Update

African Connection links are now in the sidebar to the right, just below the My Travel section.

Click here to see a La Crosse Tribune article about the mission in Uganda.

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Let The Sun Shine

Glorious would be a good description for Tuesday in Sedona. Bright sun lit up the towering red rocks and mild temperatures were just right for walking the trails. Just after breakfast, I took off into the area behind the inn, which borders the parkland. It was a most pleasant walk, once I figured out that if I was going to look up at the rocks, I needed to stop walking. And if I was going to walk, I needed to keep my eyes on the local flora, as virtually every plant was armed and dangerous. The highlight of the walk, except maybe for not getting run through by a cactus, was the musical accompaniment. Here in the quiet of the morning, the strains of Amazing Grace floated down from a rock formation, a woman's voice, vocalizing the melody. She would go on for a while, stop for a few minutes, then continue. It was quite nice.

We visited several areas between Oak Creek (where we are staying) and Sedona where we could park the car and walk around in the park.Yes, glorious would be a good description for Tuesday in Sedona. Here are a few pictures:









Tuesday, December 28, 2010

There's a Bike Shop Here

"Here" is Sedona, Arizona. We drove in late yesterday afternoon and I spied the shop on highway 179. Perhaps a jersey? Even though I won't be riding. I COULD ride around on the trails, in and out of the red rock canyons, over the rough trails, avoiding the cacti. I COULD. But, since I know I could, I don't really have to. That's my story. And I'm sticking to it.

Perhaps it is because there are so many other things to do and see around Sedona. Not sure what we'll find, but here is our introduction when we arrived. These pictures are from the back patio of the Bed and Breakfast we are staying at, The Cozy Cactus.





Occupying the Cowboy Hideaway Suite, it seemed that this was the proper choice of wine, don't you think?

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Dad

My father died 22 years ago this week. Here is a piece I wrote about him a couple of years ago:

Dad

My father looked up from the paper and said, “OK. If you’re careful, I don’t see why not.”

What a surprising answer.
So surprising that I didn’t know how to reply.
Had he said “No way!”
I had an answer ready and waiting.
But “OK?” Totally unprepared for that one.

I shouldn’t have been surprised.
My father had said surprising (to me anyway) things before.
And profound.
He was like that.
Quiet. Even unassuming.
Hard working. He grew up poor in Alabama, Georgia.
Served in the Navy in WWII.
Was determined things would be different for his family.
My mom, brother and me.
He never told me that. But I see it now.

Eight years old, I think. My first flight, courtesy of an airline pass.
His job at TACA Airlines.
He said I should dress neatly, be courteous.
We were guests on this Braniff flight.
Polite, Courteous. A southern gentleman.
In that unassuming way.
The stewardess came by.
She was a stewardess. Flight attendants wouldn’t be invented for decades yet.
Chiclets. Standard fare for the un-pressurized DC3.
I just thought, “Hey, a treat!”
If we felt the need for oxygen, we should let her know.
Climbing into the clouds for the first time.
Could I have been any more excited?
Then, a strange sensation in my ears.
I’d not felt that before. Maybe I should be worried?
Don’t let it show, though. Let dad see you nervous.
But, I had to ask. Did I need oxygen?
Dad said it was OK. Chew the gum. Yawn.
He knew all the tricks. I felt better.
My ears, too.
Looking back, it was a humorous situation.
But he didn’t chuckle, tease me. Or tell me to sit still, keep quiet.
He said it was OK. He knew what to do.
That’s what he was there for.

My father taught me that grownups could be shaken.
Men might even cry.
A terrible plane crash. Managua, Nicaragua.
A new TACA Vickers Viscount. A flock of buzzards.
Two friends, the pilot and co-pilot, gone in an instant.
My father’s face. Hard to describe. Impossible to forget.
Grownups can be shaken. Men can cry.
Both are OK.
I learned that from him, though you’d not have known it until a few years ago.

I asked him one day, “Why?”
The football coach was on my case all through practice.
I was doing OK. Not what coach Harris thought, apparently.
Good grief!
I unloaded this on my father as he drove me home.
He’d back me up, mouth a few complaints about this unwarranted criticism.
“You should feel good about that,” is what he said.
“I should WHAT?”
He explained in his quiet way.
“Coach Harris cares. He thinks you are good. He knows you can be better. He’s helping you. When he stops being on your case, it means he has given up on you. You should be feeling good.”
Just like that.
Driving home from football practice.
Wisdom, in his quiet way.

My father would scold me, as fathers do.
For good reason. Except once.
Sick in bed, I was kept awake by the sawing, hammering.
I called out, “When will you be done?”
He came in and said to be quiet.
He’d gotten a few friends to help him put in a new stairway into the crawl space under our house.
They were doing us a favor. We shouldn’t seem unappreciative.
I was sick. I only asked a question.
The memory of those few moments is fresh; whatever hurt long since gone, though.
He was human. As are we all. Another lesson.

My father got sick.
A simple skin cancer. But then a small tumor in his neck.
Radiation. Disfiguring surgery.
We’d visit. “I’m OK. Doctor says things are going well,” he’d say.
Always positive. Encouraging me.
December. Back in Atlanta only a few weeks since our Thanksgiving visit.
Six months, the doctor said. What was I going to do during that time?
How often could I visit?
He was confused, the cancer now in his brain.
A sneak attack. The doctors watching the shrinking tumor in his neck.
Now, nothing to do but wait.
Six months.
He died two days after I arrived.
It was OK. He knew what to do.

Our last summer before we headed off to college.
Larry, Morris and I had a plan.
We’d go to the islands! Nassau. Fly from Miami.
How to get to Miami, though?
I could fly for free, but not Larry or Morris.
We’d drive. But look at our cars!
The three of them together wouldn’t be able to get us there.
But we’d just gotten a brand new, 1966 Volkswagen.
Now that’s the car we needed.
Reliable, economical.

Larry and I worked at the same engineering firm during the summer.
For a month we considered all of the possible ways that my father could say “no” to our request.
And we came up with the perfect counter-argument for each.
Finally it was time to ask.
“Dad. You know it would be a lot safer and cheaper if we could use the Volkswagen to drive down to Miami.”
This was it. All of my well thought out responses were ready and waiting. Which one would I need the only thing left to decide.
“OK,” he said. “If you’re careful, I don’t see why not.”

Quiet, Calm.
Hard-working.
Caring.
Knowing what to do.
Wise.
Human.
Teaching me in this surprising response, the only one I hadn’t considered in planning my comebacks.
Teaching me responsibility. And that sometimes you need to take risks.
He was willing to do that.
Even now he is here, in the lessons taught.
In his calm, quiet way.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Cold, Gray Seas

Steely skies fuse with cold, gray seas;
the horizon indistinct in the distance.
Walking down the beach, I pull my jacket a bit more tightly
against the damp chill of the fall afternoon
that envelopes the eastern seaboard.
A brisk wind carries in the sea's salty scent and
pulls a light mist from the tops of approaching breakers.

The waves, energy all but spent
on their voyage to the shore,
tumble over onto the firm sand
with a loud swoosh.
Then, unable to extend farther into the realm of dry land,
they slide slowly back down the sandy slope
with only a whisper to mark their return
to the deeps from which they'd come.

My footprints on the beach are distinct
but for a moment.
Edges quickly crumble as damp sand fails
to hold the impression,
all sign of my passing erased.

Squawking gulls survey the scene from above,
nervous sandpipers scamper at water's edge.
They are oblivious to sights and sounds
save those
that might lead to a meal.

As daylight wanes, I walk up the slopes into softer sand,
pause at the edge of a dry sea of tall grass
rustling in the wind.
Slender blades bend and sway in the breeze, pointing away
from the ocean, as if telling me that it is time
to go.

Looking back one last time, I reflect
on the grandeur of the sea and sky,
the maneuvers of the shore birds.
My brief journey here has ended,
but the ebb and flow of water
and life
will go on.

Home.
Though now unseen, I know this:
sky will meet sea, birds will search for food and
footprints will be erased;
but not my memories of time spent
under steely skies by cold, gray seas.

Monday, December 6, 2010

Tie One On

There is not a single card left at the Hallmark store and it is only December 5. It's a popular holiday, I know, but this year it seems as if everyone is going all out in celebration. But what's not to like about parading around in gaudy costume? Oh, what? You don’t think it's proper to celebrate Christmas that way? Good. I don't either. But we are talking about National Tie Month. I thought you knew.

And I have ties. Not that I wear them much anymore, but they are still in my closet. Here are a few that I brought out for the festivities:

My favorites are the Yellow Submarine and Calculator ties. However, the orange one is perhaps the most meaningful as I wore it at both daughters' weddings. And the one in back on the right is a "Magic Eye" tie. That one got a lot of people staring at me with their eyes crossed!

My life in ties, much abbreviated, went something like this:

When I was younger - that covers a lot of territory, of course - we could fly for free as my father worked for TACA Airlines in New Orleans. At the time, TACA only flew into Central America so we would use "Interline" passes for travel to places to which we actually wanted to go. We would dress up for these flights, since we were guests, most often on Braniff Airlines flights. And, as a guest, you put on your best. And behaved yourself. And were generally appreciative of the offer of free passage. Rules articulated before each trip by my father. Now I was SO young, that dressing up did not include wearing a tie. But my father did.

Eventually I got old enough to wear ties while traveling and did so for many years, including quite a few after it was nearly mandatory. Now it seems anything goes, up to and including tank tops and flip flops. There ought to be a law. But I finally gave in to going tieless, although I try to keep it at no more informal than “neat casual.”

The first tie I remember getting was when I was in seventh grade. We had just moved to Jacksonville Beach and my mother thought it would be a good idea to sign me up for the cotillion. I would learn to dance and meet people. What’s not to like about that for a seventh grader who’d been contemplating the idea of spending all day, every day of the summer on the beach?

The high school years are a bit fuzzy when it comes to ties. I suppose I wore one at some of the more “formal” social functions, but there isn’t some tie-related event that comes to mind. Same with college except for my senior year. When it came time for job interviews on campus, I went to the Rich’s store in downtown Atlanta (something you can’t do anymore, thanks to Macy’s). I got a suit, a tie, and a job. Must be something to the dressing up thing.

I probably had a few ties when we moved to Connecticut for my first job with Pratt & Whitney. This was the domain of white shirts, dark ties and pocket protectors and calls to mind an entry on the list of the shortest books ever written: Fashion for Engineers. But rebel that I am, it seemed that an attack on the system was warranted. So Shirley began making ties to order – wide enough to use as a lobster bib and in all manner of colors and patterns. One in particular that I remember was a red-white-and-blue number. Take THAT, establishment!

But time passed and I moved on, ending up here in the upper Midwest; Wisconsin, to be exact. And I brought my advanced East Coast style concepts with me. Things here were, of course, years behind and it fell upon my well-garbed shoulders to get them up to speed. How did I accomplish this? Well it was with a green and cream plaid leisure suit, worn with a dark shirt and bow tie. I won’t even mention the shoes, but I will tell you that I will be forever grateful that these is no photographic evidence of what I have just revealed. You should be too.

Of course we all know how this story comes out. Every day ties are rare indeed these days. The transition wasn’t easy for many, but there are few holdouts. Politicians and executives seem to need to “power up,” but for the rest of us, casual and comfortable work just fine. There are special occasions though. And just to prove I can still do it, here is a photo of me at a recent conference in Germany:

And no treatise on ties, at least not any that I write, would be complete without this story. And let me say that this will be the LAST time I relate this. It has been my great privilege to know and have been taught by O.Univ.Prof. i.R. Dipl.-Ing. Dr.techn. Laurenz Rinder of the Technical University of Vienna. And let me say he deserves every one of those titles. Here he is at the conference:

Years ago, Professor Rinder came to La Crosse for several months to help us understand some of the intricacies of designing screw compressor rotors, something we had just begun working on. One Saturday I was planning on laying sod around our newly finished addition and I asked Laurenz if he’d like to come over and help. He agreed. So, bright and early on Saturday, he showed up wearing a lab coat. Over his white shirt. And tie. Which he kept on during the entire morning of sod-laying.

So why is this the last time telling this story? There is a now-traditional (I’ve been attending this conference since 1987) post-conference dinner hosted by friends Professor Knut and Dörte Kauder at their home. A few of the regulars were missing this year, but there were some new faces around the table. So, during the witty repartee that only engineers can sustain, I announced that I had this story about Laurenz. He looked at me and said, “The one about the tie?” I guess maybe I’ve told it one too many times.

Here we are enjoying ourselves at Knute and Dörte's. This was BEFORE I told the story.

Just so you won't be left hanging, this is the Rest of the Story about the leisure suit. I wore it in San Francisco while there on a business trip. In the evening, a group of us were walking to Chinatown in search of a restaurant. To get there, we had to run a gauntlet of bars and strip clubs, each with a hawker out front, calling to us to come in and check thing out. One of them looked at me and said, "Nice suit." And that, my friends, was the last time I ever wore it. No. I will not tell you about the shoes. Every time I think about that outfit, I feel the need to tie one on. It was that bad.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Song of the South

I've been away less than a week and already there are so many people and places to thank for making this trip to the Southland a memorable one.

To Dunkin'Donuts,
One of the reasons I like to will go through O'Hare on my travels is that you have a presence there. It gives me a chance at a large coffee and an old fashioned doughnut. Now the doughnuts are OK there, but there is just a little too much "old" in them. How do I know? Well, there is also a Dunkin'Donuts here in Morrow, GA. And their doughnuts are, well, better. A lot better. Perhaps it is because at O'Hare, the products have to go through a full body scan first? If it isn’t that, but a pat-down instead, just don’t tell me.

To the NMC*,
That was a great event you put on in Lexington. OK, so it took me three days to figure out the layout, what with the booths scattered all over and on several levels. But I eventually found everything I was looking for. The services were uplifting and challenging. As usual, the best part was the call for those who had made the decision to GO to COME and start their missions work right there. See you in Atlanta in 2011!

*National Missionary Convention

To delegates at the NMC,
The convention is a great place to meet friends, I know. But standing around in groups of ten or twelve right at the bottom of the escalator is so not a good idea. They even had to put up a sign. Really?

To Abraham Lincoln,
I must say you gave me quite a start, appearing as you did at the convention. Now at first I thought maybe I'd missed the rapture but, aside from you, everything in the exhibit hall seemed pretty much normal. Now that the shock of encountering such a well known and, until now, presumed long dead, personage, I have to offer you a suggestion. It's true, you are respected for being honest, but perhaps you should venture, ever-so-slightly, into the realm of tact. You know, like that time Mrs. Lincoln asked "Does this dress make my backside look big?" Now don't deny it, because we have the technology - here, have a look yourself. Now, repeat after me, "Why not at all, dear. You look just lovely in it."


To Lexington,
Seems you really dressed up for the Equestrian World Games this year. I'm guessing your city looks mighty fine all of the time, but I did notice the newer, large, colorful displays at the airport when I arrived. One in particular stood out, a photo of a magnificent horse in a green pasture. On the right were the words:

Honor the Land
Revere the Horse

Now I couldn't help but notice that there was no reference to PEOPLE so I question, where do we stand on your list? Third, just behind the horse, or perhaps a bit farther down? Just wondering.

To AmericanAirlines,
On all 12 legs of the last three trips I have taken, we have arrived early. It is making me a little nervous. Are you holding back for a really BIG surprise? If I had one complaint, it would be that we apparently surprised the ground crew in Atlanta and had to wait for them to punch in, finish their warm-up exercises and whatever else they do to get started for the day. But, since we still arrived at the gate ahead of schedule, I guess I'll just have to say, "Well done." And, "Keep it up." I have one more trip scheduled for this year yet.

To Atlanta,
This is WINTER? Man, you've got the right idea. I've always thought that the degree to which one enjoys a vacation is in direct proportion to the difference in the weather between where you are and where you came from. I am SO enjoying this week.*

* 17 degrees, with the wind chill bringing it down to 4 in La Crosse; 74 degrees here. What do I have to say about this. See my note to American Airlines above.

To the Georgia HIghway Department,
Thanks for the warning at the bridges. You know, the ones that read:
  Caution. Bridge may freeze in winter.
In Wisconsin we have signs at the bridges, too. But ours read:
  Hang in there. Bridge may thaw in summer.
It's an upper-midwest thing. You should come visit us sometime and experience it for yourself.

To the Morrow Police and Fire Departments,
Hang in there, we will be leaving soon. And thank you for your service and assistance. We did not know about the new security system installed at the house. Really. And locking the keys, and an infant, in the car. Could happen to anybody, right? Anyway, you are on the ball and we do rest easier knowing that there are professionals out there, ready to serve when called.

To all the Southern Cooks,
Your work is special, for sure. Just the other night we ate at a buffet style restaurant where the selection included fried okra, baby lima beans, black-eyed peas, chicken liver, "poultry" gravy, catfish, hushpuppies, fried chicken and collard greens, just to name a few. It struck me that the spread exemplified Southern cooking at its most basic level: If it walks, flies or swims, fry it; if it grows, boil it; serve with corn bread and sweet tea, eat, nap, repeat.

I shared these thoughts in another venue and got this relatively pertinent comment, "If you're very quiet now, you can listen to your own arteries hardening!!" Ahh... Southern cooking.

To the Buffet Restaurant,
I noticed that a few - a very few - of your offerings were labeled as "Healthy Choices." In other words, pretty much out of place. One of these was, to my surprise and delight, the chocolate pudding. Even though I suspected chocolate pudding might be a healthy choice only on comparison to the other cholesterol delivery options, I welcomed the chance to try it. And, now how can I put this? That was chocolate pudding in the same way that Velveeta is fine cheese. Sorry, but that's the way I saw it.

To the Couple at the ATL Admirals Club,
We don't want to know. We REALLY don't want to know.

To my Legion of One or Two Readers,
We are looking forward to our 40th family Thanksgiving dinner here in Morrow, GA. Wherever you are this week, may God bless you as you are reminded of how very much there is to be thankful for.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Mid-Century Modern

Even though I risk having to fend off the paparazzi for the rest of my stay here, I'll tell you that I'm in Palm Springs for a few days to visit family. Walking around the neighborhood and taking a celebrity homes tour are not separable activities here. And it is not unusual to have to pull my cap down over my eyes and hang my head as a tour bus goes by. You know, so as not to be recognized. It's a real nuisance, trust me (OK, maybe not).

Seriously, within just a few blocks of here, I can stroll by homes that at one time were occupied by the likes of Edgar Bergen (yes, Candice and Charlie McCarthy both grew up there), Elvis Presley, Dinah Shore, Frank Sinatra and Liberace. What you see here are single story homes in the "mid-century modern" style. Most are behind low walls, are surrounded by palm trees and all manner of lush, colorful, tropical foliage and have flat or gently sloping roofs; snow loads are not an issue. In fact, not a lot of consideration is even given to rain. Stucco, stone, metal and glass are the primary building materials. All of this is in a desert setting up against a startlingly imposing backdrop of steep, rocky mountains that rise up quite literally at the edge of the city.


Views in the Neighborhood

While I would not have thought this before my first visit here, Palm Springs is not a gaudy, touristy place. Quite the contrary, the architecture and landscaping work well in this setting. There are a few exceptions, of course. Like Liberace's place. It looks pretty much like, well, what you might expect it would look like.

Alan Ladd lived in Palm Springs and while I'll not get into details, his former home is, let me say, "accessible" to me. When you approach it from the street it is, as with so many other places, seen only as an entrance in the wall that hides the house from the street.


Entry to the Alan Ladd House

Passing through the gate, you approach the front of the house which, except for the tease of a view through the living room out into the pool area, seems not altogether that special. A display in the entry introduces Alan.


Front Door and Foyer

As you pass into the living room, you begin to appreciate the light, open feeling that makes the place so appealing. The kitchen and informal dining are just behind the fireplace wall.



Living Room and Kitchen Area

The back walls of both rooms are almost entirely windows, providing views into the pool area.


Pool Area and Mountain Views

It isn't "homey" by any means. But if you are into mid-century modern and art deco, this would be the place for you. And, if you are interested, get in touch with me. I can help you work out a deal. Trust me. No, really. I can. Really.

And, if I may be afforded the luxury of shameless promotion (it IS my blog, after all), when you are in town, you might want to stop by my brother's shop, Dazzles on Palm Canyon Drive, where you can find all the retro furniture, home décor and jewelry you'll need for those hard-to-find-gifts-for people on your list.



Dazzles

Now, if you will excuse me, I'm off to the Blue Coyote Grill for lunch. Please, don't breathe a word of this to anyone ~ I'm not up to signing a lot of autographs today. Thanks.

At the Blue Coyote Grill

Lunch

I should mention that the Blue Coyote has a margarita that challenges Rita's for top spot on my list. And, thanks for keeping quiet about my visit there. I wasn't asked for a single autograph. Whew!

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Simply the Best

I am easily satisfied with the very best.
Winston Churchill

We are often satisfied with what we have, but I might still have to give a nod to Sir Winston for pointing out the obvious. Best isn’t always an easy thing to define nor to agree upon. And sometimes, there is a price to pay for experiencing it. Take the margarita I had in San Antonio at Rita's on the River. It was the BEST. I mean, it was fantastic. And now, out of reach - as good as it was, I'm not inclined to make regular visits to San Antonio just to relive the experience. Having had the best, once, means, of course, that any margarita I have now will be not-the-best. Hmmm....

In my search for the best of the best, I regularly sample margherita pizzas. Mozzarella, tomatoes, basil and olive oil on a Neapolitan (very thin) crust, it is simple and tasty. My first encounter was in London, of all places. England, is, as you know, not generally considered high on lists of culinary excellence. You may have heard that, in England, they consider food to be the enemy and thus cook it until it is dead. But not so with this particular pizza. It might have been that it was enjoyed with friends from around the world on a pleasant evening in an outdoor café on the south bank of the Thames, but I think it was a fine meal in its own right. So began the search for the best margherita pizza.

On my recent trip to Germany I happened across a small restaurant offering margherita pizzas. What else could I do? Perhaps this would be it, the ultimate margherita so, I went in, sat at a small table by the window and waited expectantly for the masterpiece to be delivered. Alas, before the first bite, I knew something was amiss. The melted cheese on top was yellow. And after first bite, my worst suspicions were confirmed - UGH! A pizza without that "clean" taste that comes from the simple combination of mozzarella, tomato, basil and olive oil. And SALTY to boot. Bummer.

One of the Not-The-Best Margherita Pizzas

Now before you get a chance to say it, what I did later in the week was, how should I put this? Stupid. I ordered another margherita pizza in Germany. In my defense, it was a very nice Italian restaurant and surely there was a CHANCE that they knew how to do this right. Not to be. It was better, but remarkably similar to the one I had earlier. I'd rate it as simply Ugh!

I know, I know. You think I have already had the best Margherita pizza. And for sure, there are a couple that rise above the rest. That may make one of them the best I've had. So far. But that doesn't make them the BEST. Not like Rita's margarita. That was the BEST. It's just something you know. So I am sure that the BEST margherita pizza is still out there, waiting for me to find it. And I will continue the search. I know that's what you'd want me to do.

Coming soon, some thoughts on doing your best.

Friday, October 1, 2010

Power of Two

On our visits to Uganda we are treated as very special guests. It's nice, I'll have to admit, but the attention can also be a bit disconcerting. When we drove up to the church in 2006, we were met by an enthusiastic, noisy, moving-fluidly-to-the-rhythm crowd. As we emerged from the car, I was greeted by a woman from the congregation (as were the others) who took my backpack and led me into the building. She was committed to carrying the pack and my water bottle for me during the entire time we were at the church. When I took it from her to get my camera out, it was quite obvious that I WAS going to give it back to her and was certainly NOT going to actually carry it. Shirley told me, upon my return, that I could, in this case, be sure that "what happens in Africa, stays in Africa."

That brings me to my upcoming trip to Germany. Just a few hours ago, I received an email from one of the organization staff for the conference I will be attending, one I've attended every time it has been held, save the first in 1984. The message was as follows (names have been changed to protect the innocent; however, I don’t think that's going to help me much):

Dear Jack (my real name):

I would like to let you know that your contact person on site in Dortmund during our conference will be Mrs. Smith and Dr. Jones as I cannot be there. Mrs. Smith will welcome you and attend you during the whole conference.

I wish you two interesting days and say many thanks in advance

Kind regards

Caroline Brown


Perhaps it is a quirk of translation, but I see a few issues here. My contact person will be Mrs. Smith AND Dr. Jones. Could this be some new cloning breakthrough where instead of a one-to-one copy, the German scientists have achieved two-to-one? Just asking.

And consider that Mrs. Smith will "attend you (that's me) during the whole conference." Sounds Ugandan to me and I can deal with that. But that last sentence. You have to be oh so careful with intonation and cadence as you say it out loud. "I wish you-two [pause] interesting days…" or "I wish you [pause] two-interesting days…" See where this could go?

It will be, I'm sure, two interesting days at the conference in Dortmund. And, two more days visiting another of my company's engineering operations in Oberhausen. But more than anything, I'll will be able to greet friends that I get to see only occasionally. And that makes it twice as good. At least.

Bis nächsten mal - auf Wiedersehen!

Begging for forgiveness, because I didn't ask for permission!
Caroline – Hope you don't mind my having a little fun with your note. Rest assured that 1) I wish my German was half as good as your English and 2) I appreciate very much what you and the rest of the staff at the VDI do to make the conference such a valuable experience for those of us who attend.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

X Rated

What’s the first thing that comes to mind when you hear the name Duane Purvis? "Huh?" is probably the number one response, unless, perchance, you are a Purdue University aficionado. Or if you regularly watch Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives on the Food Channel. There is this redundantly and somewhat contradictorily named drive-in in West Lafayette, Indiana, just a few blocks down from the Purdue campus, the Triple XXX Family Restaurant. As the owners put it, "Indiana's First Drive-In," (it opened in 1929) and, in all modesty, I'm sure, "Still Indiana's Finest!" And yes, Guy Fieri did bring his Triple DDD road show to the Triple XXX, the episode running in August of 2007.

I've had the experience of dining at the Triple XXX during my many visits to Purdue over the years. They serve hamburgers, fries, milkshakes and the world famous Triple XXX Root Beer. Food items are named for Purdue athletes, including one Duane Purvis, pride of Mattoon, Illinois and an All-American halfback in 1933 and 1934. It is a classic burger with a twist - one side of the bun receives a generous coating of peanut butter. I have, over the years, sampled a number of dishes using peanuts to flavor meat dishes, but it was in this small, western Indiana drive-in where I first encountered the combination.

If I were to ponder the nutritional implications of lunch at Triple XXX, which I don’t by the way, but IF I did, I would have to conclude that the X in the name is taken from a list of medical abbreviations. And that it stands for "bypass." But sometimes you just have to pay the price if you want a real culinary experience.

It was another form of Triple XXX that I sampled on my ride this last Saturday. The day was cool and gray, making it a really good day for a ride. Not too hot, not too cool, but, to quote the well-known Ms. Locks, "...just right." So right that I decided to take on climbs up Bliss Road, County OA and County FO - the big three nearest town. And, on the side, I opted for two trips each to the ends (or tops, as the case may be) of County FA, Ebner Coulee Road and Old Vineyard Road, the latter providing short but intense climbs to begin and end the ride. Sometimes you need to pay the price to have a ride as good as this one.

Monday, September 20, 2010

All the News That's Fit

"What did I do today?" you ask. Well, among other things, I checked the various news services to take the pulse of the nation on this momentous occasion. Here’s a smattering of what I found...

'Genetically modified' salmon?
Recipe for a new Catholic priest

I think these two may be related. We've known for years what little girls and boys are made of: Sugar and spice and all that's nice and Frogs and snails and puppy-dogs tails, respectively. Now, it appears, someone has cracked the codes for salmon and priests. But the code for engineers - that's another story altogether.

Murder defense: Too much caffeine
I’m going to have to remember this one. You know, just in case.

Paris Hilton admits cocaine was hers
Ok, how is this news? Or a surprise?

World leaders to discuss poverty
And then they'll think they've done something about it.

GOP's feminine side playing catch-up
I DON’T want to know!

5 billionth photo uploaded to Flickr
I just love my new 10,000 terabyte card! Hope you enjoy my pictures. It was the least I could do for you all.

Corvette ZR-1: Great body, iffy face
Just like me. Except for that first one.

Gaga to speak at 'don't ask, don't tell' rally
Don't ask.

Can Vikings, Favre be fixed after 0-2 start?
When coach Childress calls in the vet, those guys better lay low.

How much corruption is too much?
If you have to ask...

Your iPhone, Blackberry can double as hotel key
So can your hammer.

Why men talk like pirates
Johnny Depp. No brainer.

As you can see, it was a pretty slow news day. And not ONE mention of my birthday. [sigh]

Well, there are all of you well wishers on Facebook and Twitter. Thanks. I appreciate it.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Indecision

What is it about me, a bike and what passes for wild animals around here? In 2007, there was the now famous encounter with a cow on County Road X. Unable to decide what to do about my presence, this considerably larger-than-my-bike bovine proceeded to lead me up the hill in a dance to which only she knew the moves. Except I’m not so sure even she knew them. It was a low speed affair, however, and as such, more entertaining than frightening.

Things were a bit more exciting last weekend. Mohawk Valley Road provides one of the many enjoyable climbs that are available around here. A rolling uphill section gives way to a fairly gentle climb. Wooded slopes rise up on your left while to the right, the hill falls away into an open valley. A sharp bend to the left puts you at the beginning of the steeper part of the climb. And, approaching the top, there are three short stretches that push up even more, reaching grades around 11% to 13%. A scenic climb with enough challenge to be rewarding.

On this day it was only a short stay on the ridge - every bit of 20 yards to Proksch Coulee Road which drops away suddenly on its way back towards Stoddard. You come quickly to a sharp bend that makes you glad you had Dan check the brakes during the last tune up.

It was here, just coming out of the curve, that I encountered two squirrels trapped in a crisis of indecision. In the brief time I had them in my sight they skittered back and forth, apparently captured by some mysterious gravitational force that always pulled them back towards the middle of the road. Then, just before the crash that might have done as much damage to me as to them, they made a decision and disappeared into the woods to my left.

Sometimes you have to do that. Decide. Left or right. It’s better than the middle of the road. Last night I gave a presentation to a local professional society about our work with schools in Uganda. It just reminded me that there is more to do. And decisions to make in order to move on.

There’s this quote I stumbled upon today: “To say that you care is one thing. To show that you care is quite another.” Those squirrels really cared about getting out of the way. But they had to finally make the decision to run off the road to have it make any difference. To them and to me. Left or right; maybe neither are perfect; but either preferable to skittering about in the middle of the road.

Friday, August 27, 2010

False Summits

It's a long way to the top. And, when you get there, it's a lonely place, so I've been told. But we climb. To get away from what's below? Or to get closer to what's above? Whatever, it seems to be in our blood.

Growing up in New Orleans, you'd think I'd have no concept of hills and climbing. But you would be wrong. Thanks to a WPA project in the 1930's, New Orleans had one (a hill) - the 28 foot high Monkey Hill at the Audubon Park Zoo. It wasn't for the zoo's monkeys; they had their own island complete with castle and swing sets. No, it was for us, the children of New Orleans. So we could experience a real hill. And what a hill it was. There was a path worn in the grass on one side where we would run up then, after taking in the view from such a breathtaking height, run or, preferably, roll to the bottom. It was my introduction to hills.

Monkey Hill in the 1950's. Apparently today it sports a rope bridge and other "amenities." No comment.

Riding a bicycle also gives one a chance to ponder the meaning of elevation. I came across an article in a cycling magazine about how to ride on flat terrain and promptly dismissed it. There are, after all, no flats, only hills you never noticed until you saw them from behind the handlebars of a bicycle. Hills were daunting to me when I first started riding. In fact, I thought, in all seriousness, that if I could ever haul myself and my bike up Bliss Road ONE time, I'd retire from riding. But I did ride it. And I didn’t retire. Instead, I've been climbing hills ever since.

All of this climbing has introduced me to the phenomenon of false summits. When you get to the Alpine Inn at the top of Bliss Road, you have arrived. A destination in its own right and on a section of flat road to boot. But keep going just a short distance and the road pops up again.

Then there is the false summit on the climb up Trail Ridge Road in Rocky Mountain National Park. After working your way up to about 12,000 feet, you find yourself at a rest stop from which you can see the road ahead, finally, start winding down. But after descending about 200 feet, you come around a curve and encounter a rising switchback. It is only after another 400 feet of climbing that you reach the REAL summit at 12,183 feet.

At the real summit on Trail Ridge Road.

Let's not forget the "rolling ascent" where the road undulates with each high point higher than the previous one. And this is ALWAYS the case on rollers. I've never experienced a rolling descent, even on roads that I ride out and back. Must be an Escher thing.

Rolling towards Lanesboro, MN from the south. See that last peak? The one waayyy out there in the distance? ...

...It wasn't as intimidating as it looked from afar.

But the thing is, false summits have, in spite of the somewhat negative connotation of the name, a certain appeal. For one thing, they provide a chance to rest and reflect on the climbs - the one behind and the one yet to come. And they are, as the name summit implies, high points in their own right. And isn’t it nice to know, that while you can enjoy the high of the elevation provided by the faux peak, there is higher ground ahead. More challenges to embrace. And a better view to enjoy.

It's been like that over the course of the ten mission trips I've taken. Each has had a high point or two. False summits, it has turned out. Some were more impressive than others, but each was special in its own way. Several were followed by brief "descents" that, at the time, seemed to be only lost ground. But a few have been revealed to simply have been leading to new highs. And some of the others, I expect, will eventually lead there, too.

As for riding, I'm pretty sure I've already been as high as I'm ever going to be on my Trek. Or on any other bike, for that matter. Breaking 12,183 feet is NOT on my list of fifty things to do...

So, keep riding. Accept the challenge to go up. And may all your highs be nothing more than false summits.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Precisely

The definition of stupidity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results. Albert Einstein

You've heard this definition of stupidity, right? But what we should say, in most cases, is that it is doing the same thing over and over and expecting the same the results. For us engineers, we know that no matter how hard we try, if we make one thing and then another of the same thing, the two will be different. Make a third, fourth, and so on and these will be different as well. If all of the things we make are "close" to the same, then we are, at least, precise. If they are "close" to what we want them to be, then we are accurate. Accurate is getting it right. Precision is being consistent.

"Why did this subject even come up?," you ask as you move closer to the edge of your seat to hear the answer. Well, it all comes from the situation pictured below. This is a NOTPHOTOSHOPPED snapshot taken in the cafeteria where I work. So, just where do you think this project stands in terms of accuracy and precision?

Pole next to the "POLE X HERE" target, clearly showing pole THERE, NOT X HERE.

Several hundred engineers work in this building. Did they think we would not notice?

Friday, August 6, 2010

Me and Chuck

"Rainwater blowing up under my hood,
I knew that was doing my motor good."
Maybelline by Chuck Berry

With the first two days of the tour ridden in early-July heat, it was a relief to start out in the coolness of this July 5th morning in Lanesboro, Minnesota. Early in the ride, Chuck Berry's rendition of Maybelline was wandering around in my head - (where it had a lot of room to roam. Possibly because it was RAINING. So, while I couldn't see so well with the water collecting on my glasses, I was comfortable as the rainwater did, in fact, do my motor good.

The weather also played a role in another aspect of the ride. I was following the popular Root River Trail yet, after passing two groups just out of Lanesboro, I saw only two lone riders on the remainder of the ride to Houston. The one in Minnesota.

It is quite a nice ride on the flat, paved trail that follows southwestern Minnesota's Root River, mostly tree-line with an occasional break showing the river of looking out over fields of corn or hay. Early as it was, I was looking forward to peddling into Whalan to visit the Aroma Pie Shop, the self-proclaimed home of "World Famous Pies." Closed. Oh well, a bit more riding and I'd be in Rushford where I could check out The Creamery where I was told I would find some mighty fine ice cream. Closed. I'm going to have to have a long talk with my router about proper scheduling.

A few miles out of Houston, it looked like the trail just suddenly ended in the woods. It did not take much longer to realize that I was looking at the main part of a large tree now resting across the trail. With absolutely no way over it, I had to take myself and bike around what had once been the top of the tree. As I pushed through the weedy undergrowth I began to sense a tingling sensation in my legs. Stinging nettles! Years ago we were in France with our daughter (four at the time) when she walked through a patch of nettles and shortly thereafter told us, "My legs are all sparkly." As good a description as I've ever heard for what I was experiencing.

By the time I got back up to the trail I was itching like mad. I rode on for a minute or two until I found a puddle in the road and washed my legs as best I could. That and the passage of a bit of time took care of the issue and I continued on without the sparkly.

The rain would abate from time to time and I took advantage of those times to take a few pictures and wipe off my glasses - I had the presence of mind to pack away a few paper towels in a plastic bag for just this purpose. The trail ends at Houston where I stopped at a coffee shop and enjoyed a brief respite. The ride from Houston to the Mississippi carried me along very scenic roads which were, as was the trail, mostly flat. Shirley went by in the car when I was about 15 miles from La Crosse. We had discussed signaling so when she passed, I waved and she kept going. Had I raised my fist in the air, she would have stopped. I think. But I wasn't going to run the experiment.

I rolled into La Crosse, stopped at the Subway near my house to pick up lunch and finished the tour a few minutes later. And, speaking of Subway, did you know that a 6" sub fits just perfectly in the rear pocket of a cycling jersey?

And there you have it. A semi-supported tour in which I rode 224 miles with 6,875 feet of climbing (only 943 feet on this last day). An enjoyable weekend that re-enforced the view that this area is a great place for cycling.

60.4 miles
943 feet of climbing













Sunday, August 1, 2010

Two Guys Walk into a Bar...

...and a play breaks out. That's the abridged version of Saturday afternoon in Lanesboro. We attended the matinee performance of Picasso at the Lapin Agile at the Commonweal Theater. There are various threads in the running exchanges between patrons of the Lapin Agile, a bar in Montmarte, Paris in 1904. Among those participating are Picasso and Einstein, who debate whether it will be art or science that shapes the future. The answer, of course, is neither, and I'm thinking Steve Martin was just setting us up for the sequel, Engineer's Rule. Because, well, we do, you know.

Think of the elements of science, basic and applied up a level or two - physics, materials, chemistry, math, mechanics - as the palate. Add the artistic creativity of analysis, problem solving, computer programming, and the like and apply these to the canvas of a need and you get an engineered solution. Airplanes, artificial hearts, microwave ovens, wind mills, light bulbs and, lets us not forget, air conditioners. So, whenever you're ready Steve. I'll be first in line for tickets.

Unlike conditions on the two days of riding, it was overcast and rainy on the 4th in Lanesboro. We visited a few shops in town, including a very nicely done art gallery. Lunch at a local diner was, how shall I put this, interesting? Now, the homemade chicken pot pie was excellent - piping hot with lots of vegetables and a flaky crust. A good lunch by any measure. So, in consideration of the reasonable serving size and of two days and almost 170 miles of bicycle riding, I decided to go for dessert. The diner displayed the day's offerings on a blackboard in the center of the room. Included in the list was a key lime pie. Hmmmm... I DO like a good key lime pie.

You are, no doubt, about to warn me that I am in a small town in the upper Midwest where key limes are not exactly indigenous. But if you are reading this anytime after July 4th, 2010 (and I suspect you are), then you are too late. And I knew that at the time. Still, I've gotten a quite passable key lime pie here in La Crosse. It can be done. But not, apparently, in Lanesboro.

My first clue (a.k.a. warning sign) when my order was delivered was the pie's color - a green not occurring in nature, though it does show up in a couple of my more vibrant cycling jerseys. A bite confirmed the visual evidence that this pie had never been near a lime. Ever. The taste was of sweetened cottage cheese. Perhaps it would not have been so unpleasant had it not been for the expectation of that special tangy tartness delivered by a good key lime pie. Which this was, most assuredly, not. Oh well. I will leave the diner unnamed as the service was friendly and the meals we had were, save the pie, quite good. But, if you are ever in Lanesboro, remember this tale and go for the local apple crisp or black cap pie instead.

We enjoyed the play after lunch and managed a nice walk around town before the rain set in for good. Dinner at the Old Village Hall and Pub was exceptional and I did opt for a black cap parfait made with the locally grown wild black raspberries. A fitting end to a fine Fourth of July in a small town in Minnesota.

Lanesboro, Minnesota; July 4, 2010










Stop and smell the flowers...