31 August 2010

I got your Weak in Sport right here...

With apologies to Doc Yobbo.

It's time for an overview/post-mortem on some local teams.

First, the Cubs. Currently 20 games under .500 and 26.1/2 games out of first place (though happy to see the Cardinals at 6 games out of first and fading. Go Reds!). This has been a very disappointing year and a very lackluster effort. It IS the the first year under new ownership, and I don't blame the Ricketts family for sitting back and seeing what they bought for damn near a billion dollars. I wasn't expecting much this season, and it looks like I'd better not expect much for the next few seasons. It's going to take a while to get this mess straightened out. The team needs...pretty much everything, and 'everything' ain't gonna get fixed this off-season. I'd say start with new talent evaluation and scouts. Start getting some decent players in development, and start running the place like a professional organization instead of an outdoor beer garden. Manager Lou Piniella announced his retirement after the season. He also has family health issues with his mother, so the Cubs told him to leave early. I don't blame them for that-kind of a class thing to do since the team is going nowhere. And I suspect they paid him the rest of his contract. Also class.

Across town is the White Sox, who started poorly, came on in June and July to lead the AL Central, and are currently fading, 4.1/2 games behind the Minnesota Twins (my second-favorite team. They play the game right). The Sox are possibly the slowest team in baseball, and their relief pitching is woeful (and injured). They need to outslug their opponents, because if the Sox have to go to their bullpen, they're screwed. The addition of  38-year-old prima donna, former steroid user, and occasional slugger Manny Ramirez I don't think will help them that much, unless Manny can develop a fast ball, sinker, and change-up and pitch the 7th, 8th, and 9th innings of games. Not likely. I think the Sox peaked about six weeks too early. I don't think they'll make the postseason either. They ARE in better shape than the Cubs, though.

Next is DA BEARS! The Bears are 0-3 in preseason games this year. Now, the preseason record doesn't count, but what one sees happening in preseason does. Last year, the offensive line couldn't protect Jay Cutler, the receivers couldn't run their routes, and the defense let the other team convert on way too many 3rd-down-and-long plays, continuing scoring drives. After an off-season of diligent work and no player draft to speak of, the offensive line can't protect Jay Cutler, the receivers can't run their routes, and the defense allows way too many 3rd down conversions. The song remains the same... Looks like the Bears might be doing good to go 4-12 this season at this rate. And I don't trust any of the Bears' management team to get the ship righted any time soon. Watch for QB Cutler to walk to the sidelines in about Week 3 carrying his decapitated head in his hands as some blitzing lineman or linebacker pushes aside the Paper Curtain that is the Bear offensive line. The good news is that a bad Bears team frees up my Sunday afternoons.

The Blackhawks came out of their Stanley Cup season having to dump players to get back under the salary cap. Several of the 'bit' players that became key players on the way to the Cup are gone. Surprisingly, Blackhawk management had to borrow from their other businesses to make salaries for the players. This in a season when the United Center was full most nights and the team sold an arseload of merchandise. I don't think hockey players are able to be paid baseball-type salaries. The season isn't as long for hockey (82 games vs 162 for baseball), and generally the hockey teams play in smaller venues. There isn't the opportunity to pull in the same dollars. More importantly, hockey doesn't have a TV contract with a major network here in the States (though I'm sure it does in Canada), and TV revenues are where the big dough comes from. The core of the team is still intact, though. The Hawks should be competitive, but the push for a second championship is going to be a lot harder this winter.

The good news for the readers here: probably less 'Chelsea Dagger'. Oh, what the hell...one more time for old times' sake!

The Bulls...could be alright this year. I'm not a big NBA fan, but getting a very competent Carlos Boozer to complement Derrick Rose is a nucleus to build around...finally. They probably aren't going to make anyone forget Jordan and Pippen anytime soon, but considering some of the players that have trod on the court at The House That Jordan Built, they should put up a decent season and give the fans some hope for the future.

Overall, not the brightest prognosis for the upcoming seasons of the local squads.

Last Sunday, the White Sox had a ceremony showing off the major championships of the Chicago teams: the Lombardi Trophy that the Bears won in '85 (Super Bowl XX), the 2010 Stanley Cup from the Hawks, the Championship Trophy of the 2005 White Sox, and the six trophies from the great 1990s Bulls teams. Hmm-one team missing from the lineup here. Oddly enough, given Chicago's generally miserable sports teams, Chicago is the only city in America to win championships in all four major sports over the last 25 years! Go figure.

yankeedog out.

29 August 2010

Tiring experience...

...literally. I bought four new tires for the Brazen Chariot today. Actually, I bought three, since the store had a 'Buy Three, Get One Free' sale going on certain types. Not a bad deal.

I hate sitting at the tire store. I don't mind waiting for much else, but I hate waiting for tires to be installed. Do I envy those guys in NASCAR or F1 who go into the pit and 30 seconds later have new rubber all around their vehicle! Granted, those are mounted, balanced, and ready to go, but still...

You can only read the daily newspaper and that May 2008 People magazine they have in the waiting area, or inspect tread patterns on the display tires, so many times before you start to get really bored. I was reduced to finishing Ralph Peters' The War After Armageddon (Peters is a brilliant analyst, and knows all things military-rather a shame he's just not that compelling a writer of speculative fiction).

That 'rubber-and-mold-release-oil' smell, though, takes me back to my first real engineering job. It was the summer of 1984, and I had a job as an engineering assistant at a factory that made all kinds of rubber parts for the automotive and other various industries. Everything in that plant had that 'inside of a tire' scent. Molding rubber and related compounds is a hot, filthy, smelly, messy job, and if you can avoid working around the molding machines at a rubber manufacturing facility (minds out of the gutter, everyone-it wasn't the Durex plant), I recommend you do so.

Tonight, TBH's mom's church (Lutheran) had their annual corn roast, kind of a big ol' picnic, with burgers, hot dogs, and the featured roasted corn on the cob. I have to say that my patience with the elderly isn't what it should be. Her mom, bless her, is kind...but not always a big help with things. We go through a lot of the same phrases and rituals every time we go for events-I suppose most of you hear some of the same. If you don't, hang in there, you will.

Me: "Would you like-(me to get you something to drink, me to stop at this rest area, to stop here)?
Her: "We-ell...what were you planning to do?"

To which I usually say "Don't worry about we're going to do! Do...you...need...to...(whatever)!!!" I don't mind doing whatever, but we're not taking a vote where majority rules. Just tell me what to do.

Or we'll go to a buffet, she'll take a plateful, then realize she can't eat it all. "I don't think I can eat all of this. Could you eat some of this? I don't want to see it go to waste. I grew up during the Depression." Almost every time.

I didn't put it on your plate. So, no.

Her: "Could you read the menu for me?"
Me: "Where's your glasses?"
Her: "They don't help that much." or "I forgot them." Then I read the menu.
Her: "What are you going to have?"

Again, don't worry about everything else. I'm trying to get you taken care of.

Then we eat, and I hear "Is that all you're going to have?". Which is when I retort with "I thought you were a Swede. When'd you become a Jewish mother?"

When we go on a long trip, I get this: "I'm glad to be so well taken care of, and I don't have to think." Me: "Of course you have to think. No one should just shut their mind off!".

Actually, if I get to 91, I'll be saying the same things, if I'm not drooling down the front of my shirt. And when the memory fades, I reckon it is a struggle to have to get through the day. I don't find it all that infuriating because it's pretty much a ritual whenever we take her anywhere. I think she goes to seniors' events and trades notes with others there on how to get a dig in on the driver on a long trip!

She means well, and does as well as can be expected for her age. Most of her circle are either dead or in really sad shape. That I think would be depressing, especially since they were kind of the gregarious sort. She's always fairly upbeat and never complains about things, which puts her one up on yours truly!

But I digress rather extensively. The corn roast was good, and if anyone that dines regularly in the upscale establishments around the world can point to a better culinary delight than a grilled hamburger, I'd like to hear about it. It's getting to be church dinner season here (fall, into winter). You may not be a Christian. You may be an atheist-maybe a militant one. But I tell you this-you can some darn good eats at a country church, all the way from the roast pig to the dish to pass to the monster spread of home-baked desserts. OK-if you just can't bring yourself to set foot in God's house, maybe the VFW or the American Legion post public dinners are for you. Or look for the Izaak Walton League, Ducks Unlimited, or local gun club's 'wild game dinner', held at a building which has absolutely no visible roadkill in a ten mile radius around it. Just sayin'...

After the day and the week, I took a bit of time to do something relaxing for me.

(GEEK ALERT) This little beast is the familiar Constitution-class cruiser from Star Trek. They're minatures used in the wargame Star Fleet Battles, an old pencil-and-paper game with rules of similar size and complexity to the U.S. Tax Code. I don't care to play the game, but I've an idea for a vignette using these wee ships. They're fairly well done for their size (1/3788 (!) scale) and aftermarket decals are available for them. Putting waterslide decals the size of flyspecks on these ships is a challenge, but this one really is looking good for the addition of them.

These shots are blurry-the camera doesn't like focusing on something this small (I heard this very same thing when I auditioned for a porn movie-I get no respect), but you can probably make out windows and the registration stripes on the hull and the warp nacelles.

This ship is the USS Gallipoli (NCC-1752), the possibly less famous sister ship of the Enterprise. I named it Gallipoli in honor of most of my blog visitors. And the 'USS Australia' decal curled up and couldn't be salvaged (the letters are probably half a millimeter tall at this scale).

These little ships look good, and with decent decals can be made into fine little models.

That's my relaxation, working on stuff like this. I need more of that. Probably also need a life while I'm at it!

yankeedog out.

28 August 2010

Images of Empires past...

Recently I came across an article with some photos of some of the more exotic locales of the Russian Empire, circa 1910. The photographer, Sergei Prokudin-Gorskii, used a series of color filters for his shots. The end result are some pictures that look like they could have been taken yesterday with a digital camera.

Some amazing pictures, which can be seen here.

The old Russian Empire was, and today's Federation is to an extent, an exotic mixture of Asian and European cultures.

The old European empires weren't formed for any altruistic reasons. Lands were conquered, natives subjugated, and resources harvested, all in the name of the Mother Country. In some ways, the period from 1600 to 1950 was a dark time for the less technologically-advanced societies that were overtaken by one nation or other, or passed around like cards as a result of wars between the Great Powers.

But in another way, it must have been a rather 'romantic' and interesting time for citizens of the established nations of Europe. How different it must have been for a citizen of the cools and damps of, say, Denmark, to have the fortune to travel to their possessions in the Virgin Islands of the Caribbean back in the 1800s, to experience the azure waters, green palms, and tropical vistas. What stories that citizen could tell to his fellows, back in those days before instant communication and knowledge, on a cold winter's night.

What a wealth of material anyone studying societies and cultures in the Universitet in St Petersburg back in the days of the Romanovs would have had, in the stew of peoples that formed the Russian Empire!

Perhaps the greatest empire in history was the British Empire, of course.

It's mind-boggling to think that at the turn of the last century, in those days of relatively slow (read leisurely) modes of transportation, a British citizen could literally go around the world and never leave the soil of Britain-never see a flag other than the Union Jack, never leave the protection of the scarlet jacketed Army and the ironclad protector of the seas, the Royal Navy. It isn't so astounding in these days of continent-spanning jets, but in the context of the day, the building of the Empire was an amazing achievement.

The things, places, and peoples that were part of the Empire....


The heights of Victoria Falls in East Africa...

...the great animal herds of the African savannahs in Kenya and South Africa...

...the remnants of the ancient empires in Egypt...

....the heights of the Himalayas in Darjeeling....

...the old cultures and natural wealth of India, which was in many ways the battery that kept the Empire running....


....the timber, furs, minerals, and wide-open spaces of the Dominion of Canada...


...the faraway tropical isles of the South Pacific...


...and the vast majesty of the Australian continent.


The hills and dales of the harsh Scottish Highlands...


....to the intrigues of the pivotal port of Aden, protector of the Suez Canal and gateway to India and the East...


...and the clear blue waters and trade winds of Antigua and the rest of the Caribbean.

An epic and wonderful trip it would have been, a Grand Tour of the British Empire around 1900. The stuff you'd see, the people you'd meet, the things you could do would probably fill a score of books. The places I showed were a mere fraction of the possessions that were shaded in red in the atlases of the day.

A bit of perhaps poetic waxing. Maybe it wouldn't have been that great to see. But I can't figure that it wouldn't.

yankeedog out.

24 August 2010

The After America post-mortem

Before I get to the main topic, we had an estimator over to TBH's mom's to look at the foundation (see the last post). Looks like about $3000 when it's all said and done to get the foundation fixed, and not near the labor we thought to do this. Not cheap-but a darn sight better than what we thought.

To the point at hand.

Just finished up Birmingham's latest, After America. And the verdict is....

Well done! The writing is the best I've seen from Birmo. The dialogue and structure of the book were well crafted. The first part of the book especially had a very human feel to it. I really got a good feel of the background of this superpowerless world-and it's a pretty nasty place in a very dire condition. At times, After America is part technothriller, part postapocalyptic epic, part espionage novel, and more than a little bit old-fashioned Western.

Some of After America was clearly inspired by the short-lived US series, Jericho, about an America suffering the effects of a nuclear decapitation strike and the nation's slide into at least a cold war if not civil war. I also saw some of Whitley Streiber and James Kunetka's 1984 book, Warday, with its descriptions of a ravaged New York City, a much-reduced nation, and a western state deciding to go its own way. Also, there were hints of the old 1980s role-playing game Twilight:2000, many adventures of which concerned remnants of the US military surviving in a nuclear war-ravaged Europe and America. Not to say that any part of After America ripped off these works, simply that there were similarities in concept.

Not only did the U.S. suffer from the mysterious 'Wave' which saw its population eliminated. Canada is in much the same condition as the U.S.-depopulated and full of stuff for the plundering. The UK resembles the England of V for Vendetta mixed a bit with Threads-an armed camp with living standards knocked back 60 years. The rest of Europe isn't faring a lot better. The Middle East is gone to glass, as is, one assumes, most of India and Pakistan. Australia appears to be the upcoming superpower. Probably 1-2 billion have died. A bleak and challenging place to live, this post-Wave world.

The characters are fleshed out a bit more, as would be expected in this second book of the series. Of course, there are a lot of familiar names in the book-names like Orin, Atchison, Bochenski, Murphy, Porter, and Bedak, to name a few-JB's good at giving the loyal fans a part in the play, and it's fun to pick them out.

I confess to not caring too much for Caitlin, the superagent, in the first book. Her portrayal in this work was a little bit more-human, I guess. I do think her character, and that of the inimitable Rhino Ross, are a bit over-the-top as far as their abilities and talents go-but somebody has to be the unstoppable hero. Certainly not a major distraction though.

President Kipper I feel some empathy for. He's an engineer thrust into a job he probably would never have aspired to had the Wave not appeared, and he's definitely more comfortable doing things like getting industry and transportation going than he is running wars and rumors of wars.

All in all, good character development.

JB showed a good grasp of what it would take to get a nation like the US going again. It isn't all about the military. Kipper needs to get transport and communications functioning again. Birmingham paid attention to things like having rail lines restored (a transcontinental railroad hasn't been made operational yet, it appears) and the other myriad things that would need to be done to restore America to where it was even in the early 20th century. At least Kipper wouldn't have unemployment to deal with. EVERYONE that lives here should have plenty to do.

A couple of reviewers on Amazon thought Birmingham concentrated too much on detail to the detriment of pushing ths story along. I personally thought the level was about right-I don't need to know every minute detail in every scene, but some detail shows that diligent work and research was done in the writing of After America.

The American version of the book was edited well, with the only trace of British/Australian English being the use of 'torch' for 'flashlight'. A mere nitpick. Probably the most interesting decision I saw was making Kansas City the hub of federal authority in the Midwest. I probably would have picked Omaha over KC. It is, like KC, a transporation hub for road, rail, and river. It also has Offutt Air Force Base and the underground bunker command, communication, and control facilities of Strategic Command. As a practical matter, since Mr. Murphy resides in KC and not Omaha and can best provide descriptions of the former, I can understand the choice of metropolitan area. Plus KC sits smack in the middle of an 'Iron Triangle' with Forts Riley, Leavenworth, and Leonard Wood as the corners, and Whiteman AFB nearby.

The third book of the series should be a humdinger. There is the matter of the rogue ex-general down in Texas to deal with, along with the continued rebuilding of the nation and all the little bands of ne'er-do-wells trying to pick the carcass of the empty US.

While we all talk about 'explodey goodness' (and there was enough to satisfy the average reader), I didn't find After America to be all about blowing stuff up-rather, a lot more on the trials and travails of trying to rebuild a nation while everyone around is trying to destroy it.

After America-recommended! 4/4 mushroom clouds for this. You won't be disappointed!

yankeedog out.

23 August 2010

Wha's da haps in the world of YD?

I'm going to spray to all fields tonight, so strap it down and hold on!

Some things major and minor happening around here:

-After America is in the house! I've been plowing through it. I'll give my thoughts on it when I finish it up. I recognize some old familiar names from 'round the Burgersphere in it, and no doubt will come across a few more before I've finished. Rather dismayed there's not a dashing Navy F-18 pilot in the book flying a Hornet with the callsign 'Yankeedog' that has a picture of Snoopy on his flying doghouse painted on his bird featured in the plot. Probably Birmo's saving him for the climactic swordfight in Castle Blackstone at the end of the third book. Actually, I enjoy seeing the cameos from all of you 'Burgers. And my contribution was in the AoT series-where J. Lonesome Jones was found to be a Cub fan. That was his only crime. It's also his punishment.

-We recently found that one of the basement walls at The Better Half's mom's house is starting to bow in a little bit. The house was built in 1948, and the foundation is concrete block. There are some good-sized cracks in the walls, but (and this may make life slightly easier) the cracks are along the mortar joints and it doesn't appear that the blocks themselves are fracturing. Hmm-most likely they'll have to dig along the outside of the wall, jack the house up, and reinforce that block wall, then put in a vapor barrier. The Midwest climate can be hard on buildings, what with the freezing and thawing and occasional heavy rains and snows.

TBH's mom, bless her, is 91 and still independent. But she's stuck in 1938 as far as the costs of projects like this. She said "I hope it doesn't cost a lot more than about $500 to fix this." Yeah. Wish for the starship Enterprise to land on the parade ground at the Arsenal while you're at it. She has resources enough to have this taken care of, though, so no worries there. We, however, have to clean the basement out some before they start working on it. Started that tonight, and got some small way along. Another project to work on!

-Also, some of you may remember last year, and the church children's carnival that ended up with one of the leaders of the project getting big and bad on TBH. We appear to have gotten stuck with this again this year. I'm looking forward to this like I'd look forward to a meal of sweat sock and parsnip casserole. The good part is that Amy the Wretch has left our church, so there'll be no dealing with her. I did something I almost never do-and put my foot down. No more carnivals-at least not chairing them. We both have enough other stuff to for the next year or so to keep us amply occupied-things that NEED to be done.

I don't often 'issue orders' to a woman, because it doesn't do much good. Usually I say my piece, and the woman has historically said "I'm sorry, did you say something?" No sense in wasting my breath. But this is a drain for both of us, especially when we have full-time jobs and elderly relatives. There's precious little 'time reserve' should an emergency crop up.

-We were talking at work about the importance of a degree in a given profession versus actual experience. Deere and Caterpillar are two good examples. In their factories, they hire engineers with 4-year degrees to run their lines and stations. A 2-year degree and 15 years of experience around machinery doesn't cut it, in those companies' eyes. I don't buy that approach, necessarily. Most of the engineers those companies hire are fresh out of college, and know bugger all other than what's on the computer. Big Green has been known to put an electrical engineer in charge of an assembly line rather than utilizing someone with practical knowledge of the company's equipment, procedures, and manufacturing capabilities. That's just flat out stupid-and a poor use of company resources. I guess, using that logic, you could put a colonel from, say, the Medical Corps, in charge of an infantry brigade. But he'll probably lead it into a disaster.

I'd rather have the best qualified people in charge of getting equipment built. If they have a master's in Mech Engineering, great! If they worked their way through the ranks, also great! Some areas of design and production do require the ability to do some heavy-duty number crunching. I can't see that piece of sheepskin being that important in every phase of the process, though.

-I've been sort of following the PM election in Australia. As of press time, it looks like both sides are scrambling for a coalition to support them, and the vote is too close to call. Having sat through Bush/Gore in 2000, I do know that there's a lot of high drama in these affairs. Countries that use the English style of picking a leader often see their candidates and parties doing some fancy dancing to get a ruling coalition formed. Here both sides mobilize several battalions of lawyers to do the dirty work.

Now I don't know much about Ms. Gillard, seeing as how she's been on the big platypus-hide throne for only a couple of months. Mr. Abbott (hereafter referred to as 'Heyyyyaaabbbboootttt!'), from what I've seen, doesn't seem to have a whole lot of charisma or personality or any great ideas for running the place. Well, good luck to you all! I do know that if Heyyyyaaabbbboootttt! gets in, he has to find a spot for that Costello guy in his cabinet. That would be awesome!

While we're all dealing with our particular ponderings, jobs, chores, and crises major and minor, maybe a bit of classic 'frat rock' will make the day go by a little better. It's old, but still a fun listen. There's nothing like a Hammond or Korg organ to provide that distinctive happy sound:

Sing along! You know the words:

Woke up this morning, my head felt so bad
The worst hangover that I ever had
What happened to me last night
That girl of mine, she loved me so right (yeah!) (oh, oh)
She loved me so long and she loved me so hard
I finally passed out in her front yard (whoo!)
It wasn't wine that I had too much of
It was a double shot of my baby's love

Double shot of my baby's love, yeah yeah, yeah
Double shot of my baby's love, yeah yeah, yeah
A potion that I had too much of
It was a double shot of my baby's love

It was such a thrill it was hurtin' me (ooh!)
I was sufferin' in ecstasy
She had me turnin' flips and-a shoutin' out loud (yah-hah!)
A sip of her love and I was walkin' on a cloud
One night a week is-a plenty enough
It's a good thing for me they don't bottle that stuff [pop!]
Well, my heart begins to fly like a dove
When I take a double shot of my baby's love

Double shot of my baby's love, yeah yeah, yeah
Double shot of my baby's love, yeah yeah, yeah
A potion that I had too much of
It was a double shot of my baby's love

Double shot of my baby's love, yeah yeah, yeah
[repeat to fade]

yankeedog out.

19 August 2010

The training and equipping of the Modern Student

Those of you with kids will relate.

It's either very nearly back-to-school for many students, or in some cases where year-round schooling is used, the students are already back. But all you parents have done the school shopping bit-go to the store to pick up supplies and outfit the little darlings in the latest styles or get their uniforms. I've not had to do this, but I remember every August getting loaded up in the car and taken to Clinton to go to Penney's for clothes, and KMart for paper, pencils, and all the actual supplies necessary to stuff my skull full of 'nowledge. I hated it because it meant the end of the summer's freedom.

Tonight, I was in OfficeMax looking for a couple of things when I saw The List Of Required Crap Your Student Needs. Had to pick it up to see what the students of 2010-11 have to have. Here goes:


12 pencils, #2, sharpened
6 pens, 2 black, 2 blue, 2 red. Erasible if possible
1 Sharpie pen, black, extra fine point
1 box of 4 Expo Dry Erase Markers
1 box crayons, 24 ct.
1 box markers, 8 ct, Classic Colors
1 box colored pencils
1 Highlighter
1 Bottle glue, 4 oz, white
1 calculator
2 Glue Sticks
1 Scissors
2 Erasers, large, pink
1 Ruler, marked with centimeters and inches
1 Protractor, 6", 180 degrees, plastic
6 Spiral Notebooks
6 Pocket Folders
2 pkg loose-leaf notebook paper
1 3-ring divider notebook
13 dividers for Binder
2 box facial tissues, large
1 container disinfecting wipes
1 backpack
1 pair gym shoes for PE

...and a partridge in a pear tree.

Wow! How do you do this if you have two or three kids? That's a crapload of stuff there! I can see why they require a backpack-they're loading the kids up like soldiers going on a five-day bivouac in the Sierra Nevadas. Might want to put MRE's, toilet paper, and forty rounds ball and shot on the list as well.

I remember some of this stuff from back in the day. I'm surprised paper is still required in massive amounts. I figured by now all a student would need is a flash drive and access to a keyboard. As for all the binders and notebooks and crap-I used to just take a handful of sheets of paper and toss them in the coursebook. I ain't lugging a three-ring binder clear across the building to English class. Screw it.

Dry erase markers? Huh? Do the schools not have dry erase markers for the whiteboards? We never had to take our own chalk-what gives? Disinfecting wipes? C'mon, man! You gotta catch a few things so your immune system knows how to fight disease. And are there no custodians nowadays? Who puts down that sawdust-type stuff when someone hurls in the hall?

I also recall that the school powers-that-be were very particular on certain items. We used to have to take a set of 8 watercolors every year, and they had to be Prang watercolors with the brush big enough to paint a barn with. You got read the riot act if you got some other brand. Who the hell cares? It's all the same colors. I only used the red and the black anyway, being in the giant brushstroke red-and-black phase of my artistic career. Crayons, of course, had to be Crayola, 48 count (with 39 colors never to be used), with the sharpener on the back of the box. I distinctly remember one kid having-horrors-a box of fluorescent crayons! He got dressed down good for that! And they say education stifles creativity...

I do see provision for a calculator. No more actually learning all that tedious multiplication and long division by actually writing down the problems and working them through like the poor bastards in out-of-the-way, backward places like Somalia or Bolivia or New Zealand have to do. 6th grade is too early to need a calculator. Make them do it the hard way first. They'll be better off.

Gym shoes for PE. Yep, needed them, too. Along with at least one PE uniform (two are better, especially if you have someone who wasn't all that diligent about washing the unie from week to week). I don't see anything about uniforms for phys ed, possibly because most schools don't have to 'bother with it' as much. It's a shame they didn't have that policy when Coach Greenfield was making us run laps around the track and drop for ten just for fun, or when Sgt. Drace put us through the Army fitness test. Not sure a lot of today's students even do much for PE.

I suppose a lot of the gear required is the same as what we had to have, but it sure seems like a lot of stuff to acquire. So much emphasis on the binders and notebooks and dividers-most people aren't that organized. Who's the person that gets the most work done anywhere? The guy with the most cluttered desk or workbench. You find a desk piled high with crap, you find the guy or girl in the office who gets stuff done-and knows where everything is amongst the clutter. And how else can you lose your homework if you can't have a disorganized jumble of books and papers?

Dunno. But figure all this stuff every year, plus five or six different outfits, books, and fees for sports or other activities, and if you have a couple of kids, this all runs into a tidy sum. I don't envy anyone having to outlay the cash.

yankeedog out.

17 August 2010

70 years! Hail to the Colonel!

I'm told that this is the 70th anniversary of Kentucky Fried Chicken, though it seems like it should be either the 80th (Harland Sanders started cooking chicken at his filling station in Kentucky in 1930) or 60th (the year the first franchise opened up-1950) anniversary. No matter-the corporation says that this is the 70th anniversary, so we'll go with it. Thanks, Colonel, for coming up with the secret recipe and figuring out how to pressure-fry chicken profitably! Well done, sir.

Incidentally, as you probably know, the title of 'Colonel' in Kentucky is an honorific title granted by the Governor of the Commonwealth of Kentucky (it isn't a state, technically). It goes back to the days when those with money, and presumably education, led the local militia unit-much like in Britain in the 1700s and 1800s. Nowadays the title is granted to those who enhance the image of the Commonwealth. Sanders, however, did serve in the Army-as a private. But 'Private Sanders' Secret Recipe' doesn't have much punch as a slogan.

I have to say that I've always been a fan of the Spinning Bucket (although there is a local place, Mulkey's, whose chicken is slightly better than KFC-no matter, they're both good). My parents divorced when I was young, so there weren't a lot of 'family' outings. But one thing I remember is Mom and Dad getting a bucket and the fixings and we took it to a local park for a picnic. Funny the things that remind you of events in life.

I remember when we got KFC in Savanna, back about 1974 or so. I thought we hit the big time! Not only did they have chicken, they served fish and chips in a faux newspaper wrapping-just like the English ate! Well, perhaps not...

But I'd bet that there aren't a lot of us out there who didn't look forward to Dad picking up KFC for supper-the big bucket of chicken, potatoes and gravy (Colonel Sanders was very particular about the gravy and would threaten to pull the franchise from anyone who screwed it up. I think he was right, because it isn't as good now as it was back in the day), coleslaw (I still like the coleslaw. I'd buy a gallon of the stuff if they'd let me. So what if I give off the aroma of a Soviet apartment block?), and biscuits. Or stop by for lunch when on the road, or went for a bucket after a long night of drinking?

In the 1970s, it seemed like every town of any size had a KFC, and they were all about the same, which is what any restaurant chain strives for, of course. There wasn't as much competition in the fast-food arena back then. I do think KFC dropped off some in the 1980s and 1990s in quality. There were and are a lot more options these days.

I'm not one to frequent fast-food much anymore. I think Subway gets most of my discretionary dineout dollars. You can keep Mickey D's. I'd rather hit the local Indian restaurant for a curry or find an out-of-the-way spot that has 'home cooking'. But KFC is still the place to go if you need to feed three or four people in a hurry, and probably get something everybody likes.

When I moved to Rock Island, the local KFC wasn't much. The place was filthy, the staff were slow, and the food mediocre. Sometime in the last couple of years, either Corporate had some directive to get the franchises cleaned up and on the bounce, or this particular place got a new manager, because the place is spiffed up, the kitchen area is clean, they got rid of some of the people with neck tattoos, and the chicken is pretty fair now. Kudos to the manager for making it happen, and to the staff for doing it up right. Fast-food jobs ain't great, but it doesn't hurt to take pride in your work.

I never knew or met anyone who worked at a KFC (odd, since we had one in town) until I met our NatV, and we probably have heard of her incident with the deep fryer. Lucky her, to have a hand that works after that. I reckon that fried chicken from anywhere would be off-putting to me if I'd had that experience.

At any rate, Happy 70th to KFC! Thanks for all the years of spicy, grease-laden, possibly-life-shortening, chickeny goodness!

And to NatV: if you stop by to read this and have stories about someone on the late shift rolling a mouse in the coating mix and frying it up, or stirring the coleslaw with his male appendage, or someone spitting in the gravy, do me a favor. Consider it a trade secret and just don't tell me about it. Ignorance, in this particular case, would be bliss.

yankeedog out.

16 August 2010

Now for something no one will care about...

...and it may involve some background info. I live in what are called the "Quad Cities" (which are actually 5, or 6, cities, depending on who you ask) of Illinois and Iowa, roughly bisected by the Mississippi River and straight west of Chicago.

There's been something of a push to get Amtrak passenger rail service from Chicago to the Quad Cities, and (most likely and if they're smart) out to Iowa City, which is about 50 miles west of us and the home of the University of Iowa. The proposal wasn't budgeted for in the last big stimulus handout, but hope evidently springs eternal (or somebody knows something I don't) because the city of Moline is going to outlay 13.5 million (!) dollars for an Amtrak station. The problem is, of course, noted in the previous sentence. There's no money for this service to happen. And you should be able to buy one hell of a fancy station for 13.5 mill!

I've heard people around here say 'The government should not be in the transportation business'. I guess the federal and state highway systems and most of the country's airports just popped up after a rainstorm one day. A lot of the railroads, especially out west, were given land grants by the federal government and financially propped up with Federal funds. Government is ALWAYS involved in transportation. It aids commerce, communications, and logistics and few corporations can afford to support an infrastructure system of any size, at least at startup.

Others have said 'The railroads can't take people everywhere they want to go'. Neither can an airplane but plenty of people fly. One talk radio caller said 'If you take it to Chicago, then you have to get on the EL (mass transit) and if you miss your stop, you could end up in a rough part of town'. If you drive a car to Chicago and you make a wrong turn, you could end up in a rough part of town. My suggestion to the caller would have been to stay in his home and don't go outside because someone might say 'Boo!'

Amtrak, as a long distance carrier, suffers from the worst possible disease-inconsistency. Too many people have had, say, a great trip and an outstanding service staff going to a destination, and then have the trip from hell coming back-breakdowns, missed schedules, and a staff that's surly to bed and surly to rise. It makes it hard to justify using the rails for a long trip. Add in that the US is a big country and it's almost always faster to fly from place-to-place. (If any Australians are reading this, I suspect your rail passenger service is roughly similar-a big country with long-distance trains that lose money and shorter 'corridor' runs that are at least breaking even or marginally profitable). There's no way you can get from, say, Chicago to LA or Seattle faster on the ground than in the air. So Amtrak has to sell service and 'the experience', much like a cruise line must do with ships. If 'the experience' is bad, people won't likely come back. The airlines I think are an exception because they can always sell airspeed. They don't necessarily have to give you good service (and likely as not, they won't).

Where Amtrak can do and does reasonably well, are 'corridor', commuter-style runs. Amtrak is competitive in flying along the Northeast Corridor (Washington-Philadelphia-New York-Boston), Hiawatha Service (Chicago-Milwaukee), and probably in California service (LA-San Francisco), distances that can be covered in anywhere from 1-5 hours. Amtrak in Illinois has rail corridors from Chicago to Carbondale (student traffic to University of Illinois, Illinois State University, and Southern Ilinois University) and Chicago to St. Louis (general low-cost passenger service of all sorts).

Most of you know that I'm something of a railfan. Would I like to see Amtrak from here to Chicago? Yes. Let's say I could take the 7am train to Chicago to a Cubs or Bears game or just to see the sights. If you got there by 10:30 am (which is about how long it takes to drive to the Loop from here), you could catch the El to Wrigley and probably get there in time to get settled in, grab a hot dog, and watch batting practice. The game gets done around 4pm. Get back on the El to Union Station and catch the 6pm back to the QCs. Be home around 9:30pm. No fighting Wrigleyville traffic or sitting on the expressway-just grab a beverage and ride in and back in the comfy coach seat and watch the world go by. Nothing wrong with that.

Therein, however, lies something of the rub. A lot of the railroad structure is going to need major work. The main railroad out to the QCs was the Chicago, Rock Island, and Pacific Railroad (The Rock Island), famed pioneer railroad of song. It was the first railroad to reach the Mississippi River, back in the 1850s. The problem is that their line goes through most of the QCs at ground level-a lot of intersections, plus the bridge across the Mississippi is a swing-span right next to a lock-and-dam. In the summertime the span will be opening for barge traffic quite a bit, stopping rail traffic. It could be a slow slog coming through the QCs for a passenger train. Also, the track is a single main, which is slower since trains are usually trying to move both ways on it. That usually means a lot of pulling over at sidings. Add to this that the Rock Island, in its final years (in went bankrupt in 1980) was hurting for cash and 'deferred' track maintenance to the point where trains on their main lines couldn't go much faster then 20 mph. The Rock's successor, the Iowa Interstate, seems to be a well run operation and keeps their machinery and track up to par. They still have the single track, though, and a congested main line through an urban area. Making double-track here would be horrifically expensive to attempt.

If Amtrak can't make an Iowa City-Chicago run consistently on a 4.1/2-5 hour schedule (roughly equivalent to driving), they may as well not bother with starting service because they won't be able to compete with the interstates or United Airlines.

Could a Chicago-Iowa City corridor work anyway? Possibly, if scheduled and marketed right. The trains can't be leaving at 2am or getting here at 3am. I'd suggest a 6am departure from Iowa City (7am from the QCs), arriving in Chicago Union Station at 10:30-10:45am, with a departure from Chicago at 5:30-6pm, arriving in the QCs at 9-9:30pm and arriving in Iowa City at 10:30-11pm. That would seem to me to be reasonable. As for equipment and marketing-I'd start with basically an engine and a couple of coaches and see how the traffic responds. They wouldn't need 15 cars and full service for that short a run. If Amtrak could offer a one-way ticket from IC to Chicago for $25-35, I think they'd do well with student traffic (What college student isn't looking for a cheap way to get someplace?). If they can keep costs equivalent or slightly less than the cost of driving, then the run would be filled often as not. There are plenty of events in Chicago that people from out here go to (Cubs/Bears/Sox/Blackhawks games, shopping, sightseeing) and Iowa Hawkeye college football and basketball games that people might just take the train to see instead of driving to.

You'll notice I started a lot of sentences with 'If...'-too many for me to jump wholeheartedly into the Amtrak thing. I don't know what kind of studies have been done, and while I like the thought of a train trip, I don't want to pay tax dollars for a train with three coaches and as many riders, either. It seems to me that there is a lot more work and thought needing to be done before any of the city governments here start buying land for an Amtrak station.

The interesting part is the choice of land for the station, and I'm sure Moline is looking for the boost a train station might provide for its ghost downtown area. Now, the Illinois QCs did get funds to build a new maintenance center for our bus line. The existing center sits right next to the railroad (in fact, right next to the city of Rock Island's old CRI&P depot!). Put up the new bus maintenance in Moline, tear down the existing maintenance center in Rock Island, and put the Amtrak station on that site. There'd be plenty of room, access to the tracks, a fenced-in area to leave passengers' vehicles, and close to the main roads here. This would seem to make sense, ensure that both cities get some of the funding pie, and could be done for less than $13.5 million. Therefore the government wouldn't do it.

Will we get rail service? I don't know. I'd like to see it, because I think I could make a case for using it. Can it make money or break even? Not sure. I didn't major in transportation engineering. I only know what it's like to sit on the inbound Eisenhower in Chicago and watch the METRA train go whizzing past, not stuck in traffic like I am. Might have some promise, at that. We will see.

On that, I'll leave you with an appropriate tune by The Man In Black.

yankeedog out.

09 August 2010

The good side of town.

The local morning radio crew here talked about this topic, and I thought it interesting enough to write about.

I imagine when most of us were young, we knew some family or some kid we hung out with that we thought were RICH!, because said family/kid lived in, say, a split-level house, or had a semi-circular driveway or a sunken living room or central air-conditioning (or better yet, central vacuum!). Maybe you knew someone you thought was all that because they had a basement that had carpeting and it was a rec room with a console TV and the console record player/cassette/8-track/radio system!

I spent most of my early life living in various apartments. Even spent a couple of years living in a trailer (I know some of you are saying 'Well, that explains a lot, YD.'), and in many ways that time was some of the most fun time of my childhood.

I remember one neighborhood back home, East Savanna. That was (and still is) kind of the newish part of town. All the homes out there seemed like big sprawling ranch-style houses with well-manicured lawns, and I know the kids out there had the basement rec rooms with those fancy Betamax players and Colecovisions and expanded cable with MTV and HBO and Playboy Channel if the cable company didn't scramble it enough. Some showoff might even have TV from a satellite! You could tell because they had the big dish in the backyard that was the size of the Arecibo radiotelescope.

I don't write that previous out of envy, but more to emphasize what we might think of as being wealthy. My mom now lives out in East Savanna, and most of the houses have shrunk down to the size of mid-1960s ranches and 1940s-1950s era tract houses. It still is one of the better neighborhoods in town, though.

That, members of the jury, is the question for you. What was the thing that stood out about some family you knew or someone you knew when you were young that might have made you say 'Wow! You must be RICH!'. Maybe they were the first family in town to have a VCR, the big top-loading one that cost $600 when $600 was like a hell of a lot of dough (double points if they owned a laser-disc player), or the friend that had a TRS-80 home computer with 16K! of RAM and a modem! (We could dial NORAD!), or the kid up the block whose parents bought him a Trans-Am when he turned 16, instead of letting him drive the family's old '74 station wagon back and forth to school or (horrors) let him walk to work, school, and dates.

Tell me about it. We're here for you!

yankeedog out.

05 August 2010

Two weeks already?

Hmmm. It HAS been a while since last I posted. I'd like to say that big events have been afoot, but that would be something of a lie. Just been busy with a lot of little things, and also making an effort to get a bit more sleep. Many times when I'm on Twitter yakking, it's between 10 pm and 11:30 pm. That was wearing some. Oddly enough, I feel less run down with more sleep. I need to get some gummint money to launch a study on the correlation between sleep and feeling awake.

We've been a bit busy at work of late. I processed an order worth $127k this week, which will be a big chunk of income for the company. The order is for 40-some thousand hooks for a paint line at one of Big Green's plants. From a design standpoint, they're a snap, but we're going to be pushing to complete it by the time they want the hooks in their house. I'll gladly take the time to work on a six-figure order.

My boss (the fellow who hired me) has had some digestive system malady. The brass got together and reassigned us. Brad (the other designer) and I now work for our sales manager-Rimmer. Ain't we just the luckiest alkies at the AA meeting? Well, he wants to run everything and micromanage everyone-here you go, boyo. The theory is that it will force him and his sales force to see the big picture instead of just their own little corner of the company and that he'll be forced to set priorities on the incoming jobs. What I suspect will happen is that they'll just keep making wacky promises and expect us to work umpty-hundred hours of overtime to push out stuff. I've never been afraid of OT-mostly because we get time-and-a-half for it-but it won't work in the long run. The company will get burnt on commitments and won't want to pay for a ton of OT. A monkey could figure that out. It remains to be seen if Rimmer can suss it out. Ah well...when Rimmer's running the whole place it'll be the time to start looking for other work, because he'll run the company to the ground.

I have never been able to figure out why companies make promises they can't keep. I remember when I had to deal with vendors in the previous gig. I always told them not to lie. If something will take a week to get, tell me it'll take a week. Don't piss on my leg and tell me it's raining. If that time schedule doesn't work for me, I might have to go somewhere else to meet my priorities for this job-but you'll more than likely get my future business. Conversely, if something I need isn't an emergency, I won't tell you that it is. When I DO tell you it's urgent, you can bet it is. Move heaven and earth.

Not too sure most businesses look long-term these days anyhow.

We took the evening off to go out and watch the ASA 14-U Girls Fastpitch Softball National Championship, which is here at Green Valley complex (8 ball diamonds-no waiting!). Watched one of the local nines get smacked 6-0 by a team from West Covina, California (out LA way). The California teams are usually pretty darn good. After that, we moved to another diamond and caught the last inning of another match. One of the teams looked like they had a couple of girls who had been 14 for the past three or four years now. It isn't the greatest play in the world but it is a fun night if you like stick and ball, and cheap, since there appeared to be no admission charge. There may well be a charge come the weekend games when the field gets narrowed down to the good squads.

I don't mind having the various softball associations holding their championships here. We're in the middle of the country, more or less; we have several good diamond complexes for having a lot of games at one time, and all the players, coaches, parents, and chaperones have to stay and eat and shop somewhere. It's good for our local economy and it's a good thing to take the family to as well. Next year, we get the Men's Fastpitch Championships again. I suspect the local merchants like them a bit better than the kids, since the players and coaches and families have to stay and eat and shop and drink somewhere!

Finally, a thought on something that's been burning up the airwaves here.

Seems a group of Muslims wants to set up a mosque very close to where the World Trade Center was in Lower Manhattan.

I don't think that needs to happen. It isn't the right place. There are plenty of mosques in New York City. Put it somwhere else. When there's a church, synagogue, or stupa put up in Mecca, then you can have your mosque by Ground Zero. Until then, fuggedaboudit.

But I fear the current crop of knuckleheads running NYC won't say boo about it. Wonder if the imam in charge of the mosque would mind if I started YD's Old Fashioned Barbecued Smoked Pork Rib Establishment right next to their place of worship. And yes, I'm venting the irresistible profane spicy-sauce-covered pig vapors right at them. And I'm serving liquor there. And using waitresses in surplus Hooter's outfits to serve the customers. Tough luck on the neighbors if it offends them. This isn't the Caliphate of America yet.

Yes, the previous paragraph might be over the top. But it seems like we all have to tiptoe around 'Muslim sensibilities' all the time. If I were in a Muslim country or in a Muslim home or mosque here, I'd play by their rules-it is the right thing to do and good manners. When Muslims come here to the land of many religions and faiths, then they need to play by our rules and respect our traditions and sensibilities. It IS that simple.

Enough of the soapbox for the evening. Back to the grind.

yankeedog out.