My first YouTube video

I just uploaded my first YouTube video. This was an opportunity for me to record some video and learn how to edit something in iMovie ’11 on the Mac. I admit that I’m pretty excited about this.

Click the following link to find it on YouTube by clicking here, or click on “Read the rest of this entry” below to find the video in the full post as well as to learn more about the video.

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Our engagement

As you have probably read, Kristen and I started dating a year ago. Since then, we’ve been really happy together.

So this past weekend, I proposed to her. It was something I planned two months ago. I had already told her that I was interested in being with her long term. But I wanted to make our one-year dating anniversary special. So we planned on going out of town that Saturday. But Friday night, March 9, was our anniversary.

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It’s been over a month since Kristen and I officially became a couple (i.e., boyfriend-girlfriend). Just looking back at how it happened is an interesting story.

Kristen and I met at as employees at Lands’ End. She started working there in June 2005, and I began the following August. The following month, she passed the Wisconsin Bar Exam so she could practice law in the state (she graduated from Notre Dame Law School in Indiana). But she was still making retail wages. Around that time, I was given permission to hire two limited-term employees for the livestock premises registration program at the Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection (DATCP, my full-time employer). I suggested to Kristen that she apply, not thinking of anything other than hiring her because she had very good customer service skills and knew the computer systems at Lands’ End (they use a legacy mainframe system that’s slightly less user-friendly than DATCP’s licensing system). After interviewing nearly a dozen candidates, a coworker and I agreed that Kristen was one of our top candidates. She accepted the position and started working for DATCP as an limited-term employee (LTE) in October.

Kristen and I continued to work together at both Lands’ End and at DATCP on a professional level. At Lands’ End, I started asking people that closed on Saturday nights if they wanted to join me for a drink after work. One other coworker, Mike, and I went out a couple of times (no other takers). One night, Mike couldn’t make it, but after sitting at the bar and having a beer, Kristen showed up with her brother David (they share an apartment in Madison). We hung out and had a good chat. Kristen started coming out more regularly after that. By the end of November, Mike had quit working at Lands’ End, so it became just Kristen, one or two other coworkers, and me.

In December, one of the associate managers put in her two-weeks notice. Her last evening was December 31. Since it was New Year’s Eve, the store closed early. I asked if anyone wanted to go out for Erin’s last night, and I had no takers (Kristen did not work that evening). So it was Erin and me. We had dinner and a nice discussion, but we both decided to call it an early evening.

The following Tuesday when I worked at Lands’ End, I mentioned that only Erin and I went out. I felt a little sorry for her because I was the only one that took her out. Then I asked, “so what was that?” Kristen responded that it was a date. I argued that it couldn’t be because we hadn’t thought of it that way. But Kristen explained that because there we assume that certain expectations exist… actually, I still don’t follow her reasoning about it. So, Kristen convinced me that it was a date. The following Saturday, Kristen and I went out after work. I brought the subject up again and asked if we were on a date, but we both agreed that we weren’t dating because she worked for me and that there could be ethical consequences.

But it’s amazing how things may not always be what they seem. Every time I asked people to go out on Saturday night, Kristen always came out. One night, she suggested that we see Brokeback Mountain with another coworker (which, by the way, I thought was a good movie). Saturday night became our night out, and others were welcome to join us. But every time I asked, Kristen was willing to join. Others at Lands’ End saw a pattern, but Kristen and I continued to explain that our professional relationship precluded us from pursuing something more personal. And yet, our discussions every Saturday night were a little more personal (albeit not romantic).

Around the middle to end of February, we started realizing that we may actually like each other beyond coworkers or friends.

On March 2, we had a meeting at DATCP, and I invited both of my LTEs to join and listen to the Dr. John Clifford, Deputy Administrator of the US Department of Agriculture – Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service – Veterinary Services. Kristen said she would be able to stop in when Dr. Clifford was scheduled to start; Ashley (the other LTE) was unable to attend due to class. By this time, I realized that I had feelings for Kristen; after all, I was attracted to her, I knew that she and I had a lot in common, we shared the same humor, and she and I could really hold a conversation with each other. But when she came into the room, I felt a rush of emotion that made me realize how I really feel about her. I thought to myself, “Holy crap, I’m in love with Kristen!”

Of course, I perceived this as a problem. Kristen works for me at DATCP, even though she is only here for a limited time. But I couldn’t resist how I felt about her. That Friday, I bought a new cell phone (I was having issues with US Cellular, so I switched to Verizon), and I stopped at Lands’ End to show it off. Kristen was working that evening, and at one point, she asked another coworker to have me talk to her while she was on break. When I talked to Kristen, she merely asked about the new phone. I felt something else was going on, but I was afraid to talk about it (I’m pretty shy about such things, and there is the whole work issue). Kristen and I agreed to go out again after closing at Lands’ End, and we both started sharing some flirtations. It became obvious that we started feeling more to our professional and friendly relationship, but I still felt uncertain about how she really felt. The next evening, Saturday, we went out again, this time with one of our fellow coworkers Lourdes. Kristen sat next to me in a booth, and she started leaning on me. It was obvious to Lourdes that we felt something more about each other (I called Lourdes afterwards to explain how I felt). Of course, we ended up closing the bar, and Lourdes drove Kristen home.

I picked up Kristen the next day and brought her to work. After work, we picked up her car, and she invited me to her place to watch the academy awards with her and her brother, which I accepted. At one point, David left to run an errand, leaving Kristen and me alone to talk. I told her that I really liked her in a romantic way, and she responded in kind. But we both felt that we couldn’t really be together because of our working relationship. But we continued to sit and hold hands (it was really sweet), and it seemed that we both felt more than before.

As the week wore on, we both continued to work as if things were business as usual. But when we had a chance, we shared glances. But that Thursday evening, we planned on joining some colleagues for Karaoke. Kristen and I agreed to get dinner and do a little window shopping before going to join the others. I couldn’t stand the thought of no longer being without her; I just felt it was no longer appropriate to hide it. So I spoke to my administrator Sue about how we felt about each other. She said that she it was great and that she was excited for us; that took me by utter surprise.

That evening, I picked up Kristen to get something to eat and to look at furniture (she was looking for a new mattress). I told her what Sue had told me. Kristen was pretty happy to hear it, and I was happy to report it. We looked at mattresses at one store, had dinner at the local Olive Garden, and looked at mattresses at another store. But we never made it to karaoke because of the weather (it was pretty foggy that evening). Instead of karaoke, we chose to hang out at Barnes and Noble and enjoy each others’ company. This included climbing a big snow bank outside, buying tea in the little Starbucks, and sitting on a couple of chairs and just talking and holding hands. Afterwards, I drove her home; that night, I asked her if it would be okay to state that we were officially dating, and she gave me the okay. That was March 9, which we’ve since marked as our first date anniversary.

Kristen Kristen

Brian and Kristen Brian and Kristen

I’m in love

It’s official: I’m in love. My new girlfriend Kristen and I are very committed. But it wasn’t something that happened overnight. It evolved from simply being co-workers and friends to a very special relationship. I have a hard time trying to explain how I feel, because when I’m with Kristen, euphoric, joyful, and excited seem to fall short. I’m sure I’ll write more.

My cell phone is so old…

Since moving to Madison over five years ago, I have been a US Cellular subscriber. I’ve been fairly happy with the service over the years, and its customer service had been really outstanding, until recently. My last contract ended in May 2005, and I held off on buying a new phone because I was happy with my very basic phone.

However, I recently received a letter from US Cellular stating that my phone may not have GPS capability for enhanced 911 service (E911), and that I would need to upgrade my phone now or pay a substantial monthly fee, by order of the Federal Communications Commission (FCC). After looking at the phone and plan choices online, I realized that I was not very happy with the options. One phone sales representative from US Cellular informed me that he thought the “substantial charge” could be around $20, but he was unsure (this was the person that answered when you call the 800 number on the letter). Other sales representatives (one through the US Cellular call center, the other at the local US Cellular store) told me that they had no information about how much the FCC would charge.

When I asked how long I had before I would need to pay this fee, the first representative told me that I had 10 days from receiving the letter to get the better price on the phone. The other two sales representatives did not know when the Federal Communication Commission (FCC) would start charging for this.

Being the astute analyst that I am, I decided to call the FCC. I stated that I received a letter from my phone provider, and the operator immediately asked if it was from US Cellular. I learned that the Wireless Bureau was investigating.

I then checked with the Wisconsin Division of Trade and Consumer Protection (TCP). They informed me that they would look into this. In the meantime, I started looking at other cell plans and phones. Within a week, this issue had come to a close with TCP’s investigation (the press release below has more information), but I chose to move on to a different service.

Although I had been impressed overall with US Cellular’s customer service over the past five years, I chose to switch carriers for a number of reasons: I was unimpressed with the US Cellular phones, I would need to switch to nationwide coverage if I travel out of my home area (other companies do not charge roaming fees anywhere in the US anymore), and availability of service across the nation is more complete with at least two of the other providers. A separate incident in which a US Cellular telephone representative called me to upgrade my plan and my phone in January also raised a red flag for me.

I switched to Verizon Wireless. Since making the switch, I’ve been happy with the service. I haven’t had any problems with coverage since, and most people haven’t had any problems hearing me. I was given 15 days to try the service, but it looks like I’ll remain with it for the next two years (longer if the service is still as good as or better than today). I also bought a camera phone, which I never expected to purchase (it’s a useful just-in-case feature), so I also use the e-mail feature. And if I have to travel for an emergency, I don’t need to worry about roaming charges. Overall, I’m very happy with my new service and phone.

NBC15 article: Cell Phone GPS Deadline

DATCP press release: U.S. Cellular “Regrets Confusion”

My 2006 Resolutions

Another year has gone by, and it’s time for my 2006 resolutions. I reviewed my goals from last year, and I can’t really complain much.

Last year was the second year that I published a list of resolutions. In keeping with some tradition, it’s time to review my list and update it for the New Year. As I’ve done in the past, I’ll start with my 2005 accomplishments and move on to what I’d like to complete this year.

2005 goals

Continue staying healthy

I managed to keep in pretty good shape in 2006, but I still need to move away from eating out much. At least I don’t hit the fast food places as often as I used to. I also managed to finally quit smoking on January 31. So far, I haven’t even smoked a puff. I think that alone is a great accomplishment, but I have more work to do.

Keep playing the guitar

I stopped taking lessons earlier, due because my teacher left to join a band. But I continued to try to work on my skills alone. After doing so, I realized that I need to take lessons again or force myself to get beyond the really basic stuff that I already know.

Improve my wardrobe

I started buying new clothing earlier this year, but then stalled for a little while. Then I started working for a clothing retailer. Now I have a fairly new wardrobe. I also started watching “What Not to Wear” on TLC. I am proud to say that I no longer have pleats in my wardrobe. I’ve adopted the philosophy, “dress for the job you want, not the one you have.”

Keep improving my analytical skills

I was thrown into project management this past year, which forced me to just hone my analytical skills on the fly. I have more work to do here, but I will continue to improve my policy analysis skills over the next couple of years.

Keep reducing the clutter

The apartment isn’t a fire trap, but it’s not immaculate either. I have to focus on cleaning it again. This past year, I cleaned out a lot of clothes that I didn’t wear anymore, and I managed to purchase new clothes (as I mentioned earlier). There are other areas that I need to focus on, and I’m sure I’ll get to them this year.

Keep adding content to the new site

I wanted to add dynamic content to my site, but that requires creating a SQL database and rewriting a number of pages in PHP (for those of you who have no idea what that means, let’s just say it’s all programming beyond what I know). I didn’t complete some of the things I wanted to finish, but I may work on that this year.

2006 Resolutions

Improve my organizational and career skills

I was thrown into managing my first major project in 2005: livestock premises registration. When I first agreed to take on the project, I didn’t realize how large the project would become. After about a year of managing this project, I’m glad to say that we’re done with phase one and have already kicked off phase two. Additionally, I’m now managing the implementation of the program and supervising staff to implement it. To stay on track, I really need to stay organized. So 2006 will see some improvements in my organizational and project management skills.

I’ve listed a number of goals for 2006 in my profession. I won’t bore you with the list here, but it involves dealing with much more than livestock premises registration and animal identification.

Keep my Web site fresh

I have to admit that I haven’t done a great job of keeping the site fresh lately. This is in part because I took on a part-time job and haven’t had time to manage the site. I also had to change the domain from .us to .net. There are a number of items that I still want to work on, and I hope to address those in 2006.

Save for a house

I stepped up and got real about saving for my first house last year. I am now putting away funds directly from my paycheck that I can’t touch until the certificate matures in two years.

Keep reducing the clutter

I started getting rid of a number of things in 2005. I plan on continuing this effort so I don’t have so much crap around me in 2006. Let’s just call it some major spring cleaning and preparing for the move.

Start running

I want to start running, but I need to find some motivation. I am surrounded by a number of people that run, so I hope to get advice from them this year. I also started developing my plan to start running, and I’ve already selected my starting date.

Continue making healthy choices

I managed to remain I shape for most of 2005. I even quit smoking once and for all on January 31. I hope to stay on track and possibly make even more healthy choices in 2006.

Improve my guitar playing

I discovered that I have music in me that’s trying to get out. I managed to write and record my first song last winter (it was a metal Christmas song that reflects the true feeling of Christmas in the middle of the Christmas season). Since then, I realized that I still have a long way to go with becoming more familiar with the guitar. I’ve been toying with the idea of joining a band, but I still have to work on my technique, speed, and knowledge.

What are my chances in 2006?

I took on my resolutions in 2005 and added some that I didn’t anticipate. The next year will see continued efforts at improvement.

Charity and Chili

It is that time of year again when my the state kicks off the Partners in Giving charity campaign. As you know, I have given to a number of charities in the past, either through donations or through time and labor. Furthermore, I have a couple of links to Web sites that provide information about the charities, including Charity Navigator and the Better Business Bureau. This year, I was in charge of putting together the Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection’s Partners in Giving Chili Cook-off. It was a huge success, and we even had a special guest stop in and give a few words of encouragement. Below is a picture of me with that special guest, Wisconsin Governor Jim Doyle.

And if you are thinking about giving to a charity, please feel free to visit the Charity Navigator Web site.

Charity Navigator Web site

My fascination with Harley-Davidson

I have always been a big fan of Harley-Davidson (H-D) motorcycles and the people that ride them. I’ll admit that I haven’t met a biker that I didn’t like; that’s especially true about Harley riders. I really admire the H-D culture as well because the people are totally genuine, or at least you know where they are coming from.

Ever since I was young, I had known Harley riders and befriended many of them. But my recent desire to become a part of it happened when I started looking for a letterman jacket. I discovered that Harley-Davidson made one. I had an opportunity to stop at Capital City Harley-Davidson on Madison’s far east side with my friend Emil to look for the jacket. I found one that fit, so I bought it. But while I was shopping, I discovered how friendly the staff were, and the store has a lounge where customers can hang out. And as you walk in, there is the H-D showroom where you find yourself surrounded in a sea of chrome and V-Twin engines. Emil used to ride, so he explained a lot of the features and advantages of H-D motorcycles. I was then invited to sit on one, so I accepted. Although I was a little intimidated at first (especially with handling a motorcycle that cost more than my car), I felt very comfortable. After sitting on a few bikes and listening to Emil, I decided that it was time to pay for my coat.

As I paid for my coat, I asked the sales associate if I had to own a Harley to wear the gear. She replied, “no, but if you want to learn how to ride, we hold a course that teaches you how to ride.” After learning a little and thinking about it, I decided to take the H-D Rider’s Edge New Rider course.

I learned how to ride on one of the hottest weekends that summer. At first, I found it challenging, but I eventually became comfortable and passed the skills test. The following week, I passed the written test at the local Division of Motor Vehicles service center and received my driver license motorcycle endorsement. Although I didn’t plan to purchase a bike soon, I realized that I enjoyed riding so much that I now plan to eventually own one.

I decided that I wanted a picture of myself with my guitar on a Harley. Capital City Harley-Davidson has a wall of fame of people with bikes, but they don’t have anyone with a guitar. The opportunity for me to have my picture taken arose during today’s Rider’s Edge reunion. After the event, I started talking to one of the motorcycle sales associates. He was helping another customer, and while he pulled a 2006 H-D Street Bob in Black Cherry out for the customer, he was nice enough to take my picture (the customer was test-driving a Sportster 1200 at the time). So here’s a special thanks to Marc at Capital City Harley-Davidson for helping out and taking the picture.

By the way, I haven’t told my family about learning how to ride or my desire to own a bike. If you know any of them, please help me keep my secret… I’d like to surprise them someday.

My Strat, a Harley-Davidson 2006 Street Bob, and me... can life be any better?