Happy 2015

Since the blog is (nominally) still open, it’s time for that annual post in which I wish those who still occasionally drop by a Happy and Prosperous New Year.

2014 was mostly a good year. There were new challenges and evolving (but welcome) responsibilities at work, and that created some stress at times, but it also taught me a lot about how to deal with people, work towards common goals, and to lead by example (and that sometimes means jumping into stuff that nobody else wants to do, or that some feel is beneath them); I’m also working with a great bunch of people in the new group I’m helping to lead, and that’s really nice! Some opportunities outside work emerged, and that’s also led to some new collaborative relationships that I have grown to value. And we’ve had a good year of quality time with family and friends (with a few turds finding their way into the mix, unfortunately—but it’s also been a learning experience of refusing to get caught up in the negative, and trying to focus on the positive, because time is scarce, and negativity just wastes it). Our family time has been especially rewarding this year.

We were happy to conclude 2014 with another huge Christmas celebration at the house (I think we topped 20 friends and family members this year – I lost count). We also hosted friends and family for any number of other events, and created some good memories. All good! And despite her health issues, Kiwi keeps plugging away, and Jefe continues to provide nearly nonstop entertainment.

Outside of Houston, we pulled off another successful Float Trip (another of our gatherings of friends/family that just keeps growing), a Ouachitas cabin outing with friends, and a few trips to Okiehoma to see friends and family. And I logged around 75,000 miles of butt-in-seat airline miles – the travel game is still on with United/Star Alliance for next year, even though it is evolving. 2015 looks to be Asia-heavy, with new Asian carriers continuing to move in to Houston and United trying to maintain their market share there. So we look to be seeing some new places this year!

I found myself in the hospital in early December, as olecranon bursitis of unknown origin (no injury that I recall) went septic, requiring IV antibiotics. That was inconvenient, to say the least, and fairly serious (to say more). That unplanned stay of three nights cancelled a planned trip to Israel (postponed three times now), but the folks at Memorial Hermann Memorial City took great care of me, for which I’m very thankful.

We lost my friend Scott Chaffin early in 2014. I miss him. And I’m sad that he couldn’t see our Cowboys play their best December in forever at the end of 2014, and for Tony Romo to play one of the best Decembers any NFL quarterback has ever played (TFG never hesitated to remind me Romo was worthless every time I halfway got excited about his potential way back when, and I can imagine TFG telling me not to get my hopes up about the playoffs). I really miss him.

So, on to the usual disclaimers — I rather doubt blogging will be all that much heavier here than it was last year, thanks to work, play, travel, and real-life interaction with friends/family. And yeah, sometimes it’s just a lot easier to post to twitter or facebook (plus blogHOUSTON is an animal that likes to be fed from time to time). But here’s hoping that if you’ve made it this far through the post, we manage to have some meaningful interaction in the near future.

Here’s to a super 2015!

Scott Chaffin, RIP

News came today that my friend Scott Chaffin had passed, another victim of that damn lung cancer.

Scott Chaffin (photo courtesy of a Facebook friend of his)

Scott Chaffin (photo courtesy of a FB friend of his)

Like a bunch of people, I first ran across Scott via his awesome blog, The Fat Guy.

We became real-life friends in not much time at all. Scott was one of those guys who managed to cheer up everything and everyone when he turned up, and despite being the guy responsible for that, making YOU feel like the most important person in the room.

More than that, he was just a character, in the best sense of the word — and a well-read, fellow Cowboys fan with a great ear for Texas music and a love of tech geekery.

I have no idea why he took such a liking to me, but like so many of his friends, I was much the better for it. I am really going to miss him.

Happy 2014

It’s time for the annual post in which I wish the diehards who stop by here on occasion a Happy and Prosperous New Year!

2013 was one we were happy enough to put behind us. We had a good year of family, friends, travel, and the like, but Callie’s family also lost three dogs (within weeks of each other) and had a health scare with Kiwi (thankfully, the old gal has recovered strongly, after Callie started making the dogs’ food herself), we lost a family friend, and work threw a few screwballs from time to time.  We were happy to conclude 2013 with another huge Christmas celebration at the house (18 friends and family members this year), and coast into 2014 with doors locked (and bubbly from French Country Wines).

I requalified as a Platinum on United this year, and thanks to a legacy Continental President’s Club credit card, I’ll still be in the United MileagePlus game next year (aiming for Platinum again), although the airline has modified the terms of the program such that I’d be strongly considering a jump to American or Alaskan if I didn’t still have the magic card (which waives PQD requirements up to Plat). There is still value in the mileage game with United for those who like to travel and can work it to proper advantage (this likely involves a Chase-branded credit card and a bit of creativity), and there are still bargains to be had (a $320 roundtrip to Dubai for 2014 on United, booked on a Norwegian site last year is evidence of this). But overall on United, it’s going to become more expensive and harder to obtain elite status, and more expensive and harder to grab really nice award travel. What this means to United’s bottom line — and whether this produces even more cuts and cheap, customer-unfriendly moves from the bumbling gang in Chicago — remains to be seen. But for 2014, the game continues mostly on United (still figuring out what we’ll do with Callie’s mileage, though!).

I won’t promise that blogging will be much heavier here than it was in 2013, but at least there are occasional signs of life! And we did get blogHOUSTON rolling again. Work, real life, travel, and friends/family take precedence over blogging, and twitter/facebook are just easier, but we’ll see! I’ve had one dear old friend request more travel updates, and I really <i>should</i> blog more about travel while still playing the game, but no promises. :)

If you’re still reading this, here’s hoping I catch up with you in 2014 at an airport, travel destination, campground, icehouse, sporting event, patio grilling/wining session, or… wherever. Because media is fine, but social is better (says the introvert who needs to hide from time to time, LOL). Looking forward to a great year!

William R. Van Cleave, RIP

Word reached me this weekend that Bill Van Cleave, one of my grad school mentors and one of the top conservative defense policy intellectuals over the past few decades, had passed.

Here’s an excerpt from a fitting tribute to Dr. Van Cleave by longtime associate Frank Gaffney:

There’s a certain historic symmetry that we mark the thirtieth anniversary of President Ronald Reagan’s historic unveiling of his Strategic Defense Initiative (SDI) within days of the passing of a man who played a central role in inspiring it. We must take the occasion of celebrating the former to honor the latter: Dr. William Van Cleave, an unsung hero of the War for the Free World, and most especially the part of that long and continuing conflict known as the Cold War.

How fitting as well that the same day Dr. Van Cleave died in his Southern California home, the Obama administration was forced publicly to reverse course on its systematic efforts to diminish the direct manifestation of Mr. Reagan’s SDI program. Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel announced on March 15th that the modest array of U.S. missile defenses now in place would be enhanced in the face of a growing threat from the increasingly truculent regime in North Korea. Bill Van Cleave would consider that to be the very least we can do given Pyongyang’s declaration that it is prepared to launch a nuclear attack against us.

The entire post is here.

Happy 2013

Here’s wishing the diehards who occasionally stop by here a Happy and Prosperous 2013.

As noted in the last post(s), real life sort of took precedence over internet life in 2012, especially when it comes to blogging. Obviously, it’s been pretty quiet here, but we have also taken a needed break from blogHOUSTON (which should return sometime in 2013 with a new WordPress install – hoping for earlier than later, but, we’ll see. Maybe even a FEW more posts here, but no promises)…

2012 turned out to be quite the travel and social year.

Float Trip 2012 saw new faces (which should return for next year) along with the usual diehard crew, and we spent quality time with family and friends (and wine, LOL) throughout the year. Xmas 2012 was also quite the blowout — I think we’re still recovering. :O So much social time cut into the time we used to spend geeking around on the ‘net, which is probably a healthy development overall. Zooming around in aluminum tubes at 30,000+ feet also soaked up some time…

Some travel writer somewhere once said that if you chase good fares, you’ll wind up seeing some pretty interesting places, and so finding nice fares remains an obsession. Add following my friend Stephan’s advice that all these miles accumulated in one’s loyalty program of choice (United’s MileagePlus in my case) should be cashed in for at least one luxury trip per year, and it was a great travel year. Highlights included:

  • A $325 roundtrip to Brussels on Air Canada, which involved weather delays on the outbound (we watched a pretty snowstorm from the Air Canada Maple Leaf Lounge in Montreal’s airport, and we eventually pushed out after a few hours of delay), a mechanical on the return, and all sorts of fun things that eventually resulted in some proactive rerouting (and Y fares to BRU, boosting the mileage earnings on my ridiculously cheap fare). People complain all the time about airlines, and there is a lot to complain about, but there are also ways to work things in your favor (most of which involve BEING NICE to the front line agents, and having backup options in mind for when you actually get in front of an agent who can help you during irregular operations). I probably ought to post more about those experiences, hmm? :) In Brussels, this guy made us two nice meals at his quaintish restaurant.
  • Relatively cheap fares to Madrid (a new destination for us, which I liked and Callie was kind of “meh” about) and London (always a good trip – we visited the Camden Lock area this time, which was a first and kinda fun).
  • Reward travel in International First to my favorite islands, and back in Business. Since Lufthansa has now restricted reward availability in First considerably, I decided to jump on the seats when they came open several days before our trip — and it worked out well, since we arrived at a remote stand and enjoyed limo service from the tarmac to the terminal. I probably won’t blow the additional miles again anytime soon, but the first class treatment (not to mention Lufthansa’s First Class Terminal in FRA) is fun. The islands, by the way, were THRIVING. The mainland — every bit as depressed as one might expect, given the news reports, sadly so. Quite the contrast between the two.
  • Return trips to Alaska (never gets old, even though a marine wildlife excursion in the bay in early May is QUITE chilly *brrr*) and New Hampshire (food run to Maine, also never gets old), plus a trip to Rhode Island (first trip – we discovered the winery in Newport puts out a decent little Cab Franc).
  • With a little help from PQMs via a legacy CO credit card, I made Plat for the first time at the very end of the year. We’ll see if the benefits make it worth pursuing next year.

Travel lowlights, unfortunately, included more delays, schedule changes, cancellations, refunds, and time spent on the phone with agents in one year than I’ve experienced in any previous year of flying (and maybe cumulatively — it was pretty bad). I was also 0/2 trying to fly United’s new 787 Dreamliner (once because of a schedule change, once because of a mechanical). I will say that United agents were very helpful in accommodating my requests to reschedule or cancel/refund, and we were lucky in that we were never stranded for any real period or put in a situation without good options. The merger is proving more of a challenge than I think many of the former Continental execs expected, but I’m still fairly optimistic that they’ll eventually work out the kinks. Here’s hoping the new United will continue to have a very good rewards program as well (which is a key source of my loyalty).

Callie is well, loved ones have (mostly) been healthy this year, Kiwi is trucking along, and we added a new dog to the mix (Jefe, an energetic chihuahua mix who wound up in our yard over one stormy night and was never claimed). So overall, I think we put 2012 in the win column.


Really, I wasn’t kidding in the last post about the likelihood of 2012 posting being limited, huh?

Most anyone who follows this blog is surely following me on facebook or twitter, right? And doesn’t that mean this media form known as personal blogging is surely as deprecated as HTML 4.0? And I’m not going to get started on the state of indie political blogging these days (another time, perhaps in person over wine, but let’s just say that way too many bloggers seem to think it’s great to turn over THEIR space and name to being unpaid dupes for political candidates and/or parties).

Well, whatever.

The urge strikes to put out a little update on things, so here’s a quick rundown of 2012 stuff we’ve been doing:

  • Still getting in lots of people time. Home-ownership and the patio from which this blog post is being composed tonight have made me much more social (not media, but the real thing). It doesn’t hurt that we’re blessed with some great neighbors who have become good friends. There is now a tiki torch in our driveway to signify when we’re carrying on and neighbors should come join us on the patio. This is fun, I think. Your mileage may vary.
  • Additional home/patio enhancements…. We put XBMC on an old laptop, only to figure out the poor machine really couldn’t carry the load. So we upgraded to this little guy, and added some speakers on the patio. It’s not my friend John’s badass system, but it serves our more modest needs (movie/music server) quite well. Being able to control the sounds on the patio with my rooted Atrix (running CyanogenMod) is sweet.
  • Mr. Tom Hanna moving to town, and even staying with us for a little while, has also been a most welcome development. As one gets older, the value of old friends becomes greater. Even if I don’t always stay in touch like I should.
  • We’ve flown around 37,000 miles so far this year, fairly cheaply. Some have been mileage runs. Trips to Madrid and Brussels were fun trips also flown for mileage. Facebook/twitter/flickr followers have seen a bit about these trips (which probably would have gotten posts here once upon a time). Mileage trips to Alaska and Manchester on tap for later in the year. A Delta trip to Montana looms. A biz class reward trip to Guess Where is on tap. And I need to book us another 2000 miles or so on United/Star for gold purposes…. Fun stuff! Even though the customer service experience gets worse all the time, I never tire of the air travel experience (especially airports — love them).
  • Less biking and hiking than I’d like so far this year. Boo. But Alaska and Montana should help with the hiking, perhaps. And so too should…
  • Dropping around 20 pounds from a recent (unfortunate) high about a year ago. What can I say, the diet slipped a bit in the year after my mom’s passing, and I know better (I can’t handle bad carbs and starches — it’s sure, fast weight gain). Back now on a pretty strict ketogenic diet, and recommending that folks read this guy and this guy. They are pretty sharp. Thank goodness wine (preferably French, or old world at least) is carb friendly, although I need to limit it to weekends for weight purposes.
  • And now that I’m back down to my fighting weight (and still losing), it’s time to start thinking about… getting back to lightweight backpacking. I miss hammock weekends in the Ouachitas. Both the physical challenge and the beauty/solitude of the place. Maybe a trip this fall, definitely activity next spring.
  • Slippage on blogHOUSTON. We’ve done the thing a long time now, and I’m thinking a little break is in order for a software update, a mental refresh, etc. Then we’ll get back after it. With the right energy. Maybe some new contributors (anybody interested? Party/Candidate-bloggers need not apply. Resistance may be futile, but hey).
  • My first passover Seder! And no, not the Hittner political event (I won’t ever see an invite to something like that! LOL), but a genuine thing put on by lovely people. Really cool.

That’s the quick rundown of 2012, so far. Orthodox Easter is this weekend, and we’re hosting (after the smashing success that was Xmas). Weather should allow for plenty of patio/outdoor time, and a mix of white and red wine to go with the traditional Greek Easter foods and family. The wine should help both go down a little better!

The Float Trip is not far off, either. If you’re reading this and haven’t committed to joining our annual gathering of friends and family, well, it might just be time to give that some thought, hmm?