My E-Cig Stuff

Screen Shot 2015-09-11 at 5.19.17 PMMany people have asked about my e-cig setup and where I get my gear.  So here it is:


Replacement Coils (for the Kanger)

iJoy 650mah Variable Voltage Battery (get at least 2 of these)


And now you’ll probably want to mix your own juices.  I buy my components from Wizard Labs.  You’ll need at least:

Vegetable Glycerin USP – 120ml
60mg Nicotine solution – 250ml
(And whatever flavors you want…)

Go forth and vape!

George’s Beer Wall of Fame

About 6 months ago I re-discovered beer.  What that means is, I chanced upon a craft brew that I actually liked.  This was a total surprise to me because I always looked upon beer as a “drink for the barbarians.”  The beer that won me back over was Heavy Seas Below Decks, an english barleywine-style beer aged in bourbon barrels.  Since then, I’ve been trying different types of beers, hating most but loving some.  So I decided to write this pointless post about the list of George Approved beers.  This means that if you want to make me smile, all you have to do is present me with one of these!


Heavy Seas – Below Decks (Bourbon Barrel Aged Barley Wine Style)

Brouwerij Van Steenberge Piraat

Piraat Belgian Ale


St Martin – Brune


Weyerbacher – Insanity (Barrel Aged Barley Wine Style)

Dogfish Head - Urkontinent (Belgian-style dubbel)

Dogfish Head – Urkontinent (Belgian-style dubbel)


Delirium Nocturnum – Belgian Ale


Ettaler – Curator Doppelbock


Legend – Brown Ale


Heavy Seas – Holy Sheet (Barrel Aged Uber Abbey Ale)


Terrapin – Wake n’ Bake


Weyerbacker Merry Monks (Belgian Trippel)


Three Philosophers (Quadrupel Ale)


Hobgoblin Dark English Ale

Hoegaarden Wit Blanche

Hoegaarden Wit Blanche

Wee Heavy Scotch Ale!

Wee Heavy Scotch Ale!

Not much Budweiser here!  Anyways, as I discover more, I’ll post them here so that all may bask in non-junk-beer glory!  Also, here is this awesome periodic table of beers, for your further education!  🙂



Truth and Logic or Emotion and Fear?

This was originally written by Kelly Cobean, a friend and coworker.  It has been reproduced here with his permission:

First and foremost, my heart goes out to all of the victims and their families. My prayers are with them in this difficult time. I hope the coward(s) that perpetrated this senseless act of violence is/are caught, tried, and sentenced to a swift death.

With that said, I hope everyone can UNDERSTAND what this picture is implying and check their own thinking about what it means to be a responsible, ruggedly self-reliant American. This picture isn’t about bombs or guns, it’s about logic and how we take responsibility for our actions and how we hold others accountable for theirs. Are we acting out of truth and logic or emotion and fear?

A gun is a tool of sport, protection and resource in law abiding hands. Conversely, a pressure cooker and some scrap metal is a tool of pain, death and terror in the wrong hands. Because we cannot control the actions of anyone but ourselves, we cannot throw away or allow to be taken away, our right to defend ourselves against evil. We cannot trade liberty for security. It does not work and history has proven it to be a costly trade time and time again. But it is the agenda of the left.

Would a gun in the hands of a law abiding citizen have stopped the bombing? Maybe not. Would it have stopped any of the mass shootings? Possibly. Nothing is certain, but why not protect the chance it might have instead of eliminating it? We mitigate risk every day when we put on our seat belts, equip our homes and offices with fire extinguishers and see our doctor for a check up. Is keeping a gun in your home, or carrying one on your person such an outlandish step to take? It may seem to be right up until you need it, then it becomes the best decision you ever made. The question is, when do you get serious about being responsible for you?

With 350+ million of us in this country now, it is estimated that there are 437 citizens for every police officer. Too often the police, heroic as many of them are, arrive just in time to draw the chalk outline. It’s not their fault, they are not God, they are not omnipresent. YOU are responsible for you RIGHT NOW. It’s up to you to determine whom they draw the outline around. Focus hard on maintaining your freedom and protecting your rights. The world is a dangerous place, there is no denying it and there is no changing it

It is even more dangerous when you are defenseless against it.

“Gun Violence” and Evil Men

I don’t normally get political here, but I feel a short rant coming on:

For months now I’ve been watching videos of people speaking out in town hall meetings with politicians across the USA against new gun restrictions and laws, and something struck me as odd.  I’m curious why, when people talk to politicians in these public forums about “gun control,” they still address those politicians as if they were actually trying to solve the issues of “gun violence.”  Does anyone really believe that these politicians are “doing it for the children?”

At this point there’s been too much water under the bridge to give these politicians the benefit of the doubt in assuming that they are approaching this as a public safety issue. It’s not about, and never has been about solving “gun violence issues.” It’s always been about controlling the population – and the politicians know this. That’s just the lie they use to drum up support from the willfully ignorant and fearful – who unfortunately are legion in this country.

Let’s start calling it what it is, confront them with the truth, and drop these silly pretenses. The only hope for our country is in citizens educating themselves and learning to recognize evil men so they can be voted out of office before it’s too late.  The old “it could never happen in this country” mentality is from a different time, long ago.

Wake up folks, it is happening.


In this country.

If even one of the rights of the citizens can be nullified, they all can be nullified.  And when they are done with the second amendment, the first amendment will certainly be next.  Those who don’t think it could happen in this country are the very reason that it will.

Spring Cleaning in the Fall

After MANY years in the networking industry, I’ve accumulated a TON of domains.  These domains get used for a while, and in the case of earlier ones, get forgotten.  So I decided to simplify my life (and registrar billing) a bit and shut down some old barely-used ones.  Of course there is always little morsels of goodness hanging out in each of these domains and I didn’t want to just delete them all, so I’m posting them here.

  • Text Filters: These filters allow you to change any plain text into jive, valley-girl and swedish-chef speak!  Fun for parties?
  • Rally Ally Pokie Guide (EPUB): This little nugget of humor was just too funny to consign to the briny deeps, so I converted it to EPUB.  Load it up into your favorite e-reader.  Mature audiences only.
  • Rally Ally Pokie Guide (PDF): The original PDF version of the above.  Mature audiences only.


There will be more stuff added soon as I clean out all the other junk.



La Isla Bonita!

As seen from the planeLast month my wife and I celebrated our 3rd anniversary by booking a trip to Belize.  We had planned to do a different destination every year for our anniversary and in the past we’ve visited the Dominican Republic and St. Lucia.  None of these places even came close to the level of awesome that is Belize.

Belize is a small central american country nestled between Guatemala and Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula.  It has the second largest coral reef in the world and is famous for it’s great diving spots.  Surprisingly, it’s an english speaking country.  To be honest, I wasn’t sure how I was going to feel about that last part.  When I’m on vacation in a foreign country, I like to “feel” like I’m in a foreign country.  Language always helps with that experience.  Of course that concern melted right away as soon as we arrived.

Our flight down on United was pretty reasonable.  I’m of the opinion that there’s really no such thing as a good airline anymore, but United didn’t screw us on this trip so I guess if we use that as a measuring stick, they were great.  The crazy part about the flight down is that it’s 2 hours from DC to Miami, and only 1 hour and 45 minutes from Miami to Belize City.  I would have thought that leg of the flight would be longer!  Once we landed our large plane at Belize City’s tiny little airport and deplaned, we were greeted with beautiful subtropical weather!  I could instantly feel the stresses of this past year melting away!  When we booked our trip, we considered staying at a resort on the mainland but a friend of mine told us that we HAD to stay on a small island just off the coast – Ambergris Caye.  In fact, it was imperative that we stay at Captain Morgan’s Retreat, on the north end of the island.  This meant that we’d still have to take either a plane or boat (or both!) to our final destination.

In Belize, the plane services run a lot like the bus services here in the states.  This was pretty cool.  You just buy a cheap ($50) ticket and wait for the plane to load up!  Of course these are not exactly jumbo jets ferrying folks around between the islands – these are Cessna Caravans that seat like 10 people max.  I used to fly Cessna 172’s back in Texas so I was really looking forward to this flight – it’s what I refer to as “real flying.”  Our plane flight to the island was very relaxing and to be honest, pretty neat!  Our pilot made a quick stop to drop off a couple on one of the other islands, before finally dropping the rest of us off in the small town of San Pedro on Ambergris Caye.  I have to say, these guys know how to fly!  I would love having a job like that!

Once we got off the plane, we were shuttled off via taxi to an awesome dock bar called Wet Willy’s.  from Wet Willy’s dock you can pickup a water taxi to any of the resorts on the island.  I was instantly excited because I had read a previous trip report saying that Wet Willy’s had the best margaritas on the island.  Clearly we had to find out for ourselves.  Report: Verified!  Wet Willy’s also has a Taco Tuesday ($1 Belize / $0.50 US), really cool staff and owners, and great food!  I’m told that they even have the famous Viper Rum there!  I highly recommend spending some time here, especially at night when the rays come in and swim around the lights on the dock!

After a few margs, the water taxi for Captain Morgan’s Retreat finally arrived and we piled our luggage and ourselves aboard for a short ride to the resort.  The water was calm and beautiful, and the ride was very scenic!  I remember thinking, “what an awesome place!”

As seen from the pool!Once we got to Captain Morgan’s pier, we were greeted with a view of paradise.  The resort is a series of thatched roof bungalow-style buildings around a central pool and dining area, with an immaculate beach.  We did a quick check-in and got into our room which would serve as “home” for the week.  The neat thing about the rooms is that they are basically suites.  There’s a living room, kitchen, and large bedroom with attached bathroom.  On the front porch is a couple of comfy lounge chairs, a table, and a great view of the ocean.  One thing that I noticed immediately is that there is no phone in the rooms.  In my opinion this is a huge bonus.  Captain Morgan’s is all about unplugging from the world and relaxing.  They do have wifi, but only in the central area near the pool and guest services.  Life on the island is meant to be simple!

We unpacked our stuff and after a while of sitting on the beach, we decided that we needed to see more of San Pedro.  On the island you have two choices for getting around – water taxi or golf cart.  Cars are rare and probably very expensive to rent.  The water taxis run “every hour” (island time) during the day, but we wanted more freedom so we opted to rent a golf cart for the week.  I highly recommend doing this because if you just rely on the water taxis, you’ll miss a LOT of cool things on the island!

We went to guest services at the resort and rented our faithful steed (a standard issue Club Cart), and promptly took the road south back into town.  The island really has one main road linking the resorts on the north end with the town on the south end.  I call this a “road” but it’s really a series of interconnected craters and bumps.  At first this can be a terrifying experience bouncing around this small road with just enough room for two golf carts side by side, but you get used to it quick.  After a while it even becomes fun!  There is all kinds of neat places to visit along the road and we made mental notes of which places we had to check out while we were there.

You know you’ve reached town when you arrive at the toll bridge.  In order to cross you must purchase a ticket (1 way or return trip).  We crossed this bridge so often that we knew the police man who guarded it by name.  If you find yourself crossing this bridge, be sure to tell Matthias that George and Rebecca said, “Hi!”  🙂  Traveler’s Tip:  The tolls are only collected on this bridge until 9PM.  If you drive up after 9PM and hand them your return ticket, they will happily accept it.  Of course you don’t have to.  You can hold onto your return ticket and use it the next day!

Once in San Pedro we were greeted with more stuff to see and do than we could process.  If I were to write it all up here, it would fill a book.  Instead, I’m just going to write about the highlights and places that we highly recommend:

Wahoo's Chicken DropWahoo’s Bar & Grill:  This place is great!  It’s right on the beach, like almost everything else, and on Thursday nights they host a San Pedro tradition – The Chicken Drop!  This is how it works:  You have a large board with 100 squares on it.  In each of the squares there is a number.  Next they bring out a well fed chicken.  A random guest is asked to gently shake the chicken up and down three times before blowing on it’s butt (for luck).  The guest places the chicken on the board where it’s allowed to roam around.  The chicken and guests are then serenaded by Barrington and the Islander’s theme song,”Sexy Chicken,” and eventually the chicken feels nature’s call.  Whatever numbered square the bird “drops” on is the winner!  Prizes range from $50 to $1000 Belize dollars.  Warning:  The Sexy Chicken song will stay in your head for months after this experience.  We ended up buying the CD!  🙂

Elvi’s Kitchen:  This is one of the two best places to eat on the island.  This is where we celebrated our anniversary and it couldn’t have been better!  The food was absolutely amazing and the atmosphere was indescribable, but don’t be in a hurry because it takes them a while.  We were both very impressed by this place.  If you are looking for a very nice intimate place for dinner with top notch food, you HAVE to come to Elvi’s.

Waruguma:  At first glance, this place looks like a hole in the wall.  We probably wouldn’t have considered stopping here, but one of the locals that we met in San Pedro recommended it.  We decided to give it a try, and we were sure glad we did! They make this Salvadoran food called a “pupusa,” which is a fluffy corn tortilla stuffed with meats, beans and cheeses.  WOW!  Could this be the perfect food??  The staff is very cool and the pupusas are made right out front by the owners!  We ended up stopping here every day – we just couldn’t get enough!

My Secret Deli: This is a great local spot for dinner.  They serve a lot of different things but we were told to try the stewed meats.  We had a plate of the stewed chicken and rice and it was out of this world.  Plus, the prices are LOCAL prices, which means you can get a great meal with next to nothing!

Other great places include Mango’s and Carumba’s.  We went to so many places in San Pedro that I can’t remember every one of them, but they were all amazing!  Regarding the town, I will say that this is the first foreign place that I’ve ever been where I didn’t feel like I had to watch my back.  We both felt very safe the whole time.

When we woke up on the second day, we heard that all diving had been canceled due to high winds. The water was calm inside the reef, but once you get outside of the reef, things get rather “sporty.”  This was no big deal because we didn’t plan on doing any diving this day anyways.  Instead we were headed inland to the Mayan city of Lamanai!  Lamanai is one of the largest of the ruined Mayan cities, second to Chichen Itza, and we couldn’t wait to see it first hand!  We were told to meet up with the tour operator, Searious Adventures, in front of Guest Services at 7:45AM, and the boat leaves at 8AM.  So we wondered over to where we were supposed to meet them, only to find the area deserted.  We waited for about 10 minutes and asked a few folks if they had any insight as to why the tour operator wasn’t there.  Their best explanation was, “maybe they are on island time.  They’ll surely be here sometime soon.”

In the distance I could see a boat lazily drift over and tie up to the dock.  Bex and I were still tired from the night before so we decided to take this time and get some coffee.  As we walked towards the coffee shop, the tour operator shows up and angrily informs us that we have made him late and we have to go now.  Of course we realized that he was the guy we saw tying up to the dock 10-15 minutes late already.  We informed him that nothing is going to happen before we get coffee, so he huffs off back to the boat.  Once we joined him at the boat, we were treated to another ration of his grumblings about us making him late.  “Dude!  We saw you tying up like 10-15 minutes late already!”  This was not the way great days are started….

The boat took off with us aboard, and we ended up stopping at every resort along the way to San Pedro.  With a full boat, the operator pointed us towards the mainland and punched the throttle. After about a 1 hour in the boat, we finally reached the mainland and disembarked.  This was one of two restroom stops along the long journey to Lamanai.  Once everyone was “relieved,” we all loaded onto a bus and headed up the north highway to what I think was Orange Walk.  This was a LONG bus ride.  In fact, we were able to catch up on a bit of sleep along the way.  When the epic bus trip was over we unloaded at the second restroom stop and prepared for the long boat ride down the twisting and turning New River towards the Mayan ruins of Lamanai.

One of the attractions on the New River along the way to the Mayan ruins is a wildlife sanctuary.  Our guide, who I’m going to call Dr. Nutso, was very proud of the sanctuary and boasted to us about how many animals are here.  I had a bad feeling when he asked the folks in the boat, “does anyone like monkeys?”  Of course the whole boat replied, “ooh! Monkeys!  YAY!”  Well, Dr. Nutso has a treat for us!  This sanctuary is home to a very large population of spider monkeys.  These adorable creatures are “very curious and friendly,” he explained.  We were given some basic instructions like:

  • Don’t make sudden movements
  • Hold onto or hide your belongings, or the monkeys will take them
  • Don’t try to pet the monkeys


Once he was satisfied that the entire boat was familiar with these simple instructions, Dr Nutso pointed the boat towards a gang of spider monkeys playing in a tree about 100 yards away. Spider monkeys are interesting creatures.  They climb and contort in all different ways as they make their way around the treetops.  I have to admit that I was fascinated with the way they could move, but as the boat inched it’s way closer to them I could feel the apprehension in our fellow passengers.  As soon as the boat got close enough, what I assume to be the ambassador of the spider monkeys jumped aboard to greet us.  Only, he seemed a little irritated and somewhat aggressive! Maybe he didn’t get enough bananas from the previous tour group?  After a quick look around, our new visitor strolled right up to this poor french fellow who I’ll call Mr Mustache (who didn’t speak english so he couldn’t understand the previous instructions).  Of course our french friend decided that he must have a picture of our new friend, so he reached for his camera.

And that’s the moment when our furry friend lost his mind!  With a terrible shriek, he grabbed the Mr. Mustache’s arm and reared back, his dagger-like teeth glistening in the hot sun, and chomped down on the man’s arm taking a sizable chunk out of it!  It happened so fast that there was no time to react!  In response, everyone in the boat suffered a level 5 freak-out, which I’m guessing scared the monkey enough to back away to the very bow of the boat with his tail gripping onto the tree from whence he came.

It wasn’t long before the monkey’s initial shock of the boat passengers freak-out wore off, and I could tell that he was considering another attack run, to finish what he started!  This was shaping up to become an all-out wild kingdom fight to the death, and it wasn’t going to be pretty for either side.  I started yelling, “BACK THE BOAT UP!!!  BACK THE BOAT UP!!!”  The rest of the boat joined my survival chant, and after a few moments Dr. Nutso regained his snap and decided to comply.

As the folks aboard the boat settled down, we could all see that our Mr. Mustache’s arm was bleeding pretty badly – probably because a monkey tried to gnaw it off.  One of the passengers asked our tour operator if he had a first aid kit.  Of course, he did not!  I mean really, with letting wild animals aboard your boat to gnaw on tourists, why would they ever need a first aid kit right?  Score another point for Searious Adventures.  Luckily one of the passengers had a bandage in his backpack, and he went to work on the monkey victim.  He was able to control the bleeding, but it was clear that our victim needed a hospital and a number of stitches.  We mentioned that to the tour operator, and he began discussing with Dr Nutso about how they didn’t have time to get Mr. Mustache to the hospital.  After a bit of this back and forth, the whole boat got angry and informed the tour operator in no uncertain terms that we were NOT going on with the tour until the monkey victim is dropped off on shore so he can seek medical attention.  With no other choice, our guide steered the boat back to shore and our french friend got off.

With that business out of the way, and the entire boat making it very clear to our guide that we were not interested in seeing anymore monkeys, we started on our long river ride to Lamanai.  It was a quiet boat ride, with everyone just replaying the events in their heads, but we weren’t going to allow the monkey attack to ruin our day (except for Mr. Mustache, who I’m sure got to experience a dose of 3rd world jungle-medicine which no doubt ruined HIS day)!

After about an hour we finally arrived at the ruins of Lamanai, which sits alongside the New River.  Dr. Nutso began his tour by telling us about how awesome and superior the Mayans were, and how great the ruins are.  I was beginning to think maybe this guy IS a Mayan.  He was a very serious man and perhaps took his job a bit too serious.  We came across the first pyramid and he began his long monologue about the rich history of the place.  I was thinking, “No kidding, rich history!”  But while he was busy capturing our attention with his long diatribe, Bex and I started to notice that other tour groups were having fun climbing on the pyramids!  Surely we could stand some time away from Dr. Nutso in order to enjoy the ruins too, so we slowly backed away from the group and made our way towards the pyramid steps.

When we started our climb, Dr. Nutso must have noticed that we were no longer paying him 100% of our attention because he called up to us, “you must stay with the group!  You are not allowed to climb that yet!”  We made sure he understood how we felt about his permission, and continued our climb to the top.  Traveler’s tip: Mayan pyramids look easy to climb until you get on them and realize that they are steeper than they initially appear!  I will say that the view was awesome and we certainly got a workout from that climb!

We climbed down and rejoined our group as they headed towards the jungle, and the next pyramid site.  Our guide was feeling a bit more surly and it became clear that we had somehow angered the Mayan gods.  “Oh well, he’ll get over it.”  As we strode through the jungle, our guide kept telling stories meant to frighten the group.  He kept offering to poke some folks with a crazy “pain poker” or something, which caused whole body pain.  Basically he wanted to show up the group.  Perhaps he really was channeling some long dead Mayan, proving my suspicions! We came along a jungle vine, and our guide started daring the members of our group to swing on it.  The man had previously dared us to let him poke it with a pain stick!!  Fearing some other hidden trick, nobody from our group would volunteer.  What our guide was completely unprepared for was the fact that my wife is an aerialist!  “Jungle vine??  Danger???  Feh…”  Up went Bex, right up the vine.  When she got to the top, she inverted!  The whole group gasped in fear and appreciation at the sight, and the tour guide just stood there slack-jawed and speechless!  Traveler Tip:  Never dare an aerialist to climb or swing on something!

With our tour guide firmly put in his place, our group traveled on to see the other pyramids and sites within the Lamanai complex.  It really was impressive.  Those pyramids were HUGE!  When we finally came to the last pyramid, I was shocked by how big it was.  This thing was made almost completely solid.  My mind couldn’t even wrap around how much this thing would weigh!  I tried to get the whole thing in a single picture but that proved impossible.  Despite how steep the climb looked, there was already a large group of people climbing it.  Someone had the bright idea of installing a rope along the final bit of climb, to help people make their way up and down.  I’m no fan of heights, but Bex talked me into it so we began our climb to the top.  At about the half way point there was a ledge where we could stop and rest.  I made the mistake of looking up at the climb ahead of us, and made the command decision to chicken out!  Undeterred by my lack of bravery, Bex continued her climb all the way to the top.  I’m not kidding when I say that I could barely see her up there!

After a while, our group had returned from their climbing and we made our way back to the boat worn out and tired, and not looking forward to the long trip back.

I should mention that there are mosquitoes in the jungle.  I mean there are a LOT of mosquitos in the jungle.  Had Bex not had the brilliant idea of packing mosquito repellent, we would have been eaten alive before the tour was even half over!  Some folks did not have the same brilliant idea, and so we ended up donating a lot of repellent to other members of our group.  We used an entire can of OFF on this tour!

During the long boat, bus, and boat back to San Pedro we were left to contemplate the events and sights of the day.  We were all tired and half fried from the sun.  There was only one altercation between our tour operator and a tourist on this leg of the trip, but it was a nasty one (the tour operator groped her!) and although it was a fun trip once we got to the ruins, I think we were all glad to be done with Searious Adventures!

The weather was still windy for the next couple days, taking the possibility of any diving out of the equation, but that was ok with us.  It just gave us more time to explore the island, and I’m glad we could do it.  We saw and did so much cool stuff that there isn’t even time to write about it all!

One night while driving along the “road” headed back to our resort we saw this sign that we had seen before and wanted to check out.  So we drove our faithful Club Cart down the thin sandy path that the sign indicated until we reached what I would call the perfect setup – The Pirate Bar!  (That’s not it’s real name.  This bar is a local hangout and the owner made me promise not to tell it’s real name).  This was exactly what you envision when you think of a beach front bar!  We were greeted by a lady behind the bar who had clearly been enjoying the evening, asking us, “what can I get ya?”  Bex indicated that a margarita would be nice, so the lady started asking those around her how to make a margarita!  I’m not sure how it came up, but it turns out that this lady wasn’t the bartender, she was a patron.  The bartender was too drunk to make it to work so the patrons just fended for themselves!

We inquired as to what food they had, and we were informed that the kitchen *might* be closed but they weren’t sure.  As it turns out, the “kitchen” was the grill sitting off to the side of the bar.  There was no menu – only what got caught or cooked that day!  The owner came out and informed us that although the “kitchen” wasn’t closed, they only had pork chops.  It had been a long fun day and a pork chop sounded just right!  After a few minutes he brought out what was the best pork chop we had ever tasted!  I’m not kidding, this pork chop was amazing!

After a few beers and margs, we started meeting the locals.  We couldn’t have asked for a cooler group of people!  Bex informed the owner that it was my birthday, so the owner went inside for a second and came back with a slice of cake!  I have no idea where or how he got this cake but it too was amazing.  We were both blown away by the hospitality of this place!  It’s very hard not to tell the name of this place, but if you ask me in private I’ll give you the skinny…

We also had a good time mini-boating around the island, and just hanging out around town.  The rest of the week went by too fast and before we knew it, it was time to head back to the real world.  I have to say that of all the places we’ve been, Belize has been the best.  We can’t wait to go back next year!  We took a lot of photos, and you can see some of them HERE.

Should I be nostalgic?

I really don’t know where this article is going, so bear with me here as I attempt to capture what is going on inside my head.  As I’m writing this, I’m watching the Shuttle Discovery pull up to the cranes that will eventually lift it off it’s 747 ferry aircraft and transport it to it’s new home – the Udvar Hazy Annex of the Smithsonian Air & Space Museum.  The shuttle program has ended some time ago, but I guess it’s end didn’t seem real until just now.  I really didn’t want to be one of these sappy nostalgic people who are celebrating the remarkably long and mostly successful shuttle program, but it seems like I can’t ignore it.

I was born on the southeast side of Houston, TX in 1970.  For those who aren’t aware, that’s NASA country.  Almost all of our neighbors growing up were employed by NASA.  The Johnson Space Center was a scant few miles from my family’s home.  When Apollo 13’s Jim Lovell spoke those immortal words, “Houston, we have a problem,” he was speaking to Mission Control just a few miles down the road from my house.

The years following 1970 were a time of transition as the Apollo program was ending in 1972.  As a young child I had toys like plastic Apollo Rocket stacks and space helmets.  But these toys would soon have to give way to a new generation of toys when the Space Shuttle Enterprise rolled out onto the runway in 1976.  Every kid HAD to have his plastic Space Shuttle Enterprise!

In 1981 the shuttle Columbia made the first orbits of the shuttle program in STS-1.  After the successful mission, the shuttle was ferried to Ellington AFB in Houston, not far from Mission Control.  The public was invited to come out and take pictures of this heroic device atop it’s ferry aircraft.  I remember standing next to it as a kid, looking up at the most sophisticated and amazing piece of equipment I’d ever seen!  I remember thinking that we really were becoming a space-faring nation – just like on Star Trek!  Since then, a number of shuttles were delivered to NASA: Challenger, Discovery, Atlantis, Endeavor.  Shuttle missions became commonplace and the excitement faded into the background.

I remember being in Thompson Intermediate School in 1986 at the time the Challenger blew up a little over 1 minute after liftoff.  This was a huge gut-shot for the nation, and Houston really felt it!  Every classroom had a TV tuned to the local news, and I sat stunned, along with everyone else, as the news broadcast recounted those last few seconds before the blast. Nobody from my generation will ever forget that last televised radio transmission, “Challenger go at throttle up.”  The image of the debris cloud is permanently engraved in our memories.  The Endeavor was originally built to replace the Challenger, and soon after the return to flight 32 months later, orbital missions became routine again.

I also remember watching the news in 2003 when the Columbia broke up during reentry.  Somehow a piece of foam insulation got dislodged from the external fuel tank and damaged the heat shielding on the leading edge of one of the wings.  During reentry, hot gasses entered the wing and tore the shuttle apart.  Once again the nation watched stunned as the news report showed the shuttle breaking up like a meteor shower.  NASA didn’t have another orbital mission until STS-121 in 2005, with the shuttle Discovery.  As always, these missions soon became routine again, and to be honest I never really thought about it much after that.

In 2011 the shuttle program was finally scheduled to end.  By this time these spacecraft had already lasted well beyond the length of time that they were originally intended, and everyone knew it couldn’t last forever.  Unfortunately we as a nation dropped the ball on a replacement program, so there is nothing to fill the space flight void but leased time on Russian rockets.  As I watch the Discovery pull up to the cranes, I’m realizing that this truly is the end of an era – the era of US Manned Space Flight.  The Manned Space Flight program was part of the soul of our nation, and now it feels like the dream is over.  Yes, the shuttle program was hugely expensive.  Yes there were some problems.  But in spite of all this, the shuttle program, like the Apollo program before it, inspired a generation of kids to go into the fields of technology, science and engineering.  We are reaping those benefits today!  Without some form of inspiration for the next generation, I fear that we will become what we are already well on the road to being – a soulless nation of mindless consumer zombies.

What will inspire our next generation?  A trip to the museum??  I doubt it.

Fear and Loathing at Ski Liberty

Its Friday evening when Trey has the crazy idea that we should drive directly to Ski Liberty. Being that I spent most of my life in Texas, I never learned how to ski, and although there is a fun bar on the premises, this deficiency tends to make Ski Liberty less than a 100% balls-out shred-fest for me.

This time will be different though. I’m informed that Trey’s sister Alexis will be joining us, and she also doesn’t ski well. Hey! That means I won’t have to be the only donkey falling on my butt all day! Sure, sign me up! So all 3 of us pack lightly and head on down the dusty trail.

Next stop: snow country!

Last time I tried this, it was snow-boarding and I can tell you with 100% certainty that I HATE that. I’ve always been a skate-boarder and I had kinda’ thought the skill would transfer over, but no it does not. Thats OK, I hear that skiing is easier so I’m willing to give the mountain another shot.

By the time we get there and settled in our room, its 10:30PM so we head on over to the bar on the premises. I think it’s called McKee’s Tavern or some contrived BS, but I don’t care if its called the Out House as long as the booze is flowing and the crowd isn’t boring. Imagine our horror when we reach for the front door only to find it locked, and all the lights turned off!

I’m going to take this moment to go on a bit of a tangent:
This is a phenomenon that I’ve only witnessed since moving to the east coast. See, where I’m from the bar is opened during the day and remains open until 2AM. It doesn’t matter if there is one guest, 50 guests, or no guests. The bar stays open during bar hours! Period! Out here it would be HOURS before closing time and the bar could still be closed. What’s up with that?? If you can’t count on a bar being open before 2AM, I ask you what CAN you count on?? The commies are taking over I tell ya, but I digress…

As I mentioned, we’ve been here before and we’d heard that the bar near the park entrance, the Four Seasons, was an OK place. Now I’ve been in many bars, and I consider myself a pretty good judge of a place. But the Four Seasons always gave off this unpleasant vibe to me. Having no other choices, I held my tongue and we entered the place.

I was pleasantly surprised – no records skipped, it looked like the patrons had most of their teeth and not too many extra chromosomes. We found a spot at the bar and proceeded to have a good old time occasionally speaking to the locals and passing around the shots. It wasn’t until the night was nearly over that we finally met the quintessential banjo-wielding mountain-yokel, who we will refer to here as “Cletus.”

Apparently Cletus had just gotten out of the state pen, probably for burning a cross in somebody’s lawn, and was feeling meaner with each glass of $1 beer he could quaff. If I were to guess, I’d say he had spent at least $20 by the time that he entered our lives. To make a long story short, we nearly ended up in a messy scrape with this man of the soil, but we somehow escaped back to our hotel. We then decided to pass out and get some sleep before the morning ski sessions.





After a fitful night’s sleep, we arise in the morning to fresh snow on the mountain. This will be my first time skiing and Alexis hasn’t skied in years, so we both decided to take advantage of a one-hour lesson provided by the hotel. Wow. I’m sure glad we did it, but it was a LOT of hard work! I was surprised how after only a few tries, I was feeling confident and able to control my speed within reason. I even did some small hockey-stops! Of course all this was on the wussy-slope.

It wasn’t long before I was feeling like the jedi master of skiing, and I figured it was time to graduate to the next level of slope. This was my first mistake. Here is a picture taken of me just before I began my “run of a thousand crashes.”



Just after that picture was taken, I turned around and actually got a good look at the slope. Oh man, this was no wussy-slope at all! What am I going to do? Ride the lift back down? Did you see how many people are down there? If I did that, there is no way I could show myself in the bar later. So, I bolstered my confidence and pointed my rental skis down the mountain.

It was at this time that I realized 2 important things:

1.Making the wedge-shape with my skis no longer had the same slow-down effects here as it did on the wussy-slope.

2.The one-hour lesson didn’t cover the mystic art of “turning.”

My guess is that they just kinda’ figured us newbies would stick to the wussy-slope and not need these advanced techniques. That would probably have been a good idea, but it was too late to consider that now. I had the unpleasant task ahead of me of learning to stop, slow, and turn while not flying off the mountain, running into a tree, or breaking the sound barrier! I think I fell no less than 6 spectacular times on the top 1/3rd of that slope before it leveled out enough for me to barely make it the rest of the way down. Lesson learned, and back to the wussy-slope for me!

Trey and Alexis decided to go hit the bar, but I wasn’t satisfied yet. I couldn’t end the day on such a low point. I just knew I could ski better, and I still needed to get the whole “turning thing” down better. So, I told them I’d meet them in the bar, but I was going for one last run on the wussy-slope.

As I ride the lift to the top, I’m preparing myself mentally for the task at hand. I’m also noticing that the sun has been out all day and the snow on the ground looks a little more like ice. At the top of the lift, my suspicions were verified by a snow-boarding teacher warning his class – the mountain was all ice now.

Of course, this is just the wussy-slope, and I had been going down this one all day long. What could possibly go wrong? Well, its like this:

When snow becomes ice, that wedge shape that you make with your skis when you want to slow down does nearly nothing for you. Further, the ground is really slick and SOLID, so falling is really going to be painful.

About midway down the slope I realize that I’m completely out of control. What’s worse, there is a HUGE group of people at the bottom of the hill and I don’t see any clear place that I could steer towards, even if I COULD steer. I’m gripped by abject terror as I see the unsuspecting women and children that I am hurtling towards at incredible speeds.

At moments like this, time seems to slow down. One second feels like ten. I’m searching my mental database for the appropriate warning that I need to yell before I collide with this massive crowd at bone-shattering speed:

“Fore!” No, thats golf.

“Fire in the hole!” No, that’s not even close.

“Incoming!” Thats more like it, but still some might not understand.

I finally settled with screaming “OUT OF CONTROL SKIER!! LOOK OUT!!”

As I approached the crowd at blinding speed, I readied myself for the inevitable crash that would surely destroy me, and most likely the poor unsuspecting souls that were unfortunate enough to be in my path. My memory gets a little hazy at this point, and I can’t tell you exactly how it happened, but before I knew it I was miraculously through the crowd without a single hit!

My skis are in a wedge shape still and I’m bearing down for all I’m worth, trying to slow down before I run out of snow/ice. Somehow I ground to a stop and when I turned around to see the people I had just passed through, it was like they didn’t even notice me. Well, I had had enough, so I limped on over to the bar to mentally recover.

Would I do it again? Sure. In fact, I need to go back and get my “turning” down better! Skiing is fun!

(And scary).

How I Quit Smoking

3 Weeks and No Desire for Smokes!

Its been a few weeks, so I figure its time to actually post about this. Over a month ago, BTravlin on ScubaBoard saw me post about my desire to quit smoking. He suggested I read this book by Allen Carr called “The Easy Way to Stop Smoking.” Well sure. I’ve tried damn near everything else, why not a book too? Well, I sure am glad I read it! Thanks B!

Kids, this book really works. Its not a book to scare you into quitting. Just the opposite, you are supposed to keep smoking while you read the book. Only at the end does it tell you to smoke your last cigarette. Of course, by about half-way through the book, you really want to stop. All I can say is, do exactly what the book tells you. Its amazing.

Now, just smelling 2nd-hand smoke makes me hurk. The very idea of smoking a cigarette turns my stomach! To pick up your own copy of this book, click HERE.