Friday, October 29, 2010

A different way of looking at my father

As I mentioned in my previous post, my son really enjoyed my little prank of putting the label "Suggestion Box" on our company's paper shredder. My feeling is that he enjoys it partially because it showed him a different side to his old man. I mentioned that I hoped to write about a time I saw a different side of my father, too. There were actually a number of times he and my mother revealed different sides of themselves to me but today I'm just writing about this one, bizarre instance.

My mother had three sisters and two brothers and they and their families all lived within 5 - 10 miles of their parents (my grandparents). So, we often got together for extended family parties and picnics at my grandparents' place. Any excuse would do whether it was the Fourth of July, someone's birthday (especially their 16th birthday) or someone graduating from high school. So, one summer day, we gathered for another picnic. My dad didn't say anything about a special surprise but after we'd been there a while, he started talking to everyone about some games and contests he wanted to organize. To get everyone interested, he mentioned the prizes that would be offered. A telephone, a toaster oven, a television and some other things I've forgotten. Well, that got everyone's interest. I was young and I forget if anyone questioned him about where he got these things. They all knew he would never steal anything and he was good at fixing things (besides his regular job as a construction equipment operator, he'd also gone through a technical program to learn to repair televisions and had a side business doing that). The only question was: Did he get a good deal on buying new items cheaply or were these repair projects where people were just throwing old things away?

My father was always a great motivator, though, and he got everyone into the games. There was a mixture of races and skill games (balancing things the longest, stuff like that I think) and quizzes...if I remember correctly. People who weren't interested in some of the games just watched and then competed in the games that interested them. Finally, as the afternoon came to a close, he announced the winners and made a big show of going to our car to get a box that had the prizes (All of them? In one box?). He struggled to carry the box to the picnic table from our car and wouldn't let anyone help him. He stood up on something so no one could see in the box. Then he started handing out the prizes. They were all small, plastic replicas - a tiny telephone, a miniature television and so on. My relatives were yelling and laughing at the same time.

My father was born in Wales (a part of Great Britain) and even though he was a naturalized citizen of the United States, he was still thought of as the relative from England. So, a lot of the joking afterward mentioned how they were going to get him and mention of a song that was popular at the time, The Battle of New Orleans written by Jimmy Driftwood and performed by Johnny Horton and his band. They especially liked the verse:

Yeah, they ran through the briars an' they ran through the brambles
An' they ran through the bushes where the rabbits couldn't go.
They ran so fast that the hounds couldn't catch 'em
Down the Mississippi to the Gulf of Mexico. 
This part was sung after the British had been defeated and were being chased by the victorious Americans. My relatives all forgave my father. I had never known him to do anything like this but I always remembered the excitement and joy he brought to the party. I'd never seen him be the center of attention like that before. He was like a carnival barker and a motivational speaker as he urged people to join in the games and to do well. He was quite a guy.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Shredder with a message

As many offices do, our company bought a large paper shredder many years ago. There were many reasons to get one but it ended up that the Engineering group bought it for safely getting rid of printouts of our computer programs and schematics of our devices. Not long after we got it, though, many groups started to use it. The finance group used it to destroy old financial records and the human resources director used it to destroy old resumes. As more and more people used it, our Director of Engineering attached a funny little label, "Whatever happened to the 'Paperless Office'?" as you can see on the picture to the right (if you can't read it in this small view, just click on the picture to expand it). He had been around when people really thought that introducing computers into the office would allow them to operate with less (or no) paper. Boy was that wrong!

About this time, the directors of our company made a big push to solicit employees suggestions. It was a great idea and a lot of people made suggestions and I was one of them. I came up with a lot of suggestions. And I thought they were all wonderful. Well, none of my suggestions were taken. So, in a fit of "getting back" at them, I added my own little label to the paper shredder. You can see that in the picture on the left. My son gets a kick out of this story. He still says, "...and they still haven't figured out that you put that sign there?" Well, they hadn't unless someone from the office reads this post.

I think part of the reason he likes it is that he sees a different side of me than he knew before. I always try to get my kids to follow the rules and not say negative things about people. Of course, there is a fine line between looking at people and things critically and just always looking to complain; just as there is a fine line between following ALL the rules and thinking before doing something just because that is always the way it was done. I hope to write about the time I saw a different side of my father, too.

Monday, October 25, 2010

A late anniversary

How did I miss this? I guess because it's not that big of a deal. But I just noticed that I've been blogging for four years now. I made my first post on Saturday, October 14, 2006. I didn't start all that well. I did OK in the first month with 14 posts in only half a month but then things dropped off quickly. In the next month, I only made 2 posts and I made no posts in December of that year. But the reason was that we moved into our new house the first week of November. There was no time for fun stuff like posting to my blog. But the sad part is that I should have made the time to write about our moving into the new place. It would be so interesting to look back at what my feelings were at that time. It was a very hectic time but it was exciting, too.

We had been living in my mother-in-law's basement since August of that year. We were crowded and most of our stuff was in storage. So, we were happy to be getting more room and finding the things we'd been missing for two or three months. Surprisingly, the cats were the least happy about moving. They liked their little domain. There were tons of boxes to hide behind and they seemed to like the quiet and darkness of the basement. My mother-in-law likes animals but one of the ground rules for our moving in was that the cats wouldn't be coming upstairs. Charlie, our dog, wasn't to be in the house at all.

But that is all behind us now. I wish I had blog posts from the moving days but I don't. Just remember that now and don't use, "I have no time to write," as an excuse not to blog. Not having the time means a lot is happening and that is the very time I should be blogging!

Friday, October 22, 2010


I pass cranberry bogs every day on my way to and from work. The other day, I passed one that was in the middle of harvesting the berries. Besides being a pretty sight, it points out an advantage cranberry growers have over other farmers. As with all my posts, just click on the picture to see a larger view.

Because the cranberries grow in low-lying fields along streams, the fields are easily flooded. The growers do this when the berries are ripe (or nearly ripe) and can easily be knocked off their stem. All the harvesters have to do is drive over the plants and shake them so that the berries come off. Then they float to the surface of the shallow water. Then they are "herded" into one end of the pond with long skimmers or boards (kind of like the oil skimmers used to keep an oil spill from spreading). Once the cranberries are all in one place, a truck drives up and the berries are vacuumed into the truck. It's a very interesting operation and they make it look easy. I know with modern equipment, much of modern farming is much easier than it used to be. But I find it hard to imagine that anything is agriculture is anywhere as efficient as cranberry harvesting.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

2000 miles

The odometer on my scooter turned over to 2,000 miles as I arrived at work today. Here's a picture of the dashboard.

I'm surprised that I've already gone this far because it doesn't seem like I've had the scooter very long. But when I go back in my blog and look at the date of when I first started to use it, I see that I first rode my scooter to work on June 28. So it has been over three and a half months. Depending on the route I take, it is between 12 and 15 miles to work. At twice a day, that becomes between 24 and 30 miles a day. Dividing 2000 miles by 27 miles a day, you get about 75 days and that comes out to about three and a half months - not counting week-ends.

So, there you have it. I'm right on schedule. I shouldn't be surprised.

Monday, October 18, 2010

This political season

As we get closer to election time and the political advertisements ramp up the volume, I'm struck by the fact that I've seen a lot of this before. I'm not talking about a lot of the candidates being the same as last time (after all, a lot of the people running for office are incumbents) and I'm not talking about the slogans not changing ("lower taxes", "create more jobs", "get rid of people who aren't like us" - you know the ones), I'm thinking of the ballot question signs. The signs are limited in size and they seem to be targeted at people who are driving by and don't have a lot of time to spend reading them. There would be a lot more accidents if the signs said more. So, the makers of these signs keep them pretty simple:
No on 2
It fills the sign and gets the point across. But what is "2"? Am I supposed to remember that when I go to vote in two weeks? I've seen signs telling me, "No on 2", "Yes on 2", "Yes on 3" and "No on 3". I'll go to the polling station and forget. Was it no on 3 and yes on 2? What was it on 1?

Then I get the sneaking suspicion that the people putting up these signs saved money by keeping the signs from the last election. Maybe they just ALWAYS vote No on any question that is number 2 whether question 2 is about taxes, jobs or building sewers. Maybe "2" has become the opposing political party: Their parents and their grandparents voted No on 2 and now they don't want to vote for 2 and they can't imagine who could ever vote Yes on 2! How could any true American ever vote Yes on 2?

Then there are the ballot question signs that go a bit farther:
No on 2
It goes too far
Now we know a bit more about "2" but I still think I've seen it before. Maybe they're saying it's OK to insist that dogs have collars but don't go forcing them to have leashes, too. Or maybe they think we need to create jobs but not jobs that that girl down the street does!

The most confusing election, though, was the year Massachusetts had a ballot question about getting rid of greyhound racing (that's dog racing to you Out-of-Staters, not racing buses). You would see signs on one lot saying, "Vote No on 3, Save the Dogs" and on the very next lot you'd see, "Vote Yes on 3, Save the Dogs". Wow, now what should I do? I'm all for saving dogs but which way should I vote? Well, it turns out that the people who wanted us to vote Yes to save the dogs felt that the dogs were being mistreated and that if we got rid of dog racing, the dogs would be sold to good homes. The people who wanted us to vote No to save the dogs thought that if dog racing was banned, the dogs would just be put down (that's "killed" to people who don't like euphemisms). It turned out that dog racing was banned in Massachusetts but the dogs were just moved to other states that still allowed dog racing. They are either still being mistreated in a different state or still having a wonderful time competing against the other dogs in a different state. Sometimes you just can't win.

Friday, October 15, 2010

The rescued miners in Chile

Yesterday, the world rejoiced as all 33 trapped miners in Chile were rescued. The whole world has been following this story and it's great that it had a happy ending. These men and their families and friends have been through a terrible time and I hope they will have a chance to recuperate and celebrate as they want to. By the way, the picture to the right is from here and is attributed to Martin Bernetti of AFP. It shows part of the huge number of people it took to pull off this miracle.

What I'm afraid of, though, is that these men and their families and friends will be hounded by hoards of people wanting to question them. They will be offered huge sums fo money for the rights to their stories. Their lives will be investigated for books and articles. People will look into their background for good reasons but also just for sheer meanness - there are going to be people who want to find problems with the poor people who have been through so much. I know a lot of this will come from people who are just curious. Many of the people crushing in around them will be well meaning. "How could they do it? What a wonderful, uplifting story. It must be told!" will be the reasons for intruding in their lives.

Well, I'm sure the world-wide interest was comforting at times and I think they deserve cheers and congratulations. But can we now just leave them alone? I wish them peace.

Friday, October 08, 2010

Time flies when you're having fun

I heard an interesting story on All Things Considered on National Public Radio on Wednesday. They were interviewing reporter David Biderman from the Wall Street Journal about a story he had done where he analyzed how much action there is in a baseball game. Here's a link to the transcript of the radio story. You an also listen to the story from that page.

Most people who don't like baseball (and even a lot of people who do like baseball) complain that the game is too slow. They say there is too much waiting around. So, Mr. Biderman decided to measure it. Of course, when you measure anything, you have to define what you are measuring and that is always the hardest part. What is "action" and what is "waiting around"? At first view, you might say that watching the pitcher and catcher trying to decide what the next pitch is going to be is "waiting around". But if there are men on base or the score is close and depending on how good the batter is, this can be a very exciting part of the game. The runner is taking a lead off the base - perhaps setting up to attempt to steal the next base. The coaches are sending signals to the batter, the runners, the fielders and the pitcher and catcher. The fans are yelling. Anything can happen and it is going to happen fast! That, to me, is the essence of baseball - the anticipation and the preparation for the coming action. Each fielder is running down a check list of what he will do if the ball is hit and where it is hit. Each runner is going down his own check list of what he will do if the ball is hit or the pitcher tries to catch him off base. There are so many variables that I can't imagine how anyone would say it is boring.

Anyway, you can go to the web pages for either article to see what they had to say. Let's just give a summary by saying that, based on what they call "action", there is only about 14 minutes of it in an average baseball game. "Aha," shout the football fans (American football, that is). "See? We knew baseball was mostly 'waiting around' as compared to football where there is always action." Well, not so fast, football fans. Mr. Biderman did the same kind of analysis for football and found that there was only 11 minutes of "action" in a typical American football game. And I dare to say that during the "waiting around" times during a football game, there is no tension. No one is going to try to sneak the ball down the field when no one is looking in football.

So, it all depends on whether you are enjoying the game or not. If you're having fun, the time flies by. By the way, that's my picture here - a Time Fly. You might be thinking that since this is a story about baseball, it would have been a Pop Fly. Yeah, we engineers can be funny sometimes, too.

Tuesday, October 05, 2010

Just one more post about mushrooms...

...for now. I've got just a few more mushroom pictures I'd like to post. The first is of a pair of plain, old mushrooms but I like the way this shot turned out. They look like old friends here and are leaning on each other. Or is the lower mushroom just trying to get the larger mushroom's attention? Yes, I know, I'm going too far. Let's just say it's a nice picture of two mushrooms.

The next picture is of a single brownish mushroom that looks more like an umbrella. The pleats look manufactured to me. OK, I won't read too much into this. I just like the look of it. One funny thing, though, is that this mushroom was out in the open. Usually I find that mushrooms grow best in the shade and in loose, moist soil. This one is growing on a hard packed path with no cover.

The final picture (at least in this post:-) is of an emerging mushroom. Its color is so bright and bold it is almost as if it's the brightness of the color that is forcing the ground to give way as the mushroom grows upward.

By the way, I found that it was NOT our company's firewall that was causing my picture upload problems to Blogger. I had trouble from home last night, too. These pictures were uploaded from work. At lunch time, of course.

Friday, October 01, 2010

More mushrooms

It was hard coming back to work after my walk in the woods at noon today. There were just so many varieties of mushrooms out that I kept stopping to take pictures and slowing my return to the office. It's a good thing I eventually got back, though, because a big rainstorm hit about five minutes after I got inside. I don't want this blog to just be about mushrooms but I do want to show as many as I can.
The first one looks like a flying saucer. I almost expect Klatuu and Gort to come walking out of it. The next one, on the left, looks like wax that was poured over a mold and overflowed it. As will all my pictures, you can see an enlarged copy by just clicking on the picture. Also, any pictures of mine are free to use as you like. I just hope you'll give me credit for them if you think they are worthy.

The next picture makes me feel as tired as it looks. It seems this mushroom was either overwhelmed by its own cap or just needed a rest. The stem wasn't broken - just bent. The variety of colors in the mushrooms I'm seeing this fall is just amazing. Orange and yellow are predominating but this shade of red is also showing up frequently. My wife and daughter will undoubtedly tell me this isn't red but some exotic shade that I've never heard of.

The last mushroom I'll show today is one of the few pure white ones I've seen so far. Normally, I think white is the most frequent color I see in mushrooms but this year it seems to be rare.

By the way, I think I've figured out what is going on with the "server error" I've been seeing when I try to upload pictures to Blogger. It only happens when I try to do this from work where we have a very tough fire wall on our Internet connection. We have a fire wall on our home connection, too, but it is not as restrictive as the one at our office. I will talk with our system administrator about it but I don't think they will be sympathetic to my wanting to update my blog at work. But I only do it at lunch!