Thursday, February 27, 2014

How folks change rivers

One of my wife’s cousins sent her a link to “How wolves change rivers”.  At first I thought it was about how wolves move from one river valley to the next.  It really is about how wolves change a whole eco-system around a river, from the reintroduction of other species to less erosion of the riverbanks.

The five-minute video is about how the re-introduction of wolves into Yellowstone National Park reduced the deer that had over-browsed.  This in turn allowed plants to get bigger, including trees.  Bigger plants and trees provided food and shelter for more and more species including bears, beavers, and birds.

This led me to think about my previous column “Five simple steps to lower gas prices”.  As we build more and bigger highways, we need to salt them when they get icy.  As the weather warms, the saline solution goes into the ditches and drains.  This eventually makes its way into rivers.

California, among many other states, has a problem with excess salinity in water used by humans.  See “Desalination Can Address Major Threat Salt Poses to California’s Water Supplies”.  It doesn’t mention the effect of excess salinity on fish and other animals dependent on river water, but it does mention two effects that it has on humans.

“Salt buildup in agricultural soils and water sources has destroyed mighty civilizations in the past and, if left unmanaged, can do so readily again.”

“[Salt buildup eventually chokes] the root zone for plants and makes thousands of acres unfit for farming.”

The Colorado River furnishes water for irrigation and other uses for 40 million people.  Consumption is so great that the Colorado doesn’t reach the sea except in years of heavy rain.

This reminds me of Herodotus writing that the Persian army invading Greece was so huge that it drank rivers dry.

Most Americans have heard of the Cuyahoga River in Cleveland burning because of the pollution.  That happened after I left, but whenever I crossed it by streetcar or auto it was not a pretty site.  However, much of the heavy industry is no longer located in “The Flats”, and that which is doesn’t pollute as much as was done in the 40s and 50s.

The Hudson River was another tragedy.  Pete and Toshi Seeger and many others worked for years to get it cleaned up from PCBs.  The Hudson still has many problems including the effects from large amounts of water being withdrawn for cooling of a nuclear power plant.

The Mississippi River, Ol’ Man River, keeps rolling along and poisoning the Gulf of Mexico.  Agricultural runoff has created a dead zone in the Gulf.

The Columbia River may be one of the most dammed rivers because of its sharp average drop.  Damming a river has both benefits and drawbacks.  One of the benefits is hydroelectric power, possibly the cleanest and generally most reliable form of energy.  The drawback is that it limits the migration upriver of fish like salmon.  No salmon currently migrate to the upper half of the Columbia.

One of the most damaging effects on the Columbia River was the Hanford Nuclear site.  Water was taken out of the river for cooling, held for six hours for certain radio-active isotopes to decay, and then put back into the river still containing longer-lived isotopes.  Also much radioactivity is going into the groundwater.

“When the Yellow River runs clear” is the Chinese equivalent of “when pigs fly.”  The Yellow River is full of natural sediments that give it its name.  These sediments in turn cause heavy natural flooding that can take over one million lives.  People compound this problem by building levees.  If water breaks through then it cannot flow back into the main channel downstream.

However, several times breaking the levees has been used as a military strategy, one being in 1938 to stop the advancing Japanese army.  That flood took the lives of an unknown number of Japanese soldiers but also those of over a half-million Chinese.

The Danube in Europe is a very storied river and you can read more about it in Wikipedia, as well as about the other rivers that I mentioned.  We often refer to other rivers with a preceding article and sometimes a following “river”.  The Danube, at least in English, has no following “river”.  Maybe you can figure out its etymology from the Wikipedia article.

I haven’t researched what people have done to it, and so I can’t write about any pollution.  I will say that I didn’t find it “The Blue Danube” of the song, the Wikipedia pictures notwithstanding.  When I crossed it in both Vienna and Budapest, it looked brown to me.  Maybe I was in these cities after a heavy rain.

As for “How People Change Rivers”, Pete Seeger sang it well in the ‘60s’ and on: “When will we ever learn, when will we ever learn.”  I know, I know, he used “they” instead of “we”, but in the words of another immortal, Pogo, “We have met the enemy and he is us.”

Published in the Reader Weekly of Duluth, 2014-02-27 at

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Too much time spent solving computer glitches? Invoice the CEO!

When I installed Apple’s iOS 7.0.4 on my iPad suddenly the return key on my Logitech Solar Keyboard Folio didn’t work.  I looked and looked for a solution with little success.  I went back and forth with Logitech until they sent me a set of steps to reset the iPad.  The steps worked.

In the past few days I installed iOS 7.0.6.  I don’t know what happened to iOS 7.0.5.  After the installation of iOS 7.0.6, the return key on my Logitech KB didn’t work again.  Sunday or whenever I went through all of Logitech’s reset steps again.  After a bit of hit and miss banging the keys on the keyboard, the return key worked again.  A minor downside was that my wallpaper settings were reset to the default settings.

Then this morning the return key didn’t work again!!!  Was it because I had turned my iPad off and on.  I only needed to do the reset on iOS 7.0.4 once.  After a couple of tries I got the return key working again.  Again, it took awhile before pressing the return key had any effect.

Maybe tonight I’ll leave my iPad on and hope the return key works in the morning.

I am so tired of being an unpaid beta tester for software.  I think I’ll start sending invoices to CEOs for my time.  I wonder who has more problems – people signing up for health care exchanges or people who use a lot of computer software?  I do know that the support sites of many computer-related companies are filled with problems that never seem to get an answer.

Enough for the day!  I am going to spend the rest of the evening reading a paper book!

Friday, February 21, 2014

Five Simple Steps to Reduce the Price of Gas

Psst! Hey, buddy, ya wanna have cheaper gas.  Slip me a twennie an’ I’ll give you all ya needa know.

First of all, drive the speed limit.  I’ve checked my speedometer and know that it is accurate at 30, a bit over at 50, and 71 at 70.  Most modern cars have relatively accurate speedometers compared to a couple of decades ago.  Whenever you go faster than the speed limit, you use more gas than you would at the limit.  I bet that almost every driver of those cars that go over the limit complains about the price of gas.

Second, coast to stop lights and stop signs.  I am amazed how many drivers pass me with a red light ahead.  I coast up to the light and we are both waiting.

Third, take the bus.  The more people take a bus, the fewer cars on the road using gas.  The fewer cars using gas, the less the demand.  The less the demand, the lower the price of gas.

Yeah!  I know!  I wimp out on taking the bus.  What with the un-shoveled walks and the effort to not miss the bus, I drive to certain places more often than I take the bus.

But, we can encourage other people to take the bus.

First, we can keep our sidewalks clear so that others can easily walk to the bus stop.   I know, it’s a pain to move all the snow the plows dump on our walk.  Even after the city sidewalk snow blower comes by, there is an inch or two of packed snow.  We can do our best to clear down to the pavement; that will certainly provide more stability for pedestrians.

Second, we can be willing to pay more taxes to encourage bus ridership.  One is to pay for snow removal rather than snow plowing.  With snow removal rather than plowing there is less snow to be pushed onto the sidewalk after the next storm.  Two is to provide more funds for the transit authority to run buses more often.

What, pay more taxes for buses?  “No way, I don’t take the bus; why should I pay for others to take the bus?”  If you pay others to take the bus, then there is more room on the road for you.  It’s not so bad here in Duluth with its “rush minute”, but think of the Twin Cities with its rush day.

People don’t seem to understand that a whole bunch of things happen as more freeways are built.  First, the more freeways, the more drivers.  Maybe there is relief for a year or two, but then…  Second, the more freeways that are built, the more taxable land that is taken off the tax rolls.  Third, as that taxable land is used up in the city, there is less housing in the city.  Fourth, as there is less housing, people seek housing farther out.  Fifth, as people seek housing farther out, they need to drive more.  Six, as more people drive…  Oh, I forgot to mention as there is less taxable land to pay for streets, then there needs to be a higher gas tax to pay for the freeways.

In the late 60’s I spent several weeks now and then on business in Basel, Switzerland.  My job required me to spend many evenings at Sandoz headquarters a couple miles from the hotel in the center of town.  I often took the tram both ways.  Even returning to the hotel at midnight, I never waited more than ten minutes for the tram.

I looked up the current schedule at and asked for Voltaplatz to Aesch (the end of the line to the East).  Monday to Friday the tram starts at 4:43 every 15-29 minutes and at 5:42 every 7-8 minutes until 8:17 in the evening when it runs every 15 minutes until 1:12 the next morning.  Oops, don’t miss the last tram.  It is ten minutes after the next to last tram.

It is hard to have an excuse for missing church on Sunday because the first tram is at 4:44, second at 5:32, and then better and better.  From every 15 minutes to every 10 minutes back to every 15 minutes, the last tram is 32 minutes after midnight.

The service isn’t cheap.  A simple fare runs from $1.80 to $3.70.  You can buy the tickets at “ticketautomaten” and several other places.  It’s a bit different than when I paid a conductor directly something like 25-50 cents.  He would ask “Bis?” meaning “to where” and then tell you how much.

There is also extensive bus service, but I don’t remember ever using it.  I either walked, took the nr. 11 tram, or rode in someone else’s car.

Basel has about twice the population of Duluth.  It is long and narrow like Duluth but it is relatively flat.  The biggest hill I remember walking up wasn’t much bigger than Woodland between E. 8th St and Mt. Royal.  Also, Basel is probably more dense with apartment buildings rather than single-family houses.

I can’t say what auto traffic is now, but Basel has several expressways and tunnels that weren’t there in the late ‘60s.  I know many people were upset about these.  But throughout Europe, people are rethinking trams.  That is a story for another day.

Submitted to the Reader Weekly and also found at

How did you get your heart attack?

Shoveling three feet of snow.

Why were you shoveling snow?

So the first responders could reach me if I had a heart attack.

As you can see, I did not have a heart attack.  These words of irony did occur to me as I shoveled our walk to the street.

Why did you shovel out to the street?

So the mail carrier can get to our house.

Has the mail carrier come yet?

No, she hasn’t.  But it is still early considering the conditions.

If she is delayed, won’t the snow fill in again.

Please, don’t make me think about it.  You’ll give me a heart attack.

Witty ditty on how to pronounce snow

Oh! It’s snowing and blowing and I am not knowing if I should be throwing or plowing!

Thursday, February 20, 2014

Is There a Tech Staff Shortage?

Is There a Tech Staff Shortage?
Melvyn D. Magree
Originally published in
the Northland Reader
now the
Reader Weekly
October 14, 1999

Minnesota needs information workers (Star Tribune, August 25, 1999)

"Twin Cities metro area must solve its shortage of skilled workers." (Star Tribune, March 30, 1999)

"In a continuing effort to tackle the labor shortage conundrum, the Minnesota High Tech Association (MHTA) said ... it will spend $300,000 on an initiative to attract and train workers for the fast growing tech industry."  (Star Tribune, March 5, 1999)

From my own unsuccessful search for a programming or other computer-related job, I have found that the shortage is self-induced.

The first cause is the selection process by employers.  They either scan resumés for certain keywords or have applicants fill out "skill" sheets with similar keywords.  Almost all of these keywords are the names of products: software applications or computers.  A very few are the names of concepts like client-server or object-oriented programming.

If the applicants don't have the right keywords in their resumés or don't check off the right items in the skill sheet, they are passed over.

Employers are not interested in the types of work that applicants have done.  Employers are not interested if applicants have used a spreadsheet, a database, or a word processing program.  Employers want to know if applicants have used Excel, Access, or Word.  Employers ignore that knowledge of one product is easily transferable to similar products.

A letter writer to the San Jose Mercury News complained that employers are not interested in technical writers.  Employers are interested in technical writers who can use Frame Maker.  He went on to say that any computer-literate writer can learn to use Frame Maker in a couple of weeks and even be using it productively the first day.  (Letters to the Editor, San Jose Mercury News. January 24, 1998).

For programmers the situation is worse.  Employers are not interested in the kinds of programming applicants have done.  Employers are not interested if applicants have used object-oriented languages or visual compilers.  Employers want to know if applicants have used Java or Visual Basic.  Employers ignore that programming skills are easily transferable to similar products.

Another letter writer complained that employers aren't interested in the range of experience an applicant may have.  Employers are interested in programmers that have at least six-months' experience in Java.  He went on to say that he has used languages far harder than Java and he could be up to speed in Java well before he was up to speed in the business of the company.  (ibid.)

Yet another letter writer gave the simile that employers are looking for white eggs in green boxes.  There are brown eggs in purple boxes, so they say there are no eggs.  (ibid.)

It is as if anyone who has driven a Chevrolet for the last five years is not allowed to drive a Ford.  Or as if anyone who has driven only four-door compact sedans for the last twenty years is not allowed to drive a pickup truck or heaven forbid, an 18,000 pound moving truck.  Fortunately, the state and rental companies are more lenient than many employers; anyone with a valid driver's license may drive any of these vehicles.

My own experience includes many years of learning, adapting to, and promoting new computer technology.  Oh yes, I've also ignored a few ideas that really took off.  In general, when I've had a need to know, I've plunged in and tried a product, generally by skimming the manual and then going back for details.  I think I've had only one formal course, "Advanced Programming Techniques" in graduate school.

I started in programming with a summer job between my junior and senior years of college.  I took the job to learn computer programming, but I was assigned clerical work instead.  Halfway through the summer, I borrowed Elliot Organick's Programming the IBM 650 from the company library.  I  wrote a program in assembly language to calculate square roots and presented it to my supervisor.  He didn't know what to do with the program and passed it on to another department.  Shortly thereafter I was assigned to write a simple program to show how well dealers had met their quotas.  With a few questions to others, I completed the program by the end of the summer, handing in the documentation on my last day.

The next summer I started as a graduate assistant at the computer center of Case Institute of Technology.  The graduate assistants' first assignment was to learn ALGOL on the Burroughs 2000 so that we could help sophomores in the computer lab in the fall.  We were handed the ALGOL manual and pointed to the computer.  We had a ball!

Two and a half years later I started my first full-time corporate job at Remington Rand Univac (now Unisys).  From manuals and fellow employees I learned to use the assembler for the Univac 1107 and a rather arcane operating system.

Within a few months I was assigned to maintain a FORTRAN compiler and its runtime system.  None of us in the group had programmed FORTRAN before, but we learned quickly.  Our supervisor, who was the brightest of the bunch, never bothered to learn FORTRAN, but he came to know the inside of the compiler almost as well as the original designer did!

Later I was assigned to maintain an ALGOL compiler with a strange add-on called SIMULA.  SIMULA wasn't called object-oriented then, but it certainly added a powerful abstraction that solved more problems than simulating the behavior of real-life objects.  I thought SIMULA was the be-all and end-all of computer languages.  I fought a lonely battle for many years before the concept of object-oriented languages caught on.

Within a year or two I began contributing to the high-level design of the next operating system for the Univac 1108.  Eventually I was assigned as lead programmer to a group working on one part of the operating system.  None of us had any formal training on operating systems; we just read what we could and went ahead and did it.

After five years with Univac I transferred to Europe to support this operating system.  As part of living in Switzerland and then Italy I learned to read and speak German and Italian from books and practice; I had only a few informal tutoring sessions in Italian.

After two years in Italy I transferred to Sweden.  I learned to read and speak Swedish from books and practice with only a few informal tutoring sessions.  After one year in Sweden, I was appointed the supervisor of a technical support group.  Our daily language was Swedish.  I also taught a few classes and gave some presentations using Swedish.

One of my most interesting trouble shooting episodes occurred in Sweden.  One customer had system crashes in which a part of memory was overwritten.  Nothing was obvious to any of us from the memory dumps.  We sent a few back to the States but received no resolution.  The problem was raised to the level of a management meeting.

The attendees were Swedes, a Canadian, myself, and another American.  Most of the Swedes made introductory remarks in English, a couple did so in Swedish, the Canadian and the other American in English, and I in Swedish.  One of the Swedes exclaimed with a sigh, "Du talar svenska!" meaning "You speak Swedish!" with the unspoken meaning, "I won't have to try to speak English!"

We reached no conclusions in the meeting except that a certain program was frequently present.  The customer brushed that idea aside saying that the program didn't work.

I persisted in pursuing that program as a culprit in the crashes and finally received a copy.  When I took the program to another site, it crashed without harming the system.  The program was written in COBOL, of which I had only rudimentary knowledge from a book.  I was able to establish that the COBOL runtime system had an illegal memory reference which matched the pattern in the system crashes.

This story gets bizarre, but let me just say that I wrote a simple program that would make the same illegal memory reference.  I took it the site with the problem, it was run, and the system crashed.  Looking at the dump of the system, I showed that the memory protection circuit was not functioning.  The technicians later found that two wires were crossed in this circuit.  When they fixed the circuit, the offending program definitely "didn't work."

When I returned to the States after six years in Europe, I continued to learn and troubleshoot.  I learned more about telecommunications, databases, transactions systems, and recovery.  I sat in on design meetings on all of these concepts and did troubleshooting on some of them.  I managed a computing center.  I learned APL, BASIC, and Pascal.  I did design reviews and code reviews.  I never used a company derivative of JOVIAL, but in a code review I recognized that the programmer was abusing it by programming as in an assembler.

Eight years after returning from Europe and just about as many jobs within Univac, I joined the microcomputer revolution and founded my own company.  I learned a variety of now-orphan computers and the Macintosh, and I designed, implemented, and marketed seven products for them.  I learned object Pascal, HyperCard, and Prograph (a visual data flow compiler), and a few other development products that never got a big following.  I avoided C and the PC; why make work complicated when the computer can do it for me?

After fifteen years on my own of looking for the simple, elegant solutions that would become popular, I folded the company and made several attempts to find a full-time computing job.

Did you think that I described an impressive work history?  Think again.  I did not write in the traditional resumés style.  I wrote too much.  And I did not have many of the buzzwords that employers look for.  As I like to say, I don't have the right alphabet soup.  In fact, notice that my only reference to C and the PC were a bit derogatory, and I didn't even mention C++ or HTML.

I included this biography to demonstrate that a multi-faceted background is not desirable in today's over-specialized environment.  Employers want instant experts, not learners.  It is not just my loss but theirs.

One Twin Cities company had a "technology" fair.  One young programmer was demonstrating a project to be used by travel agents around the world.  He pointed out that the agents would be able to use their own languages.  I asked if they were using Unicode, the 18-bit character code that can provide for almost all known character sets.  He looked confused and said that I should speak to his manager.  His manager was initially enthusiastic but lost interest when he found I didn't have the right "alphabet soup" and that I didn't want to be explicit about which job title I was interested in.  I wonder if the Japanese travel agents using this system have to read and type Romanji.

I have long assumed that my difficulty in finding a computing job was only the narrow requirements of employers.  I sometimes suspected another problem, but brushed the notion aside.

Did you add up the years that I spent in these various activities and places?  It comes to thirty-seven years, which means I am well over fifty.

In researching this article, I discovered that the complaints of ageism in information technology are quite widespread.  According to some who have looked at this problem, "Unemployment among IS professionals over 50 is about 17%." (IT labor boom a mirage to some, ComputerWorld, August 10, 1998 [no longer available online])

These professionals are probably not unemployed according to labor statistics.  They have jobs such as Radio Shack manager, interior designer, or bus driver.  They just have difficulty finding jobs to match their experience.

Programmers over the age of 50 are not the only unemployed programmers; many in their 40's and even 30's have difficulty finding jobs.

James Wick, 62, feels lucky to be employed on the year 2000 problem.  Before he found that job, he had just about given up trying to convince recruiters nearly half his age that he had any worthwhile experience from a thirty-year career with several major corporations.  (Too Old to Write Code?, US News, March 16, 1998 [available in archive])

Alan Ezer took time off in his early 40's to go to graduate school.  When he reentered the job market, he trained himself in one of the "hot skills", Java.  He created a Web page showing his skills.  He selectively responded to 150 ads in which he thought there was a fit with his experience.  He received one interview in two years.  "Even though I had spelled out my background on my resumé, when they saw me, they decided I didn't have the work experience they required," Ezer says. (Too Experienced to Get a Job?, Wired, Feb. 25, 1998)

Ed Curry, 39, closed his software business and took a month off.  Two years later he had no permanent job, even though he is proficient in seven computer languages.  He said that recruiters told him that it would take too long to place him but that they could place an entry-level programmer immediately. (IT labor boom a mirage to some, ComputerWorld, August 10, 1998 [no longer available online])

A survey by the National Science Foundation and the Census Bureau found that 57 percent of computer science graduates were working as programmers after six years, 34 percent after 15 years, and 19 percent after 20 years.  Most would be in their early 40's after 20 years.  On the other hand, the figures for civil engineering graduates are 61 percent, 52 percent, and 52 percent.  (Norman Matloff, New York Times, January 26, 1998)

Norman Matloff is a widely published critic of technological hiring practices.  He has been called anti-immigrant because he questions the need to hire more foreign workers for technology jobs.  I found most of the information for this article with a web search on "Norman Matloff" which gave me given 300 references.  Just two of the first ten led to the list of articles that I cited in this article.  However, in the less than ten articles that have been published on the "tech staff shortage" problem in the Star Tribune in the last eighteen months, Matloff has been mentioned only once.  And views similar to his and of those whom from direct experience find the shortage non-existent have been mentioned just about as often.

The Star Tribune article on October 15th mentioned that Matloff had a web page but didn't give it.  It is

I hope that the Star Tribune will probe this subject deeper in future articles.  If someone reports that the sky is falling, please determine if it is just an apple from a tree.

A couple of additional Web pages of interest are:

©1999, 2007 Melvyn D. Magree

2014 Postscript:

Professor Matloff is still writing about hiring practices in the computer industry, including their effect on the computer systems for the Affordable Care Act.  Hint: The H1-B programmers have not been among the “best and brightest”.  See “Coding Geeks Can’t Save ObamaCare” among many, many others.

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Immigration: in an ideal world…

In an ideal world, anybody should be able to move anywhere they can find a place to live and work.

I was fortunate to live in a time when I was welcome anywhere as a Univac employee.  I requested a transfer to Europe and wound up in Switzerland and then Italy.  I requested a transfer from Italy to Sweden and was given it.  From both places I worked in or traveled to almost all of the countries of Western Europe.

Because I was "from Roseville", the place where most of the 1100 series of Univac computers originated, I was perceived as an "expert", even when local people could solve many problems better than I could.

I had friends ask me to transfer to South Africa or Iran, both of which I declined.

I really think that anybody anywhere should have the mobility that I have had all my life.  I grew up and was educated in Ohio.  But I chose to work in Minnesota. From Minnesota I spent six years in Europe.  Then I spent three years in SE Pennsylvania.  Then I was able to transfer back to Minnesota.  After 22 years in Plymouth MN, my wife was able to get a transfer to Duluth.

I think everyone should have such chances for the changes we had.

But... It is not an ideal world.  Many of those who claim to want immigration reform don't want reform for its own sake, but "reform" to exclude those they don't like and “reform” to have access to those who will reduce their costs.

The people that "immigration reform" proponents want are immigrants who are highly-skilled.  If you think about it and look behind the curtain, what they really want is lower-paid workers and is having somebody else pay for the education of these "highly-skilled" workers.

These potential immigrants were educated with the help of taxes in other countries.  When "immigration reform" proponents entice these people to the U.S., they are depriving those countries of the benefits of their investments.  Those investments could pay off for a better political and economic culture in those countries.  As the saying goes, "Those with get up and go, go!"

The irony is that who want more "skilled" immigrants are destabilizing many of the countries where they immigrants come from.  Rather than paying taxes for a bloated military that goes more places than it should, these people should be willing to pay for taxes to give the children in the United States a high-quality education.

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Bear Stories

Bear Stories
Melvyn D. Magree
Originally published in
Northland Reader
Now the Reader Weekly
September 30, 1999

I've observed bears on County Highway 4 south of Gnesen, the Sawbill Trail, and on our property in Brimson.  On Highway 4 we saw a bear just slipping into the woods next to someone's front yard.  On the Sawbill Trail we saw a bear slipping into the brush.  This sighting was significant because we were with my sister-in-law and husband who had never seen a bear up close.  We couldn't have planned that sighting better.  On our own property we often see gouged out marks on our trails, especially in grassy sections, where a bear has been looking for grubs or other buried delicacies.

The first time that I encountered a bear was driving up the Gunflint Trail to canoe out of Seagull Lake.  In this case the bear was ambling down the road.  I had to stop and wait for the bear to get off the road.  I thought of tales about bears breaking car windows to get at candy bars in the glove compartment.

A few years ago we were awakened about five in the morning by a banging outside our cabin in Brimson.  I thought it might be a raccoon clambering around the aluminum ladder we have lying behind the cabin.  After the banging repeated a few times I got up to look out a window.  I saw a big black back.  I jumped into my pants and boots, grabbed the camera, and went out the front door hoping to get a picture as the bear came around the cabin.  I was too slow; it had already left.

The most exciting encounter was fourteen years ago on our last Boundary Waters canoe trip together, our 25th anniversary celebration.  We were at our farthest point in - Knife Lake.  We had just finished breakfast; my wife was cleaning up the dishes, and I went up the hill to the latrine.  As I came back down the hill, my wife looked to the shrubs on her left and said, "There is an animal in there!"  She continued, "There is a large animal in there!"  And then she said, "There is a bear in there!"  She backed away to her right toward our tent.  Then she went back and grabbed our food pack.  I went to the tent and grabbed my camera.  Meanwhile the bear busied itself around the fireplace looking for scraps.

Standing about 25 feet from the bear I pushed and pulled the lens of the camera until I was satisfied the picture was right.  How I did this I don't know, my knees were knocking enough to cause bruises.  I clicked off a couple of pictures and then thought about an escape plan.

I told my wife to take the food pack down to the shore and that I would push the canoe out and meet her.  I went to the canoe and banged on it with a paddle, hoping to scare the bear away.  The bear merely raised its head, looked at me, and then went back to its search for food.

I turned the canoe over, pushed it out into the water, hopped in, and paddled downshore to pick up my wife.  We paddled out from shore about 200 feet and wondered if the bear would swim after us.  After ten minutes or so, the bear wandered off and we returned to our campsite.  With visions of a shredded tent and scattered belongings we were relieved to find everything intact.

Later that day we talked to a group about a half mile away.  They weren't so lucky.  They had several items of food broken into and scattered.

When we returned home I had the film developed.  When we looked at the bear slides it was Fuzzy Wuzzy was fuzzy, wasn't  he!  You push and pull a telescopic lens to frame your shot; you twist any lens to focus!

Monday, February 17, 2014

Quotes of the day: Vaccination, personal choice, and public health

“The lesson of all this is that vaccination is not an individual choice to be made by a parent for his or her own offspring. It's a public health issue, because the diseases contracted by unvaccinated children are a threat to the community.”
- “The Toll of the anti-vaccination movement, in one devastating graphic”, Michael Hiltzik, Los Angeles Times, 2014-01-20

“The old line about a lie traveling halfway around the world before the truth can get its boots on certainly applies to the supposed link between autism and the MMR (measles/mumps/rubella) vaccine -- in spades.”
- “More on the unsavory history of the vaccine-autism ‘link’", Michael Hiltzik, Los Angeles Times, 2014-01-22

I wonder how much social media like Facebook give lies the wings to go around the world.  I see so many postings about cute stuff, clever stuff, and outright nonsense that ask readers to pass them on.  I don’t because I don’t want to bother, I don’t think all my friends don’t need to know those things, or I don’t think they are posted with any critical examination by the poster.

Serendipity strikes again!  Clearing up some Firefox tabs, I wound up finding:

“The charter school textbooks breezily dismiss evolution as “an unproved theory.” Here’s where inadequate science education and fundamental science ignorance show themselves. Science uses the word “theory” the way the rest of us might use “conclusion.” A scientific theory sums up hypotheses that are themselves backed up by testing and observation.”


“Ignorance is curable by education, but willfully ignoring the facts can be contagious — and even fatal.”

- “What creationists and anti-vaxxers have in common”, Patt Morrison, Los Angeles Times, 2014-01-23

Breaking the two-party dysfunction

Many of us don’t like the “two-party system”, some because we don’t like choosing between Tweedledee and Tweedledum, some because we can’t stand one party and feel compelled to vote for the other party.

I’ve long thought that instead of partisan primaries we should have wide open primaries, where all candidates are on the first ballot.  The top two vote getters are on the ballot for the general election.  I know, there are lots of problems with that, including the top two together having less than half the vote.  But it sure beats having party conventions and then having, like in Minnesota, someone who didn’t succeed in the party convention winning in the primary becoming the party’s “candidate” in a “party” primary.

Help may be on the way.  Several groups have come together to form EndPartisanship.

The statement that really resonates with me is:
Principle:  Every elected representative’s first obligation should be to people - not political parties.

Remember also that many of those who signed the Constitution were concerned with factionalism.  Unfortunately, many went on to be very partisan.  How long did it take for Jefferson and Adams to make up and become friends?

Sunday, February 16, 2014

VW Chattanooga union vote

I can’t determine the reason for each and every no vote in the UAW vote at the VW Chattanooga plant, but I can guess from experience the reason for some of them.

Twice I was active in a union organizing effort at a bus company in the Twin Cities.  The response of many of my fellow employees was that they didn’t want their money to go to a union.  The unions lost in both votes.

Of course, it doesn’t help if politicians reinforce this opinion, but I think that many unions have to overcome an already existing bias that unions are just a money-grabbing nuisance.

See also and  You might have to copy and paste these URLs into your browser.  When I click on them, my browser links me to the home page of Enventis, the owner of cpinternet.

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

To get good service, be persistent

Last week the return key on my Logitech Solar Keyboard Folio stopped working.  Other characters showed up on my iPad screen, but clicking the return key did nothing.  I did a Google search and a search of the Logitech site, both general and community.  I found nothing.

Yesterday I emailed Logitech customer support and quickly received a reply.  Dan suggested that I connect my keyboard to another iPad.

I replied that it would be some time before I saw another iPad user who let me borrow his or her iPad.  I also suggested that the problem might have started when I upgraded my iPad to iOS 7.0.4.

Then he replied with the suggestion of following these steps:

Okay Melvyn, try the following below:

1. Turn off all other devices besides the Bluetooth keyboard
2. Make sure the keyboard is charged
3. Turn the keyboard off and then back on
4. On your iPad/iPad mini, turn Bluetooth off and on
5. Turn your iPad/iPad mini off and then back on
6. Un-pair and then re-pair the keyboard with the iPad/iPad mini’s Bluetooth function
7. Reset Network settings (go to Settings > General > Reset , Tap Reset Network Settings)
8. Reset All setting: (go to Settings > General > Reset and tap Reset all settings)

It was late and I wanted to go to bed.  But I didn’t want to try to sleep with this suggestion rattling around in my brain.  I gave it a go with “fear and trepidation”; what would I lose?

After step 8, the iPad rebooted itself and everything seemed to work OK.

Thanks, Dan!

The only difference that I noticed was that I lost my “wallpaper”.  To tell the truth, I don’t remember what I had before.  Nothing in the wallpaper list seemed familiar.

The bad part is that this fix is not on Logitech’s website, at least it is not linked to “Logitech Solar Keyboard Folio isn’t working”.

I hope this post finds its way to others who have had a similar problem.

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Obnoxious ad for a good cause

I clicked on an article in Facebook and overlaid on the article was an ad for TheDayWeFightBack  that would not go away.

I went to TheDayWeFightBack web page, found the contact button, and sent the following email:

I clicked on a Coffee Party article in facebook.  When the article opened your ad was overlaid on top of it.  There was no little X to close the ad, no "Skip this ad", nada!  It appears that the only way I can get rid of the ad is to phone or send email to my legislator.  Well, I'm fighting back against you by doing neither, by posting this on facebook, and by posting this on my blog.

Thursday, February 06, 2014

What do you think of the Twins? Who had twins?

The title is a more culturally sensitive version of a reply to “What do you think of the Indians?”, meaning the Cleveland Indians.  That reply, censored here, was given by an adult I knew while in high school, an adult who didn’t have much interest in professional sports.

Then, I did, I rooted for the Cleveland Indians and the Cleveland Baron’s, a professional hockey team.

Going back to my elementary school days, I remember listening to Jimmy Dudley and someone else announcing the Indians’ games on WJW.  When I was in junior high I gave up a job in a grocery store at 60 cents an hour for the uncertainty of being a vendor at the Cleveland Stadium.  But I got to watch a lot of baseball games.

A couple of decades ago, I could still recite most of the usual lineup.  Now all I remember is Al Rosen at shortstop (whose name we took for our Class F team), Ken Keltner(sp) at third base, Larry Doby in right-field, and Thurston(?) something in center-field.  The only pitchers I can remember are Bob Feller, Bob Lemon (who sometimes hit home runs), and Don Black (who was hit in the head).  I may have also seen a game with Satchel Page.

I can still recite the names of the eight teams in each league.  In the American it was Boston Red Sox, New York Yankees, Philadelphia Athletics, Washington Senators, Cleveland Indians, Detroit Tigers, Chicago White Sox, and St. Louis Browns.  In the National it was the Boston Braves, New York Giants, Brooklyn Dodgers, Philadelphia Phillies (I had to think about that one), Pittsburgh Pirates, Cincinnati Reds, Chicago Cubs, and St. Louis Cardinals.  I don’t know how many teams there are now and who has moved where, except the Senators became the Minnesota Twins.

I rooted for the Cleveland Barons, mostly because my mother knew the wife of the hockey reporter for one of the Cleveland papers.  He would give us tickets once in awhile.  Those were the days when many players went bare-headed, but they high-sticked and slammed each other into the boards, and sat in the penalty box.

When I was in high school I went to most of the football games and basketball games but I don’t think I ever went to a school baseball game.  Some of the players and band members were my friends.  Like my wrestling career, the football team lost more games than they won.  With some of the same players, the basketball team went to the state championships a couple of times.  I think the difference was the coaches – one older and rigid, the other younger and flexible.

When I went to Case as an undergraduate, I went to few if any football or basketball games.  That was in part because I was a commuter student and had a grocery store job that occupied most of my Saturdays.  When I came back as a graduate student, I don’t think I had much interest.

When I went to Ohio Wesleyan University, I attended a few football and basketball games, but I just didn’t have that “school spirit”.

In my first five-year stay in Minnesota, I don’t remember attending any professional sports events.  I did play on a church softball team, but certainly was not a stellar player.

When I worked in Italy, many of my co-workers were enthusiastic soccer fans.  At World Cup time it was amusing to watch the bantering and betting between my Italian and German co-workers.  I still remember the cheer, “Dai Azzuri”, loosely, “Go Blues”, Azzuri being the name of the national team.
The last two sports events I remember watching on TV were the 1987 World Series and the Winter Olympics in Norway.

Living in Minnesota, of course we cheered for the Twins.  However, I remember feeling sorry for the Cardinals as they dejectedly walked off the field after losing the seventh game.  But, hey, Cardinal fans, think how far they did get!

I remember seeing the nighttime opening spectacle at the Oslo Olympics and watching some of the ski races.  Was that the Olympics that “La Bomba” (“the bomb”) was a highly rated ski-jumper?  I don’t remember how well he did, but he was something to watch coming down the chute and into the air.

Now I’m a very reluctant spectator.  My son-in-law is a big sports fan and watches many games.  When I visit during a game I go read a book or work on my laptop.

The Essentia Fitness Center forces its member to watch sports.  Last year they installed flat screen TVs in three places.  Two of them are on the Sports Center.  I do my best to ignore them, but it is hard when they are in my line of sight.  Thank goodness, the sound is not on to compete with the overly loud background music.  I’m sure my figures are wrong, but it seems that it is one minute of sports action, two minutes of discussing the action , and three minutes of commercials.  How many times must I watch “Flo the Progressive Girl”?

Also published in the Reader Weekly, 2014-02-06,

Wednesday, February 05, 2014

Does "environmentally friendly copper mining" exist?

Does "environmentally friendly copper mining" exist?

I did a Google search on the phrase "environmentally friendly copper mining".  I received a large variety of references, some of them enthusiastic about the process, some very skeptical of its “environmentally friendly” results.

"In-Situ Recovery", Excelsior Mining

This process consists of drilling sets of holes to push an acidic solution down a central hole and then pulling it back up with four nearby holes.  The acidic solution dissolves the minerals.

This process requires fracturing and must be below the water table.  It supposedly can be permitted in 18 months and built in a year.  At the end, wells are flushed and then filled with cement.

This article enthusiastically states, “The San Manuel copper mine, owned by BHP Billiton, was a successful operation…”  However, BHP Billiton admits, “The water quality of the future lake is expected to be affected by spent process solutions that remain in the former open pit mine as a result of in situ mining on the benches. . . . the pit lake pH is expected to approach 5.0, and dissolved metals will still be present in the water.”  See

"Copper and Sustainability", Copper Development Association

Mostly about the usefulness of copper.  Small nod to recycling.

"Copper Mining In A Cotton Field? The Florence In-Situ Mine" by John Kline, the environmental project manager at BHP Copper's Florence site

Reprinted from "On CU", January - March, 1997, Vol. 1, No. 2.
"On CU" is the quarterly publication of BHP Copper, a business group of The Broken Hill Proprietary Corp., Ltd.

This article is very positive about in-situ mining.  For example, “Its hard to imagine putting a sulfuric acid solution into the ground, and protecting the environment. But the permitting process makes sure the environment is protected.”

On the other hand, we have "Proposed Florence In-Situ copper Mine a Bad Idea", Arizona Mining Reform Coalition,
"Working to ensure mining is done responsibly to protect communities and the environment in Arizona."

In 2011, fourteen years after it was proposed, this mine still had opposition, including changing the zoning of a residential area and complaints that the mine will contaminate groundwater.  See also "Underground acid mining threatens Florence communities", Dan Steuter, conservation chair of the Grand Canyon Chapter of the Sierra Club, Arizona Republic, 2011-08-28.  As of January 2014, the project had not been fully started.  See "Florence Copper Project". What was that about 18 months to obtain all necessary permits?

The Saskatchewan Eco Network offers several steps to reduce the need of mined products and to minimize the impact of mining.  See

"Is green mining possible?" by Max Mallet, Green Living.  The article is undated but the page copyright is 2014.  He wrote that a "good mining company" "is actually a recycling company".  He stated that mining companies have too much "secrecy in reporting toxic mining waste".  "[T]he industry has a long way to go before it can even be considered remotely green."

Microbiology students at Kenyon College wrote a paper on the use of bacteria to leach copper from ore: "Copper Mining Using Acidothiobacillus".  The process has been used in Chile and Uganda.  Their conclusion is that "Biomining has proved to be a cheaper, more efficient, and more environmentally-friendly alternative than non-biologically mediated techniques for copper mining…" This is a relative statement; is no harm done or less harm done than in other processes?

"Copper-mining: A boom too far? Why mining's comeback fails to thrill some residents of 'Copper Triangle'", The Economist, 2012-04-14.  This article presents many views, especially in the comments.  Some praise the prosperity mines bring, others doubt the area will be the same after the mines close down.

"Environmentalists oppose Arizona copper mine: A proposed copper mine in the US state is causing deep divisions between industry, local people and environmentalists", Alan Fisher, AlJazeera, 2013-03-05

Fisher covers a lot of pros and cons; the comments are worth reading also.  They range from we don't trust mining to we need mining for our national prosperity.  One repeated complaint in this and other articles was that the mining companies were all foreign companies.

United Mines Inc. claims to be "America's Eco-Friendly Miners".  However, its stock is trading around five cents.  According to Yahoo! Finance, the last financial summary was in 2012: $132,000 in assets and $243,000 in liabilities.  Compare this with PolyMet's assets of $93,215,000 and liabilities of $136,920,000.  What's this about government should live within its means?  Neither of these companies appears to be living within their means.  Will they have the means to pay for any damages they might cause?  How long will it be before they have sufficient revenue to balance the books?

How would $132,000 or even $93,215,000 provide for cleanup after the mine was closed up, even for a year much less 200 to 500 years?

“At other mining sites in Arizona and across the country, environmental remediation intended to address soil and groundwater contamination resulting from decades of mining activity has been delayed or neglected altogether due to lack of funding. Inadequate financial assurance obligations, corporate bankruptcies, and corporate buyouts can lead to such orphaned sites.” – “Get the Facts”, Protect Our Water Future

“Both mechanical and non-mechanical treatment would require periodic maintenance and monitoring activities. Mechanical water treatment is part of the modeled NorthMet Project Proposed Action for the duration of the simulations (200 years at the Mine Site, and 500 years at the Plant Site)”
- Executive Summary, “NorthMet Mining Project and Land Exchange”, Supplemental Draft  Environmental Impact Statement, November 2013, Executive Summary, Minnesota Department of Natural Resources, United States Army Corps of Engineers, United States Forest Service
The link to the PDF file can be found at

So, would $143,000,000 protect the water for 200 years?

Adam Smith’s warning about those who live by profit is still appropriate after 200 years:

"The proposal of any new law or regulation of commerce which comes from this order, ought always to be listened to with great precaution, and ought never to be adopted till after having been long and carefully examined, not only with the most scrupulous, but with the most suspicious attention. It comes from an order of men, whose interest is never exactly the same with that of the public, who have generally an interest to deceive and even to oppress the public, and who accordingly have, upon many occasions, both deceived and oppressed it."

See “The Invisible Adam Smith”.

If you would like to comment on the PolyMet copper mining project, submit your comments before March 13, 2014 to

Also published in the Reader Weekly of Duluth at

Tuesday, February 04, 2014

The Party of One Caucus

Tonight was Caucus Night in Minnesota.  The Democratic-Farmer-Labor (DFL) and the Republican Parties had local caucuses in numerous places throughout the state.  The Green Party had a caucus in Duluth and I know not where else.  The Independence Party had a caucus somewhere in the Twin Cities plus an online caucus.  As The Party of One I stayed home and had a caucus with myself.

This caucus reviewed the stances of the other parties and found them wanting.

The Republicans think government can do no right and corporations know best.  The only time government can do right is when it decides to go to war.  They are all for individual choices except when they don't like the choices.  They seriously believe that anyone can succeed with hard work.

The DFL has an anti-corporation bias as its members drove to the caucuses in cars and took notes on laptops and tablets.  They generalize that those who aren't well off got that way because of corporate greed and an inadequate safety-net.

The Green Party is like the DFL except it wants even more renewable energy and conservation.

The Independence Party is sort of like the Republican Party without the rough edges.

While all members of these caucuses were reinforcing themselves in their beliefs, the Party on One caucus sat in front of the fireplace with another glass of wine and then a cup of coffee.  It pondered all the above and then took a nap.  It did resolve to vote in every election, most likely for DFL candidates.  The Party of One might support other parties if they nominate candidates who truly want to make government work for the public good.

Monday, February 03, 2014

They said, he said, finding sources of "quotes"

I am considering sending a comment to the Minnesota DNR on the proposed PolyMet mining project in northern Minnesota.  I would use the Adam Smith quote about not trusting those who live by profit, and I would like to quote Tony Baldwyn, CEO of BP at the time of the Gulf Oil Spill.  I thought I had a good one about the "very modest environmental impact.  The problem was I could only find one source, and that was in a YouTube that had been pulled for copyright infringement.

Well, I persisted and found the original.  It was an interview with Sky News, "BP Chief: Oil Spill Impact 'Very Modest'".  He said "I think the environmental impact of this disaster is likely to have been very, very modest."  That is what I heard him say on the video and what was stated in the web page.

Now Tony Hayward is "Interim Non-Executive Chairman" of Glencore Xstrata and on the Health, Safety, Environmental & Communities Committee!  Glencore owns about 18% of PolyMet.  Since Glencore owns shares of Polymet, if there are any major problems it need only sell its shares and have no further responsibility.