I’m Seriously Bad at Blogging!

So my blog has been around for many years, 15+ to be exact, and I keep saying I am going to do a better job of updating it and keeping it current, but I seem to never actually do that! So, I’m not going to say that again now, we will just see what happens.

I moved the blog recently to my own website, this one, and some of the images and content from the old posts didn’t make it. I don’t think anyone will miss them, so I am not going to try to reconstruct those pages, they are what they are. Instead of creating a massively long “update” post, I will just create several random ones over the next while to sort of get this site up to date. A lot has changed, and I will certainly miss a bunch of stuff, but will do my best.

Hurricane Florence

As I write this blog entry, many of the people in our community are still having a very hard time. Things are not perfect here either, but we are blessed and far better off now than just a couple of days ago. I won’t be writing too much about the hurricane, or posting any pictures, since those are plentiful online already. I just want to recap the last week for myself to remind me later of the power of Nature, both Mother and Human.

Florence was originally forecast to hit us nearly directly as a Category 4, and possibly 5, storm. As such, like most reasonable people who don’t want to die, my wife, daughter, dogs, and I evacuated a day before the storm hit to my sisters house outside Charlotte. As the storm approached, the forecast changed. It would be much weaker, “only” a Cat 1 or 2 storm, but would lose all forward speed after making landfall and would likely remain over the Carolinas for several days. This meant upwards of 30″ of rain would fall, creating catastrophic flooding. Since I work with the Oak Island Police Department and Water Rescue, I felt a strong responsibility and desire to return as soon as I could to help out. It was killing me to remain in Charlotte when I knew people here were in need. I stayed until Saturday morning and then drove back. It was a treacherous drive, constant and hard rain, gusts of wind around 70 MPH, and miserable conditions.

I almost made it. I decided to take highway 87 from 17 through Boiling Spring Lakes. Standing water on the road made it very difficult to get to BSL, and one car was already off the road in the ditch and almost completely submerged. I stopped to make sure nobody was in it, then continued on my way. I got into downtown BSL and found a police car blocking the road, which was between 2 lakes and about 8 feet deep. Damn. I turned around an headed back to highway 17, ending up at Han-D-Hugo about 20 minutes later. I pulled into the parking lot and waited for a few hours with several other people for conditions to improve. They did not, and the flooding was getting worse.

Seeing the water rising quickly around Town Creek, I decided to make a run for my church in Supply. I was told by a lady that south 17 was closed, but I could get around the closed part using Old Ocean Highway, so I left. In several places the water was deep and my old Dodge Ram had to go very slow to get through the water. Near the government complex in Bolivia, everything was underwater, it was as if a lake had formed around the whole place. I came upon a section of road that water covered for about 800 feet and waited for a deputy in a Charger coming towards me to get through. I then went into his lane and made my run for it. I was surrounded by water, so even though this was a dangerous decision, it truly was the lesser of all the evils. With a few hundred feet to go, my truck started getting pushed sideways and I could feel the rear tires slipping as the pucker-factor went through the roof. I plowed water ahead of the truck and off to both sides as I slowly found a sweet spot around 4 MPH and finally came out the other side onto dry concrete. Several lights on my dash were lit. Check gauges, check brakes… My heart was beating through my chest and it took about an hour for my blood pressure to return to normal. This was honestly one of most terrifying moments in my life.

The rest of the drive to the church was relatively smooth. I pulled in under the awning just before dark and sent a text message to my pastor to see about getting a key to get in. Supply did not have power, but I figured I could at least use the restroom and stretch out on the floor for the night. Unfortunately, no key was to be had. Everyone that had a key had evacuated (because they were smarter than me), so I decided to spend the night in my truck. I got as comfortable as a 6’5″ 270 pound guy can get in the cab of a truck and dozed in and out of sleep throughout the night. I turned on my EMS radio at one point and heard the military doing water rescues at Han-D-Hugo, the same place I had left a couple hours before. Other water rescue teams were doing rescues at the Buddhist Temple not far from me, and there was even one crew doing a rescue in the Lowes Food parking lot! Yes, in a parking lot.

Throughout the night my cell phone alarm would go off with a tornado warning. There were at least 3 of them, countless flash flood warnings, and various other emergencies. I finally turned my phone off, reckoning that if this was my night to die, it was my time. Several times I was awoken by my truck getting shaken by the strong winds. At first I would sit up and make sure everything was okay. After a while, I just rolled back over and went to sleep, content to allow fate to run its course. This was no act of bravery, it just was what it was.

Dawn came early and with relative calm. Rain showers and some wind were punctuated by a few minutes of peace. A black man, his elderly grandmother, and his adorable young daughter drove up and parked under the awning near my truck. We talked for a while, shared some cookies and cigarettes, and told each other our similar stories from the night before. I knew the bridge at 211 and Lockwoods Folly River was underwater, and that highway 17 north and south were blocked by water, as was Green Swamp Road. I knew we were trapped in about a 1 square mile area, but he and I would still walk out to the highway every 10 minutes or so to make sure. Yep, always a river running through it. At one point I noticed it had not been raining for a few minutes and decided to go for a walk to help pass the time. I came upon the Supply Fire Department. I was really just looking for a place to go to the bathroom, but was wearing my Oak Island Water Rescue hat. After talking with their chief, it was decided that I would be drafted to help them with water rescues, even though my experience level is extreme novice. I returned to get my truck and gear from the church and drove to the fire department.

The chief had to make some calls to FEMA and others to get me on board, which only took about 10 minutes. He said I would be getting paid the same as a firefighter. I told him in Oak Island we were strictly volunteer. He said it didn’t matter, now I was a Firefighter with Supply, NC. I would spend the next 28 hours with them. We did 3 water rescues in that time, all swift-water, something I have never been trained in, and even had one rescue that ended in a guy getting arrested. Now that was a first! We joked that things are different in Supply, here you get dinner and a show!

I cannot say enough good things about the fire department in Supply. This is one of the finest group of people I have ever had to the pleasure to meet. They took me in, took exceptionally good care of me, fed me, washed my clothes, gave me a place to sleep, shower, and provided many of the comforts of home. The men and women of the Supply Fire Department are true heroes, wonderful people, and I’m happy to call them new friends. The same applies to the many Brunswick County Sheriff Deputies that were there as well. You guys, and gals, rock.

Many of the firefighters were on a fire call the next morning and I was outside sweeping the floor and just hanging around, enjoying the sunshine that was interspersed with thunderstorms. A deputy pulled up to sleep for a while and said he had come there from Oak Island. Wait, what? You came from where? How? He told me the route he took and I quickly gathered my belongings, forgetting my water rescue gear of all things, said some quick goodbyes, and took off for home. 30 minutes later I arrived at my home on the island. The bridges were still closed to the public, but having Oak Island Police Department and Water Rescue ID’s would have gotten me in, though knowing the officer at the checkpoint was sufficient.

I arrived at home and found it very dirty, but unharmed by the storm. Despite taking a direct hit from the eye of a hurricane, we lost no trees, the flood waters had not reached our house, and we were good. I was mostly worried about the cats, which we had to leave behind. Windy, our cat from the hood in Chicago, barely noticed me when I walked in a went back to sleep. JoJo however told me all about the hurricane by meowing throughout the day and night! He was even happier to see me than usual. I took pictures of our house and sent them to Missy in Charlotte to let her know I made it home, and that everything looked almost as good as we left it. She was very relieved, even though the storm was now battering Charlotte and flooding was severe there as well. Several neighbors and friends had asked me to check on their homes when I get there, so I did, and sent them pictures as well. All of their homes were also in good shape.

I unpacked the truck, which was basically a mobile Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms store, and headed down to the police department to see what they needed help with. As expected, they needed help checking IDs for people coming to the bridges, since only folks with addresses on the island would be permitted. I came back home, cleaned up the best I could since we still had no water or sewer, put on my police shirt and went back to HQ and was sent to check IDs on the new bridge. At 4PM the town decided to allow locals to return. There was a 6PM curfew in effect, but it was understood that people could cross the bridge and drive straight home and not be in violation. Another officer and I worked there until well after dark.

I checked IDs and passed out pamphlets the town printed to people for the next 2 days as we transitioned from locals only to the island being open to everyone, from having a curfew to it expiring. I ended my work with them yesterday by patrolling the beach on the ATV, and shot some video of the damage to the beach and dunes as well.

Major kudos the the local restaurants and business’. Even though nearly all of them are closed and suffered substantial damage, they were constantly trying to feed us. Seems like every time we turned around someone was bringing us baskets of food, boxes of pizza, and offering us water and soda. It would have been impossible to starve or even go thirsty on this island thanks to Bob’s Dogs, BBQ House, Domino’s Pizza, Swains Seafood, and several others.

Thank you to my sister and her family! They took in not only my immediate family, including 2 dogs, but also Missy’s sister and her 3 kids, for a week. I know it was tight in your place, but we all appreciate it very much. In return, you can continue to stay at our beach house whenever you like 🙂 Missy, Halle, and the dogs finally made it home on Wednesday as well. Flooding has closed or destroyed many roads, and they made it through South Carolina just ahead of flooding that has now closed that route. Kris, Missy’s sister, and her kids also made it safely back home to Jacksonville.

And lastly, thank you to the residents of Oak Island that I had the pleasure of dealing with. We were all very aware that nerves were rattled, many people were upset about being kept off the island for so long, we were hot, smelly, tired, wet, and just wanted to go home and rest. We read the plans on Facebook about storming the bridges, and I wouldn’t have tried to stop you if you had! But thank you all not only for not doing that, but for all of your kind words of support as you made your way home through the checkpoints. I am happy that in the end you did not see us as the enemy. Every person I know in town government, police, and fire was truly doing the absolute best job they could given the situation and conditions, and I know they all appreciate your understanding and support as much as I did.

ToddTown.com is getting reworked, big time!

Welcome to the new ToddTown.com. I am still moving in here, so things will be a “little messy” for a while! Most of the old content will be merged very soon, but right now only the blog is up. If you are looking for software that I have written over the years, just send me an email (toddosborne at gmail) and I will do my best to get you what you need.

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!

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.

Enough Already! Just Kidding

We had the worst snow storm of the season last night, and it dumped about 16″ of fresh snow on our lovely little village. It was rare storm, heavy snow with lightning and thunder. It hit about 2AM, and did not stop until about 10AM. I was up, so I watched the storm roll in, and it was quite impressive. I could not even see my neighbors house, which is only about 80 feet from my window. It even prompted us to go out this morning and buy a snow blower, as I have just barely recovered from shoveling from the storm last week!

So here are some pictures and videos for my redneck, err I mean Southern, family members. If you need just a little help getting in the Christmas spirit, maybe these will help. Or you can at least be thankful that you don’t live in Wisconsin 🙂

Yes, It IS as COLD as it looks!



Thunder and Bella

Me and the New Snow Blower. It’s Small but Mighty!

My Truck is Under There… Somewhere

Yes, that is a dog driving the plow!

A Drive Through Cross Plains

Missy Playing with Bella and Thunder

Snow My God!

I love snow, really I do. I am still a kid at heart and love to play in snow, ride sleds with the kids, even shoveling it can be fun. When you live in Wisconsin, you had better love snow, it’s a part of your life about 1/2 the time. We got a mini-blizzard last week, and have had several 4-5″ snows since then. Today is sunny, the calm before the storm. Tomorrow we are supposed to get 8-11″ and then 2-4″ each day for the next 3. It’s definitely beginning to look a lot like Christmas!

The Definition of Cold Front

If you’ve ever wondered what a “Cold Front” is, maybe this picture can help to explain it. It’s going to be 47 degrees here in Wisconsin today, so a lot of our snow will probably melt. But look at tomorrow… Our high will be 9! Oh the joy of living here, you just never know what to expect from Mother Nature.
In other news… I am looking for a new job and had several phone interviews and one face-to-face interview last week, and now have many very good prospects. It looks like the career change to driving a truck may be on hold 🙂

The one real interview was very interesting. It was with Solidworks, a company that develops 3D CAD (Computer Aided Design) applications, something that I have always really loved. I would probably be placed in their Labs group, developing new ideas that may or may not make it into the product, testing new technology and developing it. This would be VERY cool, I am quite sure I would really love this type of work. Development would likely be done in C++ and C#, and I have a friend that has worked there for a year and a half and he really loves it. I may even have the opportunity to learn Macintosh development, something I have wanted to learn for years. It would also be a great chance to hone and develop my own complex math and geometry skills, something I have not used at all since college but was always told “you need to know this stuff”. Maybe they were right…

I also spoke with Inacom about an in-house development position. This is where Paul Heuring works and he referred me to this position. It too sounds fun, but we have not yet progressed to the actual interview stage, though I am hopeful that will happen this week. This position would be pretty close to ideal too, working on multiple short-term type projects in a wide variety of fields, using various development tools. It does not sound like it would get boring quickly at all.

After initially being contacted by their recruiter in California over a week ago, I finally did get the chance to speak with one of the two local hiring managers at Quest Software. Quest is where a very good friend of mine works, and they create some wonderful tools mostly to fill voids in major application vendor products (Microsoft, Oracle, etc). This would primarily be a C++ development position. The manager that I spoke with late Friday is not the one that I need to speak with. The manager that is looking for developers lost his voice, but the other one wanted to make contact with me to let me know the other definitely wants to talk to me, hopefully early this week. That was very nice of him to let me know that, and we had a very nice hour-long chat about the company and the type of development they do out of the Madison office. One very positive thing to come out of that conversation was learning that they practice and preach “Test Driven Development”. In essence, they practice quality, they do not just preach it!

So that is where things stand now. Nothing concrete just yet, but I am very hopeful that I will ultimately have a decision to make between multiple offers, possibly as early as this week.

In other news, my mom turns 60 tomorrow! That is wonderful, but it also means I turn 40 in 2 weeks! Not so wonderful 🙂 We went to Bill and Bonnie’s Christmas party yesterday. This was the first Christmas without Mike Gullickson, (Bonnie’s son, Heidi’s brother, and Halle’s dad), since he was killed last February in a snowmobile accident. Paul and Heidi Heuring were there with their kids, so Paul and I talked “shop” about the job above, but we also played Ping Pong and had a few “interesting” drinks. Everyone had a real good time, but I know Christmas this year without Mike will be hard on everyone in the Gullickson family, especially Halle.

I do wish money grew on tree’s! All of the girls want these new sub-notebook computers for Christmas, like the Acer One. They are real notebook computers, but have 9″ screens and run Windows XP. They are very cool! They also cost $350 each, which isn’t bad, until you multiple by 3! 🙂 All I want for Christmas is a good job, and an iPod Touch!