Back from the Windy City

Whoa. Sorry about the long pause since my last post. I’ve been out of town.

I flew off to Chicago for a vacation. Why Chicago? Well, as I’ve been telling people it’s because I’ve been through the town twice before. Once en route to London and once en route to Boston and the only thing I saw of the city was the view from my airplane seats and the inside of the airports. So I decided that one day I needed to get back there and give the place a proper visit.

And the last week in April was that time.

It was a fun visit. I toured the U-505 (a German sub captured in World War II) at the Museum of Science and Industry, toured famous sites via a double-decker bus, saw the city from the skydeck on the Sears Tower (1,353 feet above street level), checked out the Cloudgate sculpture (aka “the Bean”) in Millennium Park, toured infamous sites via The Untouchables Tour (complete with a black bus) and got a free bag of money.

So here’s some of my vacation photos, this first one being a theater marquee I just liked-

And here’s the Cloudgate sculpture-

And here’s a million dollars in $20 bills which is part of an exhibit at the Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago on the history of money.

This fed tour was sort of a surprise. It’s not advertised and I only found out about it from a tour guide who said pointed the massive building out as we passed it by and said, “If you want to see what a million bucks looks like, you should stop by there.” So I did.

It’s a really cool exhibit and they even let you have a free bag of money worth about $364. The catch is some assembly is required –

One last note. According to the “Unofficial Guide to Chicago” I checked out of the Walla Walla Library, the term “Windy City” is supposedly not used by locals. It was coined by reporters to describe the blowhard politicians.

Frankly, I don’t believe it. While I was there the wind off Lake Michigan blew hard, cold and constantly. OK, the politicians were windy too, but at least you could silence them by hitting the mute button.


This and that

Batting cleanup today, so here goes:

The mystery of Waitsburg and the census seems to have been solved. It seems the U.S. Census people don’t regard post office boxes as residences, so people who get their mail in a P.O. box didn’t get a census form.

This brings to mind an anecdote about Los Alamos, N.M., where a small city sprang up in World War II after Robert Oppenheimer decided that was the place to put the R&D lab for the atomic bomb.

As part of the security precautions, all mail, correspondence, etc., went through a post office box in Santa Fe. That way people wouldn’t give the place away by telling relatives to send letters to “the top-secret government research lab way up in the mountains.”

Along with all the people who converged on “the hill”, the work force included quite a few young men and women. Some of these folks, not surprisingly, struck up relationships, got married and then started producing kids.

But due to wartime security, the birth certificates for babies born to couples living in Los Alamos had a unique twist.  If you were born at that time and in that place, your official birthplace was “Post Office Box XXX, Santa Fe, New Mexico.”

Now on to other topics:

I’m having serious tech envy. My colleague, Sheila Hagar, just got one of those cool GPS units for her vehicle. The thing doesn’t just show you where to go, it gives verbal directions. There’s even a range of different voices, including one with a British accent which is the one the Hagar family has named “Jonathan David,” because, well, it sounds like a “Jonathan David.”

She’s going to blog on this in greater detail, so this is just a heads-up. I intend to check this wonder out myself just as soon as I get back from a vacation I’m about to take to Chicago.

So that’s all until next week. Watch this space for pictures and story from the Big City….


The Census vs. Waitsburg

So what’s up with Waitsburg?

According to a news release from Sen. Mike Hewitt, R-Walla Walla, the Waitsburgians are apparently saying “no thanks” when it comes to being counted in the 2010 Census.

(Go here to check out the Census return figures for yourself.)

As of Wednesday, only 40 percent of the folks in Waitsburg have mailed their Census forms back in, the lowest return rate in Walla Walla County. The city of Walla Walla is holding the lead with a 73 percent return rate, followed by College Place (70 percent). Overall, Walla Walla County has a 71 percent return rate, the same as Benton County and only a point behind Columbia County (72 percent), but ahead of Franklin County (69 percent).

Jumping over the line into Oregon, Milton-Freewater’s citizens are dragging their collective feet with a 64 percent return rate, way down from the 75 percent who opted to be counted in the 2000 Census. (But that’s not far behind the city of Tacoma, where only 66 percent of the residents have returned forms.)

Censuswise, the folks who can hold their heads up are the citizens of Dayton, who have posted an 80 percent return rate. That figure beats the city’s 2000 return rate, which was 79 percent.

But getting back to Waitsburg, what’s up with them? Are we seeing some kind of revolt against being put into a vast government data bank? A hint of the dark distrust citizens there have of the federal government? Or is it just a refusal to open up any letters from the Census Bureau on the grounds they may contain bad news?

Or could it be just a general dislike of being asked to fill out yet another government form? (Which, given that this is April 15, tax deadline day, makes about as much sense as anything.)


Whatta bunch of turkeys!

So I’m taking the long way in to work the other day and here’s what I see strutting around in somebody’s yard–(Click on photo to get the full view)


Office WMDs

I may live to regret this, but I bought Sheila Hagar an office WMD.

Well, OK, maybe a Nerf six-shooter isn’t considered a weapon of mass destruction, but in Hagar’s hands, who knows?

The Nerf is necessary because although Sheila is a good friend, when we rib her too much she takes to throwing pennies at us. While we normally don’t mind having people toss money our way, we had to acknowledge that flying pennies could damage valuable office equipment. (It might also injure one of us, but who the heck cares about reporters?)

So while running around KMart the other day, I spotted the Nerf Gun, which looks like a revolver on steroids.

I presented said it to Sheila yesterday, but I also felt compelled to include the Nerf Gunners Creed, which reads as follows: (with apologies to the Marine Corps)

“This is my Nerf Gun. There are many like it, but this one is mine.”

“My Nerf Gun is my best friend. It is my life. I must master it as I must master my life.”

“My Nerf Gun, without me, is useless. Without my Nerf Gun, I am useless. I must fire my Nerf Gun true.”

“I must shoot straighter than Terry McConn, who is trying to mock me. I must shoot him before he shushes me. I WILL…”

“My Nerf Gun and myself know what counts in this office is not the rounds we fire, the noise of our burst, nor the smoke we make. We know that it is the hits that count. WE WILL HIT…”

“My Nerf Gun is human, even as I, because it is my life. Thus I will learn it as a brother (or sister, in my case). I will learn its weaknesses, its strengths, its parts, its accessories, its sights and its barrel. I will ever guard it against the ravages of weather and damage as I will ever guard my legs, my arms, my eyes and my heart against damage. I will keep my Nerf Gun clean and ready. We will become part of each other. WE WILL…”

“Before God, I swear this creed. My Nerf Gun and myself are the defenders of my desk. We are the master of the smirking laggards surrounding us. WE ARE THE SAVIORS OF MY PERSONAL SPACE!”

“So be it, until victory is ours and there is no enemy but peace!”

P.S. – Sheila’s already asking where she can get extra rounds. I think I’ve created a monster. Let’s just hope the Nerf people don’t make a belt-fed model…


Biking for curmudgeons

So there’s another group of way-too-healthy people planning to bike across the United States for a cause.

This time its to raise money for the Heal Africa and World Bicycle Relief organizations (question: why do bicycles require relief?) You can read about it here.

Anyway, this brought to mind the time, a long while ago, when I was doing time in Gallup, N.M., on a newspaper that doesn’t need to be named here. Technically you could call working there a “job” but it was a bit more like a prison sentence.

I eventually escaped, but one of the things I had to deal with every spring and summer were the seemingly-endless parade of people who were biking, hiking, cartwheeling, unicycling, skateboarding or what-have-you across the USA to end war, eradicate poverty, save the whales, eliminate cow emissions or just about anything else you can think of.

Gallup was a regular stop for these folks for two reasons. The first is that it is located on Interstate 40, one of the main east-west routes across the country. The second is when you are biking, hiking, cartwheeling, etc., across the USA you must stop at every local paper en route to see if they want to do a story on your noble cause. And in Gallup there’s only one paper.

And, since I’m the sort of person who cannot say “no” with enough force to convince anyone, I usually got tapped to deal with these folks when they walked in the door and asked to see a reporter.

The upshot is that I got really, really tired of listening to people who thought that going on some sort of coast-to-coast odyssey is going to impress anyone.

Yeah, I’m happy that you have the time to carry a flag, drag a cross or flog yourself on a bicycle from sea to shining sea to raise awareness for whatever, but most of us have to stick to our 9-to-5 jobs and really can’t sympathize. Somehow, I had a funny feeling a year from now none of it will matter.

OK, I’ll get off my curmudgeon box now. It’s time to get back into training for my “Cranky People Cross The U.S.!” coast-to-coast awareness-raising tour. Coming to a town near you! P.S. — I’m taking donations now.


“Give me health care or give me death!” (Oh, wait a minute…)

Thanks to Wikipedia, I found out today is the 235th anniversary of Patrick Henry’s famous “Give me liberty or give me death!” speech to the Virginia House of Burgesses.

So you have to wonder how Pat would have viewed this whole health care business which has convulsed the country (or some of it anyway) for the past year or so.

Somehow the idea of him thundering “Give me universal, affordable health care or give me death!” just doesn’t have the same drama.

For the record, the official name of the legislation Congress cranked out Sunday is the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, which I presume will hereafter be shortened up to “PPACA” to avoid tongue injuries.

Goes right alongside “HIPPA” which is the verbal shorthand for the Health Insurance Privacy and Portability Act, otherwise known as “why your boss can’t tell you why your co-worker called in sick anymore because the H.R. director told him/her it would be a violation of federal law.”

Personally, I think “PPACA” is a lame acronym for something that’s either going to rescue the United States from the brink of health care disaster or send us all to hell. Congress really fell down on the job when it came to working up the title for this bill.

I mean, come on, how about Health Enabling Rescue Ominbus (HERO) bill? Or the Patient Ownership Willful Enhancement Recovery (POWER) measure? Or maybe the Health Affordability Patient Protection Integration Enhancement (HAPPIE) legislation?

Of course, given how Congress works, I guess we should be glad we didn’t get the Patient Affordability Insurance Network (PAIN) or the American Recovery for Good Health (ARGH) measure.

And let’s be glad legislators weren’t just focused on oral care issues. Then we might have been dealing with the Dental Enhancement Access To Health bill.


Hug spelled backwards is “Guh!”

Today’s topic is “out of control hugging.”

It’s happening at West Sylvan Middle School in Portland. According to the principal “it was a virus of hugs.”

“Classes would end, middle schoolers would eye a classmate at the other end of the hallway,” writes reporter Allan Brettman. “`They’d scream, run down the hallway and jump in each other’s arms,’ Principal Allison Couch said.”

The situation, along with a semi-mysterious “school bus incident”, led to Couch declare a ban on hugs in late February. The concern is (not surprisingly) concern over a lawsuit over unwanted touching.

I can’t recall that out-of-hugging was a problem when I was in middle school, which isn’t surprising. Out-of-control hitting with the stone clubs we carried to fend off the dinosaurs as we walked to school maybe, but not hugging. (Out-of-control grunting was also a problem, but that only occurred during lunch.)

Oh well, welcome to the 21st century.


Why I am not an editor, or successful, or a successful editor

The latest copy of symmetry (a joint Fermilab/SLAC publication) just arrived today.
In the letters to the editor section is the following:
“Could you please tell me the name of the font family that you use for the print edition of symmetry? From what I can tell, the slanted terminals on the c, e. and s and the forms of many of the numbers don’t match Helvetica or Arial. It’s a very striking font; it reminds me of the old NYC subway signage. I would guess that it’s based on Akzidenz Grotesk or one of its derivatives such as Standard or Basic Commercial. Am I right?
“Although it may seem unorthodox for a scientist to say, I have long observed that design is an important element of scientific communication. Many of the more successful experimental particle physicists that I know habitually take extra care in preparing their presentations and graphics from the standpoint of aesthetics and clarity. Obviously, there are some very successful people who are a total mess, but there is in my experience a correlation between attention to design issues in presentations and personal success. Akzidenz is probably a good font for presentations. It’s clean,easy to read at a distance and distinctive.” Matthew Moulson, INFN Laboratori Nazionali di Frascati.
The editors replied that the typeface used in symmetry “is indeed Akzidenz Grotesk. The typeface was invented in 1896, but we feel it still looks modern and retains all its good qualities for print that made it popular a century ago. The more recent typeface Helvetica is based on it, and both Univers and Folio take inspiration from it.”
This explains why I am what I am today. If I had only opted for Akzidenz Grotesk instead of New Times Roman back when I was in college, I would be an editor for the New York Times by now.


So make me a liar

As we last left off, I was bemoaning the demise of Jolt cola (“All the sugar and twice the caffeine!”)

So, of course, after posting my rant I drove over to Milton-Freewater to renew the beer supply at Rite Aid.

As I pull in, I glance at the signboard.

“JOLT AND PROPEL ON SALE” it said. (Or something like that.)

Turns out Jolt cola is still being made, but it’s not the same. Instead of the good old 12-ounce cans, it now comes in bloated screw-top things that look like a bargain-size container of brake fluid. And to top it off, instead of just sugar and caffeine, they’ve loaded it up with a bunch of weird-sounding ingredients with names like ginkgo biloba, taurine, glycerine and ginseng.

(OK, maybe it didn’t have those exactly, but that’s what it looked like.)

So, yeah, Jolt is still out there, but it’s not the old Jolt I knew and loved. It’s some new junk in an oversized can. Sigh. Back to the future.