Tuesday, November 21, 2017

A comedy of frustration

Almost two weeks ago we drove to our cabin to get more firewood and change the blade on our chipper.  The latter was to set it up for winter storage.

After I hit a deer in March, I’ve been leery of driving alone.  I try to go only when my “eagle-eye” wife can also watch for deer.  She is pretty good at seeing deer dozens of feet from the road and even calls attention to deer busy eating dozens of feet from the road.

But, probably close to where I hit the deer in March, another deer was in front of the car.  I slammed on the brakes, hit the deer, and then it was standing well off the road wondering what happened.  I got out and checked the front end but found nothing even scratched.

We continued on to our cabin and discovered a snowplow mound of snow across our drive.  OK, I’ll get out the shovel in back and clear it off.

Except there was no shovel in the back.  We hadn’t put it in before we left.

OK, I’ll get the snowblower.  It had started with only a couple of pulls a few  weeks ago.  I uncovered it, pushed the primer a few times, and pulled the starter cord.  One times, two times, three times… Nothing!

I pushed it back to the cabin in order to plug it in.  Even though there was not much snow, it still was an effort to get the wheels to turn.

i unburied the cord from under the splitter and plugged it into the outside outlet and into the snowblower.  The power-on light on the cord didn’t come on.  With a bit of wiggling, I got it to come on.  I plugged it into the snow blower and pushed the ignition button.  Nothing!  Not even a few turnovers.

So, I grabbed a snow shovel and went back to the road.  My wife had used a little shovel that belongs in her car to clear a goodly amount of the snow.  I used the bigger shovel to get more out of the way.

Finally we were able to drive into our parking space and unload the car.

We ate our lunch and then I went back out to put the snowblower back by the parking space.  As I started to heave it along, I noticed that the electric cord was not attached to the spark plug!

I put the cord back on the spark plug, and I think I had the snowblower going in three pulls.

The good news was that I was able to work on getting the chipper blade off.  I had already spent three weekends trying to loosen the nuts holding it in place.  I used two different kinds of penetrating oil.  Now I came armed with acetone and a ten-inch breaker bar.  The hardware store recommended acetone to loosen the blue Loctite, supply the level that could be loosened with hand tools.

I decided to try the breaker bar first.  It is long-handled socket wrench.

Would you believe that the nuts loosened with only three or so pushes?

I took the nuts and bolts off the flywheel and the chipper knife, the latter well-nicked.  And I managed not to drop the knife to the bottom of the housing as I pulled it out.  That would be lots finagling to get it past the flywheel.

I didn’t put the sharp knife on.  Our time was running short.  I sort of stuffed all the tools and parts into the shed and covered the chipper up.  I did take off the battery and the solar charging panel to take home to a warm basement.

Putting the chipper back together will have to wait until spring.  ’Tis a pity!  We have a huge pile of balsam boughs to chip.

Friday, November 17, 2017

Would you rather pay low taxes or be happy?

The AARP latest news page has a list of the five happiest states.  Minnesota is number one.  Minnesota is also among the higher taxed states.

Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes supposedly said, “I like taxes; they buy me civilization.”

The other four states are Utah, Hawaii California, and Nebraska.  The full list is at https://wallethub.com/edu/happiest-states/6959/.  I’ll let you draw your own conclusions about the rankings.  This site also has the best and worst rankings for a few more categories; taxes were not among them.

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

Bus driving, long hours but interesting times

Bus driving, long hours but interesting times
Melvyn D. Magree
Originally published as
Oh, the bus driver's lot is not a happy one
in the
Nortland Reader
now the
Reader Weekly
August 31, 2000

Would you like a job that may pay over $18,000 per year that requires a moderate skill level, has some variety, and let’s you meet lots of people?  Try bus driving.  You have several opportunities in the Northland area from driving a mini-coach to a school bus to a city bus to an over-the-road coach.

The minimum requirements are being 18 or over (21 for some employers), having a valid driver’s license, passing a physical and a background check, and having a willingness to learn.  The larger employers will train you and pay you at least minimum wage for your training time.  Training varies from one to two weeks for school bus to five weeks with DTA.

If you like kids the best place to start is with a school district or a school bus company.  The Duluth Public Schools are not currently hiring but Ken Willms, manager of transportation, says that could change anytime.  Voyageur Bus Company is hiring according to Josh Penshak, the trainer at Voyageur.

Your starting pay at Voyageur would be $8.75 per hour; after several years experience you might get about $12.50.  Your usual schedule would be about 6:30 to 9:00 and 2:00 to 4:30.  Your actual schedule would vary according to the route you picked at the beginning of the school year.

Note: most of what follows is based on my own experience with Medicine Lake Lines and Ryder in the Twin Cities.  Medicine Lake Lines/Ryder operated school buses, mini-coaches, and transit buses.  It may not be exactly the same as you would find in Duluth.

You might find your training a piece of cake or you might wonder if you’ll ever do it right.  Persistence really helps.  It took me seven days before my school bus trainer would let me be tested.  Even then I took one left turn on the test too wide and had to back up in the intersection.  Would you believe that three years later I was training others in transit buses?

After you finish your training and have your Class B commercial driver’s license (CDL) in hand, you will be assigned a route.  For the first few days you will be accompanied by an experienced driver as you learn the route.  I don’t know why but in my car I could generally find my way around but with a school bus it took three days to learn my first route.  Three years later, I was often handed a route copy and asked to substitute on a route in ten minutes or less.  Duluth with its grid pattern of streets should be easier than the labyrinths of Twin Cities suburbs.

One of the jobs of a growing child is to test limits.  School bus riders are no exception.  Fortunately, on most routes you’ll find those who get obnoxious are the exception.  A word from you will suffice to get many kids to sit facing forward and talking quietly.  But if you have some seemingly incorrigible kids, you have many tools that are covered under “student management” in your training. 

You can find a safe place to pull the bus over and have a chat with the miscreant.  Or, you can write the student up and let the school deal with him or her.  One of my most satisfying experiences was, after a particularly obnoxious sixth grader returned from a two-day bus suspension, he apologized and was very helpful thereafter.

You might be able to get more work hours with charters.  I can’t say what kind of charter work you would get in Duluth.  I know I had a wide variety in the Twin Cities from school outings to ferrying the cast and crew of “West Side Story”, the latter charter being a story in itself.  You might also be a minor hero just by keeping your cool when a student breaks her arm on an outing.

Your success as a bus driver depends more on your attitude than anything else.  If you have a positive, problem-solving attitude, you will be a successful bus driver.  The bus drivers who didn’t succeed were often their own worst enemies.  One driver who I had trained got mad at another driver and didn’t show up.  I was disappointed because she had showed such great promise.  Another driver deliberately rammed the bus in front of him; fortunately no students were in either bus but the other driver was out for at least three weeks.  I know the ramming driver was immediately fired; I don’t know if any charges were made.

On the other hand, I knew many drivers who had been driving ten to twenty years and came to work every morning with a smile on their face.  I know if we hadn’t moved to Duluth I would probably still be driving from the terminal now owned by the British company First Group.

Do I miss bus driving?  Yes and no.

Although I normally get up at six, I don’t miss getting up at five or even earlier.  I also don’t miss the split shift, spending 15-20 minutes to drive home, spending an hour or two on a task, and then driving back, and getting home finally at 6:30 or a later in the evening.  I don’t miss the rowdy kids.  And I don’t miss the routes where I barely met the schedule and wondered when I’d get my next break.

But I do miss the easy charters where I nap, eat lunch, or read.  I do miss being in control of a big machine.  Every morning when I pulled out of the garage I felt a sense of pride: hey!  I can do this!  And of course I miss the people.  The chats and chess games in the drivers’ room.  The passengers who always had a friendly greeting.  The seniors who appreciated help with their groceries.  And of course, I miss getting paid to drive to interesting places.

But although the pay isn’t as great, I’d rather write about bus driving than do it.

©2000, 2007 Melvyn D. Magree

Sunday, November 12, 2017

Quote of the day (Misuse of the Bible)

“When Christians cite the Bible to defend child molestation, Jesus should sue for defamation.”


Nicholas Kristof, New York Times, 2017-11-10

See also "Real Christians exist, they just rarely make the news". 

Dollar a gallon gas?

Oil ends lower as U.S. drillers add to rig count
2017-11-10 2:43 PM ET (MarketWatch)

Trump wants to open up Alaskan oil.

Will gasoline be down to a dollar per gallon?

Remember that many North Dakota drillers gave up because it was not profitable for them.  Then OPEC dropped its production and prices got better for U.S. oil.  See https://www.npr.org/2017/05/24/529852301/boom-time-again-for-u-s-oil-industry-thanks-to-opec.

As the above MarketWatch item states, more production lowers prices.

Has Apple left the “rest of us” behind?

I am sending the following paper letter to Tim Cook, CEO of Apple.

Tim Cook
1 Infinite Loop
Cupertino CA 95014

Dear Mr. Cook,

It is 1984 and Apple is Big Brother!

I have been debugging software, my own and others’, for fifty-nine years.  In 1983 I left corporate life to work on personal computers.  Some of them were more difficult to program than the main-frames I had worked on.

Then came Apple and the Macintosh in 1984.  By September I had my first Mac (and a Lisa).  Pascal was a joy of simplicity, even if I had to do it through the Lisa.  Every time a new Mac came out, I was eager to buy one as soon as possible.  More storage, more speed.  Hurray!

One of the standing jokes was that Mac owners didn’t need manuals because of WIMP.  About the only thing I needed a manual for was how to use diacritical marks in text (åäéñ).

Then OS X came.  I never did recover everything that I had on my on-the-floor box.  For awhile, I did upgrade to a new OS X.  But changes started making old stuff obsolete.  Or changes were rather gratuitous.  Did iPhoto really need new background colors?  Did iPhoto need to change how photos were annotated?  It seems that changes were made more to keep programmers busy than give the users truly better software.

I’ve been in that position before.  I didn’t want to maintain the old mainframe software; I wanted to work on the new hardware.

I have a long list of peeves of how Apple software changed gratuitously from simple one-step operations to operations with a hidden second step.  I got to the point that I would only change major levels of software when I bought a new computer.

Then, either deliberately or accidentally, I upgraded to Sierra on my lap top.  Fortunately I was at a coffee shop with unlimited internet access instead of at home with a limited monthly access.  One of the big surprises was that Sierra dumped all of my Document folder to iCloud!!  It was lots of “fun” moving it back to my MacBook Air.  I know lots of people who would have to go to Geek Squad or other help professionals to get through this.

My wife’s iMac is swiftly deteriorating.  Again, we have to do a lot of fussing to move data to my old MacBook Pro.  The disk drive no longer works.  Fortunately, we have some large capacity thumb drives so we were able to move her Document folder to the MacBook Pro.

And thumb drives get me to another of my Apple peeves.  If one pulls out a thumb drive without “deleting” it, all the data is lost.  This is really a 1984 nightmare.

How many of “the rest of us” has Apple left behind?

Wednesday, November 08, 2017

Tuesday, November 07, 2017

Is the Internet overhyped?

Is the Internet overhyped?
Melvyn D. Magree
Originally published in
Northland Reader
Reader Weekly
May 25, 2000

“We know we must connect all our classrooms to the Internet...”  (Pres. William J. Clinton, State of the Union Address, January 27, 2000) (1)

Really?  The band room?  The wood shop?  The English class?

Does the band room need Internet access to provide music?  Or would the money be better spent on buying sheet music and acquiring and maintaining instruments?

Does the wood shop need Internet access to provide project plans?  Or would the money be better spent on acquiring and maintaining tools?

Does the English class need Internet access to provide copies of Shakespeare?  Or would the money be better spent on buying hardcover copies of Shakespeare, Richard Wright, and Ursula K. Le Guin?

Clinton’s statement and similar statements by many others are indicative more of a mania to adopt the “latest and greatest” without thinking through all the consequences.  This mania is seen both in government and private organizations.  Sometimes it comes from the top down, sometimes from the bottom up.

“OK, Mr. Author, if the Internet is such a mania, how come you make so much use of it for your articles?  And if you use it, shouldn’t school kids learn to use it?”  Yes and no.

Yes, the Internet can be a wonderful tool, but it can also be a great waste of time.  “A library is where you go to find facts. The web is more like a garage sale: it's possible you'll find what you want, but only with a lot of digging, searching, and wading through things that smell funny.” (2)

I found out just how true this was in researching this article.  I’ll come back to this later.

No, school children can learn to use the Internet at anytime in their lives.  I am active in the University for Seniors at UMD.  Many of the members are using computers for a wide variety of tasks.  Many of them first used a personal computer within the last ten years.  The successful users among them have two common traits: a love of learning and an ability to type.

“Even some usually pro-technology types, like Apple Computer Co. founder Steven Jobs, have expressed doubts [about computers in schools], suggesting that what students need is more classroom focus on basics like writing and mathematics and higher-level skills such as critical thinking.”  (3)

Because Frank James paraphrased Steve Jobs, I wanted to find Jobs’ own words.  I did a search with Alta Vista for “critical thinking”, “steve jobs” “apple”, and “education”.  Alta Vista found 39 web pages.  The first page was an Apple page of “Hot News”.  I searched it for “critical thinking”, but it had changed!  It was the only Apple page of the thirty-nine.

I checked a few other pages, but most of them “smelled funny”.  So, I decided to start with Apple’s home page and search within Apple’s own site.  I did a search of “critical thinking, steve jobs”, but my browser (Internet Explorer 4.5 for the Macintosh) wouldn’t load the page!  The URL (or address) that Apple’s search feature created was so long that it wouldn’t even fit in the error message window!  I couldn’t even search for “Jobs”!!!

One of the Internet success stories is Amazon.com, a bookseller!  In fact, if you do a search for something on the internet, you are quite likely to find reviews of books on the subject rather than the text as written by the original authors.  Of course, you can search the Internet for free because the search site depends heavily on revenues from booksellers who want to sell you books on the subject of your choice.

One of the most optimistic works on the future of technology is Bill Gates’ The Road Ahead.  It is available in good old-fashioned paper form.  The only way to get the electronic form (a CD-ROM) is to buy the book.  I searched for “the road ahead” on the internet, and no Microsoft page was in the first 10 pages of the 3,997 found.  I went to Microsoft’s home page and did a search for “the road ahead”.  The first 10 pages of the 67 found were not the text of the book.  I did find that the CD-ROM might have an error!  (However, on August 2, 2007, the page describing the error is no longer available.) (

Should computers be in schools at all?  Of course computers should be in schools, in appropriate places.  The first is in typing, sorry, keyboarding.  Who wants to learn to type on a big heavy mechanical typewriter like I did over 40 years ago?  But we don’t need to have the latest, biggest, fastest computers to teach typing.  Even a Commodore 64 can do that.  The second is in the library as an addition to a great, humongous collection of books.

For it is from books and great mentors that we learn writing, mathematics, and critical thinking.  Let us make sure we have well-stocked libraries and highly-respected teachers.  When we have achieved those two goals, then maybe we can think about adding computers.

(1)I accessed this quote May 4, 2000 at http://www.whitehouse.gov/WH/SOTU00/sotu-text.html.  That page is no longer available.  I imagine each President deletes his predecessor's records after the National Archives has copied them.  However, the Clinton library's copy of the speech does not have that phrase or any other mention of connecting classrooms to the Internet!  After an exchange of emails with an archivist I learned that there is a briefing copy and a transcript.  My search had only turned up the briefing copy.  The archivist gave me the link to The American Presidency Project's copy. and the correct link in the Clinton library.  I couldn't find the latter because I searched on the date of the speech, but the speech was indexed under the date of inclusion into the web site!  Searching the web is not always a solo endeavour.

(2) “Kev's Collection of Cool Quotes”, Kevin Killion, accessed August 2, 2007.  Kevin moved from the URL that I originally had.

(3) “Plan to wire all schools to Internet falls behind”, Chicago Tribune Online, Frank James, Chicago Tribune Washington Bureau, June 22, 1999,  file available in Chicago Tribune paid archive.

©2000, 2007 Melvyn D. Magree

Monday, November 06, 2017

Don’t throw your vote away. Vote on 11/6

Odd year elections are decided by turnout more than the even year elections.  If you stay away, you are even more likely to get your least liked candidate.

If you live in Virginia, this applies very much to you.  It is a election that will be decided more by who stays away than by who shows up.  If you don’t live in Virginia but have friends or relatives in Virginia, please remind them to vote.

My wife, an election judge, thinks I am too negative with this sentiment.  But if I don’t shout it from the rooftops…

Terrorism a “mental health problem”?

Trump has already pronounced this a “mental health” problem, and not a “guns situation.”

"Trump says Texas shooting is a problem of mental health, not guns", Ashley Parker, Washington Post, 2017-11-06.

Is ISIS-induced terrorism a “mental health” problem and not a religious problem?