Thursday, June 21, 2018

Our Life Story Told By Our Cars #14-16

South Burlington, VT


I don't remember how or why we got this old Dodge. 
It was a pretty beat up car, but it was dependable.  It sat in the garage unused most of the time.  But I do remember two stories about it.
First, I was towing our sailboat to Maine for a family vacation.   While driving down the Massachusetts Turnpike, I felt a breeze.  I looked down and saw that the floor had fallen out and that I was looking down at the pavement.   I just covered the hole with something and drove it for several more years.

Another story had to do with the 2nd oil crisis in 1977 when for the first time, gasoline prices went over $1/gallon.  Horrors!  That seems so quaint now.   I went to fill up the Dodge and it took nearly $20!   I recall saying, "Soon we'll have to bring the Brinks money truck when we go to the gas station."

When
the Saab died, we needed a family car.  My father once again helped us to find this station wagon.   It was a very nice car.  Everyone in the family liked it. Of course the phony wood on the side was plastic, but we didn't care.  When we left for Sweden the 2nd time in 1982, I think we left this car and the Doge to my sister Nancy, but I'm not sure.









In Sweden
for the 2nd time in the 1980s, we bought this Toyota Corolla wagon.  I don't remember if it was new or used.   But it was a very pleasant, fun, and dependable car.  We liked that car as much as we hated the Volvo wagon we had before.    When we left Sweden in 1987, we sold the Corolla.

One funny story.   Nancy and Karl came to visit us in Sweden.  While they were there, they borrowed this car to get around.  One day they came back looking sheepish.  They admitted that they drove it off the road into a ditch and had to get towed out.   No damage though.

OMG the
stories about this van.  Buying this van was not my proudest moment.  In 1985, we returned to the USA for the summer as a family vacation.  John's girlfriend Helena came with us.   We visited my Dad in upstate NY, and helped him to host a wedding for Nancy and Karl.  Then, we wanted to go to Florida, and also to tow our sailboat there and put it up for sale.  What to do for transportation?

El cheapo me, found a van for sale in Syracuse.  The price was only $300 which suited me fine, because it ran.  I test drove it.  So, off we went, 6 of us in the van, a sailboat behind off toward Florida.

What a piece of junk that turned out to be.  The floor in the back had rusted out and it was covered with and Bricks.  There were also no seats in the back, so the kids had to lay on the floor.  So for the entire trip, they couldn't see out the windows, and they complained of headaches which turned out to be due to carbon monoxide.  OMG, what a bad parent I was.

But it got us to Florida and back.  It even got us to the tops of some mountains in West Virginia.  I recall pulling into a mountain top campground towing that sailboat.  An old mountain man was reclining near the entrance and chewing a blade of grass.  He said, "Who do you think you are, Noah?"

Another story with that van was the most shameful moment of my entire life.  I wrote about it before on this blog --- here.
In Saint Augustine, we anchored for the night just south of the Bridge of Lions. That bridge reminded me of one of the most ignoble and most embarrassing moments in my life. In 1985, we were living in Sweden but on vacation back in the states. We bought an old junker van to use for the vacation, and we drove from New York to Florida. We had a lot of trouble with the van during the trip. One problem was with the fuel line. It leaked. I did a temporary repair with duct tape, but the glue from the tape partially blocked the fuel line. The only way I could prevent the van from stalling at low speeds was to keep my foot full on the throttle.
One day, I crossed the Bridge of Lions in Saint Augustine. I noticed that there seemed to be a lot of people walking on the bridge. Some of them were walking on the roadway. I would have slowed or stopped for them, but the van would have stalled. Therefore, instead of stopping I leaned on the horn and made the people jump out of the way to avoid being run over as I barreled through at 40 mph. When we were nearly over the bridge I suddenly realized that the people were doing the Special Olympics. Well, I felt one inch high as I drove away, thoroughly ashamed of myself, but there was nothing I could do to undo the damage or to apologize.
But a second most shameful day was at the end of the summer when we were to return to Sweden.  We needed to fly out of JFK.  How to get there?   I had the idea of donating the van to Nancy and Karl.  We would drive to JFK, sign the van over to them, and leave.  Good plan.   But as we learned later, the van died within 5 miles of the airport, leaving Nancy and Karl stranded in the road waving their fists at the SAS plane flying over their heads taking us away in luxury. Shame on me.



Thursday, May 31, 2018

Our Life Story Told By Our Cars #12-13

Continued from cars 1-3, 4-7, 8-10.


The first time we went to Sweden (1973-74),  my friend Kenneth Randen took me shopping for a car.  I bought this Volvo 145 station wagon.   It was the worst car I ever owned.  I hated it because it was so under-powered that it took 50 miles to accelerate to 60mph with the pedal to the metal.  I kept wishing that it would die, so I could get a different car, but the damn thing was reliable.  It never did die.

When we returned from Sweden, we bought a Saab to drive in the USA (see below).  But I didn't sell the Volvo.  I knew I would need a car for trips to Sweden (I had 50 two-week trips to Sweden in the next few years.)  So I loaned to an Englishman with the understanding that he could drive it free while I was away and that he would deliver and pick up the car from the Airport when I came back to Sweden.

Eventually, the Englishman went back to England.  I didn't know where to leave the Volvo, so I drove it to Arlanda Airport, parked it on the sidewalk in front of the entrance, took the licence plates off, abandoned it and got on a plane to the USA.  Ha ha on them.  Tsk tsk for me; that was the second time I abandoned a car.   (After 911 I could never get away with that trick again.)


When we left Sweden in 74, we did something special.  1974 Saab Combi Coupe  as an "export car."   That meant that we took delivery of the car in Sweden, but within 30 days we delivered it to Saab's shipping center in Gothenburg for shipping to the USA.   It was a really fun car to own and to drive.   The kids loved it because on one particular road I used to drive over a hump fast enough to pull air and they had one second of zero G.
We bought a brand new

The bad part was that Saab didn't start marketing that car in the USA until the following year (and they renamed it Saab 99), so I had the one and only car of that model in America.  Not only that, it was the first year for that radical new model, version 1,0.    The Saab mechanics in the USA never saw that model before, nor did they read the service bulletins.  Well, I owned that car for one year.  It burned out 7 clutches in that year.  Some of the clutches burned out before I could drive it 6 miles home from the dealer.   The air intake scoop was installed backward.  A service bulletin in Sweden told the mechanics to turn it around, but the USA mechanics never saw the bulletin.  As a result, I drove through a puddle (2 days after the 1 year warranty expired), the scoop scooped up water and put it in the engine.  All the piston rods got bent like pretzels.

I was disgusted, and I sold that year old Saab for $500.  My friend Ian bought the car, put a new engine in it, and his wife Joan drove it for many years.  Ian told me that he found there were no retaining rings on the piston wrist pins and that those pins were wearing holes in the engine block.  If I had not driven into the puddle, the engine would have exploded some day when I was driving down the highway.  I call this my Saab Story.




Wednesday, May 30, 2018

Our Life Story Told By Our Cars #8-11

Continued from cars 1-3, and 4-7



I worked summers at Syracuse Chemical Company, with my buddy Jim Carncross.  We were exterminators.   In that job, I drove a Volkswagon Microbus like the one in the picture.  Those things had terrible reputations, but mine just worked well mile after mile, year after year.

Jim an I got called to the Catholic Cathederal in Syracuse.  The cardinal was visiting.  As he said mass and bowed with his big conical hat, a bat in the church buzzed him.   All the people were laughing, but the priest was horrified and the cardinal had no idea what was going on.   Jim looked around in the vestry behind the pulpit. 


He saw a tennis racquet. 
He took the racquet and waved it in the doorway.  The bat came flying through and WHAM, the bad was history.  The cardinal never found out.  The priest was very thankful.









Here is Gert again.  Libby bought it from Emmy,  We took Gert on our Honeymoon.  We used Gert the year we live in Potsdam, NY. 












After graduation, we moved to Colonie, NY. 
I worked at GE in Schenectady.  My dad helped us to find this 63 Plymouth, with a slant 6 engine.   It was a pretty good car, and tough.  On slippery days in winter I used to bounce it off the snow banks beside the road to control the speed.   Cars were strong back then and the snow banks never caused a dent. 

Our house in Colonie was on a corner with a diagonal driveway.   After a big snowstorm, I could hit that driveway at 20 mph with the Plymouth and bazing, the driveway was plowed.  


This 66 Plymouth Fury belonged to William Lowber, Libby's dad.
When he died we inherited it.   That was the best car we ever owned.   It was reliable, quiet, comfortable, and amazing on snow.  It had positraction (limited slip differential, and that's why it was so good on snow.

Once on Christmas Eve, we left my parents house with baby John Mills.  Our destination was Libby's parents house.  There was a wicked snow storm.  The Oran-Delphi road was blocked with a snow drift 3 feet deep and 1/4 mile long.   That Plymouth got us all the way through.  Snow went up over the windshield, so I had to lean out the drivers window to see.  At the far end, it overheated and stalled.  I opened the hood.  The whole engine was packed with snow.  I cleaned it out (especially the radiator).  I opened the air cleaner and found a perfect air cleaner mold of packed snow inside.  Then it started again and drove us home.  Great car.   I think 66 was about the pinnacle of Detroit's car design skills.

The first time we went to Sweden in 1973, we left that green Plymouth in Oran.  I think my brother Ed drove it.  Anyhow, before we returned the car caught fire in Jerry's driveway and burned up.

Tuesday, May 29, 2018

Our Life Story Told By Our Cars #4-7

Continued from cars 1-3

I
I got a summer job at a soda factory on Thompson Road, East Syracuse.   I needed transportation to get to work.  My dad helped my find this 52 Chevy.  It was stick shift from 1st to 2nd but automatic 2nd to third.   It was a horrible unsafe car.   The brakes didn't stop it well.  The steering was so bad that I had trouble staying on the right side of the road.

On the last day of summer, the car died while waiting for a red light at the busy corner of Rt 5 and Rt 92 in Fayetteville.  I did something bad.  I got out, took off the license plate, and abandoned that car in the middle of traffic.  Tsk tsk.


William Lowber, Libby's father owned a series of Pontiac Bonnevilles.   Those were hot cars, and very sexy.  Libby got a ticket for speeding on Erie Boulevard in Syracuse in that car.








The following year I needed summer transportation once again.   My dad again helped me to find this 58 Chevy, 3 speed stick on the column.  It was basic, but a pretty good car.  I remember driving it in winter once on a snowy day.  I was passing a truck that was throwing up a big cloud of snow.  Suddenly, headlights appeared right in front of me.  I jerked the wheel.  The car did a 360.  Then it straightened out in the middle of my lane with the truck and the other car behind me.  Whew.


Helen Mills, my mother, got this 61 Valiant
I used to borrow it to go see Libby.  It was a pretty boring car with a cheesy floor stick shift.


Monday, May 28, 2018

Our Life Story Told By Our Cars #1-3

Zebulon, NC

Can you tell your life story just by the cars you owned?  Almost.   Even if the story is not complete, it is fun.  Not all of these cars were ours, but they all figure into our life story.   I'll do a few at a time.


Gert:  Libby's BFF Emily had a 1960 Ford Falcon wagon she called Gert.   
The very first date I went on with Libby, we double dated with Emmy and Baden in Gert.  Later, Libby bought Gert from Emmy.  We drove Gert on our honeymoon, and we used her when we lived in Potsdam.

I could and did do all necessary repairs and replacements on Gert using only a crescent wrench and a screwdriver.  I put in a new clutch and new universal joints.   When the voltage regulator got stuck, I would open the hood and bash it with a tire iron.


The Grey Ghost:
My mother, Helen Mills owned this 1956 Chrysler.   I used to borrow it to go out with Libby.   My mom complained because I would return the car with an empty gas tank, even though gas was as little as $0.15 per gallon.








My dad, Jerry Mills:  

1960 Plymouth Fury Convertible with a 413 hemi engine, 2x4 barrel carbs.  Jerry worked for Chrysler.  Part of his job was to demo all the makes and models to the dealers.  Therefore he brought home 2 new cars per week, 100 new cars per year.   Most were not memorable.  But this one he let me take out for a drive when I was only 16.  I took it to a country road, then at 60mph I stomped on the pedal and it burned rubber.  OMG it scared the daylights out of me.   

Wednesday, May 23, 2018

DSC In the Sky

Zebulon, NC

Long time readers of this blog know how reverently we talk about the Dismal Swamp Canal (DSC).   On the canal we experience senses of security, serenity, suspension of elapsed time, and the feeling of being transported two centuries into the past.   Sanctuary would be an appropriate word.

For example, in October 2012 I wrote:
My, the contrast is striking.  Just yesterday I wrote of being terrorized out in the harsh sea.  Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow, we're surrounded by supreme tranquility, beauty and security of the Dismal Swamp Canal (DSC) and the Pasquotank River. 
And in June 2014, I wrote:
We spent Friday night at our favorite anchorage.  A place so beautiful that we marked the GPS waypoint "Pearly Gates"  It is a place guaranteed to calm the most agitated soul
Well, as the title suggests, we have come to view the Blue Ridge Parkway (BRP) as an equivalent sanctuary.  Up there, one feels that time is suspended, and that we can live the illusion that we are in the 19th century.  Of course, the DSC is genuine in the sense was dug by George Washington's slaves  in the 1700s whereas the BRP was created in the 1930s to preserve the feeling of an era past.  But contrast both with the manufactured illusions of Disney World which we find to be repulsive.    I can describe the experience as that of living as wealthy 19th century tourists did.  (Certainly not as 19th century farmers did, because they had to scrabble to provide enough to survive the winters.)

For sure, the BRP is more easily accessible and offers much more variety than the DSC.  I recommend it to all my friends.   Find the opportunity to spend time on the BRP.   If possible, spend more than one day, up there.  Best of all, travel the full 469 mile length.  You'll average only 30 mph,  because you'll want to stop at nearly every one of the hundreds of overlooks to enjoy the views.  So the full trip will take you 16 hours of driving.  3 days and 2 nights is ideal.   Be sure to stop and enjoy the BRP highlights along the way such as the Cone Mansion, and Mabry Mill.  A list of the highlights is here.    Just make sure that the weather is nice.  It is not fun being there during storms, fog, or cold.

Libby and I just came down after 2 days and 2 nights on the BRP.  It was wonderful.  We drove.  We hiked.  We paddled in a canoe.  We camped.  We relaxed.   We would still be up there if it were not for forecasted thunderstorms. 

Here is an album of pictures from those 2 days.   Here's one picture from the album that I snapped as we paddled in a rented canoe.


One of our favorite highlights on the BRP is the Cone Mansion; an example of 19th century life of the rich.  You can explore the mansion and the grounds.  Below are some pictures ofthat I found on Google Images.

View of the lake from the porch
View of the mansion from the lake in fall.
View in winter




Monday, May 07, 2018

A Scary Storm



Umatilla, FL

Wow, the storm in the picture below was taken in Williston, Vermont last week.  It is about 5 miles from Jen's house.  The storm is approaching from the direction of one of our favorite anchorages on Williston Bay.   It did a lot of wind damage on land. 

All I can say is that I'm glad we weren't there.  Especially glad that we weren't anchored there when that storm passed over.




Tuesday, May 01, 2018

This is What I Would Really Like

Zebulon, NC

I enjoy a lot of things.  Sailing of course is one of them.  But the video below shows what I would love most of all.

When I flew gliders in Vermont, they were WWII era clunkers.  Even that was great fun. But a sophisticated modern gliders, with all that electronics, in the mountains of the West would be a very different experience.

What blocks me?

  • Not enough money.  You need a $250K investment and $50K annual budget to do that.
  • Don't live in the right region.
  • I couldn't pass the rigorous flight physical any more.
As a consolation, watching these videos is almost as much fun as doing it.


Friday, April 27, 2018

Fake News Déjà vu

[This is project #2 of The Entertaining Speaker.  My objectives are: 1) Draw entertaining material from experiences other then your personal experience.  Adjust the material to suit yourself and the audience.   5-7 minutes.   This is my last speech for the Advanced Communicator Bronze rank.  Silver and Gold  remain for future years.]


Fake news and misinformation. We are taught that this is a modern problem brought on by the Internet. Actually in the Civil War era, it was worse. And at the heart of that fake news was a name familiar to you from my previous speech --- Thomas Alva Edison.

It was the age of the telegraph. No longer did it take weeks or months for news to spread around the country, it could happen in a single day. To make it all work, the country needed lots of telegraphers. People to send and copy (or receive) Morse Code dot dot dot dash dash dash. Between ages 15 and 17, young Thomas Edison worked as a journeyman telegrapher. That means he took lots of short time jobs in cities across the country.

He got a job at the Western Union office in New York City. On Edison’s first day, his co-workers set up a prank. They told him to copy an incoming news story. On the other end of the was the world champion telegrapher, able to send Morse code faster than any mortal being could copy. He started slow and gradually started sending faster and faster. But not matter how fast he sent, Edison copied with no problem. Eventually, the champion began slurring his words and running them together. Edison had no difficulty correcting all the error on the fly. Finally, Edison caught on to the joke. He interrupted and sent a message back. It said, “Say, young man, change off and send with your other foot.”

Here’s how news actually spread in those days. A politician in Washington would give a speech. Often his language was poor, or he would be drunk while speaking. In the gallery, one or more shorthand takers wrote down what he said. (Young people in this audience may need to look up what that word shorthand means.) But they didn’t write it word-for-word. They translated clumsy language into eloquent oratory. They took their notes to the telegraph office. But the telegrapher added his own improvements as he sent it. That got the message out to maybe 4 receiving stations. Each of those stations copied the message down (including the recipient’s embellishments) and resent it (including the sender’s improvements) to 4 other stations. So it went, 4, 16, 64, 256 stations until it reached every corner of the country. From the stations, the paper copy went to the newspaper, where the reporters wrote a story using their own words to describe what the politician said. Therefore, every town in the country got their own unique version of the news of the day. Doesn’t that remind you of the child’s game where a story is whispered to the first child, who then whispers it to the second child and so on? So now you know how each town in the country got different versions of the news of the day.

At age 17, Edison was still so shy that if a 17 year old girl entered the room he would fall over furniture and became speechless. But he was at the apex of his telegrapher career. I’m going to tell you about his demise as a telegrapher.

He took a job at a Washington newspaper. After 3AM when the paper was put to bed, the reporters gave Edison access to their notes of the day. Only a tiny percent of those notes actually created news stories, but Edison read all of them. He knew what every congressman, every Senator, said in every meeting all day long. He considered himself to be the best informed person in the whole country about the goings on of the government. One night, he was copying a story about an important vote that day in Congress when the telegraph wire broke. No problem thought Edison, so he fabricated the rest of the story. He said who voted aye, who voted nay and what the leaders said to the press after the vote. He was confident that his account would be a believable enough to fool the whole country. ---- Well, in the morning he came to regret that, because the important vote had been postponed.

Ladies and gentlemen. In modern times, we love to complain about our favorite villain, Vladimir Putin. Little did you know that Putin follows in the footsteps of my personal hero. Thomas Alva Edison.



Thursday, April 26, 2018

Aha!

I discovered something very important about my Hobie 16 yesterday.  The mast was full of water.!

A mast full of water is much heavier than an empty one and that extra weight was as much as 28 feet above the water.   Could that have been what made me capsize so easily?   The answer is, "Certainly yes, provided that the water was there before capsizing."

The bad news, is that I can't be certain if the water was in there when I bought the Hobie, or if it came in while the boat was capsized. 

  • Libby and I were unfamiliar with the "normal" weight of a Hobie mast.  
  • I did look the mast over and I did apply some sealants before sailing to keep water out.  That applies specially to the mast head where I had replaced the sheaves.  There's a water barrier there, and I put sealant on it.
  • When the mast was up, there was no sign of water dripping out from the internals.
So I guess, I'll never know for sure.    In any event, I drained all the water out, and I took extra care to inspect and re-seal every screw or rivet hole where water could get in. 

Before sailing next time, I propose to put the mast in the lake to float by itself.  If it sinks, or if I hear water sloshing inside, I'll know there's a leak.

Friday, April 13, 2018

A Bloggable Misadventure

Umatilla, FL

Back in the days when I was writing blog posts almost daily, Libby and I invented an adjective.   We observed something from real life and we said, "that's bloggable."  Today I did that.

It was a splendid day in central Florida.  Sunny, temperature in the 70s, a nice breeze 10-20.  I wanted to go sailing.  I didn't find anyone to sail with me immediately, so I went alone.   Remember that I'm still very green a a Hobie 16 captain.

Well, I sailed to the far side of the lake.  I was sailing to windward so the sheets were hauled in tight. The boat was moving so fast that I decided to come about rather than gybe.  I blew it.  I was struggling with the tiller extension (that's a major pain on a Hobie cat.).  While I was fiddling with that, the boat inadvertently came about on its own.  That caught me on the wrong side (the leeward side of the boat.)  The wind pushed me broadside to the wind, and the leeward pontoon went under water.  It all happened too fast for me to react.  The next thing I knew, the cat was capsized and I was in the water.

Fortunately, I had a good life jacket on.  I also avoided getting underneath the boat.  So it was simple for me to climb up on the trampoline of the upside down boat.  On the far side of the lake, Libby was watching.  She saw me go over, and she was plenty scared until she saw my orange life vest appear above the water.  That calmed her considerably.

What then?  Well, I am unprepared to right a capsized Hobie 16 myself.  I need to watch videos and to practice it with assistance from a nearby boat for backup.   So I just stood there.   The boat was very stable.  The water was clear and clean and warm, so I could have waited indefinitely.   Another factor, is that tourist season is over and there are very few other boats in the water on that lake.

The wind was blowing me toward the nearest shore.  That would have been fine, except that the masthead got stuck on the bottom while I was still 300 yards from shore.   The boat stopped moving.  What next?

A man on shore saw me and asked if I needed help.  I had him call Libby and tell her to find a boat to come rescue me.  5 minutes later I saw a boat from the RV park leave.  It had to be my rescue.

But rescue would be very difficult with the mast in the mud.   I jumped in the water, swam to the bow and I managed to decouple the fore stay.  Good.  The mast floated up to the surface.  I could float to shallower water.  I then used the paddle and the wind, and soon I made it nearly to shore.  I got stuck in reeds only about 100 feet from shore.

When the rescue boat came, it held Russ from OMS and Libby.  But that boat had only a tiny electric trolling motor.   Much too weak to help me flip the hull, and also too weak to tow me anywhere.

So, I left the cat behind, jumped into the rescue boat, and accepted a ride back to the RV park.  There, we got the car and the trailer, and drove around the lake. We brought with us, some remnants from Tarwathie that I was very glad I saved.  Namely; two 110 foot spare halyards.

My plan was to swim out to the Hobie, and tie a line to her.  While there, I tried holding the capsize line while standing all the way aft on one pontoon to try and right it.  It did no good.  So I swam back to shore with the other end of the line. Then we could pull her in to the beach.  As we were doing that, a neighbor named Randy came to assist.  He was a great help.

The plan succeeded.  We pulled the boat over to the beach.  There, I was able to completely uncouple the mast and boom from the boat.  Then we tried to flip the hull upright using the capsize line.  No way even with the full strength of two men.

We backed the trailer down to the shore.  Then we used the trailer's winch line attached to the capsize line.  That worked, and we got the hull flipped upright.  The hard work was done.

In another 15 minutes, we had the mast and sails and all loose equipment back on board the boat.  Randy had a truck with 4 wheel drive, so he pulled the trailer and boat up to the road.  We then hitched the trailer to my car. thanked Randy, and drove back to the OMS RV park.

I think the only lost casualties were a clevis pin, and a little teflon bushing that sits under the mast.  Nothing broken, nobody injured.  So in that respect I was very lucky.

But beyond all doubt, that was a bloggable event.   Thank you Libby. Thank you Russ.  Thank you Randy.   Thank you my lucky stars.

Pictures?  Sorry, we were too busy to photo journal this event.  But here's a couple.

Here is my launch point in Olde Mill Stream RV Park.  The capsized cat is on the far shore.

The blue thing is the capsized hull.



Speech #16: Young Al


Umatilla, FL

[This speech is project 5 from The Entertaining Speaker, "Speaking After Dinner".  The goals are: 1) Prepare an entertaining after dinner speech on a specific theme.  2) Deliver the speech using all your skills.  They remind you that after dinner, the audience will not want to be intellectually challenged.   Time 8-10 minutes.  My actual time as 10:26, just 4 seconds short of being dinged for speaking too long.  Especially enjoyable was that we had two teen girls in the audience as guests, and both girls loved the topic.  Just like with Harry Potter books, young people like young hero models.]

Well, that was quite a meal. You all just sit back and enjoy your coffee and cognac while I stand here and ramble on a bit.

I’m going to talk about my hero, Thomas Alva Edison. You know Edison, the guy who invented the light bulb, right? He did a lot of other things that might surprise you, including email, phones, Hollywood, and the electric car.

But forget all that. I want to talk about young Al (that was his boyhood nickname) growing up in Port Huron Michigan between the ages of 10 and 15.

Al’s first interest was not electricity but chemistry. One day, he convinced another boy to swallow a large quantity of Seidlitz Powder. Today, we call that stuff Alka Seltzer. Al told the boy that the gas would allow him to float up in the air and fly like a bird. While the doctor did what he could for the boy’s pain, Al’s mother fetched the switch that she kept behind the Seth Thomas clock.

In the basement, Al stored his chemicals and built himself a laboratory. He put the same label on all the bottles --- poison, so that nobody would be tempted to mess with them. While other boys played sports, Al worked in his laboratory and did research at the public library. He bought every chemical available from the local drug store, and then began ordering chemicals by mail order. For that he needed money.

Al’s father had a 10-acre truck garden. So young Al began picking the vegetables and selling them in the town. He didn’t do the actual work himself. Instead, he hired other boys to do it for him. He made so much money doing that that he contributed $600 per year to the family. In today’s money that would be $17K.

Then he got another idea. The railroad ran between Port Huron and Detroit. Al convinced his parents to allow him to sell newspapers on the train. The train left Port Huron in the earl morning, and it didn’t return until 9:30 at night. That gave Al a lot of time to kill in Detroit. One thing he did was buy top quality produce in Detroit and sell it in Port Huron, thus boosting the profits of his vegetable business.

The train had three kinds of cars, smoking cars for men, baggage cars, and the ladies cars for everyone else. The baggage car was divided into three sections, one for baggage, one for mail, and one for a smoking room that nobody used. Al got permission to move his laboratory and chemicals to the smoking room of the baggage car. He even convinced Mr. Pullman, who was working on his revolutionary Pullman car to do the carpentry for his laboratory. Then, during the long daily layover in Detroit, Al could work in his mobile laboratory.

One day, someone abandoned a printing press on the train. Al kept it for himself, and he used it to create his own newspaper. At every RR stop on the route, he collected gossip and news to publish. Then he wrote, edited, printed and sold the newspapers all by himself. He also used the railroad’s telegraph to send notice of his newspaper headlines to towns further down the track to increase his sales.

At the outbreak of the Civil War, people became more interested in news. Al’s sales increased. When word of the battle of Shiloh came in, young Al ran to the offices of the Detroit Free Press. He said, “I don’t have any money now, but if you give me 1000 copies of the paper at one cent each, I’ll pay you tomorrow.” They said yes. Al put the papers on the train and telegraphed the headline down the route in advance. At the first stop, where he normally sold 5 papers, he sold 20 copies at two cents each. At the second stop, there was a big crowd of 50 people, so Al raised the price to five cents. By the time the train got to Port Huron, the whole town was at the train station waiting for the news. From the doorway of the train Al shouted, “I’m almost out of copies, the price is 25 cents per copy.” So, he sold his last 700 copies for 25 cents each.

Al also made friends on the railroad. He was careful to give free papers and magazines to all railroad employees he came in contact with. He especially liked riding in the steam engine. The engineer taught him how to drive the train, and the fireman taught him how to stoke the boiler. After that, the engineer and the fireman realized that they could get drunk and sleep the whole trip while Al did all the work. Al loved that.

Al was instructed that if he let the water in the boiler drum get too low, it could explode. He certainly didn’t want that, so he meticulously kept the drum full of water. One day in the station, he put too much water in. The water went up into the boiler tubes which were red hot. The water cleaned off the years of soot layered in those pipes and then boiled. That caused a geyser of hot black mud to shoot out of the stack of the steam engine. It came down on the heads of the fine gentlemen with their top hats, and the fine ladies with their parasols who were waiting in the station. Young Al pointed at the engineer, and said, “I’m just a kid. I didn’t do anything.”

One day, the train hit a patch of rough track. It rocked from side to side. A bottle of phosphorous fell off the shelf in Al’s laboratory and started a fire. Al tried to put out the fire and failed. The conductor came rushing in and put out the fire. That quick-tempered Scotchman was so enraged, that he threw Al and all his chemicals off the train. He also boxed young Al in the ears so severely that for the rest of his life Thomas Edison was nearly deaf.

But Edison accepted deafness in good spirits. Later in life, he said, “When Alexander Graham Bell invented the telephone, it was a piece of junk. It was only capable of working within one city block. So, the first thing he did was to hire me to make a practical telephone. Because of my deafness, I had to make it loud enough for me to hear it.” Later, when I invented the phonograph there were many similar devices around that I couldn’t understand because their sound quality was so poor. I worked for a whole year, 20 hours per day including Sundays to get the word “specie” perfectly recorded and reproduced on the phonograph. When this was done, I knew that all other sounds could also be done, which proved to be the fact.”

Ladies and gentlemen. When you go home tonight after this splendid banquet, look into the eyes of your young children or grandchildren. Might you see a spark of young Al in those eyes?


















Monday, April 09, 2018

Lakeside-itis

Umatilla, FL

I had to invent a new word to describe what I've been doing yesterday and today.

Our Hobie 16 is all rigged and functional.  Naturally, we (mostly I) am anxious to sail it.  It's fun and there are lots of new things for me to learn. 

The question is when?  The past 2 days have seen unsettled weather.  Weak cold fronts are passing accompanied by scattered showers.  Today's showers are just short of being thunderstorms.   The average wind speed has been about 10 knots; perfect for sailing.  But the actual wind speed is more like 3 knots punctuated by periods of 20 knots.   Couple that with the fact that we now live very close to the lakeshore.

So, here I sit wanting to sail.  No wind.  A few minutes later, I look out and I see all the flags flying in a fresh breeze.   Off I rush to the lake.  But by the time I get there and get the sails ready, the wind stops, and there is another black cloud potential thunderstorm heading my way.

When we lived many miles away from the boat and the water, we didn't have this on-again off-again foolishness.  On days like today we would either stay home, or go out on the lake and wait out the calms and the storms onboard the boat.  That's why I need a new word for my impatience -- Lakesideitis.


We'll post some good pictures and videos when we get them.  For now, here's a video of me shot by someone else yesterday.

https://www.facebook.com/groups/1797434117156950/


By the way.  Youtube has lots and lots of Hobie 16 videos to learn from.  There's much more to it than I imagined.


Friday, February 16, 2018

Taking Risks is a Virtue

[Umatilla, Florida:   I used this speech in two speech contests yesterday.  I won 1st place in the first contest and 2nd place in the second contest.  A man who saw both, said I seemed tired the second time.]

Show of hands. How many of you saw the pictures of Elon Musk’s Tesla car in space? Wasn’t that a thrill? Musk hired smart people and he trusted them to do their jobs, and accepted the risk of failure Hats off to Elon Musk. He is my number 1 example of a risk taker.

But Elon Musk was not born and raised in the USA. Sadly, our home-grown NASA has become so risk adverse, that I for one believe that private risk takers like Musk will get us to Mars and the Moon before NASA does.

But NASA wasn’t always like that. My second example of risk taking was the NASA of 50 years ago. I’m speaking of the Apollo and Saturn V projects that put the first men on the Moon in 1969. That was the greatest single achievement is the history of man.

I was privileged to be slightly associated with those projects when I worked at GE’s Apollo Support Department in Daytona Beach. GE’s role was the computers that monitored status before liftoff. Let me describe how it worked.

At t minus 120, two minutes before liftoff, we had 400 GE engineers in a big room. The computers in those days were 10 billion times less powerful than the computer in my hand. But we had something then that you can’t buy today for any price. We had printers that printed 20000 lines per minute. We needed 400 pages paper, one sheet per engineer. At t-2 minutes two of those printers roared into action. Paper flew out of them so fast that it flew up to the ceiling and halfway across the room before coming down. It took only 12 seconds for those printers to print 400 pages. Then it took another 20 seconds to get those 400 engineers in position to read their page.

Each engineer was trained to read and interpret the data on one specific page. For example, engineer number 239 read page 239. They had 20 seconds to do their jobs. If the data looked good, he remained silent. If the data looked bad he would wave his hands and shout no=go. T=60 seconds was the go/no-go decision point for the whole mission.

Ladies and gentlemen, we put men on the moon by taking risks. We trusted smart people to do their jobs competently and took the risk they could be wrong. Modern day NASA doesn’t work like that.

---

Example Number 3. You may have heard the expression “reach for the brass ring” Raise your hand if you don’t know where reach for the brass ring comes from.



Let me tell you, because I know firsthand. When I was 14 years old, I got my first job as a merry go round operator at an amusement part. You can say carousel instead. On my carousel, kids riding on the outside horse could lean far far out to try to catch a brass ring on their finger. They had to lean so far, that it seemed like they might fall off and crack their skulls. Of course, nobody wants kids to be injured. The risk was more of an illusion. Nevertheless the kids who got a ring wore it as a badge of courage. Without the risk, the ring is just a meaningless bit of metal. We taught children of that era that courage and risk taking are virtues. We also taught parents to let their kids hang on with one hand instead of two hands at times.



Here’s the point. Our adversity to disasters can have the unintended consequence of limiting the height of our achievements. In a risk adverse culture, the average person may live longer and suffere less. But we shave off the pinnacles of success to fill in the valleys of failure. We are embracing --- mediocracy.

But wait! I’m preaching to the choir. We are toastmasters. We stand up here to speak. That takes courage. We risk failure. We value excellence. I urge you to go home and tell your friends, your family, but especially tell your children and grandchildren. Risk taking is a virtue.

Saturday, February 03, 2018

Recovering From a Crashed PC

Umatilla, FL

Last week I asked my laptop PC to restart.  Instead it died.  It was so bad that I couldn't boot windows or DOS, or the boot options.  I have a bootable emergency recovery disk; that didn't work. After power up, it never gave me a chance to type anything on the keyboard.  Now I've recovered almost 100%.   My successes, failures and missteps may be helpful to others.

What Happened?
My PC did not actually die.  Nor did the hard disk actually crash.  It was a random write error on the disk that caused the problem. 

There are error correction mechanisms on the main memory and disk that make write errors rare.  But they can never be eliminated 100%.    Even so, almost all errors in your data go unnoticed because they don't cause trouble.  Suppose the color in one of the pixels in one of your pictures has a slightly wrong color?  You'll never notice.  But a few things are critical.  Most critical is the information on the hard drive used to navigate the file system on the hard drive.  A single bit being wrong in the most critical of locations could have been the cause of my trouble.

Online Backups
Things keep changing, if you keep up with the modern world.   One change is that much of my most important data is now stored in the cloud rather than locally on my PC.  "Cloud" merely means stored on someone else's disk somewhere in the world. Gmail stores my email.  Google Photos stores my pictures.  The Chrome browser stores my contacts and bookmarks.   Blogger.com stores all the text and photos of the archives of this blog.

So, the only things I store only locally on my hard disk are:

  1. My archives from the ghosts of computers past.  I have a copy of the files from every computer I ever owned going back to 1979.  Why do I keep that?  Because I don't want to think through the consequences of deleting anything.  I hoard data.   It's not as bad as hoarding stuff because all my old data sits quietly in a corner of my disk.  If I keep the data, I don't have to decide whether or not it should be kept.  (Cynics argue that a crash and loss of all historical data every once in a while is beneficial.  There's a grain of truth in that.)
  2. Office documents,  Word documents, spread sheets, presentations.   Microsoft and Google keep trying to make me store those on the cloud, but I'm old fashioned and paranoid about my privacy.
  3. Programs that I installed on my PC.  In the old days, when you started with a new PC, it was a lot of work to re-install all your beloved software.  But today, I notice that there is very little old software that I still need.  Picassa, and PDFdirect were the only two software programs that I downloaded and reinstalled on my new PC.
The point is that a disk crash today is less disastrous as in the past.  By the same token, it should make it easier to keep backups, because there is so little new information not on the cloud that needs backing up.

For younger people who don't have the same hang ups as we elders, I recommend a tablet+keyboard or a Chromebook as the sensible modern PC.   Those devices have almost zero of your data stored locally.   Everything is on the cloud.  The only backup you are responsible for is your account and password. 

Chromebook also allows you to not have Windows (or Linux) at all. No operating system, no such thing as one of your files stored on the device, no apps.  It makes your life much simpler.

A New PC?
I went out and bought a new laptop.  That probably was not necessary, but I didn't know it at the time.  But there's also personal bias.  My laptop was 5 years old.  It worked pretty well, but one of the rows of keys on the keyboard were beginning to get stuck.  I'm a computer nerd and a gadget freak, so it doesn't take too much arm twisting to get me to buy a new machine every few years.

If you are one of the people who like to keep computers for 10-15 years, you're heaping a lot of grief on your heads.  All the software, all the web sites assume that you have a newer, faster, higher capacity PC.  If you don't things work poorly or not at all.  If you are a grandparent, and your kids want to buy a new PC for you, let them do it.


The Kinds of Backups
The old fashioned kind of backup is now called Windows 7 Backup.  It is a program to run.  You tell it to save a complete backup, or an incremental backup.  There is a restore program to retrieve data and files from the backup copies.   I discovered that the last time I made a complete backup was 11 months ago.  Uh oh.

A different kind of backup from Microsoft is called File History.   It stores only new files and changes to old files.   It runs automatically if your backup disk is online.  It is effortless.  I thought that File Backup protected me for all the new stuff I did since the 11 month old full backup.  Wrong.

No wonder everyone loves to hate Microsoft. On my new PC, I plugged in my USB external backup disk holding my File History, and I planned to recover all my recent files that way.  It didn't work.  I missed the check box outlined in yellow in the screenshot below.  That tiny error wiped out all my File History forever, and I can never get it back.  Sigh.


The Solution
There were two parts to my solution to recover all my files and data.

  1. I removed the hard drive from my old laptop (4 screws) and I  invested $7.99 on amazon.com to buy a cable that lets me connect the old drive the the USB port of my new computer.

    When I plugged it in and tried to look at the contents of that hard disk, it failed.  I could not see any files on the disk.  That's what killed my old PC in the first place.
  2. A very old utility program that has been around since MS-DOS 1.0 is called CHKDSK.  You may remember using CHKDSK on misbehaving floppy disks.  Anyhow, CHKDSK is still around and updated.   I got into a command prompt window and simply typed "CHKDSK F: /R."  (F: is the drive letter of my hard disk when plugged in a USB port). It took hours to finish.  It is the kind of thing you should start before going to bed.  But in the end, it found and repaired all the errors on that disk.  I could access all my files!  There is a chance that some file is missing, but I don't see any.

    BEWARE:  There are numerous services and software packages that offer "Disaster Recovery"  or "Data Recovery">  Many of those cost hundreds of dollars.   It is true that they might recover some things that CHKDSK doesn't, but you should always try CHKDSK first.  It is free and it solves the most common problems. 


Did I Really Need a New PC?
I could have borrowed a PC from a neighbor to run CHKDSK.   But I would have to keep it overnight.  That's a much bigger imposition than borrowing it for one hour.

When I owned a house, I always had some old PCs around that could have run CHKDSK for me.  But when living on a boat, and now an RV, there's no room for old stuff.  Old stuff is clutter.
'
Besides, as I said, it only takes minor arm twisting to make me buy a new PC.

Friday, February 02, 2018

Speech #15, Innocense


[This Toastmasters project is called "Make Them Laugh".  I was required to come up with some personal experiences and make them humorous.  I had a bit of trouble thinking of things.  The result was this speech.  The audience was polite, but in all honesty, I bombed.  Oh well, everyone has to strike out sometimes.]


In our culture, we expect children to be innocent.  By the same token, we expect adults to be the opposite.  I don’t mean guilty.  I mean innocent as in lack of guile.  When adults are truly innocent, the results can be funny.---
In the 70s, my business was building simulators.  I’m sure you have all seen videos of flight simulators used to train pilots to fly.   Well, my simulators duplicated  control rooms trained nuclear power plant operators.  My simulators were huge, about the size of a basketball court.
In 77, I was helping a company in Finland to make their first simulator.  Because Finns have a fine eye for art and aesthetics, their gymnasium size simulated control room was not just functional, it was strikingly beautiful.
The project manager was a delightful handsome young man named Martti.  Martti was very innocent.  That year was the international conference on simulators to be held (in all places) Gatlinburg, Tennessee.   I went there with the team of Finns including Martti. For most of them it was their first trip to America.S Martti brought with him a portfolio of pictures of his beautiful simulator.
One day at breakfast, Martti told us that after yesterday’s session he met a woman engineer from a major American utility.  The two of them hit it off and had a nice conversation.  Then Martti said, “I asked her to come up to my room to see my simulator pictures.  She refused.   I can’t understand why.”  The rest of us howled with laughter because we knew that Martti was completely innocent.
---
At that same conference, I was presenting my own paper on simulators.  The darkened room held about 300 people in the audience.  There was no stage.  Midway through my talk, I noticed a man in the front row holding a sign. 
Uh oh.  I backed away from the light of the overhead projector, and I did a little pirouette to quickly zip it.  But it wasn’t open, it was broken and it wouldn’t zip.
What to do next?   Well, I noticed that because there was no stage, nobody behind the front row could see me below the waist,  So I pretended that nothing was wrong and finished my speech.
---
A few years before that, I went to work for a big company in Sweden.  My knowledge of Swedish was very elementary at the time, but most Swedes speak excellent English.  On my first day on the job, I was sent to the company infirmary for a physical.  The nurse at the infirmary didn’t speak English, but she managed to convey that I should take off my clothes.  Swedes are less modest than Americans.  As I stood there naked, she grabbed a clipboard and sat on a stool directly in front of me, and said (in Swedish)  “How long are you?”  The only reply I could manage was hamana hamana hamana. My boss explained to me later that the Swedish word long should be translated as tall.
---
Back to Martii once again.  After the Gatlingburg trip, Martti invited the team with their wives to a dinner at a fancy restaurant on an island in Helsinki.  At the dinner table,  Martti eagerly showed us his most prized souvenir from the trip.  It was a digital watch.  That was the year that digital watches first appeared.  Martti’s watch was as thick as a thumb, and the digits glowed an evil red like the eyes of the Devil in a monster movie.  But Martti was sure that the was the first person in all of Finland to own such a watch, perhaps in all of Europe.
“Where did you get it?” we asked.  Martii said, “I went to New York City on my way back.  A man came up to me and opened his coat.  He had lots of watches and he sold me this one for only two dollars.”  Martti held up his wrist and pointed proudly.  But when he did that the works fell out of his watch and dropped into his soup. 
---
So here’s the point.  In all of those stories, the humor comes from someone being truly innocent in an otherwise adult situation.  Long live innocence.




Friday, January 12, 2018

Speech #14: Cooling Hot Conversations

Have you ever lost a close friend? I lost a 50 year long friendship with a couple on the other end of the political spectrum because I was afraid to engage them in debate. All I dared talk to them about was the weather. The friendship became boring, it withered and died. The opposite of love is not hate. The opposite of love is apathy.

It is a societal problem. We become ever more polarized because we only dare to have conversations with people who agree with us. That is unhealthy. I am here today to offer my personal tips to avoid that.

The meaning of the words all and none are crystal clear. Everyplace in between all and none is some. There are hundreds of synonyms for some. I call them SoS words Here are a few examples.

few/little/lot/couple/handful, many, most, hardly any, almost all, the vast majority, paltry/piddling/smattering, a bit/quite a bit, and so on.

All those Sos words mean more than 0% and less than 100% but it is not defined how many percent they do mean.

Here's the problem. In my mind, many is more than few. In your mind many is more than few. But when we converse, there is no guarantee that my many is more than your few. That causes misunderstandings and needless arguments.

Let me give you an example. I'll pick on Manal. Please forgive me Manal. Manal knows that there are about 70000 drug overdose deaths in America every year. But she doesn't say that. Se says “there a lot of OD deaths.” Sam, works for a life insurance company. He knows about the 70000 OD deaths. Sam and Manal are in complete agreement! But Sam also thinks about the 2.7 million deaths for other reasons so he says “no there are only a few OD deaths”. Now we set the stage for a pointless and stupid argument. Why? Because they used Sos words instead of numbers, and because they are not arguing about facts but rather the choice of words to describe the facts.

So here are my 3 tips.

Number 1
Replace Sos words in your speech with numbers even if you have no basis for the actual number.

We should have three magic numbers. 20% 50% and 80% When you use one of those numbers in an argument, it should be understood that you just pulled the number out of the air to avoid using a Sos word. There is no need to challenge, “Where did you get that percent?”

If you hear your opponent exaggerate, he might say 99.9%, let it go. My trick is pretend that he said the less inflammatory 80%. I try not to allow the debate to be diverted from facts to an argument about the choice of words or choice of numbers.

To be really mellow and achieve Zen, translate all of those Sos words and all of those percent numbers in your head to the universal word some. My opponent said “the vast majority” while I was thinking “hardly any.” But, we are both saying some. Instead of arguing, rejoice in your agreement and move on.

Tip 2: Troll Repellent

Suppose you say, “Sometimes X is true.” An argumentative opponent responds, “Yeah, but sometimes X is not true.” The other guy is using a debate tactic called trolling. You can ward off trolling simply by saying in the first place “Sometimes X is true, sometimes not.” Those two extra words, sometimes not, do nothing to change the meaning of your sentence. There is no linguistic or logical reason to include them. But using those two words acknowledges the contrary case up front and that repels trolls like garlic repels vampires.
Now combine tips 1 and 2. You should say “X is true 80% of the time and false 20% of the time.”

Tip 3: Choose Your Battles

When a conversation has already degraded to an argument over characterizations rather than facts, stay out of it. Suppose there is a heated argument about whether something is good or bad. There is 0% chance of you persuading anyone to flip flop on their opinions, only 20% chance of you improving the argument, and 80% chance of you increasing everyone's blood pressure by adding yet another voice to am already silly argument. Believe me, that strategy can add years to your life expectency.

There is less than 20% chance of my tips changing global society. Nevertheless, I am 80% sure that it is worth trying.