).

I'm talking about underwear.

Boxer briefs have the same feel in the crotch vicinity as long johns.

One man's opinion, your mileage may vary, etc.

10 January 2007


How to Pay Off Revolving (Revolting) Credit

So your credit card bills are driving you whack. How to finish them off? This approach is probably as old as the ages, but it's worth repeating.

  1. Quit digging. Get on a cash basis where you make your ordinary and extraordinary purchases without increasing your revolving debt load.
  2. When a credit card offer allows you to transfer balances at a lower interest rate to it -- without a time limit (and that's harder to come by these days) -- snarf it up. If you won't be able to wipe out an existing balance by transfer, make sure the increase in the minimum monthly payment doesn't increment your total monthly payment above what you want to afford.
  3. Figure out how much you want to reduce your debt by each month, when you want to be free of revolving credit, etc. Say you owe $24K on credit cards and want to be free of revolving debt in four years. That's $6K per year you want to pay, which is $500 per month. Can you afford that on your cash basis? Do it!
  4. Interest is an expense that has to be paid monthly. It's going to be over and above the amount you just decided you wanted to pay down your debt by each month. Can you afford that, too? If not, then you have to reduce your monthly pay down.
  5. Pick an account to pay off first. To absolutely minimize the total payout over the time your paying off your debt, it ought to be the one with the highest interest rate, but for getting started, it might be better to pick the one with the lowest balance, so you can get one paid off period.
  6. Pay the minimum monthly payment on all the revolving accounts except the one you've decided to pay off first.
  7. How much do you pay on the one you're paying off? Take the amount you want to reduce your revolving debt by each month ($500 in the above example). Subtract the minimum payments you made on the other cards in the last month, but add back the amount of interest you were charged over the last month in all the accounts. That's how much you pay on the one you're paying off first.

For example, if you're paying $500 per month, as in the example above, and you have three accounts, one with a minimum payment of $20 with $5 interest, one with a minimum payment of $50 with $15 interest, and the one you're trying to pay off which had an interest charge of $35 that month, you would pay $20 and $50 on the first two bills, then $500 (the total principal pay down) - $20 - $50
(what you paid in principal on the other two accounts) + $5 + $15 + $35 (the interest on all three accounts) = $485 payment to the one you're paying down. You are paying down the owed principal by $500, and you are paying the total current interest of $55 with your total payments of $20 + $50 + $485 = $555.

That's my system. The wrinkle is that you always view the interest component of the payment as a current expense, and so you can manage how you're paying down the prinicipal. If you simply allocate amount $X to total monthly bill payment, you're only paying down by $X less the interest expense.

As you pay down your debt and as your financial situation improves, you can increase the amount you pay down the principal by each month, increasing the rate at which you get out of credit card debt. (We'll have our own paid off by the end of this calendar year.) Also, when your total balance gets sufficiently low, you may be able to transfer balances to a 0% interest rate account that you'll pay off completely before the interest rate becomes non-negligible. I'm investigating that for us currently. In general, though, you want to pay off the lowest interest rate account last.

Oh yeah: There's nothing wrong with using plastic as a charge card, whether it's a revolving account or a charge account. To do that, though, you have to have one account that gets paid off each and every month; otherwise, you are not on a cash basis. We use an one account that gets us points in a hotel program for almost everything, then we use the points for free lodging.

09 January 2007


QotD of the Day

"The best revenge is not to be like that." -- Marcus Aurelius

04 January 2007


X-04 Fliers (for Bryan and Mike)


It's hard to believe that all this happened 25 years ago or more. Our band, X-04 (click here, if you want to know the source of the name), played gigs around Nashville during 1981 and 1982. I won't even try to start with the background here.

I have copies of most of our fliers, so I scanned them in and uploaded them to our (Mack's and my) Flickr site. My favorite is featured above. Below are the details, lifted (without permission) from a storyline in Judge Parker.



I've also got audio, but I need to get my hands on a four-track tape deck and a DBX-144 (I think that was the model) or equivalent software before I'll ever get it digitized. Maybe Bryan's new studio will be able to do the trick.

Trust me, when we didn't rock, we droned.

For those interested in, er, optical illusions, there's this little gem:


Sorry, I don't recall where I "borrowed" it from. Maybe Scientific American or Psychology Today.

03 January 2007


Del Reeves, R.I.P.

Second-tier country music artist Del Reeves passed away yesterday at his home in (my hometown) Centerville, Tennessee. L. A. Times obituary (reg. req.) here. There's more to this than his being the other country music star besides Minnie Pearl to have residential credit in C'ville.

My dad was a self-made man. Born in 1907, went to work with an 8th-grade education to support his mom and siblings and so his older brother could play basketball and finish high school. There's much of his history I don't know: details about his first couple of marriages, about my half-sister (I presume she is still alive, but, honestly, I have never met her), the time he got arrested for driving on the sidewalk (in a Model A? -- I wish I had details), etc.

By the time of the second World War, however, he was successful as a government inspector in the garment industry. Later, he leveraged his knowledge in that area to become a plant manager for Breezy Wynn, an East Tennessean who owned sewing factories all over the southeast USA. When the feds forced Breezy to sell off some of his plants to avoid antitrust action (not sure if this is gospel -- it's based on fuzzy memories and hearsay), my dad bought the plant in Centerville, renaming Southern Sportswear to Kenneth M. Wilson Co., Inc. (I was a shareholder: he set it up as a subchapter S corporation. I was freaked when I was about 10 or 11 and I learned I had been paying substantial income taxes my entire life.)

My dad did well, especially by small town Tennessee, rural county Tennessee standards. He made lots of money on government contracts: raincoats and ponchos for the US Army during the Vietnam conflict. He tried, I think very genuinely, to take care of all those working for him at "the factory," as we called it.

When US involvement in the Vietnam conflict was drawn down, the US government started rejecting shipments for orders they had previously contracted for. My dad lost an incredible amount of money at that time. The local banker who had financed his purchase of the plant said that my dad "made more money and lost more money" than anyone else in Hickman County. (I am skeptical that my dad ever made as much money as J. B. Walker, the banker quoted, but that is beside the point!)

Toward the end of his successful days, my dad had built a great big house on a huge tract of land on Highway 100, the main drag from Centerville to Nashville, outside of Centerville. 30-something acres initially, about 20 cleared. He later bought an adjoining tract to bring the whole shebang to about 65 acres. Big ranch house overlooking the highway. Five bedrooms, one for my folks and each of my two brothers and me, plus a guest room, etc. I was always oppressed by it, to some degree, but it was the house that he and my mom, my mom especially, wanted to celebrate his success, their ability to escape their meager roots. (Her family was a farm -- cotton -- family with 10 kids from Sand Mountain in north Alabama.)

So when the war shut down, in order to meet obligations and in order to cover loans and in order to keep his business going, my dad and mom had to sell this ginormous house they had built. And the buyer they found was Del Reeves. I was with my dad when he went to the closing, and I don't think I'd ever seen him more subdued in my entire life.

In my opinion, our lives got better: My brothers had both married and moved out by then, and I had never liked living out on the highway anyway. We had moved out there just when I had reached that get-around-town-on-your-bike stage, but we lived too far out of town for me to continue that. By then my dad had bribed me with a motorbike (a Honda 100 -- nothing serious) to go back to prep school, anyway, so I had wheels. We moved even further out of town, out across the Grinders railroad crossing (the source of Minnie Pearl's "Grinders Switch" name for Centerville) into a 3 BR 2 BA home with a great deck on a bluff on the Duck River. The other side was all river bottom. The rear of the house had a great western exposure, and the summertime sunsets were fantanstic.

So Del Reeves bought "the house on the highway," renamed it "Gloryland," and moved himself, his wife, and his three daughters in. I think they enjoyed it. I only visited one of the daughters there once. She was a nice lady, a friend of the girl I dated at the time.

Time passed. My dad passed away. My mom sold "the house on the bluff" to my brother, who sold it back to her, and then she sold it to some third party who sold it to... Del and Ellen Reeves. ("The house on the highway" was bought by the Gillam of Gillam Construction Company, who had bought "the house down the hill from the factory" that I had live in when I was little. It was a kind of indirect musical homes among the Wilsons and Reeveses and Gillams.

The Reeves were sweet. Mrs. Reeves kept in touch with my mom after they moved into "the house on the bluff." Del was a nice guy, from what I have heard and what little I recall.

Of course I'm just using his passing to talk about my own bizarro upbringing, but regardless, may Del Reeves rest in peace. My condolences to his family.

01 January 2007


Happy New Year!

Best wishes from Mack and me for one and all for the "new" year!

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