Sunday, November 30, 2008
I've driven on gravel roads since Day One of the first trip around the block, only it was around the section. We don't have blocks out here, unless they are one mile by one mile. Sheer experience has given me the ability to judge how fast I can drive safely in good or bad conditions. The picture above shows how a gravel road has tracks worn into it - and you can see four tracks. That is a wide road. It is also in Namibia, where they drive on the wrong side - heh. Ain't Google Image Search a great deal?
Anyhow, there are certain rules to driving on said roads, and the first and foremost is - when meeting another vehicle, get yer hiney OVER! Driving down the center of a dirt road is a good idea for many reasons, but when meeting someone? Not so much. Many of these roads only have three or even two tracks worn into it, and many people seem to have the idea that they are not required to move out of those tracks - even if their side of the road is ten or more feet away. This means I may have to drive in the ditch to keep from hitting the road hog. Yeah, sometimes the gravel ridge is a bitch to drive on. If you can't keep control of your set 'o wheels, yer going too fast. If you can't meet another vehicle without trying to force them off the road, slow your ass down, pull over and stop, fer chrissakes.
Of course, this rant is basically wasted - the people who do this in this area aren't gonna read this anyhow. Most commonly, they read Spanish, if at all. There are a lot of feedlots and a huge dairy close by, and gee, guess what, the employees have to drive to get there. I'm not trying to be racist here - just stating what I see. A lot of these guys drive slow so there is no probable cause to pull them over, and drink or get high on the back roads on their way to and from work. Again - this happens all the time.
The other types that won't yield are out of staters, and Kansas tags that say SG or JO. Kansas abbreviates the county of origin on their tags. SG is Sedgwick County, home of Wichita KS, and JO is Johnson County, home of Kansas City KS. In other words, big city assholes. If I were to hog the centerline in their berg, they'd be flippin' me off, honking and yelling at me. But, since it's out here in flyover country, it's ok if they do it - since we're just here for their amusement or something.
But, most of us out here on the prairie have adapted to this sort of behavior. When we see that the car we are meeting isn't too wild about giving us any room, we edge over to the left until they do move. We were already all the way to the right to begin with. Tonite, I saw brake lights after someone tried to take their half out of the middle and I didn't go for it. Bring it on, I say. There is a big problem with this strategy, though, and that is perhaps there might be a glancing collision - maybe two broken mirrors or sideswiping each other. Another major flaw in this scenario is that the first group of road hogs also have a very bad history of actually having insurance and driver's licenses.
But, so far so good.
Aaaand, most of us local yokels can drive sideways on these roads faster than a pavement pounder can - period.
Saturday, November 29, 2008
1. Started your own blog [uh, yeah, maybe]
2. Slept under the stars [Boy Scout]
3. Played in a band [never learned a musical instrument]
4. Visited Hawaii [but I know Maui Wowee]
5. Watched a meteor shower
6. Given more than you can afford to charity
7. Been to Disneyland
8. Climbed a mountain [not much of one, and a long time ago, but I'm counting it]
9. Held a praying mantis
10. Sang a solo
11. Bungee jumped [are you kidding me?]
12. Visited Paris
13. Watched a lightning storm at sea(from land) [only been to the beach during good weather]
14. Taught yourself an art from scratch [stuff I've taught myself really doesn't qualify as art]
15. Adopted a child
16. Had food poisoning [and worshiped the porcelain god]
17. Walked to the top of the Statue of Liberty
18. Grown your own vegetables [weeded and watered, too]
19. Seen the Mona Lisa in France
20. Slept on an overnight train
21. Had a pillow fight
22. Hitch hiked [if getting a ride from someone you know out in the middle of nowhere after a breakdown occurs counts]
23. Taken a sick day when you’re not ill
24. Built a snow fort
25. Held a lamb
26. Gone skinny dipping
27. Run a Marathon
28. Ridden in a gondola in Venice
29. Seen a total eclipse [pinhole method]
30. Watched a sunrise or sunset [how could you avoid this?]
31. Hit a home run
32. Been on a cruise
33. Seen Niagara Falls in person
34. Visited the birthplace of your ancestors [depends on how far back ancestors start]
35. Seen an Amish community [and Mennonite and Hutterite]
36. Taught yourself a new language
37. Had enough money to be truly satisfied
38. Seen the Leaning Tower of Pisa in person
39. Gone rock climbing
40. Seen Michelangelos David
41. Sung karaoke [like a drunken fool]
42. Seen Old Faithful geyser erupt
43. Bought a stranger a meal at a restaurant
44. Visited Africa
45. Walked on a beach by moonlight [daylight beach hours only for me]
46. Been transported in an ambulance [air and ground]
47. Had your portrait painted
48. Gone deep sea fishing
49. Seen the Sistine Chapel in person
50. Been to the top of the Eiffel Tower in Paris
51. Gone scuba diving or snorkeling
52. Kissed in the rain
53. Played in the mud
54. Gone to a drive-in theater
55. Been in a movie [I doubt the film a college classmate made counts]
56. Visited the Great Wall of China
57. Started a business
58. Taken a martial arts class
59. Visited Russia
60. Served at a soup kitchen
61. Sold Girl Scout Cookies [Boy Scouts don't sell them]
62. Gone whale watching
63. Got flowers for no reason
64. Donated blood, platelets or plasma
65. Gone sky diving [jump out of a perfectly good airplane? Moi?]
66. Visited a Nazi Concentration Camp
67. Bounced a check [not for a long time at least]
68. Flown in a helicopter [an old Bell 47, sharing the seat belt on a bench seat with another child. Probably violated all kinds of safety rules and impossible today]
69. Saved a favorite childhood toy
70. Visited the Lincoln Memorial
71. Eaten Caviar [big deal]
72. Pieced a quilt
73. Stood in Times Square
74. Toured the EvergladesWrestled a gator, too.
75. Been fired from a job [they said it was "laid off," but since I've never been called back....]
76. Seen the Changing of the Guards in London
77. Broken a bone
78. Been on a speeding motorcycle [by myself, even]
79. Seen the Grand Canyon in person
80. Published a book
81. Visited the Vatican
82. Bought a brand new car [the one car I did buy new was the least reliable I've ever owned]
83. Walked in Jerusalem
84. Had your picture in the newspaper [not as a criminal, thank G_d]
85. Read the entire Bible
86. Visited the White House
87. Killed and prepared an animal for eating
88. Had chickenpox
89. Saved someone’s life [yep]
90. Sat on a jury [only called once so far and knew one of the defendants in a civil case, so I wasn't selected]
91. Met someone famous
92. Joined a book club
93. Lost a loved one
94. Had a baby
95. Seen the Alamo in person
96. Swam in the Great Salt Lake
97. Been involved in a law suit [small claims?]
98. Owned a cell phone [and who doesn't?]
99. Been stung by a bee
100. Read an entire book in one day [some took longer than a day, but stuck with it]
It's highly likely that most of the things not done won't ever be - I'm not really into world travel nor being a daredevil much these days.
Friday, November 28, 2008
I just got this picture in an email from a distant cousin today. The Justice family name plays a major role in the history of my family, and there were a bunch of them. I've forgotten just how this family is related - I'm gonna have to ask my "Unka" Bill, who is featured in one of the pictures below. Didn't these people ever smile when they had a formal portrait done? Anyways, I've seen some portraits of various Justice family members over the years, and the family resemblance between they and my father and uncle always stands out for me. John Wesley looks a lot like Dad to me - can you see it?
This is a picture of my father on his wedding day - his bride to his right and his sister-in-law to his left.
This is my Unka Bill, no doubt serving as my father's best man under duress. Doesn't he look like Joseph Curtis? Their eyebrows and noses are major indicators for me - just the way their eyes are set back under their eyebrows - a feature I have inherited as well. Their ears are also very similar - not protruding, but not flat against their heads. And, while I'm at it, Bethia Jane looks a lot like my Aunt Patsy - sister to Dad and Bill. I don't have a pic of her.
I can assure you I will be contacting my uncle - I've been told how all these people are related, but I didn't particularly care at the time. Young and stupid - gonna live forever. Now that I actually give a rat's behind about it, there aren't many left who retain this family history. All of these people helped pave the way for my generation to exist, and they lived, loved and died on the way. Their stories deserve remembrance.
Here is some saaaaad news - hah!
The media battle between former coworkers Rosie O'Donnell and Barbara Walters resumed on Wednesday night, as each woman rolled out her own TV special. In the end, however, only one stood tall: Walters, whose interview with President-elect Barack Obama and First Lady-to-be Michelle Obama on ABC's Barbara Walters Special netted 11.7 million viewers at 10 p.m. That was the night's third best total and a huge improvement on the 5.6 mil people who watched Dirty Sexy Money in the same period a week prior. (Indeed, on a slow Thanksgiving eve, the only shows to boast a ratings boost over the previous week in the same time slot were Walters' program and NBC's 9 p.m. airing of Deal or No Deal, which bettered last week's Life.)
O'Donnell's Rosie Live special on NBC, meanwhile, drew a mere 5 mil pairs of eyeballs in the 8 p.m. hour. That was the night's fifth smallest audience, and a sum that was down from the 5.2 mil viewers who tuned into the ratings-challenged Knight Rider last week.
Golly Gee Whiz, do ya think maybe the viewing public might be tired of Rosie's mouth? Well, actually I'm for thinking NBC just put a square peg in a round hole. As long as Rosie has someone like Elisabeth Hasselbeck to play off with controversial and outlandish statements, well, she is ratings gold. But as the host of an entertainment show? Rosie is a lot of things, most of which I cannot stand, but she is definitely no Carol Burnett or Lucille Ball. That would require less hatred and more humor.
Thursday, November 27, 2008
But, it is so much more than that. Yeah, I've got a roof over my head; keeping warm or cool as the season requires, plenty to eat and enough income to keep my head above water (just barely, but that ain't the point). When your mortality is shoved down your throat, one begins to see life in a different sort of fashion.
The matriarch of the family I broke bread with today had us all read a section of the story of the Pilgrims. It had been years since I'd heard that story, and she was right - we needed to hear the reason for celebrating Thanksgiving as we do. Our country was first and foremost founded on the principle of religious freedom, and this is the only place in the world that has this as a cornerstone of national policy and tradition. There are so many unique things about this wonderful country we call home that no other entity shares completely. Our radical Constitution, with the unheard of idea that we all have Rights inherent to ourselves, not from a benevolent King or some such other earthbound deity, has no equal - period. No other country comes close. So, I feel thankful that the big lottery of life placed me in this greatest experiment of mankind. I don't have to worship whatever someone in power has decided is the proper godlike being, or official state religion. Neither do you, and if you decide there is nothing to worship, you don't have to. Personally, I thank G_d for all these things, and I try to at least talk to him a couple times a day. Without Him looking out for me, I'd be toast.
There are so many things that have flowed from just being here at this point in time. A hundred years ago, I'd have kicked off long before now. Thanks to the freedom so many smart people have enjoyed we have vast technological resources that wouldn't be possible under different forms of government. Just the fact that I was able to sit in comfort and drive for fifteen minutes to my friend's home in an affordable vehicle, supported by a complex network of services designed to keep it running for a minimal portion of my income, would astonish a Pilgrim for sure. Beats riding a horse - it was cold today. I was able to eat portions of foods that were transported into this area from great distances, also economically. Just these few examples puts us ahead of the rest of the world.
So, yeah, I'm thankful for the technological bounty our country has given us. But that isn't all I'm thankful for.
I'm pretty tickled that I have such good friends - people who have stuck with me through thick and thin. I'm very happy to be in a community that has me as a member, Groucho Marx's famous quote not withstanding (I don't care to belong to a club that accepts people like me as member). After the trials I've seen this year, good friends are truly a blessing, and I appreciate everybody who has shown me kindness. Some I haven't even met personally, and they are very important as well. Some I had not heard from in years, and I welcome the interaction. The everyday, see all the time type - well, I owe these people a debt of gratitude that I will never be able to repay.
And my family - there aren't many of us left, but I couldn't have made it without my relatives. I'm even thankful for my dog and cat - they love me unconditionally (as long as the food keeps coming!).
So, on this day of reflection and thanks, I just want to say thank you to all of you out there, sharing this existence on this tiny spinning ball. I hope your day was as rewarding as mine.
Wednesday, November 26, 2008
From the NYT, so registration may be required:
Are Men More Dangerous at the Wheel? By Azadeh Ensha
Between August 2007 and September 2008, Quality Planning looked at 1.1 million insurance policyholders (51 percent female, 49 percent male) and tallied the number of moving violations for each gender. And the company found that women are more observant of traffic laws than men.
Specifically, men in the study were cited for reckless driving 3.41 times more than women, and cited for seatbelt violations 3.08 times more often. Men were more likely to speed and fail (or refuse, perhaps) to yield.
The study also concluded that men drive under the influence more often than women, by at least 50 percent, while women drivers are around 27 percent less likely than men to be found at fault in a car accident. These results are consistent across all age groups, according to the study.But is there more than one way to define dangerous driving? It could be argued, for example, that exceedingly slow drivers are also hazardous, as are multi-tasking drivers who drive while drinking coffee, using a cell phone or text messaging. Such considerations may not factor into a study that relies exclusively on traffic violations for its statistics.
And from the Quality Planning website:
According to Quality Planning, the data shows that when it comes to traffic laws, women are far more observant of them than men, and that the laws violated more frequently by men are those laws designed to safeguard people and property.
The company noted that reckless driving offenses, committed far more frequently by men, are considered one of the most serious traffic offenses by courts since it implies a disregard for the rights and safety of persons or property.
Yannow, I really can't disagree with any of this as far as my preconceived notions go - I've always thought us guys are usually worse drivers overall. But, since this study isn't actually looking at accident statistics, it looks more to me to be an excuse to raise insurance rates than actual hard data to support their assumptions.
Tuesday, November 25, 2008
So why are they in Congress begging for handouts? Why aren't they in begging in Mexico, since that government was in favor of the loans to their citizens abroad? Why aren't they at the UN's doorstep? We supposedly have to be seen in a better light by other nations - why not give them a stake in managing the companies that reside within their borders? If these companies are too big to fail, shouldn't they have at least a bit of self interest? Why, we could go arm in arm with the European Union, working together for a global brotherhood in the rescue of these poor oversized companies - it's a win-win for all!
The coffee will kick in soon, and I'll be back to normal quick, I promise......
Sunday, November 23, 2008
It seems to me, and anecdotes do not make evidence, that the rank and file postal employees seemed to share similar personality traits. First and foremost, they were mostly fairly smart. There were a few ditzes, but the majority were moderately intelligent, particularly compared to the average trucker, for instance. Then, most were at least moderately anal retentive, some worse than others. I fit into that category as well. I was particular about my job as far as it compared to others. I wanted to be faster, neater, and more productive. Some were just picky about their work environment. They'd spend a major amount of time making sure trays were lined up, labels were just so, and any other nitpicky little detail that bothered them. The typical "slow moving" postal worker would be highly insulted if they were called slow, because they pictured themselves as the hardest working employees ever. After a time, they developed their excruciatingly slow speed more as an offensive measure to management and other workers. Naturally, these types populated the unions, too. Self preservation was a common trait among the average worker, unlike me, who was more into burning out. The work is repetitive and boring, so some took it upon themselves to make life miserable for those they didn't like, particularly if they were senior to their victims. Most employees are also impatient, not necessarily about the same issues, but something not going their way sets them off.
Part of the problem at the USPS is the environment. Management is truly shackled by the contracts they have signed, and they become frustrated and break said contracts. Everyone always goes on about how it's impossible to get rid of an unproductive employee, but that is simply not true. What is true is doing so is difficult, and most of the managers didn't have the patience. Most supervisors are selected from rank and file workers as well, and this will become important later.
One of my supervisors figured out the best way to keep me on the boil was to piss me off. For a long time, I was the main "flat" sorter. Flats are basically the larger manila envelopes, magazines and small catalogs. They require a separate case to sort. I was the flat king - no one was faster. However, later in my career, I got burned out from trying to get done as fast as possible and go to a letter case to help them out. We only had one flat case, and lots and lots of letter cases - and there was always a shortage of people who were fast enough to overcome the deliberate drags on production. This supervisor would mess with my head in order to piss me off - he'd mess with me about how I was setting up my area (remember how I said we were all anal?), or make some snide comment, or whatever it took to bring my blood pressure up. I performed better under pressure, and being pissed off counted as pressure. Of course, he only was able to pull this stunt a few times until I caught on and refused to be pissed. I'd just answer whatever he spewed with "It ain't gonna work this time."
There were all kinds of incidents and policies that helped burn me out, but that is another post for another time. I just used this incident to show how malignant the relationships could be in that fine institution, and this was really rather mild in the great scheme of things. Anyone who was fairly productive was pretty high strung, and those who were not were usually fairly malignant in petty ways. Not that some of the more productive weren't malignant, either. Some were.
Now, most of you who have worked in an office see this as well, but I've held jobs in other fields and witnessed the interactions there as well. Take my word for it, the average business isn't even close to being as toxic as the atmosphere at larger post office. For one thing, businesses don't generally put up with the lack of production nor have picayunish contracts restricting their decisions. Unless there are unions involved, but I also have a theory as to why the USPS is different.
To get into the USPS as a career employee, you are required to take their battery exam. I've mentioned it before. The people that designed the test are looking for above average abilities in certain areas. The general knowledge portion of the test weeds out the less intelligent on a bell curve. However, and here is one of my contentions - they don't get employees further up the curve with really high intelligence. People with college degrees - unless it's in underwater basketweaving and they can't find a job any where else - don't go into the USPS except in certain higher level positions requiring degrees. The average worker is smart up to a point, but not successful in the sense that they could get a college degree. I fall into this category as well. Not that a degree is the salvation of all that is holy, but the slice of the bell curve of available talent is fairly narrow. People with degrees find better paying and more rewarding jobs than the USPS usually offers.
Another thing that USPS management wants in their employees is the ability to learn and retain apparently disjointed information quickly and repeat it as well. Such employees are more likely to learn and retain sorting schemes in a shorter time and be more effective. What is a sorting scheme? Well, each postal mail carrier delivers mail to a route. This route consists of "loops" where the carrier walks or drives in a predetermined pattern designed to give them a consistent amount of mail, and bring them back to their starting point to gain access to their delivery vehicle to get another loop of mail. So, a loop might have a starting point at the 2500 block of "A" street, turn on Oak to "B" street, come back to the south, and loop over to A on Maple. So, all the addresses contained within that loop go to that carrier route. A completely different carrier may have the rest of A street, and a completely different one with B.
When sitting in front of a "city case" set up for manually sorting letters addressed to the town, you will see labels on the "holdouts." C1 would be carrier one, and so on. You have to know all the addresses that each carrier delivers to in order to correctly sort the mail that is sent to them to deliver. So, retention of disparate data and applying it consistently is important to postal management.
But now let's look at the bell curve of available employees. We've already narrowed it down to a small subset of above intelligent (no, really) candidates, but inadvertently limited on the upper end. Now, we've cut into that subset and weeded out people with lousy short term memories. Not that someone with a poor short term memory isn't capable of memorizing the schemes necessary for the job - but that is what the USPS wants. Now we have an even smaller subset of candidates.
I took the battery exam when there were only two sections, but it's far more than that now. So, I'm not familiar with what they are looking for these days in the other parts. But, I can assure you, the tests reduce the qualifying candidates even further. Finally, we are left with the ideal USPS candidate.
My question is this: Wouldn't you think that people sharing these "superior" abilities also have personality quirks in common? That immersing these people in the petri dishes that are the hallmark of employment in the USPS may result in conflicts and general unhappiness? That recruiting management from the ranks is another bad example of the Peter Principle? People hired for a specific skill set not necessarily related to management are suddenly placed in positions of authority. I'm not trying to knock burgeoning supervisors here, but I'm just trying to look at the situation analytically. Yes, the USPS spends endless time training their managers, but the raw material was formed for a different purpose. And, the raw material doesn't play well with others in the first place.
I'd bet that if someone did a study on this, they'd find a lot of unhealthy traits common to our ideal subset of available candidates. I'd expect no change - postal management doesn't like to be told what to do. Most of them took the tests as well.
So, that is my Unified Theory on Screwed Up Postal Workers. Part of it is the selection process, and the rest is their environment. Oh, there are people who manage to survive successfully in their careers at the USPS, but most have something in common as well. They leave their work at work when the door swings behind them leaving, they work hard enough to stay under the radar of their managers, but not so hard it affects their home life. They can look at injustices and not let that bother them, either, unless they are specifically singled out. They learn to survive. I did not.
Saturday, November 22, 2008
Well most citizens are smarter than politicians but not by much. The Intercollegiate Studies Institute released the findings of its 2008 Civics Literacy Report and the findings are UGLY. Out of the 2,500 randomly selected individuals 1,700 failed to earn more than a 49% score on its 33-question multiple choice American civics/history quiz. Politicians who took the test averaged 44% about the same as respondents with a high school education.
This is a table of the results comparing politicians to the general public:
Like we are surprised? It's nice to know the people who monkey with our lives and liberty are more ignorant than us common folk, but that is pretty damning in and of itself as well:
So, statistically speaking, there isn't any differences based on age, religion or politics. As a nation, we all suck. The average nationwide grade on the civic literary test is an "F." 49% is a failing grade, last time I checked. Do I find this disturbing? Are you kidding?
- Less than half can name all three branches of the government.
- Only 21% know that the phrase “government of the people, by the people, for the people” comes from Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address.
- Although Congress has voted twice in the last eight years to approve foreign wars, only 53% know that the power to declare war belongs to Congress. Almost 40% incorrectly believe it belongs to the president.
- Only 55% know that Congress shares authority over U.S. foreign policy with the president. Almost a quarter incorrectly believe Congress shares this power with the United Nations.
- Only 27% know the Bill of Rights expressly prohibits establishing an official religion for the United States.
- Less than one in five know that the phrase “a wall of separation” between church and state comes from a letter by Thomas Jefferson. Almost half incorrectly believe it can be found in the Constitution.
- Americans age 25 to 34 score an average of 46% on the exam; Americans age 65 and over score 46%.
- Americans earning an annual income between $30,000 and $50,000 score an average of 46%; Americans earning over $100,000 score 55%.
- Liberals score an average of 49%; conservatives score 48%.
- Americans who go to church once a week score an average of 48%; Americans who never go to church score 50%.
I could go on a diatribe about how our school system has failed us over time - but since older survey respondents fared just as poorly as younger ones, that argument is shot out of the saddle. One thing I didn't notice was the percentage of respondents who were registered voters. I'd like to hope that at least voters might have a bit more knowledge about our nation's foundations and laws, but honestly, I doubt that there would be any evidence to support that supposition.
There seems to be so many of us who want the government to rule their lives; to babysit us and take all risk away from us. Hopefully, there are enough of us stubborn curmudgeons who think the Founders might have had a clue to at least slow down the steady progression to socialism. I'm not even very optimistic about that idea, frankly.
Oh, and do you want to take the test? Clicky. It is thirty three questions long, and to my everlasting shame, I missed two for a score of 93.94%.
We went our separate ways but we were reintroduced some years later by a classmate who still hasn't quite mastered email etiquette. This particular 'mate was sending out a bunch of the hoaxes that have been around since Moby Dick was a minnow (but after the Goracle invented the intertubes), and we both were replying to all with links to Snopes and our own admonitions. I guess Kathy B. and I are just picky that way. We were both sort of banished from our prolific emailer's list, but only for a while.
At any rate, she's just fired up the blog thing, and she writes well. I'm gonna stay tuned.
Wednesday, November 19, 2008
I was a pretty pudgy kid, always a little overweight, and an underachiever physically. Guess what, I still am. I had gone out for football in junior high, and did alright. I, along with some of my classmates, looked forward to high school football. It was going to be a challenge, because the coach was tough, and our high school team had a tradition of winning. I'm not gonna name names out of respect for his family, but he was known as "Cowboy Karl," whom I'll refer to as CK from now on.
CK had a very rough start to his practices - we had three a day for about three weeks or so. I think we might have cut back to two a day nearing the end of his prep period, known as "Hell Weeks." It was full contact with full pads and helmets. After Hell Weeks were over, we'd mostly practice in gym shorts and shoulder pads, with no contact.
Right off the bat, I was on CK's bad side. I was tubby, slow, weak - the list was endless. I was not to practice with anyone not designated a lineman. I was the only freshman on the line, and there was one sophomore. The juniors and seniors would go on to be undefeated, and all of them were at least All League, and some were All State. I'd just be coming out of my stance and I'd get slaughtered. Then, I was a worthless POS because, since I was big, I should be able to kick a senior's ass. Never mind about how much more mature they were, I was supposed get it done.
He watched me like a hawk. When we all took a break and had a tiny cup of Gatorade, I was never allowed to have a second cup. Now, of course, kids are allowed to drink plenty of fluids. Back then, it was thought that drinking more than a cup or so would cause cramps. Not that overexertion and a brief respite had anything to do with cramping up - it had to be the fluids. I can't fault CK for this - it was the prevailing theory of the time, and he was just following that.
The grass school yard had some serious landscaping done - the grade school's playground was quite a bit higher than our track, with a fairly sharp slope between them. Miscreants during practice had to "crab the hill." Naturally, I was a miscreant for many and various reasons, so I spent a lot of time on that hill.
CK played favorites, too. Where his teacher's pets might get barked at for some violation, the rest of us had to crab that hill. His pets had to work hard, but he didn't ride them like the lower forms of life represented by me. I was at the bottom. Most of the other guys were somewhere in the middle, but it was clear that I was the dregs of the barrel.
One of the drills we had involved using the tackling dummies laid side by side with about ten feet between them, creating a slot. In each slot resided a starting lineman. The rest of us lined up to take them on. The idea was for us to keep our legs oriented with the line of scrimmage - we would drive in, smack the lineman, and back out, step sideways, and drive into the next slot. This taught us not to cross our legs during a play so we could react to someone entering a newly opened hole. We could block or tackle them much more effectively than if we were chasing to a sideline and get out of position.
Probably the second guy nearly knocked me out. I remember standing in a red haze that narrowed into tunnel vision, and a roaring sound in my ears soon overcome by CK yelling at me to get my dead ass in gear. I kind of wandered through the rest of the drill and of course, the linemen hit me hard. They had to, or they'd get yelled at, too. After I weaved out of the last slot, one of the assistants took me aside and broke an ammonia capsule under my nose to help bring me back.
We usually had a crowd of regulars watching our practices. They were primarily members of the "Quarterback Club" - an organization that supported football activities. One of the members had enough and called my Dad to tell him of my treatment. This did not go over well with my father. I remember him on his way out the door to drive to town to "talk" to CK, and my mother hanging on his arm begging him not to go. According to Dad, he was the only one that needed to be talking to me that way (and he did, too!). I've always wondered what might have happened if Dad had confronted CK. Both were big men, and stubborn. I'd like to think my Dad would have kicked CK's ass, because Dad worked all day, and CK just yelled at kids all day. But, who knows.
One time, we had to line up against an individual at random for practice coming off the line out of our stance. I looked around for another lineman, and couldn't find one. Oh, great, I figured I'd get yelled at about not finding someone quickly enough. I ended up across from one of my classmates, who was a wide receiver. The assistant who had given me the ampule told me "Go ahead, it will be alright." He knew what was bothering me.
I literally slaughtered my hapless classmate. The older guys beat me off the line and generally caught me just coming out of my stance. I fought them as best I could, but I ended up on my butt frequently. Not this time. I not only beat him off the line, I put him in the dirt before I realized what I was doing. This turned out to be a ray of hope for me - I finally had evidence that I was improving and was quite competitive with my age group. The assistant coach did encourage me several times - he'd mutter under his breath that I was improving, or I was quicker, or some sort of minor praise. Rarely - but it beat getting screamed at.
I thought of quitting often. I was in this football thing for fun, and this was not. My "manhood" at age 14 had been challenged, though, so I decided to hang on until hell weeks were over. Just to prove I could take the worst CK could dish out. I saw a future of ass chewings no matter what I did or how I improved, so after the rough stuff was over - I quit.
I heard later from my debate coach that particular action really puzzled CK. I had taken his worst, and he had me pegged as a quitter, but he thought he'd have run me off a lot earlier. Me quitting after taking it all just didn't compute for him. He sure tried to make me quit; I just didn't do it until I'd proven my point. I could take his worst, but I chose not to take it anymore.
CK was also my PhysEd teacher. During that winter, I had a bout of appendicitis, which resulted in it's removal. Since about a fourth of my stomach muscles were severed and sewn together again, the surgeon excused me from any physical exertion for about six weeks. I had to sit in the bleachers while CK exercised my classmates. I got to hear plenty of muttered asides about how I was a pussy, or some such, during this time. I suppose if I'd have gone ahead and split myself open and bled out, I'd have been some sort of hero.
One of his requirements to pass PE was the ability to do ten pullups. I weighed about 180 or so back then, and that was just too much for me. I ended up with a D- for a final grade. That pissed my mother off, and she did "go to town." It didn't make any difference. Successful football coaches could do whatever they pleased back then. That was the only low score I got in high school.
I "got" what he was trying to do with me - he was gonna toughen me up. If he let on I was improving, he figured I'd slack off and not do as well. Riding me all the time would push me further faster. As far as my grade went - I didn't meet his standard.
But, I don't perform well for very long if my ass is being chewed constantly. Something about that doesn't set well with me. A Marine DI has a limited time to turn eighteen year old kids off the street into disciplined military men, when discipline will keep them alive. Coaching a mix of fourteen to seventeen year olds didn't strike me as life threatening. Also, for being such a tub of lard and a pussy, I could whip the crap out of the majority of my classmates if I chose. Seems to me a prime example of a fit specimen should have been able to kick my ass, but it wasn't so, for some reason. Not being able to do a pull up didn't seem to affect my ability to physically dominate others, if necessary. I chose not to fight all the time, but I knew I could, and win.
As I got older, obviously I matured physically. When I was in my early to mid twenties, I lost a bunch of weight. Suddenly, I could do pull ups. Lots of them. I used to hope I'd cross paths with CK and jump him - I'd tell him I wasn't a pudgy fourteen year old any more, and would he care to repeat some of the things he said to me back then? One of my classmates - while refereeing a high school game - ran into him a few years after we graduated. He made some snide comments to my buddy, about how he was still fat and slow. My buddy decided it wasn't worth it. I don't know if I'd have been that strong.
Of course, now if he's even alive, he'd be elderly. I'm certainly not in any shape to go avenging my high school self. I've never really been able to let this go. CK left after my sophomore year, and I ended up going out for football in my junior and senior years, and lettering my senior year. I never bought a letter jacket - when I got to college a high school letter jacket was pretty passe and marked you as a rube. I did get one of my old jerseys, and that meant something to me. I still have it parked away, somewhere. Mostly, though, high school football was a bust for me. When people start reminiscing about their old football stories, I remember, and I am pissed.
Tuesday, November 18, 2008
Yes, your suspicions are correct. This happens all the time.
Yep, we got cows at the Poor Farm. We gotcher Black Angus rahht here. I don't think these are strictly by the book purebreeds, but when you hear Burger King advertising Black Angus, this is about as close as it gets.
This cow typifies the qualities Dad looked for in cattle. Notice she isn't swaybacked, and how broad shouldered and wide her hips are. The "square" frame can hold some serious weight, and they can put it on. The wide hips are good for calving. You can't tell, but she is noticeably taller than the others as well. She is also in the other picture - the first cow just right of the right fence post in the foreground. They watched me take their pictures for a while, then when they decided I wasn't going to drive in with something for them to eat, off they went in a cloud of dust. I'd have been a lot more popular had I some alfalfa, salt, or some mineral supplement.
Aaand, thanks to Gary Larsen for the cartoon. I miss the Far Side.
Monday, November 17, 2008
I've been pretty busy with the funeral, visiting and so forth the past couple days, so sorry about not being around here. This blog hit 20,000 yesterday, and of course, being the semi obsessive I am, I noticed. I started this blog in 2004 and didn't do much with it, and the code for Sitemeter expired at some point. I really don't remember when I renewed the code, but I finally did get into posting to the dern thing again in July of 2007. It took until July of 2008 to get 10k hits. It has only taken about four months to get a second 10k, so traffic 'round here is increasing.
When I started posting again, I felt like I might have something to say, but I wasn't sure exactly what. I'm not really into posting about politics because I don't care to do the research it takes to be knowledgeable about any aspects I might consider covering. Most of the political stuff I opine about is usually the "yeah, me too" variety. It seems I prefer to write little nostalgic vignettes, post political cartoons that tickle me, and funny videos. I also put up stuff that shows up in my email inbox that catches my eye. I also used this blog as a news source so I could more easily keep people informed about my hospitalization and recovery.
I enjoy irony, and I find humor in it. So, it is ironic what really drives traffic here. Cycles was and probably will be the best thing I've written. Having some of the more popular bloggers link to that definitely drove traffic for a while. Whether I've got anything like that in me remains to be seen, as far as I'm concerned. The other little stories I tell seem to be theraputic for me to write and most of you who come back seem to enjoy them, so when the mood strikes, I'll keep writing that brand of scribbling.
But, it's funny what really drives traffic here, and that is Google. For a long time, and even now, a post I put up about pulling the fan motor and cage from my pickup has drawn visits. There was no usable information I could find with my best Google-Fu on the subject, so I put up the post so people could find the process to remove the parts. A post about custom harvesting has and still does draw hits - mostly from people looking for specific information regarding pricing and availability - which had nothing to do with the article.
But the two posts that have drawn the lion's share of traffic were not anything I wrote from my heart, or anything interesting about life around here, rather it was something tossed up from the ol' email inbox. The first one was about a non profit in Canada called World Harvest for Kids that collected 100 combines in a field to cut it at once for a world record and great photo opportunity. I guess I was ahead of the curve, because there were a lot of people looking for that and found me. Later, traffic really rolled in when a couple forums seemed to consider that post to the the font of wisdom about the subject and linked it. I had no idea combine forums had so many eyeballs. After that ran it's course, someone started sending out an email with some of the pictures claiming it was "how harvest is done in Norton, KS." Since the wheat was swathed and windrowed, and we don't do that this far south, it was someone trying to hoax a bunch of ignorant people. I even had a reporter from the Norton area email me about it for an article he was writing. I asked him to email a link, but he never did. Another reason to love the dead tree media, I guess.
The next one was a post about photoshopped sports cars made to look like body kits on Smart Cars. Another case of being ahead of the pack. At the moment, that one brings the most traffic of any single post. For a long time, incoming links were directly from Google or other search engines, but lately it's been linked on a Danish (I think it's Danish, at any rate) forum - apparently the goofy email has reached Europe now and people are looking for information.
So, I think it's pretty whimsical that something I put some effort into writing; that I've emotionally invested myself is blown out of the water by something I saw as humorous. Keeps me humble, I say.
But, I'm not really all that invested in traffic, per se. Yeah, it's neat to see who is searching for crazy stuff, and where the eyeballs are from, and how many people are looking at my thinking. But, if I did get a big load of traffic, I'd be obliged to post more often and probably improve the content. I don't have time for that - it seems my real job, the one that pays the bills - requires a large chunk of my day. Weekends are usually the best time for me to post, and that is the worst time for drawing traffic, "they" say. Besides, we all know that most of the regular readers we have are fellow bloggers . It ain't a growth industry. Incestuous, yes. Fresh faces? Not so much.
So, I'm gonna keep on doing what I've been doing. I'm not going to convince a hoplophobe that they are wrong, or that a far left liberal viewpoint is basically supporting socialism. I know I'm wasting my time and that I'm preaching to the choir for most of the regulars who read this stuff. I'll just keep on writing what trips my trigger, and visit all your blogs - trying to add something in comments occasionally, and enjoy the "small" worldwide network I'm a part of.
And I'll laugh when Google sends me a buttload of traffic about next to nothing, 'cause it seems to be Situation Normal........
Saturday, November 15, 2008
One of my family's best friends passed away in his sleep the other night. His name was Roy Timken. He and Dad were very close, and his wife Lavon and my mother were as well. Sis and I grew up with their four daughters. Sis's best friend was the youngest girl. Roy was a farmer, but more importantly, he was a family man.
When Roy and Lavon were married, she already had two daughters. Roy adopted them, and he and Lavon went on to have two more together. There was no distinguishing between the love Roy bestowed on his adopted and biological children. None. There was no question they were all his children. He found it amusing that daughters were going to be his lot in life. Roy always had a gentle sense of humor, and the idea of four daughters pleased his funny bone immensely.
My father was something of a pessimist. I can remember many conversations he and Roy had when Dad would gripe about this or that issue, and Roy would be in agreement. However, at the end, Roy always had a positive twist - a gentle poke or a funny quip - to lighten the mood. I can hear him chuckling even now. Low grain prices, or some goofy government antics, the bad weather, or whatever else depresses farmers, would have him upset just like everyone else, but he still managed to put a positive spin on the situation, usually with humor.
He and Lavon had a strong marriage. I always thought one of the little things Lavon always did was pretty cool. She packed his lunches - they "lived in town" and Roy drove to the farm every day. In those lunches, or in some paperwork somewhere, or someplace only Roy would find - she left little slips of paper with personal notes. Roy would stumble upon one of these little love notes, smile, read it and chuckle, and put it in his overall pocket. He did not share these little missives. That was between he and the love of his life.
I witnessed this little tableau while working for him. Dad always liked to help Roy during fall harvest, and I would join in at times. Roy may not have had the newest or the latest equipment, but everything always worked and it looked good. I mean all the gauges, lights, brakes and other things that could go wrong always functioned as they were supposed to. This is more rare than you might think. Roy's farm was my introduction to irrigation. I learned to hate the older, smaller aluminum flood irrigation pipes - they were so much heavier than the lighter, larger diameter ones.
He also had a John Deere 5010, which at one time was about the stoutest two wheel drive tractor made. He had me rip some of his ground with a thirteen shank ripper, and set it deep. Rippers are needed to break up the "hard pan" that develops over time as heavy equipment compresses the soil. He warned me I'd be popping wheelies all day, and that it would be better if we made two passes - one shallow and then one deeper. He didn't have the time for that, though. So, I ran the tractor on the duals and steered it with the brakes for a major portion of the day. That was quite impressive.
Back at the house, he had his own corner in their basement. It was "his" area. The rest of the place belonged to Lavon. Roy was also an avid gun enthusiast and hunter. For a long time, he collected rare lever action Winchesters. Expensive guns, to be sure. At one point, Lavon wanted to remodel the house, and the only way they could afford it was for Roy to sell off the majority of his collection. He did, without regret. He told Dad and I that he felt he was putting far too much money in that collection. He felt he couldn't afford to do much else with the hunting and sporting side of his gun hobby if he had so much money tied up in guns that were wall hangers. Besides, he did keep a few.
Now it may sound like he was some sort of pushover - but Roy was far from that. He was a great supporter of the local Coop, and served on the board of directors for many years. He also served on the local school board. He was quite capable of ruffling feathers and making hard nosed decisions, and he did so. If you've ever been around a small town and seen how messy either of those boards can be, knowing Roy successfully navigated those shoals should give you an idea how strong he really was. He retired from both boards when he was ready, and he was missed when he did.
Roy had heart bypass surgery a long time ago. His travails were an inspiration for me in the same situation. When he was in recovery after surgery, he decided the tracheal tube hooked to the breathing machine had to go, so he simply pulled it out. If my arms were functional when I woke up, I can assure you I'd have done the same, knowing he did it and got away with it. I even thought the nurses had my arms tied down just so I couldn't pull it loose, but they weren't.
Roy always had some pretty neat guns, too. He, the retired coop manager, and our mayor always had a table at the Evil Loophole Gun Show (ELGS), where they'd have a few guns that needed to go to fund a new project. Roy had a target Garand at the last show. It was loaded with National Match goodies and a beautiful stock. It was a magnificent gun - with a gorgeous finish as well. It looked like a wall hanger, but it was made to shoot. Roy was done with it, and needed funds to start on some new "toy". If I could have afforded it, it would reside here at The Poor Farm for sure.
After both our parents passed on, Roy and Lavon were there for Sis and I. They were more her "extra parents" than mine, but I knew they were there for me. The last time I saw Roy, I was driving by his farm after stopping at my "extra" mom's (mother of my childhood best friend) place. Roy's shop was just down the road, and as I went by, he was shooting a rifle off a table at a target. He was either zeroing it in, or testing a load. I didn't want to bother him, so I drove on. Now, I wish I had.
I've learned over the years to thank the people who make a difference in my life. I don't think I ever did that with Roy - to explain how much he was and still is an inspiration to me. Roy was a pillar of his church, community, family and friends. Telling y'all about him is the least I can do.
It's been a while since The Pretenders have done anything new. I heard this on the mobile free tune box the other day, and actually liked it. I'm not much for Chrissie Hynde's politics, but if I only allowed myself to be entertained by conservative entertainers, it would be mighty boring fast. From their website:
The Pretenders ninth studio album, Break Up The Concrete, will have a limited run of ecologically-friendly packaging with handmade seed paper starting on the album's release date of October 7. This paper can be planted and, with care, may sprout in 1 to 4 weeks. The paper used on this plantable run, and the paper for subsequent non-plantable runs of the CD and vinyl configuration, has all been certified by the FSC, an independent, non-governmental, not for profit organization established to promote the responsible management of the world's forests. The vinyl version of the album, to be released on September 23, is two 10" discs with a gatefold, die-cut to shape and debossed with concrete texture with a full Album CD in Mini Jacket
The ecological packaging should come as no surprise to anyone who has followed the career of the Pretenders front woman Chrissie Hynde, who has always been on the forefront of ecological issues and humane treatment of animals.
Isn't that special? Aahh, well, the new single sounds pretty dern good.
Thursday, November 13, 2008
In Class 8 trucks, and considering what I've driven in the past.
Caterpiller has the reputation among most as the strongest motor, and for a good reason. They usually are. I was reading a combine forum the other day, and in the trucking section some character claimed Detroit Diesels had the best low end torque.
Lets look at displacements. The standard bearer for Cat is the C15, which is 928 cubic inches (15.2L). Cummins basic block for years was the 855 block, which - gee guess what - 855 cid(14L). The largest Series 60 Detroit is also 14L. Welp, cubic inch displacement generally means more low end torque and better horsepower, particularly if they all operate in the same rpm range. Yeah, Formula One cars get a lot of power out of small displacement motors, but they rev over 10k as well. The average diesel doesn't get much above 2100 these days, and if you want mileage, it's less.
Back when dirt was new, Detroits were two stroke motors. Most of the old Greyhound and Trailways buses had Detroit two stroke power. If you heard a big truck that sounded like a bus, it more than likely had a Detroit powering it. The truck motors were by and large V8s and V6s with individual cylinder displacement in the designation. A 6V71 was a V6 with six 71cid cylinders. The later motors had 92cid/cylinder, thus the big-un was an 8V92. Hot rodders loved these motors because since they were two strokes, in order to achieve proper air flow, required superchargers just to move the air. The dragsters would adapt the old "Jimmy" blowers to their fuelies for, heh heh, more power. The two stroke diesels couldn't naturally draw enough air to run. Motors that needed more power had turbochargers just like the rest of the diesels out there.
These puppies wound up tight and sang a good song, but whenever confronted with a slight pull, generally fell on their faces. No low end torque. If you could keep it "on the boil" by keeping the rpms high, you could pull a hill better. It was said to properly drive a Detroit, one should put one's hand in the doorjamb and slam the door on your hand. This would put you in the proper frame of mind to drive the thing - you had to abuse it to get any power. The fuel delivery system made the throttle response like a car - if you pushed down on the accelerator just a bit when it wasn't under load, it would wind right up to the shutoff. I've driven some of the newer Series 60 motors in the past three years, and while they are four stroke like the rest of the world, they still don't have any "guts." Drive it like you stole it, if you don't want to be crawling up the mountain.
Cummins motors have remained largely unchanged since the fifties - all on the same 855 block. There have been a slew of changes, but a lot of the parts could interchange. The Cummins motors I've driven all had a lot more low end torque than the Detroits. Their fuel delivery system is similar to the Detroits - bumping the accelerator will jump the rpms up in a hurry. The new ISX motors are twin overhead cams with 912cid(14.9L). I have not had the pleasure of driving one of these motors. We have one in our fleet rated at 550hp, the same as all our Cats, but it apparently actually outpulls all the newer low sulfur motors.
Then we come to the old time Cats. They were all larger displacement, and their injection system metered out a precise amount of fuel to each cylinder depending on the accelerator input and the rpms running. Unloaded, if you put your foot halfway in, the tach only went about halfway up. With the rpms tightly controlled, shifting is far easier. Plus, if you had your foot in it about 3/4 and started up a hill, it didn't matter if you mashed your foot to the firewall or just let the motor try to pull to 3/4 the rpms. It actually pulled better if you let it do the work.
Buuut, there were problems with the older Cats. They did not make the fuel mileage, and they were expensive as hell to repair and overhaul. The old V8 Cats were pulling monsters, but they'd "pass everything but a fuel pump."
Now, with electronics, Cats try to mimic the throttle response of the older models. They are different to drive, but most drivers prefer them more after getting used to one. The motor my hot rod has is an ACERT C15, so it has twin turbos and it won't turn more than 1900 rpms. I generally shift up at 1600 or 1700, where in a Detroit I'd push it to 2000 or 2100. In lower gears, I might let it drop to 1000 rpms and not bother shifting down - like pulling through a town. All the newer motors do not allow you to stomp on the fuel and really accelerate. The old motors would, and then they'd blow lots of black smoke. That is just not politically correct anymore, so we have to let the boost build up a bit before the fuel pump in allowed to pump fuel. However, the boost won't build until the fuel is pumped up. It's a slow process, and sometimes if you need power in a passing situation, it just isn't there. The ACERT Cats can also be distinguished by the twin turbos. The older C15s had one huge single turbo, but the ACERTs have small twin turbos that will supposedly spool up quicker. The older motors didn't have much in the way of feedback on dangerous temperatures - you could overheat one pretty easily, or get the exhaust temperature so high the turbo would burn up. Now, the ECM won't allow it. The motors will "derate" before they'll self destruct. That means there is enough power to limp along to the repair shop to determine what is wrong.
One of my favorite motors from my past was a Cummins Big Cam III that had been hopped up a bit. It had the latest Holset turbo and the new (for it's day) style exhaust manifold. The fuel pump had been worked over, too. When it was in a long pull, it was a good idea to watch the pyrometer (exhaust temperature gauge), or it could blow some rings, pop a head gasket or blow a head. The rpm limiter was set for a far higher figure than 2100rpms - it altered the fuel curve so the lower ranges had more fuel. Those older motors also had an "aneroid" valve - it was the mechanical equivalent of the electronic motor's self regulation when accelerating to prevent the dreaded black smoke. That valve was backed off all the way, baby. The fuel pump had a smaller number "button" in it that allowed greater fuel flow. So, for a Cummins in it's day, it pulled pretty dern good. I could stomp on it to pass and it would roll out some smoke and just go. The original rating was 400hp, but I'm sure it cranked out considerably more. Most of the "running" motors of that era had similar "upgrades" to their pumps as well. And, you'd think that the fuel mileage would be considerably worse, but someone slogging along with an unmodified 350 pulling it's guts out would make worse mileage than the hopped up motor loafing along. So, if the operator wasn't an idiot that would burn it up or drink up the fuel, the "breathed on" motors did pretty well.
Now, which motors do I prefer? I'm finally getting used to this ACERT motor, and while it's okay, I prefer the older style. I actually do like the electronic motors better than the old mechanical beasts. They might not wind up as quick, but the computer controlled motors actually do pull better and get better mileage doing it. Which motors are the most fuel efficient? Lately, it sure ain't Caterpillers. Detroits have a pretty good track record in that regard. The new Cummins ISX may stand that assumption on it's head. Cat isn't gonna make any more motors for the US market, so the question of the future is moot as far as the yellow motors go. Cat's are still more expensive to fix and overhaul. My neighbor bought an older truck with a Series 60 the other day, and I don't blame him. It will probably cost him less in the long term than a Cat. Personally, I'd prefer a Cummins for farm use, but that's just me. They all have their weak points.
I'm not sure just how well these newer electronic marvels will last after the truck is parked for the winter and the mice move into the wiring harnesses, either.
Also, I've never driven a Volvo powered Volvo truck, or a Mercedes powered Freightliner, nor a Mack truck. Macks have had a reputation for low end torque for years, but pretty much any time I've ever run with one while I was driving a Cat or a Cummins - I'd outpull it. Plus, most of the "fleet" trucks out there have smaller versions of the motors I've mentioned, particularly the Detroits.
Might makes right, I always say.
Tuesday, November 11, 2008
Monday, November 10, 2008
Sunday, November 09, 2008
But, what do I know. I'm bitter; clinging to my guns and religion like some slack jawed political Neanderthal. But, I do know the small class sizes and the dedication of those entrusted with my education gave me a heads up on the world. I'm also somewhat biased towards teachers as individuals (teacher's unions, not so much) because my mother was a lifelong teacher, and my Dad's parents taught as well. Teaching is in my blood, as it were. If I won the lottery, I'd probably go back to school so I could teach.
I owe a lot to my mother as far as my education is concerned. I about flunked the fourth grade because of my math scores. I was just not getting the multiplication tables memorized. She bought some flash cards and drilled me at home until my grades improved markedly. I now have a great appreciation for things math related. She also had a great love of literature and reading that I inherited.
But, I owe quite a debt to many of my instructors at the local school as well. Two in particular really stand out. I'm gonna name names here, because they deserve to be known - even if this place doesn't attract much traffic in the great scheme of things. Classroom discipline was a hallmark of both of these educators - they ran the show, and that was that.
First: Barbara Hamilton. Originally from Texas, and last I heard, where she now lives in retirement. So, she always had a bit of a twang to her voice. She was a fairly tall, slender, black haired iron willed woman who felt that drilling the nuances of the English language in us was her God given mission. And drill she did. I absolutely hated diagramming sentences. So, we did it all the freaking time. I did not like writing papers. We did that all the freaking time. I did go above and beyond her reading requirements, though. When we had to pick from a list of classics, my buddy Melvin picked Les Miserables just because it was the thickest book on the list. I read it because I wanted to. I think my choice was Thomas Hardy's Return of the Native, which at the time I found insufferably dull. Ah well, I was also introduced to many other classics, such as The Count of Monte Cristo (Alexandre Dumas, pere), A Tale of Two Cities, and the works of Poe, among others. Mrs. H directed my reading towards the classics, which I've always appreciated. I found Chaucer difficult, and Shakespeare stuffy, but what the hell. I certainly learned something. I did ulitimately enjoy the history of the English language and how the building blocks had changed over the years, as well as the literature of the French.
And the endless drilling of sentence and paragraph construction paid off. When I got to college, the papers I wrote were head and shoulders above my classmates. I actually used paragraphs and sentences. The total drivel that some of my 'mates put out shocked me. I could crank out some real crap and still get an "A" because it just looked good in comparison. It is not lost on me how ironic it is that I'm actually writing something here on a semi-regular basis without the spurs of class requirements and grades. If Mrs. H ever reads this, I'm sure she'd feel the same.
So, thank you, Barbara Hamilton, for your unyeilding adherence to higher standards and continually pushing a lazy scholar to meet your requirements. Your efforts are still appreciated.
Next up is Max Davidson. He was small of stature, balding and thin, but his booming voice ruled his classroom. He used one of those old overhead rearward projectors that had scrolling clear plastic that could be reused. This way he could watch his charges while writing equations. For Max taught math. "Higher Math" as it was known back when dirt was new. Algebra. Geometry. Trig. He did not teach calculus, because he felt his time was better spent with the fundamentals. Calculus was for college. His mission was to drill us in the basics so we would be ready for calculus, physics, and whatever else awaited us in college. And, drill us in the basics he certainly did. Proofs. Over and Over. I hated proofs. Distributive. Communicative. Sets. Side, Angle, Side. Show Your Work.
He felt that is wasn't important exactly what steps we used to get the answer as long as we could back it up by showing proof and how we got there. I've done some tutoring over the years and most of the kid's teachers need their pencils snapped for the rigidity they expouse. Max's loose way of allowing us to find our own path allowed us to learn math in a goal realized fashion rather than "you must do it this way or it is wrong, wrong, wrong." I had to teach the kids to do it their way, and then "backtrack" to show it the way the teacher wanted. What a load of crap. If what they are doing is grounded in mathematic fundamentals, what difference does it make if they don't cross multiply fractions in this particular prescribed fashion? Particularly if they find the answer through established math principles?
Well, I'll get off the soapbox - I'm here to praise Max, not to bury him. No, wait, that's English lit, not math....
After I got to college, I once again appreciated the instruction I had been given. Calc and DiffeeQ just built on what I knew, thanks to Mr. D. Physics was fun - wow, we had labs! The fundamentals were drilled into my brain well enough that I can tutor kids just by looking over their assignments with maybe a bit of textbook refreshment. I've always had a love for "story problems."
Max "retired" to farming a long time ago. I've thanked both he and Mrs. H in person in years past, and I think it embarrassed them. They both sort of shrugged it off in a "Aww, shucks, it was nothing" kind of way. If this somehow finds either of you - well, thanks again. Y'all deserve it, and more.
Saturday, November 08, 2008
Friday, November 07, 2008
Farmer Frank has been having some mechanical issues with his equipment. It's the drizzles when your main tractor or, as with him, both his front line tractors go down, particularly if it is the "it's parked until you spend the big bucks" to get it fixed. The window of opportunity for prepping ground for planting, planting itself, or whatever needs to be done isn't always a big one. Bills starting in six or seven figures make the situation far less palatable.
But, when yer a teenager, the perspective is geared more towards avoiding the inevitable butt-chewing that a screwup brings. I certainly let my mind wander and Murphy bit me more than once. I was on the receiving end of some major vitriol from my father - and it was usually deserved.
Dad's "sweeps," or sweep plow as it's known in other areas, were made by Noble in Canada. They were 3x6' - "three sixes" with an 18' cut. Imagine a large "V" shaped blade, sharpened on the outer perimeter, parallel to the ground. The implement can be set for varying depths, and the v blade rides under the soil, cutting the roots of the weeds without disturbing the all important cover.
That's important in the "we need ground cover to avoid the dirt erosion in the Dirty Thirties" sort of way. Bare ground blows which ever way the wind takes it. Ground with old wheat straw and dead weeds on top does not.
But, one of the drawbacks of the sweep plow is that it can produce huge clods over time, and rain doesn't soak into the ground as well. So, most sweeps have rotary harrow attached. They are a bunch of spiked wheels that break up the clods, and there are lots of them on an axle set at an angle to the travel of the implement. We had a separate harrow for a while. We'd have to fold three transport wheels down (with a handy pipe latched to the frame), and pull the "wings" forward to move. There were a couple braces attached to a pinned sleeve on the main tube, so you could set the angle of the harrows more or less aggressively. When we got to the next field, we'd pull the pin, pull forward to set the angle, pick the transport wheels up, and go to work.
Well, one of the pins holding one of the braces to the sleeve fell out while I was working, and I pulled the thing for about a half mile before I saw it. It was "sprung" after that, and Dad chewed me out but good. He'd bought me an old pickup a few months earlier, and if I ever, ever screwed up a piece of equipment like that again, he'd sell it to pay for the repairs.
So, fast forward a month or so. I'd been super diligent and nothing untowards had happened. We had a Case 930 with clamp on dual wheels. Most tractors made for duals have long axles that will accept wheel centers with built in weights. These duals were held on by four huge clamps that attached to the rims and had long threaded bolts to keep them tight. The mechanics at the Case dealer warned him that the axles were not designed for the extra stress, and that the axles would probably break.
I was working some wheat stubble that had some pretty good combine ruts from a wet harvest. Dad called them "buffalo wallows." At any rate, we had to slow down and pick our way across the ruts, and maybe even go over them a couple times to try to smooth it out. The tractor fell into one deep rut unexpectedly - whammo!
That isn't all that unusual. It may look like a smooth ride as you drive by on the road and see the farmer in his seat, but I guarantee you it is a bouncing, rough ride all day long. This was one more shock of many. However, I started noticing a "screek, screek, screek" noise. It came at every half revolution of the left wheel. I got out, and the seals were still sealed. No oil leaking or any other apparent damage.
I kept on running it. As the afternoon wore on, it seemed to get a bit worse. I got done with the field, and moved to the next one. Road gear just made the noise faster. I was working on top of a terrace when all at once the tractor started to dip a bit with the noise. It dipped and rose a couple times before I could get it clutched to a stop, and the axle finally broke - for that is what the problem was. The shock had cracked the axle, and rotation gradually wore the thing in two. The inner tire held the tractor up under the fender, so the tractor was tilted over pretty good, but it was in no danger of falling over.
Well, crap - of course I'm sure I said worse. It was all done and beyond my meager abilities, and Dad had gone to the local big city for most of the day. I walked to my soon to be sold pickup and drove it home. Dad found me on the back porch steps with the keys in my hand.
I told him what had happened, then bawling, I handed him the keys so he could sell the truck. He had a funny look on his face as he gave them back and hugged me. He told me he had been expecting that to happen, and that it wasn't my fault. He was just tickled I wasn't hurt, and that the axle had lasted as long as it had.
I was all of fourteen.
Wednesday, November 05, 2008
Monday, November 03, 2008
A Sam's Club just opened up here on the edge of nowhere, so I had to go check it out. It's not a full size store, but it still has a lot of
Anyways, y'all know I'm a NASCAR fan, and they had this showcar out front. It's a car of Sam Hornish Jr.'s. It's really a parody of a car - that grill and headlights are just decals. The pictures really don't give you the perspective of just how slab sided the new style car really is. I mean this thing is blocky. The last show car I saw was a Dale Earnhardt Sr. car in Wichita some years ago - and there is little in common between the two other than the super basics. Like wheels, motor, seat, steering wheel - well, ya get the idea. The driver's safety equipment is so much better in this car. The seat really looks more like an aluminum cocoon.
If I could get my fat butt in this thing, I'd be happy to take it for a spin(probably literally).