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September 01, 2005

"Let me get this straight. You want to measure the corn height again? That's six times this week!"


I'm trying to balance a trip to Kentucky with Fabulous Babe's work and class schedule. Along the way I would drop Jack with Farmer Mom and Dad so that I could focus on some things.

Unfortunately the timing collides with the harvest when Farmer Mom and Dad are going to be extremely busy. Right now the timing looks ok for what we have in mind. We'll see. If gas approaches $10 a gallon I'll probably wait but otherwise I think it's a go.

Farmer Dad just wants the season to be over. The new help isn't really working out. It's not that she's not cheerful or enthusiastic but her long term agricultural prospects are probably a little short lived:


As worthless as she is in the field, what with being unable to work due to extreme sunburn, Farmer Dad has noticed at least one upside: his parts and order deliveries are coming faster than they have in 30 years. All the way out to the barn. Imagine that.

(You have no idea how long it took to find a picture of a somewhat cute girl on top of farm equipment similar to what my Father in Law owns. I've been working on this joke for over a year. Heh!)

Posted by Jim at 12:45 PM | Comments (0)

September 02, 2005

New Orleans

In our house I'm the only one of us that has been to New Orleans. I spent a week there for work one year. Flying into the city I can remember the pilot commenting on the dykes holding back the water that would otherwise flood the city. Thinking of my time there this week has been painful to say the least.

One of the human race's worst traits is a short memory. A little over 100 years ago Galveston, TX was hit by a Category 5 storm. (I believe the first ever recorded in history.) Over 6000 people died over the course of two days. In 4 generations the lessons of Galveston were lost to politicians at the Federal, state and local levels, especially in the wake of the storms of the 1950's and 1960's.

I've been brought to tears several times over the last few days. When you understand the aftermath of a situation like this the horrors to come are even more gut wrenching. The pollution, the disease, all will mix into a hellish quagmire that will be decades to truly overcome. Worse still are the preventable deaths that come from a lack of electricity and refrigeration. As an example the Insulin stocks in New Orleans became useless unless people took extraordinary measures.

The frustration at the pace and speed of the federal government is understandable. Those in a nightmare look for delivery from their suffering. They want only for a light to find its way into unimaginable darkness, for their loved ones to have their pain taken away and their most basic needs to be taken care of. They want only what all of us want.

The most immediate problem that the relief faced was how to get into the area. The problem not being stated clearly by some is well summarized in this excerpt from an email I read:

I run a trade association of tank truck carriers trying to assist in the relief efforts by transporting food and potable water. I'm in regular contact with many of the companies, and here are some "on the ground" facts:

1) Large trucks (80,000 lbs. gross weight) almost always have to use the Interstates. For trucks attempting to come in from outside the area, most of those roads (approaching the disaster area) are either closed or have bridges out. The so-called secondary roads may be somewhat passable, but their bridges (over rivers and streams) are not built to sustain such loads. Simply stated, you can't get there from here.

2) Trucks domiciled in those areas (because that's where the companies traditionally serve customers) are still underwater, thus the equipment is not accessible;

3) Nobody in their right mind is going to take loads of gasoline and fuel oil into a city controlled by unfriendly folks carrying automatic weapons. A tank truck loaded with 8,000 gallons of gasoline can produce a very impressive fire;

4) Those local trucking companies can't contact their drivers. There's no power, thus (even) cellular is unavailable, and many of the drivers homes (in places like Kenner, Slidel, Metarie, etc) have been destroyed and families dispersed. I have one member with about 120 drivers and mechanics in that immediate area. To date, management has been able to contact 12. Those in the National Guard have been mobilized and are not available to drive.

5) Pumps -- needed to load the vehicles -- don't work because there's no power;

That’s just the tip of the iceberg. Another key fact is that those doing the rescuing have to be self sufficient from the existing problem. It’s why airmobile troops are great in concept but if they can’t be sustained with supplies, rest and refit then you do little more than create additional refugees in time.

This is the first crisis since our government formed something called the Northern Command to deal with national events of this nature. Like all government bureaucracies the base human instinct to “do the right thing” is checked by more and more layers of approval, staging, oversight, etc. This check is balanced by the good the government brings: aid in scope far beyond the ability of local areas to provide. The sheriff of the town knows everyone but he can’t rescue, feed or find everyone by himself. The FEMA ground coordinator has the supplies, the extra hands on deck but needs local guides to know where to direct it. It’s awkward, and like all bureaucracies it is always in need of tuning but it’s the best solution in all.

An apt comparison of what has happened on the Gulf Coast is to compare it to a particularly dirty radioactive bomb having exploded. Short of the radioactivity it’s really very similar: the pollution, the scope, etc. It’s also a comparison that helps frame the casual observers mind to what exactly has happened and how large an area has been ruined.

New Orleans was protected by dykes rated for a Class 3 storm. The need to upgrade them has been known for 40+ years. The problem has always been the expense and who will bear the cost, the US government and LA, and in what proportions. Every federal government since the Johnson administration has considered, debated and pushed off the issue. For those 40+ years politicians have rolled the dice with every storm season. Now, for the first time since Galveston, the roll produced snake eyes.

Disasters, man made and natural, occur from time to time with a frequency that, again, we collectively tend to put out of our minds as time passes. My family lost several people to the flu pandemic that swept the world shortly after World War I and yet most people in the western world seem to be paying little attention to the current avian flu crisis in China. (I have thoughts on that that I’ll save for another post.)

People watching the television and witnessing what has happened in New Orleans saw similar circumstances these past few years in Florida and North Carolina. (The earthquake in Northridge is another good example.) Despite this most people, including many of you reading this currently, don’t have the basic stocks to survive something similar in their own backyards. The Office of Homeland Security offers some excellent suggestions on what you should have here: Link to the kit breakdown.

New Orleans will recover, time will heal wounds. The immediate needs will give way to thoughtful questions that will prove hard to answer and will be the cause of positive change. We will aid our family, friends and strangers and in doing so will be the better for it. Help how you can and do what you must.


Posted by Jim at 09:06 PM | Comments (0)

September 13, 2005

"I find reading in the nude to be quite relaxing..."


Naked Boy sometimes stops in the midst of his post bath romp to catch up on some light reading...

Posted by Jim at 12:46 PM | Comments (0)

"It's just you, me and 478 miles kid..."

Jack and I hit the road last week. Here's an action shot of Jack during our ride down:


Fabulous Babe had me install the car seat behind the drivers seat in her car but this allowed Sir Snicklebritches to kick Dad from behind and occasionally pelt me with Goldfish and Nuks. *sigh*

More stories to come and the great drought is over. I promise.


P.S. Grace asked what kind of car Fabulous Babe has. It's a Volvo S60 T-5 that we bought last year. (Slightly used off lease which literally cut the cost in half.) It's a great car with the all important 4 doors instead of 2.

Posted by Jim at 12:48 PM | Comments (0)

September 16, 2005

"Can we do a little more pre-planning on these hospital visits next time?"

I drove from my Dad's house to Fabulous Babe's parents farm on Monday. Just under 1000 miles which is just enough to make you want to not drive a car again for a very long time.

Early Tuesday morning, around 3ish, my Dad went to the emergency room. Shortly after arriving he underwent surgery.

I didn't find this out until late Tuesday. My stepmom was in NY visiting her mother so as soon as she heard she began the drive back. (No cell phone.) I found out when I called his business and one of the staff told me.

My dad is a lousy patient. He doesn't like to see doctors and certainly doesn't want to admit he's actually ill. It's genetic to a degree but I don't think I am quite as bad as he is.

Dad's illness Tuesday came as a complete surprise to me and really set things on edge for me. He's only 56 and I'll be damned if I'm ready to have him throw me any curve balls. I talked to him yesterday for the first time since the weekend he sounded tired and weak. My stepmom is saying that things are going well when I spoke to her but he's just not himself.

Maybe it's time for some stories about my dad.

I may, although he'll probably dig a moat to prevent it, go down to help when my dad gets out of the hospital. We'll see.

Posted by Jim at 07:57 AM | Comments (0)

September 26, 2005

"Sick call."


Just when things were starting to get back to normal Jack started to get sick last week. Strange cough and then on Wednesday the dreaded high fever and the "Come get him" phone call from Mrs. Dawn's Day Spa for the Small and Troublesome.

A visit to Doctor Molotov seems to pin it down to a virus/flu/something. Either way it's home with Dad on Wednesday and Thursday.

(Did I mention that Fabulous Babe was in California from Monday until late Thursday night? MBA classes all day Friday and Saturday as well.)

Friday at 5:00 am Jack wakes us screaming. Temp was 102.6 before he threw the thermometer across the room. A lukewarm bath seemed to bring it down but I took Jack to the Doctors again. (Dr. September since Molotov was off on Friday.) Now we have an ear infection.

By Friday afternoon Jack just wanted to have me hold him while he fell asleep. Worse was that he had now succeeded in giving the mystery illness to both myself and Fabulous Babe.

By Sunday night Jack was seemingly fit as a fiddle. Until we noticed a strange rash on his back during his bath. Not sure what it is yet.

Fabulous Babe has a dry cough but seems to have missed most of the worst of the bug. I had the high fever and it seems to have taken up residence in my chest. I'm having a lot of trouble breathing and am off to see the doctor in a bit.


p.s. On Thursday night Fabulous Babe got home close to midnight from her business trip to CA. As she was settling into bed she told me that I had done a great job this week with Short Stack. Easily the nicest compliment I've gotten in a long time and very gratifying.

This past week has been a good example of why I quit work for a while. With Fabulous Babe's work, school and travel schedule both of us working would have made this week impossible to manage without serious consquences. Balancing family and work is hard but in the end you should always make the right choice: putting family first. I know that Jack doesn't understand any of that now but when he's sick I want him to be held, and loved, by myself or FB. As he sobbed his way to sleep last Thursday in my arms the sting of not having a regular paycheck was the furthest thing from my mind.

Posted by Jim at 09:30 AM | Comments (0)

"I'm terrified of what other gags he has up his sleeve."

Fabulous Babe's MBA homework has been pretty stiff so far. A little to my right her Financial Accounting book is lurking for a chance to ambush her again. I got up from bed last night and closed the office door so Jack wouldn't wake from her colorful swearing.

The lecture classes are good from all she's said. One of the professors on Saturday had the wireless mike go out and as he opened the podium he explained that one of the other professors, a process improvement type, had done a study that found that having replacement batteries in the podium would save people the time of going down the hall to find one. As he replaced the battery he then put the dead battery back in the box with the other fresh ones.

"I love screwing with those process improvement people."

A man after my own heart.

Posted by Jim at 09:45 AM | Comments (0)

Whooping it up outside...

Summer is fast a forgotten thing here in the arctic north of Minnesota. We're already getting some pretty chilly weather and the overcast sky is starting to creep in at the edges.

On Sunday of last week I had Jack outside in the warmth and sunshine and managed to capture a few moments before we wish Summer a fond farewell:


I suppose if I were arty enough I would come up with something clever to title this picture: "Moon over an unmowed lawn" or perhaps "Child at play on a field of verdant green." Jack is picking up a small inflatable ball which you can't see. I was pleased that the colors worked out as nicely as they did. The symmetry of Jack in a direct line with the tree was, of course, planned. (Ha ha.)


"Jack pushing his friend the block eating hippo." He doesn't need it to walk mind you, or run for that matter, but every once in a while he gets a kick out of running along behind it. Meanwhile a certain soaker hose that Fabulous Babe has now decided we don't need lays in the way. (I hate throwing it out but no one in the neighborhood I spoke to needs one.)

Jack's face you ask? None of the mugshots turned out worth a darn.

Posted by Jim at 02:36 PM | Comments (0)

"These are too cool!"

When we bought our house it was a model for the neighborhood. As it was the dead of January we bought the house sans lawn. At the closing a couple of months later we received money from the builder to go towards getting a lawn and a sprinkler system.

Jack's never, to my knowledge, noticed the sprinklers before. The other night when we were coming back from a walk in the little red wagon Jack was awestruck at the sight of the sprinklers.

For the next 5 minutes I let him explore this strange new thing. He slowly walked towards them and after figuring out that they were just throwing water around he got braver and braver until finally:


SMASH! Jack put his hand on one and laughed like he had just discovered the greatest thing ever.

Before he chilled I scooped him up and immediately threw him into a warm bath. (Where he proceeded to splash like a maniac.) If he thought this was fun just wait until he discovers that Dad sprung for the wireless remote for the sprinkler a few years back and occasionally uses it to ambush really obnoxious door to door solicitors...

The home alarm salesperson that got really pushy on my doorstep last spring was the last recipient of my water born wrath. After the tool claimed he was a part of our "block watch" and produced some phoney credentials and then produced some paperwork claiming the local police deparment had endorsed him for our neighborhood. I nodded politely as he lied some more and, unnoticed by said solicitor, reached behind my back and hit the button on the remote hanging from my belt. Sure enough the sprinkler nozzle I have aimed at the porch came to life with a raspy gurgle and a sputter. As he was turning in dismay to the noise, a "Poseidon Adventure" worthy torrent of water began soaking him to the bone. As he tried to dodge the spray and mitigate the damage with his clipboard I simply closed the door. He was running for the drive the last I saw but the other sprinkler heads I have aimed accordingly made sure he got the full treatment.

Girl scouts? Kids raising funds for schools? Polite folks just trying to earn a living? No problem. People pretending to be my neighbor who then lie in an effort to get me to sign up with their alarm service? My waterbourne vengence awaits...

Posted by Jim at 02:46 PM | Comments (0)

Great news from Seattle!

My friend The Artist has proposed to the love of his life.

I can't say how thrilled I am about this. I've known him for almost 15 years and when I met his fiance almost two years ago I thought she was perfect for him the first time I met her. After talking to her I was even more certain. I've been waiting for this news ever since.

Their wedding is next spring and is a very welcome thing.

Woo hoo!

Posted by Jim at 03:52 PM | Comments (0)

"A boat for the Pirate King! Part Two!"

You may remember my drool infested post from July where I revealed my lust for a toy boat for Jack. (See here.)

Some well meaning soul passed me this link: Retro 1-2-3's USS Liberty. It's cheaper than G.B.N.'s Kaiser Wilhelm II which is a plus. (Again I remind you to turn your speakers down before following that last link.) The notion of a battle group of 2-4 of these is too cool.

I just love the notion of Jack's navy cutting across a pond like Admiral Dewey's fleet being led by the Olympia. Brings a tear to my eye it does.

With my luck he'll think all of this is just a complete waste of time.

Posted by Jim at 04:32 PM | Comments (0)

"Huzzah! Progress!"

99.99% of the Archive photos are now back up.

Editing and typo correction is next...

Posted by Jim at 11:21 PM | Comments (0)

September 27, 2005

"You wondered what came with the title Director of Strategery."

Fabulous Babe: "I need a code name."

Me: "Huh?"

FB: "I need a code name for a secret plan we're putting into place at work."

Me: "So Director of Strategery means you get to name all the secret plans?"

FB: "Yes."

Me: "Next thing you know you'll have minions."

FB: "Only if it's in the CapEx budget."

Posted by Jim at 03:53 PM | Comments (0)

"I wonder where all of my flowers go?"

When we got home from Mrs. Dawn's last night Jack wanted to wander around outside for a while and I went diving for the camera.


Jack loves to sit on steps and look around. He's very careful about walking up, deliberately turning around and then sitting down. He'll sit for several minutes taking everything in before moving away. I think he likes to sit and just observe which is nice to see at an early age.


Jack also loves to tear the flowers off of mommy's plants and smell them. I caught him in mid-sniff here. Usually he'll sniff them for a about two or three times and then they're "spent" and he'll throw them away.

Maybe he'll be a gardner?

Posted by Jim at 04:04 PM | Comments (0)

"I just hope one morning he doesn't wake up and look like Boy George."


Come on everyone! Sing along!

"I walked along the avenue.
I never thought I'd meet a girl like you;
Meet a girl like you.
With auburn hair and tawny eyes;
The kind of eyes that hypnotize me through;
Hypnotize me through.

And I ran, I ran so far away.
I just ran, I ran all night and day.
I couldn't get away.

A cloud appears above your head;
A beam of light comes shining down on you,
Shining down on you.
The cloud is moving nearer still.
Aurora borealis comes in view;
Aurora comes in view.

And I ran, I ran so far away.
I just ran, I ran all night and day.
I couldn't get away.

Reached out a hand to touch your face;
You're slowly disappearing from my view;
Disappearing from my view.
Reached out a hand to try again;
I'm floating in a beam of light with you;
A beam of light with you.

And I ran, I ran so far away.
I just ran, I ran all night and day.
I couldn't get away."

Just our luck to have a boy who averages one "Flock of Seagulls" look alike morning at least once a month.

Posted by Jim at 04:08 PM | Comments (0)

September 28, 2005

"Pirates? Check. Buried Treasure? Check. Lawyers? Check. All we need now are ninjas."

From the Toronto Star:

"This story has everything you ever wanted in a newspaper article.

It has buried treasure. Lots of it. Or so they say.

It has pirates.

It has cutting-edge technology in the form of a gold-sniffing robot.

It has a real-life castaway, abandoned on a deserted sub-tropical island, where he lived for four years on wild goats and turnips.

It has a seminal work of English literature, inspired by the travails of that aforementioned castaway.

It has lust and greed and free-booting treasure-hunters.

It has myriad government agencies with their attendant panoply of red tape and regulations.

It has lawyers. Lots of them.

With all of this — and more — how could there not be gold, and lots of it?"

Read on...

"There has to be treasure," says Leopoldo Gonzalez, mayor of what must be among the remotest communities on earth.

The town he runs is called San Juan Batista — population: about 800 — the only human settlement on Robinson Crusoe Island and capital of the Juan Fernandez Islands, a minuscule archipelago located some 600 kilometres off the coast of Chile.

The mayor is not alone in believing there is gold buried beneath the verdant surface of Robinson Crusoe Island.

Many others in Chile, and beyond, are convinced that immense quantities of plunder have been hidden here for nearly three centuries, ever since English buccaneer Cornelius Webb unearthed some 600 barrels of bullion and coins — originally buried in 1715 or so by a Spanish pirate named Juan Esteban Ubilla y Echeverria — and interred them anew in a place of his own choosing, where they have mouldered in secret over the long, damp course of the years.

For decades, foreign adventurers have been trying to find the self-same treasure, notably an American millionaire by the name of Bernard Keiser, who has spent six years and a reported $1 million in search of the Robinson Crusoe gold, so far without success.

But, this past weekend, a team of Chilean entrepreneurs announced that they have succeeded where, until now, everyone else has failed.

Using a robotic device developed in Chile over the past 20 years, the treasure-hunters — all employees of a Santiago company called Wagner Tecnologia — say they took just two days last week to identify three sites on the island where the treasure is buried and where it will apparently remain while the firm lobbies for government approval to dig it up.

"The company is seeking the respective permits," Jose O'Ryan, a lawyer for the company, told the Toronto Star in a telephone interview yesterday. "There's a pretty lively argument over who will get the money."

That's no surprise. After all, company officials say the treasure comprises between 700 and 800 tonnes of gold and other precious metals. They estimate the value of the find at no less than $10 billion (U.S.), an amount that is swelling rapidly in people's minds as they ponder the implications of that much gold.

"Vienti-mil-millones de dolares," said Gonzalez, the island mayor, when asked to estimate the value of the treasure apparently buried beneath the speck of terra firma, where he and his ancestors have dwelled since 1880. "Twenty-billion dollars."

He believes the islanders should get a fair chunk of it.

For their part, the men who claim to have located the gold are also saying — if you can believe it — that they aren't interested in profiting personally from the discovery, or not directly.

Instead, them mean to donate their share of the lucre to several charities, including a Catholic welfare agency called Hogar del Cristo, a national fund-raising drive for disabled people called el Teleton, and the Baptist Church.

What they really want, according to company spokesman Fernando Uribe-Etxeverria, is to attract commercial interest in their machine, a locally developed device said to be capable of probing the earth to depths of up to 50 metres by means of gamma-ray impulses.

Dubbed "Arturito" — or "Little Arthur" — the machine was invented by a Chilean researcher named Manuel Salinas and has been gradually refined over the past 20 years. It has won some fame in Chile by helping police investigate a couple of tricky cases, including the disappearance last year of businessman Francisco Luis Yuraszeck. According to O'Ryan, the machine was used successfully to locate the bones of the dead man, where they were buried beneath the patio of a house previously searched by police.

Whether the device is as effective at locating buried gold is another question, and not everyone believes the treasure supposedly hidden on the island has indeed been found.

Perhaps foremost among the doubters is Keiser, the American adventurer who has been seeking the same cache of gold for nearly six years. He was expected to arrive on Robinson Crusoe Island yesterday to renew his search.

"I'm not an expert, but I know a lot about geophysical machines," he told the Santiago newspaper El Mercurio on Sunday. "And what (these people) say is very difficult to believe. If it were that easy, why have they not found all the gold and diamonds and petroleum in the world?"

Meanwhile, the folks at Wagner Tecnologia insist they know exactly where the treasure is hidden but are keeping the information secret until they obtain government permits to bring the gold to the surface and until they know for sure who owns the plunder.

According to Chile's civil code, such windfalls are supposed to be divided evenly between the finder and whoever owns the land where the find took place — in this case, the government of Chile.

But another law, this one relating to national monuments, appears to cede all of the gold to the government.

The Juan Fernandez Islands were declared a national park in 1935. In 1966, Chile changed the names of two of the three islands to Alejandro Selkirk Island and Robinson Crusoe Island in a bid to promote tourism. The names allude to the romantic and storied history of the volcanic archipelago.

In 1705, Scottish sailor Alexander Selkirk waded ashore onto an uninhabited crest of the earth then called Isla Mas a Tierra —what is now Robinson Crusoe Island — in order to avoid sailing any longer on a English galleon commanded by William Dampier, a leaking craft named Cinq Ports that subsequently sank with the loss of most on board.

For the ensuing four years, Selkirk lived alone on the island, taming feral cats to keep the rats under control and dining on wild goat, until he was finally rescued in February 1709 by an English privateer named the Duke.

The man's tribulations became the stuff of legend and inspired Daniel Dafoe to pen his best-known novel, Robinson Crusoe. Now that name is poised to become the stuff of legend once again, assuming the claims of treasure buried turn out to be true.

Mayor Gonzalez fervently hopes the rumours pan out in full and that his community shares in the profits.

It was raining lightly in San Juan Batista yesterday as Gonzalez, 50, spoke on the phone with the Star. He said his town is a quiet place with only the most basic services. It has no bank, no cinema, and no large stores. A small supply ship from the Chilean seaport of Valparaiso chugs over the horizon once a month bearing food and other goods.

"We have a good level of life," he said. "There are no big problems. We live happily." It will be interesting to learn whether happiness continues to prevail on Robinson Crusoe Island once all that buried gold finally comes to light.

Assuming, of course, that it ever does.

Posted by Jim at 08:32 AM | Comments (0)

"More Pirate goodness..."

Best shirt of the year so far:

"Pirates Are Way Cooler Than Ninjas."

(There's a bumper sticker too!)

And as far as kids go...

I remember when Lego brought out their first line of Pirate toys about, gulp, almost 20 years ago. Amazing ships with cannon that worked and little mini-figures that included a Captain Redbeard.

They just re-launched a Pirates line last year. It's simply pathetic. Have a look at "Captain Redbeard's Pirate Ship" and shudder. Compare it to the high point of Lego Pirates: The Black Seas Barricuda. Even Lego realized what a winner it was and re-released it in 2002.

I was in the Lego store at the Mall of America a couple of months ago and overheard two boys talking about how silly the new Pirates looked. (They actually used the word "gay" which is pretty much the kiss of death for a boys toy.) The Lego company wonders why they are losing market share and it's easy. You just have to point them to things like this:

Mega Bloks Pyrates

Lego has been making skeletons forever but since they've begun praying to vast money losing altar that is "licensed toys" they left it to the competition to come up with undead pirates. Check out "Dread Eye's Phantom" and tell me that isn't cool.

Cool undead pirates or gay pirates? Care to guess which is selling well and which isn't?


Posted by Jim at 08:50 AM | Comments (0)

"This is your life before a baby. *SMASH* This is your life after having a baby. Any questions?"

Mr. and Mrs. Drastic Lifestyle Change had a baby girl the other day.

Elizabeth was born at 11:55 on Monday night, 7 lbs, 20 1/4 inches long, and all are fine and fit as a fiddle. (One day before the due date.)

Worth a chuckle is that Mrs. Drastic Lifestyle Change is planning to attend several social occasions over the next few weeks. I think the plans might change a bit now. We'll see.

Posted by Jim at 09:20 AM | Comments (0)