11 May 2011

Upgrade!

Submitted by Paul Brown

I just upgraded to a new major version of Drupal (from 6 to 7). I've been testing out the new version off and on for a couple of months and finally flipped the switch to move the test version into production. There may be some hiccups yet to work out, so if something doesn't work, please let me know so I can try to fix it.

30 Jul 2010

My Worst Day of Flying Ever

Submitted by Paul Brown

I like to think that I'm not given to exaggeration, except in jest, but I think that last Friday-Saturday was my worst day of flying ever. Last week I spent a couple of days in Juno Beach, Florida, for meetings with a client. I was really only peripherally needed for the meetings, but the project manager preferred that I be there to address any question that should happen to fall into my area of responsibility. We finished up a little early on Friday, so we went ahead to the Palm Beach airport to wait for our flight to Atlanta.

Since my the connection time between my confirmed flights in Atlanta was a bit short, I thought I would try flying standby on one of the two earlier flights into Atlanta. I figured that if I got in to Atlanta earlier, at best I might be able to snag an earlier flight to Omaha, and at worst I would have time to wait at the gate rather than having to rush from one terminal to another to try to make a tight connection. The logic seemed sound, but unfortunately circumstances proved that this choice worked out quite poorly.

I did make the earlier flight from Palm Beach to Atlanta, which incidentally had been delayed enough that I could catch it. I was even lucky enough to get an exit row. All was well until we got close to Atlanta and the captain informed us that due to weather in Atlanta we were being placed in a holding pattern. We flew around and around for quite some time, but I was still not worried since my confirmed flight to Omaha was much later than even our delayed arrival time.

Unfortunately, the aircraft did not have enough fuel on board to stay in the holding pattern indefinitely to wait out the storm, which closed the Atlanta airport completely, so the captain came on again to inform us that we were being diverted to Birmingham, Alabama, so we wouldn't run out of fuel. Birmingham is not a long flight from Atlanta, so we were on the ground there before too long.

At that time, it was announced that the flight would be refueling and turning back around with any passengers who wished to continue to Atlanta. Passengers wishing to leave on their own or be re-booked for a different routing could exit. I think pretty much everyone deplaned in expectation that we would be re-boarding shortly to turn back to Atlanta as soon as we could.

Unfortunately, soon after they did start re-boarding the aircraft—I near the front of the line—it was discovered that the crew had expired and would not be allowed to complete the flight to Atlanta. So we deplaned again. I waited in a lengthy line to learn that my confirmed flight was still delayed and that they were anticipating the arrival of another flight crew who would take us back to Atlanta, leaving open the possibility that I could still arrive home very late last night. I even got a voucher that covered an edible dinner from the lone food stand still open in the Birmingham airport.

The flight to Atlanta was eventually able to re-board with the new crew and continue to the destination. They were extremely optimistic in their estimation of the turn-around time for the continuation flight, mainly because the flight was only about one-third full and required some relatively time-consuming rearrangement of luggage in the cargo hold to meet the weight distribution requirements to fly. A neat new feature of Delta's is that there is on-board wifi. Even if you don't pay for full internet service, you can still check flight status in-flight, so I was able to see that my flight to Omaha was departing Atlanta while we were in the air.

After we arrived, it was obvious that the few Delta agents still working at almost midnight were not sufficient for the huge numbers of people needing to be re-booked and given meal and hotel vouchers. This was where I made another mistake. What I should have done is go find myself a hotel to get a half-way decent night's sleep before coming back to the airport on Saturday to catch my backup flight. Instead, I thought I would try to save our client some money and get a hotel voucher so they wouldn't have to reimburse what seemed to me to be an "unnecessary"—that is, not caused by my work on their project—night at a hotel. Handing out vouchers seemed like such an easy thing, so how long could it take?

Well, I can now tell you how long it could take! I was lucky and only waited about an hour and a half. There were other people from my flight a few dozen people back in the line whom I estimate probably had another hour and a half to two hours to be served at the rate that the line was moving. It was excruciating waiting in this slow-moving line at the time of day when everyone's body is screaming for sleep. I felt most for this poor fellow who had been sitting next to me on the flight and who was also next to me in line who was trying to get to Rochester, New York, to have his last visit with his dying father whose entry into eternity seemed imminent.

Finally at about 1:30 AM, I was able to talk with a ticketing agent and get a voucher for a meal and a hotel. It was not a particularly nice hotel, and the towels were particularly pathetic, but it was still better to sleep soundly for a few hours in a bed and have a shower afterward than to spend all night on the airport floor.

Since I was re-booked and confirmed for a flight to Omaha at 8:30 or so on Saturday morning, I got up before the sun to take the hotel shuttle back to the airport. My seat had even been assigned in first class, so I was looking forward to a nice completion of my travels and finally arriving at home to change clothes and drive down to my sister's house for my nephew's birthday party.

Unfortunately, there was still more trouble to come. I found the gate for the Omaha flight and settled down to do a little work on my computer while I waited. The gate agent announced that there was some mechanical problem with the aircraft and that maintenance were working on it. They hadn't given a revised departure time yet, but she expected it wouldn't be long and would keep us informed. My laptop battery ran low, so I put it away and decided that, since there was no indication that the flight was boarding yet, it would be a good time to go to the bathroom.

This was a crucial mistake. In the ten minutes or so that I was in the bathroom, the gate agent boarded the aircraft, all without making any "final call" that came through the airport intercom system in the bathroom. I listened to several final boarding announcements for flights that were getting ready to leave, but none of them was for Omaha. When I returned to the gate area, I saw that there was someone boarding the plane, so I went over to see what group was boarding. I figured that with my first-class ticket, I could board at any time, but I always like to go when it is the right time, and those who had boarded looked like they might be folks with children or who might need extra assistance or something, the folks who generally get to go first.

Well, before I had any opportunity to find out who was boarding, the gate agent hurried to the door and went off down the ramp, closing the door behind her. The sign above indicated that the flight had closed, and as I looked out the window, it increasingly appeared to be leaving. At this point I am becoming distressed because as unbelievable as it seems that the flight could have completely boarded in the 10 minutes that I was gone, this is what looks like has happened. When finally the gate agent returns and looks at my boarding pass, my fears are confirmed: The flight did indeed board in about 10 minutes, and I did indeed miss it.

The gate agent sent me off to another gate (though in fact what I needed was not the other gate but the Delta booking center right next to the gate). The lady who helped me was very kind and was able to get me at the top of the standby list for the next flight to Omaha at about 11:30 AM. With my exhaustion and frustration, I think I was close to breaking down in tears more than once as I called Holly to let her know that I would not be home yet, that I would not be able to make my nephew's birthday party, and that I still didn't know for sure when I would get home.

I waited with some nervousness for the next flight to Omaha, feeling foolish for having missed the previous flight. There were several other friendly people waiting in the seating area near the display that showed the flight status and the status of the standby list, all of us waiting to see if we would get on this flight to Omaha. I was first in line, and I stayed right there waiting, no trips to the bathroom this time, and no leaving to get lunch or anything. The flight was delayed in small fifteen-minute increments for about an hour and a half, the announcement each time warning us that the new estimated departure time was and estimate only and that we should stay in the gate area in case of a change.

Finally the flight did begin boarding, and since I was first in line for a seat on standby, I did make it. I sat next to a fellow who was traveling back from a military tour of duty in Afghanistan. After I heard about how long he had been traveling, I didn't even share my story of the last day; his beat mine, hands down! At long last, I arrived in Omaha and went home to rest for a little bit and then mow my lawn.

This was by far my worst flying experience ever. I have had flights run into problems before. Union strikes once caused me to have to take a taxi from JFK to La Guardia to make a connection in New York and then spend a night in Chicago on my way back from Europe. That was somewhat bad. But I don't believe I have ever had such a profound lack of communication about what is happening and such long lines to be assisted at the airport.

It may not be practical to avoid ever flying on Delta again or ever connecting through the Atlanta, but I can say for sure that right now I really do not ever want to have anything to do with either the Atlanta airport or Delta Airlines. I have written this not so much for your information but more for my own records so that if I am ever tempted to fly this way again, I can read and recall my experience and perhaps resist the temptation.

16 Jul 2010

Choosing a Roofer

Submitted by Paul Brown

Due to a set of unfortunate circumstances, Holly's and my new house has a defective roof that is neither covered by insurance nor a manufacturer's warranty nor even a class action settlement involving the shingles that we most likely have. This month we've been working on getting a few estimates from roofing contractors to replace the roof and add ventilation to the attic to bring it at least up to the current code requirements. We ended up with three estimates from companies that I thought looked reputable from their Better Business Bureau report and that had been in business for many years. After negotiating a somewhat lower price from one company, we had one estimate that was significantly higher than the other two, and two estimates that were within about 10% of each other.

The lower bid was from a company that sounded very good and very professional: Shirts on, no smoking, no loud music. The estimator/salesman had explained that their crews are sub-contracted due to the excessive cost of maintaining them as employees. The sales pitch sounded great, and everything seemed to be just what a homeowner would want. It is probably a peculiarity of my personality that I actually didn't really like that. I guess I would rather feel like someone is being straight with me than feel like someone is trying to sell me something. Holly, on the other hand, had a much better impression, and she generally has better perception of character than I do.

The next bid was from a company whose estimator (not much of a salesman, really) who really seemed to know a lot about the roofing process and who was concerned to do things right. He had previously declined to make any estimate at all for just the ventilation part of the work, before Holly and I had decided that we would do the whole roof, because he didn't think that the work would be able to hold up due to the deteriorated condition of the roof in general. Furthermore, he explained that their crews are company employees and that they have all been with the company for quite some time—upwards of 13 years if I recall correctly.

Well, after getting all the numbers in, Holly and I discussed the various pros and cons and risks of the different companies. I think we both changed our minds at least once. Finally it was resolved when we asked ourselves, "What would be the good-neighbor thing to do?" In other words, what's not just best for us and our bottom line, but what would be best for our community?

Since the price difference was not tremendous, we decided that we would rather support the company that takes on the responsibility and cost to actually hire their crews as employees with all the benefits that that entails. Once we thought of it that way, for both Holly and I, it just felt right to choose the second company. Perhaps my thinking on this issue is naïve and idealistic, but I do hope that, by God's grace, our decision will work out well both for us and for our community.

Possibly related post: The Gleaning Principle

10 Jul 2010

Well, it seems that my blog is going back to what it was like when I first started posting, before I even knew it was a "blog" and not just a "website". Updates are few and far between and seem to just hit the front-page items of my life.

The biggest news of late is that Holly and I went to her anatomy ultrasound for our little bean yesterday. The ultrasound tech confirmed that everything looks good and that we are having a LITTLE GIRL! We both had a hunch that it was a boy, mainly because Holly has had so much morning sickness, but we were wrong. I don't think that we had much preference one way or the other, so although it was initially a surprise, now I think we're already getting used to knowing that it is a baby girl in Holly's belly.

Holly released the results of the baby name survey that she did a while back and revealed the names that we had chosen for a boy or for a girl. Now that we know that we're having a girl, we can start calling "bean" by her name: Claire. Claire's first pictures are up in my photo gallery now.

Ultrasound of Claire, 19 weeks

22 May 2010

Regeneration Sermon Archive

Submitted by Paul Brown

Since I am tight on server storage space, the Regeneration sermon archive that I hosted while that ministry was active has been removed from my site. I have many fond memories of those Sunday evening services and of the messages that I received and that I prepared. I will keep all the mp3 files and can make them available for download upon request or send a CD with the mp3 files. If you are interested feel free to contact me.

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