Thursday, April 29, 2010

If you think teacher's should be paid for performance…

I have a little exercise for you.

Take 30 critics of education and give them each 30 1/4-inch diameter bolts with 20 threads per inch.  From a mixed assortment of 1/4-inch nuts with 20 threads per inch and 28 threads per inch, give each critic 30 randomly-drawn nuts.  Give them, say, 10-minutes each to put the nuts on the bolts.  They will each be paid according to the number of bolt-nut pairs they can successfully assemble.

Knowledge is not bolts and students are not nuts.  In fact, we tend to treat either the students who have difficulty absorbing the knowledge or the teachers who cannot match the knowledge to the students as dolts.

On a more practical level, consider a history teacher's task and a chemistry teacher's environment.  If the school requires all students to take history but only a self-selected few students are going to take chemistry, which teacher do you think is more likely to have the better performance?

Generals or teachers: who knows best?

President George W. Bush said he would wait for an assessment from the generals before he would make a decision about Iraq or Afghanistan.  He wanted advice "from the ground".  President Barack Obama leans this way, too.

Many are making judgments about schools and claiming that teachers' unions are blocking reforms.  In other words, those "on the ground" don't know what's going on, but those on the outside know better?

Similarly, to many, the teachers' unions are greedy, but Wall St. billionaires worked hard for their money.  I wonder how many of these critics would make it through a day in the schools.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Pay less tax for roads, pay more for auto repairs

I knew that our low-tax attitude is shifting costs to auto repairs, but I didn't really know how big the problem was until I read "Lousy Roads Cost your $335 Annually", Wired, accessed 2010-04-28.

The $335 is average across the country; in some cities the average can be $750.  And that is just for repairs to cars.  The article also describes how road repairs get lower priority than new construction.  New construction is also generally done with bonds, and so that means we have to consider interest costs.  Talk about saddling future generations with debt!

There may be hope.  One federal bill is proposing that more money go into repair instead of new construction.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

I can't save a tree because I'm saving a tree

Tomorrow is our recycling pickup day.  I looked for paper bags for our stack of old newspapers and our boxes of junk mail, envelopes, and office paper.  We had none!

We have been taking cloth bags to the grocery store to "save a tree".  We use store bags when we forget the cloth bags or we have more than two bags of groceries.  The more we remember to take the cloth bags, the smaller our stash of paper bags gets.  Today we had no full-size paper bags.

Fortunately, we had a couple of smaller bags and we didn't have that big of a pile of newspapers or that much other paper.  But what happens next week if don't get more paper bags?

I've been musing about the balance of recycling.  What is the balance between resources used to produce new paper and containers and those used to recycle these items?

For example, how much water is consumed rinsing out plastic bottles, especially detergent bottles. 

How much water do I use to rinse all the tomato juice residue out of a bottle.

What is the energy cost to have three different haulers come through the neighborhood to pick up recyclables and the traditional trash.  Few haulers have combination trucks and must come through twice.

What is the energy cost to drive to specialty waste spots with compact fluorescent bulbs, yard waste, and old electronics?  Especially if the collection sites are not on your usual travel routes?

I doubt few people know the balance.  Probably the true value of recycling is that it makes people more conscious of their waste.

Monday, April 26, 2010

Save a tree? Why?

Starbucks has been running a commercial to encourage people to bring reusable travel mugs instead of asking for a paper cup.  The commercial shows people putting Starbucks paper coffee cups on the pavement, eventually creating a picture of a tree.  One of the slogans is "One person can save trees, together we can save forests." Ironically, they are not saving coffee beans.  As each person places a cup on the pavement, it is quite obvious that it still contains coffee!  That was lots of coffee to use for a single ad.  I will admit that the cups had to be weighted in case of a breeze.

Minnesota Public Radio has a campaign to get people to become sustaining members.  On the air they are saying "Save a tree" because it will reduce their mailings because sustaining members will be automatically charged each month.  Additionally, for each new sustaining member they will have a tree planted in the member's name.

I don't like to see waste and I like to conserve resources by recycling, but I think these "Save a tree" campaigns are somewhat misguided.

First, the much of the wood pulp for paper comes from private lands.  When held by a forest products company, they are managed for sustainability.  When a tree is taken from such land, it is replaced by planting or by natural regrowth.

Second, the primary source of wood pulp is aspen and balsam fir, both which regrow naturally.  In fact, I call them both weeds.  Aspen regrows quickly from root suckers.  Balsam fir grows from seed cones without much effort.  In fact, both kinds of trees continually spring up in any area of our Brimson property that we don't keep clear.

I am very allergic to balsam fir, getting a severe skin reaction any time I have to trim a balsam or cut one down.  I've talked to a logger friend about removing many of them, but he says there is no market for balsam.  I may have to hire him to remove some near the cabin; they are too close, especially with drought conditions.

"No market for balsam" may be an indication that many recycling efforts are "paying off".  Consider also that many paper companies have been downsizing.  One could change the slogan to "Save a tree; fire a logger."

Worse yet, the value of private forest lands is increasing so much that forest product companies are selling their land to real estate companies.  These companies are selling them off in smaller parcels to individuals.  When this happens the individuals take out trees for driveways and buildings.  See "Breaking Up the Forests".

The breakup of the forests could have consequences for wildlife.  One could change the slogan to "Save a tree; starve a moose."  Somebody long ago told me that if I wanted moose, clear cut.  When we bought our property, there was a recently cut area of aspen (aka poplar or popple).  The stand was about eight-foot high and we occasionally saw moose tracks.  Now the stand is twenty to thirty-feet high and we haven't seen a moose track for years.  Moose aren't completely gone from our area.  One of our Brimson neighbors found two dead bull moose with locked horns: "Shed Hunter Finds Two Minnesota Record-Book Moose Locked After Battle to the Death".

Moose aren't the only tree predators.  One could change the slogan to "Save a tree; shoot a deer."  We have made many efforts to plant trees.  Our most successful was white spruce.  We had some success with sugar maple with probably half the seedlings turning into twelve to fourteen foot trees.  We tried red oak and they are all gone.  We had hoped to plant hundreds and hundred of white pines, but deer took a big toll on them.  We initially stapled paper to the tips in the fall (the recommended practice), but the deer would bite the top off below the paper.  We tried putting circles of fencing around individual trees, but the deer would reach in with their tongues and pull the tips out.  We put screen around the fencing and that seemed to work.  Unfortunately, for all this protection, we couldn't protect against drought.  Several of the trees that survived the deer turned brown and died.  I think of the 200 or more pines that we planted over a two-to-three year period, only about forty have survived and only about twenty are taller than me.

We have been harvesting aspen for firewood, both for our cabin and for our Duluth house.  I think we used about eleven trees last year, almost all aspen.  We are starting to use some birch; it is finally getting to fireplace size after a big die-off several years ago.  But our job may have become easier.  One could change the slogan to "Save a tree; stop the wind."  Except for some trees that were in the way of other trees, we have been harvesting broken tops.  The best yet are the four-inch diameter trees that were snapped off in a big wind storm or two.  The woods looked like it was full of a jumble of toothpicks.  When we can get to those without bark, all we have to do is cut them into fireplace lengths, no splitting.  These are just great for having a fast, very hot fire to warm the cabin quickly.

Ah yes, fire.  One could change the slogan to "Save a tree; start a forest fire."  A mature forest is much more likely to burn and over a wider area.  If we reduce our harvest of trees too much, we will have more forest fires.  It is nature's way of providing for large-scale renewal.

I think where we really have to be concerned about trees is in urban areas.  I regret that we no longer have any of the back yard trees we once had.  A silver maple and a birch became too old.  An ash provided easy access to our attic for squirrels, and three smaller birch just got in the way of the power and telephone lines.  Other than our arbor vitae, trees in the front yard are out of the question because of sewer lines.  Boulevard trees are impossible because the boulevard is only two feet wide.

Overall it is going to be more difficult to have neighborhood trees.  Wider streets leave less room for trees.  The ongoing sewer work in Duluth is going to lead to more front-yard trees being taken down or fatally stressed.  Disease and age are going to do in many mature trees.

About the only places left for lots of trees are parks.  Do we want to spend the tax money to keep our parks green?  It's either spend the money on a healthier environment or spend the money on health care.

Be careful what you wish for, you may get the opposite.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Feeling guilty about the weather

For three Saturdays in a row, rain has been predicted for Brimson from midweek on.  And every Saturday we've had either sunny weather or a mix of clouds and overcast.  We have been overjoyed as far as we were available to be outdoors most of the day.

Our joy is tempered by the concern that every day of drought increases the fire danger.

I thought on Saturday night that rain had started.  I saw some wet spots on a cart and felt a bit of precipitation on my arms.  Apparently it was only condensation because of the air cooling.

Today was another mixed sun and clouds day.  We got lots done.

The Weather Channel is predicting rain for Thursday and Friday for both Duluth and Brimson.  We don't look forward to the return of mosquitos, but they are better than a charred cabin and woods.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Our free market system: Free to lie and cheat

Much of the financial crisis was created by thousands of banks and loan officers throughout the country.  It was getting more important to originate loans and then sell them to others.  The more loans originated, the more money the loan officers and their banks would get.  They didn't have to worry about risk because the buyers of the loans assumed the risk.  Because the loans were packaged and sold again, the end buyers had no idea of the risk.

One of the ways to originate more loans was "stated-income".  Either the borrower was allowed to state any income needed to get the loan or the loan officer encouraged the borrower to overstate the income.  The actual income was not verified in either case.

See "I Worked For A Major Mortgage Company, And What We Did Was Criminal", Michael David White, Business Insider, 2010-04-22.

Many think that any action by government to curb excess is interference in the "Free Market".  Would any professional sports team play without referees and umpires?  I doubt it.  All the teams of a league pay into a pool to pay for the leagues referees and umpires.  Managers and players may complain about individual decisions, but  doubt they would like to settle any disputes themselves.

Let's think about government as a referee in the sport of business.  One branch of government sets the rules.  Another, independent, branch of the government enforces the rules.  A third, also independent, branch settles disputes about the rules.  Corporations and individuals pay taxes to support government as a referee.

What would the "free market" be like without these systems of rules?  Would Apple go to war against Palm if Apple felt Palm was infringing on its patents.  Would the Beatles and their fans go to war against Apple because the Beatles felt Apple was misusing their trademark?

And what about individual citizens, should the "free market" be allowed to defraud, maim, and kill people in the name of bigger profits?  With no recourse to their government for the citizens to redress these grievances?

There is no easy answer to what is too much government and what is too little government.  We have too many people thinking that all government is taking the "people's freedom" away.  And we have too many people thinking that government is not doing enough to protect the "people's freedom" from "rapacious corporations".

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

End of an era, but not a double bar end

After nearly nine years, I stopped taking voice lessons today.  As I told my instructor last week, "The first rule of successful employment is to show up, and the first rule of successful retirement is to not show up."  I think I mostly tired of trying to practice regularly and too often having some impediment to practice.  I also did not become as strong and accurate singer as I would like (see previous statement).

I have improved greatly since I started.  I do get the right notes more often and do have some "musical sense" that I can match other voices or a piano and can make the right intervals.  With my instructor's help I have developed a richer and less strained voice.

Who is this patient voice teacher?  Curt Hanson, choir director at Pilgrim Lutheran Church in Superior WI.  I started with him in the summer of 2001 at the John Duss Music Conservatory.  When the Conservatory closed two years ago he started teaching independently.  If you are interested in voice lessons, either as a beginner or as an accomplished singer who wants a few pointers, give Curt a call at 715-392-4731.

Why is it "not a double bar end"?  A double bar signifies the end of a piece of music.  I do plan to continue, practicing a variety of songs, getting better at the ones I know, and learning some others.

Some perspective on UnitedHealth Group's profit

Yesterday UnitedHealth Group reported first quarter earnings of $1.19 billion and revenue of $23.19 billion.

Assuming the population of the United States is 300 million, $1.19 billion means nearly $4 for each man, woman, and child and $23.19 billion means about $77 for each person.  That's just for the first quarter.  If the figures stay about the same for the next three quarters, then the per person figures will be $16 and $308, respectively.

The CEO of UnitedHealth received $98.6 million compensation last year.  That's about thirty-three cents per person("UnitedHealth CEO reaps nearly $100 million from stock options", David Hilzenrath, Washington Post, 2010-04-16).

One commentator said that the CEOs pay was not that exorbitant because much of it was the exercise of options granted several years ago.  But where did the stock come from when the options were exercised?  I bet the 4.9 million shares came from the UnitedHealth treasurer, that is, shares set aside at the time of granting the options.  Stephen Hemsley paid $8.72 per share when they were trading for $28.94.  If UnitedHealth had sold those shares on the market, it could have gotten about $98 million more.  That could go a long way to reducing health care premiums for a lot of people.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Food, A Personal Essay

I was cleaning my desk and came across the printout of the following essay.  At first I couldn't find it on my computer, but then I did  as a WriteNow document.  I was able to get a scrambled version with Word and edited it to its original form.  I originally wrote it 2000-08-03 for a Split Rock class at UMD, “Personal Essay Seminar” with Bill Holm.

What is it you remember of “memorable” meals: the food, the place, the guests, or the conversation?  I find that I remember the place and where I sat more than anything else.  I may remember the guests, especially family members.  Sometimes I remember the food.  Rarely do I remember the conversation.

I can remember sitting with my wife and children on the terrace of a restaurant on the road between Rome and Naples eating a fish of some sort.  I don’t remember the name of the fish, only that it was a small, whole fish that I ate without a bit of squeamishness, an achievement that I felt proud of.  But I remember better the terrace above the road and the road above the sea which was about a mile away, each being separated from the other by a bright, green band of trees which we looked down on.

I can remember sitting in another outdoor restaurant near Pompei on the same trip.  I remember that we sat in the ell of the building with a trellis overhead.  I don’t remember the food but I remember that we drank Lacrima Christi (Tears of Christ), a pleasant white wine.

I can remember eating Wiener Schnitzel, pommes frites, und gemichste salat at a restaurant in Basel, Switzerland.  I should remember as I ate there frequently and selected that food most of the time.  I was alone and sat at one of many sanded tables.  I may have had the table to myself or if the restaurant was crowded I would share it with strangers.

I can remember eating lutefisk for the first and only time in an office building in Sweden.  I didn’t like the lutefisk.  My Swedish colleagues chose something else from the menu.

If I remember the food, I remember little of its texture and taste.  The place is much more memorable.  My position at the table, the position of the table in the room, the decor of the room, the neighborhood of the restaurant.  Why is this?

Do we remember more by sight than taste because we spend so much time navigating with our eyes?  How rare is it that we move toward a smell?  We may turn into a restaurant because of the good smells coming from it, but we didn’t criss-cross a neighborhood like a predator sniffing the air for prey.  We first went through the neighborhood using our eyes to find our way.  I remember loving to walk or drive by a commercial bakery, feasting with my nose on the invigorating smell of fresh-baked bread.  But I got to the area using my eyes, not my nose.  I wouldn’t be able to smell the bakery three blocks away.

Great chefs and good cooks understand the importance of sight in appreciating food.

Bör dock ögonen ha sin spis och födo till fyllnad.
Yet must the eyes have their nourishment and feed until filled.

A Swedish chef lays out a smörgåsbord as a series of platters and dishes in a pattern suggesting the appropriate order to select groups of dishes.  Silver herring, golden cheese, and dark hard bread.  Red salmon, green parsley, and yellow lemon.  White chicken, brown paté, and red tomatoes.  Golden flounder, pink sausage, and green beans.  Red berries, yellow melon, and ginger cookies.

The staff of a Japanese ryokan serves dinner and breakfast in a dozen lacquered dishes for each person.  Most of the items have bright colors and they lay out the dishes in a specific pattern.  A clear soup with red snapper and green onions.  A slice of golden rolled omelet with green daikon.  Chilled white tofu with black sesame seeds.  White and green cabbage with dark shitake mushrooms.  They hide the workaday electric rice cooker and airpot of tea on the floor at the end of the table.

A German cook piles a plate from edge to edge with meat, potatoes, and vegetables.  The large servings suggest abundance and encourage Guten Appetit!

A French chef places a few ingredients on each plate of a many course dinner.  The chef balances the flavors and the appearance.  The small servings suggest that the dish is to be savored slowly.

On the negative side, one of our friends turned our stomachs off just with how the food looked on the plate - burnt chicken with mushy canned peas and lumpy potatoes.

We also remember the service we receive.

At a Holiday Inn we ordered lunch at a busy time.  We placed our order and soon after a waitress served my wife’s food, our kid’s food, and my bottle of beer.  A couple came to a nearby table.  They ordered.  A waitress served their food.  The couple ate, paid, and left.  My wife and kids finished their food.  For forty-five minutes I tapped my foot and twiddled my thumbs, but nobody brought my sandwich.  I said we were leaving.  As we stood up, a waitress pushed a cart with sandwich came through the door but I ignored her.  I told the hostess that I would pay for my family’s food and my beer but not my sandwich.  I felt an immense power when I noticed that her hand shook more than my voice.

At a restaurant outside Rome eight of us had had a reasonably pleasant meal and good conversation.  When we were ready to leave we asked the waiter, “Il conto, prego” (the bill, please).  He replied, “Subito” (right away).  Five minutes later, we asked, “Il conto, prego.”  He replied, “Subito.”  And again, “Il conto, prego.”  “Subito.”  And yet again, and again.  After about twenty minutes, we all stood up and started to leave.  The waiter wrote the bill subito!

At a restaurant near the Houston space center, the service was impeccable.  As soon as I finished a course, the waiter would appear, remove the dish, and bring the next course.

This little exercise is bringing back so many memories of memorable meals.  I do remember many tastes but almost all of them are associated with place.

I remember eating kielbasa in the train station in Budapest but neither the flavor or the texture.  But I can still taste the Polish sausage from the Twin Ports Brewing Co. in Superior, Wisconsin.

I can remember the melted ice cream sandwich that still held its shape but not where I contemplated eating it.  I can remember sitting in our dining room savoring every spoonful of Ben & Jerry’s The World’s Best Vanilla Ice Cream, the only ice cream worthy of the name “ice cream”.

I can remember the calamari at a long-gone Thai restaurant on Hennepin Avenue in Minneapolis; it was so hot that it made my eyes and nose run.  I can remember picking jalapeño peppers from our garden in Plymouth and nibbling them as I took them to the house;  “Ooh, that’s hot!  Mmm, that’s good!  I’ll have another bite.”

This is making me too hungry to continue.  My wife just came back from the deli with supper.  I’m going to check out what she bought.

Postscript: The deli food was so-so veggie stuff but she also bought a fresh, locally-grown, organic beefsteak tomato, picked fresh raspberries from a co-worker’s yard, and bought Ben & Jerry’s The World’s Best Vanilla Ice Cream!

Is Gov. Charlie Crist really an independent?

Given that the National Republican Senatorial Committee has been leaning towards Marco Rubio for the upcoming Florida Senatorial election, Gov. Charlie Crist is considering filing as an independent.  As one who would like to see the Republicans behave with more of the individual freedom that the Party espouses, I would be very interested to see Crist run as an independent.

But how independent is Crist?  If you look at his campaign contributors, I would say not very much.  Open Secrets lists several corporate contributors as giving him more than $30,000.  In contrast, Marco Rubio has two contributors giving more than $30,000.

My wife pointed out that if I believe people who can't vote for a candidate shouldn't contribute, then should I comment on people who I can't vote for.  OK, dear!  I'll make some comments about candidates closer to home, especially an Independence Party candidate.

Tim Olson was elected by the Eighth District Independence Party Convention to go against long-time Democratic Representative Jim Oberstar.  See  From what Timberjay reported of his speech, he sounds more like a Tea Party candidate than a person with some independence.

I went to Open Secrets to check on Olson's campaign contributions.  He is not listed, but Oberstar and some Republican contenders are listed.  Oberstar really takes the cake for non-voter contributions.  Six of his top ten contributors are unions.  Granted, some of the union members can vote for Oberstar, but what portion of the membership of the contributing unions are they?  In the top twenty of his contributors are the PACs for American Waterways Operators, American Council of Engineering Companies, and Associated General Contractors.  Do I smell pork?

I think I'll be casting a blank ballot for Congress this November.  It's the only way to vote for none of the above.

Monday, April 19, 2010

By all means let us return to the intent of the Founders

But be careful what you ask for!

"The intent of the Founders" is one of the rallying cries of the Tea Parties and others who are unhappy with certain events in Washington.  One of their charges is that health care is not in the Constitution; therefore health care legislation is unconstitutional.  But the U.S. Flag and the Pledge of Allegiance are not mentioned in the Constitution, does that mean they are unconstitutional?

The Founders were against standing armies.  In his Farewell Address, George Washington said, "they will avoid the necessity of those overgrown military establishments which, under any form of government, are inauspicious to liberty…"  Yet some of those who want to follow the intent of the Founders, want an even larger military (without paying taxes for it).

One of the intent of the Founders was for Congress to establish post offices and post roads.  I wonder if the Founders would have called for the privatization of the Post Office.  This same section of the Constitution gives Congress the power "To provide for calling forth the Militia to execute the Laws of the Union, suppress Insurrections and repel Invasions".  I wonder if gun-toting Tea Partiers realize that the Founders might consider them insurrectionists!!

One thing the Founders seem to have that few anywhere on the political map seem to have - humility.  Unlike partisans of all stripes who think they have all the answers, the Founders knew that they couldn't foresee how the country would develop.  Therefore, the Founders charged Congress with making specific laws and included in the Constitution the mechanisms for amending the Constitution.

U.S. Constitution -
George Washington's Farewell Address -

More on the compromise with Flat Earthers

When I wrote my out-of-Focus coffee friend about the compromise with Flat Earthers, he responded that Mt. Everest was one of the corners of the cube.

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Paper, scissors, rock ain't so!

Many of you know the game of paper, scissors, rock.  Two players hold their hands behind their back and on the count of three put out a flat hand, two fingers extended, or a fist, representing paper, scissors, or rock.  Assuming the players display a different hand, the player displaying the "stronger" hand gets to whack the other player's hand.  The circular hierarchy is paper covers rock, scissors cut paper, and rock breaks scissors.

This hierarchy doesn't always hold.  The most obvious is that rock can hold down paper.  How about that paper wears down scissors?  You can see it when your scissors need sharpening after years of cutting paper.  Or a razor blade gets dull cutting whiskers.

I saw it big another way last week.  I checked the blade on our chipper.  It had many knocks in its edge, including a one-sixteenth chip.  All that has gone through the chipper is wood, no stones or other hard debris.  Paper is made from wood.  That wood, all from softwood trees, wore out a high-quality steel blade.  All in probably less than 20 hours of use.

Friday, April 16, 2010

Why was my site suddenly so popular?

When I checked the statistics on my web site this morning I was surprised to see over 100 hits for Thursday.  Gosh!  I've been lucky to get 10-15 a day.

When I looked at the details, I found there were 65 hits for "Once Upon a Lake", a fable about the rise and fall of the fortunes of the city of Toulouse.

Was this only a few people looking at the page several times or was it a lot of people looking at it?  Did somebody make a reference on a more popular site than mine?  If so, it was in a chat room and not on a Google-searchable site.  The only reference I found was for the page itself.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Auto nameplate humor

An English-born friend has lost most of his English accent, but he still retains some figures of speech.  One of these is "in hospital" rather than "in the hospital".

He drives a Ford Focus, and so I couldn't resist saying that he was "in Focus" or "out of Focus" when he was driving or not driving.

Yesterday I saw a certain Honda vehicle and thought of the following joke.

"I hear you've traded in your Ford for a Honda.  You're now out of Focus and in your Element."

Another of our coffee pals thought of the following after the Focus owner left.

"I hear you've traded in your Ford for a Nissan.  You're now out of Focus and in Infiniti."

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Bad news, good news!

The Weather Channel and others predicted rain for today.  But we had mostly blue skies today.  Instead of periodically sitting inside waiting for the weather to clear, we were out and about and chipped a humongous pile of brush.

No rain means that our well level will stay too low to be usable; we'll have to bring water from Duluth.  But because it is so dry there are fewer bugs.  I think we had one fly today in our cabin and zero bugs outside.

Climate change can mean more violent weather.  We had quite a few blowdowns this year.  But, given fallen tree tops and small trees blown over, we don't have to fell bigger trees for firewood.

When life gives your lemons, make lemonade.  But don't put too much sugar in the lemonade, you'll raise your cholesterol.

Friday, April 09, 2010

Lock tight with Loctite

As I walked along one of our paths the brush was over the path right at eye level.  I planned to go back and forth on that section a lot today and decided to cut it back.  It was a patch of brush that had long bothered us and I thought I'd cut it all out.  So, I got nippers, draw saw, chain saw, and wheeled trimmer with a saw blade.

We nipped and we sawed and we wheeled.  We gathered all the cuttings up and piled them for later chipping.  As I was moving the wheeled trimmer back and forth suddenly the handle felt all wrong.  The upper handle on one side was no longer attached to the lower handle.  Oh, no!  The tightening knob had fallen off.

We looked and looked around our work area in vain.  I went to one previous work area while my wife went to another farther away.  I didn't find the knob.  I went in to call Denny's Lawn and Garden to order another.  I pulled out the manual to get the part number.  I picked up the cordless phone to call and wondered if Denny's number was in the handset directory.  It wasn't.  I fiddled and faddled with putting the number in.  Once I got in, I couldn't bring the number up.  Just then my wife hollered from outside, "I found it!"

She had gone along the path past our work area without success.  When she came back, the sun was at the right angle to reflect off the metal threads of the knob.  Whew!  We could continue using trimmer for the day.

I got out my tube of Threadlocker Blue and applied it to the bolts on each side and cranked down the knobs as tight as I could.  Now, it should require a good grip or a ViseGrip to get the knobs off.

I should know better.  This is the third time that a pre-assembled piece of equipment has had nuts come loose.

I had a sickle mower that wore parts out because of loose nuts or the nuts would disappear in the grass.  I had to use it with a 13mm socket wrench in my pocket to tighten the nuts frequently.  Finally, I put Loctite on them each time I changed the blade and had few, if any, problems with lost nuts thereafter.

I bought a trailer mounted chipper and shortly after I started using it, one of the tail lights became loose.  The nut had disappeared.  I better fix that light before I haul the chipper back for any service.

Maybe I will learn to put a thread-locker compound on all potentially loose nuts on any pre-assembled equipment that shakes, rattles, or rolls.  Hah!  Maybe I should ask the assembling store if they have used Loctite.  Hah!  That will probably cut their margins.

Thursday, April 08, 2010

The friendly IRS

Tonight I had another encounter with a friendly government employee.  Some people consider that an oxymoron, but I have often found that people employed to give service generally give good service, whether in government or private enterprise.

I had difficulty finding the PDF for a tax schedule at  I could find the instructions for it but not the form itself.  I finally went to the help page, looked up the number for the web page help desk, and dialed it.  With two more numbers I reached a very friendly fellow in one ring, and he led me to the form in two steps.

I should have asked if he was a government employee or a contractor.  Whatever, somebody on the government side was responsible for being sure those on the front line were friendly.

Death and Life in the Wild

Warning: a graphic image follows.
My wife and I were going to the back of our Brimson property to salvage some downed trees for firewood.  She was walking ahead of me, and when she got near a clearing she said, "There's a dead deer on the path."  As I drew close, I saw the carcass with blood and big tufts of hair all around.

We didn't want to move it off the path or otherwise touch it.  We went back to our cabin to call a friend who has several sled dogs.  I left a message for her that she could have some free dog meat with a deer hide thrown in.  We went back out and continued on to our intended salvage site.

We worked there for about an hour and went back to our cabin.  When we got to the meadow, the carcass was gone.  All that was left was the stomach and intestines.  We thought our friend had picked up the carcass.  However, I thought it strange that there were no tire marks.

Later in the afternoon our friend returned our call.  She hadn't come over at all!  Apparently the wolf pack had come back and dismembered the deer completely.  We saw some beaten down grass but didn't see it leading anywhere.

Later yet, I heard a moose bellow and then a wolf howl.  I pulled out my camera and turned it on to video to capture the sounds, but I only got a couple of wolf howls.  Click here for the video.  They are probably a quarter to a half mile away.  Very haunting.

Wednesday, April 07, 2010

My foot in the door

Every 10 years the Minneapolis Art Institute and the Minnesota Artists Exhibit Program hold an exhibit open to all Minnesota artists.  It is called "Foot in the Door" and the only requirements are that the work fit in a cubic foot and the artist is from Minnesota.  This year they had nearly 5,000 submissions and had to turn many away.

For more info, see MIA - Foot in the Door 4.

I submitted one of my photos and it is at 260-04.  Here is it in context:

It is the fourth picture down in the third column from the right.  If you would like to see the picture by itself, see "Two Towers, Duluth, Minnesota".

Nobody's in a rush to buy it; it have no votes a favorite at the Foot and Door site.  But, hey, I'm in it for fun and profit is only a dream.  Besides, if it were profitable, I would have to work harder.

Chains vs. independents

On Monday I was reminded of one great advantage independent stores have over mammoth chains.

The dermatology dept. at SMDC has been very adamant about my using Vanicream and only Vanicream for my allergy prone skin.  I have bought the 1-lb. jars to use at home and the tubes for the cabin and travel.  When we went to the Twin Cities this past weekend I didn't want to carry the big jar and thought I'd pick up a tube at Walgreens.

Surprise!  The Superior St. Walgreens didn't even have a slot for it on their shelves.  I tried again at the Roseville Walgreens, same story.  I tried a Walgreens on W. 7th Blvd. in St. Paul; I even asked about it.  A supervisor said that a dollar difference could pull an item; I assume she meant that a change in margin would determine if an item would be stocked or not.  I tried a CVS; they didn't even carry it.  I tried an independent pharmacy; they had a space for it but were out of stock.

As we headed for the Target in Roseville, we saw Arden Pharmacy on our left.  We would try that on our way back.  Target had no tubes of Vanicream, but it took lots of walking and looking in two different places to determine that.

OK, last try at Arden Pharmacy!  Bingo!  They had four tubes on the shelf!  I was tempted to buy all four but settled for one.  After all, I can buy it at Falk's in Duluth.  Unfortunately, all the Falk's on our itinerary are closed on Sunday's and so I didn't buy it before we left.

If you need a huge selection of popular items, chains can be a boon.  But if you want  to have your favorite items year after year, be sure to frequent the independent, local stores who will do their best to meet your needs.

Tuesday, April 06, 2010

Lucky us!!!

We went to the Twin Cities for the past two nights.  As we drove out the alley I wondered if I had closed the garage door.  I backed up to double check and saw that I had.

When we returned today, my wife took a few things to the back door and was rummaging in her purse for her keys.  I followed with a couple of bags, noticed what she was doing, and said, "Look at the door!"

She wondered what I was talking about because she was to the side of the door and could only see the storm door.  I said, "The back door is open!"

It was at about a 45 degree angle.  Apparently the last one out hadn't drawn the door all the way shut and the wind had blown it open.

Lucky us that no opportunistic thief was roaming the neighborhood.  Unlucky us that we had a somewhat cold house and will have a bigger gas bill next month.  Lucky us that it wasn't colder and we had some pipes freeze.

Sunday, April 04, 2010

The coming rebuilding of I-35 in Duluth

A letter writer to the Duluth News Tribune complained a while ago about the need to redo I-35 in Duluth.  He said that things like the Golden Gate Bridge in California have lasted a lot longer.

What he ignores is "design life".  Engineers plan how long a structure should last and design accordingly.  A longer design life will cost more than a shorter design life.  Is the money available at the time of building for a really long life?  What are the trade-offs between the cost of a long design life and the cost of maintenance?

Lay people like the writer seem to think that all decisions are simple.  Ah, if such were life.