Thursday, November 17, 2011

'Tis the Season for Christmas Movies....

Christmastime is here!  One of our family's favorite aspects of the holiday season is the chance to gather round the fireplace and watch Christmas movies.   Here's our family's list of 'The Best of Christmas Movies'. 

I didn't see any of the Home Alone movies when they came out in the 1980s.  I was busy being a single guy in Dallas.  However, once my son was born in the late 90s, we quickly discovered this iconic Christmas movie and all of its sequels.

McCauley Kaulkin plays a great cute kid who has to come up with devious ways to fight off the 'Wet Bandits'.  But the real stars of these films are Joe Pechi and Daniel Stern who play the best 'bad' guys I've ever seen in a comedy.

Home Alone's soundtracks have become a standard part of our Christmas listening.  From the compostions of John Willams to the Christmas classics, these are worth the price.

Tim Allen....Mr. Christmas
Between The Santa Clause series and Christmas With The Kranks, Tim Allen has become a big part of our Christmas.   When Mac was younger, the 'Clause' movies were a big hit.  The depiction of The North Pole, especially, is so vivid.  Now that Mac's a teen, his sense of humor is more in line with the Kranks.

As much as we love the older classic versions of 'A Christmas Carol', we love Bill Murray in Scrooged.   I think it's one of his best movie performances of all time and although it's a long way from Dicken's, it captures the essense of the storyline in a very interesting way.  Great support performance by John Forsythe.

And the Award for All Time Best Christmas Film goes to.........Christmas Vacation!
Mac and I agreed on this decision instantly.   It is the funniest, feel-good, capture-the-season film I've ever seen.  Chevy Chase is at his best and Randy Quaid is hilarious as Clark's (Chevy's) white-trash, mooching, yet good hearted brother-in-law.  Each year, Christmas Vacation, is the first Holiday movie we watch.

Christmastime can get pretty busy.  We hope you can slow down a bit and enjoy one or more of these Christmas film classics.

Merry Christmas! 

Pete & Mac Thomson

Friday, November 4, 2011

The 'Feel Good' Story of The Year

Jason McElwain is a special ed student and for several years has been the equipment manager for his high school's basketball team.  On a special occasion recently, the coach gave Jason a chance to play.  What happened is unbelievable.   This story of an unlikely hero is the 'Feel Good' story of the year.

After you watch this video, please leave a comment below and feel free to pass on.

Pete Thomson

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Lessons From My Dad....

Just enjoyed a Father’s Day lunch with Vicki and Mac.  They each endured my favorite Mexican ‘hole in the wall’ restaurant, El Matador, which has the best authentic Mexican food around.  (Even though the place won’t win any restaurant design or decorating contests).   Anyway the lunch was great and it was nice to be appreciated and see other dads out to lunch with their families

Each year when I call Dad on Father's Day, I try to tell him something that I appreciate about him.  Often, I’ll talk about valuable lessons he taught me through the years…and there were many.   The best lessons I learned from Dad were about business.  He is a true entrepreneur with an outstanding work ethic and a good ‘gut’ for business deals that will be winners.

Dad (L) with me, Steve, Molly & Charley
Early in his career, he recognized the value of franchising.  Indeed, even in the 50s and 60s, the mortality rate among start-up businesses was high.  (SBA still has it at over 75% after 5 years in business).  Dad recognized that in franchising you were in business for yourself but not by yourself.   Dad’s years with Ben Franklin, owning at one time up to 5 stores, were full of great memories.  During those years, all of us kids worked in the stores…as baggers, checkers and stockers.  Having to handle money at an early age was valuable as was seeing the discipline that was needed to be a success in business.  Through all the hard work, Dad made it fun.

As WalMart and K-Mart began to take over the retail world, Dad recognized that this business was not going to make it long-term.  Wisely, he liquidated his stores and turned a going out of business sale into a major profit center.   Another lesson learned:  Make lemonade out of lemons.

Next, Dad found Subway Sandwich Shops.  Back in the early 80s, everything about this franchise made sense to him.  It was the ground floor.  The corporate support was strong and he liked the franchise system that helped the business owner be successful.  So, without a day of restaurant experience, my dad and his partner went to ‘Subway U’ in Connecticut and learned the restaurant business.  20+ years later, Subway and my father have been successful.

So, as I celebrate Father’s Day, I’m very thankful for not only being a dad myself, but also for the blessings I’ve received from a dad who is a great teacher.  I hope my son remembers me in a similar way. 

-Pete Thomson


Sunday, June 5, 2011

Reading with Mac....

Reading with Mac in 2004
As a dad one of my goals has been not to screw up my son too much with my own bad habits, quirks or idiosyncrasies.   Whoever said values are 'caught' and not 'taught' really nailed it.  Kids aren't paying attention to what we say.  Rather, they lock into what we do.

In spite of my shortcomings, one of the positive values Mac has 'caught' from me is a love of reading.  Actually, my late mother deserves much of the credit.  She always had a book in front of her.  The 'world' I knew as a kid included books and lots of them.   Mac's 14 now and the last year has been especially fun to watch as he's really locked into books and discovered the power of knowledge and understanding.

Our favorite father-son Saturday afternoon activity is hanging out at Barnes & Noble and reading...for hours!  (I'm still amazed that we haven't been banned from B&N.  We're ready to be apprehended any day!)  This past Saturday, we got a late start but probably still put in about 3 hours of solid reading.   Mac likes to read about politics, American history and law.  I generally read about computers, software, gadgets and social media.  

Over the last year it's been pretty amazing to watch this little man starting to build knowledge and problem solving skills.  It's also a bit humbling to be corrected on a regular basis about politics, the law and anything else Mac's really into.  At night before bed, he's now reading legal case books and he seems to be understanding what he's reading.  When I was 14, Mad Magazine was as deep as I got. 

My mom and Mac never met.  About 4 years separated her death and his birth.  But I see a bit of her in him every day he's got his head buried in a book.   

-Pete Thomson

Friday, May 27, 2011

After Storm Season, Home Repair Scammers Are Running Wild....How to Defeat Them!

After this year’s tragic and devastating storm season, thousands of families are trying to put their lives back together after losing loved ones, homes and businesses.   And through all the challenges they’re facing, there’s another threat that is lurking ready to add to their pain.   Unscrupulous contractors and trades people literally flock to disaster zones because of the potential for quick money from people who are desperate for help.   Even savvy consumers can fall victim to home repair scams.  Yet, with some simple due diligence, it’s possible to identify and defeat the home repair rip off artist.  

I’ve learned about home repair rip-offs from experience.  My wife and I have built 2 homes over the last 20 years.   That was a painful yet effective education.  And, from 1999 to 2008, I hosted a radio program called “Consumer Magazine” where our mission was to help consumers avoid rip offs.   Through the radio program, I had an opportunity to work with some incredible people across a number of home repair categories.   The education I received from these professionals was priceless.

Home Repair Scammers: Don't Be Fooled!

Big Jobs Make For Big Home Repair Scams:   Storm repair and replacement of property is big business and it's very profitable.   Because of the opportunity, storm ravaged areas become sort of a 'California Gold Rush' for contractors.   For example, after major hail storms, it’s not uncommon to see storm-chasing roofers drive cross country in search of quick cash.    And since many consumers are especially vulnerable after losing the security of home, they’re considered to be 'low hanging fruit' by these scam artists. 

The Check List – How to Beat the Home Repair Rip Off:    Use these strategies to reduce your chances of being a victim of home repair rip offs and scams.  

Get Multiple Bids:          Seems logical doesn’t it.  Yet, many consumers forget the number one rule of keeping the trades honest.    I recommend getting 3 bids.  When possible, ask neighbors and friends for referrals.      Radio, television, the web     and other media can be a source of leads but I really like   referrals.  

Get References & Call Them!    Again, most consumers don’t call references.  You’ve got to.  In fact, I recommend drilling a bit deeper.  First, insist on recent job references and nothing over a year old.  Secondly, try to locate a current job for the contractor and visit the job site for a surprise inspection.  I also suggest calling The Better Business Bureau as well as doing a web search on the company.   And although the web can be skewed by planted reviews, the truth eventually gets out.

Use FEMA as an Asset:   FEMA maintains a presence in disaster areas for months.  Not only can they help you in dealing with contractors, but they're well versed on all aspects of disaster recovery including tapping into government funds and other aid.  They are smart people who help you.

Beware of Magnet Signs:   Run from anyone who comes to your home with magnet signs on their truck.  They might as well post a sign that says “I was in a different industry last month”.   Look for companies that have 'been in the business' for years. 
Go Local!   ‘Shopping local’ ferrets out the storm chasers.  But, beware of the hooligans who set up a local address and act like they've been part of the community for years.  After the job's finished, local companies are much more motivated to keep their customers happy.    And staying true to your home town or region supports the local economy at a time that local business people need the support. 

Don’t Fall for Deadlines, Promotions, Big Discounts and Other Closing Tricks:    A loud buzzer should go off in your brain whenever you hear the following statements:

“To get this price I need to get your signature today”     Pushing a deadline is straight off the used-car lot.  Don’t fall for it.  

If you sign today I can give you a $6,000 discount”.   I hear HVAC (air conditioning/heating) companies on TV and Radio promising this every day.  Nobody is really discounting anything by $6,000.   Again, right off the used car lot. 

Our free iPad offer runs out today.”     Go ahead and just buy an iPad.  You’ll get a better deal.  

Don’t Fall for ‘The Fish’:   If you’re a person of faith, be wary of anyone placing the Christian fish in their logo or advertising.   Years ago someone figured out that if they ''looked" like a Christian, then people trusted them.   My apologies to all reputable Christians who use the fish symbol in their logo.  I suggest you remove it and let the way you live your life advertise your faith.  

Contracts and Deposits:     If you’re dealing with a big ticket item, get your attorney to review the paperwork.   If a company says they need a ‘deposit’ to buy supplies, don’t pay it.   This is a huge red flag and suggests that the company doesn’t have adequate resources.    Your approach to payment will vary with different jobs but generally I don’t like to give anybody a dime until they show up at my home with a crew and the supplies for the job.   And even then, you need to retain or hold back enough money to keep the contractor motivated to finish the job properly.   You can learn much about payment terms within an industry in the process of getting at least 3 bids.

Bills Paid Affidavit:  On large jobs, consider getting an ‘all bills paid’ affidavit (Lien Release) from both contractors and suppliers.   This will prevent anyone from coming back at you for money you’ve already paid.  

Workman’s Comp Coverage:   This is a tough one.  Many excellent tradesmen and contractors contend they can’t afford insurance, and in some cases, their pricing is lower than companies that carry the insurance.  Still, in the long run, you’re better off paying more and knowing that you’re covered.  If someone is injured or killed while working on your home, you will be a target.   
Help The Elderly:   Because they’re often isolated, home repair rip off artists frequently target the elderly.    If you have older folks in your neighborhood that need work done on their home, offer to give them some help.  They’ll appreciate you and you’ll feel good helping out.  

Spread The Word:  Thanks for reading this article.  I hope it helps you make better and more informed choices.  Feel free to forward this blog to your friends and don’t hesitate to email me with your questions.   I don’t have all the answers but I generally know who does and can send you in the right direction.  

-Pete Thomson

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Mac Air 13....I'm Hooked!

It was just a matter of time, but as of 2 weeks ago, I'm now totally in the Mac world.

The Mac Air 13 -- I'm Hooked!
It started innocently enough about 2 years ago when I got the iPhone.  I immediately fell in love with not only the power of device but its simplicity and ease of use.  Then, last year I bought an iPad.  Like the iPhone, it revolutionized the way I read (no more bulky books on the road) and surfed the web.

Two weeks ago, I got a Mac Air 13 and a now totally hooked.  Where do I start on this computer?  Probably the resolution/graphics.  It's better than anything I've ever used.  Like everything else from Apple, the Mac Air is simple but powerful.  And, it's a breeze to learn.  And, now that Office for Mac is available, there's no need to run Boot Camp or Parallels to run Outlook.

So now that I'm 100% Mac, I should be pretty much set, right?  Well, almost.  I just demo-ed the new iPad 2 today at Best Buy.   Based on my past, it's only a matter of time....

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

The Great Texas Ice Storm of 2011

Watching Texans respond to winter weather can be pretty humorous at times.  Growing up in Charles City, Iowa, I came from a world where any snow storm under six inches was considered just a minor nuisance.  In the snow belt, school gets cancelled when snowfall amounts are 8-12 inches or more.  Otherwise, we would just put on warm clothes, got into our cars with studded or chain-wrapped tires, and deal with it.

I've been in Texas since 1982 and continue to watch in amazement the 'freak out' factor that this entire state puts into any storm than includes snow or ice.  When rumors of possible snow and ice hit the forecast, Texans go into 'emergency mode'.  At neighborhood grocery stores it's not uncommon to see hundreds of people stocking up on soup, beer, meat and other things they hold dear.

Each winter in Texas, we seem to average between 1 and 2 'snow events'.  Most storms present a bit of a driving challenge but pass through quickly.  Even our biggest snow storm---10 inches on Christmas Eve of 2009---melted away in less than 24 hours.   From my experience, the biggest challenge in Texas winter is dealing with Texas drivers----especially those in pick up trucks who feel a need to drive aggressively regardless of the conditions.   When I stay off the roads during a storm, it's because of these people, not the weather.

This week, winter storms took on a different dimension in Texas.  The coat of ice combined with record low temperatures have truly produced a storm of historic proportions.   And while the recent storms in Chicago and the east coast are much more significant, Texas just isn't prepared for weather like this.  The homes aren't built for it and the people aren't either.   This year, the combination of ice and cold has been very challenging.  And for the first time ever, Texans have been dealing with rolling blackouts---total shutdowns of electricity in order to conserve depleted supplies of electricity.

My family has been trapped in our home since Tuesday morning.  Other than the inconvenience of the blackouts and some other minor difficulties, we've been very comfortable.  Our fireplace burns around 16 hours a day.  I have a fully functional office so I've lost no contact with my staff or customers.  The highlight of this extended time at home has been the time with my family.  During the day, I take a couple of extended breaks each day to hang around with the family.  It's been enjoyable to eat lunch at home and a highlight this afternoon was videotaping Mac as he sledded down "Suicide Hill", his name for our ice covered road on our hill.

Years from now, I probably won't remember what I was doing 'work wise' during The Great Storm of  2011.   But I know I'll always remember the times with my family.

Pete Thomson
Twitter:  @pwthomson

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Rare, Vintage Films of Charles City, Iowa

Several years ago, my family discovered several canisters of home movies that had been taken by my grandfather, Dr. Charles McQuillen.   These films include some of the earliest ever seen film footage of Charles City.  The little girl featured in many of the shots is my mother, Janan McQuillen Thomson.  She was born in 1923.  Given her apparent age from the film of 5 or 6, that would date the film to 1928-1929....the end of the roaring 20s.

You'll see some incredible shots of Central Park, Main Street and the central business district.  There's also footage at Wildwood Golf Course.   Additionally, there are some venues that we're still trying to identify--some of which appear to shot outside of Charles City.

Other people you'll see in this film include Mary Lou McQuillen Sellman, my mom's older sister.  She was in her teens.  My grandmother, Francis (Fan) B. McQuillen appears as does her mother, Mary Bradley. There are several shots of my grandfather, Dr. Charles McQuillen, who actually shot most of the film.
40 Years Later......
Janan McQuillen Thomson (left) and Fan B. McQuillen in the 1970s

The process of getting a home movies produced was extraordinary in this era.  The cameras were big and bulky.  After shooting a roll of film, it had to be sent to Eastman-Kodak in New York for processing, which often took up to several months.

This latest remastering was completed in December, 2010 by the talented team at Preston Video in Dallas, Texas.  This version is without any edits so you'll be seeing exactly what the McQuillens saw when they viewed their home movies.

I welcome your questions and comments about these films.  I'm hoping as more people view the films, that we'll be able to identify more people and places.  Please no duplication, broadcast, sale or other distribution without permission.

To view the film, please click the link below.  (NOTE:  There are several seconds of black screen between shots.  Total video run time is 12 minutes 58 seconds)   Also, as you'll see, several of the films were reversed.  We are in the process of correcting this and will repost updated videos when completed.

Peter Thomson
Twitter:  pwthomson

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Be Nice To Your Customers....It Pays Off!

Hats off to Barnes & Noble.  They have comfortable stores with free wireless internet AND they encourage you to read-for-free!    My 14 year old son Mac and I spend hours at B&N, usually on Saturday's after lunch. We know the manager on a first name basis.  And while it's true that we read a lot for free, we end up spending a considerable amount of money too.

I'm so pleased with B&N's pro-customer attitude that I go out of my way to spend money with them.  In 2010 which was a down year in personal spending for my family, I probably spent $400 to $600 with B&N.  And I gave their gift cards whenever possible.  I have the 10% off frequent buyer card too.   And, I'm seriously considering a purchase of a Nook in the next 30 days.

Would I be spending this much or blogging about Barnes & Noble if they weren't as nice?  Absolutely not.

It pays to be nice.