Thursday, August 25, 2011

The Pen Prevails 

My July 28 post (The Power of the Pen) bemoaned the fact that two Forest Service Research organizations had failed to respond to e-mail requests for information. I vowed to send off old-fashioned paper letters to both and pursue the matters until I got answers.

Just a few days after my letters to the heads of the organizations were mailed, e-mail responses arrived. I had requested e-mails.

The Pacific Southwest Research Station in Berkeley, CA not only answered my question completely, but said the webmaster already had begun an investigation into what happened to my ill-fated e-mail inquiry. A glitch in the system was discovered. It will be corrected soon.

E-mail responses came from two staffers at the Forest Products Laboratory in Madison, WI. The answers were detailed and included contact information for several scientists who had worked on the project of interest in the 1970s. I was asked to send the address used for my e-mail inquiry, so improvements in the FPL mail system also may be on the horizon.

A little written ranting can be just the thing to get results, and might even improve a system or two.

Monday, August 22, 2011

Thanks for the Notice

Just got an e-mail ad from Applebees. It announced “Kids Eat Free Tuesdays.” I rescheduled my dinner reservation for Wednesday. Groups of kids are wonderful in many places. Restaurants are not one of them.

Saturday, August 20, 2011

In Grateful Memory                

Cpl. Joseph A. Van Dreumel (U.S. Army), 32, Grand Rapids, Michigan. Killed by an enemy bomb in Paktika Province, Afghanistan, August 14, 2011. 

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Bachelor Bungling

Beautiful wife Sandy is away visiting relatives in Wisconsin. I was a bachelor for a fair number of years before we hooked up, so I knew this temporary separation was likely to present certain problems.

When Sandy takes a little vacation, she leaves me enough food for a hungry Boy Scout troop and detailed directions for just about everything. She knows my ineptitude with things mechanical, electrical, and electronic is perhaps exceeded only by my complete inattention to where useful items are stored. In my defense, I was trained as a word arranger, not an auto mechanic or pantry expert.

A problem was not long in arriving. On day two of Sandy’s absence my computer stopped delivering anything except a nice, clear opening scene (isn’t that called wallpaper?). “No problem,” I thought, “I’ll just crank up Sandy’s computer and seek her advice with an e-mail.” I had worked at her laptop several times in the past.

Unfortunately, whenever I worked on the laptop, Sandy had turned it on before I arrived. I plugged in everything that looked like a plug into everything that looked pluggable. Nothing. I phoned Sandy.

She told me to take the little doodad off the bottom of the mouse and plug it into the first available slot in the bright blue gadget plugged into the left side of the computer. I don’t like her keyboard, so I explained what had happened to my machine and said I really didn’t want to work at hers, even though now I could.

“Sounds like you just need new batteries in your mouse,” Sandy said. “Oh yeah,” I said, I seem to remember this same kind of thing happened before.”

Sandy told me where our spare batteries were. I searched the basement area without result. I made another phone call. She said the batteries were there, and I ought to look again. “Nope,” I said, “I just wasted a half hour looking where you said. I’m going to buy some batteries downtown.” (“Downtown” is 5.5 miles away.)

Here’s a tip for your older gents: If you want to attract female attention, just stand in the middle of a supermarket aisle looking confused. Women will flock to rescue the poor old man. That won’t work for you younger guys. I suggest buying a cute little dog, and taking it everywhere on a leash. That will work for you. Bewilderment in supermarkets will not.

I didn’t need to pretend to be bewildered, because I was baffled by the location of batteries in the supermarket we shop at every week. Two female clerks and a gray-haired lady customer guided me to two large battery displays in a matter of minutes. “What size do you need?” the young blond clerk asked.

“I don’t really know. I think it’s something about A, and it looks like those on the left.”

“Those are AA’s,” the older clerk said. “These over here are AAA’s.”

“Seems backwards to me,” I said. “You’d think the bigger ones would be triples and the littler ones would be doubles. That’s the way it works in baseball.”

“I never thought of that,” the lady customer said. “Didn’t you look at the ones that wore out?” When I shrugged, she gave me a strange look and left.

By visualizing my mouse for several minutes, I decided it was a relatively small device, and therefore AAAs had to be the right selection. I bought a dozen. Eager to get back to my computer routine, I hurried home, pried open the back of the mouse, and gazed upon two big, fat, AA batteries.

Unwilling to chance having to face up to even one of my trio of helpers at the supermarket, I added a mile to the 11-mile roundtrip and bought a six-pack of AAA batteries at a hardware store. Two of them worked just fine.

Two days later on a visit to the basement to replenish the water softener salt, I inadvertently knocked a box off a shelf. I learned that we had a substantial supply of AAA, AA, and other batteries. It is more substantial now.

Let’s hope nothing really big stops working before the lady of the house comes home.

Monday, August 15, 2011

Excuse Me, Puhleeze

In the wake of Casey Anthony’s acquittal of the charge of murdering her daughter, the jury came in for blasts of criticism from all sorts of commentators. Whether they deserved accolades or brickbats, the jurors should be applauded for one thing. They served.

Trying to wiggle out of jury duty is an American tradition that ranks right up there with a little cheating on the old income tax return. Maybe it ranks higher. There are reasons. Some jurors are injured financially by being taken off their jobs with no compensation. Others suffer when forced to spend what can be many hours away from family obligations. A few people are terrified by the prospects of retaliation should their verdicts wound friends of bad guys too deeply.

My jury experience involved service in the Second District Court in Ogden, Utah. The process there was to summon about 40 citizens for duty, and select the panel for each case from that group. The selections were made based on questions from the opposing attorneys and the judge. I was selected four times.

The first time I made a pitifully weak run at pleading to be excused. I said I was a federal government worker and had a backlog of really important matters to attend to. The judge, who it turned out had a good sense of humor, pointed out that my office was right across the street from the courthouse. He said if my absence from work was threatening to cause a national or international disaster, I probably could slip into the federal building after the day’s jury duty ended and attend to the emergency.

Several prospective jurors had been passed over before my turn came. Only two were excused at their request. It appeared that very good reasons were needed to escape the civic duty.

A young man wearing a dirty t-shirt, ragged jeans, and scuffed work boots sat next to me during the selections. After I was picked, he whispered, “I’ll show you how to get out of this. Just watch me.”

He made the first selection cut, failing to score with a lame work excuse somewhat like mine. During that part of the questioning, my new acquaintance informed the court that he worked in a gravel pit. When the judge asked what his specific job was, he replied, “Digging.”

The judge enjoyed a good laugh, but then posed a meatier question: “Have you formed any opinion about the guilt or innocence of the accused?”

“You bet,” the digger said. “The cops arrested him, didn’t they? So he must be guilty as hell.”

That response did not tickle the judicial funny bone. The judge bellowed, “Out, out,” and pointed dramatically to the door of the chamber.

As the gravel pit worker rose to depart, he winked at me and said, “See.”

Incidentally, I was proud of my fellow jurors. They listened carefully to evidence, debated every conceivable question like ladies and gentlemen, and reached what I thought were solid verdicts. The cases we heard ranged from a relatively minor hit-and-run traffic charge to attempted murder. Serving as a juror turned out to be a rewarding experience, and caused me to gain respect for others who serve.

If called again, I will cheerfully do my duty as a citizen. But then, I pay all of my income taxes, too.

Friday, August 12, 2011

Great Start

After a lengthy strike and lockout that angered fans whether they supported the rich players or the even richer owners (except for the Green Bay Packers, who have 110,000 stockholder owners, most of whom are decidedly not rich), one could be pretty sure the start of the National Football League season would be screwed up.

I watched part of the first exhibition game last night on the tube. Not unusual, eh? Well, the show was titled “Monday Night Football.” Last night, of course, was an integral part of Thursday.

Another exhibition game will air this evening. Wonder if  the presentation will be called “Tuesday Night Football?”

Thursday, August 04, 2011

Another Barrier Broken

On Monday, I passed the average life expectancy of an American male.

What a relief. With that barrier behind me, no generally recognized obstacles lie in my future until we get to what often is cited as our maximum allowable stay on earth. For me, that is 44 years and a couple of months in the future.

That should give me just enough time to finish up those two book manuscripts I’ve been working on (sporadically).

How do we know 120 years is the magic number? Because “the bible tells us so” (Genesis 6:3). The 120-year limit also pops up in a genetics theory supported by a fair number of scientists. How could that number be wrong?

For one thing, a French lady just a few years ago lived to the ripe old age of 122. Her longevity was well documented. On the other end of the scale, a different passage in the bible says the limit is 70 years. If that forecast was right, I’d be long gone. Various other religious pronouncements say all sorts of different things on the subject.

Shucks. Can’t we poor humans count on anything, even an approximate exit date? Well, that old saw probably covers it—death and taxes lie ahead, for sure.