Get Real America

Ok, so I just watched President Obama give his speech to congress about the economy and stimulus package. That guy can really put together words! In all seriousness, his speech tonight was very uplifting and encouraging, somewhat naive (though he knows that), and 100% exactly dead on. I like his no BS, tell it like it is approach. That is so refreshing!

One of my lifelong mantras is that I always buy American made product whenever I can. Yes, I know they cost more. Yes, I know sometimes they are not as good as other products, but often times they are far better. It is increasingly difficult to honor this pledge, but it is something we should all do.

It’s funny how often I hear politicians talking about Free Trade Agreements, and about how we live in a global economy. Bullshit. What they should be talking about are FAIR Trade Agreements, not Free ones. Is it fair that American companies pay up to 100% tariffs for products sold in China, yet they are allowed to sell their lead-based crap here? Don’t we have enough rubber dog crap and Nerf darts here already?

Is it okay for American companies to shut down factories in Detroit, build new ones just across the border in Mexico (or Canada too), and then come to congress with their hands out? Okay, let’s just pretend we give them $20 billion, what are they going to do with it? Mismanage it? Develop new products that people worldwide want to buy? Get a clue and get with the times? Fire the entire upper-management that got them into this mess to begin with?

Based on recent history I would say a bit of mismanagement and developing new products. The upper-management is not going to fire themselves, they have too much pride for that. Okay, so I’m an eternal optimist. Let’s say they stop laying people off (using our money to pay them of course), and retool to create some awesome new cars based on modern technology. They can do it, Americans can do it. Once these cars are designed, now what? Are they required to build the cars and batteries in this country, or will they be looking to outsource those jobs too? Remember, America and specifically OUR MONEY is what is going to buy them the time to develop these products. Are they going to turn their backs on us when it comes time to build them? They will, and they must be stopped. Stimulus money going to car companies should have more strings attached than a marionette. The jobs MUST stay here, end of discussion.

Likewise, the banks that are receiving billions had better start lending it. Their failure to lend money is one cause of the death spiral we are in. If they are getting stimulus money, they must be required to lend it and stop the cycle. They must be required to loan it to average Americans, not just those with ultra high FICO scores and those that don’t really need it. Hell, a revamp of the whole FICO scoring system should be made into law, but this is for a previous blog entry. Any system that rewards people for bad behavior should be abolished.

So that is how things should work, but what about reality? The reality is that we cannot depend on anyone in government, auto execs, or banks to get us out of this mess. Not even President Obama. His intentions are good and he is inspiring, but even as president, his power to actually make change is limited. It is up to us. So how do we turn this country around?

It’s quite simple really, BUY AMERICAN. Look at the tags on clothes and the labels on boxes. Commit to only buying American made products. Forget WalMart, until they feel it in their bottom line they will not be offering many American Made products. Support your local companies. Don’t always look for the cheapest item on the shelf. The better item will likely cost a little bit more and be made right here. If you cannot find what you are looking for that is made here at your local retailer, find it online, and give UPS or FedEx a few bucks to ship it to your house.

A global economy is bullshit. Like it or not, the entire world follows us. When we are doing good, chances are so are they. Look at the world economy now. We are in the tank, and so is the rest of the world. When we emerge from recession, the rest of the world will too. And if they don’t? So what. Think about fair trade, not free trade. It’s okay in my mind to occasionally buy products from other countries if those countries have established fair trade agreement with us, tit for tat. Hey, I love a nice Porsche as much as the next guy.

We are the only ones that can break the cycle. Government and banking don’t get it, and even if they do, they don’t care. Companies understand money, we must speak with our checkbook. Buy a Ford (one that is made here) instead of a Nissan. You just kept a few hundred Americans employed. They can now go out to eat lunch at a restaurant that is still open, and tip the waitress a buck or two. She can spend that money getting here hair done, and the hairdresser can buy a new copy of Windows (wait for version 7) to install on his computer. The programmers at Microsoft can now do some home improvements, and the construction workers and contractors can now buy a new Chevy truck.

No matter how many people are involved, or how big the circle is, we are all connected in this way. Take any one of the people and/or jobs out of the equation, and the economy is exactly what we have today, a mucking fess.

I Am Not Crazy

A lot of my friends and family tell me they think I am crazy. I like to fly airplanes, ride motorcycles, and have been skydiving and bungy jumping. But today in Madison they did something that I have absolutely zero interest in doing, the Polar Plunge!

They do it to raise money for charity. That’s good, but these girls are totally nuts! The picture pretty much sums it up. The fire department breaks a huge hole through the ice covering Lake Mendota. Ambulances, police divers, and firefighters are present in case something goes really wrong. Nothing ever does, thankfully, but I think they should have some shrinks on hand because something is definitely wrong with these girls!

A Very Sad Anniversary

Today marks a sad anniversary for our family. One year ago this evening, Mike Guillickson (Halle’s dad) was killed in a tragic snowmobile accident in Blue Mounds, WI. He was doing nothing wrong, was not drunk, was wearing a helmet, and in fact was stopped or nearly stopped while waiting on some friends to catch up to him. Another snowmobile jumped over a small hill, and struck Mike in the head and chest, killing him almost instantly.

Mike and I were fairly new friends, having known each other for just over a year before he was killed. I liked him a lot, we had a lot in common, and I have no doubt we would have become good friends over the years. I had known his sister Kelsi for many more years, and have gotten to know his other sister Heidi much better since the accident, as well as most of the Gullickson family. I am fortunate for this, but like everyone else, I also miss Mike and his almost always smiling and friendly face, his frequent and funny telephone calls. Mike and I had a really good conversation, about 15 minutes or so, on the phone just 3 hours before his death.

He had called looking for Halle, who had sort of played hooky from school and was shopping with Missy. Mike had played hooky from work to go snowmobile riding, and was making his daily rounds of cell phone calls to his friends and family. We joked about how you should never waste a sick day when you are actually sick. Hell, if you’re sick go to work! Take sick days when you feel great and want to do something fun. We chatted for a while about high school, and then he said he was going to call Halle on Missy’s cell phone. We said goodbye for the final time.

He did get a hold of Halle and they spoke for a while. One of his favorite sayings was “Never say goodbye without saying I love you”. So I have no doubt those are the final words Halle ever heard him speak. This past year has been one of ups and downs for Halle, and the rest of the family too. Breaking the news to her about her fathers death was the hardest thing Missy and I had ever done in our lives. Halle has had a tough year, but she has also shown signs of amazing resilience. She remembers her father in nothing but a glowing light, exactly as she should. He was a very good dad to her for several years, following a rocky beginning. He was a good man, a great dad, and a friend to MANY. It would have been very hard to not like “Gulli”.

So today my thoughts and best wishes go out to Halle, Heidi, Kelsi, Chick, Julie and the rest of the Gullickson family. Thanks and wishes also go out to Mark Pattinson for being a best friend to Mike (and us) and organizing The First Annual GulliFest, Dave Best at Throttle Masters (Proved that big tough biker dudes can cry and still be bad ass), the class of Dodgeville High School, Jodie Klare at Park Elementary School, The Crusaders, Loners, and CC Riders motorcycle clubs, and The Ridgeway Riders snowmobile club. Collectively everyone has helped in their own small (or big) way to make this year just a little better for Halle and everyone else that loved Mike.

So tonight, before you go to bed, say a little prayer for Halle and for Mike. I hope that he is looking down upon her and is happy with the awesome young lady that is emerging from the little girl he helped raise. I hope he approves of my step-daddying skills, and knows I am trying my best to raise her well and give her the quality of life she deserves.

We miss you Mike…

Very Beautiful!

While surfing the web tonight looking for my next great hobby, I stumbled upon Demons Cycles, a company that specializes in manufacturing and selling motorcycle parts for the custom bike builder.

While pouring through their fantastic web site, I stumbled upon this. The sleek lines and classic curves just yelled out to my inner animal. The wide stance and beautiful, bold colors jumped off the page. The smooth and sexy shape just screamed bad-ass! The fit and finish is incredible, the black trim offset nicely by the softer colors.

Oh yeah, the motorcycle is pretty hot too!

25+ Random Things About Me (From Facebook)

1) I was born in Evansville, Indiana. I consider it a good place to be FROM. I joke that my parents found the hole in the fence when I was young enough to not have been tainted by being born there.

2) I have lived in Indiana, Iowa, Kentucky, Missouri, North Carolina, Washington state, Tennessee, Georgia, Florida and Wisconsin.

3) My accent is a strange mix of Wisconsin and Southern.

4) I have lived in St. Louis, Missouri 4 different times in my life, 78-84, 94, 96, and 2001-02. When people ask me where I am from I usually say St. Louis, though I have actually spent more time in Wisconsin than any other state.

5) Despite the harsh winters and short summers, Wisconsin is by far my favorite place to live. I will live the rest of my life, die, and be buried here. I cannot pinpoint exactly what I love about Wisconsin, it is likely a combination of friendly people, low crime, great schools, 4 seasons, and many other little things that just add up. I feel more at home here than anywhere else.

6) I have owned about 10 different motorcycles in my life, but probably rode them less than 5,000 miles total. My daughter Delaney says I only like motorcycles that are broken. There is a lot of truth to that. I enjoy working on them as much, maybe more, than actually riding them.

7) I have been a licensed pilot since 1988, and earned an instrument rating in 2006. I started flying aerobatics last summer.

8) I have started building 5 different airplanes, but sold them all before completing them.

9) I hate the prefixes “ex-” and “step-“. I prefer to call Janelle my first wife, not ex-wife. Halle is my daughter, not my step-daughter. I firmly believe that once you are family you are always family. I encourage my family to continue their relationship with Janelle, and vice-versa. This has mostly worked out just fine.

10) My parents divorced after 37 years of marriage. They are both much happier now and we are all very happy for them.

11) I drink very little, usually only on New Years Eve. I probably don’t drink a 6 pack the rest of the year combined.

12) When I was young I wanted to be a police officer. This lasted all through high school, I was in the Charlotte Police Explorers for many years. I still often think that I should have done that instead of getting into programming. Usually only during periods of unemployment 🙂

13) My Grandpa Bill was and always will be my hero. My dad is a very close second.

14) My dad and I are very close now, but we had a pretty rough relationship when I was a kid and teenager.

15) After high school I lived with a very rough group of friends. We (myself included) had some pretty nasty drug habits. Most of them are now dead or in prison. In the end, this experience somehow made me a better person.

16) I enjoy home remodeling, even though I often get very frustrated and cuss a lot when working on projects.

17) I only buy cars from GM, Ford or Chrysler. I will never buy a foreign car, even if they are made here. However, I have owned a couple of Porsche’s just because I love them.

18) I prefer pickup trucks to just about everything else, except Mustangs and Corvettes.

19) I do not, and will not, shop at Walmart. I think they are an evil company and refuse to give them any of my business. My wife disagrees.

20) I am a recovering Republican. I voted for Obama this past year, the first time I ever voted for a democrat. I still think Reagan is the best president we ever had.

21) I am a perfectionist in almost everything I do. This often gets me into trouble. I just believe there is a right way and a wrong way to do something and cannot stand mediocrity.

22) I think Windows Vista is a steaming turd, but love the beta of Windows 7. Go figure.

23) I will not buy or use technology that uses DRM (Digital Rights Management). If a CD, game or music download has DRM, I skip it. If I buy something I expect it will always work and don’t like to be bothered or harassed by my music player, DVD player, or computer.

24) I am agnostic, not an atheist. I simply do not know if God exists, and quite frankly, neither do you. But that is why they call it faith, right? So I am lacking faith, but not morals or scruples.

25) I am married to my very best friend in the whole world. I consider myself a very lucky man. I have a nice home, a lovely wife, and 3 great daughters. Everyone is healthy and happy. I consider it my greatest life goal to make sure I take care of them. A great man once said that life is not about what you take out of it, it is about what you leave behind.


26) I am not rich, and have never been rich. But I have been poor. Trust me, being middle-class is just fine.

27) My favorite motorcycle is the Harley-Davidson Softail FX-STD, though I have never owned one. My favorite of the ones I have owned is the Suzuki VS1400 Intruder. I wish I had never sold it.

28) My all time favorite car is the Ferrari 308 GTSI. I of course have never owned one, nor driven one.

29) My granddad served under General Patton in World War 2 as a tank driver. He did not talk to anyone much about his experiences during the war until a few years before his death. He told me a lot one night while we were watching the move “Patton”. Pretty horrible stuff. My dad remembers him waking up screaming in the night when he was a child. He told me that night that he had killed many German soldiers, but the only thing that haunted him all those years was having to shoot a young boy that was going to blow up his tank. He never shook that memory.

30) My Grandpa Bill was the finest man that I ever knew. He was the son of an alcoholic father and both of his parents died when he was very young. He was raised by friends of the family. Despite this beginning, he grew up to be a man that did not drink or smoke, worked very hard for very little money, and raised 2 kids and supported my grandma when she went through some tough mental issues. He never faltered or failed and was always smiling and happy, at least on the outside. He taught me how to drive, play poker, cuss, and shoot a gun. He loaned me money for my first car and my pilot training, and would not allow me to pay him back even though I tried. He was the best grandpa a bunch of us kids could ask for and we all miss him dearly.

31) My dad is also a hell of a good man. I did not understand it when I was a kid why he worked so hard and so long. It seemed like he wasn’t around that much, but in reality he was. He had to work very hard to provide the kind of life he wanted for his family, and I had a very good life growing up. I can see this now, though I did not see it then. I understand now what I didn’t back then.

32) I think King Kong is the best movie “monster” ever created, but Godzilla is a very close second.

33) My favorite author is Dan Brown, and favorite book is “Angels and Demons”. I cannot wait for the movie, May 15th at a theater near you!

34) Other than computer programming books, I read very little, and almost never for pure enjoyment.

35) I think True Blood is the best TV show ever made. Californication is also good, and I love “My Name is Earl”.

36) I wish Hollywood would ma

ke more G-rated movies. I also wish Missy and I had more time to see R rated ones.

37) I have never seen Star Wars beginning to end, and have never watched a complete episode of Star Trek, much to the dismay of my computer programming friends.

38) I am a master of C, C++ and C#. I also know PHP, Perl, and x86 assembly language. I can program in Visual Basic too, but usually don’t admit to it. I consider it a beginners language, and have little (professional) respect for people who making a living out of it. At some point you have to take off the training wheels, even if you fall flat on your face a few times.

39) I hate creating web sites/pages. I can do it, and can do it well, but I hate it, truly despise it.

40) I write too much, like 40+ answers to 25 Random Things About Me 🙂

Bye Bye Charter

On Friday I noticed the headline of the local Madison newspaper said that Charter Communications (our cable, Internet and telephone provider) is almost $7 billion in debt and may be filing for bankruptcy. The primary investor, Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen, may also be looking to sell the company. I could not help but crack a little smile. I feel bad for the people that work there, but I would not miss Charter at all, they are near the top of my list of companies that I truly hate. They do literally nothing right, or not well enough. They are a television company that has no clue about HD, provide Internet access to the entire city using a single DNS server that often goes down, and generally have way overpriced services because they are a virtual monopoly here.

The DVR (Digital Video Recorder) they offer is pathetic, full of ads while you are trying to find a show to watch or record, service that is flaky (especially during football games for some reason), and has a very small 160GB hard drive. The machine is always complaining that it is full and telling me to delete some shows. This in a day when 2TB (terabyte) drives can be had for less than $100. There is just no excuse for this level of incompetence. When your business is TV, you had damn sure better do it very well. So with half-baked TV, they branched out into Internet service and telephone, which is only marginally better than their TV service.

The icing on the cake came when I opened the latest bill from them on Friday, $255. It used to be $197, which is a lot but included TV, Telephone and Broadband Internet, so it was sort-of worth it. When I called their customer service I was told that my 6 month promotional pricing had expired and this was the new price. The guy offered to put together another similar package for me, but the price was still much more than we previously paid. The bill also included 2 DVR’s, though we only have one. Last month I returned an old SD receiver for a HD receiver, which is supposed to be $5/month. The person there much have entered it as a HD DVR, because they charged me $30 for it. The “customer service” guy that I spoke to insisted that I must have 2 DVR’s and could not correct the bill. To straighten this out I will have to go to the Charter office on the other side of Madison.

Well I will be visiting their office next week for sure, when I return all of this equipment and cancel my Charter services. I contacted TDS and have scheduled an installation of their telephone and DSL service, with DISH Network satellite TV. The DSL will be a little slower than Charter, but still fast enough. The TV service should be a LOT better than Charter and their DVR is also much more capable and modern. I locked into a 2-year agreement with them for about $130/month, roughly half of what Charter is now charging me.

Some companies are so poorly run that they deserve to go out of business. Circuit City was one of them, Charter is another. I hope they do fail because they priced themselves right out of the market and have been totally and completely beaten by their competition.

Kentucky Ice, Windows 7, and Remodeling

This has been a busy week around the Osborne house. Last weekend I installed the beta of Windows 7 on my Media Center (DVR) computer and it worked great. So well in fact, that I also installed it on my home development computer, which is also working great. After totally hating Windows Vista (other than Media Center), it is refreshing to see Microsoft making some great improvements as they work closer to the next version of Windows. Windows 7 is much faster than Vista, and quite possible even faster than Windows XP, so far so good.

My family in Western Kentucky and Southern Indiana got hit hard by the big ice storm and have been without power for 5 days now. Those in Indiana are okay now, but my dad in KY is still without power. After not being able to contact him for 2 days I almost drove down to KY myself on Friday, but they were able to call just before I was going to leave. I planned to take them a generator, gasoline and other stuff. Instead, Missy and I were able to locate a generator for them in Champaign, IL and bought it yesterday at a Menards in Madison. My dad is going to drive the 4 hours today to get it, and then 4 hours back home. They have heard that it may be up to 3-4 weeks before they have electricity.

On the house front, I finished painting the upstairs bathroom yesterday, reinstalled the wood trim, a new toilet, replaced the electrical outlets and switches, and installed a new sink drain. Today I need to install the new shower doors and the bathroom will be finished. There are many more little jobs to do as well, but the house is looking very nice now.