Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Fixing "Blindsighted" in Skyrim

Good heavens. Skyrim is full of as many glitches as it is guards who have taken an arrow to the knee!  The latest 'discovery' is during the Blindsighted mission where you finally face off against Mercer Frey.  In some circumstances, he never shows up at the 'final' showdown!  He speaks for a moment, but is not there and the player cannot move anywhere.  Enter the console yet again.

I have heard of two ways to make this work: 1) Bring Mercer to where you are, 2) go to where he is and follow him until he gets to where he is supposed to be.

As for (1), I did not try that.  I read too many people having no luck with it.

As for (2), here is what you need to do:  Once you enter the room where Mercer says something about getting the drop on him, your character is frozen. Sorta.


  1. Press the tilde (~) to open the console and type: epc 
  2. Press ENTER. This will free you up to move freely.
  3. Type: player.moveto 00022651
  4. Press ENTER (the game will load to where Mercer is in the world)
  5. Follow Mercer until he he gets to the right room *OR* until he suddenly disappears from you
  6. *IF* he disappears from you while you are following him, type: player.moveto 00022651 and press ENTER.  This should teleport you back to the room with him and the other NPCs and start the dialogue.  Be sure to get to where he can see you so the auto-conversation can take place.  Once it does, finish out the scene as you wish.
This is one of the most ridiculous glitches out there.  How he goes from one cut scene to being totally removed from the quest area is beyond me.  That has got to be some kind of scripting glitch.  In any case, the fix above worked for me multiple times.  I repeated the steps a couple times from older save games just to be sure it worked.  NOTE: You may have to fight several things along the way.  One "option" is to put yourself into "god" mode until you get back on task.  I don't generally suggest going into "god" mode because it is too far down the cheating path, but since the is a glitch in the game, I see no problem using it to avoid getting killed while chasing doofus around the map.

Keywords: Mercer Frey, Blindsighted, "get the drop on me", glitch, bug, Thieves Guild

Review: Need for Speed The Run


One of the video games I received for Christmas this year: Need for Speed-The Run.  I had seen several previews, videos, etc for the game, and being a fan of the NFS franchise, I had to put it on my Christmas wish list.  I got the Limited Edition, which gives access to a bonus set of cars and Challenge Tracks that the "regular" edition doesn't.  I put regular in quotes because I have yet to see an edition with the words "limited edition" printed on the box.  I digress.

The game has three modes, basically: The Run Storyline, Challenge Mode, and Multiplayer.  I'll start with Multiplayer because, well, I haven't used it yet.  It connects to EA's AUTOLOG system for game matches.  You race against your friends. As I understand it, you can jump into games at any point - no more of the Autolog lobby.  I'll play with that and let you know.

The Run Storyline is the main game.  You play a scruffy nerfherder named Jack.  You have to race across the country in order to win a boatload of money to pay off the mob.  It's Rat Race meets Cannonball Run meets... I dunno.  During the game, there are cut scenes and screenshots featuring various characters that really have no bearing on the game at all.  In the midst of your racing across the country, you are tossed into these weird mini games where on-screen prompts show you when to hit the space bar, arrow keys, enter key, whatever.  During one scene, you jump from building to building, avoiding helicopter gunfire.



The mini games, to me, are a waste.  I came to race, not play some loosely constructed story.  I know, many people like having a backstory to go with their racing. I am not one of those.  I came to race my car.  And, HOLY SMOKES do you race!  Now, this is not the "simulation" style that many NFS games are known for.  This is arcade racing.  If you slide off a mountain while driving through Colorado's beautifully-rendered high country, you get a RESET to try again from your last checkpoint. You get 4 or 5 (I can't remember just now) resets per section before you have to start the section over from the beginning.  Let me tell ya, it can get VERY frustrating: To be on the last leg of a section only to miss a turn with no resets left will have you screaming at the monitor.  I kept running into/off of obstacles that caused resets on some levels but not on others.  It was hard to figure out where I could scrape some paint and where I had to stay between the lines.  This especially held true where my car would slip off the road into a patch of grass only to have the screen go black and the dreaded "RESET" appear. The other area to watch are telephone poles.  In some areas, you can blast right through them, while in others, they are as solid as a building.  And, you have no idea which is which until you run head-on into a pole.

The handling is pure arcade, and once you get the feel for controls, you can drive any of the cars because they all drive the same.  At least, it felt that way to me.  Some people have posted that they hate this and that it is unrealistic.  LOL, "unrealistic."  It's a GAME, people. Of course it isn't realistic.  Would you realistically be driving half these cars in your life, ever? Nope. Anyway, there are sports cars, exotics, and racers.  It doesn't matter.  Hop in and drive.



The biggest complaint I have about the game: I can't enjoy the views.  You race from San Francisco to New York via Las Vegas, Colorado, Chicago, Cleveland, and other locales that fly by at 240+ mph and you don't get to enjoy the nuances that make those places what they are.  I would love a free-roam mode where you could grab a car and just drive around.  Ah well, this *IS* an arcade racer, after all.  I will say, though, that driving through the subway is one of the coolest sections of all - sightseeing or not!

The game progresses through 10 levels.  You have meet certain goals to continue: beat 8 racers, beat 6 time trials, whatever.  You cannot progress without beating the goals, and it only takes a few tries to beat the goals.  A couple levels are harder than others, but once you've "Beat 6 Racers" once, you've done it a hundred times.  I did not realize this was how the game was played.  I was hoping you started off the race and then tried to beat everyone to the end - open-ended style: that is, whatever position you were in at the end of each leg, that's the position you started the next one.  I think that would have added so much more to the game. They didn't ask me.

You eventually win the race - because you have no choice, really.  Oh, wait, is that spoiler? Of course not - you eventually (hopefully) win any racing game, right?

Challenge Modes are unlocked as you progress through the story.  Each Challenge features several tracks/goals for you to beat.  You get to race the same locales you did in the story mode, but with different tracks, different goals, etc.  You can also try to best your Autolog pals.

The game is a lot of fun, and can be extremely frustrating.  For me, that's what I like about it most - figuring out just what's going on. Now, I think I'll go back and play through the story and locales with some sightseeing in mind.  Who cares if I win or not.  I want to see some sights.

Monday, December 19, 2011

Response to "Ten tech items you won't be needing"

The LA Times published an article (see end of this response for link) about the 10 tech items you won't need anymore. Like the last one of these responses I did, let's take a look:

1. Flip Cam - I half-agree with this. Pocket cameras are still a lot cheaper than an iPod, cell phone, etc.  The pocket cameras also tend to be a whole lot easier (in my experience) to pull the video from the device into one's computer for editing.  On the other hand, nearly every other device you buy has a built-in video camera, so why bother carrying around another piece of equipment. See, half agree...

2. Portable DVD player - One day, this will be true. Not any time soon, however. Why not?  because there are many families that bought as many DVDs for their kids as possible and, dang it, we are going to watch those in the car if it kills us!  I am one of them. Of course, Shan's van has built-in DVD players, so we don't need a separate portable one.  Okay, I'll give them this one.

3. Flash drives - BZZT! Wrong answer.  People still need a way to access their files when the "cloud" is not available.  The evolution of portable media dictates that SOMETHING will replace flash drives, but it will still be something people can carry on their person.

4. GPS for your car - BZZT! Wrong answer.  I can use the GPS in my car in more places than my phone because of cellular data coverage, or more specifically the lack thereof.  With my in-car GPS, I can find my location, get directions and route my course without worrying about dropped signals or getting a call while trying to navigate (which on many carriers will kick one out of the GPS app).

5. Small digital cameras - They are talking the small-form point-and-shoot.  I have to agree.  Cell phones now boast 8 megapixels, which is still more than most people would ever actually use anyway.  The only thing holding me back here is that small point-and-shoots are coming with better and better optical zooms - something that our cell phones just can't handle.  But, I certainly see the demise of those little cameras in the future.  Now, pro-level or pro-sumer level cameras?  Those will be around a long time, well, relatively speaking.

6. FAX Machine - BZZT!  The fax still can be one of the most secure ways to send a document - encrypted, secluded, direct.  Now, the machine itself may go, I suppose.  With unified communication systems, we can have fax-to-desktop, thus eliminating the physical machine.  I dunno, maybe I'm a half-and-half guy on this one after all.

7. Netbooks - Yeap. These are going, going, gone.  Now that you get a case, a keyboard, a stylus, and maybe even a mouse for your tablet, who needs a netbook?

8. CD player - Yeap. Gone.  Convert your CDs and (GASP!) records over to digital and kiss the physical CD players goodbye.  Oh, never mind the deterioration of your MP3 files. That's just a normal part of data corruption.  Besides, you can always download the songs again or convert them from CD.. wait, no more CD players? Oh. Nevermind. You're just outta luck.

9. Voice recorders - Are these even still around? Wow. I thought these were already dead and gone.

10. PDA - Palms? What?  Like voice recorders, I thought PDA's were already a thing of the past. Well, they are now for sure.

The original article can be found here: http://latimesblogs.latimes.com/technology/2011/12/ten-unneeded-tech-items.html

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Why LIVE.COM should be taken to the BBB

After MONTHS of trying to get an account issue resolved, all Microsoft's LIVE.COM support will give me are automated, useless replies.  I need to talk to a human. We tried using XBO support, but when it came down to fixing the actual problem (an errant email address entered when signing up), they couldn't do anything because LIVE.COM has no actual LIVE people for support. Ironic, no?

Anyway, here is the latest reply, which is totally useless because GMAIF.COM (notice the problem there?) is a squatted domain, and efforts to contact  THEM have come up empty as well....

Ridiculous.


Unfortunately, we could not verify your ownership of xxxxxxx@gmaif.com using the information you provided. Your account recovery request with issue number xxxxxxxx has been closed.

In keeping with Microsoft's commitment to protecting online privacy, Windows Live takes account security seriously. Passing the account recovery process can be difficult. Please reconsider your originally submitted information, as well as provide any additional information when submitting a new account recovery request.

Here are some suggestions to assist you in submitting a new request:
  • Answer questions using the information you used when you created the account or last updated it.
  • Submit the recovery request from a computer you frequently use for Windows Live services.
  • Answer as many questions as you can and be as precise as possible.
  • For questions with multiple answers, such as email subjects and contacts, provide as many answers as you can.
  • If you have difficulty remembering email subjects or contacts, try reaching out to family, friends, or business contacts to verify.
Ready? Click here to submit a new Windows Live account recovery request.

Please do not reply to this message. Replies to this message are routed to an unmonitored mailbox.

Thank you,
Windows Live

Microsoft Corporation
One Microsoft Way
Redmond, WA 98052
USA

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Why I don't like the new GMail


I've switched to the new GMail because, well, they will eventually force me to anyway, so I figured I had better jump on it so I can support the folks at work.

First of all, let me make this clear: I hate the new GMail.  There. I said it. Now, brass tacks time:

For starters, I had to switch to "compact view" so that I wouldn't have a bunch of wasted space on my screen.  One of the things I liked most about GMail was the simple, clean interface. No frills, no nonsense. Bye-bye.  Now, we have views with more white space between messages than the actual length of the messages themselves.  Luckily, GMail must have known some people didn't care for all that "breathing room" and gave us an option that is close to the original layout (though not exactly).

I hate CHAT. I don't use it. I want to be able to turn the dumb thing off.  Again, it is a matter or screen real estate.  I'd rather have my label list down the side than have that dumb chat gizmo there, or anywhere.  Users should be allowed to turn that off.

I hate cute little icons where words work perfectly well.  maybe it is because I like to write and enjoy reading.  Maybe it is part of the whole 'streamlined' thing I enjoy.  Whatever the reason, I *HATE* stupid little icons that are supposed to represent the tasks I want to perform.  See them up there?  The irony is that you have to hover over them so that a TEXT BOX will appear to tell you just what you are supposed to do with them. Stupid.  I like my words. I like menu systems.  One of peeves with Office 2007 was the whole "icons on ribbons" thing. UGH.  Show me the words that tell me what I want to know, what I need to do.  I think cutesy little icons just waste space and waste time because I have to now figure out what each one does or means or represents.  have we fallen so far as a society that we can't have actual WORDS anymore!?  Soon, our writings (electronic or otherwise) will revert back to cave drawings - icons that show and tell our life stories.  instead of Facebook, we'll have.. Imagebook or Iconbook or Cavecarvings or some other wordless means of "communicating."  Supposedly, a picture's worth a thousand words.  In this case, it barely even covers one.

I am not a fan of the whole 'theme' thing. I never have been.  I like certain things neat and clean, no frou frou. Email is one.  i want my email to be...(GASP! SHOCK AND AWE!) **EMAIL**  I don't want little dancing smiley faces in my emails, I don't want a pink background with falling hearts from the sky.  I don't really even like the 'desktop' background I have in mine right now, but it was the easiest to look at for more than 5 minutes.

I know Google isn't switching it back, and that's fine.  Since we switched to Google Apps for our corporate mail system, I have to take what they give me - a certain drawback to going to "the cloud."  It is a drawback that no one talks about until after the fact. 

Oh, I know, in the scheme of life, this is petty and small and doesn't amount to a grain of rice for a starving child (go to freerice.com to help with that, though!!), but I am free to express myself.  And for that, I am eternally grateful to people like my Father, Grandfather, Uncle, and the other millions of people who have served in our military so that I *can* say what I feel.  The sacrifices made by those folks in uniform amount to much more than email interfaces, cloud computing, and even food on the table.  They served (and serve) OUR country for all the good, all the bad, all the freedoms, and all the choices we have as Americans.  I thank you all from the bottom of my heart, knowing full well that my petty rant is nothing but a grain of sand in the scheme of life.

Monday, December 12, 2011

Dungeons and Dragons Dichotomy


I recently took part in a discussion about playing "Skyrim" which involved a young college student (female), a high school student (male), and myself.  We talked for a good while about various game-playing adventures, glitches, and general mayhem we've each taken part in while playing the game.  Then, a comment (made by the female college student) out of the blue: "Yeah, he and his friends are all playing D&D. (Dorks!)"  (I put "Dorks" in parentheses because I cannot remember the exact word used, but that was general gist).

And, thus enters the dichotomy: It is apparently COOL to play Skyrim, but DORKY to play Dungeons and Dragons.  Until this comment came out of the college student's mouth, I hadn't really separated the two.  I mean, aren't they basically one in the same?  There are dungeons, dragons, magic, swords, and sorcery in both games, right?  So, what, then *IS* the difference?

I'm going with perception. Perhaps, D&D as seen as VERY 'old school nerdy.'  Or maybe the fact that there is a group of people playing rather than a single person playing.  Maybe it is the whole experience of D&D: sitting around a table, rolling dice, acting things out.  I don't know.  I played D&D as a 5th Grader and played off-and-on through my freshman year in college.  I don't know how most people play the game, but everyone I ever played with really never "slipped" into our character modes.  It was very much like we were simply acting on behalf of the imaginary people we had written on paper.  In a way, it was much like playing "Skyrim" on the computer.

Perhaps the perceived "dorkiness" of D&D comes from the fact that is is all (er, okay, mostly) pencil and paper and dice.  I mean, there are no cool graphics, no multi-voiced character actors as NPCs (unless you are playing with a very talented pool of people), and no sound effects (refer to previous parenthetical comment) when playing ye olde pen-and-paper D&D.  You have a group of people sitting around a table, talking, rolling dice, drinking sodas (or whatever), and (GASP) interacting with each other!  Yeap, truly old school stuff.

I don't really have a solid answer so much as a very puzzling question: Why is playing "Skyrim" COOLER than playing D&D?  Hmm... Thoughts, comments?

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Skyrim: Markarth Guard Glitch SOLVED (UPDATED!)

So, I finished off one of the missions in Skyrim (where you have to raid an underground prison) and afterward, the Markarth guards always told me to "HALT!" and no matter what I tried to do, they attacked.  Paying the fine didn't work, taking me to jail just stuck the game in some weird loop, etc.

This fix worked for me, but I had to do it TWICE.  You may need to do it more than once as well.  I think it has to do with the particular hex code for certain guards (male/female).

Here is the Markarth Guard fix:
  1. Walk up to a guard
  2. When the guard says, "You've committed crimes against Markarth," DO NOT choose any options.
  3. With the dialog waiting, press the tilde key (~) to open the command console.
  4. Click on the guard's HEAD (note: must be HEAD!) and you will see a hex code on the screen.
  5. Type: paycrimegold and hit enter.
  6. You will be teleported to a new, random location in Markarth.
  7. Press the tilde (~) key again (this will exit the command console).
  8. IF YOU ARE ATTACKED, keep looking around for a guard to question you then repeat the steps above.
  9. UPDATE NOTE: If this doesn't stop some guards from attacking on spot, try this:
    1. Press the tilde key
    2. Type: setstage MS02 250 and hit enter
    3. This should set the game to the "Thonar has granted me pardon" though no actual on-screen message will appear.
Like I said, I had to do this TWICE (once on a female guard and once on a male guard) before they stopped attacking me all the time.

Hope this helps someone out there.  I found the original info on Neoseeker or some other forum, but it did not say anything about possibly doing it more than once.

**Disclaimer: there a LOT of things you can do inside the command console. What you do in there is on your own head, not mine!

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

The Sky(rim)'s the limit



Yes, that is an in-game screenshot (as posted on GiantBomb.com).  And, yes, I have been to that very spot.

Where is that, you ask? Why, it's in Skyrim.  Skyrim came out on 11/11/11 and it is an open-world, mostly open-ended role playing game.  I say "mostly open-ended" because, like all adventures, you ultimately walk through a series of scripted paths.  Well, might.  It is open-ended in that you don't *have* to do anything.  You decide to accept a quest or not. You decide, once you have accepted a quest, to complete a task.  Heck, even after you complete a task, you decide whether or not you want to finish it - for example, do you *want* to give the recovered gauntlets to the requestor or do you want to keep them for yourself?  You decide.

It's not a new concept. In fact, Skyrim is the next in the Elder Scrolls series of open-world games.  But, after playing Morrowind and Oblivion, I have to say, I like Skyrim A LOT!  Sure, it's got glitches...  One of the first sequences had me talking to a woman who faded into the wall behind her, only to "materialize" after the conversation.  And, okay, so you find randomly floating weapons, armor, bottles, plates, and even animals, during your romp through the countryside, but so what.  The scenery is flat-out gorgeous, the characters are mostly well-created, and exploring the unknown digital realm of Skyrim will suck hours out of your day that you didn't even know you had.  Granted, those hours may be the wee ones after everyone else in the house has gone to bed.

From the first dragon appearance to the bowels (yes, I said bowels) of various and sundry caves and dungeons, Skyrim sucks you in.  I've only played a few days worth.  I bought this past weekend and have played off and on since.  It is the kind of game that could make a person happily use up a week's worth of vacation time and not regret it.



There are definite improvements in gameplay over Oblivion (the game's predecessor):

  1. No more "Too encumbered to move."  In Skyrim, if you are overloaded, you simply cannot run. You can still walk (er, shuffle more like it).  You also cannot "fast travel" which can be a particular annoyance when you are carrying a bunch of loot down from a remote mountain top.  In games before, once you reached your carrying capacity, you had to drop stuff because you weren't allowed to move at all.  "Fast travel" just means you pick any discovered location (one to which you have actually visited) and get there with one click instead of walking there in-game.
  2. Skill trees have been reworked.  I'm not sure they are 'trees' so much as convoluted constellations with stars upon which you study to learn skill enhancements (like a percentage increase in two-handed weapons, summoning spells, etc).  I like the depth and breadth of skill development, though I have to admit it can be a bit overwhelming.
  3. "Cleared" areas (caves, dungeons, etc) are actually cleared.  I always hated going back into areas that I had already supposedly cleared (in Oblivion, etc) only to return to find it inhabited by more creatures.  I do understand that a cave might not remain empty forever, but it just annoyed me.
  4. Combat seems much more fluid in Skyrim.  That may be bad memory on my part (that is, not remembering what combat was like in Oblivion etc).  I definitely love the hot keys (you can assign weapons, armor, spells, etc to a key 1-8), though that was also in previous games.  In Skyrim, changing between items is pretty quick and can mean the difference between life and death.  Of course, the fact that you can get down to your last few health points, call up the menu and save yourself with potions has always been a little wacky to me, but if the game lets you do it, then better to take advantage!
  5. The graphics, of course.  Everything has been update with new textures.  Some people don't like the "dirt" effect the characters have (everyone has a level of dirt on them, making everyone look a bit gritty) and you can download a "clean" mod for your game if you want (it removes dirt and fixes a few blocky areas like noses).  I prefer to play it like the game maker intended.  Besides, the effect gives the game a darker feel which fits well with the theme.


One of the biggest complaints buzzing about always comes with the Elder Scroll games: system requirements.  The game requires multi core processors. The game requires a DirectX9 video card.  The box says the video card must have 512MB RAM, but Tyler got his to run on his dual-core laptop with a 256MB video card in it.  Granted, he had to dumb-down all the settings and ramp up mouse sensitivity, but it actually looks okay and plays very smoothly from what I've seen him play.

For the record, yes, we bought two copies - one for him and one for me. Target had a gift-card offer when you buy two games and since we both knew we wanted to play it, we each bought a copy.  Besides, there's the whole Steam thing. I hate Steam.  I've said that before.

Overall, though, I'm liking me some Skyrim.  And, having a Thanksgiving holiday come around the week after I bought a copy ain't bad, either!

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Disaster Recovery Plan

I don't see what's the big deal with Disaster Recovery Planning.  It's pretty simple:

Fire: Get out!
Tornado: Get under!
Earthquake: Get down!
Flood: Get up!
Pandemic: Get home!

And, if all else fails: Run.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Evidently, Apple does not like credit

I received an email from Apple, letting me know that they are not too happy with me...

Apparently, Apple does not like its customers to carry a balance on their store credit.  How many other retailers do you know that send a friendly reminder for their customers to spend the money they have just sitting out there.  Perhaps, dear friends at Apple, I haven't found anything lately WORTH spending my iTunes credit.  Maybe the finger should be pointing the other way.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

The Secret of Black Socks



No, this isn't some deep, thought-provoking post regarding the White Sox of yesteryear.  This is actually about black socks.

I always wondered why men, especially older men, hung out in their black dress socks.  Now I know why.  The simple fact is that many guys wear black socks as part of their work dress code, for church, etc.  When we get home and change out of our daily work clothes, we are loathe to take off our socks.  Frankly, the socks we're wearing are already "broken in" for the day - they are soft, comfortable, warm.  Taking off one's socks means exposing our warmed, comfortable feet to the elements.  Well, okay, maybe not the elements, but certainly the unpleasantness of taking them off only to get out another pair of socks to put on.  Why bother with all that?

Instead, we change out of our stuffy clothes and leave on our comfy socks.  Sorry, women of the world and children/grandchildren, but you're stuck with us and our black socks...

Monday, October 03, 2011

The Ugly Beast (aka "The Stomach Bug")

I left work early today.  Basically, this is why...  (And, I'm not quite rid of the beast yet)
------ 
The beast within awakens slowly, almost gently.  A low, slow grumble begins as the hideous creature starts its journey to escape.  Before long, however, the low grumbling turns into a full out chorus of moans, groans and roars.  A deep, sudden pain from inside, and the bearer knows something is not right. Then, with no further warning, the beast churns and turns, unleashing itself in a violent fit.  It seeks a rapid, explosive exit from its prison.

The first exit is finds comes at the south end of its victim.  The passages twist and turn and the beast breaks apart trying to expunge itself.  With incredible force, the beast liquifies itself, rendering its victim helpless to move.  No, the victim becomes a prisoner to the beast, forced to remain seated, unmovable.  If the beast should find its way clear of the body, things would be over as suddenly as they had begun.  Instead, the beast comes in fits and starts, providing a false sense of relief and security for the being in which is inhabits.

The beast rests.  Or so it seems.

Soon, however, the victim discovers that beast is merely changing directions!  Just as quickly and violently, the beast races its way upward to find another exit.  The victim has no choice but to bow before the porcelain urn placed before him or her, forcing the beast to leave the body.  The body shakes and shutters, rocking harshly with each attempt for the beast to remove itself from its host.  The beast comes again and again.

Finally, in an all-out attempt to free itself, the beast seeks any and all possible exits, trying to remove itself from its carrier.  The victim is forced to abide in the beast's bidding.  Holding a pot while sitting on another, the victim has no recourse other than to endure the pain, the violence, the seemingly endless onslaught.

And, just as quickly and violently as the beast arrived, it departs.  For most victims, the beast's temporary residence lasts but a day's time.  Once it is gone, it seeks out its next victim - young, old, rich or poor.  The beast cares not.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Governor Beebe Hoses The Little Guy

While trying to add Amazon ads to my posts, I noticed I no longer had access to the ad program.  I logged into my account only to find my account disabled!  Say what!?  Well, I contacted Amazon support, and this is what I learned:
Hello from the Amazon Associates Program,

Thank you for contacting us regarding your concern for the status of this Associates Account.  I apologize for the frustration and inconvenience this situation may have created for you.

For well over a decade, the Amazon Associates Program has worked with a large number of Arkansas residents. Unfortunately, a new state tax law signed by Governor Beebe compels us to terminate this program for Arkansas-based participants. It specifically imposes the collection of taxes from consumers on sales by online retailers - including but not limited to those referred by Arkansas-based affiliates like you - even if those retailers have no physical presence in the state.

We opposed this new tax law because it is unconstitutional and counterproductive. It was supported by big-box retailers that seek to harm the affiliate advertising programs of their competitors. Similar legislation in other states has led to job and income losses, and little, if any, new tax revenue. We deeply regret that its enactment forces this action. The unfortunate consequences of this legislation on Arkansas residents like you were explained to the legislature, including Senate and House leadership, as well as to the Governor's staff.

As a result of the new law, contracts with all Arkansas residents participating in the Amazon Associates Program will be terminated on July 24, 2011. Those Arkansas residents will no longer receive advertising fees for sales referred to Amazon.com, Endless.com, MYHABIT.COM or SmallParts.com. Please be assured that all qualifying advertising fees earned on or before July 24, 2011 will be processed and paid in full in accordance with the regular payment schedule.

You are receiving this email because our records indicate that you are a resident of Arkansas. If you are not currently a resident of Arkansas, or if you are relocating to another state in the near future, you can manage the details of your Associates account here. And if you relocate to another state after July 24, 2011, please contact us for reinstatement into the Amazon Associates Program.
To avoid confusion, we would like to clarify that this development will only impact our ability to continue to offer the Associates Program to Arkansas residents and will not affect their ability to purchase from www.amazon.com.

We have enjoyed working with you and other Arkansas-based participants in the Amazon Associates Program and, if this situation is rectified, would very much welcome the opportunity to re-open our Associates Program to Arkansas residents.
So, thank you, Mr. Governor.  If I had paid attention, I'm sure I would have known about the law.  Even so, I don't know that I would have realized the impact this would have on people like me: a blogger trying earn a few pennies with click-through ads.  I can see why we are no longer the "Land of Opportunity."

Now, I need to see what I can do to have this ridiculous law repealed.

No significant difference...

The phrase, "No significant difference" has been tossed around for years, usually in relation to something education-based: technology in education, technology in higher education, pay-for-merit teacher salaries, distance learning programs, etc.

The kicker is that the phrase itself can be used to prove a particular point or to disprove the same point.  For example, a decade ago, studies suggested that students taking classes through distance learning (more specifically, through interactive live video services) produced "no significant difference" in grades, assignment completion, etc compared to students who attended 'traditional' classes (that is, teacher live in the room).

This finding was used to convince schools that putting in distance learning systems would have little to no impact on graduation rates, grades, etc. and that they should jump on the bandwagon.

The same is being said for "target testing" these days, what with NCLB, AYP, API, and a myriad of other acronyms.

Maybe it's just my particular viewpoint, but my response to "no significant difference" surfaces as "then why bother?"  Why spend all the money to implement programs that ultimately show no significant difference than the programs already in place?  Why add to the already overworked, overstressed workload of teachers, principals and students if there is no significant difference between what they are already doing and instituting some new program that will cost the district (and/or state taxpayers) additional money?  What is the point?

As for distance learning, I see the implementation as one of providing opportunity. That is, schools should only use distance learning programs as a way to enhance student learning.  Many small schools cannot offer the same variety of classes as many larger ones (different foreign languages, various alternate career courses, etc).  I see that as a HUGE benefit.  Small schools (also any-sized economically challenged ones, etc) cannot afford to hire a fulltime teacher to reach 5-10 students interested in taking a particular course (or to take college credits while still in high school, etc).  In these cases, the cost of a distance learning teacher can be shared among several districts for one teacher to teach multiple sites.

As for testing?  I have no idea.  I would love some input, insight, direction on that one.  If target testing (target assessment or whatever your district may call it) is showing to have no significant difference (NSD), then why bother?

Now, I do understand that the problem with 'no significant difference' centers upon the question(s) being asked and upon the population of respondents/study subjects.  That is, NSD would be much more pronounced over a larger population surveyed than a targeted one.  I know of many teachers who love the assessments because they use the data to help reach their students where the students lack skill and understanding.  Other teachers might read this and have no idea what I'm talking about.  Perhaps the issue is not that testing makes NSD, but rather what is *done with* the information the testing provides.

In general, though, if a program (ANY program) is shown to make no significant difference, then I question the costs, the time, the resources involved with implementing and keeping up such a program.  Sometimes, NSD is not a good thing, but should instead serve as the point at which administrators, legislators, and taxpayers stop and say, "then why are we doing this?"

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

A little side project

We have an abandoned Ford dealership in the town where I live.  In fact, I think it closed down about a year or two after I bought my Mercury Mistake, er, Mystique there.  Man, how I grew to hate that car.  That's a post for another day.

I pass by the old place every time I head down Hwy 67 to the office in Hope, and then back again.  At one point while diving and letting my mind wander, I thought it would be fun to park my car under the old "Used Cars" area and snap a few pictures.  So, the other day, I did:

This one didn't work so well because of the shadow falling across the parking spot...


This is my favorite, especially after tweaking the coloring a bit for a rustic, antique feel:


I really wanted to park under the "GUARANTEED" section, but there is a LOT of junk under there - boards, trash, and who knows what else:


This is actually to the right of the photos above, behind what was once the new car showroom.  I thought this would make for a cool photo: 


It's hard to see, but I purposely caught the legible reflection of "BODY - SHOP" in the hood of the car.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Nine-Eleven

What I remember most about 9/11 is a feeling of utter shock and helplessness - not that I was helpless, but that I was in Arkansas, far from those who needed help and there was nothing I could do about it. So, I prayed. I wondered if more attacks were coming. I watched reports (accruate and not) of events unfolding, of amazing survival stories, and of loss.

But, what I remember the most comes after I got home.  I specifically remember going outside on my deck and looking up.  The skies were a beautiful blue and not a single cloud in the sky.  Because all planes had been grounded, no airtrails cut through the skies.  And, everything was quiet. It was eerie - no birds were chirping, no cows were calling out, no dogs barking.  Except for the television playing in the house behind me, I was in complete silence.  I don't even remember any vehicles driving down our dirt road.

On September 11, 2001, our youngest, Emily, wasn't even anywhere in our lives yet - not even in the very earliest stages of creation and development yet. 

I remember watching the news the whole time.  Were there going to be other attacks? How many were killed?  Why were the hospitals still basically empty? Would anyone ever go show up there?  News of gasoline price gouging were rampant. People were flooding supermarkets and superstores.  Other people were already getting in their vehicles, heading to try and help in whatever way they could.  And, people were starting to put American flags on their flag poles, cars, shirts, caps, anywhere and everywhere.  Yes, even on the first day, video appeared on TV and online of the American spirit coming back into light.

So much has changed in ten years.  And, so much hasn't.  What will things look like at the 20th Commemoration of 9/11?  Will we still remember?  How long until we have mainstream video games about this day (like we have WWII, Vietnam, and anonymous terrorist-related games now)?  Will my grandchildren see 9/11 in the same "vague historical recollection" manner in which many people view Pearl Harbor today?  Will there be another attack on American soil before the next 10-year memorial?  Only time will show what is to come. 

In the meantime, we stand and we remember. We honor those who were taken from us, who went UP the stairs to find others to send down, who ran IN while others ran out, and who would not go down in a plane without a fight.  I am proud to be an American, always.


Monday, September 05, 2011

Learning some Photoshop Elements

I have a copy of Photoshop Elements 6.0 that I use to make my custom baseball cards, banners, and most recently a project for a fellow baseball blogger that wants a "Breaking News" header for their website.  I'll talk more about that project in another post, depending on how things go on that front.

In the meantime, I was checking out ways to create 3d boxes, text, etc, and came across a site with a tutorial on how to make a photograph that appears to be coming at you from within another photo.  It makes more sense to show you (site references at end of this post):


Now, the tutorial is for Adobe Photoshop or GIMP (a free knock-off that does just about everything PS can do).  But, I thought I would try it in Elements.  Most of the steps work with a minor tweak here or there.  But, the one step that does NOT exist in Elements is the "Layer Mask."  I tried to figure it out myself, but nothing I did worked.  So... I searched for a way to do Layer Masking in Elements, and sure enough, I found a tutorial on that!

I'll simply provide the link to the tutorial at the end of this article (no sense in re-inventing the wheel, right?).  It took a bit of figuring out, even with the tutorial, but eventually things started to click.  I will have to recreate my test project so I can nail down the steps, and then I will create a tutorial that covers the whole shebang, in case someone else out there has the limited Elements or has another program that gives "almost enough" features.  Granted, this technique is a bit advaned for the toned-down version of its big brother.

In any case, once I had the masking down, the rest was just the tedium of zooming in and out, flipping between layers, etc, trying to get things "right."  Well, the first thing I did WRONG was misjudge the photo frame, as you'll see.  I was too far into things to start over on the frame, masking, etc, but it is a lesson learned.  The second problem I had was figuring out perspective, skewing, and the like.  You can see in the picture above, the frame is canted away from the viewer with a cool shadow effect.  You'll see in mine below that I just have a flat frame againt the background.  Once I figure out how to make it 3D, I'll have that in my tutorial, too.

Well, after some time (an hour or so, maybe), I have my first test project.  Below is the original photo:


And the the "3D Frame Pop" (or whatever that's called):


See?  the car is too far to the right, so the framing looks a little weird.  Also, the folks at PhotoshopDisasters would have a field day with the ground reflections on the doors where the car has already come through the frame.  But, hey, this was for fun and learning.

I can see all kinds of applications for this: other vehicles, sports pics, people, animals, etc.

Sites I used:
http://www.instructables.com/id/Creating-a-3D-effect-with-image-editing--software-/?ALLSTEPS
http://www.alibony.com/pse/020708layer-mask.html

Sunday, September 04, 2011

Take some RESPONSIBILITY, Parents!

JCPenney recently pulled a T-Shirt from their shelves/online store/whatever because some idiotic parents screamed out about it.  What is the fuss?  It said, "I'm too pretty to do my homework, so my brother does it for me" (or close enough).  Frankly, I thought it was funny.

Seriously?  Are people that stiff-lipped that they can't enjoy some tongue-in-cheek humor anymore?  And, worse, JCPenney complied!  Umm, let's see, last I remember, this is AMERICA. If you don't want your kid wearing the shirt, DON'T LET THEM! DUH!

If you don't want your kid eating fries with their chicken nuggets, DON'T LET THEM! DUH!

If you don't want your kid eating a bunch of fast food/junk food, DON'T LET THEM! DUH!

If you don't want your kid watching a TV show about vampire babysitters, DON'T LET THEM! DUH!

If you don't want your kid listening to a certain kind of music, DON'T LET THEM! DUH!

If you don't want your kid to waste money on some kind of make-up or some particular video game, DON'T LET THEM! DUH!

It is WAY past the time for adults (yes, I'm talking to you people that are sitting around posting laments about some stupid T-Shirt on Facebook and Twitter instead of teaching your children your own values) to TAKE CHARGE of their own children's lives.  Come on, people.  Get off your butts and show your kids what it means to be a parent.  You are *NOT* your child's best friend. They have other kids for that.  You are the parent, the adult, the one who sets the rules and makes your children follow them.  YOU have to teach your children what's appropriate for them to wear or not and why YOU believe it to be that way.  You see, each parent (or guardian or 'person in charge of a youngin') has a job to do: Train up your child. 

Our children have to be raised to UNDERSTAND why something is a good choice or a bad choice.  They have to understand that some people use fast food in a pinch or as a treat instead of relying on it for every meal.  And, some people don't do it that way.  Neither way is wrong, in my opinion.  But, if one way is wrong for YOU, then YOU have every right to TRAIN your child in what is right and wrong.  You should NOT have the right to tell *ME* what is right and wrong for *MY* child. Period. In my opinion, that goes for everything: religion, food, games, tv, cigarettes, alcohol, clothing, how to use a restroom.  What I teach my child has nothing to do with what you teach yours.  If I want my kid to wear a shirt that says, "I'm too pretty to do homework" because I think it's funny (and then explain why it is funny and how it is NOT TRUE), then my child should be allowed to wear it.  Likewise, if you don't, then you are allowed to NOT buy it. 

As for companies, it is HIGH TIME to quit pandering to every cry-baby group of "adults" out there that threatens to quit buying your stuff.  Some people were offended, some people thought the shirt was funny.  So, what!?  You have got to STOP selling only what a limited group of closed-minded people who make a lot of noise tell you to sell (or not sell).  I believe we have this thing called "supply and demand."  Here's how it works: If people WANT an item and are willing to buy it a a certain price, you will sell a ton of that item.  If people DO NOT want an item, people won't buy it and you will have to find something else to sell.  Remember that one class your marketing people took in college? Yeah, the one that had something do with all this stuff?  You might want to open the textbook (or just Google It, as the kids say now) instead of cowering to panicky "masses."

This whole country has been on a long path to blandness, vanilla-itis, and status quo.  It's time to kick the "quo" out of the status.  For every person that raises a stink over a company's mascot or a certain piece of clothing or an item on a menu, there should be millions of others letting companies know that we have our own minds and we are teaching our children to exercise THEIR own minds: we are teaching our children about choices, right and wrong, and that we appreciate the opportunities to share these teachable moments with our children.  We may agree with a marketing decision or we may not, but ultimately WE decide (through our purchasing power) what goes and what stays.  WE decide what we want our children to eat, wear, or play based on our own set of values, not because a bunch of other people think it's wrong or right. 

Stand up for your right as a parent to be the one to teach your child how to make the right choices. Don't let other people remove the choice for you.

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

The Lord and James Brown: My Day at a Get Motivated seminar

Before I get started, I have to make a disclaimer or three.  First of all, some of the speakers used some PG-13 language and innuendo.  There's a very good chance some of that will end up in this piece.  Anything "blue" appears for the sake of making a point (something that will become clear within the context).  If that offends you, stop reading here. Seriously. Just stop and go back to Facebook or Twitter or whatever the hot site of day is.  Okay, not really. You can actually read through here and be fine. I did post warning(s) for those that needed them below.

Secondly, this is my OPINION based on what I saw, felt, and experienced.  If you don't like my opinion, feel free to disagree, but I will not tolerate any foul language in the comments.  We have this amazing thing called the English language and for nearly every single word one could choose, there are many others which could also be used in that word's place.  This holds especially true of cuss words.  I'm no goodie-goodie by any stretch, but there is no reason to curse when a perfectly good substitute can do more to further to conversation and discussion.

Third, I didn't buy JACK at this seminar.  Wait, that's a lie. I bought two hot dogs and two cokes.  So, actually, I did not buy JACK after all. So there.  I also did not pay for my $1.95 ticket (or whatever it cost).  My company paid for a group of us to attend.  Why say all this? Because I want it to be perfectly clear that I am not being paid by anyone nor am I writing based on any kind of financial obligation.  It's just me and my thoughts and observations.

Finally, I did a little poking around the Internet about the seminar.  I wanted to see what people thought and what to expect.  I read several VERY negative reviews (which will be referenced at the end of this post), but I had a much better view as to just what this program entailed.  You, too, will get a taste of what to expect as we take this journey together.





Before I get to the seminar, I must relay the tale of WHOA (as in, holy cow, are you kidding me) from the night before.  We stayed at the Riverfront Wyndham in North Little Rock.  I had never been before, and certainly had no idea that it was within walking distance to Dickey-Stephens Field (literally in the back parking lot) and the Verizon Arena (a block or so).

When I arrived, two co-workers (Nell and Karen) were checking in.  Nell turns to me and says, jokingly, "They're putting us in the same room."  We laughed.  We shouldn't have.  I got my room keys and headed upstairs.  The three of us decided to go to the ballgame (Travelers play at DSF) after we put our stuff in our respective rooms.  I opened my door to discover various articles already spread out on one of the beds.  I thought they were women's things, but I wasn't sure.  I called out, but no one answered.  I went into the bathroom and saw make-up and such that let me know I was, in fact, in a woman's room.  Great.  I headed back downstairs and told them what happened.  Evidently, too many chefs and not enough cooks decided to hand out rooms.  Not a problem.  We swapped keys and I got a new room.  I headed back upstairs.  As I went to use my key, Nell opened the door to the room from the inside!  Are you kidding me!?  TWO room screw-ups!?  Nell called the front desk.

"I appreciate you sending a man up to my room, but I don't think his wife will be too happy with this arrangement," she joked with the clerk on the other end.  After a bit of conversation, the clerk said he would be right up with the right key for her room.  Crazy.  We finally got it worked out.

The Travelers game turned out to be the last of the regular season and they won 8-2 over the Springfield Cardinals!  It was a lot of fun - good food, great company, nice breeze.


The next morning, the hotel manager greeted each person in our party to let us know that he was holding a staff meeting about the previous night (evidently, there were MANY problems!) and that, "this would NEVER happen again."  We may never know.




We arrived at the arena with time to hang out on the steps before the place opened up to us.  Tickets for the event came in various flavors.  We had "Premier" seating, which sounds better than it was.  basically, we were upper tier.  "Executive" seating is first tier (like where we sat for WinterJam), and then there was floor seating.  With all the big screens everywhere, no one really had a bad seat, I suppose.

First up: Krish Dhanam.  Never heard of him.  Each presenter came out to their own music.  It was a bit like attending a wrestling event.  The emcee was some blonde woman that read her cue cards to introduce each speaker and get the crowd pumped up.  "Dare You To Move" played over the speakers.  If you're not familiar with it, it is a Christian tune by Switchfoot.  Dhanam was born in India and came to America in 1986.  His presentation was about pumping up America, blessing your children.  It was filled with personal stories and a tirade against political correctness. "Political Correctness will be the death of this nation," he exclaimed.  He made some stereotypical comments about Indian people (that is, people FROM India) and basically said, "That's the way it is. Accept it."  It was great to FINALLY hear someone declare the beginning of the end of PC talk and jibberish.  (yeah, yeah, I know Bill Maher, et al, do something similar. Whatever.)

The first break came in the way of an announcement: "Clearly one day is not enough.  You will want to keep learning through DVDs, additional seminars... What we have for you TODAY...is an investment in yourself!"  Ah, yes, the sales pitch I'd had read plenty about in my brief search of the program online.

The seminar comes with a workbook that is SUPPOSED to let the attendees take notes, read bios, etc.  While people can do that, they CANNOT use the author-specific pages because those are old, outdated outlines.  The presenter pages had nothing to do with the content they actually presented.  Seriously, can we not print updated copies, folks?  I took all my notes in the back pages provided for "additional notes."




Next up: TERRY BRADSHAW!

I grew up watching Terry toss the pigskin around, leading the Steelers to FOUR Superbowl wins.  It was awesome to see him live.  His presentation centered on asking yourself (and answering): "What has God blessed me to be?"  Find your talents, what you enjoy doing, and pursue that in your career.  He said the key to success and to moving on is to be happy. Just be happy.  Smile, shake hands, encourage other people.  He told the story of how his kids wanted to meet someone famous in Beverly Hills.  As they walked around, people were coming up to him for his autograph, shake hands, etc.  His kids simply said, "You're our Dad."  In his words, he is "no big deal."  Know who you are.  Know your restrictions.  Don't waste life.  At the end of every day, find something good that happened that day.  To that I say: write it down.  Get a spiral notebook and write down the one thing (or several things) GOOD that happened that day.  If you want, put the date on it.  Every single day, write down those "one good thing" items. You will find yourself filling REAMS of notebooks.  And then, take those and compile them into categories or topics or whatever method you'd like (the people involved, places, etc) and type it up for PUBLISHING. Yes, I am serious.  The things that were good in your life will serve as blessings to others.  You say you're not a writer?  Well, then, contact me. I'll write it for you.  I'll even Ghostwrite it for you if you want.

Terry went on to say that joy is unaffected by anything in your life - good or bad.  "Your JOY is YOUR joy.  Happiness, on the other hand, comes and goes depending on situations.  It's okay to fail.  People will put you down and be mean to you whether you are successful or if you fail.  You have to learn to ignore them.  Take chances, deal with consequences."  Say to yourself, "I want to affect people's lives." Then DO IT.

"If you have doubts, ASK for help!"  I agree. No one knows everything.  You must be willing to ask for help.  I don't know everything, and never claim to, about computers.  But, I am not afraid to say "I don't know, let me find out."  And then, I go and find out! I ask someone for help.

That's two presenters that included God in their success.  Several sites I read (and LOTS of comments to each of those) include tirades against the inclusion of God, Jesus, and other religious references during the program.  I guess because I *am* a Christian, it made sense to me.  Sure, many, many successful folks do not believe in a god of any kind, and I am sure they will be happy to let you know that.  Likewise, why wouldn't a successful, spiritual person include their religious beliefs in their success!?  When I achieve my own goals and success, you can bet your butt I will give praise to the God who helped me help myself achieve. Absolutely! (see side note 1)




Next Speaker: LAURA BUSH

I don't care what your politics are.  George W Bush and his wife and family served this country during the worst attack on our nation since Pearl Harbor (and the first of such an attack on the contiguous United States of America).

Now, I have to say here that Mrs. Bush spent a LOT of time catching everyone up on her family: the senior bush's, their children, etc.  I suppose many in the place found that endearing.  I didn't, but that's just the way I am.  To me, it was a lot like these lawyers who spend way too much time talking about what kind of family the accused has (how many kids, mother-in-law, how many pets, and on and on).  For me, the result is the same: My verdict or my impression is not formed based on who you know or how the family dog is getting along.  I suppose that is where I must learn to grow: in the area of "compassion." I put that in quotes because I don't believe that is the correct word, but rather the one most folks would choose to use there and thus it made the most sense.  Besides, I'm sure compassion has at least something to do with it. I digress, often.

When Mrs. Bush pulled out the bobblehead of herself, it was the first real glimpse of seeing the humor she seems to hold closely guarded.  What a great moment!  The crux of her presentation recounted American history and a humorous look at what the tabloids have said (and are saying) about her family.

She also told of the days leading up to 9/11 and the days that followed.  It was moving, powerful, and I know these presentations are all VERY much "pump up America/America is great/America will pull through" cheerleading sessions, this was poignant and touching.  It gave us all a behind-the-scenes look at life as the leader (and wife of the leader) of the free world.  Oh, I know the people that bash the program will most likely say that I drank the kool-aid and what-not, but let me tell you something: If you were NOT in America, you would most likely NOT have the freedom to tell me that.  Likewise, I would not have the freedom to even write this down.  America has serious issues that could very well spend the end of the empire (Yes, America is an empire whether folks like to admit it or not).  But, America still holds true to the dreams of her founding fathers, and can fulfill dreams of anyone within her borders who come here legally. I digress, often.

"Who do you want to be," Mrs. Bush was asked over and over again (meaning the elder Mrs. Bush or Hillary Clinton).  Mrs. Bush replied, "I'll just be Laura Bush."  Know who you are. BE who you are.  Trust who you are. 

She also outlined her platform for life: EVERY child should learn to read. Literacy is the foundation of democracy. Books can shape our journey as a nation.  (Uncle Tom's Cabin, To Kill a Mockingbird, etc)

She related the story of George W. Bush's first pitch at Yankee Stadium following the events of 9/11.  The President was talking to Derek Jeter.  Jeter asked, "Are you going to throw it from the mound?" The President replied, "What do you think?"  As Jeter walked down the tunnel, he turned back and said, "Don't bounce it. They'll BOO you."  Mrs. Bush said her heart stopped as her husband took the mound.  He was alone in a crowd of people following the worst tragedy we had seen in a long time.  The President, standing on the mound, threw a strike.

I remember watching that like it was yesterday.  It's hard to believe that was nearly 10 years ago already.  Mrs. Bush was elegant, refined, and poised as she delivered her moving speech dotted with bits of humor.  First class first lady, all the way.



Next up: LOU HOLTZ

As soon as the emcee began introducing Lou Holtz, the place went INSANE!  Whistles, cheers, shouts of "RAZORBACKS" rang throughout Verizon arena.  When he took the stage, in unison the place immediately began: WWWWWOOOOOOOOOOOOOO PIG SOOIE! But before we could finish the chant, he cut us off and began his presentation.  I understand, being a small-scale presenter myself, the need and desire to get things rolling - to get to the point.  But, seriously?  It would have taken just a few moments to let everyone have some fun and finish the cheer.  I think most folks were happy with getting one "WPS" in, and the cheers and whistles continued throughout his time on stage.

He said he didn't understand a lot things.  For example, "Why do kamikaze pilots wear helmets?"  and the classic, "Why do drive-up ATMs have Braille keypads?"

He said the key to success was easy: Make good choices.  That is, make GOOD choices.  Want to successful in work, make good choices.  Marriage? Make good choices.  Health? Make good choices.  he said it also depends on how you handle adversity.  "It's a part of life that you get knocked down." But even when we're down, we must "have fun with what (we're) doing."  We need to "look at the opportunities" that are presented when adversity faces us.  And we "cannot let other people change your attitude."

"What is your purpose? What are you trying to do? What dreams do you have? What is important NOW?"  Write down your goals.  never try to maintain, always strive for more.  people love to tell you why you CANT do something.  Find the reasons why you CAN do it.

The best thing he said (in my opinion, of course): Make sure your children know how much you love their mother/father.  Yes, make sure the father/mother knows, but the key to successful marriage and relationships with your children is to make sure the children know how much you love their other parent.  Absolutely brilliant.  I like to think my kids have a very good idea of how much I love Shan, especially with everything we've gone through.  But, I have committed myself to making sure they know how much I love my wife.

He said he has three rules that apply to everything he does:
DO RIGHT
DO EVERYTHING TO THE BEST OF YOUR ABILITY
SHOW PEOPLE YOU CARE

If your child screws up on a test because he/she didn't study, never attack the performer, attack the performance: "I don't believe that was the best of your ability." Then, encourage them to strive for their best.

Oh, he also said he believes that EVERY graduate from High School should have to spend a year in the military - discipline, respect, goal-setting, achieving.



Next up: Bob

I don't recall Bob's last name.  He is some kind of financial guru who showed us how to use the tools at WealthMagazine.com to learn when to buy and sell stocks, and how people should be taking care of their own future instead of paying a broker who makes money no matter happens to your money.

Frankly, I am not going to bore you with everything he said. Let me rephrase that. He was very entertaining and a lot of fun to watch. I also feel like I learned a lot. But, in the end, he was selling his product (upcoming seminars), and I cannot convey his message/ideas/tips without it coming off as dry.

But, that is the crux of it right there: the reason they can bring in the big-dog names is because they have these other folks that peddle their wares.  Sure, you get a great conference discount, but still - it's all about more seminars, more seminars, more seminars.



We took a break here so that people who DID want to attend the additional programs could sign up.  I was wearing a black polo with the Southwest Arkansas Education Cooperative logo on it (albeit, an old logo).  I passed by the folks holding clipboard and bought a Coke.  Yes, I bought an actual Coke (everything carbonated down here is a "Coke" whether that is what is in the cup or not, it seems).  On my way back to the seat, one of the clipboard guys tried to get me to sign up and I refused politely.

"You don't want to be stuck at teaching, do you?" I stopped and looked at him.  I'm sure the look on my face must have been priceless because he immediately shifted his gaze and asked someone else.  Then, I turned and walked to my seat.  I found that profoundly rude and offensive.  "Stuck" at teaching?  I don't even teach and it ticked me off.  The tone and implication was that no one actually WANTS to teach.  I realize he was most likely some part-time help hired for this show, but if there had been any inkling whatsoever that I might have even thought about going to a follow-up seminar, he made sure I never would.  Oh, I know, all these presenters talk about how you handle negativity, etc etc.  And here's how I handled it: I kept my money. I also decided to tell the world, but of course since I don't remember Bob's last name, it is something of a muted point (not moot as in dead, but muted - as in not a very loud one).

On the upside, we watched a performance by "QuickChange" - the couple that was on America's Got Talent who can do quick-change outfit swaps while you watch.  It was impressive and a lot of fun.



Next Up: GENERAL COLIN POWELL

This was the "America is freakin' AWESOME" presentation.  Or, at least the intro.  Confetti, streamers from the sky, fireworks, the whole Yankee Doodle Dandy extravaganza.  It either made one proud to be an American or sick to see all the pomp and circumstance.  I was the former. I ate it up.  Then again, I am VERY proud to have been lucky enough to have been born in this country!

He started off with a list of accomplishments and positions he's held.  At first, this seemed like a bit of bragging or puffing up, but it actually came around later to make a point: despite the fact that everyone knows who he is, he has to go through the TSA with ID and a scan just like everyone else.

He said, "For all I've done and all the places I've been, I could not have gone any where without the C130's flying out of the Little Rock Air Force Base!" The crowd erupted.  Every so often an "OORAH!" would come from the stands, and Gen. Powell would answer right back. It was automatic. It was unifying. It was something private and public all in one. It was awesome - literally, not having served, I do not know the kinship military folks have, especially within certain branches, and to see and hear this man answer back the call at any moment's notice was inspiring, touching.

He said, "People are worried... But still confident... And are tired of what's going on in Washington."  The place erupted again, and shouts of "President! Powell for President!" rang out.  He immediately put up a hand, saying, "No. Come on, now. Let's not go there." And then he continued his presentation.  He said that sooner or later, people are going to have to compromise, and that the best thing we could do was to vote for the people getting things done.  He said we need, to succeed, to look through the windshield and not the rearview mirror.

When relating a story of going through a TSA checkpoint, he said, "I wanted to be mad at them, but I'm the one who helped put the system in place!"  He has a wonderful sense of humor, especially when laughing at himself.

He said leaders (employers) must give their followers (employees) a sense of purpose: WHY are we doing this? Leaders must be self-LESS, not self-ISH.  We must build each other up, not tear each other down.  Leaders must take care of their troops: bonuses, gifts, pats on the back.  They must give their people the tools they need to succeed.  They should share the credit, not take it.

Leaders must recognize those who cannot or will not follow and be strong enough to get rid of them.

Leaders must recognize the good followers and talk to them about the bad ones, find out who the bad ones are.

He said, "We need to come home (referring to troops) to deal with the issues at home." And, "Despite our current troubles, we are the nation that other nations look to (to see how we handle it)."



Next Up: Spiritual Break

One of the complaints I read talked about the spiritual overtones in each presenter and that someone felt obligated to sit through something akin to a sermon.  Another person responded, saying they had been at the same show as the other person and that an announcement had been made about the upcoming spiritual session and that anyone was free to stay or go (on break) as they chose.  I have to say that it was made perfectly clear the session would be spiritual in nature.  It was also very clear (and repeated a couple times) that folks could take a break if they chose not to attend.

Krish came back on stage and talked about Jesus and being Christian.  He said, "There is a God.  It ain't Me. And, it ain't you."  As a Christian, I loved it.  Another point he made was this: "Success must be measured in relation to where YOU are now compared to where YOU started."  It is not about who has what or who has what compared to YOU.

I do need to mention here that throughout the day, mini-breaks were given so that people could get up and move a little bit.  This was a motivational seminar, so naturally they had people doing silly stuff - singing, dancing, moving and grooving.  If you've never been to one of these before, let me tell you here and now: motivational speakers like to try and make you do goofy things. Okay, there it is. If you don't like it, don't do it.  You don't have to parrot everything the speakers tell you to do or say.  Do it if you want, don't if you don't.  It's not rocket science here folks.



Next Up: Steve Forbes

If I didn't know any better, I'd swear Steve Forbes was running for President.  He had a plan for welfare for the tax code, and for the Federal Reserve.  He made some key points during his program:

Take a Risk - basically, DO SOMETHING. Preferably, something no one else is doing.
Do Things Others Aren't - Find a need and fill it.
Use Inventions In Ways Others Aren't - He talked about Sam Walton and data/tracking/shipping and also about UnderArmor.

Look for a Twist and expect setbacks.  Setbacks are a part of the process.  Be open to opportunities that present themselves which others may miss.

I'll save the politics for you to witness yourself, should you ever attend one of these.



Next Up: James Smith

WARNING: This is where "blue" conversation is going to come up.  If you've read this far, you can skip this section if you'd like.  Or, read along. I promise it won't be too bad, but you have been warned.

James Smith is probably one of the most unorthodox presenters I've come across in along time, and he loves that about himself. He loves the fact that he is "weird."  He also talks about Jesus, God and the Bible in nearly everything he talks about.  Those are both PLUSES in my book. I like weird people. People who make you feel just a bit uncomfortable.  And then, there's the minus.  He cusses a bit.  No "F-Bombs" but still some other language that made me glad my kids weren't there.  That'll be here soon enough.

One of the first statements he made: "(Some) People in political parties are more in love with their party than with the country!"  That is no lie!

He mockingly said something to the effect that other folks will tell you to work hard in order to succeed.  His response, "Any peckerwood can work hard. DUH!"  He also said, "I've been rich and I've been poor... Poor blows, man!"

His entire presentation centered on a 3-day seminar he was holding in the near future (dates were provided, of course).  He was probably 2/3rds of the way into his time limit before he even said what it was he did.  Real Estate. Yeap, the old "get property for nothing and flip it" routine.  Yawn.

Despite that, he did ask/say some things that stuck out:

"Are you doing what God wants you to do?"  Seems simple enough, right?  But, think about that.  Are You!?  If not, why not?  If you have a burning desire to do something and you believe it is the Lord calling you to do it, then DO IT.  Oh, I know, there is a lot of fear in change and fear of failure and what if, what if, what if.  But, IF it is what God wants you to do, do you really think God is going to let you fail at it?  Why would He have you do something only to have you fail?  I don't think that's how He works. It was a deeper question than I first realized.

"If you don't believe in God, you will some day." - By far, one of the best phrases uttered the whole day.

He told a story about a waitress offering herself to him (it was part of a joke, but...) and that just added to the wall that he was building between himself and other folks, or at least me.  As I've said, I'm no goody-goody or prude or whatever word the kids use these days, but when speaking to others, I try my best to present myself in such a manner that people don't QUESTION my Christianity. Or at least, I hope they don't.  It just rubbed me wrong that this guy would spout Bible talk and then say things like "peckerwood" and have hooking waitresses.

Oh, and for the record, his spiel was more than real estate - it was also tax liens, self-directed retirement, starting your own business, and more.  There was a break. I did not sign up for the upcoming seminars.



We had lunch somewhere in here. I can't remember who did what when we broke for lunch. There was a "beach party" but I didn't go. I couldn't. I was stuck in the food line for the ENTIRE hour we had for lunch.  Note to self: Bring my own lunch, or buy my lunch early (or late).

Marvin Winans Jr sang "God Bless America," and then asked us all to join in.  People starting to stand up, so we (Phoebe and I) eventually did, mainly because we couldn't see, I think (at least that's why I did).  I don't stand up for "God Bless America" any more than I would stand up for "Born in the USA."  Now, the National Anthem, of course.  Anyway, we stood. We sang. We pumped up our American pride a bit more.  It's a good thing, too. Because the next guy up...



Next Up: Rudy Giuliani

Giuliani talked to us about using computers.  We all needed one. And, we needed to get on the Internet. Sorry to be a bit crass here, but, um, really!?  He said we can take classes online and earn degrees.  We should also get smart phones, iphones, blackberrys, and the like. We are in the information age.  I guess because I live and breathe this stuff all day, every day, I was shocked that *THIS* is what he was telling people.  I was beginning to fade.

And then he said something I've been shouting for years: Children must be connected.  Not just "must be connected," but they "**MUST** be connected."  He said that we are not ready to handle and process all the information we receive - we are bombarded by it.  The media makes everything into a crisis - everything is the "worst" whatever there ever was: WORST bombing, WORST tornado, WORST hurricane, etc.  We must process information for ourselves.  We must have some down time. Unplug.

Value the individual and the individual opinion.  Too many people just go along with whatever the masses do.  We must think for ourselves. Everyone agreed. (LOL, just kidding there. See what I did?)

Ask yourself: "What do I get excited about?" Then read about it, ask questions about it.

READ BOOKS
LISTEN/ASK QUESTIONS
WRITE/TAKE NOTES
5+ MINUTES TO THINK

He encouraged everyone to just STOP.  Take at least 5 minutes every day and just think - about nothing, about work, about our kids, about your spouse. Whatever, but turn everything off and just think. Let your mind digest everything it has taken in.  Pray. Meditate.

He said he reads two books at a time: one for growth in something he enjoys and one for fun.

Copy those you admire.

Write your goals down: short term, long term, personal goal, business goals

Create PROs/CONs lists

WRITE, WRITE, WRITE

The most effective effective social safety net we have are friends.  People need you more at funerals than they need you at weddings.  Attend every funeral (family/friends) you can. Be there when people need you and they will be there when you need them.



Next Up: Stephen Pierce

The next guy went from flat-broke to internet marketing guru. He mostly pitched his wares, but here are few things I took away:

The biggest threat to the future is the past that cannot be fixed.

You cannot make money and excuses at the same time.

Anything you do should be about YOU getting better - not about what so-and-so has or does, but about you.

Change: not comfortable, but possible.  Things that make you comfortable will hardly ever make you great.



Next Up: Bill Cosby

This is reason most folks were there.  This is the reason most folks stayed even though it was getting closer and closer to rush hour.  This is the reason people got up to come that morning: Dr. William Cosby.

He came out in slacks and a T-Shirt.  I believe the picture on the shirt was a photo of his son as a baby, or very young child anyway.

He said, in a tone suggesting that he could not believe this was the reason he was brought here, "I am supposed to motivate you people... All the employers, the bosses, where are you?" A round of applause made its way through the venue.  "I will give you the secret to motivating your employees, and then you are free to go.  The rest of you have to stay."  He paused in the dramatic way that only Bill Cosby does and has perfected over the years.  He said, "Now, if you want to motivate your employees, show them a film of other people who are out of work."  Laughter filled the arena.

He asked, "What is your personal best?  I mean in earnings.  Are you a thousandaire? It's okay to be a thousandaire.  But, the Lord helps those who help themselves.  So, what's wrong with you people!?"

He then quoted "the great lyricist, James Brown: GET UP-UH!"  We cannot sit around and wait for someone to help us.  "The Lord helps those that help themselves."  It was his mantra of the afternoon.  He walked the stage continuously, never standing still for very long.  He also played to the crowd and swapped banter among several audience members.

He said, "Many of you are here and you say, 'I want to be like Walmart.' And I say, you can't be like Wal-Mart. You have to start small.  Did you ever see Wal-Mart when they first started?  They were like those two guys in that cranberry commercial." Instantly, the light bulbs in so many executives, so many business owners, so many employers came on: DUH!  He said, "You have to start small and build yourself up."  He talked of Bill Gates and of Apple.

He said, "Talk to your leaders.  Find out what they're doing. If they're not moving, LEAVE! Study!"

Live life like it *IS* the most beautiful thing ever - because it is!

He spent a lot of time talking about the creation of life and just how each of us came to be.  Naturally, it was laugh out loud funny, and CLEAN.

He offered three bits of advice:

RETURN PHONE CALLS
MAKE YOURSELF RESPONSIBLE (Take responsibility for your actions)
DO THINGS BECAUSE YOU ARE SUPPOSED TO DO THEM!

Set goals. Write them down. GO! GET UP-UH! Pay your dues. Stop worrying about what someone else does/has.


Last Up: Brian Tracy

I felt bad for Mr. Tracy.  He had to go on stage after Bill Cosby. At the end of the day.  The place was emptying quickly.  Phoebe, Judy and I stayed from our group because we wanted to hear everyone (that is, felt bad for the guy) but also because we knew there was no sense trying to go anywhere with the crowds trying to leave as well, plus it was now rush hour. No thanks.

Three C's:

Clarity - Know who you are, know want you want
Competence - Many people have failed several times before becoming expert
Continuous Learning - Read, Listen, Take Notes, Put into action

Decide what you want
Write it down
Set a deadline
Make a list of what you need
Organize the list
EVERY DAY do something that moves you toward that major goal

List 10 goals and today's date
Pick that one goal that will have the greatest impact on your life in 24 hours. Circle it. Follow the steps above.

What ONE skill would help the MOST to achieve your goal?

You must have self-discipline:  Make it a habit through daily, repeated practice.



Well, if you've made it this far, I have one more thing to talk about: Door Prizes.

There were several door prizes given: A flat screen TV, a trip to Disney World, $10,000.  Yeap, someone won ten grand.  I'm glad to know my admission fee went to someone that needed it.  Seriously.  You want to tell me God doesn't work in amazing ways?  Try this one:

The guy who won the $10,000 was last at the arena ten years ago.  He is a youth minister and he was preaching to 5,000 youths for a rally.  He had not stepped foot into the arena until the day of this event.  He and his wife have just had a baby!  God uses that man to touch the youth of the world, and then He blessed him with ten thousand dollars.  That is awesome!



When one signs up to attend a motivation seminar, one should certainly expect to be offered all kinds of "deals" on upcoming seminars, videos, newsletters, etc.  That is how these folks make their money.  The easiest way to combat that is to either leave your credit cards at home or do what I did: button your back pocket.  Some of the people that have given reviews of the seminar are quick to blast them for such "shenanigans."  Really?  You thought you could just go and listen to these celebrities and not be made to listen to a few commercials!?  What world do you live in?

As for the religious content, all I can say is this: As with anything you attend, take what you want from it.  I do agree that the website or brochures should mention that an element of spirituality is a part of the program.  To me, that's just being fair.  If the topics had been about Buddhism or of Muslims or Scientology, would I feel different about the content?  Nope.  I would have liked to have known, though. At least I could prepare myself for that part of it.  Again, just to be fair.

I still would have gone. I would go again if the list of presenters was different.  Why? Because I poked around YouTube and found several videos taken from other Get Motivated seminars (even though recording them by video is illegal) and those presenters seem to have the same "show" with a few modifications for location or current events.  Colin Powell made reference to his latest battle, Terry Bradshaw made reference to Michael Vick's insane new salary deal.  Can you imagine what Bradshaw as a former quarterback thinks of the money today's QBs get!?  Then again, he probably doesn't, given his personality.  Even Bill Cosby talked about Vick's salary, though his was from the perspective of "Let me see YOU go out there and do that."  Frankly, for one percent of what he was just offered, I'd do it.  Run me over with a few linebackers for six million bucks? Why not.

I enjoyed the day and pulled quite a few helpful tips out of it.  Plus, I got to see folks that I would not have otherwise probably ever seen. In person. You can't complain too loudly about that!

For the whole $1.95 per person or $9.95 per group, I say it is well worth sitting the interruptions to see some of these folks in person.  The cast of presenters changes depending on schedules, but if you find someone you'd like to see coming to one near you, go for the heck of it.  It's cheaper than a movie and a lot more fun (er, well, I suppose that depends).




Side Note 1: No matter what your religious beliefs, how can you *not* share those with the world!?  I believe that the birth, death, and resurrection of Jesus is the only way to achieve a positive, loving, eternal spiritual life.  I'd love for any non-believer to realize that this world cannot offer them anything they can take with them when they die.  Only through Jesus can one live forever in a place called Heaven.  And, of COURSE I am going to share that and tell everyone I can.  Why would I want to keep something like that to myself?  How selfish would that be?  Likewise, I would expect that every Muslim would be out there trying to convince everyone he/she knows.  If you believe people are going to an eternal damnation without the salvation provided through the religion to which you subscribe,  yet yo do not SHARE that and tell/warn people of that, then how can you say you truly believe it?  The world sucks.  It is full of junk and empty promises.  I believe Jesus, the Father, and the Holy Spirit can save us from the mess of this world and provide a meaningful place to reside in the afterlife.  I also believe blessings come to those who believe and who share His great and wonderful news.



A couple sites I checked out regarding the seminar:
http://xenophilius.wordpress.com/2009/03/25/phelps-speaking-live-arco-arena/
http://in-this-economy.com/2009/12/05/review-get-motivated-seminar-san-antonio-12209/
http://www.my365degrees.com/the-law-of-low-expectations-a-review-of-the-get-motivated-seminar