The State Conference – the Agony & the Ecstasy

May 28, 2016


The State Conference – the Agony & the Ecstasy with apologies to Michelangelo and Charlton Heston.

I kept thinking “It’s finally over!” as I drove home last Thursday (May 19). The next day I did absolutely nothing. Our Collin County Master Gardener Association (CCMGA) had just hosted the 2016 Texas State Master Gardener Conference in a barn at Myers Park and Event Center and I was exhausted.

Looking back over the past couple of years I realize I’ve been working with some really talented, hard working, and results driven Master Gardeners. They planned the conference down to the most minute detail and executed it perfectly. And of course things changed every day; this group proved to be exceptionally agile. in summary, I was continually amazed at capabilities of these people and their willingness to jump into the abyss where needed.

We started planning over 2 years ago, maybe 3 – time flies when you are having fun. We secured the location, booked speakers (Amy Stewart & Dr. David Zlesak among others), advertised for attendees, booked sponsors, secured meal caterers, — the list goes on and on and on. We held the State Conference in a barn and therefore had to bring in everything we needed from from chairs & tables, to A/V equipment, to restrooms.


Also, a group of us spend countless hours tending the research and demonstration gardens at Myers Park.

Then came State Conference Week. On Monday we all pitched in and prepared the barns for the Conference (some worked Sunday also). On Tuesday 520 attendees descended on Myers Park and the Conference commenced. On Wednesday the conference continued and reached a crescendo that night I suppose – the Banquet in the barn. They all say the food was outstanding and the program was long. I was so tired I just enjoyed sitting! Thursday was Tour day. Rain had threatened the Conference all week but so far just flirted with us. Our luck ran out on Thursday. I coordinated the Chambersville Tree Farm and Rose Garden Tour. In our case the rain stopped during the tour and started again after the tour was over. So, I guess God was on our side.

The State Conference week was exhausting. However, everything came together as if by magic and the team executed the Conference flawlessly.

In the end the satisfaction of a job well done was worth the effort!



Developing a Mobile App part II

January 12, 2016

Back in November 2014 I wrote about my attempts to create a Mobile App in Mobile App Part I.

Since then a lot of water has passed under the bridge – basically all of 2015. In short I stopped the mobile app development. I could just say “It was too wet to plow” and let it go at that. However I did develop the State Conference Web Page instead. We developed the State Conference Web Page as a responsive web page. That is, it would morph depending on the device footprint used to view the web page. In theory with responsive design Mobile Apps are not needed. And the jury is still out on that theory.

Of course, my 2015 contained many other events and experiences. But, they are a tale for another day.

Now that the web page is completed I’ve decided to give the Mobile App another try.

In my year’s hiatus Apple introduced Swift to eventually replace Objective-C. Since my two main problems last time besides TIME were Objective-C and the Storyboard I decided to eliminate one of my problems and try Swift. Wow, Swift is a modern language much more understandable, at least to me. I’ve been much more productive since I switched. I’ve developed a working, on my iPhone, Calculator App based on the Stanford University Swift Online Course.

My plan is:

  • Complete the Stanford University Swift Online Course
  • Develop the State Conference Mobile App in parallel

with a goal of finishing by March 31. (good luck).

My observations from the first blog have not changed significantly. Changes are:

  • Use Swift and forget Objective-C. I have not found anything I can’t do with Swift yet and it much more intuitive, at least for me.
  • The Storyboard learning curve is steep but easy to use after you’ve reached a certain point on the learning curve.

My 2014

December 30, 2014

The older I get the faster time goes by. 2014 blurred by at the speed of light! Is the the clock going faster or am I less able to cope with change? Or is my life busier? Regardless, 2014 did have it’s higlights. Here they are in no particular order.

  • Danube river cruise – We take a BIG vacation every other year. This year was a Danube River Cruise with extended stays in Frankfurt and Budapest. We enjoyed every second and definitely plan on taking another river cruise. Its a simply marvelous way to tour an area. For more detail: European Vacation
  • 50th high school reunion – Seems like 1964 was just yesterday. 39 of us graduated in May 1964. 27 are still with us and all but 4 were able to make it to the reunion. The venue was old Alexis High Gymn which brought back many memories. I had a wonderful time catching up on the last 50 years with a bucnh of really good people.
  • Austin born December 29 – Our 5th grandchild born December 29. A healthy boy weighing in at 8 pounds, 4 ounces. Mother and baby are doing well,  Dad is recovering. I’m sure he will grow up to be healthy, wealthy, and wise.
  • Big brothers visit – My older brother and his wife visited us this year. My youngest brother and his wife live in the area. I really enjoyed spending time with them. Made me realize how precious famiies are.
  • Remodeled house – It all started out when I mentioned I’d like to tear out the shower and replace it with a walk in shower. Before I realized what was happening we remodeled the bathroom, kitchen, pantry, patio, and replaced all the carpet with wood floors. I glad we did it but would not want to live through is again.
  • Old Crow concert – We saw the Old Crow Medicine Show at the Dallas House of Blues. I don’t go to many live music concerts but can’t imagine any being more amazing than this group.
  • Nashville trip with son’s family – We and our son’s family packed our bags and headed out on a road trip to Heber Springs Arkansas, Memphis, and Nashville this past Summer. Ate great barbecue, ate great breakfasts, attended The Grand Ole Opry, and generally had a wonderful week. For more detail: Nashville Vacation
  • Cub game on the 100th anniversary of Wrigley Field – On our way to my 50th high school reunion we watched a Cub game in their 100th year at Wrigley Field.
  • WineThirty – My oldest daughter and her husband opened WineThirty, a wine bar in Murphy Texas, this year. We really enjoyed our weekly trips there to enjoy a glass of fine red wine and even finer conversation.
  • The road to Master Gardener – I became a certified Master Gardener this year. The journey encompassed most of the year. It involved taking classes, manning the help desk, pulling weeds, spreading mulch, planting, taking measurements at the research garden, and enjoying the company of a group of really fine people.

My rules writing this post were:

  1. Write down the 1st 10 things that pop into my mind.
  2. Don’t change any of the items after the thought popped into my head.
  3. Write only one of two sentences for each item.

Contemplating on developing a Mobile App part I

November 11, 2014

Conteplating on developing a Mobile App part I

WARNING: contains nerdy content

One of my main activities since I retired is working with the Collin County Master Gardeners (CCMG). They are hosting the 2016 Texas Master Gardener State Conference and I sort of volunteered to develop a mobile app for the conference. My background is software and systems engineering. However my software engineering is somewhat dated. “I can program Fortran in any language”. Needless to say I’ve no experience developing mobile apps.

My son develops mobile apps so I turned to him for advice. He recommended I start with the Stanford “Developing IOS 7 Apps for the iPhone and iPad.” The Stanford course is a free online course available via iTunes University.

I eagerly subscribed to the course, started watching lectures, and working through homework assignments. The course consists of 18 lectures and 6 homework assignments. I’ve now watched 11 lectures and am developing the lecture 11 demonstration. I’m not quite as bright eyed and bushy tailed now as when I started but I’m still slogging through the course. As soon as I complete the Stanford Course I plan to start developing the CCMG State Conference app. I’ll probably post an update once I’ve completed the App.

xCode Environment

xCode Environment

My observations to date:

  • The Stanford course is very professional and I’d recommend it for anyone considering developing mobile apps.
  • A Mac and the Apple’s development environment Xcode are required to develop iPhone and iPad Apps.
  • Since the course was recorded Apple has released a new IOS version and a new programming language (Swift) both have which resulted in massive Xcode modifications making matching the lectures to Xcode challenging.
  • An Apple Developers’s license ($99/year) is required before you can test Apps on your iPhone or iPad.
  • The Developer’s License is also required to submit Apps to the Apple App store.
  • Once submitted, Before the Apple publishes the App in the App Store they test and approve it.  The approval process is mysterious to me.  I imagine I’ll be enlightened once I submit the App.
  • The IOS Simulator can be used to test Apps on your Mac without the IOS Simulator, however testing many of the gestures is awkward and in some cases impossible.
  • Objective-C, Apple’s programming language,is really wordy and really weird.
  • The user interface constitutes the majority of the development effort, at least so far.
  • You don’t just build the App once and offer it on the Apple App Store and the Android Market. You build each using unique tools (Apple’s Xcode and Android SDK).

One thing in my life I would change

October 9, 2014



Last Sunday in church the topic was “given the opportunity what is one thing in my life I’d change?” Of course that got me to thinking…. Many things in my life I would like to change:

  • I’d weigh less
  • I’d eat healthier
  • I’d get more sleep
  • I’d volunteer more
  • I’d watch less TV
  • I’d drink less beer and wine
  • etc.

Correspondingly there are things in my life I would not change

  • My family
  • Time and place I live


150px-Wooden_hourglass_3I came to my answer in a roundabout way. I’ve always wished I had more “time“. Queen Elizabeth I once stated “I would give half my kingdom for a moment of time!” – (arcane fact, a “moment” was 1/40 of an hour, something to do with Sundials.) Time is a most precious resource and one that cannot be banked or saved.

What change would give me the most return in terms of time? It seems to me the one thing I could change to yield the maximum payout in terms of time would be to simplify my life. There are other benefits to simplifying not the least of which are:

  • More moneySimplifying means less stuff to buy and maintain. Only buy stuff  you need not what you want. Throw away of sell stuff you don’t need.
  • Less StressSimplifying reduces responsibilities, commitments and stuff that you don’t want


I’ve actually tried to simplify my lifestyle over the last few years. A couple of examples:

  • I sold my travel trailer a few years back because of the time I spent maintaining it.
  • Over the years I collected a fairly large library. One day, realizing I would never read most of them again I tossed 1/4th of them in boxes to sell at Half Price Books. I’ve gone through this process multiple times and collapsed a library of 5 bookcases to 4 selves on one bookcase. As a result I’ve much more space in my home office, it’s less cluttered, and much more pleasant environment.
My bookcase

My bookcase

Going forward I plan to:

  • Continue to divest myself of stuff I don’t need.
  • Even though I’m retired I’ve too many time commitments. I plan to start saying NO to new requests and find a graceful way to bow out of the less important, to me, time commitments.
  • A couple of years before I retired I a few articles that claimed the biggest problem most retirees face is “what to do with all the time you now have”. So I spent some time thinking and created an extensive list of goals. What a mistake! My problem is not enough time not too much time! So, I’m going to prune the goals I am working on to one or two at a time.

There’s much more I could try to simplify my life but I’ve learned my lesson for at least a short while. Don’t try to do too much at once or in this case don’t try to do too much less at once.


Some helpful resources



The Music I Like

June 12, 2014

Yesterday I listened to: Muddy Waters, Jack White, Building 529, Concert at Calico Flats, and Vivaldi.  It was a typical day.  What kind of music to I like?  Turns out just about anything that sounds good.  I even like some hip hop as long I can’t understand the words. 

A few years ago I sat down and wrote down my top ten favorite music list off the top of my head in under five minutes.  Every once in a while I go back and update it.  Here’s my current list updated this morning:

  1. Somewhere Over The Rainbow – Izzy – Youngest daughter’s wedding (tie)
  2. True Companion – Marc Cohn – Oldest daughter’s wedding (tie)
  3. Desolation Row – Bob Dylan – Turned me on to music as a message
  4. 9th Symphony – Beethoven – Turned me on to classical music
  5. Four Seasons – Vivaldi – I just love it – 1st time I heard is was driving State College to Baltimore and it made me forget all the stress, cares, and worries of work and life, mostly work
  6. The Perfect Country and Western Song – David Allen Coe – because it is the perfect county and western song
  7. Sounds of Silence – Simon and Garfunkel – this was the song I had to explain to Gwen when we were taking a class a TCJC and had to write a paper explaining it
  8. A Day in the Life – Beatles – revolutionary song on a revolutionary album (Dr. Pepper). You can’t have a top 10 without the Beatles
  9. Oceans by Hillsong UNITED. The part where she takes off and just makes noise.  Also Oceans by Pearl Jam is darn good.
  10. I’m a Man – Quicksilver Messenger Service – best guitars ever only  Jessica by The Almond Brothers comes close in my opinion. This version of I’m a Man is the best even better than the original by Bo Diddley

Footnote: No Blues in the list even though I currently listen toBlues more than any other genre. Seems strange, right now I can’t imagine removing any of the above from the list.

My 2013

January 2, 2014

Executive Summary for people that only read the 1st line of emails: I retired. We took numerous trips trying to make up for lost time. We spent a lot of time with our grandchildren.

Lessons learned:

  • There is no privacy on the Internet
  • Backup everything on your computers several times

What Happened

For everyone else, another year has come and gone. Every year seems to flash by faster than the year before.  This year  was no exception.  Here’s what went down:

  • January: The year started out with Gwen staying with Sara and Mike to help take care of our newest grandson Paxson who was born on December 19, 2102.

    Paxson's 1st birthday

    Paxson’s 1st birthday

  • January 22-25: mini-Vacation to San Francisco.
  • February 16: Gwen’s laptop died. This was a very traumatic experience for two reasons. First, I had not backed up her Outlook “pst” file and quickly discovered it contained all her important data. It’s now December and has taken most of the year to recover. Secondly, we bought a Samsung ultrabook laptop.  Its a really good computer but the OS is Windows 8.  Microsoft really made a big mistake here by putting the Windows phone interface on computers!
  • March 15-22: Rangers Spring training trip in Sunrise.  Stayed in Sedona.  One day trip to the Grand Canyon which never ceases to leave me breathless at the first site. Also, hiked around Sedona quite a bit and dined at some great and not so great restaurants. Our two favorite’s were Beckett’s Table in Phoenix and Elote in Sedona.
  • March 28: Retired after 39 years at E-Systems
  • April 29: Took a nice long bicycle ride but half way through the ride a rammed a parked pickup doing 15 mph.  My ribs took the full impact of the collision. I did not break any ribs. However, I bruised the bones in my sternum and sprained the ligaments. The end result is breathing hurt for three weeks. I could not sleep laying down for a month, read sleeping in a chair. And my ribs were sore for 4 months.  Don’t ask me how it all happened because I don’t know. I saw the pickup and thought I was clear of it but apparently not.
  • June 1-14: Baseball and visit family vacation to St. Louis, Monmouth, Chicago, and Cincinnati. The new Busch Stadium is a great place to watch baseball. It’s downtown and within walking distance of many hotels and restaurants.  The downside to Busch Stadium is the food concessions there are dark and boring. Wrigley Field is an icon and a must see for any baseball fan. The Red’s park was easily the best of the lot. The stadium is downtown with a great view of the Ohio river. The concessions are outstanding also.

    Reds ballpark

    Reds ballpark

  • July 3-5: mini-Vacation to Ft. Worth with Andy, Kara, and Averi Grace to see the Stockyards, Museum of Modern Art, and the Symphony perform at the Botanical Gardens.
  • July 11-19: Vacation in Colorado. Started out in Pagosa Springs.  Spent a few hours at the hot springs and developed a great sunburn.  Dined at a couple of good restaurants.  Then drove up the spine of Colorado to Steamboat Springs stopping at Leadville for lunch on the way. This is a very spectacular drive. I’d recommend it to anyone.  Outside of Chicago, The High Mountain Pies in Leadville has the best pizza I’ve ever eaten. This was our first time at Steamboat Springs.  We loved it and plan to go back.  More to do here than Pagosa Springs including restaurants.

    Clear blue Colorado Mountain Lake

    Clear blue Colorado Mountain Lake

  • September-November: I signed up and attended the Colin County Master Gardener classes this fall. I am now officially a Master Gardener Intern.
  • September 27 – October 3: Vacation to Great Smoky Mountains and Arkansas Ozarks with our firends Vicky and Paul to see the Fall color. Unfortunately the Fall color came after we left but we did purchase a really neat kitchen table.
  • October-December: Gwen went back to work for two months. She really enjoyed the work but neither of us liked getting up a 5:30AM.
  • December 05: the Mother of all Ice Storms slams through Dallas
  • December 28: Claudia and Chris opened WineThirty in Murphy at the end of the year.
  • On the downside some good friends passed away including Rick Trimble. He was always a joy to be around and never met a person he did not like. On the famous side we lost Nelson Mandela, Margaret Thatcher, and Peter O’Toole, and Lou Reed.  Not so famous was  Doug Engelbar who invented the computer mouse.

Bests of the year:

  • Best musical performance: Dallas Symphony Orchestra’s “Pines of Rome.”
  • Best book “The Ocean at the End of the Lane” by Neil Gaiman
  • Best song: “Beggar in the Morning” by the Barr Brothers
  • Best day: March 28 – the day I retired
  • Best movie: I only saw two at the theater but the best was “The Hobbit: Desolation of Smaug.”
  • Best Experience: Playing with the grandchildren


  • Retire: retired March 28
  • Lose 20 pounds – lost 4.5. Not good but better than gaining weight
  • Vacations: visit at least one new destination and visit family in Midwest – Vacation to Great Smoky Mountains and visited family in June
  • Ride HHH – did not ride this year
  • Become a Master Gardener – took the class and am now a Colin County Master Gardener Intern
  • Digitize photos and slides – very little progress
  • Setup my own web site and landing page – done

My 2011

January 27, 2012

Better late than never I decided to publish my 2011 highlights and low low lights.  There weren’t many lows and none worth publishing.

  • Gwen beat breast cancer starting in April.  In her words it was a bump in the road.
  • Mavericks beat the Heat in 6 games in June to become the CHAMPIONS of the NBA.
  • We all survived the hottest Summer and the driest year on record in Dallas.
  • Installed GRM 683 at 3 locations which was a major achievement at work.
  • Attended my first ever Opera – Rigelleto – I was not impressed.
  • We bought a used 2007 MDX and gave away my 11 year old Xterra with 226K miles and a bad transmission.
  • Vacations:
    • Las Vegas – February
    • San Antonio – March
    • Marble Falls road trip with Mike Allen in April
    • Pagosa Springs in June
    • Seattle to visit Mike’s parents and then Victoria Canada in September
  • Tech
    • I started using Tumblr and Instragram on my way to social networking nirvana
    • Gwen became the owner of an iPad and I decided it is the greatest invention since sliced bread.
    • Steve Jobs passed away on October 5.
    • Installed a sling box and can now watch home TV from anywhere I get a wifi signal
  • 2011 goals
    • I lost 2 pounds.  I wanted to lose 20 but at least I did not gain any weight.
    • I blew away my goal of reading 12 books this year – did 24.
    • I had a goal to become a PHP expert but I blew that goal.
    • I achieved my goal of becoming VM knowledgeable.
    • We did make-over the hobby room at least in the sense we put up a lot of selves and free standing units to hold Gwen’s hobby material.

Marv’s 2012 goals

January 1, 2012

This year I am publishing my 2012 goals for the World to see not that anyone reads my blog.  I am doing this because publishing goals is supposed to be a great method to ensure you actually try to meet your goals.

I tried to keep the number down to 7 which is supposedly all one person can keep track.  However, I ended up with 11, but I could not choose 3 to throw away.  Since the last two are more like resolutions than goals feel I don’t feel bad about signing up for 11.  I will visit them from time to time with a blog post and next Christmas season will post a year end – how did I do.

2012 goals in no particular order:

  1. Get completely out of debt – pay off the house and the Acura TSX.
  2. Lose weight – weighed 228.5 on January 1. Goal is to weigh less than 215.
  3. Go back to school – never quit learning. Register at CCCC and take a class.
  4. Volunteer – Sign up for and perform some form of community service.
  5. Post to my blog at least once a month.
  6. Travel – take at least 3 vacations and and go somewhere.
  7. Learn PHP and do a project.
  8. Makeover the garage.
  9. Participate in 3 bicycle rallies including the HHH.
  10. Cut the stress – work fewer hours, get more sleep, exercise. This one is pretty vague.
  11. Spend more time with family and friends. This one is also pretty vague and may be hard to quantify.

January 8 Update: Added do 3 bicycle rallies and exercise in the gym 3 times a week.  Adding is okay

January 27 Update: Removed exercise 3 times a week in the gym.  This is really a sub-goal of 2 and 10.