Saturday, April 11, 2009


Someone recently sent me an e-mail with a bunch of those old Burma Shave saying that were popular years ago. That's where there were four signs spaced along the highway that made up a funny saying dealing with safe driving, then a fifth one with the words, "Burma Shave".

They were popular when my sister and I were kids, and we always looked forward to reading them while on a trip. My parents enjoyed them, also, but that was probably because it gave them a brief respite from hearing us argue or asking how much further we had to go.

Along with Burma Shave signs, we also enjoyed looking at regular billboards. Reading them not only gave us something to do but also told us things to look for while passing through a new town, such as auto dealers and restaurants. We also played a game called "Alphabet" that relied on signs. In case you're not familiar with that game, it was guaranteed to create several arguments about who saw what letter first. An argument always made the time go faster, though our parents might not agree.

Maybe those signs from long ago are why I have difficulty understanding why people complain about billboards today. For one thing, not only do they tell my wife and I how far to an exit that sells certain brands of gas, but we also use them to locate our preferred (healthy) fast food restaurant when we don't bother to bring a cooler of sandwiches and bottled water. We also depend on them to help locate a motel -- a big help while exhausted from driving all day.

The people who do complain, say it takes away from the natural beauty of the forests and farmlands. Personally, after staring at nothing for forty or fifty miles but trees and plowed fields, it's a relief to see anything else, including signs. I'd gladly welcome more advertisements along the road, not less.

Maybe the lack of billboards is why most drivers feel a need to drive ten to twenty miles an hour above the speed limit on freeways. They're simply bored and in a hurry to get where they're going where they'll have something to look at. I'll bet if Burma Shave signs ever come back into style, people will slow down to read them. Sure, and pigs will line up to take turns at the trough.

Sunday, April 5, 2009


Since the beginning of technology, scientists have been trying to invent a time machine. Personally, I don't think it's possible to travel backwards or forward in time. Think about it. Everyone would be going back trying to change their past, which would also change their future, which would then change their past, which would then change their...okay, maybe you get the idea. For example, how about if you went back a bunch of years and tried to convince your former self not to do something because it would turn out badly. Say he told you to go fly a kite and the next thing you know, the two of you are rolling around on the ground punching and kicking each other? Remember, you're both of these people. It adds a whole new meaning to the idea of a guilt trip, and they'd have to open drive-through therapy clinics.

On the other hand, you could go back in time and tell your former self to do dangerous, daring feats for huge sums of money, because he couldn't be killed. Otherwise it wouldn't be possible for you to be there from the future telling him he couldn't be killed.

The possibilities boggle the mind. Not only that, but congress would go crazy trying to come up with a whole new set of laws to cover time travel. Of course, they could travel into the future and bring back the set they'd already come up with. Except if there was a law against doing that.

Even if a time machine were possible, I honestly believe that all this back and forth travel to change the past, then the future, then the past, would eventually bring everything to a screeching halt and the entire universe would become one giant, shapeless glob, frozen in time and space for eternity. Sort of like an old fashioned alarm clock that had sprung its main spring.

Now a device to speed or slow the passing of time - well, that's different. And it's already here. Many of us know this device by its common name: computer.

The way it works is, if I want to slow time down, I simply click to download a very large file, or queue up a bunch of text pages for the printer or worse yet, pictures, and it's a sure bet I'll soon be beating my head on the desk, yelling, "Hurry up!"

On the other hand, if I want to speed time up, like when I'm hungry and know lunch won't be for quite awhile, I simply sit down to write a few lines on my latest story. Next thing I know, I'm on page twenty-seven and my wife is calling me for the sixth time to come and eat, while I keep telling her I just need to finish this one last sentence.

So forget time travel. It isn't going to happen. Now, the speed of time, on the other hand...oops, I think it's time for supper.

Thursday, February 19, 2009


Remember those days long ago how scary it was to follow a vehicle that was all over the road, speeding up, then slowing down for no apparent reason, plus stopping at green lights along with other erratic behavior? You naturally assumed the driver was drunk or on drugs and looked for the nearest pay phone, pulled off the road and called the police.

We've come a long way since then. Now if you see someone driving in such a manner, you naturally assume they're on their cell phone. Instead of pulling off the road at the nearest pay phone, however, with today's technology, you can simply use your own cell phone to call the police right from your car and report the irresponsible, reckless behavior. Of course, you have to be careful not to end up all over the road and speeding up or slowing down while talking to the police. Otherwise, someone might report you.


LOST: Elephant. Female, gray, seven feet, ten inches tall. This cuddly animal has two tusks, one slightly longer than the other. Weighs approximately 2,600 pounds. Answers to the name of Claudette. Last seen in neighbor’s garden eating cabbages. If found, please return to 2784 Maple Ave., apartment 3C. Kids are heartbroken. Will consider reward if returned soon.

LOST: Eight hamsters, eleven guinea pigs, six white mice, fourteen rats and a canary named Barbara. If found, call 555-4444 after 8:00PM and ask for Rupert.

LOST: Python. Multicolored, nine and a half feet long. Docile due to possible recent feeding. Goes by the name of Squeeky. Last seen behind couch, chair and bookcase. If found, call 555-4444 after 8:00PM and ask for Rupert. If a woman answers, hang up and call later.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009


The following e-mail wasn't written by me but fits in with other scams I've written about in this blog, so I'm including it here. The e-mail was verified as true by a couple of web sites that research this type of thing for validity. That, in my opinion, makes it real. Bottom line, if ANYONE calls and asks for personal information such as a social security number, HANG UP. That includes callers who claim to be from a bank, IRS or any other official-sounding agency. Better yet, try to obtain their phone number or location and report them to the police.

"Here's a new twist scammers are using to commit identity theft: the jury duty scam. Here's how it works:
The scammer calls claiming to work for the local court and claims you've failed to report for jury duty. He tells you that a warrant has been issued for your arrest.
The victim will often rightly claim they never received the jury duty notification. The scammer then asks the victim for confidential information for "verification" purposes.
Specifically, the scammer asks for the victim's Social Security number, birth date, and sometimes even for credit card numbers and other private information -- exactly what the scammer needs to commit identity theft.
So far, this jury duty scam has been reported in Michigan, Ohio, Texas, Arizona, Illinois, Pennsylvania, Minnesota, Oregon and Washington state.
It's easy to see why this works. The victim is clearly caught off guard, and is understandably upset at the prospect of a warrant being issued for his or her arrest. So, the victim is much less likely to be vigilant about protecting their confidential information.
In reality, court workers will never call you to ask for social security numbers and other private information. In fact, most courts follow up via snail mail and rarely, if ever, call prospective jurors.
Action: Never give out your Social Security number, credit card numbers or other personal confidential information when you receive a telephone call. This jury duty scam is the latest in a series of identity theft scams where scammers use the phone to try to get people to reveal their Social Security number, credit card numbers or other personal confidential information.
It doesn't matter *why* they are calling -- all the reasons are just different variants of the same scam.
Protecting yourself is simple: Never give this info out when you receive a phone call.
Share this information with a Friend."

Thursday, January 29, 2009


The Labor Saving Device

Once upon a time, there was born a machine. This machine is listed under the category of ‘labor saving devices’. Specifically, it’s called a tiller, a name I’ve come to believe that was derived from ‘A Tiller the Hun’.

A tiller is a machine with tines, or blades, powered by an electric or a gasoline motor and who’s purpose in life is to lift and turn soil. No one seems to know why soil needs to be lifted and turned, but it’s considered a must for modern gardeners. Since I consider myself a modern gardener, I purchased a used one several years ago for $25. Quite a bargain. Or so I thought at the time.

This particular tiller has a gasoline instead of an electric motor, possibly because, judging from its appearance, it was manufactured before electricity was discovered. You might think I’m kidding, but there’s a name that looks a lot like ‘Dan’l Boone’ scratched into the paint on one of the handles.

Most of you are probably too young to remember those days of yore before devices with gasoline motors included the marvelous invention of that little rubber bulb used to prime a carburetor to ensure easier starting. Without that little rubber bulb, priming is accomplished only through repeated cranking, which is accomplished by repeated pulls of the starter rope, which is followed by heavy breathing, which is followed by heart pains real or imagined and no end of uncivilized thoughts. As you’ve already surmised, my tiller does not possess a rubber bulb primer.

Having grown up in a generation often referred to as the ‘Pre-rubber primer bulb era’, it never occurred to me the device might be difficult to start when I bought it. After all, I only planned to use it a few times every year and that would be mostly in the winter – in a small garden. My idea was to rake leaves, spread them on the garden, crank up the old tiller and ‘lift and turn’ them into the soil. This would not only provide a touch of nature’s compost, but would also help keep the soil, rich in that red clay that’s prevalent to this area, from clumping so tightly.

The brilliance of this plan is why I consider myself a modern gardener, or as Descartes might have uttered if he had taken up agriculture rather than philosophy, “Cogito ergo tiller”. My plan was to repeat the compost and tilling process as each of three species of tree most prevalent in my yard chose to disengage their respective leaves. The only concern was that everything had to be completed before the second day of February, which is one of two days in a calendar year when early peas could or should be planted. The date befits not only local custom but also a planting guide obtained from the local feed and seed store and therefore must be observed to prevent the seeds’ rotting in the ground (really).

Mid-December arrives, leaves from the poplar tree have fallen, so it’s time to begin the task of preparing for next year’s bountiful garden with my recently acquired labor saving device. First, of course, is the convergence of leaves in a pile, which is simple as a rake does not require cranking. Sucking the leaves into the canvas bag of my leaf blower/vacuum for distribution on the garden also isn’t a problem either, because it has a rubber primer bulb and kicks over on the first or second pull of the starter cord. After a couple of hours, leaves are evenly distributed across the garden, and the only thing that remains is the final step: lift and turn, otherwise known simply as ‘tilling’.

Over the years, this final step in my garden enrichment program has become a fixed ritual. First, conditions have to be just right, as in the ground not too wet, weather not too cold, north wind not too…windy. When that day arrives, I go to the shed shortly after breakfast, wrestle the tiller down the steps onto the driveway and crank. And crank. And crank. It doesn’t start, but that’s normal and over the years has come to be expected. I am not discouraged.

Next, I bring the necessary tools from the garage and remove the cover, sandpaper the rust from the armature, check the gap between it and the fixed magnet to ensure a properly timed spark, double check the gas lines for leaks, make sure there’s oil in the crankcase, gas in the tank, then put everything back together, hopefully with no parts left over. Next, I pull the starter rope repeatedly until both arms become numb. It still doesn’t start, but that’s also normal and not totally unexpected.

I then go to the garage for a spark plug wrench, remove the spark plug to see if it’s dry or wet. It it’s dry, that means the gas hasn’t yet reached the carburetor to prime it. A wet plug means gas has arrived, but there’s no spark for ignition. The plug looks dry, so I scrape off some accumulated carbon, position the tiller so the sun shines directly on the motor. It’s now time for lunch, so I go inside to eat and rest and hope solar energy’s warming rays work their magic.

Along about mid-afternoon, I decide the sun has warmed the machine as much as it’s going to and go back outside and begin to crank again. This time I actually expect the motor to start, sort of, and offer pleading words of encouragement followed by a couple of verbal suggestions that have no effect. Eventual, the suggestions turn to out and out threats to let it know playtime is over, the wind’s beginning to come from the north and that even though I’m sweating like a horse at harvest time, it’ll soon be too dark and too cold to ‘lift and turn’ those leaves into the soil. Apparent without any fear whatsoever, the machine completely ignores my promises. Having been through this before, I persist.

On about the 450th pull, it starts. Most of my body parts are numb by then, but previous experience calls on hidden reserves to frantically adjust the choke on the carburetor with one hand and throttle on the handle with the other in an effort to maintain a balance that will keep it running. It finally settles down to a fast idle seconds before I pass out from breathing gas fumes while engulfed in smoke.

While the motor is running, I quickly push the tiller towards the garden, stopping by the garage just long enough to get a paper mask and earphones. The former is to try and prolong my demise from what are probably deadly carbon monoxide fumes and the latter is an attempt to prevent further damage to my eardrums since whatever sound deadening material that used to be inside the rusty muffler isn’t there any longer. This results in a decibel level slightly higher than that of an F-18 taking off from an aircraft carrier.

Protected from the full effect of fumes and noise, I once again rush the tiller towards the garden, pausing every few steps to pull the vertical drag bar out of the ground where it keeps dropping down and digging in due to a worn retainer clip. Finally getting tired of getting thrown against the handles, I turn it around and pull it backward the rest of the way. This usually results in tripping over my feet a time or two, but is less painful than repeatedly bouncing off the handles.

Reaching the garden at last, I wrestle the wheels into the bed of leaves, push the throttle to maximum and pull back on the hand clutch to engage the tines. I shout with exuberance, “Look out dirt, here we come.” The engine races, but nothing happens.

Without bothering to check, I know the belt, badly stretched out of shape over the years, has slipped off the pulleys. Decision time. Do I attempt to slip the belt back on with the motor running and risk losing one or more fingers and possibly a thumb, or use common sense and shut the motor off first? Sanity says kill the motor, and I agree – albeit reluctantly.

Stopping the motor requires two actions. The first is to reduce the hand throttle as far as possible and immediately open the choke on the carburetor to flood the engine. As it begins to die, I try to time it just right and disengage the choke at the last moment to minimize leaving excessive gas in the carburetor during those final revolutions. Unfortunately, it still has enough momentum and starts running again. This goes on for a few more tries, then I give up and just leave the choke fully engaged and hope it doesn’t flood the engine so badly it won’t start again.

It only takes a moment to slip the belt back onto the pulleys, slide the throttle to mid-range, disengage the choke and pull the rope. And pull the rope. And…well, you get the idea. The reason it requires several pulls is because it’s flooded. But we knew that, didn’t we? Eventually it does start, and I engage the clutch. This time the tines operate and the process of turning and churning begins.

My dad taught me years ago that using a tiller like this with front tines was a snap if you follow two simple rules. The first is that to slow its forward progress, push the handles down. To speed the forward progress, raise up on the handles. What he didn’t teach me, however, is what to do when one side begins to dig deeper than the other, which makes the thing take off in a different direction. Or what to do when a buried rock causes the tines bounce up and down like a jumping bean on steroids. Holding onto the handles soon begins to feel like the horns of an angry bull that wants to go every direction except the one I want.

Engine speed helps, but unfortunately every time I push the throttle to maximum, it returns to slow moments later. That’s because the friction plate that normally keeps the speed constant is missing. Removing one hand from the handles to shove it to max again has to be done quickly to prevent the unit from veering off to one side or the other, which it’s prone to do anyway. I finally give up and let it have its own way. Instead of an angry bull now, it reminds me of trying to plow with a stubborn mule. Or possibly a very large, very drunk pig.

(In case you’re wondering, I resolved when I paid $25 for this labor saving device not to put any more money into it – you know, for things like a new belt, throttle mechanism or drag bar friction clip. It’s a resolution I’ve since come to regret.)

Despite the physical effort involved, I’m elated that my garden-enriching program is finally in progress. Within minutes, I’ve reached the end of the row and begin the back wrenching process of push-pull-twist, push-pull-twist to reverse direction. That’s when the motor died.

I know the problem without even unscrewing the gas cap. Racing against the possibility the engine will cool in the gathering dusk, I race to the shed for the gas can, trying not to stumble due to the large clods of clay and dirt stuck to my boots. Moving like my feet were tied to tin cans, I return and fill the tank half full, which experience has proven will be more than enough. It is, after all, a very small garden.

I then begin to pull the starter rope, but nothing happens. No surprise since the gas lines were drained when the tank emptied, which necessitates, you guessed it, priming the carburetor – again. I may have mentioned this tiller is quite old and doesn’t have one of those rubber bulbs to facilitate this function? Yeah? I was pretty sure I had.

Fortunately, the motor is still warm and eventually starts. I’m tempted to fall on the ground and gasp for breath, but there isn’t time, because the shadows are getting longer and there’s a chilly wind coming up. I push the throttle to max and grab the clutch, then kill the engine, put the belt back on the pulleys and begin cranking again. This time it only takes three pulls to start. Elated at my good fortune, dirt and leaves fly in all direction as I go at full speed, filled with optimism and confidence. Then the throttle stubbornly moves back to the slow setting.

Actually, this day turned out better than most, which means it was still light when I finished. With pride, I survey the fresh dirt, thoroughly mixed with leaves, then pull the throttle to minimum, open the choke and breathe a sigh of relief at the sudden silence. It takes a few minutes to scrape the accumulated dirt from the tires, tines and my boots, slip off my earphones and paper mask, and then I head for the shed. After stopping a couple of times to raise the vertical drag bar out of the lawn, I reverse direction and pull it the rest of the way, too exhausted to even worry about falling down as I walk backward. Reaching the shed, I wrestle the tiller up the steps and push it into a back corner out of the way. And hopefully out of mind until it’s needed again.

After the gas can, tools and spark plug wrench are put away, I go inside, take a quick shower, then sit down to rest and catch my breath before supper, which my wife informs me will be ready in approximately three minutes. While we eat, she smiles and asks if the garden is now ready to plant. I can’t decide if she’s being facetious or is truly interested. Rather than explain that the oak and hickory leaves haven’t fallen yet, I tell her it’ll be ready in time to plant the early pea crop, which she loves and then change the subject.

The truth is, I wasn’t in the mood to discuss, or even think about, the garden because my arms, legs, back and a few other places I didn’t realize still existed were begging me to do something – anything – to put them out of their misery. That night after falling asleep, my dreams were dominated by the Jolly Green Giant holding up cans and packages of frozen vegetables. Between the “ho-ho-ho’s”, he would giggle hysterically and boast how it was just as good as home grown. If that sounds a little strange, it’s pretty much a normal reaction the first night or two after spending a day with the tiller.

The following morning while trying to decide which of my muscles were willing and able to help me struggle out of bed, I wondered if a few fresh vegetables were really worth the effort. The grocery store has a large freezer section and plenty of canned foods to choose from. Also meat and cheese. A guy can get a lot of vitamins and stuff from hot dogs and cheddar. Eggs are pretty healthy, too.

Selective Memory

A few weeks later, selective memory sat in when I noticed the oak beside the driveway was beginning to drop its leaves. I went inside immediately and dug out one of my seed catalogs to check the latest varieties of tomato and egg plant and tried to decide if I wanted to start them from seeds indoor again this year. I also checked the feed and seed store calendar and saw that February second wasn’t that far away, though there would still be time to ‘lift and turn’ at least one more batch of leaves in the garden before then. It might also be a good idea to add plenty of lime pellets to counteract some of the acid in the leaves plus a liberal dose of 8-8-8 fertilizer to add some extra nutrient.

My mouth waters as I picture fresh-picked corn, tomatoes, squash and other home grown vegetables. I should probably plan to till the garden twice more to ensure the soil is even looser and richer than ever. It’s a good way to ensure a great crop and with a garden this small, it won’t take but a jiffy. Aren’t I lucky to have that labor saving tiller sitting in the shed to do the work? Hmm, maybe I’ll plant some spinach this year, too.

Friday, January 9, 2009


If my blogs seem to stray from writing, which is the stated theme, keep in mind that writing covers a lot of territory, including support, attempts to publish, our Netwest writers' group, along with the increasing use of the Internet and Internet security. Hey, I may have invented an oxymoron with that last one. Besides our own popular Netwest Yahoo group, I also belong to one our barbershop harmony district uses for the same purpose, as in to keep members informed. The quoted information below comes from that group.

You will now be given two choices. The first is to exit this blog site immediately and go curl up with a good book (though the 'curl up' concept has never made any sense, unless you're a bear hibernating in a dark cave) and feel safe and secure. The second will be to read the following and accept the fact your gray hair just got a little grayer. Read on:

"Yahoo is Tracking Group Members! If you belong to ANY Yahoo Groups - be aware that Yahoo is now using "Web Beacons" to track every Yahoo Group user. It's similar to cookies, but allows Yahoo to record every website and every group you visit, even when you're not connected to Yahoo. Look at their updated privacy statement at (Click on this link -- or copy and paste into your browser)About half-way down the page, in the section on cookies, you will see a link that says WEB BEACONS. Click on the phrase "Web Beacons." On the page that opens, on the left find a box entitled "Opt-Out.". In that section find "opt-out of interest-matched advertising" link that will let you "opt-out" of their snooping. Click it and then click the opt-out button on the next page. Note that Yahoo's invasion of your privacy - and your ability to opt-out of it - is not user-specific. It is MACHINE specific. That means you will have to opt-out on every computer (and browser) you use.Please forward this to your other groups.You might complain, too, but I'm not sure if anyone is listening. I remember when they signed all users up to get spam and we had to opt out of that a few years ago. Please send this to anyone or any group you would like." (Name withheld for author's privacy)

Still with us? You obviously have nerves of granite and have probably watched every "Halloween" movie produced -- some possibly even with your eyes open. Regardless, as long as you've come this far, read the next one, too. Be warned, however, that you'll never view your mouse as that innocent little cyber-creature again. The next group post is a response to the one above.

" I'm sure the recent message to (other group)-Members concerns all of us who want our privacy to be respected.However, in this day and time, real privacy is a very scarce commodity. ANYTIME we get on the Internet for ANY reason, our privacy is compromised to some extent - Also any time we pick up our phone, use our credit card, debit card, grocery discount card, own a home, .... etc, etc.About the best we can hope for is that the info won't be used maliciously. To the best of my knowledge, yahoo isn't doing anything "worse" than they and others in the "industry" have been doing for some time.I hear many more complaints about Google and Microsoft (for example), than I do about yahoo. I've been using yahoo e-mail and yahoo groups for many years.Sure I get more spam that I really need, but little or none that I suspect originates with them.(If you get a spam msg, it is VERY likely that the e-mail id you see in the FROM field, is probably NOT the real sender. Spammers are very good at "spoofing" their FROM addresses. Some even look like they're from YOU!) *see more below Yahoo provides us with free services. In exchange for those services, we are subjected to some advertising. (Similar to broadcast TV vs Pay channels)Cookies and web beacons have been around quite a while.If you'd like more info, check out - Communications Team*PS - Many services ask you to report spam to them "to improve their filters".That sounds like a good idea, but many of these services are not real sophisticated. They don't distinguish between the "spoofed" address and the real source, and consequently "blacklist" a valid e-ddress that a spammer "spoofed" (maybe your own).So please be cautious about reporting spam." (Name withheld for author's privacy)

My thoughts favpr the last writer. I've never seen spam or any other evidence that Yahoo has misused or abused my privacy. I have been a user of their 'free' services for years and plan to continue. Yes, there's a possibility that while logged on to one of their services, they call up a cookie or some data collected from this web beacon and offer some ads at what they feel are my preferences, but since there's an on/off switch in my brain that activates to turn ads off, including TV commercials, I'll never know. Or care.

I've been aware about 'Cookies' for some time and have learned to reluctantly accept their useful properties, although my antivirus software informs me about one in particular every time it runs a scan. I'll admit, however, the term 'Web Beacon' is new to me, though it's apparently been around for years. There are probably other tools designed for Internet users that inform 'big brother' what's going on -- plus little sister, aunt, uncle and maybe even a few of the neighbors. Come to think of it, isn't the ability of this blog site to track visitors and their location bordering on sneaky?

Hmm, I wonder if cable and dish companies are able to monitor our TV viewing habits and... Nah, that could never happen. Could it?