Monday, December 26, 2011

640-1240 Conelrad: Alert today, alive tomorrow!

I remember this stuff - and I was so disappointed that Dad didn't want to build a fallout shelter in the back yard.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Today's Earworm: The Winters Brothers Band

Back in the mid-1970s, yet another album of country rock came into the WBRN studios. This was nothing out of the ordinary - southern rock was hot in those days. The Allman Brothers Band, the Marshall Tucker Band, Lynyrd Skynyrd, the Atlanta Rhythm Section and others combined really high quality musicianship, extended jams and a country sensibility. I loved it - still do.
This album came from an obscure band called the Winters Brothers Band, and it was truly excellent. They came from Nolensville, Tenn., and I fell in love with this extended jam:

That's been running through my head for the last couple of weeks.
The band's still playing, still working hard, still jamming, 35 years later.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

The new single from Elliot Street Lunatic

Elliot Street Lunatic is a mid-Michigan band with a remarkable sound.
I first became aware of them when they played at Rubble's a few months ago, and got blown away by their sound. They don't sound at all like a college-town bar band.
They're young, hard-working, have day jobs and love their music. They're getting some attention, as well.

Here's their new single - Ghost Town.

Ghost Town by Elliot Street Lunatic

It's available on iTunes.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

A woman dressed as a mattress

Saturday afternoon in Mount Pleasant: A woman dressed as a mattress goes through the checkout line at Ric's.

Sunday, October 30, 2011

A superior customer experience

My old friend Jack Telfer, the editor of the Midland Daily News, wrote a column today pointing out how drastically things have changed since he (and I) were teenagers. I’m actually older than he is. He wrote it with what I took to be an air of disapproval at how many things we took for granted have been replaced by new and different ways of doing things.
All these new and different things entered the capitalist marketplace and were accepted. They might just as easily have failed, except they were better than the systems they replaced.
Jack looked askance at how his daughter told him to just recycle a 4-pound telephone directory, because she and her family looked things up online. He was surprised that she would rather “do the work herself” than allow the directory to do it for her.
It doesn’t work that way, Jack. My wife can take her 4.9-ounce iPhone and look up any business, anywhere. It will tell her which location is closest. She can put the address into Google Maps and get directions. She can call (or e-mail, or instant-message) the shop and find out if the product she wants is in stock, if the website doesn’t already tell her. She can carry all this in her purse, something she can’t do with a 4-pound directory.
In short, it’s a superior product and a superior customer experience.
Jack also waxes nostalgic over full-service gasoline delivery. I much prefer self-serve, and have for more than 30 years. My own gas tank is a little quirky; when the automatic shutoff kicks in, there’s still room for 3.5 gallons of unleaded. I know this. I can fill it to where I want it and save myself a trip to the service station.
My wife’s car, on the other hand, is absolutely full when the shutoff kicks in. Don’t even try to top it off to round it up to the next dollar.
No gas jockey would know, or would be expected to know, these things. And I’m old enough to remember the smeary, ugly jobs gas jockeys did while “washing” my dad’s windshield. Thanks, I’ll do it myself for a superior customer experience.
Automatic tellers? A lifesaver. For nearly 30 years, I’ve pulled cash from the bank after hours. Even when the bank’s open, it’s simpler, faster and more secure to get cash while in my car. I still use tellers for deposits or anything special, but there’s no reason to waste their time and mine – and the time of the person behind me in line - if it’s a routine stop for pocket money. It’s a superior customer experience.
Self-serve scanning and bagging at the supermarket? I’ll do it when I can. The lines are shorter, I’m at least as good at scanning as most cashiers, and not once have I put the bleach on top of the bread. Now, I can even bag my groceries according to where I’ll put them away.
And weirdly enough, the robot voice saying “Thank you for shopping at Meijer” sounds more sincere than most human cashiers. It’s all part of a superior customer experience.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Happy Birthday, Dad

Monday would have been my Dad’s 98th birthday.
Dad’s been gone a long time, and I’m only now beginning to get a handle on what kind of a person he was. His life was so very different from mine, and I’m now starting to realize that good part of that was his doing.
I’m now the age Dad was when I started high school. The poor man.
Dad was driven by duty: duty to God, duty to family, duty to country. It was so much a part of his being that even asking why that duty existed was heresy.
I started ninth grade three weeks after Woodstock.
Dad didn’t think much of rebels. Dad didn’t think much of people who were hip and cool. Dad didn’t think much of the Revolution of the ’60s. Dad really hated rock-and-roll.
His son knew nothing else, loved rock-and-roll, and desperately wanted to be cool. The idea of a career in the media? Heresy.
It was a good thing Dad a duty to family. I might have been family, but without that sense of duty, I would have been out on my behind about, oh, 1970.
It wasn’t until near the end of his life, when my boss exuberantly told him that I was the best thing that had ever happened to the boss’s radio station (the boss was drunk, but what he said had an impact on Dad) that Dad finally thought maybe I might have known what I was doing.
Dad never sat at a computer, but he insisted I learn how to type. That, in and of itself, changed my life. He was a U.S. Navy storekeeper in the South Pacific in World War II, then came back to civilian life and worked the rest of his career as an accountant. I suspect he would have loved Excel and Access, but I have no idea how he would have reacted to the world of the Web, iPads, iPods, mobile phones and satellite video.
I can't even imagine what he would have thought of a world where major players are called Google and Yahoo.
Dad was something unusual in his generation: A university graduate. He graduated from the University of Michigan in 1940, at the age of 26. He wasn’t too unhappy when it took me until 26 to graduate from Central, although he never understood the appeal of “that teachers college” I fell in love with the first time I walked onto the campus.
It was a great place to meet girls, Dad.
And even though he was a U of M grad, he didn’t think much of college professors. I think it was from him that I first heard the term “overeducated fool.”
We were so, so different. I learned from him that I had to accept my own children as being very different from me, as well. That wasn’t something Dad tried to teach, but I learned it anyway.
Funny thing. I don’t think he told me he loved me until after I graduated from college. I think he maybe, maybe, accepted me. But I’m not sure he ever liked me.
I don’t know if I ever would have or could have been friends with my dad. Maybe that was the whole point.
I’m glad Dad did his duty to his family. It got me here.
Happy birthday, Dad.

Sunday, September 4, 2011

Will there be a middle class for my kids to join?

From The Atlantic: A continued push for better schooling, the creation of clearer paths into careers for people who don’t immediately go to college, and stronger support for low-wage workers—together, these measures can help mitigate the economic cleavage of U.S. society, strengthening the middle. They would hardly solve all of society’s problems, but they would create the conditions for more-predictable and more-comfortable lives—all harnessed to continuing rewards for work and education. These, ultimately, are the most-critical preconditions for middle-class life and a healthy society.
Can the Middle Class Be Saved?

But can this be done by a rotten political system? Both parties are not rotten in quite the same way. The Democrats have their share of machine politicians, careerists, corporate bagmen, egomaniacs and kooks. Nothing, however, quite matches the modern GOP. To those millions of Americans who have finally begun paying attention to politics and watched with exasperation the tragicomedy of the debt ceiling extension, it may have come as a shock that the Republican Party is so full of lunatics.

From Goodbye to All That: Reflections of a GOP Operative Who Left the Cult

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Has this been on "Dirty Jobs?"

A steeplejack from Fedewa Inc. of Nashville, Mich., uses a power washer to get the crud off the bottom of Union Township's 500,000-gallon water tower at the township hall. The crud is a mix of dirt - and, um, mold.

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Can we do justice to a hero?

I’m a guy in my mid-50s, the time of life when going to funerals starts to become a sad, routine part of life.
I’ve been going to funerals, but not of people my age. I’m going to another funeral tomorrow of a young person, an achiever, who died young.
His name’s Brian Backus, or more specifically, Pfc. Brian Backus, U.S. Army.
I got an e-mail from his dad with the subject line “Sad news.” No, it went beyond, far beyond sad. “Sad” doesn’t do it justice.
The boilerplate casualty announcement from the Department of Defense doesn’t tell the story, just as they don’t ever tell the story:
DOD Identifies Army Casualty
The Department of Defense announced today the death of a soldier who was supporting Operation Enduring Freedom.
Pfc. Brian J. Backus, 21, of Saginaw Township, Mich., died June 18, in Kandahar province, Afghanistan, of wounds suffered when insurgents attacked his unit with small arms fire. He was assigned to the 2nd Battalion, 87th Infantry Regiment, 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 10th Mountain Division, Fort Drum, N.Y.
For more information, media may contact the Fort Drum public affairs office at 315-772-8286.
U.S. Department of Defense
Office of the Assistant Secretary of Defense (Public Affairs)
When I met Brian, he was probably 7 years old, a Tiger Cub in Pack 3582, Harbor Beach. I had just become the Scoutmaster of Troop 582 in Harbor Beach, and Brian’s dad was the pack’s Cubmaster and the chairman of the troop committee. Even though my family spent only a couple of years in Harbor Beach, we became close to the Backus family.
Every summer, until the middle part of the decade, we were part of the staff of summer Cub Scout camps at Camp Rotary and Paul Bunyan Scout Reservation. These camps were just magic. Oh, we went by the book, sort of, but the staff made these camps go far beyond the ordinary. They were staffed by adult leaders who were really good at what they did and had fun doing it, and youth staff (our kids) who were bright and creative and destined for achievement.
Brian became president of his class at Harbor Beach High School. He went to the University of Michigan for a while, but ended up joining the Army. He became a medic.
I can’t describe the admiration I have for combat medics and hospital corpsmen, whose job it is to save lives even as the battle rages around them. Courage, sacrifice – those words don’t do justice to what they do, either.
Katherine had maintained the closest contact with Brian. They Skyped occasionally, and she had talked to him just a few days before he died. She cried when I broke the news to her.
What made it even harder was that Brian was the second member of that magic Cub Scout camp youth staff to die. Matt Boles of Mt. Pleasant, who died in a swimming accident in 2009, also was part of that group of kids and adults who gathered around lakeside campfires on summer nights and shared the joy of being outdoors, being Scouts, being destined for great things.
The gym at Harbor Beach High School, the largest gathering place in that little town on Lake Huron, will be packed tomorrow. The town’s streets were lined with mourners when Pfc. Backus’ body was returned, and most of those people will be there, as well.
The Army honor guard will salute the fallen hero. “Taps” will be played and there will be many, many tears. Many, many words will be said, but none of them will do justice to all the tomorrows that changed forever when Brian died.

Monday, June 27, 2011

The European way:

The resurfaced south end of South Mission Street is open, and it's been restriped for very obvious pedestrian crosswalks - and shoulders that aren't quite official bike lanes, but certainly will be used that way.
The traffic lanes are a little narrower than they used to be, and it's almost certain we'll hear from people griping about it. That's how seriously we love wide-open, fast-flowing traffic.
So imagine what it would be like to take a European approach to traffic management, as reported by The New York Times?
In a land I've heard public transportation referred to as "welfare wagons," I think it might be kind of a tough sell.

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Stayin Alive in the Wall

Just brilliant. Thanks to Tom Moore for turning me on to this.

Monday, January 24, 2011

Uncle Jay explains the news

Uncle Jay fills us on on what the news really, really means this week.