October 30, 2005

The saga ends

Last week we traveled down the interstate to Roanoke, where we picked up a 2002 Ford Escape from the same people who've sold us our last two vehicles. The Gulf hurricanes changed the used car market, so we couldn't afford (even with our good settlement) to buy a similar truck to replace what we'd lost.

That changed our search parameters, and we were able to get another really good deal, this time on the Escape. It gives me high clearance like the truck, plus it carries people more comfortably, and it has a roof rack so I can still tote a kayak or canoe. Fold the back seat down, and it holds a lot inside. I worked it this weekend carrying a large helium tank, loads of tools, a little lumber, and some plants.

Gas mileage is better, too.

Unlike the truck, this has power everything, including cruise control, which we've not been able to afford in the past. In fact, this SUV has just about everything I wanted--such as V6 engine, keyless entry, privacy windows, a cargo cover, a nice subtle paint job, and new tires.

It's really fun to drive; it accelerates quickly, rides smooth, and turns more like a car than a truck.

The Lord's timing was, not surprisingly, just right. Our insurance check came the day before we went to pick up the Escape, which was just the right one for us.



Our Protector

The saga begins

The saga continues, part 1

The saga continues, part 2

Posted by JRC at 11:00 PM | Comments (3) | TrackBack

A stirring

After two weeks of silence, e-ink is about to crank back to life now that life has settled down (some). As my schedule allows, I hope to post the closing post of my continuing post-accident saga, as well as reveal to my newspaper's redesign to my readers, and maybe even give an update on our Virginia church situation.

So there you have it. I've charted a course for future posts, so now I really have to follow through.

Posted by JRC at 10:38 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

October 16, 2005

Emergency mode

For the second time in less than a month, I've had to dial 911 on my cell phone.

Yesterday we were driving across a mountain, headed home on a clear, beautiful day. We came around a tight curve behind another car and found two motorcycle riders lying on the road, with their bike on its side 20 yards or more down the hill. That was just yards after we decided not to take a longer, more scenic route home.

(Curvy roads really have me nervous!)

Both cars stopped to block traffic and protect the riders. The riders were just starting to stir, and we checked on them. The one was bleeding from his mouth and in the process of standing up. The other had no visible injuries, but she thought she'd broken her arm, and she didn't really try to get up.

They had been in a small group of Harley-style bikes, when they glanced off the guard rail and wiped out. Dirt and grass in the road indicated that they'd come back on the road and gone off on the shoulder before stopping in the traffic lane.

Each was wearing the half-helmets popular with Harley bikers, along with jeans, leather chaps, boots, and leather jackets. I'm sure that gear helped protect them, although better helmets would have protected the man better.

After seeing that the two were relatively in good shape, we set about trying to get cell signal to call 911. My phone showed good signal, but I had a bad connection. One of the other passersby went up the mountain to get through.

From that point on, someone tended to the bikers, while a team of us directed traffic around the wreck site. A couple of us set out flares before guiding cars around the blocked lane. The curve was tight enough that we needed multiple people to keep in contact about which direction traffic was coming through.

I helped with that until fire, rescue and state police arrived. My buddies from the fire department arrived as I was setting another flare downhill of the accident, and they later teased me about that and the fact that I didn't have a camera in the car.

Both riders were taken to the local hospital in decent condition, thankfully.

Now that I've had the chance to "decompress," I realize that I should have taken more of an active first aid role. Neither biker should have moved around, probably, for fear of neck/spinal injuries. I thought of that but didn't do anything about it.

I felt kind of handicapped because I was in the rental car, so I didn't have my first aid kit (w/latex gloves), nor any of my traffic safety gear. At least if I'm in a similar situation, I'll have more of an idea of how to react. And not to make excuses, but I feel better about what I did than I feel about the rescue squad member that drove by the scene without stopping--before emergency crews arrived.

Now that this has passed, I hope not to see "Emergency" in my recently-dialed list on my phone, nor see it switch over to "Emergency Mode" for a long, long time.

Posted by JRC at 09:43 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

October 11, 2005

Changing the way you use software

Two major software companies have recently unveiledupcoming "improvements" to their main offerings.

Microsoft is changing the paradigm used in its Office suite, by changing the workflow from WYSIWYG (What You See Is What You Get) to WYGIWYS (What You Get Is What You See).

I think Austin is right on the money with his post at Il Filosofo.

Meanwhile, Quark--one of the giants of the print media production software--is also rethinking the work flow. A key change to QuarkXPress will be called "composition zones," which will allow multiple users to design the same page (such as for newspaper layout).

Rich Boudet at SportsDesigner.com has a rundown of the new Quark feature at his blog.

Marc Horne, Quark strategic marketing manager/desktop, tells Mark Fitzgerald of Editor & Publisher:

"... The one-file-equals-one-page model has really been a bottleneck for the newspaper industry."

Ever tried to use the same file as someone else on a network? Or worse yet, run software off of one computer on another via the network? Neither works well.

It'll be interesting to see how Quark makes that work. I have more faith in their potential than in Microsoft's.

Posted by JRC at 09:28 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

The saga continues, part 2

Just before 5 p.m. on Monday, I finally found out what the insurance company was going to pay me for my recently-totalled truck.

Since the accident, our prayers were that the truck would be declared totalled and then that we wouldn't lose too much on the settlement with the insurance company. I did some research to know how to contest the amount if I felt short-changed. I found out the company that this insurance company uses for its valuations, and quickly found out that it is the most notorious for providing low-ball figures.

I was getting nervous about the figure I'd get from the insurance company. The fact that I'd known for a week that my truck was totalled--and still didn't have any dollar figures on it--made it worse.

When I called the adjuster to prod him a little bit on Monday, he seemed flustered when he couldn't find his valuation sheet in my file. But he did seem motivated, having finally realized that his delay was costing his company for my rental car and the storage of the truck at the tow yard.

So he got back to me with a figure as Darla and I had a Columbus Day picnic supper at the foot of the Blue Ridge Mountains.

Amazingly, my research and preparation for a low-ball figure was for naught. We bought the truck for a really good deal, so the settlement (which might otherwise be low) actually turned us a $35 profit. That's with owning the truck for more than a year and a half and putting 30,000 miles on it!

We praised the Lord for that providence, and then I found out this morning that the insurance company is paying us sales tax on the settlement amount, bringing us several hundred dollars more. (A nice way to start the day!)

Now that we have some dollar figures, we can start the shopping process in earnest.

Our Protector
The saga begins
The saga continues, part 1

Posted by JRC at 08:56 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

October 07, 2005

The saga continues, part 1

On Monday I called the local body shop that had gone to look at my truck. They were to figure an estimate for repairs and send it to the other driver's insurance company, which would then take that as its appraisal.

My contact person at the body shop answered my call and said he'd been out to look at the truck.

"Didn't the insurance company call you?" he said.


"Dude, it's totalled," the body shop guy said.

I immediately called the insurance company to touch base with the adjuster. He'd not seen any e-mails from the body shop nor the fax I'd sent before the weekend. So it ends up I have to tell the insurance company my truck is totalled. That was strange. He needed me to fax something, which I did later in the afternoon.

The days rolled by after Monday's update, and I got some time on Wednesday to borrow a pickup truck and go out to the towing company yard to clean out the truck. I had a lot of stuff in the cab, and I cleaned it out -- except for an Irish Tenors CD that is stuck in the CD player.

I even took the plates and the town sticker from the windshield (in VA, we have to have stickers to show we've paid taxes on the car to our local government). Now I can get a discount on a new sticker for a new car. The last thing I grabbed from the truck was the bedliner that Darla gave me as a gift. Then I snapped some more photos of the damage, which was greater than I remembered.

Thursday morning I was jarred when I covered a multi-vehicle fatal accident on another dangerous curve I frequently drive. The deceased crossed the center line into the path of a large truck.

Later in the day, I got an update from the insurance company. Basically, they're waiting for someone to tell them the value for my truck. Then I find out how much they'll give me for it. Hopefully it'll be a fair amount.

Posted by JRC at 09:18 AM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

October 06, 2005

Woodward, Kemp, and Co.

Last night the editorial staff from my paper had the chance to go an awards banquet, where our 25-year mayor was honored for his public service by the Marsh Institute for government and public policy at Shenandoah University.

The awards ceremony was a neat event, and a real honor for the mayor: also honored were two state figures (Mary Sue Terry: first female to hold statewide office as Attorney General; Robert Baldwin: Executive Secretary of VA Supreme Court) and former Congressman, HUD Secretary, and Vice Presidential candidate Jack Kemp.

Past honorees have included such notables as former Federal Reserve Bank chair Paul A. Volcker, former Secretary of Defense and Secretary of Energy James R. Schlesinger, Ambassador Richard Holbrooke and former U.S. President Gerald Ford. The Marsh Institute is named for the Honorable John O. Marsh, Jr. who has spent time as a Congressman in the House of Representatives as well as Secretary of the Army and Assistant Secretary of Defense.

My table, with the family that owns our newspaper, was only a few tables away from the honorees and the head table with Woodward and Kemp. Not far away was President Ford's biographer and former ambassador Jaime de Ojeda from Spain.

The night's keynote speaker was Bob Woodward, one of the two reporters responsible for exposing the Nixon Watergate scandal.

Unfortunately, I haven't been able to read any of Woodward's books, so I don't know how many new thoughts he shared in his presentation. Here's some of the points I found interesting:

  • Mark Felt's public admission that he was the secret Watergate source surprised Woodward, who said it was "something I did not think would happen." Woodward expected Felt to carry that secret to the grave.
  • Woodward's book, Deep Throat, about Felt's role was already written and waiting until Felt passed away to be published.
  • On the importance of the regularly-released Nixon tapes: Woodward said semi-seriously that would-be citizens should be required to listen to them.
  • Woodward has a dry sense of humor. When talking about Nixon, he told us that the President had his "renegade brother's" phone tapped by the Secret Service. Then Woodward paused and said that having at least one renegade brother should be a requirement of the presidency.
  • In preparation for his book, Plan of Attack, Woodward interviewed people from soldiers on up to the highest levels of military and intelligence about the decisions to go into Iraq. After that, he sent a 21-page memo to President Bush detailing what he'd learned. Condi Rice then contacted Woodward, confirming that the journalist would publish his book with or without an interview with Bush. He got an interview with the president the next day. Woodward had three and a half hours over two days to interview Bush, and anything was fair game. As far as anyone knows, it's the longest private interview on one topic with a sitting president. Woodward was able to ask 500 questions in that time.
  • Woodward acknowledge that Bush gave concise, direct answers to his questions. The journalist said that if he'd done the same interview with President Clinton, he would have gotten to ask four questions.
  • When Plan of Attack came out, Woodward felt that he'd reached the proper objectivity when both the Bush and Kerry campaigns recommended the book. Woodward's wife brought him back to earth by telling him that it just meant that nobody had read the book yet.
  • In the Bush interview, Woodward was frustrated that Bush couldn't remember consulting with his father about entering Iraq, since the elder Bush had faced the same tyrant. That Bush didn't seem to do that appalled the journalist.
  • While prodding Bush for a memory of such a father-son chat, Woodward got the line about Bush consulting a higher father. Woodward was very matter-of-fact about such spiritual issues being natural to Bush. He said that Bush talked with full credibility of the importance of prayer. When pressed about the "higher father" statement in a debate, Bush went from uneasy to natural talking about prayer, according to Woodward's viewpoint. When Kerry fielded a related question, his answer was decent, according to Woodward, but the journalist could tell that religion was not at "the spine of his being."
  • Woodward believes courage is the most important trait in a president. They may need that to make a tough decision and go it alone. Something such as Iraq could be great or horrible in hindsight, Woodward said.
  • When President Ford pardoned Nixon, Woodward thought that was the wrong thing to do, but now looking back he sees that it was "exactly the right thing" because the nation needed a new president instead of reliving Nixon's presidency in the judicial system. It gave Ford his own presidency.
  • Woodward closes his book with him asking Bush how history will judge the Iraq war. Bush shrugs and says that we'll never know, because we'll be dead. That kind of shocked Woodward, but he also sees the truth in that.
  • At some event, Hillary Clinton approached Woodward and told him she should be paying royalties for as many times as she quoted Plan of Attack. At first Woodward didn't understand, but it quickly dawned on him that she was talking about the "fatalistic" Bush approach at the book's close. Hillary is running for president, Woodward says, and if she's ever faced with such an interview question about history's judgment of her decision, Woodward says her response would be "I'll write it."

I went in to the evening expecting Woodward to be more partisan toward the liberal side. I still think he is, but I was impressed with how level-headed his approach was to covering the federal government. But even the Republican Kemp, when he spoke later in the evening, thanked Woodward for "restoring liberal democracy" through his reporting.

Kemp (as usual?) kind of rambled, but the point of his speech focused on the power of one person to make a difference. He's involved with multiple efforts to help restore hope in the Gulf Coast.
I was surprised to hear the free-market "witch doctor" economist condemn the poverty seen in the aftermath of Katrina.

He said the country can't survive with that level of poverty within its ranks, but he offered no real solution. Instead, he said we have to show the world that democracy does work by dealing with that poverty. Does that involve government handouts? or private enterprise? or the religious community? None of that was answered.

We're trying to build democracies around the world, but in Kemp's mind, the hurricanes have shown that democracy failed the poor of the Gulf Coast. (Or, as I wonder, was it the corruption?)

Kemp closed to a standing ovation.

"Without a vision, the Bible tells us, the people perish. We've got to make this work ... there's a lot of people watching this," he said.

Posted by JRC at 01:53 PM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

October 04, 2005

Book Review: Strong of Heart

Strong of Heart
Strong of Heart: Life and Death in the Fire Department of New York
by Thomas Von Essen with Matt Murray
288 pages

The gist:
The story of Thomas Von Essen could be the story of finding the American Dream. Von Essen grew up in Queens, the son of a city cop. Through his teenage years, Von Essen ran paper routes and cut grass for money. After struggling through his late teen years and dropping out of college, he found love and eventually married with a baby on the way. Military service followed before Von Essen joined the FDNY as a member of the South Bronx Ladder 42.

Years went by and Von Essen eventually landed the big-time job as president of the Uniformed Frefighters Association union. From there, Von Essen made the unusual leap to become the commisioner of the FDNY under mayor Rudy Guliani. That's enough to make an impressive autobiography.

But Von Essen was commissioner of the department during the tragic attacks on the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001 when 343 of his men perished in the line of duty. Understandably, that's the focus of Strong of Heart.

As commissioner, Von Essen was basically the CEO of a 16,000-person company, operating a huge budget for equipment and salaries. And most of his employees faced danger everyday, many of them incurring injuries, ranging from minor to severe. Deaths were rare, although not unheard of. The department never lost more than 12 men at once until the 2001 attacks.

Von Essen worked with the mayor and police commissioner in the spotlight of the media in the early days after the attack, even meeting with President Bush early on. At the same time, he met with widows and attended funerals. His book starts with him in the spotlight of a press conference 12 hours after the towers collapsed. A reporter asks how he feels about the apparent losses, and Von Essen is enraged by the question and dumbfounded to give an answer.

The book closes with Von Essen at Ground Zero during the ceremony to signify the end of the recovery efforts at the end of May, 2002. Von Essen is still overwhelmed by the toll of the attack and he concludes that the only good that can come from the tragedy is a sense of purpose. Therefore, he realizes that we must all be strong of heart.

My take:
Most FDNY firefighters had little respect for Von Essen as a commissioner, and I think that's common with any FDNY commissioner. The firefighters feel that the commissioners play too many political games trying to cut budgets to please the mayor. That means the commissioners tangle with the union heads who stick up for firefighter interests.

Even though Von Essen had served multiple terms leading the UFA on behalf of firefighters, that service was not enough to assuage the common assumption that commissioners are stooges of anti-FDNY politicians.

With that background, a reader of Strong of Heart can see parts of the book where Von Essen tries to defend himself from such criticisms. Those passages taint the book's credibility, but readers should be aware of both sides of the story, so this book gives Von Essen his say.

One such example from the book was when Von Essen tells about trying to reform some of the department's operations. Firefighters created a satirical diagram of a new firetruck--the Von Yessen mobile. The diagram, which is in the book, shows a vehicle designed to save the city money by performing functions for multiple agencies. It had a snowplow and street sweeper to clear streets, a paint nozzle to paint street lines, a pen for "humans, truants, animals, and homeless," a mail slot, garbage bins, an aerial bucket "to fight fires and maintain light poles," and a tow hook in back for "derelict vehicles and to carry fat union leaders home after huge meals."

The fictitious truck handout carried the slogan "We'll take the call for nothing at all," with the phone number of 1-800-NO-RAISE.

After describing the truck, Von Essen writes:

I knew it reflected, in the best tradition of firefighter humor, some doubts about my reforming impulses. As I pushed for change in the fire department, the ripples often alienated people.

But I though their parody was great. In a department of 16,000 people, it's inevitable that someone who tries to bring change will meet resistance. But that's the job of leaders. I thought of myself as a reformer. As a leader, I believed it was better to try something and fail than to play it safe. That approach, I knew, was guaranteed to draw criticism. But that was okay with me.

On the other hand, the book does provide useful insights into the inner workings of the leaders ultimately responsible for how the city dealt with the disaster.

One of the most telling and historically useful portions of the book is a 30-page insert in the middle of the book which contains a diary that Von Essen wrote from September 12 to December 31 of 2001. The insert contains selected passages from the diary, which actually filled multiple notebooks, according to Von Essen. Each entry is organized by date and broken down into specific times with bullet entries of Von Essen's thoughts, reactions, to-do lists and so on. The notes include information on potential problems at the Ground Zero site, to weather concerns, responses from bigwigs and victims' families, to the size of Donald Trump's name on his plane that Von Essen took to Washington, D.C., to the considerations for other terrorist threats.

Caveat reader: (Let the reader beware.)
The topics that Von Essen covers deal with an incredibly stressful time in American history, and that stress brought out foul language from those suffering through the trials, and sometimes the relief from that stress was off-color. All of that can be found in this book. Readers might find it unpleasant, but it is a fact of life and an accurate representation of those troubled times.

Previous book reviews:
Report from Engine Co. 82
Knowing God

Posted by JRC at 09:45 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack