Wednesday, September 30, 2009

There is hate and there is hate

Thomas Friedman wrote a good column on the dangerous level of divisiveness in this country - "Where Did 'We' Go?", New York Times, 2009-09-29.

He compares the situation in Israel before Yitzhak Rabin was assassinated in 1995 with the situation in the United States now. He thinks the vitriol in much of the anti-Obama rhetoric is going to lead somebody to take extreme action.

He also thinks that the level of criticism leveled at all presidents since 1992 has made it difficult for them to govern. He postulates that George H. W. Bush was the last "legitimate" president.

I was going to add a comment about the need for a viable third party when there were 42 comments, but I had to be elsewhere. When I got back there were 201 comments and a note that "Comments are no longer being accepted." Now, nearly 8:30 in the evening, there are 393 comments!

I did read or skim the 201 comments. They ran from the very thoughtful to the very shallow and divisive. The worst were those that divided left and right with one being good and the other being bad, depending on the persuasion of the writer. I had less sympathy for many on the right because they didn't consider the degree of difference in criticism of presidents. There is a big difference between satirizing a president and creating lies about a president. There is a big difference between calling a president an idiot (aren't they all in one way or another?) and saying that president was not born where he was.

Interestingly, the critics on the right say that the "liberal media" don't criticize the president. Let's see, Steve Sack of the Star Tribune and Garry Trudeau of Doonesbury have drawn cartoons criticizing Obama.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

The problem with "financial products"

Back in the mid 1960s, a member of our church invited us to breakfast with one of his business associates. His sole purpose was to sell us a "financial product" that they were selling. Just the name "product" raised red flags for me. A product is something you can touch.

Maybe the term "financial product" was created to give substance to services or financial documents that could be bought and sold.

Now it appears my caution of over forty years ago has shown itself to be extremely prudent. "Financial products" became more and more complicated, cut apart, resold in other arrangements, becoming more and more removed from the reality of the agreements that created them in the first place.

Bob's Bank knew Harry Homeowner and could vouch for him. Bob knew better than to lend money to Dan Deadbeat. However, Fred Fast didn't care about Dan's credit because he could sell the loan to Super Bank who would sell it to Mega Bank who would sell it to … None of these knew anything about Dan Deadbeat or that he had already missed four payments. They only had the word of the person or institution further down the sales chain.

And like the tulip bulbs with grossly inflated prices finally had no buyers, these "financial products" with grossly minimized risk suddenly had no buyers. Those who had sold their tulip bulbs and bought no more probably had their proceeds in golden guilders. I wonder where those who sold their "financial products" and bought no more have their proceeds.

I was going to write that at least one could touch the tulip bulbs, but I wouldn't be surprised that the only thing bought and sold was promise of delivery of certain kinds of tulip bulbs.

So, if someone offers to sell you a "financial product", thank them for the breakfast and go your own way.

Monday, September 28, 2009

There are sales people and there are sales people

I'm getting too stiff to crawl around in the back of a pickup with a topper and some of our yard equipment doesn't quite fit. So, I've been lusting after a cargo van to replace our truck.

A cargo van has a lower floor and thus a relative higher ceiling, plus a side access door. Problem is that new ones cost in the high 20s and used ones are as scarce as Stanley Steamers. Apparently many owners run them until they're useless.

Almost all of them come with a V-8, larger than we need, and only front-wheel drive. Both Chevrolet and Ford made smaller cargo vans but have discontinued them.

I talked to one sales representative and all he wanted to do was have me sign on the dotted line to commit to buy a cargo van that he didn't have in stock. Hey, I'd like to drive one first. Also he didn't seem to be interested in discussing any alternatives such as a minivan or an SUV, new or used. He seemed to be high-pressuring me as if his job depended on that particular sale.

So, I got on the good old Internet and found my own alternatives. I did find that the above dealer didn't have many alternatives. I found another dealer who had a couple of Chevrolet HHRs, so-called crossovers, with less than 38,000 miles for less than 14,000 dollars. I also found that the HHRs were rated about average by J.D. Powers. However, they seemed to have sufficient cargo space for us.

Unfortunately, they only had front-wheel drive and no trailer hitches. We would want a trailer to haul yard equipment from our house or cabin to the service shop.

The best news is that the sales person that sold us our truck thirteen years ago was now at that dealer. He had given us a better trade-in than any other dealer had offered. Plus he let us try a couple of vehicles. It was one of the most pleasant auto sales experiences we had had.

Today I called him and told him that we remembered him from thirteen years ago. Of course, he didn't remember us after how many other hundreds of customers. However, he was pleased and grateful that we had remembered him.

I told him what we were interested in and our range of choices. We set up a visit with him this afternoon.

We sat and chatted for a lot. We told stories, he told stories. We raised questions and observations about various cars; he responded with answers and his own observations. It was if we had all the time in the world.

He had the keys to a few cars on his desk. He brought an 2008 HHR with less than 38,000 miles on it around to the front and gave us the keys to it. The HHR is an "ugly" thing like the Chrysler PT Cruiser; in fact, both were designed by the same man.

The best thing about it was that the back seats folded down to provide a uniformly flat, impermeable surface. Just the thing for placing almost anything on, no matter how dirty or greasy. We drove it a couple of miles and were quite comfortable with it. However, it didn't have four-wheel or all-wheel drive and no trailer hitch.

We looked at a 2008 Saturn Vue. It had mileage in the high twenties, price in the high teens, and all-wheel drive. When we folded down the seats we found the surface was all cloth. What a mess we'll make of that. We didn't even drive it.

We next looked at a 2008 Chevy Trailblazer. It had mileage in the high thirties, price in the mid-teens, four-wheel drive, and a trailer hitch. It also had a cloth cargo surface. However, the cargo surface was larger than the other two. We took it out for a spin. It was responsive and comfortable. Although it had an on-the-floor automatic shift lever, the indicator was on the instrument panel. The HHR had it on the floor, a bit of a distraction.

We decided that the Trailblazer would suit our needs best and said we would take it.

The next step was evaluating our truck. The trade-in offer was $2500, better than what I had seen after filling out an online form.

We asked some more questions, told some more stories, and filled out some preliminary papers. As we are changing our insurance company tomorrow, we didn't want to close until tomorrow afternoon. The sales person said he was busy with some other things and asked if we could wait until Wednesday. We agreed.

Although the afternoon was a pleasant experience, I came home exhausted and wanted only to sit in front of the fireplace. It was as if a great weight of expectations and conflicting concerns had been lifted off my shoulders.

I do have to conclude with a small plug. If you have a conflicting automotive wish list and are uncertain about your choices, be sure to see Dean Melbostad at Luther Family Chevrolet in Duluth (actually Hermantown). No pressure, lots of answers.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

What does the acronym IKEA mean?

Jim Heffernan wrote a blog entry about problems assembling a table he bought at IKEA in the Twin Cities and plans to take it back.

He then wrote another entry on what the acronym IKEA means: I Kan't Envision Assembly!

This hit my curiosity nerve I went to the Swedish version of but found nothing. I typed "Vad betyder IKEA" into Google ("What does IKEA mean") and got several hits. The most promising one was "IKEA specialarbete", apparently an unattributed school paper done in 1995.

IKEA stands for Ingvar Kamprad Elmtaryd Agunnaryd. Ingvar Kamprad was the founder; he was born on the farm Elmtaryd in the village of Agunnaryd in Småland.

As a teenager he started out buying matchboxes for 1.5 öre and selling them for 5 öre, an öre being the smallest Swedish coin. He wanted to be as rich as Ivar Krueger, the match king. He moved up through various small items including seed packets, pens, and clocks. He was doing so well selling pens that ke decided he had better be incorporated and registered IKEA. His father had to sign for the incorporation because Ingvar was only 17!! This was in 1943.

In 1953 he bought a carpentry shop and converted it to a furniture store and by 1958 he had a warehouse.

The writer calls this a Swedish version of "The American Dream". In 1995 IKEA was worth four to five times the value of the Wallenberg fortune, the Wallenbergs being considered one of the richest families in Sweden. The IKEA fortune was created in only a generation.

IKEA franchises now span the globe; see for a list of locations.

What's this about socialist Sweden?

BTW we and our adult children still have furniture that we bought in Sweden in the early 1970s.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

People come and go, the woods endures, Chapter 3

Somewhere we have a summary of the titles issued for our property since the first homestead, and so I can't give a complete history in that respect.

I do remember that the Kero family bought the property sometime in the 1920s or 1930s. Kero is a shorter version of the original Finnish name. They tried their hand at fox farming. We don't know if they succeeded, but we still haven't succeeded in pulling up all of the tangle of grass, chicken wire, and wood frames.

Eventually they moved to Michigan, presumably to work in the auto industry. Their daughter Nora Holm inherited the property and later sold it to us.

Once there was a co-operative grocery in the big clearing on the north side of Little Creek Road. Supposedly people would walk to it on the path that runs to the SSE from our cabin. We don't know if that was before or after the Keros occupancy. Now that clearing is the Rack Shack, a small cabin and garage owned by a group of hunters. They are a friendly bunch, but neither of us takes the time to walk across the road and visit.

After the Keros moved the property was rented several times. I met one woman who said her first child was born in the house on the property in the same year I was born. A couple who we later met rented it in the seventies. Somebody else rented it after them. At the time our friends rented it, there was no well and they had to haul water in. I would guess that they got their water from the Rack Shack well; it is excellent water.

The satellite picture was taken in the morning; the shadows are the west of many objects. So, some details get lost, like exactly where is our drive to the road. One feature that does show is the path to west of the northernmost large field. Along much of that segment, Ernie Nelmark planted red pines decades ago. Ernie lived in a cabin to the west of where the Rack Shack is. Those red pines are now dozens of feet tall and a foot or more in diameter.

Kevin Hellman used that same path as a logging road twenty or so years ago. He widened and leveled it for his equipment and continued it into the Forest Service land. To level the road, Kevin dug "borrow holes" on each side. Most of these still remain; many covered by overgrowth. Kevin cut mostly aspen both on Nora Holm's property and Forest Service land. When we bought the property, the regenerated aspen was only 10-12 feet tall and less than an inch in diameter.

See and for the previous chapters.

Political parties and never-never land

In the United States we have a party that promises a future that will never be and a party that promises a past that never was.

How can we expect so-called bipartisanship of such polar unreasonableness?

People come and go correction

I had assumed that people would see a satellite view of Brimson in my previous post. I should have included the following:

Before you go any further, make sure you have a satellite view by clicking on the button in the upper right hand corner of the map.

I have corrected that post and will delete this post after a few days.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

People come and go, the woods endures, Chapter 2

For this chapter, you might want to see a satellite view of our Brimson property. Go to Google Maps and enter

Little Creek Rd, Brimson, MN

You'll see a little red balloon and a big white balloon for Giving Ground Farm, a herbal products company run by a friend of ours.

Before you go any further, make sure you have a satellite view by clicking on the button in the upper right hand corner of the map.

Zoom in towards the red balloon until you can see the roads. Giving Ground Farm's balloon is just east of a bend in the road. If you move west to where the road heads directly west again, that is just past the east boundary of our property. The middle of the road is our northern boundary; the next intersection is our northwest corner. The clearcut to the South is Forest Service land and is our approximate southern boundary.

In the upper middle there are three clearings. The northernmost is where we built our cabin; the easternmost is where the old house and well were, and the westernmost is what we call "Jan's field".

The little line going southwest is what we call our Park Path; the line going SSE we call our Raspberry Path; and the line wiggling between them just north of the clear cut is our Path of Least Resistance. The first two existed before we bought the place and I'll write about them another day.

To the east is a very dark area; this is a stand of black spruce which is only partly on our property. I don't know much about the dark line running through it other than it once was wide enough to drive through, but that would have been decades ago.

The darker area to the west of the cabin are mostly balsam fir; the less dark areas to the south are mostly aspen with some birch, willow, and way too much alder. The lighter area to the east of the cabin once had lots of aspen but they were blown down in the mid 90s.

I had cut loops to the east and the west of the main loop, but I haven't kept them open for three years or more.

For some ground views of our place in the woods, see my Brimson pictures on Flickr.

Next time I'll get back to the history of our place.

For Chapter 1, see

The importance of creativity in education

When I started working for Univac in the 1960s, I met a few musicians who had become computer programmers. I think I thought of it as the ability to manipulate symbols.

Decades later, I codified it as mathematics is the science of relationships and music is the art of relationships.

I was delighted to read the following in Ed Raymond's column in the Reader Weekly last week:

"Some day we will even find out why musicians make the best mathematicians."

He was decrying how arts and music have been cut from too many schools because of budget cuts. If you missed his column in the Reader Weekly, you can find it online in the High Plains Reader, "Cherry Wood and the Golden Gopher Jockstrap".

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

People come and go, the woods endures

Sunday as I hauled brush from where I had cut it at the side of a trail to where I would chip it, I reflected on how transitory my work was. I would take two cartloads and then rest by reading a book. Two more cartloads, rest with a book.

About five years ago it wasn't this way. Sure, I'd work about an hour then read an hour, but that was to enjoy our cabin and its surroundings rather than work, work, work.

Once my skin allergy got worse, I went to our cabin less and less and of course did less and less. All the trails that I had kept open or cut grew over. My little loading dock that I used as a work bench fell apart. I haven't changed the oil on the chipper for two years or more; it is black, black, black. It was a big deal to cut the grass and clear some fallen trees this year on our main loop.

My allergy is not so bad, maybe it was a high dose of zinc tablets, but I'm starting to catch up a bit. But, oh there is still so much to do. And soon it will be wood cutting season and I haven't even split all of the wood I cut last year.

In this context, I thought of all the people who came before me who changed the woods and then the woods hid much of their work.

Sometime in the 19th century I'm sure that loggers came through and cut the great white pines. The only untouched stand I know of is "The Pinery" somewhere off Lake County 2, probably a half hour east and north of us. It has a few trees that were growing in George Washington's time.

We are now left with mostly balsam and aspen, lots of alder, some birch and red maple, a very few sugar maples, and a large variety of other shrubs and small trees.

In the first decade of the twentieth century a man named Bond homesteaded what is now our 80 acres. He probably cleared some portion of the land for farming. Maybe he built the rock wall that is now covered with brush and left some of the fence wire that we constantly pull up. Probably he dug the well that has now collapsed and has a large balsam growing at the side of hole. I don't know if he or somebody later built the house that we found in decrepit condition.

To be continued.

Some people get hyperbolic about hyperbolic humor

My wife was on the phone with our daughter and mentioned her wisdom teeth surgery tomorrow. I blurted out, "She's going to lose what little brains she has."

My wife laughed and repeated it. She knew I didn't mean it because she knows I know it's not true. In fact, in some ways she's "smarter" than I am, and in other ways I'm "smarter" than she is. Vive la difference!

Unfortunately, there are people who take way too much way too seriously. I remember in graduate school when three of us who worked in the computer lab were discussing something or other with the assistant director about access to each other's desk. I remarked that one fellow kept his desk locked. I blurted out as a joke, "I don't know why he locks his desk, none of his programs work."

Later on, he berated me about insulting him in front of our boss. He just couldn't see that it was hyperbole about his locking his desk. It took me decades later to realize that I should have asked him, "You mean your programs really don't work?"

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Plural humor

I've long mused that the only languages that I know that add an 's' to indicate a plural noun are English, French, and Spanish. Other languages that I've encountered use other final sounds or inflection. Inflection is the changing of a vowel sound, like one alumnus or many alumni.

English however uses inflection also. Is this a holdover from its Germanic origin?

For example, we have goose and geese, mouse and mice. Does this last mean that the plural of spouse is spice? When I mentioned this to my wife, I added I really think the plural of spouse is trouble.

Shouting past each other

Last Friday I read a post on Huffington Post titled:
"Tea Party" Leader Melts Down On CNN: Obama Is An "Indonesian Muslim Turned Welfare Thug".

I also watched the accompanying video snippet.

The text implies that "Tea Party" leader Mark Williams misrepresented himself by denouncing those who carry "blatantly racist signs" on one hand and by calling Obama "an Indonesian Muslim turned welfare thug…" on the other Williams justified his name calling with "He's certainly acting like it. Until he embraces the whole country what else can I conclude."

As distasteful and off-the-wall as Williams remarks are, I don't think he had a melt down or misrepresented himself.

About the only sensible statement was by panel member David Gergen, advisor to Reagan, Ford, and George H.W. Bush. Something like people are just shouting past one another.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

A reasonable conservative speaks out

Today's Star Tribune had an op-ed piece titled "My fellow conservatives: Can we think?" written by Rod Dreher of the Dallas Morning News. It was originally published 2009-09-11 as "Zombie conservatives at the schoolhouse door". If you read the original, be sure to read some of the thoughtful comments that follow.

Dreher is really not happy about the words and actions of many who claim to be conservatives. He laments that thoughtful conservatives have no place to go. I suggest that people who think as he does should start shopping the various moderate parties. As one said who was in on the ground floor of a new party said, "As our case is new, so we must think anew and act anew."

True patriots celebrate today more than any other day

Did you know today is Constitution Day? On this day 222 years ago, 12 state delegations approved the Constitution of the United States.

Unfortunately more people give respect to the flag than the Constitution. Presidents of both parties have given speeches justifying their usurpation of power against a backdrop of flags.

For one site respecting the Constitution, see
See also for a list of countries from which people have visited this site.

Seeking healthcare around the world

Abigail Zuger, M.D., wrote an interesting review of "The Healing of America" by T. R. Reid. He had a chronic shoulder problem for which he sought medical advice around the world. The advice ranged from thousands of dollars for shoulder replacement in the U.S., outright refusal in Britain because it was not serious enough, and relief in India for $42.85 out of pocket per night.

The book is on order at the Duluth Public Library and already has four reserves.

ACORN and other nuts

In the age of attack politics, if you want some balance you have to look deeper into many allegations. Two actors have posted on YouTube videos purportedly showing how corrupt ACORN employees are. They have succeeded in getting otherwise thoughtful people to jump on a bandwagon cutting all government ties to ACORN.

What is not highlighted or even mentioned in many news stories is that the pair had to spend months visiting ACORN offices in several cities before they found people who behaved as they wanted them to behave.

"In a statement over the weekend, Bertha Lewis, the chief organizer for Acorn, said the bogus prostitute and pimp had spent months visiting numerous Acorn offices, including those in San Diego, Los Angeles, Miami and Philadelphia, before getting the responses they were looking for." - "Conservatives Draw Blood From Acorn", Scott Shane, New York Times, 2009-09-15

What I would like to know is why Republican politicians aren't cutting their ties to the Republican Party because some Republican politicians had extramarital affairs. What I would like to know is why politicians who are Catholic aren't cutting their ties to the Catholic Church because some Catholic priests are pedophiles.

Actually I know why. There are two reasons. First, these two organizations are favored organizations; in general, they can do no wrong in the eyes of their members. Second, most people recognize that the actions of a few don't reflect on the many in the organization or even the organization itself.

However, in the age of attack politics, a disfavored organization must be doing something wrong, no matter how much good it may be doing. In the age of attack politics, when something wrong is found, no matter how few are doing wrong, then the whole organization is "proven" to be corrupt.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

More corporate inefficiencies

Yesterday's blog on bureaucracy, "Government has no corner on bureaucracy", was getting rather long, and so I stopped before I thought of too many more. Here are three of those.

Very early on, before downsizing became a big buzzword, I counted 21 levels of management above me - supervisor, x manager, manager of a, y group manager, group manager of b, z director, director of c, and so on. If every manager had five people reporting to him, then they could organize the whole world and beyond.

At one location it was a standing joke that if you wanted to mail something outside the building you should take it to the public mail box outside. It would get there at least a day faster than if it went through the company mail room.

Years later in another location an accountant wondered why so many companies leasing equipment weren't making payments. He discovered that our company wasn't sending out invoices.

No spam!!

Yesterday I had not a single piece of spam to my main mail account. Unbelievable! Maybe word got out that I report bank spoofs to the banks and to the FTC. Maybe my name has been taken off the spammers' lists.

But like one cold day doesn't disprove global warming, one spam-free day doesn't prove spam has disappeared. As of this posting I had received one spam today.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Government has no corner on bureaucracy

I ordered some ink cartridges from Hewlett-Packard and selected 5-7 business days for shipping. Here is the FedEx tracking log for the package.

Since this is ground delivery, for Sep 8 to Sep 11 the periods at each stop and the time between stops are to be expected. The package waits for the next truck to go from one distribution center to another and it takes time to drive from one center to the next.

The mystery is why the package took three and a half days to go the 150 miles between Brooklyn Park and Duluth. Part is that the package was put in a truck Brooklyn Park on Friday night. Did the truck stay in Brooklyn Park until Monday? Did the truck arrive in Duluth late Friday and then was parked without unloading? Where was it parked? At a FedEx or a USPS facility? In either case, why is the next login for the package at 4:11 Tuesday morning? Is that when it arrived at the Post Office, or when somebody in the Post Office got around to logging it into FedEx's system?

Whatever the case, the last stage, from the Post Office to our door was done as fast as possible. It was left at our door around 9:00 this morning, the time we usually get our mail.

Now some will jump on the Friday-Tuesday delay as an example of government inefficiency. Others will say the Tuesday morning arrival and delivery shows how efficient the government can be. We just don't know the full situation. What we can say is that the whole chain is an example of public-private co-operation.

It's a toss-up on who is more efficient on interstate and intercity delivery – the Post Office or the package companies. However, the Post Office is more efficient with its house by house delivery over the package companies block by block delivery.

We have also had a recent situation that would have the believers that government is inefficient feeling vindicated. We had some mandatory sewer work done that cost us more than we would have liked to have spent. After we had paid our bill to the contractor, a grant was made to the city to reimburse home-owners for a part of the cost.

We made a beeline to the Public Works department and left all the papers we thought would be relevant. Nothing happened. We called the Public Works and were told it would checked on. Somebody came to our house to get signatures on some papers we thought we had filed and about some other possible loose ends. No check. My wife called again and was told it should have been mailed. No check. I called today and was told that it was found in the office and we should have it within a week.

Given that there are several steps that are required to process payment in any large organization, it easy to see how something can get stacked up on somebody's desk and even put in a wrong pile. See "One of the many hidden costs of health care" on how long it takes to bill me for a non-covered expense.

However, unnecessary steps or misdirected activities are not a monopoly of government organizations. I've seen many in large corporations. I was working in a regional headquarters for Univac in Rome, when a call came on behalf of the president of the company that somebody should go to Switzerland to see the executives of a customer; there apparently was some serious problem that needed immediate attention.

When the high-level manager arrived at the customer site, he was asked why he was there. He replied that the president of our company had said there was a problem. They pondered a bit and said that they had mentioned the problem to the president at a conference some months ago. The problem had long since been resolved!!

Another high-level manager loved to tell about the executive request he received while visiting a customer in South Africa; "While you're in the neighborhood, would you go to Australia?"

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Where did that anti-virus ad come from?

Yesterday I was reading the New York Times online and went to a commentary entitled "Democracy 2.0" but instead got a window that said I had a virus on my computer and should get a certain anti-virus software. I couldn't cancel the window; I couldn't get any other window, and I couldn't quit my browser. So, I just rebooted.

When I tried "Democracy 2.0" again everything worked fine.

I didn't think I had a virus and sent feedback to the New York Times.

Today, had an article, "Rogue ad hits New York Times site". It described everything I encountered yesterday.

Some tortoises have been left out

This weekend I got an inkling how bad things have gotten on the Internet for those out of reach of broadband. See "The tortoise and the hare of the Internet".

One of our Brimson circle of friends has been hospitalized for chemotherapy at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester. His wife has set up a Caring Bridge site to keep family and friends up-to-date on his progress.

Although I was able to access their site twice from our cabin, others in the area were not so lucky. One had a time-out before the pages opened up, and another gave up before the pages completed.

Brimson is not exactly an economic powerhouse, but it is easy to understand why many across the nation are calling for rural broadband. Many of these people are working from their homes and doing more than logging or raising cabbages. They may be telecommuters or they may be running their own businesses. I assume they can become quite concerned about getting a report done or keeping their customers' orders.

Better rural service has already been provided in other countries, often with the help of U.S. corporations. A farming community in northern Iceland has, of April 2009, access to 4 mbps always-on wireless Internet access for about $70/month. The community consists of about 200 farms in an area about 25 miles across. See "Wireless Mesh Delivers Ultra-Fast Broadband to Underserved Areas in Iceland".

A loose nut looking for loose nuts

I spent part of Friday and Saturday cutting brush and piling it by our chipper-shredder, a venerable 5-hp machine about 20 years old.

Yesterday I started chipping the brush and almost immediately had a jam. Take off chute, pull and pull on jammed piece, it just won't budge. I went to get another tool and tripped over the box holding the nuts and washers. The nuts and washers disappeared into a thick layer of chips, grass, and twigs.

OK, pull out my magnetic wand that I use to take off and put on a washer-lock washer-nut group that is rather difficult to reach next to a hot engine. I wave it around and nothing comes up.

I have another magnet on the stick about the size of a hockey puck. I wave it around and click - a washer. I continue and click, click, and click. Hey, I have two thirds of what I need. Then nothing more comes up.

I look in the tool shed for some of these nuts and washers. Nada! I guess they are all in Duluth.

I go back to the chipper-shredder and start pulling up twigs. After about four handfuls I see the last nut and washer! Right where I had been squatting before.

I work out the jammed twigs with the pliers I had gotten up for, put the chute back on, and crank the chipper-shredder up. I'll save you the agony of reading how many pulls starting took, but off it went.

I stuffed and stuffed small branches into the maw. Poof, the chips came shooting out the chute. The pile gets smaller and smaller; my back gets stiffer and stiffer. I tell myself to continue until the chipper-shredder runs out of gas. I chip all the green stuff and begin on that left over from winter. Stiffer and stiffer, when will this thing stop?

Then I throw in a piece that I know will stop the machine, hoping it wouldn't stop the machine. Or maybe hoping it would stop the machine. It stopped the machine. Hooray! Straighten my back with much creaking and groaning. Leave the jam to another weekend. I'm going to sit under a tree with a book.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Which weather report to believe

As we were considering going to our cabin this weekend, I noted the conflicting weather reports. I look at three different sources: Accu-weather through a widget on my computer, Yahoo! on my iPod, and Fox News in the Duluth News Tribune.

Early in the week, one had sunny weather every day through Sunday, and another had rain every day through Sunday. The high temperatures were in the mid 70s for one and the high 60s for the other. Later in the week one had rain on Friday, the day we were leaving and sunny on Saturday, the day we were returning; the other had the weather reversed. They still had the same variance in temperature.

We drove to Brimson on Friday assuming we would have some nice weather and some not so nice weather. We had great weather both days. We had a bit of fog this morning, haze in the trees, and partly cloudy or cloudy both days. Partly cloudy was often very much that; lots of sun.

Now these are vaunted free-enterprise companies giving contradictory reports, not the "government weatherman" who people often blame for incorrect reports. One brief comment on an MPR weather report gave me an understanding for the confusion.

The report mentioned that a system was moving across the state at some given slow speed. From what little I know about weather, I assume that whatever the speed, it will not be steady. So, different forecasters will make different assumptions about when a system will arrive over an area. And of course, many systems are not large enough to cover an entire area. Not quite the comic book rain following in half-drops on the fence, but one can often see a storm one way and blue sky the other. See "It all depends on your point of view".

Friday, September 11, 2009

The center must defend against the politics of attack, attack, attack

After World War I and the Russian Revolution as shrill voices for one ideology or another were raised, William Butler Yeats wrote:

Things fall apart: the center cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.

Tom Ehrich quoted this in a column published in today's Star Tribune, a column on the bloviation of attack commentators. He explains bloviation as pompous and boastful oration. For example, Edward Everett's two-hour oration at Gettysburg, compared with Abraham Lincoln's two-minute speech.

Tom Ehrich is an Episcopal priest who writes for Religion News Service. You'll have to get the Sept. 11 Star Tribune to read his column. The Strib doesn't put columns online and the RNS charges for most of its articles.

Attack politics doesn't want compromise, only destruction of the "enemy". If a resolution of a problem benefits citizens will work to the opposition's favor, then no way will the attack politicians favor it. This is not governance, but rebellion and sedition. No wonder attack politicians want their supporters to carry guns to town hall meetings.

The tortoise and the hare of the Internet

As I sat by our campfire thinking about going in to get on the Internet, I contemplated the pokey speed I was going to have. Here at our cabin it is 24,000 kbps with rural dial-up. In Duluth we have 1.5 mbps DSL. That's 62.5 times as fast as in the woods.

BTW, not all our friends here have to put up with that. They live within two or three miles of the substation and can get DSL. I don't know what the rated speed is, but I would assume at least 256 kbps, more than 10 times what we get eight or so miles from the substation.

What boggles my mind is that Twin Cities businesses can get 100 mbps with Comcast cable. That is about 66 times as fast as we get in Duluth and over 4,000 times as fast as we get in the woods!

According to Magree's first law of computing, as these faster speeds become more widely available, web page designers will design for those speeds and faster. Access to many sites will become even more slow in Duluth, and it will become hopeless to do much more than email from the cabin.

BTW, it took over nine minutes to get to the page to post this entry!

Thursday, September 10, 2009

The Republican Party is a sinking ship...

weighted down by a rigid, contradictory ideology. It is against abortion because it kills babies, but has no compunction about killing babies in foreign countries in the name of "defense". It wants limited government but supports a strong defense; a "defense" run by the largest government bureaucracy of all. It wants low taxes but fails to see the cost of the "defense" it demands. It wants a free market but fails to recognize that a free market needs more than a few large, bureaucratic corporations. It wants to clamp down on illegal immigration but fails to recognize that this country was founded on an unstoppable wave of "illegal" immigrants who overwhelmed the earlier inhabitants. It wants "bipartisanship" but fails to recognize how much its base so readily believes a few extremely partisan commentators. And if that is not enough lead ballast, it opposes the President even when he espouses ideas first espoused by Republicans!

The sinking of the Republican Party is not a good thing because it is leading to a one-party democracy as described by Thomas Friedman in "Our One-Party Democracy", New York Times, 2009-09-09. There is some old saw about there being no political parties in the U.S. – the Democratic half is based on the large number of factions within the Democratic party making it hard for Democrats to govern. This is Friedman's contention; the factions in the Democratic party are making it difficult to pass legislation that will allow the U.S. to compete against the likes of China. China's one-party autocracy is taking steps to be a leader in many 21st Century industries.

It is time for pragmatists in either party to form a new party based on the idea of governance as put forth by the Founders. It is time for a new party that will take bold initiatives like the early Republican Party's extensive support of the transcontinental railroad. It is time for a new party that doesn't judge taxes as being too low or too high, but asks if they are appropriate for the needs of today. It is time for a new party that doesn't judge the size of government as too little or too big, but asks if governing is being done at the appropriate level for the tasks at hand.

I hope that the handful of "liberal" Republicans and the many "conservative" and "moderate" Democrats will seriously consider another meeting like was held in Ripon, Wisconsin in the mid-nineteenth century. "As our case is new, so must we think anew."

Wednesday, September 09, 2009

One man's positive take on public health care

Richard Allen Smith, an Afghan war vet, gives his thanks for the "evil, godless socialist health care" that he has received since he was three years old. Among other things he was treated by Canadian doctors in Afghanistan and was given medication that was deemed unsafe for Americans.

For his full story, see "My Life with Public Health Care".

Tuesday, September 08, 2009

Cash for clunkers clinked

We would like to trade our 1997 F-150 pickup for a newer cargo van. The truck is getting older and so are we. Our getting older makes it more of a strain to climb into the back of the truck to put things way up front or to pull them back out.

So, should we have taken advantage of the "Cash for Clunkers" program? The trade-in value of the truck is $1900+, depending on whether it is considered good condition or very good condition. "Cash" for it would be between that and $4000.

But, we want to trade it for a cargo van; I don't think they meet the mileage requirement. Yep, they don't. I just checked Edmunds "Cash for Clunkers" calculator.

We were also reluctant to buy a new vehicle then because we don't want to take out a loan to do it. We wanted to save up and pay cash, even if it meant selling some mutual fund shares.

We may have saved also by waiting. Some have recommended waiting to buy until October when dealer inventories will have built up and they may bargain more. Also, the "Cash for Clunkers" may have increased the value of our truck. I have no idea how many F-150s were destroyed for the Clunker program, but I imagine that enough were to raise the value of mine. Not a lot, but, hey, an extra hundred or two dollars can pay for some nice option on a new vehicle.

Monday, September 07, 2009

I'm back!

I hope some of my 10-12 subscribers missed my almost daily posts.

Once upon a time, internet access was "fast" at 9600 bps, then 24,000, then 56,000. Then DSL and cable came along, 256,000 was fast, but now that is slow. Even 1.5 mbps is becoming slow. Sometimes we twiddle our thumbs waiting for a page to load even at these speeds.

Now imagine having to rely on dial-up instead of DSL. Worse, half-speed dial-up rather then 56 kbps. That is our situation at our cabin. The best we can do is 24 kbps, often less. Trying to read the New York Times is hopeless; it can take five to ten minutes to download the first page.

To add insult to injury, my provider who allows unlimited DSL access allows me only 10 hours dial-up access per month.

Given this, I'm reluctant to do much online except check email. Even that is a long process with ten or more spams a day.

Of course, there is all the grass to cut, the walks to take, the chair to sit in outside with a book, the fire pit to attend to, and, and, and... So not only did I not practice singing as much as I should, but I was reluctant to wait for Blogger to download to post any new entries.

So I apologize to my faithful subscribers. I hope I can return to posting about some amusing thing I did or posting some insight from what I've read.

Oh yes, a big thank you to those who encourage me to keep writing.

Where are my glasses?

We've all heard about the grandpa or grandma who wondered where their glasses were and finally realized their glasses were on their head. Been there, done that, too many times with reading glasses and sunglasses.

This weekend, this situation took a new twist. I have a pair of wraparound sunglasses that have rubber bow covers. One of the covers is loose and has come off many times, and I've been able to find it rather quickly.

On Saturday the cover came off and I couldn't find it. I retraced my steps since I knew it was on. This was a difficult search because it could have dropped anywhere on dozens of feet of grassy paths around our cabin. I searched and searched to no avail.

Just before supper I went to the sauna to take a makeshift shower. As I took my T-shirt off, I felt a twig on my shoulder. The twig was the bow cover!

On Sunday the cover came off again and I couldn't find it. I retraced my steps again and again to no avail. At supper my wife gestured and looked at me like I had a big bug on my head. She finally managed to say that the bow cover was perched on my ear!

My head had been sweaty enough so that the cover stuck to my ear as I pulled off the sunglasses.

I hope I've learned my lesson for a few days. Until I glue the cover on, I check that it is still on the bow when I take the sunglasses off. We shall see, we shall see.

Friday, September 04, 2009

Our Supreme Leader Ayatollah Dick Cheney has spoken

Dick Cheney is once again blasting the Obama administration for investigating torture practices; Cheney vehemently maintains that torturing prisoners has protected the nation. See
"Dick Cheney's Version".

Why are these people prisoners? Because they are terrorists? Who says they are terrorists? Dick Cheney.

This sounds spookily like Iran. Why are people in prison? Because they are acting as foreign agents? Who says they are foreign agents? The government of iran.

Even though the trials in Iran are show trials, at least the prisoners are getting a trial. In the land of freedom and justice we haven't even had show trials for the people the government calls terrorists. Why not? It will jeopardize national security? Who says so? Dick Cheney.

At least it's not yet a crime in the U.S. to question the wisdom of our self-appointed Supreme Leader.

The new buzzword: "efficiency"

Today's Star Tribune had yet another op-ed piece calling for government efficiency. See "MnDOT must work smarter for savings". This time it was for MnDOT to be more efficient in keeping our roads in good shape. Oh, yes, it was by a member of the Minnesota Chamber of Commerce.

Whenever, I see calls for efficiencies in government, I read calls for doing more with less money.

If people want efficiency in transportation, they should be calling for more public transit and more trains. After all, it is more efficient to have one driver transporting 30 to 50 people than 30 drivers transporting 30 people and to have one engineer transporting 100 to 400 people between cities than 100 drivers transporting 100 people.

What these modes don't provide is convenience, which is one measure of effectiveness. Since we choose convenience as an important part of our transportation infra-structure, we should be willing to consider all the costs of such convenience.

One of the costs is that the convenience entices more and more people to drive, so much so, that more collective travel withers. As more and more people drive, we need more lanes and roads. "Build it and they will come." As we need more lanes and roads, we need more money. As we need more money, we need more taxes. Oops! No new taxes. If no new taxes, shall we have no new lanes and no new roads?

Assumptions and presumptions about President Obama's speech to schoolchildren

I coulda tole ya so! If Obama plans to give a major speech, there will be thousands who "know" that he is going to promote some "evil ideology" in it. Now "everybody knows" he is going to promote "socialism" to "vulnerable" school children.

Never mind that he plans to encourage students in their education. Given the above, we certainly need many more educated citizens.

However, no matter how innocuous or how important a Presidential speech is, is it fair to presume that large numbers of schools are going to change their schedules, turn on their radios and TVs in every classroom at the same time and listen to a speech by the President of the United States.

Wouldn't it be far better to desseminate it on YouTube? If word gets out among kids that it is a great speech, it will be viral. There will probably be far more kids watching it with undivided attention than were told by their teachers to listen.

Wednesday, September 02, 2009

Stop creating jobs and start creating Jobs!

Politicians measure their success by their claims of creating jobs. But is that how we should measure our success as a society, how many people have a 9-5 job with benefits?

If so, maybe we should ban push-button elevators and bring back elevators run by a full-time operators. The push-button elevator destroyed lots of jobs. If we measure success by jobs, maybe we should ban direct dialing. Direct dialing greatly reduced the need for live operators to place long-distance calls. If we measure success by jobs, maybe we should legislate how long buildings may be used. The demolition of old buildings and the construction of new buildings will create jobs.

The real question is what are the true costs of creating jobs. Are we creating a better, safer, healthier environment or are we merely doing the same old, same old over and over again? And as we do so, are we training people to keep looking for the same old, same old jobs rather than looking for new opportunities.

Instead shouldn't we be looking to create more Steve Jobs, entrepreneurs with ideas for change? Not every innovator is going to become a billionaire or even a millionaire, but a society which promotes innovation by individuals will be "wealthier" than one that just seeks to create jobs.

I think there is at least one major impediment to creating entrepreneurs and others who will create a society with beneficial change.

The desire for benefits keeps many people from starting something by themselves. Health insurance is one of the top reasons people prefer a regular job to going out on their own. If someone has a great idea, he or she may not mind a low cash flow for awhile, but many do not want to spend a day without health insurance. Note in the articles about people who do start businesses how many of them have a spouse with a full-time job, with benefits.

See also "If you really want to create jobs…" and "Where have all the jobs gone?"

Tuesday, September 01, 2009

I forgot that I remembered not to forget

Today when I went to our cabin, I placed my wallet and Duluth keys on the counter by the door. I did this because they often chafe my thighs as I work around the area.

On my way back to Duluth this afternoon, I checked my pocket about 10 minutes away. There were no keys in my pocket! Oh, great! I could use my wife's keys but it could be inconvenient.

I pulled into a dirt road/drive and double checked. No keys in any pocket. I watched for oncoming traffic and backed out. As I started up I looked in my rear view mirror and there was a car right behind me. So much for looking carefully. But it could have been worse than the other driver's inconvenience.

I arrived back at our cabin and decided to back in rather than back out. I was only going to the gate and would walk back to the cabin. Backing in is a little dicey because we have a short culvert over the drive. I could back into the ditch very easily. I made it and reached for the keys to turn off the engine.

Those are my keys!

Besides nearly getting rear-ended for this "undersight" and possibly getting stuck in the ditch, I arrived at my bank eight minutes after the drive up closed. I wanted to get quarters for tomorrow's newspapers. Guess I'll have to use a fist full of dimes and nickels.

Is this another of those senior, what's the word?