Growing Up

Father’s Day was fun, as we had all the girls home for the first time in a while.  It’s interesting to see how they’ve changed, what they’ve learned, as the older two transition more to living independently.

They’re still welcome here of course, but they’re growing up and leaving the nest for increasingly longer test flights.  Alpha is home for a few more days, between the end of school and her summer research project at Cal State.  Beta is sharing a duplex out in the boonies with two friends, so she’s truly experimenting with independent living over the summer.

A week ago, we finished up the Explorer project, so Beta is mobile again.  Although it took an entire frustrating year to finish (with months off during the colder periods), it runs really well.  She’s happy.  I’m happy.

An interesting comment from Beta yesterday: “Wow.  I forgot what it was like to have soft toilet paper… that stuff’s expensive.”  First-apartment living with a degree of independence is a learning experience, and it seems that they’ve developed a bit more appreciation for where money comes from, and where it goes.  Everyday items, like soft toilet paper or a gallon of milk in the refrigerator, are seen in a new light.  They’re growing up.

Gamma is experiencing her first regular job, as a lifeguard at the municipal pool.  She loves the work, and on Saturday, had her first “save.”   Thankfully, it was an easy one — an elementary-age boy who’d gotten in over his head and was struggling.  I have to hand it to the City of Oak Ridge: the training and expectations of their lifeguards is first-rate.

Two weeks ago while HWTFM and I were picking up a washer and dryer for Beta (she bought it, we just transported it), his GPS was stolen from his truck during a brief stop at a store on Clinton Highway.  He was devastated — I’d just gotten a replacement under the warranty, because the first one was broken during a business trip in May.  Beta really stepped up to the plate and suggested to me that she and her sisters split the cost of a new one for him, for Father’s Day.

Since three of the four are working, it worked out.  He was really surprised and pleased.

Now, if only I can get Delta off the couch a bit more (facilitated by taking away her wireless adapter and ethernet cable), I’ll call it a successful summer.

Cracking the Code

A month or so ago, HWTFM’s laptop developed a bizarre problem of randomly shutting down, usually during the boot process.  Since it was out of warranty, he decided it was time for a new one, so the old one sat around on the kitchen table ever since.  Now that summer has arrived, I have a little time to tend to things around the house that need fixing.

Last week, I took apart the old laptop.  I didn’t actually FIX anything, but what appears to be the ritual “laying on of hands” probably includes snugging up connections that have worked loose over time.  Also removing gobs of cat hair, attracted to the inside of anything electronic because of the electrostatic charge.  But even after I was able to get it to boot successfully several times, we were still stuck: HWTFM had forgotten the administrator password (the only account on that machine).

I tried 437 times to guess at it, then gave up.  This morning, after again fixing Delta’s laptop via the “laying on of hands” method (it was her keyboard cable), I started googling for an XP password crack.  There are several out there for $34.95-ish, but I wasn’t in the mood to spend money.  Finally, I happened upon the Ultimate Boot CD, which contains quite a few excellent tools, including a password reset.

That’s how I know I tried 437 times to guess: the password reset tool told me how many times the incorrect password had been attempted prior to my reset.  The utility also includes a variety of hard disk tools, partition tools, a registry editor, anti-virus and anti-malware tools, and a bunch of other stuff.

MOST people probably either remember their Windows password, or just don’t use one.  But occasionally one is called upon to fix a machine where the password is unknown, or even one that was changed via malware.  This tool isn’t for rookies or the faint of heart, but it’s a good one if you can follow directions and sort of know what you’re doing at the command line interface.

Next up, I’m running a full scan on the old computer, because I’m suspicious that that’s how the password got messed up in the first place.  Once that scan is done, then we’ll have one more working laptop in the house, probably destined for Gamma going into her senior year of high school.

Another nifty freebie: BurnCDCC from TeraByte Unlimited is a small, fast ISO-burner to create bootable CDs.

If only I were as proficient in auto repair.

Attitude Adjustment

This time two years ago, I spent most days standing in the sun outside of early voting (then, at the mall), trying to secure whatever margin I could in the school board election.  One day, an elderly fellow came by, yelling at the half-dozen or so of us there.

A City Council candidate smiled and waved politely, then murmured quietly to the rest of us there, “weaned on a pickle.”  That pretty much captures it.

I went to vote this morning, and having arrived a few minutes early, took a seat and listened to a book on my iPod.  Two older gentlemen were hovering nearby, talking loudly enough to be clearly heard above the recording in my headphones.  One was telling the other to vote against every incumbent — because of the red light cameras, because they didn’t get a new senior center, because the world’s gone to hell in a handbasket and it’s all the politicians’ fault.

I sat quietly, pretending not to hear.  I didn’t want to hear, as I don’t make a habit of eavesdropping on others’ conversations.  But some folks don’t recognize that they’re talking loudly enough to be heard all the way out in the parking lot…

We’ve gone two years now without a tax increase in Oak Ridge, in challenging times.  We’ve seen an increase in new home construction, and have made progress in beginning to tidy up our older neighborhood.   There is work yet to be done, for sure, but this old codger had a seriously bad attitude.

I turned up the volume on my iPod, gritted my teeth, and waited my turn.  I can’t wait until this election is over.


Twice this week, I’ve live-blogged the League of Women Voters’ candidate forums — City Council candidates on Tuesday, and School Board candidates on Thursday.

Although I have tried to capture the essence of every answer, please know that these posts do not represent a verbatim transcript.  If you see something here that would cause you to change your vote, please either watch the replay on BBB Channel 12, or call the candidate to ask your question personally.

I’ve posted links to the candidate websites that I’m aware of, but if you know of a candidate site that isn’t linked here, please send me the link.

UPDATE: The links have been updated (hat tip to Ellen Smith for these).

Campus safety

With two daughters at the University of Tennessee, I was pleased with the college’s implementation of an alert system using students’ cell phones.  Most of the time, the alerts are of the “not unexpected” variety — muggings along the dark areas between Cumberland Avenue and campus, etc.  They’re useful, but not panic-inducing.

Last night, the alert was more serious: “Suspects armed with a gun last seen in Reese Hall.  Unknown direction of travel.  Two of three suspects arrested, no gun found.”  So, the guy who actually has the gun is still at large.

Both Alpha and Beta are signed up for the text alerts.  Alpha got it; Beta did not.  Unfortunately, Beta’s the one who needed to get it, since her dorm is in the immediate vicinity of Reese Hall.  Fortunately, Alpha called her, and Beta stayed in her room instead of leaving to visit a friend, as she had planned to do.

The only media source that has picked it up so far is WBIR, and the comments beneath the story indicate that many students didn’t receive the message, or didn’t receive it until hours after the fact.

The text alerts are a cool system, but are only useful if they can reach all of the students in a timely manner.  I hope that can be fixed.

Schools Budget FY10

The FY2010 Oak Ridge Schools budget was approved last night.  School programs as everyone knows them are intact — transportation for all students living within the district (including the alternative school and the preschool), and with the same number of teacher assistants that we currently have (a reduction of six had been previously proposed).  No additional funding is  requested from the City, beyond the 3.5% increase they proposed in their budget process.

That’s the good news.

The bad news is, our teachers — our absolute greatest asset — received no pay increase for the second year in a row.  As best I can determine, it’s the first time we’ve ever gone two consecutive years without any a cost-of-living increase.  I think there’s some hope that, once we actually receive the stimulus funding and know how we’re allowed to spend it, we may be able to give some type of bonus to teachers and staff… but it’s not the same.

Raises are cumulative.  Bonuses are a one-time feelgood gesture.

This year, we had a greater number of citizens (okay, three or four people — but still a greater number) actually downloading the proposed budget and examining it for ideas.  I think that transparency is healthy, promotes greater trust by our citizens, and creates the opportunity for more eyes to look for potential savings in the budget.  Not surprisingly, it’s difficult for most people to understand, not having the background that the board acquires throughout the year, and most of the suggestions turn out to be not very viable.  But, it’s worth doing — no one is infallible, and there’s no way to be sure that someone isn’t going to find something that the rest of us overlooked, unless we explore every option presented.

The real heroes this year are the schools’ staff, who followed up with collecting up-to-the minute data on everything from utility usage (as it turns out, we’ve achieved significant savings in heating costs through a new climate-control system and more efficient boilers in some of the schools) to sales and property tax trends (not quite as healthy as expected two weeks ago), and following up on the latest developments in federal funding stipulations (they’ve changed).

One question that arose from pubic input is the $200,000 allocation for the Trustee’s Commission.  This is an amount withheld from the funds we receive from Anderson and Roane Counties (mostly from sales and property taxes), and the amount is established by state law in TCA §8-11-110.  However, upon further inquiry, I learned that the Anderson County Trustee collects about $1.2 million in fees from all sources, while his total office budget is $540,566.  The remaining $600,000+ just goes into the Anderson County General Fund, which leads me to believe that the State needs to reevaluate the Trustee’s commission amount.

But that’s not something that could be achieved within the 12 days we were given to complete this budget.

For now, let’s all work toward a healthy economic rebound over the next year.  That will help more than anything else to ensure that the teachers and programs we value in our schools can continue in the future.


This afternoon was a beautiful day to cruise with the top down, as I did in taking Beta back to school.  We also made a side trip to the apartment complex where she’s planning to live next year, not far from campus, just so she could show it to me.

Waiting for a left-turn arrow on Chapman Highway just across the Henley Street bridge, a scruffy-looking man in a white utility van pulled up and shouted at us, "you better answer next time I f***ing call you!

Neither of us have ever seen the guy before.  No idea who he is… so I’m guessing he mistook us for someone else.

And Beta tells me that Knoxville is a safe place.  Heh.

April’s Fool

This isn’t a joke — it really happened. 

Last Friday, Jim Hackworth put together a meeting of city, county, and schools officials for the purpose of discussing extending broadband access throughout Anderson County.  The meeting was hosted by ORAU, who has the most modern conference facility I’ve ever seen.

** Note for the trolls: there was not more than one representative of any elected body, and there was no deliberation, so there aren’t any Sunshine Law problems.

ORAU’s Wayne Stevenson demonstrated some of the impressive features of their Center for Science Education, which is used for a variety of things — student field trips, teacher education (including teaching teachers how to use some of the very cool and not necessarily expensive technology), and many other things.  The tie-in between the two is that students, teachers, and parents can’t take full advantage of educational opportunities that technology can provide, if they don’t have internet access.

But beyond education, local government officials are interested because ensuring broadband internet access is key to economic development in attracting residents and businesses.  It also facilitates growth.  So city (Oak Ridge, Clinton, Norris, Lake City) and county officials alike listened with rapt attention to the possibilities.

Except one.  I guess he was bored, so he was surfing the web on the ORAU laptop provided at every seat as a feature of their impressive conference facility.  So, right in the middle of the presentation, he stumbled across the Outback Steakhouse commercial with its distinctive music blaring from the speakers.

He didn’t know how to mute the sound, so he shut the laptop as every head in the room turned to see which kid wasn’t paying attention in class.

Guess who?  (If you’ve already heard the story from someone who was there, don’t spoil it.  I know who you are.)

Cinnamon Chili

Some days, things just don’t go quite as expected.

Yesterday was supposed to be one of those pretty good days where the schedule was mostly clear — the ORYSO parent meeting, then a quiet afternoon at home getting ready for the week to come.

After church, we stopped at Home Depot to buy some grape vines, but instead came home with a new lawnmower.  Kind of an interesting twist, but our old one is pretty much a goner, and they had a great sale.

Then, midway through the day, we got a call from friends in Michigan that they were passing through, and wanted to stop in and see us for a bit.  This spurred pure panic, as our house was in no condition for company.  Delta and I cleaned like fiends (Gamma was still at ORYSO practice) for an hour or so until they arrived, but there was much that couldn’t be corrected on short notice.

Like needing a new kitchen floor, or new carpets throughout the house.  Or even the assortment of stuff that has accumulated on the kitchen table, that doesn’t seem to have a good place to go.

After the visit, I settled in to make the pot of chili as planned, given the cold and blustery day.  As I ate my bowl (atop crumbled cornbread) it seemed a little odd somehow, but it wasn’t until Delta and HWTFM insisted that it tasted like cinnamon that I checked for what might have gone wrong.

The spice jar in the space where I keep cumin looked like cumin… but the label said "cinnamon."  The jar of cumin — an identical jar — was sitting on my cutting board, as I’d failed to put it away properly at some point.

It won’t win any prizes, but I doctored up the leftovers sufficiently to cover the hint of cinnamon.  A little celery salt probably would have done the trick, but I’m out.

Cinnamon chili — when nothing is quite as expected.

Schools and Kid Fitness

This week, two more bills related to physical education and activity requirements will be heard in the House Education K-12 Subcommittee.  From TSBA’s TLN Notes:

HB 0836 by Rep. Gary Moore (D-Joelton) rewrites the present requirement of 90 minutes of physical activity per week to one that mandates 30 minutes per day. HB 1441 by Rep. Beth Harwell (R-Nashville) requires every public school student in grades K-8 to participate in physical education each day during the school year – 150 minutes per week for elementary students and 225 minutes per week for middle school students.

There’s no disputing that obesity is on the rise, not only amongst children, but the population in general.  And therein lies the problem: kids aren’t getting fat and sedentary at school, but like so many other things, school is expected to provide the solution.

Schools have our children for about seven hours a day, 183 days per year.  If we expect public schools to fulfill their mission of actually educating students in the core subjects, providing exposure to a little bit of art and music (helping to develop different parts of the brain), and all of the other things that are already required, we cannot add more unrelated responsibilities.

At some point, legislators are going to have to realize that parents do have an actual role in rearing these children, and that schools cannot both parent and educate in 183 partial days per year.

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