Monthly Archives: January 2011

I swear that winter will never end.

Today, the weatherfolk on TV pointed out cheerily, was the 27th day of the month that has had at least some snowfall reported in the Twin Cities. Yippee. Granted, it’s been one or two inches here or there, with the occasional 3-4″ snowfall. Today’s will stretch into tomorrow morning and will dump a half-foot of fresh white powder on the metroplex here, where it will be quickly trampled, driven on, salted, sanded, and shoved out of the way.

It’s just one of those winters that make you double-check the calendar to see if it’s really only halfway over. March and April seem so far away, but then again, so does Thanksgiving. It’s like being caught in a Rod Serling story, except that it isn’t in black-and-white, and the dialog isn’t as quirky.

I got back to work today to face my demons: printers and this freakin’ move. Either one could kill me, but neither can make up its mind enough to actually do something about it.

My personal move date to our new work compound is now on its third different day, and no, I haven’t begun to pack. I have, however, started trying to weed out the crap that I won’t have room for: a couple of broken laptops that I’m keeping solely because I don’t have the heart to actually throw them in the recycling box downstairs; a desktop that has been parted out and reassembled so many times it makes Frankenstein’s monster look like an amateur effort; enough cables to connect any one of my work computers to each other several times over; a cellular device that I honestly don’t remember scavenging, and have no interest in now because it’s at least five years old; and two semi-broken network hubs that have as many working ports on them as non-working ports.

All of this falls into the broad category of “someday I might need them…You never know.”

Now honestly, I think I’ve successfully used that strategy more often than I can remember, but I can only remember a relatively few instances where the parts or oddball collection items saved the day with a broken computer. I mean, sure, I’ve used it and used it well, so that’s why I keep certain things around. But there’s absolutely no explanation for holding on to a stick of memory for a computer that no one in my current building nor my future building will be using.

Sure, some of it is just being a pack rat. I like surrounding myself with the oddball stuff of my trade. But some of it comes from experience: out in North Dakota, I had to be a master at saving, recovering and reusing parts, because whatever budget there was for computers was extremely tight and I had to keep everything operational on a shoestring. In fact, I remember fixing a computer in one office with a wad of masking tape, an eraser, and an unbent paper clip. No other parts needed. (It was shorting out because a part wouldn’t stay in place and was touching another part it shouldn’t have.)

So here’s the kicker: I found out that we’re getting 4 moving bins. It’s akin to being handed a grocery bag to move items out of your garage. Well, okay, not that bad, but I know I’ll end up having to move some items on my own. Because there are some things that we’ve been told the movers won’t move. We weren’t supposed to get these bins until next Monday, but once my two coworkers and I found out where they were, we made plans to grab some in advance. Because we’ve got a lot of strategy to decide on to pack them most efficiently.

I’m starting to worry that mine will just implode like black holes under their own weight.

At least after the move, I can look out on the park and lake and…Oh wait. It’s still winter and will be for the next eight months. Crap.

See you tomorrow.

It’s the end of a long weekend. Well, for me anyway.

I took Friday off because the girls had no school. So even though they could probably function just fine on their own unsupervised, us parental types just aren’t up to that concept yet, so on those infrequent days when they’re off but Patrick isn’t, we need to find alternative coverage.

Most of Friday for me was a mish-mosh of tasks: fixing the dishwasher (it was leaking out the front, which means that a rubber gasket has slipped again…Disassemble the machine and fix the position of the gasket and then reassemble…Then some clean-up and work around the house. Add to that a couple of errands, and the day just flew by.

I tried to do some work on the ice dams on Saturday, since things were a little warmer, and some of the channels I’d created with the salt-filled nylons were almost down to bare shingle. So I climbed back up on the ladder and started whacking at some of the bigger pieces with a mallet. But, and this is truly something that I’m sure would be unique to me, a golf ball-sized piece of ice broke off in one strike, and came right back at me and smacked me in the mouth, producing a small cut on my upper lip and fattening it pretty well.

Undeterred, we still took our newly decreed monthly family trip to a museum and spent a couple of hours at the Minneapolis Institute of Arts. It was a much more successful trip than I’d feared, but we all kind of tired out after barely leaving Asia and Greece and Rome. Which leaves probably a good 60 percent of the museum left to go through during another outing. But the kids enjoyed it, which is a good thing. I remember going as a kid, and not appreciating it as much as I should have, but also feeling like Patrick did when he went on ahead of us because we were lagging behind to look more closely at things and actually read about them. I almost never read about the art when I was young.

Today offered up the usual blur of tasks, but I did still also manage to produce about six dozen mini muffins, two loaves of bread (with one more that will be ready in the morning), and a very good pot of chicken soup (with tri-color rotini, great northern beans, corn, peas, green beans, mushrooms and onions). Yes, I like a substantial soup. That’ll be my lunch on several days this week.

And now, after a family meeting and another load of laundry, I’m sitting on the couch in the living room writing this while I try to not think about the week or weeks to come at work: the hardcore period of moves is coming for the next three weekends, including my own office move not this coming move but the following week. So not only do I have to move myself, but I need to support printers that are moving as well. It’s a double whammy.

I went over with a couple of coworkers to see my new cube. I will say this about my new space: I have windows. All I have to do is turn around, without hitting my desk or my cabinet, or some poor unfortunate sod walking through the narrow walkway behind me, and I can gaze out of the window at what will return to being a park come spring. And just off to my right will be a lake. As for the rest of it, I’m withholding judgement. We’ll see how it works out.

Enjoy your week.

See you tomorrow.

Been a bit of a busier day than I anticipated, though still a fun day. But I’m exhausted and looking forward to landing in bed for the night. So I’ll keep this very short and bid you all a good evening.

See you tomorrow.

I am not Peter Lathrop.

Yet I know that Peter Lathrop just ordered an iPhone 4 from AT&T on Tuesday and it will be arriving at his address in Indianapolis tomorrow. It’s still in transit with UPS.

I have no idea who this guy is. A cursory search of Google brings up little information on him. But I know his phone number.

Back in the “old” days, when you gave someone your address, letters rarely found their way somewhere else. But in the e-mail age, if you punch in the e-mail address wrong into an online form, suddenly, your e-mails could very well be going to someone else. Such is the case here: another instance of mistaken identity.

I first got an e-mail confirming the change to his cellular plan on Tuesday. No useful information was on that except for his account number, which, I was told by the grunt at AT&T customer service could not either prompt them to contact Peter Lathrop to let him know his e-mail was wrong, remove the incorrect address from his account, or make them give me his phone number so that I could call him myself. At the end of the call, I was told that if I could get him to call in and authorize me on the account, I could make the change myself.

Ahem.

At 1:52 a.m. on Wednesday, I got another e-mail from AT&T thanking Peter Lathrop for his order of a brand spanky new iPhone–a 16 GB model, in black for a mere $299 plus tax and data charges added to his new cellular plan. Now as much as I would probably love to own one, that isn’t going to happen anytime soon, and I certainly would not jump on the AT&T bandwagon. Plus, I am far from awake at 1:52 a.m., and am even farther from placing cell phone orders at that time. However, this e-mail included a valuable piece of information: his cell phone number.

I don’t like the fact that I’m getting someone else’s e-mail. First off, I don’t like the idea that someone punched my e-mail address into some computer system at the former Ma Bell. I also don’t like the idea that someone named Peter may be waiting for his e-mail confirmations that have obviously not arrived at their intended destination. And I also don’t like the idea that someone besides myself is cluttering up my inbox.

So I called up this Peter Lathrop yesterday, left a message on his current AT&T phone, and told him that he apparently gave them the wrong e-mail address because I’ve been getting e-mails from them confirming the change in his cell plan, and his iPhone order. Oh, and I pointed out that because I was getting the e-mails, I had his phone number, and that’s how I found him.

I got no response.

Late Wednesday, I got another e-mail which included another round of thanks for his order, included instructions to activate his new phone, and ultimately, even the tracking number for the UPS parcel that’s on its way. (And I wish to point out that when you have that information, you can easily change the destination of the package…I did not do that.) This is how I learned he lived in Indianapolis…Though honestly, I could have probably found that out based on his area code.

So I called him up yet again today. I was greeted again by his voicemail, and I left yet another message explaining the situation.

Part of me is starting to think his old phone may have ended up in a toilet or smashed under a car wheel or something like that…Or he’s just like me and never feels his phone vibrate and he never remembers to turn on the ringer except on rare occasions.

I have not heard back from him on this, and I don’t know if I will. But, I do know that sometime tomorrow, he’ll be getting the box with his new…sigh…iPhone 4. And I’ll probably get another e-mail thanking him for his order.

I’d feel a lot better about this if he just updates his e-mail address with AT&T.

See you tomorrow.

This one’s gonna be kind of short because the State of the Union and the response(s) went a little long, and I decided to watch them all and tweet about it.

Yes, I tweeted tonight. Long and often and hard. Oh, um…that would be making posts on Twitter, for those of you keeping score at home. And I got a response from a local TV news reporter…Yippee.

To the speech: much was made of the new air of bipartisanship, and I guess that was a good thing, but what struck me more was that the content and topics in the speech were almost a complete departure from his previous speech and even his campaign rhetoric. So my question is this: now that he’s backed off in an attempt to appear statesmanlike and keep his job, will he get what he wants from the Republicans?

The responses were less topical and more like position papers, merely stating their general opposition to the policies Obama has pushed for over the last two years.

So overall, kind of flat. But still, I stuck with it and tweeted through it. I’m so proud!

See you tomorrow.

Mom and dad had their party on Sunday afternoon and evening. As I’ve mentioned before, this party is an annual tradition going back to my early teen years, which means we’ve probably been doing this for close to 30 years. That in itself is amazing, but what’s more amazing is the legacy of it all.

Oh, I don’t mean to sound so stupidly sentimental, but think of this: at its start, Julie and I helped mom in the kitchen to cook and replenish the wonderful foods that mom put out for the spread. This year, Patrick was the lead kitchen staff person.

I’ve done this for so long that I know the routine and can feel the rhythm of the kitchen. And always, some of the partygoers would find their way into the kitchen to talk, watch the process, or just check up on things. So it was this year: I helped Patrick out, primarily because cooking all of this food and getting it out and trying to not run out of things is daunting even when you’re used to it, let alone trying to time it out on your own for the first time.

The same faces have been there over that time, though thinned out in number for a wide variety of reasons. And several of them stop me and just comment on my own kids and how much they’ve grown. It’s a weird thing when you think of it: most of these people only see me this one time each year, so they have watched me grow up one day a year for 30 years. And I’ve watched them all grow up or grow older by the same measure.

The party started at the house where I grew up, and it was a holiday party to start, so it was in December, where the winter weather could be alarmingly fickle: some years it could be 30-40 degrees outside; in other years, it could be 10 below zero, and every time the door opened to let in or out someone new, this steamy cloud of ground fog would wash across the floor. For the past seventeen years or something, it’s been at the condo, making for a different experience, but one that still is a joy to behold. In fact, helping out in the kitchen this year was fun because it gives you the chance to just sit back and watch the party unfold in front of you.

And that brings us back to the food. The food was amazing, as usual: sliced pork with a wasabi mayo, spanakopita, the chicken rolls, steamed shrimp and pork appetizers, and those delightful mushroom puffs. No, the food isn’t the only reason I like having the party, but it sure is one of the best reasons for going. Well, that and seeing family and friends for that one time a year.

So happy Chinese New Year to all of you. Hope to see those of you who are the party regulars back there next year.

See you tomorrow.

January 24th is my dad’s birthday. And, as frequently overlooked here as he is, I felt it was high time to turn the spotlight on him a bit.

I’ve said it before: I’ve been deeply blessed to have a great, stable, loving set of parents for all of my 41 years. I can only hope I’ve been as good for my kids, but as a parent, you never know these things–there’s always that nagging doubt.

My dad was an archivist before retirement. As a kid, having a parent who’s in a unique line of work can be a blessing and a curse all at the same time: on the one hand, it was great to say your dad did something that you knew no other kid in your school could claim; but on the other hand, I frequently had to explain what an archivist was. I was doing this as early as I could remember…First grade at the very least, and there’s a good possibility that I’d done it in Kindergarten too…I was that kind of kid.

Because of dad’s unique occupation and my mom’s proclivities, my upbringing was, as I suspected at the time, and as I’ve confirmed as an adult, unique. While some families might go to amusement parks or the zoo, we’d go to the library or a museum. While some families might go on a Sunday drive past a lake or to a park or something, we’d go somewhere that dad could get out the camera and stand in the middle of Main Street in some small town to get the picture of an old building for a slide show he had coming up.

I was taught how to use card catalogs and the basics of the Dewey Decimal System by the time I was in second grade. If I asked a question about how something worked or why something was the way it was, I was told to look it up. Family time on many Sunday mornings involved sitting around the living room listening to either classical music on the stereo, or one of dad’s ’50s or ’60s records while we all read the newspaper or a book or magazine.

I even went so far as to do a research report one summer that I handed in to no one other than my parents. Simply because I wanted to know how a car engine worked.

But okay then. How does this come back to celebrating my father’s birthday?

As with all things, you never realize their full value until much later in life. My dad, along with my mom, taught me how to find answers on my own. And this has helped me in so many ways, not the least of which is in my job: because I have no formal computer training–every thing’s been self-taught and learned by experience, trial-and-error, and yes, research. At work, surrounded by many “kids” (the 20-30 year-old set), I find that a computer science degree does next to nothing for them when it comes to learning how to support and troubleshoot computer problems. And learning how to properly ask the question and research it in dictionaries, yearbooks, encyclopedias, card catalogs, and other library resources gives you more skills you can use to properly ask the question in Google.

My dad helped teach me the value of knowledge. And while I’d probably disappoint him by saying I have no desire to go back to a classroom setting, I don’t want to stop learning things: I just want to do it on my terms.

My dad, for good or bad, helped me appreciate the quiet: I have three kids. My mom came from a family of seven. Dad grew up as an only child. I know it drove him crazy when my sister and I fought or yelled or stomped through the house, in much the same way that I now know it drives me crazy when my own kids just can’t be quiet for any period of time. That’s why the man cave is so appreciated.

My dad is the biggest champion I’ve ever had for my creativity. My mom wants me to write and be creative and has always supported that, so don’t get me wrong, but my dad has always been the one who presses me for story ideas I’m bouncing around in my head and keeps pushing me to write and find an agent. Someday, I will do that and make him proud.

My dad is the absolute epitome of a historian: a stickler for dates and location names and people and events. And I love that he knows all of that and shows that off when given the chance. But only later in life did I realize that while I didn’t get his love for the details, I did get his love for understanding what history is and how much it means in the grand scheme of life.

I admire him for his own artistic talent. And by that, I genuinely mean artistic talent: like drawing and painting. As someone who couldn’t draw a straight line to save my life, I admire the sheer skill in transforming a blank sheet of paper into something colorful and amazing. I’m so glad that skill has at least reappeared in the next generation after me.

He was the one to introduce me to slapstick, low-brow, simple humor, and to Masterpiece Theatre and the other high brow stuff on PBS. I’ve seen original Star Trek TV scripts thanks to him. And I’ve known how to handle and read a blueprint since I was in first grade. Hell, he even explained to me ages ago how they’re made. That’s one thing I didn’t need to research.

And while he wasn’t an athlete, or one of those dads you would expect to find at the park with his kids, he would play catch with me and talk baseball with me. And as much as he’s tried to teach me to baby a car like he does with his, that one just hasn’t caught on. Though I am trying…

This is my dad’s birthday, and I’ve been damned lucky to have him to share my life with. I know I’ve been a frustrating kid to have at times, but every time I see him, I still get a hug. That’s what it’s all about.

Happy birthday, dad. Love you!

See you tomorrow.

I can officially start saying the holiday season is almost over.

Oh, but you say it’s been over for at least a week, maybe even two! Alas, no. The last round of truffles for the holiday season is now 2/3rds complete.

They’re for mom and dad’s annual party (the one-time holiday party, now Chinese New Year party). The last several years, I’ve made some, and they’ve been such a hit that I would be remiss and probably targeted if I’d neglected to bring them.

Truffles aren’t all that hard to make, which is great, because people frequently think that foods that taste that good must require a great amount of time and effort. Which is half true in this case: yes, they require time, but only because you need to melt the chocolate in the cream for the ganache, let it cool and harden a bit so that you can form it into balls, let those cool and harden a bit so you can coat them, and then let them cool and harden a bit so they can be served.

It’s a three day process. Requiring at most about 2 hours on the last day. But I’ll take the accolades: truffles, especially made well, taste fantastic, and I enjoy sharing them with mom and dad’s friends (many of whom I’ve known for much of my life as well).

There are 96 upstairs in the fridge, just waiting for tomorrow night’s enrobing. Then they’ll be done and ready for the big event on Sunday. For those who will be there, enjoy them! For those who won’t…I’ll let you know what you missed.

See you tomorrow.

Welcome to Minnesota in January…As I write this, it’s eight-below outside. And I’m tired of being asked if it’s cold enough for me.

It’s that kind of cold where the world sounds different outside–planes sound weird, cars and traffic sound a little different. It’s the kind of cold that makes you gasp as soon as you step out into it. And I’ve felt much colder, back in North Dakota, I walked a block-and-a-half to work in a 90-below wind chill after stepping into the car (yes, I really did plan to drive that distance–sorry) and turning the key, only to hear a click and nothing more. Everything was cold for those few days: the outside was unbelievably cold, and the inside walls were all just radiating cold everywhere. The only time I was really warm was bundled up in bed under a pile of blankets. And by that point, Jenni and Patrick were already back here.

But this is Minnesota. And January. It’s supposed to be cold. Very cold at times. So the news right now is jumping up and down screaming about how cold it is and how people are dealing with it.

It’s an amazing thing, when you think about it: EVERYONE in the entire state is experiencing the same thing. So why are we asking someone waiting for a bus downtown about how cold they are? Is that person going to tell us something we don’t know? Yes, I’m wearing five layers right now and haven’t felt my toes since December.

Why don’t they come out tomorrow morning and watch Hannah and Zoe wait for their bus in the morning? The girls will be layered a lot, having discovered long underwear. Though Jenni did the mom thing earlier in the week: the bus hadn’t come at a consistent time since school resumed after the first. So Jenni talked to the bus driver and asked if he knew he was late, and when the scheduled pickup time was…Since then, the bus has been on time every single day. And I don’t expect anything different tomorrow.

Ah, but I ramble. Must be the cold. With any luck, the car will start tomorrow, because I work more than a block away from home now.

See you tomorrow.

The news is starting to have more and more stories along this same line: the past several years of budget moves by governments (ranging from the federal down through the state, local, and even school district-level) has finally caught up with us–to the point where we can no longer kick the can down the road and hope that the financial state of the state gets better.

In Minnesota, eight years of Tim Pawlenty has left us with years during which the Democrats tried but failed to increase taxes while increasing spending, and the Republicans, led by Pawlenty, tried but failed to decrease taxes and spending. In the end, spending on some things went up, spending on others went down, but overall spending went up at a slower rate than it had in the past, but taxes were never increased to make up for the increased spending.

Pawlenty employed various budget tricks to balance the budget in this state, borrowing from one fund to pay for another until the latter fund could refund that “loan” back to the former. All of this so that he could exit his eight years of service to the state saying that he held the line of spending and taxes. All of which plays well to the moderate and conservative base that he’s trying to appeal to.

However, the end result is that after eight years, the state has racked up an anticipated $6 billion deficit, and unlike the federal government, the state lacks the ability to deficit spend, so we’ll need to close that gap over the next two year budget cycle somehow. The Republicans today produced their proposed cuts, cutting aid to local governments, and some other minor cuts which only add up to about $1 billion. Governor Dayton has yet to offer up his plan, but his campaign promised increased taxes for the wealthy in addition to targeted cuts.

But you’ve got to assume that somewhere in the middle, the taxes and budget cuts have to meet, at roughly $3 billion each for the next two years, or $1.5 billion each for each year. Wow…Using my public school math skills, that means about $300 more in taxes and $300 less in services from the state for each person in the state each year for the next two years (based on the 2010 Census count of about 5.3 million people in the state). For my family alone, that figures out to $1500 each way. Now, I said that you’ve got to assume that the cuts and taxes have to meet in the middle, though each political viewpoint wants to stick to just one side of the street: could any of us really afford $600 more in state taxes per person in their house, or even $600 less in state government services? And keep in mind state government services in Minnesota helps pay for, among other things, local police, fire, public schools, highways, and public transit.

I was struck by the tone of angry suburban parents (the prototypical conservative or moderate crowd) at one local school district for proposing cuts to some athletic programs (some very competitively successful athletic programs) at one of the district’s two high schools in order to help balance their budget. These parents were vocal in their disapproval, insisting that the school could find other places to cut the budget. But the truth was this: with a roughly $15 million deficit coming, the district’s proposed cuts to the athletic department amounted to less than one-half of one percent of what they needed to cut. And this had people up in arms? What happens when class sizes balloon to twice their current size?

For too long, both ends of the political spectrum have stopped hearing reason. Two, four, and six years ago, the leaders of this state had the chance to fix the budget problem right then and there by responding rationally to the problems and implementing a two-part fix combining taxes and budget cuts. But neither side wanted the other to “win,” so the budget was patched on a stop-gap basis, and the bill was passed on to the next term.

Well, time’s up for the state. We’ve run out of time. And some of those parents complaining about the cuts to their prized athletics program are to blame because they, along with nearly all of the politicians in this state and the country, have lost sight of what’s important: successful governance, not political promises. You can’t have everything you want from your government without paying for it. And if you want to pay less in taxes, you have to expect less in return. That’s the reality. And the angry and disappointed parents at the school board meeting tonight obviously missed that point. And how do we know this? Because a three-part levy question on last fall’s ballot would have gone a long way toward fixing the problem, but two of the three parts was turned down, meaning that the then $21 million could not be raised by increased taxes…Instead, just one quarter of what was needed was raised through the decision of the voters.

Direct causality: no taxes, no athletic funding. Do you get it now, folks?

Politicians yell and scream about the “good old days,” when government programs were fully funded and the country ran well. But taxes were also much higher than they are now, and yet people could still afford housing, employment was fairly high, and the American educational system was widely regarded as one of the best on earth. Yeah…The politicians don’t get it either: they yell and scream about how great it’s been that they’ve lowered our taxes since those “good old days.”

Just think about it, everybody.

See you tomorrow.

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