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Monday, July 30, 2007

"Think. Think. Think," said Pooh.

What a wonderfully wobbly web we weave...

I've been doing a lot of stuff on the web recently, and I kind of enjoy it (at least at the moment). And I'll tell you why I enjoy it in one word: autonomy. Now I'll explain that one word in a lot more words...

At my day job at the print shop I very often deal with customers who either know exactly what they want in a design and will nitpick everything I do to death making changes until the job's on the press, or customers who give me something they've already designed on a disk and tell me to print it EXACTLY they way they designed it (never mind that we don't have the obscure software they used, they did a four-color design and want us to print it in two colors, there are typos all over, etc.). Very rarely do I get to actually do any design work any more -- in fact my job title is gradually changing from "Art Director" to "Pre-Press Technician."

But when I'm designing web sites, most of the time I'm doing them gratis for charities who are more than happy to give me free reign on the entire site -- photos, writing, design, all my hobbies come together. This makes me happy. The problem is that while I'm enjoying designing and writing the sites, and I feel good for helping causes I believe in, I'm slowly but steadily going broke. I'd really, REALLY like to get paid for a site one of these days.

But then it would immediately turn into work, and I'd have the same woes I have at my day job...

So, the only time I feel creatively happy, productive, and fulfilled is when I do things for free.

(If you're bored, here are some sites I've done lately -- www.nwiaalr.com, www.healingrun.com, www.siouxlandsleepout.com, www.hippieboydesign and www.independentriderscc.com. I need to completely re-do my www.radloffs.net web site some day. (It's old and, frankly, a little embarrassing in places. I did the entire site in Quark, which is NOT designed to do web stuff. I'm happier using Google's web design tools now, and I'm slowly learning actual HTML, so my winter project may be redeveloping the site from the ground up, provided I can figure out how to change the cname. I may eventually end up changing URL's and moving this blog as well.)

Picture Perfect?

Dagmar and I, along with a friend of ours, were the official photographers at a wedding last Saturday. First time I've ever done that. Kinda spooky, but loads of fun! Thankfully it was an outdoor biker wedding and we knew almost everyone there.

It was pretty cool -- there were chairs in the yard set up for the guests with the traditional aisle going up the middle. On either side of the chairs was a row of motorcycles. The bride's bike was behind the bridesmaids and the groom's was behind the groomsmen. The preacher had his black leather vest on for most of the night, though he did take it off for the actual service (as did the groom, surprisingly). The guests were all very respectful and attentive, but every now and then you'd hear a discreet "Pfffft" as a beer was quietly opened during the service. (I have to admit, it was pretty funny watching people fumble around trying to find a place to set their beers when the preacher called for a prayer.) As the newlyweds came down the aisle at the end everyone stood and cheered. Those who happened to be on their motorcycles started the engines and let them roar for a while.

It brought tears to my eyes. Seriously. It was one of the most honest, open, heartfelt weddings I've seen. There were no polite handshakes in the receiving line, just big back-slapping hugs.

It felt true.

Leonesse left a comment on a previous post saying they enjoyed looking at the photos of Dagmar and I at our wedding, lo those many years ago back in the early aughts. We did have a cool wedding! We were hitched outside in the park. We flew kites and played frisbee in the afternoon, had a couple kegs sitting out, ate dinner, then got married out by the pond. After the service we had a belly-dancer from Europe dance and the blues band I was in at the time played until after midnight. Someday I'm gonna have to scan in all our wedding photos so I can torture you all with them...

Why is it...

...that when your buddy gets back from the dentist the first thing you do, before even hearing how it went, is to regale him with YOUR last horrible trip to the dentist?

Climate Change

Generally speaking, June and July are fairly nice times in Iowa, and August is hot, dry and dusty. This year, though, July had the characteristics of August. We've not seen rain of any significance in months, and the temperatures are generally in the mid to upper 90's. There's serious talk that the Big Sioux River could dry up by the end of the summer, a bad thing as the river is used to supply several towns' drinking water, and farmers use it both for irrigation and to water their livestock.

I've seen more vines the past few years than I remember in years past. As a child, vines were seen as tropical things that lived in the jungle. A few people were lucky enough to have some ivy growing on their house, but it was a rarity. Now vines are all over -- completely covering old windmills and choking entire trees. I've got one on my garage that's been getting bigger and bigger each year since it started three years ago. I've also been seeing cliff swallows all over the place this year -- I don't remember ever seeing them in this area before.

Think Ahead

Oil's running out. We knew that a long time ago. We had a crisis in the 1970s. Jimmy Carter warned us about it then. Now, thirty-plus years later we're all surprised that oil is running out.

Here's the thing. We're all a bit peeved that our government didn't do something to prepare for this, but what have WE done to prepare? Think about your company -- has your boss done anything to get a jump start on the post-oil economy? I'm not talking about buying a fleet of hybrid cars (though that would be a good step too), but rather about larger things.

Transportation costs are going to skyrocket. Does your company ship raw materials in? How? It may be worth it in the long run to relocate part of your company to a spot a bit closer to the rail lines. Is there a local source for these raw materials? If so, it may behoove you to think about switching over to that source rather than relying on out-of-state resources.

Is anyone thinking of this stuff? I often see an eighteen-wheel semi pull in here at the print shop, spend five minutes backing up to the loading dock, then sit there and idle while the truck driver gets out, opens the back and hand-carries 50 pounds of specialty paper into the shop. We're paying for that delivery cost, and we have to pass that cost on to the customer. Wouldn't it be more cost-effective in those cases for us to simply have our delivery guy stop in at the paper supply company with our little delivery van and pick the stock up, bypassing the delivery altogether? Might it not be in our company's interest to look at seeing if paper would be cheaper if there were no delivery charge attached to it -- we can pick it up cheaper than they can deliver it at least half the time. And that saves energy.

The print shop here has a flat roof with black tar on the top of it. Wouldn't it lower our air conditioning costs (and we do need air conditioning with all this heavy equipment running inside the building) if they'd replace the black tar with something eco-friendly that doesn't absorb heat, like maybe sod or natural prairie grasses? Sure, it'll cost a bit now to do that, but won't it be worth it in the long run? Wouldn't that make my company a little more competitive in the next few years? I still wish the government would force the power companies to allow personal wind generators -- our flat roof here at the shop would be a beautiful place to put a few small windmills to help us power some of the equipment...

Just a few thoughts. I'm going to go ride my bicycle to the bank now.

Friday, July 27, 2007

My gosh


Sorry I've been neglecting this poor little blog 'o mine. Both Dagmar and I have been incredibly busy. I'll spare you the details, but between problems at work, doing stuff with the American Legion Riders and the Independent Riders for Children & Charities (as well as maintaining their web sites) and life in general, we've been running on naught but willpower for weeks. I shall return to writing regularly, I promise! I miss it.

Governmental Inadequacy

United States Attorney General Alberto Gonzales has GOT to go. The "party of values" has been letting Mr. Gonzales lie to Congress and the American People for too long. It's time for a change. Mr. Gonzales is a detriment to our government and should be replaced. I have a LOT more to say about this subject, but I'll refrain. Suffice it to say that I know small children who have a better grasp of what the phrase "take responsibility for your actions" means than Mr. Gonzales, Vice President Dick Cheney, and President George W. Bush.


The Atlanta Falcons have a problem. Their star quarterback, Michael Vick, has been indicted for nasty things -- notably dog fighting. I have several thoughts on this issue.

1. What sort of man are you if you need to use an animal to prove your masculinity? "I have the meanest dog on the block, therefore I am a big man." To me that shows a distinct lack of character, confidence, and sense of self. We all do this sort of transference, mostly unconsciously. I know I bought my motorcycle because it's comfortable, it's the right size for my purposes, and the price was right. But I also have to admit to a certain vicarious glee in the knowledge that the motorcycle is also big and loud... Some people buy big houses, thinking that will somehow make them better human beings. Old-time big-game hunters thought that shooting an elephant with a rifle made them more manly somehow. The difference is with dog fighting there is cruelty, suffering, and painful death involved. If your ego demands you mutilate a dog, there's something wrong. Go buy a big truck or something.

2. Innocence is presumed until found guilty. That makes it hard for the NFL to take any truly punitive action against Mr. Vick at the moment. However, if a professional bicycle racer is caught using steroids, they're immediately banned from participation in the sport until the lab results come in. At least that's the way I understand it... So can't the NFL use that as a precedent for suspending Mr. Vick, without pay, until this is resolved? The trial date isn't until November, but Mr. Vick's alleged activities are certainly a detriment to the NFL's image.

3. This is the big one for me. I heard someone say that Mr. Vick should go unpunished, as "he's a hero to many children in Atlanta." No, I hate to say it, but Mr. Vick is no hero. He's a football player. He has no superpowers. He has sacrificed nothing. Pat Tillman, the NFL star who quit football and left a multimillion dollar contract in order to join the Army and subsequently died in Iraq, is a hero. Audy Murphy, the cowboy actor of the 1940s who left Hollywood to become the most decorated soldier in American history during WWII, is a hero. The man who works 60+ hours at the factory each week, then volunteers to help at the Soup Kitchen -- he's a hero. There are many, many heroes. Mr. Vick is not one of them.

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Whoops! Been busy...

Testicles in Iowa and Rocks in South Dakota

Last Saturday I went to Craig, Iowa (population 102) where they were having their annual Testicle Festival. Fun times! I shall leave the innumerable puns and double-entendres to those who will undoubtedly leave comments to this post, but let's just say that any town council who says, "hey, lets go drink beer, roast some cow balls and have a parade" must be pretty cool...

On Sunday the American Legion Riders took a day to ride to Garretson, SD, where we had a picnic, went on a pontoon boat ride down the river a bit, and saw a gulch Jesse James allegedly jumped across with his horse whilst escaping the law. I took lots of pictures. After that, we went to the VA hospital in Sioux Falls and visited the recovering patients. One of our guys donated about 30 decks of playing cards, and someone else donated a bunch of books, so we handed those out to the veterans. I have some stories to tell about that, but work calls. I'll write more later. In the meantime, here are some pictures...

Monday, July 09, 2007

Neighborly Niceties


Canning used to mean something different, at least here in Iowa. If someone said they were going to spend the afternoon canning, it mean they were going to be putting yummy tomatoes and other perishable foodstuffs from the garden into jars (oddly enough) so as to store them away for winter. My grandmother had rows and rows of canned food in jars in the basement.

These days if someone is going to spend the afternoon canning, it means they're going to go out and root around in other people's garbage cans in hopes of finding aluminum soda or beer cans, which they then take to the Can Center for the five-cent recycling deposit.

Many people in the neighborhood don't like having homeless people going through their trash looking for cans. Quite a few businesses have "No Canning" signs up above their garbage cans and dumpsters. I hear people complaining about "the bums in the ditches" looking for cans. It's not a pastime that makes a person popular.

There's a homeless guy in our neighborhood that is very polite. He always smiles at people, but never starts those awkward conversations. He stops to pet the neighborhood dogs and cats. Nice guy. A few weeks ago I saw him coming up the street, pushing his shopping cart, so I went inside and gathered up our eight or ten empty cans for him to have. When I told Dagmar later that I'd given our cans to the guy, she thought that was a nifty idea. The next time the guy came by, a few days later, Dagmar went out and talked to him for a few minutes. I poked my head out the door and heard her tell the man, "We'll just put our cans in the garage there every week, right around the corner where no one else can see them. You just go ahead and have them.... Yes, it's okay, you can go in our garage for the cans, but only take the cans, and please don't let your friends go in our garage. We trust you."

That system has worked well for several months now... Whenever we get a few cans together we simply put them in the corner of the garage, and the homeless guy comes to pick them up when he goes canning on Mondays and Thursdays.

This morning I was out watering the new plants in our front yard when I saw the guy coming up the street. I ducked into the garage to get the cans for him and save the poor fella a few steps, but there were no cans there. I went back outside, caught his eye, shrugged and shook my head. He smiled at me and said, "Oh well, maybe Thursday," and went on to go through the neighbor's garbage. I turned back to watering the plants. After a few minutes I heard our new neighbor lady in the other house come outside.

"Uh oh," I thought to myself. "I wonder what she'll think of this guy going through the neighborhood trash." I glanced over. She had three cans in her hands.

"Here," she said to the homeless man. "You have these. There are only two empties, but this one's full -- I hope you like Diet Coke. If you ever get too hot, you just come on into our porch and sit down for a while, okay? Now you have a good day, and remember, if it gets hot, you can sit on our porch."

I stood there, spraying my flowers, listening to the various things my brain was telling me, including:

"I need to think outside the box. Giving the guy empty cans is nice, but this lady is actually helping him. I need to do more." and... "Hey, the neighbor lady doesn't have any money herself -- her and her husband are really struggling themselves." and... "Wait a minute! Did the neighbor lady and her husband already take in a homeless guy? Isn't that nice man who lives there with them a formerly homeless man?" I felt pretty bad about only giving the guy a few cans a week...

A few minutes later I went inside. "Honey," I said, "Where are our empty cans? The nice homeless guy was here but there weren't any cans in the garage."

"Oh," she said. "I gave them to the new neighbors. They don't have much money."

So we gave our empty cans to the someone in need, who in turn gave them to someone needier and went on to offer part of their home, even though they are already housing a person in need.

I like our neighbors. I need to learn things from them.


We've been on vacation the last five days or so. Dagmar got bit by a poisonous spider, but she's okay now. We went camping, but never spent the night outside 'cause it's way too hot for that sort of thing. Now I'm tired.

Monday, July 02, 2007

It's all so upsetting...


My boss kicked me out of the office 20 minutes early last Friday. He seemed kind of upset that I was just sort of sitting around. "What are you doing?" he asked. "Waiting until five," I said. He scowled at me and stomped off. Three minutes later he was back. "What, you don't want to go home?"I assured him that yes, I did indeed want to go home, but I get paid hourly. He stomped off. Three minutes later he was back. "Do you want a broom to lean on or something?"

At that point I gave up and went home.

There was simply nothing to do. All my work was done. There ain't no more. It's all finished. The printing presses are off. The design work is done. The floor is swept and the paint on the walls is less than a year old. But I couldn't afford to go home, either, even though I had a TON of stuff to do at home...

Today was payday. Of course, I found that I was exactly 20 minutes short of my 40 hours. For some reason this makes me irrationally angry. It only adds up to about five bucks... Five little dollars. But I really wanted those five little dollars.

In my mind, I work the first 39 hours of the week to pay bills (we're in debt way farther than I'm comfortable with). The last hour is my "beer money." That's the money I get to play with. So it upsets me mightily to lose that last 20 minutes of work...

Oddly enough, the bosses have, in the past, punished me for not getting 40 hours a week on my time card. ("Since you don't actually work 40 hours a week, and between 1997 and 1998 you only averaged 33 hours a week, we feel that we should only pay you for 33 hours a week while you're on vacation...") So now they won't LET me get 40 hours. I feel conflicted.

For the last 12 or 13 years they've blocked my four efforts to join the union ("sorry, we must have lost your application or something"), so I have no retirement fund or 401k. They "forgot" to give me two weeks of vacation between 2004 and 2006. They decided to only pay me 75% of my vacation pay (though they've rescinded that decision since). They simply don't give raises, period.

But what really bugs me is losing that lousy five dollars...

All around, this is a good place to work, but it's frustrating at times!


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