Friday, December 02, 2016

The Wild Wild West



My Bride and I were on our way to the gym the other day and had stopped behind a car in the center lane at North Main and Massey Tompkins. The car in the right lane was evidently going to go straight and when the green arrow came on signaling opposing lanes could turn, the car in front of us blasted off and turned right in front of the stopped car beside it.

Now mind you, a car was making the turn from the opposing lane and they nearly collided. My Bride and I both made loud exclamations of disbelief, not having seen such reckless driving in recent times. The very next day, I am on the opposite side of the road, wanting to drive north and get a sub sandwich. I had missed the green arrow and came to halt as the cars beside me crossed North Main and moved onto Massey Tompkins.

The light turned yellow, then red and about 5 seconds later, a small blue car blew through the intersection at about 40 miles per hour, stopping the flow of traffic from both directions. In the Chemical Plant vernacular, this would be cited as a “near miss” incident. The reality of both acts of careless driving is at the very least there would have been a terrific accident with major vehicle damage.

I’ve written about the obvious distracted driver issue before, but both of these incidents involved impatience and most likely really crappy driving decisions some idiots are making. I could use better words than crappy and idiots here, but they cover both sentiments quite well. On my way back from teaching a 0530 Spin class in Meyerland the other morning, I witnessed a wreck on the 610 Loop.

The road was heavily congested heading into town and I was in the free-flowing east bound side, when a car tapped their brakes on the west bound side. This started a chain-reaction, as all of the cars were tail-gating each other, until one slammed into the back of the one in front of it.  They were out in front of me a bit and I watched in amazement as the whole west bound side began to come to a stop and I am talking about every lane. Of course we all slowed down, because people have to rubber neck, but before we got back up to full speed the amount of stopped cars began to expand.

This careless act of tail-gaiting most likely stopped or slowed traffic for over an hour. Months ago, I did quite a bit of research on this phenomenon and posted 2 videos on my web page: www.baytownbert.us with the hopes that drivers would watch them and learn how they can help stop this aberrant and dangerous behavior. Back in the day when pushing the brake peddle may or may not stop you, drivers didn’t rely so heavily on them and I often think that people don’t connect the dots on the fact that they are hurtling down the road in a 2 ton missile.

One of my brothers asked me if I had changed out my brake pads, as he planned to repair his own Jeep Wrangler’s brakes. I told him I had no need, “as I don’t use my brakes very often”. I coast a lot, keep my distance, and allow the Jeep’s drive train to auto-slow me down. I am also old school enough to actually watch the road a quarter of a mile ahead as I drive. Am I perfect?  Nope, but I’ve never caused a wreck in 49 years of driving. To take this one step further, I watched another video, which is also on my website, about how one driver can decongest a traffic jam on the freeway.

I was skeptical at first, but low and behold, it actually works. I made it part of my driving strategy and I no longer feel the angst that is common in these situations. I maintain my distance between me and the vehicle in front of me. If someone wants in, I let them in and adjust my distance. It doesn’t sound like it works, but it does. People wait until the last second to get over to their turn-off and no one will let them in and this starts the chain reaction of braking. I let them in and there are no brake lights flashing.

The simplest way to describe the solution is for people to follow the basic rules of the road. If everyone kept their proper distance, actually paid attention, and kept the speed limit, there would be few traffic accidents and road congestion. The whole speed up and stop scenario we see on Garth Road and our freeways would all but disappear. The need to constantly change lanes to move up one car mentality would be gone also.

Stay safe out there folks. I have a feeling it is only going to get worse. People just won’t take time to do a little research and then there is the me, me, me mentality that would prevent them from changing anyway. Oh!  One more thing.  That green light doesn’t mean that you don’t need to look both ways.
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Friday, November 25, 2016

The smallest amount of kindness



Recently I was helping another Group X fitness instructor add an entry into the work order system at the gym.  For the longest time when a piece of equipment was in need of repair, it was pushed to the side, only to be discovered later that it was broken. The reason for this was word of mouth simply wasn’t getting the equipment repaired. The solution was to write a work request and create a digital paper trail and the instructors were unaware they were the first cog in this process.

I hired in as an instructor at the beginning of the year and with my background in logistics and computers, I rapidly latched on to this maintenance system and decided to share this knowledge. Along the way, we saw a marked improvement in functioning equipment. As I pointed at the computer screen, I told the other instructor what went where and then “in this box, write exactly what is wrong and then add the words thank you.”

“Why do I need to do that?” they asked, referring to the last two words.

“Because you want them to know their work is appreciated?” I queried and I saw the light go on. Now mind you, this person is smart, a quick thinker, a devoted parent, and an overall good person with real values, but for some reason, they missed a simple common courtesy that would turn a demand into a request. The repair person will surely notice and look to see who wrote the request and it will add up in that person’s favor.

I am an aggressive alpha personality who sometimes feels like a coiled spring – well, pretty much all of the time. At red lights, I watch the light and am ready to explode out of the gate and have to slow myself down to the normal response time of people around me. At times it is agonizing and only my advanced age helps me cope with how slowly people react. If I were in ten cars at a left turn lane and the light turned green, on any given day I could most likely get all of them through it before it turned a good yellow. By good, I mean it hasn’t turned red mid-intersection.

But as a victim of other people’s sluggish reaction, I risk running the red light after 3 cars. This is life in a world with so many distractions, it’s a danged wonder we can safely drive at all.  There is nothing I can do to change this behavior, so this is how I give back. I allow traffic to keep moving.

I routinely drive on Massey Tompkins Road and often turn left onto Barkuloo Road. By turning deep into the turn lane, it will trigger the magnetic strip under the road and stop westbound traffic. I doubt if oncoming traffic realizes what I am doing, but if no one is behind me, I’ll deliberately hang back and let all those cars pass before I trigger the light. It’s my way of giving back. Knowing I do it is reward enough for me. I feel good about myself afterward.

I like to shop at Food Town on North Main Street. I routinely push a shopping cart into the store instead of walking past the many that litter the parking lot. I usually pick up a little trash on my way in too and drop it in the cans at the door. Sometimes I push in 2 or more carts. When I push my cart out to my Jeep, I leave it there. I could push it across the lot I guess and put it in one of the spots dedicated for temporary storage, but because I pushed one in, I don’t feel bad about leaving it where I parked. And then there is the trash I picked up as an extra bonus to the store. This also makes me feel good.

What does the Bible say about the little foxes?  Aren’t they the ones who spoil the vines? Yup and inversely, it’s the little acts of kindness that reap the largest overall rewards. Implementing them is the hardest or easiest part. It takes a plan for those of us who are flying through life at a breakneck speed. For others who are so naturally inclined to be a nice person, it is the way they ease through life that makes everything they do a blessing to those around them. I wish I was one of those people, but I’m not. I have to be very deliberate to be mister nice guy. I have to have a plan and make it part of my life to be considerate. One way or the other, we all need to think about our fellow citizens and attempt to stem the tide of anxiety, fear, and hatred.

I think it all starts with being thankful and considerate. If we can keep those two attitudes in front of us, we simply cannot go wrong.

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Friday, November 18, 2016

Being generous should be your decision.



Years ago I watched a black and white movie about a very rich man who took compassion for the homeless in his town. Back then they were simply called bums, but that would be insensitive of me to point that fact out, so maybe I won’t. It implies they don’t or didn’t want to earn something and hence the term “bum something” came about. “Hey, buddy, can I bum a smoke?” or “May I bum a ride?” The implication of the term meant it was a temporary situation, while most times it was perpetual and everyone knew it.

“What do you want to do today?” was a common catchphrase and usually answered like this: “Let’s just bum around.” Or maybe this variation, “I’m just going to sit on my bum all day.” Anyway, back to the movie. It was close to Thanksgiving or maybe Christmas and very cold with snow on the ground. The rich man had a pocket full of hundred dollar bills and began circulating among the downtrodden transients and handing each one, one Benjamin. Now back in the 1920’s, this was a lot of money, enough to get these people off the streets for maybe a couple of months.

This went well for a few moments until they attacked him and after beating him senseless, they relieved him of not only his money, but most of his warm clothing. Were they inherently criminal? Nope; greed took them over and they became a school of sharks and instead of simply feeding, they devoured their savior. Now imagine if this happened once a week. They would never have to work, because a good Samaritan would always rescue them.

Now imagine this scenario; you’ve been working all your life to get ahead and better your family’s well being. You pay taxes and make the monthly mortgage note on your 2-story house with 4 bedrooms. You struggle at times to have 2 extra cents for entertainment, but manage to pay your insurance, utility bills, and the myriad of other charges that come with owning a home and keeping groceries on the table.

Seeing that you and your mate both work and the kids are busy with extra curricular activities, you don’t realize an uninvited family has moved into your spare bedroom. They live off your lavish abundance, consume your groceries, and pay no utilities or taxes and come to find out; they are getting a stipend each month from your bank account! The sad thing is, you probably would have helped them if it would have been your choice to make.

So, you call a family meeting and bring in your parents and brothers and sisters and their spouses, to help you “rid yourself of these parasites”, as you call them. Imagine your surprise and disgust when half of your family decides the problem is too big and as a solution actually side with the intruders. The other half wants to physically remove them regardless if there is a fight or not. So, a stalemate is reached and you are forced to do nothing and let them stay for the time being. However, the side effect of this is a deep division in your family and you are stuck with the bill as the intruding family keeps growing. On top of everything else, one of the women has a baby and claims it is now part of your family and has legal rights to be there.

Being generous should be a choice we make, not something that should be taken for granted.  The rich man had no idea he was walking into the jaws of a tiger and the homeowner was equally oblivious that his apparent abundance would be taken advantage of. I think both examples are quite obvious that generosity and accumulation can be misconstrued to be a pot of gold there for the taking. However, is it? Of course it is not. How many times have we said that we will give the shirt off our back to those in need, but danged if I will let them steal, rob, or take it without my permission? Generosity is a one way street with a fortunate soul at the end. It is not a slippery slope where those of us with a few pleasures are stripped as we slide past those who don’t.

On the other hand, trolling people for a handout when you can work simply makes you, yes, a bum and in the old sense of the word. We cannot save the world and I’m not saying we shouldn’t have programs to help the down trodden or people seeking a better way of life. They need to come to the front door instead of the back entrance and stand in line. Civilized people stand in lines. Then at this time, we can decide just how generous we can afford to be. There is no other way.
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Friday, November 11, 2016

For those who served



 
Sgt. Bert Marshall  6280th CSG/366th Gunfighter Squadron, Takhli RTAFB
I graduated high school in late May of 1970 and the Vietnam War was still very much in the news. 1968 was the year of the most killed in action, but 1970 recorded over 6000 servicemen KIA. Like most students, Vietnam was as close as Jupiter and I knew about the same amount about both places. It was a time when if you wanted to know anything about anything, you pretty much went to the library to learn about it. At 17 years of age, I was more interested in living day to day then worrying about Vietnam.

I moved down to Pasadena with a friend from St. Louis until my family could relocate here and stayed in an apartment near Southmore Street. A few months later, my parents relocated on Red Bluff and I floated around a bit, like flotsam in the bay. That pretty much describes me too. For the first time in a long time, I didn’t have a job and was basically extra baggage for my parents. I decided I had better enlist in the Air Force, but I would check out the other branches before I signed my life away.  Did you know the military is the one job that they can ask you to sacrifice your life?

The recruiters were pretty busy back in those days, as the war was raging and they needed new talent. I walked right past the Navy recruiters, even though my dad was a sailor and we have a history of the sea in our bloodline. I just couldn’t see the shore from a boat and that made me uneasy. The Army was going to make me what was called a ground-pounder and even I knew that, so why enlist for 3 years when I could simply be drafted for 2? Well, I did not want to be drafted, that is for sure. That was a guaranteed ticket to Vietnam.

Then I saw it!  The standing full-sized Marine display and they were looking for a few good men. Well, I smoked cigarettes and talked like a man, so I stepped inside. There before me were two Marines; a huge black man and a smaller white one and both of them looked at me like they were cannibals and I was a pot-roast. “What do you want?” the shorter one bellowed.

“I, I, uh, I was thinking of joining the Marines and I wondered what they had to offer…sir?” Wrong question, as they both started screaming, foaming at the mouth, and clenching their fists while saying something about what I had to offer the Marine Corps. I barely made it out the door alive.

I pushed open the door of the Air Force recruiter in a cold sweat, which in itself was amazing as it was August and about 100 degrees outside.  “Back here!” I heard a friendly voice call out. The room was empty and I walked down to the first office and there behind the desk, eating a donut and drinking coffee was an Air Force Staff Sergeant in what I would later learn was a 1505 Tropical grade uniform. “Have a seat fella, what can we do for you?” he said and offered me the same fare as he was enjoying. It was love at first sight!

There was a made for TV movie called “Tribes” that I watched and it was informative in one area that I was totally ignorant about. It is or was known as “Recycling” or “getting set back”. In the movie, the main character never assimilates into the Marine Corps mentality and is not graduated with his class.  He is recycled to a motivational platoon to do it all over again. In Boot Camp, this became our greatest fear and one that none of us knew anything about prior to entering the service, despite the movie.

Out of 60 airman basics, or “Rainbows” as we were called, we lost an easy 1/3 to this practice. We picked up that third from other squadrons that were set back. The funny thing is, in the remaining 4 years I was in the Air Force, no one ever admitted to being set back. Now our TI’s or Technical Instructors as the Air Force called them were meaner than rabid Tasmanian Devils and most of them had been to war in the Army or Marine Corps. They were preparing us for war and dangnabit, they were serious as cancer about it. Somehow I graduated to join the war. I do not regret my time in the armed forces and these men helped mold me to the man I am today.

Some of my brothers and sisters went from boot camp to a lifetime of pain and suffering, while I walked away unscathed. The excellent VA hospital in Houston is a testament to their physical and mental suffering and that old demon Agent Orange is still working its poisonous treachery. I was around the stuff for almost 2 years and yet?  Nothing so far.

Friends, November 11th is a day set aside to thank Veterans for their service. The best you can say is a simple, "Thank you for your service," and remember there are thousands of women who served in the armed forces too. Fly your American flag and if you can, attend a Veteran's Day service. As a Veteran, I know that behind each Vet is a whole multitude of people who were affected by their time away while serving and for that, I say thank you!
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Friday, November 04, 2016

Riding the waves



 Back in 1974, after coming back to the USA from the unpleasant conflict in Southeast Asia, I was stationed at Vandenberg Air Force Base in Lompoc, California. Vandenberg has 20 miles of coastline that is basically closed to the public and people in residence, regardless if you are in the military or not. This rule didn’t seem to affect my fellow airmen and I from going body surfing on a lonely stretch of beach, far from controlling authorities.
 
There was a submerged shelf that ran out a couple three hundred yards from the beach that was flat and about 6 feet deep.  You could swim way out there and as the ocean waves came in, they would hit that shelf and make 5 feet high waves that white-capped all the way in. Now mind you, this was pre-Jaws and none of us had ever heard of a Great White shark. Year later I read where this stretch of beach was prime habitat and a couple years ago, an airman was killed right there.

We had been in the 65 degree water for about an hour and I was turning blue, but I caught a terrific wave and all but washed up on the shore.  It was amazing and the best ride of the day.  It was akin to catching a big fish after not catching anything for hours. I immediately swam back out, even though we had all decided to come in. Needless to say, I found myself 300 yards off the beach and alone. In between waves, the ocean is very calm and I could see my buddies as they swam in and they were a long way off.

Suddenly, in the calm, I heard a splashing sound and because the salt water had made my vision a bit blurry, I thought it might be a SCUBA diver. It wasn’t.  It was a very large elephant seal and it was about 20 feet from me. I remember looking at it and then at my friends way off in the distance and then swimming for my life. Now, I’m not what you would classify as an elegant swimmer. What I did, looked more like a spastic person imitating a meth head in 6 inches of water. I pretty much attracted everything for 10 miles with my flailing, but made it to shore unscathed.

My buddies, who were all drinking beer by this time thought my exhibition was for them and were laughing when I all but cut a furrow in the beach with my fingers and toes. Now here is the ignorance of people in 1974 concerning Great White sharks.

“Oh, it was a seal? Don’t worry, cause if there are seals present, they scare away the sharks!” To this day I can see that big seal staring at me and now I know the truth. Sharks eat seals.  A few short months later, I was out of the service and the war and I tied my horse in Baytown. My brothers and I went to Galveston to swim in the Gulf and 2 weeks after that? We saw Jaws! I got to relive my experience all over again and one of the fellows in that movie was named Bert of all things! Remember him? He was on the dock that got pulled out and had to swim back! “Swim Bert!”

People forget what this movie did to us in 1975. It was traumatic to put it mildly. I remember a couple of airmen and I went to Universal Studios before I departed the Air Force and there was a mock-up of the Jaws shark hanging from a big structure and we looked at it and laughed.  I think it was about 25 feet long and 6 feet thick. We put it in the same category as King Kong and just as likely. It turns out, according to the record books the record stands at 36 feet.  What?

There’s no moral to this story that I can tell and just a memory that surfaced like that seal did. I know one thing. After watching the movie Jaws, I was so scared of water that for 6 months, I had trouble sitting on the throne!

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Friday, October 28, 2016

Camp fires, wood smoke, and burning leaves.



 When I was a kid, everyone burned leaves in the fall. I always enjoyed it so much.  It was a happy time. Man, that smell was amazing and you couldn’t go anywhere without smelling it. Of course now I know that it is a major source of air pollution and those of us that live inside the city limits are restricted from doing it. I don’t think I would burn them anyway, choosing to compost instead.

The whole family would engage in raking the yard and the reward was burning the leaves. The thick gray smoke would pour out like liquid clouds and we would run through it. Afterward, we smelled like smoke, but we didn’t care. I would wager that most people under the age of 30 have never even raked leaves into a pile, let alone burn them.

Growing up in north Georgia in the late 60’s, my 3 brothers and I would camp out most of the summer and burn anything and everything on our campfire. At the end of summer there wouldn’t be a stick, pine cone, or needle on the ground. We smelled like mountain men and didn’t even notice it. Of course we showered every third day or so and put on clean clothes, but we pretty much lived in our outdoor summer campsite. It was a grand time of adventure and primitive living. I guess you could say we were happy.

The other night when it fell into the 50’s, I beckoned my bride to step outside, as someone was burning wood. I’m not sure if she was impressed like I was, but I stayed out front for sometime and my memories were refreshed. It is the simple things in life that sometimes bring the most pleasure. Someone asked me one time what brings true happiness and I told them it is when you fulfill your duties, or a job well done. Peace and contentment bring real joy also.

Disneyworld is nothing more than entertainment. It doesn’t induce lasting happiness. Standing in front of my house smelling that wood smoke made me happy, as I was living in the past and in the moment and days later I still feel good about it. I was content. Doing good deeds and accomplishing things also bring a sense of well being. In a time when everything is pushed as entertainment, we almost forget that none of it really makes us happy.  People go on cruises and vacations and never talk about them afterward.

There is so much hassle and logistics involved to go and do things anymore that when it is all said and done, I’m not sure we got anything more out of it than seeing and doing things – and spent a bunch of money we don’t really have and why? Because we are chasing the illusion of happiness. My dad could sit in one spot and fish all by himself from sunrise to sunset and be as happy as a frog eating a June bug.  The scenery never changed and all he might have seen around his boat was water and sky, but he was more content, than if he would have traveled and climbed up to Machu Picchu.

Wood smoke and camp fires. How long has it been since you hunkered down by a campfire and let the world fly by without you? Of course, you cannot haul in a lowboy of modern conveniences on this trip, or you just complicate it. No, just some meat on a stick; coffee in the morning, and maybe a cooler with beverages is all you need. Get a pocket knife and whittle a stick, just frittering the day away. I promise, it will do you more good than a trip to a crowded stadium, where you have a 50/50 chance of leaving disgusted.

My little doggies make me happy on a daily basis. They demand nothing, chase each other in mock fights and dadgumit, they just are great companions. I feel good caring for them, by taking them for walks, making sure they have plenty of food and water, and great veterinary care. It’s these simple everyday things that enrich my life and the best part of it all is I recognize it. I don’t have to book a flight to Belize to have a great time or to be content.

Like the burning leaves, wood smoke, and campfires, what has truly made me satisfied in life - is life itself.
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Friday, October 21, 2016

Who wants the good old days?



We have an amazing source of near constant free energy in our Sun, so why don’t every home have a solar panel array in place? It is 2016 after all.  Think about it.  The first internal combustion engine automobile became generally available to the public in 1908, just 22 years after its invention. It was made by ford and named the Model T.

The invention of solar panels predates automobiles by over 30 years. Although rudimentary and inefficient, it wasn’t until 1941 that the solar cell came along. That was 55 years ago and yet, I don’t have a solar array and a bank of batteries powering my house.  Why? It is still too expensive. Again I ask why. Why is it so expensive for us to get off fossil fuel generated electricity and onto solar energy cells?

We are risking a future nightmare if we lose power. Heckfire, if we lose juice for just 24 hours, most of us are utterly miserable and anxiously ready to revolt. (Get it?) Never mind. The idea of living off the grid for most of us is just a fantasy and the good old days of no electricity and outhouse toilets, is not something I don’t want to experience again.

John Wells, a New York photographer liquidated his assets and bought a plot of desert land near Terlingua, Texas about 10 years ago.  His homestead is called the Field Lab and he blogs about it daily. It is an experiment in off the grid living and yes, he has solar panels to provide electricity. He runs the Southwest Texas Alternative Energy and Sustainable Living Field Laboratory, a personal experiment in green living.

In his own words, he writes, “I was paying $1,000 a month in taxes. I decided I would try a debt-free lifestyle. I knew a couple, Abe and Josie Connally, who were practicing sustainable living in West Texas, so in October 2007 I packed up and moved. Now I own 40 acres in the desert, and my property taxes are $100 a year.”

He has a huge scientific following and I guess I can say my attention also, as I have followed him since the inception of the experiment. Don’t get me wrong, I want a simpler life as do most of us, if we think about it. I remember a time when things were not as complicated and yearn for them occasionally. One of my fantasies is sitting in front of a log cabin on the side of a mountain and drinking coffee over a small campfire. At the end of the day, I would turn on the lights inside and cook on my gas stove and get a beverage out of the refrigerator, just like I do here in Baytown.

“As soon as I got here, I built the basic box of my house in ten days and moved right in. I used four-by-eight-foot panels of oriented strand board, which is like plywood but cheaper. There are seven little windows and a big glass door.”

In my fantasy, I would have the best of both worlds.  Solitude, peace, great scenery and modern conveniences at my fingertips. With proper landscaping, I could have all of them right here in Baytown with a solar panel array and batteries with no need to buy propane, butane, or gasoline to run my house and vehicles. So why hasn’t the price and knowledge of solar energy become cheap and common? It works and is clean and I think everyone would switch to it if they could.  Can you imagine how quiet our world would be if we weren’t propelling ours vehicles with gasoline and diesel?

Back to the Field Lab, John writes, “I’m building a greenhouse out of shipping containers and cinder block, to create a garden that will be my little oasis of food and wean me from canned goods. I’m going to try hydroponics and aquaponics, which is when you grow fish and vegetables at the same time.” Do we have to be in starvation mode to plant a Victory Garden? Wouldn’t it be amazing if people all across this country took to planting their own crops in their yards, verandas, or patios? I imagine we would all be happier than we are now. Talk about a farmer’s market!

People would be friendlier too and guess what?  You could actually enjoy talking to people again. The good old days had a certain charm, I will grant you that, but we need electricity and the way to insure we keep it, is for solar panel technology to become affordable.


Friday, October 14, 2016

Outdoor Games for the Average Person



The old exhortation that there is nothing to do in Baytown is simply no longer true. There are interesting and fun alternatives for everyone and some of them require no set-up fees or additional expense to enjoy. On top of everything else, the four games I am going to describe will not only get you outside into the great outdoors, but enable you to interact with your friends and family including small children.

The four games are Pokémon Go, Ingress, Geocaching, and Baytown Rocks. The first three require a global positioning device or Smartphone and the fourth requires shoes of some kind, unless you like to walk around barefoot.

Pokémon Go and Ingress were originally developed for the gaming industry and now allow a person to play a form of virtual reality (using a free Ap) where they follow their missions outdoors and track whatever it is they are looking for with a Smartphone. Both games have great appeal to gamers, but not so much for the average person.

“Ingress is a location-based, augmented-reality, massively multiplayer online game (MMOG). The game has a science fiction back story with a continuous open narrative. Ingress is also considered to be a location-based exergame (video games that require physical activity to play), as is Pokémon Go. Mobile exergames for GPS (global positioning system)-enabled smartphones and mini-tablets take players outdoors, in the open air, unlike console exergames.”

In my experience, Ingress appeals more to hardcore gamers, whereas Pokémon Go is a simpler type MMOG with many more players. Both games have an international following and just might be what you are looking for in an outdoor game.

Geocaching is the mac daddy of hide and seek games and one that I regularly teach. It can take you to the most remote locations on earth and have the highest terrain and difficulty rating in comparison to the other 3 games. A short description of the complicated game is an outdoor recreational activity, in which participants use a Global Positioning System (GPS) receiver or mobile device and other navigational techniques to hide and seek containers, called "geocaches" or "caches", at specific locations marked by coordinates all over the world.

Doing a simple search online will help anyone learn about these 3 games and it’s not my intention in this article to attempt to cover them in any real detail. You can however learn a great deal about geocaching here: http://ourbaytown.com/baytownbert/geocache.htm

On the 4th game, it is the new kid on the block and by far the easiest: Baytown Rocks.  Baytown Rocks is a Facebook-based game where local families paint rocks and then “hide” them at businesses or parks and when you find one, you log it on their Facebook page located here: https://www.facebook.com/groups/BaytownRocks/  Note, you will have to have a free Facebook account to post there.

“Baytown Rocks is a communal art project dedicated to spreading joy in our community. Simply decorate a rock however you want and "hide" it in a public space for others to find. Be sure to write "Keep or hide, but post to FB @BaytownRocks" on the back! Check the group to see if anyone found your rock, and don't forget to invite your friends to join us!”

The origin of the game only goes back a couple of years to April 2014 when an Oregon couple, grieving the loss of their 2 daughters started Love Rocks on Facebook. It has since spread like wildfire and Sunday Harper created the group to bring it to Baytown. Our iteration presently has almost 4000 people playing the game.

On a couple of my Blue Heron Trail litter abatement walks, I found two! I knew about this game when it launched and wrongly decided it was nothing more than fluff and a fad, but now I am seeing the light. Maybe I had rocks in my head, but guess what? Its fun! The first stone I found was painted like a minion and when I posted my find and selfie holding the colorful mineral, I learned that a 9 year old child painted it and they were very excited that I posted the photo.

The second rock was painted to advertise the Baytown Little Theater. I pretty much left both rocks for others to find so they can enjoy the game also. As a geocacher, used to looking for things that only a geocacher would find, this game is easy peasy in comparison, but the real motivation is the exercise I am getting and the joy the creators get when someone finds their custom rock.

I think these 4 games are wonderful and if people playing are careful when out and about, they can avoid injury. We’ve all heard stories about folks playing Pokémon Go getting ran over by a car or falling off a cliff while staring at their phone screen, but geocaching in remote areas is probably potentially more hazardous. Geocache containers may be in the top of a tree, in an alligator-infested bayou, or on the side of a mountain and like most things that are really fun, it has inherent dangers.

I urge you to get outdoors and try your hand at one of these 4 games. Who knows? You might just rock out!


Quoted text from various online research.
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Friday, October 07, 2016

The New Stupid World Order



Is it just me or does it once again appear that the whole world is sinking into a state of chaos? From the simplest of tasks, like following the rules of the road to people dressing up like clowns and chasing people, the world has plainly gone nuts.

Just last week, within 3 days of each other I had  3 occasions where a car approached at a higher rate of speed than the neighborhood speed limit of 30mph, by coming over into my lane because their lane was blocked with cars – not mine. Common rules of the road dictate they wait as I pass, but no, they can’t wait. Their ignorance of the law and their impatience and entitlement would not let them. Not to mention, I perceived them to be idiotic and rude and that my friend is a dangerous combination.

A week or two before that, the same thing happened and I would not give up my lane. They were forced to slow down and were barely able to slip by my left side without a head-on collision. My speed was about 10mph and theirs was closer to 40mph, before they braked almost to a stop. My reaction was because it was happening with more frequency and my lifted Jeep would have climbed up and over the top of their racy little import sedan.

Prior to this, it was a rare occasion – just like clown sightings.

Now we have a couple of copycats, who are falling into the imbecilic and rude category and they showed up in Jenkins Park. Are people so stupid that they think something like wearing clown clothes and masks and chasing people is a good idea? I’m afraid that if I encounter one, I will hold them close to the ground with my foot on the side of their head until the cops arrive, fire ants and all.

I can see the headlines that would flash across the Internet:  “240 pound muscled, indoor cycling instructor, Vietnam Veteran, black belt man-handles Halloween-costumed unarmed teen boy in public park.  Charges being reviewed by a grand jury.”  Oh, you think that couldn’t happen in our new stupid world order?

We have people right here in this town that would go ballistic and want me lynched. “How dare someone discourage anyone from dressing like a clown in public?” they would cry. They would use social media because they consider themselves “progressives”. Geeze does this mean common sense should be ignored? Almost every cherished idea is under attack it seems. I am all for progress, it just has to come slowly, so we can feel out the repercussions and make reversals. Remember dropping the drinking age from 21 to 18?

In a society that requires law and order, we are turning into the Wild West, where anything we can get away with is the new rule. A society that takes more than it gives is doomed. I’ve said it so many times, but it needs repeating. When people put their agendas ahead of everyone and everything around them, there is going to be chaos. Speak up and “how dare you?” is screamed in your face.

I watched a goodly number of videos where marchers have attempted to block roads with their numbers and the drivers feel threatened enough to run people over. The crowd now screams foul and literally tries to kill the drivers. What? I’d drive over them too if I felt threatened. Heckfire, as far back as I can remember I knew better than to walk out on the road. Are they really that stupid? You walk in front of a moving car and you get what you deserve.

There are people posting videos of them driving around blowing train horns to scare people. Guess what? It is so loud it isn’t funny to anyone but the morons doing it. The so-called prank videos are the same.  They are not pranks by any stretch and hitting a stranger in the back with a ball bat is not a joke, it’s an attack. People racing through red lights so they don’t have to stop are not anything more than dangerous drivers breaking the law. They kill other people when it goes wrong and all you have to do to see an example is drive in Baytown.

It’s the stupid new world order of give it to me, its mine. I walk into the gym almost every day and as I do, I pick up energy drink cans and protein bar wrappers in the parking lot and put them in the trash can at the door. I shake my head every single time I do it too. The other day, someone threw a weighted rubber ball against the wall of the Group X room and caved in the sheet rock. They bugged out and didn’t say a word and I found it when I came in for Spin class. I guess they thought it would bounce back? More head shaking.

Sometimes I feel like a three-eyed man in the land of the blind, but I would wager that many of you reading this see it the same as I do. It’s enough to make you lose faith in mankind.
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Friday, September 30, 2016

Reading, Writing, and Arithmetic




Ben Franklin, the original Benjamin guy.
I wish I could remember who it was that said you can get a basic education in three years, but let us take a look at Ben Franklin as an example of that. We have a family joke that the answer to almost any Jeopardy clue is almost always “Who was Ben Franklin?”

When I am asked who I would most likely enjoy an afternoon with, it is always Ol’ Ben, the only President of the United States, who was never the President of the United States. Did you know he was the master of self-promotion and a man I admire? Even as a young lad, if he spotted a person of higher station, he would grab a shovel or some tool and begin to work diligently. The person would see him and remark, “What a fine worker that young man is!”

I’ve read a couple of books on the man and it still amazes me that he did so much with so little organized education. “From 1714-1716, Franklin attended Boston Grammar School and George Brownell's English School (for one year each) but he was withdrawn due to the expense of formal schooling (Cambridge Companion). Franklin didn't let this bring him down. Nothing could ruin his eternal drive and passion! Franklin read books and taught himself foreign languages.”*

On his many trips to Europe, he conducted experiments on the tides and currents and that data is still used today. Mr. Franklin was such a learned man, that he is known as the greatest scientist of the 18th century. The bifocal glasses many of us wear were invented by him.  The lightning rods on buildings? Yup, Ben Franklin and he coined the words, battery, positive, negative, and charge in relation to electricity.

Ben’s secret to success was his curiosity and his love of learning. He didn’t waste time with redundant nonsense, like playing video games, texting thousands of unnecessary thumb taps, and watching idiotic reality television and wouldn’t have if they were available. Ben had more important things to think about. Stuff like inventing the US Postal System and starting the first lending library so others could gain access to knowledge.

Ben was an advocate of swimming in a time that only children and shipwrecked sailors did it and seeing a need to propel himself faster, fashioned the first swim fins and this earned him recognition in the International Swimming and the United States Swim Schools Association Hall of Fame. That odometer in your car? Ben, for the most part.

Boy, those 2 or 3 years of school he got sure paid dividends!

I enjoy those political cartoons as much as anyone else and the first one was attributed to our scientist. Even the modern selfie-stick is a descendant of Franklin’s reaching device, as are the clamp sticks used to pick up trash by highway crews. The Franklin Stove became a standard addition to most every home that could afford one and is still used today.

Malcolm X
Now Ben might be the exception, but I don’t think so. I believe an overhaul in our education system is needed. If you read the book Malcolm X, you will see how Detroit Red went from being a nearly illiterate 8th grade drop-out street hustler to an articulate and educated Malcolm X in a few short years in prison. He did this by reading books and like Ben Franklin, was mostly self educated, as was the great educator Frederick Douglass.

As I have written before, my real education began after I flunked the 9th grade. Because we moved constantly, my knowledge of math was disjointed and I became the class clown in my English class, going for the laugh above studies. My teacher flunked me by one point and it was the best thing that ever happened to me. Humiliated, I worked through summer and paid for my summer school with those earnings, as my mother simply told me I must, or repeat the grade. By today’s standards this would be considered child abuse.

Frederick Douglass
My teacher started me on the course that I’ve never left. She truly taught me to read, comprehend, and write. The arithmetic came later after I developed a love of learning. I truly believe our educational system is producing cookie-cutter educations that do little to prepare a young man or woman for the hardships of adult life, despite the well intentions of our teachers abilities. We need curriculum that challenges the minds of young people to excel instead of memorizing the same stuff over and over. Give them the proper tools and then make a path for exploration.

Paul Simon sums up my thinking perfectly in the song Kodachrome. "When I think back on all the crap I learned in high school, it's a wonder I can think at all. And though my lack of education hasn't hurt me none, I can read the writing on the wall." A real shame is most people under the age of 35 don’t even know what Kodachrome was and aren’t curious enough to find out.

Aught plus aught
After a few years of basics, a child should be aptitude tested and funneled toward their natural propensities.  Forget individual quotient testing and help them develop their real potential. We already have enough educated idiots with no common sense and proof of that is in Washington and many corporate offices. When a twenty-two year old “man” has no idea how to change a flat tire or check the oil level in their car motor, something is terribly wrong. Where are the Ben Franklin’s when we need them the most?

*Quote from HONOR DEVI THAPA
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Friday, September 23, 2016

Quit Pussyfooting Around With Terrorism



For some time now, authorities have been reluctant to label anyone as a terrorist until it has definitively been proved that they are affiliated with a known terrorist group.  They would rather be as politically correct and simply label them as a deranged person acting alone. They feel safer doing this I guess. Safer for their reputation, safer for their voting base, safer in that it won’t offend any particular group, and thus causes division in the logical masses that know terror when they see it.

From serial killers to gang warfare to random acts of violence, all of them instill a sense of terror in law abiding citizens.  Terrorism is the old boogeyman reincarnated.  In case you are young enough to not remember who this character is, I’ll educate you.  The bogeyman was a mythical creature used by adults to frighten children into good behavior.  He or it could take on most any appearance and would get you if you went where you shouldn’t.

Bill de Blasio
Anyone who hides bombs or goes on a shooting/stabbing spree represents the kind of threat which disrupts the government’s ability to maintain law and order, and thus is terrorism by definition.  New York City’s mayor was so reluctant to call it what it was that he wiggled around the subject.  He has since safely announced that it was indeed an act of terror to his feeble credit.  Hillary Clinton took the same cautious approach and our President, although is quick to point out the smallest injustice to Muslims and people of his own race, was silent as a Texas oyster.  He was also silent and absent when Louisiana flooded, choosing golf and pleasure over domestic issues.

US Army Major Nidal Hasan
Remember when the militant Muslim US Army Major Nidal Hasan began shooting unarmed soldiers at Fort Hood and shouting Allahu Akbar?  Under the Uniform Code of Military Justice, he should have been shot and shot again until he looked like a colander.  But where is he now?  Investigators in the FBI and U.S. Army determined that Hasan acted alone and they have found no evidence of links to terrorist groups. They are satisfied that his communications with Awlaki posed no threat at the time.” Wiki

The traitor is incarcerated at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas on death row and will probably gain about 40 pounds of fat eating more than he can exercise off until he is eventually put to death, if ever.  “On August 28, 2014, his attorney said Hasan had written a letter to Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi (head of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIS). In the letter, Hasan requested to be made a citizen of the Islamic State and included his signature and the abbreviation SoA (Soldier of Allah)” wiki

It is sad that so many of us down here in blue collar America plainly see terrorism for what it is and our leaders are more interested in side-stepping the issue than making the call. It simply adds to the list of reasons we would like to clean house in Washington.  When the US Army cannot enforce the UCMJ on something as monstrous as Nidal Hasan, there is little hope for America as it was fifty years ago.  Under George Washington’s command, he would never have left that cafeteria alive and the 13 people he murdered would be at peace, as would their families. 

Abu_Bakr_al-Baghdadi
Terrorists are the ultimate proxy bullies and the apex of cowardice. They lurk in the shadows for the most part and then kill randomly and this scares law-abiding citizens and it should. The only way to stop them is to fight back and when they are caught red-handed, justice should be swift and brutal.  When they pull these acts in Russia, their punishment is immediate and it sends a very strong message to the next guy or gal who enlists in this aberrant and perverted behavior.

The list of Islamic terrorist acts around the world is staggering and growing every single day. One fellow on the BaytownTalks.net forum noted that there is a deliberate attempt by our government to salve over these incidents as normal every day acts and nothing to worry about. What? Tell that to someone who lost a family member to a bomb or a knife. It all becomes real when someone you know is killed or maimed.

In the White House we apparently have a President who is hell bent on bringing in more Islamists than care for military Veterans or seniors on Social Security in this country. Almost every day we read where he is demanding we flood the country with more Muslims and yet, the huge bulk of terrorism around the world is being caused by people with that religious belief. He doesn’t make the connection or maybe he does.

We Texans don’t want a police state, we want freedom. We don’t want to fear for our lives at the hands of terrorists, as we already have that with criminals. We will continue to arm ourselves and go about our business with the same caution we’ve learned to accept as normal. In the meantime, our leaders need to call terrorism for what it is and quit pussyfooting around.
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