Saturday, June 30, 2012

Hot in Needles

Saturday will see 114 degrees in Needles, CA with 0% chance of rain. Needles has two claims to fame: Snoopy's brother Spike lives there and the legendary Rt 66 runs through town. Needles was the first stop in California for those travelers headed west on the Mother Road.  The hottest natural air temps that I have personally experienced occurred when I passed through the dusty town several summers  ago - 118 degrees.  Oh it gets hotter in Death Valley, but I've only visited Death Valley in the "off season," missing out on 129 degrees.

Friday, June 29, 2012

English Teacher Lament

From my oldest daughter, the High School English teacher:

Good news: I'm registered for a summer course. Bad news: I'm losing faith in our state universities. I picked up my book and found not one, not two, but three grammar errors on the bookstore receipt: "Last day to return textbooks for a full refund 2 bussiness days, No refunds on goggle's." Ugh! Like nails on a chalkboard.

All I can say to that is "edumacation isn't what it yous to bee."

Geologists Can Write?

Never let a geologist title their own book, otherwise you end up stuff like:

Thursday, June 28, 2012

Some Days at Work...

Some days it's more fun to look out my window than work on a client report.
Rainy Flowers - II

Saturday, June 23, 2012

Double-take Businesses

Have you ever come across a business establishment that caused you to do a double-take because of their name?  Specifically, businesses that offer two unrelated services or products?  One of my nieces in NC posted this local store front on her FB page awhile back. It reminded me of some others I had come across, most recently, Jake’s Coffee and Car Wash (Lebanon, NH). But I dug through some of my research files (aka, basement dust collectors that irk my Better Half) and came up with these:

JayBees Auto Service and Henry’s Hair Studio (Tucson, AZ)
Lee’s Laundry and Fitness Center (Milo, ME)
Garbers Ice Cream, Guns and Ammo (Clear Brook, VA)
Bingo & Ballet (Strasburg, VA)
Raymond Real Estate and Donut Shop (Raymond, NH – burned down)
Veterinarian and Well Driller (Bedford, NH)
Mainstreet Ice Cream, TV, VCR and Video (Colebrook, NH)
Hilltop Pizza, Video and Tanning Salon (Parkersburg, WV)
Elizabethon Herb and Metal Company (Elizabethon, TN)
Stan’s Baseball Cards and Frozen Storage (Sea-Tac Airport, WA)

And my personal favorite, Ray’s TV and Shoe Repair. This was a shop located in the old Granite Square section of Manchester, NH before urban renewal plowed it under. This was also back in the days when TV’s had tubes, and were mostly repairable when on the fritz.  But what kind of guy has skill sets suitable for both electronics and shoe repair?  I always regretted not getting a photo of Ray’s store sign.

Friday, June 22, 2012

Remembering "The Machine"

A few years ago I attended an open-air antique car rally in our town. It was held on a on a blazingly hot and humid July day.  Among the interesting vehicles parked for display was a black 1941 Ford pickup truck.  The windows were open so I stuck my head inside the cab to get a closer look. The smell of that interior immediately brought me back to riding in my grandfather’s cars as a child in the late 1950s/early 1960s. My mother’s father, Eugene Mondou, had a small poultry farm on Dalton St. in the community of Acushnet, near New Bedford, MA.  My family lived in the Philadelphia area at the time and I was able to spend several summers with my grandparents in Acushnet between the ages of about 9 to 13.

My grandfather’s car (he owned only one at a time and my grandmother did not drive) was usually parked in a two-bay detached garage. I suspect that he and his sons (probably with the help of friends) built that garage, as they had also built the colony of chicken coops clustered around the property. The garage had big swinging gray wooden doors and a dirt floor. The interior walls were exposed framing and siding, and I think coasted with a creosote-like substance, which on a hot August day would emit a faint petroleum odor even many years after being applied. Also stored in this oversized garage were paints and oils and plenty of equipment like lawn mowers – all adding to the unique garage aroma, or “bouquet.” Plus, my grandfather used a liberal amount of kerosene around his little farm. He would pour a generous amount around his house foundation to keep ants and other bugs out.  The recollection of that house returns when I smell the odor of kerosene.

The car.  My grandfather always had modest cars, a Plymouth or Ford maybe, always a stick shift if I recall accurately. No frills for this frugal French Canadian former textile mill worker and one-time amateur boxer. And he always referred to his car as “the machine.”  “Come on Dennis, let’s take the machine and go see a guy about chicken mash (feed).”  So I’d climb into the machine with its characteristic smell and take a short drive with him across town with the summer afternoon sun blazing away and baking us through the windshield. A near-perfect summer event for an 11 year old boy with no job or school worries.

I suppose his cars would have naturally picked up the odor of the garage. Very few cars had air conditioning in those days (none in my extended family except Uncle Chuck from FL on my father’s side - his brother-in-law).  So the windows of my grandfather’s car were probably open most of the summer – even when parked in the garage. There were broad cloth seats and door trim to soak up those odors – not unpleasant – just distinctive. And apparently – quite memorable.

Someday You May Land in Bangor

...whether you want to or not.

A few weeks ago in writing about the Cold War, I posted some side comments about Bangor International Airport.  This WSJ article elaborates further on Bangor's role in international aviation today.

"Since 2005, Bangor, a former Air Force base, has handled 647 diverted flights. Most have come in for fuel, such as a flurry of flights this spring that needed to stop for gas because of strong headwinds. But some have serious emergencies."

Semi-related factoid: When Bangor first started commercial passenger service with the hopes of being a reasonably busy travel destination (on purpose), Hilton built a small multistory hotel attached to the terminal via an elevated walkway.  It had only 111 guest rooms at the time making it the smallest Hilton in the world.  I stayed there once on a business trip. It was comfortable and cozy. It ceased to be a Hilton hotel many years ago but is still run as an attractive Four Points Sheraton. The current claim for the smallest Hilton is one in Dubrovnik, Croatia, but that has 139 rooms and 8 apartments.  So Bangor would still reign if it had stayed within the Hilton family.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

8.5% is the New 6.5%

Unemployment rates won’t be coming down.  Not until business has a lot more confidence in signs of economic recovery. Business is skittish at best, outright scared if they would fully admit it. Employers have settled into stretching employees to the max with multiple job responsibilities. No hiring a replacement for Fred who just retired – Alice will take on Fred’s job.

I’m working with a high-tech manufacturer right now that embodies this pervasive trend. The environmental manager now has safety and health responsibilities (EHS). That’s always been pretty common in industry but he was already wearing several other hats.  And the facilities manager?  He is also the company’s security systems manager, their emergency preparedness and response manager, one of the corporate EHS managers and now has been put in charge of a special product quality initiative. This is not a 20 person machine shop owned and managed by bungling Uncle Waldo. This is the 400 person headquarters of a major high-tech manufacturer with multiple plants here and overseas.

I see evidence of the multiple hat scenarios every day and this past year it has greatly affected my consulting assignments. Right now I have at least four clients who have given me contracts to help them with tasks but I can’t get started (i.e., I can’t start the work and therefore cannot invoice the client for work done). Because my points of contact have been told not to spend the (already authorized) funds?  No. Because my points of contact are too busy to take on one more project, one more task, even if I am to do all the work. “I just can’t have you come now – I can’t put any attention to what you’re going to do. I already have too many projects on my plate.  How about coming in August? No, wait, October would be better.  Or maybe we could begin to get started in December.”  So how do you think my 2012 business plan is looking these days? And I’m just one little cog….

Saturday, June 16, 2012

Annotated Woodstock

While Joni Mitchell received wide acclaim as a folk performer, her style wasn’t as amenable to the Top 40 charts as those who took her songs and reworked them for commercial radio (think Crosby, Stills & Nash). I think you could say the same for Bob Dylan. Carol King was a prolific song writer for others but had the attractive/commercial sound to make it to the top as a recording and performance artist as well. Here are my “liner notes” on Joni Mitchell’s anthem to the original Woodstock music festival.

By Joni Mitchell

I came upon a child of God (1)
He was walking along the road
And I asked him where are you going
And this he told me
I'm going down to Yasgur's farm
I'm going to join in a rock 'n' roll band
I'm going to camp out on the land
An' get my soul free

(1)  Likely Mitchell was just using the term “child of God” to describe the innocence of youth, as yet uncorrupted by society.  But she could have meant a more specific reference. The Children of God (COG) group was started in 1968 in Huntington Beach, CA, a year before the Woodstock Festival. Many early COG converts were drawn from the hippie era and Jesus Movement of the time. The group later changed its name to the Family of Love, The Family and recently The Family International. The Children of God created controversy with its ideas of apocalypticism and revolution against the outside world that they call "the System," along with its central tenet that true disciples must drop out and "forsake all." Forsaking all literally entails abandoning all responsibilities and cutting ties with any and all—job, school, family, friends, and selling all that they have, handing over the entire proceeds to the group. According to some accounts, women would use sex — sometimes for pay — to show God's love, win converts and support the organization. The media dubbed the women "happy hookers for Jesus." The Family says the practice was discontinued in 1987.

(2)  Max Yasgur was the Bethel, NY farmer whose land was used (willingly) for the Woodstock Festival, August 15-18, 1969.  Max was a balding 49 year old with glasses who took a lot of grief from his neighbors for enabling the festival to be held in their community.

(3)  The 1960s and the hippie movement was all about “freedom” and “finding yourself.” There were no higher purposes to one’s young life.

We are stardust (4)
We are golden
And we've got to get ourselves
Back to the garden

(4)  Secularist and astronomer Carl Sagan referred to humans as “star stuff,” meaning we are just the dust of the cosmos resulting from the Big Bang, nothing more or less. Sagan claimed in his TV series, Cosmos, . . .”an extraterrestrial visitor examining the differences among human societies would find those differences trivial compared to the similarities. We are one species. We are star stuff harvesting star light. Our lives, our past and our future are tied to the sun, the moon and the stars”

(5)  Mitchell surely must have meant this as a reference to the Biblical Garden of Eden, although for literary sake with certainly no Christian theological intention.
Then can I walk beside you
I have come here to lose the smog

And I feel to be a cog in something turning
Well maybe it is just the time of year
Or maybe it's the time of man
I don't know who I am
But life is for learning

(6)  Environmentalism was fully intertwined with the 1960s. Even though the first Earth Day would not be celebrated until 1970, the environmental movement and concerns for air and water pollution were coming to the forefront by 1967 and 1968. Sanford Biologist and author Paul Ehrlich warned about over population and other pending doomsday scenarios in his very wide-read 1968 Population Bomb.

(7)  Common theme of the 1960’s youth: searching to be an individual and not a society cog (like the older generation).

(8)  Supposition: only by “experiencing life” can we learn. Books, history, current society were all secondary or antithetical to this experiencing life.
We are stardust
We are golden
And we've got to get ourselves
Back to the garden

By the time we got to Woodstock
We were half a million strong

And everywhere there was song and celebration
And I dreamed I saw the bombers
Riding shotgun in the sky
And they were turning into butterflies
Above our nation

(9)  Probably an accurate estimate of attendees. Mitchell herself passed up the chance to go to Woodstock when her manager convinced her to do the Dick Cavett talk show instead. Mitchell wrote this anthem to the festival sitting in a New York City hotel room.

(10)  The Viet Nam war saw an extensive use of high altitude jet bombers, such as the swept wing B-52. This was also the height of the Cold War with continuous threats of waves of Russian bombers delivering nuclear bombs to our shores.

We are stardust
Billion year old carbon

We are golden
Caught in the devil's bargain
And we've got to get ourselves
back to the garden

(11)  Since matter can be neither created nor destroyed, technically we’re at least as old as our Earth – some 4.54 billion years old. Either way, Joni doesn’t look her age.

(12)  n.) Devil's bargain: An extremely bad deal, with a terrible price to pay, which someone considers accepting because they can see no other way out of a truly horrible situation. Faust, in the legend, traded his soul to the devil in exchange for knowledge. To “strike a Faustian bargain” is to be willing to sacrifice anything to satisfy a limitless desire for knowledge or power.

Thursday, June 14, 2012

My Friend Peter

Graduate Peter Nhiany with friend Bol
Peter Nhiany was born in 1980 in a small village called Tong in Southern Sudan. He is Dinka by tribe from the upper Nile region of Jongley.  Peter fled his homeland when only nine years old, leaving parents, brothers and sisters in their province that was devastated by war and genocide.

Peter’s town was repeatedly attacked by insurgents over a period of years. Many, including children, were shot to death or captured. These prolonged attacks on the Dinka people resulted in parents and children fleeing for their lives, often dispersing separately.  Fleeing in desperation and fear, Peter joined with other children to escape the unceasing attacks on Sudanese Christians.

Many of the children made their way to Ethiopia and some to other neighboring countries such as Uganda and Kenya in East Africa where they gathered in refugee camps. Life in these camps was not easy due to food scarcity and endemic disease. Many children perished in these camps in spite of the best efforts of humanitarian relief workers. Nine year old Peter would live in these refugee camps apart from family for the next 12 years. His mother, sister and two cousins in Sudan were killed during this period when their village was bombed from the air.

In August 2001, through the now-famous Lost Boys rescue and resettlement program, Peter was one of the fortunate chosen to come to safety in the United States eventually settling in Manchester, NH. Peter has worked as residential counselor at Crotched Mountain Rehabilitation Center helping people with development disabilities and as a Residential Instructor with Easter Seals.

In 2006 Peter co-founded Life for Sudan, a charitable non-profit designed to assist both Sudanese refugees in New England, and to help with the rebuilding of South Sudan. Peter serves as the organization’s Vice President and has two passions in life: education as the pathway to achievement and the helping of others.  After many years of part-time study while holding a full-time job, Peter received his BS in Business Management on June 10th from Granite State College.

Peter’s graduation photo was posted on Face Book and two of his comments in response to well-wishers are reflective of his character and determination:

“Thanks to you friends, co-workers and relatives for your comments. I really appreciate you all for taking the time to acknowledge my achievement. It is my role to show every young boy or girl in my family that you can do anything you put your mind to. I did this to my 16 nieces, nephews and 4 step siblings. Sky is my limit until they get to where I want them to be. Again, thank you all for your sweet comments.”

“Brother Manyang Gak, I had to do what I had to do to get to where I'm today. It is our commitment we young men and women of South Sudan to invest in education. You made big few years ago too and I'm proud of you.”

Saturday, June 9, 2012

Education Informs Action – Sometimes

I’m certainly not trained in behavioral psychology but a truism is that liberals, and especially liberal politicians, seems to think that education is always the magic carpet that will turn around a societal ailment, undesirable condition or human attribute, or whatever. “We need to spend more on education, and then people will understand the problem and we’ll solve it.”  Of course education and being properly informed is always part of the equation, but not usually the silver bullet that works in the absence of other efforts. Nor does it work too well solo when an issue runs counter to our societal and individual free wills – what we want to do vs. what we really should do.

A great example out today in a poll conducted by AP-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research related to how the public views saving energy and whether they put knowledge into action. With many issues we face, we often don’t take actions, even when we’re quite clear on the knowledge part.

Friday, June 8, 2012

No More Car Talk!

Say it ain't so.  Click & Clack are retiring their Car Talk radio show. What am I going to do on Saturday mornings now? The retreads they're planning just won't be quite the same. Never mind climate change, this just might be the end of the world as we know it.

“My brother has always been ‘work-averse,’ ” said Ray, 63, in a statement from NPR. “Now, apparently, even the one hour a week is killing him!”

"It’s brutal!” said Tom, 74.  (Followed by laughter - of course!)

Thursday, June 7, 2012

Landscapers' Roadshow

So when exactly did landscapers run out and buy moving vans?  Were there lots of bargains on the market due to this economic slowdown where folks aren’t moving cross-country as much?  In the McMansion neighborhood that I cut through on my way to work these parked behemoths routinely block an entire lane forcing one-way traffic.  Shouldn’t there be an off-duty policeman stationed there with his warning lights flashing away?

It wasn’t long ago that landscapers towed around those open trailers made of metal mesh – that was it.  Heck, I can recall when a landscaper was a solo gentleman with a two day old scruffy beard, a push lawnmower, a rake and an aging hound dog or mutt for companionship.  All transported in the back of his 20 year old Chevy pickup truck with four dented fenders and a busted taillight.  Times ain’t what they used to be.

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Sloshing Coffee

My morning coffee cup definitely needs one of those NASA-designed sloshing suppression systems.

Dear Algebra

T-Shirt for sale on a science website:

Dear Algebra – Stop asking us to find your X. She’s not coming back.

Monday, June 4, 2012

Route 66 - Mohave

Some photos from a 2006 visit to Route 66 in the Mohave desert area. Goffs, Newberry Springs, Ludlow, Bagdad and no-name lands. And that history-rich pavement of the Mother Road.

Rt 66 Lines Don't Want to End

Off the Beaten Track in Goffs - the Pre-1931 Route 66
Henning Motel, Newberry Springs
Look Babs, Free TV in Every Room!

Sunday, June 3, 2012

We, the Fickled Faithful

This week we learned from some long-time friends that their daughter and son-in-law were leaving the church that my wife and I have been attending for the past year and a half.  This younger couple well preceded us in the church so I really don’t have a good sense as how active they were over the years. I know they were recently serving in a ministry capacity and expressed to our friends their frustration that the church was too divided between the traditionalists and those wanting more contemporary services. This is a church that has two Sunday services, the first pretty traditional and the second contemporary-leaning (I say “leaning” because it’s not alternative or radical by any stretch of the imagination).  So I’ve felt all along the accommodations to the two camps is reasonable and seems to work well. That’s at least as far as Sunday services go. Often those service-style compromises belie the underlying tensions that simmer and bubble over in many, many congregations.  My wife and I attended a church for quite a number of years whose 180 year old history was both a strength and a barrier (or “opportunity” as we’d say in management consulting circles!).  Striving for adjustments and new balances is not an undertaking for the weak of heart and inevitably there are those who do not care for the “imposed” changes that transpire, or even the trend lines they see, or think they see.

But I cast no stones because I’ve been one of these fickled congregants – often.  Even in our current church we have attended faithfully but have not taken the membership plunge. Why?  Aside from the fact that I can be a bit blasé about the need for formal membership in many types of organizations, truthfully, I have to say I enjoy not being in the fray of church leadership, or even committee participation. If I’m a member, I can’t not volunteer, not participate - my inner nag won’t hear of it.  But if I’m NOT a member, we’ll then the nag switch is turned off – or at least it’s in its electronic sleep mode.  Zzzzzzz. Life is good, I think.

Traditions in the context of denominations and church culture are interesting.  I was raised Catholic and think of liturgical services, pastoral vestments, and books and books of written prayers as ultimate expressions of traditionalism. In the late 1970s/early 80s, (and long-departed from the Catholic Church), my wife and I were members of a rapidly growing very contemporary church in our area.  This church was definitely non-traditional – no liturgy, no 18th century hymns, no pipe organ, no choir robes (are you kidding, no choir!). It wasn’t even called a church but ***** Christian Center after the trend that started in California.  We were reinventing Christianity, dude. Get with the program. This church attracted a whole raft of ex-Catholics (big French Canadian Catholic area, us) disillusioned with their own faith traditions, and many who rode the Catholic Charismatic Movement to its end point and were seeking a new church home. So I recall once at the height of this church’s popularity talking with a wise friend (who did not attended this happening church but a more traditional one) about how we were casting off traditions and blazing new roads through the wilderness. “Yeah,” he opined dryly, “but after a few years have passed you’ll forget the reasons why you do something in a certain way, why you pray this, or intone that. Then it will all be just ‘tradition’ and few if any will remember the well-intentioned origins. You’ll be one of the rest.” Wise words, AVI. I’ve not forgotten them all these years.  And that happening church we had so much faith in?  It went through leadership crises, power struggles, unchecked extremism, and finally splintered and dissolved. There’s nothing left of the organization itself – traditional or otherwise. But most of us have held on to our faith, in spite of events and maybe some questionable choices.

The other evening we were discussing faith with good friends, three couples of the PC persuasion (Practicing Christians), and the topic of regrets came up.  What did we regret with respect to faith choices we had made in years past?  Sending our children to Christian schools instead of public school?  Child-raising techniques that some may think too strict? Church failures?   Lots of lively discussions ensued. A week later one of the couples shared they continued to reflect on the regret issue after the evening discussion concluded. Regarding church involvement over the years, they decided they regretted becoming a formal part of leadership (in this case, Elder Board at a former church during a factional period where the pastor was ultimately driven out and the church dissolved into near-nothingness). But they had no regrets about all the volunteering and worker-bee activities they participated in over many years.  And they were as strong as ever in their personal faith.

Amen to that.

Friday, June 1, 2012

Climate Change Detrimental To Goths

Great piece in the British parody magazine (“The News Before It Happens”) on endangered Goths.

You also might enjoy "Whale Gives Birth Listening to CD of Humans Shouting at Each Other." Cutting edge scientific stuff.