Saturday, January 31, 2009

New Star Trek Movie-May 8, 2009

I admit it, I am a 'Star Trek' junkie. No, I'm not a Trekkie; I don't go to conventions, dress up like the characters, and I've never owned a pair of Spock ears or a mock-up of the Enterprise. But I love the movies and the TV shows, in all their incarnations. Since the demise of the TV series "Enterprise", there has been a dearth of Star Trek media.

All of that is about to end on May 8th, 2009, when the new movie premiers. Judging from the trailer on the official website, this time around we'll meet Kirk and Spock as teens and trace their steps to the point where they serve on the Enterprise together. The trailer also indicates we'll see young adult versions of the rest of the original crew, including Scotty and Uhura.

Friday, January 30, 2009

A BOX of Wine, A Loaf of Bread, and Thou...

Being unemployed requires some lifestyle changes. No more mahi-mahi fish taco lunches at Mama Kwan's. The Breakfast Bite from 7-11 looks just fine, and will supply some needed belly fat so I can turn down the heat this winter--a double savings.

My drinking habits have changed also. Did you know they packaged vodka in plastic bottles? I didn't. Pretty good stuff. too. If you drink too much and drop the bottle, it bounces harmlessly off the floor and back into your arms, where you can cradle it like a baby as you wait for the phone to ring with all those post-Bush job offers.

Now we have boxed wine, and surprise of surprises, its pretty good. Basically, you have a cardboard box surrounding a bladder filled with wine, constructed of some space age polymer, I hope. When I looked inside the box and saw the bladder, I was immediately reminded of the Monty Python & The Holy Grail remark about sheep's bladders, something to avoid in your wine containers.

I first read about this wine in a recent issue of Wine Enthusiast magazine. In the article "100 Best Buys of 2008", this baby came in at #12. The merlot was rated an 87, at a suggested list price of $25. This thing holds 3 LITRES of wine; i.e., 4 bottles. That works out to $6 a bottle, for an 87 rated wine. Better yet, I found it at Harris Teeter this week on sale for $18--around $4.50 a "bottle"! It is fruity, very cherry like, with a bit of well balanced oak. Dry, but not astringent. Tannins are subdued, which is how a merlot should taste.

Another cool thing--the wine will last four weeks minimum in its container, at room temperature. No fussing with vacuum pumps or other means to preserve your wine. The only drawback--the wine sprints out of the built-in spout full force, creating a sound more often associated with a men's room during the 7th inning break instead of the subtle nuanced sounds emanating from a bottle pour.

This bargain hails from Sonoma, but carries no vintage date. They also make a Cab and a Pinot Grigio, but I didn't try either. But this one is worth the effort.

So, if you are one of the 240,000 financial services employees, who, like me have been laid off in the past 12 months, rest easy. Even though our former bosses, who all received big TARP supplied bonuses can still afford the expensive stuff, this wine is almost as good, and won't put a dent in your $494 a week unemployment check.

Slammin' Sammy's Now Dirty Dick's

This is not news to local readers, as it has been extensively covered in the local media. But our out of town readers may not be aware that Slammin' Sammy's, the Nags Head sports bar and grille closed at the end of 2008. It will be replaced by Dirty Dick's, relocating from the original spot in Kill Devil Hills.

Sammy's can lay claim to being the original sports bar on the Outer Banks, at least in the modern sense of the word; a bar with lots of TV's covering most any sporting event televised. It was unofficial home to the East Carolina Pirate Club's OBX division. And it was the first place I ever sampled those mini bar-burgers, known nationally as "slammers" and now the subject of TV gadget advertising. Over the years, I have consumed enough "slammers" to offset the good effects of any cholesterol drugs my doctor can dish out.

Sammy's was a popular lunch spot, and during the building boom, was a favorite for the hammer swinging crowd. Over the last few years, the bar was beginning to show its age as newer locations sported flashy flat screen plasma TV's in order to attract the sports crowds.

I am sure many locals and visitors have fond memories of gatherings there. Certainly, the Sammy's theme song, played constantly on local radio and cable TV will be stuck in our heads for all eternity.

We wish Sammy good luck in whatever he does next, and thank him for the good times we all shared at his establishment.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Will the New Stimulus Package Help the Outer Banks?

President Obama won his first major legislative victory today in the form of House passage of his stimulus bill. His next hurdle in the Senate will be much tougher.

As far as economic talking heads are concerned, there was almost universal disapproval on CNBC, Bloomberg and in the pages of the Wall Street Journal. The primary reason for this disenchantment? The fact that only 12 cents of every stimulus dollar is earmarked for infrastructure improvements; the type of Keynsean financial policies even conservatives can endorse in severe crisis mode. The rest of the money is set for extended unemployment benefits, and outright transfer payments. As we discovered in the last stimulus package, transfer payments in any form, including tax rebates, are short-lived and do little to improve the long-term economic health of the country.

Locally, there are two economic drivers. The tourist industry brings raw dollars into the community, this pumps money into retail stores, hotels and motels, restaurants, golf courses, and other activities.

The second driver is real estate and construction. With the exception of the needs of the local population, real estate and construction activity is directly related to tourism; growth in the number of tourists translates into more rental houses, hotels, condos, and commercial buildings, both to serve the tourists, and to house the businesses that serve construction and real estate.

The current problems on the Outer Banks are long term in nature. Prices for rental houses, our primary sales "unit" are still too high relative to the rents they collect. With less than 8% of current listings under contract, there is nothing in a stimulus package that will correct this imbalance.

On the commercial real estate side, things are not much better. The hits taken by real estate and construction have eroded commercial values. Office buildings are currently the hardest hit; mortgage lenders, real estate firms, attorneys, and others have cut back or gone out of business. Vacancy rates are high. Across the bridge in Currituck, warehouses are losing tenants from the construction industry; formerly these buildings housed inventory for drywall, lumber, plumbing supplies and other service industries. Businesses that repair trucks are now suffering as the number of heavy trucks running the roads has declined. Office and industrial parks all over Currituck are vacant and under pressure.

Retail construction will continue, but even here there is cause for concern. The growth in the raw numbers of tourists is beginning to stabilize. During the summer, its hard to imagine we could fit many more cars and bodies on the beach than we currently host. The shoulder seasons show some promise, but weather and kids in school will always keep those numbers far below the summer trade. If the pace of retail construction continues, eventually the owners of the businesses occupying those spaces will be sharing a smaller piece of the tourist "pie".

I certainly hope the Obama stimulus plan works for the rest of the country. We need to start somewhere. But don't count on it to solve the problem locally. A road project in New York, a $300 tax rebate here and there, or an extra 1o weeks of unemployment benefits isn't going to sell that $600,000 rental home or fill up that office building.

To fix the local economy, not only will the mortgage industry have to rebound with products designed for investment homes, but list prices will need to fall, in some cases, significantly, before transactions make sense to buyers. This will require lenders to take write-downs on loans. I doubt many will volunteer, which in the long run, will prolong the inventory glut. The concept of a "bad bank" repository for bad loan assets is one possible solution. The only other "out" for the local economy would be a return to speculative buying of real estate; a road no one I know wants to go down again.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009


If we've learned one thing from the financial crisis, its that the Outer Banks is still an economically vulnerable area. While it is obvious tourism is the premier revenue generator locally, the island-wide economy was even more dependent upon real estate and construction, in particular, tourism related real estate and construction. There does seem to be a need for our community to work towards economic diversity.

In Northeast North Carolina, when people talk about economic diversification, they automatically turn to industry. Thus, we have government owned office parks, natural gas lines, new by-passes and highways, and economic development agencies all vying to bring industrial concerns to our area. From what I have seen over the past 15 years, most of these efforts have failed to hit their mark.

We don't play to our strengths, we play to what everyone else is trying.

I have a lot of thoughts on the subject, including a greater push for eco-tourism, a natural strength, as well as organic farming, but today I wanted to focus on something different--an "Outer Banks University".

If you think about it, Dare County is the perfect place for a college. As an "industry", colleges are relatively clean, environmentally speaking. Students would be attracted to the relaxed beach atmosphere, and many might stay in the summer to provide needed part-time work. The influx of professors and administrators would bring a more stable middle-class to the area. The student population would help support local restaurants, retail stores, and services. Interest in the arts and other intellectual pursuits would increase.

I would imagine parents would find Dare County an appealing locale for their children attending college. It is crime free, remote, and sports a small town atmosphere.

We have a start with the UNC-Coastal Studies Institute. Dare County is a natural selection for such a school, and given our fragile environment, it is likely the school will eventually prove a useful tool in determining how we develop Dare and other coastal counties as we move forward.

It should be a long-term goal to couple the CSI with a four year college; either state run or private. There is plenty of land for such a site, and in fact, some areas under consideration for low income housing might be put to better use as a college. Likewise, areas on mainland Dare, or even southern Currituck would make good locations. If Currituck is worried about density and impacts on their school system from Dare "spillover", then perhaps a college or university would prove a useful compromise.

We need to look for diversity that will "smooth out" our economy, both seasonally and long-term. Any such diversity should be compatible with our life style and our environment. That rules out any form of industry in the traditional sense of the word, and rightly so.

A college or university might be something that suits our needs in our quest to provide a more stable economic environment.

Monday, January 26, 2009

Outer Banks Shrine Club goes to New Bern!

The Shrine is one of three major Masonic appendant bodies associated with the Masonic Lodge (the other two being the York & Scottish Rites). Shriner's are the most visible of all Masonic groups, well known for the red fez, miniature cars in parades, and a certain reputation for partying.

But the main purpose of the Shrine is the operation of 22 children's hospitals in North America; including Mexico and Canada that specialize in burn injuries, spinal cord and orthopaedic problems, cleft lip and palate. Children are admitted regardless of financial need, and those who cannot pay are treated for free. In addition to raising money for the hospitals, Shriner's volunteer and manage transportation through the Roadrunner's program and other programs using Shriner's personal aircraft to transport children and their families.

The Outer Banks Shrine Club and its parade unit take part in a number of parades all over North Carolina, but the most interesting one's are those associated with our "ceremonials", where new Shriner's are initiated into the "Hot Sands". Prior to every initiation, a Shrine parade of units from all over Eastern NC takes place in the host city. The Winter Ceremonial is always in New Bern, NC, headquarters of the Sudan Temple, which represents Shriner's in this part of the state.

Here is Moon Tillett in his miniature fishing vessel, while Dane McPhearson, who rides a motorized surf board looks on. In the background is the pirate ship of the Elizabeth City Buccaneers Shrine Club.

The Animaniacs Shrine Unit on the right dresses in costumes from the popular TV show.

This man-in-a-hammock car was the one I drove this year.

To the left, one of the Midgett "twins" stands in front of the Beach Bums land shark, while talking with one of the Elizabeth City Buccaneers.

You can click on any picture for a larger image.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Thai One On--All Year Long

It would be impossible for me to name my favorite OBX restaurant. There are just too many to choose from. But the Thai Room, on the Beach Road at 710 Va. Dare Trail is among my top three. I always mourn the closing of this restaurant each December when the owners go back to Thailand for a few months. In fact, each December I begin to gorge on take out from here, in the mistaken belief that devouring 300 spicy shrimp cakes in one month, will tide me over until March.

This year, the "kids" we have seen at this establishment for so long are all grown up and they stayed here! The result is that the Thai Room is now technically open year 'round--with a Tuesday to Saturday schedule.

I'm still gorging, but at least its only once a week. Still, when I walk out of the place with my take away order, it comes in a completely filled standard sized brown paper grocery bag--enough to feed an army. Or provide two extra days of Thai Pork Curry-medium!

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Escaping Microsoft

Bob Muller's comments on this blog inspired me to write about some free software out there that will help you escape the clutches of the 600-lb gorilla from Washington State. One of the reasons to use non-MS products is that the vast majority of viruses are written to attack MS products, especially their browser, email, and Office suite products.

All of the below products are FREE.

Internet Browsers

There are many out there, but some of them, such as 'Slimbrowser' run off the Internet Explorer 6 or 7 engine, and therefore are equally susceptible to viruses aimed at Microsoft browsers.

Firefox by Mozilla: By far the best in my opinion.

Opera Browser: A little clunky on some pages, but allows tabbed browsing, comes with a very good email program bundled into the browser, and allows the user to choose from several themes and skins to change the look and user interface.

Google Chrome: Released last year, this one has really taken off. The user interface is a little thin, for example, no print icon, but it renders pages faster than most other browsers, and infinitely faster than IE7. The url address bar doubles as a Google search box, which is kind of cool.

Apple Safari for Windows: Yes, this is the standard browser for the Apple OS, but they now have a Windows version. Again, the user interface (UI) lacks some features I like, and the theme/skin is pretty boring. It does, however load pages fast and without errors, and launches twice as fast as IE. Make sure you download the Window's version.

Flock Browser: Billed as the "Social Browser", this has been hailed as a successor to the now-defunct Netscape. I loved the Netscape interface and look, and it was the very first browser ever. Flock has adopted some of the look, but its strength is built in add-ons to help people post to all those social network sites with just a few clicks. Flock will find your blog settings at Blogspot and other sites, your Facebook and MySpace logins, ditto on your fave photo upload sites. You can easily update your blog, pictures, or Facebook status from the browser itself without signing on the actual post site. The UI is very busy, overwhelming for oldsters like myself.

Orca Browser: The successor to the mildly popular Avant browser. I think it still requires you to have IE7 installed, so I'm fearful this browser is vulnerable to the same security holes as IE. But it does load fast and looks good.

E-Mail Programs

Thunderbird-From the same folks who designed Firefox, this is a full featured email program. I used to use it 100% of the time since it was virtually immune to virus attacks designed for Outlook & Outlook Express, but it suffers from one major drawback--if you or your business uses Outlook for email, contacts, and scheduling, most mobile phones such as Blackberry will not synch with Thunderbird. Many companies restrict employees to Blackberry if they use the Enterprise Server to forward work emails to your phone. If that isn't an issue, try this one out.

Opera Email: See the browser above, which comes bundled with a full featured email and news reader program. Works like a charm.

Documents, Spreadsheets, Power Point

Open Office- From Sun Microsystems, the folks who brought you Java, Open Office now offers a FREE suite of programs that rival the $500+ Microsoft Office. The suite includes free programs that mimic Word, Excel, Access, and Power Point perfectly. The only major MS program it can't work with is Publisher. You can open and save files in MS Office 2003 or 2007 format, as well as Word Perfect, WordStar, and Lotus formats. Or, you can save them in the Open Office format and let your receipients use either Open Office or almost any other suite they may have to convert the documents. Open Office will also convert ANY document you create or import into the program into a .pdf file! I have no idea why anyone would buy MS Office with this program out there. They do ask for donations.

Cute PDF: This program allows one to convert Word, Excel, Power Point, Publisher, even Web pages into .pdf files. There is a free and a pay version, thus far, the free version has done everything I want it to do. You have to download two programs (the web site will prompt you when its time to download the second one). When you are ready to convert a document to .pdf, use the File/Print function that is available on most Windows programs. Once the print box appears, use the drop down menu on your printers and select "Cute PDF" as the printer. It will then comvert the file to Adobe pdf, which you can then save and email to clients or upload to your web site.

Snow Storm Ends, Martial Law Lifted

By 4 PM, snow accumulation on the Outer Banks had reached 2-3", with some drifts towering above fire ant hills, reaching 4" in many places.
Street scenes like the above, reminiscent of Buffalo or Chicago caused roads to shut down by 2PM. Most area banks abandoned ship by 12 noon, leaving OBXers without a means to acquire quick loans in this bustling economy. By 1PM Food Lion was devoid of water, bread, toilet paper, and Budweiser. Gas lines stretched for 100 yards in some cases.

By 3PM, Martial law had been declared in most area towns to prevent looting. This thwarted plans by this writer and Bob Muller to raid Chip's Wine and Beer when no one was looking. We settled instead for homemade snow cream, fortified by East Lake moonshine. The remainder of the day seemed to go much slower after that...

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Putting Away Childish Things

Every single person who knows me understands my political pedigree. I was President of the Young Republicans at Old Dominion University three of the six years I attended there. I worked with various GOP City Committees in Virginia and Georgia. I voted for John McCain.

But today is a different day. President Barak Obama was inaugurated in a peaceful change of leadership, the hallmark of American democracy. He came to office against what many would say were impossible odds; a man of mixed race who identifies himself as an African-American. A man with little on-the-job experience at the Federal level. And a man whose past relationships make many of us to his "right" cringe, at least a little.

But the Obama of 2006 is not the Obama of 2008. He seems to have grasped the gravity of his office, and the obvious dangers our country faces; at home and abroad. If you thought Obama to be a left-leaning appeaser of terrorists and the enemies of democracy, his speech today should lessen your worry. I believe he said exactly what he needed to say; he rejected terrorism in the strongest terms, and he offered a dialog to our enemies, if they agreed to "unclench their fists" as a pre-condition. It was a carrot and stick approach, a stark contrast to the swagger and "bring it on" mentality of his predecessor. Bush's approach did not impress our allies nor our enemies, and more likely emboldened the latter. I believe that as a "liberal", Obama will be mindful of maintaining strength and that the eyes of his opponents will be on him. It took a Republican to open the door the China, it may well take a liberal Democrat to find the right mix of power and diplomacy to lessen the specter of terrorism run amok.

Obama has already demonstrated in his Cabinet choices that he is not beholden to the dogma many of us assigned to him. He has made not only bi-partisan choices, but even in his own party, moderate choices. There can be little argument from the right with his defense and economic teams, nor his choice of Secretary of State. Its hard to imagine Hillary Clinton as Neville Chamberlain.

Obama's call to put away "childish things", i.e., the petty partisanship that pervades Washington, D.C. came across as sincere and hopeful. Defeating politics-as-usual will be Obama's biggest challenge, but like many of our well-regarded leaders of the past (Kennedy, Reagan, Clinton), his oratorical skill, his genuine sense of hope, and that ability to smile and make folks feel better will represent a marked improvement in our leadership, even if he accomplishes nothing else. I doubt he will be able to transcend partisanship, but I believe he genuinely wishes to do so.

Like many conservatives, I will be watching him closely. But, to my conservative friends who consider themselves patriotic, I remind all of you that he is our President, and we are duty-bound to support him in that role. You can disagree with his policies, but we all must support him as President, and support him when he does things right--and he will do many things right, I suspect. I also hope all of us bury the hatchet; since the impeachment of Nixon it seems as though both parties energies were focused on destryoing the other party not for legitimate policy differences, but simply as revenge. No one cares anymore that Nixon or Clinton were impeached. It no longer matters who really won Florida in 2000, or Ohio in 2004, or which Senator ends up serving from Illinois or Minnesota. Finally, if you believe the Democrats, the liberals, and the Hollywood "glitterati" spent the last eight years do nothing more than trying to destroy George Bush, remember two things. They tried the same thing with Reagan, yet somehow he was able to rise above what Bush could not. That says more about Bush than it does about his critics. Secondly, remember the adage we all learned as children--two wrongs don't make a right. Get over it and let's work to heal our economy and lessen the threat of terror.

Stay true to your principals and disagree when important issues are at stake. But let's give our new President the chance to lead; he wasn't elected by a slim margin, he was elected by a solid majority of those who cared to vote last November.

He deserves the mandate that comes with that victory.

Jockey's Ridge Snow Ski Report

Current temp: 29.3
Base: 2" with sandy patches
Wind: 5mph NNW with gusts to 10 mph

Monday, January 19, 2009

Virtumonde is not an Italian dish

Some time during the Christmas season my Dell E1705 laptop became infected with the Virtumonde trojan. At the time, I was using the F-Secure virus program that comes with Embarq's DSL service. Prior to that, I had tried and discarded both Norton and MacAfee, finding both to malfunction any time I installed a new program.

The problem with virus's today is that they no longer have to originate from opening email attachments or installing malicious programs. The most common method is what they call a "drive by" virus. In this case, all one has to do is visit an infected website. If you use Microsoft Internet Explorer, or any browser that has Microsoft's Active-X activated, the virus can download and install as soon as the infected page loads. So many websites require Active X to work before they will display properly that most of us leave it turned on.

You might expect your virus program to stop this in its tracks if a program is malicious. The problem here is that these viruses spread so fast, many anti-virus programs can't keep up. You will find these viruses on many "mom and pop" sites, for example, a video game site run by a bunch of kids.

The other issue is that your anti-virus software may not be all you think it is. Most programs will scan emails and prevent you from installing infected programs you might find on a CD or disc provided by a friend. But many lack a "firewall" component, something you need if you use DSL or cable, or operate behind a wireless router. Others lack the ability to detect and/or block infected websites. In some cases, the software simply can't do this job. In other cases, these options are only available from add-ons you must purchase separately from the original program. Keeping your AV programs firewall from conflicting with the firewalls that come with Windows and Linksys routers is also an issue. Sometimes you can have all three running, rendering all of them useless.

The other way viruses are now spreading are through bogus alerts that inform you an update is ready for a program you frequently use. One recent scam, and the way I picked up my virus was through a window that informed me Adobe Acrobat had a new update available. My virus software should have caught this and noted the download site was not the same as Adobe, but it failed and I downloaded what turned out to be a virus. This came from Facebook, a well known site one would think was free of viruses. Another Facebook virus put a pop up on users browsers that looked like a normal Window's message box. In this case, the user was informed a virus had attacked their computer, and by clicking the "OK" button, it would be removed. Instead, a worm virus was downloaded into the user's system. It was estimated that millions of Facebook users downloaded that particular worm.

In my case, no antivirus software would remove Virtumondo. My laptop took forever to boot and shut down, and web browsing became dial-up slow. Browser windows would open by the dozen, mostly leading to either porn or anti-virus sites. I finally had Staples remove my entire operating system, save my entire data set, and reload XP and my data files. I had to re-install all of my actual programs myself; Office 2007, all my browsers, Blackberry programs, Quicken and Quickbooks, Photoshop, and others. It took two full days for Microsoft XP updates to catch up from 2003, the version I had. The only good thing that came from all of this was I got rid of tons of old deleted program fragments, as well as old programs I never used and never removed. My free hard drive space increased from 15GB to 35GB.

It is obvious that Embarq/F-Secure wasn't up to the task of preventing this drive-by virus. Virtumonde is a bear, do a Google search and you can read the horror stories. I'd be interested if anyone has a good AV software to recommend, especially one that caught Virtumonde before it installed.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

What To Do On a Cold Outer Banks Night

I have two types of out-of-town friends. Those who think we live in paradise, whiling away the hours fishing, surfing, or consuming tropical drinks at a Tiki bar. We dine at Owen's or Mama Kwan's anytime we want, oysters are as plentiful as summertime New Yorkers, and none of us have real jobs. We worship at the altar of Jimmy Buffet, knowing every song by heart. The second grouping of folks are appalled I live here. No malls, no sports, no college or ethnic festivals, limited restaurants and bars, and no culture in the yuppie sense of the word. They recognize the summer advantages of a beach life, but avoid our winter invitations to visit like one avoids a leper colony.

Saturday night found us plotting with two of our friends, Jay and Jeanne, for something to do. Jay owns his own business, Hart Power Solutions, which installs residential and commercial generators. (Editors note: I do not own stock in Hart Power Solutions, nor was I compensated for this link). They had relatives in town from Wisconsin, and their son and his girlfriend also were available. The result? A nine-person excursion to the Nags Head Bowling Center.

Its not Chrysler Hall, nor a night at the Virginia Stage Company. But it was fun. Yes, I know folks in big cities pack up the kids and bowl on occasion-- no big deal. But in a small town, it became something special, even unusual. For starters, how often do you big city types (league bowlers excepted) go a bowling alley and know many of the other folks bowling? Or the owners? Or the employees? We did. You tend to forget that, but when you live here, almost anywhere you visit, you know at least one person, usually more. Sometimes that can be a disadvantage, but over the long haul, its a pleasant experience.

Describing a night of bowling is not really interesting content for a blog post. But some small town anecdotes do make the experience unique. I dug out my ball, something I last used in the mid-80's when we bowled on a league in Atlanta. After 20 years, I found my thumb no longer fit the ball. I mentioned this to the young lady behind the counter, and asked when the pro shop was open. She immediately volunteered to re-drill my ball, opening the closed pro shop, and drilling it several times to get it just right.
Cost? Zero. Get that in Norfolk! And, for the record, my wife's ball fit perfectly after 20 years. Then there were the prices. The beer was cheap, the pizza cheap and good, and the front desk folks polite and accommodating.

The bowling turned out to be a blast. When I league bowled I averaged in the 150's. I managed to break 1oo all three games, but 123 was the best I could muster this day. The two younger guys in our group, both in their 20's, hit 190 each, and one of them broke 200. Not throwing a 15 lb ball in 20 years was a challenge, but I managed to get my speed up to 17-18 mph. This morning I felt as though my lower arm had detached from from the elbow, but otherwise, I feel pretty good.

There is much, and I mean much about bigger cities I miss. But to borrow a line from the television show Cheers!, its fun to go to a place where everyone knows your name. On the Outer Banks, that's almost always the case.

Bro. Bill Christie, RIP

Yesterday, on a cold Outer Banks day, friends, family, and the fraternal brothers of William "Bill" Christie gathered under a cluster of oak trees adjacent to the Duck Woods Country Club to pay our last respects to Bill, who passed away in his early 70's a few days before. His death was sudden and came as a shock to us all.

As we get older, our circle of friends expands relative to age. In our youth, virtually all of our friends are in the same age cohort. In college or in our work, we begin to establish friendships with folks older than us--fellow students returning to college in middle age; our neighbors, co-workers, church members, club associations, even business clients. At 52, I now have as many friends and acquaintances in their 70's and 30's as I do in my own age group. An inevitability of older friends is the unfortunate increase in the frequency of funeral attendance.

Bill was a man's man and a Mason in every sense of the word. He was dedicated to his family, and never got over the passing of his wife some 13 years earlier. His children and grandchildren kept him going and his Shrine buddies became a new, extended family. I began attending Shrine meetings with more regularity about 18 months ago. I found myself sitting next to Bill at almost every meeting. There was some risk associated with such a seating arrangement; Bill smoked like a chimney, and after every Shrine gathering my clothes immediately went into the laundry.

Bill was blunt, he had a caustic sense of humor. He could cut you with a sarcastic remark, but it was (almost) always in good fun. If you were in a group with Bill present, you needed a thick skin and you could count on being the butt of a joke. He loved people though, and he particularly enjoyed the company of men in ways that only men can know and experience.

I believe he would have loved the fact all of us were freezing half to death at his longish graveside service. The Masonic rites are extremely long of their own accord, but as often happens, the Lodge member's clergy also performs his or her own traditional ceremony. Thus, any Masonic funeral is a test of will against the elements, especially on very hot, very cold, or rainy days. It is the equivalent of two funeral services at one sitting. By the end of the service, none of us had any feeling in our toes, and everyone had running noses. As I said, Bill would have loved our physical travails and thought us wimps for not being able to handle the cold. As a man from the North, a 30 degree day in winter was a warm spell.

Life does go on, and the outside service always reminds one of such. Cars moved along Dogwood Trail, mindful that the living still had things to do and that death was far from their thoughts. A huge flock of cawing crows flew over during one of the more solemn periods of the service. A blue jay squawked in anger or distress, apparently unhappy with the sound of the bagpipe player. Some of the Masonic brothers, required to stand under an oak tree during the entirety of the service, found themselves flicking off pieces of bark as a woodpecker worked above us, oblivious to the events below.

After the service, the Shrine adjourned to a local pub for what was best described as a mini-wake. He loved Wild Turkey, so we all ordered a shot. Strangely, our bar of choice, no longer carries Wild Turkey, so we substituted draft beer. After several rounds, the younger members were bound and determined to find a bar that served Wild Turkey, so they left for more adventure. The older, wiser members like myself, went on home with the knowledge that too much revelry is a dangerous combination.

Bill would have approved; we all look forward to the day when we can join him again, but there is no sense in rushing that day by foolish behavior.

We will miss you Bro. Bill. You would have been with us at the Shrine Ceremonial in New Bern this coming week. I'll raise a shot of Wild Turkey in your honor there, in the safety of the hotel bar. Maybe more than one.

Rest in Peace, Brother.

Friday, January 16, 2009

Pirate Radio

As I mentioned previously, one of my hobbies is shortwave radio. I've listened to SW since I was 13. In those days, virtually every country in the world broadcast in English to North America on the SW bands. My favorites were Radio Netherlands, Swiss Radio International, Radio Australia, Radio New Zealand and the BBC. In those days, it was almost impossible to avoid English from Radio Moscow, Radio Peking, and Radio Havana. Now, hardly any countries broadcast to North America on the SW bands, a victim of the public's desire for easy-to-hear stereo sound on FM, satellite radio and TV distribution (BBC America, Sirus/XM World Radio Network) and webcasting.

Another aspect of SW that was once prominent but is now all but gone was "domestic" shortwave stations. These stations generally were found on the lower "tropical bands" between 2000 and 6000 khz, and were intended for local consumption. Before small FM radio transmitters became cheap, countries such as Brazil, South Africa, and Indonesia had 100's of these transmitters that could, in effect, cover the entire nation or significant regions with one transmitter. It was on these stations one could hear indigenous music, and strange advertisements, such as "Inca Cola" from Peru, or Benson & Hedges smokes from what is now Namibia.

Pirate radio was also a hot topic, especially offshore stations on board ships in International Waters. These were popular in Europe, where broadcasters opposed the state monopolies. The most famous were Radio Caroline, off the coast of the U.K., and Radio Northsea International, broadcasting from the waters near Holland, and Radio Veronica.

Pirate radio is still active in Europe and the US today. In the States, the frequency of 6925 khz is very popular, although you need a radio capable of tuning in Upper Sideband rather than straight AM mode. Almost every Friday and Saturday night pirates pop up on this frequency, or nearby. Many are "regular", having broadcast for years on a set weekend schedule and eluding the FCC in the process. Most are uninspired, mainly "Kids Playing Radio", but many are quite sophisticated. The DJ's are professional, the music eclectic, and many sport jingles and spoof advertisements that sound "real'.

The Outer Banks is a great place to listen to SW. The proximity to salt water boosts signals from across the ocean, and with the exception of static from salt water soaked power lines, the noise level here is lower than most urban areas. You can still hear the BBC, The Voice of Germany, Australia, a and most of the Slavic and Baltic countries in English at night, as well as Cuba, Moscow, and even Iran. Give it a try.

Niaspan, Or Why We Shoud Reconsider Electing Women to Office

My family physician is a great guy, and he is obsessed with cholesterol and heart disease. I am one of those unlucky men who fall under the classification of "metabolic disorder'. In laymen's terms, this simply means that even if I were to eat tofu exclusively and run 10 miles a day, my body will produce enough cholesterol and triglycerides to eventually send me on my way to the Great Beyond.

In his past life, my doctor worked in drugs and drug testing. I find this to be a great advantage, since he doesn't merely prescribe drugs based upon the flavor of the day. He researches them carefully and is not opposed to thinking out of the box. For example, many cholesterol drugs do a number on your liver. The long-term effects of these drugs are still unknown, so for many of us taking them, it may turn out that we would have been just as well off drinking a fifth of vodka each day.

In an attempt to wean me off these liver-destroying drugs, he has me taking two alternative medicines. One is plain old fish oil; the heart-friendly type so common in wild salmon. That amounts to four pills per day. The other is Niaspan, which is nothing more than a concentrated dose of niacin, the "vitamin" component. I take three of these each night, about 1500 mg. They seem to work, as my numbers have come down below 170 on cholesterol, and below 150 on triglycerides. My good and bad cholesterol are borderline good and bad, which is better than before, when I was classified as "Ticking Time Bomb". I am still on Crestor, but hope to move away from that soon.

When Dr. Sawbones put me on Niaspan, he warned me of one major side effect--flushing, or as our wives refer to it, "Hot Flashes". Some folks experience such a severe bout of these heat waves they cannot tolerate the treatment. Others, like me, experience occasional bouts. Mine either come within an hour of taking the dose, or when I wake up in the morning. What I eat for supper seems to have some correlation to whether I experience the flushing.

My doctor and my wife felt that my ability to experience hot flashes would render me more sympathetic to the menopausal experience women all must suffer. In that respect, they are right. The flushing starts at my chest, works up to my neck and face, and includes not only a lot of heat, but some tingling. The first urge is to stick one's head into a freezer. Frankly, a colonoscopy is more pleasant.

But other side effects are more worrisome, especially when we contemplate, say, Hillary Clinton with her finger on the nuclear button. With flushing comes a certain emotional change. All married men with 25+ years under their belt know of this. We call it "Say Nothing and Get the Hell out of the House". For men, the urge can run from looking for a gun and wanting to go outside and kill something for dinner to something as confusing/disturbing as finding yourself intrigued by the Montel Williams show. I'm not sure I'd want Putin to anger me while I was experiencing a hot flash if I had access to our nation's launch codes.

On rare occasions, the hot flash will hit me smack dab in the middle of the day, while driving down the Bypass for some reason. This hasn't caused me to experience any Road Rage, but I did find myself last week parked in front of Soundfeet Shoes with no recollection of why I was there or what I wanted. However, buying two pairs of Nike sneakers seemed to calm me down, and I found myself surprised that I was pleased the sneakers matched my jeans and complimented my Mama Kwan's t-shirt.

Having now experienced hot flashes, I think there should be new criteria for evaluating our elected leaders. We should look to men with naturally low cholesterol; women too young for hormonal imbalance, or, if at risk for menopause, women who take copious amounts of hormones, cancer risks be damned. I really now wonder if "W" was taking Niaspan when he decided to invade Iraq.Y0u got to wonder!

Thursday, January 15, 2009

A New Start

I am not sure what constitutes a good time, or for that matter, a good reason to launch a blog. Certainly, a life changing-event might qualify as one good reason. For thirty-one years I have been a commercial lender. My career began in Virginia Beach, moved me to Atlanta for nine years, and to the Outer Banks since 1993. This past December, my then-current employer merged with another bank, and with it came the inevitable reduction in force. In my case, the bank took a LIFO approach--last in, first out!

As a result, I am now in a re-evaluation stage. At 52 years old, I am not sure if want to go back into banking, although that option is not ruled out. I am exploring options from teaching at the college level, to stock or mortgage brokerage work, government work, non-profits, or even going to back to school to learn a new skill set. We'll see what happens.

In the meantime, I obviously have some time on my hands. I've been reading local blogs and bulletin boards for a long time and have been impressed by many of them. My interests are many; I love to surf fish, I enjoy shortwave radio, I am an active Rotarian, Freemason, and Shriner. Music is another option; I have about 4600 tunes on my iPod at present. There once was a local blog or two about wine, I like wine and beer and may write about that subject. I am ex-cigarette smoker, and still light up a cigar from time-to-time. I love food, and plan to write about local dishes and establishments. As many know, politics is also an interest of mine, although a waning one with increasing age.

For now, though, my full time job is house-husband and aspiring blogger. I look forward to the latter and hope to have the former resolved at some future date.

I am open to suggestions on format, subjects, and links to blogs you might enjoy, both locally and otherwise.