Saturday, December 8, 2012

And back to reality

I can only quote my colleague Herbert Jack Rotfeld, who teaches at Auburn:

I now return to the regularly scheduled reading of student essay tests in which sentences, paragraphs, punctuation and spelling are all accidents.

I try to make that a little better.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Happy 99th birthday, Dad


Today would have been my father’s 99th birthday.
My dad, Oswald Ferdinand Ranzenberger, was born Oct. 10, 1913, in the house on Hill Street in Saginaw where he grew up. It was the same house where I grew up.
Dad was hard man to get to know. He was dedicated to his family, to God, to his country and to his duty to all of them. Dad didn’t talk much about these things. He just saw that approaching life this way was obviously the right way to do things.
Dad and I never really saw eye to eye. I admired him very greatly, but admiring Dad was not something he really allowed.
He was an accountant, and that was something he was made to be. I’m a writer, photographer, one-time disc jockey, sometime video guy, and doing that is what I was made to do. He never got that.
I’m outgoing, think-on-the-outside. I’ll put myself out there. Dad thought that was dangerous.
“The nail that’s sticking up,” he once told me, “is the one that gets hammered down.”
Yet I have to put it all into perspective. I’m now 57 years old. When Dad celebrated his 57th birthday on Oct. 10, 1970, he had a long-haired, rebellious son in 10th grade, just a year past Woodstock.
His world of family, God and country was coming apart. An era of questioning, challenging and defying the conventional wisdom was well under way. His own son was one of those hell-raising, dope-smoking rebels ripping apart everything Dad valued.
But I was his son, and a strong sense of family and duty kept him from completely cutting me off. He seldom missed an opportunity to let me know, subtly, often without words, how much I disappointed him. Even now, 27 years after he died, I’m still disappointed that I disappointed him, but I shouldn’t be surprised.
Still, I’ve never forgotten what he said to me more than once: An education is not to teach a person what to think, but teach them how to think. My education, as did his, came from everywhere, from all of our experiences. Mine was so much different from his, and it’s taken me a very long time to appreciate, or even understand, his experiences.
If I could say one thing to my father, I'd say that I’m honestly pleased with where my life went. His grandchildren – and he only got to meet one of them, very briefly – are amazing people. Yes, I did a lot of stupid things, but I survived. That taught me so much. I won’t call myself wise, but there’s some wisdom in there that I learned the hard way.
I don't know if Dad would understand this – but I learned that wisdom is judgment distilled, good judgment comes from experience, and experience comes from not having good judgment.
I didn’t understand Dad's wisdom, and he didn’t understand me, either. One more thing I'd say to Dad: I’m sorry I disappointed you.
And yeah, there is just one more thing, Dad. You know that crummy little teachers college I chose over your Maize and Blue school? I think it’s worked out OK.
Happy birthday, Dad.

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

The end of the Oiler-eating pothole

Big equipment is in the driveway that leads from Mt. Pleasant High School to Preston Street, and I couldn't be happier.
I first began using this driveway about 2004, when Andrew was a high school freshman. That was a while ago.
The area right by the dugout featured a massive, car-eating pothole. Potholes like this come from a disintegration of the underlying roadbed. Sometimes something washes it out. Sometimes the roadbed just wasn't built properly. In any case, this giant pothole collected water, ice and the occasional student's car year after year.
Fixing this driveway wasn't the top priority of the school district. They had much more important things to spend money on, and I can't disagree with any of those decisions.
Now, however, Mt. Pleasant Schools has managed to scrape together the money to fix this. Repairing a problem of this sort isn't a case of just slapping more asphalt into the hole. That wouldn't last. Like any roadway that's been allowed to deteriorate to this point, the entire thing has to be reconstructed.
That's what's under way off Preston Street, with new sand and a solid roadbed going in. The asphalt we'll see at the end of it is just the obvious part, but the real work is in the roadbed.
I can't say I'll miss the car-eating pothole.

Saturday, October 6, 2012

Applefest: Celebrating 25 years

This adorable guy was in the pumpkin patch.
I'm a Zonta boy. That means I'm married to one of the members of the Mt. Pleasant Zonta Club, which put on its 25th annual Zonta Applefest. 
There's a lot of behind the scenes stuff involved in Applefest, and I get to do some of it. The results: another successful Applefest. 

Even though there's an apple shortage in Michigan, Papa's Pumpkin Patch had plenty of Honeycrisp apples available.

John Martinez of Bridgeport laughs as he carves images into pumpkins.

Fiber artist Linda Ritz of Clare spins alpaca fleece into wool using a traveling spinning wheel.
The baked goods, as always, were a hit.

Different ... is good.

Hayrides are really, really popular at Applefest.

This guy is discovering the joy of pumpkins and Halloween - and Applefest.

Here's one maze is hard to get lost in.

A volunteer, a face, a pumpkin - it's Applefest.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Who built that? We all did

When I was an undergrad at Central Michigan University, I look a class in writing from Dr. Peter B. Orlik. He said something that stunned me at the time, but it turns out to be true: “There’s really nothing new. Creativity is just putting together things in different ways.”
I stumbled across this example. Our story begins 70 years ago, during World War II. Kay Kyser, “The Ol’ Professor of Swing,” had a hit record called “Jingle Jangle Jingle.”

It was a creative approach: It’s a cowboy song, arranged as big-band swing. It hit No. 1.
My mother loved this song. She would sing it while she did housework when I was a child.
In the pre-Internet age, it went where old hit records went – obscurity and the packages sold on late-night TV. But YouTube and digital archives brought it back: It’s for sale for 99 cents at
Meanwhile, it found its way into a post-apocalyptic video game called Fallout: New Vegas.
A player known only as “Icky” got it stuck in his head. He also apparently was into something called “Electro Swing,” a sort of combination of swing samples and techno.
He turned "Jingle Jangle Jingle" into "Ring a Ding Baby." It’s cool:

At the same time, over in the DeviantArt community, people were fooling around with “My Little Pony” as a meme. They drew socks on them, made their own animations and had them sing terrible songs.
One of these artists, who goes by the name Tommy Xe, took Icky’s soundtrack of "Ring a Ding Baby" and turned it into a PMV: Pony Music Video.

And it’s just amazing.
Who made money off this? Maybe Google. Certainly the hardware and software makers who sold Icky and Tommy Xe the sophisticated machines they used to build these.
But mostly this is a path, an unpredictable path, through networks and open collaboration to something really creative. And according to writer Steven Johnson,  it’s really the answer to the question of “who built that.”

Saturday, September 22, 2012

The stunning arrival of Fall 2012!

Fall made its brilliant entrance today, on a crisp, bright day.
The autumnal equinox, which marks the precise instant where the sun crosses the equator on its trip south, took place at 10:49 a.m. Eastern Daylight Time.
I documented the effect of this for posterity.

The last moment of the summer of 2012, as seen from the Home on Horizon Park.
And the stunning arrival of the fall of 2012!
(In the competition for geekiness with my kids, I now have the lead.)

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

The 47 percent

I was once one of those 47 percent of Americans who paid no federal income tax. Yes, I was one of those lazy, shiftless individuals who wouldn’t take personal responsibility, part of this entitlement society depending on government handouts.
Um, really? I don’t think so.

Here’s how it happened: This was back right after the century started. I found myself as a single parent – this wasn’t my idea, but it happened – and I was raising three small children on my own. To make ends meet, I was working two jobs.

One was as the editor of a small, weekly newspaper. It didn’t pay much, and it folded eventually, but I did a good enough job that it got me hired as a reporter for the Morning Sun. I’m now the online editor, a position I’d like to believe I earned on my merits.

The other job was a part-time adjunct instructor at Central Michigan University. In those days, there was no union for temporary instructors. One had to prove one’s merit in the classroom to get a new contract. That sounds like a pretty solidly Republican idea to me. I’ve had consistent contract renewals for well over a decade now, so it would seem that I’ve proven my merit in that position, too.

But in the early days of those two jobs, there wasn’t a lot of money coming into the house. Interestingly, however, the Republicans had pushed through something called the child tax credit. This is a direct offset of taxes that otherwise would be owed. The idea was to allow me to keep more of what I earned, and allow me to spend it on my children the way I saw fit without having to filter it through the government.

That sounds incredibly Republican to me.

The more kids you have, the bigger the tax credit. In my case, the tax credit and other breaks for which an ordinary working guy like me qualified pushed my income tax liability to zero for a couple of years.

The first time that happened, my jaw dropped. Wow. Zero. During several more years, I paid a rate of about 3 percent after the credits and deductions.

Did I feel like a freeloader? Heck, no. I still was paying Social Security and Medicare taxes, as were my employers. I still paid state income taxes, federal and state gasoline taxes, state sales tax, state property tax, local property tax, federal telephone tax … I’m leaving out a lot. But I was grateful for the break the feds gave me. I didn’t have to ask for assistance. I could build a strong family. I was an ordinary guy, working hard and keeping more of what I earned instead of paying some bureaucrat to filter a little of it back to me.

This is a freeloader?

I no longer qualify for the child tax credit. All those kids are in college now and have jobs, showing me a terrific work ethic. I pay a lot more in taxes now. I don’t like it, of course, but it’s a lot more affordable now than it was back then when I was part of the 47 percent.

Yeah, tax the poor. Tax the workers raising their children without help. That’s the ticket to victory, Mr. Romney.

Sunday, September 9, 2012

Together we are Maroon ... and Green

They called it "The Clash at Kelly/Shorts" - Michigan State playing CMU at Mt. Pleasant for the first time in history.
Some Spartan fans worried - after all, CMU has pulled the occasional upset against MSU. But this year,  the Spartans were ranked No. 11 in the country going in, and the Chippewas, well, were underdogs.
Michigan State is a huge draw, and people knew that this was something historic.
This wasn't a rivalry game. Leave that to the Spartans and Wolverines, the Wolverines and Buckeyes, or the Chippewas and Broncoes.
This was something else. There are so many ties between East Lansing and Mt. Pleasant - families, colleagues, friends - that this was a celebration, a great big party. 
I'm a Chippewa, and so are Kat and Robert
Kissy Missy is a Spartan.
Chippewas and Spartans mingled freely outside Kelly/Shorts
Spartan flags and Chippewa flags flew side by side.

Friends, family and friends, some old, some new gathered beneath the Ranzenbergers' maroon canopy.
We were joined by a few tens of thousands of our closest friends.
You've heard of the Blue Men? How about the Maroon & Gold men?
What's a party without a band?
The Spartan Marching Band filled the field.
Then the Chippewa Marching Band took over.
Robert marched with the Chippewa Marching Band.

And together, they played "America the Beautiful" at halftime.

Oh, and there was an actual football game. Michigan State won 41-7, and moved up to No. 10 in the AP College Football Poll.

Maroon and Green. Somehow it worked.

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Music for the Elderly

I was listening to an oldies station while driving down Mission Street today, and realized this oldies station was playing stuff I had played for the kids during my radio career.
I was on my way to the drug store. Once I got there, I smiled. The in-store background music was playing Steely Dan, followed by U2.
"Finally, some good music!" I thought, until I realized that a drug store is where old people go to buy their medication to keep from dropping dead.
Really sad.

Monday, July 16, 2012

Summer means blueberries

Every summer, we wait for a simple, single email to arrive from the Rhynard farm: The blueberries are ready!
The Rhynards grow some of the most fabulous, easy picking blueberries anywhere. These are high-bush blueberries, which mean the wonderful fruit is right in front of you. No stooping needed.
The family has, I'd guess, about 10 acres in cultivation, so that means, oh, about a zillion blueberries. 

A serious net overhead keeps out marauding birds, and beneath that, you can collect as many blueberries as you want.
I concentrated on one bush - one - and picked about 4 pounds of ripe, sweet, wonderful blueberries. All told, we came home with about 8 pounds.
There's a lot of blueberry cobbler, blueberry pie, blueberries on cereal, blueberries with cream ahead. I can't object.
It's summer in mid-Michigan, and that's something that makes it wonderful.

Saturday, July 14, 2012

Ladies and Gentlemen, Santana!

 I thought Kissy Missy was crazy when she kept sending in entries for WHNN's tickets to the Santana concert at the Soaring Eagle Casino. She wasn't. She pretty much overwhelmed them on a Text to Win Wednesday, and she won. And the seats were fabulous! I had expected to get a place up on The Hill - but we gasped when we saw that they had given us seats in Row G.

The crowd was, well, interesting. We now have reached the point where rock concerts include a fair number of people who arrive with canes, walkers and wheelchairs, but they still wanna rock! The osteoporosis crowd still wants to boogie! But it wasn't just Music for the Elderly - other members of the crowd were as entertaining as Walgreen's After Dark. My favorite: a young woman wearing a dress in what can only be described as a crazy quilt of different paisley patterns. Watch out for the brown acid, man. Her tattoo matched her dress.

And the show was excellent. There's a reason Carlos Santana has been a headliner for more than 40 years. It was remarkably well produced, integrated video on a huge crystal-clear LED screen with musicianship from a jawdroppingly excellent band that went beyond first-rate. The show ran 2 hours, 40 minutes without a break, and won't be forgotten - even by the aging hippies.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

A snake in the grass

Literally, a snake in the grass.
This little feller - a garter snake about 2 feet long - made himself known as he slithered across the warm sidewalk leading to the Morning Sun's employee entrance. He quickly made use of his natural coloring to blend in with the grass, but he popped up near one of the pine trees.
Isn't he cute?
Name him Cuddles.

Sunday, June 17, 2012

Management for Dummies

I recently was in a Barnes and Noble bookstore, and I took notice of how the offerings were laid out.
Any good brick-and-mortar retailer will display items close to each other that complement each other. Crackers near soup in a supermarket, socks near shoes in a department store, tent stakes near tents in an outdoor shop.
"For Dummies" next to "Management" in a book store.
How well do they know their customers?

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Anatomy of a gas price increase

Monday morning, Speedway initiated what amounted to a statewide increase in the price of gasoline in Michigan.
Speedway is a division of Findlay, Ohio-based Marathon Petroleum Co. and owns and operates more than 280 convenience stores and gas stations in Michigan. There is nothing illegal about a private business setting a price for a product, and Speedway set the price for a gallon of unleaded regular gasoline at all 284 of its operating stores at $3.899 on Monday morning.
What happened next was most interesting as the market responded to this.
Here are some screen shots of the GasBuddy iPhone app:

This was taken at 3:02 p.m. Monday. The prevailing price had been around $3.79. Pretty much every competitor in Mt. Pleasant matched the price within hours. No surprise there - it always happens.
In Alma/St. Louis, the previous prevailing price was $3.47, and Sound Off callers were demanding to know why Mt. Pleasant prices were more than 32 cents higher than Alma prices. Here's what it looked like Monday afternoon, about five to six hours after the Speedway move; Speedway stores are on Wright Avenue.

But by early Tuesday morning, prices in Alma/St. Louis  had this eerie look of sameness:

Several Sound Off callers angry about the $3.79 price in Mt. Pleasant cited prices of $3.54 in Houghton Lake. Here's how it looked Monday afternoon after the Speedway move - the Speedway outlet is next to U.S. 127:

You'll note that the Admiral and Clark stations are the only stations actually charging $3.54, but those are the prices drivers remember. But by Tuesday morning, they had matched the Speedway price. Only the BP station in Prudenville, to the far right of the screenshot, remained firm for a time at $3.61, but by Wednesday morning, it, too, had matched the price, while Clark and Admiral already were knocking a few pennies off.

Competitive pressures always force prices down, and that's happening. In fact, 224 Speedway stores had dropped their prices by Wednesday. But most had dropped only 1 to 5 cents; the biggest drops were 13 cents at individual stores in Fraser and Lansing.
Considering how big the increase was - in Sturgis, it was 60 cents a gallon, in Alma, it was 42 cents - those don't amount to much.
The increase stuck.
What's driving the increase? The price of crude oil is down to the $82 range. Gasoline futures are below $2.65. Granted, those prices are high, but down considerably from where they were earlier this year.
This move left Michigan with the highest average price of unleaded gasoline - $3.855, according to Michigan AAA through Wright Express and the Oil Price Information Service - of any state that doesn't have frontage on the Pacific Ocean.
What's the message here? 

Monday, June 11, 2012

The view from the race course

My colleague Holly Mahaffey put together a great Storify on Le Tour de Mont Pleasant. Check it out!

The Amazing Races

I do not look good in Spandex, and I never will.
But watching the Spandex people competing in Le Tour de Mont Pleasant continues to amaze me - their sheer athleticism, their focus, their determination.
Friday night, I met a young woman named Katie Hamel from Grand Rapids:

Saturday, it was the closed-course criterium races in downtown Mt. Pleasant. These actually are my favorite races. You see the riders up close. You see their faces. You can sit on the sidewalk cafe at Max & Emily's and watch the action.
I met Chris Uberti, who won the Pro Category 1 and 2 criterium. He's very matter-of-fact about the challenge: 75 minutes of high-speed street racing, then three laps of flat-out sprinting around a course with difficult, technical turns. And he wasn't even winded.

Sunday, the race course expands to the entire county. This year's course was 120 miles long, traveling through the Isabella Reservation, Shepherd, Winn, Blanchard, Beal City, Lake Isabella, Weidman, across the hinterlands of northern Isabella County, through Rosebush and back to downtown Mt. Pleasant.
The winner was a guy whom I'd love to invite over for dinner named Jake Rytlewski (right-LESS-key), originally from Bay City:

But Le Tour de Mont Pleasant was not without controversy. What really happened out on the course that caused the disqualification of 19 riders - and a stunning protest at the finish line?

This event is well on its way to becoming a fixture in June in central Michigan. It's a niche we can fill - and fill well.

Sunday, June 10, 2012

The key to fitness

I was talking to one of the riders in Le Tour de Mont Pleasant bicycle race about what it took to be a world-class cyclist.
"I'm not that strong," he said. "I just know how to suffer."
But he looked great in Spandex.

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

This park or that park

I recently ran across an ad in the New York Times Magazine for a recent condominium conversion in New York. It's simply named 1212 Fifth Avenue, and it's near Fifth Avenue and East 102nd Street - at the far, far, very upper Upper East Side.
It's an amazing building, built in the 1920s as a rental, and later used to house people who trained at Mount Sinai Hospital. After being sold to a developer, it was gutted completely, and built into a showpiece.
What's interesting is the neighborhood - across the street is Central Park. The marketing materials have photos of "the neighborhood" like this:

Now, as it happens, we also live on a park - Horizon Park. "The neighborhood" is like this:

There is, however, a slight difference in price. An 1,800-square-foot, three-bedroom condominium unit at 1212 Fifth Avenue goes for, oh, a mere $2.66 million - it is, after all, not the best neighborhood. Our 1,800-square-foot condo went for ... a lot less.

I recall being told many years ago that New York is not real. Uh, huh.

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Gus. Just Gus.

Three cats now live at Horizon Park South.
Minden and Munchen have been here since we moved in. They are, of course, our haughty, snotty Siamese, who clearly rule the world and consistently remind us that cats once were worshiped as gods.
Now there’s Gus.
That name’s really all you need to know about Gus.
We inherited Gus. He had been Kissy Missy’s mother’s constant companion from the time he wandered out of the Upper Michigan forest as a scrawny little kitten. No one really knows where he came from. Was he feral? Was he dumped as part of an unwanted litter? There’s no way to find out, but he certainly survived.
And he prospered and grew.
Gus seems to be a Maine coon cat, one of the largest breeds of domestic cat. He weighs more than 17 pounds, yet he thinks of himself as a cuddly little kitten.
But he doesn’t have the kind of elan the other two display. Jeff Foxworthy describes “redneck” as a “glorious lack of sophistication.”
He's a redneck cat. 
It’s not hard to imagine a guy with Gus’ personality popping a beer at a funeral. It’s not hard to imagine a guy with Gus’ personality driving a big ole truck.
Maybe I’ll turn on a NASCAR race on TV and see if Gus is fascinated. Whatcha bet?
The Siamese, by the way, clearly are appalled at the entire situation.

Friday, March 9, 2012

Celestial dorkdom

Just cool. At 7:35 p.m., I was able to spot Mercury in the gathering dusk, low on the western horizon. Venus and Jupiter are brilliant higher in the western sky - and Mars is ruling the east.
Spotting Mercury is tough, and it disappeared into the haze shortly afterward, but even more a moment, seeing four planets in the sky at once is just, well, dork cool. 

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Suspicious. Very suspicious

A suspicious white powder led to the Ranzenbergers missing their flight home from Washington, D.C.  Consider being held up at security the price of freedom.
It's just after 4 a.m. at Washington National Airport, and Kissy Missy and I are waiting for security to open up. We ended up spending an extra night in Washington after missing our flight out last night.
We missed it because I was held up at security.
These are not problems I had heard about before, but I guess I might simply have been out of touch.
 1. Carrying both an iPad and a laptop will subject you to additional scrutiny. This additional scrutiny will take time.
2. Do not, under any circumstances, carry anything remotely resembling a white, powdery substance.
I made that fatal error. A container with what appeared to be a powdery substance was detected in my luggage. The line was stopped as a bag-check expert was summoned. This took a while, and several hundred people behind me fumed.
I felt insecure.
 Finally, the brave man from the Transportation Security Administration approached.
"There isn't anything in there that can hurt me, is there?" he asked. This is a standard question, designed to be asked as the owner of the suspicious luggage is standing there.
 If the luggage will do something bad, it's going to get the owner, too. I suspect the suicide agent was looking for me to flinch or twitch, or say something stupid like, "No, the bomb will go off later."
 I didn't flinch or twitch. I said, "No."
He asked again.
 I was cooperative.
At that point, he explained that I had been pulled out due to signs that I was carrying a container of a suspicious powdery substance.
 "Oh, the baby powder," I offered helpfully.
It was in a clear, zippered section of my luggage, beneath my dirty clothes. He carefully and thoroughly examined my possibly suspicious laundry on his way to finding the prize. This investigator knew what he was after now: A canister mysteriously labeled with some variation on the words, "Baby Powder."
There it was, beneath clear plastic, in a zippered pouch. He struggled with the zipper, however.
 I offered to help.
This was suspicious.
 He eventually removed the suspect container from the zippered pouch. He examined it closely. It was labeled Johnson's Baby Powder, and a close look revealed it was of the corn starch variety.
It wasn't clear if the further labeling of this suspicious white powder as "medicated" might have set off more alarm bells.
 He swabbed the outside, and in a scene that might have been from "CSI," he placed the swab into a sensor array. Apparently unsatisfied with the result, he did it again. Finally, the result: Baby Powder. Thank you, TSA. My safety is your business. I feel safer now.
Unfortunately, the process took so long we missed our flight, and it was the day's last flight to Grand Rapids. Now, we will try again. The baby powder was left at the hotel. I will try not to Fit The Profile.

Monday, March 5, 2012

Spring break in D.C.

It's spring break, and this year, it's Washington. Some business, but a little bit of playing tourist. 
Washington really is one of my favorite cities. it's not just the sense of federal power that pervades this place - but it's the tremendous sense of history, of being someplace where things happen that actually matter.

Traveling in and around Washington on the surface streets is an utter nightmare. It's best to avoid that.
Most Washingtonians are wise enough to do that, and use the city's most excellent subway system, the Metro. At left, Kissy Missy waits for a Blue Line train.
The trains run pretty much on time, and they get you pretty close to where you want to go.

There's a lot of advertising, of course, and it's kind of fun to note that there's a lot of advertising for CMU's Off-Campus programs here. There actually are seven sites in the D.C. metro area.
An awful lot of U.S. military officers earn their master's degrees from CMU. Only a few of them actually climb Mount Pleasant; most earn their degrees off-campus.
 The Washington metropolitan area leads the country in the number of people with university educations. Nearly 1 in 2 adults in the region has completed at least a bachelor's degree.
In Michigan, it's about 1 in 4. Washington is growing. That makes a lot of people mad. 

Today was a tourist day. After spending time at the Smithsonian's National Museum of the American Indian, we took an after-dark tour of the monuments.
At left, Kissy Missy checks in on Facebook from the Jefferson Memorial.

At right, me and Tom.

Just waiting for Michelle to let us in. Hope she knows we're in town. 

The Marine Corps memorial is just blocks away from where we're staying in Arlington, Va. 

And it was the first chance I'd had to visit the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. memorial. It's impressive.