Saturday, November 28, 2015


We're trailblazing into new territory here.

I've reached a stage in my career where I can just stay in one place and probably never have to move again (knock on wood).  There are many desk-jobs around the DC area for post-command guys, and not enough inventory of post-command guys to fill the jobs, so the detailer is happy to keep me in the DC area and just rotate me from one desk job to another for as long as I'm willing to stay in the Navy.  I'm thankful that we can let our boys finish middle school and high school in the same school district and not have to move again, and it's a good school district, too.

Staying here this long has resulted in some new experiences for us.

For one, we've finally lived in one place long enough that we ran out of a Costco-sized bottle of ketchup.  Seriously.  All our previous duty stations, we've had to PCS (move) before we finished off the Costco bottle of ketchup, so we end up throwing it away and buying a new bottle when we do our initial Costco food run at our new duty station.  We just thought that was so bizarre that we emptied a bottle and had to go buy another one.

It's also come to our attention that our previous PCS moves every couple of years have helped us to clean out our closets and take a truckload or two of stuff to Goodwill.

I've written a couple of times before about achieving "regular" status (part I and part II).  Usually about the time a barber or a waiter or a sales clerk begins to recognize us and remember us and our "usual" order, it's time for us to move again.  Well, we've now been here long enough to go one step beyond "regular" status at our local favorite businesses.  I'm now beginning to feel like more of a long-term member of our community.

This is our third time being stationed in the DC area and living out in Loudoun County.  We feel a sense of belonging and are well connected in our church and other extra-curricular activities.  When I go out running, there are several spots around my regular running routes that I think to myself, "Hey, that's the Smith's street," as we've come to know more and more families in our community - our sons' friends from school, friends from cub scouts, friends from church, Navy friends.  I see a couple of guys I know out mowing their lawn during my Saturday long runs.  When I started training for my first half-marathon, I liked that I was able to make an unannounced stop at a friend's house several miles out to refill my water bottles along the way. 

It gives me some comfort when a friend tells me, "Hey I saw [your son] out riding his bike on [street name] on Friday."  I like that we've been here long enough and we know enough people that chances are we're going to see someone we know, and they see and recognize our kids out and about, too.  I like when I run into families at the grocery store and remember their kids from cub scout camp or from being a chaperon for the school orchestra field trip.

Last week I was honored to be the guest speaker at a local high school National Honor Society induction ceremony.  As I was shaking the hands and congratulating each of the students walking across the stage, it surprised me that I knew multiple students.  At the reception in the cafeteria after the ceremony, I enjoyed talking with several parents that I knew and thinking about how at least one of the students I've known for 10 years.

It's nice to be a part of our community.  This is a new experience that I suspect is uncommon in most military families.

Friday, November 6, 2015

What happened to Dell?

We've owned a few Dell laptops over the years.  My first laptop was a Dell, and I've always held a high regard for Dell customer service from that first experience with them over a decade ago.

So what happened?

I suspect Dell just got too big and outsourced their customer service.

It was time for me to upgrade and get a new laptop, and I was pleased with the Consumer Reports ratings and with the specs and prices on the Dell website.  My wife placed an order for a new laptop for my birthday two weeks before my birthday.  It wasn't anything fancy or customized.  It was a standard configuration laptop listed for sale on the Dell website.  The delivery date was estimated to be September 25th. 

Two weeks later, we're a little surprised we haven't seen any email or notification from Dell.  No shipping notification.  No order status update. 

Late on the evening of September 25th, my wife called Dell and asked for a status update.  The representative on the phone was a little incredulous and said, "The estimated delivery date is September 25th, that's today."  Yes.  That's the point.  It's way past sunset and there aren't any delivery trucks on the street.  Did it even ship yet?  The customer service rep on the phone was totally useless.  She couldn't even tell us if the laptop had shipped or how soon it was estimated to ship.  She just kept insisting that the estimated delivery date was September 25th so we should just be patient and wait and see if it shows up.

Two WEEKS later, the Dell website STILL said the estimated delivery date was September 25th.  My wife called Dell customer service again, and my jaw hit the floor when the rep did the same as the previous rep and just read the status off the screen, "the estimated delivery date is September 25th."  NO SH&T SHERLOCK!  WE CAN READ THAT ON THE WEBSITE!  THAT WAS TWO WEEKS AGO! 

Am I being unreasonable to think that if the estimated delivery date has come and gone by more than a week that the company should update the orders status and revise the estimated delivery date???

ANOTHER TWO WEEKS go by.  On October 25th, the Dell website STILL said the estimated delivery date was September 25th.  My wife called Dell customer service again, and the rep proceeded to tell her that one of the components on the computer that I ordered (the Solid State drive) was backordered with no estimated delivery date, and she told us that Dell would have to cancel our order and order something different for us.  My wife handed the phone to me.  The rep tried to sell me on a couple of other laptop models that were not as capable as the one that I ordered.  So I just cancelled the order all together.

After consulting the Consumer Reports ratings again and looking at the customer reviews and prices on a few websites, I placed an order on the Best Buy website for a Toshiba laptop that was very similar to the laptop I had ordered from Dell.  It shipped the next day.  I had it 3 days later.  It works great.

Well done Best Buy.  Sadly, Dell has lost my business.

Monday, February 16, 2015

Overheard in the Shower

I've been going to the Pentagon Athletic Center (PAC) gym almost every weekday for the past year and a half.  It would be interesting if I had the data to plot a histogram of topics I've overheard in the men's locker room showers.  If I were playing Family Feud and had to guess what the top topics were, then my guesses would be:

1.  How far did you run today?
2.  Where did you run today?
3.  How hot or cold was it outside today?
4.  What muscle group did you work on today?
5.  Military career milestones - are you screened for command / when are you going to command?
6.  Orders - as in, when are you going to Permanent Change of Station (PCS)?  Where are you PCSing to?

I suspect that would cover about 80 to 90% of the conversations I hear in the gym and in the locker room.  Once in a while, you'll hear two friends talking about their kids or families. 

This week I heard an outlier for the histogram...

Two guys in the shower were talking about the musical Annie.

Then one of them spontaneously burst out singing one of the songs from Annie.

In the shower.

In the men's locker room.

In the Pentagon.

Surrounded by a bunch of other naked men.


Felt like I had stepped into another dimension.  Is the TARDIS around the corner?

What's the craziest thing you've overheard in the locker room?

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Blog Celebrity and Defunct Blog Rolls

It doesn't happen often, but I am occasionally surprised to meet a stranger who says, "Hey, I read your blog!"  I recently had a fellow Navy officer come to my office for a meeting, and he recognized one of the framed pictures over my desk that was also posted on my blog.  He told me when he received orders to PCS to the Pentagon, one of the Navy officers in his new office sent him an email with a link to my "Pentagon Gouge."  Wow!  I'm honored to be included in the unofficial Pentagon welcome aboard packet, and glad to know some have found the information I've shared here to be useful. 

That gave me a nudge that I should get back in the habit of sharing things on my blog that may be of use to folks working in the Pentagon or the National Capital Region in general.

To that end, please tell me (comment or email), how do you keep up on your blog reading?  For me, I used to have a long list of blogs I read on Google Reader.  I was out at sea when Google Reader went away, and I just never recovered or reconstituted any means of keeping up to date on all the blogs I used to read.  How do you do it?  I know I keep up to date on a lot of things via Facebook.  Maybe I should change this into a Facebook page.  What do you think?

Saturday, September 27, 2014

C&O Canal Bike Ride - Paw Paw to Little Orleans

This weekend I went for an excellent bike ride on the C&O Canal tow path from Paw Paw down to Little Orleans and back.  The weather was excellent - mid 60s and sunny.  Most of the path was under the shade of trees.  It was just under a 2 hour drive from Ashburn out to Paw Paw, WV.  We stopped there at the Liberty Gas station just before the bridge over the Potomac River to use the facilities and get a few bottles of water.  Then we headed across the bridge to park at the camping area parking lot just south of the Paw Paw Tunnel.

The Paw Paw Tunnel was simply amazing.  Digging this tunnel saved them from having to follow 5 miles of winding turns on the Potomac River.  The tunnel was finished in 1850, and I am in awe of the guys who dug this 3,100 foot tunnel with the technology they had back then.  They hand-laid brick through the entire tunnel.  The canal through the tunnel is still full of water, and there is a narrow walkway on the side where the donkeys used to walk, pulling the barges alongside them. 

The trail is a little bumpy and had puddles in spots.  Plus it was absolutely pitch black in the middle of the tunnel and the headlight on my bike didn't reach very far in front of us, so we walked our bikes through the tunnel.

There are disks like this that mark every 100 feet along the inside of the tunnel.  This was the last marker at the north end of the tunnel marking 3,116.67 feet.

After coming out of the tunnel, the canal and tow path go down a gully with pretty steep walls on either side and down a rapid series of 3 locks to get down to the level of the river again.  Most of the path along the river was a very gradual slope and not at all difficult to ride in the "uphill" direction.  The only time on this ride I felt was a little strenuous was when we had to ride back up this gully along the rapid series of locks leading to the tunnel.

The path out here was a little bumpier than the previous sections I've ridden closer to DC, and there were much fewer people along the trail, too.  Oh, and there was ZERO cell phone coverage for our entire ride.  Yes, yes, that can be a good thing, but if you want to be able to give your family an update where you are or what time you'll be home, don't plan on using your cell phone to do it.  Better bring a courier pigeon or light a fire to send a smoke signal.

The scenery along this portion of the C&O Canal tow path was similar to the other sections I've ridden.  We saw deer, turtles, toads, ducks, geese, butterflies, along with the remnants of the canal locks.  Out here there are only the stone foundations of the lock houses unlike closer in where you can see the lock houses between Point of Rocks and DC.

We stopped in Little Orleans, MD for lunch.  There is one place in town - Bill's Place.  It's a restaurant, wait... no... it's THE restaurant, the General Store, the city hall, the mayor's office, the post office, the chamber of commerce, the arcade, and the only place of just about any type of business for miles around.  It was originally built alongside the C&O Canal in the 1800's and had a crane for loading and unloading materials from the barges on the canal.  I love finding local, unique, hole-in-the-wall type places like this to eat and experience the local flavors and atmosphere.  I asked the guy behind the counter what on the menu was a local favorite.  He laughed and said, "EVERYTHING on the menu is a local favorite on account of this being the ONLY place in town or for MILES around!"  We enjoyed our lunch there and then headed back up the trail to Paw Paw.

All in all, we rode about 31 miles with only about 150 feet of elevation gain.  It took us 2 hour 30 minutes to ride from Paw Paw down to Little Orleans.  Riding back from lunch only took us 2 hours 18 minutes.  I suspect the reason it was quicker coming back was because we spent more time stopping to look at the tunnel and the locks and scenery. 

Monday, September 8, 2014

Paddle Log #37: Cow Island and Ragged Island

This is the first summer I've been able to use the Paddle Maps that were published by the Lakes Region Conservation Trust (LRCT).  They made this nice booklet of waterproof maps with instructions how to find and where to paddle to five different LRCT properties around Lake Winnipesaukee.

I headed over to Harilla's Landing on the east side of Long Island.  I put-in there, paddled over to the gap between Little Bear Island and Cow Island, paddled around Cow Island and Ragged Island, and back to Harilla's Landing again.

A note about parking:  If you try to go to Harilla's on a weekend during the summer, there will be MANY cars parked along both sides of the roadway leading to Harilla's.  I think it's mostly people who have put their boats in at Harilla's to drive over to Little Bear or Cow Island.  There are a bunch of Cow Island mailboxes along the road there.  So you may have to drop your boat off and drive a quarter to a half mile up Long Island Road to find a place to park and walk back down to your kayak.  I went on a weekday, so there were only about a dozen cars or so.

Time stamp leaving Harilla's Landing

It was overcast and lightly raining off and on, so I put my Kokotat kayaking jacket and pants to use.  They're just a shell to keep water off.  Temps were in the mid 70s, so I didn't need anything else for warmth.  Water temp was 73F, which sounds warm but felt a little chilly.

I took this picture on the northeast side of Cow Island after paddling through the gap between Little Bear and Cow Islands.  Off in the distance, those hills are all in the Castle in the Clouds property, which is also managed by LRCT.  The left-most peak which is just slightly to the left of my bow is Mount Roberts that my eldest son and I climbed on Monday.  Someday I'm going to climb all of the peaks in the Castle in the Clouds area.  I'll try to knock out one or two per summer.

Around each of the islands, there are several small inlets like this where the water is still and decorated with lilies and other flowers, and the air seems alive with dragonflies and birds chirping in the trees.

I continue to be amazed at the divine perfection and symmetry in these white lily flowers.

I love the way this family decorated their boat dock to make the end pilings look like the lake buoys.  Our family loves to take our boat over to a certain cove on the north western side of Cow Island, anchor out, have picnics, and go swimming.  This was the first time I've seen the eastern side of Cow Island, and I was surprised how many more houses there are on that side.  I would have thought people would want to build their houses on the west side in order to have shade from the bright morning sun and in order to be able to enjoy the spectacular sunsets over Lake Winnipesaukee.  I'm curious why there are so many more houses on the east side of Cow Island.

As I rounded the southern end of Cow Island, the broad area of Lake Winnipesaukee opened before me and I had this wonderful view of Rattlesnake Island (on the left) and the Belknap peaks (on the right).

I wrote a previous post about visiting Ragged Island with my boys.  There's an excellent multi-stage geocache on that island - one of my favorites, actually.  I didn't actually get out on Ragged Island this time around, but for those of you who are considering a trip to Ragged Island using the LRCT paddle map, I hope this post provides you some idea what to expect on the water.  You can click on the link to the previous post to see what it's like actually walking around Ragged Island.

The LRCT Paddle Map was very useful to me.  Yes, they are waterproof.  Yes, I put mine in a waterproof map case anyway to try and protect it from getting torn or wrinkled or otherwise damaged.  I found it pretty useful to have on the deck in front of me as I paddled around Cow Island to figure out which were inlets and which passages actually went through between the islands.

Paddle Log #36 trip stats:  7.6 miles, 2 hours 44 minutes, 2.8 mph average speed

Sunday, September 7, 2014

Paddle Log #36: Squam Lake NH with LRCT

Now that we're back from our summer vacation in New Hampshire, I feel safe posting about our activities without broadcasting that our home was vacant.  We had a glorious two weeks up in NH.

The first opportunity we had to get out on the water was for the Lakes Region Conservation Trust's (LRCT) guided paddling excursion on Squam Lake.  I was glad the timing worked out for us to go on this one again.  We went on their first guided paddle on Squam Lake back in 2010 (see Paddle Log #20).

This time only my elder son opted to go with me.  It was pretty darn cold when we left the house.  The car temperature indicated 50F.  Brrr!  By the time we got in the water it had warmed up to about 60F, and it steadily warmed up to the low 70s while we were out on the water.

There were dozens of lily pads and beautiful white lily flowers along the way. 

We spotted a couple of water moccasins sunning themselves on the rocks on our way out, and we spotted a few loons along the way, too.

One loon dove under the water on our left, and we watched him swim through the crystal clear water under all of our kayaks and pop up over on our right side.  (The picture above is him popping up on our right.)

This was our guide, Dave, telling us about one of the LRCT projects going on at Squam Lake. Yes, he's facing backwards and has a wake coming off his bow moving forward.  He's that good.  :-)

We took a similar route to our 2010 trip and enjoyed the view of East Rattlesnake and the five-fingers peninsula (above).

Trip stats at the end and my son's victory "I-made-it" pose.  4.26 miles, 2 hours 31 minutes elapsed.  Like last time, we stopped for an excellent lunch at Walter's Basin in Holderness, NH on our way back.