Sunday, July 31, 2011

France Cycling Trip 2011, Part Nine

Even after three days of being in France I wasn't sleeping right. I was doing all the right things, like not taking naps and not boozing insane amounts but it just wasn't cutting it. I didn't really feel "normal" until halfway through the trip. But this day was a new day, and my third ride in the Pyranees, so you just have to tough that sh1t out and get moving.

This day we did not depart from our cabins in Vicdessos - instead we loaded up the transport vans with all of our bikes and gear and went to the nearby town of Massat. Todays ride was to check out some of the route that most of us were going to race on in a few days.

As the crow flies it is only about 20 minutes away, but you can't get anywhere as the crow flies in the Pyranees so it took an hour and a half going up and over a couple of mountains on twisty, windy roads. One woman in my van started to get a bit motion sick (I was wondering when someone would) and we had to pull over to let her get her poop in group. She recovered and we went on.

After leaving Massat we did a lot of flat riding along a river. It is just so beautiful riding along rushing water.

I was better than most of my teammates on the hills thus far, but the flats, well that was another story. It was painfully apparent that these folks had done a LOT more line riding than me. Most of my riding is alone here in Wisco. They kept riding away from me. I just had to put the hammer down and keep up. There wasn't a choice.

Our first hill is the cat 2 Col de Letrape. I don't remember for sure but I was in the top three to the top of this one. Interesting how short and easy it felt compared to the Plateau de Beille.

This was a nice climb with a lot of woods.

The next climb was the cat 1 or 2 (I don't remember) Col du Saraille. This was basically a glorified goat path. A very narrow winding road up to just outside of Massat. The descent of this one was incredibly scenic through a forest. By this time it was getting cold, rainy and nasty. We were back in Massat and many of the folks were bailing on todays riding but I decided to take the "extra credit" climb of the other side of the Port de Lers. After eating lunch, that got completely cancelled by the tour folks as the weather kept deteriorating. It was the smart move to pull off.

Todays numbers:
43.78 miles
3 hours 18 minutes 21 seconds saddle time
13.2 mph average speed
35.6 mph max speed
3588 feet of gain

We got back to the cabins after the return trip. It was Wednesday and that is Dave's day off so the tour folks made dinner for us. It began with cocktails - I chose the local champagne (when in France). This is me with Colin - local legend in Madison and former professional bike racer. He paid me some compliments on my hill climbing - that meant a lot to me.

Here is dinner - pasta with veggies and some of the local sausage with a tomato sauce. Couldn't be beat.

Much fun was had this night with our outdoor picnic, although it was a bit chilly.

It was at this point that I noticed my weight was dropping a bit. I had been eating as much as I possibly could, but the mountains and the heat from the previous days just melt the pounds off of me. I sweat WAY more than most people and this is a huge disadvantage for a guy like me. I mentioned in a comment a post or two ago that I lost a full 8% of my body weight while in France, and that was while I was eating the most rich foods I could find in mass quantities.

In the last post Gerry asked a good question - he was wondering about the oxygen deprivation on the climbs. The short answer is that there wasn't any. I think it is because we start most of the climbs around sea level and end up at (typically) two thousand meters. The highest point of our entire trip (coming up) was the Tourmalet at 2115 meters. Even at that height there was no noticable difference in the air, to me anyways. In the Rockies you would certainly have a harder time with the oxygen since you would start most of your climbing at a mile up and go from there.

Saturday, July 30, 2011

New Toy

I got a Garmin for my bike because so many of my fellow riders in France had them. It is pretty amazing the information you can get. I am glad I got the optional heart rate monitor. After the ride downloaded, they offered an embed code you can see below. All pretty effortless to download and move around. This is the ride I did today in the heat from my house to New Glarus and back. I am not buying that I only dumped 1200 calories today - they must use some sort of algorithm and I need to find out what it is. Probably x miles times x cadense = y calories. But that doesn't account for the rivers of sweat dripping off of me today. Click view details to get some great statistics from my ride today.

Proud To Be Part of "Life in the Great Midwest"

We usually don't do "shout outs" to ourselves because it is boring to the average reader but as I looked at the blog today I was pretty astounded at the high quality of the content and photos (all original) that Gerry, Dan and I created on the current page mix.  Also the great masthead photos and graphics that Gerry provides for us, as well.

I think that we have a great mix of the serious, the personal, and the fun here. The quality of the material, on our respective topics, I would stand up against anything, anywhere.

We do it for ourselves, because we like to do it, and also for the loyal readers that comment on it.  Feels good to have someone out there listening.

Back to work and to stop patting myself on the back...

Our Electricity Future (a bleak version)

A recent Bloomberg / Businessweek article on Pakistan provided a pithy summary of a possible energy future for the US in an article titled "Convoys and Patdowns: A day in the office in Pakistan".  The article describes the robberies, violence and general chaos that a business manager faces daily in that country.  However, this part might be surprising to readers that would think the Taliban would be a managers' top concern:
Political violence is not National Foods' worst problem.  "The biggest problem by far is energy"... Demand for electricity in Pakistan is three times supply.  President Asif Ali Zardari is trying to attract independent power producers to Pakistan and has big plans to build hydroelectric plants.  Companies cannot wait.  "We have created a mix of power we get from the grid, and what we can generate using our gas and diesel generators."  Many factory floor, office and bathroom lights are kept off to compensate.  Ali often visits the powerhouse, a room at the plant that contains huge German-made diesel generators.  Scarcity of fuel is a frequent worry.  Bigger companies like Lucky Cement don't rely on the national grid at all.  It started generating its own power in 1996 and can produce 150 megawatts from its plants.

Karachi's residents have taken to the streets this summer... to protest outages lasting days at a time.  "In the morning I assess my workers"... "If I find someone is stressed out because he hasn't slept all night without electricity... I have to change his shift and give him easier work".
Electricity is something that most Americans took for granted as reliable and available for a reasonable price for many years.  After California's disastrous "de-regulation" experiments in 2000-1 (check wikipedia where they have a pretty good summary under "California Electricity Crisis"), the citizens of that state at least woke up to the fact that the machinery that delivered reliable and reasonably priced electricity was falling to pieces.

The core of the issue is that to meet future DEMAND for electricity, you have to procure appropriate SUPPLY, and then BRING it to the customer.  Given our "NIMBY" culture, and difficult regulatory regime, there has been little incentive to develop new "baseload" generating capacity to procure supplies for the future.  In addition, a lack of investment in new transmission lines, which are needed to bring supply to the customer, limits our ability to tap new sources of electrical generation and there is little financial incentive to devise a solution to this issue.  As a result, we have a long-simmering problem that will come to a head in various guises over the next 20 or so years.

The core issue, that is little discussed, is that electricity started as a public monopoly, meaning that one company provided you generation, transmission and distribution of power and you paid that company a single payment for doing all those services.  While there are many problems with this model (inefficiency and lack of innovation), there were positive elements, mainly that it worked and provided a reliable service to everyone for a reasonable price.

There are few public monopolies remaining.  Public schools used to provide services to all in major cities; now they mainly serve those that have no other options (fleeing, private schools, or perhaps some walled-off sub-component of the area).  Authorities used to provide security to all areas (in theory); now many use their own security guards (they were ubiquitous when I used to live in Texas, even in grocery stores) and gated communities; the areas solely governed by authorities such as inner cities have little security at all.  For public health, feel free to show up at your local community facility without insurance and get in line.

Many elements of electricity in the US are moving in this direction; after the recent set of storms here in Chicago I noted a burst of interest for local generators (gasoline powered) to run your home for days when the power goes out.  Businesses routinely plan for backup generation in the costs of their facilities; these backups allow them to either mitigate the spikes and poor quality electricity that they receive from the grid (the "dirty" power) or to prepare for the grid to be unavailable entirely.  Note that this is a significant cost and one that is poorly recognized; businesses and residents used to NOT have to plan for life without reliable electricity service, and now they MUST.  This is a major drain on total productivity because these sorts of investments have little return and just add to the cost of doing business; they are more like a necessary evil than anything else.  I haven't seen a formal study or analysis on the cost of unreliable electricity across all sectors (household, commercial, government and industrial) but it would be an eye-opening survey, I believe.

The gradual shift is that electricity is being viewed as a "typical" public service, meaning one that you might or might not want to rely on, depending on where you live and what your ability is to avoid the vagaries or inadequacies of that service.  This is happening over many years and varies based on your local situation; in Wisconsin, for instance, where Dan lives, the state did not (foolishly) de-regulate; so businesses and residents there are mostly shielded from this situation.  If you live in California, on the other hand, you were exposed to it a decade ago for the first time.

When you compare this to other losses of monopolies, such as the end of the fixed-line monopoly under AT&T for telephone (which fell to wireless service), it is important to note that the end of the typical large scale generation, transmission, and distribution system of energy there will not be significant improvements to the end customer when this monopoly collapses (or becomes unreliable enough that affluent customers begin to escape).  It is VASTLY more efficient overall to generate power using technologies such as coal or nuclear power than to do it in a little generator running gasoline attached to your house, even when you factor in transmission and distribution costs. 

It is likely that the decline in value and reliablity of the public monopoly on electricity will be accompanied by some innovation, mainly in technologies that use less power at the retail or commercial level (such as when you go to a European hotel and you put your key card in the slot to turn on the power; this means that when you leave the room with your card everything is always shut off) or that consume less power at this level (such as televisions), and these will be favorable, although in no way covering for the value of the loss of the large scale generation and transmission model.  There will also be innovations in control and monitoring of power since the power quality will also decline in tandem with the unraveling of the local monopoly.

The other element of this is that the public electricity sector will get caught in a "death spiral" similar to what happens to public schools in large cities when all of the affluent citizens either physically leave or send their children elsewhere to school.  Businesses may wall themselves off entirely from the grid to ensure reliable power and housing or condominiums may be established with their own power sources, which in turn will limit the amount of money available to support the public model.  These types of changes will take decades to fully play out, and the various steps won't be immediately visible to most people that aren't attuned to the electricity industry, but it is happening nonetheless. 

Pakistan is an extreme example but in these few paragraphs you can see it all:
- businesses that are under competitive pressure have to put their top managers focusing on procuring energy rather than being more productive
- staff that are inefficient due to poor quality and unreliable service
- costs 2-3 times higher for their own generation relative to the grid
- larger businesses "opting out" entirely to gain a competitive advantage, reducing funds available to solve the core problems
- the government with grandiose long-term plans (like new hydroelectric) that won't materialize in the near term
- the fact that the government did nothing while demand moved to 3x supply

Cross posted at Chicago Boyz

Life's Rich Pageant 25 Year Anniversary

I blogged a bit ago about how much the album Lifes Rich Pageant affected me as a young college student. It may help readers to review that post before you go forward with this one. It was sort of like I was holding a meteor or other object that I simply couldn't identify - I was listening to it and wondering what I had been doing listening to so much crap over the years. The album just took me places I had never been musically and I never looked back from there.

To celebrate (make money?) the 25th anniversary of the release of LRP, they have come out with a remastered version of the album. I decided to buy it for a couple of reasons. First, the only copy I have of LRP is my old vinyl from the college days. That particular piece of history is like a time capsule to me - it isn't just an album for me, it is the sound of my youth. So I needed a copy and am too lazy/busy to do the ipod thing so I bought the cd set to listen to in my car on the way back and forth to work. The second reason I bought it was that the set comes with some demo tapes of the songs from LRP along with a few others from that time period.

So, I think a short review is in order. I think that the new remaster is both good and bad. It is much easier to pick out each instrument in the remix. I seem to remember the album sounding much more like a band and it being more difficult to pick out individual parts. It isn't better or worse, just different. I also thought the mix was too heavy on the treble, and didn't have enough bass. I adjusted my car stereo and it sounded fine.

As for the music, well, I have already droned on about how much I love this album, so I don't see the need to review that. If you don't own it, get it today in one form or another.

I can review the demos. Unless you are a diehard fan of this disc and REM in this time period, I wouldn't recommend it. I enjoyed a lot of the demos (called the Athens demos) and it was cool to hear drops in a song where there wasn't one, and other little things like that. The coolest thing to me was the two verses in Cuyahoga where they didn't have any vocals. I was happy to provide them in the car since I know every word. If you are as big a fan of this album as I am you will find some very neat things in the demos.

The liner notes were a little whiny and a bit stupid at times, but I learned a bit from them anyway.

Interesting what you get with a CD these days. I haven't actually purchased any music since I got satellite radio a decade or so ago and was sort of taken aback at all this crap that came along with the discs.

Do they actually expect forty something folks (I assume the market they are trying to hit with this item) to put that poster up on their wall? I mean no kids are going to buy this, are they? Who, exactly is going to hang this poster, I wonder.

I do like the little photos of the band members from that era, and will probably make a wall hanging featuring those and the actual album I own of LRP from college. My kids will probably ask me how that thing actually makes music - in fact it doesn't in my house anymore since I don't have a record player.

Times change, but this album will always be one of my favorites. That will never change.

Cross posted at Chicago Boyz.

Friday, July 29, 2011

Flying In A Fully Restored WWll B-17

Early Friday morning the strong storms woke me early and I could not go back to sleep so I decided to do some digital housekeeping by dumping trash from my hard drives and sifting through my backups. I was delighted to find these images that document my once in a lifetime flight on one of the few B-17’s flying today. I thought these photos were lost forever having not seeing them for years.

Each year The Collings Foundation makes their "Wings Of Freedom" national tour featuring some of the rare old warbirds that still fly today.

The Collings tour makes an annual stop at the nearby Porter County Airport in late July. They were here earlier in the week and departed Wednesday. I did not go to take photos as I do each year to add to the blog since it’s already been done a few times.

In 2001 I went for the first time to take photos and ended up actually going for a 45-minute ride on their B-17. I had my company’s digital camera with me at the time but failed to realize the battery was low and was only able to grab a few in-flight shots. It was a real surprise to find these few images in my archive that I had not been able to locate for years.

My flight aboard the “109” cost $350 in 2001, a small price to pay to actually fly in a piece of history. Today the same flight costs $475 so I got a deal.

Ten of us climbed on board through a small hatch in the waist section. The first thing I noticed was the thin aluminum skin and support structure where cables used to control the aircraft were in plain view.

Against each side were five small, crude plywood seats against the side next to each other not raised but on the floor. We were told that the engines would not start until we were all seated and buckled in. It was very hot and sweaty in there. Seemed like forever before they started those giant radial engines

On board the engines coughed, sputtered and eventually started one by one until all four were purring. The vintage aircraft began to move but we could not see a thing sitting strapped to the plywood bolted to the floor.

We taxied toward the runway and came to a halt. We were told this was regular procedure in order to gain the proper oil pressure in the engines.

Not being able to look out a window we turned onto the runway where the pilot gunned the engines with wheel brakes engaged. When the pilot disengaged the brakes we lumbered down the runway. As soon as we left the ground we were cleared to unbuckle and walk about the aircraft. Just. Wow.

I peered out the waist gunner’s window over the .50 caliber machine gun and let my imagination run wild. Our maximum altitude was assigned at 2500 feet.

There is a very narrow catwalk that leads from the waist section to the control area. They had dummy bombs on board and I was amazed how few bombs each plane could carry. Even more surprising was how small the B-17 was.

The pilot and co pilot were seated on their own platform and we were not allowed into the actual cockpit. There was an open hole on the top of the plane so I stuck my head out and immediately lost my ball cap. If I remember correctly we were flying along at about 250 mph.

I poked my head into the cockpit area to grab a shot.

Soon, two other passengers came from the nose area and signaled it was our turn. We flew along the southern coast of Lake Michigan where every beach goer and boater could be seen looking up and pointing. While over land autos pulled over to watch in amazement.

When I had my turn to sit in the bombardier seat we were flying over the U.S. Steel mill in Gary IN. I was able to look through the bombsight and see what probably soiled many a bombardier flight suit. Bombing industry in Germany was the main duty of bombers in WWll, but at a much higher altitude than 2500 ft. It was. Simply. Breathtaking.

45 minutes went by like 5 minutes and we soon we were ordered to sit down and buckle up for landing.

I admit there was some nervousness on my behalf. While this historical gem was completely restored I had my reservations. We were flying low and slow and had no parachutes. Besides, at 2500 ft. a parachute wouldn’t do much good.

I had a certain amount of concern should the unthinkable happen, such as what happened to this other restored B-17 that went down in a western Chicago suburb over a month ago.

It looked bad but everyone walked away.

I highly recommend taking a flight like this to anyone else who loves WWll history and watching old war movies like Twelve O’Clock High. There’s nothing like almost being there while being there at the same time.

Dane County Fair Tilt A Whirl

I have written and read more about the Tilt A Whirl more than pretty much every person in the world except perhaps one hundred. I think that is a bit weird and sick, but so it goes. This was the model they had at the Dane County Fair last weekend.

Sadly, I think my Tilt A Whirl riding days are over. When I rode it last year, I almost lost my cookies and I really didn't feel very good the rest of the day. It is still one of my kids favorite rides. You can see a ton of posts along with photos and video if you click the Tilt O Whirl category on the side bar.

France Cycling Trip 2011, Part Eight

After the ascent of the Plateau de Beille I was gassed - and I mean gassed. But we all were. We took a half hour or so to recombobulate at the top for the descent. It was a good thirty degrees cooler at the top so we had to bundle up with our arm and leg warmers, a warming vest and full finger gloves for the descent so we didn't freeze. Of course at the bottom we had to strip all that sh1t off for our ten mile ride home. Trials of riding through the mountains, I tell ya.

When we got back, we all were a quart low and needed to eat. I raided our fridge and got some of the great bread they provided along with some ham and brie and made myself a snack before dinner. Also had a couple glasses of Coke - the Coke in France is made with real sugar and kicks so much more ass then ours here in the USA made with high fructose corn syrup. I drank a lot of Coke in France - my body was screaming for the sugar.

After a break to shower up, it was off to Dave's for dinner. The appetizer this night was a heavily (and I mean HEAVILY) peppered quiche with a little greens on the side. It was great.

The main course was what I had been waiting for, the coveted confit de canard, or duck confit.

You can read the wiki link above if you want to know how it is made. It was the single best thing I have eaten in a long time and the best thing I ate my whole stay in france. Just a spectacular dish and so peasanty. The wax beans on the side added a nice touch.

Dessert was a crepe with whipped cream in the middle and caramel drizzled on it. Also wonderful.

This was the best meal I had in France, although some later on do come close.

After dinner the clouds came in, and so did the rain. It was time for bed soon.

I should mention that in this part of the world that the sun doesn't go down until 10pm - I suppose that may be because we were in the mountains, but for whatever reason, it kept screwing with my sleep patterns, as if that needed any help from the previous couple of days of jet lag.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

France Cycling Trip 2011, Part Seven

When I left off, on my second day of cycling I had engaged in an eight mile sprint of over thirty miles per hour and climbed the Pas du Solombrie in quick fashion. I was first up that climb and was feeling great. I knew that we had more to come, but I had already tackled a category one the day before - how much harder could it be, right?

After climbing the Pas du Solombrie, we trekked around some of the hilltop towns in that area, then needed to descend to Les Cabannes for our last climb of the day, the infamous Plateau de Beille. The descent to Les Cabannes was probably the trickiest of my whole trip. The guy you see WAY down there is only two switchbacks down. You let off the brakes and you are instantly up to thirty mph. And as you can see, no guard railings. As always, my strategy of "not dying" on the descents paid dividends.

This brings me to another interesting subject, the one of equipment. I had a discussion with the tour guides about the bikes everyone had. They were all high end road bikes with quality hardware. The guides said that they typically make sure that anyone going on this trip is in shape and ready for the stress that this type of riding brings and has a GOOD bike. Crap bikes like the Schwinn you see at Target would simply fall apart on a descent in these mountains - everyone also was required to have a compact crank. I rode a 50/34 in the front with a 32 pie plate in the back. I ride a compact here in Southern Wisco since I typically hit the hills anyway but I was glad I invested in the 32 rear cassette. Most had 29s and they suffered quite a bit more than me on the huge climbs. It really made things easier as I could keep my cadence up even on the steeper grades. I prefer to ride in a higher cadence - it makes the cycling more of a cardio contest than a leg muscle contest.

You may remember that I said in the last piece that I wouldn't have gone out as hard as I did if I knew what was ahead in this second day. Well, we had a quick break at Les Cabannes for some food, then it was on to our big challenge, the Plateau de Beille.

This climb is an HC and is completely insane. It took me an hour and forty five minutes to get to the top - as a reference, the Tour guys do this climb typically in around 45 - 50 minutes (!). It didn't help that it was partially under construction in preparation for the Tour this year, and that it was something like 95 degrees. This climb was easily the hardest I did on the whole trip. It hits you right at the beginning and simply never stops. This is the only climb that I took a rest on to get my sh1t together. Several times.

I really had to get inside of my head to finish it. My head is an interesting place at times. When stressed heavily on the bike, part of my brain bitches and moans and wonders what the hell I am doing and another part of my brain just says shut up and do it and it will all be over soon. I always know toward the end of a century or other difficult ride or run exactly when it will happen and am used to it now. It must be an automatic defense or preservation thing in the brain trying not to let the body die. Anyways, stopping really helped me get to the top, as I would take a few moments to cool off in the shade, get my crap together and soldier on. Here is the profile of the PTB. Yep, 16 kilometers of hate. But it did offer some nice views at the top.

As always, I did get to the end and got a photo next to the sign declaring that the Tour would be here in July.

It was really awful. I forgot to mention the biting flies and other nasties that harassed us on the way up. But everyone eventually made it. I was the second or third last to the top.

The descent was fantastic as you could imagine - much faster than going up. We rode ten miles or so back to the cabins and the riding day was done. This days numbers:

6200 feet of rise
11.3 mph average
34.8 mph max
4 hours 21 minutes 24 seconds length of ride
49.44 miles total

It is one of my major goals for the next time (and there will be a next time) I climb the PTB to do much better - it had its way with me this time, but it wouldn't have been as rough if I wouldn't have been in a sprint earlier in the day and blasted up our first major climb. No regrets though, and no excuses. I will do better on the PTB next time. I guarantee it.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Gunstock IV - Coming Soon

Here's a video to get you cranked up.

While we may not have full auto Glocks to play with this time around there should be some high power excitement from the SWAT Team demo.

Book it. And bring plenty of ammo.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

I Smell Blood

Please excuse my brief rant.

Obunco finally has his back to the wall and it was on display this past Friday and again last night on national TV. How I gloat!

This flaccid, sneering, obnoxious nannyist has such a thin skin he is unable to hide it anymore. It was on display for all to see.

This morning I was watching Morning Blow and even the staunchest supporters of The One seem to be throwing in the towel and running away. To me this is the first sign that hopeychangey has officially failed.

Thank you Mr.B (the speaker) for not caving.

If the stupid party can nominate anyone better than Captain Kangaroo and Mr. Green Jeans I believe we can throw this impersonator-in-chief out on his ass (fingers still crossed).

Here is a very good essay on the topic. He says it much better than I am able to.

But we still have a long way to go.


“The fact that we are here today to debate raising America 's debt limit is a sign of leadership failure. It is a sign that the US Government can not pay its own bills. It is a sign that we now depend on ongoing financial assistance from foreign countries to finance our Government's reckless fiscal policies. Increasing America 's debt weakens us domestically and internationally. Leadership means that, "the buck stops here.' Instead, Washington is shifting the burden of bad choices today onto the backs of our children and grandchildren. America has a debt problem and a failure of leadership. Americans deserve better.”

-- Senator Barack H. Obama, March 2006

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Around Chicago July 2011 (More)

Upper left - the state of Illinois building lit up at night.  I still remember the building in that movie "Running Scared".  Upper right - glad we have inspectors on duty.  Nothing wrong with that shack in the car lot, is there?  This lot is on a super heavily trafficked street too.  Lower left - I like goodbye kitty.  Lower middle - we went to a fantastic Chinese restaurant in the North in the Uptown area and I ate so much I thought I'd explode; they had a great "lazy susan" and kept filling it with food.  Lower right - oh Lord, won't you buy me, a Mercedes Benz...

Cross posted at Chicago Boyz

A Spooky Chicago Story

Last January I snagged a three week contract at a small ad agency downtown. I worked for a very attractive young blonde named Melanie (which made my time there quite pleasant) on the Glaxo Smith Cline business.

The building I worked in is called the Reid Murdock Building. Its location is on the Chicago River on the north bank between LaSalle and Clark St. This building was once a shipping warehouse and now serves as business lofts. It has a lot of old Chicago charm being all brick and topped with a distinctive clock tower. Surrounded by boring metal and reflective glass high rises it is an architectural oasis in a desert of blah.

In the lobby of the building and in the corridors, large framed old photo murals of this building and the river location are on display and dated. There’s a lot of history to this building and whoever manages it does a fine job of relaying this information visually.

Melanie and I worked late a few times. One night I departed about 8pm and Melanie was the only one left in the office. My departure was swift, hoping to catch one of the few trains back to the free world of Indiana.

The next day I arrived early, which is not only my business commitment but a habit of over 30 years. Melanie arrived an hour or so later at 8:45.

She sat in the same cube farm just over a divider. She stood over the divider and asked if I knew of the building folklore. Recalling all the images in the building I said yes. Then she asked If I ever witnessed anything odd while working there late and alone. I replied with a simple no. That’s when Melanie related what she had seen after I left the building the night before.

She told me the story about the building being haunted but until the night before she thought it to be, in her words, "poppycock". Melanie described these foggy human apparitions that moved slowly into her peripheral vision and when she turned to look more closely they would slide away as if they were spying on her. This happened to her about three times before she ran out of the office without logging off the server (a huge no-no) and turning off her computer. Her pale look and buggy eyes told me she was now a believer. Freaked me out.

I asked her if this occurrence had anything to do with the Eastland disaster. She just gave me a wide-eyed nod.

The Eastland was a Great Lakes steamer that was docked on the river in front of the Reid-Murdock building. It was being loaded with passengers that were employees of Western Electric and were bound for a company picnic across the lake in Michigan City Indiana. While leaving the dock the ship listed over and capsized killing hundreds of passengers and crew.

You can find more Eastland info here.

While working late at night in this office the apparitions never came to me. I was told they were never visible when more than one person was in the office, always appearing to lone individuals. Many others have reported similar occurrences and swear by them.

I may never know for sure but would love to have the opportunity to find out for myself.

This came to mind to me since today marks 96 years since the Eastland disaster happened.

Saturday, July 23, 2011

France Cycling Trip 2011, Part Six

When I last left off, I had made it through my first day of bicycling in the Pyranees, and had conquered a category one climb along the way. Also, I had accomplished my goal of "not dying" on my first descent. That first descent was the Port de Lers which the Tour de France was just on. It was extremely satisfying to watch those Pyranee stages this year. Jens Voight, who is an awesome cyclist and has had a long career got a bit hot in some of the corners on the descent of the Port de Lers and crashed twice.

And, in a nutshell, these two things are what you are trying to avoid when you are descending at great speeds - getting too hot into a corner (the first crash) and slippery/gravelly pavement (crash two). I took far fewer risks than a lot of my tripmates, but at all times my goal was, as I have been saying, "not to die" and that goal was accomplished. On some of these switchbacks they are so steep that you let off the brakes and you are instantly at 30 mph or faster.

So I was on to my second day of cycling in the Pyranees. We took a "warm up" ride from our first base village of Vicdessos to Tarascon sur Ariege. I put warm up in quotes because I got behind one of our tripmates and we decided that our warm up would be a sprint to Tarascon - it was about 8 miles. The route is slightly downhill the whole way and I just got in his wheel and we flew there averaging around 30 mph. We were hauling ass. I would not have done this if I knew what was to come later in the day. More on that later.

We rode in the valley for a while and stopped in some of the scenic cities along the way - every town has a beautiful stream running through it. In fact, there was quite a lot of water in these mountains - streams, creeks, waterfalls, rivers, you name it. Don't drink it. It looks beautiful, but is has goat, cow, sheep and human shit and piss in it and you will get ill.

Our first climb of the day was a cat 1 or 2 (it isn't officially rated) Pas de Solumbrie. There really isn't anything online or an official hill profile for this one, it is simply a tiny mountain road that winds up and up and up and ends in Cazanave. I was feeling very confident after how well I did my first day, and when the climb started I decided that I was going to be the first one up to the top. I accomplished that goal - it was getting a bit hot toward the end, and the sweat was coming off pretty good. This was one of the more scenic and enjoyable climbs - the greenery was lush and it was quiet and just a very nice place to be with my bike. Here is me at the top. I also would not have gone out and crushed this mountain like I did if I knew what we were doing later, but we will get to that in the next part.

This part of France is VERY Catholic. There are a lot of random cross and Virgin Mary monuments all over the place. Some are big, some are small, but the monuments are everywhere. Also there are a lot of war monuments. Now these aren't enormous American style ones that have old tanks or things like that, sometimes they are just plaques with the names of the dead on them (the ones with the dead children on them are the most depressing). This monument outside of Cazenave is a combination of both a Catholic and war monument.

On one side was a plaque memorializing the WW 1 dead. Four from Cayshax and three from Senconac.

And on the other side was the WW 2 dead. Yep, only one guy from Caychax. I wonder if they had this monument set up after WW 1 and they just affixed this plaque on the other side after WW 2. Probably a good guess.

While the historian in me always likes to stop for monuments and memorials, there are so many of these dotting the countryside of this part of France it got a bit too depressing after a while. Many of the beautiful churches had war dead memorials inside them as well.

Monday, July 18, 2011

"Dancing In The Glory Of Monsters" Book on Congo War Review

The "World War in Africa" occurred in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC). The first Congo war occurred in 1996-7 when the deranged Seko was taken out of power by the elder Kabila backed by Rwandan troops following their victories against the Hutus that perpetrated the Rwandan genocide. The second Congo war occurred in 1998-2003 as the Rwandans and Ugandans attacked again and many other nations intervened; the elder Kabila was assassinated and replaced by his son as leader of the DRC.

Ultimately elections were held in 2006 and Kabila won the election, based on his popularity in the Eastern part of the country (nearer Rwanda) for orchestrating the peace accord, while Bemba was popular in the West of the country nearer the capital Kinshasa. Bemba lost to Kabila in a run-off election for President and went into exile in the West; Bemba is now standing trial in the ICC.

Another confusing element of the conflict is the fact that Uganda and Rwanda, who were allies in the East against the DRC and its backers, had a fall out and started battling each other over the mineral riches in the areas they controlled. They had a cease fire but then one of the Tutsi leaders formerly part of the Rwandan-led Congolese Tutsis named Nkunda took a major role; in another odd turn the DRC allied with the official army of Rwanda and they both attacked Nkunda (Rwanda was also attacking Hutu militias on its border with the DRC) and Rwanda is now holding Nkunda prisoner (Nkunda is wanted by the ICC).

In addition to all these ongoing military events, it must be remembered that the DRC is VERY WEALTHY with regards to commodities. Per wikipedia:
the Democratic Republic of Congo is widely considered to be the richest country in the world regarding natural resources; its untapped deposits of raw minerals are estimated to be worth in excess of US$ 24 trillion
The Chinese are attempting to invest in the country, bringing construction capabilities and investment funds in exchange for access to DRC resources. This article is a NY Times interview with Kabila about the Chinese investment. On the one hand, China is willing to work with corrupt governments and do what it takes to get the deal (presumably including bribes, but this is never proven); Western countries are barred by their own laws (for the most part) from doing this type of contracting. On the other hand, the Chinese are actually intending to build infrastructure, rather than shower money on corrupt politicians, and this infrastructure would be tangible and in the words of the locals "you can't put a railway in a Swiss bank account".

In the light of the importance of these events to the world in terms of scale (the most deaths in an armed conflict since WW2, if you believe the unverifiable figures), I try to learn what I can from whatever sources are available, including the excellent book by Prunier (which I review here). Thus with this background I am bringing you my review of "Dancing in the glory of monsters" (the collapse of the Congo and the Great War in Africa) by Jason Stearns (here is his blog which is also full of interesting information).

The book is sprawling - if I hadn't read Prunier's book first, I would have been very confused (or vice versa; I had to read Prunier's book twice to make half-sense of all the acronyms and various nationalities and battles).

The book attempts to "personalize" many of the characters involved and the author goes and visits many of the survivors to interview them. It cannot be overstated how difficult this can be; not only is the DRC almost impossible to travel in (except by air) many or most people do not wish to talk about these wars and being seen with a white journalist is a tell-tale sign of speaking up.

The book is excellent and highly recommended if you wish to learn about this large-scale conflict. Rather than summarize the whole book I am going to highlight some of the passages that I found most interesting.

Child Soldiers

I was very interested in the descriptions of how child-soldiers were recruited and trained. These child-soldiers not only played an important part in the war, they also were involved in the assassination of the elder Kabila, a critical element in the 2nd Congo war (in fact the element that allowed for peace to ultimately come, of sorts, since Kabila was busy antagonizing his allies and the West). A recruit named "Kizito" described his "training" as such:
a hazing ceremony that consisted of three days of grueling exercises on the training pitch... the soldiers would descend on them and begin beating them... if you couldn't keep up with the strict regimen, you were punished.
At the end of the three days the Rwandan Tutsis training them brought out six prisoners who had attempted to desert. After the officers killed 3 the recruits slit the throats of the other three. Now they were called "soldiers". The training continued for four more months, with more traditional military tactics. Note that the Rwandans were some of the most successful soldiers in history when you compare their difficult circumstances and small numbers to their military victories, so they were passing on real training. Then he reported to a truck with the word "Bukavu" on the side and given one AK47 and a clip of ammo, their entire weaponry. Per the book:
combat that soldiers engaged in was guerrilla warfare, involving risky ambushes and close-quarter fighting with the enemy... if you wanted to hit the enemy, you needed to be close enough to be effective with the AK-47... children were often the only soldiers who had the guts to engage in many of the operations, who actually obeyed orders, and whose sense of danger was not as developed as the older soldiers.
Battles in Kisangani

The former allies Uganda and Rwanda controlled most of the East until the end of the second war. These countries came to blows and had battles in Kisangani, formerly called Stanleyville, relatively located in the center of the DRC. The book sets the stage for the battles:
Kisangani became the graveyard of Rwandan and Ugandan reputations, where the two countries' lofty rhetoric gave way to another, more tawdry reality. Since the beginning of the first Congo war in 1996, the two countries had been able to maintain the pretense that they were involved in the Congo out of domestic security concerns... then in 1999 and 2000, the alliance between Rwanda and Uganda fell apart, as the two countries fought three battles in the streets of Kisangani.
The town was split between the Uganda and Rwandan forces, with local shops buying diamonds from miners and paying off the respective military forces for protection. Per the book it was up to $20M / month in uncut stones.

The Ugandans had tanks, artillery and other heavy weapons. The Rwandans were lightly armed but hardened from their guerrilla victories. Per the book:
The Rwandans were better organized than their enemies. They were motivated and following orders. The Ugandans didn't seem to know why they were fighting... The Rwandans, used to years of guerrilla warfare, fought their way from house to house with their AK-47's, dodging bullets. After battles, the Rwandans would always make sure to gather their dead and bury them, whereas the Ugandans often left their soldiers on the streets, leaving the impression that hundreds of Ugandans had died and almost no Rwandans. The Ugandans, for the most part, stayed in their trenches and in their armored personnel carriers.
If you are interested in Kisangani here is the site of the US Embassy located there and here is the Google maps site where you can drill down into the city from space.


In the genocide in Rwanda the Hutus slaughtered Tutsi.  After the Tutsis re-captured Rwanda, they struck out at the Hutus that fled into the DRC near Rwanda and chased the civilians and soldiers mixed together.  The author interviewed a man named "Papy" who would "interrogate and kill" the refugees.

"We could do over a hundred a day," Papy told me.  I had a hard time believing him; it seemed so outrageous.  "We used ropes, it was the fastest way and we didn't spill blood.  Two of us would place a guy on the ground, wrap a rope around his neck once, then pull hard."  It would break the victim's windpipe and then strangle him to death... I asked Papy why he did it.  It was an order, he replied.
There are many other atrocities throughout the book, of all kinds, repeating themselves in the wake of the Rwandan genocide.  In Rwanda the re-conquering Tutsis did attempt to bring (Hutu) killers to a sort of justice, but in the DRC there is little in the way of formal justice, other than Bemba being in the ICC dock and Nkunda in the hands of the Rwandans (and this is more of a falling out among former allies than any sort of true, formal judgement).  The author points out how difficult it will be to reconcile while this is the case.

Lack of Knowledge of the Conflict

Sadly, by dint of reading this book and Prunier's book and trying to read through the web for additional information, I am likely one of the most knowledgeable people I know on these relatively significant historical events.  I would recommend reading both these books as well as checking out the blog of the author if you, too, are interested in this topic, as well.

Not to tie such events to our pop ephemera but it is jarring that our news and popular TV shows are filled with discussions of vampires and magic and procedural crime shows but hardly a peep about the humanity on display (or lack therof) and the complex military battles that occurred in the DRC and on its borders.  It is safe to say that once the Rwandan genocide was played across the world's consciousness that the DRC faded away, even though this war claimed millions of lives, mostly through neglect, disease, disruption, and starvation, as well as out and out murder of the sort listed above.

Cross posted at Chicago Boyz

Millennium Park Spouting Faces

I love the Millennium Park spouting faces. This article in the Chicago Tribune from 2005 describes how they randomly selected volunteers to be "faces" on the screens, and that they have 2 different sets of movies, one for the summer when they periodically "spout" water and one for the winter when the water is turned off.

Monday Morning Blues

Saturday, July 16, 2011

The Government is the Only Game in Town for Mortgages

Today the US government basically controls the US mortgage market for housing. Per this article in the WSJ "Government Stays Glued To Mortgage Market" in the WSJ:
The government took over Fannie and Freddie in 2008 to prop up the housing sector, and taxpayers are on the hook for $138 billion...Together with the Federal Housing Administration and federal agencies, Fannie and Freddie are behind nine in 10 new mortgages.
The US government increased the limit on the dollar amount that these agencies can issue in order to keep housing prices from collapsing; now, much to the bewailing of the real estate industry, they are looking to tighten those limits.
Unfortunately, if the US government stops supporting loans, there aren't going to be many new loans at all. If you attempt to get a mortgage that isn't covered by one of these Federal agencies, expect to see a very large down payment, a higher interest rate, and to have sterling credit in order to close the loan.

Some regions are moving to cash in order to "clear the market". In Miami 64% of transactions were "all cash", with foreign buyers comprising the majority of the sales.

If you think about it, the "classic" thirty year loan, with a locked in rate, and the ability to exit the loan if rates decline(through re-financing) but the ability to keep the loan if rates rise (thereby someone else is essentially taking the loss) is not a product that would be offered at all today if the private market was in charge. And these products would be even more exotic with the small down payments (3% - 5%) required by the US government agencies.

The private lenders are not even in the market now; they are all locked in struggles over past mortgage losses and securitization and being hounded by lawyers and regulators over what happened during the "boom years" up to 2007. Recently JP Morgan Chase under Jamie Dimon (one of the smartest guys in the banking business) pledged to exit the market in their latest conference call:
JPMorgan Chase is gradually reducing its mortgage portfolio to "close to zero" as it reviews mortgage losses and works through litigation over loan-servicing and foreclosure practices, Bloomberg News reported.
Back to the original WSJ article - the US government is hoping that the private sector will re-enter the market so that Fannie and Freddie and the FHA can "step back" from being the only game in town:
"There's a misunderstanding in the market, an irrational belief that says private capital will emerge" if government-supported mortgage lending looks too expensive, says David Stevens, chief executive of the Mortgage Bankers Association who headed the FHA for two years until March. Trying to "crowd-in" private money could be dicey if there aren't broader structural changes to rebuild confidence, so investors don't have to price in a hefty "uncertainty premium." "I'm sort of the champion of private capital, but I'm also not naïve," says Lewis Ranieri, the pioneer of the home-mortgage-bond market. "At this point, it really just doesn't work because we don't have those certain fundamental issues resolved…. The damage done to the institutional and retail investor in this crisis was massive, and it was on many levels."

If the government is truly serious about reducing the size of their intervention in the US mortgage market there will be major consequences. You can assume, based on Dimon's recent activities, that while the big banks are still stuck with lawsuits and fallout from the real estate bubble, very little private capital will "rush in" to offer products that the US government offers today. Thus if you are trying to sell a house for more than the government sponsored maximum (271k in most areas, 410k in high cost areas, more in CA and NYC), you are going to have a harder time finding a mortgage, and it won't be a low down payment mortgage, for certain.

There likely will be a bad "middle" segment of the market of homes more than the government loan limits but less than the "rich" segment that is marketed to high income buyers (who often will pay cash, anyways). This "middle" will get squeezed more and more as the government reduces the limits listed above, which they are trying to do (or at least get them back to where they started in NYC and CA before the markets seized up).

In all cash markets that appeal to foreigners, like Miami, or even downtown Chicago (there are many high end condos), properties should be aimed towards these all-cash buyers. I don't know what they are looking for, but if you are building new condos or trying to sell an existing one, it would be useful to look at it from their perspective.

The mid priced markets (comparatively) will suffer as those trying to buy houses above the limit will find mortgages hard to get and expensive. This will impact home values, especially if the seller has a home that is hard to finance and he wants to sell his current home before he buys a new one (a contingent sale).

I'm not an expert on this but the consequences are going to be significant. There is no one stepping into the void as the government exits on a large scale; loans will always be there, but pretty much for "those that don't need them" - people who can afford big down payments, have sterling credit, and even other assets that they can fall back on.

Lack of loan availability will put pressure on prices; and as people start to figure out that building new homes for more than can be readily financed (through the government) they will stop building new ones; profit margins are higher on luxury homes and it takes a lot more smaller homes to make the same money (those that qualify for the government loan terms).

Cross posted at Chicago Boyz

Friday, July 15, 2011

France Cycling Trip 2011, Part Five

When I last left off, I had just ridden my first day in the Pyranees and it was a great success. My body held up very well on some large climbs, and I fulfilled my goal of "not dying" on my first major descent.

While I was at the top of the first major climb up the Port de Lers, we ate a small lunch at a tiny restaurant. I was amazed at some of the other bikers who were up there boozing pretty hard. Anyway, I bought a small wheel of the local chevre. I have always loved goat cheese, and like the cattle, the goats and sheep just wander around the tops of the mountains in the summer and do their thing. The product we most associate with chevre in the US is typically a softer variant - this cheese wasn't stiff or crumbly - you could slice it easily enough and it was absolutely delicious. You could almost taste the fresh grass and sweet air in the cheese. I had some for my afternoon snack after we returned to the cabins along with a couple of glasses of Bordeaux to celebrate my initiation into the Pyranee climber club. This proved popular as several of my tripmates joined me for some vin rouge, la fromage, and conversation.

After a while it was time to shower up and go to dinner at Dave's. This particular dinner was less than spectacular. The salad had on it an average potato salad, and some pickled beets that totally kicked ass.

The entree was a completely overdone pork chop with some sauce, some freedom fries and the good old haricots verts, or green beans. The beans were damned good.

A creek ran right by Dave's place. The rushing water added to the nice ambience.

Here are all of my trip mates and the tour guides. Good people all. Believe or not, I was the youngest person in the group. It is amazing watching a 61 year old guy dust you up a mountain. Then again, none of these people run, strength or kickbox like me - they are all pure bikers.

Booze and Minnesota

A few times Dan and I have joked that Wisconsin has the highest per-capita drinking in the USA. I'm sure that Minnesota isn't far behind, with winters just as brutal as those in Wisconsin and not too much sunlight during those dark days and nights.

It is summer now in Minnesota and the state is shut down. As it turns out, apparently that isn't a big deal. They don't let all the prisoners out of jail, they just shut down the inessential services such as the annoying bureaucracy that requires you to get innumerable permits and papers to conduct your daily business. These not-so-essential state workers total 22,000 in Minnesota; probably a great batch of employees to cut next.

The new Democratic governor in Minnesota, Mark Dayton (wealthy heir who turned into a stone-redistributionist Dem) actually ran on a platform of taxing the top 1%, which is literally the stupidest thing in the world from a state tax perspective, since THOSE ARE THE PEOPLE THAT CREATE ALL THE JOBS IN MINNESOTA. As it is, you'd have to be nearly out of your mind to live in the darkness, snow and miserable mosquitoes (in summer) of Minnesota in the first place; but to put dis-incentives for the rich to live there is even more insane (note - I worked in Minnesota for many years and long winters and met some of the nicest, smartest people in that hard working state. But they are still insane for living in that weather).

As in Illinois, with our governor Quinn, the Democrat eked out a win (with 43% of the vote in the case of Minnesota) and then took this as a "mandate" to implement all of their programs as if they were Roosevelt trying to get the country out of the great depression (although that didn't work so well, either). In the case of Quinn he raised Illinois taxes 67%, abolished the death penalty, appointed his cronies to state positions, and didn't cut any spending. Awesome. In the case of Dayton, his plan was to raise taxes on the richest to 13.95%, on top of the Federal rates. Unclear in his plan is WHY anyone wealthy would intentionally stay in Minnesota to have all of their income taxed away while many other states with better climates (Florida, Texas) don't have any state income tax AT ALL.

I think Dayton was crazy enough to hold out forever, as a populist. Unfortunately for him, the state was running out of booze. Apparently bars need to fill out a permit for $20 or so in order to buy booze and as they expired the bars would have to shut. Miller was going to have to shut down their operations for a clerical snafu (they overpaid so the state sent their permit back) and not distribute booze at all.

I really do think that the impending stopping of alcohol in the state of Minnesota helped precipitate a resolution to this budget standoff, where the governor gave in on his plan to drive all job-creators from the state.

Hats off the Minnesota legislature for standing firm. Unlike Illinois, where not only do the dems run our legislature but our red representatives aren't creative enough to flee the state at the prospect of a giant tax increase, like they did in Wisconsin to attempt to block Walker's reforms.

Cross posted at Chicago Boyz

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Tube Steak Boogie

You will often see published recipes and photos of my BBQ and grilling accomplishments here on the LITGM blog. Most are somewhat complex and involve a lot of time to prepare but I love to do it. Then there are times when simple and cheap provide surprisingly delicious results.

On Sunday night we chose oversize hot dogs wrapped in bacon. I prefer jumbo dogs with bacon wrapped loosely so some of the dog is able to get a good char. Here’s a photo of my Sunday Wiener that I could tweet about to female strangers if I gave a crap about twitter. Or female strangers.

Saturday while grocery shopping I noted a brand in the local grocery I had never tried before. These are Franks, not Wieners, more on that later. Red Hot Chicago makes the perfect Frank for me. It is way to long for the conventional bun and thick enough to stand up to grilling. So I bought the Turano Bakery soft sub rolls, which fit this John Holmes impersonator perfectly with plenty of room for condiments.

I decided not to photograph and publish my prepared dog on a bun for fear of ridicule. Now I wish I had. Let’s just say I like slivered onions, pepper jack cheese, jalapeno slices. And ketchup.

There. I said it. I like ketchup on my hot dog. So sue me.

After poking around on the internets I found that the maker of Red Hot Chicago uses a recipe similar to Vienna Beef Hot Dogs. But I discovered these Red Hot Chicago franks to be far superior in flavor and texture.

As it turns out Red Hot Chicago’s family recipe is due in part to an ancestor that worked for Vienna Beef decades ago. In fact, a lawsuit has been filed by the Vienna Beef people. This tells me that RHC must be biting well into the Vienna Beef market share.

While researching hot dogs I found that Red Hot Chicago has another meaning. Check THIS out.

Chicagoans are typically very provincial to a fault. They stick to tradition when it comes to local tastes and flavors. Frango Mints and deep dish pizza come to mind. Oddly, the family who owns the Lou Malnatti’s Deep Dish Pizza chain have a similar background. Lou Malnatti (now deceased) once worked for Uno’s, the inventor of deep dish pizza. But I have never heard of any lawsuit between them. The two pies are similar but I prefer Gino’s East to both of those.

Vienna Beef Hot Dogs are considered to be a local treasure in Chicago due to smart marketing over the decades.

Personally I do not care much for the sacred “Chicago Style Hot Dog”. Here is a link that describes this local treasure and also the dicks that treat it with such reverence. These guys who operate the site, oddly enough, live in Madison WI.

As far as hot dogs are concerned I have tasted others from across the country. I’ve had Nathan’s and Hebrew National from New York. They are among the best. When in Manhattan on business I have had the Sabrett brand served from street carts. Ball Park Brand Hot Dogs are way, way down on my list as well as Bar-S, which they sell locally for $1 per pack, It’s just awful crap. There's also Scott Peterson brand from Chicago. They are also very good. I have yet to taste Johnsonville’s Stadium Franks but knowing their brats I am sure their hot dogs are good too. But I have never seen them at the local grocer. Cook’s Illustrated rated them very high.

Now I am sold on Red Hot Chicago's Jumbo Frank and will definitely make them again.

In the mid 80’s I worked at an ad agency that had the Oscar Mayer account and personally worked on the business. This is when I learned that a Frankfurter, or Frank is made mainly with beef while Wieners are made of pork, at least they once were. If you examine the packages of most wieners they now cut the pork with turkey and chicken extenders, so I avoid wieners. But they all seem to be lumped into the category of Hot Dog. OM hot dogs rank very low on my taste list.

I visited the Oscar Mayer Madison H.Q many times. I once rewarded with a tour of a hot dog plant. After dressing up in sanitary boots, a long white coat and hardhat, the marketing guy walked us down what they called a ‘wiener tunnel’. This long machine began where workers dumped a grayish mass of slurry into a hopper. The tunnel went on for about a block where the dogs were cooked, smoked encased and packaged all in one process. Slurry goes in one end and fully packaged product out the other. When the tour was over the marketing guy asked us if we were impressed. My co-workers nodded yes. Noting that I was not nodding he asked me why I wasn’t impressed.

I told him I would be impressed when live hogs entered the hopper and packaged product exited on the other end. He grinned. We both know they use everything but the oink when making a wiener.

As a sidebar, we were once involved in a ‘Blue Sky’ marketing session at HQ tossing out crazy marketing ideas. I recalled my youth, when the Wienermobile would always appear at supermarket grand openings. The midget handed out whistles and coupons. I openly recalled my youthful experience, asked why they stopped using the Wienermobile and suggested they bring it back. They told me the Wienermobiles were stored in a Madison warehouse and in bad shape. In addition, the midget was old. I argued back that that iconic motor vehicle was way too good to be stuck in a warehouse and should be brought back. The Chief Marketing Officer looked at me and sneered. “The Wienermobile will never be back, that was the old days and we are moving on.”

Well, guess what eventually happened?

Monday, July 11, 2011

Around Chicago July 2011


Hotfoot! While it has been hot recently it also was cold earlier in the month and we turned on the (gas) fire pit at a friend's condominium.


Don't know quite what this is but I think it is art of some sort.


I liked the view of these condos with the balconies near Erie Park.


Food trucks are the rage! You can follow them via twitter or check the schedule here to see where the "Haute Sausage" truck will be next.


The food trucks were out for "Movies in the Park" where they show free movies in the summertime. They showed "The Social Network" at Erie Park recently where there was a decent crowd (it was a nice night).


I am always amazed at how the spiders get up on the highest decks. This "sky spider" is up on the 42nd floor. You can see big green ones off the sky deck at the highest skyscrapers. Here is a "Straight Dope" column on how those spiders get way up there.


Here is a great shot of the lake near where the spider was blowing in the wind...

Cross posted at Chicago Boyz