Less than a year ago, I spent quite a bit of money for what was then the top-of-the-line Dell PC -- the XPS 700.

It may be the last Dell I buy.

I can't complain about Dell's customer service. As far as I can tell, they've done all they can and should do to try to make it right. But a crappy PC is, well, a crappy PC, and magnanimous gestures can't change that.

The first problem was that the new PC was slow. And the last thing this PC should have been was slow. It's supposed to be the ultimate speed and power PC, so fast that it practically does what you want it to do before you even know what you want.

Still, it was slow and stumbling and constantly locked up, and I complained to Dell so much that they replaced it. Wow, I thought, you can't argue with that.

But the replacement PC they sent in May crashed spectacularly about a week ago. The techs decided that the motherboard was flawed. Almost instantly, Dell sent a new motherboard and a tech to install it, all without charge.

Nice try. Didn't work. Maybe it was another bad motherboard. Maybe the video cards were bad. Whatever it was, the tech spent four hours and still couldn't get it to boot up. So now yet another motherboard is en route, along with new video cards. But it's looking like all the data on that big old hard drive is gone, although I did back up a lot of it. And while I appreciate Dell's effort to make it right, that's not going to bring back the data I may lose because Dell sent me a lousy PC. Actually, make that two lousy PCs, plus, it appears, a bad motherboard.

So I don't know when this will be resolved, nor do I know what I'll have to work with when I'm finally back up again. And this experience -- two bad PCs, bad replacement parts -- doesn't exactly make me confident that my PC problems will be over when all this is finished. FYI, I'm making this blog update on my wife's PC, which is -- yikes -- also a Dell.

One thing I am certain of -- I sure wish I'd gone back for a long second look at that iMac in the Apple store in Norfolk.


On the road, back soon

Drye Goods is on the road doing research in Washington, D.C. Please check back by in a week or so for new entries.

In the meantime, drop by some friends' blogs for some entertaining reading. Super Bicyclist Alan Snel at Bike Stories (http://alansnel.com/blog/) is pedaling around Tampa Bay publicizing the annual Bicycle Bash by the Bay on November 4. More info about the Bash is also at http://www.bicyclebash.com/.

Jeff Houck's SideSalad (http://www.sidesalad.net/) is always worth a look. His entry of September 12 ("A strong indication that life as we know it is improving greatly") is Houck at his best. He derives this conclusion from a close examination of a 1978 comic book ad. It's subtle, funny and very perceptive.


Loss of innocence in a more innocent era

September 11, 2001 was only the latest of several times that America supposedly has lost its innocence. An argument could be made that American naiveté was lost when we entered World War I in 1917, or when the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor in 1941, or when President John F. Kennedy was assassinated in 1963, or when President Richard Nixon resigned in disgrace in 1974.

Still, what happened six years ago today in New York, Washington, D.C. and Pennsylvania was a uniquely chilling moment in our history. And I think that something in our national psyche did indeed change profoundly on that frightful day.

It seems appropriate to show the flag in a respectful way on today's somber anniversary. But I think we've lost much of the respect we once had for displaying the flag. Today, the American flag seems to be more of a sign that says "Open for business" at gas stations and used car lots or a demand that says "Look at me, I insist that I'm patriotic."

And it's commonplace to see a flag that's been left outside for so long that it's become shredded and torn. I think this bothers me the most--that someone would put up a flag as a sign of patriotism and then ignore it until it becomes a red, white and blue rag. I still have my 1959 edition of my Boy Scout Handbook. The section headed "Taking Care of the Flag," says this: "The flag should be cleaned when soiled, mended when torn. When worn beyond repair, destroy it privately by burning."

I dug up these poignant photos of patriotic observances at the Library of Congress website. They were shot in the early 1940s, another era when America was shedding its innocence and undergoing profound changes with our entry into World War II.

The first photo shows a color guard of black soldiers at Fort Belvoir, Virginia. The exact date of the photo and the name of the photographer are unknown, but it was shot sometime between 1941 and 1945. In those days, the U.S. military, like the rest of the country, was strictly segregated.

These Boy Scouts were photographed in front of the Capitol building in Washington, D.C. in July 1941. The poster they're holding shows the flags of the nations supporting the United Nations Fight for Freedom. The photographer was John Rous.

In May 1943, photographer John Collier got this shot of a sailor and his girlfriend visiting the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier at Arlington National Cemetery. There's no flag displayed in this photo, but it does show the intent of Memorial Day--honoring our war dead. At that time, there was only one tomb that held an unidentified American soldier who was killed in World War I. Later, they added unidentified American servicemen from World War II and the Korean War and changed the name to the Tomb of the Unknowns.

The woman standing beneath the American flag and the state flag of Georgia was photographed by Jack Delano in 1941.

This last photo was shot in Lincoln, Nebraska in 1942 by photographer John Vachon. The exact date isn't known, but it looks like it may have been July 4th.

These photos can be viewed at the Library of Congress website at http://memory.loc.gov/ammem/fsachtml/fsowhome.html.


I, um, won an award of some sort

I used to speak disparagingly of journalism awards. Real reporters don’t worry about winning awards, I’d say. Real reporters, I'd say, are focused on covering their beats, not cherry-picking the stories that will get the attention of journalism award judges.

Of course, my attitude about awards may have been influenced by the fact that I’d never won an award other than in-house recognition at newspapers where I’ve worked.

So now I have to change my attitude, because a couple of weeks ago, I won a first place public service award from the Florida Magazine Association. The award -- known as a Charlie Award -- was for a package of stories I wrote called “The Rescuers” that was published in the June/July 2006 edition of Key West Magazine.

The stories examined Key West’s vulnerability to hurricanes and how emergency management, fire and police personnel would respond if a Category 5 hurricane struck Key West. The stories also discussed previous powerful hurricanes that have made landfall in Key West and the Florida Keys.

The stories can be viewed online at http://www.kwmag.com/2006JuneJuly/index.html.

This year’s Charlie Awards competition drew more than 900 entries from 70 magazines published in Florida. The entries were judged by magazine publishers and journalists across the U.S. First, second and third place winners were chosen in each category.

The Charlie Award is named after the late Charles G. Welborn Jr., a long-time professor of journalism and communications at the University of Florida.

The award arrived from Tallahassee today. See above.


Final issue of "World's most reliable newspaper" hits the stands

The dreaded moment has arrived. The final issue of the Weekly World News hit the supermarket checkout lanes last week.

Readers – that means my wife when I remind her that I have a blog and maybe my mother-in-law, my sister in Wyoming, my cousin in South Carolina and a couple of pals in Florida – will recall that I lamented the passing of the WWN a few weeks ago. I noted that I’d miss the tabloid’s total indifference to celebrity journalism and its devotion to chronicling the, um, far-fetched events of our world.

Well, the WWN went out in style in its final issue. A sampling of the stories included these:The capture of a hairy lobster as big as a Buick. Global warming is thought to have had something to do with the creature’s immense size.
An infant born in Iowa with fragmented eyes like those of a fly. Doctors say that, in this age of iPods, PCs, cell phones, HDTV and “every other light source today’s generation stares into for hours at a stretch,” it was inevitable that this phenomenon would happen sooner or later.

Live puppies found living in the sunken wreck of the HMS Titanic. The puppies are descendants of two dogs that found a large air bubble when the ship went down in 1912.

A half-man, half-alligator creature found in the Florida Everglades. The creature apparently was biologically engineered by a rogue geneticist who is on the FBI’s most-wanted list.

WWN editors billed the final issue as a “collector’s item” and suggested that readers “Buy now, sell on eBay tomorrow!”


Go Tar Heels -- I think

My alma mater, the University of North Carolina, plays its first football game of the 2007 season today, and there’s talk around Chapel Hill of a “new culture” being established thanks to the Tar Heels’ new coach, Butch Davis.

Davis comes to Carolina after coaching stellar teams at the University of Miami and mediocre Cleveland Browns teams in the NFL. UNC football fans are hoping he can repeat the success he had at Miami.

I’m hoping the same thing. At least, I think I am. More on that in a moment.

It’s been a long, loooong time since football in Chapel Hill was something other than a way to pass the time until basketball season. And while the basketball team’s success has been constant for 50 years, the football program has had its ups and downs.

The first great era of Carolina football was the late 1940s, when legendary running back Charley “Choo-Choo” Justice led the Tar Heels to a place among the college football elite.

Choo-Choo was such a spectacular player that he made the covers of that day’s large-circulation magazines, such as Life and Sport. He even inspired a swing-era popular song, “All the way, Choo-Choo,” that was recorded by Benny Goodman and his band.

Carolina’s football success was sporadic after Choo-Choo chugged out of Chapel Hill. In 1978, Dick Crum took over the program and led it back to prominence. Crum won more games during his tenure than any other Carolina coach, but he was not well-liked by some of the school’s powerful athletic boosters and was fired after the 1987 season.

It appeared that Crum’s successor, Mack Brown, was about to return UNC football to the glories of the Justice era. But in 1997 Brown accepted an offer from the University of Texas almost immediately after saying he’d never leave Chapel Hill.

After Brown’s departure, Tar Heel football teams had little success on the field under Carl Torbush and John Bunting. Off the field, however, Torbush and Bunting would not tolerate players who ignored team rules or their studies. Transgressors were shown the door, regardless of their importance to the football team’s success.

And that brings me back to Butch Davis and the so-called “new culture” of the North Carolina football program.

UNC’s academic reputation is among the best in the nation. That’s important to me and a lot of other alumni. The basketball team’s success – five national championships – has been achieved entirely within the rules. The team’s success is only enhanced by the fact that Carolina basketball coaches insist that their players go to class, stay out of trouble, and work toward graduation.

Davis’s last stint as a college football coach at Miami was at a school whose reputation has been tarnished by players’ behavior problems on and off the field. None of that happened, however, when Davis coached there from 1995 to 2000; in fact, the UM football program was recognized for players’ graduation rates.

So maybe Davis is the guy to lead Carolina back to gridiron prominence without turning it into a football factory that happens to have a university attached to it. Here’s hoping, anyway. The moment of truth will come if one of his star players is arrested or stops going to class. If he kicks that player off the team – as he should – then we’ll know Davis respects the tradition of academic excellence and playing within the rules that has always been a part of North Carolina athletics.