Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Geezer A-Go-Go

With my long-running garage improvement project (see Nov. 13 post, “Timely Inaction”) completed, the way is clear for us to sell our Utah home and zip off to Michigan. Of course, real estate conditions being what they are this could take a while.

We’re claiming the reason for the move is to be near our son Lee and his fianceĆ© Karen, who live near Kalamazoo. The real reason is a yearning to be where people don’t say, “We gotta remember we need the moisture,” when digging out from under two feet of winter snow or bailing gallons of threatening water after springtime mini-floods.

There’s something in this for everybody. Some will be delighted to know we are leaving. Some may be a bit sad, but pleased to know we're doing what's best for us. For both groups, we hope the news contributes to a Happy Thanksgiving. And best holiday wishes as well to the many who couldn’t care less.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Seeking a Timely Solution

Deals involving acquisition of acreage by the federal government through purchase or trade can be complex, requiring specialized knowledge and careful negotiations. Forest Service retiree George Campbell served for years on lands staffs in the Eastern and Intermountain Regions, and those who worked with him said he did his job very well.

Despite indications that Campbell could manipulate high-tech gadgets with no trouble, he is not fond of some of them. He chooses not to use a home computer. His recent pronouncements on the subject indicate he fully intends to maintain his distance from PCs.

Just after daylight savings time reverted to the regular brand, Campbell appeared at a Wednesday coffee assembly and asked in a voice filled with frustration if anybody knew how to reset a digital watch, because he was having no luck with his. I told him not to feel lonesome, because neither Sandy nor I had been able to get my fairly new watch properly calibrated. We reset the hours and minutes correctly, which was a bit better than Campbell had done, but we couldn’t get the gadget to acknowledge that it was Wednesday, not Sunday.

After some contemplation of the resetting problem, Campbell announced he had the solution. He was going to buy a duplicate watch. He would have one set for standard time and the other for daylight time. He simply would trade watches twice a year. Someone in the group that heard the “Campbell solution” observed that those who traveled often through several time zones would need quite a few watches.

I mentioned the idea to Sandy, who thought it had some merit. She, however, believed I probably could muddle through. She pointed out that I didn’t do much of anything most days, so carrying around a constant reminder of what day it was probably was not vital.

The next time we met, I asked Campbell how he was coming with his watch problem. He said by working at it for about 30 minutes he figured out the process and had everything reset to the correct numbers. Meanwhile, Sandy and I had downloaded pages of instructions from the manufacturer of my watch, and when they failed to work, obtained another instruction sheet from Walmart, where we bought the gadget. Those directions didn’t work, either.

I was nearly ready to apply the “Campbell solution’ and go with at least two watches. Sandy saved the day. She told me to leave my watch in her care when I was heading off to a meeting and she would make one last try at adjusting the date display. When I got back, the timepiece was functioning correctly.

Sandy had made a 20-mile roundtrip to another Walmart store where clerks gave her a copy of the right instructions. She then restored order in our high-tech world, at least until spring when I try to remember where we put the reset instructions.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Who Dunnit?

This "letter," sent around by old neighbor Dick "Snuffy" Hufschmid, caused a chuckle:

Dear Sir /Madam:

In view of current developments in the banking market, if one of my checks is returned marked "insufficient funds," does that refer to me or you?

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Timely Inaction

Was anyone surprised when our newly elected leaders informed us that much of the change we’ve been promised will take time? Had the other guys won, would those mavericks have said the same thing? You betcha.

Some big projects simply take time. It is true that Rome and other major works were not completed in a day.

Last week I made a final shelf adjustment and added a bit of paint to a wall section to finish my garage improvement project begun the week we moved into our home—we arrived 26 years ago. You just can’t rush into some things.

Thursday, November 06, 2008

Election Math That Didn’t Compute

Shortly before settling in to absorb a bunch of voting returns on election night I ran across a website that made the whole thing simple. The author presented a vast array of charts and numbers, with razzle-dazzle analyses, that purported to predict accurately who would be the next President of the United States of America based on just a few early ballots. It was impressive, and no flaws in the presentation were apparent. If you wanted a quick answer, all the number crunching boiled it down to this:

If the race was close in Indiana, and Obama won Virginia, there was a 100 percent chance that Obama would be our next President. If those two things didn’t happen, we were in for a close race and a long night.

The polls closed very early in both states, so I figured I could learn what was going to happen in not more than an hour after dinner. Maybe I could even win a few last-minute bets (we lost a dinner bet when Obama eventually won). Early results showed a close race in Indiana. The trouble was those unpredictable voters in Virginia just kept standing in line for several hours. About the time CNN was willing to call Virginia for Obama, Obama clearly had won the entire election. Following the wizard’s advice didn’t help me learn a darn thing any quicker than anybody else did.

It wasn’t the first time a flaw in human performance caused frustration when I was trying to follow the guidance of a statistical genius at election time. When I worked in public relations for Allis-Chalmers in the 1960s, our supervisor “volunteered” himself and several of us to work for the Associated Press on election nights. Supposedly, we were doing a civic duty by helping tabulate incoming election returns. Actually, we were trying to butter up the news people at AP. We knew it, and they knew it, but they needed help and we were available.

At that time, the Associated Press was the principal news organization that took it upon itself to declare winners in elections. They used a fairly sophisticated statistical program that incorporated samples from key parts of a state to predict winners. In Wisconsin, where we helped out, the samples were mostly from the heavily populated areas in the southeast, but also included a county or two in the northern rural areas.

On the night of my frustration, we added up totals from report after report, but our leaders refused to declare a winner in the most important contest. Midnight passed; still no call was made. We finally had added up nearly 90 percent of the precincts in the state, and started clamoring for a call. We were told that the statistical formula absolutely required returns from one small county in the north, and it hadn’t reported.

About 2 a.m. somebody got somebody in the northern county out of bed and demanded to know what was going on. Our contact had merely forgotten about the AP commitment and retired for the night hours earlier!

This very unhappy camper got home around 4 a.m. that election night, just about in time to get ready to go to work at my day job. I should have learned right then not to get mixed up with political predictions, but Tuesday night I did it once again.

Saturday, November 01, 2008

Should They Speak Out?

Despite occasional disagreement about the practice among journalists, some 400 daily newspapers across the land endorse presidential candidates in their editorial columns. In 2004, they were nearly equally divided between recommending John Kerry or George W. Bush. Interesting--that’s about how the election turned out.

Should the print media presume to tell us who they think can best guide our County? And when they do, should you and I pay attention to what they say? Yes and yes.

My experience is that newspaper editors come to know a lot about politicians because they constantly are exposed to their messages, and also monitor their actions. The newspaper people are skeptical by nature. With few exceptions, the editorials that appear in daily papers are developed by an editorial board. Debates can be sharp, because some effort usually is made to appoint board members with divergent viewpoints. What emerge are better analyses of the strengths and weaknesses of the candidates than individuals can possibly make by themselves.

My local paper doesn’t endorse presidential aspirants, but a few years back it decided to make recommendations about local candidates and referenda. I find this very useful in helping me make up my mind about how to vote on things that matter in my life. I wish the Ogden paper’s editorial board would say who it favors for president. That alone wouldn’t sway my vote, but I’d like to see the argument.

Endorsements by newspapers are useful because they always are accompanied by the reasons for the recommendation. Editorial boards tend to address the issues, not the “attack dog” junk. Calling Senator Obama an “inexperienced socialist” or Senator McCain an “over-aged warmonger” is stupid and useless. With very few exceptions, the editorial boards don’t engage in the reprehensible character assassination that has been far too prevalent in the current campaign.

Should we slavishly follow the advice of the press? No. We should make up our own minds, but the arguments that accompany newspaper recommendations should be considered. They offer some of the best information available.

Of course, like anything else, endorsements can be reduced to absurdity. Next week cartoonists Garry Trudeau (a liberal) and Carl Moore (a conservative) are going to endorse someone for president in their daily doodlings. I intend to pay no attention whatever to this kind of nonsense, and hope you also will ignore these shenanigans.

Should geezers who write blog posts endorse candidates? No. They have no special knowledge that would be helpful.