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Showing posts with label old story. Show all posts
Showing posts with label old story. Show all posts

Thursday, June 27, 2019 2 comments

Adventures of a #techcomm Geek: A Cautionary Tale of an Acquisition

Pull up a chair, young’uns. Today, I bring you a tale from a time when years started with a 1. It was a technologically backward time, before email had yet to completely replace paper memos and USENET or BBSes were how most people “went online.” But the technology we had, we used well. It didn’t require LinkedIn to help empty out an office when things went to #3||.

The 80s were in our rearview, although its music lives on to this day, and the corporate merger and acquisition binge was starting to cool off. Still, buying and selling is the lifeblood of a corporation, and sometimes what they sell is pieces of themselves. So, on to this particular place. None of the players are around anymore, so let’s call it Don’t Care Anymore (DCA). It was a “coulda been” company—I’ve worked at a couple of them. DCA, with some vision and luck, coulda been Cisco. The founder held the (now expired) patent for statistical multiplexing, and they did good business building and selling serial port multiplexers. (Remember, this was a technologically backward time, when some people still had serial terminals on their desks).

But even then, Ethernet was beginning to worm its way out of the server rooms and developer offices, and into the office as a whole. There were competing networking technologies, most notably Token Ring (mainly in IBM shops), and Ethernet at the time required relatively expensive coaxial cable. Many companies still thought serial terminals connected to a VAX or IBM mainframe were adequate; some had PCs for word processing and spreadsheet software (“Lotus 1-2-3,” look it up, kiddies), but the PCs still had a serial connection. You see, networking applications like email, file sharing, and (for forward-looking companies) USENET were things that ran on mainframes.

There were some good ideas going on—the serial concentrators got an Ethernet card, and DCA bought a company making a T-1 transceiver (basically a really high-speed modem that could carry data, voice calls, or any combination). The developers were also working on what amounted to an Internet router. Had executive management given it more focus, things might have been different… but what they called “networking” was only one part of the company, and the execs considered it the unimportant (if original) part. They were focused on selling a hardware/software combo that allowed a PC to emulate an IBM3270 terminal. It was an amazingly high-margin product for the PC market, and the execs had little headspace for anything up-and-coming (despite handwriting on the wall, like a declining market for IBM mainframes and chipsets that would slash the cost of the hardware component to nearly nothing).

So, the execs found a buyer, and sold the networking division to another company. Let’s call that outfit Really-Moronic (R-M), for reasons that shall soon become obvious. Long story short: there was a lot of goodwill on our part, because we felt like we were actually wanted, and they threw it down a rathole.

You see, DCA had a pretty decent benefits package. The Boy and Daughter Dearest were both born when I worked there. Wife-unit was working as well, and her benefits were on par with mine. The upshot was, “childbirth” was covered at 80% for each of us. So one package picked up 80% of the bills, and the other got 80% of the remaining 20%… which meant a $10,000 hospital bill became $400 out of pocket.

It was a good thing we had our kids before the acquisition. R-M’s healthcare package, compared to DCA’s, was terrible. I ran the numbers, and it amounted to a 7% pay cut. It didn’t help that R-M’s VP of HR (are we choking on the acronyms yet?) both misled and outright lied to us about the benefits:

  • We got yearly bonuses at DCA. When asked about that, he replied “Sure, I get a bonus.” He neglected to mention that only management got bonuses. Deliberately misleading. So on top of the 7% pay cut on the healthcare front, we lost a bonus averaging another 7% per year.
  • Asked about the healthcare package, he replied “it’s comparable to yours.” An outright lie, unless he meant “our package looks terrible by comparison,” or management had a better package.
  • They moved our office to Dunwoody, claiming it was a more central location—another lie, they chose the office to avoid building out a computer room. One of the things people liked about DCA was that exurbia had little traffic. It was an easy commute. People moved nearby to take advantage of low(er) housing costs. Dunwoody added a good half-hour or more to the commute time, each way. We shared a high-rise with a couple other companies, including AT&T. Ma Bell’s kids were really nice people, who invited us to their company BBQs and the like. Having good corporate neighbors took some of the edge off the relocation, but certainly not enough to make up for the increased commute time.

The benefits disparity had to come up during the due diligence that any company has to do when they’re buying another company (or a large part of one). Did R-M think that people would just shrug and take a pay cut on top of the overt disrespect, especially the highly-talented engineers and support staff who do the magic that makes a tech company profitable? Did they really believe that skills aren’t transferable? Or were they so arrogant that they thought it wouldn’t matter?

A round of layoffs hit. One manager, told he had to cut one person in his department, laid himself off. After that, no layoffs were needed; the talent started draining out the door. R-M made a few half-hearted efforts to stem the outflow, paying out a token one-time bonus and hiking the raises to cover some of the difference in the benefits packages. But we were still taking a significant pay cut for a longer commute, and word got back that the new owners considered us “losers and whiners.” That, as you might imagine, did nothing positive on the goodwill front.

Our boss was the first of the documentation department to depart. The new boss was several hours away (by plane), which meant we mostly managed our own affairs. We became Resume Central for the rest of the office, in between our own job hunts and departures. After a few months of searching, I hooked up with a reputable contract house and spent about a year bouncing around from place to place. R-M sank like a stone, and nobody remembers them. Ironically, the parent company retooled and is an important customer of the place I work at now. DCA also disappeared, bought by a competitor who did a better job of understanding the changing landscape.

Moral of the story: employees aren't stupid. They recognize a significant pay cut when it happens, and they recognize a lack of respect. Combine that with a robust tech job market, and you might find money you spent on that big acquisition going down the drain… and taking you (and your CEO’s reputation) with it.

Wednesday, September 05, 2018 2 comments

The Greatest Rev

Mason’s latest obsession is cars. Muscle cars, sports cars, supercars, anything with eye-popping horsepower and price tags (and insurance quotes to match). Getting in any car with him means being subjected to an endless monologue about this car or that car he’d really like to see (or own), punctuated by excited shouts as he sights a Porsche or the like. I presume he has fallen into a sea of Youtube videos. eyeroll

So I was taking him to soccer practice, and he said, “Rev it!”

“This car?” My Miata has stock exhaust, and it is in very good shape. Even if the redline is around 7000rpm, it doesn’t make all that much noise. But if I was a Sheltie in a previous life, Mason was a bulldog. “What’s the greatest rev you ever did?”

Ours was grey-green, but otherwise the same.
Source: Wikimedia Commons
“I didn’t do…” then I burst out laughing, remembering what was truly my greatest rev. I told him the story:

When I was in high school, we had a 1971 Buick Electra 225 “Deuce and a Quarter,” the car Sinbad immortalized in a comedy bit (see below). Thing was, he wasn’t exaggerating much. It was one of the last pre-gas shortage Detroit big-iron beasts, with a huge engine to match (455cid, almost 7.5l in modern measurements… over four times the displacement of my Miata!). That thing could swallow enough cargo to choke some SUVs these days, and give a full-sized RV a run for its money when it came to guzzling gas. And it could get out of its own way fully loaded, let alone carrying only a 140-pound me behind the wheel. The SOB probably could have pulled a fifth-wheel without breathing hard, if we could have found a way to hook it up.

The best memories of my high school years revolve around that car. If I get some requests in the comments, I'll tell some other stories about it, but this one is about my greatest rev.

I lived in Michigan until graduating from college. For those of you who aren’t familiar with the way they do things Up North, you can’t just put everything on hold until the snow melts; it might stick around until April after all. So you plow the roads, and throw down rock salt to melt the ice (or salt and sand, the latter to give you traction if it’s too cold for the salt to work). In quiet subdivisions, I’d gas it hard around corners in the winter—ostensibly to get practice recovering from a skid, but in reality to dick around. But I digress. The thing about salty roads, it rusts iron. Rustproofing had become a thing in the mid-70s, and Dad had it undercoated.

But that was just the chassis, not the muffler pipe. Somewhere around the summer of 1978, the salt completed seven patient winters of work, and the long stretch of pipe between the exhaust manifold and the muffler rusted through.

You’ve probably heard a Civic (or a similar car) with a modified exhaust, or some ding-a-ling just put in a straight pipe. Now, imagine the racket coming from an engine four times that size. It didn't take much revving to make that thing HEARD. Mom literally could hear us coming home from a mile away.

It had to happen, sooner or later. I dropped a friend off around midnight, in a quiet-ish Grand Rapids neighborhood, and told the land yacht to set a course for home. I tried to go slow to minimize the BLAP BLAP BLAP BLAP of the unmuzzled V8, but I got the blue lights after about two blocks. The cop wasn’t horrible about it; he wrote an R&R (Repair and Report) ticket, which meant I had a week (or two) to fix it, then take it up to the cop shop and demonstrate it was fixed.

Other Brother tried the easy route: cutting the ends off a beer can, then opening it sideways and wrapping it around the rusted-through zone (by now, the pipe had come apart). It worked! for about ten minutes, until the heat of the monster V8’s breath melted the aluminum.

I decided that since I’d gotten the R&R, it was up to me to fix it right. Somehow or another, we knew the diameter of the muffler pipe. I went to the auto parts store, bought two splices and a length of replacement pipe. I hacksaw’ed out the rusted part, plus enough to fit the replacement length, applied splices and clamps, and gave it a test. Just a hum, the way Buick intended. I took it to the cop shop, where they approved my fix. As well they should have—it outlasted the rest of the car.

And now, I will shut up and let Sinbad tell you all about the Deuce.

Sunday, June 26, 2011 3 comments

Nostalgia Trip

The Boy, like his progeny Mason, hated naps and would often fight sleep tooth and nail. But I had a secret weapon:

I had an Amiga 500 back then, and “demo” writers would compete to create the most mind-blowing graphics and sound effects that would run. You might not think it much, but remember this was running on 23-year old hardware. Amigas had special graphics and sound hardware built-in, taking the load off the CPU — the name “Wild Copper” came from the nickname of the graphics co-processor. Modern CPUs are hundreds of times more powerful these days, and don't need all the help.

Back to The Boy. At Mason’s current age, he was fascinated with “Copper,” with its spinning wireframes and scrolling text. When he needed a nap, I’d ask him “Do you want to see Copper?” and he’d sit still to watch it, sometimes bouncing to the music, until he slowly leaned back against me then turned around to fall asleep on my shoulder.

Display the video full-screen to get the full effect.

Saturday, January 16, 2010 4 comments

Spring #1, 2010

The snow is gone, the temps aren’t going below freezing past the end of the 7-day forecast, and the rain will arrive in the next couple of hours. That’s Spring #1 on Planet Georgia.

Mason granted us a late start to the three-day weekend (shhhh, don’t tell Mrs. Fetched); after a 6 a.m. breakfast call, he slept almost until 9… and so did we. That doesn’t mean we don’t have stuff to do — far from it — but a little rest is always a good thing to have before a busy day. While Mrs. Fetched (and Kobold) went to the chicken houses, and Daughter Dearest watched the micro-dude, I went out and gathered up the last of the dry wood and about half of the green wood to load up the rack in the garage. Mrs. Fetched had me scoot the rack over, in hopes that she can get someone out here to install the Freecycle Special garage door opener this week.

I'm poopin'... false alarmMason was laying on the bed just now, doing a near-perfect imitation of this LOLcat. It kind of reminded me of The Boy, back when he was about four months old…

One Sunday morning, the three of us were in the kitchen, me holding The Boy. He was in a pretty good mood, and chattering away about the state of the universe and anything else that came to mind. Then he got quiet for a moment, looked at Mrs. Fetched, and went, “Nnnnnnnnn.”

Mrs. Fetched smiled at him. “Are you loading your diaper?”

Big grin. “NNNNNNnnnnnnnnnnnnn!

As new parents, we thought that gathering up all the atomic diapers and dropping them on Iraq would have ended the war rather quickly.

Speaking of The Boy, he and Snippet are actually pulling the “moving back into the manor” string. They moved a bunch of stuff into the detached garage last night, displacing the in-laws’ four-wheeler, then went back to the apartment for the night. It’ll be nice when they’re actually here and taking care of Mason.

Mason milestones: he got a little cereal (rice) in his bottle for the first time last night. It didn’t seem to bother him, and we’re hoping it will stick with him a little longer and help him sleep through the night. All of the squats he’s been doing (not the kind above) have started to pay off: if he’s laying on the bed, and someone takes his hands, he’ll pull himself up… then if you raise his hands over his head, he’ll get his feet under him and pull himself up. I don’t think even The Boy was doing that kind of thing when he was four months old, and he was a strong baby too. I’ll get video and post it soon… my DSLR doesn’t do video, and Daughter Dearest left her Coolpix at her campus apartment, so we’ll grab a camcorder.

Three more things I want to accomplish today: 1) Now that the Christmas tree is put away, bring the Evil Exerbike back inside and start using it; 2) Make sure the new generator has gas and oil in it, and start it; 3) Make a baton for Daughter Dearest’s conducting class (I ordered her one off Amazon, and they canceled the order because they were out of stock). The latter is a fairly easy job; the hardware store has file handles that are the perfect size for a baton; all I have to do is widen the hole and glue a foot of dowel into it, then paint or stain it.

Given that Monday is a holiday, and it looks to be sunny, I’ll be cutting some firewood. I had to take the in-laws’ four-wheeler back to its usual place (after charging the battery enough to get it started), and noticed another large dead tree on the other side of the back garden. Easy access for the tractor, and there’s easily enough wood for a week or two of fire when Winter #2 arrives.

Monday, January 28, 2008 6 comments

Clocks Cleaned While You Wait

Of the places we lived when I was a kid, I guess I’d have to say the house on Sherman Street was my favorite. The back yard bordered on woods, woods that had dirt bike trails that would take us as far as a tank of gas or nerve would let us go… with maybe a couple hundred yards of scooting down public roads on an off-road vehicle. There was the crawl space under the stairs that we used for indoor camping. But most of all, the neighborhood had plenty of kids our age to hang out with. We’d have occasional snowball fights in winter (if the snow wasn’t too icy or slushy), bicycle races and water wars in summer, and hide & seek on weekend nights.

For whatever reason, I got to thinking about this water war story, and thought it might be amusing enough to share with everyone. In the early 1970s, there were no Super Soakers — a typical squirt gun had a range suitable for hand-to-hand combat, not much more. For longer range, we had grenades (water balloons) and fixed artillery (a water hose).

There were unwritten but strict rules that we observed during water wars:

1) All combat took place either in the street, or in front/back yards of combatants.

2) Adults and girls were non-combatants (the girls would have been welcome to join us had they been interested — we were 13 or 14, and they would have been in bikinis, 'nuff said). Anyone else was fair game, declared or not.

3) Cars were non-combatants, unless they belonged to an older sibling. People on bicycles were fair game — part of the fun was to run the gauntlet, after all.

There was a kid named David directly across the street from us who wasn’t really old enough to join the water fights, but he usually wanted to participate so Rule #2 applied to him. His problem was, he would want to join in, then want to quit as soon as water got anywhere near him. None of us really had a problem with him being on our “side” — we’d take him on as an extra because we knew he’d quit before he got to be a pain.

We had enough water hose to squirt most of the way across the street, so our house was pretty much the designated house for running the gauntlet on a bicycle. We’d run the gauntlet if we didn’t feel like running around with water balloons (or if everyone had run out), and that’s what we were doing this particular afternoon. David was riding around with us, fully understanding what we were doing but thinking he was somehow privileged. My brother (not Solar, the other one) was manning the hose, and I was standing next to him, having just taken a break from running the gauntlet, when David came out on his bike.

“I’m not playing now!” he yelled.

“You know the rules,” one of us yelled back. “If you’re in the war zone, we can get you.”

“No you can’t!” he yelled defiantly, and proceeded into the crossfire. Phil lobbed a water balloon and missed — but my brother’s hosing was accurate enough, and David ran inside crying to mommy. A minute later, Mrs. Smith came marching down her yard and across the street. Phil was not the brightest bulb on the string, and I could see he had a mind to introduce her to a water balloon, but he wasn’t that dumb (his brother Paul, now… fortunately, he wasn’t there).

Even though my brother was holding the water hose, Mrs. Smith chose to start screaming at me — probably because I wasn’t as openly defiant of authority as some others on the block and wouldn’t stand up for myself so much (I’ve improved in that regard, but not enough). “He knew he was going through the war zone,” my brother and some of the other guys explained. I just stood there.

“IF YOU DO THAT AGAIN, I’M GONNA CLEAN YOUR CLOCK!” she screamed, and walked away. I had a really hard time suppressing a smirk at that… and after that, whenever there were two or more of us together and she was anywhere in sight, one of us would say, “Clean your clock, Mrs. Smith” in a snarky undertone. Both we and Mrs. Smith banned David from further participation in water wars (or snowball fights) — one thing we could all agree on — but we included him in other things, sometimes to his (and our) detriment.

A year or two after that, they moved away, and Carrie the Barbarian moved in. But that’s another story.

Wednesday, December 05, 2007 6 comments

Oh, Shoot

Beth’s post about tattoos reminded me of something that happened a while back. It was 1983 or so. I had moved to Planet Georgia, but hadn’t met the (at the time) future Mrs. Fetched. I pal’ed around a lot with a guy named Terry, who lived in the same apartment complex I did and had met through a co-worker.

I’d always wanted a decent camera, and Terry was a photographer (who went pro in later years) — and so one fine summer Saturday afternoon, we went to the Wolf Camera in Atlanta and picked me out a Fujica 35mm SLR, a decent camera but not a budget buster. Naturally, we had to go break it in, so we decided to go down to Piedmont Park and photograph some… er, wildlife. (I learned later that the Atlanta Botanical Gardens were also in the park, oh well.)

We were wandering around the park, no destination in mind but enjoying the nice day. As we approached the bathhouses, we heard someone bellow, “HEY! ARE YOU GUYS PHOTOGRAPHERS?” We turned around to find, excuse me, three females that perfectly defined the stereotypical “biker chick” — stringy hair, clothes that hadn’t seen much time in the laundry, boots, unrefined manners… the works.

“Well, we’re carrying cameras, I guess that makes us photographers,” Terry said with more than a little sarcasm. I’ve never been quick-witted, and silence has perhaps saved me from more than one awkward situation in the past. He was a bit quicker than me though, which was also a good thing. Someone had to say something.

“Yeah, she wants you to take a picture of her,” the original one of the three said. “Yeah! Yeah!” said the second one. I took my cue from Terry, and we laughed them off and walked away.

But we came around the backside of the bathhouses, and there they were again. “Hey! She was serious about taking her picture. C'm'ere.” We looked at each other, shrugged, and walked over. What were they going to do in the middle of a public park, anyway?

We soon found out. “Here,” the second woman said, “take a picture of THIS!” and she hoisted her shirt. To show us an actually well-done eagle covering the top of her left breast. By the way, there was no bra to hide either the tat or the tit.

This was a unique experience, and not only because of the over-exposure — it was the first and only time I ever saw Terry at a loss for words. While I stood there gaping like a complete idiot, he managed to stammer something about release forms. “You don’t need any release forms,” she said, hoisting her shirt again. I grabbed my camera, but dropped it a split-second later (it was on a neck strap) when I realized I’d forgotten what to do with it. Somehow, we managed to extract ourselves and made for the car.

I said something about not doing well under pressure. “Just as well,” Terry said. “If we’d taken pictures, we’d have never gotten rid of them. Then they probably would have given us some unpronounceable disease.”

Some things you just don’t forget. But Beth, getting a tattoo doesn’t make someone pond scum. Now getting a large tattoo over one’s unmentionables, then displaying same in public? Hmmmm.

Sunday, August 12, 2007 8 comments

Wounded Knee and Pinball

I was about finished getting the church bulletin together this morning when Mrs. Fetched answered the phone. “Sure, he doesn’t mind,” she said. I had just been volunteered. “Yeah, you need to go to the hospital,” she continued, which gave me a pretty good idea of what I’d been volunteered for. On Thursday, she and a guy who’s been helping around the farm lately were freeing up a stuck hydraulic lift on one of the tractors. She was working a lever while he banged on something with a hammer: the hammering did the hoped-for job, the lift lifted… and turned out to be the only thing keeping the tractor stationary.

She ran for it, as one might expect, while he scrambled to hit the brakes. As it was all downhill, she quickly found herself just trying to not fall down, heading for her Workhorse (envision a jacked-up golf cart with a dump bed, that’s a Workhorse). She snagged the Workhorse on the way by it — but not knowing proper Pinball technique (more on that in a moment), she let her momentum twist her knee for her. When the pain only got worse over the weekend, it was time to have it looked at.

So I ran over to the church, copied the bulletins, then came back and packed a few essentials (laptop, writing pad, cellphone) and went to get Mrs. Fetched’s mom. We cruised down to the hospital, chatting about the garden and canning and similar topics; I dropped her off in front of the ER and they swooped in with a wheelchair while I went to park. Hospitals, even ERs, being what they are, I had no trouble catching up. (Before we left, Mrs. Fetched advised me, “Don’t be afraid to follow her in to the doctor’s.” I thought, “Yeah, but if the clothes start coming off I’m GONE!”) They looked it over, X-rayed it, wrapped a couple of ace bandages around it, and notified her orthopedist. I could have done the bandages thing and saved her insurance (and Medicare) a good bit of $$$.

For future reference, I told her about Pinball and how to prevent wrenched knees (or ankles). This was a game we used to play at Michigan Tech. The terrain there is much like here — rocky and steep. Pinball is when you go running full-tilt-boogie down a hill and bounce off of trees (by pushing off them) to maintain a controllable speed. You can “hook” a tree that’s about 4 to 6 inches in diameter (smaller and it bends too much, larger and you can’t get a good grip on it) and lift your feet off the ground. This spins you to the downhill side, at which point you let go; your forward (downhill) momentum is mostly gone and you just drop. In her case, I would have hooked the Workhorse and got my feet off the ground, let it spin me around, and I would have been able to stop.

Pinball left us with sore (or numb) hands, but we were young and they healed quickly. The last time I played was when The Boy was about 5; we’d gone up to Rainey Mountain for a Cub Scout campout. Somehow, we missed the group hike up to the top, so we decided to go on our own. On the way back down, he started whining and saying “I’m scared.” After a couple of minutes, I looked at him and said, “What are you scared about? You climb stuff like this all the time!”

“I’m scared you’re gonna get hurt.”

“Son… I appreciate your concern, but let me show you a game we used to play in college.” He watched me bounce off a couple of trees and hook one to stop, and looked at me like I was crazy.

Sunday, April 01, 2007 8 comments

The Joke’s on Me

MegabytePet photography can be… frustrating. I learned that a long time ago (dang, has it really been 24 years?). Megabyte (age 11 months at the time), was in a mellow mood for a change, so I thought it would be cute to get him to pose for a portrait. Getting him to hold still for five seconds, though, turned out to be difficult. He would put his paw down, or stretch, or come over to see what I was doing with the camera. I persisted, though, and finally got the shot.

And what does he do but STICK HIS TONGUE OUT????

Friday, March 30, 2007 6 comments

Self-Defense for Bicyclists

Jack at Tallpoppy, a commuting cyclist, writes:

Texas just expanded the legitimacy of deadly force to include vehicles and workplaces. [...] You're allowed to use deadly force to protect yourself in your vehicle. Regular readers should be able to spot where I'm heading with this.

Picture it: you're cycling down the road at a good clip, and some oncoming idiot swerves to force you into the ditch, laughing as you're forced off the road and they drive off secure in their metal cocoon. Previously, you'd have had to content yourself with getting their license plate number. Now you can just pull a .45 loaded with hollowpoints out of your jersey pocket and blow the little fucker's head off (while taking care to ensure that their uncontrolled car does not cause an accident) as soon as they start swerving towards you.

Oh, I'm sure there will be weasel words in the bill about being in fear of your life, but that's the beauty of it: on a bike, most of the inconsiderate or malicious stuff that drivers can do does put you in fear of your life. So they've just given us carte blanche to strap a Glock to the top tube.

Ah, such lovely thoughts bring back the days of my youth. After my fourth year of college (a mid-stream change of majors cost me an extra year), I was offered a summer job at what was then Sperry-Univac in Roseville, MN (a suburb of Minneapolis-St. Paul). It didn’t hurt that Michigan Tech had Univac mainframes at the time; I was already familiar (as a user) with their products. Like many college students in 1981, I was financing my education partly through scholarships, largely through parental help, and partly through summer jobs and part-time jobs on campus. The occasional short-term loan, financed by the college for the college, smoothed out cash flow bumps. Thus, my mindset upon arriving in Minneapolis in my beat-to-hell '66 Rambler was “find somewhere cheap to live.”

After turning down the absolute-cheapest option, a filthy unfurnished upstairs room in a house full of drug-addled hippies (they literally talked like Cheech y Chong) for $50/month, I found a furnished one-room apartment on Aldridge, just off West Broadway and close to the river, for $140/month. That part of town was kind of on the edge at the time — two blocks north, it was pretty nice; two blocks south were slums. But the location was good; it was less than six miles from the office, and grocery stores and restaurants were only a couple of blocks away.

In addition to my Rambler, I brought along my old Schwinn Continental 10-speed — a good move for a summer in Minneapolis, which was bike-friendly years before many other cities. I lived in a “walkable” (if seedy) part of town, within biking distance of my job, and I was trying to save money, so I used the Schwinn pretty heavily for that three months. In the 5.5 miles between the apartment and office were 17 traffic lights, and I found it took 20 minutes to make the commute by car and 25 by bicycle. The 30- to 40-mile weekend rides were fun — Mom accused me of not exploring the city, since I didn’t know where the good restaurants were, but I saw quite a bit of it atop the Schwinn.

Although there were bike trails running all over town, mostly between the parks, West Broadway was somewhat less bike-friendly and heavily travelled during rush hour. Trying to be the considerate person I was raised to be (not to mention the natural self-preservation drive), I stayed as close to the curb as I could for most of the trip. However, there were a couple of narrow spots and had some fairly close brushes.

Then one day, I had an idea. Instead of wrapping the heavy chain that I used to keep the bike secure (this was a seedy part of town, remember) around the seat post, I simply doubled it up and draped it over my neck. Suddenly, I found drivers giving me plenty of room. It was like having my own bike lane, even in the narrowest spots. It seems I wasn’t the only person on the road concerned with self-preservation: I could have easily caught any miscreants at the next light and given them what-for.

The chain may also have kept me out of a fight one morning: a local bus got “caught” behind me, right at Aldridge and West Broadway. I crossed Aldridge at the light, but the bus was unable to get through. As I was waiting for the light to let me across Broadway, a guy jumped off the bus and started screaming at me — I don’t remember anything he said, but his demeanor was totally at odds with his business attire. I said nothing, just watched him as he continued his tirade… but when he stepped into the street toward me, I pulled the chain off my neck. He stepped back quickly, and continued to scream at me until I got the green light and rode away.

So Jack’s thought about “[strapping] a Glock to the top tube” is not quite the right way to go about it — my own experience suggests that displaying weaponry is key. A Glock should be stuffed in the back of one’s riding shorts, with the grip protruding and very visible. Perhaps a shoulder holster would be more secure, with the gun hung on the back. This would probably work even in locales where self-defense isn’t an explicit right — the whole point is to not get run off the road in the first place, and visible weaponry is perhaps the best deterrent.

I hope commuting cyclists will try this out and report back on how well it works.

Friday, November 10, 2006 2 comments

The Luxury Outhouse

In the comments on my previous post, Family Man said, “I have to keep saying, you can't go wrong with an outhouse.” While an outhouse had crossed my mind while writing the post, I didn’t remember my experience with the world’s most luxurious outhouse until I saw his comment.

Many years ago, Other Brother was looking for a particular motorcycle — to be precise, a Yamaha TDM650 — and searching the net, he found one for sale in my area of all things. I agreed to go have a look, and got directions from the seller. Since it was a nice day, and Big Zook (a Suzuki GS1000G that’s currently waiting for me to fix it) was in a reasonable mood, I decided to ride over there.

Climbing the longest, steepest driveway I think I’ve ever seen, I rolled up to a pretty nice-looking place. The couple who owned the house (and the bike) were outside, probably enjoying the day as much as waiting for me. They were both motorcycle people, so when I rolled up on the Zook, everyone was inclined to like each other. They showed me the sale bike (which was in very good shape) as well as an impressive collection of vintage and modern bikes packing a three-car garage. We chatted for quite a while until we’d run out of things to talk about, and I asked about using the bathroom before I left.

“The outhouse is over there,” she said, pointing to a structure next to the house, that I’d assumed was either part of the house or a tool shed. It was sided with rough planks, stained a dark brown, and had a tin roof. Not needing more than that, I thanked them and ambled over. The door was my first surprise: it was a real door instead of a piece of wood on hinges. Inside, the outhouse was nearly the size of my outbuilding (which is about 10x16 feet, and has no plumbing). It had a toilet bowl and seat, obviously made for outhouse use, and was decorated nicely. A covered area off to the side could have been a hot tub. There was a small bookshelf with plenty of reading material (motorcycle-related and otherwise). The business I had to do didn’t required sitting down, but I nearly sat down anyway just to take it all in.

Like any outhouse, it was well-ventilated. Unlike most outhouses, it was electrified, didn’t smell, and all the vents were screened to minimize bugs. There was also a fan that probably served both to cool the place off on hot days and to pull the odors out. I presume there was room for a kerosene heater in winter, if they continued to use it. Alas, these were the days before digital cameras, and I didn’t carry my 35mm point&shoot around with me.

I suppose if we built an outhouse, it would be something like that. Mrs. Fetched would settle for nothing less.

Friday, October 27, 2006 No comments

Rodent Death

B1-66er has a rat problem, perhaps brought on by too many years of not cleaning up his apartment. He has, as part of his rat extermination project, decided to clean his place up. Cleaning up is a good idea, but sometimes it's easier to just take what you want with you and leave, burning the place down behind you. On that other hand, that’s probably not a good way to either endear B1 to his landlord or get his security deposit back.

Mice I've had to deal with. Large fields & woods mice, mind you, but still mice. Rats, not so often — they like to hang out at the chicken houses, since there's fresh meat on the hoof and it's an evil place anyway. I've killed the little SOBs with snap traps, well-thrown shoes, poison, water, (the Natural Way) cats & dogs, winter, and hand-to-hand combat — sticks, shovels, a hammer — whatever is hefty, swingable, and available.

Details follow. If you’re not the kind of person who enjoys stories about Chicken House Hell, you probably want to skip this entry.

The latest one was when I was removing copper pipe from under the house, part of the old heating system, decommissioned under the previous owners. Except for the area where the water heater (and the old oil-based boiler for the registers) live, under the master bedroom, the rest of the basement is one big crawl space. The entire crawl space area is covered with plastic sheet to form a vapor barrier (which incidentally keeps water leaks from making musty smells). To make a long story short, as I was getting started, I put my hand down on the plastic and felt it squirming under my hand. I snatched my hand back, and could see a largish shadow crawling away under the plastic. Since a hammer was in reach, I grabbed it and started whacking. Hearing a satisfying squeal of pain, I whacked it once more and got to work.

Before I moved to FAR Manor and became FARfetched, I was Dirt Road, living in an extended double-wide in the woods, nearly 1/2 mile from the nearest pavement. I caught plenty of large-ish mice with a pair of snap traps, those that got through the perimeter patrolled by two cats and a dog. The mice were a bit too big for regular mouse traps, but an out-and-out rat trap would have really made a mess. The bail would come down and hit the mouse, not cleanly across the neck, but along the back of the skull — still a fatal blow, but one that would make their nasty little eyes bug out somewhat. I often found the traps upside-down and/or moved up to a foot away. Often, the skull would pinch the bail, making it hard to shake the dead rodent loose without touching it.

So one night, Mrs. Fetched and I were wakened by a POP. “What was that?” she said.

“Rodent death. The mouse trap just went off.”


“And what’s that?”

“I think he’s flopping around in the trap.”

“Gross!” she cried. “Do something with it!”

We walked into the kitchen and flipped the light on. The mouse, whose size approached that fuzzy grey line separating “large mouse” from “small rat,” treated us to one final twitch and expired. A small pool of blood lay several inches from the trap; probably shot from its exploded eye. “YUCK!” opined Mrs. Fetched, and fled the scene while I cleaned off the floor and shook the mouse off the bail out back.

Yes, I said “winter” was one of the tools I’ve used to deal Rodent Death. I learned that there can be worse things than a mouse inside: there can be a mouse under the house who scratches the floor joists under your bed while you’re trying to sleep at night. It stayed fairly warm under the double-wide all winter, probably helped by the occasional leak in the heating ductwork. This was January 2000, and the storm we called “Ice2K” knocked out power on a Monday and kept it knocked out for 5-1/2 days all told. Having learned a little something from the 1993 blizzard, we had a generator and I ran it for an hour or two every month to keep it from gumming up. The Boy and I hoisted it onto the back deck and we ran extension cords through the back door and into the house. We had lights, radio, and an electric space heater — but the furnace outlet we’d found some time back and noted for future use had disappeared. Fortunately, we had plenty of firewood (another thing we learned from ’93) and could keep the living room and kitchen warm. But not the space under the house.

Thursday brought two significant events: the joist-scratcher gave up the ghost and it occurred to me to have a look at the furnace control box. Finding a schematic conveniently printed on the back side of the control box cover, I chopped off the female end of a long extension cord and spliced the wires into the furnace. I plugged it into the gennie, and was immediately rewarded with the hisssss-whoomp of a live furnace. Hooray — warm house and no more mouse. That kept us going until Saturday morning, when the power came back on.

Sometimes, you get lucky. One night, I heard a rustling noise come from a paper sack, along with a frustrated squeak. I quickly closed up the top of the sack and took it outside, shaking it a bit to disorient the prisoner and get Megabyte’s attention. Megabyte was my fat cat, a brown-mackerel and white pattern I learned to call it, and he watched with interest as I laid the sack on the ground and opened the top. Out shot the mouse, and Megabyte took it from there.

At Chicken House Hell, there are real rats, albeit with short tails. Like B1’s new friend kind of rats. There are mice too, but rats make for easier targets for a swung stick or shovel. But most of the time, the in-laws’ myriad dogs are around to do the job. I missed this particular episode personally, but Mrs. Fetched told me all about it. Duke, the alpha dog, trapped a rat and it bit back — latching onto Duke’s lip and taking a wild ride, getting flung and spun every which way before Duke got his own teeth into the situation. That usually doesn’t happen; the dogs get the better of the rats much more quickly and cleanly on average.

Of course, deterrent is better than war. Mrs. Fetched hasn’t grasped that; either that or she would rather have mice in the house than cats. But there’s nothing like a cat (or a terrier, if you’re a dog person) for issuing a warning. Only the most desperate or foolish rodents hang around where they can smell something bred to hunt them.

Saturday, August 12, 2006 3 comments

FARfetched Faith Healing

I got a new power brick for my iBook the other day, and the new battery should be shipped as soon as I resolve a credit card issue with the vendor. All the fun I’ve been having with my computers lately makes this an appropriate time to tell this story.

My first encounter with a Mac was 1985, when we replaced our VT100-clone terminals (connected to a VAX) with “Fat Macs.” Those were the ones with a whopping 512K of RAM, a seemingly-extravagent amount of memory for those times. The trend of the time was decentralization — throwing off the tyranny of IT (which was “MIS” in those days) and taking care of our own needs. I’ll write more about our motivations, and the trade-offs we accepted, some other time.

As I’ve said in the past, my relationship with the Mac was not exactly love at first sight — while I loved having “my own computer,” I chafed at its limitations and propensity to crash. But it was new territory, and I forged ahead to see what it could do. Sometimes, being a day ahead can make all the difference between the “Mac Guru” and the befuddled co-worker.

I’m not sure when the spooky stuff started. First, I would figure out a pattern of non-intuitive clicks and keystrokes that would untangle a snarled program — normal enough for a button-pusher. But then, problems would go away as soon as I touched the keyboard. Then it started happening when I talked to the “owner” on the phone. But the craziest thing was when people told me they could get things working right by threatening to call me!

I’m a fairly rational guy, for being a Christian. I believe that there is an order to things, even to the supernatural — but I also believe we haven’t quite nailed down the natural order, and don’t have a clue about the supernatural. So I’ll admit that it made me a little uncomfortable when touching a computer, or someone invoking my name over it, would make it start working right. But time went on and I found other work, at a place where IT didn’t need a faith-healer, and it became a joke of sorts.

So a few years back, the people that eventually became our renters asked me to check out their daughter’s computer. It was an early Pentium-based Aptiva, with “soft” power (like many computers nowadays, it can be turned on or off by software). So I came by, and the daughter showed me the computer. Sure enough, it wouldn’t power on. I disconnected everything and pulled the cover off, thinking I might find a blown fuse. Not finding one, I told the kid, “Sometimes you can just lay hands on the motherboard” — doing so — “and say, ‘BE HEALED!’” She laughed. Then I plugged everything in, hit the power button, and it started right up.

“You weren’t kidding!” she gasped. She was almost as surprised as I was. (Most likely, unplugging the power allowed the startup circuitry to reset, and I told her that.)

What allows me to laugh it all off — even when I recently learned that people still use my name to make their computers straighten up — is that it doesn’t seem to work on my own gear. Then again, when I have a problem, it tends to be a big one — often requiring a new power supply, or rebuilding the hard drive. Maybe it’s a case of the shoemaker’s children going barefoot. Or maybe God is just reminding me that I’m really not all that.

Saturday, July 01, 2006 2 comments

Uncle John

Family Man posts a lot of great stories; today’s was about The Hay Field. It reminded me of a story about Uncle John, a colorful character who is the genesis of many family stories. Uncle John was the oldest of my dad’s brothers, has been a farmer all his life, and... shall we say, has a bit of a temper. I actually saw him go toe-to-toe with an uncooperative horse once, and the horse decided to cooperate.

But Family Man wrote about his experiences in a hay field, so the first story is one my dad told me about a hay field. He and Uncle John were getting ready to bale some hay — it was cut and dry and ready to go. So just as they started, it started to rain (and as Family Man said, that’s not good news). So Uncle John raised his face and his fist to the sky and started cussing the rain — and it stopped. He cussed it right back into the sky.

In his later years, he developed diabetes and lost circulation in his legs. They amputated one leg, and then the other some time later. So he’s laying in the hospital bed after the second amputation and a male nurse came in to get some information. He asked about name, address, date of birth, then said, “How tall are you?”

“I don’t know,” Uncle John replied. “The doctor didn’t tell me how much he cut off.” The nurse got so flustered he walked out. He gets around pretty well with prosthetics and a walker — he needs a little help getting on and off his tractor, but he’s fine once he’s in the seat.

His farm is 105 acres in southwest Michigan, in an area that’s turned into a bedroom community for several of the nearby cities, and the subdivisions have grown up all around him. He just keeps on doing his thing. Every once in a while, developers come by and ask him if he’s willing to sell his place; his response usually boils down to, “Get your @!&$##& #$!@!! the $&#@&! off my property!”

Old farmers can be among the most stubborn folks on God’s green earth.

Thursday, August 11, 2005 3 comments

Chicken House Hell: Your #1 Fan

Warning: Any post on this blog with “Chicken House Hell” in the title is not for the squeamish. You have been warned.

My in-laws, not a mile from here, have four poultry houses. One of the nice things about having a mostly anonymous blog is that I can write about family stuff and nobody is the wiser. Anyway, the chicken houses have unfortunately come to stand for much of what I don't like about life at FAR Manor. I believe that Hell is much like a chicken house: hot, filthy, crowded, noisy. Of my so-called “vacation” so far, 3 out of 4 days have involved at least some time in the chicken houses.

Long ago, I had a personal website (that probably would have been a blog if there were blogs back then) where I kept a series of “Chicken House Hell” stories. Like this one, they were rather graphic and distasteful — but you need to remember, these are the lowlights rather than everyday occurrences, from the perspective of one totally jaded by anything that happens in there. Today was a perfect example.

This time of year, it's rather important to keep the houses cool so the chickens don't overheat. To that end, each house has roughly 25 fans, about 4 feet across and turned by 1HP electric motors. The fans that aren't direct-drive have a fan belt, which require occasional maintenance and replacement to keep them turning. Some of the other natural shocks (literally) that fans are heir to include cut electrical cords and broken thermostats. All of the above were true today — and anything I want to get done, vacation or no, immediately goes by the wayside when the chicken houses need attention.

Preparing to splice a cord that got cut, I had to walk out to the Barge and get some tools and supplies (i.e. a knife, a stripper, electrical tape and wire nuts). Walking along the wall, I heard behind me a BANGsqueeeeeee — not a sound I'd ever heard before. Whirling around to see what happened, I rather wished I hadn't: a chicken had jumped into the fan directly behind me, jamming it. I jumped over there and quickly unplugged it to prevent the motor from burning up. The chicken was at the 10-o'clock position, except for some guts on the bottom of the fan housing and a wing on the floor. I suspect it was killed instantly... at least it didn't suffer.

But I did. I gave the fan a turn, and the chicken dropped to the floor as Instant Chicken Soup. Some guts were still in the path of the fan, so I left it to finish the electrical job. Afterwards, I got a bucket and stick, scooped the remains into the bucket, then plugged the fan back in. It started immediately, seemingly none the worse for wear (fortunately).

Friday, July 29, 2005 No comments

Dog 1, Squirrel 0

Current music: Audible Experience with Kinetica – Orbital Grooves Radio

This actually happened some time B. B. (Before the Blog), but it's still amusing. It concerns one of our dogs, a highly-energetic Austrian Shepard mix named Buster. I call him Buster T. Butthead. In absolute terms, he's a moron. He's a dog. I repeat myself. But in dog terms, he's been known to display some smarts and even wit at times.

There was the time, for example, when he was lazing in his plastic doghouse when I came out to toss some peelings down into the woods. The back of the doghouse was facing me, so I veered over there and drummed on the roof. He came shooting out with a "What?!? What?!?" look. I laughed and walked on to toss the peelings. I heard a thumping noise, and turned around to find he'd turned the doghouse to face the garage; he had a big doggie grin that as much as said, "You won't catch me like that again!"

We usually keep him tethered to a 40-foot run in a shady area out back, letting him loose on occasion for a few days — until he forgets why he's been tied up and starts destroying the landscaping — then he goes back on the tether. During one of the tethered periods, a squirrel started coming out of the woods to visit him. The squirrel figured out, fairly quickly, that Butthead could only go so far and would stand just outside that line (kind of like in those Foghorn Leghorn cartoons) and chatter at him, just to tease him. Butthead would charge him, getting caught on the tether at the last moment. Then when he wasn't watching, the squirrel would run past him and go up the tree.

So one day, the wife let Butthead loose and watched him. He ran around for a while, then went back down to his doghouse and laid down like he was on the tether. Sure enough, here comes the squirrel. Butthead jumped up like he was on the leash, and the squirrel hopped back to the (supposedly) safe line. He stood up to watch the fun, but this time the dog just... kept... coming. She said the squirrel had about half a second to look surprised before it was All Over. Butthead carried the corpse around front and deposited it.

Since I'm at the office all day, I had no clue this stuff was going on. I didn't know about it until I saw the dead squirrel next to the driveway. That's the only time I've ever heard of a dog plotting to nail a critter.


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