Monday, May 31, 2010

The Indianapolis 500 - 2010

A Personal Photographic Travelogue And Some Observations. Part One.

This year our Indy 500 base of operations was relocated from the far north central side near Carmel to downtown Indianapolis, just one block from Monument Circle. Say what you will about Indianapolis, this great little city is doing just fine, thank you. Beating the Bears in the SuperBowl sure helps shut up the big city sport media elitists with their big city provincialism. But I digress.

No other city in the world hosts a one day sporting event this large.

Fine hotels, restaurants and sports bars are abundant and within walking distance of downtown Indy. Friday night we walked to a pizza place called Bazbeaux.

It wasn’t bad but not up to my jaded pizza standard. They have a few locations including Carmel and the original located in Letterman’s latently hip hometown Indianapolis neighborhood enclave known as Broad Ripple, which is a bit too trendy for me. Broad Ripple has it’s own youthful Midwestern counter-culture edge it’s just not my style. We avoid it.

Did you ever wonder why young tattooed and pierced individuals work in the foodservice business? Maybe nobody else will hire them but it creeps me out to have my food brought to me by young adults with bolts sticking out of their eyebrows and poorly executed tattoos everywhere but on their eyelids. Oh well. It’s their life.

On Saturday we went to our traditional 500 weekend Saturday morning breakfast haunt one block off Meridian St. because they serve margaritas and burritos at 8am.

The food is acceptable and affordable and we have a ball. It’s called Acapulco Joe’s. We usually have a cocktail tailgate before (sure, it’s odd for a parade) and after, just because. Hey, this weekend is one huge party - don’t ask, don’t tell. Harold drove his pickup with the bro three blocks just to haul the goodies, lawn chairs and libations from the hotel to a parking lot across the street from Aca Joe’s. Whatta’ couple of great guys.

There were no surprises during the parade except the heat. I parked my butt at the usual location on the NE corner of Meridian and Vermont facing west because the lighting was just right for photos. Two separate individuals performing in bands collapsed right in front of us due to the heat. Think about this, wearing a dark, wool marching band uniform while blowing a horn can cause heat exhaustion within a mile or so. Who knew? They were both assisted by professionals and all turned out well.

Governor Mitch was there riding his Harley-Davidson with the Indiana state flag painted on the tank. You will hear a lot more about his stellar record as Indiana governor within the next two years. My Man, Mitch!

Most folks along the route aren’t too loud and I have a special way of getting participants to look my way for a photo. Mitch obliged.

So did drivers like Tony Kananne.

Tony kicked real a$$ during the race this year. TK began in last position and at one time challenged the lead. IF he had a fast car, who knows? He has my respect as a very skilled and gutsy driver. He owned the crowd that day.

Hey, there’s Dan Weldon.

My pick to win for past two years was Dan but second was the best he could do. Twice. He won the big one once. I sure like that Brit. Maybe because he resembles my son so much.

Even the spoiled rotten brat looked at me for a shot after I called her out.

Man, did she get boo’d during the parade. Last weekend she was caught on the track loudspeakers after a qualifying session claiming her car was crap and the crew sucked (in so many words). Since then she went from Indy 500 sweetheart to spoiled brat beeyatch. What a fool. She went from curiosity to b!tch in one race.

Here’s Vitor. Stay off the wall this year, buddy? For once? Huh?

And then there’s Mario. He’s the Godfather of racing. I can still smell the garlic from my spot on the street.

Helio, HEY! Good luck, man. Heh. And take Penske with you back to Miami. K?

This one was fun, the Baja Men of Who Let The Dogs Out one-hit wonder fame.

I’m a big fan of motorsports and the Indy 500 event is the biggest and the best motorsports has to offer. On Memorial Day weekend there is no other place I would rather be.

More to come.

Monday Morning Blues

Well, not today. We've got more important things to think about.

Sunday, May 30, 2010

Urban Wildlife

Dan does a better job than me trying to describe urban wild life.  I try to keep my eye open from time to time.  On the upper left you can see that a Canadian Goose has laid their eggs on one of the abandoned piers in the Chicago River.  On the upper right I was kind of cheating because they had Crayfish in a tub outside Heaven on Seven and I couldn't resist the photo.  A rabbit kind of hopped across a pot hole filled parking lot, and a duck was in a pond in my parent's backyard out in the Chicago suburbs.

On a funnier note my brother said that there are Great Horned Owls, coyotes, and wild turkeys in his suburban yard.  Apparently the turkeys are SUPER dumb and they kept going on some guy's porch and attacking their reflecting image in a door knocker.  Oh well.

Saturday, May 29, 2010

The Future of Illinois Football

The Big Ten meetings were last week at a hotel somewhere in Chicagoland and the topic of expansion is hot, hot, HOT. I would like to take a few minutes to discuss Big Ten expansion and what it might mean for Illinois, as well as where I think Illinois football is going in general.

It seems like it has been a decade since our glorious run to the Rose Bowl, when USC crushed us like the Big Ten pretender that we were that year. But alas, it has only been three years. My how the mighty have fallen.

Ron Zook inherited our football program that was absolutely wrecked by none other than Ron Turner and turned it around in three years, only to see us not make a bowl since. Sigh. I will give Ron the benefit of the doubt as I know how f*cked the Illini were but Ron doesn't get the benefit for too much longer. It will be interesting to see how the team performs this year with a new offensive and defensive coordinator. As an aside, our new OC is from Arkansas, an SEC team - I bet he dropped over when he saw the level of talent he was dealing with at Illinois vs. a team from the SEC.

I would like to add that it was refreshing to see the Illini can their OC after ONE year when it was obvious that he was performing dismally. I remember some of our early season games talking to myself and saying "what the f1ck is going on out there - they are hiking the ball and just running all over the field?". My wife probably heard me say this a thousand times last year. Contrast the sudden and quick canning of the Illinois OC to the BEARS who let Ron Turner languish in the OC position for years and years (TWICE) calling the same stupid plays over and over and over. But I digress (painfully).

I have been bagging on Wisconsin the last decade or so for their out of conference joke schedule, but it appears I am the dunce in this thing. Wisco typically has at least three cupcakes that they bring into Camp Randall for a thrashing year after year (this year it will be at UNLV, San Jose St. and Austin Peay). Illinois out of conference this year has only one cupcake, Southern Illinois. So who is smarter? Wisco for going to a bowl game every year with their wins or Illinois doing the "right thing" and playing a tougher schedule but going 3-9 consistently? It isn't just the bowl game itself that is important, you get the extra practices in the time until your bowl game, and the exposure on national TV as well. I have to hand it to my close personal friend Barry Alvarez, the easy wins are the way to go. But it is coming at a greater expense dollar wise, as the cupcake teams are demanding more money to get pounded by the big boys. At the end of the year, when the bowl bids come out, the out of conference schedule no doubt hurts Wisco, but it would be nice to be there unlike the Illini are on a standard basis.

But the cupcake victories don't hurt Wisco that badly. The Big Ten has bowl games locked in for pretty much anyone who can manage to pull off a .500 season and where you go to play will only vary up or down one "tier" of bowl depending on who the individual bowl committees want at their game. Wisco has boatloads of adoring fans who will travel with them wherever they go, probably only matched by Ohio State, Penn State and Michigan. So the Illini, to stop being a pernnial doormat in football, need to schedule the cupcakes - but, as usual, what the f1ck do I know.

Now, expansion talk. The conference has been talking about adding at least one more team for a loooong time now. The obvious choice is Notre Dame, but the Irish seem to treasure their independence as relates to their football program. But their other teams all play in the Big East, a schlock conference by any standard in everything except hoops, and even that is on the wane. So you never know.

A more likely scenario has the Big Ten picking up three teams to bring it to 14 and splitting the conference up into two divisions, and then having a championship game, just like the SEC, Big 12 and others do. The three that I can see joining are Mizzou (a natural), Rutgers (New York TV market) and one more, that I can't put my finger on. I have heard Nebraska floated around, and that fits with a great natural rivalry with Iowa, but not much else. Is Nebraska even a decent school? I guess it really doesn't matter as long as they bring the $$.

One other scenario that I have heard floated is that the Big Ten picks up FIVE teams for a total of 16, including TEXAS and that makes the Big Ten a super conference that could rival the SEC in terms of revenue and recruiting. This would be totally crazy but you never know.

In the more realistic three team pickup or five team super conference, this is all very, very bad news for my beloved Illini as far as football is concerned. We already can't beat the crap teams in the Big Ten (and lose to Mizzou every single year), and now you would be adding teams like Nebraska, Rutgers, or (god forbid) Texas into the mix? Cripes they would all pound us into the dirt on a regular basis unless something insane changes in the level of talent we get at Illinois, and fast.

While Big Ten expansion is great for the conference, and may raise the level of talent that we get at Illinois, it won't help us at all getting to a crap bowl since the other teams will have elevated talent as well.

In the end, I guess I will have to be happy with the occasional bowl game appearance every decade or so, and a once-in-a-while surprise victory over a favored opponent and just take my lumps.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

River North Architecture Tour

Recently I went on a River North architecture tour in Chicago.  The tour was sponsored by the Chicago Architecture Foundation and cost $15 / each for non-members, which was money well spent.  Here is a link to the tour.

The tour started near St. James cathedral at Rush and Huron (upper right, photo).  This church was constructed right before the Great Chicago Fire of 1871.  The center, middle photo shows the tower on the right that survived the fire; you can see the damage to the stones.  On the lower left you can see the Episcopal center for the St. James cathedral built in a modernist style; this was almost torn down during the great real estate boom but it survived and now is probably safe for a few years since construction has come to a standstill.  Driehaus Capital Management helped greatly with the neighborhood, and the top photo shows their headquarters.  The bottom center photo is a classic car in their courtyard and the Driehaus museum features a prominent building from an early baron with immense stone walls in an attempt to make it fireproof.

The upper left shows one of the classic water towers designed to fight fires; they are working on it with the awful frog from the Rainforest Cafe roof in front.  The top building houses Maggianos in River North, which was one of the first restaurant / building uses in the neighborhood, designed to attract people into the neighborhood when it was frankly skid row.  The developer who did this, Friedman Properties, owns a vast number of buildings in the neighborhood and was instrumental in building it up.  I recommend going to the company web site where they have a company newsletter on all the changes in the area and an interview with the founder.  Other buildings of note include one with odd green stone, the Dana Hotel (on the lower left) with the modernist front and exposed concrete back (note the "diving board" on the top, too); that cool triangular building in the lower middle, and the Excalibur nightclub which used to house the historical society on the lower left (the first one burned down, so they tried to make it fireproof).

On the upper left you can see the brand new Friedman Property at 353 N Clark, home to lots of law firms and the like.  The famous Harry Caray's building used to be a varnish company, and has very distinctive architecture dating from the late 1800's.  The block on the lower left is all buildings from the late 1890's from famous architects, none of which are protected.  The lower, center picture is from the bar English, which has a unique Art Deco front in splashy colors which is very rare in Chicago - it also dates from the late 1890's when apparently they widened LaSalle street.  This building is protected and it is a bustling bar.  On the lower right is the Powerhouse, which used to house cable cars and horses, but is now another night club.

Moving towards the lake, you can see the famous Tree Studios (upper left) which were dedicated to the artists and in the lower right you can see the entrance, with a face of the judge who funded the original building above the door.  In the lower middle is the famous AMA building, with the cut out.  Per the tour the AMA used to own lots of land in River North and when it started getting bad in the 1950's and 1960's their idea of urban renewal was to tear down the older buildings and leave a parking lot; apparently they became one of the biggest land owners during the era due to that strategy.  On the lower left you can see the Court House building, which used to house the Chicago courts, but was turned by Friedman Properties into a building for lawyers and small businesses in the creative arts.  The Medinah Temple is on the upper right, which was turned into a Bloomingdales home business, and it is highly recommended that you walk around in there if you are touring Chicago.

Cross posted at Chicago Boyz

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Meanwhile, On The South Side Of Chicago...

Yesterday was an odd day on Lake Michigan. It was very hot inland but being on the water was pleasantly cool. We knew fishing was reported to be poor but went out anyway for a leisurely boat ride and some sightseeing. The lake was smooth as glass. It was a day when even the smallest boat was safe on what can, at times, be a very dangerous body of water.

We launched at the Hammond Marina next to the big Horseshow Casino. From there we went up to Calumet Harbor to find some perch. Nothing. We headed out to a navigational bouy out in open water that holds fish at times. Nothing there. We got the boat up to speed and headed to East Chicago. Nope. No fish, no boats, nothing but a twenty mile boat ride on a nice day on the water. No regrets.

After a few hours we headed in and hauled out the boat. It was noon, we didn't catch anything but felt like eating some fish. So I suggested we head over to Calumet Fisheries. That's the Chicago Skyway Bridge in the background behind the shack.

Calumet Fisheries is on the bank of the channel that leads to Calumet Harbor where the big ships travel from Lake Michigan to load and unload. It is on the southwest corner of the 95th bridge. You’ve seen the bridge, it’s the one the Blues Brothers jumped in their old Chrysler squad car at the beginning of the movie.

This place reminds me of many small fried shrimp and fish takeout shacks that dotted Northwest Indiana and Chicago’s far south side back in the early 60’s.

This fish shack has been there for decades. Oddly, a month or so ago they won an esteemed James Beard Award.

Inside the walls have photos of the Bluesmobile jump with autographs. A poster of Anthony Bourdain is posted as well. He was there a few years ago and filmed a segment for No Reservations.

CF is famous for smoked salmon and chubs and it’s takeout only. I saw fried smelt on the menu so I went for it. Not a wise choice. The smelt was fishy and tough. I've had better.

But I’ll be back another day for more salmon and chubs. It's a hidden treasure.

Friday, May 21, 2010

Ten Things We Can’t Live Without?

A most interesting and subsequently amusing news item appeared on the yahoo landing page this morning. It is entitled “Ten Things We Can’t Live Without”. It would have been better if titled “Ten Things We Can’t Live Without-That We Don’t Really Need”.

Before reading the piece I first thought of my own ten things I can’t live without to see how they compared. Then I clicked in to find one thing, and I mean only one thing on the list matched mine and that’s pets.

Here’s their list (cough):
-Portable Computers
-High-Speed Internet Access
-Smart Phones
-Music Downloads

Not too shallow, is it?

You really MUST READ the piece to see the sad plight of a jobless and homeless young woman with her needs for survival that proceeds these ten must have items and try not to laugh.

I hold POP culture, the mainstream media and Hollywood slime responsible if life sucks so bad that all you need are high-tech material items and stimulants as things we can't live without. It’s a generational issue as well. In my day we enjoyed booze, movies, pets and stereo systems but never did I think I could not live with out any one of them.

In retrospect, here are my 10 things that I truly cannot live without.

#10) The Outdoors. My manifestation of freedom is deeply rooted in experiencing the outdoors as much as possible. It can be on a lake with a fishing rod in my hands or on a cropline pretending to be a tree with a shotgun waiting for that big buck or gobbler to come along.

#9) My Vehicle. Without mobility you have no freedom. Period. Most problems can be solved with an internal combustion carbon spewing engine. Trust me.

#8) My Guns. Without guns I would not enjoy hunting in the outdoors. They provide me with the ultimate security to protect myself and my family. They help to occasionally put tasty food on our table. And with them, when the sh!t hits the fan I will at least have a chance.

#7) My Dog. There will always be a dog in my home and it has to be one that hunts. Losing a dog after years of companionship is as painful as losing a family member. But we must move on.

#6) My Career. Having a career is so much better than having a job. It provided me with a fulfillment that went far beyond the paycheck. I began my career in a field that was enjoyable to be, drawing pictures. I never intended to be as successful as I was but knew that I would not dread going to work each day if it was fun. Opportunities came and I took advantage of them even if it meant working 70 hour weeks with long commutes and business travel. Not bad for a guy who never attended a college or university.

#5) My Computer. Without it my career would have been over fifteen years ago. While it is a tool for business it opens up a world of truth we won’t find in the mainstream media. But high speed internet access is one item I can and do live without. In fact, lately I do my best to get away from wasting time online (social networking) as much as possible.

#4) My Home. My early adulthood was spent sacrificing in order to eventually have a home that nobody can take away. I take care of it with pride, it’s my safe sanctuary from urban POP culture distractions. It's also a good investment, at least it was.

#3) My Friends. Once you find a good one do everything you can to keep them. They become family members.

#2) My Family. I am blessed by having not only a traditional family upbringing, but it was my own choice to extend that blessing to my own family with a good wife and two grown children. A monetary value cannot be placed on family. Without the support, companionship and sense of belonging a family provides there is nothing, and I mean nothing else to me.

#1) God. Surprised? No, I am not a religious person. I never preach and avoid being preached to. Being a recovering Catholic I no longer have the need for organized religion after twelve years of Catholic education and going to mass each and every day. Without a belief in God there are no values, and no purpose in life. My faith is what made everything possible. I don’t credit God for providing me with opportunities or with healing me. I never pray to God to ask him for things. How selfish is that? Faith gave me the rules to live by, a blueprint to conduct myself and a focus on things that are the most important. Without faith in God none of the above would have been possible. Some people need the support of others by belonging to an organized religion and that's fine. But that's not for me anymore.

I could have listed only the last three because they are the most important to me. My ten is to compare with those on the yahoo news report.

Do you have three, or ten?

Thursday, May 20, 2010

That's That

Well, I passed my MT test last night and am happy with my performance. I did my best. As usual, it wasn't good enough for me, but oh well. Like the guy selling the P90X system says, "do your best and forget the rest". I really like that quote and use it a lot.

I now own a red sash, putting me about two years away from my test for a black sash, the ultimate goal at my gym. Last night was my sixth test and they are never easy. Two hours of q and a, and displaying our skills that we have learned the last five months. The last 45 minutes are pad drills, sparring and cardio, and that is always killer. Everyone is glad when we are told we can unwrap (our hands).

Our instructor expects the very best of us in these tests and that is great. What is tough for me is that there is never anything to study from when it is time for the test. We have three or four review classes, work on our flow (pad drill) and let 'er rip. For a guy like me this doesn't work very well. I am a book nerd - not having anything to study from is akin to taking a course in school without a book. And I can't exactly take notes with boxing gloves on.

Not having something to study from hurts my performance in tests. With my life as it is with kids, family, business and all the rest, I simply have no room in my brain to remember what all three counter combos we had for the jab in this last block of MT curriculum (that we studied four months ago). I hardly remember what I did yesterday. So I miss questions on the test and get undressed by the instructor (figuratively). I did notice that the younger, single guys with fewer life responsibilities do better on the q and a portions of the test than do the older guys who have careers, families, and more on their plates.

But that is my tough sh1t. As I have mentioned, our gym tests and that is how it will be. I do my best and forget the rest. I did answer some questions correctly, and kicked ass in sparring and the drills that we practiced.

But it is over and I can go back to the gym now and enjoy my art for another five or six months until the next test. And I will be back into training fighters for an upcoming MT tournament in Iowa so that is always very satisfying.

I won't bitch about this again but wanted to get it down here for my future reference.

Monday, May 17, 2010

Getting Even Or Even Better?

Last year my chimney sweep informed me that my galvanized chimney crown was rusting after 19 years of weather exposure. He took photos to show me. While it has not rusted through his recommendation was to replace it within a year or suffer potential water damage.

He claimed that it should have originally been made of stainless steel and would replace it for $1200. I told him we would wait for next year to make the repair.

A little over a month ago I noticed some chimney work being done down the road. In front was placed a sign advertising 50% off all chimney work.

A day or so later while enjoying a cool homebrew in my garage man-cave a fellow came walking up to the door. He was the guy working on the chimney down the road and told me my chimney crown looked worn and asked if he could give me an estimate to replace it. I was impressed that he could tell it needed replacement looking at it from the ground. We walked over to the chimney and he said he would replace the metal crown with one made of limestone for $400. It was at that point I mentioned that my sweep already informed me of the condition but recommended stainless steel. He stood by limestone as the best solution.

His story was that work has been hard to find so he is reducing rates to stay busy. His price was low with the intent of getting more work in my neighborhood and asked that I not mention the price when speaking with neighbors. He talked about his work ethic while showing me a photo album of his past projects. We went back to the garage and I agreed to give him the work.

He liked to talk and told me he was originally from the Bridgeport neighborhood of Chicago. That right there should have been a clue but my “he’s from Chicago” guard was down.

The next day he and his assistant came by and began to erect the scaffold. He presented me with a contract which I signed and wrote him a check for $200. While watching them erect the scaffold I asked if he had enough sections to reach the 42’ high chimney crown. Sarcastically he asked if I was questioning his methods. No, was my answer, but looking at the four sections it appeared that it wasn’t going to make it.

A short time later he showed up at the door and admitted I was correct. He would return the following day with more sections. The sections showed up but because it was raining he asked to reschedule. Fine.

On the following day I saw him rebuilding the brick steps at a home down the road belonging to the mayor. He flagged me down telling me he would start my chimney the following morning. Then, nothing for over a week.

One morning the doorbell rang. It was the mason worker’s step-son informing me that his dad was in jail for violating a restraining order. Upon his release dad would return to complete the chimney work. My first feeling was sympathetic but that’s because I am a softie. The more I thought about it something seemed strange.

Another week went by and the phone rang. It was the mason. He apologized. He explained that went to his old home to get more supplies and his ex-wife was there and called police, who arrested him and threw him in the slammer. This was his second week in jail and now it really began to smell. Without any questions on my behalf he told me a story I did not want to hear. He is an admitted alcoholic and was in the middle of an ugly divorce.

At this point he asked if I would be patient and wait until he was released to complete the project or if I wanted my $200 back. Without giving it a thought I asked for my cash back. He understood.

It has been five weeks since the scaffold was erected around my chimney.

This morning the bell rang. It was 7am and I answered wearing my thick terry cloth robe. The flannel-clad dude told me he was a friend of the mason and he was here to claim two sections of scaffold which the mason borrowed from him. I stepped out on the porch in bare feet and told him it made no difference to me who owned the scaffold, it wasn’t leaving until I had my $200 back.

I asked this guy how much the scaffold was worth. His answer was that in all, the scaffold was worth anywhere from $800-$1000. I told him that if I did not have my money returned within a week I would offer up the scaffold for sale on craigslist. He did not like that thought and said he would try to get $200 today and return so he could claim his two sections. I told him to go with God and warned him about trying to reclaim his property without $200 cash. He took my phone number and left. I am not expecting to hear from him today, tomorrow or the rest of the week.

I immediately went into the garage, found two feet of thick anchor chain and a spare motorcycle fork lock and locked the scaffolding together. The top two or three sections are unlocked but since it is outside my bedroom window the noise made by removing it would wake me.

Getting ripped-off this way makes me very pissed. These thieves are treading deep into my “don’t you fvck with me” territory and I take that very seriously. Then again, turning $200 into $800 would be enough to satisfy me and help to pay a reputable tradesman to do the job.

This could be a win-win.

Monday Morning Blues

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Sunset in River North

We finally had a beautiful evening on Friday night to walk about with a great sunset in River North.  I like the jet plane above the high rise, as well.

Cross posted at Chicago Boyz

How the Oil Spill Impacts Nuclear Power

The world is watching the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico and the struggles of the oil industry to contain the spill.

The financial markets are watching as well... this article explains how BP lost over 20% of its market value in the days following the incident that happened on April 20th, moving from $60 / share to $46 / share as of May 14.

The stock market is attempting to determine the impact of this incident on BP's share price, which includes the immediate costs to clean up the spill, but also a general loss of corporate credibility and a negative pall over the offshore drilling industry that BP was counting on for future growth. While only the furthest left are calling for an abandonment of deep-water drilling off the coast of the USA, you can be certain that heavy new governmental controls and costs will burden future projects, to the extent that they can get approval at all.

While it may not seem like there is a connection between this environmental event and the nuclear industry, it is conceptually close to what occurred after Three Mile Island in 1979. While this incident did not "shut down" the nuclear power industry in the United States, it effectively stopped new, incremental construction and the electrical utility industry just managed to complete the bulk of their in-progress projects before the industry went into a state of hibernation on new construction that (mostly) continues to this day.

Nuclear power projects rest on a shaky foundation of public and governmental support; any sort of environmental event, whether minor or major, contained or not, will likely cause public opinion to turn which will cause the government to turn on the companies. There is a vast crew of environmentalists just waiting for this event to turn on the spin machine, and they will put out a full court press across all media to attack the industry.

The fact that EVERYTHING has to go right, in the US and abroad, for nuclear power to be successful in the United States makes these investments extremely risky. In prior posts I discussed the dis-incentives in terms of regulatory structure in most states in the US (there are some exceptions, such as South Carolina, which are the few areas going forward with nuclear projects), the fact that most generators aren't sufficiently capitalized to make the massive investments in new generating capacity, but I really didn't touch on the fragile level of public support for nuclear power among the general population.

You can bet that the financial officers of companies considering to invest in nuclear generation are watching the market capitalization of BP very carefully, thinking that it only would take a nuclear event anywhere in the US (or outside of the US, if it was major like Chernobyl) for not only their company but the entire industry to take a beat-down in the stock market. Remember, too, that most top officers of these companies have heavy stock-based incentives; it isn't just the shareholders that would suffer, too - they would also feel it in their pocketbook.

Cross posted at Chicago Boyz

That Time of Year

Twice a year at my gym we have tests in Muay Thai. I have written about this subject before, but it is worth hashing out once again. If you have no interest, no need to read further - I won't be offended.

Before the last test in December I had a talk with the head instructor of our gym who is a nice guy. The subject of discussion was our testing. I really don't enjoy it. In fact is is probably the least favorite thing I do at the gym. It isn't like I am unprepared for the test - so why the aversion?

Well, I have enough stress and crazy during my life with work and family and other stuff. The last thing I need is for my martial arts instructor to be quizzing me on technique and yelling at me if I miss a question or throw a technique incorrectly. I go to the gym to relax, believe it or not. By relaxing I mean getting my mind off of reality and all of my responsibilities. And I love the exercise.

Come test time things get a little more serious. We are put through two solid hours of questioning, and have to demonstrate to our kru (thai for teacher) what we have learned over the last five months.

But in the end, I go to the very best Muay Thai gym in this area and our instructor has deemed testing to be essential to advancing. So I have to do it. I have not brought it up since the last discussion I had with him last year and I won't bring it up again. He is not changing his mind and that is the end of it.

Traditional Muay Thai does not have rank or sashes or belts of any sort. You are either good, or not. Our gym has something like ten ranks or sashes. They are different colors.

I assume that I will pass my test on Wednesday since I have been to just about every class (as usual) and I will receive my red sash. Two or three more years and I will receive my black sash - the highest level at my gym. By that time I will have been doing Muay Thai for somewhere between five and six years! That is a LOT of mat time folks.

The system of sashes does keep some people motivated, however. Different people value the rank system more than me but whatever. I will admit that it will be a proud moment to receive a black sash. If I am counting correctly, by that time I will be only the third or fourth person at the gym to receive one - that is if everyone keeps going and attending. Three years ago I was a beginner and there were scores of students ahead of me in rank. But people quit, move, and just plain ol' don't attend. If nothing else, I am consistent.

Muay Thai and my gym family has changed my life so much for the better - it is hard to explain it to a lot of people. Respecting your opponents and having a beer together after beating on each other is a hard thing for many to comprehend. But there it is.

I will be very happy after the test this week - then things can get back to normal, for me anyway.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Small Scale Wind Power Analysis - Fail

I have mentioned that I am the proud owner of a hobby farm. On it we have five head of cattle, a couple ponies, a few chickens and that is it the last time I checked a week or so ago. The farm is about 20 acres.

Recently I did a cost analysis of setting up this property with a windmill to power the place. My vision was to get "off the grid" and have a place I could retreat to and survive in if a natural disaster or act of terrorism happened, as well as getting "free" electricity and perhaps selling juice back to the grid as I have read others have done. I am very impressed with the small solar powered items I have bought and installed at the farm - they power the electric fences and provide power for some outdoor lighting. These items were relatively cheap and easy to install. You can get them at virtually any farm and/or retail store.

Doing the research for this project I learned a lot. The first thing I did was email the local utility, Madison Gas and Electric. Within a few hours they referred me to Focus on Energy. You can read about who makes up this organization here. Basically Focus is an organization that encourages and helps people and businesses to conserve energy and buy appliances and systems that will use less energy in the future. They also have rebate programs.

I didn't have accurate data for the amount of electricity that my farm used over the past year, but I did have the bills. They are less than the usage at my house, so I used my home bills as a baseline. On average my house uses (or should I say we use) 1158 Kilowatt Hours (kwh) per month of electricity. The high months were January at 1,756 and December at 1,771. The lows were 747 in May and 905 for August (we had a very cool summer last year). The total usage in 2009 for my house was 13,897 kwh.

If you take a look at the Focus on Energy website there is a TON of information on wind power. I took many of the following conclusions from the information presented there.

To completely power an operation the size of my house with wind generated electricity I need approximately 14,000 kwh per year. I probably need less for the farm, but still it is a good number to use. But there are a few caveats. One is that any windmill or turbine needs to be thirty (30) feet above any structure or nearby trees to capture the best wind for usage. The planned site for my turbine was going to be next to the barn. The barn stands approximately 50 feet tall (maybe taller, I never really measured) so the turbine would need to be somewhere in the 75-100 foot range up in the air. This may be a zoning issue as my farm property is in the flight path of a local tiny municipal airport. I don't think this is an issue but regardless it is a good point that my wife brought up.

According to this page at Focus on Energy I would need the model ARE 442 with a 12 mph wind or the model Gaia-3 in a 10 mph wind. And that is something else I learned. The efficiency and power output of the turbines collapse in a huge way when you get below 10 mph. Fortunately, Focus on Energy has wind charts for 10 mph and up for the State of Wisconsin. Here is the chart at 30 meters, and here it is at 40 meters. I look good at 40 meters, but at 30 it is close - very close. Also, I have some hills on my land which doesn't help any. By the way, 30 meters is almost 100 feet in the air. I don't think looking at this information that I could keep the 10 mph target at my property. Large chunks of the State of Wisconsin fall under this, as a note of interest.

But lets say that I can hit the 10 mph mark, just to continue this discussion to the end, the money part. The smallest unit I can use to fulfill my needs would be the Gaia-3 - BUT this is a three phase unit and I have no need for three phase at my farm. So, I would have to pray that the ARE442 unit would work (rated at 11,220 kwh at 10mph and 17,520 kwh at 12mph) or the Jacobs 31-20 unit (rated at 12,750 kwh at 10 mph and 21,990 kwh at 12mph). Again, there is a lot of praying involved to hopefully keep up that 10 mph wind, at least according to the wind charts provided by Focus on Energy.

According once again to Focus, the installed cost for the ARE 442 as of January 2009 is $71,000 and the Jacobs 31-20 would cost $80,000. Of course these are cocktail napkin estimates - the final cost could be lower, or higher - but these are good ballpark numbers to use.

Here is a bit of good news though - the feds (that is you and me) will give me a 30% tax credit for the cost of the turbine. And Focus on Energy will give me a maximum of 25% of the installed cost back (but this depends on the amount of energy generated so is not a hard figure - you can find it here) and any and all wind power stuff like this is exempt from Wisconsin state taxes. The Focus on Energy rebate dollars are only payable after one year of data collecting so if you believe in inflation as I do, those dollars will be worth less by the time I would get them. So in the end, lets just say that after the installed cost it really isn't worth it. And remember, I need to pray that the wind stays above 10 mph or this is all pie in the sky.

Oh yes, one more thing I forgot. This. She isn't sure that she wants to see this thing some 100' in the air chopping up the cute birdies. Huh.

Well, I learned a lot from this thought exercise. Wind power for farms I would imagine would be a great thing if you used a lot of power. But for my little hobby farm, I think I am much better served with my money getting a natural gas generator in case the electric goes down (my disaster plan). Or doing nothing at all.

After looking at and analyzing my electric bills, I have started a program at my house that includes the family members to try to get everyone to quit leaving lights and TV's on all over the house. If we do well I will take the family out for ice cream once a month. I project I will save over one thousand dollars a year from doing the simple things, but that is certainly grist for another post.

Cross posted at Chicago Boyz.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Random Photos

This sign was on the way to work. It is a TV series on the channel "Current" called Vanguard where they place journalists in interesting situations. I took a photo because Dan and I are a big fan of Vice and wanted to see how they compare. See for yourself here.

We have a hotel "bar crawl" and we went to the newly constructed Palomar hotel where they have an interesting drink list and a fake indoor fireplace. Here is a link to their site the food looked good. The bartender with the old-time mustache was really giving the drinks a good shake.

I don't know what to say about this mailbox except maybe that it is a little light in the loafers. Plus I like the stray shoe underneath.

At "Bull and Bear" bar they have a table tap, where you get your own keg and they measure the amount of beer you consume. It isn't as economical as you might assume but sounds fun.

Monday, May 10, 2010

Dining Out On The Lakefront


One must try very hard to find truly fine dining in northwest Indiana without crossing the Illinois border. I say that because maybe, maybe I have been jaded by having dined in the very finest establishments in Manhattan, Chicago, SoCal and San Francisco on business trips. The best part is that all those fine dinners were funded my employer and clients for over twenty years.

Saturday happened to be my Mom’s 80th birthday and Sunday was Mother’s Day. The family consensus weeks ago was to forgo the traditional Mother’s Day house party/cookout at one of our homes and gather at a local restaurant on Saturday afternoon instead. Mother’s Day would be just another Sunday this year and Saturday would be the special day. I’m good with that.

The chosen establishment was the same place we celebrated Dad’s 80th birthday last July called The Lighthouse. It’s was recently built from the ground up as a full service restaurant and banquet facility in what was (in my book) a dead resort area located about 60 miles south of Chicago known as Cedar Lake, IN.

Cedar Lake is a large cut off pan shaped lake with a consistent depth of 5-15’ and no subsurface structure other than weedlines. The shoreline is mixed, some level land with many hills surrounding it, beyond that all is beans and corn. The lake was a remote resort playground in the early 1900’s for wealthy professionals and industrialists. It was a place where a day of boating, sailing and swimming at a private lakeside resort area were simple pleasures in life that were well out of reach for most working families who were restricted by urban public transportation.

In my early high school years I had spent some time in Cedar Lake. My girlfriend Mayrann’s family owned one of those small private lakeside cottages. Her dad was the wealthy owner of a foundry and their full-time residence in my hometown of Munster IN was a considered a mansion, complete with a five car garage. Their summer cottage on Cedar Lake was just the opposite, a modest four-room structure with a walk-out basement built into a hillside with an enclosed boathouse on the lake. They had all the fun water toys to go with it.

Cedar Lake in the late 60’s gained the reputation of being quite polluted. The proliferation of small cottages and even full-time residences near the lake created a sewage problem, big time. With no sewers and thousands of leaky personal septic systems the lake absorbed human waste seepage. Because Cedar Lake was shallow without any inlet or outlet and no artisan spring to feed it the lake literally became a stagnant sh!thole.

Eventually the wealthy weekenders went away, property values plummeted and a lower class of folks moved in. They were poor and had no regard for upkeep of their structures, outdoor landscaping or personal hygiene and didn’t seem to mind living on the polluted lake. Without any local government or homeowner organization to enforce sewage compliance it only became worse for the rural lake. For years nobody paid it any attention because there was a larger problem in the densely populated northern Lake County area where steel industries were closing, jobs were disappearing and urban blight was on the rise. Sad, but true.

Locals referred to the Cedar Lake area as “Cedartucky” or "Lake Minnisewer".

It’s a guess but a about a decade or so ago the lake community was outfitted with a centralized sewage system. Good luck, I thought.

A few years ago some nouveaux riche locals decided to invest heavily in Cedar Lake. Why not? A rural, somewhat secluded local resort lake within 60 miles of Chicago should be able to sustain regentrification if the pockets were deep enough. Soon, luxury condos sprung up and there were buyers. This one is a four unit condo building with each unit going for slightly over $350,000.

A wealthy local hotel and entertainment magnate built a few McMansions on the shore for himself and family. The lake was becoming attractive again. One problem remains, fancy luxury condos are accessible only after driving through the hold-out remnants of Cedartucky.

Old, small, unpainted shacks on tiny lots with overgrown vegetation still exist in relative abundance today. Think “Deliverance”…seriously! But it appears that Cedar Lake is probably a good investment should one desire a nearby resort lake to retreat to in the future. It can only get better.

I said all that so I could say this.

The Lighthouse Restaurant helps Cedar Lake regain respect as a resort attraction in a big way. I don’t do restaurant reviews here at LITGM so excuse me if my first attempt is a bit jaded.

After passing a few of those luxury condos and dilapidated shacks Lighthouse is a welcome sight on the lake. The nautical theme is not overdone as New England Red Lobster cliché but that of a Midwestern resort lake close to the urban sprawl similar to Lake Geneva to the north in WI.

There’s a lot of teak and a bar shaped like an old wooden ChrisCraft inboard runabout. The theme highlights these old runabouts from the 50's. Historical photos occupy space on the bright walls with tall ceilings. The entrance is inviting with a small waiting area but our 4pm reservations got us in before the diner rush. Still, the place was full and considering they seat 200 that’s a healthy mid-day crowd for any restaurant even on a Saturday.

It’s busy, hectic and loud. This is desirable by some yet avoided by others. For me, I prefer an environment that feels busy when I dine out. Crowds I generally avoid but it feels better knowing others are there because something must be good.

We were seated on the far western side at a table for ten. Lighthouse was smart by building on the eastern shore where a large floor to ceiling window room faced west to the sunset over the lake. Looking outside on a blustery but sunny afternoon we could have been anywhere but Cedartucky. I had a healthy Bombay Sapphire Gibson or two served in a manly, large v-shaped glass, not a martini glass. Works for me. They do offer those trendy drinks ending in “tini” but are anything but a true martini. These days it’s all about the vessel. It's a chick thing.

The menu is traditional with steaks, seafood and chicken. The appetizers were typical bar food kicked up barely a notch. Nothing was special about the apps but they didn’t disappoint either. I made a special attempt to avoid eating too much especially the outstanding warm crusty sourdough bread. My middle may be large but I simply cannot consume the same amounts as before. The after-dinner bloat isn’t worth it anymore.

Some entrees were also offered as “encrusted”. A 12 oz strip steak was encrusted with parmesan, the walleye was encrusted with macadamia nuts. It is what it is. I ordered the traditional 8oz. filet not violated by being encrusted with anything and served alone on a scalding hot white ceramic plate.

My thick 8oz. filet was perfect, just above cold in the center, almost bleeding. This was definitely prime, not choice. It was tender and flavorful as I sliced a few pieces and by resting them flat on the hot plate they continued to cook up to medium rare so slices could be shared with others for a taste. My son’s walleye was good, but the encrusted macadamia nut coating overshadowed the delicate taste of walleye to me. My French fries were a big disappointment. They were nothing more than food service frozen fast food style fries. If they were serous the fries would have been fresh cut and served bistro style with some skin after being fried in a mixture of oil and beef renderings. That would have been a better compliment my prime cut of steak and may have nudged my meal into the fine dining arena.

The prices weren’t out of line at all. My steak was nearly half the price for the same cut served in Chicago chop house joints. The atmosphere was busy, and it has been my experience that restaurants deliver the best product when they are pressured with business although more mistakes occur at that time. If The Lighthouse chef paid more attention to deliver better quality apps and sides I would call this experience very close to fine dining since the meat was awesome. Then again, it’s all about the meat to me.

All in all, The Lighthouse is a very nice place to dine out in northwest Indiana, better than most. My parents, siblings and offspring thoroughly enjoyed it. This new restaurant is a great way to draw people unfamiliar with Cedar Lake into the area for a look see and that I am sure is the intent. I predict success.

I recommend The Lighthouse Restaurant with 2.5 of 4 stars. But remember, I’m jaded.

Monday Morning Blues

Sunday, May 09, 2010

Raising Protestors... A Stalking Horse

On May 5th I was walking through the Loop when I saw a long line of kids chanting and holding signs. Per this article it was an organized walk-out of about 700 Chicago Public School students to protest education cuts needed to close Illinois' massive budget deficit. The "no 37" signs are referencing the fact that class sizes may go up to 37 students as a result of these cuts.

I read the article and the "journalist" who is covering the protests talks to students and they mention how their after-school programs are getting cut and that more students in a classroom means that the teachers will have less time to spend with each of the students.

What was interesting to me is that the article DID NOT mention that there were many teachers and non-students among the protesters. I could see them in the crowd, although the majority of the protesters were students. Obviously the teachers have their own motives for pushing back on financial cuts, including their own pay and job security. It does look much more convenient to have the students out front rather than the unionized teachers demanding that, although the state is broke, and their pensions are a significant cause of what is wrecking the state financially, that they shouldn't bear any of the fiscal belt-tightening that is inevitable for Illinois in the future.

I also want to know if this message of teaching the students to agitate for more taxpayer funds is really a lesson that we should be imparting; the governor is proposing a 33% tax hike and he puts education on the block first because he knows that it is the part of the budget that will rile up the largest part of his political base (a variant of the "Washington Monument" strategy), rather than actually trying to tackle the core issues that are driving our state into financial insolvency. The students are pawns in this game, and demanding that taxes be raised on other people rather than sharing in the communal pain after our fiscal profligacy is a sad lesson to be teaching.

Cross posted at Chicago Boyz

My Old School

Recently I walked through Wrigleyville where I lived in the early 90's. It was a great time to wander since a Cubs game was going on right then and everyone was still inside the stadium; you want to be out of there unless you are intoxicated yourself afterward else you will be the sole sober person in a sea of drunks.

Some things don't change too much at all. Yak-zies is one of the oldest bars on Clark north of the stadium; now there seem to be dozens of modern clubs everywhere. Lots of memories (or lack thereof) of this place.

While everything is new in Wrigleyville I was amazed to see that the Bodega near Grace and Southport still was standing. I guess they have adapted to the clientele and now sell upmarket Hispanic food to the locals. While so many businesses have come and gone I never would have imagined that this store could have survived.

Here is a 3 bedroom house that I used to rent a room in for $200 / month. It was owned by an elderly woman and the house looks identical today compared to what it looked like way back in the 90's. I imagine that she must have passed away or gone into an assisted living facility because I don't think that she would have put it up for sale otherwise. We rented the top floor and it hadn't been renovated at all it seemed since it was built in the early part of the 20th century. Here is the listing for the house - it essentially is a tear down and it is on the market for $549,000 as a three flat. I would bet that if this house sold at the peak of the market rather than today it would have listed for nearer to $1M than $500,000 just for the land alone but now the market has obviously tanked so it is being listed at a more reasonable price point for a three bedroom.

Dan - check out that link and look through the photos of the house you will have a laugh looking at the living room.

Saturday, May 08, 2010

Niall Ferguson at the Chicago Council on Global Affairs

Wednesday night I attended a lecture by Niall Ferguson for the Chicago Council on Global Affairs at the Fairmont Hotel. The name of his presentation was "America: An Empire on the Cusp of Collapse."

I was a fan of Niall based on his book "The Pity of War" about World War One, which I thought was an interesting approach to the topic, although I did not share all of his conclusions.

Mr. Ferguson's presentation was not as depressing as the title sounds. In his articles he is prodding governments for better policies to tackle debt and working with lawmakers in the US and overseas that want to consider solutions. In a recent visit to Washington DC, however, Mr. Ferguson said that only three leaders wanted to meet with him.

His largest point was that the US and Western Europe had a giant advantage in economic power vs. their population when compared with Asia and the rest of the world in the period from the 1800's through the middle of the twentieth century. It appears that this advantage is eroding and the Asian economies (predominantly China) are closing that gap.

He stated that we needed to consider why Western Europe was able to take such as commanding lead in the first place, and by understanding this we would be able to think about how we might be able to "reboot" our economies to compete more effectively. Here are the six "killer applications" (and a link to an FT article by Niall) that Niall Ferguson said enabled Europe to lead Asia for so long:

1) Modern medicine
2) A science-based culture
3) A representative political system
4) Consumer society
5) Market capitalism
6) Work ethic

Mr. Ferguson said that China did embrace these concepts, with the exception of #3, a representative political system, although it was only recently that they began looking to their own consumers to fuel their economic growth rather than just exports. He said that it was interesting to see how successful that they had been with this selective view of the list and there is an open question of how sustainable their overall economy would be with their current political system. However, the current Chinese government is actually very popular with their people, as opposed to many of the Western governments that are incapable of implementing an effective response to the debt crisis.

As far as the debt crisis goes, he felt that the response to the Greek debt crisis was insufficient. He said he spoke with someone in Ireland who worked in a school who said his income had been cut 15% as Ireland responded to the debt crisis. He indicated that this sort of impact to the standard of living may be necessary to achieve the kinds of cuts needed to make the debt crisis manageable.

For the US, our debt load is in the same range as many of the PIIGS (Portugal, Ireland, Italy, Greece and Spain) that are currently feeling the pain of this debt crisis. While the US has advantages over these countries (a higher rate of growth and our own currency which gives us the ability to devalue) we also have further to fall since we are also a military power across the globe, and soon our payments on interest (not reduction of debt) will cross our military spending level.

At the end of his talk, there were questions, and someone asked him one that gave him the ability to end the talk on something other than a bleak note. He compared the US to other European countries also facing a debt crisis and he said that the average American he talked to understood that we do have an issue and we need to do something about it, and that our culture and economics enable us to stand up and grab a hold of this issue if we were properly led by politicians who also took up the challenge. He said that he felt that some of the European countries had essentially passed the point of no return on these items.

In general, if you get a chance to see Niall speak, I would recommend attending. He is a good speaker, very intelligent and humorous, and it is an hour that goes by quickly. He also attempts to bring solutions and new thinking to these issues, he isn't just a "doom and gloom" guy who would revel in the fall of Western civilization (which distinguishes him from most of the professors at a typical US based liberal arts college).

Cross posted at Chicago Boyz

Thursday, May 06, 2010

Just STFU!

Since Ozzie Guillen coached the White Sox into World Series history before the Cubs got there (in my lifetime) he usually gets a pass from me. He could do no wrong. Until recently.

He’s known for saying all kinds of crazy sh!t about reporters, players, coaches and other managers. All of it harmless, for the most part.

But his recent comments on the new Arizona state law that is nothing more than the same federal law that Washington refuses to enforce has made me lose respect for Oz. If the Sox fail to make post season play this year I will be leading the Fire Ozzie Guillen bandwagon. I may even create a blog dedicated to it.

UPDATE: Just heard on the radio that Phil Jackson (ex-Bulls coach and self-proclaimed zen master who I never cared for one way or another ) has also made comments on the Arizona law and how it relates to sports. He says sports has no business in politics. Hey Phil, can you coach baseball?

The law is the law no matter who you are. Period.

Monday, May 03, 2010

Call Me Unhip. I do.

For a few years an Amstel Light television spot featured some catchy music and grabbed my attention. I liked it. I also like Amstel Light beer but not enough for me to make it on my list of bar calls. This television spot made me want to fly to Amsterdam, drink a few gallons of Amstel Light while riding on a self-propelled four-wheeled bicycle bar and do all those other things Amsterdamians do legally over there that are illegal over here.

That was one powerful marketing message to make me feel that way, I thought. Still, Amstel Light is low on my list for future beer purchases so maybe the spot didn’t work on me personally, failing to motivate me to make a purchase of Amstel. I noticed recently the same spot airs with a different soundtrack.

Recently I learned that the same tune is also used at Chicago Blackhawk home games on the PA system when the hawks score a goal. The folks who created the background music are called The Fratellis. The tune is titled Kelsey Grammer Chelsea Dagger. Never heard of them. Am I out of it or what? Like I care.

So I checked out youtube and watched the video from The Fratellis. I like it a lot. I like their tune and I especially like the visual subject matter in their video. Nice party-like tune.

But I could not help trying to figure out where I heard this tune before. Today I heard it on an oldies format radio station. It was a tune from the mid sixties that played often on rock radio stations back then. It reminded me of the newer Fratelli recording.

This also reminds me of when Geroge Harrison was sued for copyright infringement over a tune he recorded. George eventually lost over this:

The lawsuit claimed Harrison was guilty of recording and making a profit on a copyrighted tune he lifted. This is the one.

What a litigious sociery we have become. Going to court in order to gain huge settlements over crazy claims seems greedy to me. But who if anyone in power is attacking attorneys? Instead they attack Wall St. and "fat cat" bankers.

Our fearless leader made this statement recently, "I do think at a certain point you’ve made enough money.”

Do the greedy attorneys count as well? They should.

Monday Morning Blues

Sunday, May 02, 2010

Dan's Time Machine

I always have collected a lot of music and on a few occasions have filled up a shuffle for someone so they have something to listen to. The vast majority of my music comes from CD's I've downloaded or bought legitimately so it isn't like I took it on the Internet or anything.

Recently Dan said he needed some new songs for when he runs and trains, and if anyone knows Dan, he runs and trains HARD, so I was happy to help. He said he'd send me his old shuffles for a fill-up.

Dan's busy and so I spent a few minutes looking for shuffles on the Apple web site. Over the years I've owned a bunch of MP3 playing devices but I really like my little 2nd generation shuffle (the square one) that I use today when I run or work out, because you can't break it (I've dropped it about 100 times) and it is very unobtrusive. So when I was looking on line in case Dan didn't have time to send me the shuffles (I figured I'd just buy another one and fill it and send it to him) - it turns out that Apple doesn't sell the 2nd generation shuffles any more, they just sell the 3rd generation shuffles, which don't have any buttons on the machine. Instead, you click a button in the headphones and it "talks" to you in a machine voice. I figured Dan didn't need that complexity so I was going to find a used 2nd generation, instead.

Instead Dan sent me these two FIRST generation shuffles! I laughed - I can't believe that these things survived the beatings and sweat falling on them that I'm sure Dan has inadvertently given them, but they worked fine. I thought they were both 1MB shuffles, so I picked up the first one, upgraded the software, and started filling from my collection. I started at "A" and got to "L" and thought I'd just fill the second shuffle with "M" onward.

But when I got to the second shuffle 1) it turns out it was only 500MB not 1 GB 2) it turns out that most of the "heavier" music that Dan would want to run or train to is back-loaded to the far side of the alphabet. For example, when you hit "M", you now pick up the following bands (misspelling because I don't want the traffic)
- M*stodon
- M*tallica
- M*gadeth
- M*nistry
- M*se
- M*tley Crue

I guess I inadvertently stumbled upon something else - bands that wanted to sound heavy may have selected the "M" for their band more than other letters, perhaps because it sounded more "Metal". Don't know, perhaps someone in a liberal arts school is doing a PHD thesis on this right now.

So in the end I filled the 500MB shuffle and just went back and re-did the 1GB shuffle with everything I missed and sent them on to Dan and I hope he likes them. People who I know were laughing when they saw me walking around with these first generation shuffles (I was listening on the way to and from work to see if I liked the mix, then went back and changed them) because you hardly see them on the street at all, anymore (never, in fact).

Saturday, May 01, 2010

The Onion Sums Up Renewables

One of my all time favorite Onion articles is here and titled:
Report: 98 Percent Of U.S. Commuters Favor Public Transportation For Others

In one, simple, pithy sentence The Onion summarizes the reality of renewable energy and of the false enthusiasm for things that are easy to talk about, but hard and difficult to actually implement. People WANT clean air, short commutes, and efficiency; but people aren't willing to give up their individual cars that drive them from their individual homes to the jobs of their choosing which may be far away.

Being the Onion and completely unafraid to subtly or not-too-subtly jab at the underbelly of elitism behind this sort of claim, they conclude with this paragraph:
The campaign is intended to de-emphasize the inconvenience and social stigma associated with using public transportation, focusing instead on the positives. Among these positives: the health benefits of getting fresh air while waiting at the bus stop, the chance to meet interesting people from a diverse array of low-paying service-sector jobs, and the opportunity to learn new languages by reading subway ads written in Spanish.
"People need to realize that public transportation isn't just for some poor sucker to take to work," Collier said. "He should also be taking it to the shopping mall, the supermarket, and the laundromat."

While this Onion "article" was written in 2000 it completely applies today in the debate cited in a report about a plan to build electricity-generating turbines off the coast of Massachusetts, which has been held up for many years because the wealthy locals and visiting politicians don't want any inconveniences or impact to their views while demanding that everyone else fall in line on various renewables schemes. This article from the New York Times is titled "Cape Code Residents Don't Expect One Ruling To End Long Fight".
“I’m 100 percent for alternative energy, but just not in Nantucket Sound,” Mr. Parent said. “There’s no guarantee that the electricity will be cheaper. And once you put those windmills out there you can never take them away.”

I love the way that he can put this sentence together without a trace of irony. And then he inadvertently summarizes other problems with renewables - of COURSE the electricity won't be cheaper - it may be ten times more expensive to put those plants out there and build transmission when compared to a modern, efficient coal plant. But since the environmentalists have made it impossible to build coal plants (don't even get me started on the possibility of building a nuclear plant on the East Coast, they are trying to power down the ones they have today and the Long Island Shoreham plant is one of our saddest failures in the history of US energy policy), there aren't too many alternatives if we want to keep the lights on.

And since the local felt free to speak about how he really felt the obvious class distinctions of "renewables are for everyone else" came out in volumes.

Like the Onion article, another sad element of the real farce in wind turbines is that the legal battles surrounding their placement have lasted for years and will likely last for many more. In China today I read that they are in the process of building 21 major nuclear plants and we can't even site a few wind turbines, whose parts are probably made in China, anyways (or India).

Cross posted at Chicago Boyz

Vice and Real Journalism

A long, long time ago I used to read Vice magazine. Frankly, I don't even remember many of the topics. Just recently I subscribed once again. But why? I will answer that question in a bit.

For the past half decade or so many bloggers, including myself, have excoriated journalists and the journalism profession in general - with good reason. The typical journalist of today seems to be more a political hack (or just a hack in general) than a true "journalist". Many can't even put proper sentences together. I admit that I am guilty of not possessing the best grammar skillz, but on the other hand, I am not getting paid for plying said skillz either.

So what is journalism, then? Websters says (emphases mine):
1 a : the collection and editing of news for presentation through the media
b : the public press
c : an academic study concerned with the collection and editing of news or the management of a news medium
2 a : writing designed for publication in a newspaper or magazine
b : writing characterized by a direct presentation of facts or description of events without an attempt at interpretation
c : writing designed to appeal to current popular taste or public interest
In my eyes, the typical journalist of today is a college grad who has almost zero real life experience in most topics of which they write. When I see an article about HVAC (my field of expertise) in the paper I can almost quote verbatim the manufacturer's advertisements where the journalist has gotten most of their info from. Since the journalist has no education on HVAC or air movement or anything they are subject to online research on the subject. Typically these articles come out every spring and fall, and their point is to try to get people to maintain their HVAC systems or to caution the masses on carbon monoxide issues if there has been a local poisoning. These articles come out like clockwork and they repeat themselves every single time. On topics I am not as well versed on, I find it entertaining to "reverse google" a story. In other words if I feel that the reporter is uninformed on something (say, a manufacturing process) I like to take key terms from the story, google them, and many times - voila! - you can reverse engineer the whole story. Many blog items are able to be reverse googled as well.

Since most journalists haven't held a real job (or, at least what I would consider a real job), they tend to insert opinions into their stories that are misinformed, or just plain old partisan. I can't count how many gun stories I have read where the story is slanted to the gun control side. That is just one example.

Not knowing what you are talking about and being slanted to one side (typically left with most journalists) are the two things that, to me, have made journalism today a complete and total joke. Very few reporters actually take the time to learn about a subject before writing or care very much about what they are writing about. Perhaps this is because to get paid, they need "x" words by "x" date or their editor/boss needs that Sunday paper filled up with a story, no matter how lame. But that isn't my issue. The fact is that modern reportage is in a sad state - and that goes for both print and screen journalism.

A few months ago I stumbled upon VBS TV, the video version of Vice Magazine. I was blown away by the very high quality of the documentaries there. Each and every story includes a reporter or group that actually immerses themselves into the subject. From the Vice Wiki:
Vice has championed the "Immersionist" school of journalism, which it regards as something of a DIY antithesis to the big-office methods practiced by traditional news outlets, and has published an entire issue composed of articles written in this manner.
Shane Smith, co-founder, says:
We're not trying to say anything politically in a paradigmatic left/right way...We don't do that because we don't believe in either side. Are my politics Democrat or Republican? I think both are horrific. And it doesn't matter anyway. Money runs America; money runs everywhere.
From what I have seen so far, this seems to be true. The documentaries I have watched on the VBS.TV channel have all been pretty much straight up reportage. In the stories I have seen on Liberia, North Korea and other places they don't really ever say whose fault something is or why a certain situation is like it is - they just show the scene and let the viewer put the pieces together later.

Perhaps the fact that I have been exposed to so much lame "journalism" for so long makes me so excited to see someone like Vice go to a dangerous and insane place and bring it to me in color.

I have probably spent 12 hours or so on the VBS.TV site watching their shows (some of them have adult content, so nsfw) so I decided to patronize them by subscribing to Vice magazine. I should receive my first issue in a few weeks and hope to do a follow up post when I get it.

If you are interested in some real journalism I would suggest the VBS.TV website if you have some spare time this weekend.

Cross posted at Chicago Boyz.