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?

You say it’s your birthday

I just celebrated another birthday today. But for the last four years I’ve lived in the Madison area, I’ve never been to the Nitty Gritty Birthday Bar on my birthday. So I finally chose to stop at the one in Middleton. A few of my friends joined me and enjoyed a drink with me (others had responsibilities that prevented them from showing up). I really enjoyed the time there, and I plan on doing it again next year.

My 2005 Resolutions

Last year I published a list of resolutions for 2004. It’s now 2005, so I took the time to review my list and update it for the New Year. I’ll start with my 2004 accomplishments and move on to what I’d like to complete this year.

2004 resolutions accomplished

Eat healthier

I started off pretty well in 2004, and was able to maintain it for most of the year. But then I fell into the trap of finding convenience in the nearby McDonald’s drive-thru. Fortunately, they now sell salads. At any rate, I need to maintain eating healthier, and follow Benjamin Franklin’s lesson, “Eat to live, don’t live to eat.”

Be more active

I didn’t play as much golf again this year, but I made up for it by playing softball. I was pretty active for the summer, but I need to maintain it year-round. And I need to prepare for softball and golf this year.

Spend more time playing guitar

I think I made some pretty good strides playing the guitar in the past year. I still want to learn more, so I keep plugging away.

Be more assertive

I managed to spend more time away from home this year by hanging out with friends. I also dated for a while (no, really). I also managed to show people that I’m really a fun-loving, nice guy.

Keep the apartment clean

I cleaned it, but it became messy again. I plan on doing some major cleaning this spring, so I hope to be done with this before the middle of the year. The other trick, of course, will be to maintain it.

Be less cynical

I had a rough time when I was put at-risk earlier this year. Yet I managed to see a silver lining in losing my job, though, and I landed on my feet in a job that I truly enjoy. Perhaps I’m not as cynical as I thought I was.

Meet that special someone

I managed to meet some people this year, but things didn’t work out. At least I tried, though… that counts, doesn’t it?

Finish my desk

I had the desk finished and installed by March of this year. Consider this one done.

Read more

I managed to spend some time reading this year. However, I didn’t spend as much time as I wanted to. It’s that darned television and the new DVR that will make this more difficult to accomplish throughout the year.

Finish my web site redesign

I just published the site in early December, so this is another finished resolution.

Complete my England vacation scrapbook

I never started putting together an actual paper scrapbook, but I managed to publish an electronic version on my site. I’d consider that an accomplishment.

It’s pretty obvious that I managed to work towards my goals in 2004. But I have more to accomplish in 2005. Some are repeats, while others are new initiatives.

2005 goals

Continue staying healthy

I’ve got a couple of minor health issues, so I want to attack those and get myself into better shape. This will require remaining active year-round and really trying to keep away from the burgers, fries, and sweets. It’s time for some winter activities.

Keep playing the guitar

I love to shred. I don’t think this will be a problem. But I still have a lot to improve upon, and much more to learn. I plan on working harder on remembering those long Metallica solos.

Improve my wardrobe

I managed to purchase new clothes for work, but I don’t have much in terms of just casual, yet dressy, clothes. If I had to go on a date tomorrow, I’d pretty much be limited in what to wear. Hooded sweatshirts and Metallica T-shirts just won’t cut it. It’s time for some new shirts and pants.

Keep improving my analytical skills

I realize that I still have much to learn in my current job. In time I’ll understand more about my agency and the things that need to be accomplished in order to make everyone’s lives easier, including our customers (that is, the citizens).

Keep reducing the clutter

As I stated earlier, I managed to clean the apartment, but it became messy again. I have no excuses now that I have a desk to help keep me organized. I’ll keep clearing things out and prepare to really start looking for a new place to move (it’s time to start building equity in a house).

Keep adding content to the new site

I want to keep the site fresh, so I have to continue adding content that’s worth reading. Due to my work on the new site redesign, I didn’t write any new soapbox articles after January. I also want to complete the article on building my desk, and I’m thinking about doing more with the blog (although I’m still not sure I want to have people responding and posting to the site yet). I’ve had a lot of positive feedback on it, so I hope people continue to find the things I publish either useful or entertaining.

What are my chances in 2005?

I’ve already started down the right path, although I had a few slip ups along the way. My list this year is much shorter than it was last year, showing that I managed to really get into some positive habits. I have some challenges ahead of me, but I’m working on them now so I can keep them going strong throughout 2005.

My new position

I was informed on June 8 that my position (budget and policy analyst – advanced) in the Wisconsin Department of Transportation was at risk of being eliminated on March 31, 2005. That means that if I didn’t find a job by that date, I would be laid off. Although I knew that I had the least seniority in the office and that this would occur, it really hit me hard when I found out. So I was already seeking another position, but not much had surfaced.

After being placed at-risk, I became more active about looking for another position. One benefit is that people in this classification have a chance to compete for vacant positions before others can. The State has a web site that provides a list of positions to at-risk employees before it becomes available to others in state service. I found several opportunities to continue working for the State of Wisconsin on this site.

Among those positions was an Administrative Policy Advisor for the Wisconsin Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection (DATCP, pronounced “dat-cap”). After interviewing and meeting with the Administrator of the Division of Management Services, I was offered the position. I graciously accepted (no, I didn’t do my Packers touchdown dance), especially since this position will provide me the opportunity to really advance in my career. I’m really excited because this is more than just a policy analyst; there will be some leadership/management involved. It’s also a new position, so I will have the opportunity to mold it into a really great position. Finally, I will remain in Madison (wow, I’ve lived here for almost four years already!!). I officially begin the new position on September 5, but my first day in the office is September 7 (due to Labor Day).

To commemorate, I’ve added the agency’s address to My Links. Of course, there’s still a special place in my heart for DOT, since it was my first professional position.

Metallica

Originally posted: June 2000 

Metallica is a heavy metal music band. For a heavy metal band that’s been around for over 20 years and can still sell out a concert, I can’t help but notice some people still whining over their recent recordings. Since Load and ReLoad were released in the mid-90’s, I have heard people say that Metallica has sold out. I beg to differ.

Metallica began as a heavy metal group in the early 80’s. They actually brought heavy metal as we know it to the US from the New Wave of British Heavy Metal. They were pioneers. As they progressed into the 90’s, they continued to increase their momentum as a dominant heavy metal force.

But they changed their tunes with Load. ReLoad was no different (basically, music that didn’t fit on Load). They began to move into areas they had never before recorded. For me, it was a great change of pace. They are still Metallica, and the music is still as skillful as it ever was. Yet some people think they’ve gone downhill. I thought rock ‘n’ roll was about doing what you enjoy doing, not what the critics have to say. And if they’re doing something wrong, then perhaps all of those people who are buying tickets and helping them sell out concerts are missing something.
As a person who has come to appreciate music on various levels, I think Metallica has actually gotten better. Singer James Hetfield really produces a range of tones with his awesome voice. Bass player Jason Newsted has done some amazing things to jam his riffs in your face. Drummer Lars Ulrich rolls and bangs the life out of the skins. And guitarists James Hetfield (yes, he sings and plays) and Kirk Hammett ride wild and daring riffs that scream and wail, plunging you deep into their twisted and wicked world. Hearing them play just sounds like they really are pouring their souls into the music.

I especially like the sounds they’re producing now. Don’t get me wrong, I still love what they did years ago. But their range of sounds is amazing. Some songs are bluesy, others are somber. But it’s still loud, present, and alive. And they still found room to put out music that has just as much thrash as their earlier stuff. Their a true heavy metal band that can perform a wide range of sounds and show more talent than many other bands that have been around in the last 20 years.
Perhaps some people are afraid that Metallica is getting old. Those people should try listening to the double-album where they play with the San Francisco Symphony Orchestra. They haven’t lost their touch… they really rock! Or maybe they’ve been together too long. Given the average lifetime of most music groups, I’d say Metallica seems to have some longevity in them (despite Newsted’s departure in 2001).

In April 2000, Metallica filed a lawsuit with a company that puts out MP3 files of their music. Apparently, copyright infringement does not seem to be an issue on the Internet. But do I blame them? No; in fact, I hope they set a precedent. How would you like it if you worked hard on a project and someone else reaped the benefits of it? I’d be upset and frustrated, and I’m sure Metallica feels the same way. I don’t think it’s about the money. I believe it’s about taking advantage of someone else’s talents. Essentially, the band was ripped-off, and I’m glad they fought back.

In 2001, the band seemed to be falling apart. Early in 2001, Jason broke away from the band, feeling the need to focus on other things in his life. The break-away was amicable (from MetClub sources). In April the remaining three band members went back into the studio to start work on their next original album (Bob Rock, their producer, filled in on the bass), all while on the search for the next Metallica bass player. In July, Metallica settled their suit with Napster, which seemed to be a windfall. But a week later, James was admitted into rehab for “alcoholism and other addictions.” This postponed many Metallic-events and left things in the hands of Lars and Kirk. Things were probably starting to look abysmal. Then September 11 happened. It seemed that everything else suddenly seemed so insignificant. A week later, Metallica expressed that their site was a hate-free zone and put the word out that they don’t want people to spread the hate that many of us felt after the morning of September 11. Although still looking for a new bass player, Metallica informed its members on its web site that James was out of rehab and “feeling rather good about life.” Despite all the adversity of 2001, this band is dedicated to its music, its expression, and (most importantly) its fans.

With the release of St. Anger, it seems that Metallica is missing one long-standing component to its music: the guitar solo. But this album is not business-as-usual; instead, it’s a vehicle for the band to get over one of its most difficult obstacles and move forward. After seeing Metallica in May 2004, I realized that it was as strong as ever, despite what the critics say (did I mention that it sold out the concert in Madison in a record 22 minutes?). Some people say that St. Anger is the biggest disappointment from the band. I think it’s one of the greatest albums, because it’s raw, heavy, emotive, and absolutely genuine.

Metallica as a band does something that some people just don’t seem to get. This is a band that really has recognition, that has a great track record, and that really does what others are afraid to do… write and play music that allows them to really express themselves. And as for me, I love listening to it. Some people think I’m off my rocker when I say that my favorite band is Metallica (I usually listen to them in the car, at the office, at home… just about anywhere I can). If I were to choose an example of someone with celebrity status who sets a good example, it has to be them because they know how to express themselves through some amazing tunes. They do the one thing that they do best: play some really loud, awesome music. And if they’re good enough to play with a symphony orchestra (and you’re reading from someone who loves the symphony), then they deserve more praise and credit than they’ve received. Did I mention that they write their own music, play their own instruments, and actually sing their own tunes? How many “bands” and “musicians” do that nowadays? And for a band that’s over 20 years old, they still have this amazing ability to sell-out concerts wherever they may roam.