Old Fashioned Hard Work

For the love of beer

The perfect place and beverage to share some casual conversation.

If we were having a beer, I might tell you about the project I did last weekend when I straightened out a couple of racks of firewood that were leaning very badly. The pressure-treated board they were standing on had rotted away and collapsed under the pressure of the racks’ legs. I would tell you that I had to lift two racks up about four inches, pull out the rotted wood and replace it.

You would look impressed. You would say that that sounds like serious work and you would ask how I managed to lift fully loaded racks of firewood. I’d tell you that I used a porta-power.

You would look at me curiously:

One of those hydraulic pumps with the various cylinders and gizzmos?


I saw one of those in a TV show. They use them to break into houses.”

What? No.”

You would explain. The show you watched was about the problems they had in various states with high volumes of foreclosed houses during the recession. They followed a guy who worked for a bank, cleaning up the abandoned homes. Sometimes, the owners didn’t bother to give the bank a key so the guy used a porta-power unit to spread the door jamb apart and pop the door open. You’d look at me and ask:

How powerful is that thing anyway?


10-tons? That’s sounds pretty powerful. Do you really need a 10-ton unit? Couldn’t you have gotten a smaller unit and saved some money?

I would explain that they had a 4-ton unit for $69 but the 10-ton unit was on sale for $99 and it seemed like a pretty good deal, $30 for 12,000 more pounds of applied pressure. I would add that, at the time, I had no idea when I might actually use the unit. Still, it’s come in handy.

You would be nodding in agreement. Why settle for four tons when you can have ten. Ten makes four sound like nothing. Then you would get that curious look again.

Wait, did you use that thing when you pushed the end of one of those firewood racks back in place?

Of course, that required moving over 10 feet of stacked fire wood. How else would I move that?

OK, so when you yanked that fence out of the ground last year, did you use this thing? – ‘cuz, you know, when you told me that story, I was impressed.

You should have been impressed, that fence was buried twelve inches in the ground.”

Yeah but did you use this 10-ton magic lift thingie to get it out?

No. I used a 2-ton electric winch.”

So, do you do any real work, or do you just hook up tools and press buttons?

Sensing where this conversation was heading, I would order us another round. You would sit there making button-pressing movements with your thumb.

I would try to convince you that this wasn’t as simple as you were trying to make it. First, you have to know what tools can be used in what situations, i.e. when to use a winch instead of a hydraulic ram. You also have to know how to use these tools. I mean, I still was raising a cord of firewood four or five inches into the air. That’s not for the faint of heart. The whole thing could have come crashing down if it wasn’t properly balanced. I had to make a temporary support that would hold the racks up while I removed the hydraulics, the old boards and fitted the new boards. I would complain that, in its entirety, the job was far from easy.

You would acknowledge that it was probably more complicated than you were making it seem. You would ask for some of the details. I’d show you a short video of when I first raised the end of the rack. You would be impressed, but not with me. You’d be impressed because a little wedge like device was lifting half the weight of a cord of wood.

It’s impressive alright, but you have to admit, it’s doesn’t look like you were working very hard.

I’d try to explain that that’s why we make tools. The alternative to using this porta-power unit would have been to unload the firewood from the rack, replace the board and then reload the firewood. We make tools so that we don’t have to do that kind of work.

Yeah, but think about it. You lift with a porta power. You pull with a winch. You prune with a freakin chainsaw. You clear snow with a machine that looks like the Mars lander and yet you sit here drinking beer like you spend every day doing manual labor.”

Well the porta power unit weighs over 100 pounds.”

Did you carry it to the log pile?

I used a hand truck.”

You would raise your glass and make that button-pushing motion with your thumb again.

Posted in DIY, If having a beer, Tools | Tagged , , , | 31 Comments

Many and Varied Thoughts

image_thumb.pngThis post is part of the SoCS challenge, and it is the hardest one that I have had to write. I shouldn’t say “write” but it’s been very hard to “stream.” If you visit Linda’s site, you will see that I suggested today’s prompt. What isn’t clear is that I suggested it just as the April A-to-Z Challenge was beginning, 25 days ago.

“Your Friday prompt for Stream of Consciousness Saturday is: vary/very. Use one, use ’em both, add stuff to ’em, your choice. Have a blast!”

25 days is a long time to keep a stream of consciousness bottled up. Think about standing in a long line to use the restroom. It’s that kind of problem, I haven’t been able to not think about this. Sorry if I planted a seed there, I’ll wait while you run to the bathroom.

Great River Park is beginning to flood.

Great River Park is beginning to flood.

At first I thought that maybe I would get a free ride. Maybe, since I was the very person to come up with the prompt, Linda would understand if I put some thought into the various aspects of the two words ahead of time. Sooner than later, my unwanted stream of consciousness started to form into well-flowing river of consciousness and ultimately into a large body of well edited, at least in my mind, consciousness. I was doomed. I could not use those thoughts.

Then I thought: “maybe she won’t even use my prompt.” I mean, she seemed to like the idea well enough, but there are hundreds of words that begin with ‘V’ and she could choose any one of them. Besides, Linda has been working out of a thesaurus throughout the A-to-Z challenge, so she could come up with hundreds of variations on a theme.

I couldn’t stop thinking about this.

Then I thought that maybe I should write about how I couldn’t stop thinking about this but then I started thinking about that. All this thinking and thinking about thinking started to get a little overly meta so I stopped thinking about it altogether. Until today. As soon as I read the email, I was back in that line virtually shifting my weight from foot to foot.

What? You’re kidding, didn’t you already go to the bathroom? OK, go, but hurry back, and yes, I’ll stop using that metaphor.

While you were gone, the old stream started flowing again and I felt like I had no hope of not breaking the tacit agreement between me and Linda, not to mention the ranks of SoCSers around the world. Then I realized something. The very nature of a stream of consciousness varies moment by moment. Not only did that observation help me use both words in the same sentence, it freed me from the guilt by association with my previous thoughts. Who needs those thoughts anyway? Those thoughts are downstream. Water under the bridge and all that.

I’ve been following Evelyne Holingue’s A-to-Z challenge where she is explaining French idioms from A-to-Z. I wonder if there’s a French idiom for “water under the bridge?”

In addition to Evelyne, I’ve been following several other writers through the A-to-Z challenge and it’s been fun. The approach to the challenge has varied from writer to writer, but all the results have been interesting. Very interesting.

Do you remember Artie Johnson? You don’t? He was on a show in the late ‘60s and early ‘70s called Rowan and Martin’s Laugh-in. If you do remember the show, you probably remember his German Army character saying “Verrrrry int-errrrr-esss-ting.” But. Did you know that Artie Johnson and fellow cast member Ruth Buzzi recorded a song called “Very Interesting?” They did. You can listen to it here, but it’s stupid. Actually, that was a variation of “very interesting” that they used on the show: “very interesting but stupid.”

I. Am. Rambling.

I had to write that about five times because Word insisted on treating the “I” as if it were Roman numeral I in a Roman numeral numbered list. It would indent the “I” and then further indent the “Am” and it looked stupid. Interesting, perhaps very interesting, but stupid. Now I am really rambling but at least these thoughts are new thoughts.

By the way, this isn’t the first time I’ve given an A-to-Z writer a prompt. Last year, Damyanti crowdsourced her A-to-Z subjects. I gave her the phrase “Quotas had never been easy to achieve” as her prompt for the letter “Q.” Click the link to see the magic that she performed.

Linda, thank you for using my prompt. Knowing/thinking that it was coming made this post much harder to write, but in the end, it was fun letting the words spill out and form their own stream. Good luck with “W” “X” “Y” and “Z.”

Posted in Prompt, SoCS | Tagged , , , , , | 29 Comments

Thursday Doors – Hazardville Institute

The doors to a success story. The Hazardville Institute.

The doors to a success story. The Hazardville Institute.

These are the doors to a success story in north-central Connecticut. In the mid-1800s, Col Augustus Hazard donated land at the corner of Hazard Avenue and North Maple Street (in an area of Enfield, CT that would become known as Hazardville). The land was to be used for the construction of the Hazardville Institute.

Built in 1869, the Institute was used as a community meeting place. Over time, the building deteriorated but it was saved from demolition in 1979 by a group of preservationists, the Hazardville Institute Conservancy Society (HICS). They made emergency repairs and began planning and raising money. It took a few decades but the building has been restored.

I am not certain as to the plans for the building but various articles suggest that the Conservancy Society has plans for a museum, a meeting space and maybe a place to display the work of local artists.

In any case, HICS has done a remarkable job saving this beautiful building from destruction and restoring its former beauty. HICS has a Facebook page, if you want more information about the group.

This post is part of Norm Frampton’s Thursday Doors series. Participation is easy, take a picture of a door, post it, head on over to Norm’s page and add your link.

Posted in History, Photography, Thursday Doors | Tagged , , , , , , | 37 Comments

Eight More Laws

A strange tweet and a mini-rant to start the work week.

I don’t know why Twitter decided to “notify” me that someone favorited a tweet of mine over 500 days ago but of course I had to look. I was writing about behaviors that should be banned. I had eight of them in 2013, I wonder if I have eight more today. Yeah, you know the answer, don’t you?

Let’s start with the thing I tweeted about today just after I arrived at work. It was Monday. A dark and stormy Monday (I know, but it was raining and it was dark) and the coffee machine was in pieces on the kitchen counter. Someone cleaned it. Nice, thank you, but you could have put it back together. I would much rather have a dirty but working coffee maker than a bunch of clean plastic and metal parts on the counter.

I soon discovered why the person I just yelled at didn’t put the coffee maker back together, I also discovered my second new law: things should be easy to take apart and clean. I’m guessing that the person who cleaned this contraption simply wasn’t able to get it back together. The pieces were easy enough to assemble into the tray/shelf/drain thingie, but it was pretty hard to get that assembly back into the coffee maker. It was like trying to add those generic lego-like blocks to your Lego™ project. Let’s just say it required a healthy “wunk” and leave it at that.

My semi-annual pet peeve in this category are fans and space heaters. When you share your house with two cats and a dog, those things have to be cleaned, because:

There is nothing worse than the first few seconds of a space heater warming up and burning off last season’s accumulated pet hair along with six months of dust.

Taking them apart, though, is a challenge. It seems that in addition to screws that are buried six inches into a slot and screws of a hitherto unknown head configuration (first time using hitherto), there’s always some section that “snaps” together about as well as those lego-like blocks. Hmm 348 words, I guess I should move on to item three.

Packaging – People should pack the stuff that I buy so I can enjoy it when it arrives. I don’t care if it’s a tool that’s being shipped halfway across the country or a donut that’s going back to my office. There is a right way and a wrong way to pack things. Regarding the Oreo Cheesecake Donut Square, the right way is with the frosting and the Oreo crumbles facing up.

Details included – In this day of buying and selling mainly on-line, it’s important to include all the relevant details in your product description. If you‘ve been reading this blog for a while, you know that my wife tends the fire in the wood stove. Sorry, “her wood stove.” For Christmas, I bought her a manual wood splitter. The promotional video showed a woman dressed all pretty and wearing jewelry, slipping a log into this thing and peeling off strips of kindling like slices of cheese. It seemed like a great idea. I bought it. My wife liked the concept. I mounted it.

It. Did. Not. Work.

I checked the instructions. I had done everything correctly, but this thing didn’t work. Then I noticed something at the bottom of the box. Under the packing material was an “Addendum to the Instructions” which explained that the maximum length log is 14”. 14”? Firewood is never 14”. Firewood is 18-20” and maybe, if you’re lucky and get “stove length” logs, 16” but never 14”.

Let people think – My dentist has been trying to get a replacement crown approved by my insurance for several months. It’s actually a much longer story, but this isn’t a rant against insurance – yet. Anyway, they won’t give you a new crown if the old one is less than five years old. I got my old one in 1978. The insurance company wanted to know “exactly when in 1978?” What? Why? Are there some days in 1978 that are within five years of any day in 2014? We had to make up a date because “the system requires an exact date.”

Wait on hold without music – Actually, one of the companies my wife deals with offers the option to remain on hold without music. Every company on Earth should offer that option.

News now – TV news should not be allowed to flash a couple of graphic pictures or say things like “there’s a big storm coming” and then end with “full story at eleven.” No, Give us the full story now, or shut up. Don’t make me go to the Internet.

My first eight new laws included one from the common kitchen at work, so it seems fair that I should include one here. That’s easy. I could probably find eight new laws in that little room. Today, I’m going to focus on the paper towels. If you use the last sheet, replace the roll. It’s really easy. The new rolls are in the cabinet above the sink.

Posted in Opinion, Rant | Tagged , , , , , , | 48 Comments

Remembering a Different A-to-Z Challenge


You can’t escape the fundraisers. They are everywhere.

Despite the fact that a bunch of my blog-buddies just passed the April A-to-Z challenge midpoint, I can’t say the phrase “A-to-Z” without remembering a meeting of the Home and School Association where the subject was fundraising. The subject was always fundraising, and nobody says “we need money” like a nun standing at the front of the room.

I was first reminded of this when my buddy Dan was talking about naming Pagan Babies while growing up in Corpus Christi, Texas. Dan was either so scarred or so impressed by that experience that he spent part of his adult life teaching in a Catholic School in California. He described an encounter with the salesman for a fundraising outfit that is similar to the schemes the good sisters got roped into.

I forgot about fundraising until I read a guest post by Paul Curran at Cordelia’s mom about delivering fruit to schools who were selling it to raise money. The memories came flooding back. We sold fruit a couple of times. We also sold pies and wrapping paper and ribbon and magazines. The fruit and pies were the worst ideas ever. The salesmen promised us a nice profit on each case of fruit.

A case of fruit.

Who wants a case of fruit?

That was my thought when they announced that fundraiser and how were my six year old daughter and tiny little wife supposed to sell cases of fruit? Fortunately, I figured out a way to take that bullet. Rather than have my wife and daughter canvassing the neighborhood hawking oranges like a peddler, I volunteered to help unload the truck and distribute the fruit to parents. That was good for two reasons. It was one night. I was always fond of telling my daughter “you can do anything for (some length of time)” and certainly, I could schlep fruit for one night. The other reason was that we lived two blocks from a family that had three or four boys in that same school. Those kids worked our neighborhood like a side show barker. There was nothing left for us.

Selling pies was an even dumber idea. Our school was associated with a Polish Parish. No matter who you were talking to, someone in their family made a better pie than we were selling. That immediately narrowed the customer base to your neighbors, but not our neighbors because, you know, the family with four kids.

Another reason that both fruit and pies were dumb ideas is that people had to deliver them. The fruit came in 40 lb cases and the pies were frozen! I had taken the easy way out. I was working the wholesale end of the operation, and when you’re delivering fruit and frozen pies, wholesale is the place to be. Sure, there were the parents who had lost their paperwork and the ones who forgot to pay and the ones who didn’t remember ordering so much fruit but we had a perfect answer for them: “take it up with Sister” as if that was going to end well.

During my first Home and School meeting a man stood up and suggested:

Instead of fundraisers A-through-P, why don’t we we just divide up the amount of money the school hopes to raise pay that amount?

He even suggested that the families that could, could add in a little extra to make up for the families that couldn’t. Sister knew the members of both camps, she could handle that. Just give us a number.

I dubbed this guy “The Big Bazoo” and I thought he was crazy.

I had no idea that he was serious when he said “A-through-P” – over 15 fundraisers AND a fashion show!

His idea was soundly defeated. One after another, people got up and spoke in favor of fundraising. “The fashion show is so much fun” “The little kids love the pencil machine” “My family loves the wrapping paper” and, of course: “It helps the children develop social skills.”

The pencil machine was associated with the magazine sale. The little kids did like it but the magazine sale was self-defeating. When our daughter was in Kindergarten, we bought enough magazines to meet her daily quota. Unfortunately, publishers get you to renew your subscriptions well in advance of next year’s sale, so after one year, you’re sunk.

By the time our daughter was in 1st grade, I had become the Big Bazoo. I did my homework and I went to Sister with a proposition.

If my daughter sells the recommended amount of magazines, your profit is about $25. I’ll write you a check for $50 if you let her turn the pencil machine. Deal?

Done. Sister wasn’t dumb. She had her eye on the prize.

We bought wrapping paper, greeting cards, ribbon, bows and the occasional pie. I volunteered to help set up the tables, chairs, decorations and assemble the runway for the fashion show and we made it through each year. Our daughter ended up in marketing so doesn’t seem like the lack of sales experience hurt her. We didn’t get to name any pagan babies though.

Posted in Family, Nostalgia | Tagged , , , | 50 Comments

Thursday Doors – Elm Grove Cemetery

Elm Grove Chaple

This is the side door to the building that was a mortuary chapel. There are two other interesting doors on this tiny building, so you can expect me to return.

This is the side door of the Meeting House that was used as a mortuary chapel for Elm Grove Cemetery. I will return to this building, as it has two additional doors that I find interesting. The cemetery is not on my normal commute, but it is on my commute when I have to stop at the ATM on my way to work.

I love some of the early morning pictures I’ve been able to get from the cemetery roads. There is something very peaceful about being in a cemetery, especially on a stormy day. I’ll share some of those in a different post. I am trying to keep the Thursday Doors posts short.

According to a historical building page, The Ecclesiastical Society of Poquonock in Windsor was established in 1726 and a meeting house was built the following year. A second meeting house was built in 1798. The old Society’s church was torn down in 1882, but in 1893 a mortuary chapel for the adjacent Elm Grove Cemetery (earliest stone 1738) was constructed on the same site.

This cemetery is owned and maintained by the Second School Society, which dates back to the earliest government of Windsor, CT, starting in 1633. Elm Grove replaced Ye Olde Poquonock Burial Grounds, which became filled to capacity in the early 1800s.

This post is part of Norm Frampton’s Thursday Doors series. Have you seen an interesting door, a funny door or an odd door? Join the fun, Norm has made it easy

Posted in Photography, Thursday Doors | Tagged , , , , | 30 Comments

Close Enough

I'm still not sure where Outlook learned to count.

I’m still not sure where Outlook learned to count.

Recently, I was sending an email to a group of people and I noticed a message in Outlook: “this group contains about 31 recipients” – About? There really is no “about” about it. It’s 31 or it’s 30 or it’s 32. I’m not the word nerd that some of my friends are, but this kind of poor word choice bothers me. There is a precise number of individual names in that group, and Outlook should be able to count them. It’s binary, you know ones and zeros, there’s nothing in between, there’s no “maybe” state in core memory.

OK, there’s no “core” in core memory either. There used to be. Back when I started programming, core memory consisted of tiny wires wound around little iron cores. One wire could magnetize the core clockwise, one could magnetize the core counter-clockwise and one could tell the magnetic state of the core. Kind of like a highway project. One guy digs the hole, one guy fills the hole in and one guy watches to see if the hole is dug or filled in.

During my career, I’ve written hundreds and hundreds of messages and reports and I don’t ever recall generating reports with the word “about” in them. “We wrote about $100,000 worth of premium last month.” No. Reports don’t say things like that. People do. People guess at stuff all the time and hide their lack of knowledge behind “about” but not computer programs.

Imagine your bank statement saying “you have about $500 in your account.” I would say that. I would write a check based on that level of accuracy. In fact, I would write a check for $500. If I could write a check. For now obvious reasons, my wife handles the checkbook. My wife would never use the word “about” when talking about our checking account.

I once worked on a systems implementation project where my manager suggested that we could estimate bank account balances from a backup tape that was a couple of days old. I thought the idea was absurd, but only because I knew that there were customers out there like my wife. My bank could totally estimate my account balance and I would never catch them. I would look at it and think: “that seems about right.”

So why am I getting all bent out of shape over Outlook’s lack of precision? Why do I care how many people are going to receive my email?

Because things that we expect to be precise should be precise.

I may not know how much money is in our checking account but my wife does. I expect her to know. I may not know how much gas is in my car’s gas tank, but the gauge better be accurate. When that warning light dings, I expect to have enough gas to make it to a gas station (unless I’m between exits in Iowa, then I would expect to be pushing my car soon).

On the other hand, if I don’t expect something to be precise, then it doesn’t matter. I used to own a Triumph Spitfire. For most of that car’s life, the gas gauge didn’t work. I could still tell if I needed gas though. The gas tank was a rectangle, with a little reservoir at the bottom. It sat vertically, behind the passenger compartment, in front of the trunk, sorry, boot. If the tank was full, the gas didn’t slosh around. If the tank was nearly empty, i.e. only in that little space at the bottom, it didn’t slosh either. So, I would quickly swerve the car from right to left. If there was a sloshing sound, we had enough gas.

Speaking of cars, my favorite race car driver, Tim Wilkerson recently lost a race by 0:00.0001 1/10,000 of a second! If that seems a little too precise, you should know that you can measure the distance a car travels in that time when it’s traveling over 300 miles per hour. Sorry, I’m rambling, but that’s the kind of thing that I’m talking about. I expect NHRA to be able to measure time and the distance traveled by cars moving at 300 miles an hour – because that’s what they do.

One last ramble and then I’m done. Photography has moved from precise to close-enough. I remember when knowing whether to shoot at 1/100 or 1/60 mattered. I also remember the wave of disappointment that would roll across my face after opening the yellow envelope containing those under/over exposed images. Today, it’s snap, no, snap, no, snap, dammit, snap, ugh, snap, yay! I might miss the occasional bird in flight, duck in the river and car going by, but eventually, I get the shot. I even have a picture of Tim Wilkerson, albeit, from the starting line.

Posted in Perspective, Technology | Tagged , , , , , , | 64 Comments