Thursday, January 28, 2010

Thankful Thursday

First, many thanks to Hilary for recognizing my blog in her Posts of the Week this week.

Second, I've received two very nice emails from readers in the past month. They were both very kind to take the time to write and thank me for reviews I have written of one place or another.

If you want to know how to make a blogger's day, just send them an email to let them know you enjoy reading their blog or that you appreciated the effort they put into writing a review of something (restaurant, movie, tourist attraction, whatever).

Thanks to Hilary and to the readers who have emailed for the positive feedback! You each made my day.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Dear Chipotle

If you've ever taken any sort of Psychology 101 class, then you've heard the "nature versus nurture debate." You could argue until you're blue in the face over whether we are the way we are due to genetics (nature) or due to the way your parents raised you (nurture). Personally, I think it's a mix of both.

In this particular instance, who knows if there is some genetic predisposition involved, but I certainly learned this through observation at a young age.

I can remember waaaaay back... I know I was either in first or second grade because we were in Chula Vista (San Diego suburbs) riding in our old sky-blue station-wagon, so it had to be before we moved to San Pedro at the beginning of 3rd grade. My dad drove us into a Long John Silver drive-through to get some dinner. I don't remember why we were out so late or exactly what time it was. I just remember the guy on the drive-through speaker saying, "I'll be right with you."

Then we sat.

And we waited.

It seemed like an eternity to a 7 year old, but it was probably only a few minutes. When my dad's patience had been exhausted, he honked the horn and said, "Hellooooo?"

The response from the drive-through speaker?

"Sorry, man, we're closed."


Everyone in my family ducked for cover because we thought my dad's head was gonna explode. There were steam plumes shooting out both of his ears as he threw the car into gear and peeled out of the Long John Silver parking lot.

Ya know what?

We NEVER went back to Long John Silver. Lord help the business that pissed my dad off like that, because our family would not set one foot in that establishment EVER again. Indeed, about twenty-five years later when I set foot in a Long John Silver for the first time since that fateful night in our old blue station wagon, I felt guilty... like I was being disobedient and challenging my dad's authority to visit a place he had declared off limits.

That's the earliest and most vivid example that comes to my mind, but it's a classic tale of how I learned to never give a business a second chance once they've pissed me off.

Fast forward thirty years.

Now, in the age of the internet, most business websites offer a very quick and easy means of providing feedback. As a result, I usually don't shun a business based on one experience. Most businesses will thank you for your feedback on their website and ask you to please give them a second chance.

That being said, I have news for the management of Chipotle.


For those of you who know me, this will come as quite a shock. I LOVE Chipotle and eat there on a regular basis. Scrolling back through my Facebook posts, you will see regular status updates about getting my Chipotle fix. Chipotle was one of my reasons for wanting to move back to Virginia from Hawaii.

On 11 January 2010, I stopped at Chipotle here in Ashburn to grab some dinner after a late night at work. I ordered my burrito. I handed the cashier, Jose Antonio, my debit card. He rang it up. He handed me a receipt. I walked out the door.

Before I even got to my car, Jose chased me down in the parking lot and said that my card was turned down and I needed to come back in and pay. I said no, I have a receipt right here, see? He insisted that it didn't go through and he needed to swipe my card again. I went back into the store with him and let him swipe my card again.

I now have two receipts - order #441 and #442, receipt #10344 and #10345, one at 8:07 p.m. and one at 8:08 p.m., and both for $8.51. When I got home, my online banking showed that, sure-enough, Chipotle had charged me twice for my dinner.
Strike 1 Chipotle.

So I picked up the phone and called the Ashburn Chipotle. While annoyed, I figured it would be a quick fix for them to look at the receipts and refund one. The guy who answered the phone wasn't Jose, but yelled something to Jose off in the background. He flipped through the receipts and said he couldn't find anything matching my order. I told him the receipt numbers for crying out loud! He started jibber-jabbering away at Jose in the background, and then he hung up on me.
Strike 2 Chipotle.

Alright, I could not get the store to admit and fix their mistake, so I submitted a complaint on the website citing the receipt numbers, order numbers, times, amounts, server name, and everything. I did this the same night - 11 January. I expected to hear some sort of apology from Chipotle within a day or two.

Two weeks later...

Not. A. Peep.

Yes, I even checked my email's spam folder to make sure it didn't get filtered out as junk mail. No response from Chipotle whatsoever.
Strike 3 Chipotle.

I called my bank and placed a fraud report on one of the two charges from Chipotle. My bank immediately refunded one of the two $8.51 charges. Thumbs-up for USAA.

It's not like $8.51 is some huge or significant sum of money.

It's the principle of the matter.

I tried to tell Chipotle about the error three times: when it happened at the store, via phone when I got home and confirmed they charged me twice on my online banking, and via the corporate website. The initial mistake doesn't bother me so much as the inability to get Chipotle to fix the mistake and that I had to go through my bank to get my money back.

So there you have it, Chipotle. While I have been tempted several times in the past couple of weeks to go back, I have intentionally NOT gone to Chipotle since then.

I wonder what sort of guilt my sons will feel the next time they walk into a Chipotle 25 years from now?

Sunday, January 24, 2010

THAT got my heartrate up

Thanks for the Post of the Week honor, Hilary!

In my eleven years of marriage, I have never heard my wife scream with such terror as she did last night.

Wait a minute.

Where to begin?

Rewind a bit.

My youngest son just turned six. Can you believe it?

Both of my boys are obsessed with animals and wish they could have pets. Unfortunately for them, my wife is allergic to everything with fur, so that leaves the boys with their stuffed animal dogs that you see them take everywhere. However (comma), on the occasion of my son's birthday this week, all he wanted for his birthday was a pet.

We settled on a fish.

My wonderful wife took the boys to the pet store and got said fish Thursday.

We'll skip over the story about the eldest and youngest child fighting over what to name the fish in spite of two frustrated parents explaining multiple times that it was the YOUNGEST child's birthday and it was HIS present and HE got to choose the name.

Said fish came in a nice plastic "bowl" if you can call it that. It's a little bigger than a gallon milk jug, cylindrical, and has this fancy screw-on top with a built-in light, a carrying handle, and a hole to put food in. The boys have been carrying the fish in his bowl up stairs with them at bedtime and back downstairs with them in the morning.

That brings us to last night (the 4th night said fish has been in our family).

It was time for bed. I went upstairs to put on my pajamas while my wife and boys were feeding the fish sitting on the coffee table in the family room.

There I was, standing with my pants half-off in the master bathroom in the back corner of the second floor of our house. All of a sudden, I heard the most blood-curdling scream from my wife, followed by a loud and rapid


As I yanked my pants back on, spun on my heels, and sprang forth out of the master bedroom with acceleration the likes of which Chuck Yeager never experienced, my mind imagined the worst. I fearfully expected to find the body of one of my family members in a pool of blood at the bottom of the stairs.

Out of the bedroom I dashed, across the hallway, down two steps, spun around to the left and came to a screeching halt at the top of the stairs to survey the carnage.

There was such a huge mess, I wasn't exactly sure what I was seeing and it took my brain a few moments to catalog and register the scene.

Okay, self, first thing's first. Is your family okay? Are there any human bodies with protruding broken bones? Is there any blood anywhere?

No, none that I could tell immediately.

Alright, initial check of family okay, what is the mess before you on the stairs?


Lots of orange.

Gobs of orange.

Orange everywhere.

This kind of orange...

Self, that looks like the orange sand-like stuff that was in the bottom of the fish bowl.

Self, there's the empty fish bowl at the bottom of the stairs...

Laying in a big puddle of water...

...and there's a fish on the floor.

As the fog of terror-induced adrenaline began to lift and my brain resumed processing the signals coming from my ear-drums, I heard my wife telling the boys to get a cup of water for the fish. YB showed up with the smallest cup he could find with about an ounce of water in the bottom. LW explained to him she needed a bigger cup and more water than that.

I went and quickly filled up a pitcher of water and brought it for the fish. The fish was alive and swimming around. Next we had to comfort the 8 year old hunkered and crying in the family room because he thought he killed the fish when he dropped the fish bowl down the stairs.

Now for the cleanup.

My wife told the boys to get towels from the linen closet. ES returned with a stack of every beach towel we own. Next my wife had them put the towels down on the stairs to start soaking up the water. At that moment in time, I didn't have the first clue what the best way was to attack this cleanup effort, so I didn't see any problem with what she told the boys to do. In hindsight though, I regretted the sequence of our efforts.

At first, I tried scooping up orange beads with my hands, but it was cumbersome at best. Plus, my wife said they were covered in fuzz from the carpet, so we probably couldn't reuse it with the fishbowl. Then the light went off over my head, and I said to myself, "Self, it's time for the shop-vac."

I brought the shop-vac in from the garage, and my very wise wife told me to take the filter out of the shop vac before vacuuming up water. Unfortunately, her dumb husband proceeded to open the shop vac right there in the foyer at the bottom of the stairs, thus adding saw dust from the past several weeks' worth of pinewood derby preparations to the water on the floor. Niiiiiice.

Even so, once I had the filter out, the shop-vac did a great job sucking up all the orange beads, water, and sawdust on the foyer floor with a very satisfying rattling noise as the beads battered the suction tube.

Then I went to attack the stairs. I lifted up the now-sopping-wet beach towel, and discovered half of the eleventy bajillion little orange beads were on the carpet, but the other half were stuck to the towel. The ones on the carpet were really easy to suck up with the vacuum. Each time I tried to vacuum some off the towel though, I heard this THUMP sound as the towel got sucked up to the vacuum. Along with that resultant THUMP noise, the towel flung orange beads across the foyer like a catapult.

As a result, my cleanup efforts sounded something like this:
Shhhhhhhhh (vacuum sucking noise)
Rattle Rattle Rattle (orange beads flying up the vacuum tube)
THUMP (vacuum catches towel)
Clatter-clatter-clatter (airborne orange beads bouncing on the hard wood floor in the foyer)
Rattle Rattle Rattle
Rattle Rattle Rattle
Rattle Rattle Rattle

That got on my nerves pretty quick, so I ended up picking up all the towels and taking them to the bottom of the stairs. I didn't want to just shake the towels outside and have little orange beads everywhere on my lawn or in the street. I also didn't want to just put the towels in the washer and have the little glass beads clog up my washer. So I shook them out right there in the foyer onto the wood floor and then vacuumed them all up without the THUMP and clatter noises.

At one point, I thought to myself, self, you really need a picture of those beads to be able to give people an idea of what a mess this was. I grabbed my camera, and while taking a picture of beads, I could detect a tone of annoyance in my wife's voice as she asked if I really needed to document this.

Uhhh... is this a trick question, Sweetie???

Even when I had most of the beads vacuumed up, every time I set my foot down, I found another one with my bare foot. I suppose I should have put some shoes on, but then again, while it was uncomfortable, the beads weren't puncturing or doing any real damage to my feet, and it was helping me find all the little buggers.

Through the course of the day today, I kept finding little orange beads on the floor, on my socks, in my shoes... I wonder if this will be like the grains of rice we continue to find in our suitcase thanks to my wife's aunt putting rice in our suitcase when we left on our honeymoon over a decade ago?

Anyway, the fish seems okay today. I think it's safe to say the boys will not be allowed to carry the fish bowl around anymore.

Sleep tight... whatever your name is.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Pinewood Derby 2010

3rd Time's a Charm

Our first Cub Scout Pinewood Derby (PD) was when my eldest son (ES) was a Tiger Cub in 2008 and he wanted to make a humvee.

Last year, ES was a Wolf Cub for the 2009 derby and wanted to make a bullet train.

This year is the first time we've made two cars. ES is a Bear Cub, and although his younger brother (YB) isn't old enough yet, the pack is having a "sibling" race category.

Step 1. Concept

YB wanted to make an old-fashioned train locomotive, and I said sure. That's easy enough.

ES originally wanted to make a Halo Warthog, and I'm thankful for a friend who shared his Warthog template, but I decided it was too complicated, too detailed, and would require too much effort on my part.

Call me lazy if you will, but I try to be realistic about making PD cars. No, the boys couldn't make the cars all on their own. They certainly need help and supervision. However, I do try to have them participate in each stage, hold the tools themselves, and let them do whatever parts they can. So I had the boys choose some simpler designs that each boy could help cut out and sand.

ES and I decided to incorporate lessons we've learned from the previous two derbies and try to make a race car with a chance of winning. That means low-profile (in other words low-cross section to the wind), maximum weight allowed (5.0 ounces), and polished axles.

Step 2. Template / Design. I made a template on paper by tracing the outline of the top, side, and front of the block of wood onto a sheet of paper. Then I made several copies of the blank template for them to work with and had them draw what they want their car to look like.

Step 3. Draw the cut-lines onto the block of wood. Once the boys had drawn for me what they wanted, I drew onto their blocks of wood which parts we would cut off.

Step 4. Off to the wood shop. We have an awesome friend from church who very graciously allowed us to come over one Saturday and use the tools in his professional wood shop. Man, having the right tools makes things like pinewood derby cars a breeze!

Showing ES how to use the band-saw.

YB learns how to adjust the height of the table saw blade.

ES sanding his race car.

All done at the wood shop.

Step 5. Painting phase one. I had each of the boys spray and initial coat of the color they chose for their cars.

ES lays down the first coat of orange spray paint.

Me helping YB put the first coat of black on his train.

Step 6. Installing the weights. In previous years, our cars have ended up looking sorta odd with quarters hot-glued to the outside to get the weight up to 5.0 ounces. That was in addition to having the standard screw-on weights screwed to the bottom of the car.

Aside 1. Tool Time. As I mentioned earlier, this was our third PD, and with YB joining Tiger Cubs next year we're going to have several more PDs in the future. I finally gave-in and bought a Dremel tool this year, and WOW what a difference it makes. If you foresee building PD cars in your future, then I highly recommend purchasing a Dremel tool.

Aside 2. Learning Process. At our first PD, the humvee didn't do so well (came in dead last as a matter of fact), and I thought it was due to aerodynamics. At our second PD, we made a very aero-dynamic bullet train, but it still didn't do well. This time around, we did a bit more research first. The two most important things I learned this year was that cross-section (not necessarily shape) and polished axles are key to a fast PD car. I found the following two videos on YouTube especially useful:

Wind Resistance

Polishing Axles

Back to our preparations...

Based on the first video above, we decided to make the car as low-profile as possible. We basically cut the wood block in half horizontally. Then we did a preliminary weigh-in and discovered we needed to add a LOT of weight to our low-profile car to get it up to the desired 5.0 ounce maximum. The half-block of wood plus the four axles and wheels came to a whopping 2.2 ounces.

It took BOTH the full screw-on weight AND the full tungsten puddy weight to get the car up to 5.0 ounces.

We used our new Dremel tool to carve out a space underneath the car for the weights. This way the weights are recessed under the car and not adding to the cross-section of wind-resistance like in the first video above.

ES using the Dremel tool with a router bit and guide.

Recessed Weights

One of the other cub scout dad's told me that putting weight toward the rear of the car helps make the car faster. You DON'T want it so far aft of the rear axle that it will cause the nose to tilt up, so put it somewhere close to or above the rear axle. So we used the Dremel tool to dig out a hole on the top back side above the rear axle, and filled the hole with a tungsten puddy weight.

Hole for the puddy weight

They sell these at the hobby shop along with all the other PD kits, decals, weights, etc.

Based on some reading and watching the second video above, we also polished the axles. We put each axle in the Dremel tool to spin the axle like a lathe, then held strips of sand-paper up to each spinning axle. First we used some 150 to get the main burs and rough spots out. Then we used 320 to polish it.

ES polishing an axle in the Dremel tool.

A word of caution: I heard more than one horror-story from other dad's saying they tried polishing the axles NOT by spinning the axle (i.e. not in a Dremel tool or drill press). The result is they sanded the axle out-of-round leaving flat spots and bumps and having disastrous effects on their race times. They would have been better off not even trying to polish the axles.

Race Day

When we weighed-in, we discovered cutting out the wood to recess the weights took 0.2 ounces off our weight, so we glued two dimes on top to bring the weight back up to 5.0 ounces. Then, ES decided he wanted to decorate his car some more. The car was originally orange with yellow polka dots. He used Sharpie markers to draw stripes on his car.

This is technique actually worked pretty well, and I would recommend others consider spray painting a base color on and then have your child do the rest of the decoration with Sharpie markers.

Then he wrote this on the bottom.

Last but not least, we used dry graphite lubricant on the axles before turning the car in for registration. Note: We used the same dry graphite lubricant last year and didn't do well in the race, so the lubricant in and of itself doesn't help - the cross section and polishing of the axles are key.

The Results?

Well, I sure hope you don't think I wrote all that up above just to tell you that we lost. On the contrary, we were very pleased with the results.

This morning, ES's car took 1st place in every race, and his car won second place overall amongst the Bear Dens - missing first place by 0.008 seconds! That sure felt good. We went back for the overall pack championship in the afternoon, and his car came in 4th place out of 90 cars.

It was good to see ES smiling at the end of this year's race.

Here were some of the cool designs in our pack this year:

My two favorites were:
Beaver on a Log


When we got home, the boys made a bee-line to the playground to have their own sibling-finale.

Well, if you've actually read this far, thank you for sticking with me to the end. I hope the pointers here will help others looking for ideas or gouge on how to make a winning PD car.


Tuesday, January 19, 2010

New Poll: Awards Philosophy

There are a couple of different philosophies on giving awards in the Navy. My initial attempt to write this post ended up much longer than you would want to read today, so let's take it one piece at a time. In this post, I am going to focus on command level awards, and more specifically command NAMs (Navy Achievement Medals).

On one side of the fence, there are those who believe NAMs should be given out liberally to everyone who has done a good job. Why?
- They're free and don't cost the command anything. The CO of a ship or submarine can award as many command NAMs as he or she pleases.
- They're visible. It's something the sailor can actually wear on his or her uniform with pride.
- They provide enlisted sailors with points toward their advancement, so it has a tangible benefit to your crew members in that it helps them get promoted.
- They're easier to get routed and approved in a timely manner than a flag officer letter of commendation.

On the other side of the fence, there are those who believe in a more conservative approach to awarding command NAMs and advocate a limited quota or ground rules for who is able to earn a NAM. Why?
- As more NAMs are given, it may diminish the perceived value of the award. (The phrase "dime a dozen" comes to mind.)
- Some people take offense when as an E-7 they receive a NAM as an end-of-tour award (for leading an entire division of sailors) while the most junior sailor on board receives the same NAM.

There are a few other arguments and rebuttals swirling around in my head on this, but before I write any more on the topic, I want to ask for your opinions.

What do you think?

Does everyone who's done a "good job" on their tour deserve a NAM? Does giving out more NAMs diminish the perceived value of the award? Should commanding officers give out NAMs to anyone the feel is deserving, or should they impose some sort of % quota or ground rules to limit their distribution and make those who receive them feel more special?

Please take a moment to click one of the answers in the poll on the right, or leave a comment if you think there should be another choice on the poll answers.

Monday, January 18, 2010

Pentagon Gouge: Mass Transit Subsidy Distribution

For military folks in the DC area, this week is the National Capital Region (NCR) Mass Transit Subsidy distribution. Don't forget to pick yours up! For locations and times you can pick them up, visit this website (I think it has to be from a .mil domain computer). (Update: I'm able to access it from my home computer, no problems.)

Also, since this is the first distribution after the holidays, it is worthy to note the policy on having leftover benefits from the previous period. If, like me, you spent some time on vacation and didn't use all your metro checks for the last quarter, then the rules say you are supposed to report that when you collect your new quarter's benefits and reduce the amount of metro checks you collect for the new quarter. From the NCR Mass Transit Subsidy website explaining the eligibility and rules of the program:
I will adjust the amount received based upon long term TDY or leave.

This means that if you are away for an extended period, in which you are not commuting and incurring costs, that you will not claim benefits, or if you have already been issued benefits for that period, you will reduce your next claim by any remaining amount. Please note that the DoD does not pay to “hold” or “reserve” seats for vanpools while you are on extended absence.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

You're Welcome

Man, so this random dude I know had such a truly horrible day, I had to write and tell you about it. It was so bad it was comical.


Who am I kidding?

You know darn well who the random dude is. I may as well change the title of this post to:

Stupid Kevin Tricks, Vol 37, Ed 9,452

I would say grab a cup of coffee and pull up a chair, but I don't want you spewing that coffee on your computer screen, so liquids might not be a good idea. Let me also just state for the record that it's 32F outside right now, and with the wind chill it feels like 22F that plays a role here and there in this post.

So there I was...

It was my second day in a row of late meetings at work. Got done at the Pentagon shortly after 5 p.m. and had to take the briefing materials back to my office in Crystal City to lock it up for the night. Speed-walked in the frigid cold from the Pentagon back to my office (3/4 mile) and let our office secretary go home who had kept the office open for me. On my way into the office, I swiped my badge, quickly walked in and tossed my handful of stuff on my conference table, then just as quickly turned heel to walk back out and use the restroom.

As I walked out the door of the office, before I let the door slam shut, I said to myself, "Self, make sure you have your badge. It would REALLY SUCK if you locked yourself out of the office." I did a quick grab check and confirmed that my shoestring was around my neck and the familiar rectangular plastic form of my badge holder was against my jacket, so I pulled my foot out of the door and continued walking down the hallway as the office door slammed shut with a resounding THUD behind me.

Can you see where this is going?


That "handful of stuff" I tossed on my conference table included my briefing pouch, my spiral notebook, my cover, my gloves... and my badge that I had just used to swipe open the office door. I normally always put it right back in my badge holder, but for some bizarre reason - a disturbance in the force, or an anomaly in the Earth's gravitational pull, or a butterfly flapped its wings in the Amazonian jungle last week, I tossed it on the table and walked out of my office.

The building security guys said they couldn't open it and someone who works in my office and had a badge coded for our swiper had to open it. So feeling like a total dumb-ass, I put my tail between my legs and called a couple of the lieutenants who work for me to find out how far away from the office they were and if one of them was available to come bail me out. One came to my rescue and arrived about 25 minutes later. He was very courteous in NOT pointing out what an idiot I was, but the smirk on his face said it quite well.

It was getting so late that I was afraid I would miss the last bus home. Normally I wear civilian clothes to and from work because they're warmer, but I said to myself, "Self, you've gotta be back here at 6 a.m. in your uniform tomorrow so you can be at the Pentagon at 7 a.m. You're gonna have to drive to work, and you're gonna need to be in your uniform first thing, so just wear your uniform home tonight." And so it came to pass that I skipped my routine of changing out of my uniform into my warmer civilian clothes for the commute home.

Another speed walk in the freezing cold took me six blocks to the Metro station. Off the Metro and onto the Loudoun County bus, I was mentally focusing on the positive, counting my blessings and being glad I caught the last bus home. Well, that's not entirely accurate. I made it to the last bus back to the commuter parking lot at Dulles North, not to "home."

I stepped off the bus back into the bitter cold and felt warmed by a sense of joy as I gazed across the parking lot to my car... one of the last cars left in the mostly empty parking lot... There is a light at the end of the tunnel! My suffering horrible day is almost over! (There were other not-so-good things that happened earlier in the day that I skipped over to keep this short.) I couldn't WAIT to get in my car and start the seat-warmer and crank up the heat.

After briskly walking across the parking lot to my awaiting chariot home, I put my hand on the door handle... nothing. I lifted my hand up and put it back down on the door handle again... nothing. As you may recall from a previous post, my car has one of those RFID keyless entry systems. I don't even think about it being there. I just walk up to the car, put my hand on the door handle, the doors unlock and the car goes, "beep beep," I open the door and get in.

Then the lightbulb went off over my head.

My fancy RFID keys only work as long as they're IN MY POCKET. More specifically, in the pocket of the CLOTHES I'M WEARING, not in the pocket of my blue jeans sitting back in my office in Crystal City.

I'm not proud of the choice of words that came from my mouth at that moment.

Once again feeling like a complete dumb-ass, I informed my wonderful wife what had transpired. She said the boys were still awake waiting for me to come home, so she would put them in the car to come rescue me. It didn't take long for me to start shivering while standing there in the parking lot, so I started jogging laps around the parking lot. That's how my wonderful wife and boys found me 15 minutes later... jogging around the parking lot... in my khakis... wearing my comfy shoes... body numb from cold... with snot running down my face like a river...

HOWEVER (comma) I'm trying to focus on the bright side and count my blessings. I made it home safely. I gave my building security guards, my lieutenants, my wife, and my kids a source of amusement for the evening. And I got some exercise.

But what it really comes down to is this. I did it all for you. I played the role of the sacrificial anode. I jumped on the grenade. I kept Murphy occupied all day today so that each of you could have a hassle-free day. I figure Murphy can only be so many places at once, and he was pretty darn busy with me today, so...

You're welcome.

Monday, January 11, 2010

Pentagon Gouge: Save the Date

For you bubbleheads in the DC area, the Submarine Birthday Ball is on April 10th, 2010, at the Crystal Gateway Marriott.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Update from Bizarro World

Wow. Not sure what I did to deserve this, but I think it's pretty funny. (Scroll down and read the first comment.)

A tool of the forces of evil???

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

A swing and a miss...

This is a follow up to my previous post on our new Epson printer.

My biggest (only?) complaint about our previous HP All-in-One was that when the ink was out, it ceased to function as a scanner or fax machine. Since a few years have passed and All-in-One printer/fax/copy/scanner machines like this have been around a while, I thought to myself, "Self, SURELY they have evolved to overcome such silly obstacles."


I hate to tell you this... but you were WRONG.

We've owned this new Epson WorkForce 600 printer for 3 months and have NOT done a lot of fancy color printing on it. Nevertheless, the yellow ink cartridge just ran out.

[cue sound effect of Engine Order Telegraph - RING! RING!]
"Maneuvering, Conn, Stop the Shaft."

Do NOT pass GO, do NOT collect $200, go directly to jail! printer-hell. The lack of YELLOW ink prevented doing ANYTHING else.

Wanna print something in black and white like your Blockbuster free rental coupons that expire today?

Too bad.

Wanna scan a check that you need deposited to your bank account pronto?


Wanna fax an important counter-offer to your realtor 6,000 miles away?

Better call the wah-mbulance.

That empty yellow ink cartridge brings the printer to its knees.

I was pretty disappointed, but sadly not all that surprised. As long as Epson is making and selling the ink cartridges, it makes sense business-wise for an empty ink cartridge to be just as crippling as removing the electricity. It forces you to buy more ink from them instead of just living without that color.

But it's a sleazy business practice if you ask me.

Even so, I decided to write to Epson to express my disappointment. In my email, I offered two suggestions to improve their product. First, a short term mitigation would be to put a slip of paper in the printer boxes or user manuals that warns customers that the device will cease to function if you run out of any individual ink cartridge. Recommend to the customers that they should always have a spare of EVERY ink cartridge (black, cyan, magenta, and yellow) so that they won't have any important scanning or faxing held up by the lack of an ink cartridge. Second, as a long-term fix, I recommended updating the firmware in the printers so that it would allow scanning or faxing to override the "out of ink" error.

Much to my surprise, an Epson customer service representative called me last night.

Why did she call?

That's an excellent question. Let's see if you can guess. The Epson rep called me to...

A) thank me for being a supporter of Epson and writing nice things about them in at least two past blog posts.
B) apologize for the inconvenience that was caused by their poor systems engineering.
C) thank me for my recommendations to make their product better.
D) offer to send me a free yellow ink cartridge to show their appreciation for my loyalty and continued positive blogging.
E) all of the above.

Go ahead, talk amongst yourselves. I'll give you a moment to consider just how awesome was Epson's response to my complaint. Think you know the answer? Ready? Good. I'm sorry to say it was a trick question. I should have offered you an option F) None of the Above, because I have absolutely no friggin' CLUE why the lady called me. She didn't thank me for my feedback, didn't apologize for the inconvenience, and didn't offer me anything short of a little didly and a lot of squat.

Not like I really would have expected her to offer me anything, mind you. The only thing I wish she would have said is that I am absolutely RIGHT (that you should be able to scan or fax even if you're out of ink or print black-and-white when you're out of color ink) and offer me some assurance that they would upgrade the firmware.

Nope. None of that. She very matter-of-factly stated that they will not be making any changes to the printer firmware and she just wanted to let me know.

Um... Gee... Thanks... I guess. Why bother calling and wasting my time?

I suppose I give Epson some credit for making an appearance that they care and acknowledge that they actually READ my email. The phone call response was about as effective as the infamous, "duly noted," response in the Navy. They could have given me THAT lip service via an automated return email and save money on the salary of the phone representative.

Saturday, January 2, 2010

Courtesy Heads-Up Reminder: Pinewood Derby

For those of you involved in Cub Scouts, I offer a courtesy reminder that your Pinewood Derby is probably fast approaching. This is evidenced by the increasing number of hits I have been getting on my blog from people doing Google searches for Pinewood Derby designs.

Each year I procrastinate. Then the last weekend before the race, I quickly throw something together with my eldest son. Somewhere along the way, I mumble to myself, "Self, next year, you should start working on this a lot sooner and not wait until the weekend before the race." Especially this year since we're doing two cars - one for ES's official entry and one for YB to enter the "sibling" category of the race.

So here we are... 4 weeks out from the Pinewood Derby. I should probably get the boys to decide on their designs and colors and get to work.

But I've got plenty of time!

Friday, January 1, 2010


Happy New Year everybody!

When I stopped to look back on 2009, I said to myself, "Self, where did the year go?" No PCS transfers, no trans-oceanic household goods shipments, no deployments. Just driving a desk, being a power-point warrior, and routing urgent memos around the Pentagon. The biggest thing that happened for us this year was my promotion in August. So I browsed back through my 2009 blog posts to remind myself what else happened.

Last New Year's Eve was fairly typical in that I was the only one awake at midnight. This year was the first year my entire family has been awake and watched the ball drop together. The five year old was especially wound-up and had trouble calming down to go to bed afterwards.

Last January, we celebrated my youngest son's birthday down at the Great Wolf Lodge in Williamsburg. It was a great time, but the happy memories were sadly overshadowed by our return home to news of a family tragedy. Rest in Peace Uncle Chris and Aunt Elaine.

I started the Pentagon Gouge Index to keep track of posts about life in the Pentagon, and I tried to start a routine of writing Pentagon Gouge posts on Mondays. Although I haven't managed to post every Monday, I have received positive feedback from readers who have appreciated the posts. Many thanks to those who have provided me feedback through blog comments, email, and face-to-face in the Pentagon.

I wrote several unsolicited Advice for Junior Officers posts. I thought I had posted an Index to keep track of those posts, but I just found it in the draft file never posted, so I'll post it now. If you have any suggestions for future topics you would like to see in this category, then please let me know.

I learned the difference between a nerd, a geek, and a dork. Although I didn't need to go back in my blog posts to remind me of this. My wonderful wife reminds me I'm a dork on a regular basis. :-)

We had a few visits by family and friends and went sight-seeing around the DC area (with S&C, with P&E), visited Luray Caverns and Monticello, and the International Spy Museum, and Mayne's Tree Farm.

My awesome wife bought me a kayak for Father's Day and I managed to get out on the water eight times over the summer (first 7 times summarized here then the last trip here).

We had an awesome summer vacation in New Hampshire (see the several blog posts from 8/14 to 8/22).

My friend B and I went on a couple of awesome bike rides along the C&O Canal Tow Path and the Great Allegheny Trail.

Looking Forward: What do I look forward to in 2010?

Here's what I'm looking forward to in 2010...

- Spending time with my family on shore duty while it lasts.
- Enjoying the changing seasons in Northern Virginia.
- Our church moving into our new permanent home.
- Our Spring Break family vacation in Orlando.
- More kayaking.
- More bike rides with my friend B.
- Another summer vacation in New Hampshire.
- More reading.

If I had to make one new year's resolution, then it would be to read more. Unfortunately, I'm a slow reader, and the list of books I want to read grows much faster than the rate I actually read the books I accumulate. I have been making more of an effort to read lately, and I will continue that as we move on into 2010.

With that, I bring my 2009 blog to a close and set out to find new things to experience and write about in 2010.

Happy New Year!

Advice to Junior Officers Index

Here's an index to previous unsolicited advice to Junior Officers topics in my blog. Like the other index and favorite lists on the right side of my blog, I'll periodically update this post whenever I write a new post in this category.

Here are the things I've written so far:
- Award and Eval Gouge
- DAPA / Alcohol Issues
- Intrusive Leadership and LES- Nuke Bonus and Thrift Savings Plan
- PCS / Travel Entitlements 
- Social Networking Groundrules
- Tax Withholding Status
- Timing of signing a nuclear officer continuation pay contract
- Uniforms and Formal Functions

Gear for Deployment:
- Comfy shoes
- Don't buy a Zen MP3 player for use on deployment
- Headsok
- Adapter for foreign power outlets

Not so much advice as just information:
- Submarine Officer career path