Disaster Preparedness Supplies and Tips

In 2005 I experienced one of the worst disasters ever in U.S. history, Hurricane Katrina. I never thought I would ever see the likes of that again, until 4/27/2011. The South experienced the worst storm system in the past 20 years with over 200 tornadoes documented, the most in recorded history from a single storm system. Here in Tennessee and North Georgia we lost power for days and some are still without power as I write this. An entire town was obliterated and a co-worker was taken from us along with his entire family when an F4 tornado struck his home in Ringgold, GA.

If you have ever been through a disaster of this magnitude, you know how people can come together and help one another. I wanted to share some disaster preparedness tips on how to get through a time like this and ways to prepare if you should face it yourself.

Follow Directions: Always, and I mean always, listen to and comply with the instructions given from local authorities. If it is recommended that you take shelter, then do so immediately.

Own a Battery Powered Radio: You should always have a battery powered radio available. Wind up radios are now available that do not require batteries. Wind up and battery powered flashlights are also a must. Candles are great, but they do create a fire risk. In a time of disaster the fire department may not be able to get to you as quickly if you accidentally start a fire!

Store Canned Food: Always keep canned foods that you can open and eat available both in the home and in your vehicle. Meals Ready to Eat (MRE) are available at your local Army/Navy Store and have a very long shelf life.

Avoid Windows and Doors: If a tornado is in your area, stay away from the windows and doors. Seek shelter in an internal room or basement if you have one. The provisions mentioned above should be stored in these areas.

Wait for All-clear: After the danger passes, do not immediately go outside; wait for the local authorities to look at the damage and make sure it is safe. It is likely that there will be live power lines on the ground, unstable trees, debris, and other hazards.

These are only a few tips that I could think of off the top of my head. After the storm you will find that neighbors and community come together and provide what you need. Food, water, clothing, a place to shelter, shower, and even laundry services have been set up near me. If you can, volunteer services in your skill set. This may be taking your chain saw and helping to remove trees or creating a Web site like a local developer did here to help get those lost in touch with family and friends. Keeping busy will help pass the time and keep your mind occupied until things can settle down.

Inside the AT&T / T-Mobile Merger

As most of you know by now, an agreement has been made that will allow AT&T to buy T-Mobile USA, which is owned by Deutsche Telecom.  Some of you may also know that I left my job at AT&T to go to T-Mobile.  For the past few weeks I have been thinking about what this acquisition will mean for both the employees and the customers, assuming the merger is approved by the government authorities.

The announcement was a bombshell for the employees of T-Mobile, having come less than two months after the CEO Phillip Humm visited the call center with his “innovations” to improve and grow T-Mobile.  You have to think that he knew this was coming.  The merger is still in its beginning stages and what information I have is essentially what you have, with the exception of a couple of things that I am not allowed to mention at this point, at least until the decisions become final.

If it happens, the USA will have basically two major cell phone companies: AT&T and Verizon.  Sure, Sprint is hanging in there but do you really think it won’t be swallowed up soon?  AT&T will become the largest cell phone provider by a large number, something it has been after Verizon about for a very long time.

According to information provided, AT&T specifically wants T-Mobile and its employees in order to improve its own standing with J.D. Powers Customer Service score, something it has been at the bottom of for a long time while T-Mobile has taken the number one spot 10 times.  The cell phone industry is not one that has a lot of trust and it has always been T-Mobile’s goal to change that customer perception.  I think it has started to succeed, however, if AT&T acquires it, I fear that will set the goal back to a point where it will never be reached.

Will prices go up if the merger happens?  I believe that is a definite yes.  With only two competitors and only one of those really causing a threat (Verizon), prices will inevitably go up because people will not only be locked into a commitment, but only have one other alternative.  Verizon and AT&T will change prices relative to one another.  If Verizon goes up, AT&T will match it to ensure more revenue; if one goes down in pricing, the other will match to prevent losing customers.

As a prior AT&T employee, I know that it is all about the all mighty dollar and spending little on its employees.  T-Mobile is awesome in this regard with incentives, commission on features sold, huge giveaways for selling phones, and bonuses to ensure the best people stay.  AT&T promotes and gives raises based on seniority, not performance like T-Mobile.  AT&T, for the most part, is unionized with the Communication Workers of America, something I used to belong to but got out for various reasons — not the least of which was the fact that it has a “No Strike” clause, which means it cannot strike for any disagreements.  This, to me, takes away any power it has.

I love the wireless communication industry and hope I will be able to remain in it for some time.  However, if this deal passes I may have to look at other options.  A retention bonus is being offered by AT&T, half at the close of the deal and half six months after, but depending on the amount involved, it may not be enough to keep the talented people it wants.

Overall I am disappointed that T-Mobile USA has decided to go this route and sell to AT&T.  I really think T-Mobile could be a powerhouse in the industry both from an employee’s perspective and the customers’.  I will miss wearing the magenta “T” hat (O.K. so it’s pink) and can only hope that the deal is denied by the powers that be.

NOTE:  While I am a T-Mobile employee, the opinions expressed in this blog are my own and do not in any way represent the opinions of T-Mobile or AT&T.  For official announcements and information about the pending merger, please visit t-mobile.com.

The Greatest Show on Earth

As a child, I remember looking forward to the circus every year. I loved the animals, trapeze artists, death defying stunts and mostly, the clowns. While I went to many different ones, Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey was always my favorite. As I grew older it seemed that the circus was something that was fading away. Rarely did I hear of a circus, at least not with nearly the regularity that I did in my childhood. They seemed to have become something of a rarity and I missed them terribly. Once in a while a “circus” would come to town but it was a sad try at what they used to be in the past. A few animals, A lion tamer that stayed outside the cage, and maybe one or two poorly trained clowns.

Today I learned that my childhood favorite circus, Ringling Bros., is coming to town and you better believe I plan on being there! They have been in business for over 200 years and had a rather surprising and humble beginning. P.T. Barnum was a man who, in the early 1800s, was known as a showman recognized for his engaging hoaxes. In 1834 he marketed an African American woman as the 160 year old nurse to George Washington. The venture was successful because of his advertising ability and they toured for a short time before the woman, blind and almost completely paralyzed, passed away and was later determined to be no more than 80 years old. After opening a museum he purchased in New York, he became the first to market exhibits such as a little person he dubbed “General Tom Thumb,” as well as the Fiji Mermaid, a mummified body of what looked to be a cross between fish and mammal. He was also the first to exhibit Siamese twins, Chang and Eng Bunker. After his museum burned to the ground he became mobile and coined the term “The Greatest Show on Earth” with his touring group of circus “freaks.”

During this time, five brothers calling themselves the Ringling Brothers were enjoying a great success with their touring circus show. The brothers purchased Barnum’s show in 1907 and the shows remained separate until 1919 when the last remaining Ringling Brother decided to combine the two. As time went by, movies became more preferable than the circus and the last show was performed in 1956. The loss of the show was short lived, however. In 1957, John Ringling North moved the show from tents to an indoor production. By 1967, Irvin Feld, a well known name in rock-n-roll, and other interests bought the company from the Ringling family and quickly began to make adjustments to enhance quality and profitability. Over the years, the show was split into two touring units (“Red Unit” and “Blue Unit”) that to this day still travel the world.

I’m looking forward to introducing my young nephews to the fun a well done circus provides and hope they will be as excited as I am when I tell them we are going.

Fishy, Fishy, Fishy, Fish!

As you drive to the end of Market Street in downtown Chattanooga, TN, you will see two rather odd looking buildings at the edge of the Tennessee River.  Three story buildings, both having a rather striking glass top in an almost Egypt like pyramid shape dominates the skyline next to the Market Street Bridge.  These are the buildings of the Tennessee Aquarium and I volunteer there on an almost weekly basis.  If you are ever in the town of Chattanooga, TN, then this is a must stop on your journey.

Tickets will cost you $25 per adult and $15 for kids but this grants you access to both buildings for the entire day.  If you only have time to see one building, no worries, the ticket will get you into the other one on the following day.  The first building, “River Journey,” begins with a look at seahorses.  You then continue through and discover hundreds of species of fish, birds, alligators, snakes and numerous others.  Come during the afternoon and you may find handlers with different animals for you to touch and learn about.

The second building, called “The Ocean Journey.” This is where you will have the opportunity to pet stingrays and a species of carpet shark.  From there you enter into the butterfly garden where several hundred are released on a daily basis.  You will find species both native to the local area and from all over the world.  Some guests spend hours here watching the butterflies and some even wear perfume that attracts the insects to land on them. 

Moving on you come to the most popular exhibit, penguins.  The aquarium has dozens of these birds and daily shows with handlers answering questions.  Then you come to the largest tank in the aquarium, The Flower Garden Banks exhibit.  Approximately 36 feet deep and the dimensions of a basketball field, this tank holds numerous species, including tiger sharks, sand bar sharks, queen angel fish and numerous others, all native to the Gulf of Mexico.  One of the aquarium’s resident sea turtles lives here, named Oscar, he was injured by a boat propeller and lost his hind legs.  Since air got into his shell at the time of his injury, his bottom always points up.  Despite his obvious handicap, you may see him chasing after the sharks during feeding time. 

At 3:00 PM every Monday, you may witness this tank being fed and four times a day there are dive shows in which divers in the tank answer your questions.  While the divers use a special mask with a microphone that allows them to talk, most of them also know sign language which is a great ability when we have a group of deaf children visit.  If you want an experience no everyone gets, spend a little extra and take the behind the scenes tour where you will have the chance to feed the animals, see how they are cared for and what it takes to keep the buildings running while keeping the animals alive and well.

All together, expect to spend at least three hours for your visit to the Aquarium, and that is if you walk fast.  The buildings look small from the outside but the way they are set up inside ensure you get to see every exhibit, some from more than one side.  It is also located within walking distance from some of the best restaurants Chattanooga has to offer as well as some favorite franchises, including Buffalo Wild Wings, Ben and Jerry’s, and others. 

If you want a unique dining experience, pick up a couple of tickets for the Mystery Diner across the street from the Aquarium.  Here you interact with actors trying to solve a mystery while having all you can eat Italian food.  Take a walk across the longest walking bridge in the world and visit the North-side.  In the past it is this part of town where the African American population resided and the food is full of their influence.  It is here that you will find Coolidge Park, a great place to have a picnic.

Do You Want to Be a Stooge?

A “Stooge” was a term used in vaudeville to describe a person that impersonated a member of the audience who is called on stage.

Today the term “Stooge” is synonymous with the act known as The Three Stooges.  Their brand of slapstick was not only hilarious but took a lot of work to get the timing just right.

Moe (Moses Horwitz) spent his childhood in vaudeville, starting out as a “gopher.”   Later he became friends with Ted Healy and the Three Stooges were born, originally known as Ted Healy and His Southern Gentlemen.  Shemp (Samuel Horwitz) shared his brother’s love of vaudeville and joined him early on with aspirations of becoming a famous actor.  Curly, or Curley (Joeseph Horwitz) depending on how you want to spell it, had a natural ability for physical comedy with superior athletic ability despite his rather large frame.  With no formal training in the field, he was brought in when Shemp decided to pursue a solo career.  Having long curly hair at the time, he shaved his head to make Healy allow him to join the group.  Larry (Larry Fineburg) was added to the group when Healy saw his rather failing solo act and offered him a job on the condition that he lose the violin he played in his act.

The Three Stooges became not only one of the greatest physical comedy acts of all time, but also pioneered some of Hollywood’s firsts.  They performed the first music video with the Alphabet Song and attempted a primitive form of 3D in which things thrown would be placed on strings and flew straight towards the camera.  Mel Gibson created a biopic of the group in 2000 which aired on TV but has since seemed to have fallen off the face of the Earth.  You may find it on YouTube in nine parts and it’s a great attempt at a look into the Stooges’ lives.  They also springboarded many famous entertainers’ careers such as a very young Lucille Ball.

The Farrelly Brothers’ (Dumb and Dumber, Something About Mary, and Kingpin) much-anticipated Three Stooges movie will finally begin shooting on March 14, but in a wacky twist, it looks like the film has now lost Benicio Del Toro, Sean Penn, and Jim Carrey for the respective roles of Moe, Larry and Curly.  This has opened up the roles to a casting call.  The filmmakers’ ultimate goal is to cast actors who can emulate the appearance of the Stooges, including the looks, vocal patterns, speech rhythms, and physical abilities.  The film will be written as if the Stooges were still performing today.

If you think you have the chops to be a Stooge, this is your chance.

New King of Kong

Plastic Surgeon Hank Chien has taken the record for highest score in Donkey Kong, knocking Steve Wiebe off his throne. Chien scored an incredible 1,068,000 points in almost 3 hours of playing.

Chien, Wiebe and Billy Mitchell have been swapping the title back and forth for some time and Mitchell announced his retirement from the game on his last attempt, when he took the title from Wiebe.

I doubt this is the last time we will hear from these three Donkey Kong enthusiasts.

The 1980s Donkey Kong arcade game is used for this competition, something I miss from my youth. I miss going down to the local arcade with my friends and dumping quarter after quarter into the machines.

Twin Galaxies’ Story

Director Commentaries, Yay or Nay?

Almost as soon as DVDs came into the picture in today’s home entertainment, movie makers, directors and actors added “Special Features.”  The fact that the DVD holds much more information than VHS could ever hope to contain meant that it needed to be filled with something.  Deleted scenes, outtakes, “making of” specials, music videos spawned from the movie, soundtracks and even games are found on most DVDs you get today.  One of the most common special features are commentary options from the directors, producers and actors.  If you don’t know, this is an option that allows you to listen to the people associated with the movie talk about it on a separate soundtrack as the it plays.  Many people I speak with cannot stand the commentaries and it drives my nephew crazy when I turn it on.

I enjoy most commentaries on the movies that I buy.  I watch the movie without it first and then watch it again with the commentary.  Usually, the commentary has interesting information about how the movie was made, what happened during particular scenes, what the thought process was to come up with the final product, what the ideas started as and more.  In most cases, the commentary is a way for the viewer to go behind the scenes and it gives a sense that the makers of the film care a little more about their audience then those without a commentary.  They take the time to sit and watch a move they have seen probably a hundred times and share the good and the bad about the time making it.

There are some out there that really let me down however.  Some of them turn into the life story of the person giving the commentary instead of information about the movie itself and I think it may be these commentaries that have given some people a bad taste about the feature.  I want to hear about the movie, not where the person talking went to school, how long it took for them to “make it” in the industry or how many times they were married.

What do you think about commentaries?  Do you watch them or do you think the space could be used for something else?  Let me know in the comments!

Chattanooga Police Lose “Take Home” Cars

We’ve all seen police cars at homes, apartments and other residences where police men and women live.  Apartment complexes give police a discount on rent just to have the presence of a patrol car available as a deterrent to crime.  For years Chattanooga, TN police officers have been able to take their cars home at the end of their shift.  As of this month, that privilege has changed.  While they can still take their patrol cars home, the department has decided they will have to pay $0.20 per mile back and forth to work, to be deducted from their paychecks each month.  The majority of officers have declined this and have chosen to park their patrol cars in town and drive their personal vehicles home.

It is a move that has been attempted many times over the years but never came to be until this month.  Supporters of the decision state that this will save the city money as gas prices continue to rise more and more.  Naysayers  claim the move will reduce response times and crime would increase due to the loss of visibility.  They say that eliminating or reducing the presence of police vehicles in the neighborhoods would slow down response times in critical situations such as a child kidnapping whose safety is dependent on a quick and immediate response over a wide area.  Other situations that would require a quick response time include natural disasters, shooting, bomb threat or hostage situation.

Police have a steady 24 hour force on duty at any one time, but these emergencies require calling in a number of extra officers who are off duty.  Having to drive to a central garage to pick up their patrol car would delay that reaction time.  It is also claimed that there is less ware and tear on a vehicle that is taken home due to better maintenance from the officers.  It is claimed that more gas will be wasted requiring the officers to drive to a central garage instead of directly home after their shift.

I am sure that there are officers out there who abuse the privilege and use their patrol cars for non-police errands, but I believe that number is low.  Allowing the police to take their patrol cars home enables them to be ready at a moments notice when they are needed.  Not to mention that parking in downtown Chattanooga is at a premium and having patrol cars as well as officers’ personal cars competing for the spaces will only increase the problem.  Tim Gobble, a previous sheriff in the community wrote a rather interesting article on why the take home policy should be left as is.

What are your thoughts?  Do local police officers where you live take their patrol cars home?  Do you feel it acts as a deterrent to crime because they do?

Netflix Raises Pricing

I love Netflix!  I have canceled my cable television and stream Netflix movies and TV shows exclusively.  The choices, at least for me, are great.  It allows me to watch unlimited television and movies for only $8.99/month.  Well, it WAS $8.99/month.

I received an email today from Netflix informing me that my price plan, which includes unlimited streaming as well as 1 DVD per month, is going up one dollar to $9.99/month.  However, since I rarely order DVDs, I was happy to see there is a new price plan available that is for streaming only at $7.99/month.  So I am going to save $1.00/month.

It did get me to thinking about the other price plans that people use.  The plans Netflix offers go from one DVD/month to 8 DVDs at one time per month.  All of these plans have gone up as well and not just $1.00.  The price change gets larger as you go down the list.  I have added the comparison from its Web site.  As I said before, the price change does not affect me as a user, but if I were on the 8 DVD plan I would be a little upset.

See here for more information.

T-Mobile Now Charging for Tethering

Many people do not realize that you can use your data phone and even some regular phones as a modem to access the Internet on your laptop or even desktop computer.  This is referred to in the industry as “tethering” and is a great way to get access to the Internet when you do not have a wifi or other connection available.  However, the process can be a little complicated and it requires a somewhat advanced knowledge of the phone settings as well as downloading certain programs to your computer to make a successful connection.

T-Mobile has traditionally not charged extra for this ability and allowed their customers to tether using only the data feature that gives the phone itself to access the Internet.  The trade off was that T-Mobile did not support the ability.  That is, you could not call in to receive instructions or troubleshoot the connection between your device and computer.  Instead, you were given an address for an online forum.  You were pretty much left to your own devices and relied on other customers forum posts to help you tether properly.

Last week, T-Mobile announced that tethering your device will no longer be included in your data phone feature.  Anyone that is tethering will receive a message on their device stating that they must add an additional $19.99/month feature to continue using their phone as a modem.  This means also that T-Mobile now supports the ability and will help you set up your device if you need it.  So, if you use your T-Mobile phone regularly as a modem, be prepared to add an additional twenty bucks to your bill.

Additionally, T-Mobile, like many other providers, now reduces the speed of your Internet connection after you reach 5GB of usage.  If you reach this point on a data device, your speed will be slowed to no more than 50kbps.  If you are using a “Webconnect” stick on your laptop, the speed will be reduced to no more than 100kbps.  You will receive a text message in both cases when you reach or exceed the 5GB limit.

If you are wondering if these changes violate your contract, you can find the information in paragraph 10 and 17 of the Terms and Conditions.

This is a personal weblog. That means that the opinions voiced here are purely personal and they do not in any way represent the opinions, experiences or directions of my employer T-Mobile. If you take any of the statements on this weblog and use it as an official statement by T-Mobile you are knowingly misleading your audience. For official statements by T-Mobile visit www.t-mobile.com.

TGI Black Friday

We all know that the day after Thanksgiving is the busiest shopping day of the year and because of this stores traditionally have big sales to attract attention from buyers.  The day has been coined “Black Friday” in reference to the fact that stores generally start making a profit this time of year.  Several merchants open as early as midnight and, although not technically a holiday, because many people are off the day after Thanksgiving, millions of people participate in this shopping rush.  It serves also as the unofficial beginning of the Christmas season at least since the start of the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade in 1924.

TGI Black Friday is a website dedicated to giving you the Black Friday deals as soon as they become available.  Every store from WalMart to Pep Boys is included in the site with 3 to 5 new ads arriving daily.  The site includes deals, coupons, a shopping list, iPhone App and new this year, an Android App.

Whatever you are looking for from fishing supplies at Bass Pro Shop to 2 terabyte external hard drives at Office Depot, you will find the Black Friday deals here.  Keep this one in your favorites and make sure to visit each year for all the deals before they are made available anywhere else!

Oh, and I call “keep offsies” on that $300 computer desk Office Depot will sell for $129.

Chattanooga, TN: Come on Down!

While I am a “Marine Corps Brat” and have lived in numerous parts of the United States throughout my young life, we always came back to Chattanooga, TN.  Twice in my father’s career he was stationed as the active duty first sergeant at the Chattanooga Marine Reserve Center.  When he retired we all moved back to Chattanooga, where he purchased the house that he lives in today.  When I turned 17 I left Chattanooga to join the military myself and then moved to South Mississippi to be with my mother.  For 20 years I stayed in Mississippi and I enjoyed it.  Being on the Gulf was a great experience with many things to do, but I got tired of going through hurricanes every year, including Katrina.  So, one day, two years ago this Thanksgiving, I made a rather rash decision to move back “home.”  Luckily, due to my father’s connections and my sister’s job at the time, I was able to secure a job in my field and get an apartment before I even left the Gulf Coast.

Coming back to Chattanooga, I got many surprises.  The city has grown by leaps and bounds, both for the residents’ benefit and tourism.  Driving downtown, a place I used to know like the back of my hand, I got lost and had to ask for directions on numerous occasions.  Chattanooga has always been a beautiful city, but today it is even better.  I would like to share some of the things that make this city my favorite and why I call it home.

1.  Chattanooga Choo Choo:  Probably the best known attraction due to the song made popular by the team of Mack Gordon and Harry Warren.  It opened in 1908 as a passenger terminal. Over the years, the bustling terminal greeted Presidents Woodrow Wilson, Theodore Roosevelt, and Franklin Roosevelt.  It was closed in 1970 for lack of business that began in the ’60s, automobiles having become the preferred mode of travel.  In 1973 it was converted into what it is today, a fabulous hotel and convention center with indoor and outdoor pools, tennis courts, gardens and on-site shopping.  48 of the passenger cars have been converted into hotel rooms.  “Although you may be reminded of a past era while staying aboard our rail cars, you will have all of today’s conveniences.  All   hotel rooms offer high speed wireless internet access.  Each car includes a queen size bed, and some cars also have a daybed with a pull out trundle bed.  The only thing missing from your night in a Victorian Train Car is the ‘clickety-clack’ of the rails!” (Chattanooga Choo Choo Web site)  Hotel suites and standard rooms are also available.

2.  Walnut Street Bridge:  Not far from the Chattanooga Choo Choo you will find the first bridge that connected Chattanooga to the Northshore area.  It was built in 1890 and has a rather interesting history, including being used as a “lynching” platform.  It was closed in 1973 and during my childhood was in severe disrepair, not open to the public.  Recent renovations have converted it into a walking bridge.  It spans 2,376 feet, making it one of the longest “walking” bridges in the world.  The view is spectacular as you walk across the Tennessee River with Lookout Mountain in the background.  Benches are provided the entire span of the bridge and it is very well lit for night time strolls.  It’s a perfect place to take your date for a romantic walk.

3.  Rock City:  In 1823, sightseers routinely rode mules through the natural “streets and avenues of Lookout Mountain and named it “Rock City.”  In 1928 Frieda Carter began marking paths using only a string to mark her way among the rock formations and opened her unique gardens to the public as “Rock City Gardens.”  As advertising was difficult in that era and the location was not somewhere people simply happened by, Garnet Carter hired a painter and offered to paint farmers’ barns for free with the proviso that he be allowed to paint the words “See Rock City” on the roofs.  The tradition continues and you can still see barns along the highway with the words in big bold letters as far north as Michigan and as far south as Texas.  It is now run by Bill Chapin, a third-generation descendant of Garnet and Frieda  “Since its beginnings, Rock City has continued to attract an increasing number of tourists from all over the world. Each year, more than half a million people visit the attraction to enjoy the many natural splendors that abound. Over the years, several features have been added to the original attraction, including the popular Fairyland Caverns and Mother Goose Village, the Cornerstone Station, as well as a myriad of shops and restaurants. In addition, annual events such as the Rock City’s Enchanted Garden of Lights during the holiday season bring guests in by the droves. And the gardens Frieda so lovingly planted have also grown through the years to include more than 400 different species of native wildflowers, shrubs, and trees.”  (Rock City Web site)

4.  Ruby Falls:  “The story of Ruby Falls begins with the original Lookout Mountain Cave whose natural entrance is located at the foot of Lookout Mountain on the banks of the Tennessee River. Tales of this cave’s huge chambers and winding passages have long been passed down from one generation to the next, and the cave’s whereabouts have been known by Chattanooga inhabitants for centuries. The rich history of this cave includes Native Americans, cave explorers, notorious outlaws, civil war soldiers, and even a president of the United States. There were many reports of explorers traveling deep into this cave, as far as 12 miles without reaching the end.” (Ruby Falls Web site)  A limestone cave located deep in the heart of Lookout Mountain, you will see many things that took millions of years to form.  Stalactites and stalagmites, awesome rock formations and a 146 foot waterfall located inside the mountain itself.  Well worth a visit and not far from Rock City.

5.  Chickamauga Battlefield and Museum:  Chattanooga changed hands many times during the Civil War.  It was a highly sought after area because it offered both road and water transportation and is very well protected by the mountains.  The 5,300 acre Chickamauga Battlefield, scene of the last major Confederate victory of the American Civil War, contains numerous monuments, historical tablets, wayside exhibits, and trails. Major points of interest can be reached by following the seven-mile auto tour located in the official park brochure. Additionally, visitors can choose to use the park’s “Dial and Discover” cell phone tour to enhance the experience. The Visitor Center includes various exhibits, an orientation film, a fiber optic battlefield map, a bookstore, and the Claud E. and Zenada O. Fuller Collection of American Military Shoulder Arms , which is an incredible display of hundreds of weapons used during that time.  Throughout Chattanooga and North Georgia you will find statues and tablets on the battle that took place here, both in public areas as well as in resident’s yards.  Each year the Battlefield hosts a reenactment that is both educational and fun.

Applebee’s: A True American Business!

As a veteran, I am honored to have served and ask nothing in return from my country. However, it is always nice when someone approaches me and thanks me for my service and I try to do the same to any active duty or prior service veteran I see.  Serving my country was one of the high points in my life and I would gladly go back in a second if I could.

Applebee’s recently announced that every veteran and active duty service member will get a free meal on Veterans Day, Thursday, November 11, 2010.  Simply show proof of your service by coming to the restaurant in uniform, bringing a picture of you in uniform, a current LES, an American Legion or VFW card or your DD214 to receive the free meal.  The choices are many and not the cheap items on the menu either!  See the Web site for more information.

Personally, this is huge to me!  For a large company to give away so much in the terms of food, labor, and advertising just to show its support for the men and women in uniform is something not seen today, at least from a company as large as this one.  I want to thank Applebee’s for its support and I salute every single veteran and active duty military persons.

Bachelor Cooking

Ramen Noodles, Pizza, Fast Food, Chips…these are the things most people think you eat when you mention that you are a bachelor and I have to admit, I eat more than my fair share of all of those foods.  However, for the past several years I have tried to cook more meals than I eat out.  Cheaper meals is a big part of it but I also want to try and eat a little healthier as I pass the horizon of middle age.  At first it was simple things like spaghetti and bottled sauce, eggs or maybe the odd stew cooked in the crock pot using store bought, prepackaged seasonings.

Then I moved on to roast, meatloaf, pork chops and a number of other meats, all cooked with varying vegetables.  I have found that most foods are very simple and quick  to prepare by following very easy recipes and instructions found throughout the grocery stores and online.  Those cooking shows are pretty helpful as well.  In particular I like “Good Eats” in which the host not only tells you how to do things easily but WHY doing them helps to make a better experience scientifically.

Recently, I have started going to a local butcher to get the freshest meats possible and have moved from pre-ground spices to freshly ground pepper and salt.  I even grow some of my own herbs.  The flavor of these are so much more powerful that once you try them you will never go back to those prepared spices or meats that have been sitting in cellophane and styrophone wrappers for days.

A few months ago I decided to try my hand at a roast with a spicy sauce, green beans, corn and some brownies for desert.  It only took about 30 minutes to prepare the meat, then all there was to do was wait the required time for it to cook in the oven.  15 minutes after the roast was done the corn and green beans were prepared, just in time to give the meat time to rest, and I placed the brownies in the oven.  I sat down at the dining room table (after clearing off all the papers, computer parts and other items that accumulate there) and my brother and I had a nice, sit down, family meal.

The meal was outstanding if I do say so myself and my brother still talks about the roast I made for him to his friends.  He now firmly believes that I am some sort of prodigy chef destined for greatness when, in fact, all it took was reading a few directions, turning the timer to a specific time and playing World of Warcraft while I waited for the “ding.”  I don’t have all those fancy kitchen utensils like meat thermometers, chef knives that will cut you in half if they graze you the wrong way or a fancy, tall hat.

My point is, even if you don’t think you can boil water without messing it up, cooking is not this big, scary, fancy ability that requires years to master.  If you have a few minutes, some patience and a friend or family member to share it with, cooking your own meal is not only good for your wallet and waist, but your soul as well.  I encourage everyone to try something new in the kitchen tonight!

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“Goldilocks” Planet Is A Ghost

A few weeks ago I posted about a planet orbiting a Red Dwarf star about 20 light years from Earth that had the best potential to harbor life out of all the planets found orbiting other stars to date. The planet was given the name Gliese 581g, named after the star it orbits.  It was determined that the planet, about 3 times the size of Earth, sat in the “Goldilocks” zone which is just the right distance from its star to have liquid water.

It now seems that Gliese 581g may not exist at all.  In order for scientists to determine if planets exist around distant stars, they use a technique that looks at the wobble of the star, caused by other bodies pulling on it.  In the case of a single planet system, the wobble is very uniform and easy to interpret.  However, in the case of multiple bodies, the wobble becomes extremely complicated and can easily be misinterpreted.  This is what seems to have happened with our “Goldilocks” planet.  After careful recalculations, it seems that what scientists originally interpreted as a 5th planet around the small Red Dwarf doesn’t actually exist.

So it seems that, yet again, we must continue to look for life on other planets.  I have no doubt that life exists on other planets and do so in abundance.  I’m not saying intelligent life is common but simple life forms, I firmly believe, is the rule rather than the exception.  Space is so vast and the distances so great, that we have difficulty finding it though.