Sunday, January 31, 2010
I ordered the Dolphin Pendant, a .925 sterling silver dolphin bonded in white gold rhodium. It is grasping a round clear-cut cubic zirconium between its fins and chin. The dolphin sports a matte finish except for its fins and nose, which are polished to an exquisite shine. Although the pendant itself is a fine example of quality craftsmanship, the black rope that is supplied with it does not equal the same level of quality. I would try to order it with a different chain or simply buy just the charm and place it on a standard sterling silver rope.
Despite the less than ideal rope, this is still, at just $74.00, an excellent value. Combined with a service structure that treats the customer with the kind of consideration that is rarely found in this day and age, I gave LuShae Jewelry a 9.5 on a 10-point scale. Go check them out, it is worth a couple of clicks - at least.
Friday, January 22, 2010
I study communication and I concentrate on ethics, morality and truth. When it comes to organizational communications, most would agree that those three qualities are seriously lacking at the insanely large end of the spectrum, but they are more easily found in much smaller companies. The organizational ethos of small businesses are less likely to be embodied in an anonymous corporate persona, but rather mirrors the ethos of the owners. With more direct control over who is hired and fired and a far more personal stake in the company’s success, a small business owner has much better control over how his or her business operates, and especially in how that business treats its customers.
Despite the fact that I do not regularly review goods and services here, I get commercial requests on a regular basis. Usually it is an offer to pay me a pittance for a banner advertisement on my blog. Although I have nothing against using this spot for commercial gain, I have no interest in reducing my integrity by advertising something I don’t believe in. To date, no such offer has met that that standard. And many of those offers are out and out scams – too easy to detect to even congratulate myself for my cleverness. Recently, however, I received an unsolicited email that was decidedly different. It was an invitation asking me to review a sample product from an online jewelry company. Sarah, with jewelryartdesigns.com (AKA LuShae Jewelry) offered me a free sample of any product in the company's online catalog, asking that I only write my honest opinion, “good, bad or ugly.”
If it was a scam, it was a well-written one and I could not see how I would be exposed in any way. Aside from providing my home address for shipping, no other information was requested or provided. No credit card numbers, no Social Security number, not even my age was requested and shipping was not tacked onto my free order – it was entirely complimentary. So I took the bait. Any small business that is willing to take the time to reach out via this medium with a well written, humble and catch-free request has earned my attention. I responded on January 13 and receive my complimentary gift coupon via email the same day. Within a day or two I placed my order and yesterday (Jan. 21) it arrived in my mailbox.
My review will be coming shortly, but besides reviewing the actual piece itself, I can say this about Jewlery Art Designs: Their website is exceptionally clean, easy to use and professional; their commitment to customer service is obvious; in short, they know who they work for. I can recommend them even in the interim, prior to taking a closer look at their product (and if first impressions are accurate, expect a similarly glowing review) because a dissatisfied customer will not remain so for long with them. Yes, they are that kind of company. The bend-over-backwards kind of customer service that has gone the way of the dinosaur is alive and well at Jewlery Art Designs. And that is more than half the battle to succeeding in business. Go check them out at LuShae Jewelry.
Thursday, January 21, 2010
The difference is, well, clear. Instead of relying on memory or a GPS guidance system, I can read the highway signs before I am too close to make a decision. Those large green blobs lining the sides of my street are actually individual leaves on trees, each of which I can see distinctly when wearing my glasses. It’s also far easier to spot police cars… not that I would ever have any need to know where they are. Still, I can get by without them and yesterday after one of the lenses popped out, I had to do just that.
It was nothing more than inconvenience, really. Since I was out running errands anyway, I made a stop at my local Walmart Supercenter to get my glasses repaired. On my way home, after they were repaired and cleaned, I encountered a deluge that reduced visibility to near zero. It was at the tail end of a storm that dumped rain on California for most of the day, but when I left my home in the late afternoon it looked like the storm was done doing its thing. Those lingering, localized cells, however, can be potent. This one was very much so.
It got me thinking. About abstract reality. About power. About how small we really are. We are at the top of the food chain – the most highly evolved species ever to live on planet Earth, but for all we have conquered, that deluge could not be stopped. We were at the mercy, yet again, of a power that we cannot duplicate or mitigate. And it was impressive. I have always marveled at the power Mother Nature can wield. Bad weather gives me an adrenaline rush. Although I get no pleasure from the human suffering that these natural phenomena can cause, I can’t help but respect the destructive – and creative – power nature holds. It does not discriminate; young and old, rich and poor, black, white and everyone in between, Mother Nature will have her way. And she does not care.
As rapidly as the rain appeared, it left leaving a spectacular double rainbow in its wake. "For what purpose," I wonder. Yes, I know, it is an explainable, physical phenomenon. Science can tell us exactly what causes a rainbow, but it can’t tell us why we find it beautiful, why it gives us pleasure. What makes a rainbow, or majestic mountain vistas, or a sunny California coastline, or the vastness of the Sahara Desert, or a sunset in all its pastel glory, or any of the other natural wonders that are everywhere, profound? Since the beginning of human history, men and women have written about it, composed music about it, depicted it in paint and marble, wood and metal and yet there is no end to the wonder of nature.
Beauty exists. It cannot be measured or otherwise quantified, but its quality is universal. Opinions might differ, but to say it’s solely in the eye of the beholder relegates the likes of a double rainbow to nothingness. It is much more than sunlight refracting through raindrops to create a visual image. It is profound. It stirs us. Beauty can be many things, but the idea that it exists in my mind and my heart alone as a unique concept is false. It is universal. It is real. And it is not just in the eyes of the beholder, whether those eyes need glasses or not.
Tuesday, January 19, 2010
The following story, with photos, appeared yesterday in the Sacramento Press
Bikers come thundering into Sacramento Convention Centerby Michael Althouse, published on January 18, 2010 at 11:00PM
Hundreds of motorcycles lined both sides of J Street in front of the Convention Center on Saturday while their owners attended the annual Sacramento stop of the Easyriders Bike Show Tour.
Although the rain Sunday reduced the number of bikes parked on the streets, attendance at the two-day event was as good as or better than last year, said event manager Kari Roben.
Inside the Convention Center, the main floor was full of exhibitors and vendors displaying custom motorcycles and related goods and services, including accessories, apparel and custom fabrication.
Sacramento was the second stop on a five-city tour that started in Pomona on Jan. 9. “This is our second biggest show,” Roben said. “Only the last show, the invitational in Columbus, is bigger.”
Roben said that the Sacramento show owes its success to a large number of subscribers to Easyriders magazine, local support from Harley Davidson of Sacramento and other vendors, and the fact that the city is centrally located.
“Sixty to 75 percent of our vendors return year after year,” she said.
In addition to vendors and row after row of custom motorcycles, there was live music and entertainment. And clowns roamed the exhibit floor, entertaining young and old alike.
Woodland resident Meagan Murphy, also known as "Denim Jean," created balloon animals for all who happened by the booth of Anne Nix, owner of Sacramento-based Anne’s Badass Boutique (or Anne’s Incredible Bodywear, depending on her clientele).
“This is my 12th or 13th year,” Nix said. “I’ve been doing biker shows all over the U.S. for 16 years.”
She said the economy has significantly affected her business and that she was not sure how much business the show would generate. Other vendors, though, were more optimistic.
James Dean, owner of Rebel Design, a local custom motorcycle paint and fabrication venture, said, “This is the best show I can do all year.”
Dean said he receives “eight to ten jobs out of the show.” But another local vendor, Mike Armtrout, owner of custom-parts manufacturer Bigger Pimps, from Grass Valley, said he was there “mostly for exposure.”
Many national vendors also were exhibiting.
Representing Iowa-based J&P Cycles, Patrick Garvin said the show was “at least as good as or a little better than last year.”
A large motorcycle parts and accessories vendor, J&P Cycles distributed free catalogs for Harley Davidson, vintage and metric motorcycles.
John and Christi Huddleson were exhibiting for the first time at the bike show, traveling to Sacramento and Pomona from their home in San Diego.
The Huddlesons' business, Patch World, generates its income entirely at motorcycle events, John Huddleson said.
“These shows have been better than expected,” he said. “If I had known, I would continue (with the entire tour).”
Some booths had a more philanthropic bent.
“Spurz,” who declined to give his real name, is the state founder of Bikers Against Child Abuse. He said that although one goal of his booth is to raise donations, “our primary purpose is to raise awareness.”
Calvin Jefferson, also known as "Redbone," has been riding motorcycles for 35 years.
“I’ve been coming for the last five years and this is better than last year,” he said, adding that it’s still not as well attended as years prior, “probably because of the economy.”
Robert and Maggie Sanchez were attending their first Easyriders event with their granddaughter Alexia, 2, who was enchanted by Denim Jean. Sanchez has attended the similar Street Vibrations show in Reno but enjoyed Sacramento's version better because it's more family-oriented.
Although the show focuses mostly on V-twin powered street motorcycles such as the venerable Harley Davidson, there was something for every enthusiast.
The show attracted attendees from outside the Sacramento area as well.
Dorain and Christine Sallee traveled from Santa Rosa to view the exhibits and visit the various vendors.
“Last year there seemed to be more Harley stuff,” Dorain Sallee said, adding that he rides a Honda Gold Wing.
A large variety of custom motorcycles were exhibited, some worth more than $100,000.
Lane Shipp, Matt Toro and Andy Clark were checking out their favorite motorcycles Sunday.
“I’d like to see more bikes and less booths,” Shipp said. “I like the simple ones. Less is more.”
In reference to the image of the "outlaw biker," many attendees said that it has faded.
“A lot of that stigma has gone away," said longtime motorcyclist Jim Warnken of Livermore. "It’s not like it used to be.”
Christine Sallee added, “Bikers get a bad rap. It’s not deserved.”
The next stop on the Easyriders Bike Show Tour is in Charlotte, N.C., Jan. 23-24.
Saturday, January 16, 2010
And as one might surmise, the Harley Davidson “culture” is not only the one I am currently enamored with, it has been a latent draw on me ever since those days of boyhood discovery. It’s not just the freedom or the oneness I feel when riding any motorcycle, when riding my Harley it’s also about patriotism, rebellion, history and a host of other intangibles that make riding a Harley a truly different experience. The same could be said for a host of other customs that are inspired by Harley’s big V-twin design, and perhaps to a lesser extent for all other large street cruisers that most manufacturers produce; but the heritage that comes with a Harley Davidson is impossible to replicate.
I am not a “hardcore” biker. I am not a member of a gang or motorcycle club. I just ride. I do, however, wear black leather when I ride and my motorcycle is loud. I like it that way and though others might not, those who would not otherwise be aware of my presence on the road will hear me long before they can swerve into my lane. But it’s more than just safety. The copious amounts of chrome, the shining paint and all the other ancillary accessories that create the image have little to do with getting from point A to point B in one piece. Indeed, often points A and B are the same place: my garage. It’s not about the destination.
Today my destination is the Sacramento Convention Center and though the weather probably permits it (only a slight chance of rain today), I will be leaving my bike in my garage. The absence of my bike, however, will not be noticed in a veritable sea of thousands of motorcycles – the vast majority of them Harley Davidsons. This year’s annual Sacramento stop of the Easyriders Bike Show Tour will be my forth in a row, but this year I am not merely attending, I am covering the story for the Sacramento Press. And to comfortably transport my camera gear and computer, I am compelled to drive.
When a friend at the Sac Press asked if I would like to cover the Easyriders Tour, it didn’t require much thought. I was going to go anyway. I was going to shoot literally hundreds of pictures anyway. And I was going to write about it anyway. The only difference is that now I am also going to write a feature news story… I think I still remember how to do that. And of course, with a press credential I’ll have ready access to those I need to interview – and I will not have to pay the admission fee, which is the only compensation I’ll receive for this freelance venture.
Okay, that’s not exactly true either. There is far more than just monetary “compensation.” I write for the same reason I ride - because I love it. That I can share this experience with those outside the motorcycling public is just icing one the cake. So I don’t get to ride my bike there today… it’s okay, it might rain anyway.
Tuesday, January 12, 2010
There was once a time when the unexpected occurred so frequently that it was almost expected. Most often I met these "emergencies" with a quick and poorly planned reaction - or none at all. Instant mitigation or ignorance was the only end - the means had no limit. And although that sort of reaction can produce results, the side effects can create problems of their own, problems that were unforeseen not because they were unforeseeable, but because I didn’t take the time to look. Reaction. Mitigation. Make it all go away right now, damn the consequences.
Life-threatening emergencies require quick action and certain risks must be assumed. Most emergencies are not of that variety, but it seemed my reaction was always some sort of boilerplate without regard to the magnitude of the situation. This appears not to be the case anymore; I can even say that when a situation is life threatening, I can meet it with a reasoned and measured response. My son and I had a life-threatening situation materialize late last night. His new chocolate lab puppy, Bella, got very sick very fast and we needed to make some decisions. After gathering as much information as we could at home, we decided that an emergency visit to a veterinarian was necessary.
Not a human life? She is part of our family and although she is my son’s dog, I love with her as I do a great many people I care about. And as I would with those people, I gave everything I had to be sure Bella would make it through the night - and my son got to participate in this calm, measured response to a very real emergency. We gathered everything we needed, scooped Bella up and drove – at the speed limit – to the pet hospital. The closest emergency vet is about 20 minutes from our home – I suppose I could have made it in about half that time, but that could have very easily caused more problems. It turns out that our response likely saved Bella’s life.
We have a very sick puppy. She was extremely dehydrated, vomiting and would have had diarrhea if there were enough fluids in her system to produce it. Although she has had her shots, she still managed to contract canine parvovirus – almost always fatal in puppies if left untreated. She was tested, prodded and poked, given fluids, medications and we were sent home with a battery of instructions, injections and other medicine to get her well. Bella saw her regular vet this morning and her prognosis is good. She is feeling better today, but Bella is still not out of the woods. And now that she is hydrated she can and does produce copious amounts of… it’s a mess, an unexpected mess, but one we have responded to with love and reason.
The problem has been mitigated, but it is not yet over. There is nothing instant about solving this issue. We have a pensive two to four days ahead of us, but right now we are feeling a great deal of relief and we both know that the relief is due in no small part to our response. We are not cleaning up the mess of a shortsighted reaction, but we are cleaning up the mess of a sick puppy - and it looks like she’s going to make it. Somewhere between no reaction and over reaction lies what proved to me to be so elusive for so long – a response.
Bella appears to be making a swift recovery. Her symptoms have all but disappeared and we are weening her back to solid food. Other than tiring faster than normal, she is no longer a sick puppy.
Saturday, January 09, 2010
The preface assembled in my last post will likely change before I am done. This blog and the many pieces written for it will be found sprinkled liberally throughout the book, but the book itself will not be published here. Although my motivation for writing is couched in a genuine desire to contribute to the vast pool of human understanding, secondary motivations include distribution and income. To be successful in getting published (which is a long shot at best), pre-publishing it here would be counterproductive. That is not to say excerpts or “trial balloons” will not show up from time to time, but my intention is not to publish this book “live.” Also, the scope of this blog has precluded publishing certain details that have little to do with where I am now, but everything to do with how I got here.
In respect to the limited scope of The 25 Year Plan, those boundaries will remain in place. However, the book will not be so limited – everything that needs to be included to present a complete picture will be; nothing will be left out. If and when the book is published, I will have occasion to revisit and perhaps modify my blog policies, but that is still a very long way away. My goal is to have a manuscript completed before the end of this year, but nothing is set in stone. The reflection required to be able to write what I feel (or felt) will mean reliving some very painful experiences, for I am not living in pain anymore.
This documentation of my intention is a commitment to myself. Staying on task and following through is always a challenge for me, but one in which I have made marked improvement over the past few years. It is no coincident that my fortune has turned as a result, but there is far more to it than simply “just doing it.” If that were all it took, I never would have found myself in a quagmire of desperation with no good idea of who I really was. I don’t know if I can say, “If I only knew then what I know now,” but I do know that it certainly would not have hurt. And I don’t know what the answer is. I only have this one life to share. However, from the compelling stories I have heard from many others, knowledge that there is hope is not only important, it is absolutely necessary.
Friday, January 08, 2010
My parents met in Southern California in 1961 and married in January 1962. I came along ten months later followed by my little brother in November 1964 and my sister in September 1966. I do not remember my brother’s arrival (but the evidence that it happened, like my own birth, is overwhelming), but I do remember when my parents came home from the hospital with my little sister. It was among the first handful of sketchy memories I have from my early childhood. When my sister came along, we were living in the home that all of my formative years from about the age of three on would occur. The geographic stability I enjoyed as a child was unusual then, almost unheard of now.
Shortly after my parents married, my father was offered (and accepted) a job in Northern California. Raychem Corporation was located in Redwood City, just south of San Francisco and was an ideal place for a young research chemist to ply his trade. He worked hard and before I was four years old, he and my mother were able to purchase our home in Los Altos, not far from where he received his Ph.D., Stanford University. We were located in what would become Silicon Valley, but at the time the development of the semiconductor was just in it’s infancy – the Santa Clara Valley was better known for its fruit tree orchards and mild climate. By the time I entered Kindergarten, I was able to start remembering my life from personal experience; and for many years that experience was good.
If it remained good, there would be little else to write about. I would simply say: “I graduated high school; went to the college of my choice; got a good job; met a wonderful woman who became my wife; we bought a home; had 2.3 kids; and lived happily ever after.” Isn’t that the American Dream? It used to be. Now is not the time to get into how that dream has evolved, but suffice it to say that my story did not follow the script. However, as chaotic as my life grew in my late teens and the many years following high school, and as bad as I imagined it was, and as much as I held disdain for the abject unfairness of my fortune, I can look back retrospectively and retroactively change the vision of how bad or unfair my life was.
The genre of “memoir” has experienced some degree of disgrace lately. The liberties some memoirists have taken with the “truth” have left some, myself included, with a healthy skepticism for what many claim to be real, calling it instead the “essential” or “emotional” truth, all the while telling us that embellishing details or outright fabrication is fair game when telling their story. It is not, but for this reason I hesitate to call this a memoir. But it is not an autobiography, per se, either. I will not bore you with every little chronologically organized detail of the 47 years I have lived thus far. I am not that important nor am I that interesting, however, I am a formerly miserable human being who is not anymore. Ever. And that transformation could be of use to others. To that end, I have little choice but to document sections of my story – to present pieces of my life that illustrate how it went from a storybook childhood to an empty aimless existence and, most importantly, how I came out of it.
This is a story about how to change the past.
Thursday, January 07, 2010
L’Oréal is currently airing television advertisements for a new facial skin care product, Go 360° Clean. Billed as the “1st Deep Pore-by-Pore Cleanser,” it comes with its very own “Scrublet.” Working away in my office one room away from the droning TV, I did not hear any of this. It was just the standard run of the mill, daytime personal hygiene product commercial - blah, blah, blah. What made my ears perk up was one of the benefits this new cleanser provides to its users. After rewinding back to the beginning of the 15-second spot, I viewed the entire commercial, this time paying very close attention. Not believing what I thought I heard, I needed confirmation. And I got it.
The spot is obviously aimed at women and women, apparently, are very interested in being 100 percent sure that each and every pore is thoroughly clean; hence, the “Scrublet.” And it's not just about women... I mean really, who doesn’t want clean pores? I certainly do. The scrublet gimmick, the thorough cleansing appeal and the beautiful face model with the absolutely flawless skin are all standard fare when it comes to marketing this sort of product. None of it is particularly noteworthy and none of it captured my attention. But in this spot there was something new; this benefit mentioned earlier was one I did not know was in demand. I now know that I must concentrate on yet one more attribute that defines beauty – small pores.
Yes, that’s right. L’Oréal’s Go 360° Clean will provide its user with, and I quote, “visibly smaller pores.” I never knew that pore size, or the appearance thereof, was a measure of beauty. But apparently while I was off in the twilight zone not paying attention to TV commercials, it became one. Like pretty much every other measure of beauty created by those selling us products to create it or maintain it, the appearance of pore size is now of critical importance where beauty is concerned. And now that I think about it, it makes perfect sense. Who in his or her right mind would even think about walking around in public with large pores?
These marketing folk are clever. Although it’s difficult to tell when it was that the pore size issue came up, it is possible that the extreme close-up photo of Sarah Palin on the October 4, 2008 cover of Newsweek helped to identify just how important it is to have well-behaved – and beautifully small – pores. Whatever would we do without these manufacturers of beauty? Everyone would be going out in public with these huge pores, disgracing themselves and everything they stand for. I, for one, never gave much consideration to pore size, actual or visible. Thank God for the good folks at L’Oréal for bringing this to our attention. The scrublet has provided the solution to those of us who now know what a profound problem large pores can be.
Sunday, January 03, 2010
Fritter and waste the hours in an offhand way
Kicking around on a piece of ground in your home town
Waiting for someone or something to show you the way
A friend of mine started a blog sometime last year to work through her feelings regarding matters of the heart. She often intersperses her prose with song lyrics – maybe as inspiration, or identification or solace – I never asked and she has never said. Regardless of her reason, it has at different times aroused memories when certain songs have spoken to me in similar situations. When my more “rational” thinking returned to me, I would often scoff, “life is not a song,” not really knowing what I meant by it. It very well could have been a subconscious image of my pride or masculinity that told me I didn’t need such “art” to deliver me from inner turmoil. But there were often times where my life was not directed by art, but often art mirrored my life. With the completion tonight of a task that was a major mental burden on me, I find myself uneasily at ease.
Tired of lying in the sunshine staying home to watch the rain
And you are young and life is long and there is time to kill today
And then one day you find ten years have got behind you
No one told you when to run, you missed the starting gun
In reflecting upon the passing of 2009, I was compelled to look at much more of the 47 years of my life than just the past year. Yes, it was another good year, it was a productive year, but it hasn’t always been this way. And still, as productive as it was, procrastination and killing time have been my nemeses. It is why I am just now feeling the relief/uneasiness of a task completed – it should have and could have been done many days, indeed weeks, ago. Yet, for all time is, there is always and forever only one time – now. And I cannot remember a single moment of a single day during the past year that I was not at least happy, if not content with the now.
And you run and you run to catch up with the sun, but it's sinking
Racing around to come up behind you again
The sun is the same in a relative way, but you're older
Shorter of breath and one day closer to death
So I am getting old. How ever many years I have been allotted, 47 of them are used. The funny thing is that for the past five years, I can say that my time has not been wasted even if I have “frittered and wasted the hours in an offhand way.” In a way, those hours have been earned even if I do happen to borrow some against future anxiety. I do not want to justify my procrastination, quite the contrary, my aim is to reduce it even more than I already have. But I also need to be sure to remind myself that what I have accomplished thus far (all 47 years and counting) is real and represents, in total, a productive use of my time. And the past few years are not the apex, but a continuing climb to an as yet unknown mountaintop.
Every year is getting shorter, never seem to find the time
Plans that either come to naught or half a page of scribbled lines
Hanging on in quiet desperation is the English way
The time is gone, the song is over, thought I'd something more to say
There is still time. My mantra is also my curse. If I could put to productive use all the time I have been given, well, who knows where I’d be. By the same token, though, I might have crashed and burned. It is important to take care of business. But it is also important to take a little time.
* Lyics from Pink Floyd's Time