December 2006

Y-12 Rules

The past few years have seen an increasing number of dress code restrictions for Y-12 employees, mostly in the name of safety.  Sandals and clogs have been banned (much to the chagrin of female employees); now, the fellas have been relegated to boxers.

Atomic Wedgie

Farewell, 2006

It’s been a mixed year in the balance of triumph and adversity, both personal and otherwise.

A few of the highlights for me were:

  • Presenting Alpha with her high school diploma (brag moment: she brought home a 3.75 GPA in her first semester in UT’s College of Engineering);
  • Several quality+quantity “family time” weeks;
  • Watching Betsy Coleman start her own real estate company;
  • Making several new friends, whose company I enjoy and opinions I value;
  • Holding off harmful changes to the BEP during the legislative session (though the battle continues);
  • Seeing this community pull together to show support for education, from the ground up;
  • Starting this blog, moving to WordPress, and mostly keeping up with it.

Of course, the biggest joy (as it is every year) are the daily reminders that I married the right man. I don’t know why, but I would never have thought that we could be more in love after 19 years of marriage than we were when we went to the altar.

* * *

There were, of course, a few disappointments along the way, but there’s no need to list them. :p

Useless Trivia

Not sure how accurate this thing is… there were several questions I could have answered either way, or where there was no good answer for me.

Your Brain is 33% Female, 67% Male
You have a total boy brain
Logical and detailed, you tend to look at the facts
And while your emotions do sway you sometimes…
You never like to get feelings too involved

FY08 Budget Preview

An early preview of the Oak Ridge Schools FY ’08 budget (scheduled for adoption April 12) will be a topic of discussion at the School Board meeting on Wednesday, January 3.

The “budget concepts” document (be patient, it’s a large file because it was scanned) provided to the Board is very preliminary, but does illustrate some of the relevant challenges.  Among them are the fact that we still have not implemented the Compensation Study, which means that some of our employees are paid significantly less than market value.  In addition are changes to the Alternative School to address No Child Left Behind issues… probably graduation and attendance rates, as much as anything.

I think most of us have asked ourselves, what if “alternative school” really was an alternative (for kids who just don’t fit in, for whatever reason, to the standard school model) rather than it’s present form, which is more like what most of us called “reform school” a few decades ago.

The part that concerns me most is that we are projected to continue “spending down” our undesignated fund balance, leaving us almost no cushion against unexpected expenses (i.e., food service equipment or HVAC systems that fail sooner than planned).

If you’re interested in the school budget, you may want to read through this before (or during) Wednesday’s meeting.

Saddam Watch

Waiting for the pressure cooker to cool enough to open (to hubby: stop touching that!  It will BURN you!), Delta and I heard on Fox News (chill, Joel, CNN has the same story) that Saddam is due to be executed in the next couple of hours.

Delta: Will they show it on TV?

Me: No, honey.  That’s gross.

Delta: We should cheer!

Me: Well, we really shouldn’t cheer when somebody dies.  Even if it will be a relief when he’s gone.  He’s a very bad man.

Delta:  Yeah… didn’t he cause the Holocaust?

Something like that… 

Telecom Changes

Uh oh.  The Wall Street Journal reports that the FCC has approved the merger of Bellsouth and AT&T:

The Federal Communications Commission approved AT&T Inc.’s $85 billion takeover of BellSouth Corp. Friday, after the telecom giant offered a series of major concessions to consumer groups and regulators.

The agency approved the deal, the largest ever in U.S. telecommunications history, by a unanimous 4-0 vote. The merger creates a behemoth that will have a market capitalization of over $220 billion — more than double that of nearest rival Verizon Communications Inc. — and will serve 67.5 million local phone customers in 22 states, as well as 11.5 million broadband users.

The FCC released a statement saying that “significant public interest benefits are likely to result from this transaction.”

Approval of the deal was never in serious doubt, but it was held up for months because of objections from consumer groups and Democrats.

AT&T broke the logjam by proposing a series of conditions this week that won over the Democrats, including a pledge not to prioritize any Internet content provider’s traffic over another’s, a principle known as “net neutrality.” Lawmakers, consumer activists and some Internet companies said that without such regulation, AT&T would be able to strike deals guaranteeing Internet companies like Google Inc. higher quality or faster transmissions than other providers. (Read AT&T’s filing.)

The net neutrality condition applies to the portion of AT&T’s network that connects consumers’ homes to the Internet backbone. Special data and voice networks used by corporate customers would not be subject to the rules and AT&T’s own nascent video offerings would also be exempted.

AT&T also agreed to lower rates for some high-volume voice and data lines that serve corporate customers and are leased on a wholesale basis to smaller telecom carriers. And it pledged to offer stand-alone high-speed Internet access for up to $20 a month. Companies that offer Internet phone service, like Vonage Holdings Corp., would stand to gain if consumers don’t have to buy their phone service and Internet service in a packaged bundle.

Hmmm.  We’ve been considering switching over to an IP phone service for some time now, but haven’t done so because we 1) don’t like Comcast internet service, and 2) anything else without phone service bundled costs more than phone+DSL.

The next question is, does AT&T offer wireless phone service that’s worth a flip, and if bundled with high-speed internet, do they offer it at a decent rate?

I’m still not very happy with US Cellular, but am waiting out the contract for another couple of months.  However, I’ve yet to find anyone who thinks their cell company provides good customer service.

Musical Etc.

Listening to: Genesis. Via Pandora, where you can plug in an artist or song name, and create a channel containing not only your selection, but other similar works. If a song comes on that you feel strongly about (good or bad), you can click “thumbs up” or “thumbs down” to include more of / exclude other similar pieces. They call it the “Music Genome Project.”

In the background, I see that Saddam is set to swing sometime in the next 24 hours. There’s something oddly right about looking at Saddam’s face while listening to Bobak, Jons, Malone and Jethro Tull.

Even with noise-canceling headphones, it’s a challenge to relax and enjoy the music with the kids interrupting every few minutes.

Winding Down

As the last few days of 2006 are winding down, so is everything else — except for what’s winding up to a new start.

After being out of town for the week before Christmas, then the flurry of activity for the holiday followed by a houseguest for a few days, my corner of the world has been quiet for a few hours; I slept for eleven of them. During the busy part, I also cut off my participation at the Oak Ridger forums — not because I can’t hang with a good argument, but because the most basic rules no longer apply.

I can only guess that the moderator, who fell into the job when Shane left, views it as extra work that he doesn’t really want. So, if he lets it die, then he need be bothered no more.

In the “winding up” category, there’s a new local blog at www.viewfrommanland.com — former forum regular Daco has begun writing on his own. I’m really looking forward to that one as a daily read, because he brings an interesting perspective on a variety of issues. Sometimes we agree, and sometimes we don’t, but the conversation is never dull.

What else will 2007 bury, and what will it bring? In the outgoing category is Saddam Hussein; hopefully our national leaders will get a handle on the whole Iraq thing and get us out of there without surrender. I had high hopes that with the brutal dictator gone, the Iraqi people would rise to the challenge of building a democracy that works for them, but it appears that they cannot. The tribal struggle of centuries (or millennia?) seems to continue in spite of our efforts.

The lesson here that we can’t seem to learn is to not get into a war unless we intend to win. That means killing people and blowing things up. If that’s not the objective, then we probably shouldn’t be there.

I’m hopeful that 2007 will bring an end to the corruption we saw in state government this year. I’m skeptical of the various laws and commissions created for that purpose, as it was already illegal to be corrupt — several legislators are now serving prison sentences, with more scheduled for trial over the next few months.

Most elected officials are not corrupt. Getting rid of the bad ones will allow those who remain to do a better job, although I fear that some of the new regulations may prove so cumbersome as to cause good people to decide it’s just not worth the hassle. Case in point: I received a letter yesterday from the Tennessee Ethics Commission as notification that I have to file form SS-8005 by January 31 or face up to $10,000 in fines. That’s on top of the disclosure of interests that I already file with the school system, along with financial disclosures every few months to the local election commission, even during those years when there’s no campaign activity whatsoever — nothing raised, nothing spent.

Despite the added paperwork burden, hopefully 2007 will bring additional electronic access to government records. Not just the stuff filled out by officeholders, but actual records of what the government is doing and has done.

* * *

Around here, 2007 will also bring the installation of my new stove on January 9. I’ll finish clearing out the room formerly known as my office (translation: storage bin) and replacing the gross purple carpet to create a bedroom of her own for Delta.

The Car-Guy Rant

My dear brother-in-law, PJ, is visiting for a couple of days; he’s one of my favorite people, but one who’s suffered a terrible run of bad luck lately.

A couple of weeks ago, he was rear ended mid-block by a woman on a cell phone, who 1) lied about her name, address, and insurance info, and 2) left the scene when he went to call the police. Fortunately, he did get her tag number, but it took a couple of weeks (as does anything in mid to late December) to get anything going with an insurance estimate.

Not sure what’s going to happen with the police, concerning her leaving the scene and lying about her identity.

He drove down here in a rental car, and we did a little car-shopping — okay, several hours’ worth — to find a replacement vehicle in the $4,000 range. Having found one that seemed quite suitable (a 1996 model with only 65,000 miles, in like-new condition), we came to the point of trying to figure out how to take ownership.

PJ hasn’t yet collected the insurance settlement, what with the whole holidays disruption. In theory, he has to go back to Maryland to pick it up, but the car guy desperately wanted to make a sale. PJ would greatly prefer to drive the car home and turn in his rental here, rather than drive the rental home, pick up the check, and drive back in the rental to get the car. So, car guy baited him with some story about how they could draw up a sale agreement that converted to a rental agreement if he didn’t get a check to them (probably via FedEx) within the designated time.

After an hour or so, they all headed back to the finance manager’s office. I started getting the heebie-jeebies (damn, where’s AT’s heebijeebinex when I need it?) when I saw three car goons in the glass-windowed office with PJ. After probably three inches of knit-one-pearl-one on the scarf I’m working on, PJ said he needed us in the office.

The lead car-goon, with thick lips reminiscent of the guy who played the evil nazi who faced off against Indiana Jones, started off making a speech about how they needed to finance the vehicle since it would be leaving the state, and how they didn’t have any banks willing to make loans that small, and we (hubby and I) could just write a check blah blah blah…

Yeah, right. If we wrote a $4,000 check today, there’d be no tuition for Alpha in a week or so. I’m not risking that for anyone.

The heebiejeebies got the better of me, and I just got up and walked out. Hubby handled the rest; all of my experience with car guys (save one who owns a dealership) has been exceedingly negative. When I see them team up three to one, building the strong arm tactics and pressure, I’m outta there.

I had the definite impression they were trying to do something underhanded, but we left with papers indicating they will hold the car for PJ, but without the car. I don’t know if he can get the insurance settlement sent to an office here, or if he’ll actually have to go home and come back again.

Why does buying a car from a dealership have to be such a sleazy experience?

Patience, patience…

Waiting for Christmas delayed is a tough thing… even for adults.

These days, the highlight of Christmas is seeing joy on the faces of others — especially the kids. I also got a kick out of helping my dad figure out his new digital camera (a gift from my youngest sister, who wasn’t there this year).

My gift is one of necessity: days before the Oak Ridge Utility District‘s grand opening of their new offices and showroom, my old stove — the last of the 33-year old avacado-green appliances in my house — began to die. Handyman Hubby’s quick inspection of a burned-out burner revealed that the wiring was decayed, meaning that the others are likely to go soon.

Not to mention the whole thing being a fire hazard.

new stoveI’ve wanted a gas stove for 20 years, but as with the rest of the items i wanted to upgrade, I waited until they needed to be replaced anyway. So, a couple of weeks before Christmas, we ordered it — providing the perfect excuse to buy Hubby a Roto-Zip (which he’s admired for a few years), so he could enlarge the inset in my ceramic-topped island to fit the new stove.

I thought surely it would come in the week before Christmas, and be ready to install the week after. But, apparently there’s been a run on new gas appliances with the opening of ORUD’s new showroom, and it’s not in yet.

So hard to be patient.

My mother thinks I’m crazy; she grew up with a gas stove (the kind you had to light with a match), and thinks that having a solid-surface electric model is the ultimate in appearance and ease. But have you ever heard anyone say, “now we’re cooking with electricity?”

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