Apr 27, 2012

God Will Hand Us the Sword of Justice

This is one of the best movies about nothing in particular that I have ever seen.

The Parking Lot Movie is a documentary about a bunch of guys who work at the Corner Parking Lot (aka "The CPL") in Charlottesville, VA. Like all parking lot attendants, these guys are over-educated, thoughtful, insightful and misunderstood. The movie documents their struggles and torments against boredom, entitled college kids and, sometimes, each other. Spoiler alert - one of them ends up as the bass-man with Yo La Tengo.

The CPL song kicks ass, too.

Apr 26, 2012

It Might Be Time

It might be time to get another Beers for Bloggers together, what with Spring in the air and the trails clogged with pale-legged people.

I propose a get-together next week - perhaps Thursday, May 3 after work - at Sea Salt. This might the 5th time or so that we've done this, I guess, and it's always a good time so hopefully a few people can make it. Some usually get food, others just stay for a beverage and a chat and then head on down the road. Whatever; it's casual and no pressure and the company is good.

Hopefully we can get a few cyber friends as well as real-life friends over to come on over, including (but not limited to):

We put the welcome mat out for everybody, so if you are in the neighborhood and want to stop in, by all means please do so.

Why HAM?

A reader or two have picked up on some recent references to HAM radio and asked about that, so here's a bit of explanation on how I came to get a license...

I have always been a huge weather nerd; I love thunderstorms, secretly want my own weather station and have wanted to be a "trained spotter" for awhile now.

Last summer, figuring I had the time, I looked into spotter training. I was informed by the National Weather Service that I had missed all the training sessions and there would not be any more until next Spring. Minor set back, but I "friended" the NWS and waited for training season 2012.

Although it's not heavily publicized, the spotter reporting systems are run on amateur radio "nets". When severe weather is anticipated, the Skywarn ham radio net is activated. Trained spotters that observe something reportable transmit their Skywarn identification number and a brief (very brief) description of what they are seeing. If net control wants more information, then they will answer the observer's I.D. number and ask for more detail.

Here's the rub, though - one needs to obtain an FCC amateur radio license to push that PTT button on a radio. Once I figured this out, getting a HAM license became the next order of business. Just about anyone can get a HAM license provided they pass the test; in fact it's easier than ever to get a license right now - a few years ago we went from 5 levels of licenses to only three (Technician, General and Extra Class) and Morse is no longer required for at least Technician and General.

HAM radio study guides are available on-line and at radio stores, and there are classes around to help get you through the material. The content of the exam covers a lot of ground, ranging from how a radio transmits and receives, how antennas work, basic electronics (capacitance, resistance, inductance, etc.), operating practices, licensing requirements and regulations, etc. The test is only 35 questions for a Technician license, but the scope of the test is broad.

Like a lot of things, the more you learn, the more interesting things become. I found the radio (which had started as a necessary step to the larger goal of storm spotting) become a hobby in itself. Once you are in, the sky is the limit (no pun intended) in what you can do with it - some people get their jollys trying to make really long distance contacts with low power, others explore different bands and get into contests, still others experiment with making antennas and components. It's endless, it really is.

I just got my Technician license in late March and have already started studying to upgrade to General (more band privileges is the primary motivation here) have already lined up a few gigs doing radio event support. I am also planning to get into ARES once I have a little more experience under my belt and better radio set-up, but we'll have to wait and see on that.

My first gig is the Ironman Ride on May 6, so if you are riding that, keep an eye out for the radio nerds, because one them will be me.

Apr 19, 2012

Finding the Groove

I was down at my Mother's the first part of this week, working on financial matters following the passing of my Father in early April. With death certificates in hand, we set off to pay visits to the investment manager, the bank, the tax guy and a good portion of the World Wide Web (that wondrous array of "tubes" that we can all thank Al Gore for) in order to exercise fiduciary responsibility and protect entitlements and benefits.

It all went surprisingly well. I was expecting a lot more Bad Things to happen, but it helps to have a business background, some life experience, a steady hand and a steely gaze whenever one leaves sight of land on The Sea of Bureaucracy.

In fact,  thanks to Volkswagon turbo technology, I was able to make it back to the Twin Towns in time for my newly-resumed art welding class on Wednesday afternoon. I sparked up the torch, made a few simple welds, learned a valuable lesson about the effects of hot metal on fingers, and generally eased back in to the groove just a little bit yesterday.

That was followed today by a class field trip to Amble's, which is truly a jewel of the Twin Cities. This place has been there since before time, it seems, and it's packed to the rafters with all kinds of weird and interesting stuff. The photo with this post is from the gear-and-chain-and-other-stuff aisle that I lingered in this afternoon. I walked out with $15 of scrap that is the starting material for my weathervane. Details to follow, depending on how I do with this project...

In other news, I currently have a bike in the basement awaiting a pre-century tune-up and will be heading out tomorrow with stand and tools in to create a bike from parts for another friend tomorrow.  It might be time for Beers for Bloggers very soon...

It seems that things are slowly returning to normal.

Apr 10, 2012

Back in the Game

We returned this afternoon from my Father's funeral. Suffice it to say that he was one hell of a guy and will be missed by many, many people. Rest assured that the world is a better place because he was here. We, the family, owe a debt of gratitude to the staff of Columbia St. Mary's Hospital and Horizon Hospice, as well as countless friends of my parents and their advisors.

I thought I was prepared for this - this has been coming for some time, and thanks to my EMR training, it seems that I knew as much (or more) than the nurses re: what was really going on towards the end. In spite of that, the funeral itself felt... surreal - like I was watching it rather than participating in it. Knowledge is not necessarily power, after all. My brother did an exceptional job on the eulogy; I don't think I could have pulled that off with the skill that he demonstrated, so that's appreciated.

It's truly a blessing to have the time to your parents in their "golden" years. I left work in July not knowing what the future held, but the time was quickly filled with a bunch of hobbies and interests that ended up getting back-burnered because of family issues. That's a high-class problem, though. Most people have to take FMLA or go to the favor-bank to get time off of work. Unlike my siblings, I didn't have that problem, so I am grateful for that as well.

I think things will be settling down for the time-being, so I am looking forward to getting back into more of a routine, though there will surely be trips home to conduct some business and/or check on things.

In the near-term,  art welding is back on the agenda (CAFAC was great about working through my previous cancelation and re-start ).  I am also about 90% of the way to becoming a Skywarn Storm Spotter. The 90% of the effort is obtaining a HAM radio license (not exactly easy). Now I only have to complete a 4-hour Metro Skywarn training to get in on this good clean fun.  I have also thrown my hat in the ring for radio support on the Ironman ride in May and will look for more radio support roles going forward. HAM radio is not exactly easy to get into, but once you are in, you're in - the license is good for 10 years. It also seems to be endlessly fascinating, so I am proud of my license and look forward to using it for public safety and emergency communications in the future.

Hopefully, there will be rides on nice days followed by libations and sustenance at Sea Salt in the near future as well.

Be well, ride safe and count your blessings.

Apr 3, 2012

On Hold

I have been absent from this blog too much, lately, and I think I need to fess up and just put a hold on things for the time being.

My family is needing my immediate attention and that is getting the Lion's Share of my energy these days, diverting my energy, focus and sarcasm from all those those things I've known before.

Rather than hash together some half-assed content and update the blog sporadically to bridge this situation like some other bloggers might try, I am just putting this site on hold for the time being (according to Hoyle that's entirely legit and I don't lose a turn).

I don't see this as permanent shut-down by any means. Me being me, I'll likely pick up this blog when the dust settles. It's just that I can't sustain this right now and I don't know when things will change. And given my hard-wired desire to exceed expectations, I don't want you all thinking that I just don't give a shit, because I do, in fact, give a shit. It's just that right now I can't give a...

Um... That metaphor didn't work out quite as well as I was hoping, so nevermind about that.

Until then, thanks everyone for stopping be and seeing what I have to say regardless of how inconsequential it is. Keep the faith, ride as much as you can, be kind to each other and for God's sake be careful.

Here's Bob to fill in the blanks.

- Joe